Enjoying That Roasted Scapegoat?

[Editor’s note: A San Antonio executive writing under the pen name Felix Culpa graces our blog with his fourth post.]

Haters of evil, greedy corporations: good news! You have a new target to vilify!

It’s Wells Fargo, which agreed to pay $190 million in fines after creating fake accounts and forging documents in order to sell unwanted services to customers without authorization.

In addition to the record-high fine, the company is suffering severe damage to its carefully crafted reputation. Lawsuits are likely to follow. And all of you who demonize corporations get to roast a scapegoat.

Bravura performance at this week’s hearing, Senator Warren!

Elizabeth Warren speaks with voters as she campaigns after announcing her candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Framingham
Sen. Elizabeth Warren brutalizes some executive with her large index finger

But one wonders whether you’re aware of the irony at work here.

After all, one imagines that many of you lining up to take action against Wells Fargo earned your anti-capitalist cred via your outrage over the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which confirmed that certain organizations — like corporations — share some of the constitutional rights that citizens have. In that case, it was the right of political speech.

You probably held up signs and chanted that “corporations aren’t people.” But, in fact, by incorporating under the law, companies have always been granted certain rights and protections. The irony is that these rights include things like the right to pay taxes, the right to be sued, the right to be forced into bankruptcy, and the right to be held accountable for misdeeds. Just like Wells Fargo.

Yes, individuals at the company can be held accountable too. At Wells Fargo, more than 5,000 people have been fired for violating the rules. Prosecutors are probably exploring the possibility of criminal charges. Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling and Andy Fastow of Enron went to jail. In the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal, a company engineer has pleaded guilty, and there’s speculation that the Justice Department is building criminal cases against other top officials. Going after individual bad actors is always part of the process.

But the main target always is the corporation itself, and rightfully so. Especially where fines are concerned, a corporation has much deeper pockets than even the highest-compensated CEO.

You may argue that corporations can’t be sent to prison, but they can receive a death penalty verdict – like Arthur Andersen did – and they can even be wrongly convicted – like Arthur Andersen was.

So next time you get the urge to occupy Wall Street or whatever to protest against corporations’ rights, keep in mind that those rights work both ways, and right now they’re working in your favor.

NYT’s Pearl Clutcher

After the massacre in San Bernardino last December, the New York Times ran a pro-gun-control editorial on its front page, prompting my liberal Facebook friends to go nuts. Judging from their reaction, the side fighting for sane, or less insane, gun laws had just dropped the Big One. How could the NRA survive such an attack?

An editorial hadn’t run in that hallowed space since 1920.

I have to say though, I didn’t actually see the front page. I read the editorial on the Times’ website. In fact, I learned about this blessed development from a headline that popped up on my iPhone screen.

No one seemed to grasp the irony of celebrating and promoting this rare event on Facebook, which is probably where many of gun-control advocates found out about it. I can’t imagine anyone I know standing in their bathrobe and slippers on the driveway with the unwrapped Times in their hands, mouthing “Oh, my God!” Among the handful who ever see the Times’ actual front page, it’s usually when they glance down at the newsstand at Starbucks.

Redesign Your Cause: Nicholas D. Kristof
Nicholas Kristof, pearl clutcher

Progressives’ reaction on social media was like putting on your Google telepathy hat to tell a friend the latest Outlook email upgrade will have a profound impact on the way we communicate.

Nicholas Kristof’s Times column on Thursday, headlined “When a Crackpot Runs for President,” reminded me of the clamor that morning nine months ago. Kristof’s piece revealed a lack of understanding of today’s media landscape and a certain nostalgia, just like the notion the Times’ sets the national agenda with its front page.

His topic was whether journalists should be honest with their audiences about the danger Donald Trump poses to this country. He approached the question with great earnestness.

“I’m wary of grand conclusions about false equivalence from 30,000 feet. But at the grass roots of a campaign, I think we can do better at signaling that one side is a clown.

“There are crackpots who believe that the earth is flat, and they don’t deserve to be quoted without explaining that this is an, er, outlying view, and the same goes for a crackpot who has argued that climate change is a Chinese-made hoax, who has called for barring Muslims and who has said that he will build a border wall and that Mexico will pay for it.

“We owe it to our readers to signal when we’re writing about a crackpot. Even if he’s a presidential candidate. No, especially when he’s a presidential candidate.”

Now, just reflect for a moment on the hours of video you’ve watched over the last 14 months of Trump making outlandish, stupid, racist, misogynist, and sometimes dangerous statements. Off the top of my head: inviting the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s email, his eagerness to use nuclear weapons, his fondness for war, and his belief that many of our generals are know-nothings.

Progressives’ reaction (to the NYT’s front-page editorial) on social media was like putting on your Google telepathy hat to tell a friend the latest Outlook email upgrade will have a profound impact on the way we communicate.

Sorry, Kristof, but I’ve already concluded Trump is a threat to the United States. Whether a reporter flat-out calls him a whackjob in print or on air is of zero consequence to me. Most Hillary Clinton voters have already come to the same conclusion.

Donald Trump has taken us and the news media into virgin territory.

Kristof is a solid, card-carrying liberal, but he’d never have written the same kind of column about Mitt Romney or John McCain. And if he had, he would have been laughed off the Internet, his credibility smashed. His differences with Romney and McCain were within the band of acceptable politics. Trump’s politics are unacceptable.

Except to his supporters, whose fear of a secretive, corrupt Clinton administration overwhelms their misgivings about Trump. Wrongly. But, of course, I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Which gets to my deeper problem with Kristof’s column. It’s nostalgic for the days when big dailies and big networks were more consequential — when they had real authority.

To be an authority, a major cross-section of the population (national, state, or local, depending on which news outlet you’re looking at) has to agree that 1) you’re thorough and know what you’re talking about, 2) have integrity, and 3) are an honest, nonpartisan arbiter of facts and the contexts that make sense of them.

Which newspapers and networks are you willing to say that about?

A Pew Research Center study on political polarization and news consumption gives a partial answer: not many.  The 2014 report found that, among the consistent liberals surveyed, CNN was the top news source (15 percent of respondents), followed by NPR (13 percent), MSNBC (12 percent), and the New York Times (10 percent).

For conservatives? About 47 percent named Fox News as their No. 1 news source. They also distrusted far more news outlets than liberals.

Unless lefties start flocking to Fox News — no, no, never, never — the kind of authority that underpins Kristof’s piece is toast.

Postscript: One of SanAntoniomizer’s thousands of readers said she got the feeling that I’m nostalgic for the good old days when Big Media set the agenda. I am not — at all. Kristof? Definitely.

 

 

 

 

Hil, Please Stop Daring Me

Hillary still has my vote, but Christ why does she have to make it such a challenge? She might as well say, during one of those awkward pauses in her speeches, “Hey, motherfuckers, I dare you to not vote for me. Trump? Good luck living with yourself.”

First her “basket of deplorables” comment. Yeah, yeah. We know what you meant. White supremacists, run-of-the-mill racists, nativists, women haters — all that. Got it. What’s troubling is that she believes they make up half of Donald Trump’s voters.

Congrats, Hillary. Your comment will deservedly take its place alongside Barack’s bit about gun-and-bible clingers and Mitt’s quote about how 47 percent of Barack’s supporters would vote for the president no matter what because they were professional victims, dependent on the government, kind of bummy.

All three statements were the sweaty, claustrophobic exaggerations of political and economic elites. The only difference is that two of them were coming from the left side, the other the right side. And shocker — Clinton, Obama, and Romney spit up that bile in the safe zones of high-dollar fundraisers, not in high school gymnasiums stuffed to the rafters with supporters.

Suggestion: To get honest, unvarnished answers out of our presidential candidates, let’s stage all of the general-election debates in exclusive clubs that charge the audience thousands of dollars per plate. Dinner theater for the elites, and real insights into our candidates for the rest of us.

hillary
Hillary, making that face

Clinton doesn’t get the middle class or the working poor any more than Romney, the private-equity buccaneer and son of American Motors Corp. chairman and Michigan Governor George Romney. I’m leaving Obama out of this formulation because of his life story and his amazing power of empathy, and, mostly, because I have a soft spot in my heart for him. In my household, we call him Obambam.

At heart, Clinton is a free trader who only opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership because Bernie Sanders would have continued bludgeoning her with it if she hadn’t flipped her position. Robert Rubin and Larry Summers are her homies. Wall Street is another one of her safe zones.

Suggestion: To get honest, unvarnished answers out of our presidential candidates, let’s stage all of the general-election debates in exclusive clubs that charge the audience thousands of dollars per plate

She can’t quite understand what all the fuss is about in the hinterlands. Say again? What’s this about stagnant wages and a declining standard of living? (For a glimpse of what unfettered trade has done to my hometown of Muncie, Indiana, click here.)

Nevertheless, I will vote for Clinton because, while Trump has a feel for the legitimate grievances of the middle class, he’s exploiting them, not addressing them, and he brings out the worst in us across the political spectrum. Also, while Senators Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and their supporters wouldn’t stay Clinton’s hand as president, they would force her to remember the great unwashed, as they did during the primaries, and moderate accordingly. Finally, she wouldn’t radically depart from Obama’s economic policies because they’ve worked by and large.

Sharp increase in household incomes and decreased poverty? Yes, please!

Yet, sadistically, she’s forcing the non-Clintonites who will vote for her in November to crawl through the muck to do it.

Not to belabor the point, but the second clear indication that she just doesn’t get it arrived yesterday in her Facebook post about her recovery from pneumonia. It included this line: “Like anyone who’s ever been home sick from work, I’m just anxious to get back out there.”

Stop binge-watching Netflix and surfing Facebook and YouTube to rush back to work? Really, I want to know — what planet is she from?

Effing Millennials

Killing time before the board meeting — for Worth Repeating, a Texas Public Radio storytelling project — the twenty-something next to me explained in great detail some factoid that had caught her interest. She’d researched the shit out of it online, she explained, “because, well, I’m a millennial.”

Later, I tried to remember if I’d ever explained any action of mine by saying “because I’m a Gen-Xer.” Had anybody born between 1965 and 1980 said that?

“I maintain this annoying pose of ironic detachment because, well, I’m a Gen-Xer.”

No Country for Old Men speaks to me in a profound way because I’m Gen-Xer.”

“I robbed the Seven-Eleven because I was bored and wanted to buy weed, which is another way of saying because I’m a Gen-Xer.”

Probably not. But I don’t know. Maybe.

I remember where I was when I heard Kurt Cobain was dead. I devoured the emptiness and nihilism of Bret Easton Ellis’s all-too-often crappy writing. I would never, ever, ever presume to speak for “my generation.” In fact, I would never say “my generation,” except with a smirk and air quotation marks.

This is my favorite knock-knock joke:

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Greg.

Greg who?

Greg Jefferson.

What I find most eerie about millennials is their messianic togetherness — their sense that they are part of a generation with its own values, sensibility, ethos. I’m convinced these kids have been knitted together by the Internet, like the victims in those icky Human Centipede movies.

I’m surely not the only middle-age customer who feels like they need to bring their passport to buy a latte at Local Coffee at the Pearl.

I think that’s one of the major reasons people in, you know, my age range are so down on millennials (born between 1981 and 2000). It’s true. When the conversation among Gen-Xers turns to the youngsters, you’d think their proper name is “Fucking Millennials,” and that the correct pronunciation requires an eye roll.

That’s not true of everybody in my age range, just as it’s not true that every millennial is a smiling agent of gentrification. Some Gen-Xers bought into Whitney Houston’s dangerous belief that children are our future. Others are age traitors who get super-psyched trying to figure out the best way to sell goods and services to these youngsters. Still others feed vampirically off the life force of the young. I recently saw a guy in his late-forties or early-fifties skateboarding at the Pearl. Vans, cargo shorts, tight fashionable tee, and a strong aversion to garlic and wolfsbane.

Then there are the ones who find Gen-X too barren, you know…. spiritually, I guess. Whatever.

When the conversation among Gen-Xers turns to the youngsters, you’d think their proper name is “Fucking Millennials,” and that the correct pronunciation requires an eye roll.

I assume it’s mostly Gen-Xers — the youngster wannabees, detractors, and defenders — who are commissioning and conducting the many tons of research on millennials. On their spending habits, why and how frequently they vote, their views on LGBT inclusion, their love of mass transit (of course), their rejection of organized religion and embrace of magic, etc., etc. Here’s some of the latest research.

As an aside, self-absorbed Baby Boomers didn’t want to know much about Generation X, though after we began taking over the financial markets, they probably wondered how deep our greed and selfishness ran. Answer: see The Great Recession. (Worth noting: the highest goal of the Gen-X protagonists in The Big Short, both the book and movie, was to make money off the housing bubble, not to protect ill-informed, semi-delusional homeowners.)

Anyway, I’m glad we’re learning everything we can about millennials. For their part, they’re not at all surprised the world is endlessly fascinated with them. Their parents made clear to them just how special they were. So they’re going to answer every survey question put to them, for the good of us all. Which works out beautifully. We need to know what we’re in for as they seize power in business, our civic and educational institutions, and government.

Leonardo-DiCaprio-and-Kat-009
Rose was a model Gen-Xer. She could have shared the door with Jack — it was big enough — but she didn’t want to.

It’s already happening in San Antonio.

After an extensive nation-wide search for a new CEO, the directors of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation selected a 29-year-old executive from CPS Energy. Tech Bloc, which represents S.A. technology companies, which means speaking on behalf of a bunch of millennials, is establishing itself as an agenda-setter, starting with its role in bringing rideshare back to San Antonio. The youngsters are also raising their hands for appointments to government boards and commissions and nonprofits, and running for school board seats.

We’re not talking generational warfare here. People my age, by and large, never enlisted. With San Antonio’s Old Guard of business, civic, and political leaders either leaving or preparing to leave the stage, the question asked incessantly is who’s going to replace them, besides maybe Graham Weston (who technically lives in New Braunfels) and Lew Moorman?

We don’t really buy into the whole idea of “community” or believe much in the possibility of “improving” said community.

Millennials believe in both, and they feel entitled to lead.

I guess I have to resign myself to following because, well, I’m a Gen-Xer.

 

 

 

GOP, Here’s How to Derail the Trump Crazy Train

[Editor’s note: Once again, the following post comes to SanAntoniomizer from Felix Culpa. The person is real, but the name is fake, obviously. It’s the blogger equivalent of a stripper’s stage name. Felix is an executive at a San Antonio company we’d all recognize.]

 

If you’re a sensible, clear-thinking Republican, the events of late July-early August should have made it clear to you that Donald Trump’s candidacy is doing more harm than good to the health of your party.

Pick any of the following: Trump called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, continued to trade barbs with Ted Cruz mere hours after preaching party unity, wondered aloud why we aren’t eager to use nuclear weapons, and doubled down on his pissing contest with the parents of a dead Army captain. All while squandering chances to nail Hillary on the lackluster economy.crazy train

Any of those should have convinced you that Trump is tipping over the port-a-john while you’re still inside, and the stench will only get worse if he somehow manages to win in November.

Because, ironically, a Trump victory isn’t the best-case scenario for you, given that he’s not exactly a standard-bearer for your ideals and that the voters he attracts won’t support your down-ballot congressional or gubernatorial races.

No, the best-case scenario for Republicans is a Trump loss, while still holding on to both houses of Congress and a majority of the governorships. That way, you get to flush the crazy from your system while still limiting the damage from a Hillary Clinton administration, and it gives you four years to come up with some Debbie Wasserman-Schultzish skullduggery to quash the demagogues emerging from the Tea Party you’ve been brewing up the past decade.

But how to finesse an outcome to keep Trump’s short, vulgar fingers off the nuclear codes while still turning out the Republican faithful for the other races?

You have to find someone from the party’s brainpower to run as an independent against Trump.

If the race remains a Trump-Clinton dichotomy, you run the risk of smart Republicans staying home on Election Day. But if you give voters a third choice, it would quash the Trump demagoguery while boosting turnout for down-ballot races.

It would have to be done strategically. You’d want someone who can siphon off at least one key state from Trump’s Electoral College tally. Florida, Ohio, or Pennsylvania should do it. It would be great if you could knock Texas off the list, but to do that you’d need Ted Cruz to jump back in, and he isn’t about to do that.

You’re sacrificing a lamb here. He/she has to be someone with big enough name recognition and respect to attract people, but also someone who has no ambition to ever run again, and doesn’t mind being a pariah to the nutjobs who infect your party’s base.

Because, let’s face it, if you aren’t having a crisis of conscience now, you must not have a conscience. You certainly have a crisis.

So who? It’s too bad Arlen Specter is four years dead, because he’d be just about perfect. John Kasich could tip Ohio for you, but he probably wants to run again. Jeb Bush could deliver Florida, but would he do it? Maybe Mitt Romney? John McCain?

It’s really for you to decide, not me. Maybe you could cut a back-room deal with Hillary – you know, we’ll botch Trump for you, you put someone acceptable on the Supreme Court, that kind of thing.

Just do it quick. Your lamb has to be in the race by Labor Day to get on the ballots and have a chance of derailing the Trump crazy train.

If you’re a sensible, clear-thinking Republican, the events of late July-early August should have made it clear to you that Donald Trump’s candidacy is doing more harm than good to the health of your party.

Pick any of the following: Trump called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, continued to trade barbs with Ted Cruz mere hours after preaching party unity, wondered aloud why we aren’t eager to use nuclear weapons, and doubled down on his pissing contest with the parents of a dead Army captain. All while squandering chances to nail Hillary on the lackluster economy.

Any of those should have convinced you that Trump is tipping over the port-a-john while you’re still inside.

The stench will only get worse if he somehow manages to win in November.

Because, ironically, a Trump victory isn’t the best-case scenario for you, given that he’s not exactly a standard-bearer for your ideals and that the voters he attracts won’t support your down-ballot congressional or gubernatorial races.

No, the best-case scenario for Republicans is a Trump loss, while still holding on to both houses of Congress and a majority of the governorships. That way, you get to flush the crazy from your system while still limiting the damage from a Hillary Clinton administration, and it gives you four years to come up with some Debbie Wasserman-Schultzish skullduggery to quash the demagogues emerging from the Tea Party you’ve been brewing up the past decade.

But how to finesse an outcome to keep Trump’s short, vulgar fingers off the nuclear codes while still turning out the Republican faithful for the other races?

You have to find someone from the party’s brainpower to run as an independent against Trump.

If the race remains a Trump-Clinton dichotomy, you run the risk of smart Republicans staying home on Election Day. But if you give voters a third choice, it would quash the Trump demagoguery while boosting turnout for down-ballot races.

It would have to be done strategically. You’d want someone who can siphon off at least one key state from Trump’s Electoral College tally. Florida, Ohio or Pennsylvania should do it. It would be great if you could knock Texas off the list, but to do that you’d need Ted Cruz to jump back in, and he isn’t about to do that.

You’re sacrificing a lamb here. He/she has to be someone with big enough name recognition and respect to attract people, but also someone who has no ambition to ever run again, and doesn’t mind being a pariah to the nutjobs who infect your party’s base.

Because, let’s face it, if you aren’t having a crisis of conscience now, you must not have a conscience. You certainly have a crisis.

So who? It’s too bad Arlen Specter is four years dead, because he’d be just about perfect. John Kasich could tip Ohio for you, but he probably wants to run again. Jeb Bush could deliver Florida, but would he do it? Maybe Mitt Romney? John McCain?

It’s really for you to decide, not me. Maybe you could cut a back-room deal with Hillary – you know, we’ll botch Trump for you, you put someone acceptable on the Supreme Court, that kind of thing.

Just do it quick. Your lamb has to be in the race by Labor Day to get on the ballots and have a chance of derailing the Trump crazy train.

If you’re a sensible, clear-thinking Republican, the events of late July-early August should have made it clear to you that Donald Trump’s candidacy is doing more harm than good to the health of your party.

Pick any of the following: Trump called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, continued to trade barbs with Ted Cruz mere hours after preaching party unity, wondered aloud why we aren’t eager to use nuclear weapons, doubled down on his pissing contest with the parents of a dead Army captain. All while squandering chances to nail Hillary on the lackluster economy.

Any of those should have convinced you that Trump is tipping over the port-a-john while you’re still inside.

The stench will only get worse if he somehow manages to win in November.

Because, ironically, a Trump victory isn’t the best-case scenario for you, given that he’s not exactly a standard-bearer for your ideals. And there’s this — the voters he attracts won’t support your down-ballot candidates in congressional or gubernatorial races.

No, the best-case scenario for Republicans is a Trump loss, while still holding on to both houses of Congress and a majority of the governorships. That way, you get to flush the crazy from your system while still limiting the damage from a Hillary Clinton administration, and it gives you four years to come up with some Debbie Wasserman-Schultzish skullduggery to quash the demagogues emerging from the Tea Party you’ve been brewing up the past decade.

But how to finesse an outcome that keeps Trump’s short, vulgar fingers off the nuclear codes while still turning out the Republican faithful for the other races?

You have to find someone from the party’s brainpower to run as an independent against Trump.

If the race remains a Trump-Clinton dichotomy, you run the risk of smart Republicans staying home on Election Day. But if you give these voters a third choice, it would quash the Trump demagoguery while boosting turnout for down-ballot races.

It would have to be done strategically. You’d want someone who can siphon off at least one key state from Trump’s Electoral College tally. Florida, Ohio, or Pennsylvania should do it. It would be great if you could knock Texas off the list, but to do that you’d need Ted Cruz to jump back in, and he isn’t about to do that.

You’re sacrificing a lamb here. He/she has to be someone with big enough name recognition and respect to attract people, but also someone who has no ambition to ever run again, and who doesn’t mind being a pariah to the nutjobs who infect your party’s base.

Because, let’s face it, if you aren’t having a crisis of conscience now, you must not have a conscience. You certainly have a crisis.

So who? It’s too bad Arlen Specter is four years dead, because he’d be just about perfect. John Kasich could tip Ohio for you, but he probably wants to run again. Jeb Bush could deliver Florida, but would he do it? Maybe Mitt Romney? John McCain?

It’s really for you to decide, not me. Maybe you could cut a back-room deal with Hillary – you know, we’ll botch Trump for you, you put someone acceptable on the Supreme Court, that kind of thing.

Just do it quick. Your lamb has to be in the race by Labor Day to get on the ballots and have a chance of derailing the Trump crazy train.

I Live in SA’s Hollywood ‘Hood

I’m one of the luckier homeowners in my Northwest Side neighborhood. At least my star is still lodged in the collective memory.

I live on Cary Grant Drive.

My less fortunate neighbors’ houses sit on Ernie Kovak Drive, Edie Adams Drive, and a dozen or so other streets named for actors only senior citizens remember.

But the neighbors who have it the worst are the ones who live on streets named after TV and movie characters, instead of the people who played them. As an exercise in empathy, imagine having to say, “I live at  1234 Gomer Pyle Drive” when a clerk asks for your address at the bank or the DMV.

The very worst? Charlie Chan Drive.

My subdivision, Oak Hills Terrace, was built around 1974. If the developer had waited another three years or so to break ground, my family and I could have lived on John Travolta Drive or Darth Vader Drive. Then again, it could as easily have been Telly Savalas Drive or Bo “Bandit” Darville Drive. There’s a lesson here for our city about renaming streets or public facilities for people with a shaky claim on posterity.

But I don’t really think much about that. I’ve lived in San Antonio for 16 years, but as a native midwesterner, I still have a hard time getting excited about clashes over local history and street and building names.

Instead, I’m preoccupied with the feeling that San Antonio’s long, complicated, sometimes violent, always fascinating history ended with my neighborhood. Developers took over from there.

Overly simplistic, sure. But the last I checked, the world revolved around me and, by extension, my neighborhood.

Oak Hills Terrace materialized a little north of Loop 410 as the South Texas Medical Center, which is a mile or so to the east, took off and just six years after HemisFair touched off the city’s downtown transformation.

The Med Center is my marker when describing to people where I live.

Every morning, when my wife and I walk our two dogs, we arrive at the top of the hill on Cary Grant Drive. In front of us, the hospitals and medical office buildings that make up the Med Center float over the cluster of trees that separate our subdivision from the next one. As we descend the hill, the buildings sink into a green ocean.

When I tell people about my neighborhood, that’s my mental image. They, in turn, probably picture boxy little houses on the lots that are a sliver of an acre. Which is correct but deficient…  Mofo.

Not that it could be otherwise; the Jefferson-Van Dusen homestead looks from the outside like thousands upon thousands of others. I have a strong feeling that nobody is going to study San Antonio’s residential architecture of the early-to-mid 1970s.

The city’s political and cultural scenes were something else.

Describing San Antonio in 1974 as dynamic is like calling Donald Trump a bit nutso. The Good Government League, the Anglo business-civic group that had run the city for nearly two decades, was splintering and sputtering, well on the way to its collapse two years later. Chicano activism was blazing. Communities Organized for Public Service was beginning to raise hell, fighting for historically neglected neighborhoods’ share of city resources.

The developer of Oak Hills Terrace turned his back on all that. He created an oasis of reasonably-priced housing on what was then the far North Side, and named its streets to remind buyers of frothy moments in movie theaters or in front of the TV, which of course could’ve happened anywhere. (I’m waiting for the developer who will name the streets in his subdivision after porn stars or YouTube celebrities.)

He tried to build a comfy harbor for white flight, though it didn’t hold up over the years — my neighborhood is fairly diverse. Maybe the cheesy street names also made newcomers to San Antonio feel more at home, or the place at least less foreign.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d rather live on Cary Grant than Whispering Oak or Whispering Elm or Whispering Hackberry or Forest Breeze or Gentle Field of Flowers. At least Cary was real, as far as I know. But clearly none of these names have the weight — the baggage and the cachet — of a Guadalupe or Commerce or Walters.

Sometimes I think of San Antonio as two crates, one stacked on the other. They kind of form a whole, like the North Side and the rest of San Antonio form a whole, but they’re not connected. The crates have a hard time relating to one another, and only on very rare occasions do the crates visit one another.

San Antonio’s balkanization stemmed from a lot of the overlapping factors — the highway system, Anglos’ exodus from the center city and a troubled SAISD, available land on the North Side, the political influence of developers, and infrastructure spending that encouraged sprawl.

This, too, and everything it implies:IMG_0838

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lasching Elites

In late 1994, I was desperate to find out the real reasons behind the GOP’s takeover of Congress.

I was the editor of a lefty alternative newsweekly in Bloomington, Indiana, maybe the only truly liberal town in the state, and had this sinking feeling that I’d misunderstood nearly everything about national politics, which I often wrote about.

Our own congressman, the libby and genial Democrat Frank McCloskey, had fallen to a virtually unknown pro-life ideologue. The morning after the ’94 general election — it was cold and gray, I assumed, because God was pissed — one of my two reporters greeted me at the Uptown Cafe with, “Frank didn’t deserve this.” The problem was the Eighth Congressional District reached from Bloomington all the way to Evansville in southern Indiana. Who knew what those bastards in the hinterlands were thinking. Apart from the region’s fading coal and manufacturing industries and mounting job losses, what were they so upset about?

This is sounding familiar, right? Just replace “mounting job losses” with “stagnant wages,” and add an orange sociopath.

trump voter 2
Trump voter

Anyway, one of the books I loaded up on to understand the Republican Revolution was The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy by Christopher Lasch. I must have read a favorable review of it. I put it in the queue, but for some reason never got to it. Certainly not because I’d really figured out what happened.

I found the book the other day in the hallway closet. As I leafed through it, I got the feeling I might’ve screwed up by setting it aside 21 years ago.

Lasch, who died in 1994 before the Revolt’s publication, indicted the elites — the one-percenters of his day, but also the cultural, intellectual, and political firmament — for writing off the rest of the country as philistines, racists, sexists, homophobes, and xenophobes. The elites of Lasch’s time are the kind of people who today bounce between the Aspen Institute and Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Cal., and South By Southwest (slumming) and the World Economic Forum in search of edification and companionship. They’re citizens of the world, not so much of the United States. Decades ago, they were already avoiding eye contact with the middle class and muttering things like, “Let’s agree to disagree, mm-k?”

Who knew what those bastards in the hinterlands were thinking. Apart from the region’s fading coal and manufacturing industries and mounting job losses, what were they so upset about?

Like in every big city, we have shades of the same kind in San Antonio, elites writ small. A lot of them voted for Mike Villarreal in the 2015 race for mayor. (I know what I’m talking about — I was his communications director.)

Going deep, Lasch argued that what made this breed possible was the concept of upward mobility, which took hold in the late 1800s as the industrialism came into its own. Since then, success has meant getting ahead in one’s career and achieving material wealth. It became all about talent, the kind that’s useful in the marketplace.

Earlier in the republic, leading a successful life meant making a good living, but also taking advantage of the educational and cultural opportunities open to you. You also talked politics with neighbors, friends, and strangers in bars or other public gathering spaces, even when you disagreed.

Threaded throughout Revolt of the Elites is Lasch’s suspicion of the free market, which he said tended to remake everything, including social institutions and governments, in its own image.

But instead of me droning on about the book, here are a few excerpts:

“The aristocracy of talent — superficially an attractive ideal, which appears to distinguish democracies from societies based on hereditary privilege — turns out to be a contradiction in terms: The talented retain many of the vices of aristocracy without its virtues. Their snobbery lacks any acknowledgment of reciprocal obligations between the favored few and the multitude. Although they are full of ‘compassion’ for the poor, they cannot be said to subscribe to a theory of noblesse oblige, which would imply a willingness to make a direct and personal contribution to the public good. Obligation, like everything else, has been depersonalized; exercised through the agency of the state, the burden of supporting it falls not on the professional and managerial class but, disproportionately, on the lower-middle and working classes.”

“[I]t is our reluctance to make demands on each other, much more than our reluctance to help those in need, that is sapping the strength of our democracy today. We have become far too accommodating and tolerant for our own good. In the name of sympathetic understanding, we tolerate second-rate workmanship, second-rate habits of thought, and second-rate standards of personal conduct. We put up with bad manners and with many kinds of bad language, ranging from the common-place scatology [Blogger’s note: I don’t mind scatology] that is now ubiquitous to elaborate academic evasion. We seldom bother to correct a mistake or to argue with opponents in the hope of changing their minds. Instead we either shout them down or agree to disagree, saying that all of us have a right to our opinions. Democracy in our times is more likely to die of indifference than of intolerance. Tolerance and understanding are important virtues, but they must not become an excuse for apathy.”

And this, 22 years before Brexit:

“The same tendencies are at work all over the world. In Europe referenda on unification have revealed a deep and widening between the political classes and the more humbled members of society, who fear that the European Economic Community will be dominated by bureaucrats and technicians devoid of any feelings of national identity or allegiance.”

Finally, this one has San Antonio’s name all over it:

“The goal of liberal policy, in effect, is to remake the city in the image of the affluent, mobile elites that see it as a place merely to work and play, not as a place to put down roots, to raise children, to live and die.”