Here’s a Big Surprise …

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Trump has decided to keep James Comey on as FBI director. I’m sure his decision has nothing to do with the fact that Comey helped suppress and distort Trump’s ties to Russia and the hacker evidence of election tampering, and then later decided that we just HAD TO KNOW MORE about his opponent’s ever innocuous emails.

When I saw Comey pulling that shit … in real time … I assumed he was angling for a job at FOX when his term expired. I mean, for one thing, it looked like Hillary was going to win (and probably did win) and no one would permit an FBI director to stay on in a job where he had violated the public trust … and possibly the law … in such a blatant way.

Nobody, right? Except Trump, the beneficiary of Comey’s crimes.

Trumpland is in no small part Nixonland, where LOYALTY is the ticket in and your visa to stay and your reason to be on a daily basis. And Trump and the late Nixon are both sick men, psychologically, only capable of feeling their own pain. compulsive liars. Probably sociopaths. Both of them committed treason to get where they got. Nixon had Kissinger scuttle the 1968 Vietnam peace talks, a clear act of treason. Trump (and/or his people) were in constant contact with Putin and his people, who were engaged in election interference … acts of war. It is virtually impossible to believe that Trump peeps didn’t aid and abet them.

But at least Nixon knew how to locate nations on the globe and who was running them. And he didn’t convey the impression to foreign leaders of a child with a box of crayons and a map of the world to color in. Bush Junior’s ignorance was frightening to allies and other foreign leaders, but they felt like there were people in his administration who (while neoliberal and wrong-headed) were capable of conversing in a knowledgeable manner. That they wouldn’t be acting (with the exception of Dick Cheney) purely out of personal greed. Or on a whim. Leaders around the world have no such assurances now.

Comey belongs in the Big House not the White House. But, even if charges are brought against him for his execrable behavior during the election (if that’s even possible under the law), Comey will be granted a full pardon by the Crook in Chief he helped elevate.

More Nixonland. Minus a brain.

Sean Spicer in a lavender tie …

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acting like a press secretary. As opposed to yesterday, when he showed up in a dark blue tie to lie for five minutes and storm off. Sean’s lies are more deft today – at his first full press conference – and his manner genial. This is bad news.

Spicer’s got skillz … and possibly stamina, he’s promised to stay as long as the reporters want … so, unlike poor Kellyanne, he doesn’t look like he’s going to dry up and blow away any day now.

My guess is that yesterday Spicer relayed a tantrum, produced by the star of Project Pennsylvania Avenue, who values ratings above all else. Today someone … probably Ivanka or poor Kellyanne … told him the reviews on the tantrum were Rotten Tomatoes and they’d have to go a different way if they wanted to stay on the air.

Too bad. A win for “normalizing.” The Goebbels act would have made it easier to get rid of the Turd in Chief. And this Sean guy is versatile … man tantrum one day, lavender tie the next … which augurs well for The Turd. And poorly for the country’s good.

A Face in the Audience at Home

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The “star” of a reality TV show I’ve never heard of was the first speaker at a major political party convention that will nominate the “star” of a reality TV show I’ve never watched. Followed by a former TV “star” I barely remember who played a character named Chachi.

Forty percent of the US public currently indicates that they intend to vote Republican and several of my friends say they won’t vote at all because of b.s. they read on internet “news” sites that also show pics of Sasquatch and UFOs. The segment coming up on the Convention Show is a repeat of the Benghazi Miniseries, which has aired at least eight times before and was most likely produced by the makers of Swiftboat, 24, or both.

Every bad thing I ever said (or merely feared) might happen to my country has happened. Including that the culture wars are now armed. And that half the population no longer knows the difference between what they watch on the boob tube and what’s really real. And that the other half isn’t too sure.

I type this not because I think it will make the slightest bit of difference, but to keep sitting up. Hoping that, if I stay vertical, inspiration might come. Light appear. And so I can hope against hope that my country is not this broken. Broken beyond repair.

So I can keep hoping that something, anything, can be done.

America’s Homegrown Terrorists

gop-senate-1024x644With Senators like these, who needs ISIS? They’ve already been responsible for more deaths – because of their support of NRA gun policies in exchange for cash – than all the terrorists in all the groups allied against the United States combined.

I don’t know if Allah will be there to shake their hands when these assassins ascend to their Great Reward. Or if they have a hookah party planned, complete with virgins and MOR country music. But, God knows, they’ve been paid well enough in this life. Millions upon millions in blood money. So Allah would be justified in skipping the party, and letting the GOP-slated virgins stay virginal awhile longer. .

A lot of these Republican men and women purport to be Christians. I’m skeptical. I’m not even convinced they’re all Americans, They certainly don’t act like any Americans I’ve ever known, devoid as they are of the slightest concern for public safety. A moment’s thought for the common good.

Americans? Christians? I say we insist on seeing their birth certificates. And get sworn statements that they aren’t disciples of radical Islam. From their actions, you shall know them. And they’ve slaughtered tens of thousands of innocent American men, women, and children in the last few years alone.No one would do that just for money , would they? They have to believe in something. Someone. Don’t they? And it can’t possibly be America. Or Christ.

For those few GOP Senators who are real Americans and believing Christians, I have bad news. No hookah party in the sky for you. You’ll be going straight to Hell. That’s the destination, I hear, for traitors and murderers.

I suggest you wear your summer suit and travel light. It gets hot in Hell this time of year. Although there is some good news. You’ll be able to reunite with a lot of your old friends from Congress and from al qaeda. And the radio station down there plays country MOR.

Yes, I do want to take your guns …

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Pretty much all of them. Just so we’re clear. And I’m willing to repeal the 2nd Amendment if its imprecise wording continues to provide fodder for NRA propaganda and cause confusion for a few dumb-as-rocks Roberts Court Justices. Then legislate your guns out of existence.

I will take your guns. Nearly all of them. And the nation needs you adolescent Tin Solders to stop playing war and find other, less lethal games. With less dangerous toys. That don’t massacre innocent people. Your fellow Americans. That don’t slaughter children.

We’re coming for your guns, weekend cowboys and cowgirls. Your mindless fun has become our nation’s nightmare.

And, you know what, kids? You probably won’t miss them.You might even breathe a sigh of relief. When your guns are gone, you won’t have to repeat lies, twist history, nitpick statistics, and strain logic past the point where it can ever again assume its rightful shape.

Most important, when your guns are gone, you can stop having blood on your hands. The blood of innocent Americans. Of babies.

My wish for you is that you will recover your sense. Use your mind again. Breathe. For a long time now, you have been slaves to your guns. It’s time for us to set you free.

We will take your guns.

Randall Smoot's photo.

A Combover in the Crowd

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Fear and Loathing on the Trump Trail, Part I

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Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow… Chick, Chick, Chick!… Somewhere Around Barstow… A Rose Is a Rose… A Guest Star Better Late Than Never… Barstow Redux… A Face in the Crowd?… It Can’t Happen Here!… And Now a Word from Our Sponsor….

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You have to look at it, you can’t help yourself; but you mustn’t look too long or too hard.  Bad things can happen if you do. Right now – in the moment of which I write – I’m focused on the fluffy front part of Trump’s hair (he’s facing the camera on a show called CBS This Morning) observing how a spun-sugar wave of it drifts down over his upper forehead and how it resembles nothing so much as baby chick feathers. It’s not just the consistency that invites this comparison, it’s also the color: a soft, seemingly back-lit hue of yellow-white that appears nowhere in Nature except on two-day-old chickens and the head of Donald J. Trump. It should also be noted that his front hair appears glued together to form a sort of uni-bang. If you lift up one part of the bang, the rest will follow.

I realize I’ve been staring when I begin to see stars and hear odd mechanical clicking sounds that drown out what the group of actors around Trump is saying. The cast of the TV show – two attractive women with good hair and an older man – are seated with The Donald around a glass table that has a stencil of the CBS trademark eye painted on it. I know I should know all the people around Trump – they’re important – but the only one I recognize (and it takes me awhile) is the man, whose name is Charlie Rose and who used to have his own show where he interviewed people for very low ratings very late at night.

Charlie Rose might still have his own show. I’ve fallen behind – in recent years – on my TV viewing, a failing which I hope to rectify this season. So far I’ve only missed the Election Show segments in Iowa and New Hampshire (where Trump finished third and first in the ratings) and it’s clear that Charlie and the other regulars on CBS This Morning are very excited to have him on as a guest star.  One of the female regulars (sorry, I didn’t catch her name, but she’s black, very pretty, and was costumed for this episode in an expensive belted dress) remarked, “Finally, live and in color.” The other woman (white, pretty as well, with long hair and a blue dress) indicated she was delighted and, although Charlie didn’t say anything just then, he nodded happily when the first woman quoted him as having remarked upon Trump’s arrival: “What took you so long?” Trump was gracious in response, congratulating everyone on their show and saying that he watched it. I think he lied, though: Trump is all about “winners” and the morning show on CBS is a loser. It only has an average 3.85 million viewers and trails the morning shows on ABC and NBC. But it was nice of Trump to say he tuned in and you could see how it gave the whole cast a lift.

 

snapshot cbsI’m trying really hard to focus on what everyone’s saying  – it’s important, for God’s sake, and I’m a professional! – but I’ve gotten caught up again in examining The Donald’s hair: there’s a different camera angle now and you see it in profile, the left side profile, and you can actually pinpoint the place where the part begins. Oooph! Suddenly, I can’t hear the voices on the TV over the noises in my head and I’m once more seeing stars, but – before it gets really bad – CBS switches to a different camera (without Trump in the foreground) and I’m able to shift my own focus to Charlie Rose. Rose used to favor red ties but he goes in now for light purple – almost a lavender – and his face now is the tired, slightly hangdog visage of the aging philanderer. Rose’s receding gray hair is slicked back and held tightly in place, as if his mother had wet it with spit and smoothed it down right before the show. But as I study his hair – and mentally contrast it with Trump’s – Charlie is stating that people are saying “Donald Trump has changed American politics” in New Hampshire, where he captured a 35 share using his own money and without having to thank a single sponsor. The camera guys switch back to a closeup on Trump and I quickly press pause.

FaceInCrowdOne reason I pause the podcast is because that thing is happening again … the optic flashes and the clicks, which are becoming more frequent and starting to overlap into a droning buzz … but also because something Charlie has just said to Trump reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite movies, A Face in the Crowd (1957). It stars Andy Griffith as an American TV personality named Lonesome Rhodes, who acquires political influence as his popularity with the viewing public grows.

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In the film – set during 1950s America – everything gets jumbled up: celebrity, power, business, sex, advertising, violence, politics, an ignorant poor populace, a rich ruling elite, all of it sprayed with a thin but scary varnish of latent fascism. As I’m writing this, I’m getting embarrassed: A Face in the Crowd has nothing to do with Donald Trump’s run for the Presidency and I can’t imagine why I thought it did in the first place. But memory is weird that way and the sequence that popped into my mind is the one after Lonesome Rhodes gets his first TV show, sponsored by a local mattress company who wants him to read their ad copy straight. Rhodes refuses – he makes fun of the Mattress Guy on air – and gets fired. His refusal to kowtow to his sponsor makes Lonesome Rhodes even more popular with the people, however. His fans break windows at the mattress company, burn mattresses in the street, and vow to follow Rhodes to bigger and better things.

Like I said, it’s an old movie that can’t happen now and certainly not here. And I was stupid for thinking there was any sort of connection.  A Face in the Crowd is fiction, the Trump Show reality-based. The movie’s hero started out broke and in jail; our hero got $200,000 straight out of college and as much as $200 million more when his father died. Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes is preserved on celluloid and in black-and-white. Donald “The Donald” Trump is live and in color.

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Coming Soon: Things get scary – in Fear and Loathing on the Trump Trail, Part II – and Randall Smoot has to go for a walk.

Are You Now or Have You Ever Been an Immigrant?

The correct  answer to the above question, at least if you’re Ted Cruz – who I now believe will be the GOP nominee when all is said and Trump is done – is “yes, sir, I am  an immigrant, but don’t tell anybody, k?” And The Donald is finally factually correct about something – besides, of course, his ratings in the presidential polls, he’s on that shit – Ted Cruz is not a “natural born citizen” and is thereby disqualified to become President of the United States. Or, as I like to call it, Ted Cruz’s adopted home.

NaturalBornCitizenClauseWatch the strict constructionists spin this one … well, “natural born” could mean a whole lotta things, you know? Just like strict constructionists – faced with the need to please rightwing sponsors and a Higher Power called the NRA – decided  that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State” must’ve been a misprint and the 2nd Amendment actually confers an inviolable individual right to bear arms. All arms, apparently, up to and including AK-47s, mortars, and nuclear suitcase bombs.

In the present instance – Cruz was born in Canada – purist jurists and the GOP will deconstruct the Constitution to add words such as “born outside the United States but to an American citizen.” Just like they added the words “or in a military hospital in Panama” when John McCain was the GOP nominee. Or, even farther back, when Barry Goldwater (who was born in Arizona before it became the 48th state) ran for President and they added the words “or in a Territory of the United States.”

See how strict constructionism works? When the Constitution works in favor of the political positions you already hold, you declare it the ultimate and only authority and leave it alone. When it works against your politics, you can add words or take out words to make the Constitution the ultimate and only authority.  And the best thing is that you don’t have to physically change the words of the Constitution – through the Amendment process – you can just pretend the words are there. And be “strict” about it.

And how funny is it that the crowd who gave us eight years of Birther Bullshit is now poised to nominate its third national candidate who is not Constitutionally qualified to be President AND has the birth certificate to prove it? But if you’ve watched one of the GOP debates this year … or tuned into FOX news lately or should I say ever? … you know what I’m just learning: that the Republican Party is now ENTIRELY populated by voters who are a) capable of believing almost any fool thing if it confirms their preconceived notions and satisfies them emotionally; and b) incapable of believing anything that is evidence-based and demonstrably true. Has the GOP  been kidnapped and brainwashed to become a sort of Manchurian Candidate programmed to assassinate American intelligence and reason?

scarecrow pistolI finally got around to watching the last GOP so-called debate and all I can say is: “Lions, and tigers and bears, oh my!” It was this debate that convinced me Ted Cruz is going to win the nomination and that Donald Trump will be happy to support him, despite the fact that Trump is the one who most recently pointed out that Cruz is not qualified. But what’s a little thing like a Constitution between political allies?  Not to mention that Trump – if he doesn’t let Teddy slide – might have to also advocate building a wall between us and Canada “to keep all the Cruzes out.”

And here’s what I think Candidate Cruz will campaign on … after he gets done providing lip service to Job Creators, Bad Taxes and Badder Regulations, Making America Great again post-Kenyan, and putting Jesus in charge of the Fed … the creation of a new HUAC. Only he will change the name from the House on UnAmerican Activities Committee to the House on UnAmerican Assimilation Committee. The new HUAC will investigate everyone even suspected of being an immigrant – except Ted himself, of course, and possibly Marco Rubio’s parents – and will hold them, among other things, in contempt of English, in support of ISIS, and guilty of working three minimum wage jobs a week that natural-born Americans have all turned down.

Hmm … where have I seen this guy before?

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The Party of Lincoln?

Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday is today, was the first Republican President. The party that for more than a century afterward became known as the “Party of Lincoln” did not exist when Lincoln was born. It was founded – six years prior to his receiving its nomination – by Horace Greeley and other abolitionists in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and to prevent the spread of slavery into new states and territories.

Abraham Lincoln is widely considered by historians to be our greatest President, certainly our greatest Republican President. His only major competition on the greatest lists is FDR, who was a) a Democrat; and b) got to serve two more full terms than Abe. Lincoln is also the “favorite” President of the majority of Americans (i.e., winner of the People’s Choice Award), popular enough to be the subject of a Spielberg movie and countless other biopics, so popular his head is on both the penny and the five dollar bill. Show me the money!

Surprisingly, however, almost none of the current Republican candidates for the top office list Abraham Lincoln as their favorite President.  These days, among the Tea Party of Lincoln, he gets almost no love at all.

I suppose this might be due, in part, to a lingering resentment of our 16th President in certain parts of the South, deemed key to their election by GOP candidates as far back as Nixon in ’68 with his so-called Southern Strategy. Lincoln didn’t respect property rights and he insisted on calling the Civil War the Civil War instead of the War of Southern Secession. A lot of current Republicans also view the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution as egregious examples of judicial overreach and the work of Congresses that would have been well-advised to focus instead on budget deficits and putting pushy women in their place. Sorry, in two places … kitchen and bed.

So who are the favorite Presidents of the current leaders of the Party of Lincoln?

John Kasich’s favorite President is fellow Ohioan Warren G. Harding, who proved that public service didn’t have to prevent you from continuing to earn a good living. Recent dropout Chris Christie is a big fan of another Ohioan, William Howard Taft.

Jeb Bush’s favorite President is George Herbert Walker Bush and he hopes you’ll forget that he is also related to the other President W. Marco Rubio’s favorite President was Fulgencio Batista and he’s hoping to make Cuba the 51st state. The favorite President of failed candidate Paul Ryan is Ayn Rand … somebody break it to him now that Paul has more time to read. Ben Carson liked President Jesus. And the favorite of Donald Trump won’t take office until 2017 … President Donald Trump.

And that just leaves us Ted Cruz, the only candidate who lists Lincoln as his favorite President, but it isn’t Abe Lincoln, it’s some other Lincoln guy.

Which is maybe why that every time I see an elephant these days, he’s crying.

Tom Paine: Not Invited to the Tea Party

Thomas Paine (January 29, 1737 – June 8, 1809) – America’s 1st Democratic Socialist?

Contemporary America’s sunshine soldiers and Tea Party patriots like to occasionally drag out Thomas Paine quotes – accompanied by an airbrushed drawing of his ravaged, dour, pockmarked face – and pretend like Thomas Paine would have been their buddy if he’d only lived another 200 years. The quotes are usually along the lines of “no taxation without representation” and government “being a necessary evil at best.” Stuff like that. Never mind that Americans have taxation with representation (at least they did, before most of Congress and the majority of state legislatures got completely bought off by the filthy rich and the big corporations) and that the government Paine was usually talking about – in his Revolutionary propaganda pamphlets – was the government of England.

(They stop short of claiming Paine as a fundamentalist Christian, one of the founders of the Christian Nation, because … you know, The Age of Reason.)

The most vehement pretend-populists among American conservatives also like to talk a lot about “common sense” – sometimes ascribing their deep meditations on the subject to Thomas Paine or was it Thomas Jefferson? … somebody named Tom – and they like to say how common sense is the only qualification a person really needs to do this government stuff. The inference being, I suppose, that Joe the Plumber could have written the Declaration of Independence if he’d just gotten around to it and hadn’t been so busy doing real American work like unclogging toilets and drinking beer.

(Speaking of which, where is Joe the Plumber this election cycle? Shouldn’t Trump and Cruz and company be vying for his endorsement to go along with Sarah’s? Is he Joe the Senator now and nobody told me? Is he the Fox News American history correspondent?)

But I don’t want you to think I have anything against plumbers … when my drain is clogged, they’re the first people I call … I don’t just stop some guy off the street at random and pay him to fix it. Because knowledge and experience actually do count for something. And you need more than common sense to unclog a drain. Uh-oh, does that fancy opinion make me an “elitist”? Sacre bleu, does it make me French?!

Let’s consider this common sense stuff a moment longer … what dictionaries say it is, what some folks mean when they say it, and what Thomas Paine meant. Here are three general dictionary definitions of common sense:

  1. The ability to think and behave in a reasonable way and to make good decisions.
  2. Sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.
  3. Sound practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge, training, or the like; normal native intelligence.

You get the idea and I think you’ll agree with me that when Sarah Palin or Trump or Cruz or some other pseudo-populist Republican talks about common sense, their idea most closely resembles definition 3 and they broaden its application to just about everything. All that book learning just screws you up. Messes with your common sense. We were all born knowing more than Barack Obama. And Trump was born knowing more than everyone else.

When Thomas Paine used the term common sense, however, he was mostly referring to definition 2 and he was also joining a philosophical discussion that dates back as far as Aristotle. And the judgment that Paine thought common sense would assist his fellow Americans in reaching (based on a simple perception of the situation and facts) was that Britain was in violation of the Colonists “natural rights” and, not to put too fine a point on it, had to go.  I hasten to add, however, that Paine believed there was a learning curve attached to simple perceiving and that it was necessary to use your brain to reason your way toward a conclusion. You couldn’t just “know” stuff. You had to learn the situation and facts. You still had to think.

Based on this analysis, I conclude that, if Thomas Paine’s drain had ever been clogged, he would have called a plumber (i.e., someone with specialized knowledge and training). Maybe Joe the Philadelphia Plumber in waistcoat and powdered wig.  Which I guess makes Paine an elitist. And possibly means he is French.  He did, after all, journey to France to foment revolution there – Paine was sort of the Che of American liberty – but landed in prison and nearly ended up on the guillotine because he opposed the Reign of Terror.

Activists participate in a tax revolt rally in Santa Barbara, CaliforniaHere are a few more of Thomas Paine’s beliefs that would disqualify him from Tea Party membership.  I present them in no particular order and imagine that a few might come as a surprise, particularly if you think Paine was a no-tax nut or an antigovernment guy:

  • A maternity benefit for poor children that amounted to a kind of Head Start program
  • Public education for all up to and including higher education
  • Public assistance and training for young people seeking work
  • Health benefits for the poor
  • Other welfare programs that amounted to a guaranteed minimum income
  • Extensive veterans benefits, starting with veterans of the Revolutionary War
  • Social security (beginning at age 50, but people died earlier then)
  • Public burial (and we’re not talking a plywood pauper’s coffin in a kiln)

And how did Tom Paine propose that we pay for all this stuff? Uh, by taxes. Specifically by heavy taxes on the rich and propertied classes.  And, as far back as the American Revolution, Paine proposed a federal tax to pay for the war and its expenditures.

Thomas Paine had done his research on his “social agenda” for America – he’d thought long and hard about his ideas – but he also decided they made good common sense.

To which the Tea Partiers don’t have a whole lot to say … except maybe “Oops.”

Scene in L.A. (Drive-thru Polio Clinic)

“Could you patent the sun?” – Dr. Jonas Salk

polio drive-thru jonas salk

Only in L.A. – where people live in their cars – was it possible to get vaccinated against polio at a drive-thru clinic circa 1960. I have no idea whether patrons could order fries and a shake with that, but I’m certain the clinic saved lives.  And the vaccine itself was free.

Which brings us – on this MLK holiday – to the subject of altruism. Which is a noun. And which is defined as “the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was familiar with the concept. And I suppose you can argue that his civil-rights work on behalf of others wasn’t entirely disinterested, since he was fighting for his own civil rights as well. But King had expanded his moral charter  in the 1960s to include opposition to the war in Vietnam. And on the day he was murdered, he was fighting for garbage collectors in Memphis, putting his life on the line so that they could have a living wage. And dignity.

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Dr. Jonas Salk spent seven years developing a polio vaccine, which was donated to the world in 1955 and which has saved countless lives and limbs. Including any number saved because the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis didn’t waste time applying for a patent or trying to figure out the best ways to profit from saving lives. When asked in a TV interview who owned the vaccine, Salk replied, “Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” 

You will sometimes read in rightwing journals that lawyers for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis looked into the possibility of a patent (with the implication that they would have made money from it if they could), but Dr. Salk had already provided the vaccine to pharmaceutical companies and the idea of a patent was merely to protect against inferior imitations that others might try to profit from. Decades before Salk, Dr. William Roentgen had also refused to patent the sun – or, in his case, X-rays – and altruistically donated his new medical technology to the world.

Paul Ryan & Friends (inspired by their patron saint, Ayn Rand) will tell you altruism is for suckers. Or that it’s just a different form of selfishness, since giving to others and helping humankind provides the giver with pleasure. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather hang around folks being “selfish” by helping their neighbors or fighting for people’s rights or curing disease than hang around a bunch of GOP pols getting their jollies by cutting food stamps, gutting public education, trying to privatize Social Security, or making a big show of voting down the Affordable Care Act for the one-millionth time.

I wish there was a vaccine against Ryan & Friends. And a drive-thru clinic where Americans could get it. I’d be willing to pay – a lot – for that one. And you can hold the fries and shake.

The GOP’s Most Shameful Act?

On this date – January 7th – in 1999, the Clinton Impeachment begins

Whatever elected Republican representatives did or refused to do last week (on gun control, for instance) might be their new most shameful act. And it probably replaced – in the historical Hall of Shame – whatever GOP Senators and Congresspeople did or didn’t do the week before that. It’s hard to stay current with the outrages of a political party that has lost its love of country, its concern for the well-being of that country’s men and women and especially children, its feelings of responsibility and of duty, its common decency, and (to complete the circle) all sense of shame.

It’s difficult to say – exactly – when the Republican strategy of distraction, obstruction, and destruction will end. Presumably when the GOP achieves its goals of eliminating the American middle class, dismantling federal and state governments in general and their social programs in particular – including public schools and social security – and restoring the United States to its oligarchic Gilded Age glory.the-bosses-of-senate

In that new/old United States, we will all work for the One Percent, the Walton family and the Koch brothers and the others. The Republicans already do. And GOP Senators and Congresspeople get paid far better by them than the One Percent will ever pay us. The best that the rest of us can probably hope for is two or three part-time jobs at minimum wage.

As hard as it is to know – exactly – when the GOP’s good work will be done, it’s fairly easy to pinpoint the beginning: the impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton. Congress had practiced obstruction in the past, most notably when Southern Democrats used the filibuster to block or delay civil rights legislation. But the Clinton Impeachment was something new. It was a tactic. A tantrum. The first time to my knowledge that one of the two major political parties in the modern era decided, basically, to prevent governance from proceeding – shut it down – by manufacturing a false crisis. To take its ball and throw it over the fence. House Speaker Newt Gingrich had held the budget hostage for a trial-run tantrum in 1995, but that one had backfired, it was over with quick. The Clinton Impeachment process was the real deal, however. It dragged on and on.

I was in Little Rock, Arkansas, on business in the 1980s and, this one night, I was talking to some locals on Center Street – across from the governor’s mansion – when a limo pulled up. A tall man in a suit got out of the limo accompanied by a woman with big hair in a red dress and spiked heels. I asked the locals who it was. “That’s our governor, Bill Clinton, and his, er, date for the night.” Another man chuckled – in that way men do in the presence of other men on the subject of sex – and said, “He’d be President some day if he could keep it in his pants.”

1992 sex scandal

Bill Clinton couldn’t keep it in his pants and became President of the United States anyway. We voted on that and, for a moment, we decided as a nation that the qualifications for President listed in the Constitution should not include “has not and does not have extramarital relations.” That was a good decision by the Founding Fathers, several of whom had issues in the extramarital department and whose services this country would have been denied had they included a sexual “morals clause.”

You will note – in their infinite wisdom – that Republicans have never suggested some sort of fidelity test for Congressional or Senatorial service. A good thing, too, since – with the exception of Anthony Weiner and his stupid sexting – I can’t think of a national political sex scandal in recent years that hasn’t involved someone from the Grand Old Party.

And there was plenty of hypocrisy to feast upon during the Clinton impeachment period as well. Republican Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Henry Hyde, for instance, was revealed to have been a regular little homewrecker in his reckless youth … actually he was 41 when he began a three-year affair with a married woman. And House Speaker Newt Gingrich had a bad habit of sleeping with his next wife before he was divorced from his last wife … and cheating on them both. It wasn’t sexual improprieties that cost Newt the Speakership, however. The stated reason was ethics violations on a book deal ; the real reason was the GOP’s poor showing in the midterm elections.  Republicans can forgive their colleagues almost anything except losing House and Senate seats.

A little more than a month later – on February 12, 1999 – the Senate failed to convict Clinton on either charge.  But the Impeachment was not a failure. Not for the Republicans. President Clinton’s effectiveness as a leader was over from the moment that a trial became a possibility and was not restored by acquittal.  And the Republicans learned a valuable lesson. That even when they lose, they win. They win by preventing governance and stopping anything good from getting done. They win by further impoverishing the American middle class and deflecting its attention away from the real reasons behind its hardships. They win by hurting the nation they profess to love. A few individual Republicans also got hurt in the process. But, hey, sometimes, you gotta take one for the team. And the GOP playbook then – of distraction, obstruction, and destruction – is their playbook now. It works just fine for them – and for their One Percent constituents – so don’t look for the plays to change anytime soon.

Senator Cruz speaks to reporters in U.S. Capitol in Washington

Good Man, Bad Ideas

Barry Goldwater (January 2, 1909 – May 29, 1998)

Politically, I’m left of Bernie Sanders and have been for many years. But, as a child growing up in Indianapolis, I was a Youth for Goldwater. I wore his campaign buttons on my buttoned-down shirts and put stickers for his 1964 campaign for President on my school notebooks. I even had a picture of Barry (with his clunky black horned-rimmed glasses) in my room.

I was a Young Republican because my parents were Republicans and I hadn’t lived enough or read enough to make up my own mind. I was anti-federal-government, anti-union, anti-tax, anti-welfare, pro-military, pro-business, pro-local-government because Barry Goldwater was those things. His 1960 bestselling book, The Conscience of a Conservative (where this and other rightwing stuffery was spelled out) set the basic conservative agenda for years to come and laid the groundwork for, among other things, libertarianism in its current form and the rise of Ronald Reagan.

Goldwater-Reagan_1964

One way to view the 1964 campaign is Goldwater (unwittingly, of course) as stalking horse for the later presidential bids of Reagan, whose GE-generated stump speech for him put Bonzo to bed for good and made Reagan himself a national figure. Goldwater stood no chance in the election – even my parents knew that – but his conservative ideas were provided with public familiarity if not always credence. And the frequent juxtaposition of the two men invited comparisons that left even Goldwater’s most ardent admirers wondering, “What if?”  Barry was awkward, bumptious, unpredictable, a little sweaty … although generally forthright. Ron was graceful, polished, full of faux outrage and pretend integrity, a better actor than when he was an actor … an optical illusion that “real folks” (including working-class traditional Democrat real folks) thought was real. Goldwater spoke off the cuff and often misspoke. Reagan read the script he was handed and well.

In my heart – even as a child – I knew Goldwater was wrong. And, yet, all these years – and changed opinions – later, I have affection for him. As Senator from Arizona, Goldwater did have integrity, currently in short supply among the populace and pretty much extinct among GOP elected officials. He said what he thought – out loud and in the presence of cameras and tape recorders – with little or no regard for the political cost.

Among his many sins in the eyes of the GOP party faithful, Goldwater harshly criticized his old friend Reagan (as President) over Iran-Contra and other foreign-policy matters. He advised President Nixon – in person and in public – to resign during Watergate and declined to attend the disgraced President’s funeral. When Moral Majority leader, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, was quoted as saying that “every good Christian should oppose Sandra O’Connor” for the Supreme Court, Goldwater replied that “every good Christian should kick Jerry Falwell’s ass.” It was Falwell’s balls that he suggested people kick, but the press cleaned it up for him.

Barry Goldwater also took to task his beloved military for restricting women and for racism. He was vehemently pro gay rights. “You don’t need to be ‘straight’ to fight and die for your country,” Barry famously said. “You just need to shoot straight.” And Mr. Anti-Government Conservative was in favor of stringent regulation of business regarding the environment and pollution.

Historian Rick Perlstein is writing a lively series of books on American politics during the second half of the 20th century. The first volume is entitled Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (2009). It’s a great, enlightening book about a fascinating time in our history. If you’re in the mood for something more admiring, you might try Pure Goldwater (2008), cowritten by John Dean – yes, that John Dean – and Barry’s son, Barry Goldwater, Jr.

Trump: “I Am the Greatest!”

ali liston

I finally listened to The Donald’s so-called stump speech in its entirety – as delivered this past Pearl Harbor Day aboard the decommissioned USS Yorktown in South Carolina, a Trump-friendly state – and my first thought was “how sad.” Donald Trump has stolen his speech – his whole persona, really – from America’s most famous Muslim, Muhammad Ali.

What one learns in the Trump Speech is that he, Donald Trump, is the smartest, the bravest, the strongest, the most able, the most popular, the most truthy candidate in the field; and that he, Donald Trump, will be The Greatest President the World Has Ever Known. More than half of his one-hour show was devoted to how dumb, scared, weak, incompetent, unpopular, and untruthy the other contestants are compared to Trump, just like Ali used to beat up on his opponents before they ever entered the ring.  And he has the ratings (i.e., poll numbers) to prove it!

donald-trump-the-greatest

No evidence was brought forth to support any of Trump’s assertions,  except for the aforementioned “ratings” and the occasional Trumped-up anecdote from his business life. But that was also part of Ali’s routine, at least in the beginning. As he stated, in later years, “I Am the Greatest. I said that before I even knew I was. I figured if I said it enough, I would convince the world I really was the greatest.” And, in fairness to Trump, Ali stole his routine, too: from Gorgeous George, the favorite pro wrestler of his youth. In Ali’s case, however, he improved on the routine and, with one possible exception (I think the Liston fight was aboveboard, but not everyone does) none of his fights were fixed.

Which brings us back to The Donald, who has been doing his mediocre Muhammad Ali impersonation for decades in his business life, in books, on a TV show, and now in the Trump Speech. What an empty and sad affair it is. I’d give the speech a thumbs-down on style alone without even considering content. Not that there is any content. Trump has no policies and no policy advisors on his small staff, which is the main reason that I still don’t believe he’s in a serious bid for anything but attention. And he has nothing to say, really, when he’s not talking about himself.

trump and trump

Why is Donald Trump persisting in this? In the speech, he admitted his initial motivation in filing papers was because his latest immigrant wife told him to shit or get off the pot. But the deeper motivation for Trump’s Ali Act is to show his Dad – Fred Trump, the real estate guy and former Klan supporter, the rich guy who lent him money and started him in business – that he, Fred’s son, is strong, brave, able, popular, truthy, racisty, and – dare I say it? – loved. By everyone, of course, except Fred, who’s been dead 15 years. And was never given to expressions of affection.

Why do the rest of us have to suffer when sons go unloved?

P.S. Fred Trump was a Klan supporter during the KKK’s second incarnation in the 1920s, when its emphasis was primarily anti-immigrant.