American Paradox

The American idea, that individual freedom is the supreme virtue and the franchise is its mechanism, labors against our baser instincts. Our truth falls short of our aspirations, manifested in and hanging between our dueling polarities: Jefferson the Declaration author and Jefferson the slaveowner; religious freedom and hellfire fundamentalism; Harvard-Berkeley-Princeton brilliance and Americans incapable of finding the U.S. on a world map; American soldiers liberating Dachau and machine-gunning at My Lai; “Give me your tired” and razor wire border fences; the Trail of Tears and manifest destiny; Tuskegee airmen and Jim Crow; Trumpish wealth and Delta poverty; The Donna Reed Show and The Feminine Mystique; forty million without health insurance and elective cosmetic surgeries; capital punishment and “the better angels of our nature.” Sometimes the polarities are not Manichean goods and evils but merely profound tensions, like liberty vs. equality, pluribus vs. unum, Whitman bravado vs. Dickinson intimacy, Twainian Tom Sawyer innocence vs. Letters from the Earth embittered experience. Hegel-like, the theses and the antitheses clash—occasionally, as with Jefferson and Twain, in a single individual. Sometimes in those clashes a just synthesis is possible. But in others, helping those better angels to prevail is our enduring challenge.

I wrote the above in October of 2007 and entered it in a contest for the best essay on “the American Idea,” the winner to be published in The Atlantic Monthly (now The Atlantic). The rules stipulated that the essay could not exceed 200 words, and I strained to meet that limit, and in fact mine was exactly 200 words. As it turned out, the winner was a person of some national recognition, and his essay tripled the limit, to my and I suspect other entrants’ considerable annoyance.

When Megalomania and a Pandemic Collide

Sixteen months into his presidency, in May of 2018, Donald Trump told then National Security Adviser John Bolton to eliminate the National Security Council’s global health security unit, which he did.

By January 2020, Trump was told of the dangers of the coronavirus, and on January 22, he said he wasn’t worried, “not at all,” and that “we have it totally under control.” His see-no-evil approach meant weeks of delay in implementing social distancing and ramping up production of masks, protective medical gear, and ventilators.

On January 27, presumptive Democratic nominee for president Joe Biden wrote an op-ed in USA Today in which he stated “Trump’s demonstrated failures of judgment and his repeated rejection of science make him the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health challenge.”

On January 30, the World Health Organization declared the virus an international public health emergency.

On January 31, Trump closed U. S. borders to foreign nationals (but not Americans) who had been in China over the last 14 days. While probably a good move, it was also an easy decision in that it had little if any economic impact and was in keeping with Trump’s larger immigration policies.

Even Tucker Carlson, conservative host of a Fox News show and ardent defender of the president, began warning about the virus on his show as early as February 3. He had a two hour meeting with the president at Mar-a-Lago on March 7, trying to convince him of the health danger of the virus and how it might threaten the president’s re-election.

On March 5, the World Health Organization (WHO) implored world leaders to prepare for the outbreak, its leader stating that the “epidemic can be pushed back, but only with a collective, coordinated, and comprehensive approach that engages the entire machinery of government.” On the same day, Vice-President Pence states that there were not enough tests for the virus.

On March 6, Trump started the day signing an $8.3 billion bill for healthcare and vaccine research, noting that he had only asked for $2.5 billion, and stating that the virus “came out of nowhere” but that “we’re taking care of it.” Later in that same day he stated that “anyone that wants a test can get a test,” a statement not only false then but false over a month later. As of April 17 only 146,000 tests were being conducted daily, prompting one commentator to calculate that at that petty pace, it would be January of 2027 before the whole population could have been tested. Trump spent the rest of March 6 and much of the next two days going to fundraisers and playing golf, along with a visit to tornado victims in Tennessee and a visit to the CDC, at no time modeling or demonstrating any concern for social distancing. Trump himself shook hands numerous times at all of these venues, as many as one hundred in Tennessee alone.

On March 11, the WHO declared the outbreak to be a global pandemic.

On March 13, in response to a question concerning the wisdom of the closure of the National Security health office, Trump replied, “I didn’t do it. I don’t know anything about it.” On the same day, he was asked if he accepted any responsibility for the failure to begin testing for the contagion. The man who on the campaign trail said that he would be the greatest president in history, possibly excepting Lincoln, responded in classic Trump style, “No, I don’t take any responsibility at all.”

In a March 21 press conference, Trump touted some antiviral drugs that Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci said would require testing to determine their efficacy and safety. Trump replied, “I disagree. I feel good about them. That’s all it is. Just a feeling. You know, I’m a smart guy.”

Back in January, the president stated that “China has been working very hard to contain the coronavirus,” and shortly after a conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump praised his counterpart as “strong, sharp, and powerfully focused on leading the counterattack on the Coronavirus.” But after a Chinese theory emerged that the U.S. planted the virus in China, the president flipped, saying that “it could have been stopped in its tracks” in China. Donald Trump Jr. also forgot what his father had said earlier about Xi being “powerfully focused on leading the counterattack,” tweeting on March 29 in a grammatically-challenged diatribe that “Anyone praising China’s ‘leadership’ in responding that the virus should be scorned for being the authoritarian/communist propagandist that they are.” At least the “authoritarian . . . propagandist” part was right.

On April 8, ABC News reported that the intelligence community submitted a report in November, over four months prior, and two months prior to the earlier reported date on which Trump was warned about the virus. The November intelligence report noted that the outbreak in China could have “cataclysmic” consequences. This information was a component of the daily briefing all presidents receive. Peter Navarro, a Trump economics adviser, also provided at least one memo to the president warning him of upcoming dangers posed by the virus. On April 7, Trump reported that he had not read the memo (“Peter sends a lot of memos”), and on April 8, he said that he did not remember being briefed on it. Yet he also said on April 8 that “people were shocked that I reacted so quickly.” He has also stated that he knew “months ago” that the virus would become a pandemic.

On Friday night, April 3, Trump fired the intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, whom Trump had appointed, for doing his job; namely, turning over the whistleblower report to congress that ultimately led to Trump’s impeachment trial. Trump said “this man is a disgrace to IGs.” Michael Horowitz, Justice Department IG and chair of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, praised Atkinson’s “professionalism, integrity, and commitment to the rule of law.” On April 6, Trump continued his war against inspectors general, whose roles are designed to be independent of political influence, by lambasting Christi Grimm, principal deputy inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. Her crime was to have surveyed 46 hospitals and reported that they claimed significant shortages of equipment to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Calling her an Obama holdover, despite her having also served in two Republican administrations, her report revealed a lack of hospital preparedness and thus was “another fake dossier.”

On April 4, the president who had been ignoring and downplaying the dangers of the virus now indicated that it was “the worst thing the country has probably ever seen,” apparently forgetting that we endured over four years of civil war, two world wars, an influenza epidemic in 1918 estimated to have killed 50 million world wide, and a great depression.

In March, the president stated, uncharacteristically, “I think the media has been very fair.” By April 13, a total flip flop: “I wish we had a fair media in this country, and we really don’t.”

On Tuesday, April 14, Trump stated that “We’re going to put a hold on money spent to the W.H.O., we’re going to put a very powerful hold on it.” A reporter asked him a few minutes later if this were a good time to do that, and Trump replied, “I’m not saying we’re going to do it, but we’re going to look at it.” The reporter pushed back, saying, “You did say you were going to do it,” to which Trump replied, “No I didn’t. I said we’re going to look at it.”

On April 13, in his characteristic way of assuming authority without responsibility, Trump stated that only he had authority to relax social distancing policies and to determine when the economy could re-open. “The president of the United States calls the shots. When someone is president of the United States, the authority is total.” Governors of both parties made clear that they were not ceding control of decision-making in their states to a president seeking to portray himself as their boss. By the next day, Trump flipped, saying “The governors are going to be running their own states,” and “I’m not going to be putting any pressure on any governor to re-open.” But without the least sense of self-contradiction, and unable to see himself as anything other than master of all he surveyed, he flopped back, saying, “I will then be authorizing each individual governor of each individual state to implement a re-opening.” Happy to play the alpha male and “authorize” the states’ re-openings, Trump claims that the states have primary responsibility for masks, ventilators, and testing. Authority is his; responsibility is other people’s.

On April 3, Trump fielded a question about whether he was thinking about having his name on the stimulus checks being sent to American citizens. He disingenuously replied as if this meant he would be required to personally sign them. “There’s millions of checks. I’m going to be signing them? No.” On April 15, the Treasury Department confirmed that the printed name “President Donald J. Trump” will appear at the bottom of the stimulus checks being mailed to Americans not receiving their payouts by direct deposit. Trump had recommended to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin that his (Trump’s) signature be added to the checks. Though his signature will not appear, his printed name will appear. The Treasury Department denies it, but the addition will delay the mailing of the checks according to the president of the IRS’s Professional Managers Association.

By the middle of April, the clash between the health interests of the country and the economic interests of the country had crystalized. Trump from the beginning had prioritized economics, inevitably causing him to be dilatory and unprepared in addressing the dangers the virus represented. Partisanship was emerging, though it had been in the background, and to some extent the foreground, all along. MAGA-hatted protests, with concerns over 22 million job losses, 17% unemployment, and especially governors restricting protesters’ movements, were breaking out demanding re-opening of states. Counter-protesters, fearing a premature re-opening would lead to a second wave of the virus in the absence of much broader testing and loosened social distancing requirements, were calling for stay-at-home restrictions to be continued for now. Trump, finding himself on the horns of a re-election dilemma, sides with and encourages the re-openers, and on April 17 tweets (two minutes after a Fox News report on the protests) “Liberate Michigan,” “Liberate Minnesota,” and “Liberate Virginia,” where Democratic governors have incurred wrath from those protesting social distancing and closure policies. Terrified of the possible electoral repercussions of his incompetent handling of the crisis, Trump resorts to his usual weapons of choice, namely externalizing all blame, disavowal of personal responsibility, and demonizing of critics, all aimed at stoking right-wingers and others among his base needing scapegoats and fearful their president would pay for his zig-zagging ineptitude in November.

If Mr. Trump had been president from 1941 to 1945, we would be speaking German now.

Compiled from USA Today, CNN, ABC World News, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and The News Hour.












President Trump Promotes Himself to Five-Star General

Real Fake News Special Report
Washington, D. C.

Following last week’s announcement that Trump University had conferred a doctor of medicine (M.D.) degree on President Trump (“Wow, this gown is really cool,” noted the president), Mr. Trump announced in today’s press conference that he had promoted himself to five-star general, given the war footing of the country in the coronavirus pandemic. Appearing in his new uniform and wearing a helmet displaying five stars, Mr. Trump told reporters that “Only I can lead the country out of this mess.” When asked by an RFN reporter if his bone spurs would be a problem during his service, the president stated, “Oh no, they’re totally healed up now. My doctor said I was the healthiest five-star general the country has ever had, or ever will have.” A reporter followed up, asking him if he was concerned about a possible Waterloo situation now that he had military leadership responsibilities, and the newly-minted general replied that “No, water resources are working fine. We’ve got the greatest water. But people shouldn’t use too much toilet paper in the ‘loo.”

It Could Be Worse



While hanging around the house in quasi-house arrest, I thought perhaps it was finally time to storm the castle and read Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe’s less well known A Journal of the Plague Year—you know, for comparison purposes. It’s his grim (reader beware) account of the bubonic plague—aka the distemper, the infection, or the visitation—that consumed London in 1665. There was a lot of social distancing going on, which was good, since you could catch it via airborne transmission, including the “breath” or “fumes” or “stench” of an infected person, or, as the physicians called it, “effluvia.” But also, unknown to Londoners or the rest of the world, you could catch it by a flea bite if that flea had bitten a rat carrying the virus. And there were a lot of rats.

During the worst weeks “these objects [dead bodies] were so frequent in the streets that when the plague came to be raging on one side, there was scarce any passing by the streets but that several dead bodies would be lying here and there upon the ground. . . . At first the people would stop as they went along and call to the neighbors to come out on such an occasion, yet afterward no notice was taken of them,” and people would simply “go across the way and not come near” the corpse. London, “I say, was much altered; sorrow and sadness sat upon every face. . . . All looked deeply concerned; and, as we saw it apparently coming on, so every one looked on himself and his family in the utmost danger. . . .Tears and lamentations were seen almost in every house, especially in the first part of the visitation; for towards the latter end men’s hearts were hardened, and death was so always before their eyes, that they did not so much concern themselves for the loss of their friends, expecting that themselves should be summoned the next hour.”

And summoned they were. As the plague spread, house arrest became literal. If anyone in a house were known to have the plague or have died, the entire household was imprisoned, with a watchman day and night to prevent escape of the rest of the household, who themselves often thus became infected. House doors were painted with a red cross; doors were padlocked from the outside. Defoe records escapes, bribery, even murder of watchmen. “Nor, indeed, could less be expected, for here were so many prisons in the town as there were houses shut up; and as the people shut up or imprisoned so were guilty of no crime, only shut up because miserable, it was really the more intolerable to them. . . .They blew up a watchman with gunpowder, and burned the poor fellow dreadfully; and while he made hideous cries, and nobody would venture to come near to help him, the whole family that were able to stir got out at the windows one storey high, two that were left sick calling out for help.”

“Idle assemblies” were prohibited, as were plays, feasting, and “tippling houses.” “Disorderly tippling in taverns, ale houses, coffee-houses, and cellars [will] be severely looked unto, as the common sin of this time and greatest occasion of dispersing the plague,” in the language of the multi-page “Orders Conceived And Published By The Lord Mayor And Aldermen Of The City Of London Concerning The Infection Of The Plague, 1665.” But social distancing wasn’t enough.

The dead-carts trundled through the streets and alleys every night, collecting the dead, the collectors throwing them in piles in the carts. How desperate would one have to be to take that job? Huge pits were dug, sometimes in churchyards. The cart would approach the pit under the light of lanterns, turn around, lean backward, and “the bodies shot into the pit promiscuously,” with dirt thrown over them as quickly as possible. Young Daniel was a venturesome soul, or a foolish one:

“A terrible pit it was, and I could not resist my curiosity to go and see it. As near as I may judge, it was about forty feet in length, and about fifteen or sixteen feet broad, and at the time I first looked at it, about nine feet deep, but it was said they dug it near twenty feet deep afterwards in one part of it. . . . Then they made larger holes wherein they buried all that the cart brought in a week, which, by the middle to the end of August, came to from 200 to 400 a week [in his parish alone]. . . . People that were infected and near their end, and delirious also, would run to those pits, wrapt in blankets or rugs, and throw themselves in, and, as they said, bury themselves.”

By late October, the contagion began to recede. Sixty-eight thousand, five hundred and ninety deaths in London and immediate environs were documented: “for about nine weeks together there died near a thousand a day.” Defoe estimated the real number to be closer to 100,000. Londoners, at least the ones who by good fortune or escape to the country were not infected, along with the few who managed to survive infection, breathed a little easier. But their woes were not at an end. The next year, 1666, would bring the greatest fire, before or since, in London’s long history.

Two Mobsters Walk Into a Bar . . . .

Two mobsters walk into a bar. They’re burly guys, and they both have bulges under their coats. The first one says to the barkeep, “We need to see your boss.”

“He’s not really available right now.”

“Tell him two associates of Don Corleone want to chat with him.”

The barkeep does as he is told. The bar’s owner comes out, a little intimidated.

“Mr. Smith, ya gotta nice establishment here,” Mobster Number One says, surveying his surroundings. “Real nice. Real cozy-like. Lotsa nice customers, I’m sure. Never had no trouble here, I’m sure. Yeah, trouble is bad, the kinda thing ya wanna avoid. Know what I mean? Ya know, fires, and bad stuff like that. We can help ya. I’d like ya to do us a favor though. Ya know we sell insurance. Very reasonable. Two grand a month. Ya think about it, OK? We’ll see ya next week.”

Later that day, a sweaty Mr. Smith goes to the police station and finally gets in to see Detective Jones. The bar owner had a camera that captured the earlier exchange in both video and audio. He tells Detective Jones, “That was a shakedown. You need to arrest these guys, and Mr. Corleone. They tried to extort me for two grand a month. They won’t burn my place down if I hand over two grand a month.”

Detective Jones sees and hears the recorded conversation on Mr. Smith’s phone. He’s skeptical. “Mr. Smith, did they use the word extortion?” “No” is Mr. Smith’s response. Did they use the word bribery?” Another “No.” “Did they say, ‘if you give us two grand a month, we won’t burn your place down’?” A third “No.”

“But detective, when he said, ‘I’d like ya to do us a favor though,’ that very word though tells me the two things are connected, even if he didn’t use the word extortion.”

“Look, Mr. Smith, what they did was maybe inappropriate. I wouldn’t have done it myself. But it’s not like it’s a quid pro quo, or bribery, or extortion. It’s not like they conditioned the safety of your place on you having to pay them every month. They just made some comments that might not have even been related. And besides, just because they work for Mr. Corleone doesn’t mean he’s involved. Did they say that he directed them? No. You can’t send a guy to trial for that. It’s just not a crime or even a misdemeanor. In fact, we might need to investigate you. Bringing false charges against an upstanding citizen and his employees could be a sham. And do you have the proper license for your bar?”

Dispatches from the Hinterland

Yesterday morning I’m sitting in the waiting room for my eye doctor appointment, innocently reading NPR News on my phone, and two rural women, perhaps a daughter and her 70-ish mother, come in and sit nearby. An older man and woman come in and sit down, three feet away, and eight or nine feet across from me. The man strikes up a conversation with the two women. Within a minute or two the conversation turns political. The next thing I know, the man is saying Trump is the greatest of our presidents (I start shaking my head in sad resignation), followed by his telling them who our two worst presidents were: FDR and—I knew it was coming, as inevitable as sunrise—Obama. FDR, he explains, knew about a Japanese invasion coming two weeks before Pearl Harbor. Apparently assuming no explanation is necessary, he offers not even a specious reason for Obama, though I’d put my money on race. So what does the older woman say, clearly in such obvious agreement that the sides do not even require identification? “I think it’s just come down to good vs. evil.” And I thought, “yes ma’am, you’re right—but maybe not in the way you think.”

It set me back for the whole day, despite my reading of The Daily Stoic. I’m a Mississippian, but even so, such views expressed right in front of me still hit me like a punch in the gut. I probably should have offered a rejoinder, but it wasn’t my conversation, and I just shook my head. Who is living in Alice’s Wonderland, me or them? My truth is their are-you-crazy? lie. Their truth is my are-you-crazy? lie. Their yes is my no, their bad is my good, their black is my white, their up is my down. Either for me or for them, facts just don’t matter, or, more likely, twist themselves through some contorted and fevered illogic into their opposites. The nurse calls me in.

To my own satisfaction, at least, I’ve basically figured Trump out: dishonest, authoritarian, self-dealing, ignorant, bullying, racist, amoral, narcissistic, incompetent. The folks in the waiting room and upwards of 40% of the country have a totally different take, and I keep trying to figure out why. Even accepting the estimate that roughly 30% of any given population have “authoritarian tendencies,” what do they like so much about a man I find so abominable? Well, he’s “tough.” He breaks the rules. He tells it like it is. He never has to admit he’s wrong. He hates all those foreigners taking our jobs and ruining our way of life. He sticks it to those pointy-headed pinko liberals bent on raising our taxes and confiscating our guns. But beyond that, forever Trumpers, let’s get specific: What has he done that makes you like him so much? Do you like it when he lies to you, as when he said Mexico would pay for the wall? Or when he said he would have won the popular vote if it hadn’t been for all the fraud? Or when he said he saw the video of the Muslims dancing in the streets in New Jersey after 9/11? Did you like it when he stiffed those small contractors—often little guys, with a handful of employees—by refusing to pay the amount specified in the contract, then telling them to sue him, then stalling in court for years, sometimes bankrupting them? Do you like how he admires Putin and other autocrats and dictators like Kim Jong Un, Duarte of the Philippines, el-Sissi of Egypt, Erdogan of Turkey, and others? Do you like how he groped women and bragged about it on tape, but somehow claims that he never did it? Would you like it if he groped your wife or your daughter? Do you like how he sold out our intelligence community by saying how “strong” Putin was when the Russian denied interference in our 2016 election? Do you like how he mocked a genuine American war hero like John McCain? Do you like how he paid a doctor to say he had bone spurs in his feet to keep him out of Vietnam, especially if you or your friends or relatives got drafted or volunteered to go?

So what else do you like about him? Do you like how he tried to extort our ally Ukraine by withholding $391 million in arms—already appropriated by Congress—to help them fight his pal Putin unless Ukraine’s president publicly announced an investigation into the Bidens and into how Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in our 2016 election? Do you like how under his presidency, the former anti-Russia GOP has become the pro-Russia GOP? Do you like how he tries to use the presidency to make a buck by trying to have official events at his properties? Do you like how he doesn’t have the stomach to fire people face to face but uses Twitter instead? Did you like how he put a “perfect,” totally innocent phone call on a highly classified platform so no one could see how perfect and innocent it was? Do you like his megalomaniacal bragging about his “great and unmatched wisdom,” how he knows more than all “his” generals, how “only I can fix it,” how he’s a “genius,” and how he’s “the Chosen One”?

How about some more things you might like? Do you like how the generals who have worked for him shake their heads at how ignorant he is of world affairs or how he acts in ways contrary to our national interests, causing them to resign or be fired? Do you like, for example, how he betrayed our Kurdish allies, allies who did almost all the ground fighting against ISIS and lost almost 11,000 men doing so, by pulling our guys out and giving a green light to Turkey to go in and clean the Kurds out? And how his buddy Putin was then able to fill in the void we left, enhancing Russian influence? Do you like how he considers climate change a Chinese hoax? Do you just love how he and the GOP got that tax cut, 63% of which goes to the top 20% of earners, and nearly one-fourth goes to the top 5%? Are you in that top 20%, making over $150,100, or in that top 5%, making over $303,200? Do you like how he said that tax cut wouldn’t help him at all, and that his rich friends would be mad at him? Do you really think he cares anything about you other than your vote and your continued gullibility? And do you love how the GOP used to claim to be the party of fiscal responsibility, but then passed that tax cut that adds about three trillion to the national debt over ten years and puts the annual deficit at a trillion dollars for the first time? Do you like how his first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, called him a “moron,” and was honest enough not to deny that he said it? Do you like how he obstructs justice by firing FBI Director Comey and tries to prevent people under subpoena from testifying before congress? Do you like how in a 2011 poll only 30% of white evangelicals said that someone committing “immoral personal acts” could be an effective public servant, but now 72% say so? Do you like how he represents pretty much the opposite of what Christians, which he claims to be, would say constitutes character?

Two other questions. If Obama had done any of these things, not to mention a majority of  them, would you have liked him a little more? Or would you be screaming “impeachment” and “lock him up”?

Montana Blizzard Will Reach Alabama, President Says

Real Fake News Special Reports
Washington, D. C.

The four feet of snow that hit Browning, Montana this past weekend will likely reach Birmingham, Alabama, according to a map displayed by President Trump in the Oval Office. The map showed the hard-hit area of western Montana in red, but also included a large black loop that swooped down to the Gulf Coast state. Asked by an RFN reporter if the President thought it odd that several feet of snow would fall in a state whose temperatures were currently in the 80s and 90s, Mr. Trump said, “No, not at all. Climate change can happen on a dime. I’ll be heading down to Birmingham to toss out some rolls of paper towels to all the victims.”

President Defends Conversation With Ukraine President

Asked if he thought pressuring a foreign government to find dirt on his political opponents and withholding congressionally appropriated taxpayer funds for failing to do so was an impeachable offense, President Trump said that all presidents do that, and Hillary Clinton’s emails are outrageous and Congress ought to be investigating Benghazi. Reminded that some other Democrat would be his 2020 opponent, the President replied that “Biden had probably been to Benghazi” and had some “really bad” emails also. “And I’m one of the tallest presidents we’ve ever had,” Mr. Trump added.

President Offers to Buy Canada and Alaska

Real Fake News Special Reports
Washington, D. C.

President Offers to Buy Canada

President Trump, rebuffed by the Danish Prime Minister after offering to buy Greenland, approached Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada with an offer to buy Canada and Alaska. Told by a Real Fake News reporter that we already own Alaska, Mr. Trump responded by saying “Well then my offer just went down by one million dollars.” Trudeau said that he appreciated the President’s generous gesture, but felt that a majority of Canadians might object. Trump stated that negotiations were ongoing, and once the purchase was made, he would name the vast new territory Trumplandia.

President Sends Aid to Hurricane Victims in Alabama

President Trump released $4.2 million in financial assistance to “the sad victims of Hurricane Dorian in Alabama.” He added that he planned to visit the state and personally toss out rolls of paper towels “to all the people who had lost so much.” On the White House lawn he told reporters that he was “especially thankful that the hurricane missed Montana, which is right beside Alabama.”

Trump Proposes Dropping Nuclear Bomb on Everglades

The White House announced that President Trump is considering dropping an atomic bomb in the Everglades to rid the area of the ever-growing population of invasive pythons. He said that current methods are not working, adding that he “hates those slimy things.” Former National Security Adviser John Bolton told the President that the snakes do pose a security risk, but that a nuclear response seemed excessive, which seemed to annoy Mr. Trump. Asked if he thought the radiation would be a problem for nearby Miami, he replied that “radiation is just more fake science, and besides, the snakes would absorb all of it anyway. We’ll see what happens.”

Alaska Days 3-5

DAY 3, May 24, Friday

After two nights, we departed Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, around 9:30. Typical routine for a departure from a campsite with full hookup: Walk dogs. Eat breakfast, usually oatmeal or cereal, but sometimes pancakes. If waste tanks are anywhere close to full, or if in the far more likely situation Val decrees that she wants empty tanks, put on rubber gloves and empty the black tank (15 gallons), then the grey tank (32 gallons). Using the “dirty” hose, clean the dump hose and stow both in bin for that purpose. If the site does not have an individual dump site, go to the dump station when leaving the camp. Put sanitizer in toilet. Unhook the “clean” hose and stow in Tahoe. Unhook the power cord and stow in its location in side of camper. Switch refrigerator to propane. Make sure all outside items are stowed in Tahoe or camper. Hitch camper to Tahoe and avoid swearing as much as possible. How people did/do this without a partner or rearview camera is one of those eternal mysteries. Check brake and turn-signal lights after plugging in hitch power cord (a different one) to back of Tahoe. Get in Tahoe. Set Odometer A to zero to record day’s mileage. Review route and consider any alternatives. Drive.

Today’s route had us crossing the Ouachita mountains for over 50 miles—some steep hills and very curvy. It’s wise to pay attention to the road directional signs and the recommended speed. We took two hours for the first 70 miles, no doubt annoying the speedier drivers behind us. This was a day where we did not know a specific destination, thus hoping for a vacant campsite somewhere around Tulsa, 300-ish miles away. But flooding and Memorial Day weekend had lots of folks camping for fun or escaping the floods, and the state park we were hoping for was full, as were several private campgrounds on the west side of Tulsa (technology and apps are wonderful except when they’re not). Some Wal-marts and other businesses allow overnight camping, but there is no hook-up, and so you are dependent on your generator for A/C, and the generator may make it six hours before needing re-fueling. Today was hot and we were happy to find at the last moment a private RV park on the east side of Tulsa—well worth $35 just for the A/C. We hope to be in the Mt. Rushmore area in about three days, but Custer State Park, where we have reservations, had between one and two feet of snow and their power was out as of yesterday. But hope springs eternal.

DAY 4, May 25, Saturday

Leaving east side of Tulsa, OK at 9:30. Long day in the Tahoe—430 miles—but pleasant, easy driving on sometimes rough four-lane and interstate across the prairie, but little traffic and very flat. Most of it was straight up through Oklahoma. Val is having trouble with inflammation in her eyes, and she called Donna to go to the house and get the name of the prescription medicine she used last time. Jim called it in for her and we will pick it up tomorrow in Kearney, NE. So nice to have good friends! We arrived at a really pretty campsite in Henderson, NE around 6:30. Lots of mature trees, including what I think were silver maple, nice little lake, and considerable bird activity, including robins, red shouldered blackbirds, and killdeer. This camp had the nicest bathroom and showers I’ve seen in a campground. Val is particularly good at doing the technological navigation and logistics of finding campgrounds, especially with the help of the Allstays app. But my competence is improving, though she has to tell me a lot. Doing this solo—driver and navigator in one—seems as if it would be quite challenging. Lots of the campgrounds are full due to Memorial Day weekend and some local flooding, especially in OK. Thanks to cell phones—still an amazing concept to me—we can do all our calling from the car, though some of the campgrounds don’t answer, and they are reluctant to hold a site for you unless late in the day. We had our first campfire tonight as it was pleasantly cool, in high contrast to the 91 degrees of the previous day. The dogs enjoyed bounding through the grass and large trees, a level of activity somewhat unusual for Lucy. Cooked veggie hot dogs on our butane grill, supplemented with baked beans and salad.

DAY 5, May 26, Sunday

Another long day in the saddle. We left this cute little private campground around 9 and lit out for the territories, 427 miles worth. Some of it was on interstate, but the vast majority of it was rolling on two-lane roads across the prairie, sometimes flat or rolling hills, but sometimes through lumpy hills that looked for all the world like sand dunes with grass. Sure enough, they were called sand hills. Traffic was almost non-existent, and Val confessed to being a little creeped out after hours of such driving. You could go a score or more miles without seeing a house. The highways tended to be straight, and often you could see where the arrow-like highway, often seriously rough, crested over the hilly horizon at least two miles distant. No state parks being available, we stayed at a pricey KOA, had pizza at their little snack shack, and noticed cooling weather. The oatmeal cap came off in our pantry drawer that we had made, and Val had a time cleaning it all as I was out walking the dogs.

Alaska Days 6-8

DAY 6, May 27, Monday

We left the KOA just outside Badlands National Park, South Dakota, after dumping at the dump station and discovering that one of the bolts supporting the grey tank pipe had apparently sheered off, diminishing by half the support for the plastic pipe. We managed to get the nut off with a little difficulty, press the bolt up through the Casita frame bar’s hole and re-attach the nut. We are concerned that all the bumpiness and occasional bouncing, or porpoising, is challenging for bolts and rivets alike. But the fix was adequate, though it bears watching. A three-eighths bolt instead of a one-quarter inch bolt would be better. We then drove through Badlands National Park on the way to our destination of Custer State Park, roughly 127 miles away. The Badlands seem forbidding and yet majestic with these other-worldly rock formations, mostly rounded, but others spire-like, with deep valleys separating them. The day was cold (around 50), windy, and rainy, so the park did not show at its best, which on a sunny day is often near sunset when the colors—mostly yellow and red on the stone but surrounded by brilliant green grass—pop out. I felt a little guilty giving the park such short shrift, but it wasn’t even on our original itinerary, so I got over it. At one point we needed something out of the Thule roof carrier, and I was beginning to worry that we were not going to be able to close it and would have to go the rest of the trip with it tied down or something. When closed, a rod goes through a hole in a bar at the front and back as well as attaching in the middle. Anyway, we managed to close it. This trip will be a real test of my stoicism and patience, and I really am working on that. But frustration comes easily to me, I am ashamed to say. At least I am aware of it, trying to be a little cooler under duress.

We then went to super touristy Wall, S. D., famous for its “drug” store, which is really a large complex with a restaurant and gift shops with all sorts of knick-knacks as well as some useful items. We had lunch there and had some cake doughnuts. I also enjoyed the western art on the walls—the kind where there is some dramatic or perilous situation, sometimes reflecting a passage from a western novel. One good example was that of a wounded or possibly even dying man in the arms of his wife in the mountainous wilderness, with her staring not at him but into the distance. The title was something like “Yes, I Love You,” presumably her words to him, but possibly being said with less than total conviction as she contemplates her own fate. Does she leave for possible help many days away? Does she die in this lonely wilderness? Does she have a gun? Or does she stay and either nurse his wound or wait for him to die?

From there we left for Custer State Park, mostly on an interstate with an 80 mph limit. But for part of it there was dense fog, dense enough that you had to be almost at a road sign before you could read it. I was only doing 62, and certainly hoping no idiot doing 80 would plow into me, or, by contrast, I would not plow into someone stopped or going too slow. But we did fine and arrived at Custer in rain. Val made a nice tomato-pasta meal for supper. We set up the table, but it is a bit of a nuisance to do so and to stow afterwards. The luxury of a permanently set up table in a larger camper would be a treat.

DAY 7, May 28, Tuesday

The rain of yesterday continued, and we did little other than go to the Visitors Center and ask about possible evacuation of the park, since the creeks were raging and overflowing, and crews were putting sandbags in front of park cabins that were close to the water. One or two roads were indeed closed, but there was no evacuation. Decked out in our rain coats, we had a dessert at the Game Lodge in the park and bought a few postcards. Finally in late afternoon the rain stopped, and the camp host knocked on our door and assured Val, who had expressed her anxiety about an emergency evacuation to him, that all was well. Very decent of him.

For the second night in a row, the propane detector alarm went off the night before, or actually in the wee hours of Wednesday. It has cried wolf several times during our ownership of the Casita, and we have to get up, hit the re-set switch, fan it vigorously, turn on the overhead fan or the A/C, and hope it doesn’t come back on. Since we are plugged in to electricity, the propane tank is not even on, and the problem is common among Casita owners. Various odors, apparently including human or canine flatulence, can set it off, as can a hair dryer. Then after that little episode, and sleep had returned to all, I was awakened by a trickle of water right in my face from the ongoing rain, and Val quickly ascertained that it was coming from an exterior capped plug for the television wire. Some carpet was wet, and we sopped some of it with towels and spent the next day with the blower from the air conditioner aimed at it. During the morning of Wednesday, with it still raining, I covered the outside plug with duct tape that matches the Casita. This too is a not an uncommon problem, and Val can go to her fellow Casita cultists and find many others who have usually experienced the problem and can offer possible solutions.

DAY 8, May 29, Wednesday

Sunshine at last. The wild creeks have abated their torrid pace but not yet returned to their tranquil selves. But the sun is out and things are starting to dry out. We did two things today: We took the Wildlife Loop with the dogs and saw bison, pronghorn, mountain bluebirds (beautiful), barn swallow, western meadowlark, the ubiquitous robins, brown-headed cowbird, turkey vultures, Brewer’s blackbird, and tree swallows. The O’Neals have done this loop and the curvy, hilly ride up to Mt. Rushmore on bikes, and I am feeling like quite a wuss.

Then in the afternoon we drove to Rushmore. It was admittedly pretty cool to see “in person” what you have seen pictures of all your life. I was reminded of Cary Grant’s line in North By Northwest as he looked upon those famous four that he didn’t like the way Teddy was looking at him. Val cooked a fine pizza in the electric frying pan for dinner. We covered 91 miles today, all without the camper of course.

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