Begging the President’s Pardon

Back when President Donald Trump was running against “Crooked” Hillary Clinton he always got big cheers at the rally by promising to “drain the swamp. He’d openly boasted about buying off politicians to benefit his businesses, but people bought the argument that made him an expert on fixing the problem of political corruption.
So far that hasn’t worked out well, with Trump using his office to benefit his still wholly-owned business in various ways, and his reputation as a corruption fighter suffered further on Tuesday when he issued pardons to or commuted the sentences of 11 notorious swamp creatures.
Trump gave a get-out-of-jail-free card to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was about halfway into a 14-year sentence for several several corruption convictions. The Federal Bureau of Investigation had him on wire-tapped tape profanely stating his intention to sell the Senate seat President Barack Obama had vacated by going to the White House, and he was also caught trying to shake down a children’s cancer hospital for a $50,000 campaign donation in exchange for signing a bill that would have spent millions on pediatric care.
That’s brazenly corrupt abuse of office even by Illinois standards, but Trump said the 14-year sentence “was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence in my opinion and in the opinion of many others.” We’re not sure who the many others are, but they apparently include Blagojevich’s wife, whose teary pleas on her husband behalf were frequently aired on Fox News. Blagojevich had also been a contestant on Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” reality show during his trial, but Trump insists he hardly knows the guy, so surely that as nothing to do with it.
A pardon was also handed to Michael Milken, the “Junk Bond King” who pleaded guilty in 1990 to six felony counts including securities fraud, mail fraud and filing a fraudulent tax return. Milken was considered the villainous exemplar of the “decade of greed” in the ’80s, and was the inspiration for the Gordon Gekko character in the movie “Wall Street” who had the oft-quoted line that “greed is good,” but times have changed. Among those advocating for Milken’s pardon were Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the wife of Senate majority leader and loyal Trump ally Mitch McConnell, deep-pocketed political donor Sheldon Adelson, and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy.
Trump was also merciful to former New York City police chief Bernard Kerik, who served during the mayoralty of Trump lawyer Rudy Guiliani, and was convicted of tax fraud while a partner in Guiliani’s security business, and is now a regular at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Edward DeBartolo Jr., a former owner of the National Football League franchise San Francisco ’49ers who pleaded guilty charge of conspiring with the corrupt and eventually convicted Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, was forgiven as well.
The rest of the beneficiaries of Trump’s mercy are people we’ve never previously heard of, but they all seem to have some connection to Trump or his cronies. Trump has also commuted the sentence of an aging black woman who was convicted of a non-violent drug offense, but that was for laundering the money she’d earned from running a multi-million-dollar crack cocaine ring that surely committed some violent offense or other, and she was distantly related to the husband of reality show star Kim Kardashian, who vouched for her character in a White House meeting with Trump.
Which leads many people to conclude that the fewer degrees of separation between a convict and Trump increases the convict’s chances of a presidential pardon. Two of Trump’s erstwhile associates, national security advisor Michael Flynn and longtime friend and advisor Roger Stone, are both awaiting sentencing following their convictions of violating federal law, and former campaign manager Paul Manafort is currently in prison, and all three are probably heartened by Tuesday’s news. In the opinion of many people, including ourselves, this looks awfully swampy.
More frightening is the possibility that Trump doesn’t see anything wrong about what Blagojevich or Milken or Kerik or DeBartolo did. He’d still like to lock up “Crooked” Hillary Clinton for whatever she did, which we vaguely recall had something to do with using non-governmental e-mails and cell phones the same way Trump and his daughter and White House advisor have done, and the rally crowds are chanting “Lock her up” at every mention of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s name, for reasons no one can explain. Abuses of power and paying or taking brides or cheating on tax returns or lying one’s way out of a jam are another matter, as far as Trump is concerned.
The same fervent fans who chanted “Drain the swamp” at the rallies won’t mind. Everyone does it, they’ll tell you.

— Bud Norman</div<

Draining the Ukrainian Swamp

President Donald Trump’s strongest defense of his decision to withhold congressionally appropriated military aid to Ukraine, which is the basis of the impeachment inquiry against him that renews this week, is that he was trying to get the country to clean up its undeniable problem with political corruption. According to a report from The Washington Post the ploy seems to have worked, but not the way Trump probably intended.
What’s driving the impeachment inquiry is the suspicion that Trump was leaning on the Ukrainian government for dirt on potential Democratic opponent Joe Biden’s son and a confession that the previous Ukrainian government had meddled in the past election and then framed Russia for the crime. So far all the sworn testimony from respected military officers and foreign service officials and a million-dollar Trump donor, as well as some pretty damning texts and e-mails and other documentary evidence backs this up.
For now Trump is blocking any testimony from a former White House legal counsel and national security advisor and the current Secretary of State and and his-still-on-retainer personal lawyer, all of whom clearly know something about all this and there might be able to say something exculpatory, and declining to send a lawyer to the hearings, but he’s still got a plausible enough corruption argument for the talk radio hosts and Republican politicians and the die-hard fans to cling to.
Biden’s son admittedly made a lot of money in Ukraine while the former Vice President was in charge of the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy, some very funny dealings have undoubtedly occurred in the country during its long and fitful struggle toward democracy since America helped liberate it from Soviet domination, and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has assured Trump that Russia sure didn’t meddle in the last election, and according to Trump some people are saying that Ukraine has the mysteriously missing Democratic National Committee computer server with all of the e-mails that should lock up Hillary Clinton. None of this comports with any established facts or the weight of evidence, and would be laughed out of any judicial proceeding, but impeachment is a political matter and the fans seems to love it.
No matter how that works out, Trump probably won’t get what he was hoping for from Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has announced a purge of more than 500 prosecutors suspected of corruption, but so for none are accused of anything having to do with Biden’s son or Clinton’s e-mails, and one of them is closely tied to Rudy Giuliani, the Trump personal lawyer who’s up to his neck in this Ukrainian impeachment mess and is refusing to testify about to Congress. Now that he’s got his military aid, which came shortly after Trump learned a “whistleblower” report about an alleged aid-for-dirt deal, Zelensky can make good on his campaign promise to root out corruption and stay on good terms with whoever the next president might be, and he’s wise to stay out of America’s affairs as much as possible.
Zelensky seems a savvy fellow, and just as interesting as Trump. He was a comedian who had no apparent qualifications except that he’d starred in a hit sit-com about a comedian who became president of Ukraine, just as Trump without any apparent qualifications except that he’d starred as a successful businessman on a hit reality show. Both men have outgoing personalities, a certain buffoonish self-consciousness, ridiculously bad hair cuts, and their own agendas.As Trump did, Zelensky ran as an outsider who would shake up the establishment, and like Trump he promised to be immune to corruption.
Unlike Trump, Zelensky inherited a country that had been largely annexed by a Russian government that was working to further exert its influence, and was eager to find whatever foreign assistance he could, whereas Trump spoke openly of his ambivalence about Russia claim on Ukrainian territory and cast doubt on any claims of undue Russian influence anywhere. Zelensky was thereby obliged to say during a White House visit that he’d felt no pressure to provide any dirt on the Bidens or Clinton’s in exchange for the aid, but at this point he’s got his military aid and is surely following American politics well enough to know that he doesn’t owe Trump any further favors. If he’s following all the trend-setting television comedians in America he’s probably betting on the Democrats, and if he’s serious about rooting out corruption in Ukraine he won’t give any cover to Giuliani.
We don’t nearly know nearly so much about Ukrainian politics as the former Trump campaign chairman who’s now in federal prison, or the Trump personal lawyer who’s now under federal investigation for his dealings in that country, or the various high government officials who are barred from testifying about any of it, but Zelensky seems to have a pretty good hand for the president of such a beleaguered country. Come reelection time he can tell the Ukrainian electorate that he stood up to the bullies of two nuclear superpowers, got millions of dollars from one to deter the other, and pulled it off with sit-comic flair.
Trump’s reality show presidency will be hard-pressed to compete with that. The big bucks Biden’s son made in Ukraine were already part of the the public record and would have been more useful without leaning on Ukraine for further dirt, and the stuff about Ukraine getting Clinton elected is a hard sell to all but the most die-hard fans.

— Bud Norman

Un-Blowing the Whistle

Donald Trump Jr. has “tweeted” the name of a man alleged to be the “whistleblower” who set off the current impeachment inquiry regarding President Donald Trump, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is demanding that the national media also publish the name. The alleged “whistleblower” is allegedly a Democrat fond of former Vice President and current presidential contender Joe Biden, and for now that’s best defense Trump’s Republicans can muster.
Alas, it’s a weak defense. Never mind that the erstwhile party of law and order is flouting a federal law intended to protect the anonymity of “whistleblowers,” which the Republicans will surely revere if there’s another Democratic president, the inquiry has moved well beyond him.
Regardless of his or her political biases, the “whistleblower’s” claim that Trump sought political help from Ukraine in exchange for military was deemed credible and concerning by two Trump-appointed intelligence officials, has since been corroborated by sworn testimony from the highest-ranking career foreign service and military officials serving in Ukraine, along with text messages and other documentary evidence. Perhaps they’re all “deep state” conspirators out to frame the president, despite their previously unsullied reputations, but the political appointee who got his job as Ambassador to the European Union after donating $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee has now amended his testimony to corroborate the other witnesses, and former Trump-appointed national security advisor and impeccably credentialed right-wing Republican John Bolton is expected to say the same thing live on television next week, and there’s no telling what will happen if Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani winds up under oath and on the air..
An incomplete and presumably carefully edited transcript of the call between Trump and the Ukrainian president also backs up the story, Trump has made clear on several occasions that he’s open to political help from foreign governments, and his chief of staff told the national media that “we do it all the time,” adding “get over it.” Why Trump and his apologists continue to deny it is unclear to us, especially when they have that “so what?” defense at their disposal.
Trump claims that he was only interested in ending Ukraine’s entrenched political corruption, but he’s rarely shown any concern about other country’s corruption problems, and as a businessman he publicly complained that under American law he couldn’t hand out bribes in other countries like his foreign competitors, and as president he has cut funding for anti-corruption assistance to reformist movements. Perhaps it’s mere coincidence that his sudden anti-corruption fervor is mostly focused on something that might provide dirt on a potential election rival, and even disprove the consensus opinion of the national intelligence community that Russia helped Trump get elected last time around, but maybe not.
Better to go with the “so what?” defense. The die-hard fans will love such defiance of the hated establishment, with all its fussy notions of political propriety, another sizable portion of the country isn’t paying any attention, and last time around Trump somehow won an electoral majority on basically the same argument. Most of the the country isn’t buying it, but for now they don’t have enough Senators to remove Trump from office, and it’s unclear if the majority is spread around the electoral map well enough to deny Trump reelection.
One can only bang his head against the stone wall of facts for so long, even one so hard-headed as Trump, and sooner or later he’ll take to the presidential podium and admit that he did indeed solicit political help from a foreign government in exchange for military aid, he won’t appear the least bit embarrassed, and he’ll be hurling accusations that it his was enemies who were doing improper things. He might as well cut to the chase now, to borrow an old Hollywood cliche, before all that boring but damning testimony is aired live on national television.

— Bud Norman

Trump in Retreat

There’s something in the stubborn soul of President Donald Trump that is loathe to ever admit a mistake or back off from any position, but over the weekend he was nonetheless forced to retreat from his cockamamie idea about hosting a G-7 summit at one of his gaudy golf resorts.
He didn’t admit to a mistake, of course, but instead predictably blamed “both Media & Democrat Crazed Hostility.” There was indeed much outrage in the media and the Democratic party, but the bigger problem was that even his most stalwart defenders in the media and Republican party were finding this particular cockamamie idea, so obviously rife with corruption and an impeachable violation of the constitution’s emoluments clause, hard to defend. Many of those stalwart defenders were already refusing to defend his currently catastrophic retreat from Syria, with a majority of the House Republicans and the Senate Majority Leader and several of his colleagues outright rebuking it, and with an impeachment inquiry gaining momentum Trump can only be so brazen.
Trump loyalists should hope that he’s been chastened by the retreat, and will pursue a more careful and humble path forward, but we figure there’s faint hope of that. A few days ago he thought he could sell America on the idea that the most perfect place to host the leaders of the world’s economic powers just happened to be a golf resort he owned, and that he was only doing it to make America great again. His hubris has withstood countless embarrassments and somehow arrived him at the White House, so he retains his abiding faith in his great and unmatched wisdom.
Which is becoming harder for the stalwart defenders to defend with each passing day. The president stands credibly accused of extorting Ukraine for election help, which his Chief of Staff seems to have confessed to in front of national television cameras, adding “we do it all the time,” and “get over it,” and even some Republicans are backing off from that. The economy’s still good, but some predictive economic data are not looking good, and if worse comes to worst by next election day a lot of Republicans in farm and manufacturing states who were never on board with trade wars to begin with will be looking for someone to blame.
Trump is unlikely to hear our advice, and even less likely to heed it, but we’d advise him not to do anything so indefensibly stupid and unsavory as awarding himself a fat government contract. In these trying times, we’re sure his stalwart defenders would appreciate it.

— Bud Norman

Trump and his Cynical Critics

How remarkable it is that what’s best for America so often coincides with what’s best for President Donald Trump’s businesses. To cite just the latest example, by sheer coincidence an exhaustive search for the perfect place to host the upcoming G-7 summit wound up at a Florida golf course that just happens to be owned by Trump.
By all accounts the Trump National Doral outside of Miami is a ritzy joint with plenty of room for a large gathering of foreign officials, even if business have been down precipitously over the last couple of years, but in this cynical age some will inevitably suspect that the golf resort was chosen to enrich Trump. Perish the thought, according to White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who assured reporters on Thursday that “We used a lot of the same criteria used by past administrations,” even if no previous administration ever chose a Trump property for a summit. Mulvaney also assured the reporters that Trump won’t make any money from the arrangement, and although he didn’t explain why not only a partisan hater would doubt his word.
Trump has received bipartisan criticism for withdrawing American troops from Syria, which has allowed Turkey to seize large swaths of land from our erstwhile Kurdish allies, but only the presidents most mean spirited opponents would think the decision was at all affected by Trump’s personal bottom line. Back in the ’16 presidential campaign Trump admitted to a friendly talk radio show that “I guess I have a little conflict of interest ’cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul. It’s a tremendously successful job. It’s called Trump Towers — two towers instead of one, not the usual one, it’s two,” but surely that never entered Trump’s mind.
All that fuss about Trump withholding military aid from our Ukrainian allies unless they launched some investigations into corruption was entirely in the best interest of American national security, we’re sure, even if the investigations Trump requested happen to target a potential election opponent and could possibly confirm some fanciful conspiracy theories about why he lost the popular vote last time around.
The trade war Trump has also brought bipartisan criticism, with farmers and manufacturers and consumers taking a big hit for what looks to turn out to be a pretty much status quo trade deal, but it would be downright mean to think that the sweetheart deals First Daughter and senior White House advisor Ivanka Trump got from the Chinese at the outset of negotiations had anything to do with it. Surely it’s sheer coincidence, too,  that Air Force cargo planes were diverted to a civilian airport which happens to be located next to a Trump-owned golf resort where business has also been down lately.
Past presidents have divested themselves of their business holdings and placed their fortunes in a blind trust to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, and released tax returns and other financial documents to reassure the public, but Trump figures he doesn’t need such old-fashioned formalities. He’s led such a selfless and blameless life according to the strictest ethical standards, after all, and when he tells you he always puts America first he can look you right in the eye and say “that I can tell you, believe me, OK?”
The die-hard fans trust him, and surely only the most cynical and suspicious  sorts would dare to doubt him.

— Bud Norman

Monday is a New Day

The past weekend was bittersweet here in Wichita. The weather was mostly fine, but there were intermittent rainstorms and the nightly temperatures made clear that autumn has arrived, with another winter sure to follow. We were obliged to attend a couple of wakes for a dear friend of ours who died far too young. On Sunday the local newspaper where we worked for a quarter-century had a front page scoop that the mayor steered a multi-million dollar deal for the city’s water supply to some golfing buddies. Here and everywhere else in America the rest of the news was about a seemingly inevitable impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
Despite it all, we found a few reasons to wake up with a hopeful feeling today.
There’s always a chance that the ever-changing Kansas climate will deliver us another mild winter, as we’ve had the past few years, and if that portends a climate change disaster for the rest of the world so be it. As fed up as we are with the demand Republicans we don’t think that voting for some damn Democrats will avert any looming catastrophes, as the Chinese and Indians and the rest of the world will continue to emit carbons even if America commits economic suicide, so we’ll hold out hope that God’s nature is resilient to the worst mere mankind can do.
As much as we’ll miss our dear friend Jon Janssen, we’ll take some solace in knowing that he died of a heart attack after a strenuous day of yard work rather than AIDS. Jon was a talented pianist and a gifted conversationalist and one of those good guys who loved his fellow humans and never wished harm on any of them. He was also a homosexual, and way back in the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic he was one of the very first to test positive for HIV, but for some reason he never progressed to the AIDS that killed so many of our mutual friends, and he bravely volunteered for the scientists’ grueling medical tests to find out why. We’ll hold out hope that Jon helped with the research that has kept so many people alive, and that with God’s mercy his kind and loving soul will persevere.
We do hate to see Wichita’s mayor implicated in a corruption scandal, as in this small town we have come to know him to be a likable fellow, with a charming wife, but we’re glad to see the local newspaper get the scoop. The byline on the story belongs to a young fellow we know from Kirby’s Beer Store, as he’s been hanging out there since his days on the across-the-street Wichita State University Sunflower, and we’re proud of his well-sourced and well-written work. We’ve often kidded him about how he missed out on the good old days when we had front page bylines on a fat and profitable newspaper, rather than the emaciated rag they turn out these days, but next time we see him we’ll buy him a Pabst Blue Ribbon for making the paper once again relevant. The mayor is up for reelection next November, and we’d already planned to vote against him because he tore down our beloved Lawrence-Dumont baseball stadium kicked out our beloved Wichita Wingnuts and built something uglier and modern that benefits some out of town contractors, but it’s nice to see that what’s left of our struggling hometown paper has bolstered the case for a new regime.
We’re no longer drinking buddies with the national media these days, but we mostly believe all these national stories that are driving the Democrats to impeach Trump, and we’re glad they’re on the job. In the coming cold and dark months they’ll probably have plenty more to report, and our old-fashioned Republican souls will be disheartened to hear it, but they’ll probably be right, and we’re always looking for the truth, as much as we hate to hear it.
Even on such a bittersweet prairie autumn evening as this, tomorrow is another day.


— Bud Norman

Celebrities, Populists, and Celebrity Populists

Ukraine has apparently elected a populist celebrity with no previous political experience as its president, and we hope it works out better for them than it has for Italy, Guatemala, Peru, Liberia, Pakistan, the United States of America, and the other countries that have recently made similar choices.
The Ukrainian president-elect is Volodymyr Zelensky, a 41-year-old comedian best known for his starring role on the hit Ukrainian sitcom “Servant of the People,” about a comedian who somehow becomes president of Ukraine. We eagerly anticipate the English-dubbed version showing up on Netflix, as it’s apparently a compelling show. From what we can tell by the press accounts Zelensky’s character is constantly doing battle with the country’s entrenched and corrupt establishment, and although he doesn’t necessarily win he at least gets some humorous insults in, and according to a prominent Ukrainian political observer quoted in The Washington Post “People are voting for the plot of the show.”
None of the western press reports about the election say much about Zelennsky’s opponent, who might well have been just as awful as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in the last American election, but it still strikes us as a fanciful choice. Zelensky will likely get some zingers in during his time in office, and his fans will surely love it, but recent experience indicates that only does so much good for a country.
Italy elected comedian Beppe Grillo as its leader, and although he’s gotten a lot of laughs the country is still the same corruption-ridden economic basket case it’s been for the past 100 years or so. Previously the Italians had elected multi-billionaire media mogul and crusading populist Silvio Berlusconi, but his several terms were frequently interrupted by indictments and convictions on various corruption charges, which majorities of the Italian people didn’t mind given his crusading anti-corruption populism.
In 2015 Guatemala elected anti-corruption comedian Jimmy Morales, who had also starred in a hit comedy about a comedian becoming president, but the country remained so violent and impoverished that a troublesome segment of its population is currently seeking aslyum in the United States. Liberia elected a popular soccer star, Pakistan elected a cricket star who’d become a national hero by leading the country to its only world championship, but neither has proved nearly so successful in playing the more complicated game of governance.
Once upon a time in America we could have rolled our eyes at such Third World craziness, but in the age of President Donald Trump’s we have no standing to sneer. Trump was elected by an electoral majority without any previous political experience partly because of his much-bragged about yet frequently-bankrupt business career, partly because he’d portrayed a tough-talking take-charge “you’re fired” businessman on the reality show “The Apprentice,” partly because he promised to use that experience to “drain the swamp,” and mostly because he had the good fortune to be running against “Crooked” Hillary Clinton, who was arguably almost as corrupt.
Despite his political inexperience Trump has kept the American economy chugging along the same slow upward trajectory it was on when he elected, and during the two years his party controlled both chambers of Congress he won a budget-busting tax bill and installed a couple of conservative Supreme Court justices that any old establishment Republican would have championed, but mostly his fans love him for the zingers he gets in.
The people in the red “Make America Great Again” ball caps find Trump’s current hit reality show downright hilarious, but we admit we just don’t get it. They loved it when Trump mocked a reporter’s degenerative muscle disease, but it reminded of us how the kids at our elementary school laughed at the playground bullies’ mocking of the handicapped students, and they thought it funny that Trump called his Democratic nemesis Rep. Adam Schiff “Little Adam Shitt” in a “tweet,” but we thought it juvenile and vulgar and far beneath the dignity of the American presidency. A friend of our complains that the stuffily literal media took Trump seriously when he hilariously requested the Russian government to hack Clinton’s e-mails, and Trump himself has won laughs from his rally crowds by recalling how he said that during a raucous campaign rally where everyone was laughing and in on the joke, but in fact he said it at a somber press conference, where reporters pressed him to verify that he wasn’t joking, and the Mueller report makes clear that the Russian government didn’t get Trump’s sense of humor and attempted to hack the Clinton e-mails that same day.
Call us old-fashioned, but we preferred the more sly and subtle and profanity-free wits of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. These days much of America is so contemptuous of its fellow citizens on the opposite side of the political divide that it will happily settle for even the most puerile zingers, though, and hold out little hold that our differences can be reconciled through civil and reason debate. Apparently much of the rest of the Third and second and First Worlds have reached the same desultory state.
Here’s hoping it works out better for Ukraine than it has elsewhere. Zelensky is reportedly pro-NATO and anti-Russian, which is more than we can say for Trump, so we wish him the best of luck with that. Besides, for all we know the other candidate was arguably even more awful.
Even so, and at the risk of being called old-fashioned, we think there’s still something to be said for seasoned public servants making serious and fact-based arguments in a civil and reasoned debate. Maybe someone should make a show about that, but it probably wouldn’t get big ratings.

— Bud Norman

Draining the Swamp, Building a New One, Then Repeat

Political corruption scandals, much like those “me too” sexual harassment and assault scandals that keep popping up, are a bi-partisan problem. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are immune to the all-too-human temptations of power, so the side with more power tends to be the one with the more scandals. For the moment the Republicans have majorities in both chambers of Congress and a putative member of the party in the White House, and they’re busily making the judicial branch Republican for the next generation, so it’s no surprise that mainly Republicans are getting pilloried in the political press these days.
The past week has seen a federal indictment of New York’s Republican Rep. Christopher Collins, who was the first congressional supporter of President Donald Trump’s candidacy and one of his most die-hard apologists, on some some pretty darned convincing insider-trading charges involving a company whose board he sat own while he also sat on congressional committees overseeing its industry. The week also saw Trump’s former deputy campaign manager Robert Gates admitting to various financial crimes during his pretty darned damning testimony against former business partner and one-time Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who will later face another federal trial regarding his alleged shady and unregistered dealings with the Russian-backed Ukrainian government he represented.
All of which comes in the aftermath of the resignations of Trump’s picks to head the Health and Human Services Department and the Environmental Protection Agency resigning in the wake of mounting ethics allegations and some undeniably lavish spending on the taxpayers’ dime. Not to mention the ongoing “Russia thing” about Trump’s son and son-in-law and campaign manager and deputy campaign manager and Trump himself, and an ongoing federal suit about violations of the constitution’s emolument clause, all of which is lately looking worse and worse by the daily developments.
There’s still a convincing argument to be made that the Democrats are at least as bad, or surely will be again just as soon as they inevitably regain power, and we well remember the satisfaction we once took in all the well-documtened outrages the Republicans once accurately pined on them. We’ll not join in the “lock ’em up” chants at the never-ending Trump campaign rallies, though, but we’ll try to be just as principled and objective in judging our putative fellow Republicans.
At this point no one in politics looks good, but we’re not chanting for any of them to locked up, and are instead holding out faint hope that America’s government will look more like it was described to us in civics class. Something in our post-lapsarian Judeo-Christian souls tells us that the temptations of power are irresistible, though, and the scandals will continue no matter which party is in power.

— Bud Norman

Scott Pruitt has Been Drained From the Swamp

Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt resigned on Thursday, so apparently there are still some limits left on outrageous behavior even in the era of President Donald Trump.
Pruitt was a controversial appointee even by the standards of the Trump administration, for reasons that were both arguable and ultimately inarguable. His de-regulatory zeal infuriated the left and endeared him to the right, but his peculiar and expensive and blatantly corrupt way of going about it had led to a full 14 ethics investigations and ultimately left with few allies even on the right. Eventually even fellow Oklahoman and salwart Republican Rep. Jim Inhofe was telling Oklahoma City’s Daily Oklahoman that “I was getting kind of weak on him myself” even as he was assured the state’s biggest paper’s readers that in a recent phone conversation with Pruitt “We went over these accusations one by one, and it turns out they’re totally wrong.” Trump “tweeted” his fulsome praise for all the regulations that Pruitt had de-regulated, but he also mentioned in the same “tweet” that he had accepted Pruitt’s sudden resignation.
Way back in the good old days when we used to fulminate daily about the regulatory zeal of President Barack Obama and the broader left we consistently argued that some of the many thousands of regulations they were annually imposing were bound by statistical probability to be good policy, and that a larger percentage of them were likely to be an unnecessary burden on a free market economy that doesn’t really want to kill anybody, and we freely admitted we didn’t have the time or expertise to determine which of those thousands of annual regulations were which. In these desultory days of Trump and the right’s seemingly willy-nilly zeal of de-regulations we’ve figured that Pruitt was probably undoing a lot of bureaucratic nonsense, and making the occasional deadly mistake, but we still lack the time and expertise to say which is which, and for the most part we’ve gone along with Trump and Pruitt the rest of the current Republican party about it.
Still, we don’t see why Pruitt couldn’t have achieve dsuch arguably advantageous policies without charging the taxpayers for first class flights to far-flung vacation destinations, or sending taxpayer-paid staffers on such bizarre personal errands as securing a certain sort of hand lotion from a particular luxury hotel or acquiring a used mattress from a Trump-owned hotel, or trying to acquire a Chik-Fil-A franchise or some other lucrative occupation for his wife, or charge taxpayers for the “cone of silence” thingamajig from “Get Smart” or accept a sweetheart rental deal from lobbyists with business before the EPA, or have his underlings pay his hotel bills with their personal credit cards and never re-pay them,  or any of the numerous other ethics investigations he instigated. ByThursday afternoon, even Pruitt and Trump agreed that Pruitt ha to go.
For now the EPA will be run by the agency’s already Senate-confirmed deputy director, who seems to have the same de-regulatory zeal as Pruitt but none of his outrageous and capsizing  baggage, which will surely drive the left wing crazy and give a smug satisfaction to the newly-constituted right wing. Our guess is that Trump is by now wised-up enough to stick with that politically fortuitous status quo, that a lot of needlessly burdensome regulations will repealed along with a few that result in the loss of some farmer’s life, that most voters lack the time and expertise to say which regulations are need and which are unnecessarily burden some, and that by the time the mid-term elections come around next fall Pruitt will be happily forgotten.

— Bud Norman

The Election Year of Anything Goes

“In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking,” the great Cole Porter once tunefully observed, memorably adding “But now, God knows, anything goes.” That was way back in 1933, so we shudder to think what the oh-so-sophisticated songwriter of that scandalous era would be thinking if he had stuck around for 2016. The latest rap and rock and pop cacophony would have surely appalled him, the rest of the popular culture would no doubt also dismay the sensibilities of the fellow who lamented that “Good authors, too, who once knew better words now only use four-letter words writing prose,” and even such a classy and contentedly closeted homosexual of that bygone era as Porter would probably be confounded by all this current public enthusiasm for creepy guys hanging around women’s restrooms.
What he’d make of this crazy election year, well, God only knows.
This crazy election year has gone far beyond a glimpse of stocking to include stark naked pictures of a major party nominee’s third wife exposed on the cover of a New York tabloid, and more widely disseminated across that newfangled internet thingamajig without those minuscule but pesky stars over the naughtiest bits that even New York tabloids still feel obliged to use, along with some suggestively sapphic poses with an anonymous naked woman or two that easily meet the late Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell’s definition of pornography as “I know it when I see it.” That same major party nominee used to run a strip joint before it went bankrupt, has boasted in print about the many married women he’s bedded, once offered assurances about his sufficient penis size during a presidential debate, often cusses in front of the kids, seems to share the unaccountable current popular enthusiasm for creepy guys hanging around women’s restrooms, and for crying out loud he’s the Republican nominee.
Meanwhile, the Democratic nominee is the wife of former President Bill Clinton, the predatory serial philanderer best remembered after two terms and nearly 16 years of historical reflection as the punchline to countless late night comedy show fellatio jokes, and for crying out loud she’s running as the long awaited culmination of the feminist revolution. The long-presumed and still potential First Woman President is as always committed to the pro-abortion stand that her Republican opponent took right up until he decided to run as Republican and rather clumsily tried to be anti-abortion, and a lot of the older feminists are still grateful that she protected her pro-abortion woman against the women who spoke frankly about his predatory serial philandering, and a lot of the younger feminists find the Republican just as icky, so she might well get away with it. She’s not about to be outflanked for the creepy guy in the women’s restroom vote even if the Republican nominee is offering them concealed carry, she’ll always enjoy the advantage of that double standard that regards scorned women as admirable victims and betrayed men as laughable cuckolds, and even the current Republican nominee with the naked model third wife and newfound anti-abortion zealotry is unlikely to overcome the party’s cornball reputation for old-fashioned family values.
What’s most striking to us, and would surely get the attention of a resurrected Cole Porter or any other previous American, is that none of this seems to matter. The only interest that the more respectable press took in those naked pictures had to do with the fact that they were apparently taken in in America in 1995, and that the potential first lady’s first work permit was issued in 1996, raising doubts about her future husband’s stand against illegal immigrants taking jobs from natives. Some of the feminist sisterhood even came to her defense, the right to pose naked and especially to do the sapphic sorts of shots being the most up-to-date version of the cause that even the aging Democratic nominee didn’t want to argue with, and no one except such fuddy-duddies as ourselves would wants to be on record saying that there’s something somehow unsettling about naked pictures of one major party’s nominee’s third wife and his opponent being in no position to say anything about it. We grew up long after Cole Porter’s heyday but still in a time when the happily married Rob and Laura Petrie were sleeping in separate beds on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” and when Lyndon Baines Johnson was holding bathroom press conferences and Richard Milhouse Nixon was creating the familiar phrase of “expletive deleted” but never doing it in front of the kids, and both the cutting-edge feminists and the retrograde family values types had an unease with the sort of objectification of women that recently appeared on the front page of that Republican-nominee-endorsing New York tabloid. Call us old-fashioned, but in this crazy election year we feel a certain nostalgia for the hopeful hypocrisy of those long-lost days.
We rarely find ourselves in sympathy with The New York Times’ Ross Douthat, but we rather liked his recent essay about how this crazy election will in one way or another be the culmination of the sexual revolution that coincided with the feminist revolution during those lamentable ’60s. He astutely likens Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s braggadocios sexism with the Brat Pack and Hugh Hefner and of course Democratic icon John F. Kennedy and the rest of the alpha males of the “Mad Men” era of early ’60s sexual liberation, and Clinton with the adversarial if equally libidinous feminism that reacted in the latter part of the decade. Regardless of the outcome of the next election one of the two will be ratified, Douthat suggests, and while we doubt we’re in complete agreement about which would be best he seems to share our concern that neither is at all satisfactory. For that matter, we can’t imagine that any self-respecting feminist or intellectually honest family-value types sees any hope in this crazy election year.
There are more important issues than such long-lost causes, we suppose, such as the ever-harder-to-dispute fact that the Democratic nominee was running an utterly corrupt influence-peddling “family foundation” while in public and that the Republican nominee who openly brags about buying influence was one of the donors during his exclusively private sector career, and that a certain level of personal and financial and political sleaziness is now assumed by both sides and it’s all a matter of deciding which is more objectionable. We can’t help thinking that the lowered cultural standards have something to do with the lowered political standards, and that the range of acceptable debate has shrunk even as the rules about how views can be expressed have expanded, and that Cole Porter and his better generation of contemporaries would be startled what happens when anything truly goes.

— Bud Norman