Saturday, November 12, 2016

They Knew Exactly What They Were Doing




"As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron." — H. L. Mencken



There is a passage in scripture that Christians are quite familiar with. As Jesus is hanging on the cross and near death, he looks up at the heavens and says, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."

I know it's tempting to say that most of the people who voted for Donald Trump Tuesday had no idea what they were getting; that they simply fell for his bullshit like so many of his investors have and were duped by his promises of restoring America to greatness. That once in office and fettered by the realities that affect every president, they will see him for what he truly is, and what all of us who didn't vote for him already knew he was: a con artist.

I call bullshit. I think these people knew exactly what they were getting; he couldn't have made it any plainer. The dog whistles that he used throughout his campaign, and which offended every decent American in the country, were a breath of fresh air for these people. Like manna from heaven, they ate it up and begged for more.

I'm sure there are people out there who genuinely believe Trump will bring back those golden years when the world trembled at the sound of American factories turning out automobiles and steel. In fact, I'm convinced that's what caused Michigan to flip and Ohio to turn a lovely shade of red. Blue-collar workers were desperately reaching out for any ray of hope. For them, my heart bleeds. They are in for one helluva rude awakening in a couple of years.

But explain Iowa to me. And while you're at it explain central Pennsylvania and western Wisconsin and the Florida Panhandle. Iowa's largest manufacturers in the state are in the food-processing industry, and agriculture is rapidly becoming one of the fastest growing sectors of its economy. Far from being devastated by cheap imports, the state has been buoyed by exports.

I've been to central Pennsylvania many times. My father had a trailer site in a town called Denver on the northern outskirts of Lancaster County right off of the PA Turnpike. There are a few factories in Reading just up Route 272, but whatever industry that existed there has been gone for decades, well before Barack Obama was a student in college. Today, outlets and strip malls line the county roads.

Western Wisconsin, home of the city of Eau Clair, which Trump visited a week before the election, has some manufacturing plants, but most of the industry in the state is centered around transportation and automation. Oh, and cheese, lots of cheese, as anyone who's ever been to a Green Bay Packers' game can attest to.

As for the Florida Panhandle, its chief industry appears to be tourism. It has become one of the more desirable destination spots for snow birds from the northern states looking to escape the harsh winters. Destin is one of the fastest growing cities in the state and gets 80 percent of the region's 4.5 million yearly tourists. If anything its economy is booming.

What do all of these regions have in common? They're loaded with white people, basketfuls, in fact. When we were kids, I don't recall seeing a single black person when we went down to the trailer site. Of course, growing up in Massapequa Park, Long Island, I didn't see any of them there either. What can I say? The inglorious results of a misspent youth.

My point is I don't think these people voted for Trump because Ford or G.M. closed down a factory and shipped all the jobs to Mexico. In fact, I'd bet my last dollar that most of them are doing better than they're letting on; far better than many African Americans in the cities who voted for Clinton.

For these people this election was never about jobs; it was about making a statement loud and clear. They didn't like the direction the country was going in. Obama represented a sea change not only in the political landscape of the country but in the cultural - and, yes, racial - one as well, and they'd seen enough. Trump's candidacy was a chance to, if not eradicate Obama's agenda, at least make sure it wouldn't progress any further than it already had.

They saw the encroachment of Hispanics and Asians as a threat not just to their jobs but their identity, in much the same way the citizens of the early twentieth century saw the Irish, Italians, Germans, Poles and Jews. They've never warmed to the idea of a melting pot; for them it was anathema to their heritage. And ever since LBJ signed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts into law, they've been waiting for someone to come along and give voice to what they've been feeling for fifty years.

Donald Trump is that voice, as he so proudly said at his convention in July. Signs that read "Fuck that cunt" and "Hang the nigger in chief" were in full view and were no accident; nor were they simply exceptions to the rule. They were the rule. Period. Look at the picture of David Duke celebrating the election results when you get the chance. He hasn't been this ecstatic since the last cross burning he attended, which for him I suppose might very well have been last week.

Bill Maher referred to this as a right-wing coupe. Oh if only that were the case. That would be easy to defeat. The truth is this has nothing to do with right or left-wing politics; this is an uprising of some of the ugliest and most basest elements in our society. Elements we thought we had tamed, and some foolishly thought had been vanquished. Well they are out in full force in all their resplendent glory. Victory hasn't mollified them; if anything it's made them more emboldened. Like a drunk on a binge, they're painting the town.

The sad truth is there are more racists within our midsts than we would ever have imagined. And misogynists and nativists and, you can go on and on. Pick your poison. If everything this man said and did throughout the campaign didn't disqualify him, then the people who supported and eventually voted him into office knew exactly what they were doing. This was what they'd always wanted and this is what they finally got. A plain-spoken, race-baiting, sexist ignoramus who talked their talk and walked their walk. It matters not that he is filthy rich and on most days wouldn't even hire these fools to scrub the floors of the bathrooms of Trump Tower. All that matters to them is what he stands for and ultimately what he will do in office.

Some will say it's wrong to paint a broad stroke, like Hillary Clinton did, and brand the majority of Trump's supporters as racists. After all, many of those voters voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. Doesn't that prove that racism wasn't the driving force in this election? Actually, it doesn't. That's because racism has always existed in the country. The problem is that we view racism only through the prism of men wearing hoods and burning crosses. Like an iceberg, though, that is only the tip of it. The biggest chunk lies hidden beneath the water, and, as we saw last Tuesday, that's the part that does the most damage.

What Obama did rather brilliantly in his two election victories was to steer around the berg. Yes, he was black, but he never made it a point to flaunt it. He spoke eloquently and respectfully whenever he was around them. Like Jackie Robinson before him, he was non-threatening and went out of his way to assuage the fears that many whites had of him.

But Trump preyed on those fears and frustrations and stoked the resentments that those very same people who voted for Obama always had. He went out of his way to rub salt in their wounds and promised them he would get their country back; the one that had been stolen by you know who. He awakened the racism that had been in them for generations and ginned it up to a fever pitch. In essence, Trump went where no Republican had dared to go - at least not on a national level - and succeeded.

The same thing happened in Germany in 1929. There had always been a deep-seated contempt for Jews in Germany; indeed throughout Europe. But Hitler provided the spark that lit the fuse which devastated Europe and resulted in the extermination of six million innocent people. All hatred needs is a catalyst to set it free. And once free, it consumes everything in its path. While Trump is no Hitler, nor for that matter is America a modern-day Weimar Republic, the parallels, nevertheless, are striking.

As proof of this just look at who Trump is eying as his chief of staff. None other than Steve Bannon, the former editor of Breitbart, one of the most offensive and racist publications in the country. And he's also considering naming Rudy Giuliani to run the Justice Department. Perfect. A man who started off his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists might well bring two of the most divisive and vengeful people in the country into his administration. He ran on a message of divide and conquer and, now that he has conquered, he will likely go after any and all who had the nerve to challenge him, contemptuous of authority and without any regard for the Constitution, which in just over two months he will swear an oath to uphold. That's what despots do.

But the real victims in this tragedy are the children of these people who are now learning first hand that bullying is not only an acceptable form of expression, but that it evidently works, as Trump's election can attest to. This complete lack of a filter is presenting a tremendous problem for school teachers across the country.  Many of these children will be scarred for life because of what happened this week.

And speaking of children, what about those children whose parents could be rounded up and deported back to Mexico by a President Trump? How do you explain to a child that their mother or father might be taken from them? With the stroke of a pen, Donald Trump could rip apart the lives of millions of people.

But lest you think that all is lost, there are a couple of encouraging signs that can be taken away from this election. One, Clinton received more of the popular vote than Trump, meaning that more people rejected Trump's hateful rhetoric than embraced it. Two, according to Nate Silver, if only one person out of a hundred who voted for Trump had voted for Clinton, she would've won the electoral college, as well. I know it's a small consolation for some, given that we will be stuck with this man for four years, but it's something; and something is better than nothing.

Whoever runs against Trump in 2020 must bring a message of hope to the people who elected him. The way you defeat fear is not with more fear, as the Clinton campaign sadly learned. You defeat it with hope; not false hope, as Trump did, but with real hope. That hope can't come in the form of campaign stops every four years. It must be accompanied by deeds.

Think about it. If President Hindenburg had done his job and addressed the concerns and resentments that the German people had, Hitler would never have risen to power. Nature abhors a vacuum; if you don't fill it with something constructive; something destructive will inevitably fill it. This is the challenge that Democrats face over the next four years and beyond.

But right now, let's start by acknowledging that those who put Donald Trump in the White House were well aware of what they were doing and why, and if the Democrats have any plans on recapturing the presidency in the near future, it would behoove them to find a positive argument they can bring to the table that would persuade those voters to change their minds.

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