“Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue… Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say, Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
I’ve avoided politics with individuals for the most part as of late and I’ve even taken a month long break from social media to restructure things in my life outside of it and recharge my batteries for the long haul. Alas, I have found a few members of the Trump base in the past few weeks and this is my tale of working with one of them. Yes anecdotal evidence is anecdotal but I
want need to share this with others as I feel I’ve been existing in an alternate dimension over the past month. I want to say this cannot be normal but I’m afraid it is.
I live in a college town in the south so I am fortunate to have many like minded friends around. That being said you don’t have to go far to find that often written about disaffected rural Trump voter. I’ve taken a local job to supplement my income from writing (shoutout to my fellow writers) and I’ve finally gotten to have discussions with those who still love and support Donald Trump. One of my supervisors is a 56 year old white man who goes out of his way to bring up his hatred of liberals, progressives, and socialism. He loves to defend the wealthy but he himself is far from wealth. The rate at which he spews his opinions on these things is perverse. It’s like he has so much hatred and disgust within himself (and with himself) that if he doesn’t get it out it will kill him. It’s already poisoned him but he seeks to share the venom with others. I’ll call him John.
“John what is it that you find so appealing about Trump?”
“He tells it like it is. He isn’t going to be giving free stuff to lazy no good freeloader millennials. Those Bernie Sanders progressives (said through clenched teeth) are ruining this country. Free college, free healthcare they want it all free. They think that if they take away from the wealthy through taxes and forced high minimum wages that we won’t be paying higher prices. We will. They want it all free. ” At this point he went off on what felt like a stream of consciousness rant that included something about Hillary Clinton, emails, uranium, and benghazi. I struggled to keep up. It was a fever dream of right wing talking points. He was later joined by a coworker who agreed with everything he said.
“We don’t have to be quiet anymore. With Trump we can speak our minds and not worry about snowflakes getting offended.”
“You mean you’re free to be an asshole?”
“No I just don’t have to be quiet about what I believe. This country is waking up and the silent majority is going it take it back.”
“Take it back from who?”
“From the liberals ruining this country with their policies on things like transgenders and socialism. With their terrorist groups like Black LIES Matter. Blacks are the biggest racists in this country you know. If you’re a white man you have a target on you.”
(Note: My acid reflux has returned. You can see why. I pressed him on this and he changed the subject.)
“So the Russia stuff doesn’t concern you?”
“No the real criminal is Hillary Clinton. By the time this all plays out her Russian connections will bring her down.”
“Is there anything that would change your opinion of Trump. What if it’s true he colluded with Russia?”
“There’s no collusion. They have no evidence and even if they supposedly prove guilt it won’t be real. It’s a deep state conspiracy. It all comes back to Hillary.” I realized the depths of his self delusion and obsession with Hillary that day. I also realized there was nothing that could happen with Trump that couldn’t be rationalized as some sort of conspiracy by liberals and “the elite” as he would often say.
One of my favorite quotes (if you can call it that) was on what he described as “real America”-
Oftentimes our conversations would veer to things like states seceding from the union. “Texas is the only state that can secede”, he told me. He is a native Texan and when I tried to correct him he told me I was wrong. It was at this point I realized he said things that were completely false but I could tell he believed them. If it came out of his mouth it was a truth to him. The reality that surrounded us isn’t real and he is tapped into the real truth that I would find if I only stopped watching “lamestream media” like CNN. He exists in an alternate reality that I’m not privy to because to him I’m still blind to the truth.
I was asked to take a truck he had driven to run an errand later and, not surprisingly, the radio was tuned to Rush Limbaugh. It was the day the indictments came down on Manafort and Gates. There was only talk of the “real criminal” Hillary Clinton. It was like I had slipped through a wormhole at some point that day and everything was backwards.
The next morning I was met with a barrage of comments. Within fifteen minutes I was punch drunk from the ridiculous nature of it all. The biggest theme was that poor liberals wanting handouts were ruining this country and that the job providers would be hurt by progressive taxes and that tax cuts for the wealthy should happen. In my head I was saying don’t drag this fellow in your second week on the job. He is the embodiment of the Dunning Kruger effect I told myself. He explained to me that Obama is the reason car batteries are so expensive now. Something about EPA regulations and Kenya. Most of his rant, however, was on our country trying to tear down the wealthy.
I was and still am flabbergasted at the desire of the working poor to defend the wealthy. I’m not anti-wealth or anti-rich person. I just don’t get the desire to defend them and call for policies that would benefit them while hurting yourself. There’s a paraphrased quote from John Steinbeck’s novel America & Americans that explains this quite well I think.
““Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
I believe these conservative voters either truly believe they’ll get their piece of the pie right around the corner or that the mistakes they’ve made in their careers prevented them from being millionaires themselves. In their self loathing they lash out at those they think haven’t worked to earn their place in society when in reality there’s no real difference in either one of them. Poor is poor.
I also believe we are seeing the result of years of right wing radio and Fox News poisoning the minds of a good deal of our population while empowering racists and erasing any sense of empathy and decency towards others in this country. You can now add to that the proliferation of extremist web sites as well as much of the actual fake news shared on social media. The ground is shifting under the feet of white america as the power structure is changing. There is a bigger push for equality and diversity. All of these things have led us to this point where a man who has nothing to do with the so called common man is lauded as a champion for the common man. Donald Trump is almost everything the working poor who voted for him are not. They both share a disdain for poor people. Outside of that there is no real likeness.
“My father gave me a small loan of a million dollars.”- Donald Trump
That quote says it all and somewhere in east Alabama there’s a poor man who will tell you how much he admires Donald Trump and how the president is going to stop all the handouts and freeloading by other poor people. He will also tell you about how he as a Trump voter can now can speak his mind. The real shame is that the only thing he wants to say is angry and hateful things.
tl;dr My experience with a poor bigot who now has a leader who makes him feel like he can spout bigoted things with no repercussions. He also loves rich people and poor people disgust him.
(Photo Credit Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0)