A 'CONE OF UNCERTAINTY'
Note: Penelope Lee Hope, a writer, actor and teacher, died June 26 at age 81. I interviewed her in 2012 for a Rhode Island Monthly article about the history of Billy Goode’s Tavern. Recently, I found my notes and wrote a fuller story, recalling early battles to undo deep seated sexism. A Retrospective honoring Hope will be held Saturday, Sept. 9, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Newport Art Museum, 76 Bellevue Ave., Newport, R.I.
The tavern's root went back to Prohibition, as a speakeasy mischievously called “The Mission.” After repeal, it was renamed for its owner, William J. Goode, who ran the establishment into his 90’s, a sanctuary for all ranks of drinking men – military men, working men, business men – the operative word being men.
When the whirlwind subsided, Goode was forced to renege on his vow that if he were ever forced to admit the likes of a Penny Hope, he’d tear off the door to the restroom. (Instead, he reportedly ordered a lower portion of the door sawed off).
Penny described herself as an accidental – but not reluctant – player in the crusade to advance women’s rights at Billy Goode’s and beyond. She was distressed by how she and other women were treated during the controversy – as sex objects, as commodities.
But she was also perplexed. She’d lived in New York City and doubted that even the proprietors of a men's-only Big Apple bar would have put a woman out on the streets for little or no reason on a hot summer day:
“It just wasn’t the kind of manners I was used to. I wasn’t as horrified as I was puzzled.”
THE INCIDENT BEGAN Aug. 15, 1974, when Penny, who was 32 and known as Penny Goff, planned a night out with her friend, Richard Donelly, a 27-year-old plumber.
First, Richard wanted to stop by Billy Goode’s to pick up his paycheck. Every Thursday, a truck from the plumbing company he worked for would drop off workers’ checks at the tavern. Billy Goode himself, seated at a corner table, cashed the checks, dispensing bills from a cardboard box. In return, the workers usually moved to the bar, where they left a fraction of their weekly earnings.
“She stood in the doorway; not even coming in,” Richard recalled in a 2012 interview. He told the bartender, Edward J. Sharkey, Goode’s nephew and the tavern’s manager, he was there for his check. Richard liked Sharkey, a “good guy,” who would run a tab for patrons short on cash.
Then Sharkey spotted Penny:
“She’s got to get out of here. She can’t come in here. She has to leave.”
Penny remembered Sharkey’s instructions as more thunderous.
“I believe it was August – and hot, which is why I came in,” she said. “I don’t even think there was air conditioning, but there were fans. It was shady and cool, so I came inside the door.”
She didn’t know Ed Sharkey or his uncle.
“Whoever it was, he pitched a fit. Screaming. I thought that maybe there was a fight. I could not imagine what they were screaming about. But they were screaming because I had set foot in the place.”
Richard and Penny left. But after they had gone about 50 feet, the plumber had second thoughts.
“Hey, wait a minute,” Richard said to Penny. “He doesn’t have any right to say you can’t. You want to go have a beer or something at Billy Goode’s? Okay, alright, alright. Let’s go. Let’s go cause some trouble.”
So, they went back in, and Sharkey would not serve them.
“I still think a working man should have a place where he can come after the work day and express himself forcefully in the same way he does on the job," the guy told Sherman. "We're not in the beauty parlor… This is my hangout. If I want to go out with the family, I go someplace else.”
After the Daily News article came out, the incident became fodder for a talk show on the local radio station, WADK.
Penny was home, painting a wall or washing floors, and was “horrified” by what was being said on the radio. “I heard women being called things: homewreckers, sluts and whores.”
Richard Donelly, driving on Broadway in his truck, also was listening.
“People would call up and say things like: ‘This woman has kids. I know who she is. She has three kids, and what is she doing, hanging around a bar all day?’” Donelly said. Then the show’s host announced: “Well, we have Penny Goff on the phone right now, and she wants to give her side of the story.”
Penny told the listeners that she and Richard had no intention of drinking at the tavern that day, and from her point of view, that would not have been their choice of a place to drink:
“I would never drink in Billy Goode’s. But it’s my choice. Not theirs.”
Hope was being interviewed for a magazine story about Billy Goode’s, and she had chosen the tavern as the place to talk, relishing the irony of being back at a place that once, but no longer, was so hostile to her and other women.
Still, she was nervous. She sat facing away from the bar, so the conversation could not be overheard by other patrons. The sting of the long-ago controversy remained acute.
“It’s a good story and I’d like to do it freely," she said. "But I really want to be careful about not embarrassing anybody and not embarrassing myself.”
The challenges to Billy Goode’s men-only rule continued. The local president of the National Organization of Women (NOW), called Penny: “Listen, some of the girls and I are going down to Billy Goode’s for a beer. Would you like to come?”
When she arrived, NOW members were drinking beer at the bar. But someone running the place recognized her: “I must have been here for altogether six or seven minutes, and they closed the bar rather than serve me.” (The bartender later maintained it was closing time).
Other forces were at work. In Providence, U.S. District Court Judge Raymond J. Pettine had ruled in a suit brought by women against a men's-only bar in the capital city, setting the stage for women’s inclusion elsewhere in Rhode Island.
Penny Hope went onto a varied career as a writer, teacher and actor. Richard Donelly split his time as a plumber and, increasingly, as an actor with Rhode Island’s premier theater groups, including the Gamm Theatre and Trinity Repertory Company, as well as film and TV productions. Billy Goode’s went out of business in 2013.
Hope’s commitment to women’s rights was fierce but nuanced. She earned a doctorate at the University of Rhode Island, with her thesis examining the influence of Biblical era patriarchy in 18th Century novels.
“I’m not a feminist. I’m a humanist,” she told her interviewer. “How do I feel? That’s how feel. I feel like a humanist.”
“I think it sorted out right, you know,” she said of the Billy Goode’s episode, because the patriarchy that excluded women gave way to the inclusionary forces of democracy.
“I have a vision that patriarchy cannot co-exist with democracy,” Hope said. “Neither can feminism and democracy co-exist.”
AS THE CASE AGAINST ‘THE DEFENDANT’ UNFOLDS, LET’S KEEP JOE BIDEN IN MIND.
AND PUT HIM ON PAGE ONE
The real issue is that the relentless focus on Trump and his accomplices increases the invisibility that plagues Joe Biden and the rest of the Democrats.
Biden is uniquely difficult to pay attention to.
In the best of times, he’s just not very interesting. And certainly, he can’t compete in occupying the limited reach of the media spotlight on a day-to-day, weekly, monthly or even a yearly basis. On any given day, there’s always news that’s more compelling than what Joe Biden says and does.
For example, Joe Biden was not the person who, a week ago offered to slit the throats of the nation’s 2.1 million federal workers.
That idea came from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who supposedly is running for the Republican nomination for president and was day dreaming during a New Hampshire campaign stop about turning the Oval Office into a butcher shop. Here’s how DeSantis put it:
“On bureaucracy, you know, we’re going to have all these deep state people, you know, we’re going to start slitting throats on Day One and be ready to go.”
Nor was Joe Biden the sociopath, who on the day after his arraignment on charges that he conspired to overturn the results of the 2020 election, took to “Truth Social” to issue this not-too-subtle warning to friend and foe alike:
“IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!”
Actually, that was the man known as “The Defendant” in the case of United States of America v. Donald J. Trump, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, who earlier been admonished by a judge not to have unsupervised contact with potential witnesses.
To the contrary, while all of this was going on, Joe Biden, also known as the actual President of the United States, was on vacation in Delaware, where he dropped in at a seafood joint, rode his bike without falling off (as far as we know) and managed, with his wife, to sit through the three-hour-long cinematic opus, “Oppenheimer.”
“Compelling,” was Biden’s only comment about the week’s events, and, again, that referred to what was going on in the movie house, not the courthouse.
To be fair, Biden’s vacation provided him one of the rare instances in which he was perfectly happy to be out of range of the news klieg lights, since he’s pretending to be detached from The Defendant’s legal entanglements, lest the Chief Executive be accused of having anything to do with the activities of the people he appointed to run the U.S. Department of Justice.
But even if Biden had issued a totally appropriate tongue-lashing to his predecessor, or his predecessor’s worshipful “opponents,” it probably wouldn’t have drawn as much coverage as whatever The Defendant or any prospective Throat-slitter said or did.
Unless he falls off his bike or miscalculates on the details of ending our involvement in Afghanistan, Biden is mostly ignored. By the media; by all of us.
THIS IS MASSIVELY UNFAIR.
Because we owe Joe Biden big time for his major accomplishment, which is to run a Normal United States of America.
Normal, by definition, is unexciting. But Normal, routine and business-as-usual are the bread-and-butter of both our private lives and our shared experiment in democracy.
It’s taken for granted that Social Security payments show up at their appointed electronic destinations on time and in full once a month. It's supposed to work this way: that Medicare and Medicaid will routinely pay (actually, underpay) the country’s hospital bills. It's supposed be that the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Agriculture, NASA, the CIA, the FDA, the ATF and AMTRAK will rumble and sputter along as expected, imperfectly doing what they are asked to do, usually out of sight and forgotten except for their immediate constituents.
To use a cliché, Biden’s problem is that good news is no news, because in the news biz, good news doesn’t sell.
This is despite the fact that no-news is what we craved during the awful years of The Defendant’s presidency, when we went to bed every night scared, and woke up every morning terrified. And with good reason, since The Defendant turned out not just to be a clown, but a monster.
Back during The Defendant’s presidency, we begged for the boredom of Normal, at home and abroad. What we needed, prayed for was what seemed a miracle: that an aging, affable Uncle Joe would come to rescue us, a trusted old soul, who knew how to water, weed and fertilize Uncle Sam’s withering garden.
As of noon Jan. 20, 2021,Joe Biden delivered.
Every day, every night since, everyone’s second choice for president continues to do what he was hired to do, restoring order and justice to American life.
Ever since, our collective thank-you has been to take Uncle Joe for granted, rarely giving him credit for returning the country to a respectable, consistent, predictable version of American Normal; instead mainly we forget that he’s in charge or even in the White House.
Well, it’s impossible to make boring exciting.
But we can keep Uncle Joe in our thoughts and prayers and perferably on Page One.
Democrats and their friends should speak up about Biden’s accomplishments in keeping the economy – unfair as it is, since it is a capitalist operation – humming; we need to speak up about Biden’s continuing fight against climate change – feeble as that is compared to the scope of the crisis; we need to speak up about his continuing commitment – through surrogates – to face down Russia’s attack on Ukraine; and we need to speak up about his continuing day-in, and day-out advocacy – when it suits him – for kindness, civility and decency.
It would also help if the media would do its part.
If I were the editor of one of America’s two remaining great newspapers, CEO of the Associated Press, captain of a TV network, chief “influencer” of some social nonsense site, I would institute this policy,:
TO TAKE EFFECT IMMEDIATELY:
Whenever The Defendant or one or more of his co-conspirators, and/or his imitators, known and unknown to the Grant Jury, are featured in a news story, there must be a companion story about Joe Biden, of equal force and display.
Not because the Biden story would be of equal news value in the sense of traditional gee-whiz, can-you-believe-that, call-up-your-mother news. It will never be that.
But because it’s in everyone's interest to remove the invisibility shield that hides the accomplishments of a good, decent and generally competent man who has brought Normal back to the American experiment.
So, when The Defendant says or does something terrible, it’s newsworthy. But so is the mandatory Joe Biden story next to it. Maybe it’s a story that Biden did not say or do something terrible in contrast to those who did. Maybe it’s a story that a man in his 80s rides a bicycle, rather than rides around in a golf cart. Maybe it’s a story that he appointed someone competent to his Cabinet, rather than slitting his or her throat.
Whatever the case, Joe Biden needs equal billing with the Forces of Darkness which almost destroyed democracy a few years ago and are hoping to learn from their mistakes and do things right next year.
What Joe Biden has done and continues to do means that there is hope for our democracy and that there’s a real chance it will flourish, improve and endure.
Which, these days, is as good as the news gets.
FLY THE FLAG. EAT YOUR BROCCOLI. AND DON’T OVERTHROW THE GOVERNMENT
Do liberals have to boast about their patriotism?
Do we have to fly the flag?
Sermonize about family verities?
Lecture about good table manners?
Yes, to all of this. And more.
The very kinds of things liberals used to sneer at, mock, ridicule and smugly take for granted have now become a sacred personal, individual responsibility if our country is to survive.
It’s a sign of how low Donald Trump and his thug cultists have brought the USA that liberals now have to come out the closet and openly proclaim our undying love of and devotion to the world’s greatest democracy.
Used to be we could leave all of this self-serving posturing to the conservatives, who wrapped themselves in the American flag and appointed themselves as fanboys of the family, custodians of the Constitution, military militants, foster parents of free enterprise.
But now, the Right has taken America on such a dangerous wrong turn that it’s up to the Left to set things right.
And It’s Donald Trump’s fault.
He’s taught half the country that kindness, honesty, sportsmanship, compassion, law-and-order and the Constitution don’t matter. That it’s okay to lie, cheat, bully, grab strangers’ genitals, collaborate with The Enemy and plot against the government. An entire political party – that would be the Republican Party - has ingested all of his sacrilege and turned sedition into a new religion.
Leaving Liberals no choice but to become the new flag-wavers, public patriots and Constitutional choristers.
Just documenting that Donald Trump is a political criminal, a faker and a traitor doesn’t do it anymore. It’s no longer enough to catalogue Trumps sins and the treachery of his Republican acolytes.
For one thing, it doesn’t work.
Trump can do anything, and it doesn’t matter. He can grab pussies. Redraw weather maps. Call counties shitholes. Cage children. Cajole a secretary of state to “find” votes. Fumble Covid, allowing thousands to die. And toss paper towels at hurricane victims. Trump can embrace Vladimir Putin, a dictator who meddled in an American election, which once would have been an act of war, then deputize a mob to to assassinate Trump's own vice president.
None of that matters to The Base, and perhaps to half the country’s voters, who soon could put him back in the White House.
The sane half of America has to rescue the whole of the country. And job one is to celebrate, honor and embrace basic values, so that ordinary, usually anonymous Americans continue to be the country’s guardians and its true heroes.
That’s the big lesson of the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, and Trump’s massive before-and-after conspiracy to nullify the election. Thousands of people most of us never heard of stuck to their principles and did their jobs. They counted votes, threw out frivolous lawsuits, repelled the mob and gave their lives.
What stood between democracy and dictatorship were individuals, with principles, who knew right from wrong and did something about it.
I hate to say this, because it’s so corny, but all of this starts at home. And at the playground, on the football field, in the classroom, at the library, during dance rehearsal, in the mosque, wherever it is that children grow up and where grownups decide what kind of people they've become.
It never occurred to me that Liberals would have to have to say anything about this, in part because it was shameless, self-serving Republican boilerplate.
Really, you shouldn’t have to say this sort of thing – I love my children, I love my country, I’m nice to our dog. Just as church-goers shouldn’t have to brag about how church-going they are, or how much you give to charity, volunteer as a tutor or give $1 to the guy at the stoplight who might not be as hungry as his sign says.
But our country, our democracy is at a life-and-death moment, and not one we asked for, any more than millions of ordinary people wanted when they went off to defeat Adolf Hitler. Freedom was not so much in the hands of generals and presidents, as it was in the care of mechanics, window-washers, insurance salesmen, lathe operators, fledgling lawyers and thousands of others who hadn’t decided what they’d do if they were allowed to live.
In the decades after World War II, it wasn't that the Left didn’t care about our country, only that we never had to think about it, much less boast about it. Quite the contrary, love of country was assumed as people were burning flags, draft cards and bras, shouting ‘Hell, we won’t go,’ and singing 'We shall overcome.' Patriotism was a given, which was why so many demanded that a flawed country pay attention to civil rights, women’s rights and environmental justice.
But now we have to talk openly about the basics of right and wrong, because good and bad are being challenged at every level of American public life.
We have to demand, both of our children and ourselves and fellow adults, that we pay attention to matters of right and wrong. We have to resurrect the whole concept of Shame, and it’s Goody Two-shoe’s cousin, Pride.
That it’s right to tell the truth; wrong to tell a lie.
It’s bad to be a bully.
It’s right to defend the weak.
It’s wrong to be a poor loser.
It’s okay to be polite. Wrong to grab someone’s crotch.
We shouldn't steal, cheat or be a sneak.
Raise the flag. Follow the news. Do your homework. Brush your teeth. Feed the dog. Don’t skip civics class if you’re lucky enough to be in one. Read a banned book. Don’t cuss (so much). Look up, occasionally, from your phone. Don’t run the red or floor it through the yellow. Don’t make fun of people’s clothes or their discovery that they’re a different gender. Wash the dishes. Change your socks. Be civil to your parents. Don’t argue with the ref. Don’t just pretend to be nice. Pay your taxes. Don’t yell at the kids. Don’t talk with your mouth full. Make your bed. Eat your broccoli.
Give a damn.
THE POWER OF THREE
OUTNUMBERED, A TRIO OF SUPREME COURT JUSTICES SPOKE ELOQUENTLY ABOUT THE COURT’S RETREAT ON CIVIL RIGHTS
TO THE THREE DISSENTERS on the U.S. Supreme Court, thank you.
Thanks for being such good losers, which I mean as a compliment. This trio of wise women refuses to stay quiet, despite being horribly, often hopelessly outnumbered. They keep the fires of American compassion, common sense and progress glowing.
No fun, being on the wrong end of the equation.
Six to three.
But the trio’s writings give us hope, establishing an archive of legal theory and reason that will be a resource to correct the misdeeds of the court’s current right-wing majority, hell-bent on undoing decades of reform.
Some commentators have criticized the quarrelsome tone of the exchanges between the court’s liberals – Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson - and its conservatives - Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch. But I welcome the rancor. This is when the justices and their smarty-pants clerks, who do a lot of the scut work, shed legal-speak to talk clearly, and even eloquently, about their nation-shaping decisions.
I was thinking about the role of dissent as I was looking over one of two disturbing decisions the court dropped on Bad Friday, June 30, the last day of the court’s current session. (It’s always a relief when the court takes a break, even knowing that not all the justices have paid for past vacations).
The case I was reading was 303 Creative LLC, et al. v. Elenis, et al., No. 21-467. And let me apologize for taking up your time on a holiday weekend with this kind of thing. Diving into a legal opinion is only slightly less exciting than reading instructions for assembling your new, potentially explosive, backyard grill.
Smith hadn’t dealt with the issue in real life. Her artistically customized wedding sites were still in the planning stages as she filed suit because of “worries” that Colorado’s public accommodation laws – developed to forbid restaurants, hotels and many other businesses from keeping out Blacks, Jews, women, as well as gays – would force her to create websites in which she didn’t believe.
Critics of the lawsuit, including Justice Sotomayor, who wrote the dissent and was joined by the two other liberals, said this reasoning was a backdoor way of slamming the front door on wedding-bound same-sex persons, and inevitably, this would lead to lots of other retreats from hard-won civil rights advances.
BUT GORSUCH, looking at it from designer Smith’s point of view, said enforcement of the Colorado public accommodations laws would force her to express views she didn’t believe. And a lot more mischief could come from that kind of enforcement.
“… the government could force a male website designer married to another man to design websites for an organization that advocates against same-sex marriage . . . Countless other creative professionals, too, could be forced to choose between remaining silent, producing speech that violates their beliefs, or speaking their minds and incurring sanctions for doing so.”
Gorsuch cited past Supreme Court decisions about free speech, such as one which allowed school students to observe their beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses by not forcing them to salute the American flag or say the pledge of allegiance.
“Like many States, Colorado has a law forbidding businesses from engaging in discrimination when they sell goods and services to the public. Laws along these lines have done much to secure the civil rights of all Americans. But in this case, Colorado does not just seek to ensure the sale of goods or services on equal terms. It seeks to use its law to compel an individual to create speech she does not believe. The question we face is whether that course violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”
As a writer, I find Gorsuch’s reasoning intriguing, placing the Court as a principled champion of the First Amendment, which I happen to believe is the Constitution’s most important provision. Sure, plenty of writers will write the things that the person who pays them wants them to. But there’s always the writer’s choice not to do that.
ALTERNATIVELY, Gorsuch could be doing the devil’s work, using noble words to accomplish something evil.
“Today is a sad day in American constitutional law and in the lives of LGBT people. The Supreme court of the United States declares that a particular kind of business, though open to the public, has a Constitutional right to refuse to serve members of a protected class.”
“The Court does so for the first time in its history, By issuing this new license to discriminate in a case brought by a company that seeks to deny same-sex couples the full and equal enjoyment of its services, the immediate, symbolic effect of the decision is to mark gays and lesbians for second-class status.”
Where will it stop? she asked. Could a designer refuse to create a website for an interracial marriage? A company selling stationery might refuse to sell a birth announcement for a disabled couple because she thinks such couples shouldn’t have children. A business that offers family portraits could limit them to “traditional” families. Smith would be allowed to post a sign: wedding-minded gays not welcome.
“Around the country, there has been a backlash to the movement for liberty and equality for gender and sexual minorities. New forms of inclusion have been met with reactionary exclusion. This heartbreaking. Sadly, it is also familiar.”
“When the civil rights and women’s rights movement sought equality in public life, some public establishments refused. Some even claimed, based on sincere religious beliefs, constitutional rights to discriminate. The brave Justices who once sat on this Court decisively rejected those claims.”
HAVING READ BOTH he opinion and its dissent, I can say that Gorsuch got one thing right:
“It is difficult to read the dissent and conclude we are looking at the same case.”
On one hand, Gorsuch made a convincing argument that the case might be quite individual – about one website designer, who considers herself an artist, who puts her heart and soul into her work and has deeply held beliefs that would be violated if forced to take on particular assignments.
Gorsuch wrote that much of the dissent:
“...focuses on the strides gay American have made toward securing equal justice under law. And no doubt, there is much to applaud here. But none of these answers the question we face today: Can a State force someone who provides her own expressive services to abandon her conscience and speak its preferred message instead?”
Sotomayor, in dissent, wrote with passion rarely present in an official document, about the effect of discrimination against gays and lesbians in the marketplace:
“Ask any LGBT person, and you will learn just how often they are forced to navigate life in this way. They must ask themselves: If I reveal my identity to this co-worker, or to this shopkeeper, will they treat me the same way? If I hold the hand of my partner in this setting, will someone stare at me, harass me, or even hurt me? It is an awful way to live. Freedom from this way of life is the very object of a law that declares: All members of the public are entitled to inhabit public spaces on equal terms.”
TO ME, the persuasiveness of the justices’ writings is one of the most problematic parts of this case, which is all the more ironic because some of it is about free speech. Because we have capable, skilled, talented writers making convincing cases for any side of any debate.
But that in this case, what matters in isn’t settled by words but by numbers.
Six to three.
If you’re in the majority, your assignment is to make sure the words support your superior mathematics. You might even believe what you’re writing, but it’s not required. It could be the same for the dissenters: lay the groundwork for reform against the day, probably later than sooner, when the mathematics do change.
But words really do count.
In the long term, they matter more than the numbers.
I’m betting that Sotomayor, and her two colleagues, are correct, that the majority decision is a dangerous backsliding of hard-won elements of civil rights justice, a subterfuge that uses the First Amendment to promote a nasty purpose.
And it’s a worthy mission for the dissenters to say so.
“The unattractive lesson of the majority opinion is this: What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is yours. The lesson of the history of public accommodations law is altogether different. It is that in a free and democratic society, there can be no social castes. And for that to be true, it must be true in the public market.”
In words, there is both power and hope.
* * *
(* * As noted in the caption, the owls' photo is from The Guardian. CLICK here to go to the site).
THE SUPREME COURT MIGHT HAVE DONE ANOTHER TERRIBLE THING. IT DIDN’T
That was the day that a political disaster that imperiled democracy didn’t happen.
The U.S. Supreme Court – more commonly, “The Bonkers Court” - decisively rejected a right-wing theory that could have destroyed the country’s elections.
The concept is known as the “independent state legislature theory,” which says that a preposterous misreading of the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures virtual exclusive control over how elections are handled, with no other branch of state government – including courts – allowed a say.
At it’s worst, it means that a state legislature can create its own slate of electors to choose presidents, one of the ploys that Trump and his insurrectionist cronies tried to use to install Trump in a second term, overriding Joe Biden’s decisive victory in 2020.
Against many people’s expectations, the Supreme Court, in a 6 to 3 decision, said nothing doing.
You could hear a sigh of relief sweep across the nation. The New York Times announced the decision with this giant headline:
SUPREME COURT REJECTS THEORY THAT WOULD
HAVE TRANSFORMED AMERICAN ELECTIONS
Just how frightened people were by the chance that the Supreme Court would rule the other way was this statement by retired federal appeals court judge Michael Luttig, a conservative, according to the Associated Press:
“This is the single most important case on American democracy – and for American democracy – in the nation’s history.”
HERE'S HOW THE WACKO THEORY WORKS. It’s based on an absurd reading of Article 1, Section 4, of the Constitution. The text:
“The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.”
The operative word here is “Legislature” (and you thought it was “chusing”).
Republican right-wingers contend that because the clause doesn’t mention any other unit of state government than the “Legislature thereof,” that the legislature thereof has exclusive power to dictate the terms of an election.
Which ignores how American government – and its system of checks and balances between the competing legislative, court and executive branches – actually works.
Common sense says baloney, but in recent years, the Supreme Court and its right-wing majority, has been feasting on a deadly diet of unhealthy thoughts, the most important example being its decision overturning the half-century right to abortion.
So, there was good reason to be terrified that the court would do something similar in a North Carolina case about gerrymandering voting districts.
The possibility of a frightening outcome hung over the nation for a year. But it didn’t happen.
Here’s how Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the decision:
“We are asked to decide whether the Elections Clause carves out an exception to this basic principle (courts’ authority to weigh in on legislative actions). We hold that it does not. The Elections Clause does not insulate state legislatures from the ordinary exercise of state judicial review.”
When you think about it, asking the highest court in the land to rule that any courts, including state courts, don’t have the power to rule on any aspect of law, is absurd.
The last thing a court is likely to do is hand over its authority to another branch of government. “That’s right, folks, we’re irrelevant.”
Still, three of the nine justices voted the wrong way: Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch.
INCIDENTALLY, in the arcane way judges use historical references to support their rulings, the Roberts’ decision mentions my state of Rhode Island – twice:
“Although judicial review emerged cautiously, it matured throughout the founding era. These state court decisions provided a model for James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and others who would later defend the principle of judicial review.
In the 1786 case Trevett v. Weeden, for example, lawyer James Varnum challenged a Rhode Island statute on the ground that it failed to provide the right to a jury trial. Although Rhode Island lacked a written constitution, Varnum argued that the State nevertheless had a constitution reflecting the basic historical rights of the English.
And, he contended, the courts must honor ‘the principles of the constitution in preference to any acts of the General Assembly.’ Varnum won, to the dismay of the State’s legislature, which replaced four of the five judges involved…
“…The Framers recognized state decisions exercising judicial review at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. On July 17, James Madison spoke in favor of a federal council of revision that could negate laws passed by the States. He lauded the Rhode Island judges ‘who refused to execute an unconstitutional law,’ lamenting that the state’s legislature then ‘displaced’ them to substitute others ‘who would be willing instruments of the wicked & arbitrary plans of their masters.’ “
I mention this because Rhode Island is the best place on earth to live, despite its often-ridiculed status as the tiniest state in terms of land-mass, its well-deserved reputation for public corruption and its always struggling economy.
Anything that gives Rhode Island a pat on the back, even by a conservative Supreme Court chief justice, is appreciated.
AS I'M WRITING THIS - the day after the decision was announced – the case of Moore v. Harper – has virtually vanished from the major news websites.
This is understandable.
There’s not much staying power for a story about something that didn’t happen.
The bomb didn’t go off. The assassination conspiracy was averted. The sprinkler system worked. The Klondike bar didn’t melt.
And there are plenty of nightmares ahead. Donald Trump is polling ahead or nearly equal to Joe Biden. (This is impossible to comprehend). The Supreme Court has two more days in this session to issue awful decisions on remaining cases. Millions of Americans are trying to survive a terrible heat wave.
But there’s lasting joy in this tiny slice of the American seashore, a state whose slogan is “Hope,” and the excitement is going to stay with me next week, through Independence Day next month, and into Rhode Island’s unique Victory Day holiday (the second Monday of August, marking the end of World War II), and through Christmas and New Year’s Day and maybe for months beyond.
A terrible thing might have happened.
And it didn’t.
The Watergate Effect
BACK IN COURT, TRUMP
REMAINS A MENACE
It was historic. It was mundane.
Donald Trump’s appearance yesterday in federal court on charges that he arrogantly, carelessly, illegally stashed national security documents at his grotesque Florida estate was both unsettling and anticlimactic.
In any case, it surely wasn’t fun.
It might have been a hoot back in the days when he was first elected and feeling his way through the opening moments of his administration, when people used to fantasize about men and women with FBI stenciled on their jackets leading him out of the White House in handcuffs.
But too much has happened.
Donald J. Trump has done too many bad things, and justice has been too elusive.
It feels he has escaped too many times before, during and after his presidency, to give us any confidence that he will really face the consequences of his treachery.
Twice indicted; twice acquitted.
The Mueller Report, while it wasn’t the hall pass that many people believe, did not prove that Trump was (and is) Vladimir Putin’s puppet.
A civil jury in the E. Jean Carroll case did find that Trump sexually abused the writer and that he defamed her, but weirdly failed to find for Carroll on the most serious charge of rape.
Also, Tuesday’s event, felt too familiar, given that that weeks ago, Trump made a similar appearance in New York City, where he was charged with falsifying financial documents to hide an alleged sexual liaison with Stormy Daniels.
The Big Apple spectacle had been more dramatic because it was actually the first time the ex-president was forced into a courthouse, and because the photo-ops were better, with pictures of a scowling Trump at the defense table.
The Miami appearance – although the first time Trump was charged with federal crimes – was less photogenic, given the federal court’s ban on cameras inside and outside the courtroom.
There had been some worries that protests outside the courthouse would get out of hand, Jan. 6 style, but thankfully that didn't live up to the advance hype. Trump himself was nearly invisible. A CNN photo showed a ghostly shadow of him being driven away from the courthouse, hand pressed against a car window.
AND YET . . .
The Miami charges are many times more serious than those in New York, and represent a Full Trump assault on responsible, serious stewardship we expect of actual public servants.
So we should celebrate the fact that the law was being applied to an ex-president and that maybe, just maybe that it's not a lie that no person is above the law.
Also, unlike many legal documents, the 49-page indictment is written with the clarity and detail of a newspaper or magazine story, while seething with convincing examples of Trump’s trickery, lies and abuse of power, along with unstated implications of sedition and treason.
The indictment describes Trump and his co-conspirator, “Walt” Nauta – Trump’s “body man” and valet – playing keep-away with boxes containing national secrets, moving them around the Florida estate to hide them from his own lawyer, as well as the FBI.
There are almost hilarious photos of boxes piled up on a ballroom stage, in a bathroom and other non-secure areas of Mar-a-Lago, one picture showing that in one room, boxes had fallen, scattering their contents on the floor.
Republicans, as usual, were loudly deflecting attention away from the Trump charges by complaining of an unfair political prosecution, inappropriately evidenced by comparisons to the ancient Hillary Clinton email controversy and more recent discovery of government papers in the garage where Joe Biden keeps his Corvette.
The charges against Trump should have produced consensus that, if proven, Trump had done a bad thing, and the fact there is no consensus and it seems there never will be one is depressing.
THERE ARE OTHER REASONS why Tuesday wasn’t any fun.
The fear that there’s plenty of room for mischief in the Florida case, and that Trump will wriggle free. Maybe because the Trump-favoring U.S. District Court judge, Aillen M. Cannon, is presiding and is likely to make decisions that will unfairly help the defendant. Or that just one juror from Trump-loving Florida will tank the case; or, the ultimate horror, that Trump will win a second term as president and scuttle that and any other case against him.
It’s a disappointment, too, that Trump still hasn’t been indicted with the most serious felonies of his presidency, his multi-front attempt to cheat his way into a second term by overturning the Biden election, culminating in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
I THINK ALSO that I’m not alone in being exhausted by Trump the man and Trump the outlaw and his attack on democracy. Nothing seems to change. Nothing seems to slow Trump, politically. He dominates the Republican Party. He’s likely to be the GOP candidate next year. He could be president again.
His Republican “rivals” are scared of him and his cult of faithful followers who control the outcome of primaries. His supposed major opponent, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, distinguishes himself from the 45th president only by trying to outdo his cruelty, authoritarianism and racism.
But what really takes the fun of a day like today, even though the law seems finally to be catching up to Trump, is that I and I suppose many others want a far quicker and more definitive end to the terror that Trump has unleashed on democracy.
We crave a happy ending – a Watergate ending.
Watergate spoiled us.
It wrapped things up just the right way, perfectly, permanently.
There was the smoking-gun Oval Office tape recording in which the president sinks himself with his own words. Impeachment is looming.
A Republican delegation tells the president that the GOP and the nation have had it with him and his squalid ways. Which he acknowledges, sort of, in his TV resignation speech.
The next day, standing in the doorway of Marine One, the resigned president waves a last goodbye; the helicopter lifts the awful president from the White House lawn and whisks him away, taking him out of our lives, forever.
AN AMERICAN FAIRY TALE
It goes this way:
Once upon a time in the Kingdom there was a terrific president.
This president - we'll call him Joey - was everything you could ask for in a Main Guy. Joey was kind and capable, and he accomplished a great many wonderful things that improved the lives of the citizens of the Kingdom, although the citizens seemed hardly to notice.
In 2020, he drove out an Evil Prince from the White House, and that was a particularly big deal, because the Prince was not only a clownish nitwit, but was, at his core, a racist and cruel fiend.
Joey appointed capable, smart people to his cabinet, and got the Kingdom running on an even keel, approaching the kind of government that the citizens of the Kingdom long had taken for granted, therefore gave Joey little credit for this stunning achievement.
Joey made good on his pledges to address climate change, improve the economy, and champion long-held values like being absolutely opposed to the use of of military-grade rifles to murder children for going to school.
Joey came to the rescue of Ukraine after it was invaded by a Russian bully, who was a great pal, if not the actual puppet master, of the Evil Prince, and he got a lot of Western countries to supply weapons, training and advice that helped Ukrainians resist the bully.
BUT LIKE ALL FAIRY TALES, this one has a dark side.
While unquestionably advanced politically, Joey also was quite advanced in his years, having reached category of what commonly known as being an "old fella," an "elderly guy," a "geezer," and an "80-years-young codger."
Joey continued to get older and older and older, day after day after day. This worried a great many people, including Joey’s stanchest supporters, who were some of the Kingdom’s most kindly, compassionate and caring citizens, often referred to as Democrats.
Like everyone in the Kingdom, these Democrats were quite familiar with people who were 80 or more in their years, in fact, they had witnessed what actually happens with advancing years, a story that always ends the same disappointing way. And in lots of cases, prior to death, oldsters became mentally and physically disabled as their bodies and brains wore out, like a '67 Corvettes that's been around too many blocks, too many times.
But Joey ignored all of this and for both patriotic and egotistical reasons, he decided to seek another four-year term.
The Democrats took immediate steps: they worried, fretted and agonized endlessly about Joey’s advancing age. And did nothing about it.
THERE IS A GOOD FAIRY in this tale.
She/he also was a worrier, but like all Good Fairies, preferred action to fretting and agonizing, and thus dispatched a case-in-point to Democrats, an actual a member of the United State's Senate, a body which the Kingdom inaccurately referred to as “The Upper Chamber.”
We’ll call this emissary “Diane.” She was 89 in her years and had had an inspiring history as a political reformer and progressive, serving many terms in the Upper Chamber. But recently, she had not been at the Senate for months, because of a painful affliction called shingles and its effects.
Using a wheelchair, with the left side of her face frozen and one eye nearly shut, she seemed disoriented as an aide steered her through the marble corridors of the Senate, complaining audibly that something was stuck in her eye.
It gets worse, Jim Newell, another herald of bad tidings, in this case for Slate, told of a "conversation" that he and another reporter had with Diane; Newell asked how she was feeling, and she said:
“Oh, I’m feeling fine. I have a problem with the leg.”
A fellow reporter staking out the (Capitol) elevator asked what was wrong with the leg.
“Well, nothing that’s anyone concern but mine,” she said.
When the fellow reporter asked her what the response from her colleagues had been like since her return, though, the conversation took an odd turn.
“No, I haven’t been gone,” she said.
“You should follow the—I haven’t been gone. I’ve been working.”
When asked whether she meant that she’d been working from home, she turned feisty.
“No, I’ve been here. I’ve been voting,” she said. “Please. You either know or don’t know.”
Plainly, and avoiding evasions and euphemisms favored in both fairy tales and the Upper Chamber, Diane didn’t know whether she was coming or going.
Not Diane’s fault. We all get there sooner or later. A least the Good Fairy tried to alert the Democrats to the folly of magical thinking that pretended that that age doesn’t matter and presidents live happily ever after.
FAIRY TALES ARE SUPPOSED TO END with a moral, such not letting the wolf in through the front door, or avoiding the temptation of eating someone else's porridge, although it’s apparently okay lose one or more shoes after the dance or to kiss a frog.
The moral of this story is that it's going to end badly unless Democrats stop pretending that it’s okay to have a president who's 80 and more, and that just because nothing has gone wrong for him so far, that things will continue to do so for the next five years.
It won't. Wishful thinking is ridiculous thinking. Sooner or later – and I’m betting on sooner, because I'm Joey's age and every couple of months I've been writing remembrances about more and more of my contemporaries – a crisis will develop, and the Kingdom’s kind, compassionate and caring Democrats are going to have to find a replacement for Joey.
Anticipating this before it actually happens is a two-step process:
- Democrats have to to stop believing in fairy tales. Joey is going to die. Maybe that will be preceded by his having a stroke. Maybe he’ll develop Alzheimer's disease. Maybe he’ll be confined to a wheelchair; maybe they’ll call it Wheelchair One.
- Secondly, Democrats need to persuade Joey to quit the race for a second term, or, if he refuses, to throw him out of the race by defeating him in the primary elections.
Competent, realistic and tough-minded Democrats need to step forward and present themselves as alternatives to Joey. And persuade the country that there are plenty of other potential Main Guys and Main Gals throughout the Kingdom.
If you want some names - everybody keeps asking me for names, since I've written this sort of essay many times - I've attached a list of people, many of whom are still a mystery to most of us, but who, when you start to think about it, are credible.
The fact that most of us know little or nothing about Joey alternatives is my best argument for Joey getting out of the way so people can become familiar with his possible replacements.
Frightening forces, known as Republicans, are afoot in the Kingdom.
Sadly, we've reached a point in our history where every election is a crisis.
As the Evil Prince has demonstrated, the Constitution has flaws, half the electorate feels some kinship to the Evil Prince, and that's why we are only one election away from catastrophe.
Consider what's at stake: climate catastrophe; an American dictatorship committed to discrimination by race, religion, gender and national origin; economic inequality; censorship; biased courts; and the rest of the Republican agenda.
The sad fact is that this story is never going to have a happy ending unless Democrats get serious about fairy tales, stop pretending Joe is going to live forever, offer their sincere thanks for his exemplary service, and then gently guide him out of the Oval Office and in this way, save the Kingdom.
* * *
DEMOCRATS WHO COULD BE PRESIDENT
Ranked by age, which isn't a factor for any of them - they are all youngsters in Democratic standards - and any of them might do a credible job.
I've supplied a similar list in previous writings, which have been pretty much based on the same theme. This one is plucked from a recent Washington Post roundup:
- Amy Klobuchar, 63, Senator from Minnesota.
- Kamela Harris, 58, vice president.
- J.B. Pritzker, 57, governor of Illinois
- Gavin Newsom, 55, governor of California.
- Raphael Warnock,, 53, Senator from Georgia.
- Gretchen Whitmer, 51, governor of Michigan.
- Josh Shapiro, 49, governor of Pennsylvania.
- Jared Polis, 48, governor Colorado.
- Pete Buttigieg, 41, U.S. secretary of transportation.
Feel free to add some of names of your own. Time's a-wasting.
“Old school” is a cliché, and one that always needs an explanation, first as whether it’s a compliment, and secondly, what it actually means, thereby using precious space in a story and toying with a reader’s fragile attention span.
It’s unclear how Jack would have treated this cliché if he were editing this piece, as he did during the last century as managing editor of The Evening Bulletin, the more robust and lively of Rhode Island’s two sibling dailies, the other being the morning Providence Journal. Both papers were owned by the same company, but they had different personalities, reflecting the eccentricities of their editors, like Jack.
Reporters never knew how Jack might react to our stories. He had standards, not a good omen for a story centered on a cliché. But numerous other factors were always at work: whether a deadline was closing in; how many other stories he was juggling; and what kind of a mood Jack was in – which was mostly upbeat, because he absolutely loved newspapers and the fact that he was working for one of the best.
What wasn’t in question was that Jack was in charge. Totally, absolutely, indisputably, the boss. Yes, he would listen to a reporter defend his story – just not for very long. And it surely wouldn’t be a negotiation.
Jack was not among the new breed of collaborative editors eager to bat around the pros and cons of a story with a reporter, seminar style. Jack also disliked long stories, especially the narrative kind that were gaining favor throughout the industry, mammoth expositions that not only consumed entire inside pages, but whose writers sometimes took their sweet time in getting to the point.
Jack was a hard news guy, devoted to breaking news stories that started out with scant facts early in the Bulletin’s news cycle and were developed steadily the rest of the morning and into the early afternoon, constantly being updated and rewritten, edition by edition, until they were as complete a masterpiece as possible by the final, premier City Edition. What especially moved him were stories with a political element – especially if they were discomfiting to a powerful, but sketchy office holder, who wouldn't want the City Edition version in his scrap book.
Jack was fair – both as a journalist (a word he likely considered pompous) and as a boss. But if he was a challenging editor, who demanded both excellence and loyalty, he returned the favor, not only as an editor, but as a friend.
That friend part confounded those of us who were “Jack’s reporters” – a handful of general assignment/ “rewrite” staffers tied to our phones and typewriters, and later computers, to churn out stories on deadline.
That's because - to use another cliché - Mr. Tough Editor turned out to be a softie, an unusually warm friend. He not only fraternized with the troops, he verged on the sentimental (a line he would have excised from this story).
Below, I’ve included some personal recollections, followed by a long excerpt about Jack from a memoir by the late C. Fraser Smith, one of the Journal-Bulletin’s towering journalists and a Monaghan contemporary, describing what it was like to work at outstanding newspapers like the Providence Journal and The Evening Bulletin in their heyday.
Unfortunately for Jack, this makes for just the kind of long-winded pieces that he abhorred, but in this instance, is helpless to prevent.
When there were lots of thriving newspapers, the Associated Press and United Press International news services, plus various professional associations, gave out lots of prizes for best deadline story, best feature, best blurb written on a computer and so forth, and I happened to win one, which was to be handed out at hotel dinner in the near future.
Jack decided that I needed a suit for the occasion. I’m not sure why, but it’s possible that it was because reporters were slouches when it came to clothes, and Jack did not want the Journal-Bulletin’s table to be embarrassed when I walked up to recieve my plaque and no money.
So, one day after the City Edition was wrapped up, he walked me to a downtown clothing store, Briggs Limited, where he was on a first-name basis with the owner and instructed “Briggs” to work up a suitable suit for his young associate, wool, dark blue with faint pin pinstripes and a three-button vest. I, and certainly not the newspaper, had to pay for it. But I relished the outing – it felt like Jack was my own father, taking me to buy my first grownup outfit. It wasn’t my first suit, but it was the best one I ever owned, and I still wear it a half century later.
JACK & FRIENDS' CANOE TRIPS
Jack planned each one – where they would happen, and when, what equipment was needed and what meals would be served (Jack was an above average camp cook) and the logistics of how we would get to the put-in point – and, hopefully return.
Some trips were more successful than others. It rained during the first one, soaking ill-prepared paddlers, some of whom suffered mild hypothermia. Jack made a command change of plans, in which we “camped” in a nearby motel and went home slightly ahead of schedule, the next day. On another occasion, gentle rapids swamped one or more of the canoes. Another trip felt like we were sleeping on rocks, which made sense, because our tents were pitched on a mini-range of lakeside boulders.
Even as the current trip was ending, Jack was concocting the next one. He distributed group photos in the off-season so that the crews might remember the upsides of the trips and forget the rest.
The fact is that canoeing with Jack really was a highlight of the summer, providng in the same sense of satisfaction you’d get after accomplishing something worthwhile, like putting out an exceptional edition of The Evening Bulletin.
Because Jack was objective to a fault, you could be on his team for years, but never sure where you ranked.
For example, I was often slow in turning out feature stories, which the rewrite crew worked on after the City Edition’s deadline. My pace infuriated Jack, who wanted stories yesterday, to use another cliché. He once took a story away from me and gave it to another reporter to finish.
And he couldn’t stand to see a reporter transcribing a tape-recorded interview. I was a prime offender, because I was a terrible note-taker with an even worse memory, but obsessed with getting quotes exactly.
Whereas, Jack, a Brown University classics major, who was in “intelligence” during his Army service, was a brilliant guy who remembered everything.
Jack also was possessed of a “what-have-you- got-for-me-today” attitude, which gave no credit for stories you thought were terrific, but that were yesterday’s news, no longer remembered either by readers or editors. So, you were constantly on edge, working , but never confident, of meeting Jack’s demanding requirements.
I got a hint of where I stood one day when, with some excitement, Jack told me that I was to write a small Page One blurb announcing that the Journal-Bulletin was switching to an entirely computerized system; this blurb, Jack said, was historic, because the tiny story was the first demonstration of how it actually was done.
That Jack wanted me to write this blurb, on a computer, was a compliment.
One of the couple’s accomplishments was bringing together Bob and Margo Chiappinelli. “Chip,” whose byline was S. Robert Chiappinelli, was a top-tier feature writer and columnist, who disliked the negative, critical, gotcha character of most news stories – the kind that Jack relished. Nevertheless, Chip’s talent wasn’t lost on his editor. Last year, Jack, not an eager public speaker, retold the story of the Chiappinelli's “arranged” marriage – by Jack and Joan – which he narrated at their 50th wedding anniversary. He read from a script, which went on at considerable length, and which was expertly crafted.
Jack was a big fan of Phoebe, our late Labrador-Husky mix, who was universally described as “sweet.” Jack made several trips from his home in Cumberland to visit us in Newport. I suspect that Phoebe justified such a trip – an Odyssey in Rhode Island terms.
Phoebe was the central fixture in an anti-Trump blog that I wrote, with fresh photos of Phoebe included in each posting, along with “her” alarmed observations about the seditious president. Jack was a faithful reader, and he would generously flag grammatical and spelling errors. After Phoebe died, I converted the blog into personal column, minus the Phoebe photos. The editor’s corrections likewise went missing.
FRASER SMITH ON JACK MONAGHAN
In 2019, he published a “The Daily Miracle – A Memoir of Newspapering.” The book includes a number of pages about Jack. Fraser came to Rhode Island to promote the book, and visited the monthly luncheon of “The Geezers,” a gathering of ex-Journal people which, for this occasion, included Ham Davis, the onetime chief of the Journal-Bulletin’s Washington bureau, who’d come down from his home in Burlington, Vt.
Fraser died two years ago this month. Here’s what he wrote about Jack:
Fraser gives two versions of what Callei wanted from the paper. Jack’s was that Callei was upset that the paper wasn’t using enough of his criminal record, which he wanted known so as to scare his targets.
He (Monaghan) called Bevilacqua to his desk.
“Get this thug out of here,” he told the lawmaker. They left. But Callei came back that afternoon.
“Now, I'm going to die,” Monaghan thought.
Callie walked up to his desk. And apologized.
“Sorry about this morning,” he said.
THE SLAUGHTER ENDS WHEN N0-GUN WIMPS (LIKE ME) SAY: 'NO MORE!'
By saying “enough” to guns and the people who own them.
We need to stop being so polite, so understanding, so deferential, so respectful of guns and people who are crazy about them.
I’m talking not just about folks with AR-15s who need them for their killing sprees at the mall, the synagogue, the Third Grade, the country music festival, the driveway, the home of a neighbor the gunman thinks is too noisy or the home of a neighbor who thinks the gunman is too noisy.
I mean everybody who has a gun of any sort for any reason: a small caliber squirrel gun; a shotgun for duck-hunting; a scoped rifle to kill Bambi in the name of better forestry management; the family heirloom musket over the fireplace or the just-in-case Smith & Wesson on the bedside table.
The killings will stop when the rest of us decide guns don’t belong in our homes.
I KNOW HOW RIDICULOUS this sounds.
Absurd and impractical. I know that.
There are too many guns and too many people who are devoted to guns to think they’ll simply go away – ever.
Guns are too deeply woven into our lives and our culture to believe that attitudes will suddenly change. Then there’s that Constitutional “right” to kill 48,830 people a year.
But change has happened to other things that kill us.
I’m thinking cigarettes.
At one time, smoking was a part of everyday life, and non-smokers were a huge part of the problem.
Non-smokers in the bad old days were extraordinarily conciliatory to the cigarette crowd, so understanding of their addiction, so accommodating to their habits, so respectful of their “rights.”
Hate the smoke; suffer the smokers.
Even in non-smoking homes, thoughtful hosts rushed for ashtrays that were always at the ready in case a visitor asked "Okay if I light up?"
Who wants a friend who's killing himself while putting your life in jeopardy?
Today, the only smokers you see now are in black-and-white movies.
Just 11 percent of adults smoke, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention says, compared to 42 percent in the 1960s.
LET ME REPEAT: I understand what I’m saying is nuts.
Worse, I have absolutely no idea what specific steps will finally put guns on America’s cultural trash heap – just that someday, that’s where guns will end up.
It won’t happen overnight, and certainly not in my lifetime, although that's not saying much, since I’m 80.
It won’t happen with a sudden attack on the people who own guns, or with a “Shame On U” bumper sticker or with a pithy personal insight: “You are a despicable child-murder-in-waiting, you creepy monster gun nut."
Just as happened with cigarettes, guns will become so despised by so many people that almost anyone we know simply won’t want them.
But first, we have to identify the culprits.
I SUSPECT most of us feel that the problem with guns is the people who own guns. Which is true, sort of. But there's a problem, too, with the rest of us who have little or nothing to do with guns.
We are the “Un-Gunned.” And we're wimps, just like the Gunned people say we are.
We are afraid of hurting the feelings of, and eventually becoming estranged from, the people who own guns. Gun owners are our fathers, sisters, aunts, best friends, fellow gym rats, neighbors, worshipers in the next pew, electricians, uncles and our neurosurgeons.
We think we should be inclusive – especially in a democracy.
The other day, I was looking at the website of the Brady organization. That’s the outfit that works to stop gun violence and is named for the late Jim Brady, the press secretary who was severely wounded in 1981 when an assassin tried to kill President Ronald Reagan.
Here's what the group has to say about gun owners:
“Brady acknowledges the important role that responsible gun owners play in our communities. Gun owners are an essential part of preventing gun violence.”
That sounds so reasonable, so inclusive, so insightful, so coalition-building.
And it's so absolutely, completely and totally absurd.
Can you imagine the American Lung Association posting something similar:
“We acknowledge the important role that responsible smokers play in our communities. Smokers are an essential part of preventing cancer."
There is no such thing as a responsible smoker.
And no such thing as a responsible gun owner.
Want to stop the killing? Get rid of the guns.
How? Get gun owners to wish away their arsenals.
We can’t take their guns away.
But we can make owning a gun a terrible thing, a thing of shame, something that people just don't want to do.
LET US COUNT the obstacles.
It’s a cliché to say there are more guns in the United States than people.
A group called “American Gun Facts” puts the number of guns at 466 million; the population is 334 million.
This means that if you placed an AR-15 in every baby's crib; put a shotgun in every student’s backpack; stocked every maximum security cell with a Beretta; and made sure that that every nursing home complied with Medicare’s “packing heat” requirements, there would still be plenty of guns.
About 30 percent of U.S. adults owns at least one gun, according to the Pew Research Center; another 11 percent of people told Pew that while they don’t own a gun, someone else in their house does. About one-third of gun owners say they have at least least five.
For protection, which is Reason Number One.
I understand Reason Number One.
I’m a scaredy cat. I can imagine that if I was traumatized by crime, felt someone was out to get me or my family and knowing that the cops might not be around when it counts, I’d be first in line at Don's Good Guys' Guns Ammo and Camo Last Stop.
All of us are so stupid about guns.
BUT WE DON'T have to be stupid forever.
Take drunk driving.
When I was growing up, drunk driving was celebrated; it was the subject of epic tales of wild rides on hairpin mountain roads, unimaginable close-calls with the cops, near collisions with un-drunk drivers, heroic Odysseys limited only by the raconteurs' impaired recall.
Eventually, dead people’s mothers got MADD; and now drunk driving is not just against the law, it’s a cultural sin.
I mean people still do it; but no one defends drunk drivers unless they are paid to, and no one is proposing a Constitutional right to drive drunk.
ONE DAY, having a gun in the house will be considered just as dangerous as having a pack of cigarettes on the kitchen counter or an empty six-pack in the front seat.
Someday, lock-down drills to survive school shootings will be ancient history, just like duck-and-cover drills to survive nuclear war.
Someday it will be safer to go to school, go shopping, turn into the wrong driveway, ring the wrong doorbell, have an argument with your spouse or to ask a neighbor to lower the noise so the baby can sleep.
Someday, enough Americans will get angry enough about guns.
"Seriously. You own a gun?"
I'VE BEEN a reporter and writer for 58 years, long enough to have learned that journalists don't know very much, although I've met some smart ones.
Mainly, what reporters know comes from asking other people questions and fretting about the answers.
This blog is a successor to one inspired by our dog, Phoebe, who was smart, sweet and the antithesis of Donald Trump. She died Feb. 3, and I don't see getting over that very soon.
Occasionally, I may try to reach her via cell phone.