My dad, a late 1920s campus celebrity at USC and an up-and-coming L.A. business leader until he became an alcoholic and died at age 46, didn’t much care for Blacks, Latinos, Asians or anyone else who didn’t look like him. He didn’t like Catholics or Jews, either. Born on a Kansas dirt farm in 1902, he became student body president at L.A.’s Lincoln High, led the student ROTC program, and won a scholarship to USC. As far as I know, he never visited New York or Chicago or Europe or Hawaii or went anywhere on a plane. He never served in the military. He was, in retrospect, the sort of person Mark Twain had in mind when he said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”
When I was a little kid my dad’s vocation was announcing half-time activities over the PA system at USC football games in the L.A.Coliseum. I was usually with him. I cheered for Jackie Robinson, a young Black athlete from UCLA, when he played against USC in 1939. My dad didn’t like UCLA or Jackie Robinson. He said Jackie led a gang, carried a razor, and cut up white boys like me. When my dad taught me to lift both toilet lids before peeing, he said Jews lifted only the top lid. When we watched Notre Dame’s football team play SC, he said Notre Dame players were Catholics and played dirty. When a Chinese parking attendant pushed himself casually off the front fender of our car pulling into a downtown L.A. Chinatown cafe, my dad yelled a profanity. A dustup was averted when my dad, never involved in law enforcement, flashed a big, bright honorary deputy sheriff badge, always front and center in his wallet. (Many SC alumni his age carried such badges for helping elect classmate Eugene Biscaluiz as L.A. County sheriff in 1932).
Unlike my dad’s brief and provincial professional life, mine has been long and much traveled; my 1957 bride and I are in our 14th home and unlike my dad I spent too much of my early career aboard commercial and corporate jets. It took a lot of growing up, a lot of friendships of every color and belief for me to realize, long after his sudden death, that my dad was wrong on every count. I loved him deeply despite his crude views, which as a boy I didn’t evaluate. He was my best pal. Yet today I could not disagree more with his unlearned, backwater bigotry.
When I see TV scenes of Trumpites roaring and applauding his blatant lies I think; these decent but gullible people are the most powerful reason there is for prioritizing higher education in America. And when armed citizens patrol Sandpoint streets I see costumed John Wayne wannabes (a celluloid hero, he repeatedly dodged the draft during World War II) strutting around allegedly protecting people but actually compensating for serious personal inadequacies and failures. The same, except doubled, for whoever sent them into town to cause chaos.