Checkmate

by jkatejohnston

18 March 2016

Dear Max,

Every time I think or say something about politics, I hear the exact same thing on the radio a few hours later, and I realize that whatever I said or thought probably came from the radio in the first place, or from some podcast. I don’t watch TV news or (sad to say) read the newspaper, so all my sources of ready-made opinion come in through my ears. All this to say that politics is probably a cursed subject for fresh observation. Nevertheless!:

I’m going to miss President Barack Obama. (My fingers still have a tendency to type O’Bama. O’Dear-a.) By some series of miracles we got this smart, classy president. Way to go, America. (It’s like having Phineas Finn for president. And wouldn’t Madam Max make an awesome First Lady? And if you don’t get that, read the Palliser Chronicles.)

Trump. Wow. But it makes sense. A lot of Republicans hate Obama, and it’s hard to imagine anyone more opposite from Obama than Trump—in tone, appearance, opinion, belief, temperament, every possible way you can measure a human being. And look at their hair.

At first I was gloating over the possible break-up of the Republican party. Now I’m (very mildly) alarmed by it. Because isn’t the alternative a multi-party system where one far-right party is openly racist? That doesn’t feel very American to me. That sounds more like France or Germany or probably a lot of other places, but not here. Maybe one useful thing the Republican party has done all this time is absorb (in the sense of a shock-absorber) the racism in this country and diffuse its power. George Herbert Walker Bush got elected partly by race-baiting. (Readers of a certain age will recall Willie Horton.) But Bush’s policies weren’t racist, that I can recall.

But back to the current race. It’s terrific entertainment, and I never use that word to describe something trivial. My favorite is John Kasich. I’m going to vote for Hillary, natch, it’s my demographic duty, but I like Kasich for his decency in indecent circumstances.  When he gave his victory speech after winning Ohio, I listened to it live on my iPod. I was walking Colin at the time. We got to the big, still-mostly-empty construction site at the edge of our neighborhood and started off across the open ground. Daylight savings had just started. It was warm. On the radio, Kasich was talking about budget deficits. He sounded happy and grateful but not especially victorious. And let’s face it, it was a modest victory. Blue sky, a few clouds in the distance. Colin pooped and I picked it up in a bag and tied it off. Jobs, manufacturing—he was speaking Classical Republican, a language I understand, though I don’t speak it myself.

Along the western edge of construction site there’s a line of boxcars: rusty, unmoved (they’ve been there forever, the same ones, you can tell from the graffiti). Their sides say Missouri Pacific, Cotton Belt, Hydro Cushion. (Newer freight trains that roll through town pull flat cars loaded with shipping containers that say UPS, Wal-Mart, Knight Shipping.) On the other side of the construction site there’s a line of houses, the first to go up in the new development: pricey pieces of trash, unconvincing imitations of the hundred-year-old houses in the neighborhood, so close together they might as well be condos. I’ve wanted to write about those boxcars and houses for a long time: how rare it is to see such perfect contrast in your field of vision at the same time. And as I listened to Kasich’s speech wind down to its unspectacular end, I decided that the boxcars are like Kasich and the houses are like Trump, and that’s why I like Kasich. (I don’t think the Trump half of that analogy works. The houses are trashy and expensive—so far so good—but they aren’t quite glitzy enough.)

Hillary. Well, it would all be a lot more fun if she were the female equivalent of Obama, but you can’t expect a series of miracles every time. She’s a known quantity. I know no harm of her—or not that much, considering how long she’s been a public figure. About twenty-five years ago, I saw her at UCSB wearing a headband and pastel skirt suit, campaigning for Bill. I didn’t listen to her whole speech. I was just walking by, and she didn’t seem that interesting. She still doesn’t. But I don’t need the president to be interesting, not every time. And when you think about what it means to girls never to have had a woman president—that shit just needs to be corrected. (I wonder if it really does mean that much to girls. But in case it does, let’s get it done and move on.) I just hope Hillary doesn’t invade too many countries. Surely our recent history would tend to discourage that.

Back to the Republicans. Poor Republicans!

One huge thing they haven’t adjusted to is the loss of gay marriage as a campaign issue. Gay-baiting used to be a reliable way to rally the base. But the big court decisions and, far more, the changes in how people think and live have ended that subject as a political issue. What’s left? Race-baiting, in the form of anti-immigrant blow-hard pronouncements. But the only candidate willing to stoop to it is Trump, so he’s getting the base that needs baiting.

I’m puzzled about this base. Who are these people who need someone to hate in order to vote? Why are they so angry? Are their lives that terrible? And is it really The Establishment that they’re angry at? Who feels anger at something that abstract? When I’m on my bike and someone in a car leans on her horn two feet from my head to let me know how inconvenient my existence is for her monstrous vehicle—I feel anger all through my body, hot, pissed off, helpless rage. Does anyone feel that about Washington Gridlock? Or Radical Islam? Or Illegal Immigration? All this supposed anger sounds pretty hypothetical to me.

Back to Trump. It’s annoying that he’s taking up so much attention, including mine. But I don’t fear for our country. Even if Trump were elected (which still seems almost impossible) how much could he do? Certainly not the things he’s promised. They’re either totally unfeasible (the wall) or obviously unconstitutional (the ban on Muslim immigration). We still have a legislature, lame though it may be, and a respectable court system. We have checks and balances. In a Trump presidency, we’d have to go with the checks, as in checkmate, you idiot. It would be embarrassing, but aren’t we already there?

 

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