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Why Not Call it Treason, and Other Negotiating Ploys

The cable news networks and the big newspapers’ internet sites will soon start running their countdown-to-a-government-shutdown clocks again, with the latest deadline looming tomorrow, and all the savvy negotiators in Congress are reportedly trying to work out some sort of cockamamie deal to keep the government running for at least another couple of weeks. At a meeting ostensibly about immigration reform, President Donald Trump did his part by telling the gathered television cameras and microphones that “I’d love to see a shutdown if we don’t get this stuff taken care of. If the Democrats don’t want safety, let’s shut it down.”
This might be one of those masterful three-dimensional chess moves that Trump’s fans always figure he’s making, but our guess is it’s just another one of those ill-advised things he all too frequently blurts out.
Trump is apparently hoping that the Democrats will be so frightened by the prospect of being blamed for a government shutdown that they’ll agree to whatever draconian measures he thinks necessary to get that immigration stuff taken care of, and after their quick capitulations during last month’s government shutdown he has reason for such hope. There was so much Republican gloating and Democratic gnashing of teeth about it that the Democrats are likely to be in a less accommodating mood this time around, though, and they’re probably less worried about being blamed for a government shutdown the Republican president has told the nation he’d love to see.
Trump is also apparently calculating that his draconian immigration measures are are so popular that the public will blame the Democrats for allowing a partial but painful government rather than enact them, and given how unpopularity permissive some of the Democrats’ demands are he has good reason to think so. That stupid idea of a big, beautiful wall across the entire southern polls poorly, though, and those illegal immigrants who were brought here as children and have since proved upright semi-citizens poll so well that Trump is dangling an amnesty offer even more generous than anything President Barack Obama ever dared.
The die-hard Trump defenders are furious about the generous amnesty offer he’s dangling for the so-called “dreamers” who are illegal immigrants through no fault of their own, with some now calling him “Amnesty Don,” and Trump tried to placate them with stalk in his now-forgotten State of the Union address about how native-born Americans are “dreamers” too, and his Chief of Staff blurted out an ill-advised about remark about how they amnesty was being offered even to those “dreamers” who were “too lazy to get off their asses” and apply for it. All of which is so infuriating to those die-hard Democrats that it makes them all the less likely to concede even to the many reasonable and popular immigration reform proposals Trump is holding out for, and it’s hard to see how it will all be worked out by tomorrow night.
We can’t resist a nostalgic hope that Democrats and Republicans alike are working into the night to find something between a too-soft and too-hard immigration policy that at least keeps the government up and running for another couple of weeks, but that’s hard to sustain when the president is accusing the opposition of treason for failing to applaud at his long-forgotten State of the Union address. He was just kidding, of course, saying “Hey why not call it (treason)” in much the same way some street corner bully might just be kidding about your sister being a whore, but it doesn’t bode well for that spirt of bipartisan cooperation that Trump called for in that long-forgotten State of the Union address.
Maybe it’s just another one of Trump’s moves in that masterful three-dimensional chess game that never seems to reveal itself, and he did have “The Art of the Deal” ghost-written for him, but unless this mess somehow makes America great again the more likely explanation is that it’s all just those ill-advised things that he all too frequently blurts out.

— Bud Norman

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Baseball, Bi-Partisanship, and Human Tragedy

There was yet another one of those intermittent mass shootings again on Wednesday, this time on a baseball diamond in Alexandria, Virginia, but it was even more newsworthy than usual. This time the victims were a team of Republican politicians and their staffs practicing for the annual congressional baseball game pitting the GOP against the Democrats, the shooter was apparently motivated by his outspoken hatred of Republicans, and there was an unavoidable political angle to the human tragedy.
The last time a sitting member of congress was caught in the crossfire of one of those intermittent mass shootings she was a Democrat, Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was gravely wounded while six other people at her public meeting were killed, and a lot of people on the left were quick to blame the incident on the undeniably angry and inflammatory rhetoric that was then being hurled at President Barack Obama. This time it was the Republicans’ Majority Whip, Ohio Rep. Steve Scales, who was gravely wounded, and although good luck and efficient law enforcement prevented any deaths there was enough Republican blood spilled that some on the right were eager to blame all the undeniably angry and inflammatory rhetoric that has lately been hurled at Republican President Donald Trump.
The argument is at least as plausible as the last time around. Last time around the shooter was offended that Giffords dismissed his strange linguistic theories during a previous public meeting, which is not a cause associated with conservatism, and it was highly unlikely he’d been provoked by a little-seen pamphlet published by former Alaska Governor and failed vice-presidential candidate and reality star Sarah Palin, who had put a cross-hair graphic on a map of districts targeted for Republican challengers. Although we’ll admit some of the anti-Obama rhetoric at the time was pretty darned inflammatory, we also sensed they were also trying to get us to hold back on our more measured and reasoned criticisms of the scoundrel. This time around the shooter was on the internet record with all the usual liberal Democrat opinion and the visceral hatred that all too often goes along with it, he took care to confirm from a couple of witnesses in that the ballplayers were indeed Republicans, and it did happen after a D-list celebrity posed for a picture of herself holding an effigy of Trump’s severed head and the Shakespeare in the Park company re-imagined Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” with a Trumpian character getting the “et tu” treatment.
We don’t blame that tasteless comic or those pretentious thespians for Wednesday’s shootings, which would be almost as ridiculous as blaming Palin for the tragedy in Arizona, but that “climate of hate” does seem as hot as ever. That’s true of both sides, too, as we notice from our recent position on the political sidelines. During the campaign Trump talked about roughing up protestors and even offered to pay the legal bills of anyone who did, and when some of his supporters followed through too many on the right made excuses for that. A small army of masked thugs then inflicted worse violence on peaceable people trying to enter Trump rallies, and too many on the left tried to justify it. In constant editorials and internet videos and comments sections and barroom arguments people on both sides are describing the other side as very bad people deliberately trying to destroy America, and in a country where we have intermittent mass shootings that’s bound to eventually come into play.
The next time around might have a Republican or a Democratic victim, but in either case the arguments will be the same.
This time around most of the political and media and otherwise elite class is handling it well. Although we’ve had some pretty darned measured and reasonable criticisms of Trump, we have to say his statement on the tragedy was pretty much perfect. To offer a more back-handed compliment, we’ll note that it wasn’t at all self-referential and didn’t bite at a tempting opportunity to fire back at his critics. The shooter was an outspoken supporter of self-described socialist and failed presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but Sanders immediately issued an obviously heartfelt condemnation of the shooting and offered his prayers for the victims. All the Democratic establishment reacted the same way, and the hated-by-Republicans mainstream media frankly acknowledged the awkward political facts of the matter and did nothing we noticed to make any excuses. Pretty much everyone on the left was loathe to defend that tasteless comic or those pretentious thespians, too, just as the more reputable people on the right declined to defend Trump’s “birther” claims or the more inflammatory attacks on Obama, so that gives us hope.
Both sides have vowed  to play that annual baseball game again today, too, and that’s also hopeful. The game raises money for some charity or another, and according to legend has been going on since Abner Doubleday, and it’s one of those political traditions that was established to foster a certain bi-partisan patriotism in congress. Baseball teaches that no matter how good you are you lose most at-bats, and among other profound lessons you eventually learn that the guys on the other team aren’t necessarily very bad people out to deliberately destroy America. There’s an anti-establishment mood apparent on both sides of the political divide these days, but here on the sidelines something in our old-fashioned conservative sensibility is hoping they won’t burn it all down.
There was yet another one of those intermittent mass shootings on Wednesday, too, this one in San Francisco, where someone killed three people at a United Parcel Service facility before shooting himself in the head. No connection to terrorism or Trump or Sanders or any of those other very bad people who are deliberately trying to ruin America, so far as we can tell, but it’s another human tragedy that warrants our prayers and public debate. Those debates will no doubt be contentious, and we’ll not hold back on our measured and reasoned criticisms of Obama and Trump and such kooks as Palin and Sanders and the rest of the scoundrels, and we don’t doubt our counterparts on the left will continue with their measured and reason criticisms, but we’ll take care not to incite anyone, and we’ll hope this bipartisan spirit of the moment will linger past the next cycle.
For whatever it’s worth, from our seats on the sidelines, when the big game starts we’ll be rooting for the Republicans as usual.

— Bud Norman

A Short Cut to the Invasion

Let us suppose, quite hypothetically, that your country has lately been invaded by many tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who have hopped a train through Mexico from Central America. Further suppose, hypothetically again, that your country is $17 trillion in debt and another $100 trillion or so short of what it has promised the citizens that are already here, that your social service agencies are already straining under the burden of a moribund economy, and that the country’s inability to cope with the influx of adorable youngsters with adorable gang tattoos that has piled up in makeshift detention centers or been transported through angry protest barricades to a town near you has resulted in what everyone agrees is a humanitarian crisis. What would you do in such in an unlikely scenario?
If some vestige of common sense inclines to you to suggest sending the youngsters back home to their families as quickly as possible, and making it clear to any potential future invaders that no matter what nonsense they’ve heard about imminent amnesty and the welcoming arms of a generous welfare state they are not going to get in, then you are clearly unfit for public service. The more enlightened savants of the federal government have suggested that we allow the youngsters to skip the unpleasant train-hopping through Mexico and come directly and at our expense to the imminent amnesty and the welcoming arms of a generous welfare state.
Our source is The New York Times, and we hope that all the “Dr. Strangelove” aficionados will recognize the allusion to a line from that absurdist masterpiece about the “doomsday machine.” “Hoping to stem the recent surge of migrants at the southwest border,” the plucky Timesmen hopefully report, “the Obama administration is considering whether to allow hundreds of minors and young adults from Honduras into the United States without making the dangerous trek through Mexico…” How such generosity would stem the recent surge of migrants at the southwest border is never explained, no doubt an oversight due to deadline pressures, but we are assured of its good intentions. The children are fleeing gang violence in their native lands, we are told by the Times’ administration and activist group sources, and thus are entitled to refugee status.
Some 70,000 or so gang members are believed by the always-reliable United Nations to be active in the Central American countries that have lately been shipping their children northward to the United States, the Times helpfully adds, but that seems a dangerously low standard of peril to be granting refugee status to their compatriots. The world is ringed by slums from Calcutta to Johannesburg to Rio de Janeiro to Shanghai to Belgrade that are menaced by similar numbers of gangsters, and such communities as the one on the south side of Chicago that our current president once organized have similarly dangerous streets, so housing and feeding and educating all of them and imprisoning the predictable portion of them will likely prove more costly than America can afford. The same people who scoff at the notion of American exceptionalism are apparently convinced that America is exceptional enough to care for all of the world’s needy people, but they are willing to share the costs of the attempt.
Public opinion and its cussed common sense might yet scuttle the plan, which is so far just another one of the proposals that the savants of the federal government routinely come up with, but the Times warns that “the plan would be similar to a recent bill proposed by Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona, who proposed increasing the number of refugee visas to the three Central American countries by 5,000 each,” so there’s still the chance of a bipartisan nonsensical solution. Some Republican opposition is already rearing itself, and could effectively prevent the proposal from becoming policy, but hat option of sending the youngsters back home to their families as soon as possible and issuing a meaningful warning to the rest to stay home also seems unlikely. Whatever compromise is eventually adopted, America might as well get ready to start housing and educating and feeding a few billion new arrivals.

— Bud Norman

Dinner With the President

President Barack Obama treated a group of Republican senators to dinner at a posh Washington restaurant on Wednesday, prompting much speculation among the chattering classes. Some speculated that the president’s invitation signals a shift away from partisan rhetoric and toward a more conciliatory relationship with Congress, others speculated how the Republicans might respond to such an unexpected tactic, and everyone seemed to be speculating about what was said at the high-powered repast.
Such speculation is no longer necessary, however, as we have a reliable source who by happenstance was seated within eavesdropping distance of the conversation. For the benefit of those readers who are oblivious to satire we will emphasize that our source is entirely fictional and his information completely made-up by us, but contemporary media standards being what they are we felt his account worth passing along nonetheless.
The president arrived nearly 15 minutes after all of his guests had been seated, apologetically explaining the difficulty of finding parking for his motorcade of 20 limousines, sports utility vehicles, and armed drones. A young man in a crisply starched white shirt and black bow tie arrived at the table moments later, identifying himself as “Justin” and stating that he would be the group’s waiter for the evening. After confirming that the president would be picking up the tab, each of the Republican senators ordered a Dalmore 62 single Highland malt Scotch whisky. Obama opted for what our source calls “some kind of Hawaiian girly drink with an umbrella.”
Sports talk dominated most of the early conversation, our source said, with each senator extolling the virtues of his state’s most prominent team. The president spoke at length about the time he scored 42 points against the Philadelphia 76ers to win the decisive sixth game of the 1980 National Basketball Association championship series, apparently confusing himself with Los Angeles Lakers guard Earvin “Magic” Johnson, and every Senator offered hearty congratulations for the feat. The waiter then brought another round of drinks and offered to take dinner orders, and the president seemed to make a point of repeatedly calling the young man “Jason” while the Republicans consistently addressed him as “Bud,” “Mac,” “you,” “kid,” or “boy.” Our source was unable to overhear every order, but he did note that Obama had the risotto sweetened with Maryland crab and a froth of crab stock cream for an appetizer and lobster thermidor as a main course, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire chose the veal chops with mustard-punched jus and marble-size poached apples alternating with crisp potato croquettes, and Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska requested a chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and fried okra.
Although Obama was seen wincing when Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee drenched his jon dory a la nage, grilled asparagus, and bordelaise reduction in ketchup, and then rolling his eyes when Sen. John McCain of Arizona inquired about an “early bird special,” our source describes the conversation as cordial even as it turned to political matters. As a third round of drinks arrived, Obama opened the discussion by grimly noting the severe pain and hardship that the recent “sequester” budget cuts had inflicted on his public approval ratings. The president mentioned that he had even been forced to eliminate White House tours for schoolchildren, and although he admitted that “it’s nice not to have the little snot-nosed bastards running around the place” he said the situation was nonetheless unacceptable because of its “bad optics.” The senators seemed sympathetic to the president’s plight, and unanimously recommended another round of drinks.
After the fresh libations arrived, Obama modestly sought the senators’ counsel by asking if he should next cut funding for the poor kids or the disabled kids. The Republicans conceded that it was a difficult choice, as they could not decide which group they hated more, and inquired if it would be possible to target the cuts more specifically to affect only children who are both poor and disabled. The president then asked if the senators would please raise income tax rates on the wealthy even further, leading to much laughter and calls for another round.
Fortified by the fifth girly drink, Obama asked with apparent curiosity why the Republicans loved rich people so much. The senators insisted that it wasn’t that they loved rich people, really, just that they hated the poor. Obama then asked if they would pretty pretty pretty please with sugar on top raise the taxes on the rich just an itsy-bitsy bit, and the Republicans responded that they appreciated the food and drinks but that they would sooner burn in hell than betray their fat cat buddies. There was much cackling and moustache-twirling during this exchange, our source tell us, and then cries of “one for the road, boy.”
As the sixth round was consumed the conversation returned to sports, with Obama recalling the time he swished a buzzer-beating jumper over the outstretched arms of Craig Ehlo to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers and propel the Chicago Bulls into the second round of the NBA playoffs. One of the Republicans rudely suggested that the president was thinking of Michael Jordan, and Obama humbly admitted that it was so, remarking “Damn, that brother could play some ball.” There was a broad bi-partisan consensus that one more round wouldn’t do any harm, seeing how none of them had to drive, after which the president was heard telling the senators that he really loved them, man.
The bill reportedly came to $3,500, or $3,505 with tip, and all involved described the meeting as “productive.” No ideas about how to cut the nation’s $16 trillion debt were agreed upon, but the country can be assured that the parties are partying together.

— Bud Norman