Bye Bye Bobby Lee. Can a Stone Wall be Moved?

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After 133 years, a statue of Robert E. Lee came down in New Orleans last week. It made me wonder, again, about the portrait of Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson that’s in our bedroom. I’ve been enormously intrigued by Jackson for years, and researched and wrote an historical novel about him (Cross Over The River; Lives of Stonewall Jackson, available on Amazon.com and iUniverse.com) years ago. Jackson, like Lee, fought valiantly to defend the South and its inhuman institution of slavery. Is he to be admired? Why do I have him hanging on my wall?

Herman Melville wrote a poem about Jackson when Stonewall was accidentally killed by his own troops at the battle of Chancellorsville:

The Man who fiercest charged in fight,
Whose sword and prayer were long –
Stonewall!
Even him who stoutly stood for Wrong,
How can we praise? Yet coming days
Shall not forget him with this song.

Dead is the Man whose Cause is dead,
Vainly he died and set his seal –
Stonewall!
Earnest in error, as we feel;
True to the thing he deemed was due,
True as John Brown or steel.

Relentlessly he routed us;
But we relent, for he is low –
Stonewall!
Justly his fame we outlaw; so
We drop a tear on the bold Virginian’s bier,
Because no wreath we owe.

Stoutly stood for wrong. Earnest in error. Melville called him true as John Brown, who fought against slavery in Kansas and Virginia. Each a zealot, each spilling blood both innocent and guilty in his cause. Can one do something admirable, moving, courageous, in a bad cause?

Of course, “bad cause” and “earnest in error” are tepid bits of language for something as abominable as human slavery. But Jackson fought successfully against desperate odds. His 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, when he defeated five armies with his much smaller force and caused Lincoln to pull back troops from Gen. George McClellan’s attack on Richmond, is still studied at West Point. While the Federal armies were getting everything in order, arranging supplies and getting all horses shod, Jackson would move like lightning with only part of his force only half equipped and sweep down on the Federal flanks and rear. At the height of his greatest victory he was killed by friendly fire. If he had not been shot then, it’s very possible we would be two countries, not one, today. Jackson would likely not have hesitated two months later at Gettysburg, as his replacement did, on the day the Confederates almost swept the Federals from the field. And the war might have ended then with a Union defeat. So he’s clearly a powerful and influential figure in history.

On my first visit to New Orleans I was in a cab swinging around a traffic circle, in the middle of which was a statue on a pedestal so tall I couldn’t make out whom the statue depicted. I asked my cab driver, a black woman, who was up there. “That’s Bobby Lee, baby,” she said, as if I was a hopeless rube. She said it with what I heard as pride. I was probably wrong.

I asked a black friend of mine when she came to my house if the portrait of Jackson bothered her. No, she said — I took her to mean she had more current racial battles to worry about.

When I first heard, years ago, of movements to remove Confederate statues, I thought it was a mistake to try to erase history. The first instance I recall was a push to remove a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate cavalry general, from Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis. Forrest was a ferocious, unconventional and successful fighter, like Jackson. After the war he was one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan. I understood that honoring him in public was at best a moral quagmire. But what about “Bobby Lee, baby”? Lee was a man of grace and honor and storied lineage. He married the daughter of George Washington’s stepson. His father was a colonel in the American Revolution and a governor of Virginia. After Appomattox, when many advocated that the remnants of the Confederate armies head for the hills and conduct guerrilla warfare, Lee told Confederate soldiers to lay down their arms, go home, and obey the law.

Should statues of Robert E. Lee be taken down? Or all the statues of Confederate line soldiers in countless courthouse squares across the South? Or Jackson’s statue at his grave in Lexington in the beautiful Shenandoah?

If I were Jewish, what would I think of finding a statue of Herman Goering in a public park?

I believe Donald Trump, with his denial of global warming and his rescinding of Obama’s environmental regulations, will share responsibility for hundreds of millions of deaths in his children’s and grandchildren’s generations as the seas warm and rise and weather worsens and crops and fish die off. I don’t ever want to encounter a statue to this barbarian.

Slavery is just a word to a well-off white guy like me. But in some of the museums in the South I’ve seen artifacts of slavery that are haunting, like an iron collar with six-inch spikes that clamped around a man’s neck and restricted his ability to do almost anything a human being should be able to do. I’ve lately heard two African American historians and writers explain whey they call their ancestors an “enslaved person” rather than a slave. No one is born a slave, they say. Slavery is something another person did to them. And continued, day after day, to do. Rounding up humans in Africa. Packing them in ships like cordwood, a large percentage of them dying on the passage. Beatings. Selling children away from their parents. Endless rape. Denying the right to read. Denying the right to be respected or even seen as human. Murder for sport. Terrible housing. Disease and death. There’s no way for me to imagine what existence was like as a slave. And the hypocrisy of the whites who said slavery was good for this “childlike race” is staggering.

Jackson and Lee fought to keep the right to keep people enslaved. How can that be admirable, no matter how resourceful and inspirational and successful they were against impossible odds?

Lee and Jackson said they fought because their country was invaded. They believed in the right of a state to secede from the Union it had voluntarily joined, and were appalled that other states would march murderous soldiers into theirs to force them to stay in the fold. They both owned slaves and said, correctly, that the Constitution guaranteed them the right to do so. They considered themselves patriots and opposed secession until it happened, then served to defend their native state.

Part of the answer to all this is unfolding in Charleston, South Carolina, the flashpoint of the Civil War. Like Washington, D.C., Charleston will open in 2019 an International African American Museum on the site of a wharf where perhaps 40% of the Africans enslaved and brought to America landed. The city’s mayor for four decades, Joseph Riley, is one of the people most responsible for the museum’s creation. He hopes the museum helps all Americans learn from the unvarnished truth of our country’s original sin by seeing the horrors of slavery and the heroism of those enslaved. Asked about taking down monuments to Confederates, he has said the answer isn’t less history, but more. Keep the old monuments but tell the whole story by adding new ones such as Charleston’s and D.C.’s museums and programs. That sounds like wisdom to me.

Otherwise, how many more statues will come down? In New Orleans, where Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis were just removed for display in some not-yet-determined, more-appropriate less-public place, a statue in Jackson Square of Andrew Jackson rises on rearing horseback. Our seventh president. Who conceived and carried out a policy of Indian removal that uprooted America’s indigenous civilizations and killed tens of thousands on many Trails of Tears. If Lee’s statue can’t stand — can Jackson’s? Must Jefferson be led away from his gorgeous stone gazebo on the Tidal Basin? Must Washington City be renamed?

So why do I have a portrait of Thomas Jackson on my wall? Stonewall wouldn’t have liked me, a reprobate pantheist. I probably wouldn’t have much liked him, a stern Old-Testament Presbyterian and a college teacher who delivered memorized lectures that allowed for no discussion. But as a father and husband he was tender and, flouting local custom, he taught a Sunday school class to black children. And his daring and decisiveness were breathtaking. The South was vastly outnumbered in everything — population, soldiers, ships, resources, railroad iron, manufacturing, guns, food, fuel, foundries. The only force they had stronger than the Union’s was their generals’ audacity. How quickly Jackson took the measure of his opponents, the chances he took, how he used the beautiful geography and topography of the great Valley of Virginia to hide his moving troops, all make him a fascinating man for me. Yet despite why he said he fought, the result of his fighting, if successful, would have been continued slavery. History is complex and unclear.

In Lexington, Virginia, where Lee served after the war as president of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University, there is a stable next to the president’s house. Lee died in 1870 in Lexington of pneumonia after a ride in the rain on his horse, Traveller, who had served Lee faithfully during the war. A year later Traveller died. The doors to Traveller’s stable are always kept slightly ajar, even today. In case the horse comes home.

One day, perhaps, America will come home. I can still hear George McGovern’s acceptance speech in 1972, late late at night, when the quixotic candidate ran against Richard Nixon in an America as divided as it is now, and almost as divided as it had been one hundred years before — “Come home, America,” was McGovern’s plea. Come home, together, despite conflicting views and values.

I’m fine with Robert E. Lee being taken off his pedestal in New Orleans. We don’t have to hold him up, but we can’t make believe he was never an American. We can’t delete Lee, or either Jackson, from history or from the tangled twisted improbable story of America that is still being told. As we all try to find home.

— Bruce Benidt

101 Trumpnations

One hundred and one. But who’s counting? The total is too daunting.

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Donald Trump in 100 days hasn’t done as much as we may have feared, and of course he’s done way less than he promised. Lots of commentary about this artificial hundred-day mark, about how Trump’s doing.

What about us? How are we doing?

Still shocked. Still disbelieving. I have friends and family who are watching and reading much less news. Thoreau said that, once you know trains can crash, you don’t need to know every time a train crashes. I’m reading and watching somewhat less. So little of what’s in the headlines and on the air is surprising: Trump guts environmental protections, Trump proposes tax breaks for the rich. We need to know he’s doing this, but I don’t need to punish myself with each detail.

My wife, Lisa, has said for some time that, politically, things have to get worse before they get better. She started saying this when W was “selected” as she says. I hoped eight years of W would be enough to start the “better.” But I guess we need more “worse.” I can’t quite fathom that we have fourteen times as many days of Trump left as we’ve had so far — if he doesn’t quit early, bored and tired of actual work, as I believe he will. At 66 years of age, keeping my head down for four years and hoping things get better doesn’t sound as easy as it might have in 1968, at the beginning of Nixon. Or even at the beginning of Reagan, when I was 30.

Several commentators, including Andrew Sullivan, have said it’s a good thing Hillary Clinton didn’t get elected, if Congress stayed Republican. Congress would have let her accomplish less than Obama, and the right would have gone more crazy, and the Democratic Party would have suffered more in the White House than in the Wilderness, Sullivan says. Maybe there’s a silver lining there.

The hope these writers have is that Trump will screw up enough that there will be a reaction against him in both the midterms and the next presidential election, and we’ll get back to … to what? Republicans and Democrats fractured within their parties, left and right (or right and far right)? Voters who don’t understand or want to understand people who voted for the other side? A country still divided, or splintered, but one with a Democrat in the White House? I guess that’s our hope, faint though it may be.

My hope is that people who voted for Trump will see his con. But they haven’t so far. Ninety-six percent of those who voted for him still support him, some polls say. Those numbers may not yet reflect reaction to his tax plan, which benefits him to the tune of hundreds of millions, and $1.2 billion in estate tax savings, if you believe his boasts about his own wealth. Maybe those numbers will wake up some Trump voters — but are the local media in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, or Anadarko, Texas, showing who benefits and who’s getting screwed in Trump’s plan? Fox News ain’t. What will make Trump voters understand that he ran as a populist and is already governing as a plutocrat?

Trump voters are getting the circus they wanted, but not the bread. Jason Miller, a Trump campaign adviser, told the New York Times today “The 2016 election wasn’t a delicate request to challenge exiting traditions; it was a demand that our next president do things different. And while the professional political class struggles to understand what has happened to their hold on power, supporters of President Trump — the forgotten men and women he referenced in his Inaugural Address — love the change they’re seeing.” So Trump shakes things up and doesn’t follow convention, and I understand how that’s appealing. Too many politicians are to human beings what a postcard is to a real sunset. So Trump is refreshing to people tired of both Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton poll-testing their every breath.

Trouble is, Donald Trump doesn’t give a rat’s ass about “the forgotten men and women he referenced in his Inaugural Address.” Never has. And is busily working, when he’s not golfing, at screwing them over. Will they see it, or will his flimflam bluster keep them entertained enough to not check their wallets?

Time will tell. But with an aging Supreme Court and the oceans rising … do we have 1,359 more days?

Me, I’m just glad baseball season started. Even reruns of West Wing (our fifth time through) aren’t cheering me up as much as an Evan Longoria homer or rope-line toss from deep at third.

How are you all doing?

— Bruce Benidt

 

The Haberdasher, the General and the Imposter

Harry Truman, commenting about General Dwight Eisenhower succeeding him in the Oval Office, said, “He’s going to sit at this desk and say ‘Do this’ and ‘Do that’ — and nothing’s going to happen.”

As a general, Ike could order people to do things and they’d do them. As president, not so much.

Truman would be amused, but not surprised, watching Donald Trump struggle in the office the haberdasher once occupied. As a businessman, Trump could give orders to his minions and the orders would be followed. Dealing with people now who aren’t on his payroll and who aren’t afraid of him, he’s flopping around, mouth gaping, like a fish tossed on shore.

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It’s one more piece of evidence that the notion of running the government like a business is so very wrong. It’s wrong because it doesn’t work, and it’s wrong because, philosophically, it’s way off base. Business exists — especially in the grubby hands of bandits like Trump — for private enrichment. The government exists to advance and protect the common good.

It’s very clear that Trump and his family and his henchmen are blurring the line between running the government to serve others and running it to serve themselves. The ethical conflicts of interest Trump and his family have are so numerous and so glaring that there’s hardly a decision the president can make that doesn’t have a financial impact on him and his family. From pipelines to banks to hotels, Trump is using our tax money and mortgaging our national security to fill his Scrooge McDuck money bins. I think he can’t see any difference between his private pelf and the public good. That moral vacancy is frightening.

Business works to increase efficiency to grow shareholder value. And who are the largest shareholders? The white guys who run the company. The impact of business decisions that increase share prices or increase the sales and value of private companies is often damage to the community and the company’s employees. Government decisions have to take into consideration the impact on the public, on the economy, on the nation’s resources and the environment for decades and centuries to come, and on the nation’s security, values and reputation.

Whether it’s a toll road or a privately-built and -run prison or a school or retirement savings, the model of increasing shareholder value just does not cover all the bases. Even without Trump owning stock in two companies involved in the Dakota Access Pipeline, his coziness with big banks and big energy companies makes his approval of the pipeline  at the least raise questions about his motives — serve the public, protect the environment or backscratch his cronies? A spokesminion claims Trump has sold his stock in the pipeline partners — but with his history of lying and his refusal to release his tax returns, who can know?

Government is not a business. It has very different aims and responsibilities than a business has. Its moral purposes are completely different.

It’s actually refreshing to see Trump fail using his corporate pirate tricks. As a business bully he could get away with not knowing the details of the projects he was hustling. Underlings could marshall the facts and figures while figurehead Donald handled the bluster and the bullshit. When he didn’t know much of anything about the healthcare bill he was pushing, House members were shocked, and mocked him.

Trump said over and over during the campaign that he would make great deals. Snarking about President Obama playing golf, Trump said he would probably never play golf (!!!) as president because he’d just want to stay in the White House and make deals. But a president’s deal-making ability has to be in service of something, as LBJ’s was with Medicaid and the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Trump just likes to make deals, and then skips town before his victims can heat up the tar and pluck the feathers. And deal-making is only part of what a president does. Other qualities — leadership, inspiration, fairness, judgment, steadiness in crises, compassion, empathy, vision, diplomacy — are just as important. And absent in the current Oval Office pretender.

Harry Truman must have been smiling wryly if he paid attention, from wherever dead presidents reside, as Trump’s odious consigliere, Steve Bannon, tried to carry The Boss’s orders to vote for the Frankenstein health care bill to the Freedom Caucus in the House. Bannon tried the strong arm, telling them “Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.” Might have worked for LBJ, a master of carrots, sticks, pork and human nature. Didn’t work for the windbag who told us we’d be tired of winning by this time. One Freedom Caucus member — bless his pointed little head — replied to Bannon: “You know, the last time someone ordered me to do something, I was 18 years old. And it was my daddy. And I didn’t listen to him, either.”

My friend Dave Kuhn, a fellow recovering journalist, taught me so much about helping senior executives deal effectively with the media. People from the military and business don’t like the press, Dave said, because it’s one of the few things they can’t control. So they’re not very good at handling the challenges journalists throw at them or at letting criticism slide off their backs.

Trump’s efforts at strong-arming the media aren’t any more successful than his orders to the House members of his own party have been. And thank god for that.

— Bruce Benidt

So You’re Sean Spicer …

It’s easy to lampoon Sean Spicer, Donald Trump’s press secretary. He does it himself every day.

But what would you do?

Your boss tells you that you need to go out and spank the media, be tough like he is, and tell them that the crowd at your inauguration was the biggest ever. Period. It’s your first day on the job. It’s a job you really like and want to keep. So you give the president your advice, that saying this about the crowd will make all of you look foolish. The president asks you “Whose side are you on?” If you won’t go out there and straighten the press out he’ll find someone who will. Trump’s decision is made, and you have your marching orders.

So what do you do? Easy to say, those of us who don’t have such cool apex-predator jobs, that we’d resign rather than say something we know is not true. But would we? Would you? You make your case, you lose, the boss tells you what to do. He’s the boss.

What about something not so black and white. The message to be delivered today as the House tinkers with the Trumpcare bill is that, by removing the requirements in Obamacare that 10 essential benefits be covered, consumers will have more choice and their coverage will cost less. The essential benefits are things like prenatal care, mental health and substance abuse care, therapy and devices to help recovery after injuries or for chronic conditions, prescription drug coverage and six more. An older man, say, could chose a plan that doesn’t cover prenatal care. Sounds good, right?

But by letting people pick and choose, costs will go up for the people who do need things like prenatal care. And, if the costs get too high and a mother doesn’t get prenatal care, guess who pays for the ensuing problems her child has once born? Everybody pays, especially when care is sought through emergency rooms by people who can’t afford the coverage after it’s been cherry-picked.

So, what you’re telling people — that choice is good for everybody — simply isn’t true. At least that’s a reasonable argument. But your job is not to present both sides of a case. It’s to support the case you’re advocating for. If you’re selling soda-pop, it’s not your job to point out that a 12-ounce can of soda has 10 teaspoons of sugar in it. But it’s probably also not your job to say that soda-pop is healthy.

Spicer today eagerly and strongly asserted that doing away with the requirement that health plans cover these 10 essential services is better for health-care consumers. If you were told to say that, what would you do?

My easy answer #2 is that I wouldn’t work for someone in the first place who has shown his entire career that he sides with the rich and doesn’t give a damn about the little guy, whom he has consistently stiffed. I wouldn’t work for someone in the first place whose values are based on selfishness — I’ve got mine and you’re on your own to get yours, even when mine is crowding out yours.

But Spicer wanted this job. He’s not just some guy who came out of Trump University with a bubble-gum-card diploma. He has a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College. He’s worked in communication for Congress and for the Republican Party. He’s not a rube or a dupe. I don’t think.

So … the president tells you to go out and say, for example, that Paul Manafort played “a limited role for a very limited time” in the Trump campaign. That’s nonsense, of course, for a man who was campaign chairman.

What do you do? Chime in here, let us know your thoughts.

— Bruce Benidt

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We’re Baaaaaaack!

We’ve spent long enough in the storm cellar. We’ve crawled up and out and by god it seems Donald Trump is actually president. And will be for some time. (Although I predict he’ll resign after the midterm elections at the latest, tired of the criticism and frustrated that not everyone tells him how wonderful he is, as he’s been used to. He’ll declare victory — the country is safe all the jobs have come home we’re all prosperous  there are no bad people coming over the border ISIS is utterly defeated and IBS has been conquered [the only true part of that will be that his constituents, the one percent, are more prosperous] — and say “my work here is done.” And he’ll go.)

Jon Austin and Bruce Benidt, at least, are back. There are just too many lessons to be learned from the Trump kommunications cyclone, and, really now, just too many fish in the barrel to resist.

For example, any of us doing crisis communications work has had attorneys tell us that what’s said in the media can come back to bite you in court. And, ta-da, exhibits A and B are the courts knocking down Trump’s travel bans 1.0 and 2.0 because of what he said on the campaign trail and what his lackeys like Rudy Giuliani said. As crisis counselors we know that what’s said today has to protect the organization’s reputation now and down the road, and has to protect the organization’s legal position now and down the road. But Trump and his minions have made their intention clear, no matter what the language of the executive orders say. And so the courts have done their job.

So, we hope to consider what’s going on in this political carnival not with just dropped jaws and shaking heads but with some thoughtful analysis. And, yes, we’ll vent because, well, just look and listen to what’s out there.

We hope we’ll pull some of our readers back. And we’ll have some fun. Thanks for dropping by now and then.

BB for The Management, such as it is.

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What Now? Can We Find Peace Amid Rising Waters, Rising Gorge?

God willing and the creek don’t rise…  I wrote earlier this week about the likely election of Hillary Clinton.

The creek rose. And now so will the seas. And now what do those of us, more than half the country, who think Trump is horrendous do to find some equilibrium? Anger shock and griping isn’t a healthy plan for living.

Donald Trump’s first act as president elect will ensure that his son Baron and Baron’s children will live in a world of horror. You think there are refugee problems now, Mr. Trump? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Wait until your know-nothing policy on global warming has its effects and tens of millions of poor people who don’t look like your voters flee the rising seas. Trump named Myron Ebel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to head his transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency. The fox has entered the henhouse. “Mr. Ebel has asserted that whatever warming caused by greenhouse gas pollution is modest and could be beneficial,” The New York Times writes today. Bye Bye Paris climate accord. Bye Bye livable earth.

Every day there will be another outrage like this. But these won’t be like Trump’s campaign outrages. Those could have still been addressed by the voters. Too late now. Too many of these new daily outrages will become policy.

Can I stand to be outraged every day? Angry? Depressed? Clinton in her concession speech said we owe the president elect an open mind. I’ll try. I’ll have to or I’ll go crazy. Or I’ll have to go up in the hills and live alone and become a helmet, as Maynard G. Krebs said.

Perhaps this man will grow in the office. He seems not to have fixed convictions, and he’s certainly not an orthodox Republican. So I suspect he’ll sometimes pleasantly surprise us. He may push for government-supported work repairing infrastructure that was the first thing the Republicans blocked President Obama from doing eight years ago. Clips and pictures of him meeting with Obama yesterday showed Trump looking as if he’s realized what deep water he’s in. That, or he was already bored.

I can’t live in anger for four years. People who thought Obama was an abomination and that his policies were ruining the country felt every day for eight years what I’ll feel now for four. Their representatives in Congress did little but bitch and say no. That wasn’t very satisfying or useful. I don’t want to do that.

So I’ll watch and read less news. Try not to wallow in the daily transgressions. Read more books. Write more books. Watch more movies. Talk with Lisa more instead of sitting next to each other watching MSNBC. Bowl. Do something. Actively try to stop some of the worst things Trump and his backers will do. Are already doing. But I can’t be sad or angry every day or the cats will hide under the bed and Lisa will make me live on the screen porch where my black cloud won’t foul the air.

Half the country is crawling out of their cellars these last three days and looking around at what the tornado rearranged. It’s an apt cliche to say we’re in shock. Moving slow. Staring off in the distance. Wishing it weren’t so.

The dark parts of me want to say to Trump voters, “You picked him, you got him, don’t come to us when you realize he’s screwing you.” And the nasty parts of me want to say to Democratic primary voters, “You picked her, a terrible candidate, and look where that got us.” The late great Molly Ivins wrote a book about George W. Bush’s years as governor of Texas to show voters what Bush would be like as president. And he was (sort of) elected anyway and he acted just like Ivins warned he would. She wrote a second book before Bush’s reelection and said in the introduction “If y’all hadda read my first book I wouldn’t have had to write the second one.” If we’d paid attention to Carl Bernstein’s study of Hillary Clinton’s actions and character “A Woman in Charge” we would have put up someone this year who wasn’t so reviled and could have won.

But that didn’t happen. And I have to stop moaning about it all. For my own peace, and so people and small animals don’t flee from me on sight. Pick a few important causes to back and then back away from the daily deluge. Find quiet corners.

We survived eight years of Reagan (the poor didn’t survive very well as income disparity started to skyrocket under this earlier actor who played a president). We survived eight years under Bush (the soldiers and civilians killed and maimed in Bush’s endless wars didn’t survive very well under this earlier front man who didn’t know much). We can probably survive four years of Trump. But the planet and our progeny?

Get thee to a hammock, Bruce. Squeeze a cat pet a dog love the kids. Turn down the temp inside yourself. And send Elizabeth Warren flowers.

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— Bruce Benidt

 

How Could You????

The majority of colonists in America either favored staying with King George or at least didn’t support the rebellion. The Revolutionaries who wanted independence were a minority. Status quo has a powerful inertial force.

I think of this as I try to understand how anyone — any one person not related to him — could possibly vote for Donald Trump. (Yes I realize people with the opposite view wonder the same thing about voting for Hillary Clinton. That’s the great divide right there.) I think it’s the economy, stupid, and the way things were. And the fact that we’ve let so many politicians get away with so much bullshit for so many years that we can no longer tell the difference between standard-issue political bullshit that comes from someone with at least some idea of how the real world works and the totally empty policy-free crap that comes from an Olympic-level bullshitter with no knowledge of a world beyond his own mirror.

I’m truly trying not to be reactionary. It’s easy to say many, or most (or half, Hillary?) Trump voters are ignorant or racist or xenophobes. It’s easy to dismiss them from many angles. But there are so many of them. Forty percent of voters polled. That’s a lot of people and they can’t all be ignorant racist xenophobes. Everyone I know is appalled by Trump. But, really, everyone? I bet many people I know are considering pulling the lever for Trump tomorrow, or already have. And just not talking about it, at least with liberal me.

Why would anyone vote for Trump? Many don’t like Obama policies, such as Obamacare, which has been presented to them by conservatives and their media lackeys as poison. Many don’t like Hillary Clinton, don’t trust her, don’t think she’s ethical. I’m among those. But I already voted for her because we agree on almost all policy and issues. And because she has actual knowledge of the world. A lot of veterans and active military support Trump, many because they don’t like how America is being pushed around by foemen not worthy of our steel.

img_5174I’ve been reading three memoirs from the South that help explain Trump voters. Hillbilly Elegy, by J. D. Vance (he’s been on every interview show there is lately), Dimestore, by Lee Smith, and Finding Grace, by Donna VanLiere. All three talk about small towns withering in the South and about what people who stay are like and what people who get out are like. A common theme is that, as the world and the economy change and jobs disappear, some people change with the flow and some stand pat and drown.  Many who are overwhelmed by change lack agency — they feel as if the world is doing something to them, and as if they have no role to play in adapting or changing. And many of them are mad. At the world. At “them.” Whoever “them” is. In Vance’s book, a guy who lost his job by drinking too much blames his bosses. Vance says having someone to provide kids growing up with stability (for him, grandparents) and a view of larger possibilities can make all the difference between becoming someone who feels angry and helpless and someone who feels he or she can rise higher than their immediate surroundings.

I’ve also recently reread All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren, and read It Can’t Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis, and Lindbergh, by A. Scott Berg. As the books meander through demagoguery and America First-ism, they all shed some light on the world of Trump. There are clear bad guys in these tales. Bankers, European war leaders, subversives. There’s a “them” to blame. Different for everyone, but someone for everyone.

I recently talked to a Brit I admire who lives in the US,  and I asked if he would have voted for Brexit if he still lived in England. “Absolutely” was his immediate response. And he began talking about immigrants and losing the culture of England. The England he grew up with is changing.

And I think that’s the key. How things used to be. Even if they weren’t all that good, they were what we knew. What we grew up with. It was how the world was. And was supposed to be. Too bad if the way things were was mostly good for straight white men.

Trump promises to turn back the clock. Make things better. Just like that. Flick of a switch. Take us back. Make steel jobs reappear. Make criminals disappear. He identifies the bad guys — them — and says he can fix what they’ve wrecked. Overtly he names the bad guys as immigrants and Muslims. People not like us. Covertly he identifies the bad guys as blacks and hispanics and women and the poor. People not like us.

There are many who feel the pull of Trump’s reactionary make-believe and know he can’t really just snap his fingers on day one and fix it. They know his plans don’t exist. But they buy into Trump’s siren song hoping that some of what’s gone awry can be righted by this guy who at least names the problems. Yes, there are also many who hear Trump’s fantasies and are too ignorant or too irresponsible to pay enough attention to see that Trump’s a charlatan. These people aren’t doing their duty as citizens — and, I believe, are the most likely to be racists and xenophobes and be the kind of people Vance says blame others for their problems. (Much of that blame is reasonable:  companies that move jobs overseas — to meet our demand for cheap stuff — have indeed acted upon their employees in ways that are no fault of the workers. The issue is what do you do with yourself — and what does your upbringing and experience tell you is possible to do — after the job disappears.)

Many news articles lately have shown that the people most likely to fall for Trump are white people with the worst economic prospects. (Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans who’ve been suffering economically for generations aren’t jumping on his bandwagon, because they’re paying attention.) These white folks who’ve lost jobs as the economy and world change hear Trump shout out loudly that there’s someone to blame, someone to beat on, and he’s someone who’ll do it.

The most compassionate viewpoint about Trump voters I’ve heard came from Van Jones, a black social entrepreneur, activist and commentator on CNN. In The New York Times some weeks back he said “When I listen to Trump voters I hear Black Lives Matter people.” Both groups feel ignored, left behind, marginalized, feel like the system is rigged against them.

So, as Trump loses tomorrow, god willing and the creek don’t rise, let’s not scorn those who voted for him. Many are good people who feel they’ve been screwed. And America and her new president need to give them an ear and some hope. Yes, we can.

— Bruce Benidt