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In the Mean Times of Trump

Way back when we registered to vote as members of the Republican party on our 18th birthday it was the “party of Lincoln,” the Great Emancipator who preserved the Union by brutal means but then vowed to heal its wounds with “Malice toward none and charity toward all.” At this late date in our lives the Grand Old Party is the party of President Donald Trump, and we can’t help noticing the malicious and uncharitable turn it has lately taken.
Not just in the insult comic rhetoric Trump employs at his never-ending campaign rallies, or the mean-spirited and blatantly self-interested way he chooses to to enact even his most defensible policies, but also in our conversations with dear old Republican friends we used to consistently agree with. We used to agree on strict border enforcement policies, for instance, but these days we seem to disagree about whether the border laws can be strictly enforced without traumatizing thousands of children and perhaps losing track of hundreds of them, and whether that that pesky Constitution and its noisome judges and all those treaty obligations America has pledged its scared honor to in past administrations should have anything to do with it.
We’ve lately had a couple of conversations with conservative friends we have long known as good guys always willing to do a favor for a friend in need, and were surprised to hear them defending the family-separation policy even Trump had already disavowed and blamed on those darned Democrats. Neither had been informed by their favored news sources that the Trump administration is failing to meet a court order to reunite those those thousands of children with their parents, and and seemed to admit in sworn court proceedings that they weren’t entirely sure where all of those children were, and both of our friends were uncharacteristically callous to the fates of the children involved.
Both insisted all those Dickensian orphaned-by-Trump urchins of those sob sister stories in the mainstream media were better off than they ever were in the countries their parents had fled, and although the Trump administration isn’t letting anyone into the facilities where the children are known to be held they’re willing to take Trump’s word for it. They’re also both quite sure that almost all those people who made the perilous journey with their children to America to flee their undeniably dysfunctional home countries and apply for asylum according to America’s laws and longstanding sacred honor international treaty obligations did so to leech off America’s welfare system and join the notorious MS-13 gang. Neither was aware that Trump had “tweeted” a complaint about a formerly conservative Republican senator’s proposal to double the number of federal immigration judges in order to deal with a sudden backlog, and further groused that the existing law and the judges who enforced it and America’s longstanding sacred honor treaty obligations all had to go, and neither was much unsettled by our accepted assurances that it was from Trump’s own “twitter” feed and not “fake news” from their less-favored news sources.
Such is the state of “constitutional conservatism” in Trump’s Republican party.
Meanwhile, the rhetoric from the top of party is meaner yet. Last Thursday Trump regaled yet another large campaign rally crowd in Montana, ostensibly on behalf of a Republican Senate candidate he briefly mentioned, and he ratcheted up his insult comic shtick yet another notch. He got another big laugh be reporting his longstanding gag of calling Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is “Pocahontas,” based on her past dubious claims of having Native American heritage, and sneaked in a jibe about how he’d have to confront her ever so gently because “we’re in the ‘#MeToo’ generation,” which protests the frequency of sexual harassment and sexual in America. We’re no fans of Warren, but by the gag seems very stale, and although we believe every male or female citizen deserves a fair hearing in the courts of public law and public opinion, we can’t help noticing how eager even our longtime and gentlemanly Republican friends suddenly seem to dismiss even the most plausible complaints about about fellow Republicans grabbing women by their wherever.
More bothersome yet, Trump also aimed his insults at past Republican nominees we proudly voted for. Trump didn’t dare mention the name of Arizona Sen. John McCain, but the draft-dodging reality show star with a lifelong career of self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement got about 6,000 Republicans in lustily boo a dying war hero and past Republican presidential nominee who had devoted his life to often painful public service. The booing was about McCain’s decisive vote to not repeal and replace the hated Obamacare law, but the bill wouldn’t have entirely repealed Obamacare and certainly didn’t replace with the everybody-covered-at-a-fraction-of-the-cost replacement that Trump promised during his pie-in-the-sky campaign, and no matter what you think about McCain’s vote the boos rang unmistakably mean to our ears.
Past Republican president and bona fide war hero and lifelong public servant George H.W. Bush is also dying, and without mentioning the name Trump also ridiculed Bush’s “thousand points of light speech.” The phrase was from a famous speech penned by Reagan’s speechwriter Peggy Noonan about the thousands of individual and collective efforts of America citizens to provide charity to the country’s poor, and Trump scoffed that he never understood what it was talking about, and not nearly so clear in meaning as “Make America Great Again” and “America First.” This struck us as the fourth-grade vocabulary understanding of political rhetoric of Trump and his die-hard fans, and malicious and uncharitable and downright mean.
Trump didn’t bring it up during the Montana rally, but he’s also feuded with previous Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and previous Republican President George W. Bush, and he’s even dared criticize President Ronald Reagan’s North American Free Trade Agreement and embrace of amnesty for illegal aliens and failure to pick Trump as the guy to negotiate the end of the Cold War, and he’s clearly contemptuous of pretty much the entire pre-Trump Republican party.
Trump has given President Richard Nixon a pass, but he’s currently seeking to undo the world trading order and western military alliances that President Dwight Eisenhower nurtured. Trump seems committed to the same sort of Smoot-Hawley protectionism that President Herbert Hoover used to create the Great Depressions, although we doubt he’s aware of any Republican party history prior to his birth, or perhaps his hostile takeover.
Trump always refers to his party’s first nominee as the “late, great Abraham Lincoln” — always adding that “late” part in case you haven’t heard the bad news about Honest Abe — but he doesn’t seem much of a fan. He infamously told a friendly interviewer that Democratic party founder unrepentant slave-holder and unabashed racist President Andrew Jackson could have averted at all that Civil War unpleasantness that happened under Lincoln’s watch. We don’t doubt that draft-dodging Trump would have pursued the civil war with the same brutality of Lincoln, and not lost a moment’s night sleep over it, but we can’t imagine him proposing to restore the Union with malice toward and none and charity toward all. Even our most kind-hearted Republican friends don’t seem to have much interest in that these days.
Which is a shame, because we and our Republican friends can continue to agree that the Democrats are as bad as ever and getting even crazier left by the moment. A Republican resistance is more needed than ever, but one that spoke of malice toward none and charity toward all and a thousand points would be preferable to one that seems to revel in its meanness. Our conservative friends cite the meanness on the left, our liberal friends say they’re only responding in kind, and we miss the Democratic party of such centrists as Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Sen. Scoop Jackson and the Republican party that existed so long before Trump.

— Bud Norman

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Whose Afraid of the Big, Bad Michelle Wolf?

Going into a happily eventful weekend here in Wichita, we were happily unaware of the existence of a woman named Michelle Wolf. By the time we got home from church and a dreary reading by some grad students in the local university’s creative writing program and much-needed beer at Kirby’s Beer Store just across the street, Wolf was even more viral than the President Donald Trump himself, despite his most virulent efforts.
As we now know all too well Wolf is a comedian best known for her short satiric contributions to the Comedy Channel’s “Daily Show,” one of several late-night over-the-air and through-the-cable channels devoted to celebrity guests and Trump-bashing, but what landed her in all the newspapers and endless hours of an otherwise weekend news cycle on the 24-hour news networks was a 19 minute routine Saturday night at the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual fancy-schmantzy and headline grabbing dinner. As one might expect of a late night comic, her humor about Trump was unabashedly harsh, and she was just as harsh about White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and White House counsel Kellyanne Conway, who were seated uncomfortably nearby, and the routine met with mixed reviews and a dramatic spike in Wolf’s name recognition.
Trump’s die-hard fans were predictably appalled at the lack of respect for a sitting President of the United States, even if he was wasn’t sitting nearby, and took chivalrous umbrage at Wolf’s even harsher treatment of the two distaff Trump administration officials who did happen to be seated nearby. Even The New York Times’ excellent White House correspondent and longtime Trump tormenter Maggie Haberman — recently disparaged in a Trump “tweet” as a “third-rate reporter” he “has nothing to do with” — “tweeted” that she thought Wolf’s act went over the line. Other journalism types from both the left and the right shared their usual gripes about journalists getting all dolled up to hob-nob with politicos in the first place. Some Democratic politicos wound up on the cable news worrying that it would only feed Trump’s narrative that those “enemies of the people” in the “fake news” were out to get him.
While Wolf was getting scattered laughter and occasional applause from her elite Washington, D.C., audience, Trump was somewhere in Michigan wowing a revved up rally of his die-hard fans with an hour-and-19-minute insult comedy routine of his own. He tossed around the usual taunting nicknames and did his usual shtick about the weak Democrats, cast his usual aspersions against the more critical media, and got a big roar from the packed blue-collar crowd by telling them how much he preferred basking in their love to sitting next to some smart-mouthed late comedian regaling a bunch of Washington-type journalists and politicos who hated not only him but all his loyal supporters, and late Sunday, when Wolf’s agent was planning her contract re-negotations, the journalists and politicos were largely doing damage control.
Still, Wolf’s diatribe somehow got more column inches and air time than Trump’s, and she did have her defenders. The most convincing, as far as we’re concerned, came from the right. The National Review’s excellent cultural correspondent Katherine Timpf, whose precociously keen insights into the latest academic and pop cultural absurdities and youthfully geeky good looks have made her some something of a viral sensation, reasonably agrees that Wolf overstepped boundaries, but quite rightly argues that the die-hard fans of such a boundary-overstepping President of the United States as Trump are no longer entitled to gripe about any private citizen’s insult comedy shtick.
These viral viruses tend to pass quickly, though, and that Wolf woman will likely fade into obscurity soon enough, and eventually even Trump’s top-rated reality show is going to be cancelled, one way or another. We’re hopeful that freedom of the press will survive all this craziness, despite the press’ occasional overstepping of boundaries, and we hold out a slightly fainter hope for the institution of the presidency.
For what it’s worth, we thought that a couple of Wolf’s jokes were pretty good, most weren’t, and her delivery could have used a few years of vaudeville training. There’s another woman you’ve never heard of named Desi Lydic who also gets a few minutes on the “Daily Show” and is just as harsh on Trump and a whole lot funnier and kind of cute in a geeky way herself, and we’d like to see her or Timpf at a future White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. In any case the whole contretemps will soon blow over, in one direction or another, and we’ll be left with our nation’s degraded political discourse.

— Bud Norman