How the Hell Did This Happen?
Ron found a copy of P.J. O’Rourke’s new collection of essays How the Hell Did This Happen? The Election of 2016 at an airport bookstore, and we’ve been reading through it to distract ourselves from the increasing gravity of the political situation.
This past week marked the tenth Saturday that I’ve taken part in a weekly demonstration on the public square—the one with the statue of the Union soldier, the one where our farmer’s market is held every Saturday morning from May to October, and the one where the Freshwater supporters used to demonstrate (a few of them are still there, trying to harass us about their religion through a bullhorn).
Our purpose, as recently reported in the local small-town newspaper, is threefold: we demonstrate to try to get the attention of our local congressional representative, Mr. Bob Gibbs, we inform ourselves and each other about what congress is doing each day, and we support local candidates for office (although the requirement that the candidate be able to live without income for a year has been discouraging to several otherwise willing public servants).
Every week when it’s time to make my sign, I think about what I believe. This is new to me–the routine and the clarity of it, anyway. What do I believe so much that I am willing to alienate some of my neighbors by carrying my thoughts on it around in front of me for half an hour? Slogan-writing does lend itself to simplification.
And there’s the main problem I have with politics today—the simplification. People I know voted for our 45th president because they thought he would cut through the complications on issues like immigration and health care. They thought it would be enough if they voted in support of their deeply-held beliefs, like that women shouldn’t have access to birth control or safe abortion. They have not been forced to consider the complications, the up-close human consequences of such rigid thought.
And don’t think I’m not irritated with the other side, too. It galls me to demonstrate with people whose views on immigration currently consist of a “let them all in” attitude. It’s not enough to “resist.” Sooner or later, someone is going to have to compromise.
Although the sign I carried this past Saturday says “Support Public Schools,” I’ve never supported them uncritically. I’ve attended school board meetings to register my objections, several times against the dress code (wearing most of the proscribed articles of clothing) and Ron and I have never been angrier with the local public schools than when we were sitting in the bleachers at our child’s high school graduation and heard that his “senior class gift” was a security camera. There are lots of things wrong with public education in this town, and in this country, and people like me sometimes feel that we can’t make any impression on the bureaucracy…which is true when we don’t invest enough of our time and energy.
Since a small town is one of the only places in America today where people have to get along, often for years, even when they think differently about major issues, I disagree with writers like John Pavlovitz, about “losing” friends over the 2016 presidential election. I can’t afford to lose any of my friends or acquaintances. I’m feeling an urgent need to make more friends and influence more people.
I thought maybe reading P.J. O’Rourke, known as a political conservative, would be a good way to get some insight into how to mend more of the bridges that need mending in this country. And he does give me some insight into conservative thinking. For instance, he says “the Democrats are determined to elect “the first ____ American president.” African-American, Woman, Native American, Latino, Gay. They’ve checked off No. 1 and are determined to go down the list in order of historical victimhood.”
Like so many liberals, though, he is full of snark. And, of course, I enjoy that. Our new president, he says
“is under the illusion that he’s thirty-five times richer than he is. He thinks childhood vaccination caused the movie Rain Man. He believes Obama was born to the queen of Sheba in Karjackistan and raised by Islamacist wolves in the remote forests of Harvard Law School.”
There’s little continuity between the essays in How the Hell Did This Happen? because, as the author notes, “in the 2016 presidential campaign, as far as I can tell, one thing didn’t lead to another. The campaign was a series of singularities….I would have preferred to write a book about the course of actions taken during this election campaign and how that course of actions led to certain results. But there was no discernable course.”
In the chapter about John Kasich, governor of Ohio, O’Rourke notes that “the conflicts in the Buckeye State mirror America’s: intransigent labor subjecting greedy management to extortion, indignant blacks clashing with angry white trash about who can behave more antisocially, illegal immigrants taking jobs away from illiterate nativists who won’t get a job, Tea Party crackpots vying with liberal dingbats for space on Internet wacko sites, and the dirty poor dumping on the filthy rich slinging muck at the grubbing-to-get-by middle class. But they all get along with Kasich.” I don’t find this last statement to be true, personally, but I guess a majority of Ohioans do, since they elected him.
In the process of eviscerating everybody, O’Rourke suggests what he believes are needed reforms for our broken political system. One of the suggestions I agree with is that young people should vote in primaries. O’Rourke believes that “Nobody votes in primaries. In 2012, when the entire country was supposedly full of the political hots and bothers, just 15.9 percent of the electorate cast a primary vote. We don’t know how old these primary-voting nobodies are, but I’m guessing their average age is dead.
Brain-dead, for certain.
Therefore I’m asking you young people to make an enormous sacrifice. I’m asking you to find a presidential primary and vote in it.”
I especially enjoyed O’Rourke’s answer to the idiotic “border wall” proposal. He says
“We don’t need a wall on our border; we need gates with turnstiles and ticket-takers. The right way to limit immigration (and make people in foreign countries pay for it) is to charge admission to the United States.
Disneyland costs $100 a day. There are at least 12 million illegal immigrants in America. By my calculation we’re leaving $438 billion a year on the table. And America has many more attractions than Disneyland….Plus, think what we could bring in from the food, toy, and souvenir concessions.”
He lists a number of even more outlandish proposals after that, including “Don’t Make America the World’s Policeman; Make America the World’s Private Security Guard. And bill the world for it.”
O’Rourke asks one of the questions I keep wanting to ask, about the age of presidential candidates:. “What are these people doing running for president at my age? I’m a few months younger than Hillary and a year younger than Donald. During the campaign I had flown from Boston to Chicago. That’s all I’d done. I drove to Boston, got on a plane, flew to Chicago, and took a cab to my hotel. I was exhausted.”
In a more serious moment, he says that the mistake we made about the election “was not ‘living in a bicoastal bubble’ or ‘failure to comprehend white working-class discontents’ or ‘excessive reliance on faulty polling data.’ The mistake was not watching The Apprentice….Trump played the boss you wish you had. Not the boss you wish you had at work. He’s the boss you wish you had after work, when you’re having drinks with your coworkers and telling hilarious stories….But there’s another side to this character. From time to time on the show ‘Trump’ drops the fuss and bluster and holds forth with his business philosophy.”
This seems to me the most serious and important—albeit expressed comically—comment he makes in this whole collection.
Did you know (as I recently found out) that there’s a television in every doctor’s waiting room and in many public areas like YMCA gyms and they’re playing Fox News all day long? Who sits in those waiting rooms and goes to those gyms? Who watches television instead of reading newspapers? My neighbors.
O’Rourke says that reading books (or blogs, I guess) makes us the elite. And, he says,
“The world is a smaller place. Did the elites think this would make everyone get along? Try it with your kids. Put them in a small place, such as the backseat of your car. Now take them to see the world. Take them to, for example, Yellowstone Park from say, Boca Raton. How are your kids getting along?”
O’Rourke gives his version of the answers to our national catastrophe, and I don’t agree with many of them, but what I do like about this book is the way he puts his finger on the main problem with our country right now—we have not been paying attention.
Well, now more of us are. Are you?