Why Politics So Often Trumps Piety: It’s Baked Right In

“The Good Shepherd” by James Tissot

Confused by stalwart evangelical Christian support for Donald Trump? Don’t be. Organized religious movements, especially those of the Christian variety, are only nominally “religious” or faith-directed. They are, in fact, political movements (always have been; they started that way). We aren’t confused by U.S. Chamber of Commerce support for Trump, for example. These captains of industry don’t like the guy either; it’s not clear they ever respected him as “a businessman” (I mean, who bankrupts casinos? That’s really hard to do). But the Chamber anticipated that Trump, as president, would deliver policy outcomes that would keep American corporate interests rich and powerful. The Chamber’s support for Trump doesn’t confuse us at all.

The president’s evangelical Christian support is identically political and transactional.

To be fair, the president’s evangelical support is even more politically on the nose because, as it happens, the world’s two most prominent monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam, were both founded as uniquely, overtly political movements — and so they remain. The disconnect and confusion come when something like ‘evangelical Christianity’ is viewed as a movement or phenomenon of faith. As such, its support for someone sporting such a “rich” history of bigotry, sexual predation, white supremacy and transgressive plutocracy would be totally mystifying.

However, when evangelical Christianity is rightly viewed as a political movement, the hypocrisy and our confusion about it fall away. Or they should.

Look at what Trump has promised and, in part, delivered to this political constituency of his: not enlightenment or even a righteous example but rather the appointment of judges who are likely to rule against abortion and gay rights (though the latter backfired on the evangelical right last week); the channeling of taxpayer money to private, largely religious, certainly segregated schools; recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, thereby laying the groundwork for the fulfillment of biblical prophecy; and restoration of an America that is ruled by white Christian men, despite a population that is ever more diverse. Quite apart from Trump and Republican Party policies, evangelical Christians also tend to be strongly supportive of American militarism abroad, race-based immigration policy, and authoritarian policing, three more things that make it darned near impossible to, among other things, love they neighbor as thyself.

We can agree nearly all of these priorities as maintained by Trump’s evangelical base don’t touch on faith much at all; even the fulfillment of policy serves only Christians themselves, not the breadth of God’s family. Many of these political goals demonstrably transgress New Testament teachings. Instead they are far more concerned with the wielding of power, social influence and control, and money — the stock in trade of most political movements.

Many Americans are thrown by this — the inability of nominal Christians to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s (Romans 13:1). Even religiously observant onlookers get stuck on the hypocrisy of the situation — to a point. Trump’s personal behavior would surely offend lots of evangelicals were he raising their grandchildren or coaching their son’s Little League team, for example. But he’s not doing that. He’s delivering political power and influence, and that trumps all. Apparently. Evangelical Christians are no different from any other political constituency in their search for return on investment — a return they frankly didn’t realize from many Republican presidents up to now.

What has changed with Trump is the extent to which individual members of the religious right wing attempt to cloak these plainly political aims in religious vestments. That is to say, under Trump that practice has fallen away almost entirely — and this should help the rest of us better understand what has always been true: that organized religious movements don’t give a fig about salvation (yours, theirs, anyone’s), not when earthly power, influence, social control and money are at stake.  

Listen to the way Steven E. Strang, founder of the Christian publishing house Charisma Media, reckons this political calculus today:

“I believe that God answered our prayers in a way we didn’t expect, for a person we didn’t even necessarily like,” he told The New York Times last winter. “Christians believe in redemption and forgiveness, so they’re willing to give Donald Trump a chance.” Strang added that those who talk about Trump tarnishing the evangelical brand “are not really believers — they’re not with us, anyway.”

One thing is clear: This fellow Strang is not concerned with souls.

Neither is Penny Young Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, an evangelical organization formed to frame the 2018 midterm elections (to potential donors) as a civilizational struggle. Referring to Trump, she said, “His family can talk to him about issues of character.”

“Certainly we are all embarrassed,” Linda Leonhart, who is active in the women’s ministry at her suburban Dallas church, told  The Times in March 2019, citing the president’s serial lying, pettiness, impulsiveness, profanity and name calling. “But for the most part he represents what we stand for.” Not the Gospels, in other words, but the political gathering and wielding of earthly power, influence, social control and money.

These folks are not concerned with the teachings of scripture, much though former Attorney General Jeff Sessions might have tried to cite it in defense of this xenophobic policy or that one. Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attempted these same diversions. In 2020, it should be clear that Americans Republicans are more concerned with using scripture in the derivation and deployment of political identity and power, reflecting a Christian tradition that is nearly 2,000 years old.

The mere acknowledgement that Trump may be less than ideal morally — but that he delivers things like Brett Kavanaugh and protections for Christian health workers — is itself a tacit acknowledgement, on the part of Christian voters, that political concerns are equally important, if not more important, than matters of personal faith. For them, it’s a simple exercise in compartmentalism, a word that does not appear in the Bible, for the record. I doubt very much these folks would want Trump for a son-in-law (faith). But they love what he’s doing as president (politics).

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Unprecedented? Nope. Modern GOP Still Harking Back to the ’80s — the 1880s

With word that President Donald Trump plans to resume his in-person political rallies on June 19 — that’s Juneteenth, a commemoration of slavery’s end and black America’s biggest secular holiday — in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it seems clear the era of Republican dog whistles is finally over.

Tulsa was, of course, site of the so-called ‘race riots’ that slaughtered of hundreds of African-Americans over a two-day period in 1921. That was the height of Jim Crow America, when pogroms like these were sadly unremarkable. This is the symbolism our Republican administration is clearly reaching for and by now it should not surprise us.

From the moment Ronald Reagan launched his 1980 presidential campaign — in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights activists had been murdered and buried in an earthen dam back in 1963 — the GOP has positioned itself as the party of white folk. The symbolism was clear enough from Day 1, and effective enough to lure white southern Democrats (the “Dixiecrats” who fled the Democratic Party during the Civil Rights era) into the once-anathema Republican Party, the Party of Lincoln. The Trump presidency and the scheduling of this July rally neatly complete the circle.

In light of the protests that have gripped American cities in wake of George Floyd’s May 29 killing, we are now free to drop all pretenses. Indeed, it’s time to retire all sorts of presumptions, including the idea that Trump and his white-nationalist “Christian” support is somehow unprecedented. On the contrary: We have been here before.

But first, by all means, let’s also dispense with any and all pearl-clutching from progressives and centrists. Donald Trump understands the nature of his political support and, by now, so should we. To be fair, he’s been remarkably consistent re. the nature of his vision for this country. “Why is it always about race with you people,” his supporters serially countered in pre-Floyd America. Because, as has been confirmed the last 2 weeks (which only confirms what the war on drugs and mass incarceration showed us decades before), it’s always been about race.

Let’s further dispense with our vaguely snarky musing on the Trump movement’s signature rallying cry. When he and his followers pledge to “Make America Great Again”, they really do mean to make it white again — or rather, to restore white citizens to their longstanding, “rightful” place of privilege and power in the face of an ever more diverse citizenry and electorate. It’s time to retire this rhetorical question and simply accept it as demonstrable fact.

We can also stop with the lengthy magazine think pieces and earnest video documentaries that explore the economic nature of Trump’s support. Yes, plutocrats love Trumpism. They may indeed be pulling some of these strings. But there is no economic explanation for the white working-class embrace of Donald Trump. And here’s a good rule to follow at all times but particularly in this one: When we perceive our fellow citizens to be repeatedly voting against their own self-interest, we have almost certainly failed to effectively divine that self-interest.

To wit, Trumpism is not an economic movement. It is a white, nationalist, extra-scriptural Christian movement. In four years’ time, it has produced a great many things we can fairly call “unprecedented”. But MAGA isn’t one of them. With a bit more than 5 months remaining before the 2020 election, it’s critical that “the rest of us” recognize this.

What’s more, as we’ll establish here, it’s important to recognize this is not the first time white Americans have found themselves on the wrong side of a demographic equation, i.e. trying to maintain political power and privilege in a society where voters of color roughly equal if not outnumber them.

We have indeed been here before. It’s called the Post-Reconstruction South, where the identical demographic situation resulted in the identical political response. To a remarkable degree, the policies articulated by Trump during his campaign and those instituted by his administration these past 40 months are the spiritual godchildren of those initiated by post-Reconstruction southern whites in the late 19th century — for the same desperate and obvious demographic reasons.

No one bothered to ask late 19th century southern white men why they effectively demonized, disenfranchised and, where possible, criminalized black citizens, black voters. No contemporaneous journalists from the agitating north went looking for the economic foundations of Jim Crow. It was obvious to all, north and south, what they were doing and why. Institutional racism was essential and obvious to the white fight for political power in the former Confederacy. The political motivations of white southerners post-1877 had nothing to do with economics, government intrusion, faith, the opioid epidemic, flyover country resentment of coastal elites, etc. It also lasted the better part of 100 years.

And so, in this sense, it should not surprises us that it remains front and center in U.S. politics. It’s all about race. It’s always been about race. Not exactly the race of some urban African-American or that of some border Latinx, but rather the so-called white race, “our” race, and its prospects for enduring power in this country. The demography of an immigrant nation has finally caught up to white America, and a lot of them (40 percent by most counts) don’t like it much. It’s time we all accepted this and set about wrestling with it properly.

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Pandemic Scenarios Earn CT Rare Win on the Golf Front

The super-fun green complex at the 6th, one of many at Windsor’s Keney Park GC .

Let’s first relate the cold hard facts, to contextualize things: Connecticut is a wasteland. I spent four college years there. Pretty much every part of the state exists as a satellite to some larger, more consequential place; it’s the world’s biggest suburb, in other words — and yet there isn’t one cool urban redoubt in all of its 5,567 square miles. For years, you couldn’t buy beer there after 8 p.m. In their relative wisdom, modern Nutmeg lawmakers have since upped that to 10 p.m. (Sunday liquor sale bans were lifted in 2012). But it remains the most culturally vanilla corner of New England.

More to the point, the golf on hand in Connecticut is surprisingly poor. Of the six New England states, I’d rank it 5th in terms of overall quality per capita (sorry, New Hamster). There are some perfectly fine private clubs, but honestly, not as many as one might think considering the long coastline and all the money that has consistently sloshed around that part of the state. The public golf is fairly abject by any standard.

However, for much of this Pandemic Spring, Connecticut and Rhode Island have been the only places that have even allowed golf in New England — and Rhody has effectively banned it for out-of-state folks (insisting on a 14-day quarantine beforehand). It seems the most onerous golf restrictions will be lifted across the region come the month of May (or that’s the word here in Maine), so let me praise Connecticut and the golf there while I have the chance.

My daughter passed her thesis in last Friday at midnight. Her college experience is essentially over. As she has spent the last 6 weeks cooped up in her Philadelphia apartment, we reckoned she’d earned some semi-rural time at home. Because Clara required extraction and, because Connecticut is literally unavoidable when driving from Maine to Philly, I resolved to play golf somewhere on the way down.

[Can I just say that I’m not on board with all this hand wringing about how high school and college seniors are missing out on the pomp and circumstance of graduation? It seems misplaced in light of such large-scale public health and economic concerns. I’m particularly put off by online expressions of this treacly sentiment. We can agree that Facebook was created for and has always been sustained by a bottomless human capacity for meaningless, self-referential bullshit. Which has its place. Witness my own wall. But the idea that middle-aged people posting high school portraits of themselves somehow speaking empathically to the graduation void being experienced by their children (who don’t use or give a fuck about FB) is a level of self-reference that is frankly beyond the pale. Fine. Go ahead and share flattering, young-and-fit pictures of yourselves. Go ahead and detail your 10 most meaningful albums. Just don’t think you need the license of Covid-19 confinement to do so — because social media in general and FB in particular have long existed for exactly this sort of piteous self-indulgence. And don’t think our own confinement makes us any more interested. For the record: I’ve checked with my lawyer; these nominations are not legally binding.]

•••

The par-3 2nd at Fenwick GC in Old Saybrook, CT

Right. Where were we. My daughter. Golf in Connecticut.

Actually, because I passed through the Nutmeg state twice, I played on the way back, as well. Each round was delightful.

Monday morning I rolled up to Keney Park Golf Course just north of Hartford in Windsor, right off Interstate-91. The original Devereaux Emmet design there was renovated some 7 years ago, to pretty outstanding effect. I picked up a game with 3 other middle-aged guys. Aside from the lack of handshakes before and afterward, our round was not affected much at all by the physical distance we maintained.

Playing on the golf team at Wesleyan did get me around the state to dozens of different courses, back in the day, but I’d never played Keney before. The terrain was superb and the place drained really well (it had snowed the day before apparently, but the ball still bounced/rolled in most places). Some have taken issue with the historical accuracy/integrity of architect Michael Dusenberry’s work at Keney Park — and the project cost. But this seems to me a pretty churlish response. If there’s a better muni track in Connecticut, I’d like to know where it is.  The greens are super fun, their complexes bold and varied, and they rolled beautifully for mid-April.

There are dozens of ways to “rate” a golf course, but here’s one I like (especially for public courses): What’s the worst hole out here? At Keney, it took some real head-scratching. It’s probably the 1st — a perfectly good if short, downhill par-4 that otherwise serves as a welcoming opener. I certainly appreciated it, having been sent straight from the starter shack to the first tee after 4 hours in the car. Every succeeding hole I found strategically engaging.

The very next day, after kipping in Philadelphia, we loaded up the car and headed north. (It’s quite a feeling to drive over the George Washington Bridge and sail through NYC at lunchtime with such ease.) Soon enough we had arrived in Old Saybrook, just down Route 9 from Middletown. Fenwick Golf Course is a cool place — a summer-community track surrounded by tony shingle-style homes arrayed about a small peninsula of low-lying land buffeted by Long Island Sound. Just 9 holes, it was the perfect place to play with my daughter in tow.

Tuesday was cold and windy on the Connecticut coast but we welcomed the walk and there are some truly scenic vistas on offer at Fenwick. When it came into view, the Sound was roiling. As for the golf itself: meh. There was a pretty epic cape-style par-4 (the 430-yard 4th), where one is obliged to drive it over a salt-water inlet (and Sequassen Avenue). The 2nd is a cute par-3 (the card indicated there was a back tee stretching the hole to 200 yards, but we couldn’t find it). In all, a lovely spot but nothing too-too special. The greens were uniformly small, round and tilted back toward play with very little internal contour. It reminded me of Abenackie, another antique summer-colony 9 south of Portland, Maine (though the terrain there in Biddeford Pool is superior).

But this is to quibble. It was the perfect way to break up our 8-hour drive, during a pandemic. Invigorated, we jumped back in the car, stopped at Popeye’s in New London (spicy chicken sandwich: believe the hype), and headed north.

Nova-Georgetown ’85: Still Crazy After All These Years

Much of my Covid19 replacement sports-viewing has concentrated on vintage soccer films via YouTube (those Dutch teams of the 70s were really something). But I did indulge earlier this month in a replay of the 1985 NCAA Championship between Villanova and Georgetown, on the CBS Sports Network. I think it’s accurate to say that between 1974 and 2004 (the period of my most fervid college basketball mania), this is the only final I failed to watch live — and only because I was backpacking through Europe at the time, behind the Iron Curtain. When I finally got a hold of an International Herald Tribune in Dubrovnik (the former Yugoslavia), I thought maybe Tito’s media censors were messing with me. In all the years since, I’ve seen highlights but never the entire game tape. Some thoughts:

• By now everyone knows that Villanova won this game (66-64) by shooting an extraordinary 22 of 28 from the floor: 78.6 percent. That’s plenty mindboggling (they went 22 of 27 or 81.5 percent from the line). All the John Thompson teams from this era were renowned for their swarming defense. They were as advertised here, forcing the Wildcats into 17 turnovers! (And 28 field goal attempts in a 40-minute basketball game is not a lot, folks.) Nova just made everything. It was nearly the case that on each possession in this game, Rollie Massimino’s team either scored the ball or threw it away. I’ve never seen an offensive performance quite like it.

• This was the last game of the “No Shot Clock” era; the NCAA went to a 35-second clock the next season. Villanova never went to a four corners against Georgetown but the Wildcats were extremely deliberate on offense (in part because they were throwing it away or having it stolen with such frequency — on account of the defensive pressure). At one point in the second half, CBS flashed a stat on the screen showing “Time of Possession”, the sort of thing you’d see today during a soccer match. I don’t remember this stat from the 1970s or ‘80s, at all. But it was damned relevant here. Villanova basically possessed the ball twice as long as Georgetown did.

• The Cats essentially played this entire game with 5 guys. Massimino started a guard named Dwight Wilbur, who went the first 5 minutes, came out and never returned. (I thought maybe he’d been hurt, but he says otherwise.) Mark Plansky played 1 minute (there were three Plansky brothers from Wakefield, Mass.; I later covered state tournament games involving the younger two). The immortal Chuck Everson played 3 minutes — long enough to get punched in the face by Reggie Williams as the first half ended. This wasn’t some hidden rabbit punch. Everyone saw it, including the TV cameras. No call.

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Azinger primes Ryder Cup grudge pump … Does it matter if he’s wrong?

Tommy Fleetwood mounts Ian Poulter after reclaiming the Ryder Cup for Europe (and its pro tour) in 2018.

Well, here we are again. Every few years it seems some U.S. golfing professional/personality blithely asserts that the U.S. PGA Tour is without peer. Full stop. This invariably gets under the skin of Europeans who, to be fair, have dominated for 25 years the event created specifically to settle this argument: the Ryder Cup. They and their tour have also claimed roughly half the major championships since the turn of the century.

As golf spats go, it’s run of the mill. There are decidedly more important things to ponder these days. But here’s the problem: The Euros have a point while Paul Azinger, this year’s jingoist rock-thrower designate, doesn’t.

And besides: With the Tour on hiatus and the Masters postponed, you’ve got something better to ponder?

All this came to a head, again, late in final round of the Honda Classic, two Sundays ago, March 1. Azinger, himself a major winner and former Ryder Cup captain, assessed on NBC the mindset of Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, who had the chance to birdie the 72nd hole and force a playoff.

“These guys know you can win all you like on that European Tour, the international game and all that, but you have to win on the PGA Tour,” Zinger intoned from on high, in his booth, adding that Lee Westwood was another Englishman on the leaderboard with lots of worldwide wins (44 to be exact) but just two in the U.S. “They know that and I think Tommy knows that. It puts a bit of pressure on Tommy. But this is where they want to be. They want to come here, they want to prove they can win at this level.”

Lookit: Azinger’s job, or part of it, is to ratchet up the stakes on a Sunday afternoon. It’s also his job to pimp the U.S. PGA Tour (more on that later).

But the Euro response was swift, pointed and, it must be said, pretty spot on. Ian Poulter tweeted: “Paul please do not condescend or disrespect the @EuropeanTour and our players like that. We have slapped your arse in the Ryder Cup for so long.” Westwood himself called the comments “disrespectful”. The winning Ryder Cup captain from 2018, Dane Thomas Bjorn, called them “at best ignorant; at worst, arrogant.” Rory McIlroy, who, like Poulter, now makes his home in Florida, had this to say: “His comments were a little nationalistic,” McIlroy said.

Poulter’s fellow Englishman, Tyrell Hatton, put a bow on all of them a week later by winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

Azinger, like many members and backers of the PGA Tour through the years, continues to confuse the wealth of a tour for the quality of a tour. Prize money is greater at U.S. PGA Tour events — this is what lures players like McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose, Poulter, Hatton and Fleetwood to play so many events here, to maintain homes here, to even join the U.S. PGA Tour in order to compete for all that money.

But bigger purses and better-heeled corporate sponsors do not make the preponderance of U.S. pros any better than those competing for smaller purses on the European Tour. That was mere theory in the 1990s, but it’s more or less an established fact today — one American golfers and commentators more or less refuse to acknowledge. For whatever reason, the European Union is turning out as many if not more, better tournament golfers today than the United States. The Ryder Cup proves it. The major championships prove it. For his part, young Tommy Fleetwood — with his 5 European Tour wins, his breakout performance at the 2018 Ryder Cup, his top 10 world ranking — fairly well embodies it.

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Bernie, Biden & DNC ennui all obscure the point: Get out the vote

Now that Bernie Sanders has been rebuffed and a credible centrist path forward has been laid for Democratic voters, I just want to say: 1) Don’t think for a minute there is anything inevitable about Joe Biden’s nomination; 2) I’m all in for whoever earns that nomination; and 3) I have real reservations about propping up today’s Democratic Party beyond Nov. 3.

Clearly, the only sensible thing for Democrats to do over the next four months is go get the vote out. In such hyper-polarized times, this makes more sense than you may realize. More on that in a moment.

Because a funny thing happened on the way to this new, hastily constructed Biden consensus: In the 3 weeks between the N.H. Primary and Super Tuesday, I along with millions of left-leaning Americans were all obliged to come to terms with the idea of Bernie Sanders leading us into the arena against Trump.

We did this for several reasons. Biden on the stump in 2020 is rather corpse-like (with a verbal dexterity to match); Bernie had dominated him and the other centrists in the field. Following the victory in Nevada, Bernie was clearly the front-runner. Suddenly, in the space of 3 weeks, it had all become very real.

The last Republican I voted for was Bill Weld (when he ran for Massachusetts governor in 1990), a fact that doesn’t make me a liberal firebrand. I never voted for Nader, nor any Green candidates. Obama was probably more cautiously centrist than I’d have liked. But I did vote for Sanders during Tuesday’s Maine primary. Having rationally gone through his platform — over and over again, often beside scandalized centrists in need of reassurance — I did come to terms with the good sense it largely represents. The polls that show him faring as well or better vs. Trump in November didn’t hurt.

It tickles me to hear moderate Dems and conservatives (who have resisted the snake-oil charms of our president) detail their fear of and disdain for the “crazy left-wing” ideas advocated by Sen. Sanders. “Wacky” is another word they use. When pressed for examples, Medicare for All always heads the list — despite the fact that expansion of this existing U.S. program is essentially the operative model for nationalized healthcare systems in every industrialized nation on Earth but ours. Mind you, these are models that all deliver care for less cost per citizen than the private system now deployed here. In other words, not crazy.

[Free public college education usually comes next: “Another socialist fantasy!” Oh yeah? From 1945 to 1980, this country essentially had a public university and community college system that was so affordable as to verge on free. Tuition was so minimal it could be dispatched via summer jobs and winter-spring vacation gigs — that is, until we made the conscious, Reagan-enabled decision to stop socializing the cost of such things. Today, a year at UMass costs $30,000. “Oh, and you’re just gonna forgive all that student debt I suppose?” Yeah, I would. It’s crippling the middle-class striving of 70 million Millennials. And seeing as colleges (for-profit and otherwise) cynically pocketed all those Pell Grant billions, leaving these consumers holding the bag, some manner of redress is warranted. The Green New Deal? Yeah, it’s such a whack-job, pinko fantasy that the European Union — a common market representing 300 million consumers — just this week declared a target of net-zero carbon by 2050 and halving emissions by 2030. The outcry there? It’s not aggressive enough. Bernie’s agenda is typical of centrist and center-left governments across the industrialized world in Europe and Asia. Three weeks of coming to terms with his front-runner status made this plain. Not. Wacky. At. All.]

Yet something else happened when I walked through all this, over and over again, trying to explain how electing Bernie Sanders wouldn’t destroy the Democratic Party and this country: I questioned anew what it was about the Democratic Party in 2020 that was so worth preserving.

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Alma Material: Top 5 Regrets, University Division

Joni Mitchell performs at Wesleyan’s McConaughy Hall, in 1969.

With my son out of school almost two years now and my daughter set to graduate in May (we wrote our final college check in January!), I see the need to balance this pending financial boon with the prospect of psychic loss. Yes, opportunities for nostalgic reflection — on my own university experience — will soon be greatly reduced, or markedly detached from anyone who gives a shit. (I don’t think my wife ever did; she’s from the Midwest where, apparently, people stop talking about where they went to college, outside the football context, pretty soon after graduation.) My kids give one meager level of shit because they’re attending (or did) on my dime. And honestly, I don’t care that they’re mainly just humoring me. It’s enough. Because one cannot talk to one’s spawn about their classes, parties, relationship dramas or whatnot without summoning one’s own such memories.

Which brings me to the college memories one seems to summon (especially New Englanders) more than most in middle age: regrets. Yes, I have a few — but here are the Top 5:

I regret not having walked the measly half-mile across campus that spring of my freshman year to see The Replacements, who played McConaughey Hall, the dining facility we called MoCon, in March of 1983. As you may well know, The Replacements have since developed one of the most rabid, enduring cult followings in the history of rock ‘n roll (see here a pretty good documentary on the subject, available via Amazon Prime). And while none of us knew who they were back in 1983, it wouldn’t have killed us to show up. It wasn’t as if bands played Wes that frequently, much less decent ones (Graham Parker was the best we could do from 1982-86; lowlights included the send-up band Blotto). Later, my housemate Dave Rose in particular grew to love The Replacements with the heat of a thousand suns. I quite like them (especially the album Tim) but to have been there at MoCon that night would have represented some primo post-punk cred to have claimed all these years later… I should funnel two more things into this single music-related regret: 1) the fact that, for the entirety of my college sojourn, I failed to pick up a guitar and learn how to play it. This I would eventually do, at 40, but had I done what any self-respecting collegiate male might have done, I’d be a way better player by now; and 2) MoCon itself was torn down in 2010, but not before having hosted the likes of Joni Mitchell, Steppenwolf, Miles Davis, Gloria Steinem and Martin Luther King Jr. MoCon was the locus of so many memories (and regrets), I could write an entire column on that subject alone, so enormous was the impact of this spaceship-inspired structure on my early college life. But I’ll spare you that, dear reader. For now.

• • •

I regret that my senior housemates and I did not follow through on our bright idea to create a time capsule using the husk of my 1978 Dodge Omni. Rather than consign it to some scrap heap, my parents had ceded this charmless vehicle to me for my final semester in Middletown. It burned a quart of oil for every $10 of gas and the ball joint connecting the clutch cable to the (clutch) pedal kept slipping out of place, which required me to lay upside-down in the driver’s seat — head and hands down by the gas & brake — in order to coax the ball back down the slot into place. The Omni nearly expired several times that spring. And so one night, very late, we hit upon a fabulously practical and sentimental notion: As we were about to move out of our off-campus house into the real world, we were obliged to wrestle with the not-insignificant matter of what to do with all the shit the five of us had accrued there at 8 Warren Street — not just over the course of our senior year but the previous three years, as well. Here was our brilliant plan: drain all fluids from the Omni; dig an appropriately sized hole in the field across the street, beyond the hockey rink and athletic fields where the soccer team practiced; buy a keg (most of our plans back then involved a keg) and throw a killer party whereby everyone brought something to store inside this would-be, once internally combustive time capsule. After filling the Omni with all these mementos, we would set about finishing the keg before rolling the car (or tipping it over) into the hole, whereupon we’d bury it. Eventually, we reckoned, we’d come back to some reunion and excavate — yet another great party (and keg) opportunity would surely ensue. Alas, we never motivated on this front and it’s a real shame because some years later Wesleyan built a palatial athletic complex around the old hockey rink and completely upgraded the old practice fields. In the course of these construction projects, the Omni would surely have been discovered at some point — and we’d have all been famous.

Our ’78 Dodge Omni was silver, with red pleather interior. Some credit this model, not the K-car, with saving Chrysler. I find this hard to believe…
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FDR: President, Statesman… Golf Course Architect?

[Ed. This piece appeared in Golf Journal back in 2001. Published by the USGA (without advertisement), this was a fine magazine — one of many print outlets to fall by the wayside in the 21st Century but this one really stung, as I did a lot of work through the years for the editor there, Brett Avery, who shared a love of quirky, often historical pieces. For years I had kept my GJ story clips in hard copy form, but they all perished in my 2016 barn fire. Time to start archiving them here.]

One is taken aback by the photograph. It’s encased in glass and big as life, the first thing one encounters upon entering the Visitor Centre at Roosevelt Campobello International Park. There’s FDR, young and turn-of-the-century attired, posing at the finish of what appears to have been an elegant swing.

FDR played golf? I had seen that written somewhere, but this photo speaks to a level of proficiency that surprised me. Fluid. Relaxed. Confident. Beside the photograph, inside the exhibit case, is further testimony to his skill: a medal, earned by winning the August 1899 members’ tournament at Campobello Golf Club.

There’s a book in the case, too, detailing the results of these competitions staged between 1897 and 1920. But it’s the photograph that intrigues as it contrasts so markedly with those more familiar images of FDR: the new president, waving from his convertible Stutz; the four-time candidate addressing boisterous crowds from the stump; the solemn slayer of fascism, posing with Churchill and Stalin at Yalta — all of them burned into the public consciousness but all depicting a much older Roosevelt, aged beyond his years by lengthy struggles with polio, global economic depression and world war.

To see FDR so youthful and athletic, swinging a golf club no less, when the mind’s eye is so accustomed to seeing him differently — invariably seated, or perhaps standing stiffly while leaning hard on the arm of his young naval officer son — is startling.

***

A visit to Campobello, this small Canadian island off the coast of Maine, is replete with enlightening discoveries. It was settled in 1770 by Welsh sea captain William Owen, who remained loyal to King George following the American Revolution. Indeed, island tax records show that Benedict Arnold maintained a residence here, at Snug Cove, in 1786.

The Roosevelts, from the Hyde Park section of New York’s Hudson Valley region, summered here in the province of New Brunswick for nearly 50 years, beginning in 1883, when FDR was just a year old. He learned to sail here on the frigid waters of Passamaquoddy Bay. It was on what he called his “beloved island” that he secretly proposed to his future wife, Eleanor. While visiting Campobello during the summer of 1910, he resolved to run for the New York State Senate, thus launching one of America’s most remarkable political careers. Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr. was born on Campobello in 1914, and it was here, in 1921, that his father and namesake contracted the disease that would cripple him.

The nine-hole layout at Campobello Golf Club is long gone. A thick forest now occupies the site and further envelops the 34-room Roosevelt “Cottage” and the Hubbard Cottage next door. At the turn of the century, when FDR and his fellow colonists whiled away their summers here, this portion of the island was treeless. In 1881, the Boston-based Campobello Land Co. had cleared these properties in hopes that wealthy families would be enticed by unimpeded ocean views. They were indeed, and many of the noblest clans in the U.S. soon built rambling estates on the land above Friar’s Bay.

The Campobello Land Co. also built a pair of summer hotels on this high ground, the Tyn-y-Coed (Welsh for “house in the woods”) in 1882, and the Tyn-y-Mays (“house in the fields”) a year later. Both were gone by 1910, but it was beside these grand, American shingle-style hostelries that Campobello Golf Club was laid out. No photographs of the course survive, though in the photo of FDR swinging his club, a corner of the Tyn-e-Coed is visible in the background.

“The course was there beside the hotels, opposite Hubbard Cottage, across the road,” recalls Mrs. Howard Hodgson, 74, a resident of nearby St. Andrew’s, N.B., and a Hubbard by birth. “I spent all my summers [on Campobello] in the cottage, from 1925 to 1941. My grandfather was treasurer of the golf club and James Roosevelt, the president’s father, was the one who started it.

“Nobody played any golf on the island when I was growing up, so I don’t remember the course, per se; it was just a cow pasture when I was there. Once the [First World] war ended, the colony just sort of fizzled. But I remember going blueberry picking with my father in that field. We used to find these funny old golf balls there.”

The Visitor Centre at Roosevelt Park is modest in size but its displays thoroughly recount the Roosevelt’s aristocratic-but-vigorous existence on Campobello via museum-style text, complemented by oversized black-and-white photography. There’s a tiny theater, wherein a short film, entitled “Beloved Island,” further documents the picnics, hikes, sailing and golf FDR enjoyed. About halfway through the film, the screen fills with the photograph from the lobby: FDR, no more than 20 years of age, following-through (“posing” if you will) with his driver.

“FDR,” the narrator explains, “served on the Governing Committee at Campobello Golf Club and laid out the course …”

What? FDR laid out the course? This notion is perhaps more startling than the photograph. Could it be that FDR, Architect of the New Deal, was also an amateur golf course architect? For buffs of history and golf, this is an extraordinary prospect, one that warranted further investigation.

***

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Fifteen Months into NFL boycott, Life Continues Remarkably Unchanged…

So, I hear the Patriots are no longer unbeaten. I gather the NFL has deigned to grant Colin Kapaernick an audience — and Antonio Brown is officially old news? I know the basic outlines of this stuff despite the fact that, for the second season running, I’m abstaining from football. I’m not reading anything on the subject, not watching NFL games, nor college games (which barely register in my Yankee world), or even Patriots games on TV. I’ve found it instructive that a conscientious objector like myself need not actively follow the nation’s most popular sport in order to know with whom Josh Gordon has latched on, who’s been accused of sexual assault, and which guys you should probably activate in your fantasy league this week. That’s one of the big take-aways here: The NFL is so dominant in our culture that one is effectively buffeted by news of all this stuff, non-stop, via the dribs and drabs of interpersonal conversations, serial web impressions and daily newspaper headlines (the one made of real paper), whether one wants to be or not. Love it or hate it, such is the NFL’s omnipresence in 2019. Americans routinely absorb its competitive results and attendant news/outrages almost by osmosis.

It’s difficult for me to profess, definitively, that I ever came to dislike the NFL or football in general. Indeed, that’s part of the problem: I quite like it — as exhibited by my 40-plus years of fandom and three decades as a sports writer, including multiple essays published in this space (see here and here) and elsewhere. But the arguments for opting out of the NFL just kept stacking up, like the arguments against smoking — or those advocating more cardiovascular exercise. Or flossing. The smoking example is best: NFL fandom was something that undeniably amused me but was pretty obviously bad for me.

I was riding in a Lyft down in Philadelphia a couple months back when the middle-aged driver and I mused for a time about the Sox-Phillies series then taking place at Citizens Park. We quickly moved on to Celtics-Sixers before taking up the inevitable: the Eagles’ Super Bowl win over the Patriots in February 2018. A great game, despite the result, I admitted. But when he asked what I thought about Antonio Brown’s brief dalliance in New England, or how long I thought Tom Brady might keep playing, I explained that I’d checked out of football starting the year before. He appeared sorta dumbfounded by this and asked me why. It wasn’t a long ride-share we’d ordered; my wife and daughter were in the backseat. I provided him only a cursory explanation. For you, dear reader, a complete set of well wrought justifications appears below.

Taken together, they make it ever more clear — to me, for me — that football generally and the NFL in particular were bad for me, like trans-fats. Or cocaine during the 1980s. Or fascism any ol’ time. But the NFL (and college football, it must be said) are frankly worse because trans-fats, for example, don’t seep unbidden into one’s body or consciousness via the culture at large, beguiling conscientious objectors and devotees alike with the same prurient, mass-produced id-candy.

Please believe me when I tell you this essay is not an exercise in virtue signaling. Like someone who stops drinking for the month of January, or perhaps indefinitely, I found it edifying to write this stuff down — to better process and perhaps defend (to myself) the quality of the decision-making involved. So, in no particular order of importance, let it be known that I’ve sworn off the NFL because:

1) It can kill you apparently. Not everyone who plays NFL football (or college football, or high school football) develops CTE-induced aphasia and dies, of course. But enough of them have, and enough exhibit these debilitating cognitive effects in the long term to make a compelling adverse case. Roman gladiators may have been the all-pro middle linebackers of their time, but eventually they were borne from the arena in pieces. Free will allows anyone the license to play that game, but I’m free to opt out that sort of spectacle… How parents can allow their children to play the game, knowing what we now know, I truly do not understand. Create for yourself a Google alert for “High School Football Spinal Cord and Head Injuries” and witness the sickening news trickle in each Friday night, often via the live-Tweets of sportswriters who witness yet another ambulance on the field, under the klieg lights of small town America. It’s no shock to learn participation is falling across the country. I predict that, in 20 years, no public high school in the nation will have 11-man, tackle football teams, because no public school system will have the money to cover the liability insurance. Kids will continue to play football, or course, but only via private clubs. Like Rollerball.

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Kershaw’s more Clemens than Koufax

So, sports are cruel, whether the participants are professionalized adults or mere school children. But sports are real, which is what makes them so damned compelling — in a way that lays bare the mockery of a sham that “reality” TV truly is. The latest case in point: Clayton Kershaw, now a certifiably tragic figure in baseball’s sprawling Hall of Misery & Woe.

I fell asleep in a Vermont hotel room two Wednesday nights ago thinking Kershaw and his Dodgers had beaten back the pesky Washington Nationals in their best-of-five National League Division Series. Kershaw, having already lost Game 2, at home, was summoned to preserve a 3-1 lead in the 7th inning of Game 5. This he did, securing the third out.

That’s when I nodded off.

For some reason, I later learned, Kershaw was summoned by Dodger manager Dave Roberts to pitch the 8th, wherein the erstwhile starter gave up home runs on consecutive pitches to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto. Tie game. Kershaw was lifted and L.A. lost in the 10th on Howie Kendrick’s grand slam… Where was Kenley Jansen through all this? Isn’t he L.A.’s closer?

I want to be clear: I honestly have nothing against Kershaw — or the Dodgers. When I first started following baseball in the early 1970s, I loved those Dodger teams of Ron Cey, Bill Russell, Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey, Yeager & Ferguson behind the plate, Dusty Baker and Reggie Smith in left and right). I rooted hard for them later in the ‘70s when they faced the Evil Empire Yankees in consecutive World Series.

And yet I have been mystified by the conventional wisdom surrounding Kershaw these past few years. Folks seem determined to cast this guy as one of the great pitchers of all time — despite the fact that he’s done so very little in the post-season, which, we can agree, is the true measure of pitching greatness. I’ve even heard Sandy Koufax comparisons! (Just google “Kerhaw Koufax” to see the extent of this folly.) Yes, they’re both Dodgers; their surnames both begin with K; they’re both lefties. But that’s where the similarities end.

Again, I don’t dislike Kershaw, nor do I wish to run the guy down in light of what has been another gut-wrenching failure. But his October went like other Octobers, which is why these Kershaw-boosting narratives make no sense. They are in fact the careless musings of baseball know-nothings and hype-vendors.

I don’t Tweet much (follow @MandarinHal, if you want proof) but after watching Kershaw struggled in the first inning of Game 2, I posted the following:

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