NAIL ’EM UP!!!!
Live from La Farine: NAIL ’EM UP!!!! Methinks it is time to go reread Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men again…
Molly Ball: How Sarah Palin Created Donald Trump: “Think what the [Republican] establishment was already, at that point…
…doing to Palin. The GOP elites had plucked her from relative obscurity, largely for her superficial characteristics, then mocked her for all the things she didn’t know. They took her to Neiman Marcus for an image makeover on the party credit card, then leaked word of it to the press to make her look like a greedy, starstruck hick. They expected her to be a docile pawn — but she went rogue.
Palin saw the way people reacted to her in 2008, when she drew crowds orders of magnitude larger than her running mate’s. She correctly sensed that there was a segment of the Republican base that wasn’t being served by party elites…. While other Republicans tried to rebut Obama’s policy proposals, and even to offer their own alternatives, for Palin it was always about this fundamental cultural antagonism. She tapped a vein of previously unheralded biker-bar conservatism that has lain dormant ever since… To find a home in the then-nascent organs of the GOP fever swamps, which, as McKay Coppins has noted, Trump savvily courted for years before launching the current campaign…. Palin’s people are Trump’s people.
Now, as Trump and Cruz battle for the nomination, the right is split between its policy commitments and its attitudinal id. Palin has made her choice — and now she may finally get her chance to be Vice President…
What should we think of American politics in view of the rise and durability of Donald Trump. I point to Burlesqueoni. I point to Mussolini. But the problem is that, for all of the experts and all of the different schools of interpretation, the rise and durability of Donald Trump is a zero/probability event. And, as David Kreps taught me many years ago, rationally-updating one’s beliefs in the wake.of a zero-probability event is a… genuinely hard problem. For a zero probability event to happen means that your visualization of the Cosmic All is simply wrong — or it would not strike you as a zero probability event.
However, the herds and hordes of journalists and political scientists are not coming to grips with this. Rather than come to grips with this, they work hard to “save the phenomena” and save their models — analyzing the rise and durability of Donald Trump by making the smallest possible tweaks to what they thought last year. They are not stepping back and absorbing the lesson. They do not want to recognize that the rise and durability of Trump teaches them that what they thought last year was wrong. They do not want to face the reality that they need to pretty much throw everything away and start over.
But if they were willing to throw pretty much everything away and start over, the place to start over is with Robert Penn Warren:
Robert Penn Warren: All the King’s Men: “‘Friends, red-necks, suckers, and fellow hicks…
‘Yeah,’ he would say, ‘yeah,’ and twist his mouth on the word:
‘That’s what you are, and you needn’t get mad at me for telling you. Well, get mad, but I’m telling you. That’s what you are. And me — I’m one, too. Oh, I’m a red-neck, for the sun has beat down on me. Oh, I’m a sucker, for I fell for that sweet-talking fellow in the fine automobile. Oh, I took the sugar tit and hushed my crying. Oh, I’m a hick and I am the hick they were going to try to use and split the hick vote.
‘But I’m standing here on my own hind legs, for even a dog can learn to do that, give him time. I learned. It took me a time but I learned, and here I am on my own hind legs.’
And he would lean at them. And demand, ‘Are you, are you on your hind legs? Have you learned that much yet? You think you can learn that much?’ He told them things they didn’t like. He called them the names they didn’t like to be called, but always, almost always, the restlessness and resentment died and he leaned at them with his eyes bugging and his face glistening in the hot sunlight or the red light of a gasoline flare. They listened while he told them to stand on their own hind legs. Go and vote, he told them. Vote for MacMurfee this time, he told them, for he is all you have got to vote for. But vote strong, strong enough to show what you can do. Vote him in and then if he doesn’t deliver, nail up his hide.
‘Yeah,’ he would say, leaning, ‘yeah, nail him up if he don’t deliver. Hand me the hammer and I’ll nail him.’ Vote, he told them. Put MacMurfee on the spot, he told them. He leaned at them and said:
‘Listen to me, you hicks. Listen here and lift up your eyes and look on the God’s blessed and unflyblown truth. If you’ve got the brain of a sapsucker left and can recognize the truth when you see it. This is the truth; you are a hick and nobody ever helped a hick but the hick himself. Up there in town they won’t help you. It is up to you and God, and God helps those who help themselves!’
He gave them that, and they stood there in front of him….
Willie is up there. In the sun, or in the red light of the gasoline flare:
‘You ask me what my program is. Here it is, you hicks. And don’t you forget it. Nail ’em up! Nail up Joe Harrison. Nail up anybody who stands in your way. Nail up MacMurfee if he don’t deliver. Nail up anybody who stands in your way. You hand me the hammer and I’ll do it with my own hand. Nail ’em up on the barn door! And don’t fan away the bluebottles with any turkey wing!…’
MacMurfee was elected. Willie had something to do with it, for the biggest vote was polled in the sections Willie had worked that they had any record of…. During all that time I didn’t see Willie. I didn’t see him again until he announced in the Democratic primary in 1930. But it wasn’t a primary. It was hell among the yearlings and the Charge of the Light Brigade and Saturday night in the back room of Casey’s saloon rolled into one, and when the smoke cleared away not a picture still hung on the walls. And there wasn’t any Democratic party. There was just Willie, with his hair in his eyes and his shirt sticking to his stomach with sweat. And he had a meat ax in his hand and was screaming for blood.
In the background of the picture, under a purplish tumbled sky flecked with sinister white driven foam, flanking Willie, one on each side, were two figures, Sadie Burke and a tallish, stooped, slow-spoken man with a sad, tanned face and what they call the eyes of a dreamer. The man was Hugh Miller, Harvard Law School, Lafayette Escadrille, Croix de Guerre, clean hands, pure heart, and no political past. He was a fellow who had sat still for years, and then somebody (Willie Stark) handed him a baseball bat and he felt his fingers close on the tape. He was a man and was Attorney General. And Sadie Burke was just Sadie Burke…
“How was it?” she asked.
“Take a look and guess,” I replied.
She gave a good look up to the platform, and then asked, “How’d you do it?”
“Hair of the dog.” She looked up to the platform again.
“Hair, hell,” she said, “he must have swallowed the dog.” I inspected Willie, who stood up there sweating and swaying and speechless, under the hot sun. “He’s on the ropes,” Sadie said.
“Hell, he’s been on ’em all morning,” I said, “and lucky to have ’em.”
She was still looking at him. It was much the way she had looked at him the night before when he lay on the bed in my room, out cold, and she stood by the side of the bed. It wasn’t pity and it wasn’t contempt. It was an ambiguous, speculative look. Then she said, “Maybe he was born on ’em.” She said it in a tone which seemed to imply that she had settled that subject. But she kept on looking up there at him in the same way.
The candidate could still stand, at least with one thigh propped against the table. He had begun to talk by this time, too. He had called them his friends in two or three ways and had said he was glad to be there. Now he stood there clutching the manuscript in both hands, with his head lowered like a dehorned cow beset by a couple of fierce dogs in the barnyard, while the sun beat on him and the sweat dropped. Then he took a grip on himself….
“I have a speech here,” he said:
“It is a speech about what this state needs. But there’s no use telling you what this state needs. You are the state. You know what you need. Look at your pants. Have they got holes in the knee? Listen to your belly. Did it ever rumble for emptiness? Look at your crop. Did it ever rot in the field because the road was so bad you couldn’t get it to market? Look at your kids. Are they growing up ignorant as you and dirt because there isn’t any school for them?”
Willie paused, and blinked around at the crowd. “No,” he said, “I’m not going to read you any speech. You know what you need better’n I could tell you. But I’m going to tell you a story.” And he paused, steadied himself by the table, and took a deep breath while the sweat dripped.
I leaned toward Sadie. “What the hell’s the bugger up to?” I asked.
“Shut up,” she commanded, watching him.R
He began again. “It’s a funny story,” he said:
“Get ready to laugh. Get ready to bust your sides for it is sure a funny story. It’s about a hick. It’s about a red-neck, like you all, if you please. Yeah, like you. He grew up like any other mother’s son on the dirt roads and gully washes of a north-state farm. He knew all about being a hick. He knew what it was to get up before day and get cow dung between his toes and feed and slop and milk before breakfast so he could set off by sunup to walk six miles to a one-room, slab-sided schoolhouse. He knew what it was to pay high taxes for that windy shack of a schoolhouse and those gully-washed red-clay roads to walk over — or to break his wagon axle or string-halt his mules on.
“Oh, he knew what it was to be a hick, summer and winter. He figured if he wanted to do anything he had to do it himself. So he sat up nights and studied books and studied law so maybe he could do something about changing things. He didn’t study that law in any man’s school or college. He studied it nights after a hard day’s work in the field. So he could change things some. For himself and for folks like him. I am not lying to you. He didn’t start out thinking about all the other hicks and how he was going to do wonderful things for them. He started out thinking of number one, but something came to him on the way. How he could not do something for himself and not for other folks or for himself without the help of other folks. It was going to be all together or none. That came to him.
“And it came to him with the powerful force of God’s own lightning on a tragic time back in his own home county two years ago when the first brick schoolhouse ever built in his county collapsed because it was built of politics-rotten brick, and it killed and mangled a dozen poor little scholars. Oh, you know that story. He had fought the politics back of building that schoolhouse of rotten brick but he lost and it fell. But it started him thinking. Next time would be different.
“People were his friends because he had fought that rotten brick. And some of the public leaders down in the city knew that and they rode up to his pappy’s place in a big fine car and said how they wanted him to run for Governor.”
I plucked Sadie’s arm. “You think he’s going to — ”
“Shut up,” she said savagely.
I looked toward Duffy up there on the platform back of Willie. Duffy’s face was worried. It was red and round and sweating, and it was worried. “Oh, they told him,” Willie was saying:
“And that hick swallowed it. He looked in his heart and thought he might try to change things. In all humility he thought how he might try. He was just a human, country boy, who believed like we have always believed back here in the hills that even the plainest, poorest fellow can be Governor if his fellow citizens find he has got the stuff and the character for the job.
“Those fellows in the striped pants saw the hick and they took him in. They said how MacMurfee was a limber-back and a dead-head and how Joe Harrison was the tool of the city machine, and how they wanted that hick to step in and try to give some honest government. They told him that. But — “
Willie stopped, and lifted his right hand clutching the manuscript to high heaven:
“Do you know who they were? They were Joe Harrison’s hired hands and lickspittles and they wanted to get a hick to run to split MacMurfee’s hick vote. Did I guess this? I did not. No, for I heard their sweet talk. And I wouldn’t know the truth this minute if that woman right there”
and he pointed down at Sadie — “if that woman right there — ”
I nudged Sadie and said, “Sister, you are out of a job.”
“ — if that fine woman right there hadn’t been honest enough and decent enough to tell the foul truth which stinks in the nostrils of the Most High!” Duffy was on his feet, edging uncertainly toward the front of the platform. He kept looking desperately toward the band as though he might signal them to burst into music and then at the crowd as though he were trying to think of something to say. Then he edged toward Willie and said something to him. But the words, whatever they were, were scarcely out of his mouth before Willie had turned on him. “There!” Willie roared. “There!” And he waved his right hand, the hand clutching the manuscript of his speech. “There is the Judas Iscariot, the lickspittle, the nose-wiper!” And Willie waved his right arm at Duffy, clutching the manuscript which he had not read. Duffy was trying to say something to him, but Willie wasn’t hearing it, for he was waving the manuscript under Duffy’s retreating nose and shouting, “Look at him! Look at him!”
Duffy, still retreating, looked toward the band and waved his arms at them and shouted, “Play, play! Play the ‘Star Spangled Banner’!” But the band didn’t play. And just then as Duffy turned back to Willie, Willie made a more than usually energetic pass of the fluttering manuscript under Duffy’s nose and shouted, “Look at him, Joe Harrison’s dummy!”
Duffy shouted, “It’s a lie!” and stepped back from the accusing arm.
I don’t know whether Willie meant to do it. But anyway, he did it. He didn’t exactly shove Duffy off the platform. He just started Duffy doing a dance along the edge, a kind of delicate, feather-toed, bemused, slow-motion adagio accompanied by arms pinwheeling around a face which was like a surprised custard pie with a hole scooped in the middle of the meringue, and the hole was Duffy’s mouth, but no sound came out of it. There wasn’t a sound over that five-acre tract of sweating humanity. They just watched Duffy do his dance. Then he danced right off the platform. He broke his fall and half lay, half sat, propped against the bottom of the platform with his mouth still open. No sound came out of it now, for there wasn’t any breath to make a sound.
All of that, and me without a camera.
Willie hadn’t even bothered to look over the edge. “Let the hog lie!” he shouted:
“Let the hog lie, and listen to me, you hicks. Yeah, you’re hicks, too, and they’ve fooled you, too, a thousand times, just like they fooled me. For that’s what they think we’re for. To fool. Well, this time I’m going to fool somebody. I’m getting out of this race. You know why?”
He paused and wiped the sweat off his face with his left hand, a flat scouring motion.
“Not because my little feelings are hurt. They aren’t hurt, I never felt better in my life, because now I know the truth. What I ought to known long back. Whatever a hick wants he’s got to do for himself. Nobody in a fine automobile and sweet-talking is going to do it for him. When I come back to run for Governor again, I’m coming on my own and I’m coming for blood. But I’m getting out now.
“I’m resigning in favor of MacMurfee. By God, everything I’ve said about MacMurfee stands and I’ll say it again, but I’m going to stump this state for him. Me and the other hicks, we are going to kill Joe Harrison so dead he’ll never even run for dogcatcher in this state. Then we’ll see what MacMurfee does. This is his last chance. The time has come. The truth is going to be told and I’m going to tell it. I’m going to tell it over this state from one end to the other if I have to ride the rods or steal me a mule to do it, and no man, Joe Harrison or any other man, can stop me. For I got me a gospel and I — ”
I leaned to Sadie. “Listen,” I said, “I’ve got to get on a telephone. I’m starting to town or the first telephone I hit. I got to telephone this in. You stay here and for God’s sake remember what happens.”
“All right,” she said, not paying much mind to me.
“And nab Willie when it’s over and bring him to town. It’s a sure thing Duffy won’t ask you to ride with him. You nab the sap, and — ”
“Sap, hell,” she said. And added, “You go on.”
I went. I worked around the edge of the grandstand, through the crowd, with the sound of Willie’s voice hammering on the eardrums and shaking dead leaves off the oak trees. As I rounded the end of the grandstand, I looked back and there was Willie flinging the sheets of his manuscript from him so they swirled about his feet and beating on his chest and shouting how the truth was there and didn’t need writing down. There he was, with the papers about his feet and one arm up, the coat sleeve jammed elbow high, face red as a bruised beet and the sweat sluicing, hair over his forehead, eyes bugged out and shining, drunk as a hoot owl, and behind him the bunting, red-white-and-blue, and over him God’s bright, brassy, incandescent sky.
I walked down the gravel road a piece and hitched a ride on a truck to town.
Originally published at www.bradford-delong.com.