Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Specter of Harper's Ferry

While watching the second presidential debate last week, I finally got an understanding as to why someone might support Donald Trump for the office.  
The moment that really made this insight clear to me was somewhere around the middle of the even as I recall.  Trump was on his feet, pacing about, roaming over a number of different topics after being asked a question by one of the moderators.  Clinton was sitting and watching him.  
Trump had returned to the topic of Clinton’s corruption.  Looking at her, he stopped in the middle of the stage and proclaimed, “You’re the Devil.”  
That one statement clarified for me the difference between the people supporting Trump and those supporting Clinton.  Or even, those NOT supporting Trump.  The 1960 movie “Inherit the Wind” came to mind.  The debate was a re-staging of the Scopes trial, with Trump in the role of the firebrand preacher railing against “evil-loution” and Clinton as the humanist defense attorney, or a famous biologist, trying to explain the efficacy of the theory in explaining how the world of nature came to be.  
For Trump supporters, it is a question of faith.  And no amount of “explanation” will make a difference in eroding their support.  
The Trump canon is pretty straightforward.  It was better “Before.”  They represent what “most people” want.  They are not being listened to.  The fault with how things have become lies in other people.  Their candidate is the only one that can fix it.  Anyone that tells you otherwise is part of a conspiracy to stop him.  If he loses, it was because that conspiracy rigged the election.  
Some of these beliefs, I don’t get.  Such as the “better before” precept embedded in the campaign’s slogan, “Make American Great Again.”  When was this “better” time?  I grew up in the 60’s, when the country was being torn apart by anger and strife, while a foreign war raged in a tiny place on the other side of the globe.  The 70’s were just tough economically.  The 80’s were selfish.  The 90’s brought us new toys and new threats.  The 00’s brought terror and more foreign wars.  The 10’s have this country being torn apart by anger and strife, while foreign wars rage in tiny places on the other side of the globe.  
Some are easier to understand.  None of the electron seems to feel they’re being listened to.  Very few think things are going in the right direction.  Both of the two major political parties had someone promising revolutionary change.  One party choose that candidate, the other didn’t.  
But the most interesting thing about this perception as Trump’s supporters sharing a political religion, and maybe the word “terrifying” should be substituted for “interesting,” is what it is setting up for after the election.  
Since the last debate, Trump has been hammering on the point that the election is being rigged.  His apologists and supporters have been on the Sunday talk shows this week saying that by “rigged,” he means that the media and the “elites” are doing all they can to keep the spotlight on Trump’s bad behavior and ignoring Clinton’s.  
Setting aside a discussion on that topic, which could go pages and pages on its own, what Trump has been saying is seeping into what his supporters are saying.  People admitting that they’ve joined local militias for when, “she starts the war if she gets elected.”  People advocating revolution and assassination.  A clip of an interview with one Trump supporter that aired on ThisWeek, in reply to a question about what he would do if Clinton was elected, showed him saying, “If he had to be the patriot,” then he’d do what was necessary to keep her from taking office.  
I was somewhat uplifted by the second debate.  Sure, it was a World Wide Wrestling form of political discourse, and did not move anyone already decided on who they would vote for one jot.  But after watching it, and gaining the perception of Trump depending on the faith of those following him that things were a certain way, I felt assured that, come November, there would be closure to this ugly, embarrassing chapter in American politics.  I was pretty sure that Clinton would win, and while there would be at least four years of more partisanship and deadlock, there wouldn’t be an implosion of what I regard as our core values as we headed off to find some past paradise I’m not sure ever existed.  
But over the last several days, I’m now starting to think the day after the election could very well be the first day in an accelerating cycle of anger and recrimination as the Trump faithful do what they feel is necessary to “take back” the country they are certain is being taken from them. 
Remember what happened in Oregon, when a group of “sovereign citizens” took over a bird sanctuary in a rural part of the state.  Take that same situation and ratchet it up a few notches.  Instead of a rural nature preserve, make it a federal court house in the middle of a large city.  Instead of a handful of men with pistols and hunting rifles, a team of dozens of men that have self-trained in military tactics, armed with assault rifles and heavy weapons.  It may not be a Fort Sumpter.  But it could be another Harper’s Ferry.
If you don’t recall, Harper’s Ferry was the location of a federal armory in Virginia back in 1859.  John Brown, a radical abolitionist, lead a raid on the armory in an attempt to get weapons to arm the slaves being held in the south so they could revolt and gain their freedom.  The raid failed.  A marine contingent, lead by then Lieutenant Robert E. Lee, overran the armory killing ten men and arresting a wounded John Brown.  A month and half later, he was hanged for treason.  
The Harper’s Ferry raid took place on October 16, 1859.  One hundred fifty-seven years to the day I’m posting this blog.  

I’m hoping that the search of some true-believers looking for a lost promise land won’t result in another such event.  


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