I have never shaken the hand of a President of the United States. I did shake the hand of one Vice President. But the less said about that the better. I have, however, shaken the hand of one man who later became President – George Herbert Walker Bush.
Today the late President will get his due in stories all across the world. One reporter who covered him described him as a very nice man. Before he ran for the Presidency, in a bid that pitted him against the more telegenic Ronald Reagan, he had been described as the the best prepared person ever to run for President. Among them were his appointment to head the Republican National Committee during the Nixon Administration and ambassador to China. The latter position was during Nixon’s Trump-like struggle, to achieve something spectacular to help him escape a crisis enveloping his presidency.
George Bush got an early start on a political career by being THE youngest combat pilot of World War II. It actually began even earlier than that. His father, Prescott Bush, was a US Senator representing Connecticut. As such he was part of an all but extinct founding branch of the Republican Party – Northeasterners. In their heyday they championed Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Nelson Rockefeller and a socially liberal point of view.
I trace the current crumbling of the GOP to George Bush and others who rather than stick up for their ideals put tape on their mouths as Ronald Reagan invited white southern politicians in to the Party of Lincoln after the Democratic Party’s championing of Civil Rights made them feel unwelcome in that party.
The evolution of the Party in my lifetime has led to the release of a new toxicity represented by the email I received which I put in my previous post with its casual use of the most forbidden word of my childhood, the “N” word.
George Bush was not temperamentally part of that transformation other than his deplorable Willie Horton ad. In fact, by temperament Bush was almost the antithesis of an egotistical politician. His mother taught him not to talk about himself. Christopher Buckley, the son of the conservative icon William Buckley, a speechwriter for Bush and clever novelist tells the charming story of being invited to Bush’s home while the President’s mother was present. When her son began telling some very interesting stories of his many remarkable experiences the mother interrupted him to scold that he was talking too much about himself.
Considering the occupant of today’s White House that anecdote, all by itself, suffices to show how far today’s America has driven off the rails.
But in 1980 I wanted a champion for common sense and moderate Republican values. At first I was a big supporter of George HW Bush. My first visit to the Kitchi Gammi Club was to meet with a group of Bush supporters for his Presidential campaign. That gathering place more than anything demonstrates just how out of touch my kind of Republicans of that era were.
When Reagan blew past Bush I set my sights on the Independent candidacy of the Illinois Republican Congressman John Anderson. But before Bush signed on to be Ronald Reagan’s Vice President and I wrote him off I drove to Minneapolis to get a look at Bush up close. I am no longer sure where I saw him but I think it was the U of M’s Northrup Hall. Claudia and I went over and I shook his hand.
A couple times a year I notice that two cartoons on the Trib’s comics page share a similar theme. Today was such a day. From Non Sequitur:
And from Pearls before Swine:
I don’t enjoy being the optimist preoccupied with the empty half of the glass or (in this case) with the forty percent empty. The 40% is made up of Americans who still think Donald Trump is doing a good job while shrugging off his hourly lies and treating them as some sort of veiled truth. Yes, the 60% full side is the recently elected Democratic House of Representatives, but I also remember that all it took to elect Hitler in 1933 was just short of 40%. That feeble percentage is the kind of number that keeps deep-state Republicans in control after all their messing about with election laws and gerrymandering.
Its often asked what Trump supporters would have done had Obama done the sort of things Trump does daily. Unlike Trump Obama told only one truly epic lie when he insisted that Americans could keep their doctors if the Affordable Health Care Act was enacted. It was worse than just a white lie, but compared to Trump, its notable, even laudable in its singularity.
Abraham Lincoln famously asked Americans to remember their “better angles.” Trump only encourages our better demons.
My old ally turned critic sent me a couple more emails with no text but simply links to commentaries suggesting that black americans were attempting to make white Trump supporters paranoid by making our elections fraudulent. Then he sent me this Wikipedia entry on “Aunt Jemima” to school me on what he thought of Stacey Abrams who is at the forefront of calling out Republican electioneering scams.
I replied to Jim:
I guess you were being ironic calling Abrams a name that suggested she was obsequious when you seem to resent her for being just the opposite of obsequious.
If anything she has the stones you had when you rallied for Bob Short. You’re giving her short shrift….no pun intended.
I have been trying mightily to get six or more hours of sleep a night. Blast it all, sometimes I wake and can’t turn off my mind. 3 AM this morning was such a time.
I came upstairs to my empire of documents – my attic office – determined to organize some clutter when I was momentarily diverted by a row of history books. They were on a shelf I haven’t looked at for a couple years. My eyes landed on a book by Alfred Steinberg that got some press back when I was in college. From the inside cover I could see he had written 20 other histories. The one I opened is “The Bosses.” It’s about six corrupt, big city bosses of the 1930’s when Federal Government largesse gave them infinitely more power than they had formerly wielded.
I read the Introduction to get a taste. It struck me as being very timely. I originally bought the book twenty years ago or so because one of the six bosses it covers was my Dad’s old foil Tom Pendergast who ran Kansas City, Kansas. I even found a book mark in that section from a much earlier peek. I hadn’t gotten far. It was only about four pages into Pendergast’s 59 page section.
My Dad lived in Independence, Missouri, right next to Kansas City’s Pendergast machine. He was so appalled by its’ corruption – as a junior high school kid! – that he made up lists of reform minded candidates which he gave to his parents at election time. Coincidentally, Pendergast got his boy into the White House. That was Harry Truman who lived just a few blocks away from my Dad’s family and whose daughter, Margaret, attended my Dad’s school. Dad vaguely remembered an attempted kidnapping of the then Senator’s daughter that took place when he was in school.
I was almost chilled at the end of the Introduction by its last two paragraphs. They seemed almost prophetic. Mr. Steinberg wrote:
“The significance of the bosses of the twenties and thirties was that they collectively made the profession of democratic government and civil rights a hollow phrase in their time.
The broader meaning to future generations is that under given circumstances, such as disillusionment with national policies, the efficacy and justice of government, and the importance of the individual vote, local citizens may again by default abdicate their rights and responsibilities to the bosses with more permanent results next time.”
That’s what has been worrying me for the last three years and the principle motivation for writing a book about my Grandfather and what a real (honorable) American looks like.
Now I’m going to attend to a little of that organization I came up to my office to start. After the sun rises we will join our daughter’s family to decorate the church for Christmas and then use the tickets my son-in-law bought to attend the movie Wreck it Ralph II. That will take the edge of this moment of grim seriousness.
I’ve taken down the flag tonight on the official anniversary of the original Armistice Day. I’ll put it up again for the formal Veteran’s Day Monday off. I received an email from my friend Dr. Timothy Westcott of Park University. He has been a long time liaison with my family concerning Park University’s distinguished alumni, George Robb, my grandfather.
For the past couple of years he has been at work trying to draw attention to minority soldiers who may have been shortchanged in the awarding of medals for the Great War. A lot of Americans don’t realized how many foreigners and minorities fought for the United States in that war.
Dr. Westcott sent me a new piece from Fox News about the efforts of the George S. Robb Center for the Study of the Great War to draw attention to the reintroduction of banned chemical weapons and efforts to prevent their use:
Our President didn’t want to get his hair wet so he was the only head of state to skip out on visiting one of the American Cemeteries of fallen American troops in France.
I believe he skipped out on the field at Belleau Woods where a lot of Marines died. He left for France after berating three African american reporters and then threatened to withhold federal aid for Californians beset with the most hideous fires yet.
This year I visited the small village where my Grandfather got shot up 100 years to the day he put his life on the line for his country. Afterwards, I visited an American Cemetery not far from Verdun where the battle of the Meuse Argonne was fought. 26,000 Americans died there; more than fell in any other battle in America’s history. The picture above is one I took while I was in France this September.
If you are new to my blog I wrote about it in this post. If you are interested the next two posts following that detail sights I saw on America’s battlefields near Verdun.
I will be putting up our Stars and Stripes tomorrow on the centenary of the Great War’s end – Veteran’s Day. I will honor my Grandfather’s fellow soldiers. I hope it makes up for the repellent human that soils our White House daily.
Pity the down trodden Central Americans who will be facing 5,000 well armed American soldiers in the next few weeks. There won’t be any Pancho Villa’s among them. Like the villagers in the Magnificent Seven they are escaping such people. In today’s America they are not likely to find any Yul Brynners or Steve McQueens. I hope someone warns them not to throw rocks. Our poor troops. President Trump really knows how to humiliate them.
At tonight’s touching remembrance for the recent victims of White nationalism which was held at Duluth’s Temple Israel our pastor gave a compelling description of Pittsburg’s Squirrel Hill where she grew up.
Then the Rabbi said he wanted to read the wonderful and thoughtful words of our President sent to the Jewish community. The words were those of the first President, George Washington, sent to the Jews of Rhode Island in 1790:
While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.
The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.
If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.
The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.
May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.
May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.
Here is the Statue of Albert Woolson the last living soldier to survive the Civil War parked in Gettysburg National Park. Its likely I heard that that the statue rested there but, if so, I’d long forgotten it. The statue came up in a three and half hour catch-up conversation I had yesterday with an old political sympathizer. We talked about our respective trips to France, Republican history, Duluth politics and Albert Woolson.
When John was a kid living near Mankato, Minnesota, my old haunting grounds, he found himself taken to Duluth in the 1950’s and some occasion honoring Mr. Woolson the last soldier and a resident of Duluth. The two of them shook hands. This honor was not unlike the several decade long mania at the turn of the 19th century to find someone who had shaken President Lincoln’s hand in order to shake hands with them. It must have been like passing some invisible torch of democracy through the generations. “I shook the hand of a man who shook the hand of President Lincoln.” I’ve googled the phrase for you. Long before our current Chief Executive became famous for firing people Americans wanted to touch a real piece of Americana if only by proxy.
Years later when John was taking a tour of Gettysburg he found his tour guide leading his group to this statue about to explain its significance. John was so excited that he blurted out that he had shaken the old soldier’s hand. The young tour guide and all the group looked at John as though he had claimed to have Roman flogging scars on his back and the stigmata on his palm. He was too flustered to say anything else as everyone in the crowd began edging away from him.
As we parted company John offered his hand so that I could claim to have shaken the hand of a man who had shaken the hand of the last living Civil War soldier. Of course, the way things are coming unglued in America today I may end up someday shaking hands with all sorts of survivors of a new Civil War.
And here’s the Woolson statue in Duluth and a short KDAL TV STORY about the man.
Its a considerably happier honor for our dear city than the fact that Duluth hosted the the most northerly lynching of innocent black citizens in all of the United States. John also met a man who’s Dad took him there to see all three of the men swinging from a lamp post.
Park College in Parkville, MO which has named created a center for World War I after their distinguished alumni, and my Grandfather, George S. Robb is studying whether African American soldiers were denied the highest military honor because of race. (Your damn right they were.) Here’s a nice story announcing the beginning of this research.
I know such a peculiar picture may seem an odd way of following such a heady blog headline but sometimes life is absurd.
The Congress of the United States just bent over backwards NOT to find out if an attempted rapist was about to be placed on the near sacrosanct United States Supreme Court. My owl and Nappy don’t even begin to compare.
The – at this moment – imminent bare minimum vote of approval for the aggressive dick is about to take place. So let me tell you about what I brought back from France.
To grace my office I bought a couple small items of memorabilia. First, an eyeglass holder from Dijon France whose symbol is a lucky little owl that is half worn away from centuries of people rubbing it for good luck. Second, a shot glass with the iconic image of Napoleon on it which I will use to hold toothpicks. I acquired this at his shrine and burial site at Paris’s Museum of the Armee. My wife and I are not big shoppers but we bought some fun items a few of which we share with our family (meaning mostly our two grandsons)
My acquisitions are book heavy with at least four for me. One is a deliciously smart and brief life of Napoleon. Its the third book I recall reading about the little dictator. Another is about the archaeology of digging up World War 1 battlefield sites. Two more are in French to help me with my french language studies should I decide to persevere. One of these is french translations of Calvin and Hobbes cartoons and the other is one of my grandson’s favorite Wimpy Kid books translated into French.
By the way, my attempts to use French were few and semi-futile. My greatest achievement came in the last few minutes of France when our taxi drive asked us which gate in the terminal two we would be flying out of. We had told him AY (2-A) which is how the French pronounce the letter E. I quickly corrected this to a as in at so we didn’t get taken to the wrong gate. I need another year of study to overcome the many English speaking service workers who found it much easier to use their Anglais than deciphering my mangled French. If I do continue studying I’ll probably replace the two hour daily sessions for 45 minutes a day. I have other priorities which the continuing discord in America has intensified but which my year’s study of France has helped given nuance.
I need to be more patient like the Republican Party, the Koch Brothers and the Federalist Society all of which have just gotten gotten their way. (Remember the old maxim “When the gods wish to punish us they grant us our prayers.” Undoing this by revolution will only do more damage in my estimation. That’s the moderate in me…..the moderate ridiculed and purged by the amoral ne’re-do-wells who have taken over the GOP.
I hope that my contribution to the battle will be some longer form writing than my short pithy blog posts. It remains to be seen if anything I write will be worthy of note or noticed. Wish me well but don’t turn your back on my blog just yet. It may have a few more surprises left in it. I fudged for the past month by reposting my Facebook entries but I hope these did not too badly disappoint my “eight loyal readers.” My heart is still in a good place……..And by the way. The Good Place is a superlative hoot. Watch it……from the beginning on Netflix. Its about one of my favorite ideas – redemption.
…elected Donald Trump.………
At the moment it is 4:30 am in France. I am only miles away from where another man – who was helping to make the America that really is great – fought and was awarded the nation’s highest military honor. My eight loyal readers know him as my grandfather – George Robb.
Whether I fall asleep again or not tomorrow – today- I will walk over some of the ground he trod as his friends and fellow soldiers were being blown to dust and blood all around him. And I can’t sleep because I woke up thinking about that smarmy little skunk Bret (pay no attention to that frat rat rapist in the closet) Kavanaugh is invading my pilgrimage to remind me what’s at stake back in the land my Grandfather helped make!
Well, I have a lot to say on that account but having mostly bit my tongue about Trump World to write about my pilgrimage I had to go find a quiet place in my latest hotel room to get that off my chest. I am going to try to get a little more shut eye before walking the path of heroes who’s blood once soaked into this land.
My family posed under the marquee but they weren’t wearing 3D shades so I cropped them out for this post.
Hamilton the musical was worth every penny of this weekend extravagance. The history it is based on, authored by Ron Chernow, has been on my bookshelf waiting for me for about ten years. After I return from France I may tackle it.
My breath is taken away by the audacity of Lin-Manuel Miranda to have envisioned this as a subject for the musical stage.
I’ve woken up to a second day’s fallout concerning the latest scandal over Rick Nolan’s coddling of a long-time buddy and butt grabber. Nolan’s gaffe has left a field of victims like that duckboat sinking yesterday in Branson. Both pilots should have seen the storm coming but were too preoccupied to avoid disaster. I’m still ruminating on the news and practicing my french so I’ll tackle it later today for my “eight loyal readers.” Before I return I’ll leave them with proof that I’m no prude. (I kinda doubt that there is such a thing as a prude anymore. I suspect most of them are hypocrites.) Continue reading
I got a question from WDIO today on the case which guts public employee unions. I returned one email reaction. Then I returned a second email with additional comments.
Email from WDIO:
Just checking if you want to weigh in with your thoughts on the Supreme Court Janus v. AFSCME ruling. I’m trying to get all the CD08 candidates in our story on the Web.
Let me know if you can pass along a statement.
MY FIRST RESPONSE:
This decision threatens to eviscerate public employee unions by treating even legitimate negotiation expenses as speech. It violates fair play and past compromises and demonstrates that the Republican Party has succeeded in making the Supreme Court a partisan branch of the federal government.
MY SECOND RESPONSE:
BTW my father was the president of the Mankato State college faculty union and taught contract negotiation in their business school. I wrote about it once in the Reader. It has a pretty accurate prediction in it.
AND ONE MORE THING I FORGOT TO TELL WDIO:
My Dad was a life long Republican.
My computer just died so I am composing this on my cell phone. I hate doing this.
I attended a fascinating debate in Hibbing last night at which all the congressional candidates sans one appeared. Trump’s toadie.
From what people told me afterward I made an impression…a good one.
Two people caught my attention. One was a former union man who spent 3 years taking his corrupt union to court in a court system weighted heavily Democrat and pro union. We both patted each other on the back for our valiant if fruitless battles.
The other was a Hibbing teacher who had taken my father’s contract law class and who told me my Dad was beloved in the business school. If it wasn’t for my dead computer I would write more. HOWEVER. Check out my next post. It’s about Abood…….
…and a fellow Kansan worthy to be our President.
My Dad, Daniel Marsh Welty, died shortly after we moved to our snow sculptor’s palace thirty-one years ago. He never got a chance to see it although I shot a VHS tape of it to show him where we had moved to. His Vietnam was the Good War and for years after he read the memoirs and histories written by men who had fought in it. I kept a bunch of the paperbacks after his death and today I’ve got them arranged in a modest glass case with other mementos of his life which as you can see includes a sketch my Mother made of him when he was in his late twenties. In life he never looked that fierce.
I plucked one of the books from the shelf a couple days ago to begin reading to Claudia in anticipation of our trip to France and more specifically to the hallowed coast of Normandy. Its Cornelius Ryan’s “The Longest Day.” After beginning its chapter ten in the first section I had to put the book down and shoot a 6 minute video of me reading and commenting on a passage that talked about the modesty of my fellow Kansan Dwight David Eisenhower. The depths that we have sunk to politically with the Trump Presidency led me to shoot another video to share my thoughts with my blogs treasured but tiny audience. I’ll upload it tomorrow.
The crappiest years of my life started in junior high in 1963 as a Kansas kid moved to Southern Minnesota. They improved greatly when I started high school in 1966. This surpisingly touching Karoke with Paul McCartney and James Corden takes me back to a highlight of that era. The Age of Aquarius was kind of cool.
After a day spent far away from Donald Trump’s ego boosting rally at the arena (that one insider gives me credit for talking Duluth into voting for) I woke thinking about something unifying and faithful to the Minnesota I moved to in the Era of Hubert Humphrey. You might have heard of him. In 1948 he helped drive the Dixiecrats out of the Democratic Party at his party’s national convention. He had the temerity to cry out for an end to “state’s rights” and new future of Civil Rights:
“To those who say — My friends, to those who say that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say to them we are 172 years late. To those who say — To those who say that this civil-rights program is an infringement on states’ rights, I say this: The time has arrived in America for the Democratic party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.”
I woke trying to recall the names of the young Minnesota brothers who walked around the world not long after I moved to Minnesota. Thank goodness for Wikipedia. Their entry is short.
They were the Kunst Brothers. I don’t know when I’ve seen a remembrance of them in a newspaper – maybe not for thirty years. However, when David and his brother John set out from tiny Caledonia, Minnesota in Minnesota’s southwestern corner of Minnesota (see map above) in 1970 with a mule they called “Willie Makeit” in the middle of the Vietnam War to walk around the world they caught a lot of attention. That only doubled when they got halfway around Earth to Afghanistan and John was murdered by mountain bandits. After four months recovering from the gunshot to his chest Dave continued his trek with a third brother Pete from the spot in Afghanistan where they were ambushed. John ended his trip solo in October 1974 a few weeks after I’d married and moved to Duluth, after Richard Nixon’s helicopter flight out of the Presidency and half a year before the end of America’s debacle in Vietnam.
Remembering this small shard of history when a couple young American’s went out in search of the world rather than trek to an Arena in Duluth to hear a man preen before an audience of folks who follow him like pimple faced kids at a professional wrestling match was a reminder that greatness is not measured in mouth. It is measured in deed.