Middle of Nowhere, North Georgia ain’t a bad place to be on a Monday night for an itinerant traveler. Provided you’re near a highway, there’s nothing you’re going to want for that you couldn’t stand to go a night without. Gas station’ll be open, so you can get your fuel and sundries and such. There’s bound to be a motel or two that’ll come with rooms cheap as red Georgia clay, some of which you can smoke in because that whole public health thing hasn’t caught on down there yet despite the fact that the CDC’s set up shop a couple counties away. And, because this is Georgia, there’s going to be one, if not two or three Waffle Houses within a quarter-mile radius of wherever you’re standing, which is bound to be a good thing as there are few things that taste considerably better after midnight and away from home than one of their over-sized Eggo waffles and a mess of greasy hash browns.
It might’ve been the time of day or the stretch of highway it sat off of, but the Waffle House I walked into Monday night was all but dead. Aside from a trucker who had just paid for his meal and was on his way out, I was the only customer there. Three waitstaff, one patron. I ordered my food and made pleasantries and the like with one woman while the other two slapped my hash browns on the griddle and poured my coffee. They were all women, all three of them. Two black, one white—the white woman getting the coffee as the two black women manned the griddle and cleaned up the bit of mess the trucker left behind him.
I reached down into my pocket to pull out my phone and a Trump For President sticker came out with it, fluttering to the floor and falling face down on the linoleum. Bending down from my swivel chair, I picked the sticker up, crumpling it into a little ball on its way to the nearest trash can. I didn’t want the sticker, but I had to take it. Trump volunteers had strategically positioned themselves around every entrance to the Macon Coliseum a few hours earlier and I couldn’t say no—not in public. With my longish hair and half-frame glasses I already looked the part of a carpetbagging liberal, so I couldn’t afford to turn a Trump sticker down in broad dusklight.
A Trump supporter hands out signs at a rally in Macon, GA
“Let me ask you something” the one woman closest to me said, smiling a barely stifled smile that showed the teeth she had and the one space where a front tooth was supposed to be, before pointing over to her co-worker by the grill. “Me and her’s sisters, right? So, let me ask you. Which one you think’s older and which is younger?”
“Come on now”, I said. “I’m not answering that.”
“What do you mean ‘why not?’ There’s no good answer to that question. If I guess wrong, than the younger one’s gonna be pissed I said she was older and if I guess right, the older one’s gonna be pissed I said she looked old. Nope.”
“It’s an easy question. Which one of us is older?”
Which one was older and which was younger…the woman who asked me looked older, for sure. She was thin, but not a healthy kind of thin—a sickly thin or, at best, a gangly thin. With a gauzey black doo-rag on her head and clusters of little tattoos on her arms and neck, she would have come off as hard if she wasn’t grinning all the time. The other one was thicker…softer in both appearance and manner than her sister. She’d look back every now again with a wan smile, but for the most part she just set about cleaning her prep station with the detached bemusement of vaudevillean straight man setting up the same jokes for her 30th different audience in as many days.
“Alright, well if I had to give you an answer,” I told the thin woman, “I’d say you’re the younger one and she’s the older on account of the fact that no woman I’ve ever met would ask such a question if the answer wasn’t a flattering one.”
“Hah! I told you!” the thin waitress said to her thicker counterpart, before turning back around to me. “And we ain’t even sisters. I just like reminding Dee how old she is.”
“Well, I’m older than the both of you, so I don’t want to hear it”, the white woman said as she brought me my coffee. “You see all them little white whispers floating around in my hair? That’s what age looks like, darling. You all set now?”
I told her I was and before I could say boo, my waffle and hash browns were in front me. As I started to eat, the older non-sister threw a burger patty on the griddle and two of the biggest pieces of white bread I’d ever seen shortly thereafter. Then, with the care reserved for something being made for one’s self (as opposed to a patron), she placed a couple pieces of American cheese on top of the bread and started dicing up onions and tomatoes and green peppers to sprinkle over it all. As she was working, the younger one walked up by her side and started picking at the peppers while she got to talking.
“I forgot to ask you earlier. Your brother have that baby yet?”
“He sure did.”
“You an auntie now?”
“Ain’t the first time”, the thick one said, shaking her head softly.
“So, what’d he name him?”
“Franklin Delano Roosevelt _________ the third.”
“That’s one long ass name.” said the thin one.
It was a long ass name. And, while I didn’t know if it meant anything to them, I knew for damn sure it meant something to their great-grandparents, even though there’s barely a snowball’s chance in hell they would’ve been able to cast a vote in rural Georgia for the man who first wore it. I was also pretty certain that the great-grandparents of the white waitress at the Waffle House would’ve felt a similar kind of way about FDR, and that they would’ve voted for him way back when. During the four Presidential elections he ran, Roosevelt garnered between 82 and 92 percent of the almost exclusively white vote in Georgia, while turning the tides against his Republican rivals and getting the support of roughly 7 in 10 blacks.
But that was ages ago. It was before Brown vs. The Board of Education and the bus boycotts—before Selma and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. That was a generation removed from Goldwater and from George Wallace. A time without a Southern Strategy where poor whites could always go to sleep with the knowledge that no matter how broke they were and how hard times was, that they’d always be better than a n*****. Nowadays, no candidate for any office, whether it’s President of the United States or the local dog catcher, is going to get overwhelming support from both blacks and whites. In the race for ideological purity, the Republican Party has shed all semblance of compromise and empathy. Over the years the moderation and prudence that was once the hallmark of the GOP has been whittled down—distilled into nothing more than the dread fear that lies at the heart of conservatism. The fear that someone else is getting what is rightfully yours and that that someone else doesn’t look or think like you at all.
This fear—fear which had largely metastasized into self-righteousness and indignant rage—hovered over the floor of the Macon Coliseum earlier that night as I joined several thousand southerners who were gathered together to worship at Donald Trump’s profane altar of self. It was a fear that was stoked from the moment you entered in the building and were confronted with a cadre of TSA agents and Secret Service members serving as gatekeepers to a handful of metal detectors that had been set up in the coliseum’s foyer.
Place all your belongings on the conveyor belt.
Even coins. Now, step forward sir. Lift up your arms horizontally and stand still. Open your legs a bit. Now turn around. Okay, you can stand to the side and wait to collect your things.
But, before you do, you stand there, surrounded by flak jacketed secret service agents and gun-toting officers of the peace as some government employee goes through all your personal effects with a fine-toothed comb, not content to simply open up your wallet, but determined to rifle through every pocket and check between every business card for some miniscule piece of contraband. Out of the corner of one eye you see a K9 unit and out of the corner of the other you see flashes of metallic yellow on the uniforms of agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. By the time you’ve finally gotten your possessions back, your perspective has been purposefully altered. This is no longer just a rally for a presidential candidate. It is an event of supreme national import—big enough to necessitate the presence of all of the king’s horses and all of the king’s men to protect it from the evil that is sure to come from the outside.
After I had been wanded and searched and found to be a good egg, I went over to a concession stand to get a coffee before making my way out to find a seat. I eyed an open seat in the lower level’s back row, but had to pause before navigating the waves of knee caps and shins that stood between me and it. I was shaking, or at least my hands were. It could’ve been because I was nervous or cold or because I’d barely eaten all day. Maybe it was just the natural tremor my hands have on account of the Lithium I’ve taken day in and day out for 12 years—trading steady hands for a steady mind. Either way, the slight trembling in my hands made it so that little splashes of coffee were jumping over the styrofoam sides of the cup I was holding and I had to focus to make sure I didn’t spill scalding hot liquid on the scrubs of the off-duty nurse in the aisle seat.
Once safely in my seat, I looked out and saw some campaign staffer ambling over to the microphone in the center of the stage. It was still almost 90 minutes before Trump was scheduled to speak, but the staffer was already set on getting everyone riled up.
“How many of y’all are ready to see the next President of the United States, Donald Trump?” He yelled out, eliciting a chorus of Woooooo‘s and Trump! Trump! Trump‘s from the crowd. One of the loudest Woooooo’s came from a young man sitting two seats down from me with a group of his friends. He was sporting one of those godforsaken Make America Great Again hats and had been covered in nacho cheese and chip crumbles until he leapt up to to lead chant of Donald! Donald! Donald! and scattered them into the empty row of seats in front of him.
“If you don’t mind my asking, why are you supporting Trump?” I asked him after he had taken a seat again.
“Because!” he said, still shouting, “he’s the only one of them guys that’s got the balls to do what’s gotta be done!”
“What do you think has to be done?”
“What we need to do is blow up the whole Middle Eastern part of this planet.”
“And you think Trump’s going to do that?”
“I don’t know, but I sure as shit hope he does. What I do know is that Trump’s the only one of these guys that ain’t too much of a pussy to try.”
“Why do you think we need to blow up the Middle East?” I asked him.
“We got to.” the young man said, as if it was so obvious I should’ve already known better. “It says so right there in The Bible. It’s in Revelations. They’re over there in Israel killing thousands and thousands of Jews just like The Bible said and we’ve got to protect the children of Israel.”
“By blowing the region up?”
“Damn straight. And Trump’s the only one of these guys that’ll do it, I’m telling you. That’s why I’m voting for him.”
And with that, the conversation was over. He didn’t say anything more after his little second coming/end of days spiel and for that I was truly grateful. Shortly thereafter I hopped over the railing behind our seats and made my way down to the coliseum floor where maybe a couple hundred Trump supporters and curious lookers-on had congregated around the thrust stage that had been set up where hockey goals and basketball hoops normally stood. In the shadow of the far side of the stage, perhaps the least soulful cover band ever assembled butchered hits by the likes of Smokey Robinson and Sam & Dave as Trump volunteers handed out pre-made “homemade” signs to people in the audience.
Before the great orange one was to grace us with his presence, we were made to endure a number of depressing opening acts, ranging from the angriest invocation I’d ever heard from a man who was apparently not aware of the separation of Church and State to a guest appearance by Georgia’s own Herman Cain, who had not lost his gift of nonsensical gab since the last election. But, after what felt like several hours, the man of the hour finally made it out onto the stage. When he emerged, most of the audience erupted in applause and hoots of Trump! Trump! Trump! and U-S-A!, but there were a surprising number people around me who just sort of stood there, looking at the man like he was some sort of exotic bird, the infamous combover on his head nothing more than an unfortunate and unavoidable bit of natural plumage.
Trump giving the thumbs up to the estimated crowd of around 6,000 people
Almost as soon as Trump began speaking, it became readily apparent to anyone not under his egomaniacal spell that he nothing to say. I could go over the particulars of his speech, but there wouldn’t be much point as less than half of remarks touched on topics pertinent to a presidential election and none of it included a shred of policy. Over the course of his speech, all of which was extemporaneous and rambling, Trump shifted back and forth from various personas as he worked the room and extolled his seemingly limitless brilliance.
At first, it was Trump the deranged carnival barker…Trump the political pastor. Having figured out that promising to give money to veterans or lauding the service of our armed forces was a surefire way to get applause and knowing full well that his audience loathes the mainstream media, Trump declared that he would boycott CNN’s upcoming GOP presidential debate unless they paid him $5 million, which he would in turn give to the Wounded Warrior Project. It was a stunt Trump had pulled once before and he clearly had no issue with going back to the well. During his speech, Trump would mock-vacillate about whether or not he was going to demand CNN give him the money in order to milk every last ounce of adulation out of the gimmick. “Should I do it or shouldn’t I?” Trump would say, prompting the audience to scream out “do it!” in return.
Then there was Trump the victim, beset on all sides by a mainstream media that does nothing but defame his good reputation and take things out of context. “They take these two second snippets”, Trump whined, claiming that his words are consistently misconstrued by journalists who are out to get him—journalists whom he went so far as to partially call out in the press area and launch ad hominem attacks against to the apparent glee of his adoring fans. Now, having transitioned from Trump the victim to Trump the bully, the real estate tycoon would proceed to launch into attack mode against all of his GOP presidential rivals and a litany of perceived enemies. I lost track of the number of times Trump called someone a “loser” or some analogous term and, on multiple occasions, Trump accused Hillary Clinton of not having the “strength and stamina” to be president, remarks that should probably have been accompanied by an Andrew Dice Clay-style grab of the nuts.
But, by far, Trump’s preferred persona was that of the braggadocious blunderbuss. It’s the role that made him famous and the one this sociopathic caricature was born to play, namely because I believe he suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, a mental disorder that, for reasons that would take a dissertation-length tract to fully explain, makes him a model capitalist and the ideal presidential candidate for the American far-right. It may sound like I’m being overly harsh on The Donald, but a number of prominent mental health professionals have been so taken aback by the adulation being heaped on Trump for his pathological behavior that they’ve come out publicly as saying they believe he has narcissistic personality disorder.
According to The Mayo Clinic, those suffering from narcissistic personality disorder, “may come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious…often monopolize conversations…may belittle or look down on people [they] perceive as inferior…may feel a sense of entitlement — and when [they] don’t receive special treatment…may become impatient or angry.” People with narcissistic personality disorder might also, “insist on having ‘the best’ of everything — for instance, the best car, athletic club or medical care,” and may, “have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism.” Based on such a description, a layperson would be forgiven if he or she came away convinced that the disorder was designed specifically to describe Donald Trump.
The part of Trump’s speech that was most indicative of his disordered mind came well into its first hour, when the reality-show star spent a healthy 10 to 15 minutes regaling the slowing thinning audience about how he played the executives over at NBC for fools during contract negotiations for The Apprentice. Objectively, it was a story about a contract dispute between a major television network and the star of one of its shows. The network has a hit show…the talent asks for a significant pay raise…the network initially says no, but acquiesces to the talent’s request because they think they’ll take a bath if they let the talent go. However, to Trump this story served as nothing short of a validation of his greatness. In his rhetorical care, a simple contract negotiation morphs into this epic struggle between the smart and the strong (Trump) and the stupid and weak (everyone else). And it is this ability to reduce even the most complicated of geopolitical and economic issues to a form that is both easily digestible and immediately satisfying to his target audience, that may be the biggest source of Donald Trump’s appeal.
Take the immigration debate for example. It doesn’t matter to Trump’s supporters that it is logistically impossible to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, nor does it matter that over 5% of the American workforce is made up of undocumented workers who are vastly overrepresented in service occupations (housekeeping, cooks/dishwashers, landscaping), construction and farming. Trump supporters also either don’t know or don’t care that roughly 40% of all undocumented immigrants arrived in America through legal means and then simply stayed in the country after their visas had expired. All they want is for someone to validate the scapegoat they and the media they consume have created to explain their present economic hardships and to make sweeping, vitriolic statements about how to they will slaughter that scapegoat.
Donald Trump will remain a frontrunner in the GOP field of presidential candidates only so long as he is able to buoy his campaign with the fear of his supporters. Trump is well aware of this, recently stating that, “whenever there’s a tragedy, everything goes up, my numbers go way up.” Whether it’s stoking conservative white America’s fears of black men by tweeting out blatantly false crime statistics or erroneously claiming that he saw thousands of muslims celebrating on the streets of New Jersey after the attacks on 9/11, Trump has proven that he is, at his core, little more than a smarmy fear peddler—a parasite that feeds and bloats on the insecurities of his conservative base.
It was over 82 years ago when, upon being elected by a resounding majority of the American people, Franklin Delano Roosevelt told the nation in his inaugural address that, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Here’s to hoping the great-grandchildren of those New Dealers in Georgia and all across the country find the strength to heed those words again.