Thursday, August 24, 2023

Selling the Sizzle, Not the Steak

Do you want the sizzle or the steak? 

Restaurateurs, I learned almost 50 years ago when writing for Nation’s Restaurant News, have been counseled that a profitable way to camouflage less than ideal food offerings is to enhance their dramatic presentations. In other words, sell the sizzle, not necessarily the steak. 

If you watched the Republican presidential candidate debate, as I forced myself to do Wednesday night, you were presented a choice of candidates selling populist sizzle with few meaty realities. Oh, you also observed stale beef at the center of the stage in the form of Ron DeSantis who looked like a junior member of a debate team going up against Daniel Webster (sorry, couldn’t resist inserting a reference to the great orator of pre Civil War America, a time many Republican conservatives would like to reimpose on our country). 

Vivek Ramaswamy played his Donald Trump clone (or was that clown) card, spouting populist angst that only the most avid MAGAmite would swallow, including closing down half the government, ending aid to Ukraine and Israel while authorizing seek and destroy missions inside Mexico against drug cartels. Vivek drew the most attacks because he was nasty like Trump and, as an outsider from career politicians surrounding him, represented the most current Trumpian incarnation, which Mike Pence skewered for his lack of governmental experience. Of course, that inexperience didn’t stop Pence from embracing Trump back in 2016, even after the Access Hollywood tape revealed the true inner Trump morality. 

Pence spent most of his time portraying himself as a religious true believer, but his signature moment was recounting his unequivocal allegiance to the Constitution and not Trump when he certified election results on January 6. 

Pence even got Chris Christie to praise his actions that day. Christie seemed the most relaxed of the candidates, and the most disappointed, that Trump was not present to confront. Vivek was an underwhelming substitute for his ire. 

If Pence cloaked himself in religion, Senator Tim Scott invoked the tropism of a Black man owing his success to being raised by a strong mother figure. 

Standing on one leg, so to speak, after suffering an Achilles tendon injury playing basketball earlier in the day, North Dakota governor Doug Burgum seemed like a good vice presidential choice with heartland values that would offset his lack of national experience. 

Nikki Haley stood out not only as the only female but also as a voice of reason in proposing a less extreme approach to abortion restrictions. The former ambassador to the United Nations also attacked Vivek for his rama-ding-dong foreign relations positions. 

Asa Hutchinson, with too many jobs on his resume to include here, though he did manage to mention them whenever he talked, was a voice of calm and reason, though not necessarily truth in advertising. He praised his eight years as governor of Arkansas which ended earlier this year. But based on US News & World Report’s analysis, Arkansas ranked 45th out of 50 states in overall excellence, including 49th for crime and corrections, 43rd for education, 47th for health care and 40th for infrastructure ( 

So much for the candidates. Fox News, on the other hand, picked two patient and professional moderators in Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum. They asked intelligent questions and pointed out when candidates, particularly DeSantis, delivered stump speech responses without answering their specific questions. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

A Jury of His Peers from a Locale He Disdains

Here’s a delicious irony from the indictment of Donald Trump in Washington, DC, federal court:

Citizens of our nation’s capital, denied voting representation in Congress, will constitute a jury of Trump’s peers to assess his guilt or not (again, his “innocence” is not in question; a not guilty verdict means the government [he failed to supplant] failed to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt).  

Trump has been against extending voting representation to DC residents, much less adding the district to the number of states in the Union. He and his Republican cohorts fear, probably rightly so, that such moves would add Democratic members to the House and Senate. 

I am not suggesting jurors will vote guilty as retribution for Trump’s disdain. If the evidence is there they will vote accordingly. 

Speaking of evidence, I don’t know about you but I cannot wait to see the fabricator-in-chief’s promised 100-page document containing proof, real honest to goodness verifiable proof, that he won the 2020 election and is not liable for any illegal action he facilitated in trying to overturn Joseph Biden’s declared victory. Trump says he will release it Monday. But I believe his lawyers will advise against revealing any argument of his innocence that could be  easily refuted by prosecutors in Washington, Florida, Georgia and New York. 

Several recent articles have posited that the prosecution of Trump could have disastrous effects including his reelection as president. Yes, that would be beyond terrible. Disastrous. Tragic. Go ahead, add your own adjective. 

Yes, with each indictment Trump’s polling numbers go up, seemingly assuring him the Republican presidential nomination. But what’s the alternative to prosecution? A precedent-setting acknowledgement that a president is above the law? Surely, anyone who cares about our democratic republic, and who fathoms the threat Trump has posed and still does to its values and even existence, cannot let his transgressions go unchallenged. 

It is not a foregone conclusion Trump will be found guilty in any of the four indictments he faces. But as any caring, supportive parent has told a shy or reluctant offspring not eager to taste a new food or wary about participating in a sport or musical endeavor, “Try it, just try it.” (After typing those words of encouragement I realized it was a serendipitous, apt pun concerning Trump’s legal status.) 

Friday, August 11, 2023

Maui: Paradise Lost

Scenes of the horrific fire that has transformed the idyllic paradise of Maui into an inferno of Dantesque proportions are especially searing to anyone who has been to the Hawaiian island and the historic town of Lahaina, the former capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom in the early 19th century.

Gilda and I visited Maui in April a little more than 30 years ago to attend the annual convention of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.  We mixed business with some pleasure by taking a trip to Lahaina one afternoon. Picturesque, Lahaina’s central attraction was an enormous banyan tree planted in 1873 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the town’s first Protestant mission. 

Banyan trees feature outstretched trunks that spread out horizontally from the central core. Standing 60 feet tall in a square in front of the Old Lahaina Courthouse, Lahaina’s banyan tree’s foliage was consumed by the fire. The main trunk and limbs appear to be charred. Its viability is uncertain. 

At a time when more than 65 people have perished, with scores more expected to be added to the fatality list, it might seem callous to bemoan the loss of a tree. But trees, whether they be Redwoods in California or the annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, convey a sense of permanence and solidity independent of transient conditions like war, pestilence and even fire. 

Far From Boring: Back in 2010 I described Hawaii’s weather as “borrring.”   

“Every day the temperature is 80 degrees, give or take a degree or two.”

During Gilda’s and my second trip to Hawaii, this time in January to visit Ellie during her seven months on Oahu after her college graduation, we listened to the weather report every day. It really was unnecessary, as it never varied: “Sunny, high 80 degrees with chance of scattered afternoon showers.”

Oh, sure, compared to a blizzard back in New York 80 degrees sounded appealing. It surely was a respite from bitter cold and snow. But as a steady daily diet, I’m not sure I could tolerate one season basically 12 months a year.

All that has changed with recent events. I can never again think of Maui as a tropical paradise. 

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Civics Lessons Courtesy of Donald Trump

 And now a word or two in praise of Donald Trump. 

Perhaps no other person in our nation’s history—not Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. or anyone else you might think of—has been as instrumental in providing a national civics lesson, time and time again. 

Think about it. For this exercise, remove from your mind any consideration of guilt or innocence. Just concentrate on what lessons Trump has provided through his involvement over the last eight years in the following areas instrumental to the proper and legal workings of our government:  

The impeachment process

Insurrection charge

Sedition charge

Voter suppression

The peaceful and orderly transition of power

Free speech

Trial by one’s peers

Grand jury proceedings

Election integrity

The Emolument Clause of the Constitution

The Rule of Law

Conspiracy charge

Obstruction charge

Border security

Asylum seeker

The role of state secretaries of state

Presidential pardon power

The role of a special counsel

The role of an independent counsel

The role of deputy attorney general

The role of a special prosecutor

The role of a real-life fixer

Top secret document classifications

The role of the National Archives

The Presidential Records Act 

The electoral certification process

Slates of Electoral College electors

The merging of church and state

Primary and presidential debate decorum

International alliances

White supremacists, Oath Keepers, Proud Boys

We owe a debt of gratitude to Donald Trump for beaming a spotlight on these 31 issues. No doubt there are more that we could be thankful for.