A few days ago, I invited a Trump supporter into my home where we talked for two hours.
During our long chat, we sat three feet away from one another at a small cafe/computer table in my kitchen. My laptop sat on the table and its screen is covered with the image of Hillary Clinton overlayed with big, block letters saying: “SHE WON.”
I didn’t know this man. I didn’t know he voted for Trump. I didn’t know we would discuss politics. I invited him into my home to write-up an estimate to repair my roof.
Thinking back, it started when I complimented him on his company website. Stephen the roofer stretched away from his 2-part form and swelled with pride as he told me about his son-in-law the website designer, then his daughter, working on her degree, and his spouse, a retired English teacher.
I shared our commonality: my past desktop publishing experience and my last formal career as an English comp professor.
Stephen the roofer talked about his own work history, inspecting homes until the recession of 2008, when he turned to roofing.
Along the way, I learned of his overseas trips, his admiration of European ingenuity, his Christian beliefs. And, he told me a bit about solar-powered attic fans.
Stephen was not my idea of a roofer. I’d already met with four others. They were suntanned, brisk, mostly impersonal and rarely respected the English language.
I liked Stephen. I liked his vocabulary, the small courtesies he showed, the helpfulness, his digital camera. We were of the same generation. He was not a fast talker or a quick mover. I worried when he took on the extension ladder, cautiously seeking out a foothold with each upward step.
Once in my home, so near to one another, I became conscious of other things. The longer Stephen spoke, the more convinced I was of his voting preference.
The evidence was intangible. A certain starchiness, a smugness that betrayed a lack of doubt. Most of my friends do a lot of doubting. It’s in our nature.
Though it’s an unfair generality, his adherence to institutions added to my conviction: his Christian beliefs and heterosexual marriage, his subtle, smiling patronage when I spoke. Combined, I drew a profile of a man who was comfortable with the dictates of society. A brighter flag waved when he brought up NATO. That’s when I heard the Trump talking points. This is when Donald Trump’s name slipped out.
I told him I did not vote for his guy. “I know,” said Stephen. “I saw your computer. I saw when I first sat down.”
He smiled. I felt uncomfortable.
Now that the genie was out of the bottle, how to proceed? Our conversation had been pleasant; two strangers sharing personal details. That in itself was remarkable. Will this unusual repartee be destroyed? Do I care? I knew he could not be persuaded. Donald Trump is one of Stephen’s institutions. A thing that is not to be questioned.
This is the conundrum ferreted out among the talking heads on cable – how can relatively sane, relatively intelligent people adhere to a man so crass, so crude, so criminal, so conspiratorial?
I got an answer from Stephen the roofer.
“Genius” – that is the bedrock belief that glues Stephen to Donald Trump.
I listened without response as Stephen described geniuses. They are brash. Surprising. They are irreverent. Their behavior is rude, even abusive. Geniuses do not make sense to the common people. They work in mysterious ways. Therefore, commoners have a single obligation: to listen to the genius with unquestioning absorption.
Stephen believes Donald Trump is a Genius.
I cannot describe the complete craziness of that belief. Let the statement stand on its own.
Christianity is woven into Stephen’s assessment of Trump. To him, genius is godlike, unworldly. Therefore, Trump is a deity. Nietzsche’s Superman. Hercules in the White House.
I have known a genius or two. They make mistakes. They are not infallible. Sometimes they’re obtuse but many are incredibly plain-spoken. Even lyrical. Lots of geniuses prefer solitude to crowds. Among others they can be prickly, uncomfortable, socially inept. No, geniuses are not gods. They walk among us without glamour.
Stephen and I continued talking another ten or so minutes. He did not mention Mueller or the investigation. Putin was unnamed. No talk of Cohen or Manafort. In fact, the blaring headlines incriminating his guy were … absent. He smiled graciously – a benighted fool with his chump god.
I witnessed the alternate universe of the Trump supporter. It is a comfortable ignorance. It is a happy little world where decisions, once made, become impermeable substances. No logic can intrude. No facts can pierce the fantasy. There is no doubt, no cognitive dissonance. Truth is final. I saw Virginia and her Santa Claus sitting across from me.
After his invocation of Genius, and Stephen’s alternate reality, I could barely gin up the energy to grin and bear it. I nodded my head as he shared his wife’s 12 Lessons on Suffering. How had we come here? Oh, a natural progression. Now the real Stephen emerged. Now his voice lowered. It was the familiar intonation of the disciple hoping to entrap a convert. I stared dumbly at the invite to her seminar.
I urged him to complete the estimate.
“This is the best price, really, I’m giving you a great deal,” said Stephen as he slipped me his estimate. It was $1000 higher than the highest estimate yet.
Stephen at least has one shared trait with his guy: he is a crook with a smile.