Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Women in the Boston Marathon

My daughter-in-law ran the 120th Boston Marathon last week. She was one of 13,000 women in the world’s oldest yearly road race.

The very first marathon race, part of the revival of the Olympics in 1896, was won appropriately by unheralded Greek water carrier Spyridon Louis in under 3 hours. Eight of 17 runners finished, seven Greeks and one Hungarian.

The Boston Marathon was initiated the next year, April 19, 1897, to celebrate Patriots’ Day, which had been invented in Massachusetts in 1894 to commemorate the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, as well as the first bloodshed of the Civil War in the Baltimore riot of 1861. The Marathon was added to the patriotic holiday to link the American struggle for independence with Athenian ideals of democracy. The newly formed Boston Athletic Association was well organized: alongside each of the 15 runners rode a militiaman on a bicycle with water, lemons, and wet handkerchiefs.

Over the next 70 years, the race was transformed into an international event for men. The field ballooned from its usual 200 before 1960 to nearly 500 in 1965.

But women were banned in Boston. Into the 1960s, athletic authorities claimed women were incapable of running that distance. The longest AAU-sanctioned race for women was 1.5 miles. Women could not compete further than 800 meters in the Olympics.

By that time, Roberta Gibb was in her 20s. Accepted ideas about what women could and couldn’t do were no longer universally believed. Gibb watched the 1964 Boston Marathon and thought she could try it. She trained on her own for two years, including a trip across the US which combined driving and running. By the time she reached the Pacific Ocean, she could run 40 miles. But she couldn’t run Boston in 1966. The race director wrote: “Women aren't allowed, and furthermore are not physiologically able.”

Gibb took a bus from San Diego to Boston, arrived the night before the race, hid behind a forsythia bush near the start, and blended into the crowd of male runners as they passed by. She had worn a hooded sweatshirt to hide her illegal gender, but soon got too hot. She was worried that taking it off would get her in trouble, but the men around her said not to worry. “We won’t let anyone bother you.” The news that a woman was running spread quickly. As the runners passed through Wellesley, thousands of extra spectators cheered her. Fifty years later, Gibb remembered, “The women of Wellesley College knew I was coming and let out an enormous scream. They were jumping in the air, laughing and crying.” Her feet bled in her new boy’s size 6 running shoes. There were no shoes made for women. She finished in 3:21 in the top third of the pack, faster than average finish times for men today.

The press were excited by her story, but unable to understand her motivations. She was asked whether she had some axe to grind against men. Photographers followed her to her parents’ home, where they wanted to take pictures of her cooking. The BAA released an official statement: “There is no such thing as a marathon for women.”

All around her, Gibb had found acceptance and encouragement from runners and spectators. The authorities, the experts, the people in charge said women couldn’t do that. They meant that women, their idea of women, shouldn’t do that. After she did it, they said she was an anomaly, a freak. We won’t let you do that. Roberta Gibb was a freak in a sense – she was willing to reject their thinking and violate their rules.

That wasn’t enough, though. The next year, Gibb ran again unofficially. Jock Semple, the race director, ran into the street to tear the bib number off Kathrine Switzer, who had entered incognito as K.V. Switzer. Switzer’s running partner, a hammer thrower, body-blocked Semple, and other racers protected her.

In the years after Gibb’s first Boston marathon, the idea that women could do it, too, whatever it was, bubbled through American society. It took a movement to crash through the walls authorities had built around women.

Gibb ran again in 1968, beating four other women. In 1972, women were finally allowed to enter – 8 women started and they all finished. Title IX, opening all forms of school sports to women, was passed in 1972. That year women were allowed to run 1500 meters in the Munich Olympics. The first Olympic women’s marathon was held in Los Angeles in 1984.

The 2016 program of the Boston Marathon celebrates 50 years of women in Boston. Gibb was the Grand Marshall of Boston this year. My daughter-in-law did not have to hide or feel alone when she ran. She didn’t have to be an activist or a freak. She just had to be a runner.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, April 26, 2016

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

To White Men Who Like Trump

Fellow white men! Listen up, this concerns us. Donald Trump apparently has the most appeal among white men in middle age and beyond. That appeal seems to come from two places.

Some white men appear to be wildly attracted to Trump’s rhetoric about non-whites. People who rally behind the slogan “white power” love Trump, show up at his rallies, call out his name when they take out their rage on innocent non-whites, work in his campaign, and openly urge every upstanding white supremacist to support Trump.

Trump offers just enough tidbits to American racists to keep them happy: calling Mexicans “rapists” as the opening salvo of his campaign, retweeting a message from a racist website, and toying with his response to David Duke’s endorsement for two days.

According to Trump, non-whites here and abroad are the enemy, but they can be beaten back from our borders and held back at home. Nothing new in American political discourse, but harkening back to a past where white men ruled and everything was good.

If you are in that Trump camp, Democrats are certainly your political enemy. They will keep tinkering with American society, trying to reach a promised land of equality and social justice. Despite your objections, they know that we have not gone too far, but rather not far enough. Racial inequalities continue to make America less than it could be. You yourselves are some of the evidence. So vote for the racist of your choice. Even if Trump isn’t on the ballot, many of his Republican colleagues openly or stealthily appeal for your vote by promoting racist ideas.

It’s the white men who like Trump despite his racism who should think again about him. There is no reason to trust him or other Republicans on economic issues.

Listen to what Republicans have said about the economy before and now. In April 2008, presidential candidate Senator John McCain said: “a lot of our problems today, as you know, are psychological — the confidence, trust, the uncertainty about our economic future, ability to keep our own home.” Three months later, his political adviser Phil Gramm said, “You’ve heard of mental depression, this is a mental recession . . . . We may have a recession; we haven’t had one yet. . . . We have sort of become a nation of whiners.” On September 15, the day Lehman Bros. filed for bankruptcy, McCain proclaimed: “I think, still, the fundamentals of our economy are strong.”

By that time, the economy was already in free fall. Employment, the basis of economic well-bring for the majority of Americans, was worse 2008-2009 than it had been since the Depression. The unemployment rate was rising already in March 2008, and kept going up until the end of 2009, when it reached 10%, the worst two years since World War II. The gross domestic product fell in the first quarter of 2008 and after June fell for four consecutive quarters. It did not reach the level of June 2008 until three years later in June 2011.

Republican rhetoric about the economy was deliberately ignorant. They were in charge as the economy tanked, and then lied about it. They offered nothing to American workers and homeowners who were about to fall into economic depression.

Since then Republicans have consistently refused to help average Americans with economic problems. They refused to extend unemployment benefits as the number of long-term unemployed skyrocketed. They cut the food stamp program, which is used mostly by white families. They oppose raising the minimum wage, which has not budged in 7 years. They have tried to obstruct regulations which prevent banks from defrauding home buyers, one of the causes of the 2008 meltdown. And they want to demolish the health care reform which cut the numbers of uninsured Americans to the lowest level in over 20 years, dropping 20% because of the Affordable Care Act.

The economic program Republicans have offered to the American middle class has been remarkably consistent: give more money to the richest Americans by radically cutting their taxes. Here’s the Republican strategy. Appeal to the billionaires who fund their campaigns with the promise of tax cuts. Appeal to the white middle class with coded racism.

Trump, the billionaire who can’t be bought, could be an incorruptible friend of America’s workers. But he’s shown not the slightest sign that he cares about or will do anything for Americans who are struggling. Trump seems to be an opponent of the Republican establishment. But he’s offering the same “you too can be rich” motivational baloney that Republicans have been purveying for decades.

That’s exactly what Trump University proclaimed by using Trump’s face and words in their advertising campaign. It turned out he had nothing to do with those expensive courses taught by people who knew nothing about real estate. Trump University is probably the only institution of “higher learning” ever sued by most of its students.

That same scam is what Trump and the Republicans are offering to Americans who are hurting financially. The last Republican President created economic disaster, and their policies haven’t budged. White men, don’t fall for fake populism. Don’t fall for coded or open racism. Trump got famous for firing people, not hiring them.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, April 12, 2016

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Donald Trump is Done

I think Trump is done. Or as my mother-in-law would say, “Done is for meat. Trump is finished.” Everyone who said that before was wrong. But now his run is over.

Trump has been pointing to the polls for a year, but they’re no longer his friends. FOX News began to include his name among Republican candidates last March: Trump got 3%. He stayed in the single digits through June, reached over 20% by late August, and hovered in the high 20's and low 30's into December. By March he reached over 40% in every poll. He has won lots of primaries, but never gotten even half of the Republican vote.

That’s as far as he’ll get. Back in January and February, when there were more candidates, he easily had more than Cruz and Kasich combined.  But since the beginning of March their total has passed his, as the supporters of the dropouts have been absorbed all around.

A nice chart by the Huffington Post combines 126 polls over 11 months to show how Trump gained favor from June to September last year, then stayed in place until February. Even at his best, 15% more people viewed him unfavorably than favorably. In the past 8 weeks that gap has been widening.

The Pew poll from just a week ago is exemplary. Voter interest and knowledge is much higher than previous presidential years: 89%% of Republican registered voters say they have given “quite a lot” of thought to the coming election. As of now, Trump wins 41%, Cruz 32%, Kasich 20%. Only 7% of Republican voters pick someone other than these three. Nearly everyone who is going to support Trump is already there.

The non-Trump voters won’t be drifting his way. His negative ratings are extraordinary. In January he was viewed negatively by 60%. Now the latest Gallup poll shows 70% of women and 58% of men have a negative view of Trump.

After prognosticators stopped predicting his imminent demise, everyone began paying more attention to him. That’s what he wanted, what he seemed best at. His candidacy is a publicist’s dream: everybody sees and hears Donald Trump everywhere. But Trump is such an egotist that he never realized the limits of his appeal, how many people don’t like the character he has been playing for decades.

The media focus on Trump now highlights the ugly and ignorant things he has been saying and doing. An ad by Our Principles PAC strung together what Trump has said about women. When Wolf Blitzer asked him about the ad, Trump said: “I think people understand. I think people, first of all half of that was show business ... Look, these politicians, I know them. They say far worse when they’re in closed doors of where they’re with a group of people that they trust. This, a lot of that is show business stuff.”

Trump hasn’t gotten out of show business. What worked on TV, attracting a large enough slice of American viewers to come back season after season, doesn’t work as politics. People do understand that “these politicians” say appalling things that we rarely hear about. That doesn’t mean they want to hear Trump say them in public.

Show business celebrities are not held accountable for their words. We give them license to act in character and make them famous for it. When Trump and I were growing up, many New York comedians cultivated an unpleasant shtick, like Don Rickles and Rodney Dangerfield, who were good at turning rude into funny. Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker played one of the most successful jerks on TV. But most of his dedicated viewers would not have voted for him for dogcatcher, although the fake campaign “Archie Bunker for President” in 1972 was amusing.

That’s Trump’s beef with political correctness: what he said on TV to applause attracts criticism on the campaign trail. Only in the past few months have his words been taken seriously, not as a script for our amusement, but as serious political expression. And that’s the end of Trump. Years of insulting comments about women and bragging about his sexual performance are now supplemented by blithe comments about NATO being obsolete and punishing women who have abortions.

I’m surprised that Trump has not lowered the volume of his sexist and racist rhetoric, now that he seeks more than a good Nielson rating. He might have been a more dangerous candidate if he had copied the tactics of “these politicians”, and kept his most offensive views behind closed doors. Now it’s too late. He can’t run on his past political achievements: he has none and has made that a virtue. All he can point to is this campaign, against respect for women, against non-white and non-Christian Americans, against decency and thoughtfulness.

Trump might win the Republican nomination. I make no predictions about that topsy-turvy race, where the next day’s insults are unpredictable. But he has topped out and is going down.

Early this year, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said the plan is to “let Trump be Trump.” Now Lewandowski has been charged with assault. Trump has been assaulting the majority of the American public. On the campaign trail, that’s a losing formula.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, April 5, 2016