The State of the Race, For Now

President Donald Trump’s most loyal supporters tend to dismiss any polls results they don’t want to hear as “fake news,” but Trump is taking his recent bad numbers very seriously. Polling commissioned by the Republican National Committee and the Trump reelection campaign reportedly corroborate the publicly released surveys showing a decline in Trump’s approval ratings in the wake of the coronavirus, and Trump is reportedly furious about it.
We’re inclined to believe the reporting, because Trump has started heeding the advice of Republican party officials to stop doing the daily press briefings that he clearly enjoyed and taking a less visible and voluble role in in the administration’s response to the epidemic. Some pretty convincing data is needed to pry Trump away from his highly rated television shows, and the opportunity to lash out at the reporters in attendance, so the party and campaign polling must be very worrisome.
All of the recent publicly released polls show a majority of the public is dissatisfied with Trump’s efforts regarding coronavirus and only a minority believe anything Trump says about it. The polls show Trump trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden not only nationally but also in the swing state’s that gave Trump his surprising victory in the Electoral College. There’s an ample amount of anecdotal evidence for Trump’s unpopularity, too, and with death toll rising daily an the employment rate falling it would be surprising if Trump were becoming more popular.
The election is more than six months away, though, and a lot could change between now and then. A quick end to the coronavirus and a rapidly rebounding economy are possible if not probable, and the chances of Biden making some catastrophic campaign error are very good. Trump has long predicted that the media will eventually start giving him favorable for fear that Americans will stop consuming news if someone more boring replaces him in the White House, but we probably shouldn’t bet on that happening.
According to both The Washington Post and The New York Times, Trump reacted to the internal polling by shouting angrily at his campaign. Trump will probably find other scapegoats, too, but that won’t solve his political problems. He’ll need to take responsibility, and change his behave to win over voters who aren’t satisfied to see reporters being insulted and critics ridiculed and want actual results instead. Nothing that’s happened in the past three years give us any confidence that might happen.
Trump faces difficult choices, and must weigh the often competing interests of public health and the economy, and we hope he chooses wisely. The best choices for the long term might not be the most popular in the short term, and we’ll even hold out faint hope that Trump does the right thing.

— Bud Norman

An Uncivil War in the Kansas Republican Party

Our old-fashioned “flip phone” made that strange warbling sound that announces the arrival of a new text message, and it turned out to be one of the oddest political videos we’ve ever encountered.
The ad was an attack on former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, one of the leading contenders in largely overlooked Republican primary race to choose a nominee to run for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring longtime Sen. Pat Roberts. There are plenty of valid reasons to criticize Kobach, including concerns by many traditional Republicans that he could lose to a moderate woman Democrat in the race just he did in the gubernatorial election less than two years ago, but that’s not what the advertisement is about. Produced by a political action committee called Keep Kansas Great PAC, which says “We support candidates who will stand with President Donald Trump to defeat the extreme liberal agenda,” the ad accuses Kobach of insufficient fealty to Trump and Trumpism.
Which comes as a surprise to most Kansans. You needn’t be a Kansan to have heard of Kobach, whose staunch opposition to be illegal and legal immigration as Secretary of State made him a nationally known figure and endeared him to Trump. Kobach was appointed chairman of a commission charged with proving that voting by illegal immigrants was the reason for Trump’s 3 million ballot loss in the popular vote, has been an outspoken advocate for anything Trump might say or do, and has carefully copied Trump’s flamethrower rhetorical style. His current campaign slogan is “Make Kansas Great Again,” and he proudly touts his ties to Trump and the praise the president has showered on him.
The Kobach commission was disbanded before it could write a report, largely because both Republican and Democratic governors refused to comply with his requests and efforts to nationalize voting, with even Kansas being bound by state law from providing requested information, and Kobach suffered another embarrassment when he chose to defend a controversial Kansas voting law that was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union and not only lost but wound up paying expensive fines for multiple counts of contempt of court. Then he lost the gubernatorial election to Gov. Laura Kelly despite Kansas being a reliably Republican state and despite Trump’s enthusiastic endorsement.
Trump still wanted to make Kobach his “immigration czar,” but changed his mind when Kobach had a list of exorbitant demands that included a private jet, and thus the Keep Kansas Great PAC has some basis for saying in its ad that “Kobach let President Trump down.” The ad also rightly notes that Kobach has the financial support of the Club for Growth, a well-funded-by-billionaires PAC that promotes a low-tax small government agenda which was pretty much the quintessence of Republican conservatism until Trump, and it staunchly opposed to Trump’s candidacy in the ’16 election. Since then the Club for Growth has retreated from presidential politics altogether and focused on electing budget hawk candidates to Congress, but Trump of course still holds a grudge against the Club for Growth and so do his die-hard supporters even though they probably continue to agree with everything the organization stands for.
The ad only attacks Kobach and doesn’t endorse anyone else, but elsewhere the Keep Kansas Great PAC has endorsed state Rep. Roger Marshall, who seems intent on running as a even Trumpier than the exceedingly Trumpy Kobach. Marshall is also an obstetrician and gynecologist, and the Club for Growth paid for attacks ads in the state’s biggest newspapers featuring patients who criticized the doctor’s “bedside manner,” which is all the more reason for Marshall to attack the Club for Growth and its past anti-Trump blasphemies.
A third very viable contender in the race is Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, a longtime state legislator who is very conservative who has always tried strike a moderate tone, but has lately been trying to out-Trump her competitors.
A traditional and NeverTrump Republicans who are watching this from the political sidelines, none of this makes much sense.
Trump easily won the state’s electoral votes when he ran against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, just as any old Republican nominee would have done, but Trump has never been overwhelmingly popular in this state. He came in a distant third in the Republican caucus, even the state’s Republican congressmen dhave dared criticize the Trump trade wars that have ravaged the state’s dominant and export-dependent agricultural and aviation industries, and Trump’s unapologetic amorality is still troubling to a certain portion of the state’s many Christians. Latino immigration is pretty much all that’s sustaining what’s left of economic activity in the southwest quadrant of the state, and plays a peaceable and productive role in the economy and culture of the urban areas, so nativism isn’t so appealing to the general population as some Republicans seem to believe.
The Club for Growth style of conservatism is currently out of fashion, too. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback proposed proposed a rather extreme policy of severe tax and budget cuts, helped a majority of like-minded candidates win primaries over more cautious Republican majorities and get it passed, and although we liked it in theory it objectively didn’t turn out as promised in taxes. The ensuing budget deficits led to cuts in spending on education and roads and prisons and other essential states that alarmed the sorts of good government conservatives who had dominated the Republican party since Kansas entered the Union as a free state loyal to the party of Lincoln. That’s how Kansas wound up with a Democratic governor and a legislature that’s still majority Republican only because the old establishment fuddy-duddies won a lot of primaries against the firebrands.
Kansas has long been willing to send Democrats to Topeka but has very rarely sent them to Washington. The last Democratic Senator from Kansas was way back during the Great Depression, he only lasted one term, and usually Senatorial elections are a foregone conclusion around here. This time around seems different, though, and the way things are going there’s an outside chance the state’s Grand Old Party might well continue its recent losing streak. In the midterm election a Native American lesbian kick boxer won a House seat in the educated and affluent northeast, a more moderate Democrat almost won another seat, and only the moderate Republican who’d wrested the First Congressional seat from a fire=breathing Club for Growth favorite won by the usual Republican landslide.
The Democrats seem likely to nominate state Sen. Barbara Bollier, an ex-Republican and retired anesthesiologist who reminds us a lot of our currently popular Democratic governor, who shut down the schools early on and imposed strict shutdown rules in response to the coronavirus and is currently doing better in the statewide approval polls than Trump, and the sporadic polling that’s been done in the largely overlooked shows her in a very tight race with the front-running Kobach. Between now and election day either the economy will be tanking or the coronavirus death toll will be spiking, and no matter which outcome Trump chooses he will have trouble blaming it on Democrats or immigration.
A moderate Republican willing to distance himself or herself from Trump while defending his more sensible policies would probably do well against a moderate Democrat obliged to oppose everything Trump does, but that candidate apparently can’t win a Republican primary. At least that’s what the leading contenders seem to think.

— Bud Norman

Mourning in the Age of Coronavirus

The Washington Post and The New York Times and The Drudge Report and all the other media we look to every day were full of bad news on Monday, but by far the saddest thing we read was on Facebook, where we learned of the death of our dear friend Cheryl Capps at the too-young age of 64.
You probably never knew her, but if you had would have loved her, because she was irresistibly lovable. So far as we can tell everybody thought so, except for maybe a couple of incompetent bosses whose butts she refused to kiss during her locally legendary career in media and pubic relations. She was fun and funny and brutally and delightfully frank, sweet and sunny and sassy, always interested in how you’re doing and genuinely delighted by the good news and sincerely saddened by the bad, which you could always feel blissfully free to share in either case.
We’re told she died of pancreatic cancer that spread to her liver, but we can’t help feeling she was also yet another victim of the coronavirus. A couple of very excellent women we know made sure her last days were comfortably spent in a charming small Kansas town outside Wichita, but the protocols of the coronavirus prevented even her family and closest friends from dropping by to give her a loving farewell. She well deserves a funeral or memorial service attended by her many hundreds of adoring friends around here and in Arkansas, who could share in a celebration of her life and the joy it brought to the world and also share the grief they feel, but for now that’s not possible.
She won’t soon be forgotten, and at some point in the near or distant future we’ll all get together and hug one another in memory of Cheryl Capps, but for now it’s another very hard thing about this moment in time. Good people die every day all over the world, and potentially good people are born every day, but for now it’s impossible for the families and friends to properly commemorate these occasions. After losing such an extraordinarily empathetic friend as Cheryl Capps, we somehow feel both a heartening touch of all the love and a painful awareness of the sorrow that people all over the world are experiencing at this awful moment in time.

— Bud Norman

Yeah, Right, Like He Was Being Sarcastic

Even President Donald Trump’s most staunch apologists, who are an extraordinarily staunch lot, occasionally have to admit he can say or “tweet” some pretty damned stupid stuff. When there’s no plausible defense for it they either flatly deny that Trump said what all the video evidence clearly shows he said or raw saved screenshots screenshots show what he wrote in a hastily deleted “tweet,” or they fall back on the explanation that he was obviously joking and his stupidly humorless critics just didn’t get it.
Late last week Trump invited a considerable amount of ridicule by asking the government’s scientists to investigate that COVID-19 could be cured by somehow exposing a patient’s innards to “ultra violet or some other powerful light” or perhaps injecting the sort of disinfectants that have been proved kill the coronavirus on surfaces. No, he didn’t say that people should drink bleach or shoot up Lysol, as many internet wags giddily ¬†paraphrased it, but enough people took the idea seriously enough that the poison control center hotlines in four states saw a spike in calls about it and disinfectant manufacturers felt compelled to issue public warnings agains ingesting their products, and asking the government’s scientists to waste precious time and resources on such an obviously absurd and unscientific spur-of-the-moment idea was an indefensibly stupid thing to say. Which initially led to White House spokespeople denying he’d said what all the evidence even on Fox News clearly shows he said, or that at least it had been taken out of context, even in reports that showed the whole thing from beginning to end, and they rightly noted that some internet wags on the fringes of the internet were falsely implying Trump had urged people to drink bleach.
Trump was nonetheless clearly losing the news cycle and all the late night comedy shows still airing, what with all the damning videotape from all of the networks including Fox News were obligated to run, so by Sunday he had switched to saying that yeah he’d said what they said he’d said but was just kidding. He explained that “I was asking a sarcastically to reporters like you, just to see what would happen. I was asking a sarcastic and a very sarcastic question to the reporters in the room about disinfectant on the inside. But it does kill it and would kill it on the hands, and it would make things much better.” Alas, none of this utter nonsense is likely to save the news cycle for Trump.
Trump told one of the assembled reporters he was looking at him as he made his joke, but the reporter replied with the provable fact he hadn’t been at the news conference and that Trump was looking at a government scientist in apparaent earnestness, and the all the videotape even from Fox shows that Trump was looking at his coronavirus coordinator when he touted ingestion of disinfectants as a possible cure. As avid students of the cynical art of humor who appreciate a subtle wit we can also say that if Trump was only kidding he is by far the most deadpan comedian we have ever encountered. As empathetic human beings, we will also venture to opine that right now isn’t an appropriate moment for presidential sarcasm even if that s the official explanation..
Somehow Trump found time over the weekend to “tweet” that all the reporters who’d won “nobles” for reporting on Trump’s contacts with Russians during his presidential campaign should return them, and the that the “nobles committee” should instead confer the honor on the reporters who reported the story more in line with Trump’s version of events. As avid students of the cynical art of humor we were able to deduct that Trump meant the Nobel Prizes, which honor scientific and diplomatic and literary achievement but not American journalism, and that by “Nobel Prizes” he meant the Pulitzer Prizes, which do. After deleting the “tweets” he “tweeted” that deliberately meant to disrespect the Nobel Prizes he’s never won and never will win by ironically calling them the “noble prizes,” which is not bad if he’s really that subtle, but he was still mixed up about the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes and seemed to be losing yet another news cycle.
Trump’s astoundingly staunch apologists always wind up saying to forget anything Trump stupidly says or “tweets,” and to watch what he does, We’ll do exactly that, and hope for the best as America gropes its way through the worst public health and economic crisis of our lifetimes, making difficult decisions about how to balance both problems based on incomplete data, but we’d feel slightly better about it if the President of the United States refrained from saying stupid things even if he was just being sarcastic.

— Bud Norman

The Perils of a Know-It-All President

President Donald Trump is a self-described “very stable genius” with “a very, very large, uh, brain,” and he knows more than anybody about many things, but we’ll not be looking to him for medical advice. During Thursday’s press briefing he urged the government’s top experts to explore the possibility of treating COVID-19 by injecting patients with disinfectants and shoving ultraviolet lights inside their bodies.
The remarks came after William Bryan, the head of science at the Department of Homeland Security, told the assembled press corps how government research had found that sunlight and disinfectants can kill the coronavirus on surfaces in a little as 30 seconds. Clearly excited by the news, Trump took the podium to say “Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light — and I think you said that hasn’t been checked, but we’re going to test it? And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, either through the skin or some other way.” After getting a seemingly reluctant nod from Bryan, Trump went on to say “And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute — one minute — and is there a way we can do something like that injection, or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”
The videotape clearly shows Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, with a rather inscrutable look on her face. When she took to the podium she said, in carefully chosen words, that Trump’s suggestion was not a promising avenue of research. “Not as a treatment,” she said. “I mean, certainly fever is a good thing when you have a fever. It helps your body respond. But not as, I have not seen heat or…” At which point Trump cut her off, saying “I think that’s a great thing to look at, I mean you know, OK?”
We’re piling on the huge heap of ridicule Trump has endured partly for the fun of it, but also because Trump’s worrisome tendency toward wishful thinking and pseudo-scientific hunches have impeded his response to the coronavirus crisis. He delayed a coordinate effort to secure and family distribute medical equipment for weeks he spent assuring the public that it would all go away with the warmth of April and one day miraculously disappear, and continues to resist calls for testing on a per-capita scale that more than 20 other countries have already achieved. On a visit to the Centers for Disease Control Trump boasted that all the doctors were in awe of his scientific knowledge of virology and epidemiology, although he also admitted he’d been surprised to recently learn that the seasonal flu can be deadly, and it does not bode well that he clearly believes he knows more than anybody about almost everything.
Trump has lately abandoned his advocacy of hydroxychloroquine as the miracle cure for COVID-19, after three recent studies from three countries indicate it is not an effective treatment and can have deadly consequences, but he’s still urging his scientists to pursue time-wasting research and resisting calls for the widespread testing that might reveal some numbers Trump does not want to hear. The daily press briefings are intended to reassure a frightened American public that the nation’s best and brightest are on the job, and on a day when the national death toll surpassed 50,000 and the unemployment rate hit Great Depression levels Thursday’s performance was counter-productive.

— Bud Norman

A Rainy Day of Gloomy News

Wednesday’s weather here in Wichita was rainy and chilly and gray, so there was little to do in a shut down city than stay at home and read the equally gloomy news.
One prominent story was about the forced departure of scientist Richard Bright from his head post at the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which Bright said was prompted by his public warning that “government should invest the billions of of dollars allocated by Congress to address the Covid-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that that lack scientific merit.” One needn’t have a Ph.D. in immunology, as Bright does, to know that he was talking about hydroxychloroquine, a drug that President Donald Trump and the prime time lineup of Fox News opinion show hosts have touted as a cure for the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Hydroxychloroquine has proved effective against malaria and other diseases, but no studies have shown it can cure Covid-19 and recent studies have suggested it can cause fatal heart arrhythmia in patients suffering from that disease. Trump has a tendency to defenestrate anyone who dares publicly disagree with him, and officials ranging from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to former national security advisor H.R. McMaster to the commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt have all been ousted not for the mistakes they made rather for things they did right. The president’s penchant for dismissing not only expertise but the experts themselves is especially worrisome in the time of a global pandemic that is killing thousands of Americans each day.
In happier story, Trump was apparently persuaded to criticize the Republican governor of Georgia for lifting all the shutdowns and stay-at-home orders in that state earlier than what the consensus of expert opinion recommends. Trump hasn’t recanted his advice to protestors in Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia to “LIBERATE” their states from restrictions imposed by the Democratic governors of those states, but his willingness to criticize a Republican governor is nonetheless encouraging. It’s most likely a preemptive move to avoid blame for the outbreak of new coronavirus cases that is almost certain to ensure, but at least he’s listening to knowledgable advisors rather than trusting his gut instincts for a change.
Elsewhere in the news, Trump also stated that Naval officers are authorized to “shoot down” any Iranian ships that continue to harass the American fleet. Trump apparently isn’t hep to military lingo, in which you “shoot down” enemy aircraft and “sink” enemy vessels, but otherwise we can’t criticize the statement. Longstanding policy allows American ships to defend themselves against any imminent deadly threat, but Trump was probably wise to emphasize it to the erratic Iranian mullahcracy. The story got bottom-of-the-page coverage because the top of the page is all about the coronavirus, but it is related to the extent that the Iranians might have decided to exploit America’s current preoccupation with coronavirus to harass American ships. There are already conspiracy theories on the left that Trump is itching for a war with Iran to divert attention from his handling of the coronavirus, but we doubt it, as Trump was eager to run for reelection on a peace-and-prosperity pitch and would like to have at least one of the two to brag about come November.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also made headlines by telling a radio interviewer that he’d rather let states running debts dealing with coronavirus while their economies are collapsing as a result of the epidemic declare bankruptcy rather than receive more federal aid. Trump and numerous other Republicans quickly disagreed, another encouraging development, but it was another reminder of the expensively unprecedented mess the country is currently in.
Via Facebook we learned that one of our favorite people is losing her brave battle against pancreatic cancer, and there were no baseball box scores to pore over, so it was a rather desultory day. Our Okie relatives on Facebook shared a picture from Tuesday of a tornado with a rainbow clearly visible in the background, so we’ll take some hope in that and try to get a good sleep and wake up this afternoon to a better day.

— Bud Norman

A Day in the Life of an Epidemic

The coronavirus crisis has had an extremely discombobulating effect on us. Isolated from society and thus loosed of any social obligations, we’ve gradually become completely nocturnal over the past several weeks.
From birth we’ve been night owls, but now we’re awake from sundown to sunrise, and only enjoy the last and first hours of sunshine. For the past few days we’ve had trouble getting any sleep at all, and yesterday — or was it the day before? — we gave up on tossing and turning and ventured out in the early afternoon to drive around on inexpensive gasoline and enjoy the nearly perfect spring weather. We spotted an old friend drinking coffee and smoking a cigar outside a quaint Riverside coffee shop which was still serving through a walk-up window and stopped to have a socially-distanced chat, which was our first human contact in a while.
We always talk sports or politics with this friend, and with no sports going on we wound up talking mostly about the politics of the coronavirus. Our friend remains a steadfast supporter of President Donald Trump, but he acknowledged that things aren’t going entirely well and we settled for that begrudging admission and happily avoided an argument. Another friend who works for the biggest store of the biggest local grocery chain showed up, and from a social distance he told us about all the extraordinary amount of disinfecting he’s been doing lately, and we wished him well with his heroic efforts.
Despite two large cups of coffee we were needing a nap by the time we arrived home, and it wound up lasting until about 10:30 pm, when we awoke in the middle of another very weird dream and checked in on the news. The death toll had continued to rise, Trump had announced the complete ban on immigration he’d been wanting even before the arrival of the corona virus, and Georgia’s governor announced an end to most of the restrictions that had been in place, the price of oil continued to drop and drag down all the stock markets with it.
Otherwise a very slow news day, so lacking the energy get outraged about any of it we decided to write this dreary slice-of-life tale instead. Here’s hoping you’ll all have a better day.

— Bud Norman

When the Owner is in the Kitchen

A federal fund established to help small businesses during the coronavirus crisis was almost immediately depleted by restaurant and hotel chains, which infuriates us for a a couple reasons.
For one thing, it’s yet another example of how the federal government has botched its response to both the health and economic consequences of the coronavirus. The restaurant and hotel chains are not the sort of small businesses the fund was intended to help, but because they’re big enough to have entire departments devoted to applying for government money they were able to get their applications in before any of the genuinely small businesses could respond. This was foreseeable and should have been planned for.
For another thing, we have a longstanding aversion to chain restaurants in general. This is a minority opinion, of course, but on matters of taste the majority opinion is often wrong. As with music and movies and literature, the popular restaurants are often inoffensively bland and reassuringly predictable. Only the adventurous seek out spicier fare, and most prefer the familiar.
Chains restaurants are quite popular here in Wichita, despite a plethora of excellent locally-owned restaurants. The fast-food burger joints always have long lines in the drive-thru, yet Ty’s Diner and the Oasis and Nu-Way and the West Street offerings are far superior. A lot of immigration over the past few decades have resulted in several Thai and Vietnamese and Chinese and other Asian restaurants that are better than anything PF Chang’s has to offer, yet the ore expensive PF Chang’s draws more business, and there are so many great Mexican places ranging from taco trucks to the more elegant offerings at the fairly fancy Molino’s that there’s no excuse for ever eating about Taco Bell or Abuela’s, and when we ask people about their preferences they often explain that the local ethnic fare is just a bit too authentic for their xenophobic taste buds. This being cattle country there are several locally-owned restaurants offering excellent steaks at reasonable prices, as well as some great barbecue if you’re willing to venture into some shady neighborhoods, yet the likes of Golden Corral continue to pack in the customers.
There are a lot of daring food aficionados who champion the local restaurants, and they’re encouraging one another to keep them alive through the coronavirus by patronizing the take-out services they’re still allowed to offer, which is good to see. These fine businesses don’t seem able to count on any help from the government.
We notice that something called Shake Shack has returned the $10 million they got from the bailout fund, and whether it did so for fear that the public relations fallout would be more expensive or they genuinely felt guilty about being greedy we applaud the gesture. If they had a franchise here in Wichita we might just break our general rule and buy a shake from them. Otherwise we’ll continue to buy local, though, partly out of civic spirit and mostly because the food is almost always better when the owner is in the kitchen.

— Bud Norman

Talkin’ Coronavirus Blues

Way back in his early Cold War folk music period Bob Dylan had a song we quite liked called “Talkin’ World War III Blues,” and we’ve been reminded of it lately. The lyrics tell how Dylan had a dream he was the only survivor of a nuclear armaggedon, then went to a psychiatrist who told him “I’ve been having the same old dream, but mine’s a little different don’t you see, I dreamt the only person left after the war was me, and you weren’t around nowhere.”
What brings it to mind is a couple of clearly coronavirus-inspired dreams we’ve had lately, which we read is a common thing these days, and also the crowds who have lately been taking to the streets to lately to protest the shutdowns and social distancing measures that state governments have imposed to slow the spread of the disease. They seem quite confident that they’re going not going to get sick or die, and callously blithe about those who will.
It’s an understandable human impulse. Having survived the swine flu and bird flue and SARS and Ebola and other plagues we’re also pretty cocksure about outlasting this one, just as we’d dodged enough tornadoes here on the plains to be unafraid of them until we took a direct his above ground from an F4 one day and found the company car we’d been driving upside-down a block-and-a-half from where we’d parked it, and we’re also eager to get back to church and Kirby’s Beer Store and business as usual. We also share the protestors’ instinctive aversion to being told what to do by bossy governments.
The older we get the less invincible we feel, though, and the more we appreciate that a certain amount of luck and a certain amount of government are necessary to get by in this imperfect world. Even in the best of times there are good reasons for those stop signs and speed limits and other restrictions of liberty as well the cops that glare at you from behind mirrored sunglasses as they write a ticket. We’re old enough to have heard our parents’s childhood stories about the rationing cards and other government impositions on the populace that occurred during World War II, and how hoarders were shunned by their neighbors, and stories from our grandparents about people only venturing outside wearing face masks during the Spanish Influenza epidemic, and figure that even in such a ferociously freedom-loving land such as this there are occasionally drastic situations that call for drastic measures.
Americans should insist that when we this crisis passes they should regain all the liberties they enjoyed before, and be suspicious of any attempts by inherently bossy governments to permanently retain their temporary powers, but until then we’ll do our best to follow the rules. We hope it’s sooner rather later, and although it looks to be a long while in large part of the federal government’s slow and clumsy response, but we’ll give it a while. All the gas rationing and bacon grease and scrap metal collecting and occasional coastal blackouts of World War II lasted four long years, and when people discarded their face masks and gathered in large crowds after decline in infections to celebrate victory in World War I here was a second and even deadlier wave of Spanish Influenza.
All the shutdowns and social distancing have had a catastrophic effect on the economy, and we well know how onerous they are for even for those who still have a job, but for now they seem the sort of sacrifices previous generations made to pass along a still-great nation. Maybe it’s just the hard-earned apathy of a fatalistic 60-year-old more than any patriotic spirit, but staying at home and sleeping 10 hours a day and watching a lot of Netflix and keeping up with our friends through Facebook and posting our daily bitches and moans about Trump on the internet seems the least we can do to honor our what our forebears put up with for us.
This can’t go on forever, of course, but so far nothing has except for life itself. We’d like to see life’s streak continue, and it will be hard to say when that moment comes when it has to get back to normal. That’s going to require some hard data we’re not yet getting and the expertise of scientists who are now being widely ignored, and a measure of prudence and patience that a large chunk of the populace and the President of the United States don’t seem to possess. We trust that most of our fellow citizens will come out when they damned well feel it’s safe to do so, no matter what Trump and his Confederate-flag-waving supporters who have been blocking ambulance traffic say.
Mostly, we hope that as a nation we will somehow grope our way toward whatever works out best for everybody, even if it doesn’t work out best for us. As good old Bob Dylan put it, “Time passed, and now it seems, everybody’s havin’ them dreams, everybody’s seein’ themselves walking around with nobody else … I’ll let you be in my dream if you’ll let me be in yours.”

— Bud Norman

Looking Months Ahead with Dread

The bad news about coronavirus keeps piling up. Yesterday was the deadliest day of the pandemic in America, far surpassing the records that had been set the prior day and the day before that, and in the past month more than 20 million Americans have lost their jobs to push the unemployment rate to the highest since the Great Depression.
Given a scandalous lack of testing to identify infected persons and high risk areas and quarantine them, America has wound up quarantining pretty much everyone except for the mostly low wage workers deemed “essential.” This is the cause of economic calamity that is under way, and it’s also an onerous burden for everyone who’s putting up with. We freely admit that it’s driving us quite stir crazy, and the weird-even-by-Kansas standards weather we’ve be having lately is making it downright intolerable.
No surprise, then, that resistance to the stay-at-home orders prevailing in most of the country is increasing. There was a huge protest rally in Lansing, Michigan, and another one in Columbus, Ohio, this week to protest that state’s very strict orders, as well as smaller ones in capitals of Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia. Although President Donald Trump has lately followed the experts’ advice to go along with the shutdowns for now, he’s been conspicuously reluctant about it and is clearly eager to get back to normal sooner rather than later, and the protests all have the feel of a Trump campaign rally. Lots of Trump-Pence and Make America Again signs, American and Confederate flags, along with chants of “lock her up!”
This is also unsurprising, given the anti-government instincts of the current Republican party. Trump’s upset victory in the Electoral College was largely a result of the white inland working class resentments to the dictates of those pointy-headed intellectuals Back East and those know-it-all Hollywood hippies and high-tech socialists on the West Coast. The worst of the coronavirus problem is predictably happening in the densely populated cities that deprived Trump of a popular vote victory, and to a lot of people in the vast but sparsely populated areas that delivered Trump’s Electoral College win it doesn’t seem fair that they’re stuck at home watching “Tiger King” and sports re-runs.
Those elite coastal liberals are indeed an insufferably condescending bunch, and given the current Democratic Party’s enthusiasm for bossy government there’s something to be said for the Republicans’ principled libertarianism. Even in this strange times, as a general rule we still agree with Walt Whitman’s sage advice to “Resist much, obey little.” They seem to have an especially strong case in Michigan, where hundreds have died in the state’s mostly densely populated city and the hospitals are struggling to care for the sick, but the shutdown order has such arbitrary and counterproductive measures as banning sale of garden seeds, which might be need for the “Victory Gardens” that got America through World War II, as well as such items as paint and carpet being sold in stores still allowed to be open.
Even so, we’ll be mostly staying at home and trying to somehow remain sane for the duration, and hope that most of the Americans who can do so will as well. This is partly because the state and county authorities have left us with nowhere to go except the grocery and liquor stories, but as free citizens we’re voluntarily not dropping in on any of our much-missed friends for more selfless reasons. We’ve always been fatalistic about death, and after so many weeks of our own company now seems as good a time as any, but we’d hate to we don’t want to bring any harm to any other human we might come within six feet from.
There’s been a recent outbreak in one of South Dakota’s bigger cities, with most of the victims working at the same packing plant that provides a big chunk of America’s pork, and the Red States of Georgia and Louisiana and Indiana and the swing state of Florida are also hot spots. There are at least a few infections even in the most remote regions, and given the exponential way the virus spreads and the paltry health care resources in those locations that’s nothing to sneeze at, if you’ll forgive the morbid joke. Given the healthy suspicion of authority that beats on both the right and left sides of the American heart, we expect that most Americans won’t necessarily come out of the house go back to work when Trump tells them. Most will await the all-clear from the doctors with more expertise in epidemiology Trump or Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity or some YouTube conspiracy theorist.
Not so very long ago the Republican Party used to win presidential elections with a coalition of pissed off white working guys, more educated and affluent white suburbanites both male and female, and the big corporations that provided employment and health care and retirement plans to a big chunk of them. The white working guys are still pissed off and waving Trump signs, convinced that Trump has done everything right and bears no responsibility for the current catastrophe, but there are only so many of them. Those snooty suburban Republicans-in-Name-Only were abandoning the GOP in droves in special and mid-term elections even before the United States was the most coronavirus-infected country in the world, and with their stock portfolios are down by a lot, and they have a tendency to consume a variety of news sources, many of which make a convincing case Trump didn’t do everything right, so we can imagine many of them voting for a damned Democrat.
As for corporate America, Trump doesn’t seem to have it on board for an early resumption of business. Trump announced a roster of big time executives who had joined his economic recovery team, many of whom hadn’t yet been asked to join, and during a day of conference calls with them he heard some flattery but mostly warnings that they wouldn’t be able to get back to business until the coronavirus had been contained by far more testing and a vaccine and a cure. This is unlikely to happen in the next four weeks or so, but corporate America seems willing to wait it out rather than risk the lives of its employees and customers and all the lawsuits that would surely entail if getting back to business spiked rather than slowed the rate of infection and death.
No matter the economic or public health benefits of quick return to economic normalcy — we’re no experts on either matter — Trump’s apparent political strategy seems flaws. To whatever extent Trump tries to hasten the great reopening of America’s big and beautiful economy, he’s taking a calculated risk. If the death tolls climbs further into the tens of thousands the public might well conclude that a few upticks in the stock markets and downticks in the unemployment rate weren’t worth it. If he does the economy will continue to sink, and everyone is still stuck at home through the summer and into Election Day that’s also bad for Trump.
With nothing but sarcasm intended, we’re consoled that Trump will act in the best interests of the people rather than his own self-interest. When it comes down to those risky calculations presidents must make, we’ll try to forget that he went bankrupt six times in the casino business, and trust his word that we’ll soon be tired of winning.

— Bud Norman