Disclaimer: I am writing this column after a long day out in the sun and too much cable news on the XM dial. I’m feeling a bit tetchy.
The president’s weekend tweet cannons launched at Maryland’s 7th congressional district and it’s longtime representative, Elijah Cummings, elicited a spectrum of emotions from me.
Now I’m questioning, maybe as I should, our entire political system. I’m having an existential crisis.
I’m thinking back to season 1 of Mad Men. It was 1960. In a famous television lesson, the classic Bert Cooper tells Don Draper that he’s “going to need a stronger stomach if you’re going to be back in the kitchen seeing how the sausage is made”
The context of the quote was that Don Draper wanted to fire Peter “Pete” ‘Dychman’ Campbell for being a snotty little modern-day millennial shit – but he couldn’t because Pete was born into a waspy New York City royal family. And Sterling Cooper needed Pete to open New York’s gold-plated doors to keep that cash coming in.
After this weekend, I questioned whether I have the stomach for how the sausage is made in American politics – or maybe I don’t have the patience for the process and the people, including some in Maryland who live on the political fringes.
Trump’s attacks on Baltimore City and Chairman Cummings are nothing more than petulant backlash from a man barely keeping his head above legal water. The president is lashing out because that’s what guys like him do when they’re cornered. Watch a mob flick. You’ll get it. It’s funny: Donald Trump apparently thinks he’s a mobster. He’s no Joe Pesci (Pesci was smart).
Trump’s attacks on Baltimore City hit a nerve with me: I think because he attacked our people, our neighbors, our friends; he attacked Marylanders for choosing to live in a place that he describes as “rat-infested.” It’s maddening to think we’ve dipped this low in American politics. It is mind-numbing that “conservatism” is whatever Trump and his cronies say it is.
And it’s horrifying that the Republican Party, my former political party, is willing to accept racism as the price to pay for conservative judges and tax cuts for billionaires.
Most of Maryland’s political leaders hit back hard at this numskull president – and rightfully so; Donald Trump attacked their homes, their friends, their political hero and mentor.
But for Governor Larry Hogan (R) and Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) – Maryland’s two most visible frontmen who lean center-right and center-left (keyword: center), their respective responses to Trump’s rage tweets inevitably failed to satisfy the political left and right.
Franchot dinged Trump in a Saturday Facebook post. It wasn’t a huge takedown, but Franchot did drop some shade in Franchot-like fashion: Measured, articulate and witty.
Yet whenever Franchot, whose fiscal moderation has earned him a nice chunk of crossover support (1.6 million votes in the last election, mind you) hits back at this out-of-control sociopath of a president, his fairweather rightwing fans trigger themselves into a frenzy, vowing to defeat Franchot in an upcoming election (yet some don’t even know when it is).
Franchot’s Facebook feed reached the outlandish when balderdash accusations were tossed out that the comptroller and his tip-top staff aren’t performing their duties on behalf of millions of Maryland’s taxpayers. None of that is true, of course. Trump supporters think that if you attack the president and try to do your day job at the same time, you won’t be able to tie your shoes and walk in a straight line simultaneously.
A man permanently vacationing on his own political island, Franchot steers his own ship, refusing to read from the Machine’s biblical texts. When Franchot does his own thing, which is early and often, Marylanders are graced with free tickets to the Eric Luedtke and Kirill Reznik variety hour, a social media show replete with bad jokes, maundering meltdowns and maybe even a show tune or two, or we could only hope. (I would like to see Kirill and Eric sing a swirling rendition of My Fair Lady’s “I Could Have Danced All Night.”)
What I find most fascinating is that while Franchot’s politics are to the right of a few of the state’s brightest progressive activists, good guys like Jason McLaurin and Richard DeShay Elliott find common ground with Franchot in the fight against the political machine.
Many Marylanders claim they like and appreciate Franchot’s you-can-go-your-own way style – until his style conflicts with their personally-held political beliefs.
The same goes for Hogan.
How many times have you heard from Maryland’s Trump-supporting Republicans that Hogan is “too moderate,” a “RINO” (God I hate that one), a “sell-out,” or a Democrat in disguise. Real intellectually heavy stuff here.
Here’s the other tired trope you’ll hear from Trump’s Maryland crew: “You are a Republican, Larry; therefore, you should be out there supporting YOUR president!” (If you mangle the grammar and use inappropriate capital letters, in no time you’ll be a Trump social media star.)
And on the left, you’ll hear that Larry Hogan is Donald Trump incarnate, or that he doesn’t do enough to stand up to Trump. Yet there has been no other Republican governor in the country who has called out Trump more than Larry Hogan. That’s a fact.
Larry Hogan is on the same political no-man’s land as Franchot: He’s criticized for being too moderate, too in the middle, and too willing to work with Democrats and Republicans, and too eager to actually govern.
The right wants Larry Hogan to piss on Maryland Democrats and engage in a Trumpian cultural war. And some Maryland Democrats – not all, but some – would find fault tomorrow if Larry Hogan cured cancer (they would say he didn’t do it soon enough).
I have more faith in Annapolis than I do Washington. The vast majority of Maryland’s elected officials do want to govern our purple state well within the mainstream of American politics.
But some don’t. Some partisans crave disharmony, they love chaos and, while they claim they want more bipartisanship, the seek discord and division.
Larry Hogan and Peter Franchot’s island of political sanity can be lonely at times. I just hope Smith Island Cakes accompany the boat ride over.