To: Mr. Howard Beale
UBS Evening News
New York City, NY
Dear Mr. Beale:
Welcome back! We always knew that the network accounts of your death by a corporate conspiracy were a fabrication. No one who could draw high ratings on television and exhort the population to go to their window and yell, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore” could be kept out of our national politics forever. And you have returned in a bipartisan manner.
The leading Republican candidate, who has a reality television name that sounds like a shrill brass instrument, speaks, like you, of nothing but polling numbers. He appears to be mad as hell (a word he often uses in political discourse), and it’s clear that his followers aren’t going to take it anymore. What the Trumpites won’t take anymore isn’t entirely clear. This is not the Weimar Republic, where it is generally agreed that high unemployment and rampant inflation led to the rise of the Nazi regime. Our country today has the lowest unemployment rate it has had in more than 15 years, with a low inflation rate to match. So it must be something else that this group will not take anymore. We have the usual villains—people who do not look like us. But to many of the Howard Beale viewers, there is straight talk and avoidance of political correctness, which is very appealing.
This also is an election best run out of the UBS New York City studio because all the major candidates are from New York. Both Democratic candidates are. And Bernie Sanders does a great imitation of Howard Beale’s anger. (Does the retirement home know Bernie is out?) Beale’s anger, which led to his reported assassination, was directed at corporate power in America. That is exactly Sanders’s target—or as another New Yorker called them, “the malefactors of great wealth.” These malefactors, angrily denounced by these New Yorkers, corrupt our political process and in any event, do not pay their fair share. We’re all mad as hell and we won’t take it anymore!
Another person who appears to be mad as hell and won’t take it anymore is Professor Thomas Piketty, the much celebrated author of the best-selling book, Capital in the 21st Century. This book is probably on a great many coffee tables, left unread just like the book next to it, A Brief History of Time. In any event, it is only a matter of time before either Howard Beale or his Democratic doppelganger, Bernie Sanders, starts quoting the policy prescription from the good professor’s work—massive income redistribution. Much of this rhetoric, like the 1992 promise of a middle-class tax cut, will evaporate into the thin air of the president’s inauguration speech. That is probably why no presidential inaugural speech has ever suggested that the speaker is mad as hell and just won’t take it anymore.
Perhaps the return of Howard Beale is caused more by cultural issues than economic ones. It is certainly true that Jurassic rock—the return of oldie-but-goodie musical groups—has been a growing phenomenon. Our own Bob Dylan, who disappeared from view around the time of the purported assassination of Howard Beale, has returned in the last 20 years with a vengeance. Rod Stewart, the band Chicago, Paul Simon, Barry Manilow, (a few of) the Four Seasons, all with hits in the year of the Beale assassination (1976), have been on the Branson, Missouri, and casino circuit. AC/DC just played the Twin Cities. The Starland Vocal Band cannot be far behind.
So are we currently entering an era of Jurassic politics? New York certainly dominated the early part of our country’s history, as it seems to today via Wall Street, Trump Tower and former New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. In fact, the urban origin of democratic socialism was New York City, and the most talked-about potential third-party candidate in this election is former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. An earlier New York third-party candidate, Theodore Roosevelt, ran in 1912 on the Progressive Party platform. That platform (Bernie Sanders, pay attention) advocated a strict limit on and total disclosure of all political campaign contributions, a national health service, social insurance to provide for all the elderly, workers’ compensation, an inheritance tax, a federal income tax and the establishment of a minimum wage. So Howard Beale and New York have returned in full force.
But there remain many of us who agree with Howard Beale and welcome his return. We are mad as hell at politicians who demonize parts of our population, whether it’s Wall Street, Mexican immigrants, Muslim refugees or Chinese trading partners. We’re mad as hell at politicians who promise free everything—free college education, free border walls, free medical benefits, free Social Security protection and anything else that might appeal to the instant audience. We’re mad as hell at politicians who get this country involved in stupid, never-ending military conflicts.
But mainly, we’re mad as hell at politicians who treat all of us as an ill-informed reality television audience, to be manipulated by phony promises and faux anger. Perhaps this will be the election where we just don’t take it anymore.
Welcome back, Mr. Beale!
Vance K. Opperman
Network fan and longtime Clinton supporter
Vance K. Opperman (email@example.com) is owner and CEO of MSP Communications, which publishes Twin Cities Business.