Sunday, February 26, 2017

Emperor of Empty Spaces

We had a taxicab driver in New York this weekend who is one of those people you just want to adopt and bring home. Or maybe, you want to introduce him to your dog, because you know they would love each other. He is the sort of person who apologizes when he interrupts you, "But you see, I must know if you want to be on the east or the west side of the street."

Rich People to the Top. Poor People at the bottom. 

He is from Pakistan, but he now lives in Queens.  I wanted to ask him how competition from Uber has affected his livelihood, but never got to that because something else was far more of a problem for him now. 
Now he gets stopped and interrogated by ICE agents because they know a lot of taxicab drivers are immigrants. They have made his life miserable, and he is, he was quick to point out, a citizen. 

And I thought, how would any of us be made any safer by throwing this guy out of the country?

The next day, I was doing my usual Manhattan wandering, walking north from my hotel and allowing the traffic signals to pick my streets for me, never stopping and waiting for a light, just turning down a street I had not investigated because the light at the corner was red and I found myself on the east side of 5th Avenue between 56th and 57th, and noticed a lot of police, and police with M-16's and helmets, and I looked in the building and realized it was the entrance to the Trump Tower, all black stone with gold trim.

And I thought: Here is this billionaire who lives in a penthouse suite trying to round up and throw out of the country guys like my taxicab driver. 
They are both from Queens, but from different strata.

Back in my hotel room, on the 64th floor,  I could see the Hudson River and the GW bridge, Central Park and to the east, the East River. And I looked at all the tall buildings between my hotel, 5 blocks north of the park and the new ones going up which will cast a shadow on the park. Their shadows will block out the sun for plants in the park, darken walkways and bicycle paths, not quite to the ice rink, for which Donald Trump once famously took over construction because the city had become bogged down by regulations and union work rules.  Once the big shot built an ice rink for the people, now the big shots were building buildings for themselves which would cast a shadow over the people's park. 

The Failing New York Times ran an article about Steve Bannon today. He is the brains behind the bluster in the White House now and his big concept is that the United States is a nation with an economy, not just an economy among nations. Catchy phrasing, don't you think?

Mr. Bannon once planned to write a 26 part TV series on America and its people and its history. The Bannon version of the world as it was, or how it should have been; his very own creation myth. The world according to Mr. Bannon. Now he is in the White House faced with reality, and he's writing executive orders to ban Muslims from entering the country, as if he actually could prevent bad hombres intent on murder and mayhem from entering the country with an executive order.

But, really, what is a nation?  Is it lines on a map? Is it fruity plains and purple mountains' majesty? Is it the coastal towns of Maine, the glacial lakes of New Hampshire, the peaks of the Rockies, the windswept plains of Kansas, the desert of Arizona, the sunny shores of California?  Is it the cows in the fields of of Vermont, the pigs penned into feeding lots in Iowa? Is it cornfields? 

I would submit a nation can occupy all of the above, but a nation is no more a collection of things (land, borders, possessions)  than a man is his possessions, his house, his car, his wardrobe. Without his worldly tangible things, the man is still who he is. You can lash him to the mast and send him out to sea and when he washes up, naked on the beach, he is still the man he is. 

And so it is with a nation like the United States. Yes, the nation claims land, geography, products, missile silos, but, at core, it is the people. 

The cornfields of Kansas did not elect, nor should elect the President of the United States. People should do that. 
We gave this pig a vote

When Jefferson and Madison and the delegates from Georgia and South Carolina went about constructing their new nation, they were terrified the rules would be written by the masses in the big cities of the North. So, they allocated representatives to Congress by state, incorporating into political power, the notion of land. Just as a plantation owner got his own power from the size of his estate, and the property he owned, (which included 2/3 of all their slaves to count for allocation of representation) each state would get power from the land and property  it claimed.  States with smaller populations liked this idea, and they were mollified by the arrangement of each state getting an equal number of Senators even if the smaller states had few people.  
The last time these guys get to be this high

Today, Montana, Idaho, the Dakotas have fewer people living in each than live in any one of the biggest cities of Pennsylvania, but each of those states has two Senators, where Pennsylvania has only two.

When President Trump won the last election, he won on the back of this anachronism as embodied in the electoral college. The people did not elect Trump, the states did. More accurately, the peculiar distribution of the disaffected in key states elected him.

Some have spoken about the great state of suburbia, because the people living in Shaker Heights, Ohio and Grosse Point, Michigan have more in common with people in Scarsdale, New York and Chevy Chase, Maryland than they do with people living in Lima,  Ohio. 
The nation by geography

What we have now is a divide not among big states/little states but affluent areas vs economically depressed areas. If you are living in Wisconsin and your factory closed, you are in the same sinking boat as the guy in Ohio, Pennsylvania or Michigan. 
So the people who live in all those places which are largely empty of people, empty spaces which include the heads of some of the electorate, have elected the billionaire to save them. 
The vote by population

It doesn't matter to you that Mr. Trump proposes solutions to problems which do not exist, solutions which have no viable chance of solving those irrelevant problems. It doesn't matter to you that Mexicans and other Hispanics fleeing their failed states are coming across the border into the United States are not actually harming you.  It doesn't matter to you that the Pakistani taxicab driver in New York City is harmless and in fact, is raising his kids to have a burning desire to do well in this country and it doesn't matter to you that when the big shot wants to drive him away, it won't help you one whit. It doesn't matter to you that turning back Muslims at JFK and Logan and Dulles airports will not prevent the next (and would not have prevented the last) 9/11 terrorist attack.

All that matters to you is you have an outsized power to disrupt the ways things are now.  It's the only bullet you have in your gun's chamber. So you are going to pull that trigger, even if you wind up shooting yourself in the foot. 

Feel better now?

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