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The Hole in the Wall Gangs

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, as the poet Robert Frost wrote, but President Donald Trump remains intent on building one across the entire Mexican-American border. He’s now longer vowing that Mexico will pay for it, and instead is using American taxpayer money earmarked to build schools for military families, but he’s still insisting the wall will be big and beautiful and impenetrable.
Which makes it rather embarrassing that Mexican smugglers are already cutting out large holes from the few miles of new wall that have been built, using reciprocating saws that be purchased for about $100 at most hardware stores.
Most Americans were skeptical all along that a big and beautiful wall was the solution to America’s undeniable illegal immigration problems, but the crowds that packed Trump’s campaign rallies loved the idea. “Build that wall” was one of the chants that riled up the rally-goers, along with a thus-far unfulfilled promise to arrest Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and “lock her up,” so Trump is now stuck with the idea. The die-hard fans apparently never took the part about Mexico paying for it seriously, and have already forgiven him for dropping that, but he worries he’d look foolish in the fans’ eyes if he didn’t build something along the entire southern border.
Getting it done is likely to be more trouble than it’s worth to Trump. A Democratic House of Representatives is even less likely than Mexico to pay for a border wall, meaning Trump will have to continue to dip into the swollen defense budget that he loves to brag about, further damaging his relationship with the military and his party’s hawkish wing. He’ll have to win a whole lot of expensive eminent domain lawsuits against some very sympathetic landholders and their property rights, which will offend the few remaining free market and constitutionalist conservatives left in the Republican party.
When the wall inevitably fails to solve America’s illegal immigration problems, even the die hard fans will wonder why they chanted for it.
The good news for Trump is that the border wall is rarely mentioned in the news these days. The bad news is that an impeachment inquiry is dominating the political conversation, and the damning testimony will now be televised.

— Bud Norman

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Goodbye, Kirstjen, Hello Whatever Comes Next

The big news over the weekend was Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen becoming the latest sudden departure from the administration of President Donald Trump, and what comes next should be a big story in the coming days. Nielsen’s reportedly forced resignation shortly followed Trump’s withdrawal of Ronald Vitellio’s nomination as director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with Trump saying he wanted to go “in a tougher direction,” and there’s no telling where that might lead.
Despite Trump’s very tough talk and very tough actions regarding illegal immigration, there’s lately been a significant uptick in asylum-seekers and other immigrants trying to cross America’s southern border, and Trump is clearly displeased. Both Nielsen and Vitellio were fully on board with family separations and a sea-to-shining-sea border wall and other controversial Trump policies, but Trump won office largely tough talk and promises of tough action along the border, so of course he wants to go in an even tougher direction. Short of shooting any asylum-seekers or other immigrants tying to cross the border on sight, however, even the cruelest toughness might not provide a solution.
In her reportedly forced yet very gracious resignation letter, Nielsen wrote that “I hope the next Secretary will have the support of Congress and the courts in fixing the laws which have impeded our ability to fully secure America’s border and which have contributed to discord in our nation’s discourse. Our country — and the men and women of DHS — deserve to have all the tools and resources they need to execute the mission entrusted to them.” Which strikes us as quite craftily worded, given the short notice.
Nielsen still endorses Trump’s legislative agenda even as she’s being defenestrated, but she slyly alludes to the fact that she’s on the way out because she felt constrained by the current laws of the land. Given that her up-to-the-legal-limits tough gal approach never fared well with either Congress or the courts or popular opinion, her hope that an even tougher successor is probably faint and at least partly facetious. Nielsen’s tough-yet-law-abiding tenure never got good press, and we noticed that the Cable New Network kept featuring the most unappealing photos of her on Sunday, even though she’s objectively rather attractive by cabinet secretary standards, and any successor Trump might choose won’t fare any better. Good luck getting the feisty Democratic majority in the House or the slight Republican Senate majority and its skittish border state members to go along in a tougher direction.
All of which is a shame, as far we’re concerned. There’s a strong case to be made for some of Trump’s immigration law reforms, although we’ll stop well short of that shooting-asylum-seekers-on-sight that he’s probably tempted to do and his die-hard fans would surely endorse, but they’re not likely to get done in the next two years. or probably a few more years after that. In the meantime the most sensible proposal seems to be the one by formerly-far-right-wing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to fund enough extra immigration judges to handle the current backlog on the border according to American law and international treaty obligations.
On the whole, we’re going to miss Secretary Nielsen. Not only was she objectively rather attractive by cabinet secretary standards, she also struck as one of the few remaining grown-ups in the administration. She’s was the protege and hand-picked successor of Four Star Marine General John F, Kelly, who had taken a hard line at the DHS, and who was briefly the White House chief of staff who was expected to impose some order on the White House, and we expect that also had something to do with Trump’s dissatisfaction. Trump seems intent on being even tougher than the law allows, as usual, but we’ll see how that works out.

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What Goes Unbuilt to Build a Wall

As every civic-minded American newsreader already knows by now, President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency to re-appropriate a few billion dollars from the defense budget to build a big beautiful wall along America’s southern border. By now you should also know that majorities in both chambers of Congress voted to block the action, but Trump vetoed it, and it seems unlikely that a super-majority in the Senate will be able to override it, and despite some court challenges Trump seems likely to eventually get some wall money.
We commend you for having followed it that closely, but if you’re as obsessively civic-minded a newsreader as we are you might want to know from where those few billions of dollars will likely be re-appropriated.
A couple of intrepid reporters at The Washington Post were curious enough to look into it, and although we’re supposed dismiss their findings as “fake news” from “enemies of the people” their conclusions sound plausible enough to us, and better sourced than what Trump usually has to say about what some people are saying. Much of the report is based on a list that the Defense Department reluctantly released under pressure from Congress that identifies $12.9 billion of military construction projects that been funded but not yet contracted, which according to the convoluted theories of the vaguely written law that Trump is invoking are fair game for presidential re-appropriation. The Pentagon has ruled out defunding the projects they expect to finalize contracts for within the year, which leaves only $4.35 billion available, and Trump has announced he expects to spend $3.6 billion of it on his wall, an a civic-minded newsreader can make an educated guess about which projects are most vulnerable.
There are 10 projects with a combined cost of $403 million slated for Puerto Rico, which has no electoral votes and has long seemed of little concern to Trump, so they seem likely to be slashed. The projects include a school for military children on former Air Force base and improved training for the Puerto Rican National Guard, which previous Defense Departments and congresses had considered important to the national security, but Trump will easily able to explain to the die-hard fans that $403 million worth of wall along a few miles of the southern border is more important than anything that might happen in Puerto Rico.
There’s another $745 million to be had from the European Deterrence Initiative, which includes 23 projects spread throughout Europe and was launched by President Barack Obama back in 2014 after Russia’s assaults on the sovereignty of Ukraine and Crimea, that’s surely a tempting slice of the budget to Trump. He can still tell the die-hard fans that no president has ever been tougher on Russia, and that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is a nice guy who’d never do anything to hinder American democracy, anything Obama did had to be wrong, and all those supposedly allied countries where the money was being spent are all taking advantage of us and laughing behind our backs. What’s more, none of those countries have any electoral college votes.
Another $258 is slated to be spent in Guam, which is mostly a strategically crucial military base but has no electoral votes, and the rest is spread out over eight states. The Washington Post generously provides a graph showing how much spending had been slated for each state, and without bothering to dig into what the projects are we assume the cuts will be made according to how many votes each state is expected to deliver in the next electoral college. That’s bad news for Washington and Maryland, good news for Texas, and probably the best news of all for states the Republicans hope they can possibly flip and suddenly have to worry they might lose. The math might require that some Republican district or another will take a hit, but Trump can still count on its Representative’s support.
Which is no way to appropriate money for the national defense, of course, but we suppose it’s always been so. The smart defense contractors always spread their work around the country just enough to sway congressional and electoral college majorities, the smart politicians always defend their home turf’s share, and we notice that a significant portion of Obama’s spending went to such reliably Democratic states as Washington and Maryland, even if we also notice that Boeing is still big in Washington and has always gotten its share based on merit. Even so, the politics of this particular moment seem especially peculiar.
For one thing, we’re not at all persuaded that a big beautiful wall along the entire southern border is a pressing national security need, much less the stuff of a state of national emergency. Our assessment of the worldwide threats to national security finds far more pressing needs, and the very official-souning “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the National Intelligence Community” seems to agree with us. According to all the polls everybody but the die-hard Trump fans are similarly unimpressed, and so are majorities of the people’s representatives in both chambers of Congress also disagree, even if they can’t muster a super-majority in the Senate to override a veto.
For another thing, the few measly billions of dollars that Trump intends re-appropriate will only pay for a relatively few miles of it, and much of that will be tied in legal fees fighting the landowners who have been happily living along an unwalled border objecting to the government’s eminent domain seizure of their private property. An affinity for private property and an aversion to government seizures used to be a defining characteristic of American conversation, which is yet another thing we don’t like about the politics of the moment.
Conservatives also used to believe in the Constitution, which gives the legislative branch the power to appropriate funds and doesn’t mention the executive branch doing any re-appropriating, and that’s even one more thing we don’t like about the politics of moment.

— Bud Norman

A Slight Republican Revolt in Congress

On Wednesday seven Republican senators helped pass a resolution opposed to President Donald Trump’s support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and it’s expected that today enough Republicans will join the Democrats in voting for a resolution opposed to Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to divert funds for a wall along the southern border. There aren’t enough of these restive Republicans to help the Democrats override the expected presidential vetoes, and most of the party remains willing to go along with anything Trump wants, but Trump should probably be worried about what happens after that.
The only apparent reason for the defections of the seven Republican senators who voted against Trump’s middle east foreign policy and the four announced senators and perhaps as many as six more who will be voting against Trump’s national emergency is that they’re standing on traditional Republican principles. Defying the wishes does not serve the political interests of any Republican politician at the moment, even the ones in the most purplish states and districts, as Trump is more popular with the party at the moment than any longstanding Republican principles. An occasional show of independence from the more broadly unpopular president might prove useful in a general election in a lot of states and districts, but a politician needs his party’s nomination to get there, and an annoyed “tweet” and a disparaging nickname from Trump has already knocked a lot of incumbents from their seats.
The purging of Republicans suspected of less-than-complete loyalty to Trump is one of the reasons the party has such a slim majority in the Senate and the Democrats have such a sizable majority in the House of Representatives, but for now the party is sticking with complete loyalty to Trump. Even so, Trump’s weird indulgence of Saudi Arabia’s worst behavior, and his outrageous power grab of the Congress’ power to appropriate public in pursuit of a damned dumb border wall, are both so antithetical to traditional Republican values that are still a few Republicans left in Congress who have to draw a line somewhere.
America has maintained a close relationship with Saudi Arabia since President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, and put up with a lot of bad behavior through the past many decades of Democratic and Republican administrations alike, but Trump’s effusive affection for the Saudi dictatorship exceeds the post-war bipartisan foreign consensus that was probably too indulgent all along. America also has some carefully-negotiated and strategically important military and economic arrangements with the government of Yemen that Saudi Arabia has been ruthlessly trying to topple, even such stalwart cold warriors as President Ronald Reagan would cut loose allies in the Philippines and South Africa and elsewhere when their human rights abuses became intolerable to a western conscience, and there is something suspiciously weird about Trump’s policy in the region.
Suspicious types such as ourselves will note that Trump has publicly boasted about the millions of dollars of business he does with the Saudis, and seemed to love the lavish red carpet they rolled out for him on his first state trip, and that the son-in-law Trump has charged with bringing about Middle East pace also has an ongoing business relationship with the Saudis, which does seem one apparent explanation. On the other hand, perhaps Trump just likes the Saudis’ style. He happily accepted dictator Mohammed bin Salman’s assurance that he had nothing to do with the brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Turkish embassy, but he also accepted Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s assurance that he would never have meddled in America’s election, and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s assurances that he felt terrible to hear about the death-by-torture of American Otto Warmbier in one of his torture chambers.
Perhaps there’s some hyper-sophisticated genius to to all of this that such lesser minds as ourselves and all of Trump’s top advisors and appointees and the consensus opinion of the intelligence and foreign policy experts can’t quite discern, but we can’t blame any traditional Republican for voting against it.
There’s all the more traditional Republican reasons, as far as we’re concerned, to vote against that national emergency declaration that Trump openly admitted in front of all the “fake news” cameras he didn’t really need to declare. As always there are serious problems at the border, but somehow the nation has survived and even thrived without a big beautiful border wall or orphaning blameless children and similarly harsh measures, and until recently Republicans were satisfied with that. Back when Democratic presidents were brazenly exceeding their constitutional executive powers Republicans used to rightly object to that, but for now most of them will loyal stand by as Trump usurps the Congress’ constitutional power to appropriate funds and the property rights of the landowners along the southern border who see no need for a big and beautiful and downright dumb wall.
What’s more, Trump is planning to use the national emergency declaration to build the wall with funds that had been appropriated for military spending in various states and districts around the country. Some Republicans will therefore wind up voting against military spending in the states and districts, and at that point the Grand Old Party will have abandoned one of its most cherished principles.
So we’re glad to see there at least a few Republicans left in Congress who aren’t completely loyal to Trump, and we’re especially happy to see that one of them is Kansas’ own Sen. Jerry Moran, who always struck us as a traditionally Republican sort of guy, He’s not up for reelection in this reliably Republican state until after the 2020 presidential election, and the state’s two big export industries aren’t sold on Trump’s protectionism and the churches have some mild discomfort about Trump’s character, and most of Moran’s fellow defectors are similarly well positioned, so perhaps they are making some political calculations.
We surely hope so, as we’d very much like to see some semblance of the traditional Republican party survive Trump.

— Bud Norman

Oh, How Trump Does Go On

President Donald Trump spoke for more than two hours on Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and toward the end he bragged that nobody left early. We’ll take Trump’s word about that, but figure it’s more a testament to the loyalty of his fans than the quality of the performance.
The speech was mostly a longer than usual reprisal of all his campaign rally speeches. Like a rock star with no new album to promote, he gave the fans all the hits they came to hear. As always the show started with Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” and ended with the odd choice of the The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What Your Wants, and in between here was much bragging, severe denunciations of his critics, some dubious economic history and few outright falsehoods, a couple of barnyard epithets that thrilled the crowd, and the familiar of chants of “build that wall!” and “lock her up!” and “USA! USA!”
Trump bragged about the size of his electoral college victory without mentioning his popular vote loss, took full credit for a slight Republican gain in the Senate during the mid-term election without accepting any blame for a lopsided loss of seats in the House of Representatives, and boasted of his standing-room-only crowds wherever he goes. Of course he also claimed full credit for the currently healthy state of the American economy, falsely claiming that the stock markets were falling and unemployment was rising when he was elected, and further bragged about not having gray hair and all the rich friends who call him “Mr. President.” He further bragged that California Gov. Gavin Newsom has told Trump that he’s a great president and “one of the smartest people he’s ever met,” although he complained that Newsom won’t admit it. Oh, and he also bragged that his rambling and disjointed speech was unscripted, telling the crowd that “If we don’t go off script, we’re in big trouble.”
Much of the speech, as usual, was spent hurling insults demeaning nicknames at his perceived enemies. Trump excoriated the past several decades of American leadership, both Republican and Democratic, accusing them of “blunders and betrayals, serious betrayals.” The crowd was assured that the reporters who write unflattering stories about Trump are “sick people, very sick people.” The Democrats in Congress who are launching oversight investigations of Trump are also “sick people,” and Trump added that “We have people in Congress who hate our country. We can name them if they want, they hate our country.” He didn’t name any of them, although he earlier had said that Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii — or Ohio, as Trump didn’t seem sure — was “like a crazy person,” and counted “Shifty Little (Rep. Adam) Schiff” was one of the “sick people.” At least Trump didn’t call Schiff “Adam Schitt,” as he’d done in a “tweet” that the fans thought hilarious, but he did tell crowd that the Democrats are “trying to take me down with bullshit,” which got the biggest laugh of the night from the crowd of self-described conservatives.
It wasn’t just Democrats and other sick America-haters who came under fire. Trump mocked the southern accent of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which got a rare mixed reaction from the crowd, and while he didn’t mention the name he also railed against Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell as “a gentleman who loves raising interest rates, loves quantitative tightening, loves a strong dollar.” Of course Trump didn’t mention that he’d appointed both Sessions and Powell to their posts, and of course the crowd didn’t notice. He also boasted that the Republicans who occasional object to Trump’s policies and behaviors are politically endangered, and said the “Never Trump” portion of the Republican is “on mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,” which he liked so much he repeated it twice.
From time to time the speech would address matters of public policy, and although the crowd got a bit bored it didn’t seem to mind that much of what Trump was saying either poorly reasoned or simply untrue.
In defense of his protectionist trade policies, Trump recalled “The Great Tariff Debate of 1880,” which he said was mostly about how to spend all money that America was making from tariffs. We assume he meant the tariff debate of 1888, which then as now was mostly about whether tariffs help or hurt an economy, with industries in need of protection from foreign competition taking one side and export industries in need of free trade on the opposing sides. Since then the American economy has evolved to a point that domestic industries are more competitive and the export sector has significantly grown, the Sixteenth Amendment that created the income tax means the federal government no longer depends on tariffs, and the debate of 1888 isn’t quite so instructive to the adoring crowds as Trump seems to think.
Trump also took aim at the unabashed socialism of several Democratic stars and their proposed “Green New Deal,” and while we also decry that leftward drift we’d prefer the more honest criticisms that might persuade the vast majority of the public that isn’t cheering at the CPAC rally. He ridiculed the Democrats support for wind power, suggesting Americans wouldn’t be able to watch television on a calm day, and although we have our doubts about wind power subsidies we do know that the electricity they generate is stored in batteries for such contingencies. He also overstated the support that the “Green New Deal” and “Medicare for All” currently has in the Democratic party — he once again insisted on calling it the “Democrat party,” by the way — and had no kind words for the centrists resisting such policies, as they presumably also hate America.
There are a few hidebound Republicans left in Congress who object to Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to re-appropriate funds for that big, beautiful wall Trump has promised on the southern border, as they argue it septs a precedent for a future Democratic president to make a similar power grab for liberal purposes. Trump rebutted that by saying that the Democrats would do that anyway, so the only thing to do about it is keep Trump in the White House forever, which seemed to make sense to the crowd. The national emergency of illegal immigration took up much of the two hours, with Trump seeming to think that other countries are choosing which of their citizens will try to immigrate to America, and although he has some good ideas about immigration policy reforms we think he’ll need a more fact-based and less brazenly xenophobic sales to persuade that vast majority of Americans who aren’t at the CPAC rally.
Trump also tried to claim his recent summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un was a huge success despite no deals being made, and assured his fans that Kim, unlike those America-hating sickos in Congress and the press, is really a terrific guy at heart. He didn’t repeat his recent statement that he accepted Kim’s assurance that he had nothing to do with the death by torture in a North Korean dungeon of American Otto Warmbier and was greatly saddened to hear about, but he did have kind words for Warmbier’s parents despite their outspoken criticism of the statement.
There’s more, of course, including Trump’s entirely untrue claim that he coined the nickname “Mad Dog” for his defenestrated Defense Secretary James Mattis, and that all of the world’s leaders have told him how they respect that he’s finally standing up for America after the past decades when they were able to take advantage of America’s “ruling class,” even if though won’t so say in public. We could probably go on all night, but our fans aren’t so indulgent as Trumps.

— Bud Norman

Our State of Emergency

Load your guns, hide the children, and stock up on cigarettes and beer and other essentials, as we expect America will be in a state of emergency today. So far as we can tell the only emergency is that a spending ball passed by Congress to keep the government open didn’t give President Donald the money he wanted to build a big beautiful wall along the entire southern, but one can never be too sure.
If Trump does make good on his threat to declare a national emergency and assume emergency powers to re-appropriate federal funds, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said Trump promised him, that will be cause for alarm. Trump’s grab of newfound presidential powers will likely be quickly blocked by both the courts and Congress, as well a small amount of principled conservative opposition and overwhelming public onion, but the fact that it’s come to this is quite scary.
This whole big beautiful border wall deal has been a disaster from the outset, as far as we’re concerned. Trump’s fanciful promise that he not only build but have Mexico pay for it somehow helped him win the Republican nomination, and didn’t keep him from winning the Electoral College vote, but it’s been a burden to him ever since. Mexico declined to pay for the wall, unsurprisingly enough, and so did two years of Republican majorities in Congress, with the filibuster rules and only a slight Republican edge having something to do with it, and Trump should have known he wouldn’t fare any better with a huge Democratic majority installed in the house after the mid-term elections. Trump tried to force the Democrats to cough up the money with a partial government shutdown, but by the time that ended with Trump’s poll numbers plummeting he had capitulated on a short-term fix. The spending bill which passed both chambers on Thursday keeps the government open all the way to September and provides less funding for a border wall than the deal that Trump passed up prior to the shutdown, and now he’s left with declaring a national emergency.
The same National Emergency Act that Trump cites for his authority specifically allows Congress to block it, and given the bipartisan support for the spending bill Congress seems likely to do so. The Constitution still supersedes the National Emergency Act, as well, and given how clearly that document says spending power is the sole province of Congress the Courts are likely to take a dim view of it as well. Among the litigants will be several states and many private landowners and other parties that conservatives have previously championed, and they’ll be making constitutional arguments about unconstrained presidential power that conservatives fervently believed in as recently as the administration of President Barack Obama, and everyone from the moderate to loony left is united in its opposition. Trump’s wall continues to poll badly, although his still-underwater approval rating ticked up slightly after he capitulated to the Democrats to fully re-open the government, and we expect his opponents on all fronts will seize the public relations advantage.
Trump relies on that stubborn 30 percent or so the population the somehow believes in his infallibility, however, and is thus obliged to heed their raucous rally cries of “Build that wall!” He’d always follow that up asking who was go to pay for it, and the rally crowds would cry “Mexico,” which has been largely forgiven and forgotten, but he has a huckster’s sense can’t get away without building a big beautiful border wall and having somebody pay for it. Already such a staunch defender as nutcase provocateur Ann Coulter, author of “In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome,” is “tweeting” that Trump’s emergency declaration is an inevitable loser and that his signing of the spending bill means that her erstwhile hero was a surrender to “open borders.” Sean Hannity and “Judge” Jeanine Pirro and other more loyal media apologists will come up with some reason that Trump is clearly winning, but lately talk radio show callers have been restless.
Another favorite line at the Trump rallies was “at least he fights,” and the loyalists can take some comfort in knowing that at least that’s true. Trump picks fights with congressional back-benchers and B-list celebrities, gives hell to those snowflake lefties, flouts the political establishment and intellectual traditions of the Republican party and traditional conservatism, daily denies objective facts he’d rather not hear, with a habit o skirting up against the most generous edges of the law, and no matter how pointless it all ultimately proves the fans seem to love the spectacle.

— Bud Norman

The Duel in El Paso

The typically placid border town of El Paso, Texas, was a political hotspot on Monday night, as both President Donald Trump and former Democratic congressman Beto O’Rourke held competing rallies about a mile away from one another. The main topic of conversation, of course, was the big beautiful border wall that Trump has vowed to build.
Both rallies were reportedly well-attended, and of course widely reported on, so it’s hard to say who got the better of it. Back in Washington a congressional conference committee announced it had reached a tentative agreement on some sort of spending bill or continuing resolution or other legislative legerdemain to keep the government open past Friday, which seems to include some funding for a wall but far less than what Trump has demanded, and we doubt anyone involved in the negotiations was paying much attention what was said in El Paso.
As at every Trump rally in every city the crowd was chanting “build that wall,” but Trump asked that they change it to “finish that wall,” as he assured them that construction is already well underway. There’s not a bit of evidence to back up the claim, which seems to contradict his claim that the darned Democrats are preventing him from building the wall, but no one in the crowd seemed to mind. Trump also claimed that El Paso’s enviable status as one of America’s most crime-free cities was due entirely to some 40 miles of tall fencing along the Rio Grande, although city officials noted that the city had a low crime rate for a full decade before the fence was built, and attributed El Paso peaceableness to carefully cultivated friendly relations between its white and Latino populations, which they suggested Trump has threatened with his rhetoric, but nobody seemed to mind Trump’s hyperbole.
Even Trump can’t talk about big beautiful walls and the imminent threat at border all night, however, so he spent most the rest of his 70 minutes of impromptu stream-of-consciousness speech ridiculing his potential Democratic rivals, including the aforementioned O’Rourke, who last November lost a senate race to Sen. Ted Cruz by a slimmer-than-usual margin in the reliably red state, and became a left-wing darling in the process.
Trump lost El Paso County by a 40-point blowout, however, and O’Rourke won the county as easily as he’d won in three successful House races, so he was also able to attract a sizable and enthusiastic crowd for his anti-border wall rally. He probably helped himself in a potential Democratic primary race by decrying the implicit racism and xenophobia of Trump’s big beautiful wall, but probably hurt his chances in a general election by edging a bit too close to the “open borders” stance that Trump attributes to all Democrats. Still, the crowd didn’t seem to mind a bit, and cheered on all the leftist policies that the Trump rally was booing. El Paso is a pleasant city where the people seem to generally along with one another, but apparently it’s not immune to the political spats that divide the nation at large.
Our guess is that the large and emboldened Democratic majority in the House of Representatives isn’t going to pay for Trump’s big beautiful wall, that the slender and skittish Republican majority in the Senate doesn’t want another partial government shutdown over the issue, and that Mexico most definitely won’t be paying for it. Trump has threatened to declare a national emergency to divert funds for the wall, but all the Democrat Trump any support, and we also guess that the courts will eventually put an end to such unconstitutional power-grabbing nonsense.
Even so, both Trump and O’Rourke got some publicity that their favorite media could exploit, and we’re sure they’re both satisfied with that. Our hope is that the good people of El Paso continue to get along peaceably, and that the rest of the nation muddles through as well.

— Bud Norman

Trump Jumps the Shark

The folks who provide entertainment programming for television often use the expression “jump the shark,” which derives from the episode late in the last season of “Happy Days” when Fonzie ski-jumped over a tank of sharks, and it’s meant to convey when a show has run out of ideas and become completely ridiculous. On Thursday President Donald Trump’s long-running yet low-rated reality show arrived at its “jump the shark” moment.
On Tuesday Trump’s own heads of his own administration’s intelligence agencies testified under oath and camera before Congress about various national security issues, and differed with the president on matters ranging from Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs to China’s and Russia’s cyber-terrorism intentions to the remaining strength of the Islamic State to the need for a big beautiful wall along the entirety of the southern border. On Wednesday Trump “tweeted” that the men and women he had appointed to assure America’s safety were “passive and naive” and “wrong” and “should go back to school,” which was embarrassing enough. By Thursday Trump was telling an impromptu news conference that it was all “fake news,” as his chiefs had all assured him they were merely misquoted and were in fact entirely in agreement with him, and at that point President Fonzie looked likely to crash into the sharks.
Go right ahead and believe that the undeniably hostile-to-Trump news media overemphasized the intelligence agencies’ many disagreements with Trump, but if you think the Trump appointees were misquoted or taken out of context you can easily watch their full testimony from Congress’ own C-Span or any of the networks that covered it live, including Fox News. You can also read the intelligence agencies’ 42-page “Worldwide Threat Assessment” report at their own official “.gov” website, or request a copy from the Government Printing Office. It might all be a “deep state” conspiracy that created all the networks’ video footage with computer generated imagery, and then hacked into the government’s web domain and printing warehouses to plant that phony document, and is now coercing Trump’s appointees not to confirm his latest claims that their testimony was “fake news,” but if so the conspirators are so damned good that resistance is certainly futile.
Trump also told the “fake news” cameras that his border wall is currently being built, claimed credit for the portion build years before his administration near San Diego, and predicted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would soon be humbly begging him to build a wall, and boasted of such successes that no one will care if he doesn’t get a wall built. The die-hard fans will buy all of it, but most of the rest of the country seems to be growing weary of the storyline.
For now all the hostile-to-Trump news media and all the late night comedy shows are having great fun with it, and we’re eager to hear what all the right-wing talk radio talkers and the rest of the obsequious-to-Trump news media have to say. On several occasions over the past many years Trump has asked his die-hard supporters to believe him rather than their lying eyes, and they’ve always been willing to do so, but this time the more reluctant supporters aren’t playing along.
Not only are Trump’s own appointees to head the national intelligence agencies stubbornly insisting on their clear-eyed assessments of the actual facts rather than Trump’s “alternative facts,” but so are several other members of his foreign policy-making team, as well as a decisive number of congressional Republicans. Trump boasted that he had wiped out the Islamic State when he announced a controversial decision to withdraw all American forces from Syria, but his Secretary of State and national security advisor seem to have talked him into to only a partial withdrawal, his intelligence agencies continue to warn that the Islamic State still poses a threat to America and its allies, and on Thursday Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and a majority of his Republican caucus joined in a 68-to-23 vote for a resolution rebuking Trump’s claims and announced policy on Syria.
A similar number of Senate Republicans have voted to protect a special counsel investigation into Russia’s cyber-meddling in America’s elections, which the intelligence agencies all agree is ongoing, despite Trump’s assurances that he’s been assured by the Russian dictator that it’s all a “witch hunt.” There seems a be a similar skepticism in the Senate about Trump’s boasts that he’s eliminated the nuclear threat from North Korea, or soon will, which the intelligence agencies also dispute. Based on the latest reports about the congressional negotiations underway to pass some sort of funding agreement to keep the government open for a while longer, the Republicans seem to agree with the intelligence agencies that big beautiful border wall isn’t such an urgent need as Trump insists.
The president probably has a more loyal following among the Republicans in the House of Representatives, but they’re a minority in that chamber, and Trump’s version of the truth is currently running into a great deal of resistance from his own party and own administration and the rest of the government. Worse yet, his reality show is jumping into the shark tank of actual reality.

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Lost Weekend

The past weekend probably wasn’t much fun for President Donald Trump or his most die-hard defenders. On Friday Trump signed a series of continuing resolutions to temporarily end the partial government shutdown, and none of them contained any money for the big beautiful border wall that he had insisted on when he was “proud to shut down the government for border security.” The same day saw the pre-dawn arrest of former advisor and longtime friend Roger Stone, the latest in a series of indictments brought by the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing.”
Both stories struck most observers as bad for Trump, but he and several of his die-hard defenders did their best over the weekend to explain how Trump keeps winning.
Trump “tweeted” to the fans that although he conceded to the Democrats his one demand for border wall funding “This was in no way a concession,” and that if he doesn’t get his way when the deal ends in three weeks “it’s off to the races!” This was a hard sell even for such reliable media allies as The New York Post, where the front-page headline called Trump a “Cave Man,” and the Trump-loving conspiracy theory website thegatewaypundit ran the headline “Trump Caves.” Even Ann Coulter, the author of “In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome,” declared that President George H.W. Bush was “no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as president.” We can’t imagine why Coulter chose to impugn the manliness of the last president Bush, who was a star athlete and bona fide war hero and the man who negotiated the west’s victory in the Cold War and drove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, but it goes to show how very disappointed some fans were on Friday.
Some Trump fans are made of sterner stuff, however. The always hilarious defenestrated administration official Sebastian Gorka is still loyal enough he insisted on Lou Dobbs’ Fox News show that Trump had pulled off a “master stroke,” even though the usually reliable host was saying that Trump had been “whipped by Pelosi.” The indefatigable Trump apologist Sean Hannity was telling his radio and television audiences that the president was sure to prevail within three weeks, as “he holds all the cards,” even though Hannity’s usually sycophantic radio show callers were disagreeing. As much as we admire quixotic effort, it’s a hard case to make. Trump was taking a beating in the opinion polls for his stubborn insistence on a border wall that has never polled well, the newly installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is clearly emboldened, and it’s hard to see what changes in the next three weeks.
Trump didn’t even get his previously scheduled State of the Union address in the House chamber, and it’s unlikely he’ll be able to change many minds if does the prime time gig. Seven Republican Senators had abandoned ship by the end of the partial government shutdown, which set new records for duration and bad press, and with several of them up for reelection next year in states that Trump didn’t win they’ll have little incentive to return to the fold of the true believers. The remaining faithful are confident that Trump will get his big beautiful border wall built by declaring a national emergency and unilaterally diverting funds that Congress had appropriated for other and more popular programs, but we expect that both the federal courts and the court of public opinion will have something to say about such a presidential power grab as that, and it will be a hard case for those self-proclaimed “constitutional conservatives” in the Trump-friendly media to make.
Beleaguered White House press secretary Sarah Sanders made a rare appearance on television to insist that the arrest of Stone had nothing to do with Trump, and most of the Trump-friendly media were indignant that such a fine fellow had been subjected to a pre-dawn arrest by combat-armed federal agents. It’s true that none of the seven counts in the indictment of Stone mention Trump, and that arrest did look pretty scary, but that apologists have another hard case to make.
Stone has had a decades-long relationship with Trump that included an advisor role in the earliest days of Trump’s presidential campaign, and he was still in regular contact with Trump while he was allegedly committing crimes on his behalf and allegedly lying to congress to jibe with Trump’s latest explanations, and we think it likely that the next round of indictments will mention Trump. He’s not at all a fine fellow, either, and in fact has long prided himself on his well-earned reputation as one of the biggest sleazes in politics since his days as a self-described “rat-****er”for President Richard Nixon, whose visage is literally tattooed on Stone’s back, and one can hardly blame the feds for fearing Stone might destroy evidence if tipped off in advance about his arrest.
Today starts another work week, though, with all those furloughed government workers back on the job, and there’s no telling what hay Trump and his die-hard defenders might make of it. Perhaps in three weeks time the Democrats will be doing the capitulating, and the “Russia thing” will be proved a WITCH HUNT!, and Trump will be rolling toward a landslide reelection and eventual inclusion on Mount Rushmore, but for now we’re not betting on it.

— Bud Norman

The Son-in-Law Rises Again

The partial government shutdown is now in its 33rd day, and hundreds of thousands of government workers are going a third week without pay, with many of them calling in sick as a result, but the good news is that presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner is bravely taking charge of the situation.
In case you’re unaware of the wunderkind’s remarkable resume, the heavily indebted real estate mogul has also been given responsibility for ending America’s opioid crisis and bringing peace to the Middle East and re-inventing the federal government, among other things. Although he doesn’t seem to have quite yet accomplished any of these Herculean tasks, he’s reportedly asserted himself into the shutdown negotiations, which look to be as intractable as any of his many other jobs. There’s much skepticism about his ability to pull any of it off, but the young fellow is apparently as self-confident as ever.
According to The Washington Post’s reporting Kushner is sure that the Democrats in congress will soon capitulate to President Donald Trump’s demand for five billion dollars or so of funding for the big and beautiful border wall that he promised his supporters, and that Trump’s smartest move is to remain obstinate in the demand. Kushner has a more impressive job description than we do, including the difficult task of being Trump’s son-in-law, but we nonetheless wonder where he gets such cockamamie ideas.
All of the public opinion polls show that a plurality of Americans don’t want a border wall, and a clear majority don’t think it justifies a partial government shutdown, and such veteran politicians and wily wheeler-dealers as Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seem to be enjoying the hit Trump has taken in polls. Trump is no longer making more than a token effort to argue that the Mexicans are eventually going to repay whatever money the Democrats might fork over, he’s now willing to let the Democrats call it something other than a big beautiful wall, and until the right wing provocateurs Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham spoke he was willing to capitulate on the whole idea, and for now he seems to have the far worse negotiating position. Several congressional Republicans are already planning to vote for a budget bill or continuing resolution to fully re-open the government that doesn’t include funding for the border wall, including all the congressmen who represent districts along the border.
There’s always a chance Trump’s rhetorical eloquence will persuade a majority of Americans that a big beautiful border wall is the most important issue facing the nation, perhaps when he delivers his State of the Union address in front of some raucous rally crowd in some deep-red state in the coming days, but so far that hasn’t happened. The president’s son-in-law reportedly played a role in getting the criminal justice reform bill passed, but that was a weak-on-crime bill that all the Democrats wanted and the likes of Limbaugh and Coulter and Ingraham didn’t talk about, and it doesn’t suggest he’s much a negotiator. Kushner is famous for rarely speaking in public, so it’s harder to assess his oratorical abilities, but based on what we have heard we don’t give him a better chance of swaying public opinion that his father-in-law. Our guess is he’ll be most useful to the president as an eventual scapegoat.
Meanwhile, Trump’s daughter-in-law is getting involved, and so far that’s not been helpful. Lara Trump, wife of the still-married Eric Trump, told a news outlet that those unpaid federal workers should “stay strong” and insist on a border wall before they get paid. The billionaire heiress said acknowledge that going weeks without a paycheck “is a little bit of pain, but it’s going to be for the future of country, and their children and grandchildren and generations after will thank them for their sacrifice right now.” She’s more well spoken that her father-in-law and brother-in law, but we expect that even more unpaid government workers will be calling in sick today.

— Bud Norman