Michael Warren Davies contends that American politics might be less rancorous and divisive, if only our leadership class had a drink and mellowed out.
Here’s a not-so-fun fact. Did you know that, in the 21st century, all but one of the American presidents have been teetotalers? …
If any readers can still recall those halcyon days of the Obama administration, they might remember Mr. Obama’s famous “Beer Summit,” which he hosted in the Rose Garden between Cambridge police officer James Crowley and Harvard lecturer Henry Louis Gates. Sargent Crowley (who is white) had arrested Professor Gates (who is black) for breaking into his own home. At their symposium, it’s said that Mr. Obama opted for a Bud Light and Sargent Crowley a Blue Moon. Professor Gates correctly enjoyed a Boston-brewed Sam Adams Light.
This simple gesture—kindred spirits meeting over kindred spirits—resolved the worst race relations crisis of the Obama years. “I have always believed that what brings us together is stronger than what pulls us apart,” the president said afterwards. “I am confident that has happened here tonight, and I am hopeful that all of us are able to draw this positive lesson from this episode.”
Here’s what I learned: politics and booze absolutely do mix. In fact, alcohol is to politics what gin is to vermouth: the only thing that makes it palatable.
What a shame then: just when we need it most, Americans are disabusing alcohol at alarming rates. Our countrymen—particularly Gen-Xers and Millennials—are becoming what scholars call “sober curious.” Their unwholesome experiments with healthy eating and regular exercise are spilling over into the realms of liquor and tobacco.
What’s really perverse is that Big Booze has begun to embrace the trend. Corporate breweries are now launching alcohol-free versions of their signature broths. Heineken has even launched “Heineken 0.0,” meaning you can now have all the joy of drinking horse urine without any of the pleasant side effects.
Alcohol inspires courage, frankness, and conviviality in the drinker—three traits sorely lacking in Washington these days. That’s why statesmen have always paired their beer or bourbon with a pipe, cigar, or cigarette. Tobacco elicits a meditative mood in the smoker. It enlivens the mind while soothing the nerves, making it a natural aid to conversation. How many unnecessary wars have been avoided, or necessary ones declared, thanks to old white men in high collars banging on ale-sodden tables and shouting through a fog of cavendish fumes? How can we hope to restore good government without first restoring the pint and the pipe?
Really, it’s no wonder that a generation of politicos that refuses to indulge in such homely vices have ushered in the most rancorous political culture since the Civil War. I don’t like this habit we’ve developed of comparing modern progressives to the Puritans. It’s an insult to our Pilgrim Fathers—who, one might add, carried more beer than water on the Mayflower.
Nevertheless, if you take a whole generation of middle-class professionals and deprive them of whiskey and cigarettes—not to mention meat and cheese and bread—it’s no wonder they should go about tearing down statues of Abe Lincoln as part of some moral crusade against “systemic racism.” The modern Left has the same bossy, superior air as the scolds and Suffragettes who gave us Prohibition.
It’s not that they insist on being unhappy. Real sorrow suits them no better than real joy. These extremes of human feeling, to which alcohol makes us quite vulnerable, both seem beyond them. They’re horribly self-possessed, self-assured—in a word, sober. What’s worse is that they expect the rest of us to be sober, too.
I long for an America that’s too happy and too sad to really take itself so seriously. That’s what we need now more than anything: to sit down for a beer in the presence of our enemies, trip over a stool, and laugh at ourselves.
It’s hard to blame Messrs. Bush, Trump, and Biden for their teetotalism. All three have pretty good excuses for abstaining. Still, I can’t help but feel that Americans deserve leaders that will set a better example.
Winston Churchill, for instance. Pol Rogers, the purveyors of Churchill’s favorite champagne, claim the man drank 42,000 bottles in his lifetime. Friends said that, like Harry Truman, he would begin each morning with a “whiskey mouthwash” before having his first glass (or three) of Pol at breakfast. FDR’s own intake was nothing short of heroic. Yet biographers recall that, after a meeting with his British counterpart, Roosevelt would have to sleep 10 hours a night for three nights in order to recuperate from “Winston Hours.”
Together, Churchill and Roosevelt whipped Adolf Hitler and saved Europe from fascism. What have our abstemious elites done lately?
Emma Hughes, in the inestimably excellent Country Life, looks at the literary cure for the common hangover.
First, she quotes Kingsley Amis’s description of the unhappy problem:
‘Dixon was alive again,’ it begins, with biblical solemnity. ‘Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning.’
Of the proposed cures, myself, I’d prefer Papa Hemingway’s formula:
If Jeeves’s remedy is the liquid equivalent of a rap on the knuckles, Ernest Hemingway’s is a karate chop to the kidneys. True to form, he christened it Death in the Afternoon. ‘Pour one jigger of absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness,’ he instructs—and then, even more ominously: ‘Drink three to five of these slowly.’
Death in the Afternoon
This one might sound tempting in the wake of Christmas parties, when you’re feeling festively emboldened and actually have the component parts to hand. However, all but the steeliest are likely to take one look at the noxious brew and heave it straight down the sink. Still, the very act of mixing a Death in the Afternoon is guaranteed to perk you up a bit—if only because it reminds you that things could be an awful lot worse.
Jonathan Malesic has an interesting article, in Commonweal, on the hard times and drinking culture of The Anthracite Coal Region, focusing on my hometown’s Northern neighbor: Wilkes Barre.
On a typical Friday afternoon during my time in Wilkes-Barre, after the curriculum-committee meeting adjourns, my friend G. and I walk across the street to a bar whose name is variously spelled Senunasâ€™, Senunasâ€™s, or Senunaâ€™s. The place isnâ€™t busy yet. We cross the ceramic-tiled floor and settle in at two stools at the corner of the bar. Weâ€™re flanked by solo drinkers, men watching other men shout at each other on ESPN. The TVs are muted and closed-captioned to clear aural space for the jukebox, not that anyone has spared a dollar to make it play.
We each place a ten-dollar bill on the bar and order a lager. We donâ€™t say â€œYuengling lager,â€ because in this region, where itâ€™s brewed, that would be redundant. The bartender, M., is a student of mine. She pours our beers and slides our glasses in front of usâ€”each of them an ounce or two short of a pint. She picks up our tens and then sets down a stack of bills and coins totaling $7.75 in front of each of us. The other men sitting at the barâ€”all of us white, paunchy except for G., and between thirty and sixty years oldâ€”have similar stacks in front of them. …
Halfway through our drinks, M. sets shot glasses, upside down, in front of me and G. The grey-mustached drinker has just bought us a round, and the shot glasses signal what weâ€™re owedâ€”and what weâ€™ll owe. M. pulls four singles and two quarters from his stack.
Now I have to talk to him. And not just through this round. Two rounds, because now Iâ€™m on the hook for one. I canâ€™t bail after I finish the one he buys me. At least, I think I canâ€™t. That would violate the way of things here. Owing him ties me to him. And I donâ€™t want that tie. I would much prefer to settle the debt immediately, or even to act as if I donâ€™t know how this economy works, say thanks as I get up off the stool to leave, and forget I owe him anything. Instead, I grit my teeth, buy him a round, and bear it. We make small talk: sports, work, where weâ€™re from. M. takes a few dollars and coins from my stack. I leave her the rest.
I never initiated this sort of exchange. On a different day, at a different bar, I would walk away without reciprocating. And, over time, I did that more and more. When I finally moved away to Dallas, Texas, miserable in my academic job and ready to follow the career of my Berkeley girlfriend, now my wife, I was several beers in the red.
The desire to belong is incongruous with the individualistic culture of Americaâ€™s elite.
Throughout my years in Wilkes-Barre, I believed the area had no culture. But I was mistaken. What I didnâ€™t realize was that drinking alcohol is culture. …
Iâ€™ve never had a beer at my new upper-class parish in Dallas, surrounded by office towers and condo complexes. The relative lack of binding customs in the urban brewpubs and $15 cocktail bars of this sun-blasted â€œglobal cityâ€ signals a thin, flattened-out drinking cultureâ€”of a piece with a thin, flattened-out culture here overall. In the sort of bar I go to now, straight guys donâ€™t buy rounds for other straight guys they just met. Thereâ€™s only one unwritten rule: leave each other alone. The smartphone helps enforce this taboo. It allows educated urbanites to go to bars and carry on conversations with their closest friendsâ€”only they canâ€™t clink glasses by text message.
Wow! $2.25 for a draft beer back there. When I was young, you could get a beer anywhere in Shenandoah or Mahanoy City for 15Â¢, and I knew bars in Shamokin where you could get F&S beer for 10Â¢ a glass.
Thousands of U.S. soldiers depleted all of the beer in Icelandâ€™s capital over the weekend.
More than 6,000 soldiers were in Reykjavik for four days participating in the Trident Juncture 18 â€“ a NATO-led military exercise. After their drills, the troops reportedly visited the cityâ€™s downtown bars, where they finished off the entire beer supply.
According to Icelandinc magazine Visir, the brewery Ã–lgerÃ° Egils SkallagrÃmssonar had to send emergency beer cases to the bars.
Vanderleun tells how he used to drink with Hunter Thompson.
I used to run a magazine (Organ) in San Francisco back in the 70s. I ran it out of the basement of a firehouse in North Beach under the offices of Scanlanâ€™s magazine. Scanlanâ€™s was the scam magazine of Warren Hinckle, a man whose record of conning money out of Bay Area millionaires stood unbroken for decades until the arrival of David Talbot and Salon and silly philanthropists that mistakenly married fanatic feminists.
Warren liked to drink and spend other peopleâ€™s money on himself and writers. Naturally, such a honey pot was going to attract Hunter Thompson. Thompson liked to drink, snort coke, and spend other peopleâ€™s money on articles he might or might not write. Sometimes the small staff working with me and the larger staff working the con with Warren at Scanlanâ€™s would decide to drink together. We liked to drink at our bar of choice up at the end of the alley, Andreâ€™s.
And so one night, when Hunter was in town, we all went up to Andreâ€™s for a non-stop night of drinking. …
Recently, I saw a conversation between a few women I follow on Twitter about Fiona Apple, who was profiled by Vulture last month. In the course of her interview, Apple mentions that sheâ€™s stopped drinking, but has started smoking more weed instead: â€œAlcohol helped me for a while, but I donâ€™t drink anymore,â€ she says. â€œNow itâ€™s just pot, pot, pot.â€ This was the part of the interview the women were discussing. â€œFiona Apple: Cali sober??â€ one wrote.
The term â€œCali soberâ€ here refers to people who donâ€™t drink but do smoke weed, though internet definitions vary slightly: Urban Dictionary says it means people who drink and smoke weed but donâ€™t do other drugs; an essay by journalist Michelle Lhooq uses it to refer to her decision to smoke weed and do psychedelics, but not drink. While the term is new to me, the behavior it describes is not. …
Metro.co.uk reports that an academic study finds that people become more racist and homophobic when they have been drinking.
Alcohol acts as an â€˜igniterâ€™ to people expressing their prejudices in the form of violent hate crime, researches from Cardiff University said.
They interviewed 124 people attending accident and emergency with injuries from violence in three multicultural British cities.
Of these, drunkenness accounted for 90%, while 23 victims considered themselves to have been attacked by people motivated by prejudice.
Seven said their appearance was the motive, five claimed racial tensions within the community was to blame, three mentioned where they live and eight were attributed to the race, religion or sexual orientation of the victims.