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The Third of July

As patriotic Americans we don’t want to spend the Fourth of July with another screed about the President of the United States, as it’s supposed to be one of those all-too-rare apolitical and non-partisan days, so we’ll get it off our chest on the Third of July. President Donald Trump seems intent on turning Independence Day into another one of his endless campaign rallies, with a heaping helping of militarism on top, and several million taxpayer dollars thrown in, with big-bucks donors getting front row seating, and we find it outrageous.
Starting with President George Washington it has been a time-honored tradition for presidents to stay out of the spotlight while the country celebrates the birth of America, except for a brief and humble statement acknowledging the occasion, but Trump cares little for time-honored traditions and always on insists on being the center of attention. He’ll be hogging a stage that’s been set up on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, claiming credit for the traditional fireworks just as he claims credit for people saying “Merry Christmas” in December, with generals and admirals of the American military standing next to him as tanks and troops march down Pennsylvania Avenue as fighters and bombers fly overhead.
Trump is calling it a “Celebration of America,” as if it were his novel idea to celebrate America on the Fourth of July, but everything about it seems a betrayal of American ideals.
The basic idea of the Declaration of Independence that was signed on the Fourth of July in 1776 is that all men are created equal, none are above the law, none are irreplaceable, and America’s greatness derives from e pluribus unum. Trump openly brags about being exceptional, brazenly violates the rule of law and dares his opponents to do anything about it, has repeatedly said that “Only I can solve,” and claims full credit for supposedly restoring America’s greatness by his clear efforts to divide the country. If he somehow manages not to do so on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the Fourth of July we will be surprised, but his mere presence there seems to imply his usual political rally rhetoric.
America’s military might won our independence from Britain, and has maintained our freedom throughout some very difficult years ever since, so of course it deserves some gratitude on the Fourth of July. Still, the show of strength that Trump has planned is not the way to do it. The top military brass has made it clear to Trump that their soldierly humility makes them uncomfortable flexing their muscles in gaudy parades, the enlisted men and women would probably prefer to have a day off with their families rather than being props in a Trump propaganda ploy, and the whole thing seems more like something you’d see in the old Soviet Union or modern day North Korea rather than in the United States of America. The draft-dodging Commander in Chief bragged the parade would include the Sherman tanks, although there haven’t been any Sherman tanks for more than 50 years, and he also bragged there’d be the newest Abram tanks, although they’re actually called Abrams tanks.In Trump’s skewed worldview America is great because it can kick any other country’s ass in a war, but to our thinking America has that capability because a nation of free men and women and free markets that doesn’t want a fight with anybody made it rich enough and great enough to sustain such a formidable force.
As rich as America is it’s more than $20 trillion in debt, and racking up a trillion more every year even in what Trump calls the best economy ever, and Trump’s show of force won’t help with that problem. He’ll spend millions with the flyovers, millions more rolling tanks and other armored vehicles over streets that weren’t designed to bear such heavy loads and will surely require expensive repair afterwards, and he’s diverting some $2.5 million dollars appropriated for the upkeep of national parks to pay for the stage on the Lincoln Memorial and the other changes to the time-honored tradition of Fourth of July celebrations in Washington, D.C.
Way back in our early teens we had the good fortune to be in our nation’s capital for a couple of Independence Days, and we can say that even Trump couldn’t have made it any greater. They had great fireworks even then, which lit up the skies over the Washington and Lincoln and Jefferson memorials and the Capitol and the reflecting pools and the rest of the gorgeous National Mall, and it was jam-packed with Americans of all hues and every variety, and nobody seemed to care much who was a Republican or who was a Democrat. Rich or poor didn’t make any difference, either, and there was a wonderfully palpable sense of e pluribus unum.
Tomorrow we expect there will be a lot of people in those red “Make America Again” ball caps showing up for another Trump rally, as well as a lot of people and that “Baby Trump” balloon showing up to protest the President of the United States, so at least a few fist fights will result. You can add the D.C. and Capitol Hill police department’s costs to the total bill, and subtract that from how great the Fourth of July used to be on the glorious National Mall of our nation’s capital. The big bucks donor who bought the front row seats for Trump’s speech and “Celebration of America” might not notice, but any average American who gets caught up in the potential riot surely will.
Our plan for tomorrow is to watch our city’s annual dazzling fireworks display in front of the Wichita Art Museum on the banks of the Little Arkansas River, which will light up the skies over the  Keeper of the Plains statue on the nearby confluence with the Arkansas River that marks the spot still  held sacred sacred by the plains Indians. We look forward to sharing the moment with Wichitans of all hues and every variety, and not caring who’s a Republican and who’s a Democrat. Wichita still has a palpable sense of e pluribus unum, and now that we’ve got this off our chest we won’t let the likes of Trump ruin that on a Fourth of July.

— Bud Norman

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How to Spend a Late Summer’s Afternoon

The weather around here on Wednesday was unusually perfect, and despite a recent losing streak the local Wichita Wingnuts baseball club has secured a spot in the double-A American Association’s playoffs, a most delightful and unusually good-looking young married couple we’re friends with have recently given birth to a healthy baby boy, and pretty much everyone we’ve run into lately has been eager to have a friendly talk about pretty much anything other than the latest politics.
It’s been a nice diversion, we must admit, and has led to some interesting discussions about the Film Noir genre and the hidden subtexts of “The Man Who Liberty Valance” and the subtleties of the Book of Acts, and of course how unusually perfect the weather has been lately, along with other more local and personal topics. Still, there’s no avoiding all the rest of the more noisome news of more national and international interest, and we’re still doing our best too keep up with it.
None of it is at all conducive to the happy mood that has lately prevailed around here, though, regardless of what your political beliefs might be, so despite all we have to say about that we’ll skip all that until at least tomorrow. In the meantime some delightful and good-looking couple is having a healthy baby near you, the sun is shining at a perfectly warm temperature somewhere, whatever local sports team you root for probably did its best even if it failed to make the playoffs, and you really should watch those great Film Noir movies and re-watch “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” for all the hidden subtext about how great nations are created.
We’ve still got lots to say about all the rest of it, none of which any of our Republican or Democratic or many somewhere-in-between friends will want to hear, but we’ll take a day off from our usual screeds about all that. Thanks for dropping in, though, and we hope that you have good weather and good news and friendly conversations with all the people you run into. From our reading of the rest of the  news, America could use a whole lot more of that.

— Bud Norman

Two Brief Encounters on Hot Summer Nights

A hot summer night recently coaxed us out of the house and to the patio of a local watering hole, where we were pleased to encounter a dear old friend. We spoke of our families and friends and how work is going, debated whether we should care at all about the World Cup soccer matches, swapped some salty jokes, and mostly avoided what’s been in the news. When we inevitably mentioned our nagging worries about the way the world seems to be going these she waived off the topic by saying that she now concerns herself solely with friends and family and how work is going.
This seemed fair enough, especially after hearing the travails of her friends and family and workplace as well as some other very serious problems she has faced in the past months, so with a certain sense of relief we let the topic drop and moved on to an amusing discussion of our past romantic failures. Our friend is an effervescent and upbeat sort, a pleasant contrast to our more reserved and fatalistic manner, so we didn’t want to deny her a hard-earned blissful ignorance of the news that rest of the world is going to hell in a proverbial hand basket. Eventually the consequences of all those stories she’s been studiously ignoring will be felt by her friends and family and at her workplace, and will adversely affect her ability to solve the other sorts of problems that she’s lately faced, but in the meantime we see no reason should do anything about it other than keep a head up. Our friend is female, single, mostly unchurched, and fits all the other demographic and socio-economic categories that predict her biennial support for Democratic candidates and occasional enthusiasm for some bleeding-heart do-gooder project or another, so we didn’t want to encourage her to be politically active.
Better an apolitical attitude that concerns itself only with friends and family and work than the earnest idealism of the young man we encountered the next hot summer night on the patio at another local watering hole. We were engaged in our usual glum conservation about the events of the day with a gray pony-tailed right-wing friend of ours when when the young man at the next table interjected himself, quite politely and apologetically explaining that he couldn’t help overhearing our chat and that he shared our interests. He had an armful of tattoos and some up-to-date facial hair and one of those ear lobe-expanding devices that always remind of us old National Geographic photographs of the primitive tribesmen of the most remote regions, which is not atypical of the hipster clientele at that particular local watering hole, and when he introduced himself as a member of the left-wing “hacktivisit” group called Anonymous he drew our attention to his resemblance to the Guy Fawkes mask from the “V For Vendetta” movie used by that outfit.
He was quite unthreatening nonetheless, and we allowed him a lengthy discourse on his newfound solutions to all the world’s problems. He’s a poet for peace, as it turns out, and expects that his Facebook fan base will soon have the rest of the world on board. Most people would already prefer not to be killed in a war, he observed, and persuading the rest should be easy enough if the right poetry is applied. We noted that the Kellogg-Briand Pact had already made war illegal way back in 1928, and he was so excited by the news that he had us type the words into one of those palm-held gizmos that all the kids carry these days. Moving on to the world’s economic woes, he eagerly explained that people are forced to work by a corrupt corporate system that can be easily replaced by a new order in which people grow food and do favors for one another. Our friend with the gray pony-tail remarked that growing food sounds very much like work, and we had to agree, having picked enough peaches in our boyhood to know that agriculture is at least as arduous as poetry, and the young man replied that at least we wouldn’t be doing it for the profit of some corporation. Our right-wing pal wondered if the young man would be willing to mow his lawn and do some much-needed work on his home, and when the young man readily agreed to do so our friend asked why he should bother to get out of his hammock in the brave new world. The young man seemed genuinely befuddled why anyone would take advantage of such a well-intentioned system, and when our friend replied “Because I’m a jerk” the young man found it so amusing he offered to buy him a drink in exchange for the laugh. Our friend declined the offer, but we chimed in that we’d take him up on the offer and requested something from the Pabst corporation.
He still seemed quite unthreatening, but only because his schemes were so obviously ineffectual. Should his ideas about defying human nature ever take hold they will be as disastrous as all such previous attempts at remaking mankind have been, but we expect he’ll have to settle for the more slow-motion disaster that our apolitical single female friend votes for. We don’t doubt the sincerity of his desire for nothing other than peace and love, as even such grumpy old right-wingers as ourselves are in favor of both of those elusive ideals, and he had bought us a corporate-brewed beer, so we wished him well in his efforts. He seemed a nice enough kid, and we suspect that if he’d concern himself only with his friends and family and workplace and he might actually succeed in sowing some peace and love there. Perhaps his poetry might even accomplish some peace and love, but we doubt he’s so wise as William Butler Yeats, who was asked to contribute something to a poets-against-war anthology that somehow failed to avert World War I, and replied that “I think it better in times likes these that a poet’s mouth be silent, for in truth we have no gift to set a statesman right; He has had enough of meddling who can please a young girl in the turbulence of her youth, or an old man upon a winter’s night.”
Peace and love and poetry are worthy pursuits for a young man, and friends and family and the workplace are should be well attended to by everyone, but we think the other problems are best solved by the grumpy old men and women who best understand the failings of human nature. It would do us well to be pleased on a winter’s night, too, and perhaps our young acquaintance can tend to that. We hope our old friend fares well, too, along with her friends and family and workplace, but prefer her peace and love to her political solutions.

— Bud Norman