“You’re nothing but a damn crook!” the man barked at me as I was standing a few feet from him in the parking lot. “Excuse me?” I replied, and he repeated his statement, this time a little more forcefully.
Ouch. As I saw his contorted face and realized the depth of his anger, I braced for a punch coming my way. Thankfully, it did not happen.
After recovering from the shock of this sudden verbal assault and taking a deep breath, I offered this reply. “You don’t know me and you don’t even know my name. Why do you say that about someone you don’t even know and have never met?”
He turned and started walking away. “Why are you so angry?” I asked him, to no reply.
The man was angry because after he parked his car in front of the Board of Elections facility on Morse Road in northeast Columbus, he saw my blue t-shirt with the inscription “Franklin County Democratic Party Sample Ballot” on it. To him, I was the crooked, corrupt enemy, a representative of the devil incarnate, someone there to rig the election, a message that was probably hammered into his consciousness from a plethora of mass media. In his Trumpster world, someone wearing a blue shirt with the words Democratic Party on it had to be inherently evil.
Crook. Corrupt. Rigged. I wonder where he might have gotten those ideas. Or maybe his outburst might also have been triggered by the woman standing next to me, an immigrant and newly naturalized citizen dressed in her traditional clothing, greeting other voters.
The words and face of that angry man will stay with me for quite a while. Yes, the angry, threatening face and that menacing tone will linger on that hard drive between my ears for the rest of my life.
I remembered that face from a week earlier when I turned the bedroom light off around midnight on election night, realizing I’d reached my daily quota of very disturbing news, in the identity of the new president. But after a few hours of restless sleep, I awoke from the electoral nightmare to be reminded, yet again, of the dreadful results I viewed earlier on the tube.
After being fully awake for a few moments, the recurring thought of the angry man gave me pause.
Is it a stretch to nominate the exploding face of an angry, sixty-something white guy as the symbol for what the 2016 presidential election was all about?
No, I don’t think it’s a stretch at all.
The angry face that confronted me four days before the election at the Franklin County Early Voting Center has turned out to be a metaphor for the latest iteration of the democratic process, where an already loud din of shrill language from the Republican candidate for president was amplified among an already angry electorate, spawning a lot of angry old white guys – and everything in between.
Even before the election, many of us were already concerned about the explosive and provocative language of this campaign. That charged and toxic atmosphere manifested itself in the person of the angry old white guy who probably wanted to punch me in the face – words his candidate used several times at rallies during the campaign.
But the residual effects of this past awful 18 months of invective are being reported by friends, several of whom are educators charged with helping their students become skilled, literate, and caring citizens.
The most disturbing message from one friend, a teacher who reported that her daughter, adopted as an infant and who became a naturalized citizen prior to preschool, was questioned by her boss regarding the particulars of her background and citizenship the morning after the election. Never mind that she had been a good employee for more than two years, and that the subject of her status had never arisen with company management until the election results became known.
Sure, this is but one instance of deplorable post-election conduct among countless others, equally awful in their boldness and mendacity. But when this happened the morning after the election to my friend’s daughter, the effects of Trump’s ugly conduct hit close to home.
I’m not going to burden anyone with providing links to a host of other ugly things that have happened to other people’s children in the last few months, let alone the mean and utterly racist things written on restroom walls in some schools across this nation. These happenings are there for all to discover, and please do so at your initiative. The very difficult job of a teacher, particularly in the primary grades, has been made even harder by trying to explain to children the meaning of the words crooked, corrupt, and rigged. If you’ve ever been in a classroom full of young people, you already know that by their nature, children are inquisitive as they explore their world and search for meaning and understanding.
Wait a minute, come to think of it, even old, calm white guys like me are still inquisitive – up to a point.
But we’re back to the children. We must think yet again about the residual effects of the president-elect’s rhetoric, as he ridiculed for the last eighteen months the handicapped, Mexican immigrants, and Muslims among other objects of his wrath. He even insulted the president and, like the boss of my friend’s daughter, questioned his origins and thus his legitimacy.
In the end, the most sobering thing about this election is the lingering messages picked up by children. It might be that bullies not only get their way in the schoolyard and in the business world but also attain the highest office in the land.
If untold millions viewed Trump as a bully, his fellow hotelier Leona Helmsley, who died in 2007, might have unwittingly spoken for him, when she was quoted by one of her former housekeepers as saying:
“We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”
The little people, those vulnerable souls who might be personified as the carpenters, plumbers, drywall installers and other small business owners who worked on his casinos but, at best, got partial payment for their work, no doubt pay their taxes. In contrast, Donald Trump, apparently has not, stiffing the federal treasury of perhaps 20 years in personal income taxes. After all, Donald Trump, like his late New York neighbor, Leona Helmsley, is also not a little person and thus doesn’t need to pay taxes.
Children need positive role models as they seek to develop the virtues of caring, honesty, integrity, responsibility, and respect for others. Come to think of it, so do old angry white guys. Yes, in another time, one of the most crucial role models for children in their character development was the President of the United States. That no longer seems to be the case.
Can we hope against hope that President-elect Trump, the oldest person ever elected to the highest office of this great nation, will suddenly acquire in his threescore and ten years a reservoir of virtues and the wisdom that may help to change that old, angry white guy, making him part of a kinder, gentler nation?
Yes, that would be nice. On the other hand, our children, on the schoolyards and in the classrooms, are more important than old angry white guys. Trump needs only to look at his ten-year-old son, Barron, to agree.
Bullies shout and complain about others being crooked and corrupt. It’s too bad Trump can’t visit countless classrooms and help educators teach our young citizens that bullies don’t always win. He owes every parent and teacher that effort to undo the damage he has done to children, who are the future. As the song also says, teach them well and let them lead the way.
Mr. President-elect, the most powerful form of teaching is modeling. It’s now your responsibility to turn the national climate around. You created that climate. Now, you must change it. That will be but one test of your leadership.