I grew up in a small agricultural town. Like most ag towns, the resident farmers would gather at the coffee shop each morning to solve the world’s problems. In those days, the café’s early morning counter seemed to be reserved for the true farmers. As an adolescent country bumpkin, my friend and I were relegated to the surrounding booths to listen. As we did, l found myself marveling at their principled, homespun wisdom.
As happens, I eventually left home to seek my fortune. Years later, I returned to my home town with a brand new MPA and a decade of experience in working for the Federal Government. I remember my first trip back to the old coffee shop, the wise men of my youth had somehow become less noble in their coarse ramblings. I found their analysis had become uninformed and the solutions they presented naive in their simplicity. Rural America had magically become a simpler place commensurate with the world at large becoming much more complex. Amazing what a little education and experience will do for you.
As I listen to Donald Trump woo the voters of the American right, I am drawn back to that small town cafe. Give him a haircut, and a pair of proper boots and Donald could fit right in. He spouts over simplistic views of the world, suggests naive solutions, and pontificates in what amounts to rehearsed smack talk. We could just call him farmer Don and dress him in bib overalls; except for one thing. Donald isn’t a true farmer.
I have a deep and abiding respect for those men of my youth. They toil endlessly with only the sun instead of a clock to tell them when to quit. It is a hard physical life with its own rewards. They are great men. The politics of such individuals is based in principles learned through generations of hard work. Principles such as the integrity of a handshake, the value of a day’s labor and those who don’t work don’t deserve to sit at the same table with those who do. It also includes a concern for the farm next door and a willingness to help whenever a neighbor needs them. They are peaceful men of compassion but not above a true scuffle over water rights when necessary. They are the John Wayne characters of today’s world. These men and their principles are the leavings from our frontier/pioneer heritage.
This is the well of principles that Donald Trump, Ben Carson and other political outsiders have tapped into. The principles learned of our pioneer heritage are valid. The problem comes in the application of such principles to the national and world stages. The conservative movement is trying to shape the discussion based on these principles with mixed success. The right wing pundits who shape the narrative are too far removed from the realities of rural life. Without the actual experience, their principles are reasoned rather than earned through life’s difficult training. Often they forget the need to help others. Often they are too quick to suggest a military solution.
There is in our culture, and old fable about a wolf who puts on a sheep skin to avoid the shepherd in order to kill and devour. The point of the fable is to be wary of appearances. Accordingly, while many of our republican presidential candidates pontificate conservative values based on our national and pioneer heritage, not all have earned the right to sit at the counter with the real farmers and solve the world’s problems. That is the first danger in this Republican primary election. We have too many gentlemen farmers and we seem to be having difficulty spotting the men (and women) with dirt under their fingernails.
The second problem we are having is in realizing that just being a true conservative is insufficient. Simply having the right to sit at the counter with the real farmers is not enough. Principles based on a pioneer heritage are of no value unless accompanied with the education and experience that would allow those principles to be applied in our extremely complex and infinitely detailed world. Not only do we need a President who has the right to sit at the counter of true principles but we also need a President who can apply truth to the world stage.
The Republican Party has a few good candidates.
None of them are named Donald.
Samuel Waen Jensen