November 1, 2020
by Steve Stofka
Listening to a talk show “Rambling with Gambling” when I was a kid, I was surprised to learn that city people – that was my family – paid for a small part of the telephone service that country people had. Why was this? I asked my mom. She explained that it cost the telephone company less to supply service to city folks. We helped the country folks, so they did not have to pay such high rates.
Well, what do they do for us, I asked? She thought for a moment. We spend less on milk, she said. No matter what the weather is, the farmers must wake up early every morning to milk the cows so that we can have fresh milk every day. If they were to charge for all that extra effort, we would pay a lot more for our milk. The dairy farmers help pay for our milk and we help pay for their telephone service, she explained.
Community was an interconnected web of people sharing their advantages and disadvantages so that everyone’s circumstances were a little more equal. If a classmate did not understand fractions and we did, we should help them. We shouldn’t call them stupid.
Everyone’s brain is wired a little bit differently. Some ideas “take” easier in one person’s brain than another. It’s like a telephone circuit. A teacher might show a math idea and it goes in one kid’s brain, easily makes all the right connections, and finds a permanent place. In another person’s brain, that idea loses the connection or gets a busy signal, and the idea doesn’t take hold the first time. That person might need to be shown the idea in a different way. That’s why some people have a knack for certain professions.
Well, I always get it the first time, I said. Well, no you don’t, my mother said. When we “get” something, it seems new so we think that this must be the first time we’ve heard it. Then we get impatient when we must show something more than once to someone else.
I can look back with amusement at the simplistic view of humanity that I had as a child, but I want to believe that there is a sense of cooperation, tolerance, and rationality in people.
In Donald Trump’s America, there is less of that. Cooperation is composed of temporary transactional alliances with others in a battle with our neighbors. Tolerance is weakness. Rationality makes one’s actions predictable to the enemy. Donald Trump justifies his irrational, flip-flop style of decision making as gamesmanship. Rationality makes law and order possible. Without it, despotism rules.
I heard a BBC reporter describe Donald Trump’s style of politics as “pugilistic.” I would call it demeaning, and a danger to democracy. Those with experience and rational planning have left the administration. They include Jim Mattis, who has devoted his life to national service and shares a belief in the American ideal and America’s leadership role in the global community. He could not be party to Donald Trump’s trampling on the Constitution and the ideals embodied in the American flag.
Cooperation, tolerance, and rationality are ideas that find a permanent home in the minds of some more easily than others. At 74, Donald Trump is unlikely to make the new neural connections that nurture those ideas. He loses his train of thought more frequently, so he prefers rallies where his words are written out for him on a teleprompter. After an impromptu jab at his political enemies, he can recover his sense of continuity. When he doesn’t have cue cards, he relies on favorite phrases and superlatives to convey the sense that he remembers what he is talking about.
Donald Trump may fancy himself as an innovative disruptor, but he is little more than an angry child, an anarchist who rips all the wires out of the switchboard. A hundred years ago, the telephone connected Americans. Almost thirty years ago, the internet connected the global community. We need a President who can connect and implement the ideas of cooperation, tolerance, and rationality that have distinguished America. Joe Biden’s Presidency can be the switchboard that Connects America.