Post-WWII rural America. I grew up a city mouse—town mouse really—on the edge of farm country, a mysterious realm spreading northward toward Wisconsin. In no time, I could be pedaling along a road bearing my family’s name, a single thread bordered by barbed wire and acres of hope, crisscrossing other such threads to form the web of community.


Owen Center was out there too, at a quiet intersection—a grange hall next to a church, across from the one-room schoolhouse where my dad had toiled with other farm kids through the eighth grade. This tiny cloister often erupted into a hive of cooperation and social discourse where daily farm life met encroaching pressures of distant events.


Unlike me, most of my cousins were in 4-H. My window on their lives came through visits to their farms and fairs where they showed their prized livestock. Dad sold John Deere tractors, so I got to ride along on one of those Johnny Putt Putts each year, rumbling and sputtering all the way out to country fairs with their cotton candy, rickety rides, and enticing carney intrigues.


What I remember most, though, was the kids’ table on holidays at our house or on one of the farms. We were an unruly bunch, the giggles and pranks almost making us forget to eat. At some point after dessert, we’d all slip away to play ping pong or darts or board games—what fun! What memories!


And, there was another perk to just being at the kids’ table. During rare lulls in our chatter, a sliver of lively conversation from the neighboring table might find us. Snippets like “by golly” and “don’t y’ know” and “Land o’ Goshen.” There was talk of commodities markets, of futures, and pork bellies—the impact of weather. These shirtsleeve entrepreneurs, men and women, laughed as much as we did. They also passed around more than the dishes they’d had a hand in preparing. They passed around kindness, decency, and common sense. They passed around honest discussion of the facts influencing our lives. They were all Republicans.


So, I too started out my voting life that way. I no longer recall when it was that I tore up my card, but I do remember why. The erosion of bedrock Republican principles—principles like strength against foreign enemies bolstered by solidarity with friendly allies, fiscal responsibility, basic decency, and cooperation with others to solve national and local problems—began with the selling of religious intolerance as moral imperative, a stance that quickly morphed into intolerance of all who are just different.


Next, came unending cycles of tax cuts for the very wealthy, boosting the national debt, each time followed by self-righteous hypocritical demands to balance a devastated budget by stealing money from Social Security, Medicare, and infrastructure—by stealing from us and our children while protecting the overflowing coffers of rich backers.


Now, lies and stonewalling have become the stock and trade of Republican leadership at all levels. When the demagogue in the oval office spews hatred for minorities, women, folks with pre-existing conditions, and anyone who challenges his unprecedented corruption—they go along to get along. When he calls for violence against our fellow citizens—they’re still on board.


Which brings me back to the kids’ table. There’s a break in the chatter. A comment filters in from the adult table. It’s Uncle Ray,


“By golly, if the day ever comes when everything but the name of the Republican Party is gone—then so am I.”


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