It was never about economic anxiety

It was never about economic anxiety

As a librarian, as a writer, and as an American, I am firmly committed to upholding the idea and reality of a free press, even when that free press annoys the hell out of me.

In 2016, this free press woefully abdicated its responsibilities, focusing on the fripperies of Hillary Clinton’s secure email server, and for the most part ignoring the unparalleled demagoguery of Donald Trump. As others much smarter than I have said, Clinton was destined to win; best to focus on her as president-in-waiting and start the digging, than seriously vet a carnival barker. Except that carnival barker won, due in no small part to the press’ dereliction of its duties to fully inform the public of all candidates’ positions. (Indeed, it’s a truism that the political press presents none of the candidates’ positions, focusing instead, again, on fripperies which will attract the attention of an attention-addled public.)

And yet for all this, you go to war with the press you have, not the press you wish you had. And, in spite of missteps, the press has tried to deal with the fallout of 2016. That it fails more often than it should is testament to the fact that we’re facing an unprecedented situation, one in which the sitting president of the United States is busily attempting to dismantle the Republic. This isn’t what was taught in graduate school. One can say that we need journalists from war-torn countries—who know fascism firsthand—to cover our politics, not journalists trained in the tony environs of Washington Square Park.

Be that as it may. One aspect of post-2016 coverage of the Trump debacle has been to visit Trump-voting towns to get the pulse of the Trump supporter. It is so commonplace as to be a bitter joke among those of us who chose Clinton by 3 million more votes. I’ve tended to throw my hands up in exasperation at this focus on what is a minority.

However, if we’re honest with ourselves, Clinton voters are also a minority—about 26% of all eligible voters. This statistic alone should make us wail at what has become of The World’s Greatest Democracy™. Its citizens no longer care to govern themselves, and instead devote themselves to whatever mindless entertainment comes their way.

Understanding the Trump voter might be key to getting ourselves out of this tricky wicket. Those of us who vote for Democrats are easy to understand: we’re not insane. Those who support the orange-hued authoritarian are the ones still sustaining him, keeping him, in his ego, from admitting defeat and vacating the White House in ignominy. And every once in a while, a Trump-voter piece is revelatory, or at least says out loud the things which were meant to be quiet.

The New York Times published a story on the Trump-heavy Florida Panhandle. First, these people were buffeted by Hurricane Michael. Now, the government shutdown is making the residents rend their garments.

As the article explains, the town of Marianna is home to a federal prison. Or, it was, until the hurricane hit and tore off the roof. Prisoners were transferred to a facility in Mississippi. The guards in Marianna commute 400 miles to Yazoo City for two week stints.

But, of course, with the government shutdown, they’re doing so with no pay.

This, of course, has brought recriminations. And, oddly enough, the people of Marianna are not blaming the Democrats for the shutdown, but laying it square on their orange savior.

I would have been gratified if they had realized the error of their ways. If they had realized that placing their faith in a fascist failed game show host had been the worst decision of their lives. Not because of how it affects them, but because of what it's doing to the country.

But I would be waiting a long time for that epiphany. Instead, there’s this:

“I hate the shutdown,” said Joseph Sims, 37, a corrections officer of six years. “Sometimes you’ve got to do stuff to get stuff done,” he said of Mr. Trump’s stance, “but now it’s starting to take a toll on everybody at work.”

Ah, yes. Mr. Sims was all for getting stuff done. Until it impacted him.

Of course, the money quote is here:

A few miles away, another prison employee, Crystal Minton, accompanied her fiancé to a friend’s house to help clear the remnants of a metal roof mangled by the hurricane. Ms. Minton, a 38-year-old secretary, said she had obtained permission from the warden to put off her Mississippi duty until early February because she is a single mother caring for disabled parents. Her fiancé plans to take vacation days to look after Ms. Minton’s 7-year-old twins once she has to go to work.

The shutdown on top of the hurricane has caused Ms. Minton to rethink a lot of things.

“I voted for him, and he’s the one who’s doing this,” she said of Mr. Trump. “I thought he was going to do good things. He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting.”

“He’s not hurting the people he’s needs to be hurting.”

Just pause for a moment. Allow that statement to roll in your mind. Let it take a hold of it.

Ms. Minton is reconsidering her support for Trump because he’s hurting the wrong people. She wasn’t supposed to be hurt. It was supposed to be her enemies, the enemies of the state, the enemies of the life of privilege which she leads.

Which brings the obvious question: How did she want these people hurt? Hounded out of the country? Rounded up into gulags? Murdered?

In her stuttering pain, Minton reveals the truth about Trump supporters: they live for sadism. They revel in the damage they imagine will be inflicted on those they hate. I remember an old story, where the saved in Heaven entertained themselves by watching the torments of those in Hell. This is nothing different.

And, of course, the second obvious question is this: How are we supposed to reconcile with these people? How is a nation supposed to continue with a large minority which sees any state which doesn’t cater to its whims as illegitimate? I’m not saying these are people who will take up arms; most are, in vernacular parlance, too chickenshit. But there are enough of them to be a political thorn, and to give future, more seasoned, demagogues political purchase.

Trump is a momentary blip. Trumpism, however, as I’ve said before, and will continue to do so, predates him. He merely gave it a temporary name. These people have been stewing for decades. And now that they’ve tasted power, they won’t go quietly.

President John F. Kennedy called the Cold War a “long, twilight struggle.” That one has ended, but it was foolish to think that the shadow was past. The Cold War sublimated many internal divisions. We see this most clearly in the former Yugoslavia. Now it’s come home. How my generation and the generations following me prosecute this fight will determine whether we have a world worth having.

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