Friday, January 20, 2017, perhaps not a day that will live in infamy, but a sad day for the nation just the same. Consistent with everything the past year has given us to expect, his inaugural speech was rich with bombastic distortions that gave fact checkers plenty to work with. His supporters though, steeped in a brew of assurances that America is in horrible shape because of the disastrous policies of the last eight years, are primed to cheer any Trumpian move as a sign that good times are here again. I suspect they are partly disappointed, and partly relieved, that they have escaped the confiscation of their guns, the imposition of Sharia law, and the humiliation of being led by a corrupt woman. It’s going to be a rough four years. It’s made rougher by the violence of anti-Trump protesters whose behavior confirms everything Trump supporters believe about “the Left,” and undermines the hard work of protecting the nation from the bottom up that lies ahead. The inauguration saddened me deeply, and the protest violence angered me beyond measure.
I, like many others, believe the years ahead will be roughest on those who have put their trust in Trump. How will they react to the dawning recognition that they’ve been had by a world class huckster? There is a chance they will deny that they have been had. It’s too humiliating to admit. The timing of their deliverance may have been off a bit, but it will come. Of course hucksters work best when in control of the arena, and a number of commentators have noted that Trump’s arena has just become, using his favorite word, huge. It’s so huge that large parts of it are controlled by people placed in charge by Trump, but who appear to have little respect for him, regardless of their public pandering, and little time for taking his inarticulate ramblings seriously. My guess is that they are (mostly) men who figure they can play Trump the way he plays others. It’s hard to predict where that will lead. Historians might think of inept Byzantine or Ottoman rulers and the intrigues that brought down their empires. I’m more inclined to think of Mel Brooks without the jokes, but I’ve said that before. Again I’ve digressed.
A more honest recognition of reality from Trump supporters may be possible if center right and center left progressive leadership can learn to talk to them without insults or condescension. Joe Biden has been quoted in the recent press as saying that he wished he had stayed on message when he spoke directly to working class America about their own welfare, instead of getting sidetracked into blasting away at Trump. It remains to be seen whether others will recognize how important that is. I have no feel for how it might work in the nation, but members of our local Democratic Party, to which I belong, are skilled at talking with each other about how to organize for the next election, but largely ignore what is needed to communicate effectively on issues and candidates with the region’s conservative majority, who tend to swing reflexively to the far right. They are abetted by a regional movement to “dump” our member of congress that sends out daily memos about how bad she is. It makes all the liberals feel good, but does nothing to address the desires, fears, and needs of the majority who keep reflecting her.
Predicting what might happen is always dangerous. It seldom works. What we can do is reveal what is happening in a clearer light. What has happened is that lies, distortions, and phantasmagorical illusions have prevailed in the election. There is no reason to believe they will not continue to be employed, at least from the Oval Office. What I know from my conservative and right wing friends is that they are convinced that their liberties have been taken away, that those remaining have been put in jeopardy by Obama, that public policy tilted toward the undeserving has stolen their birthright, and that regulation of business and industry has strangled economic opportunity, especially for small businesses and family farms. Trump said he would save them. Progressives said they would work for greater justice, which they read as code for more of the same. It’s time to change the terms of the conversation.