Politics, like an Instagram filter, enhances nearly every memory I have of my father and me. He and my mother stuffed envelopes for Goldwater’s campaign; he painted soda bottles with elephants just like the GOP symbols I saw when we watched the Republican Convention. One year, to his great delight, I trick-or-treated as “a Republican,” draped in patriotic bunting. But what I remember most is watching his face as he watched the Watergate hearings. I tried to arrange my 8-year-old face into his, mirroring the squinting eyes, the brows pushed together. He chewed on his right thumb, an indicator of his anxiety; I bit mine, too, glancing at him sideways to keep checking.
“This is a damn witch hunt,” he said, disgustedly. Which left me wondering why Samantha from Bewitched, the only witch I knew at the time, would be involved.
My father’s opinion was one I adopted for years and one he hung on to even after Nixon resigned. He glowed when he spoke about Reagan, much like my Meemaw did when she invoked Billy Graham’s name. Dad told me that George H.W. Bush was one of the smartest men he’d ever met when he spoke at our town’s tiny Country Club.
If his heart hadn’t taken him out of this world nine years ago, I wonder what he’d make of the recent news surrounding Trump. Perversely, I feel that Trump has given me, almost like a spirit medium, a way back to him. Often, when I’m driving home, I talk to the empty seat beside me as if he were in it.
“Dad, this is insanity,” I say. “What’s become of the party you loved and were loyal to for so long?”
I wonder what my Grandpa would think. He fought on Tulagi Island in World War II while his brain baked from malaria, watching his friends bleed out in front of him on the beach. “There’s worse things in this life than dying, gal” he told me. After he died, the National Archives stored his battle narratives; he completed the interviews right before cancer did what Japanese soldiers couldn’t do. He loved being a Marine, he loved America, and he got tears in his eyes at the National Anthem. Everything would be ok, he always told me, even if it wasn’t.
“Your Grandpa’s right,” Dad said. “We live in the blast radius of Pantex so we’ll be vaporized in a first strike from Russia.” Pantex, a nuclear weapon disassembly plant, sits on the outskirts of my city. “Reagan will send those sumbitches to hell if they do it, though,” Dad assured me as though he were talking about his beloved Roger Staubach’s Hail Mary passes.
To see Russia conflated with the Republican party is causing me a sort of existential vertigo, a nausea that makes me doubt all the assurances of my childhood. This is not my father’s, my grandfather’s — or even Ronald Reagan’s party. This is something like The Masque of the Red Death, a ghoulish nihilistic debauchery. Maybe Trump should read it. He reminds me of Prince Prospero and he might even like him. He’s a great guy, tremendous, “happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys.”
The ending though. I don’t think he’d like that part. Even though the Prince and pals think their wealth has insulated them from the fate of plague known as “The Red Death,” we find that it has materialized and unbeknownst to the room, taken the form of a scandalously dressed reveler. It’s insulting to Prospero and he grabs the arm of this very rude, very nasty person and finds that there’s nothing there.
Because I’m an English teacher, I want to believe people can learn things from stories without actually having to experience them. It’s my hope, and I’d like to think the hope of my father and grandfather, that the GOP leaves the party before this plague of corruption takes them all — and us — with it.