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Another Riveting Afternoon of Television

James Holzhauer’s continued dominance of the Jeopardy! game show notwithstanding, the most compelling television show on Wednesday afternoon was Attorney General William Barr’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the “Russia thing.” Barr wound up taking such a beating that he’s declining to participate in today’s scheduled interrogation by the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee, even though that’s likely to be the embarrassing big story of today.
If you’ve been following the “Russia thing” reality show you know that Mueller’s report found insufficient evidence to charge that President Donald Trump colluded with a Russian plot to interfere with the past presidential election on his behalf, despite the indictment and convictions and guilty pleas it won against Trump’s campaign manager and personal lawyer and national security for lying about their numerous contacts with Russian officials, and left it up to the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and the slighter Republican majority in the Senate to decide if Trump’s thoroughly documented attempts to impede the investigation constituted obstruction of justice and the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that are impeachable offenses.
Before releasing the redacted 400-plus-pages report Barr released a four page press release summarizing the conclusions, which he chided the press for calling a summary, and it made Trump look a lot better than the eventually released redacted report did, and the redactions are probably even more damned damning. The free if “fake” news media have reported that Mueller and his crack team of investigators thought Barr mischaracterized their findings, so naturally the damned Democrats had some tough questions about that, and for the most part Barr had trouble coming up with answers.
As old-fashioned pre-Trump Republican conservatives we have no rooting interest in these damned Democrats, but we have to admit they scored some points. One of Barr’s inquisitors was California Senator and announced Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris, who is far too far left for our tastes yet too centrist for the left wingers we watch Jeopardy! with at Kirby’s Beer Store, and as a former California prosecutor she’s probably sent too many young minority males to prison to win a Democratic nomination, but there’s no denying she left Barr stammering. As crazy as she is Harris can eloquently pose a tough question, which Trump’s Attorney General struggled with on Wednesday, and if the Democrats can forgive her occasional resort to common sense she’d probably make a formidable opponent for Trump in the next presidential election.
Trump had clearly hoped that Barr’s four-page summary of the the Mueller report would fully exonerate him of anything to do with the “Russia thing,” but Barr’s testimony on Wednesday and his absence on Thursday will likely keep it in the news for a while. The report confirms the consensus of the national intelligence community and Trump’s own appointees that Russia meddled in the last election on Trump’s behalf, which Trump continues to doubt and has done absolutely nothing about, and we can easily guess why Barr declines today to answer any questions from a Democratic majority on a House Judiciary Committee about that. For now, at least, the “Russia thing” seems likely to linger, and any attempts by Barr and Trump to charge “deep state” conspirators for starting it will only drag it out into the next administration, no matter what it is.
At this point, we wonder if any of it will make any difference at all. By now Trump’s opponents are disposed to believe the the worst about him, even if the Mueller report doesn’t fully oblige them, and Trump’s fans are inclined to believe that he’s making America great again, even if the Mueller report doesn’t quite back up that audacious claim. The economy’s still sluggishly chugging along at the same low-growth rate it was during the last years of the hated Obama administration, more and more brown-skinned people are showing up at our southern border but we’re treating them more harshly than ever, and there are a couple of Trump appointees on the Supreme Court who might or might not back him up in the the looming Constitutional showdowns about all of it, and that’s more likely to settle the next presidential election.
We’ll be watching all the news until then, and taking on an even livelier interest than in Holzhauer’s amazing run on Jeopardy! So far as we can tell, this is serious business.

— Bud Norman

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As Bad As It Is, It Could be Worse

America seems a pretty prosperous and placid place when you read the latest news from Venezuela or most of the countries in this troubled world, but there’s still plenty of desultory domestic news to argue about.
The economy continues to chug along, although interest rates are historically low and the national debt is unprecedentedly high and no one knows how we’ll deal with the inevitable downturn, and the income inequality is such that the Democrats are waging successful class warfare about it. For now President Donald Trump seems safe from impeachment proceedings, but there are still plenty of scandals and constitutional showdowns and unsettling issues he has to deal with.
When special counsel Robert Mueller ended his investigation of the “Russia thing” without bringing any charges against Trump, and a four-age summarization of the 400-plus page report written by Trump’s Attorney General stressed that, Trump claimed not only vindication but also victimization by a “deep state” conspiracy of federal officials who attempted a treasonous coup d’tat and should presumably be hanged. The redacted 400-plus pages of Mueller’s report have proved somewhat more embarrassing to Trump, however, and although he still claims the report completely exonerates him — which the 400-plus pages plainly state on several occasions that it does not — and with his characteristic presidential eloquence Trump now calls the exonerating document “total bullshit.”
Attorney General William Barr is scheduled to testify before Congress today about the matter, and the Democrats are expected to ask some tough questions about the rather smiley-faced summation of the Mueller report that he issued. The report confirms the unanimous conclusions of the intelligence community that the Russian government meddled in the past election on Trump’s behalf, which Trump continues to deny and has done nothing about. The report documented numerous contacts between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government, and the investigation has won indictments and guilty pleas and convictions against Trump’s campaign manager and national security advisor and personal lawyer for lying about it, so we can’t blame the damned Democrats if they ask about any of that. All in all, it should be a hard day on the job for Barr and the rest of the Trump administration.
The report explicitly states that it does not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice, and makes clear to even a lay reader that the only reason the investigation didn’t charge Trump with that crime is because Justice Department policy forbids indictment of a sitting President, and because Trump’s underlings disobeyed his orders in fear of the law. The report leaves it up to the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives to decide if it constitutes the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that are constitutionally impeachable offenses, and there are a lot but probably not quite enough Democrats who find that offer tempting. Former White House counsel Don McGahn is featured prominently in the report, describing several instances when he defied Trump on orders he considered illegal, and McGahn is scheduled for upcoming testimony before Congress, and Trump is already accusing him of perjury, so that should prove interesting.
Meanwhile, all those blacked-out redactions have to do with criminal cases where the special counsel found evidence of criminal actions that it considered outside its jurisdiction, and those investigations are ongoing. We anxiously await to learn what that’s all about, and we can well understand why the damn Democrats literally can’t wait to find out, as they’re already subpoenaing everything they can about Trump’s still wholly owned businesses and surpassed tax returns and campaign and transition team and inaugural committee and administration. It’s all going to wind up in the courts, and Trump is counting on his two Supreme Court appointees to bail him out in the court of last resort, but that remains to be seen. There’s always a chance that Trump’s appointees are the principled conservative constitutionalists he said they were, and they’ve disappointed Trump on a few rulings.
Our guess is that the damned Democrats’ investigations will turn up something damned embarrassing to Trump, and that Trump and his die-hard supporters won’t be the least bit embarrassed about any of it. Our hope is that at least we don’t wind up fighting it out on the streets the way they’re doing down in Venezuela.

— Bud Norman

Is Jeopardy! in Jeopardy?

As regular readers of this publication know, we are avid followers of all the major sports. These days we don’t much follow football, what with all the head injuries and domestic violence charges and endless video review delays, but we still keep a keen eye on basketball and baseball and any sport where someone is doing something no one’s ever seen before.
Perhaps our very most favorite televised sport is the quiz show Jeopardy!, and lately it’s been the most riveting half-hour of entertainment in America’s daily popular culture. For the past 18 episodes has starred James Holzhauer, whom you might well have heard of by now because he’s playing the game like no one’s ever seen before. Watching this guy play Jeopardy! is like watching Babe Ruth play baseball or Wilt Chamberlain play basketball or Barry Sanders darting around a football field. There are numbers to back that up.
In Babe Ruth’s first year as a daily player he hit 45 homes to shatter the record of John “Home Run” Baker, who earned the nickname by smacking a mere 15 homers over a season. Chamberlain had a year when he averaged 50 points and 25 rebounds and more than the regulation 48 minutes of playing time per game. Sanders wisely retired just short of a head injury and some all-time records, but watching Holzhauer dart around all the arcane trivia on a Jeopardy! board reminds us of that.
Until Holzhauer came along the average winning score on Jeopardy! was around $20,000, which is a nice chunk of change for a half-hour’s work of answering trivia questions, and the record for a single-day score was around $73,000, which is even better. So far in his 18-game winning steak Holzhauer is averaging around $70,000 per game, and he holds the game’s top five single-day records, with a best of more than $130,000, and only a couple of challengers have come close to toppling him.
Although Holzhauer is surely driving the Jeopardy! accounting department crazy, the advertisement department is probably loving him, as the show’s ratings have been spiking with each of his victories. Holzhauer is a handsome and physically fit 34-year-old, and although he’s supremely self-confident and always smiling a slightly smug smile he doesn’t come across as arrogant or cocky. He’s always introduced as a professional sports gambler from Las Vegas, but he makes bets that pay off according to the dates of his apparently very happy marriage and the birth of his obviously beloved daughter, and he always send a shout-out to his parents and siblings and family and friends when he nails the Final Jeopardy question.
As much as he endearingly seems a family and friend values sort of guy, Holzhauer is also very much a Las Vegas sports gambler. He likes to go for the hardest and most high-dollar questions first, and rack up the big money on the way to the Daily Double questions he routinely gets, which allow a contestant to wager all of his earnings, and he always seems to know the answer. He’s usually several times ahead of his nearest competitor going into Final Jeopardy!, where you only need double the score to be assured of victory, and he usually calculates to the dollar how much he can afford to wager and then nails the question, racking up another record-setting total.
Of course Holzhauer’s dominance has spurred a controversy, as some people will always resent excellence. Holzhauer’s been in all the newspapers, and some of them are griping that his unorthodox strategy and astounding immediate recall of general information just aren’t fair. When one player is so clearly better than all the rest, the critics snipe, it takes all the fun out of the game.
Call us old-fashioned, but we still think there’s something to be said for unsurpassed excellence in any old thing that humans pursue, including the accumulation of knowledge and a quick recall of it on afternoon quiz show, and a self-confident willingness to bet 20 grand or so on the answer to a trivia question. Nor does Holzhauer’s talent diminish our interest in the game. Most days Holzhauer wins by the same lopsided lengths that Secretariat won the Triple Crown at the the Preakness, but we still well remember that display of all-time excellence.
On Monday Holzhauer found himself in a tight game, and it was better television than anything Major League Baseball or the National Basketball Association has on offer. One of the challengers was some endearingly boring and balding middle-aged egghead with impressive academic credentials, exactly the sort who usually wins on Jeopardy!, and he gave the champion a hell of run. Holzhauer took a double-digit lead by winning a big wager on a Double Jeopardy question, but his challenger landed on the next Daily Double, and although he’s clearly not accustomed to wagering double-digit sums he had no choice but to go in big to stay in the game, and after he gulped hard and correctly answered the hard question it went down to a dramatic Final Jeopardy!
Holzhauer was up a few thousand more dollars at that point, and when he correctly answered the Final Jeopardy! question he had a mere $18 more than his formidable opponent, who had also correctly answered and wagered enough that he would have easily won in an ordinary game and if only Holzhauer had gotten a very rare question wrong. Not since the great Boston Celtics versus Los Angeles Lakers rivalry back in the ’80s have we watched anything quite so riveting.
Our main sporting obsession these days is the blood sport of politics, but we don’t find anyone there of Ruth’s or Chamberlain’s or Sanders’ or Secretariat’s ability, much less Holzhauer’s. We hope all the games will go on, however, and that no matter how jealous human nature might be we continue toward a greater excellence in every weird thing that humans do..

— Bud Norman

The News Persists, as Does the Ridicule

There doesn’t seem to be any story that’s dominating the news these days, despite a plethora of desultory options, and we’ve been too busy lately to keep up with any of it anyway. That damned Gridiron Show we do every year to raise money for the foolish cause of journalism scholarships have taken up much of our time lately, not to the mention the delightful and slightly boozy parties that followed each of the three nights of performances, and on Sunday we met with the folks at a swank restaurant to celebrate their remarkable 63 years of holy and mostly very happy matrimony.
Enough time was left over in the weekend that we noticed that the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, which inspired our local record-setting 51-year-old Gridiron Show, somehow went on despite President Donald Trump’s second consecutive boycott, although not quite as usual. For the past many decades the dinner invited a comedian to lampoon the president, then invited the president and guest of honor to make his wittiest reply, and it was one of those institutions that lubricated the friction between the presidency and the Fourth Estate, but that’s another longstanding institution that Trump has demolished.
This is the second straight year Trump has declined to match wits with the sort of third-rate comics that the White House Correspondents seem to book, and we well understand why. Having a sitting President of the United States sitting at the fancy table used to be a big drawing card for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and to keep that going the adversarial decided to end the traditional lampooning by a comic and instead invite an esteemed academic historian to give a brief lecture. It didn’t get any laughs, but of course it was just as harshly critical of Trump as anything some smart-ass comedian might have come up with, and all those enemies of the people in the “fake news” media went right ahead and dressed up and had few drinks and had a grand old time of the evening.
Meanwhile, here in Wichita, the local media’s far less fancy Gridiron Show went pretty well by amateur theatrical standards. We got some laughs and raised some money for the foolish cause of journalism scholarships, and some of the laughs were aimed at Democrats and a lot of them where aimed at Trump. There’s no stopping free people from laughing at their leaders, and before we dig into the news again today we’ll pause to be glad that some institutions can’t be demolished.

— Bud Norman

Dinnertime at the Conways’ Home

George Conway, the high-powered and respected conservative Washington lawyer who is now better known as the husband of White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, was back on “twitter” Thursday to taunt his wife’s boss, this time calling him “Deranged Donald.” It makes for such an interesting marriage we’re pitching it as a prime time soap opera, and have written the following pilot episode on “spec,” as they say in Hollywood.
(As soap operatic organ music plays, the scene opens with GEORGE and KELLYANNE CONWAY sitting at an elegantly appointed dinner table in their Georgetown townhouse.)
ANNOUNCER: Welcome to another episode of As Washington Turns, the saga of two long-married lovers who find themselves on opposite sides of a political divide in the age of President Donald Trump.
GEORGE: So, how was work today, dear? Did that fat and lying son of a bitch you work for say anything particularly embarrassing you had to explain?
KELLYANNE: It was fine, dear. My wonderful boss talked about the oranges of the Mueller investigation, how wind turbines cause cancer, and the urgent need to stop doing any business with Mexico. Just another day at the office, nothing I couldn’t handle.
GEORGE: I must say, honey bunch, you’ve always had a knack for defending the indefensible.
KELLYANNE: Thank you, sweetie. I don’t know how we’d have stayed married for long without it.
GEORGE: Even so, cutie pie, I notice you didn’t rise to my defense when he “tweeted” to the entire nation that I’m a “husband from hell,” a “total whack job” and a “stone cold loser.” I mean, “husband from hell”? Whatever my faults, it’s not like I cheated on you with a porn star after you’d given birth to our son.
KELLYANNE: Yeah, darling, like you wish.
GEORGE: Oh, come on, my little kookenhaken. A “total whack job”? A “stone cold loser”?
KELLYANNE: Well, my little teddy bear, you have to admit you “tweeted” some very unkind things about him. You know how my sweet Donnie-Wonnie is, he always has to punch back 10 times harder. It’s what endears him to the public.
GEORGE: All I said, my sweet chickadee, is that the President of the United States is clearly suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and that the country should be seriously thinking about his psychological state and mental condition.
KELLYANNE: You should have known, snookum-wookums, that would only provoke his fragile ego into a string of schoolyard taunts on “twitter.”
GEORGE: Well, my little sugar cake with sprinkles on top, that sort of proves my point, doesn’t it?
KELLYANNE: Oh, come on, you heartthrob, you. It’s not like you’re some fancy psychiatrist or a duly elected president.
GEORGE: You’ve got me there, babe, but I did link to the psychiatric manuals that describe the symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and it does make a strong case. Why you’re the only woman in America who doesn’t think her boss checks off all the boxes is beyond me.
(Both arise, glaring at one another with an angry yet lustful look.)
KELLYANNE: Because we’re making America great again, you globalist and elitist and resistance-fighting stud muffin, you.
GEORGE: You hot, sultry, making America great again slut, you.
(GEORGE and KELLYANNE leap across the table and start furiously groping one another atop the dishes as the scene darkens.)

— Bud Norman

Public Issues, Personal Problems

The big story in the news these days is the congressional Democrats’ determination to thoroughly investigate every aspect of President Donald Trump’s campaign and transition team and inauguration committee and subsequent administration and the various businesses he still wholly owns, and Trump’s determination to thwart them at every turn. Alas, at the moment we’re too darned tired to keep up with all the sordid details.
Most weeks of the year we obsessively follow these sorts of things, and have plenty to say about it, but today and for the rest of the week there’s the Gridiron Show. The Gridiron Show is the local media’s annual satirical song-and-dance-and sketch revue to raise money for journalism scholarships, and for the past 25 years we’ve written and acted in a few of the sketches. We have no interest in raising money for journalism scholarships, and in fact consider it contributing to the delinquency of a minor, but we usually get some laughs that are almost worth the effort. None of our offbeat and discordantly dryly witty bits ever involves singing or dancing, as nobody wants to hear or see us doing that, but after so many years we’ve nonetheless found the rehearsal schedule exhausting.
You’re probably more enviously preoccupied, dear reader, so we can easily forgive you if you’re not fully apprised of all the damning charges and countercharges that flinging around the news these days. Even so we don’t want you to warn away from participating in any local amateur theatrics that might welcome you, as you’ll likely make friends and get some much-needed laughs along the way, yet we encourage you to keep watching the news. This looming Constitutional showdown between the damned Democrats and that awful Trump seems one of those important public issues that require time out from even the busiest personal lives, so we’ll try to get back to that on this damnably busy Thursday.
At worst, we figure we’ll get a good satirical sketch out of it if we do the Gridiron Show next year.

— Bud Norman

Trump Versus Twitter

President Donald Trump met with head “Twitter” honcho Jack Dorsey on Tuesday, and it made for a lively discussion. According a a “tweet” from “Twitter” the two were to talk about “protecting the health of the public conversation ahead of the 2020 election and efforts underway to respond the opioid crisis,” but much of it was reportedly spent with Trump’s gripes about his favorite way of speaking directly to the public.
Trump’s battles with the old-fashioned print and broadcast media are well known, but he’s also been picking fights with all the newfangled social media and the rest of the internet industry. He’s accused Facebook of suppressing his supporters’ voices, charged the Google search engine with directing its users to unfavorable stories, and told reporters that the government “might have to do something about it.” He’s now complaining that the number of his “Twitter” “followers,” who automatically see Trump’s “tweets” on their computers or tablets or smart phones or whatever other kind of device they’ve devised, is lately falling.
Trump takes his crowd sizes and poll numbers and television ratings “Twitter” following personally, so we can imagine he was none too pleased, and implying that he would do something about it. Dorsey, a slim and bearded and hippy-looking of typical Silicon Valley youthfulness, who despite having more billions in net worth than Trump probably has was unable to purchase a neck tie for his Oval Office meeting, did not seem intimidated in videos and photographs the old media printed and broadcast.
Dorsey had reasons for Trump’s declining numbers that had nothing to do with political bias, and so far as we can tell, given our considerable ignorance about how this internet thingamajig works, they’re persuasive. He explains that the company routinely reviews the followers of all its “tweeters” to remove fraudulent “spam” accounts, partly to ensure its advertisers that the numbers are real and partly to guard against foreign meddling in the vast political conservation that “Twitter” plays an outsized role in. That might only persuade Trump to rail further against the practice, but at this point Dorsey is probably more intimidated by his paying customers and the Congressional oversight committee looking into foreign meddling and other Trump-related internet issues.
Trump is unlikely to “tweet” that the government should shut down “Twitter,” and this hippy-dippy billionaire Dorsey fellow has no incentive to run afoul of any branch of the government. He’s met with several right wing figures with complaints of censorship, which has angered left wing “Twitter” users who clamor for censorship, but he’s also allied with Facebook and Google and the rest of Silicon Valley’s Big Social Media.
Besides, Dorsey can plausibly figure that Trump needs “Twitter” more than “Twitter” needs Trump. The president has made “Twitter” famous, but it was already famous when Trump started “tweeting.” With some 60 million followers still logged in Trump is an even bigger draw than any of the athletes or musicians or movie stars on the platform, but for now he doesn’t have a better way to speak directly to those 60 million presumably real people without the mainstream media’s annoying edits and annotations. “Twitter” is the perfect medium for short attention span readers who enjoy a good schoolyard taunt and bully boy rhetoric and don’t mind the misspellings and improper punctuation, and we notice that Trump — or @realDonaldTrump” as he’s known to his followers — was uncharacteristically restrained in “tweeting” about “Twitter.”
“Great meeting this afternoon at the @WhiteHouse with @Jack from @Twitter,” Trump “tweeted.” “Lots of subjects discussed regarding their platform, and the world of social media in general. Look forward to keeping an open dialogue!”
Which sounds very chummy, and might well be, and if so that would probably be for the best. Even if all those damnable @’s and other internet gibberish are painful to our Gutenberg-era eyes, this internet thingamajig is how we’re communicating with you at this moment, so we hope this newfangled idea somehow endures through the old-fashioned principles of the First Amendment and free markets. If that means Trump keeps on “tweeting,” and so do all his equally illiterate and bully boy critics, so be it.

— Bud Norman

The Modern Age of the Smack-down Easter Bunny

Monday’s news was mostly dull, with the stock markets mixed and the Democrats holding off on impeachment but promising some downright colonoscopy-level investigations of President Donald Trump, but there was that viral video of the Easter Bunny smacking some guy around the sidewalk outside a night club. If you’re among the rare people who haven’t see yet it we recommend you take a look, as it’s really something to see.
The brawl took place on Easter Sunday in Florida, the nation’s leading supplier of weird stories and viral videos. Like most viral videos there’s no telling how it started or ended, and the south Florida news media doesn’t seem to have come up with any more details, but we can speculate.
The video begins with some guy scuffling with some woman outside the nightclub, and although she seemed to be getting the best of it some guy in an Easter Bunny costume — we assume it’s a guy — came chivalrously to her defense. With a crowd of onlookers and video-takers cheering, and the woman taking a chokehold on her combatant, the rather buff Easter Bunny raining down a series of blows. The fellow is taking quite a beating, with one onlooker shouting “Beat his ass, Easter Bunny,” and another commenting that “Easter Bunny’s got it goin’ on,” when a nearby law enforcement officer shows up to separate the three. The video ends with the man sitting on the sidewalk, the officer trying to calm the woman, the Easter Bunny thumping his chest, and the crowd still cheering.
Florida’s newspapers and television stations were once famous for getting the story, but so far they haven’t identified the fellow in the bunny outfit, or discovered if any charges were brought against either the man or the woman. The officer might have decided that both the man and the woman started what looked to be a fair fight, and the Easter Bunny was only doing his civic duty, that no one was likely bring charges, so best to just send everyone home and skip the paperwork. It might not even have been the weirdest thing that happened on his beat that night, just the only thing that was videotaped and went viral.
Even so, we found it a fascinating, almost high art example of ¬†what the high-brow movie critics call cinema verite. Aside from the surreal comedy of the Easter Bunny laying some smack down on a sidewalk to the amusement of passersby, we found an all to real slice of contemporary American life. Our politics and popular music and comic book movies are all about the crowd-pleasing smack down these days, with no plausible beginnings and no satisfactory endings, and there’s no reason the Easter Bunny shouldn’t get in on the fun.

— Bud Norman

Celebrities, Populists, and Celebrity Populists

Ukraine has apparently elected a populist celebrity with no previous political experience as its president, and we hope it works out better for them than it has for Italy, Guatemala, Peru, Liberia, Pakistan, the United States of America, and the other countries that have recently made similar choices.
The Ukrainian president-elect is Volodymyr Zelensky, a 41-year-old comedian best known for his starring role on the hit Ukrainian sitcom “Servant of the People,” about a comedian who somehow becomes president of Ukraine. We eagerly anticipate the English-dubbed version showing up on Netflix, as it’s apparently a compelling show. From what we can tell by the press accounts Zelensky’s character is constantly doing battle with the country’s entrenched and corrupt establishment, and although he doesn’t necessarily win he at least gets some humorous insults in, and according to a prominent Ukrainian political observer quoted in The Washington Post “People are voting for the plot of the show.”
None of the western press reports about the election say much about Zelennsky’s opponent, who might well have been just as awful as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in the last American election, but it still strikes us as a fanciful choice. Zelensky will likely get some zingers in during his time in office, and his fans will surely love it, but recent experience indicates that only does so much good for a country.
Italy elected comedian Beppe Grillo as its leader, and although he’s gotten a lot of laughs the country is still the same corruption-ridden economic basket case it’s been for the past 100 years or so. Previously the Italians had elected multi-billionaire media mogul and crusading populist Silvio Berlusconi, but his several terms were frequently interrupted by indictments and convictions on various corruption charges, which majorities of the Italian people didn’t mind given his crusading anti-corruption populism.
In 2015 Guatemala elected anti-corruption comedian Jimmy Morales, who had also starred in a hit comedy about a comedian becoming president, but the country remained so violent and impoverished that a troublesome segment of its population is currently seeking aslyum in the United States. Liberia elected a popular soccer star, Pakistan elected a cricket star who’d become a national hero by leading the country to its only world championship, but neither has proved nearly so successful in playing the more complicated game of governance.
Once upon a time in America we could have rolled our eyes at such Third World craziness, but in the age of President Donald Trump’s we have no standing to sneer. Trump was elected by an electoral majority without any previous political experience partly because of his much-bragged about yet frequently-bankrupt business career, partly because he’d portrayed a tough-talking take-charge “you’re fired” businessman on the reality show “The Apprentice,” partly because he promised to use that experience to “drain the swamp,” and mostly because he had the good fortune to be running against “Crooked” Hillary Clinton, who was arguably almost as corrupt.
Despite his political inexperience Trump has kept the American economy chugging along the same slow upward trajectory it was on when he elected, and during the two years his party controlled both chambers of Congress he won a budget-busting tax bill and installed a couple of conservative Supreme Court justices that any old establishment Republican would have championed, but mostly his fans love him for the zingers he gets in.
The people in the red “Make America Great Again” ball caps find Trump’s current hit reality show downright hilarious, but we admit we just don’t get it. They loved it when Trump mocked a reporter’s degenerative muscle disease, but it reminded of us how the kids at our elementary school laughed at the playground bullies’ mocking of the handicapped students, and they thought it funny that Trump called his Democratic nemesis Rep. Adam Schiff “Little Adam Shitt” in a “tweet,” but we thought it juvenile and vulgar and far beneath the dignity of the American presidency. A friend of our complains that the stuffily literal media took Trump seriously when he hilariously requested the Russian government to hack Clinton’s e-mails, and Trump himself has won laughs from his rally crowds by recalling how he said that during a raucous campaign rally where everyone was laughing and in on the joke, but in fact he said it at a somber press conference, where reporters pressed him to verify that he wasn’t joking, and the Mueller report makes clear that the Russian government didn’t get Trump’s sense of humor and attempted to hack the Clinton e-mails that same day.
Call us old-fashioned, but we preferred the more sly and subtle and profanity-free wits of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. These days much of America is so contemptuous of its fellow citizens on the opposite side of the political divide that it will happily settle for even the most puerile zingers, though, and hold out little hold that our differences can be reconciled through civil and reason debate. Apparently much of the rest of the Third and second and First Worlds have reached the same desultory state.
Here’s hoping it works out better for Ukraine than it has elsewhere. Zelensky is reportedly pro-NATO and anti-Russian, which is more than we can say for Trump, so we wish him the best of luck with that. Besides, for all we know the other candidate was arguably even more awful.
Even so, and at the risk of being called old-fashioned, we think there’s still something to be said for seasoned public servants making serious and fact-based arguments in a civil and reasoned debate. Maybe someone should make a show about that, but it probably wouldn’t get big ratings.

— Bud Norman

The Mueller Report and Its Thus Far Inconclusive Findings

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his investigation into the “Russia thing” has proved disappointing to President Donald Trump’s critics, as it didn’t recommend any criminal charges be filed against Trump. On the other hand, Trump and his die-hard supporters have some explaining to do.
The 448-page report confirms the findings of all of America’s intelligence agencies that the Russian government tried to tilt the last presidential election in Trump’s favor, which is no surprise given that it won an indictment of 13 specific Russian operatives. Trump continues to take Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s word that it must have been some other country — or perhaps some 400-pound guy sitting in his bed — who hacked the Democratic National Committee’s e-mails and coordinated an internet disinformation campaign and attempted to sabotage state voting systems, and that requires some explanation. A nation also anxiously awaits Trump’s explanation for why his administration has taken no measures whatsoever to prevent foreign interference in an American presidential election from happening again.
Mueller did not find sufficient evidence to charge Trump or his campaign with conspiring with those Russian efforts, so Trump and his supporters are entitled to gloat about that, but the report also cites convincing evidence that the Trump and his top campaign officials knew about the Russian effort, welcomed the assistance, repeatedly lied about its contacts with Russian officials, which has already resulted in guilty pleas and guilty verdicts against Trump’s campaign chairman and national security advisor personal lawyer, and that Trump himself lied to the American public during the Republican primary race about his business dealings in Russia.
This might not amount to a federal conspiracy case, as the special counsel’s “witch hunt” seems to have reluctantly concluded, but it doesn’t look good.
The report also declined to charge Trump with obstructing justice during the special counsel investigation, but as Trump’s carefully chosen Attorney General William Bar admitted in his four-page version of the 448-page report “it also does not exonerate him.” Mueller was a well-regarded director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation during both Republican and Democratic administrations, and he’s the sort of stickler for the rules who followed a Justice Department guideline against indicting sitting presidents, his report notes that the Congress is constitutionally allowed to decide what constitutes an impeachable high crime or misdemeanor, and it also documents several instances when Trump wanted to obstruct justice but his administration underlings prevented him from doing so. Most of those administration underlings are now long gone, but there’s a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives these days, and they’ll surely be holding hearings and demanding explanations.
Much of the 448-pages of the report are blacked out, as they involve the 14 ongoing criminal cases that were referred to various jurisdictions of the Justice Department, and when they eventually come to light they’ll surely requiring some explaining.
Mueller’s punctiliously by-the-book report notes that it’s up to Congress to decide what constitutes impeachable “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and seems to suggest that’s an open question requiring Congressional consideration. Our guess is that the feisty Democratic majority in the House will see it one way, but despite a few defections the slim Republican majority the Senate won’t agree by the needed super-majority to remove Trump from office.
By the time Trump runs for reelection in ’20 it probably won’t matter much. Trump’s foes already believe the worst ¬†about him, and Trump’s fans don’t care about anything he might have done to defeat that awful “Crooked” Hillary Clinton last time around. There’s still something to be said for punctiliously sticking the rules, but these days it’s a matter of situational ethics.

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— Bud Norman