In honor of President’s Day I would like to offer a reprint of an earlier piece I wrote here, which has subsequently been revised and adapted into a larger form, as part of a book that should be completed by the end of this year. I wish to push no political agenda with this piece, or at least none specifically. The larger work is a collection of differing opinions people have had about these figures, both in their own times, and through historical revision. Grover Cleveland, to me, is one of the most unexpectedly fascinating men ever to hold the highest office. What I offer here is the first draft I submitted. There is far more information that has since been added, but I will let this piece presently stand as it was originally published. You will likely get the reason.
Oh! And there’s a little about Benjamin Harrison too!
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 war with himself on the other. Grover Cleveland . . . this guy is a fucking 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 Cleveland’s life. 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, or a judge, but they were forced to withdraw before their sex scandal got any bigger?
What about Obama? There’s some nasty shit that must be going on over there. Or Trump, who aspires to be the Charles Manson of presidents. The worst of the worst convinced that he’s best of best. This is the defining definition of evil. And he sells this all in a candy box with chocolate flowers, and cash paid to hookers (and by this I mean women who later get to paid off into silence.) Trump enables stories to be told of both the highest art and the lowest pustule of opinion. Throughout this time in American history we have started to watch the collapse of almost three centuries of American greatness. We’ve become a terrified world inside a 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 of The United States of America.
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 the brightest 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 itself 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, were opposed by the soulless corporate cartels, those first really greedy motherfuckers of American Industry. 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 greatest pure politicians, social welfare be damned! He was a man who should shine far brighter in a reference to historical reconsideration. He was the man who helped start 20th century America on the road to tabloid culture.
Grover Cleveland was, as he called himself, “A Bourbon Democrat.” Remember this was the time when evangelical groups and other cults were busy preaching the gospel of Prohibition. Not only did Grover like his snifter of brandy and quiet cigar after dinner, but then he could sit and reflect on all the good he did during 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 have anything other than a vague understanding of what should make the world better a better place. He couldn’t see his own life being possibly any better. Everyone should want to follow his example to find happiness. He knew 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, they knew how to get shit done.
Both parties split. The Republicans still had some angry racists, who had opposed succession from the union, but would never forgive the slaves for having gotten their sons killed. They were tired of those phony Harvard and Yale men, bullying them around with their dangling wrists and overly fluent literacy. With their far better understanding of the social issues that were drastically changing World Civilization. Some people switched sides. The Democrats of yesterday became, with a few turns right, the Republicans of today.
Money was drying up, and all that was left of the defeated Democratic party was divided between a group of the embittered, southern grandchildren of slave holders, who were angry about everything, and those wishy-washy do-gooder motherfuckers who still believed that government is a weapon meant for 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 was, “working with the Jews from Jew York,” or some other slur that made it easier to dismiss the value of another’s opinion. Some people really needed to learn 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 all the answers of the universe down to the last dollar.
The ‘far left’ were merely factions, tired old progressives from different eras, exploding with money, funding causes, often 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 how to 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’re supposed to think.
And so it was a busy time. Cleveland was busy and that was the way he wanted things so he wouldn’t have to think about anything else going on in his life.
Grover liked to keep his private life private, and he would tell anyone who knew him to keep their goddamned mouths shut! Yes, he’d had quite a number of women. He wasn’t married. What difference did it make? And so what if he paid some mother five hundred dollars to go away, to leave the kid with its 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 girl or other, and his reputation within the corridors of power was that of a cruel, vicious, petty man who somehow still believed he had hopes to achieve his very best intentions.
And so when the scandals swirled around in the newspapers, Grover Cleveland just said–yeah, it’s all true. I even tried to get the mother locked away in a nuthouse when I knew she wasn’t insane. She had just regretted selling the boy for five hundred dollars so she could continue having drinks in those Negro nightclubs for the next several months.
She was very much a drunk. All that she did was drink in bars anymore. She had sold her baby to Grover Cleveland, probably the father. Her baby had died. She was a monster. Drinking was all she did with her life anymore. She was far too brave to directly kill herself, so she inflicted as much torment upon her body until her body couldn’t take it anymore.
Sometimes she would meet men. They would buy her drinks. Sometimes she would fuck them for more than one night in a row. Grover was one of them. And so she was branded a criminal. A drug addict. Did she murder their baby? He told the press all of this. He very actively was trying to destroy her.
Grover told the truth, or at least some of it. 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 up higher and higher, tariffs were being lowered and the nation had doubled its credit limit. Grover knew how to take advantage of excess.
Cleveland got the US into heavy debt with a rather diverse collection of nations, opening the door to transfers of secrets and weapons and militias 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 flags in the virgin soil of some far away land with a gigantic orgasm.
Maybe in those most peaceful of times, during the inspiration that is the Great American Revolution, maybe those were the days? Days when all the people were finally fed up and angry, shouting at everyone over anything. They had too much of everything within their recently deflowered ‘new land, and what would happen if the treasure started drying up? A Promised Land is a Promise, until all Promises are broken. Just like a marriage, Grover snorted to himself when trying to feel better
What had arisen between Mr. Cleveland’s two non-consecutive terms was primarily battling political, social, philosophical, religious and racial ideologies, which would shortly lead everyone into World War I. The greed of this era, over the four years Grover Cleveland was out of office, had ruined the formerly robust economy. The result was a breeding ground of viral fanaticisms, new conquistadors having to cope with the already settled world that all our ancestors used to keep having to fight for.
Now politics was all about money, you see, and Grover Cleveland was perhaps THE BEST at making money of anyone who ever has been, 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 take on The Holy Book.
The Faith that there is no god was a growing, evangelical church. Money is God, the faith in Baphomet entirely. People worship the church of How Dare you Say such a Thing to Me! The church of How Dare you Challenge My Most Foundational Beliefs! How dare you . . .
The congregations are created, mostly, of all these narrow, small thinking and lazy patriots of all different stripes of red white and blue. These are all religions, all the things that give our lives importance to ourselves, therefore giving us 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 Professional victims, the whiners, the broken-as-little-boy men who through a sheer ruthless will to survive will sacrifice anyone and anything for no good reason.
Grover Cleveland’s mind for business did not adapt well to the larger cultural waves and fundamentalisms. Everyone had learned so much due to science and increased literacy. Everyone was a know-it-all these days. Everyone knew everything because they could someday pick up a book and realize that they already knew.
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-mongering 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 stinks off in waves from 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 could only think in repetitious passions, most of them fixated on his childhood revenge against his father.
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 stomps away.
This new lady is twelve days away from giving birth. She takes the child of the future President as he is storming out and 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, again, on the floor. “Here,” he said. “Give me the baby. I’ll take care of it.” Exactly that cold.)
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 her 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 over those last few days before 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 Maria Halpin’s baby dies at ten months old.
There was a small funeral. All the mourners traveled in one carriage, with two stout horses and a jug of port.. 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 perversion.
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 the 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, Anonymous Harrison considered. The boy deserves a chance to 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 bloodthirsty 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. It’s named Benjamin Harrison. 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. It drove Grover into a rage. It was good that Harrison got fired—we need to take this country back to when it was great. We need to shut the fuck up and get back to business!
There was yet another economic panic, the Panic of 1893, and this time it was a swamp that would someday build spread and become 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 fire all those motherfuckers trying to interfere with what he knew was right for America. Cut taxes and make this Christmas a little bit sunnier than it ever has been before. Whatever happened to the richly classed society that tried to keep the riff-raff happy with a handful of cash and more and more to do in order to survive?
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, becoming the third President in thirty-six years to be assassinated.
After that came Uncle Teddy, who requires much more of his own space for another 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 himself.