As José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori once said, “Poor, Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.” He certainly knew what he was talking about – in the 1830’s, attempting to form a buffer between its Hispanic population and the Comanche nation (whose name, by the way, means ‘anyone who wants to fight me all the time’ in the Ute language), Mexico provided various incentives for White people from the US to move into its sparsely populated northeastern province of Texas. Well, as the old Bedouin proverb puts it, the camel’s nose was in the tent: by 1848, the United States Marines were marching around the Halls of Montezuma, aka Chapultepec Castle, on the outskirts of Mexico City, and the entirety of Northern Mexico, from Texas to California, was part of the USA.
And by 1850, United States congressmen (they were all men at the time) and senators were thoroughly embroiled in the burning question of the day, to wit – in how much of that new territory would White Americans be allowed to own slaves, and where? The debate got hot and heavy, to say the least, culminating in a confrontation in which Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri got up out of his seat and offered Senator Henry Stuart Foote of Mississippi a good old fashion backwoods whuppin’, to which Foote responded by pulling a gun on Benton.
The tradition of America’s federal legislators threatening to maim and / or kill each other over their disagreements (and, on occasion, actually attempting to so so) dates, as might be expected, back to the founding of the Republic. And particularly since the early 1830’s, members of both the House and Senate have, in fact, been mixing it up with remarkable frequency. Back then, the preferred method was to assert a grievance, real or imagined, for some sort of insult to one’s self, spouse, or other family member, then challenge the other fellow to a duel. But such formalities were not, strictly speaking, necessary – jumping a rival in the streets of Washington along with a crew of toughs recruited to perform a nasty beat down, as well as surprise attacks with weapons of sundry sorts, especially canes, either in back alleys, bars, brothels or on the floor of the national legislature were also popular and widespread. When the propriety of such behavior was questioned, the assailants, who generally hailed from the South or the West, would reply that their constituents had elected them specifically to perform such duties in their name at the Nation’s Capital.
By 1856, things had evolved to a point where a day at the US Congress, should a contemporary person view it through some time-machine portal, would remind them of nothing so much as an episode of The Sopranos. On May twenty-second of that year, for example, Representative Laurence Massillon Keitt of South Carolina strode into the Senate chamber, took out a six-shot revolver, and held everyone at bay with it while his colleague, Representative Preston Smith Brooks, beat Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts in the head with a gold headed cane in the name of an alleged insult to Brooks’ cousin, Senator Andrew Butler. When the cane broke, Brooks continued to beat Sumner’s blood-soaked body with the remaining piece. Presumably, the voters of South Carolina were sufficiently satisfied with this act of constituent service. Brooks, who died a horrible death in 1857 from a respiratory condition today identified as a form of viral pneumonia, drew a crowd of thousands at his funeral, and they returned Keitt to the House, where he served until South Carolina seceded from the Union in 1860. And Keitt continued doing what he conceived his constituents wanted him to do right up to the end – in 1858 he started a huge fight on the House floor when a Northern Democrat, Galusha Grow of Pennsylvania, begged to differ with him about whether God Almighty actually approved of slavery. For this perceived insult to the Lord, Keitt attempted to strangle Grow to death, precipitating a brawl that involved at least fifty representatives, and which may well have proved fatal if not for a Deus ex Machina in which a missed punch from Representative Cadwallader Washburn of Wisconsin knocked the toupee off of Representative William Barksdale of Mississippi. When Barksdale turned red from embarrassment, picked up his hairpiece and replaced it on his head backwards, the sight proved so comical that the entire chamber erupted in laughter and the riot spontaneously ended. Barksdale, a wealthy slave owner, became a Confederate general and was mortally wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg. Not particularly popular with this troops, they left him for dead, where he was later discovered lying on the battlefield by the enemy, thus subjecting him to the indignity of dying in a Union field hospital.
And while the Confederacy, General Barksdale and his wig rested in peace after 1865, the same most certainly could not be said for Congress, nor for sympathizers in the cause of slavery, some of whom, in fact, fought for the Union (note, for example, that the Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to Union border states like Kentucky and Maryland). And it was a former Union Army General from Kentucky, one Lovell Rousseau, who liquored up a posse of his buddies with the best bourbon available and had them stand guard with their pistols while he beat Representative Josiah Bushnell Grinnell of Iowa senseless with a steel-tipped cane on the East Front House Portico of the Capitol in June of 1866 over their disagreements about how much power the newly formed Freedman’s Bureau ought to have (none, if Rousseau’s cane had anything to say about it).
And so the rumbles on Capitol Hill have continued since, with representatives and senators making their points of debate with their fists and cudgels when mere words just would not suffice, including, of course, the Mother of All Street Gang Fights on January 6, 2021, which involved the proxies and dupes of a whole passel of senators and representatives, and resulted, not just in the usual life-long injuries in which such congressional shenanigans typically result, but in some very real deaths, as well, and which brought us, in the fullness of time, to more recent events. For starters, just this last week, Representative Tim Burchett of Tennessee got a sneaky elbow shot to the kidneys from (plain old, ordinary) Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, who used to be Speaker of the House (congratulations, by the way, to Speaker Mike Johnson, who has managed to stay in office long enough for my previous blog post to remain relevant until I could find time to write this one).
McCarthy, for his part, denied it, stating that “if I’d given him a kidney punch, he’d be on the floor.” Well, of course, McCarthy is a rough, tough creampuff if there ever was one, and by golly, if he’d meant to engage in some of the deadly street fighting for which everyone in the Central Valley knows he is famous, Burchett would be in the ICU on dialysis, not whining like some wuss to any reporter who will listen to claims that McCarthy is “… a bully with a security detail… the type of guy that when you are a kid, he would throw a rock over the fence and run home to hide behind his mama’s skirt.” When, exactly, McCarthy shows up with his armed posse and a steering wheel lock post to waylay Burchett in the back alley behind a DC brothel and avenge that insult to his honor remains, at this point, to be seen, but both of them being a staunch conservatives, I am confident that tradition will out.
And then, over in the Senate, another incident occurred, on the very same day. (What was it about November 14, anyway? Maybe I should check with a good astrologer about that.) During a hearing held by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Senator Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma challenged Sean O’Brien, a witness at that hearing, and president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters no less, to a mixed-martial arts fight, right then and there, to which O’Brien immediately agreed.
Okay, O’Brien is a Teamster, and they’re Jimmy Hoffa’s old outfit, so sure, why not? It’s well known that Teamsters are up for a fight anytime, just like the Comanche. And given the history of the US Congress, I guess Mullin’s suggestion is hardly a surprise either, although I was severely taken aback by his later comments that, as far as he was concerned, scrotum-biting would have been permissible. To such sentiments, Senator, I dare say, not even the most belligerent member of Congress engaged in that wig-launching fracas of 1858 would have bitten his adversary’s scrotum. No, sir, Senator Henry Stuart Foote may have been ready to shoot Senator Thomas Hart Benton in the face, but he most assuredly would not have bitten him on the scrotum. And although I am certain Representative Preston Smith Brooks was hell-bent on killing Senator Charles Sumner, he would not – I say not, sir! – have resorted to biting him on the scrotum to do so. Senator Mullin, even today, in America, in 2023, as incredible as it may seem, there are certain boundaries that cannot be crossed, and scrotum-biting is one of them! Sir, have you no sense of decency? That Senate hearing was televised, live, on C-SPAN! Had that altercation transpired as you intended, children could have seen you bite Sean O’Brien’s scrotum! Beaten in the head with a truncheon you pulled out from under your desk, yes; strangled to death with your bare hands, yes; but for the love of God Senator Mullin, no scrotum-biting! Not in front of the children!
Fortunately, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont intervened, inserting his wagging fingers and scolding tone of voice into the argument, reminding Senator Mullin of the dignity of his office and his responsibility not to throw down and have a scrotum-biting MMA fight with a Teamster during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. And rather like an enraged pit bull responding to the voice of an experienced animal trainer, Mullin exited attack mode and resumed his usual inane, bestial countenance. Watching it, I almost expected Sanders to produce a treat or tennis ball for Mullin to play with. He didn’t, though. Hopefully, Mullin was not too disappointed. Good boy. Sit. Stay. Ask the nice man your questions, and no scrotum-biting. Bernie, America thanks you for saving us from some serious mortification on the world stage of public opinion.
But counting on Bernie for more minor miracles isn’t realistic, and in fact, since then, I’ve received quite a few requests for free initial telephone consultations from members of Congress pertaining to analysis of, and preparation for serious physical altercations involving America’s senators and representatives. In fact, I even received a call from somebody who didn’t qualify for one.
Tom: Hello? Hello? Who’s this?
AOC: It’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Tom: Representative Ocasio-Cortez! What a pleasant surprise to hear from you again. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Did you find my previous, free advice useful?
AOC: Yes, I did. But that was years ago, and I was thinking…
Tom: Could you hold for a moment while I transfer you to my private secretary in order to schedule an appointment?
AOC: Um… I, uh, can’t really afford one of your appointments, Mr. Collins.
Tom: Well, as your previous consultation demonstrated, my advice is worth the price.
AOC: I know, Mr. Collins, but I simply don’t have the money, and I really, really, need to talk to you about this… problem I have.
Tom: But you could afford to attend the Met Gala.
AOC: Oh no, not that again! I got a free ticket to a charity event and Aurora James loaned me that Tax the Rich gown!
Tom: And you got an ethics complaint filed against you for it. That ticket was worth $35,000.
AOC: As an elected official, the Metropolitan Museum of Art had the right to invite me to the Met Gala as a guest of the museum.
Tom: But the American Accountability Foundation claimed that Conde Nast paid for your ticket.
AOC: Oh, come on, Mr. Collins you can’t be serious! The AAF are a bunch of conservatives who go after progressives no matter what they do. And we progressives can’t just play along! We need to break the fourth wall and challenge the institutions, and that’s what I was doing at the Met Gala!
Tom: Okay, okay, I get your point – you’re just a poor Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx who happens to be getting paid eighty-eight dollars an hour as a member of Congress.
AOC: If you divide my salary by the number of hours I put in, it’s a lot more like forty, and like I said, I don’t have any huge piles of money to tap for fees like yours, like some people in Congress I could mention like…
Tom: Alright, alright, as it happens, I have a few minutes available at the moment. What would you like some free advice about now?
AOC: Protecting myself from physical attacks by Republicans!
Tom: Just Republicans? You sure all the Democrats are good with the way you behave?
AOC: What do you mean, the way I behave? I espouse progressive policies that reflect the majority sentiments of Democrats in my district!
Tom: No need to shout. I was just wondering, don’t you sometimes annoy some your fellow Democrats on occasion?
AOC: Sure, but not to the point they want to attack me! But on the other hand, the Republicans are totally from another planet! Paul Gosar posted an animation depicting my murder, you know. And Ted Yoho and Roger Williams accosted me on the Capitol steps! Yoho called me a [expletive] [expletive]! It’s part of a culture accepting of violence and violent language against women!
Tom: I see. So you want some advice on self-defense?
Tom: In case some Republican, say, like Kevin McCarthy, tries to take out our kidneys with his notorious elbow punch?
AOC: Right, stuff like that.
Tom: Understood. Hmm… would you like to learn how to box? Since you’re a… what… fly weight, or thereabouts, you’d need to learn the in-fighter / swarmer style. It’s actually rather popular with Puerto Rican boxers, you know.
AOC: What’s it like?
Tom: You move in close and throw intense flurries of hooks and uppercuts. It’s a good style for, uh, shorter people with less reach…
AOC: That sounds kind of sexist to me.
Tom: Well, I’m just being realistic. The essence of the swarmer style is non-stop aggression, getting in there and doing as much damage a possible in the shortest available time. Some big Republican lug takes a swing at you and you move in like lighting, give him a black eye in split seconds, then back off and start to bob and weave while he tries to figure out what happened and execute a counterattack. First step he takes toward you after that, you bend at the waist and slip in under his arms and – bam! A quick uppercut breaks his jaw. Sound good?
AOC: Sounds like imperialist-adjacent prizefighting stuff.
Tom: No problem – there are plenty of alternatives. How about Muay Thai boxing? In addition to your fists, you get to use your elbows, knees, shins and feet. The training is a politically-correct full body cardio workout.
AOC: Maybe. Any similar options available?
Tom: Oh, sure! There’s Chinese Sanshou, which incorporates takedowns and throws…
AOC: How about something without punches? I don’t want to break my fingers or anything.
Tom: So you would prefer to go with a self-defense style with a grappling focus instead of one that emphasizes strikes?
AOC: Yeah, I guess so.
Tom: So, okay, in addition to boxing, that rules out Wing Chun, Taekwondo, Capoeria, Savate, Karate, Kung Fu, Lethwei, Bokator, Pencak Silat, Jeet Kune Do, Tajiquan and Vovinam.
AOC: Um… if you say so.
Tom: Let’s see here… assuming you would be attacked by Republican men, you’re too small for Aikido or Shuai-jiao. How about Jujitsu? There’s throws, joint locks, nerve pressure points, choke holds, and submission grips, but no punching to speak of.
AOC: Can Jujitsu be used to take away a Republican’s gun? Because they’re running around the Capitol with them even though they’re only supposed to be allowed to keep them in their offices.
Tom: You learn Jujitsu, and if some MAGA moron pulls a gun on you, you’ll be able to take it away from him, throw him to the floor, lock his arm in a position he can’t get it out of, and put him in excruciating pain by pressing on a nerve at the back of his neck. How would you like to see a video some tourist in the Capitol takes of that go viral?
AOC: But… how long will it take me to get that good at Jujitsu?
Tom: If you work at it every day, about a year, maybe eighteen months.
AOC: And what am I supposed to do tomorrow?
Tom: Well, since I’ve had… several… calls like yours lately, I’ve had a chance to look at the Capitol Police Banned Items list.
Tom: And I’ve identified some options that aren’t on it.
AOC: Such as?
Tom: For starters, nobody can keep you from carrying around US currency, can they?
AOC: No, of course not.
Tom: And nobody can keep you from wearing jewelry, either, can they?
AOC: Well, they better not try.
Tom: So, wear some nice, heavy rings on your dominant hand, and if some Republican bozo takes a swing at you, grab that roll of quarters out of your handbag, and bingo – instant brass knuckles.
AOC: Back to punching again, huh?
Tom: Just a thought. Of course, that handbag could have a sturdy canvas bag full of pennies in it instead. Take that out and hit him upside the head with it – instant blackjack.
AOC: Hit him in the head with a bag of pennies? Would that work?
Tom: Sure it would, if you had the strength of your convictions and hit him hard enough. Tell me, how mad would you be if some Red State fascist tried to give the slap down?
AOC: I don’t know; sounds kind of dicey. I’d rather hit him in the head with something more substantial.
Tom: Okay, no problem. You know what a Zoot suit is?
AOC: Of course I know what a Zoot suit is, I’m a Puerto Rican! My grandfather had one.
Tom: Right. So get yourself a big old Zoot suit pocket watch with a five foot steel watch chain and put that in your purse to hit some GOP bastard in the head with when the time comes.
AOC: Won’t something like that raise the suspicions of the Capitol Police?
Tom: A, it’s a watch. B, you’re a member of Congress. C, they let Lauren Boebert run around the Capitol with a a nine millimeter Glock. How could they possibly not let you bring your reloj de bolsillo del abuelo into the Rotunda?
AOC: Still, a Zoot suit watch is a conspicuous anachronism, to say the least.
Tom: Very well – how about you hillbilly up an umbrella?
AOC: Do what?
Tom: “To hillbilly” is a verb phrase invented by our troops in Iraq when they noticed their Bradley armored vehicles were insufficiently armored to withstand IED explosions. So they improvised heavier armor for them, as a rustic Appalachian might improvise improvements on their vintage muscle car. So, you hillbilly up an umbrella. You go buy a sturdy, full sized umbrella, and then go to one of the URLs I could send you that shows how to replace the shaft with a steel pipe, put a sharpened point on it with a removable plastic cap that conceals the hexagonal blades, and so forth. Then, when you mix it up with Republican bully boys in the cloak room, you can beat them or stab them, depending on how many there are and what weapons they are using.
AOC: Sounds like something out of a graphic novel.
Tom: Maybe so, but those Web sites are real, and so are the weaponized umbrellas.
AOC: Anything else you could suggest?
Tom: Yeah. It’s retro, but maybe that’s what could make it a trend.
AOC: What are you talking about?
Tom: I’m saying, while men no longer wear hats these days, it is still socially acceptable for women to wear hats, and moreover, to wear them indoors.
AOC: You’re saying I should wear a hat indoors? What kind of hat? A baseball cap?
Tom: No, no, a girly, feminine hat – one large enough to require a hat pin.
AOC: A hat pin? Talk about my grandfather’s pocket watch! Now you’re suggesting el alfiler del sombrero de mi abuela! And okay, I know what I’m supposed to do – wear my hair in a bun and stick the damn thing through it to hold a big floppy hat on my head. But if it’s big enough to poke some MAGA idiot with, won’t it set off the metal detectors everywhere I go in Washington?
Tom: Take it out and put it in the bin with your car keys. The point is, they won’t take it away from you. How could they, when the Republicans are running around packing heat? And look at it this way – sixty-three years ago, a Democratic president refused to wear a hat during his inauguration and it set off a men’s fashion trend that’s still going today. Maybe it’s time for a woman Democrat to start another one and bring back big ladies’ hats.
AOC: A fashion trend? Interesting thought.
Tom: I might add that some knife fight training could improve the effectiveness of the hat pin.
AOC: Oh, I don’t think that will be necessary.
AOC: Once those guys get a look at it and think about where I might stick it…
Tom: Oh, yeah, come to think of it, that could be pretty scary, especially considering the masculine insecurities of the typical MAGA moron. So you want to go with the hat pin, then? Until you master Jujitsu, that is.
AOC: I donno, I kinda like the umbrella thing, too. And now that I’ve had some time to consider it, I think I’m going to get a pumpkin and see what I can do to it with a canvas bag full of pennies. Muchas gracias, Señor Collins.
Tom: De nada. Literally.
AOC: Very funny. Goodbye.