Note to readers: Here begins a new miniseries on the political issues of the day. Clancy is not a real person and any similarity between persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
Now that the guru has departed, it is sadly time to return to the real world. But I have fabulous news! The guy who moved into his apartment is a retired political science/sociology professor at one of Washington’s most prestigious universities and a well known author and pundit on political issues. I met him at the bar on the lobby level of my apartment house, and we hit it off immediately. We agreed to talk over coffee at Starbucks the next day. I told him I would be sharing our conversations on my blog, which he agreed to if I did not use his last name so that he could speak more freely. Naturally I agreed to his request since he does not have a last name anyway, being a figment of my imagination.
Clancy is probably in his early 70s, balding, thin gray hair, a tad overweight with a wry smile and occasionally a twinkle in his eyes. After getting our coffee, we found a table outside on Connecticut Avenue looking out on the entrance to the National Zoo.
I started off the conversation, “Clancy, thanks so much for taking the time to chat. My first question is just how scared should we be that our country seems to be teetering toward authoritarianism?”
Clancy took a sip of his latte and replied, “Here is what we know: Following the trouncing of Liz Cheney in the Wyoming House race this week, Trump has now demonstrated that he has complete control of a Republican Party that has lost any resemblance to the Grand Old Party of yore. It is now a populist party anchored in part by the white, alienated working class and funded by superrich supporters who are aligned with Trump’s agenda and style. Traditional Republicans in the House and the Senate, except for Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, have cowardly thrown in the towel and become sycophants, afraid that they will be ‘primaried out’ if they speak up. It is a critical time for our country.”
I interrupted, “But what I really want to know is what do his white, working class supporters see in this guy? When he was president, he did nothing to help create jobs, expand health care benefits, increase the minimum wage, or provide more family support with expanded child day care or improved education. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth and has lived the life of Riley his entire life. He has treated workers unfairly and is anti-union. The CFO of his company just copped a plea on something like a dozen criminal charges related to the Trump organization. I do not know how many homes he has but read today that his Versailles palace in Mar-a-Lago has something like 59 bedrooms and 33 bathrooms. He is a self-absorbed narcissist who cares only about himself. What is going on? Why would working class people be attracted to somebody like him?”
Clancy paused for a second and responded,” I think part of what is going on is this: ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend.’”
“But why is the enemy the ‘coastal elite’ and others who are liberals and progressives? Why does there appear to be so much anger toward people who are well educated, have professional jobs, and are financially secure? You know, people like us. Why is there so much anger toward people who support such things as increasing the minimum wage, making health care more affordable, providing child day care, increasing tax credits for the working poor, raising taxes on the rich, providing income support and affordable housing, and trying to make the country more egalitarian? These are the programs that benefit the working class.”
“I think there are two main reasons,” He answered. “The first is that our country is quickly transitioning from being white dominated country to a multiracial one. Many in the white working class believe that this has come largely at their expense and that the government programs have mainly benefited ‘the class below them,’ especially Blacks, Latinos, other people of color and non-European immigrants. Part of what is driving this is old fashioned tribalism, which in the U.S. unfortunately also means old fashioned racism. The vestiges of slavery—our great national sin—live on. Clawing back after the Civil War in the South ushered in the Jim Crow era. It is happening again. This time around it is Custer’s Last Stand: Fight to the finish.
“The other reason, I think, has to do with us progressives and liberals who have turned up our noses at the white working class. Yes, Democrats are partly responsible. Whether intentional or not, we have given the impression that we look down on these ‘ignorant, prejudiced, Trump supporters.’ They feel we have dissed them, and I think they are right.”
I chimed in, “Well, I know that I am prejudiced toward Trump supporters. If I had a child or a close relative who was a Trump supporter, I do not know what I would do. I do not have any friends who I know are Trump supporters. I do not know how a Trump supporter could ever be a friend. I can’t imagine even knowing anyone who participated in the January 6 insurrection. Hillary was right. They are deplorables.”
“So, you admit that you are as responsible for this mess as much as anyone else?”
“I guess so.”
“Yes, he sighed, “But you are hardly unique. Almost everyone I know thinks pretty much like you do, and I suppose that is the problem, isn’t it? We have divided ourselves into two tribes. Do you feel superior to all of the white working class?”
“No, no!” I responded. “ I admit that everyone who is a Trump supporter is not racist. In fact, I do have some experience in this area. Embry and I lived in a low income, white, working class neighborhood in 1970, which I have written about in Hard Living on Clay Street. We got to know our neighbors very well and respected them and became friends. Some were fighting demons with alcohol addiction and mental illness, and many were struggling financially and psychologically, but essentially, they were good people and were dealing with the same issues of human relationships, economic security, and meaning in life that many in our country are dealing with.”
Clancy interrupted, “So you think the people you wrote about would be Trump supporters today if they were still alive?”
“Probably, and that is why I am so confused. The people I wrote about were not “deplorables,” They were not “bad people.” And from that experience I think I can understand their sense of alienation. Yet here we are—demonizing and dehumanizing one another. Not a pretty picture.”
“Yes,” he replied. My historian friends tell me that the times right now are eerily like the times preceding the Civil War where we have divided ourselves into two opposing camps with little room for compromise, making amends, or trying to understand the other side.”
“What are we going to do about this mess? How are we going to get out of it?”
“The fear now is that it may be too late. Many fear that if Trump is indicted or convicted, that this will be the spark that ignites the fire of revolution.”
“Yes,” I replied, “But it is not just Trump. DeSantis, Cruz, and Hawley are waiting in the wings. Sarah Palin is back. Marjorie Taylor Greene has entered the fray, all waiting for Trump to stumble and to grab the mantle. None of these people, like Trump, have a philosophy of governance or legislative programs. They are opportunists, just like Trump, seeing a vacuum and opportunity and waiting to take advantage of it….”
I paused and then looked him straight in the eye. “So, should we be scared?”
“Yes, we should be scared. What Trump and his wannabees have in common is a thirst for power and contempt for democracy. Human nature being what it is, there is an appetite for non-democratic governments ruled by strongmen. Many great countries have fallen into the trap of worshipping a powerful ruler—Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia, China, and many others. Remember democracy is a new idea. Before the American experiment monarchies and dictatorships were the only options.”
“Is our day in the sun coming to an end? Is democracy on the ropes?”
“We can talk more about that next time we get together and more about what I think is behind the ‘Great Alienation’ as I call it.”