This is a section which I wrote tonight of a much larger essay on opinions of every president America has ever had. As the numbers might imply, I am finished up through twenty four. I have obsessed for the past week over this project, kind of as a purge of recent experiences. I submit this sample before the whole twenty-plus thousand word thing is submitted for consideration. For that handful of people who occasionally read this crap I write, I hope you might take some time and look at this one. I mean, who knows anything about Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison and the thirty-six years between presidential assassinations?
22 & 24. Grover Cleveland: I would like to tell you a story that may break your heart. It concerns a fiery, arrogant deceiver on one side, and a broken failure at the at war with himself on the other. Grover Cleveland–hell, lemme tell you–this guy is a motherfucking Russian Romance turned darker. Simply as a fan of human experience, there is very little to overlook throughout the madcap zaniness, absurdity, and horror of this story. But it is quite harshly reflected in the presidential and congressional sex scandals over the past thirty years that we can remember. Remember Bill Clinton? Hillary? Remember someone slimy who almost won a nomination for president, but was forced to withdraw before the scandal got any bigger. Who was that again? (History doesn’t need to remember John Edwards) What about Obama? There’s some crazy shit going on there. Trump. Trump aspired to be the Charles Manson of presidents. The worst of the worst. The defining definition of evil. And he sells this all in a candy box of chocolate flowers, and cash paid to hookers (and by this I mean women who he later tries to pay off) Trump enables stories to be told of both the highest art and the lowest pustule of opinions. Throughout this time in American history we have started the watch the collapse almost three centuries of American greatness. We’ve become a world before a terrified, closed up shop. We hide behind the shutters with a loaded gun.
This is the story of Grover Cleveland, the both twenty-second and twenty-fourth president.
Wealthy Grover Cleveland grew up with the richness and splendor of some serious American roots. On one side, the Lord of Cleveland, Great Britain, who established an evangelical tent in the Ohio Valley in 1635. His mother’s grandfather had been a hero in the battle of Bunker Hill.
These days Grover’s father was the prominent minister of a very stiff and upper class church. Grover was given every advantage. He was a good little boy, and did what his father told him to. If he were to have an opposing viewpoint, well, then it would be slapped out of him into an ember, broiling in the sulfur of to brighter shade of burn. What happens if I become President? young Grover Cleveland would ask himself. What can I do to make you see how great I am?
So the family ritual had gone through generations enough to call it a family curse. Countless among the Cleveland men, there had been children born out of wedlock. Grover had the most to lose among any of them, all of his ancestors. This child was going to be the last straw. This sort of shit was going to bring him down.
The politics of the age was brutal. This was a very hard culture, where the instincts that would soon try to usher in a Progressive Era, a time when change for the better just might become a reality, but were opposed by the soulless corporate cartels, those first really greedy fucks of America. Those people who lived only for money.
Grover Cleveland was thoroughly in the Libertarian wing of business. It was all about making lots of money. With money you could do good–that would be the lesson of the Progressive Era. But different people have different ideas on what makes good. Some people just want to enjoy all of their money.
Cleveland loved the work even more than he did success. He was good at it. He was really, really good at it–one of the all time great politicians, one who should shine brighter on the flame of historical recollection, being as he was the man who started 20th century America on the road to a tabloid culture.
Grover Cleveland was, as he called himself, “A Bourbon Democrat.” Remember this was the time when evangelical groups and other cults were preaching the gospel of Prohibition. Not only did Grover like his snifter of brandy and quiet cigar after dinner, while reflecting on all the good he did in the day. He was really more of a very persuasive lobbyist for the booze interests–gangsters, smugglers and the rich alcoholics. He didn’t really about anything other than his vague understanding of what would make the world better. He couldn’t see his life being any better. He could do whatever the fuck he wanted. And no one—not any of those . . . decency pussies were going to tell him what he could do or say! I’m rich and smart enough to do anything! I know how to make money.
The Democrats of Cleveland’s era were a good match for angry fiscal Republicans. The Democrats of that era were becoming pretty extinct by then. They were still the party of succession. Nobody wanted them around anymore. And while the Republicans may no longer be the Party of Lincoln, at least, according to Grover Cleveland’s gospel, we knew how to get shit done.
Both parties split. The Republicans did still have some pretty angry racists who had opposed succession from the union, but really hated the slaves because they got his son killed. They were tired of these limit wristed Yale men bullying them around with their fluent literacy and better understanding of the issues of the world today. Some people sides. Democrats of yesterday became the Republicans of today.
Money was drying up, and all that was left of the defeated Democratic party were a few embittered, southern grandchildren of slave holders, angry about everything, and those wishy-washy fucks who still believed that government was a weapon meant for the public good.
This event has a tremendous amount of historical significance for the events of the future. What we saw was a post-Civil War collapse of the two biggest political parties and the invention of what is now historically called “The Four-Party System.” Pretty soon Teddy Roosevelt would be launching a new campaign with a different party. “Roosevelt working with the Jews from Jew York.” (remember the times!) Some people needed even more extreme instructions on how they were supposed to behave. The far right is born, a county-club bred conspiracy, a ‘secret society’ who believed that somehow they had discovered the answers to the universe.
The ‘far left’ were merely factions, tired old progressives of a different era, exploding with money, funding causes, sometimes as spiteful attacks, trying get back at some asshole who was stupid enough to say publicly that charity was for suckers. They promoted and ruined political careers. The Left was the media (isn’t that Right? Isn’t that what they’ve always told us was true?), and the media was a roaring success. People needed distraction. They needed to be told ‘what was going on.’ A generation later Walter Lippman would be selling his theory on how to score public opinion, and use it to your advantage in any social campaign. First the media, and then the politicians using it, and we politicians (thought Grover Cleveland) know how to tell people what they should think.
And so it was a busy time. Cleveland was busy and that was the way he liked things.
Grover liked to keep his private life private and he would tell anyone who knew him to keep their goddamned mouths shut. Yes, he had some lovers. He wasn’t married. What difference did it make? And so what if he paid the mother five hundred dollars to just go away, leave the kid with his father and never bother either of them again?
Grover hated women. He didn’t have the child until he was in his 40s, and when he got into the white house he would appoint his youngest sister First Lady. Some spurious rumors were tried to paint Cleveland gay, but no one believed it. He wasn’t. He just liked to fuck his women dry. It had been several times covered up when he’d beaten some woman or other, and his reputation within the corridors of power was that of a cruel, vicious man who somehow still had hope for the very best intentions.
And so when the scandals swirled around in the newspapers, Grover Cleveland just said–yeah, fuck it. It’s all true. I even tried to get the mother locked away in a nuthouse when I knew she wasn’t insane. She just regretted selling the boy for five hundred dollars. She was a drunk. She drank in Negro saloons after hours, and that was all she did with her life anymore. She’d meet men. Have them buy her drinks. Sometimes fuck them for more than one night. She was a criminal. A drug addict. He really did try to destroy her.
He told the truth, completely. His handlers tried to pass this off as “yeah yeah yeah, Grover’s terrible with women, but his fiscal policies are . . .” And this proved to be pretty successful. Grover Cleveland was elected the 22nd President of the United States of America. This was the triumph of his life.
Things moved swiftly in those first hundred days. All of the first two years was a swirl and a buzz of profit: more money for everyone! Stocks would go and higher and higher, tariffs be lowered and the nation doubled America’s credit limit, and Grover knew how to take advantage.
Cleveland got the US into heavy debt with a rather diverse collection of nations, opening the door to transfers of secrets and hostages. Let’s bring bloody Kipling’s old show to town and turn it into something truly America: scandals and scandals and political turmoil and social unrest. There developed a partisan-sized enmity between opposing corporate interests. Business is brutal. It is not meant for the decisions of government. It is not in any way a good representation of a nation’s basic morality and beliefs. Being American once used to mean something–back in the good old days. Look back to Teddy Roosevelt being a bad ass and Lincoln getting murdered. The good old days when expansionist monsters were attempting to gobble up the entire world, slaughtering masses and planting their flag in the virgin soil of some far away land . . .
Maybe in those most peaceful of times, during the inspiration that is the Great American Revolution. You know, when all the people were finally just fed up and angry. They had enough of everything within their recently deflowered ‘new land.’ The whole system was exploding; rising up and going to war with itself–
What followed Mr. Cleveland’s Second term was the battling political and social ideologies that led to World War I. The greed of this era, over the four years Grover Cleveland was out of office, ruined the economy. The result was a breeding ground for wholly fanatical religions. Politics was all about money, you see, and Grover Cleveland was perhaps THE BEST at making money of anyone who ever was, or ever will be, president.
The religions of those days were very prevalent in every aspect of life, people going to wild extremes and shouting and screaming about something! Socialism. The Born Again Faiths. The Jews. The American Nazis. Blacks. Yellows. Whites.
There were cults of women and Islamic Fundamentalists busy inner-warring over a slightly different belief in The Holy Book.
The Faith that there is no god. That Money is God. How dare you say such a thing to me and challenge my most foundational beliefs! How dare you. All these narrow and small thinking patriots of a million different stripes and shades of red white and blue. These are all religions, all the things that give our lives importance to ourselves and so therefore there is a reason to exist after all.
There are these weird, science-ficcologies, like Scientology. Or Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Hollow Earth and Reptilian space men living inside. There’s Life on Mars and They’re far more advanced that we are. How about an Outer Space religious cult? Or Gangs of Like-Minded Sociopaths looking to corrupt everything. The Greedy. The Selfish. The always seeking outrage. Professional victims, the whiners, the broken-as-little-boys men who through a sheer ruthless will to survive will sacrifice anyone and anything for no good reason.
The mind of business does not jibe with the larger cultural waves and fundamentalisms. This even includes the religions which worship only the Great and Almighty Dollar, Baphomet, I believe Its name was.
Look at what you had out there in the late 19th century, and the first quarter century of the 20th. Alien Enthusiasts. Weird Sex Fetishes. The fact that anyone had access to the wildest, and strangest experiences one could ever possibly have. “Piss on me, darlin’!” some Texas Oil Scumbag might shout just before murdering a prostitute.
The best book that has ever been written on Grover Cleveland is, to my mind, A Secret Life: The Lies and Scandals of President Grover Cleveland, by the very entertaining, scandal-monger Charles Lachman. Is it a gratuitously tabloid, yet academic study. I am rather certain that Mr. Lachman is very up on his facts, and there is a great deal you can learn. But there is a certain grotesque arrogance that spits off the otherwise decent Grover Cleveland. There is such a primal greed, the instincts of a successful hunter, the same sort of murderer that his own son would take very seriously. He would transform his permanent problem child into the real thing, far away from everybody and killing an elephant. Or white tiger. Or maybe the last rhinoceros, our last dinosaur.
Something is always dying, something has always developed a stench. But when you’ve reached the pinnacle of your life, Grover Cleveland, you just had to destroy it. Destroy it.
Grover Cleveland really was a prick. He never married because women were a distraction. He liked to fuck then, but he wanted things kept out of the papers. It might make him look bad. Nobody gangs up on me . . .
He knocked up some shop-girl: Maria Halpin, her name was. Sometime later Cleveland shows up on the doorstep of another soon-to-be-mother. He handed her a baby and says, “Here! Take care of this!” He throws a wad of bills on the floor and said, looking down disgustedly, “Clean that up you bitch!”
This new lady is twelve days away from giving birth. She takes the child of the future President as he storms out calling her a whore.
The baby had a gaping wound in the soft spot of its head. It was wet, bloody. Something green appeared to have popped near the top of its skull. It could hardly even cry. It was only two days old.
Maybe someone had had enough of the baby because he had to get shit done, and he tossed it at the mother, bouncing it off the floor. She was broken up sobbing and he took out a handful of cash and tossed it on the floor. “Here,” he said. “Gimme the baby! I’ll take care of it.”
She was naive. Dumb. That poor shop-girl was probably better off without the child too, although sometimes she would feel bad about it. She picked up the money and the child and handed him over to Grover. She stuffed the money in her purse. She waited for him to say something else as he left. He didn’t.
So Grover dumps the kid and twelve days later the new mother gives birth to a child. She eyes the bashed baby, but is too caught up in her own newborn to pay much attention. She favors the new child immeasurably. She loves him. And the new one has suddenly stopped gurgling. All he used to do in those last few days up until Frederick was born was shout and cry and never sleep. Waaa! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! Waaa Waaa Waaa! It was too stressful. No wonder my baby was born two weeks early.
And so the new baby dies at ten months.
There was a small funeral. All the mourners traveled in one carriage, with two stout horses and a casket of mead. Grover gave a nonsense eulogy. He hadn’t even been present at the child’s birth, had just sent a message through a midwife, informing Maria what the baby’s name would be.
Maria accused Cleveland of rape, and it was sort of a rape. He was an aggressive man, over-powering someone who was getting paid, more or less, for her services. Maria found him repulsive. He made her sick. He smelled of sweat. He reeked of primitive lust.
She tried to make a big deal about it and that’s one of the reasons that Grover Cleveland lost to Benjamin Harrison in the next election . . .
- Benjamin Harrison: Grandpa was famous general and great-grandpa was one of America’s founders–I got a fine rep, even though dad didn’t make as much of an impression as he should have. Harrison’s father has been mostly forgotten, having rather humble accomplishments. He didn’t like the limelight. He understood why his own son did. Fine, he raised him. Let him have his projects. Benjamin’s Grandfather had briefly been president before dying after a month under very suspicious circumstances (see #9 above). Benji didn’t seem quite up to the job, but let him try, let him try.
Benjamin Harrison was more or less the first of the great post-Lincoln do-gooders. He was very liberal, extremely tolerant. He was a genuinely decent man who couldn’t handle the office after the blood-thirst of Grover Cleveland. Harrison’s accomplishments, while notable, have all been improved upon as the world became more modern and technology took over all of our lives
That’s about all I can think of about Benjamin Harrison. I have one book–part of the American Presidents series. It’s written by Charles Calhoun. I haven’t read it. I probably never will.
24: Grover Cleveland (part 2): Grover managed to sort some of his personal shit out over those four years he had out of office. The result, this time, was disaster. Since so much money had been wasted on those racial equality programs and environmental issues, there was nothing left to spend. All the profit Grover Cleveland had made had been used up to fund our better natures. Grover was really pissed off. It was good that Harrison got fired.
There was yet another economic panic, the Panic of 1893, and this time it was a training ground for what would someday build into the Great Depression, which of course led into World War II. All the Money was gone and this sent Cleveland scrambling around trying to slash those stupid policies. He was going to slim down the government and get all those fuckers trying to interfere with what he knows is right for America. Then cut taxes and make this Christmas a little bit sunnier than it has been. Whatever happened to the richly classed society that tried to keep the riff-raff happy with a handful of cash and shittier and shittier jobs.
The economy bottomed out and this would lead us into a brand new era of Republicans, no longer the upright stability of what were once called Jeffersonian Democrats. William McKinney would zoom in by 1897, then get assassinated by an anarchist six months into his second term. He actually died of gangrene that spread throughout his stomach, but that was caused by the bullet wound too. After that was Uncle Teddy, who requires much more of his own space for a later discussion. It is the increasingly fast-paced time of the four-party system, played as a radical game of party politics throughout the coming Progressive Era.
Grover Cleveland was never ashamed of his life. He didn’t have any self-reflection. He was a tragic figure, finally. He was a man who could never be loved because he was incapable of loving anything.