Thursday, March 11, 2021

One Year Later

On March 11, 2020, I posted about the end of the Democratic nomination race with Joe Biden’s Super Tuesday win.

No, Joe Biden wasn’t my first choice. He wasn’t even my second choice. But I’m not going to let my hurt fee-fees over losing Mayor Pete and Elizabeth Warren keep me from voting strategically next week to keep the magical transformation of the Democrats once in disarray into a solid and strong march to, as my grandparents once said, getting That Man out of the White House.

That was also the day the WHO declared Covid-19 to be a pandemic. We were already taking measures to prevent its spread, and we were thinking that it would last four to six weeks, but certainly it would all be over by the end of April. June? It would be distant memory.

Little did we know. More than 500,000 lives lost. A decimated economy. Years of recovery, not unlike after World War II, and it will most likely mean a change in the way we live our lives from now on.

Remember what it was like a year ago. Think of where we are now.  Try not to imagine what it would be like if Joe Biden lost.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Sunday Reading

The Verdict of History — David Remnick in The New Yorker.

On January 18th, two days before relinquishing power and flying off to his tropical exile, Donald Trump did what tyrants love to do: he attempted to rewrite the history of his nation.

His instrument was the 1776 Commission, a motley assemblage of right-wing academics, activists, and pols who called for “patriotic education” in the schools and the construction of a National Garden of American Heroes that would “reflect the awesome splendor of our country’s timeless exceptionalism.” The garden would feature statues of Bogart and Bacall, Alex Trebek, and Hannah Arendt. The era of Trump will be recalled for its authoritarian politics, its lawless compulsions, and its hallucinogenic properties.

It is not difficult to imagine how the members of the 1776 Commission would evaluate Trump’s second impeachment trial. They, like the great majority of Republicans in the Senate, would vote for acquittal. Trump avoided conviction by a vote of 57–43 on Saturday, but history—history as it is assembled through the rigorous accumulation and analysis of fact—will not be so forgiving. Throughout the trial, the Democratic impeachment managers presented overwhelming evidence of Trump’s criminal culpability, his incitement of the January 6th assault on the U.S. Capitol. Their case was clear: for months, Trump sought to undermine, then reverse, a national election, and, when he ran out of options, after he was thwarted by various state election officials and the courts, he proved willing to see the lives of his own Vice-President, the Speaker of the House, and other members of Congress endangered so that he might retain power.

There is a long history of violence against democratic processes and voters in America: in the eighteen-fifties, nativist gangs like the Plug Uglies set out to intimidate immigrant voters; in the eighteen-seventies, white Southerners formed “rifle clubs” and attacked Black voters to hasten the end of Reconstruction. But this event was unique in U.S. history. This mob was inspired by a President.

After final arguments on the floor of the Senate on Friday night, I spoke with Jamie Raskin, a Democrat who represents Maryland’s Eighth Congressional District and who was the lead impeachment manager for Trump’s trial. Shortly after we began talking about the proceedings, Raskin cut himself off for a moment, saying that he needed to collect his thoughts.

“I have to admit,” he said, “I’m exhausted.” For Raskin, the trial was the least of it. On the day before the assault on the Capitol, Raskin and his family had buried his son Tommy, a brilliant young man who was suffering from depression and took his own life on New Year’s Eve. And yet, despite the weight of that unspeakable tragedy, Raskin guided the prosecution of Trump in the Senate chamber with a grace, an unadorned eloquence, rarely, if ever, witnessed in our degraded civic life.

Raskin paused and went on, telling me, “Look, Trump’s motivation was clear. He wanted to prolong and delay the certification of the Electoral College votes in hopes of putting so much pressure on the Vice-President and Congress that we would cave. And then the President would try to force the election into the House of Representatives, where each state delegation would have one vote and the Republicans have a majority of the states. All of his concentration was on thwarting the count so that the Vice-President would be forced to say there’s a need for a contingent election. That is what the President had in mind, and he came dangerously close to succeeding. And at that point he could also have decried the chaos and declared martial law.”

In recent weeks, the impeachment managers assembled voluminous evidence—not least, visual evidence from inside and outside the Capitol building on the day of the violent uprising. Watching images of the mob swarming through the marble halls of the Capitol and baying for vengeance, I was startled to realize how the true nature of the event, the degree of its violence and bloody-mindedness, the calls to capture, even assassinate, leading figures in the U.S. government, was not fully known to the American people in real time. It was sickening to watch men and women lugging Confederate symbols and shouting deranged slogans—“1776!”—pound on the doors of members of Congress, eager for violence. It’s no less sickening to imagine the cynicism required of Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, Lindsey Graham, and so many other Republican senators to dismiss the case as outside the bounds of the Constitution or as an instance of political opportunism.

Joaquin Castro, a Texas congressman who spoke with clarity and passion as an impeachment manager, told me that during the long hours of the trial it seemed to him that Republican senators were attentive as they watched film and listened to descriptions of the insurrectionist violence. “There was a lot of evidence they hadn’t seen,” Castro said, recalling how close the raging mobs had come to descending on Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi, and others and how viciously they attacked officers of the Capitol Police. The impeachment managers recited the number of the dead, the wounded, the suicides in the days after. “There were times when they were clearly moved by what they were seeing and hearing,” Castro said. “But then later I’d read reports at the end of the day that nothing had changed. The very idea that the evidence was horrific and the events tragic—it wasn’t getting through enough.”

What’s become evident is that Republican members of Congress fear not only the indignity of losing a primary; some have come to fear the potential for violence among their constituents. Rather than persuade, resist, or prosecute such people, they placate them. To do so, they bow in the direction of Palm Beach.

On Friday night, the CNN reporter Jamie Gangel issued a startling report that the Republican House leader, Kevin McCarthy, had phoned Trump during the riot and pleaded with him to call off the mob. Trump told McCarthy that the rioters were Antifa. According to Gangel’s congressional sources, McCarthy told Trump that no, “These are your people.”

“Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” Trump replied.

“Who the fuck do you think you are talking to?” McCarthy reportedly responded.

Gangel’s account made plain Trump’s colossal disregard for the lives of his own Vice-President and the members of Congress. His only interest was to foment maximal chaos, with the hopes of overturning an election he had lost by a wide margin.

McCarthy’s courage proved as fleeting as a spring shower. A week after Joe Biden’s Inauguration, McCarthy flew to Palm Beach and showed his fealty to the disgraced former President. Trump’s persisting capacity to raise funds for the Republican Party could not be ignored. How could McCarthy stand for principle if circumstances would soon demand Trump’s appearance at a chicken dinner? In one of the overstuffed parlors of Mar-a-Lago, McCarthy and Trump posed for a photographer. McCarthy managed a pained smile and issued a tortured statement on the fruits of his journey. “Today, President Trump committed to helping elect Republicans in the House and Senate in 2022,” McCarthy said. “For the sake of our country, the radical Democrat agenda must be stopped.”

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, also proved to be in only temporary possession of a spine. After sending moralistic “signals” to reporters and colleagues that he was repelled by Trump’s behavior, he declared himself on Saturday morning ready to forgive and forget. “While a close call, I am persuaded that impeachments are a tool primarily of removal and we therefore lack jurisdiction,” he said in an e-mail to his Republican colleagues, saying that he would vote to acquit. McConnell’s note insured that there would be no last-minute turn against Trump. It was, of course, McConnell who had scheduled the trial to take place after Trump was out of office.

No less incredibly (or predictably), Mike Pence could not bring himself to denounce Trump, either. The impeachment managers recalled during the trial that at 2:24 P.M. on the day of the insurrection, only eleven minutes after Pence had been hustled out of the Senate chamber, Trump tweeted that his Vice-President lacked the “courage” to forestall certification. Trump knew from talking to Senator Tommy Tuberville, of Alabama, that Pence was in danger. Tuberville told reporters, “I said, ‘Mr. President, they just took our Vice-President out, they’re getting ready to drag me out of here. I got to go.’ ”

Five days after the insurrection, Pence met with Trump in the Oval Office. The meeting was described by White House sources as awkward. Pence was encountering a President who had left him for dead. And yet he repressed any sign of resentment or worse. The Washington Post reported, through Vice-Presidential sources, that Pence was “frustrated” with Trump but that he did not “share the animus or fury that some of his former aides have for the President.” Trump, Pence told allies, was merely getting “bad advice” from his senior staff about the election.

Sensing opportunity in the Republican Party’s moral-positioning sweepstakes for 2024, Nikki Haley, who served the Trump Administration as United Nations Ambassador, told a reporter for Politico that she was “disgusted” by Trump’s behavior. At first, when Trump was merely spinning a conspiracy theory about the election and embedding it in the Party’s consciousness, Haley had been dismissive of a second impeachment. “At some point, I mean, give the man a break,” she had said. “I mean, move on.” But things have changed. “I don’t think he’s going to be in the picture,” Haley said, of Trump’s potential role in the next election cycle. “I don’t think he can. He’s fallen so far.”

Back in the reality-based community, the impeachment managers repressed their knowledge that they would not likely win the sixty-seven votes needed for a conviction. They methodically made their case that Trump’s incitement was not a matter of a single speech at the Ellipse before the march to the Capitol. It was a long accumulation of rhetoric and action, of calls to violence, of incendiary tweets and retweets, of encouraging or applauding violent action in Charlottesville, in Michigan, on I-35 in Texas, on the debate stage (“Stand back and stand by”). The most dangerous conspiracy theory in the land had nothing to do with Jewish space lasers or child-molestation rings. Trump’s story of his election “victory,” a theory conceived months before the ballot, was the source material of a nativist insurrection that could easily have ended not with five dead but with many dozens.

“He truly made his base believe that the only way he could lose was if the election was rigged,” Joaquin Castro said during one of his trial speeches. “And, Senators, all of us know, and all of us understand how dangerous that is for our country. Because the most combustible thing you can do in a democracy is convince people an election doesn’t count, that their voice and their vote don’t count, and that it’s all been stolen—especially if what you’re saying are lies.”

The trial ended in a sour acquittal. A shamed ex-President would inevitably declare victory.

But it is no victory at all. Within hours of his Inauguration, Joe Biden cancelled the plans of the 1776 Commission. Propaganda would not become the law of the land. In his closing argument, Raskin quoted a Black Capitol Police officer who, after being called the N-word repeatedly, after his fellow-officers were beaten, abused, bashed with flag poles, and sprayed with bear repellent, asked, “Is this America?” History will judge Donald Trump severely for his crimes against the United States.

Forget the Verdict of History; I Want a Perp Walk — Charlie Pierce.

Let me dispense right at the beginning that the verdict of history doesn’t interest me in the least. First of all, Americans have the attention span of fruit flies and, to far too many of them, history is whatever came in over their iPhones 10 minutes ago. Second, I am now of a sufficient age that it’s even odds that I won’t be around when the ultimate verdict of history is handed down. So, on Saturday, when I saw El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago skate one more time on his unfitness for office and his rank deficiencies as a human being, all the flowery talk about the verdict of history was no consolation. I want a perp walk, not the march of time. Leg irons, not talk of legacies. There is nobody for whom I am rooting louder than I am for Fani Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County who gives every indication that she plans to haul the vulgar talking yam into a local courthouse and, if baby Jeebus is still my amigo, stick him in prison blues and dump him into a holding cell that has a leaky ceiling.

Well, it’s a lovely thought, anyway.

The system didn’t work Saturday and no ex post facto mudslide of inanity from Mitch McConnell can obscure the fact that the system was completely incapable of reining in, coping with, and ultimately punishing one of the grossly incompetent authoritarians ever to attain high political office. As the past four years have demonstrated almost daily, the system is rotted clean through in some very important areas, and it didn’t take much strength for the former president* simply to knock the supports out from under them. And, on Saturday, as this latest burlesque came to an end, we saw the final proof that almost nobody is really interested in shoring things up in case a more competent oligarch buys himself an administration down the line.

To everyone’s surprise, just as things were starting up, the House managers won a vote to call witnesses. This was in reaction to news that broke on Friday night of a witness to a conversation from January 6 in which the former president* and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy had a screaming match about how the former president* was leaving members of Congress to die at the hands of his mob. So the House managers went for witnesses and won a majority of the Senate over to their side.

At which point, the Senate Democrats folded like a $15 silk suit.

During a long recess after the vote on witnesses, the senators all got together and, as the minutes went by, the unmistakable aroma of chickenshit began to waft north from Washington. Gifted with a golden anchor to hang around the neck of their political opponents, the Senate Democrats opted instead to hit themselves in the head with it. They agreed simply to admit into evidence the written statement of Rep. Jaime Herrara Beutler, a congresswoman from Washington state who’d been a witness to the McCarthy-Yam screamfest. This, they insisted, was a famous victory, in that the defense agreed that conversation had happened and that, therefore, it had been proven that the former president* had been the reckless, putting the life of Vice President Mike Pence at risk. Of course, the very first thing that defense attorney Michael van der Veen said in his closing argument was that the president* and his team had conceded no such thing. Oy.

And there was no good reason for it. Calling witnesses were not going to delay other policy initiatives; the COVID relief package is still in the House and likely will not emerge until at least February 22, and the Senate itself is in recess next week. The Senate literally has nothing better to do for eight full days.

Thus did the one unpredictable moment of the week go a’glimmering. (There could have been another one. Senator Willard Romney, it was reported, was at one point ready to throw hands at Senator Ron Johnson. My money was on Mitt. It’s hard to bet against a guy who’s got 70-odd years of clean living to fall back on.) Ultimately, the former president beat the system. Again. Even Mitch McConnell admitted in his postmortem remarks that the former president* was guilty as hell of everything with which the House managers charged him. Fani Wills, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Doonesbury — Ask your doctor…

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Random Youtubery

If you watched “The Dig” on Netflix and want to know the real story about Sutton Hoo and skip all the romance, here it is.  Or some of it.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

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.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Just Go Already

The Washington Post has up a puff piece on how Melania Trump is, in contrast to her husband, being the mature one about the end of their time in the White House.

Several people who have been in touch with Melania Trump said she is aware of the intense criticism both she and her husband have gotten since the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot, but that unlike her spouse she appears completely unfazed. They said she would have been happy to attend President-elect Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony, as every outgoing president and first lady have for the past 152 years. But rather than dwell on what could have been, she focuses on what she has control over: choreographing her own exit, trying to cement her legacy as a first lady who devoted much time to renovations of the White House, and making plans to continue her “Be Best” initiative. Quietly, she has also been working with Chief Usher Timothy Harleth to facilitate the move-in of the Bidens.

“She has hours left as first lady, but she is not the type to wander around the rooms of the White House in deep reflection of what happened, of what could have been,” said one person in touch with her. “She is Melania — she keeps the focus on what’s next.”

I have avoided writing about her for the entire time she has been First Lady, figuring that being married to Trump was enough of a burden without some smart-ass blogger piling on. In fact, I’ve pretty much been unaware of her, which is probably what she wants and deserves. But the fact that the press has to write up how she’s doing what normally happens when one presidency ends and another begins at the White House without much notice is a commentary on its own about this horrid time in our nation’s history.

As for the rest of that family, I am left with a quote from the noted author William Price Fox: “Just pack yer damn rags and git.”

Monday, January 11, 2021

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

On This Date

December 22, 1988.

Yes, I am a doctor of Theatre. I can cure a ham and suture the plot hole in Act II.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Sunday Reading

November 22, 1963 — My recollection of a very bad day.

JFK 11-22-06I was in the sixth grade in Toledo, Ohio. I had to skip Phys Ed because I was just getting over bronchitis, so I was in a study hall when a classmate came up from the locker room in the school basement to say, “Kennedy’s dead.” We had a boy in our class named Matt Kennedy, and I wondered what had happened: an errant fatal blow with a dodgeball? A few minutes later, though, it was made clear to us at a hastily-summoned assembly, and we were soon put on the buses and sent home. Girls were crying.

There was a newspaper strike at The Blade, so the only papers we could get were either from Detroit or Cleveland. (The union at The Blade, realizing they were missing the story of the century, agreed to immediately resume publication and settle their differences in other ways.) Television, though, was the medium of choice, and I remember the black-and-white images of the arrival of Air Force One at Andrews, the casket being lowered, President Johnson speaking on the tarmac, and the events of the weekend – Oswald, Ruby, the long slow funeral parade, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” – merging into one long black-and-white flicker, finally closing on Monday night with the eternal flame guttering in the cold breeze.

I suspect that John F. Kennedy would be bitterly disappointed that the only thing remembered about his life was how he left it and how it colored everything he did leading up to it. The Bay of Pigs, the steel crisis, the Cuban missile crisis, the Test Ban Treaty, even the space program are dramatized by his death. They became the stuff of legend, not governing, and history should not be preserved as fable.

At the age of eleven, I never thought about being old enough to look back fifty-six years to that time. According to NPR, more than sixty percent of Americans alive today were not yet born on that day. Today the question is not do you remember JFK, but what did his brief time leave behind. Speculation is rife as to what he did or did not accomplish – would we have gone in deeper in Vietnam? Would he have pushed civil rights? Would the Cold War have lasted? We’ll never know, and frankly, pursuing such questions is a waste of time. Had JFK never been assassinated, chances are he would have been re-elected in 1964, crushing Barry Goldwater, but leading an administration that was more style than substance, battling with his own party as much as with the Republicans, much like Clinton did in the 1990’s. According to medical records, he would have been lucky to live into his sixties, dying from natural causes in the 1980’s, and he would have been remembered fondly for his charm and wit – and his beautiful wife – more than what he accomplished in eight years of an average presidency.

But it was those six seconds in Dealy Plaza that defined him. Each generation has one of those moments. For my parents it was Pearl Harbor in 1941 or the flash from Warm Springs in April 1945. Today it is Challenger in 1986, and of course September 11, 2001. And in all cases, it is what the moment means to us. It is the play, not the players. We see things as they were, contrast to how they are, and measure the differences, and by that, we measure ourselves.

The Clown-Car Coup — Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker.

In a way, we are ending the week where we began it: Donald Trump still did not win the 2020 Presidential election, and he is still, on Friday as he was on Monday, holed up in the White House, challenging Joe Biden’s victory. The coronavirus pandemic is still spreading at an alarming rate across all fifty states, and Congress and the White House are still doing nothing new about it. This is, in a horrible, stressful way, what passes for our current normal.

Except, of course, there’s nothing routine about any of this. We’ve been getting used to painful truths for so long that the awful enormity of the situation doesn’t hit us in the way it should when the predicted bad things happen, which is the story of the entire Trump Presidency. But history will not remember this as a slow news week, not at all. In fact, it has been a week of crisis—grave if slow-motion crisis—in which Trump’s effort to subvert the election results has been made explicit and unmistakably clear. He is no longer merely pursuing spurious lawsuits in state courts; in recent days, he and his lawyers have confirmed publicly that Trump now is trying to directly overturn the election results and the will of the American people by pressuring Republican state legislators to appoint electors who will vote for Trump in the Electoral College instead of Biden. The fact that Trump is almost certain not to succeed in actually remaining in office past January 20th does not in any way make this less alarming. There is simply no precedent for a President doing anything like what Trump is doing right now.

Meanwhile in America, this is the week that the U.S. passed the grim milestone of two hundred and fifty thousand deaths in the pandemic, many of them due to the Trump Administration’s botched response to the disease. This spring, such an outcome was all but unthinkable: when Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted that the U.S. could see a hundred thousand to two hundred and forty thousand COVID-19 deaths by this fall, few believed that this would come to pass. And yet here we are, living another Trump scandal of unfathomable magnitude.

Perhaps the one genuinely surprising thing about this culminating controversy of the Trump era is how publicly quiet the voluble President has become. Sure, he has still been tweeting out inflammatory and untrue statements. “We won!” he said, more than once. And: “Mortality rate is 85% down!” And: “Republicans must get tough!” But his public schedule has been almost entirely empty since the election, and he has appeared before the press just once, at a brief news conference, last week, to announce progress toward a vaccine; he took no questions. He has cancelled his Thanksgiving trip to Mar-a-Lago.

This is a stark contrast to the two weeks before the election, which were among the loudest of his short career in politics. With three, four, even five rallies a day, Trump held forth on everything from the perfidy of the Democrats to the awfulness of the weather. One theme was consistent wherever he appeared: the forthcoming “rigged” election, in which only one result—his own victory—could possibly be legitimate.

Since the end of this campaign, which did not result in that victory, Trump has engaged in what I’m increasingly certain history will record as one of the worst offenses of his Presidency: a systemic attack on the integrity of the election itself. This escalated dramatically this week, as his first wave of lawsuits began collapsing under the scrutiny of skeptical judges and nonexistent evidence. Rather than retreat, however, Trump has redoubled his efforts in key states, such as Georgia, Michigan, and Arizona, publicly pressuring local Republican officials not to certify the election results.

In Georgia, this ploy appears to have failed, with the Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, openly feuding with the President and denouncing Trump’s efforts to undermine the vote count. On Thursday night, after a hand recount, Georgia officials said that Biden had once again emerged as the winner in the state—the first Democrat to do so since 1992—and that Raffensperger will certify the results on Friday. In Michigan, however, Trump appears to have had more success. Two Republicans on the Wayne County board of canvassers initially refused to certify the Presidential election results for the county, which includes the heavily Democratic city of Detroit, before an outcry caused them to reverse their votes a few hours later. Trump himself then intervened, calling the two officials, who late on Wednesday said that they wanted to change their minds again.

It may have been too late to reverse the Wayne County action, but, on Monday, the Michigan board of canvassers is set to meet to certify the election results in the state, which Biden has won by more than a hundred and fifty thousand votes. However, the board is made up of two Democrats and two Republicans, and one of the Republicans said, on Thursday night, that he is inclined to audit and delay his vote to certify, citing the baseless fraud claims raised by Trump’s lawyers. If the board deadlocks and the results are not certified, Trump seems to hope that the Republican-controlled state legislature will just go ahead and appoint pro-Trump electors, voters be damned. In another unprecedented step, Trump summoned the Republican leaders of the Michigan legislature to a private meeting with him in the White House, on Friday.

This dubious, and remarkably brazen, strategy was on display in a not-to-be-believed-except-it-actually-happened press conference on Thursday, by Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Trump would have won Michigan, Giuliani insisted, if you just don’t count Wayne County and, in effect, Detroit. And that was only one of the bonkers things he said. With an unidentified brown liquid streaking down his face as he spoke, Giuliani quoted the legal wisdom of the movie “My Cousin Vinny”; insisted that he had “direct evidence” of vote fraud in cities like Detroit, Atlanta, and Philadelphia, while producing none; and claimed that there was a vast conspiracy with roots in Venezuela to somehow rig the entire U.S. election.

How bizarre was the performance? Christopher Krebs, the Trump-appointed director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency—whom Trump fired, on Tuesday, after the agency issued a statement saying that “there is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised”—offered a succinct verdict. Giuliani’s press conference, Krebs tweeted, was “the most dangerous 1 hr 45 minutes of television in American history. And possibly the craziest.”

The fact that Trump and Giuliani’s campaign is utterly crazy, however, does not mean that it’s not working. In fact, a Monmouth poll this week found that seventy-seven per cent of Republicans now believe the election was tainted by fraud and are not certain that Biden won. Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, meanwhile, have refused to denounce Trump’s increasingly unhinged and undemocratic actions, and, while privately conveying acknowledgements of Biden’s victory, have publicly remained silent. The G.O.P. leadership, which has tolerated so many abuses by Trump, is now openly complicit in his worst one yet.

A few individual Republicans have spoken up. “It is outrageous,” Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, said on CNN. “It is an assault on democracy,” he added. “It’s bad for the Republican Party.” Late on Thursday evening, Mitt Romney, the Utah senator who was the only Republican to vote to convict Trump in his impeachment trial, earlier this year, issued a statement that might well have been the toughest I have ever seen about a President from a member of his own Party. “Having failed to make even a plausible case of widespread fraud or conspiracy before any court of law, the President has now resorted to overt pressure on state and local officials to subvert the will of the people and overturn the election,” Romney said. “It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American President.” By speaking out, Hogan and Romney underscored just how shocking it is that their fellow-Republicans had thus far failed to join them.

Last week, I wondered in this column about just what Trump was up to in challenging the results: Was it an attempted coup, or just another Trump con? The past few days have seemed to offer an answer, and not a reassuring one. The truth is that even if Trump’s would-be coup looks like a con, even if it seems to be a clown show that’s surely doomed to fail, it must still be taken seriously as long as it is happening. Look at how far Republicans have gone along with Trump’s folly after an election that was decisively won by Biden, a contest in which he beat Trump by more than five million votes and garnered three hundred and six electoral votes—exactly the electoral-college “landslide” that Trump secured in 2016. Republican excuses have grown increasingly pathetic: We’re just giving him time. We’re just letting the process play out. He’s entitled to pursue his claims in the courts. In explicitly demanding that Republican state officials disregard the will of the voters, Trump has, once again, made his Party’s leaders out as stooges and patsies.

The G.O.P. knows all too well that this is not the process by which American elections are decided, not now and not ever. What Trump is doing is not like the 2000 Florida recount. It is not like anything before in American history. Republican leaders can end this today by finally saying publicly what so far they have only had the courage to admit in private. But will they, at long last, tell Trump what the voters said loudly and clearly: It’s over, you lost, and Joe Biden won?

Doonesbury — Aging out.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Friday, September 18, 2020

Polishing A Turd

From the Washington Post:

Trump pressed his case Thursday that U.S. schools are indoctrinating children with a left-wing agenda hostile to the nation’s Founding Fathers, describing efforts to educate students about racism and slavery as an insult to the country’s lofty founding principles.

Trump, speaking before original copies of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence at the National Archives, characterized demonstrations against racial injustice as “left-wing rioting and mayhem” that “are the direct result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools. It’s gone on far too long.”

The federal government has no power over the curriculum taught in local schools. Nonetheless, Trump said he would create a national commission to promote a “pro-American curriculum that celebrates the truth about our nation’s great history,” which he said would encourage educators to teach students about the “miracle of American history.”

Trump is calling the panel the “1776 Commission,” in what appeared to be a barb at the New York Times’s 1619 Project. The project, whose creator won a Pulitzer Prize for its lead essay, is a collection of articles and essays that argue that the nation’s true founding year is 1619, the year enslaved Africans were brought to the shores of what would become the United States. Trump said Thursday the 1619 Project wrongly teaches that the United States was founded on principles of “oppression, not freedom.”

As the article notes, the federal government by law has no role in dictating curriculum to local school districts. The most they can do is cut funding to federal grants, which would take an act of Congress. But that’s not really the point.

Trump and the white supremacists want to keep teaching the fan fiction that Columbus “discovered” America — it was here the whole time, and populated by advanced civilizations in North and South America while Europeans were still living in trees — and that the Pilgrims and other English settlers brought democracy and white bread to the savages when in fact they brought witch trials and the clap. They want to bring back a “Gone With the Wind” geniality to the genocide of slavery, whose legacy still stands as the original sin of this nation. They want to make immigrants the scapegoat for all of our nation’s ills, which is ironic in the supreme since the folks raising the fear of undocumented immigrants are more than likely the descendants of immigrants who were subjected to racism and bigotry when they arrived.

Trump wants to put the best face on four hundred years of human intervention and colonialism and make it part of the public education that White people saved the world by invading every place they could find, stealing the land and its resources and then getting all pissed off because the indigenous people and the people they subjected to slavery aren’t getting down on their knees and thanking them.

Trump calls teaching the reality of this nation’s history “anti-American.”  But it’s the most American thing we can teach.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Friday, August 28, 2020

Happy Friday

The RNC is over and the Park Service will spend the next day or two cleaning the bullshit off the South Lawn.

Today marks the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington: “I have a dream.”

Today would have been my father’s 94th birthday.

Here’s a little respite from all the noise: an egret on the lawn next door.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Sunday Reading

Dixie Sunset — Charles P. Pierce on Juneteenth.

We have Juneteenth off this year here at Esky HQ. There is a move to make Juneteenth a national holiday, which it should be, as long as they don’t sling it to a Monday like they have with so many others. Juneteenth is Juneteenth and should stay that way. It marks the end of chattel slavery in this country and it should be recognized as such.

The moment has come upon us so quickly. Robert E. Lee gone from Lee Circle in New Orleans. John C. Freaking Calhoun off his high pedestal in South Carolina. They had a nice run, didn’t they? The forces of sedition managed to win the peace after they lost the war, and every generation of white Americans went along with it and, every time a civil-rights movement began stirring, the nightriders rode again, the strange fruit appeared on Southern trees, and another memorial to the dishonorable Honored Dead went up in some town square or another. This went on for over 100 years, a criminal erasure of actual American history in favor of a bloody deception.

And then, suddenly, here in 2020, the free ride has ended. Let the army bases named after Braxton Bragg and John Bell Hood be renamed after William Carney of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of the 20th Maine. They’re going to run the Confederates out of the Capitol building of the country they tried to destroy on behalf of white supremacy. On that day, I will cheer.

But I will cheer modestly and with no little humility. Because, while Juneteenth should indeed become a national holiday, some of my fellow citizens always will have more of a purchase on it than I have. At the end of his great speech to Congress about the Voting Rights Act, President Lyndon Johnson broke the brains of the Dixiecrats in front of him by saying:

But even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.

The hold of sedition and white supremacy over the outward displays of the American character is being broken the way the pedestals have been. That is a liberating moment that I never saw coming. Juneteenth marks the end of slavery. Let it also mark the end of slavery’s legacy over the minds of the people of this country. In September of 1861, Frederick Douglass wrote of his frustration with the fact that the Union would not let African Americans fight for their own freedom.

The national edifice is on fire. Every man who can carry a bucket of water, or remove a brick, is wanted; but those who have the care of the building, having a profound respect for the feeling of the national burglars who set the building on fire, are determined that the flames shall only be extinguished by Indo-Caucasian hands, and to have the building burnt rather than save it by means of any other. Such is the pride, the stupid prejudice and folly that rules the hour.

Even more than the Fourth of July, Juneteenth is about freeing people, and freeing the country of the ideas that held it back for decades. It is about the freedom to enjoy freedom. It is about setting freedom free. It is something for which so many of our fellow citizens of color have died. Let it be their day, and celebrate it for their sake. And, by doing so, maybe we’ll all deserve it one day, too.

Facebook Defends Free Speech — Jay Martel in The New Yorker.

It has come to our attention that a recent post, which falsely warned of a fire in a crowded theatre, led to the trampling of many patrons, in addition to the end of democracy as we know it. After a great deal of thought, and after many meetings with fire-safety groups, along with arsonists and the manufacturers of matches, we here at Facebook have made the difficult decision to continue our policy of free speech. As a result, we will not be altering in any way the post declaring that the crowded theatre is indeed burning when it has never been so much as warm.

This tough choice was made after a thorough reëvaluation of Facebook’s policies, and has nothing to do with our personal opinion, which is that most crowded theatres—including the one mentioned in this post—are not burning. We know that we are going to take a lot of heat (so to speak) from traditional media, which is burdened by having to fact-check the theatre fires they report. And yet, who’s to say that one of those burning theatres in our posts about burning theatres isn’t actually on fire? It’s up to the people in those theatres to decide, usually by looking down from their phones to see if they’re being consumed by hot flames.

You see, we believe in our users and their ability to sense their own aflameness. We also believe in giving them the right to post messages like “YOU ARE BURNING UP! JUMP OUT OF YOUR WINDOW NOW!” as many times as they want (or as their budget allows—please check out our boost-post feature to get more views of your burning-theatre posts). That’s the kind of freedom of speech we like—literally!

The Little Boy may be physically diminutive, but his many posts about voracious wolves have made him big in terms of the number of views and shares. Depriving him of this platform would not only damage Facebook’s fragile information ecosystem but, also, would remove a very important source of wolf news from our site. Though some critics claim that the reported wolves aren’t real, we look to our users to decide for themselves. Our studies have shown that, if our users read enough about wolves being real, they do in fact become real—at least on Facebook—and we need to service the need for information about those real Facebook wolves!

We realize that this decision will upset people inside the company, especially those who’ve been hiding in their offices from wolves.

After another thoughtful evaluation of our policies, Facebook has decided to allow Henny Penny’s numerous posts about the sky falling to remain on the site. Please note that this has absolutely nothing to do with Henny Penny and her barnyard friends being among our biggest ad buyers. This is a policy built on principle, and that principle is that our users are best equipped to tell whether or not the sky is falling, even if the only things they ever read are posts telling them that they are about to be crushed by that thing over our heads, which is, without a doubt, somewhat menacing to begin with.

We can all agree that Henny Penny, though a little chicken, is a very famous one. As a result, what she has to say about the falling sky is newsworthy, whether we happen to agree with it or not. We feel strongly that we would be remiss in not allowing her to express herself, especially when notable followers like Cocky Locky, Goosey Loosey, Ducky Lucky, and Turkey Lurkey are commenting on this admittedly controversial content and sharing it.

This has nothing to do with our personal opinion. To make this bold decision, we’ve had to separate ourselves from that, as well as from any chunks of sky that may or may not have fallen on top of us. In fact, the head of Facebook recently told Henny Penny in a phone call that, while what she wrote did not violate Facebook’s guidelines, he found it to be “harmful and inflammatory.” He then invited her, along with her friends Cocky Locky, Goosey Loosey, Ducky Lucky, and Turkey Lurkey, to a dinner in his den to discuss the matter, because if there’s one thing that the Facebook C.E.O., Foxy Loxy, believes, it’s that only through the free exchange of ideas can our huge appetites for unrestricted access to information be sated.

After reviewing the last few posts by Pinocchio, Facebook has made the difficult but brave decision to leave them up. Users concerned about their veracity are encouraged to click through to Pinocchio’s nose cam.

Doonesbury — You had one job…

Friday, June 19, 2020

Juneteenth

A lot of people are learning about Juneteenth, thanks to the ignorance and willful racism by a certain occupant of government-owned housing in Washington, D.C.

Here’s some background on the importance of this date.

The National Archives on Thursday located what appears to be the original handwritten “Juneteenth” military order informing thousands of people held in bondage in Texas they were free.

The decree, in the ornate handwriting of a general’s aide, was found in a formal order book stored in the Archives headquarters building in Washington. It is dated June 19, 1865, and signed by Maj. F.W. Emery, on behalf of Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger.

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, ‘all slaves are free,’ ” the order reads.

“This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”

The order sparked jubilation among African Americans in Texas and resulted in generations of celebration. It rings poignant today, as in recent weeks outpourings of anger against police brutality and racism have filled America’s streets.

It is a modest, two-paragraph entry in the book labeled “Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston … General Orders No. 3.” But it affected the lives of about 250,000 enslaved people.

[…]

Granger was an accomplished but abrasive officer who fought heroically at the Battle of Chickamauga and in the Chattanooga Campaign. He arrived in Galveston with 2,000 Union soldiers 10 weeks after the main Confederate army under Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox on April 9.

But the war didn’t end with Lee’s surrender. Areas of rebellion remained, especially in distant parts of the dying Confederacy like Texas. Galveston was 1,200 miles from Appomattox.

The decree “was something that he felt compelled to do,” Plante said. “As the Union army was getting into these areas, I think he realized that this was needed.

“A lot of people think Appomattox was the end of the war. There were still pockets of resistance. … They still needed to send more troops down and take over these areas and show more of a force than was there before.”

And there are still pockets of resistance to this day.  Which is why Juneteenth needs to be remembered.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Happy Friday

Someone asked me what I would write about the death of George Floyd and the protests around the world, the response by the Trump, and what it means for our nation.  I appreciate the question, but I really don’t think that anything I, an old white guy retired in Florida, can say that will better inform or enlighten the situation.  Sometimes, as we Quakers note, you should only speak when you can improve the silence.

I’m remembering a morning 52 years ago when I woke up to the news that Bobby Kennedy had been shot in Los Angeles after winning the California primary and likely on his way to winning the Democratic nomination in the 1968 election.  That moment was another in the long series of events that led up to the tumultuous summer of marches, protests, street battles, and a divided nation that ended with the election of Richard Nixon.  A lot of us wondered if it could ever get worse (to which 2020 has replied, “Hold my beer”), but more importantly, we wonder if it could ever get better.

It did, even if it wasn’t the same.  We have had moments of greatness that did bring us together, be it something as monumental as walking on the moon, or as diverting as winning the gold at the Olympics in 1980, or unifying after a terrorist attack, or redeeming a part of the dream by electing an African-American as president.  The divisions have continued; they will always be with us, but as Abraham Lincoln said,

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

 

Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day

I grew up in Perrysburg, Ohio. It’s a small town, a suburb of Toledo, and when I was a kid in the 1950’s and ’60’s, it fit all of the images that small towns in the Midwest have: tree-shaded streets, neat homes, lots of churches, and a main street — Louisiana Avenue — with little shops like the drug store with the fountain, the dime store, the barber shop, the hardware store, the bakery with the smell of bread baking and the sweet scent of icing, and the bank with the solid stone exterior. They’re all still there, just under different names now, and my parents, who still live there, still call the drug store by its old name, even though it’s changed owners and become a jewelry shop. In the winter the Christmas decorations line the street, and each Memorial Day there is a parade that starts at the Schaller Memorial, the veterans hall, and proceeds up Louisiana Avenue, taking a turn when it reaches the Oliver Hazard Perry Memorial (“We have met the enemy and they are ours…”) and marches down West Front Street past the old Victorian homes that overlook the Maumee River.

When I was a kid the parade was made up of the veterans groups like the American Legion and the VFW, and platoons of soldiers and veterans, including, through the 1970’s, the last remaining veterans of World War I. They wore their uniforms and their medals, and those that couldn’t march sat in the back seat of convertibles, waving slowly to the crowds that lined the sidewalks. They were followed by the marching band from the high school, the color guard, the Cub Scouts, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the drum and bugle corps, floats from church groups, all of the city fire equipment, antique cars, and the service groups like the Shriners, the Elks, and the Kiwanis Club. After the last float came all the kids on their bicycles decorated with streamers, bunting, flags, and all the patriotic paperwork we could muster. My friends and I would try to outdo each other, and it had less to do with patriotism than it did with seeing how many rolls of red, white, and blue crepe paper we could thread in between the spokes of our wheels.

I was about ten or so on one Memorial Day when I spent a lot of time getting my Schwinn Racer ready for the big parade. It was a perfect day; the sky was a sparkling spring blue and all the floats, cars, and fire trucks were gleaming in the sun as the parade organized on Indiana Avenue in front of the Memorial Hall. The high school band in their yellow and black uniforms marched in precision as the major led off with a Sousa tune, and as the parade slowly made its way down the avenue we could see the crowds along the sidewalks waiting and waving. As we waited our turn we wheeled our bikes in circles, just like the Shriners in their little go-karts, and finally we got the signal that it was time for the kids to roll. There was an organized rush to lead off, and then we were slowly pedaling down the street, waving to everybody outside the library, the Chevy dealership, even the people lined up on the roof of the pizza parlor. I looked for my dad shooting movies with the 8mm camera, but didn’t see him. Oh, well, it didn’t matter; we were supposed to meet at the home of friends who were hosting a post-parade picnic in their backyard. Their house was at the end of the parade route, so that was the perfect place to pull out of the parade and have the first of many Faygo Redpops that summer.

But for some reason I stayed with the parade, on down West Front, and then up West Boundary and past the gates of Fort Meigs Cemetery. The floats and the fire trucks were gone, but what was left of the parade — the color guard and the veterans — went through the gates and along the path. There was no music now, just a solemn drumbeat keeping a steady muffled tapping. The color guard turned at a small stone memorial, and then past it to a gravesite where a family was gathered; a mother in a black dress, a father in a grey suit, and a teenage son and daughter, looking somber and out of place. The grave was still fresh, the dirt mounded over, the headstone a simple marker with a flag. A minister spoke some words, and then the color guard snapped to attention. A volley of rifle fire, then Taps, and then a tall young soldier in dress blues handed a folded flag to the mother, who murmured her thanks and tried to smile.

I suddenly realized that I felt out of place there with my gaudily-patriotic bike and my red-white-and-blue striped shirt. No one noticed me, though, and when the people started to slowly move away from the gravesite and back to the entrance, I followed along until I was able to ride slowly back to our friends’ house, park my bike with all the others, and find my parents, who probably hadn’t even noticed that I was not there with all the other kids running around and playing on the lawn.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

This post originally appeared on May 25, 2009.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Kent State

Some moments are galvanizing in a moment.  The news flash from Dallas on November 22, 1963.  The Challenger in flight for 72 seconds.  The plane flying into the World Trade Center.  We knew in that moment that the impact would be felt far longer then that day.  After each one of them, we as a nation felt the shock and realized how the course would change.

Then there are moments that take a personal toll.  The nation may react, but the implication and the aftershocks are cushioned or even ignored.  Sadly, it’s become the new normal to respond to mass shootings with the momentary horror and then back to business as usual.  But it may touch us as individuals and that may change the course of our life.

That was the case with the death of four students at Kent State University on May 4, 1970 at the hands of the Ohio National Guard.

I was nearing the end of my junior year in high school in Toledo, about a hundred miles west of the university.  I knew people who were students there.  I knew people who were at the demonstration.  And suddenly the war in Vietnam and the divisiveness that it brought to the nation was not just in the headlines of the newspaper but in my own state and impacting how I would respond.

I was four months away from registering for the draft.  I already knew that I was opposed to the war and already aware of the fact that registering as a conscientious objector would be a difficult path should I choose to present myself to the very conservative draft board of Wood County, Ohio, as one.  But the shock of the massacre made me aware that I needed to make my voice heard.  And I did.  I joined anti-war demonstrations, worked with local peace groups to petition to our state and federal representatives to end the war.  I did file as a conscientious objector and stared down the draft board in September.  And since that day, fifty years ago, I have done my best to work for peace and remember that even if the course of the nation didn’t change, my own did, and the four who died — Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Knox Schroeder — will be remembered.

Photo by John Filo.