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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.

It's Christmas Week, But…

For the first time in my life, I'm trying to ignore it.  With the loss of my husband, a brother, and a sister this year, I just can't do what I ordinarily do.  Therefore, I hope you perhaps you, too, might want a change from the Holly and Jolly, and I'm going to write the column I would have written were it an ordinary week.  LaGaceta wants it early, so some things may have changed by the time you get this, and I trust that you will understand if that turns out to be true.  With Trump running the government by tweet, you know how quickly news can be outdated.  But hang in:  I'm going to end this with a cheerful tale from the past that I've been intending to tell for a while.  I hope it makes you smile.



There's an easy solution to the question of whether or not to prosecute about-to-be former president Trump.  New President Joe Biden pardons him for any potential federal crimes, thereby looking magnanimous, reaching out to Republicans, and prioritizing national unity. Meanwhile, New York goes ahead and prosecutes him for state crimes, of which there are many.  This raises no constitutional questions (except for emphasizing states' rights, something that conservatives love to do), and it is where the money is.  That is what Donald cares about most of all and where the trail is hottest.  Law enforcement officials in New York can reserve a cell formerly occupied by one of his business buddies.


Speaking of pardons, isn't it ironic that the Future Felon is handing them out to his pals at the same time that he is setting a record for federal executions?  Ten people have been sentenced to death since July, and the Christmas season is scheduled to see more lives ended this way.  Indeed, during its four years, Trump has executed more people for federal crimes than all of the states together – and states are the usual executioners.  Prior to this administration, the federal government hadn't pursued an execution in 17 years, back during Dubya's administration.  Trump's record will match that of Grover Cleveland more than a century ago.


Among those scheduled to die is the first woman executed in 70 years.  Her crime was horrific – she killed a pregnant woman to obtain a baby – but her background makes the tragedy more understandable.  Mentally challenged, she had been abused all of her life, and she simply wanted a baby to love.  You can bet that if she were upper class, she would be in a mental hospital, not facing the death penalty.  And where are the pro-life people on this?




Speaking of Grover Cleveland, you may remember that he is the only president elected to non-consecutive terms.  He also was the only Democrat to serve in the long decades between the Civil War and (very nearly) World War I.  He won in 1884, lost in 1888, and won again in 1892.  His first election is very analogous to today and points out once more the unfairness of the Electoral College:  Cleveland, a New Yorker, won 4,874,986 (mostly male) votes, while his Republican opponent, James Blaine of Maine, won 4,851,981 – yet the Electoral College totals were not even close, as Cleveland carried that count by 219-182.


Republican Benjamin Harrison of Indiana defeated Cleveland in 1888 – even though the Democratic incumbent had more popular votes.  Cleveland's total was approximately 5.5 million, while Harrison's was 5.4.  Harrison won in the right places, though, and his Electoral advantage was 233-168.  The next election, in 1892, reversed the situation and Cleveland again entered the White House:  he defeated Harrison in the popular vote by about 5.5 to 5.1 and won the Electoral College overwhelmingly.


But all of that is background for the point of the analogies between Cleveland and Trump.  You know that I am a strong Democrat, but the Democratic Party of the 19th century was not the Democratic Party of today, and despite his Democratic designation, I am no fan of Grover Cleveland.  He was a self-centered conservative both politically and culturally.  His opponents' slogan was "Ma, Ma, where's my pa?  Gone to Washington, ha, ha, ha." This was because Cleveland had fathered a child in his youth and declined to marry the mother, a lower-class woman who would have been a liability to his ambitions. 


Sex again raised itself as an issue during his White House tenure when, at age 49, he married a 22-year-old woman.  Much like Melania Trump, Frances Cleveland supported her husband with the press, telling inquirers that she was a happy bride.  Apparently so; they went on to have five children.  But being a family man did not liberalize him on the status of women, as Cleveland strongly opposed the General Federation of Women's Clubs and other such organizations that began in the 1890s.




So, he and Trump share an antipathy to brainy women, while apparently being unusually interested in female bodies.  They do not want accomplished women ala Michelle Obama or Jill Biden; they want wives who stay far in the background.  They want to pay off both wives and mistresses, ala Cleveland's youthful indiscretion and Ivana Trump, Marla Maples, and countless women of the Stormy Daniels sort.  (Btw, don't waste tears on first wife and original brand-builder Ivana Trump:  she has been married and divorced four times, both before and after she created "The Donald.") 


Like Grover Cleveland, Donald Trump plans a comeback in 2024.  But he is 74 now and will be 78 then, while Cleveland made his comeback at a mere 55.  But back to the death penalty:  Setting a record for that was not a factor in Cleveland's resurrection, and I doubt it will be for Trump's attempt to rise from the ashes.  Instead, it will add to their ignoble longtime legacy.


Finally, remember when Republican leader Mitch McConnell vowed to make Barack Obama a one-term president?  It's nicely ironic that instead Obama served two excellent terms, while Mitch played sycophant to a guy whose one term probably will go down in history as the worst of all time.  Trump's closest rival for that title was elected exactly a century ago, when Republican Warren Harding of Ohio won the 1920 election. 


He was well known as a poker-playing philander and a puppet to big business.  One of his Cabinet members went to prison for allowing private interests to pump oil from public reserves, but Harding conveniently died before other scandals were unearthed.  I've studied the facts pretty closely, and I think that his wife, a much smarter person than he, poisoned Warren Harding.


And yes, Tampa's Cleveland Street is named for Grover.  Indeed, all downtown streets are named for Democrats – with some variations of names.  Zach Street, for instance, honors President Zachary Taylor because it wouldn't do to have both a Taylor Street and a Tyler Street, and the latter went to President John Tyler.  Cleveland barely made it in under the wire, as the other presidents served prior to the Civil War, and he was the only Democrat after it.  Think about that while you are stuck in downtown traffic just because knowing history makes life so much more interesting.




My remaining sister lives in Arkansas and is a history buff like me.  She sent an article by Mike Masterson, a sportswriter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, who was quoting the Harrison Daily Times' recent recounting of a 1921 basketball team from Leslie, Arkansas – a town so small that I never had heard of it.  Here goes:


The team "was coached by a woman, Irene Jones.., with six regular starters who played basketball outdoors… [They] played well enough to qualify for the statewide tournament in Little Rock… In those days, the only way they could travel was by train.  But in Leslie, the schedule was erratic at best.  They packed their bags, then waited patiently at the station on Monday.  No train arrived.  It was the same disappointment each day until it appeared they wouldn't make the tournament. Finally, that Friday, players heard the distant whistle…


"In Little Rock, the boys from Leslie saw competing teams from all over Arkansas… [The] Little Rock head coach took pity on the undermanned team from the mountains.  He graciously helped them find lodging and a place to practice indoors with only limited time remaining…  Coach Jones also sought guidance on the art of playing indoors…  The Leslie players realized the dimensions of the court were the same as the outdoor court back home (and lots less windy or wet). 


Leslie won its first game, as did Little Rock.  As days progressed, both progressed… Then in what many described as the best game ever, Irene Jones and her limited team that had never played in a gym defeated Little Rock 24-21."  Isn't that a wonderful story? 


Irene Jones became the first woman to lead a boys' team to a statewide victory, but I have to wonder what became of her after that.  And I'm sure no professional team offered contracts to these kids – but I'm also sure that they held this memory close to their hearts for the rest of their lives.  Because basketball tournaments usually coincided with Christmas back in those days, it's also an amazing Christmas story.  Enjoy!



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