As Mitch McConnell ducked out the back of the American Legion Hall and sped away in his spit-shined, black SUV, a few of us resorted to yelling out our questions. “Hey Mitch,” I said, “what good are school vouchers for rural families here in Lawrenceburg?”
A man wearing a Trump hat spun around, spread his arms wide, and leaned into my face. “Shut your mouth!” he screamed. “We have one Christian school, and by God we’ll build another Christian school!” I picked up my purse to leave so he turned his anger on a young cancer survivor asking about health insurance.
I’ve never seen this man before, and yet I know him. I grew up with men like him.
Grandpa Red was a screamer, and indiscriminately cruel. There was the night he threw grandma out the back door as he sat inside with a rifle on his lap, daring her to try, just try, to come inside. There was the Saturday he skinned my pet rabbits and left them hanging for me to see. I was seven. There were the long summer days when he perched on the porch swing, yelling “Little Sambo!”, a sweating glass of sweet tea by his side, and shot BBs from a slingshot at any little black kid who dared to step on his lawn.
Like Grandpa Red, the screaming man at the Lawrenceburg lunch feels empowered, emboldened, within his rights. It is 2017. And our new Commander in Chief has set the tone.
In a span of days, the president cruelly rescinded an order protecting transgender children, called the top attorney general a “fake judge,” and disrespected the leaders of Mexico, Australia and Sweden. At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) the president said, “I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news. It’s fake, phony, fake. A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people. And they are. They are the enemy of the people!”
The crowd cheered. Invective rules.
The president’s travel ban, lifted by the courts but still looming, continues to wreak havoc. Last week a beloved Australian children’s author was inexplicably detained and interrogated for two hours at LAX. A British teacher, a Muslim man traveling with his class, was humiliated and banned from boarding a flight with his students.
In Olathe, Kansas, a white man hurled ethnic slurs at two Indian engineers, telling them they don’t belong in this country. The man left, then returned to gun them down. A hate crime the president refused to acknowledge, much less condemn, for a week.
At our southern border, a sixteen year old boy was shot in the head by Border Control, and left to die.
Since his inauguration, there have been a hundred threats on Jewish community centers and schools. Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated. After saying nothing for weeks, the White House suggests phoned-in threats may have come from “overseas” and/or that Jews made the threats themselves to garner sympathy.
We wait for the slim light, for a glimpse of kindness. But it never comes. Never. It never comes because there is no pivot, no better man waiting in the wings.
Our president thrives on chaos and cruelty. I recognize him.
When I was nine, my single mother and I moved in temporarily with my grandparents. I started fourth grade up the street, and since I walked to and from school it wasn’t long before the kids found me out. “New girl lives with Slingshot Man!”
For the next months, a band of boys delighted in terrorizing me. They followed me morning and night. They chanted nasty names. They threw rocks. They laughed while shoving me down muddy hills and off the sidewalk into traffic. Somebody had to pay for Slingshot Man with his off-limits lawn.
I will never forget the president from the campaign, the man who mocked a disabled reporter, bragged about grabbing women by the pussy, insisted he sacrificed as much as a Gold Star family who lost their son in war, said John McCain is no hero, called Mexicans murderers and rapists, and spun up his cult-like crowds with chants to “Lock her up!”
There are lessons to be learned from screaming men. They demand respect. They shout, “Shut your mouth!” They wallow in credit and pass the buck on blame. They recruit followers.
They are the lords of chaos, and they rarely suffer consequences. Consequences and suffering are for the rest of us.