Insensate to music whose demands on this listener went no further than guaranteeing deepening impatience in car service waiting areas, I’ve turned to Kenny Rogers in the last forty-eight hours with the fervor the late country idol channeled into his Dolly Parton duet. Spring in South Florida means watching scolds of jays compete with mockingbirds for telephone wire bragging rights; the chaos of trills and screeches interferes with my hamhanded attempt to record my first class lecture, but otherwise I’m grateful for the reminder that, as Sting once averred, there is a deeper world than this.
I’ve been keeping an eye on the degree to which the GOP-controlled Florida legislature has eviscerated Amendment 4, passed by 65 percent of voters in 2018. Regarded by its authors as a way to re-enfranchise felons who’ve completed their sentences, Amendment 4 has become an excuse to collect the bureaucratic, anodyne twenty-first century version of poll taxes. If the authors had wanted their amendment to require court costs from applicants seeking voting rights restoration, they would’ve said so. Besides, the state lacks an agency that keeps track of restitution to families. “What we have now is an administrative nightmare,” said U.S. district judge Robert Hinkle last month.
I hope bookshops across the land and Amazon are doing brisk business selling copies of Death in Venice. Thanks to spring break, Chapel Hill was sparsely populated, but the coronavirus threat vaporized the airport populations of Raleigh-Durham and Miami. At the Destroyer show spectators stood at least ten feet apart, as if to signal they’d read up on “social distancing,” the season’s new buzzword. No waits of any kind on either end. Strangers showed a scrupulous courtesy. When a woman picked up a dollar bill I’d dropped at a Hudson News, I joked, “Sure you wanna touch that?” She smiled, “We’re in this together.” On my flight our captain got lachrymose stressing how “you fine ladies and gentlemen” made it possible for him to collect a paycheck for the sake of his wife and three daughters (the passengers applauded, including, dear reader, this writer). No doubt this flight isn’t jammed under normal circumstances, but counted twenty-one passengers on this American Eagle jet. Continue reading
A depraved toad, a loathsome creature who with Newt Gingrich is responsible for the tenor of political conversations since Poppy Bush sat in the Oval Office, Rush Limbaugh got diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. He called Barack Obama “Barack the Magic Negro.” To legalize gay marriage, he said, was akin to “normalizing” pedophilia. He implied Parkinson’s survivor Michael J. Fox got off meds for political purposes, which makes sense: he admitted he was an abuser of prescription drugs for political purposes.
For Limbaugh — I refuse to dignify him with the nickname — people didn’t exist except as targets or allies; if he had gay relatives or knew any sort of woman, his charlatanism looked more evil. More than Roy Cohn, he was a menace because he commanded millions of radio listeners and didn’t use innuendo. As a friend on a message board wrote, he was more of a nihilist than the punks could ever have been. When he dies, the non-conservative Beltway media will applaud him because it’s too cowardly too acknowledge the boot he pressed against their necks.
Lifelong MSNBC denizens George T. Conway, Steve Schmidt, and Rick Wilson (for real: they must rent rooms in the building) cobble together an NYT op ed sure to make Nicole Wallace and Joe Scarborough’s heart pitter-patter. The key bit:
Indeed, national Republicans have done far worse than simply march along to Mr. Trump’s beat. Their defense of him is imbued with an ugliness, a meanness and a willingness to attack and slander those who have shed blood for our country, who have dedicated their lives and careers to its defense and its security, and whose job is to preserve the nation’s status as a beacon of hope.
Congressional Republicans have embraced and copied Mr. Trump’s cruelty and defended and even adopted his corruption. Mr. Trump and his enablers have abandoned conservatism and longstanding Republican principles and replaced it with Trumpism, an empty faith led by a bogus prophet. In a recent survey, a majority of Republican voters reported that they consider Mr. Trump a better president than Lincoln.
To prove they know their historical shit, the column also includes a disquisition on Dan Sickles, about as necessary as the guitar solo in Wings’ “My Love.” But let me return to the excerpt. When Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe decry the “ugliness” and “meanness” with which the GOP “slander” men and women in the armed forces, I wonder if Rick Wilson remembers the ad he designed for Saxby Chambliss in 2002 in which he turned the amputee Max Cleland into a War on Terror quisling. When the trio lament how conservatism has lost its compass, I point them to Saint Ronnie’s deficits and Bush II’s tax cuts, as a result of which the Democrats succeeding them cleaned up the mess yet were denounced, in a ghastly and masterful act of projection, as tax-and-spend libs by Le Bon-Taylor-Taylor and their ilk. When further in the column the Powerpuff Girls denounce the president’s reduction of the vision thing “to what immediately faces him — the problems and risks he chronically brings upon himself and for which others, from countless contractors and companies to the American people, ultimately bear the heaviest burden,” I ask George Conway if he remembers his role in turning the Paula Jones lawsuit into the Monica Lewinsky case because Bill Clinton’s pecker wasn’t Ronnie or Poppy’s. When Moe, Larry, and Curly question Trump’s moral fitness, I poke Steve Schmidt and point to a photo of Sarah Palin, whom he created and later, when that MSNBC gig beckoned, wanted credit for destroying.
Did I mention the Iraq War?
Culmination or aberration, I ask often. Why not both? An aberrant culmination. Architects in the creation of a political party comprised of resentments toward women for wanting control of their bodies, the poor for begging for a stake in their government, and homosexuals for demanding the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment, Conway, Schmidt, and Wilson want a return to a Republicanism that spoke in reasonable sentences, offended no one by name, and offered token gestures of bipartisan comity — they want Chancellor Palpatine. Until they recognize that the conservatism they think Trumpists have sullied represents that conservatism’s late stage putrescence, they have no right to preen.
Inspired by Brenda Wineapple’s fine recent study of President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, Alex Pareene intertwines the similarities between Johnson and Trump’s voting bases, the political establishment’s fetish for moderation, and having the moral clarity to recognize what is at stake by leaving Trump in office for the sake of keeping his attention long enough to sign legislation.
I’ve written often about the snow job that teachers did on us high schoolers when we got to Reconstruction. Presented as a well-intentioned mangling that ushered in the so-called Gilded Age, Reconstruction was taught as if textbook writers had toiled at the bottom of the ocean to avoid dealing with the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts passed a century after the Civil War ended; if they endorsed those attempts to redress a hundred years of spilled blood, then a good faith argument required them to credit the Radical Republicans of 1866 and 1867 for wrenching leadership away from the racist demagogue in the White House whom Abraham Lincoln, in an attempt to woo War Democrats, had placed on the ticket a few years earlier.
The Radicals were right about nearly everything, and the moderates—who made a big show of caution and deference to the Constitution and generous accommodation to the office of the president—were plainly wrong. The ones who didn’t even have skin in the game but who wanted representation for those who did were correct to be fanatical in their pursuit of a more perfect country—and, more important, they were right about the baleful and regressive consequences of moderation in the face of extremist and reactionary unreason.
And any actually reasonable observer of American politics over the last several decades would have to conclude that it isn’t the diversity of one party that has led to gridlock. Rather, it’s been the brittle, homogeneous outlook of a conservative party that increasingly counts on a base that is overwhelmingly white and male—but, of course, anyone posing as a moderate interlocutor of good faith can blame their extremism on the diversity of the other side. “Radical liberals made me more racist” is, alas, not a remotely novel claim in American politics. Wineapple writes how, after Johnson angrily declared that “this is a country for white men, and, by God, as long as I am president it shall be a government for white men,” The Chicago Times—a reasonable Republican paper of the time—wrote: “If he used the language attributed to him, it was undoubtedly in reply to fanaticism and impudence.” In other words: The Radical Republicans made him do it.
We’ve heard variations on the last sentence from our Trump-loving relatives: if liberals didn’t push bathroom bills, paper straws, panic over rising seas, and an equitable health care system, I wouldn’t have voted for the racist!
In the last week we’ve heard testimony from career diplomats that in another era would have flipped a couple of querulous Republicans and instead will remind Americans which party cares about the Constitution. I waffled too on the political merits of impeachment; I’m no legislator. If Pareene is chiding Democratic leadership for abjuring its constitutional duties until early October, he’s not wrong, which makes the timing of this essay unusual.
One of the leitmotifs of this blog is reminding people that a political world existed before Donald J. Trump’s election in which conservatives were nabobs manipulated by the mountebanks they elected. “Personal freedom” meant “helping the wealthy avoid taxes.” Before they coined “religious liberty” in 2016, I dealt with “family values,” which meant “Abortions for the rich, sodomy if you can get away with it.” Continue reading