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Prophetic Words From a Burning Bush

Something deep in our old-fashioned Republican souls feels a certain nostalgia for the administration of President George W. Bush, and lately even our most newfangled Democrat friends will admit to some degree of the same feeling. Bush was an imperfect president, as we freely admit and our Democrat friends and our Democrat friends often remind us, but on Thursday he gave a rare and remarkable speech that reminded us all he could have been a whole lot worse.
With characteristic classiness Bush has mostly retreated from the public stage since leaving office, preferring to spend his time with family and paint some surprisingly fine portraits of the servicemen and servicewomen who carried out his controversial foreign policy, and otherwise devote himself to the happily apolitical good works of his family’s foundations, which has eventually endeared him to most of the American public at large. He re-entered the political fray on Thursday with that remarkable speech, though, and it heartened us as well as our Democrat friends.
Bush’s oration at the George W. Bush Institute welcomed a Latino amigo who had served in his administration’s military, as well as several foreign visitors in the audience, along with Secretaries of State from both his and President Bill Clinton’s administrations, then launched into a an eloquent defense of such cherished American values of liberty and democracy. He lauded the post-World War II order of free markets and free trade, decried the current Chinese and Russian threats to that order, and lamented that too many Americans now fail to appreciate its benefits. Bush further denounced the recent degradation of America’s political discourse, warned against rising nativist sentiments, unequivocally denounced white supremacy, and called for a new civility in America’s public square.
Such anodyne sentiments wouldn’t be at all remarkable in ordinary times, but these days it’s the stuff of controversy. With characteristic classiness Bush didn’t mention President Donald Trump by name, but no matter how old-fashioned a Republican or newfangled a Democrat you might be there’s no denying it implied a severe criticism of the current and putatively Republican president, so there was an unavoidable flap.
Bush’s assertion — completely correct as far our old-fashioned Republican souls are concerned — that “free trade helped make America into a global power” is an obvious response to Trump’s claims that the rest of the world has been stealing America’s wealth. When Bush griped that now “bigotry seems emboldened” and “Our politics seem more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication” the metaphorical shoe fit Trump well enough that he has to wear it. “we have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty,” Bush said, and although he might have been talking about all the talk radio hosts that used to defend him, but everyone knows he was talking about a president who has mocked a reporter’s physical handicap and his political opponents’s heights and the plainness of their wives. His warnings about the cyber-attacks on American democracy by foreign adversaries were just as clearly aimed at Trump, who continues to deny against mounting evidence that it’s a problem.
All of the casually cruel talk radio hosts who used to defend Bush were properly appalled, of course. By now they’re all obliged to rally ’round the current putatively Republican president, so they all denounced Bush as an “elitist” and “globalist” and worse yet “establishment” voice. None of them could articulate a persuasive point-by-point refutation of what Bush said, but these days such meaningless calumnies as “elitist” and “globalist” and “establishment” will suffice for their audience. Although we’re not at all elite nor globalist, and in fact are barely getting by these days, we’re still nostalgic for the good old days when they were defending to the death even Bush’s worst moves.
These days even our most newfangled Democrat friends are giving Bush some long overdue respect, and we’ll hold out hope it provides some common ground on which to find a way out of our current difficulties. Some of our most newfangled Democrat friends share Trump’s aversion to free trade and traditional role in sustaining world order, and are every bit as un-civil as Trump in their discourse, but we appreciate Bush’s help in any case.

— Bud Norman

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The Lonesome Death of La David Johnson

The death of Army Sgt. La David Johnson was an American tragedy, and now it’s the latest political brouhaha.
Johnson and Staff Sergeants Bryan Black, Jeremiah Johnson, and Dustin Wright were killed on Oct. 4 by an ambush attack in Niger, where they were apparently on an intelligence-gathering mission against the Boko Haram terror gang. The deaths were given scant attention by the national media, and didn’t warrant a single presidential mention until Monday. At a brief press conference President Donald Trump was asked about the 12 days of silence, and of course his response put the story on all the front pages and the top of everybody’s news hour.
Rather than directly answer the question Trump said that his predecessors had routinely failed to offer any condolences to the families of fallen soldiers, which was promptly refuted and quickly backtracked to some extent, but Trump also demanded the press ask his Chief of Staff about how his son’s death in combat was handled by President Barack Obama, who turns out to have invited the family to a seat of honor a memorial dinner, so that was enough for another day of outraged stories. Trump then did get around to calling the Johnson family, but wound up accused of being disrespectful.
Among the people listening in on the call was Democratic Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson, who coincidentally has had a long and close relationship with the Johnsons, and the told reporters that Trump had callously told Johnson’s widow and the aunt who had raised him as a son that “he knew what he was signing up for,” and that his references to “your guy” rather than Sgt. Jonson or La David had the led the widow to believe that Trump didn’t know her husband’s name. Trump responded with a “tweet” that Wilson was lying, and alleging he had proof, but press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later acknowledge Trump did not have a recording of the call and assured the media that just because Trump kept referring to Johnson as “your guy” did not mean he didn’t know the name. The aunt soon corroborated Wilson’s account of the call, and that was enough for another day of outraged stories.
Wilson is a partisan Democrat  who strikes us as slightly kooky, and for all we know the grieving aunt is as well, but what they allege Trump said does sound an awful lot like something he might say. Offering empathy and carefully-worded condolences in times of tragedy is not one of Trump’s strong suits.
He infamously dismissed the heroic sacrifice of Sen. John McCain’s extra years in a hellish North Vietnamese prison camp by saying “I like guys who’d didn’t get captured, OK?” He publicly ridiculed the parents of a Muslim American soldier who died fighting in Iraq after they dared speak against him at the Democratic National Convention. When a hurricane left Puerto Rico underwater and without electrical power he “tweeted” about the island’s debt and laziness, lambasted the mayor of the capital city, tossed papers towel into a crowd of suddenly homeless refugees, told individual survivors to “have a good time,” then “tweeted” that the federal relief won’t last forever. He also waited 12 long days of golf and “twitter” feuds with with National Football League players and fellow Republicans before mentioning the four deaths in Niger, and then only because a reporter had asked about it, and there’s still no explanation for that.
The press has other stories, too. Trump promised a personal $25,000 check to the grieving father of a fallen soldier who had been excluded from the Army’s family benefits because of a divorce, but that was last June and the check didn’t get sent until The Washington Post reported the unkept promise on Wednesday, which recalls another and much bigger check that Trump promised to veterans organizations but went unsent until The Washington Post weighed in. The president’s chief of staff has long been careful to keep his son’s tragic death out of the news, too, and his continued silence on the subject has also been noteworthy.
As much as we hate to see the tragic deaths of those four brave Americans become a political brouhaha, we’re glad to see that at least they’re being prominently mentioned in the news. There are valid questions about the nature of the mission they’d been sent on, what sort of intelligence failures led to their demise, what America is doing in a place called Niger in the first place, and why the administration was not more forthcoming with answers. We don’t doubt that there are valid answers, and that some of them can’t be offered without revealing classified information that might put other brave American soldiers at risk, but the grieving families and the public at large deserve that cautious explanation and some carefully-worded empathy. So long as the Trump administration can’t muster that, we expect it will suffer at least a few more days of outraged stories.

— Bud Norman

Another Round of Trumpian Distractions

American-backed forces have recently won a significant and potentially decisive victory against the Islamic State terror gang, the stock market is up and the rest of the numbers suggest the American economy has largely weathered all those hurricanes, and generally things could be worse. The smart move for an American president would be to act humble, let others to give him credit, then use the good will that’s been engendered to enlist allies in making things better yet, and not create any distractions, but that’s not President Donald Trump’s style.
Instead Trump has characteristically chosen to claim undue credit for the recent successes, further engendered ill will with his opponents by blaming them for recent failures, and provided his antagonists in the press with with plenty of distractions. He got off to a promising start Monday by appearing in a joint news conference with the Republican Senate majority, whom Trump has very publicly blamed for his the Republican party’s failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, among other legislative failures, and assuring the country their relationship has never been stronger. One of the questions inevitable questions from the reporters was about why Trump had gone 12 days without any public mention of four American servicemen who had died in combat in Niger, a little-known African country where few Americans were even aware that any American soldiers were in harm’s way there, and rather than frankly answering the question Trump chose to criticize all the previous presidents for failing to even write a letter or make a phone call to the families of fallen soldiers.
The Trump administration had to admit it hadn’t yet sent any of the letters they’ve written to the families of those fallen soldiers, nor made any consoling phone calls, while the past two administrations had officials testifying to the respect their presidents had paid, and so it proved another distraction. Trump specifically criticized President Barack Obama for failing to make a phone call to assuage the grief of Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s current chief of staff whose son had died in Afghanistan, but that didn’t help. Obama did give the Kelly family a seat of honor at a banquet honoring Gold Star families, Kelly has assiduously and admirably resisted anyone from letting his son’s death be used for anyone political purposes, and Trump still hasn’t answered why he let 12 days lapse before making any mention of the deaths of four American servicemen in a country most Americans didn’t even know we were at war.
Then you had Arizona’s Republican Sen. John McCain using the occasion of being awarded a National Constitutional Liberty Medal award to warn that “To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, and to abandon the ideas we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain the ‘last, best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is an unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to to the ash heap of history.” McCain carefully never mentioned Trump by name, but it was quite clear who he was talking about, and even Trump clearly understood.
Trump told some talk radio host that “People have to be careful, because at some point I fight back. I’m being very, very nice, but at some point I fight back, and it won’t be pretty.” Even Trump cannot deny that McCain heroically endured extra years of torture in a hellish North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp rather than abandon his men and hand the enemy a public relations victory, even if the draft-dodging president got away with saying “I like a guy who wasn’t caught, OK?,” so we doubt that McCain is much worried about what Trump might “tweet” about him as he struggles with terminal cancer. This looks to be another losing fight for Trump, except with his those staunch loyalists who still hate McCain for losing to Obama.
That big win against the Islamic State and the fairly healthy economy can plausibly be attributed to Trump, and there’s no denying he hasn’t yet hindered either effort, so we suggest he settle for that for now. Both represent mere incremental gains on on what has been happening for a while now, even during the hated Obama administration, and it seems best to engender that good will to make a lot of other things better.

— Bud Norman

Trump and the Stubborn Persistence of Obamacare

For more than eight long years we griped almost every day about almost everything President Barack Obama did, and were especially critical of his crackpot Obamacare law. Lately we’ve been griping almost every day about almost everything President Donald Trump does, though, and we even have some gripes about he’s going about undoing one of the worst mistakes of Obama’s administration.
Despite Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress and a Republican president in the White House, the Grand Old Party has thus far been unable to keep its seven-year-old promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, so Trump has chosen to hasten the crackpot system’s demise by executive action. First he signed an order that allows insurance companies to offer and consumers to choose low-premium but high-deductible programs that cover only catastrophic circumstances, which were previously disallowed by Obamacare, then he ordered a halt to federal subsidies for the low-income customers who have been forced to purchase the higher-premium but lower-deductible and more comprehensive coverage. Both moves would make perfect sense in an efficiently free market system of health care, but that seems unlikely to happen any time soon, and both are admittedly designed to wreck the crackpot health care system we’ve wound up with instead.
Obama’s promises that Obamacare would save you thousands of dollars and allow you to keep your doctor and your plan and not add a dime to the federal deficit while covering everyone have since proved complete balderdash, just as we glumly predicted back when we were griping almost every day about Obama and Obamacare, but even then what our anti-authoritarian instincts most hated about the crackpot scheme was the tyrannical notion of government mandating that individuals purchase a product and then limiting their choices of what to buy. We’re therefore grateful that Trump that has struck a blow for the liberty of those young and healthy and relatively low-wage workers whose best bet on the health insurance market is a low-premium and high-deductible catastrophic plan, and we fondly recall those halcyon days when we were among them, but our middle-aged have to acknowledge that without their coerced subsidies the rest of the current system is destabilized.
An end to those federal subsidies for low-income workers stuck with the high-deductible coverage is on even more solid constitutional ground, as the crackpot Obamacare law didn’t include them and they’ve been paid all along by executive orders of very dubious constitutionality, but Trump proudly admits that it’s intended to hoist Obamacare on its own petard, although we doubt he’d recognize the Shakespearean reference. Without those subsidies many insurers will will have no choice but to pull out of many markets, leaving millions of Americans without any coverage at all, and millions more paying higher premiums for the plans they’re still stuck with under the still-existing Obamacare law.
Trump’s plan is that the resulting catastrophe will force the Democrats to come begging for some efficiently free market solution such as the Republicans have been promising for seven long years, which we’d much prefer over the long term, but in the short-term it seems unlikely to happen. The plan assumes that the public will blame Obama and his crackpot law’s inherent flaws, rather than Trump for faithfully executing it to the letter and thus blowing it up, and it seems a rare case when Trump has over-estimated the public’s intelligence. If Trump expects the congressional Democrats to be so moved by the plight of those uninsured and over-paying low income workers that they will come begging for a efficiently Republican free market solution, rather than allowing the press to pillory him for admittedly blowing things up and gleefully watching his approval ratings further plummet, we think he’s overestimating them as well. He can plausibly blame those congressional Republicans, but he won’t have anything to claim to credit for, and it will make a complicated mid-term election next year.
In any case we won’t be any closer to that efficiently free market health system we’ve yearned for far longer than the past seven years, what we’re stuck with instead will wind up imposing misery on millions of Americans earlier than necessary, and there will be plenty of blame to go around.

— Bud Norman

Fighting Fire with FIRE

No matter how bad the news is these days, the most dispiriting part of every story is usually the comment sections. It’s not just the depressing proof of how very illiterate are the products of our public schools, but the constant reminders of how very rude and red-hot angry and ready to rumble our politics have become.
On Saturday we came across a short item in National Review’s “The Corner” section about how a group clad in “Make America Great Again” ball caps and similarly opinionated t-shirts had shouted down a pair of liberal speakers speakers at California’s Whittier College with chants of “lock him up,” “build that wall,” and “respect our president.” It wasn’t the scariest story we read over a weekend of dreary news, but it did strike us as a disturbing development. Such thuggishness has long been common on the left, which has all too frequently resorted to even more violent behavior to deny the free speech rights of conservative speakers and those who would like to hear them, but it has also long been a point of pride on the right that our side doesn’t stoop so low, and it’s hard to admit it now does.
Our fellow old-fashioned conservatives at the venerable National Review had the same reaction, as did the invaluable conservatives at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which first reported the story. FIRE usually reports on the more common attempts by the left to stifle free speech on campuses, and the all too frequent violence that occurs, but they’re principled enough to have document the same sort of thuggishness on the right. We’d like to think that most of our fellow Republicans are also offended, but the comments sections make clear that some are quite ready to fight it out in the streets with full late-Weimar Republic gusto.
By now we’re inured to hearing such sentiments from the callers on the more histrionic talk radio shows, but it’s still unsettling to see them in the comments section of such a high-brow right-wing rag as National Review.
Some of the commenters hopefully speculated that it was actually left-wingers shutting down the liberals in a “false flag” operation to discredit the right. Although most right wing speculation about “false flag” mass shootings and such is pure crazy talk, there have been documented cases of occasional lefties stirring up trouble at otherwise peaceable conservative gatherings while dressed as Nazis, but in this case FIRE has videotape showing some pretty convincingly middle-aged angry white guys even Hollywood’s best casting agent would have been hard-pressed to find, and few were buying that line.
More common were the comments that it’s about time the right started to resorting to the left lowest tactics. “Fight fire with fire” was a recurring cliche, and the more recently popular “punch back twice as hard” came up. Some thuggish leftists have been doing the same thing and even worse for quite a while now, the argument goes, and the left seems to be winning everything lately except for the White House and the Senate and the House of Representatives of most of the statehouses, ergo the right should do the same. This is most unconvincing to such old-fashioned Republican sensibilities as ours, which at our age have no taste for street-brawling, but certain segments of both the left and the right are itching for an escalation.
We’d like to think that most of the Democrats would also prefer a maximum of free speech and a minimum of street-brawling, and the more venerable liberal news sources seem to agree, so the problem of giving a controversial speech in a public square is probably for now manageable, but a certain combativeness as already infected the mainstream of politics. Democrats who look back wistfully on President Barack should acknowledge his rhetoric about bringing guns to knife fights and jump-starting that “punch back twice as hard” cliche, and all those conservative speakers who have shut down, but Republicans should acknowledged by the abandoned the high ground with President Donald Trump cease from all assaults on free speech.
Except for that unpleasantness in the early 1860s and a few notable labor disputes and race riots, America always has almost always worked out even its most heated arguments with maximal free speech and minimal street brawls, and what with the stock market up and the unemployment rate down we should be able to keep that streak going. For now, at least, let us fight with water.

— Bud Norman

A Question of Temperament

The Los Angeles Times newspaper and Vanity Fair magazine have both published recent stories that raise credible doubt on President Donald Trump’s temperamental fitness for his job, and the Republican chairman of the Senate intelligence committee has publicly raised the same concerns and insisted that most of his colleagues share them. Even with the stock market up and the unemployment rate down, all the opinion polls show that a majority of the public is also worried that there’s something not quite right about the president.
Of course Trump has counter-punched with “tweets” and defiant statements, as is his wont, but not in a way that will reassure any of those worriers. He’s griped to a pool of reporters that “It’s frankly disgusting the way the press can write anything it wants,” sent “tweets” threatening to revoke a national broadcasting network’s right to air stories he dislikes, and come up with a mocking nickname for that impudent Republican Senator who dare call him childish. He also “tweeted” complaints about Puerto Rico, where the death toll from a recent hurricane now stands at 45 and is climbing due to all the people who still don’t have clean water to drink, and that his generosity to the island’s American citizens won’t last forever. The hard-core fans will surely love it, as they hate the media and longstanding Republican office holders and those ungrateful Puerto Ricans as much as Trump does, but we expect the rest of the country and the rest of the world will see it differently.
Although we’ve long been critics of the media in general and the National Broadcasting Company in particular, all of those “fake news” stories Trump is railing against sound all too believable to us, and regardless of what errors they might contain we we don’t think that the First Amendment right of the press to write whatever they want is frankly disgusting. Until recently we unaware of the existence of Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, but what we’ve learned since his feud with Trump started suggests he’s mostly our kind of Republican, and Trump calling him “Liddle” Bob Corker doesn’t undercut the Senator’s claim that the White House has lately become an “adult day center.” Trump has also lately been feuding with his Secretary of State, challenging him to an Intelligence Quotient test if the “fake news” that he had called him a “moron” was true, and later told told reporters he “doesn’t like to undercut people,” but unless you’re a die-hard fan that’s not likely reassuring.
Puerto Ricans have made plenty of mistakes that have compounded their recent misfortune, but the federal government has also imposed plenty of mistakes on them as well over the years, and the complicated arrangement with the island and the 50 states obliges us help its still endangered Spanish speaking but fully-American citizens.
Even with the stock market up and the unemployment rate down we expect the national and international worries about Trump’s temperament will continue. There are also worries about the nuclear brinkmanship with North Korea, how all those ongoing feuds with Republicans and Democrats alike will lead to any useful legislation, as well as those nagging investigations into whole “Russia” thing, and it would challenge even the most presidential of temperaments, which really is worrisome unless you’re a die-hard supporter.

— Bud Norman

Hollywood’s Hypocrisy, and Everyone Else’s

By now you’ve surely heard of Harvey Weinstein, the only name that can lately nudge President Donald Trump out of the news.
Weinstein is the heavyweight Hollywood movie mogul who stands accused of decades of sexual predatory behavior, ranging from mere boorishness to outright rape, and although he’s not yet been charged in a court of law he’s already been convicted in the court of public opinion. The company Weinstein founded has kicked him out, A-List actresses have come forward to corroborate the accounts of countless lesser-known accusers, some very disturbing audio has been leaked from a suspiciously-dropped investigation by a New York City district attorney, he’s issued a statement acknowledging he could have behaved better and is seeking therapy, and no one is denying that he’s long been a very sleazy fellow.
Hollywood’s constant scandals have been big news since the silent days of Fatty Arbuckle and Clara Bow, but this one comes at an especially opportune time for its culture war adversaries on the right. Over the past decades the entertainment industry has manufactured many movies and television shows that delight in the exposing the frequently scandalous behavior of self-appointed guardians of morality on the right, so it’s only fair the right should delight in a scandal that exposes the frequent hypocrisy of Hollywood’s self-appointed exemplars of sexual equality and social justice. Weinstein’s sleaziness was apparently an open secret in Hollywood for years, with only a few brave comics willing to acknowledge it, and despite the recent deluge of A-Listers piling on the entire industry is indeed implicated.
We’ll happily pile on Weinstein, as well, as we have our own instinctive and longstanding disgust for his alleged behavior as well as most of the past few decades of sleazy Hollywood fare in general, but we don’t expect it will help the culture wars come to an end any time soon. There’s yet another juicy scandal that exposes Hollywood’s social justice pretentious are utterly predictable, but we can’t deny that Hollywood’s wags still have plenty of hypocrisy on the right to work with.
A couple of weeks ago a happily little-known Republican congressman who’d run on a staunchly anti-abortion and pro-family-values platform announced he wouldn’t run for re-election after his mistress told reporters he’d urged her to get an abortion during a pregnancy scare, with the text messages to back it up, and there’s no denying this sort of hypocrisy happens all too often on the right. The fair and balanced Fox News Network has kicked out its co-founder and top-rated commentator kicked for Weinstein-like behavior, and the Republican president has been caught on audiotape bragging about how he can grab women by their wherevers because he’s a television star, with numerous women alleging he did just that and countless others testifying to his at least boorish behavior, and Republican party loyalty cannot compel us to deny it.
The real shame of it is that both the left and the right should be able to agree that all such sleazy behavior and outright hypocrisy is unacceptable, no matter which side of the political divide it lands on. The firm hand of our fundamentalist Christian mother taught us to always treat women with a careful respect, which served us well in our relationships with the fundamentalist feminists we always found ourselves drawn to, and it doesn’t seem so much a matter of left and right as one of right and wrong. These days, however, we expect that both sides and all their sleazier members will continue scoring points.
The few brave comics who dared expose Weinstein’s sleaziness included Tina Fey, the insufferably liberal but undeniably funny woman who made his sleaze a running gag on her well worth watching “30 Rock” television show, and we count ourselves among the many commenters on the right who have always acknowledged when our side has been caught in similar scandals, so we’ll hold out hope there’s still a principled middle ground most of us occupy that acknowledges you just don’t treat women with a sexually predatory disrespect.

— Bud Norman

The President’s I.Q. vs. the Late Night Comics

The topic of all the late night comedy show monologues on Tuesday night was all too predictable. In an interview with Forbes Magazines published Tuesday morning President Donald Trump boasted of his scores on intelligence quotient tests, and that’s like catnip to all the catty and Trump-hating comics on late night television.
Trump walked right into it with his response to a question about recent reports that his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had called the president an expletive-deleted sort of “moron,” which had gone conspicuously undenied by Tillerson during an otherwise obsequious public statement and provided loomed large in the day’s news cycle and provided plenty of late-night fodder for the comics. The president plausibly denied the widely-verified and conspicuously undenied reports as “fake news,” but couldn’t help adding that “if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare I.Q. tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”
As die-hard a Trump supporter as you might be, it takes a heart of stone to deny those smug liberal late-night comics their cheap laughs about it. Late night audiences and pretty much everyone else knows that the really smart guys don’t brag about how smart they are, even if the late night comics do, in a clear way, and that a President who’s making that boast in response to the by-now-apparently true stories that his Secretary of State called him an expletive-deleted sort of “moron” is in an even more ridiculous position.
Trump’s die-hard supporters can rightly note that he’s very wealthy, although several reliable publications report he’s only as a third as rich as he claims, and he did indeed win the presidency, although he had the extraordinary good fortune to be running against Hillary Clinton and still finished second in the popular and by now there’s no denying that the man does possess an extraordinary intelligence of a certain sort. He’s had some spectacular personal and financial failures in his historic career, but enough successes that he’s wound up with an undeniable fortune and an objectively hot third trophy wife and the White House, so he can’t be so dumb as those late night comics claim.
There are all kinds of smarts, though, and not all of them are well matched to the challenges of statesmanship. Trump’s challenge to his Secretary of State’s I.Q. score involves a very perilous situation on the nuclear-armed Korean peninsula, and comes in the middle of another feud with the Republican chairman of the Senate intelligence committee about the president’s temperament and stability, along with other pressing legislative matters requiring the votes of numerous other congressional Republicans the president has been feuding with, and even Trump’s most die-hard supporters are struggling to make it sound reassuringly smart.

— Bud Norman

A Corker of a Feud

Reality shows usually derive their drama from petty disputes between the main characters, and President Donald Trump’s current action-packed series is no exception to the rule. Trump’s latest spat with Tennessee’s Republican Sen. Bob Corker, though, is likely to spill over into the real reality.
If you’ve been following the show since it debuted with the main character descending from the Trump Tower escalator to announce his candidacy, you might recall Corker as the mild-mannered and impeccably mainstream Senator who was one of the first Grand Old Party establishment types to endorse Trump’s candidacy after Trump had all but wrapped up the Republican nomination. Corker even so went so far as to describe Trump to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” as “courteous, kind, and respectful,” and “not at all what people think,” and his name was floated as a possible pick for Vice President or Secretary of State, but since then the relationship has gone sour.
As chairman of the Senate’s foreign relations committee Corker shepherded a Russian sanctions bill that was clearly intended to curtail Trump’s ability to negotiate with that country. Following Trump’s widely criticized response to the deadly violence at a white supremacist rally in Virginia, Corker was one of several congressional Republicans who joined in the criticism, going so far as to say “The President has not been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.” During the recent episodes when Trump was feuding with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over his efforts to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the conflict with North Korea, Corker that Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chief of Staff John Kelly were among the were among the few administration officials “that help keep the country from chaos.”
On Sunday Trump did his usual illiterate counter-punching with a series of three “tweets” firing back at Corker, all with the usual vehemence. “Senator Bob Corker ‘begged’ me to endorse him for re-election reelection in Tennessee. I said’NO’ and he dropped (said he could not win without…” one read, which was continued in the next “tweet” with “… my endorsement.) I said ‘NO THANKS!’ He wanted to be Secretary of State, I said “NO THANKS!” He is also largely responsible for the horrendous Iran deal!” The third “tweet” added “Hence, I would fully expect Corker to be a negative voice and stand in the way of our great agenda. Didn’t have the guts to run!”
The part about Corker being largely responsible for the Iran deal is entirely untrue, as Corker was an outspoken critic and a key reason President Barack Obama didn’t dare submit it to the Senate for ratification as a treaty and thus had to sign it as a presidential agreement, which is why Trump should be grateful he can now undo it by executive action. Corker contends that Trump had called him to offer his endorsement as an inducement to run again, that he withdrew his name for consideration for Secretary of State before Trump reached a decision, and that he’s not seeking for re-election for reasons other than cowardice. Given both what we’ve learned about both men over their long public lives, we’re inclined to believe Corker on each count.
In any case Corker isn’t running for reelection and is all the more unintimidated by Trump’s “tweets.” He responded with a phone call to The New York Times to categorically deny all of Trump’s “tweeted” claims, and to say that the president is treating his office “like a reality show” and that his handling of the North Korean crisis puts the country “on the path to World War III.” Corker even went to his own “Twitter” feed to opine that “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.”
The spat has received plenty of media attention, of course, and most of the commentary has been about how it will affect Trump’s ability to get his legislative agenda passed. Republicans can only afford to lose three votes from their slim majority in the Senate, which includes “Lyin'” Ted Cruz and “Little” Marco Rubio and the ugly Rand Paul and the unheroic John McCain, among several other members that Trump has gone out of his way to insult, so the general conclusion has been that enmity of the gutless Corker will likely further complicate the art of the legislative deal for Trump. There’s a counter-theory on the talk radio shows that Trump’s feuds with his own party are a brilliant strategy, which involves burning down the Republican party and bring forth a Trump-ian Phoenix from the ashes in order to defeat the almost-as-hated Democrats, but it’s hard to see that playing out soon enough to get anything passed before the next mid-terms.
So long as the Republicans are blamed for their legislative failures and the Republican president is held blameless that will probably be fine with Trump, but we worry Americans in general and Republicans in particular might have bigger problems. Corker is a fellow mild-mannered and impeccably mainstream Republican, even if he isn’t so wised-up as ourselves that he once went on cable television to describe Trump as “kind, courteous, respectful,” and we think he might be right about the adult day care at the White House with the adult supervision occasionally gone missing.
We’re not the only ones who can’t shake that nagging worry, or even the only Republicans. Corker claims most of his colleagues share his concerns, and so far few congressional Republicans have taken a public stand with Trump in in feud, and a very stalwart Pennsylvania GOP congressman from Pennsylvania who’s also not seeking went on the MSNBC cable network to admit his own worries. The latest poll from the Associated Press has Trump at a new low approval rating of 32 percent, with only 27 percent of women favorably inclined, and more worrisome it showed a positive 67 percent among Republicans. That’s a landslide in a general election, but in the past few hyper-partisan decades presidents have usually scored around 90 percent in their own parties, with the political Mendoza line set at around 80 percent, and the defection of nearly a third of the Republican grass-roots and a significant number of its elected representatives should give pause to the other two-thirds of the party.
Stay tuned, though. According to another recent episode, this is just the calm before the storm. Also, there’s an intriguing subplot involving Trump’s first wife and his third wife and First Lady to keep you diverted until the next twist.

— Bud Norman

The Un-Calm Before the Storm

So far as we can tell from his “tweets” and other public pronouncements, President Donald Trump is intent on some sort of military action against North Korea. The public pronouncements from the nutcase dictatorship of North Korea make clear that they consider Trump’s words a declaration of war, and the idea isn’t so nutty.
Trump has “tweeted” that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was “wasting his time” seeking a peaceful resolution to North Korea’s nuclear provocations, adding “Save your energy, Rex, we will do what has to be done.” At a photo-op with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Trump chided the generals for being slow in delivering him “military options,” later saying, as they all smiled for the pictures, “This is the calm before the storm.” Numerous questions about what that meant were answered with “you’ll see,” but Trump’s latest “tweets” said the past 25 years of diplomacy with North Korea have been “making fools of U.S. negotiators,” and “Sorry, but only one thing will work!”
That one thing clearly isn’t a negotiated resolution, and Trump is clearly impatient with the economic pressure that has lately been exerted on North Korea, by now even Trump doesn’t hold out much hope the Chinese can resolve the matter, so that doesn’t leave many non-military options. Trump and his most die-hard supporters appear quite confident that they’ll prevail in this game of nuclear brinksmanship, but it’s making the rest of us in pretty much the entire world rather nervous, and we can only guess at what that nutcase dictatorship makes of it.
If it does come down to a war America will win it, and Trump is right to emphasize that persuasive argument, but that’s no reason to start a war that could possibly be avoided. Any bar brawler can show you the scars and still-nagging injuries he got in the fights he won, cemeteries around the world are filled with the graves of soldiers from wars America won, and the best case scenarios for a quick win against North Korea include millions of enemy and allied deaths. We don’t advocate appeasement, as North Korea’s newly-upgraded nuclear capabilities are indeed intolerable, but we’d feel calmer if Trump heeded President Theodore Roosevelt’s advice to speak more softly as he wields a big stick, and didn’t render his Secretary of State’s efforts at a peaceful resolution a waste of time.
We’d be calmer yet if we thought that America had an effective Secretary of State on the job, or a cohesive foreign policy and an effective foreign service to go with it. Some of those southeast Asian allies Trump is making very nervous don’t have American ambassadors or fully staff embassies, key State Department positions have gone unfilled, and it’s not clear who’s advising Trump that calling the nutcase North Korean dictator “Little Rocket Man” and ruling out talks is sound diplomacy. Trump has some solid foreign hands around with his Defense Secretary and Chief of Staff and national security advisor, all multi-starred generals with hard-earned first-hand knowledge of how horrible even won wars are, all far more knowledgable about military realities in general and on the densely populated Korean peninsula in particular, but we notice they’re all striking a less bellicose tone in the very rare public pronouncements.
Trump’s grousing about the all the generals who have been slow in providing him military options suggests to us that the entire military is less enthusiastic about war with North Korean than is Trump, and we assume there are some relatively sane functionaries in the nutcase dictatorship that have reached the same conclusion. They’ve probably also noticed Trump’s dysfunctional relationship America’s foreign policy establishment, with the nutcase dictator amused that Trump’s own Secretary of State called him a “moron” and didn’t get summarily executed, and they’re probably less impressed with Trump’s bluster than his die-hard supporters.
The nutcase dictator probably pays even less attention to his sanest advisors than Trump does, though, and he might decide that so long as Trump has already declared war he might as well get it started with a strike on South Korea or Japan or the American territory of Guam or, if the most alarming claims are true, the west coast of America. At this point even the most sane advisors won’t advise him that Trump hasn’t already more or less declared war, and even if the nutcase dictator realizes somewhere in his deranged brain that he’ll lose the war he’ll figure that if he’s already lost he might as well get a few licks in along the way. So far as we can tell from the news reports he’d get a lot of licks in, and the generals and the military in general seem to agree, and with anything short of outright appeasement we’d rather put that scenario off to very last possible moment.
Perhaps this is the grand strategy that Trump and his die-hard supporters believe, and we have to hope so, although we wonder with  how Trump came to know more than generals or any previous head of state in history during his real estate and reality show career. If it comes to war, we hope it’s only because it was waged to avert an immediate threat to American lives, could not have been avoided otherwise, and that the Commander in Chief who ordered it could convincingly explain that to his countrymen and our allies and the rest of the nervous world.

— Bud Norman