Another Day on a Long Trip

The third day of President Donald Trump’s nine-day foreign voyage went well enough that the more hostile media did their best to change the subject back to all the scandals that he hoped he’d left behind, but there was no keeping anybody’s eyes off it. There were a couple of things the critics could reasonably carp on, and all the more momentous things that can’t help being debated during any presidential visit to Israel, where Trump found himself the day after his royal welcome to Saudi Arabia, which further complicates that already complex debate, but at the end Trump seemed to have muddled through a relatively good news cycle.
Trump donned a yarmulke and went down to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem to pay his respects to several millennia of Jewish tradition, becoming the first American president to do so at the much-disputed site while holding the office, and even such staunchly old-fashioned yet neo-conservative and philo-semitic and NeverTrumper Republican goyim as ourselves had to admire the chutzpah of that. Although he’s still backing away from that oft-stated campaign promise to relocate the embassy from Tel Avid to Jerusalem, which was a step too far even for the likes of us, we’re surely not the only ones who are pleased to see the stark difference with President Barack Obama’s anti-Israeli policies. Some of Trump’s supporters on the alt-right are no doubt disappointed, and the more blatantly anti-semitic portions of the left are also offended, but we hope that most of us are rooting for the Israelis rather than the people who have vowed to exterminate them.
Some of those Jew-haters are in Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni nations that Trump had been partying with the two days before, and some are in Iran and the rest of the Shiite sphere that Trump had thundered against, and nobody here or in the Middle East seems to know how that’s all going to work out in the end. We’d like to think that Trump has ingeniously calculated some great deal that will bring about peace in that eternally warring region just as surely as President Andrew Jackson would have averted America’s Civil War, but we just can’t bring ourselves to do it, so for now we’ll take solace in the face that at least he’s not disrespecting the Israelis the way Obama used to do.
Still, there’s no denying the Trump-bashers some fun from such a marathon journey. All our liberal Facebook friends were sharing the footage of Trump noticing that Natanyahu and his wife were holding hands as the walked from the runway and then trying to do the same with his First Lady and having her slap his hand away, and we’ll have to leave it to the more ardent Trump apologists to explain how it doesn’t look bad. Some of Trump’s slighter lapses have been attributed by his communication team to “exhaustion,” which is credible enough excuse on behalf of an obese 70-year-old who eschews any exercise other than a weekly round on a Trump-banded golf course, but the late night wags are entitled to their montages of Trump bragging about his stamina, and it is only three days into a night-day tour.
There are the usual reasonable arguments from both the left and the right about how Trump’s pro-Saudi and pro-Israel and vaguely pro-Russian-yet stridently against aligned-with-Russia Iran stance will eventually work out, but for now we’ll be glad that unlike Obama he’s not apologizing for American influence in the region, even that Iraq war he claimed President George W. Bush lied us into, which even Obama didn’t claim. Things don’t seem any more muddied in the Middle East than before showed up, and even after that admittedly awkward hand-holding incident we’ll hold out out hope it will also continue to forestall the inevitable conflagration. All in all, that’s a pretty darned good news cycle from Trump these days.
Meanwhile, back in the states, the anti-Trump press has been able to take advantage of the dullness of it all by posting some stories hard to deal with for an administration on an ambitious foreign tour. Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is defying a congressional subpoena and invoking the Fifth Amendment in the various ongoing investigations into that Russia thing with Trump and Russia, as Trump calls it, and that’s enough to intrude on the front pages. Flynn’s invocation of the Fifth Amendment doesn’t imply any guilt, as his Trump-friendly advocates can rightly say, but Trump’s critics are entitled to gleefully run the the late night comedy montage of Trump saying that his opponents’ use of the Fifth Amendment was the refuge of the guilty.
Sooner or later Trump will return to that temporarily paused news cycle, and although he hasn’t made any glaring missteps on his trip he’s yet to bring any undeniable foreign achievements, so we’d call it a draw so far. The next six days will involve a Pope and G-7 worth or world leaders that Trump has publicly feuded with, and it’s bound to be exhausting, but we’ll hope for the best. Not for Trump’s sake, but the sake of peace, and some respite this awful ongoing news cycle.

— Bud Norman<

Back to the Scandalous Future

There’s a certain unsettling feeling of the 1970s to this moment. Leisure suits and platform shoes aren’t back in vogue and the current pop hits aren’t quite disco, but the fashions and the music are otherwise just as horrible. Officially there is no “stagflation,” because except at the grocery store and the gas pump the inflation rate is low, but the stagnation part of that long-forgotten portmanteau is evident in even the most gussied-up government statistics. There’s the same foreboding sense of international turmoil and domestic scandal, too, and the same nagging suspicion that no in charge has a clue. The impending fall of Baghdad is evoking unpleasant memories of the fall of Saigon, Russian tanks rolling into Ukraine bring the chill of a new Cold War, and now there’s a two-year gap in the Internal Revenue Service’s e-mails that eerily recall the 18-and-a-half minute gap in the Watergate tapes.
Those too young to have been transfixed by the Watergate scandal won’t appreciate the ominous meaning of an 18-and-a-half-minute gap, but suffice to say it was a big deal back in the day. A third-rate burglary to wire-tap the Democratic National Headquarters in the fancy-schmantzy Watergate building in Washington, D.C., had been linked to operatives of President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign, high-ranking administration officials were implicated in a cover-up that seemed to go to the very top, and when the stone age reel-to-reel tape recordings that chronicled the White House conversations were subpoenaed by a Congressional investigation they included a suspicious gap of that famous duration just when they were getting to the good parts. The White House’s explanation that the missing portions had accidentally been erased by the president’s ever-loyal personal security was widely ridiculed, especially after photographs of her desk and the tape recorder demonstrated the strange contortions that would have been required to accomplish such an accident, and public opinion reasonably concluded that the erasure was an intelligence-insulting ploy in a broader conspiracy. Nixon eventually resigned rather than be convicted in his upcoming impeachment trial, and Pulitzer Prizes and Academy Awards and a lifelong gig on the talk shows was awarded those who had uncovered the crime.
Only the most obsessive Watergate buffs will recall that the articles of impeachment also included that Nixon had “endeavored” to use the Internal Revenue Service against his political foes. There was some evidence of this on the unexpurgated portions of those tape recordings, but they also reveal that the administration’s effort came to naught because the IRS was too thoroughly dominated by Democrats and other political foes of the president. That a president would even contemplate such a thing was then considered an impeachable offense, however, and it outraged the citizenry as much as the break-ins and huggings and the subsequent attempts to obstruct justice. Say what you will about the ’70s, and all its myriad sartorial and musical and political failings, but at least people could still rouse themselves to an appropriate degree of outrage over such things.
Nowadays there’s a story buried deep inside the local newspapers that the IRS has been caught red-handed harassing a president’s political foes, and the public seems willing to accept the president’s word that it’s just another “phony scandal” like the four dead Americans at an unprotected consulate in a Middle Eastern hell-hole, or the 200-plus Mexicans killed by guns provided to south-of-the-border drug gangs by our federal government’s gun-running operation, or the gang members being allowed entry north-of-the-border by a non-enforcement policy, or the many brave American veterans dead due to the neglector a government-run health care system, or any of countless other recent incidents that once would have had the country riled up. Now the key high-ranking figure in the IRS’ harassment of conservative groups is invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in a Congressional investigation of this “phony scandal,” there are two years of her e-mails that have been suspiciously erased by a claimed computer crash that is every bit as dubious as that accidental-erasure-during-a-yoga-routine that was offered during the Watergate days, and would be laughed at by IRS agents if a private business came up with such a flimsy excuse for failing to provide information during an audit, and yet the story is treated only briefly by the most of the media and doesn’t even rate so much as mention in “All the News That’s Fit to Print” on the pages of the New York Times. The average citizen is blissfully unaware of the story, and certainly not clamoring for impeachment.
The average citizen of the ’70s was probably no more civic-minded and beholden to higher standards that the average citizen of the day, but back in the day the media landscape was more conducive to public outrage. That old joke that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you was never more true than in the case of Nixon, who had been hated by the sophisticated since ever since he’d defeated their progressive dream girl in his first Congressional run and rightly exposed their pal Alger Hiss as a communist spy, no matter how many Environmental Protection Agencies and affirmative action programs and wage-and-price controls and other liberal projects he gave them, and when he at long last provided them necessary rope to hang him with they pre-empted all the soap operas on the only three channels a television set could get and made sure that everyone in the country knew about it. Equally outrageous scandals by the current president are more easily hidden amongst all the the other scandals and the news about bigoted basketball team owners and homosexual football players and the latest exploits of some drug-addled celebrity other another, especially when most of the media have been eager to promote the president ever since he first emerged as an agent of hope and change and healing the planet and all the rest of nonsense.
We have no desire to return to the days of three channels and a handful of big-time newspapers rubbing the public’s nose in the scandals of their choice, nor do we care to re-live any other aspects of the ’70s except perhaps the best of Merle Haggard’s work from the era, but it would be nice to get a big of that moral outrage back. Another impeachment trial would have a nice nostalgic feel, too, but that seems as likely as a comeback of the leisure suit.

— Bud Norman

The American Public and Other Slow Lerners

Rarely do we offer any kind words to any Democrats, but we’re obliged to acknowledge those six brave members of that damnable party who joined a House of Representatives majority in citing Lois Lerner for contempt of Congress on Wednesday. A remarkable 26 Democrats went so far as to vote for petitioning the Attorney General to appoint a special counsel to investigate Lerner, and we suppose they also deserve some credit for their half-assed acknowledgement that there’s something seriously afoul in the Internal Revenue Service scandal.
The unanimous righteous indignation of the House’s Republican caucus was sufficient to cite Lerner, who headed the department of the IRS that was targeting conservative non-profit groups for punitive scrutiny and delays, and who has since invoked her Fifth Amendment rights to avoid any questions regarding her claim in Congressional testimony that she has broken no laws, but it’s nice to have at least a few Democrats agreeing that it all sounds mighty fishy. We don’t know any of those six Democrats, described by the ladies and gentlemen of The Washington Post as a “band of moderates and others facing difficult reelection challenges,” but we’ll generously assume that they’re genuinely outraged on First Amendment principles that the IRS was used to harass the president’s political opponents. Those 26 who settled for asking for a look into the matter by the Attorney General, who has also been held in contempt of Congress for failure to answer pertinent questions about the Fast and Furious gun-running scandal, can at least be credited with a sense of political self-preservation. The vast majority of the Democrats unified behind the it’s-all-a-racist-Republican-plot position of ranking House Oversight Committee member Rep. Elijah Cummings, although former House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi had to miss the vote because of a fund-raising engagement, so even the most tepid dissent suggests a worry that the public will eventually be outraged an iron-fisted assault on the free expression of American citizens, no matter how unfashionable their notions about balanced budgets and limited government might be.
Those 26 weasel votes for a special counsel might even be enough to give a veneer of bipartisanship to the much-needed investigation. and thus assure its rightful place before the public’s attention. They bolstered a vote that puts Lerner is serious legal peril, no matter how indifferent the president’s Justice Department might be, and added to the pressure for her to avoid a potential long prison sentencing by implicating any higher-ups that were involved. Given how how very high-up Lerner was, the testimony she doesn’t want to give could be significant.

— Bud Norman