The following, of course, is merely a recounting of an anxiety nightmare last night on the eve of the 2016 Republican primary season. After all, who would spend a year taking a census of penguins and how could anyone imagine the Republican Party nominating Donald J. Trump for President? Right?
A cold early February wind blows through the opening door as a staunch Republican friend walks into the bar. My keen sense of perception alerts me from his appearance — scruffy beard, spear, and fur parka — that we have clearly lost touch. I sheepishly ask him where he has been and order a couple of beers.
“Antarctica,” he replies as he sits down. “Twelve months taking the census of penguins. Have I missed anything politically? I figured I am back just in time for primary season.”
“You are right,” I reassure him as the waitress hands us our drinks and I fight off the urge to ask him why counting penguins required a spear. Regaining my concentration, I add, “It is finally here – the 2016 Presidential Primary Season. Over the next few weeks – or months – we are going to decide who will follow Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan and others as our presidential nominee.”
“Great,” he exclaims while peeling off his gloves and then raises his glass. “This is going to be a great year for the GOP!”
“Maybe. Maybe not,” I reply as I image my friend standing in a frozen landscape tabulating penguins. “I have a bit of a shocker for you. A leading contender for the Republican nomination is real estate tycoon Donald J. Trump.”
“Really? The joker on the reality show?” he asks as he sheds his coat. “How did that happen?”
“Not sure,” I reply. “If Timothy Leary came back from the dead and dropped LSD into the coffee of every Republican polled by the media over the last few months you could not have asked for a crazier scenario.”
At hearing this he picks up his spear and glares at me. “Look, stop pulling my leg. I just spent a year with flightless birds and I’m not to be trifled with. Isn’t Trump the man who in the past praised Hillary Clinton as a great Secretary of State, called for a Bernie Sanders styled Single Payer Government Controlled Health Care, supported gun control, and declared himself Pro-Choice ‘in every respect?”’
“True,” I admit hating to upset a man yielding a spear and a bit impressed at a penguin counter’s knowledge of Trump’s background. “But today he is being touted by many conservatives and tea party advocates as the second coming of Ronald Reagan.”
“Wait a minute,” he adds as he sets down the spear again and scratches his beard, “This is the guy who spent decades on the cover of People Magazine. He has lived a personal life that would make Bill Clinton blush. They both could learn a thing or two from my new buddies the penguins!”
“True again,” I say not wanting to admit to no personal knowledge of the mating habits of penguins, “but now Trump is praised and endorsed by evangelical leaders and leads the polls even among their church members.”
“No way,” he says.
“Way,” I reply giving my best Wayne’s World imitation.
“Well,” he asks leaning back in his chair, “has he said anything stupid?”
I take a sip of beer before answering. “He compared Hispanic immigrants to rapists and insulted military veterans who were POWs in the first month of his campaign.”
“That had to blow a hole in his chances,” He says brightly.
“Nope,” I reply shaking my head. “He went up in the polls.”
“Really. Anything else?” He asks leaning forward clutching his beer now with both hands.
“Megyn Kelly dared to ask Trump about his own negative statements about women in a debate,” I explain as I try to subtly move the spear away from my friend with my foot. “And Trump attacked her as a light weight and claimed she was ‘having blood coming out of her wherever’ during the debate.”
“Now that had to hurt him,” he says indignantly and pounds the table. I remember my friend is a big fan of Kelly as I quickly kick the spear farther away.
“Wrong again,” I sigh. “He went up in the polls.”
“Ok. But what about his foreign policies?” he asks anxiously. “We live in a dangerous world.”
“Well, let’s see,” I think out loud as I look to the ceiling. “So far his foreign policy pronouncements have insulted and alienated the very Muslim people and nations we need to have as allies to defeat radical Islamic terrorists, and he has said he would ask our military to commit war crimes by targeting the families of our terrorist opponents.”
“That has got to be making most Americans scared to death!” he hollers.
“Not really,” I shrug lowering my voice as I notice people turning and staring at my friend. “A lot of people across the ideological spectrum are rallying to him believing he will, ‘Make America Great Again.”’
“Let me guess,” he groans putting his hands over his face. “He went up in the polls again.”
“Yep,” I reply. “I am afraid so.”
“I feel like we have slipped down Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole where up is down and down is up,” he says ruefully as he picks something out of his beard and studies it. “But what about his opponents?” He asks hopefully. “I thought we expected strong leaders to run? This was the year we were going to put our Republican A-Team on the field.”
“You would have thought so but Trump is savvy,” I admit somewhat bewildered. “His opponents have for the most part looked like deer caught in a headlight. Trump has successfully attacked with gleeful ridicule every opponent who has dared to try and stand up to him this season with barbs and middle school yard taunts calling them dull, ugly, pathological, duds, losers, sweaty, etc. He even has some folks thinking one of his opponents should be running for Prime Minister of Canada rather than for President.”
“And the press is letting him get away with it?” He asks mystified.
“I am afraid so,” I say as I take another sip of beer. “The media lately has appeared to look more like a cross section between Entertainment Tonight, Sports Center, and WWF than serious news shows.
“I guess I can understand some of this,” he says thoughtfully. “Many people are angry and scared. So am I to be honest.”
“True,” I agree. “There is a lot of frustration in our country. Over 70% of Americans regardless of ideology say they are angry and Donald Trump boasts that he will fix everything because he is too. But let me ask you a question, when was the last time you acted out of pure anger and felt that you made a wise decision?”
“Um, let me think,” He ponders for a moment before grinning. “To be honest — Never. As a matter of fact, that’s how I ended up at the South Pole. It’s a great story . . . . ”
“Exactly,” I reply cutting him off. I’m not really sure I want to know the backstory to my friend’s quixotic deep cold journey. “I am not sure how we can lose our mind and win this election.”
“I hate to say it but your party – and I do mean your party if Trump is the Republican nominee — can lose something even more important,” he replies before draining the rest of his beer with one gulp.
“Like what?” I ask assuming – wrongly – that my friend is concerned about arcane discussions surrounding control of Congress as I watch him stand.
“Its soul,” he whispered as he gathered his gear and headed for the door. “The Grand Old Party’s very soul is at risk.”