From left: Donald Trump, Hope Hicks, and Vince Lombardi | Credit: Shealah Craighead, The White House, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

COUNTING SNOWFLAKES IN A BLIZZARD:  Where is Vince Lombardi when you really need him?  Lombardi, dead now more than 50 years, remains famous not just for his granite-jawed and gap-toothed grimace, but for making the Green Bay Packers — the football equivalent of wet toilet paper before he arrived — a dynasty with which we still reckon. In other words, he put the cheese in the cheese heads. 

Lombardi will live on into infinity for having upended the mewling acquiescence of sportswriter Grantland Rice, who famously encouraged underachievers everywhere by writing, “It’s not whether you win or lose; it’s how you play the game.” Lombardi, a take-no-prisoners modernist, famously countered with his now-immortal “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”  

He didn’t just say it; he said it a lot. Lombardi, I am told, borrowed the phrase from onetime UCLA football coach Henry Russell “Red” Sanders, who reportedly delivered that line unto a physical education class he was then teaching at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo back in 1950. 

To the extent this column has any local tie-ins, that’s it right there.

I mention Lombardi having watched much of this week’s January 6 House Select Committee hearing, the season finale for those of us inclined to ingest reality as if it’s a TV show you can stream. As we all know, the committee recommended Trump be criminally prosecuted for four serious crimes. The crimes enumerated all involved multiple instances of aiding, abetting, comforting, inciting, assisting, obstructing, and impeding the peaceful transfer of power for which the United States — after successfully passing the presidential baton 46 times now — is legitimately respected.

Lombardi and his now-celebrated 11th Commandment popped to mind when we heard from the alliteratively alluring Hope Hicks — one of Trump’s many former close advisors — during the hearing. Hicks testified that she cautioned the ex-president not to spend so much time trashing the results of the 2020 election. Think of your legacy, she counseled. No one remembers your legacy, retorted the Grinch. If you lose, he said, no one remembers anything. 

“The only thing that matters,” Trump proclaimed, “is winning.” 

As aphorisms go, that leaves something to be desired. It’s a glob of wet dough without the magic of yeast. There are no trumpets and drums to stir the soul. No muted fifths or augmented sevenths to make you wonder. No hidden bubbles of carbonated surprise. Even Richard Nixon, when forced from office in disgrace, managed to reach for the stars. 

“Always remember, others may hate you,” Nixon stated with surprising insight, “but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them back.” 

Had Nixon — one of the great haters of his time — ever heeded that advice, it’s fair to say, he never would have needed to deliver that speech. 

Hope Hicks made the most of her limited time on the screen. Hers were the revelations that sounded fresh and new. They got through the drone of the din. Hicks testified how she exhorted White House attorney Eric Herschmann to urge Trump to call on the semi-armed mob he’d summoned to protest peacefully. Herschmann, she testified, replied he’d already had done so. Multiple times. The president, Herschmann told Hicks, had refused. 

Yes, it’s yet another snowflake amid a blizzard. But it’s a big wet one. 

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What happens next — will charges actually be filed? — is anyone’s guess. Like pretty much everything about Donald Trump, it’s all unprecedented yet it keeps on happening. 

Based on recent poll results, it seems to appear the bloom has faded from the rose even among die-hard Republican voters. To the extent Republicans have waged any defense, it’s been to take issue with the term “insurrection.” It was more like “an undisciplined mob,” they insist. Some people, they concede, rioted. Some even committed “acts of vandalism.” 

I’d say it was more like a herd of cattle getting stampeded by some cowboys who knew exactly what they were doing, why they were doing it, and for whom they were doing it. As far as vandalism, I’d ask, how many cops died in connection to the attack? Four? Five?

It depends on how you count the suicides afterward.

How many officers were injured?


That’s vandalism? 

We are told this was the first and only time violence was deployed to stop the peaceful transfer of power in this country. Unprecedentedly unprecedented. But it’s hardly the first time someone stole — or tried to steal — a presidential election. 

Maybe George Bush “won” against Al Gore, but no one will really know because the Supreme Court stopped the count and awarded the victory to Bush. 

Yes, Hillary Clinton beat Trump fair and square by three million votes, but she lost fair and square in the Electoral College. 

And what about John Kennedy, who beat Richard Nixon in 1960 by a measly 0.17 percent of the vote? Nixon and many others were convinced Kennedy stole the election and there’s solid evidence of vote-counting irregularities in Chicago that tilted disproportionately in favor of Democratic candidates. But a scholarly examination of those results conducted 25 years after the fact demonstrates those irregularities weren’t sufficient to have altered the outcome. Nixon — like Gore — backed off waging a challenge for fear of precipitating a constitutional crisis.

That’s two for Tricky Dick.

The real election to look to now was the too-close-to-call nail-biter of 1876 in which Republican Rutherford B. Hayes squared off against Democrat Samuel J. Tilden. Hayes was described un-admiringly at the time by no less than Henry Adams as “a third-rate non-entity whose only recommendations are that he is obnoxious to no one.” Tilden was similarly summed up by newspaperman and politician John D. Defrees as “a very nice, prim, little, withered-up, fidgety old bachelor.” 

Although the fidgety old bachelor cleaned the clock of the third-rate non-entity in the popular vote, the electoral vote proved too close to call. That’s largely because four Southern states reported both candidates had won. Underlying this confusion was the wholesale terrorism that then rained down upon would-be Black Republican voters. In South Carolina, no fewer than 150 Black Republicans were prevented from voting by murder. That same state also reported a voter turnout of 101 percent.  

It was like that. 

Ultimately, the impasse was resolved in some smoke-filled back room; the Republicans agreed to remove any remaining federal troops still deployed in the South — to protect former slaves freed during the Civil War — thus bringing the period of Reconstruction to an abrupt and bloody end. Democrats, in turn, would surrender enough electoral votes to Hayes so that he could claim victory by a margin of 185 to 184. This compromise would mark the beginning of a nonstop terror and mayhem for slave descendants who hadn’t left the South. Of the 6,600 Black people lynched in the South between the end of the Civil War and 1950, 4,400 were killed after that election. 

Maybe we need a big asterisk when we say January 6 is the first and only time violence was used to block the transfer of power. 

In the meantime, Donald Trump can be excused for not measuring up against the likes of Vince Lombardi. Who can? But maybe he should look instead to Paul Brown as his muse. Notwithstanding Lombardi, Don Shula, Bill Walsh, or Bill Belichick, Brown remains without a doubt the greatest football coach who ever lived. He was a revolutionary who revolutionized the game. A certified genius and visionary, he infused the sport — for good and for ill — with all the ruthless corporate efficiency of IBM. But as a time when the NFL was whiter than the KKK’s bedsheets, Paul Brown made a point to embrace Black players. That’s why he won so much.  

On the subject of victory, Brown would advise discretion. “When you win, say nothing,” he counseled. “When you lose, say less.”


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