Advertisements

Taxes and Texas and Other Disasters

The news was largely swept away by the flood waters that continue to wreak havoc on Texas and Louisiana, but the Republican party has officially commenced the tax reform part of its legislative agenda to make America great again. President Donald Trump kicked it off with a little-heard speech in Missouri, and it’s probably for the best that such an inauspicious start was largely swept away the flood waters.
We’re the old-fashioned conservative Republican types who like our taxes low and government lean, and we’ve shared to a certain wary extent in the stock market’s giddy expectation that Republican majorities in both houses of Congress and a more-or-less Republican president might nudge the economy in that direction, but for now we’re warier than ever. The speech sounded all the same populist soak-the-rich themes that Trump expounded during his burn-down-the-establishment campaign, yet seemed to promise all the usual old-fashioned conservative promises about tax cuts for the rich along with everyone else, but didn’t explain with any specificity about how they’re going to pull that off, much less while keeping all those newfangled and old-fashioned campaign promises about reducing the budget deficit and eventually even the national debt.
We doubt that any of those darned newfangled Democratic liberals with their tax-and-spend ways were swayed, even that long-established Democratic Senator from Missouri that Trump threatened by name during a strikingly partisan oration, and we are not assured that even the needed entirety of those of Congressional Republicans will be on board. It largely depends on the details that have not yet been revealed, of course, but whatever they might prove to be they’re bound to offend either the populist of or traditional wings of the Republican party, and in any case won’t please of those darned tax-and-spend Democrats.
Even in a best-case scenario a massive tax cut to whoever without similar cuts in the entitlement programs that are driving the annual deficits and mounting national debt would lead a a temporary budget shortfall, especially with all the increased defense spending that every corner of the Republican party is proposing, and the debate is lately even more complicated than that. The short term budget shortfalls the as-yet unspecified Republican proposals presumably propose assume they’d be offset by the savings they’d realized from repealing and replacing the hated Obamacare law, which somehow didn’t happen despite Republican majorities in Congress and a more-or-less Republican president, and the cost is likely to swell after the fourth-most-populous metropolitan area in the United States finds itself under even more literal water than the president’s approval ratings.
The cost of gasoline is already up by about 25 percent around here after the city that provides a fourth of America’s energy was flooded, the extra five bucks that motorists are paying per fill-up won’t be going to any of the other businesses around here, and the national economy hasn’t yet started to feel the effects of its fourth-most-populous city being underwater. Though we wish them the best all those Republicans are wading into this debate with strong headwinds and few few victories to bolster them, and we expect their allies on the stock markets will be hedging their bets on the promises that had been made to them, which also won’t help. That’s not to mention all the already complicated talk about continuing spending resolutions and debt ceiling increases and funding for crazy campaign promise about building a tall wall across the entire Mexican border, along with the rest of the bipartisan craziness of late.
There’s also all that drip-drip-drip flooding about “Russia,” the latest nuclear saber-rattling from the nutcase North Korean regime, and a general sense that we’re all in the midst of one of those one-thousand year floods. A severe cut in America’s steepest-in-the-world corporate tax rates really is a good idea, even if they do pay an effective rate that’s more-or-less competitive after all the tax exemptions that might or might not be retained under the as-yet-undisclosed Republican proposals, but that’s a pretty dry subject given all the recent floods. There’s an old-fashioned conservative Republican case to be made that cuts in the top rates that will benefit the poor folks those rich folks will wind up hiring, but Trump promised that he and his fellow billionaires would take a hit without revealing the tax returns that would prove his claim, and he’s still a poor advocate for low taxes and lean government and old-fashioned conservative Republicanism.
Those darned Democrats and their tax-and-spend ways don’t seem to have any better ideas, so for now we’re bracing for one of those occasional thousand-year disasters.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

The Eye of the Hurricane

The storm that has recently hit southeastern Texas and now heads to southwest Louisiana has been an historic natural disaster, with at least 22 people dead and many thousands more left homeless and property damage that will eventually be measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars, but like everything else in the news these days it’s eventually another story about President Donald Trump.
Trump was largely out of the spotlight while the cable news networks filled their 24 hours of dramatic footage of homes flattened by hurricane winds and streets submerged in water reaching the second stories of buildings, as well as the usual encouraging reports of heroic rescue efforts and the luckier people on higher ground offering food and clothing and shelter to the victims, and he might have been wise to stay there.
Despite the 22 deaths the usual stories about looting and price-gouging and bureaucratic inefficiencies and other less-than-heroic things that always occur in a natural disaster, the general impression one gathers from a 24-hour-news cycle is that things could have gone a whole lot worse, and thus far the best efforts of Trump’s most strident critics to hold him to a higher standard have probably not been successful. Trump’s most ardent admirers have tried to claim him credit for the all the good work that has been done by career federal government employees and state and local officials and individual citizens and the rest of the establishment, which also probably hasn’t been successful, but so long as Trump stayed out of the limelight and wasn’t doing the boasting himself he was likely to get some small opinion poll bump out of it.
That’s not Trump’s style, though, so on Tuesday he embarked on a fact-finding and photo-op trip to Texas that provided his strident media critics and all the late-night comics with plenty to gripe about and his staunchest supporters with a lot to explain.
Even before Trump boarded Air Force One in a windbreaker and ball cap with “USA” emblazoned on the front, there were already a couple of troublesome controversies seeping up from the back pages and bottom of the hour. As well as the predictable op-ed pieces trying to pin the blame on Trump’s climate change policies there were some more reasonable questions about the relief funds might be affected by his recent threat to shut the government down rather, and some reporters with time on their hands dug up how Trump’s budget proposals proposed slashing the budgets for all the agencies he’s now praising, and of course some years-old “tweets” about how ridiculous President Barack Obama looked during his natural disaster photo-ops.
Obama did look pretty damned dumb standing there in the rain in his windbreaker and ball cap, but all presidents do in their obligatory post-natural disaster photo-ops, and Trump should have known that he wouldn’t fare any better. Perhaps it should be obligatory that presidents provide some visual image of national unity at a time of national tragedy, and we recall several occasions, from President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address to President Franklin Roosevelt’s oration after a day that would life in infamy to the plainspoken thanks and determination that President George W. Bush shouted through a bullhorn atop the rubble of the World Trade Center, when a few sage presidential words in a fitting setting truly were a balm to the nation. Since then presidents seem to have lost the knack, though, and we never expected that Trump had it.
Trump seemed to think that the post-natural disaster fact-finding mission and photo-op was another one of his endless campaign rallies, and opened his remarks by noting “What a crowd, what a turnout.” He noted the “epic” and “historic” nature of the storm, a theme he’d already repeated throughout 22 “tweets” featuring 16 exclamation marks, and he somehow came across as more impressed than horrified by the storm’s power. He modestly said that he’d save his self-congratulations for after he’s made everything better than ever, generously shared some of the credit with the mostly-Republican state and local officials and even that Obama-era holdover he appointed to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and conceded that his work is not yet done, so it could have been worse.
Still, it could have been better. We couldn’t find the part where he praised the private charities that are raising funds and providing relief, or urged that Americans participate in the effort, or expressed any recognizable expression of empathy for those who have seen their loved ones and lives’ work washed away by a storm. Nor did he take the opportunity to assure those people that the longstanding relief efforts won’t be halted by a stubborn insistence on his fanciful notion of a large border wall across the entire Mexican border, and at a time when one of America’s most racially diverse cities was doing a pretty good job of dealing with a thousand-year-flood we thought he missed a ripe opportunity to speak of national unity.
There were some other “bad optics,” too, as they say in the politics biz. That “USA” ball cap Trump was wearing also had “45” emblazoned on one side and “Trump” in the back, and if you go to the Trump campaign web site you can purchase one just like it for $40, and the snarkier of his strident critics found that tacky. He was also accessorized by First Lady Melania Trump, who boarded Air Force One looking her usual dazzling self on a drizzly morning with a pair of dark aviator sunglasses, a faintly military style jacket, sensible black shirt and pants, as well as a pair of stiletto heels. It’s our policy to leave First Ladies out of our commentary, except on those sorts of occasions that Michelle Obama would occasionally provoke, and we’re not at all the sorts to notice women’s footwear, but the stiletto heels did strike us as an odd choice for a natural disaster photo-op, so we can hardly blame the snarkier critics for having their fun with it.
In any case, we don’t think Trump will take the same hit that Bush took after a disastrous storm struck New Orleans, or what Obama should have suffered for similar failures during other natural and man-made disasters. In Bush’s case the failures were largely due to the storm hitting one of the most dysfunctional cities in one of the most dysfunctional states in America, both of which he could have plausibly blamed on the Democratic Party’s longstanding rule there, but he chose instead to manfully accept his share of the blame. In Obama’s case the media weren’t so eager to notice his botched response to an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or how he barely seemed to notice a catastrophic flood in Nashville, and he shrewdly stayed out of the spotlight as best he could. Neither of these options, of course, are available to Trump.
No president should be given the blame for any national disaster, of course, neither should any of them be given much credit for the way that the country always seems to make the best of it. Our advice to Trump is to leave it that, and not let a stubborn insistence on stupid border wall muck things up, and tend to all those leaks about “Russia” that are starting to becoming another historic flood.

— Bud Norman

Didn’t It Rain

While driving around with the top down on a perfectly sunny late summer afternoon in Kansas we were hearing on the radio about the historically bad weather down in Texas, and we couldn’t fend off a troubling twinge of survivor’s guilt. The fine folks in the fourth most populous city of our beloved country are under several feet of water, their inland neighbors have been battered by the tornadoes that were spun from the hurricane winds, and in more than 50 counties that have been declared disaster areas at least nine people have died with the count expect to rise, untold thousands have seen their lives’ work washed away, and it’s going to be a few years before anyone in the storm’s broad and densely populated path fully recovers.
The storm continues down there, too, recently adding those very fine folks in southwest Louisiana to its toll and maybe bringing enough rain to flood our even more very fine kinfolk who live on a usually lovely but occasionally flood-prone lake outside San Antonio. There’s nothing that any of us can do about it at this point but to pray, and we’ve crossed paths with enough tornadoes during our life on the plains to fully appreciate what a terrifying realization that can be, but we’re heartened to see that as usual everyone seems to be dealing with it as best as possible. So far, at least, no seems eager to muck things up further with politics.
For now the disaster is being attributed to what some theologians and all the insurance companies’ actuaries call an act of God, and for the most part our secular society is rightly more interested in dealing with the current crisis rather than trying to cast blame. No matter how much you might dislike President Donald J. Trump, which is probably not any more than we’ve come to dislike the guy, it’s not as if any President of the United States can halt the rise of the oceans. These days it’s hard to credibly blame anything on the embarrassingly impotent Democrats, and so far at least even Trump’s most staunch supporters are trying to blame them for all the rain that’s blow in from the Gulf of Mexico. No one we’ve noticed on either side of the political divide, we’re happy to see, is exploiting the inevitable human tragedy.
That probably won’t last long enough for the people in the storm’s path to fully recover, though. A few faint voices on the left are already talking about how the first hurricane landfall on America soil in long 12 years is proof of the catastrophic consequences of Trump’s climate change policies, while Trump’s staunchest supporters are already giving him full credit for the so-far relatively low death tolls that local and state and pre-existing federal agencies and the predictable heroic individual citizens have achieved, and we expect to hear more of these tedious arguments when the waters inevitably recede. After the land dries out there will still be contentious arguments about continuing spending resolutions and debt ceiling increases, which now include a very pricy tab for storm recovery in the fourth most populous city in the country and 50 other counties and a recent presidential insistence that it also pay for a border wall that few people want and wouldn’t have kept a hurricane out, and that also looks pretty darned stormy.
In the meantime we’ll take heart from the video footage of Americans of all ethnicities and classes and sexes and all the rest of those categories rescuing one another from the almost biblical rains that had fallen on the just and unjust alike, and all those local and state and federal employees doing their part to make the best of it, and a certain sense that even in this secular age there are still a lot of Americans who are praying for the best.

— Bud Norman

Begging One’s Pardon

As old-fashioned Republican conservatives we have long argued for strict border enforcement, “law and order” more generally, and a reasonable tolerance for whatever unpleasantness that might necessarily entail, and for just as long we’ve insisted that there’s nothing the least bit racist about that, but President Donald Trump’s pardon of Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio doesn’t make the chore any easier.
Even before his presidential pardon “Sheriff Joe” was nationally known as the strictest border enforcer of them all, and he widely publicized the unpleasantness he inflicted on the suspects arrested by his department, so of course to a certain type of old-fashioned Republican he was widely celebrated as a sort of western movie hero. He was the staunchest of the “birthers” insisting that President Barack Obama had not been born in the United States, too, and flouted “political correctness” more defiantly than anyone on the political landscape up to that point.
To almost any sort of old-fashioned Republican conservative there was a certain appeal to it. There were law enforcement officials in more fashionable districts who were defiantly refusing to do their duty to the country’s immigration laws, often with disastrous consequences to their citizens but always with no harm to their own careers, and it was hard not to like a guy who seemed intent on protecting the citizenry by bucking fashionable opinion. Lodging jailed suspects under tents in the Arizona heat and forcing them to wear pink undergarments was undeniably harsh, but there were always stories about some more fashionable jurisdiction where they undeniably lax. There was never any reason to buy into the “birther” nonsense, but there was plenty of reason to believe that Obama was more cosmopolitan than American in his world view, with disastrous consequences tot he citizenry, and by now almost everyone admits that much of that “political correctness” is an even more ridiculous load of nonsense.
To a certain sort of old-fashioned conservative Republican, though, Arpaio always seemed more problematic than heroic. The reason he was offered a presidential pardon is because he was convicted of violating the order of a duly appointed court of law to stop violating the constitutional rights of citizens in his jurisdiction, his cocky acceptance of the pardon is as acknowledgement that he was unrepentantly guilty, so for our certain sort of old-fashioned conservative Republicans the pardon can’t reconcile with all the talk about law and order. We’re quite willing to buck fashionable opinion when it comes to a suspect who has been properly arrested with probable cause and turns out to be legitimately suspected of violating the immigration laws, and we heap Republican scorn on those law enforcement officers who won’t report that to higher authorities for merely fashionable reasons, but Arpaio’s department was systematically was stopping motorists and pedestrians just because they looked like they might be illegal immigrants, and we never signed up for that.
Maricopa County encompasses almost the entire metropolitan Phoenix area, and if you’ve ever been fortunate enough to be there in the winter you know it’s a lovely and very up-to-date big city with a lot of illegal immigrants and a lot of people who might look like they might be illegal immigrants but whose families have been living in the state for much longer than anybody named Arpaio. The Arpaio policy wound up snaring a lot of illegal immigrants who might otherwise have escaped justice, some of whom might well have otherwise done something awful, but it also wound up subjecting a lot of taxpaying and law-abiding American citizens of long generational standing to some entirely unnecessary and sometimes extreme unpleasantness. We enjoy bashing those squishy liberal judges as much as any old-fashioned Republican conservative after their all-frequent crazy rulings, but in this case we have to admit that an honest reading of the plain language of the Constitution says you can’t stop and detain people just because they look like they might be illegal immigrants.
That’s the Constitution, too, which is the highest law of the land and the one most needed to maintain our still somewhat civilized order.
To a certain certain sort of new-fangled Republican this makes us “RINOs” and “cuckservatives,” mere Beta Males too timid to undertake the harsh measures required for the current crisis, but by now we think they’re all crazy. We’re as law and order as ever on border enforcement and pretty much everything else that old-fashioned Republican conservatives care about, but only so long as it’s lawfully enforced with due respect for those law-abiding but darker-hued citizens who are just trying to get home after a hard day’s work, and our day-to-day encounters with all sorts of fellow citizens are pleasant enough we don’t see any pressing need to suspend the constitution and impose martial law.
We are now forced to admit, though, that there’s another sort of old-fashioned Republican conservative out there who openly yearns for such authoritarian measures. There’s also an authoritarian impulse on the left, to be sure, and the authoritarian right will always present itself as the last defense against its disastrous consequences, but if it comes down to one of those street fights you saw in the last days of Germany’s Weimar Republic we’ll probably sit it out in the comfort of our home. We’re still hoping the center will hold, and that law and order can be achieved lawfully, but the Arpaio pardon doesn’t help.
Trump oh-so-coyly promised the pardon to a raucous campaign rally crowd a few days earlier, saying Arpaio had been “convicted for doing his job,” but he actually granted the pardon just before a historic and headline-grabbing storm fell on Texas and Louisiana, and a raucous crowd that didn’t seem include anyone who might look like an illegal immigrant cheered on the idea that violating the rights of certain taxpaying and law-abiding citizens is just part of a lawman’s job. The governments of Poland and Turkey and the Philippines have lately expanded their authoritarian rule over the press and local officials and other troublesome members of the civic society, each got congratulatory calls from Trump, who also ran on recently repeated campaign promises of war crimes, and we can no longer deny there’s a certain authoritarian streak within our Republican party.
We’ll continue to argue with our Democratic and darker-hued friends that immigration law should be enforced within the strict limits allowed by the Constitution, and without any racist intent, but it’s going to harder to argue that our Republican party is on board with that. We’ll also continue to argue with the Black Lives Matter movement that some indulgent degree of rule of law is needed to keep a lot of black lives from being lost to murder, but we can no longer promise that the inevitable provable cases of police brutality won’t be tolerated. Trump did joke to a gathering of law enforcement, after all, that they shouldn’t be so careful not cause head injuries when putting suspects under arrest.
At least we can take some comfort from knowing we’re not the only old-fashioned Republicans who are uncomfortable with all this Alpha Male stuff. At that Phoenix rally Trump also railed against the state’s two Republican Senators, but both defied the insults by steadfastly denouncing the pardon, as did the Arizona governor and Phoenix mayor. The Republican Speaker of the House stated his disagreements, too, along with several other Republicans and the most old-fashioned of the Republican media. Most of the law enforcement community also criticized the jokes about police brutality, too, few elected Republican officials seem on board with all that authoritarianism abroad, and so far the opinion polls show the center holding.
Arpaio is 85 years old, the misdemeanor charge he’d been convicted of but not yet sentenced for carried a maximum of seven months that he never would have been forced to endure in a tent shelter while wearing pink undergarments, so he’s neither a heroic figure nor a pitiable victim at this point. What matters is the clear message that his pardon sends to both Trump’s most ardent admirers and his most fierce critics.

— Bud Norman

How Not to Win Friends and Influence People

Back when he started to woo evangelical Christian voters President Donald Trump liked to boast that the pastor at the Presbyterian Church he had attended as a child was Norman Vincent Peale, saying “You could listen to him all day long,” but it never seemed clear what lessons he had learned from the sermons. Peale was better known as the author of the famously best-selling self-help book “The Power of Positive Thinking,,” and it does seem clear from Trump’s recent battles with his own party’s congressional leadership that he learned all the wrong lessons from that tome.
Trump escalated his ongoing war of words with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday with another series of “tweets.” He criticized both for rejecting his advice to attach a controversial debt ceiling increase to a popular Veterans’ Administration reform bill that recently passed with bipartisan support, claiming “Could have been so easy — now a mess!” A short time later he once again “tweeted” that McConnell was solely to blame for the Senate’s failure to pass an unpopular bill to repeal and replace the formerly unpopular Obamacare law. That came shortly after Trump had quite clearly criticized both Senators from Arizona in front of a raucous campaign rally crowd, even as he complimented himself for being so presidential as to not mention either man’s name, which followed several insulting “tweets” aimed at various other Republican congressmen who had criticized Trump’s response to the deadly violence that followed a white supremacist rally in Virginia.
No matter how much Trump positively thinks nones  of which seems likely to win him any new friends or influence anyone who isn’t already a die-hard supporter.
The idea that something as controversial as a debt ceiling increase could be easily snuck into a VA bill without anyone noticing, or everyone in both parties raising a fuss that would sink even such a popular and important piece of legislation, suggests to anyone at least vaguely familiar with the legislative process that the Senate majority leader and the House Speaker know a lot more about it than does the relatively neophyte president. McConnell does indeed bear much of the blame for the Republicans’ failure to get that unpopular health care reform bill passed, but there’s enough blame to spread around that fiasco that some of it surely falls on a Republican president who had run on a campaign promise that on the first day he’d repeal Obamacare and replace it with his beautiful but not very specific plan that would cover everyone and lower costs and it would be easy for your head will spin, and Trump would do well not to give his many critics another chance to mention that. Trump’s attempts to spread around the blame for the deadly violence that occurred at a white supremacist rally have not played well with the general public thus far, and he’d be wise not to drag that out any longer.
All of which seems to complicate some already darned complicated negotiations regarding that debt ceiling increase, along with a continuing spending resolution and various other matters that must be dealt with prior to some very hard deadlines looming in the near future in order to avert all sorts of political and economic disasters. Many congressional Republicans won their seats on the promise of ending the federal government’s endless borrowing and doing so without tax increases by drastically cutting spending, others ran on the same basic principles but with a begrudging acknowledgement that it would take some time and a lot of compromises on continuing spending resolutions and debt ceiling increases all the rest of that nonsense, and Trump exponentially complicates that internecine Republican complicatedness.
Trump became the Republican president with the usual Republican promises of low taxes and balanced budgets, but also some proudly anti-Republican promises of not touching the big entitlement programs that are driving the debt and adding at least a trillion dollars of infrastructure spending, as well as his assurances that he’d done enough big real estate deals that it would be easily achieved. We’ve never been in on any big real estate deals, but we’ve been watching how Congress works a lot longer than Trump seems to have done, so we’re skeptical that can keep all those promises and won’t further complicate things.
He added even more complications during that raucous rally in Phoenix, where he hinted he’d rather force a partial government shutdown than sign any continuing spending resolution that doesn’t include full funding for his campaign promise of a tall and formidable border wall stretching across the entire border with Mexico, which he now promises will also be translucent so you can see what those wily Mexicans are up to. During the campaign Trump routing led his die-hard supporters in a chant that Mexico will pay for the wall, as president he’s threatening that he’d cause a partial government shutdown and perhaps even a federal default if the Republican-led Congress doesn’t pay for it with taxpayer funds, and we can’t imagine of the Democratic minority wanting to help him out.
From our Republican perspective out here on the prairie it seems that Trump is less interested in averting political and economic catastrophes than in making sure he once again doesn’t get blamed for them by his most die-hard supporters. McConnell and Ryan and the rest of the Republican party are easy enough targets, we must admit, so there’s a certain self-interested reason for those insulting “tweets.” As pillars of the Republican establishment they’re already reviled by the entirety of the Democratic party, and they do indeed shoulder a share of the blame for the Grand Old Party’s recent failures to make good on the opportunity of its recent political dominance, and the talk radio talkers and most of their grassroots listeners have bitched and moaned out long enough that Trump got nominated and even more improbably elected on the promise to burn the down the establishment.
At the time we wondered how Trump’s mostly-reluctant 46 percent share of the popular presidential vote was going to prevail against the combined might of both the Democratic and Republican parties, as well as all the economic and civic and academic and religious institutions that comprise the much-maligned establishment, and thought that “burn it down” was a peculiar rallying cry for conservatism, and at this point we’re hoping that some semblance of the pragmatic Republicanism we always voted for will somehow prevail. At this point that means rooting for the likes of McConnell and Ryan and against Trump and his and ridiculous border wall idea, and hoping there are still enough sensible Democrats to join with averting the looming political and economic disasters, but so be it.
For all their failures both McConnell and Ryan still strike us as more serious men than Trump, and we’re heartened they don’t seem at all influenced by Trump’s “tweets.” Ryan did his best to ignore Trump’s “tweeting” on Thursday, and instead had an impressive “town hall” appearance at a Boeing factory in the Seattle area, where he made a clear case for the Boeing-friendly corporate tax reforms that both he and Trump are working for. Some of the questioners questioned Ryan’s support for de-funding the Export-Import Bank that Boeing has taken generous advantage of, and he gave a very detailed explanation about how other reforms he’s pursuing would leave the company just as well advantaged, and we can’t imagine Trump giving a better answer. One Boeing employee asked a rather frank question about how he was dealing with Trump’s latest public pronouncements, which she seemed to find troubling, and Ryan deftly replied “It’s a day-by-day deal,” adding “I am kind of joking.”
We can’t find any press reports of questions about Trump’s protectionist trade policies, which aren’t likely to benefit Boeing’s largely export-driven business, and although Ryan is far more a traditional Republican free-trader than we suspect they were both glad of that. At this point we’re liking the Republican establishment that Trump vowed to burn down than we’re liking Trump, but we can’t say that give us a hopeful feeling.
Even a partial government shutdown would be a political disaster that can’t plausibly be blamed on that darned Democratic minority, a federal default would be a catastrophic global economic disaster that makes everyone in the American body politic culpable, so surely some sort of desultory-to-all-sides deal will eventually be struck, We’d feel a whole lot more hopeful, though, if any of the players seemed more interested in averting the looming catastrophe than avoiding any blame for it.

— Bud Norman

How to Spend a Late Summer’s Afternoon

The weather around here on Wednesday was unusually perfect, and despite a recent losing streak the local Wichita Wingnuts baseball club has secured a spot in the double-A American Association’s playoffs, a most delightful and unusually good-looking young married couple we’re friends with have recently given birth to a healthy baby boy, and pretty much everyone we’ve run into lately has been eager to have a friendly talk about pretty much anything other than the latest politics.
It’s been a nice diversion, we must admit, and has led to some interesting discussions about the Film Noir genre and the hidden subtexts of “The Man Who Liberty Valance” and the subtleties of the Book of Acts, and of course how unusually perfect the weather has been lately, along with other more local and personal topics. Still, there’s no avoiding all the rest of the more noisome news of more national and international interest, and we’re still doing our best too keep up with it.
None of it is at all conducive to the happy mood that has lately prevailed around here, though, regardless of what your political beliefs might be, so despite all we have to say about that we’ll skip all that until at least tomorrow. In the meantime some delightful and good-looking couple is having a healthy baby near you, the sun is shining at a perfectly warm temperature somewhere, whatever local sports team you root for probably did its best even if it failed to make the playoffs, and you really should watch those great Film Noir movies and re-watch “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” for all the hidden subtext about how great nations are created.
We’ve still got lots to say about all the rest of it, none of which any of our Republican or Democratic or many somewhere-in-between friends will want to hear, but we’ll take a day off from our usual screeds about all that. Thanks for dropping in, though, and we hope that you have good weather and good news and friendly conversations with all the people you run into. From our reading of the rest of the  news, America could use a whole lot more of that.

— Bud Norman

By the Time We Get to Phoenix

President Donald Trump’s ongoing campaign rallies are always the sort of thing that people who like things of that sort will enjoy, and we’re sure that his most ardent fans were wowed by the performance he delivered Tuesday night in Phoenix, but we doubt that anybodyabout else was much impressed. To our ears it seemed the most blatantly dishonest, deliberately divisive, and downright demagogic oration we can recall from an American president.
Trump started off with characteristic boasting about how both his campaign and presidency have stressed the values of truth, unity, and universal love, but after that most of it was devoted to explaining how the only reason anyone might have gotten the wrong impression about it was because all of his critics are evil people who hate America and are determined to thwart his singular attempts to make it great again, and just in case anyone harbored any doubts about his sincerity he added that he really believes that. By now that evil and America-hating cohort includes not only the “sick people” in all but a favored few of the media outlets, the entirety of the Democratic party, certain members of the Republican party that Trump coyly declined to name but you know who he was talking about, such rank-and-file Republicans as ourselves, establishment institutions ranging from the Boy Scouts of America to the people who make Campbell’s Soup, and according to the same opinion polls Trump used to cite back when they showing him winning the Republican primary it now comprises some 60 percent or more of the country.
None of whom, we strongly suspect, were buying any of it. He did did say all that about truth and unity and love in the deadly aftermath of a white supremacist rally in Virginia, and we know this because those “sick people” in the media ran all the lengthy footage of remarks, along with the the parts where he always claims the media isn’t recording his media-bashing, but he also spoke about spreading the blame over “many sides,” repeating “many sides” to make clear he really believed that, and he mentioned that the white supremacists had a permit and those protesting their presence in the community didn’t, and he spoke about how there were “many very fine people” marching in the torch-bearing and Nazi-flag waving rally, and there’s no denying the white supremacists who organized the rally “tweeted” their thanks for the response. It seems unlikely that any of the “sick people” in the media could have computer-generated these images on such short notice, however, and even the media outlets that Trump favorably mentioned wound up running the same footage, so Trump would have better quelled the now-ongoing controversy by frankly acknowledging that some very fine people might have gotten the wrong impression from the totality of his remarks.
Frank acknowledgements are not Trump’s style, however, so he doubled down on his message of truth and unity and universal love by doubling down on his hateful attacks on his critics in the Republican party with some pretty weaselly language.
Two of Trump’s most troublesome critics in his party are the Senators from Arizona, and he quite specifically excoriated both for their apostasy while congratulating himself for being so politically correct as to not mention their names. One of the Senators that Trump maligned is John McCain, whom the draft-dodging Trump had infamously criticized for being “captured” during the Vietnam war and had more recently cast a deciding vote against a Republican health care bill with a 17 percent approval rating in all the polls, and the other was junior Sen. Jeff Flake, who is on board with the repeal-and-replacement of Obamacare and most of the rest of Trump’s seeming agenda but has outspokenly expressed doubts about Trump’s temperament and rhetoric. Trump won Arizona’s electoral votes handily, and seemed quite popular with the five thousand or so Arizonans who attended the rally, but McCain and Flake were doing even better in the state back when Trump was a reality show star and Democratic donor, so there’s no telling how this will play in Arizona, but in the other 49 states we think Trump probably picked another losing fight.
Before the speech Trump’s White House had leaked that he wouldn’t pardon the Phoenix area’s former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and sure enough he didn’t mention Arpaio by his full name or officially offer a pardon, and thus any media outlet that says he did can be considered “fake news,” but one could easily come to the conclusion that a pardon for Arpaio is forthcoming. “So Sheriff Joe was convicted for doing his job? You know what, I’ll make a prediction,” Trump said. “I think he’s going to be just fine, okay? But I won’t do it tonight, because I don’t want to make any controversy.”
One needn’t be from Arizona to know that Arpaio was nationally celebrated for the tough treatment of his department’s jailed suspects and his even tougher enforcement of immigration laws, as well as being widely reviled for the violations of the civil rights of people who were just jailed suspects and a lot of other folks who were naturalized and hereditary-after-many-generations Americans who wound up in jail for no reason other than they looked suspiciously brown, and that he’s one of those divisive figures in American politics. A federal court found Arpaio’s clearly stated policy of jailing anyone a sheriff’s officer might suspect of looking like an illegal Mexican, in a city with such a large population of Mexican-looking but hereditarily-for-more-generations-than-Arpaio’s-family Americans, was a violation of the constitution, and even such rank-and-file law-and-order and tough-on-border-enforcement Republicans such as ourselves have to admit that he was rightly convicted of defying the court’s constitutionally authorized order to case and desist.
Announcing leniency for Arpaio, no matter how coyly, is an unlikely claim in Trump’s case for truth and unity and universal love. In the same speech Trump criticized the “sanctuary cities” that were offering protection to illegal immigrants suspected of crimes, a practice that has long offended our rank-and-file law-and-order Republican sensibilities, but that doesn’t mean we’ll go along with the pardon of a Trump-backing Republican sheriff in Arizona who just as brazenly defied a higher federal authority’s order to case and desist from locking up any Arizonans who looked at all Mexican.
In the further interest of truth and unity and universal love Trump quadrupled or quintupled on his original campaign promise of building a wall across the entire border of Mexico, which he now promises will be translucent so that we can see what those wily Mexicans are up to on the other side, and the enthusiastic audience responded with the rote chants of “build that wall!” By now Trump isn’t making the old claims about how Mexico’s going to pay for it and be glad for the privilege, but he did suggest he’d rather endure a government shutdown than let those wily Republicans pass a continuing spending resolution or debt-ceiling increase that didn’t require America to pay for his stupid idea about a suddenly translucent wall stretching across the entire Mexican border.
There were also cheers for the president’s better speech of the night before about continuing America’s long war in Afghanistan, and from pretty much the same Phoenix crowd that had lustily cheered his previous local promises of a quick withdrawal from the conflict just as lustily cheered, and except for fans of Steve Bannon and Alex Jones and the furthest fringes of the far right media he probably  didn’t lose much support even if he surely didn’t gain a single point. In any case, he didn’t bolster his case for truth and unity and universal love. Like all Trump campaign rallies it ended with The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and we’re still unclear what that’s all about.
So far as we can tell from the “sick people” in the national media and seemingly less sick people in the local Phoenix media, the numerous Trump supporters in the arena and the approximately equal number of Trump protesters outside it all managed to home without incident. That’s a fairly encouraging sign of truth and unity and universal, by current standards, but then again it might yet prove just a devious momentary tactic evil people who hate America.

— Bud Norman

The Afghanistan War Goes On

America has been at war in Afghanistan for 16 years long years, and after President Donald Trump’s nationally televised address on Monday it’s clear the fighting will continue for a while. That’s not good news, of course, but it could have been a lot worse.
It would have been worse news if Trump had announced he was keeping his oft-repeated campaign promise to concede defeat and allow the Taliban to reassume control of the country where their al-Qaeda allies planned and trained for the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Trump admitted in a fairly well-written speech that doing so remains his instinct, so it’s very good news that he allowed the more carefully reasoned and far-sighted analysis of his far more experienced advisors to dissuade his instincts for a change.
It’s also as good a bit of news as one can hope for at this point that Trump didn’t make any characteristically grandiose promises about how America’s going to be winning so much you’ll get bored with winning and that it’s going to be so quick and easy your head will spin. Winning in Afghanistan won’t require leaving a fully westernized and modern country, a far-fetched fantasy that Trump effectively ridiculed on the campaign trail, but any semblance of victory does require a reasonably sane Afghan government that can defend itself against the inevitable attempts to once again turn the country into a training ground for future Islamist terror attacks on America, and we are reassured that Trump has been made to realize even that more modest goal is still necessary and that even after 16 long years it still can’t be done quickly or easily. Trump didn’t give a Churchillian sort of speech to prepare the people for the long struggle ahead, but at least he overcame his instinct to make promises that can’t be kept.
There was the usual lack of any specificity in Trump’s address, but that’s probably good news as well. He hinted that more troops would be deployed, although probably not as many as his generals had requested and surely not enough to turn Afghanistan into a thoroughly modernized and westernized country, but at this point there’s no reason for us or the enemy to know with any more specificity that at least the fight will continue. He hinted that America would prosecute the war with more ruthlessly self-defensive rules of engagement, which we think wise, but the fairly well-written script didn’t include any historically unfounded talk about summarily executing prisoners of war with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, as Trump recently advised the Spaniards to do after a recent Islamist terror attack, and these days we also have to count that as good news.
Aside from the life-and-death consequences of war there are also political implications to be considered, and we expect Trump handled those well enough for a change.
If you’ve been following the Trump presidency reality show so far you know that he recently accepted the resignation of “chief strategist” Steve Bannon, a longtime champion of the inaptly named “America First” non-interventionist school of foreign policy that so aligned with Trump’s instincts, who had famously been feuding with the more experienced and knowledgeable and far-sighted and hawkish generals who were serving as Trump’s Defense Secretary and national security advisor and chief of staff, so that’s a big sidebar story that won’t amount to much. Bannon has returned to the editorship of the Brietbart.com news site, which did much to promote Trump’s candidacy and presidency among a certain readership, and is already running articles of the newly stated Trump policy, but at this point we don’t expect that Trump will lose the support of many of its readers.
The rest of the media probably won’t manage to do much harm, either. When America went to war in Afghanistan those 16 long years ago it was in response to that country providing haven for the planning and training of an attack on American soil even worse than the attack on Pearl Harbor that had forced America into World War II, and Republican President George W. Bush was authorized the use of military force with bi-partisan support. Although Democratic President Barack Obama had been a strident critic of America’s war in Iraq he also deployed more troops to Afghanistan, even if he did so at lower levels than the generals recommended and with ludicrous timelines and rules of engagement, and his congressional authorization also won bipartisan support. Even Trump can expect to get the same benefit of the doubt, and he won’t suffer any significant loss of support from the far-left and despite Bannon’s best efforts only a slight loss on the far-fight.
Besides, there’s bound to be a solar event or sports competition or debt ceiling debate or Russia revelation to divert the public’s attention coming soon. After 16 long years the public has become accustomed to waging war in Afghanistan, and has largely come to realize there are no quick paths to anything resembling a victory but no available way out of getting out that wouldn’t be disastrous, so its hard to fault Trump for overcoming his simultaneously noninterventionist and militaristic instincts and being led to the same conclusion.
Over the past long 16 years the war in Afghanistan has claimed more than 2,400 American lives, with far more life-altering casualties, and although each of them is a tragedy that should be honored and mourned and carefully considered there’s a ruthless mathematics to war that publics have always also acknowledged. At this rate the war will have to carry one for another century or so before it reaches the death toll that caused America to exit the shorter Vietnam War, and hardier previous generations sacrificed as many of their children on a bad afternoon at Gettysburg or a rough morning on the beaches of Normandy, so except for the occasional desultory address on national television by Republican and Democratic presidents alike the Afghanistan war will probably go on unnoticed by all but those few unlucky patriots who have to fight it.
We’ll hope for the best, though, and begrudgingly admit that at least Trump didn’t it make any worse.

— Bud Norman

Up Above Our Heads, We Hear Music in the Air

The big story across the United States today is an exceedingly rare coast-to-coast solar eclipse, and it feels as if the sun and the moon and all the heavens have providentially aligned to spare our nation one blessed day off from the rest of the news.
It’s the topic of conversation everywhere we go, and a welcome change of subject from the past week’s talk about torch-bearing American neo-Nazis and nuclear-armed North Korean commies and such, and so far as we can tell from all the press coverage it really is sort of a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Solar eclipses are rare, far rarer yet when they happen where the sun happens to be shining down on you, and even the children who are born today will probably never again get in on another one that at least partially obscures the sun from one coast of America to another. To use a hackneyed cliche quite literally, the odds really are astronomical.
Here in Wichita, Kansas, in the heart of America, it’s rigorously scheduled to go down between 11:36 a.m. and 2:32 p.m., with 92 percent of the sun blocked out by the moon at the height of the eclipse shortly after 1 p.m., and we plan to be here for that. Many people we know have purchased those very dark sunglasses or upgraded welders’ masks that promise to let you watch it happen without going blind, others are using the old-fashioned pin-prick in paper shined on another piece of technique that we used way back in elementary school days when the last partial eclipse came around here, some have even purchased sunglasses for the pets, and our plan is to avert our eyes from the sun and instead watch our fellow Wichitans and Americans watching the eclipse.
Even on a normal day we know better than to look at the sun around here. There’s an old Clint Eastwood movie where he snarls that Kansas doesn’t have anything but sunshine, sunflowers, and sons of bitches, and we have to concede there’s some truth to that. If you’re heading west on the Kellogg freeway at a certain point before sundown, especially around either of the equinoxes, you need heavy-duty sunglasses just to keep your corneas from being burned out, and we’re always relieved to hear on the local news radio station that there’s not been a major pile-up. The Kansas state motto is “ad aspera per astra,” which roughly translates from the Latin to “to the stars through difficulties,” and the first rule any Kansan learns about how to get there is that you don’t look at the brightest star even on the most normal day.
At some point this early afternoon the sun will be 92 percent obscured by the moon, and it will be interesting to look around the parks and the buildings and notice what effect that has. Our interests tend to the sociological rather than the astronomical, though, and we’ll be more eager to see what our neighbors and their pets make of it. At a few places out west and off to the east the eclipse will be total, and in certain American towns the morning and evening will become night for a few eerie moments, and we’ll be eager to read about what that was like, but unlike some friends of ours we haven’t booked a hotel room in those places to experience it ourselves.
We don’t doubt that it’s a memorable experience, but we’re not envious, as we’ll share it vicariously. For us the fun is knowing that from coast to coast the entire United States is sharing in a rare astronomical event, that we’re well-informed enough that few of us will go blind as a result, and watching our fellow Americans somehow united by the inexorable facts and unalterable rules of the universe.
Tomorrow the sun and moon and the rest of the heavens will once again follow their usual rules, the body politic probably won’t, but it’s nice that providence and its astronomical odds provided us a day off from all that and a reminder that we’re all still subject to the same objective reality.

— Bud Norman

Still Fighting for a Lost Cause

Another horrific Islamist terror attack occurred in Spain on Thursday, which should have provided President Donald Trump an opportunity move past the racial controversies that have dogged him the past week. He responded to the deaths and injuries in Barcelona with an appropriately dignified statement of sympathy and support delivered via “tweet,” but spent more time in the day prolonging the racial controversies, provoking new ones, and picking fresh fights with his growing number of critics.
That appropriately dignified “tweet” to Spain was followed within an hour by another advising the Spaniards to summarily execute the captured terrorist suspects with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, based on a thoroughly-debunked story he likes to tell about the American an anti-insurrection campaign during the Philippines occupation, and thus far the Spaniards seem to be ignoring the counsel. A similarly shaky historical knowledge of the Civil War seemed to misinform another series of “tweets” lamenting the recent removal of several statues and other monuments honoring heroes of the Confederacy in several cities, including the Virginia town where a white supremacist rally set off deadly violence that started the past week’s lingering controversies.
There’s a reasonable case to be made for leaving the monuments that expressed the beliefs of past generations be, and letting future generations draw their own conclusions about them, but the aftermath of a deadly white supremacist rally is the wrong time to make the argument, and throughout the week Trump has demonstrated he’s not the right man.
He spoke of the “beauty” of some of the statues, but as a real estate developer in New York City he was notorious for razing such historically beautiful structures as Fifth Avenue’s Bonwit Teller Building, with its classic art deco bas-relief sculptures preserved only by court order and charity funds, and his aesthetic sensibilities are not well-regarded by most architectural critics. Trump is right to worry where such historical revisionism might end, as some people would like to see even such founding fathers as the slave-holding George Washington and Thomas Jefferson banished from places of honor in the public square, but he only bolsters their case when he consistently fails to not the crucial difference between the Revolutionary heroes who won America’s freedom and created a system of government that inexorably led to the abolition of slavery and those Confederates who fought to destroy that country and forever preserve the peculiar institution.
Some of those Confederate soldiers fought for the safety of their homes and families rather than for slavery, to be sure, and there’s certainly a strong case to be made that their descendants should be able to honor such bravery and sacrifice in their own communities. For many of those descendants the memorials express only the virtues of loyalty to home and family and the bravery that backs it up, values they now wed to the still-United States of America and feel with a deep regret for the worst of its past, and their views deserve the respect Trump has given them.
Any honest argument, however, requires a frank acknowledgement that slavery was an intolerable moral evil and that the Confederacy did wage its war of rebellion in defense of it, that many of the memorials were explicitly intended by their builders to honor that indefensible cause, and the sort of torch-bearing and shield-wielding and Nazi-flag-waving white supremacists who provoked the deadly violence in Virginia last weekend wanted the Gen. Robert E. Lee statue in the park preserved for the very same reason. Any honest argument would also have to address all the people in those communities whose ancestors were enslaved, who might have a very different view of the statues in their hometowns of the general who fought preserve slavery, and frankly acknowledge that any American president also owes those views his respect.
From our very old-fashioned Republican point of view, we also think it best this argument  he made at the local level. It’s taken a while, but those descendants of slaves and slave-holders and the folks who only fought for the Confederacy because that’s where their homes and family were have been working things out fairly well for themselves in the past few decades. There are still the occasional racial atrocities — yes, on both sides, although we don’t want to get into the score — but the region has seen rapid economic development, enough racial amity to draw many black migrants back from the north, and their college sports teams have been hugely successful. Southern legislatures and county commissions and town councils now work out such mundane matters as tax abatements and bridge-building contracts and zoning permits with black and white representatives, so we also trust their judgment whose statues should adorn their city parks. Here in Wichita in the heart of “bleeding Kansas” all the monuments are to the boys in blue, so we don’t have deal with these issues, but we trust that the people of the south interact with one another enough to know which white folks were for home and family and which black folks won’t want to tear down the Washington Monument,  and can come to a reasonable conclusion. If they decide they’d rather not honor Confederate generals, we figure there’s also a strong case to be made for that.
General Ulysses Grant allowed the Confederate army he’d vanquished to ride home atop their own horses with dignity and a military salute from his own victorious troops, and although Grant was also ruthless in battling the newly-formed Ku Klux Klan there was also a strong case to be made for that. The Reconstruction years of occupation by the Union army were harsh on the south in less defensible ways, too, but there was good reason to usher the south back into the Union with something of its dignity and values of home and family and martial spirit intact. President Abraham Lincoln made that case with enduring eloquence when he stated a policy of “Malice toward none and charity toward all.”
Trump is admittedly more the “punch back ten times harder” and summarily-execute-’em-with-a-bullet-dipped-in-pig’s-blood kind of president, though, so he’s handling the latest recurrence of the debate quite differently. The critics of his rather equivocal response to the white supremacist violence in Virginia now include South Carolina’s white Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who knows his constituency better than Trump and has calculated that he shouldn’t run for re-election on a neo-Confederate platform, and Trump “tweeted” back with a claim that the “publicity seeking” Senator had lied about him. South Carolina’s black Republican Sen. Tim Scott, who wouldn’t have been elected without a lot of votes from the descendants of slave-holders and those who fought for home and family, and strikes us as an impressive fellow, declared the president had abdicated any moral authority, but so far as we can tell he hasn’t yet been met with any presidential “tweets.”
By now the entirety of the Democratic party and much of the Republican party is critical of the president, along with most of the executives of the Fortune 500 companies and the entirety  of the  Joints Chiefs of Staff and most of the heads of state of our democratic allies, but Trump seems unlikely to back down any time soon and move on to such mundane matters as that debt-ceiling resolution that’s going to need Graham’s and Scott’s votes if the country doesn’t go bankrupt. Like the vanishing heroes of the Lost Cause, though, his most stubborn defenders can be assured that at least he fights.

— Bud Norman