News-Record & Sentinel, May 2019

This is the story of two deceptions – 157 years apart but alike in the pain they caused – and likely will cause.

The meanest con ever inflicted on WNC, until now, took place in Waynesville in July 1862, when the Confederate 62nd infantry regiment was formed. I don’t know what the sales pitch was, but 1,000 men from seven counties (not Madison) – men with no stake in the Confederacy – joined up. Maybe the bait was adventure, since most were teenagers who likely hadn’t even been to their county seat.

In their first action, they were ordered to help defend Cumberland Gap at all cost. When Union General Ambrose Burnside demanded unconditional surrender, the Confederate commander offered no resistance. The commander of the 62nd is quoted as saying: “When I was told by General Frazer that…my regiment were prisoners of war, my indignation and that of my regiment knew no bounds.”

The hapless WNC boys were imprisoned at notorious Camp Douglas near Chicago, where nearly half of them died from disease. The surrendering general spent the rest of the war at Fort Warren in Boston harbor, a camp known for humane treatment of detainees – while his men rotted in mass graves.

The second deception is, of course, playing live on our TV screens.

We elected a world-famous con man as president in 2016. He didn’t hide it. And religious leaders knew it as they quipped, “We’re not voting for a pastor.”

When I say “con,” I’m not talking about Trump’s lying. That’s his go-to. He assumes nobody but “fake news” will bother to check.

No, the big Trump con is about himself, who he is. We’ve already seen that he’s not a deal-maker. North Korea played him. No real change in NAFTA. The Wall Street Journal summarized trade negotiations: “Trump administration gets rolled by the Chinese.”

There’s more to come. The months ahead will likely bring overwhelming revelations about the real Donald Trump – that under his bullying bluster he’s a weakling who kowtows to Putin and can’t fire people in person; that he’s fake rich; that his “big business” is a mom-and-pop criminal enterprise; that he’s rarely been honest; in short, that he’s an empty shirt.

My father didn’t stop supporting Richard Nixon until he learned about his tax cheating. That made Nixon worthless as a man. A similar judgment time might be coming for Trump supporters.