Wow. That was an ugly breakup. I’m glad it’s finally over. Or is it?
Some people never know when to give up and go away. I don’t know about you, but if I had been behaving so badly for four years that even Geraldo Riveria—that noted authority on behaving badly—once told me to knock it off, I probably would. But I’m not Trump. I know how to take a hint. The only thing he seems to know how to take is advantage of anyone with a festering grudge and a spare buck. His relentless fleecing of his credulous flock of wannabe vandals makes even the skeeviest televangelist seem compassionate by comparison.
To be fair to him—a courtesy he doesn’t deserve, hasn’t earned, and wouldn’t recognize if it bit him on his bald spot—Trump is not alone in this regard. There’s Ted Cruz, for example. That preening dogsbody has always seemed blissfully unaware that nobody at his workplace likes him. And now he has been caught slithering off to find a warm spot to shed his skin (again) while the people he pretends to represent are knocking icicles off of their light fixtures so they can melt them down for drinking water. Cruz is a shining example of what is known in my family as an empty threat in a cheap suit. As are most of Trump’s Senatorial sycophants.
Yes, I am aware that the suits they wear are probably not cheap. But they manage to make everything they wear look cheap, which amounts to the same thing. Some people just have a knack for that. My husband, who manages to look well-groomed in his sleep, was astonished when he learned how much of that purloined NRA cash Wayne LaPierre had allegedly spent on his suits. And to such little effect!
“How is it possible,” he fumed, “to look so disreputable when you spend that much money on clothes? It’s a misappropriation of misappropriated funds! At least Jim Jordan is trying to look like a regular guy who gets his rumpled shirts and one all-purpose yellow tie at Walmart. But the rest of them should be arrested and charged with sartorial malfeasance.”
And the pathetic army of ragtag revolutionaries that Trump and his enablers rounded up for the Fiasco of January 6th emulated their dear leaders with every crude and clumsy move. They videoed themselves, posted their crimes on Twitter, Instagram and FB, and sent digital boasts to family members back home, many of whom surprised to learn that their loved ones were looters. Dim-bulb realtor Gina Ryan even selfied an ad for her services as a realtor. These people are the opposite of strategic and stealthy. Not one of them seemed capable of successfully organizing a party while their parents were out of town for the weekend, a feat that both of my daughters pulled off more than once when they were just teenagers.
It should be pretty clear to everyone but the most die-hard cheerleaders that for the past 30 years the Republican Party has allowed itself to slide into a state of complete moral dishevelment. Now that they have discovered the power of overlooking and even loudly supporting the racism and white supremacism that earns them the support of a solid bloc of blockheads, I find myself longing for the good old days when the GOP’s worst sins amounted to the kind of crafty and self-serving denigration and obliteration of government regulation that created the epic power failures across Texas. Fintan O’Toole gets right to this point in his story in the latest issue of The New York Review of Books: “…the basic contradiction of the conservatism that came into the ascendant with Ronald Reagan: How do you, on the one hand, denigrate government and, on the other, insist that you are best-placed to run it?”
And the GOP has done all of this backsliding for what? The wavering loyalty of Tea Party voters, the obstructionist idiocy of the Freedom Caucus, and that sad excuse for a merchant-prince they elevated to a level far above his competence? Whatever happened to the idea of loyal opposition, one that opposes without destroying? I guess in order to believe in that concept, you have to believe in government. But the new GOP leaders believe in government only as the thing that signs their paychecks. Lindsey Graham’s snarky superiority and Mario Rubio’s whiny entitlement, just to name a couple more of the most obvious problems, callously mock anyone who believes that government should work for anyone but the rich. Or anyone at all, for that matter.
God knows the Dems are not perfect, but this epidemic of intellectual sloppiness, bald-faced and pious hypocrisy, morally lax leadership (I’m looking at you, Mitch), naked greed, graft, opportunism, toadying and self-interest that has overtaken the Republican Party, from top to bottom, has got to stop. It’s not doing them any good anymore and it has certainly wreaked everything else for the rest of us. And when their pyramid-scheme version of patriotism comes crashing down around their heads, what did they do? They turned on their rowdy followers.
Of course they did. The moment the ink dried on Trump’s acquittal in his record-breaking second impeachment trial (Best second impeachment trial ever!), the deluded and ill-used but deadly rabble was pointed to and assigned all the blame by the same privileged scoundrels who whipped them into launching that botched assault on the Capitol in the first place. A dismaying majority of Republican leaders have now tried to let themselves off the hook for this by laying claim to that same freedom of speech they despise and decry when anyone they disagree with tries to exercise it. It appears that the slippery and self-proclaimed law-and-order party is indeed capable of getting high on forgiveness and down on punishment. But only when its own members and followers are the perpetrators of the crimes in question.
And in the other corner, we have the Democrats. Oh my. Those among them who still possess spines were outraged by the crime that had been committed against the nation in broad daylight on January 6th. And they set out to name and punish the perpetrators and their Perpetrator in Chief. But other members of what passes for the principled Left in this country had no sooner made up their minds to do the right thing when that notorious Second Guesser wing of the party—along with its attendant pundits—immediately and predictably scurried back to the Democratic default mode of dithery self-doubt and witless waffling about what to do, oh dear me, what to do.
I have been mildly entertained but mostly annoyed by all of the recent hand-wringing op-eds about whether an impeachment trial, with its public airing of the ugly and deadly brutality of Trump’s supporters, had been a good idea. Like the victims of domestic abuse that we have all become over the past four years, they had no sooner decided to press charges when they began wondering if standing up to the abuser would make him even angrier. Perhaps it would be better and safer for everyone if we overlook the crimes this time and hope that his behavior will change. After all, his friends, family, golf buddies and bagmen continue to assure us that deep down, he’s a really good guy and it wasn’t entirely his fault and we should give him another chance and are we really sure it went down the way we think it did?
And so, the Inciter-in-Chief got off the hook. We knew that would happen. There was nothing to be done about it. The game was fixed, the deck was stacked, the jury was rigged. This wasn’t politics. It wasn’t even political theatre, which has its uses. It was a parody of justice. But it was at least an opportunity for some people of integrity to stand up for what they knew was right even if they also knew they probably wouldn’t prevail. That’s better than nothing. A quick call to your therapist will remind you that catharsis may not heal the bruises, but it can help you regain your self-respect.
Something else I have noticed about the people who have been running the Democratic Party for the past three decades is that they aren’t afraid to bet on a sure thing. Especially after they have taken several polls to determine what that sure thing might be. This time though, they actually mustered enough chutzpah to bet on the long shot. And they went down in defeat. But at least they went down telling their story as they knew it, as we all witnessed it, and as many of them—including the hypocritical, pontificating, prevaricating, and willfully blind Trump enablers who declared him innocent of all charges—actually lived it. That much, at least, was a rare and satisfying thing to watch.
It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty. But it was worth it. Cleaning it up won’t be easy. And that’s not because the leaders of the alarmingly influential rogue wing of the GOP were the most brilliant and effective political strategists who ever lived. It’s because they were shameless, selfish and heedless mess-makers, who galumphed around swinging their sledgehammers witlessly at anything and everything that looked respectable or good or useful or threatened their high-flown ideas about themselves.
The mess they left behind in their senseless careening campaign against competence and effective government is certainly impressive. But that’s because it’s always easier to tear something down than it is to build it up. I learned that the hard way after my little family moved into our fixer-upper house 30 years ago. Every time I pointed at a wall that I wanted knocked down, my husband, who quickly became known as Conan the Decorator, would remind me every time he lifted his sledgehammer to strike a potentially expensive blow, “Demolition is easy; remodeling is hard.”
I’m trying not to be bitter about the ugliness of the end of the Trump era. In fact, I have been countering it by consuming bitterness, which is what has always helped me survive the dreariness of January in Seattle, because it’s when chicories come into season. Since this has been an exceptionally rough and harrowing January, I was thrilled to discover, in late December, that the weekly pop-up farm stand on the sidewalk outside La Medusa in Columbia City was overflowing with big, beautiful, bodacious and bitter radicchio of every size and color: fat red Chioggia, cream-colored Castelfranco sprinkled with what looks like tooth-brush sprays of pink and burgundy, and the lanky, svelte Treviso, which is perfect for grilling and eating like a steak with the help of a sharp knife and fork.
Bitterness is my favorite flavor. I love coffee, tea, asparagus, endive, cardoons, escarole, puntarella, celeriac, radicchio, arugula and artichokes. The secret ingredient in my summertime fruit crisps, crumbles, cobblers, grunts, buckles, brown betties, and slumps is a few generous dashes of bitters, angostura and otherwise. My favorite cocktail is Campari and soda because—classy sophisticate that I am—the taste reminds me of childhood cough syrup, but without the nasty sweetness. I also love a Negroni but I have to be careful with them because after the second one, the floor always starts to tilt alarmingly downhill in front of me.
One of my favorite cookbooks is by Jennifer McLagan. It’s called Bitter, proving that brevity is the soul of more things than just wit or lingerie. Another essential and spectacular book about bitter foods is Patience Grey’s Honey from a Weed, which is as much a memoir and field guide to foraging in the Mediterranean as it is a cookbook. I bought my copy back in 1980-something at Fixe-Madore Books on Western Avenue below the Pike Place Market. (Yes, before it was a breeding ground for imported tech millennials, the building housed a wonderful bookstore.) I read Honey from a Weed cover to cover before I realized that it probably wasn’t designed to be consumed that way. I loved it anyway. I recommend it to anyone who is looking for something to help survive the rest of this bitter, wet, cold, and Covid-confined winter. And if that doesn’t work, try A Gentleman in Moscow.
Should you decide to eat as you read, there are several recipes for preparing and eating radicchio in both cookbooks, although Patience’s recipes are less specific than they are anecdotal, so if you have little patience for that sort of imprecision, try something from McLagan’s book. There is an excellent recipe in Bitter for grilled Treviso radicchio. Or you could follow my more loosie-goosie formula below because this is the kind of dish where close enough is good enough.
RECIPE: Stovetop Grilled Treviso
Start with one large, firm head of Treviso radicchio, which will feed two people. If you can’t find Treviso, a head of the blowsier and rounder Chioggia will do. It doesn’t hold together as well, and will lose what little structural integrity it ever had as you cook it, so you will need to apply additional discipline and attention when you’re flipping it over. You could also cook this outside on your backyard grill or balcony hibachi if you’re throwing a small, alfresco, masked-up Covid dinner party.
But back in the kitchen, heat up a cast-iron pan on the stove over fairly high heat for about five minutes while you prep the radicchio. Cut it lengthwise into quarters, leaving enough of the stalk intact at the bottom to keep the leaves all attached. Sprinkle the cut sides with salt and pepper. Then brush olive oil on all three sides of each quarter.
When the pan is nice and hot, brush the surface of it with oil and put the four radicchio quarters into the pan, cut sides down. Let them sit, undisturbed for about 3-4 minutes until they begin to char. Then, scraping underneath each one with a thin metal spatula (they might stick a little), flip each quarter over onto the other cut side and allow that to char for another 3-4 minutes. Finally, turn each one over onto its rounded side and cook for another 3 minutes. The radicchio will be limp and listless and nicely charred on all three sides.
Divide the radicchio between two plate, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and a little more olive oil, and eat with a sharp knife and fork, cutting crosswise. This is absolutely spectacular all by itself, although some people like to crumble a little Taleggio or goat cheese over the top. Whatever.
Eat this dish as often as you can because when it comes to expunging the national outbreak of bitterness, we’ve got quite the task ahead of ourselves. It couldn’t hurt to ingest a little tasty and healing bitterness and hope that it will shore us up for the job. I’m convinced we can do it. But we’ve got to straighten our spines and buy into the task. MLK didn’t say that the arc of history bends toward whining, he said it bends toward justice. So let’s decide that we can fix this and stop bitching about how difficult or controversial it might be.
And there have already been some light moments. I remember laughing with genuine pleasure for the first time in a long time when Congressman Madeleine Dean declared, during her closing argument at the impeachment trial, “I have to say that, of all the trials I have ever been a part of, this is certainly one of them.”
If it counts for anything, and I think it does, we are smarter than the desperate dissemblers who have put such an undignified end to that trial by acquitting an obvious criminal. We just have to take comfort in the fact that the best among us still know how to keep our sense of humor when those around us are losing theirs.
Nothing good comes without some risk and at some cost. We could bewail and complain about the past four years forever and wish that it hadn’t happened. But there’s a time for the bitterness to end so we can begin to clean up the debris that these greedy, sniveling and self-serving fools have left in their wake. Let’s get to it.