• U.S.

WITH A BEAR IN MIND

4 minute read
Calvin Trillin

APPARENTLY, I’VE BEEN GIVING THE WRONG ADVICE about what to do if you meet a bear in the woods. It may be that a sharp jab to the bear’s nose is not the ticket after all.

Where we live in the summer, there are sometimes bears in the woods, although I’ve never actually run into one. Still, I’ve always felt obligated to prepare guests for the eventuality.

“Just a short jab,” I always say. “Don’t get any big ideas about letting go with one of those roundhouse rights you’ve seen in the movies. While you’re winding up, that bear’ll claw your stomach out.” I know that sounds gruesome, but better safe than sorry.

I’d been having some doubts about my strategy even before the people I keep hearing described as the Republican establishment came face to face with their equivalent of a bear in the woods–Pat Buchanan–and seemed to get nowhere with sharp jabs. They jabbed (“He’s an extremist”) and jabbed (“He wants to build a wall around America”), and he just kept coming.

By the time Buchanan emerged in his bear suit, I’d run across a new book called The Practical Guide to Practically Everything, which has advice about a wide range of practical matters–how to avoid an IRS audit or how to choose the right vitamins or, as it happens, how to deal with a bear in the woods.

If the bear is aware of you, according to the book, you should “back away slowly, talking in a calm, firm voice while slowly waving your arms.” It doesn’t mention what you’re supposed to say in your calm, firm voice. “Steady there, fella,” comes to mind.

If a brown bear touches you, the book says, “curl up in a ball, protecting your stomach and neck, and play dead. If the attack is prolonged, however, change tactics and fight back vigorously. If it is a black bear, do not play dead at all; fight back.”

I have to say that the effectiveness of this approach seems weakened by the necessity of ascertaining the color of the bear. I can imagine one of our guests yelling to me, “Does that look black up there near where his fangs are bared? Or is that just the way the sun hits the fur when he gets into mauling position?”

I don’t have to settle on a bear strategy until next summer, but the Republican establishment has to come up with something long before that. The question of whether to fight back vigorously or play dead is complicated by the fact that this bear, unlike the ones in our woods, didn’t just wander in on his own.

For 20 years the Republican Party has tried to appeal to discontented white voters by assuring them that their troubles are caused by abortion on demand or gay marriage or immigrants or federal bureaucrats or, most of all, colored folks getting all the breaks.

Finally, somebody gathered up all these people and glued together the mix with the suggestion that their bosses might also have had something to do with the situation they find themselves in. The result looks dangerous. You might say that the Republicans created their own bear.

At this point they seem to be dealing with it by trying to talk in a calm, firm voice (“Pat Buchanan will not be the presidential nominee of the Republican Party”). I haven’t noticed them waving their arms slowly at the same time. If they tried that, Pat would wave back. They’re all old friends.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com