Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Trump? Who Cares? Jimmy McNulty Instructs

There is a scene in "The Wire" which keeps coming back now in the post election funk.

Jimmy McNulty is finally out to dinner in a swanky restaurant with Theresa D'Agostino. Their relationship until this moment has consisted of  running home, tearing off their clothes and having sex, but this time they decide to actually have dinner together.

D'Agostino grew up in Baltimore, of humble origins, but is now living in Washinton, D.C., leading an upscale life, managing political campaigns and acting as a consultant to Democratic candidates. (She will ultimately manage the successful mayoral campaign of a white candidate.)

Jimmy reveals he didn't vote in the presidential election when Bush ran against what's his name--and Theresa helpful supplies, "Kerry."
She is taken aback. Why did he not vote? For Theresa, voting against Bush was a very important act, a defining action. 

Well, neither Bush nor Kerry would ever matter to Baltimore, Jimmy explains,  and the only way either of them would ever even know West Baltimore, with all its problems, even existed would be if Air Force One crashed into Martin Luther King Boulevard.

You can see the steam coming of of Ms. D'Agostino's ears. She is so angry and turned off she shuts the door behind her when they get home, leaving McNulty baffled, on her door step.

For D'Agostino, McNulty's indifference to the fight she fights every day is outrageous. In her eyes, it makes him a knuckle dragger, indifferent to the important issues which animate her life. How can he think these national politicians and national elections do not matter? 

But of course, what McNulty is saying is he feels the same way, simply in reverse. To her, the local concerns of who gets shot on a corner, who gets put into jail are irrelevant and beneath her notice.  She does not live on the street corner. She thinks she lives in the clouds of Mt. Olympus.

But for McNulty, the strife among the national gods doesn't matter. All that matters in his life is what happens in Baltimore, and in fact in the inner city, where he sees lives destroyed or ruined daily. For the people he deals with every day it is local government, namely the police and the mayor's office,  whose decisions really matter. 
What happens in Washington seems remote and irrelevant.
(Of course, McNulty learns differently eventually, years later, when he finds he needs help from the FBI to help establish wire taps crucial to building his cases to imprison and bring down drug king pins,  but the Republicans in Washington, who will have to authorize and fund the program, don't care about Democratic Baltimore or its Democratic mayor. 
Like Theresa, they have "bigger" concerns.)
"The trouble is," one friendly FBI agent tells McNulty, "If you were chasing down Ahkmed or Abdul with this wire tap, well then they might be more interested. But catching Shakeel or Tyrell or Stringer Bell,  not so much."

This is the scene, I imagine, we have just played out with all us impassioned Democrats out here on the coasts furious and disdainful of all those apathetic Rust Belt yahoos who don't care about policy or principle or Washington, which is not much more than an abstraction to them.  

They just want their jobs back and they want someone who thinks as incoherently as they do.

It doesn't matter to them if the Donald can't do anything, if his idea of policy is grandstanding at an air conditioner plant, or Tweeting about the cost of Air Force One. 

Far as they're concerned, none of the smart people who talk about policy, and global trade ever did anything for them.  What mattered to them is Donald knew where the Carrier air conditioning factory was.  He didn't have to crash Air Force One into Indiana to find them.


  1. Finally The Wire and real life come together in an instructive way!

  2. Mad Dog,
    As Tip O'Neill famously said "All politics is local"..People's first priority is what is effecting their home, then their own community and only if both of those areas are thriving, will they look outward to the national scene..Trump may be a nutcase, but he is also a terrific sales person-he knew instinctively the same thing O'Neill did..That's not to say Hillary's campaign didn't try working that angle as well, they did, but it didn't always resonate with voters..Bernie Sanders could really work that theme and so, unfortunately, could The Donald..

  3. Maud,
    I thought this campaign disproved Tim O'Neill's famous assertion, but maybe you are right--it was just the opposite, maybe people were just saying, well I'm not doing so well personally, so I don't care about being offended.
    I imagine academics and pundits will eventually come up with a plausible explanation for Hillary's defeat and Trump's victory, but I'm not sure I'll believe anyone. The one thing this election did for me was to convince me nobody knows. Probably a lot of different streams coalesced into the wave that swept Trump in.
    Mad Dog

  4. Mad Dog, what way do you think the campaign disproved O'Neill's assertion? Perhaps you mean the way the campaign was conducted-in which case I'd agree with you-but if we're talking the actual election and outcome then I think the O'Neill line stands..

  5. Maud,
    I think Trump appealed to people from a national stage, without ever getting granular and local. Or at least he didn't do that much. You will say, well, he visited the Carrier plant in Indiana, and when he went to Maine he talked about local concerns, but mostly he gave the same speech from every stage and that was mostly about the Muslims beheading people and we had to keep them out and the Mexican rapists. Neither should have been hot topics in NH, but he still had lawn signs all over Hampton without any local Hampton discontents obvious. Economy here is good. People doing well, but a lot of people heard his general message--you are an underclass, and I am your champion. Nothing local, just an appeal to class resentment.
    Mad Dog