A Scandalous Life

Through open doors down a long hallway, reminiscent of The Shining, a cacophony of noisy televisions competed. Soap operas, news reports, and talkshows spilled from empty uncleaned guest rooms. It was the summer of 1974 that I began a brief stint as a hotel maid in Spokane, Washington. Through the course of that summer I began to notice each maid had different approaches to their routine. Some girls stripped the beds, or beelined for the bathroom, but all, to the last dust mop, first switched on the television. 

And the biggest news that summer, outside of Expo ‘74, was the Watergate hearings. Chairman Sam Ervin, Senator Howard Baker, Congressman Pete Rodino, and others became my new favorite TV personalities. Watergate Burglar, Alexander Butterfield spilled the beans on Nixon’s White House taping system, and John Dean spoke of a ‘cancer on the presidency.” For me these hearings were riveting as I placed fresh towels on the rack, and changed toilet paper rolls.

By the end of that summer, August 9, 1974 Richard Nixon resigned the presidency. 

Fast forward 13 years later, and I had just given birth to my second baby, a girl, and she and I cuddled as the television introduced a whole new set of “off the books” operatives. This time the scandal concerned the Reagan Administration’s convoluted plot known as the Iran-Contra Affair. American arms were illegally sold to Iran, our sworn enemy, to continue their war against Iraq. The proceeds from those sales were funneled to anti-Communists fighters battling in Nicaragua. Both efforts violated the Boland Amendment, passed by Congress, explicitly prohibiting American meddling in Central America.

Reagan operatives had hoped that selling Iranians weapons would soften them up because the White House needed a favor. Would the Ayatollah Khomeini help encourage Lebanon’s jihadists to release American hostages secreted around Beirut? The Reagan people gambled that trading illegal arms would secure Tehran’s help. 

While rocking my infant I learned a litany of new names: NSA chief, Robert McFarland, Marine, Oliver North, North’s secretary, Fawn Hall, and the recently deceased mastermind, CIA director, William Casey. My take, as I patted my girl’s little back, was that the Reagan White House had privatized foreign policy in defiance of Congress through renegade agents.

In 1988 Ronald Reagan, in a video deposition, admitted he had done just that, but due to his failing memory, couldn’t recall. 

That brings me to my golden years. I tuned in to the January 6th hearings, as a retired grandma. My husband and I watched and listened to the evidence regarding the violent attack on our nation’s capitol. To say this hearing was electric would be an understatement. Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Capitol Police Officers, particularly Caroline Edwards, left me spell bound. Representative Liz Cheney owned the evening, making clear the person responsible for the attempted coup-the former guy. 

Donald Trump is the first sitting president in American History to be impeached twice.

So what element ties all three scandals together? For one, the course of a single life-from college kid, to motherhood, to grandmother. And I suppose one could conclude I’ve watched a helluva lot of television. 

But for me the message means something else. 

The modern Republican Party has undergone a long death spiral marked by greed, rot and decay. As Liz Cheney said, “there will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”

For nearly 50 years, from 1974 to 2020 the Grand Old Party has cast off its once, principled moorings, slowly imploding before our eyes. As my generation grew from young students to senior citizens the party of Lincoln silently died. 

And like Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining, there is no redemption, nor any future, only relief these mercenaries can do no more harm.

Gail Chumbley is the author of a two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Chumbley had also completed to historic plays, “Clay,” regarding the life of Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” an examination of slavery and racism in America.

The Little Things

If you love . . .

Protecting a dim-witted, would-be dictator from legal consequences,

Suppressing a woman’s right to self-actuation and privacy,

Expediting white, unqualified patriarchs to the Supreme Court,

Rendering the US Senate inert,

Legislating so the wealthy have no tax burden,

The open targeting of Americans of color to brutality and murder,

The whole-sale destruction of the planet, and the rape of natural resources 

Abetting political misinformation and conspiracies through social media,

Targeting those of differing sexuality 

Pushing religion into American government,

Aligning apportionment and voter suppression to disenfranchise the poor, and people of color,

Withholding health care to the few with means,

The wholesale flood of firearms into civilian hands,

Cruelty dispensed upon desperate immigrants,

Coddling of white offenders over those of color,

Predatory treatment of consumers,

Blocking legislation to meet the dangers of the above list, and otherwise accomplishing nothing,

Vote for today’s Republican Party

Gail Chumbley, frustrated American History Educator.

The Long Haul

After the 1929 Market Crash, the world collapsed into nearly feudal isolation, and international trade quickly dried up. Like the rest of the world America focused inward, disillusioned by U.S. participation in WWI. Across the Pacific, the Japanese Empire, too, promoted a sphere of influence, sold to Asians under the moniker of a “Co-prosperity Sphere.” China, a vulnerable prize lay across the Sea of Japan, awaiting the wrath of Japanese aggression for land and resources.

Great Britain, too, struggled with a malaise of its own, as did the French–both nations saddled with debts extended by American banks during the war. Next to the new Soviet Union, Germany, struggled most of all, buried in war reparations the allies demanded from the vanquished.

As the financial fallout worldwide grew wildly unstable, regimes hunkered down and waited for better times.

The solution in that movement-elevate anti-democratic despots to power.

The Italians were the first, having produced a Fascist strongman, Benito Mussolini. He suppressed political diversity, harnessed economic efficiency, and soon, like the Japanese, pursued colonial inroads into Libya, and later the conquest of Ethiopia. Mussolini envisioned a return to the glory days of Rome.

Germany, soon flirted with fascism, as well. In a reaction to impossible debts, and of national pride, Adolf Hitler, a feckless dreamer, stood on beer hall tables, and passionately spoke of national betrayal, and the victimization of Germany. “Mein Kampf” the product of an earlier prison sentence, circled around much the same, blaming Bolsheviks, Capitalists, and Jews for the hated Armistice of 1918.

However, America, unlike the rest of the world, clung with all their might to the national system of Constitutional norms. At the same time Germany elected a Hitler in 1932, the U.S. found their champion in Franklin Roosevelt. 

A popular Roosevelt Coalition steered those hard years holding the United States together. That’s not to say there weren’t kooks, to borrow Lindsay Graham’s phrase, but Americans faced the long haul together, knowing better days had to be ahead..

As FDR did not cause the Depression, Joe Biden did not precipitate the inept handling of Covid-19. Moreover, Biden’s policies did not cause Putin to invade the Ukraine, nor trigger the inflation rate, as financial matters are linear, impervious to election cycles. This new administration is not responsible for China’s economic reach, Britain’s Brexit debacle, Russia’s saber rattling, or global warming, let alone shortages of baby formula. 

The utter incompetence of that last blowhard made the real mess. This moment, like FDR’s, will take more time to sort out and stabilize. 

So, here is the question. Can Americans again remain bound to the framework of our Republic? Will today’s misinformed kooks forsake our financial, social, and political traditions and turn to petty retribution and tyranny?

Will we, as a nation, exchange our democracy for a strong man who insists he has all the answers?

That is the question of this historic moment. 

Gail Chumbley is an author and history educator.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

Why We Try

2017 Women’s March

When I first began this essay it ripened to nearly five hundred words to share one idea. Why I am a life-long Democrat. 

The original essay discussed the New Deal, the creation of the United Nations, the Marshall Plan, the GI Bill, and how strengthening Labor Unions evoked a sense of common purpose; how the economy boomed, and the middle class flourished.

Now all I want to impart is that Ronald Reagan was wrong. Big government is not the problem. Big government checked by regulations works remarkably well. 

I am a Democrat because with all its flaws, we stand equal in the eyes of Constitutional Law.* People made the Constitution, and we must preserve it. In general, States’ Rights is no more than a distraction perpetrated by selfish insiders who legislate their own interests. Residents are convinced through a wink and a nod, that the enemy (Big Government) must be defied, using catch phrases like “our values,” and “real conservative.”

In truth, the Federal Government can do more for all of us than any individual state, or any individual citizen can do for themselves. As I write, Idaho’s governor has asked for, and been granted federal funds for drought aid. Talk about biting the hand that feeds the State.

I am a Democrat because I’m inspired by the nobility of America’s past champions; the persistence of General George Washington, the compassion of Abraham Lincoln, the purpose of Alice Paul, and the articulate vision of Barack Obama. I am a Democrat because James Madison instructed us to create “A More Perfect Union.” Without that persistence, compassion, purpose, and vision America cannot continue as “the world’s last best hope,” as Lincoln also described us.

At bottom I am a Democrat because I know not one of us is perfect. We just keep trying. 

*Just heard the headline regarding the reversing of the Roe decision. Time to gather 4,600,00 of my best friends (2017 Women’s March) and organize.

Animal House Meets the GOP

What do you get when you cross Animal House with the GOP? Roger Stone. He holds the dubious distinction of dragging Republican moral decay on, that first festered in the 1970’s. The product of Stone’s current efforts? The January 6th insurrection.

That young Stone cut his teeth orbiting around the Nixon disaster, and later lent a hand to the Reagan campaign, and even later aided the “Brooks Brother Riot” of 2000, his role as a covert agent of chaos lives on. “Conservative Values” a long running catch phrase is no more than an oxymoron, the national party undercut by a list of career dirty tricksters, including Stone.

Think Donald Segretti, of Watergate fame. Segretti hired a girl to run naked at a hotel shouting she was in love with Edmund Muskie, Nixon’s chief rival in 1972. In 1970, even Karl Rove interfered and sabotaged Democratic fund raising efforts by publishing false event information, ie . . . free beer, free food, girls, everyone welcome, etc. Rove’s work turned the event into a fiasco. Then there was Ken Clawson’s Canuck Letter. Clawson, a Nixon operative, published a fraudulent note dropping in phrases like “illegitimate babies,” and “homosexuality,” among Democratic leaders. (Homosexuality still a taboo.) And of course the most famous dirty trick of all, the burglary of the DNC at the Watergate Office Complex.

What this brief evidence has made clear is Republicans can’t win any other way, at least not nationally, without deception and disinformation campaigns. During the Reagan years, men like Oliver North, Admiral John Poindexter, and CIA Director William Casey privatized foreign policy in the Iran Contra Affair. Ronald Reagan haplessly confessed the crimes were real, though he didn’t understand how. The George W. Bush administration outed a CIA operative, Valerie Plame, via Scooter Libby, and Libby was convicted of his crime. But don’t cry for Scooter, Donald Trump pardoned him because it’s true, there is no honor among thieves.

Any pretense of “conservative values” is a myth, carefully advertised by party insiders, but hasn’t existed since President Dwight Eisenhower. 

Stone’s lies to Congress, and to the FBI reveals the state of the party. Any means to win.  Underhanded tactics indicate business as usual.

The harm? My vote doesn’t count, and neither does anyone else’s. The cry of States’ Rights echoing around the country is simply a cover to intensify efforts to deprive the people of good government. Stone, Trump, and the rest of the party has rejected an even playing field; they cannot win in an open, fair vote.  

This blog in no way implies that Dems are blameless, but short of Bill Clinton’s dalliances and others taking bribes, the crimes have hurt the individual, not the American people. Decent folks abandon the GOP daily because of such flagrant misuse of power. 

In a side note, Richard Nixon ran for Congress in 1946 smearing his opponent, Jerry Voorhees as “soft on Communism,” and in 1950 aimed for the Senate, insinuating his opponent, Helen Gahagan Douglas was “pink right down to her underwear.”

We all know who the patron saint of the modern GOP is, and Stone, not to forget Trump, are his most astute disciples.

Gail Chumbley is the author of “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles available on Kindle. Chumbley has written two plays, “Clay,” exploring the life of Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears” regarding the establishment of American Slavery.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

Bloodsport

An allegory is a story with a hidden meaning.

Way back when, during my high school years, our English class read “Lord of the Flies.” And though too young to grasp the power of the story then, it’s bothered me plenty in the last five years.

Permit me a refresher on the story. During World War Two a group of English school boys are evacuated from England by air, and the plane crashes. The pilot is killed, leaving only the boys alive. Finding themselves on a deserted island, the kids try to organize into a functioning unit.

The wheels come off almost as once, as two groups emerge. One faction agrees to cooperate, while the other descends into depravity.  Those favoring cooperation seek (through logic and science) a way to be rescued. Those choosing muscle undermine that effort, reveling in bloodsport, killing wild pigs, and intimidating weaker boys. 

The novel reads as an allegory of disintegrating humanity, pitting good order against savagery. Though published in 1954, William Golding’s book has taken on a prophetic urgency made evident by the lawlessness before and after the 2020 election.

In a haunting parallel to the breakdown of order on the island, Trump’s mob attacking the Capitol came as an inevitable outcome of law breaking. Riffing irrational diatribes, this flawed man chose to incite violence to maintain power. That his misinformed followers eagerly climbed on the bandwagon proves how fragile democracy can be when infected by evil. The physical fury of that day seemed an aphrodisiac for his private thugs as they stormed America’s Alter of Reason. 

And it’s no wonder the mob chose to vandalize our sanctuary of law. This guy disdains justice,  indifferent to the sacrifices made by generations before to preserve it.

Good government rests on an educated, committed electorate. Mindless violence is the tool of the lazy and weak. Blind fury only destroys, and in truth that savagery lives in all of us. It is up to each one of us to make that choice, to awaken the “better angels of our nature” for the good of us all. It is well past time for America’s trial by the mob to end.

Unlike the school boys in “Lord” no one is coming to our rescue. And that reality leaves no alternative but to discipline ourselves to preserve the gift of democracy.

Handed down from our elders, the work in that domed building is the last line of a free people.

Gail Chumbley is the author of “River of January,” and “River of January : Figure Eight,” a two-part memoir. Both titles are available on Kindle. Gail has also written two stage plays, “Clay,” and “Wolf By The Ears,” exploring antebellum America.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

Inheritance

Harry Truman understood the gravity of his duty right off. When FDR died in April, 1945, the newly installed Vice President got the word he was now president. And what a Herculean task he had before him. A world war to end, conferences abroad, shaping a new post-war world, and grappling with the human rights horrors in both Europe and in the Pacific. Add to all of that, he alone could order use of the newly completed Atomic Bomb.

On his White House desk, President Truman placed a sign, “The Buck Stops Here.” With that mission statement Harry Truman stepped up to his responsibilities despite the formidable challenges he faced.

Did Truman inherit the worst set of circumstances of any new president? Maybe? But it is open to debate.

America’s fourth President, James Madison, found himself  in one god-awful mess. His predecessor, Thomas Jefferson had tanked the US economy by closing American ports to all English and French trade. Those two powerful rivals had been at war a long time, and made a practice of interfering with America’s neutrality and transatlantic shipping. Despite Jefferson’s actions the issue of seizing US ships and kidnapping sailors never stopped. By 1812 President Madison asked for a declaration of war against England that, in the end accomplished nothing but a burned out White House and defaced Capitol.

Following the lackluster administrations of Franklin Pierce, then James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln stepped into a firestorm of crisis. Divisions over the institution of slavery had reached critical mass, and Lincoln’s election was enough for Southern States to cut ties with the North. So hated was Lincoln, that his name did not appear on the ballot below the Mason-Dixon. And the fiery trial of war commenced.

The Election of 1932 became a referendum on Herbert Hoover, and the Republican presidents who had served since 1920. Poor Hoover happened to be in the White House when the economic music stopped, and the economy bottomed out. And that was that for Hoover. His name remained a pejorative until his death. 

Franklin Roosevelt prevailed that 1932 election, in fact won in a landslide victory. Somehow Roosevelt maintained his confident smile though he, too, faced one hell of a national disaster. 

In his inaugural address the new President reassured the public saying fear was all we had to fear. FDR then ordered a banking “holiday,” coating the dismal reality of bank failures in less menacing terms-a holiday. From his first hundred days the new President directed a bewildered Congress to approve his “New Deal.” 

The coming of the Second World War shifted domestic policies to foreign threats as the world fell into autocratic disarray. FDR shifted his attention to the coming war. When President Roosevelt died suddenly, poor Harry Truman was in the hot seat. But that is where I want to end the history lesson.

If any new President has had a disaster to confront, it is Joe Biden. Without fanfare or showboating Biden, too, has stepped up to the difficulties testing our nation. 

Much like Truman and Lincoln before, 46 is grappling with a world in chaos, and a divided people at home. In another ironic twist, like Madison, Biden witnessed, a second violent desecration of the US Capitol.

To his credit, though his predecessor left a long trail of rubble, Biden understands the traditional role of Chief Executive, while clearly many Americans have forgotten, or worse, rejected. Biden is addressing the issues testing our country, not only for those who elected him, but those who did not. An American President can do no less.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle. She has completed her second play, “Wolf By The Ears.”

gailchumbley@gmail.com

It’s Only Fair

In his 1975 book, “The Russians,” author Hedrick Smith tells a story about a domestic fire in Moscow. He noticed passersby strolling along without a glance, despite urgent smoke and water damage. Neither Tass, nor Pravda covered the story–for Soviets, there was no bad news. This lack of public reaction, Smith concluded came from weary resignation. Citizens had long ago given up on honesty from Party authorities.

In stark contrast, an informed electorate founded the American system; information an essential component of our democracy. Cynical will not do. Without facts reported by a free press, it is game over.

Recognizing the influence of television as a news source, Congress, in 1949, codified equal time when broadcasts touched on public policy. The Fairness Doctrine the second of its kind (the first governed radio) was enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandating broadcasters to present equal sides of public information, or lose their license to operate.

And that doctrine governed news coverage until killed by the smiling, ever popular Ronald Reagan in 1987. His personal charm camouflaged the catastrophe his administration lobbed against journalism and, in turn, our democracy.

In 1968 when the most revered news anchor of his day, Walter Cronkite, returned from assignment in Vietnam, he broke with precedent by publicly admitting Vietnam a lost cause. Later the anchor conceded Woodward and Bernstein were probably on to something with Watergate. Cronkite’s statements spelled the end for both the war, and the Nixon Administration.

The modern GOP hasn’t cared much about the equal time component since Richard Nixon crashed and burned in 1974. From his earliest days “Tricky Dickey” gained attention as a ruthless Communist-hunter, first in the House, as a Senator, and then as Vice President. Following his 1960 loss to JFK, Nixon loathed the press and like Trump saw the media as “The Enemy of the People.” In Nixon V The New York Times, the White House challenged publication of the Pentagon Papers, and lost, then in US V Nixon, ruled the release of the disastrous tapes proving Nixon’s Watergate coverup.

Nixon and other Republicans believed reporters, the networks, and the media, in general, was out to get them.

Before his own 1973 resignation in a separate scandal, Vice President Spiro Agnew did not mince words concerning the press. Agnew referred to the media as the “Nattering Nabobs of Negativity.” Soon the press found there was quite a bit to natter on, when Agnew pleaded guilty to bribery and resigned.

Today, the far Right has capitalized on the end of the Doctrine, manipulating facts, and generally reporting misinformation, without even a blush.

In some respects the end of the Fairness Doctrine has set a course for gutting American democracy.

To hear about it now, the fiasco of January 6, 2021, according to the right-wing media, was no more than a pleasant tour group visiting the nation’s capitol. That violence we all witnessed, is just a misunderstanding. Bear spray, tear gas, and baseball bats used against the D.C police didn’t actually happen. The “Liberal” press exaggerates.

Perhaps before 1987 Americans actually wanted to know whether or not a national fire was raging.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

Don’t They Realize?

The attack did not come until almost 5:00pm on July 2, 1863. The Yankees under the command of General George Meade held on to Cemetery Hill, and Ridge, south of the town of Gettysburg. Situated across the open ground of boulders, corn fields, and wheat fields waited the Confederates commanded by Robert E Lee. Lee’s forces had failed to capture the high ground on day one, and were forced to settle for the less desirable Seminary Ridge.

On the second day, action had concentrated on the southern end of the battle field. Fighting in the Wheat Field, and the Devil’s Den played prelude to the main assault on Little Round Top.

Two summits lay at the end of Cemetery Ridge, and the smaller of the two was vulnerable to any flanking maneuver by the Rebs massing below. The Alabamians could have deployed around the far left and attack inside Union lines. But, that risk lessened when Union Colonel Strong Vincent detected Confederates assembling below.

Boys from Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, and Maine were ordered to double-quick around rubble strewn Little Round Top. At the end of that line stood Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and his 20th Maine. And as many already know, Chamberlain held off three attacks by the Rebs climbing the steep terrain. Out of ammo, Colonel Chamberlain finally ordered a bayonet charge, downhill against the foe. And it worked. 

Less well known were the Yankee soldiers who guarded the hill that night. Under orders to watch for any further action, these guards could hear the moans and piteous cries of their comrades dying below in the darkness.

One of the soldiers was said to have remarked, “Don’t they realize they saved our country today?”

And those words bear repeating on this sad day of honor and remembrance.

To the faithful members of the US Capitol police force, you who defended our nation on January 6, “Don’t you realize you saved our country today?”

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-volume memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January:Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com