The President and the Taxi driver

By Bob Bragar

It’s not the great and the good who are going to decide who is the next president of United States. It’s the taxi driver.

This summer I spent an inspiring week at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. This was my third convention and the third time I was a delegate for my “state “of Democrats Abroad. In fact, I was one of the hated “super delegates”. Because of my membership in the Democratic National Committee, I had an unfettered vote. I could vote for anybody I wanted.

And I voted for Hillary Clinton. As much as I love Bernie Sanders and agree with everything he says, I just didn’t think he was presidential material. But maybe I was wrong.  If Donald Trump is elected President, I’ll have a lot of time to rue my decision.

At first I didn’t want to go to the convention. It didn’t fit in my schedule and was going to be very expensive trip. But Rik, my wonderful husband, said, “You’re crazy! This will be history in the making. We have to be there.” He likes conventions, mainly because in Denver (2004), during “public service”, he got to plant a tree together with Jimmy Carter. He is still hoping to do that again.

So I gave in, and we went to Philadelphia. And I’m glad we did. The convention itself was ASTOUNDING, amazing, dazzling—reminding you of how many talented and committed people have been attracted to American politics, particularly on the Democratic side.

You would think explaining to another person why they should vote for certain candidate is something you could accomplish in four paragraphs on two sheets of paper. It should be simple, right? You just tell them the wonderful qualifications of your candidate and the evils of the opposition. It doesn’t need to be complicated. So what could take four eight-hour days of speechifying? What do you fill all that time with? Philadelphia gave me the answer.

For four continuous days, from 5 PM until 11 PM (this was scheduled for TV viewers), we heard inspiring speech after inspiring speech these gifted senators, congressmen, mayors, a Muslim gold-star family, and lots of ordinary people. These speakers explained the historical background, the philosophical context, and of course the political reasons why it IS essential to elect Hillary Clinton as our first female President of United States. It was a show to end all shows. It was well organized, well choreographed, thought-provoking and, gosh, just a kind of stuff to make you proud to be an American. My dear Rik was knocked off his feet. Politicians doesn’t do this in the Netherlands.

But as I was sitting for hours through all the hoopla, I had to think to myself, “is this just preaching to the choir on the grandest of all possible scales?” Of course, that’s exactly what it was. The 15,000 people in the stadium knew they were Democrats. They were just trying to answer the question, “what kind of Democrats are we?” The Bernie people had a fire in their gut that they were not going to give up easily.  They were a pain the ass, for sure. I had the dubious pleasure of sitting right next to the Texas Bernie people. Those people were screamers who would not be silenced. At one point we even had to call security when an angry man lost his temper. But you could not deny their passion for their candidate, passion that many of Hillary Clinton’s supporters sadly lack.

Long story short, we left the convention tired but inspired. For four long days we had only been in the company of people who agreed with us.  There’s something cosy about that. But also something dangerously deceptive.

My rude awakening happened when we got in the taxi to go to the airport to get our flight back to Holland, where we live. I called an Uber cab, just as I had done almost every day of the convention. We left our AIRBNB apartment in elegant downtown Philadelphia and headed out to the airport.

I always talk to taxi drivers.  You can learn a lot from them. So we got to chatting.

The taxi driver was earning a grand total of $17 for the 45-minute drive to the airport. From that $17 he had to deduct 25% for Uber’s commission, and then he have to pay his own expenses such as gasoline and insurance, not to mention the wear and tear on his private, family car that he was using. He did this work because it was all he could get.  He was a white man about 30 years old and not a stupid guy at all. He probably had graduated from high school and had completed at least a couple of years of college. He was a nice, working guy who was just doing the best he could support his family.

So of course I asked him, whom do you’ll vote for in the election? You didn’t hesitate for a second. “Both parties are corrupt”, he said. I don’t like Trump, and I would have voted for Bernie, but I saw on the news that Hillary Clinton stole 90% of the money in her foundation. “Oh?” I said. “What news did you see that on?” “It was on YouTube,” he answered. “They had a whole program about it.”

That’s where our conversation slowed down. I wasn’t going to argue with this nice guy. It wouldn’t do any good. I just suggested that he might be mistaken about Hillary.

The important thing is that the Uber driver was getting his news from YouTube. The journalistic gatekeepers are gone. Good newspapers are dying. Any lunatic or politico or activist who wants to throw something up on the Internet can do it, and people will believe what they see. Quality control is a thing of the past and the modern generation trust things they read on the Internet just as much as I trust the New York Times. A lot.

This conversation happened in the vital swing state of Pennsylvania. We’re not talking about the rust belt of central Pennsylvania where you might expect to find Trump supporters.  We were driving from the urban triumph of gentrification, the renewed downtown Philadelphia, inhabited by the 1 %, directly to that city’s modern airport. But the voter at the wheel had been abandoned by this expansion of wealth. He was driving his own car to earn pennies per hour working for Uber. He was far too young to remember the great days of Bill Clinton’s presidency, not to mention Hillary Clinton’s tireless work for healthcare, women’s rights, public education and progressive ideals. To him, she’s an old establishment character who has already been in the White House once and wants to do it again. He “doesn’t like Trump” but he desperately wants a new face in Washington.

The Uber driver’s vote is going to be decisive in this election, far more than all inspiring speeches I heard at the Democratic convention.

It’s all hanging in the balance.  We have too often told the voters, “This is the most important election ever!” And now we’re the little boy who cried wolf. But it is.

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