Presidential Papers

Photograph Source: DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Marianique Santos – Public Domain

Donald Trump is a despicable human. This is a more or less common understanding among those who don’t buy whatever he’s selling. This being said, are you still wondering how Donald Trump and his followers “stole” your country? Are you still hoping you can win it back in the next election? Even more importantly, do you think it can be repaired if you do win it back? If so, what exactly do you mean by repaired? Does this mean you want it to return to those heady years under Barack Obama, when Wall Street took the nation’s treasury and went on vacation? You remember, when the military budget continued to grow, the so-called global war on terror expanded to dozens more countries and the US used its drones to first kill suspected terrorists and their families, then launched more drones to kill the first responders who came to help them. Is that the nation you want back?

Or maybe it’s the nation we lived in when George W. Bush was president; when Dick Cheney went quail hunting at a private reserve and shot somebody’s face half-off—like the US military did several times a day in Iraq? Killing and maiming Iraqis for sport. You remember, when the planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the PATRIOT Act—all thousands of its pages—suddenly appeared, just in time to save the very people whose class interests it served. The masses shed their tears for the dead in New York City, put on their red, white and blue underwear, rounded up the Muslims, and ate their freedom fries. Dubya told us to go shopping, the NFL paid for some GIs to march and noisy planes to fly while Major League Baseball made standing and singing the Irving Berlin pap called “God Bless America” a mandatory thing in the seventh inning every Sunday.

How about if we go back to Bill Clinton’s presidency? That was some show, huh? Penis in an intern’s mouth and prurient interest for the sanctimonious lawyer from Pepperdine—Ken Starr. It reminded me of the report on pornography back in the Reagan days; the report itself was at least as good as a poor man’s Henry Miller. The only thing it lacked was Miller’s writing ability and any imagination. Prudes have a hard time coming up with pornographic or erotic episodes. One assumes this is because their experience is limited to the most basic missionary activity. It’s worse than their proselytizing for god, country and dollar. Clinton made the nation safe for Bush and Trump. It was his administration that decided poor single women with children didn’t deserve a helping hand and openly called young black men predators. He made it okay for a certain wing of the Democratic Party to be openly racist again. Strom Thurmond died a satisfied man. The global war on terrorists that Washington doesn’t need or want for its own purposes was ramped up under Slick Willie, but his dick-waving war crime remains the bombing of what used to be Yugoslavia. Made him presidential, they say.

I work at a public library these days. Last week a young man—maybe in his late twenties—began talking to a co-worker and me about George HW Bush. Dubya’s daddy. He told me how Papa Bush was one of the best presidents in the history of the United States. When I tried to point out that he was a CIA stooge and a corporate patsy, this fellow said but what about his work with the Nicaraguan revolutionaries? It took me a second before I realized he meant the contras. In other words, the counterrevolutionaries. I told the dude that Papa Bush was lucky he didn’t go to jail for that criminal enterprise. Cocaine, guns, money and corruption. Classic CIA, classic criminality, classic anti-communism, classic gringo. The young man insisted I was wrong, pointed out that Ronald Reagan was probably the second-best president ever. What can you say? What is there to say? So, I asked him if he thought Nixon was the third best. His response was that Nixon was wronged by the commies and the Democrats. I told him that we did our best to get him out of the White House. The look of incredulity on his face was worth putting up with his right-wing history lesson.

I never understood the great communicator moniker the media gave to Reagan. I never understood how liberals could consider him a decent human being, even with them being liberals. During his 1984 re-election campaign Reagan made a campaign stop at a community college in Cupertino, California. Nowadays, that burg is in the heart of the concrete and ethernet jumble they call Silicon Valley. Back then, the internet egg was just being fertilized. The site of Reagan’s campaign rally was a small sports stadium on the campus. Fences surrounded the entire facility. Cops, secret service and other law enforcement types flanked the two or three entry gates. Each and every attendee going through these gates was searched with a pat-down and a metal detector. I rode down with a couple carloads of people who were in CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador). Their plan was to unfurl their banners and signs and try to walk through the gates. Once they had gathered with signs and stuff they were surrounded by cops. Cops in uniforms, cops in shiny shoes and black suits, cops with navy polo shirts with FBI printed on them and then cops who were pretending they weren’t cops. Typical cop show. I separated myself from the CISPES people, made certain I wasn’t carrying anything sharp, anything illegal or anything political. I walked to a different gate, got patted down, searched and even asked my name. Then I walked in.

It was like being at a mall in any white suburb of America. No black people, no openly gay people, only a couple of rich Latinos and Asians, and no Native Americans. A band was playing Lee Greenwood’s corny and even pathetic paean to patriotism. More than half the crowd was singing along— “God bless the USA….” The lead singer was a George Hamilton lookalike and the band was competent. The song still sucked. I wondered around feeling conspicuous with my long hair, beard and unpressed blue jeans. Most of the Reaganites ignored me like they did when they mistakenly ended up on Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue. It’s like they figured if they don’t look the weirdo in the eye, they won’t be noticed. A small group of Reagan Youth (not the punk rock band) told me to get a job and cut my hair. I gave them the finger. Their alpha male guy responded in kind. We were even and went our separate ways. There was a GOP hack talking at the podium. I moved closer to an exit in case things got ugly. Ronnie Reagan was due to speak in less than thirty minutes. The anticipation in the crowd was building. It wasn’t exactly the same as that last fifteen to thirty minutes before the Rolling Stones played the intro of their opening song, but the suits and hundred-dollar polo shirts were feeling it. Their great communicator was about to communicate. California Uber Alles. Meanwhile, my friends from the CISPES group had finally got into the stadium. They had somehow smuggled a banner reading US OUT OF EL SALVADOR into the venue and began to unfurl it. Within seconds, Reaganites from all sides attacked the small group and ripped the banner from their hands. Cops stepped in, reassured the Reaganites that the authorities would deal with the commies and that their leader would still appear on time.

Sure enough, ten or fifteen minutes later the song Hail to the Chief came over the tinny PA system and the stage began to fill up with people—mostly white and mostly ugly. The young Republican couple next to me could not contain their excitement. The male of the two squeezed his girlfriend closely and stuck his hand on the crotch of her Jordache jeans. I tried not to look and immediately heightened my senses. I could feel the threat from the folks around me. When the Star-Spangled Banner began playing over the sound system, I abandoned my normal response and stood up. It wasn’t worth getting put in the hospital over a freaking song. After a couple fundraising pleas from the California GOP spokesman, Reagan shuffled to the stage. The teleprompter was turned on and he began his speech. It wasn’t great communication. My favorite part was when he lost his place in the text rolling across the teleprompter screen because of some chanting from the few CISPES folks still in the crowd. I joined in of course. When he returned to his speech, it was clear to anyone listening that he had missed a sentence or two. Non-sequential words stumbled from his tongue. This form of addressing Republican crowds would become the norm in the years that followed, with each Bush taking this formless form to a different place and Donald Trump transcending them all in his incoherent ramblings that represent his speechmaking.

While Reagan caught up with his stumbling tongue cops in suits began to surround me. One such Robocop moved in next to me, flashed his badge and told me I needed to leave. I asked him why and he told me he didn’t have to say. I asked him if he was arresting me. He told me if I left without any problem, I was free to go but I needed to go with his partner to the nearest exit. Being stuck between a cop and a hostile crowd, I nodded my head and followed the Secret Service suit out of the venue. Not wanting to stick around in the hope I would find my friends, I walked a mile or two, stuck out my thumb and hitchhiked to Santa Cruz, here the Reaganites were few and far between. At least in the places I hung out at.

The founding fathers were not that different than Donald Trump. They were slavers and believed the land they stole from the indigenous people was theirs by god-given right. The pursuit of profit informed what little conscience they had, just like it has informed most US presidents, if not all. History absolves them from very little, despite the mythology their successors have created around them.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: