Sunday, January 24, 2021

Sunday Reading

Charles P. Pierce on what must be the solution.

It was 40 years ago this week that I attended my first presidential inauguration. I was working for The Boston Phoenix and I had spent a lot of 1980 covering the Republican side of the presidential campaign. This was not as hard as you might think it was. Yes, the Phoenix was an alternative newspaper with roots in the Sixties, that already fading decade that was slowly surrendering its historical moment to the coming Age of Reagan. But the Republicans were trying hard to make inroads with younger voters, presciently anticipating the greed-is-good, MBA culture of the 1980s, and the Phoenix had demographics to die for. So, outside of some cracks about my hair—on my Secret Service ID from those days, I look very much like St. James The Lesser—the Republicans were very happy to see me, and I got my phone calls returned fairly quickly. So, that January, it was natural that I would finish up my work on that beat by watching Ronald Reagan get sworn in. Which brought me to the Capitol lawn, and an unsteady folding chair that eventually collapsed, dumping me into the lap of Ron Bair, the mayor of Spokane, Washington.

Inaugurations are part civic religion and part democratic bone-worshipping. As much as monarchies have marble traditions attending every change in monarch, the rituals of our democracy carry the same weight with us by now. At the beginning, they weren’t quite as important. As much as we heard reverence paid to Thomas Jefferson’s first inauguration over the past week—peaceful transition of power and all that—there was more than a bit of ill-feeling that should seem familiar to those of us presently staggering out of the past four years like spavined gas-station hounds. After all, just like the most recent president*, John Adams spurned the ceremony. While his (then-former) friend was waxing eloquently about…

But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all republicans. We are all federalists.

…Adams was grumpily rattling north back to Quincy, fed up with the world, as usual. This established something of a family tradition in that, 28 years later, after an even more rancorous campaign, President John Quincy Adams refused to attend the inauguration of Andrew Jackson, the man who had made him a one-term president like his father had been. God, what a stiff-necked bunch the Adamses were, every one of them with a stick up their behinds the size of a Louisville Slugger.

(Jackson’s inauguration famously turned into a general hooley, with hundreds of Jackson’s backwoods supporters guzzling whiskey punch and smashing the good china.)

Anyway, the inauguration of 1981 was every bit as transformational as either of those two were. Jimmy Carter had been a beleaguered one-term president turned out of office by a great political wave that had gone largely undetected. The GOP power had moved south and west, away from Wall Street and into the hills and deserts, plains and mountains. At the same time, responding to the gains of the civil rights movement, northern blue-collar voters surfed the white backlash into a Republican Party that looked like a refuge from the perils of racial equality. The New Deal coalition had been an empty shell for almost a decade, but nobody really noticed until it was far too late. This definitely included me.

In November of 1980, the bill finally came due. Not long before Election Day, I spoke to a friend who had been earning extra money doing telephone polling for Carter as part of Pat Caddell’s operation. He told me that, based on what he was hearing on the phone, Carter was bleeding support all over the country. Moreover, for my election preview, I took a motor trip around the Rust Belt, from Youngstown to Grand Rapids, stopping in Toledo and Flint along the way. In what should have been Democratic strongholds, Carter’s support was unenthusiastic, where it existed at all. However, when I wrote the preview, I pulled my punches, telling myself that people would clean the gist of the upcoming slaughter from the anecdotes I included. Show, don’t tell, I thought to myself, knowing all the while that I could call the coming landslide if I had the guts to do so. It remains the biggest mistake of my career.

Reagan crushed Carter by almost 10 points. He piled up 449 electoral votes to Carter’s paltry 89. Not only did Reagan win, but he won so smashingly that he took down the Democratic majority in the Senate, too. Before Election Day, the Democrats held a 58-41 edge. After Election Day, the Republicans had a 53-46 advantage, their first Senate majority since 1955. And these weren’t obscure backbench incumbents who lost their seats, either. George McGovern went down, as did Birch Bayh, Frank Church, and Gaylord Nelson. (McGovern couldn’t even muster 40 percent of the vote in South Dakota.) And that was how I came to be sitting in the lap of the mayor of Spokane on an unseasonably warm day in Washington in January of 1981.

Lord, they were having a ball, these suddenly resurgent Republicans who were taking over the capital again. After a long time in exile, and after the disastrous post-Watergate elections, they were back in charge, and hot damn, it was fun to spend money again. I followed my inherent sportswriter instinct that insists that the best stories are in the losing clubhouse. I went looking for Democrats.

I found them in a bar called The Class Reunion, which apparently had been the regular watering hole for young White House staffers during the Carter Administration. On this night, it was packed to the gunwales with people, young and old, who would be unemployed after noon on the next day. I established base camp at the bar next to a gentleman from the Irish embassy. He was staring past his glass at his hands, and I asked him what was wrong. He said that some wingnut Evangelical congressman from South Carolina had invited Ian Paisley, the angry face of Protestant Ulster, to the inauguration. His embassy had gone up the wall, but there was nothing he could do about it. Times and administrations were changing, and the Prods were ascendant, and Ian Paisley, who called the pope the Whore of Babylon, was an honored guest of the United States government. I ended up the night with some junior staffers from the office of outgoing Vice President Walter Mondale, who were completely sockless and unreasonably happy that I knew all the lyrics to the Minnesota Rouser. Reagan was inaugurated the next day, and he said to all of us, to god and the world, those portentous words:

In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.

It can be argued, and I have, that this election, and the president who won it, scared the Democratic Party out of its best instincts for the next 30-odd years. While they made some gains in the 1982 midterm elections, riding the discontent of a recession touched off by Reagan’s devotion to supply-side foolishness in his first and most misbegotten budget, the Democrats spent year after year, election after election, chasing after those voters who had abandoned them in 1980. This desperate, futile chase brought about the rise of actual neoliberalism, the Democratic Leadership Conference, and a careful barbering of the party’s commitment to civil rights that was tacitly blamed by many Democrats for what had happened in 1980.

Meanwhile, as the Democrats were fashioning themselves an endless rack of new clothes to wear, the Republicans were getting drunker and drunker on their own supply. They doubled down repeatedly on appeals to white backlash and they attached themselves ever more securely to the political power of fringe Protestantism. The party was clearly, steadily going mad, and yet the Democrats declined to take advantage of that, and many Democrats didn’t think they should anyway. Consequently, the Republicans had no reason to stop their steady slide into extremism.

I would argue—and I will—that we all just experienced the logical end of all of this over the past four years. The Republicans built a party in which some president like Donald Trump not only was possible, but inevitable. That he came in the form of an incompetent sociopathic monster may have been the only break we caught. Now comes Joe Biden, 40 years after Reagan, talking about a massive federal program to confront the ongoing pandemic, and to improve the nation’s infrastructure, and illustrating by word and deed that government can indeed, and must indeed, be the solution, and not the problem. This day, delayed by decades, has finally arrived.

The Next Florida Man — Diane Roberts in the Washington Post.

Donald Trump has flown off to Florida, which is, after all, what New Yorkers of a certain age tend to do. But it was long overdue, even when his mailing address was on Fifth Avenue: With his candied-yam tan, his commitment to year-round golfing and his inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy, Trump’s always been more Florida Man than Manhattan sophisticate.

Taking up full-time residence at Mar-a-Lago — assuming the town council of Palm Beach decides not to enforce the 1993 agreement he signed barring anyone from making the club a permanent residence — the twice-impeached Trump joins a long list of shady characters who found a refuge, even if only fleeting, in sunny South Florida. What with its paradisal weather and a certain ethical looseness when it comes to the rich and famous, Florida has always been a desirable location for the well-heeled disreputable. Richard Nixon ruminated over the Watergate break-in at his Key Biscayne compound. O.J. Simpson lived in Kendall until he was convicted of armed robbery in 2008. In 1928, Al Capone bought a Palm Island mansion from brewery heir Clarence Busch, and in 1929, he threw a lavish party there the same night that hit men killed rival mobsters in the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, giving himself a copper-bottomed alibi. Former despots have also aimed for soft landings in South Florida over the years: Fulgencio Batista, overthrown by Fidel Castro’s Cuban revolution, bought a vacation home in Daytona Beach and a house in Miami’s Spring Garden, and Nicaragua’s Anastasio Somoza Debayle (who was kicked out by U.S. authorities) and Haiti’s Prosper Avril (who wasn’t) both made their way there after fleeing their countries.

Trump isn’t exactly a deposed dictator, though he wasn’t shy about asserting autocratic power as president, repeatedly insisting that Article II of the Constitution allowed him to do anything he wanted. It didn’t. But in Florida, reality is negotiable. Trump still won’t admit he lost the election, and he still denies any responsibility for inciting the mob that looted, pillaged and desecrated the Capitol, leaving four rioters and a police officer dead. In Florida, he won’t have to. The Bay County Republican Party, for example, refuses to acknowledge that Trump is no longer in office, officially referring to President Biden as “president-imposed.”

Florida is the Looking-Glass Land of the nation, where it’s not only possible but perfectly normal to believe six impossible things before breakfast. Andrew Jackson — Trump’s favorite president — burned native people out of their homes and ran them off their land, clearing Florida for enslaving cotton magnates. The White gentry named their plantations after Sir Walter Scott novels and played at being British aristocrats, with jousts and “knightly” pageants and Queens of Love and Beauty. Standard Oil founder Henry Flagler turned the Atlantic coast of Florida into a make-believe Mediterranean, his hotels mash-ups of the Alhambra, the Palace of the Doges and Windsor Castle. Walt Disney bought unprepossessing chunks of central Florida land from unsuspecting citrus farmers and transformed them into a Neverland of princesses and talking mice.

Washington now teems with Democrats sporting their diversity and their masks, their Chuck Taylors and their selfies with Lady Gaga and J-Lo. That makes Florida a much friendlier place for Trumpist Republicans. Gov. Ron DeSantis is one of Trump’s more limpet-like supporters, an early adopter of hydroxychloroquine as a covid-19 miracle cure, hostile to lockdowns and social distancing, and an enabler of Trump’s claims of a “stolen” election. He has declared that the most important issue in Florida now is the perfidy of Twitter and other social media platforms that are supposedly muzzling conservative voices. Rep. Matt Gaetz, often not so much economical with the truth but in pitched battle against it, is only the loudest of the baker’s dozen members of Congress from Florida who refused to certify Biden’s election.

While Sen. Rick Scott has supported Trump since he announced his presidential run in 2015, Sen. Marco Rubio was an early rival for the Republican nomination and may find his slower conversion to MAGAism rewarded with a primary challenger for his seat in 2022 — because Ivanka Trump is also moving to Florida. She and husband Jared Kushner have bought a $30 million, two-acre lot on Indian Creek Island in Biscayne Bay. For that matter, newly engaged Tiffany Trump has been looking at properties in South Beach, and Don Jr. and his shouty girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, have been touring upscale houses in Jupiter. Only Eric Trump and his wife, Lara, seem to be resisting the lure to head south, possibly because she may be planning a run for the U.S. Senate from her native North Carolina.

But Florida still isn’t completely Trump territory, as the ex-president will find. Palm Beach County is deep blue. Rep. Lois Frankel, Trump’s congresswoman, was, like Trump, born in New York, but she’s a progressive Democrat. She won reelection by 20 points in November, even though Trump captured the state easily and her opponent, Republican conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer, had endorsements from Roger Stone (also a Florida resident), Roseanne Barr and the founder of the Proud Boys.

South Florida, more broadly, also remains majority Democratic, but that probably won’t trouble Trump. As long as he owns the clubs, he’ll have golfing partners. As long as the likes of the Boca Raton-based Newsmax can sell ads, he’ll have a political megaphone. Unless the Senate votes to convict him in his impeachment trial, or the Fulton County, Ga., district attorney or city, state or federal prosecutors in New York file charges against him, Trump will go on spinning dark dreams from his Florida fastness — just another old caudillo trying to relive the glory days.

Doonesbury –An oldie but a goodie.