Lindsey Graham and Me

 

1977-mgbgt 2

Lindsey and Me in the late 70s

Although I enjoyed my teaching career at Porter-Gaud, the happiest job I ever had was tending bar at the Golden Spur, an alcohol dispensary located in the student union building at the University of South Carolina in those glorious days when 18-year-olds could legally imbibe beer and wine. It was there that I met the mother of my children, the late Judy Birdsong, and there where I became known as “the Reverend” after an impromptu Dionysian sermon delivered in Afro-jazz riffs a la Dr. John to my pals Furman Langley and Steve Rhea.[1]

I always looked forward to going to work and never, as they say, took work home with me.

What brings this to mind is that I’ve been contemplating the psychological underpinnings of my fellow South Carolinian Lindsey Graham, wondering about his formative years, contemplating what mental dynamics allow him to flip flop so shamelessly, sometimes in the matter of days, from one position to its opposite. In this respect, his switch from revering McCain to pimping for Trump is instructive.

Anyway, as it turns out, the story of Lindsey Graham’s youth is somewhat sad, especially his late youth. He was born a Baptist in the small Pickens County hamlet of Central, South Carolina. Despite that religious affiliation, Lindsey’s parents ran what Wikipedia describes as “a restaurant-bar-pool hall-liquor store, the ‘Sanitary Café’.”  So at an early age, Lindsey must have grown accustomed to dealing with paradoxes, alcohol considered by strict adherents as evil manifest, the antithesis of what they considered sanitary.

Prohibition 1

He was the first person in his family to attend college and joined ROTC, but here’s where his life takes a dolorous turn.  His mother died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 52, and, bam, 15 months later, a heart attack dispatched his father, leaving orphaned Lindsey with the responsibility of being the legal guardian of his 13-year-old sister.

He studied – get this — psychology at the University of South Carolina, pledged Phi Kappa Phi, and graduated in 1977, the same year I dropped out of graduate school.  Therefore, Lindsey and I were both at USC from 1973-1977, which means, in all likelihood, I served him beer either at the Spur or at Bell Camp where I also bartended for fraternity parties.  Although extremely unlikely, he literally could have been in the Spur the very night I delivered my Dionysian sermon. Back then,  I’m fairly certain that I wouldn’t have given him the time of day – or in this case night.

Obviously, I’m not a fan of Senator Graham’s.  I would love to see him defeated, Trump driven from office, etc.  However, I have to admit that delving into his past has resulted in a bit of sympathy on my part.  He faced adversity at a young age and succeeded mightily as resumes go.  On the other hand, it must be horrible to be so conflicted, to have your better angels drowned out by the braying of a sociopathic vulgarian.

That said, the harm that he has imposed is real, extremely perilous as far as the American Experiment goes, and for that he can’t be forgiven.


[1] I commenced in Dr John’s voice to sermonificating on the glorification of the party impulse present in all of us – Baptist and Bohemian alike – and why that party bud must be allowed to bloom into boogie, cause if it ain’t, your existiment bound to be as flat and tasteless as BiLo brand Tonic Water what ain’t had the cap screwed on tight.

Or worser, that block-up party impulse knocked back down, squeezed back down in the reptilian recesses of your brain gonna mutate into some awful sexual dysfunctification like dwarfophilia or bovineophlia or hollywoodstar-obessification or some such other mental donemessedupness.

 

The Doggerel-Gone-It Impeachment Blues

andrew-johnson-impeachment-summons-340x191

 

The Doggerel-Gone-It Impeachment Blues

 

The stench of wet coal, politicians . . .

Ezra Pound, “Canto XIV”

 

Johnson’s impeachment occurred so far back.

No one can remember the Tenure of Office Act.

 

Once upon a more recent time,

J Gordon Liddy committed a crime,

 

a burglary some have called third rate,

which led, of course, to Watergate.

 

Dick Nixon was forced to take the fall

(in those days Republicans sported balls),

 

which sadly isn’t the case today.

They had Goldwater; we have Graham.

 

Weak-willed Bill Clinton in the Oval Office

ran afoul of a couple of orifices,

 

creating quite a sordid mess,

alleged perjury, a stained blue dress.

 

Yet the Senate voted not to convict,

(though most agreed he was a prick).

 

So here we are again, forsooth,

dealing with presidential abuse:

 

The number of allegations should give us pause:

obstructing justice, violating the Emolument Clause,

 

withholding aid for dirt in a quid pro quo.

The days go past, the catalogue grows.

 

I say let’s subpoena those stories killed by the Enquirer

so we can extinguish this orange dumpster fire.

 

It’s time we got back to something like normal

With a Commander-in-Chief less hormonal.

Before the Fall

ozyman

 

 

Before the Fall

            wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command

I met a man at Mar-a-Lago

Who said, “Two cloud- scraping  towers

Stand in Istanbul, I want you to know,

Built by me, a man of tremendous power

With hair the color of gilded gold.

No man can match my menacing glower

When you don’t do what you’ve been told,

Like Lindsey over there, watch him cower.

 

“I am the fucking president,”  he bellowed.

“Lindsey, go fetch me a Diet Coke.”

To me: “I am the most stablest genius e-vah,

And ne-vah, ev-ah have been known to choke.

Here’s my mighty and matchless prediction.

I’ll carry all 50 states in the next election – ha!

Republicans Grasping at Straws: Defending the Indefensible

Dum_and_Dee

And those who had lied for hire;
the perverts, the perverters of language . . . 
     Ezra Pound "Canto XIV"

Hey, Lindsey and Tom, I’ve read Emmanuel Kant, and you’re no Emmanuel Kant (Though You Might Qualify as Lindsey and Tom Cant)

Dig these arguments.

Argument 1

Lindsey Graham:  There’s no quid pro quo because Trump didn’t explicitly say, “Hey, man, unless you dig up some dirt on Hunter Biden, we’re not going to sell you any more weapons.”[1]

No, Trump said after President Zelensky mentioned purchasing more Javelin missiles from the US, “Hey, man, we’ve done a lot for you, you not so much for us.  I need a favor.  Dig up some dirt on Hunter Biden.”

See, it can’t be a quid pro quo unless it’s spelled out explicitly.  He needed to say “no dirt on Biden, no weapons.”

We’ll just ignore that soliciting a foreign national to aid in an election is against the law.  Gotta have an explicit quid pro quo.  No explicit quid pro quo, impeachment a no go.

Argument 2

Tom Cornyn: The Whistleblower wasn’t present during the call.  It’s second and third hand information, which automatically renders his claims invalid.

Of course, Linda Tripp want present when Monica Lewinski performed fellatio on President Clinton, but as the poet says, “But that was in another [century], and besides the wench is dead.”

Shall I lower myself to make an argument by analogy?  The hearsay argument is like the rumors about this year’s Folly Gras celebration on beautiful Folly Beach, SC.  People there described a drunken shitshow.  I mentioned it some off-island friends, but they dismissed my account as secondhand and therefore not credible, even though scores of eye-witnesses agreed on what transpired.

Folly Gras 2019 1.0

An artist’s rendition

But wait, back to DC.   Hey, Tom, it seems to me like the transcript memo was pretty damned accurate.  Also, there might be a witness or two who might corroborate?

You’re gaslighting, my man.  You’re from Texas, right?  Remember the Alamo.

Non-Readers

Here’s a partial list of Republican Senators who haven’t bothered to read the nine-page eloquently clear whistleblower complaint:

Mitt Romney

Martha McSally

Lisa Murkowski

Rob Portman

Tim Scott (who had started reading but hadn’t finished it yet)[2]

Todd Young

Mike Baun

Makes you wonder if they’ve ever read the Constitution.  Most Pocket Constitutions consist of 34 pages, and the prose isn’t nearly as accessible.

Anyway, this scandal pales compared to the fact that Hillary stored her emails on a secret server.

Oh Wait, But There Is a Super Duper Private Server Where the Administration Hides Trump’s Conversations with Foreign Leaders

 From Carol E Lee of NBC News:

The whistleblower, whose complaint is at the heart of calls for an impeachment inquiry into Trump, also asserted that White House officials have misused the classified system multiple times to bury “politically sensitive” information detailed in records of the president’s interactions with world leaders. Former and current intelligence officers who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that, if true, such misuse should spark an investigation into the potential mishandling of a classified system.

Oh, by the way, Tom, the validity of this story about the secret server has been corroborated, which brings to mind that old saw that “it’s not the crime; it’s the cover-up.”

We shouldn’t Tax Obliterated Attention Spans with These Damning Extra Added Complications

Although named in Trump’s call as a potential intermediary in digging up dirt on Biden’s son, Attorney General William Barr hasn’t recused himself, and he gets to decide who gets prosecuted.

World Leader Zalensky bragged in the call that he stays at Trump Hotels in New York, which brings to mind that constitutional bagatelle, the Emoluments Clause.

Oh, yeah, and Trump’s suggestion that it would be smart like in the good ol’ days to execute whoever leaked to the whistleblower, which sounds somewhat like witnesses tampering.

Anyway, I’m about to hit 500 words, so I better quit in the off chance my junior senator Tim Scott stumbles across this little piece of debased liberal propaganda.


[1] “Any more weapons in your war against my BFF Vladimir.”

[2] Boooor-ing

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Trump Ain’t Right in the Head

I spent this year’s hurricane evacuation in the mountains with my father-in-law and an older couple who happen to be Trump supporters, which meant occasionally I was exposed to Fox News.  My hosts, who are in fact sophisticated, interesting, and kind,[1]are not consumed with politics, and they seem to dislike Democrats more than they admire Trump.  As I was walking past the television, I overheard one of the Fox anchors say, “The Democrats are already trying to exploit this hurricane.” 

 “Hmmm, that doesn’t sound so far and balanced, ” I mused.

It’s as if indeed “the center cannot hold,” that left is left and right is right, and never the twain shall meet.  The exception to this tribalism can be found with the Never Trump Republicans, people like Jennifer Rubin, George Well, David Frum, Bill Kristol, and Joe Walsh, pundits I once mocked but now admire for their devotion to rationality and the rule of law.

I do, however, have some Facebook friends who idolize Trump in an emotional Jim Jones cultish sort of way.  Recently, one addressed me personally in a post in which she asked in reference to the Steele dossier how I would like it if someone had made up a bunch of lies about me. Showing remarkable Dalai Lama like restraint, I didn’t respond with “Well, if I had paid off a porn star because I had sex with her three months after the birth of my son, I might not be that surprised to find myself the source of gossip.”  There’s no talking reason to these folks, who regurgitate Fox’s talking points and refer to Democrats as if they are not their neighbors but enemies to be feared. Several piled on my brother, who wasn’t as restrained as his older sibling, with smugly inane predictions about the fall of the Democratic Party.

How they’re unable to recognize Trump’s dishonesty and vulgarity amazes me.  I get why some Koch-like mega billionaire might be willing to abide Trump’s assault on democratic norms for the sake of gargantuan tax cuts, but I don’t understand why middle class citizens who try to instill honesty in their children support such an inveterate liar whose temperament makes the Amazing Hulk seem as mild-mannered as Fred Rogers in comparison.

In fact, Peter Wehner of the Atlantic makes a compelling argument that Trump suffers from mental illness:

Donald Trump’s disordered personality—his unhealthy patterns of thinking, functioning, and behaving—has become the defining characteristic of his presidency. It manifests itself in multiple ways: his extreme narcissism; his addiction to lying about things large and small, including his finances and bullying and silencing those who could expose them; his detachment from reality, including denying things he said even when there is video evidence to the contrary; his affinity for conspiracy theories; his demand for total loyalty from others while showing none to others; and his self-aggrandizement and petty cheating.

It manifests itself in Trump’s impulsiveness and vindictiveness; his craving for adulation; his misogynypredatory sexual behavior, and sexualization of his daughters; his open admiration for brutal dictators; his remorselessness; and his lack of empathy and sympathy, including attacking a family whose son died while fighting for this countrymocking a reporter with a disability, and ridiculing a former POW. (When asked about Trump’s feelings for his fellow human beings, Trump’s mentor, the notorious lawyer Roy Cohn, reportedly said, “He pisses ice water.”)

And it’s maddening! Each news cycle brings another outrage, whether it be receiving love notes from Kim Jong-un, diverting money from the military to build a medieval wall on the southern border, or encouraging foreign leaders and his own cronies to stay at his properties in blatant violation of the Emolument Clause of the Constitution.  

It’s overwhelming, and what so many of my friends have done is to just stop tuning in, which I can well understand. 


[1]When I suggested I might drive down Friday early to check on my house, the husband of the couple offered to fly me to Johns Island in his private plane.

Neither in His Own, Nor in His Neighbor’s Eyes

Let me also wear

Such deliberate disguises

Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves

In a field

Behaving as the wind behaves . . .

                                            TS Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

It’s been my fate for the last twenty years or so to explore Heart of Darkness each spring with sixteen-year-olds.  The novella provides a rich cache – not of ivory – but of literary artistry, historical relevance, and profound prophecy.  I also find Marlow’s rebellious disdain for the soullessness of the people he encounters during his journey good role-modeling. By the end of his odyssey, Marlow has, as he puts it, “some difficulty in restraining [himself] from laughing in their faces so full of stupid importance.”  He resents the sight of his fellow citizens “hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their infamous cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant and silly dreams.”  Marlow’s experience in the jungle has shredded the veil of illusion, or to move a bit westwardly metaphorically, he has stumbled out of Plato’s cave and can now see beyond the flickering shadows projected on the walls of his former existence.

Jeffrey Bren
Self-portrait watching television

The pressure of conformity weighs down adolescents like sodden woolen coats, whether it be the pressure to join a gang, the Fellowship of Christian athletes, or the circle around the bong.  Our narrator Marlow is a loner, the father of Nick Adams and Sam Spade (not to mention Philip Marlowe), an individual who remains true to his non-conformist core convictions.  As Marlow is telling his story to his colleagues on the deck of the Nellie, he’s also speaking directly to those adolescents – mocking hollowness and extolling independence and courage.  Given the barrage of images that assault young people each day through their various media –  images of air-brushed celebrities as insubstantial as Plato’s shadows, images of smiling actors succeeding at DeVry University, images of Vaseline-enhanced Big Macs beaming down from billboards – Marlow’s example of delving beneath the surface is more relevant than ever.

***

(To leaven the proceedings for a moment.  What do you think Marlow would think of this cover?)

Romance, Terror, and Exotic Adventure (rendered in 3.5-page sentences!)

***

TS Eliot in “The Hollow Men” quotes Heart of Darkness in the epigraph and employs Conrad’s symbol of the scarecrow to embody people without true convictions, people who go with the flow, behaving as the wind behaves, people who will say whatever it takes to get what they want – and then again, unsay it, with a mere shake of the Etch-a-Sketch.  The hollow men, the stuffed men.

Shape without form, shade without colour,

Paralysed force, gesture without motion . . .

In contemporary American politics, I can’t think of a better embodiment of those hollow men Marlow describes than Lindsay Graham.  If we’re going to draw analogies from “real life'” to Conrad’s novel, Trump comes off like Kurtz (albeit without his learning, Kurtz’s appreciation of and facility in creating art).  Kurtz sees himself as the center of the universe, as a god, a god worshipped by the natives as Trump is by his ardent xenophobic MAGAs.

Graham, on the other hand, obviously “behaves as the wind behaves.”

That was then, this is now.

“I am like the happiest dude in America right now,” a beaming Graham said on “Fox & Friends.” “We have got a president and a national security team that I’ve been dreaming of for eight years.” (19 April 2019).

Here’s Marlow on lying:

You know I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies–which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world–what I want to forget. It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do. Temperament, I suppose.

But, like I said, Trump is more like Kurtz or Guy Fawkes from Eliot’s epigraph, “lost/ Violent souls.” Graham lies for the sake of power; I doubt if megalomaniacal Trump even realizes he’s lying.

I guess it’s possible that Trump will be caught one of these days doing something that upsets the populace and that Graham will do some reverse flip flops, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

I guess it makes more sense to take Yeats’ advice:

Now all the truth is out,
Be secret and take defeat
From any brazen throat,
For how can you compete,
Being honor bred, with one
Who were it proved he lies
Were neither shamed in his own
Nor in his neighbors’ eyes;
Bred to a harder thing
Than Triumph, turn away
And like a laughing string
Whereon mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone,
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.

 

Presidential Fashion Policing

You may have forgotten, but ten years ago this week, the Obama White House was embroiled in one its most serious scandals: the President of the United States worked in the Oval Office without a coat and tie.

I’ll let former Bush Chief-of-Staff Andrew Card explain:

The Oval Office symbolizes…the Constitution, the hopes and dreams, and I’m going to say democracy. And when you have a dress code in the Supreme Court and a dress code on the floor of the Senate, floor of the House, I think it’s appropriate to have an expectation that there will be a dress code that respects the office of the President.

Here’s Ken Langone, co-founder of Home Depot from 1 August 2011:

I think our sitting president is acting so unpresidential …. He is dividing us as a nation. He is not bringing us together. He’s willfully dividing us. He’s petulant [. . .]

Ronald Reagan would never go into the Oval Office without his jacket on — that’s how much he revered the presidency. This guy (Obama) worked like hell to be president, okay? He’s got it. Behave like a president.

 

Fastforward to 2019.

Thank God, we now have a president who possesses a sense of propriety, one who isn’t “divisive” or “petulant.”

Sure, the Trump Presidency hasn’t been without controversy:

 

  Investigations by special counsel Robert Mueller:

  • Russian government’s election attack (the Internet Research Agency and GRU indictments\

 

  • WikiLeaks

 

  • Middle Eastern influence: Potentially the biggest unseen aspect of Mueller’s investigation is his year-long pursuit of Middle Eastern influence targeting the Trump campaign.

 

  • Paul Manafort’s activity

 

  • Trump Tower Moscow project

 

  • Other campaign and transition contacts with Russia

 

  • Obstruction of justice

 

Investigations by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York:

 

  • Campaign conspiracy and Trump Organization finances

 

  • Inauguration funding

 

  • Trump super PAC funding

 

  • Foreign lobbying

 

Investigations by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia:

 

  • Maria Butina and the NRA

 

Investigations by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia:

 

  • Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, the alleged chief accountant of the Internet Research Agency who was indicted separately earlier this fall, charged with activity that went above and beyond the 2016 campaign. Why she was prosecuted separately remains a mystery.

 

  • Turkish influence: Michael Flynn’s plea agreement includes some details of the case, and he is cooperating with investigators.

 

Investigations by New York City, New York State and other state attorneys general:

 

  • Tax case: In the wake of an N.Y. Times investigation that found Trump had benefited from more than $400 million in tax schemes, city officials said they were investigating Trump’s tax payments, as did the New York State Tax Department.

 

  • The Trump Foundation

 

  • Emoluments lawsuit: The attorneys general for Maryland and D.C. sent out subpoenas earlier this month for Trump Organization and hotel financial records relating to their lawsuit that the president is in breach of the “Emoluments Clause” of the Constitution, which appears to prohibit the president from accepting payments from foreign powers while in office.[1]

 

Oh yeah, and that business about paying off the Playboy model and the porn star with campaign funds.  But, come on, nitpicking.

I dare you find me a photograph of President Trump in the Oval Office without a coat and tie and label pin.  I dare you!

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[1]Via Garrett M. Graff of Axios.