anuary 2009 was a grim time for portions of non-coastal America. A black Democrat with a strange and un-American sounding name had won the presidency and was entering the White House. His optimistic “Yes We Can” slogan, music to his progressive supporters’ ears, infuriated those who remained stubbornly loyal to less inclusive racial, sexual and cultural values. Might he be a closet Muslim? After all, he’d lived for a time in Indonesia. Was he in fact even U.S. citizen? In any event, much about his past was suspect.
Then came his politics, which at the time seemed those of a full-barreled liberal. He sought affordable health care at government expense. He spoke of inclusion — a threatening notion as the U.S. economy struggled to snap out of a tailspin and illegal workers grew in numbers. His emphasis on social welfare was “socialist,” which in its American guise meant taxpayer money into federally chosen hands. Here was a politician — though to say so aloud was heresy — whose race and values unsettled those who imagined America as a homogeneous nation created by 18th-century white men and schooled to see itself as a pre-eminent state imbued with a sense of manifest destiny and possessed with an ethical and religious mandate that was intrinsically better all others.
How then did this new and deeply secular president fit in? He didn’t. Instead, he exemplified urban multiculturalism gone perilously wild. To some, he represented a punishment of sorts. Government, all government, was offensively out of synch with one nation under a protective American God.
This was clearly not the view in Los Angeles or Chicago, New York or Boston, Providence or Seattle — never mind in poisonously venal and corrupt Washington. Those cities celebrated Barack Obama in the way some small venues are now cheering the installation of Donald J. Trump, who in many respects is the Einstein-like equal and opposite reaction to 2008’s Mr. Yes We Can.
Those suspicious if not contemptuous of the now-outdated Obama are living their own dream, one that much of urban America can’t bear to watch, since it seems only yesterday that the Yes We Can was also the Now, and seemingly the future.
Like it or not, and protests aside, these days belong to the people who eight years ago were forced to watch as the East and West Coasts celebrated the ascent of someone who seemed to them alien in every sense.
Were those people, who are now Trump’s people, swayed in part by misinformation, hysteria and propaganda? Of course they were. Do they care now that President Trump exaggerates and shamelessly offends? No, they do not. He is the “antidote,” the chemo, the detergent and above all the revenge.
All is deserved. Nothing is off limits. Haters of two-term Obama were given additional motivation by an economy whose so-called recovery failed to make life any less miserable for the white downtrodden already made bitter at the sight of jobs vanishing or being relocated overseas on the pretext of global trade. They watched as the “Muslim” bailed out banks and repeatedly put civility and correctness ahead of brawn. American was only one of many world players, he insisted. This new black president even seemed to regard the underling class, including immigrants, as more deserving than true blue (and unemployed) Americans.
He spoke loquacious English laced with cautious words and balanced phrases that came straight from his elite training. He seemed uninterested in projecting the kind of aggressive clout that separates men from boys. He was namby-pamby, politic to the point of exasperation, lacking in a huntsman’s killer instincts. He didn’t care much for guns and his favorite pastime, basketball, was a sport whose best players came from inner city backgrounds.
The inner heat of the disdained did not dissipate over eight years. Instead, given a chance to emerge from their hibernation and coalesce around a devil-may-care candidate who seemed to hate both politics and parties, they took to his gleefully reckless ferocity and supported it with pent-up vengeance.
So forget about President Trump for a moment. Think instead about those who feel vindicated by a bizarre but straight-talking billionaire they’re convinced has rescued them from a near decade-long horror show they believe was unjustly forced upon them by glib, urban America and by politicians of the left and right who had no real interests in the American outland. These are the people who endured what Trump chose to call a “carnage” in his angry inaugural address, a carnage that came to symbolic fruition when Obama “named” his presumptive successor as Hillary Clinton — the would-have-been Obama of 2008. Suddenly, the horror show seemed destined to have a third act. Somehow, improbably, the troops of middle earth, the real earth, stopped all that.
Now it’s very much their party, and a great deal of what their mercurial leader does in the coming years will be in the service of a riptide nearly a decade in the making.