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Election Results: Amazon versus Hallmark

Amazon decided to locate its new headquarters in Long Island City, Queens, New York, and Alexandria, Virginia. These two locations possess the characteristics Amazon considers desirable.  They have highly educated and mobile workforces. They are located at both national and international transportation hubs. They have significant other business sectors so Amazon will not be the 600 pound gorilla that everyone turns towards to solve local problems. They have an excitement about them: people want to move there. The bottom line is that the midsize cities of mid-America simply do not have the base to support the Amazon behemoth. The other major cities simply do not have the resources or the proximity to the politicians and regulators Amazon needs to buy and sell.

As it turns out, Amazon probably would have chosen these two locations even if there had been no government prostitution. Other communities made more lucrative offers but they could not match the actual requirements for a successful match. For all we know, Amazon may well have been leaning towards these two winning locations even before the search began even if they it never consciously acknowledged it to itself yet alone to the public. In the meantime, Amazon gathered a great deal of information about a multitude of sites throughout the country that will be useful.

One cannot help but notice that the desirable characteristics for Amazon coincide with the burgeoning demographic areas of the Democratic Party. By contrast Republican areas were not even in the running.

Politically, Amazon’s choice in New York will not make much difference. New York already is a democratic state. Republicans have no chance of winning any statewide election. At the state level success for a Republican is obtaining 40% of the vote. Its last hold in power, the State Senate, witnessed an eight seat drop this past election. Instead of vying for majority power it has had for roughly 75 years with some breaks, Republicans now are an also-ran with little if any power to do anything if the Democrats are united. Even without Amazon, the 2020 census is likely to accelerate this trend as the one-party city itself and the Democratic suburb offshoots gain in power. In the reapportioning, the Republicans are likely to lose even more of what little they have left at the federal and state level.

The situation is a little different in Virginia. Republicans still have no chance of winning a statewide election there but the margins are not as stark as in New York. Part of the difference is due to one-party Washington, D.C. not being in the state of Virginia the way one-party New York City is in New York. As the Washington suburbs served by the Metro continue to expand especially with Amazon, the state will become more and more Democratic. It will not take a coin toss anymore to determine who is in power in the legislature. Republicans in Virginia will be restricted to the rural non-growth areas. The biggest difference from New York is where upstate New Yorkers retire to the South, rural Virginians are already there.  Amazon is quite willing to sell to these people but it would not want to locate there.

Hallmark’s audience is quite different from Amazon’s. The Hallmark movie universe tends to be the rural one with mainly white Christians, probably Protestants. If the city is involved, such as New York, it is the place the hero/heroine leaves. They either return home to be reconnected with their loved ones and to save the family home/store/factory. They tend to be in their thirties so they may have known some success in the big city but it comes with a price to their soul and happiness. They regain their soul when they return to the place where everyone says “Merry Christmas” and the community lighting of the Christmas tree is a big deal…unlike say in New York City where Rockefeller Center is devoid of all signs of Christmas and no families are present!

If they are not from the rural paradise and are the mean person sent there to shut it down or buy the store/factory/inn, then they soon succumb to its charms for its money they have and peace they lack. Hallmark could tell big city-based Christmas stories but they are the exception not the rule despite their being where the American people live.

And if there is not a rural American paradise to which to return, then there is always a small kingdom in Europe that no one has ever heard of desperate for an American princess. Considering the real stories of not only Grace Kelly but Meghan Markle, it turns out that fairy tales can come true.

Still the Hallmark world has an attraction to the Amazon world but only a part-time basis. People in the city buy second homes but rarely in another city. Someone in New York does not buy a second home in the Boston or Philadelphia area. They may visit a child in college in those cities but for a second home for weekends, summer, and maybe retirement, they often chose the Hallmark world. Excluding the glitzy Hamptons, many New Yorkers choose to go north to the Hudson Valley, the Catkskills, the Berkshires, and beyond. They want land, they want space, they want peace and quiet as long as they can go to Starbucks and get the delicacies and entertainment they want. These people do not want to live in Mayberry, Bedford Falls, or Cicely, Alaska. It’s nice to leave the rat race and visit Brigadoon every now and then. They need the Field of Dreams but only for a moment.

Did you ever notice how popular and important Friday Night Lights was for people who did not live in a Friday Night Lights community? A Friday Nights Light community is a Hallmark community with more realism. It does have conflicts. It does have tensions. It does have rivalries with similar neighboring communities. But unlike the Hallmark communities, the Friday Night Lights communities gather together every Friday and not just once a year. In these communities, the people have their community songs, their community flags and banners, their community traditions, and a community spirit that is passed on from generation to generation. If you buy a second home in such a community you will be an outsider even if your city money enables you to throw your weight around. This separateness especially will be true if you have no kids attending the local schools.

In this regard, a Friday Nights Light community is like a Jane Jacobs city block or street. The social fabric is strong. People have a sense of place, a sense of belonging, a sense of community. These are not the characteristics of an Amazon community. The people who move to the big cities in other states have limited connection to the history of that state, that city, that community. Here in New York we are celebrating the bicentennial of the building of the Erie Canal. That project put New York on the national map on its way to becoming the world capital. That project launched a can do period in American history that lasted until we placed a man on the moon. Yet today the Erie Canal has no meaning to the people of the city. It remains an underutilized asset of American history in upstate New York of little interest to people in downstate New York. They would sooner visit the canals of Europe than those of New York.

The fate of the Erie Canal story highlights the shortcomings of the piecemeal approach. America has a big story to tell. What the two political parties have in common is that neither is trying to tell it. No candidate proposes a vision for We the People of the 21st century and the less said about our shallow, superficial, simple-minded President the better. Clearly there is a need for such a vision. Clearly there is a need for such a storyteller. Clearly there is a need to connect America’s citizens to the story of their country. In 1976, my father temporarily relocated to Washington, D.C., and bunked with Congressmen to reduce living expenses when he worked on the Bicentennial. In July 2016, the United States Semiquincentennial Commission was established in preparation for the 250th anniversary of the United States. It will occur on July 4, 2026, the bicentennials of the deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on July 4. Will we be a united country then or will the experiment have run its course?

Kavanaugh and the Elephant in the Room: What Do Blind People See?

And so these men of Indostan disputed loud and long, Each in his own opinion Exceeding stiff and strong, Though each was partly in the right And all were in the wrong! Illustrator unknown - From Charles Maurice Stebbins & Mary H. Coolidge, Golden Treasury Readers: Primer, American Book Co. (New York), p. 89. (Wikipedia)

There is a parable about a group of blind people encountering an elephant for the first time. None of them know what an elephant is or looks like. To understand what the elephant is, each of the blind people touches the animal. However they do not touch the same part of the beast, therein hangs the tale.

Each blind person knows only the part they touch…and an elephant consists of many parts. One touches the thick legs, another the fan-like ears, a third the tusk, a fourth the trunk, a fifth the tale, a sixth the body. Each individual interpreted the whole of the elephant based on the part they had touched. Unfortunately, no one of them experienced the elephant in its entirety. They knew the truth only for the part they had touched and not for the elephant as a whole.

I was reminded of this fable when reading about the different ways people understand Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh. People seem to focus on the different facets of his being, the facet that is of most importance to them or the one that they know.

For example, to his wife of 17 years, he is a good and loving husband and father. That’s the part of his life that she knows. It is quite reasonable that this perception is truly what she believes and is accurate.

Similarly for the daughters. They know him only as their father, even for less time than his wife has known him. Once again, their perception of him seems quite reasonable, is what they truly believe, and is accurate.

In this instance I am reminded of the scene from the end of Field of Dreams. Kevin Costner sees his father as a young man before he had been worn down from life. He had never seen of known his father when he still had his whole life before him. He only knew him later in life when the dreams of youth had not been fulfilled. For Costner to glimpse the youth of the man who would become his father was like the story of the blind people and the elephant. The difference is we exist over time. The person we once were is not exactly who we are today. We grow up, usually. We mature, usually. We have life experiences which shape who we become and therefore who we are in the present. The perception Costner the child and teenager had of his father seems quite reasonable, is what he truly believed, and was quite accurate…and incomplete. He did not see the big picture until the magic of the Field of Dreams.

On the other hand, some people remain trapped in their Glory Days, reliving and retelling the stories of the big game when they were king and queen of the prom. In these cases, it is easy to see their past because they never stopped living in it.

Kavanaugh’s wife and children are seeing a part of their husband and father they should not have to see. People do grow up. People do mature. People do stop being teenagers. That part of their life always remains part of the adult’s life, but it is one they choose not to share with others. World War II veterans are notorious for not sharing their life in the war with their spouse, children, and grandchildren. It is something that at most they can talk about with their fellow band of brothers who had the same or similar experiences.

Strange as it may seem, when Democrats and Republicans see Kavanaugh, they see the exact same person. Each sees the potential 5th Republican legislator on the Supreme Court who will reverse Roe vs. Wade and support Republican legislation. They have different responses to that prospect but they both see him the same way. Each side then is dedicated to either confirming or rejecting Kavanaugh accordingly.

To do so each focuses on different aspects of Kavanaugh’s life. For the Republicans, he is the frequently FBI-vetted judge with a stellar career conducted in an honorable manner who in the standard hyperbole is the best qualified person ever nominated (until he isn’t).

By contrast, Democrats have questions about his adult career as a clerk for a sanctioned judge and for Ken Starr. They also have questions have his rulings and the meaning of those rulings if he were to be confirmed.

To some extent, all this is par for the course. But now there is the part of his life that normally is not seen in middle age. What did you do as a teenager? What did you do during the time in life when people are most likely to do something stupid and which they will regret later in life? What did you do as a youth that you prefer not to talk about now yet alone be exposed to a national audience?

I am reminded of a scene from the movie Amazon Women on the Moon, where a teenage boy seeks to quietly buy some condoms for immediate use with his date. He turns out to be the 1,000,000th customer and the next thing you he is part of a big celebration with banners, balloons, an emcee, and his parents. A nightmare come true. I certainly hope Kavanaugh’s parents are not alive to witness this spectacle.

Over the past few years, teenagers have learned there are unintended consequences to the events posted on social media. College admission officers may look at them. Potential employers may look at them. Even decades from now, the actions posted on social media today may continue to haunt the teenagers and young adults of today. Imagine what will happen when children of the future search on the web for what their parents did as teenagers.

The glimpse we get today in the teenage life of a Supreme Court nominee is exactly that…just a glimpse. Republicans do not want to know the truth of Kavanaugh’s life as a teenager; Democrats want to exploit it or at least what they think it is. The likelihood is that the full circus will not play out. After one day of hearings, the decision will be made that enough is enough. We have seen what just happened to Bill Cosby. We know that a defamation suit against our immature child President is working its way through the legal system with the possibility that one day he will have to appear on Fox and in court to defend himself. We know that his pledge to sue after the election the 19 women who have claimed harassment remains and will remain an unfulfilled campaign promise.  We also know that it is always about him so the longer Kavanaugh remains in the public arena the more comparisons will be made not simply to the Clarence Thomas hearings but to the life of Donald Trump who never really outgrew his teenage years.

Therefore, my prediction is the process will be cut short before it spirals out of control and begins to affect the political fortunes of others.