A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.
Recently I overheard a conversation at the coffee shop about the point of no return, the last straw – the time when one decides to jump ship.
In this instance, the precise topic was the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency. Would such a revolting development merit moving to another country?
Would it mean exile?
To be more precise, would it mean self-exile?
Self-exile is often depicted as a form of protest by the person that claims it, to avoid persecution or legal matters (such as tax or criminal allegations), an act of shame or repentance, or isolating oneself to be able to devote time to a particular thing.
Granted, Trump’s elevation is unlikely, and any conceivable notion of exile remains problematic in the absence of any substantive tradition of asylum for gravely disillusioned Americans seeking refuge in the civilized world – places like Bamberg, Poperinge or Copenhagen.
Even so, I still believe that a plea for asylum accompanied by a few photos of New Albany's slumlord properties, one-way streets and economic dishevelment cadre just might do the trick. Any self-respecting resident of the Netherlands would be utterly appalled, and offer his spare room.
It so happens that I was reading The Economist on the very same day, specifically, an obituary for the Irish playwright Brian Friel.
Interviewers sometimes suggested he might have stayed in America longer. It was ever the land of liberation for him, the place his characters would leave for as soon as the potato crop was in. But he knew that, if he went, homesickness for green Ireland would gnaw away at him as surely as at them. Exile was not the answer. There was a strange dignity in staying but wavering, trying to balance emotions that would not be reconciled. Confusion, he insisted, “is not an ignoble condition”.
Emigration is a recurring motif in Ireland. During the Great Famine, Irish men and women left the island in droves, primarily to avoid starvation. In the decades that followed, and right up until the recent times, consistent patterns of self-exile continued owing to Ireland’s anemic economy and the absence of reasonable prospects for a life at home.
Over time, it’s the sort of reality calculated to produce torment and melancholy in a country’s cultural milieu, to be expressed in art, theater, music and writing. The playwright Friel decided escape was not the answer, and while he explored more universal themes in his work, we can guess that a certain intrinsic stubbornness played a role.
I can relate to that. Of course, there are other reasons for choosing exile, including war, pestilence and political vicissitude. It is the latter that concerns us today.
To be blunt: Does our recently concluded municipal election constitute one of these “jump ship” moments?
Or, is this a pertinent juncture for progressives to face the cruel facts about New Albany’s perennial hopelessness, and choose exile in a locale where the “A” students rule?
I don’t think it is, but these are bleak times, indeed. Book readers have almost as much reason to be scared as sheep during a second Jeff Gahan term in office. However, there are a few reasons for optimism amid the gloom, and his looting goons.
First, although you wouldn’t know it in the absence of detailed analysis by any traditional local media source, Gahan’s victory was not a landslide. It’s undeniable that a win is a win, but the incumbent lost 11% of his decisive 2011 mandate. 53% of the voters opted for Gahan, and 47% expressed a preference for his two challengers. It’s bad, but closer than before. Another $50 million in TIF bonds and he's toast.
And we're broke.
The Republicans made incremental gains, picking up two seats on the council. With nominally independent Scott Blair a fiduciary milquetoast and Dan Coffey always eager to flip to the highest bidder for an extra acorn, three Republicans occasionally might be able to throw a spanner into Gahan’s luxury palace construction plans.
Unfortunately, the winner as usual was apathy, with more than 70% of the city’s voters refraining from participating in the election. They’re about to get what they deserve, good and hard. So are the rest of us, especially the dissidents who challenged the coronation.
Still, I’m not giving up, primarily because giving up is something I resent having to do. For one thing, "love it or leave it" is a false dichotomy in my contrarian’s cosmos.
There’s a third way: Stay and continue trying to change this bastion of underachievement for the better, in whatever way can be mustered, great or small, if for no other reason than to prove that old white males need not be angry quasi-fascist reactionaries.
They can be angry muckraking liberal malcontents.
It isn’t as though I lack for experience in such endeavors, because however one might describe my clan, it was outnumbered long before the 2015 election took place. I’ve been a dissenting thorn in the side of presumed propriety since the 5th grade, and I’m not finished yet.
(See what I did there?)
Underdog is my life. Among other things, I’m a humanist, an atheist and a heretic. Hereabouts, roughly nine bad beers are sold for every good one, and so that’s the one I drink. My diet includes more pickled herring than hamburgers. I took the Bernie Sanders test, and got 95%. Pro sports mean more to me than college, and education always trumps athletics. A car is an onerous appendage to be regrettably accepted, not exalted as an extension of one’s tumescent genitalia.
I support local independent business, level playing fields, the rank and file, walking and biking, human rights, diversity and fundamental decency. I oppose cliques, boorishness, time servers, cowards and willful stupidity.
At least simple ignorance is correctable.
Make no mistake, taxpayers: Gahan’s going to come out spending, and as before, it’ll be for those otherwise senseless capital project "wants" best calculated to preserve the Democratic Party’s stranglehold on power, and never as intended to alter any fundamental problems in the city. Too many people profit from decay management and pretend-decay-rectification, and Gahan needs his share of their money.
If nothing else, he’s really good at that.
Once the customary flagellations and reprisals take place. Gahan’s insipid cult of personality will be propagated even more heavily in preparation for the next step in his ambition, likely a State Senate run in 2018. Gahan’s team of acolytes is in place, its arrogance undoubtedly stoked by victory.
But it’s a machine with numerous holes, more illusion than substance. That’s because Gahan’s only palpable objective is political self-aggrandizement. Like most cults of personality, the aura doesn’t extend past the shadow of the chieftain, and his narcissistic need to be viewed as the fount of all wisdom is so ludicrous that it cannot survive dismemberment forever.
I shall continue writing the dismantlement manual, and soon enough, the curtain will be parted to reveal the great and mighty Oz, pulling at his levers. Meanwhile, let’s remember that Gahanism itself is no political doctrine.
It is a giant sucking sound of a well-tuned fundraising mechanism that never met a book.
Gahanism is neither defined by concrete ideology, nor illuminated by transparency. Rather, it is measured by crass transactions made in back corridors, rubber-stamped by co-opted functionaries, and executed to produce maximum monetization for candidate and political organization alike. It’s a pyramid scheme, and it might well crash and burn even before Gahan declares for higher office.
His political prospects will return to room temperature soon enough. Meanwhile, I’m not going anywhere, because Gahanism doesn’t frighten me.
It is soulless, anti-intellectual, and so much the personification of unalloyed mediocrity that if the mayor did not exist, a reanimated Ayn Rand would have to invent him, so as to be denounced by John Galt over social media.
I can hear the bleating of the dullards now, just as I’ve heard it before: “BLAHBLAHBLAH if you don’t like it here, why don’t you move somewhere else BLAHBLAHBLAH.”
Ah, but you see, jumping ship is the one thing I cannot do, because I’ve got to be me … and self-exile isn’t me.
Like Friel, I'm staying put. If you agree, start stockpiling paint, sit tight and wait for instructions.
October 29: ON THE AVENUES: A year later, the backroom politics of pure spite at Haughey’s Tavern still reek.
October 28: ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: How many businesses already have died because of City Hall’s street grid procrastination?
October 26: ON THE AVENUES EXTRA: Gahan says speeding sucks, but street safety can wait until after he is re-elected.
October 22: ON THE AVENUES: My career as a double naught capitalist.
October 19: ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: Courtesy bicycle to the Hotel Silly (2010, 2013).
October 15: ON THE AVENUES: To the New Albanians, each and every one.
October 8: ON THE AVENUES: There’s an indie twist to this curmudgeon’s annual Harvest Homecoming column.
October 1: ON THE AVENUES: No more fear, Jeff.
September 24: ON THE AVENUES: Almost two years later, Mr. Gahan has yet to plug in this clock, and so it's time for him to clock out.
September 17: ON THE AVENUES: Dear Neighbor: If you’re tired of the same old story, turn some pages.
September 10: ON THE AVENUES: Lanesville Heritage Weekend comes around again.