WASHINGTON — Listening to President Donald Trump’s inauguration speech, and the scalding scolding that followed from many commentators, brought to mind comedian Chris Rock’s response when old white people say they don’t like rap music:
“It isn’t for you.”
Far down the Mall from the U.S. Capitol, in front of a huge monitor between the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Washington Monument, a few thousand attendees took it all in Friday. There were school groups, many Trump supporters who came spur-of-the-moment and a few anti-Trumpers who’d done the same.
After the speech, Lynn, a trim middle-aged woman from Virginia Beach, Virginia, in a “Make America Great Again” sweatshirt, was tearing up with joy. Jamie, a 20-something from Princeton, New Jersey, in town for Saturday’s women’s march, had been standing near Lynn and engaged her in a debate. Or tried to.
“He’s going to bring us together, when all Obama did is divide us,” Lynn said of Trump. “My 19-year-old never even saw race before [Barack] Obama tore us apart.”
“Obama tore us apart on race by being accused of being an African Muslim terrorist?” Jamie said.
The minds didn’t come closer to meeting when the two moved on to, in Lynn’s words, “the Muslims and illegals that all want to kill us,” and in Jamie’s, “Trump’s racist, sexist, stealing, lying bull.”
The fascinating part is that it was all said in loving tones by two people trying to listen, who seemingly can’t come together. They’re too far apart. The fact that they could be nice, like bus seatmates sharing good intentions but not a language, is all the encouragement there is in this anecdote.
Trump’s message — on the campaign trail, the national convention and at his inauguration Friday — is not for many liberals, or many philosophy professors, or many people who truly think gay is just as good as straight, or many who believe that Mexican or Syrian or Chinese lives have as much sanctity as American lives.
Trump’s speech Friday, with its “America First” exceptionalism and isolationism, its fear-mongering about crime spreading, and jobs and wealth being siphoned off into the hands of foreigners, could easily have been delivered to populist applause in 1913.
The fact that this message is not compelling to so many Americans, particularly writers and entertainers and professors, does not mean it is not compelling. He’s the president of the United States, so clearly it is. But the fact that he’s the president of the United States doesn’t mean he’s right, either. He’s not alone in being wrong.
What it all means is this: We are not, anytime soon, going to heal a political divide that is made larger by a liberal group always looking to change and modernize its views and a conservative one purposely holding fast to a traditional set of views.
At best we can, like Jamie and Lynn, be polite.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.