Dispatches from the Hinterland

Yesterday morning I’m sitting in the waiting room for my eye doctor appointment, innocently reading NPR News on my phone, and two rural women, perhaps a daughter and her 70-ish mother, come in and sit nearby. An older man and woman come in and sit down, three feet away, and eight or nine feet across from me. The man strikes up a conversation with the two women. Within a minute or two the conversation turns political. The next thing I know, the man is saying Trump is the greatest of our presidents (I start shaking my head in sad resignation), followed by his telling them who our two worst presidents were: FDR and—I knew it was coming, as inevitable as sunrise—Obama. FDR, he explains, knew about a Japanese invasion coming two weeks before Pearl Harbor. Apparently assuming no explanation is necessary, he offers not even a specious reason for Obama, though I’d put my money on race. So what does the older woman say, clearly in such obvious agreement that the sides do not even require identification? “I think it’s just come down to good vs. evil.” And I thought, “yes ma’am, you’re right—but maybe not in the way you think.”

It set me back for the whole day, despite my reading of The Daily Stoic. I’m a Mississippian, but even so, such views expressed right in front of me still hit me like a punch in the gut. I probably should have offered a rejoinder, but it wasn’t my conversation, and I just shook my head. Who is living in Alice’s Wonderland, me or them? My truth is their are-you-crazy? lie. Their truth is my are-you-crazy? lie. Their yes is my no, their bad is my good, their black is my white, their up is my down. Either for me or for them, facts just don’t matter, or, more likely, twist themselves through some contorted and fevered illogic into their opposites. The nurse calls me in.

To my own satisfaction, at least, I’ve basically figured Trump out: dishonest, authoritarian, self-dealing, ignorant, bullying, racist, amoral, narcissistic, incompetent. The folks in the waiting room and upwards of 40% of the country have a totally different take, and I keep trying to figure out why. Even accepting the estimate that roughly 30% of any given population have “authoritarian tendencies,” what do they like so much about a man I find so abominable? Well, he’s “tough.” He breaks the rules. He tells it like it is. He never has to admit he’s wrong. He hates all those foreigners taking our jobs and ruining our way of life. He sticks it to those pointy-headed pinko liberals bent on raising our taxes and confiscating our guns. But beyond that, forever Trumpers, let’s get specific: What has he done that makes you like him so much? Do you like it when he lies to you, as when he said Mexico would pay for the wall? Or when he said he would have won the popular vote if it hadn’t been for all the fraud? Or when he said he saw the video of the Muslims dancing in the streets in New Jersey after 9/11? Did you like it when he stiffed those small contractors—often little guys, with a handful of employees—by refusing to pay the amount specified in the contract, then telling them to sue him, then stalling in court for years, sometimes bankrupting them? Do you like how he admires Putin and other autocrats and dictators like Kim Jong Un, Duarte of the Philippines, el-Sissi of Egypt, Erdogan of Turkey, and others? Do you like how he groped women and bragged about it on tape, but somehow claims that he never did it? Would you like it if he groped your wife or your daughter? Do you like how he sold out our intelligence community by saying how “strong” Putin was when the Russian denied interference in our 2016 election? Do you like how he mocked a genuine American war hero like John McCain? Do you like how he paid a doctor to say he had bone spurs in his feet to keep him out of Vietnam, especially if you or your friends or relatives got drafted or volunteered to go?

So what else do you like about him? Do you like how he tried to extort our ally Ukraine by withholding $391 million in arms—already appropriated by Congress—to help them fight his pal Putin unless Ukraine’s president publicly announced an investigation into the Bidens and into how Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in our 2016 election? Do you like how under his presidency, the former anti-Russia GOP has become the pro-Russia GOP? Do you like how he tries to use the presidency to make a buck by trying to have official events at his properties? Do you like how he doesn’t have the stomach to fire people face to face but uses Twitter instead? Did you like how he put a “perfect,” totally innocent phone call on a highly classified platform so no one could see how perfect and innocent it was? Do you like his megalomaniacal bragging about his “great and unmatched wisdom,” how he knows more than all “his” generals, how “only I can fix it,” how he’s a “genius,” and how he’s “the Chosen One”?

How about some more things you might like? Do you like how the generals who have worked for him shake their heads at how ignorant he is of world affairs or how he acts in ways contrary to our national interests, causing them to resign or be fired? Do you like, for example, how he betrayed our Kurdish allies, allies who did almost all the ground fighting against ISIS and lost almost 11,000 men doing so, by pulling our guys out and giving a green light to Turkey to go in and clean the Kurds out? And how his buddy Putin was then able to fill in the void we left, enhancing Russian influence? Do you like how he considers climate change a Chinese hoax? Do you just love how he and the GOP got that tax cut, 63% of which goes to the top 20% of earners, and nearly one-fourth goes to the top 5%? Are you in that top 20%, making over $150,100, or in that top 5%, making over $303,200? Do you like how he said that tax cut wouldn’t help him at all, and that his rich friends would be mad at him? Do you really think he cares anything about you other than your vote and your continued gullibility? And do you love how the GOP used to claim to be the party of fiscal responsibility, but then passed that tax cut that adds about three trillion to the national debt over ten years and puts the annual deficit at a trillion dollars for the first time? Do you like how his first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, called him a “moron,” and was honest enough not to deny that he said it? Do you like how he obstructs justice by firing FBI Director Comey and tries to prevent people under subpoena from testifying before congress? Do you like how in a 2011 poll only 30% of white evangelicals said that someone committing “immoral personal acts” could be an effective public servant, but now 72% say so? Do you like how he represents pretty much the opposite of what Christians, which he claims to be, would say constitutes character?

Two other questions. If Obama had done any of these things, not to mention a majority of  them, would you have liked him a little more? Or would you be screaming “impeachment” and “lock him up”?

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