New York accents, New York baseball and presidential politics

Steve Kelman gets back to his roots, and considers the Big Apple's overtones in this year's elections.

steve kelman

As most readers are surely aware, I avoid politics in general and partisan politics in particular in this blog. I made an exception a few months ago in a blog called Me and Donald Trump about Trump's outreach to me after I wrote a blog about him before he announced his candidacy. That blog got a lot of favorable reaction, so I now feel emboldened to venture into these fields one more time.

Again, I will stay clear of partisan politics -- this is simply to comment on the New York accents of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

It has received less attention than it deserves, but two of the three candidates still standing as of the end of the primaries are New Yorkers -- all three if you include Hillary Clinton, who's made the state her adopted home. Given the at-best mixed feelings people in the rest of the country have about perfidious Gotham -- think Ted Cruz and "New York values" -- this is worth pausing to consider.

As a native New Yorker, I have been aware of New York's prominence in the campaign, especially as both parties' fields got winnowed. More than that, though, I have been modestly obsessed with the fact that Trump and Sanders not only are New Yorkers but, unlike Hillary the Chicagoan, have heavy New York accents. And I also noticed from the beginning that their New York accents were not the same. But I couldn't quite put my finger on what the differences were or what, if anything, they represented.

All along, I knew that Sanders' accent was New York Brooklyn second-generation Jewish immigrant. But what about Trump's?

Then, last week, I suddenly had an epiphany about Trump's accent: It is the Queens accent of Archie Bunker.

Many younger readers will no doubt ask, "Who is Archie Bunker?" (My 29-year-old daughter, when I asked her, had only a vague idea.) But as everyone from Trump's, Sanders' and my generation will know, Bunker was the star of the iconic 1970's sitcom All in the Family, in which Carroll O'Connor played a white working-class middle-aged guy who hurled insults at blacks, feminists, student protesters and gays.

Archie Bunker was an eerie progenitor of the stereotypical blue-collar Trump supporter, making Trump's own Bunker-ringer accent especially spooky. After having my epiphany, I Googled "Donald Trump and Archie Bunker," and up came up a number of hits comparing Bunker's and Trump's philosophies, including a video with TV clips of the two from Salon that "proves beyond a doubt that Donald Trump is the new Archie Bunker." (None of the hits compared their accents, however.)

Then I had another insight: Donald Trump is the New York Yankees, and Bernie Sanders is the Brooklyn Dodgers (and to a lesser extent the Dodgers' pale Queens imitation, the New York Mets).

In my childhood, the Yankees and the Dodgers, and a lot of their fans, were cultural opposites. The Yankees always won. They won so often you got tired of it. They were cocky, arrogant and rich. The Dodgers -- again, a little like the Mets -- were the scrappy underdogs, sometimes coming from behind. Yankee Stadium was to Ebbets Field what Park Avenue was to Delancy Street.

And then there was Jackie Robinson, who became a Dodger in 1948, soon to be joined by the likes of Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and Junior Gilliam. The Yankees didn't get around to signing Elston Howard until 1955. In my childhood memory, if you liked one of these teams you hated the other.

I always told people from my adult hometown, Boston, who asked whether, as a transplanted New Yorker, I could overcome my origins enough to support the Red Sox, that I had hated the Yankees even when I lived in New York. The Dodgers left Brooklyn in 1958, but both Donald Trump, born in 1946, and Bernie Sanders, born in 1941, are very much old enough to remember the Yankees and the Dodgers of those years. So Yankees and Trump, Dodgers and Sanders.

That I am thinking about this election in the contexts of accents and baseball reflects the muddying of a line between politics and popular culture that has marked this year's campaign. Donald Trump has displayed huge crossover appeal into pop culture, becoming the first presidential candidate to be regularly featured on entertainment/gossip TV shows such as Access Hollywood as well as dominating cable news. Similarly, the use of Twitter to communicate with the public has this year bled from celebrities such as Katy Perry and Justin Bieber to the presidential candidates.

To what extent these various strange features of a strange election year are the new normal, and to what extent they are one-time aberrations, may depend on whether or not the guy with the Yankees-fan accent wins the political World Series.

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