Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The College Point Window On This Election

One Coastal Small Town vs. Red State Mania

There have been wild demographic shifts in the United States over the last seven decades. Some, perhaps many, Americans have shown little or no discomfort over those changes and have moved on with the times; other Americans, perhaps many of them, have dug in their angry heels and now wish to unwind as many of those changes as possible. This election drew a bold line between the two groups.

Once upon a time, I was a boy. The time was the early 1950s; the place was New York City, the Borough of Queens, neighborhood of College Point. Most people, even most New Yorkers, would need a bit of clarification as to the College Point part. Let’s say that it is a part of the greater Flushing area, being north of Flushing proper, on and extending into the East River, on the north shore of Long Island, between La Guardia Airport (across the Flushing River) and the Whitestone Bridge.

College Point does make kind of a “point” of land, but neither the East River nor the Flushing River are real rivers. The East River is actually an estuary of considerable size, and the Flushing River is more or less an inlet about a mile long and culminating in a swamp. So from the geography on up, College Point is ridiculous.

The Whitestone Bridge is actually a bridge. It’s very beautiful. You can Google it.

That long-ago world was what I sometimes call “the white New York.” The city in general was something like 84% white. College Point, when I was a boy, was more like 99% white. That was back when the white folk were firmly in charge, the time for which many white people have grown nostalgic more recently. That College Point was almost entirely white was like an unwritten rule, and it was enforced with considerable prejudice by regular people without prompting from political or religious entities.

Did I say 99%? Let’s see. We were told that there were about 30,000 people in College Point back then. The 2010 census gave it as 24,500. Who knows? Maybe it’s been somewhere in that range for this entire time. The demographics, however, are radically different now than they were then.

Back then, to my knowledge, there were two black people who actually lived in College Point. They were a couple in their fifties; they worked the night shift at, I was informed, Flushing Hospital. I remember the building that they lived in, and I saw them coming and going from time to time. Sometimes getting the bus to go to work at about 5:30 p.m.; sometimes returning home in the early morning. If you saw them in the morning, they’d be carrying grocery bags from the Blue Star Market over in Flushing. Why, you’d think that they were consciously avoiding shopping in College Point, or even being seen on the street! Which was, I’m sure, the case, as ashamed as I am to admit it.

My tailor had an assistant who was a very kindhearted black man, and I know that there were other black workers at various businesses and factories. After hours they returned to their residences somewhere else.

That was the white world, which, as we shall see in a moment, has passed from history’s stage, never to return.

As for Hispanics in College Point, I did know that the mothers of a couple of my friends were Puerto Rican woman who had married local men. There were no Puerto Rican families, though. I didn’t think much about it. By the early 1970s the nice park in College Point had been discovered by Puerto Ricans from Flushing and Corona. They’d come over on Sunday and hang out on blankets, kick around a soccer ball. That made for a bit of tension, but none of them had moved in as yet.

No minorities successfully moved into College Point until after I had graduated from high school. There were stories of a few close calls, but people were scared off. Threats were made.

Of Asians, I only knew of two families. There was the Filipino family of my friend Alan A. In those days, and since, Filipinos are much more likely to be greeted as part of the American family than any other Asians. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe people remember that we fought the Japanese together. I guess there’s more to it, though, because we fought the Japanese together with the Chinese, too. Anyway, Alan’s was only one family. The other Asian family was Chinese, and, in an amazing burst of seeming racism, they owned the, wait for it! The Chinese Laundry. They were very nice and they seemed prosperous. I took my father’s shirts there.

Homosexuals are not, of course, a demographic, but let’s address that issue here as well. If there were any homosexuals at all, men or women, we would have had no way of knowing it. Back in the pre-Stonewall era, homosexuals kept their heads so far down it’s amazing that they could see a curb without tripping over it. And there were good reasons for that, too.  It was open season on homosexuals all year, every year, back then. A guy could get hurt.

Politically, everyone in New York City was a Democrat. Before the mid-1970s, Republicans couldn’t get arrested in New York. When John Lindsey got elected mayor in 1965 or so, he ran on both the Republican and the Liberal Party tickets. He was elected on the Liberal ticket. We were blue-collar, yellow-dog Democrats, with many of the working people being in unions.

Longing for a return to this world is like that short story, “The Monkey’s Paw.” The moral of that story, and all other “three wishes” stories, is, “be careful what you wish for.”  Those longings always cause enormous grief; those stories never end well.

New York, the Modern Era.

Everything has changed by now in such a comprehensive way that it really is a challenge to the understanding, even for people who, like me, embrace diversity.

Here are the stat’s for College Point from that 2010 census:

White:       32%

Asian:        28%

Hispanic:    36%

Black:        3%

By now it seems like New York also tolerates Republicans much better than in the past, while still voting largely Democratic. Hillary won New York, including College Point.

I have no statistics regarding the gay population, and my guess is that the actual numbers would remain about the same as a percentage of the population. That seems to be the way homosexuality works; it occurs naturally in the human population, and I’ve never seen or heard any speculation as to whether the percentage swings very widely, or at all. I would venture to guess, however, that the gay population is a bit more comfortable these days with identifying as gay. Certain demographics notwithstanding, most of the American people do seem to have grasped the fact that when one considers “homosexuals,” one is considering one’s own beloved family members, friends and co-workers, sports stars, dedicated police and firemen, doctors and nurses, soldiers and sailors, etc. For most people it was a small matter of discovering just who all of those gay people were. Having found out that they knew and loved multiple gay people, most Americans, to their credit, raised their eyebrows and said, “oh!” And that was more or less that.

But this is New York that we’re looking at in detail here. New York is a nice place, in many ways, but it is not America.

I have many friends from College Point that I am still in contact with. Quite a few still live there; the rest are spread out all over the east coast from Florida to Upstate New York, and all points west. Many of the friends who still live in College Point seem to resent the new diversity, and many of those who moved, moved because of it. Even though the area still went Democratic this time, this resentment bodes ill for the future of our politics.

The coastal people of America, including New York, voted for Hillary this time around, with a push, no doubt, from their diverse elements. Other reasons might include the fact that the white coastals are often better educated, more disposed to believe the evidence in scientific matters, less likely to take stories from iron age texts as facts, more able to resist shouted lies and flattery meant to influence their votes, and better able to think for themselves.

As for the diverse elements of the coastal states, the immigrants, minorities, subscribers to novel sexual theories, and others, I believe that all such groups have it rather harder in American society than we, the plain vanilla, and as a result there is a much greater flowering of common sense among them. They live more firmly in the world of reality, and are forced to look at things with greater attention. So Hillary, in this case, was a no-brainer for them. They know mischief when they see it.

The So-Called Fly-Over States

Middle America is a different story. Many of those states out there in what New Yorkers would call the middle of nowhere were almost all white back in the Fifties, and they’re still almost all white now. Those folks were fairly prosperous back then, and the white people like them were in charge all over the country. By now, those jobs and that prosperity are gone, and the coastal regions and the areas around big cities like Chicago seem to be chuck full of diversity. In fact, we’ve had a black president with an African name! How diverse is that! Maybe, the thinking goes, way too diverse.

Is there a certain tension between the fact that those urban and coastal regions have more diversity and the fact that they have more prosperity as well? Well, there might be at that. That could make people resentful. Maybe all of that diversity stole our prosperity!

Something happened in this election. I’m tempted to say that back in the white America of my childhood, or the World War II Era, let’s say, New Yorkers and Montanans, or Arkansans, etc., were racists or xenophobes in more or less the same measure. They would tolerate homosexuals to a very similar degree, each to the other (even if that was close to zero percent). They were Republicans or Democrats in approximately equal measure. They could talk together and get along, at least if the New Yorkers made an effort to speak slowly. (That’s not a dig, by the way; that shit is true.)

The bad news is that the two groups were all kind of racist and xenophobic back then, and they all hated homosexuals, but the point is that they had not yet learned to hate each other. That is the gift of the Modern World, the Modern America. Mutual contempt and hatred even within the white tribe is a recent development.

The worst news is that these “heartlanders” appear only to have gotten more racist and more xenophobic and more fundamentalist and more intolerant of other American demographics than they were in the past. This has happened over the last thirty years as they have watched their prosperity go up in steam. They have further hardened their hearts against those traditionally hated groups, and they have added many types of Americans to their hate lists. All of this while the coasts loosened up a bit.

They hate immigrants; minorities; homosexuals; the ungodly; Liberals; cosmopolitans; the poor (even though many of them are themselves poor); Muslims; culturally tolerant urban whites; Catholics and mainstream Protestants; the educated; anyone receiving government assistance (even though they themselves are very likely to be receiving government assistance); the Washington (and other) elites; Jews; and Democrats in general. They hate the courts; the Federal Government; science; diversity; and education. That is a breathtaking hate list.

Regarding the world, they do seem to tolerate Australia pretty well, and they appear to view Canada with mere suspicion and bemusement, while rejecting the rest of the countries of the world out of hand as either ungodly, socialist, communist, libertine, Muslim, brutish, or some combination of the above.

Now here’s the bit that I’ve been leaving out of all of my commentary until this point: they are empowered to hate all of these things by reference to their particular brand of the Christian faith.

It’s all about the Bible. Science has no validity at all. Many people in this situation believe that the earth itself has only been here for a very limited amount of time. Evolution is some kind of demonic trap for the faithful. White people were created in God’s image; all people of color are not purely white due to some curse directed at them by God. It’s a circus of anti-intellectual conformity out there out there in the plains states, and down south as well. No one in many of these areas is listening to the adults anymore.

These people, these Christian Reconstructionist, white supremacist yokels, are willfully ignorant, anti-intellectual and woefully uninformed. To simply call them “low-information,” or “low-education,” leaves off their most clearly defining characteristic. They are FUNDAMENTALIST Christians. Their minds are closed to debate. They know it all, as it has been shown to them in their revealed literature, and as it has been explained to them by their ministers, their mega-church pastors, their right-wing political echo chamber, and by a long roster of media celebrities from Alex Jones of the Info Wars to Shawn Hannity and Bill O’Reilly of Fox News.

And Here We Are.

For one thing, real discussion and compromise is impossible under these circumstances. Finding a solution to our current, growing problem is going to be very difficult without the ability to discuss differences of opinion or find compromises that are acceptable to all sides.

For another thing, unwinding history is impossible. Those jobs are gone; they’re never coming back. The discussion, if such a thing were possible, would be about new types of jobs, new industries, and better distribution of wealth. (Yeah, I said it. And within the last year alone I’ve read a few thoughtful pieces by ultra-rich tech guys or venture capital guys admitting that if nothing is done through the system, they’ll be hanging from lamp-posts before long.)

And there’s this, none of those minorities, or immigrants, or members of other sub-cultures that you don’t like, they’re not going anywhere. Most, by far, are American citizens. It might be possible to deport some of the undocumented, but that effort would elicit such screams of anguish from the business community that it would be shut down quickly. It might be possible to pull some Green Cards and get rid of a few students or something. We’re married to the rest. Get used to it.

And two things about religion: 1) Keep it to yourself, people. Keep your religion where it belongs, in your head, and in your church; keep it between you and your God; and 2) When it comes to OUR country, keep YOUR religion out of it. Make sensible reality based decisions about your votes, and don’t try to use YOUR right to vote to take OUR rights away. Or else we’ll start to wonder why you’re allowed to vote at all.

In the future, fundamentalist religiosity will be seen as a disabling mental condition. Do not hasten the day.

So now we are about to swear in Donald J. Trump as President of the United States. Reading it like that always looks like something in a movie script.

You could add: unless something happens. There’ll be no discussion of the possibilities here. I’ll wait until after the facts are in and then let the professionals discuss whatever has happened at that time.

No discussion of possible vote tampering, either. The strong tendency in America is always to avoid any discussion that could lead to a loss of faith in the system. So when it does happen, like in the year 2000, it turns quickly into “move along, people; nothing to see here.” We’ll see if anything develops this year.

It would be simplistic of me to blame the entire thing on the snake-handling Rubes. They couldn’t have done it all by themselves, although they were, no doubt, a big part of the victory. The Rubes got a lot of help. There are a great many yellow-dog Republicans these days; they’ll vote for anyone at all who appears on the Republican ticket. Many people have a big difference of opinion with Ms. Clinton’s policies and her style of politics; many people are opposed to globalization and Neo-Liberalism in all of their manifestations. Many people believed all of the lies that they read every day about Ms. Clinton. Many men, and women, just don’t think that the presidency is a suitable job for a woman. Many people just don’t like the woman.

Beyond the question of the results among the people who actually voted, there is the problem of the half of registered voters who didn’t bother to vote. Hillary’s negatives are so high that I’m afraid many of these stayed away rather than soil their hands voting for either candidate. It’s also important that all of the polls, right up to the morning of the election, had Hillary winning by a comfortable margin. This allowed unenthusiastic Hillary voters to just let her win without their having to go to the trouble of voting.

Let’s be serious. Voter turnout in America is always on the low side. It’s almost like many people just don’t care who wins, or who governs them. They’re all the same; the policies come from somewhere else anyway; why bother? That sounds very cynical, but it might be uncomfortably close to the truth.

That might be true in a normal election year, anyway.

2017: the year that normal was thrown straight out the window.

Now we will, unfortunately, see what will happen. Only one thing is for sure: it will all be described as “fantastic!”  

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