Mountain Snail

Stuff Ballard Wrote

Author: Durwood (page 2 of 19)

Fame with lower-case f

Asheville Daily Planet, April 2018

I don’t think most of us want to be famous. I don’t think we envy – I hate this word – celebrities.

Sure, we enjoy being called by name by a bank teller or known as having a lovely garden. It’s like the theme to “Cheers”:  “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.”

But there are people who really do seek it. They go to Hollywood and New York, and some go to bizarre lengths– like going on “Family Feud” or running for public office.

Time scrubs away fame, anyway. I’m guessing that a majority of my readers here cannot name Bob Dole’s running mate in 1996.  And Jack Kemp was a great pro quarterback and member of Congress.

No, there’s only one way to gain real fame.  It cannot be sought after or achieved.  It has to be bestowed.  True fame, you see, comes only when a name becomes part of the language.  You’ve arrived  when your name is used as a common noun.

Henry Shrapnel invented an artillery shell that exploded in the air and showers the enemy with deadly pellets. In a twist of fate, the fragments got his name, not the artillery shell itself.  If the reverse had been true, Shrapnel would have remained a proper noun, like poor Gaston Glock and Richard Jordan Gatling, whose names are capitalized.

Charles Cunningham Boycott was the land agent for an absentee English earl in Ireland in 1880, when the earl ordered widespread evictions over rents. The locals organized against Boycott.  All workers in the earl’s house and all farm laborers resigned, and shopkeepers wouldn’t sell to him.  Mail delivery was cut off.  Newspapers started using “boycott” as a verb almost immediately.  C.C. Boycott was in the wrong job in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Charles Lynch headed a county court during the American Revolution. Tories were commonly imprisoned, but Lynch reasoned that in wartime, juries were unnecessary.

Texas land baron Sam Maverick received 400 head of cattle in payment of a debt. Breaking tradition, he didn’t bother to brand them, and they came to be known as “mavericks.”  That meaning has extended to unorthodox people.

These men rest in lower-case peace. So do Nicolas Chauvin (chauvinist), Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, James Watt, Luigi Galvani (galvanize), John Duns Scotus (dunce), Marquis de Sade (sadistic). By contrast, Charles Ponzi , Sylvester Graham (cracker) and John. B. Stetson still carry the capital-letter millstone around their names.

Now our curiosity kicks in, doesn’t it? We can’t be content that these past-tense people were awarded permanent fame in our present-tense language.  We want to sneak a peek at the new words included in future updates of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).  And of course the entries we will look for are the men history will call “The Calamitrio”:  Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.

I think we would see in our peek at OED updates that “Trump” never appears as a new listing, and for that, I blame his grandfather. It was Gramps who ditched the family’s original name, Drumpf.  “Trump” is an existing English word, and existing definitions don’t yield easily – except “awesome.”

We would see that common-noun “ryan” appears first in the 2020 OED update. An article explains that it slid into English beside “skunk” and pretty much replaced “weasel.”  It has a cowardly, cringing connotation.  The example cited:  “We believed he would be tough in negotiations, but he turned out to be a ryan.”

And we would actually learn through the OED updates that history will view Mitch McConnell, in his last years as GOP Senate leader, as a zero, a non-player. His eponym draws its meaning from the eight years of Barack Obama.  A “mccnnell” will be described as an obstruction, wherever one occurs.  The exmple given:  “His intense abdomenal pain turned out to be a full-blown bowel mcconnell.”


Evangelicals through the years

Asheville Daily Planet, March 2018

Movements don’t stand still. Maybe that’s why they’re called movements.  The players change, positions shift.

Evangelicalism is a case in point. So is Republicanism.  So is conservatism.  So, too, is Christianity.

This is a story about moving movements and the wiggly words that ae used to define them – words out of today’s newspapers.

When I graduated from conservative Christian Wheaton College (60 years ago in May), I considered myself a conservative Evangelical Christian Republican.

Wheaton saw itself as descended from the Evangelical “Great Awakenings” of the mid-1700s. That means a conversion experience, an ongoing relationship with Christ and spreading the Gospel.  Indeed, fellow alumnus Billy Graham (’43) was nearing his peak.

There was an intellectual air about the place – but over and under everything was the strict authority of the Bible. There was palpable fear that Wheaton would go the way of other great Christian colleges, like Princeton and Oberlin, into “modernism.”  The word “conservative” means “wanting the established order,” and we did.

There was no political component. A guy named Clyde Taylor, with the National Association of Evangelicals, came to campus urging us to enter politics to influence the world.  I don’t remember a stir.

We were Republican, I think, because they were a northern conservative party – where Evangelicals were at the time. But we weren’t involved with them.

On the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Republicans voted in favor: 136-35 in the House and 27-6 in the Senate.  But Wheaton had no social action component at the time. Brown v. Board of Education had just come down, but I don’t recall one word, pro or con, about civil rights.

Ah, movements do move. When Wheaton was founded in 1860 by abolitionist Jonathan Blanchard, “conservatives” of his day were pro-slavery.  He modeled his new college after far-out radical Oberlin College. Wheaton was a stop on the Underground Railway, and Blanchard housed African-American students in his home.  Blanchard’s Wheaton was equal parts radical social reform and strict Evangelical Christian faith.

But in the 20th century, Protestant Christianity fragmented – between those who embraced the critical study of the Bible and “Fundamentalists,” like Bob Jones, who took up the fight (their term) against them.

It is important to note for our story that Fundamentalists were only concerned with theology. They weren’t sputtering over FDR’s “Socialism” like Republicans were.

The National Association of Evangelicals formed in 1942 to serve denominations that were neither Fundamentalist nor modernist. But Wheaton was toying with the term, “Neo-Evangelical,” so straight “Evangelical” must have had drawbacks.

I was studying in a conservative Presbyterian seminary in the mid-1960s as Protestant Christianity in America wrangled over “doctrinal purity.” I watched a more conservative Presbyterian group split off from us, mainly over our not being “separate” enough.

The stage was set for the huge upheavals of the 1970s that so powerfully influence American politics today.

The first seismic event came in January, 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade by a 7-2 vote. Abortion had been an issue.  Now it was Number One.

Then in 1976, the IRS withdrew tax-exempt status from Bob Jones University for institutional racism. The government was persecuting Fundamentalists.

Then came the famous meeting in 1979 between Fundamentalist leader Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich, founded of the conservative Heritage Foundation.  Falwell was challenged to become active with Republicans. Weyrich even gave Falwell the name, Moral Majority.  Ronald Reagan’s candidacy made it official:  Fundamentalist  Evangelicals thereafter have been all-out Republicans.

I was at a Texas state Republican convention in the 1980s (selling political merchandise) when conservative Christians took over the state Party. They had worked their way up from precinct meetings to become delegates.  (They didn’t buy Republican merchandise!)

Now we see clumps of men at Roy Moore headquaters on election night, their heads bowed, praying for a miracle that will stop a Democrat from winning. And we hear Franklin Graham praising Donald Trump.

But then we read a poll in the Wheaton student newspaper that 43 percent of Wheaton students voted for Hillary Clinton while 26 percent voted for Trump. One has to wonder how the vote went at Bob Jones University.

The Trump era makes us wonder about a lot of things, doesn’t it?

Madison warns us about Trump

In dream, Madison warns of Trump threat
Asheville Daily Planet, February 2018 

The James Madison who met me in Barley’s did not appear as the great man of history.

He was more a character from Charles Dickens. Old now, his long, stringy, grey hair thankfully distracted from his pinched, ax-blade face. His clothes, clearly an effort at 21st century, looked like he’d slept in them for 200 years.

I rose to shake his hand, and he began speaking immediately: “You’re not my first choice, Mr. Ballard. I contacted The New York Times, but they thought me an eccentric. I’m told your readership is smaller but similar to theirs and equally as astute and decisive to America’s future.”

I nodded. It’s true.

Madison continued: “In 1787, I published words that have come to be prophetic.”

He produced a yellowed document and fixed his spectacles in place. “Federalist Number 10,” he said and cleared his throat.  ‘The hope is that [those elected by the people] will be a refined segment of society that will be patriotic and just, chosen due to their virtues. Thus, they will be less likely to sacrifice the public good to their own interests.’”

He raised a bony finger and continued with emphasis: “But, on the other hand, the reverse could happen. People of sinister designs might wangle their way into office.”

I gave a soft whistle.  He looked up at me. I knew exactly why he had come.

“You are living in a crisis time for our Republic,” he said.

“Trump,” I said, not as a question.

Madison nodded once. “In our discussions around the Constitution, we feared precisely this kind of man. Some naysayers quoted Alexander Tyler that ‘democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government.’  We persevered.” Then Madison noticeably tensed. “Our fears were realized at the end of my life,” he said, his eyes glowing like Christopher Lloyd’s in “Back to the Future.”

“Andrew Jackson,” I said, not as a question.

“Yes,” he hissed. “I was 80 years old.  I lived to see it. The new generation scoffed at all we had built. That arrogant oaf!  He disdained the judiciary on the matter of Indian removal to the West, even jesting, ‘John Marshall made his decision; now let him enforce it.’”

After a moment, Madison continued: “After the War [of 1812], I did indeed advocate a stronger executive and a stronger military. Jackson dined in my home. I saw him as an ally. He was a snake, a blackguard!”

After a long pause, I said, “It was easy, wasn’t it, Mr. President? Jackson simply refused to enforce the court’s decision. Congress feared his popularity. Your checks and balances failed.”

Madison said, “I remember the cartoon of Jackson wearing a king’s crown, trampling the Constitution. Yes, Jackson was forthright. He was above the Constitution.  He was hot-tempered. He held grudges forever. He believed himself infallible. He allowed no dissenting opinions. The man we feared was in office!”

His eyes darted from 1830 to 2018 in a flash and took on wry humor for the only time in our conversation. “Remind you of anyone, Mr. Ballard?”

I smiled. The answer was obvious.  Trump was the reason for his visit.

“The Republic survived Jackson,” he said. “Can it survive Trump?” His eyes fixed mine with great intensity.

He expected an answer, and yet he knew the answer. The man obviously follows the news of the day.

“Can we?” I began. “Yes, we can. But will we?” Madison nodded. “Checks and balances are there, still in your Constitution, Mr. President. But there they sit.  Trump is taking over federal law enforcement and prosecutors. He snorts disdain at the judiciary. He threatens the press. Congress cringes in fear of his followers.  Who knows what the conservative Supreme Court will do. But if Democrats retake Congress this year….”

Madison put a hand on my shoulder:  “Then you must write, Ballard! Write!  And all your literate comrades! Rouse the people from their indifference!”

Vote “biblical standards!”

December 24, 2017

I clipped a letter that appeared on this page submitted by a gentleman from McDowell County:

“As a Christian, I am writing this to Christians. We should make decisions and take actions based on biblical at all times.  Christians need to be careful when they vote.  This is a time when we who claim to be followers of the true Holy God must stand up for clear biblical standards.  What are the candidates’ positions on issues that are clearly addressed in the Bible, the Word of God?…Remember, even though that voting booth you will be in will be closed to the public, our God is all-seeing and all-knowing.”

And oh yes, he specifically mentioned homosexuality and abortion in the letter. That indicates to us that he is an evangelical.

In the senatorial election in Alabama in December, 80 percent of self-identified evangelicals voted for Roy Moore.

“We pledge ourselves to…”

Asheville Daily Planet, January 2018

If Democrats are to win big in 2018, they need to come up with a strong message. Right or wrong?

If Democrats are to win big in 2018, they only need to run against Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Right or wrong?

Both are right. They aren’t alternative strategies.  They’re our pow-bam one-two punch.

Ever since we woke up to Donald Trump as president-elect, the Democratic volcano has rumbled. Women marched.  Resistance groups organized.  Silent spectators  suited up.  Thousands announced as candidates.  Money poured in.  Democratic energy lit up the country.

But while Democrat momentum built everywhere, TV pundits clucked that Democrats will miss their opportunity if they don’t have a message.

So Democratic leadership, last July, thudded out what they call “A Better Deal” platform. It’s a tedious Best of Bernie rerun – a $15/hour minimum wage, for example, cracking down on corporate monopolies, banning “right to work” laws in the states.

Nancy honey, Chuck old man, that’s not what we meant by a message.  The Senate seats we’re defending are in dark-red places like North Dakota, Montana and Indiana.  A Better Deal is a bad deal for those guys.  I wouldn’t run for Congress in North Carolina on that platform.

But then Virginia popped, and Alabama. Now we hear pundits saying, “Maybe Democrats don’t need a message after all.  It’s enough to run against Trump and Republicans.”

After all, Democratic Drive is fueled by anti-Trump anger, fear, disgust, embarrassment, frustration. Wouldn’t our zealots snarl at any candidate wearing the scarlet-letter R?  Yes, they would.

But snarls aren’t enough. We also need a creed.  We should be part Australian Shepherd and part pit bull – smart and passionate.

To change the metaphor, some gladiators, called dimachaerus, fought with two swords, one in each hand. No shield, they defended themselves with one of the swords.  I want an army of dimachaeri, who can state clearly the Republican menace as they deliver the liberating Democratic message.

So what is that message?

A message of constant contrast. A message of moral Democratic government to come in the context of immoral Republican government we’ve got now.   Yes, a message of right and wrong, a message of morality!

We can quickly list Seven Deadly Sins from the six years of GOP majority in the General Assembly: lying and other deceptions, arrogance, favoring the rich and powerful over ordinary people in tax reform, injustice in voting, vengeance against their opponents, greed for power, neglect of our children and other vulnerable citizens.  Seven sins?  There are probably 70!

Let their wrongdoing be the context for our rightdoing! Actually, “The Right Thing” world be a better name for our agenda than “A Better Deal.”  Our message should be overarched with strong key words that describe our commitments to govern well:  Fairness, Servant Leadership, Cooperation, Openness, Authenticity, Truth.

Then we commit ourselves to specifics. National Democrats hit on exactly the formula we should use.  Under the proposal,  “Raise Wages and Create 10 Million New Jobs” in the full text of “A Better Deal,” they write:

“We pledge to fight for good-paying, full-time jobs with a promising future for 10 million Americans.”

I’m suggesting that, first, we state the Republican wrong as context, and then we contrast with pledges to principled governance. For example, Republicans cut taxes for the rich, cynically calling them “job creators.” That’s our context. Then: “We pledge ourselves to SERVANT LEADERSHIP,” with specific proposals that directly impact our constituents’ livelihoods.

Another context: Republican arrogance and deception in redistricting after the 2010 census. Then: “We pledge ourselves to FAIRNESS. We will use an independent commission to redraw district boundaries for General Assembly and Congressional seats. We will not gerrymander to favor our candidates.”

First we say it, then we do it.


It takes 2 wings to fly

Citizen-Times, 12/4/17

The suppertime phone call was a solicitation – for a political organization supporting “the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.” The lady was most likely a paid hustler, so I spared her my question: Why?

I mean, why would “the progressive wing of the Democratic Party” be raising money specifically for themselves?

Actually, I don’t want to know why. I’m afraid they’re funding candidates for a hostile takeover of the Democratic Party. I’m told it’s openly discussed.

A letter of mine appeared on this page in May of 2016. Its opening line was: “I wish Bernie Sanders hadn’t run for president.” I went on to say: “My concern is that Sanders can open the gate for a Republicn to win in November. And that would mean a far-right Supreme Court for decades – and American oligarchy. As I talk to Sanders believers, more often than not, I hear strong anti-Hillary feelings – some so strong they would not vote for Hillary if she gets the nomination.”

And indeed, a lot of Sanders Democrats in WNC, I’m told by Sanders Democrats, didn’t vote for Clinton. It happened.

Now Bernie is back. And he’s a-stirring. His new book is called, “Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution.” Yikes. And he headlines every appearance with his most provocative proposition: universal health care. He staged a grand introduction for his “Medicare for All” bill.

I have no doubt that America will someday have universal health care. It’s inevitable. In countries that have it, like Scandanavia, everybody says that peace of mind is worth the higher taxes.

But North Carolina ain’t Norway. Democrats here aren’t political revolutionaries. I’m not a political revolutionary. Universal health care is not something we can promise to voters now.

Our job as Democrats right now, progressive or non-progressive, is to take the General Assembly away from Republicans. Their common denominator has been power:  keeping it and extending it.   They’re our only target.

Absolutely, the “progressive wing” should run candidates in primaries. Democrats live in a big tent. But after the primary, all Democrats must be arm in arm behind the winner.

When Tom Perriello lost the Democratic primary for governor in Virginia this year, he headed an organization to help elect Democrats in the general election. And united Democrats won!

Elizabeth Warren gave a speech (Google, “warren netroots nation 2014”) that listed 10 powerful progressive beliefs – and she stated them as moral, inclusive principles. In contrast to Bernie, she understands Democratic unity.  Democrats of all kinds are Democrats because they share one basic belief ithat sets us totally apart from Republicans: “Government for the People!”

Pitting Democrat agaqinst Democrat for Party control is full-blown crazy. Who wins such a battle? The same self-serving Republicans we’ve got now, that’s who. (I belong to Indivisible. We resist Trumpism; we’re not dividers.)

When gerrymandering goes down in court, it’s Democrat time —  if we don’t beat ourselves. In fair elections, Republicans must answer to the voters.

As somebody has said, it takes two wings to fly.

Will Trump people regret?

Asheville Daily Planet, December 2017

Robert E. Lee never wrote is memoirs. Of course, he only lived five years after the War.  But his papers seem to say that he didn’t want to revisit some of his life decisions.  You see, he was a man with regrets.  All his adult life, for example, he regretted taking the free education option of West Point.  He wanted to be a civil engineer.

Some people are like Lee. They regret – things they did in the past, something they didn’t say, an opportunity they missed.  They engage in self-reflection or self-criticism.

Other people are not like Lee. They shrug off their past.  What’s done is done.  Or the past is somebody else’s fault.  Or they purposely “live in the moment.”

I’ve wondered recently about people who work in the Trump White House – will they regret their time there. I particularly wonder about three people: Donald Trump himself, John Kelly and Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

I’m going to make predictions here on how these people will feel when their time with Trump ends. Without doubt huge events lie ahead for Trump.  I can only base my predictions on the present continuing into the future.  Here goes.

It’s easy to say that the Big Guy will never regret anything. He’s said on many occasions, like he did with Anderson Cooper, “Why do I have to repent or ask forgiveness if I am not making mistakes?”

But look at it this way. Here’s a guy famous for a lifetime of big real estate deals, who had been given the title, The Donald.  Here was a TV star with class and power and millions of fans.  And this guy, maybe just for the kick of it, runs for president and gets elected – and in so doing exposed himself as ignorant, unpatirotic, without ethics or morals, a liar and betrayer nd more.

Trump might, of course, find great success against North Korea or bring Arab-Israeli peace and smile and gloat in retirement. But if the present continues and turns terrible for him, he will regret.  When he’s famous as a fool, he will regret.  His no-apologies persona is nothing but a bully’s bluster that won’t be there when he’s alone with himself.

John Kelly was the ultimate Marine. He rose through the ranks, from teenaged recruit to four-star general.  He went into retirement in 2016 as a superstar.

In less than a year, he joined the Trump Administration, and like a good military man, he declared: “I work for one man. His name is Donald Trump.”

In uniform, he was a link in the chain of command. Everything was in a straight line. His job was to receive orders from respected men above him and lead those below him in carrying them out. And he was good at it.

Now the man above him has no straight lines, and Kelly is the office lackey. Trump sent him out before the press, metaphorically naked, to defend his side in the Gold Star widow quarrel . His prepared remarks were excellent. But disaster came at the end. He revealed elements of himself that his Marine uniform had concealed.  He called African-American Congresswoman Frederica Wilson – a friend of the Gold Star family – a loud “empty barrel” and blasted her with an anecdote that proved to be entirely erroneous. He has refused to apologize.

He came off as unreasonable, a hair trigger, even a lair and a racist. The shining general went dull in a hurry.

Then in the context of defending Trump’s “both sides” reaction to Charlottesville, Kelly went out of his way to say “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War.” Yeow. The entire 19th century was one compromise after another to hold the Union together! And Kely comes off as ignorant.

Will Kelly wish he had retired peacefully, with general adoration? You bet he will. His White Houe time makes us think far less of him..

Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Not many words needed for her.

She touts herself as a “person of faith.” She apologized to her fundamentalist parents for a barroom allegory she used to illustrate tax reform.

But almost every day, she’s telling lies like beads on a string – some she gets from official talking points but some she makes up on the spot.

Faithful to her faith? No, she’s a serial liar. But will she regret her lapses? Heck, no. She’ll be a hero among evangelicals for standing with Trump!




History flips

Asheville Daily Planet, November 2017

Sometimes history repeats itself. Sometimes history flips. Sometimes history does both.

This is the story of two North Carolina political parties in two different times and how they governed. It’s the remarkable story of how events in one century have been repeated in another – but in reverse.

The two parties are of course Republicans and Democrats. The different times are the 1890s and the 21st century. To help in this crisscrossing narrative, let’s call the 19th century parties D19 and R19, and let’s call today’s 21st century parties D21 and R21.

D19 had controlled North Carolina since 1870. Their tool for maintaining power was a law that gave the legislature control of county commissions, thereby keeping R19 from holding any power at all.

But in the statewide election of 1894, R19 took control of the General Assembly. Immediately they returned power to local governments. They limited interest on farm loans. They reversed D19 voter suppression. And they raised taxes for schools.

Most people here in the western mountains were Republicans. I would have been, too.

That period of R19 rule in Raleigh in the 1890s was the brightest light that shined in 19th century North Carolina. They passed laws that met the people’s needs. They performed well – for four years.

Then in the election of 1898, the Republican Party in North Carolina was demolished. D19 campaigned as “the white man’s party,” and they terrorized R19 voters, especially blacks. D19 won 93 of 118 seats in the General Assembly. And the shining light of North Carolina dimmed for decades.

Democrats had always been the party of slavery. When they took control of the General Assembly in 1898, they moved quickly to disenfranchise Negro – and poor white – voters with poll taxes and literacy tests. The 1890s ended with one-party rule through voter suppression.

In that decade, we had a back-and-forth trilogy: bad D19 government, then excellent R19 government, then return of atrocious D19 government.

A century passed, and our political parties crisscrossed. D19 became R21.

The Democratic Party of 1898, with its voter suppression, evolved into today’s Republican Party. And on the other hand, people today who share the old R19 commitment to public education, fair elections, and maximum participation in voting are in today’s Democratic Party.

And we have seen the same alternation of good and bad government in our time, but in reverse of the 1890s.

As the 21st century arrived, Americans looked at a map of the United States and saw an aura that glowed around North Carolina. Successive D21 administrations had taken us from a society that looked backward, in the manner of our Confederate neighbors, to embrace an open-ended future.

We were enlightened. Our university system was second to none. We invested in public schools. We protected our natural beauty. We valued innovation and creativity. The Research Triangle is a treasure.

Then R21 messed with an election. Days before the election of 2010, R21 dropped a series of misleading mailbox fliers into key races, and they took over the General Assembly.

And R21 began right away to douse the glowing aura that D21 had established for us over decades. We all know their legislative atrocities – voter suppression, extreme gerrymandering, war on teachers and public schools, extending their power over local governments.  And they lied and lied.  As a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill put it: “It’s hard to see why any political ideology demands its adherents constantly lie about their motivations.”

In the 1890s, I would have been a Republican because their concern was citizen needs, not maintaining power. I’m a Democrat today for the same reason.

In the 1890s North Carolina experienced bad D19 rule, then good R19 rule, then bad D19 rule. In this century, we’ve experienced good D21 rule and now terrible R21 rule. This century’s trilogy is yet to be completed – with good D21 rule.

It will happen. The glow will once again shine. If not next year, then 2020

Underfoot worries just a bit

Asheville Daily Planet, October 2017

Professor Cyril Underfoot is a quirky old relic of academia – renowned in his field of study but locally, a nut case. Students call him “Dr. Undertree” because he doesn’t meet one-on-one in his office with female students. He never married, never came close. He has no friends, only professional colleagues. He makes (actually, funny) jokes about patriotism.  He loves to watch his favorite movies again and again, still on VHS.

Underfoot is an authority on the tensions between John Locke’s ideas of government by the people and popular movements that go wrong and become dictatorships.

For all his expertise in government theory, he has never had the least interest in politics. His enjoyment lies in looking backward in history, not in following what he calls “democracy’s great obscenity.”

He did like – no, he enjoyed – Ronald Reagan as president. He said his economic policies came from “a Styrofoam tower,” but he loved Reagan’s sense of humor. He plagiarizes Reagan jokes, especially the one about the three-legged chicken.

A year ago, however, he happened to see Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the GOP convention on TV. As he listened to Trump’s promises of “law and order,” his mind was eerily drawn to Benito Mussolini’s rise in Italy in 1922.

As a result of Trump’s speech, he followed the presidential campaign with mild interest. He once said with a knowing smile: “I’ve seen you before, Donald Trump – many times, in many countries.”

Then one Wednesday in November, he followed his neat daily routine and went out for the local newspaper.

He brought his paper over where his coffee and glasses waited. His usual interest is Eastern Europe’s trend toward dictatorship. But that morning, the front page screamed, “TRUMP TRIUMPHANT!”

Underfoot’s first reaction was a chuckle. Then he broke into a long, resonant, rib-cracking laugh.

He managed to cough out the final words of “Planet of the Apes,” when Charlton Heston sees Lady Liberty half-buried in beach sand: “They really did it! Those maniacs!” And he sputtered it again: “They really did itThey really did it!”

He went to his computer immediately and subscribed to the New York Times. “This is going to be fun,” he said out loud.

Underfoot had watched during the campaign the Trump assertions that he might have to expand libel laws to let him sue newspapers and how his generals would obey his orders. Trump was in Underfoot’s wheelhouse.

Shortly before the Inauguration, Underfoot put two 8×10 photographs in a proper envelope addressed to “The President-Elect, c/o the Secret Service, Trump Tower, 725 5th Ave., New York, NY 10022.” On the back of one photo he had written, “Benito Mussolini speaking to adoring crowds.” The second photo was the iconic shot of the executed Mussolini hanging upside down on meat hooks from a gas station in Milan with howling mobs all around. Underfoot wrote on the back: “The crowds no longer adore. The speaker no longer speaks.” The return address used his full name, Ph.D., and home address. He smiled as he made a pot of coffee for the FBI when they came. They never did.

For months, Underfoot read the Times with some eagerness. From time to time, he would mutter something to his waggy-tail mutt of a dog – like in late May when Trump called for the Senate to change its rules to make legislation easier.

“Sloppie,” he said, “we both know the man is an ignoramus. He makes me laugh, sure, but there’s something more about him that keeps me stroking my beard. He lacks the political skill and discipline of Hitler or even Robert Mugabe. He’s like Viktor Orban in Hungary in his nationalism, but Orban is politically slick. Orban is somebody to worry about. Not Trump. And yet, ha-ha, here I am, still talking to you about him.”

Then last week, he sat on his deck, looking far away. He’d been reading Times columnists and investigative reporters about the Mueller investigations. “Third World, Sloppie, that’s all he is. Money, money, get power, get rich.” Then he paused. “But Third World presidents do terrible things to become dictators, don’t they?”

I wish Sanders hadn’t run

Citizen-Times, May 2016

I wish Bernie Sanders hadn’t run for president.

I have no quarrels with most of Sanders’ beliefs. He sees a future for America that all of us should hope for.

And he’s right that historic changes, like women’s suffrage and civil rights, happened out of great movements, not incrementally.

And it’s apparently true that he was an effective leader as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. He wasn’t just talk.

My concern is that Sanders can open the gate for a Republicn to win in November. And that would mean a far-right Supreme Court for decades – and American oligarchy.

As I talk to Sanders believers, more often than not, I hear strong anti-Hillary feelings – some so strong they would not vote for Hillary if she gets the nomination.

And if Sanders does win the nomination, I worry that America isn’t ready to elect a 75-year-old “Democratic Socialist” whose non-religious belief in God sounds like old-time humanism.

I wish he weren’t in the race, but he is. I wish he’d feel satisfied and go home, but he won’t.  He’s doing too well.  So I guess I’ll just wish away the worst-case, Republican disaster.

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