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A Two-Front War of Words, For Now

President Donald Trump was waging a two-front war of words on Thursday, against both the nutcase dictatorship of North Korea and his own party’s Senate majority leader. Trump has bragged that he has all the best words, but we worry if they’re right ammunition for either conflict.
The feud with Kentucky’s Sen. Mitch McConnell is somewhat the less worrisome, as all the talk about the “nuclear option” in the Senate is merely figurative, but it’s also consequential and we don’t see it ending well for either side or the country at large.
McConnell stands accused by the president of failing to round up the necessary 51 votes out of a 52-vote Republican majority to to make good on the on the party’s longstanding and the president’s more recently embraced promise to repeal and replace the hated Obamacare law, and he’s indisputably guilty as charged. There’s a strong argument to be made that Trump also bears at least some of the responsibility as the titular leader of the party, given that he never set foot outside the White House to rally public support for any of the various bills he never seemed to fully understand, but Trump “tweeted” all the blame to McConnell. McConnell had the temerity during a Rotary Club meeting in his home state to offer the mitigating circumstances that “Now our new president has, of course, not been in this line of work before, and I think had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process,” so of course that escalated the war words.
Trump quickly and correctly “tweeted” back that his expectations of a quick repeal-and-replace had been fueled by the Republicans’ promises of the last seven years, then later told the press that he’ll await whether McConnell has to step down because of it, wisely not noting that was a lot longer than he’d been on the bandwagon, so he seems to have the upper hand. McConnell has long been the “establishment” bogeyman of the Grand Old Party on all the talk radio shows where most of Trump’s most loyal supporters get their news, Trump is their hero of the burn-the-establishment-down style of conservatism, and the hated liberal media aren’t likely to come to McConnell’s rescue, so Trump seems to have at least bolstered his base in their intr-party dispute.
The three lost votes were a Senator from deep blue Maine who’s about as red as you could hope for, another equally contrarian woman from contrarian Alaska who didn’t take kindly to Trump’s threats to punish her entire state for her lack of loyalty, and a dying old prisoner of war hero that the president once insulted as a guy who “got caught.” That bill they were expected to pass was polling in the mid-teens, the president who was strong-arming them was polling in the 30s, and even here in deep-red Kansas we had a Senator who cast a killing vote against one of the the various versions, and an awful lot of Republican senators seemed eager to move on, despite Trump’s “twitter” tantrums, so at this point we don’t expect Trump’s words to bully McConnell or anybody else into trying again.
Best to move on to such sensible Republican promises as corporate tax cuts and and fiscal solvency and an upright military posture, but that will likely require both Trump and McConnell working together with other poll-watching Republican votes, and we can’t see how a war of words between the two about the lost battle of Obamacare is going tho help any of that along. The rest of the Republican domestic agenda is pretty dry stuff, requiring all sorts of nuanced explanations about why it really is all pretty sensible, and Trump seems far too colorful and McConnell for too drab for either of them to do the job. What with the all the intra-party feuding, such sensible reforms seem all the less likely.
At this point we expect it will come down to another Republican argument about whom to blame. Trump’s base will hear on talk radio that it’s all the establishment’s fault, the high-brow but low-circulation establishment press will reluctantly make the case for McConnell’s mitigating circumstances, and of course the rest of the media that the rest of the country hears will delight in the in-fighting. For now the rest of the country seems predominate, and although Trump seems to be winning the intra-party battle he seems to be losing the broader.
Our patriotic instinct is to rally around any old Republican or Democrat president during a time of potential literal nuclear war, but we can’t shake a nagging suspicion that Trump isn’t trying to similarly shore up his political base. The nutcase dictatorship of North Korea has lately acquired the ability to place a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental missile that can reach strategic American soil, Trump has defiantly responded that any further further threats would be met with “fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which the world has never seen,” and that was met with the nutcase North Korean dictatorship’s explicitly-stated threat to land a missile just off Guam and some taunts from North Korean generals that Trump was “old” and “deranged” and “senile,” but for now it’s just a verbal conflagration.
Trump’s tough talk and caustic put-downs of the past four presidential administrations and the many failures of America’s intelligence as he addressed the current crisis probably shored up that that burn-down-the-establishment base, but we suspect it  played less well in Seoul and Tokyo and Beijing and the rest of the world. As much as we’re rooting for the president in a time of potential nuclear war, we’ve seen enough of the guy that we’re worried how he’ll personally he might respond to such taunts as “old” and “senile” and “golfs too much,” which might enough to provoke a literally nuclear response.,”
Back when it was just intra-party Republican politics, Trump could “tweet” with impunity about “Lyin'” Sen. Ted Cruz or Sen. Rubio “Little” Marco or a “look-at-that-face” female opponent and be assured they’d be too gentlemanly to respond by calling him “Fat” Donald or “Sleazy” Trump, but that nutcase dictatorship in North Korea seems to be playing by different rules. There’s an argument to be made for Trump’s apocalyptic hyperbole, given the undeniable failure of the last 50-plus years of establishment policies to forestall this awful moment, but we’d like to think it all run past the more seasoned foreign-policy heads and coordinated with a well-oiled machine of diplomats and public relations who were part of a coordinated strategy.
That’s what even such a stodgy and failed old Republican establishment fellow as a President McConnell would do, and that’s what we’d do our amateurish best to do, with even a damned old Democrat likely to do the same, so,we hope these competing instincts of the Republican party will somehow prevail on both fronts of this so-far-merely-war-of-words.

— Bud Norman

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The Passing Storm and the Gathering Storm

A windy and gully-washing thunderstorm rolled through our portion of south central Kansas on Thursday evening, and we wound up watching some ominously dark clouds continue to gather over Washington, D.C.
The storm hit as we were driving through downtown, and because it seemed to imminently threaten the tennis ball-sized hail that had been reported nearby on the radio we took refuge in one of the parking garages. With the car safely tucked under several feet of concrete we decided to wait out the storm with a beer at the nearest tavern, which happened to be a friendly little gay bar ironically called Rain, so we weren’t the least bit surprised to find Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC blaring from one of the several televisions. She was gleefully to the point of gigglingly reporting on the latest developments about the Russia thing with President Donald Trump and Russia, and we had to admit she had some juicy stuff.
The special counsel who was appointed after Trump fired the Federal Bureau of Investigation is actively pursuing an obstruction of justice case according to The Washington Post, which also reports that the business dealings of the president’s son-in-law and all-purpose advisor Jared Kushner is also getting the fine-tooth-comb treatment, and the Vice President has lawyered up with a high-powered attorney whose previous cases have included the Watergate and the Iran-Contra scandals. None of this is conclusively damning, of course, but neither does any of it look at all good. Trump retaliated with some “tweets” about the investigators being “very bad people” and how his vanquished Democratic opponent “Crooked” Hillary Clinton did all sorts of very bad things that didn’t result in any charges, but Maddow and the rest of the mainstream media seemed just as gleeful about reporting that.
Trump is right that Clinton was crooked and did so some very bad things, and her husband did meet the Attorney General while she was being investigated by the Justice Department, and the fired FBI director did follow an order to refer to that investigation as a “matter,” and he’s also quite right that many of his tormenters were hypocritically fine with that. As we always remind our remaining Republican friends, we were tormenting Clinton back when Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to weddings and praising her as the best Secretary of State ever, and we strongly suspect that a more apolitical justice system would have found her guilty of something. One can hardly begrudge Trump and his allies the satisfaction of making the points.
You won’t find us joining in on any “lock her up” chants, though, and Trump seems quite hypocritical for his sudden insistence that an investigation is not a proof of guilt, and we don’t expect that Trump’s “tweet” will persuade anyone who’s not already a die-hard supporter. No matter what Clinton might have done in her long and tawdry career, up to and including that satanic child sex abuse ring she was allegedly running in the back of a pizza joint, that does not have any bearing whatsoever on the question of whether Trump or any of his close associates have done very bad things. Our most determinedly pro-Trump friend argued the other night that Trump should be legally entitled to do everything illegal thing that the past two Democratic administrations have gotten away with, and at that point the country can get back to everyone doing things on the up-and-up, but we don’t think that will prove any more persuasive.
The argument that Trump’s investigators are very bad people will also be a tough sell. The special counsel is Robert Mueller, who was chosen as FBI director by President George W. Bush and after ten scandal-free years was asked to stick around for an extra two years by President Barack Obama, so he enjoys a bi-partisan reputation as a non-partisan player. He’s also known as tough and ruthless, but those are qualities Trump usually finds endearing, and he’s very much a member of the establishment that Trump has vowed to burn down and so many of his supporters loathe, but surely the broader public will expect more credentials from a special counsel than from a president.
Another interesting development gleefully noted by the mainstream media were some prominent Republicans who were making that point that if Trump has nothing to fear from an investigation he should welcome it, as only a thorough vindication by a widely respected investigator will lift the cloud of suspicion, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see more Republicans taking this sensible stand. If you dig deeper into the news you might have noticed that some Republican members of the House of Representatives are steaming to the point of leaking that Trump has lately chastised them for drafting a “mean” bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, including moderates who were muscled by Trump into voting for what they thought was a too-austere bill and conservatives who were muscled by Trump into voting for what they thought wasn’t austere enough. If you don’t believe leaks, Trump also “tweeted” that the country needed to spend far more money on health care, rather than the less that he’d muscled those members into voting for, and one can hardly blame them if they’re not entirely loyal on that Russia thing with Trump and Russia.
Trump had a pretty good story about an unfortunate man released from North Korean captivity in horrible medical condition after two years, and the man’s father making a strong statement about how Trump had succeeded where Obama had failed, which fits into a usual narrative that the Obama foreign policy was weak and feckless, with Trump’s arguably more reckless approach being arguably more effective. There was also that story about the Australian Prime Minister cracking up a crowd with his mocking of Trump, however, and the sense that there’s a lot of that going on around the world.

A rather attractive woman who was also waiting out the storm struck up a conversation with us as we were watching the news according to Rachel Maddow and MSNBC, and she remarked that Trump doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing, and we couldn’t disagree. She’d complimented our straw fedora and and seemed a bit flirty, but we figured she was probably just mistakingly trying make another fashionably homosexual friend, so we wound up having a nice chat about how very strange the world seems these days. Eventually the storm passed, as storms always do, but on the way home we had to avoid all the streets prone to flooding and dodged plenty of down tree limbs on the way home. The power and internet where still working when we arrived, but no matter the forecasts we checked the storm brewing in Washington looks far more damaging.

— Bud Norman

How a Bill Doesn’t Become Law

The news was mostly relegated to the back pages and the scroller at the bottom of the cable news screens, what with the fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director’s testimony and all the resulting presidential “tweets” taking up all the good space, but the House of Representatives last week passed a bill that would largely repeal and replace the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
The Dodd-Frank financial reform law is the dry and complicated and downright boring sort of thing that would get more attention during a typical presidential administration, which makes us all the more nostalgic for those good old days before President Donald Trump. We never liked the Dodd-Frank bill, so far as we can tell the repeal-and-replace law would be a significant improvement, and in a more normal news cycle a well-spoken Republican president would be able to enjoy a winning political argument. Instead, the matter is relegated to the back pages and the scroller at the bottom of the string, and the bill will probably be stalled in the Senate.
The few stories on bill note that Dodd-Frank was passed in the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown with the aim of preventing it from happening again, and for the sake of argument we’ll stipulate the Democrats’ good intentions, but the few allotted inches can’t make a case that the legislation did any good. Ostensibly in order to prevent the big banks from making reckless bets on subprime mortgages Dodd-Frank imposed thousands of pages on new regulations to prohibit commercial banks from certain kinds of “proprietary trading” and investments in hedge funds and private equity transactions, but none of that had anything to do with the financial meltdown. All the restrictions are imposed on commercial banks rather than the investments banks that were most involved in the crisis, and all of them had been compelled by the Carter-era Community Reinvestment Act that the Clinton administration started enforcing with crazed vigor, and most of those risky subprime mortgages were held by the quasi-governmental Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac outfits, and the Democrats should be glad they don’t have to talk much about that.
Nor did the bill do anything at all about those “too big to fail” banks that the Democrats were so worked up about when Dodd-Frank was passed by Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and signed by a Democratic president, and it wound up hampering the small banks and credits unions that Democrats have been romanticizing since before Frank Capra filmed “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The damned thing even forced us to spend an hour filling out forms to excise a nickname from a 47-year-old checking account a while back, and one can only guess at the extraordinary amount of time and money that the overall economy has spent on complying with all those thousands of pages of regulations. Banks will be able to accumulate more reserves to deal with shocks under the House Republicans’ alternative, which also wisely lets the bankruptcy courts sort out the inevitable failures, and the freedom and competition it allows would likely have a stabilizing effect on the financial system.
That’s hard to explain in the 140-character “tweets” and fourth-grade level orations that Trump favors, though, and these days he has other things to “tweet” and talk about. The press has plausible reasons for relegating it to the back pages and the scroller at the bottom of the screen, and it’s hard to imagine the general public taking a sudden interest in financial regulatory reform. The House bill now goes to the same Senate where the House’s Obamacare repeal-and-replacement bill currently languishes with 12 percent approval ratings, and the rules are different there and the Republican majority is slimmer and the Republican incumbents up for re-election in 2018 have their own reasons for striking a bipartisan pose, so this might be the last your hear of it.

— Bud Norman

Who’s Bugging Who?

There’s all sorts of consequential politics going on these days to keep a president busy, what with repealing Obamacare and replacing it with Trumpcare and passing a thus-far unpopular budget and whatnot, but that’s all pretty dry stuff and involves a lot of math. Which makes it all the harder to turn one’s gaze away from the far juicier ongoing allegations coming from all directions about all sorts of international espionage and high-tech skullduggery and assorted movie-worthy twists. Monday alone provided enough plot twists to fill up several sequels.
The already convoluted plot plot started way back during the past presidential election, when Republican nominee Donald Trump was praising the strength of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s leadership and shrugging off the occasional extra-judicial killing and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign was taking a hit from some embarrassing e-mails that had been suspiciously hacked, and suspicious sorts started wondering if that was entirely coincidental. The resignation of Trump’s campaign manager after business ties to a Russia-friendly Ukrainian were revealed and the resignation of a foreign policy advisor for similar reasons did nothing to quell the suspicions, and neither did Trump’s still-unreleased tax returns, and although he nonetheless became President Donald Trump the news hasn’t helped much. His already-controversial National Security Advisor had to resign after a few days on the job because he’d lied to the Vice President about having been in contact with Russian officials, his already-controversial Attorney General recused himself from any role of a potential investigation into the matter of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials after similar revelations, and the late night comics and other conspiracy theorists have been having a ball with it.
Trump, of course, has been doing the counter-punching he so boastfully prides himself on. On an early morning a couple of weeks ago he “tweeted” a series allegations that past President Barack Obama had tapped his phone lines at Trump Tower, which, if true, would truly be worse than the Watergate scandal that Trump mentioned. That was immediately followed by a “tweet” ridiculing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s paltry ratings on “The Apprentice,” the reality show Trump starred in prior to his presidency, but the president still stands by his allegations. His press secretary has since explained that Trump had taken care to put quotation remarks around “wire tapped” to emphasize that he didn’t literally mean that Obama had tapped his wires, and occasional spokeswoman and former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway further explained that he could have meant that Obama was spying on Trump through the Trump Tower microwave oven, and of course the late night comics have been having even more of a ball with it. Subsequent “tweets” and presidential interviews have promised that would proof would be forthcoming, and that his Republican allies in Congress would provide it through hearings, but so far that has not happened.
Trump still has plenty of supporters in the comments sections of all the internet stories about all of this, and is still cheered on by some old-time Republicans who should know enough to at least hedge their bets with some skepticism, but Monday provided another public relations beating. Those Republican allies in Congress have thus far admitted they don’t have any proof to back up Trump’s allegations, and on Monday they invited Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey to testify that the allegations are untrue and that the Department of Justice has authorized him to say so, and that he was also authorized to says investigations of Russia’s meddling in the past election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign was ongoing, and in the absence of any classified documents that a president could unilaterally un-classify that was bound to be Tuesday’s big headline and the punchline of all the late night jokes.
The more determined Trump apologists will continue to explain how a “deep state” shadow government is still doing the bidding of Obama, and they’ll be quite right that Obama’s administration tapped so many phones and did so many shadowy things over eight years that you can’t put anything past them, and we’ve seen enough Hollywood movies to always be suspicious about those intelligence agencies, but such old-school Republicans are ourselves still expect some proof. All those intelligence agencies and their more boring bureaucratic colleagues are clearly opposed to Trump for reasons different than our own, all the leaks lately have clearly served their agenda, and there’s still some reason to keep most classified information classified, but for now we’re still waiting for proof of Obama’s worse-than-Watergate behavior and something in the way of usual financial disclosure to assure us that Trump’s seeming Russophilia is just bad ideology and not something to do with the global business empire that Trump still owns.
Which is a shame, as far as old-fashioned Republicans such as ourselves are concerned, because Obamacare really does need to be repealed and there’s still some hope that the old-fashioned Republicans left in office will be able to come up with something too imperfect for any hyperbole but at least better than what we’ve got. We find a lot to like in that unpopular budget proposal, too, and would even be cheering if a Republican president had the extra amount of guts to take aim at the popular entitlement programs that are driving the national debt to eventual bankruptcy. Fiscal solvency and other matters requiring hard choices and hard math are always a hard sell, and all the harder when you squander your credibility with claims that are never proved and only cast further lingering suspicion on yourself.
Trump’s supporters can also rightly note that none of his critics’ have yet proved their most damning allegations, but at this moment in the news cycle the claims are at least as plausible as that story about Sen. Ted Cruz’ dad being in on the Kennedy hit and President George W. Bush lying the country into the Iraq War that Trump was never for, or that one about Obama being born in Kenya that Trump took credit for putting to rest, and these days it all a needless distraction. At this point we want Trump to put up or shut up, disprove his conspiracy-minded critics with full financial disclosure and an independent investigation, then lay off the “tweets” and get on with all the boring but consequential stuff.

— Bud Norman

A Night When the Stars Didn’t Come Out

Try as we might to avoid the latest entertainment news, we couldn’t help reading about the trouble president-elect Donald Trump has been having booking slots for his inaugural festivities. So far the biggest names that have agreed to perform are the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and even those old-fashioned and all-American acts have had some dissension within their ranks.
The Marie Claire magazine reported that several of the Rockettes objected to the gig, and of course the rest of the media gleefully passed it along. The Madison Square Garden Company, which owns the Radio City Music Hall along with its high-kicking Rockettes, accused the magazine overstating the dissension and violating a confidentiality agreement in the process, and assured the rest of the press that no one would be forced to dance against her will. The company’s chief executive also defended the booking, telling The New York Times “I don’t believe it’s going to hurt the brand, and nobody is more concerned about that than the guy sitting in this chair. I’m about to spend $50 million remounting this summer show, and I’m going to spend a similar amount remounting next year’s Christmas show. I gotta sell tickets.”
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir doesn’t have the same overhead or commercial incentives as the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, but a few of its members have declined to perform at the inaugural because of religious or political objections to Trump. Mormons have been notably more resistant to Trump’s charms than other conservative religious groups, and many have objected to their tabernacle’s choir singing for a thrice-divorced and six-times-bankrupt casino and strip club mogul, and one woman resigned her spot in the choir for well-publicized reasons that seem to derive more from her liberal political views. Many of the media have been enjoying that flap, too, of course.
The other big name, which we had not previously heard of, is Jackie Evancho, a 16-year-old who seems to have recently become famous on the “America’s Got Talent” television show. She tells the press that she’ll be singing the National Anthem in honor of the presidency rather than the president, and always adds that she also performed for President Barack Obama.
Some bigger names were rumored in the press, but all eventually denied they would be performing. Aging rock star Elton John was willing to perform at right-wing radio talker Rush Limbaugh’s third or fourth wedding but drew the line at Trump’s first inauguration, issuing a profanity-laden statement that suggested Trump try booking “[expletive-deleted] Ted Nugent” or “one of those [expletive-deleted] country singers.” Country star Garth Brook also declined a rumored invitation, but more respectfully, while heavy metal guitarist and “Motor City Madman” Nugent was not even rumored to have been invited despite his outspoken support for Trump. Opera singer Andrea Bocelli offered his services, but was told it wouldn’t be necessary, which probably came as a relief to him after thousands of his Facebook followers threatened a boycott.
So it seems that this will be a celebrity-free inauguration, and given how awful all the celebrities are these days we would usually see that as another reason to be glad that a Republican is being inaugurated. Trump is not a usual Republican, though, and we can’t see him relegating the celebrity culture to its rightful place on the margins. He’s a reality television star himself, first gaining fame beyond the New York tabloids for firing other B-listers on his “Celebrity Apprentice” program, and since winning a presidential election he has taken time out for photo opportunities with the rapper and noted nutcase Kanye West as well as fight-promoter and convicted murderer Don King, and he’s nominated his former World Wrestling Entertainment co-star Linda McMahon to head the Small Business Administration, and we can’t shake a certain suspicion that he’d very much like to be as adored by the big-timers as Obama has been for the past eight years, and very much resents that he isn’t.
We expect a lot of “Tweet”-for-tat public feuding with the celebrity set for the next four years, and although it will no doubt be great for the ratings on “Access Hollywood,” where Trump once bragged to his locker room pal Billy Bush about how he could be grab women by their deleted expletives because he’s a star, we aren’t looking forward to it.

— Bud Norman

As Time Slowly Stretches Into Election Day

The craziest election year of our long recollection got even crazier over the weekend, as Friday’s announcement by the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that their interest in Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s scandal-plagued e-mail is once again piqued by some newly-discovered evidence spilled over into the ensuing two days of otherwise slow news cycle.
All the polls were already showing that Clinton’s once formidable lead had tightened enough to clearly worry the more partisan Democratic press, so the FBI’s announcement set off something of a panic among the more polite publications. The news was impossible to ignore, or even keep off the very front page, and quite difficult to spin. There was no avoiding the words “e-mail” or “FBI investigation” in the early paragraphs, and of course the words “Anthony Weiner” were also bound to come up at some point in the story, and by now anyone who’s been following the improbable plot twists of this crazy election years knows that all of that amounts to bad news for the Democrats that can only remind voters of all the rest of the past 30 years of bad news. The Democratic nominee and her more stalwart defenders in the press could raise legitimate questions about the vagueness of that FBI director’s announcement, and why it comes at such a crucial point in such a crazy election year, but none of those questions would have ever come up if Clinton had only followed the sensible laws regarding a Secretary of State’s e-mail communications, and there’s no getting around the questions of judgment that raises, nor avoiding the questions of character that might explain her motives, so even those stalwart defenders of the Democratic nominee among the more polite press sounded slightly panicked.
As recently as the day before last Friday in this crazy election year they all seemed pretty cocky, with the previous news cycles being mostly about Republican nominee Donald Trump and all his accumulated scandals and hard-to-spin awfulness, and all the polls showing that aforementioned comfortable lead for Clinton. The words “grab ’em by the p***y” are also hard to keep out out of the news when uttered by a major party nominee, and the more impolite pro-Trump sort of press had their work cut out for them in trying to defend his attacks on the inevitable numerous women who came forward to say that he’d done pretty much what he bragged about, and when you throw in the rest of his attacks on prisoners of war and Gold Star families and his evictions of widows and three marriages and the four casino-and-strip-club bankruptcies and frequent heresies from both Christianity and Republicanism and geo-political and economic common sense along with the hard-to-miss buffoonery and boorishness and ignorance and almost daily weirdness that had made him the most unfavorably-regarded major nominee ever, so it was hard to dispute the left’s cockiness of just the day before last Friday.
But that was a long time ago, as we measure time in such a crazy election year as this, before the latest reminder that Democrat is arguably criminal and undeniably corrupt, and with eight seemingly eternal days left before the last votes are counted we remain as uncertain as ever as to how this will all turn out. Clinton still looks fairly safe on that stubbornly resistant-to-the-latest-nws electoral map, Trump clearly has the come-from-behind national momentum to provoke all that panic in the press, both candidates still have the most unfavorable ratings in the history of American political polling, and with eight excruciatingly long days left in this crazy election year there’s something bound to come out that would make such average voters as ourselves loathe them both even more. Clinton and her defenders might yet spin this into a favorable story, the same FBI director who until last Friday had been regaled by Trump’s defenders as a conspirator in a rigged system might prove it with yet another improbable plot twist, and the possibility of Trump providing yet another unfavorable news cycle does not seem at all remote.
At this point we’ll just wait and see which of these two awful people the rest of the country considers the less awful, and in any case we’ll wonder what the hell about this crazy election year in rueful retrospect.

— Bud Norman

The Era of Post-Religious Manias

Although it’s been a long time coming, this seems to be the year that America officially enters its post-religious phase. Aside from those Little Sisters of the Poor and Hobby Lobby folks having to go all the way to the Supreme Court to opt out of paying for abortifacient coverage, and some bakers reluctant about baking same-sex wedding cakes being fined and sent off to re-education camps, not to mention the current presidential campaigns, this was also the year that The Holy Bible first cracked the American Library Association’s top-ten-most-challenged book lists.
The rest of the list is admittedly the sort of thing that the more sternly religious have long objected to public funds being spent on, which is a difficult question for such strict free speech advocates and staunch stewards of publics funds and lifelong library lovers and committed cultural conservatives and occasional readers of subversive literature such as ourselves, but c’mon, The Holy Bible? Even those who would dismiss the book as a bunch of Abrahamic hooey should acknowledge that it has nonetheless exerted a significant influence on the history of the West in general and America in particular, at least until recently, and that there is some poetically good and still-relevant stuff in there, and that surely it should be available to inquisitive readers at the local library. Given the recent stridency of the anti-Judeo-Christian elements of America, though, we’re not at all surprised.
This is also a year when the front-runners in both of the two major political parties still claim some religious affiliation, even if no one takes either claim any more seriously than they did the claims of the current two-term president, but the Democratic challenger is doing quite well despite freely admitting he has no religious beliefs and the Republican challenger seems at a disadvantage because of his unabashed religiosity. The Little Sisters of the Poor might yet have to pay for abortifacient coverage, and those recalcitrant bakers are being mocked, and even that unabashedly religious Republican is reduced to defending the right of the last remaining dissenters to opt out of the cultural revolution that’s been unleashed, and by now the left’s long-feared “Handmaiden’s Tale” Christian theocracy seems rather far-fetched. The irreligious aren’t so fecund as the religious, which suggests ominous long-term trends, but for the moment, at least, they seem to have won out.
This will come as good news to the anti-religious sorts who can rightly note all the religious manias that have often beset mankind, even if they have to overstate the crimes of Judeo-Christian civilization and make elaborate excuses for other religions that are best left unmentioned, but we note that humans of all theological beliefs or un-beliefs have always been prone to manias. Russia and the subsequent Soviet Union were rigorously atheist and extraordinary murderous, as was Maoist China, and their imitators from Cambodia to Cuba to Uganda as well, even as a still more-or-less Judeo-Christian West still thrived, even here in the last-holdout land of America the post-religious manias are at least as crazy as anything religion ever produced. Rock stars are canceling shows in states that won’t allow creepy men claiming to be women to hang around women’s restrooms, as are self-proclaimed women’s rights advocates, and we’re not at all sure if the “Saturday Night Live” arbiters of public opinion are actually mocking a woman who doesn’t want to bake a same-sex wedding cake, and any objection to the conviction that mankind bit of the technological apple and was removed from a state of nature into Anthropological Global Warming should be punished by the law are now mainstream ideas.
We’re not electing a preacher-in-chief, as we’re constantly told by the supporters of the front-runners in both parties, but we’d like to think that we’re electing someone who holds to the traditions that have until recently made the West great. We’re willing to let all the pro-same-sex-marriage and kind bondage stuff have a place in the library, so long as The Holy Bible also has a place there, and you can get married to someone of the same sex so far as we’re concerned if you don’t force someone to bake a cake for it, but a society raised by “baby mommas” and “baby daddies” isn’t going to fare are well as one raised by husbands and wives, and that creepy guy claiming to be a woman in the local restroom is going to be a problem, and the post-religious manias won’t be any better than the religious ones.

— Bud Norman

The She that Was a He and How He Got Lost to Time

As we await today’s Super Tuesday presidential nomination race results with a grim sense of foreboding, we’ll take a moment to grimly chuckle about Time Magazine’s recent revelation that Evelyn Waugh is one of the most-read female authors in America’s colleges today.
If you’re not familiar with Waugh’s work, you really should be. Waugh is arguably the English language’s greatest fiction writer of the past century, the author of such masterpieces as “Brideshead Revisited,” “Scoop,” “The Loved One,” “Vile Bodies,” “Black Mischief,” “Decline and Fall,” that terrific “Sword of Honour” trilogy, and other worthy fare, all works that have a special relevance for these grim times. Waugh’s is a certainly a name that the supposedly hip-and-well-read folks at such a once-august magazine as Time should know, and they should also know that, in addition to being unfashionably dead and white, Waugh was also very much male.
It’s a common mistake, and even such a supposedly important journalist as Matt Yglesias “tweeted” his confession that he had also assumed Waugh was a woman, “Evelyn” being a name he associates with women, and we recall asking the clerk at a local locally-owned bookstore that prides itself on a well-read staff about a Waugh title and hearing him cheerfully admit that he’d never heard of her, and we suppose he got a lot of “Boy Named Sue” style kidding about it while growing up. He was married to a woman named Evelyn, and although his name was pronounced Ee-vellin and hers was the more common feminine form, their friends liked to distinguish them as He-evyln and She-vylyn, so some confusion is understandable. Still, we note that in a more literate age not so long ago the staff at such a highfalutin rag as Time would have been embarrassed not to know who Evelyn Waugh was, because their middle-brow readers sure did, and that in that not so long ago age the world was bit more civilized.
If the youthful staffers that Time can still afford to employ were to dip into some Waugh, despite deadness and whiteness and maleness, they’d find themselves brilliantly satirized by “Scoop,” that smart set they hope to mingle with had already been ridiculed by “Vile Bodies,” that their hollow understanding of war and peace has been shamed by the “Sword of Honor” books, and that the age they live in was witheringly described decades ago in “Decline and Fall.” If their middle-brow readers were more familiar with Waugh they might have been better prepared to avert the glum outcomes of today’s Super Tuesday voting.
Perhaps the glummest part of our slightly amusing story is that Waugh came in number 97 on that list of most-read female authors. It’s not that we’re altogether sexist, but as much as we love some good old Barbara Pym and Muriel Spark, who remind us very much of Waugh, and Dorothy Parker, who was a more American sort of dame, and Zora Neal Thurston, who is dead but black and female, and although we can think of others and freely acknowledge there are a lot more than we have had the opportunity to read, we seriously doubt that there have ever been a full 96 women of any color or original genitalia who deserve to be more widely read than Waugh. Literary quality takes a back seat to identity politics among the Democratic party’s mart set these days, though, and we don’t expect that either former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or the self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie sanders with the intellectual hairdo and academic elbow patches pay much heed to Waugh’s warnings against modernity.
Nor are we particularly elitist in our literary tastes, and we’ll also go on about our enthusiasm for Jim Thompson, the alcoholic white trash Okie whose delirium tremens dime novels expressed our cultural failings with a self-loathing religiosity that is much needed these days, and we’re suckers for Dan Jenkins’ sports novels and certain Stephen King works and corny old O. Henry short stories and the occasional cloak-and-dagger tales that our Pop so loved, but we do think the Republicans could stand some more reading of those dignified dead white males who suddenly seem out fashion even in the Grand Old Party. As the party enters the modern reality show stage of its long history, forged in the Civil War, it would do well to recall an exchange between two characters in “Scott-King’s Modern Europe.” A stuffy old headmaster declares that “Parents are not interested in producing the ‘complete man’ anymore. They want to qualify their boys for jobs in the public world. You can hardly blame them, can you?” The protagonist responds that “I can and do. I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world.”

— Bud Norman

The Pinkest Republican

Yes, that actually was the front-runner for the Republican party’s presidential nomination shouting about how “Bush lied, people died” and praising the good works of Planned Parenthood and sneering at unnamed big fat cat donors during last Saturday’s debate. The same day’s death of Justice Antonin Scalia and all the resulting politics got most of the conservative media attention, which is appropriate, but it surely is also worth noting that the once-Grand Old Party is threatening to go Code Pink.
Not even self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the abortion-loving foe of big fat cat donors and all-around far-left-wing kook who is currently the front-runner for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination, bothers with that “Bush lied, people died” nonsense anymore. Perhaps that’s because he’d rather not let his opponent, former First Lady and Senator and Secretary and long-presumed First Woman President of the United States Hillary Clinton, off the hook for voting in favor of the war as Senator, even if he’s willing to let her off the hook for facilitating a premature withdrawal from a pacified Iraq as Secretary of State, which is the smart way to play a Democratic primary, but we’ll give him some begrudging credit for avoiding that losing argument. To hear it shouted so loudly at a Republican debate, though, and by the front-runner, at that, is something hard to explain.
Even if you’re not satisfied by the sarin-tipped rockets and other chemical weapons that were found in Iraq, or discount the many plausible accounts of more weapons being shipped to Syria, and conveniently forget the many other persuasive casus belli offered for the Iraq war, and assume that an absence of more widely publicized evidence is evidence of absence, an allegation that any president knowingly lied to the American people about non-existent weapons of mass destruction to launch a war for still unstated reasons carries a burden a proof. One would have to explain why such a diabolical president would launch a war on a pretext he knew would be exposed, or why such a diabolical president wouldn’t plant some evidence to cover his crime, which shouldn’t have been too hard after recruiting the intelligence agencies of every American ally in Europe and the Middle East to bolster his made-up claims, not to mention getting all those inspectors from the United Nations to say they had their own suspicions about what was going on in Iraq, and we’d like to think it’s still hard to make that case to a majority of Republican primary voters.
Especially in South Carolina, a state where the Republican primary includes many proud veterans of the Iraq War and a lot of people who still prefer the president that is being accused of treason to the one that is being left off the hook for squandering the victory those proud veterans won. Especially when you’re Donald J. Trump, a foul-mouthed real-estate-and-gambling-and-reality-television mogul and proud adulterer and good friend of the Clintons and you’re shouting about all the good works that Planned Parenthood does, and a lot of stout South Carolina Christians are voting in the state’s primary and they’re not likely to be reassured his boast that “I drink my little win, have my little cracker” and is therefore good with God. They might like the part about fat cat donors, which as always plays well everywhere, the implied free speech concerns notwithstanding, but the fact that Trump also routinely boasts about being a fat cat donor himself might undercut that message once he goes up against Sanders.
Which makes us doubt the explanation that Trump is once again making a brilliant maneuver. Even one of the putatively conservative right-wing talk radio hosts was speculating that Trump figures he’s already got the Republican nomination wrapped up and is already positioning himself to appeal to the general electorate, which is apparently so boiling angry that it’s hell-bent on one conspiracy-theorizing kook or another, and our once-reliable host didn’t seem to mind the possibility that our kook might even be kooky enough to put California and New York into play. Even if Bush is still more unpopular than even Obama we’re not sure that the Republicans could ever win a most kookiest candidate contest against the Democrats, and try as we might we can’t see Trump winning over any of those basement-dwelling Sanders kids or Hillary’s abortion-loving old ladies or those Code Pink commies, but in any case we’d rather play another game with a conservative candidate against whatever left-wing or far-left-wing candidates the Democrats wind up with. Trump might find a few disaffected Democrats in the open-primary state of South Carolina who are only Democrats because their Confederate great-great-grandpappies were, and with the anti-Trump field still split too many ways they might be enough to give him another victory to boast about, but starting the play-offs before the regular season is over is always a risky strategy.
Our best guess is that Trump really believes that “Bush lied, people died” nonsense, and he really believes that if he’d been president the terror attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon never would have happened and that nothing bad will ever happen if he is the president, and he even believes all that “birther” stuff about Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and President Barack Obama and all the other weird conspiracies he talks about with the lunatic Alex Jones’ on the “Infowars” show that he visits, and that he’s the kind of guy who responds to the kind of criticism that he got in that debate by spouting off baseless allegations of treason at a more honorable man than himself and yelling “liar” at people more honest than himself. At least he fights, his enchanted supporters will always insist.
It seems to be working, we glumly admit, but we even more glumly wonder what he’s fighting for. If beating a self-described socialist and full blown kook or a thoroughly corrupt and incompetent felon requires shouting “Bush lied, people died” and ignoring the lessons of Obama’s withdrawal and indirectly funding all the not-so-wonderful stuff Planned Parenthood does and jettisoning the First Amendment to deal with all those fat cat donors not named Donald J. Trump, then we’re not all sure it’s worth doing.

— Bud Norman

Deflated Balls

The big story on Monday was about deflated balls. We assumed it had something to do with with Secretary of State John Kerry and his folk-rocking hippie pal James Taylor apologizing to the French for snubbing their big march against Islamist terrorism, or perhaps the Republican Senators’ apparent capitulation to the president on the the illegal immigration issue, but it turned out to be just another of those annual allegations of cheating leveled against the New England Patriots professional football team.
Even so, the deflated balls theme seemed to recur throughout the news. There was much speculation about today’s State of The Union address, which will reportedly call for massive tax hikes and vast redistributive spending that the Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress will never pass, and the press was giddy with anticipation that at least they will once again be able to caricature the Grand Old Party as lapdogs of the top-hatted, mustache-twirling rich who are always tying the downtrodden middle class to the metaphorical railroad tracks. The Republicans have always endured this reputation, and it lately hasn’t stopped them from acquiring majorities in both chambers of Congress, but the renewed slander might yet force them into some sorry compromise on the ridiculous proposals.
Another popular topic was the opening of the annual confab in Davos, Switzerland, where the world’s most well-heeled wheelers and dealers gather to drink, dine, and discuss the world’s problems. The United Kingdom’s left-wing Guardian took the occasion to anxiously note that the world’s richest one percent now control half the world’s wealth, but they should find some solace in noting that the plutocrats hobnobbing in Davos seem every bit as socialistic and authoritarian as the most welfare-dependent Guardian reader. USA Today preferred the angle that Davos will confront a “World on verge of nervous breakdown,” citing everything from such real problems as increasing Islamist terrorism to such non-problems as anthropogenic global warming to such happy phenomena as falling oil prices, and seems to hold out hope that the super-rich socialists at the gathering mike come up with a solution for it all. We’ve not been invited to Davos, and couldn’t muster the airfare or lodging expenses even if we were, but we’ll keep a skeptical eye on the proceedings nonetheless.
The rest of the news seemed to be about “American Sniper,” a big Hollywood flick that has been setting box office records that the previous slew of anti-war flicks never approached and is sending the mainstream media’s last surviving movie clinics into rage. Apparently the movie regards Islamist terrorists as bad guys and the American soldiers who have been fighting them as good guys, albeit with the some of the requisite Hollywood moral ambivalence, so the outrage isn’t at all surprising. The protagonist is apparently a white guy, which is also controversial these days, so the criticism will likely mount leading up to the Academy Awards voting. We haven’t seen the picture yet, and probably won’t until it shows up on Netflix, what with movie and popcorn prices being akin to a trip to Davos these days, so we’re withholding out own our judgment on the film’s artistic merits, but we’ll keep an eye on these developments as well.
Perhaps the desultory nature of the news can be attributed to “Blue Monday,” that post-holiday point in the dead of the winter that is said to be the most depressing day of the year. Around here the weather was unusually tolerable, although not nearly to our warm-blooded liking, but it still seemed rather a glum slog through the news.

— Bud Norman