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The Latest Installment in As Trump Turns

The big news from the presidential race on Wednesday was Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s latest shake-up of his campaign staff, and if you’re a binge-watching fan of Trump’s ongoing reality show it makes for some interesting plot twists.
A formerly peripheral character named Stephen Bannon has stepped into a starring role, an entirely unexpected yet predictably blond and comely character named Kellyanne Conway has been introduced, the ambiguously villainous Paul Manafort role has been reduced to cameo appearances, and the obvious implication is that the more or less traditional Republican nominee Trump we’ve seen lately will go back to being the boorish and braggadocios and insulting self-proclaimed billionaire real-estate-and-casino-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-scam-university-and-reality-show mogul who won the Republican nomination.
That Bannon fellow is the new “chief executive” of the campaign, and he once worked for the Goldman Sachs investment outfit that both parties are running against and then went on to produce a documentary about former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee and reality show star Sarah Palin among other ventures, has most recently been in charge of the Breitbart.com news site that has cheered on all of Trump’s most outrageous utterances since way back when there was still a chance the GOP might not nominate someone more traditionally Republican. The Conway woman is apparently a pollster who has long provided Trump with what he wants to hear over his varied private sector careers, and the assumes the more recognizable title of “campaign manager.” That Manafort fellow replaced the combative Corey “Let Trump Be Trump” Lewandowski as “campaign chairman” shortly after a controversy regarding Lewandowski’s allegedly rough treatment of a female reporter, ironically enough from Breitbart.com, ostensibly with the mission of molding Trump into a more traditional Republican nominee, and despite the recent press revelations about his shady dealings in the very same Ukraine that Trump insists the Russians haven’t invaded and might be entitled to in any case he’ll keep the now meaningless title during his cameo appearances.
The timing seems odd, because over the last several days that more-or-less traditional Republican nominee shtick seems to have been working for Trump. He read an obviously pre-written-by-someone-else speech from a tele-prompter about immigration and Islamic terrorism, and made the common sense case that America should be exceedingly cautious about accepting large numbers of immigrants from lands where Islamic terrorism is popular. This contrasted effectively with the Democratic nominee’s crazy talk that Islam has nothing to do with Islamic terrorism and her crazy message of y’all come in, and it left out all his own crazy talk about using bullets dipped in pig’s blood and chopping the heads off of terrorists and killing their families and routinely torturing detainees and trying even American citizens in military tribunals, so even the most traditionally Republican press organs were giving him some begrudging respect. We’re so hide-bound we couldn’t help noticing that he once again repeated his easily disproved lies that he’d been opposed to the Iraq and Libyan interventions from the outset, which reiterated his utterly ridiculous and not all Republican belief that the Middle East would have been happily stable and peaceable if not for America’s meddling influence, and that underneath all the tough talk was an “American First” isolationism, but at this point we’re among a small minority up against a bi-partisan consensus.
Trump followed that up with another pre-written-by-someone-else and tele-promptered speech in Wisconsin, not far from where nihilistic race riots were still raging in Milwaukee in the aftermath of a seemingly justified fatal shooting of an armed and dangerous black man by the police, and it also contrasted effectively with the response of a Democratic nominee who is obligated to both the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the reflexively anti-police administration that are making excuses for and subtly egging on the riots. We wouldn’t go so far as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani did and call it “the best Republican speech ever,” as Abraham Lincoln’s addresses at Gettysburg and the Second Inaugural still really swing for us, but we had to give it some begrudging respect. He even made a plausible appeal to the black Americans who are disproportionately the victims of crime, but we think a more or less traditional Republican nominee who doesn’t have a settlement with the Justice Department over his discriminatory renting practices or an expensive full-page ad calling for the execution of some black rape suspects who were later cleared by physical evidence in his background would be a better messenger.
In any case, the more tele-promptered and traditionally Republican shtick seems to have shaved a few percentage points off the comfortable poll-averaged lead that crazy Democratic nominee had built up while Trump was accusing a vanquished Republican rival’s father of being in on the Kennedy assassination and grousing that an Indiana-born yet “Mexican” judge shouldn’t have been presiding over one of the three trials regarding the scam Trump University and musing in the most indecipherable way about how “Second Amendment people” might forestall future Supreme Court picks and that the president being the literal rather than figurative “founder” of the Islamic State and any number of other unnecessary distractions he’d written into his ongoing reality show. Given that the Democratic nominee talks plenty crazy herself, we’re not at all surprised. The changes in the Trump plot line therefore make no sense to us, but in this crazy election year we’ll concede that’s probably because we’re more accustomed to politics than the reality show genre.

— Bud Norman

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A Gettysburg No-Show

Seven score and ten years ago President Abraham Lincoln gave one of the greatest speeches in history, and the anniversary of his short address at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, will be rightly honored today with a memorial at the same hallowed location. Conspicuously absent from the roster of speakers is the current president, and there has been much speculation about why.
Many of the speculators assume there is some noble and brilliant reason, of course. A CNN report on President Barack Obama’s no-show at the event — which appeared under the non-committal headline “Snub, or Smart?” — notes that the White House spokesman offered no explanation for the snub and then goes off in search of academics to explain why it’s smart. The best they could come up with was Heather Cox Richardson, a history professor at Boston College, who helpfully explained that “By not going, President Obama lets that speech stand on his own. If he went, it would all be about him.”
With all due respect to Professor Richardson, humility and an aversion to attention seem unlikely explanations for anything Obama might do. Obama has never been uncomfortable with the favorable comparisons to the Great Emancipator that his more fevered supporters used to make back in headier times, having launched his first presidential campaign in Lincoln’s adoptive hometown in Illinois and taken his oaths of office with Lincoln’s well-used Bible, and he has rarely missed an opportunity to give a speech. He notably declined an invitation to speak an anniversary celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall, but that would have meant traveling all the way to Germany just to give a speech about great Ronald Reagan was, which would have been too onerous a burden to bear, while Gettysburg is only a few million dollars of travel time away and would have afforded Obama plenty of opportunities to speak about himself. The opportunity to be at the center of something other than the Obamacare debacle for a news cycle must have been especially tempting, and it is therefore hard to explain why he might have passed it up.
More cynical minds than Professor Richardson’s, such as ours, are left to speculate that Obama concluded the event would not be all about him, and that the world would little note nor long remember he said he there. Those gushing claims of Lincolnian greatness look more and more ridiculous with each passing day, and were ridiculous to begin to with, so we can’t help suspecting that somewhere deep in his hubristic psyche Obama has a hard-earned insecurity that the juxtaposition of himself and Lincoln would not make a good photo-op.
In Obama’s stead the audience at the memorial observance will hear remarks by the newly-fledged and little-known Secretary of the Interior, but it is unlikely that she will be able to top Lincoln’s efforts at the site. This is well enough, as the country should reflect on Lincoln’s inspiring exhortation to “be here dedicated to to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave their last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Such reflection won’t serve Obama’s purposes, and perhaps that’s why he won’t be there.

— Bud Norman