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"Jefferson, I think we're lost."--REM, "Little America"
When you look at the Cleveland skyline--say, in the middle of the night from the bed where you can't sleep in a corner room studded with tall windows on the 12th floor of the Marriot Hotel downtown on the first weekend of October--there's something balked and depressed about it. The high-rises, artlessly arranged on the city's grid, look grimy and don't gleam the way you'd expect; they seem altogether reluctant to rise into the air in that haughty way New York or LA skyscrapers do--those proud postmodern monoliths that, story piled on story, betray a cackling Trumpian triumphalism. Husks of old factories, some closed 20 years ago, continue their slow rust outside the downtown area. The pride of the city, insofar as pride shows, seems to be its squat sports stadiums--the Indians, Cavaliers and Browns each have their own hulking homes within a couple of miles of each other--but then again, they remind you of the curious blend of displaced rage and worship that characterizes so much of the sports world in the Midwest. (Someday, read James Wright's tortured poem "Autumn Begins in Martin's Ferry, Ohio," which tells of young football players who "grow suicidally beautiful . . . and gallop terribly against each other's bodies" as the only way out of the dead ends and vast repressions of Ohio life.) Then there's the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame Museum, jutting its sharp gaudy angles into the sky against the backdrop of gray dirty Lake Erie, but Jesus, what a place that is: you can hardly imagine a more jaw-dropping shrine to the way rock capitulates to the twin lures of glitz and money. To an insomniac, the overall impression is of a sky, weighted and stifling, brooding over a city that seems like some broken-nosed, heavy-shouldered prizefighter who keeps going down, keeps getting up and fully expects to go down again.
In case you think it's just me being depressed here, not Cleveland, consider that I had flown into the city to see Bruce Springsteen and REM on the Vote for Change tour benefiting John Kerry's presidential candidacy, was nowhere near depressed, and was too excited to sleep. Consider, also, that Cleveland is the poorest big city in America: 270,000 jobs, 11,000 of them in August alone—which happens to be a quarter of all the jobs that have disappeared during the only administration since Herbert Hoover's to yield net job loss--have been lost in Ohio, many of them in its biggest city. Ohio's got one of the nation's highest unemployment rates, and Cleveland's got the highest poverty rate of any major city in the country. Virtually 50 percent of Cleveland's children live in households that fall beneath the poverty line. Almost half. No state's been hit harder by Bush's reverse-Robin Hood economic policies. Yet the state is still a swing state. Bush won it by four points in 2000, and up until Bush (refreshingly) fucked up the first presidential debate, he was up by eight.
Places like Ohio make you want to tear your hair out. It's hard to imagine a state whose citizens so repeatedly vote in ways diametrically opposed to their own interests. Losing manufacturing jobs? Okay, then, let's weaken labor laws, encourage outsourcing and give tax breaks to the superrich whose trickle down will feel like you're being pissed on. Worried about health care in your old age? Fine, let's reform Medicare so that the government can't use its huge buying power--can't utilize the free market Bush adores--to get discounts on prescription drugs from pharmaceutical companies that stand to rake in more billions as a result. Concerned that your government is sending your sons and daughters to fight and die in a war whose every stated reason for fighting has been undermined by the facts? Terrific, let's keep believing the administration's appallingly Orwellian insinuations that Saddam Hussein still had something to do with Sept. 11; that WMDs might still be found; that democracy will take root once fair elections take place in Iraq next January; that Iraqis feel liberated; that we have enough troops on the ground; that everybody who's not with us is against us; and that Bush's neocon handlers haven't since Sept. 12, 2001, been methodically angling for a way to twist the Twin Towers' fall into an excuse to crush Saddam's regime and turn Iraq into a compliant client-state, gushing crude for our Hummers.
Consider Ohio enough and the way it continues to cling to George W. Bush's arrogance of power and contempt for the facts, and you start inching toward the conclusion that Americans are gullible and lazy and would very much prefer not to have to do their own thinking. It makes you think that on the whole, Americans positively enjoy war and jump at almost any excuse to start blowing other people up. (We've got more than 200,00,000 guns in the country, and the pressure must build to start firing those fuckers.) It makes you think that a lot of people "love their country" and their leaders the way many four-year-olds love their parents--with a mixture of awe, blind need, complete trust and fear--which, to put it delicately, is not what Lincoln had in mind by "government of, by and for the people." It's enough to make you doubt the plausibility of democracy itself. It's enough to make you want to sing along with REM's lament to the nation's architect of democracy in "Little America"--that "Jefferson, I think we're lost."
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