In all our lives, there are bits of film and video that haunt us and won’t go away. I know a young man who at age 11 was taken to see “Schindler’s List.” One can only imagine what horrifying images get triggered at unwelcome times.
For me, one of these seared-into-memory films is a recording of the 1932 incident, in which the giant, helium-filled airship USS Akron attempted to moor at a naval air on a windy California day. Fighting for stability, it dropped a cluster of ropes to the running group of sailors who were supposed to pull it to the ground. The film shows roughly 25 soldiers grab the lines at the same moment a gust of wind lifts the airship rapidly skyward. All but three men wisely let go. The ones who clung too long are pulled from the ground, and the camera’s unblinking eye watches them fall to their deaths from a great height (one manages to wrap a rope around himself and survive).
What makes this horrible to watch is questioning what I would have done. Would I, at a height of 15 feet, have let go and suffered two broken legs? Would I let go at 30 feet, where at best I could hope for a mere shattered spine? Or would I continue to hang on in hopes that the airship would quickly nose back down?
I think of this because I recently had a visit from my good friend who, for the sake of anonymity, I’ll refer to as “Mike.” He and another friend, who I’ll call “Art,” voted for Donald Trump. They were ecstatic when he was elected.
Both Mike and Art tethered their ropes to the Trump machine. Yet, years from now, I’m not sure this multi-million-dollar machine—which now supports the Trump myth—will move on to fresh, new profitable myths to support. The unprotected facts of this presidency will be left to fend for themselves.
Fox News, Rush, Drudge and other countless supporters of “alternate facts,” as Kellyanne Conway calls them, will offer no help because Trump will have no more trillion-dollar tax cuts to hand-outs to his rich friends. There will be no more public lands available to be “sold” for fracking for a dollar an acre. There will be no more pesky toxic waste regulations to repeal. The opportunity to stack the courts with pro-big business and religious nut-job judges will have passed. The powerful people who manage the message will have new myths to support and new scams to present as being in the interest of the working man.
So what happens to my friends Mike and Art out there on their own?
McCarthyism and the Red Scare of the 1950s might shed some light. Just three years after it all came crashing down, former supporters pretended they were never taken by McCarthy’s fanatical nonsense. The list of a thousand Commies in the State Department proved to be a blank sheet of paper.
When do Mike and Art let go of the rope? Well, Mike already let go at 15 feet. He’s embarrassed, and when his friends make fun of him, he just waves his hand and refuses to talk about it. Art, on the other hand, is a true believer. Maybe he’ll prove to be the sailor who wraps himself in the rope so tightly he survives as a Trump fan until the day he dies. His grandkids will whisper cruelly about him every Thanksgiving. Or, maybe, he’ll let go in time to become Robert McNamara.
During the early part of the Vietnam War, I was hardly alone in hating President Johnson’s secretary of defense. His genius was taking the principles of efficient auto manufacturing in Detroit and applying them to the mass human-killing project in Vietnam. At the time, a lot of rich people with media influence found it in their interest to keep the “victory-by-Christmas” myth going on for many Christmases. The helicopter makers were among them.
Long after the war was over, McNamara eventually let go of the rope in a way that Donald Rumsfeld still refuses to do. Rumsfeld insists to this day Iraq was a perfect war. McNamara decided to save his soul when he agreed to appear in the film “Fog of War.” It was his personal truth and reconciliation moment. He admitted early in the war everyone knew it was lost and all the killing was pointless. He let go of the rope and tried to make peace with the people whose lives he had effectively ruined.
So how about today’s gang of Trump’s henchmen—including our NC senators and, well, my friend Art? The Trump administration will eventually vanish and the degree of theft, evil and COVID-19 stupidity will be revealed. When the multi-million-dollar “alternate facts” machine that provides them cover has left the building, what will they seek to save? Will it be their pride, as they choose to cling tightly to the myth? Or will they save their souls, decide to let go of the rope and try to make amends?