Thursday, May 12, 2016

Taken for a Ride

“Show business is like a bumpy bus ride. Sometimes you find yourself temporarily juggled out of your seat and holding onto a strap. But the main idea is to hang in there and not be shoved out the door.”
—Actor Cliff Robertson
I like my bus analogy from two weeks ago so much that I have decided to keep going with it.

The analogy likened the U.S. political situation and the country’s two-party system to a major city where there are only two buses to carry people where they want to go. If a bunch of people want to go to a place where neither bus is going, then the only alternative is for that group of people to take over one of the buses and change its route.

Let’s try to imagine these buses more vividly. Currently Hillary Clinton is at the wheel of the Democratic bus. Bernie Sanders is sitting next to her, and he has a steering wheel too, but his doesn’t actually do anything. Rachel Maddow is sitting behind Clinton and, when Maddow asks her a hypothetical question about where she would be driving if her wheel were the one that is actually steering the bus, the exasperated Clinton yells back, “But my wheel is the one that’s working!” On the front of the bus in the panel that displays the destination, it says, “A Progressive America.” Wait, no, that’s the panel that Sanders put up there. Clinton has papered over that destination with several paragraphs of intricate policy details, which no one can actually read because there are two many words and the bus is moving too fast. Oh yeah, and on the rear fender there is an “Arms Are for Hugging” bumper sticker.

What about the Republican bus? That’s the one that has been careening from one side of the road to the other as if a drunken madman were at the wheel. Actually, it was a dozen and a half madmen and one woman, but some of them have glumly gone to the back of the bus, a couple have taken seats right behind the driver, and the rest have gotten off the bus altogether and decided to walk. Some of those are actually thinking about trying to acquire a third bus, but they probably won’t. This is all because Donald Trump is now firmly ensconced behind the wheel. If he hears a peep out of any of the passengers, he screams, “I’m warning you! Don’t make me stop this bus!” He also keeps yelling obscenities out the window at drivers who are in his way or who he imagines are in his way. On the front panel there is a clear and simple destination: “America First.” On the rear bumper “Jesus Is My Co-Pilot” has been covered up by “Neither Marx nor Jesus.”

For people standing on the side of the road watching, there is absolutely no way to tell where the two buses are really headed.

Who are the passengers on these buses? On the Democratic bus, you have a fair number of people who liked Sanders’s destination of Progressive America. Some of them keep hoping against hope that he will somehow get control of the bus. Others are keeping an eye on Clinton to make sure she doesn’t make any wrong turns. The rest of the passengers are just along for the ride. They chose this bus because the only other choice was the Republican bus and they didn’t want to ride on that bus because, after all, everyone knows that bus is only for racists, misogynists and homophobes. (Even though the field of potential Republican drivers included two Hispanics and an African-American. And the same number of potential female drivers as the Democratic bus.)

Who is on the Republican bus? That’s a very interesting question. It used to be mainly business people, folks who took their religion seriously, people who wanted a strong military and citizens who preferred that the government did as little as possible. Some of those people may still be on the bus or are thinking about getting back on. Mostly, though, through the bus’s windows we see a lot of people who didn’t use to ride buses or even some who used to ride the Democratic bus. They are working people who used to think their place was on the Democratic but now feel crowded out by environmentalists, academics bent on social engineering, affluent people who “just want to help,” and a collection of what usually get referred to as special interest constituencies. The working people used to not see the Republican bus as going anywhere much different than the Democratic bus, but now they think that this Trump guy might be someone who is finally going their way.

Okay, enough with the bus analogy. Except to say that I keep hearing journalists talk about the buses, I mean, parties as if passengers never get off the bus they are on. Television analysts keep going on about how many electoral votes Trump would have to “flip” because, as we all know, people just keep voting the same way election after election. Besides, surely most voters know that Trump would be a disaster for economic policy and foreign policy, right?

Two things I’ve heard lately should probably make us rethink that. Yesterday on National Public Radio I heard Mara Liasson cheerfully report that polls show voters trust Clinton more than Trump in all areas except one. Then she added that the exception was the economy and, guess what, the economy is the area voters care about most. Maybe that is why some polls already show the general election tightening.

The other thing I heard had to do with foreign policy. That was a week and a half ago on NBC’s Meet the Press. Host Chuck Todd and his panel of journalist experts were having a good laugh at how incoherent Trump’s foreign policy ideas are. Then The New York Times’s Tom Friedman, of all people, said this about Trump’s recently delivered foreign policy address: “Well, it was everything the critics said. It was kind of a Mad Libs version of all his ideas put into different sentences and, as you exposed, utterly contradictory. But at the same time, you have to say, Chuck, contradictory in foreign policy, is that like supporting Saudi Arabia even though we know they were behind 9/11? Is that like supporting Pakistan, even though they support the Taliban? … Is that like telling me Libya was wonderful and then saying it was the president’s decision? So I think to try to find consistency in foreign is very difficult right now.”

This was a rare instance of an entrenched establishment commentator having a flash of insight into how a lot of regular people see things. To them what Trump is saying doesn’t sound any crazier than what is already happening.

Where are Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock when you need them?

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