Saturday, July 23, 2016

Fear and Loathing in Cleveland


In 1973, Gordon Sinclair, a Canadian journalist, recorded an editorial about how exceptional and generous the United States was and about how unfairly it was treated by the world. Later that year, a Canadian broadcaster by the name of Byron MacGregor recorded the editorial for Westbound Records. The single, titled "Americans," quickly and unexpectedly made its way up the U.S. charts, peaking at number 4 on the Billboard 100 in the last week of February, 1974.

I remember buying the record that year and playing it over and over. I was mesmerized by two things: One, MacGregor did a superb job as orator - amazing, given he was only 25 at the time - and two, Sinclair's words struck a cord within me. Even to this day, listening to it sends a chill down my spine.

If you haven't had the opportunity to hear the MacGregor recording, I urge you to do so, especially in light of what we we saw and heard at the GOP convention. Because the themes that Sinclair wrote about - American exceptionalism in decline, her generosity being taken advantage of and the political scandal rocking its government - were front and center in Cleveland.

Take a close look at some of Sinclair's words below and see if they don't sound eerily familiar.

Germany, Japan and to a lesser extent Britain and Italy were lifted out of the debris of war by the Americans who poured in billions of dollars and forgave other billions in debts. None of those countries is today paying even the interest on its remaining debts to the United States.
When distant cities are hit by earthquake it is the United States that hurries in to help. Managua, Nicaragua is one of the most recent examples. So far this spring, fifty-nine American communities have been flattened by tornadoes; nobody has helped.
The Marshall Plan, the Truman Policy all pumped billions upon billions of dollars into  discouraged countries. Now newspapers in those countries are writing about the decadent war-mongering Americans. 
When the Americans get out of this bind, as they will, who could blame them if they said, the hell with the rest of the world. Let someone else buy the Israel bonds; Let someone else build or repair foreign dams, or design foreign buildings that won't shake apart in earthquakes.
When the railways of France, Germany and India were breaking down through age, it was the Americans who rebuilt them. When the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central went broke, nobody loaned them an old caboose. Both are still broke. 
I can name you five thousand times when the Americans raced to the help of other people in trouble. Can you name me even one time when someone else raced to the Americans in trouble? I don't think there was outside help even during the San Francisco earthquake.
Our neighbors have faced it alone. And I'm one Canadian who's damned tired of hearing them kicked around.

Be honest: Couldn't you have imagined Donald Trump giving a speech just like that? In fact, given what his wife did with her speech, I'm surprised he didn't lift the whole damn thing lock, stock and barrel. When you click on the link and listen to it, read the comments below. That's what we're dealing with here.

It has been, in my opinion, a mistake to think of this political movement as merely a recent malignancy devouring the body politic. Certainly the polarization that has gripped Washington over the last several years has contributed to its rapid growth. But this sentiment - the idea that America is getting fucked over - goes back decades, perhaps as far back as the '60s.

It's difficult to remember, but the United States was the only major power left in tact after World War II. And for about twenty years, the country enjoyed a hegemony reserved for empires like Rome and Egypt. All that started to fall apart by the late '60s. Urban decay and racial tensions began to whittle away at America's image of invincibility. 

While other countries rebuilt their infrastructure - with the help of our tax dollars - our infrastructure was slowly decaying.  Roads like the West Side Highway began to crumble until they were finally closed. Our bridges looked decrepit and our schools - once the envy of the free world - became second rate. And our inner cities burned in the summer heat.

There has been this seething resentment that has been building up within the American electorate that it's payback time for the world. Time for them to put up or shut up. NATO? Fuck 'em. The Chinese? Fuck them too. And the Mexicans and the Europeans and the rest of the goddam world, as well. It's time the free loaders started paying their fair share.

Is it an accurate portrayal? No, not really. I mean, while there is some kernel of truth in Sinclair's words about how much money the United States poured into those "discouraged countries," it's not like we were altruistic in our motives. Truman and Marshall both knew that a destabilized Europe would be a breeding ground for chaos and might well have paved the way for a Soviet intrusion into Western Europe. And there was no way the United States could allow that to happen.

But there is certainly an argument to be made that we have not done nearly a good enough job taking care of our own. Since the hay days of the Space program, the United States has been involved in three major armed conflicts to the tune of several trillion dollars. Meanwhile our roads, bridges and railways haven't had a major overhaul in decades. Just a fraction of what we spent on those wars would've gone a long way towards significantly improving all three. Remember that the next time you're crossing a river or driving under an overpass.

And I haven't even touched on the growing gap between the haves and the have nots. Over the last 35 years, the middle class of this country has been getting squeezed. Workers wages have not kept up with productivity. And more and more people are being negatively impacted by it. Anybody who looks at the condition this country is in and honestly says that everything is peachy keen is smoking some serious shit, that's for damn sure.

Saying the mood of this country is ugly would be putting it mildly. Think about this for a moment: The Republican rank and file just nominated someone who ran on a platform that the Republican Party has stood against for decades; and they did it in record numbers. Sure a lot of that platform was xenophobic and racist, but not all of it was. Strip away the demonizing of immigrants and Muslims, and most of it could just as easily have come from Bernie Sanders. Yes, Ted Cruz had his moment in the sun at the convention, but he still got trounced but good in the primary. This isn't your daddy's GOP; hell, I'm not sure it's even the GOP anymore. But whatever it is, it now firmly belongs to one Donald J. Trump.

And that's why if I'm the Democrats, the last thing I'd do in Philly is to try and paint a rosy picture. Yes, I think it's crucial that Hillary Clinton and those who speak at the convention highlight the differences between both parties; but, above all else, they must acknowledge the painful truth about the state of many American citizens. There are millions of people who have been left out in the cold, and many of those people have voted Democrat in the past. Should they bolt this fall, Clinton is toast. Period.

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders will do their part. They have walked the walk, as well as talked the talk, so I'm not concerned with them. But Clinton and her running mate, Tim Kaine, have to hit it out of the ballpark. It won't be enough for both of them to look professional and mature. I've heard all the talk about how unpresidential Trump is. The problem is, even though all that is true, he's still within the margin of error in many of the polls. What that tells you is that an awful lot of people are desperate enough to put a self-absorbed sociopath in charge of the country.

Yes, Trump is running a fear-based campaign. No shit, Sherlock. Tell us something we don't know. Guess what? A lot of people are fearful; in fact their scared shitless. We can debate all we want on whether that fear is rational or not. Barack Obama says he rejects Trump's vision of "violence and chaos everywhere." He may reject it all he wants and, so far as the facts are concerned, they appear to be on his side. But as someone who has spent over twenty years in sales, I can tell you that perception tends to win out over facts, especially when the two are in conflict with each other, as they clearly are here.

I learned a long time ago that the best way to fix a problem is to acknowledge you have one. Donald Trump has tapped a vein in the American electorate; it's up to the Democratic Party to make sure they heal that vein before it bleeds out this November.

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