It was fairly cold early in the morning two years ago when I went to drop off my shirts at the cleaners within the Randall’s. There were few cars in the parking lot where I go every two weeks or so. I had parked farther than usual from the grocery store to give a knee extra steps to work out the kink the passing cold front had induced overnight.
I walked in the chill past an older model car that had last seen a car-wash in several months but whose engine was running. A man in the driver’s seat was slumped over the steering wheel. I peered inside. His right arm, dangling off the wheel, rested on the gear shift between the two seats. What appeared to be a baby doll lay folded over on the passenger side. I feared the worst and hurried toward the store.
Coming out of the store was a Randall’s employee heading to a rack of shopping carts at the side of the building.
“There’s a man in that car, and the engine is running,” I said in as unalarmed a voice as I could muster. His lack of response instantly bothered me. I stood there for a moment. “He’s sleeping.” I must have looked puzzled. “Overnight job.”
The man in the car was cold and taking a nap, not attempting suicide nor suffering accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. I surely took on the face of someone trying to shake off embarrassment. “Oh, okay,” I managed.
Okay was not what I was feeling after leaving my shirts and heading to the Starbucks next door. I did not know what the man in the car earned; I presumed he had a family; and I did not know if he had the health insurance he would need soon, given his weight. I have not seen him since. But I thought about him the moment I heard that a federal judge had jumped ahead of Donald Trump and rolled back some of the minimum wage protections that President Obama put in place to protect workers, perhaps especially those with more than one job.
I wondered, too, if the man in the car had voted for Trump, and I wondered how many other two-jobbers like him helped put Trump in the White House come January. I wondered if they were part of the 104,000 voters out of 135,000,000 who, had they voted differently in three states, might not have their wages so quickly endangered, barely two weeks after the election.
If some of them did vote for Trump, they do not deserve to be judged morally. It would be sinful to do so. They do not deserve what might happen to them and their families. They deserve rather to be pitied, more so if they lose all hope, for they will have been taken, given Trump’s announced choices so far for the Cabinet and important agencies of government.
If they do not lose faith in the country once they realize they might erred, they might be the bounce-back opportunity the Democrats need for 2020 and even in the midterm elections in 2018 if Trump proves as incompetent a president as he is a businessman. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
(It bothers me to use businessman to describe Trump. I know businessmen and businesswomen who have worked hard to build their businesses and paid significant amounts of taxes while doing so without using the court or tax systems to gain an advantage while mistreating their employees.)
If the two-jobbers who voted for Trump knew nothing about his intentional failure to pay taxes and to use loopholes to game the system and exploit workers, then the Republic might be in real danger, for we are dealing with a truly uninformed lot. But they might soon enough know that they might not ever recoup the wages they will start losing here pretty soon, judge or no judge.
We are in an unstable, dangerous predicament from which no one, worker or business owner, is exempt.
If I ever see that man again in the parking lot of the Randall’s, I hope his kids are not sleeping in the back seat.
Jesús (Jesse) Treviño is the former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman.