Cops used to have revolvers, not automatics AND plate carriers AND tasers AND tear gas AND automatic rifles in the car. Mall security didn’t use to have MA-1 jackets and bloused BDU pants and jump boots. The chance to go out and see the country and the world from Alabama used to be a good thing. You could have Ed Koch lip-sync in a country music video. Your Southern Baptist music minister could get a job at Opryland and wind up on a soap opera and it was impressive, not scandalous. You could trick-or-treat and your parents would roll their eyes at the people handing out religious tracts. You had opponents, not enemies.
Then the middle hollowed out, and it became okay to use rage and hate to keep them that hadn’t from ganging up on them that had, and them that had wanted more and more and could never give any back, and and and. Three decades of “anything goes” from one side, and a political culture and media that would never call them on it, is how you can have the kind of deterioration that has a bankrupt racist reality star giving a State of the Union address.
And the problem was made most obvious by Robert Muller, who did an investigation for two years, uncovered an ocean of malfeasance, and then issued a strictly-limned report on only what had been asked. No fishing expedition or ancillary investigations like Ken Starr. By the books, with the narrowest possible remit. And it sank like a stone, and the buffoon in the Oval Office took it as clearance to do it again. Which led to impeachment, which failed in the same Senate that defanged the gravity of impeachment twenty years ago, and which will clear the way for even more misconduct without fear of reprisal or consequence. Because consequences are for younger and browner people.
Some people actually want to blame Obama for this, as if he somehow failed to deliver something that was in his power. It wasn’t. Even if he were unconstrained by a Republican Party that made 218-60-5 a mandatory formula for passing anything – a majority in the House, a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and a majority on the Supreme Court – he was constrained by history and circumstances to play by the books, above board, never be angry, never fight dirty, against an opposition that had spent fifteen years normalizing the very worst of Southern politics. The current GOP isn’t Obama’s fault at all, it’s Newt Gingrich’s and those who went along with him.
It’s all been mainstreamed. We’ve been slow-boiled for years and years. The effect of the 1998 impeachment, at a time when the public was resolutely against it, was to permanently tar it as a political maneuver – and thus nullify it for a time when an actual crime would be the subject of an impeachment. And so it has been. The race to be the 46th President is led by four septuagenarians and one callow youth who’s never won an election bigger than mayor of a college town. The spayed and neutered media will chase any grasshopper, equivocate about everything, and the odds are strong that the Democrats will lose again, even if they have the most votes. The general consensus seems to be that the Republicans can lose the popular vote by as much as 3% and still prevail in the electoral college.
And that’s a risk. Mayor Pete was too young and too gay. Warren was too old and too female. Bloomberg was too old, too rich and too Republican. Biden is too old and rickety. Bernie is too old and socialist. (I will swallow my misgivings and support any of them, even Bernie, despite my suspicion that if the shoe were on the other foot I couldn’t count on his followers to do the same. If Sanders is the guy, you’d better fucking know you can either swing Ed Earl Brown or bring out enough of the base to outweigh him.) There’s not some perfect opponent out there to do the deed, not that there ever is. And I know that right now, they all beat Trump in a national poll right now before the press goes in the tank, but we don’t vote right now and we don’t vote in a national election. The Electoral College was made for just this purpose: to preserve the opinion of the rural elites against the depredations of the public and the cities. Whatever grand notions you have about what the Democrats should do will be dust and ashes if they lose, and for the third time in six tries, they could easily lose with the most votes.
And at that point, I honestly don’t know what I’ll do. Maybe in future, you could fix the Electoral College, if only with the National Popular Vote machinations. Some people still think that demographics will prevail in the long run – you know, when we’re all dead. But the Senate will always be with us, and the smaller and rural and whiter states will always have disproportionate power over the urban multicultural majority for as long as I can expect to live. And if the Democrats don’t prevail in November, the judiciary will be locked down for a generation and more with the kind of know-nothing Patrick Henry-Bob Jones-Hillsdale-ACLJ types that have flooded the vacancies ever since Merrick Garland was stonewalled.
I don’t want to live in the United States of Alabama. I left there because, pace Carvell Wallace, I could not stay and be human – and which state returns Trump his highest approval ratings? I know that California will hold the line for as long as it can, and that might be enough to see out my days, depending. I don’t have any children, which in retrospect was absolutely the right decision even if it’s going to be painful in years to come. But we don’t have the kind of reliable retirement our parents could count on – instead of pensions, we have the same 401(k) and 403(b) stock market roulette wheels that could see us done about half as we prepare to retire. And looking around the Valley, as everything turns temp-to-hire-only and vendor-contractor and 1099, it’s hard to shake the sense that you’d better hang onto whatever job you have with both hands, no matter how miserable and soul-sucking, because without it you’re going to be driving Uber. The Amazon bomb is killing the Wal-Mart greeter. And it’s all the worse because Silly Con Valley is where your future comes from. Gig economy, Tesla worth more than any of the Big Three automakers, you can’t afford to move here, you can’t afford to stay. Corporate power without appeal or resort to governmental action, the constant petty tyranny of private associations from your “employer” to your HOA, selective application of law and policy – bad enough that’s what’s coming, but I’m already living it, where the only law that matters is the one that gets enforced. Dodging bikes and scooters on the sidewalk is on you, but heaven forbid you park on the street in front of your own home.
The hardest part of all this is experiencing it again. To wake up once and realize that the place where you live taught you a values system and way of life that it doesn’t actually believe in and actively works against? That’s bad enough. But to experience it a second time, when you left that state and moved as far as you could, only to have the country turn on you – and on itself – begs the question of where’s left to run to. Even if you could afford it, even if there were visas and work permits and all the bric-a-brac involved in finding a safe place to wait out your days. Six years ago, I said that “if the Old Scratch himself appeared before me, offering to jump me ahead to age 60, but I’d be retired, with my wife and a healthy pension, and a cottage in a cold seaside town where the cops still carry revolvers and the coffee shop is still where you go for bacon and eggs and gossip, and where the one dive bar in town has a fireplace and doesn’t sell anything more exotic or complicated than Guinness, and where the sputtering air-cooled VW can get us around without the hassle and strain of walking on a bad back…I’d have to think long and hard before turning it down. Assuming I would.”
Well, I wouldn’t. I would give away the next decade in a heartbeat if it meant the prospect of twenty good years of retirement, someplace sane and simple and more human and humane than 2020 America. Apart from a slightly smaller iPhone, I don’t need any more than I have. So many of the things I want aren’t things, and the ones like that which I do have, I want to keep instead of having them slowly whittled away by an increasingly awful world.
Pandora opened the box, but I’ll be damned if I can still see hope in the bottom of it.