Political pros and cons

Election Day was a long one for me, up at 4 a.m. in the cold moonlight to be a poll worker, rotating tasks that led to my 7:15 p.m. emptying of 746 machine-read paper ballots from the big black box under the reader machine. Home by 9 p.m. The box reminded me of the kind of trick box magicians employ to make somebody disappear, then re-appear. It had a lock that I got to open with a color-coded key, and a wire tab I got to cut with wire cutters, observers from both parties and six other county volunteers looking on.

There was no sleight of hand about the results for the rustic precinct in that firehouse out by House Mountain in western Virginia – 598 votes for Trump’s electors, 127 for Biden’s. America has a very parochial system of voting. It must be frustrating for Putin’s hackers, and makes the Robin Williams movie “Man of the Year” a fictional impossibility, that a big federal contract could be let out to an evil tech giant to handle all the votes.

Rockbridge Co. Volunteer Fire Station No. 4

So, we’ll watch things play out over the next few days, or weeks — that very local system, under our system of laws, not men. (Chief Justice Roberts began 2020 with a New Year’s resolution for the federal judiciary to judge without fear or favor, with honor and integrity. The Times reporter called it a rebuke to something President Trump had just said about “my” Supreme Court.)

People see things in their own ways. The morning after, based on the failure of voters to decisively repudiate Trump as the polls predicted, I realized that my view of Trump may be a lot more personal and eccentric than I had thought it was. I thought most people could recognize a bully and a swindler. But now I think maybe it’s something in my own past experiences, maybe a suppressed trauma.

To me, Trump is not a Hitler, or a racist, or stupid, or an evil person, or even a conservative. (I’ve increasingly come to appreciate principled conservatives over the last four years, and may have actually become more conservative politically in my dismay over the bullying and the con-game.) I’m sorry these ordinary labels seem too ordinary – bully and con artist. Maybe it’s something from my own unique past that shapes my perspective. Fraudulent salesman. Swayer of crowds. I know these types.

I can’t remember being bullied, but I see the type and back away. I would protect the bully’s victims the way Holden Caulfield, seeing phonies everywhere, imagines catching children in the rye before they fall off. That’s the compassion I feel for many Trump voters, for example the friendly people I helped vote yesterday, a surprising number who knew me even behind my mask. 

Somewhere long ago, I was in a roomful of friends who agreed to listen to a salesman pitch a pyramid scheme. The idea of the money to be made appealed to some, maybe most. Not to me. Even if it was real and legal. The salesman couldn’t believe (or so he said) that I rejected his basic premise – that it’s better for me to have more than I had. No, I thought, not on his terms.

In journalism, we learn to look for the swindle. George Greiff, in the class on reporting I audited at Georgia State, taught us the classic cons and hoaxes. Those are rare, but all politics and business employ the same techniques to a lesser degree. Business and politics work for the common good, I think, only to the extent that people have the common sense to know how much of the con to make allowances for. Why don’t Trump voters see that their man is pure con, with the unauthorized power of the ultimate bully? (I wish someone had written a comic novel that has him as its main character. What a great American novel that might have been!) Have they never been swindled? Bullied?

But the morning after is sobering. I realize mine may be a much smaller, more personal, more esoteric perspective than I assumed.  I wait patiently for the vote to be counted and for law to over-shadow our eccentric biases.

An incurable disease stalks the land. I don’t mean Covid. I mean this humane idea called democracy. The experts disagree about whether it is natural, or an unnatural thing that requires education and responsibility. “It will just go away,” our President said, referring to Covid. But he might as well have been talking about the rule of law and the facts of facts. “One day – it’s like a miracle – it will disappear.” When it comes to this virus of democracy, I don’t think so.

Election Day sunset: House Mountain, across Route 60 West from Kerrs Creek fire station.

Originally published in “Like the Dew: A Progressive Journal of Culture and Politics”

It’s Nov. 11 now, eight days since the Election, and Trump is baselessly claiming voter fraud and getting his most loyal underlings, like the testy Mike Pompeo at State, to dig in for him. The New York Times has a report on this with the headline “Fighting Election Results, Trump Employs a New Weapon: The Government.” Here are comments on that Times story from the perspective I hold agree with, that it’s all about the swindle:

“His endgame is to monetize his power over his minions. If he can milk $100 from each of 100 million people he has $10 billion. Enough to bail him out of his failing core businesses and still be as rich as he claims to be.”

“He’s manufacturing leverage to negotiate as much legal immunity as possible, before agreeing to leave. He’ll laugh about this train wreck for years, as a win for him personally.”

“This isn’t about the President retaining power. This, as always, is about the President’s pockets. After his presidency is over, he needs a cash stream.”

About Doug Cumming

Writer, W&L journalism professor emeritus
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