I should be for Trump. But Hillary is a Jeep.
Toledo, Ohio, is a hotbed of US Presidential elections. The city is over-visited by candidates because Ohio’s heartland sensibilities often decide the White House and has the perfect electoral admixture of Americans — white, minority, immigrants new and old, minimum wagers, professionals, union Democrats, Chamber of Commerce Republicans and too many workers left behind by the shuttered factories and shattered post-industrial economy.
I grew up in Toledo, the son of an Eastern European immigrant mother, Ida, brought here in the early 1950s with her family by the local Catholic diocese when she was 12. The church gave her parents jobs. Her father, Anton, was a janitor dusting pews, cleaning bathrooms and making sure the vestibule, nave and sanctuary were shipshape for services. Her mother, Stephanie, worked in a nunnery, cooking, cleaning and doing laundry.
Anton and Stephanie sent off my mother, Ida, and her sister, Gertrude, to nanny and housekeep for wealthy families. Their two brothers, Heinz and Seigfried, sold the Toledo Blade newspaper on the street. While still in high school, Ida met and married my father, John, and had my sister at 17 and me at 18. Before I was five, our father disappeared, leaving a single mom with two babies, no money, no skills, and few friends and family to help. My mother later remarried, at first happily, then not.
Upheaval at home led me to run away several times until at 17 I dropped out of high school to enlist in the Navy, where I trained as a ship’s cook. (It was not Le Cordon Bleu.) Four years of Navy service later, honorably discharged, I enrolled at the University of Connecticut. My tuition was waived for veterans, and costs covered by the Vietnam-era GI bill, student loans, and wages from working at the college newspaper and a pancake house.
After college and stints at two Connecticut newspapers, a magazine sent me to Washington, DC, where I continued working as a journalist, then press secretary for a Republican Congresswoman, then a policy writer on government ethics, then head speechwriter at the Pentagon, and then writer and communications strategist for CEOs and other top national officials in the private, public and nonprofit sectors.
Yep: the old American Dream and opportunity seized. I feel fortunate.
Had I been less lucky, had I become an unskilled high-school dropout stuck in ailing Toledo, I might fit the profile of the hung-down and brung-down who are frustrated by the changing economy, nation, and limited prospects for people like me.
Maybe I would find solace in Fox and conservative talk radio because the shouters would tell me who’s to blame. The corrupt politicians. The Democrat Congress. The liberal lame-stream media. The tall skinny chai-tea latte elites who never did a day’s hard work, but love to tell us what to do, how to think, what we can and cannot say, how to live, and how we should welcome the immigrants taking over our neighborhoods.
Perhaps this steady stream of invective would have taught me to resent the pointy head, smarty-pants, Ivy League types who sit in their intellectual hothouses and dream up new government programs that steal from my meager paycheck to fund their socialist experiments to benefit the lazy and entitled. I might be consumed by the censorship and insults to common sense by the self-appointed PC police, and maybe huff righteously that Blue Lives Matter and All Lives Matter, missing the point.
Maybe I would also hate Congress but be unable to name my US Congressman or Senator. Or hate government while depending on government. Or want to starve government and then complain that it doesn’t work, so it should be starved. Or resent how my tax dollars are spent in ways that benefit other people just as other people resent how their tax dollars are spent in ways that benefit me. Or gripe about Obamacare even though it’s the only way insurers will cover the unemployed, underemployed or self-employed who might need a prescription or two. (Note: Pre-Affordable Care Act, I was once rejected after years of coverage because, while otherwise in perfect health, a daily exerciser, healthy eater and non-smoker, I take a precautionary statin to my keep cholesterol under the wire.)
With my background, if things had gone differently, maybe I’d want Donald Trump to blow things up and drain the swamp. I might despise Hillary Clinton and thrall in every alt-right distortion and contortion of her that fuels and thrills my confirmation bias. I might agree with my own beloved sister, just back to Toledo from equally distressed Joliet, Ill., who posts on Facebook how Hillary supporters must be stupid or misguided.
Maybe so. But I’m still with Hillary. Why?
Call me a naïve Midwesterner, the Billy Mumphrey of Seinfeld, a simple country boy, a cockeyed optimist. But I’m not inspired by hate, blame and resentment. Yes, I take naughty pleasure in being irritated by the foaming fulminations and smirking certainty of Milo, Tomi and their ilk. (Though I do have to wonder how, with so limited life experience and no record of doing anything for anyone, they are so confident in telling us what’s wrong with America and the majority of the nation that supports Hillary. Where are their workable, bipartisan policy alternatives, beyond the hoary, simplistic: “more freedom from taxes and government”? C’mon, guys, put something on the table instead of just snarking.)
Call me stupid or misguided, but I still believe in hope and change, in “yes we can,” a spirit our nation was founded upon. Yes, I’m still moved by Lincoln’s appeal to the “better angels of our nature” because they usually, eventually, win over our lesser devils. Winston Churchill’s insight still rings true: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.”
Trump may well be “everything else” we’re trying. But — forgive me — I still believe the President of the United States should have the experience, competence and respect for the office, not to mention awe and humility. The president should know as much, or more, than his or her advisors, or at least read and understand the policy briefing books prepared by some of the best minds on the planet before spouting off.
Our best presidents did not scoff at knowledge, insight and experienced advice from those with whom they might disagree. Yes, the presidents we respect trusted their native intelligence, experience and gut sense, but they respected and appreciated — sometimes embraced — views not their own. They studied. They worked hard. They asked questions. They listened. They did not fall back on self-satisfied certainty. They did not take the cheers of throngs they incited and entertained as a mandate. That’s a tiger you ride until you’re eaten by it.
The presidents we cherish recognized the roots of tyranny and knew the hazards of nurturing them. They worried about uber-populism. They rejected easy solutions, recognized the need to balance the myriad of interests in this country, and urged people to remember the US motto, E pluribus unum.
We know why people support Trump. The Deplorables can’t stand and don’t trust the Nasty Woman. Many still suspect she killed Vince Foster, wiggled out of jail for Whitewater, and did something wrong in Benghazi. Unlike Bernie, they’re never sick and tired of hearing about those damned emails — no matter what they prove or do not prove.
Trumpsters believe America has lost its greatness and needs a Great Man to restore it. In spite of their immigrant forebears, it’s time to pull up the drawbridge — enough is enough. They believe the political system needs to be blown up. They like how Trump speaks his mind, even if he should watch his mouth some, and he’s beholden to nobody. They wave off his “locker-room talk” and misogyny as an obsession of the PC Police, feministas, microaggression/safe-space wussies and the Pecksniffian media. They believe Trump is a brilliant businessman — cheating workers, going bankrupt and avoiding taxes is proof. He’ll bring his Art of the Deal to the White House to get us better trade deals, money from allies for mutual defense, and action from Congress to get stuff done. They believe nobody could un-rig the system like Trump will.
I don’t. I’ve been lucky to witness, first hand, some of the best and most selfless hearts and minds at work in devotion to public service and progress. People who work hard, many for long hours with little pay — and often facing great hurdles — to harness democracy to help people they will never meet and try to make our government, political system, economy and society work better for all.
Churchill famously called democracy the worst system in the world — except for all the others. It’s because we have dedicated public servants who work in government, run for office, and devote their lives to making the system better — not blowing it up. Yes, it’s easier to blow up something that’s complicated than to try to understand and make it better. But the hard work has moved our nation forward for 240 years.
Toledo was once a world-class American industrial center, the Glass Capital of the World, home of Jeep, Champion Spark Plug and other American Auto Age pioneers. The ruined remnants remain. The last urban and waterfront revivals are failing as companies struggle to attract and retain world-class talent that wants to live there. It’s sad that the city has virtually no rush hour, but the parking lots and rooms at the hospital system are full and teeming.
All that said, for me, Toledo, despite its ills, still stands for something that drives our nation forward: Optimism. Not hate, blame or resentment, but just toughing it out. However people feel about Hillary, she’s like a Jeep: Tough, sensible, practical, maybe not the perfect vehicle for every situation, but definitely built and able to ride out the bumps. She’s Trail Rated®. You can count on her to get us there.