Thursday, November 1, 2018

AS TRUMP FADES, LIGHT WILL SHINE AGAIN ON CARAVAN

By Dominique Paul Noth

We will know Nov. 6 how right the Democrats were in their races across the nation to largely ignore Trump, assuming every voter knew how they despised him, and just stick with issues of local concern like health care, jobs and universal background checks their election can do something about.

Trump disgust has been an unspoken reality. Everyone knows the election intends to be a curb on the president’s tendencies to dangerous excess in policies and language, blocking in a real way his misuse of the military, ignorance on climate change, misreading of global alliances and corruption of economic cohesion.

It would also be nice to begin restoring the English language to sensibility and importance.  Believe it or not before Trump it had dignity and elegance and an exciting role in ideas, political discourse, poetry, romance and actual interchange rather than a pompous filibuster.

It’s been painful how Trump has constantly cheapened the language he touches, even within a clearly limited fourth grader vocabulary.  Simple words and phrases that used to connect ideas are in his mouth mere moments to adjust his dentures.

His desire  to stoke up fear and self-flattery may be too ingrained to ever change, but he keeps reaching out, adopting and then misusing words that once had alluring meanings in society and culture.

Such as caravan. It used to reverberate with images of desert intrigue, adventurous hardships and gypsy romance, the wonders of traveling into the unknown with a destination at the end.  The vision of an invading horde of migrants sweeping down on the US was a laughable redefinition from the start, as if Pancho Villa always intended a caravan rather than horsemen and rifles.

I can recall when Milwaukee voters used to arrange caravans to go to Madison to protest one bill or another, never thinking that it was anything but getting from one place to another.  Riding those busses up the steps of the Capitol to seize and throttle bad legislators?  Never. That’s what elections are for – and in a nicer way.

When did a method of protecting travelers on arduous journeys become a vision of evil marauders?  Only in Trump semantics (yes, I know he and most of his followers will have to look up that word). Particularly with a caravan a thousand miles away and predicted even by the Pentagon to dwindle in the month it takes asylum seekers to  arrive to  a few hundred mainly women and children seeking to lay their case before American authorities, as is their right under  long established laws.

Trump wants them greeted by 15,000 troops, more than enough to help them change diapers but a curious use of an estimated $50 million of taxpayer money and soldiers’ time.

Alas for caravan and its appeal over generations. In 1937 it was a movie title used to lure swooning females to Charles Boyer – years before Hollywood discovered he was far more than a romantic idol and really could act. The women were, of course, being misled by advertising because he was the gypsy lover – but in a German operetta! Yet another reminder how the word had flown around the world as a magic term for the exotic.  

In the 1960s author James Michener sought to use “Caravans” as the cover for an exploration of the cultural and even romantic similarities (of all things!) between the US and mysterious Afghanistan, long before Afghanistan became such a toxic word in the American lexicon. Trump now wants to send three times as many troops to the border with Mexico than control the country that sheltered Osama bin Laden.

 “Caravan” despite Trump is a most famous and hypnotic word in American music.  There are many exciting renditions of this classic by Duke Ellington and trombonist Juan Tizol (one of Puerto Rico’s greatest gifts to jazz). For my money the best is by Ella Fitzgerald (who else?).

But the most famous appearance in contemporary culture is the climactic moment in the 2014 movie “Whiplash” when the Ellington standard is used to bring down the house and make a hero of its young drummer, a moment captured on YouTube.

(I concede it still sticks in my head. I was fortunate to see this film and herald its brilliance before it started winning awards left and right.)

But we digress. On purpose. The less we think about Trump the better for our sanity.  In a few months, I suspect, Trump’s evil perversion of immigrants, asylum, sanctuary and caravan – once noble words in the language – will vanish as he will from our memories; the original power and humanity of the terms will return.

Ignoring him – as a temporary pimple on the American body politic -- is the most effective course.


About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.  


1 comment:

  1. One more example of a caravan that thrilled: In the movie "The Inn of Sixth Happiness," it appears that all the hundreds of Chinese orphans Ingrid Berman had lead to safety have been lost, and their would be hosts are bereft, when we hear the far off singing of, um, hundreds of Chinese orphans. "This old man/he played one/ He played knick-knack on my thumb."

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