Citizen Green: Trouble in the Promised Land

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Jordan Greenby Jordan Green

Stopped in Charlotte and bypassed Rock Hill/ And we never was a minute late/ We was ninety miles outside of Atlanta by sundown/ Rollin’ ’cross the Georgia state

We had motor trouble it turned into a struggle/ Half way ’cross Alabam’/ And that ’hound broke down and left us all stranded/ In downtown Birmingham

— “Promised Land” by Chuck Berry

A rock-and-roll travelogue penned by Chuck Berry and released in 1965, “Promised Land” exudes a boundless optimism that is quintessentially American.

Given the era when the song was released, I always wondered if there wasn’t a sly allusion to the 1961 Freedom Rides, when Ku Klux Klan mobs with police collusion firebombed a Greyhound bus full of racially integrated passengers in Alabama. Or maybe, the “trouble” is only mechanical, and the song is celebrating the freedom of unhindered travel in the year after the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Either way, there is trouble in the Promised Land 50 years on, and it didn’t bypass Rock Hill. On Jan. 8, a 56-year-old flight attendant from Charlotte named Rose Hamid sat quietly in the audience at a Donald Trump rally in Rock Hill. As Trump began questioning the motives of Syrian refugees, saying “they are probably ISIS,” Hamid rose and stood silently, wearing a hijab and a T-shirt reading, “Salam, I come in peace,” according to a report by CNN. Soon after, supporters of the Republican candidate around her began chanting, “Trump! Trump! Trump!” and security escorted Hamid from the building.

The mood on the campaign trail is darkening as it inexorably winds toward the North Carolina primary on March 15. Marco Rubio, who is considered the GOP establishment candidate, stumped in Raleigh on Sunday at the NC State Fairgrounds before an estimated 900 people — considerably fewer than the 8,000 who crowded Trump’s appearance at Dorton Arena in the same city last month.

Then, on Monday, Rubio pivoted from his message of aspiration and optimism to the bleak pessimism of his rival Trump in an appearance in Sarasota, Fla. Rubio cited unnamed public opinion polls that say millennials believe the American Dream no longer applies to them, the New York Times reported.

“Here in America, anyone who works hard can leave their children better off then themselves,” Rubio said. “That is the real American Dream. But today, it is dying. It’s not dying because our people have changed. They haven’t. It’s dying because both parties in Washington, quite frankly, both parties have let us down.”

But while Trump gives his supporters the electrifying validation of their hatred towards refugees, Mexican immigrants and other scapegoats, Rubio has nothing to offer but the same tired litany about small government and deregulation they’ve been hearing since the Reagan administration. Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, has completely abandoned his brief flirtation with immigration reform, toeing the hardline of the party’s conservative base.

Beneath the patina of optimism, Rubio’s core economic message can only be heard as a crushing rebuff towards young people on the margins looking for a fair shake.

Consider his scolding lecture on the notion of raising the minimum wage during the Fox Business Republican debate in early November.

“In the 21st Century it’s a disaster,” Rubio said. “If you raise the minimum wage you’re going to make people more expensive than a machine. And that means all this automation that’s replacing jobs is only going to be accelerated. Here’s the best way to raise wages: Make America the best place in the world to start a business or expand a business.”

He’s the young face of the GOP with values that mesh perfectly with the aging, white core of the party. While the 44-year-old senator scorns “outdated” ideas and derides Hillary Clinton as a “leader from yesterday,” Rubio opposes same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization, while championing NSA surveillance. He’s a young man who has been working hard to be old since he was in his early twenties.

In the meantime, the rhetoric on the Democratic side sounds good, but will voters believe it? Having failed to achieve single-payer healthcare, Obama’s legacy healthcare law remains piecemeal and inadequate for many Americans. And while giving lip service to immigration reform, Obama has earned the unsentimental nickname “deporter in chief,” with ICE scooping up Central American refugees in the middle of the night and sending them back, in many cases, to certain deaths in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Bernie Sanders has called on Obama to extend temporary protected status to refugees; Clinton has not.

“Will you deport children,” Univision reporter Jorge Ramos asked Clinton during the Iowa Black & Brown Forum on Monday.

Her answer at least betrayed a measure of empathy, but came nowhere near complete assurance.

“I would give every person, but particularly children, due process to have their story told,” Clinton said. “And a lot of children will, of course, have very legitimate stories under our law to be able to stay.”