Mountain Snail

Stuff Ballard Wrote

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Reopen protest signs

News-Record & Sentinel, May 2020

My favoritesign from the “reopen” protests is one held by a boy with bangs down in his eyes: “Open the barbershop.”  Otherwise there isn’t much humor in the sign offerings. 

Unless, of course, you’re into irony: “Give me liberty or give me covid-19.”  Or word puzzles: “Rights aren’t a form of business.”

The overall mood at the protests isn’t jolly, either.  There’s the man in tactical vest, cradling his AR-15 and quoting Thomas Jefferson on his sign: “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”  Hold your fire, dude.  I’ll give you dangerous freedom.     

There’s also the mother of three stair-step children under 10.  The youngest, maybe three years old, has a sign three-fourths her size that reads: “Live free or die.”  Brrr, cold.  The oldest, looking very solemn, holds up: “God makes the rules.”   

The protests are about ending lockdowns, of course, so many in the orchard of signs say exactly that.  But there’s more going on.  Protest gatherings are like Tea Party reunions.  Yellow flags with coiled rattlers are dusted off.  You almost expect to see “Stop Obama.”  

The participants are middle-aged.  One rare college-age group mocked the proceedings with: “God hates signs.”

Opinion page letters have been calling for a “Damn the torpedoes” attitude, and this same theme is in the protest signs.  It’s a point of view I can understand.  Many people feel that backing down from a fight shows intolerable weakness.  One sign read: “My rights don’t end where your fear begins.”  Another: “Fear is the real virus.” 

A related idea is also reasonable – that people should be allowed to choose their own fate, like the guy who held up: “Save my right to die.”    One lady’s sign, “My body, my choice,” interesting in this crowd, is another.

As understandable as these ideas may be, they’re terrible public policy in a contagion.

A familiar word bounces around among the signs:  freedom.   Ah yes, the old Tea Party watchword that’s become enshrined in the Freedom Caucus and in Freedomworks, the Tea Party-aligned outfit who backs these protests with organization and mailing lists.

I’m guessing that the iconic photo from this protest season will be the one of a woman leaning her full torso out the passenger-side window, waving her fist at a masked healthcare worker standing silently with arms crossed.  A door-size sign is below her: “Land of the Free.”

Reopen protests or…?

Asheville Daily Planet, May 15, 2020

When it comes to protests, the right is definitely second-rate compared to the left. 

Take the current wave of “reopen” protests in state capitals.  Lame.  The crowds aren’t crowds really. People mostly stand around in middle-aged clumps or line up holding signs for the media.

Think back to women’s marches over the years.  They actually marched.  The 2017 march in Washington filled streets for blocks.  And they were focused.  Their mood said they meant business.

Anti-lockdown protest scenes are ill-defined.  There are the guys with AR-15s wearing tactical vests.  And there’s the pre-teen girl with a sign: “God makes the rules.”  And yellow flags with coiled snakes waved about and a few Confederate flags.  Some protests have Trump merchandise tables.

One sign caught my eye: “Freedom is essential.”  I thought, Nice creativity, a takeoff mocking “essential businesses.”  But the sign has appeared from state to state.  I googled the sentence, and whataya know, there it is, prominently in Breitbart and plenty of elsewheres.

Yellow flags.  “Freedom is essential.”  AR-15s.  Trump tables.  Confederate flags.

Tell me again what this protest is supposed to be about.

I leaned back in my chair and recalled an old anecdote.  It seems an aide shared some rumors with JFK: “You know, Mr. President, where there’s smoke there’s fire.”  Kennedy replied, “No, I’ve found that where there’s smoke, there’s usually a smoke-making machine.”

Sniff, sniff.  The smoke smell coming from these protests brings back memories of a smoke machine from days gone by:  the Tea Party.

The New York Times dug deep and found: “Among those fighting the [shutdown] orders are FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots, which played pivotal roles in the beginning of Tea Party protests starting more than a decade ago.” These outsiders help with organizing demonstrations, mailing lists, setting up websites and conducting polls.

FreedomWorks is closely aligned with the Tea Party movement – and from what I read, both groups have come on hard times in recent years.

Matt Kibbe, CEO at FreedomWorks for 10 years, wrote a magazine article titled, “The Tea Party Is Officially Dead.”  It’s a riveting first-person account of the Tea Party’s slide. 

“In hindsight,” he wrote, “we should have been more careful. Inertia pulled us toward partisanship, and over time there was growing pressure to support the [Republican] party, not our principles.  I watched local organizers rip each other and their Tea Party organizations apart, much like Trump tore apart the GOP.”

Those backing anti-lockdown protests are obviously this redirected Tea Party.  Kibbe described them like this: “Under Trump, the Tea Party original agenda of freedom and fiscal responsibility has been replaced with a populist nationalism…animated by different issues, such as immigration walls and trade restrictions.”

The Times wrote about this Tea Party comeback effort:  “Established national groups that generally align with the Republican Party have sought to fuel the [anti-lockdown] protests, harnessing their energy in a manner that can increase their profiles and build their membership base and donor rolls.”

And this:  “Those helping orchestrate the fight against restrictions predict the effort could energize the right in the same way the Tea Party movement did in 2009 and 2010, and potentially be helpful to President Trump as he campaigns for re-election.”

 Maybe one participant in 100 wears a mask.  One lady’s sign read: “Social distancing is communism.”  The promotional poster for one protest specifically said, “No masks required.”  They’re lined up behind the president in minimizing the pandemic.

Anti-lockdown protests are probably having an effect in Republican states – on politicians.  But their constituents aren’t with them.  A Yahoo News poll in early May found that ”a large majority (71 percent) still say the country should reopen only when public health officials are fully able to test and trace new cases….And support for the protests against stay-at-home orders (21 percent) has not grown.”  This would explain low turnouts.

I’ll end with a trivia question:  what slogan appears on signs at both women’s movement rallies and reopen protests? 

The answer: “My Body, My Choice.”  Women use it for the pro-choice position.  Anti-lockdowners use it to say they want the choice to go out and take their chances with the virus.

The right to blame states

News Record & Sentinel, April 2020

I believe in states’ rights….I believe we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the Constitution to that federal establishment.

Ronald Reagan, Neshoba (Mississippi) County Fair, August 3, 1980

The federal government’s not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping, you know, we’re not a shipping clerk….The governors are supposed to be doing it. 

Donald Trump, March 20, 2020

Who says Donald Trump is not a Reagan Republican?

Who?  Everybody.  Reagan was speaking right out of the Old South, when “states’ rights” meant “Don’t touch my slaves.”  Reagan was promising the South in his presidential campaign that his government would leave them alone to be as “conservative” as they wished.  He was playing Dixiecrat.  (Dixiecrats, incidentally, were officially the States’ Rights Democratic Party.)

Trump is something entirely different.  He’s playing dodgeball.  He’s a cop-out.  The buck doesn’t even pause at his desk.

He’s totally incapable of doing what managers do — seeing situations realistically, gathering the best available advisers and making hard decisions.  He’s a bogus chief executive just like he was a bogus businessman.  He’s emptied his government of competent people and replaced them with embarrassing duds who mostly know how to pucker up.

That’s why Trump’s top doc, Anthony Faucci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has achieved hero status.  He’s competent.  He knows what he’s talking about, and he speaks plainly.

Faucci answered Anderson Cooper’s question about a nationwide lockdown this way:  “The tension between federal mandate and states’ rights is something I’m not going to get into, but when you look at what’s going on in this country, I don’t understand why it’s not being done.  It should be.”    

Trump isn’t acting out of any philosophy of states’ rights.  No, he’s just acting – strutting and fretting his daily hour of self-glorification, undisguised untruth and belligerence toward the unappreciative.

The states are his scapegoat.  “The complainers (that is, states needing equipment) should have been stocked up and ready long before this crisis hit,” he said.

Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has formed an ad hoc team outside government to attempt a rescue.  He dropped this zinger: “The federal stockpile…is supposed to be our stockpile.  It’s not supposed to be the states’ stockpiles that they then use.”

Ad hoc must be Latin for, “Blame somebody else!”

My man, Tump Sherman

Asheville Daily Planet, May 2020

My grandfather was born in Stewart County, Georgia in 1867.  So I’m sure he would argue with me on the point I’m about to make here – that America, today, needs somebody with the core character of  William Tecumseh Sherman.

I’ve written before in this space how we should be looking forward to a “restoration” of the U.S. government, back from the chaos and corruption of the Trump era to the vision of our Founders and their Constitution.  But we need more than a return to good governance.  We need a good person as our national leader.

That’s why I’m drawn to Sherman.  Yes, he had personality quirks and he muffed a couple of battles, but he had the qualities we need.  Like these:

First, he was not a vindictive man.  He instinct was forgiveness and healing.    

For example, April 17, 1865.  Lee has surrendered, and Lincoln has been assassinated.  But Sherman’s army still faces Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’ formidable army in North Carolina.  Neither man wants to continue the fight, so they met, with Confederate Secretary of War, John Breckinridge, in Durham.  Sherman poured three glasses of bourbon, which the Confederates hadn’t tasted in months, and they discussed surrender.  Sherman retired to another table and wrote terms of surrender that he thought Lincoln would have wanted.  He and Grant had met with Lincoln three weeks previous and had heard the president’s post-war intentions.  (The terms he gave were too lenient for Grant and had to be redone a week later.)

He hated the song, “Marching through Georgia,” because it gloated over a fallen enemy.  

Second, Sherman understood reality.  He planned and executed according to facts, not fantasy.  At times, he was prophetic. 

In December 1860, after South Carolina seceded, he said: “You people of the South mistake the people of the North. They are…not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it….You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on Earth….At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail…your cause will begin to wane.”

Third, he understood situations and their solutions.  The war could, in fact, have gone on indefinitely as a series of battles, but Sherman saw that the war could be ended if the civilian population “realized the truth,” that the South could not win and stopped “being deceived by their lying newspapers.”  So he marched across Georgia.  And the Georgia governor immediately asked for peace with the Union.

Fourth, he cared about the pain of ordinary people.  In his March to the Sea, he ordered that the cavalry and artillery could seize what they needed, “discriminating, however, between the rich, who are usually hostile, and the poor or industrious, usually neutral or friendly.”  And foraging parties “will endeavor to leave with each family a reasonable portion for their maintenance.”

He showed his compassion even more after he completed the March.  After a meeting with 20 black leaders in Savannah, he issued an order, which Lincoln approved, that expropriated 400,00 acres on sea islands from Charleston south into Florida, to be set apart “for the settlement of the negroes now made free.”  (Andrew Johnson reversed the order after Lincoln’s assassination.)

When he and Grant met with Lincoln in March, it was Sherman who introduced the subject of reconstruction of the South.  More battles possibly lay ahead for him in North Carolina, but he thought ahead to healing.

My man, “Tump” Sherman.

As we review Sherman’s character traits, we’re struck immediately how our current president lacks them all.

Sherman won’t be on the ballot in November, in absentia, as it were.  Our choice is between Trump and Biden.  But I see Sherman there in spirit, hovering over the polling places, whispering, “Biden, Biden, Biden.” 

Joe Biden will be the wise man of healing America needs.  He’s more compassion and cooperation than competition, more kindness than confrontation.

The right kind of strong.

Reparations for slavery

Asheville Daily Planet, April 2020

Reparations for slavery and segregation — an issue swept under everybody’s rug so long there’s barely a bulge.

I don’t like the word “reparations,” and I don’t like what some proponents are saying, but then I like less what Senator Mitch McConnell said: “No one currently alive was responsible for [slavery].  And I don’t think we should be trying to figure out how to compensate for it.” 

The Pew Research Center estimates that today, white households are worth about 20 times more than black households. 

Is this some kind of huge coincidence?   

Slavery ended with the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, but black people weren’t given the rights of free people for another 100 years.  They weren’t even regarded as people.

The Brooklyn Dodgers assigned Jackie Robinson to minor-league Montreal for the 1946 season.  The Montreal manager was a Mississippian.  He begged Dodger general manager Branch Rickey not to make him manage an African American.  “Mr. Rickey,” he asked, “do you think n***s are human beings?”  That was in my lifetime.

I grew up in Georgia until 1954, and no exaggeration, every thread of our lives was white supremacy.  I remember a time my parents visited us and saw my children playing with their black neighbors.  My father reprimanded me: “They’re not like us.”

I never heard one person ever criticize Jim Crow segregation.  Never.  Not only were the races separated; the system made certain that, in every way, the other race was always less.  Why did the gentleman who helped with our yard work have to drink water from a Coke bottle instead of a glass from our kitchen?  I never wondered.  I sort of understood that he had “his place.”

And that inferiority carried over to education, jobs, justice — and life itself.  When a polio epidemic hit Wytheville, Virginia, in the summer of 1950, black patients weren’t accepted at Memorial and Crippled Children’s Hospital in Roanoke (80 miles away).  They had to be taken 260 miles over pre-Interstate highways to Richmond for treatment. 

There were legal remedies after the Civil War — on paper.  The Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments gave ex-slaves legal standing.  And when General Sherman completed his March to the Sea, he and Secretary of War Stanton met with 20 black leaders in Savannah to find out what they wanted.  As a result, Sherman issued a special order — which was approved by President Lincoln:  “The islands from Charleston, south, the abandoned rice fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the country bordering the St. Johns River, Florida, are reserved and set apart for the settlement of the negroes now made free.”   They were to govern themselves, with no whites allowed to reside there.  Tens of thousands of ex-slaves rushed to make claims.

But Lincoln was assassinated, and his successor, Andrew Johnson, a Southerner, nullified Sherman’s order — and did nothing to stop the violent subjugation of blacks.  The paper remedies were crumpled. 

White society, top to bottom, enforced white supremacy from then for a century.  They did.  No, we did, well into my lifetime — and Senator McConnell’s. 

I read about monetary reparations, even detailed studies of slave wages computed over centuries with interest, amounting to trillions, to be divided among slave descendants.  It’s totally unworkable and short-term.  Better, a plan over decades, mostly around education.   

I’d like to see a program that challenges the millions of successful blacks to be highly visible role models and a massive federal investment in scholarships for serious black young people.  Call it yeast in the dough.

The U.S. military wastes enough money in one day to fund hundreds of students in state universities.

A resolution in the House of Representatives to study options, H.R. 40, will likely pass next year.  Studying’s a start.

Georgetown University owned slaves to work their vast tobacco fields, and in 1838, the Jesuits there sold 242 of them to plantations in Louisiana.  The university is looking for remedies.  Their current president went to Louisiana in 2016 to meet with descendants of those slaves.  And last year, G.U. students voted to add money to their tuition for scholarships for these descendants. 

They recognize a debt is owed.

I’m sorry I voted for Trump

News-Record & Sentinel, March 11, 2020

Last year in Erie, Pennsylvania, a 29-year-old man named D.J. Smith walked into a Democratic political meeting and said he was sorry.  He voted for Trump, and he felt regret.   He’d never paid much attention to politics; he’d always just voted Republican. (AP)

Esquire magazine sent a reporter to Florida to check out a Trump rally.   One man, named Bill Moro, explained, with no little pride, “I don’t care what he does. I’m behind him 100 percent. Put it this way: If he became a dictator, and they said, ‘We want him in forever,’ he’s my man. He’s in. I’ll never vote against him. …I love his power. …It’s the power that does something to me.”

Two men look back on their 2016 votes.  One gives us hope for American democracy.  The other makes us worry for our children’s America.

Smith is a software engineer.  He became disenchanted almost immediately when the GOP Congress passed resolutions that repealed Obama-era rules forcing Internet providers to disclose what consumer data they’re collecting and who it’s being sold to.  Then later in 2017, Trump took away the FCC’s “net neutrality” rules.  Smith was ”dumbfounded.”

I’m sure he was double-dumbfounded last month when the White House produced a report on the effects of their two 2017 Internet actions.

“We find that…the Trump Administration’s ‘Restoring Internet Freedom’ order will increase real incomes by more than $50 billion per year and consumer welfare by almost $40 billion per year,” the report said.

Motherboard, the tech-science arm of vice.com, wrote, “There’s just one problem: none of the claims [in the report] are actually true.”  Motherboard consulted telecom and consumer-group experts and heard from several that “the study is one of the most misleading government tech policy reports they’d ever seen.”
I’m sure millions of Trump voters have experienced the same what-have-I-done moment that Mr. Smith did.  They can’t accept Trump’s pattern of unwise decisions followed by cover-up.

But many more millions are like Mr. Moro.  They won’t be moved from Trump by any argument. 

To them I can only recommend the excellent article in Wikipedia on the word “demagogue.”  It has individual sections on:  lying, outrageous behavior, personal insults, intimidation, attacking the news media, emotional oratory, fearmongering, accusing of disloyalty, promising the impossible.

Reading it might help Mr. Moro understand what Trump’s “power” really is.

Trump’s business acumen

News-Record & Sentinel, February 26, 2020

Jerry Falwell, Jr. isn’t one to hide his thoughts.  But in a Washington Post interview last year, he did dodge one question.  His substitute answer deserves our attention. 

Q: You…have strongly supported President Trump. What about him exemplifies Christianity and earns him your support?

A: What earns him my support is his business acumen….We needed someone who was not a career politician, but someone who’d been successful in business to run the country like a business. That’s the reason I supported him.

Elsewhere, he said Trump’s skills will translate into recovery from our almost $20 trillion debt.

People support Trump for many reasons.  That’s fine.  But for a university president to do it for Trump’s business acumen?  Yikes. 

I won’t dwell on Trump’s business failures because each of them has its own Wikipedia page — Trump University, Trump Vodka, Trump Steaks, Trump (magazine), Trump: the (board) Game, Trump Shuttle (airline), Trump Mortgage.  And oh yes, Trump casinos in Atlantic City.    

The disasters had several things in common.  They were designed to glitter up the “Trump brand.”  They (mistakenly) assumed that people wanted to live a bit of the Trump lifestyle.  They were mostly suggested by others who stroked his ego in selling an idea.  Outrageous claims were made.  Lies were revealed in lawsuits.

Topping everything off, in June 1990, Trump was forced to turn over control of several businesses to his bankers to avoid personal bankruptcy. 

An article in The New Yorker last year gives detailed numbers.  (Google “new yorker 2019 trump losses real.”)   

Ah but the American economy is booming.

Yes, it is.  I will just pass on this Andrew Jackson anecdote. 

The Bank of the United States was a privately-held bank where the government deposited its money.  The bank, in turn, distributed money to state and local banks.  Jackson hated the bank.  Even though Congress had voted to renew the bank’s charter, and the Supreme Court had ruled that the bank was constitutional, Jackson slowed government deposits and ultimately vetoed the bank’s charter renewal. Government money went to “pet banks” in the states.

The result was chaos on the frontier.  Notes issued by many banks were worthless.  Jackson responded with a “circular” that required purchases of federal land be in gold and silver. 

Jackson was out of office before the Panic of 1837 hit, a depression that lasted seven years.

Weasel in the henhouse

Asheville Daily Planet, March 2020

I was intrigued by a headline in this Opinion section last December: “President Trump is right about today’s fake news climate.”  It appeared over the “Candid Conservative” column.

The Candid Conservative and Trump?  I expected satire.

But deeper in, the columnist, Carl Mumpower, wrote: “That’s why President (Donald) Trump is correct in calling out a parade of fake news marketed as something more virtuous. Most conservative thinkers agree with him.”

The page should have lit up, “TILT!”  Conservatives come in many shapes — political, economic, religious, lifestyle and more — but through them all runs a common thread.  I was surprised to see that thread extended to Donald Trump.  

Conservative philosopher Russell Kirk wrote of conservatism in 1993 as something almost spiritual: “(Conservatism) is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order.  The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata.”

What is this body of sentiment?  Kirk continued: “The conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity.Necessary change, conservatives argue, ought to be gradual and discriminatory, never unfixing old interests at once.”

I read Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative in 1963 in the Philippines.  I remember discussing it with a Peace Corps volunteer.  I defended Goldwater.  It defined well what Kirk meant by a “way of looking at the civil social order.”       

Goldwater wrote: “The conservative respects the political institutions and customs and traditions which he has inherited, particularly the Constitution of the United States and other great documents of our nation. He believes our heritage of ordered freedom is the product of great wisdom and much practical experience.”

William F. Buckley put it this way: “A Conservative is a fellow who is standing athwart history yelling ‘Stop!”

Donald Trump’s life and governance are polar opposite to conservative devotion to an ordered world.  He has total disregard for norms and rules.  Now that he’s been acquitted, we’re watching his contempt for the rule of law, openly rewarding his friends and punishing those who stand up to him.  Gradual change?  Demolition of established institutions is more likely.

And yet, somehow, he has won and retained the adoration of many conservatives — including, apparently, the Candid Conservative.  In 2018, he enthused: 

“President Trump’s renewal of 21st century conservatism tracks to his one relentless dedication – an unyielding refusal to manage the decline of America.  These phenomena begins [sic] and ends [sic] with two words – President Trump. We are living in one of those rare – MLK, Gandhi, Churchill, Reagan [sic], Washington – moments where one man with a courage button is turning the world upside down.”

Shortly after Mumpower’s December column, an article came to my computer by conservative economist Jeffrey Tucker, “How Trumpism Swallowed Conservatism.”  It is stark.  He sets his opening scene at FreedomFest, an annual gathering of conservative and libertarian intellectuals:

“In the summer of 2015, Donald Trump came to FreedomFest..as an eccentric outsider. Almost a gate crasher. People wondered why he was there. He presented his message of protectionism and immigration restrictionism, while railing against Iran and China. Only a strong leader can save us from them, was his message. So far from Reaganism was his message that it was surprising that he received even a smattering of applause. 

“The next year, it was different….I spoke from the FreedomFest stage with warnings that Trump’s ideology is neither libertarian nor conservative but from a different tradition altogether, one that was historically and philosophically statist [a political theory where the state has great control]. I was booed by perhaps two-thirds of the audience….I did the same the next year – Trump was now president – and I was basically shouted down. I’m glad no one in the audience was carrying vegetables.”

So Mumpower is seemingly in step with many others.  Trump seems to have scattered the conservative movement like a weasel in the henhouse.

This conservative surrender to Trumpism is so shocking that we have to wonder how deep it runs.

Ben Shapiro, a popular conservative talk show host and editor, thinks it’s not very deep.  He said (in the context of his intention to vote for Trump in 2020):  “I think most Republicans correctly see Trump more as a vehicle for policy priorities than  as a thought-leader, which makes sense, because thought-leaders need to have thoughts.”

Total power can’t be predicted

News Record & Sentient, February 2020

I’d met with Madison once before.  That time, he mostly grumbled that history hasn’t given him a famous quote, while his nemesis, Patrick Henry, is remembered with a huge one.  But I noted a great line of his from that day: “The longer I’m dead, the thinner my skin.” 

Today, his straggly, stringy hair and baggy eyes gave him a ghastly look, nothing like his almost-handsome image on the $5000 bill.  He was a man deeply troubled.

He went right to the point.  “Four years of my life, Ballard!” he croaked, continuing (with some exaggeration): “My arguments dismantled the Articles of Confederation.  I gathered the Constitutional Convention.  I wrote the final draft.  I battled anti-constitution forces until our magnificent vision was reality.  And now this!”

I waited.  He pushed a newspaper toward me.  The headline read, “The GOP has caught autocratic fever.”  I knew of the polls.  Forty-three percent of Republicans now want fewer checks on Trump, double from a year ago. 

“They scorn your checks and balances, Mr. President,” I said.

“Republicans!  I’ve rejoiced with them from their beginnings.  I know their creed: ‘We support the Federalist System of Government,’ it says.  They’ve always opposed centralized power!”

“You feared monarchy, didn’t you?” I asked.

“We did!  We knew history.  Our government would have separation of powers.  No monarchy for America!  And Republicans have always believed with us.  Now, betrayal!” 

“Many religious leaders, evangelicals, want the current president to have unchecked power so he can remake America into what they call a ‘Christian nation,’” I said.

“Ha!  Let them study Oliver Cromwell!” Madison thundered. 

“Actually, sir, many see Cromwell as their role model.”

“Incredible!  We took nothing from Cromwell for our new government!  We saw one important lesson from Cromwell:  when absolute power is given, you cannot predict how it will be used, or control it afterwards.  Cromwell slaughter 5,000 Catholics in Ireland, shut down Parliament when they debated his constitution and forced every adult to swear allegiance to his government.” 

He paused.  “Is that what evangelicals want, Trump as Cromwell?”

“Their leaders call him ‘chosen,’ like Cromwell,” I said.

Madison spoke slowly: “Cromwell was sincere.  He believed he was doing God’s will, even in genocide.  Trump is a fraud.  He’s using evangelicals for his reelection.  If he’s successful, he’ll treat them like common rubbish.”

“That’s Trump all right,” I said.

Mark Esper Milquetoast

News-Record & Sentinel, January 2020

In the days leading up to his resignation in 1974, Richard Nixon was a mental mess.   He wasn’t sleeping.  He was drinking heavily.  He made unintelligible calls late at night.  His son-in-law reported that Nixon was talking to portraits of presidents.  He hinted at suicide.

Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger heard the rumors and worried that Nixon might call in the military to rescue his presidency.  Schlesinger notified the Joint Chiefs of Staff and military commanders near D.C. to obey no order from the White House that did not have his signature.  The chain of command would not be short-circuited.

James Schlesinger saw his duty as Secretary of Defense to defend the country, not to defend his boss.

Our current Secretary of Defense is an ex-military (West Point), ex-lobbyist (Raytheon) intellectual named Dr. Mark Esper.

I saw him for the first time on TV after the Turks invaded Syria.  He said, more or less, “The Turks were coming.  We had to get our troops out of harm’s way.”  His undulating body language said, “Give me some slack, guys.  I just work here.”  My exact first thought was, “Oh no.  We don’t have a James Schlesinger.  We’ve got Caspar Milquetoast.” 

He got the same “Please take me to the library” look when reporters asked why we had killed the Iranian general.  Esper said the general was planning an imminent attack on the U.S.  How imminent?  “I think it’s more fair to say days, for sure,” Esper responded.  The wheel desperately spinning in his head could just as easily have landed on “Next Tuesday.”  White House talking points didn’t cover that detail.

A very unfunny political cartoon, by Michael Ramirez, came to my computer after that.  It showed President Trump standing with a squatting dog on his left and a man wearing glasses on his right, squatting exactly like the dog.  Trump’s speech bubble says, “Secretary Esper, I was talking to the dog.”  We’re to understand that Trump gave the command, “Sit!”  Mark’s a good doggy.

In the end, Nixon honored the Constitution.  Trump?  His Nixon-like frenzies come and go like indigestion.  How sure are we that he will vacate the White House peacefully next year?          

Schlesinger was ready to defy his commander-in-chief if he attempted a coup d’état.  So far, Esper has shown himself more likely to direct traffic when the tanks encircle the White House. 

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