I didn’t watch the State of the Union Address. I should have, but I just couldn’t.
I hate to watch my team lose. I have a habit of recording live sporting events involving my favorite teams. I find it to be a far less stressful way to watch. I’ll check the score the next morning and, if my team won, I will happily watch the game–with the added benefit of being able to fast forward through the commercials and down time. If my team lost, I just delete the game and don’t have to suffer through the pain of watching it happen. I hate to watch my team lose.
I also hate to watch my nation lose–that’s why I didn’t watch the State of the Union Address.
But I did see the reports about what was said.
One of the first things I saw stopped me cold. I saw it reported that the president was going on and on about “beautiful, clean coal”–I had to double and triple check to verify that those were his exact words and, to my horror, I found that they were.
The moment those words came out of Trump’s mouth, that should have been the end of the whole message. In a perfect world, as soon as that utterance emitted through the speakers, some big gentlemen in white lab coats should have come to the podium, wrapped a straight jacket around the POTUS and gently guided him off to a padded van to be whisked away to some asylum in the bucolic countryside, never to be heard from again. But that didn’t happen. While some, like me, recoiled in horror at those words, others leapt out of their chairs and danced with glee. That’s just what Trump wanted. He doesn’t really believe that coal is beautiful and clean. He said that as a dog whistle to stir up his base in Appalachia. That base thinks coal is good for them.
I’ve written about this phenomenon before–read it here. People in Appalachia have long been manipulated by the government and by big corporations. Trump now represents both those interests and he has taken the exploitation to new levels. He knows what moves the needle with those people who are a big part of his base–God and coal. He has them convinced that he is protecting their faith and their economy. The fact that so many folks in Appalachia believe that Trump is an instrument of God and that coal is their only way to economic prosperity shows just how deeply entangled the manipulative politics have become.
My roots run deep in Appalachia. I have had extended family members who have suffered and died with Black Lung Disease. Anyone who is from Appalachia, or knows people from there, has been touched in some way by Black Lung, some many times over. Anyone who’s been in a mine knows that coal isn’t beautiful or clean. Anyone who has seen the scarred landscape of a once pristine mountain setting devastated by strip mining knows that coal isn’t beautiful or clean. Yet, the unholy alliance between big government and big business has brainwashed the people of the region that coal is their lifeblood. It is manipulation of the foulest kind.
The manipulation game comes down to convincing a person that, although they may be in a bad situation, it could get much worse if the other side had their way. You’ve got to convince people that there is an enemy that looks different from them and that they mean to pass them on the social ladder. Lyndon Johnson had this figured out decades ago.
“I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it,” LBJ said. “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
Last night, President Trump spent a lot of time building the imagery of that enemy with brown skin from those “shithole countries.” Add those scary monsters to his dog whistle about “beautiful, clean coal” and you can see the manipulation happening right under our noses. You see the president creating an enemy and you see him creating an illusion that he is going to look after the economic interests of his base, all while protecting their religious freedoms. In return, Trump’s base will empty their pockets for him–they will turn a blind eye when scandal upon scandal continues to mount–they will forgive the most egregious and un-Christian behaviors and attitudes–they will ignore facts in favor of rhetoric–they will allow their healthcare coverage to be stripped from them–they will see a tiny tax cut for themselves, or perhaps a small bonus from their employer, and hail it as a windfall while those miles of above them on the socioeconomic ladder reap all the real profits.
I find very little–almost nothing–admirable about Donald Trump, with one exception. I must admit that he has done a masterful job of manipulating his base. He has somehow convinced them that he is a Christian when his history reveals absolutely no corroborating evidence he’s ever remotely been a man of faith or cared a whit about it. He has convinced them that he is pro-life when his history shows a very different pattern–in fact, it’s quite likely he’s personally responsible for multiple abortions. He’s convinced them that any news coming from any source other than Fox News or Breitbart is fake. He has convinced them that science and higher education is evil.
Just this week, poll results were released revealing that 58% of conservatives believe higher education is bad for our nation. That statistic should scare the pants off of you!
I used to think Donald Trump was just plain dumb. I’m starting to change my mind on that. I don’t think he is very smart about most issues, but I am beginning to see that he doesn’t even believe most of what he says. But he knows what his base wants to hear and he feeds them a steady dose of it–more than any president has ever done.
His base prefers faith to fact–they fear knowledge–that makes Donald Trump the perfect president in their eyes.
They don’t even know he is using them and playing them for fools.