Abernathy was right to make an example of a sneering comment from a reader who didn’t like what he had to say about the tender feelings of the Washington press corps under consistent attack from Trump. “One particular response to my op-ed, summarizing probably hundreds of others,” Abernathy wrote, “surmised that for newspapers like ours, the ‘biggest news is a new Dollar Store opening and the most column-inches are taken up by the crime report and obituaries. So sad.’”
With family in rural North Carolina and in-laws in ruby red North Dakota, I’ve long known the import of a Dollar Store (any store) opening. As Abernathy rightly notes, it not only means jobs, but it also means newfound convenience that is a hallmark of urban living. And having interviewed Republicans, conservatives, scholars and some red-state Democrats for my “Cape Up” podcast about what motivated Trump voters, I have a better appreciation of and empathy for the frustrations and deep anger that pushed them to turn to a chance on a thrice-married vulgarian who never held public office to fight for them.
What I can no longer abide is Trump supporters’ insistence that the problems they face are unique or deserve special consideration now that they are in the bull’s-eye. As if those who live on the coasts, nestled inside what they deride as the elite northeast corridor bubble, say, have never chafed at being disregarded and dismissed. For instance, fanfare over a Dollar Store opening that Abernathy writes about so passionately today was preceded by a Pathmark supermarket opening in Harlem nearly 20 years ago. The first major chain to locate there since the riots in the 1960s that left the community known as the capital of black America an economic no-go zone. Let’s not forget that the town elders in Detroit; Newark, N.J.; Oakland, Calif.; and Washington, D.C., have been working for decades to dig out of the social and economic holes left by the unrest then and the federal inattention that followed.
Instead of focusing on the “negativity that permeates Trump coverage,” Abernathy wrote in another piece, “We talk about the heroin overdose epidemic ravaging our community.” This uproar and garment-rending concern was preceded by the crack and AIDS epidemics in the 1980s and 1990s. Largely absent from the national debate today is the moralizing and up-by-the-bootstraps lecturing that greeted African Americans and gay men. That’s an advancement, if you ask me. People in pain and desperate for help need a helping hand and solutions, not a kick in the teeth and derision.
As for “Russia just isn’t big news” in Trump country, I get it. Small-town papers like Abernathy’s that hold local authorities accountable are the exception not the rule. Meanwhile, the ubiquitous Fox News coddles its angry audience by ignoring Trump’s chaotic presidency and interspersing its hourly dose of grievance with news about Hillary Clinton. Abernathy was right to bemoan the dearth of broadband access in Trump country. Unfortunately, Clinton’s plan to address the issue was drowned out by the adulation of Trump, who didn’t have one. And on top of it all, the here-and-now concerns of most Americans take precedence over the inside baseball that consumes the media and politicians. Or as Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) told me during an interview for “Cape Up,” when people wake up at 3 a.m., “It has to do with one of just a very few things; our personal health, the health of our children, the health of our parents, can I get a job? Can I keep a job? Can I pay the bills by the end of the month? Can I retire with dignity?”
Whether Trump and his supporters like it or not, Russia is and will remain big news, because a hostile foreign power violated the bedrock of our democracy. Because our commander in chief, a Republican no less, seems hellbent on doing that power’s bidding by battling the intelligence agencies sworn to protect the Constitution and our lives by extension. Because our president threatens the rule of law by looking into pardoning himself and threatening to fire the head of the independent investigation into possible collusion with that foreign power. Because the leader of the free world stiff-arms and lectures democratic allies who spent decades in the trenches with us battling the former Soviet Union and Vladimir Putin’s present-day Soviet revival.
So enough with the sanctimonious sermons from the heartland about what is important. For many, Trump’s mad-as-hell supporters are late to a long-running party. And start taking the disturbing Russia story more seriously. For if they don’t, all that will remain for the “Make America Great Again” crowd is the hat that useless phrase is stitched onto.
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