Friday night, November 25, 2016..
Map via Wikipedia showing how Pennsylvania voted county by county for President…in 2008! York County is one of the pinkish counties down along the southern border, second from the right of that cluster of blue, the one that looks to me like the brush attachment on a vacuum cleaner. As you can see, York voted Republican that year. Just as it did this year. And 2012…and 2004…and 2000…and 1996…and…
“It was easy to be a kid then. You knew where you stood. Franklin Roosevelt was always the president. Joe Lewis was always the champ. And Paul Muni played everybody.’ ---- Hawkeye Pierce.
AT THE OLD MANNION HOMESTEAD - My first president was Richard Nixon.
I mean that he was the first president I saw as a real person instead of an idealized character from a history book or, in the case of LBJ, as a solemn but remote figure on the TV. (I have no memory of Kennedy himself, only of adults around me gushing over him. My Irish Catholic relatives and the nuns at school adored him. I remember more clearly their grief when he was killed.) Nixon, however, I knew. Or thought I knew. The way I knew other adults who weren’t family or neighbors but who had an influence over our daily lives. I understood Nixon’s influence and from the first I understood it as destructive. I saw him as a villain from the moment I saw him. No doubt I picked that up from Pop Mannion, although my grandmother, Mom Mannion’s mother, loved the guy and I loved her. But there was never a moment when I didn’t think he was loathsome and creepy and up to no good.
Watergate revealed how right that assessment was. History has shown how far it fell short. And up until two weeks ago, I thought of Nixon as the worst human being ever elected President.
I’ve said this before. Nixon had to be President in order to make himself a worse person than Donald Trump.
Trump has his work cut out for him if he’s going to be as bad a President and as awful a monster. But he has the capacity. Plus, unlike Nixon, he’ll be aided and abetted by a Right Wing Congress and a Right Wing Supreme Court. He is incompetent though and dumb in the way smart people who think they know everything there is to know are dumb. So we have that working in our favor.
The amount of damage he will do and the pain he will cause is terrible to contemplate. And I’m not in the mood to contemplate it here right now. My point is, though, that I lived through the Nixon years and I’m still appalled by Trump.
Pop Mannion’s first President was Franklin Roosevelt. First President? Maybe only President. I think in his heart FDR is still his President. So you can imagine how he feels.
Even so, heartsick, bereft, and angry as he is, Pop’s still looking for signs things are going to settle down and the country will carry on as normal. And the other night when we were talking he wondered, with a note of disapproval in his voice and the frown I know all too well from growing up a continual disappointment to him and Mom Mannion, what the protesters thought they were doing.
What good did protesting do, he wanted to know. What was the point? Why do it?
I don’t think he really expected me to have an answer.
The novelist Barbara Kingsolver has an answer.
What I have is a set of hopes---probably forlorn ones---one of which is that the protests will remind people---particularly Democrats in Congress and in the state houses and, even more particularly, the media---that “the country” did not vote for Trump. The People did speak but the majority of them said Donald Trump should not be President. And besides possibly encouraging them to keep reporting on Trump as what he is, it might make them think twice about stories like this one NBC ran on the evening news Thanksgiving night.
We worry about the media normalizing Trump. But part of that process is normalizing voting for Trump.
In case you don’t feel like watching, I can tell you there’s not much to it. Mostly it’s shiny happy white people (York County is 92 percent white) having fun getting ready for Thanksgiving. Not much evidence of economic anxiety on view. Nobody’s spending money like it grows on trees but nobody’s counting pennies either. There’s a guy buying steaks, a wasteful extravagance when EBT cards are used to pay for them. The supposed point of the story is that York is somehow representative of how it happened that Pennsylvania voted for the Republican for President for the first time since 1988 and the voters there voted for Trump because they were, guess what? Mad at the elites in D.C.
It’s not and they didn’t.
You get the picture.
If Harry Smith had really wanted to look into what happened in Pennsylvania and why he should have gone to Erie County.
But that wasn’t really the reason for the story. The reason for the story was to show that Trump voters are just all around good folks. The implication is that Trump might not be so bad as he appears to be (although he is. Probably worse.) because all these good plain folks voted for him. But that’s not the real point. The real point is to reassure them that having voted for Trump doesn’t mean they’re not all around good folks and the good folks at NBC News and the good folks at the companies who advertise on NBC know this about them and appreciate it.
Smith doesn’t let any of them explain why if they’re such all around good folks they voted for a lying, racist, know-nothing bully and conman or even why if they wanted change they voted Republican up and down the ticket again.
He doesn’t let them say much for themselves at all. All but one of the people he lets speak on camera say pretty much the same thing in service of the media’s new narrative which is that a President Trump might not be so terrible as all that: “Give the man a chance.”
Give the man a chance? A chance to do what? Build his wall? Start a registry of American Muslims? Deport millions? Arrange to have every black American subject to stop and frisk anytime anywhere for any reason the cops come up with? Take health care away from millions of families? Make discriminating against LGBT people a Constitutional right?
Sign Paul Ryan’s budget destroying Medicare and Social Security?
Appoint a racist, misogynist, homophobe, and religious bigot Attorney General? Let an anti-Semite, white supremacist, and crypto-fascist run his White House? Take national security advice from a conspiracy theorist, Islamaphobe, and Putin fan boy who’s looking forward to waging World War III? And he’s just getting started. Give him a chance to gather more nuts, zealots, and bigots around him?
The honest answer?
Bring it on!
Trump voters said, “Look, we’re angry and vindictive racists and we want revenge!” and journalists said, “No, you’re not, you’re the white working class anxious about the economy.”
The only resident of York County who gets a real say is Scott Wagner, a Republican state senator.
Wagner owns a locally-based business, but he presents himself as practically a blue collar worker. Calls himself “your garbage man.” He’s the president and owner of Penn Waste which employs garbage men and women to pick up the trash in six counties. So he’s not exactly a small businessman. But Smith allows him to yammer as if he’s a small store owner just scraping by and he’s speaking as a representative of all the Moms and Pops desperately hoping Small Business Saturday will help their stores along Main Street make it through one more year.
Smith calls Wagner a “renegade” because back in 2014 he won his seat in a three-way race that included a party-backed Republican. That was then, this is now. That Wagner is a member of the Republican-controlled state senate and therefore a politician, a partisan, and part of the establishment the good people of York are supposedly mad at and supposedly somehow voted against by voting for Trump doesn’t seem to have registered with Smith. Wagner’s actual politics don’t matter to Smith. He’s focused on Wagner’s political ambitions in order to make a trivial comparison. Wagner is a businessman with plans to run for an executive office, governor.
“Sound familiar?” Smith asks the folks at home with affectionate-sounding amusement.
Of course we folks at home are supposed to answer, “Why, he sounds just like Donald Trump!”
Which implies what? That Wagner doesn’t pay his bills? Doesn’t pay his taxes? Doesn’t pay his employees?. That he cheats his customers? Stiffs his creditors? Has gone through multiple bankruptcies? Is being sued by people he’s defrauded?
That the basis for his run for government is an appeal to racism and know-nothingism?
For all Smith knows or cares, the answers to all of the above could be yes. All Smith needs to know about Wagner---or, rather, all he wants us to know about him---is that he’s a regular guy inspired by the example of Donald Trump to take on the establishment in the name of all the other regular guys and gals who are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore.
By the way, if Wagner runs for governor in 2018, he’ll have had four years of experience in state government. Four more than Trump has had at any level of government.
But to answer Smith’s question. Yep. Wagner sounds familiar, but not because he reminds me of Donald Trump.
He reminds me of the thousands of would-be Trumps who think they’re just one lucky break, one smart deal, one lucrative contract away from being a Trump in their own right.
More familiarly, he reminds me of the countless businessmen and women who’ve run for public office with no other purpose than to lower their own taxes, free themselves from annoying regulations, and otherwise work the levers of government to make themselves more money.
Government is their enemy because it gets in the way of they’re doing whatever they damn well please to make what they’d call an honest buck.
Smith doesn’t ask Wagner what he’s been up to in the state senate to make America great again on his own small scale.
In the course of what’s basically a stump speech---which Smith presents as if it’s a sincere cry from the heart---Wagner gives his own explanation for why the outcome in Pennsylvania was such a surprise to smarty-pants outsiders.
People “didn’t listen to the folks on the ground.”
What he means is nobody from the network news or big newspapers talked to him.
They certainly talked to an awful lot of “folks on the ground” like him.
This same story with a change of tenses from past to future could have run any time between June of last year and the day before election day. In fact, in a hundred versions it more or less did.
All campaign season long the political media pushed story after story in which Trump voters told the reporters exactly why they were voting for a racist, xenophobic, ignorant, loudmouthed petty tyrant promising to get even on behalf of angry white people---because he’s a racist, xenophobic, ignorant, loudmouth, petty tyrant promising to get even on behalf of angry white people, and the reporters “reported” that these were just good plain working folks tired of getting the short end of the economic stick.
Like I said, York County has been reliably Republican for decades. It’s been represented in Congress by a Republican going back to 1961. The incumbent Republican Congressman was just re-elected. The voters there voted to send Pat Toomey back to the U.S. Senate.
Trump defeated Clinton in Pennsylvania by less than 1 percent of the popular vote. The tally was 2,970,764 to 2,926,457. But add in the votes for Johnson and Stein and Trump lost the popular vote there by about 197,656 votes. Over 50 percent of Pennsylvania voters voted against him.
The message any of us who didn’t vote for Trump hear is our votes don’t matter. That’s the corollary. The primary message is directed at those who did vote for him. “Yours are the only votes that count.”
And why is it that?
Because Trump voters are on the whole older than the people who voted for Clinton, Johnson, and Stein, and that means they’re more likely to get their news from network TV.
They’re the only voters who count in the eyes of NBC’s advertisers. This story wasn’t a story. It was an ad for NBC Nightly News.
The message from the sponsors was:
“Maybe those East and West Coast liberal elitists don’t listen to all around good plain folks like you, but we folks here at NBC sure do! So please watch our network’s shows ad buy our advertisers’ products.”
The all around good people of York aren’t voters. They’re an audience the networks covet. It’s a smart sales strategy to flatter the customers.
No doubt the smart kids in the advertisers’ offices have said to themselves, “If these people will buy Donald Trump as their economic savior, they’ll buy anything.”
To read Barbara Kingsolver’s argument in favor of protest, follow the link to “Trump changed everything. Now everything counts” at the Guardian.