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South Boston Town Council moved decisively to impose a 10 cent-per-pack tax on cigarette purchases in town by voting 4-1 in favor of the levy Monday night.

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Less is Moore / December 14, 2017
When USA Today debuted in 1982, it ushered in the modern newspaper era with its full-color page designs, easily digestible charts and graphics and a snappy writing style that owed more than a little to the superficiality of TV news. The paper also introduced an innovation I always despised: the daily opinion page, taken up by a staff-generated editorial, “Our View,” and a guest piece, usually written by folks situated somewhere on the continuum between expert and hack, titled “Opposing View.” The combination made for a mealy-mouthed, chin-stroking, self-consciously bland take on the day’s news. Needless to say, the USA Today editorial page model spread far and wise, to the newspaper industry’s everlasting woe.

So you can imagine my surprise when I came across Wednesday morning’s USA Today and saw this sentence in the lead editorial:

“A president who’d all but call a senator a whore is unfit to clean toilets in Obama’s presidential library or to shine George W. Bush’s shoes: Our view.”

Hey, that’s my view too! I don’t know who slipped the Red Bull into the water coolers at USA Today, but hoo boy, the opinionators at McPaper were on fire this week, calling Donald Trump “uniquely awful,” “sickening” and “corrosive to the enterprise of a shared governance based on common values and the consent of the governed.” Not bad for a paper so studiously neutral it has refrained from making presidential endorsements over the entirety of its four-decade existence.

What set off this epic smackdown was Trump’s tweet Tuesday morning in response to New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who called on Congress to investigate the president for multiple allegations of sexual misconduct and assault prior to taking office. (Among the particulars, Trump is accused of waltzing into the dressing room of the 1997 Teen USA Pageant as young girls were in various states of undress. Eight years later, while appearing on The Howard Stern show, Trump told the radio shock jock about making unannounced dressing room visits at the pageants he owned, and how he would “see these incredible looking women, and so, I sort of get away with things like that. But no, I’ve been very good.” Trump was speaking specifically about the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, where the female contestants were adults.)

Of course, after Gillibrand lit this fire, the Leader of the Free World once again showed he is too thin-skinned to ever let a criticism pass: “Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office ‘begging’ for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump,” wrote Trump.

Well, hey, you gotta love the insinuation that Gillibrand “would do anything” coming from a president who, literally, will say anything, no matter how dishonest, reckless or mean-spirited. USA Today’s evocation of the word “whore” is a fair description of what Trump was getting at in his jab at Sen. Gillibrand. Trump’s disgraceful conduct in office is a stain on America, but at least it has had the salubrious effect of turning perhaps the most milquetoast editorial page in the country (only one part, it should be said, of what is overall an excellent newspaper) into a fiery cauldron of seething anti-Trumpism. Well done, USA Today!

On the other hand, this controversy is so 48 hours ago. In the tempest of Trump-time, one might as well be talking about an eternity. So let’s turn the page and catch up with events in the present day, which still consisted of 24 hours last I checked.

As these words were written, that timeframe encompassed Tuesday night, when the returns from the senate election in Alabama rolled in. Perchance you’ve received the news of what went down in Alabammy by now?

Just this: It was the Roll Tide-War Eagle-Shot Heard ‘Round The World election shocker for the ages, with the Republican nominee, Judge Roy Moore, losing in one of the reddest states in America to Doug Jones, who becomes Alabama’s first Democratic U.S. Senator in 25 years. After Trump went all in for Moore — endorsing him despite credible allegations that Moore preyed on teenage girls while he was in his 30s — the verdict for the president and the Republican Party in defeat was crushing and swift: “Moore Loses, Sanity Reigns” (New York Times); “It’s not just scandal; Moore lost because the GOP agenda is toxically unpopular” (; “Trump’s Moore endorsement sunk the presidency to unplumbed depths” (George Will, The Washington Post); and perhaps my favorite, “Thank You, Alabama” (Post lead editorial.) To the 670,551 Alabama voters (at last count) who struck a mighty blow for decency, reason and plain common sense by sending racist theocrat and child sex predator Roy Moore into long-overdue retirement, yes, thank you very much indeed.

Shocking political events such as the Moore-Jones race are good for countless analytical pieces separating the main players into “winners” and “losers” (the latter camp includes Trump and Moore, of course, with other oft-mentioned luminaries that include Steve Bannon and Mitch McConnell), but the dichotomy, though easy to follow and fun to read, really doesn’t get at the gravity of the current moment in America. Any country with a major political party willing to field the likes of Roy Moore and Donald Trump for high political office is plainly a country at dire risk of losing its soul along with its mind. (This is especially true when said country has only two major political parties, as is the case in the U.S.) America is both the loser and the winner with the Alabama election, a split decision made possible by black voters, millennials, women with college degrees and assorted others banding together to beat Moore and saving America’s bacon.

Over time, the political trends on display in Alabama will prove increasingly brutal for Republicans as the party’s aggrieved, Fox-ified base passes into the sunset and a more open-minded electorate takes over. But this is old news. What is new about Alabama is the depth of embarrassment and disgrace the GOP has visited upon itself that is plain for everyone else to see. I write these words advisedly, living in a rural, conservative area where Republicanism is the presumed mainstream creed and being a Democrat is mostly something only for black folks and a few stray oddballs. What’s a middle-aged white man like me doing after all, voting Democratic? That’s never been a difficult question personally, but it is — or has been — a vexing choice for many others. And yet the passage by increasing numbers over to the Dem side is becoming less fraught each day. And why not? The Moore-Trump axis of absurdity that defines the modern-day GOP flips the whole idea of social acceptability on its head, forcing the obvious question: why would anyone in their right mind, white, black, brown or purple, vote Republican? If you think that question is posed in bad faith, take another look at the returns in Alabama and consider how many people must have asked themselves the same thing on Election Day.

It will come as no surprise if Tuesday night’s outcome marks the effective end of the Trump presidency. Aside from the own-goal that the Republican Party scored in squandering the Alabama race, this newest setback for the GOP eats away at the notion that Trump can do anything that suits his yawning emotional needs without paying a penalty. Plus, for someone who promised so much winning, the president sure is looking like a laughingstock these days. According to The New York Times, “Mr. Trump’s first reaction to the Democratic Party’s win — which he absorbed while in the White House residence, alone for much of the evening, with the first lady out of town — was a demure Twitter post congratulating Doug Jones.” Maybe I’m imagining things, but it sure seems like The Times is having a little fun at Trump’s expense here, perhaps as payback for his ceaseless attacks of “fake news.” The Times report surely must mark the first time in the recorded history of humankind that the words “Mr. Trump” and “demure” have appeared together in the same sentence. In the description of a Twitter post, no less. When the snickering starts, the powers of the presidency suddenly start to look manageable in a box as small as 140 characters. Demure or merely demented, this could be all that Trump has left.

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