Yes, What the Hell Were We Thinking?

Looking back over the years, I realize now that, as a senior in college, I was a brash, know-it-all who, if asked, would say that I was a Republican. Had I given the matter any serious thought, I would have said the Democrats  had a lot of impractical, idealistic ideas that wouldn’t work and which we couldn’t afford anyway.  I knew that was true because my father said so.

By the time I turned 40, I was finishing up a long, slow turn to just a bit left of center. The swing to the left was, I think, prompted by the ten years I spent working for Frank Fasi, the Mayor of Honolulu. He was an extraordinary man who was born in what he described as “a ghetto” in one of the cities on the East Coast. 

Frank often talked about “the Little Guy.” By that he meant ordinary people who worked hard—often at two jobs— just to get by. He was talking about people without “connections”, who raised their families, sent their kids to public schools, put in many hours of overtime because they needed the money, paid their taxes, and stayed out of trouble. 

Nothing comes easy for those people, which is why they were always the mayor’s first priority. And they were, almost without exception, Democrats.

Today, a half-century later, we’re still working with a two-party system, but for reasons I cannot fathom, the almost certain nominee for the Republican party will be Donald Trump. A quick look at both his personal and his business record isn’t pretty. He lies and he cheats and he does both without shame. As far as I know, every one of his new business ventures has failed, including his casinos, his airline, his TV show, his steaks, and his university. And when they failed, thousands of little guys—contractors, suppliers, employees, investors and students—were screwed. 

I took one of my rail trips shortly after our 2020 election. Around the middle of November, I was just starting a nice dinner in a charming little restaurant in Paris when a middle aged man and woman were shown to a little table next to mine. They had just been seated when I asked the waiter for another glass of chardonnay.

The husband leaned a bit in my direction.

“Excuse me,” he said, “I think, from your French accent, you are an American?”

I nodded yes.

“My wife and I are from Australia and we would like to ask you a question.” 

“Certainly,” I said. “What would you like to know?”

“We would like to know,” he said quietly . . . and then his demeanor changed and his voice rose in pitch . . . “what in God’s name were you people thinking?”

An interesting conversation ensued and, after another hour and a second bottle of wine, we parted as friends.

I’ve thought about those nice folks more than a few times since that evening and I’m glad now that neither of us thought to exchange email addresses. It appears that the Republicans in the U.S. are about to once again put forth the name of Donald Trump as the  Grand Old Party’s  nominee for President of the United States of America. I would have no idea what to say if I should hear from those folks again.