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Love It, Leave It, or Stick Around and Try to Make It More Lovable

For the second day in a row all the news was about President Donald Trump’s controversial “tweet” that four minority Democratic congresswomen go back to the dysfunctional countries of their ancestors.
Pretty much every Democrat and most of the punditry continued to pile on criticisms, while most Republicans continued to politely refrain from commenting at all. Ohio’s white Republican Rep. Michael Turner called the “tweet” racist” and urged Trump to apologize, Texas’ black Republican Rep. Will Hurd called the comment “racist and xenophobic,” while the Republican party’s sole black Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina deplored the “unacceptable personal attacks and racial offensive language” and made the very same argument we made here yesterday that it distracted from “the Democratic party’s far-left, pro-socialist policies.”
Trump, of course, defiantly doubled down.
“It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” Trump told an impromptu news conference when asked about the criticism, as if some people’s agreement settles the issue. “And all I’m saying: They want to leave, they can leave.” He added that “These are people who hate our country. They hate our country. They hate it, I think, with a passion.” He further reiterated that “If you’re not happy here, you can leave,” and then again that “As far as I’m concerned, if you hate our country, if you’re not happy here, you can leave.”
Which harkened back to our boyhood days in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when the hippies and the hard-hats and the hawks and the doves were fighting it out in the streets and “America, Love It or Leave It” was a popular bumper sticker. It wasn’t a particularly happy moment in American history, as we recall, but it had a lasting influence on our understanding of America’s politics and popular culture and all the disputes that have since occurred.
We disagreed with the hippies’ call for an ignominious retreat from the Vietnam War, and agreed with our parents and President Richard Nixon that the country should press on no matter how painfully for a “peace with honor.” The hippies also had all sorts of crazy ideas about free this and free that, too, which struck even our boyish sensibilities as pie-in-the-sky and ultimately disastrous. They had all sorts of other plans to disrupt the complicated social order we were just getting used to, as well, and negotiating our way through the new world they created proved even more vexing, but at no point did we ever wish they’d just go away.
At this late point in our lives both the hippies and the hard hats and the hawks and doves seem to have gotten some things right and some things wrong. The Vietnam War was ignominiously lost when a post-Watergate Democratic majority in Congress declined to enforce the more or less “Peace With Honor” that President Richard Nixon had negotiated, but more stable and less corrupt subsequent Republicans still wound up winning the broader Cold War, and by now the Republican President of the United States states is a Vietnam-era draft-dodger who says he was “never a big fan of the Vietnam War.”
Nixon created an Environmental Protection Agency and funded the Democrats’s “New Deal” and “Great Society” social programs with bigger bucks than his Democratic predecessosr, but subsequent Republicans reigned in the worst excesses while allowing the good works to go on. The “free love” that the hippies’ “sexual revolution” promised caused a lot of venereal disease and an epidemic of divorce that had a lasting painful effect on many of our friends, but we’re glad that our many homosexual friends don’t fear harassment by law enforcement. The civil rights movement the ’60s brought has resulted in a lot of politically correct silliness, to be sure, but we’re able to work all that out with our many black- and brown- and yellow- and red-skinned friends, and are glad they don’t have to endure the segregated society we were born into.
We never did think the hippies and doves hated America. They seemed to love the blues and jazz and country-and-western and rhythm-and-blues music that is America’s greatest gift to world culture, and came up with The Doors and Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Sir Douglas Quintet and numerous other long-haired groups that made it even greater. They so loved the natural beauty of the American landscape that they’d frolic naked in its mud. They fully embraced the great American bard Walt Whitman’s exhortation to “resist much, obey little.” They availed themselves of free speech and the right to petition for redress of grievances and participated in the country’s democratic systems, occasionally for the better if more often for the worse.
Neither do we think that the hard-hats and hawks ever hated America or its ideals. At this point there’s denying that many of them long for a whiter and more heterosexual time in America, but for the most part they only want to guiltlessly listen to their favorite music and enjoy a backyard beer and freely express themselves and petition for redress of grievances and participate in the democratic processes our forefathers created.
During the eight interminable years of President Barack Obama’s administration the thrice-married and proudly adulterous Trump claimed that the president was constitutionally illegitimate by virtue of his foreign birth, a claim Trump has since disavowed, and griped about “American carnage” and claimed that “the American dream is dead,” but he never did return to Scotland where his mother was born or Germany where he falsely claims his father was born, as he apparently didn’t believe that because he disagreed with the sitting president he was therefore obliged to leave the country. We have no affection for the four minority Democratic congresswomen that Trump is currently feuding with, whose far-left and pro-socialist politics the president’s equally insane “tweets” are drawing attention from, but we hew to a constitution that does not permit sending them back to where they came from, especially since three of the four came from the very states they’ve been elected to represent in Congress..
Anyone who loves America has surely noticed some very human flaws in the scheme, for all its high ideals, and wants to use its democratic processes to create a more perfect union, and no matter how cockamamie their ideas about how to achieve that he or she has every right to do so. America and its democratic processes have gotten us through the hippies and the hard hats and even the more deadly spat between the  Union and the Confederacy, so  we’ll put more faith in that than we do in either Trump or those similarly scary four minority Democratic congresswomen.

— Bud Norman

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Merry Christmas Eve

These days people tend to celebrate Christmas from Black Friday until the penultimate day of January, but we’ve always preferred to more fully focus our attention on Christ’s birth over a couple of days.
In our family we always decorated the house around mid-December but only began the festivities in earnest on Christmas Eve, when we’d share a feast of pizza and open all the gifts from family and friends, and sing carols and read from the Nativity scriptures, and then pose for the family portraits that Dad’s camera-and-flash-bulb timer always took several infuriatingly long attempts to get right. On Christmas morning we’d wake up with the brothers and greedily unwrap the presents that had been brought by Santa Claus — yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus — and then enjoy the traditional feast of turkey and ham and mashed potatoes with gravy and other all-American culinary delights, followed by televised football games, but at some point we’d sing a few more carols about that long ago Oh Holy Night and reflect on those scriptures that hinted at its ineffable meaning.
Over the the past many years we’ve added a tradition of attending the Christas party that our friends Art and Joanne annually host at our friend Stan’s house on the night before Christmas Eve, which is always the most swinging soiree one can hope to be invited to here in Wichita. Stan’s place isn’t much to look at if you drive by it up in North Riverside, but if you’re invited inside it’s as cool a bachelor pad as you’ve ever seen, and every year on the night before Christmas Eve it’s jam-packed with excellent people. Between Art and Joanne and Stan they seem to know every worthwhile beatnik and hippie and punk and musician and local media celebrity and ballet dancer in town, and it’s always nice to be reminded of how many of our friends are friends with other friends of ours in this small town of more than half-a-million souls. There’s always an open bar with a voluptuous barmaid, and no one’s singing Christmas carols or reciting Nativity scripture, but an appropriate feeling of peace on Earth and good will toward man always prevails.
We’ll probably wake up late today with a slight hangover, but as always with a realization that today is Christmas Eve, and that today is one of those special days of the year. We’ll have some sort of feast with our beloved parents at their swank retirement home, then maybe a beer with some of our weird friends at a nearby favorite dive of ours, try our best to ignore what’s going on with the government and the stock markets and the rest of the world, and to take a moment to reflect on the even better next world that Christ’s birth promises.
We suggest you do the same, and have a very merry Christmas Eve.

— Bud Norman

Happy Halloween

There’s a lot of intriguing news out there, but we’ll take some time off today to enjoy Halloween, as none of the ghosts and goblins and monsters who arrive on our porch this evening will be nearly so scary as what’s going on in the real world.
Way back when we were young Halloween was for the young, and it was a favorite night of the year. Dressing up in costumes never had much appeal to us, but the free candy made it worth the trouble. Now that we’re old Halloween seems to be more of a grown-up thing, but at our age we find it rather undignified to go out in public in wearing some weird garb, and we’ve lost our sweet tooth, so we’ll enjoy handing out candy and watching the kids have their fun.
Among other advantages of not dressing up as anything, we’re unlikely to give offense to anyone. Halloween is fraught with political peril these days, given how touchy almost everyone has become. There are a few religious conservatives who consider Halloween a Satanic right, and Sean Hannity thinks it teaches socialism to children, and the left is even crazier.
Way back when we were young it was common for children to dress up as hobos, which we did on at least one Halloween, but these days those free-spirited kings of the road who rode the rails and lived job-and-tax-free lives have largely disappeared, and the very word “hobo” is now exceedingly rare, so a hobo costume probably would seem to be mocking the homeless. There was never a time we can recall when black-face wasn’t considered rude, and we wonder what the heck that Megyn Kelly woman was thinking when she said on a nationally televised network that it isn’t rude, and we still roll our eyes recalling a usually sensible friend who thought it was acceptable for her to show up at an adult Halloween party dressed as Adolph Hitler. Another friend went to a Halloween party as the “Flo” woman from the Progressive Insurance ads, with a name tag identifying herself as “Flow” and her white pants stained by menstrual blood, and we have to agree with pretty much all of our other women friends that it was tasteless.
Other than that sort of thing, though, people should just lighten up and let their fellow young and old Americans act harmlessly foolish for a night. In recent years we’ve noticed that the kids who arrive at our door favor comic book superhero costumes and princess or angel outfits, rather than the ghosts and goblins and monsters that predominated in our childhood, and we suppose that might well be a hopeful trend, and they look darn cute. Our friends’ adult costumes tend to have some twisted sense of humor or attempt to be erotic, which strikes us a damn silly, but we’ll indulge their once-a-year silliness just as they indulge us the other 364 days of the year.
So enjoy the cute kids and the childlike behavior of your adult friends, and take a brief respite from all the scary stuff that will resume tomorrow.

— Bud Norman

On the Half-a-Centenary of the Breakdown of America’s Two-Party System

By now we’re well aware that Tempus does indeed fugit, as those wise old Romans used to say, but it was still jarring to be reminded on Tuesday that the memorable events of the 1968 Democratic National Committee happened in Chicago just a short half-century ago. The after effects of that event still showed-up in Tuesday’s round of mid-term primaries, as in earlier primaries even here in good old Kansas, and for now we worry that time doesn’t really change things much.
Then as now most big American cities were dominated by efficient if corrupt Democratic political machines, but back then Chicago was run by the non-nonsense boss Mayor Richard Daley, whose rough and ready and every-loyal police department laid a serious nationally-televised beating on those hippies and yippies and civil rights types. The civil rights hero and unrepentant Cold Warrior Humphrey wound up winning the nomination, but in the aftermath of the televised rioting no Democrat stood a chance back in ’68. The Republican nominee was former Vice President and Sen. Richard Nixon, who was more hawkish on Vietnam and more ambivalent on civil yet rights, yet whose nomination didn’t create such a ruckus at his later nominating convention in Miami, Florida,and with help from a former Democrat’s blatantly racist racist and nuke em’ all’s third candidacy Nixon wound up losing by a landslide plurality.
By ’72 the Democrats were taken over by the hippies and yippies and they wound up nominating Sen. George McGovern, who was a bona fide World War II hero but also far-left-of-center at the time, and he wound u0 losing in an historic popular and electoral landslide despite the early and retrospectively obvious intimations that Nixon would resign in disgrace just a few years later.These days, after so many years, seem to offer no better alternatives.
In some states and congressional districts and county commission zones the Democrats are offering up reasonable enough candidates, but they’re going far left in the Bronx and Queens district of New York City and in Tuesday’s Florida gubernatorial primary and elsewhere, and even in Kansas’ third district. They’re running some people running crazy left people we could never vote for. Meanwhile our Republican Party seems enthralled of our current President Donald Trump, whose presidency we fully expect and ardently hope will soon come to the same inglorious end as Nixon’s, and for now it’s hard to decide who we’ll vote for. Even after 50 years, we’re still not sure which desultory choices we would choose.

— Bud Norman

Reality Intrudes on a Otherwise Nice Weekend

The weather around here was atypically perfect over the Memorial Day weekend, with none of the vicious thunderstorms and potential tornadoes that usually drive all the campers away from the nearby lakes at some point in the holiday, and the news cycle was as slow as one can hope for these days. Still, there was no shaking a certain sense that real life and all its discontents would start up again today.
We did our best to put it aside for a weekend of gratitude to fallen heroes and other uplifting thoughts, attending church and doing some pressing chores and pursuing plenty of procrastinating, while sticking mostly to the sports news. On Monday we slept late and eventually got together with some gray-haired hippie friends who meet every year on the date at a charmingly dilapidated house in a charmingly dilapidated neighborhood, and we had some barbecue and drank some beer and talked mostly about music.
They were playing the Allman Brothers Band on an old stereo sound system, apparently in memoriam of Gregg Allman, one of the eponymous co-founders of the band and its longtime vocalist and organist and songwriter, whose obituary we had noticed in the news over the weekend, and we have to say it sounded great. As natural born rockabillies our tastes in rock ‘n’ roll tend to the pre-hippie generation, and in our relative youth we embraced the punk sensibility that rebelled against those aged hippies, but we could never resist that Allman outfit doing “Crossroads” or “Whipping Post” or especially that enticingly melodic “Jessica,” which we played over and over on our old stereo until it drove our mom crazy, so we shared with our hippie friends a sincere toast to an undeniably crazy old hippie who was also an undeniably great and quintessentially American musician.
There was plenty of grousing about President Donald Trump, too, of course, but our natural born rockabilly punk and old school Republican sensibilities weren’t much stirred to offer any defense. We left early and dropped in an another old friend, a woman who is a bit younger and far punkier than ourselves, and still quite attractive in an exotic and ripened sort of way, and after she she showed us some cell phone video of her cute grandsons she also started grousing about Trump. After such a long friendship she usually avoids political topics with us, but we invited her to vent her spleen without any fear of recriminations. This lead to an eerily civil discussion about our bedrock conservative principles, however weird they might seem at the moment, and even some lengthy discourse some about the authoritarianism on her side of the political divide, and it ended in a hug.
After that we still managed to make the last inning of the Wichita Wingnuts’ home-opening victory over the Salina Stockade at the old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium on a glorious early summer night next to the Arkansas River, and although our New York Yankees lost to the Baltimore Orioles the Boston Red Sox also so lost so the Yankees were still comfortably in first place in the American League East. In our perusal of the sports pages we also noticed that Frank DeFord had died and Tiger Woods had been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, so it wasn’t a great day in sports. DeFord was until his final day the best sportswriter of his generation, and at one point around 2008 Woods seemed poised to claim the title of greatest golfer and most heroic sports hero ever, and both of those stories came to a sad end over the weekend.
We dropped in on the last Wingnuts inning with a couple of our cigar-chomping friends in the smoking section of Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, one of whom is a graying hippie professor at the local university and the other a gray-pony-tailed hippie who still musters a full-throated defense of Trump, and they briefly filled us in on what they’d been arguing about during the home team’s victory. At that point we tried to talk about the home team’s victory, and if we’d arrived early enough to purchase a beer we’d have raised a conversation-changing toast.
We can’t help a late night glance at the news, though, so naturally Trump came up in that. They don’t observe Memorial Day in Germany, so Chancellor Angela Merkel went ahead with a speech that didn’t mention Trump by name but made clear that in “my experience of the last few days” she spent with Trump she had concluded that Europe could no longer count on the support of “outside sources,” and her opponent in the upcoming election more explicitly agreed with her more subtle denunciation of Trump. Our liberal Facebook friends were meanwhile exulting in Trump’s admittedly unusual demeanor during the national anthem at Arlington Memorial Cemetery, and although we don’t think it necessarily damning we have to admit it is unusual. There’s the carry-over from the previous work week’s stories about Trump’s son-in-law and all-purpose appointee, too, and we had to warn our Trump-apologist friend that the upcoming testimony of the fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director will likely require some difficult apologetics.
He seemed to take our warning to heed, and inquired about the well-being of our folks, whom he has also lately befriended. We appreciated the sincere inquiry, and assured him they seemed to be doing fine, and felt a hopeful thought that all this politics and sports and whatnot doesn’t really matter.
We also took a moment or two to remember Jerry Clark, who grew up in the Depression at an Atchison orphanage and got his toes blown off at the Battle of Manila in World War II and somehow wound up in the darkroom of the newspaper where we worked as young punks,  where he became one of our very best friends ever. For all the difficulties of his life he was one of the funniest fellows we’ve ever known, and as we face the coming week we’d love to hear what he would say about this particular moment in time.

— Bud Norman

Searing and Wearing Words

One of the many peculiar features of our modern age is the t-shirt controversy. Obsessive news-readers will encounter several of them almost every month, usually involving a student who has run afoul of his school’s dress code, sometimes a disgruntled shopper complaining that some censorious rent-a-cop denied him entry to the local mall, and always a result of our popular culture’s strange insistence on expressing itself on its chest. These days the offending opinions are likely to be religious, patriotic, or otherwise offensive to prevailing polite opinion, which is yet another peculiar feature of our modern age.
The latest spate of t-shirt controversies include a young girl who was forbidden to wear a t=shirt declaring that “Virginity Rocks” and a prominent quarterback for a professional football team wasn’t allowed to appear before the press in a t-shirt with the words “Know Jesus, Know Peace.” There’s another story about an Army officer who wasn’t allowed in his daughter’s school because of his uniform, and of course the recent federal court decision upholding a school’s right to ban any wearing of the American flag for fear of offending the foreign students. The Arkansas middle school that objected to the pro-virginity slogan said it was simply trying to avoid any uncomfortable discussions about sexuality, the professional football league invoked a higher power by saying that the pro-Jesus t-shirt wasn’t an officially licensed Nike product, the Detroit school that stopped the Army officer at its door hilariously explained that it was because he wasn’t wearing a tie, as if anyone in Detroit wears a tie and an Army uniform isn’t sufficiently businesslike by the standards of the Detroit public schools, but even if one buys in to any of this a trend is apparent. Another controversy occurred when some college students wore t-shirts with an obscene suggestion for “Safe Zones,” but that was because of its offense to the school’s up-to-date speech codes rather than any concern for old-fashioned notions of propriety.
Although we stand foursquare for middle school virginity, Jesus, the United States Army, and the American flag, and certainly find them less offensive than the obscenities and insults and likenesses of Che Guevara that shout at us from t-shirts all over the public square, we find it hard to work up much indignation over a t-shirt. Here’s hoping the unwelcome Army officer gets even more groveling apologies from that school for its absurd insult to his service, but the people who could have shown up in primary colored t-shirt free of unasked opinions, or even a nice button-down, must fight their battles without us. Libertarian principle forbids us from any governmental attempt to squelch even the most frivolous forms of free speech, but a traditionalist streak in us can’t help yearning for a bygone era when people voluntarily didn’t wear their opinions on their chest.
In most cases the t-shirts proclaim the wearer’s allegiance to some sports team or rock ‘n’ roll band or clothing manufacturer, which is probably a starter to the most interesting conversation you can have with him, but otherwise it is always something calculated to give offense to somebody. Even when the words are agreeable to us we can’t help wondering if any idea that can be expressed on a t-shirt is worth expressing, and whether those ideas wouldn’t be more persuasively expressed by someone dressed in an adult and serious fashion. The notion that individuality is best expressed by t-shirts and tattoos and vaguely Afro-French-sounding names is of recent and uncertain vintage, and cannot explain why the most daringly transgressive and individualistic figures of the pre-modern era all looked pretty much like else. There were always the extravagant sorts, from Oscar Wilde to Gen. George Custer to Isadora Duncan and her fatally-long scarves, but even these showboats would never have thought of donating their chests to free advertising for some sports team or political cause or foul-mouthed joke. According to the old black-and-white movies even the gangsters aspired to look like respectable Republican businessmen, and and embarrassingly betrayed themselves with a street-level garishness.
So far as we can tell the clothing controversies started when switchblade-wielding kids started showing up at mostly-white high schools with black leather jackets and white t-shirts and rolled-up jeans and basketball shoes a look now regarded as classic continually evoked by subsequent counter-cultures, and intensified when all those long-haired and tie-dyed hippie freaks started filling the local parks with that odd sweet smell. Anyone old enough to recall that era is probably discombobulated by a time when virginity and Jesus and the American flag are the controversial attire, but we mostly lament that people no longer feel free to be themselves without imposing themselves on the fellow just ahead in the grocery store check-out line.

— Bud Norman