Saturday, September 23, 2017

The warped, frustrated old and young men and women of Bedford Falls

Posted Saturday morning, July 29, 2017.

Wonderful Life George confronts Pottersville at the Building and Loan

George Bailey (James Stewart, center) is confronted by the Pottersville that exists beneath the surface of Bedford Falls in a scene from It’s A Wonderful Life.

Bedford Falls, the Norman Rockwell Christmas card town at the heart of Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, looks to be such a nice place to live that we almost overlook that it's still a place where Mr Potter holds enormous financial and political sway and that he doesn't use his influence with altruistic intent and he's not alone. He has the support and encouragement of other businessmen in town and probably a few local politicians, as well.

What does it say that the absence of one man allows Potter free reign to turn Bedford Falls into Pottersville?

It says---

Well, it’s hard to say for sure what it says since it's hard to say what Capra was trying to say or thought he was saying in any of his more socially critical films like It's A Wonderful Life and Mr Smith Goes to Washington and Meet John Doe. As Mark Harris lays out in Five Came Back:A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War, Capra wasn't a born political philosopher. His thinking was all over the place, guided by his emotions and his own experience at the moment.

He was an immigrant and a Republican at a time the GOP had long established itself as the anti-immigrant party and he continued to be a Republican after he became a staunch supporter of FDR though his feelings about the New Deal were ambivalent and self-contradicting. He was an anti-fascist who admired Mussolini. He was happily capitalistic but filled his movies with labor-friendly dialog and socialist themes. He was a champion of the common man and woman who, as Harris writes, saw how "friends and neighbors could easily turn into a hateful mob".

And while his films expressed a "pious veneration of small-town life", he was well-aware of the Pottersvilles thriving  under the surface of towns like Bedford Falls.

When we see the Pottersville that George's not having been born allowed to come into being, it's represented by businesses that serve needs and appetites that certainly existed to be served in Bedford Falls and may have been there in some form---the pawnbroker's, the dance hall, the billiard parlor---"Fights Every Wednesday Night"---cheap hotels and sleazy bars. The real difference is that they appear to be the center of the town's social life instead of places like the soda fountain at Gower's Drug Store, friendly neighborhood taverns like Martini's, and, of course, the Building and Loan.

The character of the town has changed but so have the characters of the people living in it and it's a question of which is cause and which is effect and which is a reflection of which.

Ma Bailey is cold and suspicious. Bert has gone from friendly neighborhood cop on the beat to unquestioning enforcer of civil authority as laid out by Potter and his cronies. Ernie the cab driver is embittered by his failed marriage and ready to take out his anger on any passenger at the slightest suspected provocation. Nick the bartender is a bully and a sadist. Violet, the girl who just wants to have a little too much fun, is now a prostitute and not having any fun at all.  And they're the same people they were. It's not that their different circumstances have turned them into different people. It's that the circumstances have brought out the worst in them.

The same is true to a degree of Mary, but only to a degree because we suspect that she's like George in being the type of person who brings out the best in others too.

The Pottersville version of Mary is presented as a cliché. She’s “an old maid”, but that's just dramatic shorthand for Mary not having her ideal life without George and their children. She’s the town librarian, the cliche old maid’s cliche job but it puts her in charge of one of the vestiges of Bedford Falls within Pottersville---just as Bedford Falls contains Pottersville, Pottersville still contains Bedford Falls, and Bedford Falls is an aspirational place. It sends some of its best and brightest out into the wide world and some it keeps at home to help improve the town. Mary and George are among the latter---or were. Without George, Mary has no one to join her in standing up for the communitarian values she and George shared and helped spread. Mary is lonely but not just because she didn’t marry George.

She's alone because she can't do it alone. Nobody can, not even George.

"No man is a failure who has friends."

George saves himself from despair. But his friends and neighbors save him from jail and by doing so save Bedford Falls which we know will fall under Potter's complete control as soon as George is out of the picture. If George goes to jail, the effect will be the same as if he'd never been born.

The natural corollary---the main theme of the movie---is that the "real" circumstances brought out the best in them, and since George is responsible for much of those circumstances, it's George who brought out the best of them and it's George not Bedford Falls itself who makes the town a decent, wholesome, and cheerful place to live.

Virtue isn't inherent in small towns nor is it inherent in people no matter where they live. Even George has has a darker side and selfish desires that intensify when circumstance turns against him, and I'm not talking just about the last act of the movie. His proposal to Mary is full of anguish and rage as he realizes he's giving up all his dreams for her and he doesn't want to and he blames her.

Capra, as Harris observes, didn't shy from depicting "the nervous hysteria to which hopelessness can drive a man." Think of Jefferson Smith rummaging desperately through the mailbags on the Senate floor, John Doe on the roof in the snow, and George Bailey proposing to Mary, confronting Uncle Billy, and begging Potter for help---the most harrowing and distressing and, perhaps, the most realistic scenes in those movies.

I've been thinking about It's A Wonderful Life because I just finished re-reading Five Came Back. But I've been thinking about the real life counterparts of Bedford Falls because of this column, by Business Insider Senior Editor Josh Barro which he apparently wrote in a fit of pique at a gaggle of Brooklyn hipsters at the next table who annoyed him at lunch.

The column, headlined Liberals can win again if they stop being so annoying and fix their ‘hamburger problem’, has been laughed at and ridiculed and taken apart six ways from Sunday, and Barro's probably sorry he wrote it or at least relieved the political news since it posted has pushed it out of readers' minds. But I'm always late to the party and one of the perks of being an independent blogger is the freedom to write about whatever's on your mind, even if it's yesterday's news---or last week's---instead of what's at the top of everybody's Twitter feed today.

Barro's premise is that there are a critical mass of Republicans sympathetic to the Democrats on many important issues and who are ready and willing to vote Democratic but they're put off by supercilious liberals who can't resist lecturing them on their lifestyle choices.

That Democrats are on solid political ground with the biggest planks of their culture-related policy agenda does not mean [National Review editor Rich Lowry] is wrong about the culture gap. What it does mean, I think, is that "cultural politics" is barely about public policy at all.

And liberals have staked out a wide variety of fundamentally non-policy positions on the culture that annoy the crap out of people, to their electoral detriment.

Let's discuss the hamburger example.

Suppose you're a middle-income man with a full-time job, a wife who also works outside the home, and some children. Suppose it's a Sunday in the early fall, and your plan for today is to relax, have a burger, and watch a football game.

Conservatives will say, "Go ahead, that sounds like a nice Sunday." (In the Trump era, they're not going to bother you about not going to church.) But you may find that liberals have a few points of concern they want to raise about what you mistakenly thought was your fundamentally nonpolitical plan for the day.

Liberals want you to know that you should eat less meat so as to contribute less to global warming. They're concerned that your diet is too high in sodium and saturated fat. They're upset that the beef in your hamburger was factory-farmed.

If it’s still bothering me enough in a few days, I may write a post dealing with Barro’s apparent unfamiliarity with the snack choices of fans watching football on TV at home with family and friends as opposed to at a sports bar or at the stadium, but, quickly---hamburgers during the game? Nachos, ok. Pizza, sure. Crabby snacks and homemades, definitely. But burgers? Never mind. I’ll stop there before I get worked up.

Liberals of a certain type can be annoying. In the early 1990s, they were getting so annoying around the college where I taught that I seriously considered becoming a Republican...for about twenty minutes. Fortunately I remembered that very few Democrats were white, middle-aged academics bitter about not having gotten that teaching gig at Harvard and that most Republican politicians were Right Wing racist assholes and/or Religious nuts.

How times haven't changed.

Barro is right about one thing. Republicans don't like being told what to do. But they're pretty clear about what it is they don't like, and it's not that they should only order hamburgers made with free range beef.

The main thing they don't like being told is they have to pay taxes to support government programs they don't see immediately and directly benefiting them.

Who does?

But they really don't like it if they see the benefits going to you know who.


Those people.

Those others.

Beyond that, they don't like being told who they have to let live in their neighborhoods, who gets to go to school with their kids, who they have to hire, who they have to sell wedding cakes to, who they might have to share a public restroom with, and what words they can use to complain about all this.

They may not like having their lunch choices criticized, but that's because it's just plain rude and...annoying. But when they go to vote, it's not foremost on their minds.

Barro's not singing a new song. It's a variation on an old standard I've heard sung my whole voting life---and I've been voting for longer than Barro's been alive---and the tune was old when I first heard it. It was old when Pop Mannion was madly for Adlai while most of the country liked Ike.

The Democrats are the party of East and West Coast snobs and intellectual and cultural elitists while the Republicans are the party of the just plain folks who live, work, and shop on Main Street in the small towns of the Heartland.

And the implication is that the just plain folks are more virtuous, more genuine, more honest and decent, more true to the American grain than the snobs and elitists who are, well, snobs and elitists.

Actually, when you look at it, this is a trope that goes back to Aesop. Barro and all the other pundits who have tried to explain Trumpland to their fellow snobs and elitists are basically re-telling the story of the City Mouse and the Country Mouse.

There are good people and bad people everywhere in the United States, in small towns and big cities, on the coasts and in the Heartland, wherever that is. But there are relatively few of both. What there are mostly are people who are as good as they can be, given their circumstances, or know how to be, or have to be, and people who are as bad as they think they can get away with. That's true of Bedford Falls.

Thanks to George and Mary Bailey there are more people in town whose circumstances are such that being as good as they can be are actually makes them pretty good. But it's only because the Baileys’ circumstances give them the influence, and their circumstances are precarious. Running the Building and Loan is a shaky proposition. Part way through the movie, they almost lose it, and not through Potter's scheming. The Depression nearly pulls them under.

There's a run on the bank and they only manage to stay open because George and Mary give up their honeymoon and the money they'd saved to travel and persuade their depositors not to withdraw all their savings but take only as little as they'll need to get by for a few days. But while they are dealing with the crisis we see in the crowd the Pottersville that exists within Bedford Falls. We see the fear and the suspicion and the selfishness they’re all feeling, and not everyone behaves well. It wouldn’t take much for the rest of them to give into their worser impulses. All it would take, would have taken, and we can imagine did take would have been for George and Mary to not have been there.

For more than a century, now certain states and localities have been electing politicians dedicated to bringing out the worst in their constituents---or, to put it another way, they’ve been letting the worst in themselves to decide their votes. On the national level, since 1960 the Republicans have nominated candidate after candidate whose campaign theme has been it's far from a wonderful life and it's those people's fault. Those people being their fellow Americans.

Before Trump came along the most obvious and egregious purveyor of this destructive Us versus Them-ism was Richard Nixon. But I think Reagan was as bad or worse because he did it with a smile. Goldwater was pretty awful. McCain and Bob Dole ran nasty campaigns and of course McCain gave us Sarah Palin who gathered and incited the mobs Trump came alone to exploit. Mitt Romney seems genial and reasonable at a glance but he ran a campaign based on the idea that people are costs that need to be controlled, and Mr Potter would have no argument with that.

Us against Them was the theme of Donald Trump's presidential campaign. It's become the theme of his presidency. But more than that it's been the theme of his whole adult life.

He doesn't like or trust anybody who isn't Donald Trump, and for all his boasting and bragging, he doesn't seem all that fond of Donald Trump. He clowned his way through his rallies but he's essentially mirthless, and what laughter he engendered was mean-spirited and derisive and not much different in tone and no different in spirit than the angry hooting and hollering and the chants of Lock her up. He preached hatred and spread gloom---and self-doubt and self-loathing.

Trump isn't a Mr Potter, as much as his golf clubs, hotels, and casinos are self-contained Pottersvilles. Potter is good at what he does, more realistically limited in his ambition, and has, as far as we can tell, only the one vice, avarice. Trump, needless to say, has all of them. I suppose you could argue the case that he's the anti-George Bailey, but I wouldn't make too much of that. What he is, I think, is the embodiment of the sourness of spirit and lack of faith that pollutes the soul of every Bedford Falls. He's an expression of the meanness, pettiness, suspicion, fear, and resentment that reside in all of us and that are a main source of corruption in big city and small town life.

As such, he's nothing new and is squarely in the American grain.

Winning over Republicans will take more than refraining from criticizing their lunch meat.

It will take convincing them that it is a wonderful life and whatever’s less than wonderful can be made better...if we work together. We’re stronger when we work together.

If only the Democrats had run someone with a slogan like that.

If only the political media had noticed or cared the Republicans were running someone whose slogan meant just the opposite.

Make America Great Again isn't a hope-filled slogan. It's salt in the wound, a reminder of loss, and an obliquely phrased complaint: Where's mine? And it contains self-accusation. What did I do wrong?

Trump's answer was, Nothing. You didn't do it to yourself. They did it to you.

That's the difference between the ideal Bedford Falls and the all too real Pottersvilles.

There is no They in Bedford Falls.


Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War by Mark Harris is available in paperback and for kindle at Amazon.


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Weather Report: September 8, 2017. Insistent red

Friday morning. 6:15 a.m. 49 degrees. Sitting by the front window looking out at the street. Past dawn but the sun not really up. Full moon still is. Almost straight overhead. See it framed off-center in the top right pane of the side set of mullions. Looks smaller than a dime. Sky light. Colors and shapes of houses, trees, cars are clear but don’t yet have their daytime vividness or sharpness of detail. Blues are still gray or nearly black. Reds just beginning to insist on themselves.

One deal!

Posted Tuesday evening, September 12, 2017.

Trump Schumer all smiles Evan Vucci AP via Washington Times

That independent feeling: “Vice President Mike Pence looks on with President Donald Trump during a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and other Congressional leaders in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)”

Oh for Pete’s sake!

President Donald Trump was in the mood to celebrate after cutting a big deal with opposition Democrats.

Joshing with Northeastern officials in the Cabinet Room, Trump hailed New York Democrat Andrew Cuomo as “my governor” and traded banter with Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, another fellow New Yorker.

“If you just dropped in from outer space, you wouldn’t know what the last eight months have been like,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., recalling the friendly exchanges between Trump and Schumer during the meeting with New York and New Jersey lawmakers.

That would be the same Schumer whom the president had previously slammed as a “clown” and “Cryin’ Chuck.”

And now?

“In some ways it’s almost like they were completing each other’s sentences,” King said.

On display at that chummy scene Thursday was the Trump who’s emerged in full this past week: Trump the independent.

A president who spent months catering to the Republican conservative wing now appears unbound by ideology and untethered by party allegiances.

---from the Associated Press, September 10, 2017, Trump makes nice with Democrats, leaving his party confused.


Now in the White House, President Trump demonstrated this past week that he still imagines himself a solitary cowboy as he abandoned Republican congressional leaders to forge a short-term fiscal deal with Democrats. Although elected as a Republican last year, Mr. Trump has shown in the nearly eight months in office that he is, in many ways, the first independent to hold the presidency since the advent of the current two-party system around the time of the Civil War.

---from the New York Times, September 9, 2017, Bound to No Party, Trump Upends 150 Years of Two-Party Rule.

He made one deal! One! And he made it out of spite and vanity. That doesn't make him independent. It makes him spiteful and vain. And irresponsible. It just confirms that he is what he's always been. Vain, spiteful, irresponsible and unreliable.

I don't really care that the Republicans can't rely on him. But I'm furious the country can't either. He did one right thing out of spite. He'll do a hundred wrong things for the same reason.

He wanted to stick it to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, whom he blames for his legislative failures because he doesn't understand how his job or theirs work and he's too lazy and stubborn to learn.  He thinks they work for him. He thinks he's their boss. And he wanted to be seen making the deal they couldn't make to shore up his crumbling reputation as a dealmaker. But he's as Republican as they are.

He's as Republican as they come.

He might---might---have wanted to help the people who've been wiped out by Harvey, but vanity surely motivated him there as much or more than compassion. He wants to play the hero president. His supposed newfound independence didn't figure or else he'd have postponed, if not cancelled, his proposed budget cuts for disaster relief, FEMA, and the Coast Guard, especially now that its brand has been improved.

And what's particularly independent about a deal that keeps the government running and the United States from defaulting on its debts for a mere three months? Wasn't all that long ago that this would have been a routine bipartisan sort of deal. There was even a time when there'd have been no need for a deal. There'd have been simple agreement.

"It's that time again. We'd better increase the debt limit. Oh, and Texas is going to need a mintload more money. Let's get that done before lunch."

That there had to be a deal says more about the ideological lunacy of the GOP than about Trump's independence.

I wish he was becoming an independent. I wish he was letting his inner Democrat loose. He supposedly liked working with his new pals Chuck and Nancy and is eager to do it again. One deal isn't anything like proof that's happening or is likely to happen. But never say never, right? He's shown a tendency to tie everything up with his own ego. Self-aggrandizement has mattered to him more than anything except making money. Wouldn't it be wonderful if he can be persuaded that he could be a great president by changing if not himself then course? Wouldn't it wonderful if someone convinced him that he could become one of the greatest Presidents if he'd govern as a liberal or at least as a liberal Republican? Liberal-ish, since there aren't any liberal Republicans anymore?

It would be wonderful. It would also be a miracle.

That kind of change happens only in movies and fairy tales. People don't change. Not like that. They become more themselves. Their good or bad qualities come to the fore. The evidence he has any good qualities, going back forty years, is minimal.

So maybe we should wait before signing a declaration of independence for him until he starts talking thoughtfully and meaningfully like an independent, when he starts questioning his own Right Wing Republicanism, when we hear him say things like:

Maybe we shouldn't turn the environment over to corporate interests for looting and plunder?

Maybe we should forget the six month deadline and just let the Dreamers stay.

Maybe we should treat the brave trans men and women serving in the military and who want to serve as the heroes and patriots they are.

Maybe I was wrong to stir up hatred and fear against immigrants.

Maybe it's wrong to deprive people of their health insurance. Maybe we should get more people insured. Maybe we should get everybody insured, and by insured, I really mean that they're covered not that they're covered for whatever they can afford to pay for.

Maybe the Right Wing Evangelicals need to get over their bigotry and homophobia.

Maybe the rich don't need their taxes cut. Maybe they in fact need them raised.

Has he said any of this or anything like it like he's meant it? Has he proposed any policies or issued any directives or signed any executive orders that would bring any of it about? What specifically has he said that the majority of Republicans, voters as well as politicians, can't get behind? Aren't already behind? Weren't already behind before he came along to take advantage of their collective desire get their own back from an increasingly liberal society?

Where he has broken with the GOP Congressional establishment, it's been to be more careless, heartless, and destructive than they are. Wanting to start trade wars. Wanting to start real war. Pardoning Arpaio. Defending Nazis. Firing James Comey!

If by independent, you mean prone to going completely off the rails, then, yeah, he's got an independent streak, but I don't think we should encourage it.

What, I ask for the thousandth time, is this desperate need so many political journalists have to see Trump as what he clearly isn't: capable of growth, change, self-correction, and the kind of mental discipline and self-education it would take to make him even a minimally competent president?

I have had a ready answer for that: intellectual and professional laziness.

It's just easier to get along and get ahead in Washington if you can pretend politics don't really matter, which, you'd think would be like living in L.A. And pretending movies don't matter. But people in the business are in general agreement about what movies are for? You got it. making oodles of money. In Washington everybody in the biz is in general agreement about what politics is for. Changing the course of people's lives. But they have differing but passionate opinions about whose lives get changed and how and to what ends. Donald Trump makes it hard---almost impossible---to pretend those differences are minor and it's ok to focus on the general agreement and cover what goes on in the halls of governance as a friendly competition over who gets the nicest offices and the best tables at the best restaurants.

It's just no fun to go to work every day knowing you're in for a fight with someone at some point.

Weren't things better back in the day when Reagan and Tip O'Neill liked each other and could share a laugh and a drink at the end of the day? Which they didn't. Like each other. But it was easier to pretend back then because theywere good at pretending. Trump just isn't in their league when it comes to faking affability. Or competence. Reagan and Tip were very good at their jobs, and part of their being very good was not letting their emotions get the better of them in a fight.

Trump, the case can be made, won the election by letting himself get carried away by his emotions, particularly his anger. He's still at it, and it works for him in that his voters love it and love him for it. They want him throwing temper tantrums on their behalf and don't care that he sabotages himself whenever he does it. But it makes him a bad and destructive president and there's no covering him without reporting on that, and that makes certain journalists uncomfortable, because, like I said, you can't pretend politics didn't matter when the President is a madman intent on changing the course of people's lives by hurting as many of them as he can in as many ways as he can.

And it's even harder when it's clear that the majority of Republicans in Congress are forced by his obviousness and obliviousness to reveal they support him in this destructive political course.

This is why I have mixed feelings about Trump's being removed from office in any other way than by electoral defeat either by the Democratic nominee or by a Republican challenger in the primary. (I favor the former.) Of course he has to go and I'll cheer when he does. He has earned disgrace. But President Pence?

Pence will be as destructive and malicious. He'll probably just as incompetent in his own way. But he'll be much more competent at hiding his emotions and acting as if politics don't matter. He'll square his shoulders and keep them squared---Trump hunches more than Nixon---and he'll smile broadly and when he holds press conferences he'll josh with reporters and call on them amiably, even if they work for outlets he secretly loathes and despises, and the press corps will breathe a collective sigh of relief and say to each other, "Isn't it great to have a real president again?"

Anyway, that's the answer I usually give myself. They want things to get back to normal and normal in their minds is not having to care what the politicians are really up to and being able to report on personality and process without worrying it'll cause fights at the next dinner party.

But I have another answer, which doesn't cancel out the first.

They're scared.

A thoroughly reprehensible human being is President of the United States intent on hurting as many people as he can in as many ways as he can and he has the backing of the Congressional majority and will soon have the backing of the federal courts if he's not stopped and there's no one in a position to stop him right now except himself.

Maybe Robert Mueller will find enough that even Republicans can't look the other way anymore. Maybe the Democrats will win back the majority in 2018' at least in the House. But in the meantime?

Thank God he is incompetent. That's saved us from the far. But for how much longer can we count on his screwing up resulting in if not positive outcomes than at least not as bad as they could have been? The Republicans have restarted their effort to kill people by taking away their health care. They've voted to let him continue to hide his tax returns. They're bound and determined to cut taxes on the rich to next to nothing even if that means making life harder and meaner and more desperate for the rest of us, especially if it does that. In fact that's part of the point. They're mad at him because he made this one sensible deal to keep the government running and save the city of Houston, but incompetent, unreliable, reckless, and irresponsible as he is, Trump is not going to get in the way of their reaching at least some of these goals...unless..

Unless he pivots!

Unless he reveals himself to be a true independent! Unless this deal is just the beginning of a wholly changed presidency!

Which, of course, it isn't.

It's scary, I know. But those frightened journalists have to face up to it.

The way the rest of us have.


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Wasn't gonna read it

Adapted from the Twitter feed, Monday evening, September 11, 2017. Posted Wednesday night, September 13.

The New York Times’ Amy Chozik is working on a book about the election. Since she mostly covered Hillary’s campaign, I expect she’ll focus mainly on that. Meanwhile, NBC’s Katy Tur, who covered Trump’s campaign, has a book of her own in the works, focusing on…well, you can guess. Advanced word is Tur’s book is good. Chozik isn’t far enough along for there to be advanced word, but Chozik herself has promised her book will be “nuanced,” unlike her coverage of Clinton. Doesn’t matter. I won’t be reading either. I won’t be reading any books about the campaign. Except one.

Earlier today I tweeted:

Nope. Not gonna. Don't care how good it is, I'm not reading any books about the election, not even Hillary's. I know how it turned out.

But this column in Slate by Christina Cauterucci caused me to change my mind, at least about Hillary’s book:

Early reviews take issue with the book’s right to exist as much as the quality of its contents. “Was this book necessary?” asks Doyle McManus in the lede of his Los Angeles Times review, suggesting that Clinton should have shoved her manuscript into a desk drawer rather than offer it up for public consumption. Doug Schoen, a former Clinton ally, told the failed candidate in a Hill piece that it is “time to exit the stage” and stop doing harm to her political party by simply showing up. “Friends don’t let friends read Hillary Clinton’s new book,” wrote a critic at the Week who refused to even crack it open before making her judgment. “Whatever you want to read this book for, chances are, there’s something else that does it better.”

That decides it. Nobody tells me what I can and can't read, especially not self-important political journalists who to protect their own vanity and ego want the first woman nominated for President by a major party and the winner of the popular vote in one of the most contentious elections in U.S. History to go away and slip quietly into obscurity as if she was Wendell Wilkie or Alf Landon.

I don’t expect much from What Happened as a book. I liked Hillary’s Living History, but it’s not Grant’s Memoirs. Chances are there will be something that "does it better", but it’ll be years before it’s finished and years after it’s published before I can muster the fortitude to read it. As it happens, the only Establishment Journalist-approved book I know of is Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes' Shattered, which I haven't read. But going by on even the most gushing reviews by Allen and Parnes' most friendly colleagues, it sounds likean epic exercise in excuse-making on behalf to the entire political press corps, shifting all the blame onto HRC as if she herself orchestrated the nonstop email “scandal” and forced them into the equally nonstop fawning coverage of Donald Trump. So, you know, I’m not inclined to let them tell me what I should read.

Cover What Happened Hillary ClintonI suspect a lot of journalists, along with Trump-defending Republicans, Jill Stein voters, Berne die-hards, and Bernie himself, are worried that people might accept What Happened as what happened.

Honestly, what does it matter if she wrote a book?

"People might read it!"


"What if they believe her?"

What if they do?

"They might think WE were wrong!"

What if you were?

"Gack sputter spit garble derp!"

Bernie woulda won? He might very well have. But to say he would have as a certainty you need to believe he had no flaws and would have made no mistakes or, at least, none that would have cost him. But then what cost him the nomination? Hillary trounced him. Some of those Democrats who voted for her must have thought he had flaws. Some of those votes he lost because he made mistakes. Some---as in a great many---of those lost votes belonged to African Americans and adult women of all colors who have been pretty clear about how Bernie lost their votes.

I haven’t seen the same pundits and journalists who’ve criticized her campaign for being too overly feminist criticize his for his inherent sexism. I haven’t seen that the same pundits and journalists who think the basket of deplorables remark was damning and self-sabotaging carrying on about Bernie’s more demonstrably damning and self-sabotaging excuse making for his heavy losses in the “Confederacy” on Super Tuesday and the middle of March primaries. Not only did that hurt him tremendously among African American voters in the primary, it’s still hurting him. It will be a big problem for him if he’s vain and foolish enough to run for the nomination in 2020, especially considering that his main competition is likely to include Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. Where’s his apology? Where’s his book where he takes the blame for getting crushed in the primary? Why doesn’t he have to explain over and over again how he lost to a historically unpopular opponent?

A key part of assessing what you did wrong is first looking at the factors you had to deal with and then figuring out what mistakes you made in dealing with them and what you should have done or could have done to avoid them or to make up for the mistakes you made trying to deal with them. For the Clinton campaign, that would include the email “scandal”---to which there seemed to have been nothing she could have done short of buying the New York Times and the publications and TV networks following its lead and ordering a complete blackout of email news---and crafting a whole new personality that journalists would have loved or felt loved by. It would also include the relentlessly negative coverage she received and the irresponsible obsequious coverage the media lavished on him to glom off his celebrity---CNN especially couldn't get enough of him. They covered him like a lost airliner---the Comey letter, Bernie’s mean-spiritedness and the reckless attack mode of his supposedly idealistic campaign, the WikiLeaks factor, the sexism that pervaded everything, and Russian meddling.

As Greg Sargent says, in a column making the same point about it being necessary for her to take a hard look at those factors, a lot depends on what comes after that look and “whether she feints toward blaming her own failings while dodging accountability for herself via an overemphasis on other causes.”

Sargent hasn’t read the book yet, and, of course, neither have I. But based on Living History, I trust her to be honest in her self-criticisms as in her criticisms those she thinks hurt her campaign, although naturally she might be angrier at them than at herself. In Living History, she showed a talent for characterization and the telling anecdote, but more germane to the moment, she also showed a she’s had a life-long habit of self-examination leading to self-correction. It’s a tenet of her religious faith, which by the way she’s been criticized for not making more of in the campaign. She’s a Methodist but there’s a streak of Puritanism in her personal theology. She can be hard in her judgment of others, but she’s also hard on herself.

She ran without their permission. She ran even though they explicitly warned her what they were going to do if she ran anyway. The Clinton Rules would be rigidly and ruthlessly enforced.

You know why they want her to go away, don't you? Because every time she appears in public people say, “Why isn't this woman president?”

And then they look at them.


Yep. I know Bernie wrote a book. Good for him. It’s not about the last campaign though. It’s about the next one. As it should be. He’s still on the field. He’s got an agenda and the base and the stage he needs to advance it. But if he wants to write another book, this one about the campaign, then he has my permission to write whatever he wants. It’ll be his book. He can grovel in penance the way Hillary’s supposed to or he can go on and on about how she done him dirty. And if there’s a publisher willing to publish it and multitudes line up to buy it and it becomes a best seller, good for him again.

Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In by Bernie Sanders is available in hardcover and for kindle at Amazon.


What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton is available in hardcover and for kindle, also from Amazon.


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President of their dreams

Posted Tuesday evening, September 19, 2017.

Trump 100 Days Rally Harrisburg Evelyn Hockstein via MySA

“President Donald Trump addresses the crowd at the Farm Expo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to celebrate his 100th day in office…” April 29, 2017. Photo by Evelyn Hockstein for the Washington Post, via San Antonio Express-News.

The Republicans had been moving towards nominating Donald Trump for at least 30 years. He was their dream candidate, they just didn't know his name or his face. As in a dream, he appeared to them in indistinct outline. That outline was that of a big strong white man---although that he'd be white and a he went without saying---who would be tough and ruthless on their behalf in putting those people back into their proper places---that meant the grave for many of them.

We were supposed to feel sorry for them instead of feeling revolted and afraid, which is what we should have felt, and millions of us did feel, when confronted by their anger, ignorance, hatred, and desperate need for revenge that was producing among them a collective madness, and what else except madness can you call their fanatical devotion to an obvious conman and reprehensible human being whose overarching campaign theme was I Will Hurt Them and Make Them Pay!

The political press corps didn't seem to know to even try to make Republicans see themselves for what they'd become.

Hillary was wrong to tell them the coal industry was not coming back. She committed a gaffe. They weren't wrong in believing that time could be reversed and Trump wasn't wrong for promising he was just the magician who could do it. Hillary goofed by observing that the racists, xenophobes, and homophobes, and misogynists among them were deplorable. Trump was smart and savvy for encouraging them to be deplorable. And the pundits and analysts were simply doing their jobs as objective journalists excusing their deplorability as natural and understandable, given their "economic anxiety."

They don't care he's a con artist and a crook. He's their con artist and crook. They don't care he's a sexual predator. He's not coming after their daughters and wives. And, anyway, isn't that what certain women are for? Don't those women ask for it? Aren't men just being men when they do what he did, talk like he talked? Isn't that his reward for being rich, being successful, being famous, being powerful? They don't care that he's racist, because they're racist, because racism is to them simply a willingness to see them for what they are. And them is such an encompassing term. It doesn't only include black people, Muslim people, Mexican people. It includes...well, them, everybody who isn't "us". Everybody who isn't like "us". Because you know how "they" are. You know what "they" want.  "They" want what's "ours". Whatever "we" have. Everything "we" have. Everything that's rightfully "ours" by virtue of our being us. The only people who work and pay taxes. The only people who have children and raise families. The only people who love God and love America. The only people who go to church and fly the flag. The only good people.

Hypocritical and superstitious. Willfully ignorant, anti-intellectual, anti-learning, and smug about it. Self-satisfied and self-righteous. Distrustful and paranoid. Cynical and misanthropic. Racists. Xenophobes. Homophobes. Misogynists. All part and parcel of the hate and fear packages they are. They're small town bigots. Equally opportunity haters. They 're suspicious and afraid by nature, by upbringing, by religion, by tradition, by habit, and by way of unelightened, defensive, greedy self-interest. It's a mean sort of greed. Mean as in mean-spirited, mean as in petty and paltry. It's not money and things they want as much as they want not to have to share. They want it all for themselves, the country and the benefits of living here, the main one of which is the benefit of thinking well of themselves just because they live here and disdainfully of everyone else, in the country and in the world.

So, yeah, you bet they want the Dreamers kicked out. They want all ofthem gone and no more let in.  Stealing “our” jobs but that's not the worst of it. Stealing “our” sense that the country belongs exclusively to “us”, that the country is “us”. That's what Make America Great means. Make it all ours again. Make it mine again. Make it me again.

And they're fine with people losing their health insurance. They're fine with people dying without it. Their own fault. They didn't plan. They didn't save. They didn't take care of themselves, didn't work hard, didn't work. They weren't good, weren't like us. And what do “we” care about climate change? Things are all right here right now, and if the climate's changing it's God's plan, God's will. If we suffer for it, well, then, he'll provide, in this world or the next. In the meantime, the feds will bail us out. After all, it's our money.

And it's fine with them Trump's not up to his job, that he doesn't know the first thing about how to do it, that he doesn't even seem to know what the job is.What's there to know? Being good at governing doesn't matter. What's that mean anyway, being good at governing? Being good at raising taxes? Being good at generating red tape? Being good at passing laws and making rules we have to obey and they don't? Being good at giving what's rightfully ours to them?

What matters is being good at saying no. Being good at saying enough's enough. Being good at telling them Too bad for you. Being good at being angry. Being good at dealing out the pain and the punishment. Being good at taking it back. Being good at getting even.

Being good at hating.

Trump is really good at that. He's good at the other things too, but he excels at hating.

One reason so many decent and smart and sensible people didn’t see Trump coming was they couldn’t believe there were so many heartless, stupid, depraved, and hate-crazed Republicans. Political journalists were especially surprised, committed as they’d been for decades to covering Republicans in Washington as sensible, centrist, pragmatic cynics and Republicans outside the Beltway as just good, plain folks and “real” Americans.

Someone as vile and appalling Trump just couldn’t appeal to that many of them. He certainly couldn’t be the president of their dreams.

But he did. He does. And he is.

The President of their dreams.

Too bad he's the stuff of nightmares for the rest of us.