By reader James F. Hoisted from comments
I, too, am worried by our descent into prewar hatred. I had a friend from Dubrovnik in the’80s. She was a typical Yugoslav – half Croatian, quarter Serbian, and a quarter Russian. She was full of hope, smart, pretty, and heartbreakingly naïve. If she survived the war, I’m pretty sure my friend lost what made her a beautiful human being. She haunts me. Civil wars seem implausible until they start and then they follow the devil’s logic. People like my friend tend to die in them or turn into something less than they were in order to survive.
I’m an old man now working on my doctorate through a senior citizens’ scholarship. I grew on the North-East Coast. I live in the rural South now. I know people from everywhere because I’ve been around a long time. Comfortable people from the cities, Democrat or Republican, want to hit someone, hard… but they have by and large never worn a uniform or had a gun pointed at their heads. They’re frustrated which makes sense but they don’t know when a bloody fight is coming. You can smell it coming like folks down here can smell a tornado or like mothers smell death on its way and snatch their children off the front porch.
Here in Flyover Country things are bad, really bad. I recently visited family in Northern California. Things were pretty nice. Not opulent by any means but the shelves were stocked. Security guards in Target let the kids play around. Around here – not so much. Not so much as a Target. We have long lines, empty shelves, and the kids, black and white, always seem aware that they’re not safe. Comfortable people in cities worry about reproductive health care. We worry about getting a four-dollar antibiotic for pneumonia at Wal-Mart without having to spend several hundred bucks for the prescription (real life experience with insurance). Our mean income is about a quarter of Northern California’s. Housing is cheaper but it’s not cheap and it’s a lot worse housing. Food and utilities are a lot more expensive. Everything including food and medicine is taxed. We’re dying here, slowly perhaps but we’re dying none the less.
Even so, my Democrat and Republican friends and family from the coasts couldn’t care less about my neighbors. They couldn’t care less about fifteen years of war or the kids we send to fight it or the kids our kids kill. I understand. It’s only natural to look to one’s own interests and what happens in Natchez or Mosul doesn’t hit home. However, they’re all angry – angry at Flyover people for being sick and poor and tired of being cannon fodder. And so I have to listen to why we don’t deserve jobs or health care because we’re stupid. We should move or die because markets. I had to justify FDR, religion, the very idea of peace, and social solidarity. I have to defend unions and explain why my state voted for Trump – sometimes to the same person. I have to advocate for veterans, the majority of cops that don’t murder kids, and BLM while I’m trying to eat my potatoes. It’s exhausting. It’s depressing.
Statistics show that urban areas are ‘bluer’. They have better health care, better functioning government, and better opportunities. However, not all urban dwellers are comfortable. Chicago has world class hospitals, universities, and pizza. It also has an astronomical murder rate and a police force that got caught torturing its citizens. It has a deep blue machine that excels in privatization. Blue cities are rough with their mostly black and brown poor citizens but poor whites suffer too. I know. I spent decades doing social work in city hell-scapes. I know what it’s like to step over bodies and have people bleed all over me. Crime isn’t out of control when statistics say so. Crime is out of control when you or people you love get hurt. Likewise, cops shooting unarmed black people is a problem; cops shooting unarmed white people is a problem; people deciding to start an idiosyncratic revolution by shooting cops is a problem; criminals killing kids is also a problem. Statistics and social theory don’t really matter at a child’s funeral. Life is statistically better in blue enclaves but there is a difference between Compton and Hollywood, Brookline and Dorchester, Harlem and Manhattan. That’s a brute fact that uncomfortable people face every day.
Flyover people and the uncomfortable urban poor fight the never-ending wars. We provide commodities like food and coal and oil and metals. We provide cheap labor. Comfortable people have decided that most of us aren’t really needed. Immigration, free trade, and automation have made us redundant but we’re not going away. At least we’re not going away fast. Flyover people and the uncomfortable urban poor have no real place in establishment Democratic or Republican thinking. We are the establishment’s problem and the establishment is our problem.
Where do we go from here? Bernie had some good answers to some burning questions. Trump has some very questionable answers to the same problems. I don’t know if the Anarchists on Inauguration Day had any answers but they recognized the problem. The comfortable people who posed with pussy hats leave me questioning whether this country can or even should be saved. The comfortable protesters certainly have the legal right to their comfortable lives and they have the legal right to advocate for war with Russia and they have the legal right to hate the President and wear silly hats. They have a legal right to despise the Deplorables and to petition to have sleeping homeless people removed from their places of business. They have the legal right to demand respect for their sexual choices. They have these legal rights because the government guarantees them and if they tear down the civic peace of government, who will protect these rights? I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I see the postmodern farce of Madonna in an orange prison jumper. Is she supposed to be King Christian wearing the Star of David during Nazi occupation? Are Ashley Judd And Julia Roberts supposed to be our Red Emma and our pistol packing Connie Markowitz? Is Lena Durham supposed to be our Marianne or our Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi? What I really want to know is will those people drinking Starbucks die with us on the barricades because the differences between guerrilla theater and guerrilla war are getting really blurry.
I don’t want to get too snarky but I am getting pretty cranky. Revolutions, as Lenin insisted, are not tea parties. In revolutions resisters get shot for showing courage; in films about revolutions actors get applause for making a courageous performance. The Democratic Resistance may be as silly looking as Teapartiers dressed in revolutionary drag but it is much more dangerous. In 2008, Obama was really popular and he had the support of his own party. Obama failed to ram through his agenda because he refused to rally the people who put him into office. By the time the Republicans hamstrung his administration, he had already lost his momentum. Obama was defeated in the Massachusetts senatorial campaign and by his failure to support Wisconsin’s unions. McConnel’s obstructionism and Trump’s birtherism were obnoxious but they didn’t destroy Obama’s agenda. Failure to push for card check, Medicare for all, voter registration, prosecuting Wall Street fraud and war crimes, new trade deals, authorizing the extra-judicial murder of US citizens, and overthrowing the government in Guatemala, Ukraine, and Libya were the real disasters.
In 2016, Trump is much less popular than Obama in 2008. His most progressive polices (which he shared with Sanders) like reversing trade agreements, renegotiating drug prices, building infrastructure, and stopping a war with Russia depend on Democratic support. His own party hates him. Impeaching or (God forbid) assassinating Trump would throw the entire government into the hands of Pence and Ryan. That would re-gear the war on Russia, reinstate the trade deals and guarantee the end of the New Deal and the Civil Rights era. Does anyone on the so-called Left really think that’s a good idea? There’d be a real fight then; the kind where lots of people die in loud and messy ways. Who is going to do the fighting and dying then? I don’t think it’s going to be the people in pussy hats but I’m sure I’ll be going to plenty of funerals if I live that long.