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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

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Here We Go Again, Trash-Talking The Working Class

Bear with me, please, as I start this column with a brief story about my two grandmothers who lived in trailer homes.

They lived in Ashtabula County, which is tucked into the northeast corner of Ohio, an hour east of Cleveland. If ever you’ve travelled a good distance along U.S. 90, you likely passed our county’s handful of exits on your way to somewhere else.

For all of my childhood, this was home, and I was seldom happier than when I had time alone with my maternal great-grandmother, Ada, who raised my mother from the age of 8. In the late ’60s, after her husband died, Ada sold her house and 20 acres to move into a trailer home a couple of miles down the road. It was closer to her church, her second home.

I spent weeks at a time in the summers with her, freed from the responsibilities of the oldest child always on duty. She taught me how to cook, garden and quilt. Every Sunday after church, rain or shine, we walked to the cemetery to tend my great-grandfather’s grave and say a prayer of gratitude for the time we’d had with him. We had our evening rituals, too. She believed a steaming cup of tea at sunset was a great way to settle the mind for the big thoughts that show up only under the night sky.

My maternal grandmother, Vivian, lost custody of my mother when she was 8 and spent the rest of her life trying to make it up to her and taking care of my uncle, who had a mental disability. His name was Francis, and she never spent a day away from him until he died from complications of diabetes in his late 50s.

Grandma Vivian was the first person I knew to buy an aluminum Christmas tree. What a sight for my siblings and me. My mother stood behind us and whispered orders to close our mouths and stop acting like we’d just seen a ghost.

This was the grandma with the trunk full of antique dresses and hats for us to play with whenever we visited. When my mother wasn’t around, Grandma often served me a cup of coffee loaded with milk and sugar — a grown-up reward for “being so responsible.” When her house in Ashtabula County became too run down to be safe, my grandmother closed it up and lived in a trailer on the back lot until Alzheimer’s robbed her of the ability to take care of herself.

I wanted you to know a little bit about my grandmothers so that you might better understand my outrage over a Cleveland Plain Dealer writer’s reaction to Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump for president:

“Thanks to Trump, the entire Palin clan is now back in the spotlight they so crave. Come July, Republican National Convention organizers should house the whole dysfunctional family at a trailer park in Ashtabula.”

This is surely not the first time a pundit has cast the Palins as “trailer park folks” — which is code, of course, for “white trash.” We are hearing these phrases more frequently as pundits try to make sense of Donald Trump’s soaring poll numbers.

In her book “Framing Class: Media Representations of Wealth and Poverty in America,” sociologist Diana Kendall describes how in 2008 then-“Late Show” host David Letterman “maintained a night-after-night monologue about Sarah Palin and why she is white trash.” He was joined, she writes, by “print media, television and Web blogs … full of descriptions of Sarah Palin’s trailer park lifestyle.”

Much closer to home, since Donald Trump’s charade of a candidacy caught fire, I have heard many fellow liberals freely toss around the terms “white trash” and “trailer trash.” These are people who would never dream of telling a racist joke, but they think nothing of ridiculing those of lesser economic means.

Every group has its “other.” For too many white intellectuals, it’s the working class.

Neither of my grandmothers had much money, ever, but they contributed so much to the lives of the people they loved. They were both storytellers who helped me understand the long-ago sacrifices of people I would never know but who live on in the blue of my eyes and the ambitions of my heart. They are why I’ve devoted a number of columns and stories over the years to people who live in trailer parks.

Just this week, I was remembering Marjie Scuvotti, a 24-year-old mother of four. I interviewed her in 2002, on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She talked to me in her home in a trailer park as she painted her 6-year-old son Issac’s face red, white and blue for a parade celebrating first responders.

“You’re my American-flag boy,” Marjie whispered in his ear. She couldn’t have been a prouder mother.

This campaign year has barely begun, and it promises to be a long one. Regardless of which partisan lens we look through, we will see some voters who confound us.

Mocking them will never bring us closer to understanding them, but it will surely reveal us, and we will not benefit from the exposure.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional-in-residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate.

Photo: Living in a trailer home isn’t a sign of class, no matter how much people want to stereotype. Roadsidepictures/Flickr

Why Calling Hillary Clinton ‘Grandmother’ Is Not A Smear

Did you know that Hillary Clinton is a grandmother?

You probably did. After all, the birth of daughter Chelsea’s own daughter, Charlotte, was covered with nearly as much fanfare as some other famous female offspring, like Kim Kardashian’s North West, or Beyoncé’s Blue Ivy.

Out of the other candidates running for president in 2016, do you know who else is a grandparent?

No?

Try Jeb Bush and Rick Perry.

Do you know the names of any of their grandkids?

Didn’t think so.

And why hide it? While there are some cries of “sexism” to Hillary positioning herself as a grandmother, it’s become part of her political strategy.

Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist and alum of President Bill Clinton’s White House, told Politico, “When she offers a theory of government and connects it to her biography, in particular being a mom and a grandma, and talking about intergenerational equity issues and the possibility to do right by your kids — the combination there is a really, really powerful way to communicate.”

Clinton has been dedicated to family issues since she was a lawyer in the ’70s, and has continued to push for legislation that protects women and children. Her résumé is filled with fights for policies that have benefited families, and her campaign has used her experience in both the political and personal arenas as assets.

“Grandmother” might be a term that other female politicians shy away from because it could conjure up thoughts of age. And no politician wants to be thought of as too old to run, especially Clinton, who will be 69 on Election Day 2016, just a few months shy of Ronald Reagan when he was elected to the White House in 1980. John McCain was dogged by criticism regarding his age when in ran in 2008; he was 72 at the time of the election.

Yet even though there are other grandmas in public office — Congresswoman and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, 75, is one of them — it’s not a term that’s readily used when referring to women running for office. Or ascending any sort of career ladder.

Grandfathers, by contrast, are almost never named as such. It’s an afterthought in their biography. See, again, Jeb Bush and Rick Perry — or Mitt Romney.

So why is it an advantage?

“Like most grandmothers I know…”

“When you have this little baby, you spend a lot of time just staring at her,” Clinton said in November. “You really resolve, as her parents and grandparents … [to] do whatever we can to make sure she has the opportunities she deserves to have.”

Connie Schultz, a three-time grandmother herself, laughs at all the chatter associated with “grandma“:

Like most grandmothers I know, I still get worked up about the same issues I’ve always cared about, from abortion rights to same-sex marriage. That’s the thing about seeing your children get on with their lives and have babies. It’s liberating, as if you’ve just been given permission to hone your focus with pinprick precision.

Following advice from former campaign strategist Mark Penn in 2008, Clinton shied away from being seen as a “mama in chief,” preferring to be seen as tough, in the vein of Margaret Thatcher.

Since that tactic failed to win her the nomination and, in the intervening years, matters of women’s health, equal pay, and reproductive rights became key issues in national politics, it makes sense for Clinton to highlight and truly own those parts of her identity and biography, rather than let opponents try to use them against her.

Her staff now is filled with women in many key roles, and 60 percent of her donors are female, too.

In fact, according to the Barbara Lee Foundation, which studies the role of women in politics, female candidates who play up personal experiences and emphasize their relationships can make them more relatable and therefore likeable, which is linked to electability — especially when they are perceived to be qualified.

And so it seems “grandmother” is less smear than imprimatur — why wouldn’t Hillary Clinton use it in her campaign strategy?

Photo: World leaders — and grandparents. Bill Clinton via Twitter

A Family Comparison Jeb Bush May Welcome

By Michael C Bender and Terrence Dopp, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — As Jeb Bush tries to turn the page on Iraq, he’ll be inviting comparisons to another chapter of the family’s foreign policy legacy when he kicks off an overseas tour next month.

Bush’s aides have described the weeklong foreign trip in economic terms, saying the former Florida governor and probable Republican presidential candidate planned to discuss innovation and technology in the global economy during stops in Germany, Poland and Estonia. He’ll participate in a question-and-answer session during an economic conference on June 9 in Berlin, speaking after Google Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt, and before German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose political party is organizing the event.

There will also be obvious foreign policy implications. All three countries have been among Ukraine’s strongest supporters amid the country’s conflict with Russia. And for many Germans, Bush’s visit will invoke memories of the country’s reunification in 1990 when his father, George H.W. Bush, was president.

“Bush’s father was and is very popular in Germany,” Alexander Privitera, a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, said in an interview about former President George H.W. Bush. “He’s much more popular than Ronald Reagan, for instance, clearly seen as one of the main architects of the German reunification.”

Privitera, who studies the effect German policies have on relations with the U.S., said Bush’s trip was also noteworthy for where he was not going, namely the United Kingdom and France, two of the U.S.’s staunchest allies.

“It sends a message that Germany is relevant, and inherent in that message is a recognition from the Bush camp that talking to Berlin can be more effective in European matters than talking to Paris or London,” Privitera said.

Additionally, it sends a “clear message to Russia” that Bush takes seriously the conflict in Ukraine.

Russia has repeatedly denied accusations from the U.S., NATO and the European Union that it sent forces and weapons to aid rebels in eastern Ukraine, which Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko said earlier this month has killed about 7,000 civilians since fighting started in April 2014.

In an interview Wednesday with BBC, Poroshenko said his country’s military was fighting Russian troops, not Russian- backed separatists. “This is a real war with Russia,” Poroshenko said.

In Germany, Merkel has repeatedly won pledges from her country’s business groups that they’ll abide by European Union sanctions imposed against Russia for its encroachment on Ukraine. At a joint news conference earlier this month with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Merkel said that Russia’s “illegal” annexation of Crimea last year had caused a “severe setback” in German-Russian ties and urged Putin to use his influence on separatists in eastern Ukraine to help enforce the cease-fire agreed in Minsk, Belarus.

In Poland, which shares its eastern border with Ukraine, President Bronislaw Komorowski has backed Ukraine’s call for U.N. peacekeepers.

Estonia President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, whose country shares its eastern border with Russia, has supported arming Ukraine and a “physical presence” in the country. In an interview with CNN last month, Ivles said Russia’s interference in Ukraine and annexation of territory are “out of a playbook that we last saw before World War II.”

Bush has often spoken of Russia since signaling his interest in December in running for president, saying that President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have failed to properly manage relations with the former Soviet nation.

In a March interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt, Bush called Putin a “ruthless pragmatist,” and said “there needs to be clarity in Moscow that we’re serious about protecting the one alliance that has created enormous amounts of security and peace in the post-World War II time.”

“The Baltic states are counting on the United State to be a leader in this regard, and it’s not just Baltics,” Bush said. “It’s Poland, it’s Eastern Europe, it’s a lot of countries.”

But for the past 10 days, it’s been the U.S.’s 2003 invasion of Iraq that has consumed much of Bush’s attention. After saying in an interview on Fox News interview on May 10 that he would have authorized the invasion despite faulty intelligence, Bush reversed course after several days, saying he misheard the question. He then dismissed the question as a hypothetical, only to say on May 14 that he wouldn’t have approved it.

Speaking to about 50 business officials in Portsmouth, N. H., on Tuesday, the first of a two-swing through the state, Bush signaled again that he was not thrilled with the family comparisons, saying “people are just going to have to get over that.” “I have a life journey of my own,” he said. “I love my brother, I love my mom and dad. But I’m going to move beyond that.”

Photo: “I have a life journey of my own,” said Jeb Bush in comparisons to previous members of his family who were president. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Boston Defense Focuses On Tsarnaev’s Troubled Family

By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

BOSTON — Close to wrapping up their case, defense lawyers for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev portrayed their client Tuesday as the product of a troubled and ailing Chechen father who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and an angry, aggressive older brother who often picked fights in Boston.

Tsarnaev was found guilty last month on all 30 charges in the April 2013 bombings, and the jury of seven women and five men will soon be deciding whether the 21-year-Russian immigrant is moved to death row or spends the rest of his life in prison with no parole.

Defense lawyers, hoping for the life sentence, on Tuesday sought to show how he was affected by family members, from their history in the Chechen region to their immigration to Boston when Tsarnaev was eight.

There has been much testimony in the trial about his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaev, who became a strict Muslim at the time that her oldest son, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was becoming an Islamic radical.

Testimony Tuesday was the first that centered on his father, Anzor Tsarnaev.

Dr. Alexander Niss, a former Boston psychiatrist who now practices in Los Angeles, testified that for two years he treated the father for PTSD, nightmares, anxiety, hallucinations, and near dementia. Niss said the father, a former boxer, was deeply affected by the Chechen wars in the 1990s.

“He had a lot of anxiety, and panic attacks,” Niss said. “He had flashbacks. He had a lot of paranoia. He was afraid of the Russian KGB, thought they were following him and looking through his window at his home.”

The father, who is living in Russia, was not called to testify.

Amanda Ransom, a college friend of Tamerlan’s wife, described Tamerlan’s cruel behavior, saying he dressed flashy, drove a Mercedes and was prone to starting fights. She recalled him once angrily punching a man for speaking to his wife Katherine and said she sometimes could hear him screaming and throwing things at her as well.

One night in their school dorm, she said, “I heard him laughing and she was crying in her room. After they had had sex he told her he had AIDS and when she started to cry, he laughed at her. He said he wasn’t serious, it was a joke.”

Henry Alvarez, a fellow high school wrestler with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, said he had been shocked to learn that his former teammate was arrested in the bombings. “I never could imagine he would do something like this,” Alvarez said.

The defense is expected to put on expert testimony about the harsh conditions at the federal Supermax prison, where Tsarnaev presumably would go if he is sentenced to life, and then end its case Wednesday or Thursday.

Photo: Boston Marathon Bombing via Facebook