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Our surprise houseguest on election night, 2016.
Last Friday night, 30 days before the 2020 Presidential election, Donald Trump was put on oxygen and admitted to Walter Reed Hospital for a disease that kills one in every 33 people it infects. It prompted this memory.
The night Donald Trump was elected President of the United States I wrote in my blog, “America is like the character Dustin Hoffman played in the Graduate after he raced off from the church with his runaway bride and sat panting on the bus wondering what the hell he’d just done.”
On election night 2016 I was in my childhood home Topeka, Kansas. Its the first election night I have not spent with my wife Claudia. She had to watch the results without anyone to console her. I was on a mission to honor my maternal grandfather, George Seanor Robb.
I had been invited by the American Legion Post he once belonged to. They had rediscovered that one of their own had been the recipient of the nation’s highest military award the Congressional Medal of Honor. They were inscribing his name in a place of honor and wanted a family representative with them on the 98th anniversary of World War I’s Armistice. The ceremony would fall two days after a Presidential election that all the pundits guaranteed would pave the way for our first pantsuit wearing President.
I was not so sanguine. A few days before I left I had put up my fourth anti-Trump lawn decoration since his demagogic campaign had begun. It was a hastily drawn sign reading “Manchurian Candidate” with a vivid red diagonal slash.
I was using the trip to research my Grandfather’s life at his Alma Mater and at the Kansas State Historical Museum where my Mother had placed his correspondence.
After some initial research at Park College near Kansas City, Missouri, I drove to Topeka’s Ramada Inn on Election day. It was jumping with a rapturous crowd anticipating the election of our first female President. I crossed my fingers for them. Like some animals I sometimes feel the tremors of an earthquake before the Earth splits open.
Sometime after Trump’s shock and awe was beyond doubt I ventured down to the lobby and found stunned and mute silence. I spent the following day and the next at the Historical Society photographing the letters of a Kansas war hero turned Republican State Auditor. I hoped to to write a book about a very brave and honorable man.
My most satisfying discovery was a letter George Robb had written to the President of Park College upon learning that he was disinclined to enroll a Japanese-American student during the heat of the Second World War. There is little doubt that this young man’s family was languishing behind the barbed wire of an “internment” camp. In the strongest words the Kansas State Auditor and war hero urged the boy’s admission. It was in keeping with his Republican character. Twenty-three years earlier my Grandfather, a white officer, had been assigned to an all-black American Infantry division recruited in New York’s Harlem.
My Grandfather’s Republican Party was different then; fiercely loyal to the memory of its paragon, Abraham Lincoln. Grandfather told me that his worst mistake in life was voting for a Democrat, Woodrow Wilson for President. He warned me not to follow his example. He voted for the Democrat because of Wilson’s promise to keep America out of Europe’s War. Despite Wilson’s betrayal, George Robb was one of the first to volunteer when war was declared. His credo? “My country right or wrong.” And yet my Grandfather bore Democrats no ill will. He defied Republican Governor Alf Landon’s order to fire the Democrats in the Auditor’s Office. He told my Mother that he liked the Democratic President Harry S.Truman.
As I write this America is waiting to see if President Trump will emerge from his hospitalization and return to the campaign trail from the infection he brought to Duluth last week. Unlike the President, Democrat Joe Biden has followed an example my Grandfather would expect. Joe called for prayers for the President. Biden dropped in on Duluth just ahead of Mr. Trump’s visit and was filmed walking over to a small crowd of Trump supporters waving their candidate’s signs. Joe shook their hands.
The morning after the 2016 election Claudia sent me a photograph she took on election night looking down from our patio. A black bear was climbing the stairs after tripping our burglar lights. Perhaps he was an emissary from Putin’s Internet trolling Russia checking on our Anti-Manchurian Candidate sign. I’m sorry, Grandfather. It’s not easy to be magnanimous these days but just maybe Joe Biden, a Democrat, is a harbinger of a return to a “more perfect union.”
Harry Welty encourages his eight loyal readers to read the speech he gave on Nov. 12, 2016 at his blog: lincolndemocrat.com.