A liberal breakdown: 2015–2016
Like most liberals, I am at Starbucks. And in this moment, writing this opening sentence, I ask myself whether I am selling out. Selling out what? Hmm, god knows. It’s mid-afternoon, and I’ve had a mocha, so I’m not falling asleep. The place is well-lit with ceiling lights, but somehow the sunlight from outside has the effect of making most people look like silhouettes. This Starbucks is inside a mall, making it slightly less genuine than the Starbucks I prefer, which have direct access to actual streets. Instead, here, we have a parking lot. I recall living in Woodland Hills, living near a Starbucks that looked out onto a gas station parking lot; the Starbucks was part of that gas station’s mini-mall. Similar vibe here. Then I moved to Sherman Oaks where the Starbucks was on a pedestrian friendly part of Ventura Boulevard. Immensely preferable. Location, location, location.
My location has been, for most of my life, the San Francisco Bay Area. I grew up in the East Bay, in a centrally-located suburb called Piedmont. I lived a lot of my twenties and early thirties in either Los Angeles or in the North Bay Area, Marin County. But I moved back to the East Bay at age 37, and now I’ve been back for five years. I remember first seeing San Francisco on a map of the country. It seemed it was amazingly close to the ocean — this giant land mass we could live in and we had the distinction of being an edge piece, right near the ocean! So many others were hundreds miles away from any edge, any border. I have spent my life on this frontier. Can it accurately be described as a frontier? Maybe, in some sense. Although the closest I have ever come to exploring that frontier is by surfing, and that is not what I really want to get into.
Location is important in this story because I am describing my relationship to this country, and where is this country? We all know what the country looks like, and we can picture these national borders and say we’re all within it — the country imagined as a fenced-off, set aside area. But what about the country’s government?
Well, the seat of the national government is in Washington D.C., way over there on the east side of things. And then, it’s not really the buildings or locations that make the powerful people in this country powerful; rather, once they win office, they take their power with them wherever they go. Barack Obama comes to California, and there are limousines and traffic jams and the like. Now that’s true of Donald Trump as well, although he has barely been to California. Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
So it’s hard to draw a map connecting me, sitting here in a Starbucks, and the heart of this country. That’s more accurate — it’s the heart of this country I’d really like to speak to, and speak about. The executive branch of the government represents a seat of power in this country, but not its heart. And it’s the heart of things that interests me. I’m not so interested in these remarkable men of whom so much has been written, but what their election says about the heart of the country. What is happening to us, and how did it manifest in these two men? Where are the movements located that produced the election of these men? Not, surely, in Washington, D.C.? The Trump movement seems to be located in the least urban suburbs, where everyone shops at WalMart and feels neglected by big city liberals like myself. The Obama movement seems to be born closer to this Starbucks, helped by fellow big city liberals.
That’s a generality, but there’s some truth to it. The events of 2016 were jaring and location has something to do with it, the fact that I felt so much closer to the heart of this country when we elected Obama, and so much further from it, even rejected and mocked by it, when it elected Trump. What had happened? What had I missed? I have no idea, and I don’t mean to solve or answer everything here. I feel as if I make a better, more good-faith effort to understand the Trump movement than do a lot of my fellows, and I do see the two sides making plenty of bad-faith interpretations of each other’s beliefs regularly. They are like opposite sidelines at a football game, each saying, and apparently believing that the other side is less classy, more mean-spirited, etc.
But what was I — naive? None of these things are new: back-biting, gossiping, impugning, blaming, name-calling. I don’t see why 2016 was so surprising or different. The White House has been traded back and forth, from Democrat to Republican and back, for my whole life. But I believed in evolution; I thought we were evolving in a more liberal direction. Demographic changes, they would carry the day. Wouldn’t they? Shouldn’t they?
And who cares, really? How many dumb articles like this have I already written? And do inconclusive rantings like these qualify me as a political observer? Is this enough, what I have already said here? Can I now publish, and write again tomorrow? What a stupid column. What a stupid country! Ha ha.