Books postsTuesday November 06, 2018
Vote As If Your Country Depends on It, Cont.
It often seems that what I'm reading in Jill Lepore's “These Truths: A History of the United States” mirrors what's going on in the national discussion.
I'm in the post-Civil War/Reconstruction/Populist-Nativist era now, and read the following this morning:
In the age of popular politics, Election Day was a day of drinking and brawls. Party thugs stationed themselves at the polls and bought votes by doling out cash, called “soap,” and handing voters pre-printed party tickets. Buying votes cost anything from $2.50, in San Francisco, to $20, in Connecticut. In Indiana, men sold their suffrages for no more than the cost of a sandwich. ... In 1871, after the New York Times began publishing the results of an investigation into the gross corruption of elections in New York City under Democratic Party boss William Magear Tweed, [progressive journalist Henry] George, who had spent considerable time in Australia and had married an Australian woman, proposed a reform that had been introduced in Australia in 1856. Under the terms of Australia's ballot law, no campaigning could take place within a certain distance of the polls, and election officials were required to print ballots and either to build booths or hire rooms, to be divided into compartments, where voters could mark their ballots in secret. Without such reforms, George wrote, “we might almost think soberly of the propriety of putting up our offices at auction.” To promote the Australian ballot, George created a new party, the Union Labor Party.
So thank an Australian today.
But as with every step forward there was a step back:
Many of the reforms proposed by populists had the effect of diminishing the political power of blacks and immigrants. Chief among them was the Australian ballot, more usually known as the secret ballot, which, by serving as a de facto literacy test, disenfranchised both black men in the rural South and new immigrants in northern cities.
And then the bastards really got going:
In 1890, Mississippi held a constitutional convention and adopted a new state constitution that included an “Understanding Clause”: voters were required to pass oral examination on the Constitution, on the grounds that “very few Negroes understood the clauses of the Constitution.” (Nor, of course, did most whites, though white men were not tested.) In the South, the secret ballot was adopted in this same spirit. Both by law and by brute force, southern legislators, state by state, and poll workers, precinct by precinct, denied black men the right to vote. In Louisiana, black voter registration dropped from 130,000 in 1898 to 5,300 in 1908, and to 730 in 1910.
Don't let the bastards win. Let's bring some accountability to this sumbitch.
The One Way Trump is Jeffersonian
“In 1806, [Pres.] Jefferson secured the passage of a Non-Importation Act, banning certain British imports and, in 1807, an Embargo Act, banning all American exports. During the ongoing war between Britain and France, the British had been seizing American ships and impressing American seamen. Jefferson believed that banning all trade was the only way to remain neutral. No Americans ships were to sail to foreign ports. He insisted that all the goods Americans needed they could produce in their own homes. ...
”The embargo devastated the American economy. Jeffersonian agrarianism was not only backward-looking but also largely a fantasy.“
from Jill Lepore's ”These Truths: A History of the United States"
What's Missing from ‘Fear’
I should probably write more about Bob Woodward's book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” because at this point I doubt I‘ll finish it. I’m about halfway through but I'm not a fan.
I don't doubt a lot of what happens in it. But I know I'm getting a skewed perspective that is being presented by Woodward as the perspective.
Woodward uses sources on deep background—as he did with Deep Throat during the Watergate investigations—but writes the book in the third-person omniscient. Everything is presented as fact, as “this is how it happened,” but it‘s, at best, a few people’s perspective, and at worst one person's perspective. It should be, “According to Steve Bannon...” etc. etc., but it isn‘t. Woodward seems to be putting us in the room where it happens but he’s actually putting us in Bannon's idea of that room—and without telling us. That's actually dangerous.
BTW: Between Bannon being a source for Woodward, and being a source for Michael Wolff in “Fire and Fury,” it's a wonder he gets anything done.
You know when I had to put the book down? It was post-Charlottesville, when Trump's tepid response to Nazis marching in America led to the resignation of Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, an African American, from Trump's American Manufacturing Council. Here's what Frazier said about why he resigned:
America's leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy. . . . As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.
The presidential response?
Within an hour, Trump attacked Frazier on Twitter. Now that Frazier had resigned, Trump wrote, “he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” The CEOs of Under Armour and Intel followed Frazier, resigning from the council as well. Still stewing, in a second Twitter swipe at Frazier, Trump wrote that Merck should “Bring jobs back & LOWER PRICES!” On Tuesday, August 15, Trump tweeted, “For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place.” He called those who had resigned “grandstanders.”
And my reaction to that? “Oh right, he's an asshole.”
That's actually what's missing from the book: Trump's horrible voice. He's an idiot, sure, he doesn't know what he's doing, yes, he has no real structure to decision-making in the presidency, OK, and god he watches way too much fucking TV—and propaganda TV at that—but we don't hear what an awful bombastic bully he truly is. And that's the thing we hear every day. In a way, through all of these sources telling Woodward their story, and via Woodward's own toneless prose, Trump is insulated. He's muted. As awful as he comes across in the book, he comes across much worse in our daily lives.
Best Trump Book Title (Thus Far)
The winner for the best title of a tell-all Trump book (thus far) goes to Greg Miller of The Washington Post, who, next month, will publish: “The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy.” An excerpt is available today on the Post site.
The article is mostly about Trump's visit to CIA headquarters on Jan. 21, 2017, his first full day in office, and how, in front of a marble wall with 117 hand-carved stars, each for an agent/contractor killed in the line of duty, Trump began to brag and lie about: 1) the size of the crowds in the final days of the campaign; 2) the size of the inauguration crowd the day before; 3) the new bigger room he would build so every CIA officer who wanted to see him, could. One CIA vet called it “one of the more disconcerting speeches I‘ve seen”; another said it was a “freewheeling narcissistic diatribe.”
The second part of the article, about Trump’s love for Putin and seeming intolerance for our allies, is even more disturbing. But thus far, none of it is news.
Here's the excerpt that connects the dots on the title:
In the reality show that had propelled him to great fame, Trump was depicted as a business titan with peerless instincts — a consummate negotiator, a fearless dealmaker, and an unflinching evaluator of talent. Week after week, contestants competed for the chance to learn from a boardroom master — to be, as the show's title put it, his apprentice.
In the reality that commenced with his inauguration, Trump seemed incapable of basic executive aspects of the job. His White House was consumed by dysfunction, with warring factions waiting for direction — or at least a coherent decision-making process — from the president.
His outbursts sent waves of panic through the West Wing, with aides scrambling to contain the president's anger or divine some broader mandate from the latest 140-character blast. He made rash hiring decisions, installing Cabinet officials who seemed unfamiliar with the functions of their agencies, let alone their ethical and administrative requirements.
Decorated public servants were subjected to tirades in the Oval Office and humiliating dress-downs in public. White House documents were littered with typos and obvious mistakes. Senior aides showed up at meetings without the requisite security clearances — and sometimes stayed anyway.
Trump refused to read intelligence reports, and he grew so visibly bored during briefings that analysts took to reducing the world's complexities to a collection of bullet points.
The supposedly accomplished mogul was the opposite of how he'd been presented on prime-time television. Now he was the one who was inexperienced, utterly unprepared, in dire need of a steadying hand. Now he was the apprentice.
Shallow Deep Background
One thing's for sure about Bob Woodward's book, “Fear: Trump In the White House”: Steven Bannon was one of his “deep background” sources.
It's not just that he comes off well. We actually know what he's thinking. As in this scene between Bannon and Gov. Chris Christie after the “Access Hollywood” story broke in Oct. 2016 and Bannon urged Trump to follow his instincts and play offense (“that's in the past,” “locker room talk,” “Bill Clinton was way worse”) rather than defense (“I'm sorry, so sorry”):
“You‘re the fucking problem,” Christie said to Bannon. “You’ve been the problem since the beginning.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You‘re the enabler. You play to every one of his worst instincts. This thing’s over, and you‘re going to be blamed. Every time he’s got terrible instincts for these things, and all you do is get him all worked up. This is going to be humiliating.” Christie was in Bannon's face, looming large. Bannon half-wanted to say, You fat fuck, let's throw down right here.
The only way Bannon isn't a source is if Bannon told several people this story, including his thoughts, and they relayed it to Woodward.
You can pretty much tell when someone is a source. At one point, Sen. Lindsey Graham makes an appearance and it's suddenly all about him. That's actually when they book gets dull: When Graham enters the room, dispenses wisdom, and saves the world to—one imagines—the applause that's only going on in his head.