Speaker by Various Artists


Darkness in New York

by Graeme Tuckett

I'm a New Zealander who recently moved to New York City. I really wonder if anyone who isn't here understands just how nuts this place is right now, or how close this presidential race is going to be.

The Republican convention is happening in Ohio: A state in which anyone over 21 years old can carry whatever guns they own in plain sight, in any public place. Not just your standard issue Glock pistol on the hip, but a full military style assault rifle, slung over your shoulder as you contemplate which political rally to attend that night or which shopping mall to have lunch at.

There are at least 10,000 people in Ohio tonight who have come only to protest. These include groups from what we might loosely call the far left and the far right. And all of them can carry a gun if they choose.

In Ohio, you don't need a firearms license . The State doesn't even ask for background checks of gun purchasers.

Someone organising the Republican convention thought being in Ohio was a good idea. If you were endlessly cynical of human nature – or at least that brand of human nature that manifests itself in the organising committees of the Republican party – you might even think that they are hoping someone gets shot. Trump is openly campaigning on the 'Law and Order' platform that is always the first and last refuge of the bully and the closet racist. Violence in Ohio as the convention unfolds will only increase his popularity.

The anti-gun lobby meanwhile, by which we mean pretty much the entire Democratic party and a majority of American citizens, can't even get a law passed that would prevent someone on the 'terrorist no-fly' list from buying a gun.

Yep. You can be banned from boarding an aircraft in this country, but still be legally able to buy an AK 47 and a few thousand rounds of ammunition. Even an amendment watering the legislation down to 'hand-guns are allowed but not automatic rifles' was defeated by the Republicans. And this happened in a country that doesn't even have a Republican president. Yet.

Trump's choice of the ultra-conservative Mike Pence as running mate is frightening for all sorts of pragmatic reasons. It was widely believed that the multi-billionaire Koch brothers, who have raised between $700 million and $900 million to pour into this election, were not about to open up their wallets for Trump. But the appointment of Pence – a longtime Koch favourite – will probably change that.

The Trump campaign, that was looking a little under-resourced, should now have access to the single largest political war-chest in US history.

A CBS news poll put Trump and Clinton at a level 40% each earlier this week. And that was before the Republican convention, where, unless Trump embarrasses himself even more catastrophically than he already has – which doesn't seem possible – he will get another rating bump.

The very real possibility is that Trump will ease ahead in some polls this week or next. And that will put him in the debating position that he is most comfortable in: that of the mocker and the bully.

Clinton seems subdued, nervous and kind of joyless. Her appeals to common sense and our better angels are the only tactic she really has open to her – beyond her own version of 'getting tough on crime', which everyone knows is a card Trump basically owns – but appeals to American common sense haven't really worked for a generation or more.

Even here in the heart of liberal/democratic New York City, I see just as many 'Hillary for Jail 2016' teeshirts as I do 'Dump Trump'.

As HL Mencken wrote in 1926, in what must be the most misquoted 'quote' of all time:

No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.

Even a single month of trudging and training around this place, watching the news, listening in on bar-arguments, talking to neighbours on the subway and in the queue at the pizza joint has taught me one thing. My cosy liberal assumption back in New Zealand – that even if Trump won the nomination, he would still get toasted in the actual election – I don't subscribe to it any more.

This race is going to be close. And the tenser, uglier and – god forbid, but you know it's coming – more violent this world, country and campaign get between now and November, the more it will play into Trump's tiny little hands.

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