Looking for Some Alternative to the Lesser of Two Evils

America’s last presidential election was perhaps the most desultory moment in our nation’s political history, with two of the worst Americans ever as the major party nominees. They advocated very different but equally appealing policies, and in the end it all came down to which candidate’s character you thought was more awful. This year isn’t looking any better.
Last time around both finalists for the highest office in the land were scandal-ridden scoundrels, and in eerily similar ways. Republican nominee Donald Trump was credibly accused by a dozen women of decades of sexual assault, and was caught on audiotape bragging about it in the most vulgar terms, but Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was a longtime enabler of her ex-president husband’s just as egregious sexual piggery. The Clintons had a phony-baloney family foundation supported mostly by big-bucks donors courting Hillary’s Clinton’s influence as Secretary of State, but Trump had his own phony-baloney family foundation that did made all sorts of questionable spending including a big campaign contribution to a Florida Secretary of State who immediately withdrew from a multi-state lawsuit against the fraudulent Trump University that had bilked hundreds of suckers out of million dollars and Trump eventually settled that for $25 million and the family foundation was put out of business by the New York state courts, who also decreed that anyone named Trump would have to take an ethics course before they were ever again allowed to be involved a New York charity.
Both the Clintons and the Trumps had decades of financial shenanigans, ranging from the former’s Whitewater dealings to pretty much the entirety of the latter’s career as an oft-bankrupt billionaire mogul, but for the most part they got away with it. Clinton had to hide records of the millions she and her husband had made from giving speeches to special interest groups, but ran as an heiress to the mostly scandal-free administration of President Barack Obama. Trump had openly bragged about buying off Democratic and Republican politicians to get favorable treatment in his very fishy business dealings, and went to extraordinary lengths to hide his educational and military and health and tax records, but argued that made him the ideal guy to lock up “Crooked Hillary” and “drain the swamp.”
This time around looks to be every bit as tawdry. The apparent Democratic nominee after a truncated-by-coronavirus race is former Vice President Joe Biden, an underwhelming career politician with all the baggage you’d expect after four decades of riding trains to Washington, D.C., and Trump is once again the Republican party’s nominee. Biden’s son seems to have made a lot of money while in Ukraine while Dad was in charge of America’s foreign policy in that country, but the Trump kids have also been doing well in China and other countries while their father is president, and although the details of both stories are complicated it looks bad no matter how closely you look.
Both men now stand credibly accused of rape, too. A former Biden employee has come forward by her name, Tara Reade, to allege that 27 years ago then-Sen. Biden pushed against a wall in an empty hallway and penetrated her with his fingers. This is on top of another dozen women Biden’s behavior made them feel “uncomfortable,” and ample photographic and videographer evidence of Biden being somewhat creepily touchy with women. Some two dozen women have accused Trump of even worse behavior, of the sort he’s bragged about on a surreptitious audiotape and on Howard Stern’s nationally broadcast shock jock radio shows, and a woman named E. Jean Carroll has publicly come forward to allege that Trump raped her in a department store dressing room in the ’90s.
Which will certainly take a lot of the fun out of the next election for a lot of people, who might well conclude that we’re choosing between two rapists to lead our country.
Our sixty-some years of observing human nature have convinced us that women sometimes do make false allegations of sexual harassment and rape, but that it’s by far more common for men to sexually harass and rape women, so we’re usually inclined to believe women who have nothing to gain and much to lose with accusations against powerful men. We try apply that same standard regardless of the accused’s party affiliation, and we’ve long noticed Democrats and Republicans are about equally as likely to land in the docket. In this case, we can’t look at either man’s life history and say he’s too much a gentleman for us to even imagine him ever doing such a thing.
We’re instinctively disinclined to look at anything from the Democrats’ perspective, but if you want to get deep into the weeds of all this theDemocrats have the slightly better argument.
Reade is only now making her 27-year-old allegation, after staying silent through Senatorial campaigns and Biden’s vice presidential nomination, and he’s asked the Senate to release any complaints she might have made at the time, and she’s admitted to the press that she only filed a vaguely worded complaint about being “uncomfortable,” and Obama’s thorough vetting team didn’t turn up anything to keep him off the ticket. Carroll didn’t file any charges against Trump at the time, but she did report it to friends who are willing to come forward by name to talk about it, and she has a reputation as a journalist and comedy writer that she’s put at stake, and Trump denies it by saying she’s not his type, which leaves one to wonder on what type of woman he might rape.
As for all the financial shenanigans, whatever Biden’s ethical lapses he’s not become nearly so rich from them as Trump claims to be, and there’s no reason to believe his son got rich in Ukraine by the same sort of quid pro quo deal with the Ukrainian government that got impeached and should have had him removed from office, and Trump’s kids have done pretty well in Dad’s negotiations over the past three years. With apologies to Irving Berlin, we can hear them at the debates singing a rendition of “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Awfuler.”
There’s really no need to wade so deep into the weeds, however, as it really won’t matter much in the election. The public will wind up reconciling itself to a a presidential choice between two scoundrels who are obviously corrupt and quite possibly rapists. So far Trump hasn’t hypocritically seized on Biden’s rape problem, instead noting that powerful men are targets for such allegations, but that’s obviously self-interested and is likely to change between now and election day. A large segment of the Democratic party sticking to principle and trying to somehow find some other nominee, but we expect they’ll mostly fail line and turn out in November to vote against Trump.
A small but decisive minority of independent and independent-minded voters will wind up deciding the election, and what they do depends on what happens between now November, which we admit we have no way of knowing. There’s a chance that a couple hundred thousand Americans will be dead and millions more unemployed and bankrupt, with many more voting by mail if the postal service still exists because they’ve been cooped up at home and grocery shopping in face masks for months, and they’ll care more about that than the candidates’ grotesque character flaws.
Neither Trump nor Biden seem to have any answers for the crisis of the moment, though, nor any inspiring ideas about what to do when we eventually get past it no matter how badly it’s been bungled. Our Republican and Democratic friends alike are once again telling us it’s a binary choice and we have to pick a side, and that the fate of our nation once again hangs on it. Ignoring such shrill and panicked cries, for the second time in our lives we’ll probably pick some obscure protest candidate as a “none of the above” vote.
We’re trying to muddle through the current crisis and see beyond the weeds and past the swamp toward a country that can choose between two candidates of stellar character who strive to unite a great nation of 330 million free men and women behind a plausible program for a better future. We invite dispirited Republicans and Democrats and independents of all races and sexes and classes to join us on this quixotic quest.

— Bud Norman

Draining the Ukrainian Swamp

President Donald Trump’s strongest defense of his decision to withhold congressionally appropriated military aid to Ukraine, which is the basis of the impeachment inquiry against him that renews this week, is that he was trying to get the country to clean up its undeniable problem with political corruption. According to a report from The Washington Post the ploy seems to have worked, but not the way Trump probably intended.
What’s driving the impeachment inquiry is the suspicion that Trump was leaning on the Ukrainian government for dirt on potential Democratic opponent Joe Biden’s son and a confession that the previous Ukrainian government had meddled in the past election and then framed Russia for the crime. So far all the sworn testimony from respected military officers and foreign service officials and a million-dollar Trump donor, as well as some pretty damning texts and e-mails and other documentary evidence backs this up.
For now Trump is blocking any testimony from a former White House legal counsel and national security advisor and the current Secretary of State and and his-still-on-retainer personal lawyer, all of whom clearly know something about all this and there might be able to say something exculpatory, and declining to send a lawyer to the hearings, but he’s still got a plausible enough corruption argument for the talk radio hosts and Republican politicians and the die-hard fans to cling to.
Biden’s son admittedly made a lot of money in Ukraine while the former Vice President was in charge of the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy, some very funny dealings have undoubtedly occurred in the country during its long and fitful struggle toward democracy since America helped liberate it from Soviet domination, and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has assured Trump that Russia sure didn’t meddle in the last election, and according to Trump some people are saying that Ukraine has the mysteriously missing Democratic National Committee computer server with all of the e-mails that should lock up Hillary Clinton. None of this comports with any established facts or the weight of evidence, and would be laughed out of any judicial proceeding, but impeachment is a political matter and the fans seems to love it.
No matter how that works out, Trump probably won’t get what he was hoping for from Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has announced a purge of more than 500 prosecutors suspected of corruption, but so for none are accused of anything having to do with Biden’s son or Clinton’s e-mails, and one of them is closely tied to Rudy Giuliani, the Trump personal lawyer who’s up to his neck in this Ukrainian impeachment mess and is refusing to testify about to Congress. Now that he’s got his military aid, which came shortly after Trump learned a “whistleblower” report about an alleged aid-for-dirt deal, Zelensky can make good on his campaign promise to root out corruption and stay on good terms with whoever the next president might be, and he’s wise to stay out of America’s affairs as much as possible.
Zelensky seems a savvy fellow, and just as interesting as Trump. He was a comedian who had no apparent qualifications except that he’d starred in a hit sit-com about a comedian who became president of Ukraine, just as Trump without any apparent qualifications except that he’d starred as a successful businessman on a hit reality show. Both men have outgoing personalities, a certain buffoonish self-consciousness, ridiculously bad hair cuts, and their own agendas.As Trump did, Zelensky ran as an outsider who would shake up the establishment, and like Trump he promised to be immune to corruption.
Unlike Trump, Zelensky inherited a country that had been largely annexed by a Russian government that was working to further exert its influence, and was eager to find whatever foreign assistance he could, whereas Trump spoke openly of his ambivalence about Russia claim on Ukrainian territory and cast doubt on any claims of undue Russian influence anywhere. Zelensky was thereby obliged to say during a White House visit that he’d felt no pressure to provide any dirt on the Bidens or Clinton’s in exchange for the aid, but at this point he’s got his military aid and is surely following American politics well enough to know that he doesn’t owe Trump any further favors. If he’s following all the trend-setting television comedians in America he’s probably betting on the Democrats, and if he’s serious about rooting out corruption in Ukraine he won’t give any cover to Giuliani.
We don’t nearly know nearly so much about Ukrainian politics as the former Trump campaign chairman who’s now in federal prison, or the Trump personal lawyer who’s now under federal investigation for his dealings in that country, or the various high government officials who are barred from testifying about any of it, but Zelensky seems to have a pretty good hand for the president of such a beleaguered country. Come reelection time he can tell the Ukrainian electorate that he stood up to the bullies of two nuclear superpowers, got millions of dollars from one to deter the other, and pulled it off with sit-comic flair.
Trump’s reality show presidency will be hard-pressed to compete with that. The big bucks Biden’s son made in Ukraine were already part of the the public record and would have been more useful without leaning on Ukraine for further dirt, and the stuff about Ukraine getting Clinton elected is a hard sell to all but the most die-hard fans.

— Bud Norman

Why Trump Fans Love Trump

The Democrats are increasingly eager to impeach President Donald for soliciting foreign assistance in his reelection campaign, as Trump’s own statements suggest he did with Ukraine, and on Thursday he stood before the national news cameras and asked China for the same favor. According to talk radio talker Rush Limbaugh, “This is why you love Donald Trump.”
If you don’t love Trump as much as Limbaugh and his listeners, though, you might question the wisdom of a president negotiating foreign policy on the basis of what allies and adversaries alike can do for him personally. You might even question the legality of doing so, and maybe even consider it a high crime or misdemeanor that warrants impeachment. The latest polls show a rapidly increasing number of Americans see it that way, with about half the country now supporting an impeachment inquiry, with a plurality eager to see Trump removed from office, and as the facts and confessions continue pile up Trump will probably become even more unpopular.
If you do love Trump as much as Limbaugh and his “ditto-head” listeners, on the other hand, this really is what you love about the president. Limbaugh’s argument is that by hurtling unsubstantiated allegations against former Vice President and potential election rival Joe Biden and his son, and openly asking foreign leaders to prove them, he is forcing the press to publicize the claims. That is indeed why some people love Trump, but Limbaugh’s argument is unlikely to persuade anyone not fully on board the Trump train already, and we’re not at all sure Trump is being shrewd.
There is indeed something highly suspicious about Biden’s son’s highly lucrative international business career despite an obvious lack of any requisite credentials, but even if you believe the worst about the Bidens it’s just a temporary distraction from Trump’s woes at best. In the unlikely event that Democratic primary voters pay enough attention to turn on Biden, the Democrats will come up some other nominee, and probably a more formidable one who doesn’t have a similar scandal. That nominee will also be able to talk at length about how Trump’s unimpressive children have profited from their father’s position, and Trump and the likes of Limbaugh will have to come up some reason why that’s no big deal.
Given that Biden was likely to self-destruct in any case, openly soliciting foreign influence in an American presidential election to bring him down strikes us as an unnecessarily risky tactic by Trump. Limbaugh and the “ditto-heads” and other die-hard fans will cheer on Trump’s efforts to lock up his political opponents, but sooner or later there’s going to be another Democratic president, and when that happens they’ll be taking an entirely different stand regarding foreign influence on American elections.

— Bud Norman

The Autumn of Our Discontent

Summer ends and autumn arrives at early afternoon here in Wichita, and if there aren’t any clouds at the exact moment we hope to watch the sun shine through a prism onto the autumnal equinox stone at the solar calendar a couple of our artsy friends erected in a nearby park. Equinoxes and solstices are usually well-attended at the spot, if the sun if shining, not for any pagan reasons but just because some people in this eccentric neighborhood want to share the experience of the changing of the seasons and the passage of our limited time on Earth.
Meanwhile, everything else keeps changing, and little of it brings people together. At the moment the big political news is about a “whistle-blower” and President Donald Trump and his telephone conversation with the Ukrainian president, and both sides of our vast political divide agree that it’s an outrage.
So far the facts of the matter aren’t entirely clear, as the Trump administration has prevented Congress or the press or the general public from seeing the “whistle-blower’s” complaint, but that naturally frustrates Trump’s critics, and all the anonymous leaks and Trump’s own statements on the matter seem to suggest that Trump did indeed at least imply a demand for dirt on potential Democratic campaign rival and former Vice President Joe Biden in exchange for military aid that had been passed by Congress. This is quite arguably a very big deal, especially when you take into account that Trump openly invited Russia to find dirt on his last presidential opponent and frankly said on national television that he’d accept similar help from any other government, and on the left they’re making a very big deal of it.
On the right they’re more concerned about the dirt Ukraine has on Biden, and insisting that’s bigger scandal. Biden’s undeniably wayward yet surprisingly successful son was somehow on the board of a big company in incredibly corrupt Ukraine, which came under scrutiny from a prosecutor investigating public corruption, and Biden is caught on tape bragging that as Vice President he withheld foreign aid to Ukraine unless the prosecutor was removed from power. That’s more than enough for right wing talk radio talkers to fill their three-hour time slots. Trump is also saying that although he doesn’t know the identity of the “whistle-blower” he does know it’s a partisan member of a “deep state” conspiracy against him, and that also plays well with the talk radio audience.
At this point we no longer have a rooting interest in anybody, and are trying our best to cling to unchanging principles. Go ahead and call us old-fashioned Cold War-era Reagan Republicans, but we still think an American president shouldn’t be strong-arming an eastern European ally valiantly trying to resist Russian domination. Nor do we think that foreign interference in an American presidential election should be tolerated. So far, the apologists are unconvincing,
The so-called “lame-stream” media are credibly reporting that the investigation of Biden’s son had long been stopped when Biden made his remarks about removing that prosecutor, who the Ukrainian media had identified as one of the more corrupt of the notoriously corrupt government’s officials, but it’s still suspicious how Biden’s son wound up on that Ukrainian board of directors. If it turns out that Biden is implicated in his own scandal that’s fine by us, as we have no particular regard for him or his son, even if it means that someone further left winds up winning the Democratic nomination and beating Trump. Nothing that Biden or even Hillary Clinton ever did provides any excuse for what Trump might have done, so at this point you can lock ’em all up, as far as we’re concerned.
Here’s hoping, though, for a prolonged Indian Summer and a mild winter.

— Bud Norman