This Week, On As The White House Turns

At the risk of damning with faint praise, we have to admit that President Donald Trump’s administration is a lot more intriguing than his last reality show. All the characters are more complicated than those B-list celebrities Trump used to fire, the infighting is more vicious, and we prefer the new format of constantly leaked news stories better than carefully edited one-hour-a-week television episodes.
Lately all the subplots seem to be about Steve Bannon, who makes Dennis Rodman and Gary Busey and all those other flamboyantly crazed celebrity apprentices seem bland by comparison. If you haven’t been following the show, Bannon is an ex-Navy officer turned Goldman Sachs investment banker turned publisher of an internet publication he described as a “platform for the alt-right,” and after that he turned into the “chief executive” of Trump’s campaign and then “White House chief strategist.” Until recently he was also a member of the National Security Council, but he’s been rather unceremoniously removed that position and suddenly there’s a great deal of suspense about whether he’ll be around in any capacity for future episodes.
After weeks of leaks about Bannon’s feud with White House chief of staff Reince Priebus the stories are now mostly about his feud with Jared Kushner, whose White House responsibilities include being an envoy to China and bringing peace to the Middle East and getting the Mexicans to pay for a border wall and solving the opioids crisis and reinventing federal government. The very busy 36-year-old Kushner is also the husband of Trump’s beloved daughter Ivanka, another key character in this convoluted plot who has also reportedly feuding with Bannon, and for now he seems to enjoy the advantage that blood proverbially has over water. Trump told the friendly folks at The New York Post that “I like Steve, but you have to remember that he was not involved in the campaign until very late. I had already beaten the all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change my strategy because I was facing crooked Hillary.”
In the past Trump had frequently spoken of his years-long friendship with Bannon, and often cited him as one of those very best people he promised to surround himself, but if you’ve been following the show you know that Trump’s past pronouncements don’t mean much. Despite Trump’s past boasts about his loyalty he’s fired two wives along with all those other B-list celebrities, as well as two campaign managers, both of whom were described by Trump spokespeople as someone Trump barely knew, and a National Security Advisor, and at this point such an old media hand as Bannon can surely read the writing on The New York Post. Should he find himself on the receiving end of Trump’s “you’re fired” catchphrase, though, it would make for a messy divorce even by Trump standards.
Bannon’s complicated role in this even more complicated plot has been the keeper of the “nationalist populist” and “America First” and “anti-establishment” and vaguely “alt-right” flame that Trump ran on, and as the guy who was fending off all those nasty “globalists” and “neocons” and “establishment” types who suddenly were trying to lure Trump away from the one true faith. According to leaks that probably came from Bannon he was credited with that “American carnage” inaugural speech that fired up the faithful and those travel restrictions that sure seemed to keep the campaign promises Trump had made, as well as the immediate efforts to bring the promised Mexican border wall and all that it implied. All of that played well enough wit the hard-core of Trump’s supporters that there was plenty of credit to go around, but it didn’t play nearly so well elsewhere.
The inaugural speech drew mostly negative reviews and a dismal crowd that Trump embarrassingly lied about at great length, the travel restrictions were halted by a couple of federal courts that thought they sure sounded like a Muslim ban and were therefor a violation of the religious establishment clause in the First Amendment, and all the polls show that despite mixed feelings about illegal immigration most Americans now regard a gazillion-dollar wall across the entire Mexican border as an obviously stupid idea. Whatever value those “nationalist populists” brought to the campaign season they’re currently dragging the new season’s ratings down to a 40 percent or so approval rating, so new characters have been brought in. There’s also Chief of Staff Preibus, who used to be the chairman of the Republican National Committee and the guy whose name all the right-wing talk radio hosts used to pit out to describe that hated GOP establishment, so naturally Bannon had several leaked episodes of feuding with them.
Not to mention Jared and Ivanka, who by this point have at least enough combined political clout to deserve a collective tabloid nickname like “Javanka” or something, and have reportedly persuaded Trump to embrace such hairy-legged feminist nonsense as paid maternity leave and apologizing for talking about grabbing women by the wherever and to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Libyan air base that launched a horrific attack against a nearby village wound up killing scores of men and women and children and some “beautiful babies.” There’s talk they also have something to do with Trump pulling back on his out-dated promises to declare China a currency manipulator and starting slapping 45 percent tariffs on their imports, and serving its dictator steak and au-gratin at his still wholly-owned Mar-a-Lago instead of the Big Mac and fries he promised on the campaign trail, and of course all the true-blue “nationalist populists” are by now feeling betrayed, and the right-wing talk radio hosts are still trying to make sense of it, but Bannon should worry about the overall poll number and those recent Trump remarks to the press.
Should Brannon wound up another one of the very best people that Trump has been forced to defenestrate that would be fine with such old-fashioned Republicans as ourselves. That “alt-right” of his strikes us as the same sort of racist trash that conservatives have long been distancing themselves from, that Mexican border and all it implies seems an overreaction to the admittedly serious but declining-even-before-Trump problem of illegal immigration, that talk of China’s currency manipulation was outdated and the part about 24 percent tariffs was always crazy, the “America First” slogan makes no more sense than it did when used to oppose resistance to the Axis, and except for the undeniable yet recently denied crucial role he played in keeping crooked Hillary from becoming president we don’t see how Bannon has ever done the country much good.
Still, there’s no telling how this story might turn out without Bannon. By the time of the feud with Javanka he had reportedly made peace with Priebus and the rest of the GOP establishment, who were allied against the influence of a couple with no political paper trail except for a long history of generously donating to Democratic candidates and espousing such liberal causes as mandated paid maternity leave for all employees. One of Trump’s sons told the British press that his sister had persuaded his father to launch those 59 Tomahawk missiles against that Syrian air base, which pleased the less constitutionally-minded sorts of “neocons,” and that yet might prove wise, but for all the bleeding-heart reasons that Trump himself outlined and were pretty much the same reasons that President Barack Obama cited when seeking congressional approval for such a strike after a similar chemical attack that killed similarly beautiful babies, which the Republicans in congress and of course Bannon and even the then-unregistered reality star Trump himself found wanting at that time.
We’re pleased by the recent reasonableness of Trump’s China policy, skeptical but open-minded about the Syrian strike, delighted by Trump’s complete retreat from that campaign-season nonsense about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization being “obsolete, and still following all the twists and turns in that ongoing Russkie subplot, but we’re mostly worried that there’s no underlying logic to any of it. Past pronouncements are of course of no use, ¬†except that “unpredictable” remains a goal, and what happens seems to depend largely on what the president saw just on television. The Republican establishment hasn’t done much for Trump lately, that “alt-right” has clearly become burdensome, and we have even less faith in the Javanka faction, and of course theres no telling what those damned outright Democrats might do.. The ratings seem to be driving this plot so far, and that never leads to a satisfactory conclusion.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

Tweeting Up Another Controvery

President Donald Trump “tweeted” up another political storm over the weekend, this time with a series of messages that alleged President Barack Obama had tapped his telephone and asked if that was legal and bet that a lawyer could make a good case that it was illegal and compared it to the Watergate scandal and described the previous president as a “Bad (or sick) guy.” According to the president’s more ardent defenders in the comments section of all the resulting new stories it was another brilliant move, and given all the other outrageous “tweets” that somehow landed Trump in the White House that might yet prove true, but for now it strikes us as damned odd behavior by a President of the United States.
All though there were four “tweets” that started at 5:49 a.m. on Saturday the medium only allows for 140 characters including spaces in each thought, so all of the media reports gleefully and quite undeniably reported that Trump offered no evidence whatsoever for the explosive charges and damning characterizations. All the media also noted that a short time later Trump also “tweeted” a taunt about Arnold Schwarzenegger leaving “Celebrity Apprentice,” but the allegations about Obama were even bigger news. The story spilled into the little-watched but widely-quoted Sunday morning news shows, where not only every Republican congressperson but all the Trump spokespeople stammered as they took a stab at some explanation. Trump spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the daughter of former Republican Arkansas Governor and Trump ally Mike Huckabee, was reduced to telling the American Broadcasting Company’s “This Week” that “I will let the president speak for himself.”
Trump might well have something to say for himself, but so far his source for the allegations seems to be a story that ran shortly before the “tweets” began at Brietbartnews.com, the news site that was formerly run by Trump consigliere Steve Bannon, who once described it as a “platform for the alt-right,” which summarized a rant shrieked by conservative talk radio host Mark Levin, who had shrieked it on the radio the day before. Levin is not at all a Trump sycophant and very often right despite his tendency to shriek, and he cited reporting by the very reliable Andrew McCarthy of the National Review, an impeccable conservative publication also stubbornly resistant to Trump’s charms, that the Department of Justice did indeed seek a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act wire tap on certain Trump-related phones and did keep tabs on a computer served linked between Trump’s business headquarters and a suspicious Russian bank. There have also been a number of leaks from the intelligence communities and other federal agencies clearly motivated by political animus, and all that right-wing radio talk about a “deep state” rebellion isn’t entirely far-fetched.
After eight long years of Obama and all his scandals even such anti-Trump conservatives as ourselves wouldn’t put it past that damned old Democrat and his thoroughly politicized Justice Department to be up to some Nixonian dirty tricks, and if Trump has anything to back it up we’ll be rubbing our hands with anticipation to hear it. There’s nothing in any of those 140-character-including-spaces “tweets” that comes remotely close to backing it up, though, and all those spokespeople’s more expansive sound bites on the Sunday shows were no more convincing. For now the Democrats are gloating that Trump either fabricated the story out of whole cloth and no wire tapes were ever sought, and that if any were indeed granted that meant a federal judge had decided there was sufficient suspicion about Trump’s dealings with Russian interests to warrant it, which is another favorite Democratic talking point of the moment, and that in any case Trump will be hard-pressed to prove Obama’s direct involvement, which eight long years have taught us is undeniably true. The rest of it should be convincing to that portion of the public that isn’t hopelessly partisan, too, and Trump will need better answers that what his people came up with on Sunday morning to counter that.
Maybe Trump is just baiting the trap so he can spring it on Obama at just the opportune time, as he did with that brilliant tactical admission that Obama was born in the United States, period, or offering just another distraction from the ongoing Russia stories that have already led to the resignations of a campaign chairman and National Security Advisor and the recusal of an Attorney General, and it really is a brilliant masterstroke. Then again, maybe Trump just can’t helping “tweeting” stupid things based on what he’s just read at some offbeat internet site at an ungodly early hour on a Sunday morning. We’re no fans of Obama, but Trump does strike us as that kind of guy, and it’s easy to imagine both of them looking very bad when all this sorts out.

— Bud Norman

Racism and the Race

For so long as we can remember, which stretches all the way back to a vague recollection of Lyndon Johnson’s landslide victory over Barry Goldwater, it’s been an election year tradition for the Democratic nominee to insinuate that the Republican nominee is a racist. This crazy election year isn’t one for insinuations or other sorts of subtleties, though, so Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton just came right out on Thursday and bluntly accused the famously blunt-talking Republican nominee Donald J. Trump of telling “racist lies” and peddling conspiracy theories with “racist undertones” and “taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party.”
Clinton made these claims and more at a community college in Reno, Nev., during a 31-minute address that The New York Times described as “building to a controlled simmer,” and we must admit it’s a most remarkable oration. Democratic campaign surrogates have long hurled similar slurs, and as recently as last time around the Democratic vice presidential nominee was thundering to a mostly-black crowd in his most embarrassingly fake black accent that pretty much all of the Republican Party “wants to put y’all back in chains,” but this marks the first occasion when the charges were coming straight from the top of the ticket. Worse yet, for those of us who cherish memories of the previous 13 Republican presidential campaigns, the charges have never been harder to refute.
In ’64 the factual claim was that the Republican nominee had voted against the incumbent Democratic president’s landmark Civil Rights Act, which is still so revered it’s better known as The Landmark Civil Rights Act, but Goldwater’s business record and personal life showed a consistent color-blindness that still convince us he voted against it for principled concerns about property rights and such that have largely been vindicated. By ’68 the Democrats were running Hubert Humphrey, who’d first gained national attention by leading the Minnesota delegation out of the Democratic National Convention to protest the “Dixiecrats'” exclusion of black southern delegates, but the Republicans’ Nixon had a sound civil rights voting record and the best they could come up with was that his talk about restoring “law and order” to burning black neighborhoods was subliminally racist, and in ’72 Nixon was running for re-election against George McGovern, who was from South Dakota. The ’76 race pitted accidental President Gerald Ford and his impeccable civil rights voting record against former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter, a one-time protege of the ax-weilding segregationist Lester Maddox, and Ford wound up with a 17 percent of the black vote that any Republican candidate of today can only dream of. Reagan won landslides in ’80 and ’84 and saw black unemployment go down and black household incomes go up, despite losing the black vote by landslide margins, and his vice president George H.W. Bush won again in ’88 despite an ad that suggested black criminal Willie Horton shouldn’t have been furloughed from prison to rape and murder a white couple, which was considered a very racist notion by some people.
With help from self-described billionaire Ross Perot splitting the crotchety old white man vote Democrat Bill Clinton knocked off Bush by plurality in ’92, and then won reelection by a landslide plurality against crotchety old white man Republican nominee Bob Dole in ’96, and all he had to do was wear some shades and play some sax and play the part of the first First Black President. In ’00 the Democrats were aghast that Republican George W. Bush had not signed a “hate crime” bill while governor of Texas, allowing some rednecks who had dragged a black man to death behind their pickup to get off light with a mere death penalty, and in ’04 the Democrats were running the son of a segregationist southern Senator against the incumbent son of a Republican Congressman with an impeccable civil rights record, and we seem to recall that the latter won a respectable 4 or 5 percent of the black vote. In ’08 the racist rap on the Republican was that he had the audacity to be running against the potential actual First Black President, and by ’12 they were reduced that preposterous vice presidential rant about Republicans wanting to “put y’all in chains.”
In this crazy election year, though, we find it hard to rise to the Republican nominee’s defense. Goldwater took the extraordinary step of integrating his family’s prosperous department stores at a time when it was bound to a negative effect on its sales, but Clinton is factually correct in noting that Trump’s record in his prosperous family business includes an expensive settlement with the Justice Department over allegations of racial discrimination at a Brooklyn apartment complex. Trump is using the same “law and order” line that Nixon coined back in ’68, and it’s still black neighborhoods that are burning, but we can’t imagine even “Tricky Dick” praising the “strong” reaction of the Chinese government to the Tiananmen Square “riots” or inviting his campaign rallies to punch a protestor in the face, and really can’t fault our ghetto-dwelling friends for wondering what he might might mean by that. The younger Bush signed off on a death warrant for that redneck who dragged a black man to death behind his pickup, and he had good reasons not to sign that “hate crime” law, but Trump paid for a full page ad in an expensive New York newspaper that called for the death penalty against some young black men accused of a horrible gang rape, and he didn’t back down after the young men were exonerated by physical evidence. Trump can’t point to the impeccable voting records of a Ford or a elder Bush or even such crotchety old white man as Dole, never having held any public office, he’s certainly no Reagan, and his long public record of providing quotable quips to the tabloid press is rife with material for Democratic attack ads.
As much as we hate to give the devil her due, Clinton is also right about Trump’s penchant for bizarre conspiracy theories. He’s a frequent guest and unabashed admirer of the downright deranged Alex Jones and his “Infowars” outfit, which is at least bipartisan crazy enough to have been spinning looney ideas about both Democratic and Republican administrations for years, including that Bush Lied, People Died nonsense the Republican nominee now spouts, and even after he wrapped up the Republican nomination he was still touting The National Enquirer for a Pulitzer Prize for exposing how vanquished rival and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ father had been in on the Kennedy assassination. We suppose he’s still insisting that First Black President Barack Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii, with whatever “racist undertones” that might carry, and as much as we’d like to believe it we’re still awaiting the long-promised proof.
Nor can we honestly deny that a worrisome segment of Trump’s support comes from some very unsavory people. We don’t mean the insignificant number of unabashedly racist yahoos in pointy-headed robes who always wind up supporting even the Republicans with the impeccable civil rights voting records because they’re at least not openly hostile to white people, but rather that small but more sophisticated number of unsavory sorts who are savvy enough to call themselves the “alt-right.” The term is newly-coined and the movement seemingly newly-fledged, and is thus hard to define at any given moment, but at all times it is explicitly nationalist and racialist and what most people would consider misogynist. They’re not much enthused about capitalism or constitutionalism or the Judeo-Christian tradition of any of that old-fashioned right stuff, and are “far-right” more in the European sense than by recent Republican terms.
They seem to have an even greater disdain for the Republican Party as previously constituted than they do for the Democrats, and in the comments section of almost any article slightly suspicious of Trump they refer to such GOP throwbacks as ourselves as “cuckservatives.” If you’re not familiar with this neologism, it’s a portmanteau of “conservative,” or “so called conservative,” and “cuckold,” an ancient term for a betrayed husband and a more recent reference to an obscure pornographic genre, which is meant to suggest that any white man claiming to be a conservative but isn’t a white nationalist secretly harbors a desire to see his wife ravaged by black men. Clinton makes the claim that they’ve hijacked the Republican Party, and as much as we’d like to disbelieve it they’re making the very same claim.
In every other election we can recall we could have said that it’s not the Republican nominee’s fault that such unsavory people are supporting him, and that it’s just because he’s not openly hostile to white people, but in this crazy election year the Republican nominee’s “chief executive officer” was until recently running a website that he bragged was “the platform for the alt-right.” Stephen Bannon’s “Brietbart News” also provided plenty of fodder for Democratic attack ads with such headlines as “Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer,” “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew,” and “Dear Straight People: I’m Officially Giving You Permission to Say Gay, Faggot and Queer.” That last one topped a piece by “alt-right” apologist Milo Yiannopolous, who is openly homosexual and therefore feels entitled to confer such permission, and we expect there are nuanced arguments to be on behalf of the others, but this isn’t a year for such subtleties, so we’ll leave it to Trump and his campaign’s “chief executive officer” to make own defense. So far that seems to involve walking back on all that mass deportation talk that got the fans so riled up, while assuring them he’ll still be firm, and countering that Clinton’s the bigot.
If this were a year for subtleties, and the Republicans were running one of those boring old “cuckservatives” with the impeccable civil rights records and fending off just the usual implausible insinuations, we suspect that Clinton would be on the defensive. She and her party are beholden to a frankly nationalist and racialist “Black Lives Matter” movement that is openly hostile to white people, and leaving black neighborhoods in flames and putting black lives at risk in the process. Neither she nor that First Black President who promised a post-racial America have condemned the naked race hatred that had mobs chasing down black passersby in Milwaukee, and a boring old “cuckservative” who had been “tweeting” obviously bogus statistics about the serious enough problem of black-on-white violence might have made hay of that. A boring old “cuckservative” could be making a case that capitalism and constitutionalism can create an ever-expanding economy that all can share in under a constitutional system ensuring individual liberty, instead of crowing that “I alone can solve,” and we would probably be talking mostly about the Democratic nominee’s latest corruption scandals and how she’s utterly unfit to be president.
At least Clinton’s speech acknowledged that all that past Republican presidential nominees weren’t so racist as was insinuated at the time, and that Romney didn’t really want to put all the black people back in chains, and that Trump isn’t really a conservative in the sense we cling to, but we’re sure that will be long forgotten the next time the Republicans have the good sense to nominate some old-fashioned “cuckservative” with an impeccable civil rights record. In the meantime, Lord, how we hate this crazy election cycle.

— Bud Norman