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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

So Much to Say -- Briefly:

I trust you watch the PBS Newshour; everyone should. You may have noticed that Judy Woodroff increasingly begins the hour by shaking her head and saying, “There’s just so much news to cover.” Most of it is generated by our wacky White House – and not just its chief occupant. Friday night’s Republican spokesman David Broder joins Judy in shaking his head in astonishment at a White House that is like nothing he’s seen during decades in the news profession. His Democratic counterpart, Mark Shields, described it best when he said of the administration’s endless turmoil: “It’s like a civil war in a leper colony.”


Our daughter and son-in-law hold degrees in library science and recently sent a cartoon that I liked. It showed two guns, one for arming teachers, and another for librarians: same gun, but with a silencer.


Kudos to Republican Senator Tom Lee on his “I’m fed up” speech to the Florida Senate and especially its “Third World leadership!” Republican Dan Raulerson of Plant City got so fed up that he resigned before this year’s session began. Tallahassee “leaders” put someone in that seat who was unknown locally, defeating genuine civic leader Yvonne Fry. How about running as an independent, Yvonne? East Hillsborough could lead the transformation.


Did you see that some PR guy at USF is busy “branding” the university? I abhor that usage and the shallow mindset behind it, but let’s take the opportunity to rethink “Bulls.” Is this a good point in history to associate ourselves more strongly with excessive masculinity? To say nothing of its connotations: bully and bullshit and BS -- and Lady Bulls always was ridiculous. A stubborn, angry animal who takes pride in his lack of reasoning as a model? Instead, how about “The University of South Florida: Open to the Universe.” With the Sun as a symbol.

The Last Person to Speak

I’ve noticed several pundits say that Donald Trump’s policy is set by the last person to speak to him. The same was said of Warren Harding, back in the 1920s. Both Republicans, they lead historians’ list of presidents unprepared for office. Harding at least had experience as a US senator from Ohio – but that was when political bosses controlled Ohio and chose senators for their inability to think beyond the party line. His passion was not golf, but instead poker and whisky – during Prohibition. The two men are much akin in appointing men to offices because of business connections, with the Harding administration being the most corrupt to that time.

You may remember “the Teapot Dome Scandal” from high-school history. This was oil-rich land in Wyoming that Congress had set aside for the military, but Harding secretly allowed his buddy, Harry Sinclair of Sinclair Oil, to drill there. When the Senate began investigating, Harding died. Mysteriously. In San Francisco, allegedly from bad salmon he had eaten in Alaska. No one else on the Alaskan trip got sick, however, including Florence Harding.

Like him, she had been a journalist, and when she married him, she was a tough-minded divorcee who had portrayed herself as a widow. She once physically ejected one of Harding’s mistresses from a political meeting, but his bad behavior nonetheless continued as president. Every politico in Washington knew about the Other Woman who regularly slept at the White House.

Florence Harding had a PR person’s awareness of image, and some historians believe that she poisoned her husband to spare his legacy from the scandals about to rock. She did nothing to prevent such speculation: despite the lack of a reasonable cause of death, he was buried without an autopsy and with what some saw as unseemly haste and “odd comments” on the part of the widow. Returning to Washington, she took bundles of his papers from the White House and burned many that she said might be “misconstrued.” She herself died within a year, and the mystery remains. But don’t worry about The Donald. Melania doesn’t care enough, either about him or the world, to bother herself.

What Goes Around, Comes Around

Oddly enough, when I was fact checking myself on Harding, I noticed that the first item under 1921 in my Webster’s chronology was “Congress passes Emergency Tariff Act.” Congress passed a second one the next year and then the truly devastating Smoot-Hawley Tariff in 1930. (Yes, Smoot-Hawley is a funny name, and humorist David Barry has a good riff on it.) Tariffs are another of those things you didn’t care about in high school, but you are grown up now, and they matter to your pocketbook.

So, as a refresher, a tariff is a tax on imports. (The founding fathers put a constitutional ban on taxing exports -- a point that, judging by recent comments, House Speaker Paul Ryan failed to learn.) Tariffs make anything from abroad more expensive than they would be under a natural market, or as it is called now, “free trade.” Tariffs understandably raise the price of almost everything you buy at Wal-Mart or Home Depot or whatever because the purchaser on the American end has to pay more – and thus charge you more. Why do that? To protect American industry from genuine competition. To rig the rules so that the rich can get richer. To “make America great again.”

The never-ending and highly technical lobbying for tariffs on the millions of things that we manufacture finally led Congress to cede much of its authority on this to the executive branch, especially to bureaus under the Treasury and Commerce departments. That is the reason that Donald Trump – having heeded the word of the last person who spoke to him – could announce a huge increase in tariffs on steel. Steel of course is basic to the economy, and the anticipated rise in its cost sent Wall Street tumbling.

For all of his alleged business acumen, The Donald seems not to understand that actions have consequences, that what goes around also comes around. He seemed surprised that, in striking a blow against China -- the world’s biggest producer of steel -- he created blowback from other portions of the world’s economy. He apparently didn’t realize that even some of his American buddies are, in fact, free traders and globalists who don’t want tariffs. Accustomed to campaign rallies in which it was enough to shout about taking something back, he didn’t think through what he wanted to take back or from whom.

Bruce Springsteen and Willie Nelson show more perception when they sing about jobs that are gone and ain’t comin’ back. The time for Republicans to have done something about retaining heavy industry was back in the day of Ronald Reagan, but they preferred union bashing to serious consideration of what we do without a steel industry. Even now, no one appears to have talked with blue-collar workers, and they surely didn’t visit western Pennsylvania, where the brick skeletons of former steel mills reach forlornly to the sky.

It’s more than steel, too, as virtually every economist agrees that we have moved from an industrial economy to a service economy. That requires readjustment of what we tax and who pays – but way too many politicians refuse to face the fact that of course governments run on taxes, let alone have an honest debate about which forms of taxation are most fair. Similarly, virtually every historian agrees that the tariffs of the 1920s were a leading cause of the depression of the 1930s, yet the analogy to today goes unheeded.

The Roaring Twenties were a heady, thoughtless time, with (I’m sorry) Republican presidents and Congresses who simply were wrong about economics -- but nonetheless charged off the cliff into the Great Depression. Economics was a new social science then, but we have no excuse now. Especially now that we live in a world where one cannot strike without expecting to be stricken. We no longer can flail around without hurting not just others, but also ourselves. American companies operate all over the world, and the inevitable future is a globe that will get smaller and smaller. That’s a good thing, and we should welcome it.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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