A Busy and Upset Thursday, for Better and Worse

Thursday was a busy day for us, what with rehearsals for our annual theatrical turn and Kansas State University’s Wildcats pulling off a big upset in the national college basketball tournament and the trash needing to be taken to the curb, which made it hard to keep up with a busier than even usual news day.
The stock markets swooned as a trade war with China broke out, a former Playboy “playmate of the year” gave a lengthy interview about her past adulterous affair with then private citizen Donald Trump, and a national security advisor regarded as one of the steady hands in the White House was replaced with a hothead from Fox News, along with other noteworthy developments.
Candidate Trump ran on a promise to protect certain American industries with punitive tariffs, and President Trump has “tweeted” that “Trade wars are good and easy to win,” and after he fired the steady hand who’d been his economic advisor who’d urged restraint it was no surprise that he announced stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum on $60 billion worth of tariffs on a variety of Chinese goods. Neither was it a surprise when the European Union threatened retaliatory tariffs, nor when China announced them on Thursday, nor when stock markets around the world swooned on the news.
Perhaps the trade war will prove as good and easily won as Trump predicts, but we share all of the stock markets’ doubts. There is no historical precedent for a good and easily won trade war, after all, and they’ve all gone so badly they wound up with everyone losing. For all its faults the free-trading post-World War II global economic brought great prosperity and relative peace to both America and the rest of the world, and despite his salesmanship we can’t see Trump persuading all those other countries to give up their share of the pie.
Although it’s less likely to immediately affect your next 401K statement, the former Playboy “playmate of the year’s” interview with the Cable News Network’s Anderson Cooper was of more than prurient interest. Not that there wasn’t plenty of prurient interest to be had, of course, what with a billionaire playboy and future president doing the nasty with his nudie model girlfriend while his nudie model wife was at home nursing their recently born son, but at this point in the post-President Bill Clinton era even the evangelicals seem rather jaded about that sort of thing. The bigger problem is yet another blow to Trump’s believability, because he’s denying the affair and the former Playboy “playmate of the year” seems by far the more credible of the two.
She’s got notebooks and photographs and hotel receipts and other corroborating evidence of an affair, and her on-camera account of the affair has a verisimilitude no actress can achieve. She freely acknowledges that the adulterous affair was mutually consensual, didn’t describe any of the unwanted groping that Trump has bragged about and numerous women have alleged, said that he was handsome and charming, sadly recalled how he had offered to pay their sexual encounters, and even insisted that she voted from Trump and still supports his presidency. So far she doesn’t seem to have profited from the past affair, and when she credibly says she doesn’t want to hurt Trump we can’t imagine what her motive might be other than to come clean.
Which only adds to the credibility of the pornographic video performer who is also alleging an adulterous affair with Trump right around the same time, and whose interview with the same Anderson Cooper is scheduled to air on Sunday’s episode of the Columbia Broadcast System’s “60 Minutes.” Trump likes to brag about how he drives the news ratings, and our guess is that on Sunday night Cooper and CBS will benefit from that more than he does.
The porn performer’s story has an even more prurient appeal than that centerfold model’s, as it doesn’t have any of the weepy and cliched I-thought-he-loved-me parts and includes salacious details about rolled-up copies of Forbes Magazine with Trump’s picture on the cover. She describes a more transactional relationship where provided what she considered routine sex in exchange for a chance to be a contestant on Trump’s reality show, and although she’s brazenly capitalizing on her notoriety with a “Make America Horny Again” strip club tour her story also has a ring of truth to our ears.
The $130,000 that Trump’s lawyer admits he paid the porno performer just before the election might constitute a violation of campaign finance law, too, which adds to Trump’s already expensive legal bills from the ongoing “Russia thing” and various other matters. Trump has lately been shaking up his legal team, with Washington’s most high-powered attorney declining the offer but a conspiracy theorist from Fox News joining the team, but their task of defending his credibility will be even harder.
The recent shakeups in the administration are also unsettling. The outgoing national security adviser was three star Army general H.R. McMaster, one of the steady hands who offered such sage advice to Trump as “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” in a recent phone call with dubiously reelected Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, which Trump of course rejected, and the incoming national security advisor is John Bolton, who does not strike us as an upgrade. He’s a past United Nations Ambassador and longtime figure in national security circles, but his brusque style seems to have found a better fit at Fox News, where he routinely has urged Trump to follow his natural and nationalist instincts. He’s no more likely to restrain Trump’s impulsive temperament that the Fox News guy who replaced the steady hand economic advisor that warned against a trade war.
On a busier than usual Thursday news cycle, it all adds up a certain unease. It’s a sad state of affairs when a Playboy model and porno performer are more believable than a president, but here we are. The same recklessly impulsive fellow who got himself into those tawdry messes is now waging a global trade war and in charge of preventing the military kind, and he’s firing steady hands and hiring cheerleaders.
On the other hand, rehearsals went well, K-State whipped that snooty Kentucky squad and moves on to its 13th “elite eight” game, and we got the trash out to the curb.

— Bud Norman

The Democrats Put on a Show

Five Democratic candidates for the presidency had a debate Tuesday night, and it made for a most discombobulating spectacle. We sometimes try to imagine how our Democrat friends see the Republican debates, and to understand their cognitive dissonance, but we simply can’t conceive it strikes them as quite so far removed from objective reality as what we observed on Tuesday night.
According to all the candidates everything bad that has happened since President George W. Bush left office in ’09 is still his fault, the problem with the economy is not that you’re poorer but that somebody else out there is richer, the public is clamoring for an influx of millions of low-skilled non-English-speaking workers and a simultaneous raise in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, if Planned Parenthood’s baby-parts business doesn’t get a big subsidy the health of every woman in America will be endangered, draconian gun regulations are needed to make America an unprecedentedly safe space on Earth but don’t worry that anybody’s coming after your guns, the Middle East will sort itself out, and Black Lives Matter, but not the ones who are killed by the black criminals that all the Democrats want to go easy on and certainly not anybody else’s, and despite all the problems they’re bickering about none of it has anything to do President Barack Obama, who is the best president ever. None of this comports with our experience of reality, or the public opinion polls we routinely consult to make sure we’ve not gone completely crazy, but it seemed to play well with an audience full of Democrats.
There was something about the whole production that was somehow jarringly dissimilar from the Republicans’ shows, as well. The Cable News Networks’ Anderson Cooper struck a deceptively dogged pose as moderator, confronting each of the candidates with the harshest criticisms that have been made of their records, but it always seemed intended to provide them with a chance to offer their well-scripted and focus group-tested responses without any threat of pesky follow-up questions. There were no questions about evolution or Armageddon or anything else that might elicit an embarrassing confession of religious belief, even though it would have been darned interesting to hear their thoughts on the Republicans’ efforts to make contraception pills available over-the-counter, and nothing that wasn’t clearly intended to identify the most impeccably liberal candidate.

This is how a significant chunk of the Democratic primary electorate will be judging the field, of course, so it’s on that basis we’ll try to adjudge the winners and losers. Self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders ran the ball further down the left side of the field than the rest, but we think he might have come short of the metaphorical goal line. He was unpolished and sometimes surly and embarrassingly earnest, which of course conveys the sort of authentically populist appeal that the Democrats seem to be yearning for, and his insane rants about Wall Street and the dreaded One Percent and the Iraq War had a subtext about Clinton’s record that we’re sure our most ardently Democrat friends will easily read, and he was shrewdly gallant enough to let her off the hook about that whole endangering-national-security-and-breaking-the-law e-mail thing. This, along with the chorus of sycophancy that followed from the others candidates ensures that it won’t be problem in the Democratic race, and maybe even old new by the time of the general election, but we notice that Sanders got the biggest applause.
Former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and erstwhile presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton did fine. She didn’t have the melt-down that her bullied aids have anonymously worried about in the press, and she had smiling answers to all those seemingly hard questions about the utter failure of everything she’s ever done in her life, and she cracked a joke and got angry and demonstrated other human behaviors, and it was enough that all the pundits were spouting rave reviews in the post-game show. We can’t imagine that anyone who is still loyal to Clinton’s candidacy was put off, but we can’t imagine that she wowed any of those Sanders supporters, so we’ll call it a tie.
Former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley probably picked up a few points in the polls just by virtue of the fact that a few Democrats realized there was someone in the race other than Clinton and Sanders. He had to apologetically explain that the tough-on-crime measures he enacted had saved thousands of black lives, which of course puts him at odds with the Black Lives Matter obsession of the current Democratic Party, but at least he got some air time.
Former Marine combat veteran, Secretary of the Navy, and Virginia Sen. Jim Webb also probably made some gain by the fact that the audience is now aware of his existence. He gave us a nicely nostalgic memory of the long ago Cold War era of Sen. Scoop Jackson and Sen. Daniel Moynihan and similarly hawkish Democrats, but we expect he gave most our Democratic friends of today the chills. Still, one can hope that are still enough relatively sensible Democrats left to nudge his poll numbers into the single digits.
That Chaffee guy, who used to be a Republican and was something or another a couple of times in Rhode Island, was clearly hurt by the fact that the audience is now aware of his existence. The most embarrassing point of the night was when he tried to explain his vote against some crazy financial regulation scheme he said that he’d just come into office and that his father had just died and everyone else was voting against it, and it was the only moment of actual booing in the debate. Surely the producers of this reality show will soon replace his character with Vice President Joe Biden, who will assume the mantle of the gloriously successful and overwhelming popular Barack Obama, and the plot can start to take more interesting twists.
How the general election season play out remains to be seen, but the Democratic plot line is looking altogether implausible. If Donald Trump weren’t the current star of the Republican show, we’d think they have a problem.

— Bud Norman