I think I am finally beginning to understand.
You see, last week I preached for a friend so that he could take some time off. I’ve preached for him before and so his congregation is familiar with me. Familiarity helps when you’re doing pulpit supply, and it makes the congregation feel better too, so there I was for Memorial Day weekend.
I got there early so that I could get settled and say hello to the folks as they came through the door. One parishioner, I’ll call him Dave, got there only a few moments after I did so that he could hand out the bulletins and greet folks at the door.
I talked with Dave about how he’d been since I’d last seen him and about the weather, which was hot and dry even up in the mountains. I knew there was a brush fire nearby and had seen the smoke as I drove into town. I’d also heard about the fire on the news and so I knew that locals were very concerned about what was being released into the air by the fire. The long and short of it was that this area of forest hadn’t burned in decades, not since the government had used Agent Orange to reduce the chaparral and increase water flow for the Salt River Project.**
Now that the area that had been deforested was burning, the locals were alarmed at the dioxins that might be released into the air by the fire. I asked Dave if he had heard anything from the fire service or the local government and he immediately started shaking his head. “Oh yeah, we heard from them all right. They told us we have nothing to worry about. They’re lying to us and we know it…lying right to our faces.”
I can’t blame Dave for feeling the way he does, even though I can’t be sure that the fire service or the government is actually lying. And the truth is that we won’t find out for a long time, and if we do find out, it will be because the local citizens start getting sick in record numbers…and the lies will have cost them their health and maybe even their lives.
We’ve all seen it happen: something goes terribly wrong, and the government or the giant corporation sends some official representative to assure the public that everything is going to be just fine. They come to us dressed in finely tailored suits, armed with smiles and slick lies.
It’s the attack of the lying suits.
Erin Brockovich. Michael Clayton. Silkwood. All The President’s Men. Syrianna…every last one of these movies tells the true story of corporate or governmental lies and coverups that cost the American people dearly. We know the story of the lying suit so well, that stories about striking back at the lying suits have become a part of what we call entertainment.
And this…THIS is how we got Donald Trump as President.
I have been trying for months to find a way to understand Trump voters. I have listened to them try to explain why they like Trump and it hasn’t helped at all…until Dave.
Huge numbers of Americans, many of them working poor, are sick to death of the lying suits. They have come to believe that any person who comes with a suit and a smile cannot be trusted. They have been lied to and cheated. They’ve lost their homes to the financial crisis and the greed of multinational banks. They’ve have had their property devalued and their health destroyed by corporate dumping and the subsequent pollution of the soil and ground water. They have been told that fracking doesn’t harm the environment even after they told the lying suits that they could turn their kitchen faucets into blowtorches simply by turning them on and then lighting a match next to the faucet. They have been told that the city’s water infrastructure was fine even though the levels of lead in the water were off the charts.
It’s not as if lives were at stake. Okay, lives were at stake, but they weren’t important lives because no one whose life was at stake was wearing a well-tailored suit and a smile.
And then along came a rich man in a well-tailored suit, with a slick smile…
And he talked in the exact same way as the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits like to talk. And he railed against the government, just like the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits rail against the government. He said unkind, politically incorrect things, just like the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits wish they could say to the lying suits. He publicly ridiculed the lying suits and he refused to play nice with them no matter how hard the lying suits tried to get him to do what was expected of him if he was going to play politics.
He did everything that the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits want to do but can’t do because they don’t have the money or the power or the prestige to get anyone to listen or pay attention to them.
This is why we have Donald Trump as President.
And you can’t really blame the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits, can you? Because those of us who didn’t vote for Donald Trump deal with those same lying suits every day.
We work for them. They are usually our boss’s boss. And we don’t like the lying suits very much either. They tend to screw us out of our pension, or deny us the benefits they promised us if we would only work for them for 20+ years, or lay us off along with 4,000 of our coworkers, all while taking their million dollar bonus for keeping the company profitable.
I think I finally beginning to understand.
I don’t like the man who the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits elected, but I am beginning to understand why they thought he would be a better choice than Hillary, who (let’s be honest) sometimes looks an awful lot like all the other lying suits.
I may not agree with their choice, but if I can understand why they made their choice, maybe I can find compassion for how they feel, and if I can find compassion for how they feel, maybe we can finally start a dialogue about how best to unite and move forward.
I think I am finally beginning to understand, and it’s the first ray of hope I’ve had in a while.