Back to Berkeley

Since I research the intersection of urbanization and globalization, I have studied a fair bit about migration and refugees. With that perspective, our family situation is pretty good. But it is still strange to be away from my family for most of the year, teaching at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou, China. It is a great work opportunity, and as an urbanist I am pretty thrilled to be working and researching smack dab in the middle of the largest process of urbanization going on in the world. If demographic projections are accurate, this may be the largest moment of urbanization ever, because the human population may level off within one generation and begin to decline after that. So I am glad to be in Suzhou, and my wife and kids are glad for this opportunity for me, and they are glad that they can stay in Berkeley and pursue their own life-ambitions. But it is weird to be on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean. Communication technology does make a huge difference, but it does not quite “collapse space”: we are on very different circadian rhythms, living 1/3 of a planet apart, and the total difference in weather and time of day is a constant (albeit instantaneous) reminder of how big the planet is, and how far apart we live.

Rather than ‘migrant laborer,’ though, I feel like my family situation is much more like a soldier deployed on a tour. Returning to our home after months away means re-assuming the direct role of being a parent; not always comfortable for me and our early-teen kids. I am doing a lot of house chores to earn my credibility and reassertion of my role. Still, we all have to be pretty up front with out expectations. I guess that military families have had to deal with these dynamics a lot.

And now, on to some political griping.

Like a lot of military families, this is a career opportunity for me. But it is also strongly pressured by my need to pay off grad school debt. A financial planner from Shanghai remarked at how much worse off her American clients often are — how they seem to have a lot of debt, whereas Australians, Europeans, Britons, and Koreans don’t. We agreed that for the regular household, China is passing the United States right now. So much for a Reagan-defined, free-market America. We could make policy choices to reduce inequality and middle-class debt for regular American households — we did it under FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson — but Americans seem too insecure, too frightened to really make bold policy moves. Or, maybe most Americans want to go back to fixed gender roles, segregation, and ‘people knowing their place.’ I am not sure if it is public will, or just conservative political weirdness, but there seems to be a push to wind the policy-clock back to somewhere in the 1890s (railroad robber barons) or the late 1920s (free market free-fall of the economy).

Ach, general griping. But some things need to be repeated in case a short collective public memory enables conservatives to somehow avoid accountability for the harm they have done to this country. I am tired of being a ‘tactful’ good sport towards a whole movement that has revealed itself as demonstrably harmful. Nixon and his ‘Southern Strategy.’ Reagan’s union-busting and bank deregulation. GW Bush and his Iraq war (by now it is pretty clear that his cabinet did not believe in WMDs; so once again: Why did we invade, occupy and spend $2 trillion on Iraq?). The plutocrat Romney. The plutocrat-racist Donald Trump. Republicans used to stand for individual rights; but Eisenhower seems to be the last Republican president who tried to do good. Ever since 1964, when Dixiecrats like Strom Thurmond decided to switch from Democrat to Republican, Republicans have been the party that opposes a black person’s right to life and the vote; a woman’s right to reproductive control of her own body and equal pay for equal work; and an immigrant’s right to the 14th-Amendment principle of equal protection under U.S. law. Frankly, I have serious disagreements with some Democratic policy positions. But I don’t really have a voting choice, because the Republican positions are both ethically and Constitutionally indefensible. Rather than the party of ‘just say no’ to all Democratic legislative proposals, I wish the other major party in this country were the Greens, who actually propose policy positions.

For instance, Democrats are pro-business and pro-trade (despite Republican claims to be pro-business). In some ways that is a good thing, but what about a party to counterbalance this ‘growth at all costs’ position? What about a party that understands ‘conservative’ to mean environmental protection? What about a party that acts conservatively to protect the 99% from the financial-speculation harm of the top 0.1%? Dems are sort of in favor of this; but a meaningfully different party would be strongly advocating this. What about a party that advocates immigration, and the elimination of bigoted immigration quotas? Since none of the Wall Street investment-banking and hedge funds have been seized by the federal government, Democrats apparently tolerate open malfeasance by high-value corporations (sadly, Republicans are even worse). What about a party that advocates seizure and break-up of firms that violate the public trust and knowingly do harm? Republicans ‘just say no’ to whatever Dems propose. That is not even an opposition party, because it is not the articulation of a coherent alternative position. Rather, it is the “Nuh-uh!” obstinacy of a teenage brat.

I apologize to those readers who prefer tactful and measured reflection. Perhaps lingering jet-lag suppresses my tact-o-meter. What set me off, this morning, is that I had to the ‘sane’ thing and vote for Hilary Clinton in the California primary today. In my crabby mood I should point out that this could be a very good thing: first woman president, and a candidate with tremendous experience who might therefore be very effective in working with this dysfunctional Congress and getting legislation passed. That is all good. But I am crabby because I could not risk voting for my first choice, Bernie Sanders. We have already passed a point in the electoral cycle where the overriding need is to prevent Donald Trump from being elected. Hilary needs to have as much support as possible, not just for the good she might do, but to prevent the political disaster of a Trump presidency. I feel like we cannot risk splitting the vote or weakening her candidacy now. We cannot risk allowing another conservative demagogue to become president. The consequences of the Gore/Nader split in 2000 was George W, the Iraq war, and the largest economic crisis since the Republican free-marketeer Herbert Hoover allowed the 1929 crash to become the 1931 Great Depression.

For my younger readers, maybe the usefulness of this post will be a series of keywords so they can look up and get a better feel for the last 120 years of the U.S. political economy. Democrats did some bad things in that time, too: Woodrow Wilson segregated federal offices (though Truman and Johnson redeemed some of this). FDR sent Japanese-Americans to concentration-camps. Bill Clinton caved to Republican pressure to eviscerate welfare and partially repeal the Glass-Steagall Act. Southern Dems were often horribly racist — but their political and literal descendants are now “Dixicans” I guess (don’t know if there is another term for them). A ‘balanced’ view of history implies that the good-versus-harm of both parties is roughly even over the past 12 decades. I see no evidence of this. Historical evidence enables a nuanced historical perspective, a counterpoint to a political amnesia about the chronic harmfulness of Republicans. Their one consistent bright spot had been advocacy of individual rights: the abolition of slavery (1865), right to clean air and water (1971), and right to dignified equal access, regardless of physical disability (1991). But most conservatives today openly oppose environmental protections and effectively favor slavery through anti-immigration policies. So I am not even sure if 21st-century conservatives can claim credit for the achievements of a past Republican Party whose policies they now oppose.

Not sure if blog-ranting actually has therapeutic qualities. Joe Rogan warns about the American tendency toward “recreational outrage.” Though I have proposed some options and alternatives here, and pointed to very specific historic events that I think conservatives would rather conveniently forget.

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