Revolted Colonies

U.S. Politics and Culture

Category: Ethics

The Times Still are A-Changin’

 

Our law school put on a show every year, spoofing the faculty. Ham that I am, I participated  in all three shows. I want to tell you about one of them. 

It was 1977, and I was in my second year. Two classmates and I wrote the script, and two others penned lyrics for our song parodies. Except for two that I had written. One was a parody of Ray Charles’ “What I’d Say.”  It was called “Res Ipsa Loquitur,” which means “the thing speaks for itself,” riffing on accident lawyers. The lyrics were funny enough, and we had a tort professor named Robert Waters, who many students called Muddy. The other song was an original entitled, “Be My Chicken.”  It was a pastiche of blues songs with risqué double-entendres. It had nothing to do with law.  

I rehearsed both songs for the cast and crew. They decided that the Chicken song was too dirty. It included the word “cock,” as in rooster. But I didn’t  mean rooster, Besides, rooster didn’t scan. The Chicken song was cut, but the ambulance chaser song remained, and it got lots of laughs.  Did I mention that Professor Waters was African-American, and I performed in black-face? In today’s America, the reactions would be the opposite.  I still do the Chicken song at parties, while the other received a suitable burial. I am embarrassed by my lack of judgment and empathy, but it was Florida in the Seventies. Red Ipsa Loquitur, y’all.

“My Fair Lady” is a 1956  musical about an uneducated Cockney girl who becomes  an elegant, middle-class woman under the tutelage of a self-proclaimed misogynist and elitist.  They fall in love – sort of—and she comes back to live under his aristocratic roof, the curtain falling as she retrieves his slippers.  She makes this choice despite the declared affections of an idle-rich young man, who haunts the woman’s neighborhood, winsomely singing,”Let the time go by, I don’t care if I can be here on the street where you live.” In other words, a Stalker.

In the 1978 film, “Animal House,” all types of debauchery and mayhem are exploited for laughs, including a college freshman’s attempt to intoxicate and have sex with an under-age girl. Statutory Rape.  Now that scene would end up on the cutting room floor.

Also in 1978, Rodney Dangerfield joked,” I have three children —one of each.” His joke about homosexuality was a harbinger for the politics of gender identity and its bathroom conundrum.

These are cultural touchstones marking the changes in sensitivity on issues of race and sexuality in American culture in the last sixty years.  We can look at the past as unenlightened, but except for myself perhaps, the talents behind these celebrated works were not cave dwellers. The current outpouring of accounts of sexual assault helps us as a culture move from the theoretical to the actual.  Millennials may know intuitively what we boomers had to learn. 

Victims of sexual assault have broken free of repressed and suppressed recollections, many involving cultural icons.  The accounts offer a look into sexual roles  going back thirty or more years to the present. Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein have been accused of rape. Bill O’Reilly has paid off cases of sexual assault.  Kevin Spacey and Roy Moore allegedly forced themselves upon minors.  Louis C.K. has admitted to exposing himself and jerking off in front of  several female comics,  a rumor that had circulated for years.  Those women have issued reports now.   At first, they did not speak up, in deference to his power in show business and that he’d been generous helping them build their careers. 

The case of Al Franken raises different  issues.  Franken, then a comic on a 2006 USO tour, admits  to aggressively kissing another entertainer in a scene calling for a “stage kiss.” This scenario was a recurring gag in 1982’s “Tootsie,” in which Dustin Hoffman’s cross-dressing character is repeatedly over-kissed by her soap opera co-star with a reputation for such hi-jinks. By the way, Dustin Hoffman himself stands accused of misconduct. The USO tours were enormously popular during earlier wars, when Bob Hope paraded a number of voluptuous women, immodestly dressed, in front of an audience of drooling GIs.   With Franken, the kiss, which was immediately repulsed by the victim, was embellished by a photo taken of Franken fondling or appearing to fondle the victim’s breasts while she was asleep on a transport plane.  The photo was included in a commemorative album distributed after the tour,  to the victim’s horror. 

Franken’s behavior creates a different kind of problem for the people who traditionally side with the victim.  Franken is now a U.S. Senator for the State of Minnesota, and he unfailingly takes the victim’s side in these situations. His allies and constituents are forced to reconcile Franken’s private lechery with his admirable public work.  Michelle Goldberg, a New York Times columnist, has called for his resignation or at least an ethics hearing. He is receiving a pass from many of his supporters.

The politics and the less invasive nature of the offense support Franken, but so do the outdated  mores of earlier times.  Franken grew up in the sixties and seventies.  Our “take” on sexual matters was different. A male was expected to be the initiator, and the female was the boundary setter. “No” was the word when uttered in combination with a physical withdrawal. The line was thus drawn. One might say that “No”  should have been sufficient.  But there was countervailing  part of the ritual that called for a certain amount of female protest, as if to say, “I don’t l, do this but, well, because it’s you…” Face was saved, parental encomiums heard but not always followed.

Franken and his fellow player were performers in a show. This isn’t meant to suggest that Franken was justified: it was “Tootsie” for real.  As a performer, he knew better. The photo was at the least in bad taste and at worst evidence of a battery, touching without consent while the woman slept.  Franken crossed the line.  Yet, I can’t equate it with the other scandals because it is by degrees closer to the aggressiveness that once was condoned.  However, if later we find out that Stuart Smalley really wasn’t good enough, his show will be canceled too. 

 

Breathlessly Awaiting Comey’s Final Chapter

For those of you whose TV viewing will not be disrupted by work today, you will now be treated to a preview of the Soap Opera cum Congressional Hearing known as the Comey Memos.  For former FBI Director James Comey, a pillar of rectitude, a man of unshakable integrity, it’s surprising that his memos read a little like a Harlequin romance.  

Comey writes breathlessly of the first time he met the man he would one day call “President.”

During our one-on-one meeting at Trump Tower, based on President-Elect Trump’s reaction to the briefing and without him directly asking the question, I offered that assurance.

He gushed about how the President-Elect was like no one he had ever met before.

I felt compelled to document my first conversation with the President-Elect in a memo. To ensure accuracy, I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting. Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward. This had not been my practice in the past.

This hardened professional, a survivor of the George Bush administration, who stood up to Alberto Gonzalez, Bush’s personal attorney, who was trying to compromise bedridden Attorney General John Ashcroft, felt his knees buckle when he realized that the President was trying to get him alone.

He had called me at lunchtime that day and invited me to dinner that night, saying he was going to invite my whole family, but decided to have just me this time… It turned out to be just the two of us….seated at a small oval table in the center of the Green Room. Two Navy stewards waited on us, only entering the room to serve food and drinks.

The besotted Director felt powerless, having been cast under the spell of Don Giovanni Trump. Nevertheless, he resisted. Oh, how he resisted the enticements of his pursuer!

My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship.

 Comey is not like all the rest. He is the product of a strong and supportive home, a disciplined and religious background. He would not cave in like Trump’s earlier prizes. He’s the kind of guy who always keeps at least one foot on the floor.

I replied that I loved my work and intended to stay and serve out my ten-year term as Director. And then, because the set-up made me uneasy, I added that I was not “reliable” in the way politicians use that word….

Trump pressed Comey. 

The President said, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence.

Later, Trump again pressed Comey.

Near the end of our dinner, the President returned to the subject of my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay, adding that he had heard great things about me from Jim Mattis, Jeff Sessions, and many others. He then said, “I need loyalty.” I replied, “You will always get honesty from me.” He paused and then said, “That’s what I want, honest loyalty.” I paused, and then said, “You will get that from me.”

Normally, at this point, Comey might have stifled a sob or felt a clutching in his throat. 

It is possible we understood the phrase “honest loyalty” differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further.

Instead, he departed, his virtue intact. He retreated to his car, and before driving off, he wrote the entire discussion down, word for word, so as not to lose a single innuendo to the mercy of faulty memory.  Returning to his office, he logged his recollections in and then told his BFFs  about his trying evening at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Comey decided that he could never let himself to be left alone with the President.  Yet weeks later he found himself face-to-face with his tempter in the Oval Office, the President having excused all the other meeting participants. Trump moved in, invading Comey’s personal space. He asked Comey if he could see his way clear to let it go – the “Flynn” thing.  

When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the President began by saying, “I want to talk about Mike Flynn.” Flynn had resigned the previous day. The President began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the Vice President. He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not then specify.

“He’s a good guy,” said Trump.

Comey pulled himself up to his full 6’8″ height, put on his stern face and, mildly nauseous, vomited a little in his mouth. After this meeting, Comey would not face Trump again. The President would not relent. He called, beseeching him to lift the cloud of inquiry over his head, to tell the world that he Donald John Trump, was not being investigated. Comey was wracked, pulled in opposite directions by honesty and loyalty.  He could not say anything because he thought it was possible that he would have to retract it.

In a final phone call,  suitor became tormentor.   Trump asked Comey why did he testify before Congress the week before that there was an open investigation, and why didn’t Comey say Trump was not under investigation.  Then Trump added:

“Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.” I did not reply or ask him what he meant by “that thing.” I said only that the way to handle it was to have the White House Counsel call the Acting Deputy Attorney General. He said that was what he would do and the call ended.

 Less than a week later, while meeting with federal agents in  Los Angeles, Comey heard that he’d been fired, but he did not believe it until he saw the TV news news crawl.  A great deal of confusion ensured about who prompted the firing and the reasons for it. It was Trump, all along, who jilted his FBI director.

Today,  James Comey will come before Congress to tell the rest of his tragic tale. If you decide to watch have a box of Kleenex at the ready.

  © Revolted Colonies 2017

Bring Your Daughter to Work

Presidents are parents too.  In addition to his duty of attacking the media and the judiciary, insulting America’s allies and threatening its adversaries, the current officeholder is the latest daddy to defend the honor of his daughter. Yesterday, he took to the cybersphere after Ivanka’s fashion line was dropped by Nordstrom, the prominent national retailer.

Give ’em Hell, Harry!

Le Grand Orange follows in the tradition of Harry Truman. First Daughter Margaret Truman received generally negative reviews of her professional singing engagements. Washington Post reviewer Paul Hume wrote in 1950 that Margaret Truman was “extremely attractive on the stage… [but] cannot sing very well. She is flat a good deal of the time. And still cannot sing with anything approaching professional finish.”

Papa Harry, rising to the defense of his daughter, wrote to Mr. Hume. “Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!”

 

 

A Matter of National Security

From his personal account, the President pro tem tweeted, “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by ‪@Nordstrom‬. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!” A few minutes later, the blast was retweeted from his official government account, sparking a debate about over ethical violations.

The tweet hit the internet at about twenty minutes into a national security briefing. It would seem that his concern for protecting America from radical Islamic terrorism competes for time with his daughter’s fashion accessories line, a business she had supposedly dropped.

The Rack Fights Back

A Nordstrom spokesman responded by stating that the decision to drop the Ivanka line reflected poor sales, nothing more. Its publicly traded shares wobbled just after the Presidential tweet. By the end of the trading day, the stock had risen 4%.

Many shoppers, mostly those associated with the  #grabyourwallet boycott, have attacked retailers carrying Trump lines. Many other tweeters attacked Nordstrom and backed the President and his daughter. They pledged to boycott the retail giant for yielding to the pressure of liberal shoppers.

The Trump clan views the White House as the world’s greatest branding opportunity. So far, Donald, Daughter Ivanka, First Lady Melania and Son Eric have experienced recoil from the Law of Unintended Consequences. Much to Daddy Donald’s chagrin, there is no judge to blame.

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