Over half a century later, I still have vivid memories, even dreams, of being a kid, taking my dad’s 35 cents and running down to the corner station to buy him a pack of Viceroys. Did it many times, way back before snowflakes passed the silly laws forbidding children from making such purchases. There was always a covey of old men sitting around on Coke crates, chewing tobacco and swapping pocket knives and talking about all the world’s problems: Kennedy and “that nigger,” Martin Luther King, and queers, and women who didn’t know their place. They weren’t afraid to say what they thought out loud, because there was nobody around who disagreed with them. And they made no pretense of muting their conversations in the presence of me, a young, impressionable child. If anything, they’d get louder when I showed up. And they were fond of saying things to me like “What are you doin’ here, little girl? You lost?”
Then, over the course of that decade, things started to appear to change. I thought they were changing. Liberals, like Kennedy and King, had started talking back, and implanting crazy ideas, like equality, into the minds of people who didn’t look like those old men at the gas station. Over time, they didn’t raise their voices when a stranger walked onto the scene. And I got big enough to steal some of those Viceroys from my ol’ man, climb the oak tree beside my grandma’s house, sit on the roof and smoke while I listened to the discussions of the older folk through the open kitchen window. There were many of them who, thinking I was nowhere around, still talked like those gas station dudes.
See, the problem with “liberals” is that we’re just too goddamned gullible. We live in a make-believe world, pretending that because things appear to be right and just, righteousness and justice actually exist. They don’t. They’re a myth. Fake news. No matter how many quarters you have from putting those teeth under your pillow as a kid, fact is somebody who wanted you to believe in the Tooth Fairy – for whatever reason – kept placing the coins there, reinforcing that belief, all the while knowing that you’d have to be let down sooner or later. You’d either grow up and figure it out for yourself, or you’d run out of teeth. America has run out of teeth. All that marching and protesting in the 60s accomplished was getting some of the ugliness moved to another room, where you can’t see it, and they don’t have to listen to you complain. Racism and bigotry and cruelty and all those other nasty things didn’t leave the house. They were as strong as they’ve ever been, pretending to be contained until somebody could step up and champion them again. Somebody who has what it takes to tell the kids to quit looking under their pillows; because it’s not the fake magical fairy they need to thank for the pocket change, but the real monster that has always been under the bed.
It was clear to me that person had arrived. And they had made him President; and they worshipped him like a god. He had appeared like a miracle – the physical manifestation of their collective inner-selves. What else could he be if not the Second Coming?