With Trump the Means Are the End
Driving home on a two-lane country road through southern Virginia in July, I came upon some road construction. After a warning of “one lane road ahead,” there appeared a solitary man holding a stop sign on a pole. He had stranded himself on a thin island of shade. Not yet noon, it was over 90 degrees. The man coaxed me forward to his feet so I could share the precious shade he had claimed. I smiled a thank you.
He came around to my window, keeping the stop side of his sign pointed behind me, just in case.
“How you doing?” I asked. He pinched a wrinkly waddle under the bicep of his sign arm. “Turning black out here,” he said, wagging the evidence.
We talked. He was a veteran of the Navy. He had participated in the evacuation at the end of Vietnam.
He said I didn’t sound like I was from Greensboro. I said he sounded like he was from New York.
He was. Brooklyn. He had moved to this part of Virginia to be close to a veteran’s hospital. For four years, he’d been fighting to get medical treatment and was about to win. He said.
“It’s a shame you have to wait like that.” I meant it—a veteran somewhere in his sixties waiting for years for medical care; waiting on a lonely road, on his feet, in ferocious heat.
He spoke of his disdain for government, how it is all broken, and corrupt, and soft. Had he not been African- American, I would have thought he was a Donald Trump supporter.
“That’s why I like Trump,” he said.
I knew it.
Trump’s appeal is not a mystery to me. I understand its roots and not just intellectually, but viscerally. I don’t share appreciation for its more sinister origins, some of them downright repugnant, but I can relate to the perspective that there is a lot in America that looks broken, corrupt and soft.
It seems as if the Republicans and Democrats only say they care about people’s concerns in order to have something with which to pound the other side, but their principles are shallow and shifting and not so important once power is secured it seems—and so not much changes.
Savings accounts don’t grow. Wages don’t grow. Home values don’t grow. An erosion of civil liberties is accommodated by both parties with no end in sight. Perpetual foreign interventions of dubious value. Wall Street criminals are not prosecuted. Decades-old problems of out-of-control health care costs, gun violence and racial strife seem to be permanently beyond America’s abilities—or beyond the abilities of those in charge.
Not much good seems to be happening for the average family—just a tenuous avoidance of calamity.
Many of us feel like we are in choppy waters clutching the sides of our little canoe, happy to not capsize but bewildered at having to suffer the wake of privileged and oblivious assholes who whiz by in ski boats pulling behind them the smiling, waiving and lying politicians of the day.
Government agencies are staffed with people of mediocre abilities getting paid obscenely high salaries. Connected cronies and backslappers drink down taxpayer funds having been chosen as “winners” not because of exceptional talent or tenacious effort but only because they have cultivated the quintessential ability necessary for success in America nowadays: the capacity to control the gag reflex while kissing the correct asses.
People have lost respect for authority, which they see too often as self-serving and unprincipled. Authority figures demand civility not to maintain a decorum of mutual respect, but to humiliate and marginalize people who dare to express indignation.
Education is not an achievement for its own sake, but a passkey to the club of the self-important. You are not to be taken seriously if you don’t have credentials, talk funny or have the wrong skin color for the situation of the moment, even if you are smart, fair-minded and informed.
People are tired of it. In this fatigue Trump finds his popularity. That Trump does not color inside the lines is his appeal. That he is immune to the guilt of scoldings for being uncivil and politically incorrect is a positive trait. People who like Trump like that he confounds sages and pundits. He does not compute in the minds of the know-it-alls and that is a sure sign he is the right guy for the times.
It is not that Trump offers any particularly outstanding prescriptions; that’s not the point. His proposals might not work and might even make things worse; that’s not the point. The Trump appeal is that he walks right up to the status quo and, without apology and with no shame, pokes them in the eye.
“You’re fired!” Damn straight.
There was wide satisfaction watching Trump make Jeb Bush publicly confront the truth about the ineptitude of his dopey brother, former president George W. Bush, during a debate. The look on Jeb’s face was priceless as he was forced to hear Trump tell him the Iraq war was a “big fat mistake,” that we were knowingly lied to about weapons of mass destruction and to hear Trump mock the meme that Bush “kept us safe.”
Jeb Bush, the candidate backed by the status quo with $100 million dollars, never recovered and the fairy tales woven into the George W. Bush legacy got a good scrubbing, thanks to Trump.
It will be just as satisfying in the upcoming debates to watch Trump confront Hilary Clinton about her vote in support of the Iraq war, her support for harmful trade policies and the handling of her email server. (Let’s face it, nobody honestly believes that if some lower level State Department employee had set up his own email server in his basement and handled his official emails the way Clinton did that he would not be prosecuted.)
Every election finds its share of disgruntled voters. This is different, I think. This time it looks as if there are a large number of voters who don’t want to just put the old train on a new track, but who want to derail the train, hop off and go reconnoitering into new territory. Bernie Sanders hit the same vein.
The derailment Trump promises might put in jeopardy everything the train is pulling, NATO, race relations, Social Security, the economy—but those are just side effects. The primary objective is to shake up the power structure; overturn the board so the pieces can be reset. How is to be decided later.
Not everyone sees an America so broken as to need a remake, of course. Even among those who do, there are those who will see a more nuanced and complicated landscape for which the bombast, scapegoating and narcissism of Trump are not the solution. But to those looking for an explanation for Trump’s popularity it is this: with Trump, the means are the end. !
ROCH SMITH Jr. is the creator and curator of Greensboro 101. He can be reached at email@example.com.