What Really Happened at The Dinner

Trump: Ye, my friend, so glad to see you again. Your view of things is so unusual.

Ye: Well, I like Hitler. You know, every human being has something of value that they brought to the table, especially Hitler. I just said that on an interview with Alex Jones, one of our good guys. Why isn’t he here? He knows the Holocaust was fake news. That’s why I brought my dear friend with me, Nick Fuentes. I think you know him.

Trump: Never saw him before in my life. Oh, wait a minute . . . Charlottesville.

Ye: He’s been a good Jew hater from the early days. Now y’all need to get into my campaign to run for president. Don, I want you to be my vice president.

Trump, screaming: You out of your fucking mind? You got no chance at the presidency, bro, not while I’m running. . . .

Of course, what they really said at the dinner is largely beyond imagining and beyond satire. One could just as well try to imagine what Xi Jinping said when he was informed of the recent massive protests. Axios made an attempt to render what the fawning Fuentes said by talking with “sources” present—but never succeeded in finding a smoking gun, just a bunch of servile compliments to Trump.

 I do have to give credit to Andy Borowitz, who wrote that white nationalists gave “scathing Tripadvisor reviews” of the service and food at Mar-a-Lago: “too many ethnic dishes,” they said.

Speech for Mr. Biden

Back in the salad days of 1992 I wrote a stump speech for Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa who was then running for president. The campaign liked it, wanted to use it, but Harkin dropped out of the race shortly after. Great timing, John. So here’s another one for President Joe. The independents are frustrated with him, largely because he doesn’t really speak to their issues.

My fellow Americans . . . and all those who didn’t vote for me:

Today, let’s talk about some painful issues, things that have come about in your lives and mine that are a little uncomfortable to speak about. I’m talking about the personal costs of inflation, the global economy, and the dreadful state of our politics.

I’m not going to give you an “America the beautiful” approach today. Inflation, I know, is what’s affecting all of us. It can be brutal—especially for those with low incomes. And it continues to rise unabated. The Consumer Price Index has jumped at an 8.2 percent annual rate—and that’s a 40-year high.

Compared to a year ago, food prices have gone up 11.2 percent. What I want to tell you is that this isn’t just an American problem. It’s global. You’ve heard the stories about famine in under-developed countries. People in our own country continue to go hungry.

Fires, famine and floods don’t have to be part of the human condition.

But inflation affects the price of most everything, not just food. Rising rent costs are driving many protests. Healthcare costs rose nearly 1 percent in September, the most in two years. New cars and most consumer goods cost more. I know: I’m telling you what you already know.

How to fix this? It won’t be easy. The Federal Reserve is working to get more people employed, but that can be a long haul. Claims of unemployment have jumped dramatically in states hard hit by the recent hurricanes. The labor market is very tight. Republicans have offered no—I repeat no—provisions to deal with any of this. They’d rather scare you with talk about how crime has taken over the country. Yet our most immediate goal must be to stabilize the economy.

Pocketbook and life issues are central to that. Covid is not beaten and could be merely in recession. And rising American healthcare costs are going to cripple the economy. We have to get them under control, but frankly that depends on winning you over to vote with us in the midterms and beyond. The opposition has no plans to fix our healthcare. For them, it’s not a right but just another business.

Ditto with gun control and abortion, the personal freedom issues of our times. The upcoming elections will determine whether we can make abortion legal again through new legislation. We simply must do this!

What I’m asking is that you simply vote for freedom over obstruction. Republican opposition leaves no room for compromise. And their obstruction begins and ends with Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories. The Big Lie about the 2020 election basically proposes a vast conspiracy to defraud the voters. If you believe in that, I have another bridge to sell you.

I won’t berate you here with the accomplishments of my administration. That doesn’t cut much ice when many of you are concerned with putting food on the table. I also know that many of you don’t want to return to the chaos and anxiety of the Trump years. As Americans, you know that we can do better, much better.

With your help we will do better! Thanks for listening.

Herschel

I tried to get into the real story about this guy, but it turns into a labyrinthian tale of more and more compromised women, abortions, and unacknowledged sons. So much media attention (e.g., here and here) has followed the Walker revelations that it almost dulls the controversy.

The moral implications of Walker’s behavior have often taken a backseat to the political implications of his candidacy. And columnists love to quote him: “Since we don’t control the air, our good air decided to float over to China’s bad air, so when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move. So it moves over to our good air space. Then, now, we got to clean that back up.”

The consensus is, certainly, that Republicans will never dump him because sanity and morality don’t count but votes do. Conservative commenter Dana Loesch said: “I don’t care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles. I want control of the Senate.”

Politico’s John Harris looks at Herschel and similar phenomena from a more global standpoint. He sees a widespread antipathy toward sexual freedom. “This movement—anti-sexual liberationism is a bit of a mouthful—is what unifies Putin, Meloni, the supporters of Herschel Walker and many other people. . . . It is a reactionary movement marked by all kinds of contradictions.” It may also signal a new virulent kind of identity politics.

But most practicing political commenters make the issue a moral one. They find Walker’s lies and breaches of basic decent behavior disgusting and vile, not to be borne in a Senate candidate. The Democrats are betting on this approach, hoping to enlist women in the fight against Dobbs and the Roe decision. No one is sure that will carry the day.

Republicans stress the economic issues as the real incentives that drive voters. Polls seem to support them. Herschel’s jumbled thoughts and word salad won’t deter them. He will parrot the party line where he can and the yahoos will stand up and cheer.

It’s pretty hard to confront these issues rationally. Climate change, race, and abortion won’t sell to those who challenge the fundamental nature of reality—or to those who find these things irrelevant to their lives. And yet, the GOP has blown its case on how such things matter to working people.

They have been into conspiracy theories since the days of Newt Gingrich and Pat Buchanan. One thinks about the Bush administration and Saddam Hussein. The predictable result is Alex Jones and a Herschel Walker.

DeSantis

The guy shows you what Harvard and Yale educations can produce. He’s always in that dumb navy blue suit, the one he ordered from Trump’s tailors.

The MAGA Mafia has no shame about its actions because their quest for power and control will not permit it. And the DeSantis pugnacity reflects this in his every action. His Martha’s Vineyard hijack promises more of the same.

Dexter Filkins said this about him:

He’s very, very angry at the élites, even though he went to Harvard and Yale. He’s very angry at Washington. He’s very angry at the politicians. He’s rallying basically the white working class of Florida, of which the numbers are still quite large. He’s angry.

He doesn’t like gays, Disney, Fauci, masks, Washington, critical race theory. At dinner Friday night with some friends and fortified by martinis and wine, I indulged in a short rant about how futile it was to just bitch and complain about the loathsomeness of the far right. “The Democrats need to understand what motivates these people. What causes them to be so pissed off? We should hear their complaints. Know thine enemy.”

I prattled on about how politics is simply about winning the most votes, not just vilifying the other side. My assumption was, I guess, that some of the hoi polloi could be won over. It was really a Platonic response to all the hate that pols like DeSantis promote. As the fog lifted today, I’m thinking how nobly unrealistic such an approach is.

In military terms, you must take out the front-line defenses, attack them head on. That will not be easy with smart operators like DeSantis. Charlie Crist seems too nice and gentlemanly for that task.

Rather, we should learn from the Ukranians how to be stealthy and smart. Booby trap their meetings with stunts; enlist the Florida lefties who have been far too quiet lately; make more public noise about the governor’s odious actions.

The best weapon will be humor. Jimmy Kimmel: “Ron DeSantis is that guy you went to high school with who desperately wanted to be prom king but didn’t have any charisma, so instead, he just pulled the fire alarm and ruined the dance for everybody.”

Really Bad Political Writing

‘Tis the season for such dreck, but of course it’s always the season. No one pays much attention to George Orwell anymore, but he did a great service to us all in his 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language.” Here, God bless him, is an excerpt:

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a “party line”. Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. . . . When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases—bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder—one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. . . .

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.

Bad political writing and boring political speeches are so prevalent today that we have come to take them for granted. Below are some recent specimens. Disclosure: I used to write political speeches, which I’d never want to reread at this juncture.

Margaret Hartmann in NY Mag (her vapid opening sentence in a piece about Trump’s nuclear documents): “Normal people probably shouldn’t insist the government’s allegations against them are a complete fabrication if they know it’s highly likely that the Feds have evidence that proves them wrong.”

Matt McManus in Aereo (a liberal socialist writing about bad left-wing writing): “As Thomas Piketty points out, one of the motivators behind the recent surge in right wing populism—itself a distinctly postmodern phenomenon—was a sense that that the left has cut itself off from its humble working class roots and evolved in a Brahminesque direction, spouting impenetrable wisdom about vaguely radical change on behalf of marginalized people in prose that requires ten solid years at graduate school to understand.”

President Biden’s Remarks at the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial Ceremony, Sept. 11, 2022: “And to all our service members and their families, our veterans, our Gold Star families, all the survivors and caregivers and loved ones who have sacrificed so much for our nation: We owe you. We owe you an incredible—an incredible debt, a debt that can never be repaid but will never fail to meet the sacred obligation to you to properly prepare and equip those that we send into harm’s way and care for those and their families when they come home—and to never, ever, ever forget. . . . When future generations come here to sit in the shade of the Maple trees that shelter the memorial and grown tall and strong with passing years, they will find the names of patriots.”

The President’s speeches have gotten more feisty since he decided to go after the MAGA Mafia. Still, one wishes that he could stop the cliché responses to events and speak the language of the people directly. As Orwell put it, “one ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end.”

Jiving about Race

You see a picture like this, and what comes to mind? Robert Colescott, who painted it, is gone but there’s a new show in New York featuring some of his most confrontational works. Says WaPo’s reviewer Philip Kennicott, work like Colescott’s “confounds almost every piety about race and gender in operation today, sometimes with humor, though not the kind of humor that makes you laugh.”

What I immediately flashed on was Charles Mingus’s great sendup “Eat That Chicken,” from his 1962 album Mingus/Oh Yeah. I still have the original vinyl that was instrumental in turning me on to Mingus. “Eat That Chicken” features another musical prankster, Roland Kirk, whose hokey, honkey-tonk solos perfectly complement Mingus’s vocal antics.

In the ‘60s and ’70s I was privileged to spend time with both of these gents and learned a lot about how black humor works. (I don’t have to capitalize “Black,” do I? Do we capitalize “White”?) Colescott brought another, more discomfiting aspect to it in his paintings. These include such gems as “George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware,” which portrays the great black scientist in a boat full of cast-offs and stereotypes—including “a mammie figure performing a sex act on the flag bearer standing just behind Carver.” This is heavy blackface satire executed by a black man.

It’s a bit like what Jewish comedians over the years have done with Jewish culture: they appreciate it and often make fun of it. But for a black man (he was half-black, actually) like Colescott to produce art like this was to categorically pierce the sanctity of black identity, at least as it’s vouchsafed to us in our prevalent cultural politics. We need more of that.

Mingus’s “Eat That Chicken” was supposedly done as a tribute to Fats Waller. I don’t know if that’s true. Fats wrote funny “novelty” tunes like “Your Feets Too Big,” which I heard on the radio as a kid and loved. But “Chicken” has more of a happy bite to it, if you’ll excuse the metaphor. It makes a nod to Jelly Roll Morton and some of his novelties, the Dixieland tradition, and the earthy gospel-ish stuff that Mingus grew up with.

Anyhow, we surely could stand a little less sanctity about race in America.

Rescuing the Trump Papers

The New Yorker

A big question nobody’s asking is: What was he going to do with all that stuff in the 15 (now 12) boxes? Another: are some of these classified documents still damp from the toilet? So many questions and so few answers yet. How quickly and thoroughly the DOJ has presumed Trump’s criminal behavior is a dead giveaway (getting the search warrant), all the more so given the rapid and rabid responses of the GOP.

Witnesses have told how he tore up, burned, shredded, flushed and pocketed many documents. It will be a treat to hear their testimony before the Jan. 6 Committee. Maybe there aren’t that many papers left. If only one box of papers is now considered classified, what will that do to the DOJ’s investigation? Who squealed to the FBI that the boxes were still there? More questions, of course.

What we do know is that the Houdini of Presidential Crime will now likely end up charged, if not convicted. He’ll shortly announce his 2024 presidential run, another way to blunt the inquiry and tear the country apart. Just like he shreds documents.

Will he escape from justice one more time? I wouldn’t bet on it.

Enough with the Hearings

I guess my question is what more do we need to know? The only serious question is how much more info they can give to DOJ to make an indictment. The whole thing is getting to be a big drag, like everything about Trump. Many are getting fed up, as the ratings have shown.

The media keeps buzzing about how important tonight’s last hearing will be. It purports to be about what El Cheeto was doing while he watched the riot on TV. We already know or can guess what he was doing, and one CNN piece already gave us a pretty full account of those 187 minutes. You can read that report and avoid watching the hearing tonight.

But CNN-TV goes on and on, trying to build interest in the event, and its blah-blah anchors keep on spieling how significant this all is, inviting boring and constantly reappearing guests to comment. They almost sound like flacks for Trump.

We have two good friends coming over to watch. We will make a pleasant social event out of this. That’s all it deserves. I have laid in a good supply of booze.

A Plague on Both Their Houses

For Joe Biden, the sad sack who is turning into a liability for the Democrats, polls show that 64% of Democrats want him to step aside in 2024. With young voters, the figure is 93%. Top concerns are his age and job performance. If it’s Trump versus Biden again in 2024, I predict hordes of people will be moving to Mexico.

A recent NYTimes poll found that 10% would vote for neither one. I don’t think Trump could win if the Repubs are foolish enough to nominate him. (They have even asked Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to speak at the CPAC conference in August.) DeSantis in many ways will be worse.

Recent Supreme Court decisions on Roe and guns have riled up a lot of people. But the Dems show few signs of real outrage or responding to these issues in a way that relates to voters’ real agendas. As many have said many times, they don’t know how to fight. The White House issues its predictable talking points and shows, once again, that it doesn’t know how to engage persuasively with voters of different stripes. There’s no urgency or fire. And there’s no third-party candidate worth talking about.

The Democrats are like those in-laws that Carolyn Hax wrote about today in the Washington Post: they keep on bringing meat meals, one after the other, to a new mom who happens to be vegetarian. Fundamentally, that is harassment. For the White House, it’s plain pigheadedness and political ineptitude.

After the Highland Park shooting, Biden made a tepid, ill-timed patriotic speech with barely a mention of the disaster that had just unfolded. For me, that was almost unforgiveable.

For you, my readers, there’s no need to repeat the litany of worse-and-worse Republican treachery and folly. What we need now is people who know how to fight a most critical political battle.

Shooting Up My Old Hometown

I grew up in Highland Park and always felt that kind of fondness you have for the place you take for granted and call home. When the shooting started and the reports came rattling in, I couldn’t believe how affected I was. These graphic photos, however, showed a place very different than any I remembered from some sixty years (and more) ago.

The last time I had been there was for my 50th high school reunion in 2002. I really began to form my values in those years at Highland Park High School, where I met and formed great friends and began to learn about the world. The reunion did bring that time back, but the shooting unraveled all those memories, like running a movie in reverse.

I began to detach from home when I went to college, then returned for graduate school at the University of Chicago. But Highland Park was where my father and grandfather built their houses and their lives, so it was always a point of return for me. Chicago I loved but it was never home.

A lot of years have intervened between then and now. My life has taken so many turns since Highland Park that the town seems entirely divorced from my present existence yet so basic to it. This hometown shooting intruded on my expat life like a clap of thunder that wakes you from a deep sleep.

“How dare that freaky sonofabitch massacre those innocent people?” you ask. The answer, of course, is that these mass shootings will continue as long as our doddering political system permits them.

More than when I lived there, Highland Park represents the flourishing of the now-defunct American dream. It gets much media attention because of its affluence and image. Unlike the atrocities in Buffalo and Uvalde, the town has a good police force, the resources to recover, and the attention of a few more angry people like Governor J.B. Pritzker who just might make a difference.