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A Very Happy New Year’s Eve, to Whatever Extent Possible

The calendar on our computer screen says that today is the last year of 2018, and as hard as it is to believe we assume that’s true. Although it’s been a long and and hard slog through the past 12 months, the years still somehow seem to pass more quickly the older we get.
Longstanding journalistic traditions dictate that our New Year’s Eve essay be either a look back and the year that’s ending, or a look ahead to the year to come, but on this frigid Kansas night we can’t quite muster the energy for either desultory chore.
In keeping with our own recent tradition we’ll once again joke that we’re hesitant to look back on the past year for fear of being turned into a pillar of salt, an Old Testament allusion our more modern readers might not get, and this year the joke seems more apt than ever. We’re talking about 12 long months of President Donald Trump and the damned Democrats, after all, and all those screwy other countries and the business world and the broader popular culture and our own personal lives added little to savor. The obituaries were more brutal than usual, too.
The annus horribilis of 2018 saw the the passing of First Lady Barbara Bush and President George H.W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain, and we also sensed the passing of a more family values and war heroic and fact-based era of the Republican party. When the novelist and journalist and essayist Tom Wolfe died we failed to think of a new favorite living writer, and when the Middle Eastern expert Professor Bernard Lewis of Princeton and triumphant-in-the-Cold-War Russian expert Richard Pipes of Harvard we knew there was no replacement, and the death of the imminent columnist Charles Krauthammer left the intellectual ranks of an increasingly anti-intellectual conservative movement seemed at least as severely depleted.
The ranks of the American popular culture that used to provide succor from politics were similarly depleted. The fleet-fingered guitar-and-banjo-picker and all-around country-and-western music entertainer Roy Clark died, so did the elegantly incisive and hilariously New York City Jewish novelist Philip Roth, as well as the long under appreciated television sit-com actress and big-time movie director and idiosyncratic sexpot Penny Marshall, and William Goldman, the guy who wrote the screenplay for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” as well as Stan Lee, the guy who invented “Spiderman” and a bunch of other still-hot comic book super heroes we remember from our comic book-reading youths. Judging by what we occasionally hear on the radio or see on television or watch on the internet or read from the last offerings from the bestseller lists, we don’t find any sufficient replacements standing at the ready.
Those far more hip and up-to-date folks at The Washington Post filled some space on a slow news day with a traditional list of what’s “in” and what’s “out” in the coming year, and we must admit we can’t make neither hide nor hair of it, as we still sometimes say here in Kansas. Out here in Kansas we hadn’t noticed most of what was apparently “in” in 2018, much less noticed that it’s soon to be “out,” and as of now we’re only vaguely familiar with what’s about to the “in.” It seems that the Marvel comic books’ superhero Captain Marvel is due to supplant D.C. Comics’ Captain America as the “in” superhero at your local cinema, and certain celebrities we’ve never hard are will surpass some other celebrities we’e never heard of, and so far none of them seem half so entertaining as the recently deceased Ken Berry, the minor sit-com star who memorably pratfall-ed his way through the short-lived but still-hilarious “F Troop” way back in the ’60s.
On the political front, we don’t need the more hip and up-to-date fellows at The Washington Post to tell us it’s going to a long slog through 2019. Trump won’t budge on his campaign promise from way back in 2016 to build a big beautiful border wall, the upcoming Democratic majority soon to be installed after a landslide mid-term election won’t give him a penny for it, and a partial government shutdown will probably dominate at least the first few days or weeks or months of the new year. Political gridlock will probably prevent anything else from getting done legislatively, that pesky special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” will persist, so we’ll hold out hope that the free market economy and longstanding governmental institutions that have somehow so far survived both Presidents Barack Obama and Trump will continue to prevail.
In the meantime we’ll focus on making our personal lives go somewhat better in the coming year, and urge you to do the same, as we can’t do much about the rest of it.  No matter how it works out over the next 12 months, have a most merry New Year’s Eve.

— Bud Norman

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Barbara Bush, RIP

There was the usual torrent of news on Tuesday, including a Supreme Court decision regarding immigration that had Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch joining the liberals to overturn a burglar’s deportation, more resignation announcements by prominent congressional Republicans, intriguing developments in the North Korean problem, the usual tales of porn stars and Russian intrigue, and a right-wing talk radio host who finds himself caught up it in all. As much as we’d like to opine on  these important matters, the biggest news of the day was the death of Barbara Bush at the age of 92.
Bush was the wife of one American president and the mother of another, a distinction shared only by the great Abigail Adams, and that alone makes her passing noteworthy, but it also marks the passing of a far more dignified and admirable era of American politics.
By now both liberals and conservatives have plenty of plausible complaints with the policies of both Bush presidencies, and we’ve got a few of our own, but we still regard both men as honorable and dedicated public servants. We regard the Bush family’s most hateful critics on both the left and the right as a conspicuous part of our current problems, and think that anyone with anything bad to say about the Bush matriarch is just a hateful person.
Born as Barbara Pierce in 1925 to a well-heeled and and even better-respected Back East family, she was always a class act. Although she considered herself “shy” and “square” Pierce was an excellent student and much liked classmate in her girlhood at an elite all-girls’s prep school, and by the age of 16 she caught the eye of a 17-year-old guy who was a straight-A student and star athlete at a nearby elite all-boys prep school, and would go on to be a decorated Naval aviator in World War II, successful entrepreneur, United States Congressman, United Nations ambassador, Central Intelligence Agency director, Vice President and then President of the United States. She left the elite all-women’s Smith College at age 19 to marry George Herbert Walker Bush, and seemed to play a prominent and impeccable role in his extraordinary career. Even as her husband wound up losing reelection to an Arkansas hound dog, largely due to the intervention of a coarse and egomaniacal billionaire, the First Lady remained atop the “most admired women” polls.
She also bore her husband a son, George Walker, then daughters Robin and Dorothy, followed by sons John and Neil. The George Bush with the single “W” wound up winning two terms as Governor of Texas and two more as President of the United States, all of which will be hotly debated for years to come, and despite his travails the First Mother’s poll ratings remained high. Her son John Ellis, who preferred by the acronym “Jeb,” wound up serving two successful terms as Governor of Florida, and although she openly she shared our own concerns about political dynasties she wound up supporting his unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination for the presidency. Dorothy and Neil Bush are less well known to the public, but in this day and age we assume that speaks very well to their character.
The photographic evidence shows that the “shy” and “square” Barbara Pierce was quite the elegantly eye-catching beauty back when she first caught the eye of that handsome straight-A student and star athlete and future war hero and President of the United States, but her hair apparently started whitening not long after her beloved daughter Robin died of leukemia at the age of three. The Washington Post’s respectful and excellent obituaries note that she stayed at  her daughter’s bedside during the bone marrow transplants and other futile treatments that her war hero husband could not bear to witness, and although she would later fondly recall the emotional support offered by her grieving seven-year-old son George W. she prematurely aged. By the time her still-handsome star athlete and war hero husband was running for president she had an undeniably grandmotherly look about her, but their apparent love for one another and her undeniable class greatly enhanced the ticket.
President George H.W. Bush waged a splendid little war on Iraq but deviated on taxes and other issues from the true religion of President Ronald Reagan, and there was one of those  little recessionary blips in the business cycle at the end of his first term, and with the help of a coarse and megalomaniacal billionaire that Arkansas hound dog kept him from a fourth Reagan-Bush administration. Both George H.W. and Barbara Bush accepted the defeat with characteristic grace, adhering strictly to the time-tested rules about not criticizing the victors in an American election, and they even wound up having a cordial relationship with President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton that drove bot the left and right crazy.
President Bill Clinton and his harridan of a wife wound up doing all sorts of things that both the left and right criticized, and God knows we’ve still got our own complaints, but we never minded that the elder Bushes largely stayed out of it. That’s the longstanding rule that ex-presidents and ex-First Ladies have always adhered to, and as far as we’re concerned it’s one of the good ones, and in any case President George W. Bush’s heatedly contested electoral victory soon followed. How that turned out will be debated for years to come, and it undeniably wound up with eight dreary years of President Barack Obama, but somehow Barbara Bush, unlike the rest of us, wound up classy throughout the whole ordeal.
The eight dreary Obama years almost inevitably resulted in the past 16 dreary months of President Donald Trump, who eked out an electoral college win over President Clinton’s harridan wife by criticizing the entirety of America’s political history and promising a new beginning, but we think Barbara Bush was still classy about that. Even without a son in the race  she should have been opposed to such a coarse and egomaniacal billionaire and thrice-married to a nudie model trophy wife and bankrupt casino and strip mogul as Trump, even if Trump hadn’t absurdly maligned her husband as a “globalist” and her son as a  traitor who had lied America into war, and ridiculed her younger and better-suited-to-the-presidency son as “low energy,” we’re sure she would have offered her rare criticisms of the the even more more coarse and less classy megalomaniacal billionaire dominating the current coarser and less classy  political scene.
Ever since Trump won anyway the former First Lady and First Mother mostly kept her opinions to herself, and we appreciate that far more than than the president’s impulsive “tweets” about his past infidelities or foreign entanglements and whatever else is troubling him at the moment. For all the mistakes they indisputably made, Barbara Bush and her husband and children embodied a civility and civil-mindedness we already miss, and we’re sure that all those hateful people on both the left and the will eventually miss it as well. Shy and square and grandmotherly  and civil and civic-minded and elegantly beautiful are no longer in fashion, but they’re qualities due for a comeback.

— Bud Norman