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In the Mean Times of Trump

Way back when we registered to vote as members of the Republican party on our 18th birthday it was the “party of Lincoln,” the Great Emancipator who preserved the Union by brutal means but then vowed to heal its wounds with “Malice toward none and charity toward all.” At this late date in our lives the Grand Old Party is the party of President Donald Trump, and we can’t help noticing the malicious and uncharitable turn it has lately taken.
Not just in the insult comic rhetoric Trump employs at his never-ending campaign rallies, or the mean-spirited and blatantly self-interested way he chooses to to enact even his most defensible policies, but also in our conversations with dear old Republican friends we used to consistently agree with. We used to agree on strict border enforcement policies, for instance, but these days we seem to disagree about whether the border laws can be strictly enforced without traumatizing thousands of children and perhaps losing track of hundreds of them, and whether that that pesky Constitution and its noisome judges and all those treaty obligations America has pledged its scared honor to in past administrations should have anything to do with it.
We’ve lately had a couple of conversations with conservative friends we have long known as good guys always willing to do a favor for a friend in need, and were surprised to hear them defending the family-separation policy even Trump had already disavowed and blamed on those darned Democrats. Neither had been informed by their favored news sources that the Trump administration is failing to meet a court order to reunite those those thousands of children with their parents, and and seemed to admit in sworn court proceedings that they weren’t entirely sure where all of those children were, and both of our friends were uncharacteristically callous to the fates of the children involved.
Both insisted all those Dickensian orphaned-by-Trump urchins of those sob sister stories in the mainstream media were better off than they ever were in the countries their parents had fled, and although the Trump administration isn’t letting anyone into the facilities where the children are known to be held they’re willing to take Trump’s word for it. They’re also both quite sure that almost all those people who made the perilous journey with their children to America to flee their undeniably dysfunctional home countries and apply for asylum according to America’s laws and longstanding sacred honor international treaty obligations did so to leech off America’s welfare system and join the notorious MS-13 gang. Neither was aware that Trump had “tweeted” a complaint about a formerly conservative Republican senator’s proposal to double the number of federal immigration judges in order to deal with a sudden backlog, and further groused that the existing law and the judges who enforced it and America’s longstanding sacred honor treaty obligations all had to go, and neither was much unsettled by our accepted assurances that it was from Trump’s own “twitter” feed and not “fake news” from their less-favored news sources.
Such is the state of “constitutional conservatism” in Trump’s Republican party.
Meanwhile, the rhetoric from the top of party is meaner yet. Last Thursday Trump regaled yet another large campaign rally crowd in Montana, ostensibly on behalf of a Republican Senate candidate he briefly mentioned, and he ratcheted up his insult comic shtick yet another notch. He got another big laugh be reporting his longstanding gag of calling Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is “Pocahontas,” based on her past dubious claims of having Native American heritage, and sneaked in a jibe about how he’d have to confront her ever so gently because “we’re in the ‘#MeToo’ generation,” which protests the frequency of sexual harassment and sexual in America. We’re no fans of Warren, but by the gag seems very stale, and although we believe every male or female citizen deserves a fair hearing in the courts of public law and public opinion, we can’t help noticing how eager even our longtime and gentlemanly Republican friends suddenly seem to dismiss even the most plausible complaints about about fellow Republicans grabbing women by their wherever.
More bothersome yet, Trump also aimed his insults at past Republican nominees we proudly voted for. Trump didn’t dare mention the name of Arizona Sen. John McCain, but the draft-dodging reality show star with a lifelong career of self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement got about 6,000 Republicans in lustily boo a dying war hero and past Republican presidential nominee who had devoted his life to often painful public service. The booing was about McCain’s decisive vote to not repeal and replace the hated Obamacare law, but the bill wouldn’t have entirely repealed Obamacare and certainly didn’t replace with the everybody-covered-at-a-fraction-of-the-cost replacement that Trump promised during his pie-in-the-sky campaign, and no matter what you think about McCain’s vote the boos rang unmistakably mean to our ears.
Past Republican president and bona fide war hero and lifelong public servant George H.W. Bush is also dying, and without mentioning the name Trump also ridiculed Bush’s “thousand points of light speech.” The phrase was from a famous speech penned by Reagan’s speechwriter Peggy Noonan about the thousands of individual and collective efforts of America citizens to provide charity to the country’s poor, and Trump scoffed that he never understood what it was talking about, and not nearly so clear in meaning as “Make America Great Again” and “America First.” This struck us as the fourth-grade vocabulary understanding of political rhetoric of Trump and his die-hard fans, and malicious and uncharitable and downright mean.
Trump didn’t bring it up during the Montana rally, but he’s also feuded with previous Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and previous Republican President George W. Bush, and he’s even dared criticize President Ronald Reagan’s North American Free Trade Agreement and embrace of amnesty for illegal aliens and failure to pick Trump as the guy to negotiate the end of the Cold War, and he’s clearly contemptuous of pretty much the entire pre-Trump Republican party.
Trump has given President Richard Nixon a pass, but he’s currently seeking to undo the world trading order and western military alliances that President Dwight Eisenhower nurtured. Trump seems committed to the same sort of Smoot-Hawley protectionism that President Herbert Hoover used to create the Great Depressions, although we doubt he’s aware of any Republican party history prior to his birth, or perhaps his hostile takeover.
Trump always refers to his party’s first nominee as the “late, great Abraham Lincoln” — always adding that “late” part in case you haven’t heard the bad news about Honest Abe — but he doesn’t seem much of a fan. He infamously told a friendly interviewer that Democratic party founder unrepentant slave-holder and unabashed racist President Andrew Jackson could have averted at all that Civil War unpleasantness that happened under Lincoln’s watch. We don’t doubt that draft-dodging Trump would have pursued the civil war with the same brutality of Lincoln, and not lost a moment’s night sleep over it, but we can’t imagine him proposing to restore the Union with malice toward and none and charity toward all. Even our most kind-hearted Republican friends don’t seem to have much interest in that these days.
Which is a shame, because we and our Republican friends can continue to agree that the Democrats are as bad as ever and getting even crazier left by the moment. A Republican resistance is more needed than ever, but one that spoke of malice toward none and charity toward all and a thousand points would be preferable to one that seems to revel in its meanness. Our conservative friends cite the meanness on the left, our liberal friends say they’re only responding in kind, and we miss the Democratic party of such centrists as Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Sen. Scoop Jackson and the Republican party that existed so long before Trump.

— Bud Norman

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The Center Asserts Itself

President Donald Trump specifically denounced the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis and other white supremacists on Monday, with none of the talk about the bigotry and violence of “many sides” that characterized his earlier statement about the deadly events the white supremacists had provoked over the weekend in Virginia, and we suppose it was better late than never. Still, widespread suspicions will likely linger about his sincerity.
No one should suspect that Trump has any affinity for the violent sort of white supremacists who provoked the events in Virginia, but by now no one can trust his commitment to racial equality. Trump’s real estate business has been fined for discrimination against black tenants, he continued calling for the execution of five black teenagers convicted of rape even after scientific evidence had definitively proved their innocence, suggested that judges of hispanic descent were unfit to hear any case he was involved in, “re-tweeted” bogus statistics and racist “memes” from white supremacists web sites, and this weekend wasn’t the first time he was slow to denounce the violent sort of white supremacists who had openly expressed their support of him. The White House chief strategist is Steve Bannon, former editor of a web site he described as a “platform the ‘alt-right,'” other key aides have offered apologetics for the “alt-right,” and if you’re not hep to latest political lingo the “alt-right” is basically white supremacism with pretensions of intellectual respectability.
Our liberal friends would cite Trump’s border enforcement policies, restrictions on travel from some several Muslim-majority countries, and willingness to investigate the affirmative action policies at publicly-funded universities as further evidence of his racism, but except for that stupid wall idea we think there’s a sound conservative case to be made that each of these benefit the country as a whole. Those arguments have to be precisely stated, though, and with due respect to the complicated array of perspectives in such a polyglot country as this, and without any lingering doubts on the part of the listener about the speaker’s sincere commitment to racial equality. Trump, alas, seems the wrong guy for a job with those particular requirements.
Which is not good for the country at large, and as straight white conservative male Republicans out here in the heartland we’re bearing some small part of the burden. We’re “Bleeding Kansas” Republicans, whose political forebears signed up in record numbers to fight the Confederacy and the Nazis, whose flags those white supremacist idiots in Virginia were waving, and for years we’ve struggled to convince others on that complicated array of perspectives that our commonsensical views on taxation and regulation and defense spending all the rest of it are not tainted by association with those noxious causes. Trump’s delayed denunciation of the KKK and neo-Nazis, and continuing silence about the re-branded white supremacism of the “alt-right” elements that are still next door to the Oval Office, do not make our task any easier.
Nor do Trump’s apologists further the conservative Republican cause. Some of the first punches that were thrown when those white supremacists gather in Virginia came from counter-protestors, to be sure, but others just as surely thrown were thrown by the armored-and-armed protestors who started the whole mess, and it did turn out to a white supremacist who is charged with ramming his car into a crowd of protestors and killing an especially non-violent counter-protestor, and it was not a time to be equally condemning of “many sides.” There have indeed been far too many case of similarly unprovoked violence by the worst elements of the left, including assaults on people leaving Trump rallies, which the left is indeed not similarly condemned for, but the aftermath of a deadly melee that started with a bunch of armored-and-armed white supremacists invading a picturesque college town is not the right time to be making that argument.
Most of the Republican party, at least, moved quicker and convincingly to disassociate themselves from the KKK and neo-Nazism. Texas’ Sen. Ted Cruz is widely vilified by the left as an extremist conservative, but he went to “Twitter” shortly after the deaths to denounce the racism that clearly the cause of the tragedy, and it vindicated our vote for him the Kansas Republican caucus. The party’s congressional leaders and the Vice President and the president’s favorite daughter were also well ahead of him in singling out the KKK and neo-Nazis for condemnation, as were the more respectable quarters of the conservative print media. The comments sections were full of people still fuming about the past violence by the sleazier segments of the left, along with all the usual conspiracy theories about George Soros and Jewish cabals paying for it all, but the mainstream Republican reaction was enough to prompt Trump’s more specific remarks on Monday.
So for now the center holds, and the news will likely soon return to North Korea and that Russia thing, with a difficult debt ceiling fight in Congress quickly coming up, but those stories probably won’t be helpful, and Trump and such Trump-wary Republicans as ourselves will be diminished. The KKK and neo-Nazi story grew another day’s new pair of legs when the chairman of the giant Merck pharmacy corporation, one of the very few black Fortune 500 chief executive officers, resigned his post on a White House advisory council in protest of Trump’s initial statement, and Trump “tweeted” back a petty insult about the company’s “ripoff” drug prices, so that also doesn’t help the free market conservative cause.
Trump’s specific denunciation of white supremacism is better late than never, though, and a hopeful sign that the center will somehow hold. Nudging the country’s path slightly to the rightward direction we’d prefer, though, won’t be any easier.

— Bud Norman

The Cultural Contradictions of Liberalism

There was another mass shooting in another “gun free zone” last week, so of course there is the usual clamoring for more restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms. This time around the President of the United States has gone so far as to praise the gun laws of Australia and Great Britain, where the right to keep and bear arms has essentially been revoked altogether, and we were once again reminded of the strangely contradictory logic of modern liberalism.
The smart fellows over at Powerlineblog.com smartly observed that the same president who sneers it would be absurd to even contemplate rounding up and deporting an estimated 11 million or so illegal immigrants is now suggesting the country emulate laws that would involve rounding up and confiscating an estimated 350 million presently legal firearms. We are told by open borders advocates that rounding up and deporting so many illegal aliens would require not only a police state but a society of snitches and would foment open rebellion, and we take their argument seriously even as we insist on some level of enforcement of the immigration laws, yet they offer only a condescending chuckle in rebuttal to the argument that rounding up a far greater number of weapons from law-abiding citizens long accustomed to exercising their constitutional and God-given rights to self-defense might raise similar concerns. We’ve known enough gun-owners during our long life on the plains to understand that all that talk about prying guns out of cold, dead hands isn’t just bumper sticker braggadocio, and in the circles we run in we’ve also met enough anti-gun zealots to know they’d happily cooperate with whatever police state was required to satisfy their bien pensant souls, and on the whole we think it would be a far messier project than enforcing a border, but somehow the more liberal eye sees it otherwise.
Similar contradictions occur elsewhere in the immigration debate. We’re always struck that the same people who decry the incurable racism and xenophobia of American society are the ones assuring us that the introduction of tens of millions of foreigners into a rotten-to-the-core country, at an unprecedented rate that currently exceeds the number of jobs being created by a debt-laden economy, will prove no problem at all. Although we don’t share the same low regard for our fellow countrymen, most of whom seem to be enjoying all the excellent authentic Mexican and Asian restaurants that are suddenly flourishing in our town, and otherwise getting along with everyone reasonably well, we do understand human nature well enough to worry about how two separate cultures might co-exist within the same space. In our extensive reading of history we haven’t encountered any previous occasions when this occurred, but we’re aware that modern liberals tend to get their history from other books.
The immigration debate has lately been enlivened about what to do with the mass of reggaes fleeing the outbreaks of war in the Middle East, where the president is boasting about the peace he has wrought, and the same people who decry the incurable sexism and homophobia of American society are insisting that our allegedly Judeo-Christian culture can bring in tens of thousands of people from cultures that don’t allow women to feel sunlight on their faces and toss and homosexuals off tall buildings without any ensuing cultural conflicts. This is also with precedent, of course, and will strike anyone other than a doctrinaire liberal as unlikely.
All the rest of that blather about about the racist and sexist and homophobic nature and the moral equivalence of societies that condone slavery and forced genital mutilation of women and toss homosexuals off tall buildings seems rather contradictory, too. We can think of other examples of the mutually exclusive arguments offered by modern liberalism, but the hour is growing is late and at this point we’ll be satisfied if the latest gun-grabbing proposals are easily repelled as the more modest proposals that were put forth after the last mass shooting. The latest mass-shooting was by a mixed-race nutcase with an apparent animus toward Christians, so there’s little chance we’ll be having one of those “national conversations” about anything else.

— Bud Norman

Every Picture Tells a Story

Perhaps it’s just our skewed right-wing perspective, but President Barack Obama seems to be losing his once unerring knack for public relations.
Consider that carefully posed and widely disseminated photograph of the president with his sleeves rolled up and his tie loosened as he shares a beer and a game of pool with the governor of Colorado. The image is obviously calculated to portray the President of the United States as a regular sort of guy and easy-going fellow you’d like to have a drink with, which is just the sort of thing that helped him win the presidency in the first place, but it seems to us not quite right for a moment so far into a second term. Especially at a moment when tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors are pouring over the nation’s relatively nearby southwestern border and even the local Democrats are noisily clamoring for some presidential attention. One of the rare Democratic congressmen from Texas described the photo-op as “bizarre,” “aloof,” and “detached,” and we’re inclined to agree.
The President did fly down to Texas to meet with the state’s Republican governor, who controversially considered forgoing the usual handshake-on-the-tarmac photo-op, but the visit to the Lone Star State was devoted mostly to fund-raisers and did not include a visit to any of the makeshift detention camps where the Central American urchins are being piled up. The oversight is being widely described as Obama’s “Katrina moment,” an allusion to that long-ago time when his predecessor was pilloried in the press and buried in the polls for a perceived indifference to the human toll of a hurricane that had battered the Gulf Coast after he flew over the wreckage rather than land and interfere with the rescue efforts. The press was more eager to seize the moment against Bush, and would have been just as happy to lambaste him for landing and interfering with the rescue efforts, but even the most sympathetic media have lately had a hard time spinning the invasion of unaccompanied minor illegal aliens as a good news story.
Over at The New York Times’ the loyal scribes gave prominence in their coverage to the president’s predictable gripe that the Republicans were out to get him and wouldn’t set aside their petty political ploys to cough the few billion dollars that he expects will solve the problem, but even there it was impossible to pretend that the president hadn’t invited the invasion when he signed an executive order that promised two years without deportation to any kid who could hop a freight to the United States and that the Republicans have always been a bunch of soft-on-border-security sissies. There’s still some faint hope that the President will still win the amnesty-by-euphism “comprehensive immigration reform” that he’s been pining for the past six years, and the press doesn’t seem quite sure how to portray Obama’s sudden role reversal as a tough-talking border enforcer, especially when they can reasonably anticipate that he’ll eventually revert to his former compassionate self.
We suspect that the White House itself hasn’t yet decided how to spin this disaster, except for the usual play of blaming it all on the Republicans. Just as they thought that alleged-deserter-for-five-ferocious-terrorists swap was going to be a public relations boon, and even trotted out the alleged deserter’s Taliban-bearded and Koran-quoting crazy-pants dad for a photo-op in the Rose Garden, they probably thought an influx of adorably sad-eyed waifs would tug at the heartstrings of a weepy American and nudge that amnesty-by-euphemism bill over the line. With most of the arrivals being scary-looking teenagers, and the younger ones in such unpleasant circumstances that both the press and Congress haven’t been allowed a look, which is such bad publicity that one can only assume the pictures and interviews would be far worse, this is looking like just another recent public relations plan that hasn’t worked out.
Maybe that’s just our skewed right-wing perspective, though. No doubt many Americans are still unaware of being invaded by unaccompanied minor illegal immigrants, and thought Obama looked pretty cool hanging out with that regular guy-looking governor. Eventually the invasion will fade from the news, just as those kidnapped Nigerian girls and the shoddy treatment at the Veterans Administration and the illegal harassment of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service have been relegated to the inside pages or dropped from the news altogether, and the image of that cool dude at the pool table will linger.

— Bud Norman