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The Character Questions

Michael Cohen, one of President Donald Trump’s many longtime personal lawyers, will be on television today testifying to a congressional committee, which will likely be one of the highest-rated epodes yet in our ongoing political reality show. He’s expected to dish some damning dirt about Trump’s businesses, campaign, and sex life, and how they’ve all run occasionally afoul of the law, so Trump and his defenders are preemptively raising questions Cohen’s character.
There are plenty of questions to be asked, of course. Aside from the suspicious fact that he was admittedly one of Trump’s longtime lawyers, Cohen is soon heading to a three year stay in federal prison for lying to congress and various other crimes, and he’s long relished his reputation for ruthlessness. Trump loyalist and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz also “tweeted” on Tuesday that Cohen has also cheated on his wife.
“Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends?” Gaetz “tweeted” to Cohen. “Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful while you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot.”
Some of Gaetz’ congressional colleagues thought it was tantamount to witness intimidation, pretty much of all the rest thought it was tacky at the very least, and we can’t imagine anyone thought it a compelling argument. Cohen is undeniably a convicted liar and criminal, and we wouldn’t be much surprised to learn that he has cheated on his wife, but that’s a problematic argument to make in defense of Trump. Our president has been proved to tell an extraordinary number of lies even by presidential standards, Cohen has receipts to prove that the crimes he’s confessed were carried out at Trump’s request, and some of them involve hush money payments made to a pornographic video performer and a nude model who had alleged affairs with Trump, and although Trump denies the allegations he had frequently bragged to tabloid newspapers and shock jock radio hosts about similar extra-marital affairs, and we’re inclined to believe the porno performer and Playboy playmate rather than the President of the United States..
When forced to choose between the claims of two liars and alleged adulterers and generally sleazy characters, we’re inclined to believe the one with nothing to lose and documentary evidence to back him up. Cohen is expected to testify that he was pursuing a deal for a “Trump Tower” in Moscow at a time when Trump was assuring Republican primary voters that he had no business underway with Russia, and by now Trump is going to need some pretty damned convincing documentary to make us disbelieve that. There’s a report in The Washington Post that Cohen will also testify that Trump knew of his longtime and recently indicted friend Roger Stone’s contacts with the Wikileaks organization that was leaking damning hacked e-mails on Trump’s behalf during the presidential election. Cohen is constrained from some testimony about what he knows about the “Russia thing,” as he’s still a witness to an ongoing special counsel investigation in the matter, but we’re inclined to believe whatever it was he told the investigators.
If today’s highly-rated episode in this reality show is even half as soap operatic as the press has promised, Trump and his spokespeople and talk radio apologists will have a lot of explaining to do. They can rightly claim that Cohen is a liar, but they’ll be hard pressed to make that case that Trump isn’t. Cohen is a convicted liar and criminal, but he’s also one of those “very best people” that Trump brags he’s always hired.

— Bud Norman

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What Enquiring Minds Want to Know

On a recent trip to our nearest supermarket we perused the covers of all the gossip rags on display during the long wait at the check-out stand, and were surprised to learn that the father of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. After losing some hope in the long-shot prospects for the presidential campaign of Cruz, we were pleased to see that he’s at least still as newsworthy as some Kardashian or another.
Our budget is lately pared down to the bare essentials, so we didn’t purchase the latest edition of The National Enquirer, but as internet access remains a bare essential we did the usual search engine enquiry into the matter. Apparently the notoriously unreliable supermarket tabloid has come up with a picture that shows Lee Harvey Oswald handing out some Fair Play for Cuba Committee literature in New Orleans with a guy who might or might not be Cruz’s father standing nearby. They even have a couple of credentialed “experts” willing to say to The National Enquirer that the guy in the photograph might or might not be Cruz’s father, and so the reader is invited to extrapolate that Cruz’s father was obviously the second gunman in the Grassy Knoll, and that Cruz is obviously continuing this insidious plot to keep America from being great again.
Although we are harsh critics of the more respectable press, we reluctantly concede that this doesn’t even rise to their low level. The National Enquirer has previously insinuated that Cruz has cheated on his wife with at least five different mistresses, with only the admittedly sybaritic Nixon-era dirty-trickster going on the record about alleged rumors that it might or might nor have happened, and they’ve tried to tie him to a District of Columbia madam scandal by noting that one of her cell phone records came from Texas, which might or might not have come from Texan Cruz, and so far we their efforts have convinced that Cruz must be a remarkably upright fellow if this is the best The National Enquirer can up with.
The more conspiracy-minded sorts will note that the publisher of The National Enquirer is the aptly-named David Pecker, who happens to be an old friend of fellow bankruptcy-filer Donald J. Trump, the self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-joint-and-reality-show mogul’s whose last remaining obstacle to the Republican nomination is somehow the allegedly adulterous and whore-mongering and Kennedy-killing Cruz. We also note that Trump’s not only admitted but much bragged-about sex scandals don’t rate a mention in The National Enquirer despite his reality-show-star status, and that Cruz seems to be the only Republican target of their thinly-sourced and clearly-linked-to-Trump insinuations.
Even the most respectable press have steered clear of such disreputable reportage, except for a few skeptical accounts of what’s going on the supermarket check-out lane tabloids, and we don’t worry that much of the still-undecided public will buy any of it. Much of the public that’s already decided on Trump will believe every word of it, though, just as they still contend that Cruz is actually a Canadian even after countess courts and election boards have ruled otherwise, and endlessly repeat that lie about the brain-addled neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson being lied about just before the Iowa caucus, and pretend that Cruz wasn’t for a border fence back when Trump was calling Mitt Romney’s relatively milquetoast self-deportation policies “mean.”
One hates to think that the likes of The National Enquirer’s Pecker can influence an election, but these days it remains to be seen.

— Bud Norman

Go Ahead and Hate the Press, but Keep Loving the Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the press has taken a beating over the past seven years and couple of months or so, and at the moment it doesn’t seem likely to fare any better over the next four years.
The Democratic Party has long shown a censorious streak, with both self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreeing that the country must overturn the hated Citizens United decision that ruled the government can’t stop the airing of an anti-Clinton documentary, and academia writing Orwellian speech codes and carving out “safe spaces” from the free exchange of ideas, and the more robust activists calling for “some muscle” to expel the press the public square, and a news and media culture that shames anyone who expresses certain proscribed opinions. By now we’re used to it, and know from history that it comes as a necessary component of any admittedly socialist movement that would quash a number of other human rights, but until this year we’ve never heard a Republican candidate and self-described conservative openly boasting that if elected president he would use the powers of the presidency to punish his press critics.
That has happened, though, thanks to the always boastful self-proclaimed billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show-and-scam-university mogul Donald J. Trump, who is somehow at the moment the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination.
Speaking to a typically large and adoring crowd in Texas, Trump denounced entire media as the “most dishonest people I ever met,” sneered at The New York Times as a “failing newspaper” and “most dishonest media outlets I’ve ever seen in my life,” and despite expressing his respect for Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos he said that “he wants political influence so that Amazon will benefit from it,” which is all standard Republican stump fare, and all fair enough, but of course he went further. Expounding on his seemingly impromptu rant, Trump said, “Believe me, if I become president, oh do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.” After the crowd lustily cheered on this promise of retribution against press outlets for exercising their First Amendment right to publish something that did not serve the interests of Trump, he added that “One of the things I’m going to do, and this is only going to make it tougher for me, and I’ve never said this before, but one of things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope I do and we’re certainly leading, is I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws.”
All the Trump apologists who magically appear in the comments section below any article critical of their knight-in-white-armor-and-thin-and-orange-skin will note that the Times and Post are indeed awful publications, which we’ve already acknowledge is standard Republican stump fare and fair enough, and they’ll note how censorious the Democrats are, which is true but irrelevant, and some will even venture some criticisms of the Sullivan v. New York Times decision that has since 1964 defined the wide-open standards of public discourse, although any attempt to explain how a press is still free so long as it meets Trump’s notions of fairness and accuracy and positivity are obviously wrong. What matters, though, and what no Trump apologist can deny, is that their tough-talking truth-telling hero is loudly and unabashedly threatening that if elected his press critics are going to have problems, such problems. Their heroic Trump may have already freed the land from those social constraints of “political correctness” that said you couldn’t discuss illegal immigration or Islam or mock the handicapped or disparage American servicemen who endured wartime captivity or brag about all the married babes you’ve bagged,
With a darker shade of spray-tan and a pair of mirrored aviator glasses on him we could easily see Trump issuing the same sort of threat in that fictional banana republic that Woody Allen created for “Bananas,” but it’s harder to imagine this sort of thing happening in America. Previous presidents have had their legal confrontations with the press, but in the end they always accepted the rulings made by the Supreme Court according to plain understanding of the First Amendment, and all the Democrats are striving to overrule a Supreme Court ruling similarly rendered so that they can exercise prior restraint on any documentaries or articles or artworks critical of Hillary Clinton, but at least they have the decency to pretend that it’s because of those awful Koch brothers and some vast right-wing conspiracy that’s supposedly intent on curtailing free speech. Trump comes right out and says he wants to use the government to silence his critics, eliciting great cheers from his adoring crowds, and after his poll numbers improve we expect Clinton will figure that she will soon make the same appalling promise to her adoring crowds.
Although we’re not fans of The New York Times, despite having several good friends there long argued with, nor The Washington Post, where we don’t know anybody, we do remain great fans of the idea that people should be able to publish whatever they have to say regardless of whether the current occupant of the White House likes it or not. We’ve long availed ourselves of this right, especially through the past seven years and a couple of months or so, and we intend to continue doing so for as long as almighty God, and not the almighty government, grants us. It won’t just be The New York Times and The Washington Post that have problems, such problems in the coming years, regardless of how this implausible election turns out, but one way or another we’ll persist in speaking our minds. If Trump wants to sue us, as is his wont, well, go right ahead, but he and all his high-priced lawyers should know that we possess nothing he can take from us that is so precious as our God-given right to say that he’s a bullying blowhard con artist who will do this country do no good.

— Bud Norman

The Daily Doses of Donald J. Trump

Try as we might to wallow in all the other bad news, we are somehow unable to avert our gloomy gaze away from the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.
Those daring sting videos of Planned Parenthood officials chomping on salad and sipping wine as they negotiate the sale of aborted baby parts has at long last resulted in indictments against the video makers, and we vaguely recall that former Texas Governor and failed Republican nominee Rick Perry is still under indictment for exercising his veto power over some drunk Democrat’s funding, and there’s a tantalizing possibility that even the presumptive Democratic nominee will be indicted on more serious charges, and of course there’s still the economy and the international situation and all the other sorts of substantive bad news to consider, but these days all we hear about from even the most reliably right wing sources is Trump. The man so dominates the news that at each corner we turned on the internet and airwaves and printed press we couldn’t avoid the two latest juicy developments.
One was Trump’s endorsement from Jerry Falwell Jr., who of course is the son of Jerry Falwell Sr., whom our older readers will vaguely remember as the founder of the of the former Moral Majority, which was once regarded by the more respectable media as the very embodiment of the Religious Right bogeyman that was  reportedly threatening to impose puritanism on the hipper disco-going America, so of course the more liberal press is still eager to trumpet the endorsement. The impeccably liberal reporters over at Politico.com are rubbing their hands as they gleefully write that Trump is winning over the Republican party’s still-troublesome would-be theocrats, and we fear they might be at least partly right. These days the Religious Right is reduced to fighting for its right to not participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony without being sent to re-education camp, and its putative leadership is reduced to the likes of Jerry Falwell Jr., and in such troubled times even the ancient Israelites craved a king of their own.
Still, we’re disappointed that so much of what’s left of a truly religious right would settle for a boastful billionaire gambling mogul who trades his wives in every decade or so for a newer model and has bragged in print about all the other men’s wives he has slept with and contributes a fraction of his much-touted fortune to charity and has in old-fashioned melodrama style tried to run an old lady out of her home, and who jokingly describes the Holy Communion as the only forgiveness he needs to seek for blameless and poll-tested life. At Falwell’s own Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, Trump recently quoted from “Two Corinthians” rather than “Second Corinthians,” which revealed the same awkward ignorance of Christianity that President Barack Obama’s pronunciation of “Corpse-man” did about his understanding of the military, and once upon a time in our church camp youth that would have been enough to disqualify him in evangelical circles, but these days the bar is set lower.
One of Trump’s more adventuresome apologists noted the sins of certain Old Testament Leaders to excuse his hero’s character, as if adultery and connivery were Biblically required qualifications for office, and even likened Trump’s critics to the Pharisees who called for the crucifixion of Jesus. This seems a bit much to our admittedly sinful sensibilities, as we’re certainly not asking for crucifixions, and we even wish Trump a happy life and at least a moment of spiritual introspection well outside the sphere of public influence, but despite our more freely admitted sins we will express some doubts about Trump’s character, and we’re certainly not buying the Trump-as-Jesus argument. None of this came up during an interview with Falwell Jr. that we heard one of the conservative talk radio shows, hosted by a host who prides himself on his scary Religious Right bona fides, and while there was also no mention of bankruptcies or beleaguered old widows being evicted from their homes Falwell did get a chance to enthuse a bit about what a successful businessman Trump has been.
The other big Trump story was his indignant refusal to appear on the next scheduled televised Republican presidential debate because it’s being televised by Fox News and will thus feature its competent and comely star anchor Megyn Kelly. The cable news network is an even bigger right-wing bogeyman than the Moral Majority ever was, and many of its on-air personalities rushed to Trump’s defense after those snooty old print people at the more venerable but less-known National Review declared their opposition to Trump’s candidacy, but in a previous debate Kelly had asked Trump about his countless outrageously sexist comments against numerous women, and Trump wound up saying that she had “blood coming out of her eyes” and “blood coming out of her wherever,” and called her a “bimbo” and such, and despite the rise in his poll numbers that resulted from this seeming proof of her insinuation he’s decided he doesn’t want to go another round with her. His boycott will likely have the same effect on the debate’s ratings that the absence of J.R. Ewing would have on an airing of “Dallas,” which makes it a bigger story even in conservative media than the folks being charged with exposing Planned Parenthood’s baby-parts-selling scheme, which does by gum seem a successful business model, if that’s all that matters.
We don’t have cable and thus can’t vouch for Kelly’s objectivity toward Trump, although we thought her question about his history of sexist comments entirely fair and his vulgar responses sufficient proof of whatever she might have meant to imply by it, and we would dare any of his fans to talk about how ugly she is, and for crying out loud it’s not the far-left MSNBC network, where Trump was most recently seen boasting about how well he gets along with such liberal Democrats as Rep. Nancy Pelosi, but we’re sure that Trump and his loyal-even-if-he-shoots-someone followers will still find some nasty name to call Kelly. That should be enough to ensure another few days of non-stop coverage on all the cable news channels, but hopefully we’ll find some other bad news to wallow in. The Democrats seem to be providing plenty of it, and we’d always rather talk about that.

— Bud Norman