THE BIG PICTURE OF AMERICAN POLITICS: Part 1

OCTOBER 2016. Guest blog by Kelley Kidd. With only a short time left before the 2016 presidential election I am as enthralled with the process as I have ever been since I watched Harry Truman battle to keep his job in 1948. Presidential elections tend to focus my energy on the big questions of public life, or at least on those I happen to believe are the big questions. I suspect that at the heart of American politics the big questions remain the same in each election. Perhaps the main issues of American life are not now dramatically different from those of other moments and even other nations, although particular occasions and appearances vary over time.

From my point of view one of the most cogent descriptions of the big picture came from a corporate executive last year. That description came in the context of the only game in Baltimore Oriole history which was played without any fans in the ball park. A few days before a young man named Freddy Gray had died in custody after having been arrested for running away from being watched by several policemen. To many Baltimoreans it appeared that for African-American men fleeing from policemen had become a capital crime! Rage led to violence. For the first time since the Rodney King incident in the 1990s an American city was wracked with a several nights of street violence. The word riot was used by more than a few commentators. A scheduled Oriole game was played, but the ball park seats were empty. The executive who ordered the gates closed to fans explained that the park closure was intended to protect the safety of fans. Anyone might have expected that executive to bemoan the loss to Orioles fans and to have harsh words for the rioters. Instead we got a long tweet in response to a radio broadcaster’s complaints about those “rioters”:

“I agree with your point that the principle of peaceful nonviolent protest and the observance of the rule of law is of utmost importance in any society. MLJ, Gandhi, Mandela and all the great opposition leaders throughout history always preached that precept. I also believe in a democracy it is critical that due process and the completion of any investigation must precede any judgment against any accused police member. That said, my greatest source of personal concern is focused neither on the single night’s property damage or upon the acts, but upon the four decade long period in which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the US to China and others, plunged tens of millions of good hard working Americans into economic devastation and then followed that action y diminishing every American’s civil rights protection in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living at the butt end of an ever more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.”

The executive was John Angelos, the son of the wealthy owner of the Oriole franchise. That same young man made these statements long before the rise of the Trump phenomenon with its emphasis on denouncing the movement of American jobs abroad and its calling for closing our borders, lowering taxes on the very wealthy and corporations to induce the latter to retain employment in the US, and its repetition of the Nixonian call for “law and order’. The greatest issues of our times seem to be linked in concern for both the rise of a police state and the decline of the economic fortunes of the many at the hands of the few. How these issues are linked seems to divide us; that they are linked appears to be a notion that transcends the usual political and economic roles of the very rich. Neither Trump nor Angelos are crowd pleasers with large numbers of us , but they are talking about the same issues.

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