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Meanwhile, Far South of the Border

The weather around here has been awful lately, but we’ve taken some comfort in reading about how much worse it’s been to the north and east. Similarly, no matter how bad America’s politics get we can still be glad that we’re not living in Venezuela.
Not so long ago in our lifetimes the oil-rich nation of Venezuela was prosperous and peaceful by Latin American standards, but the socialist regimes of President Hugo Chavez and then President Nicolas Maduro have wrought an unmitigated economic disaster. Unemployment is sky-high, such basic necessities as toilet paper are desperately hard to find, and the inflation rate is a staggering one million percent. Mass protests are filling the streets of the capital and other cities, the guy who lost the last presidential election under highly suspect circumstances is plausibly claiming to be the legitimate head of state, and it makes America’s protracted and seemingly intractable partial government shutdown look like no big deal.
President Donald Trump’s administration has pleasantly surprised us by siding with opposition leader Juan Guaido’s claim to the Venezuelan presidency, which is backed by those hundreds of thousands of protestors packing the streets, as well as the governments of several of the country’s South American neighbors. It’s surprising in part because Russia and the Venezuelan military and the more autocratic government of America are still backing Maduro, as well as the fact that Trump typically admires his strong man style of governance, and that Trump doesn’t usually much care what goes on south of America’s border so long as it stays there. We’ll attribute it to a traditional Republican revulsion for Latin American socialism and the clout of the very traditional Republican Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but give Trump some credit nonetheless.
Which is not to say that it will prove helpful to Venezuela, and it’s possible it could make things worse. There’s an understandable if not entirely unjustified resentment of Yankee imperialism throughout Latin America, which Latin American dictators have long used to rally public opinion against even the best-intended and well-considered efforts to intervene in their affairs, and Maduro should and Maduro should be able make even more hay of it when the Yankee imperialist is the hated-throughout-Latin-America Trump. Maduro retains the the support of the military, which we doubt Trump wants to tangle with, as well as Russia and Cuba and Bolivia and other countries Trump is eager to make deals with, while China and Mexico and other important trading partners are staying on the sidelines, and Trump is known for making his own sudden expedient policy shifts to the sidelines.
Even so, for now Trump finds himself on the side of Canada and most members of the Organization of American States and those hundreds of thousands of protestors taking to the streets, and we’re hopeful he’ll stay there. Chavez and to a lesser extent Maduro were once the darlings of America’s radical left, and the American right’s favorite cautionary tale about the consequences of socialism, and for now the right is clearly winning that argument. Although Maduro is a classic populist strongman autocrat and that Guaido fellow is a thin and youthful and handsome and glib fellow who reminds of a Venezuelan version of America’s Democratic center-left darling Beto O’Rourke, Trump is probably politically astute enough to know his stand will play well with all sorts of freedom-loving Americans.
Meanwhile, most of the rest of the world also seems worse off than we are here in frigid Kansas. Crazy Venezuelan-style left wing populism has much of Central America heading to the United States border, and crazy Trump-style populism is currently making things worse in Brazil and Poland and Hungary and Italy and the Philippines. The sensibly centrist governments of France and the United Kingdom are currently in crisis, too, with the streets of Paris once again burning and the Parliament in London trying to find its way out of a slumping European Union.
Better by far to be here in frigid Kansas than in China or Russia, or anywhere in Africa and the Arab world, or even the most up-to-date and well-heated cities of Asia and Europe. We’re still eagerly awaiting spring and the reopening of the federal government, and in the meantime we’ll warm ourselves with the knowledge of how much worse most of the rest of world’s unlucky folks have it.

— Bud Norman

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Et Tu, Drudge?

Ever since it started linking to Infowars and Gateway Pundit and other crackpot conspiracy theory sites we’ve gotten out of the habit of reading The Drudge Report, but we’ll still occasionally take a look to see the latest spin on behalf of President Donald Trump. Imagine our surprise, then, when the high-traffic internet site’s top headlines were  Trump’s lowest-ever public approval rating in the Rasmussen poll and then “Shutdown Turns Nightmare Govt Paralyzed.”
Trump’s approval rating in the latest Rasmussen poll is 43 percent, which is still higher than in any other poll, but given the source it’s a worrisome number. Rasmussen has long had a reputation as a Republican-leaning firm, and consistently been an outlier among the polling on Trump, and has recently reported his approval rating over 50 percent. In in the past its polling has been vindicated by election results, but it’s policy of only calling land line phones seems outdated, as the only remaining people with landslides are either very wealthy or very old and are thus more inclined than the rest of to appreciate Trump’s tax bill and nostalgic appeals to a bygone era of manly coal miners and steel workers and not so many Mexicans. That Trump can’t garner majority approval from such a favorably skewed sample should cause him to reconsider several things he’s doing.
It’s bad news that the likes of The Drudge Report was trumpeting the numbers, too, and worse yet when the Trump-friendly site is guiding its millions of viewers to a story about how the recording-setting partial government shutdown is causing long delays at America’s airports as unpaid federal security officials start calling in sick.
The more reliably pro-Trump media are arguing that the shutdown is no big deal, as all those lazy federal workers are going to get paid eventually, and that there’s something to be said for a small government in the meantime, but the “fake news” keeps countering with all-too-real stories about how those government workers won’t be compensated for the interest they pay borrowing money to pay their bills, the hundreds of thousands of government contract workers who won’t be compensated, farmers having trouble getting the subsidies they were promised when Trump’s trade wars drove commodity prices down, and all sorts of regular people having problems that will go uncompensated. According to all the opinion polls, including Rasmussen, most people seem to agree the partial government shutdown is bad for America.
Trump is blaming it on the Democrats’ obstinate refusal to appropriate a measly few billion dollars to build a big and beautiful wall along the entirety of America’s border with Mexico, but after Trump told the Democratic congressional leaders a national television that he would be proud to shutdown the governor for his wall and would blame them the opinion polls show most Americans disagreeing. Trump and his defenders argue that without a big and beautiful wall America’s southern border will soon be overrun by caravans of terrorists and gang members and fecund families itching to cast illegal votes for Democrats, but the opinion polls suggest he’s losing that argument in the court of public opinion as well.
Trump ran for president on the boast that he’s the greatest negotiator in history, and despite his several bankruptcies and more numerous failed businesses a sufficient plurality of the electorate provided him with an electoral victory, but for now he seems in a bad negotiating position. His most hard-core fans will be dispirited by any concessions to the Democrats on funding a big and beautiful wall along the entire southern border, but the Democrats have their own hard-core supporters to worry about and no apparent reason to make any concessions to Trump. The longer this already-longest partial government shutdown continues the worse it will get for Trump in the polls, eventually even more Republicans will succumb to political reality, and it will be interesting to see what the greatest negotiator in history will come up with.
For now the stock markets are slugging along and no new wars have broken out, but that means except for a record-setting increase in America’s trade deficit with China the only other news in the papers is about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s suspicions that Trump is a Russian operative and Trump’s former campaign manager admitting he shared polling data with the Russkies and Trump keeping his discussions with the Russian dictator a secret from his own administration. None of that seems likely to help Trump’s poll numbers, either, and we’ll be checking in occasionally to see what The Drudge Report has to say about that.

— Bud Norman

Casualties of the Trade War

Trade wars are good and easy to win, according to one of President Donald Trump’s most famous “tweets,” but the smart money on Wall Street seems to disagree. The Dow Jones Industrial average plummeted a scary 799 points on Tuesday, the other major stock market indices dropped a similar 3-plus percent, and the clear cause was Trump’s apparently ongoing trade war with China.
After a dinner meeting with Chinese President Xi Jiping at the G-20 gathering Argentina on Saturday Trump announced that he’d won such majors concessions from China as huge agricultural buys from American farmers and eliminating any tariffs on American-made automobiles, and was therefore prepared to pause a trade war that has thus far proved disastrous for both countries, which led to big stock market gains on Monday. By Tuesday the Chinese were denying they’d made anything like the extraordinary concessions that Trump had bragged about, Trump’s economic policy advisors were walking most of it back, and Trump himself was “tweeting” that “President Xi and I both want this deal to happen, and it probably will. But if not remember, I am a Tariff Man.” A later “tweet” shouted that “We are either going to have a REAL DEAL with China, or no deal at all – at which point we will be charging major tariffs against Chinese product being shipped into the United States.” Despite the poor grammar, the “tweets” clearly communicated that the trade war continues, and won’t be easily won, so the smart money on Wall Street responded accordingly.
On our way home from an evening chore we heard one of the right-wing talk radio talkers say that Trump had nothing to do with the stock market drop, and he somehow blamed it on the Apple and Boeing companies instead, but Trump and his apologists always find someone else to blame. We’re more inclined to believe the smart money opinion of the JPMorgan financial juggernaut, which told its investors in a trading note that “It doesn’t seem that anything was actually agreed to at the dinner and White House officials are contorting themselves into pretzels to reconcile Trump’s tweets (which seem if not completely fabricated then grossly exaggerated) with reality.” We’re not impressed much by JPMorgan’s prose style, either, but it does clearly communicate the truth of the matter.
Trump’s apologists would do better to argue that China’s trade policies well deserve an aggressive response, as they do indeed charge unfair tariffs and make the theft of American intellectual property a condition of doing business with American companies and benefit from the slave wages paid to many of China’s workers, but it’s harder to argue that Trump is winning. As bad as China’s trading policies might be, Trump was claiming full credit for a booming stock market and rising commodity prices when he declared the trade wars with China and most of the rest of the industrialized world, so he can’t dodge blame for things going downhill ever since. Trump’s bad habit of doing his end zone dance before he reaches the goal line make him look the more ridiculous to the American public and on the world stage every time, and harder for him to make that great deal he’s always promising. China’s dictator Xi doesn’t doesn’t have to worry about public opinion, and although world opinion doesn’t favor him it does take him seriously, and China’s economy is either the biggest or second-biggest in the world, depending on how you figure it, and prematurely boasting about the concessions you won from him probably isn’t the best negotiating strategy with a wily Chinese leader and his traditional Chinese obsession with saving face.
The sort of low-key and culturally-sensitive and behind-the-scenes negotiations that might have yielded improved trade relations between China and a formidable American economy and steadfastly principled  and experienced American president aren’t Trump’s style, however, and for now we expect more tariffs and “tweets” and stock market downturns. In the long run Trump might yet get the greatest deal ever with his bull-in-a-china-shop approach, if you’ll forgive the culturally insensitive cliche, but on Tuesday the smart money wasn’t betting on it.

— Bud Norman

A Great Leap Backwards

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, as George Santayana once famously remarked, and President Donald Trump does not strike us an astute student of history. This doesn’t necessarily doom us to repeat history’s worst mistakes, but it has often proved embarrassing for Trump, at least for those of who do study history.
Trump has made public comments that suggest he believed Frederick Douglass was still alive and is recently getting the credit he’s long deserved, was surprised to learn that President Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, and that the slave-whipping President Jackson of Trail of Tears infamy had a “big heart” and would have averted a Civil War if only he’d been president a couple of decades longer, retold some disproved tales about General “Black Jack” Sherman executing Islamist prisoners with pig’s-blood-soaked bullets, and he continues to believe that he’s a historically popular and successful president despite all evidence. He also seems either unaware or unconcerned that his “America First” slogan was coined by the pre-World War II isolationist movement that thought America could peacefully coexist with an Axis-dominated world, and that the term “nationalist” is by now associated with other unsavory movements, and that a “leap forward” has certain unhappy connotations when used in the context of Chinese-American relations.
Trump has recently negotiated a cease-fire in the trade war he launched against China, which for now has a salutatory effect on the international stock markets, but it remains to be seen what the eventual armistice will look like. Trump is already touting major concessions, the Chinese are saying otherwise, and Trump’s underlings are putting the best face on it, and Trump is “tweeting” that it’s a “big leap forward.” Both Chinese and English-speaking people of a certain historical bent could help be reminded of China’s previous “Great Leap Forward,” Chairman Mao Tse Dong’s forced-collectivization policy that resulted in mass starvation and cannibalism and a human-made humanitarian disaster that rivals anything in history, Stalin and Hitler notwithstanding. Perhaps it’s just an unfortunate turn of phrase, as when the flawed but undeniably humane President Jimmy Carter said he thought a second term would have brought a “final solution” for Israel, but it’s still the kind of a thing that a well-educated president should know to avoid.
Meanwhile, back on the home front, the “Russia thing” seems to be heating up, and Trump seems to have forgotten all the lessons he might have learned from the “Watergate thing,” if he’d been paying any attention. That commie bastard Karl Marx famously remarked that history always repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce, and we’ll be angrily annoyed if he’s proved correct once again.

— Bud Norman

George H.W. Bush, RIP

President George Herbert Walker Bush died on Friday, and given the rancorous political rhetoric of today we were pleased to see how very respectful all the obituaries and public comments have been. Even the news media that were most critical of Bush over his long career in public service duly acknowledged his many historic accomplishments, and all his past foes joined his many friends in praising the man’s patriotic character. This will probably be the last time we see any American sent off with such bipartisan praise, and we fear it marks the passing on era when that was not only possible but fairly commonplace.
Bush was born 94 years ago in a bygone era of genteel New England Republicanism, the son of a wealthy businessman and future Senator and a socialite mother, and was educated in the best schools that a wealthy New England family could buy. As a star student and promising athlete he was admitted to the elite Yale University, but against his parents’ wishes he volunteered for the Navy at the outset of World War II, became one of the military’s youngest aviators, and came back with medals never wore and heroic tales he rarely told about parachuting from a burning plane and being luckily rescued by a submarine that happened to be nearby. At long last enrolled at Yale, he was a Phi Beta Kappa student and the captain and star first baseman of the school’s championship-contending baseball team. He also wed the shy but attractive socialite Barbara Pierce, a descendant of President Franklin Pierce, and they stayed married and quite obviously in love for the rest of their lives.
Instead of taking his Yale education and distinguished war record to Wall Street or an academic sinecure or some other obvious choice for wealthy New Englander, Bush went west to a particularly barren portion of west Texas to make his fortune in the rough-and-tumble oil business, and wound doing quite well for himself and his growing family. By age 40 he figured he’d made enough money to let the investment income accrue, and with an old New England sense of noblesse oblige he commenced one of the most remarkable careers of public service in American history.
Bush started in the humble position of Harris County, Texas’ Republican party, and lost his first race for the House of Representatives shortly thereafter. He won the seat two years later, a rare feat for a Texas Republican way back in ’66, an in two terms earned reputation as a centrist who voted for civil rights legislation he’d earlier opposed and bucked the party’s position on birth control but backed President Richard Nixon’s controversial Vietnam policies. At Nixon’s urging Bush ran for the Senate in ’70, and lost to Democratic nominee Lloyd Bentsen — more about that later — but was rewarded with an appointment to be ambassador to the United Nations. He served as national chairman of the Republican party during the Watergate, somehow keeping his reputation intact, and was then head liaison to China just after Nixon famously normalized relations, and was then the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
With such an impressive resume Bush was considered a front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 1980, but there was already an anti-establishment sentiment brewing in the party, and he lost to former California governor and far more forcefully conservative Ronald Reagan. Although it had been a hard-fought primary campaign by both sides, Reagan chose Bush as his running mate, partly to appease the still-potent establishment wing of the party, and partly because of Bush’s impressive resume. The choice worked out well for the Republican party, with Reagan winning two landslides and Bush earning a third term parties rarely win, beating the ticket of Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis and the aforementioned Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. Even his harshest critics of the time now agree it worked out pretty well for the rest of the world, too, with Reagan’s aggressive policies winning the Cold War and Bush’s more cautious diplomacy successfully negotiating the peace.
Bush’s long experience of foreign policy brought other masterstrokes. Although it was controversial at the time, his decision to invade Panama and arrest its dictator after several provocations was carried out with stunning efficiency and looks good in retrospect, and no one in Panama is griping about it. When the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded neighboring Kuwait in violation of international law and basic human decency, Bush drew a famous line in the sand, and enforced it with an undeniable brilliance. He won the approval of both Russia and China and the rest of the UN’s Security Council to fight the aggression, assembled an international coalition of nations that included all the keys players in the Middle East, then unleashed a near-perectly conceived military plan that drove the Iraqi army out of Kuwait before the first anti-war protest could be organized. Casualties were miraculously low, international law had been enforced, America’s world leadership was unchallenged, and Bush briefly enjoyed a record-setting 90 percent approval rating.
The public is fickle, though, and when the Reagan economic boom eventually ran into an inevitable recession Bush got the blame for the business cycle. The recession was relatively brief and mild by historical standards, and was largely over by the time Bush’s re-election day arrived, but he’d be hammered by the press for the pardons he issued to everyone involved in the unfortunate but now largely forgotten Iran-Contra scandal, and it was easy to caricature him as a well-heeled New Englander who didn’t understand the common folk. He had the misfortunate to run not only against “Slick Willie” Clinton, a Yale-educated snake oil salesman from small town Arkansa who could bite his lip and convince the common folk he felt their pain, but also the independent candidate Ross Perot, a megalomaniacal billionaire who told the anti-establishment sorts of Republicans who’d long distrusted Bush’s kinder and gentler conservatism everything they wanted to hear. Thus Bush became the most consequential and respected-by-history one-term president since John Adams.
Bush wasn’t one to seek revenge, but he got a small measure of it when his eldest son, George W. Bush, won the presidency after Clinton’s two peaceful and prosperous but scandal-ridden terms, becoming the first son of a president to win the office since John Quincy Adams. That’s a whole ‘nother story, as they say down in Texas, and it will continue to be rewritten long after the younger Bush’s obituaries are published, but the elder Bush’s popularity grew through his retirement. In keeping with the longstanding traditions that Bush always kept, he kept his political opinions mostly to himself through the Clinton and Bush and Obama administrations, and instead devoted his considerable energy to bipartisan good deeds. With no political opinions in the way people came to further appreciate his sunny disposition and impeccable manners, his love of God and family and country, and everything he embodied about the bygone era of noblesse oblige and New England Republicanism.
One of the endearing little details in all the respectful obituaries is about Bush’s friendship with the comedian Dana Carvey, who used to do a hilariously satirical impersonation of Bush on the “Saturday Night Live” show. Most politicians would have found it offensive, but Bush found it hilarious, and he invited Carvey to the shtick at the White House correspondent’s dinner and other events. After he lost his reelection bid he asked his friend to do the routine at the White House, and Carvey tearfully recalls it was because Bush though his staff needed some cheering up. The famous catch phrase of Carvey’s impersonation was “Nah, nah, not gonna do it, wouldn’t be prudent,” but as even The Washington Post duly noted, Bush’s greatest gift to America was his prudence, a quality currently out of style.
Even President Donald Trump is respectfully noting Bush’s death, and we’re glad to see that. Bush was the quintessence of the Republican establishment and the “globalist” foreign policy that Trump ran against, and he’d criticized the elder Bush’s decision not to topple Hussein and then falsely accused the younger Bush of lying America into a war to topple Hussein, and he’d ridiculed the “low energy” of another prominent Bush family member who sought the presidency. Trump isn’t one to let a family feud rest, but at least he seems to know better than to invite any comparisons at this moment in time.

— Bud Norman</p

America First, Morality After That

President Donald Trump sat down for an interview with Lesley Stahl of the “60 Minutes” program that aired on Sunday, far away from the friendly confines of “Fox and Friends,” and of course it was full of news.
He suggested that Defense Secretary Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis, widely considered a restraining influence on Trump’s more rash foreign policy impulses, is “sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth,” and might soon be leaving the White House. He wouldn’t comment on how long Attorney General Jeff Sessions will be around, except to say “We’ll see what happens come midterms,” which suggests that something will happen after the looming midterm elections. He denied mocking the woman who alleged that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault while they were both high schools, although Trump sure did seem to revel in all the laughs he got talking about her at a recenta campaign rally. He effused about the trustworthiness of murderous North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, but added “That doesn’t mean I can’t be proven wrong,” which is newsworthy for its uncharacteristic modesty.
More striking to us, though, was Trump’s continued affinity for murderous Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and murderous Saudi Arabian dictator Mohammad bin Salam, and his apparent insouciance about murderous dictatorships in general.
Although Trump  now grudgingly acknowledges that yeah, Putin probably did meddle in America’s past presidential election, which all of America’s intelligence agencies insist with complete certainty,  he added that China’s murderous dictatorship probably did the same, which no intelligence agency has suggested, and he seemed to shrug it all off as business as usual. Way back in the campaign Trump told friendly Fox News interviewer Bill O’Reilly that yeah, Putin occasionally a journalist or dissident or political opponent or two, but “There a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers. Well, do you think our country’s so innocent?,” and he told the far feistier Stahl the relies on Russia, and he noted with apparent satisfaction that Putin none of Putin’s recent assassination attempts have happened in America or to Americans abroad.
Trump has talked tough about “severe punishment” for Saudi Arabia if it’s proved the government brutally murdered and dismembered self-exiled Saudi dissident and Washington Post writer and legal American resident Jamal Kashoggi, as all of the world’s intelligence agencies and every sane observer has concluded, but we expect it will require some rather extraordinary proof before he’s nudged to say that yeah, they probably did it. Even if he is somehow convinced that the Saudi friends who treated to him to such a flattering state visit and do billions of dollars of business with American corporations of millions of dollars of business with his own still wholly-owned companies, he’s already pointed out that the alleged killing happened in Turkey, “and to the best of our knowledge, Kashoggi is not a United States citizen.” An American president should speak with more certainty about such easily learnable facts, and should also be aware the a legal residency in the United States also entitles one to the protection of the state, but Trump clearly thinks America lacks the moral standing to fuss about such things.
Trump bluntly told the country as much before he was elected. He said so not only to O’Reilly and his Fox viewers but to all the revved-up rally crowds that chanted along with his “America First” slogan, not knowing or caring it faithfully echoed the pre-World War II isolationist movement that thought Fortress America could get along just fine in a world otherwise ruled by the Axis powers. Long before he started his unlikely political career Trump had hired a ghostwriter to pen “The Art of Deal,” which explicitly described his Machiavellian worldview of everything in life from love to business to foreign relations as a zero-sum game that comes down to winners and losers, with the rules being strictly for suckers. Even as he successfully courted the evangelical Christian vote, he made it quite clear he didn’t believe in all that nonsense loving one’s neighbor and turning the other cheek and the meek being blessed.
On one warm and sunny Hawaiian December day in ’41 America realized that despite two oceans and a couple of placid neighbors to the north and south America could not get along just fine with the Axis powers, and with the help of some carefully cultivated democratic allies the country waged a costly but ultimately victorious war against those murder dictatorships. The allies also  much needed the help of a murderous communist dictatorship in Russia, which waged a fare more costly war but a sizable victory of it, as well as an unpleasantly authoritarian regime in China that soon fell to an even more murderous communist dictatorship, but somehow the free and democratic nations of the world cobbled together trade agreements and diplomatic arrangements and military alliances that have worked the necessary moral compromise out pretty well for most part over the past 70-plus, at least relative to most of humankind’s bloody and impoverished history.
There have been plenty of wars and moral compromises along the way, of course. Fighting Chinese and Soviet communism involved a couple of horrific wars that resulted in a still-troublesome tie on the Korean peninsula and a arguable loss to a unified and more-or-less capitalist Vietnam that now offers potential strategic advantages to the United States, and America has overlooked some unsavory behavior from anti-communist regimes and any country that can help keep the international economy well lubricated with oil. There were greater moral exigencies to be arguably considered at the time, though, and at no point did any Republican or Democratic president ever signaled that he didn’t much about such behavior. Those bipartisan fancy-pants “experts” got a lot of things wrong, but they also rebuilt former vanquished adversaries into formidable friends, nurtured the free and democratic nations they had rescued from murderous dictatorships, and we think they know better than Trump, and we’ll hate to see the last few of them leave his administration.
Trump is quite right that America has done a lot of killing, and that like any country populated by mere human beings we’re not so innocent, but we think he’s quite wrong to suggest America should begin to atone for its sins by giving the green-light to any of his favored murderous dictators to keep killing off any pesky journalists or political opponents or assorted dissidents. We don’t think it will help make America great again.

— Bud Norman

A Clear Win for Trump to Exaggerate

President Donald Trump scored a significant win on Monday with a newly-neogiated trade pact with both Canada and Mexico, thus giving him something to grossly exaggerate during the upcoming mid-term elections.
So far as we can tell from the mainstream media accounts, Trump now has a very plausible case to grossly exaggerate in his characteristic way. Although NAFTA remains mainly intact, Trump has won the concession that it’s now called the “United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement,” or the more cumbersome “USMCA,” and we’re relieved that he didn’t insist on “Trump” in the name,and we can’t deny the latest negotiations include some sweet deals for Wisconsin’s dairy framers and some likely raises in pay for Mexico’s automotive assembly line workers, and we can’t deny that on the whole it’s a pretty good deal.
Still, we’re suspicious that it’s really the greatest deal anybody’s ever seen, as Trump is already proclaiming, and we’ll watch how it plays out in those mid-term elections. We’re glad for those Wisconsin dairy farmers who were previously and unfairly denied market access to those damnably protectionist Canadians, and we’re glad for those Mexican assembly line workers who will probably be getting a raise soon, but we doubt the latest periodic re-ngotiations of the still largely extant NAFT treaty represent the difference between the worst deal America ever made and the greatest deal ever that even trump could Trump could only negotiate. Here in Kansas the grain farmers are still anxious about Trump’s ongoing trade war with Chinaand so are the local aviation workers. we’d advise Trump that he shouldn’t get tired of winning just yet.

— Bud Norman

Doubling Down on a Dumb Trade War

Way back when we were proud to be Republicans, it was largely because of the Grand Old Party’s principled stand for red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism. When Republican nominee Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama during a campaign debate of picking the economic winners and losers, and mostly picking the losers, we stood up and cheered. Now the Republicans are obliged to defend President Donald Trump’s protectionist trade war against the rest of the world, and to ignore the fact that he’s picking the economic winners and losers and mostly picking the losers.
On Monday Trump escalated the trade war with China by threatening $200 billion of tariffs on that country’s exports to the United States, his earlier threat of a mere $50 billion of tariffs having failed to force China’s capitulation to his trade demands, and of course China immediately responded with threats of retaliatory tariffs. Of course the stock markets hated the news, and so did everyone else with a basic understanding of the global economy. It’s bad economic policy, has warped America’s foreign policy to the point that North Korea’s nutcase dictator Kim Jong-Un is a an honorable leader much beloved by his starving people and Canada’s democratically elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a weak and dishonest leader who awaits a special place in hell and all of our longtime allies are suspect, and in the long run it will prove bad politics.
Trump’s tariffs on steel and coal imports will surely be popular with people employed in those industries, but it will just as surely be unpopular with people who work in steel- and coal-buying industries, and anyone who buys anything made of steel or powered by coal, and the latter categories are by far a bigger voting bloc. There are also a lot of wheat farmers and airplane-makers who do a brisk trade with China and will surely be chagrined if China decides to buy from Argentina or Airbus, and a large chunk of Trump’s die-hard defenders will eventually notice that their shopping trips to Wal-Mart are suddenly far more expensive. The worst case scenario for a global trade war is the same as the last time a cocky and unprincipled Republican president tried it, which resulted in the Great Depression and eventually World War II, and even Trump will be hard-pressed to spin that outcome to even his most die-hard defenders.
The best-case scenario is harder to imagine. Red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism has always resulted in the creative destruction of longstanding industries, such as buggy-making and Blockbuster video stores, but it has reliably replaced them with something the public has always found better. China isn’t the reason that coal-mining now employs a mere 50,000 workers in America, which is mainly because of mechanization and nuclear plants and fracking of natural gas and all those windmills along I-35 and other more healthy ways to generate the nation’s energy. We sympathize with those last remaining coal miners, but red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism might well replace their jobs with something that doesn’t cause black-lung disease and an early death, and in any case they’re a small voting bloc.
Trump seems to believe the best-case scenario is back to the good old days when America mined coal and made all the world’s steel, and that his die hard defenders will prefer that to this high-tech age and what might come next. What might come next might well be far better, though, and we’ll bet on that rather Trump’s global trade war.

— Bud Norman

Pomp, Circumstance, and the Unvarnished Truth

‘Tis the season for college commencement speeches, and the controversies a few of them annually cause. Even the most controversial commencement speeches are usually forgettable affairs, but we did take notice of the one that former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivered on Wednesday to the most recent graduates of the Virginia Military Academy.
Tillerson was once the well-regarded and objectively successful chief executive officer of the multi-national and very big deal Exxon Corporation, but during his brief tenure as Secretary of State he was harshly criticized from both the left and the right. The left resented his corporate downsizing of the State Department and seeming abandonment of diplomacy as a means of American influence, the post-President Donald Trump right found him insufficiently committed to an “America First” isolationism and militarism, and even from our newfound perspective on the sidelines he was so clearly ineffectual we were glad to see him replaced by our formidable former District of Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo.
Even so, Tillerson’s bold address to the VMI graduates give us hope that he’ll prove one heck of an ex-Secretary of State. Although he never mentioned Trump by name, Tillerson opened the speech by talking of his own higher education in engineering and the need for structural integrity, the similar need to maintain the personal integrity that is prized by every great faith and every tradition, and the importance of maintaining longstanding alliances and the challenges of an ever changing world,and it was obvious to anyone on the left or right or on the sidelines that he was talking about Trump. He also described a “growing crises in integrity,” recalled his alma mater of Texas A&M New Testament motto of the “the truth shall set you free,” and warned that if citizens ‘becoming accepting of ‘alternative realiities’ that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on the pathway to relinquishing our freedom.”
Just in case it wasn’t clear enough that Tillerson was talking about Trump,Trump’s under-penalty-of-law financial disclosure forms were simultaneously admitting that he had indeed lied to the media and the nation aboard Air Force One about his $130,000 payment to a porno performer who quite credibly alleges a one night stand with the future president. Tillerson couldn’t have possibly predicted it, but Trump’s inevitably Nobel Peace Prize-winning negotiations with North Korea about its nuclear weapons program had hit hit a sudden snag, Trump’s bellicose “America First” stance on trade had complicated relations with out our longstanding allies in southeast Asia and elsewhere, and those widely reported reports that Trump’s sudden conspicuous friendliness to a Chinese telecommunications that was previously sanctioned for intellectual property theft on spying on Americans coincided with the Chinese government’s $500 million dollar investment in a Trump-branded development deal in Indonesia.
We’ll have to wait and see how that all turns out, as Trump likes to say, but in the meantime the guy he appointed and then fired as Secretary of State seems to have the upper hand with commencement speech. We always voted for the current Secretary of State when he was running for our fourth congressional seat here in Kansas, and hold out hope that he’ll somehow negotiate some settlement to the latest crisis on the Korean peninsula that doesn’t leave hundreds of thousands of people dead, but his ineffectual and defenestrated predecessor’s words about the need for integrity and acknowledging truth ring disquietingly true.

Shakespeare Vs. Trump

We’ve long noticed that one of President Donald Trump’s many peculiar tendencies is to “tweet” or tell a television camera whatever happens to be on his mind at the moment. His most die-hard supporters have always loved his “tell it like it is” style, but we’ve always thought it ill-suited to the presidency. Our preference is for Polonius’ advice to Laertes in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” to “give thy thoughts no tongue, nor any un-proportioned thought his act. Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.”
Trump clearly has no patience for such old-fashioned and highfalutin advice, however, and thus often winds up “tweeting” or telling a camera something that is quite different from what was on his mind at an earlier moment. The latest example once again involves the bloody and damned complicated Syrian civil war, and America’s even more damned complicated role in it, and shooting from the hip has so far proved a poor tactic.
After the Syrian dictatorship apparently launched another deadly chemical attack on in its citizens recently, Trump “tweeted” and talked tough. He denounced the Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad as an “animal,” and went so far as to criticize by name Russian dictator Vladimir Putin for his pro-Assad role in the civil war. By Wednesday he was “tweeting” that “Russia vows to shoot down any all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
All of Trump’s critics on the left were of course horrified by such bellicosity, but so were many of the die-hard supporters on talk radio and internet sites who had cheered his “tweets” of a few days earlier about pulling out of the Syrian civil war altogether. That earlier “tweet” had already been talked back considerably by various more careful administration spokespeople, and by Thursday Trump himself was “tweeting” back his more recent imminent threats. “Never said an attack on Syria would take place,” Trump implausibly “tweeted,” adding “Could be very soon or not so soon at all!”
On our way home with some fish tacos from the great Tacos Lopez drive-through over on West Street we heard one of the anti-immigrant and isolationist talk radio hosts claiming credit for talking Trump into his latest strategic retreat, but we’d like to think it was due to the more informed and deliberative advice of the surprisingly sound Defense Secretary and United Nations ambassador and potential next Secretary of State that Trump somehow has on hand, and we hope even that wild-eyed but experienced third national security advisor who came on board Wednesday. There’s a strong case to be made for enforcing a red line against chemical attacks, especially if we’re able to cobble together the international support that Trump’s administration is reportedly seeking, and we’re open to any arguments for washing our hands of the whole mess, but we think it best that wiser and more knowledgable people than ourselves carefully deliberate these matters before the president “tweets” about them.
We certainly wish those wise old hands well. The Syrian situation is complicated enough, and Trump is making tough demands on a nuclear arms treaty the Iranian theocratic dictatorship even as he’s signaled he intends to hand them Syria on a silver platter, and that whole thing with Russia is pretty damned complicated, too. On the other side of the globe Trump is engaged “twitter” feuds and diplomatic dances with the North Korean dictator, and has lately refrained from taunting him as “Little Rocket Man,” and has been talking and “tweeting” tough about trade negotiations with our ostensible allies in democratic South Korea. The stock markets have sighed a green arrow sigh after Trump lately “tweeted” back his earlier tough talk about a trade war with China, and there are reports that he’s even considering reviving the Trans-Pacific Partnership that President Barack Obama had negotiated with China’s neighbors. Trump had long been critical of multilateral trade agreements in general, and ones negotiated by Obama in particular, but given the howls of pain coming from the stock markets and agricultural states and various other export industries it suddenly seems a more sensible approach to dealing with China’s undeniably unfair business practices than all-out trade war.
There’s some faint cause for hope, therefore, that some semblance of a more or less effective foreign policy might emerge from all this. We can’t imagine Trump coherently explaining it to the world, though, and count on lots of incoherent “tweets” and televised statements further complicating things along the way. He probably won’t hear it, bout our advice is the same the Bard might well have said  to Trump, to give thy thoughts no tongue nor “tweet,” nor any un-proportioned thought your action. As for the part about not being vulgar, we hold out no hope Trump will heed that sage advice.

— Bud Norman