Bill Clinton To Donald Trump, Sex And Power Still Stand At Top

Despite the growing list of powerful people toppled in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the biggest names in Washington are still dodging real scrutiny.

A file image of Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton
A file image of Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton
Francis Wilkinson

WASHINGTON — The word has gone forth that a "reckoning" is due. Democrats are preparing to come to terms with Bill Clinton's sexual transgressions. Sort of. Depending on what you mean by "reckoning."

Last week, in a conversation with a male Democratic consultant about the extraordinary wave of sexual harassment allegations -- or, more accurately, the reaction to those allegations -- shaking American culture, it seemed as if some sort of grappling with the sordid side of Clinton's history was inevitable. Clinton is 71 years old. His wife has run her last race. There is nothing he can do for Democrats now in return for their continued silence about a sleazy past.

Some ambitious Democratic politician, we agreed, might even perceive long-term benefit in lambasting the former president for his sins. (Last night, Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York seized the opportunity, saying Clinton should have resigned from the presidency.)

Just about everyone seems to recognize that at least some of the allegations leveled against Clinton over the decades were too credible to be dismissed. Paula Jones was cynically manipulated by right-wing operatives. But, c'mon, something must've happened in that hotel room where she said Clinton exposed himself.

In the New York Times, liberal columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote a column this week titled "I believe Juanita," referring to Juanita Broaddrick, a woman who accused Clinton of rape. In the Washington Post, Alyssa Rosenberg denounced "moral sickness in the service of partisanship." She was referring specifically to the partisan hacks -- shout-out to Ann Coulter! -- justifying Roy Moore's Senate campaign in Alabama. But she meant the Democrats who explained away Clinton's behavior as well.

Younger liberal men such as MSNBC host Chris Hayes and Vox writer Matthew Yglesias were on board with the Kill Bill vibe, too. It seemed like a consensus was in the works to disinter Clinton's presidency, let out a collective hiss and then bury it all over again with an ugly new epitaph.

None was willing to talk on the record.

But if the conversations I had this week with a few Democratic women in their 50s and 60s are any indication, not everyone's ready for the funeral.

These are women who worked for sexual equality and abortion rights. Women who in the 1990s or since had worked in powerful positions in Democratic politics and government. None was willing to talk on the record. None was ready to cut Clinton loose from the party that they had given decades of their lives to. Each was ambivalent in her own way.

In the most striking conversation, an extraordinarily accomplished professional recalled Clinton as a philanderer. She sighed over Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky. But she had completely, conveniently, forgotten the non-consensual parts of the Clinton saga.

Another woman of forceful opinions, forcefully expressed, hemmed and hawed uncharacteristically. She spoke of her anger at the awkward, impossible position in which Clinton had placed his liberal supporters during the Lewinsky scandal. And she talked about forgiveness – not reckoning.

Another circled around the chessboard without ever landing on a square. "This is going to churn for a while," she said. "I don't know that there will be a spotlight moment on Bill Clinton. But I do believe the portrait of him will change."

That seems like a good guess. But watching devoted Democrats rationalize the past does put the sight of Alabama Republicans rationalizing the present in context. White Christians in Alabama are busy triangulating the basis of their vote for skeevy Roy Moore, just as last year they rationalized their support for skeevy Donald Trump. No doubt they would prefer an honest senator who didn't molest teenagers. But they're going to the culture war with the candidate they've got, not the candidate they wish they had.

Democrats in the 1990s did the same, albeit with a man, unlike Moore, who had intellectual and political gifts that paid dividends for the whole nation. Democrats are now responding to far less serious accusations against Senator Al Franken by pushing him into the equivalent of purgatory -- an ethics committee investigation. If things work out, and no other credible accusations are made, he may very well keep his seat.

In New York, Jonathan Chait wrote of Moore's candidacy: "It's easy to feel superior about this when opposition to grotesque treatment of teenage girls lines up neatly with your own party's well-being."

The awkward truth is that the nation's politics are balanced on a needle right now. Otherwise decent people will tolerate the intolerable, the indecent, even the criminal for the chance to nudge the world ever so slightly in their direction.

In one sense, with Harvey Weinsteins on the way down, women are on the rise. Surely that's the pulse of the moment, and the long-term trend. But with a groping sexist in the White House, and Republican men running Congress, women are also vulnerable in the short term.

A Clinton reckoning -- whatever that means -- will likely come in some form. But it may have to wait until the world shifts further toward the more equitable balance that Clinton himself, for all his grim faults, sought to bring forth.

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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