WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 16, 2020
In Our Town, such columns get published: In the past, we've sometimes mentioned Merle Haggard's mother.The parent in question deserves our respect. As Haggard reports, she tried:
I turned twenty-one in prison, doing life without parole
No one could steer me right, but Mama tried, Mama tried
Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleading I denied
That leaves only me to blame 'cause Mama tried.
We'll assume the reporting is accurate. Along with Okie From Muskogee, Mama Tried was one of Haggard's biggest hits.
Last month, folks in Our Town learned about someone else who tried. His story appeared in the New York Times, Our Town's most important newspaper.
The author of the column in question was Wajahat Ali, a New York Times contributing opinion writer. As Ali began, he framed his piece as a warning:
ALI (11/17/20): Seventy-three million Americans voted for Donald Trump. He doubled down on all his worst vices, and he was rewarded for it with 10 million more votes than he received in 2016.
The majority of people of color rejected his cruelty and vulgarity. But along with others who voted for Joe Biden, we are now being lectured by a chorus of voices, including Pete Buttigieg and Ian Bremmer, to “reach out” to Trump voters and “empathize” with their pain.
This is the same advice that was given after Mr. Trump’s 2016 victory, and for nearly four years I attempted to take it. Believe me, it’s not worth it.
Sounding a bit like those very Trump voters, Ali seems to dislike being "lectured to." At any rate, the columnist tried—and he says no one else should.
One thinks of the greatest cautionary ballads, not excluding Young McAfee on the Gallows. Mike Seeger attributed the ballad to Jean Ritchie:
Draw near, kind friends, and learn of me
My sad and awful history.
And may you ne'er forgetful be
Of all this day I tell to thee.
So began one young man's cautionary tale. In his column, Ali warned about unwise conduct too. His piece appeared beneath this pair of headlines:
‘Reach Out to Trump Supporters,’ They Said. I Tried.
I give up.
Please stop reaching out to others! We're often given this advice in the organs of Our Town. Plainly, though, Ali says he tried!
Please stop reaching out to the others! In this case, the rationale for this advice was transparently comical. It's hard to believe, but nonsense like that which appeared in this column gets published in Our Town on a regular basis.
In this instance, the backstory went like this:
In late 2016, after Candidate Trump slid past Candidate Clinton and seized control of the White House, Ali decided to reach out to Trump's supporters. "I really thought it might work," he writes.
The project went like this:
ALI: [I]n late 2016, I told my speaking agency to book me for events in the states where Mr. Trump won. I wanted to talk to the people the media calls “real Americans” from the “heartland”—which is of course America’s synonym for white people, Mr. Trump’s most fervent base. Over the next four years I gave more than a dozen talks to universities, companies and a variety of faith-based communities.
My standard speech was about how to “build a multicultural coalition of the willing.” My message was that diverse communities, including white Trump supporters, could work together to create a future where all of our children would have an equal shot at the American dream. I assured the audiences that I was not their enemy.
I reminded them that those who are now considered white, such as Irish Catholics, Eastern European Jews, Greeks and Italians, were once the boogeymen. I warned them that supporting white nationalism and Mr. Trump, in particular, would be self-destructive, an act of self-immolation, that will help neither their families nor America become great again.
Over the past four years, Ali made thirteen attempts ("more than a dozen") to reach out to Trump supporters. In an unstated number of these cases, he performed this outreach by taking plane rides to red states, then speaking to blue university crowds.
As a general matter, we agree with the message Ali describes, though we can't necessarily vouch for the way he may have advanced it. Today, though, Ali has given up—and he thinks you should give up too!
Why has the Timesman given up after four years of effort? Below, you see the start of his explanation. Believe it or not, comical nonsense of this type gets published, quite routinely, all around Our Town:
ALI (continuing directly): And I listened. Those in the audience who supported Mr. Trump came up to me and assured me they weren’t racist. They often said they’d enjoyed the talk, if not my politics. Still, not one told me they’d wavered in their support for him. Instead, they repeated conspiracy theories and Fox News talking points about “crooked Hillary.” Others made comments like: “You’re a good, moderate Muslim. How come others aren’t like you?”
In Ohio, I spent 90 minutes on a drive to the airport with a retired Trump supporter. We were cordial to each other, we made jokes and we shared stories about our families. But neither of us changed our outlook. “They’ll never take my guns. Ever,” he told me, explaining that his Facebook feed was filled with articles about how Mrs. Clinton and Democrats would kill the Second Amendment and steal his guns.
Ali had spent 90 minutes speaking to one Trump supporter—but despite that effort, the Trump supporter didn't (seem to) change his views! Why would anyone keep keepin' on after such an experience?
As he continues, Ali describes several other such incidents. The conclusion he reaches is this:
ALI: I did my part. What was my reward? Listening to Mr. Trump’s base chant, “Send her back!” in reference to Representative Ilhan Omar, a Black Muslim woman, who came to America as a refugee. I saw the Republican Party transform the McCloskeys into victims, even though the wealthy St. Louis couple illegally brandished firearms against peaceful B.L.M. protesters. Their bellicosity was rewarded with a prime-time slot at the Republican National Convention, where they warned about “chaos” in the suburbs being invaded by people of color. Their speech would have fit well in “The Birth of a Nation."
Ali says he did his part. But what was his reward?
Even after he spoke to the guy in Ohio, other supporters in other states hadn't changed their views! You simply can't reason with People Like This, the contributor sings as he closes.
Our question goes like this:
Could anyone read a column like this without thinking it's comically strange? That was the question which ran through our mind when we initially read it.
We don't know how someone comes to write a column so transparently foolish. But in Our Town, such musings get published on a regular basis, in Our Town's brainiest newspapers.
This was just a single column about maybe thirteen attempts. On the whole, the column will play absolutely no role in our nation's ongoing decline.
That said, this utterly silly ballad got published—in the New York Times, no less! In Our Town, at the highest levels, such work is believed to make sense.
As we wander the streets of Our Town, we encounter a lot of such musings. No, they aren't as crazy as Donald Trump's musings—but then again, nothing is.
Quite routinely, folks in Our Town offer advice and logic like that which appeared in that column. At the biggest newspaper in Our Town, such musings seem to make sense.
Out of such observations, anthropological learning might flow. What does this sort of thing say about Our Townies, but also about Ourselves?
Tomorrow: The logic of conversion