Events of the past few weeks have given me to reconsider those immortal words ascribed to 19th century pitchman, P.T. Barnum: “A sucker is born every minute.” For those not in the know, Barnum and Bailey shows featured acts like the four-legged woman, the human skeleton, and Jo Jo the Dog-Faced Boy.
As our century’s master hustler, Donald J. Trump, somehow convinced 70 percent of Republican voters — despite all credible evidence to the contrary — that he, the one chosen by none other than God himself to save America from sin and perdition, was robbed of victory by a cabal of either sinister election officials, turncoat governors, a spineless U.S. Supreme Court or an evil consortium of all three.
As pollsters have discovered much to their dismay, Trump zealots shy away from filling out questionnaires. For this reason, exact numbers of how many Americans have actually bought into his latest bunko scheme and drunk the Kool-Aid are difficult to obtain. We do know, however, how many votes he received in November: 74,223,755 give or take a few.
To claim that every Trump voter was duped and played the sucker would be to overlook the obvious: There were many millions who backed the Donald out of calculated self-interest. The very rich for instance. Or the stinking rich wannabes, those upwardly mobile strivers who, finances allowing, adopt the attitudes, mannerisms and tastes of their betters. Then there are the single-issue voters who make race, abortion, gay rights, prayer in public schools or wearing masks in a pandemic their litmus tests of whom to support.
None of these God-fearing Americans can be called suckers in my book. They saw their chance, took it and, for four turbulent years, had their way.
But nearly 75 million? Taken together, these clusters of supporters couldn’t possibly amount to more than a third of that total. Which leads me to wonder about the remaining 50 million who pulled the lever for the Big Guy despite every reason imaginable to vote the other way.
These voters weren’t rich nor did they have any reasonable expectation they might become so. They didn’t hate blacks or Mexicans, cared little about Roe v. Wade, and didn’t stay up nights worrying about who marries whom. Chances are (unless they happened to have had hefty stock portfolios), they were hurt by Trump’s slashing of domestic spending and evisceration of environmental and workplace safety laws put in place to benefit most everybody but the very wealthy. Chances also are that either they or someone they loved would’ve faced severe financial difficulty if Trump’s efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act had not failed in Congress.
Without a dog in the fight, to believe in a man like Trump — a man exposed publicly over and over again as a swindler and a habitual liar — amounts, in my book, to being a sucker. Which again brings up P.T. Barnum. How long does it take to condition 50 million suckers? If Barnum was correct (and his remarkable success as a showman speaks to that), less than three years, give or take a few.
In 1880, when his freak shows hit their prime, the American population hovered around 50 million. Today it’s swelled to more than 330 million. Six-and-a-half times larger. Keeping the master pitchman’s assessment constant, today that would amount to 6½ suckers born every minute. Multiply that by 3,412,500 minutes in a year which equals roughly 22,000,000. Divide that into 50 million Trump voters and you come up with somewhere around 2½ years.
Since infants don’t vote, we must go back 20 years, to the beginning of George II’s reign and the ongoing wars which have blown up over 10 trillion taxpayer dollars in the desert or ended up in Halliburton pockets. All based on lies by a president who viewed the world through a bipolar “them versus us” prism.
I’m wondering what became of a generation raised to believe a government narrative that weapons of mass destruction existed when they didn’t and that government regulation of the banking and housing industries was all wrong.
What will we, as a nation, accept from our leadership 20 years from now?
A lifelong activist, Steve McGehee settled here in 1973 and lives in Palouse with his wife, Katherine. His work life has varied from bartender to university instructor to wrecking yard owner.