Not for nothin’, but you heard it here first

From left, Walter Shapiro, Callie Crossley, Richard ("Ric") North Patterson and Charlayne Hunter-Gault nailed the Trump presidency during an Islanders Write panel in 2017. — Siobhan Beasley

President Trump saved his worst for last — hopefully — as he careens out the door in the next seven days.

As White House staffers and administration bigwigs beeline for the exits and Trump’s social networks go dark, a comment made here in 2017 by veteran presidential watcher Walter V. Shapiro comes to mind.

Speaking at an Islanders Write (IW) political panel on August 13, 2017 at the Old Grange Hall in West Tisbury, the Roll Call columnist said he’d been playing a favorite scenario in his head:

“It’s the morning of January 20, 2021, Inauguration Day, and Donald Trump is alone in the Oval Office. Most of the furniture and all of his retinue is gone. He’s watching ‘Fox and Friends,’ his last bastion of support, and now Fox has turned on him, leaving him screaming at the TV set all by himself,” he said.

Turns out Shapiro could be spot-on. It also turns out that Shapiro, and fellow panelists WGBH’s Callie Crossley and Island author and political savant Richard (“Ric”) North Patterson also got it right 3½ years ago. The discussion, under the guiding eye of moderator Charlayne Hunter-Gault, was titled “We Can’t Make This Up,” and kicked off the 2017 Islanders Write conference, presented by The Times and Martha’s Vineyard Arts & Ideas magazine.

After seven months of international pratfalls and domestic unrest coming from the Trump White House, amid multiple investigations of potential wrongdoing by Team Trump, the Sunday night audience was clearly hoping for specific good news, but the panel put the brakes on those hopes.

On successful political action to remove the maverick: “If you are thinking impeachment or Article 25 [removal of a president due to inability to perform the duties of office], forget it. That’s pure fantasy. Congress has no appetite for that,” Patterson said at the time.

Crossley, a deft gatherer of public opinion and perspective for her public broadcasting venues, described the political elephant in the room. “I’m looking at the folks on his side who should be able to coalesce and stand up, but I don’t see it happening. Something bad happens, and we say ‘Now they’ll act,’ and nothing happens. They’re going to be pushed to the wall [before taking action],” she said.

On effecting political change: Hunter-Gault said the game plan of civil rights activists of 50 years ago applies. “We just kept coming back. You have to keep coming back,” she said. 

Crossley added, “This is a long game; we have to keep coming back and be public punching bags for a while. If you get tired of it after three or four months, you are not involved.”

The Georgia Senate results this month bear that out, as the efforts of Stacey Abrams, John Ossoff, et al., turned defeat in 2018 into victory in 2020.

Learning from the past: Democrats adjusted in 2020. Shapiro said in 2017 that 2020 campaigns had to be run on “kitchen table” issues. Republican strategists were saying they hoped Democrats run on Russia, rather than on jobs and the struggling Trump agenda, he said. “People don’t care about Russia. They care about jobs and health insurance, and Republicans don’t want the focus there,” he said.


Jack Shea is a freelance writer for The Martha’s Vineyard Times.