In Mas­sachusetts, peo­ple are un­healthily ob­sessed with the president they voted against

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW -

If Ned Flan­ders was hu­man, he’d be Dave Rat­ner. Rat­ner, all eye­glasses and bushy mous­tache and corn­ball au­then­tic­ity, runs a chain of stores in western Mas­sachusetts that sell the in­ex­pli­ca­ble com­bi­na­tion of pet sup­plies and soda. He has built a loyal cus­tomer base through a se­ries of sweetly goofy TV ads and a pet show on lo­cal tele­vi­sion with pro­duc­tion val­ues that make Wayne’s World look like some­thing on Mas­ter­piece Theatre TV se­ries.

A few weeks ago, Rat­ner was in­vited to the White House to wit­ness what he was told would be president Trump sign­ing an ex­ec­u­tive or­der that would give small busi­ness own­ers like him greater flex­i­bil­ity in ne­go­ti­at­ing health care cover­age for em­ploy­ees.

But i n re­al­ity the ex­ec­u­tive or­der Trump signed will strip health care cover­age from mil­lions of poor Amer­i­cans. And there was Dave Rat­ner, in a pho­to­graph that went vi­ral, stand­ing in back of Trump in the Oval Of­fice, as Trump signed the of­fend­ing or­der.

In the lib­eral en­claves of leafy western Mas­sachusetts, where “Re­sist” bumper stick­ers are thick as the pine trees, the back­lash against Rat­ner and his busi­ness was swift and vis­ceral. An­gry callers said they’d never buy dog food or cat lit­ter from Dave’s Soda & Pet City again. On so­cial me­dia, Rat­ner was sav­aged as a greedy pig, fat­ten­ing him­self off his vul­ner­a­ble em­ploy­ees. The truth is, Dave Rat­ner is a de­cent boss and good cor­po­rate cit­i­zen. “I was duped,” he said. “I’m an id­iot.” He’s also an ex­am­ple of the sort of re­ac­tion Don­ald Trump pro­vokes in the re­gions of Amer­ica where he is most de­spised.

Here in the north­east, where vot­ers re­jected Trump by over­whelm­ing ma­jori­ties, there is an ob­ses­sion with Trump that borders on the un­healthy. He dom­i­nates thought and con­ver­sa­tion like no other president be­fore him. He is every north­east lib­eral’s night­mare.

Dublin 4 of Amer­ica

Bos­ton is the Dublin 4 of Amer­ica. Af­flu­ent, so­cially lib­eral, highly- ed­u­cated, se­cure in its opin­ions and prop­erty val­ues. But it rep­re­sents the rest of Amer­ica about as well as Dublin 4 rep­re­sents the plain peo­ple of Ire­land: that is, not very well.

In huge swathes of Amer­ica, Don­ald Trump is ad­mired pre­cisely be­cause he is vul­gar and will­ing to stick it to the politi­cal es­tab­lish­ment, will­ing to call out African- Amer­i­can foot­ball play­ers for kneel­ing dur­ing the Na­tional An­them, will­ing to call any­thing con­ser­va­tives dis­agree with “fake news”, will­ing to dis­man­tle any­thing that Barack Obama touched, will­ing to tell the elites from Washington to the cap­i­tals of Europe and else­where to piss off.

But here in Mas­sachusetts in general and Bos­ton in par­tic­u­lar, his be­hav­iour, his ig­no­rance about gov­er­nance and the world in general, his shock­ing lack of em­pa­thy, makes him an un­avoid­able daily em­bar­rass­ment.

Trep­i­da­tion

As in most of the blue states that make up the north­east, most peo­ple are ap­palled by Trump and wake up with trep­i­da­tion, turn­ing on their ra­dios, tele­vi­sions, iPhones or com­put­ers to see what the leader of the free world has said or done or, more likely, tweeted overnight.

Are we closer to nu­clear war with North Korea?

Has he in­sulted another Gold Star fam­ily, a war hero, an apos­tate Repub­li­can?

Has he hired or praised any more white na­tion­al­ists?

Has he re­peated his call for more re­stric­tions on a free press?

The politi­cal wiseguys call it Trump De­range­ment Syn­drome, and the north­east, and es­pe­cially Bos­ton, is ter­ri­bly af­flicted.

Dur­ing Obama’s eight- year ten­ure, it was quite nor­mal to go a few days or even a week with­out even think­ing of the president, of won­der­ing and es­pe­cially wor­ry­ing about what he had said or done. With Trump, it is im­pos­si­ble to go eight min­utes with­out won­der­ing what he is up to, al­ways fear­ing the worst.

The 12 months that have fol­lowed Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion have been tax­ing. Just keep­ing up with his mis­an­thropy takes so much men­tal en­ergy.

“I’m ex­hausted,” said Jackie Jenk­ins- Scott, the African- Amer­i­can president of Whee­lock Col­lege, a lib­eral arts univer­sity in Bos­ton. “I can’t imag­ine do­ing this for another three years.”

She is not alone. The same news me­dia that greased Trump’s path to the im­prob­a­ble nom­i­na­tion and even more im­prob­a­ble elec­tion hangs on every word, every mal­a­prop­ism, every out­rage, every tweet. On the cable news pro­grammes, it’s all Don­ald, all the time. Every late- night chat show host de­votes al­most every mono­logue to Trump. He’s comic gold, and if we weren’t laugh­ing, we’d all be cry­ing.

It is com­mon for the home page of my news­pa­per’s web­site to be dom­i­nated by Trump or re­ac­tions to Trump, every day, all days. Typ­i­cally, about half of the most- read and com­mented on sto­ries in the Bos­ton Globe are those in­volv­ing Trump. The other half are about sports, sug­gest­ing that di­ver­sions from Trump­ma­nia are es­sen­tial, too.

It wasn’t like this un­der Obama. Not even close.

Bos­ton mayor Marty Walsh, whose par­ents left Con­nemara in the 1950s, is run­ning for re- elec­tion, os­ten­si­bly against a city coun­cil­lor named Tito Jack­son who is try­ing to be­come the city’s first African-Amer­i­can mayor.

Lo­cal hos­til­ity

But Walsh i s re­ally run­ning against Trump, and in do­ing so is cap­i­tal­is­ing on the lo­cal hos­til­ity to the president across all racial and so­cio-eco­nomic lines. While cam­paign­ing, Walsh has men­tioned Trump far more of­ten than Jack­son.

When fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion agents, un­leashed by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, be- gan round­ing up un­doc­u­mented peo­ple, Walsh pro­claimed that all the un­doc­u­mented were wel­come to take sanc­tu­ary at Bos­ton City Hall. He was se­ri­ous.

The Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor, Char­lie Baker, has de­nounced Trump re­peat­edly, and proudly said he didn’t vote for him. And Baker is a Repub­li­can.

Trump has in­spired more than whinge­ing and hand­wring­ing. He’s in­spired ac­tion. Bos­ton was among the cities with the big­gest turnouts for anti- Trump protests in the wake of his elec­tion. Women and mi­nori­ties, in par­tic­u­lar, have taken to the streets.

When a group of pro-Trump white men held a rally on Bos­ton Com­mon a week af­ter a woman was mur­dered at a white su­prem­a­cist march in Vir­ginia, they were swamped by tens of thou­sands of counter-pro­test­ers.

Bos­ton-based lawyers led the suc­cess­ful con­sti­tu­tional chal­lenge of Trump’s ini­tial ban on Mus­lims en­ter­ing the United States. Mas­sachusetts at­tor­ney general Maura Healey has re­peat­edly sued Trump in court, op­pos­ing his at­tempts to roll back pro­tec­tions for women, im­mi­grants and the en­vi­ron­ment. Other lawyers, like Matt Cameron, are fight­ing the sud­den pen­chant for ar­rest­ing law- abid­ing, tax- pay­ing un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants.

Un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, im­mi­gra­tion agents were in­structed to fo­cus their limited re­sources on those who had com­mit­ted se­ri­ous crimes. But Trump wants num­bers – bigly num­bers – so now im­mi­gra­tion agents are round­ing up who­ever they can get their hands on. Agents have gone to hos­pi­tals, schools and places of wor­ship once con­sid­ered off-lim­its.

Split­ting up fam­i­lies

“They’re not ar­rest­ing crim­i­nals,” said Cameron. “They are go­ing af­ter low-hang­ing fruit, the eas­i­est peo­ple to get. And they are split­ting up fam­i­lies, caus­ing need­less heartache and ruin when there are plenty of se­ri­ous crim­i­nals they could go af­ter. This is all about num­bers.”

One of Cameron’s clients, Fran­cisco Ro­driguez, fled El Sal­vador 12 years ago af­ter gangs tar­geted his busi­ness and mur­dered a col­league. He set­tled in Bos­ton, got a job as a jan­i­tor, got mar­ried, had chil­dren, and started a car­pet- clean­ing busi­ness. He’s what Trump calls a job cre­ator.

Af­ter his ap­pli­ca­tion for asy­lum was re­jected, his stay of re­moval was rou­tinely ap­proved for years as long as he showed up to renew it. But at his an­nual re­newal in June, in­stead of stamp­ing his pa­pers, newly ag­gres­sive im­mi­gra­tion agents locked him up to await de­por­ta­tion. Of­fi­cials would not let him visit his wife when she went into labour pre­ma­turely with a high- risk preg­nancy, or see his son af­ter the child was born.

“There’s a new mean­ness in this count ry, un­leashed and em­bold­ened by Trump,” Cameron said.

With the fam­ily’s bread­win­ner gone, Ro­driguez’s three chil­dren, all US ci­ti­zens, will be forced to go on pub­lic as­sis­tance, adding to the wel­fare rolls Trump promised to slash.

If de­port­ing Fran­cisco Ro­driguez and sep­a­rat­ing and im­pov­er­ish­ing his fam­ily is sup­posed to Make Amer­ica Great Again, is it any won­der that peo­ple in the Dublin 4 of Amer­ica have Trump De­range­ment Syn­drome?

As in most of the blue states that make up the north­east, most peo­ple are ap­palled by Trump and wake up with trep­i­da­tion, turn­ing on their ra­dios, tele­vi­sions, iPhones or com­put­ers to see what the leader of the free world has said or done or, more likely, tweeted overnight

Kevin Cullen is a columnist for the Bos­ton Globe

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