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Conservatism in the Age of Trumpism

Way back in late February of 2011, the reality show star Donald Trump was roundly booed during a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference’s annual convention. Trump declined his next invitation to CPAC’s 2016 convention during the Republican presidential primaries, which is something Republican presidential hopefuls normally don’t dare, but was nonetheless roundly booed when then conservative hero Sen. Ted Cruz derisively mentioned his name.
President Trump was greeted as a conquering hero at the 2017 CPAC confab, however, and is expected to as rapturously received when he returns today. This raises question of whether it’s Trump or conservatism that has changed over the past six or seven years.
There’s a strong case to be made that Trump has been transformed. Back in ’11 he was still flaunting his friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton, writing checks to all the New York and Florida Democrats he relied on for favors, and was still on the record in favor of banning “assault rifles” and allowing unrestricted access to abortion, among his other many heretical opinions. By 2016 he’d been a leading proponent of the “birther” theory that President Barack Obama was not and American citizen, was saying the nastiest things anyone had to say about the Clintons, promising to get tougher on illegal and legal immigration than anyone else dared, all in the snarling rhetorical style of talk radio, but his conservative credentials were still in doubt.
By the time he made his triumphant return to CPAC last year as the Republican party’s very own president, having triumphed over such well-credentialed conservatives as the aforementioned Cruz, Trump was clearly not the New York City liberal he had once claimed to be. When he takes to the stage today he’ll be able to wave a big tax cut bill that he signed into law, point to all the burdensome regulations he’s eliminated, brag about the strict constructionist he appointed the Supreme Court, and rightly claim that although he didn’t repeal and replace Obamacare his tax cut bill at least rescinded the hated individual mandate. So far he hasn’t caved on promises to kick out all those illegal yet sympathetic “dreamers” who were brought here as children, or his promises to deliver the favors the National Rifle Association paid him for, and although he’s sounded kind of wobbly on both lately his conservative credentials probably won’t be checked at CPAC’s door.
Still, we can’t quite shake a sad feeling that this is not the conservatism we signed up for so long ago. In our idealistic youth, which occurred during one of those occasional epochs of cataclysmic cultural change, we embraced a Burkean conservatism that sought to maintain the best of what our culture had established over the generations, to move cautiously toward its highest and most time-tested ideals, and resist the worst of all the craziness coming from the left. This led us to certain conclusions about the government that governs best being the one that governs least, the enduring wisdom of the Judeo-Christian tradition and the many ways that humans gotten it wrong, not letting petty disputes devolve into warfare, and the importance of eventually balancing the books.
For the most part the Republican party has imperfectly followed these general principles for most of our lives, but these days it seems to have made a predictably bad deal with the guy who had “The Art of the Deal” ghost-written for him. The craziness coming from the left is crazier than ever, and we feel it must be resisted, so it’s especially sad to realize that’s about all we have left in common with the right these days.
The conservative cheers for Trump won’t be for the enduring wisdom of Judeo-Christian tradition, as anybody understands it, and the mention of any institutions that have been painstakingly established over the generations to resist his worst impulses will surely be met with talk of “deep state” “silent coups” by “enemies of the people” and chants of “Burn it down!” The CPAC crowds have already indulged themselves with the ritual chant of “Lock her up” at the mention of vanquished Democrat foe Hillary Clinton’s name, just like the crowds at the Ukrainian strongman’s rallies arranged by Trump’s former and now-indicted campaign manager, which did result in the losing opponent going to jail, which actually outraged most conservatives way back then.
These days too many self-described conservatives seem to like that strong man style of governance, even as they insist they’re freedom-loving small government types. They still insist they’re against annual deficits and multi-trillion dollar debts, but don’t seem to mind that all of Trump’s budgets lead to a bigger-than-Obama hole. They still insist they’re the party of family values, but they’ll give a Trump a pass on his extramarital flings with porn stars and Playboy centerfolds. They still want to lock Clinton up for mishandling classified information, but they’re perfectly fine with alleged-wives beaters and a suspicious-as-hell son-in-laws and dozens of other uncleared staffers getting daily access to top security intelligence briefings.
At least he’s not Hillary, the CPAC conventioneers will surely say, and we have to admit they’ve got a point. The CPAC convention has always drawn almost every sort of self-described contrastive, but mostly the types who take it far too seriously, so it’s always been a bit of a freak show. When Trump was booed back in ’11 it was because he disparaged far-libertarian Rep. Ron Paul, who had easily won the convention’s primary straw poll over eventual nominee Mitt Romney, and this time around it featured the last French election’s nominee from the National Front, a far-right nationalist party with fascist roots whose campaign also received cyber support from the Russian government, and she was more warmly received than Trump was back in ’11. As bad as that sounds, though, we’re quite sure the next big liberal confab, full of people who also take this stuff far too seriously, will have something just as bad. The CPAC convention’s one saving grace has always been that it united all those factions in their opposition to the worst of all that leftwing craziness, and for now Trump is the only champion to rally around in that righteous cause.
If conservatism is thus defined as rallying around Trump, though, it’s in worse trouble than anybody at CPAC seems to realize.

— Bud Norman

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The Latest Children’s Crusade

America’s permissive-by-global-standards gun laws and social attitudes have survived all the political outcries that followed more mass shootings than we can remember in the past many years, but the latest tragedy seems different.
The St. Valentine’s Day massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 students and faculty dead and more than a dozen others injured, was no bloodier than usual but has somehow set off a nationwide youth movement protesting for stricter gun control. Students have staged walk-out protests at high schools around the country, shown up en masse at boisterous protests at the White House and the Florida statehouse, and started the effective sorts of social media networks you’d expect of today’s young people. All the politicians have taken notice, and even President Donald Trump found himself in a “listening session” on Wednesday.
Perhaps it’s just been one mass shooting too many, but important another reason this time is different is that the students at affluent and usually placid Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are a telegenically sympathetic and uncannily eloquent bunch of teenagers.
We know this because all but one of the cable news networks have lately made reality stars out of them, which puts the more rightward media in a tough spot. There are cold and dispassionate and harshly logical reasons for America’s permissive laws and social attitudes regarding guns, but they’re hard to make in the hot media of television, as Marshall McCluhan famously described it, especially when it has such telegenically sympathetic and well-spoken stars on hand.
A few of the rightmost media have conjectured that these kids are just a bit too-uncannily well spoken for teenagers, and must have been hired from central casting by George Soros or some other left-wing conspirator, and that the kid with the former FBI father is especially suspicious given the bureau’s insidious role in the “deep state” plot against Trump. These conjectures have been passed along on social media by a couple of obscure Republican politicos and the president’s namesake son, but for the most part it’s been a futile gesture. The more respectable rightward media take care to be respectful of the terror and loss these telegenic kids have suffered, though, and even such a politically incorrect president as Trump wound up enduring their sob stories with an appropriately somber face during Wednesday’s “listening session.”
One of The Washington’s Post fancy-schmantzy high-resolution digital cameras took a picture of the talking points memo Trump was holding in his normal-sized hands, and it’s clearly discernible that fifth on the list was a needed reminder to say “I hear you.” That was about all Trump had to say to the mass-shooting survivors he’d convened, and although he’d been careful not to invite any of the kids from Douglas High, many of whom had already said they’d decline the invitation, the people Trump and the rest of the country were listening to were also remarkably sympathetic and well-spoken. Trump spoke at a relatively modest length about his campaign promise to arm all the teachers in America, admitting that most of them would probably prove quite ineffectual but holding out hope that a certain number of them would be bad-assed enough to take care of the situation, but mostly he responded to every tear-jerking story by saying “I hear you.”
There’s still a cold and dispassionate and harshly logical argument for America’s permissive laws and social attitudes regarding guns, and much of what these telegenically sympathetic and remarkably well-spoken high school students are proposing is easily refuted bunk, even if we can’t bring ourselves to blame their youthful selves for that, but Trump and his most rightward media apologists don’t seem up to making that complex case. This time around the high school kids and gun-grabbing crazies on the seem more careful to mostly propose more modest proposals about more careful background checks, fixing the bureaucratic glitches that kept federal and local enforcement from acting on numerous tips and intervening with the crazy mixed-up kid who shot up that upper-class Parkland high school, and other non-controversial solutions.
Not so long before he became a Republican candidate for the presidency Trump was yet another Democratic New Yorker who endorsed the easily refuted bunk about banning semi-automatic long guns, and although he’s since promised the gun rights absolutists that he’ll never let them down and his elephant-hunting namesake son has “tweeted” his urgings not to give an inch, we don’t expect him to start “tweeting” taunts about high school kids and holding the line. Some modest measures will likely be passed, the kids will forever remember that glorious day they walked out of algebra class, and the the political ramifications won’t be felt until all those high schools become eligible to vote.

— Bud Norman

Finding True Love in Trump’s America

According to all of the public opinion polls President Donald Trump is widely unpopular among women, and the anecdotal evidence we’ve gleaned from conversations with our numerous female friends suggests that many women would not consider dating a Trump supporter. Fortunately for all those lonely fellows in the red “Make America Great Again” ball caps, there’s now an internet dating site that can match them with a politically compatible mate.
Trump.dating’s web site promises to “Make dating great again!” and help those who pay a matchmaking fee “Find the America first partner of your dreams.” After all, the site says, “When the political foundation is the same, the sky is the limit.”
The web site once featured the picture of a smiling couple who had found true love through their services, with the fellow’s “MAGA” cap on backwards and flashing the word “Trump” while his smiling sweetheart poses in a more feminine pink “MAGA” cap with the bill properly facing forward, but that was scuttled after the couple’s hometown newspaper revealed that the fellow had a past conviction for indecent liberties with a child. The updated site features a far more handsome fellow, who might or might not be an actual Trump supporter but is presumably not a convicted child molester, along with four other rather comely people who don’t look at all like stereotypical Trump supporters.
Trump.dating does not facilitate same-sex relationships between Trump supporters, as you can only register as a straight man or straight woman, and there’s been some predictable tsk-tsking about that in the leftward media. Based on the anecdotal evidence we’ve gleaned from conversations with our numerous homosexual friends, we guess Trump.dating is not missing out on much business with that policy, and we don’t think all those leftward media are really all so eager to hook up the few homosexual Trump fans.
The site should do well with many of those single and straight males who support Trump, on the other hand. In this age of bra-burning and man-hating women’s lib gone wild it’s hard to find a woman who shares your admiration for an obese serial adulterer with a bad comb-over who boasts of grabbing women by their wherevers, so it’s well worth a matchmaking fee to wind up with such a rare gem. If she looks anything like the hotties featured on the web site’s opening page, even the one who wound up married to the convicted child molester, so much the better.
Whether that proves the basis of a lasting relationship remains to be seen, though. Our own hard-luck romantic history has included some very opinionated liberal women, but they generally tolerated our conservative opinions, which were rather old-fashioned and as respectful of women as our loving Mom insisted on with a slap to our heads whenever we fell short, and they had many memorably fine qualities and ¬†politics was never the problem. We had a couple of flings with some women who were generally in agreement with our daily rants, several more with women who didn’t care to talk about that nonsense at all, and although the lattermost group were by far the best of the lot none of them worked out.
In the unlikely event we ever encounter an attractive and intelligent and age-appropriate yet still-single woman whose political and cultural opinions are completely aligned with ours, we’re sure we’d be quickly bored. We still consider ourselves conservatives, but in the more likely event we encounter an attractive and more-or-less age-appropriate woman who likes the obese serial adulterer types with bad comb-overs and grab-’em-by-the-wherever tendencies, we’ll stand in solidarity with most of our women friends and won’t consider dating them. If that puts us in better stead with most of our women friends, so much the better.

— Bud Norman

In the Calm, Peaceful Eye of the Hurricane

According to The Washington Post, an anonymous White House official said that after the horrific mass shooting at a Florida high school on Valentine’s Day “A lot of people here felt it was a reprieve from seven or eight days of just getting pummeled.” It’s a morbid thought, but there might be something to it.
Prior to the tragedy all the talk was about the departure of the staff secretary who’d been kept on the job even after the administration was made aware that he couldn’t get the security clearance needed for the job because two ex-wives were accusing him of physical abuse. That led to stories about the under-oath testimony by the Federal Bureau of Investigation director that the White House had lied about when the White House had been made aware, embarrassing questions about why so many White House officials can’t get a security clearance, another story about another accused wife-beater leaving his speechwriting job, and after days of praising his staff secretary the president being hectored by the press to at long last say that he doesn’t approve of wife-beating.
President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer also admitted he paid $130,000 to a pornographic film performer who had once alleged an affair with then-reality show star Trump but stopped doing so after the payment. Then there was the story that Trump’s friends at The National Enquirer paid big money for a former Playboy centerfold model for her own exclusive and unpublished story about an affair with Trump, which she alleges occurred around the same time as the alleged affair with the porn performer, which was just months after Trump’s third wife gave birth to his fifth child. There were also stories, perhaps related, about all the visible evidence of a frosty relationship between the president and First Lady.
Once upon a time in America such titillating tales of porn performers and Playboy models and a president would have crowded even the wife-beating stories with national security implications out of the news, but by now we have a First Lady who’s done some pornographic modeling of her own and a reality show president that no one, even his most evangelical apologists, looks to for moral leadership. The leftward media that once defended President Bill Clinton’s presidential peccadillos don’t want to seem puritanical about it, so they’ve mostly focused their attention on the possible campaign law violations that are clearly implied, and it’s not the big deal it would have been back in the good old days.
After the tragedy in Florida the “Russia thing” nosed its way back into the news. Special counsel Robert Mueller obtained an indictment against 13 Russians for fraudulently running an internet propaganda campaign during the last presidential campaign that was clearly designed to benefit Trump, which came after all of the Trump appointees to all of the nation’s intelligence-gathering agencies testified under oath that they were certain the Russian government had indeed launched a sophisticated effort to influence the presidential election that included hacking into e-mail accounts and trying to hack into state vote-counting computers and spreading propaganda.
The announcement of the indictment was read by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a Trump appointee who is in the awkward position of overseeing Mueller’s investigation after the full-blown Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from the “Russia thing,” and he stressed that only Russians were indicted and the indictment mentioned “unwitting” Americans who might have been involved. Trump and his apologists read this as vindication in the whole “Russia thing,” but that required Trump to acknowledge that Russia’s meddling wasn’t the hoax he’d long claimed.
This was followed 14 presidential “tweets” that would have dominated a day’s news cycle in the relatively recent past. Trump blamed the school shooting on the FBI’s obsession with the “Russia thing,” blasted his national security advisor for acknowledging Russia’s meddling in the last election without mention that Trump would have won anyway, and even described Oprah Winfrey as “insecure.”
It was all too much to follow over a long President’s Day Weekend, especially with all those remarkably eloquent and righteously impassioned kids telling all the cable news networks about the tragedy they lived through, and in an odd sort of way that does somehow seem to redound to Trump’s political benefit. Those poor souls in the White House communications team charged with spinning all the various scandals might well have felt able to take a federal holiday off on Monday.
They’ll have to be back on the job today, though, as it looks to be a brief respite. The alleged wives-beaters who gained entree to the White House are already long forgotten, but the hubbub about all the White House staffers without security clearance has prompted the chief of staff to impose a new rule that will likely demote senior advisor and ambassador-at-large and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner. The possible campaign violations involved in those six-figure payouts to the porn performer and Playboy model might yet wind up in court, or under the special counsel’s scrutiny, and that will keep these otherwise boring stories in the news. Mueller’s indictment not only mentioned “unwitting” American participants in the Russian campaign meddling but also referred to “persons known and unknown to the grand jury,” which has an ominous ring about it.
That tragedy in Florida doesn’t seem to be redounding to the president’s political benefit, either. Those sympathetically grieving students are remarkably eloquent and appealing — we got choked up watching one respectful and well-groomed and well-spoken senior who has already signed up for Army service even though he looks and sounds like a college man — and so far they’re winning in the public opinion polls against Trump’s un-parseable and profane and Oprah-bashing “tweets.”
We hold out hope that some solution can be found to end the ongoing problem of mass shootings without infringing on the God-given and constitutionally-protected right for a citizen to protect himself, but we expect a lot of bad news before we arrive at that happy day.

— Bud Norman

Tweeting Instead of Golfing

President Donald Trump didn’t play his usual round of golf at his wholly-owned Mar-a-Lago resort during his usual federally-funded weekend visit there, ostensibly out of respect for those mourning the deaths of 17 students at a nearby high school in yet another American mass shooting. Instead he spent much of the weekend sending out ten “tweets” on various subjects in the news, but we figure his time would have been better spent on the golf course.
The “tweet” that got the most attention was the one blaming the mass shooting tragedy on the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which Trump alleges was too preoccupied with that phony-baloney “Russia thing” to pay much attention to a kid in south Florida that pretty much everyone down there knew was likely to shoot up his former high school. By all accounts the the very screwed-up kid in question was quite predictably a mass school murderer, as concerned neighbors and Facebook friends and school officials had repeatedly warned both the FBI and local law enforcement officials, and both the FBI and the local law enforcement officials now freely admit that they pretty much screwed the pooch in this deadly case.
Blaming it all on the phony-baloney “Russia thing,” though, smacks of presidential desperation. The FBI has some 35,000 employees and only a relative and specifically-qualified few of them are involved in the “Russia thing,” none of whom were diverted from taking the calls from the neighbors concerned about that next mass school shooter, and we doubt that any of the local law enforcement officials who got the same concerned calls were at all distracted by the “Russia thing.” This all comes after a week when the president’s own appointees to the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency and the rest of the national intelligence agencies testified before congress that yeah, Russia meddled in the last in the last election to Trump’s benefit and is is eager to do so again. The kids at the south Florida high school who saw 17 of their classmates gunned down by a a screwed-up former classmate aren’t buying it, and we guess that neither will the public at large.
Although we still defend the constitutional right to bear arms, no matter how tricky that seems at the moment, we have to admit that the latest mass school shooting occurred at an upper-middle class where the students are unusually well-spoken and media-savvy and quite righteously pissed off, and that so far our president’s unfounded and profanely worded “tweets” are getting the worst of it.
Other Trump “tweets” attacked his own National Security Advisor, didn’t mention the porn star and Playboy playmate that have lately figured in the presidential news, and basically did nothing to make America great again.

— Bud Norman

Warmth, Basketball and All the Bad News

Most of the news on Thursday was hard to take, what with all the tear-jerking up-close-and-personal accounts of the heroic dead from the latest mass schooling shooting, the ongoing scandal about the high-ranking wives-beater in the White House, not to mention the latest revelations about that whole “Russia thing.” On the other hand, here in Wichita the weather was unseasonably warm, the stock market was slightly up, and our Wichita State University Wheatshockers men’s basketball team toughed out a crucial win.
At the risk of sounding shallow, there’s something to be gratefully said for an unseasonably warm mid-February afternoon around here, even if we did wind up sleeping through much of it. Even if you aren’t invested in the stock markets it’s always a good thing when those green arrows point up, as it reassures that at least the broader economy isn’t in imminent danger of tanking. Unless you grew up in the local hoops-crazed basketball culture around here you won’t fully appreciate the significance of that toughed-out ‘Shocker victory, but we hope you’ll understand why it’s such a welcome distraction.
According to the subjective rankings of America’s sportswriters and college coaches the ‘Shocks are the 19th best best team in the country, but on Thursday by objective measurement they were three games behind the University of Cincinnati Bearcats in the more important American Conference race. To keep hope of a conference championship alive they had to beat a tough and championship tournament-contending Temple team at home, after suffering an embarrassing loss to them on the road. Temple jumped out to a 15 point lead in the first half, the ‘Shocks played some tough defense and crisp offense to cut it down to a three-point lead, but the Owls of Temple had it back up to double-digits by half-time, but the ‘Shocks came back with their patented bear=down defense and a case of characteristic loose-ball hustling that resulted in player-of-the game big man Shaquille Morris’ deft assist to the relatively stubby white boy Conner Frankamp,who is somehow the Wichita City League’s current all-time scorer, and the ‘Shocks won by a deceptive seven points with their usual good free throw shooting down the stretch.
Meanwhile Cincy lost to a tough and tournament-contending University of Houston team that split its home-and-home series with the Shocks, and with a home-and-home left again Cincy in the ‘Shocks last four games championship hopes remain alive, and according to all the experts there’s the relative warmth of March Madness waiting for us in any case.
Which is not to diminish our mourning for those folks in sunny south Florida, or our disdain for the White House and the wives-beaters it has embraced, or our suspicions about that whole “Russia thing,” or even a nagging anxiety about the stock market and the broader economy. It’s just to say you should find solace in whatever your local weather and sporting culture might offer.

— Bud Norman

The Threats Keep on a -Threatening

The Senate intelligence committee held hearings Tuesday on worldwide threats, and it all sounded pretty threatening. So far as we can tell the most pressing threat is to the credibility of President Donald Trump.
The hearings opened with testimony from Federal Bureau of Investigation director Christopher Wray, which wound up dragging out the recent embarrassing storyline about the alleged wives-beater who was allowed to resign last week from his high-ranking position in the White House with fulsome praise from Trump. The president and his chief of staff both claimed to have been shocked by the allegations against staff secretary Rob Porter when they learned of them in a recent Daily Mail expose, but those pesky reporters kept pestering the White House press secretary about why the allegations hadn’t been exposed by an FBI background check, and why the agency hadn’t granted Porter the security clearance he needed to do his high-ranking job, which dragged the story through the weekend an into Monday. The answers weren’t quite clear, but they seemed to suggest that the FBI had failed in its duty to vet the White House staff.
Wray was appointed to the FBI directorship by Trump, but on Tuesday he declined to commit perjury and scapegoat his hard-working agents by sticking to the White House script. Instead he testified that his agency had given the White House a preliminary report last March that two ex-wives saidt Porter had physically abused them, and included corroborating police reports and court filings in a complete report last July. If chief of staff John Kelly is truthfully claiming that he only found out about Porter’s problem when the Daily Mail wrote about it, which seems highly unlikely, it does not speak well for the efficiency of the White House.
The hearing also heard about even scarier threats to the national security than a wives-beating staff secretary, and raised questions about how efficient the White House will deal with them.
Joining Wray at the hearings were Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Central Intelligence Agency director Mike Pompeo, and all agreed that the Russian government meddled in the last American elections in various nefarious ways and is keenly intent on doing so again in the next one. Wray assured the senators that the FBI is undertaking “a lot of specific activities” to counter the Russian efforts, but admitted that none were “specifically directed by the president.” Coats also spoke of unspecified specific activities, but acknowledged that “no single agency is in charge.” Pompeo defended his agency’s had work countering the Russian threat and promised more specific information in the closed session that followed, and given his reputation as an efficient man he probably had plenty to tell them, but despite his reputation as a Trump loyalist he didn’t mention anything about the president’s leadership in the effort.
All of which ties into that whole “Russia thing” storyline that has loomed so large in the Trump reality show, and none of which does him much good. Trump’s apparent insouciance about Russian attacks on American democracy is one of the most compelling reasons so many people suspect there’s something to this particular “witch hunt,” and despite his apologists best efforts to blame it on a “deep state” “silent coup” of corrupt FBI agents and CIA spooks we note that Trump’s own appointees aren’t backing them up.
To make things worse, Coats also testified that the federal government’s “increasingly fractious political process, particularly with respect to federal spending, is threatening our ability to defend our nation, both in the short term and especially in the long run.” Given the budget-busting spending bill Trump recently signed, and his own contributions to the fractiousness of the political process, that was hardly a ringing endorsement of his boss.
Perhaps it will be quickly forgotten, though, as that embarrassing storyline about the porn performer who alleged a past affair with Trump and Trump’s lawyer paying her $130,000 during the election was back in the news. The latest hook is that Trump’s longtime lawyer and spokesman and valued advisor is now claiming he made the payment out of his own pocket, for some undisclosed reason we cannot imagine, which he claims clears Trump of any campaign finance disclosure problems. There’s also talk that Kelly will soon be out as chief of staff, and Trump’s longtime lawyer had been rumored as a possible replacement, so we expect more threatening storylines to come.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Attempt at an “Infrastructure Week” and All Its Distractions

Monday kicked off President Donald Trump’s second attempt at an “Infrastructure Week.” The first attempt was barely noticed because of all the coverage devoted to the congressional testimony of fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey and the usual “tweets,” and also because it featured grandiose promises but no plan. This time around is largely drowned out by the lingering fuming about the White House’s astoundingly tone-deaf and ham-fisted handling of a couple of alleged wife-beaters who were high-ranking staffers, but at least there’s a sort of specific plan to make America’s infrastructure great again.
The plan makes the grandiose promise to spend $1.5 trillion on a wide range of projects, but with the federal government throwing only $200 billion into the pot. The rest would supposedly come from municipalities, counties, states, and the private sector, but that’s a big supposition. Trump unveiled the proposal with a rambling impromptu rift that blamed President Barack Obama for his neglect of America’s infrastructure, of course, but also dishonestly derided President George W. Bush for lying America into the expensive Iraq War, and chided the “laziness” of every administration going back to President Harry Truman, who stupidly spent all of our war spoils on the Marshall Plan, which more sane students of world history now regard as the best investment America ever made.
Most municipalities, counties and states will surely plead poverty, and because they can’t just print money they’ll mostly have a valid point. As of now the interstate highway system and other major federal infrastructure are funded with 80 percent of the money coming from Washington and the rest paid for by the states, the Trump plan proposes that the states start picking up 80 percent of the tab, so it’s hard to imagine many Republican governors going along with that, and of course all the Democrats are also going to hate it. Trump fancies himself a master salesman, and his shtick works well enough with a plurality of voters, but persuading legislators and county commissioners and city councilmen to take the heat for tax hikes and cuts to other programs so he can take all the credit for a patched pothole is a very tough pitch.
As for the private sector, they’re long accustomed to getting paid for doing all the actual work on an infrastructure project rather paying for it. Perhaps they can be induced to pay in if in the payout is substantially greater, perhaps in the proposed form of toll roads or for-profit airports and parks, perhaps in the sorts of kickbacks that the Trump real estate empire boastfully used to pay off government officials, but although we’re by no means socialists we can’t see how the general public comes out ahead in that arrangement. Here in very busy-friendly Wichita the local government is quite fond of these sorts of public-private partnerships, and while they often work out well enough both the governmental left and the free-market far right agree they often favor the interests of certain public officials and their private sector partners more than the general public, and the centrists will likely agree that the Trump administration is more likely than most to seek self-interested deals.
The plan seems likely to face bipartisan opposition, especially at the statehouse and county courthouse and city hall level, and despite the ardent support of some government-savvy and well-connected contractors it will also face opposition from big time businesses, the last of the Tea Party will Republicans will balk at adding even another $200 billion to the $2 trillion dollar deficit that’s being projected for next for year. and all the Democrats will hate it on general anti-Trump principle. As for now it’s all being widely ignored by the rest of the country.
There’s still more talk afoot ¬†about how the president expressed his heartfelt sympathy for a poor fellow whose two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend have accused him of domestic abuse and how he couldn’t get an FBI security clearance on account of the police reports and photographs that corroborated their allegation and thus had to be let go from his high-ranking position at the White House. The critics note that Trump has a longstanding habit of siding with political allies who are credibly accused of sexual misconduct, such as Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly and Steve Wynn and Mike Tyson and himself. His supporters note his stubborn insistence on due process for the accused, which is a a plausible enough argument. His critics note that he didn’t care much about due process when he was condemning political foes accused of sexual misconduct or charging Sen. Ted Cruz’ dad with complicity in the Kennedy assassination or leading “lock her up” chants against Hillary Clinton or calling for the execution of the “Central Park Five” even after due process had cleared them of all charges.
So far Trump’s critics have the better of the more attention-grabbing argument, and we think the damage done to the nation’s moral infrastructure will take more than a mere $1.5 trillion to fix.

— Bud Norman

Last Friday’s Awful Spending Bill

Here at the Central Standard Times we write our Friday posts on Thursday and then take a couple days off from the news, but since then the Republican majorities in the House and Senate passed a $400 billion spending bill that suspended the national debt limit for two whole years and Republican President Donald Trump quickly signed it. Being the grumpy old-fashioned Republican sorts that we are, we spent much of the weekend grousing about it.
The deal includes a couple of hundred billion bucks to bolster America’s military, and while we’re generally in favor of that we have our worries about what the failed casino mogul who is currently Commander in Chief might do with it. The other couple of hundred billion bucks goes to various and usually counterproductive Democratic bleeding-heart programs, and although we’re generally opposed to such nonsense we’ll hold out hope it at least temporarily placates them. The deal at least keeps the government running for another couple of years, which our old-fashioned Republicans sensibilities suppose has some benefit, and it puts off that messy illegal immigration for another few days, which gives us a few days off from worry about that, but it does so with an enormous swelling of the federal deficit, which we cannot abide without becoming craven hypocrites.
The big Republican tax-cut bill that was all the big news a few news cycles ago might yet bolster economic growth enough to result in a net increase in tax revenues — and that corporate tax cut seems especially promising — but in the meantime it’s going to add a few hundred billion of decreased revenues to the added $400 billion in spending and result in one of those trillion dollar deficits last seen in the darkest days of the early administration of President Barack Obama. Those eye-popping digits inspired the Tea Party revolt in the Republican party, which wound up wresting control of the House and then the Senate and ultimately resorting the fiscal sanity of the mere half-trillion dollar deficits of the President George W. Bush year, but since then the party has changed.
Trump ran on on extravagant promises that with his managerial genius he could wipe out America’s $20 national debt within eight years, and offered his own several successful business bankruptcies as proof, but he also promised not to touch the entitlement programs that are mostly driving America’s debt, and far more than all that cold-hearted military spending or bleeding-heart domestic programs. Somehow most of the Tea Party types who hated those establishment Republicans who’d tolerated Bush’s half-trillion dollar deficits bought into Trump’s anti-establishmentarian rhetoric, after that even such stalwart establishment types as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the once-redoubtable House Speaker Paul Ryan willingly went along with the next trillion dollar deficit, and at this point we figure were among the very last of those old-fashioned Republicans who are dismayed by it all.
Our own Republicanism goes back to good ol’ President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his obsessively budget-balancing ways, and oh how we still like our fellow Kansan Ike, but we also remember when the wage-and-price-controlling President Richard Nixon proclaimed that “we’re all Keynesians now,” and even after such long experience none of the current Republican policies make any sense. It seems clearer than ever that America’s finances should be on more solid ground than a Trump casino and strip club, and the latest budget deal doesn’t make any sense even according to the convoluted but occasionally useful thinking of John Maynard Keynes. Trump continually boasts of the low unemployment rate and high growth of the overall economy he has wrought in a mere year, yet insists on a double amphetamine injection of tax cuts and a trillion dollars of stimulative tax spending, which has lately legitimate inflation concerns that have scared the Federal Reserve Board into threatening interest hikes that have lately spooked the stock markets that Trump was recently bragging about. When the next inevitable recession comes around, and we hope it’s later rather than sooner, it will be a more indebted federal treasury that is called on to bail it out.
Kentucky’s Republican Sen. Rand Paul called his party out on its hypocrisy, and even managed to shut the government partially down for a few inconvenient moments while doing so, and there’s somewhere between 20 and 30 Republican House members in the “Freedom Caucus” that sprang from the “Tea Party” movement who also resisted, so God bless ’em for their stupid and futile gesture. The putative Republican yet anti-establishment president and the rest of the party, including such erstwhile establishment types as McConnell and Ryan, were all on board. The Republican party also seems wavering from long held positions on wife-beating and cheating with porn stars and and dissing the federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, which also bodes ill to our old-fashioned Republican sensibilities.
Of course those darned Democrats and their profligate bleeding-heart ways aren’t helping the fiscal and general economic things at all. Say what you want about that budget-busting deal to avert another so-what government shutdown, we’ll wager you’ll get more bang for your buck out of that couple hundred billion spent on defense than you will out of that couple hundred billion spent on social programs. The current Democratic indignation about Republican deficit spending is at least as hypocritical as the past Republican indignation about Democratic profligacy, and offers no solution to the problem.
Ah, well. We had a heartening church service on Sunday, and hold out hope that despite all those newfangled Republicans and forever darned Democrats the rest of us will somehow work this out.

— Bud Norman

Stock Market Swoons, Government Shutdowns, and the Alleged Wives-Beater in the White House

Thursday saw another four-digit drop in the Dow Jones average, another government shutdown after negotiations broke down on a budget-busting compromise bill no one liked, and the news still had to find room for another scandalous exit from President Donald Trump’s administration.
White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned his post after Britain’s Daily Mail reported that his two ex-wives allege he physically abused them, various media found corroborating police reports and court orders as well as an ex-girfriend with similar tales, and the first ex-wife released a picture of herself with the black eye she alleges he gave her, which ought to be scandalous enough. Worse yet, the media also reported that White House officials had long been aware that the allegations were the reason the Federal Bureau of Investigation never gave Porter the security clearance required to deal with all the classified materials that a White House staff secretary routinely handles.
Even if you’re the sort of die-hard Trump supporter who figures that the women probably had it coming, and give credit to any administration officials who were so bravely politically incorrect as to agree, you have to be unsettled by the national security implications. Apparently there are several high-ranking White House officials who also can’t pass security clearance muster, including top presidential advisor and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, who’s still the point man for China despite FBI warnings about his personal and business ties to a Chinese operative and still in charge of negotiating Middle East despite no apparent qualifications for that tough job, so it seems to be an ongoing problem. You can still rightly point to Hillary Clinton’s undeniably sloppy mishandling of classified material when she was Secretary of State, which is one of the many valid reasons she’s not the President of the United States, but that won’t solve the more pressing national security problems.
Most people will have a problem with the White House’s apparent tolerance of wife-beating, too, and Porter’s departure won’t help with a widespread public perception that Trump is a sexist pig. There’s also talk about how it reflects on White House chief of staff John Kelly, who a couple of days ago was vouching for Porter’s “high moral character” despite being aware of the FBI warnings about why they’d denied a security clearance, and whose spokesman later explained he wasn’t fully aware of the situation until the black eye picture was published. Kelly came into the White with a pristine reputation as a four-star Marine General, but he’s been criticized on the left for comments deemed racist and sexist, and by Trump for his assurances to the congressional hispanic caucus that Trump had “evolved” in his thinking about various immigration issues, and there’s speculation he’ll be one of the next to leave the Trump administration with a more sullied reputation.
The government shutdown might yet prove as short-lived as last month’s, and the market swoon might yet prove a much-needed correction on the way back to prosperity, but another scandalous example of the Trump administration’s crudity and incompetence won’t help with either situation.

— Bud Norman