Codger’s Column: Orange Man blues

Several months ago, even before President Trump totally unmasked himself, Codger furloughed — with an option to fire — a friend of almost 40 years. It was not a logical or even useful gesture. That would have been kidnapping his friend, G, and keeping him in the garage until after the election so he could not vote. But Codger doesn’t have a garage.

This was hardly the first time that Codger had acted out over Trump. Four years ago, back when the consensus had Hillary winning, Codger marred an otherwise lovely Shelter Island dinner party by calling the hostess’ father an “idiot” for backing Trump. Codger applied the same description to a beloved local Republican who was running for office. (He lost.)

In both cases, and several others regretted and best forgotten, the objects of Codger’s attacks did not respond in kind but treated him kindly, if condescendingly, as a noisy, ignorant child who did not understand what was happening in the world.

Such tolerance has not always been the case as people have taken sides with such righteousness that arguments often became violent. Never before in Codger’s life has the idea that I am totally right and you are totally wrong, which means I should crush you, taken such hold in American life. 

How could such a buffoon provoke such passion? Is it him, or something newly profoundly wrong with the rest of us? Codger can still feel the anger, the righteousness, even the sense of betrayal that drove him to furlough his friend.

But he also feels sadness and bewilderment over caring  enough to lose a friend. He’d always before found paths to forgiveness. Was voting for Trump really the worst thing a friend of Codger’s had ever done? Why?

Codger has known G and Trump since the 1980s. It had only taken several one-on-one TV and print interviews with Trump and a few social walk-bys for Codger to determine that he was — while often charming and cooperative with the media then — a mean, ignorant liar. It got worse when he demanded the death penalty for the Central Park Five, who were eventually declared innocent, and played birther to try to derail Obama’s presidential run.

Codger was shocked when Trump won. A while later he realized that not all Trump voters were temporarily insane. Some, he thought, must feel so desperately unhappy that they would gamble on change, any change. Some were rich guys who cared mostly about tax breaks for rich guys or bullies who got off on Trump’s intimidation techniques or hustlers who aspired to Trump’s grandiose style.

But where did that leave Codger and his old friend, G?

Over the years, they had shared plenty of rude jokes, intimate thoughts, even religious and political disagreements. They rolled their eyes and moved on. G was raised an only child of a parochial school teacher in a white ethnic Brooklyn neighborhood. He still sounds like a street kid despite having received undergraduate and law degrees from an Ivy League university. He became a Wall Street tax lawyer, which he gave up to create and run a non-profit basketball league that has enhanced the lives of Black teens for almost 50 years. So, after all we’ve lived through, how could G vote for Trump a second time?

G deflected direct questions. He liked Trump’s fiscal and foreign policies, his alliances with the religious right. Codger eventually snapped over a casual phrase in an email. G had breezily justified asking Codger for a “presumptuous…boorish” favor, “which is okay for me because I am, after all, an Orange Man voter.”

It was the nonchalant tone that made Codger sick to his stomach. An Orange Man voter?

Codger’s e-mail response made clear he wanted nothing more to do with G until at least after the election because G’s attitude called into question every aspect of his service and religion and their friendship. Voting for Trump was voting for cruelty, criminality, dereliction of duty and utter disregard for the human lives he had sworn to protect. G did not answer.

Codger has wondered since if he over-reacted. Since the 2016 election, there has been a slew of self-help articles offering advice on talking with Trump supporters, urging Trump critics not to lecture but to ask gentle, empathetic questions and nudge them toward a different point of view as if they were children. What elitist nonsense, thinks Codger now. Kick ‘em in the proud boys.

And yet, how did it come to this, a passion so hot that a vote for a politician can end a 40-year friendship? What happened to us? Why? Are we so broken it can happen again? Can we repair our country? 

Codger would like his friend back and Orange Man gone.