Thursday, November 10, 2016

Travels With Trump - Pt 1

Back in June I began writing a post but, given the press of other work, did not get very far with it, and by mid-summer, given how far along the presidential campaign had developed, it no longer seemed relevant.  I therefore set it  aside--permanently, so I thought.  But given the stunning outcome of that campaign, it is suddenly and compellingly relevant again.

In September 1960 the Nobel Prize-winning novelist John Steinbeck embarked on a cross-country trip in a camper truck called Rocinante, accompanied by his beloved poodle Charley.  In May 2016 I embarked on a trip to the battlefields of the Atlanta campaign in an anonymous Honda Civic, accompanied by an audio book by Donald J. Trump.  Steinbeck's trip yielded Travels With Charley:  In Search of America, a classic book and a fitting valedictory to Steinbeck's distinguished career.  Mine yields this blog post.

The four CDs of Crippled America:  How to Make America Great Again fulfilled the first task of an audio book, at least as far as I'm concerned:  it made good company.  Trump is nothing if not entertaining.  Initially I was disappointed that he read only the book's introduction, but once voice actor Jerry Lowell took over the task of reading the book, I rapidly found this an improvement.  Lowell (who has also performed several books by Glenn Beck) easily duplicated Trump's blustery style but dialed it back enough to make Trump sound a little more reasonable.  This was important, because I tried very hard to listen through the ears of a Trump supporter.

The die-hard Trump supporter--the true believer as opposed to the former Cruz supporter (for example) resigned to voting for Trump--intrigued me because I found him a little bewildering. Oh, I had seen the standard characterizations:  he was white, blue collar, high school educated, angry at his relative loss of prosperity in an economy where good blue collar jobs were scarce and getting scarcer, and alienated by an America now so diverse that you can't swing a dead cat without hitting someone with dark skin and a funny accent.

I knew some Trump supporters and the standard portrayal had validity.  But it had a big drawback:  it was an outsider's view of  the supporter.  I was interested in trying to see the supporter as he saw himself.

Although Crippled America has sold over 240,000 copies, I have so far never met a Trump supporter who has even heard of it, much less read it. One took umbrage when I explained that it was Trump's campaign "manifesto," I guess because the term made it sound too much like Marx's Communist Manifesto.  Among the things that made the diehard Trump supporter hard to fathom was that he got mad at the drop of a hat.  It was difficult to get past that anger, because he interpreted any question as hostile, even though mine were simply interested ones intended to better understand his viewpoint.

All the same, Crippled America was a good distillation of Trump's standard campaign speech, which a rapidly increasing number of his supporters had heard.  And for the ears of someone like me, it was also a little less crazy-sounding.  When Trump explains that he will literally build a wall and literally get Mexico to pay for it, for example, he doesn't let it go at that.  He tells the reader what the wall will look like and how he will get Mexico to pay for it.  (I doubt his method will yield enough revenue to accomplish the task, but it is more sophisticated than verbally beating the Mexican government into submission, which in his speeches was the way Trump made it sound.)

The table of contents provides a good overview of the book:

1 Winning Again

2 Our "Unbiased" Political Media [which offered a major key to Trump's strategy for maximizing "free" media coverage]

3 Immigration:  Good Walls Make Good Neighbors  [Trump's signature issue so the one I'll address in most detail. It typifies the Trump approach to other issues.  The title, drawn from Robert Frost's "Mending Wall," was a little ironic, given that the theme of "Mending Wall"--that walls form a barrier to human understanding of one another--was pretty much the opposite of the prospective wall's intent]

4 Foreign Policy:  Fighting For Peace

5 Education:  A Failing Grade [another illuminating chapter.  All Americans have intimate experience with education.  If there's an issue on which it's easiest for most readers to examine critically (or at least seemingly so) it is this one.]

6 The Energy Debate:  A Lot of Hot Air

7 Health Care Is Making Us All Sick

8 It's Still the Economy, Stupid [a direct quotation of a famous sign prominently displayed in the "war room" of Bill Clinton's 1992 bid for the presidency]

9 Nice Guys Can Finish First

10 Lucky to Be an American

11 The Right to Bear Arms [Trump's unqualified support for gun rights was his chief defense against the charge that he wasn't really a conservative]

 12 Our Infrastructure Is Crumbling [Given that it is evidently the first issue that Trump intends to push, I'll address this chapter in detail, too.]

13 "Values"

14 "A New Game in Town"

15 "Teaching the Media Dollars and Sense"

16  A Tax Code That Works

17 Making American Great Again

Next installment:  Trump's views on immigration reform.

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