Through the third week of the high school cross country season during my senior year in high school, I had not lost in a series of dual meets and triangulars. Then came the first invitational of the season, a fifteen-team affair in Plainfield.
Two years before as a sophomore, I’d raced on the Plainfield course for a different school. We’d won our first ever conference championship for Kaneland High School that season. Then my father moved our family east to St. Charles ten miles away. That meant starting all over again at a new school. It was a test. But it went well that junior year as we went 9-1 in duals, won a district championship and had a helluva a lot of fun.
So I was excited to be racing again as a senior. We traveled to Plainfield with the expectation of doing well as a team, but I was eager to try to win my first invitational.
Only the course on which we were about to race did not turn out to be the traditional Plainfield layout. That year the school moved their invitational to a newly re-opened quarry. The grass was barely in place. The bus arrived a bit late and there was no time for a course tour. So we lined up for the start and the gun went off.
As was my practice early that season, I took off in the lead from the gun. With an early margin, I rounded a corner and saw two flags ahead indicating the direction of the course. Between the two flags ahead sat a shallow cattail marsh. I paused for two strides and looked around for other flags. There were none. We were supposed to go straight through the marsh. So I charged ahead and went thrashing through the water and weeds. For a moment it felt like I was cheating. But that was how the course was indeed laid out.
Emerging on the other side of the water, I glanced down at my track spikes, all wet and soggy. Little did I know that a year later I’d be competing in the steeplechase event in college. That’s where your shoes get wet every race. It’s funny how some strange experiences quickly become the “new normal.”
The wet shoes that first time through the cross country course did not much daunt me. After all, I’d grown up thrashing through muck and fishing in streams almost every day growing up in Pennsylvania. So I saw the wet conditions as a clear advantage. I could hear the city slickers behind me complaining about it. I just raced on ahead.
The course climbed proceeded to climb steep gravel pit hills and cut through a maze of scrubby weeds. We came trundling down pebbly skree and by that point, I knew that no one would catch me that day. All that rough and tumble upbringing, unsophisticated as it was, made me a hayseed victorious.
There was history to that moniker. I’d once been called a hayseed by a track teammate back at Kaneland High School. He walked up to me with a sense of purpose like he had something important to say, and blurted out: “You know what Cudworth? You’re nothing but a hayseed.” He obviously thought my ways unrefined to his manner of thinking. Perhaps I didn’t dress as well as some of the other kids. I also had a habit of going birding in the weeds and thrashing around in the woods catching frogs and living the country life. To his way of thinking, that made me a hayseed.
It’s a plain fact that many people struggle with issues of self-image and self-esteem all their lives. I’ll freely admit that while growing up I was not a confident kid in many ways. Yet through running and other sports, I learned to face challenges with more courage than many others. Athletics was one of the tools in that process.
Yet at some point, I also came to realize that sports had become a sort of crutch as well, a source of compensatory self-esteem rather than dealing with real personal growth. At that point, I backed away from a competitive career because it was important to actualize my whole self, and in other ways.
To actualize in life, we either learn to reconcile the less sophisticated aspects of our personalities or, as I did, develop compensatory strategies to hide them. Some very successful people adopt that compensatory approach of bald aggression and turn it into their greatest weapon and expression of success. As Mark Twain once said, “All it takes is ignorance and confidence, and success is sure.”
And for current affirmation of that sage statement, we’re all witnesses to its verity in the current presidential election.
You know who we’re talking about. The vain hairstyle. Braggadocio about wealth. Anger and threats. Ridiculing others. Verbalizing barely concealed prejudices. Xenophobia disguised as patriotism. These compensatory behaviors all mask a deep-seated lack of esteem and self-worth.
Fortunately, wiser people see through that bluster. Here’s what Michael Bloomberg had to say about Donald Trump:
“Throughout his career, Trump has left behind a well-documented record of bankruptcies, and thousands of lawsuits, and angry shareholders and contractors who feel cheated, and disillusioned customers who feel they’ve been ripped off,” said Bloomberg, himself a billionaire whose net worth is believed to be several times that of the GOP nominee. “Trump says he wants to run the nation like he’s run his business? God help us.”
“I’m a New Yorker, and New Yorkers know a con when we see one,” Bloomberg went on, before listing off some trademark business practices of the Trump empire and pitting them against the nominee’s promises.”
Yet millions of people still support Trump. The most likely reason is that he sets a pretty low bar for personal accountability, and is an accessible personality for those more concerned with winning than doing the work it takes to justify it.
Donald Trump is nothing more than a wealthy hayseed who never felt the need to change or adapt his behavior in any way. On many occasions, he’s been awarded for his aggressive behavior by those too afraid or sycophantic to stand up to his bullying ways.
Significantly, some factions of the Christian coalition have even been quick to forgive the man’s flaws. They do this as a means to gain favor with the man who is now a politician. If Jesus Christ had done the same and performed a few miracles at the demand of King Herod, the Messiah could have served out his years in the court of the King changing water into wine. So let’s be honest: it truly is a flawed brand of religion that is so willing to subvert its values just for the sake of approval and access to power.
Corrupted values versus straight ahead truth
So you see, real values get corrupted by those eager to get on the winning side all the time. That’s how this bumbling, babbling hayseed of a man named Donald Trump has been able to win so many people over. His political ploy has been obvious. Rather than run through the difficult marshes on which the course of a presidential campaign must rod, he simply took a short cut across the American terrain to claim victory without any conventional regard for accountability. He’s done this all his life. Trump’s idea of sacrifice is the perverse notion that giving up the businesses he created to bankruptcy is equivalent to teh sacrifice of a soldier fighting for his or her country. Trump prides himself instead on dumping his failures on others and letting the devil take the hindmost. His creditors suffered, and so have the people who did work for him. There is nothing to be admired in the man at all. And yet people think his claim to Make America Great Again has substance. He’s a bullshitter. A cheater. A brute. And a liar.
Yet millions of people continue cheering him on in his crooked road to success. That proves America itself is deadset on taking the shortcut to solutions for its problems. The impatient rabble have criticized how long it took for President Obama to fix the mess that was created by the first round of neoconservative cheaters led by the bumbling George W. Bush and draft dodger Dick Cheney. Those dolts tried to take over the world while expecting the American economy to run on fumes.
I am not a wealthy or powerful man, but life is still good in many respects. That satisfaction comes from the fact that I learned what it takes to win rather than taking material or philosophical shortcuts. I’ve failed on many occasions, so I don’t claim to be perfect in mind or spirit. But our job in life is to learn from our failures, and grow from them. Now I’m proud of my hayseed roots and embrace them in many ways. If you want to call that a liberal disposition, so be it. I call it salt of the earth.
That baseline value has been my measure of character in other people for years. What is the nature of their real character? Do they thrive on taking shortcuts and placing wealth above all else? Are they the couldawouldashoulda type or willing to accept the results of their efforts by admitting, in both victory and lost, “I did the best I could do.”
The other candidate
Critics of Hillary Clinton, have gone to great lengths to portray her as the cheater and dishonest person in this election. And to be sure, in true hayseed fashion, she has roots in Arkansas and was perhaps unsophisticated in some of her efforts along the way. Perhaps she was even at one time naive. But she was also prescient in claiming there is a vast right-wing conspiracy at work in America. The fact that it produced Donald Trump as its candidate is simply a hilarious byproduct of the stupidity at the heart of that belief system.
Hillary Clinton has correspondingly been portrayed as evil and calculating. But at least she has attempted to answer for her flaws, including testimony before a Congressional panel and enduring countless investigations into a set of basically harmless emails that led to no ill effect. Even her Benghazi “lapse” if you want to call it that, was a relatively minor international incident compared to many embassy tragedies in the past. And during the Commander in Chief Forum the other night, she gave direct answers rather than bumbling excuses for her lack of experience.
At least during the Commander in Chief Forum the other night, she gave direct answers to questions rather than the bumbling excuses for thought emitted by Donald Trump.
Who made no sense at all, because he’s still a bumbling hayseed of a rich sot who prefers shortcuts in conversation to cogent discussion. He’s an arrogant idiot, in other words. And if you support him, so are you.
Some of us can see the straight lines in all of this. We know the course ahead for America is difficult in some ways, but not insurmountable with the right kind of leadership.
Others seem to believe that cutting across the course to the finish line is the better way to go about things. Those people will likely line up in droves to vote for Donald Trump. He makes all sorts of promises. But America will be the loser if that happens. And people know it, but they keep telling themselves they’re voting for the Underdog, not the Biggest Loser.