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Another Scare from the Korean Peninsula

The nutcase dictatorship of North Korea has been a problem for America since before we were born, but lately it has become scarier than ever. Fox News had a story about the North Koreans recently loading cruise missiles aboard a patrol ship, the Washington Post reported they now have a nuclear missile small and light enough to fit atop the intercontinental ballistics missiles they’ve recently successfully tested, and on Tuesday President Donald Trump responded that “North Korea best not make any more threats” lest it be “met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
That successful ICBM test brought down severe economic sanctions on North Korea from the entirety of the United Nations, and Trump’s rhetoric drew the predictable bipartisan criticisms, but as usual neither seems to care much what the rest of the world thinks. As has been the case since before we were born there are no easy solutions to the problem, but this time around are openly threatening the hard ones. By now we’ve lived through more North Korea scares than we can recall, but this time around seems different.
As discomfiting as Trump’s remarks were, we won’t pile on the bipartisan heap with our usual criticisms. The critics rightly noted that Trump’s characteristically un-parsable language was eerily similar to the apocalyptic hyperbole the North Koreans have long spewed, but the past 50 years of more diplomatic language haven’t prevented this scary moment, so there might be something to to be said for saying things in a way the nutcase North Koreans understand. All through the past 50-plus scary years of both Democratic and Republican administrations America’s clearly understated policy has been that any nuclear attack on our soil will be met with a devastating response, which has thus far worked well enough with far more formidable enemies than the North Koreans, so we won’t object if Trump is merely overstating the same old policy in typically Trumpian fashion.
That ominously-named policy of mutually assured destruction maintained a relative peace in the post-nuclear age because America has has been demonstrably able to make good on the threat, so neither do we mind that Trump is proceeding apace with the previously scheduled war-game exercises with the South Korean democracy and other relatively sane Asian allies and other displays of America’s military might. We’re not sure if the more war-wary and wised-up generals and admirals who surround Trump signed off on that “fire and fury and frankly power” statement, but we’re sure the rest of it wouldn’t be happening without their assent, and we trust that like any soldiers they’re more interested in deterring a war than provoking one.
Which is not to say that Trump’s role in all of this isn’t also a bit discomfiting. His characteristically mangled English leaves some room for doubt about whether that “fire and fury and frankly power” would follow mere threats, and what levels of threat would trigger it, and sometimes there’s something to be said for more diplomatic language. On Tuesday he was “tweeting” that Fox News report full of the anonymously-leaked intelligence sources he usually rails against, seemed to be taking some heed of the Washington Post story with same intelligence agencies whose conclusions about Russian meddling in the past election he has scoffed at, and he wasn’t ready to meet the press and formulate anything at all reassuring. Should the hard solutions become necessary Trump will need bipartisan and widespread public support to pursue them, and so far he’s failed to achieve that. Most of the rest of the world tries to translate his un-parsable English and finds him a bit nutty, too, and that also doesn’t help.
Which is not to say that Trump is nearly as nutty at that nutcase North Korean dictatorship, though, and we hope that both the domestic and international audience will keep in mind that they’re bad guys of this scary moment. Trump’s intrepid if occasionally independent United Nations ambassador did a great job of bringing even the Russians and Chinese on board with the sanctions, and those planned war games exercises might prove an effective bargaining chip in yet another round of negotiations, and for now we can still hope that with the help of all those war-way and wised-up generals his famed real-estate-deal negotiating abilities will suffice to at least kick this radioactive can a bit further down the road toward some sensible solution. We’ll also hope that the nutcase North Korean dictatorship has a few war-wary and wised-up generals of its own, too.

— Bud Norman

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Just Another Manic Tuesday

The weather’s lately been great around here, the stock markets are up, the unemployment rate is down, and the casualties in America’s ongoing shooting wars are so low that most Americans have forgotten they’re still being waged, but pretty much everything else in the news these days is not helpful to President Donald Trump. Although leaked drip-by-drip there’s been an extraordinary amount news flooding forth lately, too, and much of it raises concerns even in the best of times.
On a by-now typical Tuesday the headlines included the revelation that Trump wrote the misleading statement his son released about the son’s and son-in-law’s and campaign manager’s already embarrassing meeting with Russian operatives during the campaign, and another one about a lawsuit alleging Trump’s involvement in a Trump-friendly media outlet’s propagation of a discredited story about how a murdered Democratic staffer rather than the Russians had hacked the Democratic party’s e-mails. There was some further fallout from a couple of speeches Trump gave way back last week, speculation about why Trump hasn’t yet signed the Russian sanctions bill that both chambers of Congress passed with veto-proof majorities, and stories about other acts of congressional Republican rebellion on issues from health care to tax reform, as well as all the latest followups about all the recent shake-up in the White House staff.
None of it will suffice to shake the faith of Trump’s most loyal supporters, but all of it requires some pretty creative explaining.
The previously-offered creative explanations for that already embarrassing meeting between Trump’s son and son-in-law and campaign and some Russian operatives already  required some especially creative re-explanation. When the broader story that the Russians were meddling in America’s election first surfaced the Trump campaign explained that it was just as likely to be some fat guy on his bed and that in any case it didn’t have anything to do with the campaign, and president-elect Trump’s transition team explained that none of them had ever had any meetings with any Russians. After that the administration’s national security advisor resigned after some Russian meetings were undeniably uncovered, the Attorney General recused himself from all Russia matters after some of his meetings were similarly disclosed, and then The New York Times reported about that confab between the president’s son and son-in-law and campaign manager, so further explanation was required.  A second consecutive daily New York Times scoop that the meeting was really about Russian government-provided dirt on the opposition wasn’t denied but was rather originally explained as a harmless few minutes in Trump Tower with some Russian lawyer or other the son didn’t know that turned out to be a boring conversation about Americans adopting Russian babies.
The offficial White House explanation to the second scoop was that it turned out to be a boring conversation about Russian adoptions anyway. Before The New York Times got a chance to unleash a third consecutive scoop with its leaked -emails, in the interests of “full disclosure” Trump’s son preemptively “tweeted” the entire e-mail chain that showed the meeting was set up by a music publicist Trump’s son knew to be a reliable lackey of a Russian oligarch he knew to be a reliable lackey of the Russian dictatorship, who was explicitly promising information that came directly from the Russian government’s efforts to support the Trump campaign.
None of that shook the faith of Trump’s most loyal supporters, who were satisfied that at least according the reporting Trump himself wasn’t tied to any of this nonsense. The Washington Postthen  won a victory in its newspaper war with the Times on Tuesday when it reported that Trump himself had drafted the son’s misleading original statement about the embarrassing meeting, though, and it was pretty much confirmed by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and sometime spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway saying that Trump had only done “what any father would do.” We’ve been blessed with a far better father than was Donald Trump Jr., and we’re sure he would have sagely advised us admit all our embarrassing secrets before the New York Times got the chance to spill them, no matter what consequences he might endure as result, but we expect that Trump’s most loyal supporters will accept the administration’s latest explanation.
Right after The Wall Street Journal our father’s favorite source for news is Fox News, which is a defendant in that lawsuit about a story that blamed the hacking of the Democratic Party on a murdered staffer rather than the Russians. The plaintiff in the suit was one of the main sources for the story, which was quickly retracted by the network but continued to gain traction on one of its “opinion shows” and the host’s widely-heard radio show, and it also requires a lot explaining. There’s a lot of litigation to be done before it’s proved to any Trump supporter’s satisfaction that the president had anything to do with it, but we’ve heard enough of the apologetics on “Fox & Friends” and Sean Hannity to give the conspiracy theory at least  some credence. The rest of the network has pretty much piled on with the rest media atop the dung heap of recent Trump news, but all the intelligence agencies agree that it was Russia and not some 400-pound fat guy or whoever else was behind the undeniable election meddling, and The Washington Post’s latest scoop about that Fox News scandal seems to require some pretty darned creative explaining.
All the lesser blather about those weeks-old presidential speeches now pits the Boys Scouts of America and America’s police chiefs against the president, and Trump’s various feuds with the Republican congress are also out in the open, and all the Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare seem deader than ever, so there’s more explaining to do than even the combined efforts of Sanders and Conway are up to. Even Trump’s most loyal supporters can’t credit him with the great weather we’ve been having around here lately, and the gains in the stock market and unemployment pale in comparison to what was achieved despite the dreadful Obama years after the Great Recession, and despite the low casualties and gains against the Islamic State there’s reason to believe we’re losing ground to the Russians and their Iranian allies in our ongoing shooting wars, so it’s hard to shake a uncertain feeling about all the news.
Trump’s climate change skepticism seems at least momentarily vindicated, his free market inclinations are working out well enough though they aren’t yet  passed into law, and for now there aren’t any brand new shooting wars with more mass casualties. Everything else in the latest flood of news, though, despite the leak-proof nature of the latest White House shake-up, seems foreboding.

— Bud Norman

A Family’s Leave From the Daily News

There’s no escaping the news lately, but we did a pretty good job of dodging the worst of it on Wednesday. A gorgeous first day of summer on the southern prairie was instead to devoted to a celebration of a beloved cousin’s 50 years of fruitful marriage to about as a great a guy as you’d ever hope to meet, complete with a most ameliorative reunion with some other beloved family members, and some classic regionalist school prairie scenery and some excellent music from the classic American songbook coming direct from outer space along the way.
The day began damnably early at 11:30 a.m. when we arrived groggy-eyed but fully intact and neatly-pressed at our folks’ swank and hard-earned retirement village, where we had coffee and french fries and some convivial conversation with the folks. Our beloved Pop also dearly loves our beloved cousin and that great guy she’s been married to for a noteworthy 50 full years, along with the rest of his beloved wife’s complicatedly extended family, but some recent back problems prevented him from attending the party, so the drive from Wichita, Kansas, to Edmond, Oklahoma was just us and our beloved Mom.
As usual the folks’ television was tuned to Fox News, and although the sound was muted the caption at the bottom of the screen explained that the special counsel investigating President Donald Trump on various possible charges had hired as an investigator yet another donor to the presidential campaign of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. We’d been listening to Rush Limbaugh on the way across town and we’re already hipped to that fact on our way from the heart of the city to its far-eastern edges, but were fortunately distracted from all that by a tricky shower curtain Pop needed installed, and which eventually brightened up the bathroom. After brunch we headed south with Mom toward good old Oklahoma in the folks’ swank and hard-earned Lexus, with the default Fox News playing on the radio from outer space, but when it started repeating itself on the way down I-35 we agreed to switch over to the outer space station that plays Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee and Tony Bennett and Blossom Dearie singing the songs from when Mom was young and before we were born.
That lulled our also nocturnal and less caffeinated Mom into a half-sleep, not quite sleepy enough to prevent her fine harmonizing to the standards, while the folks’ fancy car did half the driving for us in a strangely unfamiliar smooth way, and except for the blight of those windmills that pepper the route we enjoyed the music and the sight of the southern plains on a gorgeous first day of summer. A sultry-voiced global positioning expert guided us to our destination, and after we punched in the correct address she led us through a complicated maze of the northern greater Oklahoma City area to our actual destination, where we got to spend some quality time with a beloved aunt and her damnably beloved husband, who is after so many years of fruitful marriage a fully-fledged whether-he-likes-it-or-not uncle. Our Mom and our aunt are the last surviving sisters of beloved grandparent’s four daughters, and it was good to share in their hard-earned intimacy, and to share some guy talk with an uncle who is a guy we can’t describe without going novel-length.
From there we went to the swank and hard-earned venue where that beloved cousin and her greatest guy you’d ever hope to meet husband were celebrating 50 years of marriage and and wonderful children and wonderful grandchildren, and along with everything else the food was great. We’d been ring-bearers at the couple’s wedding and our cuter selves were featured in many of the photographs, and we shared a much-needed hug with the bride’s younger bachelorette sister, who might even be a more favorite cousin of ours, and we shared a couple of slightly salty doctor jokes with the couples’ doctor son, which he seemed to enjoy, and shared a delightful hug with the still-gorgeous second cousin or cousin one removed or cousin-in-law or whatever she is who had been the flower girl. All the couple’s grandkids were seated at a nearby table, and we noticed that the girls were all quite pretty and the couple of grandsons quite handsome, and they were all so well-behaved.
The trip back was under a starless sky, but the great old American songbook was still coming in from outer space and the ride was still seductively smooth and Mom was at her nocturnal best. There was the kind of frank family talk that only comes after 57 years or so of intimate familiarity with one another’s depressions and ecstasy, some shared appreciative chuckles about that crazy but uncannily brilliant uncle who’s been so happily married to her sister for all these years, fond reminiscences of that beloved niece and cousin celebrating 50 fruitful years together, worries about Dad’s back, and us impressing Mom with our ability to identify all those singers of songs from back when she was young and before we born..
There’s more than a couple of hours between the northern part of the greater Oklahoma City area and that far-flung fancy-schmantzy northeastern part of Wichita where our parents reside, so at some point politics came up in the conversation. Our Mom was worried that the special counsel and all his Clinton donor colleagues were out to get Trump, and although we couldn’t deny the possibility we also warned her that there might be plenty to get him on.
That’s how it looks to us, as we scamper across the broader dreary media landscape after a daylong road trip, but we’re nonetheless hopeful. There are well-married couples out there with promising grandchildren, and great American music is being beamed into cars from outer space, and there are loving Moms and Dads and their disappointing children, and summer has just begun here on the southern plains of the United States of America. It’s bound to be damned complicated, but it might just work out in the end.

— Bud Norman

Spinning Out of the No-Spin Zone

Fox News has fired Bill O’Reilly, and that’s fine by us, as we never did like the guy. The firing is yet another undeniable embarrassment to conservatism, but probably the best way to handle it.
O’Reilly didn’t get cancelled for the usual reason of low ratings, as he remained the most-viewed commentator on cable news, but because 20 of his most well-heeled advertisers had cancelled their buys in the wake of a sex scandal. The New York Times reported that Fox News has spent some $13 million settling numerous sexual harassment suits filed over the years, companies ranging from Mercedes-Benz to the Society for Human Resource Management decided they didn’t want to be associated with such salacious settlements, and with Fox News already reeling from the recent firing of its longtime head honcho Roger Ailes over similar high-dollar shenanigans they reached the same reluctant conclusion.
All the late night comics and mainstream news reporters and the rest of the left are having great fun with it, and there’s really no denying them their unabashed schadenfreude. Fox News is the bogeyman of the left, O’Reilly was its most demonized figure, and both do look pretty damned ridiculous at the moment. Just before the firing President Donald Trump had defended O’Reilly during a New York Times interview as a good guy who never did anything wrong, and of course he’s got his own scandals about grabbing women by the wherever to deal with, so naturally the left is also having fun with that.
All of it supports a leftist narrative that conservatism is nostalgia for the good old days when business moguls used to chase secretaries around the desk with impunity, and we have admit we find ourselves hard pressed to make the case that conservatism still stands for Judeo-Christian tradition and family values isn’t really waging that “war on women” that the left used to run on. There’s a case to be made that settling suits isn’t an admission of guilt, but no one on the right was having any of that back when President Bill Clinton was settling his lawsuits with Paula Jones and the numerous other women who quite plausibly accused him of sexual harassment, and by now anyone on either side who isn’t disgusted by all of it is a rank hypocrite.
Kudos to Fox for not being such rank hypocrites, and we hope that its many fine journalists continue to expose shenanigans on both the left and right with a renewed credibility. The network retains some hypocritical partisan hacks, such as its now most-viewed host Sean Hannity, as well as those apple-polishing sycophants on Trump’s favorite “Fox and Friends” morning show, but it also does a lot of reporting that liberals can’t righty dismiss as “Faux News” the way conservatives tend to dismiss anything unsettling to their worldview as “fake news” from “The New York Slimes” or “the Washington Compost.” On the both the left and the right, and among those news outlets that still claim to be fair and balanced, it’s important than everyone maintain a certain respect for what pretty much everyone regards as proper.
O’Reilly always struck us as a bombastic, loose with facts, self-righteous prig was so easily caricatured that the late night comic Stephen Colbert became a number-one-in-his-time-slot talk-show star by caricaturing him. He’s having great fun with the denouement of O’Reilly’s career, and it’s hard to deny him the pleasure, and by all accounts he’s a happily married and devoutly Catholic and thus-far scandal-free man, so we’ll not deny him his dance on the grave of O’Reilly’s career. We still believe in a conservatism based on Judeo-Christian tradition and family values and not chasing the secretaries around the desk, though, and hope that Fox will help us to keep from anybody dancing on its grave.

The News Makes News

Maybe it’s just a post-holiday lull in what surely be a more news-making year, but for now all the big papers are treating Megyn Kelly’s move from Fox News to the National Broadcasting Company as a big deal. They might be right, for all we know, but these days it seems that even the big papers aren’t such a big deal.
We cut off our cable many years ago, but you had to spend the past year hiding under a bigger rock than the one we were hiding under to not know who Megyn Kelly is. She was about as well-known as a cable news broadcaster can be even before the presidential election, and then her televised and endlessly re-televised confrontations with eventual Republican nominee and president-elect Donald Trump brought her the sort of fame usually reserved for androgynous pop music performers and transgendered reality show stars. It all started when she had the temerity to ask about his long history of making vulgar and sexist statements about women, and he somehow persuaded a Republican debate audience that such vulgarity and sexism was a much-needed blow against the stifling influence of something called “political correctness,” which we had thought meant an attempt to impose limits on Republicans in political debates about race and sex and such but apparently referred to an old-fashioned code of civil decorum that Republicans used to insist on. When Trump railed afterwards that it was an unfair question from the smug leftist news media that her permeated even Fox News, and said that Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever” when asking it, he had pretty much sewn up the Republican nomination and she had become a household name.
The feud continued throughout the primary campaign, with occasional moments of making nice with one another, although at another point Trump declined to appear at a Fox-moderated event where Kelly would be threateningly on the panel, and it made for riveting and ratings-driving reality television. Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters saw Kelly as a smug elitist and probably even globalist media villain, even though she worked for Fox News, and many of those who were inclined to think that a candidate’s long history of vulgar and sexist comments about women were a legitimate issue to raise in a debate and that “blood coming out of her wherever” was not proper presidential rhetoric were disinclined to come to Kelly’s defense, entirely because she worked for Fox News. Both came out of it pretty well, with Trump as president-elect and Kelly inking a gazillion dollar deal with one of those over-the-air networks that everyone on cable used to aspire to, but it remains to be seen how it works out for everyone else.
We expect that Kelly, at least, will fare well in her new job. So far as we can tell she’s a competent and fair journalist by television standards, and she’ll bring a reputation for standing up to Trump that should endear her to NBC’s dwindling audience. She’s quite the hottie, too, and we mention that objectively true fact not for the puerile reasons that Trump might bring it up during his next appearance on the Howard Stern show but rather because it seems to make a difference in television news. Trump is a trickier question, of course, but we can be sure he’ll be a boon to all the networks.
How the Fox News network will fare is less certain, so much of the rest of the media’s attention has focused on that. Fox News had already been shaken by the forced resignation of its longtime boss, who had been accused of a long history of all sorts of sexually harassing sleaziness by many of the women at the network, where we’ll also note as a relevant matter of objective that they’re almost all quite the hotties, so the loss of its most famous face surely poses some difficulties, even if she was reviled by all the so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone Trump supporters who make up such a large share of the audience. There are plenty of other competent and fair journalists at the network, such as Shep Smith and Chris Wallace and Brett Baier, so if the network decides to go in that direction they have plenty of options, even if their competence and fairness has also sometimes aroused the ire of those so-loyal-they-might-shoot-someone Trump supporters.
In any case the liberals will continue to call it “Faux News,” and the newly ascendent sorts of conservatives will continue to call the last of the big papers “The New York Slimes” and “The Washington Compost,” Trump will have more followers on “Twitter” than the other media have readers or viewers, and most  people simply won’t listen to anything they don’t want to hear. How that works out also remains to be seen.

— Bud Norman

Grasping for Straws

Our formerly Grand Old Party formally nominated Donald J. Trump for President of the United States of America on Tuesday, so at this point the only straw of faint hope for the country we can grasp at is that he won’t accept the nomination on Thursday and instead admit that his candidacy was just a practical joke and publicity gimmick gone badly awry. There’s even less chance of that happening than that the Democrats won’t nominate Hillary Rodham Clinton by month’s end, and thus our formerly great country will almost certainly wind up with one of the two most deplorable people its all-too-human political system has ever vomited up as its next president.
Those always deplorable Democrats will surely embarrass themselves in nominating their unprecedentedly deplorable choice in short time, and we’ll gleefully note it when they do, but until then we must glumly concede they’ll be hard-pressed to top what’s been going on at the Republican convention in Cleveland. Thus far the Republican convention has featured the hated “establishment” that Trump vowed to burn down quashing the feeble efforts of delegates representing the majority of the grass-roots Republicans who voted against Trump with highly questionable parliamentary tactics, the third trophy wife of the formerly family values party borrowing lines from the deplorable President Barack Obama’s deplorable wife, and the star power of that guy who used to play “Chachi” on “Happy Days.” Conspicuously absent from the stage are the party’s last nominee and its past two presidents and the locally popular Republican governor of the crucial swing state of convention-hosting Ohio, all of whom the presumptive Republican has slandered in the most outrageous fashion. The runner-up whose wife the Republican nominee mocked as ugly and whose father he fancifully suggested was in on the assassination of John Kennedy is scheduled for a turn on the stage, but at this point we can’t think of anything he might say on behalf of Trump that will do him or the Republican nominee much good.

None of this is helpful in dissuading the clear majority of Americans who have already formed a negative of opinion of Trump. The “anti-establishment” mantle he claimed was undermined when the “establishment” proved just as feckless as he’d always said it was and meekly climbed aboard the “Trump train,” his third wife’s cribbing from Michelle Obama’s cliched convention speech undermines is no big deal but allows the press to undermine Trump’s claim that his inept general election operation will surround him with the best people, and that “Chachi” guy and his weird speech suggests that the erstwhile reality show star doesn’t have the pop culture credentials that were enough to win a nomination by a formerly Grand Old Party. Some of the speeches that were allowed at the convention made a persuasive case that the all-but-certain Democratic nominee is even worse, but even then the Republican nominee’s ego got in the way. Less noticed was the Republican Party platform’s suddenly pro-Russian stance, but then again the presumptive Democratic nominee was the one who first offered that “re-set button.”

Perhaps the most compelling speaker the Republicans could come up with was Patricia Smith, whose son Sean died along with American ambassador and two others in Benghazi, Libya, as a result of the utter incompetence of the presumptive Democratic nominee, who also brazenly lied to her face about the reasons why, but if you were watching on Fox News you missed it because the Republican nominee chose that crucial moment to phone in another self-aggrandizing and utterly ridiculous interview that pre-empted the speech. In any case he was outspokenly for that ill-advised Libyan adventure, even if he brazenly lies about it now to Patricia Smith and the rest of us, just as he brazenly lies about his opposition to the Iraq War that he slanderously blames on the last two Republican presidents, and no matter what apologies his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supports might come up with he missed yet another opportunity because he simply can’t shut up and let the Democrats look bad.
We can’t discount the possibility that the Democrats will once again boo God and badmouth America and otherwise embarrass themselves when they nominate their deplorable nominee, and we note with some satisfaction that she’s also unfavorably regarded by a heartening 60 percent or so of the country, but they’ll have their work cut out for them if they want to surpass what’s going on in Cleveland. In any case, we’ll be clinging to the faint straw of hope that some pot-smoking Libertarian or teetotaling Prohibitionist or some other oddball alternative might yet mitigate the next four awful years.

— Bud Norman

And the Least Hated Candidate Is …

Keeping score has proved difficult in this crazy presidential election year, as the polls have been all over the place. One poll released Thursday had presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump with a four point lead, another had presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton leading by six points, and while the average of all the polls still has Clinton leading by five points that’s down by a point or so over the past week and barely over the margin of error and really rather embarrassing given her huge advantage in advertising buys and her opponent’s gaffes over the same period. The only thing that every poll seems to agree on is that neither candidate is at all well-regarded by a vast majority of the American public.
That outlier Rasmussen poll showing Trump with the four point lead has him at only 43 percent, with only 78 percent of Republicans supporting him, which is worrisomely less than the 93 percent than the hated-by-Trumpsters Mitt Romney won in his losing effort in ’12, and we note that the reputedly Republican-leaning pollsters are charging extra to find out the favorability ratings of the candidates. The poll by the reputedly Republican-friendly Fox News that has Clinton up by six points freely acknowledges that an eye-popping 89 percent of the country thinks that “hot-headed” aptly describes Trump, with another 83 percent thinking that “obnoxious” is also a fitting description for the presumptive Republican nominee, but it also finds that only the most gullible 30 percent of the country considers Clinton “honest” and a wised-up 58 percent believe she is “corrupt.”
All that public opprobrium against both parties is entirely justified, as far we’re concerned, and it’s somewhat heartening to see all the polls confirm that a clear majority of the country is paying enough attention to be dissatisfied with its likely choices. At this point either party could win in a landslide if it would only nominate almost any of the 300 million or so American people who aren’t quite so odious as either Clinton or Trump, but it seems unlikely either will do so.
The smart play for the Democrats would be for the Democratic Attorney General to indict the presumptive Democratic nominee on the all-too-plausible charges of violating any number of federal laws with her private and insecure e-mail system and even her “family foundation” that was taking large donations from countries that were also doing business with her as Secretary of State. This would not only disprove a widely held and firmly established suspicion that the current Democratic administration is hopelessly lawless and corrupt, but allow them to nominate any old doctrinaire Democrat that you’ve never heard of because at least they’re not known for three decades of unrelenting scandals. They could go with pesky rival and self-described socialist and full-blown nutcase Sen. Bernie Sanders, who easily trounces Trump in all the polls that still bother to ask about the matchup, or any number of options ranging from faux-Indian and bona fide woman and liberal darling Sen. Elizabeth Warren to the idiot vice president of an awful president who somehow has the best poll numbers of any politician in the country at the moment. That Democratic Attorney General was caught having a recent on-the-tarmac heart-to-heart conservation with the former Democratic President whose wife is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, though, and her Democratic President of a boss has already endorsed her candidacy, so we can’t see the Democrats making the smart play.
That usually Republican-friendly Fox News’ poll has more than half of the Republican respondents saying they still want a nominee other than Trump, and there are still efforts afoot among some of the delegates and influential players and such once-respected conservative media as National Review and The Weekly Standard ourselves to make that happen, but we expect the party to once again miss an opportunity. The Republican “establishment” that Trump vowed to destroy has proved as effete as he always said it was, and that stubborn 17 percent of the country that doesn’t think Trump is obnoxious would make a win over even such a vulnerable nominee as Clinton difficult, but at this point it seems unlikely the party will choose any of the many potential candidates who would creditably represent the party’s past principles, and if even they were unknown it would be because they weren’t known for their own past 30-plus years of private sector scandals and widely noted obnoxiousness. We figure that such a candidate would easily trounce not only Clinton but her pesky self-described socialist and nutcase challenger or that idiot vice president as well, but at this point it’s a risky play even if the smart one, and the Republicans are up until recently the the risk-averse sorts.
We have no more idea how it will all turn out than we do about who will win the World Series, but by our scorekeeping America seems to be losing.

— Bud Norman

Another What-If Episode

Many of the old television shows that used to take up far too much of our childhood would occasionally encounter a creative lull about mid-season and resort to the old gimmick of having the characters transported by harp music and a wavy dissolve into some alternate reality. What if the guys at WJM had met the irresistible Mary Richards when they were single, or Felix and Oscar had never met? What if Gilligan or the Skipper had bothered to check the damned weather forecast before that three-hour cruise?
The Republican Party’s reality show of a presidential nomination race was reduced to the same hackneyed formula Thursday night, inviting viewers to imagine the storyline without the love-him-or-hate-him star-of-the-show-as-always Donald J. Trump. Being on the booing-and-hissing side of the divide of the show’s fans, we happily accepted the invitation.
If you’ve been binge-watching the series thus far with the same rapt attention as ourselves, you already know that Trump wrote himself out of the script because the episode was being broadcast by the Fox News Network, which always elicits booing and hissing from the left and is now the hated by the supposed savior of the right because it employs Megyn Kelly, a most comely and seemingly competent broadcast journalist who had the lese majeste in an earlier to episode to ask Trump about his longtime habit of calling her less comely sisters by such names as “‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals.'” When Trump responded afterwards that the seemingly calm and undeniably comely Kelly had “blood coming out of her eyes” and “blood coming out of her wherever” it seemed to us to prove her implied point yet nonetheless improved his poll numbers, and viewers will recall it it was one of the highest-rated episodes ever. Trump declined the long-anticipated sequel, with all his fanzines proclaiming it a stroke of tactical genius, and next Monday night’s much-anticipated “Iowa Caucus and Actual Voting” episode might yet prove it so, but we’re hopeful the next episode will reawaken to a different storyline.
Trump might have reasonably calculated that he would be all the more conspicuous by his absence from Thursday night’s episode, but he was only mentioned in passing. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the main rival for the love-him-or-hate-him starring role, got some laughs by doing some Don Rickles shtick and saying “that concludes the Trump portion,” and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is the embodiment of the hated “establishment” hovering over the whole series even in the harp-music-and-wavy-dissolve transition to an alternate reality, sounding quite reasonable and even statesmanlike as he noted the higher tone of the proceedings. For the most part, it was pleasantly easy to close one’s eyes and imagine what it would have been like in an “It’s a Wonderful Life” where Donald J. Trump had never been born. All the candidates would still be talking about the unavoidable costs of both illegal and legal immigration to be weighed against their widely doubted benefits, there would still be same unavoidable discussion about Islamic terrorism and all the other international problems the Democrats don’t seem to want to talk about, there would d be the same talk about free markets and individual liberty, only without all the bragging by the front-runner about the politicians he’s bought off and the powers he would seize, the hated “establishment” would still be hated no matter how reasonable and statesmanlike it sounded, and the storyline would still be lively enough to generate some ratings.
Even in the would-be world of Thursday night’s debate there was a love-him-or-hate-him character in Cruz, and although we’re inclined to love him we think he got the worst of his first night in the crossfire. His opening bit about Trump’s tiring insult comic act played well enough, but a later attempt at ironic humor seemed to backfire when the audience didn’t seem to get his joking threat to leave the stage if he got any more tough questions. His reasonable arguments for his consistent resolve on illegal immigration inevitably got bogged down in talk of amendments and parliamentary procedure and all that stuff that even federal neophytes are bogged down with, and his blunt talk about those ridiculous ethanol subsidies that are so beloved in first-in-line Iowa and hated everywhere else probably did him little good in Iowa but boosted him past the absent Trump everywhere else, so some blows were clearly landed. He came off with the requisite ratings-grabbing feistiness, and landed a few blows of his own here and there, but he probably should have more relished the villain’s role.
There were some good lines by the unimportant New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the bumptious but establishment guy, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the establishment but bumptious guy, and even the loony libertarian Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, and as always we thought retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was quite good with his brief few lines, and Bush somehow didn’t come across the least bit villainous, but the surprising co-star of the night was Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Longtime fans of the show know Rubio was the handsome and youthful character who was once the true-blue conservative hero of an earlier season but then fell in with the Gang of Eight who conspired to unleash the immigrant hordes upon America, and has since been on a mission of penance, but he made a good accounting of himself. He swore his newfound toughness and noted the similarly evolving position of the anti-immigrant horde Trump, who bravely chose to not be around to defend himself from the undeniable charge, and he rightly noted that he was at least more anti-immigrant horde than Bush or any of those other guys, and he bogged Cruz down in all that talk of amendments and parliamentary procedure, and he wound up sounding more electable in a general election than the rest of them.
After the next round of harp music and slow dissolves we’ll be back to real world where there really is a Donald J. Trump, and all that entails, and by late Monday night or early Tuesday morning we’ll find out how the story resumes. We’ve also been watching the Democrats’ mini-series, which is weirder yet, and we’re starting to worry that might be the weirdest of these reality shows.

— Bud Norman

The Daily Doses of Donald J. Trump

Try as we might to wallow in all the other bad news, we are somehow unable to avert our gloomy gaze away from the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.
Those daring sting videos of Planned Parenthood officials chomping on salad and sipping wine as they negotiate the sale of aborted baby parts has at long last resulted in indictments against the video makers, and we vaguely recall that former Texas Governor and failed Republican nominee Rick Perry is still under indictment for exercising his veto power over some drunk Democrat’s funding, and there’s a tantalizing possibility that even the presumptive Democratic nominee will be indicted on more serious charges, and of course there’s still the economy and the international situation and all the other sorts of substantive bad news to consider, but these days all we hear about from even the most reliably right wing sources is Trump. The man so dominates the news that at each corner we turned on the internet and airwaves and printed press we couldn’t avoid the two latest juicy developments.
One was Trump’s endorsement from Jerry Falwell Jr., who of course is the son of Jerry Falwell Sr., whom our older readers will vaguely remember as the founder of the of the former Moral Majority, which was once regarded by the more respectable media as the very embodiment of the Religious Right bogeyman that was  reportedly threatening to impose puritanism on the hipper disco-going America, so of course the more liberal press is still eager to trumpet the endorsement. The impeccably liberal reporters over at Politico.com are rubbing their hands as they gleefully write that Trump is winning over the Republican party’s still-troublesome would-be theocrats, and we fear they might be at least partly right. These days the Religious Right is reduced to fighting for its right to not participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony without being sent to re-education camp, and its putative leadership is reduced to the likes of Jerry Falwell Jr., and in such troubled times even the ancient Israelites craved a king of their own.
Still, we’re disappointed that so much of what’s left of a truly religious right would settle for a boastful billionaire gambling mogul who trades his wives in every decade or so for a newer model and has bragged in print about all the other men’s wives he has slept with and contributes a fraction of his much-touted fortune to charity and has in old-fashioned melodrama style tried to run an old lady out of her home, and who jokingly describes the Holy Communion as the only forgiveness he needs to seek for blameless and poll-tested life. At Falwell’s own Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, Trump recently quoted from “Two Corinthians” rather than “Second Corinthians,” which revealed the same awkward ignorance of Christianity that President Barack Obama’s pronunciation of “Corpse-man” did about his understanding of the military, and once upon a time in our church camp youth that would have been enough to disqualify him in evangelical circles, but these days the bar is set lower.
One of Trump’s more adventuresome apologists noted the sins of certain Old Testament Leaders to excuse his hero’s character, as if adultery and connivery were Biblically required qualifications for office, and even likened Trump’s critics to the Pharisees who called for the crucifixion of Jesus. This seems a bit much to our admittedly sinful sensibilities, as we’re certainly not asking for crucifixions, and we even wish Trump a happy life and at least a moment of spiritual introspection well outside the sphere of public influence, but despite our more freely admitted sins we will express some doubts about Trump’s character, and we’re certainly not buying the Trump-as-Jesus argument. None of this came up during an interview with Falwell Jr. that we heard one of the conservative talk radio shows, hosted by a host who prides himself on his scary Religious Right bona fides, and while there was also no mention of bankruptcies or beleaguered old widows being evicted from their homes Falwell did get a chance to enthuse a bit about what a successful businessman Trump has been.
The other big Trump story was his indignant refusal to appear on the next scheduled televised Republican presidential debate because it’s being televised by Fox News and will thus feature its competent and comely star anchor Megyn Kelly. The cable news network is an even bigger right-wing bogeyman than the Moral Majority ever was, and many of its on-air personalities rushed to Trump’s defense after those snooty old print people at the more venerable but less-known National Review declared their opposition to Trump’s candidacy, but in a previous debate Kelly had asked Trump about his countless outrageously sexist comments against numerous women, and Trump wound up saying that she had “blood coming out of her eyes” and “blood coming out of her wherever,” and called her a “bimbo” and such, and despite the rise in his poll numbers that resulted from this seeming proof of her insinuation he’s decided he doesn’t want to go another round with her. His boycott will likely have the same effect on the debate’s ratings that the absence of J.R. Ewing would have on an airing of “Dallas,” which makes it a bigger story even in conservative media than the folks being charged with exposing Planned Parenthood’s baby-parts-selling scheme, which does by gum seem a successful business model, if that’s all that matters.
We don’t have cable and thus can’t vouch for Kelly’s objectivity toward Trump, although we thought her question about his history of sexist comments entirely fair and his vulgar responses sufficient proof of whatever she might have meant to imply by it, and we would dare any of his fans to talk about how ugly she is, and for crying out loud it’s not the far-left MSNBC network, where Trump was most recently seen boasting about how well he gets along with such liberal Democrats as Rep. Nancy Pelosi, but we’re sure that Trump and his loyal-even-if-he-shoots-someone followers will still find some nasty name to call Kelly. That should be enough to ensure another few days of non-stop coverage on all the cable news channels, but hopefully we’ll find some other bad news to wallow in. The Democrats seem to be providing plenty of it, and we’d always rather talk about that.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Episode of the Perils of the GOP

The Republican presidential race is quickly becoming our favorite television show, almost to the point that we wish it were already over and we could “binge watch” the entire season to to its cliff-hanging conclusion on Netflix. Tuesday night’s installment was the best yet, with some intriguing plot twists and a refreshing focus on some fascinating but previously minor characters, and some travails of the formerly featured players, as well as much better production qualities.
Our cheapskate ways and aversion to popular culture preclude us from purchasing cable television, so we give thanks to the Fox Business Network, which is obviously the business news affiliate of the notoriously capitalistic and greedy Fox News organization, for making it available for the free on the internet, unlike the previous debate producers at CNBC, where the “C” stands for cable or capitalism and the “NBC” stands for the righteously anti-capitalist and pro-share-the-wealth National Broadcast Company, which insisted that everyone pay for its product. We further thank for them asking actual questions of the candidates, rather than spewing sneering diatribes ended with a question mark, because as much fun as it was to watch the Republicans bash the moderators in the last debate this episode was even better.
Previous episodes had somehow established two political neophytes, blustery real estate billionaire Donald Trump and soft-spoken neurosurgeon Ben Carson, as the frontrunners, but this time both seemed relegated to supporting roles. Another non-office-holder, former high-tech executive Carly Fiorina, seemed to get more air time and to make more of it. When the questions veered from economic issues to foreign affairs, Trump started talking about letting Russian President Vladimir Putin run the Middle East, Carson rambled in his efforts to reconcile his past dovishness in Afghanistan and Iraq with a more popular hawkishness, and Fiorina got the biggest applause of the three with some very tough talk about the need to project American power. Of the three candidates untainted by previous positions in government, which voters suddenly seem to find very attractive, we’d rate her performance the best.
Trump was conspicuously less prominent than in past debates, and his bully boy persona seems to be wearing thin. Much of his ire was aimed at former congressman and current Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who otherwise would have gone entirely unnoticed, and Trump’s argument that Ohio’s recent economic rebound was merely a matter of “striking oil” was easily rebutted, and his sneer that “I don’t need to listen to this man” was booed by many people who certainly never had any intention of supporting the recently mushy Kasich but feel that his long record of public service at least entitles him to have his say in a Republican debate. His complaint that Fiorina too often interjected herself into the debate was briefly cheered by his supporters with their usual pro-wrestling fan enthusiasm, but it surely gave his feminist and other female critics another reason to hate him, and there were enough old-fashioned chivalrous males and less aggrieved women in the audience at a Republican debate that he endured another round of boos. His best moment came when he criticized the Obama administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership boondoggle, emphasizing that he supports free trade but credibly claiming that he could have negotiated a better deal, but even that didn’t get much applause.
Carson’s more polite presentation fared somewhat better. He stumbled badly when the discussion ranged into foreign policy, noting how darned complicated it all seems to be, but he had good moments talking about capitalism and entrepreneurialism and risk-taking and the economic anxieties of the middle class. At not point was he booed for his boorish insults, and the phony-baloney scandals about him that the press have lately concocted went unmentioned even by Trump, and the first wave of punditry raved about his performance, so our guess is that he didn’t suffer so much as Trump.
Among the candidates who are tainted by previous public service, we’d say that Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and especially Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas seemed the likely winners. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul had a good moment talking about the Democrats’ hysteria over climate change, as befits a Senator from a coal-mining state, but his isolationist views and stubborn insistence that a hefty military budget is not conservative made him a whipping boy for the rest of the candidates. Cruz got the best of it by noting that the defense of America is expensive but not nearly expensive as not defending it, Rubio got in a couple of good lines about the necessity of America being the world’s greatest military power, Fiorina also got some licks in, and even the most weak-kneed of the candidates made clear that the Republican party and conservatism still stand for a stronger national defense than any Democratic candidate might prefer.
There was some hearteningly radical talk about abolishing the Internal Revenue Service and other sensible tax reforms from all the candidates, with Cruz going the furthest, and even Trump was forced to concede that all the plans put forth were preferable to the status quo or any adjustments the Democrats were considering. Another big topic was illegal immigration, and although Trump and the obviously irrelevant Kasich had a sharp exchange about the feasibility of deporting every illegal immigrant it was clearly that even of the mushiest of the lot would be more strident than even the stiffly-spined Democratic on the issue. All the candidates came off more stridently capitalist than any of the Democrats, as well, and still sounded more authentically populist in their opposition to crony-capitalism than even the most ardently socialist can claim to be. On most of the poll-tested push-button issues, the eventual Republican nominee will be positioned.
The latest debate gave more time than the previous ones to Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and they made less of it. Bush’s closing statements had something to do with the Veterans Administration and not much else, according to our admittedly bored notes, and we expect that Kasich’s strong stand as the least strident of the candidates in his opposition to illegal immigration was surely the death knell of his candidacy. There’s no telling how the installment will go, but for now our best guess is that that Bush and Kasich are out, Trump is trending downwards, Carson stays steady, Fiorina retains an outside chance, and that Rubio gains but Cruz does even better, whoever emerges will be better than the Democrat candidate, whose identity remains a mystery, and that there’s no telling how that might turn out.

— Bud Norman