Blog Archive

Blog Archive – November, 2020

It's Only A Lawn Sign. Or Perhaps It's More

November 04, 2020

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

         

            With quarrels raging over disappearing campaign lawn signs, rattled American liberals may now appreciate how being ‘a minority’ feels.

            Desecration and theft of lawn signs in support of Republicans or Democrats are reported in many American neighborhoods this year, with Democrats being particularly unsettled by what they regard as an existential threat. (Although their experience surrounding this issue is trifling compared to what Muslims, Black, and Jewish minorities historically encountered, and still face.)

            I appreciate the panic aroused by gatherings of armed Trump supporters and other menacing actions, most recently against Biden’s bus. But perhaps fears manifest around lost lawn signs by these mainly white middle class folks are exaggerated and misplaced.

            One local upstate N.Y. paper tactfully addresses the problem of stolen campaign posters with “When political signs disappear”. It may have adopted this approach to temper overstated calls for help.

            I agree that anything stolen off one’s manicured lawn is upsetting. But, hey: it’s only a two-foot square paper poster pushed into the turf-- a rather timid expression of one’s political leanings.

            From reports of thefts I’ve tracked in my county, local police (often mistakenly perceived as solidly allied with ‘conservatives’) swiftly responded, charging two suspects—in one case a known teenage vandal, the other a sole 20-year old. There was no indication of armed vigilantes shooting up Democratic neighborhoods or defacing homes. Although unfounded rumors prompted some Democratic supporters to remove their signs or spurn the suggestion they host one (“I think I’ll pass this year”, or “Let me think out it”). True, some signs were stolen or dislodged. But crying “I felt violated!”, as one householder wrote on a community website about a stolen poster. Really? What about brave citizens who film police wantonly brutalizing and murdering our Black men in the street?

             The current dilemma over lawn signs derives in part from stress surrounding this contentious presidential election at the same time that Covid restrictions continue to unravel our lives. 

            Something else is at play. Fear aroused by these posters is related to changing demographics in regions like mine where a population of newcomers, mainly former New York and New Jersey urbanites, are not integrated into these rural surroundings. Many are retirees who had enough of city life. Others can afford a weekend home in the bucolic Catskills. Younger arrivals here find they can manage their business by internet. Growing herbs and squash, raising goats and chickens as a hobby, they constitute the new gentry. Only now, they realize they’re outsiders who arrived from places where they’d been the majority, snugly surrounded by other Democrats. They read their revered New York Times while frequenting country taverns where they share advice re local sources for multi-grain-seed-saturated breads, and rustic furniture. Perfectly understandable.

            That’s their culture. Like migrant minorities anywhere, their values differ from longtime residents who in this region prefer beer, who like deer hunting and fishing, who regularly attend church, whose parents are military veterans, and who work in local diners and municipal offices. And yes, most drive trucks.

            There’s little socializing between the two communities. A newcomer driving through our forested hills reacts to a barn with a Trump sign plastered across its side, as if there’s a sniper behind the weather vane on the roof. Self-proclaimed progressives assume any truck owner is not college educated, probably owns a gun, and really doesn’t understand politics. They call them ‘trumpers’ and whisper really ugly epithets about ‘them’.

            These newcomers are rattled not because of any significant physical threat. They feel, in many cases for the first time, that they are a minority. When they realize this is the source of their discomfort, they can move forward, and maybe learn to dialogue with their opponents, something they have not managed despite proud declarations of ‘getting to know our neighbors’.

 

[ It's Only A Lawn Sign. Or Perhaps It's More ]

Covid-19 Strategies by New York's Shrewd Governor. Part II

November 01, 2020

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

From Monday's press breifing, if we can put aside Cuomo’s serious mistakes and political ambitions, allow me to proceed with his general Covid management strategy, and to analyze his formulaic approach to dealing with a stressed, jittery population that includes the nation’s financial center and nine million people residing in our largest city-- an unparalleled virus hotspot with over 700 deaths daily-- confined to their apartments, with businesses shuttered, medical prognosis unknown, inadequate hospital beds, and tepid federal help.

            Mercifully, New York was able to contain the threat. Day by day, it flattened the curve, remarkable by any standard, with the governor’s office temporarily healing its rift with New York City’s mayor.

            Today we’re again facing rising infections and continued economic uncertainty; the entire population still needs assurance and guidance, something we used to call ‘leadership’. To whom can we look?

            Take Monday’s press briefing https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RtPQ1_96liQ as an example of a well-orchestrated address to a nervous public: Cuomo began with a bold yet measured attack on the White House’s announcement that it has no policy to control the pandemic; it would await the vaccine and its associated therapeutics. Cuomo’s response was unrestrained: the federal government’s policy is preemptive capitulation, totally irresponsible. Instead of reviewing the president’s shortcomings, diversions and false claims, Cuomo directs his critique to New York’s past success and how he proposes to move ahead: “Why (did it work)? God didn’t intervene. We controlled the spread. Ask yourself? How did NY reduce the infection rate, if you (Washington) say we can’t control? We did it. You can’t eliminate it, but you can control it”. He then reminds us of his can-do-it alternatives: the valve management system already in place and the new microcluster control he’s introduced. Surely this practical, seemingly apolitical we-can-do attitude is what Americans desperately need. (Remember Obama’s winning Yes, we can?)

            Cuomo, like Trump, never forgets to affirm how great America is although he does so with more class, adding how New York is first within America. His boasts are specific, reminding us how New York did it: “We flattened the curve. We went to the top of the mountain and down again”, all the time praising the critical agents—the people. “We could not impose rules of mask-wearing, social-distancing, quarantining. You did it. You were disciplined, smart, and you cared for others as well as yourself”.

            His boasts are reinforced with an appeal to New Yorkers’ smartness, toughness, and compassion for one another-- on the edge only a few months back, in the belly of the beast, with the highest rate of infection, hospitalization and death in the country (if not globally). Cuomo’s chauvinistic New Yorker attitude goes unquestioned--because it works. He knows that like himself, New Yorkers are somewhat arrogant, a little overconfident, and the smartest of the smart (sic).

          He tactfully follows his affirmation of the US as the greatest country in the world, asking: “How could this happen to us; our infections are increasing at higher rate than countries like Mexico, Mexico, with 44 per million infections in the past week; Canada with 68, Japan with 4, compared to our 208?”

            A little bit of patriotism with some shame can be effective, especially when augmented by comprehensible, convincing empirical facts. This shared pride furtively combined with empiricism probably accounts in part for Cuomo’s policy successes. He ends every briefing, before talking questions from reporters, on his characteristically high “New York is loving, NY is caring, NY is smart, NY is strong, NY is united”.

            Don't knock someone who moves a stressed, fearful people to believe a little more in themselves at a highly tenuous period in US history. END Part 2

 

[ Covid-19 Strategies by New York's Shrewd Governor. Part II ]


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