“They ain’t but two side in this world”

Richard Cohen at the Washington Post has written a very timely and important column, titled, “‘Real America’ is its own bubble. I urge you to click the link and read the whole thing. But the essence is that Cohen, who lives on the East Coast and works in an elite profession, is just as much a real American as the people who despise his sort. The recent presidential election was a referendum on two versions of America — a referendum that his side lost. But Cohen insists the differences aren’t what people imagine:


I served in the Army. I worked at blue-collar jobs. I washed dishes and bused tables. I went to college at night and worked during the day for an insurance company (as the legendary “Cohen of Claims”). My father was raised in an orphanage, and my mother was an immigrant from Poland whose first childhood memory was of hunger. Somehow, despite all of that, I am called a member of the “elite.” If so, I damned well earned it.

Cohen hasn’t written these words to put down people in the Midwest and South. Rather, he has written them to emphasize that the false distinction is being drawn between good people and other good people. This video clip, from the 1987 movie Matewan, illustrates the point. James Earl Jones visits a secret meeting of West Virginia coal miners and is abused by the white men. They all want to make a living digging coal and they are all threatened by ill-treatment from the company. Their interests are the same, but all they can see is skin color and “Where you from, boy?” It takes union organizer Joe Kenehan to remind them that they are in the same side of the only conflict that matters:



In the movie, the white and black miners — plus a third batch of newly arrived immigrant workers — make common cause and stand together for better pay and safer work conditions. They still lose, which is what happened in reality back in 1920 in the real town of Matewan, West Virginia. Cohen asks us to consider who we’ll stand with today.

I’ve been fortunate to grow up in rural Indiana, but also to live in big cities (Indianapolis, Washington, DC) as well as overseas. And it has been pretty easy for me. I never thought I belonged in one place more than another. I understand its not so easy for everyone. My mother, for instance, would become physically ill whenever she traveled more than about 20 miles from home. She couldn’t trust or enjoy being with people from outside her community. But she seldom needed to. My mother never did much harm.

But there’s a great deal of harm in the works from the unwise electoral choice that was made a few weeks ago. Cohen suggests that the “victory” of the red parts of America will last about as long as a bubble:

I will not concede that a greater wisdom exists in what is known as “flyover country.” It has voted for a charlatan, a blinged ignoramus who has promised the past as the future. Trump, who lives in a gilded bubble of his own, cannot reverse automation, replace robots with people or blunt American businesses’ compulsive search for the cheapest workforce.

Gibson is one thing. I understand. What I cannot understand is fellow bubble dwellers who tell me, with an air of impeccable condescension, that a vote for Trump was such proof of their own superior wisdom that it eclipsed all doubts about his qualifications, his temperament, his honesty in business and his veracity in speech. These people live in a bubble of their own. It is one that excludes the lesson of history and the demands of common sense. It will burst.

How “real” an American are you? You can find out by taking Charles Murray’s How Thick Is Your Bubble Quiz.

I got a 63. I’ve never bought a pick-up and I’ve never gone to Branson.

Post your results below!

Half-Fast Nation

I find it remarkable that so many people think of the election of Donald Drumpf as a mistake or an accident or a temporary act of poor judgement. They think it is what British people call a “one-off” — something that happened once but probably won’t happen again. To me, the election of Donald Drumpf seems a result of circumstances that haven’t changed and are likely to produce more results of the same kind. Rather than ponder what he’s likely to do, I think we ought to think about the process that produced Drumpf.

I am a believer in democracy and in the right of the majority to choose the leaders and the policies they want. I would accept his election cheerfully if Drumpf had been elected by a genuine majority of well-informed people who voted for him because they wanted him and no other person for president. But we know that was not the case.

He did not get a majority of votes cast. The number of votes cast in total represents only about 38% of the population, and Drumpf’s vote total amounts to barely one American in five. He got fewer votes than his major-party opponent. (Yes, I know Drumpf won without a majority because of the Electoral College. I know that it works to keep the populous states from ramming their candidate down the throats of the less populous states. I know that the Electoral College has the potential to work to my benefit, since I live in a less populous state. But I don’t care about tweaking the system to my advantage. I want a system that is 100% fair 100% of the time.)

During the primary there were more votes cast against him than for him within his own party. Many millions of people disliked or distrusted Drumpf but still voted for him because they disliked Hillary Clinton even more. And in many cases those Americans were deluded by false reports about Clinton. That isn’t me whining about Fox News spin. This a man named Paul Horner who over the course of the campaign made up and circulated dozens of pro-Drumpf reports that were Liked and Shared on Facebook millions of times. Horner is interviewed by the Washington Post about how much effect he had on the outcome. And he says he may well have turned the election. [ADD: The Washington Post also declares soberly and seriously that other fake news stories that undoubtedly influenced opinions of many voters were created by Russian hackers.] You can view this as a testament to the great power of social media. Or you can view it as proof that the American system does not meet the definition of a republic.

No, I don’t suppose that Horner’s assessment of his influence is exactly right. Perhaps it was less than he imagines. I don’t precisely know the effects of the Russian hacks, either. But I don’t doubt that millions of Americans who voted for Drumpf and for other politicians who promised to “drain the swamp” are going to be disappointed. We have a rotten system. It gave us a rotten outcome. And we can expect rotten results.

Years ago I lived in downtown Indianapolis near a service station that displayed a sign reading, “Half Fast Mechanic on Duty.” It was only after I got to know the wise-cracking, off-color proprietor that I understood the sign. You may be inclined to think that maybe there are some good people in power who will put things back in good order — make the electoral system fairer, protect individual rights and national interests over mere corporate interests, and so on. But before you rest too happily on that thought, you might consider whether the people you are counting on are also half fast, or if they exist at all. Start with “Smart, Qualified People Behind The Scenes Keeping America Safe: ‘We Don’t Exist'” in The Onion. Or, setting aside The Onion’s satire, we might consider the words of the great Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.”

The poet William Butler Yeats summarized this moment in his monumental poem, The Second Coming. You should read it all, but the key lines are:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


(“Lack all conviction” is another way of saying “half fast.”)


Maybe I’m being unfair here. I don’t personally know of anyone who’s resolved with renewed energy since the election to work to make America a better place, or to establish (again, or at last) justice and domestic tranquility and the blessing of liberty for themselves and their posterity. If I’m missing something like that, I wish you’d tell me. Because, as I said at the beginning, the election of Donald Drumpf by a manifestly undemocratic process strikes me as proof that Americans aren’t, and have never been, very serious about improving our system of government.

The scandal of Drumpf taking the election when Clinton got more votes ought to have been sorted out in 1824, or in one of the other previous times it happened. But John Quincy Adams didn’t fix it. Rutherford B. Hayes didn’t fix it. Benjamin Harrison didn’t fix it. George W. Bush didn’t fix it. Donald Drumpf and Mike Pence aren’t going to fix it now.

To conclude, Here’s what America’s path forward looks like to me: