Tag Archives: America

Trying to listen in Trump’s America 

Signs like this one dot the American Mid-West. Photo by franleleon, Creative Commons

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
May 13, 2017

In the heart of America, there are long, flat stretches of emptiness in the spring. Fields, only recently plowed and sown with the fall’s harvest, still look barren and soggy. No majestic fields of wheat or corn greet the eye.

I’m driving to Wisconsin to pick up my son from school, accompanied by my daughter. She goes to school in Canada, and so has been out for a couple of weeks. I asked her what she thinks of the landscape. She gazes out the car window, turns to me and says “The only thing I can compare it to is the ocean. So empty and flat.”

This is a trip to Trump country. West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin. All states that voted for Donald Trump. In fact, one might say they are the states that elected Donald Trump, particularly the latter three.

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The signs along the road tell me that this is a different country than the one I left back east. “Jesus is Real” proclaims one large sign. A few miles on another one reads, “Praise be to the Lord, “ and includes a notation of a Psalm from the Bible.

I pull into a gas station and mini-mart somewhere in Ohio. There is a rack of T-shirts supporting the Second Amendment. “Pro-Life, Pro-Gun, Pro-God,” reads one shirt. A small blonde woman in in a torn jean jacket is looking at a T-shirt that reads “I’m a God-fearin’, Bible Believin’, Gun Packin’, American Lovin’ Conservative.”

It’s not all religion and guns, mind you. On the return trip, as we cross from Pennsylvania into West Virginia, the first sign you see is for Jill’s Gentlemen’s Club. “Class acts” the sign assures me.

Maybe it’s just the time of the year, maybe it’s just because things haven’t started to grow yet, maybe it’s just because I’m only driving I-70 and not actually going into any town, but there’s a sense of decay along the highways in this part of the country. While modern, brightly-lit trucks stops cater to the endless ribbon of semis that drive across this country, more often than not the gas stations I pull into need a new paint job, and the pumps don’t always work properly.

The sense of disappointment, of being left behind, hangs in the air like fog. It’s those feelings that helped elect Donald Trump.

I’ve lived in the East my entire life, either in Canada or the United States. Middle America is not my world, and I do not feel at home here. I feel like I have driven into an entirely different country. I’m not sure how to navigate that. People are friendly, but wary. The day I wore my T-shirt with an evolution joke on the front people eyed me a bit suspiciously.

In a motel where we stay, in the free breakfast bar, the television is tuned to a news channel talking about the firing of FBI director James Comey, and the backlash that this has produced among Democrats, Independents, and some Republicans. I asked the person at the next table what they think of the whole thing.

“Well, it was a bit clumsy, but Trump did the right thing. Getting rid of Comey was part of cleaning up the swamp. It’s what the Democrats wanted, so I don’t see why they’re so upset,” he tells me. When he asks me what I think, rather than get into an argument, I tell him I want to wait and see what happens over the next few days.

The most interesting conversation, however, came the next day at the next motel. As we were checking out, a young fella came over to me and started to talk. A truck driver from Alabama, he and his wife were in town to take a safety course at the new company for which he would be driving. The conversation is pleasant and enlightening.

“No, I own my own rig,” he says when I ask. “It’s only way to do it. That way nobody can tell me what to do and what to haul unless I want to. As it is, everybody hates you. The dispatchers, the shipping clerks, the guys who work at the total booths. Everybody just wants to give you a hard time. I’m just trying to make a living.”

He tells me that there is a need for almost 300,000 truck drivers in America. I think back to the highway and that line of semis that seems to stretch from horizon to horizon. And they need more? He says it’s because most truck drivers only last about a year. And then they get fed up with being told what to, and the long hours, and the bad pay, and quit. And move on to the next company.

And as we’re talking it strikes me that he just wants someone to listen to his story. Maybe that’s the key to understanding Trump country. People just want to tell their story, and have someone listen to them. And take them seriously. They want to be valued for what they do, and what they believe.

Then my moment of understanding is shattered by my daughter. I tell her that I think that people around here just want someone to listen to them. “Yes, but they’re not listening either,” she says. “It’s not a one-way conversation.”

I realize that she’s right, and that makes me sad. We increasingly live in two worlds in America. Two different cultures, with different priorities, different beliefs, different ideas of what it means to be American. Once upon a time the idea of being American is what held everybody together. Not anymore. And I believe that gap is growing, and getting harder and harder to cross with every passing day.

We’re back on the highway again, headed towards Wisconsin. We pass a series of Burma Shave-like signs: “I have a gun.” “It’s pretty and pink.” “It makes an attacker.” “Stop and think.”

And again I think that we’re all just talking, and the only opinion that matters is our own.

 

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

 

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Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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Waiting for America’s next mass murder

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
October, 2015

We won’t have to wait long. He’s out there right now. We don’t know his name, or where it will happen, but he will do it. We Americans will know his name within the next week or so.

It will be a he. Very few mass murders are committed by shes. It’s hard to even think of any.

He’s likely early, maybe mid-20s. He’s probably white, but not always. The mass murderer at the Navy Yard in Washington DC was black, and the one at Virginia Tech was Asian-American — but these were unusual. They are almost always white.

He’s a loner. He has trouble associating with people. He’s never had a girlfriend, which he blames on women. He’s probably smarter than he appears, but he also may have some kind of mental disability. Something that made the others pick on him, something that made them call him names in the schoolyard, names that stung like nettles, outside classrooms, maybe on the bus, names that just make him feel more isolated. And angry. Angry enough to want to get even in the worst way.

He’s brooding. Maybe he really needed that job but his damn supervisor at work just didn’t understand the pressures he was under. Or the way the others made fun of him. He knew they were glad to see him go. It was just like all the other places where he had worked and where they had fired him. They’re not going to be so glad to see me when I come back, he tells himself as he plans what he will do next.

Most likely somebody knows. Somebody always knows. But they just don’t think it could ever happen. Not here. Those kind of things happen in other places. To other people. He’s probably just talking out of his ass, the others think. He really doesn’t mean it. But he really does.

He feels like he’s a nobody. But he knows what he will do next will turn him into a somebody. Somebody important. Somebody who will lead national newscasts. Somebody whose invisible life will suddenly be visible to the entire nation. That excites him.

He knows people still remember the names: Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, Jared Loughner, Adam Lanza, Dylann Roof. Some people will say his name should not be mentioned. But he knows the media. The media will mention it again and again and again and they will talk to his friends (if he has any friends), and his neighbours, who will tell the media that he was a quiet boy, kept to himself. His parents will say they don’t understand how this happened, and his teachers who will say he was a good student. Oh yes, they will talk about him.

And they will talk about his guns. How he loves guns. They were so easy to get. Maybe he acquired them himself. Maybe his parents love guns and keep dozens of them in his house within easy reach. So he didn’t have to go far once his plan was set. He has so many guns because there’s really no way to stop him from getting them. The National Rifle Association and the gun manufacturers have made it easier for him to get his hands on every weapon he wants than it is for him to get a drivers license.

He really doesn’t care what the gun rights people will say after the event. In fact he’s probably not even thought about it. He’s an American, and he knows Americans love guns. Because the truth is that Americans don’t care how many children, or employees, or bosses, or teachers, or students get mowed down in his revenge, as long as it’s nobody they know or love. And too bad for the ones who do know them. Second Amendment uber alles!

He also knows that no one will be able to stop him. There is no “good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy,” as the NRA likes to say. He’ll have no idea that in the last 30 years there has not been a single case of an armed individual on the scene of a mass shooting stepping forward to shoot it out. Oh, there have been cases when unarmed people have stopped mass shooters, particularly when they pause to reload. But he doesn’t have to worry about that, because he lives in the state that says you can have an ammunition clip with as many bullets as you want, because that’s the American way. He’ll just be able to shoot and shoot and shoot as long as he wants.

And then it will be over. The bodies will be lying all around him or down the hall, or in the classroom or in the office. And he knows the police will be coming. He’ll probably exchange a few shots with them just to make it more dramatic. And then he’ll sneak away into a back room and rob everyone of that sense of closure they always talk about. He’ll end it himself, but he knows he will be front page news … until the next one.

He’s out there. Truly any day now. It’s brewing up inside him. And because we in America have made it so easy for him to act, he and the others like him will kill many, many people, again and again and again. And we will wring our hands and gnash our teeth and then do nothing. Because we are hollow men and women. Full of sound and fury that signifies nothing … except an expanding body count.

Copyright Tom Regan 2015

The NRA’s primary goal is not to serve its members, but to ensure the gun manufacturers that sponsor and fund it make as much money as possible, writes Tom Regan. Above, the wares at a gun show in Houston, Texas. Photo by M&R Glasgow via Flickr, Creative Commons

Facts and Opinions is a boutique collaboration that’s independent, non-partisan, employee-owned, and funded only by readers. We do not carry advertising or “branded” fake stories, or solicit donations from partisan organizations. We appreciate, and to continue we require, your support. Please visit our Subscribe page to chip in at least .27 for one story or $1 for a day site pass. Above, the wares at a gun show in Houston, Texas. Photo by M&R Glasgow via Flickr, Creative Commons

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Related on F&O:

America’s gun cult, Switzerland’s firearms culture, by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs, Oct. 2015

Blame massacres on America’s National Rifle Association, by Tom Regan, Opinion, June, 2105

Maybe this time America won’t run away from better gun laws, by Tom Regan, Opinion, June, 2105

Meet the American Doctor who Donated $1 Million to Fund Gun Research, by Lois Beckett, report, April, 2014

American Republicans Oppose Gun Violence Research, by Lois Beckett, report, April, 2014

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from partisan organizations.  Please visit our Subscribe page to chip in at least .27 for one story or $1 for a day site pass. Please tell others about us..

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