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Happy Bastille Day

Today is Bastille Day in France, and it’s a big deal over there. The holiday celebrates the date in 1789 when French revolutionaries stormed the notorious Bastille prison where political dissidents were being held, which proved a turning point in the civil war that toppled the despotic monarchy of Louis XVI, and July 14 still stirs a feeling of liberte, egalite and fraternite in French hearts in much the same way the Fourth of July makes Americans feel proud of their revolution.
The French Revolution didn’t work out quite so well as the American one, however, what with the Reign of Terror that shortly followed and the dictatorial rule of Napoleon Bonaparte that quickly ensued and all the wars that inevitably resulted. We can well understand why the French are still relieved to be rid that Louis XVI fellow, who really was a particularly despotic monarch, but we’re harder pressed to see how they think it all worked out well enough to celebrate. The French eventually settled into a reasonably peaceable and productive democracy, with scientists who pasteurized milk and painters who created that awesome Impressionist stuff and a military that maintained a profitable empire in Africa and Asia, but they had a bad 20th century. At this point in the 21st century they’ve arrived at a Bastille Day with French President Emmanuel Macron sharing the stage with American President Donald Trump.
Trump was ostensibly given the seat of honor because this Bastille Day coincides with the centennial of America’s entry into World War I, one of the two times in the 20th century when America’s military might came to France’s rescue, but we assume there were other reasons as well. Franco-American relations have been complicated as far back as the XYZ Affair, and in the age of Macron and Trump it’s all the more complicated. At first glance the two leaders seem polar opposites of one another, but on closer inspection bear some unsettling similarities.
Trump ran on a nationalist and isolationist and protectionist platform, Macron on a platform of cosmopolitanism and international cooperation and free trade. On the campaign trail Trump frequently cited France as an example of what America shouldn’t be doing with its immigration policy, usually citing a friend “Jim” who had ceased his annual vacations to the country because “Paris isn’t Paris anymore,” and Macron has been one of the European leaders frankly talking about the need for a post-American world order. During Macron’s race Trump “tweeted” some friendly words about Macron’s opponent, who was from a Vichy-derived nationalist and isolationist and protectionist party that was also backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and we’re sure Macron would have preferred Trump’s opponent, whose myriad flaws are surely well known to our American readership. They’ve also clashed over the Paris Climate Accord, with Trump ending America’s support because “I was elected to represent the people of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” and Macron quickly exploiting the European backlash by promising to “Make the planet great again.”
Trump’s a 71-year-old political neophyte with a 47-year-old photography model wife, Macron’s a 39-year-old career civil service technocrat with a 64-year-old school teacher wife, the former is more quintessentially American than we’d like to admit, and the latter is Frenchier than any self-respecting Frenchman would want to admit, so it does seem an unlikely pairing on a Bastille Day stage. Still, as the dined together with their spouses at a reputedly swank restaurant beneath the Eiffel Tower the two leaders probably found they had much in common.
Macron won election as the leader of his own newly-created and defiantly disruptive party, much as Trump did, and he prides himself on a pragmatism unmoored from any coherent political ideology, much as Trump does. Both are friendly to business interests and averse to needless government regulations, except for some disagreements on immigration policy they both take the same tough-on-terrorism stands, and we guess they’re both equally eager to make sort of deal about something or another. Macron shares Trump’s tastes for fancy dinners and big military parades, too, as well as the same distaste for all the constitutional restraints and constant press criticisms that stand in their way of getting things done. Macron has recently proposed doing away with a third of the French Parliament’s deputies, which is bold even by Trump’s standards, and the French press has likened him to “Sun King” Louis XVI by calling him the “Sun President,” which is about as harsh as anything the American press has yet come up with against Trump.
The two leaders agreed to disagree about the Paris Climate Accord, which will probably help both with their domestic political audiences, but didn’t announce any noteworthy agreements. Nothing was expected for the old Franco-American relationship celebrating Bastille Day and the centennial of America’s entry into World War I and world leadership, though, and the two leaders got along well enough that something good might come of it. Our guess is that Macron is pragmatic and unprincipled enough that he’s trying to find a sweet spot between an increasingly isolated but still significant America and the post-American European alliance he’ll be talking up again tomorrow, and our faint hope is that the savvy real estate developer Trump will hold his own in the negotiations.
The trip obliged Trump to take a couple of questions from the American press, and naturally one of them was about those e-mails his son released about a meeting he and Trump’s son-in-law and campaign manager had with someone they understood to be a Russian lawyer offering help in the election from the Russian government. Trump’s rambling reply described his son as a “good boy” and “young man” who didn’t do anything that wasn’t usual in American politics, but Trump’s son is the same age as the French President, whose leadership Trump had just effusively praised, so it was a bad setting for the argument. Macron declined the opportunity to gripe Russia’s meddling in his country’s past election, and although that was a characteristically shrewd French diplomatic move we’ll leave it to our Francophile friends to guess how that plays with his domestic political audience.
Both Trump and Macron will be back at the mercy of their domestic political audiences by Monday, if not sooner, and we expect the mobs of both countries will eventually grab the metaphorical pitchforks and storm the metaphorical Bastille against the both of them. Although we admit that both of them were arguably preferable to the people they ran against, we still don’t have much regard for either of them, and at this point we’re only rooting for France and America.

— Bud Norman

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A New Day, Old Principles, and What’s Ahead

Unless the Illuminati and its “deep state” allies in the New World Order have one hell of a last-minute surprise ending plotted for this crazy election year, Donald Trump will become President of the United States today. To borrow a line from a favorite old Johnny Cash song, we don’t like it but we guess things happen that way.
If we were the sunny sorts of conservatives who go looking for silver livings we could console ourselves that at least Barack Obama is no longer president and Hillary Clinton never will be, which is indeed good news and probably enough consolation to most of our conservatives friends to get through the next four years no matter what happens, but we’re the more traditionally dour types of conservatives who can’t help noticing the gathering dark clouds within any silver livings. A nation faced with such dismal choices for leadership is already in sorry shape, and although we might have dodged the worst it that doesn’t mean the future is at all bright.
Ours is the old-fashioned style of conservatism informed by the Judeo-Christian faith’s Old Testament postlapsarian worldview, which means we have no faith whatsoever in mere humans, and it’s left us particularly suspicious of this Trump fellow. From the moment he descended down that famous escalator from Trump tower to announce his candidacy, and throughout his improbable rise to the presidency, we have repetitively noted that he’s a six-times-bankrupt and thrice-married-to-an-illegal-immigrant-nudie-model real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show-and-scam-university mogul who mocks the handicapped and brags about the married women he’s bagged and is notorious for not keeping his contractual promises and has introduced all sorts of language we don’t care to recount here into the political discourse, and despite all the winning he’s done along the way it’s all still true and troubling. Some of our conservative friends assure us that just such a follow is surely going to make America great again, as so many of our liberal friends assured us that his predecessor was surely going to bring hope and change to our land, but then as now we’ll stick with the old time religion and expect to not end up being suckers.
Our conservatism is also informed by the relatively newfangled notions of Edmund Burke, the great British statesman who supported the American revolution but as Prime Minister led his countrymen more or less peaceably through the French revolution and its inevitable reign of terror by making a persuasive case that it’s probably best not to start lopping off heads and burning down the institutions that years of fitful trial and error had so painstakingly if imperfectly erected. “Burn it down” was a constant refrain of Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters during that improbable campaign, and his admirers frequently liken him to a bull in a China shop, and something in our conservative sorts of souls does not find this at all reassuring. “You have made a revolution but not a Reformation,” Burke once wrote to one of his French revolutionary friends, and he added advice to beware “the power of bad men,” words that somehow ring truer than anything in any of Trump’s recent “tweets.”
The most up-to-date conservatism we’re sticking with was best explained in ten parts back in the ’90s by the late and great Russell Kirk, who acknowledged the ambiguity of the term but said that “In essence, the conservative person is the one who simply finds the permanent things more pleasing than Chaos and Old Night.” He also posited that “the conservative believes there exists an enduring moral order,” “the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity,” “conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of principle of prescription,” and “conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence,” none of which remotely describe Trump’s stated plans or characteristic bluster. Kirk also wrote that “conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety,” which Trump clearly doesn’t, and that “conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability,” which Trump clearly isn’t. He argued that “conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked,” and Trump’s enthusiasm for that awful Kelo decision suggests he disagrees, and that “conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose compulsory collectivism,” which Trump will probably agree or disagree with depending on what certain communities voluntarily agree to do. The last of Kirk’s descriptions of conservatism were that “the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and human passions,” which doesn’t describe a single a moment of Trump’s life, and “the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society,” with both the recognizing and reconciling seeming beyond Trump’s abilities.
Trump does seem likely to appoint far better Supreme Court justices than Obama did or Clinton would have, and we rather like that voucher-loving Education Secretary pick even if we’d rather leave education to the localities, and we’ve long been fans of our local congressman who’s been appointed as head of the now-hated-by-everyone Central Intelligence Agency, and given that Trump is neither Obama nor Clinton surely some good is to come of it. So far Trump seems even more accommodating to Russia, though, and nothing has Trump has said suggests the national debt won’t grow, and as much as we’re looking forward to the repeal of Obamacare we’re not holding out hope that Trump will provide lower premiums and deductibles along with “insurance for everybody,” and at this point it’s going to take more than a border wall to make America great again, even if Mexico does wind up paying for it. We go into today’s new era still wondering what the hell it is about the new president’s apparent affinity for the Russian dictatorship, and because he’s already burned down that relatively old rule about releasing tax records or divesting himself from his global empire there’s no tamping down the conspiracy theories about it, and along with the doubts about his health care ambitions and apparent disregard for the national debt and longstanding treaty obligations and other painstakingly if imperfectly built institutions, along with his apparent belief in the perfectibility of at least one man, we will head into his presidency with grave concerns. We assume the liberals will be even more distressed, but at this point we find little comfort in that.
Instead, we’ll stick with the old-time religion and our more newfangled conservative principles

— Bud Norman

The Students are Revolting

The latest of wave of student protests have claimed a couple of high-profile scalps at the University of Missouri and Yale University, which will likely encourage similar efforts elsewhere. By the time it’s all over, we expect, even the most exceedingly progressive and exquisitely politically correct professors and administrators are likely to be targets of the mob they’ve created.
Both of the most recent brouhahas have been beyond satire, as usual. At MU — we’ll continue to call it by its old Big 8 and Big XII acronym, even though the cowardly turncoats bolted for the Southeastern Conference some years ago — it all started with a claim by the president of the Missouri Students Association that someone in a pickup shouted a racial slur at him, then a claim by a group called The Legion of Black Collegians that another man who walked by their gathering also taunted them with racial slurs, which led to a general conclusion that the campus was suddenly a hotbed of racial slurring. All of which seems highly suspicious. Our experience of the contemporary college campus, even the ones in Missouri, is that racial slurs are now the only curse words that students and their professors don’t routinely employ. Although we don’t doubt that some redneck might have passed through and shouted something rude from his pickup truck, that hardly suggests “systemic racism” at a university where the president of the Students Association is apparently black. We also think it would take a most unusually badass white boy to taunt an entire Legion of Black Collegians with even the mildest of racial slurs and get away with it.
Still, the university’s chancellor took everyone at their word and responded with an announcement of mandatory online “diversity training” for all faculty, staff, and students, who were presumably previously unaware that racial slurs are now frowned upon in polite society. In recent years this would have satisfied the mob, but these days they’re emboldened to ask for more. A group calling itself Concerned Student 1950, with the number harkening back 65 years to when black students were first admitted to MU, quickly held a protest that blocked the car of the Missouri University System’s president during the homecoming parade, and later issued a list of demands that included the president’s formal apology followed by his resignation, “mandatory racial awareness and inclusion curriculum” to be “controlled by a board of color,” increasing black faculty and staff to a ten percent quota, and, more sensibly, “An increase in funding to hire more mental health professionals for the MU Counseling Center, particularly those of color.” A couple of days a later a swastika of smeared feces was found on a bathroom wall in an MU dormitory, which might or might not have been the work of some unhygienic racist, given the recent spate of hoax hate crimes perpetrated at colleges where students are all too eager to feed a narrative of “systemic racism,” then there was the inevitable hunger strike by a student who would rather die than live in a world where the stray redneck in a pickup truck shouted racial slurs, and when the administration refused to grant any of the previous demands the Concerned Student 1950 made even more extravagant demands, including the outgoing UMS president’s public admission of his “white privilege” and his culpability for a protestor allegedly being hit while blocking the president’s car during the homecoming parade, and his failure to prevent the police from intervening in the protest, as well as his failure to get out of the car and have a nice apologetic chat with the mob.
Even in this age the UMS president and the university’s chancellor might have weathered the storm, but then a large number of the school’s football players threatened to sit out an upcoming game against Brigham Young University if the demands were not met. In the Big XII or the SEC or any big-time football conference this is when a campus controversy becomes serious, even if Missouri’s football team is faring no better in the SEC than it did back in the Big XII days, and with a reported $1 million in gate receipts and television revenues on the line the president agreed to step down. Both seem to have spared themselves the indignity of the demanded groveling apology for their pallor, so it remains to be seen if their sacrifice will satisfy the mob and those all-important football players, but we anticipate that even greater demands will soon be made. Once the legions of black collegiate athletes realize their bargaining power, the current protest movement could even exceed its ’60s and ’70s predecessors in destructiveness.
As befits its more elite Ivy League status, Yale’s controversy is even more ridiculous. In Yale’s case there were no alleged racial slurs or swastikas smeared in feces, but rather a worry that some student or another might don an offensive Halloween costume. This dire prospect prompted the university to issue some official warnings, which in turn prompted an atypically sensible member of the Yale faculty to compose a widely-disseminated e-mail to the students of Yale’s aptly named Silliman College, with the endearingly old-fashioned salutation “Dear Sillimanders,” which duly noted her credentials as a lecturer on early childhood development as well as her “concerns about cultural and personal representation, and other challenges to our lived experience in a plural community,” then advised students to lighten up and respond to any offense by either ignoring it or politely raising an objection, put in a plea for free expression, reasonably asked “Whose business is it to control the forms of costumes of young people?,” and humbly concluded “It’s not mine, I know that.” Such raw hate speech of course offended the refined sensibilities of Yale’s young charges, who responded with attacks on the author’s husband, who happens to be the “Master” of Silliman College, a title that had already caused some recent controversy at the university, and who has apparently failed to protect his easily-offended students from everything that might offend them.
A fascinating video posted on the essential YouTube site shows the “Master” being surrounded by a group of mostly black students at his college, which we hesitate to describe as a mob, while trying to get to his office, with one young woman shrieking curse words at him, telling him to “be quiet” when he tries to respond, contending that his wife’s e-mail requires that he quit his job, and shrieking that “This is not about a creating an intellectual space,” apparently without any intended irony. She’s presumably a student at Yale, which somehow retains a reputation as prestigious university, and we note that she’s rather attractive even when shrieking, so if she succeeds in mau-mauing the university to grant her a degree she’ll forever have a job-seeking advantage over any white male who was graduated from a more rigorous but less prestigious land-grant cow college, but apparently the Ivy League is somehow so rife with racist rednecks that she retains her victim status. This followed allegations that one of Yale’s fraternities had denied Elis of Color admission to one of their parties, we will concede, but even if that’s true we’re not sure why it’s problematic for progressives that the frat boys chose to sexually exploit only white women in their “culture of rape.”
In one of those coincidences that no satirist could ever get away with, the potentially offensive Halloween costume controversy occurred right around the time when then the university’s William F. Buckley Program was hosting its fifth annual conference on “The Future of Free Speech.” The eponymous Buckley launched his distinguished career as a conservative author with “Man and God at Yale,” which presciently described what would happen after the university abandoned its Christian roots in favor of a secular humanist approach to education during his years at the school, and free speech necessarily entails hate speech, so the conference was indignantly protested from the outset, buttwhen one of the symposiasts opined that people on campus were responding to the Halloween costume controversy as if the e-mail author “had burned down an Indian village,” which the mob took it as a callous joke about the genocide that he no doubt secretly desired. Protestors were hauled off by the ample security guards, panelists were spat upon, a “hashtag” campaign that “genocideisnotajoke” was quickly launched, and a group that we won’t hesitate to call a mob attempted to stop the free speech taking place.
We’re reminded of the student protests of our long ago youth, but we somehow recall that had something to do with a so-called “Free Speech Movement” launched at the University of California-Berkley, and that there was lots of talk of questioning authority and doing your own thing and dressing however the hell you wanted to dress even on Halloween, and as ridiculous as it was it made more sense the current “Revolt of the Coddled.” The more seasoned fellows over at the Powerlineblog site reminded us that back then there were still university administrators such as former San Francisco State University president S.I. Hayakawa, who defied black militant’s demands for open admissions and autonomous black studies departments and other efforts to undermine his institution’s mission, and was backed up by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, and who later switched his party affiliation to Republican and won a noteworthy term as a United States Senator. Since then all those “free speech” and “question authority” and “do your own thing” students have taken over the faculties and administrations of America’s colleges and universities, and it’s a safe bet they’ll go along with whatever speech codes and strictly enforced regulations and busybody limits on personal autonomy and Halloween costume rules their unruly students might insist on.
Those former questioners of authority who now find themselves in positions of academic authority would do well to consider the fate of their colleagues at Yale and MU. The beleaguered bureaucrats of those schools almost certainly thought themselves the very model of a modern academic, with a proper enthusiasm for mandatory online diversity  training and a considered concern for the cultural and personal representation and a willingness to have curses shrieked at them by coddled yet hysterical students, yet they all found themselves targeted by the mob. The protestors have even turned on the press, and  threatened to call the hated cops on them, which suggests they aren’t nearly so media-savvy as their ’60s and ’70s predecessors, so they’re likely to turn on anyone insufficiently enthusiastic about their brave new world. We don’t know if they still bother to teach about the French Revolution and the ensuing Reign of Terror at America’s universities these days, what with all the dead white males involved, but the rest of academia might want to bone up on the fate of Robespierre.

— Bud Norman