Social distancing, let me begin, not the familiar six feet apart, but the social distance between the Midwest and the Coasts and why that makes a difference.
Where I grew up, Donald Trump didn’t. Midwest ears are as attuned to his self-indulgent rhetoric as senior living centers are to heavy metal rock.
Where I grew up the news people probably paid some attention to the New York Times, but then put it aside. Then in my fifties I found myself living and working in New York City (NYC) and the Times was delivered to the back door of our apartment. I got a daily lesson in the socio-economic distance between the Times and Midwestern points of view. Their similarity: both used newsprint.
In NYC and the citadel of the West Coast culture, Los Angeles, venues were instructive. My wife and I went to the jazz clubs, but the venues of the future were elsewhere. Elsewhere was where you saw the future—where the latest fads in drugs and sex were on offer and display.
In the Midwest you found out about the latest fads, well later. You were downstream, in what is increasingly a streaming world. The censors who used to pay some attention to content at NBC, CBS and ABC were out of work. Indeed, the Networks were rapidly giving way to Netflix and it’s late followers. The youthful vanguard was looking for splash—the venues and channels that were re-defining culture offered up sensations.
But let me turn back to politics—the public expression of our views about the direction of our country.
While few, if any, admired the man, well the man was at least “telling it like it is”. Or so many thought. Many felt so distanced from what Trump was attacking that they overlooked his social behavior.
And, Hillary Clinton’s late career move was revealing. When she decided to run for office, she didn’t return to Arkansas where she had been First Lady for twelve years. Nope, she moved to New York—well to a suburb of the City. It is one of those bubble suburbs—a gated community without the guard stands.
I must admit to befuddlement. The 2016 election left me confused. I thought my Midwestern friends would reject Trump regardless of feeling some affinity for either his new Party and/or some of his positions. Of course, many did. Trump was not crowned; he eked out razor-thin wins in a handful of key States while losing the popular vote.
Now, the Coastals have written him off. They sneer, “I told you so”. And in many respects they are right. Daily, regardless of the news source, we learn of another self-delusional tweet. But, elections in the United States offer up two people and we must choose.
Most of my friends believe the choice is clear and today’s polls bear that out. My earlier befuddlement causes me to be more cautious and occasionally the devil’s advocate.
I worry for America. We have not been at our best for some time. Yes, I can write about slices of Her dynamism and end the column on a positive note. But then I look at our choice in November.
Donald Trump has confirmed my earlier and oft expressed view. But, Joe Biden?
Monarchies have not infrequently been governed by a King or Queen that was, shall we say, beyond his or her freshness date or capacity. Is that America’s fate at this most challenging moment?
Vice President Biden, it is said, is on the threshold of making the most important decision of his candidacy—choosing a running mate. Succession is on almost everybody’s mind.
If the importance of his choice is true then it is important for the public to take measure not just of the choice but also of the process. Joe Biden is a derivative candidate—he derives strength from others. His signature credential is not what he has done; it is his association with Barack Obama. His victory was earned not by his superior campaign but because he was anointed by the estimable Congressman, Jim Clyburn, from South Carolina. And he has chosen to stay home (mostly) and now some in the commentariat are suggesting that debates should be foregone.
Biden has turned to identity politics for this “most important decision”. Appealing to the feminist wing of his Party, he pledged to select a woman as a running mate. Then rather quickly his most ardent supporters narrowed it to a “woman of color”.
Until quite recently I was not familiar with some of the women on what the scribes of today say is the list. These are women who should be considered, for sure.
But let me come back to the process, because if my Midwestern intuition is correct that is where Biden has taken a turn too far, for many. Why, they would ask, has the candidate pool been so affected by identity politics that “day one” readiness is a missing criterion?
Oh for that moment in history when both political parties were on the doorstep of Dwight Eisenhower. They were both looking for a leader. And do we need one now.
American politics must offer to all the opportunity to be President, that is for sure. Many believed that was confirmed when Barack Obama was elected. Indeed President Obama won in 2008 with 52.9% of the vote while President Trump was elected with 46.1% (prevailing in the Electoral College).
I hope, for my children and grandchildren’s sake that America will again overcome socio-economic and political distancing and seek out demonstrated leadership. I hope when that happens that both Parties will show up at the doorstep of a woman.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.