Saturday, June 29, 2019

Literary Corner: President Litella

Soviet Jewelry from Gal Beckerman on Vimeo.

Aaron Blake for WaPo had issued a very good take on these remarkable passages from Trump's Osaka news conference at the conclusion of the G-20 meeting, but I was already committed to reading them as poetry and believe there's more to be said:

Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, and the Viability of Busing in School Desegregation
by Donald J. Trump

I. Where Do You Stand on Federally Mandated Busing?

Before I get into that,
I thought she was given too much credit.
He did not do well, certainly. And maybe
the facts were not necessarily on his side.
I think she was given too much credit
for what she did. Was it that outstanding?
I think probably he was hit harder
than he should have been hit. I thought
he was hit actually harder.
As far as that, I will tell you in about four weeks
because we are coming out with certain policies
that are going to be very interesting
and very surprising to a lot of people.
Shortly after this appeared, valued tweep snowmanomics wrote, "No doubt Trump thinks the busing controversy refers to the typical method students get transported to school," and shortly after that this preposterous joke turned out to be true:

II. Is it a Viable Way of Integrating Schools?
Well, that’s something that they’ve done
for a long period of time. You know,
there aren’t that many ways you’re going to
get people to schools. So this is something
that’s been done. In some cases, it’s been
done with a hammer instead of a velvet glove. 
And, you know, that’s part of it. But this
has been certainly a thing that’s been used over the --
I think if Vice President Biden had answered
the question somewhat differently, it would
have been a different result. Because they
really did hit him hard on that one. 
But it is certainly a primary
method of getting people to schools.
It relates to everything we're doing. And you'll be
hearing about it over the next couple of months.
It may not be viable, but it's definitely primary.

The thing that instantly got to everybody here was, of course, the evident fact that he'd never heard of desegregation busing, the use of schoolbuses to mix up the student populations of de facto segregated schools, a hot issue after the Supreme Court ruled in 1971 to allow it as a remedy for racially divided school systems, and kind of formative moment for what's nowadays referred to as the "white working class" in cities all over the US, most famously in Boston's "Southie" neighborhood, which saw serious violence after the city tried to use busing to comply with a court order of 1974. It was also very controversial in then-Senator Biden's base of Wilmington, Delaware, following a court order of 1976, and Biden's strong support of the white protesters there at the time is what Senator Harris was referring to in the debate.

It's really the worst spot in Biden's record on race—the one that isn't covered like the 1994 crime bill by the black leaders who signed on, and can't be explained away as a verbal gaffe like his famously backhanded 2015 praise of Obama as "first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy" or a purely personal matter like his working relationships with fellow senators. It's the time Biden had to choose which side he was on in a case of systemic racism, and he chose the wrong side. I can see why he might hesitate to take it back in the face of that "white working class" he believes he depends on, but he can't win the nomination if he doesn't, and I was surprised to see him doubling down on it by making a distinction between "voluntary busing" (what Kamala Harris got as a Berkeley kindergartener in 1969) and "involuntary busing" (what was forced by the courts on Wilmington) in a distinction that could have been used by Lester Maddox or Orville Faubus. This is going to be a very big problem if he doesn't deal with it better than that.

Then there's Trump describing the encounter as he saw it TV without any concept of what they were talking about, as if he were reporting a boxing match. I am a little shocked that he doesn't know what it is, since it's one of those 1970s Archie Bunker issues he was generally familiar with back in the day. It's funny to watch him trying to look as if he does know, but unable to imagine anything, like Gilda Radner as Emily Litella trying to guess why there should be a problem with Soviet jewelry, and also unable to refrain from announcing that he's got a fix for it, which will be ready in a couple of months (like his healthcare plan—he doesn't know what that is either).

Even more Litella-esque was his response to Putin's Untergang des Abendlandes remarks
“The liberal idea has started eating itself,” Putin said at a news conference. “Millions of people live their lives, and those who propagate those ideas are separate from them.” He also charged that the influx of migrants to Europe has infringed on people’s rights. “People live in their own country, according to their own traditions, why should it happen to them?” Putin said.
—which he seemed to interpret as an attack not on the "classical" liberalism and openness shared by David Brooks and Tom Friedman, but on Nancy Pelosi and Gavin Newsom and the "San Francisco lifestyle", because "Western" must mean out in California, and a little confused as to why Vova should suddenly start kvetching about California; but handling it with his usual "if you look at it" way of hiding the fact that he doesn't know what he's meant to be condemning by suggesting you should just find out for yourself and it's so sad, whatever it is:

Vladimir Putin and the Obsolescence of Western-Style Liberalism
by Donald J. Trump

Well, I mean he may feel that way. He’s sees
what’s going on, I guess, if you look at what’s
happening in Los Angeles, where it’s so sad
to look, and what’s happening in San Francisco
and a couple of other cities, which are run
by an extraordinary group of liberal people.
I don’t know what they’re thinking, but he does
see things that are happening in the United States
that would probably preclude him from saying
how wonderful it is. At the same time,
he congratulated me, as every other leader
of every other country did for what we’ve done
economically, because we probably have
the strongest economy we’ve ever had, and that’s
a real positive. But I’m very embarrassed
by what I see in some of our cities, where
the politicians are either afraid to do something
about it, or they think it’s votes or I don’t know what. 
Peter, I don’t know what they’re thinking. But
when you look at Los Angeles, when you look
at San Francisco, when you look at some of the other
cities -- and not a lot, not a lot -- but you don’t want it
to spread. And at a certain point, I think
the federal government maybe has to get involved.
We can’t let that continue to happen to our cities.
And showing his own respect for "states' rights" at the end.

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