People born in America sometimes have a hard time working with people from somewhere else (IMDb still from 2019 documentary American Factory).
Arnold Schwarzenegger, a man I’d always admired more for his pec routine than his political views, was on Howard Stern talking about Donald Trump. Doesn’t look like the California GOP ex-governor will vote for Donald. He wouldn’t go into too much detail but said one reason was Trump’s opposition to environmental reform.
Stern quipped that if foreign-born Arnold could run for president he could use “Make America Great Again” and make it real.
But Arnold wouldn’t use the slogan. “America is already great,” he said in that resolutely thick Austrian accent. We are the greatest country in the world, we just need to work on staying that way, he said. America even now represents the dream of liberty and self-choice to the world, he added.
Americans here already, though, have issues. I’ve noticed that these resentments have targets ranging from studious Asians snatching doctor and scientist jobs, putting us to shame for lapsed work ethic and stupidity around math and science, to Latin American agricultural and factory workers driving down labor costs.
Welcome to the melting pot. We stew in tribal resentments. The boil agitates the more violently from the influx of newcomers.
Some say Trump has created or at least riled up the rifts, that’s he’s — consciously or not — empowered white nationalists. But the problem preceded Donald Trump and his graceless assumption of the political stage.
A documentary on Netflix opened my eyes.
In American Factory, a failed GM Ohio auto plant was taken over by the Chinese. Newly incarnated as a non-union shop making auto glass, it secured the wary cooperation of hundreds of people who’d been displaced. They told themselves they were lucky to be working again, if far below the old pay scale.
There is no “editorializing” in the making, shooting, and interviewing. This is a pure documentary.
And it’s sad. Americans come across as fat and lazy, while the Chinese – many of whom resettled here in management and sub-management roles – appear as humbler, harder working, untroubled by claims of “individual” rights. The barbecue-eating, gun-shooting Ohioans seem to want to get along with the Chinese, but it’s hard not to see the Chinese as their masters.
And there’s the rub. Something about the Communist-trained fealty to the state is lost on the American laborers. A trip to China, and a jarring exposure to that mindset, and what it boils down to in the corporate setting, serves to help us further understand the Americans’ laxity. They can’t be brainwashed or coerced this way – because that’s what it feels like.
The Americans wanted a union; Sherrod Brown, in a ribbon-cutting speech that pissed off the plant’s new management team, even snuck in an acknowledgment that the workers had a right to get one. By the end we see the first union vote fail. Management propagandists do their job well.
The show thus dramatizes the struggle of the U.S. labor movement to regain a foothold in a global economy, and the uneasiness of foreign ownership in this nervous multicultural time. U.S. unions thrived post-WWII, enriched by the world’s gratitude; our steel and cars were king. American business could afford an organized labor force. Those days are gone. The fight is a new one, and the pro-union spokespersons given voice in the documentary are worthy soldiers for that fight. I’m rooting for them.
The real gem of American Factory is the addendum, a short conversation in which Michelle and Barack Obama commend the filmmakers on their unflinching objectivity and discuss issues around breaking down barriers. You can see the battle lines drawn in the film. Obama says people in this country need to get over hating one another. We must sit down and find common ground, work from there to heal wounds. Anger and hatred won’t work. We need to cross barriers, share hearts, make compromises. We need to stop playing stock characters from central casting, opposites intended to brew and nurture conflict.
I am encouraged by what I heard from Arnold Schwarzenegger, a pro-business Republican fighting to save oceans, and from Barack Obama, the community organizer cum president who warns liberals against rejecting their correspondingly adamant political opposites.
I have been guilty of precisely the kind of enlightenment-blocking resentments Obama finds counterproductive. I live in a place where, the day after little school kids were slaughtered by a madman back East, I heard folks grumbling not about the hell and horror of this gruesome turn of events but about the sonofabitch who can “just try” to take their guns. The Remington .223 deer rifle and the Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolver for home protection are not the problem. The AR-15 is the problem. But there is no intelligent discussion. Battle lines are drawn, lobbyists driving the vitriol. We are deaf to nuance, far too comfortable hating our political opposites.
I fired a gun once, at a target range. I enjoyed it. I was thinking of buying one, but I’m afraid my tempestuous wife might do a Janice Soprano after I said I don’t wanna weed whack.
Though I see the need for guns, and acknowledge America’s legacy as a gun-owning nation, I have found myself despising “gun-toting Republicans” who are a main constituency in and around Prescott, Arizona. But where does this get me? By hating area gun owners I’m abasing myself.
I want a strong and healthy nation just as they do. My pocketbook issues can’t be all that different from those of the guys with Trump bumper stickers. And I know they felt as gut-punched as I did by Sandy Hook.
It’s difficult to mend fences when your heroes are other peoples’ goats. From where I sit, I see lurking another America. Sometimes it chills me. Should I unfriend people who send around Facebook pictures of Hillary Clinton on a broomstick, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s toothy smile rendered as a donkey’s bray? I just saw someone saying why was Trump on the hook when Biden was the criminal. It would be a bland understatement to say I see it another way.
Ah hell. I’ve decided not to spank down the reject-chute any Facebook friends I disagree with. I need all the friends I can get. Anyway, one of them was a very nice girlfriend to me once upon a time, and, for all the occasionally jarring Facebook provocation, I still get a big kick out of her.
I’m trying to build a better America. Nobody said it was gonna be easy.