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Trump has one thing right, but that doesn’t mean he should be re-elected

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As I take my daily walk through Oakland, my thoughts turn to Trump supporters, who don’t want their towns, cities and suburbs to turn into what Oakland has become. And I have to agree.

It’s sad and horrifying to see my adopted city of 34 years literally dying before my very eyes. All the accoutrements of civilization are disappearing. This has been going on for some years, of course, but between the Great Recession, the first round of riots and looting during the Occupy days of 2011-2012, the homelessness, the pandemic’s economic devastation, and now the second Intifada—for that’s what it is—of the Black Lives Matter riots, Oakland has turned into a stinking, fetid mess.

What do I see on these daily walks?

I see mile after mile of homeless encampments. I’m not talking about neat, tidy little tents. No: I’m talking about acres, blocks, miles of rotting garbage, trash, twisted shopping carts and piles of moldy clothing, through which human beings live. I see them picking their way through the rags and the junk, looking for something salvageable.

I see most of downtown, a good part of Chinatown, and even down to Jack London Square, turned into no-man’s land: block after block of storefronts, their windows boarded up, the plywood overnight sprouting “Kill All Cops” graffiti. Some of the stores are open, although it can be hard to tell, but many are not, and will never reopen, lost to these blighted neighborhoods. Lost is the shopping convenience of small markets, nail parlors, clothing stores, drug stores, mom and pop restaurants. Lost, too, are the jobs they provided for inner city poor people struggling to get by, most of them minorities. So the looters have shut down the economic basis of a good part of Oakland, and for what? In the name of civil rights? Does burning and looting a nail parlor save a single Black life?

Of course, shutting Oakland down economically is what the vandals and looters want. In their fever dreams, they suffer from multiple delusions. One is that they can actually stop progress. Sorry, looters: you can’t build a moat around Oakland in the Bay Area and expect all the other cities to grow and thrive while Oakland gets poorer. But the looters want Oakland to be poorer; they’re against what they call “gentrification,” so if they can compel Oakland to be poor by driving away businesses and frightening new residents from moving here, then the new condos will stop going up and the existing housing stock will become affordable—or so they hope.

I see the crazies wandering the streets. That may not be the politically-correct term, but you know what I mean. The ranters, the half naked, the bug-eyed, the comatose sprawled in gutters, puddles of liquid seeping from their clothes. As soon as I left home, within a block I saw a deranged older man with his penis hanging out of his filthy, stained trousers. People doing the oddest things: I sometimes do a double take trying to figure out what they’re up to. One guy had a small metal tube, like a piece of copper pipe, which he tapped exactly two times on almost everything he passed: fences, brick walls, signs, lampposts, plywooded windows, in some sort of fetishistic ritual. Why? What does he think he’s doing?

These are the things I see on my walks through Oakland; and the reason I think of Trump’s supporters is because they are right to be horrified and frightened by all this. If this is the future of their own neighborhoods, then I can hardly blame them for voting Republican.

Still, I will vote happily for Joe Biden, and I will vote Democratic up and down the ballot. Because even though I agree with Trump when he calls Oakland a disaster, and when he calls Mayor Libby Schaaf weak and shamelessly incompetent in dealing with Oakland’s multiple crises, I’m reminded that even a broken clock can be right twice a day. I’m cognizant of the fact that Trump and his white, working class supporters—for all their loathing of places like Oakland—have no solution whatsoever for dealing with all this. What are we supposed to do with Oakland? Is there a very large toilet that Republicans expect we can flush it down? Do they want to build moats and put barbed wire around Oakland so that our problems don’t invade their lovely communities? Or do they intend to build walls around their own gated communities to keep us out? Do they want to have two nations—an America going up in flames, like Oakland, and an America of happy, safe, economically-mobile white people? Apparently, that is what they want. That’s their solution: Two Americas, theirs, and mine.

That’s the Republican solution: segregation. If they have anything else, I’d like to know what it is. I listen to their speeches, read their op-ed pieces and the statements of their politicians, and I hear nothing remotely resembling a real solution. I’m too smart to buy into an approach that is bogus, pointless, dangerous and will simply exacerbate the situation. There has to be a way to deal with Oakland without utterly writing it off, without cursing the people, without mere hatred. I don’t know what the way is, but I think I sometimes catch glimpses of it. I see it in the work being done in the inner city, by church groups, professional sports teams like the Warriors and Oakland A’s, non-profits and well-meaning charities, who try to save at-risk kids. I see it in Democratic proposals for better schools, better pay for teachers, universal healthcare, supporting unions, fighting environmental injustice. I catch glimpses here and there—but that’s all they are: glimpses. I know what doesn’t work more than I know what does.

If I see the negativity of Republicans as something that doesn’t work, so too do I see the simplistic approach of Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police as irrelevant to the realities Oakland confronts. Oakland is not going to be saved by slogans, which reduce extraordinarily complex issues to the blandness of advertising slogans, as if rescuing Oakland were a matter of buying a new, improved deodorant. Police reform (whatever that is) is not going to reopen the shuttered shops, is not going to clean up the piles of garbage, is not going to produce more jobs, is not going to build affordable housing or rescue the crazies from their fates. I don’t know what will. But I know that I have to hope. Hope is what we have: Barack Obama said it, and it’s truer now than ever. And I know that the Republican way is thoroughly, disgracefully, shamefully hopeless.

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