A grandiose bully’s perfect farewell song

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Victor Cortez phoned me Wednesday morning with news that Donald Trump’s flunkies were blasting Frank Sinatra’s old hit “My Way” on the tarmac as Dear Leader took off for southern Florida where, if we’re lucky, he will spend the rest of his miserable life without venturing north again.

“Haha,” I said into my phone. “That’s the perfect song for a departing, delusional blowhard.”

“Ironic, too,” noted Victor, who is my friend Swamp Rabbit’s parole officer. “Sinatra was for many years a liberal Democratic integrationist. Three words that Trump hates.”

“Here’s an even better irony,” I replied. “Sinatra loathed Trump, just like all the other people Trump cheated or tried to cheat when he did business with them.”

As Trump was staging his self-congratulatory farewell, Joe Biden was in Washington, D.C., preparing to make his inaugural speech and deal with the fact that Trump has debased the presidency by routinely lying, obstructing justice, using the office to advance his business interests, appointing unqualified grifters to high office, restoking racism, pardoning unrepentant murderers and thieves, trashing environmental laws, undermining the election process and inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

“What am I leaving out? ” I asked Swamp Rabbit, who had just appeared on the front porch of my shack.

“Ain’t no room to list all the bad things Trump done,” Swamp Rabbit said, “but don’t forget to mention he let the coronavirus plague get so out of control that the death toll’s up to 400,000.”

Oh yes, there’s that. And the disheartening spectacle of an inauguration that was off-limits to almost everybody but the National Guard because of the plague and the fear that Trumpers would follow up on the insurrection and attempted coup.

“Not to mess up your day, but the evil varmint said he’ll be back in some form,” the rabbit added.

“In the form of a new killer virus, probably,” I said. “Let’s hope there’s a vaccine against him next time.”

Footnote: After a while, even Sinatra hated “My Way,” which was written for him by Paul Anka. For all his faults, Sinatra was a whole lot more self-aware and decent than Trump. But who isn’t?

One more: The Sid Vicious version of “My Way” would have suited Trump better.

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Pity the poor, oppressed Capitol raiders


Swamp Rabbit said he was in a terrible state after watching reruns of the mob that stormed the Capitol last week at the behest of their Dear Leader, who hid in the White House while they did his dirty work.

“You told me last week they were mostly frustrated football fans,” I reminded him. “Did you change your mind?”

He answered my question by calling up a news story that listed some of the professions of those who took part in the siege:

…Lawyers, local lawmakers, real estate agents, law enforcement officers, military veterans, construction workers, hair stylists and nurses… devout Christians who highlighted Bible verses, adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory and members of documented hate groups…

“So we shouldn’t conclude the mob was just a bunch of no-account redneck blowhard football fans in dad jeans and ball caps?” I asked.

“That’s right, Odd Man. Most of them Capitol raiders were god-fearing racists who have mortgages and own pickup trucks as big as tanks and all sorts of — what you call ’em? — luxury goods.”

“But that’s what I said last week,” I said, reminding him again. The question is, why did the raiders want to block the election results?

“Because the Democrats want them to put on masks to avoid the covid. And because they ain’t making enough money to keep up with their bills. They feel oppressed by the gov’mint.”

You’re crazy, I told him. Oppressed people can’t afford to play weekend warriors (weekday, in this case) dressed up in camo clothes and commando gear from Dick’s Sporting Goods. They don’t have the money to travel hundreds of miles, rent hotel rooms and take pictures of each other smashing artifacts in the Capitol.

“Besides, it’s their leader who heads the government,” I said. “The guy who did nothing to stop the covid and led the charge for a two-trillion-dollar tax cut for the rich and helped stall a second stimulus for more than six months.”

“But that ain’t what they heard on the social media and Fox News,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Give ’em a break. It’s time we all made friends, doncha think?”

“No way,” I replied. “You can’t make friends with people who are too dumb to know who their enemy is.”

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Long-anticipated coup attempt fails. Game over?


Swamp Rabbit was stretched out on the bare ground near his shack, looking like he’d just survived an ordeal that tested his limits. “Feels like I got chased 20 miles by a pack of bloodhounds,” he told me.

Actually, he’d been indoors for hours watching cable TV coverage of the Trump-inspired mob that breached the U.S. Capitol, where Congress was certifying Joe Biden’s election. The action was almost nonstop. Rioters climbed walls, shattered windows, broke down doors, waved Yankee and Confederate flags, strolled across the marble-tiled floor of Statuary Hall, posed for a selfie with a Capitol cop, rushed into the Senate chamber and even ransacked the offices of various Congress critters. Five people ended up dead.

“I’m exhausted,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Just watching them yahoos run wild wore me out.”

The historic siege is already well-documented. One memorable photo shows a smiling yahoo sitting in Nancy Pelosi’s office with cellphone in hand and one foot up on her desk. A shirtless QAnon Viking in horns and furs, with a flag and a megaphone, was filmed relaxing in the Senate chamber.

While reviewing news clips, it dawned on Swamp Rabbit that most of the mob members were young or middle-aged white guys who looked more like moronic sports fans than insurrectionists. He wondered if they raided the Capitol in frustration because the pandemic had made it so hard to attend football games this year.

“No way,” I said. “Some of them are QAnon supporters who swear that Pelosi and the global elites are in cahoots with Satanists who kill children and drink their blood. But most are just old-fashioned racist wackos who think Democrats are communists.”

“I bet most of them are football fans,” Swamp Rabbit insisted.

The only thing for sure is that they were all Trump fans. There were thousands of them outside or inside the Capitol. Their hero had promised to march with them but he never showed up. It was much safer to hide in the Fuhrerbunker and incite a riot in the hope of somehow stopping the certification process.

“Just like in football,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Trump threw one of them Hail Mary passes but it got batted down in the end zone.”

Twelve more days until the clock runs out…

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The year of ‘You can’t make this stuff up’


Asked to summarize 2020 in one phrase, humorist Dave Barry wrote “Four Seasons Total Landscaping.” Perfect. Donald Trump’s wacko coup attempt, along with the Covid-19 plague, dominated the news late in the year, and nowhere was the Trump legal team’s surreal stupidity showcased more vividly than at the Four Seasons news conference in Philadelphia.

“What’s stupid about the Four Seasons?” Swamp Rabbit said regarding Barry’s dispatch. “I thought it was one of them luxury hotels.”

“That’s the Four Seasons in Center City,” I said. “Four Season Total Landscaping is near the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, in the middle of nowhere, next to Fantasy Island Adult Books and across the street from the Delaware Valley Cremation Center. Rudy Giuliani and some other Trump flunkies scheduled a news conference to challenge the reality of Trump’s electoral defeat, but they got confused and booked it at the landscaping business instead of the hotel, and that’s where it was held. “

As Barry wrote in his year-end review for Washington Post, “We are not making this up. Nobody could make this up.”

Swamp Rabbit wanted to hear some happy stories from 2020, but the news was all bad:

+ Despite advice from medical experts, right-wingers everywhere refused to wear masks to help protect themselves and others from Covid-19, which had killed almost 350,000 Americans by New Year’s Day. “They’d rather die than put on a mask and be mistaken for a Democrat,” Swamp Rabbit explained.

+ Despite widespread hardship caused by Covid-19, Senate Republican leaders blocked  a measure to increase direct stimulus payments from $600 to $2,000.

+ About 74 million Americans voted to re-elect Trump despite his impeachment and his election-related decision to deny the seriousness of Covid-19. Despite his suggestion that ingesting bleach might kill the virus!

+ Overpopulation, deforestation, wet markets and the illegal wildlife trade continued unabated despite evidence that these problems expose humans to pathogens like Covid-19.

+ Record-breaking wildfires, heat waves and hurricanes battered the United States and the rest of the world. A 100-degree day in Siberia was recorded. Meanwhile, Republicans continued to deny the reality of climate change and the importance of slowing it by investing in clean energy.

“Enough, I don’t want to hear no more,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Why don’t you just wish everybody Happy New Year and tell them the dark days are over and done?”

“Okay, the dark days are done,” I said, handing him my sunglasses. “The future’s so bright, you better wear these.”

Clarification: Mark Twain actually wrote “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” The shorter version of this quotation (see above) is catchier and thus more commonly cited, even though Twain probably never said it.

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Let there be (more) light

solstice tree

“Damn. The day ain’t hardly begun and it’s already time to go back to bed.”

Swamp Rabbit was bemoaning the arrival of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, when the Northern Hemisphere tilts farthest from the sun.

“You’re suffering from seasonal affective disorder,” I said. “Get yourself some lunch and snap out of it.”

And that’s what he did. He went back to his shack, downed a few shots of bourbon, and said he was ready to make himself useful. But then he started reminiscing about the 2019 winter solstice, before the plague hit and we lost our day jobs, and just like that he was seasonally disordered again.

“I miss them good old days,” he said. “When I didn’t have to shoplift from the Superfridge to have a good meal. When Trump was about to be impeached and it looked like the country might not go down the tubes.”

“Enough of that,” I said. “We suffered through the annus horribilis and hit rock bottom, but each day from now on will be longer than the day before.”

He wasn’t convinced. The sun clung to the horizon and rarely showed its face. The swamp frogs hibernated. The swamp cats slept under an old blanket all day.

“That’s why Christmas takes place near the solstice,” I said. “Just like Saturnalia, when the pagan Romans exchanged gifts. Those pesky Christians knew they had to get the people on their side, so they launched a clever rebranding campaign and replaced the one holiday with the other, and here we are.”

“Where are we?” Swamp Rabbit said. “The plague is worse than ever. The Grinch is stealing Christmas. The Hog Monster just pardoned all them murderers and white-collar crooks.”

But this was a few days ago. I think Swamp Rabbit, on Christmas Day, finally understands that the purpose of the holiday — of religions — is to celebrate the gradual return of the light.

“Look, you even got a Christmas card,” I said this morning, handing him a piece of mail that had come to my shack by accident.

He opened the envelope. It was a card from his ex-wife with a hand-written message inside: “Better Christmas alone than Christmas with a creep.”

He looked downcast, so I slapped him on the back. “Look on the bright side,” I said. “At least she remembered you on the holiday.”

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Anti-boomer demands recount of 2,020 greatest songs

“I bet they ain’t got none of my favorites,” my neighbor Swamp Rabbit said when WXPN in Philadelphia started playing the 2,020 all-time greatest songs, an end-of-year list based on votes cast by the station’s listeners.

“You might be surprised,” I replied. “Listeners were allowed to vote for anything, and each voter could choose from one to ten songs. I’m sure there were votes for some of those hillbilly songs you like.”

I told him I’d checked XPN’s audience demographics. It seemed obvious the playlist would include a ton of classic rock, a decent amount of soul and R&B, a little hip-hop, a smattering of tunes from other genres and enough eclectic oddball stuff to keep the list from being completely predictable.

The countdown went on for about a week, 24 hours a day except for a break before the Top 100 songs. I tuned in from time to time and at one point noted that many if not most of the songs were from the 1960s and 1970s, when pop music was the most important driving force behind cultural change.

“OK boomer,” Swamp Rabbit growled. “The real reason so many of them selections are old is because a lot of the voters were old. You and all them peeps who grew up burning your draft cards on Main Street and preaching the brotherhood of man. I demand a recount.”

I was surprised that Swamp Rabbit was so upset until I remembered he’s a lot younger than me and only looks old because he drinks Wild Turkey all day.

“You’re probably half-right,” I conceded. “Only 2,473 ballots were cast, representing less than one percent of XPN’s per-week listening audience. And I’ll bet a lot of the voters were old and white. And a lot of young people don’t even listen to radio anymore. They just download the songs they want to hear from the Internet.”

Swamp Rabbit wasn’t placated. He was mad, and so was I, that the list included so many songs by lame-ass Billy Joel and the hippy-dippy Grateful Dead and overrated Bruce Springsteen, and Led Zeppelin’s inevitable, insufferable “Stairway to Heaven.” And why no Ernest Tubbs, Loretta Lynn, Jimmy Rodgers, Kitty Wells and so on? Only one song by the genius songwriter Hank Williams!

“Don’t flip out, it’s just a list,” I said. “The point is to attract more listeners. Music fans find out some station is doing a best-ever list and they tune in to hear if their favorite songs are on it. Then they argue about the list, like we’re doing right now. It beats arguing about politics and the pandemic.”

I confessed that my own greatest songs list would be predictable. My Top 40 would consist mostly of cuts by Bob Dylan, Beatles, Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, and probably something by David Bowie, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Muddy Waters, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Sly Stone, Van Morrison, Captain Beefheart, Cream, Beck, Buffalo Springfield, the Band, Chrissie Hynde, Radiohead, Bob Marley, James Brown, Kinks, Doors, Who… But who cares what I think?

“That’s the first intelligent thing you said all day,” Swamp Rabbit said.

Footnote: The rabbit and I agreed on one thing: Super-long cuts by jazz and prog-rock artists shouldn’t have been included. “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” is a great piece of music, but it is not a song.

One more: Sure, the “greatest songs” idea was a gimmick, but the execution was fun. I tuned in one day long enough to hear Frank Sinatra’s grandiose “My Way” segue perfectly into King Crimson’s “The Court of the Crimson King.” I’ll never hear that segue again, thank God, but I’m glad I heard it once.

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Is this progress? A show of hands, please

ca fire

Swamp Rabbit whistled to summon the birds and beasts of the ponds, mudflats and woodlands. “Listen up, critters,” he shouted. “Here’s what’s happening.”

He read aloud from a list of calamities that have made 2020 a landmark year:

  • Twin plagues of Trumpism and Covid-19, both of which surged to their worst levels in the final quarter of the year.
  • A Republican campaign to cast doubt on the soundness of the U.S. Constitution and the credibility of the electoral process.
  • A Donald Trump-led effort to undo what’s left of our environmental protection laws, even as glaciers melted and fires consumed whole forests and many species died out.
  • The country’s third and worst recession of the 21st century so far, closing thousands of businesses and putting millions of people out of work, made possible in large part by Republican reluctance to fight the spread of Covid-19.
  • A dramatic increase in shoplifting of necessities, a consequence of soaring unemployment and Republican opposition to further government aid to those hurt by the economic downturn.

“And that ain’t the half of it,” Swamp Rabbit shouted. “The question is, will we make progress next year, or is the idea of progress just one of them illusions that the peeps latched on to because America could put a man on the moon and make sixty different brands of cornflakes?”

An eagle circled high above my shack. Turtles stuck their necks out. Geese cackled at a raccoon peeking from inside a hollow log. The swamp cats gathered. And so on; my swamp neighbors are nothing if not diverse.

“How many of you critters still believe in the idea of progress?” Swamp Rabbit shouted. “A show of hands, please.”

None of them responded, probably because none of them have hands. (Swamp Rabbit is only barely human, but he does have hands.)

Does Swamp Rabbit think Joe Biden represents progress, or is he worried Biden might pave the way for another Trumpian president because the Democratic establishment is still too dependent on rich donors and out of touch with the needs of working-class constituents?

“Biden ain’t likely to try to stage a coup if he runs again and gets beat,” he said. “That’s progress, I guess.”

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‘Reaching across the aisle’ into the void


Swamp Rabbit was happy for our former president. “That new book he wrote is a bestseller. Most of them critics like it, too.”

I shrugged. “It’s a doorstopper that lists for forty-five dollars. I read an excerpt. I like Barack Obama, but he didn’t really try to reduce the gap between the rich and poor.”

Swamp Rabbit scowled at me. “What were you expecting? Robin Hood? Obama did what he could. He was a real leader, an inspirational type of guy.”

“You’re right,” I said. “Obama was immensely more presidential than the vindictive clown who came next, but let’s not try to canonize him. Don’t forget how foolish he was in trying to reach across the aisle to that gang run by Mitch McConnell, who said that his goal was to make Obama a one-term president.”

I read to him from a long interview with political scientist Thomas Ferguson, who noted the long-term consequences of Obama’s timid reaction to Republican intransigence in 2008, when Democrats had control of both houses of Congress:

There were some efforts to push on Republicans, but Obama mainly didn’t do it… Well, you know, the truth is, [Democrats] blew the first two years and they brought you to 2010. That really stuck gridlock in the system and brought you Trump. They did everything too little, too late. I mean, let’s repeat that: you got Trump because of the Obama administration failures in economic policy.

“That ain’t fair,” the rabbit said. “If Obama had fought harder for poor people them Republican uglies would have accused him of being an angry black man with a secret plan to blow up the land of the free.”

“They did accuse him of that, but never mind,” I said. “My point is that Joe Biden is looking like he intends to repeat all of Obama’s mistakes. He’s trying to do business with a bunch of right-wingers who were lackeys for Trump. They’re still lackeys for Trump, even though he lost the election.”

Swamp Rabbit shook his head and snapped open the last beer in his six-pack. “Don’t sell Biden short. He knows them Republicans. He might talk them into compromising.”

“I think Paul Krugman is right,” I said. “Biden should make Mitch and the gang pay a political price for not taking care of anybody but the rich.”

Swamp Rabbit laughed so hard, he almost fell off my porch. “What’s that mean? Voters in dirt-poor Kentucky just elected McConnell to the Senate for the seventh time. Your boy Ferguson is wrong. Elections in them red states ain’t just about economics. They’re about God, guns and gays. And fetuses. And white supremes, too.”

“I guess I don’t get it,” I said, embarrassed by my naivete. “McConnell has power, he could help people who are hurting because of the pandemic. Why does he have to be so evil?”

Swamp Rabbit shrugged. “Hey, if you had to go through life looking like that dude, you’d be evil too.”

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Call rewrite, the Constitution is a mess


“What are you laughing at this time, Swamp Rabbit?”

He was bent over his antique laptop, drinking Wild Turkey and reading an opinion piece in which a historian explained why “the Founders” didn’t anticipate some future president who might refuse to accept being voted out of office:

They couldn’t fathom two things: a person who had become president who was so utterly lacking in classical virtue that they would deign or dare to put their own interests above the unity of the country. And the second thing is, I think they couldn’t fathom how any president who would so vividly display disdain for the unity of the country, and mock and undermine the legitimacy of American democracy, why that person [wouldn’t have] already been impeached and removed from office.

He stroked his wispy goatee and said, “Hard to believe there weren’t no Trumps back in them colonial days.”

I told him that Trump types had existed throughout American history, working as snake oil salesmen, carnival barkers and politicians. A few of them even became presidents of the United States. But no former president, no matter how Trumpian, had ever tried to stay in office after he lost an election, if only because he knew he couldn’t get away with it.

“But that’s all over now,” I continued. “This time we got a president who spent his whole life as a real estate hustler and a reality TV host. Then it turned out the elected officials in the political party that backed him had become — or always were — just as corrupt as he is. They stuck with him when he got impeached, despite incriminating evidence. They stuck with him again when he refused to accept his re-election loss.”

“Well, there you go,” Swamp Rabbit said. “They must be in love.”

“Let me summarize, rabbit — the laws governing the conduct of a president are deeply flawed. A president can do whatever he wants if the party that runs the Senate takes his side and the courts play along. He can’t be stopped by the U.S. Constitution, which is a tattered old quilt held together by nothing but so-called norms. Nobody in the mainstream media seemed to notice this until Trump and his goons started shredding it.”

Swamp Rabbit took a big drink from his flask and shook his head. “Them’s mighty big words, Mister Know-It-All, but Trump is a loser this time, even if he ain’t decent enough to concede.”

“He’s a loser because the vote-counting process was upheld in court as he tried to delegitimize it. If election officials had given in to his bullying, Republicans would have hailed his successful coup. But they wouldn’t have called it that, of course.”

“Enough, already,” Swamp Rabbit said, logging off his laptop. “The system worked. Biden won.”

I reminded him that Trump had fired an FBI director for investigating him, used the attorney general as his personal lawyer, used the presidency to advance his personal business interests, tried to extort a foreign government and, in general, demonstrated that the Constitution is too vaguely worded to prevent presidents from grossly abusing their power.

“You’re right, Biden won,” I said, “but what happens when a smarter Trump type is elected president? And what about all those crooked Trump lackeys who are still in Congress?”

My mangy friend presents himself as an Everyman figure, so I was eager to hear his reply. He seemed to think it over for a minute, but then I realized he had passed out.

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Post-election reality check


Swamp Rabbit had passed out next to the frog pond and it took me a few minutes to wake him. “Stop celebrating, Election Day’s been over for two weeks.”

He stood up and looked at the denuded trees and the vast piles of leaves on the footpath that leads to his shack. “What month is this? Is Trump still kicked out of the White House, or was I dreaming? I need a drink.”

“That’s the last thing you need. Trump is supposed to move out in January but he hasn’t conceded. He’d like to overturn the results of the election. I hate to be a drag, but the country is still a mess.”

“I can handle it,” he said, raising his fists. “The bottom line is the orange hog monster lost.”

I told Swamp Rabbit not so fast, he must submit to a reality check, it would be hazardous to his health if he jumped back into the real world harboring a bunch of delusions.

“Just answer true or false,” I said. “The Republicans in Congress have acknowledged that Joe Biden won the election and they’re urging Trump to acknowledge it, too.”

“True,” he replied. “Biden got about five million more than Trump. Last time I looked he had the Electoral College vote, too. Facts are facts, right?”

I shook my head. “The answer is ‘false,’ rabbit. Republicans know Biden won but they’re still going along with Trump because they want to make the country think the election was rigged.”

“Damn,” he said. “I remember saying you were an idiot for thinking the Dems were gonna flip the Senate, but I didn’t figure them Republicans would pretend Trump won.”

I continued with the reality check. True or false on these statements: 1) Now that the election is over, Trump and his henchmen have stopped denying that masks and social distancing are effective tools against the spread of covid-19. 2) With only two months left in office, Trump has instructed senior government officials to help with the transfer of power to Biden’s team. 3) With so many people sick or out of work, Trump and McConnell’s gang are finally ready to agree to a reasonable stimulus package.

Swamp Rabbit answered “true” to each statement, and I told him he had flunked the reality check with a perfect zero. “You’re still drunk on the notion that electoral defeat will shame Trump and his party into doing the right thing,” I said. “I think they’d rather stage a slow-motion coup.”

He picked up a beer can and tried to drink from it, but it was empty. “So what’ll we do now? We were looking forward to a new era. We were gearing up for a smooth transition.”

“Come down off Cloud Nine,” I suggested. “Get reacquainted with reality. Sober up.”

“The hell with that,” he said. “I stashed an emergency jug of Wild Turkey in the crawl space under my shack. If what you just told me is reality, I’m gonna drink it and go back to sleep.”

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