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Howes: From Canada, old American rules no longer apply

Daniel Howes
The Detroit News

Cleaning up after two weeks north of the border, where it’s sufficient to appreciate just how strange the States looks from the outside in:

Nowhere is the burgeoning insanity more true than in the carnival act that passes for the race to succeed Barack Obama. Whatever his shortcomings, the president looks the model of gravitas, rectitude and responsibility compared to the two who want his job.

From Hillary Clinton cloaking herself in the flag, strong national defense and more Nanny State policies to a bloviating Donald Trump engineering the mutually assured destruction of his candidacy and the GOP using only his mouth and bad judgment, the American presidential campaign looks like a slow-mo horror show to my Canadian friends who know enough to be, well, concerned.

They should be. Never in my lifetime, I found myself repeating over the past two weeks, have the two major parties in the United States fielded such flawed candidates despised by so many — differently flawed, to be sure, but flawed in ways that speak so poorly of this American moment.

Seriously: In the same week, you have 50 Republican heavyweights call Trump a threat to national security should he become commander-in-chief. And you have yet another email dump to renew questions about Clinton and her (usual) people using donations to her family foundation as a conduit to favorable State Department business during her tenure as secretary.

Makes you proud to be an American, this choice between crazy and corrupt. We’ve got a Republican who eschews free trade, trashes traditional alliances and demonstrates no understanding of the great Russian power politics practiced by Moscow today. We’ve got a Democrat who channels Harry Truman and his hawkish secretary of state, Dean Acheson, cut with a healthy dose of Great Society big government that only LBJ could love.

To listen to Trump clips is to hear an odd mixture of locker-room taunts, 20-year-old reminders of Bill Clinton scandals and foreign policy riffs that read more like uninformed Facebook comments — sound and fury signifying very little, save defeat.

To listen to Hillary clips is to hear a self-described progressive moving further left domestically while simultaneously tacking back into the national security turf Republicans have long owned — until Trump ceded it to some of the craftiest political operators of their era.

The rules no longer apply, apparently. Not in presidential politics, and increasingly not in business, either. Take Elon Musk (please), major domo of Tesla Motors Inc. and issuer of grand pronouncements that may or may not be realized in the production and delivery of electric cars or the black and white of financial statements investors need.

The absurdly named “Autopilot” in his vehicles is blamed for accidents and at least one death. Tesla is missing earnings and delivery targets. Its plan to acquire Musk’s SolarCity energy company is meeting resistance among investors, the kind of confrontation that generally hews to a Wall Street version of the Golden Rule: he who has the gold rules.

At some point, credibility becomes a casualty that Tesla-like innovation cannot sustain, no matter how deeply embedded it is in Musk’s charisma and Silicon Valley magic. A few years ago, Musk used a speech in Detroit to say his automaker would build 500,000 SUVs a year — what year, he joked, he wasn’t quite sure.

A prominent Detroit CEO who attended the event shook his head as he told me something like: I could never get away with that. No, he couldn’t. At some point Musk won’t either, proving once more that markets can exact a discipline — and opportunity — all their own.

Which gets me to the opportunity my colleague, Nolan Finley, explored last week for the Michigan Central Depot, the iconic (and empty) train station on the edge of Corktown controlled by the mogul Matty Moroun. Could it be the answer for the protracted battle over a new Wayne County Jail and the potential relocation of the courts?

Short answer: yes. Its proximity to Michigan Avenue, Interstates 75 and 96 and the Lodge Freeway is better than the current site on the edge of Greektown. The redevelopment would be a boost to the western edge of Corktown. And it could be an alternative to the Mound Road proposal pushed by Dan Gilbert’s real estate people eyeing the current jail site for a $1 billion mixed-use development that proposes to include a major-league soccer stadium.

One problem: speed. Unlike his predecessor, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans has assembled a team with financial acumen, accountability to taxpayers and a bias for action. Their ugly, expensive problem with the jail that won’t get better during endless negotiations with a Moroun group not known for moving quickly.

With more than $2.5 billion invested in downtown buildings and renovation, Gilbert’s people might welcome the prospect of someone else picking up the tab (partially, anyway) for relocating the county jail problem and clearing the way for him and partner Tom Gores, owner of the Detroit Pistons, to execute their vision.

Team Gilbert and Team Evans have a head start on a potential workout, all of it backed by City Hall and other influential interests. There’s not yet any guarantee of a deal, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they pulled it off — and left Moroun on the outside looking in.

(313) 222-2106

Daniel Howes’ column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHowes_TDN, or catch him 3 and 10 p.m. Thursdays on Michigan Radio’s “Stateside,” 91.7 FM.