Trump Takes on California

More information leaked out about that mysterious whistle-blower scandal, which was the Drudge Report’s top story and making its way to the hourly reports on the local talk radio station by Thursday, but as we await more details the story that caught out eye was President Donald Trump’s threat to sic the Environmental Protection Agency on the city of San Francisco.
Trump has lately been on a lucrative fund-raising tour in California, and while there he’s waged several rhetorical and political battles against the state. He seems to understand that he’s not going to win California’s rich trove of electoral votes in any case, but that its dwindling number of over-regulated and over-taxed and under-appreciated Republicans will appreciate his attacks, not to mention all the red state voters who resent California’s outsized political and economic and cultural influence. He drew attention to the growing and increasingly troublesome problem of homelessness in San Francisco and Los Angeles, which is at least in part a result of those famously liberal enclaves’ bleeding heart indulgence, and said he’d have the EPA slap on a violation notice on the City by the Bay  for all the environmental problems its home population is causing.
Many years have passed since our last visit to ‘Cisco, which was back in days of the dirty hippies of Haight-Ashbury, but by all accounts the homeless are by now an even more significant annoyance  there. Trump mostly complained that they’re bad for his rich donors’ businesses, but he also argued that their drug needles and excrement and flowing through the storm drains into the ocean. San Francisco’s mayor, fittingly named London Breed, insists the city is investing in shelters and mental health programs to combat the problem, and the EPA declined to comment on Trump’s threat, but the president probably has a point.
Even so, Mayor Breed can also make a strong argument that Trump’s threat to withdraw California’s waver to set its own clean air standards poses a greater threat to the state’s environment than all those drug-abusing and defecating homeless people. California has long had the nation’s strictest standards for how much pollution cars can emit, which have become the entire world’s de facto standards as the world’s carmakers have sought access to the world’s biggest car-buying market, and it seems to have made Los Angeles’ air less smoggy brown that it used to look at the opening of every episode of Jack Webb’s ultra-conservative cop show “Dragnet ’68.” The carmakers have become accustomed to the higher standards, car-buyers no longer notice the extra cost, and as much as our conservative Kansas Republican souls resent bossy governmental regulation our old-fashioned federalist principles don’t want to force Californians to put up with dirtier air.
Like all good heartlanders we’re inclined to regard California as the land of fruits of nuts, but we must admit that even here in business-oriented and Republican-voting and tough-love Wichita there’s also a severe problem with the homeless. On a drive past downtown’s once-elegant Shirkmere Apartments you’ll find a Hooverville-sized encampment of desperate souls outside the social service agency across the street, and you can’t go from the fuel pumps to the front door of the QuikTrips on Douglas and Seneca or Broadway and Murdock without getting panhandled. The local library’s main branch had to move from the heart of downtown to just across the Arkansas River in Delano, where the homeless have already found shelter from the heat and cold.
It’s an environmental mess here, too, and the good people of the Presbyterian church across the street from the soup kitchen that feeds the homeless has reluctantly built a fence to prevent the defecations on their steps that routinely occurred, but for now at least we probably won’t be bothered by the EPA’s intervention. The sooner-or-later next Democratic administration might change that, and we’ll be quite peeved about it if they do, but at least we won’t be hypocrites when we object to outsiders telling us how to go about our business. We have no better idea about how to deal with the homeless problem than those snooty know-it-alls in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and we think it best that all 50 states and their biggest cities  figure it out for themselves. One of them is bound to come up with something better than what California or Trump can think of.

— Bud Norman

An Balance of Power and an Imbalance of Everything Else

For some reason or another a few of the votes cast in this crazy presidential election year are still being counted, but by now it seems certain that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton will win the popular vote by a comfortable margin. This doesn’t change the more salient fact that Republican nominee Donald Trump won by a similarly comfortable margin in the electoral vote and is thus the president-elect, nor should it, but the final tally of votes cast across the country is still a fact worth pondering.
This crazy election year has resulted in a slight Republican majority in the Senate and a more sizable majority in the House of Representatives, a recent Republican of unproven Republicanism in the White House, a good shot at a Republican majority in the Supreme Court for another generation, and a number of Republican governors and state legislatures and county commissions and small town councils and school boards not seen since the days of Calvin Coolidge. At such a moment of seeming political triumphalism as this, unseen since the eight short years ago when Democratic nominee Barack Obama became president with a more impressive electoral majority and the Democrats had a bigger edge in the House and a filibuster-proof advantage in the Senate and another generation of the Supreme Court suddenly within reach, something in our instinctively gloomy conservative soul is struck by the unavoidable truth that the GOP has now lost six of the past seven presidential popular votes.
Take a look at an electoral map of any of the past several presidential election years, not just this crazy one, and you’ll immediately notice that the Republican red portions take up far more space than the Democratic blue portions. That long swath of blue running down the west coast and the blue patch in the southwest and those usual blue suspects in the northeast have as many people packed into them as that vast red splotch, however, and although they’re now narrowly missing a couple of those rust-belt states along the Great Lakes it would be foolish to assume the Democrats and their popular vote plurality are a vanquished foe. The recent Republican of questionable Republicanism who is now the president-elect has often seemed eager to please that portion of the popularity market, and some of the more longstanding Republicans who won more votes in their states are already set to clash with their newly-fledged party leaders on a variety of issues, and there’s no telling what strange bed-fellowships might spare us from or lead us into the worst of it. It’s bound to be contentious, and as the president-elect might say, that we can tell you, believe us, OK?
We’ll hold out faint hope that the same crazy constitutional system that somehow resulted in this crazy election year will once again withstand such craziness. Surely the founding fathers didn’t intend the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, any more than they would have desired the election of Hillary Clinton to that office, but from our perspective in the middle of the country we think they were wise to devise a system that prevented those small but densely populated blue dots from imposing their will on those vast yet sparsely populated red splotches, and made it hard for either one to ultimately vanquish the other. California and New York can do any constitutional yet crazy thing they want to so long as we hayseed Kansans and our mere six electoral votes are free to pursue whatever craziness we might choose, as far as we’re concerned, and we still think that’s the best arrangement for 50 very different states striving to form a more perfect union. Our liberal friends here in Kansas won’t like it, and we’ve got a rock-ribbedly Republican brother stuck in California who’s just as disgruntled, and there’s no guarantee that anyone will like how those matters of unavoidably national interest are settled, but it might just turn out to be at least tolerable to everyone.

— Bud Norman

Small Blue Dots and Big Red Splotches

Our humble hometown of Wichita is perfectly situated here in the middle of the country, we often boast, because if it were any farther from New York City it would just be that much closer to Los Angeles. This old jest came to mind as we were perusing a state-by-state rundown of the president’s approval ratings, which suggest that his low numbers are being propped up by a few densely populated spots far away from our discontented heartland.
The data was brought to our attention by the smart fellows over at the Powerline web site, who rightly conclude that the president’s unpopularity is even more widespread than the headline numbers would suggest, and it seemed full of interesting implications. Having some familiarity with all of the 48 contiguous states, and with a stereotype in mind for each, we were most interested to see where the president retains some following.
The president is most popular in Maryland, which is mostly Baltimore and the suburbs of the District of Columbia, both of which have a vested interest in federal largesse, yet only 56 percent of the state registers approval. Next up is the president’s native Hawaii, where 53 percent are still on board, a slight majority we attribute to the famously potent marijuana of the state. Coming in third is Vermont, which is basically a vast hippie commune with maple syrup, at 52 percent. The only other states where the president wasn’t below 50 percent were New York and Massachusetts, which requires no explanation, and even in those liberal redoubts he was right at the halfway mark. The combined populations of these states skews the overall results so, and that vexing 40 percent approval we keep seeing is mostly buoyed by a few other crowded states where the president’s standing hasn’t yet caved.
California remains the most populous state in the union, despite its best efforts to drive people away, and the president has only now dipped to 49 percent approval there, although we suspect the numbers drop drastically once your start polling outside of Los Angeles and San Francisco and a few of their more well-heeled suburbs. New York remains the second most populous state, despite its best efforts, and we further suspect that the president finds less approval the farther one gets away from the epicenter of New York City. In his adopted home state of Illinois, which also has a sizable population, the president is above the national average with an otherwise discouraging 45 percent, and we’d wager that number is far lower outside Chicago. A few other populous states are dragging the president’s approval ratings between below 50 percent but keeping it above 40, with the utan centers probably accounting for the crucial difference, and elsewhere the numbers are downright dismal.
Even in formerly supportive states such as Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida the president’s disapproval ratings are in the high 50s. In those deep red states that never did fall for the president’s promises of hope and change, the disapproval rates range from the high 60s to mid-70s. These numbers are unusual in American politics, where any Democrat’s 52 percent is routinely described as a landslide, and do much to explain some of the recent mid-term election stories.
Watch almost any Republican’s campaign commercials and you’ll see a scary-looking photograph of the president juxtaposed against a picture of the Democratic opponent, and listen to almost any Democrat’s campaign speeches and you’ll hear mention that the president isn’t the ballot. Both pitches are perfectly explained by the polling data. The president himself has declared that although he’s not on the ballot all of his policies are, which can only be explained by his characteristic belief that everything is about him, but the numbers are probably the reason he’s hitting the fund-raising circuit in those last remaining true-blue urban enclaves rather than hitting the campaign trail for the Democratic candidates he’ll need to get his policies enacted as law.
As encouraging as the numbers might to be to those of hoping for Republican victories in the coming mid-term elections, they’re discouraging to anyone with a vested interest in the continued union of these states. When small majorities of voters in a few densely populated urban areas can impose their political preferences on large but sparsely populated swaths of the nation where those policies are overwhelmingly hated it cannot help but fray the national unity. In the past such regional differences were ameliorated by federalism, an ingenious concept that allows California to be California and West Virginia to be West Virginia, but that’s one of the policies that urban enclaves seem intent on eliminating. The polling data suggest that the Republican party will have some greater degree of influence in the government following the elections, and if this proves true they would do well to make that old-fashioned notion a fighting principle.

— Bud Norman