SOUP TO NUTS TO NAZIS (Monthly Book Report: February 2019)

In January, as a New Year’s Resolution, I committed myself to read at least five books a month. In February, I decided to increase the goal to ten. Met it! Top of the world, Ma, and all that. With all the other irons I have in the fire, I doubt I can keep the pace, but, for now…

Barrack-Room Ballads (1892)
Rudyard Kipling

Kipling’s famous collection of poems dedicated to the British Tommy at their Empire’s high tide (you know, the one we’ve tried to slavishly imitate). He knew that Empire’s sun-never-sets-blood-never-dries underbelly first hand. He also knew what and who maintained it, and that hey did so shorn of any glory except what a simpatico spirit such as himself could shed on them.

And, oh, by the way, nearly every line still sings. He wasn’t just a great popular poet, but a distinctly musical one, at least the equal of Stephen Foster for rhythm, power, and ingenuity. I imagine he taught the Beatles a thing or two, if only subconsciously.

He was far more political of course than either Foster or John Lennon. He had seen what was under the underbelly as well and, cold-eyed as he often was about what was glimmering up top (where the merchant and officer classes rubbed shoulders with celebrity, royalty and each other–sound familiar?), was still more wary of collapse than of decadence. At least until the Great War came along, he was the poet laureate of the Devil he knew and this is where he found his purest form of expression. Recommended as an antidote to Gilbert and Sullivan, and vice versa.

The Story of Motown (1979)
Peter Benjaminson

A publishing industry quickie (they proliferated in the late seventies) that serves as a sketch biography of Berry Gordy, Jr., one of the most important men in the history of 20th century America.

It’s earned a reprint because it catches Motown at the moment of its imminent decline, which, not coincidentally, was closely related to Gordy’s increased detachment from his creation. That is was Gordy’s creation, and a near-perfect reflection of his titanic strengths and not inconsiderable weaknesses for as long as he remained at its core, Benjaminson leaves no doubt. There’s no way he can do full justice to either in the space allotted and nobody in a position to provide that space was looking for a door-stopper tome on Berry Gordy or Motown in 1979. You have to put up with the usual narrative shortcuts (many of which I spend my blog-life refuting), but this is a good, swift introduction to a subject which, like the American Revolution, we can never know enough about.

Camino Island (2017)
John Grisham

Though I’ve seen several of the movies based on his work, and they’ve all been pretty good, this is the first Grisham novel I’ve read. I’m assured by those in the know that it’s atypical and would have guessed as much without those assurances. Even here, I can attest he’s the good popular novelist I always heard he was. It’s an easy read. The only thing missing is the necessary ingredient in any pulp that seeks to provide something more than a temporary diversion: a sense of danger.

It’s not that I didn’t want anybody to die. I didn’t. Or that I wouldn’t have felt sad if they did. I would have.

It’s that I never thought they would. I’ll read more in the future for sure, but I might choose more carefully.

The Dud Avocado  (1958)
Elaine Dundy

Dundy is known to Elvis fans for writing Elvis and Gladys, the best book about E’s relationship with his mother, and one of the best books about him from any angle.

This is her only famous novel and it has devoted fans across the board.

Now that I’ve finally read it, I’ll call myself a semi-devoted fan. It’s an American-in-Paris tale with a twist, the twist being not so much that Dundy’s protagonist is a woman, but that she’s a generation late (check the publication date) and knows it without quite being willing to admit it, even to herself. The comedy, quite sharp and satisfying, comes from the narrator’s understanding of how self-conscious and temporary it all is, not just for her, but for everyone. Add that to a sharp, satirical eye for physical and psychological detail and the act of reading it can be judged very much like seeing Paris once upon a time. It’s something everyone should do at least once.

Whether the necessity of reading The Dud Avocado in order to feel you’ve experienced one of life’s great pleasures will fade along with the idea of Paris itself is something we will discover when that idea is gone. For now, if you can’t quite feel the vitality of the idea itself, you can at least feel the echo as you read along, chuckling where you once might have laughed out loud.

The Heat of the Day (1948)
Elizabeth Bowen

I spend a lot of reading time in the company of good writers–the older I get the less patience I have for anyone who is less than good.

But it’s always a little shocking to find myself back in the company of a great one. The only previous novel of Bowen’s I’d read was Eva Trout. That was a long time ago and made enough of an impression that I knew I could never renew the acquaintance casually.

This one involves a strange menage-a-trois, the more interesting half of which is never consummated either physically or emotionally (hand a merely good writer that scenario and see if they can pull it off). It takes place in war-time Britain and portrays in luminous, hard-hearted detail a handsome widow’s relationship with the two men who seek the replace her husband, one a suspected spy, the other the government agent pursuing him. The plot is the plot, and a good one, but there are only three or four ways it can go, and it goes one of them. Any special notice the novel receives or deserves (and it has received and deserved quite a bit), is due to Bowen’s exquisite command of language, which is on a level with Mrs. Wharton and Henry James. If that’s your sort of thing, this is for you. If it’s not, you’ll have to be satisfied with never knowing what you’re missing.

Don’t be surprised if that includes Elizabeth Bowen having your number.

Don’t worry, though. You are hardly alone.

The One From the Other (2006)
Philip Kerr

Fifteen years after his Berlin Noir trilogy was a bit of a sensation in the world of hard-boiled crime fiction, Philip Kerr resurrected his Berlin-born detective, Bernie Gunther, in a post-war setting.

As often happens with successful pulp novelists, Kerr’s books got longer over time as his ambition grew.

As does not often happen, this one pays off. The length entails growth for a change. His post-Chandlerisms still don’t work. (Have they ever worked for anyone but Chandler?) But this one has an emotional resonance that goes beyond the milieu and the plot and touches the detective himself.

Post-War Germany as depicted here is a place where there is literally no safe harbor and Bernie Gunther’s attempt to find one ends in real tragedy. I look forward to finding out if Kerr resolved the danger Ross Macdonald–one of the few pulp writers who managed to go this far and further–identified as using up your character. MacDonald’s solution was to give his detective no dimension at all, to have him operate as a ghost in the machinery of his surroundings. Kerr has cut himself off from that possibility. Bernie Gunther now has dimension.

It will be fun finding out where Kerr took it from here.

The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (1996)
Eugene Davidson

This is the second part of Davidson’s magisterial study in political character. The title is odd on the surface since the vast bulk of this lengthy book details (some might say ad nauseam) deals with what most would consider Hitler at high tide as, step-by-step he conquered or cowed all of continental Europe from the Enligsh Channel to the suburbs of Moscow.

But Davidson’s point–which he’s not alone in making, though few have gone to such lengths or addressed the issue with this much scholarship and erudition–is that Hitler’s weakness came from the same source as his strength. That the megalomaniac is always bound to overreach because every success can only tempt him to go further.

That’s a comforting thought I suppose for those who survived him. But, of course, tyrants just as evil, rapacious and ambitious (Hitler and Mao come to mind) have died in bed with all their dreams intact (as Mao’s still is).  By focusing only on Hitler’s words and deeds as they related to his accrual of first political, then military, then imperial, power, and avoiding speculation about the inner man, Davidson has certainly rendered an important service. It should make anyone who has the stomach for it want to look deeper…

Large tomes on Hitler, Stalin and Mao that promise to do just that have rested on my shelves for years.

I feel them beckoning.

The Plot Against America (2004)
Philip Roth

Philip Roth. Hmmmm…

Good writer. I might have guessed that from the only book of his I’ve read previously which was the slight-if-engagiing Goodbye Columbus.

Then again, my attempts to read a few others of his, plus my encounters with his generation’s other ponderous heavyweights (Mailer, Updike, Bellow), had put me off this for years, so any surprises I discovered regarding this late-period novel’s crisp delivery were pleasant ones.

The main problem is that he has set the novel in an alternate universe and he’s not the man for the job, even if he assigned it to a prepubescent version of himself (named Philip Roth no less). Philip K. Dick would have known that the story here was inside Charles A. Lindbergh, the man Roth has winning the presidency in 1940 and leading America down the path of isolationism, effectively siding with Hitler in his fight against the Brits and Soviets.

It’s not one of history’s more likely what-ifs. Despite being a leading spokesman for the original America First movement, and a well-known laissez-faire attitude about the Nazis when he wasn’t praising them, Lindbergh never expressed the least interest in running for office. There were many he could have had for the asking, though the presidency wasn’t one of them. He’d have had to fight for that, so to make his parallel universe persona credible we would need to be inside him.

Without that perspective, which Dick would have known was essential and Roth doesn’t even attempt, this impeccably-written novel would go nowhere even if the author had the stomach to bring his tragedies front and center instead of assigning them to the margins. They’re still felt, but more as an exercise in mental gymnastics than a gut-punch.

Not just what if, then, but merely what if.

Wasted opportunity then. All that good writing, too. Shame that.

Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight Over  World War II, 1939-1941(2013)
Lynne Olson

All of which is why I’m glad I read The Plot Against America in tandem with this history of the wrangling between the interventionists and the isolationists in the years leading up to America’s entry into WWII.

Without resorting to the usual minutiae, Olson is able to get at the essential characters of the story’s two protagonists in a way that gives them just enough dimension to see them in the human terms such history usually deny such outsized characters. Somewhat alike in their icy aloofness and relative indifference to any damage they might be doing to the people closest to them, they differed in one key aspect: Roosevelt was a thoroughly political man who accepted socialization as part of the process while Lindbergh was a thoroughly apolitical man who found himself dragged into political situations because of his enormous fame and the area of his expertise (flying) which happened to coincide with military interests that couldn’t exactly be ignored with the world on fire and America bound to play some role.

What that role would be was a question that consumed both men. Lindbergh ended up having his personal and historical reputation shattered by his belief (shared by tens of millions of Americans even after the fall of France and right up to Dec. 7, 1941) that no European war was worth what an American intervention would cost. Once the evils of National Socialism were fully exposed by its defeat, no one who had been blind to the known depredations of the thirties could expect to fully recover.

Roosevelt, on the other hand, by far the more devious of the two on matters of principle, was vaulted to near-sainthood by having his half-hearted commitment tuned into full-bore interventionism by events. (Before Dec. 7 he was all for things like conscription and Lend-Lease, but little more committed to the idea of American boys sacrificing their lives for the good of humanity than the strict isolationists Lindbergh represented, and often accused of dragging his feet by those who are always ready to commit someone else’s life to their latest cause. In other words, the political man was a political realist and the foot he kept in each camp might have ensured his reputation irrespective of Amerian’s involvement or noninvolvement, so long as neither prospect involved actually losing.)

Olson does a fine job of telling the basic story, and that job entails leaving a crucial aspect of Lindbergh’s character, his pursuit of a double-life, until the very end, where it damns him more thoroughly than even his most dubious public pronouncements (of which there was no shortage).

Whether Roosevelt himself is redeemed only by forces beyond his control or deserves full credit for such foresight as he possessed, given that it was just enough to preserve Western Civilization for a few decades past its sell-by date, is left to the eye of the beholder.

The Last Battle (1966)
Cornelius Ryan

The last leg (though second published) of Ryan’s epic trilogy of the Allied invasion of Europe from Normandy onwards. As the title indicates, this one is dedicated to the fall of Berlin.

The books are all classics of  the New Journalism Ryan helped invent, of history and of popular literature. Though unlike the others (The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far) this one did not contribute a common phrase to the English language, it is just as thorough, just as fast-paced and just as vital. If anyone has bested his accounts of the events to which he chose to dedicate himself, I’m not aware of it and in any case, it’s unlikely any serious scholarship going forward can fail to take him into account. He might end up being the Edward Gibbon of the Reich’s defeat.

I waited far too long to read them all. Ryan’s are among the rare books I can finish at my age and feel like I’m finally a little bit closer to being educated.

…And now I must go start working on next month!

TIMING IS EVERYTHING (Sunday Reading: 2/17/19)

Sorry for the lack of posting this week. Winter blahs. (Yep, even in Florida.)

What I have been doing is reading a lot, with my attention now turning, as it often does, towards WWII. It’s mostly Nazis and wannabes, but I was struck by this passage on a Saturday night. Since I have to work Sunday, I’m getting the Sunday reading in a few hours early:

He (FDR) was still popular, of course, with millions of voters, particularly those who’d been aided by his economic and social policies. But an increasing number of Americans seemed to be tiring of him and the New Deal, which, although it had alleviated many of the problems of the Depression, had not come up with a solution for ending it. “The President’s leadership in domestic affairs had accomplished everything that he could accomplish,”  Attorney General Robert Jackson later remarked. “I do not think there would have been any justification for a third term on the basis of his domestic program.”

In the 1938 congressional elections, Republicans had picked up eight governorships, eight seats in the Senate, and more than eighty seats in the House. According to polls in the spring of 1940, the Republicans showed more strength than Democrats in a majority of states. “The shift toward the GOP is now so marked that nothing short of a Rooseveltian miracle . . . can save the election for the Democrats.” Time concluded in April.

Hitler’s invasion of Western Europe provided that miracle.

(Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight over World War II, 1939-1941, Lynne Olson, 2013)

One of the books I’m co-reading is Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, which takes place in an alternate universe where Charles Lindbergh becomes President in 1940 (and sides with the Nazis).  It’s well -written. Roth had, by then, pruned his generation’s tendency to use eight adjectives where one would do. But it’s pure fantasy. Roosevelt’s opposition in 1940 turned out to be Wendell Wilkie, who had as much political experience as Donald Trump and snatched the Republican nomination out of thin air because–and only because–he was the only  GOP candidate who was as staunchly interventionist as Roosevelt.

When the Chinese and the Russians are dividing up everything west of the Rockies in about twenty years, I only hope somebody will be willing to do for us what both the major party nominees of 1940, and, ultimately, even Charles Lindbergh, were willing to do for France.

JUST WHAT IS IDENTITY ANYWAY?

Somewhere there used to be picture of me–I haven’t seen it in a while so I’m not sure I still have it and, if I don’t, no one does–aged about eight or nine. I’m wearing a Confederate hat and carrying (if memory serves) a toy musket.

I look like a regular Johnny Reb and where I was raised that wasn’t something anybody gave a second thought. Regarding the Civil War (which I never noticed anybody making a big deal about calling the War Between the States, though I heard the term), my parents had the attitude shared by most genteel southerners a century on: Be proud of your family and your Southern heritage son. Feel free to take a Rebel’s stand in the back yard war games, even if the neighbor boys from Indiana insist on fighting you for the privilege (i.e., don’t hesitate to remind ’em who the real southerner is).

And, oh by the way: Thank God the Yankees won.

With that for a background, once I got past playing back yard war games (along about the fourth grade), I never gave much thought to being Southern. I never saw much pride or shame in it, or in any other part of my “identity”–White, Male, Hetero (once I learned what that meant), American. I was happy to be all those things–never had a problem with it. But I never saw the point in being proud of any state you were merely born into.

The only part of my identity I’ve ever taken any interest in, let alone pride, is the Christian part.

That’s because it’s the only identity I chose, as opposed to being born with.

Just how much effect that choice has had might best be judged by what others have trouble believing about me.

I don’t generally go around introducing myself to people as a Christian. I’ve never shied away from it. My belief is that it should be evident in my behavior. If people know me long enough or well enough they’ll figure it out. If they’re interested in knowing more, they’ll ask.

The funny thing is, when someone asks and I answer, they are almost always confused, often to the point rejecting my sincerity. (This was perhaps best expressed by a high school classmate who said “Aw, you’re going to Hell just like the rest of us. You’re just not gonna have any fun along the way.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him he was wrong twice so I just smiled.)

I get a lot of But you’re too….

Too what?

Here’s a few I’ve heard, most of them more than a few times:

Too...open-minded, nonjudgmental, tolerant, smart, humble, even-tempered, laid-back, good-humored, ironic.

There are more, but you get the gist.

Except for intelligence, which is genetic, every quality I possess that surprises non-Christians is a product of Christian teaching–including the ability to be no more than bemused by the very confusion Christ taught his followers to expect.

The man others observe is not, by any stretch, who I was born to be, but who I became by enormous effort–which is why, to whatever extent I’ve achieved any improvement on my nature, I’m proud of it.

I only mention this to differentiate it from the rest of my identity.

As little as I’ve thought about my “southernness” I’ve thought far less about the rest.

Because, really, life’s too short.

But, once in a while, something–or a series of somethings–forces me to look one of my other identities in the face.

Most often, it’s that very Southernness.

My blogging idol, Sheila O’Malley (a Rhode Island native who lives in New York), has a regular feature where she lists what she’s been listening to on her Ipod and makes brief, often witty, comments. It’s one of my favorite things she does. On one of the recent ones she listed a song by the LoCash Cowboys, a modern country act of whose existence I was previously unaware, and part of her comment was:

Now listen. These guys jam. Meant to be played loud. Fun, in a lot of ways. But they’re so defensive. Their entire thing is “We’re better than them snobs up east” which is just … My God, get over it. You lost the war.

That’s a legitimate criticism of a certain tiresome attitude. …until that last part.

First of all, nobody gets over anything as traumatic as existential defeat. Nobody ever has and nobody ever will. If you don’t believe me, listen to black people sing sometime.

The best anybody ever does is pretend for a while–or find some useful outlet (like singing, or playing an instrument) to pour themselves into as a form of release. But that’s not “getting over it.” That’s just bringing it close, where you can grab it by the throat before it grabs you.

Sheila’s a big favorite of mine and I’m the calmest person I know (all that Christian training)…but that last part My God, get over it. You lost the war. made me want to find a Johnny Reb hat and take a picture with a musket that ain’t a toy.

I got over that, of course. I might have gotten over it sooner if I hadn’t been sufficiently interested to look up LoCash Cowboys. I found out there were two of them. I couldn’t make it through one of their songs on YouTube, but my impression was they sounded about as Southern as Joan Baez. That didn’t exactly do anything for my blood pressure.

Then I went to Wikipedia and found out they were from Baltimore and Kokomo.

What the hell war did they lose?

I didn’t bother Sheila with any of this and I won’t.

And, like I say, I got over it soon enough. It wasn’t like losing.

But the world never lets you rest.

A few weeks ago, goons were out taking over the streets of Portland, Oregon again. This time it was Antifa, except it wasn’t their if you don’t stop being a fascist I’ll beat your head in with this lead pipe schtick, but their, we’re closing this city street because we can schtick.

It got interesting when one of the drivers they were intimidating said he was from North Carolina. I think he was trying to point out that he didn’t know his way around and he really preferred to go down the street they were blocking so he wouldn’t risk getting lost.

Whatever his reason, you can hear their response here. (For those who don’t want to waste three minutes of your life, it’s the old you’re-from-the-south-so-you-must-be-in-the-KKK routine.)

This is where it gets personal.

My mother’s family was from North Carolina.

They were all a bunch of rock-ribbed Republicans. Southern Republicans. Southern Republicans in the days when that guaranteed you were in the minority…..and the KKK’s crosshairs. They were Republicans because, in those days (she was born in 1919, the youngest of eight), the Democrats were the party of segregation and Jim Crow (and, yes, the KKK). They despised Franklin Roosevelt because, to them, he was just another Yankee Democrat who made sweetheart deals with race-baiting, KKK-loving governors to gin up votes from their party machines all across the South.

That might not be all Roosevelt was, of course. But that’s who he was to them…because they had to live with it.

That’s what it means to lose. You can explain yourself all you want, but you’ll still end up getting lectures on morality, (not to mention getting over it), from the people who sent Ted Kennedy back to the U.S. Senate seven times after Chappaquiddick.

And there will always be somebody who will tell you to go back to North Carolina and be with the KKK…whose tactics they have adopted wholesale.

Thank God the Yankees won. I’m never gonna wear my Johnny Reb hat again.

But that doesn’t mean I stopped noticing….or forgot what losing means.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwZlhRA0UmA

WHAT’S THAT YOU SAY? POWER CORRUPTS?

Who knew?

On the surface, he was his usual imperturbable, confident, genial self. In reality, however, he was shaken, resentful, angry, and determined to get even. Francis Biddle, who served as solicitor general and attorney general under Roosevelt, once described him as “an Old Testament Christian, who believed that his friends should be rewarded and retribution visited on his enemies, for….once his will was marshaled behind a defined vision, it became sinful for others to interfere with its fruition.”

According to the journalists Joseph Alsop and Turner Catledge, FDR “had made up his mind that if he had to suffer, the men in Congress whom he held responsible would suffer doubly later on.” Urged on by his closest advisers, he decided to lead an effort in the 1938 congressional primaries to defeat a select group of conservative Democratic senators and congressmen who had opposed the court-packing proposal. (Wheeler [the Montana senator who had led the opposition], who was not up for reelection that year, had his income tax return audited for the first time in his life.)

(Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight Over World War II, 1939–1941, Lynne Olson, 2013)

Franklin Roosevelt earned his monument in Washington. But there’s a reason the Founders put checks and balances in their system…and a reason the Creator put limits on a man’s lifespan.

I mean, if I had played a game and substituted Donald Trump’s name for FDR’s….hahahahaha!

WHAT WE SHOULD EXPECT FROM INTELLECTUALS….

Nothing.

Here’s one I ran across today:

“Every one of the great charismatic leaders of this century ended up a maniac. He destroyed everything and finally himself—in Stalin’s purges; in Hitler’s ‘final solution’; in Mao’s ‘Revolution.’”

Peter F. Drucker, The New Realities (1989)

I confess Peter Drucker’s name only rang a tiny bell. I had to look him up. Turned out he wasn’t a village idiot but one of those free market thinkers from the Austrian school who spent the better part of the post-WWII era getting us into this mess and wouldn’t have known freedom if it left it’s foot up his crack.

Sharp boys they were.

For the record, Roosevelt and Churchill were pretty charismatic. Also for the record, Stalin and Mao died in bed and in power, old men worshiped by at least as many millions as they slaughtered. Unless Satan was waiting for them on the other side, neither man need have harbored a single regret or gone to his reward any way but smiling.

Only a professional intellectual–petted and paid for–could blind himself to all that in the space of two sentences.

Me, if I wanted to tie present circumstances to past disasters (as the blogger who posted the quote surely did), I’d avoid cults of personality and be more direct. As in, “Won’t be water, be fire next time…”

Suckers.

 

COMFORTING….OR DEPRESSING? (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #91)

Just read this quote about a man who was:

“An Old Testament Christian, who believed that his friends should be rewarded and retribution visited on his enemies, for….once his will was marshaled by a defined vision, it became sinful for others to interfere with its fruition.”

Those are the words of a close confidant and political ally, surely describing a would be tyrant.

This guy?

donaldtrump1

Or this guy?

fdrimage1

Aw, you know which guy it is. There’s only one way it would be interesting.

From Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh and America’s Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941, Lynne Olson, 2013…The quote is from Roosevelt’s Attorney General, Francis Biddle)

 

 

SOME THOUGHTS I DIDN’T HEAR FROM ANYONE ELSE….

Per that “election” thing (going past Isaiah, who reminded us to “Put not your faith in princes”):

Point 1: Yes, there were many encomiums to how “historical’ it all was. I didn’t hear anyone say that no one else, living or dead, could have done what Donald Trump just did. This will become clearer next time around when Mark Cuban throws his hat in the Democratic ring and gets the usual four percent that Billionaire X gets when he tries to take over a mainstream political party.

Point 2: Trump’s campaign strategy was twofold and it never changed or wavered from day one. He bet that he could, by force of personality and riffing a catchy White Boy Blues on a few constant sorrows, hold the generic Republican coalition together and also pull in enough voters who came out to vote only for him to put him over the top. I suspect he didn’t do quite as well on either front as he hoped…but he still smashed the expectations of conventional wisdom. (Caveat: I encountered some of this reasoning in the fringes of the blog-world–i.e., what some people have started calling “the alt-right,”–but it was never put quite succinctly. Everybody I read either over-analyzed it or just yelled Trumpslide! at the top of their rhetorical lungs. In mainstream outlets it was never put coherently at all, being reduced to mutterings about Trump’s “hidden” voters, who no one allowed on television believed in until last night.

Point 3: Blacks and Latinos shifted a few percentage points in Trump’s favor vs. Romney four years ago. That shift is why he’s president-elect this morning. I wonder how long before Good Liberals start blaming them for averting paradise, the way Ralph Nader did in 2000?

Point 4: On the most pressing issues–immigration and the economy–Trump ran as a New Deal Democrat and Clinton as a Reagan Republican. (Woody Guthrie wrote “Deportees” about FDR’s Bracero program, not Reagan’s blanket amnesty, and it wasn’t Ms. Clinton who ran on bringing Glass-Steagall back and overturning NAFTA.)

Point 5: Trump understood that harping on “social” issues was meaningless. Yes, he had to mention them (usually when he was asked about them point blank) and yes, he got in hot water a time or two for not having developed a coherent position about abortion or gay rights or transgender bathrooms, etc. But social issues are adjudicated by Culture. Presidents play little role. That’s why the man who supposedly can’t let go of anything, kept letting go of his social-issue “mistakes” and turning them into here-and-gone twenty-four hour news cycles. Or, make that “news” cycles.

Point 6: Trump realized that, just like everyone else, present day conservatives—even church-going Evangelicals–have been roughened by the cultural collapse that has benefited him so enormously. Sorry, the little old lady in the second pew every Sunday morning at First Methodist might find talk of “pussy-grabbing” from a man on his third marriage distasteful, but she’s not shocked anymore. And just because she’s still too well bred to say, “Yeah, but will he punch those suckers in the face?” out loud doesn’t mean she’s not thinking it.

Point 7: The charismatic one always beats the stiff. Always.

Point 8: Having created a culture where “everyone has their own truth” should we be surprised by the success of a man who embodies the concept? Not that it really even does, but you didn’t think that was only going to help lonely weirdos, did you? Speaking as a lonely weirdo, get the hell up off of me.

Point 9: America’s enduring, subliminal yearning for a Royal Family has gone unremarked, no matter that Trump’s brood of tall, handsome children makes the Kennedys look like The Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review and Timing Association.* Camelot is taken, but don’t be surprised if Trump makes some like-minded concept stick to the national imagination like a squashed bug to a windshield. I have a sneaky feeling it will start with an aside at a press conference where President Trump starts riffing off the cuff about “This Shakespeare guy. I was reading him the other night and boy…I mean, I never had time to read him before I was leader of the free world. I was always too busy, but now I’ve read him and boy he’s really something. MacBeth, sure, who wants to be him? I say, Melania, don’t get any ideas! But Prince Hal? I see a lot of myself in that one…and Falstaff, too. What a guy! I feel like I’m both of them somehow. Sometimes I’m one, sometimes I’m the other. Sometimes I’m both at once and how great is that?” Also, don’t be surprised if the media spends a few days chaffing him for getting “off message”–they aren’t going to stop feeling superior to those they report on and report to just because they’ve been dumped under a manure truck…they’ll still come crawling back–before swallowing the narrative whole and referring to the impending Trump Dynasty as “Shakespearean Royalty” by default. Once that’s properly absorbed, liberals can start an endless stream of clever tweets about Ivanka going all Goneril on him.

Point 10: Bill Clinton has now accomplished his life’s one real goal, which was to humiliate his wife on the biggest possible stage. Wait, you thought all those well-timed “gaffes” in 2008 and 2016 were…unintentional? Please. I eagerly await the forthcoming Wikileaks release of the video showing Bubba and Trump, on the day they cooked this whole thing up, sharing a hooker and a cigar, perhaps in the Mar-A-Lago honeymoon suite where Micheal Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley once canoodled, while their mutual theme song plays….

…because there ain’t no way anybody’s gonna shut down the Lolita Express now.

*Folks, I didn’t think of that. J. Berry/R. Christian/D. Altfeld did, God bless them. For yea, verily, I say unto thee, we can all use a smile today.

And, yes, five will still get you ten that the Stones play the Inaugural. The second if not the first. By then, even Donald Trump will be able to afford them. And don’t worry, he won’t let them chicken out like they did at the Super Bowl. It won’t be “Satisfaction” and “Start Me Up” this time around. Maybe they don’t go all “Stray Cat Blues,” but I bet we at least get “Gimme Shelter.”(I’m thinking Beyonce for the Merry Clayton part. By then, he’ll be able to afford her, too.) Might even get “Brown Sugar.” Maybe with Bey going down on whatever Mick’s hanging between his legs and using for a member by then.

If you think this can’t happen because of late-to-the-party nonsense like this, you haven’t been paying even the least bit of attention.

REAGAN AND THE DONALD IN “HERE WE GO AGAIN,”…SKEETER AND PATTY IN “THERE WE WENT…AGAIN” (Segue of the Day: 5/6/16)

It is just now dawning on the Professional Right that the inherently unstable coalition (my fellow Southern Evangelicals, alas, and Wall Street) which formed around Ronald Reagan in 1980 and turned 36 years old this year, has, in the wake of Donald Trump’s ascendancy (which they have spent months reassuring themselves was not inevitable) shattered on the ground.

You can read around the net and find their responses, which must be rather like those that old line New Dealers read into the record after watching the 1968 Democratic Convention when, just as suddenly and just as inevitably, FDR’s equally unstable coalition (Northern Liberals and Dixiecrats), then 36 years old, came apart in an instant.

Now as then, such responses are generally heartfelt, often erudite, surely bewildered. My own guess is that, even if he wins the presidency, Trump won’t be the actual change agent, that he will end up playing Richard Nixon to someone else’s Reagan…or Woodrow Wilson (a wrecking ball whom Trump would surely recognize as a kindred spirit under that prim exterior if he only knew history) to someone else’s Roosevelt.

I’ll leave the scholarly erudition and the gnashing of teeth to others. Meanwhile, I’ll just  keep waking up every morning, trying to feel what the air is like now….and remember what it was like then.

Watching the cataclysm of 1980 coming, Bruce Springsteen used to cover “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” in his concerts and I seem to remember reading somewhere that he sang “Bad Moon Rising” right after Reagan was elected.

Good choices. But a little obvious.

Me, I always dedicate the Supremes’ “Reflections” to every outgoing president and fully anticipate doing the same for the current president next January.

But today I feel like coming up with a dedication for every incoming president…a whisper in our collective ear every time a new white knight rides in out of the sunset.

So, lest we forget, here’s to you Ronald Reagan, once upon a time…

And here’s to you, Donald Trump, as you bring the latest crowd roaring to its feet in coal country tonight…

 

AND BY THEN, I KNEW THE COLLAPSE WAS UPON US (Memory Lane, September 11, 2002)

My memories of September 11, 2001 are the common ones. Shock. Disgust. Horror. Sadness. Anger.

My memories of September 11, 2002 might be a bit more singular.

By then I had long since emailed a friend, after George W. Bush’s pathetic speech to Congress (universally lauded at the time by the entire political class and their coterie of media bootlickers, with a few professors thrown in for good measure). The email said:

“I hope we don’t need a leader in this fight we’re about to have, because that sure wasn’t Churchill up there.”

I have a knack, it seems, for being right only about the things I really wish I was wrong about.

By then, I had also seen all the memorial services/concerts etc. and been moved by an occasional performance, the most memorable being Limp Bizkit’s version of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” which never made me want to listen to Limp Bizkit but did light a warm place in my heart for the original which had not previously existed but has not diminished in the long dreary years since.

By then, I had heard “W” tell us we should go shopping. Things would be alright.

By then, I had been reminded, way more than once and by chillingly, dishearteningly, real world events, of Franklin Roosevelt, breaking into “The Further Adventures of Nick Danger,” on the Firesign Theater’s How Can You Be in Two Places at Once, When You’re Not Anywhere at All, to announce our complete and unconditional surrender.

By then, I knew, in my heart, which is the only truly knowing place, that the United States was beyond satire, that we might last another thousand years as a political economy or a name in a World Atlas, but we’re done as an idea and an idea is all we ever were that was worth anything.

By then, not to get all gloomy or anything, I had already decided it was time to start devoting such energies as I had left for this sort of navel gazing to figuring out where we went wrong–how Rock and Roll America had turned into Lay Down and Die America.

By then, I knew the response of a handful of passengers on Flight 93 was the only meaningful response there would ever be.

So when I was riding around in my car on September 11, 2002, doing errands while listening to the Oldies Station (Oldies Stations being just one more thing that has disappeared in the years since, at least around here), I was prepared to feel nothing in the way of all the emotions I mentioned above.

Figured if no ranking member of the ruling elite was prepared to commit to anything more than somber statements and crocodile tears, there was no percentage in me remembering.

Then a particular song came on the radio, and it was exactly the last song in the universe that could have been connected to any abstract idea of forcing me out of myself, not allowing me to avoid feeling something, even if I could never quite know what it was.

Not even now.

Sometimes, things are just a mystery…So I won’t even try to explain why this made me feel something, on September 11, 2002, when nothing else, not even my Christian concern for the lost, could make me feel anything at all…