Those Darned Ukrainians

There was more bad news for President Donald Trump on Thursday’s episode of the impeachment inquiring show, which guest starred the formidable Fiona Hill. She’s the senior director for Europe and Russia on Trump’s National Security Council, is widely recognized as the government’s foremost expert on Russia, and during her hours of testimony was remarkably well-spoken in an intimidating British accent.
Basically she just backed up what all the previous formidable witnesses had testified, that Trump had sought political help from the Ukrainian in exchange for $400 million of aid that Congress had appropriated to that beleaguered ally, the easily rebuffed the Republican members’ efforts to undermine her. She further further endeared herself to us when she also took aim at one of the more preposterous theories that Trump’s apologists are trying to peddle.
“Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security forces did not conduct a campaign against our country — and that perhaps, for some reason, Ukraine did,” Hill said in her opening statement. “This is a fictional narrative the has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”
Well said, but we thought it a shame it needed saying. All of Trump’s appointees to head America’s intelligence agency have confirmed that Russia hacked Democratic computers and launched an internet disinformation campaign and attempted to alter voting totals, both the Republicans and Democrats on the Senate’s intelligence committee reached the same conclusion, and Trump’s own Justice Department is currently charging 12 specific Russians for pulling it off. At this point the only people who doubt it are Trump, who has Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s word that it didn’t happen, and the die-hard fans who somehow still believe anything Trump says.
The most die-hard of the fans, who seem willing to believe almost anything, are convinced it was Ukraine that meddled in the election in cahoots with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. It’s a neat theory with the virtue of explaining everything Trump has been accused of, but it has the unfortunate flaw of making no sense whatsoever.
There’s no denying that somebody hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s computer and selectively leaked the most embarrassing e-mails through Wikileaks at such convenient moments for Trump as when the “Hollywood Access” tape was released, and we notice that Trump advisor Roger Stone was recently found guilty for lying about his contacts with Wikileaks, and it’s hard to explain why Ukraine or anyone else would do that Clinton’s behalf. All of the foreign disinformation was to Trump’s advantage, too, and the executives at the internet platforms which disseminated the disinformation all testified to Congress that it was coming from Russia and was often paid for with rubles. The attempts to hack the voting machines apparently failed, but they did breach a couple of levels of security and were eventually traced to Russia.
If those nefarious Ukrainians were attempting to get Clinton elected they did a damned poor job of it, but they were astoundingly successful in framing those blameless Russians. According to the most die-hard die-hards those Ukrainians a wily bunch of schemers, though, and are in cahoots with Crooked Hillary and potential Democratic nominee Sleepy Joe Biden and his big-earner son, and is currently hiding that DNC computer server that surely holds all the the secrets of the satanic and child-molesting and globalist “deep state” conspiracy.
Biden’s son did a make a lot of money in Ukraine while his dad was Vice President and overseeing Ukrainian policy, and after many decades as a subservient vassal of the Soviet Union Ukraine’s path toward democracy has been fitful and often corrupt, but that’s hardly proof that Trump didn’t lean on an ally for dirt on a potential political opponent. Nor does it mean Trump was right to do so.
We’ve been Republicans ¬†far longer than Trump, and can well remember the pride we felt in our party when President Ronald Reagan’s leadership helped liberate Ukraine from the Evil Empire and tried to welcome it into the western world of freedom and democracy. For all its faults we don’t think Ukraine is the bad guy in all this, and for all the good it has done in the past we’re not taking much pride in the Republican party these days.

— 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

The Story That Drowned in the Flood

If the easternmost cities and towns of North Carolina weren’t underwater, and a Supreme Court nomination wasn’t facing equally stormy weather, the big story on Tuesday probably would have been President Donald Trump declassifying several documents related to the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation into the “Russia thing.”
Trump has “tweeted” that “Very bad things were happening, but now they are being exposed. Big stuff!” His critics have countered that it’s yet another out-in-the-open obstruction of justice based on yet another unconvincing conspiracy theory, and threatens to expose the Justice Department’s sources and methods and thus pose a threat to national security. In either case, we figure it would be a very big deal in a slower news cycle.
The documents include a very top-secret filing for a warrant from the very top-secret court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, some internal e-mails sent by several DOJ and Federal Bureau of Investigations suspected of a “deep state” conspiracy to overthrow Trump’s presidency, and various other “big stuff.” If you haven’t been keeping up with the whole “Russia thing,” the FBI and all the intelligence agencies and even the Trump appointees who now run them agree that the Russians meddled in America’s past presidential election on Trump’s behalf, but Trump and all of his talk radio apologists agree that it was actually Democratic nominee “Crooked” Hillary Clinton who colluded in the effort.
Although that Clinton woman was indeed pretty damned crooked we have to admit she’s at least shrewd enough that this conspiracy theory makes no sense to us, but these days nothing does, so we can’t rule out the possibility that the declassified documents will definitively prove that Trump is the blameless victim of a “deep state” coup. We’ll not be wagering any of our meager amount of money on that outcome, though, and those damned Democrats’ sudden and opportunistic fussiness about sources and methods and national security seems a surer bet.
As horrible as it’s been the storm in the Carolinas will eventually dissipate, and one way or another a conservative jurist will eventually take a seat on the Supreme Court, but one way or another this “Russia thing” isn’t going away anytime soon.

— Bud Norman