A young teenager asked, “Does Donald trump scare you?”
A woman with a Planned Parenthood sign asked rhetorically, “Where is the compassion, Tom?”
His response: “I understand the anger.”
You don’t, Tom Reed. If you did, you’d change, because you are in the wrong.
His answers to these questions and many more this morning at the Trumansburg fire hall are of little to no import, other than what they tell us about his strategy, or lack thereof. His nonsensical diversions and rehearsed phrases that an actual compassionate listener might be heard uttering, are tiresome, if not politically negligent.
I didn’t arrive in time to claim one of the 150 seats inside. I listened and watched from a window, which provided the advantage of being both inside and outside. Approximately 150 people listened to the PA set up outside. It was loud enough to broadcast the passionate and intelligent questions of constituents throughout the Village of Trumansburg. However, were I a resident of the village, attempting to sleep in a bit or enjoy the spring morning with a cup of coffee on the porch, the last thing I’d want to hear would be Tom Reed’s voice, filled with underwhelming illogical and condescending fallacies, responses not unlike the “mwah blah mwah” of Charlie Brown’s school teacher.
The question that everyone seems to have about this man is why, unlike most of his cohorts in Congress, he would subject himself to these town halls on such a regular basis. Since he has shown no perceptible shift toward any of the suggestions of the constituents he claims to listen to at these meetings, this leads one to wonder if there’s some kind of strategy going on here. Every time he blurts out, “Here’s where we have some common ground,” I shake my head. We are not even on the same planet. All we can do is make educated guesses.
The most direct outcome of these interactions has been his use of negative optics when seeking donations from supporters. Mis-characterizing one third of the 23rd district as “extreme liberals” is as brazenly divisive as it gets. But it stands to reason that these requests for money may only gather negligible amounts, relative to what he sees from large donors from the energy and healthcare industries located outside the district. His millionaire and corporate donors are lined up. He doesn’t really need small donations from the kind of people who’d be drummed up by fear of liberals. He does however need their loyalty to continue to the ballot box.
He may earnestly think he can talk people into trickle down economics, and the “states’ rights” political agenda. A thorough indoctrination of these ideologies is interwoven throughout his rhetoric. He frames it quite effectively in diversionary statements that seek to eclipse the ideas of the questioner, with the desired outcome of rendering a shift in thinking toward his version of reality. It’s a slow and methodical method of preaching Randian Objectivism, the gospel of greed. Many of us may have a relative who used to be progressive, but who listened to right-wing radio out of curiosity, who soon found themselves locked on Fox News. Somehow somewhere their worldview got knocked upside down, but it was an almost imperceptible shift. This, I believe, is what Reed thinks he himself may be capable of. He seems to relish in the sport of debate. There’s a twinge of joy in his brow when asked a challenging question. He seems to experience an almost palpable excitation at the prospect of facing and engaging with people who disagree, alluding a hint of spite and condescension in his tone. But this isn’t a debate setting and as such, he gets the last word. He may think he can convert one in a hundred to the right-wing, and that this is worth it.
Anyone can see his standing in Congress is now more vulnerable than before. There are so many variables in any election, but with the huge elephant that is the Trump factor, anything could happen. This next election cycle is already seeing a surge of volunteers eager to get involved, to knock on doors and get out the vote. Reed definitely knows this and will adjust by raising and spending millions more than in previous races. After all, this is what you do when you don’t have grassroots support.
However, he may also not be all that concerned with losing. If he goes down in 2018, he’ll surely be welcomed with open arms to any number of corporations he served with legislation on a silver platter, given in exchange for their campaign donations. For his unfettered loyalty to Trump from day one, perhaps a backup plan has already been established for his post-Congress life. But for the time being he seems content to sharpen his Machiavellian fangs telling boldface lies to constituents and the press.
His power as an incumbent congressman, his stature as a high-class lawyer, his loyalty to the scary clown show that is the Trump administration are all clearly on display. This man appears to not belong among his constituents, while claiming to be all the while.
At one point a woman asked the crowd to stand up and turn their back’s to him as a symbol of how he has done the same to us. Interestingly, only two people in the room seemed to think this was a good idea and stood up. One was the boy who asked if Reed was scared of Trump. Nearly everyone outside did so. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest people on the inside were cowardly, but could it be that in the direct face of power there are only some of us ready to make such a stand? I’d like to suggest there is a more subtle dynamic at work. For as much as we disagree with him and the billionaire class he serves, we still feel the need to provide courteousness and comfort. Generally, the attendees of these town halls are middle or upper middle class well-educated liberal white folks. And while their overwhelming concerns appear to be protecting the safety net and standing up for the most vulnerable communities, their intentions being in the right place, there still remains a deference to in-group racial and social status identifications. If people are as tired as they say they are of his town hall, this was the moment to show it.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the single most important statement made that morning was revealed. As Tom Reed made his exit the crowd chanted with incredible vigor,
“Vote him out!”
“Vote him out!”
“Vote him out!”
The only way this is going to happen is if citizens of the 23rd harness that fierce energy of resistance and transmute it into electoral volunteer efforts. Only then can we fully realize the promise of democracy as it was intended, to shape our government into one that works for all.