My father would have loved Donald Trump running for President of the United States. Even though my fathered died in 2010, I can still hear echoes of his voice as Donald Trump fulminates with anger against women, minorities, and different religions. It took me many years to comprehend the well of anger my father possessed against so many people in this world. But just like Donald Trump, my father didn’t hate the people he spoke against, he feared them.
I hear my dad’s voice in Trump
My dad, Verle Knauss, had very little in common with Donald Trump. He had no money and if it weren’t for my mother, he would have had no home. He served in the Korean conflict. Through oral histories and a few government documents I found, he was able to be granted an honorable discharge. He fashioned himself as a boxer and may have done some boxing in the Army. It’s family speculation that he was discharged from the Army for alcohol abuse and fighting. But I never confirmed this with him when he was alive. There didn’t seem to be any point in dredging up hurtful memories of the past when he was an old man.
Regardless, he met my mother at a bar. (It was either his second or third marriage by 1963) He was a bartender. The fact that he was a bartender was odd to me because I can only remember seeing him drink twice, a beer, in my whole life. He would have made a mean drunk. But as it was, he could be just plain mean. But like Donald Trump, he could also be very charming and gregarious in a very naïve way. He was a nice guy. He would spend hours every day maintaining and grooming the little league baseball diamonds near our home.
But my father was not successful. He had a hard time holding down a job. The 1970s were particularly tough on our family. The family car was repossessed and I know my mother, who worked as a beautician, was reduced to begging my father’s relatives in Idaho for money to make the mortgage payment. My father was too proud to ask for help.
Through his painfully long diatribes against humanity, while he watched cable news, I heard all his grievances about a variety of organizations, institutions, women, blacks, Mexicans, religion, and of course, the government. These were all the people he blamed for his failures in life. Women were being hired as bartenders because they were pretty. The blacks and Mexicans were taking all the jobs. The government was generally evil along with the banks who tried to foreclose on his house.
There was no reasoning with him. There could be no possibility for introspection about how he brought on his own problems. It was always someone else’s fault. He never knew when or how to keep his mouth shut. The good job of shuttling rentals cars at the airport was scuttled by his involuntary impulse to make critical comments without foundation. He was also jealous of those who did have a life. He resented that people could actually retire from civil service with a pension. That those retirees were also competing with him for a job shuttling cars at the airport was an affront to his sensibilities.
My father was a Reagan Democrat. He loved Reagan. He loved his cowboy swagger and command of the room. He loved that Reagan was plain spoken, even if the words were not connected with reality on the ground. I don’t think my father loved Reagan the President of the United States, he loved Reagan the wood-cutting, horse-back riding image of America. Self-sufficiency. Understanding the value of hard work. The gracefully humility that Reagan embodied. (Humility certainly is not a Trump trait.)
It wasn’t until my own struggles with depression that I finally understood my father. He suffered from depression. He was always brooding. He was always fearful. The only way he could explain his circumstances was to place blame on other people. Sometimes, this blame was warranted.
He could never grasp why, when he did make extra payments on the home mortgage, the bank didn’t credit him when he missed a payment or paid short. No one properly explained the financial concept of amortization to him. Those extra dollars went to reduce the principle, but the monthly payment would always remain the same. Ironically, those extra payments did reduce the length of the mortgage and he and mom (mostly mom) paid off the house in less than 30 years. But by that time, he was disabled with a stroke and growing dementia.
My father, in contrast to what you might think, would not have been in Hillary Clinton’s appraisal of Trump supporters as part of the basket of deplorables. Of course, if you could have heard what he said, in language not fit to print, about minorities, women, Jews, gays, and retired government employees, you would have branded him a racist and bigot. I did call him those names, and a few more, during many of our heated arguments.
But if I was to replay the memory tape of his disgusting tirades, I would also have to broadcast his words of affection and admiration for people of those same groups. For my father, his animus wasn’t necessarily always against a specific person, but communities in general. He loved the retired black man he worked with at the rental car company. He connected with Mexican-American people who worked hard every day. He enjoyed seeing these people, talking to them, and joking with them.
Life was always better back on the farm in Idaho. My father desperately wanted an identity. He always wanted to be known as the boxer, the deer hunter, the cowboy. In reality, he was none of those things, and he knew it. He couldn’t even be a father as he left home when I was 12. The reality of his life, his failures, his hopes, his dreams, was forever on his mind.
The world had conspired to strip him of success. The political elites made sure that everyone was granted favor except him. Affirmative action, it was like setting off a nuclear explosion in his head. The Equal Rights Amendment was a surreptitious plot to emasculate men. Banks were government sanctioned theft of the working man’s money. Unions were just evil and if only California was a “right-to-work” state he could find a job. Government regulations were killing jobs and industries. Welfare queens were sucking America dry.
He could never understand, or refused to admit, the number of ways he had benefited from the government. With the honorable discharge from the Army he was able to use the G.I. Bill to get a loan for our house. Our decent public school system was stocked with talented union school teachers who earned a living wage. He had a job, for a brief period, at McClellan Air Force Base, one of the many local military installations at the time in Sacramento. Perhaps the ultimate insult to my father’s manhood was that my mother took care him for years until her health failed.
Donald Trump is speaking to my father’s fears. The world was changing and my dad didn’t know how to change with it. He feared change and he feared the people bringing the change and benefiting from it. Donald Trump represents a reversal of course, a return to the good old days on the farm. While I don’t recall ever having a conversation about Donald Trump with dad, I can see him fully embracing his message. He would have loved Trump’s persona.
I’m almost certain that dad would have hated Hillary Clinton. But here again, I don’t think he could have seen the parallels with his own life. Hillary Clinton is old school like my mother was. She stuck with Bill when she should have left. Mom stuck with, or tolerated, my father through his affairs, arguments, verbal abuse, and inability to hold a job. Some people will say Hillary stuck with Bill because of the fame, fortune, and political influence. But I also think, that like my mother, Hillary stuck with Bill out of the vow of “…for better or worse.”
In the last years of my father’s life he didn’t talk much. I tried to see him two to three times a week at the skilled nursing facility. I would shave him, give him a haircut, try to get him some exercise, and always bring boat loads of Depends undergarments. I had every reason to ignore him, but I didn’t. I finally understood that he didn’t hate all those people, including me, he just feared them. When Donald Trump speaks, I can hear my father’s voice.