More gruel
Maybe Trump is best compared to Marion Barry

Maybe Trump is best compared to Marion Barry

There’s a powerful urge to place events in a historical context. Especially when faced with a shock or surprise, we find comparisons comforting. The September 11th attacks were consistently compared to Pearl Harbor. Inauguration day crowds were measured against previous turnout. Finding analogues delivers some comfort, a sense of continuity and a set reference point for a response.

In a tentative return to posting at Forbes, I drew out the comparisons between Donald Trump and Marion Barry. Those comparisons are more comprehensive than one might expect.

What inspires voters to invite disaster by electing corrupt, incompetent leaders? Like Trump, Barry was a bigoted, belligerent champion of racial politics and a disastrous administrator. Making sense of Marion Berry’s long career and lingering popularity starts by understanding the role of race and identity in politics. Trump and Barry form a type, a missile of destructive vengeance aimed from the lower tiers of an alienated social group hoping to blow apart everything that works for everyone else.

If nothing else, it provides a welcome escape from the more unsettling comparisons between Trump and mid-20th century European Fascists. Interested in your thoughts.


  1. Chris,

    A fine article. Two points stick out:

    1) “Trump and Barry form a type, a missile of destructive vengeance aimed from the lower tiers of an alienated social group hoping to blow apart everything that works for everyone else.”

    Many of my black friends did not vote for Clinton. One told me he voted for neither because neither would address the intrinsic racism you mention in your Forbes article. He thinks Trump’s election lit a fire under complacent-America’s butt and that we’ll finally see real change coming from all these Johnny-come-lately activists.

    2) “A community that perceives itself under assault will consistently choose a strong leader over a good leader, regardless how oppressive or self-serving he may be.”
    Much of white America felt their grasp on our culture slipping away and voted for Trump to give the rest of us a big middle finger. If we don’t recognize that WE are the problem, not our message, we will continue to lose.

    Here is a very interesting perspective from a woman who learned what NOT to do during a Resistance while living under Chavez. If you don’t have the time to read it, her main points are:

    Stop trying to prove your point with facts, because the message itself is irrelevant. YOU, the messenger, are the problem. Until you (meaning all of us) leave your urban enclaves to actually interact with Red America in a way that changes hearts, not minds, you may as well be shouting into the wind.

  2. Well, this is another off topic post but something you may wish to know about and act on. Abbott slipped this into state HHS regulations but women’s health was paying attention and filed suit. Judge ruled in their favor. Now Abbott is threatening to get TX legislature to draft this into law and our esteemed AG is planning to appeal the judge’s ruling. Might be time to write a letter to the guv and Paxton. Not to mention your TX representative/senator if this issue resonates with you. Note: “The rule would apply to abortion clinics, as well as hospitals, forensic labs and pathology labs. ”

    1. Hi Mary
      With reference to the last discussion
      The authors made up a composite “health” of lots of different factors
      “we have combined all the health and social-problem data for each country, and separately for each U.S. state, to form an Index of Health and Social ”
      So that included things like infant mortality, life span, suicide…. – basically everything they had data on

      That gave the very strong correlation – “health” v equality
      They looked at – Health v GDP – to see if it was the richer nations (or poorer) – nope no correlation!

      Then they looked inside the numbers – the differences between more equal and less equal societies were simply too large to be just down to the poor

      Then they looked at one measure –
      literacy – in relation to the parents education
      This shows clearly that in more equal societies it’s not just the lower end that is higher – the entire curve moves upwards

      From the article that was as an example but they were finding the same effect on other measures

      Well worth reading the article

      My “take” is that even if you are living in a rich gated community you will be aware of the poor and that awareness will drag on you effecting your “health”
      As well as any possible physical effects – diseases, crime….

      One interesting point is that the direction is clear – less inequality = better “health”
      But what is the optimum point? – is it Sweden?
      Or would even more equality drive even better results?
      Or will be reach a peak – optimum and have worse results with too much equality?

      1. For me, the optimum point is universal quality health care. That transcends race, class, employment, age. The longer I study this issue (health care), the more convinced I am that a VAT is the way to go so that everyone contributes and everyone benefits. It’s that simple.

  3. Chris – feedback on your Forbes article. I thought it was one of your best. My all time favorite is your piece on the south, but his has much of the same sensitivity and depth of feeling. I know you have worked with people in the Black movement and I am sure this interaction along with your southern roots has informed not only your sense of history, but your appreciation of the deep moral issues that exist provides a powerful balance to your stories.

    It is people like you who will make a difference, who will help America heal. People who stand up and speak out against injustice. Who aren’t afraid to announce to the likely white male business readers of Forbes that the emperor has no clothes. Who leads by example and teaches by history and experience.
    This is going to be a very difficult time in our country’s history. It is not even questionable that Black and minorities will suffer the most from the election of this man. It is our job as people who care about our fellow man to join you in protecting our fragile democratic institutions – not for themselves but for the people they serve.

    Really enjoyed this and great analogy. I have to say that I could forgive a Marion Barry long before I could a DJT. A man who has had it all, yet wants more.

    1. Forgive this slightly off topic post but it needed to be front and center. Some posts in Off Topic don’t get noticed as much as they should.

      This is excellent advice to all here who are working to make a difference in this incredible political environment. I am going to print a hard copy and discipline myself to read it every morning before I hit the net. That’s how much I think of it.

    2. Thanks for that, Mary. There was a time not so long ago when I thought I’d get a chance to help bridge that divide between the GOP and minority communities. Obviously, that’s out the window. It’s been disappointing.

      That piece on life in the South was one of my favorites to write. I miss home.

    1. A fine article, Texan.

      The headline is a work of art:

      Georgia lawmaker shot behind adult entertainment store while traveling with storm relief money

      And selected tidbits from the article itself are pretty good, too.

      “Instead, he said he was going to a liquor and package store where he frequently buys lottery tickets.”

      “It was unclear why Greene would have been transporting a large sum of disaster relief money on his return home from the Georgia Capitol.”

      Thank you very much. 🙂

    2. That’s hilarious, Tex! What’s really a hoot is the guy had to get his lottery tickets even though he’d been shot. Now, that’s dedication!

      Oh, it’s going to be be fun to follow the investigation on this guy….Of course, the one thing he had going for him is that he is a Republican. Imagine what the good state of GA would be doing if a Democratic legislator had been caught behind the porn shop carrying thousands of $$ in cash (-;

      1. I’ll be checking the comments field to see if and how your Forbes readers respond.
        Their readership is, shall we say, very “republican” in thinking….And, I don’t mean that in a good way (-; As I told you earlier, I’ve been locked out from commenting on Apothecary articles but I was “allowed” to post under your blog. Persistent dissent is not always welcomed at Forbes (-;

  4. Two minor kinda tangential thoughts.

    1) I’m in TX-22, which is Tom DeLay’s old fief. Back in 2004, the Dems actually put forth the most visible opposing campaign that I had even seen (and have yet to see again). Richard Morisson was the challenger, and I devoted some time to the cause (unfortunately not successful). So I had a chance to talk to some DeLay supporters. Quite a few if them openly admitted that he was dirty, but he had clout, and it was good for the district that our rep had clout. Never mind that the clout never really translated into the amount of bacon one might reasonably expect.

    Second point-the contrast between Barry and Trump really stood out. Trump is basically a spoiled, mean, self-centered brat who never really faced appropriate consequences for all the bad things he’s done. The current chaos going on in his regime is pretty damn close to inevitable. Nobody should be shocked if they were paying attention. But Barry’s background wasn’t one that would necessarily lead him down the wrong path. You expound upon the incompleteness of the civil rights movement as an aspect. I also think not enough accountability from elected officials is in play. I see increased accountability as a needed shoring device while your load-bearing wall is removed.

    1. Good comparison, Fly. Your point about increased accountability is really important. This administration is proposing regulatory roll backs in areas that impact our lives – clean water and air, work place regulations, shutting down communication from government divisions, etc. The heavy handed approach has one objective: make profits and operations easier for business. There is evidently no concern for how the proposed changes will impact the workers, nor the environment.

      Bad times.

      I read this this morning and it made me feel so bad for Pres. Obama. While he was still in office, one of the two border patrol unions submitted this to Breitbart news for publication. Their insolence and disrespect for a sitting president was nullified by the incoming potus who had sought their support. Actions like this will leach down through the ranks as the man at the top not only demonstrates this behavior himself, but encourages it (as long as it is not critical of him, TU very much park service).

      1. This is the crazy part of that interview with National Border Patrol Council (NBPC) President Brandon Judd.

        Q:Trump has called for the hiring of 5,000 Border Patrol agents, on top of about 20,000 employed now. Though hiring increased during the Obama administration, the agency workforce remains below capacity. Does the Border Patrol have a problem hiring people?

        A:We do. That is an issue that needs to be tackled. It’s not that we don’t have the applicants that are necessary. We have a polygraph failure rate that is about three times higher than most other law enforcement agencies. That’s a problem. The reason it’s a problem is the polygraphers just flat out aren’t doing their jobs right. There’s no way we can have three times the failure rate that other law enforcement agencies have unless something just isn’t being done right.

        Why would you believe that only your polygraphers are deficient? Is it possible that the persons attracted to the Border Patrol might be, let’s say extra motivated to, um, arrest some Mexicans?

  5. Is it possible that Trump supporters are ignoring their ‘better angels’ because those beings have been co-opted by Trump’s bitter id?

    Perhaps you’ve been in a work situation where two inhabitants somehow enmesh in a destructive way. They snark about others in the group and together they provide negative interpretations about every situation.

    However, when each is paired with someone else, nothing like that occurs.

    I’ve seen that. Twice. The happenstance of their meeting creates a negative environment that can destroy a volunteer group or a business department.

    I’ve been thinking that Trump has brought out the worst in people in the same way commuting in my car brings out the worst in me. Something about it hooks into some negative in me.

    For me, effective mass transit would be an antidote. For them, I really don’t know if there’s an antidote.

    But I find myself needing some way to understand how otherwise kind people can behave so badly and wish such destructive energies upon both strangers and people they know and love.

    1. That’s why I keep to myself as much as possible. I know social isolation is often mentioned on this blog as a cause of the ills of our society, but I think mixing socially too often has negative consequences. It has the potential of creating a destructive force, especially when the group is large. I often consider getting involved with my Catholic parish, and then I decide against it, because of the people.

      On the other hand, simply associating with someone who is negative sometimes give the false impression that you are negative as well, but that is not necessarily the case.

      1. “I know social isolation is often mentioned on this blog as a cause of the ills of our society.”

        It can be for the elderly and/or infirmed. The health and well being of the elderly because of social isolation is well documented.

      2. Texan, I turned 50 not that long ago, and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what my life will be like when I’m elderly, considering that I have not cultivated many friendships, and I keep my distance from family.

      3. Tutta, think quality, not quantity. Still, even the strongest relationships drift when not nurtured. Find those friends and family members who are closest to your heart and values and keep them close. It doesn’t always take a village, but getting old does pose challenges that compassionate people can help you transcend. And, we will ALL get old, if we are lucky enough to live long enough, and no one ever knows what lies ahead. We all do the best we can and that’s not always easy.

      4. I think that is one of the reasons my Mom liked to go and play Bingo, or on a bus trip to gamble. She also so joined the VFW and did volunteer work with them. The health and well-being of the elderly has a direct correlation for a more positive and full life the more socially active they are. Isolation can and does effect the elderly in a negative way. My wife has worked in nursing homes for thirty years and has seen the difference in the well-being outcomes of residents in that respect. Many studies on the subject out there on the web.

        I am 55, employed and h see lots of people on a daily bases. Some people I know that have retired take a part time job not so much for the extra money, but to keep up a social interaction with the community around then. My boss is 70 and is at work every day, five days a week. He has money and could retire and vacation all the time or stay at his lake home. It seems like the people who retire and don’t stay physically and/or social active die sooner.

        Just my two cents, not the good cooper pennies, the plated ones.

      5. Sometimes the choice is not easily available. As a full time caregiver, I try my best to engage (online, neighbors, family) but doing so requires effort as everything has to be scheduled. Your mom was smart to realize that having fun and being around other people doing so created a healthy lifestyle. Good for her and the great example she set for you!

      6. EJ

        One of the interesting things about the internet is the very large number of viewers compared to commentors. I’ve heard the 100x number bandied around where blogs are concerned: there probably a hundred people who read the comments for every person who leaves one.

        One of the other interesting things about the internet is the extent to which we feel close to people. The raw-text format carries emotion extremely well, for some reason, and makes us feel as if we’re talking directly to that person.

        You’ve always come across as an extremely thoughtful, compassionate person who has interesting things to say. I’m sure that the hundreds of silent readers feel lkewise, and feel that you’re like that to them as well.

        You may have more friends than you realise.

    2. I know good people who voted for potus. Those with whom I have a trusting relationship, I’ve asked to explain why. The first thing they say is they think he will bring about change. When I ask what kind of change they are hoping will happen, they are less specific. Then most of them acknowledge that they really don’t approve of him, but they couldn’t vote for Hillary. When I ask what it is about her that they felt was worse then potus, they were even less specific.

      I am convinced that the GOP spin machine has so poisoned HRC’s public personna that many people couldn’t get past their deep disapproval even though when asked to substantiate their claims in all the areas we know were used against her. And, then, the Comey thing and wikileaks….It remains to be seen in potus will change the reluctance and fairly broad disapproval many have who voted for him. Business leaders will hold their noses if they get tax reform and regulatory relief, but I wonder as the broad social and socio-economic changes begin to take effect if average Americans will not finally begin to grasp the enormity of the decision they made with this man.

      1. “I am convinced that the GOP spin machine has so poisoned HRC’s public personna that many people couldn’t get past their deep disapproval even though when asked to substantiate their claims in all the areas we know were used against her.”


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.