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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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A Not Bad, Not Great State of the Union

All in all, President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night was not bad. Not nearly the oratorical masterpiece that Sean Hannity and the hosts of “Fox and Friends” will surely make it out to be, but it could have been a whole lot worse.
There were no taunting nicknames or needless provocations. It was refreshingly free of “believe me” or “that I can tell you” or any of his other endlessly repeated catchphrases. He didn’t cuss. There was plenty of boasting, of course, but he also lavished praise on a few other people as well. Several of the boasts were wildly overstated or entirely inaccurate, of course, but by comparison to a typical impromptu Trump oration he was relatively restrained and truthful. Except for that annoying sniffle and strange tendency to emphasis seemingly random words, along with an amusingly botched attempt to cover up getting one of his heroes’ nickname wrong, he read the teleprompter well enough.
That’s a rather low standard to set for presidential rhetoric, but here we are. In the interests of fairness we have to note that the Democrats’ response by Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy was at least as lackluster, and that nobody on the current political scene is going to make anyone forget the greatest speeches of Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill.
As for the policy part of the speech, there were some good ideas about reforming the legal immigration system and the same old bad idea of a southern border wall to stop illegal immigration. Something about spending $1.5 trillion on infrastructure, too, but that didn’t explain where the money would come from and was otherwise too vague to tell if it was a good or idea or a bad one. In any case, none of the arguments were so well or so badly or so memorably made that they’re likely to influence the upcoming contentious debates about all these issues. Some future “tweet” or impromptu remark will have more effect on how it all turns out.

— Bud Norman

A Good Time to be in Switzerland

President Donald Trump is in Davos, Switzerland to hobnob with all the globalist elites who gather there every year, while back in the states all his nationalist and more working-class fans are fuming about his latest position on illegal immigration. This isn’t likely to last long, but it is a moment worth noting.
On Wednesday night Trump told an impromptu news conference that the “dreamers” who had been illegally brought here as children “had nothing to worry about,” as he jetted off for Switzerland on Thursday morning his staff was announcing a proposal to not only keep some 1.8 million of them here but also offer a path to citizenship, and by Thursday afternoon his usual apologists on right wing talk radio were quite literally screaming their objections. The proposal also included a demand for a $25 billion “trust fund” to to build a big, beautiful wall along the southern border, along with several far more reasonable proposals to curtail illegal immigration, but talk radio talkers and their callers were clearly unimpressed. A mere 25 billion won’t build the kind of sea-to-shining-sea 50-foot-tall and translucent and solar-power-generating wall that Trump vividly described during the campaign, and even the die-hard supporters who never took all that wall stuff literally did believe Trump’s oft-stated campaign assurances that he was going to kick out even the most unwitting and sympathetic illegal immigrants.
That $25 billion for a border if for now  too much ask of the Democrats, who even objected some of the far more reasonable border enforcement measures Trump was demanding, and the negotiations will be tricky. The Democrats are obliged by political reality to protect all those “dreamers” from deportation, and will eventually be obliged to give up something in return to the Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress and the Republican president, but they still hold a strong hand. All the opinion polls show that a vast majority of the country has no stomach for kicking law-abiding and military-serving and college-going semi-citizens out of the country they grew up in, several Republican congresspeople from the soft-hearted Chamber of Commerce wing of the party, and by now even Trump is in full retreat from his hard-hearted campaign trail talk and even talking about his love for the “dreamers.”
Some of those more reasonable border enforcement proposals Trump is proposing also poll well with a populace that is rightly alarmed by the country’s still-high levels of illegal immigration, and we expect the Democrats will eventually relent to most of them, but we doubt they’re quite dumb enough to up cough $25 billion for a border wall. Most of the non-talk-radio media are going to explain the negotiations as the cruel Republicans threatening to kick out a bunch of telegenically sympathetic “dreamers” to build some small portion of a wall that even the president’s chief of staff now admits was oversold on the campaign trail, Trump will be hard-pressed to argue that’s all “fake news,” there are a lot of soft-hearted Chamber of Commerce types of Republicans and all those congressional Republicans whose states and districts abut the southern border who also realize how silly the border wall ideal was all along, and as dumb as those Democrats undeniably are they’re not quite stupid enough to lose this fight.
Meanwhile, Trump was faring better at that fancy-schmantzy gathering of globalist elites in Switzerland. He had an awkward moment sharing a stage with British Prime Minister Theresa, gushing about all the rumors of tension in Anglo-American relations were “fake news” and insisting he and his British counterpart had a mutual admiration society, while she responded with classically British quietude and an apparent relief that Trump has backed out of a visit of her to country, but otherwise it went well. You don’t get to be a globalist elite without being shrewd enough to notice that Trump is highly susceptible to flattery, so most of his fellow hoity-toity hob-nobbers lavished it on, and Trump didn’t shove any prime ministers out of the way or otherwise embarrass himself as he’s done on past on international occasions.
The globalist elitists seem to genuinely like Trump’s tax-cutting and de-regulating agenda, as we generally do, yet they object to all that anti-free trade campaign trail talk he still claims to believe, as we more enthusiastically do, and we expect they’ll gain more concessions from Trump with their flattery than we have with our snarky criticisms. Trump has recently imposed tariffs on washing machines that have had the effect of making American-made washing machines more expensive, but he’s largely abandoned all that campaign trail talk about 45 percent tariffs on anything Chinese, and unless the talk radio-talkers get annoyed about that we’re hopeful that all of Trump’s promised trade wars can be averted.
When he gets back to states Trump will have to answer to all those talk-radio talkers and all those hard-line anti-illegal immigration and nationalist and protectionist Trump voters they speak for, though, and we’ll be interested to see where he winds up. If Trump’s not going to build that wall just to let a bunch of “dreamers” avoid the deportations he promised he’ll lose that 25 percent of the the country that comprises about 50 percent of his support, if he holds firm he’ll further annoy the other 75 percent, and on the whole we guess he’d rather be hobnobbing with all those billionaires in Switzerland.

— Bud Norman

Winners and Losers and Dreamers

The Republicans are claiming victory and the Democrats admitting defeat after a deal that ended the latest partial government shutdown in record time, but it’s not apparent to us that anybody won or lost anything that won’t be quickly forgotten.
The deal that minority leader Sen. Chuck Schumer and a sufficient number of his caucus agreed to fully funds the the government in exchange for a promise by majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell to have a vote of some sort at some undetermined date about the so-called “dreamers” who were illegally smuggled into the country as children, which is pretty much the same deal that was on offer prior to the vote that shut down parts of the government over the weekend. That was bad enough from a Democratic perspective that all the left-wing pundits were wailing about it, and their anger alone was sufficient reward for all the right-wing pundits to gloat about it.
The deal only fully funds the federal government for the next 17 days, though, and by then no one will remember who voted for what, and in the meantime everyone involved looks petty and stupid. McConnell’s promise to put the “dreamer” problem up for a vote was made on the Senate floor and recorded in the congressional record, too, and when he’s eventually forced to keep that promise the Republicans will likely find themselves in a losing position.
The “dreamers” are so-called because the Democrats wrote a bill to grant them permanent status that was cleverly called Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, and its acronym makes gives those alien minors that very sympathetic nickname. They’re a sympathetic lot, anyway, as they can hardly be blamed for being brought here as children, the vast majority haven’t caused any noticeable problems for anyone, and a significant and photogenic number of them are attending college or serving in the military or performing some other sort of useful labor for the country. That wasn’t enough to get the DREAM act enacted in Congress, but it kept the Republicans from preventing President Barack Obama from temporarily more or less enacting by an executive order for a Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals, which had a rather cacophonous acronym but kept all the “dreamers” who could prove they aren’t gang-bangers or welfare mooches to hang around indefinitely.
What can be done by executive order can just as easily be undone executive order, though, and President Donald Trump decided to sign one that would leave all those “dreamers” susceptible to deportation back to countries they only vaguely remember by March. His hard-line anti-illegal immigrant supporters loved it, but all the polls showed that a much larger number of Americans hated it, so Trump quickly explained that it was one of his three-dimensional chess moves to force congress to pass that DREAM act he excoriated on the campaign trail. He even wound up telling a televised bipartisan gathering of senators that he would happily sign any “bill of love” for the “dreamers,” whom he claimed to love, along with all kids.
That didn’t play well with Trump’s hard-line anti-illegal immigrant supporters, with his usual talk radio defenders crying betrayal, so he quickly clarified that he’d sign any “bill of love” so long as it included funding for his big, beautiful sea-to-shining-sea border wall and other draconian border enforcement measures. After that his chief of staff was assuring the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that Trump’s previously “uninformed” promises of a border wall had “evolved,” which was followed by an indignant presidential “tweet” that he has never evolved, and by the time the negotiations to prevent a partial government shutdown went south both the majority leader and the minority of the Senate were complaining they had no idea what the president wanted.
At this point Trump has taken more positions than his pal Stormy Daniels — insert risqué rim shot here — and there’s no telling where he’ll wind up. If he caves to some soft-hearted protections for the “dreamers” without sufficient concessions from the Democrats he’ll annoy his hard-line anti-illegal immigrant supporters, which he hates to do. If he winds up deporting a bunch of photogenically sympathetic soldiers and college students and otherwise upstanding semi-citizens back to countries they only vaguely recall his ratings will take a bigger hit, and he might hate that even worse.
Perhaps it’s all some three-dimensional chess-playing that will arrive at such an artful deal that even the most outright xenophobic portion of his hard-line anti-illegal immigration supporters will join hands with all those “open borders” left-wing crazies to sing his praises, but we doubt it. Trump’s much boasted-about deal-making genius didn’t prevent the last partial government shutdown, by all accounts those hated Republican establishment guys in congress had much more to do with it ending over a mere weekend, and Trump looks unable to long delay the inevitable next partial government shutdown.

— Bud Norman

Trump, the DREAMers, and the Resulting Mess

Way, way back during the 2016 presidential campaign, the matter of illegal immigration was a very big deal. The real-estate-and-casino-and-reality show magnate Donald Trump became President Donald Trump largely because of the very hard stand he took against it. He promised to make Mexico pay for gargantuan border wall stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean to keep out all the drugs and rapists they’d been exporting, ban all Muslims from entering the country until the country could “figure out what the hell is going on,” and prided himself on a politically incorrect position regarding any illegal immigrants who had been brought here as children.
Given the arguably as extreme open-borders position that could plausibly be attributed to the Democratic Party in general and its presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in particular, and their inability to deny it without offending a significant portion of its base, and much of the more centrist portion of the Republicans assuming that surely Trump wasn’t entirely serious about about the crazier parts of his rhetoric, it proved a shrewd move for the Republican ticket. Since then, though, the politics have become more complicated.
Trump almost immediately retreated from that pie-in-the-sky promise about Mexico happily paying for a sea-to-shining sea wall along its north border, the courts have fitfully interfered with Trump’s travel restrictions that his lawyers insist were never intended as a ban on Muslims entering the country, and those illegal immigrants who had been brought to the country as children have a far higher approval rating in all the opinion polls than Trump. He’s still insisting that the Mexicans will eventually pay for a border wall “some way or another,” but he’s no longer insisting they need a wall everywhere along the border and he’s not talking about making it translucent so that pedestrians on the northern side won’t be hit by the drugs the Mexicans are tossing over the wall. He’s also contesting all the court challenges to his travel restrictions, and seems on a winning streak, but it’s been pared down somewhat and by now even he’s stopped talking about a clearly unconstitutional Muslim ban. He can rightly brag to his most die-hard supporters that he’s had the general effect of drastically deterring illegal immigration, which we begrudgingly admit is well worth bragging about, but on that matter of all those illegal immigrants who were brought here as children he’s in full retreat.
There’s an indeterminate but undeniably large population of illegal immigrants who were brought here as children, who have mostly turned out the way the people tend to do, and what to do about them has long been a matter of public debate. Most Republicans have long maintained that illegal laws should be enforced dispassionately lest the laws become meaningless and all sorts of open-borders craziness continue, most Democrats have taken a more predictably sentimental point of view about some of the photogenic and undeniably sympathetic kids who had grown up here and become model semi-citizens through no fault of their own, and for a while it was pretty much a public relations draw. The Democrats couldn’t muster the votes the to pass the “DREAM Act” that would have protected the unwitting illegal immigrant “dreamers,” but neither could the Republicans muster the votes to prevent President Barack Obama from imposing the policy by executive action.
During the presidential campaign Trump wavered on whether he’d undo that execution action by his own executive action if he were election, and he continued to waver after he was elected. He eventually wound up rescinding the policy at some far off future date, but did so with the statement that he hoped Congress would make the policy law in the meantime.
Since then all the rest of the nation’s politics have become all the more complicated, what with all the chatter about whether Trump is sufficiently intelligent and emotionally stable for the job or the “very stable genius” he claims to be, which clearly came into play when Trump met on Tuesday with a bipartisan group of legislators to discuss the “dreamers” and the rest of the illegal immigration matter. Trump surprised everyone by letting the hated fake news videotape a full 53 minutes of the meeting, and he was clearly playing to the reality show to cameras to demonstrate that he’s like, really smart and bipartisan and politically correct, not dumb and hyper-partisan and racist like people say. He nodded respectfully at the Democratic and Republican opinions that were offered, didn’t repeat himself, and the performance had Rush Limbaugh gushing that Trump had refuted all that chatter from all that tell-all book and even the Cable News Networks’ Dana Bash was remarking that he seemed very presidential.
The kooks at the extremes weren’t fooled, though, and neither were we. When Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Trump if he’d accept a “clean” “DREAM bill” such right-of-Limbaugh commentators as Ann Coulter, author of the past best-seller and now bargain-bin book “In Trump We Trust,” were rightly appalled when he said he’d be open to that. The next guy to talk was Republican House majority leader Kevin McCarthy, who reminded Trump that of course of a “clean” “DREAM bill” would include funding his border wall and other border enforcement, and when Trump readily agreed that was what he meant by a “clean bill” the left knew that the previous statement was no longer valid. Before he ran the cameras out of the room Trump was on tape saying he’d be happy to sign anything that the people eventually came up, even if he wasn’t “in love with it,” and that he hoped whatever they came up with would “loving.”
Which leaves us with no idea how it will all turn out for those unwitting illegal immigrants or any of the rest of us, except for a certain surety that it won’t live up to Trump’s “only I can solve” campaign rhetoric. It also seems likely that Trump will wind up signing a more-or-less-clean “DREAM Act” even Obama couldn’t get passed, which would be a nice thing for those sympathetic and unwitting illegal immigrants but a blow to other unsentimental but necessary border law enforcement efforts, and at this point we don’t much care who scores the political points.
In any case the stock markets are up and the unemployment rate is down, that “Russia thing” is still looming, with  “sneaky” Feinstein also involved in that, and the question of whether Trump is intellectually and temperamentally unfit for his office or a very stable genius will continue to be a matter of public debate.

— Bud Norman

Disasters and Normality

Nature has gone on a destructive rage lately in our hemisphere, and now the entirety of Puerto Rico is without power, the same hurricane caused it is headed toward the U.S. Virgin Islands that had already been largely wiped out by last week’s hurricane, and at least 250 people died in the second major earthquake in Mexico City in the past two weeks. After the devastation wrought on Texas and Florida from two other unusually large and intense hurricanes this month, catastrophe is starting seem commonplace.
The media are still all over it, complete with scary radar images, heartbreaking footage of downed buildings and bandaged people, and heroic stories of rescue and sacrifice, but by now they’re making more room for yet another Republican attempt at repealing and replacing Obamacare, the numerous noteworthy developments in the “Russia” story, and whatever else President Donald Trump might be up to. All sorts of historic disasters, both natural and man-made, are quickly becoming normalized.
One reason the latest natural catastrophes have been somewhat downplayed is that they happened in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, which are part of America but not among the 50 states, and in Mexico, which is not part of America at all. Americans have always tended to take scant interest in anything that happens beyond our borders, and in the age of “America First” and a clamor for building a giant wall along the southern border that tendency is stronger than ever. The country is still obliged to pay its share of the costly recovery efforts in its territories, though, and would do itself a much needed public relations favor by chipping in something to help out the Mexicans, so some attention should be paid.
Eventually nature will settle down for a while, although probably not for so long as those 12 blissful years North America enjoyed without any hurricanes at all until lately, and at that point all the man-made disasters will retake their rightful places on the front page and the top of the hour. We’ll hope that the recent disasters are not forgotten, that a few of the reporters will stay on the long enough to scrutinize both the recovery efforts and the preparations for the inevitable next time, and that no one regards it as normal for two of America’s most populous cities to be underwater and two its territories wiped out altogether. Here’s hoping, too, that people don’t start to regard all those man-made disasters as at all normal.

— Bud Norman

Living the DREAM

As if they didn’t have enough messy business to deal with this month, the congressional Republicans are now obliged to decide the fate of some 800,000 “dreamers.” The issue involves complicated policy questions, the political considerations are trickier yet, and given the way everything else has been going lately it could well end badly for the Grand Old Party.
President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he would phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allowed youths whose foreign parents had illegally brought them to America as children to avoid deportation for several years and be granted work permits and permission to apply for citizenship, and because the policy had been instituted by an executive order of President Barack Obama he’s constitutionally entitled to do so.
There are strong arguments for doing so, as well, starting with the idea that the constitution requires legislative approval, and that six state attorneys general threatened to file a very promising suit about it today. There are also all those oft-made arguments about the economic and social costs of failing to enforce immigration, and if there wasn’t a widespread public sentiment for stricter enforcement Trump probably wouldn’t be president. There’s also a theoretical possibility, at least, that the deliberations of a duly-elected House and Senate might come up with some wiser than the current or previous president could think of, and if they can’t, well, that’s a pretty sad state of affairs for everybody.
There are plenty of arguments being made all over the press that Trump shouldn’t have done it, however, and our guess is that a sentimental public will now find many of them persuasive. The arguments for Trump’s order are legalistic, involve abstract analysis of the very mixed social and economic costs and benefits that any intellectually honest person will acknowledge, and must be so carefully phrased as so to leave no suspicion that any unpleasant racial motivations are involved, all of which leave Trump at a rhetorical disadvantage. The arguments against Trump’s action come with true stories about the plucky offspring of illegal immigrants who have contributed to their schools and workplaces and the American military, the video footage will show many of them to be darned cute, and Trump’s antagonists in the press are very effective at that kind of rhetoric. There’s a valid argument to be made even without the sentimentality, too, as those true stories do demonstrate the social and economic benefits that immigration bring and which any intellectually honest person must acknowledge, and even Trump concedes that the 800,000 people who suddenly find themselves facing deportation to lands they’ve never known are entirely blameless for being here.
There’s surely some wise solution to the problem, but it’s proved elusive to both Democratic and Republican congresses for several decades now, so it’s hard to see how the Republicans of the moment are going solve everything in the six months Trump’s phase-out gives them. Even when Obama was getting great press and polling well and had huge Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress they couldn’t pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, an ugly formulation that yielded the acronym DREAM and that touching “dreamers” description of the children of illegal immigrants, and when Obama decided to enact the same policy by executive order he had to admit it would have been better if Congress had acted. Now that there’s a tough-on-illegal-immigraton Republican majority in Congress and a Republican president who prides himself on being tougher on illegal immigration than anybody, we wouldn’t be much surprised if the Democrats’ DREAM at long last comes true.
Polling shows that cute kids who have contributed to their communities and are here through no fault of their own enjoy considerable public support, far more than for the president and far, far more than the Congress, and the numbers are almost as bad as the ones that sunk their long-promised plan to repeal and replace the Obamacare law. The Republican majorities in Congress don’t march in the same ideological lockstep as that Democratic majority used to, with many taking a more business-minded approach to illegal immigration and appealing to districts that won’t tolerate any suspicion of racial intolerance, and a lot of Republicans these days feel free to clash with the low-polling Trump in ways that no Democrat would have ever dared with Obama. There are enough Democrats still left in Congress that it won’t take too many Republicans in Congress who don’t want to explain to their voters why they’re kicking out that cute and blameless A student who didn’t chose to be here to get some sort of permanent residency for most of the “dreamers” passed, and a lot of the usual arguments about illegal immigration doesn’t apply to a law that deports criminals and requires tax payments and expects social and economic contributions. We can even see Trump signing it.
Our guess is that Trump signed the order in an attempt to further rouse his most hard-core supporters, most of whom are willing to be far tougher on illegal immigration than Trump really is, and even less concerned than he is if you suspect racial motivations, but he also framed the decision as a constitutional matter and hoped that Congress would come up with something that had “heart,” and that sounds suspiciously tolerant. The decision follows Trump’s pardon of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was so famously tough on illegal immigration he was convicted of routinely violating the Fourth Amendment rights of natural-born citizens who looked like they might be illegal immigrants, and a now downplayed threat to force a government shutdown to get funding for a border wall that only the most hard-core supporters seem to want, and Trump does so love those who so love him, so it’s also possible that he’ll wind up vetoing all those cute blameless kids out of the country.
There’s an opportunity to craft some piece of legislation that doesn’t kick those cute blameless kids out of the country but also includes some bipartisan-supported measures that would more strictly enforce the border and mitigate some of the economic and social costs that any intellectually honest person would acknowledge, and for now we dare to dream. The law surely wouldn’t include enough money to build a wall along the entire border of Mexico, but Trump might well sign it anyway. His political strategy of rousing his base might bring out the crowds at his ongoing campaign rallies, but what most seems to please them is anything Trump says or does to outrage all the snowflake liberals in the rest of the country, which by now includes a lot of Republicans and the vast majority of everyone else, but if he gets some extra border agents and an E-Verify requirement that should make up for the cute blameless kids who get to stay in the country.
That’s what we’re hoping for, at any rate, and there’s six whole months to get it done. This month will mostly be about keeping the government open and the Treasury from defaulting and fending off a nuclear war with the nutcase dictatorship in North Korea, as well as the cost of a recent hurricane in Texas and maybe one that seems to be heading for Florida, but after that we expect it will be clear sailing.

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The Eye of the Hurricane

The storm that has recently hit southeastern Texas and now heads to southwest Louisiana has been an historic natural disaster, with at least 22 people dead and many thousands more left homeless and property damage that will eventually be measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars, but like everything else in the news these days it’s eventually another story about President Donald Trump.
Trump was largely out of the spotlight while the cable news networks filled their 24 hours of dramatic footage of homes flattened by hurricane winds and streets submerged in water reaching the second stories of buildings, as well as the usual encouraging reports of heroic rescue efforts and the luckier people on higher ground offering food and clothing and shelter to the victims, and he might have been wise to stay there.
Despite the 22 deaths the usual stories about looting and price-gouging and bureaucratic inefficiencies and other less-than-heroic things that always occur in a natural disaster, the general impression one gathers from a 24-hour-news cycle is that things could have gone a whole lot worse, and thus far the best efforts of Trump’s most strident critics to hold him to a higher standard have probably not been successful. Trump’s most ardent admirers have tried to claim him credit for the all the good work that has been done by career federal government employees and state and local officials and individual citizens and the rest of the establishment, which also probably hasn’t been successful, but so long as Trump stayed out of the limelight and wasn’t doing the boasting himself he was likely to get some small opinion poll bump out of it.
That’s not Trump’s style, though, so on Tuesday he embarked on a fact-finding and photo-op trip to Texas that provided his strident media critics and all the late-night comics with plenty to gripe about and his staunchest supporters with a lot to explain.
Even before Trump boarded Air Force One in a windbreaker and ball cap with “USA” emblazoned on the front, there were already a couple of troublesome controversies seeping up from the back pages and bottom of the hour. As well as the predictable op-ed pieces trying to pin the blame on Trump’s climate change policies there were some more reasonable questions about the relief funds might be affected by his recent threat to shut the government down rather, and some reporters with time on their hands dug up how Trump’s budget proposals proposed slashing the budgets for all the agencies he’s now praising, and of course some years-old “tweets” about how ridiculous President Barack Obama looked during his natural disaster photo-ops.
Obama did look pretty damned dumb standing there in the rain in his windbreaker and ball cap, but all presidents do in their obligatory post-natural disaster photo-ops, and Trump should have known that he wouldn’t fare any better. Perhaps it should be obligatory that presidents provide some visual image of national unity at a time of national tragedy, and we recall several occasions, from President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address to President Franklin Roosevelt’s oration after a day that would life in infamy to the plainspoken thanks and determination that President George W. Bush shouted through a bullhorn atop the rubble of the World Trade Center, when a few sage presidential words in a fitting setting truly were a balm to the nation. Since then presidents seem to have lost the knack, though, and we never expected that Trump had it.
Trump seemed to think that the post-natural disaster fact-finding mission and photo-op was another one of his endless campaign rallies, and opened his remarks by noting “What a crowd, what a turnout.” He noted the “epic” and “historic” nature of the storm, a theme he’d already repeated throughout 22 “tweets” featuring 16 exclamation marks, and he somehow came across as more impressed than horrified by the storm’s power. He modestly said that he’d save his self-congratulations for after he’s made everything better than ever, generously shared some of the credit with the mostly-Republican state and local officials and even that Obama-era holdover he appointed to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and conceded that his work is not yet done, so it could have been worse.
Still, it could have been better. We couldn’t find the part where he praised the private charities that are raising funds and providing relief, or urged that Americans participate in the effort, or expressed any recognizable expression of empathy for those who have seen their loved ones and lives’ work washed away by a storm. Nor did he take the opportunity to assure those people that the longstanding relief efforts won’t be halted by a stubborn insistence on his fanciful notion of a large border wall across the entire Mexican border, and at a time when one of America’s most racially diverse cities was doing a pretty good job of dealing with a thousand-year-flood we thought he missed a ripe opportunity to speak of national unity.
There were some other “bad optics,” too, as they say in the politics biz. That “USA” ball cap Trump was wearing also had “45” emblazoned on one side and “Trump” in the back, and if you go to the Trump campaign web site you can purchase one just like it for $40, and the snarkier of his strident critics found that tacky. He was also accessorized by First Lady Melania Trump, who boarded Air Force One looking her usual dazzling self on a drizzly morning with a pair of dark aviator sunglasses, a faintly military style jacket, sensible black shirt and pants, as well as a pair of stiletto heels. It’s our policy to leave First Ladies out of our commentary, except on those sorts of occasions that Michelle Obama would occasionally provoke, and we’re not at all the sorts to notice women’s footwear, but the stiletto heels did strike us as an odd choice for a natural disaster photo-op, so we can hardly blame the snarkier critics for having their fun with it.
In any case, we don’t think Trump will take the same hit that Bush took after a disastrous storm struck New Orleans, or what Obama should have suffered for similar failures during other natural and man-made disasters. In Bush’s case the failures were largely due to the storm hitting one of the most dysfunctional cities in one of the most dysfunctional states in America, both of which he could have plausibly blamed on the Democratic Party’s longstanding rule there, but he chose instead to manfully accept his share of the blame. In Obama’s case the media weren’t so eager to notice his botched response to an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or how he barely seemed to notice a catastrophic flood in Nashville, and he shrewdly stayed out of the spotlight as best he could. Neither of these options, of course, are available to Trump.
No president should be given the blame for any national disaster, of course, neither should any of them be given much credit for the way that the country always seems to make the best of it. Our advice to Trump is to leave it that, and not let a stubborn insistence on stupid border wall muck things up, and tend to all those leaks about “Russia” that are starting to becoming another historic flood.

— Bud Norman

How Not to Win Friends and Influence People

Back when he started to woo evangelical Christian voters President Donald Trump liked to boast that the pastor at the Presbyterian Church he had attended as a child was Norman Vincent Peale, saying “You could listen to him all day long,” but it never seemed clear what lessons he had learned from the sermons. Peale was better known as the author of the famously best-selling self-help book “The Power of Positive Thinking,,” and it does seem clear from Trump’s recent battles with his own party’s congressional leadership that he learned all the wrong lessons from that tome.
Trump escalated his ongoing war of words with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday with another series of “tweets.” He criticized both for rejecting his advice to attach a controversial debt ceiling increase to a popular Veterans’ Administration reform bill that recently passed with bipartisan support, claiming “Could have been so easy — now a mess!” A short time later he once again “tweeted” that McConnell was solely to blame for the Senate’s failure to pass an unpopular bill to repeal and replace the formerly unpopular Obamacare law. That came shortly after Trump had quite clearly criticized both Senators from Arizona in front of a raucous campaign rally crowd, even as he complimented himself for being so presidential as to not mention either man’s name, which followed several insulting “tweets” aimed at various other Republican congressmen who had criticized Trump’s response to the deadly violence that followed a white supremacist rally in Virginia.
No matter how much Trump positively thinks nones  of which seems likely to win him any new friends or influence anyone who isn’t already a die-hard supporter.
The idea that something as controversial as a debt ceiling increase could be easily snuck into a VA bill without anyone noticing, or everyone in both parties raising a fuss that would sink even such a popular and important piece of legislation, suggests to anyone at least vaguely familiar with the legislative process that the Senate majority leader and the House Speaker know a lot more about it than does the relatively neophyte president. McConnell does indeed bear much of the blame for the Republicans’ failure to get that unpopular health care reform bill passed, but there’s enough blame to spread around that fiasco that some of it surely falls on a Republican president who had run on a campaign promise that on the first day he’d repeal Obamacare and replace it with his beautiful but not very specific plan that would cover everyone and lower costs and it would be easy for your head will spin, and Trump would do well not to give his many critics another chance to mention that. Trump’s attempts to spread around the blame for the deadly violence that occurred at a white supremacist rally have not played well with the general public thus far, and he’d be wise not to drag that out any longer.
All of which seems to complicate some already darned complicated negotiations regarding that debt ceiling increase, along with a continuing spending resolution and various other matters that must be dealt with prior to some very hard deadlines looming in the near future in order to avert all sorts of political and economic disasters. Many congressional Republicans won their seats on the promise of ending the federal government’s endless borrowing and doing so without tax increases by drastically cutting spending, others ran on the same basic principles but with a begrudging acknowledgement that it would take some time and a lot of compromises on continuing spending resolutions and debt ceiling increases all the rest of that nonsense, and Trump exponentially complicates that internecine Republican complicatedness.
Trump became the Republican president with the usual Republican promises of low taxes and balanced budgets, but also some proudly anti-Republican promises of not touching the big entitlement programs that are driving the debt and adding at least a trillion dollars of infrastructure spending, as well as his assurances that he’d done enough big real estate deals that it would be easily achieved. We’ve never been in on any big real estate deals, but we’ve been watching how Congress works a lot longer than Trump seems to have done, so we’re skeptical that can keep all those promises and won’t further complicate things.
He added even more complications during that raucous rally in Phoenix, where he hinted he’d rather force a partial government shutdown than sign any continuing spending resolution that doesn’t include full funding for his campaign promise of a tall and formidable border wall stretching across the entire border with Mexico, which he now promises will also be translucent so you can see what those wily Mexicans are up to. During the campaign Trump routing led his die-hard supporters in a chant that Mexico will pay for the wall, as president he’s threatening that he’d cause a partial government shutdown and perhaps even a federal default if the Republican-led Congress doesn’t pay for it with taxpayer funds, and we can’t imagine of the Democratic minority wanting to help him out.
From our Republican perspective out here on the prairie it seems that Trump is less interested in averting political and economic catastrophes than in making sure he once again doesn’t get blamed for them by his most die-hard supporters. McConnell and Ryan and the rest of the Republican party are easy enough targets, we must admit, so there’s a certain self-interested reason for those insulting “tweets.” As pillars of the Republican establishment they’re already reviled by the entirety of the Democratic party, and they do indeed shoulder a share of the blame for the Grand Old Party’s recent failures to make good on the opportunity of its recent political dominance, and the talk radio talkers and most of their grassroots listeners have bitched and moaned out long enough that Trump got nominated and even more improbably elected on the promise to burn the down the establishment.
At the time we wondered how Trump’s mostly-reluctant 46 percent share of the popular presidential vote was going to prevail against the combined might of both the Democratic and Republican parties, as well as all the economic and civic and academic and religious institutions that comprise the much-maligned establishment, and thought that “burn it down” was a peculiar rallying cry for conservatism, and at this point we’re hoping that some semblance of the pragmatic Republicanism we always voted for will somehow prevail. At this point that means rooting for the likes of McConnell and Ryan and against Trump and his and ridiculous border wall idea, and hoping there are still enough sensible Democrats to join with averting the looming political and economic disasters, but so be it.
For all their failures both McConnell and Ryan still strike us as more serious men than Trump, and we’re heartened they don’t seem at all influenced by Trump’s “tweets.” Ryan did his best to ignore Trump’s “tweeting” on Thursday, and instead had an impressive “town hall” appearance at a Boeing factory in the Seattle area, where he made a clear case for the Boeing-friendly corporate tax reforms that both he and Trump are working for. Some of the questioners questioned Ryan’s support for de-funding the Export-Import Bank that Boeing has taken generous advantage of, and he gave a very detailed explanation about how other reforms he’s pursuing would leave the company just as well advantaged, and we can’t imagine Trump giving a better answer. One Boeing employee asked a rather frank question about how he was dealing with Trump’s latest public pronouncements, which she seemed to find troubling, and Ryan deftly replied “It’s a day-by-day deal,” adding “I am kind of joking.”
We can’t find any press reports of questions about Trump’s protectionist trade policies, which aren’t likely to benefit Boeing’s largely export-driven business, and although Ryan is far more a traditional Republican free-trader than we suspect they were both glad of that. At this point we’re liking the Republican establishment that Trump vowed to burn down than we’re liking Trump, but we can’t say that give us a hopeful feeling.
Even a partial government shutdown would be a political disaster that can’t plausibly be blamed on that darned Democratic minority, a federal default would be a catastrophic global economic disaster that makes everyone in the American body politic culpable, so surely some sort of desultory-to-all-sides deal will eventually be struck, We’d feel a whole lot more hopeful, though, if any of the players seemed more interested in averting the looming catastrophe than avoiding any blame for it.

— Bud Norman

By the Time We Get to Phoenix

President Donald Trump’s ongoing campaign rallies are always the sort of thing that people who like things of that sort will enjoy, and we’re sure that his most ardent fans were wowed by the performance he delivered Tuesday night in Phoenix, but we doubt that anybodyabout else was much impressed. To our ears it seemed the most blatantly dishonest, deliberately divisive, and downright demagogic oration we can recall from an American president.
Trump started off with characteristic boasting about how both his campaign and presidency have stressed the values of truth, unity, and universal love, but after that most of it was devoted to explaining how the only reason anyone might have gotten the wrong impression about it was because all of his critics are evil people who hate America and are determined to thwart his singular attempts to make it great again, and just in case anyone harbored any doubts about his sincerity he added that he really believes that. By now that evil and America-hating cohort includes not only the “sick people” in all but a favored few of the media outlets, the entirety of the Democratic party, certain members of the Republican party that Trump coyly declined to name but you know who he was talking about, such rank-and-file Republicans as ourselves, establishment institutions ranging from the Boy Scouts of America to the people who make Campbell’s Soup, and according to the same opinion polls Trump used to cite back when they showing him winning the Republican primary it now comprises some 60 percent or more of the country.
None of whom, we strongly suspect, were buying any of it. He did did say all that about truth and unity and love in the deadly aftermath of a white supremacist rally in Virginia, and we know this because those “sick people” in the media ran all the lengthy footage of remarks, along with the the parts where he always claims the media isn’t recording his media-bashing, but he also spoke about spreading the blame over “many sides,” repeating “many sides” to make clear he really believed that, and he mentioned that the white supremacists had a permit and those protesting their presence in the community didn’t, and he spoke about how there were “many very fine people” marching in the torch-bearing and Nazi-flag waving rally, and there’s no denying the white supremacists who organized the rally “tweeted” their thanks for the response. It seems unlikely that any of the “sick people” in the media could have computer-generated these images on such short notice, however, and even the media outlets that Trump favorably mentioned wound up running the same footage, so Trump would have better quelled the now-ongoing controversy by frankly acknowledging that some very fine people might have gotten the wrong impression from the totality of his remarks.
Frank acknowledgements are not Trump’s style, however, so he doubled down on his message of truth and unity and universal love by doubling down on his hateful attacks on his critics in the Republican party with some pretty weaselly language.
Two of Trump’s most troublesome critics in his party are the Senators from Arizona, and he quite specifically excoriated both for their apostasy while congratulating himself for being so politically correct as to not mention their names. One of the Senators that Trump maligned is John McCain, whom the draft-dodging Trump had infamously criticized for being “captured” during the Vietnam war and had more recently cast a deciding vote against a Republican health care bill with a 17 percent approval rating in all the polls, and the other was junior Sen. Jeff Flake, who is on board with the repeal-and-replacement of Obamacare and most of the rest of Trump’s seeming agenda but has outspokenly expressed doubts about Trump’s temperament and rhetoric. Trump won Arizona’s electoral votes handily, and seemed quite popular with the five thousand or so Arizonans who attended the rally, but McCain and Flake were doing even better in the state back when Trump was a reality show star and Democratic donor, so there’s no telling how this will play in Arizona, but in the other 49 states we think Trump probably picked another losing fight.
Before the speech Trump’s White House had leaked that he wouldn’t pardon the Phoenix area’s former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and sure enough he didn’t mention Arpaio by his full name or officially offer a pardon, and thus any media outlet that says he did can be considered “fake news,” but one could easily come to the conclusion that a pardon for Arpaio is forthcoming. “So Sheriff Joe was convicted for doing his job? You know what, I’ll make a prediction,” Trump said. “I think he’s going to be just fine, okay? But I won’t do it tonight, because I don’t want to make any controversy.”
One needn’t be from Arizona to know that Arpaio was nationally celebrated for the tough treatment of his department’s jailed suspects and his even tougher enforcement of immigration laws, as well as being widely reviled for the violations of the civil rights of people who were just jailed suspects and a lot of other folks who were naturalized and hereditary-after-many-generations Americans who wound up in jail for no reason other than they looked suspiciously brown, and that he’s one of those divisive figures in American politics. A federal court found Arpaio’s clearly stated policy of jailing anyone a sheriff’s officer might suspect of looking like an illegal Mexican, in a city with such a large population of Mexican-looking but hereditarily-for-more-generations-than-Arpaio’s-family Americans, was a violation of the constitution, and even such rank-and-file law-and-order and tough-on-border-enforcement Republicans such as ourselves have to admit that he was rightly convicted of defying the court’s constitutionally authorized order to case and desist.
Announcing leniency for Arpaio, no matter how coyly, is an unlikely claim in Trump’s case for truth and unity and universal love. In the same speech Trump criticized the “sanctuary cities” that were offering protection to illegal immigrants suspected of crimes, a practice that has long offended our rank-and-file law-and-order Republican sensibilities, but that doesn’t mean we’ll go along with the pardon of a Trump-backing Republican sheriff in Arizona who just as brazenly defied a higher federal authority’s order to case and desist from locking up any Arizonans who looked at all Mexican.
In the further interest of truth and unity and universal love Trump quadrupled or quintupled on his original campaign promise of building a wall across the entire border of Mexico, which he now promises will be translucent so that we can see what those wily Mexicans are up to on the other side, and the enthusiastic audience responded with the rote chants of “build that wall!” By now Trump isn’t making the old claims about how Mexico’s going to pay for it and be glad for the privilege, but he did suggest he’d rather endure a government shutdown than let those wily Republicans pass a continuing spending resolution or debt-ceiling increase that didn’t require America to pay for his stupid idea about a suddenly translucent wall stretching across the entire Mexican border.
There were also cheers for the president’s better speech of the night before about continuing America’s long war in Afghanistan, and from pretty much the same Phoenix crowd that had lustily cheered his previous local promises of a quick withdrawal from the conflict just as lustily cheered, and except for fans of Steve Bannon and Alex Jones and the furthest fringes of the far right media he probably  didn’t lose much support even if he surely didn’t gain a single point. In any case, he didn’t bolster his case for truth and unity and universal love. Like all Trump campaign rallies it ended with The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and we’re still unclear what that’s all about.
So far as we can tell from the “sick people” in the national media and seemingly less sick people in the local Phoenix media, the numerous Trump supporters in the arena and the approximately equal number of Trump protesters outside it all managed to home without incident. That’s a fairly encouraging sign of truth and unity and universal, by current standards, but then again it might yet prove just a devious momentary tactic evil people who hate America.

— Bud Norman