My family of origin was Democrat, or at least my dad was, that is, until Ronald Reagan came along. From then on, he voted Republican. My mother never talked about her political views, but I’m guessing she voting the same way my dad did. So, my first real encounter with a Conservative Republican was with my 8th-grade English teacher at my boarding school, Peddie. Mr. Sprout, already elderly at the time, would rant on in class about the terrible tragedy in his view of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. In doing so, he would invoke that dreaded epithet, Socialism, a new term for me at the time. He would segue from that to the virtues of good, old-fashioned, all-American conservative values. In between, he taught us boys some of the equally good, old-fashioned values of English grammar and of egregious errors up with which we should not put...
A more user-friendly version of American conservativism arrived during my sophomore year at Yale in the English-Romantic-poets course taught by the then venerable scholar, known for editing the journals of James Boswell, Professor Frederick A. Pottle. Dr. Pottle spent 95 percent of his time on Wordsworth, Coleridge, and the other Romantics. He would occasionally find a way, however, to relate his own Conservative political philosophy to those poets. A tweedy New England Conservative in the Yale scholarly tradition of the late-50s, Professor Pottle emphasized the values of voter independence, small government, states’ rights, and especially private charity. After all, if we left caring for the poor up to the federal government, that might take away our God-enjoined responsibility for personally helping the least of these, our brothers and sisters. In this latter regard, when I fell ill from the then-rampant Asian Flu, which in my case turned into double pneumonia and pleurisy and landed me in the Yale infirmary for some weeks, he was the only professor who sent me homework along with encouraging notes and even came once to visit me.
To my mind, George H. W. Bush was the last principled Republican in the Professor Pottle tradition. Ronald Reagan was not without his virtues. After all, he helped Mr. Gorbachev bring down that wall. And W, despite his penchant for unmotivated war, was, as he reputedly said, no longer the worst President in American history once Donald Trump came into office. But we shouldn’t lay full responsibility for the descent of the Grand Old Party from Honest Abe to Crooked Don on the latter. He after all was elected to office, thanks to the Electoral College, by a goodly slice of American voters, even if not the numerical majority. Know-Nothingism has been with us for generations, and selfishness on the part of the fortunate few goes back to the mythic eviction from Eden. So, in this week of Thanksgiving, I give thanks for our national resilience as demonstrated by the recent national elections and pray for the restauration of the Republican Party to that of Honest Abe and Professor Pottle. Amen.