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A Not Bad, Not Great State of the Union

All in all, President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night was not bad. Not nearly the oratorical masterpiece that Sean Hannity and the hosts of “Fox and Friends” will surely make it out to be, but it could have been a whole lot worse.
There were no taunting nicknames or needless provocations. It was refreshingly free of “believe me” or “that I can tell you” or any of his other endlessly repeated catchphrases. He didn’t cuss. There was plenty of boasting, of course, but he also lavished praise on a few other people as well. Several of the boasts were wildly overstated or entirely inaccurate, of course, but by comparison to a typical impromptu Trump oration he was relatively restrained and truthful. Except for that annoying sniffle and strange tendency to emphasis seemingly random words, along with an amusingly botched attempt to cover up getting one of his heroes’ nickname wrong, he read the teleprompter well enough.
That’s a rather low standard to set for presidential rhetoric, but here we are. In the interests of fairness we have to note that the Democrats’ response by Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy was at least as lackluster, and that nobody on the current political scene is going to make anyone forget the greatest speeches of Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill.
As for the policy part of the speech, there were some good ideas about reforming the legal immigration system and the same old bad idea of a southern border wall to stop illegal immigration. Something about spending $1.5 trillion on infrastructure, too, but that didn’t explain where the money would come from and was otherwise too vague to tell if it was a good or idea or a bad one. In any case, none of the arguments were so well or so badly or so memorably made that they’re likely to influence the upcoming contentious debates about all these issues. Some future “tweet” or impromptu remark will have more effect on how it all turns out.

— Bud Norman

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A Good Time to be in Switzerland

President Donald Trump is in Davos, Switzerland to hobnob with all the globalist elites who gather there every year, while back in the states all his nationalist and more working-class fans are fuming about his latest position on illegal immigration. This isn’t likely to last long, but it is a moment worth noting.
On Wednesday night Trump told an impromptu news conference that the “dreamers” who had been illegally brought here as children “had nothing to worry about,” as he jetted off for Switzerland on Thursday morning his staff was announcing a proposal to not only keep some 1.8 million of them here but also offer a path to citizenship, and by Thursday afternoon his usual apologists on right wing talk radio were quite literally screaming their objections. The proposal also included a demand for a $25 billion “trust fund” to to build a big, beautiful wall along the southern border, along with several far more reasonable proposals to curtail illegal immigration, but talk radio talkers and their callers were clearly unimpressed. A mere 25 billion won’t build the kind of sea-to-shining-sea 50-foot-tall and translucent and solar-power-generating wall that Trump vividly described during the campaign, and even the die-hard supporters who never took all that wall stuff literally did believe Trump’s oft-stated campaign assurances that he was going to kick out even the most unwitting and sympathetic illegal immigrants.
That $25 billion for a border if for now  too much ask of the Democrats, who even objected some of the far more reasonable border enforcement measures Trump was demanding, and the negotiations will be tricky. The Democrats are obliged by political reality to protect all those “dreamers” from deportation, and will eventually be obliged to give up something in return to the Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress and the Republican president, but they still hold a strong hand. All the opinion polls show that a vast majority of the country has no stomach for kicking law-abiding and military-serving and college-going semi-citizens out of the country they grew up in, several Republican congresspeople from the soft-hearted Chamber of Commerce wing of the party, and by now even Trump is in full retreat from his hard-hearted campaign trail talk and even talking about his love for the “dreamers.”
Some of those more reasonable border enforcement proposals Trump is proposing also poll well with a populace that is rightly alarmed by the country’s still-high levels of illegal immigration, and we expect the Democrats will eventually relent to most of them, but we doubt they’re quite dumb enough to up cough $25 billion for a border wall. Most of the non-talk-radio media are going to explain the negotiations as the cruel Republicans threatening to kick out a bunch of telegenically sympathetic “dreamers” to build some small portion of a wall that even the president’s chief of staff now admits was oversold on the campaign trail, Trump will be hard-pressed to argue that’s all “fake news,” there are a lot of soft-hearted Chamber of Commerce types of Republicans and all those congressional Republicans whose states and districts abut the southern border who also realize how silly the border wall ideal was all along, and as dumb as those Democrats undeniably are they’re not quite stupid enough to lose this fight.
Meanwhile, Trump was faring better at that fancy-schmantzy gathering of globalist elites in Switzerland. He had an awkward moment sharing a stage with British Prime Minister Theresa, gushing about all the rumors of tension in Anglo-American relations were “fake news” and insisting he and his British counterpart had a mutual admiration society, while she responded with classically British quietude and an apparent relief that Trump has backed out of a visit of her to country, but otherwise it went well. You don’t get to be a globalist elite without being shrewd enough to notice that Trump is highly susceptible to flattery, so most of his fellow hoity-toity hob-nobbers lavished it on, and Trump didn’t shove any prime ministers out of the way or otherwise embarrass himself as he’s done on past on international occasions.
The globalist elitists seem to genuinely like Trump’s tax-cutting and de-regulating agenda, as we generally do, yet they object to all that anti-free trade campaign trail talk he still claims to believe, as we more enthusiastically do, and we expect they’ll gain more concessions from Trump with their flattery than we have with our snarky criticisms. Trump has recently imposed tariffs on washing machines that have had the effect of making American-made washing machines more expensive, but he’s largely abandoned all that campaign trail talk about 45 percent tariffs on anything Chinese, and unless the talk radio-talkers get annoyed about that we’re hopeful that all of Trump’s promised trade wars can be averted.
When he gets back to states Trump will have to answer to all those talk-radio talkers and all those hard-line anti-illegal immigration and nationalist and protectionist Trump voters they speak for, though, and we’ll be interested to see where he winds up. If Trump’s not going to build that wall just to let a bunch of “dreamers” avoid the deportations he promised he’ll lose that 25 percent of the the country that comprises about 50 percent of his support, if he holds firm he’ll further annoy the other 75 percent, and on the whole we guess he’d rather be hobnobbing with all those billionaires in Switzerland.

— Bud Norman

Winners and Losers and Dreamers

The Republicans are claiming victory and the Democrats admitting defeat after a deal that ended the latest partial government shutdown in record time, but it’s not apparent to us that anybody won or lost anything that won’t be quickly forgotten.
The deal that minority leader Sen. Chuck Schumer and a sufficient number of his caucus agreed to fully funds the the government in exchange for a promise by majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell to have a vote of some sort at some undetermined date about the so-called “dreamers” who were illegally smuggled into the country as children, which is pretty much the same deal that was on offer prior to the vote that shut down parts of the government over the weekend. That was bad enough from a Democratic perspective that all the left-wing pundits were wailing about it, and their anger alone was sufficient reward for all the right-wing pundits to gloat about it.
The deal only fully funds the federal government for the next 17 days, though, and by then no one will remember who voted for what, and in the meantime everyone involved looks petty and stupid. McConnell’s promise to put the “dreamer” problem up for a vote was made on the Senate floor and recorded in the congressional record, too, and when he’s eventually forced to keep that promise the Republicans will likely find themselves in a losing position.
The “dreamers” are so-called because the Democrats wrote a bill to grant them permanent status that was cleverly called Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, and its acronym makes gives those alien minors that very sympathetic nickname. They’re a sympathetic lot, anyway, as they can hardly be blamed for being brought here as children, the vast majority haven’t caused any noticeable problems for anyone, and a significant and photogenic number of them are attending college or serving in the military or performing some other sort of useful labor for the country. That wasn’t enough to get the DREAM act enacted in Congress, but it kept the Republicans from preventing President Barack Obama from temporarily more or less enacting by an executive order for a Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals, which had a rather cacophonous acronym but kept all the “dreamers” who could prove they aren’t gang-bangers or welfare mooches to hang around indefinitely.
What can be done by executive order can just as easily be undone executive order, though, and President Donald Trump decided to sign one that would leave all those “dreamers” susceptible to deportation back to countries they only vaguely remember by March. His hard-line anti-illegal immigrant supporters loved it, but all the polls showed that a much larger number of Americans hated it, so Trump quickly explained that it was one of his three-dimensional chess moves to force congress to pass that DREAM act he excoriated on the campaign trail. He even wound up telling a televised bipartisan gathering of senators that he would happily sign any “bill of love” for the “dreamers,” whom he claimed to love, along with all kids.
That didn’t play well with Trump’s hard-line anti-illegal immigrant supporters, with his usual talk radio defenders crying betrayal, so he quickly clarified that he’d sign any “bill of love” so long as it included funding for his big, beautiful sea-to-shining-sea border wall and other draconian border enforcement measures. After that his chief of staff was assuring the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that Trump’s previously “uninformed” promises of a border wall had “evolved,” which was followed by an indignant presidential “tweet” that he has never evolved, and by the time the negotiations to prevent a partial government shutdown went south both the majority leader and the minority of the Senate were complaining they had no idea what the president wanted.
At this point Trump has taken more positions than his pal Stormy Daniels — insert risqué rim shot here — and there’s no telling where he’ll wind up. If he caves to some soft-hearted protections for the “dreamers” without sufficient concessions from the Democrats he’ll annoy his hard-line anti-illegal immigrant supporters, which he hates to do. If he winds up deporting a bunch of photogenically sympathetic soldiers and college students and otherwise upstanding semi-citizens back to countries they only vaguely recall his ratings will take a bigger hit, and he might hate that even worse.
Perhaps it’s all some three-dimensional chess-playing that will arrive at such an artful deal that even the most outright xenophobic portion of his hard-line anti-illegal immigration supporters will join hands with all those “open borders” left-wing crazies to sing his praises, but we doubt it. Trump’s much boasted-about deal-making genius didn’t prevent the last partial government shutdown, by all accounts those hated Republican establishment guys in congress had much more to do with it ending over a mere weekend, and Trump looks unable to long delay the inevitable next partial government shutdown.

— Bud Norman

Trump, the DREAMers, and the Resulting Mess

Way, way back during the 2016 presidential campaign, the matter of illegal immigration was a very big deal. The real-estate-and-casino-and-reality show magnate Donald Trump became President Donald Trump largely because of the very hard stand he took against it. He promised to make Mexico pay for gargantuan border wall stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean to keep out all the drugs and rapists they’d been exporting, ban all Muslims from entering the country until the country could “figure out what the hell is going on,” and prided himself on a politically incorrect position regarding any illegal immigrants who had been brought here as children.
Given the arguably as extreme open-borders position that could plausibly be attributed to the Democratic Party in general and its presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in particular, and their inability to deny it without offending a significant portion of its base, and much of the more centrist portion of the Republicans assuming that surely Trump wasn’t entirely serious about about the crazier parts of his rhetoric, it proved a shrewd move for the Republican ticket. Since then, though, the politics have become more complicated.
Trump almost immediately retreated from that pie-in-the-sky promise about Mexico happily paying for a sea-to-shining sea wall along its north border, the courts have fitfully interfered with Trump’s travel restrictions that his lawyers insist were never intended as a ban on Muslims entering the country, and those illegal immigrants who had been brought to the country as children have a far higher approval rating in all the opinion polls than Trump. He’s still insisting that the Mexicans will eventually pay for a border wall “some way or another,” but he’s no longer insisting they need a wall everywhere along the border and he’s not talking about making it translucent so that pedestrians on the northern side won’t be hit by the drugs the Mexicans are tossing over the wall. He’s also contesting all the court challenges to his travel restrictions, and seems on a winning streak, but it’s been pared down somewhat and by now even he’s stopped talking about a clearly unconstitutional Muslim ban. He can rightly brag to his most die-hard supporters that he’s had the general effect of drastically deterring illegal immigration, which we begrudgingly admit is well worth bragging about, but on that matter of all those illegal immigrants who were brought here as children he’s in full retreat.
There’s an indeterminate but undeniably large population of illegal immigrants who were brought here as children, who have mostly turned out the way the people tend to do, and what to do about them has long been a matter of public debate. Most Republicans have long maintained that illegal laws should be enforced dispassionately lest the laws become meaningless and all sorts of open-borders craziness continue, most Democrats have taken a more predictably sentimental point of view about some of the photogenic and undeniably sympathetic kids who had grown up here and become model semi-citizens through no fault of their own, and for a while it was pretty much a public relations draw. The Democrats couldn’t muster the votes the to pass the “DREAM Act” that would have protected the unwitting illegal immigrant “dreamers,” but neither could the Republicans muster the votes to prevent President Barack Obama from imposing the policy by executive action.
During the presidential campaign Trump wavered on whether he’d undo that execution action by his own executive action if he were election, and he continued to waver after he was elected. He eventually wound up rescinding the policy at some far off future date, but did so with the statement that he hoped Congress would make the policy law in the meantime.
Since then all the rest of the nation’s politics have become all the more complicated, what with all the chatter about whether Trump is sufficiently intelligent and emotionally stable for the job or the “very stable genius” he claims to be, which clearly came into play when Trump met on Tuesday with a bipartisan group of legislators to discuss the “dreamers” and the rest of the illegal immigration matter. Trump surprised everyone by letting the hated fake news videotape a full 53 minutes of the meeting, and he was clearly playing to the reality show to cameras to demonstrate that he’s like, really smart and bipartisan and politically correct, not dumb and hyper-partisan and racist like people say. He nodded respectfully at the Democratic and Republican opinions that were offered, didn’t repeat himself, and the performance had Rush Limbaugh gushing that Trump had refuted all that chatter from all that tell-all book and even the Cable News Networks’ Dana Bash was remarking that he seemed very presidential.
The kooks at the extremes weren’t fooled, though, and neither were we. When Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Trump if he’d accept a “clean” “DREAM bill” such right-of-Limbaugh commentators as Ann Coulter, author of the past best-seller and now bargain-bin book “In Trump We Trust,” were rightly appalled when he said he’d be open to that. The next guy to talk was Republican House majority leader Kevin McCarthy, who reminded Trump that of course of a “clean” “DREAM bill” would include funding his border wall and other border enforcement, and when Trump readily agreed that was what he meant by a “clean bill” the left knew that the previous statement was no longer valid. Before he ran the cameras out of the room Trump was on tape saying he’d be happy to sign anything that the people eventually came up, even if he wasn’t “in love with it,” and that he hoped whatever they came up with would “loving.”
Which leaves us with no idea how it will all turn out for those unwitting illegal immigrants or any of the rest of us, except for a certain surety that it won’t live up to Trump’s “only I can solve” campaign rhetoric. It also seems likely that Trump will wind up signing a more-or-less-clean “DREAM Act” even Obama couldn’t get passed, which would be a nice thing for those sympathetic and unwitting illegal immigrants but a blow to other unsentimental but necessary border law enforcement efforts, and at this point we don’t much care who scores the political points.
In any case the stock markets are up and the unemployment rate is down, that “Russia thing” is still looming, with  “sneaky” Feinstein also involved in that, and the question of whether Trump is intellectually and temperamentally unfit for his office or a very stable genius will continue to be a matter of public debate.

— Bud Norman

Listening to the AM in the P.M.

A couple of summers ago we fell out of the habit of listening to right-wing talk radio shows, but we tuned in with a morbid curiosity on Wednesday to hear what they had to say about the shellacking the Republicans took in various places around the country on Tuesday. What we heard does not bode well for the Grand Old Party.
We missed Rush Limbaugh’s analysis of the results, but we later learned that the self-elected “Mayor of Realville” basically said the results where what you can always expect from Democratic jurisdictions and had little to do with President Donald Trump. Sean Hannity spent the first half-year hour looking back nostalgically on that night, complete with some gleefully played audio of liberal pundits smugly laughing off Trump’s chances in the run-up to the upset, and during his brief discussion of the previous night’s shellacking was careful not to blame his most favorite president ever for any of it. The growlier and slightly-less-sycophantic Mark Levin was more frank about how a full year of Trump has revved up the Democratic vote, and the growlier yet and antithetical-to-whoever’s-in charge Michael Savage was reminding his coast-to-coast listeners that no matter how much it might love Trump there’s a big chunk of the country that can’t stand him.
Levin’s a cacophonous screamer who played no small part in dragging the Republican party down into the school yard taunt of level of political rhetoric, and he’s a veritable William F. Buckley by comparison to Savage, but we’ll give them both credit for their realism. The year since Trump’s election has brought enough “tweets” and taunts and provoked enough liberal outrage to satisfy his hard-core supporters, along with a Supreme Court pick and some sweeping de-regulations and resulting stock market gains. That’s been eenough to placate the more wary Republicans, and it won four straight elections in solidly Republican districts where they needed to replace representatives chosen for the Trump administration, but Tuesday made it clear it hasn’t played so well elsewhere.
The Democratic rout in New Jersey can be easily dismissed, as New Jersey is a reliably Democratic state and for now all the more so after eight years of Gov. Chris Christie and his double digit approval ratings. Christie once saved the state from insolvency with his tough guy approach to taxes and spending and negotiating with the state’s notorious private sector unions, and was briefly regarded by the Republican party as a leading presidential contender, but he somehow managed to annoy and appall by the Democrats in his state and Republicans elsewhere during a second term. You can’t blame Trump for that, but Christie’s embarrassing obsequiousness to Trump after he was bested in the Republican primary clearly didn’t him any good.
Trump lost Virginia’s electoral votes, too, but a year later the Republican nominee he endorsed and “tweeted” about and did robocalls for wound up losing by a few points more. That can be explained by the fact that milquetoast center-left Democratic nominee Ralph Northam didn’t carry all the baggage that Clinton did, but after all those ads about illegal immigrant gangs and confederates statues and disrespectful-to-the-flag football players it can’t be explained by Republican nominee Ed Gillespie’s failure to more fully embrace Trump and Trumpist policies. The Democrats won all of the statewide and most of the district voting, too, including a transgender candidate who beat out the state’s self-described “chief homophobe,” and a lot of ostensibly straight and white and male legislators were replaced by a more ethnically and sexually diverse lot, which strikes us as a statewide rejection of Trumpism.
All politics is local, and Virginia’s a typically unique state, what with all those Washington bureaucrats in the northern suburbs and all them fancy-schmaltzy universities in the hinterlands, but all the exit polling confirms our educated suspicions that the Republicans lost a lot of educated and well-paid suburbanites who might have voted for the George W. Bush-affiliated Gillespie who had narrowly lost to an entrenched Democratic senator four years earlier but couldn’t pull the level for the Trumpified Gillespie of Tuesday, and that can have implications for all sorts of places around the country.
Such populous states as California and New York and Illinois reliably cast their electoral votes for the Democratic presidential nominee, but they all have some reliably Republican districts, and along with that the current Republican majorities in the House and the Senate come in large part from such populous swing states as Ohio and Florida. These districts tend to have a high percentage of well educated and well paid white people, who tend not to be easily assuaged by Trump’s taunts and the liberal outrage they provoke, which they have to hear about at the office the next day and can’t bring themselves to defend, so we’d advise to not offend them further.
Several of the various Republican tax plans that are currently floating around the legislative ether, though, propose to repeal those Republican redoubts in enemy territory of an income tax deduction for the income tax pay they pay to their state and local governments. The change isn’t much of a big deal here in Kansas, where you can say whatever you want about those stingy Republicans but most Kansans pay so little to Topeka they aren’t eligible for the deduction, but it’s a darned big deal to some well educated and well paid and potential Republicans in potentially Republican districts in Orange County, California, and Westchester County, Pennsylvania, and any of those other occasional Republican redoubts in between where the the damned Democrats in the rest of the state charge so much the deduction is worth more than the promised cut in the rate.
That’s what they get for living in a state that didn’t vote for Trump, a Republican friend of ours recently explained to us over a beer, but we’d only had the one and it didn’t seem a winning political strategy. Any old political party can use all the help it can get from the well educated and well paid sorts of people, white or otherwise, and there’s no reason for the Republicans to to be antagonizing the persuadable ones with childish taunts and punitive tax increases. If the party persists we’re sure most of those Republicans from those high-tax redoubts will put their constituents before party, which might be enough to sink the whole reform effort, and even if it doesn’t the effort isn’t poling well thus far. That’s the view from here on a Wednesday after a Tuesday shellacking.

— Bud Norman

Living the DREAM

As if they didn’t have enough messy business to deal with this month, the congressional Republicans are now obliged to decide the fate of some 800,000 “dreamers.” The issue involves complicated policy questions, the political considerations are trickier yet, and given the way everything else has been going lately it could well end badly for the Grand Old Party.
President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he would phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allowed youths whose foreign parents had illegally brought them to America as children to avoid deportation for several years and be granted work permits and permission to apply for citizenship, and because the policy had been instituted by an executive order of President Barack Obama he’s constitutionally entitled to do so.
There are strong arguments for doing so, as well, starting with the idea that the constitution requires legislative approval, and that six state attorneys general threatened to file a very promising suit about it today. There are also all those oft-made arguments about the economic and social costs of failing to enforce immigration, and if there wasn’t a widespread public sentiment for stricter enforcement Trump probably wouldn’t be president. There’s also a theoretical possibility, at least, that the deliberations of a duly-elected House and Senate might come up with some wiser than the current or previous president could think of, and if they can’t, well, that’s a pretty sad state of affairs for everybody.
There are plenty of arguments being made all over the press that Trump shouldn’t have done it, however, and our guess is that a sentimental public will now find many of them persuasive. The arguments for Trump’s order are legalistic, involve abstract analysis of the very mixed social and economic costs and benefits that any intellectually honest person will acknowledge, and must be so carefully phrased as so to leave no suspicion that any unpleasant racial motivations are involved, all of which leave Trump at a rhetorical disadvantage. The arguments against Trump’s action come with true stories about the plucky offspring of illegal immigrants who have contributed to their schools and workplaces and the American military, the video footage will show many of them to be darned cute, and Trump’s antagonists in the press are very effective at that kind of rhetoric. There’s a valid argument to be made even without the sentimentality, too, as those true stories do demonstrate the social and economic benefits that immigration bring and which any intellectually honest person must acknowledge, and even Trump concedes that the 800,000 people who suddenly find themselves facing deportation to lands they’ve never known are entirely blameless for being here.
There’s surely some wise solution to the problem, but it’s proved elusive to both Democratic and Republican congresses for several decades now, so it’s hard to see how the Republicans of the moment are going solve everything in the six months Trump’s phase-out gives them. Even when Obama was getting great press and polling well and had huge Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress they couldn’t pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, an ugly formulation that yielded the acronym DREAM and that touching “dreamers” description of the children of illegal immigrants, and when Obama decided to enact the same policy by executive order he had to admit it would have been better if Congress had acted. Now that there’s a tough-on-illegal-immigraton Republican majority in Congress and a Republican president who prides himself on being tougher on illegal immigration than anybody, we wouldn’t be much surprised if the Democrats’ DREAM at long last comes true.
Polling shows that cute kids who have contributed to their communities and are here through no fault of their own enjoy considerable public support, far more than for the president and far, far more than the Congress, and the numbers are almost as bad as the ones that sunk their long-promised plan to repeal and replace the Obamacare law. The Republican majorities in Congress don’t march in the same ideological lockstep as that Democratic majority used to, with many taking a more business-minded approach to illegal immigration and appealing to districts that won’t tolerate any suspicion of racial intolerance, and a lot of Republicans these days feel free to clash with the low-polling Trump in ways that no Democrat would have ever dared with Obama. There are enough Democrats still left in Congress that it won’t take too many Republicans in Congress who don’t want to explain to their voters why they’re kicking out that cute and blameless A student who didn’t chose to be here to get some sort of permanent residency for most of the “dreamers” passed, and a lot of the usual arguments about illegal immigration doesn’t apply to a law that deports criminals and requires tax payments and expects social and economic contributions. We can even see Trump signing it.
Our guess is that Trump signed the order in an attempt to further rouse his most hard-core supporters, most of whom are willing to be far tougher on illegal immigration than Trump really is, and even less concerned than he is if you suspect racial motivations, but he also framed the decision as a constitutional matter and hoped that Congress would come up with something that had “heart,” and that sounds suspiciously tolerant. The decision follows Trump’s pardon of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was so famously tough on illegal immigration he was convicted of routinely violating the Fourth Amendment rights of natural-born citizens who looked like they might be illegal immigrants, and a now downplayed threat to force a government shutdown to get funding for a border wall that only the most hard-core supporters seem to want, and Trump does so love those who so love him, so it’s also possible that he’ll wind up vetoing all those cute blameless kids out of the country.
There’s an opportunity to craft some piece of legislation that doesn’t kick those cute blameless kids out of the country but also includes some bipartisan-supported measures that would more strictly enforce the border and mitigate some of the economic and social costs that any intellectually honest person would acknowledge, and for now we dare to dream. The law surely wouldn’t include enough money to build a wall along the entire border of Mexico, but Trump might well sign it anyway. His political strategy of rousing his base might bring out the crowds at his ongoing campaign rallies, but what most seems to please them is anything Trump says or does to outrage all the snowflake liberals in the rest of the country, which by now includes a lot of Republicans and the vast majority of everyone else, but if he gets some extra border agents and an E-Verify requirement that should make up for the cute blameless kids who get to stay in the country.
That’s what we’re hoping for, at any rate, and there’s six whole months to get it done. This month will mostly be about keeping the government open and the Treasury from defaulting and fending off a nuclear war with the nutcase dictatorship in North Korea, as well as the cost of a recent hurricane in Texas and maybe one that seems to be heading for Florida, but after that we expect it will be clear sailing.

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Begging One’s Pardon

As old-fashioned Republican conservatives we have long argued for strict border enforcement, “law and order” more generally, and a reasonable tolerance for whatever unpleasantness that might necessarily entail, and for just as long we’ve insisted that there’s nothing the least bit racist about that, but President Donald Trump’s pardon of Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio doesn’t make the chore any easier.
Even before his presidential pardon “Sheriff Joe” was nationally known as the strictest border enforcer of them all, and he widely publicized the unpleasantness he inflicted on the suspects arrested by his department, so of course to a certain type of old-fashioned Republican he was widely celebrated as a sort of western movie hero. He was the staunchest of the “birthers” insisting that President Barack Obama had not been born in the United States, too, and flouted “political correctness” more defiantly than anyone on the political landscape up to that point.
To almost any sort of old-fashioned Republican conservative there was a certain appeal to it. There were law enforcement officials in more fashionable districts who were defiantly refusing to do their duty to the country’s immigration laws, often with disastrous consequences to their citizens but always with no harm to their own careers, and it was hard not to like a guy who seemed intent on protecting the citizenry by bucking fashionable opinion. Lodging jailed suspects under tents in the Arizona heat and forcing them to wear pink undergarments was undeniably harsh, but there were always stories about some more fashionable jurisdiction where they undeniably lax. There was never any reason to buy into the “birther” nonsense, but there was plenty of reason to believe that Obama was more cosmopolitan than American in his world view, with disastrous consequences tot he citizenry, and by now almost everyone admits that much of that “political correctness” is an even more ridiculous load of nonsense.
To a certain sort of old-fashioned conservative Republican, though, Arpaio always seemed more problematic than heroic. The reason he was offered a presidential pardon is because he was convicted of violating the order of a duly appointed court of law to stop violating the constitutional rights of citizens in his jurisdiction, his cocky acceptance of the pardon is as acknowledgement that he was unrepentantly guilty, so for our certain sort of old-fashioned conservative Republicans the pardon can’t reconcile with all the talk about law and order. We’re quite willing to buck fashionable opinion when it comes to a suspect who has been properly arrested with probable cause and turns out to be legitimately suspected of violating the immigration laws, and we heap Republican scorn on those law enforcement officers who won’t report that to higher authorities for merely fashionable reasons, but Arpaio’s department was systematically was stopping motorists and pedestrians just because they looked like they might be illegal immigrants, and we never signed up for that.
Maricopa County encompasses almost the entire metropolitan Phoenix area, and if you’ve ever been fortunate enough to be there in the winter you know it’s a lovely and very up-to-date big city with a lot of illegal immigrants and a lot of people who might look like they might be illegal immigrants but whose families have been living in the state for much longer than anybody named Arpaio. The Arpaio policy wound up snaring a lot of illegal immigrants who might otherwise have escaped justice, some of whom might well have otherwise done something awful, but it also wound up subjecting a lot of taxpaying and law-abiding American citizens of long generational standing to some entirely unnecessary and sometimes extreme unpleasantness. We enjoy bashing those squishy liberal judges as much as any old-fashioned Republican conservative after their all-frequent crazy rulings, but in this case we have to admit that an honest reading of the plain language of the Constitution says you can’t stop and detain people just because they look like they might be illegal immigrants.
That’s the Constitution, too, which is the highest law of the land and the one most needed to maintain our still somewhat civilized order.
To a certain certain sort of new-fangled Republican this makes us “RINOs” and “cuckservatives,” mere Beta Males too timid to undertake the harsh measures required for the current crisis, but by now we think they’re all crazy. We’re as law and order as ever on border enforcement and pretty much everything else that old-fashioned Republican conservatives care about, but only so long as it’s lawfully enforced with due respect for those law-abiding but darker-hued citizens who are just trying to get home after a hard day’s work, and our day-to-day encounters with all sorts of fellow citizens are pleasant enough we don’t see any pressing need to suspend the constitution and impose martial law.
We are now forced to admit, though, that there’s another sort of old-fashioned Republican conservative out there who openly yearns for such authoritarian measures. There’s also an authoritarian impulse on the left, to be sure, and the authoritarian right will always present itself as the last defense against its disastrous consequences, but if it comes down to one of those street fights you saw in the last days of Germany’s Weimar Republic we’ll probably sit it out in the comfort of our home. We’re still hoping the center will hold, and that law and order can be achieved lawfully, but the Arpaio pardon doesn’t help.
Trump oh-so-coyly promised the pardon to a raucous campaign rally crowd a few days earlier, saying Arpaio had been “convicted for doing his job,” but he actually granted the pardon just before a historic and headline-grabbing storm fell on Texas and Louisiana, and a raucous crowd that didn’t seem include anyone who might look like an illegal immigrant cheered on the idea that violating the rights of certain taxpaying and law-abiding citizens is just part of a lawman’s job. The governments of Poland and Turkey and the Philippines have lately expanded their authoritarian rule over the press and local officials and other troublesome members of the civic society, each got congratulatory calls from Trump, who also ran on recently repeated campaign promises of war crimes, and we can no longer deny there’s a certain authoritarian streak within our Republican party.
We’ll continue to argue with our Democratic and darker-hued friends that immigration law should be enforced within the strict limits allowed by the Constitution, and without any racist intent, but it’s going to harder to argue that our Republican party is on board with that. We’ll also continue to argue with the Black Lives Matter movement that some indulgent degree of rule of law is needed to keep a lot of black lives from being lost to murder, but we can no longer promise that the inevitable provable cases of police brutality won’t be tolerated. Trump did joke to a gathering of law enforcement, after all, that they shouldn’t be so careful not cause head injuries when putting suspects under arrest.
At least we can take some comfort from knowing we’re not the only old-fashioned Republicans who are uncomfortable with all this Alpha Male stuff. At that Phoenix rally Trump also railed against the state’s two Republican Senators, but both defied the insults by steadfastly denouncing the pardon, as did the Arizona governor and Phoenix mayor. The Republican Speaker of the House stated his disagreements, too, along with several other Republicans and the most old-fashioned of the Republican media. Most of the law enforcement community also criticized the jokes about police brutality, too, few elected Republican officials seem on board with all that authoritarianism abroad, and so far the opinion polls show the center holding.
Arpaio is 85 years old, the misdemeanor charge he’d been convicted of but not yet sentenced for carried a maximum of seven months that he never would have been forced to endure in a tent shelter while wearing pink undergarments, so he’s neither a heroic figure nor a pitiable victim at this point. What matters is the clear message that his pardon sends to both Trump’s most ardent admirers and his most fierce critics.

— Bud Norman

Shaking Up the White House, Except at the Top

Last week was a rough one for the administration of President Donald Trump, and even his most stubborn apologists can’t deny it.
Trump’s campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare once again went unfulfilled, this time seemingly for good. He was publicly rebuked by the Boy Scouts as well as numerous police chiefs for a couple of widely-panned speeches he recently gave on their behalf. The House and Senate sent him a nearly unanimously-passed and thus entirely veto-proof bill that imposes sanctions on Russia and limits his ability to do anything about it, which was also unmistakably a rebuke of his Russia-friendly campaign promises. Trump continued a war of words against his own Attorney General, who had inconveniently recused himself from the various investigations about Russia’s apparent efforts on behalf of Trump during the campaign, but several important congressional Republicans sternly warned him not to the fire the guy or otherwise try to interfere with all the ongoing inquiries.
There was a Trump-“tweeted” order for the military to no longer allow transgendered troops, but it apparently was a surprise to the vacationing defense secretary, the generals in charge of such things admitted they weren’t sure if a “tweet” was an official order, several important congressional Republicans were also among the critics, and the newly installed press secretary couldn’t answer such obvious questions as how it would affect any transgendered troops currently serving in hazardous duty. The press secretary was newly-installed because Trump had also forced the resignation of his communications director, whose successor almost immediately went on a profanity-laden rant to The New Yorker that very saltily slurred the White House’s chief of staff and chief strategist and threatened to either fire or kill countless other administration officials.
By the end of the week Trump also forced the resignation of his chief of staff, but the apologists are hoping that’s going to turn things around. Newly-installed in the job is John Kelly, who comes in after rising to four-star general rank in the Marines, serving for four years as commander of the United States’ Southern Command despite his frequent clashes with the administration of President Barack Obama over Guantamo Bay and the Mexican border and other issues, and for the past six months has been doing a provably efficient job of fulfilling Trump’s campaign promises about illegal immigration as head of the Department of Homeland Security. A Washington Post headline describes Kelly as someone who “won’t suffer idiots and fools,” and he has a hard-earned reputation for imposing the military-style discipline that even the most ardent apologists will admit the Trump administration sorely needs.
Kelly certainly seems a very formidable force, and we wish him well, if only because we’re exhausted keeping up with all the news these days, but we’ll wait and see how it turns out. It’s hard to see how he would have made much of a difference last week, so we hold out only faint hope for this week.
There’s plenty of blame to be spread around the Republican party for its failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, but it’s going to take a pretty ardent apologist to argue that Trump doesn’t bear some of it, and there’s no reason to think Kelly could have changed that. Kelly’s predecessor was Reince Priebus, who had previously risen through the Republican ranks to be chairman of the Republican National Committee, and with considerable help from Obama he was instrumental in electing many members of the Republican majorities in the House and Senate as well as a Republican president. That wasn’t enough to fulfill the party’s seven-year-old promise of repeal and replacement of Obamacare, as it turns out, but there’s nothing on Kelly’s otherwise impressive resume to suggest he’s any more familiar with health care policy or has any more sway with the suddenly rebellious Republican caucus in Congress.
Neither is there any reason to believe that Kelly would have had any more luck than Priebus in dissuading Trump from making those apologized-for orations to the Boy Scouts and law enforcement. Nor do we think Kelly could have staved off that nearly unanimous sanctions bill, and given his hawkish nature we wonder if he would have wanted to. Given his reputation for rock-solid integrity, and given that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was his best friend in congress during all the fights with the Obama administration over the southern border back in the Obama days, way back when Trump was firing people on “Celebrity Apprentice” and bad-mouthing the Republican nominee’s relatively mild “self-deportation” policy, it will be interesting to see how Kelly handles all that mess and how it affects all the rest of the mess with Russia.
There are plenty of persuasive if politically incorrect arguments to be made against transgendered people serving in the military, but they’re hard to fit into a “tweet,” those 140 characters of social media can’t adequately explain to a vast bureaucracy or a lean White House Communications office how it should be carried out, and we doubt Kelly could have been any more successful in steering a more measured course of bureaucratic review and legally-hashed documents followed by a coordinated communications effort. The whole mess reminds of us when Trump “tweeted” a ban on travel from certain Islamic countries, which also had plenty of persuasive if politically incorrect arguments but hadn’t been run through any bureaucratic or legal review and wasn’t explained to the White House communications team, and what a mess that turned out to be. The cabinet secretary that Trump hadn’t bothered to consult in that case was Secretary of Homeland Security Kelly, but maybe he’ll have better luck next time.
We can, at least, hold out more than faint hope Kelly will be able impose some severe military-style discipline on that newly-installed White House communications director with the foul mouth and tough-guy persona. Former Wall Street shark Anthony Scaramucci got the job and quickly forced the resignation of the previous chief of staff, whom he had so memorably described in that New Yorker rant, but that chief strategist he even more memorably described is still on the job, and the new chief of staff is said not to suffer fools and idiots, so we figure the four-star Marine general will prove the tougher in the inevitable fights.
There’s nothing Kelly can do to shake up the White House that will shake out Trump or his daughter and a son-in-law, however, or shake away all the investigations about Russia or the increasing rebelliousness of the Republicans in congress. Trump was resistant to military-style discipline back when  his father shipped him off to a military school, hasn’t much changed at age 71, and even such a formidable force as Kelly seems unlikely to restrain his “tweeting” thumbs and oratorical impetuousness, or forestall future rough weeks.

— Bud Norman

The Fast Food Nominees Goes Fast

Although we can’t for the life of us think of the name of the last Secretary of Labor, we’re momentarily aware of the fellow who won’t be the next one. President Donald Trump’s choice for the post, business executive Andrew Puzder, has withdrawn his briefly famous name from consideration, and for several reasons his departure is more newsworthy than the the position usually merits.
Puzder was a controversial nominee from the outset, even by the extreme standards of the Trump era. He’s an executive in the fast-food restaurant business, heading up the corporation that that owns the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.’s chains that proliferate throughout the land, so he’s an outspoken advocate against raising the minimum wage, which has long been a favored cause of the Democratic Party, and the company’s television advertisements have used attractive women in ways that aroused the ire of the Democrats’ feminist wing, and of course the vegan wing was also offended. He’d also faced credible and nationally-televised-by-Oprah but later recounted accusations of spousal abuse, which offended both the feminist wing of the Democratic Party and what’s left of the chivalrous wing of the Republican Party, and he was also an advocate for mass legal immigration and a lax response to the illegal sort, which amused the Democrats but troubled all sorts of pre- and post-Trump Republicans, and he’d also had one of those illegal alien domestic servants that have derailed both Democratic and Republican cabinet nominees over the past few decades.
Add it all up, and it was enough to unify all the Democrats and sway a decisive number of Republicans and force Puzder to withdraw. Other controversial Trump nominees have managed to squeak through, including the recently resigned National Security Advisor Gen. Michael Flynn, whose departure is an ongoing scandal, and Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who needed Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote, so Puzder’s scalp is being widely celebrated by the Democrats and their media allies. There are always a few nominees who don’t get confirmed, and so far Trump is batting better than the league average, but add Puzder’s embarrassment to Flynn’s departure and that scandals that entails, along with all the other leaked-from-the-White-House tales of White House dysfunction and the Democrats and their media allies are entitled to a certain amount of gloating.
Much like that decisive number of Republican congressmen who said they’d vote against the nomination, though, we’re not disappointed by the withdrawal. We’re also opposed to a raise in the minimum wage on the grounds that it will only hasten the automation that’s taking more American jobs than Mexico and China ever will, but such a self-interested advocate as Puzder seem a poor choice to make that argument. We don’t mind the sex appeal in the fast food commercials, and of course the strip club and beauty pageant mogul who nominated him didn’t either, but the domestic abuse charges offended our old-fashioned chivalrous Republican sensibilities, even if they didn’t bother a president who has faced similarly credible but ultimately withdrawn accusations, and the illegal alien housekeeper also seemed a disqualifying incident in the life of a potential Labor Secretary, even if the illegal-alien-hiring but tough-on-illegal-immigration president who appointed him didn’t have a problem with it. Even the conservative media more inclined to defend Trump seem to be having trouble working up much indignation about Puzder’s withdrawal.
Every administration has its confirmation failures, and as previously noted Trump is doing better than usual so far, but Puzder’s ignominious withdrawal and Flynn’s more noteworthy resignation and all the resulting stories from that, along with all the White House-leaked tales of White House dysfunction, all add up to a bigger story that the Democrats and their media allies are eager to tell. How big remains to be seen, but we suspect that in the end it won’t be just the Democrats telling it.

— Bud Norman

Trudging to the Polls on a Chilly Election Day

At some point this afternoon we’ll take that familiar stroll through our picturesque old neighborhood to the lovely Gloria Dei Lutheran Church on the scenic west bank of the Little Arkansas River, where we’ll stand in line and flash our photo identification to a friendly volunteer poll worker and exercise our constitutional right to cast our votes for a variety of offices. It’s a longstanding Election Day ritual we’ve always found quite cathartic, no matter how things turned out at the end of the day, but in this crazy election year it will seem a desultory chore.
There’s an old-fashioned Republican congressman in our district who we’ll be mostly pleased to support, and a slightly less rock-ribbed Republican senator we don’t mind voting for, and we’ll also cast a hopeful vote for whatever Republican is running against that left-wing Democrat who represents our anomalously liberal district in the Kansas House of Representatives. We’ll unenthusiastically vote the conservative “no” position on those five controversial state Supreme Court justices who are up for review, and a straight GOP line down to those little-known offices at the bottom of the ballot, but for the first time in our lives we won’t be voting for the Republican at the top of the ticket.
In this crazy election year the Grand Old Party’s nominee is a thrice-married and six-times bankrupt real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-beauty-pageant-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show-and-scam-university mogul, who boasts about the married women he’s slept with and the politicians he’s bribed, mocks the handicapped and disparages prisoners of war and impugns the motives of anyone with a contrary opinion, routinely pays his creditors less than promised and leaves his investors and employees short while somehow making money off his numerous failed businesses, and brags that he can grab women by the wherever and get away with it because he’s a “star.” Throughout a long, long campaign he’s proved himself thin-skinned and easily provoked, every bit as petty and vindictive as he claimed to be in his stupid but best-selling books, as exclusively self-interested as he’d always been in the 69 years before he entered politics, completely unable to restrain whatever idiotic thought pops into his head and then inclined to lie that he never said any such thing even though it’s on tape, and he’s crude and vulgar and ridiculously coiffed to boot.
His ever-shifting positions on the issues are perhaps even worse, at least from our old-fashioned Republican perspective. He’s peddling a protectionist trade policy that won’t protect his gullible supporters from the inevitable changes in a technological economy and will more likely provoke a trade war that is ruinous to the entire world. His promises to erase the nation’s debt by negotiating better trade deals is preposterous, his previous suggestions that he’d simply pay less than promised just as his he’s always done in his oft-bankrupt business life would be catastrophic, his Obama-style infrastructure spending certainly won’t reduce the debt, and his claims that he can micromanage the entire American economy the way he does his oft-bankrupt businesses does not reassure our free market selves. He takes a harsh rhetorical line against the recently decline rate of illegal immigration, but that pointless wall he’s building won’t prevent visa overstays, he’s all over the place about deporting those who are already here, as recently as the last presidential election he was criticizing the Republican nominee’s more sensible enforcement plans, and Mexico won’t be paying for that wall and the harshness of the nominee’s rhetoric has only made border enforcement more widely unpopular. His talk about turning the alliances that won the Cold War into protection rackets and allowing nuclear arms races in east Asia and the Middle East is what the diplomats call “crazy talk,” and we have no reason to trust his secret plan to crush the Islamic State and don’t like the way he’s criticized the recent and largely successful efforts to do just that.
None of our Republican friends can persuasively refute any of this, and few even try, but many have nonetheless urged us to vote for the party’s nominee rather than let a Democratic president pick any of the Supreme Court justices. It’s a plausible argument, given how very bad any Democrat’s appointees would inarguably be, but the Republican nominee has effusively praised the Kelo decision that allows governments to seize other people’s property on behalf of real estate moguls such as himself, seems to have no problem with that Obergefell decision that re-defined a millennia-old definition of marriage, agrees with the individual mandate that was the key matter in the Obamacare decision, disregards the rulings against the stop-and-search policies he advocates, has vowed to jail political opponents that he’s already found guilty, and promises to overturn the more longstanding Sullivan decision that allows the press to freely criticize him, so we hardly look to him as a protector of the Constitution. His frequent praise for dictators who have similarly punished their opponents, along all the extra-constitutional steps he’s vowed to take and the rest of his strongman posturing, only adds to our unease.
Of course there’s no way that we could bring ourselves to vote that Democratic nominee, either. She’s the Democratic nominee, for one thing, and thus portends all the collectivist and modernist and post-modernist tax-and-spend craziness that necessarily entails. The self-described socialist who almost won the Democratic nomination pushed the eventual nominee into a protectionist stance that is only better than the Republican nominee’s to the extent that she probably doesn’t really mean it, she’s just as determined as the Republican to ignore the looming debt crisis, her claims to be able to micromanage the economy are no more plausible than her opponent’s, and her y’all-come-in immigration policies make that pointless border wall seem a sound idea. Her foreign policy record has already undermined our allies’ faith in America, and effectively acquiesced to an Iranian bomb that will set off a Middle East nuclear arms anyway, and her own extra-Constitutional and authoritarian tendencies are also apparent.
The Democratic nominee’s much-touted resume reveals her own disqualifying character issues, too. As First Lady of Arkansas and then The United States she spent most of her time enriching herself with highly improbable cattle futures deals and firing honest White House employees to replace them with her Hollywood friends’ businesses and impugning the reputations of the women that her husband had voluntary and involuntary tawdry sex scandals with, her short time in the Senate proved profitable to herself but produced nothing for the public, and her disastrous four years of ill-thought interventions and even-more-ill-thought non-interventions as Secretary of State left every part of the world worse off but added many millions to her family’s phony-baloney foundation. She also habitually tells outrageous lies even about things that she should know can be easily refuted with a few keystrokes and a couple of mouse clicks, and of course there’s that whole e-mail thing that probably should have resulted in charges of mishandling classified information and a proper trial.
Which makes that walk to the polling place a desultory chore, no matter how pleasant the fall weather on a short stroll though such a picturesque neighborhood to such a lovely church and temporary altar of a hopefully durable democracy. Once we get there we’ll write-in a vote for that quixotic Mormon fellow who’s done hazardous duty in the Central Intelligence Agency and the financial sector and even on Capitol Hill, and has become a favorite of some of the erstwhile Republican intelligentsia who prefer the austere old-time GOP religion to the Republican nominee’s new prosperity gospel version, mainly because we can’t bring ourselves not to vote in a presidential election. As we trade along the sidewalks of Riverside toward our destination we’ll console ourselves that the gesture might do some infinitesimal good, as it keeps both of those awful major party nominees at least one vote short of that 51 percent they could call a mandate, and signals at least one more vote for that stubborn segment of the erstwhile Republican party that still stands athwart history shouting “stop,” as the late and great William F. Buckley would surely have put it. At least the record will reflect that someone took a stand at scenic spot on the Little River Arkansas against this crazy election year, and we’ll hold out faint hope that will do some good.

— Bud Norman