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The ’70s and Now, and the Big Difference Between the Two

Former White House counsel John Dean testified before the House judiciary committee on Monday, and it gave us a nostalgic feeling. The last time Dean was before the committee was way back in the early ’70s days of the Watergate scandal, and we well remember what a very big deal it was.
Although we were mere junior high school students at the time we already had a precocious interest in politics, and closely followed the Watergate story from the first day a couple of Washington Post reporters relegated to the late night crime beat reported that some burglars had broken into the Democratic party’s national headquarters in the fancy Watergate complex and attempted to place a wire-tape on the phones. That initial short story buried in the inside pages of the paper included the intriguing detail that all of the burglars and would-be wiretappers were closely associated with the Committee to Reelect President Richard Nixon, already better known as CREEP, and eventually led to Nixon’s resignation after impeachment charges had been brought by the House of Representatives.
There was an interminable two years or so before it all played out, which included Nixon winning reelection with a popular and electoral landslide, but it was a fascinating and unforgettable spectacle for an impressionable young political geek to watch. We read everything about it that ran in the local morning and afternoon newspapers — Wichita had both back then, and both were well worth the dime-a-day subscription rates our parents happily paid — and during summer vacation we’d take time out from bicycle-riding and basketball-playing and other normal boyhood pastimes to watch the congressional hearings that preempted the soap operas and game shows and old movies on the city’s three television stations.
One of the most compelling episodes of that reality show was Dean’s televised testimony to the House judiciary committee. The youthful lawyer who had already risen to the job of White House counsel freely confessed to various crimes he had committed at the behest of President Nixon to cover up the campaign’s clear connection to the break-in, spoke of various other requested crimes he had declined to carry out in service of the cover-up, and had a quotable line about a “cancer at the heart of the presidency.” After that the Watergate scandal inevitably hurtled toward Nixon’s resignation, with significant help from some conversations that Nixon had ill-advisedly recorded on audio tape, which the courts ordered released to the public and corroborated pretty much everything Dean said, including the self-incriminating parts of his testimony/
Dean wound up being disbarred and serving a short time behind bars for his confessed crimes, along with Nixon’s Attorney General and a few other high-ranking administration officials, but so far history has treated Dean more kindly. He did admit to the crimes he committed at Nixon’s behest, was provably innocent of other crimes he’d been requested by Nixon to commit, and ultimately told the verifiable truth and accept its consequences, which is more than you can say for any of the people who have been caught up in any subsequent political scandals.
Dean’s latest testimony to the House judiciary committee is far less consequential. At this point he’s an 80-year-old and graying and balding ex-lawyer and ex-felon, appearing on some very low-rated hearings televised on a few of the thousands or so television channels, and he has no more personal knowledge of President Donald Trump’s alleged scandals than we do. The Democratic majority running the committee inquiry called him to testify again for the clear purpose of getting some stories in the newspapers that mention both Watergate and Trump, which obviously have nothing to do with one another, but there are enough similarities that we can’t blame the Democrats for asking Dean’s opinions.
One of the many currently litigated spats in the current presidential scandals is whether former White House counsel Dan McGahn will testify to the various congressional committees looking into the matter. A 400-plus-page report by the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” included several pages about McGahn testifying to the investigation about diligently declining presidential orders to obstruct the investigation, so the Democratic majorities in Congress have ordered him to testify about that, while McGahn’s ex-boss is ordering him not to testify, and we’ll have to await the courts’ rulings about that. Our guess is that McGahn eventually testifies, and will reiterate the exculpatory-to-himself but damning-to-Trump testimony he gave to the special counsel investigation, but it probably won’t have the same effect as when Dean spoke out way back in the ’70s.
For one thing there are now a few hundred other reality shows to watch on television during summer vacation, and far fewer junior high political geeks tuning into the congressional hearings. For another thing, many of the new media that Nixon didn’t enjoy back in the day will be providing coverage that portrays McGahn or anyone else casting aspersions against Trump as an enemy of the people, and these days the people seem to believe whoever’s telling them what they want to hear. Back in the Watergate days the Republicans had relatively liberal members in the northeast, and the Democrats had some very conservative members in the the south and west, and politics was more a matter of facts than party affiliation, but that doesn’t seem to be the case these days.
Trump would have been well advised to ignore Dean’s inconsequential testimony on Monday, but he couldn’t help “tweeting” that Dean is a disbarred lawyer and ex-felon and yet another loser who dares criticize our dear leader, and once betrayed the Republican party’s deal leader Nixon. That’s all true enough, we suppose, but Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen is also disbarred and in prison, and his former campaign manager is also in prison on charges that involve his dealings with hostile foreign governments, and his past national security advisor is awaiting sentencing on charges that arguably rise to the level of betraying his country, and his former White House counsel is clearly ready to testify to Congress about all the obstruction of justice order he disregarded. By comparison, Dean doesn’t look so bad.
Nixon still has his die-hard defenders, but Trump doesn’t seem to be one of them. Trump couldn’t help “tweeting” that the cowardly Nixon had resigned, something Trump boasted he would never do in the currently more favorable media and partisan political landscape, even as he blamed Dean’s betrayal for the resignation. At this point your average die-hard Trump supporter is too young to know or care about any of it, and the oldsters hanging on for the next election won’t mind that Trump’s discreetly dissing Nixon, while the young Democrats who know nothing of history seem intent on nominating the same sort of too-far-left candidate who lost by a popular and electoral landslide to the already obviously corrupt Nixon back in ’72.
Politics remains a compelling show, even to our jaded eyes, and despite our advanced age and all the tempting diversions of those hundreds of other channels we’ll remain tuned in.

— Bud Norman

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The Latest Round in Trump’s Bout Against Mexico

As it turns out President Donald Trump won’t be imposing drastic new tariffs on Mexican imports, an idea he proposed that alarmed every serious economist and all the stock markets and big businesses and small farmers and even more than a few congressional Republicans, and he’s proclaiming a great victory about the concessions Mexico has yielded in response to the threat. At the very real risk of being called enemies of the people, we think Trump merely averted disaster.
Trump threatened the tariffs to get Mexico to do more to stop the flow of migrants from Central America, and Mexico has apparently agreed to deploy some military units to its southern border and detain on its own soil the asylum-seekers who have recently reached its northern border while the American justice system sorts out all the tricky legal details of their numerous cases. That’s enough that Hugh Hewitt, the conservative commentator and radio talk show host who was a fellow steadfast Never Trump type until Trump won the Republican nomination, proclaimed in the headline of an op-ed piece in The Washington Post — of all places — that “Trump’s big win leaves critics sputtering.”
With all due respect to the once-respectable Hewitt, the critics don’t seem to be sputtering. In its usual careful and confident cadence The New York Times reported that the Mexican government had already agreed to both demands months before Trump issued the threat, other conservative and liberal media have noted without any discernible stuttering that the Mexican government has been either unwilling or unable to make good on promises made in the face of Trump’s even crazier threat to shut down the entire border between Mexico and the United State. For now it’s probably best to wait and see if Trump’s big win resolves or even slightly eases the admittedly serious situation on our southern border, and to hold out only faint hope.
Trump responded to The New York Times with an extended “twitter” tirade, concluding that “the failing @nytimes, & ratings-challenged @CNN, will do anything to see our Country fail! They are truly The Enemy of the People!” He returned to “twitter” to gripe that if President Barack Obama had struck such sweet deals “the Corrupt Media would be hailing them as Incredible, & a National Holiday would be declared.” We’re supposed to pity Trump even in his moment of triumph, as there are clearly seditious sorts out there who dare question what he says, but it looks like sputtering to us, and poorly punctuated sputtering at that.
The disaster that surely would have followed those threatened tariffs or a complete border shutdown has for now been averted, though, and for now Trump is entitled to crow about that. Sooner or later Mexico’s nationalist instincts will be roused to resist Trump’s nationalism, on the other hand, and there’s no telling what Trump do then, except to say it will work out badly for all involved. Mexico will probably get the worst of it, which will allow Trump to claim another big win, but that doesn’t mean that America will be any better off.

— Bud Norman

Technical Difficulties and the The Rest of the Damned Modern World

No new essay was published at the Central Standard Times yesterday, the first time we’ve ever failed to provide readers with our freshest working week day outrage in the past seven-and-a-half years we’ve been doing this, and we apologize for that. It’s not that the spirit was unwilling nor that the flesh was any weaker than usual, but rather a problem with this damned computer gizmo we write and publish on.
The intermittent problems with these damned computer gizmos are just one of the many things we find infuriating about this modern age of technological miracles. We also hate the way those “smart phone” thingamajigs seem to so mesmerize people that even the young lovers sitting across from one another in the booths of the dives we frequent are staring at their machines rather than one another, and we even resent our suddenly old-fashioned flip phone and miss the good old days when our bulky and murder-weapon solid phone was tethered to the wall instead of us being tethered to the gadget in our pocket. Don’t get us started about those computerized drum machines the modern music recordings use instead of Gene Krupa or Baby Dodds or some other more brilliant and real live drummers, or all the computer generated images that modern movie makers use instead of plot and characters and dialogue and making some point.
Worse yet is the way you can’t live without it. Due to our stubborn and cheapskate resistance to “smart phones” we can’t summon an Uber or Lyft driver in case of some emergency, and would be hard-pressed to find the phone number for a taxi, and we can’t rent one of those bicycles that are suddenly all over our the prettier parts of our town, nor participate in any of the local radio stations’ promotional contests. We’d get along just fine without those drum machines and computer generated images in the comic book movies that dominate our currently sorry popular culture, and still enjoy our freedom from those “smart phones,” and otherwise enjoy our proudly Luddite existence, but we have to admit that the 24 hours we endured without internet access left us feeling like our heroin junkie friends who were occasionally forced to go cold turkey.
It’s bad enough that we couldn’t vent our spleens to the world wide web about the latest outrageous thing that President Donald Trump said or did or “tweeted,” but without access to the internet we didn’t even know what it was. Our television hasn’t worked in years, and we’d lost interest in the once-amazing gizmo long before that, and the local AM radio stations are disinclined to say anything negative about Trump. There was yet another threatening storm cloud to the west, and we were unable to track it on the radar at the essential wunderground.com website. These days the local newspaper is printed up in Kansas City and trucked down the interstate, and is therefore always a day late with the baseball scores, so we had no idea where the New York Yankees stood in the American League’s eastern division, which is also a matter of personal importance.
For the first third or so of our surprisingly long lives there was no such thing as an internet, and we can’t recall ever missing it in those halcyon days. The then locally written and printed morning afternoon papers kept us updated on President Richard Nixon’s latest craziness and the Yankees scores, the local television and radio meteorologists told us when to take to the basement during a storm, the radio stations were pumping out groovy soul music and rock ‘n’ roll with real live drummers, the local bijoux had movies full of plot and characters and dialogue with some pretty good points to make, and we rather liked it, even if the Yankees didn’t always win.
As you can see we worked out our internet problems, for now at least, and that’s mostly attributable to our aging Dad. He grew up in an Oklahoma oil patch during the Great Depression and World War II in the early years of rural electrification, but he got an electrical engineering degree from the University of Oklahoma and started working on computers when they were room-sized Rube Goldberg machines back at the beginning of his illustrious avionics career, and to this day he’s more up-to-date on the modern world of miracles than we’ll ever be. He had no more idea how to solve our problem than we did, but he did know the right phone number to call, which was hand-written in his old-fashioned notebook, and with help from a very friendly and knowledgable and young-sounding woman in some far-away location and a few mouse clicks we were once again back in the blessed bosom of the internet.
The moral of the story, we suppose, is that the modern world provides pretty much the same frustrations and satisfactions of our much-missed old world, when those then-newfangled automobiles used to die on the side of the road the way the horse-and-buggies usually didn’t. We surely hope so, as come Monday we’ll probably have something nasty to say about whatever our president said or did or “tweeted” over the weekend, and will be eager to publish it to a world wide web.

— Bud Norman

A DREAM Deferred, and Other Raisins in the Sun of a Political Stalemate

The House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that would offer a path to citizenship for an estimated two million people who were illegally brought to the United States as children, which for better or worse would resolve a pressing problem that has been hotly debated for more than a decade, but unless you were paying attention to the back pages of the papers or the bottom of the hourly news broadcasts you might not have heard about it. That’s because it really doesn’t matter.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has already made clear the bill won’t be brought up for a vote in the upper chamber of Congress, and even if it does the narrow Republican majority in the Senate probably wouldn’t pass it, and even if a few Republican members did buck the party line there wouldn’t be enough of them to override the inevitable veto of President Donald Trump. Such is the state of play, as well, with all the other pressing problems that have been been hotly debated for more than a decade.
Which might be for the best, as both parties have some damned dumb ideas and for more than a decade have used a two-year window of opportunity of one-party control of both the Congress and the White House to enact some of them into law. There are some especially damned dumb ideas afoot in the Democratic House we’ll be mercifully spared — for the time being — because of that slight Republican majority in the Senate and the Republican president’s veto power, and some similarly damned dumb ideas proposed by the President and the Senate that won’t happen because of the overwhelming Democratic majority in the House. Our old-fashioned conservative souls give thanks to God for our founding fathers’ wisdom in devising such a convoluted system.
Even so, sooner or later we mere mortals and our elected officials will have to come to some agreement on issues that are hotly debated for good reason, and the current state of play suggests it will be for the worse rather than the better. Some members of both parties also have a few pretty darned good ideas, and in some cases they aren’t so very far apart, but too many members of both parties are unwilling to sit down and hammer out the details with the hated other side.
This inconsequential yet grandiosely named American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 that the House passed on Tuesday strikes us as something that could be negotiated into a good deal for everyone all around in a better state of American politics. We considered ourselves rock ribbed Republican hard-liners up until Trump won the nomination and the new standard was family separations and wholesale treaty violations and maximum cruelty and unabashed xenophobia, and we retain our disdain for many of the Democrats’ enthusiasm for wide open borders and all the rape and rapine and heroin-pushing and Democratic voting that would surely follow, but the bill that passed the House Tuesday with a few Republican votes strikes us a rather modest proposal.
The proposed law would grant the so-called “dreamers” who have been living here most of their lives through no fault of their own 10 years of legal residence so long as they could demonstrate they hadn’t been raping or robbing or pushing heroin or otherwise being a bother to the public, then “green cards” that allow them to work for a living in this country if they could show they were in the military or pursuing a higher education or had already been gainfully employed for at least three years, and after that a chance to apply for American citizenship. As rock ribbedly Republican and hard-line anti-immigration as we remain, we’re not so hardhearted that we want to throw soldiers and college kids and working stiffs out of the only country they’ve ever known. If we could gain a few concessions from the Democrats on a few miles of border wall where it’s actually needed and other immigration debates, as any skilled negotiator probably could, we’d take the deal.
Both Trump and pretty much all of the damned Democrats are itching to spend buttloads of money on America’s roads and bridges and levees and electrical grids and all the rest of our expensive infrastructure, which do indeed need tending, but at this point that also seems unlikely to happen. The Democrats want to shovel all those buttloads of money to their bureaucratic and labor union buddies, Trump envisions something that would benefit his corporate buddies and and campaign contributors, and there’s still an old-fashioned rump faction of the Republican party that objects to spending buttloads of federal money on projects and would prefer to pass the problem along to local local governments closer to the problem.
For now, in our sorry state of politics, neither party has any incentive to reach any agreements that might work out for everyone all around and thus redound to the benefit of the hated other side. That House bill that passed Tuesday strikes us a chance for the Republicans to prove that they’re not hardhearted sorts who hate hate even the most law-abiding brown-skinned people, and for the Democrats to show that they’re not committed to opening the borders to raping and robbing and heroin-pushing miscreants, but neither side can abide that the other might benefit. The Republicans spent six bipartisan years of President Barack Obama’s administration futilely trying to repeal Obamacare, which heartened the party base even if they couldn’t take advantage of of the two years of one-party rule that followed, and the Democrats will resist Trump with similarly futile attempts to Trump even if they won’t be able to do much with the two years of Democratic rule that might well follow. The crazier elements of both parties are awaiting the next inevitable two-year window of one-party rule opportunity when they can impose their craziest ideals, and for now the saner members of both parties who’d like to hammer out the details of those things they’re not that far apart on seem outvoted. Until the next election, and probably beyond, we expect most of the news will be about investigations into the other side’s perfidy, of which both sides have plenty.

— Bud Norman

An Ill-Fitted President in an Ill-Fitting Suit

On his first day of a state visit to the United Kingdom President Donald Trump committed his usual number of offenses against longstanding diplomatic protocol, continuing his “twitter” war against the mayor of the host city, offering opinions on British political affairs that are none of America’s business and he doesn’t seem to know much about, and taking the occasion to hurl insults and threats from abroad at perceived enemies back home. The worst of it, as far as we’re concerned, was the outfit he wore to a fancy dinner with the Queen of England.
He was wearing a white tie and tales, which is appropriate dress for state dinners with royalty and those other very rare occasions in life when a black tie and tuxedo is insufficiently highfalutin, but surely such a rich man as Trump claims to be could have found a more adept tailor. The suit made him look far fatter than he and his doctor swear he is, even more so than his golf gear, with the coat cut higher and showing conspicuously more white cummerbund than any of the more elegant-looking other male guests, and along with Trump’s behavior on the trip it put us in mind of Burgess Meredith’s portrayal of the “Penguin” on the old “Batman” television series.
To be fair we must admit that only Fred Astaire ever looked great in such a get-up, and that we are by no means fashion icons ourselves, but we couldn’t resist joining all the jibes that many of the commenters at various internet news sites were making. Our observation might seem one of those ad hominem attacks we routinely accuse Trump of making, but on his first day in London he making fun of the mayor’s diminutive height, and his fans seem to that sort of plain-spoken bluntness and cheap shots.
Also, it seemed yet another dispiriting example of how Trump just isn’t very good at this state visit and international diplomacy stuff.
All the past presidents of our by now very long recollection were obviously striving for a certain dignity and decorum and paying exquisitely careful attention to all the infinitesimal details of international diplomacy while abroad, but Trump seems to pride himself on demolishing even the most time-tested traditions. He shoved the prime minister of Montenegro aside to get to the front of a photo at a summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization members, sided with brutal Russian dictator Vladimir Putin over the consensus of his intelligence agencies at a meeting in Helsinki, lavished unnecessary praise on the even more brutal North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un during negotiations in Singapore, and went out of his way to insult the democratically-elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a G-7 summit north of the border.
Trump was on his best behavior during the dinner with the Queen and the rest of the royal family. He wisely refrained from reiterating his opinion that the recent biracial American member of the clan is “nasty,” which he now denies saying even there’s audio evidence that he did, and he seemed quite sincere in such over-the-top flattery of the Queen that she was probably embarrassed about it. Trump clearly loves pomp and circumstance, a tendency he has said he learned from his Scottish-born mother, who seems to have had a greater affection for the royals than your average Scot, and although he’s willing to wage petty and pointless feuds with all of the democratically-officials in the UK and the rest of the western world he clearly appreciates the red carpet treatment he routinely gets from the world’s hereditary monarchies and dictatorships.
The rest of Trump’s brief stay in England will include mass protests by a public that has about an 18 percent approval of him, including a blimp that portrays Trump as an obese and diapered baby holding a “twitter” machine, as well as outgoing and up-and-coming politicians who won’t be so polite as the royal family, and we expect that as usual he’ll want to punch back ten times harder. He’s got stops in France and other European locations where he’s also widely unpopular with both the public and their democratically-elected leaders, and we expect it will all play better with the fans back home than with our erstwhile crucial trading and military partners.
Trump fans love his bold willingness to disdain the longstanding traditions they believe has constrained America’s power, even though the past decades of business as usual have actually made America the economic and military and cultural leader of the free world in the post-World War II era, but we think there’s still something to be said for dignity and decorum and friendly relationships with the democratically-elected world leaders rather than its most brutal dictators. There’s also something to be said for hiring a tailor who won’t make you look so fat.

— Bud Norman

England Swings Like a Pendulum Do

President Donald Trump arrives in England today for a three-day visit, and we expect it will be awkward.
By all accounts the American president is not popular with the general public in the United Kingdom, where large protests are expected to gather in the streets during the trip, and his relationships with the various levels of government there are similarly strained. There’s an ongoing “twitter” feud with London’s mayor, some continuing disputes with Scotland over Trump’s management of his disastrous-to-the local economy golf courses there, Parliament has hotly debated whether Trump should even be allowed in the nation at all, and the Royal Family seems to be handling the matter with even more than its usual exquisite carefulness.
Trump will get an official welcoming from the Queen at Buckingham Palace, as well as a fancy banquet and a gun salute from the Tower of London, which we’re sure he’ll enjoy, but that’s about it. The usual invitation for a visiting American president to spend the night in the palace has not been extended, there won’t be the usual House Guards parade with a trip through London’s streets in the gold carriage in the Queens gold-plated carriage that Trump has openly fantasized about, and it’s hard to see how any of Trump’s diplomatic objectives will be achieved.
Pretty much ever since the aftermath of the unpleasantness of 1812 America and Great Britain have enjoyed what Mark Twain hopefully dubbed a “special relationship,” which has persisted through two World Wars and a Cold War and all the post-Cold War unpleasantness in the Middle East, but that’s just another of those successful longstanding arrangements that Trump has gleefully sabotaged. He provoked a feud with London’s Muslim mayor and criticized its Muslim-friendly immigration policies, as if that’s any of America’s business, critiqued the Prime Minister’s handling of its “Brexit” from the European Union, which Trump has also criticized for its unfair trade policies and miserly defense spending, and lumped the UK with all the other Euro-trash he accused of taking unfair advantage of America’s economic and military might. He recently called one of the Royal family’s recent American-born and biracial members “nasty,” which he now denies doing even though the Fleet Street tabloid that interviewed him has released audiotape of him saying it, and the rest of it is even more complicated than that.
If Trump hopes to negotiate the best trade and military deal ever with Great Britain over the next three days, which is farfetched in the best of the circumstances, there’s no one in the UK at the moment who could sign off on it. Trump can exult in outlasting his longtime nemesis British Prime Minister Theresa May, who has recently resigned on a date later this month because of her failure to negotiate a successful “Brexit” from the EU, but she’s now a lame duck whose successor won’t be chosen in the next three days, and there’s no guarantee that the next Prime Minister will want to be seen giving Trump a sweetheart deal. There’s also no guarantee that the remaining members of our erstwhile allies in the EU, whose publics also much dislike Trump, will be any more accommodating.
Trump will get a sumptuous Buckingham Palace state dinner on the Royal family’s best China out of the visit, which we’re sure he’ll appreciate, but there won’t be any overnight stays or ┬árides in gold-plated carriages or any other concessions worth bragging about, and at this point we’re just hoping the trip won’t be yet another of his foreign affairs disasters.

— Bud Norman

The Disappearance of the USS John McCain

President Donald Trump swears he had nothing to do with hiding the USS John McCain from view during his recent state visit to Japan, nor excluding its crew from a presidential address to most of the rest of Pacific fleet’s sailors at the port of Yokosuka on Memorial Day, but we don’t believe him. Trump’s fans admire his bluntness, so we’re sure they won’t mind if we come right out and say that he’s an habitual liar and exactly the sort of small and petty person who would do that.
By now everyone knows that Trump had a very personal feud with the late Arizona Sen. John McCain III, for whom the warship is named, along with his four-star admiral father John MCcain II and and four-star admiral grandfather John McCain, each one a bona fide war hero, and that Trump isn’t one to let a feud end at the grave. Trump dodged the draft during the Vietnam War with a phony baloney note from the podiatrist who rented office space from Trump’s multi-millionaire father — again we expect that the Trump fans will appreciate our bluntness — but he dismissed the five years of torture that McCain endured in the notoriously brutal “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp because the naval aviator declined an offer of early release made due to his family’s prestige rather than leave his comrades behind and hand the enemy a propaganda victory. “He’s only a war hero because he got captured,” Trump infamously said. “I hate to tell you, but I like a guy who didn’t get captured, okay?”
That slur against every brave American who ever endured being a prisoner of war should have ended Trump’s candidacy right then, but it didn’t, and when he somehow became President of the United States Trump continued his war of words with the former Republican nominee and bona fide war hero and longtime public servant who had the gall to question Trump’s fitness for the presidency. McCain wound up casting the decisive vote against Trump’s campaign promise to repeal and replace “Obamacare,” and after that Trump ramped up the taunting “tweets” even as McCain was dying of brain cancer. Although we don’t care much for the health care law and would like to see it repealed we have to admit that Trump didn’t have any sort of replacement on offer, so we can forgive McCain’s vote and acknowledge that he might even have been right, but Trump is not the forgiving sort and is never wiling to admit that he might be wrong.
The Pentagon and the Navy and the White House spent much of Thursday passing around blame about why the USS John McCain had covered its name with a tarp, then delayed its much-needed repairs by sailing outside of television camera range, and why its crew was one of the two in the area not invited to a presidential speech on a ship named for someone Trump has no beef with. They all initially blamed it on unnamed lower officials, but wound up admitting that there was a directive from the White House to keep the ship out of any press photos. Trump wound up claiming he couldn’t be held to account for whatever some unnamed lower level White House officials might do, but reiterated his dislike of McCain, and said that “Somebody did it because they thought I didn’t like him, okay? And they were well meaning.”
Both the war hero McCain and the draft dodger Trump prided themselves on blunt talk, and people 0n both sides seem to love it, so we’ll go ahead and say it again. The President of the United States is an habitual liar and a small and petty man.

— Bud Norman

At Long Last, Mueller Speaks

Robert Mueller is a famously taciturn fellow, which is one of the many things we admire about him in this very verbose age of politics, but he had plenty to say in a carefully-worded nine-minute statement on Wednesday. The former Federal Bureau of Investigation director basically said that his special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” did not exonerate of President Donald Trump of any wrongdoing, as Trump insists, and that although Justice Department guidelines prevented him from seeking a criminal indictment Congress could and probably should consider some rather damning evidence his investigation turned up which suggest Trump committed impeachable offenses.
The Democrats and their media allies naturally exulted in the statement, and of course the Republicans and their media allies continued their attacks on Mueller’s character. From our perspective here on the political sidelines, only Mueller seems to have got the best of it.
Mueller reiterated his investigation’s conclusion that the Russian government had launched a three-pronged attack on America’s last presidential election on behalf of Trump’s campaign, which Trump’s own intelligence agency chiefs and pretty much every other sentient human being agrees with, although Trump continues to believe the assurances of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin that Russia did no such thing. Trump has thus far declined to take any actions preventing Russia or any other foreign power from doing it again, and even if that’s not an impeachable offense it makes Trump look very bad. Mueller also very carefully made clear that Trump had done things to keep the investigation from finding out about it, which Congress might or might not consider obstruction of justice.
The Democrats will probably try to make the most of it, and disastrously overreach in the process, as is their wont, but for now the Republican apologetics seem downright ridiculous. Trump triumphantly “tweeted” that “There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent,” but that’s like saying that Trump pal O.J. Simpson didn’t kill his ex-wife and her boyfriend because he was found not guilty by a brain-addled jury in a politically-charged moment. Mueller made clear in his carefully worded nine-minute summary of his investigation’s 480-page report that an indictment would have resulted against anyone but a sitting president, due to a dubious Justice Department policy, and we can’t blame those damned Democrats for their gleeful response, even if it once again proves disastrous.
Trump’s right-wing talk radio apologists are relying on attacks against the character of Mueller, and allegations that he’s part of a “deep state” conspiracy to overthrow a duly elected American president, but they seem especially absurd when made in defense of Trump. Mueller was a head-of-the-class student and all-star athlete at his elite prep school while the fair-wealthier Trump was being sent to a military school because of his incorrigibility, and he interrupted his pursuit of a juris doctorate degree to win a Purple Hearth and other valorous decorations in Vietnam while Trump was exempted from service due to some bone spurs that were attested to by a podiarist who rented office space from Trump’s multi-millionaire dad. Mueller was a Republican when Trump was a Democrat and independent and Reform Party member, he rose through the ranks of government service and served as an excellent FBI director during both Republican and Democratic administrations while Trump was going through six corporate bankruptcies and thousands of lawsuits as a real estate and gambling mogul. Go ahead and call us Republicans In Name Only, but at this point we trust Mueller more than Trump.
From our seats on the political sidelines we won’t venture any guesses about how it all turns out, except to say it will turn out badly. If the sizable Democratic majority in the House of Representatives decides to impeach Trump the slim Republican majority in the Senate won’t allow the supermajority needed to remove Trump from office, and at this point there’s no telling how that might play with the electorate in the ’20 elections.
We’ll hold out hope that the truth prevails, no mater which of these damned political parties benefits, and expect that at least Mueller will go down in history with an impeccable reputation.

— Bud Norman

The Perils and Potential of Republican Apostasy in the Age of Trump

There’s no doubt that pretty much every Republican in Congress goes home at night and complains at length to his or her spouse about something President Donald Trump said or did, and probably so do most of the people who work in the White House, but they rarely air their grievances in public. They’re afraid that Trump will “tweet” something nasty and give them a taunting nickname, and are sure that most of their party’s loyalists will consider them traitors to the cause.
There have been a few Republicans who have been willing to voice the occasional disagreement with Trump, mostly farm state politicians whose constituents have seen their profits diminished by Trump’s wars, along with a couple of others who were heading to retirement anyway, but so far only Michigan Rep. Justin Amash has been so bold as to say that Trump has committed impeachable offenses. Trump quickly responded via “Twitter” that Amash was a “total lightweight,” but it doesn’t seem to have intimidated the congressman, who wound up getting a standing ovation at his first public appearance in Michigan’s third district since he proclaimed his Republican apostasy.
The crowd at Amash’s “town hall” meeting in Grand Rapids on Tuesday obviously included a lot of Democrats, many of whom probably previously hated his staunch conservatism, but there were undoubtedly some Republicans who also stood up and applauded. One Republican woman in a red “Make America Great Again” ball cap berated Amash for his disloyalty to Trump, and when the audience started booing her Amash pleaded that she be treated with respect and allow her to ask a question, which eventually turned out to be why Amash had become a Democrat. He responded that his record on such traditional Republican principles as fiscal conservatism is far more impeccable than Trump’s, and even the Democrats in the audience cheered. There was another Republican woman with a t-shirt emblazoned by something we couldn’t read who asked a similar question about Amash’s views on impeachment, and he responded with a brief restatement of his lengthy and factual and logical reasons for thinking Trump has committed impeachable offenses. He then rightly noted that the rebuttals to his arguments, including those from his party’s leadership, have all been ad hominem fallacies
Grand Rapids is the hometown of the late and vastly underrated President Gerald Ford, who took office in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal and epitomized an old-fashioned sort of Republicanism that stressed fiscal conservatism and prudence in foreign policy and the character of an office-holder, and Amash strikes us as a perfect Representative for the district. He’s far more libertarian than Ford was, which we quite like, and we hope he’ll fare well in his next campaign. He’s already got a more Trump-loving primary challenger, who will surely win Trump’s endorsement, but if he somehow survives the challenge he’s a shoo-in for the general election, as Trump wouldn’t dare endorse the Democrat.
If he doesn’t win renomination, which is quite possible, it’s not necessarily the end of Amash’s political career. He’s not ruled out the possibility of challenging Trump as a Libertarian Party candidate in ’20, and he’s already raised his name recognition for any races that might happen in the inevitable post-Trump era of Republican politics, when some record of resistance will surely be helpful.
Republican critics of Amash insist he’s a publicity-seeking grandstander, and ironically they do so in defense of the unabashedly grandstanding and publicity-seeking Trump, but we figure his risky stand is better explained by principle than pragmatism. So far the lengthy and detailed and well-documented arguments he’s laid out for Trump’s impeachment have only been rebutted by ad hominem attacks and cries of apostasy, and there’s always hope that the better argument will ultimately prevail.
If Amash somehow survives Trump’s “tweets,” or finds himself better positioned outside the Republican party, it might even embolden a few other Republicans to tell the public what they’ve been telling their spouses about Trump.

— Bud Norman

Amateur Hour on the World Stage

President Donald Trump was in Japan over the Memorial Day weekend, negotiating all sorts of foreign policy deals around the world, and we must admit it made us nervous.
Trump won office with an electoral majority despite a lack of any political or foreign policy experience on the promise that he’s the best deal-maker anyone’s ever seen, and his sizable number of die-hard supporters still believe it, but we maintain the doubts we’ve had all along. In his best-selling and ghost-written self-help book “The Art of the Deal” Trump bragged about how he got the better of talk-show host and game-show mogul Merv Griffin to acquire what was re-branded as the Trump Taj Mahal casino in New Jersey, but that soon went belly-up and has since been demolished. He boasted of how he won an antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League, but his New Jersey Generals and the rest of the United States Football League won only $3 in damages, and soon went belly-up. Trump Airline, Trump University, Trump Vodka, Trump Magazine and various other Trump-branded businesses have proved even more expensively unsuccessful deals.
Trump never seemed to learn anything from any of it, except not to put his own money on the line, and none of it was adequate preparation for dealing with the devious likes of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un or Russian dictator Vladimir Putin or the dictatorial mullahs of Iran. So far Trump has had more contentious relationships with the democratically-elected governments of our longtime North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Southeast Asia Treaty Organization allies and western civilization trading partners, and he hasn’t yet come up with any deals with anyone that much impress us.
He did negotiate a slightly better deal with Canada and Mexico over the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he said was the difference between the worst and best trade deals ever negotiated, but it remains to be seen if he can get any of the Democrats and quite a few Republicans from states hit hard by Trump’s wars against Canada ad Mexico to ratify it. There’s nothing on the table about a trade deal with the European Union, nor with the United Kingdom that is currently involved with a difficult divorce from the EU, and for now Trump doesn’t have much on the trade front to brag about, although we’re sure he’ll keep bragging.
That’s just money, of course, but on the arguably more important matters of war and peace Trump seems even more out of his depth. Even during the campaign Trump admitted to his die-supporters that he had only nice things to say about world leaders who had nice things to say about him, and so far that seems have guided his foreign policy toward the despotic but very flattering governments of Saudi Arabia and Russia lately North Korea, among other rogue nations. Our democratically-elected military allies in NATO and SEATO and trading partners in the EU and NAFTA have been disinclined to be so obsequious, on the other hand, which seems to explain why we’re tied up in interminable negotiations.
Which brings us at long last to what we set out to write about, which is the very nervous situation on the Korean peninsula, and how very nervous Trump makes us feel about that.
The situation on the peninsula has been nervous since several years before we born. In the immediate aftermath of World War II the Soviet Union was spreading communism to the west and south, the commies won control of China shortly after that and was infecting countries all over southeast Asia, and a Marxist dictatorship took over in the northern half of the Korean peninsula. America intervened in the horribly bloody war between North and South Korea to protect its democratic and capitalistic allies in the region, and although it ended in a desultory draw with the Chinese-backed North Korea along the demilitarized zone, South Korea is still a free country, with a modern economy and very sexy popular culture, and Japan and the rest of free and mostly thriving southeast Asia continue to do a mutually beneficial business with us, while North Korea is mired in poverty and darkness while developing a transcontinental nuclear missile capability.
Maintaining that tenuous status quo has been official American foreign policy ever since, through Democratic and Republican administrations alike, and although North Korea has crept ever closer to nuclear power status it has thus far worked out well enough, as nervous as it’s been. The Trump administration is of course more ambitious than that, and months ago we were assured via “Twitter” that we could sleep soundly at night without fear of a nuclear exchange with North Korea. After some very provocative missile tests by North Korea toward South Korea and Japan, as well as one that could have reached the west coast of the United States, Trump started off the negotiations by threatening “fire and fury like no one’s ever seen,” and taunting North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as “rocket man” and joking about Kim’s height and and weight. That led Kim to the negotiating table with Trump, along with some preceding flattering letters by Kim, and when Kim tentatively agreed to a denuclearization of the Korean peninsula during a summit in Singapore Trump “tweeted” about his triumph.
The critics quibbled that all three generations of Kim dynasty dictators had been seeking the prestige of a seat at the negotiating table on any terms they could get with an American president or other western civilization leader since the stalemate of the war, that the Kim regime had only tentatively agreed to a vague term about “denuclearization” that it clearly took to mean the withdrawal of the land-and-sea-and-air-based nuclear threat that America posed to North Korea, and the summit didn’t make make them sleep any more soundly at night. For a while Trump could crow that at least North Korea wasn’t making any more missile tests, but that claim went belly-up by the time Trump landed in Japan.
Trump’s appointees to all of the intelligence agencies as well as his national security agree that North Korea has recently been testing medium-range missiles that could deliver a nuclear warhead to a target 300 miles away, but Trump shrugged it off with a “tweet.” The “tweet” read:
“The North Koreans fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me. I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Bidan a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?”
This might reassure those with an abiding faith in President Donald Trump, but it’s going to keep the rest of the world up at night. Those “small weapons” North Korea fired off couldn’t reach any of Trump’s properties on the west coast of the United States, but they’re well within range of Tokyo or Seoul, and we can well understand why the entire American foreign policy establishment and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe or South Korean President Moon Jai In or Trump’s other polite hosts on this foreign policy junket are less sanguine. Trump’s trust in the vaguely-worded promises of such a brutal dictator as Kim confound us, but then again Kim has never written any flattering letters to us. Trump admittedly smiles Kim is taking potshots against Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden, whose name Trump initially misspelled, and he doesn’t seem to mind that yet another brutal dictatorship is campaigning on his behalf.
Meanwhile Trump is stuck with a decades-old beef with a perhaps nuclear-armed and in any case militarily-formidable Iran, which is a major player in a Middle Eastern theater of conflict that Trump clearly wants no part of. The dictatorial mullahs who run Iran have nothing flattering to say about Trump, but they’re backed by Russian dictator Putin, who seems to have a swell mutual admiration society going with Trump, so there’s no telling how that might work out. There are also all those ongoing negotiations with our longstanding democratically-elected yet insufficiently obsequious allies that haven’t been yet been worked out.
Go right ahead and accuse of us being deep-state globalist establishmentarians, or suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome, but at this point we place no faith in the president’s self-proclaimed unprecedented genius to work this all out.

— Bud Norman