In Vegas, Voters Weigh Accomplishments Against Trump’s Tone

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Since I’ve never been to Las Vegas before, I have no normal to compare it to, yet it is obvious that Sin City is not exactly in its prime these days. My cab driver from the airport, always a good source, told me he thinks his business is operating at about 40 percent of what it would usually be. Many hotels are still shuttered, and the streets really do feel, as one local told me, “eerie dead.” I made my way to a sports bar off the strip to find some voters and take their temperature. This only seemed fair, since I had my temperature taken about 600 times in the course of my journey from New York. I’ll be honest: social distancing is a problem for my job in these situations. Generally, I tuck into a bar, ears open, and gently insinuate myself into conversations, finding a way to guide them to my questions. It’s a well-honed skill, and it’s useless now. There was no bar in the sports bar; it was cordoned off. Instead, there was a smattering of tables spaced about ten feet away from each other. This led to awkward approaches, reporter’s notebook in hand, to introduce myself and ask if people would answer some questions. It feels like being John Cusack with a boom box over your head. Yet, as always, the American people didn’t disappoint me. They were as affable as ever, and had a lot to say about the election creeping quickly upon us. First I spoke to Chris and Michelle, a pair in their 50s on a weekend in Vegas. Chris lives in Indiana and Michelle in Arizona. Both are dedicated Trump supporters. They were quick to explain why: it was all about what he has done. “Low unemployment, the economy, raises,” Chris, said “Did you get a raise under Trump?” I asked. He said he certainly did. Neither blamed Trump for the virus that reversed his economic gains, but Michelle expressed a lot of frustration. Her four kids haven’t been in school since March, and it’s weighing heavily on her. “They just sit around and eat all day,” she told me. “The grocery bills are way up.” Neither are confident that things will ever really return to normal. I looked at Chris as he placed his cigarette athwart mine in the ashtray and said, “Will we ever sit at the bar again?” “I think we’ll sit at the bar again,” he said, with Michelle nodding agreement, “but we won’t work the same way. Companies are saying, ‘Why have an office if people can work from home?’ My friend in Florida might lose her event-planning company.” When I asked about the racial turmoil tormenting America, Michelle was blunt: “Until they stop talking about race, nothing will get better.” If Chris and Michelle spelled good news for the president, Brian ,who I got to talking to a few minutes later, was not. I’ve interviewed a lot of people all over the country these past few years, but in Brian I found the elusive Never Trumper in the wild. As soon as the topic of the election came up, he said those magic words: “I’ve been a Republican my whole life and I’m voting for Biden.” His reasoning was familiar. He didn’t really dislike most of the stuff Trump has done policy-wise, but he has a deep disdain for him — not just his tone, but more Trump as a person. Brian exhibited a kind of managerial attitude that likes order. It was interesting that he works in the marijuana industry. Never Trump does, after all, have a splash of libertarianism. Brian was evidence that there are some would-be Republican voters out there who will never be comfortable with a Trump presidency. Here in one smoke-filled Vegas sports bar were both sides of the essential conservative argument over Trump. Now, Michelle and Chris absolutely represent the vast majority of Republicans. The question becomes: How many Brians are there? That seems hard to know, but suggests a further question: How motivated are they to vote? Brian hardly seemed to be thrilled about Joe Biden. Trump was in town for a rally, and rallying his base is still a big part of his path to victory. He has to bet that by getting people excited about voting for him they will come out for him, and that those who hate him but feel unexcited about Biden just stay home. That is probably a pretty decent bet, but this is Las Vegas, and as we all know even safe bets crap out. On the whole, though, it is much better to be the candidate Americans actually want to vote for than the lesser of two evils.

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New York City Must Find Its Solace In The Heroes Of 9/11

Today it is 19 years since the terror attack that killed 3,000 people out of a clear blue New York City sky. It feels strange to say that. It is strange to have colleagues who have but the scant memory of young children of that day. For me and most New Yorkers of a certain age, it is a moment that exists outside of time, that is evoked whenever we see the Twin Towers in an old movie or television show. The tribute of lights each year stops us in our tracks. But this year is different. This year, the greatest city on earth is suffering more than it ever has since that evil act was perpetrated on it. The tragedy of the lockdown is very different from the tragedy of 9/11. The latter was a quick gut punch, a day of horror. We remember seeing footage of hospitals awaiting emergency victims who never arrived because their bones were crushed beneath our city’s tallest buildings. It all happened so fast. The lockdown has instead been a slow-motion six months of asphyxiation. But there is one similarity between the two awful events. They are the only two things that I ever, in my life, have known to slow New York City down. New York is fast. We walk fast, we talk fast, everything is quick, lickety-split done and moved on to the next thing. In the weeks after 9/11, the city was full of slow, shocked faces carried by bodies moving at half their normal speed. I never saw that again until this year. This year, once we ground our usual non-stop grind to a near standstill, the city lost its pace, its quickness. We still don’t have it back. That’s why this year 9/11 has a new meaning. For the first time, we must call on the heroes of that day — and there were only heroes, no victims. Every man and woman who went to work that day, from the CEOs to the janitors, were heroes, avatars of the American dream. Today we need their example, their courage, and their spirit. The firemen and cops who rushed into those buildings, never to return, must be our example as our businesses fail, as our kids go without education, as violent crime rises, and simple human acts like funerals are denied. Our suffering is real. It is a lingering weight and we know not when it will be lifted, but we know that one day soon it will. Like the gleaming tower that now stands on the ground zero of all our tragedy, our lives will get back to normal. We lost 25,000 lives in Gotham to this virus that struck not like planes in a stark moment of explosion, but slowly, like the descent of the death we all must one day face. We mourn them as we did the dead of 19 years ago. But the heroes of 9/11 taught us a lesson, one we have not had occasion to consider until now. They taught us that this city, this miraculous place that we all make together with the souls of the past and hand to those of the future, is bigger than us because of us. Today for the first time, 9/11 is less about sadness and more about inspiration. The brave men and women who sacrificed themselves for us on that awful day did so for a reason — not just because it was their job, not just because they were good people, not just because New York City is a place where we take care of one another. They did so because they believed in us. They believed in a place where anything is possible. They believed in the same dream that so many of our ancestors did a hundred years ago when they arrived on ships passing by Lady Liberty’s torch. 9/11 is a day of sadness. As long as Gotham stands gleaming in the reflection of the Hudson, it always will be. But today it is more. Today it is a reminder that you can knock this city down, but it will get back up again, again, and again. Let us allow today to mark a new beginning. Let the inspiration of our heroes dedicate us to climbing out of the hole we are in with heads high, and as always, let us never forget.

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