I have a great deal of respect for Garrison Keillor as a writer and story-teller, and aside from his singing — he makes a Gregorian chanter sound like a rapper — I liked his time on “A Prairie Home Companion.” Now that he has retired he is sharing his insight on the goings-on near and far in much the same way he told of life in Lake Woebegone: anecdotes of plain people and their takes on life wrapped up in a soft comforter of nostalgia and attempted self-deprecation. He’s the anti-Keith Olbermann.
But his latest column in the Washington Post — “What will be Trump’s legacy? Who cares?” — comes across as a gentle message to the masses: don’t worry what will befall us because in the long run presidents don’t matter all that much in our daily lives.
Presidents are royalty and we measure our lives by their reigns, but their effect on the country in general is greatly exaggerated. Take me, for example. Mr. Lyndon Johnson’s Selective Service System more or less governed my 20s, and now that I’m old and shaky, his Medicare is very helpful, but for most of us, presidents are part of the scenery, like the great stone heads on Easter Island. Millions of words have been written about Richard Nixon but his effect on my life was minuscule compared to that of my third-grade teacher Fern Moehlenbrock. Her kindness and cheerfulness grow larger and larger in memory, and Mr. Nixon recedes to the size of a dried pea.
We remember Johnson for his abdominal scar and his syrupy voice, Nixon for his incredible awkwardness and “I am not a crook,” and Gerald Ford for tripping on the airplane stairs coming down. Then came the Georgia Sunday School teacher and the actor and the Ivy League Texan and the Arkansas playboy and the stupefied Dubya reading “The Pet Goat” to a class in Sarasota when the planes hit the twin towers in Manhattan. We remember their voices, as done by comedians. Their so-called legacy is mostly as cartoons. The disasters they caused fell mainly on foreigners. The marble temples erected to worship them are a bad joke.
And now, after eight years of the most graceful and articulate chief since FDR, we get this crude showman with the marble walls and gold faucets. Most of the country dreads him as he slouches toward Washington to be inaugurated. I worry what effect he’ll have on children. Everything Mrs. Moehlenbrock told us — no pushing, no insulting, no lying, no crude talk — Mr. Trump does on a daily basis. But how will he actually affect my life? Not much.
That’s easy for a white Protestant citizen of the Midwest to say, but unless I’m missing something, Mr. Keillor and those like him have nothing to fear from a Trump administration. He’s old enough to be on Medicaid and Social Security which are under scrutiny by the Republicans in Congress, but I really don’t think that Mr. Keillor is living on a fixed income or has to scratch to come up with his insurance co-pays. He’s not dining on Meow Mix or splurging by using the favor packet from Top Ramen. He’s not in danger of losing his dwelling because his landlord won’t rent to a straight white man, and I doubt that in his long career he ever faced workplace discrimination or the threat of being fired simply because he’s straight. His Scandinavian heritage does not put him in danger of being deported, nor does his adherence to his faith make him a target by roving bands of Confederate flag-waving patriots.
I’m an entrepreneur, a writer. I don’t look to the government for a tax deduction for time spent writing work that got rejected. I’m not looking for legislative protection from foreign authors. Some people buy Dostoevsky’s books who might otherwise have bought mine: tough noogies. If I threatened to move to Mexico, no big deal.
Except he does have legislative protection from those who would steal his work and pass it off as their own, and I’m pretty sure that like me, he belongs to some kind of writers guild that provides him with legal assistance should he need to sue someone. Kind of like a union.
The government that matters to me is local. I will always remember the day 14 years ago in St. Paul, Minn., when my daughter went into convulsions and I picked up the phone and in six minutes the rescue squad was in our living room, five uniforms looking after my girl and one uniform explaining to me about febrile convulsions. If you were in the midst of this crisis, Donald J. Trump would be the last person on earth you’d want to see come through the door. He would tell you all about how he won Michigan and bring in a podiatrist and give you a coupon toward one of his steaks. It’s going to be a long four years, people. Get back in touch with old friends. Take up hiking. Read history. But not books about Germany in the 1930s — it’ll only make you uneasy.
Mr. Keillor embodies the genteel side of the mindset of the Trump-voting Obamacare volunteer: government close to home is wonderful, but the further you get away the more they resemble alien occupiers imposing their will by decree. But they don’t seem to bother him; they’re a minor inconvenience like a fly buzzing around his head while he snoozes in the hammock.
Must be nice.