This year's voting during March town meeting was made more interesting by its confluence with a presidential primary.
Normally Vermont is not mentioned in the same breath as other "battleground" states like Ohio and Florida, but this year, the combination of having one of our own senators, Bernie Sanders, waging a feisty campaign and posing an unexpectedly stiff challenge to the Democrats' presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton, and the utterly bizarre — there is no other word for it — Republican party primary, where suddenly every delegate in sight was fair game as the GOP leadership woke up to the fact that Donald Trump, of all people, might actually seize the nomination, made Vermont something more than an afterthought among political pundits and those who follow them.
We even managed to attract one of the few grown ups in the room, Gov. John Kasich, to the state for a couple of campaign stops, and it paid off for him with a respectable second-place finish. The bad news is that first place, even in moderate, common sense — (we thought) leaning Vermont, the one completely unqualified candidate, the aforementioned Mr. Trump, still bagged a first-place finish. What is going on here?
We get that there are a lot of angry voters out there, and that's understandable to a degree. We also get that these are folks, many of them, at any rate, who have felt tuned out and disenfranchised by the political process over the past 10 to 20 years, and maybe more, and now, suddenly, have found their guy. The Donald is rich, so he is self-financing his election campaign. He's not a professional politician, so he can "tell it like it is." He has given voice to a slice of the electorate badly battered by the shifting economic tides of the past decade or more, as once well-paying jobs were outsourced overseas, and premiums paid to those possessing technical computer-based skills who were comfortable operating in a more globalized environment. Many of these folks may not, unfortunately, ever recover a standard of living they once had, or expected to have, and that is frustrating. More than frustrating. Then along came the economic disaster of 2008-09, when the financial wizards of Wall Street outsmarted themselves and the money machine stopped spinning. Who paid? To many, it seemed like the bankers and financiers who helped crash the economy didn't. Sure, a few of them lost their jobs, and maybe big chunks of salary, but very few did jail time and most landed more or less on their feet. Not so the blue collar workers who faced another wrenching round of un-or under-employment, underwater mortgages and are still, eight years later, experiencing stagnant wage growth and struggling to make ends meet.
All the anger is understandable. Unfortunately, backing a loser like Donald Trump, to turn his favorite pejorative against him, is not the answer.
This rich tycoon, who has floated over multiple bankruptcies, hired foreign workers for his construction projects instead of legal American workers, who espouses cockamamie ideas like getting Mexico to pay for a wall to keep would-be immigrants from entering the U.S. (does anybody really think that is going to happen?), and worse, spews hateful venom against Muslims and wishes to ban them from ever visiting America, who failed to immediately disavow the endorsement of the white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan, and in his typical fashion, feigned not to get it (Mr. T. gets in trouble apparently, if his advisors and "smart people" aren't nearby — as if the notion of him ever listening to anybody, ever, makes a compelling picture) is so far removed from a real working class hero as to be laughable. It's a joke, but the only one who should be laughing is the nauseating Mr. Trump. Can anyone really picture this buffoon representing this great country overseas, or anywhere?
America is a changing country. The difference between the realities of today, and those of 40 or 50 years ago, are striking. So much has changed, and relatively quickly. However, hate, fear and anger aren't the answers. They may be symptoms of an underlying unease, but they won't bring back good paying jobs or the predictable securities of the good old days, not that the Cold War, Vietnam, Civil Rights upheavals or some of the other pieces of the 20th century would be considered all that great today. Instead, there are tremendous possibilities opening up for those willing and able to embrace them. What made America great and has kept it great was and is the courage to seize those possibilities, not in seeing what you want to see in a clownish former reality TV star, who ought to be fired — now.