TRUMP OF THE WILL: Is the Republican Nominee the Man in the Munich Beer Hall?  Friday, Jul 29 2016 


            “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

                        –George Santayana

I quote this hackneyed aphorism only to tear it down. The problem, I would tell Santayana if we were to hash things out over a Starbucks coffee, is that the past never repeats itself in recognizable form.

True, if a little man in a brown shirt were today denouncing Jews in a Munich beer hall and we didn’t do something about it, we’d get what we deserved. But history, though its underlying DNA may be the same, arrives in different forms. Not only that, it loves to confound the pundits.

Consider how literary pundits over the years, from Sinclair Lewis to Fletcher Knebel and Charles Bailey, foresaw the decline and fall of American democracy.

Lewis, in his novel “It Can’t Happen Here,” projected the rise of an American dictator, Berzelius Windrip, a rural populist patterned after Louisiana’s Huey Long. Knebel and Bailey, in “Seven Days in May,” foresaw the coming American dictator as a military hero, a strongman in uniform like General Douglas MacArthur.

But who, other than a Mel Brooks-style satirist, until six months ago would ever have sketched a scenario featuring as a would-be American dictator a Manhattan real estate-casino hustler — anything but a rural populist — whose military record consists of draft deferments equal to those of Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney?

Only in America. But not the 20th century America of Huey Long and Douglas MacArthur. No, the Twitter-brained, selfie-loving America of Donald Trump.

Yet, wait. Before we determine whether Vladimir Putin’s preferred presidential candidate is a bizarre reincarnation of Adolf Hitler, let’s check whether he passes the first test of Munich beer hall animadversion: Is Trump anti-Jewish? (I use the term anti-Jewish to be specific, since his anti-Semitism — Arabs being Semites — is well established.)

At first take the answer would seem to be, “Of course not. His son-in-law is Jewish and his daughter’s a convert.” But then we come to the puzzling business of his refusal to fully repudiate the backing of neo-Nazi supporters like David Duke and his furious defense of an anti-Clinton tweet featuring a Star of David backed by dollar bills.

So what’s the answer? For my part I call on a story once told by Louisiana Congressman Hale Boggs who, while running for governor, was “defended” by Governor Earl Long, after being accused of having been a Communist during his college days.

“Hale can’t be a Communist,” Long told a crowd in north Louisiana. “He’s not only a Catholic but a close friend of the archbishop.” Long said this, as Boggs pointed out, knowing that his audience of hard-shell Baptists would sooner vote for a Communist than “a close friend” of a Catholic archbishop.

“So I called Long the next morning,” as Boggs told the story, “and said I didn’t appreciate his injecting religion into the campaign. He said, ‘Hale, you know I don’t have a prejudiced bone in my body.’ And I said, ‘I know you don’t, Governor, but you know that other people do, and you know how to use it.’”

Jewish son-in-law? Convert daughter? Donald Trump obviously doesn’t have a prejudiced bone in his body. But he knows that other people do, and ….

Sound bite to remember

“God has a special providence for fools, drunks and the United States of America.”

–Otto von Bismarck, proclaiming what was true in 1870 and, we may hope, in November 2016


Get Me to Which Church on Time Friday, Feb 5 2016 

“Rubio himself goes to two churches. Sometimes the family attends a Baptist-affiliated service on Saturday night and a Catholic Mass on Sunday.” Gail Collins, The New York Times, Feb. 4.

In his 1969 biography of Huey Long, historian T. Harry Williams writes about the first time Huey, a north Louisiana Baptist, campaigned for governor in Catholic south Louisiana.

“When I was a boy,” he told his south Louisiana Catholic audience, “I would get up at six o’clock in the morning on Sunday and I would hitch our old horse up to the buggy and take my Catholic grandparents to Mass. I would bring them home and at ten o’clock I would hitch the old horse up again and I would take my Baptist grandparents to church.”

The Cajun Catholic crowd ate it up; after which Huey’s local campaign manager said admiringly, “Huey, you’ve been holding out on me. I didn’t know you had any Catholic grandparents”; to which Huey replied, “Don’t be a damn fool. We didn’t even have a horse.”

Question: On those Saturday night and Sunday morning churchgoing excursions, does Marco hitch up the family horse?

Sound bite to remember

“Huey bought legislators. I only rent ’em.”

Earl Long, on how his style of governance differed from that of his brother.

Barack and the Kingfish Tuesday, Aug 2 2011 

About that debt limit problem . . .

George Will, who has seen more erudite days as a political sage, screwed up badly in a recent column when he dismissed Barack Obama as “Huey Long with a better tailor.”

A story from my Louisiana youth to show how inapt is any comparison between the Kingfish and this president:

In the worst days of the Great Depression, midwinter of 1933, the Hibernia National Bank of New Orleans was about to close down after massive withdrawals. Desperate, the Hibernia’s directors turned to Huey for help and in short order the Kingfish lined up funds from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and the Federal Reserve.

One problem, however: The transfer of funds couldn’t be made until Monday, February 6, and since the bank would have to open on Saturday, February 4, the withdrawals would continue. Huey’s answer? Find some reason to declare a bank holiday. The problem, as historian T. Harry Williams put it, was that “February 4 was apparently the most unmemorable day in the history of the nation.”

But February 3, that was another matter. On that date in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson had severed diplomatic relations with Germany. That was good enough for Huey. Hell, said the Kingfish, a move that big couldn’t have been completed in just one day.

So it was that in 1933 both February 3 and 4 became Louisiana state holidays, the Hibernia National Bank was saved from defaulting, and the Kingfish could turn his attention to the serious business of teaching bartenders at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria the proper way to mix a New Orleans gin fizz.

Huey Long was many things – a demagogue, a megalomaniac, a clown — but he understood that leadership comes not from the audacity of hope but of action.

That said, if George Will’s comparison were apt, what would have happened had the Kingfish handled the Hibernia problem in the patented style of our 44th president?

First, he would have called a news conference, followed by a radio address, to announce the appointment of a “balanced” commission composed of auditors and creditors to conduct a study of possible options to save the bank.

Second, he would have called a news conference, followed by a radio address, to announce a meeting of New Orleans business, labor, and religious leaders to arrive at a consensus on solving the crisis.

Third, by this time the Hibernia having gone under, he would have appointed a Banking Czar to explore the possibility of asking the RFC and Federal Reserve for funds and, if necessary, declaring a holiday to prevent such a bank failure from happening again; after, of course, calling a news conference, followed by a radio address, to give us his thoughts on the upcoming 1933 basketball, baseball , and football seasons . . . .

Random Thoughts at the End of a Long, Hot Summer Sunday, Sep 5 2010 

1. Channeling Bill Clinton’s advice to Barack Obama re the mid-term elections: “Don’t sweat it. … (more…)