As Sen. Mitch McConnell ducked out the back of the American Legion Hall and sped away in his spit-shined, black SUV, a few of us resorted to yelling out our questions. “Hey Mitch,” I said, “what good are school vouchers for rural families here in Lawrenceburg?”
A man wearing a Trump hat spun around, spread his arms wide and leaned into my face. “Shut your mouth!” he screamed. “We have one Christian school, and by God we’ll build another Christian school!”
I picked up my purse to leave, so he turned his anger on a young cancer survivor asking about health insurance.
I’ve never seen this man before, and yet I know him. I grew up with men like him.
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Grandpa Red was a screamer, and indiscriminately cruel. There was the night he threw grandma out the back door as he sat inside with a rifle on his lap, daring her to try, just try, to come inside. There was the Saturday he skinned my pet rabbits and left them hanging for me to see. I was seven. There were the long summer days when he perched on the porch swing, a sweating glass of sweet tea by his side, and shot BBs from a slingshot at any little black kid who dared to step on his lawn.
Like Grandpa Red, the screaming man at the Lawrenceburg luncheon feels empowered, emboldened, within his rights. It is 2017. And our new commander-in-chief has set the tone.
In a span of days, the president cruelly rescinded an order protecting transgender children, called a federal judge a “fake judge,” and disrespected the leaders of Mexico, Australia and Sweden. At the Conservative Political Action Conference he said, “A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people. And they are. They are the enemy of the people!”
The crowd cheered. Invective rules.
The president’s travel ban, lifted by the courts but still looming, continues to wreak havoc. A beloved Australian children’s author was inexplicably detained and interrogated for two hours at the Los Angeles airport. A British teacher, a Muslim man traveling with his class, was humiliated and banned from boarding a flight with his students.
In Olathe, Kansas, a white man hurled ethnic slurs at two Indian engineers, telling them they don’t belong in this country. The man left, then returned to gun them down — a hate crime the president was slow to acknowledge, much less condemn.
At our southern border, a 16-year-old boy was shot in the head by border control and left to die. Silence.
We wait for the slim light, for a glimpse of kindness. But there is no pivot, no better man waiting in the wings. The president seems to thrive on chaos and cruelty. And I recognize him.
When I was nine, my single mother and I moved in temporarily with my grandparents. I started fourth grade up the street; it wasn’t long before the kids found me out. “New girl lives with Slingshot Man!”
For the next months, a band of boys delighted in terrorizing me. They followed me morning and night. They chanted nasty names. They threw rocks. They laughed while shoving me down muddy hills and off the sidewalk into traffic. Payback for Slingshot Man with his off-limits lawn.
I will never forget the president from the campaign, the man who mocked a disabled reporter, bragged about grabbing women, insisted he sacrificed as much as a family who lost their son in war, said Sen. John McCain is no hero, called Mexicans murderers and rapists, and spun up his cult-like crowds with chants to “Lock her up!”
There are lessons to be learned from screaming men. They demand respect. They shout, “Shut your mouth!” They recruit followers. They are the lords of chaos, and they rarely suffer consequences. They leave consequences and suffering for the rest of us.
Teri Carter is a writer living in Lawrenceburg. Reach her at www.tericarter.net/contact.html.