Visit a local V.F.W., church basement, or lodge on a Friday night, and the bingo players line up early for their favorite seats. Noticeable in the quiet wait before the caller plucks the first numbered ball, is the grumbling. The contestant are not just complaining about last week’s losses or one-number misses, they are venting. They are frustrated voters who feel like they have been duped — former Trumplers who, desperate for change in Washington, D.C., are now ruing the choices they made last November.
The small crowd in the bingo hall was, a year ago, the core of Donald Trump’s base. They come from a small town, where blue-collar heritage dates back generations. They are proud of grandchildren who are the first family members to go to college; of owning their homes and paying decades old mortgages; of being able to say they know all their neighbors. They worry about diametric basics: the price of cigarettes, the amount of the jackpot, social security, and health care.
They are not happy with Donald Trump. They joke about being fools for trusting their guts and the man with a lot of poorly fitting suits and flashy slogans…like “Make America Great Again.”
“America was great,” laments Lydia, sitting with her 87 year-old mother. “Until we believed Trump.” Her mother has COPD and her father died two months ago. Lydia took retirement to move her mom into a spare room because the family cannot scrape up the money for a either a nursing home or visiting care service. “With this health care stuff,” Lydia continues, “I don’t know how we’ll survive. Mom worked in a factory, paid her social security, and helped make America great. Now, who knows what will happen to her.”
Her family’s story is just one of many similar grievances heard around the bingo hall. As soon as one speaks, it is like a line of dominoes. All it takes is one brave former Trump believer to start, and within minutes, fifty others have joined the conversation.
The stress of second-guessing their choices for the Oval Office is taking a toll on the bingo players and the rest of America, too. Since Trump took office, the online therapy startup Talkspace has experienced a boom in growth — 70 percent faster than expected. Regardless of party affiliation, people are anxious about the rampant chaos that accompanies Donald’s White House Circus and his policy making that mimics pulling a random sphere from a bin of bouncing bingo balls.
For those who chose The Apprentice for what they saw on TV and expected great things, they express their disappointment over the first six months — like the infantile leader himself, but more appropriately — in both fear and anger.
Many of the people in the bingo hall come from a generation that believes in patriotism, of respect for country, and of the sacred office of president from a time when J.F.K. and Jackie brought new life to the Rose Garden. A few are uncertain what to do with the “Fuck Trump” that lingers on a trembling uncertain lip. Deep down, they know it is their inherent constitutional right to say it loud, but refrain from condemning Trump outright. Saying it would be like burning a flag.
Some of the bingo attendees have disabled family members. On Friday evening, they were still in shock — as should have been the rest of the country — over what occurred outside of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s Capitol Hill office on Thursday afternoon. The images of armed Capitol police dragging handicapped patients from their wheelchairs are disgusting examples of abuses of force, power, and authority. Although there were no casualties, and barring any further confrontations, the incident may become Donald Trump’s Kent State.
It is a tragic irony that McConnell Melee happened in the same week that American politicians raged with ersatz indignity over North Korea’s treatment of Otto Warmbier — and then remained silent as the Capitol gestapo ranks trampled the constitution and rights of the disabled. As a nation, we should all be ashamed of our leaders, of the Capitol police, and of the present condition of our democracy.
It should not matter whether we have family members or friends in wheelchairs, or what side of the aisle we sit on. When the weak, when the innocent, when the people with no voice are being dragged away for protesting the government, we must unite to make them heard. We must protect them, for if we do not, we will cease to be Americans.
As the games got underway on Friday night, one comment elicited a unifying laugh from the entire crowd. One woman leaned over the table and in the silence between numbers, offered a bit of advice to a new player. “Don’t forget to mark your free space,” the veteran said. “Before Trump takes that from us, too.”