One Toke Over The Line

Every sane person needs to bring some levity into their life as a means of coping with, or surviving, the massively corrupt regime that presently has a stranglehold on America.  Thus, when Donald Trump offhandedly announced a 25% tariff on imported steel, and a 10% tariff on imported aluminum, my first thought was “a bridge too far.” By all accounts, Trump made this decision during a fit of rage. Upon reflection, my second thought was “one toke over the line,” and immediately, memories flooded back that brought a familiar chuckle―the recall of a profoundly hilarious moment from the past.

The badge of pride for baby boomers in the late 60’s and early 70’s was whether or not you attended Woodstock (I didn’t). It was the heyday for hippies and pot smokers. If you were caught smoking a joint on the campus of the University of Michigan, you were subject to a $5 fine. Consequently, few tickets were issued. However, if you were caught in possession of, or, smoking pot elsewhere, the penalty was at minimum a stint in a county jail, and at maximum, incarceration for years or decades in a state prison. It was an era where you could call for the attention of a pot-smoking friend or acquaintance; they would turn and look at you with a dazed, glassy-eyed stare, and respond with… “huh?”

Out of this environment came the duo of Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley with their most successful hit on the Billboard charts, “One Toke Over the Line.” The lyrics were as follows:

One toke over the line sweet Jesus
One toke over the line
Sittin’ downtown in a railway station
One toke over the line

Awaitin’ for the train that goes home, sweet Mary
Hopin’ that the train is on time
Sittin’ downtown in a railway station
One toke over the line

Whoooo do you love, I hope it’s me
I’ve bin a changin’, as you can plainly see
I felt the joy and I learned about the pain that my momma said
If I should choose to make a part of me, surely strike me dead
Now I’m one toke over the line sweet Jesus
One toke over the line
Sittin’ downtown in a railway station
One toke over the line
I’m waitin’ for the train that goes home sweet Mary
Hopin’ that the train is on time
Sittin’ downtown in a railway station
One toke over the line

I bin away a country mile
Now I’m returnin’ showin’ off a smile
I met all the girls and loved myself a few
Ended by surprise like everything else I’ve been through
It opened up my eyes and now I’m
One toke over the line sweet Jesus
One toke over the line
Sittin’ downtown in a railway station
Don’t you just know I waitin’ for the train that goes home sweet Mary
Hopin’ that the train is on time
Sittin’ downtown in a railway station
One toke over the line

Don’t you just know I waitin’ for the train that goes home sweet Mary
Hopin’ that the train is on time
Sittin’ downtown in a railway station
One toke over the line

I want to be
One toke over the line sweet Jesus
One toke over the line
Sittin’ downtown in a railway station
One toke over the line
Don’t you just know I waitin’ for the train that goes home sweet Mary
Hopin’ that the train is on time
Sittin’ downtown in a railway station
One toke over the line
Sittin’ downtown in a railway station
One toke over line
One toke, one toke over the line

One Toke Over the Line was on the Billboard charts for 14 weeks and peaked at number 10 for single hits on April 10, 1971. Tom Shipley explained, “one toke was simply a metaphor for a song about drugs and excess. Too much of anything will probably kill you.”  Since it was about drugs, some radio stations refused to play the song. Nevertheless, the supremely naïve Lawrence Welk invited the wholesome-appearing duo of Dick Dale and Gail Farrell to perform the song on his weekly program, the Lawrence Welk Show. Dale, Farrell and Welk were clueless as to what a “toke” was. Following the performance, Welk stated, “There, you’ve heard a modern spiritual by Gail and Dale.” Welk’s “Champagne music” tagline was a staple for golden-agers during that era, so I was not a Lawrence Welk fan, but I did happen to see that performance. When it takes a whole week to stop laughing, you do tend to remember the event that causes such a stir.

Now, back to reality. It will take empirical evidence to assess the full amount of damage that results from Trump’s latest idiotic tirade. Nevertheless, the early reports are in.  This tariff will slightly increase wages for some 140,000 or so steel and aluminum workers. Many of those workers on the low end of the seniority scale will lose their jobs. Every American―unless they never buy a car, or use a washing machine and dryer―will pay dearly for that modest increase.

Trump has already demonstrated that he could care less how his decisions affect the environment. For my part, I never enjoyed traveling at night through Gary, Indiana in the early 70’s and driving for 20 miles or so through an eerie purple haze emitted from polluting steel mills. It was like driving on Mars or Venus.

The smaller problem, which is the outsourcing of labor-intensive jobs to other countries by all industries, will not be cured by a Trump tariff.  Most of the corporations that are outsourcing jobs are public companies, which means they are controlled by a board of directors and shareholders. Any chief executive officer who fails to meet novelties presented by competition within an industry will soon be out of a job, and any corporation that fails to enhance the bottom line by neglecting to find the cheapest source of labor will even sooner be out of business. These concerns are addressed annually at shareholder meetings, and no business can be forced by a government―with, or without tariffs―to operate at a loss. Insofar as private companies are concerned, even Trump the hypocrite has outsourced labor to foreign countries.

Nevertheless, the largest reason for losses in manufacturing jobs has nothing to do with corporate decisions, and everything to do with automation, which allows factories to produce more goods with fewer people. Beginning for the most part in the late 70’s, artificial intelligence (AI) and computer driven robots began replacing humans. Some estimates claim as much as 80 per cent of manufacturing job losses can be attributed to this type of automation. The workers who once populated the steel and aluminum factories cannot come to grips with the idea that computers and robots have largely replaced a hands-on labor force. No amount of tariffs will change this reality. On the other hand, any small tariff has the ability to ignite a trade war that ends up in disaster for everyone on the planet. It seems that too many people have already forgotten the greed-inspired recession that overtook the world a decade ago.

What was needed after good paying blue-collar jobs went on the decline was initiative by workers to educate themselves relative to the emerging computer world at one of the numerous community colleges located throughout the United States.  Instead, they sat on their couches, waiting for someone to knock on their front door with a job offer, wallowing in self-pity and resentment, as appropriately educated foreigners were imported to fill vacancies.  The want ads in every major city are now, and have been for decades, filled with such opportunities. Donald Trump successfully targeted this blue-collar group with his flim-flam offer to return non-existent jobs.

This narrative began with a disheartening proposition of wholesale public corruption. Prior to the 2016 presidential election, failed real estate developers Donald Trump and Jared Kushner put a “for sale” sign on the American democracy. Prospective buyers seized the opportunity. At this point, the sale to Russia is pending. Indeed, Trump campaign liaisons with Russia before, during and after the recent election make Benedict Arnold look like a fumbling novice. Even more disturbing are the treasonous efforts of some House Republicans aimed at making the sale final. Corruption and treason are now the calling cards for a once glorious constitutional republic. Special Counsel Robert Mueller III is the only roadblock to returning to the same train of abuses that brought about the birth of the greatest nation in the history of man.

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