Driving Around

     I just spent two weeks snooping on my fellow citizens, driving around, chatting them up at hotel bars, coffee shops, checkout lines … just schmoozing, nudging conversations around toward this supremely weird presidential campaign.
     In the Carolinas, Virginia and Appalachia, a whole lot of people like Donald Trump. I wondered why.
     The answers were better than I expected they’d be – and worse.
     Better, because the conversations were pleasant – not a harsh word – even with the guy with the “I Don’t Believe the Liberal Media” bumper sticker in South Carolina. Even after I told him I’m with the liberal media.
     Worse, because nearly all the responses I got were inchoate. They know they hate President Obama, and Hillary Clinton, and that they like Trump, but after that it gets vague …
     Nearly every person who told me he or she hates President Obama followed up by saying immediately: “And it’s not because I’m racist,” or words to that effect.
     I found that interesting, since I never suggested such a thing.
     Every single person who said she or he hates Hillary Clinton said it’s because they “just don’t trust her,” and/or, “She lies.”
     And everyone who likes Trump said it’s because “he tells it like it is.”
     The few times I asked why they think Trump tells it like it is, though he obviously lies farther and faster than anyone else around, the conversation sort of petered out.
     None of these conversations were arguments. I wasn’t trying to persuade anyone of anything and they weren’t trying to persuade me. What it came down to, I think, is that they like Trump and they don’t like Hillary, so they’re going to vote for Trump.
     That’s the way a lot of Americans vote, I think. That’s why George W. Bush beat Al Gore, I think.
     Only twice in these thirty-some conversations, I think, did I leave my partner trying to puzzle something out. These were conversations that lasted long enough for me to say, “I don’t like Hillary either. I think she’s annoying. But we’re voting for president of the United States here. She’s more qualified than he is. When you’re voting for president, don’t you want someone who’s qualified? Or just someone you like?”
     Two guys seemed stumped at that. I said good-bye to them as they wrinkled their foreheads.
     One was a truck driver in West Virginia. He’d worked in the coal mines for years, until they started shutting down. His whole family worked in the coal mines for generations. Now he drives a truck carrying water to fracking operations. So long as the fracking lasts, he’s got a job.
     He hates Obama – but not because he’s racist. He hates him because he “ruined coal.”
     I can understand that. I’ve hated guys who gave me jobs. How much easier is it to hate someone who takes your job away?
     This trucker was a big guy. Fat, you could call him. But he said he’s not really fat. He’s carrying 125 pounds of inoperable tumors in and around his stomach.
     “This one weighs 60 pounds,” he said, shaking it. “This one’s about 40. This one’s 25.”
     The tumors are so intertwined with the rest of him the doctors can’t cut them out.
     I have no idea whether the tumors have any relation to his years in the mines. That’s none of my business.
     Could it be a good thing that he lost his job in the mine and got a job driving a truck? I have no idea – not my business either. It’s just one more odd thing from weeks of conversations with strangers. One more thing it’s unpleasant to think about, and would be impolite for me to ask.

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