Stage to Page is celebrating local writers all month long by publishing their perspectives on themes related to our production of Rizzo by Bruce Graham. #stagetopageptc

 

 

 

Casting the Ballot

By Anika Ranginani

November 8th, 2016 will be my first time voting in a presidential election. With a mixture between disbelief and genuine confusion that eventually fizzled into a sense of resignation, I’ve watched this campaign season unfold. I’ve seen Donald Trump alienate huge groups of Americans (immigrants, Muslims, other minority groups, etc.) only to still win the Republican nomination. Watching Rizzo helped me realize for the first time that this election year is neither unique nor the first time politics has diverged from the purely rational – that the mix of emotions and history and chance that drive voter decisions might be entirely predictable.

After the play, I kept thinking about Frank Rizzo’s loyal African-American bodyguard. Although Rizzo was hugely unpopular among African American voters, Rizzo’s bodyguard maintained his support for Rizzo, even saying something along the lines of, “I couldn’t have worked for him for so long if he was a racist.” How did he reconcile Rizzo’s public statements that discriminated against African Americans? In this case, it’s clear his own personal relationship with Frank Rizzo took precedence over any other information he may have received from the media or public discourse.  However, there is significantly less clarity surrounding which factors take precedence for voters as a whole.

I find I often dismiss “irrational” or inconsistent political beliefs/actions as a result of conformity to some group identity – either to a political party or based on family upbringing.  However, Rizzo’s bodyguard supported him against the greater beliefs of the African American community he was a part of. In addition to group identities, emotional responses to candidates and personal connections play a large role in decision-making. In a 2008 New York Times article,  David Brooks describes research by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky: “Human judgment is less a matter of calculating probabilities and more a matter of trying to fit new things into familiar patterns.”

Watching Rizzo helped me fit what I thought was an anamoly election season into the larger history of controversial political leaders. In the play, as well as in the 90’s, Rizzo constantly made politically damaging statements, but also remained passionate about his intent to help Philadelphia, regardless of the actual consequenses of his actions.  Perhaps because of Scott Greer’s incredible acting, there were times when I felt sorry for him. Even that mild sympathy is a striking contrast to my general anger towards the careless statements made by  Trump. And while watching Rizzo has not made me any more sympathetic towards Trump, I do have a much better understanding of his appeal to voters.

In the 90’s, Philadelphia was a city in the midst of racial tension, concerns over safety and people were drawn to Rizzo’s message to “make Philadelphia great again.” They wanted to believe him. Despite being decades later, those race relations and worries about safety continue to drive the political climate in America.  When Trump claims he can “make America great again,” there are still those who are drawn to that promise. In alienating minority groups, he gains support among “his people,” a term repeatedly used in the script by Bruce Graham in describing Rizzo’s supporters.  Ultimately, I no longer think of our election as shocking, but an unfortunate product of fear which enables racism and elitism in the hopes of some easy solution to the problems in our country.

 

For those who enjoyed this post, here is some additional reading I found interesting and informative for writing this piece:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/18/opinion/18brooks.html?_r=0

http://www.firstpersonpolitics.com/how-voters-decide/#.V_gwUxQtbK4

 

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