Published on August 12th, 2021 | by Billy Joe Russell0
I’ll Take My Stand: “Me and Donald Trump (I)†”
“I love the poorly educated!” ~Donald Trump after winning the 2016 Nevada GOP Caucus.*
I was personally blamed for Donald Trump’s 2016 election by nine(!) people here in Oxford, Mississippi. (I’m referring to only those who let me know up-close and personal. Surely there were others.)
One (a woman in her 80’s) rushed over to where I was sitting at a church dinner (something she has never done before or since) and, without prelude, bent toward me and exclaimed, “He’s not my president!”, and then, “You probably voted for him.” (I’m glad to say, though, that the next time we met she was warm and friendly.)
At a church breakfast (same church), one fellow loudly ranted at me about “kids in cages” at the border. Due to covid19, these breakfasts have been suspended, but I saw him recently and he didn’t mention anything about the kids in detention centers at the Southern border, though their numbers then exceeded the very highest level under Trump — 12,000 vs 19,000. (Since then, the number held at the border has plunged, but only because the kids are being spread around the country — without having been tested for covid.) Overall, though, he’s been very friendly since Biden was elected.
Again at the same church (what won’t I do for a free meal with friendly people?), I was at a table with someone who expressed disappointment about the unavailability of medical marijuana in Mississippi. A lawyer across the table, in a state of fury, spat out the words Republicans and Phil Bryant in a tone that made them sound like dog whistles for me. (I’m not inexperienced in hearing sounds with that pitch.) According to this lawyer, the Republican governor and legislators had created a law that permitted any Mississippi company to refuse to do business with, among others, Jews and Muslims as such. (He recited a whole list.)
This was a preposterous distortion of the law he was referring to, the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act. (Preposterous because, if true, the whole world would know about it.) In fact, this law protects the right of, for just one example, an Orthodox Jewish contractor to refuse to enter a church or mosque to do work for a prospective client. (The next time we met, he was very kind and friendly.)
I’d chatted a number of times with someone else from the same church, while we were at Uptown Coffee. Seeing him there one day, I asked what time a certain service was held. He briefly answered my actual question, then launched into a tirade about a different service, one that’s in Spanish (even though no hablo español). I assumed, in spite of his vehemence, he was harmlessly virtue signaling.
In his final outburst, however, his face turned into an enraged snarl like a Hollywood character actor portraying a Southern swamp-dweller hearing that someone, more darkly complected than he, was rumored to have lewdly “eye-balled” his wife.
It’s ironic that, in spite of this cringe-worthy eruption, in the past he’d made it clear that, relative to him, my behavior was déclassé. (He did so with an air of reluctance, as if regretting that candor required him to inform me of this, though he wished it didn’t.
In the next day or so, I chanced upon an online essay, occasioned by Trump’s election, that touched upon matters of class. The essay’s backdrop was a championship prize fight. Typically, pugilists engage in trash talk before the match to “psych” their opponent — and juice up ticket sales. In this instance, the champ had contemptuously said of his challenger that he was “common”.
I sent this churchman the following email (sans salutation and complimentary close):
Smith refused to cooperate with Hopkins’ ploys much like Smith’s demographic refused to cooperate with a [Democratic] party driven by identity politics. When asked if Hopkins’s racially charged slur bothered him, Smith seemed confused, not to mention color blind. “I am a common man,” he shrugged. “I’m proud of it.”
A few days later I was back at the same church, again seeking food and boon companionship. By coincidence, he and I were across from each other on the chow line. In the past, I’d seen people who obviously had regrets for having gone overboard in verbal aggression the last time we’d met. But, the sheepish guilt and regret he manifested at that moment was the greatest I’d ever witnessed (about an incident in which I was involved). Since then, though, all of our interactions have been, though competitive, without ill will.
Young voters are generally unaware that the mainstream media, by and large, have depicted almost every Republican candidate since Richard Nixon’s run in 1960 as, if not Hitler himself, then at least Hitler-adjacent. (Prediction: The same will occur in 2024.) Since students at the nearby uni had been told Trump is Hitler II just about daily since he’d announced his candidacy over 500 days earlier, many students were on the verge of panic following his election. In response, a few days later the uni brought in practiced professionals who specialize in reassuring stakeholders in an institution when a big change has come about.
An old-school Irish Catholic priest was wont to say that when a new batch of liberal Protestants arrives in the entrance area to Hades, Satan “suggests” they break up into smaller groups and share their feelings. This uni event was sort of like that.
For whatever reason, a little group formed around me. Someone who’d been on the uni faculty, but was now retired, sat opposite me so she could bend so far forward that none of the others could doubt she was directing her comments to me personally, as she declaimed her certainty that the world would end during Trump’s presidency, either due to climate catastrophe, or to Trump’s starting World War III. (As of this writing, no plans for Trump to wage a two-front war against Mexico and Canada have (yet) been uncovered. And, the climate continues to change — as it always has and always will.)
A current member of the faculty at the uni, on all three occasions when we’ve chatted at Uptown Coffee, would deflect every (non-controversial) topic I introduced and instead start raving about Trump — again, as if I were responsible. In another irony, he’s an expert on the subject of forgiveness. (I’m not making this up.) And yet, apparently, he’s in no mood for forgiving Trump.
Still, he’s been very friendly even when raging against Trump. Not that long ago, he suggested we get together for another chat. Now that Joe Biden is president, it might be safe to do so. Then again, Trump is still on the scene. He’ll surely run in 2024. If Democrats continue drifting leftward into the nether regions of Cloud Cuckoo Land (which is not unlikely in the current climate), Trump may win again.
Shortly after Election Day 2016, I was at a service at another church (they have dinners on a different night of the week). One of the uni’s administrators was there. He seemed sheepish, as if to say he’d embarrassingly underestimated the mood of the country.
A month or so later, it was similar with a department head I stopped to shake hands with, and offer season’s greetings to, while I was bicycling across campus. Again, in both cases, the subtext seemed to be that Trump’s election was somehow connected to me.
My favorite, though, was a Black friend I’ll call “Frankie”. I know Frankie from Fish Robinson’s‡ Bible Study lunch held at Windshield Magician at noon on Wednesdays. One day as I was bicycling into their driveway, my good friend Des Esseintes was behind the wheel of his snappy motor vehicle pulling out onto North Lamar. Out of respect for the fact that he’s (on alternate days) a Marxist, Nihilist, and/or Existentialist, I felt the need to explain that Bible study couldn’t make me any worse. To my pleasant surprise, he looked sagely into the distance, and then expressed agreement.
But, I digress.
Frankie is from Milwaukee (no, he’s not my friend Derrick Harriell). He moved to Mississippi to help his extended family manage properties they own nearby.§ Often after a meeting, as I was biking back down Lamar toward the Square, he’d pull along side me in one of his (seven) vehicles — with shotgun in the back — and shout some Italian-specific ethnic slur at me, and then laugh his head off as he sped away.
But before the study group would get underway, because Frankie has some trouble walking I’d usually get him a tall cup of lemonade (no ice) from the pantry. Then he’d commence to speak. The Wednesday before the election, he went into an excited rant that he peppered with repeated utterances of the n-word. His pronounced stutter gave this outpouring a staccato effect. The scene had a David Lynch vibe to it (at least for me it did).
Election Day being on a Tuesday, the Bible study group met again the next day. After the lesson, Frankie came over to where I was sitting, placed a gentle hand upon my shoulder, and said in a reassuring tone, “It’s okay.”
What a difference a good Christian can make! Other people would soon be accusing me of putting Trump in the White House. But, only one day after the election, Frankie was already forgiving me for it!¶
The biggest irony of all is that I hadn’t voted for Trump. Instead, I wrote in the names of two African-American lesbians. In relation to the major party candidates that year, I thought (and still do) the accomplishments of both were more impressive, they had no aura of scandal, given their identity group affiliations, their election would’ve constituted more historic first than you could shake a stick at, and, last but not least, both were from the Southeast Conference — it don’t get better’n that!
And yet, at the end of the day, I suspect my accusers were onto something.
* Look/listen: I love the poorly educated!
† This grammatically incorrect subtitle alludes to the movie Me and Orson Welles, which is about another highly intuitive showman whose hubris led first to unparalleled success, then to an inexorable downward spiral. The Roman numeral “I” follows because it’s my plan to say more about the Trump phenomenon in future columns.
‡ I first met Fish a decade ago (more or less), around midnight in front of what’s now Bouré. As part of his Christian ministry, Fish was piloting a white van to transport uni students safely back to campus — for free. I thought to myself: Wow, that guy really walks the walk. Several articles have appeared about him in local media. In one, when asked how he had grown Community Church so rapidly, he noted that if food is set out, people will come. (It doesn’t hurt for getting me to his Wednesday Bible study.)
§ Black Mississippians own much more land than many outsiders would suppose.
¶ Compare: “And now the British think I’m with the Irish, and the Irish think I’m with the British! ….. Frankie, your mother forgives me!” (Gypo Nolan, The Informer, 1935)