Syndic No. 19 Cover
Syndic Literary Journal

Resistance Commentary by Elisabeth Miller

Dictator Donald Trump / Portrait by Allen Forrest

 

 

Resistance Commentary

 

by Elisabeth Miller

 

The Flag

 

I live in the bluest of states, Rhode Island, and yet the town where I now live voted 54.6% for Trump. Every day I drive by the farm which is just up the road from the town hall, police station, junior and senior high schools, library, brand new indoor recreation center, and the municipal court building, which are all at the two main crossroads at the center of the town. I used to enjoy driving by the farm, seeing the cows and horses out grazing in the fields, with the grove of trees and the old barn.

Then, one day in 2016, small white and black signs were posted all along the fence line showing prison bars and saying “LOCK HER UP” alternating with blue signs with white letters saying “TRUMP”. A huge Trump sign went up nailed to the trees in the grove, and, much worse still, under the American flag on the pole in front of the barn, a flag appeared, blue with the name TRUMP in big white letters just like the signs. The name of a presidential candidate on a flag? It made me sick to look at it, and I imagined that the cows and horses felt the same way as I did.
As we drove by the flag one day, I tried to explain to my granddaughter why it was so horrible. My granddaughter’s parents are both immigrants from Guatemala. Our town has long been dominated by people of Italian descent. She had already been hearing anti-immigrant talk in the middle school, and she had even been told to go back where she came from, which in her case would be the city of Providence, which our town borders. Her taunters were maybe just one generation ahead of her in being American, their families just one step ahead in moving out of the city to the neighboring town.

According to an article from 2010 in the town newspaper, the farm has been in the same Yankee family since it was started in 1779, and it is now being managed by the seventh generation of the family. It has been struggling to survive as a viable business, having stopped operating as a dairy farm and closed the retail store some years ago, so the income for the current owners comes from doing construction. Does any of this history explain the Trump flag, or would it be too simplistic to think that it did? What, exactly, might be Trump’s appeal to the descendants of this family of the founders of our town?

As I drive by the flag, day after day, I often think about knocking on the door and asking whoever answers that question, but I have never had the nerve to follow through and do that, and I am sure that I never will. Nor will I rip down the flag, nor write anti-Trump graffiti on the side of the barn, nor make calls to harass the farm owners, nor do any of the things which have occurred to me might be a response to show my strong distaste, not just for Trump, but for the act of flying a flag in his name.

And what, I wonder, might be Trump’s appeal to the majority of the town’s voters, 49.5% self-identified as Italian-American, making the town #2 in the US for percent of Italian descendants after Fairfield, NJ at 50.3%, some of whom are also farmers (one on either side of my own house), many of whom also do construction, who own retail stores or restaurants, and who run the town and fill the ranks of the teachers, police and firefighters, and half of whom are registered Democrats like our mayor? Voter registration statistics for the 2016 election show 10655 Democrats, 7871 Independents, and only 2196 Republicans. Our Democratic Congressman won reelection with 56.6% of the vote in our town.

I do not know any of my neighbors, and I have never asked any of them if they voted for Trump, and if so, why? I have a couple of ideas about it, none of them very nice to contemplate about my neighbors.

At the top of the street just up from the farm and on the corner of my street, there is an old historical school house which belongs to the town, unused and waiting for some new purpose, and across from that a small, 125 year old, typical New England style church building which had been empty for a very long time. The church went on the market at what seemed like a very low price given the location, reflecting the dilapidated condition in which it was finally being sold.

The buyer of the church was a black man, an immigrant from Africa who works as an engineer as well as a pastor with a congregation in Providence, who was looking for a new home for his flock. After buying the property, he began to make the renovations, and went to apply for the required permits at the building office. The building inspector denied the permit to repair the roof, and was recorded using racial slurs in talking about the minister and his church to one of the contractors doing the repairs.

The use of the building as a church then became an issue with the town’s zoning board, and the board denied a special use permit despite the fact that the building had only ever been used as a church. With the taped conversation and zoning board decision in hand, the minister took the case to the local NAACP and their lawyers, and the story was picked up by the Providence Journal. Before the town was sued, the mayor overruled the other officials, ordered the issuance of all of the permits, apologized to the pastor and his people, and issued a welcoming statement on behalf of the town.

The town is less than 6% Hispanic and less than 2% black. My granddaughter’s friends at school are all in the minority in one way or another, even if just by ethnicity: Greek, Polish, black, Dominican. She says that the white girls are mean to them and she doesn’t understand why, but lately she thinks it may have something to do with Trump. I know that girls have always been mean, group against group, however they are sliced up, but there does seem to be something different going on now that we maybe did not see so much before, now openly rising to the surface in a town like ours.

Envy and resentment. What it all comes down to is a sense of envy and resentment. What motivates Trump is exactly the same as what motivates the farmer to fly the Trump flag which is exactly the same as what motivated the building inspector to deny the church permit. You can call it racism, or you can see it as something even bigger and more general, more visceral and emotional, more territorial animal than civilized human. It is all about whoever is an US against whoever is a THEM, when WE are under attack because THEY are getting ahead, which means THEY must be taking something away from US.

Polls shows that Trump has a historically low approval rating, but it is absolutely horrifying to think that about one third of the people polled continue to say they approve of him. That is one third of people polled who feel threatened by some sort of other, however that is defined racially, ethnically, religiously, by gender or gender orientation or identification, from whom they believe Trump can protect them and maybe even restore them to their imaginary previous position of control over their lives because he is the strong leader they have been waiting for, their knight in shining armor. One third. Really?

We have somehow failed as a country if we have one third in a place where they want out and they still think that Trump is their ticket out. At the same time, we have come a long way as a country, having elected a black President who was successful for eight years. There is no doubt that Obama’s election caused a surge of resentment and envy, even in a rich bastard like Trump himself, an emotional backlash in those who are insecure and uncertain about themselves and their place in the world which they view as a zero sum game, real estate tycoon, farmer and building inspector alike.

That backlash created a wave in a moment in time which captured enough others on the fringes to barely give Trump a win in 2016, but we can already see the edges of Trump’s support eroding away. Still, we have the one third, and we cannot just bury that fact. As a country, we need to confront and work on correcting the problems which have caused the deep seated alienation, the defective socio-economic, educational, health, mental health, human services, and immigration systems which have left behind or left out too many of our community.

When you ask Guatemalans what caused their 36 year long civil war, they often do not talk about the politics or ideologies, or even the poverty and oppression. Instead, they will say it was envy. It is envy and resentment that are rotting away our politics and obliterating our ideologies in this country today. Envy and resentment are being stoked in those susceptible to the feelings by political leaders who resemble thugs and are admired by those who think that putting others down is a sign of strength and power. It is a perversion of everything in a democracy when the bully wins.

Ultimately, though, it is impossible to believe that the bully will win the war. We must believe that it is so far only a battle which envy and resentment have won, and that we can still resist the spread of tyranny and defeat it with the strength of unity and, as Obama would say, the audacity of hope. Extending unity and hope to those in that one third of Trump supporters is the real and final challenge, the end game in the experiment of American democracy, the goal of progress and what should be one of the goals of a renewed progressive movement.

We cannot accept a Trump flag flying on any farmer’s flag pole, ever, anywhere in this country, any more or ever again. The Trump flag is an outright affront to our democracy and to the American flag, which is itself a symbol of unity and hope, and even as throughout our history we have failed to live up to its promise, it has always told us what to strive for. Together, we can overcome envy and resentment with unity and hope. Together, we can trump Trump.

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