Trump’s tweets hurt his support in the Heartland

trump-tweets

Image courtesy of Vocativ.

My aunt’s glittering Christmas tree remained up and surrounded by presents well past New Year’s. Outdoors, Trump-Pence campaign signs posted around her rolling rural Missouri community did, too – for much the same reason.

“It’s too cold to do anything,” one of my cousins said. “Door froze shut on the car yesterday.”

Across America’s Heartland, one southward bending jet steam after another pulled down bitter cold from Canada since the week after Thanksgiving. Feels-like temperatures had minus signs in front of them, turning county and backroads into strips of ice and freezing my family’s travel plans to my aunt’s house.

Before that, stretching to Election Day, dripping skies turned the rich, dark soil to mud around this mid-Missouri farming landscape, literally and figuratively freezing it in place since Nov. 8.

But when the thaw comes, I wonder if the Trump signs are pulled down before the Christmas decorations.

The hint that they might came during a TV news break between playoff football games. My aunt, whose prayers for clear roads and a big family Christmas were answered, was picking up bits of wrapping paper left after a 90-minute cacophony of gift-giving and food consumption in her broad living room. Recovery victims slouched in every chair and nook between them. About half the sets of eyes aimed at the TV were half open.

Then the news announcer reminded viewers of Donald Trump’s pointed and petty Twitter exchange with Arnold Schwarzenegger two days earlier. A low grunt oozed out on either side of me from a couple of people I knew to be Trump supporters.

“God, I wish he would just shut the hell up,” one of them muttered at the screen.

My ears tingled. The rest of the audience remained quiet. The news announcer was in mid-sentence when some smaller members of our brood returned from playing upstairs. So, later, as the mutterer and I were in the corner of the kitchen nudging second helpings of pecan pie onto fresh paper plates, I leaned in to whisper an inquiry.

“So, eh, not happy with Trump?” I ventured delicately.

This violated protocol on this side of my family, which keeps its ties to one another closer than to politics. In a house brimming with contrasting and conflicting viewpoints on virtually every topic, conversations hew eagerly to health and happiness, weekday labor and weekend relaxation, the severe weather and the cheerful coos from the newest great-grandchild experiencing her first Christmas. Political discussions remain stored with the lawn chairs awaiting the warm-weather days when they can drift harmlessly on sultry breezes.

The mutterer, another of my cousins, applied two dollops of whipped cream to his slice of pie and also whispered.

“Yeah, well, yeah. It’s just … you know …”

He paused.

“I mean, he keeps saying all this stuff that doesn’t really matter and makes him look silly.”

“Hmm.”

“Stuff that makes it look like he’s not paying attention or doesn’t want to.”

“You mean, on Twitter? That Schwarzenegger thing?”

“Yeah. That stuff doesn’t matter to anybody.”

It is safe to say my relatives around here know what does. They work on farms and at schools, in construction and manufacturing. They have watched generations of prosperity devolve into desperation. They see jobs continue to disappear and livelihoods diminish, and they know the reasons are multiple, varied, and complex. When my aunt hosts Christmas, they know it is not just a celebration of togetherness, but also her valiant effort to ward off the same creeping desperation, if only for a few hours.

When my family went to cast their ballots Nov. 8, they did it for the sake of change – the sake of their community – not for a celebrity.

“So many people I know are out there looking for work. Still looking,” my cousin said. “(Trump) says he’s bringing back jobs. Man, I am hoping.”

“But it won’t happen right away,” I said. “It’ll take time. You know that, right?”

“Yeah,” said my cousin, extending the syllable and staring down at the whipped cream. “Yeah, it will. And I’d like to hear him say what he’s got in mind to do it. But … this.” He glanced back at the television, which was showing the kickoff for the second game. “This is what he talks about.”

“You think maybe the news should ignore it?”

My cousin sighed. “Nah, nah, that’s not it. They’re going to say things. Everyone will believe what they believe. I think it’s him being on Twitter all the time complaining about things that don’t matter to anyone.”

He moved to leave. I touched his elbow to stop him. “So, you still going to give him a chance?”

He shrugged. “Got no choice. He’s ours now.”

“But if you thought he might keep tweeting like this, would you have supported him?”

Another shrug. “Man, I don’t know. Maybe. I really didn’t like that Hillary Clinton – didn’t like her one bit. But all this tweeting … man … makes me wonder why I voted for anyone at all …”

An arm attached to one of the grandchildren, then the rest of the grandchild, squeezed between us for the pie. My cousin and I ended the discussion and worked through the growing kitchen crowd back to our places in the living room. We settled back into the joy of the occasion. (Trump used Twitter again two days later to slam another star, Meryl Streep, who criticized him at the Golden Globe Awards.)

Later, as everyone said their farewells and packed to leave, I commiserated.

“My best to your friends,” I told my cousin. “I really do hope for their sake that Trump delivers.”

“Thanks, man,” he said and patted my shoulder. “But I think this is all we’re going to get from him.”

This Christmas, cherish your greatest gift

holding-handsA slim, fake Christmas tree stands close against a set of chairs in front of the nurses’ station at Missouri Baptist Hospital’s Cancer and Infusion Center outside St. Louis. Oversized gold and silver ornaments and tinsel cling to the tree’s nylon branches, which sway as the nurses, treatment counselors, and orderlies hurry to serve their patients.

A few feet away, a string of red and green letters spelling “Merry Christmas” dangles in a low curve from the ceiling. Air blowing from the heating vents causes the letters to dance and twinkle in the fluorescent light.

Beneath the string of letters, I listened to Martha, mother of four and grandmother of nine. She was in a treatment lounge chair near mine. We were not introduced. However, I turned my head when a woman sitting next to her commented on Martha’s wig.

“This one is much better,” the woman said to Martha. “Almost looks lifelike.”

Martha smiled and reached up to touch her new hair. “Yes, it does. I think it’s a real improvement, don’t you?”

Small things matter now, such as how Martha’s bangs frame her forehead and curl over her ears. These are the elements of her life she can control. Everything else depends on how her body responds to the pint bag of clear fluid hanging from a metal rod by her head. As she touched her wig, the fluid trickled down a tube toward a pump sewn into her shoulder.

Martha was worried. Thanksgiving was in two days, and she was expecting 30 house guests – family and friends from across the country. She wanted to feel well enough to see them, enjoy them. The last time she was here for treatment, three days of nausea followed. She vomited so hard a blood vessel burst in her eye.

“I can’t be sick this time,” she told her friend. “Every moment this week has to count, you know?”

The Infusion Center is a broad, open room subdivided into small, curtained cubicles. This is where cancer patients receive chemotherapy treatments. Each cubicle contains a reclining chair, a pump to dispense intravenous fluids, and a small flat-screen TV.

Treatments can last hours depending on the dosages and immediate side-effects. The nurses do what they can to make patients comfortable: warm blankets, cool drinks, conversation. One walks around with a guitar and offers to sing the patients’ favorite songs.

On the day Martha and I were there, all 35 cubicles were occupied.

Three weeks later, a young woman named Karen was in the recliner nearest mine. The curtain was drawn between us; she requested privacy. A nurse pulled up a rolling chair next to Karen, and they began chatting.

In August, Karen received her master’s of Business Administration. She already had two job interviews scheduled in New York when she walked onstage at Washington University to accept her diploma. Karen blamed the summer-long exhaustion that came with her across the stage on too much studying. Her parents insisted she get a checkup to be sure.

The nurse listened as she prepared Karen’s first chemotherapy treatment.

“I wish I could plan. I wish I knew what was next,” Karen said, “I feel I was just getting started. Now, I don’t know.”

The nurse’s voice was calm, reassuring.

“You should go ahead and plan. It sounds like you’ve got a lot going on. And it’s always good to be optimistic. Helps with the recovery more than you know.”

Karen said she was trying to keep an open mind, but it was difficult. “Nobody hires someone with cancer.”

The pair turned quiet as the metallic clicking and snapping sounds of chemo treatment preparation continued. Then:

“Is there someone here waiting for you?” the nurse asked.

“No,” Karen mumbled. “I don’t want anyone seeing me this way.”

On my third visit, I was sitting near the Christmas tree awaiting an open cubicle. Across from me, also waiting, were two women with Kyle, 8, a slight pale boy in flannel pajamas, SpongeBob slippers, a blue knit cap and a big smile. Kyle squirmed in his seat. The women – his mother and aunt – were tickling him. He giggled. He charmed the nurses, the orderly pushing a mop bucket, the woman with the guitar.

“Looking good, Kyle. Like the hat,” said Amy, the social services counselor, whose white smock fluttered against Kyle’s ears as she breezed past.

“My sister made it for me,” he said happily. “She’s 13, you know.”

Kyle’s initial leukemia diagnosis had come before he turned 5, which means his lifetime of memories is framed by the disease. He knows everyone’s names at the Infusion Center, including the volunteers who work without name tags. He sparkled like the Christmas ornaments. They bounced and clanked as his chair nudged the tree.

It occurred to me at that moment: the ornaments were oversized because everything else here is, too – the love and the loss, the plans and dreams, the joy and pain, and the laugh of a little boy awaiting his next dose of hope.

Each of us carries around a gift too great for the space in our hearts. Yet we take that gift for granted because it fits neatly within the container of our lives. This holiday season, pay special attention to those great gifts. For millions like Martha, Karen, and Kyle, they are the most precious any of us ever possess.

Avoid holiday phishing attacks by taking these 3 precautions

3 ways to avoid phishingThe season for giving is also the season for taking. Lurking among the people exchanging gifts and glad tidings are shady characters whose only goal is to pluck opportunity from the well of goodwill filled each year during the holidays. For them, a Merry Christmas involves sending malicious messages via email.

Security researchers say these kinds of messages, while not unusual, flourish around Christmastime as family, friends, and workplace colleagues exchange kind thoughts in the spirit of the season. The main vehicle conveying most of these thoughts has been the e-card, which grows in popularity as we widen our circles of digital friends.

Cyber criminals relish this growth because it improves the likelihood they will reel in a sucker when they go “phishing” in this stream of e-correspondence. Recent reports on data breaches say an estimated one in 10 email users wind up getting hooked by a phishing lure.

“It’s easy for busy, distracted consumers to become victims of these schemes,” said Craig Young, a researcher at Portland, Ore.-based Tripwire, a cyber security provider. “But armed with a few basic security practices, they can drastically reduce their chances of being victimized.”

Among the practices that Young and others advocate:

  • Avoiding email from unknown addresses, or email with undisclosed recipients, and not opening the attachments in these emails. That includes e-greeting cards. If possible, confirm who sent the greeting before opening it.
  • Watching for bad spelling and poor grammar in email subject lines. Cyber criminals focus on results, not quality, because they send thousands of messages at once hoping for just a few responses. A subject line containing errors is strong proof that opening the email would be an even bigger mistake.
  • Running anti-virus software and keeping it up to date. The protections within these programs may be enough to ward off threats in emails that are opened by accident.

Businesses are particularly vulnerable due to multiple users in corporate accounts – and multiple approaches to answering email among those users. That is why employees must be made part of the solution, instead of being left to become part of the problem.

“Enterprises … need to place more reliance on employees to help them defend their organizations,” said Rohyt Belani, CEO and co-founder of PhishMe, a threat management company based in Leesburg, Va. “Consistent training turns employees into informants that can spot attacks before they turn into catastrophes.”

The end of a Christmas tradition

Cornice pearsThe cardboard box had two-ply walls, beveled corners, and eight 1-inch copper staples sealing it shut. It was a little larger than a casserole dish and twice as deep. You needed a flathead screwdriver to pry open the staples.

Inside the box nestled nine heirloom Cornice pears, each wrapped in tissue paper, each slightly smaller than a softball, and each so juicy I ate one after another with a towel under my chin.

Regardless of the hype that heralded the holidays, the arrival of a fruit-filled box every year symbolized the start of the Christmas season for me. The box usually came in the mail one week before time to unwrap presents. And the boxes came and came over the decades.

Until this year.

The tradition of mail-order pears for Christmas began with my mother. She co-opted the idea from my grandmother, who enjoyed giving homegrown fruit and homemade cookies as holiday gifts. My mother’s culinary prowess, though formidable, tilted toward utilitarian. She preferred to cook meals, not gifts.

Around the mid-1970s, my mother discovered Harry & David, an Oregon-based fruit grower with a knack for customized distribution and a reputation for incomparable pears. Mail-order fruit was not a novelty in my parents’ house, but only the pears made a lasting impression.

Occasionally, yellow-skinned Bartletts or green Anjous filled the Christmas box; however, the Cornice variety with its mottled skin and rich, earthy aroma became exclusive to the tradition.

Each box was impressive, too. Each lasted well past the shelf life of the memories it served. The boxes became bins for books, baked goods, and knickknacks. They faded before they failed, and resisted drips and spills. I recall my father once finding a stack of Harry & David boxes warped by a pipe leak in a crawl space, yet their contents remained unblemished.

Six pear boxes were what I used to pack the sum of my life when I left for college. Four of those boxes survived nine moves and five job changes.

At some point, the holiday fruit shipments turned automatic, surprising even my mother at times. After I left home for college, separate shipments followed me. They trickled into the corners of the country where I lived. I missed many Christmases away from my parents, yet the seasonal appearance of the pear boxes remained a touchstone to that holiday joy of my youth.

Last year, a box arrived while my mother was still in the hospital. The last batch of Cornices was as juicy as I ever remembered. My mother had no memory of sending them, no memory of even tasting them. Her own box went unopened. She had forgotten about them entirely, though Harry & David had not.

Last summer, after she died, I was tasked with settling her affairs. Among them was her Harry & David account. I thought about shifting the main shipping address to my own and continuing the tradition. Then I thought back to all the times she called to ask if the box of pears made it in time for Christmas, and how relieved she sounded when I said yes. The pears were her comfort food — she was comforted in knowing they reached their destination and that they, more than any other gift, would be appreciated.

The pears served their purpose. The boxes, remarkably, still serve others.

Thanksgivukkah will return sooner than you think

Thanksgivukkah cardToday, Americans can carve a turkey and light a Menorah at once.

That’s because Thanksgiving and the start of Hanukkah fall on the same day for the first time in anyone’s memory.

It might be the last time. According to calendar watchers who have crunched the numbers, the next Thanksgivukkah lies almost 80,000 years distant.

But resist chucking your Menurkey and shredding those sweet-potato latke recipes. My guess is that the yawning chasm of time will close up sooner than anyone thinks.

Why? Our calendars are imperfect. They are pegged to human events, not solar or lunar ones.

Hanukkah was inspired by the rededication of a holy site in Jerusalem that was damaged and defiled in a war about two centuries before Christ. (The word Hanukkah derives from a Hebrew translation of the verb “to dedicate.”) Hanukkah also stretches over eight days in the Hebrew month of Kislev, which has no direct relationship to any month in the Gregorian calendar most of us follow.

Thanksgiving started out in America as merely a remembrance of the pilgrims’ progress in the New World, with states and communities left to honor that effort when and how they wished. No official recognition came until 1789, and even that was a one-day-only proclamation emphasizing a citizen celebration of America’s 9-month-old Constitution.

No more proclamations came until President Lincoln issued one in 1863 as balm for a war-weary nation and set the Thanksgiving date as the last Thursday in November. Other presidents made the act of proclamation itself a tradition until 1939, when Thanksgiving was scheduled to land on Nov. 30. President Franklin Roosevelt was asked by retailers wanting an extra week of Christmas sales to move Thanksgiving. He did, to Nov. 23. He moved up Thanksgiving the following year, too.

Those changes wound up causing more consternation than contentment. Americans were divided between recognizing the traditional Thanksgiving and the new “Franksgiving” as it was derisively called until Congress passed a law 1941 that Thanksgiving should fall on the fourth Thursday in November.

The calendars themselves keep changing, too. The Gregorian calendar requires periodic adjustment — a leap day added every four years — to correspond not only with the sun’s behavior in our sky, but also because Christian tradition insists that Easter remain close to the vernal equinox. The Gregorian calendar spawned from the Julian calendar, also containing leap days. The Julian one grew out of a Roman calendar that incorporated a whole leap month.

Likewise, the Hebrew calendar factors in some leap time to prevent holidays from drifting too far into one month from another.

So, the notion that either Hanukkah or Thanksgiving is locked down or immovable for another 79,811 years strikes me as 798 centuries premature. Time, politics and perception are certain to whittle at our attitudes toward both. Already, Thanksgiving is thought to be under assault by retailers trying to move the official start of Christmas shopping into the holiday itself. A day set aside for counting our blessings may devolve into a day for counting cash instead.

Especially if Menurkeys become popular.