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This Week, On As The White House Turns

At the risk of damning with faint praise, we have to admit that President Donald Trump’s administration is a lot more intriguing than his last reality show. All the characters are more complicated than those B-list celebrities Trump used to fire, the infighting is more vicious, and we prefer the new format of constantly leaked news stories better than carefully edited one-hour-a-week television episodes.
Lately all the subplots seem to be about Steve Bannon, who makes Dennis Rodman and Gary Busey and all those other flamboyantly crazed celebrity apprentices seem bland by comparison. If you haven’t been following the show, Bannon is an ex-Navy officer turned Goldman Sachs investment banker turned publisher of an internet publication he described as a “platform for the alt-right,” and after that he turned into the “chief executive” of Trump’s campaign and then “White House chief strategist.” Until recently he was also a member of the National Security Council, but he’s been rather unceremoniously removed that position and suddenly there’s a great deal of suspense about whether he’ll be around in any capacity for future episodes.
After weeks of leaks about Bannon’s feud with White House chief of staff Reince Priebus the stories are now mostly about his feud with Jared Kushner, whose White House responsibilities include being an envoy to China and bringing peace to the Middle East and getting the Mexicans to pay for a border wall and solving the opioids crisis and reinventing federal government. The very busy 36-year-old Kushner is also the husband of Trump’s beloved daughter Ivanka, another key character in this convoluted plot who has also reportedly feuding with Bannon, and for now he seems to enjoy the advantage that blood proverbially has over water. Trump told the friendly folks at The New York Post that “I like Steve, but you have to remember that he was not involved in the campaign until very late. I had already beaten the all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change my strategy because I was facing crooked Hillary.”
In the past Trump had frequently spoken of his years-long friendship with Bannon, and often cited him as one of those very best people he promised to surround himself, but if you’ve been following the show you know that Trump’s past pronouncements don’t mean much. Despite Trump’s past boasts about his loyalty he’s fired two wives along with all those other B-list celebrities, as well as two campaign managers, both of whom were described by Trump spokespeople as someone Trump barely knew, and a National Security Advisor, and at this point such an old media hand as Bannon can surely read the writing on The New York Post. Should he find himself on the receiving end of Trump’s “you’re fired” catchphrase, though, it would make for a messy divorce even by Trump standards.
Bannon’s complicated role in this even more complicated plot has been the keeper of the “nationalist populist” and “America First” and “anti-establishment” and vaguely “alt-right” flame that Trump ran on, and as the guy who was fending off all those nasty “globalists” and “neocons” and “establishment” types who suddenly were trying to lure Trump away from the one true faith. According to leaks that probably came from Bannon he was credited with that “American carnage” inaugural speech that fired up the faithful and those travel restrictions that sure seemed to keep the campaign promises Trump had made, as well as the immediate efforts to bring the promised Mexican border wall and all that it implied. All of that played well enough wit the hard-core of Trump’s supporters that there was plenty of credit to go around, but it didn’t play nearly so well elsewhere.
The inaugural speech drew mostly negative reviews and a dismal crowd that Trump embarrassingly lied about at great length, the travel restrictions were halted by a couple of federal courts that thought they sure sounded like a Muslim ban and were therefor a violation of the religious establishment clause in the First Amendment, and all the polls show that despite mixed feelings about illegal immigration most Americans now regard a gazillion-dollar wall across the entire Mexican border as an obviously stupid idea. Whatever value those “nationalist populists” brought to the campaign season they’re currently dragging the new season’s ratings down to a 40 percent or so approval rating, so new characters have been brought in. There’s also Chief of Staff Preibus, who used to be the chairman of the Republican National Committee and the guy whose name all the right-wing talk radio hosts used to pit out to describe that hated GOP establishment, so naturally Bannon had several leaked episodes of feuding with them.
Not to mention Jared and Ivanka, who by this point have at least enough combined political clout to deserve a collective tabloid nickname like “Javanka” or something, and have reportedly persuaded Trump to embrace such hairy-legged feminist nonsense as paid maternity leave and apologizing for talking about grabbing women by the wherever and to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Libyan air base that launched a horrific attack against a nearby village wound up killing scores of men and women and children and some “beautiful babies.” There’s talk they also have something to do with Trump pulling back on his out-dated promises to declare China a currency manipulator and starting slapping 45 percent tariffs on their imports, and serving its dictator steak and au-gratin at his still wholly-owned Mar-a-Lago instead of the Big Mac and fries he promised on the campaign trail, and of course all the true-blue “nationalist populists” are by now feeling betrayed, and the right-wing talk radio hosts are still trying to make sense of it, but Bannon should worry about the overall poll number and those recent Trump remarks to the press.
Should Brannon wound up another one of the very best people that Trump has been forced to defenestrate that would be fine with such old-fashioned Republicans as ourselves. That “alt-right” of his strikes us as the same sort of racist trash that conservatives have long been distancing themselves from, that Mexican border and all it implies seems an overreaction to the admittedly serious but declining-even-before-Trump problem of illegal immigration, that talk of China’s currency manipulation was outdated and the part about 24 percent tariffs was always crazy, the “America First” slogan makes no more sense than it did when used to oppose resistance to the Axis, and except for the undeniable yet recently denied crucial role he played in keeping crooked Hillary from becoming president we don’t see how Bannon has ever done the country much good.
Still, there’s no telling how this story might turn out without Bannon. By the time of the feud with Javanka he had reportedly made peace with Priebus and the rest of the GOP establishment, who were allied against the influence of a couple with no political paper trail except for a long history of generously donating to Democratic candidates and espousing such liberal causes as mandated paid maternity leave for all employees. One of Trump’s sons told the British press that his sister had persuaded his father to launch those 59 Tomahawk missiles against that Syrian air base, which pleased the less constitutionally-minded sorts of “neocons,” and that yet might prove wise, but for all the bleeding-heart reasons that Trump himself outlined and were pretty much the same reasons that President Barack Obama cited when seeking congressional approval for such a strike after a similar chemical attack that killed similarly beautiful babies, which the Republicans in congress and of course Bannon and even the then-unregistered reality star Trump himself found wanting at that time.
We’re pleased by the recent reasonableness of Trump’s China policy, skeptical but open-minded about the Syrian strike, delighted by Trump’s complete retreat from that campaign-season nonsense about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization being “obsolete, and still following all the twists and turns in that ongoing Russkie subplot, but we’re mostly worried that there’s no underlying logic to any of it. Past pronouncements are of course of no use,  except that “unpredictable” remains a goal, and what happens seems to depend largely on what the president saw just on television. The Republican establishment hasn’t done much for Trump lately, that “alt-right” has clearly become burdensome, and we have even less faith in the Javanka faction, and of course theres no telling what those damned outright Democrats might do.. The ratings seem to be driving this plot so far, and that never leads to a satisfactory conclusion.

— Bud Norman

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An Almost Trump-Free Weekend

Saturday somehow had top-down driving weather here in our portion of the plains, and although Sunday was more typically February it featured a fine sermon at our low church and some high culture at the civic center where the Wichita Symphony and the Wichita Musical Theater teamed up on a terrific performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel, which was followed by a taped-delayed watching of the Wichita State University Wheatshockers reeling off another impressive victory on the road against a surprisingly tough Loyola-Chicago Ramblers squad. All in all it was a pleasantly apolitical weekend, but of course there’s no avoiding the news altogether.
We logged on to our Facebook page to keep up with a dear friend’s ongoing cancer treatments, and although that news was guardedly good we also came across countless screeds about the Trump administration. Among our Facebook friends are an unaccountable number of irritable lefties, who are predictably irritated by anything Trump, and the more astute of conservative friends are more carefully expressing their own reservations, and nobody was arguing that America is being made great again. Our cursory glance at our usual news sources from the left to the right were no more encouraging, with plenty of stories giving Trump’s critics on either side something to be understandably annoyed about.
The Cable News Network and The Washington Post both claimed confirmation that Trump’s national security advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn, was in contact with the Russian government during the campaign that all the intelligence agencies allege the Russians were trying to influence, just like that dossier full of salacious but unconfirmed sex allegations alleged, and so far the Trump spokespeople haven’t categorically denied it. Flynn already had controversial ties to the Russian government that included his appearances on the dictatorship’s propaganda network and featured seating at Russian state dinners, and his son was kicked off the Trump transition team for “tweeting” about that crazy “pizza gate” scandal, and his presence on the National Security Council along with former alt-right internet publisher Steve Bannon while the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs was unprecedentedly kicked off had already made for much comment on both the left and the formerly supportive right.
Trump’s more reliable mouthpiece Kellyanne Conway was meanwhile using her airtime on those Sunday shows where Trump says he gets his news to pitch First Daughter Ivanka Trump’s overpriced line of shoes and jewelry, which has lately been discontinued by the Nordstrom’s chain of department stores, which Trump has angrily “tweeted” about. Sears and K-Mart have also discontinued the line, but so far haven’t suffered the wrath of a presidential “tweet.” A few hearty souls endeavored a defense of Trump, most of them nostalgically recalling the time President Harry Truman publicly berated a music critic who panned the presidential daughter’s vocal recital, which was by all accounts awful, but it’s hard to see how that’s making America great again and those questions about the president’s on-going business deals and how they might intersect with his foreign policy remain, and we’re still wondering why Trump seems so darned smitten with Russia’s dictator.
Over at the admirably conservative and still mostly NeverTrump National Review they’re noting that the left’s reaction has gone beyond understandable irritation and well into full-blown tin-foil-hate conspiracy-theorizing paranoia, which is a point well taken, but they’re obliged to admit that Trump’s own rhetoric of Bush-lied-people-died and Obama-was-born-in-Kenya and his electoral victory was rigged haven’t elevated the level of political discourse. One of Trump’s rich buddies went on videotaped record to blame it all on Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Preibus, who used to be the Republican Party’s national chairman and was reviled by Turmp’s most fervent supporters as one of them damned establishment Republican-in-name-only types, and we expect that storyline to spread out over the next few days. The popular storyline that the no-record-in-public-serve-at-all Trump is the one who “in over his head,” as that rich Trump buddy described Preibus, will also probably persist.
We’ll hope there will be warm days and gospel sermons and fine concerts and Shocker victories and healthy Facebook friends to get us through it all, and try not to succumb to either paranoia or false hope.

— Bud Norman

A Climate of Conspiracies, With Sauce

The Washington Post has been a veritable feast of fascinating news stories lately, but on Monday two in particular caught our eye. One was about former Vice President Al Gore’s long chat with president-elect Donald Trump about anthropogenic global warming, the other concerned some heavily armed guy who walked into the trendy Comet Ping Pong pizza parlor  in a fashionable neighborhood of the District of Columbia in search of the satanic pedophilia ring that recent Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is said to be running in the back room.
Gore described his conversation with Trump as “extremely interesting” in a brief statement to the press as he exited Trump Tower in New York City, and we don’t doubt that he overstated it one little bit, but somehow that pizza parlor story seemed even more intriguing. We’ve been following the “Pizzagate” saga as it has unfolded in the far lunatic fringes of the internet the past few weeks, and the apparent unsuccessful rescue attempt was too tasty a plot twist to pass by.
For those of you who have been relying on the more reliable news sources and are therefore unaware of “Pizzagate,” it’s hard to sum the story thus far. Suffice to say that it began when someone Wikileaked a bunch of Clinton consigliere John Podesta’s e-mails, and they revealed his friendship with a fashionably weird performance artist whose work is said to include occult illusions, and is in turn a friend of that Lady Gaga woman you can’t help but have heard of, who is a well-known shape-shifting Illuminati reptilian, and there were also frequent references to “hot dogs” and “pizza,” which are apparently pedophile slang for sex with young boys and young girls, and Comet Ping Pong’s owner and staff do seem to have odd taste in art and music, and it has hosted Clinton fundraising events, so what more proof do you need that she’s running a satanic pedophilia ring in the back room?
That and a few more coincidences have persuaded numerous concerned citizens around the country to issue death threats against Comet Ping Pong’s owner and staff, as well the neighboring businesses, which have some suspicious signage that suggest they’re also connected by a system of underground tunnels, and on Sunday it apparently prompted that well-armed fellow to enter the pizza parlor and fire a couple of shots from a rifle in the course of what he reportedly told police was a “self-investigation.” The suspect is a North Carolina man whose friends and describe him as devoted father and tenderhearted idealist, and one speculated that “He most likely really believes this conspiracy theory. He’s a good guy with the best of intentions. He probably saw himself as more on a hero mission to save children than anything else.” All of which seems plausible, given how very stupid tenderhearted idealists can be, and should provide a warning to any others to await more conclusive proof of a satanic pedophilia ring before rushing into a pizzeria armed with a rifle, shotgun, handgun, and folding knife.
To the more conspiratorial way of thinking, though, it just goes to show how shrewd these satanic pedophiles can be. Within hours of the suspect’s arrest there were several YouTube videos explaining how the entire incident was staged to discredit the people who are exposing “Pizzagate,” with one of the theorists boasting that he had predicted just such a “false flag” operation some days ago, and the true believers were more convinced than ever that somebody needs to storm that pizzeria with plenty of guns to save those poor children who are surely suffering in some subterranean hellhole. They all note that there’s no definitive proof that they’re wrong about any of it, except perhaps for the testimony of that heavily armed guy who reportedly spent 45 minutes looking around the place, including the rooms where he had to shoot off the locks, but of course he’s just an actor hired to play the part, and in one of those weird coincidences he apparently has acted in a couple of low-budget flicks filmed near his hometown, so we expect the conspiracy theorizing will continue for a while.
We’d love to slough it all off as one of those crazy crazes that always happen, and no more harmful to the public good than mood rings or pet rocks or that Lady Gaga woman’s admittedly inexplicable popularity, but lately such conspiracy theories have been threatening policy. The whole “Pizzagate” story seems to have started with Alex Jones’ crazypants “InfoWars” program, probably the country’s leading purveyor of crackpot conspiracy theories, where president-elect Trump has appeared as a guest and praised the host’s “awesome reputation,” and Trump has also insinuated that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, a theory he has since claimed credit for debunking, alleged that President George W. Bush lied about the intelligence regarding Iraq’s weapons programs in order to start a war for nefarious purposes, and urged everyone to read The National Enquirer’s claim that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was in on the Kennedy assassination.
Although Trump has backed off his campaign promise to have former Secretary of State Clinton jailed for her use of a private e-mail server, which Trump had urged the Russian government to hack, and now says that she and her husband are good people he wouldn’t want to hurt, which is also fueling some intriguing conspiracy theories over on the leftward lunatic fringes of the internet, he hasn’t yet used the “Pizzagate” hashtag in any of his recent “Tweets.” He’s only a couple of degrees of separation away from it, though, as his controversial choice for national security advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn, has “tweeted” about Clinton that “U decide — NYPD Blows Whistle on New Hillary E-mails: Money Laundering, Sex Crimes w Children, etc … MUST READ!” Putting aside the depressing fact that presidential advisors write such prose, even The Washington Post conceded that it wasn’t necessarily a reference to “Pizzagate,” and that Flynn might have been referring to other news about both Clinton’s relationship with the convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, whom they rightly note also has a documented relationship with Trump. Yet Flynn’s son, who is also a paid advisor to the presidential advisor, has more blatantly “tweeted” that “Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it’ll remain a story. The left seems to forget #PodestaEmails and the many ‘coincidences’ tied to it.” Given all the proof he might need in in those scarily quotation-marked coincidences, and his military upbringing, perhaps he’ll be the next to storm that trendy pizzeria.
Our president-elect has also peddled the conspiracy theory that anthropogenic global warming is a hoax concocted by the Chinese government to cripple American industry, so it would have been indeed been extremely interesting to hear him talk about it with past presidential popular vote winner and electoral college loser Gore, whose post-political career has mostly been devoted to peddling the scientific theory that man-made air pollutants should have drowned Trump’s fancy Mar-a-Lago resort on the Florida coast by now. We’re skeptical of Gore’s theory, for reasons that are even more complicated to explain than “Pizzagate,” but we find Trump’s idea that the Chinese came up with it just as laughable, so the conversation would have made for an interesting “thread” in some internet chat room or another. Alas, all we know of it is Gore’s unsatisfactorily brief statement that “I had a lengthy and productive session with the president-elect. It was a sincere search for areas of common ground. I had a meeting before hand with Ivanka Trump. The bulk of the time was with the president-elect, Donald Trump. I found it an extremely interesting conversation, and to be continued. I’m going to leave it at that.”
Gore can leave it at that, but the conspiracy theorists should be able to come up with a few plots to be continued. Ivanka Trump is said to be the typically fashionable high society New York City sort of Democrat that her father was until a few short years ago, and he admit she’s the one behind his liberal maternity leave policy proposal, and she’s in the business of selling very expensive clothing and jewelry to rich jet-setters who tend to believe in anthropogenic global warming, and she’s apparently inviting Gore into the sphere of presidential influence, so perhaps another one of Trump’s campaign promises will shape-shift. The true believers in Trump won’t mind if he continues Obama’s carbon regulations, probably not even those West Virginia coal miners, not when there’s satanic pedophilia rings going in the back rooms of trendy pizzerias.

— Bud Norman