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A Family’s Leave From the Daily News

There’s no escaping the news lately, but we did a pretty good job of dodging the worst of it on Wednesday. A gorgeous first day of summer on the southern prairie was instead to devoted to a celebration of a beloved cousin’s 50 years of fruitful marriage to about as a great a guy as you’d ever hope to meet, complete with a most ameliorative reunion with some other beloved family members, and some classic regionalist school prairie scenery and some excellent music from the classic American songbook coming direct from outer space along the way.
The day began damnably early at 11:30 a.m. when we arrived groggy-eyed but fully intact and neatly-pressed at our folks’ swank and hard-earned retirement village, where we had coffee and french fries and some convivial conversation with the folks. Our beloved Pop also dearly loves our beloved cousin and that great guy she’s been married to for a noteworthy 50 full years, along with the rest of his beloved wife’s complicatedly extended family, but some recent back problems prevented him from attending the party, so the drive from Wichita, Kansas, to Edmond, Oklahoma was just us and our beloved Mom.
As usual the folks’ television was tuned to Fox News, and although the sound was muted the caption at the bottom of the screen explained that the special counsel investigating President Donald Trump on various possible charges had hired as an investigator yet another donor to the presidential campaign of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. We’d been listening to Rush Limbaugh on the way across town and we’re already hipped to that fact on our way from the heart of the city to its far-eastern edges, but were fortunately distracted from all that by a tricky shower curtain Pop needed installed, and which eventually brightened up the bathroom. After brunch we headed south with Mom toward good old Oklahoma in the folks’ swank and hard-earned Lexus, with the default Fox News playing on the radio from outer space, but when it started repeating itself on the way down I-35 we agreed to switch over to the outer space station that plays Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee and Tony Bennett and Blossom Dearie singing the songs from when Mom was young and before we were born.
That lulled our also nocturnal and less caffeinated Mom into a half-sleep, not quite sleepy enough to prevent her fine harmonizing to the standards, while the folks’ fancy car did half the driving for us in a strangely unfamiliar smooth way, and except for the blight of those windmills that pepper the route we enjoyed the music and the sight of the southern plains on a gorgeous first day of summer. A sultry-voiced global positioning expert guided us to our destination, and after we punched in the correct address she led us through a complicated maze of the northern greater Oklahoma City area to our actual destination, where we got to spend some quality time with a beloved aunt and her damnably beloved husband, who is after so many years of fruitful marriage a fully-fledged whether-he-likes-it-or-not uncle. Our Mom and our aunt are the last surviving sisters of beloved grandparent’s four daughters, and it was good to share in their hard-earned intimacy, and to share some guy talk with an uncle who is a guy we can’t describe without going novel-length.
From there we went to the swank and hard-earned venue where that beloved cousin and her greatest guy you’d ever hope to meet husband were celebrating 50 years of marriage and and wonderful children and wonderful grandchildren, and along with everything else the food was great. We’d been ring-bearers at the couple’s wedding and our cuter selves were featured in many of the photographs, and we shared a much-needed hug with the bride’s younger bachelorette sister, who might even be a more favorite cousin of ours, and we shared a couple of slightly salty doctor jokes with the couples’ doctor son, which he seemed to enjoy, and shared a delightful hug with the still-gorgeous second cousin or cousin one removed or cousin-in-law or whatever she is who had been the flower girl. All the couple’s grandkids were seated at a nearby table, and we noticed that the girls were all quite pretty and the couple of grandsons quite handsome, and they were all so well-behaved.
The trip back was under a starless sky, but the great old American songbook was still coming in from outer space and the ride was still seductively smooth and Mom was at her nocturnal best. There was the kind of frank family talk that only comes after 57 years or so of intimate familiarity with one another’s depressions and ecstasy, some shared appreciative chuckles about that crazy but uncannily brilliant uncle who’s been so happily married to her sister for all these years, fond reminiscences of that beloved niece and cousin celebrating 50 fruitful years together, worries about Dad’s back, and us impressing Mom with our ability to identify all those singers of songs from back when she was young and before we born..
There’s more than a couple of hours between the northern part of the greater Oklahoma City area and that far-flung fancy-schmantzy northeastern part of Wichita where our parents reside, so at some point politics came up in the conversation. Our Mom was worried that the special counsel and all his Clinton donor colleagues were out to get Trump, and although we couldn’t deny the possibility we also warned her that there might be plenty to get him on.
That’s how it looks to us, as we scamper across the broader dreary media landscape after a daylong road trip, but we’re nonetheless hopeful. There are well-married couples out there with promising grandchildren, and great American music is being beamed into cars from outer space, and there are loving Moms and Dads and their disappointing children, and summer has just begun here on the southern plains of the United States of America. It’s bound to be damned complicated, but it might just work out in the end.

— Bud Norman

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Another Night of Mixed Results

The final rounds of the special election season came on Tuesday, with the same usual mixed results as before. Once again the Democrats fell short of victory in two more reliably Republican districts, but once again by margins that should worry many of the more vulnerable congressional Republicans up for re-election in ’18.
Those anxious Republicans can take some solace in the fact that the Republican prevailed in Georgia’s sixth congressional district despite the record-setting millions of dollars that Democrats from around the country threw into the race. The district is mostly the well-educated and well-heeled and mostly-white suburbs of Atlanta, and has been held by the Republicans for 40 years, including the entire famous tenure of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, but when a youthful Democratic candidate fell just short of a majority in the open primary his party sensed an upset. The national press paid outsized attention, the money from Hollywood and other Democratic denizens poured in, and there was much anticipation of an outcome that could be easily spun as backlash against President Donald Trump.
We’re far out of range of the broadcast commercials that were no doubt incessantly aired in Georgia’s unfortunate sixth district, and not very familiar with the local politics of the district, but so far as we can tell from all that outsized national press attention neither candidate tried to make the race about Trump. The Democrat presumably and reasonably believed that his opposition to Trump went without saying and instead focused on some local issues, which the Democrats in the rest of the country will no doubt regard as a fatal mistake, while the Republican reportedly ran as an old-fashioned establishment type who rarely mentioned Trump, which will surely annoy some Republicans and provide a lesson to others. Trump won the district in the presidential election by 2 percent, which was much lower than his margins in the less-educated and less-well-heeled and even whiter districts in the rest of the state, and the old-fashioned Republican who rarely mentioned Trump won by a slightly larger yet closer-than-usual margin, so the pro-Trump and anti-Trump people can make whatever they want of all that.
Less attention was paid and fewer donations were made to another race in the fifth district of South Carolina, which is less well-educated and well-heeled and more white than that Georgia district, and where Trump prevailed by more landslide margins, but that was also an embarrassingly close call. The Republican took just over 51 percent of the vote, far underperforming the the Republican in the election just eight months or so ago, and although local politics no doubt played a part there’s no spinning how that’s good for Trump.
All of the special elections have been in Republican districts where the incumbent was promoted to a cabinet-level position by Trump, which means that their would-be Republicans successors were necessarily well less qualified candidates, and of course the opposition is going to more energized than those less well-educated and well-heeled Trump supporters who are cocksure their man can take of himself. Still, the results are decidedly mixed.
The Democrats won’t be able to raise the kind of money for each mid-term race at the rate they did in that Georgia election, but neither will the Republicans. The Republicans did wind up winning all four of the races, albeit while losing percentage points that would flip a whole of districts. Trump retains a steadfast and significant percentage of voters, Trump’s detractors seem to have even bigger numbers, and it’s how they’re spread around the electoral map that seems matter. All politics really is local, too, so it’s hard to tell how that will play in out the hundreds of House seats and third-or-so of Senate seats up in a year and a few months from now. Of course there’s also no telling what might happen in a year and a few months from now.
Until then the Republicans retain the White House and the same majorities they held in the House and Senate before all this fuss, but for now they don’t seem to doing much with it, and the Democrats are still falling tantalizingly short of a victory to call their own.

— Bud Norman

The Country Mouse and the City Mouse in the Age of Bumpkin Trump

Monday was one of those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer that Nat “King” Cole used to sing about, at least as far as the news cycle was concerned. An American jet shot down a Syrian jet over the weekend, and one of the president’s lawyers spent the weekend insisting the president wasn’t under investigation despite the clear implications of the president’s latest “tweet,” and there was yet another terror attack in London and some questionable verdicts in some high profile domestic legal cases, but these days that’s a fairly calm news cycle.
The Washington Post has lately been on roll unlike anything they’ve had since the good old Watergate days, but over the weekend they found room on the front page for one of those perfect-for-a-slow-news-day think pieces, this one about the growing cultural and political divisions between the rural and urban portions of America. We’re the jaded yet still curious types who relish those slow news days and their big newspaper think pieces, and in this case we were especially interested in the subject. Having lived here in the very heart of the heartland most of our lives on the relative edges of both rural and America, and with a well considered fondness for both, we consider ourselves rather expert on the matter, so we were eager to see what those young whippersnappers from Back East and their fancy-dan establishment newspaper would make of it.
Alas, we really couldn’t argue with their main thesis that there is a growing cultural and political division between rural and urban America. If we were right wing radio hosts wanting to ridicule the article, we’d feel entitled to say “well, duh.” They cite all the polling data that indisputably prove the rural and urban political divide, and have no trouble coming up with colorful quotes from the rural natives that clearly illustrate the cultural differences to their urban readership. To be fair about it, we also think they made every effort to be fair about it and did a pretty good job.
Still, we don’t think those young whippersnappers from Back East and their fancy-dan establishment paper know the half of it. We’re sitting here in the very heart of the biggest urban area in our very rural state in the middle of that big rural area in the middle of the country, and at this lovely time of year we’re a short drive from those amber waves of grain that you really ought to see at least once in your life, along with some delightful small town conversation and conviviality, and as we traverse the boundaries the difference between the two regions is almost painfully palpable. There’s a certain suspicious reaction you’ll notice when you tell someone in the rural rest of the state that you’re from Wichita, and we notice that our friends in the city also make certain assumptions about the country folks who have come to town for their shopping or financial affairs or the big-name country music concerts at the fancy new downtown arena.
Wichita is only the fiftieth or so most populous urban metropolitan area in the country, but by now it stretches into three counties from Valley Center down to Mulvane and west of Goddard to east of Andover, and by regional standards it’s the big bad city. The per capita crime rate is lower than most of those other 50 most populous cities, and even lower than in some of the still old west small towns around the state, but with some 500,000 folks around here a certain percentage of them are going to be raping and robbing and murdering, and the worst of it always goes out on the top the evening news to all those small towns. Although the volume-priced shopping is cheaper than at the dying main street businesses in their home towns the financial deals struck here by those small town folk don’t always turn out, the parking for those downtown arena shows is atrocious and often involves encounters with homeless panhandlers, and if they were in town the past weekend they might have encountered some unexpected goings-on at the big Gay Pride Festival, so we can well understand their trepidation about urban America and the rest of modernity.
Wichita is one of the very most conservative of those 50 most populous metropolitan areas, with so much of the educated population being engineers and entrepreneurs and agricultural financiers and other practical people, and the rest of the population largely drawn from those dying small towns, but even here there’s a certain cosmopolitan sensibility in effect. There’s a big state university with a very promising basketball season coming up, a better collection than you’d expect at the local art museum and a surprisingly good symphony and local music theater troupe, along with the nice botanical garden and nationally-recognized local zoo and all the local parks and a film festival that gets some occasionally good entries from around the world, and it’s hard to not get snobby about it.
The basketball team and the art museum and the symphony and local music theater and botanical garden and zoo and pretty much all the rest of the local high culture around here enjoys the generous contributions of Koch Industries, which did its business just down a country street from us in our elementary school days and is now the James Bond villain of every left-wing conspiracy theory, but it still has a certain liberalizing effect. We sense a certain apprehension of foreigners among our small town friends, and although we share their preference for secured borders we buy our beer from Laotians and our donuts from Mexicans and sundries from guys from India, so we’re not as enthusiastic about a border wall or mass deportations. They tend to have a personal conviction against baking cakes or otherwise celebrating same-sex marriages, which we well understand and would not prohibit, but here in Wichita you’ll probably wind up making enough gay friends that you don’t make a fuss about it. In a variety of ways, Wichita winds up more conservative than most of those other top-50 metropolitan areas but more liberal than the parts of the state where the fields take up most of the room.
Those young whippersnappers from The Washington Post eventually wound up with another inevitable think piece about why rural America is so much more supportive of President Donald Trump and than is urban America, and we have to admit that is a poser. Trump grew up in the Queens borough of New York City as the dauphin of a ruthless real estate mogul, made and lost several fortunes in casinos and other financial dealings, married three times and never learned a Bible verse, and until his recent weekend at Camp David had never encountered bare wood. His protectionist trade talk never played in either the rural and urban parts of our portion of the prairie, where the big money is in exports and he finished a distant third in the Republican caucuses, and the insult comic schtick also grated on Kansas sensibilities. Replace Eddie Arnold and Eva Gabor with Donald and Melania Trump in “Green Acres,” and that classic sit-com would be funnier yet.
Trump is getting a lot of support out there where the traffic dwindles down to a gorgeous and almost empty country road, though, and we think we know why. The president clearly resents those smart-alecky young whippersnappers Back East as much as any of those small town folk, and he states it more recklessly than any of them would dare while in town, and at least he’s not that darned Hillary Clinton woman or any of those other Democrats who sneered at them for their gun-and-God-clinging ways and preference for a country that’s not overrun by crazy jihadists, and there’s something to be said for that,
There’s also something to be said against Trump’s reckless rhetoric and frequent incompetence and often consequential lack of cosmopolitan couth, while that whole Russia thing with Trump and Russia merits all the ongoing investigations, and all those political appointments are going unfilled and all the bills aren’t getting passed, and even here among those amber waves of grain of we can see the point. The arguments will be shouted across a widening divide, though, and we doubt if either side will hear the other.
The next election will probably be settled once again in the suburbs, though, and there’s no telling how that will play out. Some of the suburbs around here are pretty swank, others are former small towns swallowed up by the urban sprawl and lately getting all their crummy convenience stores robbed by methamphetamine and opioid addicts, and Trump’s popularity predictably but somewhat inexplicably varies from one precinct to another. We imagine the electoral map is just as complicated in all those coal-mining and software-writing jurisdictions spread out around this great and varied land of ours, and we hope that some productive conversation among us is still possible.

— Bud Norman

Trump Comes Out of the Woods

President Donald seems to have had a nice break from his political torments over Father’s Day weekend. The barrage of bombshell revelations about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia largely ceased fire, the other bad news didn’t implicate him directly and was largely overlooked, and after a long separation he got to spend some quality time with his youngest son.
We truly hope the father-and-son interactions went well, as the kid seems all right to us — by “the kid” we mean the son — and the old guy lately seems in need some of calming quiet time. The weekend was largely spent at Camp David, we note, and we also hope that helped with both the family dynamics and the political problems.
A military-run facility a short helicopter ride away from the White House but hidden in one of the last rural areas of Maryland, Camp David has been the preferred presidential get-away since President Franklin Roosevelt converted the Works Progress Administration’s High Cactocin resort project to an executive retreat and re-named it “Shangri-La.” Former small town Kansas boy President Dwight Eisenhower was particularly fond of the remote location and rustic atmosphere of the place, and re-named it again in honor of a recently born grandson. Since then every president has taken frequent advantage of the world-famous Camp David, with President Jimmy Carter using the place to finalize the “Camp David Accords” that brought a still-lasting peace between Israel and Egypt, President Bill Clinton attempted to use it for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians that didn’t work out so well, while all the Republicans reasonably preferred to use it as a convenient and relatively low-cost way to escape from all that for a weekend and get back to nature and play some golf or shoot some skeet.
Until this past weekend, though, Trump had conspicuously avoided the place. After a brief tour of Camp David he told an interviewer that it was “a place you’d like really like, for about 20 minutes,” and seemed to make clear that remote and rustic were not qualities that appealed to his rich New York City tastes, not matter how any previous sorts of Republicans might have liked that kind of thing. In the bitterly cold months of his early presidency Trump preferred to have both his get-away time and his high-level diplomatic negotiations at his very ritzy and wholly-owned Mar-a-Lago resort outside Palm Beach, Florida, and as summer arrived and South Florida seemed less suited to golf and other high-level negotiations he moved his second White House to another very ritzy and wholly-owned resort in the last sparsely-populated portion of New Jersey.
That arrangement worked out well for Trump in financial terms, with much of the even-bigger-than-Obama travel-and-security-and-entourage costs flowing directly into the coffers of wholly-owned Trump businesses and all sorts of people paying higher prices for entree due to the sudden cachet, but it was taking a political toll. All the opinion polls show Trump widely unpopular, even that outlier Rasmussen survey that shows him with a mere 50 percent disapproval rating, and the Palm Beach Post was delighted to inform its recently tax-burdened readership that some more specific polling shows that the extravagant weekends at the wholly-owned properties were unpopular even with Trump’s most loyal supporters. Two state and district attorneys general and a couple hundred members of Congress have lately filed suits about how Trump business are profiting from the Trump presidency, too, so Trump’s many public and private lawyers were probably also recommending some rest and relaxation at Camp David. Call us cynical, but we suspect all that had something to with Trump’s Father’s Day itinerary.
Even so, we truly hope that the rather abbreviated time they spent together at Camp David did both Trump and son some real good. At this point we have an admittedly mythic conception of Camp David, and although we’re pretty sure it’s quite ritzy by our prairie standards we also imagine that there really is something remote and rustic about the place by presidential standards, and we’d like to think that’s what every previous sort of Republican and even the Democrats found so quintessentially American and rejuvenating about it. There’s something remote and rustic about getting away from it all and back to nature that puts things in perspective, even it is still ritzy, and a rich New York City sensibility probably needs that more than most.
We hate to drag Trump’s kid into the this, as he seems all right, and nothing that’s happened is any more his fault that anything all those previous presidential children were dragged into, but he’s there in the news and we can’t help thinking how very weird his life must be, and how much good even a brief connection with the universal experience of nature might do him. By our own good fortune we had a better dad than that kid does, and he often took us out into the woods with guns and fishing rods and cameras to demonstrate the profound life lessons he had learned under the open sky, and although we never acquired his appreciation of hunting and fishing and photography the lessons about the beauty of the natural and good order have served us well, and we hope that the youngest Trump picked up something of that along the way.
Today is Monday and the barrage of bombshell revelations about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia will probably continue, and there will be more bad news that people will say implicate Trump, but here’s hoping that a father-and-son weekend at Camp David will mitigate at least some of that.

— Bud Norman

The Passing Storm and the Gathering Storm

A windy and gully-washing thunderstorm rolled through our portion of south central Kansas on Thursday evening, and we wound up watching some ominously dark clouds continue to gather over Washington, D.C.
The storm hit as we were driving through downtown, and because it seemed to imminently threaten the tennis ball-sized hail that had been reported nearby on the radio we took refuge in one of the parking garages. With the car safely tucked under several feet of concrete we decided to wait out the storm with a beer at the nearest tavern, which happened to be a friendly little gay bar ironically called Rain, so we weren’t the least bit surprised to find Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC blaring from one of the several televisions. She was gleefully to the point of gigglingly reporting on the latest developments about the Russia thing with President Donald Trump and Russia, and we had to admit she had some juicy stuff.
The special counsel who was appointed after Trump fired the Federal Bureau of Investigation is actively pursuing an obstruction of justice case according to The Washington Post, which also reports that the business dealings of the president’s son-in-law and all-purpose advisor Jared Kushner is also getting the fine-tooth-comb treatment, and the Vice President has lawyered up with a high-powered attorney whose previous cases have included the Watergate and the Iran-Contra scandals. None of this is conclusively damning, of course, but neither does any of it look at all good. Trump retaliated with some “tweets” about the investigators being “very bad people” and how his vanquished Democratic opponent “Crooked” Hillary Clinton did all sorts of very bad things that didn’t result in any charges, but Maddow and the rest of the mainstream media seemed just as gleeful about reporting that.
Trump is right that Clinton was crooked and did so some very bad things, and her husband did meet the Attorney General while she was being investigated by the Justice Department, and the fired FBI director did follow an order to refer to that investigation as a “matter,” and he’s also quite right that many of his tormenters were hypocritically fine with that. As we always remind our remaining Republican friends, we were tormenting Clinton back when Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to weddings and praising her as the best Secretary of State ever, and we strongly suspect that a more apolitical justice system would have found her guilty of something. One can hardly begrudge Trump and his allies the satisfaction of making the points.
You won’t find us joining in on any “lock her up” chants, though, and Trump seems quite hypocritical for his sudden insistence that an investigation is not a proof of guilt, and we don’t expect that Trump’s “tweet” will persuade anyone who’s not already a die-hard supporter. No matter what Clinton might have done in her long and tawdry career, up to and including that satanic child sex abuse ring she was allegedly running in the back of a pizza joint, that does not have any bearing whatsoever on the question of whether Trump or any of his close associates have done very bad things. Our most determinedly pro-Trump friend argued the other night that Trump should be legally entitled to do everything illegal thing that the past two Democratic administrations have gotten away with, and at that point the country can get back to everyone doing things on the up-and-up, but we don’t think that will prove any more persuasive.
The argument that Trump’s investigators are very bad people will also be a tough sell. The special counsel is Robert Mueller, who was chosen as FBI director by President George W. Bush and after ten scandal-free years was asked to stick around for an extra two years by President Barack Obama, so he enjoys a bi-partisan reputation as a non-partisan player. He’s also known as tough and ruthless, but those are qualities Trump usually finds endearing, and he’s very much a member of the establishment that Trump has vowed to burn down and so many of his supporters loathe, but surely the broader public will expect more credentials from a special counsel than from a president.
Another interesting development gleefully noted by the mainstream media were some prominent Republicans who were making that point that if Trump has nothing to fear from an investigation he should welcome it, as only a thorough vindication by a widely respected investigator will lift the cloud of suspicion, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see more Republicans taking this sensible stand. If you dig deeper into the news you might have noticed that some Republican members of the House of Representatives are steaming to the point of leaking that Trump has lately chastised them for drafting a “mean” bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, including moderates who were muscled by Trump into voting for what they thought was a too-austere bill and conservatives who were muscled by Trump into voting for what they thought wasn’t austere enough. If you don’t believe leaks, Trump also “tweeted” that the country needed to spend far more money on health care, rather than the less that he’d muscled those members into voting for, and one can hardly blame them if they’re not entirely loyal on that Russia thing with Trump and Russia.
Trump had a pretty good story about an unfortunate man released from North Korean captivity in horrible medical condition after two years, and the man’s father making a strong statement about how Trump had succeeded where Obama had failed, which fits into a usual narrative that the Obama foreign policy was weak and feckless, with Trump’s arguably more reckless approach being arguably more effective. There was also that story about the Australian Prime Minister cracking up a crowd with his mocking of Trump, however, and the sense that there’s a lot of that going on around the world.

A rather attractive woman who was also waiting out the storm struck up a conversation with us as we were watching the news according to Rachel Maddow and MSNBC, and she remarked that Trump doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing, and we couldn’t disagree. She’d complimented our straw fedora and and seemed a bit flirty, but we figured she was probably just mistakingly trying make another fashionably homosexual friend, so we wound up having a nice chat about how very strange the world seems these days. Eventually the storm passed, as storms always do, but on the way home we had to avoid all the streets prone to flooding and dodged plenty of down tree limbs on the way home. The power and internet where still working when we arrived, but no matter the forecasts we checked the storm brewing in Washington looks far more damaging.

— Bud Norman

Baseball, Bi-Partisanship, and Human Tragedy

There was yet another one of those intermittent mass shootings again on Wednesday, this time on a baseball diamond in Alexandria, Virginia, but it was even more newsworthy than usual. This time the victims were a team of Republican politicians and their staffs practicing for the annual congressional baseball game pitting the GOP against the Democrats, the shooter was apparently motivated by his outspoken hatred of Republicans, and there was an unavoidable political angle to the human tragedy.
The last time a sitting member of congress was caught in the crossfire of one of those intermittent mass shootings she was a Democrat, Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was gravely wounded while six other people at her public meeting were killed, and a lot of people on the left were quick to blame the incident on the undeniably angry and inflammatory rhetoric that was then being hurled at President Barack Obama. This time it was the Republicans’ Majority Whip, Ohio Rep. Steve Scales, who was gravely wounded, and although good luck and efficient law enforcement prevented any deaths there was enough Republican blood spilled that some on the right were eager to blame all the undeniably angry and inflammatory rhetoric that has lately been hurled at Republican President Donald Trump.
The argument is at least as plausible as the last time around. Last time around the shooter was offended that Giffords dismissed his strange linguistic theories during a previous public meeting, which is not a cause associated with conservatism, and it was highly unlikely he’d been provoked by a little-seen pamphlet published by former Alaska Governor and failed vice-presidential candidate and reality star Sarah Palin, who had put a cross-hair graphic on a map of districts targeted for Republican challengers. Although we’ll admit some of the anti-Obama rhetoric at the time was pretty darned inflammatory, we also sensed they were also trying to get us to hold back on our more measured and reasoned criticisms of the scoundrel. This time around the shooter was on the internet record with all the usual liberal Democrat opinion and the visceral hatred that all too often goes along with it, he took care to confirm from a couple of witnesses in that the ballplayers were indeed Republicans, and it did happen after a D-list celebrity posed for a picture of herself holding an effigy of Trump’s severed head and the Shakespeare in the Park company re-imagined Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” with a Trumpian character getting the “et tu” treatment.
We don’t blame that tasteless comic or those pretentious thespians for Wednesday’s shootings, which would be almost as ridiculous as blaming Palin for the tragedy in Arizona, but that “climate of hate” does seem as hot as ever. That’s true of both sides, too, as we notice from our recent position on the political sidelines. During the campaign Trump talked about roughing up protestors and even offered to pay the legal bills of anyone who did, and when some of his supporters followed through too many on the right made excuses for that. A small army of masked thugs then inflicted worse violence on peaceable people trying to enter Trump rallies, and too many on the left tried to justify it. In constant editorials and internet videos and comments sections and barroom arguments people on both sides are describing the other side as very bad people deliberately trying to destroy America, and in a country where we have intermittent mass shootings that’s bound to eventually come into play.
The next time around might have a Republican or a Democratic victim, but in either case the arguments will be the same.
This time around most of the political and media and otherwise elite class is handling it well. Although we’ve had some pretty darned measured and reasonable criticisms of Trump, we have to say his statement on the tragedy was pretty much perfect. To offer a more back-handed compliment, we’ll note that it wasn’t at all self-referential and didn’t bite at a tempting opportunity to fire back at his critics. The shooter was an outspoken supporter of self-described socialist and failed presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but Sanders immediately issued an obviously heartfelt condemnation of the shooting and offered his prayers for the victims. All the Democratic establishment reacted the same way, and the hated-by-Republicans mainstream media frankly acknowledged the awkward political facts of the matter and did nothing we noticed to make any excuses. Pretty much everyone on the left was loathe to defend that tasteless comic or those pretentious thespians, too, just as the more reputable people on the right declined to defend Trump’s “birther” claims or the more inflammatory attacks on Obama, so that gives us hope.
Both sides have vowed ┬áto play that annual baseball game again today, too, and that’s also hopeful. The game raises money for some charity or another, and according to legend has been going on since Abner Doubleday, and it’s one of those political traditions that was established to foster a certain bi-partisan patriotism in congress. Baseball teaches that no matter how good you are you lose most at-bats, and among other profound lessons you eventually learn that the guys on the other team aren’t necessarily very bad people out to deliberately destroy America. There’s an anti-establishment mood apparent on both sides of the political divide these days, but here on the sidelines something in our old-fashioned conservative sensibility is hoping they won’t burn it all down.
There was yet another one of those intermittent mass shootings on Wednesday, too, this one in San Francisco, where someone killed three people at a United Parcel Service facility before shooting himself in the head. No connection to terrorism or Trump or Sanders or any of those other very bad people who are deliberately trying to ruin America, so far as we can tell, but it’s another human tragedy that warrants our prayers and public debate. Those debates will no doubt be contentious, and we’ll not hold back on our measured and reasoned criticisms of Obama and Trump and such kooks as Palin and Sanders and the rest of the scoundrels, and we don’t doubt our counterparts on the left will continue with their measured and reason criticisms, but we’ll take care not to incite anyone, and we’ll hope this bipartisan spirit of the moment will linger past the next cycle.
For whatever it’s worth, from our seats on the sidelines, when the big game starts we’ll be rooting for the Republicans as usual.

— Bud Norman

The Sessions Sessions and All That

The administration of President Donald Trump is like that weird drawing in which some people see a beautiful young lass and others a wrinkled old hag, or that great Japanese movie “Rashomon” where the sordid tale is told and re-told by varying accounts to no definitive conclusion.
Shown the same endlessly replayed footage of Trump pushing his way past the Prime Minister of Montenegro to the front of a diplomatic photo-op, some cringe in embarrassment at a stereotypically ugly American behaving boorishly in front of the the other countries while others perceive an alpha male at long last asserting America’ss dominance on the world stage. The endlessly replayed footage of Trump’s cabinet members taking turns offering fulsome praise for the boss struck many as slightly North Korean in creepiness and was greeted as a great gift by all the late night comics, but a lot of the commenters at the bottom of the Trump-friendly news sites found it touching. People read the same words and abbreviated semi-words in every presidential “tweet,” but some readers discern only self-destructive blather while others discover a subtle literary and political genius.
So it is with the whole Russia thing with Trump and Russia, which some see as fake news made up by sore losers who hate America, and others regard as the most diabolically treasonous plot by a self-interested scoundrel since Aaron Burr, but in any case is undeniably the big story of the day. The latest installment in that Rorshach Test of a story was Tuesday’s testimony before a Senate committee by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and how that went depends on who you listen to. The right-wing talk radio hosts and all the commenters at the bottom of the Trump-friendly news sites thought that Sessions emerged as triumphant from the grilling as Shadrack, Meschach, and Abendego coming out of the fiery furnace, but the fake news had enough real footage and backstory to make it look bad to everybody else.
The last time Sessions testified before a Senate committee was during his confirmation hearing, and he wound up volunteering some arguably inadvertent but inarguably innate statements about his recent contacts with Russian officials, which led to him recusing himself from anything having to do with that Russia thing with Trump and Russia, so his second time around was being widely watched. There were more questions about the previous testimony, along with some questions about other contacts with the Russians that have since been alleged, and some brand new questions about why Sessions signed off on the firing the Federal Bureau of Investigation who was investing the whole Russia thing with Trump and Russia, despite his avowed recusal from anything having to do with all that.
Sessions handled it pretty well for most of the seven or hours of hot light interrogation, but even such a seasoned lawyer and politician had some awkward sound bites. He confirmed the fired FBI guy’s story about Trump ordering everyone else out of the room before a private meeting in which the fired FBI guy says the president asked for his personal loyalty, dodged a question about the fired FBI guy’s request that the Attorney General prevent any further private meetings with the president, and further declined to talk about all the recent leaks and “tweets” that suggest Trump isn’t pleased with Sessions’ performance as Attorney General. All in all, it was enough to fill a news cycle for people who see things that way.
Sessions also steadfastly declared in his defiantly Confederate accent that neither he nor Trump had anything to with that Russia thing with Trump and Russia, which was endlessly replayed by the right-wing talk radio shows oft-quoted by the commenters at the Trump-friendly news sites, and despite all the suspicions that were raised nobody had that much-anticipated sound bite to prove that he was lying about that central fact of the story. Sessions was long a member of the same World’s Greatest Deliberative Body as his Democratic interrogators on that Senate committee, and for whatever it’s worth he’s proved as honorable over his long career as any of them, so we can see how some people see it a certain way. Some of the Republican Senators helped out, too, while others seemed to be hedging their bets, and we really can’t blame any of them of for any of it.
These days we’re watching it all from the sidelines, where we’re pretty much contemptuous of all the players and have no dog in the fight except for truth, justice, and the American way, and from our perspective they didn’t really nail Sessions or Trump on anything but significant but it does look pretty darned bad. The likelihood is that the Senate and House and FBI and special counsel investigations will continue, along with all the knowledgeable named and unnamed sources in the mainstream press and the speculative deconstruction of it all on right-wing talk radio and the comments sections of Trump-friendly news sites, and that a certain portion of the country will see a pretty young lass while the other sees an ugly old hag.
So far the sees-it-san- ugly-old-hag contingent seems in the majority of American public opinion, and most of the rest of the world sees a stereotypically ugly American rather than a dominant alpha male, and in the end that might matter more than truth, justice, and the American way. Elite opinion on both the right and left and around the the globe especially is critical of Trump, which only hardens the certainty of the talk radio hosts and those Trump-friendly commenters, who do have a good case to make about how the elites have screwed things up, but we’re not at all convinced that anybody’s going to do a much better job of stewarding a multi-trillion economy and a darned complicated geo-politcal situation than the people with the credentials.
There’s plenty of story left to be told, from all the varying accounts, so we’ll await the inevitably indefinite resolution.

— Bud Norman

Something Called Emoluments

The vast forces arrayed against President Donald Trump opened yet another line attack on Monday, with the attorneys general of Maryland of Washington, D.C., alleging in court that the president’s ongoing profits from his private enterprises is a violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. That might well be a bit over the top as a legal position, but it’s a pretty savvy political argument, and we’re surprised they hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
The emoluments clause prohibits all public officials up to and including the president from accepting any “present, Emolument, Office, or title, of any kind, from any King, Prince, or foreign State,” and those attorneys general figure that all the money Trump has lately been raking in from foreigners at his still openly held properties in Maryland and Washington, D.C., violates that. It’s a tricky legal argument, as there’s not a lot of precedent to go on, but that’s because no previous president was raking in profits from his private enterprises while serving as president, so we can see how it’s a tempting political argument.
Meanwhile, the bigger attack on Trump has to do with that Russia thing with Trump and Russia, which is moving along on the recent testimony of a fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director and perhaps with today’s testimony by the recused-from-whole-mess Attorney General, and those attorneys general will probably help with that. Part of the intrigue in that whole thing has also has something to do with Trump’s much-boasted-about far-flung business empire, which he has declined to fully explain through tax returns and other routine presidential disclosures, so this imbroglio might well spill into the other.
Trump’s lawyers aren’t used to these kinds of political intrigues, and neither is he, and so far the courts haven’t been sympathetic to him, but we expect the lawsuits won’t outlast his presidency. He’ll need some good some political arguments to make his presidency last, though, and so far he’s had trouble coming up with them.

— Bud Norman

How a Bill Doesn’t Become Law

The news was mostly relegated to the back pages and the scroller at the bottom of the cable news screens, what with the fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director’s testimony and all the resulting presidential “tweets” taking up all the good space, but the House of Representatives last week passed a bill that would largely repeal and replace the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
The Dodd-Frank financial reform law is the dry and complicated and downright boring sort of thing that would get more attention during a typical presidential administration, which makes us all the more nostalgic for those good old days before President Donald Trump. We never liked the Dodd-Frank bill, so far as we can tell the repeal-and-replace law would be a significant improvement, and in a more normal news cycle a well-spoken Republican president would be able to enjoy a winning political argument. Instead, the matter is relegated to the back pages and the scroller at the bottom of the string, and the bill will probably be stalled in the Senate.
The few stories on bill note that Dodd-Frank was passed in the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown with the aim of preventing it from happening again, and for the sake of argument we’ll stipulate the Democrats’ good intentions, but the few allotted inches can’t make a case that the legislation did any good. Ostensibly in order to prevent the big banks from making reckless bets on subprime mortgages Dodd-Frank imposed thousands of pages on new regulations to prohibit commercial banks from certain kinds of “proprietary trading” and investments in hedge funds and private equity transactions, but none of that had anything to do with the financial meltdown. All the restrictions are imposed on commercial banks rather than the investments banks that were most involved in the crisis, and all of them had been compelled by the Carter-era Community Reinvestment Act that the Clinton administration started enforcing with crazed vigor, and most of those risky subprime mortgages were held by the quasi-governmental Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac outfits, and the Democrats should be glad they don’t have to talk much about that.
Nor did the bill do anything at all about those “too big to fail” banks that the Democrats were so worked up about when Dodd-Frank was passed by Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and signed by a Democratic president, and it wound up hampering the small banks and credits unions that Democrats have been romanticizing since before Frank Capra filmed “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The damned thing even forced us to spend an hour filling out forms to excise a nickname from a 47-year-old checking account a while back, and one can only guess at the extraordinary amount of time and money that the overall economy has spent on complying with all those thousands of pages of regulations. Banks will be able to accumulate more reserves to deal with shocks under the House Republicans’ alternative, which also wisely lets the bankruptcy courts sort out the inevitable failures, and the freedom and competition it allows would likely have a stabilizing effect on the financial system.
That’s hard to explain in the 140-character “tweets” and fourth-grade level orations that Trump favors, though, and these days he has other things to “tweet” and talk about. The press has plausible reasons for relegating it to the back pages and the scroller at the bottom of the screen, and it’s hard to imagine the general public taking a sudden interest in financial regulatory reform. The House bill now goes to the same Senate where the House’s Obamacare repeal-and-replacement bill currently languishes with 12 percent approval ratings, and the rules are different there and the Republican majority is slimmer and the Republican incumbents up for re-election in 2018 have their own reasons for striking a bipartisan pose, so this might be the last your hear of it.

— Bud Norman

A Morning in Washington and an Evening in Wichita

Unless you had the good fortune to be in Wichita, Kansas, on Thursday, where the all-time great gospel and soul singer Mavis Staples was wowing a vast and varied River Festival crowd under a starry sky on the banks of the Arkansas River, the big story of the day was probably the fired Federal Bureau of Investigation’s testimony before a Senate committee about that Russia thing with President Donald Trump and Russia. Much of it had already been leaked weeks ago and then confirmed by Wednesday’s written statement, but it was something to see a longtime public official coming right out and saying under oath and live on all four broadcast networks that the president is a liar, and by the end it was all the talk.
There was some new stuff, too, including James Comey’s admission that he leaked information to The New York Times through a law professor pal about his private conversations with the president, and Flynn’s claim that the president said he hoped the FBI’s investigation of the president’s recently fired National Security Advisor would wind up without any charges, and asked for the director’s loyalty. That was a big talking point on the conservative talk radio shows, who were more outraged about the leaking part than any of the rest of it, but we don’t expect that argument will resonate far beyond their audiences. Trump’s lawyer, the same guy who handled his divorces and bankruptcies, tried to impugn Comey’s testimony by noting that the leak occurred before the presidential “tweet” about possible White House that was given as the reason for the leak, which was reported as a fact on one of the conservative talk radio shows we heard on the way to the concert, but our reading of the published record suggests he was wrong about that.
Comey testified that “lordy” he hopes there are White House tapes to back up his sworn testimony and contemporaneous memos and administration officials who can back up corroborating details such as the president ordering everyone else out of the room prior to one uncomfortable meeting, so a lawyer more seasoned in these political matters might not have brought that up. Trump’s lawyer’s other big argument was that Comey confirmed Trump’s claim that he had been assured on three separate occasions that the president was under an individual criminal investigation, but by now it’s pretty clear that the FBI as well as the House and Senate Committees and a special counsel are investigating the heck out of Trump’s campaign and some very, very close associates. He also seemed pleased that Comey had confirmed there was no o evidence the Russians electronically altered any voting machines, but nobody ever said they did.
Having a longstanding public official testify on live television that the president is a liar is a public relations as well as legal problem, especially when more than 60 percent of the country had already concluded he was a liar on election day, which included a significant number of people who voted for him rather than his similarly distrusted Democratic opponent, so even the most seasoned lawyer would have his hands full. Trump claimed in a famously against-his-legal-interest interview with the National Broadcasting Corporation that he never asked Comey for a pledge of loyalty, although he immediately added that “It wouldn’t be a bad question to ask,” and that he never said anything that could possibly be interpreted as a request for leniency to Flynn, but by now no one finds it hard to imagine him saying either thing. Trump’s most strident critics will find it characteristically unethical and heavy-handded, and his most stance supporters will consider it just the kind of tough tactics against the hated establishment that they voted for.
There were plenty of intriguing questions that went unanswered, too, but the senators apparently learned more in closed session that followed. Questions that could not be answered without divulging classified information included: What Comey knows about the sanctioned Russian bank that the president’s son-in-law met with during the transition; was the FBI able to confirm any of the salacious allegations in a leaked dossier compiled by a British intelligence agent; does Flynn remain a central figure in an ongoing investigation concerning the Russians and the Trump campaign; was he aware of any contacts between Trump campaign officials and the government that have not been acknowledged by the White House; several questions regarding recused-from-the-Russia thing Attorney General Jeff Sessions; and does Comey have reason to believe that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government.
That’s a lot to ponder, but fortunately there was no time for all that when Mavis Staples was in town. The grand dame of gospel and soul is 77 years old, 67 years removed from her first classic recordings as the prodigy daughter of all time great gospel guitarist Roebuck “Pops” Staples and lead singer of The Staples Singers, but we can testify that she’s as good as ever. She had a crack band and a couple of perfectly simpatico backup singers, her voice was full of the spirit and her joyous charm was irresistible. Her set dipped into that deep gospel vein that began her long career, slipped into the funky and danceable social justice soul songs that landed her top of the pop charts and continued her family’s ministry, and occasionally dipped into some surprisingly cutting-edge blues and rock ‘n’ roll.
She did such expected hits as “Come Go With Me” and “I’ll Take You There,” and although we were disappointed she didn’t do “Sit Down, Servant” or that spooky death song “I’m Coming Home” she did do “Wade in the Water” and added plenty of other heartfelt gospel and shouts of the savior’s name to the show, and it was a much-needed boost to our soul. We kept running into dear friends who aren’t so attuned the spirituality of Mavis Staples, but they all know good music when they hear it, and they shared our bliss in a very heartening way.
She also did a memorable rendition of “Shake a Hand, Make a Friend,” and at that point several thousand Wichitans seemed on very friendly terms with one another on a perfect summer evening on the banks of the Arkansas River. These annual River Festival crowds are a remarkable bunch, full of tattooed south siders in wife-beater t-shirts and east side corporate family guys in Bermuda shorts and polo shirts as well as housewives and hipsters from all over, all in search of turkey legs and Pronto Pups and bouncy houses for the kiddos and zip rides across the river for the teenagers and cheap entertainment for all. Lots of very fat people, no shortage of attractive young lasses in slutty short shorts and fashionably retro summer dresses, and all the race and class and gender and intersectionality a multicultural studies major could hope for.
We stood next to a woman in a hijab and her westernized-looking kids at a table where a guy was daring people to cover a red square with five smaller discs, had a pleasant interchange with a pretty young black woman whose view we had inadvertently blocked, and chatted briefly with a muscle-bound cop about how great the show had been. There were a lot of cops, too, probably a continued consequence of a few years back when they had a block party a little too far east on Douglas and close enough to the bars it went bad, but they all seem happily bored. Everyone was getting along, people were shaking hands and making friends, and there was great American music on a great American night.
The River Festival rolls on through Sunday, when they have the big fireworks finale, and they’ve got the estimable musical talents of Randy Newman scheduled for tonight, so if you’re in the vicinity of Wichita we urge you drop by and shake a hand and make a friend. Our best guess is that the president is a liar, and most of the country seems to agree, including a lot of the people who voted for him, and so was his arguably worse Democratic opponent, but we can testify that there is still great American music on great American nights out there.

— Bud Norman