Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check

James Campion
A Photo as Microcosm of a Weird, Dying Presidency
But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.
– Revelation 21:8
The lasting image of the Donald J. Trump presidency in its final throes is worthy of a Pulitzer and should one day hang in a museum next to other great post-modern American art, or at least shoved into the back of a macabre Hall of Curiosities.

An elderly man with a burnt-orange countenance, permanent scowl, queerly coiffed and colored hair, his suit draped in a simian frump upon his obese frame, stands disturbingly statuesque holding a Bible as a silent weapon. Behind him is a boarded-up church. Flanking him, out of this seminal shot, is a line of older white men and one woman; one of the men, also bizarrely fat for someone dressed in army fatigues, casts a pose of menace. Just out of their frame are hundreds of armed police – secret police, national guard and unknown forces deployed by the Department of Justice – many of whom have just gassed and shoved and beaten peaceful protesters aside to make room for this most starkly honest portrayal of the American performance. Beyond them is a country damaged by a pandemic, burning from anger and fear, millions out of work. Still, there he stands. Saying nothing. Posing for the photo that defines a presidency.

“Is that your Bible?” someone asks.

“It is a Bible,” he says.

Odd. Staged. Cryptic. Grotesque. Defiant. Stoic. Vacant. The image is all of these and so much more. Mostly, it is a symbol of the dying conceit of America – rich, privileged, illiterate, myopic, macho, nostalgically tone-deaf and rapidly irrelevant. The world spins, evolves, progresses, as the figure, lost in his own bubble, remains immovable, turgidly crippled by illusion. Hatred sustains him.

This has been some three-plus years, huh? I promised at the onset of what I rightly predicted as the coming abortion of a presidency that I would not comment on how strange things would get compared to prior “normal” presidencies, because I knew coming in that Donald Trump was not going to be a normal president, or really any kind of president. Even up until that fateful first presidential debate when there was a scintilla of a chance I may have been wrong about Trump, that he was some kind of genius savant that despite being a deplorable human may end up surprising us all. Five minutes in, the joke was over, and recorded it so in this space. Trump proved himself that evening to be a bumbling fool, a mere puppet of the radical right sent as an avatar for long-debunked theories about white supremacy and the power of familial wealth over democracy.

And it turns out those seventy-seven thousand people who made him president against the wishes of the majority, by nearly three-million votes, wanted this type of president. Someone who shook things up, even destroyed the status quo. And if that was the yardstick, then Trump is the most successful of American presidents. As an actual chief executive and commander-in-chief, he has authored the worst first term in modern or maybe all of American history. He has pissed on the constitution, flouted the rule of law, caused divisions in gender, race, politics, generation, and more. For those seventy-seven thousand, mission accomplished.  For the rest of us, he has been an abject failure living in his own cocoon of lies and deceit, believing he is indestructible and his greatness unquestioned. The photo shows us all of this.

The photo is also significant in painting this dim moment of a fading presidency. Trump is virtually alone now, with only the most radical religious fanatics, wannabe fascists, Neo-Nazis and the KKK left to defend him. Maybe some people who want more conservative judges and who hate the media and smarmy social-progressive assholes like me who view them as sub-mental, anti-American goons, might still root him on, but their time too is up. No one functioning remains in the White House beyond anti-immigration and evangelical zealots. Television personalities, wives of confused right-wing intellectuals and people currently fucking Trump’s daughter are left to run the scraps of this mess. The president is alone, clinging to any prop that might remind him that once he pulled an inside electoral-college straight against the worst political opponent in history. Without Hillary Clinton and those poor suckers who thought they might “shake things up’ but were left with disease, unemployment and now streets filled with people who have had enough of police-state racism and old-world dog-whistle politics, the man in the photo is history’s shit-stain.

Do not underestimate the power of the photo. It is there to remind us of our ugliness, pettiness, our scramble to hoist blame on everyone and everything, instead of looking in the mirror. It is a warning that this happened, is happening, and can happen again. In five months, we can change this, and the photo will be a sad reminder that when we scapegoat, look for messianic figures wrapped in a TV-show grift, buy on the cheap, choose the inflicting of pain on enemies rather than leadership or governance, we are left as we are now: in flames, sick and broke.

And so, it has come to pass; our lasting photo of the Trump presidency, which I have named “Psychopath with a Bible”. It’s a powerful, atavistic image of the old, white, rich racist – a dying breed, infested, weak, grasping on some fantasy of the past – that puts a bow on this presidency.

Frame it. Stare at it. Come November, remember it. End it.

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Aquarian Weekly

Reality Check

James Campion

“I Can’t Breathe” Part II

A riot is the language of the unheard.
Martin Luther King Jr.

Minneapolis is burning. A police precinct is breached. There is the usual looting and insanity, calls for calm, mayoral and gubernatorial speeches, and some dumb shit blurted on the internet by our game show host president. We have pretty much seen this all before. Why? How? Usually we have a difficult time coming to hard, cold answers here. We mostly muse. We parse. We mock. We deconstruct rigid realities from stories with many plot twists and angles. This one is easy.

Nearly six years ago a forty-four year-old unarmed African-American man was choked to death in broad daylight by a twenty-nine year-old police officer named Daniel Pantaleo in Staten Island, New York. Several police officers held down Garner or looked on as he pleaded, “I can’t breathe!” It was captured on camera. The medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide. Five months later a Richmond County grand jury decided not to indict Pantaleo or any other cop on the scene. Naturally, people, like me, went nuts. I commented on it more in-depth at the time, so please read it to get my original gist.

But, really, what gist is there to get? Garner was murdered. Yet, Pantaleo didn’t go to jail. He was fired because he used an illegal chokehold on Garner, which, of course, killed him. But, you know, he murdered a man on video shouting “I can’t breathe!” and he is a free man.

Now fast-forward nearly six years. An unarmed George Floyd is murdered by a police officer, on tape, in broad daylight. The incident is eerily similar and much sadder, because we already had Garner’s case to look back on.

Floyd, a forty-six year-old black man, was attempting to pass a twenty-dollar counterfeit bill at a corner store. Someone at the store called 911. That call was odd in itself. The transcript reveals that the caller observed the man as “not acting right” and assumed drunk or high. The 911 operator asks, “What’s he look like, what race?”

Um… what?

The cops show up – four of them. They pull Floyd out of his car. They walk him uneventfully to the police car and he collapses. Then three officers, one of them, Derek Chauvin, forty-four and white, hold him down. Chauvin though, puts his knee and his full weight on Floyd’s neck. Floyd pleads, “I can’t breathe!” Let me stand up! I can’t breathe!” Chauvin is clearly pushing his weight down on his neck with each plea for eight minutes.

Eight minutes!

I’ll tell you what, find someone, even your fifty-pound kid to kneel on your neck for eight minutes. Get back to me.

Then Floyd becomes predictably unconscious. The police pull his lifeless body onto a stretcher. He was dead. We know this because medics could not find a pulse in the ambulance. This is usually the sign of death. I am sure there is someone who will refute the concept of death as a counter-political argument for this, but let’s go with “no pulse equals death” for the remainder of this column and for all time, shall we?

Mayor Jacob Frye was asked on national television if he thought this incident rose to the level of murder. He said, “I do.”

The incident is eerily similar and much sadder, because we already had Garner’s case to look back on.

Then, (cue the dramatic music), riots, looting, police vans being ransacked, cops in armored gear tossing smoke grenades and shooting rubber bullets into crowds. The city, as mentioned, is still on fire. I have a friend there, a screenplay writer, and she is frightened for her life.

This all could have been avoided. We had nearly six years to get on this. One man, regardless of race or vocation, kneels on another man’s neck until he dies. This is murder. I don’t need to know the circumstances. Also, I agree, and have written about this extensively for twenty-three years here, that police officers should be held to a higher order, they represent and protect our society. But then they also should be held to higher standards. But even using normal social standards, Chauvin killed Floyd, just as certain as Pantaleo killed Garner. If Pantaleo is not convicted of said crime, then it can and will happen again.

And it did.

This is similar to this nation’s initial reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was slow, confusing, mostly non-existent. It was a sloppy, embarrassing, deadly farce. It could have been curtailed. Instead it was not. One-hundred thousand people didn’t have to die. Just like if the people who were responsible for security at Newark Airport had done their jobs, not being heroes, just doing their jobs, there would have been no 9/11 attacks. If Pantaleo had been convicted of a clear crime of at least manslaughter, perhaps Chauvin would have thought twice about leaning onto a man’s neck until he died, and Minneapolis would not be on fire right now.

Or, to take us all the way back, as I have done with 9/11 and this pandemic, how about Chauvin having two prior violent incidents as a police officer that went unchecked. Not that this is pertinent to this case directly. I get it is part of the gig, but this guy appears to be a little shoot-happy. In light of Floyd’s death, Minneapolis authorities look as if they kind of averted their eyes to this guy. And while I do not condone riots, we know this shit is going to go down if this happens again and yet there appears never to be any justice in these cases and that just makes violent retribution a possibility, or, as the King quote above states, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

Beyond all of this, I ask; When are we going to confront this issue? How about all the energy we spend getting pissed at NFL players for kneeling (ironically) to protest the inordinate number of African-Americans killed by police officers in this country, we use that fervor to find out why it keeps happening and do something about it when it does.

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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check
James Campion
I could do Little Richard’s voice, which is a wild, hoarse, screaming thing, it’s like an out-of-body experience. You have to leave your current sensibilities and go about a foot above your head to sing it.
– Paul McCartney
Surrounded by gospel music and the saccharine crooning of Bing Crosby and early radio-flavored Ella Fitzgerald, young Richard Penniman once remarked that he was looking for the an “edgier” sound of music and a “louder” singer to awake something in him. And then, he decided, that missing ingredient was him. And with this grand awakening, Little Richard was hatched from nothing, like the light that comes at the behest of God in Genesis. Because at his core, in his central being, Penniman was a man of God (his uncles were preachers) who also could not help frantically searching for edgier and louder (his dad was a bootlegger), and in there somewhere is America – the grand dichotomy of feral desire and better angels. At these crossroads lie the origins of rock and roll, also an American original. Only here could a hodge-podge of black blues, Irish jigs, redneck picking, and dance hall hype coagulate into a pristine soundtrack of rebellion.

Black. Gay. Primitive. Showbiz. Inventive. Influential. Penitent.

Little Richard was all of these.

In the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, my first introduction to the timeline of a music that had dazzled me since sentience, and a book I begged my parents to get me for Christmas, and they did, which may or may not have been a mistake, Little Richard comes after Elvis Presley and Fats Domino but before Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, and everything else. When Berry died I remarked in these pages how he invented rock and roll. This is because at its nucleus the art form is rooted in guitar. Even though Johnnie Johnson, Berry’s pianist, built the foundation of Berry’s work, the piano would not define the genre. Yet, before all of that, Fats Domino, a master pianist and composer, was a New Orleans fixture, an original from the town that heeded the swampy crude rhythms that bounced off the bayou and back into the grimy streets of the French Quarter, pulling the jazz licks from its European parameters and slathering its slave hymns into a pure, primal groove. Fats Domino, then, was the smoldering fire. Little Richard came along and poured gasoline on that fire and from its lapping blue-orange tongue let out that primeval bellow from the nether regions of the soul.


It is the most famous of all early rock and roll lyrics. It means nothing and it means everything. It comes out of the speakers, a-cappella, raw and mean, as if the voice of the past and the future. A call of the wild that wipes clean anything before it. It heralds a career and a style, and it made Little Richard famous. “Tutti Frutti” was the song. The year was 1955. It was a paean to anal sex. Its original lyrics were “Tutti Frutti / Good booty / If it don’t fit, don’t force it / You can grease it, make it easy”. It was, it turns out, the most subversive art in the history of popular music, making it to #2 on the charts and entering the lexicon of lily white mid-American as if a virus. Makes the Sex Pistols, Marylyn Manson and every hip hop record blush. It invented the part of rock and roll that counts. It was dirty and loud and ugly and sexy and puerile and fun and infectious and… dangerous.

Black. Gay. Primitive. Showbiz. Inventive. Influential. Penitent. Little Richard was all of these.

Beyond that, Little Richard sang with a smirk that challenged every notion of what music could do and in turn being as soulful and raucous as any young African American man could be on the Chitlin’ Circuit where the music was not meant to integrate but ingratiate. Unlike Fats Domino and Chuck Berry, Little Richard’s sound was black as night, as black as blues, as black as America, inventing things for the white kids who wanted to get out of the suburban dream and into the stark realities of the underworld. Little Richard did not pander, he commanded.

His first album, released by Specialty Records, Here’s Little Richard reads like a template, “Long Tall Sally”, “Rip It Up”, “Ready Teddy”, ‘Slippin’ and Slidin’”, “Jenny Jenny”. Then there would be “Good Golly Miss Molly”, who sure liked to “ball”, another pretty blatant euphemism for unbridled sex, and “Keep a Knockin’”, which may be the first punk rock song; “Keep a knockin’ but you can’t come in!” shouted over and over like a head-banging Ramones mantra.

Later, Little Richard’s shouts from the culture would bring us Sam Cooke, discovered and produced by Robert “Bumps Blackwell”, who worked on “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally” and everything else Penniman recorded for Specialty Records. Cooke then toured with Little Richard, as did Jimi Hendrix, who would be his guitarist and protégé in histrionics and showmanship. The shy Hendrix, like Sam Cooke before him, credits the cool brashness of his mentor with unleashing his true talents, which included obliterating the landscape of electric guitar forevermore. As would the influence of Little Richard on James Brown, Otis Redding, Sly Stone and Prince Rogers Nelson tear pieces from what had come before. The Beatles worked with Little Richard in Hamburg, Germany before anyone knew who they were, as the Rolling Stones first toured with Little Richard as snot-nosed blues worshipers. There is nothing in the first two to three decades of rock and roll that doesn’t have Penniman’s stamp on it.  

In 1957, at the height of his powers, Little Richard famously quit rock and roll to become a preacher, after some spiritual revelation about hellfire on a near-death airplane experience. So, in essence, those two years, wherein he invented the howls later copped by everyone from Paul McCartney (whose first performance in front of anyone was a version of “Long Tall Sally” at fourteen) to every heavy metal screecher ever committed to the craft, was his legacy. When he returned he hid nothing; his sexuality, his annoyance that he was passed over as an originator, his unchecked flamboyance and a penchant for general upheaval. He became the living embodiment of his initial splash on the scene and everyone fed off the genuine article.

It should also be noted that Little Richard appeared in three seminal rock and roll films, not the least of which titillated a young Robert Zimmerman, who at first only wanted to be Little Richard before he wanted to be Woody Guthrie and invented Bob Dylan, and all-but triggered the British invasion. The Girl Can’t Help It, of which Penniman sings the title, along with performing out of his mind on others. The film starred a blonde bombshell named Jayne Mansfield, whose mere presence awoke the animal instincts of every breathing male in attendance and connected this ass-shaking, mind-quaking music to the purpose as well as any youth-film did during the time when that was not yet a thing but soon would be. It would be joined by Blackboard JungleHard Day’s NightSaturday Night FeverPurple Rain and 8 Mile in the roll call of culture-shifting rock cinema.

The most difficult aspect of writing about Little Richard is that one cannot begin to overstate his import and influence on what we understand about modern popular music. His voice was a clarion. His look was an outrage. His songs were a revelation. His kind did not have a mold to break. It came new. That is what you hear and see with Little Richard. In 1955. In 2020. He is always new. He is forever our red-white-and-blue shock to the senses, the thumping of our hearts. His paradox is America’s conundrum. Our most lethal attribute: We want to be good, but man, we can’t help, shit, we love being bad.

And it sounds like…


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Aquarian Weekly

Reality Check

James Campion

Time for Americans to Risk Their Lives For the Good Ole U.S.A.

Hey, America! Here’s how it works now. You need to get back out there and save the economy. If you get sick, well… if you die, it happens. We need to have a country. The clock is ticking. Yes, the economy was wrecked by idiots, or one specific idiot, who denied there was a virus, lied about its severity, promised it would be gone “miraculously” in a week and then said everyone would be in church together on Easter – a month ago – and throughout fought with everything and everyone in sight, even refuting his own administration’s rules, and still has failed to get the proper testing out here so we can open back up, but it’s time we save the idiot and the idiot’s country by putting our and our families’ lives at risk. Have a nice summer.

Oh, you may ask: How did the most powerful, richest, most technologically advanced nation with purportedly the best health care system, hospitals, doctors and nurses in the world, end up utterly destroyed by a virus? No one alive remembers anything this bad. No one. This is very bad. Catastrophically bad. WTF?

Well, beyond the abject failure of the president and the federal government and to an extent much of our local state governments, in the last week of March I wrote this in this space: “I ask this with all due respect to the medical gravity of what we are facing with this current Covid-19 pandemic, but, honestly, how long do you think we can pull this social distancing off?” We now know the answer is six weeks. Probably five. Maybe a month? Didn’t take long, really. The worst pandemic in modern times – over one hundred years – curtailed us for a month. There are more people dead from this than the Viet Nam War – that went on for twelve years – and aside from this deadly fiasco, was the worst political disaster of my lifetime. Infected numbers still rise. The economy is in the shitter. Unemployment numbers are the highest since the Great Depression. And so, we’re done. Six weeks. Long enough. And I can’t say I blame us.

In the same column, titled, “How Long?” I broached what I call the cruelty of freedom and the anti-Judea-Christian concept of capitalism, which I support because it tramples merrily on the myth, or to be blunt, the lie of the Judea-Christian construct in a country that was built on so many lies it is hard to keep up. Nevertheless, my support for capitalism is neither here nor there. It is the way of the world, thankfully the American world, and it cannot survive another month of this. And as much as people can be stupid, selfish and petty and tend to lean heavily on messianic figures from celebrities to sports to politicians and religious loons, we know that much. It’s not hard. You either bring money in to feed yourself and your family and keep the lights on and the heat going, or you go into the street and try your luck. This is capitalism in a nutshell.

And so, America cannot be South Korea. They handled this thing from the get with smarts, teamwork, hardcore planning and tribal cohesion. They were hit the same time we were with dreaded Covid-19, just a hop and skip from China, and they are completely free of the virus right now. We have 1.2 million infected and over seventy-five thousand dead. Yeah, South Korea wins. We suck.

Or do we?

Easy fix. Don’t tell anyone there is a shark in the water.

Nah, we’re just beholden to commerce. Look at New York City. Without NYC we are knuckle-dragging goons clinging to atavistic agrarian precepts. NYC got wiped out by this thing. NYC is bigger than the United States. It is certainly bigger than South Korea. When you are the font of capitalism, you tend to get hit harder than most. In a way, NYC is a microcosm for how much the rest of the country relies on the activity of humans making money and sharing money to keep the wheels from coming off.

Without commerce we are wandering around the wilderness like cavemen. Take a look at the people protesting right now. Cro-Magnon or Neanderthal? Not sure. Close, either way. Primitive. That’s what I call it. What turned these people into this? The virus? Shit, people don’t know anything about health. You see what they eat? How much they smoke and drink? Have you fathomed the exorbitant fat content of these people? Heart disease murdered 637,000 people in this country last year. Fast food. Steroid-addled meat. Drugs. Booze. Laziness. These numbers scoff verily at Covid-19. We came into this pandemic sick. No, it is commerce that keeps us going. When that goes, we go nuts. We can do without god and sex. Money? Where’s my MAGA hat!

You can’t set up a system that measures our greatness in stock prices and player salaries and the size of our cars and how expensive and fancy our haircuts look and then take it all away? That’s madness. We’re weak. Give us a break. You made us this way. We had no choice.

The finest example of capitalism, really economic solvency versus safety and pragmatism is the 1975 film, Jaws – for my money one of the best movies of the latter half of the twentieth century and Steven Spielberg’s greatest cinematic achievement for so many reasons. But it’s commentary, nay, its instructional value on the power of the dollar over human existence has no equal. It lays it all out there: Local government of a beach town knows there is a shark in the water. Without tourists and swimmers there is no local economy. Easy fix. Don’t tell anyone there is a shark in the water. Woman gets eaten by a shark. They close the beaches. People can’t eat or pay bills. They bitch. Politicians open the beaches. There are even scenes with the mayor asking the local merchants to go in the water to allay the genuine fears of the beachgoers, get things going, show them there is no danger. Kid gets eaten by a shark. Roll credits right there. The rest is Hollywood storytelling. That is the lesson of Jaws: Sometimes you rush back in and make it with all your parts intact and sometimes you get eaten by a shark. But it’s worth the gamble, Jaws tells us. Wait, does it? No, killing the shark does. And we can’t kill the virus because we have no testing to contain it or a vaccine to eradicate it, so not sure what Jaws tells us. Maybe that the alternative to not swimming with sharks is starvation, humiliation, bankruptcy. Capitalism is more important than life. Yes!

Hey, our government and experts failed to protect us, so we have to bail them out. Like in the Great Depression and WWII, Civil Rights, and on and on. It’s always on us. Game show hosts, preachers, pep talks, talking-head doctors in the media can’t do it. Only we can fix this by risking our lives and the lives of our loved ones and friends, to save our way of life and then hopefully get everyone re-elected who fucked us.

So, put on your masks and get out there and save the day!

Cue the music: “God bless America… land that I love… Stand beside her… and guide us… through the night with the light from above…”  

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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check

James Campion
National Leadership Vacuum Pushes Us Through the Political Looking Glass
In the mid-eighties, during the last true wave of modern conservatism, it was difficult to imagine a time, some thirty-plus years later, when we would see a Republican president at war with the concept of states’ rights, especially during a crisis. That used to be a Democrat thing. You know, Franklin Roosevelt restructuring the entirety of the national economy over to the federal government during the Great Depression or Lyndon Johnson battling the southern states over civil rights. But we are in the Age of Trump, where down is up and black is white. In a Lewis Carroll-esque scenario we have a Republican president expressing lordship over state’s rights to administer rules for dealing with social distancing and its economic fallout in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. At one point the president uttered these words, in public, into a microphone, in front of a press he has been at existential war against since he tried to convince them that a couple of thousand people at his inauguration were actually millions in the first hours of his presidency: “When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total. And that’s the way it’s gotta be. It’s total.”

Of course, this is insane, even to Abraham Lincoln standards, the last Republican president to take on the mantle of a singular power during the initial weeks of the Civil War. Lincoln would have never actually said these things. Lincoln was a doer. This guy’s a talker.

When pressed further, because, well… who the fuck says this kind of thing out loud?… Donald Trump, who has consistently tried to run the U.S. government like Trump Enterprises, answered. “Well, if some states refuse to open, I would like to see that person run for election. They’re going to open. They’re going to all open.”

Like the whole “grab the pussies” thing, I am always unsure if Trump knows what the hell his is saying. “The authority is total, and that’s the way it’s got to be” is not nearly the craziest thing he has said in public, but this one makes political junkies like me, especially ones who believe most if not all political theories are complete bullshit when dissected under any measure of scrutiny, salivate.

Let’s have some fun. 

During the aforementioned final gasp of conservatism as a governing principle in the mid-eighties, President Ronald Reagan, the last bastion of this since debunked political theory mused, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.’” He said this on August 12, 1986, while his government was illegally shipping arms to a virulent enemy of the United States to fund a fascist guerilla war in Central America. It was high times for this kind of abject hypocrisy, but Reagan knew what he was doing. He was a functioning government official, who could quip about keeping government out of your life while criminally imposing it on others. Before his ascent to the presidency as an avatar for the pencil-pushing geeks like William F. Buckley and the zombie-eyed Heritage Foundation, Reagan ran the second-largest state in the contiguous United States, not a casino in Atlantic City or hosted some game show for the National Broadcasting Company.

George W. Bush.. murdered the purity of conservatism and made it possible for knuckle-dragging trolls like Donald Trump to profess “total authority” vested in his title as CEO of America Incorporated.

Reagan’s Hollywood smile and down-home grandpa act put to rest wild notions of populism that by the 1950s was whitewashed enough to be an anachronistic Huey Long nightmare that the liberal press dreamed up. For Republicans in the latter half of the Twentieth Century, the Tenth Amendment was a sacred cow: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” This was the immutable law of conservatism, and thus, Republicanism forevermore. Until it wasn’t. There was George W. Bush, whom I have maintained here for a good long time, was the man who murdered the purity of conservatism and made it possible for knuckle-dragging trolls like Donald Trump to profess “total authority” vested in his title as CEO of America Incorporated.

It is important to remember when states’ rights were a big deal for conservatives. So much so, they embarrassed themselves in the 1960s arguing against the Civil Rights bill, because it took the rights away from southern states to deny the rights of African Americans. It should be noted that most of these states’ governors were Democrats. Soon the Democratic Party, in the wake of a Democratic president signing the Civil Rights Act, imploded below the Mason Dixon line, allowing for Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” to help himself and later Reagan to dominate the south.

But I digress.

The idea this week that the president, this one or anyone, having the authority over the states without something as legislatively historic as the Civil Rights Act is silly. But Trump is silly, and before the week was out, and someone in the White House schooled him on the Constitution, he first tried to peddle the idea that he might “allow” the states to control their openings based on what the states’ governors deemed necessary. And then, finally, the day before I write this, Trump completely caved on his wacky assertions of kingly powers, colorfully announcing to the states, “You’re going to call your own shots.”

Of course, Trump was way late to the party. In a display of unity, while Trump was holding completely useless two-hour pressers with propaganda videos making him look like King Solomon meets Albert Schweitzer, both Republican and Democratic governors banded by region were creating their own timelines for lifting restrictions based on the level of infections, deaths, hospital needs, etc., not a guy in D.C shouting monosyllabic platitudes in between trying to salve his rock bottom self-esteem.

The vacuum caused by erratic national leadership during this crisis denotes one specific axiom, no matter what the flavor of the month or year, politics be damned, the founding fathers put in place a republic capable of handling things like this; especially when the bumbling at the top becomes so odious that events demand every man, woman and child for themselves. In a strange way, by claiming “total authority” Trump essentially abdicated his responsibility – a good move, since he sucks at everything – to the collective; a very democratic (small d) and American maneuver.  

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Aquarian Weekly

Reality Check

James Campion

Like Everything Else in This Clusterfuck Presidency

I alone can fix it.
     – Donald J. Trump on the campaign trail 2016

The most pressing national crisis since the 2008 economic collapse and maybe even the 9/11 tragedy and we have a game show host in charge. And worse yet, the game show host not only ignores science, doctors, his Covid-19 team, he exasperates the problem by holding self-aggrandizing and combative pressers, spewing his obligatory phalanx of lies, attacking the press, fighting with governors, and continuously misrepresenting the level of danger. He refutes facts that expose his world of denial, and daily jeopardizing lives. If pre-president Donald Trump, twitter fiend, was around to toss grenades from the sidelines at this Trump, President Idiot, it would be some show.

I alone can fix it.

The president, this poor excuse for a human being, is failing. And it is costing us the very fabric of this country; morally and economically. No, he did not cause this, as much as George W. Bush caused 9/11 or FDR caused Pearl Harbor or Herbert Hoover caused the Great Depression (that one was on Coolidge), but ignoring signs, not listening to the experts and posing rather than doing made it worse. And it has gotten worse. As a whole, the federal government, that Trump continues to excuse as some sort of feckless bystander to tragedy, passing the buck to the states, blaming the World Health Organization, the Chinese, CNN, and even, get this, Barack Obama, who hasn’t been president in four years, has dropped the ball and replaced it with lame ass excuses.

In fact, in 2018 Trump, aided by his eventually sacked national security advisor John Bolton, unceremoniously disbanded the Global Health Security Team, established under the Obama administration in response to the Ebola outbreak. At the time experts warned against this maneuver, but was duly ignored, a Trump dullard specialty. So, while countries like New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea use technology, communication, science, not to mention getting on this as early as December of last year, lap us in efficacy, we continue to read stories of American citizens dying in hallways of hospitals, not enough testing, a woeful and criminal lack equipment for doctors and nurses, and complete chaos.

We need consistent, calming leadership. Instead we get utter stupidity.

The lack of testing alone, an egregious oversight by the federal government, has led to thousands of illnesses and deaths that could have been prevented. Testing earlier or at all would have revealed what minimum testing is now showing, the preponderance of cases on the east coast have come from Europe not China, Trump spent over a month ignoring experts and proper decorum for a U.S. president in the midst of a global pandemic, calling it the Wuhan Virus and diddling before finally banning travel there.

“I alone can fix it” no longer applies… apparently. Never did. Trump is and has always been a fraud, and while it has cracked holes in our democratic system for three years, this year it has reached the point of deadly saturation. And none of this had to happen. And if it did, not this badly. It is on him and his government.

Never mind politics here. It is simple common decency or at the very least leadership skills. No one should ever begin a story about this pandemic with, “Trump feuds with…” or “Trump attacks…” But that is what we see day after day as people get ill and die. What the fuck is this guy doing touting his Facebook popularity, making jokes about dating super models, and denying the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Doctor Anthony Fauci a chance to refute his nonsense about taking an untested drug (a drug he reportedly owns a stake in) at a press conference that sounds more like his brainless fascist rallies than serious updates?

We need consistent, calming leadership. Instead we get utter stupidity.

Low-lights include Trump announcing he was placing a “very powerful hold” on funding for the World Health Organization, even though it correctly identified the scale of the virus when he told the nation in January, “We have it totally under control” and “The stock market looks good to me.” Then, (during the same press conference!), when pressed on the “funding hold’, he insisted he never said it. Then when Trump’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow admitted that a small business rescue program was off to “a bad start” after recipients struggled to register funds, Trump took to the podium and called it “a roaring success” and then for some reason said his daughter Ivanka “personally created fifteen-million jobs.”

How many times, for months, did the president tell us “Anyone who wants one can take a test?” You can’t even get tests as I write this here in New Jersey, the second largest number of infected in the country. It is April. In his ongoing feuds against states, in which he’s acted more like a foreign enemy than president, Trump told New York City it was overreaching when asking for ventilators and masks and basic necessities to assist in what last month looked to be a total disaster area in the state. As I write this there are more people with coronavirus in New York State than any country in the world.

I alone can fix it.

The kicker of this week was when Trump, junior fascist, removed Defense Department Inspector General Glenn Fine from a post monitoring the two-trillion dollar stimulus funds so he could oversee the package directly with zero oversight and keep the new inspector from reporting to Congress on the handling of the funds, something clearly expressed in the law.

Then we got this doozy this week; The New York Times revealed that a top economic official, Peter Navarro, had written a memo to the president in January warning that the coronavirus could become a “full blown pandemic” causing trillions of dollars in economic damage and risking the health of millions of Americans. Even in the days and weeks after Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar alerted Trump about the virus, and the stock market – “Looks good to me” – began to tank more rapidly than any time in many of our lifetimes, Trump told people to go to work, hosted eight rallies and played golf six times.
I alone can fix it.

Trump has mostly been a failure during this abysmal first term. He is the third president to be impeached. He has never had over 45-percent popularity. He has destroyed the state department, made a mockery of the United States abroad, repeatedly embarrassed the nation and its standing as a true, reliable ally, fueled racial, political and cultural divides and basically acted like an asshole. But never has any of this been so dangerous in such a crucial time.

History will mark this as one of the worst examples of leadership during a catastrophe in U.S. history.

But no need to wait for that.

“I alone can fix it.”

Trump has failed his crisis test.

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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check
James Campion
When you go out of the blackness
Into the great big sky
Shooting inside your mind

Adam Schlesinger has died from complications stemming from Covid-19. He was fifty-two. As of this writing there have been 51,809 cases in New York City, including 1,562 deaths. This number rises by the hour. He is just one of those and the 5,316 people who have perished in the past three months from this pandemic. But this one hits close to home, because Adam was a friend. Long before that I admired him for his music, his humor, his insights into the human spirit. He was unique talent, a throwback Brill Building songwriter’s songwriter, who could capture the spirit of a moment, an era, and even the workaday, hum-drum of life in and around his home state of New Jersey. He was a Montclair kid by way of Manhattan who made good, whose band, Fountains of Wayne, one of the finest pop/rock outfits of the new century, was named for a now long-gone relic of a bygone age for New Jersey.

Where do you start to encapsulate an artist who was everywhere and nowhere? Outside of the industry the name Adam Schlesinger is not as well-known as his canon would suggest. He won three Emmy Awards, a Grammy Award, and an ASCAP Pop Music Award, and was nominated for Academy, Tony, and Golden Globe Awards. He penned dozens of themes and songs for television series, movies and worked on Broadway musicals. He wrote and performed with Fountains of Wayne on a Top 25 hit and co-wrote one of the most famous movie songs ever. Of course, that’s what Wikipedia will tell you. What it won’t tell you is what one of my favorite music essayists Tom Breihan wrote about him for Stereogum this week; “Maybe Schlesinger wasn’t doing the mystical personal work that we expect songwriters to do when he was writing all of those things. But the man was working. He was cranking out material at a high level every single day. Those of us paid to do the same at our own professions — those of us who, let’s say, are paid to blog relentlessly five days a week — should regard Adam Schlesinger as a hero, and as a monumental loss.”

Adam Schlesinger loved song. He loved songwriters. He loved talking about songwriting and songwriters. The last time I saw him we talked about Warren Zevon for an hour. It was just before my book on Zevon was released in June of 2018. Adam understood Warren like few did. I told him that night I should have gotten his take for the book it was so spot-on. I was considering picking his brain for an upcoming project I am starting. He understood how hard Zevon worked at his craft and how unique he was as a composer, both musically and lyrically, and how his take on the “everyman” that he and his partner in the by then defunct Fountains of Wayne, Chris Collingwood was derived from artists like Warren, another celebrated industry figure, who had his hand in the scope of songwriting, from jingles to films to pop hits and personal expressions of longing and introspection.

“You can take a lyric that seems really silly and tossed-off but put it against a melancholy ballad, then suddenly it becomes so much more dark or poignant.”

I have spent over two decades interviewing artists for this historical rock weekly, but I always fondly recall my chat with Adam in the spring of 2007. It was just before the release of Fountains of Wayne’s fourth record, Traffic and Weather, another in a series of incredibly infectious and brilliantly crafted pop/rock albums brimming with melody, adorned with supple harmonies and played with innate precision. The band’s pristine effort was 2002’s Welcome Interstate Managers, quite simply a pop/rock masterwork. Every track is a gem, including the band’s biggest hit, “Stacy’s Mom”, a cheeky tale of a suburban teenaged crush on the neighborhood cougar.

Adam couched his method of taking the everyday secretary, salesman, drunken frat boy, abused girlfriend and heartbroken schlep and making them epic tragicomedy figures for song. He told me, “I’ll focus on a phrase that you take for granted or that you don’t really think too much about and see if I can do something literal with it or stretch it out or do something unexpected with it.” Although he accused himself of being sloppy when it came to his immediate memory for such small incidents in the lives of the people around him, he filled in those spaces with mystical charm that lifted something as mundane as being stuck in traffic on the Tappan Zee Bridge into an existential treatise.

Tom Hanks saw this in Adam Schlesinger in 1996, when he tapped his and fellow elastic musical storyteller, Mike Viola’s “That Thing You Do” as the song that reflected the title of his film ode to 1960s one-hit wonders. Barely in the business, the first eponymously-titled Fountains of Wayne album had just been released, Adam used his preternatural ability to tap into a moment, a genre, and an era to perfectly capture the crudity of teenagers from Erie, Pennsylvania, who distilled their rock and roll dreams in a two-and-a-half minute ditty. The song, much to Adam’s chagrin, but to Hanks’s delight, is played on a repeated loop in the movie – much like a pop hit might be in the mid-sixties; “The first time I saw the movie I almost wanted to apologize to everyone in the theater,” he recalled to me.

Tom Hanks, who had also contracted the virus a month earlier with his wife, Rita Wilson, tweeted this upon hearing of Adam’s passing: “There would be no Playtone without Adam Schlesinger, without his ‘That Thing You Do’!  He was a One-der. Terribly sad today.”

Adam used that playwright mentality as musical director for the groundbreaking television series, Crazy Ex Girlfriend, a tuneful dramedy conceived and starring the multi-talented Rachel Bloom that ran from 2015 until last year. A quasi-post-modern musical that dealt with a staggering array of emotional and cultural issues, Adam, along with his team and Bloom, paid homage to every possible musical style and period. Composing for a myriad of character voices, in several and varied settings, moods and genres at that rate with such pinpoint alacrity is stunning. This genius is reflected in what he told me more than once, so much so, that I had to write it down: “You can take a lyric that seems really silly and tossed-off but put it against a melancholy ballad, then suddenly it becomes so much more dark or poignant. Or you could go the other way and just put it against something that’s fast and bouncy and it changes the meaning of it.”

Rachel Bloom tweeted the day he died: “I have so much to say about Adam Schlesinger that I am at a complete loss for words. He is irreplaceable.”

There was never a time that Adam Schlesinger came across as a big shot, but he was, a seminal American songwriting staple, but he was, or a major contributor to the universal songbook of our lives, but he sure as hell was. He was humble, intelligent, with a sense of humor you could carry with you after just ten minutes of his time. He inspired me. I was fortunate to know him, call him friend, but most of all enjoyed and cherished his art, which was immense and filled with a joy for life.

Rachel is right. His kind doesn’t come around often and to lose it has left me staggered. Like all the people he shoehorned so deftly into song after song after song, he is irreplaceable.

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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check

James Campion
We’re afraid of everyone
Afraid of the sun
The sun will never disappear
But the world may not have many years

          – John Lennon, “Isolation”
I ask this with all due respect to the medical gravity of what we are facing with this current Covid-19 pandemic, but, honestly, how long do you think we can pull this social distancing off? How long do you think we can continue to stay in our homes, work remotely, do without social interaction or distractions like sporting events, concerts, restaurants, bars, etc? How long can we endure curfews? Restrictions? Isolation? Never mind the absolute tanking of our economy for the next month, two months, three? There will be no coming back from this. Store owners, small businesses, people relying on humans to pay rent and eat – waiters, barkeeps, attendants at events or places of social interaction. Shit, what about musicians and comedians, actors, and the like? They will never be able to replace each day that is missing to earn and survive. And what about our collective sanity? How long?

This is weighed against fear – always a biggie for Americans. How long did it take before feeling safe and secure traveling on an airplane after 9/11 turned sour about getting there an hour early, waiting on extended security lines, taking our shoes off, having strangers rifling through our personal stuff, and having a body scan? How long did it take before the shock and dismay of the 2008 economic catastrophe before we started getting pissed at banks and the auto industry and expected the housing market to return? Fear only goes so far. Eventually things like eating and paying rent take over. Normalcy is very underrated. People long for excitement and fantasize about the out-of-the-ordinary. But most of us deep down hate that shit. We want A to go into B seamlessly and then occasionally on the weekends some C to burn off steam.

I was discussing these things with my brother the other day. He lives down in North Carolina and says people are already wondering how much longer before they just decide “Fuck it, I’m opening my bar, my newsstand, my coffee shop, and deal with the consequences.” My wife has heard from colleagues and friends that they would much rather just get sick, come back, and get to life then all this self-sequestering and having nowhere to go and not being able to buy toilet paper or sanitizing wipes. Oh, and there has been quite a bit of squawking – and not from pundits and the usual rabble – but people like you and me, that the percentage of a couple of thousand people getting infected against the solvency of 320 million makes it all the more outrageous that it’s all coming crashing down around us.

That gets to the crux of the matter – capitalism. This nation, as stated before here, was built on free labor and land grabs. It is not, as some like to brag, a Judeo- Christian construct with morals and higher aspirations. We tell ourselves that, so all the racism and misogyny and monster truck rallies and porn and bling don’t besmirch our better angels. That kind of thing would be a Bernie Sanders country – socialism, or at least, according to the first century Jesus Movement, an egalitarian one. Equality for the lesser among us? Um, no. The reason even liberal Democrats have now sent Sanders and his democratic-socialism packing is no one likes to give their stuff away to the less fortunate. Oh, people love to jam the Jesus thing down your throat to get you to give up control of your body, decide for you who you can fuck, and other sorted activities, but when the man’s main tenant – give up everything you own and give it to stranger – comes up, they are conveniently silent.

And I do not blame them. I mean, they sure took care of Jesus all right. And let’s face it, there is no America without money flowing freely. Freedom? This is what we call buying stuff. And capitalism, like freedom, is cruel. You know those people you ignore lying in the street? Yeah, capitalism. You know those people who die every day because they can’t afford expensive drugs or are ruined because they get cancer? Capitalism. You know the rivers and waterways and the ozone being eviscerated for business concerns, so future generations and to some extent now all of us are left to suffer? Capitalism. There are losers in capitalism, the poor, the prejudiced, the sick and the environment. Eventually if this nation is to survive the Covid-19 isolation days, then at some point, says capitalism, we need to get back to working and buying stuff. Fast. Otherwise it’s sunk. All of it. There is no country for us to return to once this passes.

Freedom? This is what we call buying stuff. And capitalism, like freedom, is cruel.

To wit: Right now Goldman Sachs, who predicted in December of last year that the economy was “recession proof” is predicting a record requests unemployment relief at two-and-a-half million and an almost certain recession.

Before this happened, the President, who is a huge part of the blame here, for many reasons – the first being that he’s the fucking President. Presidents have to deal with the crazy shit like this at one time or the other, and let’s face it, not surprisingly, since everything Donald Trump has ever done has turned into a pile of steaming feces, this has predictably tumbled into crazy town. Another key reason is long before any of the stupidity and misinformation and diddling we covered here last week happened, we learned saving a buck (capitalism) was a key component that has led to what we are dealing with currently.

Two years ago, the CDC stopped funding epidemic prevention activities in 39 countries, including China, after the Trump administration refused to reallocate money to a program that started during the government’s response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Remember Ebola? Did you spend a week inside with Ebola? Was March Madness canceled? Did the stock market plummet? Let me answer that for ya: No. And former CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden saw this coming. He told the New York Times that stopping the “foreign” funding (see Trump’s continued childishly bigoted referring to the virus as “Chinese”), done to save money or make a wall the Mexicans were supposed to pay for, “would significantly increase the chance an epidemic will spread without our knowledge and endanger lives in our country and around the world.”


Dr. Eric Toner, who studies hospital preparedness at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told USA Today this week that “we’re two months too late in starting to do this. I really think this is a fundamental responsibility of government to have acted on this a long time ago.”

Awwww, well, here we are, isolated. Soon there will be 20 or 30 percent unemployment. The country is shuttered; our largest cities and all that. And I ask again, how long do we have before people just walk out the door and do what they want? Are there enough cops to stop them? Are there enough hospitals to handle the overflow? Who knows? But these are fair questions to ask. Especially here in Reality Check land. You want kumbaya stuff, call the Billy Graham prayer hotline and spend some money there or pick up bootlegged toilet paper for a fifty-percent mark-up. Capitalism! Because this has a shelf-life, whether scientists or doctors or politicians want it to or not. It is already starting to crack.

How long?

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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check

James Campion
Stop me if you heard this before: Unpopular Republican president that citizens generally view as incompetent is confronted with a crisis and bungles it… badly. Yeah, 2005, August, George W. Bush. Hurricane Katrina. You know, the Kanye West “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” thing – frightened victims sitting on roofs begging for help in Louisiana. The head of FEMA, a horse trainer or some such, in way over his head. Federal government stumbling around. The Superdome in New Orleans a flophouse. People dying. That has pretty much been the “Jump the Shark” demarcation for the past two presidents. Kind of like putting the suffix “gate” at the end of political scandals since Nixon. Fast-forward fifteen years. There appears to be a global pandemic on our hands and an unpopular idiot is in the White House. I guess you can call him a Republican, although he does a ton of random shit that has nothing to do with Republican traditions, but okay. And once again, bungled.

The question is will this be as historically or even short-term as damaging as Katrina was for Bush to this president, who unlike Bush, is seeking re-election?

Or, maybe it’s worse.

Thus far it has been. Trump’s approval ratings, not stellar at any point in this first-term quagmire, have steadily dropped since this thing hit American shores, and he has not helped matters.

The optics and truth on the ground is that for all intents and purposes the response on the global and now domestic outbreak of COVID-19, or as it is more widely known, the latest trend of human coronavirus, has been abysmal. First, the president ignored and mocked it. This is his thing. But like almost everything Trump deems a hoax – Russian interference in our 2016 election, his impeachable offenses being investigated and prosecuted, paying off porn stars for sex, climate change, North Korean aggression, etc. – coronavirus was spreading fast and he could no longer rely on the great unwashed at his base to help him tweet it away.

So, he told everyone it was contained and overrated, a media invention, like his shitty approval ratings and orange tan, his children being mentally challenged or his playing golf half the time – which he did for the first week of this crisis. To slap some lipstick on this pig, he put on a baseball cap and lied about everyone being able to get a test for it. It’s been ten days since this nonsense. Hardly anyone can be tested.

Hopefully we survive this. But like Katrina, it’s going to have to happen in spite of our leadership not because of it.

This was around the time he put the vice president in charge. You know, the science denier in chief. Actually, after two or three days of Trump ranting about Democrats inventing a disease to hurt him, Mike Pence has been fairly effective. He at least let the doctors speak during press conferences, instead of standing there while the game show host rambles on about how he is unfairly treated. Because, of course, a global pandemic is all about him. Jesus Christ, it is hard to believe there is still a human breathing who is not retching every time this moron opens his mouth.

Okay, so there was then more lying by Trump and the comically said, “Everyone should just go to work.” There is a slow and sloppy response to a hurricane and then there is the president reportedly pitching a payroll tax cut to officials in private that had better last until he is re-elected and then silencing a medical warning for the elderly not to fly to quell the “bad news” cycle. This takes things from goofy to evil.

So, yeah, this has been pretty bad, and although it looks – after three weeks – as if the government is slowly catching up to say the National Basketball Association (canceling the remainder of its season) and the Democratic Party Committee (holding a presidential debate without an audience and then moving it to DC), Trump kept his plans on having a rally, until it became untenable for him.

Then came time for his oval office address.

Holy shit.

Now, for a man preternaturally incapable of empathy, making a calm fireside assurance or somber address is not a good look. It was like watching a monkey try and open a can of tuna with its dick. The president, looking perturbed that he had to do this at all, opened with us being hit with a “foreign virus” and mocked China and Europe and said some things about how Americans are better than all of them before telling the world there would be a travel ban from and to Europe, including goods and products. He made some odd campaign pitch to bail out frackers, and breathed like a man about keel over. When he was done there was a scramble to correct the president on several points, not the least of which was the import/export gaff, which he then corrected with a tweet. There would be trade. He thinks. Well, maybe. Mostly it looked like Kevin Bacon shouting “All is well!” before the rioting horde literally flattens him in the closing mayhem scene in Animal House. No mention of tests being made available or hinting at domestic travel and this containment things he assured us almost a month ago. Even Republicans were “disturbed”. Wall Street followed up with having the worst day on the Dow since 1987 and Disney World closed.

This is what happens when truth and leadership are bandied about on cable news as in the eye of the beholder. Alternative facts may be fun on FOX News, but now people are getting sicker and some are dying, and this is happening in a country that panics on the turn of a dime. Having a game show host in charge turns out, again, to not be the best move.

Hopefully we survive this. But like Katrina, it’s going to have to happen in spite of our leadership not because of it.

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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check
James Campion
Joe Biden Rises from Political Oblivion to Become Democratic Frontrunner in One Insane Week
What transpired on Super Tuesday, 2020 is by far the most stunning political comeback I have ever witnessed.

Former vice president Joe Biden nearly swept through the fourteen states like a firestorm, many of them he had not stepped foot in or spent a dime campaigning, while his opponents, especially billionaire and former NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg, spent millions. Yet he flipped states he was a clear underdog in over and over, and won, won, and won again. He beat Senator Elizabeth Warren in her home state of Massachusetts, and bested neighboring and favored Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and did it again in Minnesota and Oklahoma, states Sanders dominated against Hillary Clinton in 2016. Biden even bested Sanders in Texas, where he wasn’t even supposed to collect a single delegate. To add to this amazing election day performance is that the turnout, for the first time in this cycle, was record-breaking – larger in some states than 2016 and shockingly more than the 2008 Democratic revolution of Barack Obama.

All of this from a political dead man.  

The week before, Biden, having never won a single primary in his third run for the White House, stood on stage at the Gaillard Center in Downtown Charleston with five other candidates; all of whom were more viable than he. The presumptive frontrunner throughout the summer, Biden was a no show in the first three primaries. Sanders had millions of dollars, an impressive ground game built from his 2016 run, and rabid rallies, not to mention three wins in his pocket. He was the clear frontrunner now. Biden was broke, looked old, confused and beaten. Even Capitol Hill Republicans and Trump loyalists stopped mentioning his son and Burisma and figured they’d dodged the threat that got the president impeached in the first place.

Then something completely unsuspected happened. Biden held his own in the debate, appearing as the adult in the room and making timely quips about the furious cluster of shouting candidates around him. At one point he stopped speaking when his ninety seconds were up and calmly uttered, “Why do I stop when my time is up, no one else up here does?” Even his opponents chuckled. “Must be my Catholic upbringing,” he said. Then he got a little ornery. He started remembering the annoying, loudmouthed Irishman that people both adored and despised in the Senate. He pointed his finger. He did some shouting. He occasionally made sense.

Something else fortuitous, some might say magical, happened on a similar stage the week before. Elizabeth Warren took the opportunity of Michael Bloomberg’s first ever presidential debate in Nevada to relentlessly eviscerate him. It was a bloodbath of personal, business and political proportions. And suddenly the moderate alternative to Sanders, as Biden lay in ruins, was unmasked as a stuttering dolt who looked like he showed up at the wrong event. The millions he spent on ads that vaulted him in mere weeks to twenty percent in national polls withered to low single digits in days.   

When the SC debate was over, while Bloomberg was still being widely mocked as a paper tiger, Biden received condescending praise from pundits. But it appeared at the time that all the debate did was give supporters a reason to hold their noses and vote for him, allow him to get at least one slim victory before he bowed out gracefully and pulled the final curtain down on the Obama legacy.

For one week in the late winter of 2020 a 77 year-old went from the edge of oblivion to the top of the political heap. This doesn’t happen. Ever.

Those people were mostly African American. Some were contemplating Bloomberg, but no more. And they came out in South Carolina in large numbers that Saturday for Joe Biden. He gathered nearly fifty-percent of the vote, despite a veritable horde on the ballot. Thanks in large part to perennial congressman Jim Clyburn, who is to SC what Ted Kennedy once was to Massachusetts, without all the drunken buffoonery and murder. Clyburn, a no-nonsense, astute political thinker, told Biden and then the press he was impressed that his friend Joe found his voice, because up until then he had been a joke: no organization, half-ass operatives, weak stump speeches and off-kilter TV appearances. He told him in no short order to get his shit together and he would endorse him, then he would carry the state and be reborn.

It was that moment that Clyburn became the man who will either topple Donald Trump or hand him another four years. It was the seminal event thus far in the 2020 presidential campaign, whether Joe Biden becomes the nominee or not. Clyburn almost single-handedly shifted the narrative, forever to be known as the “candidate whisperer”, who resurrected dead Joe, because he was flatlining Saturday morning and by Saturday night he had a landslide victory. Then reborn Joe hit the stage and gave the speech of his life; a speech he needed to give. He needed to sound coherent and energetic and ready to fight and connect. And he did all of that. And within two days he ended the campaigns of Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and former Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the other two moderates frightened by Bernie Sanders.

The evening before Super Tuesday they both joined Biden on stage in El Paso, Texas for full-throated endorsements. Even long-gone Beto O’Rourke, who nearly beat Ted Cruz as part of the 2018 Blue Wave, chimed in. And after that the storyline was maybe Biden could hang in there on Super Tuesday and make this respectable? Maybe he could get to the fifteen-percent viability level to grab a few delegates and stay within a hundred or two hundred of the surging Sanders? Maybe hold off Warren or Bloomberg? South Carolina, they said, was a blip. There are no Clyburns anywhere else, even the other southern states like Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama and Arkansas. He may do well there, but ho-hum.

By Tuesday morning the odds-addled 538 web site started chirping that the Biden surge was mega real, and it was scrambling numbers, flipping deficits to big leads, and by Wednesday morning it predicted he would have the delegate lead over Sanders. And boy were they right – to the humming tune of 637 delegates by the time of this writing (they’re still counting California). He is now in the delegate lead. The frontrunner. Before SC he had nine. Nine.

What Joe Biden has pulled off in one week, and really since the South Carolina Primary two days before, is beyond remarkable. The NY Times called it a miracle. The Sanders backers called it Party Interference. A frightened Trump is tweeting again about coups. One or two GOP senators began floating another possible investigation into Biden’s son, followed swiftly by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, demanding it. Mike Bloomberg, after a half of billion dollars spent on TV and radio ads, a giant multi-state infrastructure, and a superstar team of soulless political vipers, quit the race and endorsed, you got it, Joe fucking Biden. One day later Elizabeth Warren suspended her campaign.

What this means for the race going forward is hard to tell. After the bizarre 2016 results, I am out of the prediction business, but there is one thing for certain; for one week in the late winter of 2020 a 77 year-old former senator of Pennsylvania and vice president of the United States went from the edge of oblivion to the top of the political heap. This doesn’t happen. Ever.

Except it did.  

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