Smoking is wonderful. That’s why people do it. It’s one of life’s joys. You pause from grinding routine, slip away to some quiet spot, tuck your favorite brand between your lips, spark fire, and inhale a big soothing lungful of your friend, nicotine. Ahhhh. Relaxation. The tightened bolt in your head loosens, anxiety ratchets down, and your brain squeezes out a single drop of pleasure.
Smoking is vile. An addiction that will kill you. Cancer, emphysema, heart disease. Awful deaths. Half a million Americans a year die from smoking. Smoking is expensive. It makes you stink.
Smokers, it is safe to say, endorse the first paragraph; non-smokers, the second.
A phenomenon I call “framing” — you portion off the reality you prefer, the one that resonates with your life, and gaze fixedly at that.
I mentioned framing a lot to my aghast friends, who can’t understand how anyone can support Donald Trump. They considered him a liar, bully and charlatan the day he was elected, and it’s only gotten worse. Trump fired FBI director James Comey last week, at first claiming it was because he bungled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails then admitting he didn’t like Comey investigating how the Russians influenced the campaign.
But that isn’t how Trump supporters sees it. To them, Trump is still the successful businessman shaking up the system. Dogged by the hysterical liberal press — “the fake media” — who invent fantasies like the Russian conspiracy. Trump will protect our borders, keep out terrorists, bring back jobs, revive faltering industries like coal. “Make America great again.”
People don’t stray much from one camp to another. Trump’s approval ratings were 46 percent the week he was inaugurated, according to Gallup, and 42 percent the first week of May. A drop but not a huge one.
The Democrats want him out. Sen. Dick Durbin said last week that Trump is “dangerous” and suggested he resign. After the Comey firing, half of Washington roiled into a My-God-it’s-Watergate-all-over-again frenzy, complete with taped conversations and even Henry Kissinger for some reason propped up in a chair next to Trump.
How could 63 million Americans support this man? How can 36 million court throat cancer? Both indulgences offer a daily relief that is real, so long as you ignore the consequences. In both cases, it’s a risk they’re willing to take. To be honest, they don’t think about the drawbacks. Heck, those drawbacks might not even be real. All that medical evidence? Scientists have been wrong before.
“You’re comparing us to smokers!” Trump supporters will tell me, angry, baffled. Not exactly. It’s a metaphor. I’m using smoking to show the mental trick people perform to justify practices that are damaging to themselves and to society.
I look at the White House and see an unbalanced man, mercurial, vindictive — a deeply egotistical, incompetent man who, oh yeah, is also in bed with the Russians, who interfered with the 2016 election to help him win. A man who is now obstructing justice to keep the truth hidden. You obviously don’t see that. You look at the same guy and see a maverick, someone who will shake things up — we actually agree there, though you see good healthy shaking, while I see Shaken Country Syndrome.
How will we ever bring the country together again after this? Maybe we won’t. Maybe our fractured nation will squabble, clawing at each other as our barrel goes over the falls and the Chinese — who have this unanimity thing down cold — will run the world.
Or maybe the truth — which is subject to debate but nevertheless exists — will gradually settle in. If you asked me an hour ago how many Americans smoke, I’d have guessed 23 percent. That was true, in 2000. In 2015 the number is 15 percent.
Encouragingly low. And Trump’s job approval rating, according to Gallup, hit 38 percent on Wednesday. A historic low for a new president. Change takes time. Americans will abandon a damaging addiction in the face of facts, eventually.
Whether our nation has time is another matter.