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Snobs, Slobs, and the Soul of Conservatism

The first televised witnesses in the impeachment inquiry part of the ongoing reality show about President Donald Trump were William Taylor and George Kent, and we found them very interesting and compelling characters in the drama. Both men bring what used to be considered impressive credentials to the screen, along with a dignified and even stately bearing most often found these days on the documentaries and costume dramas from the Public Broadcasting System.
How they play with the rest of the viewing public remains to be seen, and will largely determine the future of the Republican party and the Republic itself.
Taylor was fifth in his class at West Point in ’69, earned numerous decorations for valor during the Vietnam War, then commenced a career in foreign service in Cold War hot spots that lasted through Republican and Democratic administrations and culminated with ambassadorship to Ukraine. He was coaxed out of a hard-earned retirement to become charges d’affaires and acting ambassador to Ukraine by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after the previous ambassador was forced out of her job in the middle of negotiations with Ukraine about military, and very complicated part of the plot already, which is why he found himself on live television testifying about that whole mess. He did so with perfect diction and elegantly plain English in a baritone voice, distinguished gray hair and an obvious gravitas.
Kent has the impressive title of the Trump’s administrations deputy secretary of state for European and Asian affairs, was able to tell the congressional committee that he was third George Kent in his family to have served America in high levels of the government, he’s a Harvard man who speaks fluently in Ukrainian and Russian and Thai, and was resplendent in bow tie and three-piece suit during his testimony. Like Taylor, he seemed the very embodiment of establishment rectitude.
The testimony of both men was damaging to Trump, though, and these days most days Republicans are deeply suspicious of the establishment and unconcerned about rectitude, and they’re not inclined to believe anything bad they hear about Trump, so we’re sure these gentlemen will be pilloried on talk radio and ostracized by the party. Those elite school credentials and multilingualism and long resumes of public service suddenly makes them seem “deep state” conspirators, and even though they’ve testified under oath that they don’t consider themselves “Never Trumpers” they’re suspected of treasonous perjury. That perfectly parsed fancy talk they doesn’t help, either, as it doesn’t sound authentically populous.
Once upon a time Taylor and Kent and special counsel Robert Mueller and former Trump chief of staff John Kelly and former Trump defense secretary John Mattis and various other defenestrated administration officials would have been considered exemplars of conservatism and the Republican party, but that was before both the cause and party were redefined in Trump’s image. Now anyone who has anything to say potentially harmful to Trump’s political fortune, no matter his lifelong commitment to what used to be considered conservative values, is found traitorous.
The damned Democrats are every bit as hypocritical, of course. Once upon any sort of Democrat would have considered Taylor and Kent and the rest of the reluctant Trump witnesses a bunch of imperialist war-mongering neocons, but now that they have testimony damaging to Trump they’re suddenly exemplars of rectitude. The current Democratic party doesn’t really give a damn about Ukraine or how it affects America’s standing in world affairs any more than Trump does, but is happy to have such credible testimony against Trump. Even if Trump is impeached by the House but not removed by the Senate, which is probably the smart way to bet right now, it will come in handy for the Democrats come next election day.
From our perspective here on the political sidelines, having had enough of all the hypocrisy in both cheering sections, our only rooting interest is in the objective truth. That’s always hard to come by, and especially these days, but our old-fashioned conservative instincts incline us to believe the guys with the elite educational credentials and impeccable careers in the military and public service, no matter what they say about Trump. Trump daily says several things that are provably untrue, he’s never been anything near our notion of an exemplar of Republican rectitude at any time in his life, and for now he sure looks guilty of what this impeachment inquiry is alleging he has done.
There’s an argument to be made that it’s no big deal even if Trump did do what’s alleged, which is abusing his foreign policy powers to extract political favors from an ally, and eventually Trump and his apologists will get around to making it. Both Taylor and Kent freely testified to the under oath to the House of Representatives that it did happen and they thought it was a distressing incident in America’s foreign affairs, and although that’s just their opinion we found it more well-considered than Trump’s Ukraine’s foreign policy, or the party’s defense of it, which seems incoherent and suspiciously Russo-friendly. Not that the damn Democrats would do any better.
In our ripened old age we rather like those well-bred and well-educated and bow-tied and fancy-talking establishment types who have guided us through two World Wars and a Cold War, no matter all the messes we’ve gotten into along the way, and we trust their testimony. Here’s hoping the truth prevails, no matter how awful that might be.

— Bud Norman

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An Ill Wind that Blows No Good

The televised impeachment inquiry started of with some damning testimony and big news on Wednesday, but here in our humble prairie hometown the story of the day was about baseball. Wichita’s getting a new team in a fancy new ballpark next spring, and city officials and their business partners announced with much ballyhoo on Wednesday that it will be called the Wichita Wind Surge.
Kansas does get a lot of wind, but according to the Dictionary.com site a “wind surge” is a wind-induced rise in the water level of an inland expanse of water, and can causing flooding if the tidal cycle is right, which has nothing to do with Wichita, which is conspicuously lacking any nearby expanses of water. Over the past century or so the city’s baseball teams have mostly had aviation-related names to tout its status as the “Air Capital of the World,” such as Pilots and Aviators and Aeros and the most recent Wingnuts, but somebody downtown decided that “Wind Surge” made more sense.
Everyone in town, ourselves very much included, absolutely hates the name. Our Facebook page is full of complaints about it, the local television stations are can only dismayed men and women on the street, everybody at Kirby’s Beer Store agrees the name is awful, and flatulence jokes ae already afloat and a protest petition is already up on the internet. The logo features a pegasus flying through a stylized “W,” which also doesn’t make any apparent sense, and everyone also hates that.
The new team was controversial to begin with. For 80 years watched its professional baseball at the Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, a charmingly old-fashioned ballpark nestled along the Arkansas River with a view that showed off the downtown skyline during a hot summer sunset, but some big bucks developers sold City Hall on the idea that some tax abatements and other subsidies would pay off for everyone if they tore it down and built a modern-looking new ballpark. They promised to promote Wichita from Double-A status all the way to Triple-A, which appealed to the class conscious types down at City Hall, and to replace the ruggedly independent Wingnuts with a major-league affiliated team with players that might wind up in the majors, which might appeal to the so-called fans who never showed up for those fabulous Wingnuts games.
The bargain included some sweetheart deals on several lots of the Delano neighborhood, which was long a charmingly old-fashioned white ghetto but has lately becoming a gentrified entertainment district for the monied less daring young hipsters, and there was a lot of local grousing about that. More grousing followed a suspicious deal that the city cut to expensively overhaul its water system, and Wichita wound up voting the mayor out office in a recent election that had a bigger than usual turnout. A couple of our Facebook friends contend that the out-going mayor chose the name as his final revenge on an ungrateful electorate, and the theory seems plausible.
Even in this age of political polarization, though, sports has somehow once again brought a community together. The left is fed up with all the public-private partnerships the city keeps cooking up because they distrust the private sector, the right objects because of an aversion to government, the sensible center is also skeptical of what’s going on, and everybody hates the new team name. Not since the Wichita State University Wheatshockers were in the Final Four has Wichita been so unified.

Like a Roiling Stone

For a guy who’s currently on trial for crimes that could land him in federal prison for the rest of his life, Roger Stone is a remarkably lucky fellow. He’s lucky that his trial is being largely overlooked because of an impeachment inquiry about President Donald Trump, and you could make a strong case he’s lucky that it took so long for karma and the law to catch up with him.
Stone stands accused of lying to Congress about coordination between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Wikileaks, which Trump’s former Central Intelligence Agency director and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called a “hostile intelligence service” aligned with Russia, as well as other foreign agents. So far former Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates and former Trump campaign and administration advisor Steve Bannon have testified that Stone boasted of his connections to Wikileaks’ mastermind Julian Assange, and recall him bragging about upcoming Wikileaks disclosures to candidate Trump, and they’ve got text messages and e-mails to corroborate their testimony.
The foppish and ostentatious Stone’s defense is that he constantly spews boastful balderdash, and that it’s mere coincidences all of his predictions about the upcoming Wikileaks proved true. Given Stone’s track record of dirty tricks and clean escapes it just might work.
He’s been in the news since the days of President Richard Nixon, when he was one of the Committee to Reelect the President’s rat fuckers” — sorry for the language, but that’s why called themselves, and the political vocabulary is unavoidably more vulgar in the age o Trump — and has since remained a prominent practitioner of what he proudly calls the “dark arts” of political dirty tricks. For a long while he was a partner with Gates and former Trump campaign chairman and current federal inmate Paul Manafort in a D.C. lobbying firm notorious for representing the world’s most odious dictators, and he has a portrait of Nixon tattooed on his back, so it should surprise no one that he’s also a decades-long friend and informal advisor to Trump.
A special counsel investigation into Russia’s meddling the presidential election documented numerous contacts between the Trump administration and foreigners, and indicted Stone and convicted Manafort and Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and others for lying about it under oath, but it didn’t find prove of a criminal conspiracy and declined to bring charges for ten instances of trying to obstruct the investigation, so Trump has claimed complete vindication and no longer worries about that. Instead he’s being being investigated by a House impeachment inquiry about his dealings with Ukraine, which is getting a lot of attention, and for now Stone seems to have nothing to do with that, having been defenestrated and disavowed by Trump long before all that mess started, so the trial is relegated to the inside pages and the bottom of the news hour.
Which is probably good news for both Stone and Trump, who have thus far been a lucky couple of guys. At this point Stone won’t sway a federal jury in Washington, D.C., with his loyalty to Trump, and the Republicans defending Trump on the impeachment inquiry committees won’t be calling Stone as a character witness. In any case we’ll be following both proceedings, as they’re both binge-worthy.

— Bud Norman

Reality TV and Reality Collide

The House impeachment inquiry makes its much ballyhooed debut on live television today, which puts in a wistfully nostalgic mood. It brings back vivid memories of the last two times the Congress tried to impeach a sitting president, and a jarring realization about how things change over time.
Way back in our youth the Watergate hearings were the top-rated show on television, and we watched with precociously rapt attention as the complex plot culminated with President Richard Nixon’s resignation and final helicopter flight from the White House. Even in the desultory aftermath of the Vietnam war and the emerging stagflation economy it was a very big deal, and with everything else on television at the time, it was such an epic morality play that we old folks talk about it to this day.
By the time President Bill Clinton was being impeached for lying under oath about a tawdry relationship with a White House intern during a civil lawsuit regarding a youth former Arkansas state employee, which was discovered by a special prosecutor charged with investigating a fail real estate scheme, things had noticeably changed. There weren’t any wars and the economy was growing without inflation, a post-sexual revolution country didn’t much care what its president was doing in his free time, and without any of the femmes fatales being questioned live on television the show couldn’t compete with all the other channels suddenly available on cable. In one of television’s greatest anticlimaxes the show ended with Clinton’s acquittal by a majority Democratic Senate, and no one on either of the side of the question at the time talks about much it now.
This time around things have changed even more noticeably. The nation’s notions of sexual propriety have reached a point where a thrice-married and boastful philanderer is the Republican president and hero of the evangelical right, and its standards for the proper exercise of presidential power have been similarly degraded. There are an exponentially greater number of viewing and reading options now, the impeachment hearings are boringly headed to a obviously predetermined and desultory-for-both-sides conclusion, and one likely outcome is that most Americans won’t much care how it comes out.
If you haven’t been slogging through the byzantine plot in the leaked or off-the-record reports in the print and electronic media, the gist of it is that several high-level Foreign Service and military officials have testified under oath to Congress that President Donald Trump’s White House withheld military and other aid to Ukraine unless it agreed to announce investigations into Trump’s past and potential future Democratic rivals. The White House itself released a rough transcript of a phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president that seems to back up the charges, the White House chief of staff defiantly told a press gathering to “Get over it, we do it all the time,” and for now the Republicans are trying their best to come up with a better defense.
The Republicans protested when the witnesses testified in closed hearings, but their damning testimony has since been released, and we expect they’ll be telegenic and appealing characters when live on television. On other channels you can hear that they’re “deep state” conspirators involved in a coup d’tat against a duly elected president, and some Republicans will be saying the same on the hated “fake news” networks, but it’s not a convincing plot line, even by modern television standards. All but one of the witnesses for the prosecution all have impeccable records of public service, no apparent reason to lie, and their stories all line up. Several are Trump appointees, or appointees of his appointees, and the other witness is a dilettante diplomat who was appointed Ambassador to the European Union after bundling millions to Trump’s campaign and another million to Trump’s inaugural ball but has recently amended his testimony to line up with the others.
So far impeachment is polling pretty well, given the fractured media markets and bipartisan climate, and we expect that even low-rated televised hearings will nudge up the antipathy to Trump. Potential future guest stars include Trump’s personal attorney, whose peripatetic freelance foreign policy are currently under investigation by Trump’s own Justice Department, and Trump’s former national security advisor, who resigned over differences o such matters as our foreign policy with Ukraine, which would be widely watched.
Barring some deus ex machina plot twist in this improbable reality show, a nearly unanimous majority of the Democrats who control the House majority and perhaps even a few Republicans will almost certainly impeach Trump. For now it’s likely that a majority-Republican Senate won’t vote to remove Trump from office, but that might be slightly less likely with each passing day of televised testimony from believable witnesses about an arguably impeachable abuse of presidential power.
Back in our surly and cynical youth many of the Republicans used to care about that sort of thing, and even in our middle age there were some damned Democrats who were embarrassed by an older man using his presidential power to indulge in a tawdry relationship with an much younger intern, even if they thought lying about it under oath wasn’t necessarily an impeachable offense. These days there are so many channels to choose from, and all of the standards seem to have been lowered across the political divide, and much of the country probably won’t care how it turns out.
Even so, we’ll be “binge watching.”

— Bud Norman

Another Multi-Billionaire New Yorker

There’s another multi-billionaire from New York City who’s running for president, with media mogul and former Big Apple mayor Michael Bloomberg running for the Democratic nomination. Our guess is that the Democrats won’t be interested in the services of a multi-billionaire from New York City, but we’ve been surprised before.
There are some significant differences between Bloomberg and President Donald Trump, of course. For one thing, Bloomberg is verifiably a multi-billionaire, worth several times more than Trump claims to be but declines to prove. For another thing, he’s previously served in public office and actually did a pretty good job of it.
Bloomberg became mayor of New York after the two terms of Rudy Giuliani, and although the youngsters would have a hard time believing it Giuliani had lowered the the city’s taxes and increased its revenues and lowered the crime rate and bolstered the employment rolls, and the city was saved from financial ruin and a dystopian state. Bloomberg ran as a Republican and mostly kept the Giuliani policies in place, and although he later switched to independent status and pursued some strict gun control measures and restored some of the city’s welfare system he mostly remained a low-tax and tough-on-crime mayor through his two terms.
None of this, of course, will endear Bloomberg to the modern Democratic party. Even Trump and most of the Republicans went along with a soft-on-crime criminal justice reform bill earlier this year, and by now a significant number of the Democrats equate law enforcement with racism. That will likely change with the next big crime wave, which inevitably will have an inordinate number of black victims, but for now law and order isn’t a winning issue in a Democratic primary.
Nor are low taxes likely to win any Democrats, who currently seem hell-bent on punitively taxing multi-billionaires such as Bloomberg. Lowering New York City’s top tax rates stopped the exodus of rich people from the city and thus increased the city’s revenues, and raising the top national tax rates would probably start an exodus of rich people’s money from the country if not the rich people themselves, thus lowering federal revenues, but today’s Democrats are more interested in social justice than such arcane economic theories.
Yet another way that Bloomberg differs from Trump is that’s he been hugely successful in building his media empire without suffering any conspicuous failures, but Democrats also don’t care much about managerial expertise, and even suspect it proves a bottom-line indifference to the working class. At this point, they’re also quite right to question if success in the private sector can be easily transferred to success in government.
Even so, Bloomberg apparently figures that a majority of Democrats doesn’t want to go so far left as a very big chunk of the party is clearly intent on, and that the moderate candidates remaining in the field are vulnerable. The Democrats are also very eager to beat Trump, and Bloomberg has a plausible argument that with his bigger fortune and record of sound governance and polite and well-spoken persona he’d be the more appealing multi-billionaire New Yorker.
It’s worth a shot, we suppose, and Bloomberg can well afford to place a bet on it, but we won’t wager any of our more meager money. He’s already announced he’ll be skipping the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire and wait until the big states, but that’s the same strategy Giuliani used to dodge farm folks and factories when he ran as “America’s mayor,” still flush from the rave reviews by even the mainstream press and so far away from his current dilapidated and disgraced self, and he was out of the race by South Carolina.
Bloomberg’s path won’t be any easier. The class warriors on the left will cast him as the party’s plutocratic enemy, the moderate candidates have been earning the loyalty of moderate Democratic voters while Bloomberg was earning money, and so far we don’t see a groundswell of support for a candidate little known outside of New York City, no matter how well known and regarded he might be there.
Still, we wish him well. There should be someone on the Democratic debate stage that has a more sophisticated tax policy than ripping up that goose and getting all the golden eggs, and understands that a trillion is a whole lot of dollars, and that’s there’s still something to be said for law and order. Bloomberg’s a gun-grabber with a lot of touchy-feely welfare state ideas and other Democratic party flaws, as far as we’re concerned, but as far as multi-billionaire New Yorkers go we could do worse.

— Bud Norman

Talkin’ ‘Bout Our G-G-Generation

According to such ancien regime media as The Washington Post and The New York Times, the latest catchphrase among the young folks is “OK, boomer.” Apparently that’s what the millennials or post-millennials or Generation Z or whatever you want to call these raw-boned and tattooed and nose-ringed ragamuffins are sarcastically saying whenever some old fogy dispenses his seasoned “baby boom generation” advice.
Although we’re technically “baby boomers” ourselves, we can hardly blame these young punks for their insolence. We arrived at the very end of the post-World War II “baby boom,” and were among the first of the self-proclaimed young “punks” who were just as cynical about the hippy-dippy counter-culture revolution as we were about the culture it was revolting against. The date of one’s birth somehow permanently affixes a certain worldview for the rest of one’s life, and we arrived at an unusually discombobulating moment of cataclysmic change.
We started reading the newspapers and watching the evening news and eavesdropping on adult conversations at an early age, and it was all full of a bloody war and bloody anti-war protests and civil right marches and church bombings, and women were burning bras outside the Miss America pageant and some people called homosexuals were rioting outside a New York City bar, among other daily outrages. Even for the most precocious child it was hard to make sense of, as was the decidedly different fare suddenly on offer at the local movie theater and on the FM radio dial.
There was a lot about it we liked. We wanted peace with honor in Vietnam, and still believe it could have been achieved and spared South Vietnam from communism if the Watergate scandal hadn’t emaciated the Republican party, but we shared the hippies’ desire for peace. The negroes, as they were once known, were quite right to demand their equal rights under the law and proper respect from the broader culture, no matter how contentious that has often been. The womenfolk also had some reasonable complaints, even according to our fiercely Church of Christ Mom, who insisted on a respectful code of conduct toward women. At the time we didn’t know much about homosexuals, but in retrospect we can understand why the queers in New York were rioting outside that bar. A lot of the rock ‘n’ roll music was irresistible to our youthful ears, and still sounds good after so many years of listening to the great jazz and country and popular artists of the 20th century, and a lot of those disturbing ’60s and ’70s movies still hold up well.
Even so, we want to keep our place in the old world we born into. The post World War II global order that the “greatest generation” imposed seemed to work well enough in the long run, and still strikes us as useful. So far as we can tell fairly regulated capitalism is the most productive economic scheme mankind has come up with so far, and makes more sense than what the self-described socialists of the current Democratic party are peddling. Our old-fashioned Church of Christ Mom’s notions of how a gentleman should treat a lady should should satisfy even the most feminist sensibility of the #MeToo moment. As far as we’re concerned race relations would go easier if people were only more polite to one another, and we miss the days when someone’s sexual predilections were nobody else’s business.
By happenstance we spent much of Thursday with some even older fogies than ourselves, though, and were reminded how the “Generation Gap” of our youth still persists. Our favorite aunt was in town to visit her sister and brother-in-law, along with her excellent husband and our beloved uncle, and naturally politics came up. While the wives were doing some woman thing or another our Dad and Uncle were both yearning for the good old days of President Harry Truman and expressing amazement that the Democrats were even considering nominating an admitted homosexual for president, not to mention all that high-tax socialism they were peddling, and over an excellent dinner at the folks’ retirement home both couples agreed that the damned Democrats were out to get President Donald Trump for no good reason.
Our dinner companions were among the very finest people know, each having been born in the Great Depression and raising themselves into prosperous and honorable and respectable lives, but with all due respect, having been born a few decades later we saw a lot of things differently. We’ll go along with the old-fashioned idea that marriage should ideally be between a man and a woman, no matter how that might annoy our gay and younger friends, but not the newfangled idea that marriage is between a man and three women and a a porn star and Playboy playmate, as Trump insists. We don’t want a socialist president, but only because we don’t want any president telling Harley-Davidson where to makes its motorcycles, as Trump has done. The greatest thing Truman ever did from our historical perspective was to lay the blueprint for the mostly peaceful and prosperous post-War world order, carried out so well by President Dwight Eisenhower and more or less maintained until recently.
The even older fogies and the far younger punks probably don’t share our perspective on this impeachment matter, either. Our parents and aunts and uncles were all preoccupied with making an honorable and respectable living when the Watergate scandal unfolded, but we were insolent young junior high punks with nothing better to do all summer than watching it play out on live television, and unlike our elders we weren’t at all surprised when the facts piled up so high even the most senior Republicans forced President Richard Nixon to resign. This time around the damning facts of presidential misconduct seem to be piling up just as high agains the sitting president, and even if a majority of Republicans and our most respected elders are fine with it we do not approve.
Which is not to say we want anything to do with these tattooed and nose-ringed ragamuffins we run into at the hipster dives and their outright socialist and open-borders and electronic music and free love poppycock. At this point in our postlapsarian and post-modern ives we put no faith in princes, only in the most time tried and true principles that have lasted over the centuries and millennia, and from our cynical seat on the sidelines between generations the old standards seem hard to maintain. Things have gone so far so good during our 60 years, though, and as lonely as we are we’ll hold out hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

Un-Blowing the Whistle

Donald Trump Jr. has “tweeted” the name of a man alleged to be the “whistleblower” who set off the current impeachment inquiry regarding President Donald Trump, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is demanding that the national media also publish the name. The alleged “whistleblower” is allegedly a Democrat fond of former Vice President and current presidential contender Joe Biden, and for now that’s best defense Trump’s Republicans can muster.
Alas, it’s a weak defense. Never mind that the erstwhile party of law and order is flouting a federal law intended to protect the anonymity of “whistleblowers,” which the Republicans will surely revere if there’s another Democratic president, the inquiry has moved well beyond him.
Regardless of his or her political biases, the “whistleblower’s” claim that Trump sought political help from Ukraine in exchange for military was deemed credible and concerning by two Trump-appointed intelligence officials, has since been corroborated by sworn testimony from the highest-ranking career foreign service and military officials serving in Ukraine, along with text messages and other documentary evidence. Perhaps they’re all “deep state” conspirators out to frame the president, despite their previously unsullied reputations, but the political appointee who got his job as Ambassador to the European Union after donating $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee has now amended his testimony to corroborate the other witnesses, and former Trump-appointed national security advisor and impeccably credentialed right-wing Republican John Bolton is expected to say the same thing live on television next week, and there’s no telling what will happen if Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani winds up under oath and on the air..
An incomplete and presumably carefully edited transcript of the call between Trump and the Ukrainian president also backs up the story, Trump has made clear on several occasions that he’s open to political help from foreign governments, and his chief of staff told the national media that “we do it all the time,” adding “get over it.” Why Trump and his apologists continue to deny it is unclear to us, especially when they have that “so what?” defense at their disposal.
Trump claims that he was only interested in ending Ukraine’s entrenched political corruption, but he’s rarely shown any concern about other country’s corruption problems, and as a businessman he publicly complained that under American law he couldn’t hand out bribes in other countries like his foreign competitors, and as president he has cut funding for anti-corruption assistance to reformist movements. Perhaps it’s mere coincidence that his sudden anti-corruption fervor is mostly focused on something that might provide dirt on a potential election rival, and even disprove the consensus opinion of the national intelligence community that Russia helped Trump get elected last time around, but maybe not.
Better to go with the “so what?” defense. The die-hard fans will love such defiance of the hated establishment, with all its fussy notions of political propriety, another sizable portion of the country isn’t paying any attention, and last time around Trump somehow won an electoral majority on basically the same argument. Most of the the country isn’t buying it, but for now they don’t have enough Senators to remove Trump from office, and it’s unclear if the majority is spread around the electoral map well enough to deny Trump reelection.
One can only bang his head against the stone wall of facts for so long, even one so hard-headed as Trump, and sooner or later he’ll take to the presidential podium and admit that he did indeed solicit political help from a foreign government in exchange for military aid, he won’t appear the least bit embarrassed, and he’ll be hurling accusations that it his was enemies who were doing improper things. He might as well cut to the chase now, to borrow an old Hollywood cliche, before all that boring but damning testimony is aired live on national television.

— Bud Norman

Election Results From Real America

There were several elections of interest around the country on Tuesday, and the Democrats got the best of it. It’s easy to overstate their performance, and what it might portend for the rest of the country next November, but the Republicans would be wise not to underestimate the damage.
Virginia was a Republican stronghold from the ’60s until recently, but after Tuesday’s races the Democrats are firmly in control of the state. They already had a Democratic governor and lieutenant governor, and now the party holds every other statewide office and have majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. The Republicans had retained control through two presidential elections when the Democratic candidate easily won the state’s electoral votes, but that was mostly due to some nifty gerrymandering, which wasn’t enough to overcome the overwhelming majority of votes cast throughout the state for the Democrats and will likely go away when the Democrats get a chance to redraw the maps next year.
The recent problems in Virginia are part of a worrisome trend for the Republicans in the country at large. Affluent and highly educated suburbanites have been abandoning the party in droves since President Donald Trump was elected, and although the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and Richmond are more hostile than most Republicans have also lost congressional seats in Kansas and other reliably red states. Virginia also has a growing number of Latinos and a sizable and politically engaged black population, and they’re also averse to the party of Trump, who was not invited by any Republican to cross the bridge and do some campaigning.
Trump was gratefully welcomed to give one of his famous rallies in Kentucky, a state he easily won in the presidential election, but despite his efforts Democratic challenger Andy Beshear wound up with more votes than incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. The margin was slight enough that Bevin has refused to concede defeat, which is what one expects of Republicans in the age of Trump, but even if he’s able to litigate and recount his way to a slim victory it’s still an embarrassment for his party. Trump can rightly blame Bevin for being a failed governor and unpopular candidate, and he surely will, but he won’t be able to boast of his enormous appeal in Kentucky, and there’s still that nagging problem of the big cities and their suburbs going for the Democrats.
There was some good news for the Republicans in Mississippi, where Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves beat Democratic state Attorney General Jim Hood by a solid if unspectacular score of 52-to-46 in the gubernatorial race. The Republicans’ problems with suburbanites and racial minorities was stark there, too, and the blatant appeals to white working class resentment that worked well enough in Mississippi might not fare so well elsewhere in the country.
Meanwhile, here in our humble hometown of Wichita, a larger-than-usual turnout in our nonpartisan local election ousted an incumbent mayor who is generally assumed to be a Republican and replaced him with a state representative is known to a Democrat. There are all sorts of peculiarly local reasons for the outcome, involving such matters as a ballpark and a big bucks water contract and plans to tear down some locally beloved buildings and pay some well-connected local businesses to put up something new, but it’s still notable that such a reliably Republican state as Kansas has a Democratic governor and its biggest city has a Democratic mayor, not to mention a Native American lesbian kick boxer Democrat as a congresswoman for the suburban and educated 2nd District up by Kansas City.
Next November is far, far away, and there’s no telling how awful the Democratic presidential nominee might be, but it’s hard to see the Republicans reversing some worrisome trends that keep revealing themselves in all the post-Trump election results. Perhaps Trump can find some way to ingratiate himself to those affluent and highly educated suburbanites and the racial minorities closer to the heart of town, but he has to keep stoking the racial resentments of his white working class base at the same time, and he’s not much for nuanced arguments. He’ll also be preoccupied with that pesky impeachment inquiry, which seems to turn up further damning testimony every day, and from the halls of Congress to the Wichita Republican headquarters his party seems in disarray.

— Bud Norman

All Politics Isn’t Local, Alas

Today is election day here in Wichita, where the citizenry will exercise its democratic right to choose a mayor and an at-large school board member. These odd-numbered year elections are usually dull and low turnout affairs around here, but this time the mayoral race has been so ruthlessly fought it has attracted so much local media attention that even The Washington Post took notice, so turnout is expected to be somewhat higher than the norm.
The two candidates on the ballot are incumbent Mayor Jeff Longwell and state Representative Brandon Whipple, but there’s also a write-in campaign by local businessman Lyndy Wells, who was barely edged by Whipple in the primary, and he’s well-funded enough to tout his numerous endorsements from locally prominent Republicans and Democrats. Given the low turnout and scant public opinion polling the local media can afford to do, not to mention the write-in campaign and all the other complications that have come up, we have no idea how it will turn out.
One of those complicating issues is an attack ad that ran on Facebook and YouTube, alleging that Whipple had sexually harassed a female intern at the Kansas statehouse. The ad, urging “Stop Brandon Whipple,” cited reporting by The Kansas City Star about sexual harassment of interns at the statehouse, but the stories made clear that Republicans were being accused of the misdeeds, and Whipple is a Democrat. Whipple immediately threatened to sue whoever ran the ad for slander, but at first it was unclear who who it was.
The local paper was able to link it to a New Mexico company called Protect Wichita’s Girls LLC, but state officials were unable to provide any further information. Eventually the local paper tracked down one of the voice actresses on the tape, who swore she’d been told it was a generic anti-sexual harassment and was embarrassed to find out she’d been part of such a shameless smear, which led to a 21-year-old named Matthew Colborn who had filmed the video in an office shared by Republican state Rep. Michael Capps and Wichita city councilman James Clendenin. Capps denied having anything to do with it, but the local Republican establishment has nonetheless been calling for his resignation, and now Capps is accusing the county Republican chairman of approving the ad.
Wichita’s local elections are officially non-partisan affairs, with no Ds or Rs next to the candidates’ names, but of course everyone knows who the Democrats and Republicans are. Usually it makes no difference to the civic-minded sorts who show up at the polls even on odd-numbered years, as local governance is pretty much a boringly non-ideological matter of paving the streets and keeping precious water flowing and maintaining some semblance of law and order and adding the occasional aesthetic flourishes to the city. These days both parties regard all politics at levels as blood sport, though, and in this battle the Republicans seem to have hoist themselves on their own petard, to borrow a phrase from the Bard.
Which was entirely unnecessary, as far as we’re concerned, because this could have been another pleasantly dull local election. Wichita’s a small enough town that we know Mayor Longwell and his charming wife, and he doesn’t seem a bad fellow, and some good things have happened in the city since he took office, but we’ll never forgive him for tearing down our beloved old Depression-era ballpark and proudly unaffiliated Wichita Wingnuts to build a fancy new stadium with some suspicious private investors snatching up the nearby lots in lovably un-gentrified Delano at a bargain price, and there are questions about his friendly relationship with the company that got the big-bucks contract to keep the water flowing. Whipple’s undeniably a Democrat, but so far as we can tell he’s not much of an ideologue, and he promises to be as transparent as possible while paving the streets and updating the pipes and all the rest of the wearisome business of running Wichita. Wells is a successful businessman with a long record of involvement with local causes, which seems to turn off a lot of the local Democrats, but we liked his business-as-usual approach enough that we voted for him in the primary over Whipple.
Whipple won the run-off by a hundred votes or so, and this time around we’ll be voting for him. Business as usual has become very chummy between public officials and private interests, and although public-private relationships have often worked out well for the city at large we think it best that the citizenry know in advance what’s going on. The low turnout in city elections has always meant that city and school district employees are overrepresented in the electorate, leading to a City Hall and school board more liberal than this very conservative city at large, so we’ve usually voted for the civic-minded businessman types and religious warriors to resist their worst impulses, and for the most part the city has progressed on this godforsaken patch pf prairie, at least to the point we don’t feel any pressing need to live elsewhere.
We know a lot of reasonable Democrats around here who basically share our views on paved roads and clean water and some semblance of law and order and all the rest of our local chores, and the necessity of carrying them out in the most transparent and stringently ethical way, and for now we’ll trust them more than the local branch of our once Grand Old Party.
In any case, we’ll expect Wichita to progress fitfully along as it always has, from its humble origins as an Indian trading post to its current top-50 status as a hub of high-tech aviation and agriculture and fast food franchising, with some surprisingly lovely neighborhoods and better-than-you’d-expect arts and music and theater scenes, and a lot of people well worth befriending.
We’d like to think that the rest of the country will work things out as amicably as Wichita probably will today, but we have our nagging worries. New media and constant us-against-them rhetoric from talk radio and the presidential podium have addled the brains of Republicans at all levels of government, the damned Democrats are as bad as ever, and it’s all irreconcilably ideological. Both parties talk about infrastructure and clean water and law and order and civil liberties and all that jazz, but most of it is delegated to the lowest levels of government, where the turnout is usually low, and mostly the national parties are concerned about whose side wins.
At this point in our grumpy old manhood we don’t much give a damn for either side, as we feel free to say in this age of frank and vulgar political discourse, and are more concerned about the roads and water and law and order and such. We also worry about the national debt and America’s standing as the leader of the free world those worrisome declines in business investment and the manufacturing index, as well as the suspicious deals that seem to have been made on the national and international level, but that’s ultimately up to the rest of the country.
For now there’s one of the city’s electronic traffic messages just up the street from us telling us we can’t turn left on 13th, even though there’s no apparent road work going on, and we’ve been turning left there for more than 25 years, dagnabbit, so that’s temporarily a more personal issue to our admittedly self-interested selves. At least we’ll get to gripe about to the next mayor we inevitably run into him around this still very small town of ours.
Nice to know, too, that what’s left of the once-grand Wichita Eagle where toiled for 25 years is still doing some good work on emaciated resources, and that what’s left of the rest of the local media is also keeping the citizenry riled up. There’s hope that turnout will reach a full 10 percent of the electorate here in Wichita, and that a free press will also inform the nation.

— Bud Norman

The Hole in the Wall Gangs

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, as the poet Robert Frost wrote, but President Donald Trump remains intent on building one across the entire Mexican-American border. He’s now longer vowing that Mexico will pay for it, and instead is using American taxpayer money earmarked to build schools for military families, but he’s still insisting the wall will be big and beautiful and impenetrable.
Which makes it rather embarrassing that Mexican smugglers are already cutting out large holes from the few miles of new wall that have been built, using reciprocating saws that be purchased for about $100 at most hardware stores.
Most Americans were skeptical all along that a big and beautiful wall was the solution to America’s undeniable illegal immigration problems, but the crowds that packed Trump’s campaign rallies loved the idea. “Build that wall” was one of the chants that riled up the rally-goers, along with a thus-far unfulfilled promise to arrest Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and “lock her up,” so Trump is now stuck with the idea. The die-hard fans apparently never took the part about Mexico paying for it seriously, and have already forgiven him for dropping that, but he worries he’d look foolish in the fans’ eyes if he didn’t build something along the entire southern border.
Getting it done is likely to be more trouble than it’s worth to Trump. A Democratic House of Representatives is even less likely than Mexico to pay for a border wall, meaning Trump will have to continue to dip into the swollen defense budget that he loves to brag about, further damaging his relationship with the military and his party’s hawkish wing. He’ll have to win a whole lot of expensive eminent domain lawsuits against some very sympathetic landholders and their property rights, which will offend the few remaining free market and constitutionalist conservatives left in the Republican party.
When the wall inevitably fails to solve America’s illegal immigration problems, even the die hard fans will wonder why they chanted for it.
The good news for Trump is that the border wall is rarely mentioned in the news these days. The bad news is that an impeachment inquiry is dominating the political conversation, and the damning testimony will now be televised.

— Bud Norman