Three Years Ago

I wrote this three years ago, right after the shootings in Orlando. I was working, at the time, as pianist for Sunday services in a local church–a nice, friendly church a short distance from my home in northern Michigan. I had an experience there that rattled me–and I wrote about it, on Facebook. It was June, 2016–before the Access Hollywood tape, before the debates, before the dawning recognition that someone had welcomed Russia into our electoral process.

Facebook dished this up to me as a ‘remember when?’ option–and I was startled to see just how prescient it was. So I’m sharing it now, three years later:

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I have been thinking, all day, about something that happened yesterday. It’s been nagging at my consciousness as I read and watch coverage of the tragedy in Orlando. It’s not something I can put into a blog post, because it covers a wider swath than education. But it’s bothering me, a lot.

I live in a purple county in a purplish state. Among my true friends, the big discussion lately has been “Bernie or Hillary?” But among my neighbors, acquaintances and the organizations I belong to (and work for), there are lots of Republicans. Good people, I think–people who work hard, who care for their families and do good work in the community. People who are reasonably intelligent and trustworthy–people I respect and with whom I socialize.

It’s always been that way. I vote my conscience, based on information rather than personality, advertising or family tradition. I have never been a straight-ticket voter. And I have no partisan litmus test for the people I befriend.

I overheard a conversation yesterday, in the least likely place you can imagine, about the shootings and Donald Trump’s response to the tragedy. Four men, all sixty-ish (and all white)–pillars of the community, volunteers and grandfathers–were quietly discussing the events. One said “I’m worried that Trump’s going to say something he’ll regret.” (What? What more could he possibly say than the terrifying, appalling things he’s already said?) Another said “He needs to keep his mouth shut until he’s elected–then he can say things about Muslims and the gays and the Mexicans. But he can’t afford any mistakes right now, not while people are upset about Orlando.”

Mistakes? Mistakes!?

Their conversation continued on, these four “respectable” men– about how Trump would bring back the country they loved. How he’d restore the military, at last, and support small businessmen (no feedback on business women, alas). How their guns would be safe for four years (this is hunting country–the pro-gun bandwagon is big around here). How good it would be to have a man who believes in God (their God, the real God, not the Muslim God Obama worships) back in the White House. How very much they all loathed Hillary Clinton, see her as a criminal. They said these things. Out loud.

I was only a few feet away from the men, who weren’t exactly hiding anything, standing there with their styrofoam cups of coffee, kibbitzing. And it hit me like a concrete block upside the head: there are a whole lot of people who’d probably rather have Kasich or Cruz or Prince Jeb or Little Marco, but will vote for Trump in this election because he’s the one who will be on the ballot. He’s their only choice, as they see it. He may be a bigmouth or wrong on some things–but he’s the one they’ll vote for. And all of these men, trust me, are definitely voters.

It’s not as if I wasn’t aware these Reince Priebus-like people existed–but it rolled over me like an icy wave: People I know and like (or used to like) will be voting for Donald Trump. Not just moronic Tea-Party strangers, bellowing and threatening with misspelled signs at the rallies. Not just richer-than-rich capitalist predators with trophy wives. Not just feckless Republicans-for-life. But–people I know, people I attend services with, joke with at the post office. They’re Trump voters, whether they like him, or not. And they know who they can reveal their political preferences to–and who to avoid, when discussing him. They’re the people who will decide this election, too.

Seriously, it was a paradigm shift, one of those moments when you see your entire social environment in a completely different light. Organizations you found trustworthy become suspect. Core beliefs and principles are held up for examination. What happened in Germany in the 30s and 40s becomes plausible. The unfathomable–the national joke–becomes real.  (June 13, 2016)
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