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In Defense of Rep. Amash and a Very Few Other Republican Apostates

Way back in our high school and college days we passionately participated in scholastic debate tournaments, and although it was considered a nerdish pursuit by most of our classmates it had a lasting salutary influence on the way we look at politics. The sport taught to us to consider political questions with a dispassionate objectivity, carefully weighing the logic of the arguments made by both sides and the validity of the evidence presented, then considering the counter-arguments for any fallacies or false facts that had been presented.
Debates aren’t always won according to these gentlemanly and scholarly rules, of course, even in a scholastic debate tournament and especially in the rowdier and more low-brow public arena. We remember winning a match where our partner argued that there was no need to ban supersonic airliners because they’re flying too fast to cause air pollution, and also recall losing several rounds to even more preposterous arguments. During the last Republican presidential debates the failed casino mogul Donald Trump was declared the victor over Princeton University’s former national collegiate debate champion and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz with nothing but ad hominem attacks and outright falsehoods, and boasted to the press that Cruz wasn’t so tough when the rules allowed for rude and insulting interruptions of his carefully crafted arguments.
Even so, we’d like to think that questions of the utmost public interest can still be settled by facts and logic and respectfully deliberative debate. Which at long last brings us to the current acrimonious “twitter” debate between President Donald Trump and Republican Michigan Rep. Justin Amash.
Trump is by far the more famous of the two, we must admit, but this Amash fellow strikes us as pretty formidable. He’s in his third term representing Grand Rapids and the rest of western Michigan’s third district, and has earned a reputation as a penny-pinching libertarian who will occasionally defy Republican party leadership on matters of Republican principles, even going so far as to vote against spending bills that continue to ratchet up the national debt and to object to trade policies that burden his district with retaliatory tariffs. That was bad enough for some Republican tastes, but a couple of days ago he so far as to agree some with some of the damned Democrats that Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct.
The talking heads on the Trump-friendly networks and radio talk shows and internet “podcasts” all exploded, naturally, but our ears were open to Amash’s arguments, and we found them persuasive. He started off with a succinctly “tweet”-sized statement of “principal conclusions,” which included that: Attorney General William Barr mislead the public about the report by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russian government interference in the last presidential election; the report indicates Trump committed impeachable offenses by attempting to interfere with the investigation; that “Partisanship has eroded our system of checks and balances”; and that “Few members of Congress have read the report.”
Having followed all this stuff with a nerdish obsession we find it hard to argue with a single word Amash wrote, and at this point in the “twitter” wars are glad to see anyone laying out plausible arguments rather than misspelled screeds, and even more heartened to see that Amash correctly wrote “principal” rather “principle,” which even we had to confirm was correct.
Trump had no problem formulating a response, however, quickly “tweeting” that Amash was “a total lightweight who opposes me and some of our great Republican ideas and policies just for the sake of getting his name out there through controversy. If he actually read the biased Mueller Report, ‘composed’ by 18 angry Democrats who hated Trump … he would say that it was nevertheless strong on NO COLLUSION and, ultimately, NO OBSTRUCTION … Anyway, how do you Obstruct when there is no crime and, in fact, the crimes were committed by the other side? Justin is a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents hands!”
Trump’s die fans will surely find it convincing, and gloat that “at least he fights,” but by ingrained habit we glumly note that Trump never seems to fight back except with ad hominem fallacies and unsubstantiated claims. Amash might seem a “lightweight” and “loser” compared to the far more famous and wealthy Trump, but that does’t mean he’s wrong, and he seems to have the better argument. In subsequent “tweets,” all written in “tweet-sized” but according to the Queen’s pristine English and old-fashioned rules of rhetoric, he correctly noted that the Mueller reported cited several lied-about-under oath contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives, at least 10 instances where Trump unsuccessfully tried to quash any further investigation into those contacts. The report then made clear it was constrained by Justice Department guidelines from seeking indictments, and plainly left it up to the damned Democrats and the rare maverick Republican in Congress to decide if any of that constitutes the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that the Constitution considers impeachable offenses. So far, so far as we can tell, Trump and his die-hard fans have no answer but schoolyard taunts and substantiated claims that his critics should be hanged for treason.
We don’t find it convincing, and although Amash is taking the sucker’s route along the high road in the debate we’ll say on his behalf that neither is any of the rest of Trump’s typically illiterate “tweet.”
For one thing, Amash seems admirably on board with what we’ve long considered the great Republican ideas and policies. He’s voted more often than not with what Trump wants, and more impressively has a 99 percent rating with the Club for Growth, a 94 percent rating from Americans for Prosperity, 87 percent with the American Conservative Union, and 85 percent with Heritage Action for America, and there’s no denying he’s better on budget deficits than Trump ever pretended to be. If Trump wants to call him a publicity seeker, which is pretty much the perfect example of the pot calling the kettle black, Amash can convincingly claim he’s chosen a principled way of getting attention.
Amash’s “tweets” have already provoked a primary challenge from a Michigan legislator who describes himself as a “pro-Trump, pro-life, pro-jobs, pro-Second Amendment, pro-family values Republican.” Trump very narrowly won Michigan’s electoral votes in the last election, and is behind in the state polls against all the leading Democratic candidates at the moment, but his inevitable endorsement of Amash’s challenger will surely have some weight in a 2020 Republican primary. Amash is by no means anti-life or anti-jobs or anti-Second Amendment or anti-family values, and especially in that last category we have doubts about how committed Trump is to any of these causes, but these days being anti-Trump is a problem for almost any Republican anywhere, and after winning three elections we’re sure Amash knows that.
The 2020 primary is still more than a year away, though, and there’s always a chance that by that point Amash will be able to proudly campaign as one of the few Republicans who was willing to stand up to Trump. Maybe not, and probably not, but at some point in the further future we expect that principled Republicanism will make a comeback, either before or after the country goes as bankrupt as a Trump casino, and that Amash will have standing to make the arguments. None of Amash’s Republican colleagues have endorsed his views, but for the most part they’ve declined to condemn them, and on both sides of the aisle most of these weather-watching politicians seem to be hedging their bets.

— Bud Norman

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Fox or Not, That Is the Dem’s Question

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg had an hour long “town hall” appearance on the Fox News network Sunday, and he wound up getting a standing ovation from the studio audience and rave reviews from much of the rest of the media. Democratic presidential candidate and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has recently vowed not to appear on Fox News at all, calling the network a “hate-for-profit racket,” which also got much applause from rank-and-file Democrats as well as rave reviews from many media.
So far Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and a fewother Democratic candidates have accepted invitations to appear on Fox, while several other contenders are have joined in the boycott of the network. The primary results will prove who’s made the smarter choice, and we’re not in the habit of giving advice to Democrats but our best guess is that getting coverage from Fox is a good idea.
There’s no denying that most of the Fox opinion show hosts are unabashed apologists for President Donald Trump, but the news reporters tend to play it straight, the “town halls” are conducted by the tough-but-fair Chris Wallace, and any Democratic candidate who can’t handle the hard questions will eventually be exposed by the other networks. Besides, there are a lot of people watching Fox, and some of them might even be persuadable.
The exposure is especially useful for a candidate such as Buttigieg, who is atypical contender even by today’s standards. He’s a mere 37 years old, the mayor of mid-sized South Bend, Indiana, and openly homosexual, and until he became a media darling he was little-known, but he could be a formidable opponent for Trump. His youth shouldn’t be any more an issue than Trump’s advanced age, his political experience exceeds Trump’s, and Trump has no standing to criticize anybody’s sexual behavior. Buttigieg also served in the military, has excellent educational credentials, is well-spoken in eight languages, and is centrist enough that Trump will have a hard time portraying him as a left-wing crazy.
The “town hall” went enough for Buttigieg that Trump was complaining about Fox broadcasting it.
“Hard to believe that @FoxNews is wasting airtime on Mayor Pete, as Chris Wallace likes to him,” a two-part Trump “tweet” said. “Fox is moving more and more to the losing (wrong) side in covering the Dems. They got dumped from the Democrats boring debates, and they just want in. They forgot the people … who got them there. Chris Wallace said, ‘I actually think, whether you like his opinions or not, that Mayor Pete has a lot of substance … fascinating biography.’ Gee, he never speaks well of me — I like Mike Wallace better … and Alfred E. Newman will never be president!”
One hardly knows where to begin finding fault with this “tweet.” There’s the obviously bad idea a major news network shouldn’t be covering a major party’s presidential primaries, for one thing, and Trump’s grousing that he doesn’t get sufficient sycophantic support from Fox is also ridiculous. Trump misspelled the name of Mad Magazine mascot Alfred E. Neuman, too, which is hard for readers of our age to forgive, and readers younger than ourselves probably won’t get the reference at all. Even if some people notice some similarity between Neuman and Buttigieg — which we don’t, by the way — Trump won’t beat the Democrat on handsomeness.
There are surely some Democratic primary voters who will resent any candidate appearing on Fox, but surely many more who will applaud a willingness to wade into what is widely considered enemy territory, especially if the candidates perform as well as Sanders and Buttigieg are thought to have done. Any Democrat who wins the nomination will eventually have to engage with the network in the general election, anyway, so they might as well start now.
Both Sanders and Buttigieg took the opportunity to criticize Fox News’ opinion programs, by the way, and with Trump now badmouthing the network might be able to credibly revive its “fair and balanced” slogan.

— Bud Norman

What You Can Count On

Way. way back in 1959 we were born into a world where our parents and the rest of the country took certain things for granted, but that didn’t last for long. During the first twenty years of our lives everything from hair styles to sexual mores to race relations to rock ‘n’ roll music changed at dizzying rate, and we found it damned hard to keep up with in our formative years. Take a look at any high school yearbooks from 1959 and 1977, or look at the bestseller lists or hit movies or electoral results of the same two years, and you’ll find artifacts of two very different worlds.
Things slowed down after that, and except for punk rock and the fax machines and giant-sized cell phones and other newfangled high-tech gizmos 1997 didn’t seem all that different from 1977. Sometimes history speeds up, as it did during the World War I years that wiped out the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires which had been taken for granted for centuries, but after that it usually slows down, as it did when President Calvin Coolidge promised a post-war “Return to normalcy” for his suddenly world power nation. That led to the hard-drinking and pot-smoking and cocaine-sniffing and otherwise libertine Jazz Age, then the more stoic and religious tGreat Depression, followed by the repeal of Prohibition and then a Second World War, when America was united as never before by an undeniably great and just cause of defeating the Axis powers.
After that, there’s arguably been a cultural decline.There are more out-of-wedlock births, more #MeToo moments and other boorish male behavior, and a far coarser and more profane argument about it.
In the past in we blamed it mostly on the left side of the political and cultural divide, but these days the right seems just an intent on wiping out things we once took for certain.
One of the things we’ve always counted on was the Supreme Court’s Brown v Topeka Board of Education ruling, which ruled that black kids get to go to school with white kids. It makes perfect constitutional sense in light of the 13th and 14th Amendments, and although it caused us some problems in the hallways of our junior high and high school years during the racially-charged ’70s we still think it sound policy. President Donald Trump’s most recent federal judiciary nominees have declined to endorse the decision, however, and they’ve also expressed doubts about some longstanding decisions we’ve come to rely on, including the Watergate-era rulings that allowed the Legislature to investigate the Executive branch, and the very-longstanding Marbury v Madison decision that allows the judiciary to overrule a law clearly in violation of the Constitution.
>We’ve gradually grown accustomed to all the cultural changes, and at this point wish our best to all the bullies from our junior high and school days and our seemingly happily married homosexual friends. Our hope and expectation is that America will continue to grapple its way along, and that a constitutional order will survive.

— Bud Norman

Abortion Back in the News, Darn It

The abortion issue is lately back in the news, and we admit we hate to see it there. Even after so many decades of noisome debate we don’t really know where we stand on the matter, and we notice that the more cocksurely opinionated people on both sides are further apart than ever, and at this point we figure that it will be left to far future generations of as-yet unborn babies to resolve it.
Emboldened by President Donald Trump’s last two appointments to the Supreme Court, the Alabama legislature has passed and the Alabama governor has signed a law that would punish any doctor who preformed an abortion at any stage of a pregnancy with a life sentence except in the case where the life of the mother’s life was threatened, and makes no exception for cases of rape or incest. The law is plainly unconstitutional according to the 1972 Roe v Wade decision, which has been a source of constant contention ever since, but Alabama is betting that a couple of Trump appointees on the Supreme Court will be able to overturn that hated decision.
Meanwhile, the other side seems to be digging into an equally extreme position. Self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders’ state of Vermont has recently passed and signed into law that guarantees a right to abortion rights up to the moment of childbirth, and arguably makes allowances for infanticide, and although the rest of the Democratic party hasn’t gone quite that far it’s still far out on the pro-choice side of the debate.
According to all the opinion polls most of the American public is somewhere in the middle about all this, and as much as we hate to admit we’re common so are we. Our beloved hometown of Wichita was the epicenter of the abortion debate back in the ’90s, when we were working for the local newspaper and local abortionist Dr. George Tiller was performing very early and very late-term abortions, and a very angry anti-abortion movement in this very Christian town caused traffic jams and mass arrests and public nuisances by effectively shutting the practice down for a short while. We’ve never had a serious pregnancy scare — knock on wood — so both our pro-choice and pro-life friends can reasonably claim we have no standing to opine.
They’re probably both right, of course, but we’ll nonetheless stand by our centrist position. We’ve been fortunate to know some very fine women who have shared very personal stories about their first trimester abortions, and our Christin faith tells us not to stand in judgment of them. No matter how it was conceived a fetus is a potential sacred human life, on the other hand, and certainly by the time it could survive outside the womb it is entitled to the full protection of the law.
We’d like to think that America’s political institutions and judicial systems will sort it all out, but we doubt it. The Republicans are currently led by Trump, a thrice-married and oft-bankrupt Casino-and-strip-club mogul who has publicly bragged about his extra-marital love life, and was a staunch pro-choice supporter until he decided to run for the Republican nomination. Meanwhile, the Democrats seem likely to nominate someone who’s openly anti-life. and we hope that’s also not a winning stance.
The matter is more likely to be settled in the courts, but we don’t holda out hope it will end there. Even if those two Trump appointees overturn the Roe v Wade that guaranteed a right to first trimester abortions they won’t dare declare a constitutional right to life from the moment of conception and ban abortions altogether, and if they did it would result in one hell of an uproar. The very best the pro-life Republicans can hope for is that the matter is returned to the states, with Vermont going one way and Alabama another, and all the rest of the states arguing about it endlessly, with at least half of the states sending its citizens to the next state for an abortion, and the Republican Party probably coming out on the losing end.

— Bud Norman

When Nepotism Doesn’t Work

For most of America’s history the public didn’t have to concern itself with what the President of the United States’ son or son-law were up to, but that’s another one of those things you can no longer count on the age of President Donald Trump. Presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and presidential namesake son Donald Trump Jr. were both once again prominently in the news on Tuesday, and neither looked at all good.
Trump ran for president on the promise he would appoint only the very best people, and it’s turned out that the very best person to negotiate Middle East peace and end the country’s opioid crisis and re-invent government happens to be his favorite child’s husband. Press reports indicate that Kushner has also been charged with the tricky task of reforming America’s immigration policies, and that he’s also struggling with that.
Kushner met with the Senate’s slim majority of Republicans on Tuesday, and although it was a closed-door meeting the inevitable leaks suggest it didn’t go well. Kushner reportedly had trouble answering questions about the several million so-called “dreamers” who were illegally brought into the country as children and have since been verifiably blameless quasi-citizens, which is a political problem that a hard-line anti-immigrant Republican administration will need some pretty damned convincing answers for. Kushner reportedly made a case for a merit-based immigration system that would favor highly skilled workers and scientists and engineers, which still seems reasonable enough even as the booming economy Trump routinely brags about needs ever more hammer-swingers and assembly-line workers to keep up with demand, and some well-credentialed and high-tech and Republican-leaning friends of ours are complaining about foreign competition on the job market.
Despite the president’s son-in-law’s best efforts, we don’t think we’re any closer to a much-needed bipartisan reform of immigration law than we are to Middle East peace or an end to the opioid crisis or the reinvention of American government. Trump seems to think that his favorite child’s husband is smart, which we begrudgingly admire, but to us the kid clearly isn’t that damned smart.
Meanwhile, the president’s namesake son has agreed to an another round of grilling from the Senate’s intelligence committee about that “Russia thing” Trump hoped he had put behind him when a special counsel investigation declined to indict him on anything. The special counsel’s report did include some suspicious facts about the contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian operates, notably the meeting that Donald Trump Jr. has admitted taking with some government-connected Russians he clearly understood to be working on behalf of his father’s campaign, and even though the Republicans control the Senate intelligence committee they still have some reasonable questions about that. The younger Trump was able to negotiate that his testimony won’t be in public, but it will be under oath, and given how restive the farm state Republicans are about the elder Trump’s trade wars we expect it will be entirely and embarrassingly leaked to the press.
There are still plenty of people left in prominent political positions who aren’t related to Trump through blood or marriage, on the other hand, so we’ll hold out hope it all somehow works out.

— Bud Norman

Doris Day, RIP

Monday was warm and sunny and gorgeous here in our wholesome hometown of Wichita, so it was sadly ironic to hear about the death of Doris Day. Despite a hard life she made it to the ripe old age of 97, and we took some solace in that, but we couldn’t shake a melancholy feeling that a more warm and sunny and gorgeous and wholesome era of American popular culture had passed away with her.
The youngsters won’t recall, and probably can’t comprehend, but back in the late ’50s and early ’60s of the previous century Day was pretty much the epitome of perfect American womanhood. She was a sweet-faced blond with a fit physique, and a pretty good actress who always played the chaste young heroine being pursued by the lecherous leading man, oftentimes played by the excessively handsome and hunky Rock Hudson. She was an even better singer, scoring huge pop hits with such romantic fare as “Que, Sera, Sera,” “Secret Love,” and “It’s Magic.” In all her public appearances on the talk shows and awards ceremonies she always came across as the all-American girl that every red-blooded American boy fantasized was living next door.
It was all Hollywood hokum, of course. After growing up in less than all-American circumstances Day was married to a wife-beater, then another husband who resented her success and wound up leaving her, and then a third husband who wound up cheating her out of a big chunk of her hard-earned fortune. The excessively handsome and hunky co-star who was her most famous on-screen romance turned out to be homosexual as all get out, and he died of AIDS back in the  ’80s as a result, and by that time the Rock Hudson-Doris Day romantic comedies and her even more romantic pop hits were considered quaint and far out of date. As far back as the early ’60s, the late and great comedian Groucho Marx used to get a laugh by saying “I knew Doris Day before she was a a virgin.”
Even so, we miss the lies Hollywood used to tell back in Day’s day. Better to aspire to the pure chaste love of a Doris Day movie, we figure, than the equally unattainable and far less tempting carnal delights with excessively physically-fit starlets that Hollywood mostly peddles these days.
Day seems to have made peace with the modern world in her later days, even if it had left her far behind, and we’re glad of that. When her dear friend Rock Hudson was dying of AIDS she was outspokenly eloquent about his stellar character, and she did much to encourage a tolerant and sympathetic attitude about the epidemic that was controversial at the time but we still consider very all-American. She was an animal lover who understandably preferred her cats and dogs and horses to any of her husbands or most of the show biz people and fickle fans she had to deal with in her career, and she devoted much of her post-show biz life to the worthy cause of animal rights. When she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004, Day was cited for her activism as much as her by then long-forgotten career as America’s sweetheart.
Given everything, Day seems to have made the most of her 97 years. Her corny movies and mushy pop hits will probably continue to pop up on late night television and the oldies radio stations for years to come, and we hope they’ll inspire some unattainable aspirations of pure chaste love and perfect American womanhood in yet another generation.

— Bud Norman

The First Casualty of the Trade War

Trade wars are good and easily won, President Donald Trump assures us, but we have to admit they make us nervous. Somehow we can’t find a single case in the past several millennia of economic history where a trade war was anything but disastrous and anybody actually won, and with the bluntness Trump’s fans so admire we’ll just come right out and say that we don’t expect his generalship will make his ongoing trade wars come out any better.
Since taking office Trump has been taking on pretty much the entire world, having won the presidency partly on the gripe that the entire world has been taking advantage of America ever since it emerged from the post-World War II ashes as the world’s preeminent economic and military and cultural power, but his biggest battlefront has been with China. On Friday Trump further raised the tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from an already-high 10 percent to 25 percent, which he apparently is allowed to do under the current constitutional order, and before the closing bell on today’s stock markets China is expected to retaliate in kind. The stock markets have been wildly down and then incrementally up throughout the squabble, on fears that Trump is screwing up a carefully built post-World War II international economic order that has for the most part brought increased peace and prosperity to the world and then faint hopes that the great dealmaker might yet deliver on his promise of the greatest deal ever made.
China is indeed a devious trading partner that dumps its excess supplies on world markets and steals intellectual property and occasionally manipulates its currency and exploits more or less slave labor, as Trump claims and even the looniest Democrats agree, so we’ll not deny that a tough negotiating stance is required. Even so, China has emerged from its post-World War II ashes with an economy that is huge by any measure and even bigger than ours by some suspect measures, and it’s a major client of the agricultural and aviation export industries that make up a huge chunk of our beloved Kansas economy, and we’d prefer it was dealt with in a cautious, carefully deliberated way, informed by history and the best expert opinion. Cautious and carefully deliberated and informed by history and expert opinion is clearly not Trump’s style, on the other hand, so for now we’ll remain just as nervous as the stock markets.
We’re just as rank amateurs about all this global economic order stuff as Trump, but with a bravado he might admire we’ll say we’ll go right ahead and say we would have played it differently. China is indeed taking advantage of America in various insidious way, but it’s doing the same to the rest of the world, so we would have availed ourselves of that Leader of the Free World status America’s wiser leaders rightly earned in the post-war years to unite the rest of the Free World and its overpowering economic might against China, which would surely realize it couldn’t take on the rest of the planet, and might even agree to free trade and human rights and full membership in the modern world. Rank amateurs that we are, we note that even the looniest Democrats and the most impeccably credentialed old-fashioned Republican foreign affairs and trade policy experts seem to agree.
Trump is a bolder sort of fellow than ourselves, however, and he chose to take on the rest of the world, so we have no choice but to hope he’s right. His routine renegotiation of the re-branded North American Free Trade agreement has a few billion in upsides for Wisconsin dairy farmers and a few other industries, which Trump claims are the difference between the worst and best trade deal ever negotiated, but it’s currently stalled in the Republican-majority Senate because of the tariffs Trump used in the negotiations that are currently hurting the economies of states held by free-trade Republicans. Meanwhile in the rest of the Free World the European Union is going through a nasty divorce from the United Kingdom. and Trump is taunting the British Prime Minister with sneering “tweets” and threatening the EU with higher tariffs, and demanding they all pay more for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Trump’s Latin American foreign policy seems in retreat in Venezuela, we can’t discern any policy for the “shit-hole” countries in Africa, North Korea is once again conducting missiles test in Asia, where we’re threatening trade wars against everyone, and the possibility of a united front against those undeniably devious Chinese seems remote.
Trump and his most ardent admirers would have us believe that he’s a self-made multi-billionaire who can easily best these Chinese bums in international trade negotiations, but we’ve read enough of the “fake news” to know that he’s a billionaire’s son who’s gone bankrupt six times in casinos and strip-clubs despite house odds and bare breasts, and ran airlines and football teams and scam universities and other ventures in into the ground, and given his well documented business record we don’t trust in his acumen to run an international economy. He’s lately been crowing about all the money his tariffs have been bringing to the federal treasury, but his national economic council director Larry Kudlow had to acknowledge on one of the Sunday news shows that the money is coming from American consumers rather than China, and sooner or later the average Wal-Mart shopper will notice that Trump tells a lot of lies about his trade wars. Our guess is that those wily Cheese have already noticed, and that we’re in for a bumpy ride.

— Bud Norman

Happy Mother’s Day

Thursday proved so eventful in our personal lives that we couldn’t keep with the even more frenetic news of the rest of the world, and Sunday is Mother’s Day, so we decided to republish an essay from ’13 about our beloved Mom.
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A recent pleasant spring day stroll through Wichita’s picturesque Riverside Park took us past the spaceship, and once again we were reminded of Mom.
It’s not an actual spaceship,  just an antique piece of playground equipment that vaguely resembles a sci-fi B-movie version of one, but it’s real enough that our childhood imagination could take flight in it whenever Mom would haul the kids to the park on a summer’s day. On this day there were no children scampering up the series of ladders to the cockpit, though, a consequence of some do-gooder group’s insistence that the entrance be bolted lest some unattended urchin injure himself on the steel artifice, and the spaceship seemed lonesome without them in its belly. We also felt badly for the park’s children, even though they seemed content on the wood-and-plastic and playground equipment that looked just as dangerous and far less inspiring to us.
Sadder yet was the realization of the societal assumption that the children didn’t have an eagle-eyed mother hovering over to keep them from harm.
No noisy do-gooder groups were needed to get us through childhood. Although we suffered from the usual boyish lack of risk-assessment abilities, ever-vigilant Mom had an uncanny knack for plucking us out of danger at the last possible moment. It could be quite annoying, of course, but in retrospect we can see she also allowed us a glorious degree of freedom that must have been quite nerve-wracking for the poor woman. Mom would become frighteningly ferocious when her children were threatened, a marked contrast to her otherwise ladylike behavior, and she was no less protective when confronted with well-meaning busybodies who would have placed limits on our sense of possibilities.
Pardon us if a sentimental Mother’s Day tribute turns into another political rant, but there’s a lot of collectivist do-gooder nonsense that would be entirely unnecessary if everyone had a mother like ours. Countless children could have been spared the dreary and wasted time of Head Start if they’d only had a mother who sent them off to Kindergarten knowing the alphabet and what the letters looked and sounded like, and able to count well past 10, having memorized the family phone number, and possessing a vocabulary that included “precocious.” Mom saw to it that her children were fed, cleaned, clothed, sheltered, and otherwise cared for, and any intrusive social worker who thought he could have done better would have been in for a hell of a time.
Spend all the trillions you can tax, borrow, or print, but you’ll never fund a social program that is an adequate substitute for  a good Mom. Fashionable opinion is fond of an old African adage that “It takes a village to raise a child,” and Hillary Clinton even used it for a book title, but that’s the sort of balderdash that has kept Africa largely poor and backwards. In truth it takes a mother to raise a child, and preferably such a good one as ours. Fathers are important, too, and given current policies that probably requires even more emphasis, but we’ll take that up in June around the time of the U.S. Open Golf Tournament.
This weekend should be devoted to wishing a Happy Mother’s day to all the Moms who have done a fine job of it.

— Bud Norman

The War Between Trump and Congress, and the Ongoing Struggle for the Truth

The longstanding battle between President Donald Trump’s administration and the United States Congress has recently escalated, and by the time judicial branch sorts it all out we expect that no will be looking good.
When special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation without any charges brought against the president for conspiring with the Russians or obstructing justice, Trump claimed complete exoneration and seemed to expect that would end the annoying discussion. Alas, the report included evidence of numerous contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian, most of which the campaign officials lied about, and it documented several occasions when Trump attempted to obstruct justice but was thwarted by his White House staff, so the Democrats were disinclined to let the matter drop.
The Democrats who hold the majority in the House of Representatives have continued to hold hearings and ask hard-to-answer questions, and want full 400-plus pages of Mueller’s released to the public without redactions that apparently concern 16 criminal investigations that the special counsel team turned over to various jurisdictions of the Justice Department, and they’re requesting tax returns and other documents and calling witnesses about the various other Trump scandals that have been in the press. Even the Republican-run Senate intelligence committee is getting in on it, issuing a subpoena to Donald Trump Jr. to go over some earlier testimony about a meeting he had with some Russian operatives at Trump Tower in light of what Mueller’s report revealed.
Trump’s Attorney General is refusing to hand over the un-redacted report and defying a subpoena to testify to the House judiciary committee, Trump’s Treasury Secretary is refusing to hand over Trump’s tax returns or to testify to anyone about why, and Trump himself is vowing to resist everything. The president is claiming executive privilege to prevent the release of the full Mueller report that supposedly exonerates him and stop former White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying about the times he told the special counsel investigation Trump ordered him to either fire the special counsel or otherwise interfere with the probe, he’s backing Attorney General William Barr’s refusal to testify despite a contempt of Congress vote, and we fully expect he’ll resort to any measure to keep his namesake son from testifying under oath.
For now Trump seems to be winning, at least to the extent that he’s not yet been indicted and the Democrats haven’t yet got their hands on the documents they want, but the game is still very much afoot. We’re old enough to remember how President Richard Nixon dragged out the Watergate scandal, and although we were young at the time watched the hearings and read the press reports with rapt attention, and as we recall all the judicial precedents that were set regarding executive privilege and congressional oversight powers are not in Trump’s favor. Sooner or later everything comes to light in American politics, and we assume that Trump has self-serving reasons to keep Barr and McGahn and Mueller and Trump Jr. from facing questions under oath, and even more reasons to keep anyone from looking at his tax returns or those redacted portions of the special counsel’s report.
More worrisome for now is that Republican Senator and intelligence committee chairman Richard Burr signed off on the subpoena for Trump’s namesake son, and at a time when the Republican caucus has become somewhat restive about the president’s trade wars and foreign policy and a few other things that offend traditional Republican sensibilities. Several Republican Senators and all of the Trump-friendly media are calling Burr a “Republican in name only,” which is the worst thing they can think of to call a Republican, but Burr was a Republican when Trump was a registered Democrat and a Reform Party member and an independent who mostly palled around with and made big donations to Democrats, and he’s the epitome of what used to be considered a conservative before Trump redefined the term. When everything eventually comes to light, he might be as well respected by the general public and positioned in the party as the many Republicans who who declined to sanction Nixon’s misdeeds back in the Watergate days.
On the other hand, Trump might well plow through on the unquestioning support of those rally crowds he still commands and the indifference of the broader American public. The last time an Attorney General was cited for contempt of Congress was way back in President Barack Obama’s administration, when Eric Holder refused to cooperate with a congressional investigation in the “Fast and Furious” gun-running scandal, and although all the Republicans were outraged about it the Democrats seemed to share his contempt for Congress and admire his fighting spirit. This time around the Democrats will be outraged and most of the Republicans will be chanting their annoying mantra that “at least he fights,” and the vast majority of Americans who don’t care about all this headache-inducing stuff will be checking the unemployment rate and their retirement accounts.
We’re sure Trump hopes that his two appointees to the Supreme Court will help him prevail when all these various cases wind up, and is especially hopeful about Justice Brett Kavanaugh, but that won’t do much to restore America’s faith in its constitutional order. Trump’s fans will be galvanized against the damned Democrats that attempted coup, his opponents will be all the more eager to support any crazy leftist that runs against Trump and his undeniable craziness, and we’ll see how that turns out.
At least Burr and ourselves and a very few other Republicans old enough to remember Watergate will once again be outraged by presidential power run amok, and some of the Democrats seem to be asking tough questions we consider quite reasonable. Although we no longer hold out hope for either party we retain an old-fashioned faith in God and the free press and the systems of governance and all that eventually brings everything to light.

— Bud Norman

The Real Art of the Deal

For more than 40 years every major party presidential nominee released his tax returns to public scrutiny, but that’s another one of those venerable political traditions that President Donald Trump has flouted. There’s obviously something in Trump’s tax returns he’d rather you didn’t know about.
So far Trump is successfully flouting a Teapot Dome-era law that clearly states Congress can take a look at his returns, but the peskily intrepid reporters at The New York Times have come up with some rather embarrassing documents. The newspaper Trump always calls “the failing New York Times” couldn’t obtain Trump’s tax returns, but the president’s many business dealings over years have required that some of his tax information be released to various state and federal regulatory agencies and publicly-held companies and a public database, and the Gray Lady has succeeded in rounding up enough of it from 1985 to 1994 to infuriate the president.
The documents show that for eight of the ten years Trump paid no federal income tax at all, but he probably doesn’t mind you knowing that. During the 2016 presidential debates democratic nominee Hillary Clinton alleged that Trump had been dodging taxes, and Trump famously replied “That makes me smart.” Most of Trump’s supporters bought the argument that any self-made multi-billionaire who can get away without paying taxes is surely savvy enough to be president, and some even accepted his assurances that he would patriotically fix the tax system he knew so well to prevent any other super-rich rascal from getting away with it.
Trump’s much bragged-about tax bill was especially kind to multi-billionaires, however, and it turns out that the brilliant businessman’s ingenious method of avoiding taxes was losing millions of dollars year after year.
At the same time he was on top of the putatively non-fiction bestseller lists with the ghostwritten “Art of the Deal,” which earned him a reputation as history’s most skillful deal-maker, Trump was losing tens of millions on dollars on soon-to-bankrupt casinos and failed ventures into airlines and professional football and vodka and various other businesses. Over the 10 years the Times could find information about, Trump lost a total of $1.7 billion, and according to a database the Internal Revenue Service makes public some apparently legal reason he lost more money in that time than any other American.
For a while Trump did make millions of dollars by buying shares in troubled companies and spreading the word he was going to make a hostile take-over with his vastly overstated wealth, then cashing in on the brief bump in stock prices, which we have to admit is pretty clever, but the rest of the financial world is also pretty clever and eventually started calling Trump’s bluff. Trump has taken the same bold and blustery and debt-driven approach to governance, and so far it’s worked out well enough, but the rest of the word is pretty clever and is lately calling  Trump’s bluff.
Despite the booming economy Trump brags about the federal government is racking up another trillion dollars of debt every year, with much of it owed to China. Trump is currently waging a tough-guy trade war with China, which seems unimpressed with Trump’s negotiating skills, and the Dow Jones index that Trump likes to brag about dropped 473 points as a result. That great trade deal Trump negotiated with Canada and Mexico currently doesn’t have the votes to get ratified in Senate despite a slight Republican majority, and Trump hasn’t proved much of a dealmaker with Congress, even when the Republicans held both chambers, and especially now that the Democrats rule the House.
There’s no telling what Trump doesn’t want anyone to see in his subsequent tax returns, but when Congress or some pesky reporter or not-yet-born historian inevitably get a look we expect it will also look very bad. In the meantime, we’re trusting more in the genius of America’s mostly free economy and surviving constitutional institutions than we are in the genius of President Donald Trump.

— Bud Norman