Robert A.Caro (2003) The Years of Lyndon Johnson, volume 3, Master of the Senate.

At over a thousand pages Robert A.Caro’s biography of Lyndon B. Johnson is a hefty wedge of American history. We know power corrupts, but Caro also argues ‘power reveals’.  We’re aware of that iconic picture of Jackie Kennedy standing with the former Vice President of the United States and now President, Lyndon Johnson. Power reveals.

(But that was later, volume 4, the new Senator John F. Kennedy only makes a brief appearance, in volume 3, his father Joe Kennedy makes the offer to finance a campaign to elect his son, with Johnson, running as Vice President, much like Richard Nixon had run as Vice President for Dwight D. Eisenhower. The thirty-third and thirty-fourth Presidencies of Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower that followed the Second World War and the Korean War and post-war boom. These were giants of men, especially in relation to the moron’s moron, the 45th and current President of the United States.)

Lady Bird Johnson described her husband’s twelve years in Senate office as the happiest days of their life and that includes his stint as President.  A Senator hired by oil and gas interests in the South who bought a ticket with his name on it. The Brown brothers, whose company name was Brown & Root, for example, were willing to spend as much as it took to make Johnson a Congressman, a Senator and a President. Quid pro quo. They expected government contracts in return.

And Johnson got them for the Brown brothers. Their story follows the familiar pattern of the American dream, work hard and prosper. George Brown, for example, road building with a mule and a gang of men. Go soft on the mule and hard on the men was his motif. Then they sunk all their capital, all their savings, into a construction of a dam in Johnson’s county, the Hill Country. But would have went bust, the purchase of the land illegal, the machinery they bought for the job, a giant crane, useless junk, until Johnson sorted it with government officials (volume 2). Quid pro quo.  

The Brown brothers kept financing Johnson’s political ambitions and in return became a multinational company. They were given, for example, government contracts to build ships, even although they hadn’t worked in the field of shipbuilding before. They became big not only in the Southern States but in the United States and as American influence grew, also abroad. The Brown brothers never forgot their roots. They hated organised labour and they hated niggas, who they thought were lazy. George Brown (of the spare the mule era) labelled any state help as ‘Gimmes’. The hundreds of millions (billions by today’s standards) weren’t, of course, classified as ‘Gimmes’.

Brown & Root were one of several oil and gas monopolies that set out to destroy Leland Olds. Their attack dog was Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, quid pro quo.  Olds was chairman of the Federal Power Commission (FPC). If I were to describe Olds as a saintly man it would sound clichéd.   Caro doesn’t do that, his history of Johnson goes sideways to explain the future President’s world in more detail. Olds was part of that world, so there is a chapter devoted to his rise and destruction. And the way in which  Johnson cobbles together a Senate witch hunt, taking instruction from his business partners in Texas about strategy, because Old was a good man, Old was a mathematical genius, Old was a willing worker and servant of the public good. His Federal Power Commission stood in the way of even larger gas and monopoly profits—the oil depletion allowance, for example, government tax write-offs of tens of millions of dollars—because Olds worked out in advance what they were doing, how they were doing it and how much it cost. How much cheaper projects that harnessed the power of water and damns could be if it was done publicly, with federal aid and government stipulations. Electrical power generated sold to consumers at the lowest possible cost.  Old created transparency were oil and gas monopolies needed lies and deception in reaping monopoly profits from America’s natural resources. They wanted increased government ‘gimmes’, but they wrapped their request in the language of lassez-faire politics and private enterprise being held back by federal meddling.  The trillions of tax dollars given the richest cohort in American history by the moron’s moron is the equivalent strategy.

Johnson claimed that Old was a chameleon-like character who had inveigled himself into a position of power for his own ends. Johnson was describing himself. The oil and gas interests and the Southern Caucasus of Senators they had helped elect and keep in power had two obsessions: keeping ‘uppity’ ‘Negras’ down’ and hating Communists that subverted the American way of life. Senator Joe McCarthy’s Communist witch-hunts had no greater supporters than those from the South, including Johnson.

It isn’t much an exaggeration to suggest Senator ‘Jim Eastland could be standing right in the worst Mississippi flood ever known, and he’d say the niggers caused it, helped by the Communists’.  

Old saw first-hand how lassez-faire policies, big money and monopoly capital in the 1920s and 1930s sucked in and spat out men, women and children. A deeply religious man he despaired at those that called themselves Christian yet supported stock-market profits over Christian values and common humanity.

Johnson labelled him a red, his career was over. Johnson was lauded for his courageous attack on Old. Oil men cheered at the windfall profits put in their pocket. Old was against them, Johnson was for them. Big money has won. The FPC did as it was told by oil companies. It was no longer fit for purpose.

Another small group of men held the United States to ransom and these were the senators from the South. When Johnson entered the senate in 1948, he found out who was the most powerful Senator in the Senate—Senator Richard Russell of Georgia. Russell knew the intricate dance of Senate law and procedure and had a say-so in which committees Senators were allocated. He was a patriot. He believed although the South had been defeated by the North’s force of overwhelming numbers in the Civil War, the new Confederacy of Southern interests would never been defeated in the Senate. He would keep fighting. Civil Rights were his speciality. Calling together Southern Senators into a Caucasus they would filibuster any attempt to give the black man rights in, for example, employment, housing, or most damming of all schools. The mixing of the races, miscegenation, would Russell believed lead to the dilution of the white race and the fall of the American nation. Arguments of a kind still used in relation to immigrants today (great dilution of European values by…fill in your own fall guy here).   

Russell went along with the doctrine of his more dim-witted colleagues, for example,  ‘I like mules but I don’t bring one into my living room.’ ‘Negras’ skulls were, one of his senatorial colleagues asserted,  a quarter of an inch thicker which made their thinking slower.  Russell despite being the conduit through which the President and armed services had to come for finance to be released—for wars and aircraft carriers and nuclear weapons— did not believe a black man could be courageous. He also firmly believed with their loose moral way, they could be conduits of venereal disease. His policy of separate but equal a convenient lie, the flag the new Confederacy aligned themselves and Texas under. The flag which Johnson pledged his allegiance to those other eleven states. On his ranch he made sure a white man oversaw the work of Mexican ranch hands, who Johnson also regarded as naturally lazy.

Karen Campbell’s novel The Sound of the Hours highlights in fictional form the paradox of a regiment of black men, Buffalo soldiers, fighting against fascism in Tuscany (The Gothic Line) in Italy. Frank Chapel, a young black American soldier is turned away from a field tent serving food, and made to eat outside. Inside the tent are captured white, Nazi soldiers, they had been fighting against, being served their food, their rations.

Black soldiers coming home from the war, in reality, faced the same problems they’d left behind. Jim Crow laws. Twelve million African-Americans, around five million Negroes of voting age, only a handful could register to vote. No law and no lawyer could help them. In many Southern states they were classified as ‘a lower order of being’. Black self-determination brought white reprisals.  For example, a veteran of the war, Issac Woodward’s eyes were gouged out by a Sheriff when he was taken into custody. Two young black couples in Senator Russell’s state of Georgia were blocked in their cars by other cars and riddled with so many bullets their bodies were unrecognisable. Lynchings followed by public picnics.  

The death of Emmet Till, August 1955, in Mississippi Delta might just have been another murder of black man by white man, but for his age, he was fourteen-year-old, and the resultant national and international publicity. His mother took his body back to Chicago, where they lived, he’d been visiting relatives when he dared to go into a white grocery store and buy bubble gum and sass the white shop assistant, allegedly saying, ‘Bye Baby’.

Roy Bryant and his half-brother ‘Big’ J.W.Miliam, took him away.

Emmet Till’s mum didn’t allow a closed coffin. One eye was grouched out. They’d smashed the bones in his face with the pistols of their Colt.45 pistols, until one side of his forehead caved in. They ordered him to strip naked, and took him to the Tallahatchie River, weighed him down, beat him again and, before they rolled him into the water, shot him in the temple. An all-white jury found them not guilty of the crime, even though they’d signed a statement saying they did it. Later, since they’d been found not guilty of the crime, they were paid $5000 for telling their side of the story. They freely admitted it was a lesson in keeping uppity negras down.   

Lyndon Johnson, if he wanted to realise his dream of becoming Democratic candidate for the Presidential nomination had to find a way of placating senators rallying around the old Confederacy of Russell, who made the tail wag the dog of the United States government, but also position himself as a liberal that supported equal rights for all. He had to square the circle, while claiming not to be a nigger lover.  He was able to do so, because it was he, not Old, that was a political chameleon. He was a consummate politician who knew himself and what other man wanted. A shooting in Dallas, Texas, handed him the position he most wanted in life. But unlike the dumbest President in history, Lyndon Johnson was ready. He’d been planning for that day his whole life. He was whip smart. A poor boy, but now a millionaire, he’d realised the American dream and was sworn in as President.          

#Impeachment



https://www.flickr.com/photos/11020019@N04/32459807456/

I’m a hypocrite, in the week that Britain formally leaves the European Economic Union, an act of economic mutilation the equivalent of, for example, California seceding from the United States of America, I want Scotland to opt out of Britain. My fealty is not to Nicola Sturgeon or the Scottish National Party, but to the commonwealth of the Scottish people. Put simply, the future is green and will be built on interdependence not independence. Thatcherism and trickledown economics has never worked. It simply exacerbates the existing gaps between rich and poor. The direction of travel of Boris Johnson and his ilk has not changed so we as a people, we as a nation, need to leave them to their own short-term folly—for our own good, and perhaps theirs.

Democracy is a sham. But reading Robert A.Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnon, is a reminder that sometimes it can work for the greater good. As it did from roughly the end of the second world war to the rise of Thatcherism and Reaganomics when there was—limited, some would argue, very limited—upward social mobility. Now it is downward. Poor people die sooner than rich people (and yes I do go to more funerals now) but they are doing so in such high numbers the life-expectancy of both men and women in Britain, despite technological advances, is declining.

We get Boris Johnstone’s mussed hair and, staged gravitas, as he bangs a gong at 11pm on Friday, 31st January that ends Britain’s formal membership of the EEC after 47 years. Perhaps the one good thing is the reptilian Nigel Farage, and fellow old Etonian, will no longer be able to claim tens of thousands of Euros in allowance and will become just another stooge in the moron moron’s background team.

The defining image of the week isn’t of mussed hair of President Trump or of the Boris Johnston thatch, but a video of an eight-year-old girl easily climbing up and over a mock-up of Trump’s ‘virtually impenetrable’ wall with Mexico. Certainly, there should be calls to elect the eight-year-old girl to become President rather than the moron’s moron.

The impeachment of President Donald Trump in the chambers of the United States Senate as political theatre has turned into a damp squib. The senate has overseen fifteen previous impeachments, which included two presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Richard Nixon resigned after the Watergate Scandal and before he could be impeached. The moron’s moron, as we know, wants much more than that and another term in office. He is liable to get it and get away with breaking the law at will.

Cato’s examination of the Annals of Congress are instructive of what democracy should look like but doesn’t. For example, the trail of Samuel Chase, in the Senate could also be applied to Bill Clinton, but not Donald Trump who has committed much greater crimes—both public and private—than request a blowjob.  

His footsteps are hunted from place to place to find indiscretions.

Listen to the words of Vice President Aaron Burr (indicted for murdering Alexander Hamilton) and his defence of the right to try Samuel Chase not in the halls of public opinion but in the Senate.

The House is a sanctuary; a citadel of law, of order, and of liberty; and it is here, here in this exalted refuge; here if anywhere, will resistance be made to the storms of political phrensy [sic] and the silent arts of corruption…  

   Or the words from Robert Byrd, who served the Senate, two centuries later.

The Senate exercised in that fine moment of drama the kind of independence, impartiality, fairness and courage that, from time to time, over the years, it has brought to bear on the great issues of the country.  

We see the opposite of that in the Senate, and in the world, generally. We see the partiality of the rich and powerful and politicians who bend at the knee. We see unfairness and a lack of moral courage. We see a President who when the call came refused to fight for his country leading other weak men who refuse to see any wrong in their leader. We see the politics of the ghetto given national stage.

We’re not comparing like with like. Samuel Chase was, by Caro’s account, an intellectual colossus whose inflammatory rhetoric led to him being impeached. The moron’s moron intellect is the kind of genius that if he went head to head with the eight-year-old, who climbed all over his pseudo-fence, I’d be backing her.

Compromise is not a crime. It’s an essential part of political life and life in general, but if the men we elect do not act in the interests of future generations then they shouldn’t be in office. We can no longer think locally, or national, but need to think globally, to work together to save our planet. Ironically, that means Scotland leaving Great Britain. An act of economic mutilation akin to Johnson’s betrayal, but necessary for the greater good of all and not just the super-rich few.  

M. Scott Peck (1983 [1990]) People of the Lie. The Hope of Healing Human Evil.

cartoon trump.jpg

I sped read through the 309 pages of this book in two sittings. It didn’t take me long. I’m good at that kind of thing, but I’m not sure if good is the right word. I read lots, but remember very little. M. Scott Peck is of course better known for his ten-million bestseller, The Road Less Travelled. Yep, read that too. Writing this now I can’t remember a word of it, but I’m guessing it’s full of folksy wisdom.  Americans love that kinda shit. As a lapsed Catholic I can’t say I’m immune either.

Scott Peck is a psychiatrist, but he’s also a Christian. He believes in the risen Christ. The flip side of this is the devil, Satan, who has fallen from grace. He wasn’t sure about that archetypal character. As a scientist and a Christian he looked at the evidence. You’ve guess it. The devil does exist he concludes and evil is a real force. He offers some case studies of people he feels are evil. And touches on the use of exorcisms to drive out the devil. He believes a very small number (my analogy would the around the number of what can be truly called compassionate conservatives) have something inside them which is not of them, which is fundamentally evil. The old argument of whether a person is mad, bad, or sad when they commit crime finds Peck siding with the rhetoric that some people really are bad, or in this case evil.

What I found interesting was this book written in the early eighties describes the American President Donald J Trump to a tee. Remember those games you played when you were younger when it was shown conclusively that by allocating Hebraic letters and mixing them with Greek numbers to Hitler’s name and finding conclusively it matched the number of the beast, as did, Emperor Nero. Peck does much the same thing here, but he does it blind. At the time of writing Donald J Trump was a multiple bankrupt who cheated and lied his way into maintaining the front of a business tycoon and property-estate entrepreneur encapsulated by the vainglorious Trump Tower. Now, of course, he’s the American President and more importantly Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. Emperor Nero could only burn Rome. Trump can burn the world.

Peck offers as a case study of group evil the Vietnam war in general and, in particular, the case of My Lai, in a morning1968, and the cover-up which happened almost immediately afterwards. Anyone that has been watching the series on Vietnam, as I have, know that neither President John F Kennedy or his successor the Texan Lyndon B Johnson  believed in this war, but they admitted privately that to say so would end their hope of becoming President. Richard M Nixon was of course asked to stand down because of the lies he told about Watergate. These Presidents look like rank amateurs when placed next to the father of lies Donald J Trump. The coming war with North Korea is based on the same great lie. As one veteran said I killed one human, after that all I killed were gooks. The metrics used in Vietnam was the number of bodies killed. Some soldiers kept human ears as trophies. What Peck doesn’t say is most of the Task Force Baker had taken turns raping their young female victims before killing them. Most of the men serving that day got away with their crimes. Gooks don’t count. Demonization of the other is the first step in the murder of the soul.

Peck’s first case study is titled ‘The Man Who Made a Pact With the Devil.’ I guess there’s a similar story in Stephen King’s Needless Things.    An innocuous old man sells people exactly what they want. Trump has been selling fear and hatred for a long time now and drawing evil to him like a magnet. His lies got him elected to the highest office in the land.

Pecks gives us a loose definition between those that are mad, bad and sad.

If people cannot be defined by the illegality of their deeds, or the magnitude of their sins, then how are we to define them? The answer is by the consistency of their sins. While usually subtle the consistency of their sins. This is because those “that have crossed over the line” are characterized by their absolute refusal to tolerate sense of their own sinfulness.

This is something Richard Holloway the agnostic former arch-bishop talked about. Those who are narcissistic enough to believe they are always absolutely right and have a God-given right to do exactly what they want, are absolutely wrong. The problem here, of course, Trump would rather see the world burn than admit to getting things wrong. There’s a race running between his impeachment and him ending it all with a bang. God, I hope, is on our side and if He’s not available, perhaps we should phone Stephen King.