A recent news report on CNN — followed immediately by a television commercial — put our current state of affairs in bas-relief. The news report headlined Eva Longoria and Clint Eastwood. Reporters captured Longoria, the beautifully young and erudite Hispanic or Latina actor most famous for her role in Desperate Housewives, attending a fundraising event for President Obama. In stark and almost desperate contrast, observers recapped the aging Eastwood endorsing Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee. After the news anchor took the viewers to break, up popped a commercial for Cisco touting a computerized robotic arm that fixes broken computer production lines at a factory with not a human worker in sight. The producers of the commercial dispensed with all body parts – not even a face. Only a voice accompanied the ad. Intended to be innocuous, the voice instead must cause viewers to conclude unsettlingly that American manufacturers will need fewer and fewer workers in the future.
In less than 90 seconds, the news report and the commercial framed the two fundamental realities shaping the nation’s future. From the quickly-changing demographics of a country — burdened with an economy that cannot generate more jobs than technology is making moot — spring the polemics of Social Security, Medicare, the fiscal debt, tax policy, education, public health and immigration.
Were the future looking as instantly beautiful as Longoria is, all would be right with the world. Her beauty is all about promise. So it is with the HispanicLatino population. On the other hand, Eastwood’s better days have passed, and he seems to be succumbing to the vicissitudes of old age, which is unfortunate because he made a movie that heartened me several years ago that seemed to understand the transformation that America is undergoing. In Gran Torino, Eastwood, still exuding the rugged handsomeness that made him a star attraction, plays a disgruntled Korean War veteran who has lost his wife and whose home is now surrounded by Hmong immigrants from Southeast Asia. Eastwood almost kills a Hmong teenager when he tries to make off with Eastwood’s prized 1972 Gran Torino, the movie’s shiny bauble of an iconic America.
Eastwood sets about to reform the youngster, who had been pressured by gangs to steal the car. Eastwood teaches the kid things American. In the process, Eastwood himself enters a new culture and gets to know the kid’s hard-working family. The Hmong come to understand Eastwood and his furies and they all together move to form new lives as neighbors. At the movie’s end the kid and his new girlfriend are seen driving off in the Gran Torino on a date with Eastwood’s blessing – emblematic of the new population that will drive America into the future.
This is not, of course, the vision of Romney’s most vociferous supporters, who somehow cannot understand the new forces driving America forward and who instead want Arizona’s immigrant-hunting laws adopted nationwide. Yet, it is not hard for more Americans to adopt anti-immigrant stances when they see commercials that paint the future they most fear: A retrenching population competing for the fewer jobs available. Perhaps Eastwood in real life is sending a message that his thinking has changed. I like the Eastwood of Gran Torino better.
Like the Eastwood in the movie, most Americans will have to come to a new understanding of the world around them if they are to make the future succeed.
Or the movie will end badly regardless of how beautiful the people.