It’s the day after the historic election. We have elected our first orange reality TV star with not a day of public service experience, to the highest office in the land. I spend a great deal of the day talking my friends off of various ledges. Some are scared for their relatives who are gay or immigrants. Many are scared for their sons and daughters who wonder what is wrong with our country? I am embarrassed in front of my friends from across the sea. What will they think of America?
My friend has invited me to an event tonight, “Thoughts on The Rocks”. At the time of the invitation, I don’t even know the name of the group. He says it’s a group of men who get together once a month to have discussions and to try to make themselves the best version of themselves they can be. It sounds harmless enough. Frankly, it sounds pretty churchy. He assures me it’s not. I’m not sure I trust his judgement on this.
The thing is that my friend is a white evangelical. This is the guy who is trying to get me to read Chuck Colson. I’m really not in the mood to put my mask on this evening and try to blend with a bunch of conservative middle age white dudes. I’m hurting from the election. I’ve spent the day talking people up. And today I find out that one of my longest term friends has incurable bone cancer. I just want to crawl into bed and not wake up.
I decide to go to the event, just for a short time. So I meet my friend at his office. It’s held at a Pub- The Pub- a short walk from his office. On the walk over from his office, he explains to me the purpose of the group and the name of the group. The format is drinks and heavy appetizers and some guided discussions around tables. As we walk into the room where it’s held, my suspicions are confirmed. Here are about 30-50 middle-aged white guys who all look like professionals. It’s the day after the most shocking election of our lifetime, I know that politics have to come up. So, I’m prepared to be light on my feet.
We make small talk for a few minutes. During the introductions with one guy, Bill (my friend) steps in and tells him I have a daughter at the University of Toledo. It’s always awkward deciding how much I’m going to tell people that I’m standing in front of at a cocktail party about my family makeup now. The guy asks a few questions about Kayla, then asks if I have any other children. I don’t know how long I’m going to be talking to this guy and I really don’t want to get into the story with him. So, I lie. I tell him I just have one daughter.
The meeting is called to order which means we sit at tables of 4-6 people. On the tables are cards with questions for discussion printed on them. My understanding is these guys usually don’t talk politics. This month’s topic is normally “ThanksLiving” since it’s November. But, due to the shocking outcome of the election, today at the least minute, the number one topic changed to the election. “What did you think?” and “How do you feel?” Also, “What are your hopes?” and “What are your fears?” OK. Here we go. I’m guessing I’m the only liberal in the room. I know I am the only black guy. Not surprisingly, at my table of four, the other three have voted for Trump. What is interesting though is at least one of the guys didn’t make his decision until he was in the booth. He has four daughters. He knows he shouldn’t have voted for Trump. But, he feels there is something seriously wrong in Washington and Trump represents a chance to shake that up. He is also a “sanctity of life” guy. So, he held his nose and pushed the button for Trump. The other two express the exact same sentiments. One thing we all agree on is Trump is a wild card. Bill and I discussed him on the walk over. We all know the Trump behind the podiums during the rallies was a character he played to get a certain demographic behind him. Trump knew that Republicans were going to vote. And he knew that, when push came to shove, they would come home to the Republican Party. All he had to do was find a way to fire up some people who might not have otherwise voted and he would not lose that Republican base who dutifully votes every time and would not vote for Hillary even if he shot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue.
When I was a kid, the old people had a saying “You are buying a pig in a poke.” Unless you’re from the South, you might not know that a poke is a paper bag. Buying a pig in a poke is buying something sight unseen. That is what we have done with Donald J. Trump. None of us has any idea what type of President he will be. The day before I spent three hours talking to a middle age Republican white guy who voted for Trump. He had pretty much the same concerns about him that I do. These guys all know Trump is a loose cannon. A pig in a poke.
During the open floor discussion of the questions, one guy does speak up about how he thinks Trump will bring masculinity back to the government. Actually, the way he puts it is that Trump will stop the “emasculation” of our country. I don’t know how many people in the room he speaks for, but the overall impression I get is that even though the majority of these college educated, white, evangelical, middle-aged men did vote for Trump it wasn’t because of sexism or racism or xenophobia (unlike millions of others who voted for him), it was because they are tired of the status quo and they were never going to vote for a Democrat no matter how qualified she was or how unqualified the guy with an ® behind his name was.
The topic then turns to ThanksLiving. We’re supposed to say what we are thankful for, who we’re thankful to, divulge Thanksgiving plans, what we are looking forward to and what we dread about it. Of course, we hear the usual answers, family, friends. The guys are surprisingly frank about their situations. After all, that is why we are here. I tell them that gratitude is something I struggle with. I know I’m supposed to be grateful. It’s vital to my practice. But, it’s something I have to work on. Being grateful for being alive is pretty basic and we can all start with that- at least most of us. Being caught between two worlds takes away that default position. I want to be here and I want to be there. I don’t want to be here and I don’t want to be there. When my buddy told me about his cancer, I put myself in his situation. I wouldn’t trade with him. I don’t want to be here, but I don’t want to have cancer either. I tell them about Shayna having passed and my practice now of daily walking and meditation to try to work on this gratitude thing. I am grateful for Tywana and Kayla, more than I can express. I am grateful for knowing that Shayna is still with us and that I will see her someday. I am grateful for the way family and friends have come around us. I truly am.
The group wraps up and Bill and I walk back to our cars. He asks me how I felt being in a room of all white guys and tells me normally a couple of African-Americans are there- almost apologetically. I explain to him that this is my life. I’m used to it. I went to an all-white junior high, all white high school, majored in engineering at Ohio State and live in West Chester, OH. I confess to him that it’s been difficult looking at the Trump/Pence signs lining the streets of my neighborhood. It’s one thing to have my friends vote for a Romney or a McCain. I get that. I understand political differences. It’s another thing knowing that my friends voted for a man who is the embodiment of racism, xenophobia, etc.- at least he plays that on TV. Bill doesn’t argue with me. We both wonder what we’ll find when we open that bag on Inauguration Day.