I have three brothers and three sisters. They all went to college after high school, and they all earned college degrees.
I graduated from high school in 1972, but I didn’t go to college. I went to work for a carpenter/builder as a laborer/carpenter’s helper. Soon I was “part monkey and part mule.” I climbed around on rafters, and I carried heavy loads like roof trusses and steel I-beams.
It was hot in the summer and cold in the winter. There was no break room, no bathroom, no ergonomically designed office desk and chair. Building houses was relentlessly hard work.
In 1975, at the age of 21, I formed a business partnership, Coyte-Heinz Construction, with my friend and fellow carpenter, Rick Coyte. Soon we had 3 — 5 employees, and we built 3 — 4 new houses every year. That was very good while it lasted, but an ugly divorce in 1978 sent me into an alcoholic tailspin. I quit the business and flopped around a few years—then enlisted in the Army in 1981.
I served in the Army as a journalist/public affairs specialist for 4-plus years. In April 1986, I served in the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs, the Pentagon, during the US bombing of Libya. There I received the Army Award for Excellence in recognition of my outstanding work.
I’m not trying to brag or blow my own horn. (Well, maybe just a little.) Rather, I’m trying to impress upon you the fact that I am nothing like an elite intellectual. I worked in construction most all my life, except for the years that I served in the Army.
The Army seemed mainly apolitical, especially when stationed overseas. One’s politics were largely unimportant. What mattered most was the simple fact that we were all Americans—and if we went to war, we would stand together, fight together, and have each other’s back.
Unfortunately, my political neutrality ended rather abruptly. My editor in Germany was a politically driven, hardcore conservative Republican. Despite my protests, he ordered me to write with him a series of point-counterpoint op-eds in which he would take the conservative, and I would take the liberal, position. For example, we wrote about the death penalty. He was all for it, and I was opposed.
I learned a lot from writing those op-eds, including the three elements of good writing and speaking: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. Ethos, or the ethical appeal, means to convince an audience of the author’s credibility or character. Pathos, or the emotional appeal, means to persuade an audience by appealing to their emotions. Logos, or the appeal to logic, means to convince an audience by use of logic or reason.
Then and now, I try to write and think logically, and not so much with emotion. Emotions are temporary moods or feelings caused by the sudden influx of a chemical or hormone. Something that makes us angry today might make us laugh tomorrow. Logic, however, is more constant and reliable. I rely on logic, not emotion, when it comes to politics, too.
Again, I am nothing like an elite intellectual. I spent most of my life working “in the mud and the blood and the beer,” (from “A Boy Named Sue” by Shel Silverstein, performed by Johnny Cash).
I’m tempted to quote from another old song—“Friends in Low Places” by Earl Bud Lee and Dewayne Blackwell, performed by Garth Brooks—but I don’t want to suggest that my friends were low or lowly. They were my work buddies, my fishing buddies, my drinking buddies, my lend-a-helping-hand buddies. I was best man in three of their weddings. And so on—
I recently watched the movie The Hunt on HBO Max—a 2020 comedy horror thriller. A small group of “elites” drug, capture, hunt and kill a dozen “deplorables.” It’s rife with socio-political commentary, most of which is unfortunately garbled.
One thing, however, jumps out with crystalline clarity: Forces largely beyond our control, forces such as social media and mainstream media, have divided Americans into two separate camps. When I watched the movie The Hunt, I found that I identified with the “elites,” not with the “deplorables.”
That sudden realization disturbed me, for I have never been an “elite.” Moreover, it’s wrong for right-leaning, working-class Americans to be classified as “deplorables.”
How did we get to this ugly, awful place?
During the past five years, the Republican Party has moved drastically to the right—propelled and compelled by Donald J. Trump. I never understood why a shady businessman playboy from New York City was popular with everyday Americans, especially here in rural Kentucky. Humbly and sincerely I endeavored to find out.
In 2017, not long after Trump’s inauguration, I remodeled a bathroom for a newly retired Army sergeant. It just so happened he was an avid Trump supporter. (No surprise there: A majority of active-duty military and military retirees favored Trump over Clinton.)
I asked the sergeant why he supported Donald Trump. He was completely unable to articulate one single reason why he supported Trump. Our conversation broke down altogether when I mentioned Pearl Harbor, and he thought that was in Vietnam.
Subsequent attempts to learn from Trump supporters the reasons why they supported Donald Trump were similarly fruitless. I recently talked to a young man who worked at Walmart. He had attended a few classes at ECTC, and he considered himself well-informed and well-educated. He said Trump wasn’t nearly as bad and corrupt as Joe Biden.
“Biden tried to run for president four times back in the ‘40s, but they knew he was dirty, so they vetoed him every time,” the young man stated firmly.
Wha—?? “Biden was born in the ‘40s,” I said. (In 1942, to be precise.)
“Well, maybe it was the ‘60s then—you can look it up,” the man insisted.
When I ask these people for the source of their (mis)information—like, where did you hear that? Where did you read that?—they never respond, not once, ever. Sometimes they become defensive and surly, insisting that they have a right to their opinion.
If someone says Muhammad Ali—or Joe Louis, or Mike Tyson—was the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, they are expressing an opinion and, yes, they are perfectly entitled to their opinion. However, if someone says Muhammad Ali (or Joe Biden) ran for president four times in the ‘60s, that’s not an opinion. Rather, it’s a falsehood, an untruth, a lie.
Finally and again, I am nothing like an “elite” of any sort, and I would never call anyone a “deplorable.” However, I deplore the fact that there is a largely uneducated and undereducated segment of our society that is grossly misinformed.
Lies and misinformation about COVID-19 have caused an unacceptably large percentage of the population to refuse the vaccine, and that puts all of us at risk. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are effective against the Delta variant, but if the virus mutates again, we might not be so lucky.
Lies and misinformation about the 2020 election have caused a direct assault on the U.S. Capitol, on free and fair elections, and on democracy itself.
We can never be united as a nation when a large part of our society is attacking us with lies and misinformation.
Mark Heinz lives at Nolin Lake. Visit his website at amazon.com/author/markheinzbooks.