Posts Tagged ‘ Obama ’

Tarnished City on a Hill

shining-city

What the f*** just happened?

Whatever way you lean politically, I think we can safely agree that no one—no one—expected this. Even the most staunch Trump supporter didn’t expect him to actually win. They hoped for it, but they couldn’t have known.

So what the f***?

I will attempt to explain to the best of my limited knowledge. My aim is to wrap my arms around this gorilla, not pass judgment. I want to point out the divide in the hope that folks standing on either side of it might hesitantly wave at each other instead of throwing rocks back and forth. The anger is real, I get that, and throwing rocks can feel damn good. But let us take a peek at who we are aiming at.

There are many, many reasons behind why a person casts a vote. Were there true blue bigots who gleefully filled in the bubble next to Trump’s name? Sure. Were there smug liberal elitists voting for Hillary’s inevitable coronation from the safety of their ivory towers? A few. Those voters are not my subject. There are voters who vote primarily for cultural reasons and those whose concern is mostly economical, and those are the ones I’d like to look at.

Back in “the day,” cultural concerns—what a candidate felt personally about social issues, reproductive rights, religious values, civil rights, etc.–were considered secondary. Candidates always had to prove their “integrity,” but it was rarely what got them elected. “What will you do for me?” was the main criteria, not “Do your values match my own?” Enter the old-school, disenfranchised, mostly white, working class voter from the heartland and the rust belt. They have seen their jobs sent overseas. They have seen their worry for their future and security ignored. Many voted for Obama at least once, with the hope that his promised buoy would lift all ships. It didn’t. Their anger is real. Their fear is real. As I heard brilliantly posed on a radio show recently, their fear is not new—many groups in this country have spent generations being marginalized—but it is new to them.

So here comes Bernie talking directly to their concerns. And there he goes, ushered out the door by the media, the DNC, and ultimately tone-deaf Democratic voters. Who will look out for my best interests now? Where do I vent my anger? Which candidate will allow me to keep my job and put food on my table? We know the answer to that now. Not the status-quo candidate who lumped me in with the rest of the “deplorables.” I’m going for the guy who wants to restrict global trade, keep American jobs in America, stop the flood of immigrants I need to compete with, and give me back some damn pride for a change.

Are these voters racist, xenophobic, and reactionary? No. They are mostly white people voting in their own economic self-interests. Cultural concerns about Trump’s hateful rhetoric may have been considered, but in the end what he said on a talk show eleven years ago or his batshit crazy wall-building talk were not the deciding factor. My job, my family, my vote. Self-preservation. A tale as old as time. If you want to know why conservative Christians, some African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and above all female voters could possibly vote for a candidate like Donald Trump, here it is: the rhetoric didn’t matter. Their jobs did.

And was there also a giant middle finger to the celebrities and the millennials and the smug “liberals” who underestimated their anger? Sure, why not. If you couldn’t be bothered to listen to me screaming for eight years, here ya go, suck on this. He probably won’t win no matter what I do anyway. These are the voters now telling Hillary supporters, “Get over it! I had to live through Obama for eight years.” They see the palpable fear of minorities as a gross overreaction. In their hearts they did what any sane person in their situation would do, the simple, pragmatic thing—they used the vote they had to ensure their livelihoods.

So let’s look across the divide at the Hillary supporters. For a voter who values cultural issues—economic justice, civil rights, marriage equality, Black Lives Matter, gun control, et al.—Hillary was never a perfect fit. She was a little too invested in big business and its unending fountain of political funding to be believed as a progressive crusader. The way Bernie was treated by the Democratic establishment left a bad taste. But most of these voters relented when Bernie pushed his chips in with hers, and began to get excited by her shiny, new progressive agenda. Then they looked at her opponent and saw every idealistic dream they had for their country turned utterly on its head. They saw intolerance, misogyny, xenophobia, hatred—the worst, basest underbelly this country has to offer. They saw minorities being punched in the face, the end of religious freedom, women being grabbed and assaulted, spewing, venomous anger toward themselves and their underrepresented friends. And Hillary–uninspiring, hard-working, smart-as-a-whip policy wonk Hillary—didn’t seem like a bad choice after all. In fact, she seemed to be the only sane choice. How could anyone support that man and all he stood for?

And here’s where it gets a little poetic. Culturally, the past decade or so felt like a series of wins. Our first African-American president. Gay marriage. Outrage at the deaths of unarmed Black men. The acknowledgment of violence against women. Online movements for equality and solidarity. It felt like being on the precipice of a new country where inclusion and fairness were valued. And then—the first female President of the United States seemed to be a looming reality. Don’t underestimate the importance of the narrative of improvement and evolution to these folks. It is the reason their hearts are authentically broken today. They are the people who see in this country the possibility of the shining city on a hill. There is no American dream without these people dreaming it into existence.

To them, the election of Donald Trump feels like a repudiation. The back of the hand given to uppity women, minorities, gays, Muslims, Latinos, African-Americans. A punishment. A death. They feel unsafe, now that the thin veneer of acceptable behavior seems to have eroded like the ozone layer, and they worry for the safety of others. They look around them and see Germany in the 1930s. And some will roll their eyes at that. But just like with the unheard, disenfranchised heartlander, the anger and fear are real. And for the non-white, the violence seems frighteningly imminent.

And then there’s the dream deferred. The specter of a demagogue, backed by a Republican Congress and Supreme Court, hurling us back into the cultural dark ages, rolling back all the progress we’ve made, killing the dream of equality and reproductive rights for women, equal educational opportunity, affordable health care, racial healing, LGBTQ rights. To understand the depth of disappointment these voters are experiencing right now, you have to understand the dream they feel slipping away.

So here we are. No claims of “racist voters” are going to change this. No amount of “get over its” are going to make the grieving process easier. There is endless invective on each side, endless reasons to revel in your rightness or curse your oppressor. The rabbit hole has opened up and swallowed us. And we can take the long view, say that this open wound between us will eventually close over and heal. And that is very true. But it doesn’t help us here and now. All that can help us now is empathy. If we can maybe, maybe take a step back and see each other as human beings instead of profile pictures. If we can make simple commitments to try to understand those who disagree with us, even when that disagreement runs far and deep. If we can come to the common conclusion that whatever our political bent, we need to be vigilant in the support of the powerless and unheard among us. It will be hard, maybe the hardest thing the country has done since WWII. Families will turn against each other, fights will erupt, opportunists will use this as an chance to turn us hateful and resentful and violent. I won’t be able to hold my tongue myself, especially in the face of prejudice. Nor should we. If we are who we say we are, Trump and Hillary voters alike, Americans, people with anger and fear and dreams and pragmatism, we will not stand for it. Let that be our common ground: protection. If…

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The Small Town Fallacy

There are some great things about living in a rural town. The people are friendly, the winters are breathtaking and there’s some other, third great thing I’m sure.

That’s all a big fat lie. The people here are the most close-minded, cliquish, unfriendly group of so and sos you’ll ever have the displeasure to meet. Anyone up here who will deign to talk to us is originally from someplace else. If you didn’t attend high school locally you’re considered an outsider and automatically shunned. They don’t look in your eyes or acknowledge your existence. They’re cold, apple-headed, fat-assed Stepford-people. AND they vote Republican!

I’ll never forget a couple of years ago I was pumping gas in a neighboring town. It was over four bucks a gallon at the time. I looked up and there was an older lady pumping across from me. We caught each others’ eye and I gave her a “can you believe this?” look. She said something like, “Would you look at these prices!” and I said something like, “I know, it ridiculous.” So far, so good. Then she says, “I blame that Al Gore. This is all his fault!” I had no response to that. Had I thought it would make a difference I might have said, “First of all, Gore had the election stolen from him, so he didn’t get the chance to affect gas prices one way or another. Secondly, GW Bush’s family is so tied up in big oil they serve petroleum daiquiris with every meal, and during a recession those oil companies posted record-breaking, billion-dollar revenue increases on the back of lower middle class schmucks like yourself. So get back in that car and listen to some more Rush Limbaugh you right-wing wing-nut, before Bush gets another phone-call from his oil cronies and pushes the price up to five bucks a gallon.” Oh, to have a few moments in time back.

The first year we were up here in the land of the toothless we invited all of Mychal’s classmates to a birthday party. When we didn’t get any RSVPs we thought it was odd, but we chalked it up to different customs. The big day came and we decorated the hall we used in a cool Star Wars theme and braced ourselves for a roomful of first graders. One kid showed. One. Thank God Mychal was too young to feel the disappointment we felt on his behalf—he had a great time. Mary El and I took the full brunt of the back-handed slap of the “friendly” small-town natives. No one even had the courtesy to tell us they weren’t coming. Jerks. Don’t let the songs and the commercials fool you. Small-town people would step over your dead body to ride their three-wheelers or work on their lawn or vote for a dictatorship or sing “I’m Proud to Be an American” wrapped in a flag and holding a torch. They’re vicious, jingoistic, stuck-up prigs who have little or nothing to be stuck-up about since they are about as interesting as a doorstop. “Friendly” my left testicle.

And don’t get me started on the winters. Winters in upstate New York aren’t something you experience, they are something you survive. The first couple of times it snows you look out your window and see that picture postcard and say, “Wow, that’s so picturesque.” The next couple of times it snows you rub the frost off the window and say, “Wow, it’s really piling up out there. I hope we can get the car out.” The next few times you can’t see out your window because of a snow drift that has frozen your house solid. You dig a tunnel out to your car and do the “reverse/drive dance” for a half hour before you finally get it unstuck. You pay your 800 dollar heating bill and your 400 dollar plowing bill and say, “Wow, I could live the rest of my life without seeing one more friggin’ snowflake fall from the sky.” Of course by now it’s January and you still have 2+ months of this nonsense still to go. “Picturesque” my right testicle.

Mary El and I bemoan the place we live almost daily. If it weren’t for the elementary school Mychal goes to, which is right out of Mayberry, we would have moved back downstate long ago. The nearest shopping plaza is 25 minutes away. If you want something that can’t be found at WalMart or Price Chopper, the drive becomes 50 minutes. We spend more money on gas than we do on food. In a mock election at the kids’ school, Obama lost in a landslide. No one in the entire third grade voted for him. When my stepson transferred up to the local High School for the last half of his last year, we joked with him that the curriculum would probably include farming. On his first day he was asked if he would like to take Animal Husbandry. The kids don’t get any Jewish holidays off. Martin Luther King Day is barely tolerated.  We haven’t had a decent pizza, or Chinese food, or Italian or Kosher, or good rolls since we moved up here. We usually end up at the diner three towns over eating a cheeseburger, ’cause at least it’s dependable and not McDonalds (which is the only place closer). Drivers will tailgate you for miles if you don’t do 15 miles over the speed limit. The local auto repair place kept our car for three weeks the last time we brought it in, then lost the keys on us. We can’t use our own trunk now. Unemployment is rampant, because half the workers up here are seasonal for the winter and the other half only work Spring and Summer. The locals burn leaves and gossip like old women and ride their gas-guzzling pickups around with the picture of the bratty kid taking a piss on the back window.

Driving Conor to school yesterday we were talking about which countries speak Spanish (I was apparently giving one of my “long Dad answers” according to Conor) when a suicidal wild turkey stepped into the road. I swerved to my left, but the bug-eyed bird was determined to be hit. As Conor said later, it was like two people trying to pass each other in the hallway but continually stepping into each others’ path. The squawking fowl finally made a desperate flight-like movement and crashed into my driver-side windshield leaving a big, wet wingprint before continuing on its merry way. At least it wasn’t a deer. Or a bear, which we’ve seen on the side of the road on one occasion. This is not Wild freaking Kingdom, this is the town we live in.

At least I didn’t hit a townie. Those big fat asses can be murder on your suspension.