Sitting in a cafe in New Ulm having an americano, texting with Daughter who has a snake around her neck, in Brazil. The modern world in all its marvels. I’m here to do a story for the magazine (and newspaper) on a Midwestern Destination, and even though it’s just 100 miles away I’m staying over night. An exciting little break from the workaday week, to put it in the cliched terms I’ll probably use for the article.
New Ulm is one of those towns you see in the Main Street feature, but the downtown’s healthier, and it has an enormous monument on a hill devoted to a German who whupped the Romans. I drove up at 3 and walked thorough the deserted park. It’s closed for the season. But Herrmann is still standing atop the . . . Roman-inspired cupola, facing east, sword raised.
It’s a perfect Midwest small town. Self-contained. It’s the big town the people in the small hamlets on the capillary roads go to, and later complain about the traffic. It has examples of every architectural style that rolled west from the coast; it has history a day-tourist might not realize unless you stopped and read the names on the cornices and visited the museum.
Oh God, some say, the dreaded small-town County Museum. This one was an old post office.
The ground floor was a bit underwhelming: detritus and bric and-or-brac, with little dummies dressed in pioneer child garb, inscrutable wooden implements. But they also had a section devoted to a local boy who went off to fly jets.
They had his childhood drawings of airplanes.
They had his toddlerhood certificate from church-school graduation.
Of course Mom kept it.
They had his Northwest Airlines ticket out of town.
They had a substantial display dedicated to the search for, and the discovery of, his remains in Korean, forty years after he was shot down.
It’s a very American story. All the ephemera gives you a sense of the visual vernacular of the times, the way some things don’t change - kids grow up with dreams, go off to college, come back, marry their best gal - and the way so much changes, from the hats they wore at military school to the typography of everything to the slower pace of their world, which of course they saw as fast and high-tech. Why, there’s an old phone switchboard:
The mysterious codes:
It was the modern world in a larval state, you think - from telecommunications to world-wide war, from jets coexisting in a world where the old weathered men got up on the tractor and broke the earth come spring.
The second floor was all about the county’s contributions to the Great War, and it was fantastic. They had a lot of stuff, and it was expertly grouped and described. You’re even encouraged to pick up a stereogram and look at some pictures.
These are 3D pix, of course. Wooden frame, ground class, the high-tech image cards let you see depth. I looked through all of them. Paris! The Champs Elysee! It’s like being there!
Upstairs was a permanent exhibit on the Dakota war, which raged in New Ulm. Civil war, control for a town - it’s taught, but it never seems to stick out in the minds of European descendants. Yeah, that happened, I guess? Long time ago? Then you walk outside and see the whole town in a different light, imagine the gunfire which happened over there, see a name carved on a cornice that was one of the locals present in DC for the Declaration of War in 1918.
Why is this my state? I wasn’t born here. But I chose it, and I love it dearly.
Including New Ulm. Except for the big dead downtown mall.
That's Wednesday's Bleat.
Part two of this rather . . . extraordinary piece of propaganda.
As we saw last week, a callous American president who represented big business was almost killed in a car accident, and while he was in a coma some angels blew a magic trumpet and turned him into a reformer.
Of course, they start to conspire against him, because any president who’s on the side of the People is surely dangerous and must be removed by extraconstitutional means.
But! He uses his Gabriel powers to discern the plots against hi, and sends letters demanding the resignation of his Cabinet. This leads to a Constitutional Crisis.
Which is nonsense, of course. Then there’s a debate in the House for impeachment because - get this - the President is behaving in a way contrary to his campaign promises.
The President shows up and asks for Four Beeeeeelion dollars to “stimulate purchasing power.” Congress doesn’t like it. And so:
In case you're wondering, the movie intends this to be a stand-up-and-cheer moment.
Of course, there are objections. And so:
Well! That's settled. On to utopia. He passes some “emergency actions,” bans foreclosures, and considers getting everyone to repeal Prohibition - but since that takes too much time work, he just . . . does it. Himself. A Constitutional Amendment: poof!
He gets results, this one! You gotta admit he gets results!
The government sets up liquor stores, and the bootleggers strike back . . . in a way that can’t possibly end well.
That’s right: they tommy-gun the White House. So President Perfect sets up a National Police, with special civilian tanks that look like Klan milkwagons:
They attack the mobsters’ stronghold and blow it to crap. The surviving mobster is judged by a military court:
What’s next? Oh, holding a debt payment conference on a Navy ship, and threatening war if the US isn’t paid what it’s owed. Germany complains that it might burst into open revolution if it has to pay everything right now. Tough! The president says he’s going to have an enormous military buildup, by the way, so hey, make up your own minds.
Unless, of course, everyone wants to disarm? Wouldn’t that be better? Just to show he’s got his heart in the right place, he has two battleships OF THE US NAVY sunk by the Air Force.
Hey this is a great idea! Everyone signs a disarmament pact. The president signs it, and has a heart attack and then he dies. But not before the curtains of his office stir and we hear a trumpet.
This was what the filmmakers wanted: an all-powerful chief executive barking his enlightened commands to the nation via mass media.
Despite revoking the Constitution and all the other actions he has taken, Hammond is not portrayed as the villain of the piece, but rather as the one who "solves all of the nation's problems", "bringing peace to the country and the world," and is universally acclaimed "one of the greatest presidents who ever lived."
The Library of Congress comments:
The good news: he reduces unemployment, lifts the country out of the Depression, battles gangsters and Congress, and brings about world peace. The bad news: he's Mussolini.
Another week; hope I earn your visits. See you around.