A Spanner in the Works

John Lennon wrote books too. In 1965 it was A Spaniard in the Works – not much of a book actually, just short nonsense stories and whimsical line drawings. No one paid much attention to it, and the title was curious. The title was a play on the expression “a spanner in the works” – a British thing. Over there, the hood of the car is the bonnet, the shock absorbers are dampers, and a monkey wrench is a spanner. Here, when someone butts in and adds something stupid, to anything, we say he (or she) “threw a monkey wrench in the works” – ruining everything. There it’s a spanner. Lennon’s book didn’t do well here. No one got the pun.

Americans should probably use the British term for this crude adjustable wrench people sometimes accidentally drop in the gears of things, ruining everything, or sometime drop in the gears of things on purpose, gleefully, to screw everything up, because they can. The term “monkey” is left over from the days of sailing ships – as in a tool for adjusting a temporary “monkey” foresail or whatever – but the term “monkey” as a noun or a verb, as to monkey around, carries other freight now.

That’s racial. Don’t call a black man or woman a monkey, even a cute little monkey, in an affectionate way. Don’t talk about black people monkeying around, even if you mean it innocently. It’s not innocent. Don’t be a jerk. Politicians should avoid using that word, however innocently. People don’t hear innocent playfulness. They hear a clueless white person, one with no clue about the history of American racial insults. Or they hear a racist jerk, taunting them, on purpose. Avoid the term. Talk about spanners or something.

This isn’t political correctness. This is a matter of understanding the culture, as it actually is. This is a matter of understanding that nation’s language, as it is actually used. This is a matter of understanding the current environment, and this was a mess:

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) on Wednesday warned Florida voters not to “monkey this up” by voting for his Democratic gubernatorial opponent Andrew Gillum, a comment that prompted fierce backlash.

Yes, he used that word (as a verb here) but in this context:

“You know, this is a guy, although he’s much too liberal for Florida, I think he’s got huge problems with how he’s governed Tallahassee,” DeSantis said of the Democratic mayor during an appearance on Fox News.

DeSantis, who won his GOP primary the previous night, called Gillum “an articulate spokesman for those far-left views” and a “charismatic candidate” after his upset Democratic primary victory on Tuesday night.

“I watched those Democrats debate and none of that is just my cup of tea, but he performed better than the other people there, so we gotta work hard to make sure that we continue Florida going in a good direction,” DeSantis said.

That didn’t help much. This black man is articulate. DeSantis was saying that he was surprised that a black man could be articulate. Who knew? He was also saying that he was surprised that this black guy was charismatic. Again, who knew? That was his warning, presumably to white folks. This guy is surprisingly dangerous, so he used the word:

He then launched an attack on Gillum, a candidate backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who would be the first black governor of Florida if elected, accusing him of embracing a “socialist agenda.”

“Let’s build off the success we’ve had on Gov. Scott. The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases bankrupting the state. That is not going to work,” DeSantis said.

No one heard that last part:

Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo slammed DeSantis after the interview.

“It’s disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles,” Rizzo said in a statement.

Geoff Burgan, Gillum’s campaign spokesman, told the Tallahassee Democrat that his campaign was letting Rizzo respond to DeSantis’s comments.

“DeSantis’ comments speak for themselves,” he said.

No, no, he didn’t mean it:

DeSantis’s campaign quickly pushed back on critics, saying it was “absurd” to claim that the Florida Republican was doing anything other than criticizing Gillum’s agenda.

“Ron DeSantis was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses. To characterize it as anything else is absurd,” DeSantis communications director Stephen Lawson said in a statement to The Hill.

That was the defense. It was just a word. “Monkey” is just a word like any other, but there was this:

In a follow-up segment on Fox News, interviewer Sandra Smith denounced DeSantis’s “monkey” remark, saying, “We do not condone this language and wanted to make our viewers aware that he has since clarified his statement.”

Fox News knew that “monkey” is not just a word like any other. Fox News knew he shouldn’t have said that – but everyone should listen to what else he said. That makes up for him being a momentary jerk, doesn’t it?

Maybe it does, on Fox News. They seem to be coaching him. He must have gotten their message – Don’t Do That Again! Maybe they gave him the British version – Don’t Throw a Spanner in the Works!

That would have puzzled him, but it doesn’t matter:

DeSantis, who was endorsed by President Trump in the race, also won his party’s primary to compete for the seat held by retiring Gov. Rick Scott (R).

Gillum said in an interview with CNN later on Wednesday morning that he believes Florida and its “rich diversity” is going to be looking for a governor who “is going to bring us together, not divide us. Not misogynist, not racist, not bigots.”

The battle lines are draw. DeSantis is Trump’s man, and the New York Times’ Charles Blow has a few things to say about that guy:

Trump’s magical mixture is to make being afraid feel like fun. His rallies are a hybrid of concert revelry and combat prep. Trump tells his followers about all the things of which they should be afraid, or shouldn’t trust or should hate, and then positions himself as the greatest defense against those things. His supporters roar their approval at their white knight.

DeSantis wants to use Trump’s magical mixture too, but he may not be able to top the master:

Donald Trump kicked off his campaign by saying of Mexican immigrants: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” This fear would help form the justification for Trump’s wall of hate.

According to The New York Times, in June 2017 Trump read aloud from a document that detailed how many people from which countries had received visas to enter the United States in 2017.

“More than 2,500 were from Afghanistan, a terrorist haven, the president complained. Haiti had sent 15,000 people. They ‘all have AIDS,’ he grumbled, according to one person who attended the meeting and another person who was briefed about it by a different person who was there.”

Trump is the same man who said during the campaign, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” He also said during the campaign, “Islam hates us.”

DeSantis may not be able to match that, or this:

Last August, when the debate about Confederate monuments was hottest, Trump appealed to the fear of white erasure, whining: “They’re trying to take away our culture. They’re trying to take away our history.”

At the height of outrage over his family separation policy and the locking of children in cages, Trump offered a fear-mongering counterpoint by hosting at the White House the families of people killed by undocumented immigrants, and encouraged those relatives to share their painful tales of loss.

Last week Trump told Fox News, “If I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash, I think everybody would be very poor.”

On Monday, according to The Times, Trump warned evangelical leaders that if Democrats gain control of Congress in the midterm elections, they “will overturn everything that we’ve done and they’ll do it quickly and violently.”

That is Trump’s magical mixture:

Fear is an easily activated emotion. It’s cheap. It’s effective. Trump knows all of this, and he uses it. It is easier to instill people with fear than to imbue them with hope. Fear doesn’t have to be rational or reasonable to be real…

Donald Trump doesn’t so much expose them to new fears as he draws up within them their existing fears. Trump is the Commander of Fear and those who support him have found a perverse comfort in that fear.

DeSantis may not be able to replicate that, but he has been working on that:

Ron DeSantis, the Trump-endorsed congressman who won Tuesday’s GOP primary for Florida governor, is an administrator on an active Facebook group where conservatives share racist, conspiratorial and incendiary posts about a litany of targets, including black Americans and South Africans, the “deep state,” survivors of February’s massacre at a Florida high school, immigrants, Muslims and, in recent days, John McCain.

DeSantis was listed as one of the group’s 52 administrators and moderators as of Wednesday. His involvement in the group was first noted by a researcher for Media Matters for America on Tuesday.

And this is this group’s magical mixture:

The Facebook group, simply named Tea Party, has nearly 95,000 members, and users must join the group to post or comment. The banner for the group is an image of the Confederate, Christian and Gadsden flags flying alongside the flags of the U.S. and Israel. (It isn’t affiliated with the conservative group Tea Party Patriots.)

Members of the group have attacked Black Lives Matter and other African-Americans as “ghetto scum” and ridiculed the teenage survivors of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14. Posters have referred to Douglas students David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez as a “Hitler wannabe” and a “bald-headed brat,” respectively, after they became outspoken activists for gun control in the wake of the shooting, during which a former student allegedly shot and killed 17 people.

One member believed the violent far-right rally of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017 was a hoax, writing in a post liked by 1,600 users that the rally was “orchestrated by the left” to “destroy America.”

But wait, there’s more:

After McCain died Saturday, members flooded the page with mocking posts, including a satirical headline that read, “President Trump bestows Medal of Honor to John McCain’s tumor.” Another image of a tombstone referred to McCain, a naval aviator who spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam before becoming a senator and Republican nominee for president, as a “traitor to America” and a “friend to the Vietcong.”

The group cheered Trump’s reported reference to African countries as “shitholes,” blamed Islam for terrorism and accused Black Lives Matters activists of plotting to take over the country.

And Trump’s guy was right there with them:

According to a timestamp in the group, DeSantis joined on April 28 in the middle of his Fox News-fueled campaign during which he released a TV ad showing his allegiance to Trump by building a “wall” of toy bricks with his daughter and reading Trump’s book to his infant son.

That ad referred to DeSantis as a “conservative warrior.”

DeSantis was listed as one of the group’s administrators and moderators as of Wednesday, August 29, 2018, and that same evening – the evening of the same day Fox News let evening know that his “monkey” business had to stop – he resigned from this Facebook group. Someone must have told him that only Trump can be Trump. He can’t be Trump. DeSantis was the spanner in the works here.

Still, as Greg Sargent argues, this Florida race is about Trump:

The stunning victory of Andrew Gillum in the Florida Democratic gubernatorial primary sets up a test for one of the left’s biggest propositions: That the most potent weapon against Trumpism lies in combining an unflinching vow to roll back President Trump’s inhumane and incompetently executed ethno-nationalist agenda with unabashed progressive economics – including the promise of health care that is truly universal, as a matter of right.

The general election will pit Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, an African American with a working-class background, against GOP nominee Ron DeSantis, one of the most slavish, worshipful and virulent Trumpists in the country.

Sargent argues that is the 2020 president race, with Andrew Gillum showing how Trump can be tossed out:

Gillum defeated his more moderate primary opponent on a platform that includes Medicare for All, abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in its current form, a $15-per-hour minimum wage, and corporate tax hikes to fund education.

Because of Gillum’s economic populism and backing from Bernie Sanders, many will be tempted to treat Gillum’s win as a victory for the ascendant Sanders wing as defined by rising democratic socialists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And no question, Gillum’s victory is a big win for the progressive left.

But Gillum defies lazy or simplistic categorization. Asked on “Morning Joe” by Joe Scarborough if he had a message to send to DeSantis, Gillum did not get drawn into national media narratives about Trump, and instead spoke directly to voters about their economic challenges. In so doing, Gillum didn’t back off his economic progressivism in the slightest, but he presented it as pragmatic and solutions-oriented.

This is the Gillum magic mixture:

Gillum talked about health care “as a right, not a privilege,” and called for “real criminal justice reform.” But crucially, he presented the health care and criminal justice systems as “issues that showed up for us time and time again” as he talked to Floridians, which is to say, as blights on people’s actual lives.

Gillum also talked about the need to raise corporate taxes, but he put that in the context of the urgency of raising abysmally low teacher pay, framing the relevant question as “whether we’re going to give major tax breaks to corporations” or “whether we’re going to invest that money in our children.” He added that investing more in education would “produce good educated talent” that “provides a great workforce” for corporations, which he said would make them “want to locate” in Florida.

“Are we going to realign the political system in this state to pour more resources into education over the incarceration of our people?” Gillum asked.

In other words, Gillum presented Florida’s challenges as rooted in current distributional choices and priorities that are misguided and bad for the state in pragmatic terms. He treated hot-button issues such as health care and sentencing reform not as turf on which great ideological battles are settled, but rather as systems in need of reform because they are producing terrible outcomes for real people.

Someone might want to talk about that for a change, but there is the spanner in the works, the monkey business:

There is probably no escaping the likelihood that this race will be a racial bloodbath. DeSantis campaigned as a lickspittle Trump Mini-Me, attacking his primary opponent for criticizing Trump over his “Access Hollywood” boasts of sexual assault, and running an ad in which he likened his young son’s building project to Trump’s wall, and read aloud from Trump’s “The Art of the Deal.”

Gillum has come out for abolishing ICE in its current form, and so the xenophobic and racist demagoguing directed at him will be something to behold. Indeed, Trump has already tweeted that Gillum is a “failed Socialist” who “allowed crime” (hint, hint) to “flourish in his city.”

Fear is an easily activated emotion. It’s cheap. It’s effective. Trump knows this, and he uses it, and he will use it again, but there is this:

Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg says there’s an opening here that Gillum may be revealing. “A deep commitment to pragmatic, people-oriented outcomes is perhaps the most natural political response to Trump’s extremism and recklessness,” Rosenberg told me, adding that Democrats such as Gillum are promising to “repair the damage of Trumpism,” but “in the new language of a changing, 21st century America.”

That might do Trump in. Someone like Andrew Gillum, or Andrew Gillum himself, might be the spanner in the works for Trump, but Philip Rucker reports that Trump might be gone by then:

President Trump’s advisers and allies are increasingly worried that he has neither the staff nor the strategy to protect himself from a possible Democratic takeover of the House, which would empower the opposition party to shower the administration with subpoenas or even pursue impeachment charges.

Within Trump’s orbit, there is consensus that his current legal team is not equipped to effectively navigate an onslaught of congressional demands, and there has been broad discussion about bringing on new lawyers experienced in white-collar defense and political scandals.

It may be too late for that:

Trump announced Wednesday that Donald McGahn will depart as White House counsel this fall, once the Senate confirms Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh. Three of McGahn’s deputies – Greg Katsas, Uttam Dhillon and Makan Delrahim – have departed, and a fourth, Stefan Passantino, will have his last day Friday. That leaves John Eisenberg, who handles national security, as the lone deputy counsel.

Trump recently has consulted his personal attorneys about the likelihood of impeachment proceedings. And McGahn and other aides have invoked the prospect of impeachment to persuade the president not to take actions or behave in ways that they believe would hurt him, officials said.

Still, Trump has not directed his lawyers or his political aides to prepare an action plan, leaving allies to fret that the president does not appreciate the magnitude of what could be in store next year.

But there is this:

White House officials defended Trump’s lack of preparation by saying he is focused squarely on helping Republicans preserve their majorities in the Nov. 6 midterm elections rather than, in the words of one senior official, “panicking about something that could happen.”

In short, it could happen, but it hasn’t happened yet, so there’s no need to think about it now, which is in itself a reason to panic:

One source of growing anxiety among Trump allies is the worry that the president and some senior White House officials are not anxious enough. Although Trump sometimes talks about impeachment with his advisers, in other moments, he gets mad that “the i-word,” as he calls it, is raised, according to his associates.

“Winter is coming” said one Trump ally in close communication with the White House. “Assuming Democrats win the House, which we all believe is a very strong likelihood, the White House will be under siege. But it’s like tumbleweeds rolling down the halls over there. Nobody’s prepared for war.”

Nobody’s prepared for anything – and Ron DeSantis is trying to be Trump, and doing it badly. Andrew Gillum, the monkey here, is showing a better alternative, and doing that well. He’s throwing a monkey wrench in the Republican gears, ruining everything. John Lennon would say that Gillum is the Spaniard in the works here. No one would get it of course. But that’s okay. Everyone will get the joke soon enough, finally.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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