Opinion

Trump Country Road Trip! A Dispatch from Tyee’s Spin Doctor

Nothing says America like rant-y AM radio, the NRA, and something called ‘Texas SuperFood.’

By Steve Burgess 21 Aug 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

[Editor's note: Recently, Tyee spin doctor Doc Steve has been driving through Trump country and occasionally listening to the radio. He sends this report. ]

“Jew! Jew! Jew!”

It is 6:30 a.m. at a Motel 6 in Miles City, Montana. Someone is hammering on the door of Room 131. Already it has not been a great night for Doc Steve — a spongy mattress has forced him to sleep on the floor (the Doctor has a bad back). Now this. Montana is Trump country, and Doc Steve has been a touch nervous about crossing the state in an old European sedan with foreign plates. And yet awakening to the sound of someone banging on a door accusing the occupant of belonging to a religious minority still comes as a bit of a surprise. “Jeeeew!” the assailant shouts again. “You coming?”

“Ummm... I think you have the wrong room.”

“Oh. Sorry!” And the knocker goes off to bang on some other door, leaving unanswered the question of who would have “Jew” for a nickname. Could it be Joo? Djiu? An unfortunate abbreviation of Judy?

Anyway, crisis averted. But it had been a nervous moment. Having spent much of the previous day listening to a car radio, the possibility of being attacked in a motel room over perceived religious differences did not seem completely far-fetched. Forget satellite radio — when you drive a 26-year-old BMW, you listen to whatever signal you can pull out of the prairie sky. A favourite road game is “Name That Static-Smothered Tune,” where only the occasional lyric or note from a far-off radio signal pokes through the white noise like a faint footprint in the snow, and you have to identify it. (I got “Faith” by George Michael from just a single, distant “baaay-by.”)

But mostly what you get is right-wing talk radio. After just one day of AM radio talk shows my little dashboard speaker is clogged with batshit. Lots of Sean Hannity — he is almost inescapable out in ranch country — and another guy named Mark Levin, a master of the all-caps vocal style. While the rest of the world is busy wondering about the latest Trump outrages, Hannity is doggedly pursuing the issue of “sanctuary cities,” those liberal-sponsored havens for dirty, criminal foreigners.

But it is Levin who is really interesting. Tuning in partway through his rant, it is surprising to find Levin expressing concern about Holocaust ignorance. Specifically he’s discussing a book by Laurel Leff called Buried by the Times, about the poor coverage of the Holocaust in the New York Times between 1939-1945. Disgraceful, Levin says. A shameful failure. But then comes the punchline: “And they DARE to write an editorial trashing Donald Trump? The paper... that sought to conceal the Holocaust? Something Donald Trump has never done!”

So there you go. The Times — Bible of the liberal hypocrites! — has no right to criticize Trump because 75 years ago it dropped the ball.

Levin then goes on at length about a current right-wing hobby horse, namely that the Democratic Party was historically the party of southern racism. Which is true. And if you slept through the 1960s you might not know that civil rights initiatives under presidents Kennedy and Johnson drove all those hooded voters into the arms of the Republicans where they have lived happily ever since.

Today, though, Levin pretends utter shock at this history of Democratic Party racism — “Ban the Democratic Party!” he barks — before saying in the next breath that President Trump cannot be criticized for his own. Living inside the right-wing media bubble is as profoundly disorienting as anything Timothy Leary ever swallowed.

There is even scary stuff between rants. Have you ever heard of “NRA Carry Guard?” I have, thanks to American talk radio. Having fought so hard for the God-given right of every American to carry assault weapons at daycares, dances and Dairy Queens, the National Rifle Association now offers the Carry Guard insurance plan. It covers you in the event that you exercise your Second Amendment rights too hard and, you know, shoot somebody. There’s liability insurance and even money to pay for your criminal defence, which might be that the victim was acting in a threateningly black or Hispanic manner. There are also a lot of ads for something called Texas SuperFood, which will help you lose weight, make you a human powerhouse, and perhaps cause your cat to begin treating you with genuine respect for a change.

Stopping in the lovely town of Livingston, I sit at the counter of the Fiesta en Jalisco Mexican restaurant enjoying a burrito and a tamale. I strike up a conversation with a couple of local bikers who agree with my contention that Livingston is something of a liberal bastion in conservative Montana. Not that everyone is onboard. “I’m a Trump supporter,” one tells me. “Trying to hang on anyway.”

Trump, he explains, is not a politician. He tells the truth. It’s a remarkable statement, but a common one from Trump folks. Trump is a truth-teller they insist, glossing over the inconvenient fact that Trump probably couldn’t read out a list of baseball scores without lying. Why then is this con artist, this habitual liar, this delusional fabulist, consistently described as truthful? It’s all in how you define “truth.”

I think his followers believe Trump speaks the truth about Mexicans, Muslims, blacks and other minorities. Trump says the ugly things other Republican politicians will only hint at. And his core supporters are profoundly grateful to him for that. A recent Washington Post story reported that Trump’s post-Charlottesville remarks may actually have increased support from his base. In parts of the country the president’s racism is not a problem. It’s his major selling point.

Now the old Doc Steve Mobile has crossed into Idaho. Here most people are not even talking about Trump. It’s mostly chatter about the Monday solar eclipse, a band of darkness covering America as its citizens watch. Well, at least I think they’re talking about the eclipse.  [Tyee]

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