Tosspot Nation

Holliwell finished his packing alone. When his bag was locked and standing by the front door, he went into the kitchen and made himself a strong bloody mary. He drank it by the living-room window, looking out at the front yard where his magnolia hung snowbound and his mountain ash stood tortured and skeletal in an envelope of ice.

He finished the first drink and then had another, not bothering with breakfast. By the time he put his suitcase in the back of the Volvo, he was high enough to stop at the smoke shop in town and buy his first pack of cig-arettes in a month. Driving to the turnpike, he smoked one cigarette after another.

After the turnpike entrance, he hit the radio and in a mile or two WWVA eased down from space, selling lucky crosses and Christian good fortune. Holliwell tuned it in carefully and between commercials heard a singular musical recitation, delivered in up-country dialect, about a young football player.

The youth on the record was his high school’s star quarterback; it was the Big Game against the school in the next hollow and at half-time the home team was a couple of touchdowns behind. During the half-time break, the boy disappeared from the locker room and he was late returning for the third quarter.

“Where in the hell you been?” demanded the anxious hometown coach, who was decent but hard. He swore at the boy and shoved him toward the line of scrimmage. There then commenced an astonishing display of unforgettable schoolboy ball. The kid played like a young man possessed, and the fans in the little country-and-western town had never seen the like of him. The opposition was devastated, the coach awestruck and penitent. Amid the jubilation outside the showers, he drew the young quarterback quietly aside.

“Coach,” the youth explained, “my father was blind.”

The boy’s father had been blind and for a week had lain upon his deathbed. The boy had been phoning the hospital regularly and during half-time had learned of his father’s death.

The coach cleared his throat. How then to explain the spectacle only just witnessed—the sixty-yard touchdown passes, the seventy-yard scoring runs?

“You see, coach,” the boy said quietly, “it’s the first time he’s ever seen me play.”

By the time WWVA faded out, Holliwell was aware of the tears streaming down his face, staining his tie, wetting his moustache and the stub of his cigarette. He eased the Volvo into the next turnoff, and sat, with the motor running, staring through the windshield at a row of green refuse cans until he had stopped sobbing.

So much for morning drinking.

—Robert Stone, A Flag For Sunrise

Those ignoranti known as the teabaggers, motivated as they are by Fear Of The Black Man, cannot really be expected to think coherently. Not learned, not bright, all that they are proceeds from delusion, from a racist certainty that, as Jill Lepore puts it The Whites Of Their Eyes, “everything about Barack Obama and his administration [is] somehow alarming, as if his election had ripped a tear in the fabric of time.”

The teabaggers’ minders shrewdly wrapped them in the mantle of the American Revolution, because “nothing trumps the Revolution,” and this “conferred upon a scattered, diffuse, and confused movement a degree of legitimacy and the appearance, almost, of coherence.”

But the Revolution as perceived and play-acted by the teabaggers bears no relation to any that ever actually existed in discernible space-time. As Lepore notes, “[w]hat is curious about the Tea Party’s Revolution, though, is that it isn’t just kooky history, it is antihistory.” It is, in a word, fundamentalism: “‘the founding’ is ageless and sacred and to be worshipped; certain historical texts—’the founding documents’—are to be read in the same spirit with which religious fundamentalists read, for instance, the Ten Commandments; the Founding Fathers were divinely inspired; the academic study of history is a conspiracy and, furthermore, blasphemy; political arguments grounded in appeals to the founding documents, as sacred texts, and to the Founding Fathers, as prophets, are therefore incontrovertible.”

All of what the teabaggers are about flows against actual history. The “Founding Fathers,” for instance, were never considered as such, under such a name,until the 1921 inaugural address of Warren G. Harding, who on that occasion also became the first person to pronounce them—falsely—divinely inspired. This in a speech described by H. L Mencken as follows: “It reminds me of a string of wet sponges. It reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it.” Harding himself a president so bad he was commonly proclaimed history’s worst, until the electorate began elevating Bushes. Harding is best remembered as the Bill Clinton of his time (“it is a good thing I am not a woman,” he once confessed, “as I would always be pregnant, for I cannot say no”), a man who was once memorably denounced by journalist William White as a “he-harlot,” and who while president frequently smuggled into the White House Nan Britton, who first conceived an attraction for Harding when she was 12, and who gave birth to his daughter Elizabeth Ann in 1919, the year before Harding entered the White House. Harding and Britton most often engaged in sexual congress in a darkened coat closet off the Oval Office: then he would send her away, stocking-tops stuffed with money; she gathered in additional coin via an office job proffered by Harding’s friends at US Steel.

None of these inconvenient truths rattle around the brainpans of the teabaggers. Just as there is no room in their noggins for the historical truth that such teabagging termagants as Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Christine O’Kooky, and Sharron Angle would never have been allowed to utter word one, back there in the late 1700s, when first the tea fell into the harbor. Because these people are women. And as Lepore puts it: “In eighteenth-century America, I wouldn’t have been able to vote. I wouldn’t have been able to own property, either. I’d very likely have been unable to write, and, if I survived childhood, chances are that I’d have died in childbirth. And, no matter how long or short my life, I’d almost certainly have died without having once ventured a political opinion preserved in any historical record.”

Finally, when the teabaggers proclaim, as they so like to do, there during their clan hoedowns, that “the founders are here among us,” that “they’re all around us,” the baggers neglect to note that if this were actually true, odds are those founders would be reeling around dead drunk. Because the United States, from 1770 through 1830, was “one of the world’s great drinking countries”—and not just for that time, but in all of history. “Party Like It’s 1773” read one placard at an Atlanta teabagging revival, hosted by Sean Klannity, attended by 15,000 people, and opened by a white-wigged would-be eighteenth-century minister, who bloviated from in front of a giant US Constitution: “I am Thomas Paine.” Except Paine, in 1806, observed by a neighbor in a New York tavern, was “so drunk and disoriented and unwashed and unkempt that his toenails had grown over his toes.”

In 1820 Americans drank enough distilled spirits to supply every man, woman, and child in the country with 5 gallons of booze. And this is distilled spirits, mind you; not beer or wine, but the hard stuff. At the time, the Irish, universally regarded as the most alcoholically impaired stumblebums in all of Christendom, consumed but a third of that amount.

Visitors to this country were shocked to discover that every American, from grandpa and grandma in the corner down to the wee tykes, took a drink or two with every meal, including breakfast.

This, of course, was in the spirit of the first white folks to wash ashore here: the Pilgrims’ first winter was considered so grim and miserable not because of any mere food shortage, but because they had run desperately low on beer, and beer was their chief drink. (They didn’t much like even water.)

William Byrd, a Virginia gentleman farmer, regularly recorded in his diary the propensity for Virginians to become deeply sodden at court sessions, militia musters, and elections. During colonial and revolutionary times, mass quantities of alcohol were served at dinners, and guests were expected to drink until they more or less could not stand. Those who declined to so indulge thereby offended the host. Byrd blithely lists a number of public officials, including Virginia’s governor, who reeled around in public drunk as lords. Merchants of the day celebrated closing a deal by drinking until one or more of them retired beneath the table. To honor the French ambassador, New York Governor George Clinton—one of the baggers’ beloved “Founding Fathers”—once regaled some 120 guests with 135 bottles of madeira, 36 bottles of port, and 60 bottles of beer, topped off with 30 cups of rum punch.

Teabagging reenactors somehow forget to Stay True To Their School by depicting colonial soldiers so liberally supplied with daily drams of liquors that in some battles they proved too inebriated to take the field. In 1776 a band of uniformed “tea party patriots,” as Palin so lovingly refers to them, got their hands on a barrel of whiskey during Washington’s retreat into New Jersey: “Concerned that the booty not fall into enemy hands, they drank up the liquor on the spot. The result, an officer recalled, was a bad case of ‘barrel fever,’ with symptoms of black eyes and bloody noses.”

The Founders commonly gathered in booze-holes known as taverns—”Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence at a Philadelphia tavern, and ‘many stirring meetings were held before the outbreak of the War of the Revolution in taverns whose landlords were in sympathy with the cause of the patriots.'”

The Constitutional Convention was occasionally interrupted by bibulous orgies in which those assembled might consume roughly three bottles of booze per Founder:

In 1787, two days before their work was done, the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention adjourned to a tavern for some rest, and according to the bill they drank 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, 8 of whiskey, 22 of port, 8 of hard cider and 7 bowls of punch so large that, it was said, ducks could swim around in them.

It is even said that the genesis of the First Amendment’s “freedom of assembly” clause was to protect gatherings in the booze-wallows of the day:

The proper situs of the Assembly Clause, research reveals, is in its birthplace: colonial America’s taverns. Colonial taverns served not just as establishments for drinking alcohol but as vital centers where colonists of reputations great and small gathered to read printed tracts, speak with one another on important issues of the day, debate the news, organize boycotts, draft treatises and demands, plot the expulsion of their British overlords, and establish a new nation.

Meanwhile, Indians were terrified of the drunken white people who boiled out of these taverns to rampage around the countryside. Alexander Henry, a frontier hunter of the early nineteenth century, complained that his besotted white companions “made more damned noise and trouble than a hundred Blackfeet.”

For reasons that have not really been explained, these founding generations of Americans were also more inclined to drink alone, and to suffer from the DTs, than other alcoholically inclined peoples.

Teabaggers might be compelled to Harm Themselves if they understood that distilling was the chief American industry of the day, and that distilling is an art developed by Iranians and Arabs.

“Alcohol” is itself an Arabic word, from al-kuhl, a moniker which Arab alchemists bestowed upon “any impalpable powder obtained by sublimation, and thus to all volatile principles isolated in distillation.” A 9th Century text by Abu Bakr Muhammed ibn Zakarigya Rasi of Tehran contains the first mention of distilled spirits, said to have been a chance discovery by Geber the Sufi in the century before.

The “Moors,” during their wandering period, are believed to have brought liquor into Spain and France; spirits truly “went wide” with European crusaders returning to the homeland, having picked up the secret while blundering around the Middle East trying to conquer Jerusalem and stuff.

In the early 1800s whiskey was the most profitable enterprise engaged in by farmers out West. It was difficult and expensive to get corn or hogs to market: a thousand bushels of corn shipped to New Orleans barely sold for roughly the same amount as it cost to transport them. But transformed into spirits, that corn brought a farmer a nice profit. The “Whiskey Rebellion” of 1794, which roiled much of western Pennsylvania, was the first real revolt against the nascent federal government, and was occasioned by an excise tax on spirits.

Meanwhile, people were making good money in “the triangle trade,” wherein molasses purchased in the West Indies was distilled in America into rum, which was then sold in Africa to obtain black people, who were shipped back to America as slaves. Because of the then-dearth of specie, rum was known as “the currency of the age” . . . and still is, at least to historians, though, as Lepore noted, to teabaggers “history is a conspiracy and, furthermore, blasphemy.”

The last time people as dunderheaded as these teabaggers went to the Congress en masse, it was during the Eisenhower administration, and they proceeded, once in office, to rip open everyone’s pillows looking for Commies, while meanwhile thrusting “God” onto the money and into the Pledge of Allegiance. Now, maybe these teabaggers can monkey with the Pledge again, so that it better reflects America’s alcoholic inheritance. Shift the final lines around a bit, till they read:

one nation, under the influence,

with whiskey and rum for all


12 Responses to “Tosspot Nation”

  1. 1 ezdidit March 3, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    Thank you for that! Next we might clarify their origins: it seems that tea was dumped into Boston Harbor – not initially by angry tea drinkers protesting that King George was going to raise the tea tax, as every schoolkid is taught – but by tea bootleggers protesting the lower prices AND higher taxes with which George threatened their livelihoods and their freedom if the taxes were not paid. Erstwhile US Citizens quickly caught on and co-opted what is known as The Boston Tea Party. Similar to the immorality of tax breaks for the richest when we know supply-side economics is a fraud and unemployment is endemic.

    Tosspot nation indeed. But will popular revulsion be enough to reset the majority back to where we had it in 2008? I’m not feeling it, and the election is only 20 months off.

    • 2 bluenred March 3, 2011 at 10:37 pm

      Hi, ez.

      Yeah, the tea was dumped on behalf of smugglers: some 75% of the tea then sold in the colonies was smuggled in, primarily from Holland, by folks like “Founder” John Hancock. The Tea Act actually reduced the duty on British tea imported into America, which made it price-competitive with the smuggled tea. This Could Not Stand.

      Who knows what November 2012 will bring? These teabagging people in the House are truly buffoons, but there is so much Fear Of The Black Man upon the land, they may be with us for awhile.

  2. 4 sally March 5, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    Oh, dear, o dear — my history learnin’ lacked a great deal! Thanks for the re-education. Good stuff.

    • 5 bluenred March 5, 2011 at 5:24 pm

      A nice side-effect of being lazy and shiftless is that you have the time to seek out and read all sorts of odd and obscured bits of history. : /

  3. 6 possum March 7, 2011 at 6:00 am

    Great writing as always. The story at the beginning was one I should have read at home and not at work first thing in the morning. People tend not to understand tears at the desk.

    The continued popularity of the Tea Party Express baffles me. Why do so many support a group that has only self-interest in mind? Why do people vote for politicians who openly express ideas which will harm the majority of voters? Have we Americans lost our collective mind?

    • 7 bluenred March 7, 2011 at 10:08 am

      Well, people can’t join the Klan anymore—it just isn’t done. The Tea Party is a socially acceptable substitute for expressing Fear Of The Black Man.

      Obama was absolutely right when, during the campaign, he spoke of “bitter clingers”—economically distressed white people who cling to their guns and religion and such; failing to understand that they have been screwed over by rich white people, they instead focus their hostility on people who are actually worse off than they: black folks, immigrants, poor women, gays, etc. Obama personifies for them these Others, who they believe are responsible for their plight. If only we could go back to White People Presidents, everything would be fine. It is no coincidence that the Tea Party harkens back to a time when black people were slaves.

  4. 8 possum March 7, 2011 at 11:52 am

    “…people can’t join the Klan anymore”

    Maybe not in your state, but in Possum Valley the Klan is apparently alive and well just not out in the public in their robes. According to knowledgeable people there are multiple groups active not far from my home. The TP is their public arm these days.

    The study of Jim Crow and the preceding slavery has been a lifelong interest of mine. Today we see the effects of both in our “criminal justice” system and in our politics. The attitude of superiority shown by so many white males (more than women but both sexes are guilty) is appalling.

    People who elect Tea Party candidates deserve what they get. Those elderly people who supported those fools are about to see their benefits reduced. That harms the entire nation but maybe, just maybe the wakeup call will be heard this time. If we continue down this destructive course I fear for the nation our grandchildren will inherit.

    • 9 bluenred March 7, 2011 at 11:11 pm

      Great. I guess I meant that five-star racists like Sarah Palin and Orangeman and Yertle the Turtle and such can’t associate themselves with the Klan anymore, but sho nuff can sing the praises of the teabaggers, while the teabaggers meanwhile delude themselves that they’re not in the Klan.

      I’m sure those who get their benefits cut will find some way to Blame The Negro. Orangeman and Yertle & co. are as we speak poisoning the airwaves with their toxic gibberish that it is “wild spending” by The Negro that has necessitated such cuts. And they’ll buy it, the teabaggers.

  5. 10 possum March 8, 2011 at 5:06 am

    Of course people buy the rhetoric. I always forget how much people respond to emotion rather than to facts. The Repubs are great at emotional appeal if they are very short on facts.

    Perfect summary of the Klan. Thanks.

  6. 11 Elane March 18, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    all the time i used to read smaller content which also clear their motive, and that is also happening with this article which I am reading now.

    • 12 bluenred March 18, 2014 at 9:24 pm

      Kool. What is apparently happening with this article that you are reading now is that there is a clear motive and the content is getting smaller. Eventually said content will get so small it will disappear. And then you can think for yourself.

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When I Worked

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