‘Holy Sh*t! I Voted for Hillary!’ Pt. 1

I told my daughter Ketzel that I was going to vote for Hillary Clinton in the March 1 Democratic primary in Texas. I said it over and over, in fact, because she asked about my choice I don’t know how many times, thinking I would eventually change my mind about Bernie Sanders.

The night of the primary, after the AP had called it for Hillary, Ketzel asked who I’d voted for. Maybe she imagined a soft, warm light washing over me as I stood in front of the voting machine, the Zeitgeist actually guiding my finger to the Bernie button.

When I said Hillary, she was incredulous — Could. Not. Believe. It. — and then accusatory.

“How could you vote for Hillary Clinton? You liked Bernie so much.”

The galling thing was that she was right, up to a point.

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Ketzel and I enjoy a meal together at the Thai Thai Cafe in San Marcos, Texas.

Ketzel is the youngest of my three daughters. She’s majoring in social work at Texas State University, and follows national politics closely for a 21-year-old. Big Bernie supporter. Ketzel and her boyfriend caught every debate between Sanders and Clinton, even the one on a Saturday night. This is her first presidential election as a voter. And she is up for the Revolution.

How do you tell her and the bazillion other young Sanders supporters, “Hey, look, this is a joyless election. Thanks to the Republican Party, this is about keeping a lying, racist, sexist, megalomaniacal dimwit out of the White House. So please wipe that weird, messianic grin off your face, and get strategic.”

Of course, when I decided to vote for Clinton in the Texas primary, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio still looked like real alternatives to Donald Trump. But Rubio is vapid and inexperienced. A nice suit with a good bio tucked into the breast pocket, but not much else. Cruz? Where to begin? He’s shown zero talent for leading any group other than pissed-off tea partiers. He lies, misleads, and obfuscates with ease. He thinks the separation of church and state is the result of Satan’s many campaign contributions to Thomas Jefferson.

Please, GOP, come back to us. Leave the outer dark and the howling wind and those infernal voices, and rejoin us at the camp fire. Become a real party again that we can entrust with the presidency, if it’s not too late.

Sanders people, you too need to come to the camp site. Don’t be afraid. It’s not the Bern, but it’s nice and toasty here, and we have Dos Equis.

But please don’t bring up those polls that show Sanders soundly beating Donald Trump in the general election, and Clinton narrowly losing to Trump. Any horse-race poll conducted this far from November is meaningless. Reality and the elections that occur within it are messy, with too many unanticipated variables to count.

Also, answer me honestly — how hard would it be to characterize Sanders as an un-American radical next fall? Sanders, the self-proclaimed socialist. You think technocrat Michael Dukakis was an easy mark in 1988? Buddy, just you wait.

And while we’re on the subject, I don’t think there’s a good way to tell one of your kids, “I like Bernie the same way I like Johnny Rotten. But I’d never want Johnny anywhere close to the Oval Office, not even for a visit. Johnny needs to be Johnny, and Bernie needs to be Bernie. Both of them are better for us when they’re being unruly, as opposed to being rule-y.”

Free college education and Medicare for everyone would be awesome. Give those ideas as much airing as you can; let them percolate. But they don’t line up with today’s politics. Imagine the firestorm they would ignite on Capitol Hill.

Sanders is right: income and wealth inequality are serious threats to the United States. But who believes he’s capable of building a coalition in Congress sturdy enough to pass the dozens of big, weighty bills it would take to begin correcting the imbalance — everything from overhauling the tax code to increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Instead, we’d see the hard right lose its mind again, or lose even more of its mind. More rancor, more heat, more of nothing getting done.

But maybe there’s a shot at a working two-party system if Clinton wins the presidency.

For one thing, after the anti-intellectualism and magical thinking that took root under President George W. Bush, and the years of obstruction and tea-party craziness after Obama’s 2008 election — not to mention what the GOP is subjecting the country to with Trump’s candidacy — the Republican Party will have no choice but to remake itself. Moderates and principled conservatives (think: way more Edmund Burke than Newt Gingrich) will have to show that they’re genuinely interested in the hard, dirty work of governing, and that they can handle it.

That doesn’t happen if Sanders is in the White House, pushing hard to the left. But it could under Clinton.

Here’s what we could expect from a Clinton presidency: no sudden moves, no jarring departures from Obama’s policies, and the pursuit of legislation that stands a chance at passage. The high-voltage controversies over Benghazi and Clinton’s emails and her private server would dissipate because, again, GOP has to finally show some honest-to-God accomplishments. Either that or give up the claim of being a responsible national party once and for all.

I’m pretty sure that’s how it would play out. Hopefully, I’m not engaging in my own version of magical thinking.

I know what this sounds like to Bernie’s supporters — incremental, passionless, and happily married to the status quo. Worse, it’s handcuffing the country to the Clinton family legacy of Wall Street interests over the little guys, tawdriness, and secrecy.

At this point, I have to say I’m rattled, especially with reports of Bernie gaining ground in California and Hillary looking like a godawful closer.

It feels to me like a game of chess I played with Ketzel during a visit to San Marcos a few weeks ago. I taught her how to play, and helped her understand strategy and tactics. Over lunch at the Thai Thai Cafe, she beat me for the first time. It was a drubbing. I played a steady, conservative game. She went all out, and she joyfully, ostentatiously crushed me.

 

Have I made the wrong choice in this election? I don’t think so.

But I’d feel a lot better about my vote if my relationship with Hillary weren’t so damn complicated.

NEXT WEEK: ‘Holy Shit! I Voted for Hillary!’ Pt. 2: Coming to grips with the Clinton legacy and the candidate

Endnote: Click here for some understanding of the sad plight of moderates this year.

 

Please Shut Up About Austin

 

Two weeks ago, Austinites said “screw you” to Uber. Knowing the rideshare company and its smaller competitor, Lyft, would likely bolt if they rejected a rollback of the City of Austin’s regulations, voters said no anyway.

Uber lost the referendum because voters detested the company’s strong-arm campaign tactics, which brought into sharp focus just how arrogant and strong-armed its business tactics have been.

But I’m going to exercise my blogger’s prerogative and offer up another, deeper reason, without any evidence whatsoever.

Many of the voters who rejected Uber’s ultimatum were fired up by the frustration of living in Austin these days. They are tired of the traffic that’s wasting more of their time and creating more air pollution. Their neighborhoods are being overrun by newcomers with little history in Austin and no sense of the place. As their homes value rise, their property taxes eat up more of their money.

For Austinites on the margins — most musicians and artists, servers and bartenders, hotel workers, and mechanics — the city has become hostile territory.

The reality of Austin is increasingly at odds with natives’ memories of Austin.

What’s changed is that Austin’s one of the big deals in the information economy. Apple, Google, and Facebook operate there. So do Ebay/Paypal, Oracle, Silicon Laboratories, and Applied Materials. San Antonio companies such as Rackspace Hosting and the cybersecurity firm Denim Group have a presence there because they need to access the city’s tech talent — it’s still way harder to come by in SA.

The impact of this growth shows most dramatically in Austin’s housing statistics. The city’s median home value last year was $227,800, according to the U.S. Census. San Antonio’s median? Just a shade more than half that — $114,600.

An aside: we’re hearing that San Antonio is a “city on the rise” much less often these days, for a few reasons. The biggest is that then-Mayor Julian Castro took off to fulfill his real ambition — to make Julian Castro a true national Democrat. Whatever the reasons, I’m glad “city on the rise” as a brand is withering away. I suspected that, to the people who repeated COTR ad nauseam, San Antonio would look an awful lot like Austin when it stopped rising.

Not that that’s even possible. Technological preeminence is not in San Antonio’s DNA.

Invisible in Austin: Life and Labor in an American City, published in September, gives a good historical rundown of Austin’s exceptionalism. It started after the Civil War with Austin leaders keeping tenement housing and other kinds of public housing out of their city. They didn’t want factory workers mucking up the place. Factory owners got the hint, and manufacturing never became a major part of the local economy.

Attempts to exclude the great unwashed didn’t stop there. 

“Historically, there has been a consistent failure on the part of city actors to make affordable housing a necessary part of urban growth in Austin,” wrote the authors of Invisible in Austin, which profiles 11 people struggling to survive their city’s economic boom.

Austin’s development was anchored in the University of Texas and state politics and government. From there, you get the idea — brain power, research capacity, and the rise of “the creative class.” It’s a short jump to tech Mecca.

And to Tesla Model S sedans cruising down Congress Avenue, the best concoctions that mixology has to offer, and glitzy condo highrises overlooking a city whose culture is under new management.

Uber and Lyft were at the heart of it all. They made up the transit system for the new elite.

On May 7, Austinites stuck with more of the downside than upside finally had a chance to act collectively, and they did a William F. Buckley Jr. They stood athwart history yelling “Stop!” 

 

 

 

 

 

The Middle Class Is Leaving the Building

OK, it’s not exactly breaking news that the middle class is dwindling. But it’s nice to pick up new details every now and then so we can gauge how screwed we are as a nation.

Last week, the Pew Research Center published another link in the increasingly long chain of evidence that our country is, in fact, in a bad way. Between 2000 and 2014, Pew found that the middle class lost ground as a percentage of the population in 203 of the 229 U.S. metropolitan areas it studied. That’s out of a total of 381 nationwide.

What’s middle class to Pew? Annual income of $42,000 to $125,000 in a household of three.

These people in the middle weren’t disappeared by the government (not directly, anyway) or aliens. Some of them climbed up and some fell down. The number of lower-income households increased in 160 metro areas. The number of wealthy households increased in 172 metro areas.

So the country is getting both richer and poorer, and the bridge of the middle class is looking dodgy.

Zeroing in on the San Antonio area’s numbers, they weren’t too shabby compared to the study’s broader findings. Yes, our middle class slipped, but only to 52.6 percent of the population in 2014 from 53 percent in 2000.  The good news: the percentage of lower-income San Antonians dipped to 29.1 percent from 31.8 percent, and the number of richer hpuseholds grew to 18.3 percent of the population from 15.3 percent.

Texas’s other major metros — Austin, Dallas, and Houston — each saw more significant shifts than San Antonio, demonstrating once again that ours is the Ford Focus of regional economies. Nothing to brag about, but it’s reliable.

Houston’s wealthy jumped to 23 percent of the population in 2014, before the price of crude plunged, from 19.4 percent in 2000.

Dallas’s middle class dropped to 50.4 percent from 54.5 percent 14 years earlier — certainly not because they all got richer. In fact, the number of Dallas’s low-income households (now 27.6 percent of the population) grew faster than its wealthy households (now 22 percent).

Nationwide, all but three of the 10 metros that lost the most economic clout were in the Rust Belt states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio — the ones punished most by plant closings and manufacturing job losses.

But they don’t have a lock on wage stagnation, job insecurity, and status anxiety. There’s plenty to go around.

Donald Trump is counting on it.

 

Big Business, LGBT Rights Czar

Here’s an idea: let’s hand over the responsibility for protecting LGBT rights to Big Business.

I’m confident this would work at all three levels of government — federal, state, and local — across the country. But in Texas, success would be close to a lead-pipe cinch.

True, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is looking to drastically reduce the number of places where transgender folks can lawfully pee when they leave their homes. For all his apparent agitation, though, I’m pretty sure the issue doesn’t matter much to Patrick. I mean, he’s got to get voters at the Republican grassroots fired up somehow ahead of the general elections. Remember the miracles Karl Rove worked for George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004 with gay marriage?

But the potty conundrum actually means something to the religious right and parents worried about the safety of their kids in public restrooms. So expect no-potty bills in the 2017 legislative session from rural lawmakers nobody has ever heard of, except in their home districts and within six square blocks of the Capitol building.

In North Carolina, transgender people already have to go to the restrooms dictated to them by their anatomy, or God, the author of their anatomy, or whatever. It’s state law.

But there’s a big difference between Texas and North Carolina. A couple years for now in Texas, a woman who identifies as a man will be free to go to a public men’s room, and vice versa. And it won’t be because of some landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. It’ll be because the measure never made it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

I’d be comfortable betting that any no-restroom-for-the-wicked bills filed in the 2017 Texas Lege will die quiet deaths in committee. At most, they’ll die noisy, faux-noble deaths on the House and Senate floors.

Either way, Big Business will be the executioner.

Just look back to the Lege’s last session.

The Texas Association of Business (TAB), the state’s most powerful business group, “helped” kill several proposed constitutional amendments that popped up in the 2015 Texas Legislature, changes that would have allowed fundamentalists to take their religion out on others. That would be people to whom religious conservatives don’t want to sell services or products because of said-people’s sexual orientation. In their end-of-the-session report, TAB officials wrote: “If this constitutional amendment had passed, Texas would have earned a reputation for being hostile to business and economic development prospects.”

Just like Indiana did in 2015 when Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Homegrown Eli Lilly & Co., Apple, Walmart, and Nascar were among the corporations that protested the law.

Corporations need millennials to prosper, both as employees and customers, and millennials are just fine with LGBT. A poll conducted in March by the Pew Research Center found, for example, that 71 percent of millennials support gay marriage. Gen-Xers followed with 56-percent support, Baby Boomers 46 percent, and the “Silent Generation” 38 percent.

After signing the religious-freedom bill, Pence was unnerved by Big Business’s reaction, and the Indiana Legislature quickly passed an amendment intended the protect the LGBT community from discrimination. Pence, of course, signed it.

The Hoosier State has an Indiana Chamber of Commerce, but that organization doesn’t quite have the say-so of TAB.

This is a group with real power. Hence the quotation marks around helped in the sentence five paragraphs above, as in “‘helped’ kill” the proposed religious-freedom amendment in the Lege last year.

Equality Texas?

You’re joking, right?

Texas Freedom Network?

Yes, and the Texas Observer is the most widely read publication in Texas.

ACLU of Texas?

Really, you’re killing me now. How many times were you dropped on your head as a baby?

Business didn’t want the amendment, so there was no amendment. The same was true of the most radical, Arizona-inspired legislative responses to illegal immigration that country lawmakers tried to push through the Lege in 2011. They hit the wall that is Big Business. When the burning issue is undocumented workers, it’s about low-cost, available labor for TAB — nothing else.

Not to give TAB too much credit. The primacy of business goes back almost to the State of Texas’s infancy.

Erica Grieder, a senior editor at Texas Monthly, convincingly made the case that business interests usually have trumped religious conservatives’ sweatier legislative fantasies in her 2013 book, Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right: What America Can Learn from the Strange Genius of Texas. But she also included a caveat, rooted in the fact that Texas is a one-party state when it comes to statewide elections.

“Republicans have amassed so much power in Texas that the religious right is getting more ambitious — just as the moderates are becoming more skeptical,” Grieder wrote.

Are we at the point where hard-right social conservatives have enough stroke to overcome Big Business’s pragmatism? I don’t think so. Unless Joe Straus’s re-election as Texas Speaker of the House in the 2017 session is in some kind of grave danger that we’re unaware of.

If Straus loses the speakership, let’s agree to regroup in New Mexico. Someplace nice. Taos, maybe.

But odds are Straus will survive. Assuming he does, I’m counting on him not only to support my plan, but to be its make-happen agent.

We’ll work up a contract that gives TAB powers of the state to protect the rights of the LGBT community and to weigh in when the lawmakers of the religious right get a little overly excited.

Giving TAB this new role could have a side-benefit — it might keep TAB officials so busy they won’t have time to continue trying to gut environmental protections or skew Texas’s tax system even more in the favor of Big Business.

Trump’s Heartland

A china plate with a painting of President John Kennedy, Jackie, and the children hung in the place of honor above Grandma Mabel’s TV in the family room. She kept Kennedy’s autograph in her jewelry box. Scrawled in green ink on a grimy piece of plastic, my grandfather scored the autograph when Kennedy made a campaign stop in Muncie, Indiana, my hometown, in 1960. Grandpa Dale, who died of lung cancer when I was three or four, was a sheriff’s deputy at the time, assigned to Kennedy’s security detail.

Grandma had been a stay-at-home mom, raising their only child, my mother, Jerri. But she took on odd jobs as a bookkeeper. One of them was for the United Auto Workers Local, to which my grandfather belonged when he worked at BorgWarner, which manufactured transfer cases and other auto parts. I have a vague, probably unreliable memory of going to the Local’s headquarters with her one day to drop off some papers. I remember a lot of brilliant, gauzy sunlight in the room, which is why I think it’s unreliable. I see the room in my mind in the same reverential way she talked about the UAW.

She knew just about every Democratic officeholder in town, and she served as an election judge for the party, election after election.

Despite everything, my grandmother would have voted for Donald Trump in Indiana’s pivotal May 3 primary if she’d been alive. She would have helped seal his claim to the GOP nomination.

Grandma died unexpectedly late in President Bill Clinton’s first term. At 86, she took a nap one day and her heart just stopped.

She remained thankful for FDR and the New Deal throughout her life for saving her and her people from extreme poverty. But under Clinton, the Democratic Party embraced Wall Street and made a religion out of globalism. Its concern for the collapsing, blue-collar middle class was fake. I can’t imagine what she made of her party as she read the newspaper or watched the news with the volume turned almost all the way up.

A little more than two years ago, my step-father died of throat cancer. I flew into Indianapolis from San Antonio the day after to help Mom. She and a friend, who drove an old pickup, met me at the airport and drove me to Muncie at dusk. Louise took what I’d always thought of as the back way into Muncie, through Daleville and over country roads. Myself, I would’ve taken the highway in. The area had been hit with its worst blizzard in years and the narrow roads were iced over, snow swirling over their surfaces. It was dark when we drove into Muncie, and there were few streetlights on the road we were on. But it didn’t matter. I’d made only a few visits since moving away in 1989 with my wife and our kids — first to Bloomington, then Indianapolis and San Antonio, where we live now. But I’ll always know State Road 32.

To the right stood a long, low pitch-black rectangle against the piled snow and lesser darkness. That was the BorgWarner plant that closed in 2009 and remained empty. On the other side of the road was the cemetery where Grandma and Grandpa were buried. The plant had hung in the background, with all the shiny cars and trucks in the parking lot, when I visited Grandpa’s grave with Grandma.

A tornado never hit Muncie when I was a kid because, according to legend, Chief Muncee had blessed some bend of the White River, which runs through town. I was always fuzzy on the details. Nevertheless, I imagined a magic, invisible wall with tornadoes slamming ineffectually against it. It’s too bad Chief Muncee didn’t foresee deindustrialization. Protection against that would have been a much better gift.

That said, he may never have even existed. I learned recently there’s no solid evidence that Chief Muncee was anything other than a myth. Despite our many mobile homes, maybe we just got lucky with the tornadoes.

Muncie, a city in East-Central Indiana that made auto parts and other stuff, went to shit as manufacturing moved overseas and automobile production in the United States shifted to the Sunbelt states where labor was cheaper and non-unionized.

A low point was in 2009. A few minutes into a phone call with Mom, she said the mayor was talking about turning off hundreds of streetlights because the city couldn’t afford to keep them on. As Mom laughed — a “What can ya do?” kind of laugh — I imagined Muncie collapsing into darkness, with the streets lorded over by stray dogs and hopeless, violent teenage boys in muscle shirts.

Thankfully, the city council somehow found the funds to keep the lights on and stave off chaos for a while.

In 1970, the year after I was born in Ball Memorial Hospital, the Muncie area’s population was nearly 130,000. By 2015, the number of residents had dwindled to a little less than 117,000 people. Income is even grimmer than the population loss. Muncie has a median household income of $30,530, with one-third of the people living in poverty. The unemployment rate was 6.3 percent in March. Statewide, it was 5 percent.

I don’t know how much of Muncie’s troubles registered with my grandmother. Surely she noticed the anxiety setting in, felt the decline, despite the bulwark of her habits — the meetings of Amaranth and Eastern Star, her weekly hair appointment, her scheduled trips to the store. If nothing else, she experienced the trouble through my mother, who was divorced with me and my sister in tow, a drug addict, and either unemployed or underemployed, depending on the status of her luck.

Mom died of heart failure on January 30, 2015. She was in the throes of delirium tremens, and died alone in the bathroom of her small, heavily-mortgaged house. After a few months in Indiana state prison for theft in 1988, she beat drug addiction but years later had become an alcoholic.

Throughout my childhood, much of which I spent at my grandmother’s pink-and-white house on Hollywood Avenue, I watched her grow bitter. Never toward me, though. We watched the Cincinnati Reds together. We’d each have a Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza, she’d give me a frosted glass of beer, and we’d watch the game. She gave me quarters to read and to tie my shoes. But Mom was something else. My grandmother’s disappointment and confusion — how could her daughter turn out that way? — poisoned their relationship. So did my mother’s addiction to Valium and other prescription drugs, and her constantly bleeding my grandmother of money.

As Grandma’s bitterness deepened, her body began failing. Her hearing got worse, and she experienced stiff joints and mild vertigo every now and then.

I imagine her personal turmoil made her see Muncie’s decline more acutely. Everything was going to pot, as she’d say.

Muncie and the thousand cities and towns like it are the Waffle Houses at which Trump feeds. Disillusioned and angry, longing for a security that had been real but that’s gone now, the hurt raw, not eased much by Jesus. Suffering is not a virtue in Muncie.

My grandmother would have said, “Yes, finally — someone who knows what he’s talking about. Why can’t we be great again?”

The wall would have made good sense to her, and so would the ban on Muslims.

Trump’s racism would have pulled a trigger in my grandmother’s brain. She was too ladylike to ever say “nigger,” at least in front of me or my sister. But she routinely referred to African Americans as “jiggs” and “blackies.” Whenever Jesse Jackson appeared on TV news — which he did much, much more in the ’70s and ’80s than today — she would go apoplectic. Apart from the racism that was in the air in Indiana at that time, I think she blamed the break-up of the New Deal coalition on MLK and his disciples, including Jackson, and black nationalism, though she wouldn’t have thought about it like that.

In most ways, Trump would have been her man.