Monday, July 29, 2019

Like a Wrecking Ball




On these hot summer days, my Yahoo! news feed is filled with mostly titillating stories like Miley Cyrus stripping down to beat the heat, but Trump has somehow managed to intrude with all his racist comments about Baltimore, his rants against Sweden, and his ongoing feud with Robert Mueller.  There's another Democratic debate coming up this week, but you would never know it as you have to scroll far down the headlines to find it.  First you have to read how annoyed Maryanne Williamson was after the ridicule she received from the first debate.  It's good to know she is sticking with her campaign theme, "love is the answer."

The Trump strategy this summer is just the opposite.  He is casting the Democrats in the worst possible light so as to make them defend themselves.  He's lashing out at everyone from Nancy Pelosi to Barack Obama to Joe Biden, but his harshest tweets have been directed at Elijah Cummings, leading many to view Trump as racist.  His staff says the president is an equal opportunity troll.

One wonders whatever became of Melania's project, "Be Best?"  Trump has degraded the office of the president to such a low point that his angry tirades hardly qualify as news anymore.  However, among his base, he is still thought of as the best thing to ever happen to the White House.

Trump appears to represent the disenfranchised mass of white voters, yearning to return to a time when they held the upper hand in American society.  A time when they could call a spade a spade, so to speak, and not feel ashamed to say it.  They long for dirty jokes at the water cooler, copping a feel at a waitress' expense, and using racial nicknames to describe the world around them.  They are tired of all this PC bullshit and want to be free to say whatever comes to their minds without facing any legal incrimination.

They also want to smoke in public places, not wear motorcycle helmets or seat belts, not have to pick up their dog's poop, which many local and state laws now require them to do.  Basically, they want the Libertarian dream of a country devoid of pesky rules and regulations governing human behavior.  They believe as individuals, they are entitled to say or do whatever they wish as long as it doesn't harm anyone.  In short, "No Harm, No Foul."

The problem is that there is a lot of harm that comes from Trump's demeaning tweets, and the behavior of trolls in general.  Baltimore is understandably very upset at being called a "disgusting ... rodent infested mess," as any city would be if disparaged like this by the President.  Baltimore isn't the first city to face abuse by the President.  He has similarly gone after Detroit, San Francisco, Chicago and even his home city of New York.  The pattern is easily discernible.  Cities are seen as Democratic strongholds, and he wants to project this image that Democrats can't even clean up their own urban messes, much less the United States.

I don't know when Democrats adopted their urban strategy, probably after the Civil Rights legislation of 1964, when our country became even more bitterly divided over race.  Much of the attempts at establishing social equality took place in cities around the country.  There was the now infamous attempt to impose busing on Boston, which was met with angry protests not only in Boston but all around the country.  No one wanted to be told what to do, especially when it came to their kids.

Cities began to be viewed as Democratic human experiments in social policies, and as such were viewed in a largely negative light.  This is why so many whites fled to the suburbs in the 60s and 70s, as they didn't want to be Democratic lab rats.  This left many American cities predominantly Black and/or Hispanic, so we saw a wave of newly elected Black and Hispanic mayors and police chiefs, which in many white suburban dwellers' minds made these cities "no-go zones."

Movies from the late 70s and early 80s cast cities in the worst possible light, such as The Warriors and Escape from New York.  What makes Escape interesting is that it was set in the near future, 1997, with Manhattan converted into a maximum-security prison.  After terrorists hijack Air Force One, forcing the president's plane down in this literally crime-filled city, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is called in to save the day, a la Rambo.  Cities had become so bad, they might as well be converted into penal colonies.

Trump projects this same urban dystopia in his tweets.  It doesn't matter that cities today are far cleaner, more lively, and in general have lower crime rates than they did back in the notorious 70s, he projects the old view that cities are horrible places to be and that the only way to escape this urban nightmare is to live in a tower, like he did on Fifth Avenue.

Many Americans share this view.  They prefer the pastoral view projected by Hollywood of small town America, even if this is an equally false view of what it is like to live in rural and suburban America.  Only in recent years have we seen this warm and fuzzy image of small towns called into question, most notoriously by David Lynch in Blue Velvet.

Just the same, the rural myth predominates in American politics.  The mainstream media still likes to refer to the vast plains of Middle America as The Heartland, and project the belief that this is the place where real American values lie, not in our congested dysfunctional cities.  This is why Iowa gets so much prominence in the primaries.  It is a principally rural state, with its economy largely tied to agriculture.

These are the voters Trump and his fellow Republicans prey on.  For whatever reason, Democrats felt they could win state-wide elections by appealing mainly to urban voters, discounting these wide stretches of rural America.  That's why if an election came down to real estate, Republicans would win almost every Congressional seat.  Democrats don't seem to want to travel these country roads, and so Republicans have made them their own.

Beto O'Rourke tried to shatter this view in 2018, by visiting every county in Texas during his race against Ted Cruz for one of the state's senate seats.  He very nearly won thanks to his boyhood charm and willingness to reach out to disenfranchised rural voters.  This was pretty amazing for a state that hadn't elected a Democratic senator since 1996.

There was a time when Democrats had strong pull in the Heartland.  Republicans were seen as the party of urban elites, but all that changed with Ronald Reagan, himself a Hollywood projection.  Barack Obama was very much correct when he said that the Gipper changed the trajectory of American politics.  Reagan fulfilled the Hollywood dream of a cowboy riding into town and cleaning up the mess left by his corrupt predecessors, in this case Democrats.  It took quite a few years to flush out the Democrats, but in 1994 the Republicans achieved their ultimate goal of retaking Congress and being able to rewrite Democratic legislation and setting federal budgets.

You wouldn't have had Reagan without the exodus of white voters to the suburbs in the 60s and 70s.  Although Reagan liked to project himself as "colorblind," his campaign was largely based on re-establishing a white vision of America.  One where affirmative action would be abolished and we would return to a so-called level playing field.  Not that the field was ever level to begin with.

For 12 years, his and George H.W. Bush's administrations fought a Democratic Congress tooth and nail over domestic programs and federal policies that supported affirmative action.  It was only with the surprise election of Bill Clinton in 1992 that white voters began to panic, especially when Toni Morrison declared "Bubba" Clinton the "first Black President."  Talk of new Democratic social legislation such as expanded health care led Republicans to offer their Libertarian vision in the so-called "Contract with America," that led to the conservative overthrow of Congress in 1994.

It didn't matter that Clinton was cut in the same mold as previous Southern Democratic leaders, white voters now saw Democrats in the same negative light they had previously seen Republicans -- urban elites.  Republicans capitalized on this phony set of impressions,  thanks to the start-up Fox News, which many viewers took to be news parody when it first appeared in 1996 on the heals of the Republican Revolution.  Fox very quickly rose to become the voice of disenfranchised America and the faux news juggernaut it is today.

Fox achieved its supremacy among news networks by casting all the other news networks as being liberally biased.  It din't matter that Fox was based out of New York, like so many of the other news networks, it projected the image of being the News of the Heartland, uniting rural and suburban voters in a shared view that the vast interior plains was where America's heart lay, and that we should all be afraid of cities and the urban elite.

Of course, it didn't help that all the major news networks tended to report urban crime and mayhem in disproportionate amounts.  You see very few feel good urban stories.  American cities became the Sodom and Gomorrah of the Books of Moses.  This had always been an effective political tool, but Fox was even more blunt, bringing in a slough of so-called experts to vouch for these assertions.

Most recently, they brought in Kimberly Klacik, to give us a rat's eye view of West Baltimore, which Elijah Cummings represents.  She focuses her camera on the appalling conditions she personally witnessed, and holds Cummings entirely to blame for this urban nightmare.  No one really knows who Klacik is, as she had no previous real journalistic experience.  She appears to be entirely a product of social media.  We don't even know if she actually is from Baltimore.  She is now a media sensation and "GOP strategist," who has taken great relish that Trump used her same words to describe Baltimore in his blistering attack of Elijah Cummings.

This provides Trump cover from the allegations streaming on mainstream media that he is a racist. He simply echoed the words of a Baltimore native.  It is the same way he uses Kanye West and other black celebrities to project the warped vision that he offers an alternative view to the "plantation mentality" that pervades the Democratic Party.  As long as he has a black person in his corner, Trump believes he cannot be viewed as racist.  An impression echoed by his  White House staff.

This vast open-ended discussion makes it difficult for the Democratic presidential candidates to get a word in edge wise, no matter how hard they try.  Kamala Harris saw right through Trump's attempt to project himself as A$AP Rocky's savior, but to no avail.  Trump is seen as the one being high-minded in trying to intercede on the rapper's behalf.  If this strategy continues to play out this way, Democrats are in real trouble come 2020, as Trump appears to have found a way to divide and potentially conquer the urban black vote, or at least relegate it to the fringes.  You might call him the "wrecking ball."


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