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Up Above Our Heads, We Hear Music in the Air

The big story across the United States today is an exceedingly rare coast-to-coast solar eclipse, and it feels as if the sun and the moon and all the heavens have providentially aligned to spare our nation one blessed day off from the rest of the news.
It’s the topic of conversation everywhere we go, and a welcome change of subject from the past week’s talk about torch-bearing American neo-Nazis and nuclear-armed North Korean commies and such, and so far as we can tell from all the press coverage it really is sort of a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Solar eclipses are rare, far rarer yet when they happen where the sun happens to be shining down on you, and even the children who are born today will probably never again get in on another one that at least partially obscures the sun from one coast of America to another. To use a hackneyed cliche quite literally, the odds really are astronomical.
Here in Wichita, Kansas, in the heart of America, it’s rigorously scheduled to go down between 11:36 a.m. and 2:32 p.m., with 92 percent of the sun blocked out by the moon at the height of the eclipse shortly after 1 p.m., and we plan to be here for that. Many people we know have purchased those very dark sunglasses or upgraded welders’ masks that promise to let you watch it happen without going blind, others are using the old-fashioned pin-prick in paper shined on another piece of technique that we used way back in elementary school days when the last partial eclipse came around here, some have even purchased sunglasses for the pets, and our plan is to avert our eyes from the sun and instead watch our fellow Wichitans and Americans watching the eclipse.
Even on a normal day we know better than to look at the sun around here. There’s an old Clint Eastwood movie where he snarls that Kansas doesn’t have anything but sunshine, sunflowers, and sons of bitches, and we have to concede there’s some truth to that. If you’re heading west on the Kellogg freeway at a certain point before sundown, especially around either of the equinoxes, you need heavy-duty sunglasses just to keep your corneas from being burned out, and we’re always relieved to hear on the local news radio station that there’s not been a major pile-up. The Kansas state motto is “ad aspera per astra,” which roughly translates from the Latin to “to the stars through difficulties,” and the first rule any Kansan learns about how to get there is that you don’t look at the brightest star even on the most normal day.
At some point this early afternoon the sun will be 92 percent obscured by the moon, and it will be interesting to look around the parks and the buildings and notice what effect that has. Our interests tend to the sociological rather than the astronomical, though, and we’ll be more eager to see what our neighbors and their pets make of it. At a few places out west and off to the east the eclipse will be total, and in certain American towns the morning and evening will become night for a few eerie moments, and we’ll be eager to read about what that was like, but unlike some friends of ours we haven’t booked a hotel room in those places to experience it ourselves.
We don’t doubt that it’s a memorable experience, but we’re not envious, as we’ll share it vicariously. For us the fun is knowing that from coast to coast the entire United States is sharing in a rare astronomical event, that we’re well-informed enough that few of us will go blind as a result, and watching our fellow Americans somehow united by the inexorable facts and unalterable rules of the universe.
Tomorrow the sun and moon and the rest of the heavens will once again follow their usual rules, the body politic probably won’t, but it’s nice that providence and its astronomical odds provided us a day off from all that and a reminder that we’re all still subject to the same objective reality.

— Bud Norman

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Still Fighting for a Lost Cause

Another horrific Islamist terror attack occurred in Spain on Thursday, which should have provided President Donald Trump an opportunity move past the racial controversies that have dogged him the past week. He responded to the deaths and injuries in Barcelona with an appropriately dignified statement of sympathy and support delivered via “tweet,” but spent more time in the day prolonging the racial controversies, provoking new ones, and picking fresh fights with his growing number of critics.
That appropriately dignified “tweet” to Spain was followed within an hour by another advising the Spaniards to summarily execute the captured terrorist suspects with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, based on a thoroughly-debunked story he likes to tell about the American an anti-insurrection campaign during the Philippines occupation, and thus far the Spaniards seem to be ignoring the counsel. A similarly shaky historical knowledge of the Civil War seemed to misinform another series of “tweets” lamenting the recent removal of several statues and other monuments honoring heroes of the Confederacy in several cities, including the Virginia town where a white supremacist rally set off deadly violence that started the past week’s lingering controversies.
There’s a reasonable case to be made for leaving the monuments that expressed the beliefs of past generations be, and letting future generations draw their own conclusions about them, but the aftermath of a deadly white supremacist rally is the wrong time to make the argument, and throughout the week Trump has demonstrated he’s not the right man.
He spoke of the “beauty” of some of the statues, but as a real estate developer in New York City he was notorious for razing such historically beautiful structures as Fifth Avenue’s Bonwit Teller Building, with its classic art deco bas-relief sculptures preserved only by court order and charity funds, and his aesthetic sensibilities are not well-regarded by most architectural critics. Trump is right to worry where such historical revisionism might end, as some people would like to see even such founding fathers as the slave-holding George Washington and Thomas Jefferson banished from places of honor in the public square, but he only bolsters their case when he consistently fails to not the crucial difference between the Revolutionary heroes who won America’s freedom and created a system of government that inexorably led to the abolition of slavery and those Confederates who fought to destroy that country and forever preserve the peculiar institution.
Some of those Confederate soldiers fought for the safety of their homes and families rather than for slavery, to be sure, and there’s certainly a strong case to be made that their descendants should be able to honor such bravery and sacrifice in their own communities. For many of those descendants the memorials express only the virtues of loyalty to home and family and the bravery that backs it up, values they now wed to the still-United States of America and feel with a deep regret for the worst of its past, and their views deserve the respect Trump has given them.
Any honest argument, however, requires a frank acknowledgement that slavery was an intolerable moral evil and that the Confederacy did wage its war of rebellion in defense of it, that many of the memorials were explicitly intended by their builders to honor that indefensible cause, and the sort of torch-bearing and shield-wielding and Nazi-flag-waving white supremacists who provoked the deadly violence in Virginia last weekend wanted the Gen. Robert E. Lee statue in the park preserved for the very same reason. Any honest argument would also have to address all the people in those communities whose ancestors were enslaved, who might have a very different view of the statues in their hometowns of the general who fought preserve slavery, and frankly acknowledge that any American president also owes those views his respect.
From our very old-fashioned Republican point of view, we also think it best this argument  he made at the local level. It’s taken a while, but those descendants of slaves and slave-holders and the folks who only fought for the Confederacy because that’s where their homes and family were have been working things out fairly well for themselves in the past few decades. There are still the occasional racial atrocities — yes, on both sides, although we don’t want to get into the score — but the region has seen rapid economic development, enough racial amity to draw many black migrants back from the north, and their college sports teams have been hugely successful. Southern legislatures and county commissions and town councils now work out such mundane matters as tax abatements and bridge-building contracts and zoning permits with black and white representatives, so we also trust their judgment whose statues should adorn their city parks. Here in Wichita in the heart of “bleeding Kansas” all the monuments are to the boys in blue, so we don’t have deal with these issues, but we trust that the people of the south interact with one another enough to know which white folks were for home and family and which black folks won’t want to tear down the Washington Monument,  and can come to a reasonable conclusion. If they decide they’d rather not honor Confederate generals, we figure there’s also a strong case to be made for that.
General Ulysses Grant allowed the Confederate army he’d vanquished to ride home atop their own horses with dignity and a military salute from his own victorious troops, and although Grant was also ruthless in battling the newly-formed Ku Klux Klan there was also a strong case to be made for that. The Reconstruction years of occupation by the Union army were harsh on the south in less defensible ways, too, but there was good reason to usher the south back into the Union with something of its dignity and values of home and family and martial spirit intact. President Abraham Lincoln made that case with enduring eloquence when he stated a policy of “Malice toward none and charity toward all.”
Trump is admittedly more the “punch back ten times harder” and summarily-execute-’em-with-a-bullet-dipped-in-pig’s-blood kind of president, though, so he’s handling the latest recurrence of the debate quite differently. The critics of his rather equivocal response to the white supremacist violence in Virginia now include South Carolina’s white Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who knows his constituency better than Trump and has calculated that he shouldn’t run for re-election on a neo-Confederate platform, and Trump “tweeted” back with a claim that the “publicity seeking” Senator had lied about him. South Carolina’s black Republican Sen. Tim Scott, who wouldn’t have been elected without a lot of votes from the descendants of slave-holders and those who fought for home and family, and strikes us as an impressive fellow, declared the president had abdicated any moral authority, but so far as we can tell he hasn’t yet been met with any presidential “tweets.”
By now the entirety of the Democratic party and much of the Republican party is critical of the president, along with most of the executives of the Fortune 500 companies and the entirety  of the  Joints Chiefs of Staff and most of the heads of state of our democratic allies, but Trump seems unlikely to back down any time soon and move on to such mundane matters as that debt-ceiling resolution that’s going to need Graham’s and Scott’s votes if the country doesn’t go bankrupt. Like the vanishing heroes of the Lost Cause, though, his most stubborn defenders can be assured that at least he fights.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Contretemps and the Coming Deadlines

The fallout from President Donald Trump’s response to the deadly violence that ensued from a white supremacist rally in Virginia over the weekend continued on Wednesday. Several more Republican congress members announced their objections to Trump’s statements, and the Fox News network reported that it couldn’t find any who were willing to speak on camera in the president’s defense. The Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a statement that was clearly an implicit rebuke of their Commander in Chief’s comments, and several administration officials were anxiously leaking that they had nothing to do with any of it. Also, the mayor of Phoenix asked Trump to cancel an upcoming rally in the city, and Trump had to shutter two advisory panels comprised of the nation’s top business executives and labor leaders rather than accept the mass protest resignations that were soon coming.
Sooner or later the news will move on to something else, including fresh twists on the old stories about “Russia” and White House in-fighting and the Republicans’ stalled agenda of unpopular legislation, but Trump will wade into all of them as a weakened president. The opprobrium of everyone from the leaders of the Democratic and Republican party to the nation’s top military brass to the chief executive officer of Campbell’s Soup will only shore up Trump’s “anti-establishment” credentials with his most stubborn base of support, but although they’re still numerous enough to fill an arena in Phoenix he’s going to need more help than that to start winning.
That stalled agenda of unpopular Republican legislations was already stalled and unpopular largely because of Trump’s low poll numbers, which are lower than any previous presidents’ had been at this point in a first term, and its hard to see how Trump’s past few days will win any new supporters. Trump’s past feuds with his party’s congressional leadership and his own cabinet members and the military’s top brass and the economy’s most successful executives were also largely responsible for the Republican agenda being both stalled and unpopular, which is what’s mostly driving those low poll numbers, and heightening the hostilities seems a questionable strategy.
An unpopular and defiantly anti-establshment president is going to have muster some some pretty ubermensch-ian will to power to prevail against the established order and the popular consensus that sustains it in the more consequential stories that are bound to soon come. The world is at least a troubled place as ever, with more than usual number of hot spots that have lately been forgotten, and it’s worth noting that many of our democratic allies Trump had already been feuding with also stated their objections to his statements on that white supremacist rally in Virginia. The Republicans’ stalled and unpopular agenda is coming up against some very hard deadlines next month, too, and some unifying presidential leadership is going to needed to avert all sorts of catastrophes.
By the end of September the Congress needs to pass some sort of convoluted continuing resolution or some such congressional gobbledygook to keep the government open for business, as well as yet another debt-ceiling increase to pay for it, lest the government suspend many services and perhaps even default on its debt. Both Trump and the more usual sorts of Republicans ran on a promise of a return to good old days of budgets bills that went through committee and got passed by both chambers of congress and were signed into law by the president, as well as promises of a quickly balanced budget, but at this point they’re highly unlikely to keep those promises right away, and even that convoluted continuing resolution and another round of borrowing is going to be hard to achieve.
The mild political consequences of a partial government shutdown and the far more dire economic ones of a default on the national debt give every Republican member of Congress some leverage in the upcoming negotiations on that convoluted continuing resolution, none of the Democratic members will have motive to offer the majority party any help, and Trump’s reputation as a master deal will be tested more severely than it was in any of his real estate or casino negotiations. When Trump’s casinos went bankrupt he came out many millions ahead while his creditors lost collective billions, and during the campaign he temporarily roiled the world’s markets by suggesting that American could win with the same methods, so we wouldn’t be surprised if the next dreary round of continuing resolution and debt-ceiling debates involves more than usual amount of brinksmanship.
We’ll hold out hope that most dire circumstances will somehow be forestalled, just as the more-than-usual-amount of brinkmanship with the North Koreans seems to have provided a brief respite from that round of news, and we’ll count on some sort of established order prevailing at least a little while longer. If the president could be please refrain from picking any more fights with the growing majority of Americans who aren’t among his most stubborn fans we’ll feel better yet.

— Bud Norman

On the Wisdom of Leaving Bad Enough Alone

Up until he took that famous escalator ride down to the lobby of Trump Tower and announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States, we happily paid little attention to Donald Trump. Since then we’ve been forced to pay attention, though, and have noticed that he never backs down, always fights back, and never fails to leave bad enough alone. President Trump demonstrated those same qualities yet again on Tuesday, and as usual they didn’t serve him well.
The whole mess started last Friday when a few hundred armed-and-armored Ku Klux Klansmen and neo-Nazis and various other white supremacist types from around the country descended on the picturesque and impeccably liberal college town of Charlottesville, Virginia, for a rally to protest the removal of a statue of Confederal Gen. Robert E. Lee from a local park and to more generally “Unite the Right.” Of course a larger crowd of counter-protestors turned out, there were predictably many street brawls between the more violent elements of both crowds, and it culminated with a muscle car driven by one of the white supremacists plowing into a crowd of peaceful counter-protestors and killing one while injuring 20 others. Several hours after the fatal incident the president addressed the nation, condemning the “hated, violence and bigotry, on many sides,” repeating “on many sides” for emphasis.
Except for the most loyal news outlets and their most steadfast callers and commenters, and the former Grand Wizard and the “alt-right” spokesman who co-hosted the rally and “tweeted” their thanks for the statement, the reviews were not kind. The entirety of the left, almost the entirety of the middle, and all the more respectable segments of the right were offended by the apparent moral equivalence between the KKK and neo-Nazis and the people who engaged in the fights they had clearly intended to provoke. Both the moderate and more traditionally conservative Republicans in Congress were more unequivocal in their denunciations of white supremacism, so were several administration officials, including the Vice President and that Attorney General the left considers a stone-cold racist, as well as the president’s favorite daughter, and by Monday Trump was reading a teleprompter-ed speech that actually named the KKK and neo-Nazism and racism in general while singling them out for specific presidential opprobrium.
The entirety of the left doubted that his heart was really in it, and most of the middle and those respectable quarters of the right were openly wondering what took him so long, but at least it gave his apologists in the administration and the most loyal news outlets something to work with. There were bound to deal with predictable some sidebar stories, which in this case involved a few Fortune 500 executives and organized labor honchos resigning from a presidential advisory board in protest of the president’s handling of the situation, but a careful moment of silence might have helped quiet the storm of negative coverage. Tuesday also brought news of the North Koreans doing their usual backing down from their usual bellicose rhetoric in the face’s of Trump’s more-bellicose-than-usual rhetoric, the latest leak about the “Russia” thing actually bolstered the president’s much-in-need-of-bolstering claim that he had nothing to do with it, and the stock markets were up and employment was still down and the weather was nice here in Wichita, but by now we’ve seen enough of the guy that we’re not the least bit surprised Trump chose to instead make the Charlottesville mess the top story for yet another day.
Instead, Trump started the day with a round of “tweets” insulting the business executives and labor leaders who had resigned from his manufacturing advisory panel.The first of them had been the head of the Merck pharmaceutical company, one of the few black CEOs to hold such a position, and Trump had already accused him “ripping off” his customers. The next two were the predictably white and male heads of a software giant and a prominent sports gear manufacturer, then the president of the labor-affiliated Alliance for American Manufacturing and the American-Federation of Labor-Congress of Interational Organizations. Trump tweeted back that there were plenty of good people willing to replace them and that they were “grandstanding,” apparently unaware of what a hoot that was to all but his most loyal supporters. In a later press conference he said the executives were leaving out of “embarrassment” about their companies’ reliance on foreign labor, which is also something of a hoot if you’ve been following the practices of his still-held businesses and those of his favorite daughter.
Facing the press, and its inevitable questions about that widely-panned first statement blaming the fatal violence that resulted from a KKK and neo-Nazi rally on “many sides, on many sides,” Trump again characteristically refused to back down, Monday’s teleprompter-ed back down notwithstanding. The Monday statement had included the presidential boilerplate about love and unity, but in the press conference he struck to the more unscripted hostility and divisiveness that has long characterized his interactions with the press. In between gratuitous insults of the press as an institution and certain reporters in particular, Trump defiantly defended his earlier moral equivalence between the KKK and the neo-Nazis and the people they wound up having street fights with, insisted there were some “very fine people” marching alongside those Confederate-and-Nazi-flag waving Klansmen and neo-Nazis, and worked in some recently rosy economic statistics.
There was enough truth to it to give Trump’s most loyal supporters something to work with, but they should resent that he’s once again made their job of persuading the rest of the country all the more difficult. The mostly placid and hippy-dippy counter-protesters did indeed include some of the violent “antifa” idiots who always show up itching for a fight, and indeed the left has all too often been reluctant and unequivocal in denunciations of their violence, but when they inevitably provoke the next round of unpleasantness their apologists will now be entitled to recall the last time around when the violent idiots on the right started it all and the right was slow and equivocal in its denunciations. We’re sympathetic to the arguments that the south is entitled to acknowledge its troubled history with a certain sort of ambiguous gratitude, and that there’s something unsettlingly Taliban-esque about the new one true faith wiping out any trace of any previous civilization, but we can’t imagine any sort of very fine people who might make these arguments while marching alongside torch-bearing and armed-and-armored Confederate-and-Nazi-flag-waving Klansmen and neo-Nazis.
Another thing we’ve noticed about Trump since his famous escalator ride to the lobby of Trump Tower is that he’s not much of a student of history, so of course he wondered aloud if the removal of a Gen. Robert E. Lee statue would ultimately lead to the removal of monuments to George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, who were similarly tainted by the sin of slave ownership. He touched on a true point well worth considering, that America’s all-too-human past should be judged by where it ultimately led and might yet lead rather than all the all-too-human stops it’s made along the way, but Tuesday was a particularly inopportune time in history and Robert E. Lee a particularly wrong example to make the case. Washington was the general who won the country’s independence and established a high example of leadership as its first president, Jefferson was a reluctant slave-holder who wrote the Declaration of Independence that President Abraham cited as his authority to quell the Confederate rebellion and abolish slavery, whereas Lee was the general who led a rebellion against the country that was explicitly explained by the rebels as a defense of chattel slavery, and despite Lee’s many martial and other virtues the aftermath of a deadly riot provoked by the KKK and neo-Nazis and other white supremacists is not a ripe moment to come to his defense.
During that typically disastrous press conference Trump also asserted that the matter of public monuments in such towns as Charlottesville are best left to the local citizenry, and we couldn’t agree more with that sentiment. He seems not to have noticed that the mayor and city council and the general consensus of the picturesque and impeccably liberal town of Charlottesville and its mayor and city council had decided not to have one of its most picturesque parks devoted to the memory of Lee, however, nor that the opposition were almost entirely a bunch of armed-and-armored Klansmen and neo-Nazis and other white supremacists from out of town.
Yes, Trump is quite right that the Washington and Jefferson memorials should forever stand, but when we eventually get around to that argument he won’t have helped the case.
Trump still isn’t backing down, continues to fight back, as ever refuses to leave bad enough alone, and so for now at least we have to admit that it’s worked out pretty well for him so far. He’s indisputably the President of the United States, as he often reminds everyone, and indisputably we are not.
We can’t help but wonder, though, how many fights this tough guy can start and still somehow come out on top. By now Trump is feuding not only with the entirety of the left and most of the middle and the more respectable quarters of the right, along with much of his own administration, but also the Boy Scouts of America and several of top law enforcement officials in America’s most populous cities and a loud segment of the Fortune 500 as well as all the late-night comics, so we’re not surprised the latest poll has Trump at a 34 percent approval rating. Other and older polls have him in the low 40s, but even the most favorable have a majority expressing disapproval, and we doubt that Trump’s never-back-down and always-fight insticts will serve him well. He’ll need those Fortune 500 executives to get his tax agenda passed, and could have used some help from the organized labor honchos and the votes of their hard-hat rank-and file on his infrastructure plans and immigration policies, and we can’t see any compensating votes he’s picked up in the last few days.
Better Trump had stuck to the teleprompter-ed script and left bad enough alone.

— Bud Norman

The Center Asserts Itself

President Donald Trump specifically denounced the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis and other white supremacists on Monday, with none of the talk about the bigotry and violence of “many sides” that characterized his earlier statement about the deadly events the white supremacists had provoked over the weekend in Virginia, and we suppose it was better late than never. Still, widespread suspicions will likely linger about his sincerity.
No one should suspect that Trump has any affinity for the violent sort of white supremacists who provoked the events in Virginia, but by now no one can trust his commitment to racial equality. Trump’s real estate business has been fined for discrimination against black tenants, he continued calling for the execution of five black teenagers convicted of rape even after scientific evidence had definitively proved their innocence, suggested that judges of hispanic descent were unfit to hear any case he was involved in, “re-tweeted” bogus statistics and racist “memes” from white supremacists web sites, and this weekend wasn’t the first time he was slow to denounce the violent sort of white supremacists who had openly expressed their support of him. The White House chief strategist is Steve Bannon, former editor of a web site he described as a “platform the ‘alt-right,'” other key aides have offered apologetics for the “alt-right,” and if you’re not hep to latest political lingo the “alt-right” is basically white supremacism with pretensions of intellectual respectability.
Our liberal friends would cite Trump’s border enforcement policies, restrictions on travel from some several Muslim-majority countries, and willingness to investigate the affirmative action policies at publicly-funded universities as further evidence of his racism, but except for that stupid wall idea we think there’s a sound conservative case to be made that each of these benefit the country as a whole. Those arguments have to be precisely stated, though, and with due respect to the complicated array of perspectives in such a polyglot country as this, and without any lingering doubts on the part of the listener about the speaker’s sincere commitment to racial equality. Trump, alas, seems the wrong guy for a job with those particular requirements.
Which is not good for the country at large, and as straight white conservative male Republicans out here in the heartland we’re bearing some small part of the burden. We’re “Bleeding Kansas” Republicans, whose political forebears signed up in record numbers to fight the Confederacy and the Nazis, whose flags those white supremacist idiots in Virginia were waving, and for years we’ve struggled to convince others on that complicated array of perspectives that our commonsensical views on taxation and regulation and defense spending all the rest of it are not tainted by association with those noxious causes. Trump’s delayed denunciation of the KKK and neo-Nazis, and continuing silence about the re-branded white supremacism of the “alt-right” elements that are still next door to the Oval Office, do not make our task any easier.
Nor do Trump’s apologists further the conservative Republican cause. Some of the first punches that were thrown when those white supremacists gather in Virginia came from counter-protestors, to be sure, but others just as surely thrown were thrown by the armored-and-armed protestors who started the whole mess, and it did turn out to a white supremacist who is charged with ramming his car into a crowd of protestors and killing an especially non-violent counter-protestor, and it was not a time to be equally condemning of “many sides.” There have indeed been far too many case of similarly unprovoked violence by the worst elements of the left, including assaults on people leaving Trump rallies, which the left is indeed not similarly condemned for, but the aftermath of a deadly melee that started with a bunch of armored-and-armed white supremacists invading a picturesque college town is not the right time to be making that argument.
Most of the Republican party, at least, moved quicker and convincingly to disassociate themselves from the KKK and neo-Nazism. Texas’ Sen. Ted Cruz is widely vilified by the left as an extremist conservative, but he went to “Twitter” shortly after the deaths to denounce the racism that clearly the cause of the tragedy, and it vindicated our vote for him the Kansas Republican caucus. The party’s congressional leaders and the Vice President and the president’s favorite daughter were also well ahead of him in singling out the KKK and neo-Nazis for condemnation, as were the more respectable quarters of the conservative print media. The comments sections were full of people still fuming about the past violence by the sleazier segments of the left, along with all the usual conspiracy theories about George Soros and Jewish cabals paying for it all, but the mainstream Republican reaction was enough to prompt Trump’s more specific remarks on Monday.
So for now the center holds, and the news will likely soon return to North Korea and that Russia thing, with a difficult debt ceiling fight in Congress quickly coming up, but those stories probably won’t be helpful, and Trump and such Trump-wary Republicans as ourselves will be diminished. The KKK and neo-Nazi story grew another day’s new pair of legs when the chairman of the giant Merck pharmacy corporation, one of the very few black Fortune 500 chief executive officers, resigned his post on a White House advisory council in protest of Trump’s initial statement, and Trump “tweeted” back a petty insult about the company’s “ripoff” drug prices, so that also doesn’t help the free market conservative cause.
Trump’s specific denunciation of white supremacism is better late than never, though, and a hopeful sign that the center will somehow hold. Nudging the country’s path slightly to the rightward direction we’d prefer, though, won’t be any easier.

— Bud Norman

Charlottesville and the Crucial Center

Charlottesville, Virginia, is one of the prettiest towns in America, and home to one of its most venerable institutions of higher learning, but over the weekend it became the tragic focal point of the country’s ugliest and most stupid elements.
A few hundred proudly self-described Ku Klux Klansmen and neo-Nazis and various other far-right white supremacists who prefer to be called “alt-right” gathered in a local park with a soon-to-be-removed statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to “Unite the Right,” there was of course the usual larger gathering of counter-protestors that included the usual small number of “anarchist” and “antifa” far-left idiots itching for a fight. The inevitable resulting skirmishes culminated with a Dodge muscle car allegedly driven by an alleged Nazi sympathizer plowing into an annoying self-righteous but entirely peaceable crowd of counter-protestors, killing one and injuring 19 others, and a couple of law enforcement officers dying in a helicopter crash while dealing with melee. That culminated in another round of street brawls between the self-described racists and the so-called anti-fascist forces on the streets of Seattle, Washington, and much rhetorical skirmishing in Washington, D.C., as well as everywhere in the real and virtual worlds, so at this point there’s no telling how it all plays out.
Everything in the news these days has something to do with President Donald Trump, of course, so he wound up playing his usual starring role in the whole mess. He responded the car-plowing-into-the-peeaceable-counter-protestor situation more slowly than he does to news of Islamic or left-wing terrorism, which drew criticism from the usual corners, and when he did his statement condemned the hatred and bigotry and violence on “many sides,” repeating “on many sides” just for emphasis, and that drew criticism from pretty much everywhere. Most of the Republican party had already issued statements that unequivocally condemned the KKK and Nazism and any other hateful movements that consider themselves the “right,” as they’ve vainly and nobly struggled to do since the Civil War, and of course the Democrats had a field day with Trump’s more tepid response.
The KKK and the Nazis and the “alt-right” and the rest of the hateful movements that claim to be “right” were publicly pleased with Trump’s comments, though, and there was enough of a reasonable argument for them that so were many of his more reasonable supporters. There is indeed a similarly sliver-sized segment at the leftmost corners of the political spectrum that routinely engage in violence, often directed at Trump’s most visible supporters, some of whom no doubt played their role in the unpleasantness in Charlottesville over the weekend, and it’s only fair that should also be condemned. Democrats are indeed too often slow and equivocal in their denunciations of the violence associated with the black-hooded “antifas” or the more deadly riots that have followed Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and the double standard reasonably fuels that lingering reasonable suspicion of a certain anti-white animus on the left which did so much to get Trump elected.
There will surely be plenty of future opportunities to condemn that leftist strain of political violence, though, and to our old-fashioned Republican sensibilities the past weekend seemed an especially inopportune moment to do so. In this case all of the tragic events were set in motion when a bunch of KKK and neo-Nazi and more politely named “alt-right” types from around the country invaded a lovely town that is home to a respected university to assert their hateful ideologies, and it culminated with one of that crowd’s muscle car plowing into a crowd of annoyingly self-righteious but entirely peaceable counter-protestors, so it was not the time to assert a moral equivalence between people who are marching down a public street armed with shields and helmets and spears waving Nazi and Confederate flags of a picturesque college town and the people who were tempted to punch them in the nose. It’s not only a losing political argument, unless you’re trying to maintain a shrinking base of support, but it’s also on shaky moral grounds.
Sooner or later those ugly and stupid and itching-for-a-fight types on the left will be responsible for some similar tragedy, and when it happens we want to be able to unequivocally condemn it without any plausible charges of hypocrisy. By now there’s a large segment of the right that argues reasonably enough that the left is willing to resort to the bare-knuckle rhetoric of Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” and outright violence to achieve their goals, and there’s enough of the right that thinks it must respond in kind to counter the threat, but we’re still hoping it won’t wind up with those end-of-the-Weimar-Republic street brawls between the Commies and the Nazis, which didn’t end well for anybody.
Those annoyingly self-righteous but entirely peaceable folks just left of the center seem willing to work things out amicably, and as old-fashioned and too-old-for-street-brawling re-constructionist Republicans just to the right of the center we’re eager to do the same, and we hold out hope that most of our party’s unequivocal repudiation of the Nazis and the rest of its violent elements will be met with the left’s unequivocal repudiation of its worst actors. Several White House officials have lately emphasized that the president’s “all sides” statements obviously included the KKK and the Nazis and the rest of the “alt-right,” as per usual after his more controversial statements, but as per usual the president himself hasn’t backed down, and it remains to be seen how that will work out.
As we await the culmination of this latest ugly and stupid episode in America’s history, we’ll offer our prayers that peaceable counter-protestor and the brave law enforcement officers who died trying to keep some semblance of peace in a lovely southern town, and our hope that the center somehow holds.

— Bud Norman

A Two-Front War of Words, For Now

President Donald Trump was waging a two-front war of words on Thursday, against both the nutcase dictatorship of North Korea and his own party’s Senate majority leader. Trump has bragged that he has all the best words, but we worry if they’re right ammunition for either conflict.
The feud with Kentucky’s Sen. Mitch McConnell is somewhat the less worrisome, as all the talk about the “nuclear option” in the Senate is merely figurative, but it’s also consequential and we don’t see it ending well for either side or the country at large.
McConnell stands accused by the president of failing to round up the necessary 51 votes out of a 52-vote Republican majority to to make good on the on the party’s longstanding and the president’s more recently embraced promise to repeal and replace the hated Obamacare law, and he’s indisputably guilty as charged. There’s a strong argument to be made that Trump also bears at least some of the responsibility as the titular leader of the party, given that he never set foot outside the White House to rally public support for any of the various bills he never seemed to fully understand, but Trump “tweeted” all the blame to McConnell. McConnell had the temerity during a Rotary Club meeting in his home state to offer the mitigating circumstances that “Now our new president has, of course, not been in this line of work before, and I think had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process,” so of course that escalated the war words.
Trump quickly and correctly “tweeted” back that his expectations of a quick repeal-and-replace had been fueled by the Republicans’ promises of the last seven years, then later told the press that he’ll await whether McConnell has to step down because of it, wisely not noting that was a lot longer than he’d been on the bandwagon, so he seems to have the upper hand. McConnell has long been the “establishment” bogeyman of the Grand Old Party on all the talk radio shows where most of Trump’s most loyal supporters get their news, Trump is their hero of the burn-the-establishment-down style of conservatism, and the hated liberal media aren’t likely to come to McConnell’s rescue, so Trump seems to have at least bolstered his base in their intr-party dispute.
The three lost votes were a Senator from deep blue Maine who’s about as red as you could hope for, another equally contrarian woman from contrarian Alaska who didn’t take kindly to Trump’s threats to punish her entire state for her lack of loyalty, and a dying old prisoner of war hero that the president once insulted as a guy who “got caught.” That bill they were expected to pass was polling in the mid-teens, the president who was strong-arming them was polling in the 30s, and even here in deep-red Kansas we had a Senator who cast a killing vote against one of the the various versions, and an awful lot of Republican senators seemed eager to move on, despite Trump’s “twitter” tantrums, so at this point we don’t expect Trump’s words to bully McConnell or anybody else into trying again.
Best to move on to such sensible Republican promises as corporate tax cuts and and fiscal solvency and an upright military posture, but that will likely require both Trump and McConnell working together with other poll-watching Republican votes, and we can’t see how a war of words between the two about the lost battle of Obamacare is going tho help any of that along. The rest of the Republican domestic agenda is pretty dry stuff, requiring all sorts of nuanced explanations about why it really is all pretty sensible, and Trump seems far too colorful and McConnell for too drab for either of them to do the job. What with the all the intra-party feuding, such sensible reforms seem all the less likely.
At this point we expect it will come down to another Republican argument about whom to blame. Trump’s base will hear on talk radio that it’s all the establishment’s fault, the high-brow but low-circulation establishment press will reluctantly make the case for McConnell’s mitigating circumstances, and of course the rest of the media that the rest of the country hears will delight in the in-fighting. For now the rest of the country seems predominate, and although Trump seems to be winning the intra-party battle he seems to be losing the broader.
Our patriotic instinct is to rally around any old Republican or Democrat president during a time of potential literal nuclear war, but we can’t shake a nagging suspicion that Trump isn’t trying to similarly shore up his political base. The nutcase dictatorship of North Korea has lately acquired the ability to place a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental missile that can reach strategic American soil, Trump has defiantly responded that any further further threats would be met with “fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which the world has never seen,” and that was met with the nutcase North Korean dictatorship’s explicitly-stated threat to land a missile just off Guam and some taunts from North Korean generals that Trump was “old” and “deranged” and “senile,” but for now it’s just a verbal conflagration.
Trump’s tough talk and caustic put-downs of the past four presidential administrations and the many failures of America’s intelligence as he addressed the current crisis probably shored up that that burn-down-the-establishment base, but we suspect it  played less well in Seoul and Tokyo and Beijing and the rest of the world. As much as we’re rooting for the president in a time of potential nuclear war, we’ve seen enough of the guy that we’re worried how he’ll personally he might respond to such taunts as “old” and “senile” and “golfs too much,” which might enough to provoke a literally nuclear response.,”
Back when it was just intra-party Republican politics, Trump could “tweet” with impunity about “Lyin'” Sen. Ted Cruz or Sen. Rubio “Little” Marco or a “look-at-that-face” female opponent and be assured they’d be too gentlemanly to respond by calling him “Fat” Donald or “Sleazy” Trump, but that nutcase dictatorship in North Korea seems to be playing by different rules. There’s an argument to be made for Trump’s apocalyptic hyperbole, given the undeniable failure of the last 50-plus years of establishment policies to forestall this awful moment, but we’d like to think it all run past the more seasoned foreign-policy heads and coordinated with a well-oiled machine of diplomats and public relations who were part of a coordinated strategy.
That’s what even such a stodgy and failed old Republican establishment fellow as a President McConnell would do, and that’s what we’d do our amateurish best to do, with even a damned old Democrat likely to do the same, so,we hope these competing instincts of the Republican party will somehow prevail on both fronts of this so-far-merely-war-of-words.

— Bud Norman

A Pre-Dawn Twist on the Russia Story

The latest intriguing twist in the ongoing story about “Russia” — if you know what we mean, and by now we assume you do — is the revelation of a pre-dawn raid by the Federal Bureau of Investigation at the home of the one-time campaign chairman for now-President Donald Trump. It’s not clear what the G-men were looking for, and unlikely they’ll find that smoking gun Trump’s most bitter enemies are so ardently hoping for, but a pre-dawn raid is pretty darned intriguing nonetheless.
Paul Manafort was already providing plenty of intrigue in this whole “Russia” story. Long before he became the Trump campaign’s chairman Manafort was notorious for the millions he’d made lobbying on behalf of  despots such as the Philippine’s Fernando Marcos and Angola’s Jonas Savimbi, and The New York Times reported shortly before his resignation from the campaign that he’d also made an undisclosed $12.7 million secretly lobbying on behalf of the Russian-linked government in Ukraine. Since then it has also been reported that he’s somehow $17 million in debt to Russian interests, that his name kept coming up in conversations among Russian officials that various intelligence agencies here and abroad were monitoring, that he sat in on that meeting that Donald Trump Jr. arranged with a Russian lawyer on the clear understanding they would be getting help direct from the Russian government, and remained in frequent contact with the campaign even after his resignation.
Throw in a pre-dawn raid by the FBI, and it all looks pretty fishy. Some of the stories are anonymously sourced from outlets that Trump’s most faithful allies can dismiss as “The New York Slimes” and “The Washington Compost,” but the dictator-friendly lobbying business was publicly boasted about, the source for the meeting with the Russian lawyer was Trump Jr. himself, all those anonymous sources have lately been mostly confirmed by White House responses, and there’s nothing in Manafort’s biography that makes any of it at all seem implausible. The story about the pre-dawn raid is also anonymously sourced, but so far there haven’t been on-the-record denials, and if true it means that some federal judge somewhere agreed with a special counsel’s argument that there was credible reason to believe that evidence of a crime would be found at the home where the search warrant was issued. Although Manafort has provided numerous documents and sworn testimony to closed Congressional committees and various law enforcement officers, it also means a judge agreed that he could not be trusted to voluntarily preserve or hand over everything he had.
There’s nothing in any of the reporting to link Trump to anything Manafort might have done, except to the slight but nonetheless embarrassing extent that Trump did once hire the guy to be his campaign chairman, but there’s nothing in any of this that can help the president. If there is even the slightest link between Trump and anything Manafort might have done, Manafort now seems to have a compelling motive to cut a deal in exchange for any testimony he might provide about anyone higher up in the campaign he once chaired. He might yet prove completely innocent of any wrongdoing, or steadfastly loyal to the president who kicked him off a campaign, but the way things have been going for Trump lately we don’t think he can count on that. Trump’s general “Russia-schmussia-what’re-you-talkin-’bout?” defense isn’t holding up lately in the Congressional committees of special counsel investigations or public opinion polls, and there’s no way a pre-dawn raid on his former campaign chairman’s home is going to help.
Except with the hard-core fans, who will see it as further evidence that the deep state conspiracy to oust Trump is up to ever more nefarious deeds. They’re already convinced that special counsel Robert Mueller, a lifelong Republican who rose through the ranks of the Justice Department during two Republican presidents and was appointed director of the FBI by a third Republican president, is a tool of an establishment plot to destroy Trump before he can destroy it. They note the indisputable fact that Mueller’s team of highly-specialized investigators includes several who donated to campaigns of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, but they ignore the indisputable fact that so did Trump’s own lawyer in this mess and Trump’s daughter and son-in-law and Trump himself, and they seem not to have noticed that Mueller’s hires are highly-specialized in money-laundering and Russian interests and other areas that seem ripe for investigation.
None of this yet amounts to that smoking gun that Trump’s most bitter enemies are so ardently hoping for, but all of it makes it harder for his most loyal allies to argue Russia-schmussia-what’re-you-talkin’-bout.”

— Bud Norman

Another Scare from the Korean Peninsula

The nutcase dictatorship of North Korea has been a problem for America since before we were born, but lately it has become scarier than ever. Fox News had a story about the North Koreans recently loading cruise missiles aboard a patrol ship, the Washington Post reported they now have a nuclear missile small and light enough to fit atop the intercontinental ballistics missiles they’ve recently successfully tested, and on Tuesday President Donald Trump responded that “North Korea best not make any more threats” lest it be “met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
That successful ICBM test brought down severe economic sanctions on North Korea from the entirety of the United Nations, and Trump’s rhetoric drew the predictable bipartisan criticisms, but as usual neither seems to care much what the rest of the world thinks. As has been the case since before we were born there are no easy solutions to the problem, but this time around are openly threatening the hard ones. By now we’ve lived through more North Korea scares than we can recall, but this time around seems different.
As discomfiting as Trump’s remarks were, we won’t pile on the bipartisan heap with our usual criticisms. The critics rightly noted that Trump’s characteristically un-parsable language was eerily similar to the apocalyptic hyperbole the North Koreans have long spewed, but the past 50 years of more diplomatic language haven’t prevented this scary moment, so there might be something to to be said for saying things in a way the nutcase North Koreans understand. All through the past 50-plus scary years of both Democratic and Republican administrations America’s clearly understated policy has been that any nuclear attack on our soil will be met with a devastating response, which has thus far worked well enough with far more formidable enemies than the North Koreans, so we won’t object if Trump is merely overstating the same old policy in typically Trumpian fashion.
That ominously-named policy of mutually assured destruction maintained a relative peace in the post-nuclear age because America has has been demonstrably able to make good on the threat, so neither do we mind that Trump is proceeding apace with the previously scheduled war-game exercises with the South Korean democracy and other relatively sane Asian allies and other displays of America’s military might. We’re not sure if the more war-wary and wised-up generals and admirals who surround Trump signed off on that “fire and fury and frankly power” statement, but we’re sure the rest of it wouldn’t be happening without their assent, and we trust that like any soldiers they’re more interested in deterring a war than provoking one.
Which is not to say that Trump’s role in all of this isn’t also a bit discomfiting. His characteristically mangled English leaves some room for doubt about whether that “fire and fury and frankly power” would follow mere threats, and what levels of threat would trigger it, and sometimes there’s something to be said for more diplomatic language. On Tuesday he was “tweeting” that Fox News report full of the anonymously-leaked intelligence sources he usually rails against, seemed to be taking some heed of the Washington Post story with same intelligence agencies whose conclusions about Russian meddling in the past election he has scoffed at, and he wasn’t ready to meet the press and formulate anything at all reassuring. Should the hard solutions become necessary Trump will need bipartisan and widespread public support to pursue them, and so far he’s failed to achieve that. Most of the rest of the world tries to translate his un-parsable English and finds him a bit nutty, too, and that also doesn’t help.
Which is not to say that Trump is nearly as nutty at that nutcase North Korean dictatorship, though, and we hope that both the domestic and international audience will keep in mind that they’re bad guys of this scary moment. Trump’s intrepid if occasionally independent United Nations ambassador did a great job of bringing even the Russians and Chinese on board with the sanctions, and those planned war games exercises might prove an effective bargaining chip in yet another round of negotiations, and for now we can still hope that with the help of all those war-way and wised-up generals his famed real-estate-deal negotiating abilities will suffice to at least kick this radioactive can a bit further down the road toward some sensible solution. We’ll also hope that the nutcase North Korean dictatorship has a few war-wary and wised-up generals of its own, too.

— Bud Norman

McMastering Trumpian Foreign Policy

According some segments of the conservative media, one of those “deep state” “establishment” “globalist” types threatening President Donald Trump is his own national security advisor. Highly decorated combat veteran and former three star Army general H.R. McMaster stands accused of various heresies against the “nationalist” and “populist” and “alt-right” strains of conservatism, and it’s a more consequential story that the rest of all the palace intrigue that’s been going on at the White House.
McMaster is well-regarded by some other segments of the conservative media as one of the administration grown-ups needed to restrain Trump’s worst tendencies, and enjoys the begrudging respect of the Democrats on Capitol Hill, but such establishmentarian respect is all the more reason for the burn-it-down sorts of conservatives to revile him. They’re livid that he renewed a national security clearance for President Barack Obama’s national security advisor, persuaded Trump to sign off on a statement that Iran has thus far been in compliance with a deal struck with Obama regarding its nuclear weapons program, once worked at a British think-tank partly funded by the hated progressive billionaire George Soros, and has generally been an impediment to the isolationist and Russia-friendly bomb-all-the-Muslims-and-take-their-oil foreign policy they prefer.
Worse yet, McMaster seems to have gained influence in the administration since former four-star Marine general John Kelly took over as chief staff. Kelly has a reputation as someone who doesn’t suffer fools and idiots lightly, so his first order of business was to get rid of a White House communications officer who had proved spectacularly incompetent after a week on the job, and his second was to help McMaster defenestrate three members of the national security council. Each were allies of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, and if you’ve been binge-watching the Trump show you should already know that he’s the administration’s true keeper of the “nationalist” and “populist” and “alt-right” faith.
Bannon had already lost his seat on the council after bi-partisan complaints that he had no qualifications whatsoever for the job, and his ideological ally Mike Flynn had resigned the national security advisor post in record time after it was revealed he had lied about about his dealings with Russia and talk about all sorts of other foreign intrigues started to surface, and for the moment the Bannonite vision seems to be fading. The former four-star Marine general James Mattis is still Secretary of Defense, and despite his “Mad Dog” nickname he’s also considered one of the restraining grown-ups that the establishment Republicans praise and the Democrats begrudgingly respect.
Not that you’d notice, but Rex Tillerson is still the titular Secretary of State, and the former top Exxon boss has surprisingly proved a stalwart defender of the post-war global order. You can’t help but have noticed United Nations ambassador Nikki Halley after her fine work winning an international agreement to impose sanctions on North Korea for its recent belligerence, but you might not recall she’s also often stood in opposition to a Bannonite foreign policy. With so many foreign policy positions still unfilled, largely due to the administration;s failure to find nominees with the requisite credentials who haven’t publicly expressed previous doubts about Trump’s foreign policy campaign rhetoric, Trump is pretty much stuck with the establishment he promised to burn down.
Hence the recent assault on McMaster in certain segments of the conservative media. One of the most vociferous critics has been BreitbartNews.com, which was formerly run by Bannon as a self-described “platform for the alt-right,” and others are the internet conspiracy theorists Alex Jones and Michael Cernovich, but several of the talk radio hosts and more mainstream conservative outlets such as the Daily Caller have also been piling on, as has the Jerusalem Post’s usually reliable Caroline Glick. They all combine for a relatively small and already-on-board audience, but that audience does include Trump, so it will be interesting to see what effect they have.
Meanwhile pretty much all the mainstream press and certain segments of the conservative media will argue that McMaster is one of the much-needed grownups in the administration, and we’ll go right ahead and pile on ourselves. We’re no fans of Rice, but security clearances have always been granted as a routine courtesy to past national security advisors, and we’d like to see that tradition continue to benefit McMaster some day, and we can’t see what damage she’s likely to do at this point. That deal Obama struck with Iran was every bit as awful as Trump said it was back on the campaign trail, but if the Iranians are shrewd enough to be complying at this point then denying it would only undermine our nation’s credibility when Trump at long last gets around to his promised so-great-your-head-will-spin re-negotiation. Except for the fact some money came from the admittedly noxious Soros, there’s nothing we can find in any of the stories about that British think-tank that make us think worse of McMaster.
As much as we respect the formidable Ms. Glick there’s nothing we can find in McMaster’s history that suggests he’s insufficiently committed to America’s alliance with Israel, and even if he’s not a bomb-all-Muslims-and-take-their-oil kind of guy we figure that’s because he has better ideas about how to deal with the problems that certain segments of the Islamic world undeniably pose. According to all sorts of leaks he was one of the people who pressured Trump into belatedly affirming America’s commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and otherwise counseled the same unfriendly posture toward Russia’s expansionist ambitions that the Republican party had maintained since the dawn of the Cold War, but that’s fine by us.
Trump has thus far publicly “tweeted” his support for McMaster, but there are leaks that he’s privately fuming to friends that he wishes Flynn was still on the job, and on the campaign trail he boasted that he knows more the generals, adding his usual “believe me,” and he hates to disappoint the loyal fans who listen to Jones and Cernovich and the radio talkers. Getting rid of McMaster would surely fuel all the mainstream media talk about the “Russia” thing, but the fans won’t believe a word of that anyway, and Trump has proved entirely unpredictable about everything, so we’ll not venture any guesses how McMaster comes out at the end of this story.
We hope he’ll come out ahead, though, and will at least get his security clearance approved by the next Democratic administration’s national security advisor. During the first Iraq War Captain McMaster led nine American tanks into battle against 28 Iraqi Revolutionary Guard tanks and won by a score of 28-to-zero, was a fellow at the Hoover Institute while rising to his three-star general rank through a series of challenging commands, and despite such establishment credentials he strikes us a very serious man. Trump’s bone spurs prevented him from serving heroically, alas, and he later said his personal Vietnam was avoiding venereal disease on the New York City dating scene of the ’70s, and all his campaign rhetoric about NATO’s obsolescence and Russia’s moral equivalence with the United States and taking the Muslim’s oil struck us as similarly unserious, so we think he could us some establishmentarian grown-ups around him.
That will disappoint the fans, but they’ll surely get over it, and we think that for now they’re outnumbered by the liberals and certain segments of the conservatives and pretty much everybody else.

— Bud Norman