Advertisements

The All-Too-Familiar News Gets Worse

The latest horrific American mass shooting got most of the air time and front page headlines, as it should, but there was also plenty of intriguing news about the “Russia thing” on Thursday.
Rod Rosenstein is a life-long Republican who was appointed to his post as America’s deputy attorney general by putatively Republican President Donald Trump, but you wouldn’t have guessed that by the treatment he received from the Republicans during his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Because Trump’s pick for Attorney General was obliged to recuse himself from the “Russia thing” Rosenstein has wound up in charge of a special counsel investigation into the matter, and so far he’s letting it proceed without interference, and these days that’s a considered a betrayal of the only Republican principle that matters, which is loyalty to Trump above all else.
Rosenstein was accused of unlawfully withholding information from Congress, even though he’s handed over hundreds of thousands of pages of documents and has a strong argument that the law forbids him from turning over what has been withheld. Based on a Fox News report Rosenstein was accused of “intimidating” congressional investigators with threats of subpoenas of e-mails and phone calls, but he plausibly asserted that Fox News was wrong and got a big laugh by noting that “you can’t subpoena phone calls.” South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy angrily insisted that the special counsel investigation that has already numerous indictments and several guilty pleas come to a quick because it’s going for on a year, and Rosenstein was polite enough not to respond that Gowdy’s investigation of the deadly fiasco at Benghazi went on for two-and-a-half without proving anything but the obvious-from-the-outset conclusion that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been fatally incompetent but not at all criminal in their handling of the matter.
Fox News viewers and talk radio listeners probably enjoyed the pummeling they perceived, but we thought Rosenstein punched back quite effectively. In any case, Rosenstein is clearly defiant about allowing the special counsel investigation to proceed without interference, and if the House Republicans try to prevent that they’ll be in for an awful news cycle and a damning verdict from history. Thursday brought more proof, added to all that’s piled up over the past couple of years, that there’s something fishy about the “Russia thing” that demands a special investigation.
The American Broadcasting Company broadcast some pretty persuasive pictures of some some pretty suspicious Russians enjoying their elite access to Trump’s inauguration parties, and the news that the special counsel is scrutinizing all of them.
Buried deep in the news were the finalized details of a planned meeting between Trump and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16, and all the numerous reasons our nervous allies and our own skittish selves are worried about that. Trump himself “tweeted” that Russia denies it had anything to do with the last election, andhe wondered why his Justice Department is more concerned with that “Russia thing” “witch hunt” rather than all the crimes his vanquished political opponents should clearly be locked up for by now. Given that all of the intelligence agencies and the people he picked as Federal Bureau of Investigation director and Central Intelligence Agency director and Defense Secretary and Secretary of State and Attorney General agree that Russia is brazenly lying to him, this is not reassuring.
At Axios.com they have a round-up of media reports about Trump telling our most longstanding military allies and trading partners at a recent Group of Seven meeting that “(North Atlantic Treaty Organization) is as bad as (North American Free Trade Agreement)” as a rip-off of the United States, and that Russia probably should be occupying Crimea because so many people speak Russian there. Axios.com is liberal but reliably reality-based internet news publication, and given Trump’s many displeased public pronouncements about our traditional military allies and trading partners in the G-7 and all of his fulsome praise for the dictator of a traditional adversary we see no reason to doubt a word of it. Thursday also brought news from The Washington Post that Trump tried to convince French President Emmanuel Macron to leave the European Union and strike a friendly unilateral deal with America.
The summit with Russia’s dictator should prove at least as friendly as his recent summit with the even more brutal North Korean dictator, where Trump traded fulsome praise and security guarantees in exchanges for the same vague promises the third-generation dictatorship has broken countless times. It will certainly be friendlier than that last G-7 summit with our most longstanding military allies and trading partners, where Trump went out of his way to offend everyone but that wacky populist in Italy.
Trump won’t be pressing Russian dictator Vladimir Putin about that “Russia thing,” or Russia’s occupation of a significant part of a nation whose sovereignty America is obliged by treaty to respect, and he’s apparently cool with Putin’s attempts to undermine the military alliances and trading partnerships that have made the West so dominate in the post-World War II and especially the post-Cold War eras, and he’s fine with Putin’s pal and brutal dictator Bassar al-Asssad staying in power in Libya, so they should get along fine. Now that Trump’s branded vodka is long gone from the marketplace he might even negotiate a trade good deal for lower-priced Stolichnaya, which is the good stuff and will surely come in handy someday soon, but other than we can’t see what the boastful deal-maker hopes to get out of it.
Which strikes us as fishy, given what an adversarial dictatorship Russia is and the conclusions of every Trump administration official except Trump that it did play a nefarious role in our last election, and everything else about Trump’s foreign policy is similarly fishy. The special counsel has Trump’s clearly Russia-tied former campaign manager in jail, has secured a guilty plea from Trump’s clearly Russia-tied national security advisor, Trump’s son has published an e-mail chat that admitted he and his brother-in-law and the campaign manager with someone he understood to be from the Russian with an offer to interfere in the election. and there’s so much else that’s fishy about it we want a special investigation to keeping looking into it.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

Kennedy Hands Trump a Final Win

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement on Wednesday, which is good news for President Donald Trump. No matter how many porn stars Trump pays or longstanding allies and trading partners he needlessly alienates or essential institutions he seeks to undermine, his die-hard defenders can always make the strong argument to pre-Trump conservatives such as ourselves that we’re better of with him making Supreme Court picks rather than that awful Hillary Clinton woman.
Trump got his first chance to pick a Justice because Republican Senate majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell — now widely reviled by the Trump-ian party as a squishy establishment type — ruthlessly held the seat open through the last year of President Barack Obama’s second term following the death of reliably conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, and Trump’s choice of the equally rock-ribbed Justice Neil Gorsuch further endeared him to his loyal supporters and earned begrudging praise from his party’s last skeptics. Kennedy’s retirement gives Trump an opportunity to replace him with someone even more rock-ribbedly conservative, and although we’re sure he’d appoint his abortion-loving appellate judge sister or idiot-sin-law to the seat if he thought he could get away with it, we’re also sure he’s shrewd enough that he’ll once again let the Heritage Foundation choose someone the fans will love and the conservative skeptics will begrudgingly respect and the Democrats can’t come up with any persuasive beyond-the-pale arguments about.
Kennedy was appointed to the court by President Ronald Reagan and confirmed with unanimous Republican support and several Democratic votes in the Senate, and he was not a judicial activist type who thought that whatever the consensus of liberal opinion believed was constitutional, but neither was he a reliably conservative vote in controversial cases. He acquired a reputation as the rare “swing vote” on the Supreme Court, and for whatever idiosyncratic reasons he frequently wound up on the winning side of many five-to-four decisions that wound up outraging the left some of the time and the right some of the time. In his final session he provided Trump with some much-needed five-to-four wins on the travel ban and a California case involving the free speech rights of anti-abortion advocates and another matter about the power of public unions, but his replacement will likely provide both the Trump-ian and pre-Trump conservatives with even more five-to-four wins over the coming decades.
There’s already concern on the left that the Supreme Court might even undo the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that found a right somewhere in the penumbra of the Constitution for abortion in the first trimester and exceedingly complicated cases afterwards, which is well past the panic by point even by the left’s panicky standards, but they don’t have much power to stop it. They’ll put up a good fight in the Senate confirmation process, and do whatever they can with the filibuster rules the Republicans used to rely on in their days on the political desert, and make a not-quite-convincig argument that because Obama’s appointment had to await the next presidential election Trump’s pick should await the next mid-term election, but they’ll wind up with Trump winning a more conservative Supreme Court for a long while.
As much as we hate to see it redound to Trump’s political benefit, that’s fine with us. We’ve always believed the Constitution says what the words written in it say, and not whatever the current consensus of liberal opinion is, and we have to admit we do shudder to think of the nominees that awful Clinton woman would have chosen. If Trump’s picks prove the strict constructionists the Heritage Foundation claims they are they’ll probably uphold a special counsel subpoena of the president, and even if the Court does undo Roe v. Wade it will just set off 50 state legislative battles and countless street brawls which the rather recent and obviously insincere pro-life convert Trump will mostly lose.
No matter how stellar a pick the Heritage Foundation comes up with, however, we’ll still be infuriated by almost everything else Trump is doing.

— Bud Norman

Trump Takes on Harley-Davidson

Harley-Davidson has long made the motorcycles of choice for American cops, criminals, and male middle age crisis sufferers, and ranks with Louisville Slugger baseball bats and Fender electric guitars and apple pies as one of America’s most all-American products. Nonetheless, President Donald Trump now regards the company as one of his ¬†enemies in the world trade war he’s waging.
It all started with Trump imposing punitive tariffs on imports from the European Union, which predictably resulted in the EU imposing retaliatory tariffs on certain industries in the states that cast their electoral votes for Trump in the last election. Wisconsin was one of those states, and the Milwaukee-based manufacturer of the only significant American motorcycle was hit with tariffs that would raise the cost of their product by than $2,000 in the company’s second-biggest market, which predictably resulted in Harley-Davidson’s announcement that it would avoid the tariffs by building motorcycles for the European market in Europe.
Which predictably resulted in a series of “tweets” by Trump denouncing the company as un-American, threatening to impose new taxes “like never before” on it, and predicting its American customers will soon go bankrupt as its customers go elsewhere.
All of which, of course, is balderdash. Harley-Davidson’s decision to build motorcycles in Europe is the predictable self-interested economic response to the predictable consequences of Trump’s ill-advised trade war, which seems pretty American to us, and we’d note that Trump and his favorite daughter have long had the products they peddle manufactured in other countries for far less necessary reasons. Presidents are restrained by the Constitution from levying taxes on their political enemies, and even if Trump persuaded Congress to do so it would be a bill of attainder that is explicitly unconstitutional and downright un-American. If Harley-Davidson’s proudly American customers do decide to choose another motorcycle to show their solidarity with Trump, they’ll almost certainly wind up buying a German or Japanese model and paying much more for it because of Trump’s tariffs.
Pretty much everything about Trump’s trade war against the world is similarly stupid. Those employed in the steelmaking industry might benefit, but those employed in the more numerous steel-using industries are going to take a hit and anyone who buys a Harley-Davidson motorcycle or anything else made with steel is going to wind up paying much more for it. The Kansas wheat farmers and airplane-makers around here who rely on lucrative export markets to get by are going to take a hit from all the retaliatory tariffs, too, and so will all sorts of workers in all sorts industries that don’t need Trump’s protection and aren’t in his favor.
The post-World War II order that everyone agreed to at Bretton Woods and established a global market doing business with the Yankee dollar as the reserve currency unit has brought about an unprecedented era of global peace and prosperity, and despite all the ups and undeniable downs along the way America is also better off. Trump is convinced that by his sheer Nietzche-an power of will he can negotiate the rest of the world into cutting up the post-war world order goose and giving America all the golden eggs, though, and he seems to have persuaded a significant number of fans that he can.
At one of his continuous campaign rallies on Tuesday in West Columbia, South Carolina, Trump got big laughs by insulting an outgoing Republican South Carolina congressman and a dying Republican Senator and former Republican presidential nominee who haven’t been properly obeisant to the president, as well as a couple of late-night television comedians who constantly lampoon him. He also got big cheers for promising an escalated trade war against Germany, which he blames for selling more cars in America than America sells in Germany and thus creating a trade deficit, which he considers an unforgivable offense, even though everybody runs a trade deficit with somebody, which is how the world works.
The crowd loved it, even though the biggest employer by far in the nearby and thriving town of Greenville is Bavarian Motor Works, which is as iconically German as Harley-Davidson is iconically American. Those low-paying sweat-shop textile mill jobs South Carolina used to get by on have long since been outsourced to even the lower-wage and less-regulated countries where Trump and his favorite daughter have their branded neckties and women’s apparel made, but the state is by far better off with BMW running its biggest factory in the state, and why those rally-goers have more faith in Trump than the post-war world order that has brought them such peace and prosperity is hard to explain.
We have no particular affection for Harley-Davidson motorcycles, as their customers regularly interrupt our conversations on the local taverns’ outside drinking areas with their loud flatulence, and the last time we rode a motorcycle was decades ago and on one of those Japanese “rice burners,” but we’re now rooting for this iconic American brand and the rest of the world in their war with Trump.

— Bud Norman

Let Us All Eat in Peace

As regular readers of this publication are well aware, we’re not fond of President Donald Trump, nor are we fond of any of his administration officials, except for a few who are frequently on Trump’s bad side. Still, we wouldn’t refuse any of them service at our restaurant, in the off chance we had one and the even more off chance Trump or any of his administration officials happened to walk into it, nor would we attempt to boo any of them out of any public space we somehow happened to share.
That’s just our old-fashioned Kansas conservative way, though, and it seems a number of more well-helled and up-to-date liberal types in Washington, D.C., and Lexington, Virginia, disagree. White House senior policy advisor Stephen Miller and Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen were both recently heckled by numerous fellow diners and driven from Mexicans restaurants in Washington, Nielsen was later awakened by an angry crowd chanting outside her home before dawn, and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her party were asked by the owner of restaurant in Lexington to leave. In the all the discussion that ensued from all the brouhaha some leftward media expressed solidarity with the hecklers, and California’s Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters got some headlines by urging her followers that no Trump administration be allowed to gas up their car or buy groceries or eat a restaurant meal without harassment.
As much as we dislike Trump for our own old-fashioned Kansas conservative reasons, and have to admit that his urging his followers to punch out protestors and promising to pay their legal bills and other vulgar utterances have also debased the civility of our public discourse, and despite the chuckle we got out of a late-night comedian saying that it takes some serious chutzpah for either Miller or Nielsen to visit a Mexican restaurant, we’d rather both sides of America took time off from these dreary debates for mealtimes and grocery-shopping and theater-going and other previously sacrosanct moments of a human being’s life.
The venerably pre-Trump conservative magazine National Review agrees, and so does the old-fashionedly liberal editorial board of the The Washington Post, as well as most of the the rest of mostly apolitical America. Still, there’s clearly more than a few on both the left and right fringes of the political spectrum who seem to be itching for a fight.
The aforementioned Waters has been a racialist demagogue since before even Trump got into the game, and first became nationally-known by encouraging the constituents in her ever-shifting district to continue the Los Angeles riots of 1992 until some Korean immigrant shopkeepers started effectively firing back with semi-automatic weapons, and after all these years we’re even somewhat less fond of her than Trump. Her more or less clarion call for mobocracy are not uncommon on the leftward edges of the political spectrum, too, and that’s one reason we’re still old-fashioned Kansas conservatives.
Meanwhile, the racialist demagogue Trump has “tweeted” back at the “low-IQ individual” Waters that he’s got plenty of his own supporters who are also itching for a fight. Several of them have already egged the Red Hen Restaurant that denied Sanders service, except that they mistakenly egged an entirely innocent restaurant of that name in Washington, D.C., rather that the admittedly guilty one in Lexington, and one way or another that fight the farthest fringes seem to be itching for will likely end badly.
The good news is that both National Review and The Washington Post are calling for a political time-out during eating and grocery-shopping and theater-going and family and sleep time, and that most Democratic and Republican politicians agree on this point. Somehow, the center might hold.
Still, longtime readers of this publication know our recurring nightmares about the last days of the Weimar Republic in pre-Hitler Germany, when the Commies and the Nazis were brawling it out on the grimy streets of decadent Berlin. We’ve always figured that in such incomprehensibly dire circumstances we would seek asylum elsewhere, but in this mean old world we don’t know where we might have found it. When we challenged a post-Trump Republican friend of ours that he would have defended iconic Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt’s decision to turn back the St. Louis ocean liner full of Jewish refugees, he admitted he would do so even now knowing with the 20-20 hindsight of history that it condemned all the passengers to concentration camp deaths, and that if by historical chance we’d needed the chance we would have also been passengers on that voyage, and given her racialist demagoguery and the demographic make-up of her district we’re sure Waters would have gone along with it as well.
At this point we’re willing to let the “Trumpanzees” and the “lib-tards” brawl it out on the decadent of streets of America, at least as far as possible away from our surprisingly serene streets of Wichita, Kansas, and hope that the center will hold, and our daily meals will at least be peaceful.

— Bud Norman

The Borders Flare as the Center Collapses

The politics of illegal immigration has long been thorny, and a solution has eluded the past several presidents and congresses, but it suddenly seems even thornier in the age of President Donald and his Republican party’s slim and fissiparous majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives.
All of the usual tricky questions about how to properly enforce current immigration laws in an effective yet humane and constitutional way, and what to do about the illegal immigrants who are already here, are still awaiting an definitive answer, and there’s still a wide chasm between the most welcoming Democrats and the most exclusionary Republicans. Trump’s longtime rhetoric and recent policies, of course, are making some sort of compromise solution all the more difficult.
Trump’s executive order to rescind President Barack Obama’s executive order for Delayed Action on Childhood Arrivals has made a pressing issue about the fate of the so-called “dreamers,” who were brought here as children and have since lived provably productive and tax-paying lives that have little troubled the American populace, which raises complicated political as well as policy and legal questions. Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy has resulted in a couple thousand children separated from their parents and held in circumstances that administration can’t fully account for, and which the Trump administration has denied and blamed on Democrats and insisted is necessary to save the country from imminent invasion, and although he’s since signed an executive order to undo his policy that’s further complicated the debate. His rhetoric about “animals” “infesting” the country and warning of an “invasion” by “millions” of raping and drug-dealing types has brought a long-heated debate to a boiling point.
Trump and his spokespeople have lately taken a dizzying number of stands on these issues — we can’t resist re-telling our joke that he’s got more positions than Stormy Daniels — but he’s always consistently made it clear that he’s not at all fond of those brown-skinned people from “shit-hole countries” who keep showing up at the southern border seeking asylum. He’s spoken sympathetically of a “loving bill” for the “dreamers,” revved up his rallies with talk about the Democrats don’t think a Trump voter’s children are also dreamers, and he made a big show of reversing his family separation policy but not the the “zero tolerance” that he admits will continue to separate families. All those photos and video and audio of crying children and their unaccounted-for whereabouts might have cowed Trump into reversing the policy that 58 percent of Republicans supported, but now Trump is calling it all “phony stories” by the “open-borders” Democrats and their allies in the “fake news” media, who of course are enthralled by the murderous MS-13 street gang and want only the very worst for America.
To show that Trump is very, very strong on border enforcement, and perhaps to demonstrate that they’re not all racist about it, the Border Patrol recently caught a French woman who was visiting her mother in southern Canada and inadvertently jogged a bit out south of the American border, and was detained for two weeks.
There’s at least a kernel of truth to most of it, we must admit. A large influx of human beings from anywhere on the earth will inevitably include some highly undesirable people, and that MS-13 gang from El Salvador truly is a particularly gruesome example, and that suspiciously French 19-year-old did indeed jog into American territory. There are indeed some “open borders” Democrats out there, and we’ve read enough of Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” that we don’t need Trump to tell us how it would work out for America if they somehow got their way. A certain strictness of border enforcement will always be necessary for every country, but it remains if Trump’s will prevail as politics or policy or a legal matter.
Trump is clearly cocky that he will prevail on all three fronts, or at least the all-important political one. Even as he accused the Democrats of using the immigration issue for political advantage he told a group of Nevada Republicans that “Our issue is strong borders, no crime. Their issue is open borders, get MS-13 all over the country.” The Republicans in the House were scheduled to vote on a couple of hard-line and compromise bills, but Trump “tweeted” his advice they “stop wasting their time” and await his predicted “red wave” that would give the Republicans’ true one-party rule. He also “tweeted” that America was no longer obligated to fulfill its duly passed and signed treaty obligations regarding asylum-seekers or comply with the legal precedents that had followed, which is a bit more hard-line than even our rock-ribbed but tender-hearted and constitutionally conservative Republican selves can go along with.
The damned Democrats have all that undeniably heart-breaking photography and video and audio from the southern border, where the Trump administration is having a hard time getting its story straight on what’s happening there, although we’re assured it’s tougher but more tender than anybody has ever seen, so it might take more than a kernel of truth for Trump and his Republican loyalists to triumph. We begrudgingly acknowledge that most Democrats don’t believe in “open borders,” and that includes President Barack Obama, who made a priority of deporting MS-13 gang members and other felonious illegal immigrants rather than breaking up the families of possibly legal asylum-seekers, and even that horrible Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. They’re all far more lax about these matters than even our pre-Trump Republican selves, but for the moment they seem closer to the political center than all thousands at the on-going campaign rallies still chanting “Build that wall!”
By now even the faithful at the rallies don’t expect that Mexico will pay for the wall, and Trump is expecting the Democrats to pay it for as ransom for all the “dreamers” and the kids he got placed God knows where. Which further complicates matters. Pretty much no one but Trump and the faithful at the rallies believe the solution to the thorny illegal immigration problem is a “big, beautiful” and translucent and solar-generating wall across the entirety of the Mexican border, and all the Republican congressional districts along the proposed route think it’s a horrible idea and are threatening all sorts of eminent domain court challenges, and despite the chants at the rallies we don’t think Trump should be cocky about it.
Even at the Nevada rally Trump shared the stage with a far more moderate-on-immigration incumbent who’s facing a tough reelection race, and in Nevada as most of the country the Democrats are nominating candidates who aren’t “open borders” but advocate a more legal and humane means of border enforcement. Trump’s bet that he’ll get an end to some stupid immigration as well as his equally stupid border after a “red wave” might prove as disastrous as his bet on the Atlantic City Trump Taj Mahal.
Nor do we expect that good policy will somehow result. The border must be enforced, international treaty obligations and constitutional law and basic human decency must be respected, and at this point in this long and drawn-out game that seems a long shot.

— Bud Norman

Charles Krauthammer, RIP

Charles Krauthammer died Thursday after a long struggle against cancer at the age of 68, and his death comes far too soon and at a very bad time for the conservative cause he long championed.
The longtime Washington Post columnist and widely published essayist was an honest-to-God conservative intellectual, as even his most ardent critics had to admit. He was first in his class at Montreal’s elite McGill University, spent a year studying political at Oxford University, earned a doctorate in psychiatry from Harvard Medical School, won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize in 1987, and wrote with such clarity and convincing logic and acerbic wit that even those intellectual who were outraged by his opinions respectfully responded with their best efforts at a rebuttal. He never had to resort to schoolyard taunts or ad hominem attacks, was rarely subjected to such juvenile tactics in return.
The son of German Jews who had escaped the Holocaust, Krauthammer was born in New York City but mostly grew up in Montreal with an innate intellectual curiosity and an inherited sense of the tragic nature of the human condition. At the age of 22 the strikingly handsome and well-built skier and sailor and swimmer was mostly paralyzed from the neck down as the result of a swimming pool accident, but he wasn’t one to let tragedy keep him from living his life to the fullest.
He pursued his psychiatry doctorate partly because he’d become disillusioned with the radical politics of the ’70s, and further explained that the discipline “promised not only moral certainty, but intellectual certainty, a hardness to truth, something not to be found in the political universe.” His longtime friend and fellow Washington Post columnist George Will, another Pulitzer Prize winner and honest-to-God conservative intellectual, recalls Krauthammer saying, “with characteristic felicity, it combined the practicality of medicine and the elegance of philosophy.”
He became a chief resident at Massachusetts General Hospital, an official at the Department of Health and Services, but somehow wound up diving headfirst into the murky and shallow pool of politics. He considered himself a liberal cold warrior, and wrote speeches for the campaign of Democratic presidential Walter Mondale in 1980 and then the joined the staff of the left-of-center New Republic, but found himself increasingly estranged from liberalism. He had a clear-eyed view of the tragic nature of communism, was appalled by the Democratic party’s growing squishiness about confronting it in the post-Vietnam and post-George McGovern era of the party, and began to question other fashionably left-of-center ideas.
Krauthammer was especially offended by the left’s naive insistence on de-institutionalizing the seriously mentally ill patients he had once treated, and he also noticed the left’s eagerness to institutionalize the behavior of almost everyone else. By the time he arrived at The Washington Post he was one of the paper’s two token conservative editorial writers, and quickly became controversial for his full-throated defense of President Ronald Reagan’s aggressive Cold War foreign policy. He was one of several former New Deal liberals who once believed in the Truman and Kennedy administrations’ anti-communism but had drifted from the Democratic party, a largely but not entirely Jewish group of intellectuals who came to be known as “neoconservatives,” and they were all vindicated by the demise of the undeniably horrific Soviet Union and the liberation of its former vassal states.
The neoconservatives continued to advocate an American foreign aggressively devoted to promoting liberty and democracy in totalitarian lands, and thus were steadfast advocates for Israel, and argued for a forceful response to Islamist totalitarianism after the historic terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In the aftermath of President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, neoconservative has become term of opprobrium on both the left and right, and Krauthammer’s unapologetic-to-his-dying-day defense of the war meant he died a respected but very controversial man.
The left always hated the war, and by now we have a Republican president who also thinks it was a bigly mistake and even goes so far as to parrot the far-left’s slur that Bush lied us into it, and by now the far fringes of both the Old Left and the newfangled Trumpian right use “neoconservaitve” as a term of opprobrium for a bunch of smarty-pants intellectual Jews. They all forget the neoconservatives won the Cold War without any mushroom clouds, and don’t seem to understand that history’s verdict on the Iraq War has yet to be written, and that Krauthammer might yet be posthumously vindicated.
There’s an argument to be made that the still-controversial and unarguably tragic Korean and Vietnam Wars demonstrated American and western resolve against communism, and thus helped America and the West eventually win the Cold War without any mushroom clouds, and that the hated-on-both-the-Old-Left-and-Trumpian-right Iraq War demonstrated a similar resolve against Islamist totalitarianism, and that it might be a reason it hasn’t pulled of any terror attacks anywhere in the West approaching the scale of Sept. 11, 2001. We wish that Krauthammer were still around to make that argument better than we can.
These days the arguments for conservatism are being made by proudly uneducated talk radio show hosts, and even “intellectual” seems a term of opprobrium in the newfangled Trumpian right. The well-educated and well-spoken and well-mannered and scientific and philosophical Krauthammer was of course appealed by almost everything about Trump, even though he would occasionally admit that Trump had gotten some old-fashioned and pro-Israel policy right, but his battle against cancer largely kept him off the op-ed pages and airwaves through most of Trump’s presidency, so his passing might get the begrudging respect from the right that he’ll get from the left.
We’re old enough to remember a time when the arguments for conservatism were being made by such honest-to-God intellectuals as Russell Kirk and William Buckley and Milton Friedman, whose intellectual lineage went back to Edmund Burke and John Locke and Adam Smith, but that era seems to be passing. This annus horibilis has already seen the passing of the Harvard Russian studies professor Richard Pipes, whose expertise and clear-eyed views helped win the Cold War, Princeton’s Middle East Studies professor Bernard Lewis, whose expertise and clear-eyed views are still needed to win the ongoing war against Islamist totalitarianism, and the great journalist and novelist Tom Wolfe, who was apparently a New Deal Democrat to his dying day but a formidable force on our side in the post-Vietnam and post-McGovern culture wars.
We and Krauthammer’s old pal Will are still arguing for pre-Trump conservatism, along with some other other formidable Never Trump conservative intellectuals, but we sure could use Krauthammer’s help, These days conservatism is defined by whatever Trump and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and their callers are saying on any given news cycle, and the loss of such ¬†a well-educated and well-spoken and well-mannered and honest-to-God conservative intellectual as Krauthammer seems all the more tragic.

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Triumphant Retreat

President Donald Trump prides himself on never admitting a mistake or backing off a stand, but on Wednesday he signed an executive order to end his own policy of separating children from parents detained as illegal immigrants. His Homeland Security secretary had previously said the policy didn’t exist, which was a lie, and Trump had also said it did exist but that he hated it and it was forced on him by a “Democrat law,” which was also a lie, and Trump and his die-hard defenders had also said the policy was unfortunately but necessarily strong, which might have been arguably true but is less persuasive in the wake of Trump’s executive order to end the policy.
We ran into one of Trump’s die-hard at the Vagabond dive bar over in Delano Wednesday night, and he was still defending the family-separation policy and was sorely disappointed that Trump had uncharacteristically caved to overwhelming public opinion, but we think our friend lost the ensuing conversation and his side was clearly losing the broader public debate. In every news medium but Fox News the coverage was full of cute and crying girls being ripped from their mothers’ arms, and and the administration’s media response was contradictory lies and endlessly-repeated footage Trump’s one-time campaign manager — not the one who’s currently in jail, but the one who manhandled a woman reporter at rally — responding to an account of a 10-year-girl with Down’s Syndrome being torn from her mother’s arms by sarcastically whining “Whaaah Whaah.” Needless to say, the administration was losing the news-cycle, bigly.
The opinion polls showed two-thirds of the country opposed to the policy, prominent and previously loyal congressional Republicans also disapproved, and Republican and Democratic governors withdrew their National Guard units from border enforcement, and a couple of major airlines apologized for flying some seized youngsters off to such far-flung locales as New York City and promised to never do so again. Every living First Lady went on record against the policy, including the one currently more or less married to Trump, along with First Daughter Ivanka Trump, and such a ratings-conscious president as Trump realized that no matter how contrary it was to his lifelong instincts he had to back off a stand.
Not that Trump admitted a mistake, of course. During a signing ceremony he still blamed the Democrats for a President George W. Bush-era law that he dishonestly says requires family separations as a matter of routine policy and couldn’t be undone by executive order, even as he boasted that he’s the first president since Dwight Eisenhower with the “political courage” to end the inhumane policy that he had been first to enact with an executive. He also reassured his die-hard defenders that he was still “very strong” on border enforcements, unlike the “open borders” Democrats who apparently enjoy Latino gang murders, even if he wasn’t willing to endure the sob-sister photographs and videotapes and audio tapes of cute brown-skinned toddlers crying for their mommas.
The news cycle probably doesn’t end here, though, despite Trump’s best efforts. The executive order Trump signed doesn’t address the two-thousand or so children who have already been separated from their parents and are currently alarmingly unaccounted for, and their fates will surely fuel some heartbreaking and all-too-real stories from the “fake news” for enough months to reach the mid-term elections next fall. Trump is still sticking the the administration’s announced “zero-tolerance policy” to prosecute every allegedly illegal border crossing, albeit with the parents and children confined in nearby cages, or “partitions with chain-mail walls” as a Fox News host put it, and there’s going to be newsworthy court cases going all the way to the Supreme Court about that. In the meantime federal law only allows the detention of foreign minors for 20 days, and although Trump recently lied to the National Federation of Independent Businesses that there are “thousands of immigration judges” there are in fact only 335, and due process requires complicated and time-consuming deliberations, so in 20 days or so the badly planned family separation policy will be dominating yet another a news cycle, barring any bigger developments in the trade wars or the “Russia thing.”
At this point, we’re mostly hoping those ninos will somehow be someday reunited somewhere with their madres and padres, and hold out fainter hope that America can still somehow enforce its borders in accordance with international law and basic human decency.

— Bud Norman

The Complicated Situation and the Far Easier Lies at the Southern Border

Over the past few days we’ve heard President Donald Trump and several of his administration officials tell us that they are not separating children from parents detained as illegal immigrants, that they are but Trump hates it and does so only because the Democrats’ weak-on-illegal-immigration laws are forcing him to impose such draconian measures, and that actually it is a necessary and brilliant policy. According to all the available evidence, the only thing these contradictory claims have in common is that they’re all blatant lies.
We’re hard-liners on border enforcement, at least by pre-Trump standards, and would be open to a honest argument that the very complicated problem at the border temporarily requires such severe measures, but Trump and his administration characteristically found it easier to tell such contradictory and blatant lies. Trump and his administration assure us that the children separated from their parents are being treated humanely, and that the heartbreaking pictures and audio-tapes and first-hand accounts of traumatized toddlers are “fake news,” but after so many blatant lies about all sorts of things from crowd sizes to hush money payments to porn stars and meetings with shady Russia and now the president’s policy on border enforcement we are not reassured.
Which further complicates the already damned complicated broader debate about illegal immigration. According to the Cable News Network’s public opinion polling about the issue, about two-thirds of the country find those “fake news” heartbreaking pictures and audio tapes and first-hand accounts coming out of the border more convincing that what Trump and his administration are saying at the moment, and the right-wing talk radio hosts and other die-hard Trump defenders find themselves in the uncomfortable position of defending a policy that even Trump claims to hate and blames on those soft-hearted yet somehow cruel Democrats. By now a notable number of congressional Republicans are criticizing Trump and his administration about the family separations, including several who have previously been cowed by Trump’s popularity with the Republican party.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was quite blunt about Trump’s low character back when they were the finalists in the Republican presidential primary race and Trump was calling him “Lyin’ Ted” and “re-tweeting” memes about how unattractive Cruz’ wife is and touting a National Enquirer bombshell that Cruz’ father was in on the Kennedy assassination, and even withheld his endorsement at the Republican nominating convention, but by the time he started campaigning for a primary re-election race in a state that Trump easily won he was saying the most complimentary things about Trump.
Even in Texas those photographs and audio-tapes and first accounts are a political problem, though, and Cruz introduced a bill that would double the number of immigration judges and fund a quicker due process and stop separating families without felony records for an all-too-routine misdemeanor offense. By the way, Trump lied to a friendly audience of small business that there are “thousands” of immigration countries, and Cruz’ bill aims to more correctly doubles the current number from 350.
After he singularly forced a government shutdown about some continuing resolution or another we’ve long since forgotten Cruz was considered the most audaciously rock-ribbed conservative anti-establishment son-of-a-bitch in the GOP caucus by the liberal press, and was commensurately a hero to all the right-wing talk radio hosts, and he was a runaway winner in the Kansas Republican party’s caucus over distant third-place finisher Trump with help from our single ballot. As we drove home after a beer and some political talk at Kirby’s Beer Store one of the louder talk hosts was telling us that Cruz had at long shown revealed his deep-seated liberalism, though. According to that CNN poll some 58 percent of the Republican party around the country believes that Trump is entirely right to pursue the policy that the Trump administration has insisted doesn’t exist and that Trump himself says he hates and blames on the Democrats.
Cruz has proved a less principled politician than we once thought, but he’s lately gotten a lot politically shrewder than we once hoped for, and he clearly knows his home state better than we do, so he’s probably right that to bet that that those heartbreaking photographs and audio-tapes and first hand accounts from the border aren’t playing well even in Texas. By now Cruz has kissed enough Trump posterior and still retains enough anti-establishment son-of-a-bitch credentials to cruise through the Republican primary, despite his heresy of the latest of the news cycle, but by Texas standards he has now a tenuously close lead over his presumptive Democratic rival.
Presumptive Democratic nominee Rep. “Beto” O’Rourke is a white guy with an Irish last name who grew up in the border town of Laredo with a jocular and affection nickname, sort of the Spanish equivalent of “Bud,” bestowed by his childhood Spanish-speaking friends, and he’s better-looking and more personable and just as well-spoken as Cruz and has always taken carefully centrist positions on everything. and he’s astutely condemned family separations over a misdemeanor offense that could be quickly adjudicated if only if there enough judges. Cruz is pretty astute, as far as we’re concerned, to try to beat him to the benefits of the latest news cycle.
Even here in reliably Republican Kansas our elected Republican officials are publicly complaining about Trump’s border enforcement policies, although they’re more outraged about Trump’s trade wars that threaten the local agricultural and aviation sectors of the economy and run up the bill at the local Wal-Mart. Kansas’ continuous Republicanism goes back to the “Bleeding Kansas” days, and right through the Alf Landon and Dwight Eisenhower and Bob Dole days, and there’s still a Lincoln-ian sense of “malice toward none and charity towards” about it, and we share our elected officials’ sense that those heartbreaking photographs and audio-tapes and first accounts aren’t playing well here.
It boggles our mind to consider how this might be playing in the rest of the country, but no matter how figure it we can’t see it working out well for Trump and his administration. To complicate matters further, it comes during a week when the Congress might or might not pass legislation to resolve all the rest of the broader and damned complicated matter of illegal immigration, including the fate of the brought-here-as-children “dreamers” who were the the subjects of all those heartbreaking stories from the news cycles of a few months ago, and who are still polling well in all the surveys.
We will see, as the president likes to say. Trump is hoping those bleeding-heart Democrats who forced his seemingly inhumane policies will fund a big beautiful wall see-through and solar-energy-generating law across the entirety of the American border with Mexico to stop him from separating families, and that Mexico will eventually be happy to pay for the wall, and that all those hard-line defenders who want the “dreamers” kicked out and the bleeding-heart liberals who want to subsidize their MS-13 gang memberships will be happy with the results, but we wouldn’t bet on it.
Which seems a shame, as we’re still hard-liners on border enforcement by pre-Trump standards, and we’d hate to see those bleeding-heart Democrats get their long-hoped-for open borders. At the same time, but we don’t believe for a moment that those bleeding heart Democrats are responsible for the cruel measures that the Trump’s even more right-wing talk radio defenders are defending even as he blames it on the Democrats.
There’s no shaking a nagging feeling that a more perfect solution might have been found if both sides had engaged in a honest debate, rather than blatantly lying.

— Bud Norman

Doubling Down on a Dumb Trade War

Way back when we were proud to be Republicans, it was largely because of the Grand Old Party’s principled stand for red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism. When Republican nominee Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama during a campaign debate of picking the economic winners and losers, and mostly picking the losers, we stood up and cheered. Now the Republicans are obliged to defend President Donald Trump’s protectionist trade war against the rest of the world, and to ignore the fact that he’s picking the economic winners and losers and mostly picking the losers.
On Monday Trump escalated the trade war with China by threatening $200 billion of tariffs on that country’s exports to the United States, his earlier threat of a mere $50 billion of tariffs having failed to force China’s capitulation to his trade demands, and of course China immediately responded with threats of retaliatory tariffs. Of course the stock markets hated the news, and so did everyone else with a basic understanding of the global economy. It’s bad economic policy, has warped America’s foreign policy to the point that North Korea’s nutcase dictator Kim Jong-Un is a an honorable leader much beloved by his starving people and Canada’s democratically elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a weak and dishonest leader who awaits a special place in hell and all of our longtime allies are suspect, and in the long run it will prove bad politics.
Trump’s tariffs on steel and coal imports will surely be popular with people employed in those industries, but it will just as surely be unpopular with people who work in steel- and coal-buying industries, and anyone who buys anything made of steel or powered by coal, and the latter categories are by far a bigger voting bloc. There are also a lot of wheat farmers and airplane-makers who do a brisk trade with China and will surely be chagrined if China decides to buy from Argentina or Airbus, and a large chunk of Trump’s die-hard defenders will eventually notice that their shopping trips to Wal-Mart are suddenly far more expensive. The worst case scenario for a global trade war is the same as the last time a cocky and unprincipled Republican president tried it, which resulted in the Great Depression and eventually World War II, and even Trump will be hard-pressed to spin that outcome to even his most die-hard defenders.
The best-case scenario is harder to imagine. Red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism has always resulted in the creative destruction of longstanding industries, such as buggy-making and Blockbuster video stores, but it has reliably replaced them with something the public has always found better. China isn’t the reason that coal-mining now employs a mere 50,000 workers in America, which is mainly because of mechanization and nuclear plants and fracking of natural gas and all those windmills along I-35 and other more healthy ways to generate the nation’s energy. We sympathize with those last remaining coal miners, but red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism might well replace their jobs with something that doesn’t cause black-lung disease and an early death, and in any case they’re a small voting bloc.
Trump seems to believe the best-case scenario is back to the good old days when America mined coal and made all the world’s steel, and that his die hard defenders will prefer that to this high-tech age and what might come next. What might come next might well be far better, though, and we’ll bet on that rather Trump’s global trade war.

— Bud Norman

Down at the Border

The special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” currently has President Donald Trump’s one-time campaign manager in jail and Trump’s former legal “fixer” facing similar legal difficulties, the First Lady is clearly unhappy in her marriage and the job it entails, and there’s a lingering discussion about why Trump is lavishing praise on North Korea’s nutcase dictator and still feuding with Canada’s democratically-elected Prime Minister. The president’s biggest public relations problem over Father’s Day weekend, though, was his “zero-tolerance” policy that separates children from the parents who have been caught illegally crossing America’s borders, which makes for some tear-jerking and potentially Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs of cute and crying toddlers being whisked away from their parents off to God knows where.
It’s all more complicated than those tear-jerking photographs might suggest, of course, and goes far back in complicated ways to the days of Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, but rather than make those complicated arguments Trump has instinctively chosen to simplify it by brazenly lying. He blames those tear-jerking photographs on a “Democrat law” that requires him to drag children away from their mothers and fathers, and even as he appeals to his die-hard fans that he’s getting tough despite our weak Democratic immigration laws he expects the rest of us to believe those damned Democrats have forced him to adopt such severe measures.
We were tough-on-borders and opposed to those damned open-borders Democrats back when Trump was contributing big bucks to their damned campaigns, and we well understand how complicated the issue actually is, but we refuse to pretend that Trump is quote brazenly lying about it.
As old-fashioned conservatives we don’t believe there’s anything such as a “Democrat” or “Republican” law, only laws that were passed by a duly elected-legislature and signed by a duly-elected president, and in this case the law in question was passed by a majority-Democratic legislature but with numerous Republican votes and was signed by a Republican president. The well-intentioned law allowed an administration to separate children from illegal immigrants who might be engaged in human sex trafficking, which the Obama administration often used in less publicized cases, but it does not require an administration to pry children from illegal immigrants and legal asylum-seekers who crossed the border in violation of America’s misdemeanor laws. and Trump’s insistence that he’s forced by those heartless Democrats is a damnable lie. Attorney General Jeff Sessions invokes scripture to justify his “zero-tolerance” rule of using the well-intentioned and bipartisan law to pry crying children from their misdemeanor-commiting parents, drawing on the Pauline scriptures about obeying civil authority, but in the oh-so-conservatives verses of Leviticus they also admonish the children of God that “The foreigner among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt,” and the duly passed law by a bi-partisan legislature and signed by a Republican president law does seem to offer discretion.
This is all complicated further by the fact that even the quintessentially Democratic Obama also used the law to separate a few illegal immigrants from their provable progeny, which wasn’t nearly so publicized by either the mainstream media or Fox News, and that images of of children sleeping in wire cages on several of the networks and newspapers really was “fake news” footage from the Obama years, and that Obama deported far more adult and underage illegal immigrants than Trump ever gave him credit for, and that illegal immigration really is a problem. In spite of all these complications, though, Trump is still lying and Sessions is still citing highly selective scripture about about why those poor kids in those heartbreaking and potentially Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs are being ripped fromtheir misdemeanor-committing parents, and for now no one looks good.
Our hope is that they all somehow work it out fairly, and that America’s borders are properly secured but that immigrants who commit the misdemeanor of taking advantage of Trump’s booming economy don’t lose their children, and that at the very least everyone stops lying about it.For now the “Russia thing” has a former Trump campaign manager in jail, and a former Trump legal “fixer” in the legal crosshairs, and even the clearly disgruntled First Lady of the United States is “tweeting” her indignation about Trump’s “and Sessions’ “zero tolerance” policy at the border, and it seems another bad news cycle for Trump.

— Bud Norman