Saturday Morning Open Thread 2023

Updated: February 2, 2023

Long rambling thoughts. I’m an inner monologue guy, so I need to dump them to output now and then.

I’ve been giving Bloomberg a defense of late. I don’t like him as a candidate, but I might need him as a candidate. He’s said bad things, had bad policies, it’s perfectly reasonable if he’s a bridge too far for folks. That’s fine. I need Trump out – like for my own mental health I need him out. Bloomberg won’t cause me to lose sleep, even if I don’t like him.

There’s another aspect of him that I like, that’s hard for me to explain. We have this really pervasive, very foundational white protestant myth of rugged individualism. Much of it stems from the Homestead act, where anyone could go pound 4 stakes in the ground, instantly be a property owner, grow some corn, and set one’s future. It’s a great mythology if you overlook the racism and genocide that made it possible, the cataclysmic environmental damage that resulted and was only attenuated due to massive government intervention, and the century of subsidies so it didn’t collapse on itself. But aside from that, it’s a great story of bootstraps and faith and Laura Ingalls Wilder. My first relatives that came to the US from Ireland, landed in South Carolina, marched west and did this very thing just like Tom Cruise in Far and Away (exactly like that – it’s stunning how much I look like him).

This isn’t just a Republican myth – it’s a Democratic one as well – which I hear in Mayor Pete’s  heartland values, Amy’s Minnesota nice, Joe’s malarky, and even Warren’s Oklahoma origin story. They aren’t necessarily malicious, but they’re good safe hearty aw shucks masks that we wear.

But my direct relatives didn’t follow their predecessors. They tried to, but arrived in Savannah just in time for the Union to blockade the port, and were directed to New York, and settled in Brooklyn like a zillion other Irish at the time. And we stayed there. Our path wasn’t growing corn and milking pigs or whatever you do with pigs, but, well, initially fighting for the Union since that’s something the Irish could be paid to do, but later selling stuff off of a cart, then opening a store, then an import business in NYC. Some went to school and became doctors. Some were sand hogs, police, a lot became firemen. My family still more or less runs the FDNY union (they’re all racist assholes, btw).

Most people’s stories look a lot more like my immediate family than the romanticized Little House on the Prairie version. It’s living in cities and suburbs, not working the farm or the somewhat more modernized version of working in the factory. But a lot of US policy assumes we’re kind of still on farms and shit. You don’t need a structured safety net when you literally know everyone you might  encounter on a daily basis. You can substitute the church or the general store or whatever for that. Bill doesn’t show up one day – you go check on him, help him out. I lived in a place like that in college. The town had 1400 people when school was in session. The town had a restaurant, a barber shop, and a general store. Like a proper one – wood floors and horse hitches out front that were used daily  (by the Amish). There was a 7-11/gas station and a train station and a liquor store – oh and a community bank, and that’s about it. The college cafeteria had a side store that was a bakery/deli, that the whole town used. You at least recognized everyone if not know everyone. Need a cop – walk over to the 7/11. 80% of the time the one on duty will be there. Need some money, go into the bank. One semester the check from my dad to cover tuition was late – the bank manager just gave me a loan. No id needed. If the check comes in the next 2 weeks, just pay him back – no interest. It’s nice – not much need for government when shit works like that – it can mostly just sit back and wait for some shit to hit some fan. Gun control isn’t really needed because you know everyone. If someone has a gun, you know why they have a gun, because you know them.

But I also lived in NYC. And it’s not like that. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad place, but heartland sensibility doesn’t scale well. You still know people, but they’re just blips in a sea of faces that you mentally blur out, like a red highlighted boss in a sea of videogame NPCs. These places need  more order, more structure, to function. If you need a loan, you need id. If you need a cop, well, that can get complicated… You can’t aw shucks a place like NYC or LA or Chicago.  You need a lot of rules.  You need government to be active, not passive.

Now, I went pretty much straight from NYC to that little college town. I also went pretty much from being an atheist in a city that isn’t majority anything to a protestant founded college out in the middle of farmland. It was a bit of a culture shock. I touched a horse (that didn’t have a cop riding on it), and saw a cow. That was new. But I also came to appreciate how intertwined white protestantism was with that lifestyle and mythology. I honestly don’t believe you can be white and protestant and not nostalgic for that. I’ve certainly never seen it.

One of the things that I appreciated with Obama, which I never really saw with any previous political leader – R or D – is that he didn’t view cities as problems. They had problems, but they weren’t problems. He didn’t buy into that mythology that if we all had a horse and a pickup the world would be a better place. And you see that still with how he’s approaching his library, his official portrait, and so on. He’s embraced being urban and rejecting nostalgia as a default view.

Part of what I believe needs to be broken in this country is that white protestant mythology, because that mythos required racism and genocide to exist – so of course it’s found a certain kind of peace with those concepts. It is rooted in rugged individualism which creates a natural opposition to structured government, safety nets, and so on and replaces them with a hootenanny, hotdish, and a shotgun as  needed. The one place where I have a bit of unease about Warren is how effortlessly she slips into and reinforces that mythology, albeit in a more progressive manner. Pete and Amy and Joe do it even more reflexively. Bernie and Bloomberg (NYC) don’t, though. Nor did Booker (Newark), or Harris (Oakland), or Yang (San Jose). But they aren’t with us any more. Harris was my #1.

I really do long for a break from that, as Obama provided. I would very much enjoy having a city raised, Jewish (or Catholic, atheist, Hindu, Muslim, black Baptist – just please not another fucking white protestant) president who doesn’t have that mythology, and doesn’t reflexively pander to it, and who can look at professional class workers, entrepreneurs, and the like as something other than a scourge on the UAW or the noble protestant profession of digging rocks out of a hole in the ground. Because the truth of the matter is that farming and factory work isn’t how the US functions any more. They’re important, but they aren’t the only thing worth protecting.

Maybe that gets the better of me in my thoughts on president.


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