Posted by: David Offutt | August 22, 2019

More Reflections on the Recent Mass Murders (Part 2)

Historian Barbara Tuchman documented how the nations of Europe in August 1914 stumbled into the mass slaughter of World War I and that no one knew how to prevent it.

The guns of August 2019 and the nearly instantaneous collapse of the moral will to do anything to prevent future tragedies of this kind caused me to reflect on a ride I took with an enthusiast of Donald J. Trump. Nearly two years ago, my Nissan mini-van broke down on me on I-530 near exit 3 south of Little Rock, Arkansas.  It was after 5 PM, so I needed to be towed to my home in El Dorado at the bottom of the state – around a two-hour drive. Thus began what seemed like the longest ride of my life.

I should have known I was in trouble the moment I began my transport home. My driver, who seemed to be in his mid to late twenties, started to light up a cigarette, but first he reluctantly asked if I minded. I told him that I preferred he not. I actually presumed that a reputable auto club would not allow its affiliated-drivers to smoke in its vehicles. Second-hand smoke is not just bad for allergies, sinuses, and lungs, but if you are in an enclosed vehicle, you and your clothes end up stinking something fierce. I also feared that we were going to have to make several cigarette stops along the way to feed his nicotine habit. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but he was hyper all the way to El Dorado.

President Donald J. Trump wearing one of his red Make America Great Again (MAGA) caps.

Right off the bat, he wanted to know whether I thought the country was heading in the right direction. I’ve spent a lifetime studying and/or teaching U.S. history, but he didn’t know that, so I wondered why he asked – me in particular – that question. At that time, I was aware that the Electoral College had recently inflicted upon us another minority president within sixteen years of the last one. This one knows nothing about government; is a racist and white nationalist, misogynist, xenophobe, megalomaniac, climate-change denier, anti-environmentalist, demagogue, con-artist, and pathological liar; is an authoritarian with a distaste for the rule of law and with a fondness for other authoritarians; is a plutocrat who favors the other super-rich and corporations over the working class and public servants; has appointed life-time appellate and supreme court justices who will limit equality and voting rights and expand plutocratic rule; came within one vote of sabotaging health care for millions of Americans without having a backup alternative; has placed people in agencies and advisory positions who are his sycophants and who don’t believe that their departments should work for the good of the people and the land; uses his office to promote his personal brand and wealth; and his boorish behavior is certainly not anything we  want our children to see, hear or emulate. Most of this was obvious throughout his campaign and well into his first year in office. So my immediate short answer to his question was: “No, we are definitely not moving in the right direction.”

David Offutt at the Monument of the Immigrant in New Orleans, Louisiana on a windy day in March 2016 – I proudly lived in the French Quarter during the 1980s. (Photo: David Offutt)

He took that ball and ran with it. He thought he agreed with me. “Neither do I, but Trump’s going turn things around.” Before I could clarify my position, he pointed off the highway and said, “I live over that way in a small community. My neighbors don’t like me. They’re always calling the police on me. The cops come and want to know ‘What’s all the shooting about?’ I’m just taking target practice.  Sometimes I’ll have friends over for a few beers, and we’ll all take target practice in my yard. I don’t know what the neighbors keep complaining about. The cops around here have gotten to know me pretty well.  I have over 40 assault rifles. I don’t have them to kill people with.  I just like ‘em. I built them myself.”

He continued, “One time, there were half a dozen deer in my front yard. I stepped outside and shot one of them and went back inside to take a nap. When I woke up, I went outside to deal with the deer.” This guy did not sound like a hunter to me – more of a killer. I was getting very uncomfortable and realized I shouldn’t antagonize him.   “I never leave the state without one of my guns. You know, when I drop you off in El Dorado, I may get a call to go pick up somebody in Louisiana to bring back to Arkansas. I don’t take it because I want kill someone – I just want to protect myself.”  I presumed he was letting me know that he had one of his assault rifles somewhere in the cab with us.

The dedication on the Monument to the Immigrant – New Orleans, unsurprisingly, is a “sanctuary city” (Photo: David Offutt, March 2016)

He added, “I was towing this black woman one time, and I told her I had a gun behind the seat. That scared her to death.  Ha. I was just making it up. You know, she made me stop the truck. She got out and wouldn’t get back in until I got rid of the gun. Ha.”

When we got to the Sheridan bypass, he was reminded of some of his youthful transgressions. (Sheridan is halfway between Little Rock and Fordyce and was a notorious traffic bottleneck on Highway 167 before the 12-mile bypass was completed.) “When they were laying the foundation for this road, I used to come out here late at night in my pickup and race up and down the road bed. I really tore it up. Once, three patrol cars finally corralled me.  Of course, I don’t do things like that anymore.

Detail of the Monument to the Immigrant, New Orleans, Louisiana (Photo: David Offutt, March 2016)

I used to live in Sheridan,” he continued. “The cops here got to know me pretty well, too.  I got a lot of speeding tickets back then. Of course, I don’t do that anymore.” However, as soon as he said that he added one of his current transgressions: “I love these four-lanes. Late at night, some other trucker and I will race each other until one of us has to veer off. Haven’t been caught yet doing that.”

Then, he changed the subject. “What do you think about sanctuary cities?” Any city that thinks it makes its city safer if immigrants don’t fear incarceration for reporting a crime is fine with me. I also don’t want my local law enforcement officers wasting their time doing someone else’s job – they’re underpaid and overworked already. I’d rather they spend their time protecting me from people like my driver. At this moment, I just wanted to get home safely.  “If the truth be told, I don’t think about them very much. Why do you ask?” I replied.

Map of sanctuary states, counties, and cities – the term “sanctuary” has no legal meaning; however, places designated as such normally do not allow their police or municipal employees to ask anyone about their immigration status.

“They ought to be made to round up all those illegals. We can’t let those immigrants get away with breaking the laws, raping, pushing drugs, committing all sorts of violence. We need to lock those criminals up and get those lawbreakers out of this country.” He was rather emphatic about his perception of immigrants.  I hoped that my neighbors across my street remained in their house when we pulled up to drop off my car in front of my house. They are a large family from Mexico and the husband is a hard worker who owns a construction company, has a large crew, and is always busy, busy, busy.  We arrived well after dark, so fortunately my driver didn’t see them. And I did arrive safely, though.

The recent mass murders in Texas and Ohio, including the anti-Hispanic massacre in El Paso, briefly led to the hope that President Trump and the Republican-led Senate would finally join the national will to support universal background checks and maybe more regulations to improve gun safety in America. Those hopes evaporated after Wayne LaPierre, the emperor of the NRA, reminded the president whom he really works for. But I would feel safer if people like the guy who towed me home on that long, troubling ride didn’t have 40 assault weapons.

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Posted by: David Offutt | August 13, 2019

Reflections on the Recent Mass Murders (Part 1 of 2)

The massacre in El Paso, Texas, on August 4, 2019, was fueled by a hatred of Hispanics and immigrants. (Photo: Mark Raltston/AFP/ Getty Images)

Several years ago, my black and white shorthair cat Cody had an infected wound above his left eye, so I took him to my vet, Jim Ralston. Jim, a former classmate of mine, cleaned and probed the wound, amazed that Cody tolerated his probing so deeply into the cat’s head. Cody was always a good patient, very appreciative of whatever you were doing to help him. My late father had said of him: “He’s a remarkable cat.” Jim said, “It looks like someone shot him with a BB gun.”

Cody: He was full-grown when he showed up in my back yard during an ice storm in January 2000; he was at least 17 when he passed away in 2015. I still miss him. (Photo: David Offutt)

A few days later, from my back yard I heard someone firing a gun several times from across the back alley. Needless to say, I went to investigate. A black woman was in her back yard firing some kind of pistol at a target. I asked as politely as possible, “You aren’t the one who shot my cat with a BB gun are you?” She insisted that she would never do anything like that. She also never took target practice back there ever again. That was the end of that.

Fortunately, during my forty years of teaching, I got guns away from only two of my students. One was what I would call a regular rifle. This was in the early seventies in eastern Arkansas before assault rifles were so proliferate. It was also after school and late evening. The young man told his two female friends, also my students, that he was going to kill himself and locked himself in his bedroom. One of the girls called me because she was aware that I knew him pretty well – he assisted me during my prep period at school. He let me into his room and handed me the rifle without hesitation. I don’t think he would have gone through with his threat, but you never know.

The other gun was a pistol, in a Texas high school classroom and in the early nineties. I saw a black student holding a pistol and simply asked him to “hand me that thing.” He and the gun were taken to the principal’s office. Other than the young man denying that I got the gun from him, it was all resolved without incident. It turned out that a white student brought the gun to school and was showing it to the guy who got caught with it. The white guy received in-school suspension for a week.

All of this took place before the mass shootings at the schools at Columbine, Newtown, Parkland, and – you know – the list goes on. Now we have back-to-back mass murders in El Paso and Dayton to add to another long list of horrors (Orlando, et al.). With the current proliferation of assault weapons for the last fifteen years, we are doomed to this sort of thing for the next generation or two – optimistically, of course. If assault weapons continue to be made available, the mass devastation will continue into infinity with increasing frequency.

President Bill Clinton signed the last meaningful check on assault weapons in 1994. However, he also signed a bill that included the Dickey Amendment in 1996 that prohibited government research into the cause of gun deaths. (Photo: AP file)

In 1994 Bill Clinton signed a bill that banned the selling of assault weapons and high capacity magazines for ten years, but apparently it was filled with so many loopholes that it was difficult to enforce as it was intended. Compared to the mass murders with assault weapons in the last 15 years, it was a good start, but, as you would expect, it led to a lot of Democratic congressmen who voted for the bill to be defeated in NRA-dominated states and districts in 1994. George W. Bush and his Republican Congress, bowing obediently to the NRA, refused to even think about improving the bill to make it more effective and denied the Democrats’ attempt to renew it in 2005.

Jay Dickey, the Republican House representative from my own district in Arkansas, saluted the NRA and inflicted the Dickey Amendment onto the American people in 1996 – Democrats lost control of Congress in the Elections of ‘94. We all know why automobiles and highways have improved as far as safety is concerned. Whenever an accident occurs, investigations as to the cause are made and records are kept and used by the federal government to set standards. The Dickey Amendment prohibited the federal government from doing such research in gun-related deaths. Bill Clinton, shamefully, signed this stinkeroo of an amendment because it was part of a must-pass omnibus spending bill in 1996.

Jay Dickey, the representative for the 4th district in Arkansas, introduced the Dickey Amendment to a larger bill in 1996 and later realized the harm it did.

That amendment is still on the books, so any comprehensive gun safety bill on the federal level today is highly unlikely because of the ignorance and apathy that has been institutionalized and by the ownership of one political party en masse by the NRA. Common sense remediation is important – universal background checks and much more – but detailed statistics and data are conspicuously missing and much needed for truly effective legislation.

To his credit, former representative Mr. Dickey finally realized what a stupid and irresponsible amendment he had created and suggested that it be repealed. He did that shortly before his death in 2017. He was briefly my brother-in-law and a fellow dog lover (I have cats now), but, other than that, we had nothing in common – until his plea to repeal the only memorable contribution he made as a member of the House. So far, that turkey is still the law of the land.

Posted by: David Offutt | August 5, 2019

To Impeach or Not to Impeach Should Not Be the Question

President Donald J. Trump: He said before he received the vote of the Electoral College that he could shoot someone in the middle of Times Square and still get elected. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

The 448-page Mueller Report was essentially an abundance of itemized obstructions of justice by Donald J. Trump and incidents of Russian interference in our 2016 election that involved many of his associates and apparently himself. It was a blueprint for what Congress should be, or should have been, investigating for the sake of preserving our constitutional system and our national security.

John Dean: Testifying before the Senate Watergate Committee, he said that he warned Nixon that a cancer was growing on his presidency. At that time, Dean didn’t know that Nixon had become involved in the cover-up months before.

Mueller’s muddled responses were quite a contrast to John Dean’s monotone, yet riveting, five-day testimony in the Nixon Watergate hearings. Dean had been involved in preventing anyone associated with the White House from being connected to the Watergate burglary.  However, Dean couldn’t believe that only he, among all of Richard Nixon’s men, was ever concerned about their all being involved in the obstruction of justice, the cover-up, of the Watergate burglary investigations. Of course, that’s what brought down the Nixon presidency. Actually it was a tape recording that verified Dean’s testimony that brought on the resignation. The American public is already fully aware of Mr. Trump’s efforts to obstruct the Comey and Mueller investigations. Some care and some don’t.

It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that our Congress is so far behind in its impeachment investigations. With a man like Trump as its titular leader,  the Republican Party after the Elections of 2016 was so surprised to retain control of both houses of Congress that it was willing to ignore any and all of his transgressions before or after his election.

David (Left) and Charles Koch: David ran for VP on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1980 . Since that time the brothers have rejected the use of a third party to achieve their goal of a plutocratic government. To accomplish that goal, they decided to essentially acquire ownership of the Republican Party. (Photo: Getty Images)

You may recall that the Koch brothers and their huge donor network did not favor Trump as their Republican Party’s candidate. He was the least qualified contender for the nomination and was such a reprehensible person that that they saw no hope of his being elected. The Kochs well remembered the nomination of Barry Goldwater in 1964, a right-wing extremist whose candidacy was doomed because he ran too soon. At that time, the right wing had not organized sufficiently to re-educate enough voters to hate our federal government. Even by 2016, they were as surprised as everyone else that Trump won the electoral vote.

Since Trump’s conquest of the White House, the billionaire Koch brother’s donor network should have been deliriously happy. The only consequential law that the congressional Trumpistas passed in Trump’s first two years was the huge tax cut for the plutocracy and corporations. In addition to that, Trump has been appointing extreme right-wing judges to lifetime appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts. These are justices, groomed by the Federalist Society, that are devoted to returning the United States to the Gilded Age when the plutocracy ruled all. Trump could violate any part of the Constitution that he wanted to. The Trumpista majority in Congress wouldn’t dare upset the Koch donor network’s gravy train. The irony is that the Kochs and Trump still don’t like each other, and Trump’s tariffs really have the Kochs upset.

Mitch McConnell: Understandably, the Senate Majority Leader doesn’t like being seen as a foreign agent who appears to be subverting our nation from within. (Photo: Twitter)

Now that the Democrats control the House of Representatives, obviously, if they abide by their oath to defend the Constitution, they must impeach the president. However, they are divided on what to do. None of them wants the mild-mannered but sincere right-wing extremist Mike Pence to become president, but Mitch McConnell is not going to let Trump be convicted in the Senate no matter how overwhelming the evidence. Will the voters think that the Democrats want to avenge the irresponsible impeachment of Bill Clinton? No. The Republican Congress spent years and millions of tax dollars trying to find a reason to impeach Clinton and abused the use of a special prosecutor (Kenneth Starr) to do so. Why did they want to impeach Clinton? Republican Speaker of the House explained: “Because we can.” Trump has been giving reasons for his impeachment since entering office, and he and everybody else knows it.

It’s important that public, and often televised, hearings be held so that voters can be reminded of the precarious state our democracy is in. Because of the irresponsible negligence of the Republican majority during Mr. Trump’s first two years and now the nearness of the Elections of 2020, it’s likely that the time has passed for the essential impeachment procedures. The future of the experiment of our American democratic-republic may rely on the outcome of the elections next year.

What’s most important is for American voters to know who supports the Constitution and who wants to trash it. The votes cast or positions taken by House members of each party should be noted: if those who vote or speak against investigations or impeachment are reelected that will let us know that support for the Constitution is weak. Likewise in the Senate if there is a trial. Moreover if Mr. Trump is reelected, we can pretty much kiss the Constitution goodbye. His precedents will stand.  He knows he can count on his base no matter what he does. It’s the other voters in whose hands rest the fate of our nation.

The Question should be: Do the majority of registered voters care? If they don’t, it’s over.

Posted by: David Offutt | May 6, 2019

National Teacher Day: In Praise of Influential Teachers

David Offutt (1980s) at Xavier Prep High School, New Orleans – As I had in Helena-West Helena, Ark, and Wynne, Ark., I taught the honors U.S. history classes. At Xavier Prep, I also introduced a western civilization class, which allowed me to teach ancient Greek and Roman histories, the foundations for our American republic.

Tuesday, May 7, is National Teacher Day. Having devoted some twenty years to teaching history and prepping, making out tests, and grading them on my own time so as to always return them the very next day, while earning a subsistence or sub-subsistence, salary, a one-day celebration hardly seems sufficient. Alex Trebek and Jeopardy do much better with a two-week Teacher Tournament. By the way, I spent an additional twenty years teaching just about everything in adult education.

Now, I’m enjoying a well-earned retirement and would like to pay tribute to three teachers who greatly influenced my teaching methods, which consequently evolved over the years. I had a great many fine teachers throughout my twelve years attending the public schools of El Dorado, Ark. However, I don’t recall any of them influencing my own methods. The following were teachers/professors whom I studied under at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and whose methods I modified as my own and adapted them for high school students.

Professor Hudson taught The Civil War and Recent America. Whether it was the War of the Rebellion or the two World Wars, he didn’t just mention that some side won this battle or lost that one, he used maps to explain the strategies, the tactics, the personalities involved, and the consequences of each conflict. He made them come alive. He used the classroom chalkboard, but I converted my maps to projector overlays and gave my students general maps of the battles that they could write on. It was one of the most successful and appreciated things I did to create an interest in history to my students.

The Battle of 1st Bull Run: Inspired by Professor Hudson, I used overlays to project how significant events transpired.

Dr. Hudson also routinely mentioned motion pictures that were based on the historical events that he was teaching. I did the same and expanded on it. If there was anything on television that I thought was important for them to know about, whether we were currently studying it or not, I would assign it for extra credit. I would give a 10-question verbal quiz in which I would ask the students to write a phrase or word that would prove they saw the show. Any question they got correct was a bonus point that would be added to their test scores. At one school, I couldn’t do that because of the department head, but I could have the students write a summary of the program for extra points.

In the age of home videos, beginning in the 1980s, at Xavier Prep in New Orleans, I continued offering extra credit for TV shows, but I also began showing significant movies or TV shows for extra credit after school. Even though it was on my own time, I loved doing this. A great film like “The Devil’s Disciple,” which takes place during the American Revolution could be shown in two afternoons at 41 minutes each for a total of 8 bonus points without having to take a quiz. The students really appreciated this, and many admitted they loved the films I showed them but would never watch them on their own.

Dr. Hudson also paid homage to the music of the eras we were studying, but I don’t recall his ever playing the music he talked about. I used my own tape recorder and/or my school’s phonograph to let my students actually hear the music, which came from my own collection. What they heard was so different from what they were accustomed to that they almost always got a real “kick” out of it. Often, I used projector overlays so that the students, for example, could sing along with Pete Seeger’s rendition of “Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Ground.”

The words of “Marching Through Georgia,” a popular song of Union troops during the last days of the Civil War. Using the songs and tunes of each historical era seemed to always be enjoyed by the students.

Professor McNeill taught The French Revolution and Napoleonic Era, and he always included maps on each of his tests. He reasonably expected his students to know where the places were that they were learning about. At some schools, I had to get the administration to order sets of US and world history maps. At others, I found sets of maps in classrooms that were never used. At Wynne High School, I found them in storage and restored them to usability. On my tests, I included a map section of five to ten sites that my students had locate on a map that I provided.

Professor McNeill was responsible for my inclusion of maps on most of my tests.

Professor Reeser taught Ancient Egypt and Greece, Ancient Roman Republic and Empire, and Historiography.  One of his most impressive traits was that he did not come in to class, walk up to the lectern, open his folder of notes and begin reading. He never used notes. He just talked to us and occasionally wrote key names on the chalkboard. I adopted that method when I moved to Ecuador (1976-78) to teach at the American School of Quito. I wrote an outline on the board for them as I spoke because Spanish was the native language of most of them, but I never used notes. Their biology teacher told me that they showed him their history notes and said, “It all comes right out of his head.”

Dr. Reeser also introduced me to Arnold Toynbee’s study of the rise and fall of civilizations, which I used thereafter to give my students a perspective on where we came from, where we are, and where we may be going. In his spring historiography class, one of my fellow students asked him if he ever taught “Toynbee” in his freshman western civilization classes. When he replied, “Certainly not – that would be a disaster,” that student pointed to me and said, “Didn’t you say that you taught “Toynbee” in your 10th-grade world history class last fall semester?”  I said, “Yes. In fact, I recently ran into one of my former students out at the mall, and I asked him what he was currently studying in world history. He said, ‘the Renaissance.’ I then asked him, ‘According to Toynbee, what period of history is the Renaissance?’ Without hesitating, he said, ‘The creative period of western civilization.’” Reeser looked stunned – and, I don’t know, but he may have reconsidered his expectations of freshman.

Arnold Toynbee’s analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations as explained by Professor Reeser.

As I recall, all three of these teachers opened each class with “Questions or comments?” I did the same. It allows students to get clarification on anything covered in class the previous day, but, of equal importance, it allows a discussion of current events, which the teacher can initiate if the students do not.

Another thing that all three did that was extremely important was to compare or contrast what we were learning with similar historical events or current events. I, too, made certain to emulate that technique so as to make history relevant to the present and to emphasis historical lessons learned or not learned. History does, in fact, repeat itself.

I learned a lot from these fine teachers. If you want to kill a history class, rely solely on the textbook – that will do it every time. Teaching can be fun.

David Offutt at the Grave of Daniel Boone, Dutzow, Missouri (July 1976): As I recall, I’m pointing toward the Missouri River in the valley below. Seeking “elbow room,” Boone epitomized the American thirst for expansion. This is one of two gravesites for the American hero. Kentucky wanted both Daniel and his wife Rebecca reburied near Fort Boonesboro, but Daniel’s slave knew Daniel believed that Kentucky cheated him out of his land and did not want to return there. He identified a stranger buried on one side of Rebecca as being Daniel, which left Daniel on the other side of Rebecca to remain in Missouri. Kentucky contests this claim.

In his influential letter, or manifesto, to the National Chamber of Commerce in 1971, future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell professed his fear that capitalism was in danger. He observed that in recent years Americans had been voting for candidates who supported conservation of resources, preservation of public lands, clean water, clean air, safer workplaces, safer consumer products, et al. – and, after all, the first Earth Day was in 1970. Big Business was relenting and making concessions.

Mr. Powell suggested numerous methods that could be led by the Chamber of Commerce to re-educate the voters so that they would reject these policies in favor of candidates who supported the deregulation of Big Business and of instilling fear into voters that a concern for the environment and other regulations would result in the elimination of jobs.

Consequently, billionaires – like the Koch brothers – began funneling millions of dollars into think tanks – like the Heritage Foundation – to figure out how to market anti-environmental policies to the public and into the campaigns of candidates who agreed to do their bidding. The Federalist Society was formed to groom lawyers and judges – like Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh – to work for plutocratic rule.

David Offutt at Fort Mandan State Historic Site in North Dakota (summer 1980): this is a replica of the fort built by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The explorers spent their first winter here near a Mandan village. Thomas Jefferson wanted to know what resources were in the Louisiana Territory and who was living there.

Within ten years their efforts brought forth major Republican Party victories in 1980 that reintroduced a new Gilded Age: Ronald Reagan, the long-time spokesman for General Electric, won the presidency by saying that government was the problem and not the solution; also, Republicans regained the Senate for the first time since the early Eisenhower years – this sent shockwaves through the Democratic-controlled House, resulting in the transformation of the Democratic Party into a much more conservative party that began to ignore the workaday folks that it once represented. The Elections of 2018 indicate that the Democrats may be trying to re-find their roots, but they haven’t gotten there yet.

This all came about just as we had learned about global warming from studies by Exxon’s scientists (1978) and needed to be increasing our concerns about the environment instead of neglecting it and making it worse. The convincing propaganda and the vast spending of plutocratic millions that sprang from the Powell Manifesto certainly were instrumental in turning the public around and getting it to favor plutocratic rule. But why were the people so easily convinced to vote against their own best interests? And why is it so hard to get people to understand why today’s climate change is taking place because of long-time, on-going human activities.

David Offutt at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park near Placerville, Calif. (July 1983): James Marshall discovered gold in 1848 at Sutter’s Mill on the American River and set off the Gold Rush of ’49. The U.S. government offers leases on public lands for mining, oil, and gas, often jeopardizing the pristine nature of the parks.

Ronald Reagan always looked at American history through a rose-colored lens. His “It’s morning in America again” had great popular appeal. He repeated Warren G. Harding’s slogan that we needed to “return to normalcy.” Most Americans may have limited knowledge of our history, but they know our legends and traditions and are steeped in concepts of “patriotism” and “American exceptionalism.”

The term Manifest Destiny may not have been specifically addressed until the Age of Jackson, but the desire for land and its resources helped lead to the American Revolution. The British had prohibited colonial expansion west of the Appalachians with its Proclamation Line of 1763. Great Britain was honoring its agreements with the Native Americans that it had made during the French and Indian War.

After the revolution, the newly created United States of America had no such intention. The Northwest Ordinance provided a methodical manner of settling the areas between the Appalachians and Great Lakes and the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, regardless of its occupation by its indigenous peoples. A coerced treaty with Spain gave us Florida and a westward extension of Florida to the Mississippi River, which also was already occupied by Native Americans.

David Offutt and a Conestoga Wagon at Scott’s Bluff National Monument in Nebraska (1980): The Oregon Trail began at Independence or St. Joseph, Missouri. Beyond Scott’s Bluff the trail forks with one route continuing to Oregon and the other to Sacramento, Calif. The one-time three-month trek now may take less than three days. I had a lot of fun on my summertime cross-country trips, but I also contributed to the carbon imprint along the way.

Our early colonists had used farmland abandoned by or taken from the original inhabitants but continued expanding inland. The great forests that consumed carbon dioxide were continuously chopped down to be used for building purposes, to make way for roads, or were burned to clear farmland. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and the following Lewis and Clark Expedition led to the inevitable conclusion that it was our “manifest destiny” to expand all the way to the Pacific.

There’s always something in the land that needed to be exploited, and it’s still true. Mining was another thing to be developed. From the first colonists, it seems that there was always “gold in them thar hills.” Gold or silver, it mattered not. And if there were Native Americans already there, well, that didn’t matter either. The “forty-niners” went to California. “Pike’s Peak or Bust” was the mantra that led get-rich-quickers to Colorado. Gold in the sacred “Indian” grounds of the Dakota’s Black Hills resulted in the demise of Custer and his 7th Cavalry.

David Offutt at a reconstructed sod house at Ash Hollow State Park in Nebraska (1980): Lewis and Clark’s description of the Great Plains as the “Great American Desert” wasn’t quite right. The trick was irrigation and nature. Too much rain brings flooding and too little rain brings drought. Both of these extremes will be even more prevalent as we continue to change the climate. Memories of the Great Depression are always there. The recent flooding of the Missouri River inundated much of Omaha’s Offutt Air Force Base, the Strategic Command Center, reminding us of the Defense Department’s warning that anthropomorphic climate change threatens our national security.

Mining frequently led to the pollution of the drinking waters of man and beast. The Trumpistas today are eagerly trying to open more of our public lands to mining and drilling, and if they have to reduce the size of our national monuments (like the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments), so be it. A ban on uranium mining in the Grand Canyon is about to expire and probably won’t be renewed by the current administration. This will jeopardize the water supply of the Havasupai tribe at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Improvements in transportation and communication eventually had a negative impact on air quality. Big surprise, huh? Steam engines and railroads were vital to the development of the nation in the early 19th century.  California and Oregon were originally reached by wagon train and the overland walk across the mid-continent. The South’s absence from the U.S. Congress allowed the passage of bills to build a transcontinental railroad and the Homestead Act. Both were signed by “that abolitionist” Abraham Lincoln.

David Offutt at the Great Western Cattle Co. in Abilene’s Old Town in Kansas (1980): James G. McCoy owned this company, and it was said that if you bought your beef from him, you were sure to get “the real McCoy.” Abilene was the end of the Chisholm Trail which led north from the ranches in Texas. Herds were led to the rail head to be shipped to the Chicago stockyards and meatpacking plants. We now realize that cow poop adds methane into the atmosphere and methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Fueled by logs or coal, trains eventually crisscrossed the nation chugging their carbon dioxide-laden smoke into the atmosphere. Today, railroad transportation is one of the most efficient and environmentally responsible solutions to our crisis, but the U.S. lags behind the rest of the developed world and is resistant to improving it. Amtrak provides a great service, but it’s only second or third rate compared with transit systems in many other countries.

Our great wealth was created by the development of electricity, iron, steel, oil, and the financial industry. Many industries that provided jobs were/are powered by coal-fired plants that cough an abundance of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Colonel Edwin Drake’s first oil well in Titusville, Penn., in 1859, made oil accessible and changed the world. The 20th century introduced the automobile to replace the horse, trucks to replace wagons, and airplanes to unite the planet – and all have added to the greenhouse gas impact in our atmosphere.

David Offutt in the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana (1980): This marker is not a grave stone. It marks where one of George Armstrong Custer’s cavalrymen was found dead on June 25, 1876. Crazy Horse achieved a tactical victory here and wiped out the 7th Cavalry. However, it was a strategic blunder because it united most U.S. citizens against the Native Americans and accelerated the loss of lands they had lived on for generations. When gold was discovered in the Black Hills, the U.S. violated its treaty with the “Indians” and allowed prospectors to invade sacred lands, thus setting off the rebellion. It was a clash of two distinctly different cultures.

The stench may have been unpleasant and the air and water unhealthy to consume, but only a few, until 1978, realized that we were also burning up the planet. Exxon’s scientists figured out what we were doing, but Exxon’s management began a systematic campaign to sow doubts in what their own people had discovered. Now, one of our two major parties has become devoted to denying that what we are doing to the atmosphere has anything to do with why the temperature continues to rise.

Since oil, coal, electricity, and transportation have been so important in human progress for so many years, how do we get enough people to recognize that we can’t continue to burn fossil fuels and maintain the quality of life on earth as we know it? How do we get those industries that make money from the destruction of our environment to do anything about it?

David Offutt at Mooney Falls on the Havasupai Reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon (July 1997): It’s been our tradition to support development over preservation, and it’s also been our tradition to ignore the needs and wishes of our indigenous peoples. I’ve been to the bottom of the Grand Canyon five times, and two of those times were not land maintained by the National Park Service. The Havasupai have a public campground near two beautiful waterfalls, which makes it my favorite destination in the canyon. Here, I am at Mooney Falls, which is the most difficult of the two falls to reach – the descent to where I am would never be certified safe by national park standards. The ban against uranium mining near here will soon expire and the current administration plans to not renew the ban. The potable drinking water of the Havasupai will then be in jeopardy. Do we care?

We have been intentionally perpetuating the crisis for the past 40 years. Since it’s still going on, you can see why it’s so hard to change. It’s who we are: expansion, exploitation of our “unlimited” resources, dreams of becoming millionaires – Manifest Destiny and the Gilded Age all rolled into one. Greed is a powerful preventative for change. It’s easier to listen to those who say we can keep doing what we’re doing than it is to ask, “What do we need to do to save our planet?” And then, it’s really difficult to get anyone to take action – especially our own government.

David Offutt at the Golden Spike National Historic Site, Promontory Point, Utah (1980): The Central Pacific’s “Jupiter” and the Union Pacific’s “119” met here and completed the first transcontinental railroad. Railroads were essential for the Industrial Revolution. Steam engines have since been replaced so that railroads are now one of the cleanest and most efficient means of transportation and shipping. Unfortunately, they are used for shipping oil and coal, 80% of which will soon need to be left in the ground.

There is no national emergency occurring on our Mexican border other than the political crisis of Donald J. Trump not fulfilling the 2016 campaign he made to his base to build a wall. All members of Congress will soon go on record as to whether or not they want to concede the power of the purse to the executive branch. It’s the legislative branch’s constitutionally-delegated responsibility and one of its most powerful checks on the president. The Democratic-controlled House has passed a bill in opposition, so the Trumpista-controlled Senate must soon vote on it as well.

Right now it looks like only four other senators will join the Democrats and Independents, but that will be enough for it to pass. The Donald will then veto it. The legislative Trumpistas will probably sustain the veto. The future of our constitutional democracy does not look good. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has shown little respect for the Constitution or for the institution in which he leads, will no doubt continue to sell out the American people. Although, it must be said, he has one reservation about supporting his president’s imagined “emergency”:  Another president, sometime in the future, may also do the same thing when he doesn’t get what he wants from Congress.

David Offutt in the Jemez Valley west of Santa Fe, New Mexico (1997): Beginning in 1978, I, in my ’78 Datsun B-210 Hatchback and my ’94 Nissan pickup, looped around the USA during at least two weeks of every summer, ultimately visiting all 48 contiguous states. Armed with my Pentax camera and plenty of Kodachrome slide film, I photographed historical and geographical sites to use in my U. S. history classes. My burning fossil fuels was the downside of my travels.

There are real national emergencies that the Trumpistas are determined to ignore and to prevent anything being done about: the proliferation of mass shootings, the rise of right-wing hate groups, the continuance of Gilded-Age inequality, and the suppression of voting rights jeopardizing our democracy – just to name a few. What if a future president declares one or all of them to be a national emergency?

The number one national emergency today, and for at least the remainder of this century, is climate change and the preservation of life on earth. Activist Noam Chomsky has labeled the Republican National Party to be the most dangerous organization in the world, and it’s hard to disagree. No other official organization, or even any terrorist group like ISIS, actively seeks to burn up the planet.

David Offutt and Spy in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Medora, N.D. (1980): Before he was a Rough Rider and president, TR was a rancher in the Badlands of North Dakota. The automobile, of course, has replaced the horse as a means of getting around. Automotive traffic is a major producer of greenhouse gases, which I have been an accomplice during my summer travels. The Trump administration has rescinded the Obama requirement to increase the gas mileage capability in new cars. The order is being contested.

Consumed by what I call the Moses Syndrome, anything that bears the name or endorsement of Barack Obama to preserve the environment is being declared null and void by our president, and he’s supported by his fellow Trumpistas in his administration and in Congress. Ironically, there is very little that Mr. Obama’s administration initiated that shouldn’t have been done thirty years ago. Each one was only a small step, but nearly everything he did was a step in the right direction.

The Three Monkeys who epitomize The Donald and his fellow Trumpistas in public office who provide cover for the president and who ignore the pending effects of anthropomorphic climate change. The consensus opinion is that we need to be taking serious action immediately or else by 2030 our current bad situation may be irreparable.

Other than the mindless and passionate hatred and resentment of our first black president, why are the Trumpistas so much like the famous three monkeys when it comes to dealing with climate change? Why do they “speak no evil, see no evil, and hear no evil”? Why do they refuse to act when it comes to saving the planet? Why do they ignore all the studies verifying what fossil fuel emissions are doing to our planet? Why are they unmoved by the damages visibly taking place through forest fires, drought, heavy rains, hurricanes, melting glaciers, and  flooding?

I suggest that the answer may lie in their belief system and in certain American traditions. It requires great strength and courage to admit that something you believed in so deeply may have ultimately been flawed and should not be continued. The fact that they don’t “believe” in human-caused climate change can be at least partially explained by an understanding of two important periods of U. S. history: Manifest Destiny and the Gilded Age, both of which climate-change deniers are still locked into.

David Offutt in the town of Banos, Ecuador (Dec. 1993): This was the last of 4 murals on the wall across the street from the hotel where I was staying. It is asking “What have we done?” or “What are we doing?” The new president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, is taking a lesson from The Donald and wants the Amazon to be opened for greater development. Further destruction of the rain forest will increase the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and could be planetary suicide.

Especially during our “gilded ages,” there have been many constants in the conventional history of the United States. Our unlimited expansion – our “manifest destiny” – and the development of our “vast, never-ending natural resources” are embedded in our mythology. Our government is supposed to assist and enable Big Business in all its endeavors with few, if any, strings attached. Anything that restrains or regulates these activities is undesirable and should be opposed. Anyone in the way of these goals should be removed, by force if necessary. If the Native Americans lived with the land and respected it, they were wrong. Our land and its waters should be fully developed for profit.

The Gilded Age (1865-1900) kicked in following the Civil War and lasted until the Progressive Era. We had another one during the Roaring Twenties (1920-1929) until the Great Depression. We’re in the third one now (1981-?). It’s called gilded because of the great wealth of a very few made it look like everyone in America could become as rich as Croesus, or, more appropriately, as rich as Carnegie, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, and Morgan. In reality, these were/are periods of great inequality where the money was/is mostly in the hands of the upper 1% and specifically in the upper 0.1%.

David Offutt at the Breakers in Newport, R.I.,(1979): This mansion was merely a summer cottage for the family of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who made his fortune through railroads and shipping. No records were kept of the costs of building this ostentatious display of wealth. The robber barons of our first Gilded Age are representative of today’s upper 0.1%.

It’s difficult to understand why something that seems so obvious and also verifiable by scientific studies can be denied. I hope in part two of this essay to add more examples of why Manifest Destiny and the Gilded Age are so embedded in the mindset of today’s right wing. Greed makes it very difficult for them to accept that we have been sowing the seeds of a warming planet throughout our history and that many things need to change – and fast.

Posted by: David Offutt | January 22, 2019

The Wall, Our Borders, and the Trump Shutdown

David Offutt and 1978 Datsun B-210 hatchback at the Pancho Villa State Park on the southern border of New Mexico (July 1988): The Villa Raid took place near here on March 9, 1916. “In recognition of the subsequent, long continued, friendly relations of the two countries, the New Mexico State Legislature in 1959 designated this site as a State Park.”

Twenty-three years ago, right after Christmas Day I drove out to Arizona to visit two old friends with whom I had shared a house in Tumbaco, Ecuador, back in 1977 when we all taught at the Colegio Americano de Quito. We were going to visit as many of the national monuments in the vicinity of Phoenix and Tucson as time allowed – and there are a lot of them in Southwest Arizona.

Unfortunately, the Republican Party had shockingly gained control of both houses of Congress in January 1995 and ended that year saying “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” with a government shutdown that lasted 21 days. The primary saboteur was new Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Because of his earlier extreme anti-democratic, anti-compromise positions, he had already earned the moniker of “Gingrich Khan,” so I began referring to him and his lackeys as “Gingrich Khan and his gang of thugs.” In hindsight, I wish I had used “horde of thugs.”

David Offutt at the Lake of the Woods at Long Point, Minnesota (summer 1984): From here westward to the Strait of Georgia along the 49th parallel is the open border between Canada and the USA.

Last month, I had scheduled a two-week trip to the Southwest and southern California during the last two weeks of December. While my destination from Arkansas was to be San Francisco, I had planned to visit at least two national parks (Pinnacles and Saguaro) and at least one national monument (Cesar Chavez). Fortunately, I canceled my reservations at all nine different stops two weeks earlier.

I wish I could say that I anticipated Trump’s shutting down the government because he said he would be proud to do it, but I canceled my trip for personal reasons. Besides, I never thought the Senate’s Trumpista majority would let Trump do something as irresponsible as that so soon after the Democrats regained the House in the Elections of 2018. I was wrong.

David Offutt at the International Peace Garden on the border of North Dakota and Manitoba (summer 1985): This is the Bulova Watch floral exhibit.

Trump had been willing to back off his signature wall-obsession and fund the government with the deal offered by his lame-duck Trumpista-controlled Congress until he got embarrassed by his media handlers: Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and Fox “News.” Ms. Coulter, whom many non-psychiatrists suspect to be certifiably insane, surprisingly said something I perceived to be lucid months before Trump’s change of mind and his shutdown.

Ms. Coulter insisted that Mr. Trump could shaft his die-hard base on every campaign issue he promised them except for one. If he didn’t bring back jobs that they knew were never coming back, they would forgive him. If he didn’t deliver a huge job-producing, badly-needed public works project to repair our crumbling infrastructure, they would forgive him because they knew Trump’s adopted “Republican Party” would never approve it. But: the Wall – that he had to deliver, or he would lose them. Trump has only a 30-some-odd percent solid base, and if he loses them, his political career will be over, and more importantly, his ego will be smashed.

David Offutt at the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (summer 1985): The park borders Montana and Alberta, Canada. This is at the end of the Alpine Meadow Walk.

So now, Mr. Trump has to get a newly Democratic-controlled House to authorize 5.7 billion taxpayer dollars to build his precious wall or else the government stays closed. But, remember that his Trumpista Congress never funded his dream wall for two consecutive years. Instead, it cut government revenues drastically in the 2017 tax cut for the rich, which will be causing drastic increases in our deficit for the foreseeable future, so the money isn’t there anyway. Also remember that Trump promised that Mexico would pay for the wall.

Therefore, maybe the new House should approve the wall, but only if the money can be borrowed from Mexico. However, Mexico is no doubt aware that Mr. Trump, through his numerous bankruptcies, is known to stiff banks, workers, and contractors with glee. He’s also known to renege on America’s negotiated “deals” in foreign affairs. Will future presidents be like he or will they live up to our obligations? Mexico can’t be sure, so it will never have anything to do with paying for that wall.

Another way to pay for the wall would be to place a surtax on those in the upper one percent income bracket that got such a sweet tax cut at the end of 2017 – a surtax that would continue until the wall is paid off. Of course, that would never pass the Senate, which is still controlled by the Trumpistas. Whatever loyalty any of them have to the former G.O.P. will be shown in their unwillingness to tax their donors after working so hard to placate them in 2017: making the rich richer is their sole reason for being and their only hope for continued existence.

President James K. Polk in the National Presidential Wax Museum in Keystone, South Dakota (2013): President during the height of the Era of Manifest Destiny, he’s generally acknowledged as one of our greatest presidents because he established the boundaries of present-day contiguous USA. However, his treatment of Mexico is still questioned, and, as a slaveholder himself, he did nothing to resolve the growing divisiveness of the slave issue. (Photo: David Offutt)

Another problem with the wall was brought up by new Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. She said that the wall was “immoral.” She got a lot of flak for that, and I’m not sure why. I definitely agree with Jorge Ramos, the author of Stranger: The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era. He suggested that “The wall has become a symbol: a symbol of hate, racism, and fear.” And he added that the wall was “a symbol for those who want to make America white again.” Mr. Trump clearly wants everyone to know that the USA is no longer a welcoming country.

I’m also reminded of one of President John F. Kennedy’s finest speeches: the one he gave near the Berlin Wall only months before his assassination. He said that while the United States was far from perfect, “we never had to build a wall to keep our people in.” Every time that an additional fence or structure is added to our southern border, I always think about the fact that fences and walls work both ways. What’s going here?

Another thing I have against the wall is that it goes against a long-time American tradition. A tradition that, as a 20-year teacher of American history, was one of the things about the United States that I was always proud of and hoped my students agreed: Between the U.S. and Canada and between the U.S. and Mexico, we had the longest unguarded border in the world. And, in the case of Mexico, considering our questionable history with that country, that was quite remarkable.

During our expansion westward from the Mississippi River, establishing our northern border with Canada was accomplished through diplomacy with Great Britain. When France sold us the lands belonging to the Native Americans known as the Louisiana Territory, we asked how far north it extended. We were told to make the most of it. The Anglo-American Convention of 1818 established the 49th parallel between the Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota to the disputed territories of today’s British Columbia and the states of Washington and Oregon as the boundary.

David Offutt on the Rio Grande at Big Bend National Park on the Texas Border (summer 1996);  Mexico is across the river. Most property owners don’t want a wall and don’t want to lose their land to eminent domain so that Trump can build one. Do the rest of us want want our national lands disfigured as well?

President James K. Polk made an 1844 campaign promise of “the fifty-four forty or fight,” insisting that we claimed British Columbia as well as present-day Washington and Oregon. Already engaged in a messy war with Mexico to acquire the American Southwest, he chose diplomacy to settle the issue. The Treaty of Oregon in 1846 extended the northern border westward along the 49th parallel to the Strait of Georgia. The Native Americans, of course, again were not asked.

Our southern border was mostly established through warfare: The Mexican-American War of 1845-48. Polk quickly annexed the Republic of Texas, much to the chagrin of Mexico. We quarreled over Texas’ southern border: the traditional border was the Nueces River, but we insisted it should be further south – the Rio Grande. A skirmish in “No-Man’s Land” set off the war.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the war and established the Rio Grande as the southern border, and we paid Mexico $15 million for all of California, Nevada, and Utah and for parts of Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Native American inhabitants weren’t consulted. The Gadsden Purchase of 1853 peacefully secured the southern borders of Arizona and New Mexico for a payment of $10 million. President and General Santa Anna is still considered a villain in Mexico’s history because he’s blamed for all of this.

David Offutt at the Pancho Villa State Park, southwest of Columbus, New Mexico (July 1988): Pancho Villa led a raid from Mexico into Columbus in 1916. President Woodrow Wilson, without the government of Mexico’s approval, sent General John J. Pershing with a punitive force into Mexico in a futile effort to capture the bandit. Mexico’s president eventually ordered the US troops to withdraw.

In spite of bitterness still held by Mexico for the taking of its lands by the United States, for the most part, our relations have been friendly ever since. And until only a few years ago, no wall stood between us. The current “wall” is embarrassing and unnecessary. Hopefully, Canada won’t begin building a wall to keep out American refugees. Great powers don’t need walls to keep people out – or in.

Nevertheless, Mr. Trump continues to hold the American people’s government hostage in the longest shutdown in our history. Every day displays to the world how a great power can become a small one and that a democratic-republic may not be such a good thing. At this point we are at one month-plus and counting.

Note – January 26, 2019: On Friday, Jan. 25, Mr. Trump ended his partial government shutdown that was intended to extort $5.7 billion from American taxpayers for a border wall that he had promised his loyal supporters that Mexico would pay for. However, the reprieve is only until Feb. 15, so if his wishes are not placated by then, we may be playing this game all over again.

Note – After February 15, 2019: Mr. Trump decided to arbitrarily declare the border wall to a national emergency so that he could move money from congressionally approved projects to bill his legacy wall.

Posted by: David Offutt | September 13, 2018

Donald Trump and “The Plot Against America”

 

The rise of authoritarian-worshipper Donald Trump and the rapid acquiescence of the former Republican Party into his personal Trumpista Party brought new pertinence to old classic novels about life under totalitarian rule. George Orwell’s 1984 (1949), Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1939), Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here (1936), and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953) have all found new readers – and many re-readers like myself.

Another book of that genre, one that I only recently read, is Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. Like Sinclair Lewis’s cautionary tale listed above, this one suggests just how fragile our Constitution and our democratic-republic are and how easily they can be replaced by a fascist dictatorship.

Philip Roth: In his “The Plot Against America,” the author used himself and his own family to personalize what could happen to American Jews if a fascist government ever came to power in the USA.

Roth’s book was published in 2004, which coincidentally was when I began writing my monthly commentaries warning of the threats to our constitutional system being waged by the George W. Bush-Dick Cheney administration and its Republican majority in Congress. In 2007, journalist Joe Conason wrote a very insightful account of the Bush-Cheney Era in his It Can Happen Here: Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush. Regrettably, I read it only for the first time shortly after the shocking election of Mr. Trump, and it serves as a very prophetic warning of what we face today.

Conason’s book was a disturbing reminder that we did not get to The Donald and his congressional Trumpistas overnight. We students of history can trace the G.O.P.’s evolution to the Trumpistas back to Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan even before Bush and Cheney – and you could make a case that it began earlier during the New Deal. At the very minimum, it’s been step by step since the end of World War II.

Philip Roth’s book shows how easily it can be done, and his explanation is much more believable than the rise to power of a professional wrestler and reality-TV star. Roth picked a real hero who was understandably popular, Charles A. Lindbergh, to be the only one who could defeat Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940 and to be Adolf Hitler’s puppet at the head of a new American fascist government. FDR had for eight years successfully led the nation through the Great Depression, the nation’s worst cataclysm since the Civil War, and he was, in fact, fortuitously re-elected in 1940.

The Spirit of St. Louis was the single-engine plane designed by Lindbergh for his historic flight. (Photo by David Offutt [2009] in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC)

 

Having been the first to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, Lindbergh was known as “Slim” with boyish good looks, “The Lone Eagle” and “Lucky Lindy.” Unfortunately, with war in Europe erupting with Hitler’s Germany threatening our allies of World War I and all other western democracies, Lindbergh became the best spokesman for the America First Committee. (Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan is reminiscent of the late 1930s.) While FDR was clearly committed to helping our allies and western civilization, Roth’s Lindbergh promised to never send American boys into another European war. Roth had him announce for the presidency, and then had him fly without an entourage to campaign events in his famous plane, the Spirit of St. Louis. He was understandably wildly popular.

Among the things Mr. Trump has done as president has been to cozy up to authoritarian rulers like Vladimir Putin in Russia, to alienate our allies in NATO, to renege on our responsibilities in the Paris Climate Agreement, to renege on our part of the Iranian nuclear deal, and to treat our closest neighbors – Mexico and Canada – as enemies.  Likewise, Roth has President Lindbergh meet with Hitler to form the Iceland Agreement and then meet with the premier of the Japanese Imperial Government Prince Fumimaro Kanoye and Foreign Minister Matsuoka to form the Hawaii Agreement. In each agreement Lindbergh commits the USA to not interfere in their campaigns for territorial acquisitions as long as the US is left alone.

Charles A. Lindbergh: After Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, the heroic aviator never regained his reputation because of his affiliation with the America First Committee. He offered his services during WWII, but the U.S. government turned him down.

Other than Trump’s blindly loyal minority base of voters and congressional lackeys, everyone else is asking what Putin has on Trump that makes him so willing to undermine the interests of the United States and promote the interests of Russia. Mr. Roth actually conceived an interesting explanation for why Lindbergh was selling out the USA and its allies.  He used the 1932 historic kidnapping of the Lindbergh 20-month-old son that resulted in the finding of the baby’s body and the execution of Bruno Hauptmann for the crime. In Roth’s creative mind, he has the baby’s body be someone else’s. He has agents of Hitler kidnap the Lindbergh baby and raise him in Germany as a Hitler youth. Therefore, if Lindbergh ever wanted to see his son again, he would have to do the bidding of the Third Reich.

And what was there about Lindbergh that would have attracted Hitler to him? Lindy was as anti-Semitic as Henry Ford. As early as 1923, Hitler said, “We look to Heinrich Ford as the leader of the growing fascist movement in America.” Hitler awarded each of them the Service Cross of the German Eagle in 1938. Later, in 1940 in Detroit, Ford said, “When Charles comes out here, all we talk about is the Jews.” Roth cleverly has his President Lindbergh place the aging Ford into his cabinet.

Similarly, President Trump is a known white supremacist dating back to lawsuits against him for discrimination against African Americans in his rental properties. His despicable anti-immigration antics and his obsession with building a wall merely reinforce his image as a racist demagogue among his supporters.

Of course, we already know of Trump’s extramarital sex-capades which he likely continued on his Russian visits and which Putin probably has documentation. The evidence of his campaign’s collusion with Russia to help his campaign seems pretty conclusive. His efforts to obstruct justice are blatant. We, too, know that Trump is deeply indebted to Russian oligarchs and/or the Russian mafia for bailing him out of his financial woes. Trump’s refusal to make public his tax returns and his unwillingness to divest himself from his business interests have always made it clear he wants to use the presidency to enhance his and his family’s wealth. Trump’s supporters have made it perfectly clear that they could care less about any of this, and the Trumpistas in control of Congress are desperately trying to protect him by relinquishing their duties of checks and balances as provided in the U.S. Constitution.

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin: Mutual admirers (Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images)

However, if the Robert Mueller investigation connects Trump to Russian money laundering through cash payments for real estate, he could be in deep criminal trouble – and that’s probably the main reason Trump acts so paranoid. It also might explain why he wants Brett Kavanaugh to be quickly confirmed to be the fifth vote on the U. S. Supreme Court to protect him from investigation and prosecution.

Philip Roth’s selection of Lindbergh to sell us out was fictional, but, at the time, was a warning of what was taking place during the Bush-Cheney Era. Was the alleged selection of Trump by Vladimir Putin fictional as well?

Posted by: David Offutt | August 29, 2018

Summer Films (Part 5)

Simon de la Brosse and Amanda Langlet in “Pauline at the Beach”

Students who are already back in school may not even realize that it’s still summer. School should never begin before Labor Day. I’m currently on the tail end of a nine-day August vacation that has taken me to the Great Smoky Mountains and Congaree National Parks and to two different CCC cabins built in the 1930s in two Alabama state parks.

It’s been a while, several years, since I wrote my four other lists of recommendations of Films for Summer, so I thought it was time to add a Part 5.

So here are five more recommendations for your never-ending summer viewing. And they are only that – recommendations. These are not intended to be movie reviews. Most of these are movies that I’ve enjoyed over the years and never tire of for one reason or another. One of the following is a guilty pleasure that will be hard to find, one doesn’t even take place during the summer but seems like it, and one is a recent film that I hope will become a classic.

Pascal Greggory, Amanda Langlet, Arielle Dombasle, and Deodor Atkine in “Pauline at the Beach”

  1. Pauline at the Beach (1983): This French film by Eric Rohmer takes place at the end of summer after most of the beach crowds have returned inland. It’s really about the interrelationships of six people: (1) The 15-year-old Pauline (Amanda Langlet) who is brought to Granville for a vacation by her aunt; (2) Marion (Arielle Dombasle), Pauline’s beautiful aunt who is getting a divorce; (3) Pierre (Pascal Greggory), a windsurfer, who had an affair with the Marion a few years before; (4) Henri (Feodor Atkine), an acquaintance of Pierre who meets Marion on the beach; (5) Sylvain (Simon de la Brosse), a teenage boy who meets Pauline on the beach; and (6) Louisette (Rosette), the young candy girl who hustles peanuts and candy on the beach.

Pauline and the Sylvain become a nice couple and are happy. Marion thinks she and Henri are a couple, but Henri has other ideas – he’s a live-and-let-live kind of guy. Pierre is jealous of Henri and tries to turn Marion against him. Pierre sees the candy girl naked in Henri’s window, but he does not see whom she is with – is she with Henri or Sylvain? There’s reason to believe Sylvain was there.

Amanda Langlet and Simon de la Brosse in “Pauline at the Beach”

Pierre is the mischief maker and starts telling what he “saw,” but even he believes himself to mean well. All the other lies that follow that one sexual romp are done to prevent anyone’s feelings from being unnecessarily hurt. It’s a tangled mess and a lot of fun.

Patrick Fugit in “Almost Famous”

  1. Almost Famous (2000): This is a coming-of-age film in which Patrick Fugit plays a 15-year-old in the early 1970s who has final exams coming up but goes AWOL from school. It’s like he takes an early summer vacation or never returns from spring break. He’s traveling around the country as a journalist with a rock band called Stillwater that’s on a concert tour. He’s even hidden his age from Rolling Stone and has gotten the magazine to purchase his story at the end of the tour.

Patrick Fugit and Kate Hudson in “Almost Famous”

His mother, played deliciously – as always – by Frances McDormand, is worried to death about him. The leader of the band, played by Billy Crudup, can’t decide whether the kid can be trusted or is he “the enemy” who’s going to expose all the band’s vices. The groupie, played by Kate Hudson in an Oscar-nominated role as “Penny Lane,” likes the boy, and the feeling is mutual.

Well done from beginning to end, and the opening credits are reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird (1962).

Jon Foster and Jeff Bridges in “The Door in the Floor”

  1. The Door in the Floor (2004): This is another coming-of-age film (kind of, anyway) that takes place in the beach community of East Hampton, New York. Jon Foster plays a student who gets a summer job working for an interesting – and troubled – couple and their young daughter.

Jeff Bridges plays a writer of children’s books and a sometimes artist – he likes to draw. He is having a challenging relationship with his wife, and he doesn’t help matters by drawing erotic paintings of other women.

Jon Foster and Kim Basinger in “The Door in the Floor”

Kim Basinger plays his wife, who is in a perpetual state of depression. She tells the student that her husband needs him to be a chauffeur and not a writing assistant. The boy soon learns that she needs him the most – for nightly recreation while her husband’s away. My favorite scene is the one in which Jon Foster goes into a shop, writes notes to the female owner of the shop describing what he’s been doing with Kim Basinger, and how the proprietress reacts.

Why did this couple hire this particular student? What’s going on here? This is an intriguing, frequently humorous, and well-acted film based on a novel by John Irving.

Brian Austin Green and Michael Landes in “An American Summer”

  1. An American Summer (1990): This is an updated version of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Mr. Twain is thanked in the end credits. If you are looking for the definitive motion picture version of the childhood classic, look no further than David O’Selznick’s production of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1939). It’s a gem with newcomer Tommy Kelly as Tom, and veterans Jackie Moran as Huck, Victor Jory as Injun Joe, and Walter Brennan as Muff Potter.

Jackie Moran and Tommy Kelly in “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” – the film is in color

On the other hand, while not in the league of the above classic, this retelling is quite watchable, mainly because of the likeability of the two leads. Michael Landes plays Tom, who is uprooted from his broken home in Chicago and is sent to southern California to live with his mother’s sister for the summer. Brian Austin Green plays Fin, who is a surfer who sells sunglasses on the beach and who takes a liking to the troubled Tom. Get it? Tom and Fin. They’re of high school age this time around.

Brian Austin Green and Michael Landes in “An American Summer”

Joanna Kerns plays Aunt Polly – no, I mean she plays Aunt Sunny, an artist. She even has Tom paint her fence to earn his keep, and that leads to some artistic creativeness that helps Aunt Sunny sell some paintings. Injun Joe in this beach tale is Rockman, menacingly played by Wayne Pere. Rockman is a drug dealer who stabs a man to death in a busted deal. Tom and Fin see him do it. Later Tom and his girlfriend get themselves lost while exploring a “haunted” cave in the hills overlooking the beach. Guess who’s hiding in the cave.

Not a great movie but good fun. It was once released on VHS but has not been offered on DVD. It may be hard to find but it’s worth looking for. The beach lifestyle is seductive – at least for me. Tom was a real jerk until Fin got him hooked on surfing.

Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet in “Call Me by Your Name”

  1. Call Me by Your Name (2017): In English and Italian – with English subtitles, this is a beautiful coming-of-age film set in a picturesque village in northern Italy. Elio, beautifully played by Timothee Chalamet, is on summer vacation, but, every year at this time, he has to relinquish his bedroom to some student archeologist that his father has recruited for assistance and additional learning. This year, it’s Oliver, played by Armie Hammer. Elio doesn’t like him at first but changes his mind.

Of the nine 2017 films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, CMBYN was easily the best of the seven films I saw. In my humble opinion, the one that won – The Shape of Water – was a glorified remake of the classic The Creature from the Black Lagoon and was the weakest of the seven.

Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet in CMBYN

James Ivory finally won a long-deserved Oscar for adapting this screenplay from the book by Andre Aciman. Earlier, he directed the Merchant/Ivory masterpiece A Room with a View (1985), which was adapted from the novel by E. M. Forster. Until his death in 2005, Ismail Merchant was the producer half of the motion picture team and domestic couple. For his well-deserved Oscar for CMBYN, Ivory returned to a theme the couple used in Maurice (1987), which he directed and co-wrote the screenplay adapted from another book by E. M. Forster. In that one James Wilby played Timothee Chalamet’s comparable gay character and Hugh Grant played Armie Hammer’s gay character who wanted to pass as straight.

Trump continues to look more and more to be a “Manchurian Candidate” groomed by Putin and Russia to do their bidding. The analogy pertains to the classic film of 1962.

There seems to be no doubt that Russia’s Vladimir Putin wanted his man Donald Trump in the White House and that the Trump team welcomed his help. Trump himself no longer denies any collusion but insists there was nothing illegal about it. The big thing in question is this: Was that collusion decisive in Trump’s Electoral College victory? The Donald definitely does not want an answer to that.

Attorney General Comey’s irresponsible announcement of a new investigation into some of Hillary Clinton’s emails just a few days before the election was probably more influential, even though her emails were always essentially a distraction. Also, there was the overall ineptness of the Clinton campaign that, even more likely, determined the final disaster. We’ll probably never know which was the most “decisive.”

JFK’s short presidency included these finest hours: his inaugural address, his accepting full responsibility for the Bay of Pigs debacle, his resolving the Cuban Missile crises, and his Ich Bien Berliner speech. (Photo: detail of Jamie Wyeth’s 1967 “Portrait of John F. Kennedy” taken by David Offutt Aug. 2, 1915, at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.)

On June 3, 1961, President John F. Kennedy met with Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna and was startled to be told by the Russian premier that he was personally responsible for Kennedy’s defeat over Richard Nixon in the Election of 1960. Of course, JFK asked for an explanation. Just as Vladimir Putin didn’t like Hillary Clinton, Khrushchev had no use for Nixon.

Khrushchev explained to Kennedy that the Soviets wanted to return the American U2 pilot whom they had shot down and captured on May 1, 1960. However, they were afraid to release him so close to the U.S. election because Vice President Nixon might claim credit for getting him back. They decided to wait until after the election to negotiate his release, thereby helping Kennedy to get elected. JFK had to admit that their strategy may have been very helpful to him. (Francis Gary Powers, the U2 pilot in question, was returned to the U.S. as part of a prisoner exchange on February 10, 1962.) Nevertheless, there was no collusion between Khrushchev and Kennedy during the campaign of 1960.

Richard Nixon’s finest hours included these: his creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, his SALT agreement with the USSR, his trip to China, and his resignation to avoid impeachment and conviction. (Photo: Andy Warhol’s 1972 “Vote McGovern” of Nixon taken by David Offutt Aug. 7, 2015, at NYC’s Whitney Museum .

Nixon, having lost in ’60, made a dramatic comeback in ’68. Much of his victory had to do with his sabotage of the Vietnam Peace Talks in Paris just before the election. Nixon didn’t collude with our adversary, North Vietnam, but with our ally South Vietnam. Nixon opened a secret channel to the South Vietnamese through Anna Chennault, a prominent Republican fundraiser and Washington hostess. Via Ms. Chennault, he persuaded South Vietnam to reject the peace proposals in Paris, wait for his election, and get better terms from him.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson learned of this and considered it to be treasonous, but took no action against Nixon. Nixon’s sabotage and “treason” prevented an end to the Vietnam War before the Election of 1968, prevented the election of Hubert Humphrey by a very small margin, and introduced the most lawless administration in American history up to that time. Our involvement in the war continued another four years with an additional loss of nearly 30,000 more American lives. Nixon resigned after the exposure of all the multiple scandals known as Watergate.

The 1980 campaign of Ronald Reagan was terrified that Iran, suffering severely from sanctions by the Carter administration, would release the 52 American hostages held in Tehran before the election. Reagan’s staff feared that would likely assure Jimmy Carter’s reelection. According to Iranian agents, representatives of the Reagan campaign met with them to arrange for better terms for Iran if they held out and kept the hostages until after the election. After 444 days of captivity, the hostages were released at the end of President Reagan’s inaugural address.

After some of the Iranian agents made the agreement public – and there was no particular reason why they did – a congressional investigation determined there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the matter. Also, former president Carter did not want it pursued because the scandal was too close to Watergate: he feared the American people might lose all faith in its government.

David Offutt at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. (July 1, 2016) – Reagan’s finest hours included these: his calming grandfatherly handling of the Challenger explosion, his bringing Howard Baker to the White House as his chief of staff to get us through his last two years, and his signing – with Mikhail Gorbachev – the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987..

If Reagan didn’t know what his people were doing or if the deal had never been made, you would never think it considering what he authorized after taking his oath. He immediately ordered flights to deliver supplies to Iran and later authorized selling missiles to Iran in return for other individual hostages. Sales of missiles to Iran provided money to buy Soviet weaponry to give to the Contra rebels who were trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua, which violated American law. Reagan later convinced investigators that he really didn’t understand what the Iran-Contra affair was about and escaped impeachment by being considered only “guilty of sloth.”

George W. Bush’s heist of the Election of 2000 had no foreign involvement that we know of. It was purely a family affair – both literally and figuratively. Had the vote count not centered on Florida where his brother Jeb was governor and the U.S. Supreme Court vote of 5 to 4 not depended on the five Republican justices, would he ever have become president? Justice Antonin Scalia gave the game away when he said, “I was glad to be able to do it.”

George W. Bush’s finest hours included these: his Medicare prescription drug program, which may have been intended to be a boondoggle for the pharmaceutical companies, but has been very helpful to seniors and his aid to Africa to help stem the AIDS epidemic. (Photo: Bush with Bob Beckwith after the 9/11 attack – taken by David Offutt at the National Presidential Wax Museum July 3, 2013, in Keystone, SD.)

The Bush administration’s 950 documented lies that got us distracted from a possible success in Afghanistan and led us into the disastrous perpetual war in Iraq – and consequently also in Afghanistan – surpassed the lies that Richard Nixon was well known for throughout his career. It also overwhelmed Ronald Reagan’s “Reign of Error” in which his staff was always having to explain “what he meant to say”: Reagan did well when he read a speech, but it was nutball when he adlibbed.

Donald J. Trump is now our fourth Nixonian president. His daily lies and errors have already outrun those of Nixon, Reagan, and Bush put together. Hopefully he will be the culmination of those who came before him – but he’s coming at us with a vengeance and the devastation that will follow his wake will test us all as never before.

(Note: I have recently read Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America and will soon comment on it and its relation to Trump and Putin. Watch this space!)

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