I have heard agitation to drop the name of Mario Cuomo from the bridge spanning the Hudson River – the one most New Yorkers stubbornly call The Tappan Zee Bridge.
Just because the son is resigning as governor – and not a moment too soon – does not mean the father should be obliterated from the elegant new bridge that was officially named for Mario Cuomo, who served three full terms as governor, which is more than the grabby son will ever serve.
Besides, we New Yorkers don’t follow every order we hear.
For example, we jaywalk.
Most New Yorkers never stopped calling it the “Tappan Zee” – “Tappan,” in homage to the Lenape tribe that lived there peacefully for many centuries before whites invaded, and “Zee,” the Dutch word for “sea,” connotating the wide point in the river.
It was “Tappan Zee Bridge” while we braced for rear-end collisions on the Sunday night southbound backup and it was “Tappan Zee Bridge” when we hit axel-threatening holes in the archaic pavement. And that name still resonates with New Yorkers, after the son had the power to bring about the naming of the new bridge for his father, a good human being.
Plus, we can save millions of dollars by not changing all those signs for the new span that opened during the tempestuous reign of Cuomo II.
New Yorkers do not change our minds or speech patterns easily, particularly regarding our bridges and tunnels and thoroughfares. Just a few examples:
As much as we (I) admire the late Robert F. Kennedy, the spans connecting Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx are still known as the Triboro Bridge.
Same thing with the low span between Manhattan and Queens, technically named for the late mayor, Ed Koch. I can still hear Koch’s petulant question: “How’m I doing?” but as a fellow Queens kid I can hear Simon and Garfunkel singing, “Slow down, you move too fast/ You got to make the morning last,” in “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy.)”
I can still smell the Silvercup Bread being baked in the evening in Long Island City as we drove home from “The City” – that is, Manhattan.
The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel is technically named after former governor Hugh Carey, but, you know…
When my father took me around the city, teaching me to love it, he told me no New Yorker ever calls Sixth Ave. by that grandiose name, “Avenue of the Americas.”
As an aside, I have never typed or spoken the name of the bank connected with the Mets’ current ballpark, which I call “New Shea” or “The Mets ballpark.” I hate naming rights. (Bless the NYT copyeditors who went along with my little affectation.)
Then there is this: A few minutes off Interstate 84, in Vernon, Conn., is Rein’s New York Style Deli. (Our friend Cookie, who lives nearby, introduced us to it and we sat right below a New York subway sign.) One of the deli’s featured sandwiches includes roast beef, turkey and pastrami on three slices of rye bread, and is named for the Tappan Zee Bridge. “We must have ridden the Tappan Zee a million times,” owner Greg Rein has said.
To prove my point: I love the heritage of Jackie Robinson, our blazing pioneer with the Brooklyn Dodgers. But that dangerous narrow parkway – now officially re-named for No. 42 -- that wriggles on the glacial spine of Queens to the Brooklyn border will always be The Interboro – or, as we New Yorkers pronounce it, “Duh Intaboro.”
Finally, a little personal Queens history. The Cuomo family moved into a bucolic neighborhood right behind my family house on a busy street, after I had grown up and moved out. The Cuomos voted at the same polling station as my parents – “Nice people,” said my parents.
(Word from others was that the three Cuomo girls were terrific, young Chris was a sweetie, and Andrew was…well…difficult.)
In time, I got to chat with Gov. Mario Cuomo about his loyalty to his Coach for Life, a leprechaun named Joe Austin who coached youth baseball and basketball teams for the St. Monica’s parish in South Jamaica. For his inaugurations as governor, Mario made sure Joe Austin was front and center, and addressed him as “Coach.”
(I wrote about Mario, combative Queens jock, when he passed in 2015.)
One time, a mutual friend brought Matilda Cuomo to our house while they were out for a ride, and they stayed a few hours for lunch. My wife and I have lasting memories of Mrs. Cuomo: she is a lady.
Leave Mario Cuomo’s name on the bridge. The Tappan Zee Bridge.
* * *
I should add: In the past five years, an assortment of rickety, glittery, pretentious, over-priced buildings have had a certain odious name scraped or painted or sandblasted from the façades, after outcries by the residents.
We New Yorkers do have our standards.
Watching over the East River like a benevolent gargoyle. I'm betting that even Mayor Koch would call it the 59th Street Bridge or The Queensboro Bridge. (Version by the Harpers Bizarre.)
I just read a great new book: “How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America,” by Clint Smith.
Smith’s main point is that people, northerners and southerners, are now learning things about slavery they were not told in school -- the depths of depravity by which a female slave could be labelled a “good breeder” by her owners, and other aspects of good old-fashioned American enterprise.
Many people in this country still see slavery through a sentimental haze: slaves were better off here than they would have been in Africa; they were handled benevolently at the plantations.
You know, good people on all sides.
Nowadays mayors and school boards and governors are trying to forbid controversial or academic critiques of America.
(Some of these moronic governors are aiding Covid by not mandating vaccinations and masks at work and school.)
Smith’s book about slavery lies is a companion to the so-called “Big Lie” about alleged election fraud and the merry tourists who flocked to the Capitol last Jan. 6.
For all the chicanery and cowardice in high places, the worst parts of slavery are impossible to hide as Smith makes his rounds. As a one-time news reporter, I respect his shoe-leather approach -- visiting hot spots of the slave trade. A staff writer for the Atlantic – and a poet – Smith interviewed tour guides and museum directors as well as tourists, plus participants in Confederate commemorations.
The new cadre of historians and guides make it clear that that people, white people, mostly male, not only performed violent deeds but also knew what was being done, mostly in rural and southern states.
Smith begins where, in a sense, the country began – Thomas Jefferson’s plantation, where he "owned" slaves while preparing to write the Declaration of Independence. While he put pen to paper, his white staff put whips to the backs of Black slaves. Background music for Jefferson.
At Monticello, Smith chats with two visitors -- white, Fox-watching, Republican-leaning women, who hear a guide talk about Jefferson’s long association with a female slave.
Speaking to Smith, who is Black, the two women seem aghast. Smith quotes one of them:
“’Here he uses all of these people and then he marries a lady and then they have children,’ she said, letting out a heavy sigh. (A reference to Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman, who bore at least six of Jefferson’s children. The two were never married.) ‘Jefferson is not the man I thought he was.’”
That is the theme of the book – many Americans in position of responsibility and knowledge deliberately deflected what was known about slavery. And not just in the South. I know somebody who did college research on commerce in New England, and never came across the mention of slaves in Yankee states.
Then again, in a 2020 farewell to the great John Thompson, I praised a recent book about Frederick Douglass and noted that in all my school years in New York (with many history electives in college), I never heard the name "Frederick Douglass." (To be clear, I did know his name, just not from school. Our parents were part of a Black/white discussion group, and they extolled heroes like Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson, and all of the children have learned from our parents.)
Smith points out that the Dutch and English, who pushed out the Lenape natives, welcomed slaves on the oyster-laden shores of lower Manhattan, and used them for labor, and shipped thousands to farms and other towns. New York was the second largest entry port, distributing slaves culled from Africa. Those who died were tossed, unmarked, into a pit near Wall Street.
One chapter in this book about slavery jarred me because I did not see it coming – a visit to the dreaded Angola Prison in Louisiana.
Smith explains his visit to Angola by pointing out that Black prisoners worked for free or for pennies, at the penal equivalent of plantations. In fact, Angola had a big house, where the warden and his family were served by trusted Black prisoners.
Prisons as plantations: As it happens, I have heard the metallic clank of the heavy door slammed behind me in three different prisons – and all three stories involved Black men. (See the links below.)
Smith’s itinerary includes: Monticello Plantation, Va.; the Whitney Plantation, La.; Angola Prison, La..
Blandford Cemetery, Va., Galveston Island, Tex, where emancipation was belatedly revealed to Blacks, leading to the recent proclamation of a new national holiday -- Juneteenth; New York City; and Gorée Island, Senegal, the legendary focus for the African slave trade.
In a moving Epilogue, Smith interviews his own elders for stories of prejudice, slavery and downright brutality they experienced or heard from their own elders.
Clint Smith’s book makes it clear that white America knew more about slavery than it discussed -- just as many of our "public servants" like to talk about sight-seers who had a fun day in the Capitol last Jan. 6, brandishing flagpoles, gouging eyeballs and shouting racial epithets.
It never went away.
It’s who we are.
* * *
Two book reviews in the NYT:
Three of my stories from prisons, when I was a news reporter:
* After writing this piece, and reading the thoughtful comments, I discovered a new book: “Land,” by Simon Winchester, a writer with great and varied interests. (We met in 1973 when he was posted to Washington by The Guardian.) Now living in the U.S., Winchester is writing about the creation and development of land.
An early paragraph about the original inhabitants of this continent fits right in with the tone of this discussion: (Page 17)
“The serenity of the Mohicans suffered, terminally. The villagers first began to fall fatally ill – victims of smallpox, measles, influenza, all outsider-borne ailments to which they had no natural immunity. And those who survived began to be ordered to abandon their lands and their possessions, and leave. To leave countryside that they had occupied and farmed for thousands of years – and ordered to do so by white-skinned visitors who had no knowledge of the land and its needs, and who regarded it only for its potential for reward. The area was ideal for colonization, said the European arrivistes: the natives, now seen more as wildlife than as brothers, more kine than kin, could go elsewhere.”
Winchester’s newest book then goes in many directions. I look forward to reading the rest.
(This above masterpiece is from that innocent time when Robert Mueller investigated the goniffs.)
* * *
Who doesn’t love a perp walk, when an alleged suspect has to walk past a raggle-taggle media mob?
As a news reporter, back in the day, I stood on a city sidewalk and yelled questions at suspects and lawyers. Sometimes somebody would even say something.
I’ve been waiting for the ultimate perp walk for over four years, when the alleged perpetrator would have to bluster his way through the scrum, the way Messrs. Manaforte and Flynn and Stone had to do.
The way the porcine little accomplice Barr will have to do one of these days.
At least once a day, I ask my favorite news monitor: “Did they get him yet?”
Every so often, I watch the Youtube masterpiece, “From Russia With Love,” depicting many of the villains of recent years (but not the racist Stephen Miller; why not the racist Stephen Miller?)
I love the Vampira smile of the blonde turncoat, lurking in the shadows.
Actually, a lot of us are waiting for the big one. It may just be coming. But on Thursday I had to settle for the dumpy accountant Allen Weisselberg to get hauled into court, although the NYT made it clear the charges included the the Trump organization, not just the figures guy.
Everybody knows Weisselberg is the major facilitator for the shady Trump and his family – the phony “university,” the crooked “foundation,” the real-estate scams that now have residents lobbying to have the chiseler’s name chiseled off crumbling Trumpian facades.
Now Weisselberg has been summoned by the district attorney of New York City.
By mid-day, I had not seen a sidewalk scrum like the ones that nice Michael Cohen had to endure, but still, there was Mr. Weisselberg, court-mandated mask on, hands cuffed behind his back, being guided through a public hallway -- no tie on Mr. Weisselberg. Trés déclassé
I am sure somebody has told him his interesting options.
To flip, or not to flip.
“Mr. Weisselberg, we know you were merely following orders, weren’t you?”
This isn’t even the worst stuff suspected of Donald John Trump.
The rape charge. The payoffs. The racist policies in those badly-made buildings he and his father slapped up. And, if some legal mind wanted to try, the potential charges of dereliction of duty in the half a million avoidable American deaths in the ongoing Covid pandemic. And the sending of thugs (or, as Republicans call them, tourists) down Pennsylvania Ave. to tear apart the American government.
That’s all out there, gettable, somehow.
But right now, white-collar crime will do. Just for openers.
Al Capone on tax evasion.
The timing is perfect – just before the birthday of an idealistic country, not always perfect, but a beacon to the world, nonetheless, and now, maybe again.
“Mr. Weisselberg, you’ll be doing your country a favor. You could be a patriot."
Something to ponder over the long weekend.
Happy Fourth of July, Mr. Weisselberg.
One of my favorite “teachers” passed on the turnaround between wretched 2020 and overburdened 2021.
Richard Thornburgh, a former governor of Pennsylvania and U.S. attorney general, died on Dec. 31, at 88.
I met him when I was a news correspondent in the Appalachians, and through the years I reached out a few times for comments and background – for a column on drug testing in baseball, for my biography of Stan Musial.
Richard Thornburgh seemed to me a just person, a good teacher, a great storyteller who shared with me a close view of Musial, his boyhood hero in western Pennsylvania.
Our first meeting was in Pittsburgh in 1971 when I was working on a story about a pollution case, involving acidic runoff from a factory into the Monongahela River, a few miles upstream from the confluence with the Allegheny to form The Beautifiul Ohio.
The offending company was of modest size, but waiting in the docket were offenses attributed to huge corporations that contributed to Pittsburgh-area people holding their noses 24/7.
Thornburgh was the federal prosecutor for Western Pennsylvania, appointed by President Nixon. He knew the Times was covering, and suggested I attend jury selection, and we would talk later.
After a long morning session, we repaired to the bar at the Pittsburgh Hilton, with its scenic view of the confluence and the rugged hills, and Thornburgh gave me a quickie seminar on jury selection:
-- Why had he excluded the woman with glasses who was reading a hard-covered book in a front row of jury candidates? Precisely, he said. He did not want people who might think outside lines he would be setting. Okay.
-- Well, in that case, why had Thornburgh chosen, for foreman, a dean for a state junior college? Precisely, he said. He wanted somebody who worked in a structure, who was favorable to some form of law and order. Okay.
As my seminar continued, I spotted two faces from my previous life – Al McGuire and Jack McMahon, basketball players and coaches from St. John’s University, my childhood team. They pulled up chairs, and the smart and gregarious McGuire began grilling Thornburgh on the case, and law, and other cosmic subjects. Thornburgh got in a few sage questions for McGuire, and seemed delighted that I knew these characters, from a vastly different world. The NYT was buying.)
The case meandered onward after my little story, and eventually, polluters began to clean up their acts – courtesy of Thornburgh. Pittsburgh is a cleaner place today because of cases like that.
I kept up with Thornburgh as he became attorney general and governor, when he was hailed for his leadership during the Three Mile Island nuclear threat. Later, he returned to private practice.
During the drug scandals in baseball in the early 2000s, I found an essay Thornburgh had written about the complications of testing, citing his Yale friend A. Bartlett Giamatti, the baseball commissioner who had expired days after banishing Pete Rose for rampant gambling offenses.
While I was researching the Musial biography, I ran across Thornburgh’s name as part of a merry band of Americans who had met in Rome during the reign of the Polish Pope John Paul II. (James Michener, the writer, had described this confluence of superstars.) Musial had been Thornburgh’s favorite player during his childhood in Pittsburgh – and Thornburgh could imitate Musial’s batting stance as well as his autograph.
We corresponded another time or three and then – bad news on the doorstep -- I picked up the paper on New Year’s morning and saw he has passed. I learned that his first wife had been killed – just like Joe Biden’s wife – in a car accident.
Richard L. Thornburgh seemed to be a public servant in the best sense of the word. When I covered his pollution case, I got the feeling he believed companies really should not be pouring their crap into the river. Thank you, sir.
* * *
(Somewhere in my mental notebook, from one-off glimpses as a reporter, I keep a list -- a short list -- of Republicans I Have Seen Up Close and Respected: Richard Lugar of Indiana, Howard Baker of Tennessee, Fred Thompson of Tennessee, in his younger days. Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey. John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky -- despite his hiring an amoral slug named McConnell -- Tom Davis of Virginia. John McCain of Arizona, with whom I spent two glorious hours in his Senate office. Plus, Fiorello LaGuardia, NYC mayor when I was a little kid, who read “the funnies” to people on Sunday radio. And Richard L. Thornburgh of Pennsylvania, my “mentor” in law and government service.)
* * *
Thornburgh’s life is described by the master of NYT obits, Robert D. McFadden.
The Musial biography, with anecdotes from Pittsburgh boy:
Three Mile Island Recap:
What a waste. Nearly four years, over 235,000 lives, untold damage to the environment, friends betrayed, alliances broken. What a waste.
But now we have a chance to start over, and I want to credit one source for the grace and vision and strength behind this chance to recover -- the Black public figures who made such a big difference.
In the same year that a white police officer openly ground a Black man’s life into the pavement, the best and brightest helped elect a centrist who might, just might, pull some disparate parts together again.
The tone of this election year was set by Blacks who have been preparing for years, for decades, for centuries, for this moment. One great part was former President Obama sinking a feathery impromptu shot as he strolled through a gym – one and done – and as he kept moving he said, over his shoulder, “That’s what I do” -- Just as when he sang “Amazing Grace” in a church honoring slain members.
The tone of this election year was set early by Sen. Kamala Harris who began a primary debate by reciting racial injustices to one of her competitors, former Vice President Joe Biden. He blinked and took it, seemed to be listening, and months later he had the grace to select this accomplished lawyer/prosecutor/campaigner as his running partner. Grace under pressure, by both.
* * *
Now I want to praise four others who raised the grace level in this country:
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland passed last year, after setting a high level of righteousness in Congress. I witnessed him leading some sports/drugs hearings years ago, and ever since I have referred to him as The Prophet. In his final months, he admonished balky witnesses, “We’re better than this.”
Rep. John Lewis also did not make it to this election, but he had been setting an example since the police beat on him back in the ‘60s, at lunch counters and on the Pettus Bridge. He survived that, served in Congress, seeming so innocent but actually a living holy man, tempered in the flame.
Stacey Abrams lost a narrow race for governor in 2018, and soon used her intelligent smile, her knowledge, her persuasiveness, to help register voters – Black voters – in the South, where the desire to vote means standing on line in heat or rain for many hours, by Republican plan. This week, Abrams’ work helped throw two Senate races in Georgia into runoffs, early in January.
Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina changed history by endorsing Joe Biden, who had just gone through two disastrous primaries in the frozen North. Clyburn is one of the most composed of politicians, no bluster, no swagger, just serene confidence. He read the mood of South Carolina perfectly, and gave the nation a Democratic candidate who could balance the disturbed posturing and fatal incompetence of Donald Trump.
* * *
The positive effect on this nation will carry over into the new year, the new regime. Trumpites gloried in their man depicting Philadelphia, any urban setting, as dangerous, but a white President and a Vice President who is part Jamaican and part Indian live up to the professed ideals of this country.
As it happens, my family has some Jamaican and some Indian ancestry, as well as Black American, and Latino, and Asian, all kinds of Europeans, including the lady I live with who can trace herself to William the Conqueror and early New England settlers.
One young man in the family – with some Black ancestry -- called his grandmother in a nearby Atlanta suburb on Saturday to deliver the news that Biden had won.
* * *
And Saturday evening, a joyous, liberated, masked, socially-distanced, horn-honking, all-colors-of-the rainbow-crowd in a parking lot in Delaware greeted the new look of the Biden and Harris camps -- people who seemed to like each other, and love their children and speak comfortably of making this country work for everybody. The mixed racial makeup in that crowd seemed to match the impromptu crowd in the streets of Minneapolis when George Floyd was murdered, only this time not to protest but to cheer, to smile, to breathe,
Maybe, just maybe, things get better.
For days before the election, I had this image, this memory, of a young woman crying on the phone to her father, in the midnight hours, in November of 2016.
How could this happen? She wanted to know. Well, so did we, and so did Secretary Clinton.
I must have been clairvoyant because late Tuesday evening, my wife and I felt the same way. Four years later, and now this again?
The best part of the evening was the stunning professionalism, on live TV, mastering the obscure counties of the U.S., handling the magic boards, like two pinball wizards, Steve Kornacki of MSNBC and John King of CNN. (We switched around.) My ballplayer pal Jerry switched to Judy Woodruff on PBS and raved about her calm neutral professionalism.
I fell asleep with Biden on the bad end of a lot of numbers, but I woke up five hours with reassuring tweets from Deepest Pennsylvania and Way Upstate telling me that there was a chance.
Trump was being Trump -- threatening to go to his judges on the Supreme Court. Twitter cut him off. Much too late for that.
So now we are waiting it out.
I still think of the young woman asking her dad from long distance: How? Why?
* * *
(Steve Kornacki got a great writeup in Variety today:
(One of his colleagues said they forcibly ejected him from the studio after pulling an all-nighter, sent him to a place with a bed and pillows. Well-deserved.
Other than that, I am poleaxed by the mathematical complexities, the suspense, the rumors, the threats. . Going back to the tube soon.
Your experiences and reactions the last 24 hours?
* * *
(This was my post before Election Day:)
I got nothing.
Maybe you have something.
This malignant earworm has been proposing and doing mischief since he loomed on the escalator eons and eons ago.
Now I am tapped out.
I’m leaving this post out there, starting Monday morning.
If you disagree with my point of view, please say so.
I’ve been typing about this guy for a while, reminding people that I grew up (on a busy street, houses close together), a crucial half mile from the Trumps. I resent the hell out of him being described as a “Queens guy.” I know Queens people, tens of thousands of them, who went into socially-redeeming lines of work.
Just check out the “Trump” category to the right of this. I’ve said my piece.
Nervous on the day before the actual Election Day? “Breaking News” on the actual voting day? Do Barr and the new Supreme Court pull some scam in the days to come?
Get it out of your system, here.
I’m already discredited. Pole-axed by the results in the midnight hours, four years ago, I kept telling people, “I know this guy. He will do something heinous, and will be out of office in 18 months.”
They let him go on, and now we have a pandemic raging because he was always incompetent, and now it has become fatal.
For all my blathering, the best two words of this endless campaign came from Michelle Goldberg in the NYT. On the night after the second and last debate, she wrote:
Mocking Biden’s concern for struggling families sitting around their kitchen table, Trump tried to position himself as being above political clichés, but he just came off like a callous schmuck.
A “callous schmuck.” I am so jealous.
I am sure that some of the good people who read my little therapy website, and respond to it will have your own angst in the hours and days to come.
(I've got nothing coherent to say at this moment about that "debate" or my sociopathic ex-neighbor from Queens. Perhaps you do. Please feel free to type away. The following was my open letter to Postmaster Louis Dejoy after I posted our ballots on Monday.)
Dear Postmaster General Louis Dejoy:
I just mailed our absentee ballots, both filled out correctly, to the county Board of Elections.
I could have driven to the board’s office, or even walked, or used certified mail, but I figured, that’s only 7.28 miles – that is, .2 miles per day. That shouldn’t be too hard for Louis Dejoy’s post office.
I know this is a stressful time for you, what with The New York Times’ blockbuster about your patron’s tax issues. He’s going to be looking for somebody to punish, and will not be happy if you let too many of those absentee ballots get through.
After all, you were hired to take a sledgehammer to the voting procedure, what with many millions expected to vote during the Pandemic. And from what I hear from USPS employees, you did a good job – slowing the mail down.
Where does he find people like you?
Just the other day, you said you could not use the sorting machines you took out of use. Either you demolished them, or you cannibalized them for parts -- sounds like the Louis DeJoy wrecking ball, either way.
As you may have been told, there are voters way out there in rural red states areas -- at the head of the holler in Mitch McConnell's state -- who depend on the USPS vehicle to bring checks and medicine. So either you serve the people of the country or you serve the anarchist Donald J. Trump.
Must be a stressful time for you.
Meantime, point-two miles a day.
You can do it, sir.
Comments? Please, You'll feel a bit better for a moment.
Two promising things happened on Tuesday:
---Joe Biden picked Kamala Harris as his running mate, a decision that seemed logical the moment it was announced.
(Update: Did you see her speech from Delaware Wednesday afternoon? Full of passion and concern and reality. Clearly, Joe Biden picked the right candidate. Back to my original essay.)
---And two of the major college football conferences called off their season, sending a message to the American public that a few sports administrators are smarter than the murderous and avaricious fools who keep talking about “opening it up” and passing false virus "information" to the public during a pandemic.
Because I am a reforming sports columnist, let me start with the football news. The Big Ten and Pac-12 Conferences will not be sending athletes out to maul each other, up close and personal, for our entertainment.
The remaining conferences may be shamed into the same decision, with other fall sports also postponed until a safer time.
This pandemic is dangerous. I just read it in the Times. But young people will congregate, up close, without masks and spread the globules of damage and death, because they are young. What is the excuse of government and business and education “leaders” who ought to know better? Instead, moronic governors and educators allow children to mingle and spread the virus, as happened in Georgia.
As for the naming of Kamala Harris, it was a decision that made a couple of Warren Wing Democrats exhale and say, “Well, of course.”
I did not like the way Harris went after Biden in the first debate, in such a studied, assassin-type way. Biden blinked and stared at her and took it....a sign of grace....and months later he chose her, maybe because of that.
Or, as Aretha Franklin sang, "What's like got to do with it?"
Hearing people describe Harris’ career gave me a more realistic feeling -- that she is a big-timer who has been preparing for this a long time, as prosecutor and state attorney general and senator.
Harris made a fool of Bill Barr in a Senate hearing, although he may be so far gone that he didn't realize. She will drive Trump crazy, and we are wondering if Pence's wife -- a/k/a Mother -- will have to sit with him during the debate, to make sure he is all right.
On Wednesday, we heard dozens of insiders describing Harris's sense of humor and political astuteness. And then there is this: Blacks are the soul of the Democratic party. This selection honors that, as well as all the considerable assets of the candidate herself.
(I know, I know, we shouldn’t write about the way female candidates present themselves, but we both saw hours of clips of Harris over the years, always dressed in smart sport jackets, or suits, giving an aura of power and purpose.)
Trump must be worried, since he called Harris "nasty" several times Tuesday night – a code word to his male followers, a sign that his pathological contempt for the female gender is kicking in. See how that works at the polls in November.
The rest of the country now has time to observe Kamala Harris carrying the case to the voters.
Much or all of the country will not have the normal diversion of college football, thanks to the courage and intelligence of sports administrators who have more sense than the old and inadequate Trump regime.
People were restless -- yawning, stretching, looking around.
Donald Trump, the latter-day Jim Jones, who would lead his people into a vicious pandemic, was losing his audience.
That's what the TV screen was telling me Saturday as Trump ran out of material, ran out of juice. Maybe it was the blue seats in the upper deck yawning down on him that took away his edge.
He was alone out there, dying, as they say in show biz.
People were breathing on each other, taking the chance of a fatal dose of the virus he does not take seriously.
What was worse was the ennui of the faithful, who had driven all that way to downtown Tulsa, braving the fears of violence and huge crowds -- and now they seemed to be thinking about whether they could get their car out of the parking lot and head for home.
He had nothing for them.
That doesn't mean Trump won't do scandalous things, violent things, in days to come, when he can take out his anger on his staff, his enemies, the American people, aided by the Lickspittles of the Year, Barr and Pompeo. He will fire people, sure, but deep down he knows that the polls and Joe Biden and the honest investigators and even the Supreme Court are on to him.
He tried to wing it once too often, and on Saturday night he came up empty.
* * *
(The following is my original essay leading up to the Tulsa yawner:)
Jim Jones picked Guyana.
Donald Trump is, you might say, dead set on Tulsa.
Having a bad month with that mean Supreme Court, Trump is mimicking that old-time religion -- trying to hold an old-fashioned tent revival for the faithful in an arena in Tulsa on Saturday, during a pandemic.
Trump is losing in the national polls plus polls of most swing states, and if he loses the election he knows that dozens of legal challenges are waiting. Even if he has no stomach or brains for it, he needs this job.
As of Friday, Trump was going ahead with the mass meeting of Coronavirus microbes while nags like Dr. Anthony Fauci tried to remind him that the pandemic is still on, and while cases are spiking in red states that "opened up" without precautions.
Of course, Trump is already responsible for thousands of deaths because he ignored the warnings early in the year. Any executive would already be indicted, probably convicted, of wilful malfeasance. Instead, he gets crowds at his rallies.
Putting 19,000 people in an arena could be injurious to their health and exponentially that of many thousands more outside.
The result would be on a much higher scale than Jim Jones' pouring the poisoned Kool-Aid for his American followers in far-off Guyana on Nov, 18, 1978, leaving 909 dead, including himself.
For whatever reason, Trump has the same messianic appeal to his people that the charismatic preacher from California had back in the ‘70s.
The son of Jim Jones, Stephan Jones, who happened to be away from the Jonestown compound on Kool-Aid Day back in 1978, has been comparing Trump and Jones for years.
“I see so many parallels it’s ridiculous,” Stephan Jones told Susie Meister in Medium.com in 2018. The son said that Trump, like Jim Jones, is a narcissist and relies on similar manipulation tactics.
“My dad would meet someone, quickly read what you feared most and what you wanted most, and convince you that he was the one to save you from one and give you the other,” Stephan Jones said.
Trump, who needs to feel big about everything he does, might be heading for a much higher figure than Jones achieved.
There are some sensible people out there: themayor of Tulsa, a Republican, wants this thing called off, and conservative doctors and lawyers went to court to block this health hazard, but the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the rally could go ahead.
There are indications the regular ushers and other workers at the arena might decline to show up because of the danger, leaving "security" in the hands of volunteers, most of whom do not have the sense to avoid crowds, much less control one.
Another person who has seen the light is Trump’s 11-day-wonder of a press secretary, Anthony Scaramucci.
I wonder whether Rep. Jackie Speier of California makes the connection between Jones and Trump. At Jonestown, Speier took five bullets in an ambush when she accompanied her boss, Rep. Leo Ryan, who was investigating the Californians said to be in danger there. Ryan died but Speier survived 10 operations and in 2008 was elected to Congress from the same region as her late boss. She is one of the most stable and subtle critics of Trump.
Trump may have prevailed in this legal effort to spread the word -- and the virus -- so gratuitously, but with the Supreme Court making decisions that rebuke him and relatives and aides writing books critical of him, deep down he may understand that he has been found out.
An arena full of potential virus carriers could be the new version of poisoned Kool Aid. This could be his way out.
* * *
How this rally came about:
Scaramucci and Trump:
Stephan Jones on his father and Trump:
Rep. Jackie Speier of California:
Watching Dr. Anthony Fauci politely try to clear up some of the most egregious errors by Donald Trump, I am fascinated by his political poise.
Dr. Fauci was at his best Friday, calmly labelling Trump’s claims that a malaria vaccine might help stop the Coronavirus as "anecdotal." Trump had a “hunch.” Fauci had experience and facts. And character. And discretion.
I’ve been impressed by Dr. Fauci since he escaped Trump’s dungeon for inconvenient experts. You know, the Deep State. People who know things, like Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 -- six presidents, two Democrats and four Republicans.
Apparently, in this Dark Age, circumstances dictated that one qualified person should be up front with all the Pences and Pompeos.
So there he was, this tiny man (the web does not seem to divulge his actual height) who keeps a straight face while Trump is making stuff up during a grave crisis. And when Dr. Fauci speaks, he does so in a mixture of scientific knowledge and a gravelly accent that says, “Noo Yawk."
* * *
NB: Maureen Dowd spoke to Dr. Fauci. Great quotes. She also uses the word "gravelly," only proving that great minds think...or hear....alike .
* * *
I did not know anything about Dr. Fauci, but felt I knew him from my home town. He reminded me of the humble comedian, Jimmy Durante, a presence in my childhood, always ending his TV show with the mysterious salute:“ Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.”
The good doctor also sounds just like Lou Carnesecca, the beloved ex-coach of St. John’s basketball, still very much alive at 95. Looie, bless his heart, would usually begin his post-game summary by saying: “Two t’ings,” which he would then enumerate. And he always raved about New York pizza and bagels, claiming they were superior because of the elixir in the city pipes.
Turns out, I was on the right track, comparing Dr. Fauci with Looie. My brother-in-law Rich recalled Tony Fauci as a star athlete at Regis High School in Manhattan, one of the best Roman Catholic high schools in the city.
Anthony Fauci was the captain and starting point guard for Regis. before concentrating on his studies at Holy Cross and med school and has had a long and honorable career. Surely, running the offense against larger players prepared him for the gross lack of expertise and leadership in this ailing country.
I watch him while Trump is bloviating. He looks straight ahead, no eye-rolling, no twitching, no raising his hand to make a point. Some people might see him as going along with the program, just another Trump toadie, but I see him as Tony Fauci, point guard, trying to find space amidst the blockheads, and taking the charge for the good of the nation.
* * *
(Another alum of Regis is Colin Jost, the pleasant, deceptively sly co-host of Weekend Update on “Saturday Night Live.” Jost recently published a sweet little article in the New Yorker, about commuting from Staten Island – bus, ferry, subway, 90 minutes each way, for four years, and the interesting species he encountered, two-legged and four-legged. It’s part of a book he has coming out.)
* * *
Links about Dr. Anthony Fauci:
Very nice column by Jenni Carlson of the Oklahoman:
Check out this poor schlub being interviewed by Rep. Katie Porter of California.
More important, check out the faces behind him – presumably colleagues or family.
They are wincing as Dr. Robert R. Redfield is exposed as yet another Trumpite bumbler in the time of Covid-19.
Rep. Porter, in her first term, has become the scourge of corporate and government “leaders” who try to out-wait her few minutes of questioning.
Originally from Iowa, Rep. Porter went to Yale University and Harvard Law School, where her mentor was Elizabeth Warren.
On Thursday, she was doing what she does best, in a hearing into the lack of preparation for the rampaging virus – specifically the lack of tests and who will bear the cost when any tests are finally available after a scandalous delay.
Rep. Porter said she had violated her own rule of not alerting the hapless witnesses. She sent her line of questioning to Dr. Redfield’s office a week ahead of time so he could be prepared. But he appears to know nothing, nothing -- staff work in the time of Trump.
Dr. Redfield is a 68-year-old relic, a virologist who previously “served” in government during the early days of AIDS.
In his unprepared and ignorant fashion, Donald Trump tried to do away with government medical and research agencies but was forced to find a few people who could pretend to expertise, while Trump’s family and friends filled their gunnysacks with loose cash.
In 2018, Dr. Redfield was brought in as Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Not even having the bluster of a bank president, Dr. Redfield was confronted by the terror of the House. Rep. Porter had her facts and figures on hand – how much a test would cost. But most people seeking emergency treatment could not afford this perhaps life-saving process.
Would the government cover the cost of a test, Rep. Porter asked.
Dr. Redfield took the punches, waited for the bell to ring.
But Rep. Porter kept telling him: not good enough. She wanted to know if the government would take care of its people. She told him she has researched his powers. You can do this, according to law, she said.
Rep. Porter does this better than I can describe it, better than any lawmaker I have ever seen. Most legislators talk about themselves. She talks about law, about reality.
Watch the video. It’s a Perry Mason moment – the stunning reversal in real time—that almost never happens in trials or hearings.
In the end, battered and beaten, Dr. Redfield succumbs, seems to promise government coverage.
I do not know if his foggy submission has any legality.
Trump might well fire him any hour now, say it was all a mistake.
Once again, Katie Porter has exposed the stupidity and callousness of this regime.
* * *
On Thursday, a federal judge characterized the public statements of Attorney General William P. Barr as “distorted” and “misleading” in his early descriptions of Robert S. Mueller III's report last year.
I missed the name of the judge at first, but later the name drifted from the television in the next room.
“Oh, my God, that’s Reggie Walton!” I blurted, a bit informal toward a prominent judge.
I learned about Federal Justice Reggie B. Walton a decade ago when I was writing a biography of Stan Musial, the great baseball player from Donora, Pa. I was blessed to have two mentor-guides to that hard-times steel town: Bimbo Cecconi, one of Pitt's great athletes, and Dr. Charles Stacey, the former school superintendent and a town historian who was proud of both Musial and Walton.
“You ought to talk to Reggie Walton,” Dr. Stacey said. Later, on his own, he called his star pupil and suggested he give me a ring. That is the Donora connection – the pride of people who survived the mills and the streets and the hard times.
There was a history to Judge Walton. His parents worked hard -- the job market was always tougher for African-Americans -- and had high hopes for their son. Reggie was a competitor, who goaded his football teammates not to quit against much bigger teams, but he also ran with a tough crowd. In his senior year of high school, he thought he was going to a fist fight between two gangs from opposite sides of the Monongahela River.
Somebody pulled a sharp object and a boy from the other side was stabbed. Reggie Walton helped him get medical help, and then he decided to make himself scarce from gang activity. People in town pointed him toward West Virginia State University, a historically black college, to play football, and maybe to study.
The football was all right, but the studying was better. Reggie Walton is now a federal district judge in Washington, D.C., who has been in the news a few times since being appointed by President George W. Bush.
In 2005 the judge broke up a street brawl near the courthouse, and in 2007 he presided over the trial of I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, for outing a C.I.A. agent. The jury convicted Libby and the judge sentenced him to 30 months, but President Bush set him free, and President Trump later pardoned Libby. The judge was reportedly not amused, either time.
I finally got to meet Judge Walton in 2011 as he prepared for the perjury trial of Roger Clemens in the steroids frolics. Maybe because of his former school superintendent, Judge Walton agreed to meet me, on the grounds that we not discuss Clemens, at all.
I thought maybe I could slip in a question or two, but after five minutes in his office, I knew better than to try to make a fancy journalistic feint through Judge Walton's defense.
Nobody pulls the okey-doke on Judge Walton. I was in the courtroom in the first hour of the Clemens trial, when the prosecution alluded to a witness who had been ruled off limits. The highly-paid defense lawyer stuck up his hand and made an objection and the judge called a timeout, saying he needed a few minutes to think it over. After consulting his colleagues in back chambers, the judge declared a mistrial.
This year Judge Walton was assigned a case questioning whether the attorney general had accurately portrayed the Mueller report long before the public could see it. The judge alluded to “inconsistencies” from the attorney general.
In football terms, the liaison between the president and the attorney general has produced a dirty game for the past three years -- lots of grappling in the mud, kneeing and gouging in the pile.
All I know is, when the oblong football skitters loose in a legal scrimmage, I want it to roll near Reggie Walton, from Donora, Pa.
The article I wrote in 2011 before the brief Clemens trial:
Judge Walton's official website:
We sat in front of the tube Sunday night and made that exclamation, watching a politician kiss his husband and then deliver a gracious and hopeful speech.
The love in the room was tangible, following months of campaigning by Mayor Pete in far corners of the United States, where he was treated with respect and affection by wide swaths of the population.
In the narrow sense, this was not a triumph, since Buttigieg had just been ignored/rejected by voters in South Carolina, who had other agendas, quite understandable. But Buttigieg knew he had taken his youth and hope and skill to the American public and received votes, delegates, and promise of a future.
So, yes, this scene was not something we had thought we would see in a national election, any time soon.
In a way, it reminded me of the hope of turning, dare I admit it, 21 in the election year of 1960, and seeing a candidate I thought represented youth and idealism, John F. Kennedy, beating Richard M. Nixon.
For anybody believing in equal opportunity, there was pride in that religious barricade coming down, but much more it was the hope of another generation coming along, that would sort things out, or so we hoped.
More to the point, Buttigieg’s speech, clearly without prompters or notes, celebrating values like honesty and equality and facts, reminded us of a speech at the Democratic convention in 2004, by a senator, of color.
My wife caught it live, and told me about it, and said Barack Obama would be president, and soon, because he could express the hope and ideals of the nation.
Four years later, we saw an appealing family, husband and wife and two little girls, walk onto a stage in Grant Park, Chicago, to acknowledge being elected president.
“Did you ever think you’d see that?”
I can only speak for myself, but the magical sight reflected to my upbringing, the highly “progressive” political values of my family – the adoration for Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband, the records by Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson in our house, and the discussion group of working class people in Queens, intentionally maintained at 50-50, black and white, that sometimes met in my family’s living room.
How often do you see family ideals expressed on worldwide television from a jammed lakeside park in Chicago? For all the birther crap being spread about the Obamas, this was a family victory.
Now it is a gay couple, Pete and Chasten, married, kissing in front of the world, celebrating the reality that Mayor Pete had been accepted – chosen in primaries and caucuses – particularly by older folks, in a time when younger people are much more comfortable with gender diversity.
And then Mayor Pete gave a speech that reminded us of Barack Obama in 2004.
Nobody knows what will play out in the coming days and months.
I won’t even go into the glaring and dangerous failures of the current president.
I only know that Mayor Pete kissed his husband, and gave a great speech, and that made us feel better, if only for the moment.
“Did you ever think you’d see that?”
"Lord of the Flies."
Circular firing squads. Mass suicides. That’s what the Democrats have going for them, self-destructive fools that they are.
They are trying to beat The Worst Person in the World and none of them can summon enough dignity and knowledge to help their causes.
(There is even published talk of seeking a compromise candidate if Bernie Sanders cannot get enough delegates by the convention. Sounds like more anarchy ....except.... except.... for months I have been sad that Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio did not run for president. It's bizarre that at this point there is still strong sentiment for "another" candidate and even the fantasy that Michelle Obama would agree to run for vice president. I wouldn't wish it on her. But that only speaks to the desperate need to upgrade the leadership of this country.)
I never realized how degraded the primary system is until CNN held a so-called Town Hall from Charleston, S.C., Wednesday night.
We caught Bloomberg, Biden, Klobuchar and Warren, all with an hour of their own, to answer thoughtful questions from screened members of the audience – clearly an elite group.
Without yapping and trying to draw blood from a fellow candidate, all four displayed their strengths, often going for 3-4 minutes on one question.
Their answers were such a contrast to the inarticulate, uninformed blather from Trump when he tries to assure us that the Coronavirus will be fine with Mike Pence (Mr. Science) in charge.
Bloomberg was highly informed and adult, talking about being a mayor of a world city.
Biden was touchingly knowledgeable about the reasons for brain cancer affecting the military, including his beloved son Beau. At the end of his hour, he motioned the questioner to come to the front and he would supply references.
Klobuchar still talked about all the bills she had helped send “to Mitch McConnell’s desk,” still appearing self-centered but also emulating past senators who ran (and won) presidential contests.
And Warren, while still overly kinetic and anecdotal, reminded us of the lawyer/senator who has effectively reigned in the bandit banks and insurance companies.
The format was a welcome relief from the Trumpian reality shows, the Simon types sneering at contestants, Jerry Springer dragging human misery onto the stage and goading people to attack each other.
Maybe America is not terminally afflicted with show-biz hysteria.
Instead of turning public figures into survivors, it is time to do away with these hideous mass “debates” that turn into pie fights.
And while they are at it, let's do away with the caucuses, all that inscrutable and inarticulate milling around -- not democracy in action but rather a theater of the absurd.
This is important. America has a president who is a lethal mix of malicious and stupid and greedy.
Earth cannot afford more of this.
If there is still time, let's restore a touch of gravitas to the process.
No more mass “debates.”
The other day I referred to the current debates as a "horror show."
Then came Wednesday night's Democratic slap-down from Las Vegas, with all the candidates greeting Mike Bloomberg with all the ear-ringing civility of the old Jerry Springer show, or maybe a Trump stalk-a-thon from 2016.
It's all a reality show now. What would happen if, say, Adlai Stevenson and Robert Taft, prominent candidates of the left and right from the 1950's, wandered into that raucous scrum?
Hard to maintain dignity in this melee. Rip Van Bloomberg blinked and shrugged and pursed his lips at the political Billingsgate being heaved at him. Rotten fish and unkind verbiage. Didn't they know who he is?
I'm typing this in mid-morning on Thursday. It wouldn't surprise me if Mayor Mike said "screw this" before noon and fired up his private carbon-burner for a weekend in his mansion in London. (Beats the hell out of Mar-a-Lago.) What does he need this for?
I'll leave the ratings and snide points to the paid observers in the media.
I only want to add that Joe Biden maintained his avuncular posture while people around him were tossing verbal chamber pots around the stage.
Maybe that means Uncle Joe is irrelevant? Or he is going to wait for Senator Amy and Mayor Pete to be led away for mutual assault? It's a battle of attrition out there while Trump pardons body-double criminals who remind him of, well, himself.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden stayed on his feet, hair and syntax in place.
(Here's what I wrote about him the other day, before Mayor Mike wandered onto the stage, stunningly unprepared:)
* * *
On Monday I strolled past an active television screen and saw a poised gent making sense (at least, to me) and I paused to take a look.
Omigosh, it was Joe Biden, the candidate that the national hangin' jury has consigned to oblivion.
Time to take Grandpa to the Dog Track.
Biden sounded and looked healthy, focused, experienced and decent -- not the distracted old-timer out in public beyond his bedtime in this circus of primaries, outdoors in small, snowbound states.
He spoke rationally about the danger of the disturbed man currently defiling the post of President,. He spoke in some detail about the right way to run his country.
"Wait a minute," I said out loud. He sounded like somebody who could pick a cabinet much better than the current collection of self-serving ghouls. He sounded as if he had some job experience, could absorb facts, as opposed to the illiterate and sadistic buffoon we currently have.
Joe Biden was being interviewed by Nicolle Wallace, the reforming Republican who has become one of the very best hosts on MSNBC. She asked good questions, did not interrupt or blather like some people I could mention.
So he's old. So are most of the other leading candidates. I'm three-plus years older than Biden, blessed to be in good shape, but I can easily imagine a president wanting to sneak off for a nap. Then again, look at the bloated, addled oaf we have now.
(Old president? Get a younger running mate. Stacey Abrams, age 46, jobbed out of the Senate by Georgia's establishment, would be a perfect running mate.)
So Biden stutters a bit -- a lifelong condition he has mostly overcome, which sounds worse in the circus carnival of primaries. Listening to him the other day, I could see him making sense with leaders of other countries, members of both parties, corporate executives, union officials, as well as citizens of all political leanings. I could see him delegating chores to responsible assistants.
The former Veep has been there, done that.
(I know, I know, the "borrowed" speech, Anita Hill, the vote on Iraq, his unqualified son taking a cushy "job" in Ukraine, complaints that Biden is a bit too old-school hands-on.)
For 14-plus minutes, Joe Biden looked and sounded presidential -- perhaps more than anybody else in this mad roller-coaster of a campaign.
For that moment, I was once again ready to reconsider the potential candidates to save this country.
Would somebody please tell Barr he cannot get it back, whatever he gave away in order to serve Trump?
It doesn’t work that way. Trump uses his lackeys and then he tosses them out. Later, some locate a glimmer or pretense of conscience, like Cohen in jail or Kelly out in the world, but by then the damage is done.
I’m not sure I really believe the fuss Barr is making about Trump’s interference in the Justice Department over the Roger Stone sentence. It could very well be a smokescreen to divert the thinking/caring half of the country. This current flap could be buying time for McConnell and the White Citizens Council to do more damage.
It’s too late for Barr, and maybe even too late for those of us who knew Trump as a wrongo, going back to his feckless-playboy days in New York, and tried to warn people. It’s too late for Barr because he has already wasted a year we could not afford.
It's too late for Barr in his slavish role as "My Roy Cohn," the nether force who advised the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Barr maligned Robert Mueller – his friend! – before Mueller’s report was public, thereby rendering it ineffective. Barr left his stink on a good public servant.
Maybe people informed Barr that he was looking horrible, that Trump was using him. Some of Barr’s old friends were going on TV and sighing that this is not the person they used to know. This is what happens in the monster movies when the core is removed.
* * *
Also, would somebody please tell Sen. Susan Collins that her social-worker cause isn’t working out. This wishy-washy senator from Maine said her vote to end the impeachment could very well teach a lesson to Trump. There is no such thing as a bad boy, Collins seemed to be saying.
Even if Collins and her pals in the Senate had voted to pretend to hear witnesses, the process might still be going on, and Trump would not be exacting revenge on the citizens who did their duty in sworn testimony.
Collins will figure out soon that heroes like Vindman and Yovanovich get to keep their reputations while she and Lamar Alexander and Lisa Murkowski get to ride the Senate subway to ignominy.
How’s that reclamation project working, Sen. Collins? Maybe she will explain it to voters in Maine this fall -- if Trump allows elections to go forward.
* * *
Things could happen fast as I type this on a cold Valentine’s Day. Trump could fire Barr. Or, Barr could quit. Or, it could all be a smokescreen to validate Barr’s next round of enablement.
After watching these people in action, I trust nobody.
* * *
Pozzo and Lucky: Please see:
"My Roy Cohn":
Eight years ago (!) I wrote about a presidential candidate named Mitt Romney.
He was, I said, more than just the slick Money Guy he appeared to be.
This was based on my interviews with him when he stepped in and saved the scandal-ridden host committee for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
I also had a long breakfast with him in Sydney during the 2000 Summer Games. (I offered to pass the coffee pot to the devout Mormon, before remembering. Somebody joked that the wired Mitt Romney did not need any caffeine.)
The one thing that stuck with me during his ineffective campaign later in 2012 was that Romney often referred to his wife. Ann Davies Romney was a presence, an equal in the relationship. She gave him feedback, advice, and he acknowledged it with the occasional “Ann tells me” or “Ann says.” (I surely can relate because of my strong and capable wife.)
I did not see any overt signs of his Mormon faith – but he had made his mission (to France, nice going, man) and was clearly living in the Mormon tradition. That is to say, he had a strong core, whatever I might think of his “politics.”
So I was not totally stunned when Romney last Tuesday and delivered a speech in the Senate on why he would vote for President Trump to be judged guilty (on one of two counts) in his impeachment trial. He cited his faith, pausing to collect himself, fighting off the emotions, discussing why he was doing what he felt was right.
Romney’s near tears were catching. Several of his colleagues – Democratic colleagues – were openly weeping at the sight of this Mormon Republican laying down the lines of right and wrong.
At least there was one Republican, to stand in opposition to the Susan Collinses and Lamar Alexanders of the world, consisting of gooey polenta at the crucial moment, plus the White Citizens Council that gathers mutely behind Mitch McConnell. Mitt Romney stood alone, but not alone.
Having been around him, I could feel the presence of “Ann says” as Romney made his brave stand.
In that, Mitt Romney is very much in the path of the two previous Presidents, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, both of whom acknowledge the presence of co-equal spouses, which may be why the Obamas and the Bushes seem so friendly at infrequent meetings. They recognize each other.
That’s all I’m saying, not trying to discuss the current occupants of the White House, or earlier couples.
It’s something to think about this time around. Just for example, candidate Pete Buttigieg often refers to his husband, Chasten, clearly a regular presence in his life. That is not a political endorsement, just an observation.
In an important moment in his life, Mitt Romney had something inside that led him to recognize a criminal, a bully, an empty and dangerous despot. Not perfect – nobody is – Romney set an example for other Americans. I am sure his wife is proud of him.
My glimpse of Mitt Romney, Feb. 2012:
Ann Romney has multiple sclerosis; one reason I admire her so much is that my mom fought it back for over 40 years. This is a glimpse of Ann Romney’s fight:
(The following ode to Iowa was written before all hell broke loose in the ramshackle "system" that was supposed to collate the Democratic caucus results Monday night. Even before the network failed to produce while the world was watching, visiting savants like Chris Matthews were questioning -- in front of the earnest citizens -- why Iowa got to hold the highly visible first "primary" scrimmage every four years. With these reasonable questions being raised, Iowa may lose its prominent spot. Shame. There ought to be a place for well-meaning Americana -- but maybe not with an ignorant and vicious wannabe dictator getting a free pass from his party enablers. Poor Iowa, caught up in the tumult. My original praise for Iowa and skepticism about a caucus:)
They are highly motivated, conscientious American citizens.
But what in the world are they doing?
Why don’t they just vote?
Then I remember, Iowa is different, or so they say.
I’ve been there three times and liked all three visits. (More in a bit.)
While trying to make sense of this caucus thing Monday evening, I remembered one of my favorite musicals – “The Music Man,” by Meredith Willson, that’s with two L’s, and don’t you forget it.
A con man (Robert Preston) gets off the train in River City, Iowa (Willson was from Mason City) and tries to chat up the townspeople, only to receive a bunch of double talk, some of it polite.
The result: “Iowa Stubborn.”
That charming character trait emerged Monday in snow-covered Iowa (or “I-oh-way,” as some of the denizens insist.)
“The caucus is like cricket,” I told my wife. (We once saw the great West Indies team play a tuneup in a Welsh country town.)
“Cricket is easier,” she said, meaning – bat, ball, tea.
This caucus thing determines who wins the delegates, who has the momentum, or maybe not.
It’s a portrait of Iowa. The Grant Wood painting, American Gothic.
I am affectionate about Iowa – after first noting that its populace does not at all resemble that of my home town of New York.
My first trip to Iowa was in 1973 when Charlotte Curtis, the great Family/Style editor of the Times (herself a Midwesterner), sent me out to Iowa to write about a boy, 18 or 19, who had just been elected mayor of a little town. (I cannot find the story in the electronic files.) It was such a nice visit, at this cold time of year, as I recall.
My second trip to Iowa was early in 1979 when Iowa was selected as one of the sites for the first American visit by Pope John Paul II, because of the huge farm preserve, judged a perfect site for the man from Cracow. After scouting out Des Moines, I had dinner with a couple who had met when he was posted to her town in the Altiplano of a South American country. We went to a Chinese restaurant, where they chatted with the staff in Spanish – a big Chinese contingent, emigrated via Latin America.
My third trip to Iowa was on a perfect autumn day in 1979 as the square-jawed Pope strode the plains, waving to a bunch of Lutherans. He was young and strong, looking like a former linebacker for the Iowa Hawkeyes. I edged closer to get a look – and got blind-sided by an American Secret Service guy.
When the Pope had moved on, I stood on the great plain and congratulated the nun who had facilitated the press visit. She was so happy that the day had turned out so beautifully that I could think of only one thing to do – I hugged the nun. That’s what I think about whenever I remember that day.
Oh, one other Iowa impression: Our daughter Laura decided to spend her junior year abroad and chose Iowa City. Every few weeks the phone would ring and a plaintive voice would say: "It's dark out here."
Now, every four years, the great journalists from my cable-network-of-choice wander all over that state and I thrill to every coffee klatsch and every barber shop. The journalists can explain “quid-pro-quo” and “impeachment” perfectly, but they cannot explain what those folks are doing on the first Monday in February.
(The aforementioned Laura watched caucus news from Iowa Monday night and texted us: "Nicolle and Rachel far better than Troy and Buck." Poor girl is having Super Bowl flashbacks.)
Maybe Meredith Willson could have explained the caucus, but he was more interested in the busy intersection of chicanery and romance, and bless his heart for that.
I did the healthy thing and did not watch a moment on Sunday night. While I read a book, the next generation kept me posted -- good reviews for the ladies, terrible reviews for the TV babblers. Some of our family were early Mahomes fans; I'm happy for them. Ditto for my friend Bill Wakefield, ex-Met, who chose his home town over his adopted Bay Area. I have that righteous (probably smug) feeling I have on Jan. 1 after going to sleep before midnight..
Now I have a three-word mantra for other true believers:
Pitchers And Catchers!!!
* * *
After covering 10 or 11 Super Bowls (*), I still did not truly understand the broad appeal of the event -- until Friday evening.
While watching the Republican majority in the Senate dump on the impeachment trial, I became aware of the magnetic pull of the Big Game on everybody – not just the deaf, dumb and blind Senate majority but even the broadcasters on cable news, who referred to the Super Bowl in just about every other sentence.
People made jokes about home-region teams -- nicknames, rivalries, ancient games -- as if that mattered more than a real hearing, a real trial.
I got the impression that even news TV people with connections had the promise of a ticket and a flight to South Florida, as long as the Senate did not take its job seriously and keep working into Saturday. Plus, four Democrat senators could now rush out to Iowa to peddle their wares before the caucus on Monday.
Take it from me, up close the Super Bowl is just another football game – but with more logistical annoyances, more noise, more stupid stuff at halftime, more clichés, and in the end just a bunch of running and passing and tackling and blocking and kicking and commercial timeouts.
It really isn’t much of a consolation that the Senate cannot officially toss the impeachment into the Dumpster until Wednesday.
Does this mean Trump won’t swagger around South Florida on Sunday….and strut into the State of the Union speech on Tuesday….and make pointed remarks about how the Democrats couldn’t prove a thing. He’s been getting away with stuff all his life. But at least his latest escape won’t be official until Wednesday.
The big game this weekend is that Americans can ignore the reality that Trump forced Ukraine to survive without promised weapons for many crucial days last summer while Trump pursued a personal and political goal and jeopardized Ukrainian people and befouled the honorable career of a diplomat assigned to Ukraine
Thanks to the Republican majority in the Senate – who will be pursued by emerging facts in days and weeks to come -- the menace and the lies get to take a few days off now.
Democracy and justice have been kneed in the groin, have “had their bell rung,” as the football broadcasters used to bray, have been tripped and elbowed, have been clotheslined by a neck-high tackle.
The big game will be run by tighter rules than the Trump Frolics, but that makes sense.
After all, what’s more important - an impeachment trial or a Super Bowl?
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(*) -- I originally thought I covered nearly two dozen Super Bowls, but it just seemed that way. When I checked, it was only 10. Maybe 11. Some of them numbed my mind but I do have memories: Preservation Hall jazz in 1970; having to trek over snowy fields because VP Bush's arrival halted all traffic around the Silverdome in 1982; John Riggins' superb traction on a slick Rose Bowl field in 1983; enjoying the Bears, my favorite childhood team, winning in NOLA in 1986; and watching southern drivers try to negotiate icy interstates before Atlanta game in 2000. Who says there is no fun at the Super Bowl?
Now that our Dear Leader is back on his meds, the United States is in the hands of Mitch McConnell.
This was the conclusion in the past day as we realized the world was not in smoldering ruins, not yet, from an impulsive drive-by shooting ordered by the Dear Leader.
The twitchy fingers of Twitter America have produced a theory that somebody had fed him doggie downers or whatever it took to leave Donald Trump slurring as he mechanically tried to read what his handlers had written for him. Not a pretty sight, but better than more rabid postures he takes.
Meantime, the nation is back in the hands of the same friendly feller who kidnapped the Supreme Court candidacy of Judge Merrick B. Garland and committed other acts of contempt toward democracy.
I don’t need to go through the scenarios of the impeachment frolics. We’ve got time to talk about it while Nancy Pelosi – the smartest person in the room – is making the Dear Leader twist.
But I, who lived in Kentucky as a Times reporter for a few years and returned often, have my own take on Mitch. I have told this story before. Short version: I covered a statewide election in Kentucky and the winning candidate – I have no memory which one or which party – celebrated that night at headquarters by proclaiming:
“They’ve had their turn at the trough; now it’s our turn.”
Ever since then, I retain the image of one porker or another making the most of his chance – no concern for others.
Millions of Americans would not have health care, however imperfect, if John McCain had not pointed his thumb downward on that historic midnight. Mitch would be fine with disregarding the needs of the poor in the cities and hollers of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
He also shows his contempt for others by championing the dying industry of coal mining, which I covered years ago. He doesn’t care how badly King Coal pollutes the land and the air – or that it is is only a sliver of Kentucky’s economy. His turn at the trough.
McConnell’s posture is even more negative considering that he broke into politics as an aide to Sen. John Sherman Cooper, a Republican – I guess you’d say an old-style Republican. Cooper was worldly and collegial. I covered his announcement that he would not run again in 1972. Maybe I met McConnell that day; I do remember the gravitas of John Sherman Cooper.
I think of Cooper and others these days during the scrimmage for the House-to-Senate impeachment.
I remember when Democrats like Sam Ervin and Republicans like Howard Baker were able to work together in the Watergate scandal that doomed Richard M. Nixon.
It seems clear to me – from the impulsive assassination ordered by Trump to the lies from Trump’s toadies, angering even a Republican stalwart like Mike Lee of Utah – that the United States needs Trump dismissed.
Mitch McConnell is trying to block it. I don’t know what McConnell gains from a defective president like Trump. But it’s still Mitch’s turn at the trough, and that may be all that matters to him.
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Here is Gail Collins today, on McConnell. (I have delayed my pleasure in reading Collins until after I file my little screed, which was already in the works.)
(Update: A major evangelical magazine, Christianity Today, founded by Billy Graham, has called for Trump's removal via impeachment. This is a huge step. I used to cover religion; I also know and love some evangelicals, who scurried out to vote for Trump in 2016 because their pastors said he was a good Christian fellow. Many of those pastors are caught up in Trump's money and power and swagger. The red ties! The adoring crowds! Will they pay attention to the prophetic message from a magazine that has been a voice of evangelical thinking? The "mainstream" media is taking this very seriously. Will it trickle down to people who call themselves "Good Christians?")
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A guy I know canvasses for the Democratic party in his rural corner of America. He says it is not unusual to knock on a door and have the woman of the house say, softly, that she votes Democratic these days, but that the visitor should not try to discuss voting with her husband.
In that exchange there may be a palpable sense of intimidation, of fear.
I was thinking of that on Impeachment Wednesday when President Trump was in Battle Creek, Mich., making an ad-lib rant about how he had “given” an A-plus ceremony upon the death of Debbie Dingell’s husband, John Dingell, a veteran of World War Two and the longest-serving member of Congress in history, 59 years.
The President made his brand of joke that John Dingell was “looking up” rather than “looking down” – and a smattering of Republicans right behind him tittered, as if this was one more out-take from Trump's reality show, which, in a way, it is.
The President referred to the touches he had personally included in the funeral, like a third-rate real-estate sleaze who tosses in a used doormat and a fly-swatter as incentives to seal the deal for an apartment rental (as long as the renter is white, of course.)
John Dingell’s widow, Debbie, now holds his seat in Congress, and Trump took it personally when she joined all but three Democrats in Congress to vote for the two counts of impeachment Wednesday evening – after all he had done for her.
She owed him, he suggested. In fact, in the old way of government, which seems to have been dumped in January of 2017, the White House always had respectable functionaries, essentially apolitical, trusted to treat deceased veterans and members of Congress with dignity. Red regime, blue regime, the government knew how to do the right thing.
But now the country is divided, and one of the major splits is on the civility frontier. The video from Trump’s vile talk Wednesday night shows women right behind him, cheering him on. Reports from the hall said some people were hushed and upset by his attack on the Dingells, but I could not tell.
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Polls suggest women lean toward the Democrats rather than Trump in the 2020 election. What is clear is that Trump particularly victimizes women – not just from charges of his physical brutality but also in verbal abuse.
He expresses deep feelings that women are objects of disgust, to be feared and mocked: the TV personality who had blood coming from her “whatever;” the opponent who used a debate intermission to go the lavatory; the speaker of the House whose teeth were “falling out” as she spoke.
Women upset Donald Trump, apparently disgust him. I am sure it has to do with his late mother, whom he never mentions. His third wife seems frozen in fear, possibly loathing. His daughter Ivanka? Another story.
Women in Michigan, a state he needs in 2020, hear Trump mocking a widow, a highly capable public figure on her own, now serving as a Representative from Michigan.
When do American women tell the men in their lives that this man is sick, this man is perverted, this man is cruel? Or does the American male -- that intimidating presence somewhere in the back of the house -- have the same anger, the same bluster, as Jordan and Gaetz and Collins in the House of Representatives? Where does this anger in the American psyche come from?
I have come to recognize that Bill Clinton has worse baggage than I was willing to admit. Now, when are the women of America going to realize that Donald J. Trump seems to have no limits to abuse, verbal or otherwise?
I’ll let you define “here.”
There are thousands of factors from "there" to "here," but I’m going to list four random indicators that something was happening.
One. My wife went to the movies with some fellow teachers, circa 1981 -- "Raiders of the Lost Ark." She watched as Harrison Ford blew away a guy who was wielding a sword, in front of a crowd, and she felt he did it with a smirk, for yucks, and the audience laughed, and she felt tears. Something is different, she said. Life means less.
Two. I was clicking through the cable channels around 2006 – no doubt looking for a ball game or a soccer match – and happened upon a talent competition.
We had these things when I was a kid, Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts – first prize being a week on his morning radio show. Godfrey was generally genial on the air (well, except when he fired his singer, Julius LaRosa, live, to teach him some “humility.”)
In 2006, a talent competition was different. A British guy named Simon was sneering and making remarks about the competitors, and also about the wisdom of his fellow judges. I had never seen such sheer nastiness on the air; the show was about this Simon guy, not about the contestants singing or dancing their hearts out.
I had never seen a reality show -- knew they existed, but avoided them, scrupulously. Only thing I could say about sneering Simon was “If he acted like that in the schoolyard where I played basketball, somebody would have popped him one.” But Simon seemed quite popular.
Three. I did hear there was a comparable reality show on the tube, starring a guy who grew up near me in Queens. He was rather yappy; friends of mine who lived next door told me that. I never saw him in the schoolyard.
Later, I heard he had been staked by his successful builder father to a rather large allowance to look like a successful businessman. He owned a team in a low-scale pro football league; his wife (first wife, as it turned out) had to correct all the things he did not know about his team.
Then I heard the guy had his own reality show, on which he postured and preened, Simon-like, dismissing candidates with a curt “You’re fired.” I heard it was popular but I never saw it. After all, I had met the guy. People in New York didn't take him seriously. We knew.
Four. Starting in 2009, I started to read about new members of Congress who had run for the House or Senate because….they did not much like centralized government and the use of taxes to run the country, to help other people.
Once elected, they were obligated to go to Washington for a few days here and there, but to show their disdain for centralized government they bragged about bunking in with friends, maybe even sleeping on couches in their offices, until they could get back home to God’s Country, away from the Deep State. These advocates of minimal government were labelled The Tea Party by Rick Santelli of CNBC. Last elected rep to leave, please turn out the lights.
That brings us to today, when the country seems to be divided between elected public officials who seem to have studied and respected the Constitution and the Founding Fathers and other elected public officials who seem to have a Tea Party twitch to shut the whole thing down and turn it over to Our Masters – particularly the guy on the reality show.
I guess it goes back to laughing at bodies being blown to bits by Indiana Jones, back to contestants and fellow judges being mocked by the Simon guy, back to Tea Party types who don’t believe in the separation of powers of government, who do not respect the public servants who make government run.
It’s been coming on for a long time.
I am thankful for the Wampanoags who flocked to the Plymouth settlement in November of 1621 when they heard white people firing off their guns, and stayed three peaceful days to partake of the “feast.” Nobody spoke of “thanksgiving,” but rather a celebration of survival.
Tribal ways were more complex than most people today know; the Narragansetts in what became Rhode Island welcomed Roger Williams, banished from Massachusetts for his inclusive Christian beliefs. All the “Indians” deserved better than the genocide that was coming down on them.
I am thankful for the Americans who arrived as slaves in shackles and were treated cruelly. I am thankful for the modern-day Africans who flee failed societies and continue to add talent and energy and spirituality to the United States.
I am thankful for the Latino people in my part of the world, who do the hard work that immigrants always do. In recent months we have had painters, gardeners, plumbers’ assistants and a mason’s assistant around our house, most of them quite willing and skillful. Their children speak colloquial English and contribute in the schools; some are going to college – the American dream.
I am thankful for the immigrants who served in the military, many of them on the promise of citizenship for their contributions. I am sickened by a country that welshes on its promises, both domestic and foreign. People come to America in hope, the way the “pilgrims” did, and their children are put in cages.
I am thankful for some of the best and brightest in this country, who left their homelands, escaping the Nazis or the Soviets, for what America said about itself -- the promise of education and opportunities and honest government.
I am thankful for the true believers who testified in Congress in recent days, speaking of their hope in America. Some of them are Jews, like Marie Yovanovich and Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman,, who served so diligently and speak so eloquently about this country.
Lt. Col. Vindman acknowledged his father for bringing the family from Ukraine to America, saying: “Here, right matters.”
They should put his saying on the next new dollar bills.
For their pains, Yovanovich and Lt. Col. Vindman have heard sneering overtly anti-Semitic sentiments from some of the “patriots” in government. Shades of Father Coughlin in the ‘30s, Roy Cohn (Donald Trump’s mentor), with Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the ‘50s, and Richard Nixon blaming the Jews during his last days in the bunker in the ‘70s. In America, it never goes away.
Finally, I am thankful for Dr. Fiona Hill, a non-partisan government expert on Russia, and an American by choice, a coal-miner’s daughter from Northeast England with a Harvard degree. (Having helped Loretta Lynn write her book, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” I heard Dr. Hill’s background and said, “They are messing with a coal miner’s daughter. Not a good idea.”)
Dr. Hill caught everybody’s attention by speaking so knowledgeably in what sounded like the finest British accent to our unsophisticated ears but which Dr. Hill termed working-class.
She besought the legislators not to swallow Russian propaganda. The Republican firebrands seemed to know they were outmatched; a few panelists scampered to safety. One of the remaining Republicans, Dr. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, spoke of his non-partisan volunteer service as a doctor of podiatry in Iraq; it is also known that he administered to a colleague shot on a ball field, and rushed to a train crash near Washington.
After delivering some remarks with a scowl, Dr. Wenstrup was not about to ask questions of Dr. Hill. After she requested the chance to respond, Dr. Hill produced the little miracle of the hearings:
As Dr. Hill spoke passionately about fairness and knowledge, the anger drained from Dr. Wenstrup’s face. He was listening – he had manners -- he maintained eye contact -- and he seemed touched, perhaps even shocked, that she was speaking to him as an intelligent adult. How often does that happen in politics? “He’s going to cry,” my wife said.
As Dr. Hill finished, she thanked Dr. Wenstrup, and he nodded, and we saw the nicer person behind the partisan bluster. (I am including a video, but nothing I find on line captures the ongoing split-screen drama that we saw in real time. Maybe somebody can find a better link of this sweet moment, and let me know in the Comments section below.)
I am thankful for Dr. Fiona Hill’s educated hopes for a wiser country. I am thankful to Dr. Wenstrup for listening. I wish them, and Ms. Yovanovich, and Lt. Col. Vindman and all the other witnesses a happy and civil Thanksgiving.
(In other words: Don’t yell at your cousin for not agreeing with you!)
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(In the video below, you might want to skip forward 5 minutes or so, to the point where Dr. Hill asks, "May I actually...." . The video, alas, does not show the split-screen version.)
Thomas Friedman gives Mike Pompeo a well-deserved knee in his missing morality area.
If you haven't seen it yet:
When I took ROTC in college, the first thing they did was pass out a slim manual about leadership, aimed at second lieutenants who might one day be in charge of a platoon, in combat.
One of our teachers – can’t remember if it was an officer or a sergeant – defined leadership as: “Get the troops out of the hot sun.”
Made sense to me. You want health and morale as high as possible.
They taught potential officers how to speak to people. Make eye contact. Square up to the person you were addressing, whether standing or sitting. Try to know their name. Show respect.
I left ROTC after three years – mutual decision, so I guess you could say, who am I to talk? I was married with a child before the Vietnam war heated up and I never served in the military.
I knew people who never came back from Vietnam; I know people who graduated from West Point, who saw duty over there, who had classmates and soldiers under their command killed over there.
I retain respect for the many things the military can teach via a slim manual. Some sports “leaders” have it; some do not. Other industries – no names mentioned -- could learn from the ROTC manual, or any kind of leadership seminar.
A few years ago, an aged relative of ours was starting to decline in a very nice retirement home in Maine. My wife and I requested a conference with the director of the home, who had been an officer overseas, in the nursing corps.
When we arrived, she stood up to greet us and asked us to sit down. She sat squarely in her chair and leaned forward for some small talk.
“What’s on your minds?” she soon asked.
I smiled and said: “I heard you were an officer.” Our meeting was productive. The retirement home did the best it could with our relative.
I was reminded of that meeting on Friday, when I watched Marie Yovanovich, the former ambassador to Ukraine, face a Congressional subcommittee. (There may be something about this hearing in the media today.)
This admirable American modestly discussed her long career, going to the front lines in danger zones, to fly the flag with the people who served.
She talked about being caught during a shootout in Moscow as the Soviet Union came apart – being summoned to the embassy and having to make a dash for it without body armor.
The only time the former ambassador seemed to falter was when she was asked why she was abruptly recalled from her top post in Ukraine. What had she done wrong? Did anyone explain? No, she said plainly. She would not venture a guess why.
From the line of questioning from the Democrats, it was suggested that President Trump and his hatchet man, Rudy Giuliani, wanted her out of there, but never explained to her. The President gave others the impression that something bad could happen to her – beyond the blight to her outstanding career, that is.
On Friday afternoon, Chuck Rosenberg, a sober legal counsel whom I have admired greatly throughout this ugly time, delivered what for him is a rant. Just back from a chatty day with friends in the city, I heard him (on Nicolle Wallace's hour), and I am sure that is what inspired me, five hours later, to deliver my own take here:
One person was conspicuous by his general absence – the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, No. 1 in the Class of 1986 at the United States Military Academy, who later served in Europe.
At the Academy, Pompeo undoubtedly read leadership manuals like the one linked below. Probably, he looked after his troops when he was in uniform. But he is a civilian now – a former member of the House of Representatives, rumored to be interested in running for the Senate from Kansas, and currently punching his ticket by serving time in the cabinet, obsequiously.
People have attacked somebody in Mike Pompeo's unit, have maligned her work. Did he assert his leadership?
Perhaps he has been busy in some hot spot of the world, or perhaps he is cowering in his bunker at the State Department. Sometimes leaders have to deliver harsh news, harsh orders, to their troops. Mike Pompeo has never explained to the former ambassador to Ukraine why she was removed, does not seem to have thanked her for her service.
Mike Pompeo has left Marie Yovanovich standing at attention, out in the hot sun, even when the President of the United States savaged yet another woman, in public, while she was testifying Friday. That is where we are these days.
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"Expose yourself to many of the same hardships as your soldiers by spending time with them in the hot sun, staying with them even when it is unpleasant." --- Tacit Knowledge for Military Leaders; Platoon Leader Questionnaire. (below)
U.S. Army Cadet Handbook:
In this ugly time, I tear up when reminded of the knowledge, the eloquence, the idealism of Barack Obama and Michelle Obama.
Sometimes, I entertain the fantasy that Mrs. Obama will offer herself as a candidate for President – not that I would subject her, or her family, to the viciousness of another campaign, another presidency.
Besides, any ephemeral hopes have been dashed by reading Mrs. Obama’s stimulating book, “Becoming,” which confirms what has seemed apparent: since she was young, Mrs. Obama has felt a visceral distaste for politics.
In her book, she recalls qualifying for the elite Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, which entails a long two-bus commute, but also introduces her to new friends like Santita Jackson. Sometimes, after school, she is invited to the Jackson home, which takes on a frenzy when the man of the house, Jesse Jackson, is in town, making plans for one campaign or another.
One day Michelle and Santita find themselves “conscripted” into marching in the annual Bud Billiken Day Parade on the South Side.
“The fanfare was fun and even intoxicating, but there was something about it, and about politics in general, that made me queasy,” she writes.
When she comes home that afternoon, her mother, the stalwart Marian Shields Robinson, is laughing, saying: “I just saw you on TV."
Michelle Robinson Obama has always known her own mind. She was enough of a realist to admit that she had fallen for a charismatic summer intern at the law firm she had worked so hard to join. Barack Obama had many plans and dreams, and in her telling, she had enough faith in him that she would change her own life around.
That is the first half of the book – how Michelle was raised by Fraser and Marian Robinson, and her older brother, Craig, a basketball star at Princeton, and strong-willed, talented relatives. The richness of her family life – the wisdom of her parents – challenges any stereotypes of African-American life that might get thrown back at the Obamas, to this day.
The second part of the book is about Michelle Obama’s reactions to her husband’s abrupt rise to presidential candidate. Mrs. Obama describes how campaign aides failed to prep her for public appearances, leaving her to improvise. She realized she was no longer primarily a lawyer or community organizer but a political spouse who can jangle a campaign with one impromptu phrase. A born organizer, she seems to have impressed upon the handlers: That won’t happen again.
She describes election night in 2008, when her husband, seemingly so confident, watched on television, and how her mother reached out and patted his shoulder.
Mrs. Obama describes how much she already admired Laura Bush from afar, for her poise and advocacy of books. During the transition, she quickly came to like Mrs. Bush’s husband, and has often been photographed hugging and laughing with him.
She describes life in the White House, how close the family – including her mom -- felt to the mostly-black staff, and how much she relied on advisors to help with her interest in nutrition and gardening and with her wardrobe.
She praises the President as a loyal husband and father. I know this is true because a journalist friend of mine, who often traveled on the Presidential plane, told me how day trips were planned to get the entourage back to Washington in time for the Obamas’ 6 PM supper in the White House.
How Michelle Obama really felt about being a White House wife comes out in one of the most charming anecdotes in the book: On the evening of the Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage, large crowds celebrated in front of the White House. Michelle and her older daughter, Malia, made a break for it, rushing past their guardians, finding an exit to a quiet corner of the garden, just to feel and hear the jubilant crowd. For a few minutes, they beat the system.
There are many sweet memories in this book (written with the help of a talented journalist, Sara Corbett): the entire family meeting an elderly Nelson Mandela in his home, and feeling so comfortable with Queen Elizabeth, who motions for Michelle to sit next to her, referring to palace protocol as “rubbish.”
The book includes gracious mentions of all the people who helped her, and minimal references to the candidate who tried to portray her husband as an illegal alien. I would have liked to hear what Michelle Obama really thinks of that man, but the Obamas live by smart lawyerly aphorisms:
“Don’t do stupid stuff.” And “When they go low, we go high.”
In its high-minded way, Michelle Obama’s book reminds me that this family has earned its independence, mostly out of the spotlight.
We were lucky to have them.
"The day after my 80th birthday, which overflowed with good wishes, surprises and Covid-safe celebrations, I awoke feeling fulfilled and thinking that whatever happens going forward, I’m OK with it. My life has been rewarding, my bucket list is empty, my family is thriving, and if everything ends tomorrow, so be it.
"Not that I expect to do anything to hasten my demise. I will continue to exercise regularly, eat healthfully and strive to minimize stress. But I’m also now taking stock of the many common hallmarks of aging and deciding what I need to reconsider."
--Jane E. Brody, my pal in the NYT newsroom, oh, a few years back, in the Personal Health column, Sept. 13, 2021.
"People have said to me, ‘You’re fully vaccinated. Why are you being so careful?’” said Dr. Robert M. Wachter, professor and chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “I’m still in the camp of I don’t want to get Covid. I don’t want to get a breakthrough infection.”
---Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times, Aug. 16, 2021.