At the time of writing this, the United States is in the sixth month of a new presidency.
Donald Trump, the nation’s forty-fifth president, appears to have everyone in the world riled up. His approval ratings are in the tank, his fact-checking is dubious, and his hair is…well…weird.
But he’s still the president.
Everyone I know has an opinion on Trump. Even people who don’t ordinarily care about politics have put away their umbrellas and stepped into the storm.
The insults are endless.
If such things as sides exist – they really don’t – but if they do, both have reached new lows in terms of communicative ability. People identifying themselves as conservative seem willing to prop their guy up no matter his gaffes. Others who call themselves liberal throw a tantrum at each and every presidential slight, real or perceived.
For lack of a better term, it’s a shit-show.
It’s the kind of thing to make me drink.
And so I shall.
To smother any chance of partisan thought brewing in my mind, I’ve chosen a strong pinot noir tonight. Thor’s Well, they call it. It smells of cherries, blackberries, and deep, dark earth. While sipping on such a thing, I’m not sure anyone could possibly dwell in hostile political thought for longer than a few seconds.
I’m on an island. Water on all sides. Deep, dark water filled with congressional sharks and democratically-elected men o’ war. The only living creatures in my bubble uninterested in partisan warfare are my cats, the birds, and maybe the mosquitoes.
Even my son, the G Man, has an opinion of Trump.
He gets it from his mother.
Ever wanted to know how to predict an argument? How to tell when someone’s about to launch a political tirade?
It’s easy. Really easy.
It always starts the same way. It goes a little something like this:
“I never rant about politics, but—”
Six little words. Only the one word matters. ‘But’ – the all-powerful term negating everything uttered before it.
“I used to be married, but—”
“I tried hummus one time, but—”
“I never post political rants online, but—”
Notice how none of these sentences need to be finished.
We know what’s coming next.
The year is…I don’t know.
I’m married. I don’t have a kid yet. I’m somewhere between twenty-nine and thirty-four years old.
It’s a beautiful evening in far northern Georgia. The city’s name is Dahlonega, gold rush capital of the southeast, if such a thing exists. The house I’m at is a handsome log cabin. Deep woods and shallow creeks surround it on all sides. A huge garden sits beside it, emptied out ahead of the coming winter.
I can’t imagine a more pleasant way to spend Thanksgiving Eve.
While my in-laws, wife, and family friends relax inside in advance of the feast, I’m out walking the dog. She’s a large, powerful German shepherd named Maggie. Everyone who knows me knows I’m not particularly fond of dogs; I’ve been bitten more than I can remember.
But — and there’s that word again – Maggie is somehow fond of me. We sprint up and down the hill behind the house. I hurl tennis balls into the woods, and she retrieves them. It’s great exercise and a ton of fun. I’m pretty sure she won’t murder me.
At least I think I’m sure.
More than anything, playing with Maggie keeps me from being cooped up inside too long.
From getting bored.
From falling down the rabbit hole of conversation that always seems to happen this time of year.
Alas, it’s dinnertime.
I can’t complain. Not even a little. My mother-in-law Julie is an excellent cook. This year she’s whipped up a ham, scalloped potatoes, homemade dressing, and biscuits. She’s also serving champagne and wine, which pretty much perfect the meal.
I help set the table.
I pour a deep glass of wine.
And I dig in.
We’re a lively bunch, if few in number. There’s John, as outrageous a storyteller as any in the world. We’ve got Marc, a bitter divorcee with a sharp wit and excellent sense of humor. Beside me sits Larry, my father-in-law and a professional photographer. And there’s Julie, the night’s host and an elegant conversationalist.
And of course, my wife.
The board is set. The pieces are moving.
We begin with a toast. It’s my responsibility this year, same as every year. The smells of fresh, piping hot ham are almost too much for me to bear, yet somehow I weave my way through several compliments aimed squarely at Julie. Always be kind to the cook, I figure. Always tip your server.
We begin feasting. At first, everyone is too busy lifting forks and draining wine to talk much. I’m pretty sure I overhear Marc protest the unfairness of his divorce settlement. And John definitely tells a few stories, none of which are true, but all of which are entertaining.
It’s not while I’m filling my plate a second time the conversation takes its predictable downward turn.
It’s when I head back for thirds.
It’s like they’ve timed it for when I’m happiest.
Before dinner began, I implored the group to stray far from certain topics:
The war in Afghanistan
Who voted for whom
I return to the table. I hear the word ‘president’ escape someone’s lips. I halt before sitting. Are we doing this again? I wonder.
Yes. We are.
I listen. I keep eating. I say nothing.
“…worst president ever,” I hear.
“…so stupid. Terrible policies.”
“…I know a guy who voted for him. We’re not friends anymore.”
“…can you believe what he said the other day?”
“Jeremy? Got anything to add?”
No, I want to shout. I came here to eat and relax in the company of friends and family.
But no one really cares what I want.
And so I’m silent.
They keep going. At some point, Julie serves pie and champagne. I do my best to help, heaping whipped cream atop plates, airlifting dirty dishes to the sink. Despite her participation in the dining room warfare, I can tell Julie is uncomfortable with it all. The conversation has adopted a vicious tone. What began as a few barbs directed toward the commander-in-chief is now a full-scale indictment of every aspect of our government.
She’s a resilient gal, our Julie.
But like all the rest, she’s sucked in.
I trudge back to the table, pie in hand. The hour is late. I peer around the house, searching for Maggie, but she’s asleep on her bed. There won’t be an evening walk for her.
The champagne is sweet and strong.
The pie is magnificent.
The conversation is disgusting.
They’re arguing now. Someone dared to agree offhandedly with one of the prez’s policies. Someone else challenged the mild agreement with an expletive. I’m not even sure who said what any longer. I’m pretending my pie is a wall between me and the rest of the dining room.
No, not that kind of wall.
“…illegal immigrants,” someone blurts. I’m not sure of the context, not that it matters.
“…dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“…you sound like a communist.”
There’s a break in the action. Big John is pissed at my wife, and vice versa. Julie is flustered. Marc has retreated to the fireplace. Larry and I just look at each other as if to say, “We knew this was going to happen.”
I’ve done this dance before.
With precision timing, I guide my wife toward the door. Julie intercepts us with bowls of leftovers, which we shuttle quickly out to the car.
It’s gonna be a brutal drive home.
And one thing’s for certain:
We’re doing it again next year.
Not many people appreciate my view of our country’s government. Of the voting process. Of this thing we call democracy.
That’s ok. The small amount of scorn I’ve endured isn’t nearly equal to the frustration I see expressed by other people my age. Everyone’s angry. Even the people who say they’re not angry betray themselves when posting comments online.
As if typing words into Facebook matters.
If they only knew the power of Thor’s Well. I sip my wine. Maybe they wouldn’t be so upset.
They’d probably still rage.
It’s late now. The fireflies wink at me just beyond the glass door. A brooding Hans Zimmer soundtrack thrums in the background.
I close my eyes and consider many things.
In our government, the focus lies primarily on winning and losing. The winner, presumably taking power by virtue of earning more votes, has the power to enact policies with only his supporters in mind. He can effectively ignore the will of everyone who didn’t support him.
If he desires, he can enact policies with no one’s interests in mind save his own.
What this means is: if a politician so chooses, he can ignore the needs of tens of millions of people. Whether he won the election by a hundred-thousand votes.
Or by two.
And what this means is: a large portion of United States citizens will spend a significant portion of their lives with little to no government representation. These people can protest, challenge in court, and vote until they’re blue in the face. But ultimately, barring a revolution, if their candidate loses, the winning party can ignore them almost completely.
Winner-take-all – it’s not a system designed to be fair.
And it doesn’t matter.
Our government isn’t here to save us. Or feed us. Or protect us.
The person – whoever it is – we just elected to office doesn’t care about every individual. It’s impossible. We only know the contents of our own bubble.
And while politicians’ bubbles might be bigger than most, they’re still limited.
Which means we are, all of us, alone.
That’s what the wine says, anyway.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll be slightly more optimistic.
I wish I had another deeply personal story for this segment.
As it turns out, avoiding partisanship with such escapist vigor leaves me at a loss to describe much of my political experience.
And so I’ll lean back, sip my wine, and illustrate the modern political scene using my trusty friend, the internet.
The date is June 13th, 2017. I’ve pulled each of the following conversations verbatim from the web. The comments were published today, meaning this is but a small sample of the world we live in.
…and the world we’ve bargained for.
Our first example is a conversation regarding the Golden State Warriors – the championship-winning NBA basketball team – and their indecision regarding whether or not to attend a meet-and-greet at the White House.
The flames start early.
And burn hot.
“Pass on it. Next year when you win another prez will be in office. Hopefully one that has equal respect for all and does right by the country at all levels.”
“Shut your stupid fkn mouth.”
“FYI presidents are in office for 4 years so get over it, others put up with your choice for 8 long years.”
“Yea, like Frank said, what do you think? You’re in America and you have freedoms? All bow to Emperor Frank!”
Richard (a white guy) replies:
“Your license plate should read “In African American Racism We Trust”!
“Apparently you are not familiar with our legal policies. You actually have to break the law to be impeached. Being rich is not illegal.”
“Getting sick of all these celebrities that are only famous because of something they do and we pay money for. YOU don’t have to like someone, but it’s the White House…it’s an honor…people get denied to tour it all the time. I was there last summer and it was an amazing experience. Stop allowing politics to ruin everyone’s ability to experience things that they would never get to do.”
“I’m sick of women who don’t know anything about sports commenting on them. Back to the kitchen you go. And who told you to voice your opinion on the internet?”
“The problem is that this is really a non-story. The press will not let it go, and will blow it up just to get people hating each other.”
“Well Kym, ask the white house if you can take the Warriors’ place.”
“It’s only an honor if the president and his administration weren’t a gaggle of f**ktards.”
“Getting sick of these celebrities, especially the one who got elected president.”
“You’re all morons.”
Didn’t take long, did it? Dave’s women-in-the-kitchen comment is obvious sarcasm, but everyone else is dead serious.
That said, I tend to agree with Gina.
This next battle broke out immediately after President Trump blocked famed author Stephen King from Twitter, after which Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling rushed to Stephen’s defense.
That’s right. A president has embroiled himself in a Twitter war.
You couldn’t make up better headlines if you tried.
“I put Trump on block 3 years ago, that guy was a dumbass then and is an even bigger dumbass now lol. Fuck his twitter.”
Rodrigo fires back:
“Dumbass that is the POTUS and a billionaire. Whats ur claim to fame? A motorcycle lol.”
“Rodrigo is an idiot. After Trump embezzled millions and yet people are like ‘no he didn’t’ when I can pull up multiple occasions of times he’s been fined 25k for his dad buying millions of dollars in poker chips and not using the chips (which is illegal) to help trump with his failed businesses.”
“A man that created ‘Trump University’ gave people fake diplomas and then got shut down after not too long and you still think he’s a genius. Maybe at fucking people like you and I over. Lmao.”
Norma chimes in:
“J.K. should shut her damn British mouth and stay out of it.”
“More and more people are complete jerks online. What ever happened to all that crap about bullying?
“When is JK taking refugees into her mansion again?”
“Trump is jealous of anyone more successful than him. So sad.”
“Why do they want Trump’s attention so badly?”
“So immature. Hollywood idiots, let the man do his job.”
“He doesn’t want to do the job. He should do his job and forget about Twitter period. So sad you can’t see the humor in this.”
“She’ll get blocked, too. Mark my words.”
Melinda asks ironically:
“Does anyone really care?????”
“Guess anyone can block whomever they want, right?”
And then Mary adds:
“Both are whiners.”
WD Hawley brings the pain:
“Really who gives a shit, damn libtards.”
Susana fires back:
“What a coward.”
And a different Mary finishes it off by asking:
“Are we still in high school?”
This thread continued for another three-hundred eighty-seven comments. And it was just one of many conversations in which people sounded off on the Trump vs. King vs. Rowling issue.
Which, by my make-believe math, means approximately five-hundred million people took time out of their days to type meaningless words into a meaningless thread in which zero minds were changed.
I actually played a little game while reading these comments. I counted how many sips of wine I polished off before stumbling across the term, ‘libtard.’
I finished one sip.
In the wee hours of the morning, I’m still awake.
Maybe it’s the wine. Or perhaps my rare excursion into the online partisan battlefield lit a hotter fire beneath me than hoped.
The reality is – despite people’s appearance on the internet – we’re all individuals. We have our own needs, our own opinions, and all we really want is to thrive within our separate bubbles.
I know it’s hard to believe. My wine is gone, but I’m not sad for it.
I’m sad for people.
And so I’ll sleep and say no more about politics.
Want to keep talking? Go here.
Prefer to argue about politics? Maybe this will light your fire.
J Edward Neill