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Dueling Headlines

As usual in the age of President Donald Trump, there’s more in a day’s news than one can find time or space to comment on, and as always it’s hard to say what’s the biggest deal. On a typically busy Tuesday the two main contenders were the House of Representatives joining the Senate in passing a tough Russian sanctions bill that explicitly restricts Trump’s power to do anything about it, and the other was Trump’s rapidly escalating war of words with his own Attorney General, both of which are just subplots in the bigger ongoing story about what Trump now calls “Russia.”
The sanctions bill passed the House with a vote of 419 to three, which is a remarkably lopsided margin in these divisive and divided days, and a similar bill had already passed the Senate by a similar blow-out score of 98 to two, so whatever minor adjustments are made in the conference committee both the sanctions and the presidential restrictions will arrive on Trump’s desk with the same overwhelming bipartisan support. Trump can still veto it, but by now someone has probably explained to him that 419 to three and 98 to two are veto-proof margins would become law anyway, and he probably knows by instinct given all the other stories in the news lately it wouldn’t look good to be one of only six elected officials in Washington going soft on the Russkies.
On one of the Sunday morning shows newly-promoted White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was saying the president had decided to the sign the bill, while at the same the newly-appointed White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci was saying on another show that the president hadn’t yet decided, but we’ll wager a small amount that Sanders winds up being right. Signing the damned thing will probably infuriate Trump, as the bill represents an almost unanimous rebuke to the Russian-friendly foreign policy he campaigned on, and the restrictions on his presidential power will surely chafe at his neck, but not signing wouldn’t stop it from happening, and no matter how much the hard-core fans might love it the broader political consequences would be dire.
Those blow-out bi-partisan margins portend some perilous political consequences, as well. Trump’s ability to negotiate all those great deals with Russia he promised is for now and well into the foreseeable severely restricted, as all those campaign statements have not only left him isolated from our democratic western allies but also the domestic Democrats and Republicans who were elected with majorities by almost the entire country. Trump will probably “tweet” some insult at all of them, and his most hard-core fans will no doubt love it, but we doubt they’re tired of winning yet.
Which makes that escalating war of words between Trump and his Attorney General all the more portentous. Trump now regrets having hired Attorney General Jeff Sessions after he recused himself from anything having to do with that ongoing “Russia” storyline, and has not only “tweeted” about it and said so to The New York Times. He’s also “tweeted” his annoyance that Sessions hasn’t pursued criminal investigations against vanquished Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, which candidate Trump promised to do and president-elect Trump said he wouldn’t do and President Trump is once suddenly very enthusiastic about.
Sessions was the first member of Congress to endorse Trump, and we well remember how that “Make-America-Great-Again”-ball-cap-donning endorsement at a well-attended Alabama rally was touted to prove Trump’s true-blue conservatism, but on Tuesday Trump told The Wall Street Journal that “But he was a senator, and he looks at probably 40,000 people and says, ‘What do I have to lose?‘ So it’s not like a great loyal thing by that endorsement.” That 40,000 total was of course overstated by 100 percent, and there’s no telling how many of them were there to see the Senator they’d long voted for, but a president is entitled to his own conclusions. He followed that insult up with a brief news conference next to the President of Lebanon, where he declined to say if he was going to fire Sessions but added “time will tell.”
Which will probably please many of Trump’s most hard-core fans, but leaves Trump further isolated from the rest of the country. Sessions not only risked his Republican respectability with that endorsement, but he also gave up a comfortable lifelong seat in the Senate to serve in Trump’s cabinet, so the many kinds of conservatives who warmed to Trump’s candidacy only because of Session’s endorsement are not cheering his impending defenestration. Sessions was a hard-liner on illegal immigration back when Trump was hiring illegals and calling Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s mild “self-deportation” policies “mean,” and he was an unabashed Republican and conservative way back when Trump was donating to Democrats and trying to be cool, so Trump can’t count on his right flank’s loyalty in this skirmish.
Sessions has annoyed much of the libertarian and state’s rights sorts of conservatives by giving the cops wider latitude to seize your assets for whatever reason and cracking down on the states that take a lenient attitude toward marijuana use, both of which are far more annoying to us than his admirably ethical decision to recuse himself from “Russia” after giving false statements about it to the Senate. The left always hated the poor guy from get-go, caricaturing the unabashedly anti-illegal-immigration and Alabama-accented Jefferson Beuaregard Sessions III as an unrepentant Confederate racist, but in the war of words with Trump even they have his back. All those folks in the middle are probably wondering why Trump is so angry that his Attorney General isn’t on the job of squashing all the ongoing investigations in to that “Russia” thing, which leaves Trump rather isolated.
Perhaps Trump can “tweet” his way out of this mess, too, but it looks tricky. Sessions might make a final act of a obeisance by resigning, but there’s hope everywhere on both the right and left he’ll hold out to force Trump to fire him, and in any case it will be very interesting to see who Trump nominates next for such a thankless job and how that will play in Congress. The Democrats who are suddenly on board with Romney’s anti-Russian stand in the ’12 election are of course craven partisan hypocrites, which will surely be the main argument against them, but all those Republicans who are still on board enough to give that sanctions bill their vote are being quite  consistent in their convictions, so winning the argument with all of them will require more than 140 characters.

— Bud Norman

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The Summer of ’73, Redux

The midsummer sun has lately been exceedingly hot here on the southern plains, with the latest breaking national news even hotter yet, and it’s all somehow redolent of that long ago summer of ’73.
We were just young punks about to turn a typically surly 13 years old, but even then we were engrossed by politics, and by far the most engrossing story of the day was the unfolding Watergate scandal. The whole Watergate thing started slowly back in ’72 with a routine burglary bust, but by the summer of ’73 the only three channels on the television were all preempting the afternoon soap operas and game shows to broadcast the live congressional hearings about it, and we took time out from our long-distance bike rides and driveway basketball games and other summer vacation adventures to watch it all. We also read every word about in the morning and afternoon newspapers that our parents subscribed to, along with the newsmagazines that arrived in the mailbox, and then learned more when we’d biked all the way to downtown library’s impressive periodical shelf.
To this day we still recall E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy and the three Cubans who were busted in the burglary, and the turncoat White House advisor Howard Dean and his crazy wife Moe and the loyal Attorney John Mitchell and his crazy wife Martha and fellow loyalist who wound up making the news in the subsequent investigations, and presidential secretary Rosemary Woods who was blamed for a suspicious gap in the White House tapes that eventually surfaced We still know the names of Judge John Sirica who ordered those tapes and made some other crucial legal rulings, and the Attorney General Elliot Richardson who was fired by President Richard Nixon for refusing to fire the special prosecutor Archibald Cox, and an obscure fellow named Robert Bork who eventually stepped up to do the firing.
We’d bet all our winnings that we can still run the Watergate category in a round of “Jeopardy!,” but even the surliest young punks of today know that it all somehow wound up with Nixon resigning in disgrace. That’s pretty much the long and short of the whole Watergate affair and all you’d need to know to pass a junior high history quiz about it, but of course there’s a lot worth noting in between.
The whole sordid saga began when a third-shift janitor at the swank Washington, D.C., hotel-and-office Watergate complex noticed some tape on the door lock to the Democratic National Committee. He was streetwise enough to know to call the local cops, who promptly showed up to arrest the aforementioned Hunt and Liddy and three Cubans who were attempting to install a wiretap in the office, and two relatively young and still on late-night duty reporters as the local Washington Post who were assigned the crime story story were astute enough to discover they were all official and fully paid employees of the Committee to Re-Elect the President.
That was a bad enough start to the story, if not so bad that a forthright acknowledgement but stern disavowal of the operation and its operatives would have ended all the hubbub, but the Nixon administration took a typically more dismissive response. They denied everything, attacked The Washington Post and The New York Times and the three television networks who were making such a big deal about one presidential campaign breaking and entering to bug the headquarters of another, and wound up on national television admitting to the hush money they paid to the burglars and all sorts of other sorts of other things that were considered scandalous at the time. An Admiral in the administration whose last name we still remember was Butterfield told a televised committee that the White House had taped everything, and Sirica got his hands on the tapes and except for that 18-and-a-half-minute gap blamed on the White House secretary it seemed all the prosecutor needed for an impeachment case. It was bad enough that Nixon fired the guy who wouldn’t fire the guy who was running the investigation, and shortly after that the impeccably conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater was leading a congressional delegation of Republicans to tell him that resignation in disgrace was the only honorable option.
Which was bad for the country in ways that the surly 13-year-old punks of today probably can’t understand. The first presidential election we’d followed was back in ’68, when Nixon edged out a plurality win over Democratic rival Hubert Humphrey and third-party candidate George Wallace, and we were for Nixon. Our grandparents were all New Deal Democrats, but our parents had rebelled against by voting for the impeccably conservative Goldwater in ’64, by ’68 all three generation were agreed that Democrats had gone crazy left. Humphrey was tied to President Lyndon Johnson’s war in Vietnam, which was a bloody big deal that hurt him with all the hippies that were suddenly popping up everywhere, and although Nixon was also for the war he seemed to want to win it, which was the way Americans used to end wars back then. Wallace was still an outright racist at that point, and our cosmopolitan and Christian parents had taught us better than that, so Nixon and his surprisingly pristine civil rights voting record was the one.
By ’72 the hippies had taken over the Democratic party and nominated far-left South Dakota Sen. George McGovern for president, and it was fine with us that Nixon won re-election with a popular and electoral vote margin that not even President Franklin Roosevelt had ever achieved. As bloody as the Vietnam situation was Nixon’s peace with honor platform made more sense than McGovern’s plan of complete surrender, and as much as we liked the rock ‘n’ roll music and sexual frisson of the Democratic counter-culture we had an instinctive multi-generational affinity for the Silent Majority of hard-working and tax-paying and lawn-mowing and baby-having Americans who gave Nixon his landslide win.
We were surly soon-to-be-13-year-old punks, though, and the weird sorts who were already enamored of unfettered free-market capitalism and other sorts of rugged individualism that left all those hippies in the dust, so we also had our doubts about Nixon. When the unemployment and inflation rates divulged in ways that free market theory hadn’t anticipated he embraced wage-and-price controls that not even the hippies would have dared, and despite his pristine civil rights record and reasonably tough stance against all the inner-city rioting that was going on he was the first president to institute racial quotas, and the notorious cold warrior even normalized relations with the commie Chinese and pursued “detente” with the commie Russkies. We still liked that he stood steadfast against the hippies and The Washington Post and The New York Times and those three damned channels on the television, but by that point we were wondering he might think of us.
And so we watched with a certain disinterested horror as it all slowly wound up a year or so later with Nixon flashing his “V for victory” sign as he boarded an ex-presidential helicopter to exit the White House after resigning in disgrace. He was replaced by the impeccably honorable but utterly ineffectual President Gerald Ford, who didn’t have the political clout to order the air strikes that might have maintained the peace with honor that Nixon and all those soldiers and sailors and airmen had won in Vietnam, and the best he could do about all the inflation and unemployment that defied free market theory was to print up some buttons. Despite all that he was only narrowly defeated by the Democrats’ putatively centrist Jimmy Carter, who four years later lost in a landslide to the Goldwaterite Republican nominee Ronald Reagan. That led to an inflation-choking but otherwise severe recession that shortly thereafter led to an unprecedented economic boom, which led to an even bigger re-election landslide than Nixon or Roosevelt or anyone else ever achieved, and despite that admittedly embarrassing Iran-Contra scandal and other things we mostly enjoyed those Reagan years.
The commies were pretty much gone by the end of Vice President George H.W. Bush’s third term of the Reagan age, but during a time of relatively mild economic recession that only made a plurality of the public more willing to elect the southern and putatively centrist Democrat Bill Clinton and his equally hideous wife. Despite Clinton’s efforts the economic boom continued well enough that he survived the impeachment trials of his various sex scandals and won another plurality re-election, but that wound up with eight years of Republican George W. Bush. That was mostly OK by us, but what with all the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan that he’d been obliged by circumstances to do, and another ill-timed and far more severe recession, it led to eight straight years of President Barack Obama
We spent the entire eight Obama years griping about that unrelenting catastrophe, but at the end of it we wound up with the choice of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton or the Republican nominee Donald Trump. For the first time in our lives we wound up voting for none of the above, and resigned ourselves to watching the inevitable scandals that would play out not matter who won. Clinton had been in the public eye for all the 30 or more years that her cheating husband had been in office, and had plenty of undeniably disqualifying scandals of her own, but Trump was a political neophyte whose long and legendary career in the private sector was no more reassuring.
When we subjected Trump’s campaign to the due diligence that you’d apply to anyone else you might invest in, we found that he’d had three wives and countless bragged-about married mistresses and four bankruptcies at his casinos and strip clubs, which are hard businesses to screw up, as well as a long history of failure in steaks and vodka and football leagues and airlines and scam universities and various other enterprises, so we didn’t much cotton to him no matter how much we hated that Clinton woman. His sons had boasted to the press about how much funding their business empire had coming from the Russkies despite all the bankruptcies, and Trump himself was so pro-Russkie that he told a fan hosting a Fox News show that the the Russkies’ killings of journalists and other dissidents was no worse than what routinely happens in America, so all of that gave us pause about the guy.
We weren’t about to vote for that awful Clinton woman, but from the outset all the preliminary stories about Russia and Trump looked pretty bad. By election day it was reliably reported from all the intelligence agencies that the Russkies had launched a three-pronged cyber attack on America’s election, Trump was clearly running on the most Russia-friendly platform in the history of the United States much less its Republican Party, even more friendly than that awful Clinton woman and her ridiculous leftist “reset” button, and there was already something ominously redolent of that summer of ’73.
Since then the president’s national security advisor has resigned and his attorney general has recused himself from Russia-related matters because of Russian ties, and his son and son-in-law and former campaign chairman have been invited to testify before congressional committees about their current Russkie relations, which will likely be broadcast live on national television, and there’s something all too familiar about it. There’s another special prosecutor who’s currently looking into the president’s world-wide financial holdings, which he’s held on to in a way that no previous president ever dared to do, and we can’t shake the same old sense from ’73 that sooner or later he’s bound to come up with something pretty damning.
Which is also a damned shame, because Trump was elected by the same plurality of tax-paying and law-abiding and baby-having and lawn-mowing Americans who beat back all those dirty hippies in ’72, and we’re still rooting for them. It would be another outrage to see The Washington Post and The New York Times and those congressional committees and special prosecutors and the rest of those dirty hippies score another win, but we’ve been through this before, and on another decade’s hot midsummer’s night we’ll only hope that the truth will prevail and things work out best in the long run.
The news these days seems somehow disturbingly familiar to way back then, but also disturbingly different. As crazy a leftist loon as that McGovern guy was he’d flown more than the requisite number of bombing missions over Germany during World War II, and even then nobody questioned his patriotism. As relatively right-wing as Nixon was in the early ’70s none of his critics ever mocked the decorated military officer and historically vindicated congressional cold warrior and former Vice President as an historically illiterate and poorly-spoken buffoon, and his outreaches to communist China and Russia arguably kept the peace long enough for Reagan’s more confrontational stance to win the Cold War. In retrospect, that awful election of ’72 seems like the good old days.
The testimony of the president’s son and son-in-law and former campaign chairman will probably preempt the soap operas and games before the summer is over, and although we’re still somehow part of that still-extant silent majority we don’t expect it will go well. Already the president’s son has admitted he responded to a newfangled e-mail promising the Russkie’ commitment to til an American election by saying “I love it,’ which is a hell of a place to start, and the president is stating that anyone would have taken that meeting, so that’s also a bad starting point.
A couple of years before Nixon headed off in ignominy on that helicopter, which was was just a couple of years before the helicopters launched off the South Vietnamese embassy with a bunch of our last-ditch allies making a futile effort to cling the skids, it was already clear to us that the Watergate scandal wouldn’t end well for anybody. As much as it pains us to alarm those good tax-paying and law-abiding and lawn-mowing members of the silent majority that we still love, this time around doesn’t look to turn out any better.

— Bud Norman

The Point of No Tax Return

President Donald Trump spent an early part of Sunday “tweeting,” as he does most mornings. He wished everyone a Happy Easter, which suited the occasion, and he boasted of a military build-up that is apparently somehow already underway, but mostly he seemed annoyed the previous day’s protests around the country demanding the release of his tax returns.
The first “tweet” once again recounted his “almost impossible” electoral college victory, then asked “Now Tax Returns are brought up again?” His second outburst suggested “Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday, adding that “Election is over!” Both were composed before Trump got around to wishing the country a Happy Easter, so together they suggest the protestors at least succeeded in rankling the president.
Many of the protests were indeed small, and the election is indeed over, but Trump should nonetheless get used to it being brought up again and again. Although he did win electoral college victory Trump lost the popular, many of those who voted against him don’t have to be paid to show up somewhere and wave a sign and chant slogans about it, and Trump’s capitalized Tax Return is too tempting an issue for them to drop it. The protestors allies in Congress and many of the media don’t intend to, and Trump will need better “tweets” to counter their arguments.
Campaign issues don’t end with the campaigns, as Trump should know after the decades he continued to make the same criticisms and conspiracy theories about every president since Ronald Reagan throughout their terms, and there’s no apparent reason this one should. Although Trump is not required by law to disclose his tax returns, with or with capitalization, there are valid reasons that for the past forty years every presidential nominee has done so and solid majorities of the public have come to expect it. Those reasons are all the more valid when a president retains a global empire business that is bound to be affected by what the federal government does over the next four years, as this one does, another break from a longstanding informal agreement that there are also valid reasons for, and which is also something that Trump’s critics can be expected to keep bringing up.
Worse yet, it’s hard to concoct a convincing argument for why Trump doesn’t release his tax returns. The sorts of Trump supporters who don’t need convincing will accept the stated reason that he’s under audit, even though that doesn’t prevent him from making his returns public, and shouldn’t put him in any sort of legal jeopardy, but eventually Trump will need to persuade some more skeptical sorts. His more stubborn apologists point out the educational records and other documents that Obama declined to release, and note that Democrats didn’t seem to mind that lack of transparency, but of course those supporters very much minded, and kept bringing it up throughout and now even after his term, and so did Trump himself, who “tweeted” repeatedly about it, so they also have to explain why things are now so different. For those of us who wanted to see Obama’s grades and Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and anything else we could get our hands on about any any office-holding Democrats, but also want to see Trump’s tax filings and anything else we can learn his or any other Republican politician’s potential conflicts of power, that argument is utterly unconvincing.
Although it will drift on and off the front pages, we expect the stories and and the protests will continue. All the stories about investigations underway into Russia’s role in the past campaign will make mention of it, and so will all the stories about Trump-owned businesses benefiting from some deregulation or tax shift or federal contracts that are bound to come up. There will be plenty of speculation, too, and Trump’s “tweets” and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer don’t seem likely to allay the resulting suspicions. The only way to end it is to just go ahead and release the damned things, the way Obama did with the birth certificate he was pestered about by certain people even long after his victorious election was over.
That would not only put the issue to rest and allow Trump to “tweet” about more important issues, but also quell some of that speculation about what those unseen returns might reveal about Russia or any possible conflicts of interest from that global business empire. Surely there’s nothing the least bit compromising in those documents, after all.

— Bud Norman

A Big Blast in Afghanistan

America’s war in Afghanistan has dragging on for so long that by now most Americans have largely forgotten about it, but it was back in the news on Thursday with a literal bang. The Air Force dropped the Mother of All Bombs on an Islamic State encampment, and that’s not just Trumpian hyperbole but the actual nickname of the weapon.
The official moniker is Massive Ordinance Air Blast, but the initials naturally inspired the more apt term that all the military types apparently use. It weighs 22,000 pounds, packs a net explosive weight of 18,700 pounds, and is said to be the most powerful non-nuclear bomb ever deployed in the long history of war. That’s still probably insufficient to bring a conclusion to what is already America’s longest-running military conflict, but surely enough to have a literal impact on the Islamic State.
Such serious ordinance suggests a renewed American seriousness about the Afghanistan war, and the broader war on terror, so even if it doesn’t serve any broader military strategy that’s good enough for us. There can be no pity for the Islamic State savages that the bomb fell on, who are just one of the problems we face in Afghanistan but a bigger threat in Iraq and Syria and all the places around the globe where they’ve pulled off terror attacks, and it’s hard to pass up such a golden opportunity to eliminate so many of them in one fell swoop. Although the Islamic State usually embeds itself in civilian areas the target was carelessly free of any non-combatants, and the Russians and Iranians and Sunni Arabs and other players that make fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria so complicated don’t care about godforsaken and mostly oil-free and perpetually troublesome Afghanistan, and that big bomb had been sitting around in a warehouse for years with no good reason not to use it. A 22,000 pound bomb can’t be launched from even an almighty B-52 or placed atop even the most powerful missiles and instead has to be pushed out of a cargo plane, meaning it’s only useful against enemies who lack even World War II-vintage anti-aircraft systems, so that’s another reason to grab the rare chance to try it out on the likes of the Islamic State.
Coming shortly after the 59 Tomahawk missiles that were launched at an airbase in the trickier Syrian terrain, it also sends a potentially useful signal of resolve. President Donald Trump’s administration has since sent mixed signals about that Syrian strike, with the Secretary of State warning that anybody who murders young children anywhere in the world can expect more of the same and the White House Press Secretary stressing that what the president had said just a days before about not being the policeman of the world still applied, and those more conventional bombs don’t seem to have stopped that airbase from launching it’s own conventional bombs in its long-running civil war, but the message with the Mother of All Bombs probably won’t be so muddied. Although the Syrian strike eked out a 51 percent approval ratings in the first poll, there was also heated criticism from both the peacenik left and the isolationist right, as well as principled constitutional conservatives who had insisted that President Barack Obama seek congressional approval for such an action and the sorts of intellectually honest liberals who had to admit they had defended Obama’s inaction. Trump himself had also urged inaction at the time, and “tweeted” the missiles strikes were only used to prop up sagging poll number, and plenty of others on both left and right proved just as flip-floppy, and there’s no telling where they might all flip and flop to next.
What just happened in Afghanistan is a whole lot simpler, though, in military as well as domestic and international politics terms. America went to war in Afghanistan because that is where the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 were launched, and similar intolerable acts were still being planned, and not just President George W. Bush but also future Democratic presidential nominees John Kerry and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and the United Nations Security Council and the leaders of pretty much every decent democratic nation agreed that was sufficient reason to wage war there. Since then there’s been plenty of argument about how it should be fought, although the troop levels and casualty rates have lately been so low you wouldn’t have noticed it during the past campaign, but even after so many years there’s still a bipartisan consensus that America remains entitled to drop any old bomb on that troublesome land that it chooses.
Trump’s action was still empowered by the military authorization that bipartisan majorities granted way back when it all started, too, so there’s no trouble with the argument that critics on both the left and right are raising about the constitutionality of that Syrian strike, and it’s not the same betrayal of his isolationist campaign rhetoric, which also included explicit promises to bomb the barnyard epithet out of the Islamic State. The Russians still want nothing to do with Afghanistan ever again, the Syrians and Iranians and their Sunni antagonists have little reason to care, the United Nations and all the decent democratic nations have more pressing concerns, and the Democrats have better fights to pick, so we can hope that he’s taking advantage of a rare opportunity take care of some business in Afghanistan. Should Trump administration articulate how it’s serving some broader strategic purpose, which it very well might, that would also be nice.
There’s really no getting out of Afghanistan until we leave a country that’s unlikely to ever try anything like Sept. 11 again, and even that low bar seems awful high for a long time to come, and unlikely to be achieved even with the Mother of All Bombs, but with low troop levels and relative-to-the-history-of-war low casualties America has kept the country’s long history of hate from infecting the rest of the world for the past 16 years or so. Such small victories aren’t satisfying to any American, and especially to such accustomed-to-winning-big-league types as Trump, but that’s how the score is kept in a season that’s arguably been lasting the Seventh Century or so.
Dropping that Mother of All Bombs on a remote and conveniently civilian-free camp full of murderous Islamic State thugs during a unique opportunity to do so was a good idea, and kudos to the generals who came up with it and the president who listened to them, despite his campaign promise that he knew more about the Islamic State than the generals did. We’ll count it as one of those small victories in a long, long war, and faintly hope that Trump will settle for that claim.

— Bud Norman

The Endless Campaign

President Donald Trump held another of his large and raucous campaign rallies in Florida on Saturday, which seems odd given that the last presidential election occurred nearly four months ago and the next one won’t take place for another three years and eight month or so. At this point in a presidency most presidents are busy filling the last of their administration posts, sending out the smart people they’ve already brought on to make a reasoned case to both the congress and broader public for the policies being proposed, digging into all the rest of the dreary work of a thankless office, and breathing a sigh of relief that the past campaign is four months over and the next won’t begin until a few days after the mid-term elections that are still nearly two months away.
Pretty much everything about the presidency of President Donald Trump seems odd, though, as his most strident critics will bitterly complain and his most ardent supports will proudly boast. Trump is behind schedule in filling such administration posts as Deputy Secretary to several of the more consequential Secretaries he’s been having trouble getting approved, largely because so many of the potential pool of conservative and Republican establishment figures had critical things to say about him during the campaign, but his most strident critics never liked any of those guys and his most ardent supporters are even more disdainful of the Republican establishment. So far the only detailed policy that has been trotted out is a temporary ban on travel into the United States from a limited number of Muslim-majority countries, which made some sense and had some obvious flaws and has since been so endlessly revised and re-intepreted and beset by such legal challenges both reasonable and absurd that both the smart people sent out to explain and the strident critics opposing it wound up looking ridiculous. So far, both sides seem delighted about everything.
Digging into the dreary work of a thankless office doesn’t seem Trump’s style, based on what we’ve observed of the man over his long career as a celebrity real estate and casino and strip club and minor league football and pro-wrestling and scam university mogul and constant tabloid sex scandal subject and better-ratings-than-Arnold-Schwarzenegger-and-should-have-won-an-Emmy reality television star, and he also doesn’t seem the type to breath a sigh of relief at being momentarily out of the spotlight of a campaign. “Life is a campaign,” Trump told a bevy of reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to the rally. “Making America great again is a campaign. For me, it’s a campaign.” By now it should be clear that the campaign will last for the rest of all our natural lives, and will forever need fresh foes to vanquish more than it needs objective improvements in American life.
Even before the big Florida rally Trump had returned to bashing the throughly vanquished Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in a widely watched news conference, and reviving unproved claims that she didn’t really win the popular vote by an embarrassing three million or so votes due to massive voter fraud, and making a provably false claim that his electoral victory was the biggest since Reagan’s and then embarrassingly attributing it to “the information I heard,” and it seems clear he’ll still be running against Clinton for the next three years and eight months or so. We take a back seat to no one in our disdain for Clinton, and were criticizing her way back when Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and praising her to the hilt in his non-stop interviews, but by now we’re happy to let the subject drop.
Clinton not only lost her second and final attempt at the presidency but lost it to Trump, which is surely an innermost circle of hell that the combined imaginations of Dante Alighieri and Hieronymus Bosch and ourselves could not have conceived for her, and she will likely spend the rest of her addled days wandering the woods of upstate New York with no contributions flowing into her defunct charity and her speaking fees and book royalties at a bargain-basement price, and at at this point even Trump isn’t leading the rallies in chants of “lock her up.” At any rate she no longer seems an impediment to making America great again, so we’re eager to hear more about how Trump intends to achieve that with her well out of the way.
Apparently, though, there are other foes to be vanquished before the gain get around to explaining how he’s going to make everything better. There’s that pesky free press, of course, with all its fake news about how the administration isn’t humming like a finely-tuned machine and Trump isn’t already making America great again. During the rally he quoted Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln criticizing the press, which goes to show how long those nasty newspapers have been trying to undermine a free republic, and his most ardent supporters agreed not read anything negative they read about Trump, which caused his most strident critics to pull their hair and gnash their teeth, which gave great glee to all of Trump’s most ardent supporters, but such old conservative and Republicans hands as ourselves wondered how that was making America great again.
There is the very real and ever-present threat of Islamist terrorism, and Trump rightly mentioned that, but during that portion of the rally he also alluded to “what happened last night in Sweden.” So far as anyone can tell the biggest story in Sweden the night before was a microphone failure on a popular amateur singing contest called “Melfest,” which all those snooty reporters from the hated press and all the rest of Trump’s most strident critics had great fun reporting, and which all of Trump’s most ardent supporters were explaining to a general crime problem among Sweden’s Muslim immigrant population which had been reported on the night before on the Fox News network. Trump’s most ardent supporters love him because he means what he says, even though they often have to explain that what he said wasn’t really what he meant to say, but for all our longstanding concern about Islamist terrorism we’re not inclined to make such excuses for such sloppy language. Oh, and there are gangsters galore out there terrorizing America’s streets, but so far as we can tell the recent uptick in crime — which objectively are still nowhere near the 45-year highs Trump constantly claims, even when addressing law enforcement officers who damn well know better — is driven mostly by Chicago and a couple of other big Democratic controlled cities, and Trump wasn’t altogether clear about he was going to do about that.
Trump has described certain of his critics as “the enemy of the American people,” which also seems odd, given the terms association with the Roman Senate’s accusation against the Emperor Nero and the Henrik Ibsen play that Hitler somehow misread and the Bolsheviks’ slaughter of the kulaks, but we don’t suppose that Trump or any of his most ardent supporters are aware of any of that. In any case we hope we won’t be so accused, not because we’re afraid the thin-and-orange-skinned demagogue bothers himself with such small fry as ourselves, but because we’re all in favor of the people and wouldn’t want anyone to think otherwise. We’d love to see a sensible skepticism about travel from Muslim-majority countries, and a more honest and accountable press, and a finely-tuned administration repealing bothersome regulations and freeing the private sector from bossy interventions, and safe streets even in Chicago, and all the things that have so long been yearned for the boring old Republican establishment that Trump has vowed to vanquish.
So far it seems an odd beginning, though, and something in our boring old Republican establishment souls would much prefer a president digging into the dreary work of a thankless office and sharing our sigh of relief that the campaign is at least momentarily over.

— Bud Norman

Happy New Year, and What’s to Come

This will be our last essay of 2016, and a longstanding journalistic tradition dictates that we either write a fond remembrance of the past 12 months or a hopeful look ahead to next year. We can’t bring ourselves to look back at the past year for fear of being turned into a pillar of salt, yet we’re the hidebound sort of traditionalists who live and die by such wise Old Testament allusions, so we suppose we’ll have to peek through the nearly crossed fingers over our eyes at what’s coming.
Our powers of prophecy are as limited as the next guy’s, so don’t go making any stock picks based on our conjecture, but by now we’ve been to enough figurative and literal rodeos to venture a cautious guess that no matter how bumpy the ride we’ll all get through it for at least another trip around the sun. That’s not for certain, as a few of our friends and loved ones and many more famous people and countless others found out during the latest journey, and the off chances of the whole she-bang going up in flames are as present as always, but past experience and the lack of other options make us wiling to make that cautious prediction. Should it prove wrong about either us or you, at least we won’t have to hear any taunts about it.
The big story of the past year was Donald Trump somehow being elected President of the United States, and it doesn’t take an Old Testament prophet to confidently predict that will also be the big story of the upcoming year. Despite all the figurative and literal rodeos we’ve attended, and the many other improbable things we’ve witnessed over the years, it’s still hard to believe, Nonetheless, on this year’s end we’ll offer up some publicly proclaimed hope that we all survive. The only other option offered by that year we won’t look back on was Hillary Clinton, and along with an Electoral College majority of the country we’ll even acknowledge that it could have been even worse.
Somehow, though, we and you and almost all the rest of us and everything else seem to yearly survive all that sort of thing, with the smartest and the luckiest among us even thriving as they live fulfilling human lives throughout the worst of it. That’s what we’re wishing and hoping for on this nearly New Year’s Eve, for us and you and all the rest.

— Bud Norman

From the Sideline View

The state of America and the rest of the world remains a preoccupying fascination for us, but these days we watch the news unfold with from a somewhat disinterred perspective. The team of old-fashioned Republican cold warriors and red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalists and stodgy traditionalists on the social issues we’ve always rooted for didn’t even the make the political playoffs in this crazy election year, so there’s the desultory feel of a World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers about all of it, and our newfound objectivity makes the worst of both remaining teams so much more glaring.
All through the long years of President Barack Obama we groused about his groveling appeasement of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, and all through a crazy election year we indignantly noted that his would-be successor and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State started it off with that stupid “reset” button, and like all good Republicans we excoriated them durned Democrats for their Russkie-friendly ways. Now the putatively Republican president-elect has a mutual admiration society going with Putin and is appointing all sorts of Russophile wheelers and dealers who have also already wheeled and dealt some some officially friendly arrangements with the Russkies, suddenly those formerly apologetic Democrats who once laughed at Obama’s line about how “the ’80s are calling and they want their foreign policy” back are now demanding a more Reaganesque response towards that bear in the woods, and we note that pretty much everyone is accusing pretty much everyone else of being a partisan hypocrite who suddenly switched sides. Pretty much of all of them are right about all of that, of course, even if we do stand unsullied on stands, but from this viewpoint they all seem wrong about the rest of it.
There does look to be a whole lot of de-regulatin’ coming, perhaps even on a bigger-than-Reagan scale, and our old-fashioned Republican souls will begrudgingly enjoy that, along with the inevitable squealing from those durned Democrats, but we also anticipate a lot more of the kooky economic interventions that president-elect Donald Trump has already imposed on free markets. Trump’s admittedly different version of command controlled and outright protectionist economic policies have already aroused the indignation of the very same Democrats who spent the Obama years praising the same industrial policies we were continually grousing about, and we suppose we should welcome their company, but we don’t quite trust them. Much of the putatively Republican press we used to have some trust in are now suddenly enthused about about the government picking winners and losers and marketplace of ideas and products, such stalwart holdouts of of Burkean skepticism as The National Review and The Weekly Standard and The Central Standard Times are awaiting vindication before getting back in the game, and for now everyone looks faintly ridiculous.
We’ll continue to place our faith in God, but for now even His role in all this might be seem marginalized. The Republican party of family values finally vanquished that awful wife of that libertine ex-president, but it did so with a thrice-married-to-a-nudie-model casino-and-strip-club mogul who has bragged in print about all the married babes he’s bagged, and many of the Democrats who once defended Clinton’s behavior are now aghast Trump’s, and many of the Republicans who were once aghast by Clinton’s behavior are reaching into the Old Testament to exalt Trump. We count it a loss for the religious right, even though many of its putative leaders enthusiastically backed Trump, and despite their sudden prudishness we can’t see the secular left restoring any righteousness to the world.
All that bother about sex and abortion and the guy wanting to get into the women’s locker room and safe spaces from offending opinions and all the rest of those modern world things that keep popping up will surely continue for the next four years, no matter what the Illuminati have cooked up, and we expect that all sorts of people will wind up on all different sides of it, but for now we’ll try to keep warm and maintain a fair perspective from the sidelines.

— Bud Norman

Recounting the Inevitable

Green Party nominee Jill Stein’s quixotic effort to recount the presidential election results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, where her quixotic campaign won enough votes to account for the slight Trump victories that won him a majority of the Electoral College’s votes, have apparently come to naught. The Wisconsin recount wound up yielding only another three hundred ballots to Trump’s previously announced win, and the courts in the other two states have concluded that a recount isn’t worth the bother. There’s still a slight chance that 37 electors in states Trump apparently won will not vote for him, and one has vowed in a New York Times op-ed that he won’t and several others are requesting intelligence briefings about Russia’s alleged involvement in the election, which suddenly seem plausible given the apparent president-elect’s announced appointments, but even in such a crazy election year as this that seems unlikely to change the already crazy enough outcome.
There’s a long and colorful history of “faithless electors” casting their votes against the will of the majority or plurality of their states, and depending on what state you’re in or what judge you wind up in front of it might be quite legal, and there are sound historical and constitutional arguments to be made on their behalf, especially in such a crazy election year as this, but they’ve never once changed the outcome of an election. Even in such a crazy election year as this it seems unlikely to occur, and even if it did it wouldn’t provide a happy outcome.
One highly unlikely scenario has those 37 electors switching their votes to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and making her the president, which would arguably be even worse than Trump taking the office, and we note that the country has wasted much of the past year and a half arguing about that very question and come to mixed results about it, so we can’t see that happening. The electors could also decline to vote for either of the major party nominees, as we did, in which case the matter would be left to the House of Representatives, where the Republicans hold a majority and would most likely wind up holding their noses as so many of our Republican friends did and vote for Trump. At this point in this crazy election year there’s still a one-in-a-gazillion chance that neither Clinton nor Trump will become president, and we will bitterly cling to that faint hope until it is inevitably dashed, but we’re already girding ourselves for what’s to come.

— Bud Norman

An Early Christmas and a Break From the News

It was still November and warmer than usual on the central plains Wednesday evening, but we nonetheless found ourselves ironing a button-down shirt and some pleated pants and donning a coat and tie to commence the Christmas season, which seems to come earlier every year. The occasion was a Christmas party the beloved folks were hosting at their swanky retirement home over on the newfangled and schmanty-fancy east side, and we must say it mostly provided a pleasant distraction from all the news and the rest of the modern world.
The other guests at the elegantly adorned table were a charming couple who have been married for nearly 70 years, and had been courting since he was in the second grade and she in the first, another delightful pair who had also been childhood sweethearts but only got together in her widowhood after many happy days, another dear woman recently widowed after as 66 years of fruitful marriage, as well as the beloved folks, whose sixtieth year of marriage seems their best yet, even closer and more heartfelt than in those carefree early days in exotic places that they still love to talk about. Our own romantic history isn’t so much worth talking about, especially with all the heartwarming conversation that was going on, so we happily sipped the wine that was served with each delicious course and vicariously soaked in the memories. Everyone at the table also told tales of the rigorous educations and successful careers that had brought them to that swanky retirement home, and the friends and children and hard times and belly laughs they had encountered along the way, as well as some fascinating talk about a couple of golf outings where one had a buddy who died on the green and another hit a hole-in-one. Our own educational and professional careers aren’t so much worth talking about, especially in such company, and we never did get the hang of golf, but it did our heart well to listen in.
Eventually the talk got around to politics, and we weren’t the least bit surprised that everyone else said they voted for Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, the thrice-married-to-an-illegal-immigrant-nudie model and six-times bankrupt casino-and-strip-club-mogul and former reality star and professional wrestling performer. None of them seemed at all happy about it, but they all noted that their only alternative was Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, whose romantic and professional history also isn’t worth talking about, so we couldn’t argue with their reasons nor their hard-earned presence. Our mom revealed that we hadn’t voted for Trump, so we quickly explained that we sure enough also hadn’t voted for Clinton, along with our rote statement that we were against her back when Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and saying she was the best Secretary of State ever, and in their wizened wisdom they seemed respectful of our choice.
In the America that our fellow Christmas revelers grew up in neither Clinton nor Trump would have ever been even momentarily considered for the presidency, but they’ve all seen some less-than-stellar presidents in their times, and on our way back from the men’s room we overheard another one of the residents talking about her grandson with the weird hair, and even on such a warmer-than-usual evening and such a convivial Christmastime celebration there’s no escaping the conclusion that times have changed. Our fellow revelers had been through many changes, some for the better and some for the worse, and they all seemed hopeful, so we took that with us on the way home.
You can quickly get from our folk’s swanky retirement home on the fancy-schmantzy east side to our old but fashionable neighborhood by taking the bypass and the canal route to 13th Street, but we decided to take the city streets that wind past Kirby’s Beer Store, the notorious bohemian dive bar where we stopped to take in a beer and some convivial conversation with the lovable losers we always find there. A couple of our younger yet seasoned musician friends gave us a complimentary copy of a seven-inch vinyl surf music revival record they’ve recently cut here in the central plains, we had a nice chat with a delightful and still idealistic young fellow we’ve recently met who is studying journalism at the university across the street and is seriously considering a newspaper career, which we can’t recommend but can’t quite bring ourselves to discourage, given our own well-remembered but currently unsatisfactory history in the profession, and all in all it was a nice stop in a day away from the news. Nobody seemed particularly pleased with that moment in history, but they had same fatalistic hope as at the earlier party, so we decided to carry that home as well.
There will be another round of news today, probably, but for now we’ll just try to pass along that same hope of wizened old age and idealistic youth as well as  our early wishes for a Merry Christmas.

— Bud Norman

Pizzagate and the Rest of the Post-Reality Show

The real news always takes time off for the holidays, so after a hearty Thanksgiving feast we took the opportunity to catch up on the latest conspiracy theories. At the moment the hot topic is “Pizzagate,” which by now involves not only Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama and other political power brokers but also such entertainment celebrities as Miley Cyrus, Kanye West, and perhaps even president-elect Donald Trump.
For those of you new to the scandal, the plot thus far is hard to explain. It all began with those e-mails that were hacked from Clinton crony John Podesta’s computer and released to the public through Wikileaks during the late stages of the recent presidential election. The mainstream sorts of presses reported with various degrees of enthusiasm on the infighting and conniving and other campaign hijinks that were revealed by the purloined missives, all of which was quite bad enough to deal another blow to Clinton’s already scandal-ridden candidacy, but meanwhile the more suspicious denizens of the internet were noticing the mention of a fashionably weird modern artist, along with frequent references to pizza and hot dogs and ping pong, and thus concluded that all the top Democrats were ritualistically raping and murdering kidnapped young children in the back room of a trendy District of Columbia pizzeria called Comet Ping Pong.
This may seem something of a leap of bad faith, but there are dozens of YouTube videos and internet postings out there to connect these seemingly unconnected dots. The fashionably weird artist is Marina Abramovic, who is little known to the general public but has won such reportedly prestigious art prizes as the Golden Lion at Venice with a performance art piece where she stares at random passersby as well as some rather crudely rendered and unmistakably morbid paintings, and one of the hacked e-mail has Podesta writing about his plans to attend of one of her “Spirit Cookings,” which the artist insists are just arty dinner parties but have elsewhere been rumored to be Luciferian rituals, so of course some concluded that the entire Clinton campaign was involved in a satanic conspiracy. Both the Clinton campaign and Obama had also held events at that trendy Comet Ping Pong pizzeria, too, and the e-mails had those frequent references to pizza and ping pong, so of course one would conclude that’s where all those satanic Democrats are ritualistically raping and murdering those kidnapped children.
As it turns out, “pizza” is apparently a code word in pedophile circles for sex with young girls, while “hot dog,” which is also mentioned in those Wikileaked e-mails, is code for sex with young boys, and “ping pong” also has some nefarious sexual connotation or another. We’re told that pedophiles also use a symbol with two intertwined hearts that vaguely resembles the crossed-ping-pong-paddles symbol that appears on the Comet Ping Pong menu, which also features the slogan “Play, Eat, Drink,” the capital letters of which spells “Ped,” as in pedophile, and what more proof does one need that Clinton and Obama and the rest of the cabal are raping and murdering children in the joint’s back room? Throw in the fact that the pizzeria’s owner is a professed homosexual who once had a relationship with David Brock, who was once part of the “vast right wing” conspiracy that tried to bring the Clinton family down way back in the Whitewater days but has long since been running pro-Clinton organizations such as MediaMatters, and that GQ magazine once flattered the owner as an influential Washingtonian, and that his name sounds vaguely like the French for “I love children,” along with some admittedly strange photographs of children on his social media sites, as well as some others than are more easily explained, and it’s no wonder that he and his chefs and waiters and busboys and an allegedly Jewish punk rock band that once played there have lately been receiving death threats from all sorts of places.
Since this shocking story first broke some astute internet sleuths have also noticed that former wholesome Disney star and current tongue-wagging and breast-baring pop provocateur Miley Cyrus has frequently employed pizza imagery in her “tweets” and “instragrams” and other public pronouncements, so she’s obviously in on it as well. The immensely yet unaccountably popular rapper and announced 2020 presidential candidate Kanye West recently had a nervous breakdown in front of a huge audience, which included a widely replayed-on-video rant about why he would have voted for Trump if he had bothered to vote, and none of the video seems to include the part where some people on the internet swear he also talked about all that raping and murdering going on at Comet Ping Pong, so that missing footage and the fact that West is now under psychiatric care just goes to show how very far-reaching the conspiracy has become. By the time this plays out any number of celebrities are likely to be implicated, perhaps even that seemingly-nice Jeopardy host Alex Trebek, because after all he’s from Canada, where they make Canadian bacon, which is often used on pizza and surely has some sinister meaning known only to the innermost circles of the pedophile ring.
As crazy as it all sounds, it’s to be expected in such a crazy election year as this. By now we’ve reached such a point of political polarization that far too many Americans are not only willing but eager to believe the very worst you might allege about their political opponents, they not only disbelieve the more mainstream media but take the official disbelief about such matters as “pizzagate” as proof that they’re in on it as well, and both modern art and modern politics have reached such a sorry state that almost anything does seem plausible. The president-elect has peddled the conspiracy theory that President Obama was born in Kenya, that President George W. Bush lied the country into a war with Iraq, intimated that a Republican primary rival’s father was involved in the assassination of President John Kennedy, heaped praise on the crazy-pants conspiracy-theorist InfoWars site, and predicted that a system “rigged” by unnamed bankers and globalists would deprive him of the presidency.
Such conspiracy-mongering helped Trump prevail in the election, but it’s not likely to help the former reality show star as he tries to cope with actual reality. Those unnamed bankers and globalists proved not quite powerful enough to deprive a boorish and oft-bankrupt casino-and-strip-club mogul of the presidency, he’s apparently mended fences with that Republican rival whose dad helped to kill Kennedy, is currently gushing over all the generals who helped Bush lie America into war in Iraq, he’s proudly put to rest all that nonsense he peddled about Obama being born in Kenya, and he’s now saying nice things about Clinton and promising to break his previous promise to have her locked up. He hasn’t yet been implicated in Pizzagate, although he probably has been photographed at some point eating pizza, but his recent reluctance to have Clinton locked up for all her satanic conspiracy shenanigans has already alarmed some of his erstwhile supporters, and his insistence that he can simultaneously run both a global business empire and the presidency seems likely to give rise to some relatively plausible conspiracy theories.
We once knew a fellow who was firmly convinced that George W. Bush had conspired to bring down the World Trade Center and blast a hole in the Pentagon and crash a jetliner into a Pennsylvania field in order to justify a war against an entirely peaceable Muslim world, along with any other satanic crime you might imagine, and seven years later he also believed that Obama was going to bring about hope and change and world peace and income equality and a constant climate on the earth, so when his ultimate hero failed to vanquish his ultimate villain it was quite confusing for him. When Trump fails to bring Obama and Clinton and all their modern art and modern politics friends to account for their satanic crimes it will be just as discombobulating to many of his fans, but the fact that the mainstream press is offering proof of his own conspiracies will probably convince them that he’s surely innocent.
The real news will probably be back by next Monday, and it should provide ample reason to hate all these people without resorting to satanic pedophile conspiracies. In the meantime, enjoy an extended weekend away from all of it.

— Bud Norman