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Comey Still Won’t Go Away

Try as you might, there’s nothing to find in the news these days except President Donald Trump’s firing of Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey. A Cable News Network reporter tried to do a story on the Republicans’ proposed health care legislation, which was a big deal not long ago and is apparently still something that might happen, but the first question to a couple of politicians was about how Comey’s firing might affect the bill’s chances in the Senate, so of course the conversation never got around to anything else.
There are other things going on with the federal government, too, but for the moment the first thing to ask about almost any of them is how they’re affected by all this Comey business. The Democrats sense an opportunity to use the issue to thwart almost any Trump proposal, and Trump has been seemingly  intent on gold-plating it for them. All the endless stories mention in passing that Trump is entirely within his legal rights to fire an FBI director for any old reason, and briefly acknowledge that both Democrats and Republicans have had their own reasons for wanting to do so over the past election year, but thus far the White House has struggled to make a convincing case of its own.
The official “you’re fired” letter from Trump himself said it was because of the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a newly-hired deputy attorney, who found Comey’s public comments regarding an investigation into the e-mail practices of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton late in the campaign had undermined the public’s faith in his ability, and the was the line that all the obviously unprepared spokespeople parroted the next two days. Those poor spokespeople had to respond to video montages of candidate Trump praising Comey’s “guts” for those same statements, though, and explain why Trump was suddenly so offended on Clinton’s behalf after leading so many rallies in chants of “lock her up,” so the first couple of news cycles went badly. They steadfastly insisted that the president had no choice but to accept the conclusion of that newly-hired deputy attorney general, and of course insisted that it had nothing to with the fact that Comey was heading an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to the Russian government’s meddling in the election.
Trump doesn’t seem the type to follow a newly-hired subordinate’s lead, though, and the Attorney General had promised to recuse himself from anything having to do with the Russian investigation that Comey was heading, and the idea that Russia had nothing to do with it was always going to be a hard sell. Thus Trump found himself sitting down with the National Broadcasting Corporation’s Lester Holt on Thursday and saying, in between frequent interruptions, that “Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation,” and that “In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Russia and Trump is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election they should have won.'” He also described Comey as a “grandstander” and “showboat,” and the late night comedy show jokes about Trump describing anyone by those terms pretty much wrote themselves.
He also stated his ardent desire for a thorough and independent investigation of the Russia thing with Russia and Trump, but people will draw their own conclusions about that based on who he picks as Comey’s replacement. One hopes the Trump team will have a exceptionally strong pick and a better-planned public relations roll-out for that story, which is likely to be all that’s in the news for a while, if we’re lucky.

— Bud Norman

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The Presidential Race to the Bottom

Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump granted an interview to The New York Times on Friday, and it included a most remarkable quote that succinctly sums up the race thus far. “She’s nasty,” Trump said, referring of course to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, “but I can be nastier than she ever can be.”
Trump tried his best to live up to the boast over the weekend, regaling a typically raucous crowd in Mannheim, Pennsylvania, with a conspiracy theory about his over-amplified microphone at last week’s debate, boasting of his presidential temperament while alleging that his opponent “could be crazy, she could actually be crazy,” leading cheers for her to be sent to prison, doing some physical comedy schtick about her recent health problems, intimating that she’d been disloyal to her husband and adding that “Why should she be?” He also warned the audience that any movie they go to see after a Trump rally was bound to be less entertaining, given how bad Hollywood is these days, then nostalgically reminisced about his long run on a reality television program, and eventually got around to being appalled by some recently released and supposedly disparaging remarks Clinton once made about the supporters of her vanquished Democratic rival Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whom Trump referred to as “Crazy Bernie.”
By all accounts the crowd loved it, and we expect that Trump’s most loyal supporters elsewhere were similarly entertained, but one wonders what the rest of the country will make of it. Those basement-dwelling supporters of the self-described socialist Sanders are unlikely to switch a self-described billionaire, and the majority of Americans of who have expressed doubts about Trump’s presidential temperament probably won’t be impressed, nor do we see Trump improving his standings with that pesky woman portion of the country.
Clinton can be pretty darned nasty herself, as even Trump has acknowledged to The New York Times, and we expect she’s ready to hurl her own accusations of conspiracies and criminal behavior and physical unfitness and infidelity, and she’ll have plenty of material on had to do so. She also has a knack for baiting Trump into distracting feuds with the parents of fallen soldiers and slightly fattened beauty queens, and has the help of a ruthless press that’s lately been leaking some embarrassing tax information and various other business-related scandals about her opponent, and after so many years of politics she has a better knack for seem presidential while down in the muck. In any case, we’re sure her most loyal supporters will approve no matter how nasty she gets.
By now both of the candidates’ most loyal supporters regard their nastiness as a virtue. Trump supporters are so convinced that Clinton and her left-wing cabal are so low-down that lower-down tacts are needed to defeat them, while Clinton acolytes are equally convinced they’re fighting such a fascistic force that the most bare-knuckled tactics are required. That’s why Trump is bragging to the press than he’s the nastier of the two, and why Clinton will no doubt try to prove him wrong.
With apologies to Irving Berlin, we’ve already written the score for their next debate:
CLINTON: Anything you can do, I can worser. I can anything worser than you.
TRUMP: No you can’t.
CLINTON: Yes I can.
TRUMP: No you can’t.
CLINTON: Yes I can, yes I can.
TRUMP: No matter how mean you are, I can be meaner. Sooner or later I’m meaner than you.
CLINTON: No you’re not.
TRUMP: Yes I am.
CLINTON: No you’re not.
TRUMP: Yes I am, yes I am … I’ll evict a widow, just to park my limo.
CLINTON: I will be all gay-o, just to win the homos.
TRUMP: I just want a piece of ass.
CLINTON: And only that?
TRUMP: Yes.
CLINTON: Hah — my husband’s that crass.
TRUMP: Anywhere you can go, I can go lower.
CLINTON: I can go anywhere lower than you.
(Both descending lower rather than upwards, with further apologies to Irving Berlin.)
TRUMP: No you can’t.
CLINTON: Yes I can.
TRUMP: No you can’t.
CLINTON: (Sounding very butch at this point.) Yes I can, yes I can. (Back to normal shrill pitch.) Anything you can sell, I can sell cheaper than you.
TRUMP: Integrity?
CLINTON: What is that?
TRUMP: Your very soul?
CLINTON: What’s that for?
TRUMP: No you can’t.
CLINTON: Yes I can, yes I can.
TRUMP: Any lie you can tell, I can tell better.
CLINTON: I can tell any lie better than you.
TRUMP: No you can’t.
CLINTON: Yes I can.
TRUMP: I will mock a cripple, and ogle at a nipple.
CLINTON: I used to be a hippie, now I’m merely dippy.
TRUMP: I will say most anything.
CLINTON: And give it some zing?
TRUMP: Sure.
CLINTON: That’s what I thought, you thing.
TRUMP: Any grudge you can hold, I can holder longer.
CLINTON: I can hold any grudge longer than you.
TRUMP: No you can’t.
CLINTON: Yes I cannnnnnnnn. Any law you can break, I can break better.
TRUMP: On your phone?
CLINTON: In my home.
TRUMP: Without pause?
CLINTON: Without cause.
TRUMP: Any stand you can take, I can change faster.
CLINTON: I can change any stand faster than you.
TRUMP: No you can’t.
CLINTON: Yes I can.
TRUMP: Noyoucan’t.
CLINTON: YesIcan.
TRUMP: I’m the great un-nerver.
CLINTON: I can wipe a server.
TRUMP: I can be insulting.
CLINTON: My numbers are resulting.
TRUMP: I can make us great again.
CLINTON: Can you tell us why?
TRUMP: No.
CLINTON: Neither can I.
The number ends with the two going into professional wrestling mode, and the moderator taking a final swig of whisky before shooting himself in the head, and the audience leaving with no hope that the after-debate movie will prove as entertaining.

— Bud Norman

Grasping for Straws

Our formerly Grand Old Party formally nominated Donald J. Trump for President of the United States of America on Tuesday, so at this point the only straw of faint hope for the country we can grasp at is that he won’t accept the nomination on Thursday and instead admit that his candidacy was just a practical joke and publicity gimmick gone badly awry. There’s even less chance of that happening than that the Democrats won’t nominate Hillary Rodham Clinton by month’s end, and thus our formerly great country will almost certainly wind up with one of the two most deplorable people its all-too-human political system has ever vomited up as its next president.
Those always deplorable Democrats will surely embarrass themselves in nominating their unprecedentedly deplorable choice in short time, and we’ll gleefully note it when they do, but until then we must glumly concede they’ll be hard-pressed to top what’s been going on at the Republican convention in Cleveland. Thus far the Republican convention has featured the hated “establishment” that Trump vowed to burn down quashing the feeble efforts of delegates representing the majority of the grass-roots Republicans who voted against Trump with highly questionable parliamentary tactics, the third trophy wife of the formerly family values party borrowing lines from the deplorable President Barack Obama’s deplorable wife, and the star power of that guy who used to play “Chachi” on “Happy Days.” Conspicuously absent from the stage are the party’s last nominee and its past two presidents and the locally popular Republican governor of the crucial swing state of convention-hosting Ohio, all of whom the presumptive Republican has slandered in the most outrageous fashion. The runner-up whose wife the Republican nominee mocked as ugly and whose father he fancifully suggested was in on the assassination of John Kennedy is scheduled for a turn on the stage, but at this point we can’t think of anything he might say on behalf of Trump that will do him or the Republican nominee much good.

None of this is helpful in dissuading the clear majority of Americans who have already formed a negative of opinion of Trump. The “anti-establishment” mantle he claimed was undermined when the “establishment” proved just as feckless as he’d always said it was and meekly climbed aboard the “Trump train,” his third wife’s cribbing from Michelle Obama’s cliched convention speech undermines is no big deal but allows the press to undermine Trump’s claim that his inept general election operation will surround him with the best people, and that “Chachi” guy and his weird speech suggests that the erstwhile reality show star doesn’t have the pop culture credentials that were enough to win a nomination by a formerly Grand Old Party. Some of the speeches that were allowed at the convention made a persuasive case that the all-but-certain Democratic nominee is even worse, but even then the Republican nominee’s ego got in the way. Less noticed was the Republican Party platform’s suddenly pro-Russian stance, but then again the presumptive Democratic nominee was the one who first offered that “re-set button.”

Perhaps the most compelling speaker the Republicans could come up with was Patricia Smith, whose son Sean died along with American ambassador and two others in Benghazi, Libya, as a result of the utter incompetence of the presumptive Democratic nominee, who also brazenly lied to her face about the reasons why, but if you were watching on Fox News you missed it because the Republican nominee chose that crucial moment to phone in another self-aggrandizing and utterly ridiculous interview that pre-empted the speech. In any case he was outspokenly for that ill-advised Libyan adventure, even if he brazenly lies about it now to Patricia Smith and the rest of us, just as he brazenly lies about his opposition to the Iraq War that he slanderously blames on the last two Republican presidents, and no matter what apologies his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supports might come up with he missed yet another opportunity because he simply can’t shut up and let the Democrats look bad.
We can’t discount the possibility that the Democrats will once again boo God and badmouth America and otherwise embarrass themselves when they nominate their deplorable nominee, and we note with some satisfaction that she’s also unfavorably regarded by a heartening 60 percent or so of the country, but they’ll have their work cut out for them if they want to surpass what’s going on in Cleveland. In any case, we’ll be clinging to the faint straw of hope that some pot-smoking Libertarian or teetotaling Prohibitionist or some other oddball alternative might yet mitigate the next four awful years.

— Bud Norman

Stephanopoulos and an Unsurprising Scandal

As much as we relish a good scandal, they rarely tell us anything we didn’t already know about the people involved. Consider the current contretemps concerning George Stephanopoulos of the American Broadcasting Company and his failure to disclose the $75,000 contribution he made to the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. It seems to be a big deal because it makes Stephanopoulos look like a partisan hack rather than the objective journalist he claims to be, and the sleazy sort who won’t disclose his conflicts of interests, but none of that will be surprising to anyone who’s paid attention to his career.
Stephanopoulos in usually described as a “former political advisor to President Bill Clinton” but is better remembered as the guy in the Clinton “War Room” who was always ordering in the napalm strikes, and he’s continued in the same role ever since joining the ABC news division. His critics are charging that the undisclosed $75,000 contributions to his old employer’s favorite charity sheds new light on his recent combative interview with the author of a book exposing the corruption of that same foundation, in which Stephanopoulos asserted that his network colleagues could find no “shred of evidence” to support the book’s claims and alleged that the author was unbelievable due to his past association with the George W. Bush administration, and their point is well taken. Still, even before the revelations about Stephanopoulos’ rather hefty contributions to the Clintons the interview was widely ridiculed for its assertion that there was nothing of note in a book that had already been largely corroborated by The New York Times and The Washington Post, as well as the ridiculous spectacle of Stephanopoulos accusing anybody of being a partisan hack. The estimable journalist Byron York even took the occasion to remind readers of a column dating way back to 1996 when Stephanopoulous took the ABC job that predicted pretty everything that has transpired since.
The latest scandal should be helpful in some ways, nonetheless. A few savvy Republicans have taken the opportunity to decline interviews with ABC news, and pretty much all of them have come to the common sense conclusion that Stephanopolous shouldn’t be invited to moderate any more of they party’s primary debates, although they should have figured it out last time around when he kept pressing all the candidates with impossibly hypothetical questions about contraception that had no point but to further the Democrats’ planned campaign theme that the Republicans were waging a “war on women.” The widespread coverage of Stephanopoulous’ contributions and the general acknowledgement that it is indeed a scandal, along with the widespread coverage of the shady nature of that foundation he contributing to, should further erode the Clintons’ popularity, although that should have vanished long ago due to their countless scandals. A sort of apology has been no doubt painfully extracted from Stephanopoulos, which provides some satisfaction, although ABC has generously accepted it and seems ready to move on to the next biased report.
There’s also a faint hope that more people will stop regarding Stephanopoulos’ journalism as anything but partisan political hackery, although we expect that much of what’s left of ABC’s viewership will mind that at all.

— Bud Norman

Seriously, Dude

Oftentimes the biggest problems are best exemplified by the smallest details. Consider the interview that aired on the Fox News network last week, in which former National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor was asked if he had changed the White House’s public account of the deadly terrorism that occurred at the American consulate in Benghazi to describe it as a “demonstration” rather than “attack.” Clearly exasperated by the question, Vietor responded “Dude, that was, like, two years ago.
The answer is appalling for a variety of reasons. There’s the shocking insouciance about the deaths of an ambassador and four other Americans who had been betrayed by the government they served, for one thing, and so redolent of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s infamous “What difference, at this point, does it make?” There’s the same apparent sense of ruling=class entitlement, as well, with its arrogant conviction that such pesky questions should not be asked and that no one currently in power should ever be held to account. The unmistakable dishonest is troubling, too, as wo years is not so long that an ordinary person would have forgotten about lying to the American public on a matter of grave national importance. More troubling yet, however, at least to our sensitive years, is Vietor’s use of “dude” and “like.”
For all the dire warnings of imminent civilizational collapse that appear daily in the news, you’ll find nothing quite so alarming as the fact that someone once entrusted with a position on the National Security Council expresses himself in the manner of the Jeff Spicoli character in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” The interview also revealed that Vietor’s role on the National Security Council was high enough that he was in the White House situation room as the events in Benghazi unfolded, and it is hard to imagine him formulating any effective response to the situation that that included the word “dude” or was punctuated at any point by “like.” Serious people equal to such serious situations do not use such language, and it is not wonder that having people who speak that way in positions of responsibility had such deadly results.
Worse yet, the shoddy education that is apparent in Veitor’s spoken words is not all uncommon. Perhaps we should be grateful that at least Vietor didn’t unload the “f=bomb” that is now ubiquitous in conversations, but the Vice President of the United States used that coarse word to mark the occasion of Obamacare being passed into law. The President of the United States has described a respected member of the opposition party’s budget proposal as a “stink burger,” and his Senior Advisor who still assures us of his historic genius “tweets” in 24 or characters or less that the convoluted Obamacare web site is “easy-peasy.” Whatever great ideas these people have, they are somehow incapable of expressing them in plain English.
The degradation of the English language is a serious problem, but the bigger problem is that the ideas being so crudely expressed are crude.

— Bud Norman

There’s No Ducking It

We had hoped to spend the day heaping more ridicule on that “pajama boy” advertisement for Obamacare, which is the health care reform law’s latest and most hilarious embarrassment, but there was no avoiding all the ruckus about that “Duck Dynasty” guy’s opinions regarding homosexuality. Commenting on these ruckuses is becoming a tiresome duty, as they seem to occur with a boring regularity, but such is the lot of pundits in our contemporary popular culture.
So far as we can gather from the voluminous news coverage, “Duck Dynasty” is a “reality show” broadcast by the “Arts & Entertainment” cable television company that chronicles the daily lives of a family of hirsute rural Louisiana entrepreneurs who have earned a sizeable fortune in the duck-hunting equipment business, and apparently one of the family members granted an interview to the GQ fashion magazine that included some disapproving and crudely-worded remarks about homosexuality. That a hirsute rural Louisianan who has made a sizeable fortune in the duck-hunting equipment business should hold such views and state them in such blunt terms hardly seems newsworthy, but all the people who make their livings being offended by this sort of this thing complained loudly enough to get the fellow suspended from the program, numerous other people were offended by the cable company’s censorship of its employee. “Duck Dynasty” has a reported 14 million viewers, which would have gotten a program mid-season cancellation back in the day days of three channels but is now enough to make the debate to dominate two days of news.
We have no opinion regarding “Duck Dynasty,” as we cancelled our cable subscription years ago and have never seen an episode, but it is so often written and talked about that we are aware of its reputation for offering a positive depiction of a rural, working-class culture with traditional values. This strikes us as something that deserves a place among the gazillion or so shows on the cable menu, if only in the cause of cultural diversity, but it is by now predictable that the self-appointed defenders of tolerance would once again insist that any such deviation from the modern orthodoxy must suffer economic punishment. Every so often some beauty queen, football player, or chicken sandwich mogul will dissent from the current enthusiasm for homosexuality, and they are routinely subjected to the same sort of public shaming that was once reserved for adulterers and unwed mothers. It’s a peculiar feature of the contemporary culture, and one on which we feel required to hold an opinion.
Homosexuals should not be bullied or forced to endure second-class citizenship, but neither should anyone who has moral objections to homosexuality. Both should be free to to live their lives according to their own convictions, to whatever extent it does infringe on the rights of others, and both should be tolerated if not celebrated by the broader society. None of the remarks attributed to the “Duck Dynasty” guy advocate violence or legal discrimination against homosexuals, just his own personal objection to the practice, so in this case it seems to be those demanding his suspension who are engaged in bullying.

— Bud Norman