If You Win a Fight in the Gutter, You’re Still in the Gutter

One of the arguments most frequently made for the presidential candidacy of Donald J. Trump, the Republican front-runner, is that he’s the party’s only candidate who can beat Hillary Clinton, who is somehow once again the presumptive Democratic nominee. All those same polls that Trump and his supporters love to talk about show that he’s the only Republican and one of the few human beings on the planet with even higher un-favorability ratings than Clinton, and that he consistently loses to her in head-to-head match-ups and fares far worse against her than his remaining rivals, but we’re assured that at least he fights.
The same can well be said of Trump’s only significant remaining rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, but the worry is that even such a notoriously pugnacious fellow as he won’t make it as personal and nasty and down-in-the-gutter as will be required. There are no such worries about Trump, of course, who has the undeniable advantage over Cruz of being unbound by any notions of political correctness or social propriety or the basic human decency that refrains lesser mortals from mocking the handicapped and disparaging servicemen who suffer wartime captivity or commenting on another candidate’s face or a pesky journalist’s menstrual cycles. The thinking that Trump’s shock jock insult comic shtick will work at least as well against such a vulnerable target as the dishonest and corrupt and incompetent and scandal-ridden and under-investigation Clinton as it has against the distinguished and admirable governors and senators and physicians and business executives that he’s already vanquished has some plausibility, but we’re not at all convinced that even such a knock-down-drag-out type as Trump will be able to prevail in a personal and nasty and down-in-the-gutter brawl with the likes of anybody named Clinton.
Trump is already running an on-air attack ad against Clinton that features her much-laughed-at barking-like-a-dog routine from a few weeks back, with shots of a laughing Vladimir Putin and a scowling Islamic terrorist interspersed, and the ominous warning that “We don’t need to be a punchline.” It’s a point well taken, we’ll admit, but anyone who has lately tuned into the late night comedy shows and shock jock radio programs and other leading indicators of the American mood has surely noticed that Trump also figures in a lot of punchlines, and in this fight the  thin-and-orange-skinned Trump will be leading with a glass jaw. Should Clinton decide to retaliate with footage of Trump acting in at least equally un-presidential ways she can choose from hours of footage of Trump shaving Vince McMahon’s head in World Wrestling Entertainment’s “Battle of the Billionaires,” or of him comparing himself to Napoleon and Alexander the Great while pitching “Trump: The Board Game,” or talking about how he picked all the top people to teach “Trump University” students how to be great just like he’s going to make America great again, or wearing overalls and holding a pitchfork to sing the “Green Acres” theme with that woman from that oh-so-gay “Will and Grace” sit-com from a few years back, not to mention the rest of his 40 years of tabloid and reality television celebrity, or even his recent admission he was flattered by Putin’s praise and figured that the Russian dictator’s occasional assassinations were morally equivalent to America’s politics. As ridiculous as it was, that barking-like-a-dog bit was a mere sound-bite-sized part of a folksy anecdote about an old Arkansas political ad that Clinton’s fans found quite endearing, and even to such Clinton-loathing Republicans such as ourselves all that Trump footage is harder to rationalize.
Better to go after Clinton on all the dishonesty and corruption and incompetence she’s exhibited over her own long and tawdry tabloid and reality television career, which the public currently acknowledges, or on the disastrous policies she proposes, which the public might yet come to understand, and which such a notoriously pugnacious but bound-by-civility sort as Cruz might do, rather than a sound-bite sized moment when she barked like a dog. Alas, even the promethean Trump does find  himself bound in these lines of attack. The phony-baloney foundation that Clinton and her satyric husband and spoiled rich kid founded and which was largely funded by nations and people seeking the family’s influence is an under-investigation scandal that could be exploited, but Trump wrote it a one-hundred-grand check and during the first general election debate the supposedly shrewd businessman will be hard pressed to explain how he thought it was helping some poor Haitian earthquake victim. Her remarkable string of luck from her gazillion-to-one cattle futures-trading to the thousands-per-minute rates she charged for speeches at universities where she lamented the student’s tuition rates are unconscionably high, but not by someone who will have to acknowledge she made the smart deal. She’s down for Obamacare, which all the anti-Republican Republicans are still fuming that the awful Mitt Romeny couldn’t exploit because of his own heresies on socialized medicine, but Trump is fine with that individual mandate that he blames Supreme Court Justice John Roberts for and has promised that no one will die in the streets under his watch and is proposing a Medicaid expansion beyond what either Clinton or Obama ever suggested, so it will take an actual Republican to address that issue. Trump has already rightly noted that Clinton’s family history makes her an unfit spokesperson for the feminist cause, but even his Republican opponents are already running attack ads with all his outrageously misogynistic statements over the years and up to very recently, and we don’t expect he can win that personal and nasty and down-in-the-gutter fight.
Clinton has promised not to do anything about the entitlement programs that are hurtling America toward bankruptcy, but Trump, who came out of four corporate bankruptcies boasting about his billions, is similarly sanguine about this un-barking problem. Clinton has lately embarrassed herself claiming that no American lives were lost as a result of her disastrous push to bomb Libya, and will forever be tarnished by the fact that four Americans died as a result of her deaf ear to their pleas for added security, and that she lied to the public and blamed it on a citizen who exercised his First Amendment rights to make a little-watched video, and had him imprisoned, but Trump’s claims that he opposed her Libyan intervention have already been revealed as a lie, and he’s got his own problems with that damned First Amendment, which has so often proved embarrassing to him over his long tabloid and reality television career.
At least Trump fights and he’ll point out that Clinton is aged and unattractive and is married to a well-known adulterer, but he’s older than Clinton and not exactly Paul-Newman-in-“Hud” good-looking himself and can’t help bragging about all the hot and married babes he’s bagged, to the point that avoiding sexually-transmitted was his own “personal Vietnam,” and how at least he didn’t get captured, like those POW losers, but we can’t see it ending well for him or the country at large. No matter who the Republicans nominate the candidate will be typecast as a racist and sexist and homophobic and downright kicking-widows-out-of-their-homes villain, but at this point they still have a chance to pick someone who won’t provide the video proof.
If they do, they’ll still have an outside chance to pick someone who can win a fight somewhere above the gutter, where Clinton doesn’t fare so well.

— Bud Norman

No All-Star Game at the Halfway Point

The presidential political season has now passed the halfway point, without anything nearly so entertaining as the all-star games that mark the middle of more respectable professional sports, and although the front-runners in both leagues padded their leagues on Tuesday padded their leads the outcomes are at least still somewhat in doubt.
Over on the Democrats’ senior circuit, former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was awful in each of those capacities, won decisive victories in the populous and all-important “swing states” of Ohio and Florida, as well as the Democratic stronghold of Illinois, and the populous and possibly Democratic state of North Carolina, and is neck-to-neck with her lone challenger in the populous and even more possibly Democratic state of Missouri. Such a good night gives her a better than two-to-one lead in the delegate count, with all the super-delegates and other cards stacked in her favor, but she’s also had some bad nights, and against the self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, at that, and he looks to be sticking around. Sanders’ supporters are quite committed to his crazy cause, and quite sanely if inadvertently aware of Clinton’s dishonesty and corruption and incompetence and purely opportunistic stands on the issues, as well as generally low moral character, and they’re coughing up twenty bucks at a time to keep funding his anti-establishment insurgency at a faster pace than the hated Wall Street fat cats can fund her unappealing campaign, and even if the Federal Bureau of Investigation doesn’t get a game-changing indictment against her for her irregular and national-security-endangering e-mail practices, or her scandal-ridden family’s highly suspicious “foundation,” she’s still got problems between now and her long-predicted coronation.
By now Clinton’s unfavorable ratings are so high that the current Democratic administration might be tempted to let the FBI proceed with that indictment, so that some wild card might be played at a contested convention, but Tuesday night’s Republican results suggest she might be running against pretty much the only person in the United States of America with even worse polls numbers. Donald J. Trump, the self-described billionaire and real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television-and-scam-university mogul, also racked up a sizable win populous and swing-state Florida, as well as Illinois and North Carolina, and is quite narrowly leading in Missouri as we write this, and with the winner-take-all rule in Florida and the more convoluted systems elsewhere he added to an already sizable delegate lead. There’s no denying it was another good night for Trump.
He’s got his problems, too, though, even if his own looming legal problems are merely of a multi-million dollar civil nature. He was humbled in Ohio, where favorite son Gov. John Kasich handily won all the delegates in a winner-take-all primary and some potentially important bargaining chips in the potential contested election, where they almost certainly would not go to Trump until at least the final ballot, and he was dogged in Missouri by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has several wins against Trump and almost certainly would have won Missouri if not for the presence of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is now mercifully out of the race after his un-favorite son finish in his home state, and the intra-party opposition to Trump is also committed and contributing and increasingly well-organized, and the deal-maker’s deal is far being made.
Even if he does seal the deal on a nomination, there are still those worse-even-than-Clinton’s polling numbers, and it’s hard to imagine that one of Trump’s stream-of-consciousness rants during his nomination acceptance speech will do much to change, and a certain number of us are going to start choosing between the Constitutionalists and the Libertarians and any other conservative-sounding third party, while a certain number of similarly picky picky Democrats will be investigating the Socialist and Green and other liberal-sounding parties, but until then there’s at least some outside chance of an honest conservative versus an honest liberal.

— Bud Norman

The Future of Bill Clinton’s Past

When we finally achieve our goal of a benign dictatorship, one of our first edicts will make required reading of the great historian C. Vann Woodward’s essay on “The Future of the Past,” which usefully explains how the past is always changing to meet the political needs of the present. He wrote mostly how the isolationists will seize on one explanation for the fall of Rome while the internationalists will prefer another, with the environmentalists preferring something about lead vases the social conservatives noting all those orgies and such, and how various ethnic groups will have differing opinions on the discovery of America, but we’re sure he would have also mentioned the recent revisions of the history of Bill Clinton’s presidency.
As we lived through it the era seemed the best of times and the worst of times, to borrow a phrase, with the Reagan boom echoing with audio enhancement by some financial legerdemain, and the right-wing Congress that got elected half-way through his first term forcing a more or less balanced budget and further financial deregulations and serious welfare reform and a few tough-on-crime measures and some big trade deals as well, but there were also all the tawdry sex scandals and a worrisome sense that some of those sneaky policies about affordable housing and such would sooner or later explode the economy. The first draft of history called it a rousing success, though, and for some time the consensus was that he’d been not half-bad, and at least had spared the country the “Hand-Maiden’s Tale” theocracy that surely would have resulted from another Republican.
This reading of history proved useful until recently, when Clinton’s long-suffering wife, former Senator and Secretary of State as well as First Lady Hillary Clinton, found herself in a presidential race with self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is more righteously liberal. Now no less a liberal pundit as Thomas Franks is lamenting “Bill Clinton’s odious presidency” in his telling of “the real history of the ’90s,” and it’s something to see. The author of the national best-selling book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?,” which explained that Kansans tend to vote Republican because they’re too crazed by Christianity to embrace the truth faith of socialism, and which was the worst book we ever read on Kansas politics, has a new title out that explains how Clinton’s tenure was a disaster for a liberals. He grudgingly concedes that Clinton achieved modest increases in the minimum wage and top tax tax brackets, and made a failed attempt at health care reform, but notes that the rest of what he’s remembered for was mostly the doing of the hated House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his fellow right-wingers and that even the economic good times were largely a matter of accounting tricks and Enron-schemes and dot-com bubbles.
As much as we’re delighted to hear such a left-winger as Franks at long last acknowledge these points, it is of course in service of the liberal agenda. Those tawdry sex scandals are now conceded, but that’s only because the religious right is now reduced to fighting for the right not to participate or same-sex weddings and saving nuns the cost of contraceptive coverage, and the woman who defended her husband’s serial abuses is not out on the campaign trail saying that any woman who alleges a sexual assault should be believed. Those tough-on-crime measures saved thousands of black lives, but now there’s a Black Lives Matter movement that that is more concerned about the mass incarceration of murderers of black men and women. Don’t mention trade deals on a Democratic campaign trail, either, or even a Republican one, because those are now out of fashion, no matter what economic benefits they’ve brought. That welfare reform bill that proved so popular and effective prior to its repeal-by-executive-action under President Barack Obama is now described as “the repeal of welfare,” and the distaff Clinton is to be tarred with that as well. There’s no mention of the awful affordable housing policies that drove a housing bubble whose popping popped the entire economy, which of course is all blamed on those de-regulations, or how the lack of concern with Middle Eastern terrorism might have manifested itself a few months into Clinton’s successor’s first term, so it’s not an altogether satisfying revisionism.
Still, we’re pleased to see some long overdue Clinton-bashing going on over on the left. It’s only fair, what with the current Republican front-runner is telling dubious tales about Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing’s pig-blood soaked bullets and rehashing pure hogwash about Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill getting along and spouting the “Bush lied, people died” mantra and embracing the kind of protectionism and Wall Street-bashing that even Bill Clinton was too smart to embrace. Perhaps some future date will revise that ridiculous history, if it serves someone’s political needs.

— Bud Norman

American Politics in the Mud and the Blood and the Beer

America’s politics had already started to resemble a particularly lively episode of “The Jerry Springer Show” or some other ratings-grabbingly confrontational reality show, but over the past week it has started looking more like a late Weimar Republic-era beer hall in one of the angrier neighborhood of Munich. There’s been a long slow slide into this muck, and at this point there’s plenty of blame to go around.
The violent disruptions that have recently taken place at campaign rallies for Donald J. Trump, the self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show-and-scam-university mogul who is currently the frontrunner for the nomination of the Republican Party, are by now familiar tactics of the left or the liberals or the progressives or whatever else you want to call the peace-and-love-and-sensitivity side of political spectrum. Our first inklings of political awareness came watching the fuzzy black-and-white images of Democratic Mayor Richard Daley’s quite forcefully responding to the sometimes peaceful and sometimes violent Democratic protesters outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which was widely cheered on by many of the Republicans and the rest of the war-and-hate-and-insensivitity side of the political spectrum we were leaning toward, and was by far the most ratings-grabbing reality show of that memorably confrontational year, and although things had seemed to simmer down somewhat for a while since then it’s been popping up in our news-reading ever since.
Being admittedly obsessive about our free speech rights we have kept a careful eye on any reports of campus speakers being shut down, or gatherings of people with common political goals being disrupted, or newspapers having their circulation disrupted, or internet pundits having their punditry censored by hackers, or handicapped black people assembling with others to petition for redress of their grievances being beaten by racist thugs, or tax-payer paid professors associated with journalism departments calling for “some muscle” to remove a pesky reporter, and we have long noticed that it’s almost invariably people on the peace-and-love-and-sensitivity side of the political spectrum who are doing the bullying.
The peace-and-love-and-sensitivity side of the political spectrum retains this side of its censorious nature even when it obtains power, as we have also repeatedly seen. Somehow President Richard Nixon emerged from the conflagrations of our childhood, but was brought low just five years later by revelations that he’d had something to do with the bugging of a a Democratic official’s phone and had suggested using the Internal Revenue Service to harass his opponents, but the mot peace-loving and exquisitely sensitive sort of president can bug pretty much everyone’s phone and actually use the IRS to harass his political enemies and it goes largely unremarked. The current “Hope and Change” president has repeatedly castigated his political opponents for wanting dirty water and dirty and inviting them along for the ride to his utopia only if they sit in the back of the bus, and exhorting his supporters to punish their enemies and get in their faces and if they bring a knife you a gun, and threatening to talk “truth to power” to the almighty Fox Network, all of which was either ignored or celebrated by more adulatory media, and yet he assures those same media he surely bears no blame for the rise of the likes of such a shock jock insult comic as Donald J. Trump.

Those sorts of idiots who have beset Trump’s rallies probably would have been there even without seven years of Obama’s outrageous rhetoric and disastrous policies, however, they’d be at the rallies of anyone who was leading the Republican race, and they’ve even been at the rallies of both Democratic contenders, so there’s still plenty of blame to go around. You can point to a failed educational system, for one thing, especially when the fellow who stormed the stage with an incoherent rage during one of Trump’s incoherent rages turns out to to be the very peace-and-love-and-sensitivity son of a public educator, as well as the general idiocy it has caused. You can certainly point on such organized peace-love-and-sensitivity groups as MoveOn.org, which has helped organize the out-of-control protests at Trump rallies, and until we get a full-throated denunciations of these acts from self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who may or may not be the front-runner in his party’s race, we’ll also suspect him. You can point to that ’68-era terrorist Bill Ayers, who helped launch the current president’s unlikely career and was boasting about shutting down Trump’s free speech. You can point as always to certain media, who always fall for one certain line of authoritarian garbage but not another, and somehow manage to ignore more sensible alternatives. You could point to a reality show and professional wrestling and us-versus-them and betting-on-the-come but otherwise peace-love-and-sensitivity-and-free-sex pop culture that has lately supplanted the accumulated wisdom of western civilization, and we believe you’ll see something to blame in that direction as well.
What’s most unsettling about this latest go-round of leftist or liberal or progressive or whatever you want to call the peace-and-love-and-sensitivity side of the political spectrum’s thuggery is the apparent eagerness of so much of the rest of us to get right down in the mud and blood and the beer and commence the brawl. Trump has long relished the “at least he fights” reputation his bold “tweets” have earned him, and he expects a similarly bellicose attitude from the people pledging allegiance to him. Throughout a series of escalating attempts to disrupt his rallies he has urged supporters to “be a little more violent” and maybe “he should have been roughed up” and if anyone suspects a tomato throwing “knock the hell out of them” and “in the good old days they’d rip him out of that seat so fast” and “don’t try to hurt him, but if you do I’ll pay your legal bills,” and “I’d like to punch him in his face.” One of Trump’s supporters, prior to the past weekend’s escalated disruptions, did punch a protestor in the face as he was being led by police out of the building, and Trump is thus far unclear on whether he’ll pay for the legal bills, such legal matters always being long-drawn out by Trump, but so far there’s been no full-throated denunciation. This all comes as Trump is trumpeting his ability to unify the country, but at this point even his most mythical deal-making powers seem sufficient to pull that off.
The pony-tailed 78-year-old who punched the already-under-arrest protestor was arrested on assault charges, but proudly told a television news camera that he’d do it again and “maybe next time we’ll have to kill him,” but he looks to be one of those previously uninvolved voters that we’re supposed to be grateful to Trump for bringing into the party. He explained that the protestor had extended a middle finger at the crowd, and “wasn’t acting like an American,” but we can’t the times that we’ve read and heard Trump supporters saying that they support him because his candidacy is intended as that very same gesture.
Nor does Trump offer any indication that he’d be any less censorious and authoritarian when in power. He’s publicly promised that his press critics would “have problems, such problems” if he became president, he’s described the peaceful Tiananmen Square protests as a “riot” and the Chinese government’s mass-muderous response as “strong,” and he’s spoken a brand new truth to power against the almighty Fox Network, which is now apparently a left-wing organ.
Perhaps there’s nothing to do at this point but bring that gun to the knife, or the nuclear weapon to whatever V-2 rocket they produce, and perhaps the only solution at this point is to burn it all down, as many Trump also come right out and say they hope to do, but we’d like to think there’s still some hope for an appeal to reason.
At this point we have cast in our lot with the candidacy of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and we still hold out hope he offers something better than getting down in the mud and the blood and beer. Although we concede that certain media will convince a certain portion of the public that he’s a crazed beer hall putsch nutcase, at least they won’t the video footage to prove it. We’d urge you to take a look at how Cruz handles those occasional disruptions that come with politics even in the best of times, and how a friendly invitation to talk about ideas and the skills of a former national collegiate debate champion and oft-successful Supreme Court litigators handles their noisy sloganeering, and consider the chance that America might yet respond to such a campaign. We know that such dry policy wonk stuff doesn’t fare well against the professional wrestling and reality shows and peace-and-love-and sensitivity stuff, but these days nobody has a majority market share, and we’re too old to be down in the mud and the blood and the beer.

— Bud Norman

And Now For the Boring Policy Stuff Part of the Show

The latest episode in the Republican Party’s binge-worthy reality show was boringly dignified, by its recent Kardashian standards, but Thursday night’s presidential debate on the Cable News Network was nonetheless quite riveting in a Masterpiece Theater sort of way. Although the front-runner didn’t make any braggadocios remarks about the size of any of his body parts or ridicule the height or looks an opponent, and none of his rivals had the effrontery to mention any of his various failed confidence schemes or other glaring character defects, the rather substantive and soporifically sedate debate that followed was intriguingly revealing.
There was an interesting prologue by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who series fans will recognize as the Darth Vader embodiment of that Dark Side of the moment’s metaphorical Star Wars battle known as “the establishment,” and for some reason he felt obliged to assure the audience that the Republican Party would be supporting its nominee in the upcoming general election. This usually goes unsaid in presidential campaigns, but in this reality show version the front-runner is Donald J. Trump, who is loathed by a significant portion of the party and most of the country, which was of course left unsaid in Priebus’ remarks, but it set a certain tone for the evening’s proceedings. The self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television-and-scam-university-mogul tried his comb-overed best to come off very presidential, his opponents struck a similar pose, and it was an interesting glimpse into what a presidential race would like if it concerned itself mostly with the important issues facing the country.
In such a dream world, Trump probably wouldn’t be the front runner in the race. After his opponents opened with statements with thumbnail sketches of their plans for the country’s future, Trump boasted about the support of people in their fifties and sixties who have never voted before and his never paid any attention to politics, as if their support is somehow persuasive to those of us who have always been involved, and explained that his plans for the future involve him winning. On his signature issue of cracking down on both illegal and legal immigrants he more or less admitted that he has hired both, and explained that he therefor knows better than any of the other candidates how awful it is, and that he did only did so because no business can make a profit except for that awful system, and he gave his latest opinion on the guest worker visas that he’s used and condemned and advocated and we’re not sure where is now, and we got the sense he didn’t really expect that anybody but his most ardent supporters would find that persuasive. His opponents were equally forceful about the very important issue of border enforcement, albeit without the histrionic talk about Mexico shipping in rapists that characterized the pre-presidential Trump, and seemed to have a better grasp of the issue without any of the hypocrisy.
The crucially important issue of of entitlement reform at long last came up in this strange campaign, and Trump made clear he’d do none of that, which of course would not be popular. He’d just cut out waste and fraud and abuse, and grow the economy enough through his great deals that there’d be plenty of money to make up the literally more-money-than-there-is-in-the-world shortfalls that are awaiting, and the moderator quite rightly noted, CNN or not, that the highest estimates of waste and fraud and abuse would only provide a fraction of that, he promised that it will be a “different world” when he’s elected, which has some unsettling truth to it. On the matter of international trade, where Trump promises that he’s going to make the kind of “great deals” that he’s always made, and not the sort of lousy deals he made in his numerous failed businesses that went politely unmentioned by the others, Trump explained that his once-promised and still ambiguously offered 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods is merely a “threat,” and that now-admitted bluff would suffice to make the Chinese “behave,” and believe him, we’re gonna get the right people and make great deals.
Moving to the arguably even more dangerous international scene, Trump was asked about his recent comment that “Islam hates us,” which is a defensible statement if explained with a certain nuance, but Trump doesn’t do nuance anymore than he does entitlement reform, so he talked about all the hatred out there, and added an ironic side note about how the Islamic world treats women, and doubled down on his previous comments about killing innocent women and children in the defense of American values, and yet was too presidential to employ the barnyard epithets he’s used when describing how he’d bomb them. On the subject of Israel, he took pains to note the Jewish parade he was grand marshall of and that no one loves the Israelis more than he does, but that he wants to be neutral only so he can get a great deal for them, although he admits that might be hard, even with the best people. He also went in for full diplomatic and trade relations with the horrible communist government of Cuba, assuring us he’d get a great deal, supposedly like the one that Michael Corleone and Hyman Roth once had there, and when reminded of his past comments that Vladimir Putin and the Chinese government that ordered the massacre at Tiananmen Square were examples of strength he could only explain that “strong” isn’t necessarily a good thing, which undermines the entire premise of the Trump candidacy.
Comparatively, all of Trump’s opponents fared well.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, whose winless campaign continues only in hopes that a favorite son victory in his home state’s upcoming primary will help in some neighboring states and get into the convention with a marketable bloc of delegates and perhaps even a very long-shot at a brokered nomination, had a good enough night to help him with that Ohio race. He had some arguable but realistic notions about illegal immigration and entitlement reform, annoyed us with some talk about humans contributing to climate change but didn’t advocate any crazy solutions, had some rousing anti-communist rhetoric that warmed our cold warrior hearts about the evil Castro regime and that brave Chinese man who stood in front of those strong tanks on Tiananmen Square, and he got in some verifiable bragging about how well the Ohio economy has fared during his administration and also the budget-hawk and defense credentials he’d earned as a Congressman.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio also had a good night, although it might not have been well enough to save his chances in an upcoming home state primary that is his last chance to remain in the race. He took a stand for raising the Social Security age to 68 and eventually beyond, a necessity which won’t hurt him with the sizable percentage of Floridians over that age but nonetheless counts as more courageous than anything than the tell-it-like-it-is Trump has ever said. He took a tough stand against Islamic terrorism, and got a good round of applause by saying that “I’m not interested in being politically correct, I’m interested in being correct,” and correctly noted that some Muslims will have to be involved in solving the problems of the Muslim world. He was careful to note that Trump might not intend to harm Israel, but made a good case why Trump’s policies would do just that, and the son of Cuban immigrants made a convincing and compelling case against any deals with the Commie strongmen running that unfortunate island, and it clearly played well with a south Florida audience.
Both Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz argued that the race has come down to the two of them, which seems about right, and Cruz also had a good night. He criticized the Democrat’s don’t-touch-entitlements wishfulness in terms so close to what Trump had just said that a moderator had to ask if he was implying anything, contrasted his bold stand against ethanol subsidies prior to his win over Trump in Iowa as an example of how they’d be willing to take on special interests, invoked the Depression-inducing effects of the Smoot-Hawley act in response to Trump’s protectionism and noted the inevitability of a resulting trade war, expressed his own frustration’s with Obama’s foreign policy timidity but also declined to commit any war crimes, compared the moral relativism of Trump’s stand on Israel with Obama’s, and generally came off just as angry as Trump but more familiar with all that policy stuff you’d need to know to fix it.
By now all the Trump fans are enamored of their infallible deal-maker, no matter how many bad deals he’s made, that it might not make any difference. Any late-deciding Republican primary and caucus voters who haven’t fallen for the boastful-about-body-parts self-described billionaire probably won’t be much impressed with the more presidential version of the brand, though, so the show should be getting back to its Kardashian standards soon enough.

— Bud Norman

An Awful Deal Gets More Awful Yet

You might have forgotten about that awful deal that President Barack Obama struck last year with Iran’s apocalyptic suicide cult of a government over its nuclear weapons program, as Donald J. Trump hasn’t “tweeted” anything about it lately, but along with all the other things to worry about it continues to get more awful by the day.
Iran conducted yet another inter-continental ballistic missile test yesterday, launching a couple of Koranic-named rockets inscribed with “Israel should be wiped off the earth,” but we are assured this is no big deal. While the administration’s spokesmen will state with requisite diplomacy that the tests are “provocative,” they quickly add that such acts do not violate the terms of their deal, which seems to us to prove how very awful that deal is. The International Atomic Energy Agency won’t say that Iran is in violation of any international agreements, then quickly adds that the side agreements they agreed to with both the United States and Iran forbid them from revealing any Iranian violations of whatever was more-or-less agreed upon but not actually signed by anybody, which to us seems to make the more-or-less deal seem even more awful yet. Throw in that $150 billion that Iran is getting out out the deal, and the current Secretary of State’s under-oath admission that some of it’s going into Iran’s ongoing terrorist networks, and his complaint during the last round of missile tests that “they’re not supposed to be doing that,” and one shudders to think how very apocalyptically this might all turn out.
The deal was supposed to be Obama’s foreign policy legacy, just as his Obamacare legislation was supposed to be what he would be remembered for on the domestic side, and to his and the country’s and the entire world’s misfortune both suppositions will likely prove true. We were promised that the deal would verifiably prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons or the inter-continental ballistic missiles that make them especially dangerous and would quell that nation’s religious supremacist bellicosity, just as we were promised that everyone would have health coverage and everyone’s health care costs would go down by an average of $2,500 a year, but instead Iran seems to be building inter-continental missiles that are really only useful delivering nuclear warheads for some reason or another that the IAEA can’t comment on and the “death to America” rhetoric has lately seemed ramped up and the potential consequences make a couple-grand-and-a-half seem insignificant and the prospects of health care for everyone remote. As we contemplate our sorry choices for a successor to Obama, it is worth remembering how very awful he has been.
Even the sorry choices we choose from are likely to do better, as former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and corrupt foundation-scammer Hillary Clinton is arguing for renewed sanctions and can plausibly point to current Secretary of State John Kerry as proof that she’s only the second-worst Secretary of State ever, and rival self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders spent some time on a Stalinist kibbutz in Israel and might have some reluctance to let it be wiped off the earth, and of course the Republicans are taking a stronger stand, although the front-runner has lately been talking about neutrality toward Israel and seems to regard the whole Middle East as another real-estate deal where Israel might wind up the poor widow with the house where he wants to build a parking lot for his casino. More hopefully, Iran itself might yet save us from this awful deal.
The Iranian government has lately been gloating that it never did sign anything with the Great Satan, by which they don’t mean just Obama, but the rest of us as well, and that if the United States considers tests of inter-continental missiles named for Koranic verses and inscribed with the slogan “Israel should be wiped off the earth” so much as “provocative” they might just walk away. The Obama administration would likely go running after them with further concessions to make the deal even more awful, if possible, but if the Iranians play it out long enough for a long-shot scenario to develop on our awful political scene there might be some hope.

— Bud Norman

The Race Plods Along

The votes keep coming in, but so far they haven’t added up to a clear winner in either of the presidential races. There are two front-runners who continue to front-run, but neither can feel comfortable with their leads.
Former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and once-presumed First Woman President Hillary Clinton continues to slog it out with self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, of all people. Clinton picked up another convincing win in Mississippi on Tuesday, continuing a winning streak in southern states where all the white people have long since registered Republican and the Democratic parties are dominated by blacks, who for some vague reasons seem to prefer Clinton to the nebbishy socialist from a lily-white state whose efforts at identity politics have often been clumsy, but she lost a squeaker in Michigan, where the racial demographics are more typical of the country at large, and which the Democrats rely on in general elections.
This wasn’t supposed to happen, but it keeps happening, and this is before Clinton is either indicted on felony charges or has the Federal Bureau of Investigation furiously leaking all the reasons she should have been indicted but was saved solely by naked political favoritism, which can’t help, so we expect this race to continue. The peculiar rules of the Democrat’s delegate selection process seem to award Clinton a “super delegate” or two no matter how she performs at the ballot box, and it remains to be seen how the broad diverse tapestry of the Democratic party will respond to some nebbishy white guy’s call for a socialist revolution, and she continues to more-or-less front-run in the polls, but we have to imagine there is some panic afoot in the party’s smoke-free back rooms. They might even decide to go ahead and let the woman get indicted just to get her out of the race and allow some hair-plugged white knight or faux Indian princess to come to the rescue, or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on our part, but any scenario seems bleak for the Democrats.
They do have the last-resort advantage of running against Republicans, though, and the loyal opposition seems determined to help out. After wins in Michigan and Mississippi and Hawaii, the front-runner is still Donald J. Trump, the self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television-and-scam-university mogul, whose national unfavorable ratings in one recent poll hit an eye-popping 67 percent, which is even worse than Clinton’s, which is saying something. The wins added to a solid but not insurmountable lead in the delegate count, and was sufficient for Trump to boast that it’s all over and time for the entire party to rally around his vaguely defined cause, but surely he’s a shrewd enough negotiator to know that’s not going to happen. A consistent two-thirds of the party continues to vote against him, with a large chunk of it having highly unfavorable views of him, and much more than a few of us are willing to fight him until the very end and beyond, and a careful look reveals that all the undecideds who haven’t yet become enamored of Trump after so many months of saturation media coverage of his garish insult comic routine are predictably deciding they don’t like him, and all this is just as the effective-because-they’re-true negative ads have been starting to come out.
Worse yet, from Trump’s bottom-line perspective, the fractured field that has allowed his pluralities to prevail in so many contests is narrowing, with Tuesday’s results effectively knocking Florida Sen. Marco Rubio out of the race, although he might risk humiliation by continuing to campaign in his home state. Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s narrow-third place finish in neighboring Michigan won’t keep him from contesting his home state as a favorite son, but if he wins that he denies Trump some much-needed delegates, and if he doesn’t it will all come down to Trump against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who picked up another upset win in Idaho and once again out-performed the polls in his losing efforts, leads Trump in head-to-head matches in the polls, and is clearly eager to be alone on a debate stage with Trump.
This might end in a race between two of the most deservedly disliked and distrusted people in America, or a nebbishy socialist and an evangelical capitalist, or some combination thereof, or maybe even some hair-plugged white knight or faux Indian princess will come to the rescue, and we’ll even hold on to some faint hope of another deus ex machina.

— Bud Norman

The Idleness of March

The month of March always brings severe weather and post-season college basketball on this part of the Great Plains, both of which can be quite rivetingly turbulent, but until they begin in earnest this quadrennial year we’re finding nothing of interest in the news but those already tiresome presidential races.
For a while now we’ve barely heard a peep out of President Barack Obama, much less anything to work up a rant about, and we’ll begrudgingly concede that he was gracious in his remarks about the passing of former First Lady Nancy Reagan, and acknowledge our appreciation for all the half-mast flags that are flying around town. The economy is still awful, but only awful in more or less the same awful way it’s been for the past eight years or so, and not awful in a way that any of the candidates or the world’s bankers seem to know how to fix. Despite a recent brief lull in terror attacks on the west, that whole world-on-fire situation is still also awful, but one party is insisting that climate change is a bigger problem and the front-runner in the other party is telling apocryphal stories about solving it all with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood, and that’s about the only reason all that foreign policy blah-blah-blah is in the news these days.
We note that ace quarterback Peyton Manning is retiring from football, and we wish him well, as he always seemed a nice enough guy and made our brother in Colorado quite happy by winning a Super Bowl for the Denver Broncos last month, but that’s only so interesting. There were some Academy Awards recently, but we couldn’t possibly care less about that, and we’re sure there’s some sex scandal afoot involving some reality television stars or another, and although the cast likely involves a future president we don’t care to keep track of that stuff.
We’re coming up on the Ides of March, and have been forewarned about them by our Shakespearian education, but until the coming catastrophes we’re searching about hopeful news.

— Bud Norman

Kansas Comes Through

All in all, it was a delightful day in Kansas on Saturday. We had to be up at the ungodly early hour of 7:30 a.m., and after a long drive back from the funeral of a much-loved family member at that, but the weather was about as perfect as early March ever provides around here, and we got to boo to Donald J. Trump in person and shake the hand of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and by the end of the day the quadrennial Kansas presidential caucuses and the democratic process itself had once again proved great fun.
The festivities began at 8 a.m., which we attribute to the Kansas Republican Party’s still lingering farmer tendencies, as well as the necessity of wrapping things up before the University of Kansas Jayhawks and Wichita State University Wheatshockers played their conference tournament basketball games, and we made the miscalculation that sleeping through the time it would take to brew our requisite two cups of coffee would compensate for their stimulative effects, but we somehow safely somnambulated ourselves out of Riverside and over to the fortunately nearby Century II building downtown. Some old New Journalism instinct told us to be there early, so after we wasted some time waiting in a line that turned out to be for a Trump rally in one of the circular building’s other pie-shaped segments we we soon found our way to the entrance to the caucus’ much larger pie-shaped segment, which was shared with the local youth symphony practice going on in an adjacent pie-shaped segment, so all sorts of fresh-faced kids with cello cases and trombone-shaped luggage were in the same long line with a bunch of grizzled farmer-looking Republicans, but it turned out to be well worth the short wait to receive the yellow sticker that would allow us to cast a ballot. Kansas has all those photo identification requirements that the Democrats are always squawking about, and our Secretary of State is the nation’s most infamous advocate of these outlandish measures, but it was all computerized and quite cheerily transacted by the friendly people in the “volunteer” t-shirts, and we have been duly registered as Republicans since our long-ago eighteenth birthday, so we were quite quickly and efficiently welcomed into the comforting embrace of Kansas Republicanism at its most cornily old-fashioned best.
On our way in we encountered a very fine fellow who’s an old fraternity brother of one our actual brothers and is now chairman of the county’s Republican party, and we were quite circumspect about sharing our preferences in the race, which turned out to be the same. Then we ran into a woman who was campaigning for a candidate in a local statehouse race, and although her candidate was in a district more unfashionably west-side than our own she had an elongated and skinny off-beat beauty that reminded us of Shelley Duvall, and she rightly pointed out that at least we know some people in that unfashionably west-side district, so we stopped to chat with her as well. We also ran into the most delightful fellow who books the speakers for the local Pachyderm Club, who cajoled us into accepting another invitation to address that august meeting of downtown Wichita Republicans, and one of our old friends and favorite penny-pinching County Commissioners, who laughingly noted that we’re not in his district but are represented the only guy in town who makes him look like a squishy RINO establishment guy, which doesn’t bother us a bit. By the time we took our seats in the pie-shaped Republican segment of circular Century II in the third century of the American age, we felt quite at home.
There was a video by the mayor, who is officially non-partisan but generally understood around here to be a Republican, and then our County Commissioner friend filled some time with a Kansas political quiz, which we did well with, and the Lieutenant Governor weighed in via video, and our delightful friend from the Pachyderm Club made a pitch for his monthly meetings, and the head of the Black Republicans in town gave a rousing oration and a kid with skinny jeans and a modern architecture haircut spoke well on behalf of the local College Republicans, and there was a pitch on behalf of Republican Women by another friend of ours who’s the ex-wife of a even better friend of ours. Then some local high school Marine junior-ROTC kids right out of a Norman Rockwell painting presented the colors, our local don’t-dare-you-doubt-his-Republicanism congressman led the assembled electorate in a Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a prayer from a local pastor, and that was followed by a memorable rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The two-male, two-female quartet from a local church knocked the familiar tune out of the park and had the crowd singing along through the familiar “and the land of the free and home of the brave” ending, which brought the expected roar, but they kept singing through that second verse that is so unfamiliar no one could sing along, and it got another big roar when it ended with the same closing lines.
This was followed by a long and soporific delay due to the long lines still waiting to get past such a friendly and efficient and computerized process, filled with some mostly godawful contemporary country and western music, but we eventually got around to the good part about the candidates.
Our local don’t-dare-you-doubt-his-Republicanism congressman, whose Republicanism we do not doubt, had the burden of speaking on behalf of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who had made a touch-and-go appearance in town the day before, which did not fare well at all with the anti-establishment crowd. We’ve met our congressman on a few occasions and found him a most genial fellow, and have only the minor and admittedly arguable quibbles with his voting record, and given the easily accessible chumminess of Kansas Republican politics we must plead guilty to being part of some ill-defined “establishment,” and we’ll take Rubio over some options, but even we weren’t buying the pitch.
Speaking on behalf of the anti-establishment terror Cruz was the man himself, and as much as we hate to resort to cliches we can’t think of anything to say but that he electrified the crowd. He took all of his allowed ten minutes and at least a couple more to go point by point over the things that have infuriated the sorts of Republicans who get up at 7:30 a.m. and probably even earlier than that to be there for the extended “Star Spangled Banner” at a Republican caucus even on the best sort of March day you can expect, and there was a rhetorical flavor to it that we’ll call “evangelical,” and suffice to say that we were not the only ones on our feet at its conclusion. By our estimation at least two-thirds of the crowd were waving “Choose Cruz” signs, and sporting the same sticky slogan on their clothes and chanting his name, and at that point we didn’t need to await the exit polling.
Up next on our local hinterlands stage was none other than Donald J. Trump, the self=described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-realty-television-and-scam-university mogul, the man who has been unavoidable in the news for the past year or so, and he seemed rather puny. Perhaps he’d been lured to our hick town by the couple of crazy polls that showed him leading here, and the fact that Kansas’ electoral Republicanism entitles it to more delegates than similarly-sized states in more benighted regions, but by the time he hit the stage in downtown Wichita he seemed realize he was facing a hostile crowd. The boos were far louder than the cheers, and the candidate’s bluster was far less than usual. He did boast about the big crowd he’d drawn earlier, few of whom had made their way into the area where the race was going on, and he talked the usual bit about how he was going to hire the best people and do great things, but his heart didn’t seem in it, and the towering media figure looked rather small on that stage, and with hometown pride we can report that he left to more boos than cheers.
There were other candidates on the ballot, but none had bothered to schedule a speaker, so those of us who’d gotten in early were quickly able to cast our ballots and get out. While Trump was speaking we ran into a good friend from the church where we worship, and he showed us the digital pictures of himself and his lovely daughter and handsome son-in-law shaking hands with Cruz, and he told us how he got the candidate’s attention by shouting that his wife, a most delightful woman who had the good fortune to escape from Baghdad to America, had come all the way from Iraq to vote, and how Cruz had seemed genuinely humble when meeting her. As we wandered by the blocks-long line of voters who didn’t get in on all the fun we passed by Cruz, and joined the scrum of voters to shake his hand and wish him well, and we walked away feeling that no matter what awful consequences the American political process might provide at least we were part of it.
On the way back to our car, which was parked due to our early arrival in a spot that would be coveted when the rest of the Republicans and all the Democrats and the folks going to the Home and Garden Show and the youth symphony kids made downtown more crowded than usual, we passed by a couple of homeless guys who were wondering about the blocks-long line of people over on Douglas. We explained that the Kansas caucuses were going on, and added that we’d had a chance to boo Donald J. Trump in person, and one of the homeless guys insisted on giving us a fist-bump over that, which made us feel a part of an even broader American experience. After a frequently phone call-interrupted nap we headed out to Kirby’s Beer Store, a favorite ghetto dive of ours, where all our hipster friends were celebrating Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ anti-establishment victory on the also well-attended Democratic side of the race.
Cruz’ already-called victory in the Kansas Republican caucus had not at all surprised us, given the anti-establishment mood of such established Republicans as ourselves, and the fact that the same caucus which routinely chooses the most conspicuously Christian candidate is not likely to choose a thrice-married and boastfully adulterous gambling-and-strip-joint mogul who mocks the handicapped and blames his perennial tax-audit problems on his being such a strong Christian, and neither were we surprised with Sander’s victory here. The state’s minority of Democrats have all the crazy ideas associated with their party, but they’re heirs to that Prairie Populist tradition that had such crazy ideas way back in the days when the railroads and the Sears Roebuck Company were the Koch Brothers and Wal-Mart of the time, and they have an anti-establishment streak of their own that we can’t help but respect. We had a friendly beer and a nice conversation with an extravagantly homosexual friend of ours who has a knack for rational political discussion, and he shared our concern that Hillary Clinton is at least as awful as Trump on a personal integrity level and that he’s on the other side of a racial divide in his party, and despite all jibes about the “Choose Cruz” sticker on our jacket we enjoyed the beer.
The Kansas results only contributed to a split decision on the day, with Cruz winning also Maine but Trump more narrowly winning in Kentucky and with a lot of help from early voting in Louisiana. Trump still has a delegate lead, although not overwhelmingly, and the voting in all the states seems to have narrowed it down to a two-man with Cruz, whose numbers have been outperforming expectations lately while Trump’s have seemingly stalled, but the upcoming states are very different from the prairie and the outliers still hanging around the race figure to be a factor, and we don’t know what to expect from the rest of the country. Kansas came through, at least, and so did our Okie cousins, and for now the process at least affords some fun.

— Bud Norman

Harold “Cotton-Pickin'” Dills, RIP

Judging by the latest Nielsen ratings and pop charts and presidential polls, such virtues as honesty, humility, kindness, faith, and basic human decency are no longer in fashion. All the more reason we’re going to miss Harold Dills, who died Monday after a long and courageous struggle with cancer at the age of 78, which was far too young and and yet old enough to have brought him to a time when he was something of an anachronism.
Dills was much loved in his hometowns of Cullowhee, North Carolina and Edmond, Oklahoma, and widely admired in the construction industry that has lately built the greater Oklahoma City area into such up-to-date shape, and he never minded a bit that the rest of the world had never heard of him. Fame never had any appeal for him, and he only desired a sufficient fortune to provide a good life for his family, and the love of his family and the respect of the people he dealt with and the laughs he got in along the way were always reward enough for his efforts.
The small town boy joined the Air Force after graduating from high school, probably with hopes of seeing the world, but he wound up at Tinker Field in Oklahoma City. It turned out to be one of those lucky breaks that occasionally come the way of small town boys, though, as he met a woman named Claudette Patten and fell madly in love with her, got married and started learning the construction trade from his father-in-law, a great guy who knew everything there was to know about bending sheet metal. Three children soon followed, and a company of his own to pay for their upbringing, and he even wound up rooting for the Sooners and otherwise becoming a contented Okie.
Claudette Dills was our cousin, although our mom’s parents had spread their four daughters out over 21 years and as the oldest daughter of the oldest sister she was the same age as our Aunt Buzzy, which was plenty confusing to our younger selves, especially because Claudette had the same matriarchal bearing as our Aunt Fredia and always seemed more of an aunt to us, which means that Claudette and Harold’s three children are second cousins or grand-cousins or cousins once removed or something, these things being quite confusing even to our older selves, although their children always seemed cousins, and like to call us “cuz.” This made Harold Dills a sort of uncle to us, because in our family anyone who marries in is as good as blood, and he always treated us with an avuncular affection.
Somewhere along the way he had acquired the nickname “Cotton-Pickin’,” which struck our brothers and us as downright hilarious, and we’d always like to tease him that “You’re ‘Cotton-Pickin’,” and he’d laugh and poke our boyish bellies and say “No, you’re cotton pickin’,” and he’d always indulge us this comedy routine until we grew tired of it and ran off to loudly play with his children. He liked our other jokes, too, or at least pretended to, and would share some good clean ones with us, and he never seemed to mind all the high-pitched child revelry at the family get-togethers. Always sweet and sunny and smiling, with no harsh words for anyone, he seemed the most likable guy in our world.
As we grew older, we came to appreciate he was even more than that. We watched with admiration as his ACP Sheet Metal Company — the initials standing for “Another Cotton-Pickin'” — grew into a thriving business. When the Oklahoma City economy was going through its oil-driven booms he got his share of the sheet metal business by offering quality work at fair prices, and when the inevitable oil-driven busts came along he continued to prosper as the fly-by-night operators were exposed. The small town boy proved a remarkably shrewd businessman, and we don’t mean that in the modern sense of someone who can successfully hoodwink others, but in the old-fashioned small town sense of someone shrewd enough to understand that meeting the requirements of a mutually-beneficial contract is not only the right thing to do but also the smart play over the long run.
Harold Dills was also the kind of guy who would do the right thing even if wasn’t the smart play to make, and he generously shared his prosperity with his church, the needy in his community, and just about anyone he encountered who could use a helping hand. Over the long run that seemed to work out for him, as well. His son Jay learned all the hard math and makes a good living for a gorgeous wife and the cutest little girl you’ve ever seen as an engineer. His daughter Patrice Douglas became a lawyer, has served the state of Oklahoma well in a variety of capacities, made a run for congress that fell short but was honorably run, and her own good-looking kids are going off to the sorts of schools you need good grades and high test scores to get into. His other son, Nathan, has fought the local meth dealers as a state attorney and now runs the family business, and provided some more promising grandchildren. More importantly to “Cotton-Pickin’,” they’re all good people.
He remained madly in love with Claudette through 47 years of marriage until her death a few years ago, and despite his grief he was pleasantly surprised to find that a prosperous fellow with wholesome Andy Griffith good looks and a sunny disposition and a reputation for rock-solid integrity attracted the attention of all the local women of a certain age, and he wound up getting married to Linda, the best of them, who was quickly welcomed into the family and much appreciated for the joy she brought to his life. He also got to do some of that world travel that the Air Force hadn’t provided, and the pictures of him riding a Venetian gondola reveal a very surprised satisfaction, and he meticulously restored a couple of old Model A automobiles that he used to take the grandchildren out for ice cream, and had good seats for the NASCAR races that he’d loved since his boyhood days in the pre-Junior Johnson era of the sport. He didn’t even seem to mind that the rest of the world more admired the latest smutty set sit-coms and narcissistic pop stars adorned with bling, or that one of America’s political parties would point to the business his hard-work and hard ethics had created and say “You didn’t build that” or chalk it all up to the “white privilege” of a sheet metal-bending boy from the hills of North Carolina, or that the other party is offering up a narcissistic pop star adorned with bling who made his much bragged-about fortune by shorting all the contractors who built the buildings with his name trumpeted on top.
Harold Dills was beloved by his family and respected by the people he dealt with, and he knew that in the long run that was the better deal. When we learned of his diagnosis we sent him a long e-mail telling him that he would be in our prayers, and we took the opportunity to tell him why we considered him a great man. His short reply arrived a few minutes later, telling us that he very much appreciated the prayers but thought all that “great man” stuff was a bunch of hooey. With all due respect, we will have to disagree.
Making America great again can’t be achieved by even the the least humble strong men, but will require a whole lot more men like Harold Dills, and those good ol’ Okie boys who offered us a helping hand when we encountered some car trouble on the way to the funeral, and all the rest of that diminishing stock of men who do the right thing even when it doesn’t seem the smart play. We’re not sure where they’ll come from, what with all the kids being raised by Baby Mommies and Baby Daddies and on what’s on TV and the pop charts and the presidential races, but we hope that something of Harold Dills’ goodness will somehow persist. Those grandkids of his are a very promising lot, and we’ll try to do our best by providing some avuncular kidding and clean jokes and good advice at the family get-togethers, and never raising a fuss about the high-pitched childhood revelry, and letting them know what great men this country once knew.

— Bud Norman

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