Published in the Times-Advocate, 1994
Allen Polk Hemphill
Now, in the middle of the 90s, perhaps it is time to propose a descriptive name for the decade, much like the 80s were described as the "Decade of Greed". For the 90s I propose, "The Decade of White Trash."
We have Roseanne as the most popular woman on TV, Madonna as arguably the most popular singer. We have TV talk shows that trumpet "Men Who Seduce Their Wifes Mother". We have Tanya Harding, and Lorena Bobbit -- and we have a President who is crude, rude and lewd. Sam Donaldson, asked on This Week With David Brinkley if he believed the Paula Jones story, was forced to admit that the Presidents history made the charge credible whether it was true or not. After all, this is a White House that had a position established to handle "Bimbo Eruptions" -- in the words of the Clinton appointee who held the position. It seems that having a compliant press ignore Jennifer Flowers, the White House was prepared for future eruptions, and the staffer in charge of "Bimbo Eruptions" was surprised with Paula Jones, about whom she had not heard. It would be interesting to depose her about what names she was prepared to defend against.
Tom Arnold, Roseannes sometimes husband made the defining comment on this decade when he described himself and Rosanne as Americas worst nightmare: "White Trash with money." That certainly describes Rosanne, Madonna and President Bill Clinton.
President Clinton is an enigma -- a man selected to be a Rhodes Scholar, though he never graduated, who brags in public about the Astroturf in the back of his El Camino, who answers questions about his underwear on national TV, who remarks about the high cheekbones of a reporter after bristling at her question, and, if the Paula Jones lawsuit has any validity, is unbelievably crude in his approach to women. I believe that the count of Arkansas State Troopers who have claimed that then Governor Clinton used Troopers as procurers almost 100 times has risen to four, including the President of the Arkansas State Troopers Association.
No one will ever know with certainty what happened to Paula Jones in that hotel room, but as even the Presidents supporters admit, there is a history of zipper problems that give the incident some instant credibility. The charges that Paula Jones makes are apparently so graphic that the details cannot be printed in the mainstream press, but what has leaked makes the encounter appear very, very crude. The charges are that the President did not attempt to seduce Paula, but rather made a crass frontal approach asking for what the Los Angeles Times refers to in an unrelated story as a "perfunctory sex act." The White House defense is that the story is not credible because that approach is "not his style", which begs the question -- what is his style? Discreet is not a word that can be associated with the Presidents behavior. There is more than one letter difference between "class" and "crass".
But that kind of an approach is consistent with a populace that gives Ricki Lake, Geraldo and Donahue a nationwide TV slot to showcase trash? A nation that no longer treats crudity as an aberration, but celebrates the crudity and raises it to celebrity, even Presidential, status.
This is the decade whose demeanor is best described by a bumper sticker that trumpets "..... Happens", and its symbol is the California Highway Salute -- the raised middle finger. If things bother us -- they no longer annoy, they "suck." Our society can no longer distinguish between art and a crucifix immersed in a jar of urine.
It is appropriate that Bill Clinton is our President in the 90s. Rush Limbaugh jokingly warned more than a year ago that the Clinton family would eventually make the Carter family look "positively Presidential", but we all thought that Rush was referring to the antics of Brother Roger and their father. The most embarrassing part of the family appears to be the President himself.
Our nation is suffering from a surfeit of teenage pregnancy, AIDS, drive-by shootings, drug abuse -- the list is endless. The people we have selected as our cultural and political icons reflect the diminution of civility in our society.
The egalitarian movement has succeeded in equalizing the society to a common denominator that is indeed common.
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