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On America’s Mean Streak

By now we should be well inured to such behavior, but we were nonetheless taken aback by how very rude and insulting President Donald Trump was to a couple of women reporters who dared asked unwanted questions at his Monday news conference.
Trump was eager to tout the greatest trade deal ever that he’s recently reached with Mexico and Canada, and when one woman at the back of the press gathering asked about something else he basically told her to sit down and shut up. The next question went to the American Broadcasting Company’s Cecilia Vega, and while she waited for the microphone he taunted that “She’s shocked that I picked her.” When the microphone at last arrived she said “I wasn’t thinking…,” and Trump interjected that “I know you’re not thinking. You never do.” By now Vega should be even more inured to such presidential behavior, but she was taken aback enough to say “Excuse me?,” and Trump condescendingly told her to go right ahead and ask her question, then berated her when it was about the big news Supreme Court nomination rather than the greatest trade deal ever made.
As obviously ungallant as it was, this fell well short of Trump shooting someone on Fifth Avenue, which Trump has famously boasted he could do without losing a single supporter, so of course his die-hard defenders defended it. They had a convincing argument that Trump wasn’t being the least bit sexist, as he’s routinely every bit as rude and insulting to male reporters who dare to ask questions he’d rather not answer, and that the “fake news” “lame stream media” and the rest of the “lib-tards” have it coming, but as old white heterosexual and Christian long-registered Republican males with plenty of unpleasant questions of our own we were not placated.
Somehow we missed the press conference footage on Monday, along with all the sneering fun that the late night comics of course had with it, but it was the first thing we saw on the internet after awakening Tuesday afternoon, and it somehow stayed with us all day. While running a pressing chore we tuned our car radio into one of the talk radio hosts on the AM dial, who was as usual screeching at the top of his lungs about how the “Democrat party” is actively undermine the American way, and we got the impression that all the white and heterosexual and Christian males registered as Republican were in dire danger of being locked up in a Soviet-style gulag, and that he thought they all needed to be locked up in advance of this diabolical plan.
At one point we found ourselves stopped at a red light next to one of those new-fangled and now-discontinued Volkswagen Beetles, whose owner had painted a message on to the rear to his fellow motorists to “back the ***** off,” and when we took a glance at him we noticed he was for some reason or another glaring at us. It was at that point we started contemplating a certain mean streak in our otherwise beloved American culture.
Having completed our pressing chore we retreated to a favorite dive up on the rough northeast end, where we nursed a beer through a couple of episodes of “Jeopardy, getting enough answers in the form of a question right that we could have made some serious bucks if we’d been playing for real. After that the bartender started playing one of his favorite heavy metal bands at a very high volume, however, and our dour mood returned.
We’ve heard enough heavy metal music in our time to recognize that the band was indeed quite tight and technically accomplished, and we’re sure that if that’s the kind of thing you like you would quite like it, but to our ears and in our momentary mood it sounded rude and insulting with nothing more to say than “back the **** off.” That’s the same message you’ll hear from the rappers thudding out of the amped-bass speakers of other bars and the cars we find ourselves next at red lights in the northeast end, and we seem to get the same communique at the fancy art galleries we visit around here, and by now it’s pretty much ubiquitous. There’s no escaping to the sports page, where the Ultimate Fighting Championships have supplanted the Sweet Science of boxing in popularity, because the sport that rendered Muhammad Ali to a pathetically slurring and prematurely dead victim just wasn’t violent enough, and the “back the **** off” end zone dances in the violent combat of professional football are now far more popular than the humble home-run trots and appreciative cap salutes of the erstwhile national pastime.
There’s no blaming Trump for this longstanding sad state of affairs, of course, and the left surely shoulders a large if not lion’s share of the blame. It was the liberals who made a civil rights hero out of Lenny Bruce for peppering his astoundingly unfunny night club comedy routines with vulgarities, thus paving the way for today’s astoundingly unfunny and vulgar comedy. Every “transgressive” cultural movement from the end of World War I, from Dadaism to Deconstructionism to the hippies and hip hop and heavy metal, has been championed by the left. In the realm of politics, one doesn’t have to be an Aleksander Solzhenitsyn or Andrei Sakharov to know that some elements of the left would happily back you the **** off into a barb-wired prison camp.
For most of our lives the Republican party and the broader conservative movement in general resisted these darker angels of our national soul. President Abraham Lincoln waged a ruthless war to preserve the union, but then vowed to heal the nation’s wounds with “Malice towards none, and charity towards all.” President Calvin Coolidge sought a “return to normalcy” of the pre-World War I era. President Dwight Eisenhower was steadfast against both communism and McCarthyism, quietly nudged along racial equality, and sagely urged that America not become “the richest and most powerful country in the graveyard of history.” Even Richard Nixon kept his vulgarities and lock-’em-all-up tendencies confined to the White House and its tape recording machines. President Ronald Reagan couched his hard-core conservatism in terms of a Shining City on a Hill, always with a sweet and sunny disposition, and he never jabbed harder at a political opponent than to say “There you go again.”
After that President George H.W. Bush offered up an even “kinder, gentler” style of conservatism, however, and most of the Republican party has been restive ever since. Despite the rare third term he won for his party and decisive victory Bush won in the first Iraq War thanks to the sort of international coalition that only a seasoned diplomat could achieve, there was a slight but ill-timed recession and a billionaire narcissist third-party candidate drawing Republican votes and he wound up losing to Democratic President Bill Clinton, so Bush is now considered a loser.
After Clinton won re-election from the tough-talking Republican nominee Robert Dole, once again with the help of that same billionaire narcissist, he was succeeded by the even kinder and gentler President George W. Bush. Despite the son’s undeniable difficulties with a second Iraq War he beat the lefty Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry, and for a while that enough to satisfy the talk radio hosts and their agitated callers.
Another ill-timed recession led to the election of President Barack Obama, however, and over the eight excruciatingly long years of his presidency much of the Republican party grew more restive yet. No Republican could have possibly prevailed in the recessionary year of ’08, but to hear the talk radio hosts and their equally fervid callers tell it the bona-fide war hero Sen. John McCain only lost because he was too much of a wimp to come right out and say that Obama was a Kenyan-born Muslim intent on locking kup all the straight white Christian conservatives. The morally upright and gentlemanly Gov. Mitt Romney came in closer in ’12 on a traditional Republican platform of assertive American leadership in foreign affairs and mostly free markets at home, but the consensus of party opinion was that Romney was a loser who lost because because he was too morally upright and gentlemanly and that the traditional Republican platform was hopelessly out of date.
By ’16, a winning plurality of Republican primary  votes nominated Trump, whose obvious moral rectitude and defiantly ungentlemanly behavior and brash heresies against traditional Republican foreign policies and free market principles were by then seen as features and not bugs. He was was seen as the “grab ’em by the *****” and “back the **** off” candidate the county needed who would lock up those rude and insulting and vulgar “demon rats” before they could lock up the rest of us God-fearing Americans. Since then Trump has gained  overwhelming support from the Republican party, which now seems to mostly agree America’s border laws should be enforced in the cruelest possible way and that it doesn’t really matter if that Supreme Court nominee actually did once attempt to rape a classmate and is now brazenly lying about it.
At this point we can well imagine far too many Republican parents pointing to Trump’s rude and insulting behavior and telling their sons that’s how a real man acts, and that’s what real presidential leadership looks like. We can also imagine them telling their daughters not to be one of those uppity women who ask men unwanted questions, and we’ve already seen far too many Republican women in televised focus groups saying that attempted rape is just boys being boys.
Please spare us the argument that the left is just as bad in its own way, as we’ve  long  known that’s true, and it doesn’t make us feel any better. Even that usually friendly bartender who indulges our “Jeopardy” habit got bent slightly out of shape when we opined that his heavy metal favorites struck us as a wee bit hostile, and that their music might play some small part in why we have a shock jock insult comic internet troll as President, and a noisy debate arouse among the few other regulars. A gray-haired middle-of-the-road sort of Democrat friend of ours bought us another beer and took our side, though, and by the end of another round we parted everyone in the joint with handshakes and assurances that no hard feelings were meant.
We’d like to think that America’s political and cultural divides can be similarly bridged, but until at least the mid-term elections we expect that much of America will be waving an updated Gadsen flag that substitutes “Don’t Tread On Me” with the new but not-at-all improved “back the **** off.”

— Bud Norman

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A Hip-Hop Heave-Ho to “Suge” Knight

As caucasian and conservative Kansans of a certain age, our musical tastes tend  more to Peggy Lee and Hank Williams and the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys and Chuck Berry and The Ramones than the latest cacophony, but we’re familiar enough with the “gangsta’ rap” genre that we took note “Suge” Knight has pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge which might result in what amounts to a life sentence.
If you’re not familiar with the oeuvre of Knight’s Death Row Records label we envy you, but you should know that over the past few decades it has exerted an undeniable influence on America’s popular culture. Back in the early hip-hop days that the youngsters now call “back in the day,” Death Row Records records made a ton of money peddling the most violent and misogynistic and generally nihilistic “gangsta’ rap” available on the open market. The shockingly violent lyrics were always delivered with a machine-gun staccato over a scary bass line, and they eerily echoed what we were reading in the local crime stories, and judging by the thudding music we’d hear every time we were stopped at a red light in certain parts of town it was a very lucrative trade.
At the time we covering the music beat for the local newspaper, and had interviewed Ice-T after his “Cop Killa'” peaked on the charts and one of the “Niggaz With Attitude” when they were the hottest thing going with equally anti-law enforcement sentiments, and even though  we witnessed the violence at their concerts we couldn’t argue with their rationalization that they were only expressing their reality. Even so, we argued with both that surely something more hopeful was going on in the ‘hood, and that things might better in the ‘hood if they stressed the best of it rather than glorifying the worst of it, and worried that “gangsta’ rap” might be both a cause and effect of the worst of it.
Back in the day, as the youngsters fondly call it, “gangsta’ rappers” used to shoot one another with alarming regularity. Death Row Records’ “artists” were often among both the victims and perpetrators, and Knight himself wound up facing various felony charges following various shoot-outs, but his record business was all the more brisk. Young black men of lesser renown were also gunning one another down at an alarming rate, here and everywhere else, and Death Row Records provided much of the soundtrack.
Since then things seem have calmed down a bit. Death Row Records is no long a major player on the music scene, and the few music critics we still occasionally read tell us that hip-hop is now about black empowerment and spirituality and other upbeat things. Ice-T has spent the last few decades playing cops on network television dramas, and that surprisingly friendly guy from “Niggaz With Attitude” has been playing the Dad character in some charmingly family-friendly blaxploitation flicks, and so far as we can tell from our red light stops in certain parts of town the latest hip-hop is less heavy on drive-by shootings and slapping  women and around and  generally defying law-enforcement and social norms. Except for a few mostly Democratic-run outlier big cities the black-on-black crime and the crime rate in general has been steadily declining since the heyday of “gangsta’ rap,” and we suspect both trends are both cause as well as effect.
It makes us feel suddenly aged to see that that this newfangled rap stuff is now so old that Knight is a rpideed 53 years old. Back in the day he’d have earned some valuable street cred by copping to a 28-year sentence, which would have been a mere 22 years if it weren’t his third felony strike, but these days he’s a hip-hop has-been who will go to prison for what might be the rest of his life with little notice.
C’est la vie, Suge. We well remember a better age of black music when Aretha and Sly and Otis and the Staple Singers were laying down far more musical tracks promising a new age of peace and brotherhood and equality, not to mention the likes of the great Duke Ellington Orchestra and Chuck Berry, and we hope it will long outlive the legacy of Death Row Records.

— Bud Norman

In the Mean Times

We can be quite scathing in our criticisms at this publication, but we always strive to do so with a certain literary subtlety and a proper respect for decorum and the bounds of reasonable discourse. By temperament and policy we forbid foul language, ad hominem arguments, or the snide sort of punning nicknames typical of schoolyard taunts, and in no circumstances will we ever wish a slow and painful death on any person’s children.
That last prohibition seems the least one can do, but these days even that modicum of civility is becoming distressingly rarer. A seething hatred that hopes for the death of political opponents’ children, and is not embarrassed to publicly express itself, is now commonplace. Three typical examples have recently appeared in the news, and although we are heartened that such vitriol is still considered newsworthy each of the stories illustrate that this murderous tendency has gone beyond the comment sections of the more fevered internet sites and into the mainstream of politics and academia.
One story concerns the Sacramento Democratic Party’s communications chairman, of all people, who responded to a “Tweet” advocating the de-funding of Obamacare by writing on his own “Twitter” account: “May your children all die from debilitating, painful and incurable diseases.” The author of this witty riposte is not only a paid spokesman for the Democrats in the capital of the nation’s most populous state, he’s also a self-described “communications pro” who has a web site named “It Matters How You Say It.” He eventually apologized for his outburst, but only after a series of even more vulgar responses to his critics and a fair amount of public pressure on his employer, and has since been forced to resign from his party post.
Similarly hateful invective is being hurled from the ivory of towers of academia, of course. Another story concerns a prominent fundraiser for the University of California-San Francisco who “tweeted” her desire that all “Obamacare nonbelievers” be denied healthcare. She cheekily added “Let them eat their McDonalds,” which can be interpreted as a death wish as well as the usual San Francisco culinary snobbery. Sarah Palin earned much ridicule and scorn by fretting about the existence of politically-motivated death panels in Obamacare, but openly advocating for them apparently earns a nice job in California’s higher education system.
Yet another story involves a journalism professor at the University of Kansas, who took to the “tweets” after the mass murder at Washington’s Navy Yard to say “The blood is on the hands of the NRA. Next time, let is be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.” Simultaneously mean-spirited and self-righteous, the “tweet” has attracted much attention in the Kansas media, even if many of them have politely declined to mention the professor’s desire for the murder of young children and instead explain the controversy in terms of an “anti-NRA” argument, and has become a popular topic of conversation in the state. Even with such friendly reportage, presumably from past students still grateful for an easy “A” in his courses, the outburst has sparked enough outrage among the gun-loving Kansans who pay his salary that the professor has been suspended. Academic freedom advocates have rushed to defend his right to be a simple-minded boor with no respect for the freedoms of others, and they might well have a point, but surely he can be relieved of his duties at a journalism school named for the great Republican writer and editor William Allen White because he uses ALL CAPITAL LETTERS like some deranged internet troll.
The same sense of anonymity and invulnerability that drives the average deranged internet poll is no doubt responsible for these harangues by supposedly respectable people, and a popular culture that is constantly blaring out profane boasts and violent threats over a thudding hip-hop or heavy metal beat probably has something to do with it, but we suspect the serious nature of the current political controversies is the primary reason. Democrats will have plenty of examples of similar hatefulness coming from their ideological opposites, but it’s far more common and widely accepted among their own party. All of the political power achieved by the left does not seem to have placated it, and the embarrassing results of their power seem to have left them downright snippy.
The more polished Democratic politicians still refrain from violent fantasies about their opponents’ children, at least in public, but even the most prominent among them are now prone to incendiary insults. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has recently described the “tea party” legislators attempting to limit the debt and de-fund Obamacare as “anarchists” and “fanatics.” It’s nice to know that “anarchist” is still a term of opprobrium in Democratic circles, given their longtime indulgence of the black-masked thugs going by that name who terrorized the past several international economic summits, but the insult does not bode well for any bipartisan solutions to the nation’s problems. At the very highest levels of the Democratic party the president routinely tells audiences that his opposition is motivated by the desire to cause the poor and sick to suffer while making the environment uninhabitable, and it invariably gets a big hand from the hand-picked crowds of true believers. With such mean rhetoric coming from the leaders, it’s not surprising that the followers would start hoping for the death of sons and daughters.
It would be nice to see a more cordial discourse, and not just because it would return the debate to matters of fact of logic and undeniable results which the Democrats would prefer to avoid. Such hateful talk is not good for those Democrats’ impressionable young children, and we wish those little whippersnappers nothing but the best.

— Bud Norman