Friday, October 28, 2016

Those People

Those people are stupid. They’re lazy and ignorant. A lot of them are addicts. They spend a lot of time making excuses for themselves, but they are mainly responsible for their own situation. If they want to have better lives, they need to try harder.

Who are those people? 

Not blacks or Mexicans. For me, those people are what we might call Trump Whites: white men with education that stopped in high school, down on their luck because the jobs their fathers did are gone, discouraged, tribal…and mad as hell about it. Burn baby burn!

My attitude toward them, I’m ashamed to admit, has been no better than their opinions of minorities. You know: leeches on society, we’d be better off without them. 

I grew up knowing better than to make eye-contact with certain men in rural bars in the south. Rednecks, we called them. After a few beers, it seemed like a fair percentage were mean as snakes. “What are you looking at, son?” My cue to slide out of there.

It was hard to develop sympathy for someone like that. Fear, sure, but not sympathy. They were to be avoided, not aided.

But times have changed. And maybe even I’ve changed.

Much has been written about the white men who are flocking to Trump. He’s their beacon of hope. Or that’s what they think. And the likely reason they think that is that they haven’t seen any other beacons lately. For the last few decades, progressives have been focused more on poor minorities. Minorities need help, no doubt, but it may be time to take a fresh look at the needs of poor whites.

In some ways poor and formerly middle class whites are as trapped in their circumstances as blacks in Detroit or on the south side of Chicago. There’s not much opportunity for them in their communities. Steel is gone. Coal is going. Plants are rusting. 

And yet, their homes are there. Their families and friends are there. Even if they wanted to pick up and move, where would they go? Where are there jobs for them, with their poor education and outmoded skills? They feel hemmed in and abandoned. They’re pissed off and looking for someone to blame. And for someone to lead them out of the wilderness. If a real prophet isn’t on the scene, a false prophet, like Trump, will do.

I think those of us on the left had better figure out a way to be that prophet. We can’t do it by patronizing them. We can’t do it by looking down our noses at them. We can’t do it by being angry at them. Or afraid of them. We have to figure out how to help them.

Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s in our collective self-interest. We’re not going to be able to get anything done politically in this country until we find ways to improve the prospects of these folks, and their faith in the rest of us.

Monday, October 3, 2016


I had a Facebook exchange yesterday with a friend about the relevance, or not, of Donald Trump’s tax returns. My friend said the one leaked so far doesn't show anything illegal. I said that what I would be interested in is whether his returns show him to have been untruthful about his wealth, income and charitable generosity, all important parts of the persona he strives to project.

My friend’s response: 

“Will you be happy or sad to learn that his charitable contributions were less than he has implied? I suspect you will be happy to learn that they were less and that he is not a generous man. Then ask yourself why you feel that way?”

Why? That’s easy. Because I want him to be totally discredited as a presidential candidate before the country makes what I believe would be the worst mistake in our history of choosing presidents. My friend knows all too well how I feel. 

So why is he asking me to look within myself to see why I wish for Trump to be exposed as a fraud?

I think what he means to be saying is this: “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.” (Mathew 7:5, King James Bible)

I never thought of wishing Trump to be exposed as unfit to be president as being a character defect of mine. The notion seems to be that if I were a wise and generous human being, I would feel differently about Trump’s lack of generosity. I wouldn’t feel something approaching elation that he might be proved to be a skinflint. Apparently, that kind of feeling is unworthy.

I’ve known about Donald Trump since he and I were both trolling Wall Street, he for money, I for clients. During all that time I never gave a thought to whether he was a generous man. I knew about his deals and his bankruptcies. I suppose that if I had thought about his generosity I probably would have thought he should repay his debts before giving his money away.

But he wasn’t running for president then. We must judge him now by more rigorous standards. We must try to get the facts about his character and decide what they say about his fitness.

Which makes my friend’s rhetorical jujitsu all the more interesting. It strikes me as a form of preemptive shaming: If the facts turn out to be bad, why did you wish for that? What’s wrong with you that you long for the debasement of another?

I don’t know. Call it terror. When faced with a mortal threat, as far as I am concerned no sanctuary is too base, even (or especially) stripping away a false mask of morality worn by someone who is rotten to the core.

So, what’s behind my friend’s attempt at deflection?

He said he decided a year ago not to vote for Trump. What he’s troubled by is that “the rhetoric against [Trump] has been conclusory and bordering on hysterical…[T]he voting public has been dragged down into the mud during this campaign…”

Nobody wants to be thought to be hysterical. Nobody wants to admit they might have been dragged down into the mud. But what do you do when one of the candidates has been trucking in dirt and irrigating it with a firehose?

It seems to me that our first job as voters in this election is to come down off our idealistic high-horses and deal with the clear and present danger before us. There is always mud in politics, but this is a new level of slime. We need to dig our way out of it, or risk going under.