On most mornings, if I’m not feeling too lazy, I have the privilege of walking along Lake Michigan, up here in Evanston, where the southernmost portion of this vast and ferocious lake system begins its final curve. This morning it was incredibly clear and impossibly still, where there isn’t the slightest movement in the air, nothing to stop the rising sun from gently pushing away the final hint of the dawn’s early chill.
On a morning like today, Chicago’s stunning skyline looms in all its roaring glory. And past that, further southeast, where the lake curves, you can make out the hulking outline of one of the giant Great Lakes freight ships, leaving the port on the far south side. And beyond that, beyond what is usually hidden by clouds, you can just barely make out a puff of smoke rising from the sprawling industrial areas of Indiana, that bizarre and wrecked land where hints of ancient prairie still poke out among the post-industrial poverty, the rows of tumbledown houses and cracked roads, the cheap glitz of casinos, the belching smokestacks, and the sunshine, normally shrouded by haze, that glints and shatters on dirty rivers. It’s here, the far bitter end of the rust belt, where the American dream first crashed and broke, where the horrible forces of the global economy first poisoned then wrecked a land and people. And it’s here, in Indiana, where Donald Trump, the gaseous avatar of America’s inchoate anger, can all but clinch the most terrifying nomination in our nation’s history.
Read more about Indiana and the end of the line
Indiana isn’t all industry, of course: that’s just its Great Lake tip, which hasn’t been Republican in decades. But you have pockets up here of Trump’s natural constituency, workers displaced by a global economy, bitter and racially divided. The rest of the state flows rural and isolated, down to a wild south which is culturally indistinguishable from Kentucky (except for basketball loyalties, and don’t make that mistake). Indiana bills itself as “The Crossroads of America”, which sounds nice, until you realize that crossroads exist only as a place to drive away from.
It’s a state that can be very pleasant. I went to Butler, and loved it there, and have very fond memories of Indianapolis. But this is a state with a weird and often brutal political history, whose biggest political hero became famous entirely for his zeal in slaughtering the natives. It’s a state which for a time was the 20th-century stronghold of the Klan. It’s a revivalist kind of place where the highways are scenes of jostling battles between billboards touring fireworks and burgers and those condemning abortion and randomly praising God, who probably doesn’t spend much time on 65. Even Indianapolis has a difficult and segregated history, whose stories include the bizarre tale of the Tribe of Ishmael, a mix of Indians and ex-slaves and who were ferociously targeted with eugenic campaigns, “urban cleansing”, the forced separation of children, and who helped “inspire” the ways that poor people and minorities were targeted in this century.
But what the hell? Past isn’t always prologue, and a state’s political culture isn’t static, right? There isn’t a single part of this country that doesn’t have a violent, brutal, and segregationist history. Still, though, it seems fitting that it is here, a state where isolationism blows through the crossroads, where America is finally going to have stare the horrible reality of Trump square in the face. If he wins today, it seems almost impossible for him not to ride the headwinds to the magic 1237, where a contested convention is, if not legally impossible, politically insane.
Cruz will keep fighting, partly because he is messianic enough to believe his own hype, and is sure that if he keeps talking, people will see that he is always, always right, but partly because he wants to position himself as the “true conservative” for 2020. You can already smell the justification brewing; the GOP only lost because their party was hijacked by a liberal billionaire. We’ll go through the same thing again in four years.
That’s the smart bet, anyway, but we don’t live in times that reward smart bets. We live in a time where the ugliest possible campaign won relatively easily, against a field of pros, by appealing to strongman bullying and the ferocious power of racism and nationalism. Evangelical Indiana is poised to reject God’s chosen one and impute an earthly divinity on a man who has always seen himself as a historical figure, and not the grubby and vapid man he truly is. Enough Americans have decided to give this to him, and now his dream is real. It’s in our world.
The surreal nightmare of the primary season is ending. The true horror is about to begin.