A Narrative 56 — and Counting — Months in the Making

Harvey Radin…
8 min readAug 23, 2023

It’s not housed in a big, imposing building, the archives I visited the other day. It’s not a place where air temperature, air quality, humidity, and such must be strictly controlled to protect aging, fragile documents.

The archives I visited is in my computer.

I was looking back at Letters and columns I’d written, beginning in 2019, to see how they just might have been, I’m now realizing, a narrative about an increasingly troubling, possibly frightening, former president, and an increasingly troubled and, perhaps, frightening — and frightened — political party.

In a Letter, published in late January, 2019, I began questioning the far right’s fixation on the olden days. (here’s the Letter)…

LETTER: Radical Lefties? Really?

Special to the Post · January 30, 2019

They’re really saying that? Republican politicians are calling Democrats lefties, even ‘radical lefties.’ Haven’t heard words like that in a long, long time, probably not since the Vietnam War.

Why are Republicans using outdated words? When they don’t see eye to eye with people, they call them total flunkies. Newspapers and magazines running stories GOP lawmakers don’t agree with are on their last legs.

Perhaps borrowing words from old movie scripts, they talk about sweetheart deals. Something inexpensive costs peanuts. Assuring their base they’re close to achieving some campaign promise, GOP politicians say they’re about to cross the finish line. Caught red-handed, that’s another GOP oldie, when Republicans assert that someone they don’t particularly like was caught red-handed doing something. And to remind us who won in 2016, you’ve undoubtedly heard Republicans say ‘We call the shots.’

So many outdated words in their tweets and speeches. Like maybe, you know, they’re stuck in the olden days?

(And then, in a Letter published, February 12, 2019, I wrote)…

Eleven or so years ago, bully was a word most often used to describe Republicans, according to Yahoo. Weenie was the word for Democrats.

What are the words nowadays? Obstructionists, hippies, wingnuts, bigots, loons? Can you match each word with each political party?

And all of a sudden, the word Democrat instead of Democratic is being used as an adjective. Do you wonder about that when you hear someone talking about the Democrat Congress, for example? Wasn’t it always the Democratic Congress? Well, according to the Oxford Dictionaries, the ic in Democratic is being dropped “in order to maintain a distinction from the broader, positive associations of the adjective democratic with democracy and egalitarianism.”

So now we know.

(And then, also in the month of February, on the 26th, the same year… in 2019, I wrote)…

When people in states that helped elect the current president of the US were asked if their views of the president had changed after his first two years in office, someone opined that the president couldn’t control his mouth… (Right now, years after that letter was published, I probably could add something pithy about the now former president, apparently, still finding that challenging.)

(The following month, on March 11th, 2019, I wrote, in this Letter, with the headline — Concerning the President’s PR Habits)…

“You know, I don’t know, maybe you know.”

You can probably guess who said that in a speech that went on for more than two hours. The speaker explained what may have seemed obvious: “You know, I’m totally off script right now,” he said. “And this is how I got elected, by being off script. True. And if we don’t go off script, our country is in big trouble, folks.”

What comes next in the speech is what marketing gurus might describe as the call to action. After suggesting the country’s in trouble “if we don’t go off script,” the speaker goes on to explain why dumping the script is so necessary. Evidently, “‘Cause we have to get it” — meaning the country — “back.”

So, going off script gets the country back?

The speech, summarized in The Atlantic, was delivered at the Conservative Political Action Conference. You can bet the speaker’s call to action regaled his CPAC audience but was perplexing for others wondering about this whole going off script thing. Scripts can focus one’s thinking. Business management gurus suggest having an outline — a brief script — in mind for a confab with the boss or to prep for staff meetings. So, if scripts can keep business people and elected leaders on track?

Well…“you know, I don’t know, maybe you know.”

(And then, in late March, 2019, wondering, in a Letter, if politicians were playing Socialism mind games, I wrote)…

They’re screwing with your mind!

That’s what hippies and others used to say in the ‘radical’ 1960s when they were discussing the Vietnam War. Those concerned about the war were often labeled as Socialists. Socialism was then — and perhaps is, right now — an evocative word. It was, after all, one of the words in an adversary’s name: the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the old USSR. It was a word used to justify fighting the 10-year war in Vietnam. There was a theory, at the time — the domino theory — that assumed Socialism would spread from Ho Chi Minh’s Socialist Vietnam to other Southeast Asian nations. Those countries would topple like dominos, to Socialism.

Well now, let’s fast forward to contemporary Vietnam. It’s market-driven. There was even news the other day about fancy, high-rise condos going up in Ho Chi Minh City. There are cool restaurants. Tourists are heading there. Business is booming. So, with 20/20 hindsight, were domino theorists screwing with everyone’s mind?

We’re hearing the terrible S-word again. The President and his fellow Republicans are all over Democrats, calling them Socialists. They’re even suggesting America could topple to Socialism because of the Democrats.

Like all those Southeast Asian nations falling to Socialism in the 1960s? Are Republicans kidding? Are they screwing with everyone’s mind?

(Is it “Patriotic … or Fake?” I was wondering, in a July 30, 2019 Letter)…

PR people like me… we’ve shaped what others say. And now, there’s political rhetoric that takes the game to a whole new — and disturbing — level.

What some politicians are saying is more twisted than a pretzel. Their patriotic-sounding words mask the actual purpose of their rhetoric, to denigrate and attack anyone whose beliefs differ from their beliefs. Political opponents are unpatriotic, they hate our great nation! Athletes taking a knee disrespect our nation’s flag. The press is the enemy of the American people.

People who make a living shaping rhetoric for leaders in government and business pretty much understand what their bosses would want to say. So, imagine government staffers, in the nation’s capitol, sitting around a conference room table, anticipating what one boss, in particular — the big one — would want to say.

Then, listen closely to the ‘patriotic’ rhetoric, and — most importantly — the underlying messages. To see if what’s being said is truly patriotic, or fake.

(In late 2019, my first HMPRESENTLY columns were being published, and I’ve been wondering about a whole lot of things, over ensuing years, and, at times, continuing to build a narrative about politics and various politicians, like, for example, in this column, published on January 13, 2020)…

HMPRESENTLY: How About Driveways, or Furniture?

by Harvey Radin | Jan 13, 2020 | Opinion/Letters

Just the other day, I happened to see skilled workers replacing concrete on a driveway. They were building wood forms and installing rebar. When a cement truck pulled up to pour fresh concrete, the crew working at the site determined just the right amount of it needed for each section of the driveway, tamped down the fresh concrete and smoothed it over so everything looked just right. They were demonstrating their craft. Their skill.

In the meantime at the nation’s capitol, various politicians were demonstrating their craft… building acrimony, a craft they have been honing more intensely than ever.

Workers who are skilled at a craft build what folks often need and can surely use; driveways, furniture and homes, for example. Acrimony, on the other hand, doesn’t seem quite as useful, but politicians keep building it anyway.

Just recently at a rally in Ohio, for example, the president fired up his crowd when he called Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff a “pencil neck.” At other rallies, he’s yelled “Go home to mommy,” as protesters were being removed for questioning his administration’s policies. He’s even complained that protesters were being treated too gently as they were being marched out the door, suggesting they should be roughed up more.

After she was named Person of the Year in Time magazine, climate change activist Greta Thunberg was mocked in tweets:

“Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill!”

Various politicians have been building acrimony aimed at immigrants, press freedom, women’s rights, the Speaker of the House, and almost anything having to do with previous administrations; the Obama and Clinton administrations, of course, and even the Bush and Reagan administrations.

They’ve mastered acrimony, some of those politicians. They’re better than ever at their craft. But maybe they should build driveways or furniture, instead?

(And then, in this column — below — about Kale, and such, and in some other columns, over the years, I’ve been continuing on, with… it seems to be a narrative, maybe?)…

HMPRESENTLY: Politics, Religion, and Kale

by Harvey Radin | Jan 23, 2020 | Opinion/Letters

Hey, we’re polarized in this country, so they say. And that just might be true.

We’re being knocked around by politics, religious beliefs, where we are on the environment and conservation. I exaggerate, but in the recesses of your mind do you ever wonder what shoppers near you might be thinking as you’re about to drop some kale in your shopping cart? Or what neighbors are really thinking about someone’s solar panels or hybrid car?

Being in the San Francisco Bay Area, I don’t worry quite so much about what I’ve just described. But inland, in some central locations in the state, things can be different. Maybe you get a few raised eyebrows, shopping for kale.

Religion! I shouldn’t be getting into that, because I’m not very religious. But does it bother you, seeing politicians trotting out their religious beliefs, when what they seem to be up to, some of them, is weaponizing religion more than practicing it?

Have you seen believers of one persuasion or another laying hands on politicians? On one of them, in particular, who, unless I’m mistaken, doesn’t seem to be attending Sunday services with much, if any, regularity.

Politicians are sure good with their pious looks. They get soft, prayerful expressions in their eyes, like they’re gazing at the Holy Scriptures. God, they’re good at that! The current VP, in particular, sure is.

The current president; maybe not so much, even when he’s getting hands laid on him.

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Harvey Radin…

Image tweaker, guest articles and commentary writer… @hmpresently