People who vote for Donald Trump often say they support him because “he tells it like it is.” I think what they really mean is “he tells it like I feel.”
Let me go back to something I experienced almost 40 years ago to explain what I mean. As a pastor, I was participating in a family counseling session in which the therapist asked the daughter to tell her father what was bothering her. He then told the father to listen carefully, and when she was finished, repeat back to her what she had just said.
When the teenage daughter stopped talking, the father repeated back almost verbatim what she had said. To which the therapist responded, “You got the words right, but did you hear the music?” The therapist was trying to communicate to the father that he was totally missing the emotion in what his daughter was telling him.
Unlike the father in the counseling session, Donald Trump gets the emotion thing, and that’s what many of his supporters respond to. And when reporters ask his supporters to say how they feel about one of his off-the-wall statements — like Obama is the founder of ISIS — they respond with, “Oh, he didn’t really mean that.” Trump himself said the same thing.
It’s not the words Trump sings that turns his fans on. It’s the music.
Years ago, Peter, Paul and Mary had a hit record titled, “I Dig Rock and Roll Music.” Here are some of the words:
I dig rock and roll music and I love to get the chance to play
I figure it’s about the happiest sound goin’ down today
The message may not move me or mean a great deal to me
But hey, it feels so groovy to say
I dig the Mamas and the Papas at the trip, sunset strip in LA
And they got a good thing goin’ when the words don’t get in the way.
I remember adults my parents’ age — who grew up playing 78 rpm records with songs written by Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Duke Ellington — rolling their eyes when they heard the Beatles sing, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” We listened, respectfully in those days, and then went up to our rooms, turned on our transistor radios, tuned in to WLS and listened to Dick Biondi play 45 rpm records with the “happiest sound goin’ down today.”
It was the music, not the words, that moved our souls.
My parents didn’t “get” rock and roll. My mother made us watch the Lawrence Welk Show every Saturday night. These days, many educated people — George Wallace called them pointy-headed intellectuals — don’t get Donald Trump.
That’s part of the reason Hillary Clinton has such high unfavorable ratings. In her public persona she comes off, to many, as a pointy-headed intellectual who has the words right but doesn’t hear the music. Now, I’m told that in private she can be warm and open with her feelings, but that’s not how she comes off on the stump.
Here is, I think, the take-away. A song for the ages has both great music and memorable lyrics. Not many of us have the ability to compose songs for the ages.
Many of us are not good with language. That is, perhaps, why so many folks use four-letter words. They know how they feel, but they can’t put how they feel into words. When he heard people use that kind of language, my father would say, “That’s a weak mind trying to express itself.” Those folks easily fall prey to demagogues who express how they feel but use blaming, demeaning words in the songs they sing. Hitler did it with the Jews. Trump does it with Muslims. Words matter.
Many of us are not good with music. Words, words, words. We can be very articulate but have as much empathy as a rattlesnake. Freud taught us that the human psyche is composed of three parts: ego, superego and id. Note that two out of the three are non-rational. You have to wonder what people who use words a lot are denying or avoiding in that psyche of theirs which the public never sees and perhaps they themselves can’t acknowledge.
On Nov. 8, most of us will have to choose between one candidate who is good with the music and another who is good with words. We can withdraw into apathy, wishing for a leader who can do both, but that’s not one of the options this time around.
Every day of our lives, most of us have to choose how to respond to people who aren’t great lyricists on the one hand or can’t carry a tune on the other. The reality is that most of the people we meet are either more in touch with their feelings but don’t feel comfortable with words or ideas, or can write a PhD thesis but have little idea how they really feel.
When I write a good story for the Review, it’s usually because I was paying attention to both the words and the music being sung by the person I interviewed. When our relationships in our families, on the job or in our village are going well, it’s usually because we are listening, paying attention, and responding to both.