Subcontinental Divide - 2019


The Indigestible Truth About Political Polarization

By Ahsen Jillani

“You are a Democrat until you make your first million." Many decades ago, someone in South Charlotte had told me that at the tail end of Thanksgiving Dinner—you know, where the cigars and cognac come out in the study, and the dessert/coffee are pending a good political education for a foreign kid. Yes, I was knocking at doors handing out Ronald Reagan flyers in the dreamy autumn afternoons of 1980. I really couldn't tell Ronald Reagan from Bozo the Clown, but my host family wanted a new foreign student to learn the ins and outs of democracy. Reagan, after all, and after Carter, was going to “Make America Great Again." (Yes, that is a Reagan saying).

And in the classic biting of the hand that feeds you (turkey), two years out, I was a junior in college, and consequently a raging liberal with rock star wavy hair and protesting nuclear proliferation, Reaganomics, border security, air pollution, and racial discrimination. Three years out, I was discovering that every immigrant to these shores could simply invent his own fantasy America—and live poorly in it. The system allowed that. The rich smiled and allowed that.

Today, with all three branches of government owned by what seems like President Putin, and America again pulling out of Syria in a replay of the horrible and bloody withdrawal from Saigon, I am an old man lighting a cigar in my backyard and smiling as I celebrate my 40th year of being utterly awestruck by the PR machinery of America, and being fatally disillusioned by the reality that is rising to the surface as we are pressure-cooked by foreign influences utilizing technologies and psychologies that were beyond our wildest dreams just a decade ago.

While the ethereal ingredients of the American melting pot have eluded me for eons, the dream we have been taught to dream has been starkly evident—an all-you-can-eat buffet, sunny church Sundays, a pickup truck in the driveway, a Harley in the garage, mom cooking apple pie, fighting men (and now women) returning from agendas, anthems and salutes, waving flags, confetti and coffins, lonely blue collar workers cruising boulevards of dying manufacturing towns, drinking beer, eating burgers, hating their lives but loving America, hating their jobs, but loving America; hating the prisons of their chronic stresses, but loving America. Yes, we elected leaders who can deliver on our personal fantasy America. The problem is, we really don't know what we want, and are not apt to change ourselves much to get there anyway.

I saw this happening somewhat from the inside. For the greater part of two decades, I worked with hundreds of political candidates from town commissioners to presidential hopefuls. I had many of the cigar and cognac moments with governors, congressmen, and everything in between. They may have seen me as another foreigner to educate, and I was a great student of reading between the lines. “You almost sound and act like an American," a tipsy political manager once told me. “And you can be a real American... not part of the noise they call America." Wink. Nod. But what was that fleeting truth, the elusive wisdom?

Standing at the cusp of 2020, I am wondering if I could now distribute flyers for any politician. I am actually very thankful for my life. I am thankful for Donald Trump, for Donald Trump Jr. and especially for Ivanka Trump. I am deeply indebted to White House Racial Advisor Stephen Miller (the little bald man who spray painted hair on his head for a TV appearance). What America did to native Indians, what it did then to blacks, then the Chinese, the Italians, to the Irish, then again to the blacks, well, it has all come home to me smoking a cigar in my backyard. Thank you for the honesty.

The facts are stark now, even for those who make nonsense statements like, “Some of my best friends are colored." One-third of this country is racist and would rather see the economy collapse than compromise the white supremacist directive. Over 10 percent on the far left are part of the army of the liberal establishment that declares war on anything from inhumane chicken farms to men not being allowed to pee in women's bathrooms. They are usually chronically under- or unemployed road warriors who fire up their 1998 minivans and hit the road at the merest hint from the likes of a harassed gay student or Elizabeth Warren lambasting the rich. A good 50 percent simply work and hate everything about everything and are just breathing, slightly left or right of the political center. And if my chemistry is correct, that leaves 7 percent, and that's the crowd that just scratches their heads and panics about the gridlock in the soul of America.

Yes, you fight this muddle. As I expand my business, I wonder about employees, their work ethic, the business taxes, the increased tax rate, the workers comp, the benefits, the blow to my bottom line, my savings account, even my goal to buy a mountain summer home. I read about tax loopholes, the foreign bank accounts; I pay more attention to politicians telling me to set up trusts, invest in key property (“Here's my advisor's number"), to lower wages and declare more business expenses. All this stuff. All this stuff—and a very simple fact.

“It's the economy, stupid." America really doesn't create anything tangible of value that the world can't do without. America's lifeblood is the PR that made me spend $800 on Amazon last month. America is about innovation; about the newest ways to sell ideas—about ways to perpetually make you feel hungry. Somewhere, in the bowels of this machinery, is a consumer who thinks he is hungry, rich businessmen working with narcissistic politicians to make you feel hungry, and the “working hungry," confused millions of all colors, national origins and religions that make all this possible by being pawns in a Work-Eat cycle. Only the Almighty Dollar unites us all in a divine, soothing, salvationary embrace. But these working masses…they are not real Americans…they are noise. Play the national anthem…and…Wink. Nod.

Pour me another cognac.

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Ahsen Jillani a former editor and publisher, is originally from Islamabad, Pakistan, and now lives in Mint Hill. He owns Must Media, a PR company focusing on both political and corporate clients.