Since last November I’ve had more than a few people attempt to explain the election to me in terms remarkably unflattering to Trump supporters. These moments have been, in no particular ratio, confusing, amusing and enraging. It’s also been a persistent reminder of the intractable nature of the polarizing populism we’re suffering from as a nation.
Beginning in an admittedly self serving place, it has become increasingly difficult for me to sit on my temper during these unsolicited lectures. The diatribes I’ve been subjected to are usually delivered in a tone which seems to imply, if not directly state, that my support for the President is reason to question my sanity. Aside from the generic rudeness on display there’s a larger issue here. I didn’t vote for him. My lack of support for him was not questionable. I thought him a horrendous candidate with genuinely disastrous possibilities. I saw (and see) him as not much more than an annoying twelve year old with a rich dad and a shitty haircut. I think that having an equal level of disdain for secretary Clinton simply made me a Trumpite in most peoples eyes, regardless of how many conversations we might have had indicating the contrary. More than a few people have asked me in challenging tones how I feel about the president now. Restating my position doesn’t seem to scratch their itch. Given enough time I’m certain I’ll be in for another round of accusations. In trying to understand this phenomena I’ve had to consider a few differing possibilities; none of them leaving me in a more hopeful place.
My first thought is that my own political leanings are not easily understood. I am by nature and voting history a non-doctrinaire Libertarian. The idea that someone I don’t know should have a compelling voice as to my personal behavior is ludicrous. This perspective places me in a minority in almost any group. Objecting to a civil marriage between two adults of the same sex isn’t any more reasonable to me than insisting that some disapproving third party be forced to provide a wedding cake to above mentioned couple. Not having a standard political affiliation makes it easier to remove myself from the partisan elements of these interactions. Perversely, this can be quite off-putting to people and has resulted in being misinterpreted on numerous occasions. It isn’t every political position that can have you labelled communist, fascist and a Nazi within a single twenty minute conversation. Still, there’s only so much that simple misunderstanding can account for.
If confusion was not the source of all this poorly disguised vitriol then perhaps something just as basic but less innocent was at play. The tone of the vast majority of these unpleasant exchanges was not one of neutral incomprehension. Most of the time I found myself addressed in an odd combination of anger and mirth, which now that I think of it is a quick but not inaccurate definition of sarcasm. Over and over the unspoken accusation seems to be that in some way I had been able to engineer this outcome, and that I should now bear the full weight of the accompanying shame. What seemed like a majority of the press coverage of the election, as well as its aftermath had no shortage of this angry feel to it. Many of the talking heads who make up the electronic media gave up on the concept of uninflected reportage. The ongoing message seemed to be that the average Trump supporter was either nodding along as they read Mein Kampf or was too stupid to read at all. Imbecile or racist were the only conceivable types of human being that even entertain the idea of voting for him. The press along with their “civilian” counterparts seemed locked in a state of angry disbelief. When someone would aggressively point this out to me I would try and respond with a statement and then a question. At first I would refer to an op-ed piece by Peggy Noonan in which I thought she phrased it perfectly. She felt that the most common element to Trump supporters was their feeling of being “unprotected”. Regardless of the particular fears that were the focus for any sub group of those voters, Trump offered a general validation of those feelings. In doing so he also held out the promise that as president he would continue to see them as real people with real concerns. The question I would ask ran along the lines of this: “Do you understand that whenever a public figure speaks the way you do they probably create more Trump voters?” No one I asked ever responded in a way that indicated they were really hearing me. It never got ugly but I also never saw a moment where the person came to realize that the behavior they engaged on was at least in part an answer to the question they kept angrily asking- “why would any one think of voting for that man?”I think that for most Trump voters that constant vilification was a reinforcement of their decision.
For me the last, and in its own way most irritating, possible reason I could think of for the disconnect that so many people I know seem to have regarding my (non)support for the president is simple self aggrandizing condescension. As I replay many of the conversations I’ve had to sit through, I recall too many of these pedagogic orations carried out in the tempo and volume we normally reserve for a person of limited cognition. Outright anger is a turn off but it isn’t nearly the emetic that some pretentious “teachable moment” is. To be fair, some of these exchanges came from a sincere place, a fact made obvious by the open approach of the speaker. Unfortunately far too many of these lessons were delivered in transparent attempts raise the speakers estimation of themselves. Which brings me (mercifully) to Mr. Kepner.
On Thursday August 17th, the New York Times published a piece he’d written on Derek Jeter having become a part owner and head of baseball operations for the Miami Marlins. For the most part I thought Mr. Kepner captured the story quite well. Writing about Jeter’s blend of qualities he felt him well suited to the position. The middle of the article yielded a piece of calculatedly disingenuous work with questionable motives. Referring to a conversation between Jackie Robinson and the commissioner Bowie Kuhn during the 1972 world series Kepner makes mention of Robinson’s desire to see a black manager in baseball. “…. baseball had never had a black manager then, and all these years later it has two.” I stopped for a moment. Then assuming I was imparting a nefarious intent where none existed, I finished the article. Still, my eye found its way back to the quoted portion. It seemed the author was implying that in the forty-five years following that Robinson-Kuhn chat major league baseball had only had two black managers. Which isn’t true. Or close to true. Since 1972 MLB has, as far as I can tell, had thirteen black managers and another sixteen Latino gentlemen bringing the grand total to twenty-nine managers of color (live by the sword die by the sword). Considering how many minority ballplayers there have been who come across as being managerial material that strikes me as a problematic number. I don’t think bringing that to light is any sort of ax-grinding at all. Wording things in a way that indicates the number involved is two as opposed to twenty-nine is shady to the point of being within spitting distance of a lie by omission. In the interest of fairness I showed my wife the article to solicit her opinion. Having no knowledge of or connection to the sporting world I thought her spontaneous reaction would be telling. She thought it was terrible that this sport I followed obsessively could have been so unjust as to only have found room for two black managers in all the years of its existence. Frankly this is the kind of holier than thou crap I was referring to before. It can’t be incompetence. I read a piece or two of Kepner’s every week. The guy knows how to write. He cited the perfect historical moment to make his point, and at least in my opinion had a point worth making. All that’s left is a need to let ignorant garbage like me know that he’s on the right side of things .
And that’s the real problem. The confusion and anger that constituted the first two parts of my surmisal are annoying but at least for me, not anything that could move the electoral needle. The virtue signaling that I’m referring to in the last paragraph has the potential to be different. There’s an attempt at subtle manipulation that is more than a bit insulting. My experience with people who operate that way is that they have a tendency to see the world as consisting of two camps: people who see the world the way they do, or Neanderthal hunks of shit. It’s still not enough to change me to a Trump voter but it does make me a little more understanding. What might it do to someone who was more torn over their decision. I know, it’s just a sports piece. But some times its a cable anchor, or an editor-in-chief. Careful guys, you keep that up you just might change an election. Oh wait, that’s right. Don’t worry Tyler I’m sure the president will send you a nice note.