Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Clean up on Aisle Five: Trump, groceries, and missing the point

At a recent campaign rally in Florida, President Donald Trump was defending his preference for stricter voter ID laws.

“If you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card, you need ID," Trump said. "You go out and you want to buy anything, you need ID and you need your picture.”

The response to his statement was swift and predictable. The legions that despise the president unleashed a torrent of cartoons and memes and jokes, once again ridiculing the mendacity and cluelessness of the man they love to hate.

His supporters, meanwhile, kind of looked down and shuffled their feet, opting to let this latest tempest dissipate without comment. But they knew what he meant, and they agreed with the point, even if it was not eloquently expressed.

How many times have we been here? I’ve lost count.

But as the wave of ridicule crests, the fact remains that Trump was right. If you buy alcohol or tobacco at a grocery store, you need a photo ID. If you buy certain cold medicines that contain ingredients that could be cooked into illegal narcotics, you may need to show a picture ID. If you pay for your groceries with a debit or credit card, or if you still write checks much to the consternation of the people waiting behind you, you may need to show a photo ID.

Even the people who were fastest to mock Trump knew what he meant. But the actual issue being discussed was superfluous – all that mattered was they now had another clumsy phrase that could be spun into high comedy.

Meanwhile, those who support the President got it. We all carry picture IDs and are often called upon to show them for a host of mundane tasks, from getting a driver’s license to entering a government building to showing proof of age to get the senior discount at the movie theater. We accept this and are not offended or outraged by it. So we wonder why something as important as voting for the leaders of our country should not also require, at the very least, the same scrutiny. And we don’t understand why anyone should find this unfair or intolerant.

President Trump is not a career statesman accustomed to clearing every public statement through focus groups. He is a gifted public speaker but not a precise one. He speaks in superlatives and forges arguments with sledge hammers, where in politics we’ve become accustomed to points being parsed and events being choreographed with fanatical precision, so as not to risk offending any demographic or special interest group. Too often, this results in speeches that sound eloquent but say nothing, and are rife with platitudes that in their own way are as ludicrous as any hyperbolic oratory of the Commander in Chief.

The response to the President’s groceries comment is one of many reasons he’ll likely be re-elected in 2020. I say this not as his defender or with the terror of those who are certain he will be the death of this great nation. I say it because I know what happens when someone is attacked with the ferocity that this president is attacked, not on a daily basis but on an hourly basis, by those infused with a smug superiority that plays well on the coasts and on some cable channels but not as well in churches and taverns and VFW halls.

If you find the prospect of four more years of Trump to be as painful as a root canal without anesthesia, my advice is to do that which you’ve consistently berated this president for not doing: take the high road. Or just keep laughing – and losing.

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