I always try to write about alcohol and end up writing about politics whether I like it or not (mostly, I don’t). It’s an easy border to cross: more Brooklyn-Queens than the old West Berlin-East Berlin. There is no Checkpoint Charlie to cross.
With politics always having the ability to make people tense, of course, and alcohol always having at least some ability to appease the worried mind, the connection is by no means new. I don’t want to give it a blanket endorsement (not that it would make a little difference to how much alcohol people drink or why), but there have always been times when a little booze turned out. be just the right amount of coolant for the steaming, sticky mental gearbox that can result from political engagement.
Take, for example, April 22, 1783.
The British were whipped. They had lost the war. The treaty has been signed. All they had to do was get out of the hell of the last part of the now independent colonies they still occupied and return home.
It wasn’t that easy: The three islands (Manhattan, Staten Island, and Long Island, or at least most of it) and the mainland (essentially, the Bronx) were always filled with 23,000 troops – plus 35,000 other loyalists, who had fled to New York after things got too hot elsewhere and had no intention of staying to face the music. The displacement of nearly 60,000 people by wooden boat required planning. Keeping George Washington and his army out of New York while they did, required negotiations.
And, according to General Washington, negotiation – the art of practical politics, about which his current successor knows nothing – has taken cocktails. At least, that’s what William Smith recorded in his diary. Smith, Chief Justice of the Crown Colony of New York, was one of the men who accompanied Sir Guy Carleton, the British Commander, down the Hudson River to Tappan, New York, where General Washington had requisitioned the Johannes DeWint’s house (still standing, by the way) to host the negotiations.
On April 22, after a long day of discussion in circles about all aspects of the evacuation and increasing levels of frustration among all involved, “Washington pulled out its watch,” as Smith wrote, “and observing that ‘it was near dinner time, offered Wine and Bitters. “
Now, I don’t know about you, but after a day of wrangling with hostile losers like Carleton and Smith, I might need something a little more, well, alcohol than “Wine and Bitters.” Practical politics is conflict, and conflict makes me tense, and when I’m tense, I find a Dry Gin Martini to be the shortest distance between two points, and, yes, maybe skimp a little on the vermouth.
Yet George Washington might have had something a little more rigid in mind. “Wine and Bitters”, you see, was an old English drink dating back to the 1690s, when a young London apothecary named Richard Stoughton began announcing that his “Magnum Elixir Stomachicum”, an alcoholic tincture of various bitters and not so bitter herbs which were known as much for their “pleasant (albeit bitter) taste” as for their supposed medicinal value, could be taken in a glass of sweet wine.
Now, while a teaspoon or two of Dr. Stoughton’s “Bitters”, as everyone called his elixir, in a strong, sweet Madeira glass – the kind of wine General Washington was most likely to have on hand – is not Dry Martini, it nevertheless ticks all the boxes for a classic definition of a “Cock-Tail”, as it was first laid out in 1806: alcohol , water, sugar and bitters. Bitters were bitters, of course, and sweet wine took care of alcohol, sugar, and water.
Plus, General’s Wine and Bitter was perhaps even closer to our idea of a cocktail than that: “wine,” you see, meant the fermented juice of the grape, of course, but in popular parlance it was also. the distinguished way of saying “alcohol” – a convention that remained relevant in country music in the 1960s, as any Merle Haggard fan can attest: be it “Wine, Take Me Away” or “Little Old” Wine Drinker Me, ”the Merle wine was singing about was brown and 86-proof, not red or white or (God forbid) rosy, no matter what the lyrics say. Like New Orleans Daily Picayune written in 1844, Wine and Bitters was a “very comprehensive” term that easily extended to include Gin & Bitters or the cocktail itself. While I doubt Washington appealed to its aristocratic guests (as they were) with the rustic whiskey or gin, which still enjoyed a rather sketchy reputation, brandy or rum cocktails would not have been. out of the question. If so, this would be the American cocktail’s first appearance at age 20. First in the hearts of his compatriots indeed.
But I digress. While strong drinks can be used to ease the tensions inherent in politics, it can also be used to ignite them, especially during an election period. Elections can create a world of their own, in which the small concerns and constraints of normal daily life are cast aside in the service of a larger purpose. For those who have succumbed, the only day that matters is election day, the only people that matter are those from your tribe or who may be drawn to it, the only moral principle that matters is winning. The world is in turmoil.
The great Russian critic and philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin called this sort of thing “carnival” after the Catholic holiday (we call it Mardi Gras). Under Carnivalesque, the humble are empowered, normally questionable or even unacceptable behavior is adopted, blasphemy and desecration are tolerated, and taboos are set aside. Hosting a Fox News “Virtual Town Hall” at the Lincoln Memorial? Why not.
Some of the taboos that tend to be ignored are those surrounding alcohol consumption. Before television and, in particular, social media, most of this drinking campaign was done at rallies and party conventions, which were notorious boozathons. For many, the chance to get drunk, spill the tracks and scream their heads with a thousand other maniacs was the purpose of the election, not the actual politics and character of the candidates or the ability to truly turn the world upside down by creating structural change. .
Until Prohibition, in America, it was customary for the candidates themselves (or at least their campaigns) to buy the drinks, whether they were kegs of beer and shots of rye or, in going back further, bottles of Madeira and huge vats of rum. Punch. Not everyone thought it was a good idea. George Washington, for one.
In 1755, when he was 24, Washington ran for a seat in the House of Burgesses in Virginia. He saw no point in “dealing” – buying drinks for – the voters, who were supposed to be proprietary gentlemen like himself, and not a bunch of tavern freelance writers. He lost. (In 1777, James Madison tried the same no-treatment policy, with the same results.)
In 1758, Washington put its principles aside and established 38 pounds and seven shillings of rum punch, cider, wine, and beer (a person could then live on £ 30 a year). The 144 gallons of drinks he bought with it was about half a gallon per vote he received, enough to win. He never ran out of alcohol afterwards, whether for his constituents, his officers or Sir Guy Carleton. For at least a century after his death, most American politicians, members of the Prohibition Party excluded (in 1892, their candidate won 2.24% of the presidential vote; suffice to say).
Things are, of course, quite different today. No candidate could afford to keep his supporters intoxicated for the duration of the campaign, as cable TV and the 24-hour news cycle it brought, then social media and its parchment endless misfortune have prolonged the campaign seasons beyond all reason. limit. And that was before we went and elected Donald J. Trump.
In the carnival world of elections, Trump is a born carny. In fact, on the day of the inauguration, in 2017, he recorded his re-election campaign with the FEC. He’s been running ever since, and pretty much only running – almost everything he has done is geared towards this re-election, unless it is – ah, too bad; you know all this. Let’s leave it to this: all carnival, all the time.
Things aren’t supposed to work that way. Carnival is meant to be a break from a duller, more staid daily life. Turning the world upside down is supposed to work like a snow globe, where you flip it just to stir the flakes and then let them set in. Now they’re in a constant whirlpool, and it’s proving to be extremely stressful.
As we have established, where politics causes stress, a drink can relieve it – only now is it chronic. Political stress has become a habit, and in the carnival life we live in, liquid stress relief has not only become a habit, but something to flaunt; a sign of allegiance to the team, be it “What has Trump done now?” Gin, gin, gin! Or Thin Blue Line brand bourbon.
I’m as guilty as anyone, I guess. Let’s just say I didn’t participate in that “sober October” thing. On the other hand, I hate that drinking has become a thing of desperation and reflex; a political thing, rather than the universal pleasure that it can be, by turns refined and earthy, convivial and contemplative.
Maybe it’s worth thinking about young George Washington and James Madison, before they jump into the program and start drinking alcohol. Maybe it’s time to skip the carnival and leave some of those Martinis in the pitcher. I’m not preaching total abstinence here, just daily, boring moderation. It will be a change, anyway.
So for the record, on Election Day, I’m going to resist the urge to fill a shaker with The Road, a little thing I love to trot when times are dark and named after the post-apocalyptic novel. of Cormac McCarthy (shake two ounces Ardbeg or Laphroaig or another intensely smoked Islay whiskey and one ounce of Fernet-Branca with ice, strain it into a few shot glasses and drink them both).
In fact, the Election Day cocktail I’m going to try is not a cocktail. Maybe I’ll have a glass of sherry instead, something sweet and nice and normal like that. Okay, maybe I’ll splash some bitterness on it …
#Washington #Trump #History #Election #Day #Drinks