Op-Ed

What the heck is happening? he asked

Board of Contributors member George Walter
Board of Contributors member George Walter Staff photographer

Election night, about 9:45 p.m., and the telephone rings. It’s my 15-year-old son, Aaron. “What the heck is happening?” he yells. “He’s winning!”

Aaron is shocked, as am I. And we’re both mad, mad as hell. What can I tell my son and myself? A candidate dedicated much of his campaign to fear and bigotry, and now he’s winning. “You’ve got to write about this,” Aaron demanded. And so I am.

Aaron, first let me tell you about the opening scene of the beloved Broadway musical, “The Music Man.” (I trust many of you readers will recall the musical, and the scene.) Professor Harold Hill, salesman of musical instruments and flimflam man, is riding the train with other salesmen. They sing about their approaches to selling, and one man insists over and over, “You’ve got to know the territory!”

That, in a nutshell, explains almost everything about the 2016 presidential election results. Donald Trump has been the master salesman, working hard over the past 18 months to promote himself as a worthy presidential candidate. He trusted himself and his own judgment, and on Election Day he surprised all the smart folks, and maybe even himself. He closed the deal.

More than anything else, he proved that he “knew the territory.” He understood what the American voters wanted and needed, a president who seemed to sense their fear of the changing world and uncertain future, and to sympathize with their prejudices and bigotry. Just like Professor Hill with the citizens of River City, Trump persuaded voters to be afraid and that only he could make things better.

Beyond just fear and prejudice, these American voters also wanted to feel good, they wanted to rally and cheer, and Donald Trump provided event after event to meet this need. He understood all these visceral feelings and, like a talented salesman, said whatever was needed make the sale, to motivate people to vote for him.

And, again like Professor Hill, Donald Trump may have gotten more than he bargained for. He is now the president-elect and will soon be the most powerful political leader in the free world. And what can we citizens expect? Who really knows? Trump has never held public office and never run something where he is responsible to the public, not to himself.

Also, Aaron, we need to really listen to the reasoned concession of Hillary Clinton and the calming remarks of President Obama. They both reminded the country of a vital element of our democracy, the concept of the “loyal opposition.” We may disagree on many things, but we are all Americans and want what is best for our country. Therefore, we all wish our country and its president well.

Four years will go by quickly, and we can be sure of several things: Taking health insurance coverage from 20 million Americans will not solve the health care cost-and-delivery crisis. Global warming and climate change will not respond to an ostrich-like approach (ignore it and it will go away). Having no plan, really, is not likely to do anything constructive on immigration. And, what a shock this is, cutting taxes will not solve the deficit problem.

Maybe a President Trump can lead our nation to positive and long-term solutions to these and other problems. You and I are dubious, Aaron, but he now has a chance and possibly his nontraditional approach will work wonders. We can only hope and hold on.

And it could have been worse. In 1980 Ronald Reagan was elected president and it was a landslide. Before the election, Washington state boasted of having a senior and very powerful senator, Warren Magnuson. He was defeated.

I remember feeling terrible that November, fearing the worst. Thinking back, however, I remember listening to the sage advice of an elderly man who had just come through the pain of a kidney stone. Regarding a Reagan presidency, he passed along the same advice his doctor had given him, “This too shall pass.”

George Walter is the Nisqually Indian Tribe’s environmental program manager and is member of The Olympian’s 2015 Board of Contributors. He may be reached at gwalter5665@gmail.com

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