So I’ve been in Pittsburgh over six months now and I’m doing a bit of reflection.
It is often pretty here, even now that a somewhat disappointing fall foliage season (I did see some of the amazing sort that reassures me that no, painters weren’t just making that shit up) has given way to the pastel hues of brown and, still, some green. That spectacular fall foliage is indeed spectacular, but there is a peace that accompanies the present hues that I appreciate.
I am not missing California, even as there are the occasional place name reminders—street names and the like—that evoke places in California that I know, sometimes with irritating discrepancies in spelling. For the most part, the places I loved in California are so much a part of me that I need only think of them to be there.
The racism here is horrifyingly apparent. I don’t know what to do about it beyond acknowledging that it is so apparent and condemning it utterly.
The conservatism is also apparent. Confederate battle flags can be seen in front yards. People fly “Trump 2020” flags along with their U.S. flags as if to affirm Donald Trump’s identification of the United States with himself.
Fig. 1. Map of gratuitously displayed artillery that by its very locations, mostly seems to metaphorically target Blacks. Pictures here.
And even where Confederate battle flags, Gadsden (“Don’t Tread On Me”) flags, or Trump 2020 flags are absent, there is a hyper-patriotism that evokes a wonder at what folks here might be over-compensating for. U.S. flags are flown much more commonly here than in California and monuments to veterans and war dead are everywhere. Some of those banners commemorating (almost exclusively white) war dead that I thought were coming down are still up, seemingly permanently, in all their manifestly racist splendor. Government institutions, including those that should know better, routinely fly the black POW-MIA flags that evoke a conspiracy theory about missing Vietnam soldiers who do not and never did, in fact, exist. This is by no means the patriotism of people who are confident in the country they stand for, but rather a loud, conformist affirmation that denies troubling questions, both historic and present.
But mostly, it has been good to reconnect with a place I had thought I might never see again, to explore it, and to really begin to learn my way around it.
How long that lasts is an open question. I do very much sense that I am on the frontier with what Colin Woodard calls “Greater Appalachia,” which I associate with authoritarian populism, and that is not a comfortable place for me to be. I also sense that it might be possible to soften that by moving a bit north. Even around North Park, streets start to widen, traffic seems a bit less maddening, and the gun nuttery seems less omnipresent.
Pete Buttigieg is an ass. Anyone who knows anything about the history of U.S.-Mexico relations knows that the last thing the U.S. can do is send its troops into Mexico. No Mexican government could agree to it; to do so would provoke a fury that would, at a bare minimum, bring that government down.
That, nonetheless, is what Buttigieg suggested.
Mexicans have many grievances against the U.S. and little reason to trust U.S. troops on their soil. There’s the the U.S. invasion of 1846-1847, the subsequent Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) which ceded about half of Mexico’s territory to the U.S., and a rather lop-sided balance of everything that has happened since. “Poor Mexico,” said Porfirio Díaz, who served seven terms as president of the country, “so far from God and so close to the United States!” And I will never forget a remark I overheard while bringing some folks down from a concert at the Mountain Winery overlooking Saratoga, California: “It’s our land anyway!”
Daniel Kim, “Pete Buttigieg says he’s open to sending U.S. troops to Mexico,” Sacramento Bee, November 17, 2019, https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article237463004.html
What we see now in Hong Kong is an extreme example of a phenomenon in which the rulers’ pretense of ruling by consent is exposed as a hollow facade. The imperative here is to rule, to control.
If it were otherwise, territories could be allowed to secede. But from Scotland, to Catalonia, to Hong Kong, it is never that way. Rulers will never permit it and will, if necessary, respond with force to prevent it.
John Lyons, Dan Strumpf, and Natasha Khan, “Hong Kong Police Try to Storm University in Bid to Retake Campus From Protesters,” Wall Street Journal, November 17, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/hong-kong-police-officer-shot-with-an-arrow-at-university-battle-11573981792
Carol Hymowitz, “Older Workers Have a Big Secret: Their Age,” Wall Street Journal, November 17, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/older-workers-have-a-big-secret-their-age-11574046301
Associated Press, “Trump changes decades-old U.S. position on illegality of Israeli settlements,” Los Angeles Times, November 18, 2019, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2019-11-18/u-s-softens-position-on-israeli-settlements
- Mary Ann Thomas, “Leaf peeper season in full swing in the Laurel Highlands; Pittsburgh, Alle-Kiski Valley must wait,” TribLive, October 20, 2019, https://triblive.com/local/valley-news-dispatch/leaf-peeper-season-in-full-swing-in-the-laurel-highlands-pittsburgh-alle-kiski-valley-must-wait/↩
- David Benfell, “The banners and the guns: Flagrant racism in Pittsburgh,” Not HOusebroken, October 12, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/09/20/the-banners-and-the-guns-flagrant-racism-in-pittsburgh/↩
- Peter Nicholas, “Trump’s Dark Assumption About America,” Atlantic, October 30, 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/10/trump-impeachment-2020/601048/↩
- Rick Perlstein, The Invisible Bridge (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014).↩
- Colin Woodard, American Nations (New York: Penguin, 2011).↩
- David Benfell, “Barack Obama asks, ‘Why is it that the folks that won the last election are so mad all the time?’” Not Housebroken, November 4, 2018, https://disunitedstates.org/2018/11/04/barack-obama-asks-why-is-it-that-the-folks-that-won-the-last-election-are-so-mad-all-the-time/↩
- Daniel Kim, “Pete Buttigieg says he’s open to sending U.S. troops to Mexico,” Sacramento Bee, November 17, 2019, https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article237463004.html↩
- Manuel G. Gonzales, Mexicanos (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University, 2000).↩
- Wikiquote, s.v. “Porfirio Díaz,” last modified July 19, 2018, https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Porfirio_D%C3%ADaz↩
- John Lyons, Dan Strumpf, and Natasha Khan, “Hong Kong Police Try to Storm University in Bid to Retake Campus From Protesters,” Wall Street Journal, November 17, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/hong-kong-police-officer-shot-with-an-arrow-at-university-battle-11573981792↩