Peggy Noonan seems to think that Donald Trump can win the Latino vote, America Is So in Play. She thinks this because she spoke to a Dominican who listens to a Hispanic radio station and people called into say how much they liked Trump. I guess it isn’t quite as bad as Thomas Friedman thinking globalization is good because a cab driver in Dubai complained about regulation. Still, it’s pretty dumb. But I’m not interested in that. Trump, Noonan, Hispanic radio stations. I’m interested in one sentence from Noonan’s article, “My friend Cesar works the deli counter at my neighborhood grocery store.”
I’m a friendly guy. I’m also polite to a fault. But my friends are people I have over for dinner. We go to see movies. We exchange email. When I’m almost dead in the hospital, my friends come and visit me. I buy them (or their kids) presents — at least when I’m not too poor. So unless Cesar is such a person in Peggy Noonan’s life, and he just happens to work the deli counter at her neighborhood grocery store, he isn’t her friend. The conversations she has with him always involve a deli counter between them and what they talk about is equivalent to, “How ’bout them Mets?!”
Noonan of course thinks that Cesar is her friend because she could, if she wanted, invite him to a dinner party and because she is a minor celebrity, he would probably come. But she never would do that. He isn’t part of her class. And imagine if it were reversed. If Cesar asked Noonan over for dinner: it would just be weird. Noonan would probably start going to a different neighborhood grocery store and Cesar might well get fired.
I have some experience in this regard. For years, I stood behind a deli counter where I had many pleasant conversations with people who were overwhelmingly of my own class. Yet I never referred to them as “friends.” Well, that’s not exactly true: sometimes my friends came into the deli, but that’s obviously a different matter. But I have more recent experience with my older sister who has spent almost her whole working life as a grocery store clerk — which just so happens to include a lot of time working behind the deli counter.
My sister will often tell me stories about the people she serves. She refers to them in a general sense as “the regulars.” If she is referring to a specific person, she will say something like, “There’s this one customer who I really like.” Never, in a decade and a half of listening to my sister have I ever heard her refer to a customer as a “friend.” It would seem bizarre to her for a simple reason: if she stopped working at the store, she would never see them again. In fact, she talks about how older customers sometimes disappear and she assumes they died. It’s sad that people die, but it is different when friends die.
What Noonan’s claim about her “friend” Cesar reminds me of is the master who thinks, “Of course my slaves love me!” It is a delusion that only those with power have. If Cesar were her actual friend, she wouldn’t only have conversations with him when she “went by” the deli counter at her neighborhood grocery store. I’m sure if you asked Peggy Noonan, she would say, “Some of my best friends are Latinos!” What she means is, “I’m friendly with a number of Latinos who are paid to serve me.”