I heard something on TV the other night that greatly disturbed me. One of the moderators of a news channel introduced the program by saying, “It’s nine p.m. in the East, 6 p.m. on the west coast.” This is a pet peeve of mine, the tendency of some people, including the news media, to think of the United States as two coasts, and to consider that which is in between — namely, the vast majority of the United States — as “flyover country.” Never mind that this “flyover country” is the land where most Americans live, where most of what America produces is made, even that this is where most of those talking heads come from. No wonder the talking heads were shocked at Trump’s election. The most they know about the real United States is statistics, and even those are gathered by people who never actually go out and get to know that vast majority of people who make up these United States.
I am one of those people, and I live among those people and it is my job to represent those people. So, the other day, when a large group of them were waiting to see me, I sat down with them. Here is what I asked them: “What do you think about all this Trump stuff?” I have never, in the many hours of reading and watching the news, heard anyone say what those people taught me.
What they said, basically, was that it wasn’t about Trump. They didn’t give a damn about Trump. They didn’t care who he slept with, or where he got his money, or even whether he pulled some shenanigans to get elected. Hell, they said, Clinton had oral sex with an intern — in the oval office, for heaven’s sake — and he didn’t get kicked out. No, they said, it’s not about Trump. It’s about them and their families and their communities. Tariffs? So what? They had no idea what tariffs might do five or ten years from now. What they did know was that there were more jobs and higher wages, and that they were able to pay for their homes and for their children’s education.
And the legislators? Well, the legislators were talking about jobs and saving them a few bucks on their taxes. “Did you know,” said one of them, “that during the first two years of the Obama administration, all the legislators talked about was whether steroids were being used in baseball?” They all agreed, and they were all angry about that. What they felt was that these legislators had no business talking about steroids when their real job was to get jobs for the people and make sure that the country was safe.
So it’s not about Trump. Of course he’s a crook. He’s a hustler and a con man and a showboat. He’s self-absorbed, and he’s a sexual predator. Aren’t all those Wall Street types like that? Who cares? He got elected president, and the question is whether or not he, and government in general, is doing what it is supposed to do — taking care of the interests of the people. And the talking heads? They’re wasting their time and missing the point.
Here is a lesson to be learned. The issues that divide liberals and conservatives are important, but those issues are not the bedrock of American politics, of the job of representing and caring for this vast country, all of this vast country. Women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, protection of the environment, abortion, opioids, school choice — these are all important issues, and we the people must and will deal with them. Before we even begin to think about all those things, however, we must have a government that helps us to have the basic necessities — good jobs, decent health care and security. Do those three things, and then you can work on the rest. To be a Democrat and to be a liberal are two distinctly different things. If you want to reach the people, the real people, all the people, you must keep that in mind.
years of the