Garrison Keillor of “A Prairie Home Companion” fame has delighted listeners and viewers for years with his down-home (or perhaps ersatz down-home) presentation of life in the heartland. What is it he said of Lake Wobegon for over two decades? A town “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”
Well, by gum, Garrison recently took his homespun wisdom, this time about the recent presidential election, to the pages of The Washington Post, “Trump voters — It’s not me, it’s you,” and, what do you know, the heartland did not fare very well.
There’s no denying the popularity of the show Keillor largely created. It always had its entertaining segments, but I frequently listened to it with a sense of obligation, with the uneasy feeling that I ought to be laughing during moments of side-splitting humor that weren’t very funny.
Could it be that from the start “A Prairie Home Companion” targeted Yankee city slickers who wanted to claim roots in an America they largely didn’t know or, once the acquaintance had been made, regretted knowing?
The angry Hillaristas now rioting and looting in various urban venues have, you might say, discovered the country that lies between the rock-bound coasts of Maine and the sun-kissed shores of California, and are somewhat disappointed. Not surprisingly, Keillor seems to be one of them although to his credit he has too much dignity to riot even with his pen. One can hear his voice—a narrator’s version of Mel “the velvet fog” Torme’s singing—ponderously damning the Americans he sometimes secretly and sometimes not so secretly despised. I’m talking about the millions of voters in states so unfortunate as to live somewhere other than California or New York who chose Donald Trump as president.
As some of you may know, I’m not one of the unwashed at whom the great Garrison aimed his inky barbs; I voted for neither Donald nor Hillary, preferring to spend Election Day at my weekly cocktail party with the Establishment. But I won’t deny my satisfaction at the collapse of the House of Clinton. Keillor is of another mind entirely. “Raw ego and proud illiteracy have won out,” he writes. “[Trumpers] wanted only to whoop and yell, boo at the H-word, wear profane T-shirts, maybe grab a crotch or two, jump in the RV with a couple of six-packs and go out and shoot some spotted owls.” If that doesn’t sound like a bunch of irredeemable deplorables to you, ask Hillary. She knows.
During this sad interim of primitive, nativist chaos, the unhappy Left must do its best to persevere. Keillor has his own suggestions of how best to spend the next four years:
We liberal elitists are now completely in the clear. The government is in Republican hands. Let them deal with [Trump]. Democrats can spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen, traveling around the country, tasting artisan beers, and let the Republicans build the wall and carry on the trade war with China and deport the undocumented and deal with opioids, and we Democrats can go for a long, brisk walk and smell the roses.
Do I smell just a faint whiff of the old satirist who poked fun at Middle America? The picture of “liberal elitists” engaged in all of those chic pastimes is almost too funny to be anything less than satire. Think of them as the denizens of Lake Coastbegone—a likely enough name out west if California secessionists or the San Andreas Fault perform as many hope they will—where, well, “all the women are strong” (like Hillary), “all the men are good looking” (like Barrack), “and all the children are above average” (except those huddling in safe spaces, who forgot to take their exams). But they won’t really enjoy traveling about large swaths of America, the parts populated by all of those whooping and semi-literate Republicans. And sooner or later even liberal elitists are bound to discover something racist, sexist, homophobic, or even Islamophobic in Jane Austen.
On second thought, maybe I don’t smell as much satire here as I originally thought.
But Garrison has hope. As he tells the readers of the WaPo, he returned to his hometown and met his old gym and biology teachers, men who have managed in these dark times (surely not the Obama years!) to maintain a reservoir of optimism. One “commanded a landing craft at Normandy on June 6, 1944, and never said a word about it back then, just made us do chin-ups whether we wanted to or not.” The other was “a Marine pilot in the Korean War, still going bird-watching in his 90s.” These meetings are wonderful, and dozens of us from Keillor’s generation can recount, easily with as much admiration, stories of similar characters.
But who admires such men? Lake Coastbegoners? Don’t count on it. Regardless of how they cast their ballots, those World War II and Korea vets sound too much like the Democrats who voted for Trump, and, surely, they’re the very men our college professors, community organizers, and California Dreamers regard as part of Amerika’s racist, homophobic, warmongering past, as well as its Islamophobic, LGBT-hating present. Face it: Garrison’s fond memory of making kids do “chin-ups whether [they] wanted to or not” constitutes for liberal elitists the very pith and marrow of child abuse, and his old teachers are the very people leftist social workers sharpen their knives to destroy. But those same teachers are the old-style Americans Keillor’s despised Trumpers would give their all to protect and whose value they would foster.
I cannot say whether Donald Trump will make a great or even a good president. Evidently, when I went to vote, I had serious misgivings. But when I think of the rioting mobs way out west, the self-righteous cast of Hamilton, the sobbing Hollywood stars, pouting Hillary, and petulant Barrack, I almost want a second shot at November 8th.
If Trump follows the lead of some of the men he’s surrounded himself with so far—better men by far than I gave him credit for recruiting—he’ll have my hearty thanks and the gratitude of between-the-coasts Americans, people Garrison Keillor only pretended to know on radio and a few of whom he actually recalled when he went back home.