Sunday, May 28, 2017


      OK, so I’m not just getting old, I am old. Which is as good an excuse as any for the nostalgic states of mind that more and more frequently seize my flagging attention. Those without much future are compelled, I suspect, to review the past. After all, there’s a lot more of the latter than the former.

      While my nostalgic ramblings tend to be unfocused for the most part, last night they flew, straight as a laser, to 8:00 PM on November 4, 2008. That’s when the networks declared Barack Obama to be President-elect of the United States. The celebration in New York City, and in many other cities, went on for hours. We were dancin’ in the streets, brothers and sisters, and it’s hard to blame us foolish liberals if we concluded that America had turned a corner, that we’d left behind the segment of our history that declared a black man – or a red man, or a yellow man - to have no rights that a white man was bound to respect.

      The liberals applied a term to this new (and just a few years before unthinkable) state-of-affairs: post-racial. And even as I acknowledged the naivete, I hoped for a union - pragmatic, to be sure - between working people of all descriptions, a return to the New Deal coalition that gave rise to the progressive legislation Americans take for granted. And why not? If Barack Hussein Obama could succeed in North Carolina and Florida, if he could finish within six points in Georgia, anything was possible.

      Though I didn’t know it at the time, even as Barack Obama took the oath of office, Republican leaders were meeting in a DC steak house, the Caucus Room, to devise a party-first-and-to-hell-with-America strategy that would again fan the flames of racial resentment. Paul Ryan attended, as did Eric Cantor, as did Kevin McCarthy, now House Majority Leader. Nine days later, on January 29, Republicans gathered once more, this time at a retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Every single Republican in both houses of Congress had already voted against the stimulus bill by then, despite the worst recession in 70 years.

      The theme at the retreat was party unity. From that day forward, the Republicans would oppose anything and everything, country be damned. Mike Pence stirred the crowd with a clip from Patton, the George C. Scott film: “We’re gonna kick the hell out of him all the time. We’re going to go through him like crap through a goose.”

        Call it a precipitating factor. Obama had to be vilified, to be made into an anti-American other, illegitimate as a pedophile in an orphanage. And no matter how the violent the contortions, no matter how obvious the hypocrisy, the Republican party stayed the course. Take Obamacare. The template for the Affordable Care Act – the individual mandate - originated with the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation. The association between Heritage and the concept reaches back to 1989 and the publication of a book, A National Health System for America, by Stuart Butler and Edmund Haislmaier. At the time, conservatives promoted the book’s overall scheme as an acceptable alternative to single payer. The basic idea was endorsed by New Gingrich (as he later admitted), then put into practice by an enthusiastic Mitt Romney. Force adult Americans not covered by their employers to purchase insurance policies, the reasoning went, and costs will drop as the healthy contribute to the insurance pool. Problem solved.

       All that changed when a Democratic Congress passed the Affordable Care Act. Republicans, all of whom voted against the legislation, declared the individual mandate to be an affront to the essential liberty that made America the land of the free. The act had to be opposed at every turn as Republicans sought to rescue the nation from a concept they’d created.

       How great a leap is it from this level of hypocrisy to, “Obama is a secret Muslim born in Kenya?” How big a jump to, “Obama wants the terrorists to win?” In a focus group of Trump voters conducted by Frank Luntz in 2016, seven years after the Republicans decided to live by obstruction, only three of twenty-nine participants believed Obama to be a Christian. Just twenty believed he was born in the United States, despite the birth certificate. And according to Luntz, who was not a Trump supporter, the more you challenged this group’s beliefs with evidence, the more those beliefs hardened. Like the one about Obama putting his hand on the Koran before placing it on the Bible when he took the Oath of Office, which the far right enthus-iastically embraces. (In fact, the photo supposedly showing Obama with his hand on the Koran, actually depicts Obama with his hand on a pair of stacked bibles, one formally owned by Martin Luther King, the other by Abraham Lincoln.)

       Think it can’t get worse? Toward the end of the session, Luntz asked the volunteers to sum up their opinion of Obama in a word or phrase. The exchange began with words like “traitor” and “socialist”, but quickly advanced to, “I wouldn’t urinate on him if he was on fire.”

      The kicker was delivered a few minutes later. “When you bend down to the Saudis, take your shoes off, put your hand on the Koran and then the Bible when you’re sworn in? I would not only piss on him if he was on fire, I’d throw gas on him.”

      As Frederick Douglass declared long ago, backlash is the price we pay for progress. But I wouldn’t take that to mean it doesn’t hurt. But there it is. The haters have emerged - encouraged by a debased Republican Party that places power ahead of country - to elect Don the Con (who may, given the Kushner revelations, be an actual traitor). How much time will elapse, do you suppose, before Trump calls his deluded followers into the streets? If you recall he made that threat as the Republican Convention approached, then again toward the end of the campaign.

      Gird your loins for battle, folks. TrumpWorld is upon us.

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