I was trying to convince Swamp Rabbit that there was nothing new about Donald Trump’s style of racism, that Randy Newman had sung about it long before Trump became president.
I told him that Republican Richard Nixon, running for president in 1968, wooed Southern white Democratic voters by stoking their anger regarding desegregation laws. And that Alabama Governor George Wallace, running as a third-party candidate that year, also reached out to Democrats, and ultimately helped get Nixon elected.
And that Lester Maddox of Georgia, another segregationist governor, walked off the set of the Dick Cavett Show in 1970 when Cavett refused to apologize for implying that some of Maddox’s constituents were racists.
And that all these events influenced singer/songwriter Newman, whose 1974 album Good Old Boys, addressed America’s enduring racial divide in ruefully funny songs like “Rednecks,” told from the point of view of a Southern bigot who understands that the North has been no kinder to black people than the South:
Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show/With some smart-ass New York Jew/ and the Jew laughed at Lester Maddox/And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox too/Well he may be a fool but he’s our fool/If they think they’re better than him they’re wrong/So I went to the park, and I took some paper along/And that’s where I made this song…
And I told Swamp Rabbit that Newman, in 1977, released an album that included “Baltimore,” a song about a big city on the skids (Oh Baltimore! Man, it’s hard just to live) that could have been written last week.
And that the blowhard Trump, ranting on Twitter in 2019 about “disgusting, rat and rodent infested” Baltimore — its population is about 64 percent black and its poverty rate about 24 percent — would sound just like Wallace and Maddox if not for his Northern accent and his tendency to make remarks even more blatantly racist than anything those governors ever said.
And I reminded the rabbit that almost every prominent Republican politician has either defended Trump’s recent racist remarks or declined to comment, which puts them all on the wrong side of history.
Swamp Rabbit stopped me and said, “Where you goin’ with all this, Odd Man? I already know Republicans ain’t worth a damn.”
“Just wanted to turn you on to Randy Newman,” I said. “Politicians come and go, but good songs never get old.”
Footnote: Dick Cavett is a gentile from Nebraska, not a Jew. Newman, who is Jewish, has always enjoyed using unreliable narrators.
One more: Anyone who pretends they’re surprised by the recently discovered recording of Ronald Reagan referring to black people as monkeys during a conversation with Richard Nixon either wasn’t around when Reagan was in office or wasn’t paying attention.
I was in the little shack behind my main shack, rooting around for a rusty old window fan. Swamp Rabbit was in the main shack, watching the rerun of a cable news story from last night.
“It’s Al Green, check him out,” the rabbit shouted. “He telling Congress to impeach Trump for being a racist. He should sing about it instead of making a speech.”
“Trump will just keep denying he’s a racist,” I said, plugging in the fan. “They should impeach him for obstructing the Mueller investigation. That’s where the criminal evidence is.”
“They might not impeach him at all,” the rabbit replied. “They’re too busy fighting each over. Old versus young, white versus black, Nancy Pelosi versus the Squad.”
As we were arguing, a talking head on cable news announced that the House had voted down Al Green’s impeachment resolution. Democrats can’t even agree on whether to impeach a guy who is arguably the first gangster president in American history. What does that say about their ability to settle on a candidate who will appeal to the majority of voters in the 2020 election?
“But you ain’t all wrong,” Swamp Rabbit said to cheer me up. “Better to wait till Robert Mueller testifies next week and then decide where to go on impeachment.”
Better to concede the hardcore bigot vote to Trump, he added. To go after so-called independents and lapsed Democratic voters — the Democrats who voted for Obama twice but sat out the 2016 election because Hillary was such a drag. To remind them about Trump’s wall fantasy, his attempts to kill Obamacare, his tax cuts for the rich and contempt for the poor, his ill-advised tariffs, his submissive relationship with Putin, his corrupt Cabinet, his ignorance and unbridled sleaziness.
“You’re right, the racism charge won’t work,” I admitted. “Trump fans like his racist talk, it stirs them up. Al Green should have put a lid on his anger instead of making a scene.”
“He should have sung ‘Let’s Stay Together,'” the rabbit said.
We were on the porch at my shack in the Tinicum swamp. “Swine was all I could swipe at the SuperFridge,” Swamp Rabbit said as he placed a few hot dogs on my hibachi. “Couldn’t even steal no sardines.”
I’m no swine fan, but I wasn’t complaining. It was 9 p.m., almost dark, and my cupboard was bare except for some stale wheat bread. We wrapped the wieners in the wheat bread and ate them while we jawed about the presidential race.
The first round of debates ended more than a week ago. Eric Swalwell (who?) has dropped out but billionaire hedge fund manager (ugh) Tom Steyer has jumped in. The herd hasn’t yet thinned, though most of the two dozen-or-so candidates are and will remain almost unknown except in their home states.
“They know they got zero chances but they want to brag to their grandkids that they ran for president,” Swamp Rabbit said after complaining there was no ketchup in my shack.
You’re right, I told him. If Beto O’Rourke, John Hickenlooper and Steve Bullock weren’t delusional egotists they would recognize that a Democratic president won’t be able to undo many of Trump’s dirty deeds unless she or he has a Democratic Senate and House to work with. They would run for Senate seats in their respective states, not for president.
And Kirsten Gillibrand would admit she’s a shallow opportunist who is likely to be remembered only for her leading role in chasing the progressive Al Franken out of the Senate for minor sexual misconduct. And Bill De Blasio would quit making a fool of himself. And anti-vaxxer Marianne Williamson would just go away. And…
“I don’t need to hear you run through the whole list,” Swamp Rabbit said. “The only ones got a real chance are Biden, Sanders, Warren, maybe Harris and maybe that little guy with the goofy name — Bootyjuggs, I think.”
I reminded the rabbit that only Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have crafted boldly progressive plans for changing the rigged system that gave us the enormous gulf between rich and poor, the student-loan racket, the health insurance racket and all those other symptoms of a failing democracy.
And that Biden and Harris, although they differ on some social issues, are both corporate candidates, meaning they’re being funded mostly by the powerful entities that have been dismantling New Deal-style democracy for more than 40 years.
“Blah blah,” the rabbit said. “Save all that jive for later. The Dems got one job this year — to get behind the candidate who will win enough states to get rid of that spray-tanned Mussolini in the White House. Ain’t nothing else matters if that don’t happen.”
She’s so good. I’d like to see her as someone’s VP…
I remember telling Swamp Rabbit’s parole officer last month that the Senate confirmation of William Barr for attorney general did not bode well for those of us who were hoping the Mueller report would be Trump’s undoing.
“Barr is Trump’s boy, Victor,” I said. “Last year Barr wrote that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump’s possible collusion with the Russians was ‘fatally misconceived.’ That’s why Trump nominated him for AG.”
And we all knew that Barr said Trump was doing the right thing when he fired James Comey as FBI director, even though Trump had admitted in a TV interview that he fired Comey because of “the Russia thing.” (If that’s not an admission of obstruction of justice, what is?)
And yet a lot of mainstream media types profess to be shocked that much of Barr’s four-page summary of Mueller’s report reads like a spin doctor’s press release for Trump. Barr wrote:
After reviewing the Special Counsel’s final report on these issues; consulting with Department officials, including the Office of Legal Counsel; and applying the principles of federal prosecution that guide our charging decisions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.
So Trump remains in the clear for now, partly because he and his Republican toadies in the Senate were and are in a position to appoint and control lawyers who interpret the law from an extreme right-wing perspective.
Footnote: Barr likes to pretend he is above the fray, on a plane that is purer than partisan politics, despite the fact that he is a militantly conservative Catholic and has been “associated with” the extreme right-wing Federalist Society and the equally extremist Heritage Foundation.
Another: The Mueller report hasn’t even been released for public scrutiny yet, but Republicans, citing Barr’s press release, are saying Trump has been exonerated. We’ll see about that.
From The New York Times:
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand on Thursday announced a national ban on all military-style semiautomatic weapons, all high-capacity ammunition magazines and all parts that allow weapons to be modified into the kinds of guns used to kill 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch last week.
“How come they don’t ban them semiautomatics here?” Swamp Rabbit said as he read over my shoulder at the shack.
“You know why, rabbit,” I replied. “The NRA wouldn’t allow it. They’d take the money they set aside to buy the current crop of Congress critters and spend it to elect new critters who promise not to mess with existing gun laws.”
Swamp Rabbit looked dubious. “It’s more than that,” he said. “The U.S. ain’t New Zealand. They only got five million peeps and a few islands. It’s easier for the gov’mint over there to make them give up their guns.”
I corrected him. There are plenty of gun owners in New Zealand, and plenty of gun lobbyists who, like their U.S. counterparts, are always trying to prevent gun control laws. The difference is that New Zealanders accept the fact that assault-style guns — AR-15s and so on — are in a more dangerous category than other guns because of their high-capacity magazines and rapid-fire capability and so on.
I got up on my soap box – there’s one next to my front door — and told him assault-style guns are weapons of war and shouldn’t belong to civilians. He just stared at me, so I stated the case in more down-to-earth terms.
“They’re for wackos,” I said. “An assault gun turns a wacko into a one-man army. He — and it’s always a he — can wipe out a full squad of civilians in two minutes.”
“That’s the whole point,” Swamp Rabbit replied, playing devil’s advocate. “In this country a man’s got a right to become a one-man army. It’s in the Second Amendment.”
I corrected him again. The Second Amendment calls for a “well-regulated Militia” to keep and bear arms. It does not say wackos can own assault guns to use for massacres. It doesn’t even guarantee an individual right to bear arms.
“Millions of peeps would say you’re wrong, Odd Man. The gov’mint bans assault weapons and the next thing they might ban unregistered hand guns, and then where would we be?”
I told him we’d be in a country with a lot fewer homicides. If semiautomatic guns were harder to get, there wouldn’t have been massacres in Las Vegas and Orlando and Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook and Parkland… If Congress had pursued gun control instead of taking orders from the NRA… If the NRA hadn’t worked for decades to convince rednecks everywhere that the government wanted to seize all their guns… If millions of rednecks in rural areas hadn’t put pressure on their Congress critters…
“Like I said,” the rabbit interrupted. “This ain’t New Zealand.”
Footnote: One of the dirty secrets about these mass killings is that cops, for obvious reasons, are sometimes slow to respond to reports of wackos rampaging with assault weapons. Only once in a while will you encounter this alarming fact in the media.
The mainstream media is obsessed this week with parents who got their under-qualified kids into prestigious colleges by using a fixer who funneled their bribes to “certain college officials,” as Alia Wong of The Atlantic put it before stating the obvious:
The country’s elite have long used their wealth to get their kids into top colleges via legal and widely recognized means — legacy and athletic admissions tend to favor the wealthy, and those who can pay for test prep and expensive sports get an additional leg up. In extreme cases, wealthy parents make hefty donations to schools, or, for example, pay for new campus buildings. The 33 parents now being charged allegedly opted instead for organized conspiracy.
“The media focused on this story because it’s crude and involves a few celebrities,” I said to my friend Swamp Rabbit. “They usually ignore college admission scams. There are no front-page stories about mediocre students like George W. Bush and Jared Kushner getting accepted at Ivy League schools.”
“Of course there ain’t,” the rabbit said. “Unethical and legal is okay, but unethical and illegal gets you arrested. What else is new?”
Nothing is new, I told him. The cost of education (and everything else) keeps growing, along with the gulf between the wealthy and the rest of the country. As the student loan bubble expands, it’s clear that the middle class — what’s left of it — no longer has the earning power to handle college costs. The poor never did.
So a lot of people walk around feeling angry and frustrated. Some of them, the dopes who voted for Trump, blame the cost of higher education and the rest of their woes on Mexican desperadoes and so on. Others just step back and say the hell with all politicians, and thus help monsters like Trump come to power and make the situation even worse.
“You must be one of them experts,” the sarcastic rabbit said. “So tell me, when are the peeps gonna get wise?”
I thought of the busload of Democrats running for president — Beto O’Rourke is the latest — of all the confusion and in-fighting up ahead.
“I don’t know,” I said. “But when they do, it probably won’t be because of the news media.”