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Charles Krauthammer, RIP

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

— Bud Norman

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Trump’s Triumphant Retreat

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

— Bud Norman

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

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

— Bud Norman

Doubling Down on a Dumb Trade War

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

— Bud Norman

Down at the Border

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

— Bud Norman

 

The Much-Ballyhooed IG’s Report and the Brouhaha About the “Russia Thing”

A much-anticipated report from a Justice Department inspector general was released on Thursday, and for now President Donald Trump and his die-hard defenders are having great fun with it. The report is harshly critical of the Federal Bureau of Investigation director that Trump fired, includes some further suspicious e-mails between two outspokenly anti-Trump FBI employees briefly involved in the ongoing investigation into the “Russia thing,” and otherwise provides fodder for the “deep state” conspiracy theories that Trump and his die-hard defenders are counting on.
In the infuriatingly long run of the investigation into to the “Russia thing,” however, it doesn’t at all vindicate Trump.
The inspector general’s report is critical of fired FBI director James Comey for breaking with longstanding agency policy by publicly acknowledging an investigation of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices, and publicly chastising her for “extreme carelessness” even as he declined to recommend a prosecution on the legal standard of “gross negligence,” and then publicly announcing the investigation was once again underway after some of those e-mails turned up on the computer of former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, who was the husband of long-time Clinton aide Huma Abedin and was being investigated for sending lewd photos of his private parts to underage women. Candidate Trump praised Comey’s “courage” for breaching longstanding agency policy during the campaign, nobody believed President Trump’s short-lived explanation that he fired Comey for being so unfair to Clinton, and by that very evening he was admitting to Lester Holt’s national television audience on the National Broadcasting Company that he was thinking about Comey’s ongoing investigation into “this ‘Rusher’ thing with Trump and Russia” when he decided on the firing.
By now every talk-radio listener or Fox News viewer knows that FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who were reportedly carrying on an extra-marital affair at the time, had exchanged texts and e-mails about how awful candidate Trump was, but they probably don’t know that love-birds also had some equally harsh things to say about Clinton and her openly socialist primary opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders. We don’t approve of their reportedly illicit relationship, although we hate to see that redound to the benefit of the boastfully adulterous Trump, and except for the foul language we can’t say we much we disagree with any of the opinions they texted or e-mailed, There was some previously texted and e-mailed conversation about a “secret society” that would provide an “insurance policy” in the unlikely case of a Trump presidency, and the IG’s report had him assuring his lover that Trump wouldn’t win, but at this point in the Trump presidency that seems the false bravado of a petty bureaucrat, and not the stuff of a “deep state” conspiracy.
More importantly, when special counsel Robert Mueller took over the “Russia thing” investigation in the wake of Comey’s firing he immediately demoted both Strzok and Page from the matter because of their e-mails and texts, and the numerous indictments ad several guilty pleas he’s already won are untainted by any of this. The e-mail chain Donald Trump Jr. released where he responded to an offer by a Russian music publicist he knew to be a Russian operative offering that adversarial government’s help in the election by saying “I love it” still exists. The Trump campaign’s past foreign policy advisor and the Trump administration’s since-fired Trump administration national security advisor’s guilty plea to lying about his dealings with the Russkies has yet to be pardoned. The Trump campaign’s fired campaign manager is still fighting charges of illegal dealings with the Russkies, among other things, and Trump’s longtime lawyer is likely to be charged any day now about his deal to pay off a porn star on a Delaware shall company that also had some Russkie-linked company deposits on its ledger.
If there’s a “deep state” conspiracy afoot here, it seems such an inept work of petty bureaucrats that Trump and his die-hard defenders shouldn’t mind. The much-anticipated IG’s report finds that the fired Comey acknowledged and re-eacknowledged a federal investigation into Clinton’s “extreme carelessness” and then announced it was renewing the investigation after some salacious e-mail’s on a close aide’s pervert husband’s laptop, which Trump lauded as courageous at the time and surely did the awful Clinton’s candidacy no good. At no point did the fired FBI director publicly divulge there was also a ongoing investigation into the conformed-by-all-the-intelligence-agency’s conclusion about Russian meddling on in the election of Trump’s behalf and a few of his campaign’s and administrations past high-ranking officials who had previously been suspected of being too friendly with the Russkie, which did o harm at the time to Trump. It all wound up with the presidency of Trump, which no one can deny, albeit with all the lingering doubts about it.

— Bud Norman

The Trumpinization of a Grand Old Party

The big story on Tuesday was President Donald Trump’s anticlimactic photo-op with North Korea’s nutcase dictator, but but Wednesday people were taking notice that he’d somehow strengthened his control of the Republican party.
Tuesday was also primary day in South Carolina and Virginia, and by Wednesday morning the Trumpier candidates had prevailed.
In South Carolina incumbent Rep. Mark Sanford, who had voted with Trump 87 percent of the time but occasionally criticized him on television, lost to a more full-throated Trump loyalist after a presidential “tweet” that Sanford wasn’t “helping MAGA.” In a Virginia senate primary, the Republicans picked Corey Stewart, another Trump loyalist who ran on his Trumpian affection for Confederate monuments and antipathy to illegal immigration and abiding belief that were good people on both sides of that deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.
Sanford had won his seat despite an unusually tawdry sex scandal while he was governor of South Carolina, as unusually tawdry sex scandals are of little concern to the erstwhile “family values” party in the age of Trump, but a bare majority of the state’s Republicans apparently found that 13 percent of the he voted against and the few times he went on television to criticize something Trump had said or done unforgivable. His opponent, state lawmaker Katie Harrington, had run a television advertisement promising that she wouldn’t appear on any cable news programs criticizing the president no matter what he might say or do or “tweets.”
Such North Korean fealty to the party’s dear leader will probably play well in South Carolina, where Trump is unaccountably popular, but Stewart will probably have a harder time with in Virginia. In the last presidential election Trump lost the state by five points to the awful Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee easily won last year’s gubernatorial despite Trump’s efforts, and the Democrats have been winning formerly Republican seats in most of the congressional and state and local races since Trump’s election. The damage has been especially acute in the mostly white and well-educated upper-class suburbs of the state, and although those are mostly federal government workers in Virginia the same problem has occurred in special elections almost everywhere since Trump was inaugurated.
Even here in reliably Republican Kansas there’s reasonable talk that the second congressional district, which is mostly the white and well-educated upper-class suburbs of Kansas City, is ripe for a Democratic upset. The mediocrity who replaced Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will probably prevail down here in the more blue-collar fourth district, but he won by an embarrassingly 7-point margin in the special election and actually lost the Wichita vote.
Tuesday also saw Tennessee’s Republican Sen. Bob Corker take to the Senate floor to fulminate about Trump’s crazy trade wars with our most longstanding allies, and grouse that so few Republicans supported his efforts to restrain such craziness, but he’s already announced he won’t run for reelection because his party won’t allow such heresy. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona has been similarly courageous in confronting Trump, but he’s also announced he’s not bothering with another Republican primary. Arizona’s senior Sen. John McCain has been especially outspoken in his critique of the draft dodger who scoffed at his heroic war record, but he’s battling a likely fatal disease. The few other Republicans who dare to disagree with whatever Trump says or does or “tweets” are damned careful and deferential about how they say so.
We haven’t had the chance to visit the rest of the country recently, but our guess as rock-ribbed pre-Trump Kansas Republicans our guess is that fealty to Trump no matter what he says or does or “tweets” is not a longterm winning strategy for the the Republican party. Which is a damned shame, because we still don’t like those Democrats.

— Bud Norman

About That Very Big Deal in Singapore

For now America is not exchanging nuclear missiles with North Korea, and there might now be slight more reason to hope that never comes to pass, but that’s about the best we can say for for that very big deal summit President Donald Trump had with nutcase North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un in Singapore on Tuesday.
Kim signed a statement that his country “commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” and agreed to turn over remains of American soldiers killed in the long-ago Korean War, which is not bad but nearly not so good as the complete and verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs that Trump and had hopefully said he would insist on. North Korea has given similar assurances before, and this time around it got some very worrisome concessions for it.
The nutcase dictator of the world’s most backwards third-world hellhole not only got on the front pages and top-of-the-hour broadcasts of an entire globe’s media by shaking hands with the President of the United States on a stage festooned with an equal number of both country’s flags, but the whole wide world also heard Trump lavish embarrassingly fulsome praise on him. Trump had gone into the meeting after a disastrous meeting with our most important allies by opining that the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is “weak” and “dishonest,” and one of his spokesmen saying there would be a “special place in hell” for Trudeau, but the president described the nutcase dictator of the world’s most backwards third-world hell as a “very talented” man who “wants to do the right thing” and a “very funny guy” who “wants to do the right thing for his people,” and mentioned what a “great honor” it was to have “a very special bond” with Kim and that “I trust him.”
It wasn’t in the jointly-signed statement, but Trump stated to all the world’s television cameras and newspaper tape recorders that he’s also agreed to cancel all the joint military exercises that America conducts annually with our South Korean allies to prepare for the still-lingering possibility that North Korea isn’t truly committed to peace. Trump even used North Korea’s language to say the “war games” were not only expensive but “provocative,” and although that surely pleased the adversarial dictatorship in China it was an unpleasant surprise to our allies in South Korea and Japan and elsewhere in southeast Asia.
America might yet get the remains of those fallen heroes from that long-ago Korean War, which would surely offer some comfort to their still-living wives and daughters and sons, but Trump didn’t insist that North Korea send back to their wives and sons and daughters the still-living human beings they’ve kidnapped from South Korea and Japan and our allies in southeast Asia. As Trudeau and the rest of the Group of Seven leaders have lately learned, even the most longstanding and reliable alliances America once had with the rest of the world don’t mean much to Trump.
Still, Trump has ratcheted down the “fire and fury like the world has never seen” rhetoric about “Little Rocket Man,”, and Kim is no longer calling his suddenly equal-on-the-world-stage counterpart a “dotard,” and for a now an exchange of nuclear missiles seems less likely. The world has a statement signed by the world’s two least credible leaders that they won’t be lobbing nuclear missiles at one another any time soon, and for now we’ll settle for that.

— Bud Norman

That Big Event in Singapore, According to Various Media

“Little Rocket Man” and the “Dotard,” also known as North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and American President Donald Trump, shook hands Monday on a Singapore stage festooned with American and North Korean flags, then sat down and smiled together for the cameras of the world’s media, and everybody agreed it was a very big deal. Of course there was also much disagreement about how to cover it.
The more cautious and respectable American press outlets, even those considered left-of-center and overly eager to report news casting a negative light on Trump, stuck mostly to the objective who, what, where and when it, and were especially cautious about the unavoidably subjective why of it, but they also frankly acknowledged what a very big deal it was. The Washington Post’s top-of-the-front-page headline was “Trump, Kim shake hands, begin historic summit,” and the “lede” paragraph — as we spell in the newspaper biz — quoted Trump’s prediction that “We will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt.” The New York Times’ top-of-the-front-page headline was “Handshakes, and Hope for an Agreement,,” which was just as careful and also adhered to our preferred style of capitalizing headlines, and the “bullet items” — as we call them in newspaper biz — stressed that it was indeed a very big deal but also very complicated as to how it might turn out.
The Cable News Network, or the “fake news CNN” as Trump calls it,  was similarly cautious in its coverage., with the anchors talking about how historic it was and the guest commentators expressing both hope and worries.  Over at the MSNBC cable news network, where they frankly acknowledge a left-of-center perspective and unabashedly delight in anything factual they can come up with that sheds a negative light on Trump, even Rachel Maddow was acknowledging it was a big deal. She had several guests fluent in the Korean language with impressive credentials for commenting on the military and political and economic and diplomatic situation who had some pretty convincing reasons to be worried it will all go awry, but they all had to admit a possibility they still hoped for that things would turn out well.
Meanwhile, over at Fox News, Sean Hannity was already spiking the ball in the end zone in on Trump’s behalf. He parroted Trump’s attempts to downplay expectations, and that “it’s a process, a long a process,” and helpfully recalled all the times North Korea had duped past Democratic and pre-Trump Republicans and hopefully assured his viewers Trump wouldn’t make that same mistake, and ran some old footage of President Ronald Reagan confronting Russia. As far as Hannity is concerned, if Trump wins an unexpected-by-almost-everyone complete capitulation from Kim he’s a sure bet Nobel Peace Prize winner, and if he walks away without any agreement at all he’s the second coming of St. Reagan walking away from the Soviets at Reykjavik, so it’s a win-win for Trump either way. Due to the time zones the historic handshake occurred after the morning and afternoon right-wing talk radio talkers went off the air, and they’ll be on before today’s-in-Singapore’s actual summit begins, but we’re sure that Hannity and the rest of them will see it pretty much the same way.
The National Review and The Weekly Standard and the rest of the cautious and respectable pre-Trump right-of-center publications are weeklies, and go home to their wives and children at a decent hour, so they haven’t yet weighed in, but we expect they’ll have some of the same worries that were voiced on Rachel Maddow’s show. The Weekly Standard did get in a short story about the involvement of Dennis “The Worm” Rodman, the former National Basketball Association rebounding champion and “Apprentice” contestant who is somehow on the scene and somehow  figures in all of this, but that’s not hopeful, although Trump did rightly note he was once a hell of a rebounder despite being short by NBA power-forward standards. Even if Trump does walk away from today’s summit he’ll have granted an odious third world dictator a long-desired starring role on the sage he walks away from, and with an endorsement of his abysmal human rights record in dealing with his own people, and for many other reasons it’s not at all analogous to Reagan walking out of Reykjavik. Trump’s many domestic scandals and recent squabbles with our traditional allies do seem to make him more desperate for any old deal that odious third world dictator might be willing to cut, too. We like to think we’re a cautious and respectable pre-Trump right-of-center publication, and without any wife or kids to worry about we’re up late and watching the latest developments, so we’ll hedge our bets just like those other cautious and respectable right-of-center and left-of-center institutions we’ll go no further than saying that we’re hoping for the best but still have our worries.
At least Trump and Kim are smiling for the photo-ops, rather than calling one another “Little Rocket Man” and the “Dotard.” As Trump is so fond of saying, “we shall see.”

— Bud Norman

Feuding with Allies and Adversaries

President Donald Trump is in Singapore today, finishing his final preparations for tomorrow’s high-stakes summit with North Korea’s anti-American and nuclear-armed nutcase dictator. We’re holding out hope that it goes well, but the debacle Trump made of a routine meeting in Canada with six of our most stalwart allies over the weekend is not heartening.
Trump arrived late for the Group of Seven’s annual gathering, was tardy to or skipped altogether several of its planned meetings, and left early with trade wars and “Twitter” spats brewing against the other six nations and complaints that Russia’s anti-American and nuclear-armed nutcase dictator wasn’t invited. He was especially harsh about the host country’s pro-American and democratically elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, calling him “weak” and “dishonest” in in a series of “tweets,” and one of his advisors telling the Sunday morning shows that “there’s a special place in hell” for world leaders who dare invoke the wrath of Trump. He even rescinded America’s routine endorsement of the ritual “final communique “these things usually end with, and although Trump boasted that on a scale of zero to ten America’s relationships with it’s most stalwart allies was a solid ten, and blasted the “fake news” for saying otherwise, the world’s stock markets and most other objective observers around the globe will likely agree things did not go well.
America suddenly finds itself in a war of words and tariffs with Canada, of all places. Canada has an annoying tendency to punt on third downs during their football games and hold its news conferences in both English and French, and they can be awfully smug about their single-payer health insurance program, which we don’t want here, but that hardly seems reason to be feuding with its pro-American and democratically-elected Prime Minister at a time when Trump is lavishing praise on the anti-American dictators in North Korea and Russia. Except for that brief “fifty-four-forty or fight” contretemps way back in 1846 the Canadians have been polite and reasonable neighbors, and given that the size of the population and economy of the country is much smaller than America’s we don’t see them as an economic threat to the United States. Trump might well have some legitimate gripes about existing trade policies over soft lumber or dairy products, but those have always been worked out through existing world trade courts and other institutions without any personally insulting “tweets,” and given that Canada has been stalwart ally in nearly every actual war America has ever fought we can well understand why they resent Trump starting a trade war on the grounds of national security concerns.
Trudeau bluntly told the international press, in both English and that annoyingly redundant French, that although the Canadians pride themselves on being polite and reasonable they won’t be “pushed around,” and that he would go to to the trenches in any old trade war that Trump might want to start. The newly-and-dubiously elected populist leader of Italy agreed with Trump about letting Russia back in the former Group of Eight gathering, but he and the other five heads of states all agreed to retaliate against any tariffs Trump might impose. If this is a ten on a zero-to-ten scale of relations with our most stalwart allies, we shudder to think what a zero might look like.
Trump’s die-hard supporters will love it, of course. Over the weekend we talked with one who regards Germany’s previously pro-American and still democratically-elected Chancellor Angela Merkel as America’s most formidable adversary, and is glad that at long last we have a president who stands up to those snooty Europeans. On all the Sunday morning news shows Trump’s spokespeople were talking about Canada “knifing us in the back,” and explaining that it was a brilliant three-dimensional chess move meant to warn that nutcase North Korean dictator that if Trump is so hard on his most stalwart allies they should surely fear what awaits his adversaries. We can’t shake a lingering worry, though, that Trump is instead playing 52-card pick-up with the post-World-War-II order.
We also can’t shake an even scarier worry that this is all somehow personal for Trump, and has little to do with the more important geo-political and economic realities. Until he rode down that escalator in Trump Tower to launch his presidential campaign we never paid much attention to the failed casino-and-strip-club mogul and reality star, but since then we’ve watched him carefully enough to note that he takes things personally, and that he cares little for geo-political and economic reality. All of the other six heads of state in the Group of Seven, including that populist and dubiously-elected Italian, clearly regard Trump as a boorish and uneducated vulgarian intent on disrupting the post-World-War-II international order, and Trump surely knows that they make fun of of him when he’s not around, just like those swells on Manhattan’s social used to do when the vulgar usurper from Queens once showed up at their gatherings,
There’s also no shaking a worry that Trump’s peculiar antipathy to Trudeau is because the Canadian Prime Minister is objectively a more physically-fit and full-haired and handsome fellow than Trump, with bi-lingual skills and far better poll numbers in his homeland since his feud with Trump started, and that Trump can’t stand that. It’s especially worrisome when Trump segues from his Canadian debacle to that hight-stakes summit in Singapore about the Korean peninsula.
Kim Jong Un is several inches shorter than Trump, and even fatter, with just as ridiculous a hair-do, but we don’t expect he’ll be intimidated. He’s got nuclear weapons and inter-contintental ballistic missiles on his side, as well as an imbalance of power of conventional weaponry poised within range of South Korea’s essential-to-the-world-oder capital, and Trump’s trade wars with the more intimidating nuclear power of China haven’t yet yielded the expected negotiating advantage, even if they have enriched the Trump family’s various businesses. The fact that Trump is feuding with America’s most stalwart allies probably doesn’t worry him at all.
Still, we hold out hope.

— Bud Norman