A former colleague of mine emailed me a few weeks ago saying we should get together for coffee. Not having heard from him in over 5 years, I was quite surprised at the invite but accepted nonetheless.
After some chatting at a local cafe, I asked him how he was doing overall. He said OK, and stated, "I'm glad we got the right person in the White House now to clean up the Obama mess." In other words, he was a Trump supporter and a Republican. I was a little taken aback as we'd never discussed politics during the years we worked together. He continued, "Socialist Obama messed up our country by greatly increasing our debt, liberals are crazy spenders."
After hearing this, I was looking for a little objectively so I asked, "When the tax bill that was passed last year, which increased our debt by a trillion dollars, it was done with a Republican President and Congress. Do you not consider this reckless spending?" He then said something that almost made me fall off my chair, "The Republicans were just trying to straighten out the economy after Obama left it in shambles."
I had to go back to his statement that President Obama was a socialist so my question was: "Was he trying to be a social democrat, much like countries of Germany, Norway or Sweden, where taxes are much higher than in the US, but they have very effective and inexpensive health care and education? Or did Obama believe in a system where production and profits are equally distributed to all members of society?"
I sensed he didn't know the difference so he said, "He tried to be a socialist, but thank God, Congress prevented this from happening."
At this point, perhaps I should have ended the conversation, but some may say I'm a masochist, so I was intrigued by where it would go from here.
I continued with guns, my question: "Do you think there should be more sane gun laws and regulations to help reduce gun violence in this country? As you may know, a majority of Americans want more sensible laws regulating guns. " I could have predicted his response when he retorted, "Democrats want to take away our guns, we have the 2nd amendment so we can bear arms. I hate the Democrats for what they're trying to do to this country." His final comment on this matter was, "guns don't kill people, people do."
Enough about guns as our views were as wide as the Grand Canyon, so I pivoted and asked him about climate change. I said, "What about climate change? I've read many times that over 95% of all scientists believe in climate change. Does that persuade you in any way?" He laughed and said, "I love what Trump tweeted at Senator Klobuchar's announcement to run for president. It was almost a blizzard and Trump came out strongly about the hoax of global warming. If it was significantly snowing in Minneapolis, how can there be global warming? That was a major put down!"
I quickly reminded my former colleague that Minneapolis has arguably the most fierce winter weather of any major city in the US. In other words, it's typically cold and sometimes snowy in February.
I added a quote from John Adams, our second President of the US, who said, "facts are stubborn things," and moved on to another topic.
What about the minimum wage, you have workers at Walmart who struggle to make ends meet. Sometimes, these full-time employees are on food stamps because of the low wage. What about a living wage for those who are in our service industry? Larry paused a bit and said, "It's too bad they have to work at Walmart; if they were better educated, they could earn a living wage!" My follow up question was (before AI take over), "Someone has to do those jobs in retail and the service industry before robots replace them. What do you suggest in terms of a livable wage for those in the service industry?" He didn't appear to have a concrete solution and merely repeated that workers have to become more educated.
In terms of international treaties, "Do you worry about what President Trump is doing to our nation from a foreign policy perspective? Larry's reply, "No, he's fighting for us little guys. Yes, he sometimes tells a lie, but he stands up to the Chinese and North Korea. I like a president who's tough against East Asia."
I said, "He's supposed to be a deal maker and hasn't gotten a deal with North Korea. Why would he travel all that way when there were so many unresolved issues between us and North Korea? That's the function of diplomats, they need to confirm most of the details and issues before the leaders of these two countries meet. Are you concerned about how it was handled and the fact that no deal was reached?" His response, "No, he's a hard negotiator and will get the best deal for us." At this point, a thought came to me as he spoke and I assume Larry's least favorite word is nuance.
I decide to switch to immigration not knowing how that will work. Larry, "You can't really believe a wall is necessary to keep out immigrants? His reply, "Yes, we need a wall to keep the gangsters and drug dealers out of our country." Again, Republican talking points.
But wait, the bi-partisan Congress has not appropriated the $5 billion to build a wall and with 3 co-equal branches of government, Congress is in charge of the finances. At this point, I had anticipated his response. He said, "The president declared an emergency action as the result of the crime flowing through, he's just doing it to protect our country. I count him as a patriot."
I couldn't let his last statement go without a follow-up, "So you count him a patriot by ignoring Congress and the Constitution? Trump mentioned a number of times that the border issue is not an emergency but he still wants a wall. If he's such a great deal maker, why couldn't he make a deal with Congress?" Larry was a little agitated at this point and stated, "There's no reason why he wouldn't want to fight on behalf of all Americans. If he keeps saying the wall will prevent drugs and violence from coming through, I definitely believe him. Besides, Congress is the bully by not giving him what he wants."
Larry added one more comment, "Trump is a great deal maker, it's Congress that's getting in his way." I then said, "If Trump is such a deal maker, how come he can't get Mexico to pay for it? That's something he said on multiple occasions." Larry then replied, "One way or another, he's going to protect Americans regardless of where that money comes from."
Let's talk about the economy. I said, "You can't just give him credit for the stock market and lower unemployment without first admitting Obama's success did before he left office?" His response, "Trump has created the greatest economy in my lifetime, that includes almost 6 decades. Obama almost destroyed the economy when he first got into office. We have virtually no unemployment and the stock market is going bonkers."
At this point, I could have mentioned that the partial collapse of our banking system that led to the Great Recession occurred prior to Obama being elected and was under another Republican administration, but I let that go. I said to myself, "facts are stubborn things."
My follow up to his earlier comment, "You're saying this is the greatest economy in your lifetime but there are stagnant wage growth, many working-class, and middle-class individuals are working several jobs to make ends meet." Larry said, "I'm doing great. I don't think many people are struggling with this economy and I say, kudos to DJT."
Realizing we were not at all on the same page decided to give him some facts about the stock market during the tenure of the Obama administration vis-a-vis the Trump administration. I said, "During Obama's tenure of 8 years, the Dow Jones increased by 162%. In Trump's two years of office, as of January 22, 2019, the market has increased by 19.7%. Granted, he's only been in office for two years, but if you extrapolate that for 8 years, the market would increase by around 80%. Half of what Obama achieved and to the majority of Republicans, Obama was never a businessman. How do you reconcile that?" His comment, "I don't believe it, that's fake news. There's no question President Trump has done much better for the stock market than that former community organizer."
My response, "you know, facts are stubborn things." He just shook his head in disagreement.
Towards the end of the conversation and being exasperated, I asked him how he got his news. He said he likes to listen to Rush Limbaugh on AM radio, he loves Hannity on Fox News and he'll occasionally he'll go online to read the Washington Times.
"What about reading online news from the NY Times, The Guardian, Washington Post, and BBC News?" His simple retort, "fake news."
And while we had worked together for almost 5 years, I had no idea that he maintained these Republican talking points.
Anyway, we agreed to disagree. As we departed, he had to first visit the restroom so I walked to my car. A deviant thought quickly entered my mind, in an ideal situation, I could have recognized his car and had that bumper sticker available which read, 'Vote Republican, it's easier than thinking,' as that was my major takeaway from our chat.