Andy Schmookler: A sense of futility
Never before have I felt so strong a sense of futility about writing these columns, intended as they are to communicate with the conservatives of this area.
These are people who have been a continuous, vivid presence in my mind since the early 1990s, when I began doing regular talk radio conversations (on WSVA out of Harrisonburg) with that conservative audience.
I came to have a real appreciation and respect for most of the people with whom I spoke — not despite their conservatism, but for it. I appreciated their emphasis on character, to which liberalism at that time paid too little attention; and their concern with values.
Because of the bond I felt with that audience back then, not a day goes by that I do not think about how I might best connect with them now, in these dark and divisive times.
But now, I don’t know what to think. Not when the polls give me every reason to believe that virtually all that conservative Shenandoah Valley audience voted for Donald Trump and remain glad they did.
Was I wrong about who my conservative interlocutors were, back 20 years ago? Did they never have the character I believed them to have?
Not believing that, I must conclude that either: 1) they don’t see the ugly reality displayed right before our eyes? Or 2), they see but don’t care, having apparently discarded the moral perspective they used to express.
What does one say about the character of someone so breathtakingly dishonest; so self-aggrandizing; so corrupted by personal greed; so contemptuous of our constitutional system; so recklessly irresponsible; so eager to pick unnecessary fights; so shameless in betraying the average Americans who trusted him to serve their needs?
(Not to mention a level of incompetence on the job beyond anything we’ve ever seen in an American president.)
That people have witnessed all that, and still affirm their choice to help make him president, saddens me deeply. Frightens me, too.
In writing my columns to them, I feel like the family member who regularly comes to talk to the patient lost in a coma. The doctor says, “He can’t hear you.” But the family member thinks, maybe he can and therefore continues his one-way bedside conversation.
It may not be a coma, but the people I still care about neither see nor hear what the rest of the world does.
The polls show that they believe Trump more than the “fake” news being reported by the press in America and in all the advanced nations.
All America’s friends see the disaster this president represents, and are deeply worried. Embarrassed for us, distrustful of the leader at our helm.
So how do these Trump-supporting American “patriots” feel about being alone in their enthusiasm — alone but for those leading the rising wave of fascism that has taken over Russia, Turkey, Hungary, the Philippines, and has elevated Le Pen in France?
Do the Trump faithful think, “Oh, our allies just don’t want America to be great again”? (Indeed, our allies’ biggest worry is that our capacity to lead the free world is slipping away.)
What to think about the tens of thousands of mental health professionals who, deciding that their “duty to warn” must override their usual professional ethic in Trump’s case, have broken precedent and signed a statement expressing their grave concern about the mental health of this man now wielding the awesome powers of the American presidency?
Do the people I knew in the 90s think, “Oh, these professionals are just playing politics?”
Regarding the president’s troublingly tenuous connection with reality, how do the still-glad-I-voted-for-him people regard the extraordinary concerns of the scientific community which, for the first time in history, felt compelled to publicly come out into the streets a couple of weeks ago — in Washington and around the world — in support of science.
Do they think, “Oh, it’s just some ‘elite’ trying to keep us down?”
And what do the Trump voters’ make of the concerns of the substantial majority of Americans who disapprove – many of them quite strongly – of this president?
It is widely said of today’s conservatives that they will listen to no one who is not one of them.
I know I am not “one of them.” But I remember – and respect — who they were.
What has changed in them since the 90s? How did they get led into this alternate reality? And/or how did they get led into embracing the lack of character they used to condemn?
I don’t know if they’ll ever wake up. It seems futile, but I’ll likely continue to speak to them, just in case the doctor is wrong and they will hear.
Andy Schmookler is an award-winning author, and was the Democratic candidate for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District in 2012. His newly published book is “What We’re Up Against: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World – And How We Can Defeat It.”