Another What-If Episode

Many of the old television shows that used to take up far too much of our childhood would occasionally encounter a creative lull about mid-season and resort to the old gimmick of having the characters transported by harp music and a wavy dissolve into some alternate reality. What if the guys at WJM had met the irresistible Mary Richards when they were single, or Felix and Oscar had never met? What if Gilligan or the Skipper had bothered to check the damned weather forecast before that three-hour cruise?
The Republican Party’s reality show of a presidential nomination race was reduced to the same hackneyed formula Thursday night, inviting viewers to imagine the storyline without the love-him-or-hate-him star-of-the-show-as-always Donald J. Trump. Being on the booing-and-hissing side of the divide of the show’s fans, we happily accepted the invitation.
If you’ve been binge-watching the series thus far with the same rapt attention as ourselves, you already know that Trump wrote himself out of the script because the episode was being broadcast by the Fox News Network, which always elicits booing and hissing from the left and is now the hated by the supposed savior of the right because it employs Megyn Kelly, a most comely and seemingly competent broadcast journalist who had the lese majeste in an earlier to episode to ask Trump about his longtime habit of calling her less comely sisters by such names as “‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals.'” When Trump responded afterwards that the seemingly calm and undeniably comely Kelly had “blood coming out of her eyes” and “blood coming out of her wherever” it seemed to us to prove her implied point yet nonetheless improved his poll numbers, and viewers will recall it it was one of the highest-rated episodes ever. Trump declined the long-anticipated sequel, with all his fanzines proclaiming it a stroke of tactical genius, and next Monday night’s much-anticipated “Iowa Caucus and Actual Voting” episode might yet prove it so, but we’re hopeful the next episode will reawaken to a different storyline.
Trump might have reasonably calculated that he would be all the more conspicuous by his absence from Thursday night’s episode, but he was only mentioned in passing. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the main rival for the love-him-or-hate-him starring role, got some laughs by doing some Don Rickles shtick and saying “that concludes the Trump portion,” and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is the embodiment of the hated “establishment” hovering over the whole series even in the harp-music-and-wavy-dissolve transition to an alternate reality, sounding quite reasonable and even statesmanlike as he noted the higher tone of the proceedings. For the most part, it was pleasantly easy to close one’s eyes and imagine what it would have been like in an “It’s a Wonderful Life” where Donald J. Trump had never been born. All the candidates would still be talking about the unavoidable costs of both illegal and legal immigration to be weighed against their widely doubted benefits, there would still be same unavoidable discussion about Islamic terrorism and all the other international problems the Democrats don’t seem to want to talk about, there would d be the same talk about free markets and individual liberty, only without all the bragging by the front-runner about the politicians he’s bought off and the powers he would seize, the hated “establishment” would still be hated no matter how reasonable and statesmanlike it sounded, and the storyline would still be lively enough to generate some ratings.
Even in the would-be world of Thursday night’s debate there was a love-him-or-hate-him character in Cruz, and although we’re inclined to love him we think he got the worst of his first night in the crossfire. His opening bit about Trump’s tiring insult comic act played well enough, but a later attempt at ironic humor seemed to backfire when the audience didn’t seem to get his joking threat to leave the stage if he got any more tough questions. His reasonable arguments for his consistent resolve on illegal immigration inevitably got bogged down in talk of amendments and parliamentary procedure and all that stuff that even federal neophytes are bogged down with, and his blunt talk about those ridiculous ethanol subsidies that are so beloved in first-in-line Iowa and hated everywhere else probably did him little good in Iowa but boosted him past the absent Trump everywhere else, so some blows were clearly landed. He came off with the requisite ratings-grabbing feistiness, and landed a few blows of his own here and there, but he probably should have more relished the villain’s role.
There were some good lines by the unimportant New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the bumptious but establishment guy, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the establishment but bumptious guy, and even the loony libertarian Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, and as always we thought retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was quite good with his brief few lines, and Bush somehow didn’t come across the least bit villainous, but the surprising co-star of the night was Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Longtime fans of the show know Rubio was the handsome and youthful character who was once the true-blue conservative hero of an earlier season but then fell in with the Gang of Eight who conspired to unleash the immigrant hordes upon America, and has since been on a mission of penance, but he made a good accounting of himself. He swore his newfound toughness and noted the similarly evolving position of the anti-immigrant horde Trump, who bravely chose to not be around to defend himself from the undeniable charge, and he rightly noted that he was at least more anti-immigrant horde than Bush or any of those other guys, and he bogged Cruz down in all that talk of amendments and parliamentary procedure, and he wound up sounding more electable in a general election than the rest of them.
After the next round of harp music and slow dissolves we’ll be back to real world where there really is a Donald J. Trump, and all that entails, and by late Monday night or early Tuesday morning we’ll find out how the story resumes. We’ve also been watching the Democrats’ mini-series, which is weirder yet, and we’re starting to worry that might be the weirdest of these reality shows.

— Bud Norman

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What To Read on a Dreary Winter Night

These are the times that try men’s souls, what with the cold winter nights and the over-heated days of politics and economics and culture and the rest of the bad news blowing by, so our first instinct is to curl up in bed with a good book. Lately our preference has been for P.G. Wodehouse and S.J. Perelman and Evelyn Waugh and similarly fatalistic humorists of the even drearier past, but we always advise the young folks that there’s also something to be said for more sober fare.
In our meanderings around the internet we happened upon the reading lists that students at the supposedly top colleges in the United States are now dutifully poring through, and all in all we were happily surprised. Based on the reports we’re reading from academia and the impression we’ve gleaned from conversations with its more recent graduates, we’d assumed that all that was required for a degree these days was a smidgen of politicized science and some multi-cultural mathematics along with a passing familiarity with such commie agitprop as “A People’s History of America” and “Wretched of the Earth,” along with a representative sampling of fiction from the ever-expanding universe of racial and sexual identities. The reading list does confirm these suspicions in some cases, but the young-uns are also getting some sterner stuff.
Apparently the most-taught work of fiction at America’s colleges is Mary Wollstonecraft-Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” with Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” coming in a close second, which is somewhat worrisome. Not that they’re bad books — we thought “Frankenstein” a fun-to-read and better-than-the-movie horror story with a few interesting philosophical implications when we picked it up the summer vacation after sixth grade, and we found all the flatulence and fornication in “Canterbury Tales” most amusing when it was assigned to us in junior high, so we won’t deny them their rightful place in the Canon — but we suspect they’re on the list for the wrong reasons. It’s not just that a college student should have already surpassed our sorry-assed inner-city junior high’s requirements well before entering a “top university,” but also a nagging suspicion that Wollstonecraft-Shelley is mostly there because she’s a woman, albeit a white woman from a certain high class and ornate literary tradition,  and because she’s offering a cautionary tale about science and all the rest of that worrisome western civilization stuff, and that Chaucer is still there despite being not only dead and white but also male only as a reminder that white men were always telling smutty jokes.
We also note, with a Wollstonecraft-Shelley sense of horror, the complete absence of William Shakespeare from the most-taught lists of any of the “top colleges” in the United States. Although we grant that The Bard is about as dead and white and male as an author can get, well, c’mon, he’s still The Bard. If even he can’t crash the glass quota ceiling, what chance we do we still-living yet mere mortal white males stand of getting a future reading? And that’s not to mention academia’s apparent complete lack of familiarity with The Holy Bible and its even more formidable author.
We have not read the most-assigned history text, “America: A Narrative History,” by George Brown Tindall and David Emory Shi, but we’re going to tentatively assume it’s commie agitprop, and nor have we read the second-most assigned, Anne Moody’s “Coming of Age in Mississippi,” which is described as “a memoir of life by an African-American woman in Jim Crow America,” but while we don’t doubt that it’s a worthy book neither do we doubt why it supersedes other worthy books about the broader American history. “The Communist Manifesto” is the third most-taught history book, and top title in sociology departments, which made sense when we read it way back in the Cold War days to familiarize ourselves with the enemy’s wicked ideology and wily ways, but in these days of Bernie-mania it’s probably offered as a how-to manual.
Still, we found some solace in the broader reading list. Plato’s “Republic” is somehow the overall most-assigned text at the supposed “top ten” colleges, despite his deadness and whiteness and maleness, and although his ancient Greekness might earn him some some sympathy from the homosexual lobby we’d like to think he’s there as a starting point for the best of Hellenic thought. Number two is Thomas Hobbes’ “The Leviathan,” which is most surprising and especially pleasing to us. Most surprising because Hobbes is just as dead and white and male as Shakespeare as ever was, and especially delightful because we recall arguing with some adjunct teaching assistant and annoying Rousseau-ian fellow who hangs out at Kirby’s Beer Store haranguing about peak oil and how humanity’s gone downhill ever since agriculture and how we all need to get to back to the caves, and when we quoted “The Leviathan’s” old line about life in a state of nature being “nasty, brutish, and short,” which we usually use only when telling mother-in-law jokes, he sneered at us and scoffed that “Nobody reads Hobbes any more.”
Coming in at number three is Niccolo Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” which seems so timely we’re not altogether surprised. Although he’s also dead and white and male, Machiavelli was the first to explain the “Chicago Way” that has defined the past seven years of the Obama administration, as well as the methodology of the front-running Republican candidate who hopes to succeed it, and we expect it will be useful to students in all majors from business administration to community organizing. Downright stunning is the fourth-place finisher, Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations,” an extraordinary work of scholarship that frankly describes western civilization’s unavoidable conflicts with other cultures, including the ones that are usually politely left unmentioned in most of academia, and doesn’t recommend capitulation. If even one righteous man could have redeemed Sodom and Gomorrah, perhaps such a righteous book as “Clash of Civilization” will spare even modern academia from God’s wrath.
Our well-worn copy of Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style,” still occupying a place of honor on our reference book shelf, right there next to the “Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual” and “The Complete Hoyle,” also takes its place as the fifth-most assigned book in academia. We have mixed feelings about that, as we think that the venerable pair’s rules of plain English represent a vast improvement over the current academic jargon and jibber-jab, but we also think they’re sometimes plain to the point of Amishness. Aristotle’s “Ethics” comes in sixth, continuing the lessons of that dead white male Hellenic thing, and we’re glad to see that. Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” comes in seventh, and we freely concede that we have not read that yet, although the title sounds intriguing and we eagerly await the movie showing up on Netflix.
Another happy sight on the top ten is Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” which describes a ruggedly individualistic and rapidly expanding nation of free association and town hall government and a European-galling whisky-swigging and church-going capitalism, a happy time before the Chicago Way took over. The ninth and tenth spots went to “The Communist Manifesto” and Aristotle’s “The Politics,” respectively, and we’d like to think that at least evens out.
They’re still teaching Max Weber’s thesis on “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” at Princeton, along with Thucydides and Henry Kissinger, and Harvard top pick is Martin Luther King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” with all its dangerous talk of God and natural law and resisting unjust laws of government but not undermining the very notion of law, and we’re guessing it’s good news that Harvard also has “Principles of Corporate Finance” on its own top ten books. Over at Yale the Federal Reserve Bank’s “Quarterly Review” comes in just ahead of Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” proving that black lives matter to proper Elis but do so those portfolios, and all the other swank colleges have some good reads on their students’ lists. There’s the usual commie agitprop, of course, but we expect the good stuff will make a stronger impression.
We do hope those hard-working students will find some time, in between their studies and protests and “culture of rape” social lives to enjoy some Wodehouse or Perelman or Waugh or other humorous fatalist. We recommend “The Things that are Caesar’s” and “This Town Is Nowhere” or anything by that Mark Twain guy, and we expect that you’re going to get an education one way or another.

— Bud Norman

The Daily Doses of Donald J. Trump

Try as we might to wallow in all the other bad news, we are somehow unable to avert our gloomy gaze away from the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.
Those daring sting videos of Planned Parenthood officials chomping on salad and sipping wine as they negotiate the sale of aborted baby parts has at long last resulted in indictments against the video makers, and we vaguely recall that former Texas Governor and failed Republican nominee Rick Perry is still under indictment for exercising his veto power over some drunk Democrat’s funding, and there’s a tantalizing possibility that even the presumptive Democratic nominee will be indicted on more serious charges, and of course there’s still the economy and the international situation and all the other sorts of substantive bad news to consider, but these days all we hear about from even the most reliably right wing sources is Trump. The man so dominates the news that at each corner we turned on the internet and airwaves and printed press we couldn’t avoid the two latest juicy developments.
One was Trump’s endorsement from Jerry Falwell Jr., who of course is the son of Jerry Falwell Sr., whom our older readers will vaguely remember as the founder of the of the former Moral Majority, which was once regarded by the more respectable media as the very embodiment of the Religious Right bogeyman that was  reportedly threatening to impose puritanism on the hipper disco-going America, so of course the more liberal press is still eager to trumpet the endorsement. The impeccably liberal reporters over at Politico.com are rubbing their hands as they gleefully write that Trump is winning over the Republican party’s still-troublesome would-be theocrats, and we fear they might be at least partly right. These days the Religious Right is reduced to fighting for its right to not participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony without being sent to re-education camp, and its putative leadership is reduced to the likes of Jerry Falwell Jr., and in such troubled times even the ancient Israelites craved a king of their own.
Still, we’re disappointed that so much of what’s left of a truly religious right would settle for a boastful billionaire gambling mogul who trades his wives in every decade or so for a newer model and has bragged in print about all the other men’s wives he has slept with and contributes a fraction of his much-touted fortune to charity and has in old-fashioned melodrama style tried to run an old lady out of her home, and who jokingly describes the Holy Communion as the only forgiveness he needs to seek for blameless and poll-tested life. At Falwell’s own Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, Trump recently quoted from “Two Corinthians” rather than “Second Corinthians,” which revealed the same awkward ignorance of Christianity that President Barack Obama’s pronunciation of “Corpse-man” did about his understanding of the military, and once upon a time in our church camp youth that would have been enough to disqualify him in evangelical circles, but these days the bar is set lower.
One of Trump’s more adventuresome apologists noted the sins of certain Old Testament Leaders to excuse his hero’s character, as if adultery and connivery were Biblically required qualifications for office, and even likened Trump’s critics to the Pharisees who called for the crucifixion of Jesus. This seems a bit much to our admittedly sinful sensibilities, as we’re certainly not asking for crucifixions, and we even wish Trump a happy life and at least a moment of spiritual introspection well outside the sphere of public influence, but despite our more freely admitted sins we will express some doubts about Trump’s character, and we’re certainly not buying the Trump-as-Jesus argument. None of this came up during an interview with Falwell Jr. that we heard one of the conservative talk radio shows, hosted by a host who prides himself on his scary Religious Right bona fides, and while there was also no mention of bankruptcies or beleaguered old widows being evicted from their homes Falwell did get a chance to enthuse a bit about what a successful businessman Trump has been.
The other big Trump story was his indignant refusal to appear on the next scheduled televised Republican presidential debate because it’s being televised by Fox News and will thus feature its competent and comely star anchor Megyn Kelly. The cable news network is an even bigger right-wing bogeyman than the Moral Majority ever was, and many of its on-air personalities rushed to Trump’s defense after those snooty old print people at the more venerable but less-known National Review declared their opposition to Trump’s candidacy, but in a previous debate Kelly had asked Trump about his countless outrageously sexist comments against numerous women, and Trump wound up saying that she had “blood coming out of her eyes” and “blood coming out of her wherever,” and called her a “bimbo” and such, and despite the rise in his poll numbers that resulted from this seeming proof of her insinuation he’s decided he doesn’t want to go another round with her. His boycott will likely have the same effect on the debate’s ratings that the absence of J.R. Ewing would have on an airing of “Dallas,” which makes it a bigger story even in conservative media than the folks being charged with exposing Planned Parenthood’s baby-parts-selling scheme, which does by gum seem a successful business model, if that’s all that matters.
We don’t have cable and thus can’t vouch for Kelly’s objectivity toward Trump, although we thought her question about his history of sexist comments entirely fair and his vulgar responses sufficient proof of whatever she might have meant to imply by it, and we would dare any of his fans to talk about how ugly she is, and for crying out loud it’s not the far-left MSNBC network, where Trump was most recently seen boasting about how well he gets along with such liberal Democrats as Rep. Nancy Pelosi, but we’re sure that Trump and his loyal-even-if-he-shoots-someone followers will still find some nasty name to call Kelly. That should be enough to ensure another few days of non-stop coverage on all the cable news channels, but hopefully we’ll find some other bad news to wallow in. The Democrats seem to be providing plenty of it, and we’d always rather talk about that.

— Bud Norman

The Greatest Degeneration

The pleasant thought hadn’t occurred to us until we came across it in the lurid pages of New York City’s tabloid press, of all places, but it seems the upcoming presidential election “will likely be the last hurrah of the baby boomers.” No matter what horrors the race seems likely to inflict upon America’s once-great republic, well, at least we’ve got that going for us.
We came along at the very end of the officially-defined “Baby Boom” and are thus counted in that demographic cohort, even if our parents watched World War II on newsreels and instead served nobly in the subsequent Cold War and we therefore missed out on all the wild hippie sex at the rock festivals and anti-war protest rallies, so we’ve long been resentful witnesses to what n awful mess the bullying older brothers and sisters in our demographic cohort have made of things. Still, even we are disappointed that so many decades after the dawning of the Age of Aquarius all that talk of free speech and free love and Peter Max psychedelia the “baby boomers” are offering up the likes of 68-year-old Hillary Clinton and 69-year-old Donald Trump as leaders of the land, and that the slightly ahead-of-the-demographic-cohort 74-year-old Bernie Sanders, who is merely offering free stuff, seems to be the favorite of all the dimwitted young hipsters we know. Yet here we are, and in retrospect it all seems so predictable.
The world we were born into was by means no perfect, as there was undeniably a brutally and officially enforced racism in much of America and a more insidious but effective social restraints everywhere on women’s ambitions and opportunities and freedom to engage in wild hippie sex at rock festivals and anti-war rallies, and back then hardly anyone talked about homosexuality, much less transgenderism or any the other of a plethora newly found sexual identities, but it had its points. The “Greatest Generation” — or the “Greatesht Generashion,” as Peter Jennings once so memorably put it — had survived the Great Depression, albeit with a massive and unsustainable-over-a-century governmental bureaucracy, and had defeated Japanese Imperialism and Italian Fascism and German Naziism, albeit with a generation-long and potentially-apocalyptic Cold War against our erstwhile communist allies to follow, and it created Hollywood movies that still play well on late-night television and swing music that still sounds good on the old folks’ AM radio station and presidents who still stand well with the historians, and it was cautiously moving away from racism and sexism all on its own. The greatest generation’s children, and although we barely knew it we will miss it. Since then, the results of the greatest generation’s children have been decidedly mixed.
There’s no more Jim Crow anywhere, and we are glad of that, and we celebrate the entry of most of black America’s entry into the middle class and beyond, but we note that black lives are still disproportionately lost to the violence of liberal-run and economically depressed black inner cities, and that a “Black Lives Matter” movement more concerned with the relatively small number of black lives lost as a result of enforcement of the law is somehow as incensed as ever. Women are now empowered to run for even the highest office in the land, even if they’re under investigation for serious criminal charges by the feds, but after all that free sex now has the feminists huffing about a “culture of rape” on the liberal-run and ecumenically privileged campuses, and that woman who is running for president suddenly sounds ridiculous talking about it in light of the behavior of her predatory husband, whose “Baby Boom” presidency was supposed to wrap her candidacy in a warm sort of “Big Chill” nostalgia. We’ll no longer listen to anything about “free speech” from the baby boomer left, which now wants to constitutionally overturn the “Citizens United” decision to allow prior restraint of troublesome speech and calls for “some muscle” to turn away journalists from the public square, and we don’t even want to hear anything about free sex, given the legalistic consent forms that the feminists now want signed before a collegiate tryst, which is more onerous than anything those blue-nosed puritans on the ’50s right ever requested. There was some good rock ‘n’ roll, which pretty much had to happen once the ’50s had turned into Mitch Mitchell and there were all those cool brothers and hillbillies standing in the wings, and we still fondly recall a few of the more adventuresome movies, but for the most part it’s been all downhill.
Alas, the mostly downhill progression from good the ol’ Dwight D. Eisenhower of our birth to the current slate of presidential candidates of our middle age best tells the sorry tale. By now all the lefties fondly recall the 90 percent top tax rates and the deliriously high union membership rates and frank acknowledgement of the New Deal’s unsustainable-over-a-century bureaucracies, and they even acknowledge his cautious nudges toward racial and sexual equality, and although the right can only argue that those tax rates and union memberships would only work if you replicated the ’50s conditions of racial segregation and female workforce participation and a world where all the global competitors had been reduced to rubble by a world war, and that racial and sexual equality is best reached deliberately if not slowly, there is still a consensus that we all like the Ike who whipped the Nazis. Good luck to any of the aging current candidates who hope to achieve such a broad public agreement on their behalf, as they all represent the worst of their generation and have no one to fight with but one another and all those inconvenient Seventh Century Islamo-Nazis who seem to have followed the Cold War.
Hillary Rodham was the idealistic young woman who joined the effort to uncover the hated right-wing President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, and wound up getting kicked out for her overzealousness, then married a philandering cad who would propel her political career as a feminist heroine, and would slander whatever women her husband assaulted when he was the first “baby boomer” president, and did nothing memorable with a Senate seat won on his record of giving jumbo mortgages to subprime home buyers, and spent four years rolling over to America’s enemies as Secretary of State, and she’s now running with Wall Street cash and a Nixon-level investigation hovering over head as Hillary Clinton on her credentials as the First Woman President. Meanwhile the road followed by the presidential campaign of real estate mogul and gambling tycoon and reality show star and former professional wrestling performer Donald J. Trump has already been paved by the free speech heroism of Lenny Bruce and Larry Flynt and that kid who used to mock the handicapped children on your ’60s playground, and whose candidacy so uncannily recalls the “Me Decade” of the ’70s, and it seems to have missed the brief interregnum of the ’80s and gone right into all the strutting and bling-wearing of the dot-com and go-go ’90s, and for crying out loud he’s the Republican front-runner.
No wonder all those even more dimwitted young whippersnappers we run into in the X or Y or Z generations or whatever the hell they’re called these days are going with an even more geriatric old coot of a Democratic candidate such as self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sander. There’s some debate among the old-time leftists about where Sanders is Old Left or New Left, as if that makes any difference, but least he’s promising free stuff, which at this point is bound to be more tempting than all that free sex and its attendant “culture of rape” and consent forms or that icky free speech stuff that now necessitates safe spaces and trigger warnings, so we can well understand how a dimwitted youth might buy into it. On the heels of a “baby boom,” such damage should probably be expected.
That oldest coot Sanders has a new ad showing an old Hollywood-style montage of regular ol’ hard-workin’ and mostly white Americans working hard in what looks for all the world like the America of our birth, and the targeted baby-boomers will immediately recognize good ol’ Simon and Garfunkel singing about going to look for “America” on the soundtrack. The ones who still retain a good memory, however, will also recall the song is a very sad one about a young couple who go out looking for America and wind up in severe nicotine withdrawal and a lovers’ spat and then sullenly read a magazine as the beautiful countryside rolls by the window and never do find America. All in all, it seems a perfect last hurrah for the baby boomers, although we wonder if Sanders paid the usual exorbitant fee for the rights to the song or if Simon and Garfunkel’s in-kind contribution to the campaign will be listed on the candidates expense reports.
Unaccustomed as we are to voting for people less seasoned than ourselves, we find ourselves with little choice but to invest our last hope in a younger generation. We can only hope that some corny old kernel of the church-going and child-raising and nudging toward equality of that old Ike world still persists in the new, and will find purchase in the soil of a still-fertile America, for we fear that our generation has cast its seed upon the ground.

— Bud Norman

Choosing Sides in a Civil War

We like to think ourselves the ruggedly individualistic and rebellious and anti-establishment type, not just despite of but also because of our unabashedly old-fashioned conservatism, and we proudly bear a few scars to back it up.
In our elementary school days we watched on television as American cities burned to the ground in protest against “the establishment,” and it struck us a damned fool thing to do even if the impeccably establishment and academically-credentialed Kerner Commission and all the cool kids thought the arsonists had a point. By junior high the left’s “long march” through the educational establishment had already begun, and even as we watched with dismay as President Richard Nixon’s “law and order” administration collapsed under the weight of its own lawlessness and disorder we continued to resist any sort of riotous indoctrination, to the detriment of our grades. By high school we were were listening to country music of the genuinely good ol’ boy KF’n’DI AM radio on the cold winter drive to show up early to devour the library’s otherwise unread copy of the notoriously-right wing National Review, and looking up the high-brow philosophers and economists and historians it cited to develop an intellectual framework for our temperamental distaste for the Carter era, and of course that didn’t do our grades any good. After two more years of a higher education establishment where the left’s long march had reached as far as a heartland cow college we defiantly dropped out, which entailed years of endured servitude handing out copy and working as a “dethwriter” on the obituary desk before we got a by-line, and even that hard-earned honor entailed another twenty years of daily in-fighting with the powers that be on a metropolitan daily newspaper, even here in the heartland.
Now we we prefer to write whatever the hell we have to say without the infuriating constraints of those respectably humorless and highly credentialed yet utterly uneducated metropolitan daily newspaper editors, even if it isn’t nearly so remunerative, and we like to think we’re still as surly and anti-establishment and ruggedly-indvidualistic and old-fashioned conservative as that long-haired snot-nosed punk of our junior high days, but suddenly the definitions of “conservative” and “establishment” and “Republican” and “Democrat” and everything else in our political lexicon seems up for debate. While the Democrats are choosing between an outright socialist who give the governmental establishment unparalleled authority and the most thoroughly corrupt crony-capitalist of the republic’s history, who struggles to explain why she’s not a socialist, the Republicans — our people, in whom we have long sought solace — are now engaged in a great civil war testing whether conservatism or any movement so conceived and so dedicated is defined by all those high-brow thinkers and principled arguments made by the likes of those fancy-pants know-it-alls at the now notoriously lily-livered and supposedly establishmentarian National Review or a blind fealty to the “Make America Great Again” juggernaut of real estate and gambling mogul and reality show star and former professional wrestling performer Donald J. Trump.
With the war already underway and the Iowa Republican caucus just a mere week away from tomorrow, now seems a time for choosing. We’re tentatively going in with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and are proud to join with those still-ruggedly individualistic writers at National Review in going all out against this Trump fellow. The venerable magazine — and it’s not a “paper,” as Trump incorrectly insists — has assembled a wide range of conservative thinkers for formidable argument that Trump’s proposed trade wars with China and more socialistic-than-the-socialist’s health care schemes and promises of all sorts of favorable insider deals do not portend well for the economy, that his meanderings between a let-Russia-lead to “bomb-the-s**t out of them” foreign policy also do not bode well, and that a thrice-married and four-times-bankrupt and very recent Democrat who has never felt the need to seek God’s forgiveness is an unreliable ally of the more religious and culturally traditional wing of conservatism. We also note that except for the predictable schoolyard taunts that Trump prefers, and the frequent outright racist screeds from supporters won’t hold Trump responsible for, and there’s the strangely anachronistic argument that anyone who isn’t marching in lockstep with Trump must be supporting some evil creature called “Jeb!,” but the most common retort from Trump and his acolytes is that “at least he fights.”
By “fighting” they seem to mean that Trump and his people are “tweeting” the most ill-natured tantrums against the allegedly irrelevant National Review or whatever less-than-beauty-queen woman has dared disagreed with the man who would make America great again, and his willingness to mock the handicapped and disparage America’s prisoners of war and crack cringe-worthy menstruation jokes and otherwise strike blows against “political correctness” while going along with the politically correct line on racial quotas and other matters of real concern. By “establishment,” we no longer have no idea what Trump’s supporters mean to describe.
At the outset of Trump’s campaign we assumed he meant the likes of former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas and current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who have so frequently angered such rebellious and old-fashioned conservatives as ourselves by signing off on big government crony-capitalist scams from ethanol subsidies to private property land-grabs to big-bank bail-outs and all those deficit-spending budgets, but now we’re told by Trump himself that Cruz was a loose cannon to have opposed all that as a Senator and that nobody in the establishment likes him as a result so the master deal-maker is best suited make the deals that will increase the ethanol subsidies that Iowa voters have a special interest in and uphold that “wonderful” Supreme Court decision that allowed him to tear down a widow’s home and build a parking lot for his casino and assure the next round of bail-outs that he didn’t think were big enough the last time around and pass a plan that cuts taxes and doesn’t decrease spending and will somehow end with a surplus. As Trump now touts his half-hearted endorsements from Dole and his lingering Congressional pals we guess the “establishment” is now those much-maligned ink-stained wretches still toiling for The National Review, still standing athwart history shouting “halt!,” still mustering their reasoned arguments and long-held principles and quoting those old high-brow economists and philosophers and historians, and sounding so very effete and faggy to the true Trump believer. One commenter huffed that she’d never heard of The National Review until this attack on Trump, and she seemed to think that made her more credible.
The true Trump believers will counter that we just don’t get it, and those illiterate internet commenters often think the argument more persuasive if they write it as the more un-parsable “You. Just. Don’t. Get. It.,” but in fact we readily understand the anger and frustration they have with the “establishment,” both on the left and to a somewhat lesser degree on the right as well. We’ve been railing against it for years, and likely will until our dying day, but we will confess that we truly do not get how an oft-bankrupt real estate and gambling mogul and reality show star and former professional wrestling performer who openly boasts about how he made his fortune to by doling out contributions to the likes of the Democrat’s thoroughly corrupt establishment and the Republicans’ hated Senate Majority Leader, and now proudly proclaims their support in his “anti-establishment” campaign against that loose cannon who challenged them, is supposed to hold his all-knowing thumb up against the poll winds and find the cure for what ails us.
Trump was the loudest to proclaim his opposition to the bi-partisan and ultimately disastrous establishment consensus on unfettered legal and illegal immigration, if not the first, but he was scolding Mitty Romney for a milder and more sensible “self-deportation” policy as recently as the last presidential race, and he now says his big beautiful wall on the border is going to have a big beautiful door, and he’s talking all sorts of deals with the bi-partisan establishment, and we’re pleased to note that we don’t have to settle for Jeb! on the issue. The next Republican candidate will have a tough stance on border enforcement, and would have without Trump, and that’s more to do with the party and the people at large than anyone who might hope to lead it.
All sorts of playground taunts might come our way, but we’re used to that, and we’ll be missing that tempting opportunity to burn the Republican Party down to the ground that so many Trump supporters urge, but even in our disgruntled middle age that seems a damned fool and not all conservative thing to do, so we side all with those effete eggheads at The National Review and all their reasoned arguments and the high-brow economists and philosophers and historians they cite, as well as that good ol’ boy sensibility that also informs our decisions, and all the timeless truths they have formulated. As a general rule we don’t trust white knights in shining armor promising Hope and Change or to Make America Great Again, and we once got the same whiff of a disastrous cult of personality from the man peddling the former as we do from the man now peddling the latter, and it’s all the more suspicious when it comes from the make-believe world or academia and community-organizing or reality television and insider deal-making.
At this late and perilous date we’ll go with Sen. Ted Cruz, the loose cannon with the fixed principles. That’s our anti-establishment and old-fashioned conservative instinct, and if you don’t like it, and you think it sounds effete and faggy and sure to lose against an outright socialist or a crony-capitalist who got large donations from a supposedly “anti-establishment” Republican on the other side of that corrupt establishment, well, at least we fight.

— Bud Norman

The Next 362 Days

Has it really been seven years and three days since President Barack Obama’s first inauguration? The calendar says so, so we have already begun marking off the more or less Constitutionally-guaranteed final 362 days of his presidency on our wall with the grimly optimistic impatience of a prisoner awaiting the end of an unjust sentence, but as bad it’s been it somehow doesn’t seem like seven years and three days.
Our memory of that first inauguration, which entailed such unforgettably nauseating coverage by the adoring press and such a rapturous reception by the public at large that it seemed more of a coronation or canonization or even a messianic anointment, remains so vivid that it seems just yesterday. We still recall sitting in a car dealership waiting for some annoying automotive repair with nothing to read but a Time Magazine with Obama as Frank Delano Roosevelt on the cover, and pulling into an ice-covered parking lot on some chore while listening to a radio report about some school district someplace that voted to make Obama’s first inauguration a National Holiday when the kids didn’t have to go to school, and all the good-looking celebrities pledging their allegiance to the new leader and the choirs of cute children singing the new leader’s praises,and all our liberal friends swooning, and how even some more or less Republican types were writing they liked the cut of this Obama fellow’s jibe and the crease in in his trousers. Ah, it truly does seem only yesterday.
Yet how far we seem have travelled in time, given what we find in the news and hear from our varied friends these days. By now the big issue was supposed to have been the hasty repeal of that nasty Republican-inspired 22nd Amendment so that Obama will be allowed to serve a third term, and how the upcoming Chicago Olympics will allow the world to celebrate his new era of global peace and prosperity and hip-hop coolness, but we can no longer find any of that among even our craziest friends or the most fervid reaches of the internet. Instead we awake to the current date’s news and rub our eyes and look about and we note that Obama seems but a minor player these days, albeit an annoying one, and that along with brief mention of the dour economic and foreign affairs news most of the talk is about the strange stew  of politics that is lately  brewing in the red-hot metaphorical pots of both parties. The past seven years of hope and change have both parties in an anti-establishmentarian mood, with wildly divergent ideas about what to do, even if the moderate moderate wings of both parties somehow survive the revolutionary zeal, and that glorious inauguration-coronation-cannonization-annointment and moment of more or less national faith in the new leader seems so very long ago.
Former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is running for a third term of the First Black President as the First Woman President, which somehow makes sense to a significant portion of Democrats, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating some pretty darned serious charges about everything from her un-secured e-mail account to her family foundation’s hefty donations from the dubious countries she was dealing with as Secretary of State, that whole First Woman President thing is being undermined as her perv husband’s countless scandals are suddenly viewed by her own stated standard that victims of sexual assault should always believed, and there’s all that one-percenter kind of money she’s racked up from the Wall Street slickers which she’s now obliged to rail against after the past seven years, and even her promises of an another eight years just like the past seven aren’t playing well with Democrats.
Seven years and three days after that historic inauguration-coronation-canonization-anointment day, almost all of the Democrats we know are by now so fed up they’re itching to itching to go full-blown and self-described socialist along with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. That long ago dawn of the Obama is not so far ago that they’ll ascribe the new leader any blame, but they all seem to reluctantly concede that their leader did not dare to go quite far enough to have reached that once-promised land. Some Republicans still persist, they glumly note, along with all their noise about illegal and legal immigration and terrorism and a sputtering economy heading for a scary downturn, along with their unaccountable lack of concern about global warming and transgendered rights, and there’s still all that white privilege and social injustice and whatnot out there, and all in all they can’t disguise a certain disappointment with the past seven years of hope and change. Sterner stuff, they seem to believe, is required.
The Republicans and the conservatives and the populists and the anti-establishmentarians and the independents and the moderates and whatever else you want to call the majority of dissatisfied America are by now worse than disappointed. There’s currently a mad scramble for their votes among the Republican presidential candidates, and oy vey, is that a mess. Through-thick-and-through-thin Republicans such as ourselves don’t have to choose between another seven years of Wall Street-financed socialism and a baggage cart full of scandals or an even more outright socialist, but we find ourselves wading into internecine battles over conservatism that we didn’t anticipate just seven years and three days ago.
Gee aint it funny how seven years and three days, out of our mere three score and seventy, slips away.

— Bud Norman

The Anger on the Left

Just the other day ago or so we were composing an admittedly angry yet sincerely jocular essay about the most recent Democratic presidential debate, and with some literary license we described a fantastical world where the candidates frankly admitted their plans to guillotine the handful of nefarious and unnamed billionaires who are standing in the way of their otherwise easily obtainable utopia of social justice. We thought it an amusingly Swiftian exaggeration of the sore and sorry state of modern liberalism, but once again the more humorless and literal reality of the fact-based press has overtaken our most ambitious attempts at satire. The latest news from The National Review, which is still considered a far-right publication by the left but is now regarded as a stuffily establishment press by the even angrier further-right, and is still as always a reliable factual source, finds a Missouri Democrat who is a happy to be quoted that he’s “OK” with “bringing back the guillotine” for the benefit of a few billionaires, and that he also doesn’t mind naming which ones he has in mind.
That’s just one cherry-picked quotation, to be sure, but we don’t doubt that even in this cold and barren winter there are plenty of cherries on the trees to be picked if that’s what it takes to convey how very angry these liberals are these days. That Missouri Democrat was weighing on behalf of the embattled University of Missouri “professor” of “communications” who was caught on video “rounding up some muscle” to evict a student journalist from public space that had been illegally seized by a “Black Lives Matter” protest on her campus, which is understandably angry about the black lives lost to wrongful police conduct but somehow sanguine about the far greater number of black lives lost to the un-policed rampant in too many black neighborhoods, and which has spawned similarly acrimonious protests over Halloween costumes and ethnically incorrect Asian cuisine on the cafeteria menu and various other “micro-aggressions” among the most prestigious and pampered student bodies, not to mention all the angriness about that “culture of rape” that has has somehow spread from the church-going redneck jurisdictions to the liberal domain of academia, and there’s been plenty of quotable angriness to go around. That’s just the college kids, too, and you should hear what the more hard-strapped high-school-drop-out wing of the Democratic party and its post-graduate Starbucks baristas are muttering about these days. We hear them all too often, given the sorts of dives where we go to watch ‘Shocker games and hear rock ‘n’ roll shows and to catch up on the latest events with a gray-ponytailed hipster but more or less conservative friend of ours, and it somehow exceeds even the angriness we find when in the relative comfort of our right-wing extremist friends.
It’s mere anecdotal evidence, of course, and we further concede we run in some atypical circles, but in our experience the talk of revolution and even guillotines is not uncommon and often seems more than rhetorical among liberals. We still recall the lithe and comely young hipsterette at a local dive who expressed her eagerness to fight it out in the streets with such nasty Republicans as ourselves, the countless comments by politically correct guests at locally swank cocktail parties about how certain Republican women weren’t really women at all, and all the threateningly indignant comments by the most unexpected people about how Bruce Jenner really is a woman, although maybe not because he or she might be a Republican, and all the things confessed in in honesty before the speaker realized when we were one Them, not to mention that a self-described socialist’s call for “revolution” is currently threatening the liberal “establishment” candidate at a time when that label is as odious to the left as it is to the right.
This seems peculiar from our geographical and ideological perspective, where our grievances are stated from a long-fixed position and can thus be objectively measured by the dangerous distance our country has been dragged leftward over the past seven years, but even in our anger we try to be empathetic. Those angry folks on the left are judging events by the distance of their ever leftward-drifting hopes against the evermore elusive reality of the socially just Utopia of their dreams, and they’re still so infatuated with the hopes of the change that the past seven years would bring they can’t help look for scapegoats and demagogues, and as always there are plenty available on both the left and right, so we try to be understanding enough to avoid any thoughts of guillotines.
We caught the first half of an important conference ‘Shocker game at a notorious dive just across the street from the local university and on the edge of a very rough part of town, and were reminded of the times when one of the more annoying regulars the was disappointed to learn that we don’t want Donald Trump executed or, at the very least, tortured, and further surprised to learn that we didn’t even wish execution or torture on President Barak Obama, and that we merely wished them both happy lives outside the sphere of public influence. Given the current rhetoric on both sides of the political spectrum, we’ll give that psychopath some benefit of the doubt. We were somewhat hearted by a brief conversation with an old friend of ours, a delightful woman and locally legendary hard-rock drummer who is currently featured in an all girl punk trio with of her longtime best friends’ daughters, and although that single and hard-working and hard-rock drumming woman was coming from the Democratic side of the demographic divide she seemed to share our hope that some sort of center will hold. She agreed with us that the Democrat’s “establishment” candidate should probably be jailed in some humane prison, and that our party’s “anti-establishment” front-runner should be banished to real estate investments and reality television, and we both admitted that our hopes aren’t high even for our necessarily angriest anti-establishment candidates.
Although we hold out faint hope that the future of our Republic will be favorably decided at the ballot box by an informed public choosing between red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism and the compassionate Judeo-Christian tradition and a stifling socialistic bureaucracy and all that insistent post sexual-revolution social justice stuff, we acknowledge it will likely come down to which side can best harness all the anger that is clearly brewing out there. We’re not at all certain how that might work out, and at this point we’ll settle for the center holding.

— Bud Norman

The Relative Rightness of the Right

All our liberal friends are lately fretting about the Republican Party’s frightening extremism, and they’ve all seemed to settle on the same popular press aphorism that even such a crazy right wing cowboy as Ronald Reagan couldn’t win the party’s nomination these days. We always note that since the good old days of Reagan the Republicans have nominated George H.W. Bush twice, then Bob Dole, then George W. Bush twice, followed by John McCain and Mitt Romney, and that the current front-runner has expressed approval of protectionist tariffs and a Canadian-style health care system and the Kelo decision and thinks his partial-birth-abortion-loving sister would be a “phenomenal” Supreme Court justice and not so long ago was praising President Barack Obama and saying that he agreed with the Democrats on most issues, which hardly seems an extreme enough progression to the right to suit to our tastes, but our friends remain unconvinced.
From their Democratic position, which has veered so far to the left during our lifetime that a self-proclaimed socialist such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders now seems poised to win the party’s nomination, even yet another Bush would seem distantly far to the right. We try to imagine a youthful and handsome and famously rich and notoriously philandering John F. Kennedy running for the Democratic nomination on an economic platform of tax cuts for the rich and a foreign policy that would pay any price and bear any burden to spread democracy, and our imagination fails us. Lyndon Johnson would fare well these days proposing another round of all the Great Society spending that proved so disastrous, but between his foreign policy and his Texas accent he’d likely be booed off a Democratic debate stage, and Hubert Humphrey was far too happy a warrior for the party’s current mood. George McGovern might still be a plausible candidate, if he didn’t mention all the bombs he dropped during World War II, and Jimmy Carter might stand a chance, if he were shrewd enough to eschew the Baptist Sunday school teacher shtick, but ever since the time when those long-ago but well-remembered Reagan landslides dragged the Democratic party reluctantly back to the center it’s been steadily lurching leftward.
The Democrats finally ended the hated the twelve-year Reagan-Bush era with Bill Clinton, who won with the lucky combination of a disingenuously centrist campaign, a relatively mild and brief but well-timed recession, and an independent run by a billionaire populist, and despite all the sex scandals he remains beloved within the party to this day. He’s even more widely considered a success, despite all the sex scandals,  but mostly because of the welfare reform and balanced budgets and law-and-order initiatives and financial de-regulations and free trade treaties and anti-gay marriage acts he was forced to sign off on by the Republican Congress that his first two years of crazy leftism brought into being, none of which will get you the Democratic nomination these days. He was followed as his party’s nominee by his vice president, Al Gore, now best known as the guy who frantically predicted our Earth would be scorched by now from global warming, then John Kerry, the war hero and hippy dippy peacenik who will forever live in history as the man who delivered $150 billion and a nuclear bomb to the mad mullahs of Iran, and then Obama, whose disingenuously centrist campaign for the “fundamental transformation of America” didn’t mind if the in-the-know Democrats knew that he was about as far-left a candidate they could ever hope to elect.
Until this year, when a self-described socialist such as Sanders seems poised to the win the Democratic nomination. Even Obama has indignantly resisted the “socialist” label, which up until now has been a damning disqualification even in Democratic politics, but after seven years of his whatchamacallit policies a large and potentially decisive number of Democrats have apparently decided they might well as go ahead and call it socialism and go full-hog with it. We appreciate the frankness of it, and can easily understand why all of our liberal friends prefer Sanders’ authentic socialistic kookiness to his opponent’s disingenuously centrist cynicism, but we can’t help worrying that some sort of rhetorical Rubicon has been crossed in the history of our perilous Republic.
We don’t doubt that Sanders’ rise is largely attributable to the fact that his opponent is Hillary Clinton, who is currently being investigated by the feds for her fishy and national security-endangering e-mail practices and was  Secretary of State during the disaster that provides the plot of the latest hit action-adventure movie and has 25 year’s worth of scandals on her resume, and whose once-beloved president of a husband is no longer so well remembered by Democrats for those balanced budgets and welfare reforms that Obama unilaterally revoked and all those black-life-saving law-and-order initiatives that the “Black Lives Matter” movement are protesting, and whose sex scandals are no longer easily overlooked by a feminist movement concerned with a “culture of rape” on American campuses if not dar-al Islam, as well as the increasingly apparent fact she’s thoroughly corrupt and and dishonest and just an awful candidate for any time or either party. Still, we fondly recall a not-so-long-ago time when flinging the “socialist” label against Sanders would have saved her worthless skin.
Of course, Clinton struggles to explain why a plain old Democrat such as herself isn’t a socialist, and Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz has trouble with the same question about her party at large, and by now our liberal friends are no longer denying there is any difference. If Clinton somehow avoids indictment survives Iowa and New Hampshire and gets to the supposedly friendlier where the minority voters who preferred Obama in ’08 but are now said to prefer in ’16 and she somehow winds up with the nomination, we expect she’ll be quite comfortable with the socialist label by then. Her party clearly has no discomfort with it, and after the past seven years of an elected and re-elected Obama it’s no longer far-fetched to think the country at large doesn’t.
Our conservative friends are relishing the Democratic race with undisguised schadenfreude, just are liberal friends are gleefully watching Donald Trump’s rise in the Republican contest, but we urge both to careful about what they wish for. Conservatives are angry that the Republican party they’ve empowered with Congressional majorities haven’t thwarted Obama’s left-wing agenda enough, liberals are disappointed that even seven years of Obama haven’t prevented those hateful right-wingers from thwarting their socialist utopia, and that uninformed mass in the middle is merely dissatisfied that nothing seems to have worked out and are susceptible to either side’s arguments. That uniformed mass in the middle was educated in public schools where socialism hasn’t been a disqualifying slur for the past many decades, and they don’t know from capitalism or socialism or communism or mercantilism, and if it comes down to who is angrier and more authentically anti-establishment it would be a neck-to-neck race between Sanders and Trump. The next Republican nominee will have to be able to patiently and persuasively explain to an idiocratic public why the economic system that has brought American from backwater colonial status to being the world’s foremost superpower is superior to the system that has reduced Europe to its current groped state and brought utter ruin to most of Asia and Africa and South America, and right now the Republican’s front-runner is planning to explain it by bragging how he got really, really rich by buying off the politicians who’ve been running the all-but-in-name socialist system for the past few decades.
From our perspective, here in the heart of America and still pretty much where we were back in the good old Reagan days, all those recent earthquakes seem to have shifted the political landscape to the left.

— Bud Norman

The Classics and the Current Scene

There’s a certain unmistakable craziness afloat these days everywhere along the political spectrum throughout western civilization, and in times like these our temperamentally conservative soul seeks solace in classical history and its constant assurance that our remarkably resilient culture has been through all this sort of thing before. Western history is not altogether reassuring, though, as it also frankly reveals that such times are awful to live through, whatever happy chapters might await some day long past our passing.
We were last reminded of this when Europe’s vexing problems with the recent wave of Middle Eastern and North African refugees started washing ashore, and trainloads of unaccompanied minors were crossing into the United States from only slightly more assimilable cultures, and some scholarly fellow reminded us of Edward Gibbons and his “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” which described how the Goth invaders welcomed by the Romans “still wore an angry and hostile aspect; but the experience of past times might encourage the hope they would acquire the habits of industry and obedience; that their manners would be polished by time, education, and the influence of Christianity, and their posterity would insensibly blend with the great body of the Roman people.” It seemed an eerily apt description of the western elite’s optimistic multi-cultularism, except that they no longer put in any stock in that Christian influence and no one who’s paying any attention any longer takes western education seriously, and the rest of it also seemed eerily familiar. “Notwithstanding these specious arguments, and these sanguine expectations, it was apparent to every discerning eye, that the Goths would long remain the enemies, and might soon become the conquerers of the Roman Empire. Their rude and insolent behavior expressed their contempt of the citizens and provincials, whom they insulted with impunity.”
After that desultory blast from our historical past, a recent round-up of headlines from across Europe will sound discomfortingly familiar. Although the European press was slow to give up its specious arguments and sanguine expectations it now begrudgingly concedes that at a welcoming party for newly arrived “refugees” in Germany the honorees seized the opportunity to grope and sexually assault their hosts, that similar behavior by recent immigrants was epidemic in public squares around the continent during New Year’s Eve celebrations, that rape and other violent crimes by the new arrivals are now common, and that the welfare-dependent new arrivals are expressing their contempt of the citizens and insulting them with impunity, and that they may yet prove the conquerers who usher in the Dark Ages. This is by now apparent to every discerning eye, even in a Europe that doesn’t have a First Amendment and a resulting right-wing press, so the main concern is now with hoping that it doesn’t benefit those awful right-wing parties.
So far as we can tell, being here on the prairie and thus so far away from the action and reliant on the heavily-censored press, many of these awful right-wing parties are merely proposing a sensible alternative to cultural suicide. The Fleet Street press is pretty puckish even without a First Amendment, and reading of even their most critical suggests that the dreaded United Kingdom Independence Party merely wants independence from the suicidal European Union and its immigration policies, which seems reasonable enough, and we’re not at all scared even by that Geert Wilders in Holland, who is banned almost in every respectable jurisdiction, and certainly not by Holland’s agnostic Somalian refugee Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who now lives in for fear of her life in America because of those offended by her steadfast defense of of western rather than Islamic values, and who has also been banned from American campuses, and neither do we fear the continuing influence of Pim Fortuyn, the homosexual and secularist and libertarian who was assassinated by a radical environmentalist for launching the “right-wing” crusade against mass immigration. Even in the worst case scenarios, we wonder if any of those “right wing” parties are any crazier than those more respectable parties with their specious arguments and sanguine expectations about the new arrivals neatly fitting in with the churches and gay bars next door and diversity-tained companies next door, and we note that the European press has admittedly been surpassing the facts lest those right-wing parties seem reasonable.
Still, we cannot dismiss the more respectable left’s worries. Classical history also warns us against that strain of patriotism that mutates into nationalism, and all the troubles that has caused in just the past century, and a lot of those European right-wing parties do seem to veer off in a troublesome direction. No matter how comely its leadership, the National Front in France hasn’t yet disavowed its Vichy roots, whatever purposes they might serve American interests many of those anti-Putin forces in Ukraine have roots in the worst of Europe’s history, some of the other vigilante groups around the continent are also a bit rowdy for our tastes, and at this point there are more anti-immigrant parties popping up around the west than we can vouch for. By now our only hope is that Europe allows enough room for frank discussion to come to a reasonable conclusion, and that hope seems faint.
“Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defense. The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot still shrewder; but to provide against having to do either was to break up your party.”
The impeccably conservative Kimball dredged up this ancient comment by the Greek historian Thucydides, commenting on long ago events, to convey his current distaste with the Republican and therefore right-wing presidential candidacy of real estate mogul and reality show star and recent Democrat Donald Trump, currently the front-runner in his party’s race, and we have to agree this desultory blast from the past is redolent of a round-up of recent headlines from the campaign. We don’t mean to equate Trump with the worst of Europe’s current right, and we certainly don’t mean to equate him with the best of it that wishes to merely forgo civilizational suicide, but we do think he’s a recklessly audacious and imprudent sort who confuses frantic “tweeting” and shock jock taunts with manliness and who has pulled off countless improbable plots and divined far more implausible ones, and we do share Kimball’s discomfort. He’s settled on Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose right-wing views and reckless audacity have arguably infuriated the supposedly right-wing Republican elites even more than Trumps, and we’ve tentatively reached the same conclusion, although after reading so much history we’re reluctant to place much faith in any mere man. The craziness on the left seems all the more frightening, though, where a self-described socialist and the epitome of a western elite vying to see who can offer the most specious arguments and sanguine expectations, and even the most ancient histories can’t provide any comparable craziness as a guide.

— Bud Norman

The Democrats’ Surreality Show

The Kansas City Chiefs’ playoff loss to the New England Patriots on Saturday ended our scant interest in the National Football League, and the Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ blow-out win over Indiana State University’s Sycamores satisfied our ongoing taste for college basketball by Sunday afternoon, so with nothing else to do on a cold winter night we sat down to watch the latest episode of the Democratic presidential race. Although it doesn’t get the ratings of the Republicans’ mini-series, for some reason, it’s an entertaining reality show in its own right.
Better to describe it as an alternate reality show, or perhaps as a surreality show. The tale takes place in an America where President Barack Obama is the much beloved leader of the land, his proudly eponymous Obamacare is universally regarded as a smashing success but there’s still some discussion of a more outright socialist system, the only problems with the economy are caused by a handful of top hat-wearing and moustache-twirling billionaires and Wall Street bankers who can be easily guillotined and whose vast plunder can be spread in all sorts of socially just ways, the past seven years of foreign policy have been so successful that terrorism and national security don’t merit much discussion, and a D- from the National Rifle Association is considered a scandalously good grade. The main characters are former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who plays the wicked witch with role with a gusto not seen since Margaret Hamilton was flying over Oz, and self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who plays the lovably cranky and kooky old coot next door so well he’s suddenly become the main character. There’s also former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, but not that you’d notice.
Tuesday’s night episode was set in South Carolina, which is an important plot detail. If you’ve been following the story through all it’s twists and turns you know that the lovably cranky and kooky old coot has lately been threatening to beat the wicked witch in both the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, which would seriously complicate the long foreshadowed storyline about the wicked witch’s eventual coronation, and therefore a win in the next-up state of South Carolina is all-important to her chances. There’s always a subtle racial undertone to these Democratic storylines, and those who are hip to the nuances will note that Iowa and New Hampshire are mostly comprised of white people, who seem to especially love the lovably cranky and kooky old coot, and that South Carolina is largely comprised of black people, with its Democratic primary mostly comprised of them, and that the wicked witch is assumed to be more popular with black people. The backstory for this peculiar preference is that the wicked witch once worked for the much beloved Obama, who even in reality is still much beloved by the black people of the land as the First Black President, and her husband was once the much beloved leader of the land, and was especially beloved by the black people of the land as the first First Black President, for reasons that no one can any longer recall, so they’re willing to give her a pass on wicked witchiness, and they’re no so crazy about even the most lovably cranky and kooky old coots from states comprised almost entirely of white people.
The wicked witch wasn’t taking any chances, however, and took every opportunity to ingratiate herself to the black people of her audience by associating herself with the beloved Obama. She even took umbrage that lovably cranky and kooky old coot had once dare speak ill of the First Black President, and was downright indignant that he should be so arrogant as to think he could improve on such a perfect creation as Obamacare. She also ventured from her theme to note that any attempt to do so would re-open a debate about health care, and suggested that even in the fantasy world of Democrat-land no one should want to get into all that again, which we thought a nicely subtle allusion to the reality exists just outside the show’s fourth wall. When they finally got around to talking about that terrorism and national security stuff the wicked witch heaped more praise on Obama, almost daring the lovably cranky and kooky old coot to find any fault with the past seven years of foreign policy, but he was of course able to blame it all on the hated George W. Bush, whose evil reign still lingers after seven as a bitter memory in Democrat-land. There was some talk about how many more black people go to prison than white people, a disparity which all the characters found upsetting, although we’re not sure if they intend to remedy this by letting more black people out of prison or sending more white people, especially billionaires and Wall Street bankers, into prison, and our guess is the wicked witch’s pandering on the issue probably prevailed. She also chided the lovably cranky and kooky old cot about that embarrassing D- he got from the NRA, when no self-respecting citizen of Democrat-land would ever settle for any less than a solid F, although we guess that was intended mostly for the white people of the audience.
The lovably cranky and kooky old coot got his digs in, though. It turns out the wicked witch has given speeches to and accepted large amounts of filthy lucre from many of those villainous billionaires and Wall Street bankers, and the lovably cranky and kooky old coot was just cranky enough make an issue of it. The wicked witch shot back that he had also been so sacrilegious as to criticize the much-beloved First Black President over the same sorts of arrangements, and assured the audience she would continue to wield same might sword that her beloved leader has already used to slay billionaires and Wall Street bankers with such successful “regulatory-schemes” as the Dodd-Frank law. As we say, it’s an alternate reality show, and you have to suspend disbelief to embrace its own internal logic, which we admit we haven’t fully grasped yet. The wicked witch was shrewd to use the magical Obama shield, but the loveably cranky and kooky old coot has a good point that she’s wealthy trading favors with the billionaires and Wall Street bankers who so desperately need guillotining to bring about social justice, and by now the audience is probably thinking that of the two only he is pure of heart enough to pull the lever and let the blade come down.
There was even a brief, tantalizing moment of sex scandal that couldn’t have helped the wicked witch. Probably because he realized his network’s broadcast was being routed in the ratings by whatever post-game football shows or “ultimate fighting” cage matches or other manly and somewhat realistic sporting programs were airing elsewhere on your television dial, one of the moderators strayed from the respectful script and asked about the lovably cranky and kooky old coot’s recent statement about the fact that the wicked witch’s beloved former leader and First Black President husband is a serial philanderer and predatory perv. This part of the backstory had gone unmentioned in the previous debate-format episodes, and indeed had gone largely unmentioned in the tales of Democrat-land all along, but lately the wicked witch has been trying to pander to the women people of the realm by vowing to slay all the serial philanderers and predatory pervs who still persist in the land, probably because of those billionaires and Wall Street bankers, so it can’t help sinking into the current plot. The lovably cranky and kooky old coot confessed that he had expressed a negative opinion about the wicked witch’s husband’s past behavior, but only because he had been asked, and felt obliged to respond frankly, but didn’t want to make an issue of it, what with him being more concerned about those billionaires and Wall Street bankers and social justice and all that jazz. He didn’t have make it an issue of it, of course, and we’re sure he’ll be pleased if anyone else wants to mention the matter, as we do, but he’s probably smart to act so lovably gallant about it even if it doesn’t help the ratings. Neither did he mention an ongoing investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation into possible felonies committed by the wicked witch, having already said he’s damned sick and tired of hearing about potentially felonious e-mails, but the question keeps coming up in the show the wicked witch is clearly displeased to have answer and it’s a potential ratings-boosting  plot twist somewhere along the line. At one point the wicked witch said that no bank should be “too big to fail” and somehow also blurted out “and no individual should be to jail,” which got an audible gasp from the audience and had us laughing loudly.
That O’Malley guy dropped in from time to time during the episode, but not that you’d notice. He’s a bit out of touch with the surreality of the showing, and even sounds downright sensible at times, too boring even for a show that won’t even exploit its obvious sex scandal angle, and his major accomplishment in office lowering crime rates in Baltimore and Maryland is somehow offensive to the black people of Democrat-Land, so we don’t see him getting much more air time.
Another off-screen villain that figured in the episode was billionaire real estate mogul and reality show star Donald Trump, formerly of “The Apprentice” but now starring on the Republicans’ presidential race, last seen tying a virginal young lass with adorable ringlets to a railroad track, whom all the characters seem eager to face in next season’s general election race show. Such a storyline would go further into surreality than the combined imaginations of Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali fortified by two tabs apiece of Owsley acid could ever reach, but given the sorry state of over-the-air network broadcasting these days that might well be what we wind up with. For those of us who prefer a more realistic and high-toned sort of drama, and especially one with a happy ending, the prospects for this show are not at all heartening.

— Bud Norman