Dalton Delan | The Unspin Room: A bipartisan call to be better than all of this
“Joey stepped up, he raised his hand, said, we’re not those kind of men.”
So sang Bob Dylan nearly a half-century ago. Though the protagonist of that song was a mobster, Dylan chose to portray him as a man of at least relative probity. In the swamp, just sitting on a lily pad can turn one from a frog to a prince.
Joe Biden’s promise to govern on behalf of all Americans is like a refreshing lick of the ice cream he favors. That we have come to an anatomical end of the body politic in which a return to decency is our fondest hope speaks volumes. We want to turn down the noise that annoys, the cacophony of tweets singing a song only a base can hear.
To imagine that there will be a post-Trump reversion to prior norms if Biden’s “clown” is shown the door is to misunderstand the history of American impolitics. It isn’t just that our greatest Republican president, Honest Abe, came in for “more disparaging allusions made by Americans to him … than I could have expected among simple republicans,” according to a British journalist in 1861. A viewing of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton,” streaming on Disney+, illustrates with all the bespoke truthiness of hip-hop word-spill that the Founding Fathers may have kept their powder dry, but their ink dripped with acid; they sure didn’t hold their tongues.
Ever since John Wilkes Booth brought down the house, the story of the party of Lincoln has been one of a molten core of populist values, even if espoused policies rotated 180 degrees as the shoe fit the last of the times. Today, you’d have to stick your head pretty far out the window to hear the “small government” cant that Reagan recited from his classic Republican playbook. Democrats, turnabout artists themselves, have been stringing beans that don’t naturally hang together. Let’s all get fracking.
Progressives and centrists have achieved a temporary truce this fall with a shared goal of ousting Trump, but don’t expect that Pax Romana to last a day past the election. AOC will see to that. And while fat-cat Republicans have co-opted labels to fake kinship with the common man, the Dems’ embrace of diversity fails to yield winning slogans.
Over time — just as Isabel Wilkerson in her new book, “Caste,” sees our country’s innate racism as more an expression of economic class differences — the election pits townies against preppies; undereducated and aggrieved white male conspiracy-huggers versus coastal elites largely comprised of an unholy alliance of collegiate women and persons of color. It will only worsen, as red state left-behinds peer at the new world through a cultural, racial and geographic gauze of grudges and tariffs, while blue man groupies run in fear of a socialist shadow. “Medicare for All”? Not so fast; Obamacare faces a likely date with the Supremes.
For Vichy Republicans sticking with Trump despite revulsion for his cornucopia of clinically narcissistic personality traits with a decidedly unchristian bent — the better angels of his nature swallowed in flight to Capistrano — what counts is stacking originalist and pro-life federal judges; barring the door to limits on Executive power; acclimating to wildfires, hurricanes and drought; and maintaining a rich man’s tax code that favors fellow dodgers. If you want white gold at the end of a rainbow — not an LGBTQ one — with the false equivalency of a kinder, gentler Confederacy, the incumbent is Molotov lightning in a bottle.
The debasement of the highest office in the land didn’t start with Trump and his strumpets, nor with his party. LBJ’s crudity was legendary. If we pry open the doors to the downstairs upstairs at 1600 Pennsylvania, there’s a first-hand account of LBJ startling a first daughter’s sleepover guest by wearing a pajama top with no bottom. And as for the bare legacy of Bill Clinton, where do we begin with the twisted linguistic prevarication of “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”? Word soup makes for thin gruel. Throw into the presidential mix Nixon’s racist and anti-Semitic rants, and small wonder that young people can’t be bothered to vote.
The eschatological debate over deeds not words is not a paper argument. Both count, as do qualities of leadership. Language matters. “Stand down and stand by.” In radio days, England had Churchill and we had FDR. Father figures — and next time around, mother figures — are a glue to fix common cause in times of crisis. The bully pulpit can deliver ties that bind or lies that blind. Four years of tweets that tear us apart are their own pernicious virus requiring a vaccine of the vote — the only preventative arriving by Election Day. Call it Rx for America. The whole world is watching. We are better than this. Republicans, Democrats, Americans all.
Dalton Delan can be followed on Twitter @UnspinRoom.
He has won Emmy, Peabody and duPont-Columbia awards for his work as a television producer.