By SUZANNE DOWNING / MUST READ AMERICA
On a ferry ride to Seattle from the liberal island enclave of Bainbridge Island, Washington, I eavesdropped on a group of retired gentlemen chatting about their admittedly diminished lives in the year of Covid.
To be clear, I wasn’t purposefully eavesdropping on my way to catch a flight home, but the men were shouting through their masks as they socially distanced from each other. It was impossible to ignore.
None of them had traveled on a plane for over a year, as as I have done repeatedly. One recalled he’d returned from a trip to Cairo in March of 2020, and had not dared to travel since.
Covid hit, and hit hard in the Seattle area. Not one of the posse of Patagonia-wearing patricians had been inside a restaurant for a year; Gov. Jay Inslee had closed the restaurants for most of 2020. The ferry ride together seemed to be a rare reunion for these privileged, stay-homers from the suburbs, who talked about missing their grandchildren in states far away.
“Did you hear President Biden’s 25-minute speech?” one man asked the group. “What really struck me is how empathetic he was, just so empathetic, something that’s been missing the past four years.” The men murmured their support.
It’s the kind of question you’d only ask if you already knew your audience would affirm your conclusion. You might not phrase that question the same way in a place like Wasilla, District 8, where Donald Trump won 75 percent of the vote in November.
Readers, it’s good to get out of our routines and listen to the world beyond our political tribe, and outside the fences of our normal pastures. We need to hear how others interpret the events of the day. For as much as conservatives heard President Joe Biden read slop on a teleprompter on Thursday, there were some Americans who found his words comforting.
Here we had a group of obviously educated, well-heeled, retired white men, with all the privilege in the world, nodding together at how empathetic Biden is, and how that pleased them very much.
Conservatives heard a darker, less truthful message in Biden’s speech:
“A year ago we were hit with a virus that was met with silence and spread unchecked. Denials for days, weeks, then months. That led to more deaths, more infections, more stress, and more loneliness,” Biden began reading, plodding through what his speechwriters had message-tested. His predecessor did nothing to control Covid-19 and Donald Trump is to be blamed for the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans.
Biden took credit for the vaccination program made possible and put in place by President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed.
Then the man who rarely emerged from his basement during his campaign, set Americans’ expectations low:
If we keep our muzzles on, if we refrain from spending time with our friends and families, we might be able to have a small family gathering for the Fourth of July, by the grace and goodness of the federal government. A small one, mind you.
The affable group of gentlemen on the boat, as with others who don’t like Trump’s style or personality, seemed blissfully unconcerned that this is a president who had forgotten the name of his own Secretary of Defense earlier in the week.
“And I want to thank the sec — the, the ah former general. I keep calling him general, but my, my — the guy who runs the outfit over there,” Biden said of Lloyd Austin on Monday, because he did not have a teleprompter to lean on.
That may seem like a small gaffe, but it’s a well-known adaptive technique used by those who are starting to experience memory loss. Biden is, if nothing else, a case study in brain neurotransmitter malfunction, and his presidency is a demonstration of elder abuse.
And yet, here we are: Americans, many of whom are in our own families, were worn out by the coronavirus and wanted a pastoral figure who exudes compassion. They wanted a kindly grandpa-in-chief, someone with bedside manners.
Trump was no grandpa. He was a businessman’s Sun-Tzu, a strategist warrior archetype who took on both the Washington bureaucracy and the entire world order. It took an alpha like Trump to execute Operation Warp Speed, which was already rolled out by the time Biden was sworn in.
Although Trump has an army of 74 million Americans who voted for him and are still loyal, Operation Grandpa appealed to the other Americans, the ones who had tired of Trump’s leadership style and odd character. They are hearing what they want to hear from a president who is the polar opposite of Trump.
Leadership has several archetypal forms. Some leaders are change-agents, while others are strategists, deal-makers, or innovators. Trump is all of those combined. But what he is not is a nursemaid.
Americans — enough of them, at least — chose the “sage patriarch” archetype. No more America First. No more Make America Great Again. They wanted Make America Normal Again.
Operation Grandpa spoke on Thursday to hypnotize a nation: All will be normal soon, and that in the near future, if we behave, we may gather in small groups to celebrate Independence Day.
You know, normal.