Recent Grenadian History Revisited

Going deeper down the Grenada rabbit hole I fell into just a week ago, I recently learned of a limited series podcast titled The Empty Grave of Comrade Bishop. I’m only two episodes in (episode 5 released on November 15) and I am completely absorbed. The title of the podcast isn’t clickbait–it’s literally the truth. Forty years after he and members of his cabinet were lined up against a wall and machine gunned to death the whereabouts of their remains is still unknown.

It has been fascinating to revisit the early 1980s as this podcast does and hear just how often Ronald Reagan talked about this little island in speeches, as well as animosity at least one leader of Grenada’s revolution had for Reagan. The episodes I’ve listened to so far went into some depth regarding Eric Bishop’s predecessor as prime minister, Sir Eric Gairy. His iron-fisted rule of Grenada, which stretched back before it achieved independence from Great Britain, was enforced by the Mongoose Gang. The descriptions of this group of thugs with police powers reminded me of the Tonton Macoutes of Haiti under Jean-Claude Duvalier.

Listening to episode 2 in particular, it was sad to see how quickly Bishop adopted the rhetoric of Gairy, even if he didn’t go as far as forming a secret police. Bishop’s rule in Grenada ultimately ends in gunfire either as a result of unwillingness to share power, not being extreme enough in his embrace of Cuba and the Soviet Union, rivalry and jealous within the New Jewel Movement, or some combination of all of the above. I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the series and what else I can learn from it.

The Muscle Memory of Surrender: A Brief History of the Modern GOP

All of these smart Republicans who frankly did not understand how thoroughly corrupted their party had become, or the fact that if you cave in over and over again, you develop a muscle memory of surrender, and it’s hard to get back.

Charlie Sykes, The Bulwark Podcast, November 9, 2023

The quote above effectively summarizes the modern history of the GOP. Given his pre-Bulwark history in Wisconsin, perhaps he should have explicitly included himself in that collection of smart Republicans. Syke’s interview with McKay Coppins just one week earlier on his new book Romney: A Reckoning served as a speed run of recent GOP history of how far and how quickly the party moved away from those so-called smart Republicans many years before they actually realized it. Syke’s interview with Coppins actually jogs his own memory around 17 minutes into the interview that he actually had Donald Trump on his radio show at the time back in 2004.

When I listened to the interview, Romney’s book sounded like an extended attack of conscience regarding his own role in paving the way for the GOP to move even further to the right. To me, Mitt’s father George looks much better than his son by comparison because at every possible point, Mitt looked at the choices his father made (and the negative political consequences of those choices) and decided not to follow his father’s example. George Romney turned around a struggling automaker in Detroit in the 1950s. George Romney supported the civil rights movement, even trying and failing to prevent the GOP from surrendering to the likes of Barry Goldwater and his ultimately successful efforts to push black voters out of the GOP. George Romney served the Nixon administration as HUD secretary, trying to increase the supply of housing available to the poor and to desegregate the suburbs, but was deliberately undermined by Nixon in many cases.

His son Mitt by contrast wrote a New York Time op-ed titled Let Detroit Go Bankrupt in 2008. In his 2012 run for president, he famously told a private audience of wealthy campaign donors that “Obama backers will vote for the president ‘no matter what.’ Romney said that they account for ’47 percent’ of voters and he does not ‘worry about those people.'” Also during that campaign, Romney actively solicited the endorsement of Donald Trump–who was still actively fueling the birther conspiracy about Barack Obama at the time. Coppins cites numerous earlier examples of choices he consciously made in the interest of political expediency. A couple that stand out (though not as baldly and badly as seeking Trump’s endorsement):

  • taking a pro-choice position to win the gubernatorial race in Massachusetts despite his personal opposition to abortion
  • talking about “repealing the death tax” as an applause line to an audience filled with people who would never have to pay it

The interview goes on to talk about Romney bowing the knee to Trump in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to be appointed Secretary of State (effectively because he didn’t bow the knee far enough and publicly repudiate all the negative things he had said about Trump).

Perhaps the clearest indicators of the lack of understanding of the so-called smart Republicans that Sykes would criticize the following week can actually be found in the part of his interview with Coppins when they talk about who wins the GOP nomination in 2012 and 2008. Coppins expresses the belief (and Sykes seems to agree) that the turn of the GOP was a sudden one when in fact it was not. Here’s what Sykes says per the transcript:

You know, it occurs to me that his nomination in 2012 in many ways was a false indicator because, the party had already begun to change dramatically, but we were able to tell ourselves as conservatives that the center would hold that this was still the party that would nominate George Bush and John McCain and Mitt Romney. So it’s not the party of Pat Buchanan. It’s not the party of Don[ald] Trump. I mean, they’re there, but there’s a reason why, you know, people like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich don’t ultimately win. Yes.

Charlie Sykes, The Bulwark Podcast, November 2, 2023

Sykes is at minimum 4 years too late in identifying the “false indicator” election for the GOP nomination. The John McCain who won the GOP nomination in 2008 was a far cry from the man who ran in 2000. The John McCain of 2000 who specifically (and correctly) named Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as agents of intolerance on the political right was replaced in 8 years by a version who made peace with them, and cemented their support by choosing Sarah Palin as his vice president. What I was not aware of at the time, was that Palin was known commodity among the ardently pro-life in the GOP. Mitt Romney placed a distant third in pledged delegates in the 2008 GOP primary, behind Mike Huckabee. In 2012, Romney would follow McCain’s playbook in staking out hard right positions (for political expediency) to beat his contenders for the GOP presidential nomination only to be defeated when voters didn’t buy his attempts to move back to the center for the general election. As Romney (and others in the GOP) would demonstrate again and again in subsequent years (through the Trump presidency to the present day), having power was more important than having integrity.

Now, even one of those in the GOP who briefly showed sufficient spine to vote in favor of impeaching Trump for his role in the January 6th insurrection has begun to develop his muscle memory for surrender. Peter Meijer, one of 10 House Republicans who did so (and was ultimately defeated for re-election as a result), has pledged to support the Republican nominee for president in his current run for the Senate–going even further to say that Joe Biden had done more to disgrace the office of the presidency than the man he voted to impeach just a couple of years ago.

Meijer is no worse than the current pretenders for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024. Nearly all remaining contenders pledged to support Trump even if he is convicted on one (or many) of the 91 different felonies he has been charged with. One angry social media outburst from Trump and the House speaker candidacy of Tom Emmer (notable for his relative lack of surrender to Trumpist priorities) went down in flames. His replacement–Mike Johnson–is unknown and inexperienced as a legislator, but was one of the key advocates of the Big Lie regarding the 2020 election and still to this day refuses to acknowledge that Joe Biden won the election. Even as Trump-backed candidates and priorities continue to cost them victory after victory in ballot initiatives (like the one in Ohio that put the right to abortion into the state constitution) and in elections (like the ones in Virginia that saw Democrats retake full control of the General Assembly and the Kentucky gubernatorial election that kept the Democrat Andy Beshear in power and rejected the Republican state attorney general Daniel Cameron), the GOP’s muscle memory for surrender to its most extreme elements is too strong for them to break.

Grenada: Nobody’s Backyard

I learned a lot from this episode of Throughline about an invasion that happened when I was just 9 years old. It provides a ton of context and backstory of what was happening on the island in the decades leading up to the invasion. What I didn’t realize until I looked it up was how close in time the invasion was to the Marine Corps barracks bombing in Beirut (just 2 days earlier). In the clips of Ronald Reagan speeches played during the episode, it was interesting to hear anti-communist rhetoric as the rationale for invading Grenada just a few years before the scandal we call Iran-Contra would be brought into the light.

Other Caribbean nations (Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, and Jamaica actually played a role in the invasion as well. Jamaica sent 150 troops via an Air Jamaica 727 who served in a peacekeeping role well after U.S. troops arrived. All six nations also voted against the U.N. resolution condemning the invasion. A UPI piece I found lists Barbados and Antigua as also providing soldiers for the invasion while St. Lucia, Dominica, and St. Vincent sent police officers. The same UPI piece does a good job of putting the U.S. invasion of Grenada in historical context, noting that Haiti and the Dominican Republic were invaded and occupied for multiple years on 3 separate occasions during the 20th century.

Rhymes with 9/11

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes

Mark Twain

I could not have anticipated that what I wrote on the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 attacks regarding how this country really treated its Muslim population (residents and citizens alike) would be relevant again so soon. I won’t claim any special insight into the Middle East, or the latest war between Hamas and Israel–but the response of the U.S. government, U.S. politicians on both sides of the aisle, U.S.-based mainstream media, and everyday citizens looks more and more familiar with each passing day.

Balbir Singh Sodhi (a Sikh, not even a Muslim) was murdered 4 days after 9/11. His killer proceeded from there on a non-fatal shooting spree against a gas station clerk (a Lebanese-American) and at his former home (previously purchased by an Afghan family local to Mesa, Arizona). Little more than a week after Hamas’ attacks on Israel, a Chicago landlord stabbed two of his Muslim tenants repeatedly, killing 6-year-old Wade Al-Fayoume.

As recounted in Spencer Ackerman’s Return to Little Pakistan, Muslims in Brooklyn began receiving business cards from agents of the FBI and INS, and NYPD officers asking to be called as soon as possible to answer questions. We would later learn that the NYPD would illegal surveil Muslims both inside and outside New York City for over a decade after 9/11, not generating a single lead that exposed any terrorists or prevented any attacks in all that time. The LAPD tried and failed to follow New York’s lead in 2007. Just one day after the Biden administration announced plans for the DOJ and DHS to partner with campus police to track hate-related threats, Ackerman reports that the ADL is urging college and university administrators to investigate campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine for “potential violations of the prohibition against materially supporting a foreign terrorist organization.”–without providing any evidence of such support from any chapter of this organization. The same organization whose Center on Extremism claims to “strategically monitor, expose and disrupt extremist threats” removed the notorious Libs of TikTok account (and Chaya Raichik, the woman behind it) from their extremism list after she threatened a lawsuit. This isn’t even the first retreat of October 2023 for the ADL, having resumed advertising on Twitter after Elon Musk threatened to sue them for defamation the month before.

To oppose the open-ended Authorization for Use of Military Force that would enable military operations in no less than 22 countries (including the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, and war in Iraq, and detention of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba) was a lonely endeavor that came with death threats, insults, and hate mail. While there is almost certainly more (and growing) opposition to the IDF bombing campaign in Gaza than there was to the US invading Iraq, any sympathy at all for unarmed Palestinian civilians unaffiliated with Hamas (or any other militant group) has come with consequences like firing from jobs, revocation of job offers, threats of deportation from Donald Trump, and a Senate resolution condemning specific campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (per Ackerman’s reporting).

Our country treated the 9/11 attacks as an existential threat–a thing that could cause the U.S. to cease to exist. That mindset regarding the threat of terrorism rationalized not only the bipartisan sacrifice of civil liberties named the Patriot Act within our borders, but “a worldwide policy of detention and interrogation”, ultimately resulting in the death of innocents as explored in documentaries like Taxi to the Dark Side. As of May 2023, the military prison at Guantanamo Bay still holds 30 detainees–some still await trial, some being held indefinitely facing no charges and without recommendation for release.

The threat to Jews both worldwide and within Israel itself is very real. Anti-semitism–whether here in the U.S. or abroad–is never far beneath the surface. Not much time has passed since the former president defended neo-Nazis and others protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue as “very fine people”, or since the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh killed 11 and wounded 6 worshippers–including Holocaust survivors. As with the U.S. and the countries we attacked with military force in response to 9/11 however, the difference in military power between Israel and those who threaten it is substantial. Depending on which reports you read, between 5000 and 10,000 Palestinians have died in airstrikes from Israel’s military–the vast majority of those women and children. This death toll–the vast majority of them civilians–will only grow. The civilian death toll during the so-called Global War on Terror is orders of magnitude larger. Prior to the latest attacks by Hamas, Israel was holding over 1200 people in detention (virtually all Palestinians) without charges or trial. Per AP’s reporting, Israel’s military justice system is what Palestinians are subject to, not unlike the military tribunals used at the Guantanamo Bay prison to try terrorism suspects.

Unlike the U.S. military, Israel can’t leave where it is. It can change its policies and its leaders, but not its neighbors. I have no idea what the answer is to whether or not Israel and the Palestinians will ever be able to co-exist in a status other than “cold” war or hot war. But the ways Israel’s response to October 7 rhymes with the US response to September 11 probably mean we’ll be asking that question for a long time.