Sunday, July 29, 2018

Solve your problems today the Donald Trump way

     The most worrisome aspect for me about covering Donald Trump's speech in Granite City Thursday was not driving across the state, nor the possibility of a hostile crowd, nor having to gaze at the human embodiment of my country's decline and shame.
     No—and there is no way anybody who isn't me would guess this—the worrisome part was that the event began at 3 p.m., ended at some unforeseen time, and I would be sequestered at a steel plant, in the control of the federal government, for some unknown period afterward.

     The last time that happened to me, when Barack Obama gave his final speech in Chicago, the wifi was spotty, the deadline began to loom, and I literally bolted out while the president was still talking, and have this memory of running through subterranean passages around McCormick Place, trying to get the hell out there and find to a cab stand and get back to the paper to file a column. It was not a pleasant memory. 
     I didn't want that to happen again so, Thursday morning, batted out a "holding column"—one that could fill my place until I got a chance to file or, in theory, run in the paper if 8 p.m. rolled around and I was still at U.S. Steel. I've never blown a deadline in my life. I wasn't going to blow one now.
     As it was, there was quite a bit of discussion about this column at the paper—the White House, unknown to me, was eager for us to have a reporter at the speech, and the possibility of my being denied credentials existed only in my head.
     Still, it's a fun piece of work, I hope, and, today being Sunday, might entertain those who still have an appetite for this sort of thing. If you want to read the column that ran instead, batted out sitting in Jerry's Restaurant next to U.S. Steel, you can read that here.

     GRANITE CITY — The White House issued me credentials to attend Donald Trump's tour of the U.S. Steel plant here, the first dip of his presidential toe into Illinois since taking office 18 months ago and, not incidentally, about as far from Chicago as he can get and still be within the state.
     Until the confirmation arrived, hope had bloomed. Maybe they'd ban me, wouldn't that be a coup? After all, it would have taken only a few keystrokes to find that I've been caviling the man since Day One, working hard to make "liar, bully and fraud" into a trope, like Homer's "wine-dark sea." And didn't they just ban CNN pool reporter Kaitlan Collins for doing her job, and using an Oval Office photos shoot to ask a question about the release of a tape made by Trump's former consigliere Michael Cohen, suggesting that the president's insistence that he didn't know about payoffs to his former lovers was a lie (why is Trump lying still news? Can't we at this point assume that EVERYTHING he says is a lie, and save the headlines for those occasional moments when he accidentally tells the truth?)
     Had they banned me, I could go to the protests in Civic Park....
     But no such luck. The Midwest doesn't count when it comes to the coast, particularly Washington, its own weird hall of mirrors world. The credential came through, giving me the right to stand in some pen 30 yards from where Trump gives whatever happy gloss he's putting on the toolbox full of wrenches he dropped into American foreign trade with his cack-handed tariffs. The plan was to get to a computer and file something by deadline, but if you're reading this, that means the deadline came with me still penned, or sitting in a Huddle House in Litchfield trying to get the wifi to work. Kind of a Break Glass, Remove Column situation.
     Monday will be better, I promise. To make good use of my time Wednesday on the drive down, I spoke with farmers along the way. Though in case I don't have room, or fall asleep on the drive back, I don't want to leave this earth without revealing an important fact I learned: The silk in corn? It spreads pollination through the ear. A lifetime of stripping that stuff off sweet corn, over newspaper if I'm smart (try to replicate THAT value, on-line news aggregators!) because otherwise you have to scrape up the tenacious strands, and I never paused to wonder what this stuff did beside get in the way. One of the benefits of talking to farmers.
     Anyway, their take was that it took 30 years to build up an export relationship with China, a major buyer of our crops, one that Trump blew out of the water without much thought, and his $12 billion band-aid won't even cover their loses so far, never mind the future losses.
     But heck, he's a businessman, so all's forgiven. He must know what he's doing. I guess if you have the constitution to see your hard work swept away by locusts, floods and drought, then a scourge like Trump's grasp of international economics is easy to rationalize.
     The Trump appearance at U.S. Steel is a perfect example of a concept that I've developed, trying to answer the question of how good, decent people like the farmers I spoke with can support Trump. I call it "framing" — you put a frame around the part you are comfortable looking at and completely ignore anything outside the frame. Thus Trump, tossing a grenade into America's breadbasket, slides into the one steel plant where jobs are created. Let's look at those, he says. And all the farmers who were already struggling with a disappointing season — weather's been on the dry side — can sell their equipment in the shadows and lease out land they could use themselves and take out loans they can't pay back. We won't look at that.
     We see this all the time in individual lives. Got cancer? Well, here are some life power crystals and cleansing rituals and a Reiki master to apply pressure to your healing energy field. Maybe the cancer will just go away — which it sometimes does — and you can credit all the mystic hoo-ha that distracted you from it in the first place. Me, I'd see a doctor.


  1. Great perspective. You are an amazing writer. So glad I found you again after reading you for years in the Sun Times.Now I read your blog everyday. And I learned a new word today--caviling. Thank you.

  2. God, how pathetic. Obama gets excoriated for making health insurance affordable, while Trump's victims praise him for blowing up the economy.

  3. Nicely done. 2 columns for the price of 1. Plus a new word for me: “ cack-handed.” Which now I know derives from left-handed, I.e. clumsy, but also for me has the flavor of dirty-handed or shitty-handed, which is bound to be a useful, perhaps essential, adjective these days.


  4. The last time you wrote on this subject, I really thought you'd drank the Kool-Aid. After this one, I feel a little better. A little. I'm not giving up, not giving in.


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