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A Question of Temperament

The Los Angeles Times newspaper and Vanity Fair magazine have both published recent stories that raise credible doubt on President Donald Trump’s temperamental fitness for his job, and the Republican chairman of the Senate intelligence committee has publicly raised the same concerns and insisted that most of his colleagues share them. Even with the stock market up and the unemployment rate down, all the opinion polls show that a majority of the public is also worried that there’s something not quite right about the president.
Of course Trump has counter-punched with “tweets” and defiant statements, as is his wont, but not in a way that will reassure any of those worriers. He’s griped to a pool of reporters that “It’s frankly disgusting the way the press can write anything it wants,” sent “tweets” threatening to revoke a national broadcasting network’s right to air stories he dislikes, and come up with a mocking nickname for that impudent Republican Senator who dare call him childish. He also “tweeted” complaints about Puerto Rico, where the death toll from a recent hurricane now stands at 45 and is climbing due to all the people who still don’t have clean water to drink, and that his generosity to the island’s American citizens won’t last forever. The hard-core fans will surely love it, as they hate the media and longstanding Republican office holders and those ungrateful Puerto Ricans as much as Trump does, but we expect the rest of the country and the rest of the world will see it differently.
Although we’ve long been critics of the media in general and the National Broadcasting Company in particular, all of those “fake news” stories Trump is railing against sound all too believable to us, and regardless of what errors they might contain we we don’t think that the First Amendment right of the press to write whatever they want is frankly disgusting. Until recently we unaware of the existence of Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, but what we’ve learned since his feud with Trump started suggests he’s mostly our kind of Republican, and Trump calling him “Liddle” Bob Corker doesn’t undercut the Senator’s claim that the White House has lately become an “adult day center.” Trump has also lately been feuding with his Secretary of State, challenging him to an Intelligence Quotient test if the “fake news” that he had called him a “moron” was true, and later told told reporters he “doesn’t like to undercut people,” but unless you’re a die-hard fan that’s not likely reassuring.
Puerto Ricans have made plenty of mistakes that have compounded their recent misfortune, but the federal government has also imposed plenty of mistakes on them as well over the years, and the complicated arrangement with the island and the 50 states obliges us help its still endangered Spanish speaking but fully-American citizens.
Even with the stock market up and the unemployment rate down we expect the national and international worries about Trump’s temperament will continue. There are also worries about the nuclear brinkmanship with North Korea, how all those ongoing feuds with Republicans and Democrats alike will lead to any useful legislation, as well as those nagging investigations into whole “Russia” thing, and it would challenge even the most presidential of temperaments, which really is worrisome unless you’re a die-hard supporter.

— Bud Norman

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“Tweet”-le Dee and “Tweet”-le Dumb

As we look back on all the many natural disasters and wars and other catastrophes that have afflicted America during our long lifetimes, we now do so with a wistful nostalgia for the good old days when at least there was no “tweeting.” Over the past weekend President Donald Trump “tweeted” a war of words with the mayor of hurricane-battered Puerto Rico’s largest city, “and tweeted” that his Secretary of State’s efforts to avoid a more literal war with nuclear-armed North Korea are a waste of time, so the technological revolution that made it possible doesn’t seem to have wrought any progress.
Trump hadn’t suffered any bad reviews and therefore gained a couple of points in the opinions for his response to the historic hurricanes that battered Texas and Florida, but he’s clearly irked that he’s no getting any raves for his response to a third hurricane that knocked down thousands of buildings and knocked off all the electrical power and left much of the island underwater. There were compelling accounts of Trump’s delay in waiving the Jones Act and other arcane regulations that delayed rescue efforts, and how long it took to get a three-star general on job, and embarrassing comparisons to the manpower and dollars deployed in other recent and lesser natural disasters, so of course all the Democrats and their friends in the media went wild with it. The trump administration’s response, alas, was rather ham-fisted.
Trump’s initial “tweets” mostly griped that Puerto Rico was a debt-ridden burden on the country with an outdated electrical even before the hurricane, which is a true enough truth but one that this is probably not best time to bring up, and he later explained that rescue and recovery efforts had been hampered by the fact that Puerto Rico is an island, which he further helpfully explained means that “It’s surrounded by water, big ocean water.” His Secretary of Homeland Security called the response to this 135-miles of big ocean water a “Good news story,” which led almost immediately to the mayor of Puerto Rico’s largest city telling all the cameras that “Damn it, this is not a good news story. This is a people-are-dying story. This is a life-or-death story. This is a there’s-a-truckload-of-stuff-that-cannot-be-taken-to-people story. This is a story of a devastation that continues to worsen because people are not getting food and water.”
Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz never mentioned Trump by name during her lament, but the review was so insufficiently enthusiastic that he went on one of his “tweeting” tirades. He first “tweeted” that “The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.” After some ellipses he continued “Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and other in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They,” followed by more ellipses, “want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 federal workers now on island doing a fantastic job. Which is the sort of weapons-grade “tweeting” that Trump’s loyal supporters expect from their at-least-he-fights champion, but we expect that on most of the other judges’ cards they scored the round for the flyweight from Puerto Rico.
Cruz is a mere five feet tall but she has degrees from two major American universities looks quite formidable in a Latin spitfire sort or way behind her endearingly geeky glasses, and all the “fake news” had eerily authentic footage of her wading in chest-deep waters with a bullhorn nestled between her neck and shoulders while shaking the hand of some anonymous Puerto Rican who of course was pitching in on a community efforts, with simultaneous footage of Trump schmoozing with rich white people at some fancy golf tournament. The Trump fans will still love the “tweets,” but for everyone else it’s the same bad optics that got the jet-setting and out-of-touch Health and Human Services Secretary fired in another footnote to a weird week. We wish Trump’s public relations team well in the planned victory tour in Puerto Rico in the next few days, and expect that at least the fans will be well satisfied no matter how it goes.
Despite the golf tournament and the ongoing crises of the Puerto Rican recovery and certain National Football League players not being sufficiently respectful during the playing of the national anthem, Trump found time to “tweet” that “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.” If you haven’t been following this harrowing story, “Little Rocket Man” is now Trump’s favorite sobriquet for the nutcase but nuclear-armed dictator of North Korea, which has unsettled every seasoned foreign policy inside and outside of the administration and had unknown effects in the North Korean dictatorship. “Save your energy Rex,” Trump ominously added without a comma, “we’ll do what has to be done!”
The at-least-he-fights sorts of fans will love it, but to all those more seasoned foreign policy hands and amateur observers such as ourselves it is a bit unsettling. With due caution we have supported Trump’s tough stance with North Korea, given that the last decades of a more conciliatory approach have brought us the current predicament, but at least none of those desultory decades saw a nuclear conflict and its millions of inevitable casualties played out, and even our old cold warrior souls know that any attempt at a peaceful resolution is never a waste of time.
This isn’t the first time Trump has “tweeted” criticisms of his wonderful Secretary of State, who has also been compellingly criticized by the Democrats and their media friends for failing to appoint candidates to key positions and going along with Trump’s planned downsizing of the State Department, and there’s plenty of speculation that he’s the next high-ranking cabinet member to resign. He’s a former Exxon head honcho who’s an official “Friend of Russia” without any previous diplomatic experience, too, so his surprisingly moderating influence on Trump’s foreign probably won’t do him much good. Changing Secretaries of State in the middle of this particular stream will be troublesome, as will the prospects of finding anyone remotely qualified for the job who would want it, but that seems a mere “tweet” away.

— Bud Norman

The Eye of the Hurricane

The storm that has recently hit southeastern Texas and now heads to southwest Louisiana has been an historic natural disaster, with at least 22 people dead and many thousands more left homeless and property damage that will eventually be measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars, but like everything else in the news these days it’s eventually another story about President Donald Trump.
Trump was largely out of the spotlight while the cable news networks filled their 24 hours of dramatic footage of homes flattened by hurricane winds and streets submerged in water reaching the second stories of buildings, as well as the usual encouraging reports of heroic rescue efforts and the luckier people on higher ground offering food and clothing and shelter to the victims, and he might have been wise to stay there.
Despite the 22 deaths the usual stories about looting and price-gouging and bureaucratic inefficiencies and other less-than-heroic things that always occur in a natural disaster, the general impression one gathers from a 24-hour-news cycle is that things could have gone a whole lot worse, and thus far the best efforts of Trump’s most strident critics to hold him to a higher standard have probably not been successful. Trump’s most ardent admirers have tried to claim him credit for the all the good work that has been done by career federal government employees and state and local officials and individual citizens and the rest of the establishment, which also probably hasn’t been successful, but so long as Trump stayed out of the limelight and wasn’t doing the boasting himself he was likely to get some small opinion poll bump out of it.
That’s not Trump’s style, though, so on Tuesday he embarked on a fact-finding and photo-op trip to Texas that provided his strident media critics and all the late-night comics with plenty to gripe about and his staunchest supporters with a lot to explain.
Even before Trump boarded Air Force One in a windbreaker and ball cap with “USA” emblazoned on the front, there were already a couple of troublesome controversies seeping up from the back pages and bottom of the hour. As well as the predictable op-ed pieces trying to pin the blame on Trump’s climate change policies there were some more reasonable questions about the relief funds might be affected by his recent threat to shut the government down rather, and some reporters with time on their hands dug up how Trump’s budget proposals proposed slashing the budgets for all the agencies he’s now praising, and of course some years-old “tweets” about how ridiculous President Barack Obama looked during his natural disaster photo-ops.
Obama did look pretty damned dumb standing there in the rain in his windbreaker and ball cap, but all presidents do in their obligatory post-natural disaster photo-ops, and Trump should have known that he wouldn’t fare any better. Perhaps it should be obligatory that presidents provide some visual image of national unity at a time of national tragedy, and we recall several occasions, from President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address to President Franklin Roosevelt’s oration after a day that would life in infamy to the plainspoken thanks and determination that President George W. Bush shouted through a bullhorn atop the rubble of the World Trade Center, when a few sage presidential words in a fitting setting truly were a balm to the nation. Since then presidents seem to have lost the knack, though, and we never expected that Trump had it.
Trump seemed to think that the post-natural disaster fact-finding mission and photo-op was another one of his endless campaign rallies, and opened his remarks by noting “What a crowd, what a turnout.” He noted the “epic” and “historic” nature of the storm, a theme he’d already repeated throughout 22 “tweets” featuring 16 exclamation marks, and he somehow came across as more impressed than horrified by the storm’s power. He modestly said that he’d save his self-congratulations for after he’s made everything better than ever, generously shared some of the credit with the mostly-Republican state and local officials and even that Obama-era holdover he appointed to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and conceded that his work is not yet done, so it could have been worse.
Still, it could have been better. We couldn’t find the part where he praised the private charities that are raising funds and providing relief, or urged that Americans participate in the effort, or expressed any recognizable expression of empathy for those who have seen their loved ones and lives’ work washed away by a storm. Nor did he take the opportunity to assure those people that the longstanding relief efforts won’t be halted by a stubborn insistence on his fanciful notion of a large border wall across the entire Mexican border, and at a time when one of America’s most racially diverse cities was doing a pretty good job of dealing with a thousand-year-flood we thought he missed a ripe opportunity to speak of national unity.
There were some other “bad optics,” too, as they say in the politics biz. That “USA” ball cap Trump was wearing also had “45” emblazoned on one side and “Trump” in the back, and if you go to the Trump campaign web site you can purchase one just like it for $40, and the snarkier of his strident critics found that tacky. He was also accessorized by First Lady Melania Trump, who boarded Air Force One looking her usual dazzling self on a drizzly morning with a pair of dark aviator sunglasses, a faintly military style jacket, sensible black shirt and pants, as well as a pair of stiletto heels. It’s our policy to leave First Ladies out of our commentary, except on those sorts of occasions that Michelle Obama would occasionally provoke, and we’re not at all the sorts to notice women’s footwear, but the stiletto heels did strike us as an odd choice for a natural disaster photo-op, so we can hardly blame the snarkier critics for having their fun with it.
In any case, we don’t think Trump will take the same hit that Bush took after a disastrous storm struck New Orleans, or what Obama should have suffered for similar failures during other natural and man-made disasters. In Bush’s case the failures were largely due to the storm hitting one of the most dysfunctional cities in one of the most dysfunctional states in America, both of which he could have plausibly blamed on the Democratic Party’s longstanding rule there, but he chose instead to manfully accept his share of the blame. In Obama’s case the media weren’t so eager to notice his botched response to an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or how he barely seemed to notice a catastrophic flood in Nashville, and he shrewdly stayed out of the spotlight as best he could. Neither of these options, of course, are available to Trump.
No president should be given the blame for any national disaster, of course, neither should any of them be given much credit for the way that the country always seems to make the best of it. Our advice to Trump is to leave it that, and not let a stubborn insistence on stupid border wall muck things up, and tend to all those leaks about “Russia” that are starting to becoming another historic flood.

— Bud Norman

Didn’t It Rain

While driving around with the top down on a perfectly sunny late summer afternoon in Kansas we were hearing on the radio about the historically bad weather down in Texas, and we couldn’t fend off a troubling twinge of survivor’s guilt. The fine folks in the fourth most populous city of our beloved country are under several feet of water, their inland neighbors have been battered by the tornadoes that were spun from the hurricane winds, and in more than 50 counties that have been declared disaster areas at least nine people have died with the count expect to rise, untold thousands have seen their lives’ work washed away, and it’s going to be a few years before anyone in the storm’s broad and densely populated path fully recovers.
The storm continues down there, too, recently adding those very fine folks in southwest Louisiana to its toll and maybe bringing enough rain to flood our even more very fine kinfolk who live on a usually lovely but occasionally flood-prone lake outside San Antonio. There’s nothing that any of us can do about it at this point but to pray, and we’ve crossed paths with enough tornadoes during our life on the plains to fully appreciate what a terrifying realization that can be, but we’re heartened to see that as usual everyone seems to be dealing with it as best as possible. So far, at least, no seems eager to muck things up further with politics.
For now the disaster is being attributed to what some theologians and all the insurance companies’ actuaries call an act of God, and for the most part our secular society is rightly more interested in dealing with the current crisis rather than trying to cast blame. No matter how much you might dislike President Donald J. Trump, which is probably not any more than we’ve come to dislike the guy, it’s not as if any President of the United States can halt the rise of the oceans. These days it’s hard to credibly blame anything on the embarrassingly impotent Democrats, and so far at least even Trump’s most staunch supporters are trying to blame them for all the rain that’s blow in from the Gulf of Mexico. No one we’ve noticed on either side of the political divide, we’re happy to see, is exploiting the inevitable human tragedy.
That probably won’t last long enough for the people in the storm’s path to fully recover, though. A few faint voices on the left are already talking about how the first hurricane landfall on America soil in long 12 years is proof of the catastrophic consequences of Trump’s climate change policies, while Trump’s staunchest supporters are already giving him full credit for the so-far relatively low death tolls that local and state and pre-existing federal agencies and the predictable heroic individual citizens have achieved, and we expect to hear more of these tedious arguments when the waters inevitably recede. After the land dries out there will still be contentious arguments about continuing spending resolutions and debt ceiling increases, which now include a very pricy tab for storm recovery in the fourth most populous city in the country and 50 other counties and a recent presidential insistence that it also pay for a border wall that few people want and wouldn’t have kept a hurricane out, and that also looks pretty darned stormy.
In the meantime we’ll take heart from the video footage of Americans of all ethnicities and classes and sexes and all the rest of those categories rescuing one another from the almost biblical rains that had fallen on the just and unjust alike, and all those local and state and federal employees doing their part to make the best of it, and a certain sense that even in this secular age there are still a lot of Americans who are praying for the best.

— Bud Norman