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