Dr. Salk developed the polio vaccine. My title is a line from Four Weddings and a Funeral, otherwise notable for the use of an elegy by W. H. Auden, listed as “Funeral Blues” but also known as “Stop All the Clocks.” It is a poem of friendship and devotion and love.
But I mean to write about not partisan or political tolerance, but about the actual support for Donald Trump. On most levels this supportive base completely mystifies me. The man disrespects nearly everyone, including what might be considered the conservative base. He is a friend to our national enemies and an enemy to our friends. He has been married three times, and committed adultery while his most recent wife was in childbed. He has used language on tape that the men I admire would never use. He has insulted a Gold Star family, a POW, and the men and officers of his own military. He admires dictators and autocrats and seems indifferent to nations struggling to achieve what we have in the way of freedom. He is a hypocrite by both claiming religious faith and failing to evidence any knowledge of Christian teachings.
So here’s my understanding of why some still flock to his message:
- Money. Despite the fact that he was born wealthy, was handed wealth, and apparently had squandered more than he actually possessed at election, Trump is filthy rich. We admire money, don’t we? Money is power. Money is success. Never mind the seven deadly sins of pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth, the man is selfish and mean. But he’s rich and America loves a rich man. “Wealthy”, by the 19th century, was used as a girl’s name. In that case, of course, the meaning was not about wealth in terms of money, which the Bible and Jesus absolutely condemned, but “wealthy in the sight of the Lord.” It was that much-denied group the Puritans who preached that monetary success was a sign of God’s favor, despite an entire book in the Bible designed to refute that notion. Americans gave up Puritanical notions about sex, but decided we liked money. So some like the man because he’s rich.
- Vulgarity. He says exactly what he thinks and what many Americans apparently also think. He’s rich enough not to care if some object to his racism and sexism and bias against compassion and humility. They like that Trump attacks the poor for being poor, that he supports religious freedom so long as that religion is the one he pretends to follow. It is a cynical view of many Americans that everyone, or a majority of people, would speak exactly as Trump does, that they would ridicule a disabled person if they could get away with it. They like him for spouting hatred they dare not spout themselves, and for providing an opportunity for that venom to achieve acceptance.
- He is Everyman. Trump proves that anyone can be President. We don’t have to know the Constitution or pay attention to the news, study the complexities of international and national events, or even vote in elections. Certainly, if we are smart, we avoid paying taxes. We can brag that we “know more than the generals” and belittle those who have devoted their lives to the public good. Seriously. Some like the idea that a President can be as ill-informed, perhaps even as stupid, selfish, and self-serving as they are themselves. They genuinely believe no one is nicer than they are themselves. And they are not nice.
- Government. There are individuals in the world more powerful than small governments. There are companies more powerful that most nations. Yet, paranoia about government control is rampant. Children raised in strict, top-down households, particularly households with a strong authoritarian father, are often fearful of government. The psychological theory explaining this well-documented tendency postulates that when a child’s initial introduction to control and power is cruel and arbitrary, the child often retains distrust of governance thoughout life. Trump removes government controls, and many do not seem to mind that those left in power are now the ones more concerned about profit than people. It’s the money again. Some will forgive most anything if a profit is to be made, even at the cost of health, safety, opportunity, and futures of others.
In contrast, it is an essential part of the American character to respect the needs of each individual, so long as this does not trespass on the needs of others. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness is at our core. To this end, we live together as human beings have always lived in community. There is evidence of this truth.
I offer Dr. Salk.
“On March 26, 1953, American medical researcher Dr. Jonas Salk announces on a national radio show that he has successfully tested a vaccine against poliomyelitis, the virus that causes the crippling disease of polio. In 1952–an epidemic year for polio–there were 58,000 new cases reported in the United States, and more than 3,000 died from the disease. For promising eventually to eradicate the disease, which is known as ‘infant paralysis’ because it mainly affects children, Dr. Salk was celebrated as the great doctor-benefactor of his time.”
Both my husband and I were spared this disease when we were children because Dr. Jonas Salk gave it away for the public good. Both of us knew people who had polio, were confined in iron lungs for weeks or months, and spent the rest of their lives struggling to walk. Dr. Salk made an adequate living as a doctor, he claimed. “His sole focus had been to develop a safe and effective vaccine as rapidly as possible, with no interest in personal profit. When asked who owned the patent to it, Salk said, ‘Well, to the people I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?’ ”
There is irony throughout my explanations. It is ironic to trust Trump because he is “successful” and “says what he thinks” and is as petty as the worst of us, because our life experiences should tell us that success is rarely gained only by those who are deserving. Surely, some people are kinder than others, not out of any selfish motive, but because they sincerely care about being good.
I am genuinely grateful that there are people willing to sacrifice for the common good, that some people are smarter and more generous than I am myself, and that consideration of the needs and feelings of others is not a conservative or liberal notion, but a humane one. And I am grateful that the majority of Americans feel as I do.
My hope and the hope of a majority of Americans is that we will soon inoculate our government against the current virus infecting our nation.