From Trump to the Finnish

The only Finn we’ve ever known was a very likable fellow who used to frequent Kirby’s Beer Store during his days as a student at Wichita State University, and based on everything else we know about Finland we have a favorable opinion of the country, so we were saddened to watch Finnish President Sauli Niinisto’s obvious discomfort during two joint news conferences on Wednesday with President Donald Trump.
The American reporters in attendance cared little about Finnish-American relations, which you have to admit is not something their viewers and readers much care about, and were far more concerned with all the fast-breaking news about impeachment inquiries and other domestic matters. Niinisto therefore spent most of his time at the dais on and a White House chair watching Trump fulminate and flail against the media, trying his best to say expressionless.
Even by Trump standards it was a remarkable performance. The president said the “whistleblower” who exposed a troublesome conversation Trump had with the president of Ukraine was a spy, and declared that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff — or “shifty Schiff,” as Trump has nicknamed him — was guilty of treason. Trump also called Schiff a “lowlife” who “isn’t fit to carry (Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s) ‘blank strap.’ You understand that?”
The Finnish press corp didn’t understand the very American colloquialism that Trump was alluding to, so Trump explained that if he was more frank the “corrupt” and “fake” and “phony” media would accuse him of using a vulgarity. Earlier in the day Trump had “tweeted” that the impeachment inquiry the House of Representatives has launched is “BULLSHIT,” with all capital letters, but apparently that barnyard expletive isn’t as offensive as “jock strap.” We can only wonder what the Finnish media made of it, as we’re quite familiar with the American style of the English language and can’t quite figure out Trump’s idiolect.
Trump was especially brusque with a Reuters reporter who had the effrontery to ask about that troublesome phone call with the Ukrainian president, and Trump called him “rude” for not asking the Finnish president a question. Trump filled most of the news conferences with similar vituperation, and had little to say about the state of Finnish-American relations.
Despite his best efforts to remain diplomatically unexpressive, Niinisto can clearly be seen on videotape occasionally rolling his eyes and slightly grimacing. At one point Niinisto said “Mr. President, you have here a great democracy. Keep it going,” and he seemed quite sincere. We appreciate his best wishes. as we’ll be needing them. Here’s hoping that our former Finnish drinking buddy and all his countrymen keep it going as well.
— Bud Norman

A Kansas Republican’s California Dreamin’

At the risk of revealing our rather advanced age, we admit to remembering a time when the Republican party used to win some significant elections in the populous state of California. The California born-and-bred Richard Nixon won the state’s electoral votes in a failed bid the year after we born, then famously lost a race for the state’s governorship, prematurely taunting the press that they wouldn’t have Nixon to kick to around anymore, but went on to win the state’s presidential electoral votes in both the close call of ’68 and his landslide reelection year of ’72. The quintessentially Republican Ronald Reagan then won two gubernatorial elections in the state, served the state well in both terms, and in our young adulthoods thus won the state’s electoral votes in the 1980 presidential race, and California was among the record 49 states he won in his record landslide reelection in ’84.
Since then the Democrats have kept winning the state’s presidential votes every four years, but the Republican party at least kept a significant foothold among all the the Okies and Arkies in the central part of the state and the well-educated and well-off and over-taxed and over-regulated Republicans in Orange County and other suburban congressional districts. The California Republicans were always outnumbered by the California Democrats, but populous California has such an outsized number of congressional districts that there were usually enough Republicans to bolster the off-and-on Republican republican majorities in the House of Representatives. At the moment California is a big reason that the Republican House majority is once again off, however, with even those suburban districts flipping to the Democrats, and Orange County now entirely blue, and for the foreseeable future the Grand Old Party seems out of business in the Golden State.
A big part of the Republican party’s problem is the changing nature of California, of course. The state is a bit blacker and a whole lot browner than it was back when Nixon and Reagan were winning the state’s electoral votes, a large number of those Central California Okies and Arkies have moved back to Oklahoma and Arkansas, and a bigger chunk of the remaining white folk work in Hollywood or have high-tech jobs in the San Francisco area and are thus obliged to vote Democratic no matter how over-taxed and over-regulated they might be. California’s a crazier state than ever, too, from our old-fashioned conservative and entirely sane Kansas Republican perspective, and we must admit we can’t quite see how the party should accommodate it.
Even so, we must acknowledge that the Republican party has changed in ways that even the craziest Californian can rightly object to. These days the Republicans are openly the party of white inland Americans reasonably terrified by the California-ization of America, and although there’s a compelling argument to be made to those mostly hard-working black and brown Californians that they’re also over-taxed and over-regulated, the party lately seems less interested in making that argument than whipping up the same sort of odious identify politics among the state’s remaining white folks that California’s Democratic party has has long whipped up among its black and brown and guilt-ridden white folk.
Meanwhile, the Republicans have managed to lose almost all of those once reliably California Republican districts in the mostly white white and well-educated and well-off Republican suburbs. Part of that is probably that that big tax cut bill that the Republicans hoped to run on, which capped the tax deductions that high-property tax states such as California could deduct, thus leaving a lot of over-taxed Republicans in California and other high-tax Democratic states with an even higher tax bill. We remember discussing the matter with a Kansas Republican friend who thought that was a good idea, as those damned Californians deserved it for living in a Democratic state, but at the time we thought it was easier for him to say than a Republican congressman running for reelection in California or some other high-tax Democratic state, and after the Republican bloodbath in the past suburban Californian midterms we feel vindicated. We also suspect that the current Republican party’s suddenly unabashed sexual piggishness had something to do with all those well-educated and well-off yet over-taxed and over-regulated Republican women voting for Democrats,and claim vindication about that.
At the moment much of California is on fire, and the fires don’t seem to care much if you’re black or white or brown or male or female or rich or poor or somewhere in between, and we can’t blame any crazy Californian for concluding he Republican party largely seems to believe they had it coming. Republican President Donald Trump’s first “tweets” about the tragedy didn’t mention any sympathy for the victims or support for the first responders, but instead emphasized the state’s poor forest management policies and threatened to further withhold federal funding the emergency. When Trump at last appeared over the weekend at the fire’s edges he had kinder words for the firefighters, and was backing off his threats of withholding federal relief, but he continued to blame the state for its troubles. Trump couldn’t explain how he’d acquired such expertise in forest management during his real estate and reality show career, and all the people with real credentials about it said he didn’t know what he was talking about, and even the Finnish head of state that Trump cited as a consulting expert didn’t back up his claims, but as always he stood his ground.
The Trump-run feds have more jurisdiction over California’s public land than the state does, and according to longstanding Republican principles most of California is still privately held, however, so by now we can’t blame even the craziest Californian for believing that the Republicans in the other 49 states figure they had it coming. As much as we hope that Kansas never gets quite so crazy as California, we only wish that crazy state well. There are more Americans there than in any other state, and they contribute a similarly outsized share of our nation’s economic output, and we have to admit that at least some of those Hollywood movies and high-tech gadgets are beneficial to our lives. We also have some beloved kinfolk remaining in California, and although they’re up-to-date Republicans who probably figure the state had it coming we hope their houses don’t burn down, and we wish them all well. Even so, we can’t blame any of them for worrying and that the Republicans in the other 49 states will pitch in if worse comes to worst.
At the risk of sounding downright ancient, we’re still hopeful for an ¬†eventual post-Trump 49-state Republican majority for low-taxes and light regulations and stick-together national unity that includes even some of those crazy Californians.

— Bud norman

Would He or Wouldn’t He? That Is the Question

The fallout from President Donald Trump’s private meeting and public news conference with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in Finland on Monday was so bad it spilled over into Tuesday, with even the sycophants at “Fox and Friends” finding fault with his abysmal performance, and before the day was over Trump had beat a rare retreat. It looked less like the heroic rescue at Dunkirk than Bonaparte’s famously disastrous retreat, though, and guaranteed at least another another day’s bad news cycle.
In case you’ve been wisely averting your eyes, all the fuss started with Trump having a two-hour meeting with only Putin and himself and a sole Russian translator involved, which somehow raised only a minor and for-now-forgotten fuss but will probably yield many future bad news cycles. The bigger story on both Monday and Tuesday was the international news conference, where Trump told the whole world’s media that the sorry state of Russo-American relations was mainly the fault of past American presidential administrations and the ongoing efforts of America’s justice system and the pesky reporting of its press, making no mention of Russia’s numerous offenses against international law and human decency. He was clearly more concerned about the alleged dastardly deeds of his vanquished Democratic opponents than Russia’s than Russia’s three-pronged cyber attack on the last election, and often seemed to give equal credibility to Putin’s denials that it happened than he did the American intelligence agencies’ and congressional committees’ and his own administration’s top officials that it most certainly did.
At one point Trump was asked by one those pesky reporters who he believed, and offered the President of the United States a chance to warn the Russian dictator that had surely attacked American democracy not to do it again, and Trump replied that he’d spoken with his intelligence officials and “They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin — he just said it’s not Russia … I will say this, I don’t see any reason would it be … I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” Which was too much for even “Fox and Friends” to defend, and had poor Sean Hannity sputtering some incoherent apologia, which soon led to Trump making a rare admission that he had gotten one single word wrong.
Seeming to acknowledge the bad news cycle, Trump said “Now, I have to say, I came back, and I said, ‘What is going on? What’s the big deal?’ So I got a transcript. I reviewed it. I actually went back and reviewed a clip of an answer I gave, and I realized there is need for some clarification. It should have been obvious — I thought it would be obvious — but I would like to clarify, just it case it wasn’t. In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.” The sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t — or why it shouldn’t be be Russia. So just to repeat, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.’ And the sentence should have been — and I thought it would be a little unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video — the sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia. Sort of a double negative. So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.”
As with most of Trump’s fourth-grade ¬†verbal gobbledegook this requires further clarification for us, but so far as we can tell he’s making a very rare admission that he misspoke at least one contracted word, which we appreciate. He also seems to be blaming us and of all the rest of the world’s media and most of his country for not immediately understanding that of course he meant “wouldn’t” when he said “would,” though, and we don’t at all appreciate that.
Even if you do add that contraction of “not” to “would” the rest of the rest of the summit with the Russian dictator is still seemed damned obsequious, and even as Trump affirmed in his faith the conclusions of America’s intelligence community that Russia had cyber-attacked America’s democracy he ad-libbed that “Could be other people also, a lot of people out there,” which is not the conclusion of America’s intelligence agencies.
By the end of Tuesday’s bad news cycle Trump had not done much to reassure us or America’s most important allies that there’s not something awfully fishy about what he once called “This Rusher thing with Trump and Russia,” and regularly denounces as a “witch hunt” that’s the main impediment to friendly Russo-American relations, and he should expect another bad news cycle today.

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Inevitable Descent into Helsinki

There are still a a few of President Donald Trump’s die-hard supporters and a couple more reluctant fans among our readership, mostly family members and old friends, and they occasionally let us know how weary they are of our constant criticisms. Like all Trump fans they seem to relish blunt talk, though, so we’ll just come right and out say that Trump has just concluded the most disastrous and disgraceful presidential trip in the modern history of diplomacy.
We’ve already written out our aghast objections to Trump’s behavior at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Belgium, where his bully boy diplomacy clearly weakened the alliance despite his parting boasts it was stronger than ever. Between slaps to the forehead we also expressed our disfavor with his behavior in Britain, where he insulted the Prime Minister and lied that he didn’t and acted like a stereotypically boorish American tourist around the Queen and annoyed the general population of both the United Kingdom as well as Ireland, and didn’t get any lucrative deals except for some much-need publicity for a struggling golf course he owns in Scotland.
Somehow, however, Trump saved the worst for the last with his much-ballyhooed meeting with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in Finland. One hardly knows where to begin the describing the awfulness of the debacle, but we might as well start with Trump meeting Putin in the first place.
The appearance of the American president and the Russian dictator standing as equals on a stage with festooned with equal numbers of American and Russian flags was a needless concession to a tin-pot dictatorship that has lately been invading its neighbors, propping up brutal Middle Eastern regimes, shooting down civilian aircraft, assassinating domestic enemies on our allies’ soil, as well as launching a three-pronged cyber attack on America’s last presidential election. To compound this offense to America’s dignity, Trump also told a whole world’s media that he blamed “both sides” for the recent unpleasantness in Russo-American relations.
Trump had little to say about Putin’s invasion of his neighbors in Georgia and Ukraine except to nod as Putin said they’d agreed to disagree. Trump also had little to say about Putin’s support for those brutal Middle Eastern regimes, except to say he hoped to work out a deal that would also make Israel happy, which is a plausible but imperfect argument and one too damned complicated for Trump to make. Trump had nothing to say about Russia shooting down civilian aircraft or killing state enemies and the occasional unintended British life on British soil, and what he said about Russia’s three-pronged cyber attack on the past American presidential election was most disgusting of all.
The day Trump left on his disastrous diplomatic tour the special counsel investigation into the “Russian thing” announced a detailed and well-sourced indictment of 12 Russian officials for meddling, and laid out a convincing explanation of how they did it, and by now the only people who harbor any doubts about Russia’s role are Sean Hannity and this guy we know from Kirby’s Beer Store and Putin and Trump himself.
Trump acknowledged that all of his advisors had “said they think it’s Russia,” but added “I have President Putin — he’s just said it’s not Russia.” Trump said he couldn’t imagine any reason why Putin would have favored him in the election, although Putin later told that international press that he did indeed favor Trump, and Trump added that “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” Unless you’re Sean Hannity or that guy at Kirby’s or another unusually die-hard and fact-resistant Trump fan, it was an humiliating performance, and raises all sorts of suspicions about that “Russia thing.”
Trump was conspicuously polite to the Russian dictator, especially in contrast to his characteristically rude treatment of the leaders of our democratically-elected allies, and was most harsh about his past two presidential predecessors and that “witch hunt” of a special counsel investigation that just handed down those detailed and well-sourced indictments of 12 Russian officials, and went on a rant about why the DNC’s computer server wasn’t seized and how frustrated he was that even a President of the United States couldn’t any answers. It’s hard to concoct any explanation that’s not fishy, but the die-hard fans are giving it their best.
The general gist of it seems to be that the “Russia thing” really is a “witch hunt” no matter what all those Trump appointees might say, and that the real scandal that will get the real villains shot for treason is on that DNC computer server, and that a friendship with such a puny economy and tin-pot dictatorship as Russia will do more to make America great than those freeloading Euro-trash in the European Union and United Kingdom or Great Britain or England or whatever you call it ever could. They’re also citing America’s past sins and making the “blame America first” arguments that the Democratic left once used to justify Democratic weakness in the Cold War and President Obama’s awful apology tours, and they’ve forgetten how outraged they used to be.
So far, though, neither Trump nor any of his apologists have yet been able to convincingly point to anything tangible that the great dealmaker Trump got out of this trip.

— Bud Norman