The Gospel According to Trump

The keynote speaker at the annual National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday was former American Enterprise Association president and conservative columnist Arthur Brooks, who reiterated the theme of his 2019 book “Love Your Enemies.” Next up was President Donald Trump, who started his remarks by saying “Arthur, I don’t know if I agree with you.”
Trump fans will say that of course he was only kidding, and that critics simply fail to appreciate his sense of humor, but the rest of  the speech made quite clear Trump truly believes that the idea of loving one’s enemies is superstitious bunk. He might or might not know that he’s also disagreeing with Jesus Christ, but Jesus Christ said a lot of things that Trump clearly believes are bunk.
The line about loving one’s enemies comes from the fifth through seventh chapters of the Gospel According to Matthew, an account of the Sermon the Mount, which is pretty much the antithesis of everything Trump says and does.
When Trump was asked on the campaign trail to cite a favorite Bible verse he said “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” which comes from the Old Testament book of Exodus, which Jewish tradition regards as an admonition that duly appointed governments should punish the guilty with penalties commensurate with the crime. Trump seems to regard it as permission for his hobby of exacting revenge on anyone he finds guilty of some slight, despite Romans 12:19 saying “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord.”
.The phrase comes up again in in Matthew 5:3, when Jesus told his followers “You have heard it was said, ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek also.” Trump often tells his followers to “always punch back 10 times harder,” and although most of the followers are self-described Christians the line always gets big cheers and applause at the rallies.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” Jesus said in Matthew 5:5, but Trump once said in an interview with Playboy Magazine that “Every successful person has a large ego,” and when asked if that included Mother Theresa and Jesus Christ he replied “Far greater than you’ll ever understand.” Jesus also told his followers on the mount “Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth” and “You cannot serve both God and money,” but Trump prefers the “prosperity gospel” of televangelist and White House advisor and “personal pastor” Paula White, which teaches that wealth is a sign that you’re good with God. In Matthew 7:1 Jesus tells his followers “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” but Trump took the opportunity of the National Prayer Breakfast to disparage the religiosity of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and the basic human decency of anyone who dares criticize his presidency.
The Sermon on the Mount also includes stuff about divorce and adultery and giving to the needy that Trump seems to regard as the rantings of a religious lunatic. He went from the National Prayer Breakfast to the East Room of the White House, where he once again cussed in front of the kids and lashed out at his enemies and told several provable lies during an unscripted stream-of-consciousness tirade that lasted more than an hour and sounded to us like the rantings of a very irreligious lunatic.
We don’t claim to have led such blameless lives that we won’t be relying on God’s mercy when the time comes, as Trump has claimed to have done, so we’ll happily leave it to God to ultimately judge Trump’s soul. Down here on earth we have a civic obligation to judge his fitness for the highest office in the land, though, and thanks to the American democracy God blessed us with we all get a say in that. Most of our fellow evangelical brothers and sisters regard Trump as their champion, and some even liken him to King David, who was beloved by God and given great power despite his extraordinary sins, but we’d note that David risked his life for God’s chosen people by challenging Goliath in single combat and only gained power after fully repenting and asking God’s forgiveness, whereas Trump had bone spurs and claims that he only asks forgiveness from God when “I drink my little wine and eat my little cracker,” which is how he described the rite of Holy Communion that Jesus consecrated before humbling Himself on the cross.
Our evangelical Christian brothers and sisters are entitled to their political opinions and their votes, and we’ll not judge them for it, but we will remind them of another line from the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7:15: “Watch out for false prophets.”

— Bud Norman

On the Day After Acquittal, the Argument Continues

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump officially ended on Wednesday with his acquittal by all but one of the Republican majority members in the Senate, yet these sorts of matters never really end. Historians still argue about the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson and the Sacco and Vanzetti case and the Scopes Monkey Trial and the O.J. Simpson verdict, with their political implications still clearly delineated and intensely felt, so the arguments about Trump’s impeachment trial will surely continue at least until Election Day.
All of the evidence and testimony that led to Trump’s impeachment by Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is still damning, and all of the evidence the Republican majority Senate refused to hear will eventually be heard. Former national security advisor John Bolton’s tell-all book will sooner or later be published in some form despite Trump’s best efforts at censorship, an indicted associate of Trump’s personal lawyer named Lev Parnas will eventually give his side of a very interesting story in what’s likely to be a well-publicized trial, and the silence of such presumably exculpatory witnesses as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of State Rick Perry and White House chief of staff and part-time director of Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney will be deafening.
The testimony and evidence the House of Representatives cited to impeach Trump on counts of abusing his office to withhold congressionally aid from America’s Ukrainian allies in exchange for help in reelection and then obstructed congressional efforts to find out about it went largely unchallenged during the Senate’s abbreviated trial, and was sufficient that a vast majority of Americans told all the pollsters they wanted to hear more. Even such stalwart Republicans as Tennessee’s Sen. Lamar Alexander and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and the damned-if-she-does-and-damned-if-she-doesn’t Sen. Susan Collins of Maine acknowledged that Trump did indeed do what he was accused of, and that he shouldn’t have done it, even though they all voted to acquit because it’s not that big a deal, at least when a Republican does it.
Collins told a national television interview that she’s confident Trump won’t try it again after being chastened by impeachment. Murkowski admitted that Trump’s conduct was “shameful and wrong” but explained her partisan vote by saying that impeachment should be a bipartisan consensensus. Alexander said the American people should decide if Trump should run again in 2020. and Rubio explained his vote to acquit despite understanding of Trump’s guilt by saying “Can anyone doubt that at least half the country would view his removal as illegitimate — as nothing short of a coup d’tat?”
We don’t share Collins’ confidence that Trump has learned his lesson, but instead worry he’ll be emboldened by the once-again-confirmed lifelong lesson that he can get away with anything, and  he’ll try something even more brazen and crazier. Alexander surely realizes that only Republicans rather than the broader “American people” will decide if Trump runs again in 2020, and that they are not one and the same. Rubio has a good point about a large chunk of America viewing Trump’s removal as illegitimate, but we’re not sure it’s more than half, and can only guess how it’s spread around the electoral map, and as of now a whole lot of people regard Trump’s presidency as illegitimate, and he must have known his vote wouldn’t settle the matter.
Only Utah Sen. Mitt Romney broke from the Republican ranks to convict Trump on the first article of impeachment, which will surely be a matter of much discussion for some time to come. He made a far better explanation of his decision that we ever could, and we urge to you to listen to it here, and dare you  try to come up with a plausible rebuttal, but he’ll no doubt be pilloried in Trump’s “tweets” and the Trump-friendly media. They won’t be able to convincingly say he was selling out his principles for political advantage, though.
How it plays out in the coming months until Election Day is anybody’s guess, given how awful the damned Democratsundeniably  are, but over the long run we think that Romney will be on the few involved who comes out looking any good. We voted for him when he ran against President Barack Obama, who we must admit never questioned Romney’s character, and we’re proud of vote that today.

— Bud Norman

The State of the Union, Such As It Is

President Donald Trump has had a good week so far. On Monday the Democratic party thoroughly botched the opening contest in its presidential nomination process, on Tuesday he got to brag on prime time television for an hour and half about his achievements with all the pomp and circumstance of a State of the Union address, and today he’s almost certain to be acquitted of the impeachment charges brought against him by the House of Representatives. He should enjoy it while it lasts.
That botched Iowa caucuses will be long forgotten by Election Day, and the damage to the Democratic party could have been worse. The embarrassingly long delay in releasing the results was prompted by concerns from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and a failure to address them would have further convinced his supporters that the Democratic National Party is rigging the game against him in favor of former Vice President Joe Biden. Sanders wound up in a tight race against South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg as the last votes were being counted, Biden was far behind in fourth place, and as incompetent as it clearly was the process didn’t seem corrupt.
Trump stuck to the script on the teleprompter, which was better written than his usual fare, and except for those audible sniffles that preceded every sentence the delivery wasn’t bad. He also had plausible reasons for bragging, as the unemployment rate is low and the stock markets are up, but Trump characteristically overstated how good things are now and how bad things were when he took office.
The gross domestic product grew at a perfectly respectable 2.3 percent rate last year, but that was down from the year before, and well below the 3 or 4 percent growth that Trump had promised, and worse than in the last years of the President Barack Obama’s administration. He only slighted overstated the job creation that occurred during the first three years of his administration, which is a bit below the number created during the last years of President Barack Obama’s administration. He claimed credit for America becoming the world’s leader in oil and gas production, but the country’s held that title since 2013. We don’t give Obama much credit for the upward trajectory of the American economy that Trump inherited and has more or less maintained, which mainly goes to the entrepreneurial genius of the American people and their still mostly free economy, but as Obama did Trump is claiming credit where credit is not due.
Trump also claimed credit for 12,000 new “factories” built during his administration, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 80 percent of them are “manufacturing establishments” with five or fewer employees, and overall the manufacturing sector of the economy is in a technical recession, with other “blue collar” sectors such as construction and mining seeing slower growth and farm bankruptcies rising, and most analysts blame that on Trump’s trade wars. The president boasted that the trade wars have yielded great deals, but the re-branded United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement is little more than the usual biannual tweaking of the old North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump falsely claimed had destroyed a fourth of America’s manufacturing jobs, and the deals he’s still seeking with China and the rest of the world don’t look much more promising.
He also bragged that “All those millions of people with 401(K)s and pensions are doing far than have ever done before with increases of 60, 70, 80, 90 and even 100 percent,” but that’s obviously crazy talk. According to Census Bureau only 32 percent of Americans are invested in 401(K)s and pension plans, and according an analysis by Fidelity Investments the increase in their accounts has been more like 1 percent. There was a pledge to always force insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions, even though the Trump administration continues to press a lawsuit that would completely undo Obamacare and it’s protections for preexisting condition and has offered no replacement plan. We also noticed Trump promised to get tough on all the big pharmaceutical companies while bragging how he’s streamlined the Food and Drug Administrations safety reviews, which Big Pharma probably won’t mind. He further bragged about criminal justice reform to release prisoners and paid maternity leave and planting new trees, which isn’t likely to endear to either or his admirers or his critics.
Unmentioned was the fact despite that the Greatest Economy Ever Trump is presiding over deficit spending even bigger than Obama saw when he had a Democratic Congress and severe recession to deal with, and that Trump had two years of a Republican Congress to strike the infrastructure deal Trump is still proposing and that’s less likely to win the support of all the Democrats Trump routinely mocks and taunts.
Trump’s impeachment trial wisely went unmentioned, too, even if the entirety of the speech was infused with an unmistakeable triumphalism about his inevitable acquittal today. Acquittal does not always equal exoneration in the court of public opinion, though, and Trump’s former friend O.J. Simpson might warn not to get too cocky about it. A few Republican Senators have been frank enough to say they’ll vote for acquittal even though they concede that Trump did do what’s charged with, and that it was something very bad which he ought not to have done, and a big chunk of the country will still feel outraged by the clearly rigged and evidence-free verdict even after the long slog toward Election Day.
On the other hand, Trump is such an eerily lucky fellow we sometimes suspect the famous deal-maker made a Faustian bargain, and he’ll have the good fortune to run against a Democrat. So far as anyone can tell the big winners in Iowa were the self-described socialist Sanders and the openly homosexual Buttigieg, which might be a step too far even in this age of taboo-breaking in both parties. Biden might make a more respectable showing in New Hampshire and regain his front-runner status in South Carolina and on Super Tuesday, but he’s not a very formidable campaigner. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar did well in Iowa to remain in the race, and she’s a relatively sane centrist who has a long record of winning Republican votes and strikes us at the Democrats’ best bet, but this year that probably dooms her chances.
From our perspective here in the middle of the country and on the political sidelines, the state of the union is somewhat worrisome.

— Bud Norman

The Debacle in Iowa

This was supposed to be an analysis of the results of the Iowa Caucus, which officially kicks off the Democratic presidential primary race, but it’s getting very late and no results are yet available. The Iowa Democratic Party blames the delay on “quality checks” to clear up “inconsistencies.”
Which is pretty damned embarrassing for the Iowa Democratic Party, which be able to pull off its quadrennial big event by now. Given the political paranoia of the moment, on the other hand, we can understand why the the party would rather slow and safe than hasty and perhaps sorry. Four years former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton beat Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by a razor thin margin in the caucus, close enough to leave some Sanders supporters convinced the vote had been rigged.
Sanders’ supporters were right that the state national party establishments preferred Clinton, and they were right that game was rigged with “super delegates” who earned a vote at the convention with their party credentials. Clinton wound up winning a slight majority of the votes cast in the primaries and caucuses, but Sanders’ famously ardent admirers are still seething. As the Republican nominee President Donald Trump fanned the flames of their resentment reduce Democratic turnout for Clinton, which arguably worked to some extent in the states where Trump won his electoral majority by thin margins, and this time around his campaign manager and his son were suggesting that the Democratic bigwigs are once again out to get Sanders.
According to the polls Sanders was the heavy favorite in the race, but the Des Moines Registers usually final poll wasn’t published after someone noticed South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s name was left of the list of candidates some poll respondents wee asked about, and there seemed to be a lot of volatility in the standings the late stages of the race, so we can’t blame the Democrats for being even overly cautious.
Still, it’s pretty damned embarrassing for the Democratic Party.

— Bud Norman

Hail to the Chiefs

Football has a lot of its appeal to us in recent years, what with all the head injuries and thuggery and political spats and endless video reviews, but we weren’t going to miss Sunday’s LIVth Super Bowl. Watching the big game is pretty much a patriotic obligation, and here in Wichita rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs is a civic duty.
The game proved quite entertaining, even if it was bogged down with a longer-than-usual halftime and even more commercial interruptions than a regular season game. After an early field goal by the San Francisco ’49ers the Chiefs took the end-of-the-first quarter lead with a touchdown by superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes, but the bad guys got the better of the second quarter and the teams went into locker room tied at 10 to 10. Things looked bleak for the Chiefs after the ’49ers scored another field goal and one touchdown during a third quarter of offensive futility for the Chiefs and their superstar quarterback, but the good guys had overcome bigger fourth quarters deficits in winning their two previous playoff games, as well as the regular season finale that earned them a first-round bye and home field advantage, so nobody around here was changing the channel.
Sure enough, the Chief’s underrated defensive unit shut down the ’49ers, Mahomes snapped out of a brief slump and his underrated running backs and receivers and offensive line came up with big plays, and after three unanswered fourth-quarter touchdowns the Chiefs won by a deceptively convincing score of 31 to 20. There were gunshots and fireworks and audible cheers on our way home, as the Chiefs fans celebrated the team’s first championship in 50 years, so the pent up emotion was understandable. That last championship was so long ago that we and some of the neighborhood kids played a pickup game in the backyard during the uneventful halftime show, there’s a famous picture of the Chief’s then-star quarterback Len Dawson smoking a halftime cigarette in the locker room, and the game was still called the AFL-NFL World Championship, although it’s been retroactively re-named Super Bowl IV.
All the rest of Super Bowl’s much-ballyhooed sideshows also reminded us of how much things have changed in a mere half-century. As we recall the Chiefs’ first Super Bowl half-time show featured a guy flying around with a James Bond-style jet pack and a brief performance by the aging but still-beloved Broadway diva Carol Channing, but since then audiences have come to expect something far more extravagant. The acts have included such baby-boomer favorites as The Rolling Stones and Sir Paul McCartney, along with some younger and hipper entertainers we’d not previously heard of. This year’s show featured Jennifer Lopez, who’s so famous that we have heard of her, although we couldn’t name a song she’s recorded or any of the famous men she’s been famously involved with, and another woman we’d not previously heard of named Shakira.
We must admit, it was quite extravagant. Both women are quite comely and extremely callipygian, and were accompanied by what seemed a cast of thousands of comely and callipygian and similarly scantily-clad backup singers dancers, along with some high-tech and state-of-the-art stagecraft that seemingly plunged them all into an infernal pit of orgiastic excess as fireworks went off and laser lights beamed. Both of the undeniably gorgeous and talented women are reportedly more than 40 years old, which some of our 40-something female Facebook friends proudly noted, and they included a lot of cute kids singing something vaguely patriotic toward the end, but a much younger friend we’ve known since her birth predicted the halftime show will eventually wind up on Pornhub.com.
These days the interminable advertisements are part of the ostensible appeal of the telecast, as Madison Avenue always unleashes its most ambitious efforts on the most-watched and most-expensive show of the year. We pride ourselves on being inoculated to Madison Avenue’s most market-tested enticements, but we try to assess their creativity and chuckle-worthy cleverness with the objective eye of a cultural critic, and we give this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads a mixed review. Part of the problem was that the ads were populated with celebrities we are supposed to recognize but don’t.
There was a Cheetos commercial featuring M.C. Hammer, who was a hip-pop star so long ago that we remember his hit “You Can’t Touch This,” which was amusingly about how you can’t touch anything after eating Cheetos. Another had a woman we used to enjoy on “Saturday Live” and the guy who so endearingly played “Jim” on “The Office” and some other guy pitching for some company’s self-parking car, but at first we didn’t recognize the guy who played “Jim” behind his fashionable, we still have no idea who the other guy is, but at least we got the joke about the Boston accents and the cameo by Boston Red Sox legend Dave “Big Papi” Ortiz, even if we can’t remember what company invented this seemingly amazing self-parking vehicle.
We also got the joke in the Doritos ad that featured rapper Li’l Nas X challenging the taciturn and mustached and gravelly voiced western movie star Sam Elliot to a break-dancing duel on the dusty streets of an Old West town, and Billy Ray Cyrus coming in at the end. As old time country music fans we took an interest when X rose to the top of the country-and-western charts with a western-themed rap number called “Old Town Road,” and how Cyrus was one of the few country stars to object when Billboard pulled it from the country charts as insufficiently country, and how it sparked an interesting debate about what the hell is country music anymore these days? We have our own opinions of the matter, and rather enjoyed the ad, but the joke’s so obscure we can’t imagine it selling a lot of Doritos.
Politics once gain intruded, which didn’t happen last time the Chiefs won a Super Bowl. Starting with President Barack Obama it’s become a custom to kick off the Super Bowl festivities with a nationally televised pre-game presidential interview, and of course that’s the one thing Obama ever did that Trump wants to continue. Obama always gave his interviews to friendly media who allowed him to assure the public that on Super Bowl the state of the union of strong, and Trump granted his time to Fox News sycophant Sean Hannity, who allowed Trump to warn the nation that if he didn’t win reelection the country was inevitably headed toward communism. Fortunately, in both cases the broadcasts were relatively low-rated.
Both Trump and his much-more-billionaire Democratic rival Michael Bloomberg spent $10 million on Super Bowl ads, and we wonder if either of them got more out of it than Cheetos or Doritos or the company with the amazing self-parking car. We missed Bloomberg’s ad, as we were in the men’s room or taking a cigarette break or on a liquor store run, but we hear it was all about his gun-grabbing policies, which is not likely to appeal the considerable good ol’ boy audience tuning into a Super Bowl, nor to many minorities. We did catch Trump’s ad touting his pardon of an elderly and woman non-violent black drug offender, and boasting how he had freed even more black felons by passing a criminal justice reform bill that Obama couldn’t get passed, which seems to be playing to what Madison Avenue euphemistically calls the “urban audience,” which Trump is assiduously courting with the low black unemployment numbers he can credibly claim.
The good old boys should know, though, that the non-violent and elderly woman drug offender Trump pardoned was sentenced at age 41 for leading a multi-million-dollar cocaine ring, and although there was no proof she’d ever committed a violent crime the drug ring she ran had plenty of them. Reality show star Kim Kardashian and wife of Trump pal Kanye West lobbied for her presidential pardon, as they’re somehow related, and although a lot of those felons freed by the criminal reform act some of them probably deserved they release, but most good old boys would agree that some didn’t. Trump’s not likely to win over a decisive majority of the “urban audience,” given his long history, which the “urban audience” by now well knows, and most of it doesn’t know either Kim Kardashian or Kanye West personally, although he still won’t lose any of the good ol’ boy vote.
By the way, as inconsequential as it is, Trump also “tweeted” his congratulations to “the great state of Kansas” for the Chief’s victory. We mostly love the Chiefs here in Kansas, until you get so far west they start rooting for the Denver Broncos, but in fact the Arrowhead Stadium where the Chiefs play and most of the Kansas City metropolitan is located in Missouri. Before Trump could delete and correct the “tweet” people were posting “memes” showing a crude “Sharpie” drawing including the entire Kansas City metro, which is a funny allusion to a previous Trump story about including in Alabama in a hurricane, but by now a bit obscure.
The important thing for the moment, though, is that the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, and all the Democrats and Republicans and homosexuals and heterosexuals and socialists and libertarians and good old boys and the “urban audience” around here are at least momentarily happy about it. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another long, long half century before it  happens again,

— Bud Norman

What Comes Next, and Then After That

Everything might change by the time you read this, but as we write there’s no telling what happens next in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
The very unofficial whip counts of at least two major newspapers and a former Republican Senator say that only three sitting Republican Senators will join with all 47 Democratic and Democratic-aligned Senators to vote to allow witnesses to testify. That would result in a tie, but without any precedents to go on nobody seems to know if Vice President Mike Pence would cast the tie-breaking vote in his constitutional role as President of the Senate or if the honor goes to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in his constitutional role as presiding judge in the trial. A fourth Republican Senator who’s not running for reelection and has nothing to lose is currently being very coy about his vote, and Roberts is a famously unpredictable fellow, so we’re not making any bets with real money about how today goes.
Go ahead and bet the farm that the trial ends with Trump’s acquittal, if you have a farm, as there’s scant chance that enough Republican Senators will defy their party’s president and his loyal supporters in their states to vote for Trump’s conviction and removal to comprise the needed supermajority of the Senate. As to how that works for the two parties in the aftermath, that’s a dicier bet for both parties.
If the Senate allows the Democrats to call witnesses there will surely be some damning testimony, which is why Trump and the Republicans would rather not hear from them, but if it doesn’t that will also look pretty damned suspicious to every single Democrat and a majority of independents and even a stubborn few of us who have been Republicans far longer tan Trump has been. The Republicans can assert all of those witnesses are a bunch of lying left-wing tools of a “deep state” conspiracy who were through no fault of Trump’s hired as Trump administration officials, including that Ambassador to the European who gave a million dollars to Trump’s campaign and inauguration committees, but they don’t seem eager to swear in the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Energy or the White Chief of Staff and part-time Office of Management and Budget director who might clear all of this up. They’re even less eager to hear from Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and and his two recently indicted associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Forman, who have all forthrightly explained for their own personal reasons to the national news media how they’re tied up in all this.
The Republicans might also call for the testimony of former Vice President and current Democratic nominee contender Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who once worked without any apparent credentials but very great compensation on a Ukrainian energy company while his father was given responsibility by President Barack Obama to oversee Ukrainian policy. Which looks pretty damned suspicious, as all of our Democratic friends freely admit. They’ve got some convincing exculpatory evidence about just how bad it was, though, and it’s not as if the Trump kids aren’t doing pretty well for themselves, and neither Biden has any personal knowledge of anything to do with the charges against Trump, unless they give up that “Perry Mason” moment in this tele-drama and tearfully confess that they were guilty all along, and Trump was acting heroically when he pressured Ukraine with congressionaly-approved public money to expose their venal corruption.
We wouldn’t bet on that, though, because that’s just crazy. Even so, for now it seems to us an even-money bet that the Democrats lose this winning hand.
The Republicans don’t offer many arguments, but they lots of assertions about this being a witch hunt and a farce and a travesty and a mockery pf justice against an obviously blameless man, and although they have little evidence there’s great invective against anyone who’d like to hear the available and relevant evidence. For now that should suffice, at least with the hard-core fans, given that according to most of the polls somewhere between 42 and 47 percent of the country approves of Trump, and last time around his 46.1 percent of the popular vote was sufficiently spread the states to win a victory in the Electoral College. We’re not a six-times bankrupt casino mogul like Trump, but we’d already bet good money Trump will lose yet another popular vote in the coming election, and still say his odds of once again defying the Electoral College odds are about even money.
Especially if the damned Democrats go crazy left with their nominee, which they seem likely to do. If they don’t they’ll most likely wind up with Biden as the nominee, and he’ll have a harder time pressing the case against Trump’s obviously impeachable offenses, given that his son was also getting rich, just like Trump’s. By next November both affairs might be largely forgotten, which would be a shame, as someone should be held accountable, but that’s how it usually works out. Any Republicans wishing for a far-left Democratic nominee should be careful what they wish for or bet ob, though.

<div style=”text-indent:20px;” At this point we figure it’s probable that whatever crazy-ass leftist or relatively centrist nominee the Democrats come up with will win either a majority or plurality of the popular vote in the next election, but it’s well within the realm of possibility he or she would also win the more crucial Electoral College vote. However that works out we can’t see it working out well for the commonweal. Our constitutional order is hard to maintain, and for the time being nobody seems to be helping out.

— Bud Norman

An Intriguing Argument for the Defense, Which Works in Almost Any Case

Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz made an intriguing argument in defense of President Donald Trump during Wednesday’s session of the impeachment trial show. Dershowitz argued that even if Trump did what he’s accused of doing — as all the testimony and evidence Trump doesn’t want anyone to hear indicates — he did it only to get reelected, which Trump honestly believes is in the public interest.
We don’t have Dershowitz’s lofty academic credentials, but pretty much everybody who does agrees with us that the argument is laughably absurd. One hardly knows where to begin the ridicule.
Trump surely does believe that his reelection is of the utmost importance to the national interest, and probably even worries that “apres moi, le deluge,” although he wouldn’t know the historical allusion and wouldn’t put it that way, but even such an altruistic motive can’t justify anything he might want to do. Pressuring Attorney General William Barr to pressure the Justice Department to launch an investigation of a political rival might bolster Trumps reelection, and having a rival locked up or knocked off the way Vladimir Putin does in Russia might have the same happy effect, but only Trump’s most loyal supporters would agree that’s in the public interest.
Those some Trump fans wouldn’t like it if a Democratic president did the same, even if he sincerely believed that his reelection was vital to the public interest, but Dershowitz argues that any old president should have the same expansive powers.
Dershowitz could easily change his mind in the event of a different president, however, as he argued during the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton that an abuse of power and obstruction of Congress was sufficient reason to remove a president but now thinks otherwise. He’s explained on cable news that he wasn’t wrong then, but that he’s more right now, but it takes the talents of a Harvard law professor to appreciate that explanation.
Our guess is that a lot and Republicans and Democrats alike will be changing their minds about these sorts of things in the coming years.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, Back in Wichita

There’s a lot going on in the rest of the world, what with the impeachment trial and the Israelis and the Palestinians and the North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons programs and the deadly Chinese coronavirus all that that, but there’s also plenty to worry about right here in Wichita. We’re slightly more hopeful, though, that we’ll work things out well enough around here.
The talk of our town is mostly about the lousy weather and the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball squad and the Kansas City Chiefs football team and the massive layoffs at one of the biggest local employers and a proposal to remake a big chunk of downtown along the Arkansas River. There’s nothing to be done about the cold weather, and the young ‘Shocks are back in the top-25 and the Chiefs are in the Super Bowl with a decent chance of winning, but the layoffs at Spirit AeroSystems have everyone worried and the downtown renovation plans are being hotly debated.
Opinion is somewhat more divided about those downtown redevelopment proposals, but we’re enjoying the company of the diverse forces arrayed against it, and are hopeful it will prevail. Forgive us for summarizing the controversy so succinctly, but the gist of it is that some well-connected developers want to knock down some locally beloved buildings and replace them with something newer and uglier and more expensive. That includes the Century II building, a distinctive round and blue-domed concert and convention hall which was opened in 1970 to commemorate Wichita’s centennial and still suits its purpose, and the adjacent former main branch of the Wichita Public Library, which is currently unoccupied after the city built a new location across the Arkansas River tto alleviate the homeless problem but is also a fine example of late 20th century architecture.
So far as we can tell the only the people in favor of it are the developers and politicians who stand to benefit and the newfangled “tear it all down” sorts of conservatives. Most conservatives around here prefer to conserve the best of the city’s hard-earned architectural and cultural heritage, and the local liberals have an odd but endearing affection for the venerable old buildings, and most conservatives hate these public-private partnerships because because the public is picking up some part of the tab, while most of the liberals hate them because private interests might benefit. Which makes it easier for us to converse with all sort of Wichitans about the local news of the day, and folks tend to be polite and open doors for others and say “howdy” around here, so we’re hopeful things will work out.
The rest of the news is further away, though, and we rarely encounter the people involved in the big events, so we’re less hopeful about how all that turns out.

— Bud Norman

Parnas, Bolton, and the Impeachment Mess

The Democrats in the House of Representatives had some very compelling testimony and documentary evidence from credible witnesses when they impeached President Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, and since the news has been full of interviews and documents and surreptitious video recordings that seem to bolster their case. For now the president and his defenders would prefer the public not hear about it during the impeachment trial.
Two relevant witnesses who did not testify in the House but are very much in the news lately are former national security advisor John Bolton and a fellow named Lev Parnas, a Russian-born American citizen and associate of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani who is currently under federal indictment for funneling Russian and other foreign campaign contributions to Republican candidates. Both are problematic for the president’s defense.
Parnas and his lawyer have gone on two cable news networks to describe how he assisted Giuliani’s efforts on the president’s behalf to extort the Ukrainian government’s help in smearing potential Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden, which is basically what all this impeachment brouhaha is about. He’s undeniably a shady character, being an associate of Giuliani and under indictment for funneling foreign money to Republican candidates and all, and Trump has said he doesn’t even the know the guy, but at this point we’re inclined to believe him than the President of the United States.
Presidents get their pictures taken with a lot of people, but the news media have come up with a lot of pictures of Trump and his sons and administration officials looking very chummy with Parnas, and Giuliani admits that Parnas and fellow indictee Igor Fruman were involved in his efforts on Trump’s behalf to get dirt on Biden from the Ukrainian government. Parnas has also handed over to the news media some surreptitiously taken audio tape that clearly shows Trump knew him well enough to host him at a dinner in Trump’s swank Washington hotel’s restaurant, and to share some laughs with him about ousting the Ambassador to Ukraine, which is one of the very suspicious subplots in this impeachment drama.
Bolton, who has reportedly written a soon-to-be-published tell-all book alleging that Trump did indeed demand the quid pro quo deal with the Ukrainians that Trump is accused of in the articles of impeachment, is another problem. He’s got a lucrative book deal, and after his rude defenestration from the Trump administration while this Ukraine business was going down he’s arguably a disgruntled former employee, but if he’s called to testify under oath before the Senate he’ll bring both a begrudging credibility from the right and a newfound respect from the left. Trump can’t credibly claim to hardly know the guy, as he once entrusted Bolton with the job of national security advisor, and they’ve been photographed together a gazillion times, and Bolton got the job because he was once a hero of the erstwhile Republican party’s most hawkish foreign policy wing. The liberals hated him for that, even if it brought him into conflict with Trump’s Russia-friendly and post-war world order policies, but if Bolton keeps a promise to honor a Senate subpoena and says what he’s expected to say, and what his book reportedly says he wrote, the liberals will dearly love him for that.
All the polls show the viewing public will disappointed if such intriguing characters in this his reality show aren’t given sufficient camera time, which is a problem for the Republicans, who had once hoped to dismiss the charges without any bother of witnesses and testimony. Recent news reports indicate a sufficient-for-a-majority number of four Republican Senators and maybe even as many ten will join all of the Democrats in a vote to allow witnesses and evidence in the trial, which will likely make it much harder for any of them to justify a vote for Trump’s acquittal.
On the other hand, Trump could call to the stand Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and moonlighting Office of Management and Budget director and White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Trump attorney Giuliani, along with everyone else in the administration that’s been implicated in the mess, and let them clear up this whole whole mess up with their sworn testimony. He could also have his crack legal team and Senate allies call back to the stand the respected ambassador to Ukraine that he removed and the ambassador appointed by his Secretary of State to her succeed her and the respected military man and Purple Heart recipient and the million-dollar Trump donor who testified against Trump in the House impeachment hearings.
For whatever reason, though, Trump would prefer you just take his word for it that he did nothing wrong.

— Bud Norman

Pompeo vs. National Public Radio

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is having a nasty spat with a National Public Radio reporter named Mary Louise Kelly, and we’re sure that President Donald Trump and his most ardent admirers are loving it. The true Trump believers despise pretty much all media except for Fox News and the Sinclair Network and their favorite talk radio talkers, and have a special disdain for such fancy-pants and know-it-all outlets as NPR, so they love seeing those pesky reporters being treated rudely.
Since the age of 19 we’ve been involved in some journalism pursuit or another, and that’s been such a long, long time we’ve become inured to a certain amount of press-bashing. There was no way of avoiding someone’s anger when we covered Wichita’s divisive anti-abortion protests and pro-abortion rights counter-protests back in the ’90s, and even though we’d been interns in the office of Sen. Bob Dole and always voted for him he tried to score some points by lashing out at us, and no matter how meticulously we balanced the Republican and Democratic arguments in our coverage of ant campaign we always got hateful letters from one side or the other and usually both.
Although we well understand the conservative complaint that most of the press leans toward liberalism, and have made that case in countless editorial meetings and internet essays, but that nasty spat between Pompeo and Kelly seems another example of how it’s gone too far. We voted for Pompeo every time he ran for Kansas’ fourth district House seat, but we’ve lost a lot of respect for him since then, and in this case it appears he’s being dishonest and dodging legitimate questions and losing his temper in a way that Secretaries of State should never do.
It all started during a long-scheduled interview when Kelly asked Pompeo about the firing of Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, which is an important matter in the current impeachment trial of Trump, and Pompeo replied that “I agreed to come to on your show today to talk about Iran,” then angrily answered follow-up questions by insisting that he’d defended all State Department employees, and according to NPR he then “stood, leaned and silently glared at Kelly for several seconds before leaving the room.”
By NPR’s account, a few moments later Kelly was called into Pompeo’s private living room at the State Department, where he shouted at her for asking questions about Ukraine, which he insisted had not been agreed to when scheduling the interview. Kelly said Pompeo shouted “Do you think the American people care about Ukraine?,” with Kelly adding that he’d used the “f-word” a couple of times during the tirade. She also said Pompeo dared her to find Ukraine on a map with no names.
When NPR reported this, Pompeo charged that they’d violated a journalistic oath to keep the second conversation off the record. A later Pompeo statement called it “another example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt President Trump and this administration.”
NPR is indeed a left-leaning news organization, and they have that annoying soft-spoken and haughty-sounding way of broadcasting that always grates on our ears, but their account of the matter seems more true to our experienced eyes, and they don’t just make stuff up the way the Trump administration does. Both Iran and Ukraine are matters of public interest that any experienced journalist would want to talk about with the Secretary of State, and we can’t imagine that the seasoned Kelly and her seasoned producers would have agreed to leave Ukraine out of the interview. Kelly didn’t bring a microphone into Pompeo’s personal living room, but according the the rules of the journalism game that’s not the same as agreeing to go off the record, and we can’t imagine Kelly doing that. Pompeo confirmed the part about daring Kelly to find Ukraine on the map when he “tweeted” that “Ukraine is not Bangladesh,” but we can’t imagine that a woman with a Master’s degree in European studies from Cambridge University who has also extensively reported from south Asia would make that glaring mistake.
We can far more easily imagine that Pompeo was simply in no mood to answer any questions from a pesky reporter about the arguably impeachable Ukraine matter, which he’s up to his neck in and keeps looking worse with each passing day of audio and video recordings and other evidence in the hated mainstream media, and he became, for lack of a better word, unhinged, and in a way that Secretaries of State should never do. By now lashing out at anyone who asks a question rather than answering it is either a feature or a bug of the Trump administration, depending on your point of view. He was mostly well-hinged back when he had the relatively easy job of being Kansas’ fourth district congressman, with only the decimated Kansas media and its mostly Republican audience to contended with, but he lately seems under more stress.
The die-hard fans will continue to love the administration’s robust resistance to hated media, and believe they’re just speaking truth to power, but the rest of the country will want to some hear honest answers to the pesky but quite reasonable questions that are being asked of the people who are actually in power.

— Bud Norman