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The “Memes” of a Mean Age

Although it’s by no means the most important story in the news, we couldn’t help noticing the latest brouhaha about “memes,” which is what they call those photo-shopped and pointedly political photomontages and videos that you encounter every time you venture onto the internet. The latest controversy concerns one that depicts President Donald Trump going on a bloody rampage in a “church of fake news” against against such political opponents as Democratic Rep. Maxine Walters and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and the late Republican Senator John McCain, as well as such media outlets as the Washington Post and the Cable News Network and the British Broadcasting System.
If it were meant as a satire of Trump’s violent rhetoric against his political enemies it probably would have gone unnoticed, but it’s clearly intended as a celebration and further provocation, and it got an enthusiastic response from the pro-Trump political convention at one of Trump’s golf resorts over the weekend. The White House has officially stated it didn’t hang anything to do with the showing, which is plausible, but Trump hasn’t yet “tweeted” a denunciation, and they don’t seem to mind if the video goes “viral.” Trump himself has “re-tweeted” video memes taken from his pro wrestling days showing him body-slamming a foe with the CNN logo superimposed on his head, as well as other “memes” showing him violently vanquishing foes, and judging by what shows up in our e-mail the Trump fans seem to love it.
Trump’s critics, especially those who see themselves being symbolically slaughtered on the “meme,” take a dimmer view of the “viral” video. Maybe they just can’t take a joke, or they’re the sorts of snowflakes who can dish out the heat but can’t take it, but we figure that maybe they’ve got a point. We have our own old-fashioned criticisms of everyone Trump is seen slaughtering in the “meme,” but in no case would we take it that far. We’d rather that our nation’s disputes be settled without any slaughter or body-slamming, symbolic or otherwise. If the damned Democrats prevail by such sissified rules, then so be it.
Our more up-to-date Republican friends should know that the damned Democrats are also pretty good at “meme” warfare, and oftentimes wittier. A Facebook friend recently posted a “meme” that showed Trump saying in a cartoon caption that “Sleepy Joe Biden is a poo poo pee pee caca faced loser,” juxtaposed against a photo of some teary-eyed rally fans saying “He’s just like Jesus,” which we had to admit was pretty darned funny. Those damned Democrats can be just as mean, too.
The video that sparked the current controversy was taken from the very violent and highly-profitable “Kingsmen” series of action-adventure movies, specifically from a scene that the depicts the putative hero slaughtering the members of a murderous cult’s services, and we once saw a “meme” that presented it unedited but out of context and celebrated the slaughter of evangelical Christians, which offended our evangelical sensibilities but got many “likes.” Even in their apolitical context the “Kingsmen” movies and the rest of the current bloody action-adventure genre have a corrosive effect on our culture, and we’re dispirited but not at all surprised that both sides of the political divide are affected.
It’s not the biggest story of the day, but is nonetheless well worth noting. These “memes” have supplanted the editorial cartoons of the Gutenberg age of mass media, which yielded an outsized influence on a too-busy-to-read public, and so far there’s no Thomas Nast to set a standard. So far, there are no standards at all.

— Bud Norman

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Are You Tired of Winning Yet?

Pretty much everyone except Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and the crowds at the campaign rallies criticized President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw a large number of American troops from Syria. So far the critics have been vindicated by a Turkish offensive against our erstwhile Kurdish allies that has led to civilian casualties, freed Islamic State prisoners and given the terror group hope of rebirth, strengthened the hand of Syria’s odious dictatorship and its Russian and Iranian allies, and landed artillery close to American troops.
Trump being Trump, he naturally doubled down on Saturday night by ordering the withdrawal of the remaining American troops and then playing a round of golf on Sunday while his staff scrambled to deal with the fallout.
The situation is rapidly changing, with the Turks joining forces with some very nasty anti-Syrian militias, the Kurds seeking a new alliance with the Syrian dictatorship, no one fighting the Islamic State, and all the players in the complex game suddenly making new deals, and an unnamed White House official telling the Washington Post “it’s a total s***t storm.” Trump had promised that if Turkey did anything “bad” in his “great and unmatched wisdom” he will “totally destroy” the country’s economy, adding cryptically that (“I have done before!),” but so far the Turks seem unfazed, while Trump is sanguine enough to go golfing.
Meanwhile, Trump’s entire foreign policy seems similarly in disarray. A draft peace deal that had been painstakingly negotiated with the Taliban has been shelved, making it unlikely Trump will soon fulfill a promise to pull all of America’s forces out of Afghanistan, which might be a good thing given how bad the deal looks. Despite Trump’s “maximum pressure” strategy to force Iran to the bargaining table to negotiate a better nuclear than the one Trump withdrew from, the Iranian dictatorship snubbed him when he tried to arrange a meeting. Trump is still “in love” with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, but his lover has also snubbed offers of a meeting about an incremental deal, even though it’s far less than the total denuclearization Trump said he would insist on. Stock markets around the world have lately heaved a collective sigh of relief that Trump has been meeting with China and seems closer to a ceasefire in the trade war that has ravaged both countries economies, but it remains to be seen if it will be the greatest deal ever Trump has long promised, or even good enough to justify the damage that’s been done.
All of which comes as Trump fights an impeachment inquiry that has gained momentum and public approval due to Trump’s efforts to help in his reelection campaign from Ukraine and other countries. None of the Democrats are well positioned to exploit Trump’s foreign policy ineptitude, assuming he gets to the general election, but he’s annoying enough Republicans to make than less than certain. All together, it might even wind up cutting into Trump’s golf time.

— Bud Norman

On the Sidelines of the Great Schism

Public opinion polls rarely tell us anything we didn’t already know, but it’s nice to have our observations corroborated and quantified. So it was with a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, which shows that right and the left increasingly hate one another these days.
According to Pew’s research the number of Republicans with a “cool” attitude toward Democrats has risen 14 percent over the past two years, with most them being “very cold.” Since 2016 there’s been a 16 percent increase in the Democrats’ coolness toward the Republicans. Some 55 percent of Republicans now say the Democrats are “immoral,” and 47 precent of Democrats say the same thing about Republicans. Some 63 percent of Republicans think Democrats are “unpatriotic,” and they’ll be glad to know that only 23 percent of Democrats say the same about them, although that might be because many Democrats have the same flag-waving and jingoistic definition of patriotism as many Republicans.
You’ve probably already noticed the trend, if you ever venture to talk about politics at the local tavern or church potluck or the line at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The animosity has always been there, and we old-timers who can recall the ’60s have seen worse, but there’s no shaking a sense that it’s gotten worse in the last two or three years.
President Donald Trump obviously has a lot to do with it. He deliberately infuriates Democrats, knowing how it endears him to Republicans, and has normalized name-calling and mud-slinging and a Manichaean worldview, with both sides now playing by the new rules. He didn’t create the divide, though, just took shrewd advantage of it.
Back in the ’60s there were only three channels on your television and a few radio stations that would deliver a few minutes of minutes of strictly factual news, but for a long while people have been able to tune into whatever they want to hear. If you want to hear that those damned Democrats are a bunch of perverted dope-smoking hippies who hate God and while folks and America and everything there plenty of programs purveying that. If you’re more inclined to hear that those awful Republicans are a bunch of rich-off-the-poor racists who hate gay people because they’re repressed homosexuals and are intent on destroying the environment, you won’t have any trouble finding it.
The schism is rooted in geographic and demographic and cultural economic realities, too. All the polls, including the reelection results, show that the right is mostly inland and rural and religious and anxious that a fast-changing economy will leave them behind along with the rest of the culture. The left is mostly coastal and urban and secular and firmly convinced that with its smart phones and great and unmatched wisdom it can lead America to a more socialist and sexually liberated Utopia. Those fine folks at the Pew Research Center also found that majorities in both parties say they don’t share even the non-political values of their counterparts, and can’t even agree on the basic facts of what they’re arguing abut. Acrimonious arguments about everything from guns to gay wedding cakes to health care are bound to result, even without all this media fanning the flames.
These days we’re watching all this from the sidelines, where we tend to get along with everybody well enough. We’ve considered ourselves staunch conservative Kansas Republicans since way back when Trump was a registered Democrat and contributing to the Clintons, so we have no argument to make when our more newfangled Republican friends fulminate about the damned Democrats and their unabashed socialism and often outright hostility toward God-fearing and gun-toting and heterosexual white folk. When our Democrat friends fulminate about Trump we rarely have any argument to make, on the other hand, as he also offends our old-fashioned conservative Kansas Republican sensibilities, and we don’t entirely disagree that there’s some racism and sexism and at least some measure of homophobia involved in his appeal.
Sometimes we’re asked to pick a side, but we assert our right as Americans not to, and for now that seems to work. We’re trying to keep everything civil with the dear friends we know to be good and patriotic people on both sides of the political divide, and we’re hoping it doesn’t turn out like the 1960s or the 1860s.

— Bud Norman

With Friends Like Trump …

Turkey has launched a military campaign against the Kurds in Syria, as critics on both sides of America’s political divide warned would happen when President Donald Trump announced a troop withdrawal from the country, but Trump seemed unconcerned during a Wednesday news conference. The Kurds have been stalwart American allies in a long fight against the Islamic State, and before that during America’s long occupation of Iraq, but Trump was little concerned with their fate. After all, Trump pointed out, the Kurds “didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us at Normandy.”
Trump added “With all of that being said, we like the Kurds,” and said it would be “easy” to find new allies if needed, but some countries will surely be more reluctant to trust in America’s promises of friendship. Given how shabbily Trump has treated the leaders of Australia and Canada, countries that did fight and die with America on D-Day and have pitched in on all of America’s recent Middle Eastern wars, merely maintaining old friendships will be more difficult.
As a real estate and casino mogul Trump well known for not honoring contracts and leaving business partners deep in debt as he emerged from seven corporate bankruptcies unscathed, and he seems intent on giving America the same bad reputation. We weren’t fans of the Paris Climate Accord or the Iranian nuclear deal or the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but when Trump unilaterally withdrew from all three he made clear that America is no longer bound by its word, and so far the great dealmaker hasn’t negotiated anything better. Some of Trump’s immigration policies also flout international treaty obligations regarding asylum-seekers, and he’s tried to turn the NATO and SEATO alliances that been the bulwark of post-war American security into protection rackets.
Trump demands complete loyalty from everyone, but he’s been disloyal to all three of his wives and has defenestrated an unprecedented number of administration officials as well as a currently imprisoned personal lawyer. So long as he’s president America’s current and potential allies shouldn’t expect any better.

— Bud Norman

Chinese Torture

China has been feuding with the rest of the world for a while, and for now it seems to be winning. The economic powerhouse shows no sign of retreating from its trade war with the United States, is successfully pushing around such major American businesses as the National Basketball Association, and continues to crack down on dissent in Hong Kong and its Uighur and Kazakh and Uzbek regions with unabashed ruthlessness.
President Donald Trump has famously proclaimed that “trade wars are good and easy to win,” but so far that’s not how the one he started with China has turned out. The tariffs that Trump has imposed on Chinese imports have done harm to the country’s economy, but the American companies and consumers who pay them have also taken a hit, and the retaliatory tariffs the Chinese imposed have hurt the farmers and ranchers and manufacturing workers and service workers even worse.
The American manufacturing sector that Trump promised to restore to its blue-collar glory is now in recession, the white collar guys are cutting back on investment, and farm bankruptcies and suicides are up despite the billions of dollars Trump has doled out in subsidies. The overall economy has slowed, and although we’re still adding jobs it’s at a slower pace, and there’s no consolation in China’s woes or the slowing global economy.
All of which comes at a time when Trump is preoccupied with an impeachment inquiry and an already perilous reelection campaign, while Chinese dictator-for-life Xi Jinping can more easily withstand the economic pain of his people. Trump is the self-proclaimed master of “The Art of the Deal,” as well as a “very stable genius” with a “very big brain” and “unmatched wisdom,” but he finds himself in a disadvantaged position when negotiating with China. He’ll be tempted to surrender to China’s extortionist demands and sell it as the best deal ever, knowing that most of his die-hard fans will believe it, while XI will patiently await either that outcome or the results of the next presidential election, and the smart money seems to be digging in for a prolonged trade war with no happy outcome for anyone.
Meanwhile, the smart money in several major American industries seems willing to accede to China’s extortionist demands. One of the strongest arguments for a trade war with China is its extortionist demand that foreign companies doing business there agree to share their high-tech intellectual property with the country’s competing businesses, but many billions of dollars worth of American companies both big and small have figured it’s worth it to gain access to the market of more than a billion increasingly affluent Chinese.
The increasingly affluent Chinese consumers have a taste for America’s decadent popular culture, which is one of our country’s biggest export industries, and many of the big movie studios and recording companies and comic book publishers and internet streaming services have so far agreed to China’s strict censorship of what they sell to that vast Chinese audience, and have too often altered what they present to American audiences. The current glut of action-adventure movies that have degraded the America is largely because they’re mostly dialogue-free, and easily translated to a larger foreign market that is equally blood-thirsty in its cinematic tastes, but the studios are also steering away from anything politically offensive to the Chinese dictatorship that controls access to the increasingly affluent Chinese market.
The latest example is China’s feud with the National Basketball Association, of all people, which is hard to explain. Back during the Cultural Revolution the Chinese dictatorship tried to erase any western influence from the motherland, including classical music and impressionist art and the western literary canon and the Judeo-Christian tradition, but Chairman Mao Tse Tung was as avid a hoops fan as any Kansas boy and somehow the great American game of basketball was given a pass. Playgrounds and club teams flourished, the Chinese developed an appreciation of the game, and when the freakishly tall and talented Yao Ming started at center for the NBA’s Houston Rockets the increasingly affluent fans got to see him play against the most talented players in the world. It was a hit show in China, even after Yao’s remarkable career was ended by the injuries that usually affect 7’5″ guys, and the NBA has been raking in big bucks in the increasingly affluent Chinese market ever since.
The general manager of the aforementioned Houston Rockets issued a “tweet” that he stood with those Hong Kong protestors, though, and after that China announced it wouldn’t be televising the two NBA exhibition games that had been scheduled, and that the rest of the NBA season was also in doubt. That led the NBA’s commissioner to apologize for the “tweet,” and the enormously talented but entirely self-interested shooting guard of the Rockets to opine that he’d been treated very well by the Chinese during his exhibition game there, and it looked like a sellout of American free speech values to the even more lucrative Chinese basketball market. At this point the NBA commissioner is making clear that he apologizes for the “tweet” but not the American free speech values that allowed it, and he’s on the plane to China for those exhibition games even if they aren’t being televised, and some deal might yet be worked out. By coincidence Yao is now the commissioner of the Chinese Basketball Association, and we assume he has some sway with the Chinese dictatorship.
Those democracy-demanding Hong Kong protestors that the general manager “tweeted” about won’t find any succor, on the other hand, and the Trump administration doesn’t seem to care much about them during ongoing trade negotiations. Some high Chinese officials have been banned due to the crackdowns on the Uighurs and Kazakhs and Uzbekis, but those are all restive Muslim populations, so they shouldn’t count on Trump’s continued support as he pursues the greatest trade deal ever.
China’s a major world power, with economic and military and diplomatic strength to challenge the United States, and it doesn’t have to play by the rules of democratic western world, and it seems to understand that Trump’s self-proclaimed powers seem puny by comparison. China is also a foe of pretty much the rest of the modern world, though, and against its combined might they look puny. If some first world superpower were to give up its petty feuds with its erstwhile allies and lead a united front the Chinese would be at a negotiating disadvantage, and might be forced to allow free trade as well freedom to its people, but for now and the foreseeable future the Chinese are winning.

— Bud Norman

The Penalty for Early Withdrawal

President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of American forces in Syria in advance of an invasion of the country Turkey being widely criticized, even by such reliably sycophantic supporters as South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and televangelist Pat Robertson. The move is seen as a betrayal of America’s Kurdish allies that will make future alliances harder to forge, an appeasement of Turkey’s authoritarian government that will eventually redound to the benefit of Russia and Iran, and an opportunity for the brutal Islamic State to regroup.
Scarier yet, as far as we’re concerned, is Trump’s “tweeted” attempt to reassure the public that he knows what he’s doing.
“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).” Trump wrote. “They must, with Europe and others, watch over the capture ISIS fights and families. The U.S. has done far more than anyone expected, including the capture of 100% of the ISIS Caliphate. It is time now for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory. THE USA IS GREAT!”
The die-hard Trump defenders will once again insist that he was being jocular with that line about his “great and unmatched wisdom,” and it did get a lot of laughs on the late night comedy shows, but a “tweet” about national security seems an odd place for a joke. Trump told the Republican party’s convention that “Only I can fix” the nation’s problems, has boasted of his “very big brain” and repeatedly described himself as a “very stable genius,” and he’s never given a wink or any other indication that he was joking rather than bragging. His confidence in his instincts are such that he reportedly didn’t bother to consult anyone at the Pentagon or State Department about his Syrian withdrawal, which does not inspire our confidence.
One also wonders what Trump’s great and unmatched wisdom might consider “off limits” for Turkey, which is poised to invade Syria with the obvious intention of fighting the Kurds rather than the remnants of the Islamic State, and when Trump ever destroyed the Turkish economy.
The betrayal of the Kurds, along with Trump’s withdrawal from several treaties and constant badgering of longtime military and trade partners, will make it harder for self-proclaimed greatest negotiator ever will make it harder for America to enlist international support when it is inevitably needed. Giving free rein to the Turks will delight the Russian and Iranian governments, who don’t have America’s best interests at heart. The Islamic State won’t soon regain its caliphate, but without America helping the Kurds keep a foot on its throat the terror gang will be better able to launch attacks against America and whatever allies it has left.
It’s hard for us and even the likes of Graham and McConnell and Robertson to see how this is making America great again, but we don’t have Trump’s great and unmatched wisdom.

— Bud Norman

The Two “Jokers” in the News

The two big stories in the news all weekend were about “Joker,” the comic book movie that’s been drawing a huge box office take and generating even more controversy, and of course the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry regarding President Donald Trump, whose seeming solicitations of foreign meddling in the next election are also quite controversial.
Which strikes us interesting coincidence, given that Trump’s defenders on the Sunday morning news shows were insisting that Trump was only joking when he stood before all the network cameras and microphones asked various foreign governments for dirt on a potential election rival.
As much as we’d like to weigh in on the “Joker” controversy, we haven’t seen the movie and probably won’t until it shows up on Netflix, as we have little interest in even the most controversial comic book movies, and we don’t pass judgment on any movies we haven’t seen. So far as we can tell it’s the same controversy we’ve gone through with “The Wild Bunch” and “Bonnie and Clyde” and “A Clockwork Orange” and “Kids” and “Fight Club” and other disturbing and hard-to-watch films about amoral protagonists that are nonetheless praiseworthy cinematic commentaries on their times and the human condition, but we don’t much like comic book movies and might well quit “Joker” halfway through a Netflix viewing, as we’ve done with other much-hyped comic book movies.
By now we’ve been through a lot of political imbroglios, too, but this whole “the President was only joking” defense is something that only came along with the Trump presidency. We remember President Ronald Reagan being caught on a “hot mic” saying he’d launched a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, but in that case he was clearly joking with what he thought was a few understanding friends, and no harm came from it. In this case it’s not nearly clear Trump was joking when he stood in front of the cameras and microphones and cameras and urged the Ukrainian and Chinese and Australian governments to investigate a potential rival, and it’s arguably harmful to America’s international relationships.
There’s now a second “whistle-blower” alleging that Trump asked the Ukrainian president during a discussion about America’s military aid to the beleaguered country to investigate a potential electoral rival, this one said to have even better credentials and first hand knowledge, which will likely further bolster the Democrats’ impeachment efforts. So far, the President seems to be saying so “what if I did solicit foreign interference in an American election?” while his Sunday morning news show apologists are insisting he’s only joking.
On the American Broadcasting System’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan responded to a question about Trump’s quotes by asking “George, do you really think he was serious about thinking that China’s going to investigate the Biden family?” Meanwhile, on the Columbia Broadcast System’s “Face the Nation,” Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt was saying “I doubt the the China was meant seriously, to tell you the truth.” Earlier, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had explained to the media that “I think he did it to provoke you to ask me and others and get outraged by it.”
Our guess is that Trump will ultimately go with the “so what if I did?” strategy and leave his Sunday morning apologists under the proverbial bus. He famously asked the Russians on live television to hack his 2016 Democratic opponent’s e-mail, told Stephanopoulos that he didn’t see anything wrong with accepting campaign help from a foreign government, and has lately said on all the networks that the ChiComs and Aussies and the Ukrainian comedian all chip in. He didn’t seem to be joking in any case, and by now he really can’t make it any clearer that he seriously doesn’t see anything wrong about it, but the die-hard fans don’t seem to mind.
Although we can’t find the link, we saw recently saw some YouTube video of a Democratic congresswoman in a swing district defending her pro-impeachment inquiry vote in front of a hostile town hall, and when she made the by now hard-to-refute argument that Trump had solicited foreign help in an American election much of the crowd started chanting “fake news, fake news.” When she cited Trump’s own statements and other hard-to-refute evidence the same members of the crowd started shouting that Trump was merely seeking evidence of his opponent’s corruption from those foreign governments. They seemed to like that better than the “he was only joking” defense.
All of the damn Democrats and most of the inexplicable independents will take a dimmer view of an American president openly inviting foreign interference in an American election, however, and something in our old-fashioned Republican souls doesn’t like it any better. We’d like to think Trump is only joking, but we don’t think it’s something an American president should be joking about.

— Bud Norman

Why Trump Fans Love Trump

The Democrats are increasingly eager to impeach President Donald for soliciting foreign assistance in his reelection campaign, as Trump’s own statements suggest he did with Ukraine, and on Thursday he stood before the national news cameras and asked China for the same favor. According to talk radio talker Rush Limbaugh, “This is why you love Donald Trump.”
If you don’t love Trump as much as Limbaugh and his listeners, though, you might question the wisdom of a president negotiating foreign policy on the basis of what allies and adversaries alike can do for him personally. You might even question the legality of doing so, and maybe even consider it a high crime or misdemeanor that warrants impeachment. The latest polls show a rapidly increasing number of Americans see it that way, with about half the country now supporting an impeachment inquiry, with a plurality eager to see Trump removed from office, and as the facts and confessions continue pile up Trump will probably become even more unpopular.
If you do love Trump as much as Limbaugh and his “ditto-head” listeners, on the other hand, this really is what you love about the president. Limbaugh’s argument is that by hurtling unsubstantiated allegations against former Vice President and potential election rival Joe Biden and his son, and openly asking foreign leaders to prove them, he is forcing the press to publicize the claims. That is indeed why some people love Trump, but Limbaugh’s argument is unlikely to persuade anyone not fully on board the Trump train already, and we’re not at all sure Trump is being shrewd.
There is indeed something highly suspicious about Biden’s son’s highly lucrative international business career despite an obvious lack of any requisite credentials, but even if you believe the worst about the Bidens it’s just a temporary distraction from Trump’s woes at best. In the unlikely event that Democratic primary voters pay enough attention to turn on Biden, the Democrats will come up some other nominee, and probably a more formidable one who doesn’t have a similar scandal. That nominee will also be able to talk at length about how Trump’s unimpressive children have profited from their father’s position, and Trump and the likes of Limbaugh will have to come up some reason why that’s no big deal.
Given that Biden was likely to self-destruct in any case, openly soliciting foreign influence in an American presidential election to bring him down strikes us as an unnecessarily risky tactic by Trump. Limbaugh and the “ditto-heads” and other die-hard fans will cheer on Trump’s efforts to lock up his political opponents, but sooner or later there’s going to be another Democratic president, and when that happens they’ll be taking an entirely different stand regarding foreign influence on American elections.

— Bud Norman

From Trump to the Finnish

The only Finn we’ve ever known was a very likable fellow who used to frequent Kirby’s Beer Store during his days as a student at Wichita State University, and based on everything else we know about Finland we have a favorable opinion of the country, so we were saddened to watch Finnish President Sauli Niinisto’s obvious discomfort during two joint news conferences on Wednesday with President Donald Trump.
The American reporters in attendance cared little about Finnish-American relations, which you have to admit is not something their viewers and readers much care about, and were far more concerned with all the fast-breaking news about impeachment inquiries and other domestic matters. Niinisto therefore spent most of his time at the dais on and a White House chair watching Trump fulminate and flail against the media, trying his best to say expressionless.
Even by Trump standards it was a remarkable performance. The president said the “whistleblower” who exposed a troublesome conversation Trump had with the president of Ukraine was a spy, and declared that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff — or “shifty Schiff,” as Trump has nicknamed him — was guilty of treason. Trump also called Schiff a “lowlife” who “isn’t fit to carry (Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s) ‘blank strap.’ You understand that?”
The Finnish press corp didn’t understand the very American colloquialism that Trump was alluding to, so Trump explained that if he was more frank the “corrupt” and “fake” and “phony” media would accuse him of using a vulgarity. Earlier in the day Trump had “tweeted” that the impeachment inquiry the House of Representatives has launched is “BULLSHIT,” with all capital letters, but apparently that barnyard expletive isn’t as offensive as “jock strap.” We can only wonder what the Finnish media made of it, as we’re quite familiar with the American style of the English language and can’t quite figure out Trump’s idiolect.
Trump was especially brusque with a Reuters reporter who had the effrontery to ask about that troublesome phone call with the Ukrainian president, and Trump called him “rude” for not asking the Finnish president a question. Trump filled most of the news conferences with similar vituperation, and had little to say about the state of Finnish-American relations.
Despite his best efforts to remain diplomatically unexpressive, Niinisto can clearly be seen on videotape occasionally rolling his eyes and slightly grimacing. At one point Niinisto said “Mr. President, you have here a great democracy. Keep it going,” and he seemed quite sincere. We appreciate his best wishes. as we’ll be needing them. Here’s hoping that our former Finnish drinking buddy and all his countrymen keep it going as well.
— Bud Norman

What the Scandals Obscure

All the news lately is about the Democrats’ increasingly rapid rush to impeach President Donald Trump for all sorts of increasingly plausible reasons, and that might well redound to Trump’s benefit. There’s always an outside chance it all turns out to be a “deep state” conspiracy that vindicates the president and exposes all his enemies, and for now it’s distracting attention from some worrisome economic news.
You might have never heard of the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index, but the stock markets watch it closely enough they took a dive on Tuesday when it reported that for the second consecutive month the manufacturing sector of the economy was in contraction, this time more severely than the month before. Farm bankruptcies are lately up, too, along with farm suicides, and growth in both the overall American economy and the interconnected global economy is clearly slowing, with several big and important national economies already in recession.
Which is bad news for assembly line workers and farmers and stockholders and eventually everyone else in the entire world, but it’s also very bad news for Trump. Despite three years of unrelenting scandals and outrageous “tweets” and deliberate provocations Trump has generally stayed above 40 percent in the public opinions because the grow domestic product and stock markets were up and the unemployment was rate low. The trajectory wasn’t much higher than it had been during the last six years or so of the hated administration of President Barack Obama, but it gave Trump and his talk radio apologists something to brag about, so all the die-hard Trump fans and a lot of the more reluctant supporters were willing to put up with all the rest of it.
All the rest of it is pretty hard to put up with, though, at this point even for the die-hard fans, and harder still if Trump can’t run for reelection on the boast of the the greatest economy ever. He won his first Electoral College victory despite losing the popular vote by three million or so because of the Republican party’s longstanding hold on the prairie and southern states and a mere 70,000 votes spread around the usually Democratic Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Michigan, where they bought into his promises that he’d revive the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. Neither are faring at all well at the moment, many economists fear the service sector will be dragged down along with them, and if current trends continue for another 13 months Trump might well lose to even the looniest left nominee the damn Democrats might come up with.
There’s a strong argument to be made, after all, that Trump’s unilaterally waged trade war against most of the world is the primary cause, or at least has something to do with it. The tariffs have raised prices on foreign goods not only for the Wal-Mart customers but also for the manufacturers of everything that requires foreign parts, which is a lot stuff, which is bound to be bad for business. Of course the retaliatory tariffs have essentially barred America’s farmers from the lucrative global markets they’d come to rely on, but Trump boasts that “I sometimes see where these terrible, dishonest reporters will say ‘Oh Jeez, the farmers are upset.’ Well they can’t be too upset, because I gave them $12 billion and I gave them $16 billion this year.”
Of course Trump didn’t reach into his own pocket for that sum of money, which is more than Obama spent on the automakers’ bail-out, which at the time outraged all the farmers and the rest of Republican party, but we expect a lot of farmers will be mollified, along with a lot of laid-off factory workers, even if they still come out on the short end of the stick. Part of Trump’s appeal to these voters is his shared hostility toward the pointy-headed know-it-alls from the coasts who want to take away their semi-automatic rifles and reconfigure the ethnic makeup and sexual orientation of America, and they’re willing to endure the pain while Trump delivers the greatest trade deals ever.
>He’s not yet delivered one, though, and at this point he seems unlikely to strike one in time for reelection. The Chinese dictatorship can endure its people’s hardships more easily than an American president with a pesky free press and upcoming election ever can, and being stereotypically inscrutable Asian types they regard the next 13 months or so as a mere blink of the eye, whereas Trump likely sees it as a hellish eternity. Trump is still feuding with the European Union and the Brexit-ing British, along with most of South America and Africa and all the Asian countries that used to be on board with a Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty aligned against China, until Trump pulled out of the Obama-era pact. Restoring mutually beneficial trade among the nations seems out of reach for the next 13 months or so, much less the greatest trade deals ever.
The smart money on Wall Street seemed to think so on Tuesday, and we expect that the factory workers and farmers will also notice if Trump’s grandiose promises aren’t kept. There’s no longer any semblance of a free market Republican party and none of the damn Democrats are willing to abandon their traditional protectionist instincts and thus don’t have much to say about it, as they do seem more preoccupied with reconfiguring the ethnic makeup and sexual orientation of the country, so we’ll sit on the sidelines and see how it all turns out. If the economy isn’t rosy come election day, the rest of it will smell very bad.

— Bud Norman