My father worked several jobs in a factory town in Maine. He was a store clerk. Then he worked the tanning wheels in the tannery’s steaming cellar. He did that hellish job for nearly a decade. Later he went into the woods to make a living, cutting trees and hauling out wood with work horses.
Early one spring night two men in business suits arrived at our house to repossess our used Pontiac Catalina. It was the end of the day, and my father was tired. He needed to get to bed because his tannery shift began at 3 a.m.
The two men demanded the car keys. My father protested that he hadn’t missed a payment in years and intended to make another payment with his next paycheck. They insisted he give them the keys. My father issued a few choice words and chased them into their cars. He did not need to explain to me why.
Donald Trump, though, would consider my father a “loser.” Someone too “stupid” to file bankruptcy or call on the government and public treasury to bail him out. If my father had filed bankruptcy, he presumably would be a “winner,” like Trump. And, according to the president, “ winning takes care of everything.”
My father valued integrity over “winning.” Winning anything, from baseball games to presidential campaigns, means little if it’s achieved without integrity and respect for others. Perhaps that’s why Trump dismisses his opponents as mere “losers.” When people protested during his speech in Vermont in January 2016, he ordered his security staff to “Throw them out into the cold … confiscate their coats!”
My father (actually my stepfather) married my mother when he graduated from high school. My mother was barely 20 and already had three young boys. Despite the pressure of making ends meet, my father never disrespected our mother. He never disparaged women as “fat pigs,” “dogs,” “cows” or “disgusting animals.”
My parents had humility. Trump has none. They taught us right from wrong. Trump has no moral compass. Nevertheless, he demands blind loyalty. He patronizes his supporters by calling them “my people.” He also makes very disturbing and dangerous statements about those voting for him. In January 2016 he crowed: “[Pollsters] say I have the most loyal people … where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”
Precisely because my parents tried to avoid favoritism, unchecked self-interest and unethical behavior, I learned to balance my needs against others’ needs. Yet, Trump brags that, as president, he has “no conflict of interest.” Such declarations do not seem compatible democratic values and practices.
Unlike my father, contradictory words and behavior seem all too natural to Trump. For example, candidate Trump promised that “the American worker will finally have a president who will protect them and fight for them.” Yet, Trump’s first budget proposal cuts spending for infrastructure improvements and economic development in rural areas. His tax plan also proposes ending taxes on profits made abroad, but it does not stipulate that a substantial part of the savings be invested in jobs and workers here. He further endorsed health care reforms that would raise premiums and increase the number of people without health care by as much as 24 million. While he is one of the richest U.S. presidents in history, Trump has spoken against raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
My father was tough but never authoritarian. In fact, he defended anyone who was bullied or summarily fired from a job. At a PTA meeting he and my mother once proposed the town pay for school lunches for the children whose families could not even afford the government-subsidized school lunch program.
Yet, Trump seems to admire ruthless authoritarians. It is disturbing that he praises and embraces dictators who murder political opponents, shut down criticism and oppress common people. It is further alarming to hear a U.S. president often refer to critical media reports as “fake news” without offering any evidence to support his assertion. Most troubling are his apparent efforts to undermine criminal investigations into possible collusion between his advisers and Russian operatives to interfere with our electoral process.
My father is now in his 80s. He lives in a trailer. He is not rich, but he is a good man. Without Medicare my father would not have received the critical medical care he requires. He shakes his head when he thinks of Trump and Republicans making adequate health care more difficult for Americans to obtain. He just can’t understand how ordinary working Americans think that a corrupt billionaire businessman who seems to fire more than he hires could ever have their interest at heart.
John Ripton grew up in a factory town in central Maine. He lives in Kennebunkport.