Politics & Policy

‘The niceties of liberal democracy,’ &c.

Victims of Communism Memorial (Goddess of Democracy), Washington, D.C. (Estonian Foreign Ministry / Flickr)
Trump, Buchanan, Bush (41), Ferraro, the Marx Bros., and more

Before there was Trump and Trumpism, there was Buchanan and Buchananism. PJB — Patrick J. Buchanan — is still kicking, and someone sent me his latest column.

It is about how the “establishment” is doing down “the people,” etc. And, more specifically, it is about Trump’s unwillingness to say that he will accept the results of the election.

Buchanan writes that the “the populist-nationalist right” is “moving beyond the niceties of liberal democracy.”

Around the world, there are many, many places that lack the “niceties of liberal democracy.” You don’t want to live there. You would quickly discover that the niceties are more like necessities — a rule of law necessary to live a good, decent, and free life.

What a bizarre year. Yesterday, I read a post that began, “The division between Ryanites and Trumpites points to an important truth about today’s Republican party. There is no positive consensus that spans the GOP elites and electorate.”

I wonder: How did Paul Ryan of Janesville, Wis., come to stand for the “elites,” while Donald J. Trump of Trump Tower, on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, came to stand for “the people” or “the electorate”? When Ryan was 16, he found his father dead. He worked his way up. Is this not American?

In his Republican primary this year, he beat the Trumpite candidate by 84 percent to 16 percent. His opponent had labeled him “the head of the globalist snake.” (This is how fascists and other anti-democrats have long talked, by the way.)

Those 84 percent voting for Ryan: Were they not “people” or Americans? Did they go to the polls with their top hats, monocles, and canes, keeping the real people out?

One of my wishes for the country in coming years is that it rediscover the difference between conservatism and rightism — and that it prefer the former.

‐The shenanigans at the Al Smith Dinner reminded me of 1984, and the race between Reagan-Bush and Mondale-Ferraro. Bush did not have the reputation of a wit. But he said some pretty witty things, about his counterpart.

I believe the quips come from an Italian-American dinner in New York. Anyway, I should provide a little background.

Geraldine Ferraro came from Queens, home of Archie and Edith Bunker (of All in the Family). She and her husband, John Zaccaro, were sometimes portrayed as jus’-folks. Archie and Edith’s neighbors. Bush, meanwhile, was a Richie Rich from the Eastern Establishment.

It came out that the Zaccaro-Ferraros were really rich — very, very rich. Bush’s crack was, “We were told they were Archie and Edith. Turns out they are Averill and Pamela, dahling.” (Averill and Pamela Harriman were pretty much at the top of the social-political food chain.)

Earlier in the campaign, Zaccaro balked at releasing his tax returns. Ferraro explained that there was nothing she could do. “You know how it is being married to an Italian man.”

Well, at this dinner, Bush noted that he was wearing a striped watchband, along with his tuxedo. Striped watchbands, I guess, are, or were, a symbol of preppiness. Bush said that his wife had made him wear this band. “You know how it is being married to a WASP woman.”

‐After the most recent debate, I wrote that Hillary Clinton’s strongest card, perhaps, was the button card: Should the Donald’s hand — of whatever size — be around the (nuclear) button?

A reader sent me words from Henry VI, Part 2 — about putting “sharp weapons in a madman’s hands.”

‐A few days ago, I had a “Tulsa Journal” — some jottings on that Oklahoma city. One of my jottings was this:

“Downtown was dead,” I hear, “and now it’s coming back.” I have to tell you honestly: My entire life, I’ve heard, in towns and cities across America, “Downtown was dead, and now it’s coming back.”

Maybe it’s true, in all of those places.

I received a letter from a very shrewd reader — who said,

Downtown is not dead; it is “the walking dead.”

Nourished by an unholy alliance of the courthouse, the banks, and the newspaper — all famously located downtown — it gets put on extended life support. The various miracle cures are applied: brick sidewalks, old-timey-looking streetlights, park benches, a shuttle bus painted to look like a trolley car, a farmers market in an otherwise empty parking lot …

Get an urban-renewal block grant from the feds to pay for it — we wouldn’t dare spend our own tax money on downtown.

And the result can be seen in county seats all across America. Old-timey streetlights shining down on empty streets. The old downtown movie theater now leased to yet another non-denominational church. The old furniture store a karate or ballet studio. The jewelry/watch shop now a tattoo/piercing parlor. A series of niche restaurants that open and fade when the six-month lease expires.

Downtown has been dead for over a generation, but as long as politicians are able to spend other people’s money, they won’t admit it.

Geezum. Harsh. Sounds true, though.

‐You might have seen a little post I had about “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” — played by the Cleveland Orchestra, in 1948, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, this year. If you missed it, here.

Our publisher Jack Fowler sent me a clip from A Night at the Opera, the Marx Bros. movie — and whaddaya suppose the orchestra plays?

Jack wonders whether the Clevelanders, long ago, got the idea from the movie. Sounds perfectly plausible.

‐Care for a New York vignette? I was walking to work the other day, and found myself in front of Trump Tower. There were some photo-taking tourists. Some anti-Trumpers, I think. And some pro-Trumpers. Police were around. It was kind of a hubbub.

Now, I have passed Trump Tower for many months (years, actually — but I’m talking about the presidential campaign). Out front, there are doormen, fancily dressed, and often they are black. I can’t help wondering what they think. What their lives are like.

Anyway, the other day, amid this hubbub, I happened to catch a doorman’s eye. I gave him a little smile and a wave. He give me a big smile — a grin — and a hearty wave.

Kind of an interesting moment. I believe I communicated to him — this may be totally wrong, but I believe I communicated to him — “Must be amazing, working here,” and I believe he understood.

‐Farther downtown, a “street person” was holding up a very rude sign about Trump. A second sign of his said, “If You Like My Sign, 25 Cents. Photo, 50 Cents.”

Don’t know how business was.

‐A third New York vignette: I was in Central Park, when a man asked me how to get to the Obelisk. I wasn’t quite sure, but another passerby was very sure. He supplied directions, and then said, “We probably stole it from some foreign culture.”

I thought, “That is exactly the attitude I grew up with. What I was taught. Then, when I got older, I realized that Westerners often rescued these things from people who didn’t care about them, or who were abusing them.”

Anyway, for a little history of the Obelisk, go here. I also think of the Temple of Dendur, which is in the Metropolitan Museum. An old friend of mine referred to it as “my temple.” While employed by the U.S. Information Agency, she played a role in getting this temple carted over here, before it was swamped in the making of the Aswan Dam.

And don’t get me started on the Elgin Marbles …

‐Lately, I’ve had a little series on pop songs. (Here is Part I, and here is Part II.) Preparing this series, I Googled the song “Since I Don’t Have You.” This is what I read:

“Since I Don’t Have You” is a song written and composed by Jackie Taylor, James Beaumont, Janet Vogel, Joseph Rock, Joe VanScharnen, Lennie Martin, and Wally Lester.

Papa gotta know: How do so many people compose one song? How does that work? For a song written by a committee, it turned out pretty well, didn’t it?

That reminds me: I recently did a podcast about baseball with George Will, who made a funny, biting remark about football — something like, “It combines two of the worst features of American life: violence and committee meetings.”

And those committee meetings are huddles.

Thanks, Impromptusites, and see you soon.


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