The Presidential and the Personal

Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s newly fledged campaign manager Kellyanne Conway appeared on the American Broadcasting Company’s “This Week” program Sunday morning, boasting that her candidate had just had “the best week” of his campaign. She had a strong case, as Trump had given well-reviewed speeches on crime and immigration that staked out sensible positions, generally avoided any of the widely-publicized craziness that has marked his campaign, and seemed to signal a more presidential tone with an uncharacteristic admission of “regret” for any unspecified comments he’s made “in the heat of debate” and “particularly where it may have caused personal pain.” Throw in the latest “uh oh” developments on the widely distrusted and disliked Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s various ongoing scandals, and it was enough to shave a full point off her lead in Real Clear Politic’s average of the polls.
Conway also boasted that her candidate “doesn’t hurl personal insults,” but we expect that “Lyin'” Ted Cruz and “Low Energy” Jeb Bush and “Little” Marco Rubio and Carly “Look at the Face” Fiorina and Megyn “Bleeding From Wherever” Kelly and that New York Times reporter with the unfortunate bone ailment would agree the case for that claim is quite weak. By the next morning a “tweeting” Trump was adding someone named Joe Scarborough and someone else named Mika Brzezinski to the list of people has hurled personal insults at, and that long awaited presidential tone seemed to have vanished into the pixels of the internet.
Reportedly these Scarborough and Brzezinski people host some television program called “Morning Joe” on the MSNBC cable network, but we cannot attest to this. We rarely watch television, steadfastly refuse to pay a cable company for the dubious privilege, wouldn’t be watching MSNBC in any case, and that “Morning Joe” title suggests it runs a time when we’re contentedly sleeping or grouchily brewing a couple of mugs of more literal java. So far as we can tell from the press Scarborough is the crazy-left MSNBC’s token Republican, much as the Obama-loving David Brooks is the token Republican at The New York Times and the NeverTrumping Jennifer Rubin has the title at The Washington Post, and Brzezinski is the daughter of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who we sadly remember as a counselor to President Lyndon B. Johnson and National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, but apparently they had once enjoyed a happy relationship with Trump. Ever since he wrapped up the Republican nomination all that “free media” Trump once trumpeted has been coming with a price, though, and he seems to have taken the more critical tone on “Morning Joe” rather personally.
“Some day, when things calm down, I’ll tell the real story of @JoeNBC and his very insecure longtime girlfriend, @morningmika,” Trump “tweeted” at an absurdly early hour Monday morning, adding a defiant and exclamation-marked “Two clowns!” Although we’re not at all hepped up to the latest internet lingo we presume that “@JoeNBC is” a “Twitter handle” for Scarborough and “@morningmika” is some enigma machine-generated codeword for Brzezinski, and so far as we can tell from the scandal rags that part about a “very insecure longtime girlfriend” is a reference to some recent gossip that Scarborough and Brzezinski are partners both on and off the air. That rumor had already been reported on in the notorious “Page 6” in the tabloid New York Post, which has both endorsed Trump and run naked pictures of his third wife in sapphic poses on its front page, but when things calm down we’ll eagerly await whatever juicy details Trump has to add about the “real story,” along with his explanation of how he came to know such irrelevant information.
Whatever off-screen canoodling this Scarborough person and that Brzezinski person might or might not be doing does nothing to add or detract from their opinions, which we don’t care about in the least anyway, and surely a guy who has publicly boasted about all the married babes he’s bagged and whose third wife is showing up naked in sapphic poses on the front page of the Trump-endorsing New York Post is not the guy to call them out on whatever they might have been up to. At this late point in the sexual revolution we’re more more interested in the 15,000 e-mails to and from the Democratic nominee that have lately turned up, the very existence of which are a scandal and include countless more that only add to her already burdensome 25 plus years of scandals, and we’d think a Republican nominee would also be more concerned with that.
This Republican nominee takes things personally, though, and apparently there was nothing in those 15,000 previously stonewalled e-mails about him.

— Bud Norman

A President Popular by Default

President Barack Obama is unaccountably popular at the moment, with a bare majority of Americans expressing approval of him. That’s hardly Mount Rushmore stuff, and far short of the falling oceans and fundamental transformations he promised during the peak of his popularity during that first crazy presidential campaign of his, but for now it’s enough to make him the most popular politician in America. The only way we can account for it is the year’s even crazier election.
It’s not just that both of his major party would-be successors are wildly unpopular, with landslide majorities of Americans quite reasonably finding both dishonest and altogether unfit for the office, but also the way that their daily groan-inducing scandals keep the president contentedly out of the news altogether. Those obsessive sorts of news readers who dive beyond the front page headlines and delve deep into the rest of it are vaguely aware that the president recently paid a huge ransom to the Iranian theo-thug-ocracy for some hostages and then offered a preposterous explanation about why he didn’t, that Milwaukee has lately been burning from flames fanned by the “Black Lives Moment” the president has encouraged, that much of south Louisiana is underwater and the main form of federal assistance has been a memo sternly warning that rescue efforts not be racially discriminatory, and that the president has been playing golf and living it up with a bunch of rich white people on a lavishly-funded vacation to Martha’s Vineyard the whole time, but the rest of the country has been pleasantly preoccupied with America’s rout at the the Olympics and the latest gaffes from the president’s would-be successors.
We can recall past times when shady hostage deals went down with the Iranian theo-thug-ocracy and American inner cities burned and south Louisiana was underwater, and how it used to be a much bigger deal, but then again all that happened during slower news cycles and Republican administrations. During a slow news cycle in a Republican administration a president golfing and living it up with a bunch of rich white people while the rest of the nation churns along uneasily would be a major scandal, but with a Democratic administration and the happy distraction of a can’t-look-away-train-wreck of a presidential election such scandals suddenly become quibbles. The desultory state of the economy and that awful labor force participation rate that obscures the more happy-face unemployment numbers, the mounting debt that sustains the slow pace, the politicization of the Justice Department that allows the Democratic nominee to be running in the first place, the generally unsettled state of world, as well as the general cultural decline made apparent by the current sorry choices of presidential nominees, are all as easily relegated to the inner pages of your increasingly scant newspaper.
Any old well-funded Republican should be able to make something of it, but this year the nominee isn’t any old well-funded Republican but rather the not-quite-self-funding-self-described billionaire Donald J. Trump, and he hasn’t seized the opportunities. The self-described deal-making-artisan made a strong case against the ransom for hostages arrangement, but the press was able to focus on what he had later had to admit was a bogus claim that he’d seen secret video footage of the payment. He made a persuasive argument that the past many decades of Democratic machine politics have caused the plight of the recently burning inner cities, but his attempts to bolster his current 1 or 2 percent favorables among black Americans were rather clumsily phrased in the pitch that they’re all poor and uneducated and therefore have nothing to lose by voting for him, along with the rather fanciful even-by-Trump-standards boast that after four years in office he’d win 95 percent black vote. Trump showed up in Louisiana for a meaningless photo-op several days before the vacationing Obama plans to do the same, but unless starts spending some serious ad buy money we doubt it will do him the same good that it once did Obama when a Republican administration was in charge while south Louisiana was underwater.
Thus far the supposedly boundlessly wealthy Trump has been quite parsimonious about ad buys, and instead continues to rely on all the “free media” that has suddenly turned so hostile ever since he wrapped up the Republican nomination, not to mention all those gaffes, and yet he’s still within shouting distance in the national polls if not so much the states that add up to an electoral majority. That’s because a clear majority of Americans understand that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is dishonest and unfit for office, and we also take heart that a near-majority of them also think little of the current president. That so few of us have any regard for our next president, no matter how it turns out, is also heartening in an unaccountable way.

— Bud Norman

On Race, Gender, Class, the Olympics, and Of Course Presidential Politics

The 2016 Olympics won’t wrap up until some sort of bizarre post-modern samba-dancing and gender-bending closing ceremony on Sunday evening, but already the American team is assured of heading home with by far the biggest haul of gold, silver, and bronze medals. America’s athletic dominance of the international games has provided a pleasant distraction from the dispiriting domestic presidential election, but of course these days it’s impossible to keep the two events entirely apart.
Over at the reliably liberal Politico.com site a longtime Democratic operative is smugly noting that Republican nominee Donald J. Trump hasn’t yet spoken or “tweeted” a single congratulatory remark about the American champions, reasonably inferring that it’s because their success seems to contradict his campaign theme that “Crippled America” just “doesn’t have victories anymore” and he alone can “Make America Great Again.” The author also rightly notes that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has been a far more full-throated rooter for the American squad, and has happily seized on the politically convenient fact that the medal-winners are an exquisitely diverse group according to the racial and sexual and economic class categories that are a Democratic obsession.
A proportional share of those gold and silver and bronze medals have been won by American women, a gorgeous lot of athletes who recall the great Walt Whitman’s poetic notion of an American womanhood as “tann’d in the face by shining suns and blowing winds, their flesh has the old divine suppleness and grace, they know how to swim, row, ride, wrestle, shoot, run, strike, retreat, advance, defend themselves,” but we wonder how many of these women who are “ultimate in their own right — they are calm, clear, well-possessed of themselves” are going to vote for Clinton’s campaign themes that women are victims of American society and she alone can make them great. One of our favorite Olympians of this leap year has been Kim Rhode, who picked up her fifth Gold medal in as many Olympic games for skeet shooting, a sport we have tried and found we have absolutely no talent for, like us she’s a Second Amendment absolutist with no intention of voting for Clinton, and even that Democratic operative at Politico.com concedes that America’s Olympic champions are “presumably as politically diverse as they are culturally.”
Economic class plays its usual role in these Olympics, too, but we don’t expect that any Democratic nominee would want to delve too deeply into that. We’re pleased to note that Great Britain is once again a world-class sporting power, and is currently going nose-to-nose with Communist China for a distant second-place in the medal count, but across the pond there’s usual grousing that too many of those medals are being won by equestrians and rowers and fencers and other sorts of upper-crusty athletes, even if they can’t explain why their more yobbo athletes can’t compete with America’s ghetto stars in the more proletarian events. A lot of America’s medals were won by the sons and daughters of upper-middle class suburbanites who woke up early to get their kids to a swim club or volleyball practice before a long day of school that yielded high grades and SAT scores, and there’s no telling how they’ll vote, and even the sons and daughters of the working class parents who did the same are probably politically diverse.
Over at the reliably Republican National Review, which is so reliably Republican that it’s still NeverTrump, they’re smugly noting that America’s overwhelming Olympic success has come despite the lack of a Ministry of Sports or any other top-down bureaucratic central planning. They argue that America has won “bigly” at these Olympics because individuals of all races and sexes and classes were free to pursue the natural talents they alone knew they possessed, and that such independent and competitive institutions as the members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association were there to provide some much-needed assistance. This strikes us as a more compelling argument, and we can only wish that the Republican nominee wasn’t so cocksure that only he can make America win again that he can’t be shouting “USA, USA” during the closing ceremonies.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Installment in As Trump Turns

The big news from the presidential race on Wednesday was Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s latest shake-up of his campaign staff, and if you’re a binge-watching fan of Trump’s ongoing reality show it makes for some interesting plot twists.
A formerly peripheral character named Stephen Bannon has stepped into a starring role, an entirely unexpected yet predictably blond and comely character named Kellyanne Conway has been introduced, the ambiguously villainous Paul Manafort role has been reduced to cameo appearances, and the obvious implication is that the more or less traditional Republican nominee Trump we’ve seen lately will go back to being the boorish and braggadocios and insulting self-proclaimed billionaire real-estate-and-casino-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-scam-university-and-reality-show mogul who won the Republican nomination.
That Bannon fellow is the new “chief executive” of the campaign, and he once worked for the Goldman Sachs investment outfit that both parties are running against and then went on to produce a documentary about former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee and reality show star Sarah Palin among other ventures, has most recently been in charge of the Breitbart.com news site that has cheered on all of Trump’s most outrageous utterances since way back when there was still a chance the GOP might not nominate someone more traditionally Republican. The Conway woman is apparently a pollster who has long provided Trump with what he wants to hear over his varied private sector careers, and the assumes the more recognizable title of “campaign manager.” That Manafort fellow replaced the combative Corey “Let Trump Be Trump” Lewandowski as “campaign chairman” shortly after a controversy regarding Lewandowski’s allegedly rough treatment of a female reporter, ironically enough from Breitbart.com, ostensibly with the mission of molding Trump into a more traditional Republican nominee, and despite the recent press revelations about his shady dealings in the very same Ukraine that Trump insists the Russians haven’t invaded and might be entitled to in any case he’ll keep the now meaningless title during his cameo appearances.
The timing seems odd, because over the last several days that more-or-less traditional Republican nominee shtick seems to have been working for Trump. He read an obviously pre-written-by-someone-else speech from a tele-prompter about immigration and Islamic terrorism, and made the common sense case that America should be exceedingly cautious about accepting large numbers of immigrants from lands where Islamic terrorism is popular. This contrasted effectively with the Democratic nominee’s crazy talk that Islam has nothing to do with Islamic terrorism and her crazy message of y’all come in, and it left out all his own crazy talk about using bullets dipped in pig’s blood and chopping the heads off of terrorists and killing their families and routinely torturing detainees and trying even American citizens in military tribunals, so even the most traditionally Republican press organs were giving him some begrudging respect. We’re so hide-bound we couldn’t help noticing that he once again repeated his easily disproved lies that he’d been opposed to the Iraq and Libyan interventions from the outset, which reiterated his utterly ridiculous and not all Republican belief that the Middle East would have been happily stable and peaceable if not for America’s meddling influence, and that underneath all the tough talk was an “American First” isolationism, but at this point we’re among a small minority up against a bi-partisan consensus.
Trump followed that up with another pre-written-by-someone-else and tele-promptered speech in Wisconsin, not far from where nihilistic race riots were still raging in Milwaukee in the aftermath of a seemingly justified fatal shooting of an armed and dangerous black man by the police, and it also contrasted effectively with the response of a Democratic nominee who is obligated to both the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the reflexively anti-police administration that are making excuses for and subtly egging on the riots. We wouldn’t go so far as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani did and call it “the best Republican speech ever,” as Abraham Lincoln’s addresses at Gettysburg and the Second Inaugural still really swing for us, but we had to give it some begrudging respect. He even made a plausible appeal to the black Americans who are disproportionately the victims of crime, but we think a more or less traditional Republican nominee who doesn’t have a settlement with the Justice Department over his discriminatory renting practices or an expensive full-page ad calling for the execution of some black rape suspects who were later cleared by physical evidence in his background would be a better messenger.
In any case, the more tele-promptered and traditionally Republican shtick seems to have shaved a few percentage points off the comfortable poll-averaged lead that crazy Democratic nominee had built up while Trump was accusing a vanquished Republican rival’s father of being in on the Kennedy assassination and grousing that an Indiana-born yet “Mexican” judge shouldn’t have been presiding over one of the three trials regarding the scam Trump University and musing in the most indecipherable way about how “Second Amendment people” might forestall future Supreme Court picks and that the president being the literal rather than figurative “founder” of the Islamic State and any number of other unnecessary distractions he’d written into his ongoing reality show. Given that the Democratic nominee talks plenty crazy herself, we’re not at all surprised. The changes in the Trump plot line therefore make no sense to us, but in this crazy election year we’ll concede that’s probably because we’re more accustomed to politics than the reality show genre.

— Bud Norman

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The Election Year of the Schoolyard Taunt

At this late date in the presidential race we can’t think of anything worse to call the Republican nominee than “Donald J. Trump,” and “Hillary Rodham Clinton” is about as awful an epithet as we can spit out for the Democratic nominee, but everyone else seems to have some other preference. Coming up with contemptuous nicknames for one’s political enemies has become something of a national pastime during this election, to the point that it’s hard to keep track of them all.
The Republican nominee is an avid nicknamer, having dispatched such worthy opponents as former Florida Gov. Jeb “Low-Energy” Bush, Florida Sen. “Little” Marco Rubio, and Texas Sen. “Lyin'” Ted Cruz on his unlikely way to the nomination, and his supporters on the talk radio shows and the comments sections of countless internet sites have been endlessly creative about his general election opponent. A partial list of Clinton’s nicknames include “Hellary,” “HilLIARy,” “Shrillary,” as well as the inevitable “Hitlery,” and those are just the variations on her first name. The more high-browed critics on the right have dubbed her “The Dowager Empress of Chappaqua,” while the saltier sorts routinely refer to her as “Monica Lewinsky’s Boyfriend’s Wife,” and the downright meaner sorts often invoke “Her Thighness,” “President Pantsuit,” the ever popular “Cankles,” which is apparently a neologism for those sorts of aging legs where the calves and ankles seem to converge, and of course “Cankles McPantsuit.” We had frequently encountered Hillary “Rotten” Clinton before the Republican nominee started publicly using it, and although he did think to affix it with “Crooked” he seems to be getting behind the game. He also likes to call Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas,” nd allusion to her baseless claims to be a Native American, even though the more sophisticated “Fauxcahontas” had already been around since that scandal broke.
Although the Democratic nominee has thus far refrained from such schoolyard taunts, presumably because it would be below the station of The Dowager Empress of Chappaqua, many of her supporters aren’t so genteel. They’ve been in the nicknaming game since way back in the days of President George W. “Chimpy McBushitler” Bush, also known as “Smirky McBushitler” and “Smirky the Chimp,” and they’ve been busier yet ever since Trump arrived on the scene. So far the top plays on his name seem to be “tRump” and “D-Rump,” along with “Drumpf,” which apparently was Trump’s patrilineal family name until his immigrant grandfather made the fortuitous change. The name Trump doesn’t easily lend itself to any sort of Hitler-ization, so his enemies have been reduced to calling him “Herr Trump” or “Herr tRump” or “Herr Drumpf.” Just as the Democratic nominee’s of-a-certain-age figure have come into play, so has the Republican nominee’s undeniable orange hue, with such nicknames as “Don Cheeto” and “Orange-utang” and “Der Orange Fuhrer” coming into play. The truncated sound of Trump better lends itself to insults against his so loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters, who are dismissed as “Trumpanzees” and “Trumpets” and “Trumpkins,” among other things. Among the more cerebral sorts on the NeverTrump right they’re known as the “Trumpenproletariat,” which we rather like even if it does play into stereotypes about us NeverTrump right type’s snootiness.
The game has been going on since the birth of the republic, of course, and judging by graffiti the archaeologists have found in ancient Rome and Athens it’s pretty much a permanent feature of any republican system of government. Perhaps it’s just because the internet and the modern presidential campaign cycle are so much more ubiquitous than even graffiti, but we’re starting to weary of it. Both candidates are well worthy of the scorn, but not because of their thick ankles or orange hue, and we’d rather that people were paying attention the worst of it, or at least came up with something clever.

— Bud Norman

The Election Year of Anything Goes

“In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking,” the great Cole Porter once tunefully observed, memorably adding “But now, God knows, anything goes.” That was way back in 1933, so we shudder to think what the oh-so-sophisticated songwriter of that scandalous era would be thinking if he had stuck around for 2016. The latest rap and rock and pop cacophony would have surely appalled him, the rest of the popular culture would no doubt also dismay the sensibilities of the fellow who lamented that “Good authors, too, who once knew better words now only use four-letter words writing prose,” and even such a classy and contentedly closeted homosexual of that bygone era as Porter would probably be confounded by all this current public enthusiasm for creepy guys hanging around women’s restrooms.
What he’d make of this crazy election year, well, God only knows.
This crazy election year has gone far beyond a glimpse of stocking to include stark naked pictures of a major party nominee’s third wife exposed on the cover of a New York tabloid, and more widely disseminated across that newfangled internet thingamajig without those minuscule but pesky stars over the naughtiest bits that even New York tabloids still feel obliged to use, along with some suggestively sapphic poses with an anonymous naked woman or two that easily meet the late Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell’s definition of pornography as “I know it when I see it.” That same major party nominee used to run a strip joint before it went bankrupt, has boasted in print about the many married women he’s bedded, once offered assurances about his sufficient penis size during a presidential debate, often cusses in front of the kids, seems to share the unaccountable current popular enthusiasm for creepy guys hanging around women’s restrooms, and for crying out loud he’s the Republican nominee.
Meanwhile, the Democratic nominee is the wife of former President Bill Clinton, the predatory serial philanderer best remembered after two terms and nearly 16 years of historical reflection as the punchline to countless late night comedy show fellatio jokes, and for crying out loud she’s running as the long awaited culmination of the feminist revolution. The long-presumed and still potential First Woman President is as always committed to the pro-abortion stand that her Republican opponent took right up until he decided to run as Republican and rather clumsily tried to be anti-abortion, and a lot of the older feminists are still grateful that she protected her pro-abortion woman against the women who spoke frankly about his predatory serial philandering, and a lot of the younger feminists find the Republican just as icky, so she might well get away with it. She’s not about to be outflanked for the creepy guy in the women’s restroom vote even if the Republican nominee is offering them concealed carry, she’ll always enjoy the advantage of that double standard that regards scorned women as admirable victims and betrayed men as laughable cuckolds, and even the current Republican nominee with the naked model third wife and newfound anti-abortion zealotry is unlikely to overcome the party’s cornball reputation for old-fashioned family values.
What’s most striking to us, and would surely get the attention of a resurrected Cole Porter or any other previous American, is that none of this seems to matter. The only interest that the more respectable press took in those naked pictures had to do with the fact that they were apparently taken in in America in 1995, and that the potential first lady’s first work permit was issued in 1996, raising doubts about her future husband’s stand against illegal immigrants taking jobs from natives. Some of the feminist sisterhood even came to her defense, the right to pose naked and especially to do the sapphic sorts of shots being the most up-to-date version of the cause that even the aging Democratic nominee didn’t want to argue with, and no one except such fuddy-duddies as ourselves would wants to be on record saying that there’s something somehow unsettling about naked pictures of one major party’s nominee’s third wife and his opponent being in no position to say anything about it. We grew up long after Cole Porter’s heyday but still in a time when the happily married Rob and Laura Petrie were sleeping in separate beds on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” and when Lyndon Baines Johnson was holding bathroom press conferences and Richard Milhouse Nixon was creating the familiar phrase of “expletive deleted” but never doing it in front of the kids, and both the cutting-edge feminists and the retrograde family values types had an unease with the sort of objectification of women that recently appeared on the front page of that Republican-nominee-endorsing New York tabloid. Call us old-fashioned, but in this crazy election year we feel a certain nostalgia for the hopeful hypocrisy of those long-lost days.
We rarely find ourselves in sympathy with The New York Times’ Ross Douthat, but we rather liked his recent essay about how this crazy election will in one way or another be the culmination of the sexual revolution that coincided with the feminist revolution during those lamentable ’60s. He astutely likens Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s braggadocios sexism with the Brat Pack and Hugh Hefner and of course Democratic icon John F. Kennedy and the rest of the alpha males of the “Mad Men” era of early ’60s sexual liberation, and Clinton with the adversarial if equally libidinous feminism that reacted in the latter part of the decade. Regardless of the outcome of the next election one of the two will be ratified, Douthat suggests, and while we doubt we’re in complete agreement about which would be best he seems to share our concern that neither is at all satisfactory. For that matter, we can’t imagine that any self-respecting feminist or intellectually honest family-value types sees any hope in this crazy election year.
There are more important issues than such long-lost causes, we suppose, such as the ever-harder-to-dispute fact that the Democratic nominee was running an utterly corrupt influence-peddling “family foundation” while in public and that the Republican nominee who openly brags about buying influence was one of the donors during his exclusively private sector career, and that a certain level of personal and financial and political sleaziness is now assumed by both sides and it’s all a matter of deciding which is more objectionable. We can’t help thinking that the lowered cultural standards have something to do with the lowered political standards, and that the range of acceptable debate has shrunk even as the rules about how views can be expressed have expanded, and that Cole Porter and his better generation of contemporaries would be startled what happens when anything truly goes.

— Bud Norman

This Time in Milwaukee

The latest round of rioting and looting and mayhem happened Saturday in Milwaukee, where constant gunfire kept firefighters away from several blazes and any person of the wrong hue who had the misfortune to be walking down a certain stretch of Sherman Boulevard was subject to brutal mob violence. Yet another instance of a black man being shot by police officer had preceded it all, of course, and so the usual excuses of the “Black Lives Matter” movement will be made.
Those excuses are never sufficient for the victims of this ongoing violence, however, and in this case they’re all the more insufficient. In this case the man shot by a police officer was armed with a stolen semi-automatic pistol, one of those uniform “body-cams” that the activists have insisted on show he brandished the weapon as he fled from police during a routine traffic stop, he had a long record of arrests and a conviction for possession of a concealed weapon, and although there are still questions about the incident that will surely be thoroughly investigated under intense public scrutiny all of that should at least give some pausing to the rioting. In any case the businesses that were destroyed and those unfortunate folks of the wrong hue who happened to be in the vicinity had nothing to do with the shooting, and the violence and destruction that were inflicted will have no positive effects on anyone.
In this case the officer whose life was on the line was also black, and therefore presumably not motivated by any racial animus, but that won’t matter to a “Black Lives Matter” movement so strangely selective about which black lives matter. They seem to care little for the lives of the brave black men and women who don a police uniform and a gun to try to impose some semblance of law and order on the most lawless and disorderly streets of America, nor for the untold number of murdered black lives that will surely be added to an already inordinate black death toll once those efforts at law enforcement are in retreat from the mob.
As the crime rates rise in those cities afflicted by the anti-police protest movement the chances of a police officer still more or less on the job having to make a split-second decision about how to respond to known felon brandishing a loaded gun will increase, the ensuing riots will fuel a further retreat by law enforcement and another uptick in the crime, and at some point frank talk and real leadership will be required to halt the cycle. All of this comes near the end of what was promised would eight years of a post-racial America, and although it wouldn’t be fair to blame all of this on President Barack Obama it does seem fair to say that he hasn’t made good on those grandiose promises. He’s consistently taken sides against the police in every controversial case, often before the facts emerged to prove his prejudgments incorrect, and his Justice Department has taken similarly premature stands, with the same embarrassing results. His Education Department has also insisted that schools mete out suspensions and expulsions according to a strict racial quota system, which ignores and exacerbates the reality that in many schools some racial groups are committing infractions that call for suspensions and expulsions at a greater rate than others, and his Department of Housing and Urban Development has been imposing similarly cockamamie notions of racial justice on otherwise contented communities around the country.
Despite such efforts, black unemployment remains far higher the national average, with the youth unemployment rising still further over Depression-era rates with every hike in the minimum wage, overall black wages and household wealth are on the decline, and in the cities where the police departments have fallen under federal scrutiny the black murder rates are on the rise. The president’s approval ratings among black Americans remain high, though, and his endorsed would-be Democratic successor is eager to reap their votes and unwilling to challenge his policies. The would-be Republican successor is echoing Nixon’s “law and order” theme from the riot-torn days of ’68, but at the moment the country doesn’t seem to regard him as as the sort racial healer who might stave off a race war. So far the only leadership that has dealt with the complex situation frankly has been at the local level, such as that black police chief in Dallas who largely restored order at the murder of five of his officers, but we’ll need more.

— Bud Norman

Sports, Politics, and the Global Chessboard

The quadrennial Olympic competitions always arrive on the same leap years as the American presidential elections, and usually provide some pleasant if nonetheless metaphorical distraction from politics, but in this crazy election year it hasn’t proved sufficient. Even after more than seven years of those awful Obama administrations America is still great enough to be well ahead in the medal count, and there have been the usual plentitude of inspiring tales of individual American effort along the way, but as usual it’s all being re-told according to the same dreary collectivist storylines of race and class and gender and of course how that Muslim-American woman will be competing in the fencing competition in a hijab. By this point, we’re more interested in the upcoming world chess championship.
Most of the rest of the world will pay no attention to the event, and we really can’t blame it, but we have our own idiosyncratic reasons for being enrapt. We first took up chess way back when we were so young we required baby-sitting and our amorous parents hired the local high school champ to watch over us during their occasional and much-needed nights on the town, and he taught us not only the moves but also the tactical and strategic fundamentals of the game in the hope that it would keep us more or less quiet and still until our parents arrived home with an evening’s wages. The ploy had little effect on our more athletic and fidgety older brother, but it led to a years-long and mostly successful rivalry with a more mathematically-talented younger brother and our own life-long fascination with the game. A few years later the ruggedly individualist and undeniably brilliant American champion Bobby Fischer faced off against the collectivist and daunting Soviet Union’s reigning World Champion Boris Spassky in a compelling single combat contest of the ongoing Cold War, and it got more press attention than any of those heroes of a terrorism-stained Olympics or even that classic National Basketball Association finals between The New York Knicks and The Los Angeles Lakers, and when Fischer easily prevailed against Spassky’s brilliance and the commie’s conspiratorial advantages despite his temper-tantrum-induced disqualification in an early game we became lifelong followers of the World Chess Championship.
That Fischer guy could play a game of chess as beautifully as Mozart could write a symphony or Michelangelo could paint a ceiling, but the son of a Jewish mother’s virulent anti-semitism and the American hero’s outspoken anti-Americanism and the champ’s all-around nuttiness eventually undermined his heroic status. The only other American considered a world champion was Paul Morphy of New Orleans, who earned the unofficial title by convincingly beating the world’s best back in the antebellum and pre-official-championship days, and he also wound up going crazy, but in his days at least it had more to do with his unfashionably pro-Union views. Spassky was eventually recognized as a half-hearted dissenter against Soviet communism and an all-around-sportsman and undeniably brilliant chess-player in his own right, but the brilliant but more doctrinaire Soviet Anatoly Karpov wound up winning the next title by default when Fischer insisted on the most insane terms for a title defense.
Karpov successfully defended the title against two Soviet commie challengers, then retained his championship in a phony-baloney draw against the proudly half-Jewish and defiantly anti-Soviet challenger Garry Kasparov in ’84. Kasparov won fair and square against Karpov in ’86, then dominated the chess world into the 1990s.
Some of the corrupt organizational squabbling you find going on all the time in boxing then followed, with a charming enough English fellow named Nigel Short holding one of the disputed more-or-less world titles for a while, but Kasparov generally remained on top before retiring to take up a full-time career in politics, which he admirably continues here and abroad to this day, and a most worthy but altogether boring and draw-prone champion from India named Viswanathan Andad wound up as the little-recognized champion. He nobly defended the title the against yet another Russkie, then wound up losing his title in ’13 to a handsome and buff and combative 20-something Norwegian named Magnus Carlsen, who everyone in the chess world considered a more telegenic and exploitable champion.
This time around the big chess event will take place in November and December in the South Street Seaport district of lower Manhattan in New York City, and although the brilliant if oddly-named yet all-American grandmasters Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana were upset in the preliminary matches by one of those inevitable Russkie challengers there’s still an intriguing Cold War feel to the championship. Carlsen’s challenger is the outspokenly pro-Putin and pro-Crimean invasion Russkie Sergey Karajkin, and given the champ’s unabashed identification with the free west and under-the-gun Scandinavia the battle lines are quite clearly drawn. Unlike the Cold War days of ’72 we’re in an American election year when the Democrat nominee offered a “reset button” to the Russkies and pulled back on a nuclear-defense deal with the Czechs and Poles and seemed to invite the recent Russian revanchism, and the Republican nominee and his in-bed-with-Russia campaign team were apparently unaware of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine and seem quite content with Russia’s revanchism in any case, so our pro-western and pro-western-Ukrainian-type sympathies will be with some pretty-boy Norwegian rather than some nutcase half-Jewish and anti-semitic if undeniably brilliant and ruggedly individualist American this around.
Sports and politics are full of such ambivalent rooting, and even such an elegant game as chess isn’t immune to these complications.

— Bud Norman

Another Win for the Establishment

There are a lot of political races being run in this crazy election year besides that dispiriting presidential contest, so we like to check in on them from time to time in vain search of some faint sense of hope for the country. Last week the intriguing race was just west of the county line in Kansas’ First Congressional district, where an “establishment” type knocked off an “anti-establishment” type incumbent in a unusually heavily-funded Republican primary in that remote and largely unpeopled district, and this week the big news has come out of the distant First District of Wisconsin, where incumbent Republican House Speaker and very personification of the “establishment” Paul Ryan won an even more lopsided victory over a tattooed and otherwise impeccably “anti-establishment” challenger.
We do find some faint sense of hope for the country in both outcomes, albeit with the same nagging ambiguity that marks this crazy election year. There was some appeal to that fire-breathing anti-establishmentarian out in western Kansas, but when you’re so darned rebellious that you wind up getting kicked off the Agriculture Committee and so ideologically pure that you vote against a Farm Bill which had satisfactory cuts in the Food Stamp program and keeps the current business model of the First District economy more or less intact we figure you’re asking for trouble. In the case of Paul Ryan, the feelings are yet more mixed.
The handsome and youthful Ryan has had a starring role in the past many years of the binge-worthy Republican reality show, and veered from hero to villain and back again through all the plot twists. He first took a seat in the House of Representatives as a budget-cutting villain to the left and hero to the right, back when the two sides used to fight over such things, and was held in such high regard by the “tea party” enthusiasts for fiscal solvency that he was named Mitt Romney’s running mate in the ’12 race to appease all the hard-core “anti-establishment” Republican types. That didn’t work out, of course, and since then Ryan has been increasingly reviled by his erstwhile anti-establishment supporters because of his reluctant support for some less-than-ideal continuing-resolutions they strike these days instead of establishing real budgets, and he’s been in some on some illegal immigration and free-trade deals that weren’t popular with the anti-establishment types, and after taking over from the hated-by-the-anti-establishment types John Boehner he was pretty much stuck with another awful continuing-resolution fiascos that further aroused talk radio ire. Then he wound up with Donald J. Trump as a nominee, whose newly popular version of anti-establishment furor was very much against illegal immigration and every single trade deal passed in the last 100 years or so and not at all concerned with any of that politically-toxic fiscal solvency nonsense, which added yet another plot twist.
The Republican Speaker of the House was initially reluctant to endorse the Republican presidential nominee, but eventually wound up doing so without much enthusiasm, and the Republican nominee used the very same language to express his reluctance to endorse the Republican Speaker of the House and then wound up doing so with the same lack of enthusiasm, then sending sending out a thankful “tweet” to the challenger just before Ryan wound up winning with a blow-out percentage of the vote anyway. The anti-Trump press gleefully reported it as a win for the non-Trump faction of the GOP, and although we agree we’re only ambiguously gleeful about it.
Ryan is all wrong on that illegal immigration issue, as far as we’re concerned, even if we’re not quite so hopped up about it to embrace the Republican presidential nominee’s crazy talk about building a wall and making Mexico pay for it, and we can’t help recalling a time so recent as Ryan’s vice-presidential bid when the Republican nominee was saying that any talk of merely enforcing immigration and thus causing self-deportations was “cruel.” We’re with Ryan on those free-trade agreements, along with most of the First and Fourth Districts here in Kansas, where the export-dependent agricultural and aviation industries predominate, but at the moment we seem to be facing a bipartisan consensus against us. Ryan has signed off some continuing-resolution deals that are horrible by any Republican measure, but the alternative was a government shutdown that might well have halted those subsidy checks to the First Districts of both Wisconsin and Kansas and had other political consequences that no one can forecast, and we’re more inclined to trust the political deal-making instincts of a 16-year-veteran of the Congressional wars than a private sector deal-maker whose casinos went bankrupt four times despite house odds.
For all our frustrations with him, we note that Ryan is one of the few people left on the American political scene who is still stubborn about all that politically toxic fiscal solvency nonsense, and at least has some sort of half-assed over-the-coming-decades plan to deal with it. The American experiment is currently hurtling toward financial insolvency, neither of the major political party nominee have expressed any willingness to address the matter, and indeed both are trying to out-bid one another on how much they’ll spend to make America great again, so it’s nice to know that such an obstinate fellow as Ryan will likely be around to perhaps provide some hopeful plot twist or two about keeping America afloat.
All politics is local, as the venerable cliche goes, and we suspect that the First District of Wisconsin had the same self-interest in a Speakership that the First District of Kansas had in a seat on the Agriculture Committee, and that little of it has anything to do with that dispiriting presidential race.. Both seats are safely Republican, though, so no matter how that dispiriting presidential race turns out at least Kansas’ First District will likely once again have a seat on the Agriculture Committee and the First District will have either a Speaker of the House who’s willing to take on entitlement reform, or at least a minority leader with the same admirable yet suicidal inclination. If the faint hope we find in this makes us “establishment,” so be it.

— Bud Norman

Another Week in a Dismal Race

The campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has had a couple of awkward moments lately, with several widely disseminated photographs showing her needing assistance to climb the steps of the White House and several others showing the father of a mass-murdering Islamist terrorist sitting just behind her in a prime seat and cheering heartily at one of her rallies. The former revived reasonable suspicions about Clinton’s physical fitness to assume the office, and in an eerily literal way at that, and at best the latter called into question the ability of her famously well-staffed campaign organization to stage an effective photo-op and at worst recalled her past insane statements about Islam having nothing to do with Islamist terrorism.
Any old Republican nominee should have had a good start to the week, but in this crazy election year the nominee isn’t just any old Republican but rather Donald J. Trump.
In his long and varied private sector career Trump has always had an undeniable knack for generating more headlines than any old Republican presidential nominee, or even any Republican president for that matter, and he’s never much cared if it was good press or bad press so long as they spelled his name correctly, so it’s no surprise that he somehow managed to overshadow his opponent’s photographically documented missteps by telling a North Carolina rally that “If she gets to pick her judges there’s nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.” This impromptu aside was enough to generate such widely disseminated headlines as “Trump appears to encourage gun owners to take action if Clinton appoints anti-gun judges,” and for the oh-so-respectable press to fret that he “appeared to raise the possibility that gun rights supporters could take matters into their own hands if Hillary Clinton is elected president and appoints judges who favor stricter gun controls,” and it put Trump’s apologists in the awkward position of talking about how he actually meant to the “unification” of the gun-owning population that would thwart a Clinton presidency Trump seemed to be talking about and how in any case he was just joking.
Our abhorrence of both these awful candidates, as well as our disdain for the respectable press that is covering their awful campaigns, allows us an easy objectivity on the matter. From our appalled perspective we can see how the Republican nominee really was talking some peaceable uprising or merely joking about knocking off a president or her judicial nominees, and we can also allow that maybe the Republican nominee of this crazy election year really was sanguinely contemplating some armed uprising against a possible Clinton administration. Something deep in our Republican souls also has to concede that this crazy election year’s nominee makes it hard to say for sure what the hell he meant to say.
Way back when Trump started knocking off the far more qualified field of Republican candidates his fans were enthused by his willingness to say whatever grammatically incoherent thought popped into his mind, which seemed such a welcome change from the poll-tested and focus-grouped responses of past Republican nominees, but even at the time we wondered if that tendency was really what we wanted in a president. We share Shakespeare’s opinion that one should “Give thy thoughts no tongue, nor any unproportioned thought his act. Be though familiar, but by no means vulgar,” and we wish that any old Republican nominee would be as well-read and hipped-up. As awful as that Clinton woman is we have to concede that this crazy election year’s Republican nominee’s un-parseable word salad does allow for any number of readings, including the only slightly reassuring possibility that he was merely joking about someone offing a president or her judicial nominees, and that in any case it undeniably and unnecessarily does distract attention from the awful week that awful woman has been having.

— Bud Norman

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