Campaign 2016: The pendulum effect strikes the ultimate blow
Arco, Idaho, is the one of the most important American cities you’ve never heard of. The first town on earth ever powered by atomic energy, a neon dream cinema verite propaganda piece aimed at the Soviet Union’s assertion that the only use for atomic energy was pocking the earth. A few months ago, the artist Borbay and I went off tearing to the city in search of adventure and vision, in search of the past amid masonic husks of what once had been a downtown. We ended the night at a bar where only a few of the forgotten dared to try and enjoy life in their offbrand black hoodies over dirty jeans. As I left, I asked the bartendress, an Idaho grit mirror vision of a Baltimore hon, who she thought everybody was voting for there. She said Trump. I asked her why and she said everybody was looking for a change. And I did two things. I chuckled to myself. And I sympathized with these hearty, hirsute people. The atomic clock had made its epicenter there for 15 goddamn minutes and then left them behind with nothing to show for it but two giant prototype nuclear jet engines and a nuclear sub conning tower sticking out of the ground to draw a paltry amount of tourists. They wanted change, sure, they wanted jobs I told myself but jobs are growing at a healthy click. What I didn’t realize then was that what they really wanted, what the whole Trump movement was about, was the pendulum effect.
I look back now and want to shake that smug Victor, Idaho, intellectual and say “Look — this is the rest of America. You live next door. Open your goddamn eyes.” Especially since it’s been swinging this way for a few years, as the above cartoon so brilliantly illustrates. Obama got pot normalized, got the gays a wedding band, got poor folks health care, got black America proud and unafraid, got transgender people protected and executive ordered a path to citizenship (despite having deported a buttload of undocumented immigrants). For people living in towns where neighborhoods are still referred to by the settler who first homesteaded them (often within the last 150 years), such changes in less than a decade amount to an F5 tornado of leftwing extremism.
There’s more to it, of course, as there always is to the truth but in this world of black and white, absent of facts and hungry only for rhetoric, I’ll just focus on the overarching philosophical drive that best explains how an elitist blowhard fatback with the moral standing of a West Covina con man could convince a whole swath of Americans he has never met and has never shown any interest in helping to vote for him. How vague promises of protectionism from the future and, hell, even the present, lifted this unqualified septuagenarian into the White House. The pendulum effect.
The pendulum effect
I promise this will be my last bit of writing on the rotten presidential election of 2016. Frankly, I poured too much of my overworked heart and soul and health into facts and truths that in the end amounted to nothing compared to the great inalienable truth I was too blind to see even though it was literally at the end of my nose.
But as I wrap it up, I think back to my first article on this campaign, an article comparing Bernie Sanders with the doomed George McGovern through quotes immortalized in Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.” And so it’s appropriate that, as I re-read his aftermath assessment, I found a paragraph that so brilliantly explains everything that just happened as to give me some reassurance if only because we survived Nixon despite the doomsayers’ predictions. And it also revealed to me the sad inevitability of a Trump presidency we all should have seen from the bold declaration that he would end rape and crime by evicting all the Mexicans:
The ‘mood of the nation,’ in 1972, was so overwhelmingly vengeful, greedy, bigoted and blindly reactionary that no presidential candidate who even faintly reminded ‘typical voters’ of the fear and anxiety they’d felt during the constant ‘social upheavals’ of the 1960s had any chance at all of beating Nixon last year — not even Ted Kennedy — because the pendulum ‘effect’ that began with Nixon’s slim victory in ’68 was totally irreversible by 1972. After a decade of left-bent chaos, the Silent Majority was so deep in a behavioral sink that their only feeling for politics was a powerful sense of revulsion. All they wanted in the White House was a man who would leave them alone and do anything necessary to bring calmness back into their lives — even if it meant turning the whole state of Nevada into a concentration camp for hippies, niggers, dope fiends, do-gooders and anyone else who might threaten the status quo.” — Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
The Real America
Teton Valley Idaho is a classic wild west town. Settled by Mormon Homesteaders after the fur trappers found it; the home of one of the biggest mountain man rendezvous gitdowns, a land of the wild and the tough. A place that became a slightly-more-settled home to ranchers and farmers who wanted to live far enough away from everybody that nobody could ever tell them what to do; where you made your life by your hands and your guts and sheer will and interacted with mainstream society rarely if ever.
Then something strange happened. In the mid-20th-century everybody decided they wanted to go skiing. And Jackson Hole Mountain Resort was founded. It’s just over the pass from Teton Valley, Idaho, in Teton Valley, Wyoming, a town with a similar history, where post-WWII one of the few local bars used to have amateur bullriding contests in the lot just outside for anybody drunk and/or crazy enough to try it, usually ranch hands looking to blow off steam. Regardless, their history, once that ski lift opened, contact with the outside world was inevitable.
Today Jackson Hole’s cowboy past is just that, a past. At best it’s a bar and some fancy chintz. The Hole has been overrun by heirs and retirees; venture capitalists and tech billionaires and third-homeowners and trust-funders make up most of the community. College educated wealthy liberals have moved in and made laws about the non-erodable dirt you have to use to pave your driveway and report you to the police for shooting your gun legally in the national forest (note: this happened to me, and we had a chuckle with the cop who rolled up on us to follow up on the report). The land and ranch-owners mostly have no issue with it because, hell, they’ve made billions selling land to these people. The ones who’ve been left behind are the ranch hands and smaller landowners; the people who can see an ancestrage built by hands and guff but the future, hell, that’s a bit cloudier.
This is being repeated all over America but in most of these small towns there’s no money flowing in from those suit-wearing urbanites and jolly vacationers that at least allows a ranch hand the opportunity to make a decent living pouring concrete or even, like Mark Carter, splitting the year between ranching and professional snowboarding. For many small towns, like Arco, there is no future, not even a cloudy one. There is only a bright half-remembered past, a crumbling present and a precipice on the horizon every local knows is there but refuses to glimpse because such a vision could only breed hopelessness. Enter Donald Trump.
The Confusion Of Progress
Have you seen those commercials, the ones where the kid tries to explain that with his tech job he can run trains and turbines while his programmer friend explains that he’s gone to work for a company that makes apps of kittens that can shit on your head and turn your face into a duck – and somehow this job gets more attention? That pretty much sums up the vision of what’s going on in the cities for people out here who work 5 to 7, 6 days a week just to keep their house clean and built and keep their families fed while in some far away land they’ll never visit full of $300-dollar jeans and 80-pound supermodels, a bunch of pot-smoking rich gentry sitting at computers are making more money than any man can spend in a lifetime, so much that they can have homes in New York City and San Francisco and Los Angeles and a 20-acre ranch in Jackson Hole and they don’t even ranch, for fuck’s sake. These gentleman landowners PAY somebody to come and fix something simple in their homes, sacrilege in a place where people take the most pride on depending on nobody.
This is the future of the world, this America run by city boys and girls who make money with programs and algorithms and codes in shiny offices, where a few minutes in the rain constitutes battling the elements, where it’s not okay to make fun of people based on the color of their skin or religion but it’s open game to make fun of rural folks who never went to college. I know people who have never actually met a black person. That is, they’ve never actually had the opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with a black person, don’t understand this talk of a struggle because they’ve struggled all their lives, and their parents struggled to get running water and electricity, and their grandparents were worried about providing enough food to survive, and their great-grandparents were worried about being scalped. And this gay thing, they really just don’t understand, live and let live they say, sure, but all these gay men with their lady voices and big bright-colored clothing and fanciness, the ones they see on TV where men work planning weddings and interior design and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” shit.
This is a real world that they haven’t had to encounter until very recently. People from the city would feel a bit sick to see the process of killing an animal, skinning it, butchering it, though us urbanites are happy eating that steak. Folks in these rural communities could show you how to find, kill and prepare your dinner with your own hands. It’s a basic truth of our existence that is now so foreign to many people. Another very basic truth? There are black people, and Muslims, and gay people, and CEO women, and plenty of other types of people that aren’t often seen in “fly-over” towns. Obama has overseen some of the greatest gains for progressive causes since the 1960s, all great, all important, all speaking to the future. The last few years have also seen a boom of black protests, gay protests, women’s protests.
It’s all very confusing if you don’t understand that some people will be denied opportunities, including literally the opportunity to live, just because of their race; if you don’t understand that gay people are normal people who just happen to be gay. If you see everybody marching for some kid who dies outside St. Louis but don’t see anybody marching for your livelihood that died at the hands of gaudy big city hucksters like Trump but, hell, if he had the power to kill it maybe he can fix it; at the least he’ll protect you from those weird people you don’t understand. And you also don’t see why holding a door open for a woman is now considered sexist by some of ’em.
So you just want it to go back to how things were when everybody just pretended we all got along and you could support your family without an advanced degree and there weren’t people from a culture we don’t understand; where you could be proud of any job and didn’t have to see those damn “Sex In The City” broads talking about shoes and having rampant anonymous sex held up as strong female role models.
The pendulum effect. The response to possibly the most drastic social and moral and legal progressive movement since the Civil Rights Movement. It was inevitable.
Okay That’s It
This is my last rant of this damn campaign, a wonderful mental shit after a painfully constipating 18 months. It’s been humbling to go from so damned overconfident to the realization that all my facts and memories and anecdotes and eyeball kicks were worthless. While I’d been envisioning a great endless road to the liberal future, I hadn’t noticed they were envisioning a spiritual wall; a break in the movement to allow all the preservationists to catch their breath and slow down all these damn changes.
Don’t take this to mean that I’m okay with the bigoted backlash that threatens the civil liberties that actually make America great. The other day my wife was taking my son into the gym and overheard two men say “Now that that nigger’s outta there, those faggots are gonna pay.” That’s inexcusable, that’s unAmerican, that’s deplorable. I don’t care how little you make for a job you used to look at proudly, you’re a scumbag of the worst kind if you think such language much less belief has a place anywhere but in the deepest pits of Hell.
But as we wrap up the election and, for that matter this year, I’m gonna make an attempt to listen to these people and see why they think this. Whether they’re just ignorant and unworldly and unchalleneged or whether they’re actually just gloaming balls of hatred on two spindly legs. Do they really mean to frighten and hate and offend or do they simply not realize they’re doing so? Whether it’s a school system that sees many truths as secondary to subjective beliefs or whether they really and truly resent the encroach not of Muslims or Mexicans but the urban liberal champions thereof. Now we’re really in the total animal soup; might as well jump in and try to learn something.
And I’ll come to terms with the fact that this pendulum effect was always inevitable and perhaps the further we pushed it, the further back it would swing. And even more, it will swing back our way, and hopefully to great effect following a presidency that does not bode well for accomplishing any of the promises Trump made, especially as the freaky people seem to have become emboldened.
And after decades of feeling left behind by all the supposed gains by minorities and womens and college kids and intelligentsia and gentrifiers, it makes sense that they would want a change, even if it isn’t better, if only because it’s different and maybe some schadenfreude makes a perfect back to this newest shot of shit. The politicians haven’t worked for them, that’s for damn sure. Makes sense to go with the wild card.
It reassures me a little that this has happened before; we will get through it. We’re just gonna have to do more to realize our convictions than posting links on Facebook.
Goddamit, Hunter was right. How could I have been so blind? The Good Doctor always knows.