Thursday, March 03, 2016
ON THE AVENUES: Since 1960, outside looking in.
A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.
A presidential election campaign is under way and bile chokes the air, so much so that most of us are completely disgusted a full eight weeks before Hoosiers are permitted to endorse a primary outcome long since determined.
As with every such carnival spectacle during my adult life, there is nothing I might conceivably write that would close any books, rest the case or knock “it” out of the park – and by the way, what is “it,” anyway?
Most of us made up our minds a long time ago, as far back as early childhood, and what actually happens to determine “choice” when the ballot is pressed into one’s hands is a phenomenon far more Pavlovian than Republican or Democratic.
As the political push-button arguments are made ad nauseam, with a side effect of ad(vertising) nausea, here are a few observations confined to the personal and immediate. Some of them were included in a column I wrote four years ago; although some of the names and faces have changed, the milieu sadly seems much the same.
It is by no means an original thought that Americans have divided themselves into increasingly agitated camps, the likes of which we’ve seldom witnessed since pre-Civil War times. This is an unsettling omen, considering the richly improved modes of murder developed during the 151 years passing since Appomattox.
A 2012 article in the New York Times attempted to provide an explanation, geographically.
Broadly speaking, the Southern and Western desert and mountain states will vote for the presidential candidate who endorses an aggressive military, a role for religion in public life, laissez-faire economic policies, private ownership of guns and relaxed conditions for using them, less regulation and taxation, and a valorization of the traditional family.
Northeastern and most coastal states will vote for the candidate who is more closely aligned with international cooperation and engagement, secularism and science, gun control, individual freedom in culture and sexuality, and a greater role for the government in protecting the environment and ensuring economic equality.
Nature or nurture? It’s a question that won’t go away. Since we don’t talk any more, my guess is that it will remain on the table – or social media, which is even worse.
In 2016, more than a few pundits are interpreting the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as symptoms of an approaching seismic shift in the American political climate, as impelled by economics and demographics, and with ramifications for the shape of both types of politics: Democratic and Republican.
I’d be more enthused about the possible disintegration of the Republican Party if I weren’t well-read, and as such, aware that unintended consequences often ensue when power vacuums are created.
At the same time, if this is Trump’s ultimate aim, I may have to buy him a beer.
I haven’t watched a single presidential primary debate, preferring to monitor their inevitable regress in the post-modern way, through Twitter.
Once each debate concluded, most of us proceeded directly to our favored electronic portals and the shambolic remnants of what used to be called “news” organizations, where we absorbed which candidate “won,” thus absolved from examining any pre-conceived notions with respect to ideas that accidentally might have strayed into the game show format.
Let’s face it: Those participating in campaign set pieces find exactly what they need to buttress what they already believed, anyway.
Few humans past pre-school ever experience epiphanies out of thin air, because there are so many more subconscious influences layered beneath the surface than rational ones requiring patient thought, as yet awaiting clarification.
Of course, we’re periodically capable of incredible feats of transcendence, pole-vaulting those deep-seated, ingrained behaviors amassed during early periods of our development -- just not very often, and seldom convincingly.
With another eight months of pain ahead, I’ve been thinking about my own process of socialization.
How was I raised? Educated? What were my formative experiences? What was learned? Forgotten? Which bits inform my everyday life as an adult, and which of them are hidden? How much of it did I accept … and reject?
Indeed, I’ve tended towards a certain qualified rebelliousness. I look out into the world and locate persons and ideas that annoy me, often after first exploring them from the inside, and then find or formulate whatever is necessary to irritate them in due measure. If you don’t believe it, just ask One Southern Indiana.
For the longest time, I have engaged in an internalized, existential debate: Which of life’s conditions offend me worst, the powerless among us being exploited by the powerful, or the powerless accepting exploitation without fighting back?
The current presidential campaign wasn’t necessary for me to arrive at an answer, but it has confirmed my verdict: In America, power is money, and neither power nor money is on the side of those angels I prefer to call my own.
Like hamsters on a treadmill, the exploited are kept constantly running. It isn’t always possible for them to fight back, or to lift themselves by Ayn Rand’s bra straps. When the deck is stacked, making “good” decisions is a crapshoot at best. Equal opportunity and the One Percent are antonyms.
But it still strikes me as ludicrous how few of my brethren have reached the same conclusion, when unlike me, they still dabble at being Christian.
Jesus as a one-percenter? Give me a break. When you have to formulate a prosperity gospel to assuage your conscience, might as well be an atheist – or read one of Rand’s dreadful novels.
In terms of my cohort, in the sense of a regional demographic pattern, it seems that I’ve turned out quite differently than most.
As a secular humanist, I shun religion. As a European-style social democrat, I embrace Bernie and the prevailing pejoratives; like FDR, I welcome their hatred. Foreign films, espresso, stinky cheese, better beer and novels with words, not pictures, continue to intrigue me.
My idealized version of Americana is small, unique and localized, and it comes without Wal-Mart, Chick-fil-A or Amazon. Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and those who consider them to be their champions reside somewhere on the other side of a fundamental divide, either of my own making, or theirs.
They pluck, pander, pave and profiteer. I just want a community based on knowledge, not knee-jerks.
Most of the 55-year-old white males I know aren’t like me, especially the ones with whom I was raised in that rural, Jimmy Stewart, small-town, countryside setting that always prompts nostalgic elegies of bygone days.
But among the chief characteristics of this presumably golden, unspoiled upbringing, which my fellow survivors regularly enjoy forgetting, are these: It was superstitious, stiflingly mono-cultural, permeated by casual (at best) racism, and with malignant varieties of overt cultural prejudice always present for absorption by youth, as openly displayed by the adult community’s supposed role models, movers and shakers.
It sickened me then, as now, and this is why whenever I hear fellow white males of my approximate generation spluttering and pontificating on the topic of Muslim Obama this and unpatriotic Black Lives Matter that, all the while denying that their “ideas” emanate from racism, I look at them and say just one word.
C’mon, guys. I grew up with you, played sports with you, drank beer and chased girls and cheated on tests with you. In reality, the idyllic places where we grew up were unceasingly stupid, racist places, even if the racism wasn’t overt – hell, it didn’t even have to be; why do you think it was 98% white in the first place?
You enjoy denying that any of the oozing, pestilential, stultifying hatred you unthinkingly spew when challenged has anything to do with racism, or by extension, with the absence of any semblance of diversity or choice in our respective upbringings, and while I’ll concede that the contagion is buried so deeply that it probably is genuinely subconscious at this juncture, it does not permit you to dismiss it.
Don’t kid a kidder. Stop embarrassing me. I gotta live here, you know, and I’d really appreciate it if we could make this election year into something positive, rather than the sort of outcome making me desire alcoholic detachment in Canada.
But: Cape Breton Island.
Do they have beer there?
February 29: ON THE AVENUES REPRISE: Die hard the Hunter, or the political "impossibility" of rental property registration in New Albany (2015).
February 25: ON THE AVENUES: Gravity Head again, because times change, and possessive pronouns change with them.
February 18: ON THE AVENUES: Mourning in America, circa 1984.
February 11: ON THE AVENUES: James Fallows, New Albany, and the primacy of bricks over string music.