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.

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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.”




Ballad of a Trump Man

I can scrape up only a few possible reasons that Laredo banker Dennis Nixon is co-hosting a San Antonio fundraiser this Friday for Donald Trump.

What makes figuring this out so difficult is that International Bancshares Corp., the Nixon-led holding company for IBC Bank, grew up on the border and its customers are largely Hispanic. Trump would be as welcome in most Hispanic communities as Zika or scabies. IBC became a regional financial-services powerhouse with business on both sides of the border because of NAFTA. Trump talks about NAFTA as fondly as he would Zika or scabies.

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Donald Trump makes a kissy face.

So here are the possibilities:

  1. Treasury Secretary Nixon.
  2. He has it all worked out. Get Trump elected, and he’ll build that big border wall. As IBC’s many customers on the Mexican side scramble to figure how to pay for it, Nixon will swoop in with an attractive loan package.
  3. Nixon is one of the many mainstream Republicans who are like the bewildered and totally-menaced Mr. Jones in Bob Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man. You concentrate on doing the usual things, like co-hosting fundraisers for your party’s standard-bearer, because something is happening here but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?

Nixon is not like Trump. He isn’t a loud-mouth or a racist who questions the loyalty of Mexican-Americans. Nixon doesn’t jump on Twitter or Facebook first thing in the morning to attack his critics or say something horrible. Verbally burning off somebody’s face probably isn’t Nixon’s idea of a productive workday.

But by co-hosting a fundraiser for Donald Trump, Nixon is giving Trump a fistful of passes — for racism, sexism, xenophobia, and making our politics dumber and uglier than they already were — and telling other donors it’s OK to do the same.

He’s also putting his imprimatur on a candidate who would be a disaster for his publicly traded company.

This is how IBC describes its business in its most recent quarterly report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, filed last month:

The Company is very active in facilitating trade along the United States border with Mexico.  The Company does a large amount of business with customers domiciled in Mexico.  Deposits from persons and entities domiciled in Mexico comprise a large and stable portion of the deposit base of the Company’s bank subsidiaries.  The Company also serves the growing Hispanic population through the Company’s facilities located throughout South, Central and Southeast Texas and the State of Oklahoma.

Does this sound like a company that would want Trump as its champion?

Trump clearly wasn’t Nixon’s first choice in Republican primary. He gave Sen. Marco Rubio $6,100 between April 10, 2015, and June 30, 2015, though Rubio’s campaign returned $2,700 for some reason, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In October, he wrote Ohio Gov. John Kasich a check for $2,700. (Personal call: Kasich, yes. Rubio, God no.)

Looking through his contributions to federal candidates over the years, Nixon prefers Republicans but also gives to Democrats, namely Congressmen along the border, where IBC is most active. So, why does his pragmatism fail him in the presidential race?

Last week, Express-News columnist Brian Chasnoff excerpted a fundraising letter from Nixon. He tells potential Trump supporters what to expect if Hillary Clinton wins the White House.

“First, we will NOT get the regulatory relief we need to get our economy moving again,” (Nixon wrote), “and second, we will get MORE burdensome regulations, MORE bad decisions from a liberal Supreme Court and MORE spending on social programs, driving us deeper into debt.”

Nixon didn’t mention giveaways to banks in times of financial crisis, like the $216 million IBC accepted from the Treasury Department in late 2008 (and has since repaid). Probably an oversight.

Anyway, maybe we’re getting down to the real reason for Nixon’s support of Trump. Strip away the HYPERBOLE, and you find a lender who is worried about the constraints of Dodd-Frank banking reforms and the cost of compliance, and wants a rollback.

He’s also probably got the face of Sen. Elizabeth Warren scowling at him whenever he closes his eyes. As leader of the Democrats’ liberal wing, the Massachusetts senator –and Wall Street antagonist — would have influence in a Clinton administration. But probably not enough to undo Clinton’s ties to investment bankers and hedge-fund managers.

Which is a problem for Democrats, not Republicans.

How exactly does the threat of more financial regulations outweigh the threat Trump poses to the border economy? It doesn’t, unless you believe that Trump isn’t serious, that underneath that economic-populist shell, a free-trader is waiting to pop out.

Oh, Mr. Jones…


Trump’s Day in SA

On June 17, Donald Trump will slip into San Antonio, vacuum up a bunch of campaign contributions, and dash out, with no public appearances. And who can blame him? If a Mexican-American judge born in Indiana can’t fairly try the Trump University lawsuits, what kind of chance would Trump the candidate stand in a city where more than 63 percent of the population is Hispanic? And in Texas no less? The Lone Star State is notorious for having Mexico cooties all over it.

The San Antonio Express-News broke the news Wednesday that only donors who RSVP will be told the fundraiser’s location. Smart. If you want to win the presidency, the best thing is to avoid a public like ours. The header on page six of Trump’s campaign playbook reads, “Never, under any circumstance, give San Antonio your real number.”

Trump is nothing if not shrewd.

But his San Antonio donors… my God, they’re the opposite of shrewd. They’re downright heroic, in that crazy-bold, all-in kind of way. Think of the guts it’ll take to scribble those checks. They live either in or close to a minority-majority city, and many of them lead or help manage businesses that probably rely on at least a few minority customers. Nevertheless, these local titans will not be tyrannized by political correctness. They will muster the courage to donate to Trump’s campaign, knowing full well that their names and how much they gave will be a matter of public record with the next Federal Election Commission filing. Impact to the bottom line? Psst. Whatever.

Anyway, since we’re likely to be denied a real “Trump’s day in SA,” below are a few snippets of a fantasy tour of SA for the Donald.

Dream bubbles…

Motorcade pulls up in front of the Alamo. Jumps out, waits for MSM douche bags to catch up. Aide hands him two signs that he waves giddily in front of the cameras, one in each hand. Left hand: “#RememberTheAlamoAgainin2016.” Right hand: “#ButReallyILoveThe HispanicsandTheyLoveMeBack.”

“You people are taller than I imagined.”

Rubs his hands together, gets a scary, hungry look, and says, “Now, where’s this Boys Town I’ve heard so much about?”

Rubs his hands together, gets a scary, hungry look, and says, “Now, where’s this Donkey Lady I’ve heard so much about?”

“Driving in, we saw an old Mexican lady walking her dog and carrying a club. You people have the craziest gang rituals! Crazy!”

Mistakes the Mexican Consulate on Navarro Street for San Antonio City Hall.

“So, where do all the thugs live around here?” Raises an eyebrow. “You know — thugs.” Winks a sly wink.

Experiences racial profiling firsthand. Orders chilaquiles (pronounces “Shill-lack-quil-ees) and server leans in and says, “You know that’s spicy, right?” But rather than taking offense, he’s grateful for the warning. Orders three bean-and-cheese tacos that he devours with a fork and knife, no salsa.

On his way out of town, turns to a flunky and barks, “Write this down — Make San Antone Mexico Again. Red baseball caps. Two-thousand gross. $15 each.”


‘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.

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.


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.