Trump-Haters and Chocolate-Covered Raisins

Travel back in time to October 18, 1994 – when the twenty-somethings of 2016 were newborns, toddlers, or making their way through nursery school.  An episode of Frasier aired that will prove useful in analyzing the liberal reaction to Trump's election.

The episode is mostly about the demolition of Martin Crane's favorite bar, Duke's, but it includes a side scene involving the silky-voiced Roz and the cerebral Frasier.  Frasier finds Roz in the hallway of the radio station, screaming at a vending machine.  Apparently, Roz has just finished a dieting cycle and now wants to indulge in some very fattening chocolate, but the vending machine doesn't seem to be working.

The goal of Roz's diet was to make her "calmer and healthier," but in front of her baffled boss, Frasier, Roz starts beating and kicking the vending machine.  The only thing she can get from it is a bag of chocolate-covered raisins.

Roz wanted chocolate and assumed, during her seven days of dieting to make herself calm and healthy, that the vending machine would work the way she expected it to work.  Upon the conclusion of her fasting cycle, she thought she could put her usual change inside the machine, and out would pop something to meet her urge.  Instead, she got raisins, something she can't stand, covered with chocolate (what she likes), meaning that she must either eat the raisins, letting them ruin the chocolate, or lick the chocolate off each one individually, something she finds degrading.

She must have known, of course, that chocolate-covered raisins existed and that there was the possibility that this would be all the vending machine could dispense.  But Roz has grown accustomed to other things – Milky Way, Three Musketeers, and Mars – which have always been available when she had the necessary change.  So she loses all self-control at the surprising outcome for which she wasn't prepared.

There is still so much in Frasier that's timeless.

I could not help but recall Roz and the vending machine when I received a call from the only college classmate I am still in touch with.  He is a slender, handsome black man who happens to like dating other men, though I respect him too much to reduce his identity to just being "gay."  I prefer to say he hasn't found the right woman yet.  I'll call him Frank.

In the 1990s, Frank and I crossed each other's paths for countless scandals.  We've seen each other at our best and worst.  Whichever of us dies first must accept that the other one will be the one to write the book about it.  But we had less and less in common after I married a woman in 2001 and came to Jesus Christ as my savior.

Frank called me a few weeks after the election.  I was dreading the conversation when I heard his voicemail message.  There are a select number of loved ones in my life who I know will never get Trump or anything conservative, and I do my best to avoid stressful conversations with them.  Frank and I had spoken tensely about the Trump movement about a year ago, and after that, we had little contact with each other.  He is not a public figure, while I do publish editorials.  I know he reads what I write.

His voice was hoarse, and he had a painful-sounding cough.  The election seems to have left him literally ill, spending days in bed.  After a few minutes of small talk, he cut right to his reason for calling.  "I wanted to talk to you because I know you predicted he would win," Frank said.  "I thought of you when I saw the news."

"I think it will be a beautiful time for our country," I told him, trying to be diplomatic.  "You'll find that he isn't any of the things you've been told he is.  You will blossom with the freedom from political correctness."

This had no effect on Frank.  He doesn't buy any positive talk about Trump.  "Trump is unstable, a madman," Frank said.  "I'm going to buy a gun.  All the black people I know are buying guns.  The country has declared war on us."

I just listened as he ran through all his reactions to the Trump election.

He told me, "For us black folks who actually had some hope in E Pluribus Unum and the project of a multicultural democracy, this can't be undone.  This is a turning point.  It's like being married to a woman you loved and thought you knew, then coming home to find her [for all intents and purposes, in flagrante delicto].  You could never trust her again."

That was an odd and surprising metaphor coming from him, but Frank continued. "White supremacists are like everyone's scandalous uncle.  You try to pretend he doesn't exist, but in November, you can't deny he's there, because he shows up for Thanksgiving, and he votes in elections."

He then moved to the children of tomorrow, saying, "There is a whole generation of young people who have never known about the white supremacy and violence lurking under the surface.  They are going to be crushed."

"No," I finally answered, seeing where the conversation with Frank was headed.  "These millennials are actually like Roz in that episode of Frasier, when she beats up a vending machine."

I spoke like Aesop and spun a fable for him:

"When George W. Bush was president, he didn't actually do anything to impede the liberalism running through schools, colleges, and other civic institutions.  These Millennials have lived their whole lives under presidents and inside institutions who guaranteed that politics acted like a vending machine.  Pop in your change, push the right buttons, and out pops what you want.  Pull the lever, and out comes the candy.

"You just have to say, 'I'm black and so-and-so is a racist' and pop in your quarters, and out pops some reward, some special sympathy and special protection, and whoever you called a racist disappears.

"You just drop in your dimes and say, 'I'm gay, and I will kill myself if people say kids need a mom and dad.  I'll literally kill myself live on YouTube, and hundreds of thousands of people will blame whoever I say caused it.'  And then you hear the vending machine rattle, and shazam!  Out pops what you want: a narrative you want to hear, a law you want to pass, glowing coverage, punishment for anyone you don't like, and Obergefell v. Hodges.

"You feed a crinkled dollar into the vending machine and push the little buttons for shaming and character assassinations, and out pops a surprise ad hominem treat to take out one of your enemies: a screenshot of Twitter from two years ago proving that someone who disagrees with you is a male chauvinist.  Boom: You get a groveling apology, a Kickstarter fund online, fifteen minutes of fame on Change.org.

"The Millennials have never known a world where politics didn't behave like a perfect vending machine.  They pushed all the right buttons and dropped their change in, and they had no reason to believe that Hillary Clinton dipped in white chocolate wouldn't fall down the chute and appear through the trapdoor.  They got some of what they always expect to get – media sympathy, some great internet memes, teachers canceling classes so they can go out and protest – but this was like Roz's chocolate smeared over tiny gross-tasting raisins.  They wanted the usual rewards without a Trump presidency.  That's all the vending machine could dispense: under all their usual ruses and games and sleights of hand, a president they despise.

"And now they are realizing two things.  First, they have figured out that Trump is going to unplug their vending machine, and the whole game is over.  Second, they have just noticed that they don't know how else to eat, because they can't hunt, cook, bake, broil, braise, or even stew anything.  Their whole diet has consisted of prepackaged mental candy bars.

"So now they are kicking and punching the vending machine, trying to force it to cough up something they can recognize and accept.  Pow!  Here come recounts.  Slam!  Now let's 'discover' millions of new Hillary votes in California and claim that the popular vote margin is over three million!  Maybe we'll riot in 80 cities and call random truck drivers racist homophobes.  The Post and the Times will throw us red meat.  Shake and rattle and shimmy!  Maybe the Constitution is flawed, and the Electoral College is a holdover from slavery, and we can get electors not to vote for Trump.  Finally, with hands on either side, the giant Millennial Roz bangs her head against the plastic case – The Russians hacked into our brains and forced everyone to vote for Trump! – hoping that somehow something other than chocolate-covered raisins will pop out.  But that's all there is today – just chocolate-covered raisins."

Frank didn't find this very amusing.  He was engrossed for a few minutes and then drifted off into more of the same analysis we hear everywhere: it's repressed racism, blue-collar stooges voting against their own self-interests, Russians, reactionary tastes, and barbaric savages who have no interest in joining the 20th century.

I realized that even between Frank and me, two old friends, the parable of Roz's vending machine was coming true.  He was pushing the same buttons he's always pushed with me, ever since we went to college together.  And there was some frustration in his voice, though not overt hatred toward me.  I wasn't speaking to him from guilt or shame about not embodying a perfect liberal archetype.  I was a vending machine, too, but now stocked only with what I felt like giving him: truth.

"Frank," I said, "maybe it would help if you remembered where I grew up.  A Rust Belt town, which has lost over half its population since the 1950s.  You've never seen the neighborhoods where I was a child.  Of all the kids and step-siblings in my complicated family tree, no two live in the same city.  There were no jobs there, so we all left as teenagers, got scattered to the four winds, and never returned.  We lost our neighbors, our families, our churches, our hometowns.  Nobody cared about that or spoke to us until Trump."

Frank said it was the Republicans' fault.  I realized I'd pushed all the buttons on the vending machine at this point, and I wasn't even going to get chocolate-covered raisins from my old friend.  I was just going to get an Out of Order message flashing on the console.

So I promised to keep him in my prayers and said that if by chance I ever had an ear with Trump's staff, I would convey his worries.  We parted peacefully, and I watched Frasier on Netflix for ten hours.

Robert Oscar Lopez can be followed at English Manif, Twitter, or CogWatch.