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Why Trump Fans Love Trump

The Democrats are increasingly eager to impeach President Donald for soliciting foreign assistance in his reelection campaign, as Trump’s own statements suggest he did with Ukraine, and on Thursday he stood before the national news cameras and asked China for the same favor. According to talk radio talker Rush Limbaugh, “This is why you love Donald Trump.”
If you don’t love Trump as much as Limbaugh and his listeners, though, you might question the wisdom of a president negotiating foreign policy on the basis of what allies and adversaries alike can do for him personally. You might even question the legality of doing so, and maybe even consider it a high crime or misdemeanor that warrants impeachment. The latest polls show a rapidly increasing number of Americans see it that way, with about half the country now supporting an impeachment inquiry, with a plurality eager to see Trump removed from office, and as the facts and confessions continue pile up Trump will probably become even more unpopular.
If you do love Trump as much as Limbaugh and his “ditto-head” listeners, on the other hand, this really is what you love about the president. Limbaugh’s argument is that by hurtling unsubstantiated allegations against former Vice President and potential election rival Joe Biden and his son, and openly asking foreign leaders to prove them, he is forcing the press to publicize the claims. That is indeed why some people love Trump, but Limbaugh’s argument is unlikely to persuade anyone not fully on board the Trump train already, and we’re not at all sure Trump is being shrewd.
There is indeed something highly suspicious about Biden’s son’s highly lucrative international business career despite an obvious lack of any requisite credentials, but even if you believe the worst about the Bidens it’s just a temporary distraction from Trump’s woes at best. In the unlikely event that Democratic primary voters pay enough attention to turn on Biden, the Democrats will come up some other nominee, and probably a more formidable one who doesn’t have a similar scandal. That nominee will also be able to talk at length about how Trump’s unimpressive children have profited from their father’s position, and Trump and the likes of Limbaugh will have to come up some reason why that’s no big deal.
Given that Biden was likely to self-destruct in any case, openly soliciting foreign influence in an American presidential election to bring him down strikes us as an unnecessarily risky tactic by Trump. Limbaugh and the “ditto-heads” and other die-hard fans will cheer on Trump’s efforts to lock up his political opponents, but sooner or later there’s going to be another Democratic president, and when that happens they’ll be taking an entirely different stand regarding foreign influence on American elections.

— Bud Norman

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Another Day, Another Argument

President Donald Trump has released a transcript of his telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that freely admits he sought a foreign leader’s help in digging up dirt on a potential political rival, and he insists that’s no big deal. All the talk radio talkers and most of the congressional Republicans agree, and the die-hard fans wouldn’t think it a big deal if Trump shot someone on Fifth Avenue, but all of the Democrats and most of the rest of the country are taking a dimmer view of the matter.
There’s no explicit threat by Trump in the transcript, but his request that Zelensky investigate former vice president and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son’s business dealings in Ukraine came in the context of of a discussion about Trump withholding some much-needed military aid, and after Trump had chided Zelensky about Ukraine owing America a lot of favors. Zelensky is a former comedian and novice politician who came to power by starring in a hit sit-com about a comedian who becomes president, whereas Trump a political novice who came to power by starring in a hit game show where he played a successful businessman, but we think they probably well understood one another.
Even without any explicit threats or quid pro quo deals — which might yet be revealed by the still-classified “whistle blower” complaint that started all of this — there’s still something that strikes us as untoward about a president asking a foreign country’s help in swinging an election.
Trump clearly doesn’t think so, as he stood in front of national television cameras and asked Russia to hack Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail account, which they immediately tried to do, He now claims it was just a joke to regale a laughing rally crowd, but it was actually said at a news conference, where he affirmatively answered stunned follow-up questions about if he was serious. He also told the American Broadcasting Company’s George Stephanopoulos that he didn’t see anything wrong with accept a foreign government’s dirt on an opponent, and he went right ahead and released that transcript on Thursday.
Most Republicans probably agree, but we wonder what they’d think if the next Democratic president, who’s bound to come along sooner or later, did the same thing. Most Republicans would also take a dim view of a Democratic president enriching himself or herself at taxpayer’s benefits and from business dealings with foreign powers, refusing to disclose how much they’ve made from by withholding their tax returns, committing crimes to cover up affairs with porn stars that sent their personal attorney to prison, and consistently saying untrue things and generally behaving in an undignified way. For now, though, it’s just Trump being Trump.
After a while it all adds up, though, and a popular if not an electoral majority of the country is growing weary of it. The Democrats won a majority of the House of Representatives in the last mid-term elections, and they’re almost all on board with an impeachment inquiry that will involve seven different oversight committees looking into all aspects of Trump’s business and political dealings, which are likely to come up with something the Republicans will have a hard time explaining. Enough of the Democrats in the House voted to launch the impeachment inquiry to actually impeach Trump, and that seems increasingly likely to happen.
Less likely is the Senate voting to remove the president, as the constitution requires. The last mid-terms left the Republicans with a razor-thin majority in the Senate, but it takes a supra-majority of 67 to convict a president on impeachment charges, and for now it’s hard to imagine the needed nine Republican votes coming forward to kick Trump out of the White House.
That’s for now, though, and there’s no telling what those seven oversight committees and that pesky press will come up with by year’s end. Already Senators Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Mitt Romney of Utah have dared say they don’t think an American president of either party should be asking for a foreign country’s campaign contribution, others have said the same thing off the record, and there’s still an old-fashioned conservative intelligentsia that’s cheering them on. We hope most of their colleagues agree, despair that few of them will dare say so, and figure there’s still a chance Trump will rack up one scandal too many, as he’s just that kind of guy.
Trump was defiant during a rare formal press conference at the United Nations, without the whirr of a nearby helicopter, and made his usual complaints about the “fake news” and “witch hunts” and the made-up scandals that stain his good name. He didn’t seem his usual pugnacious self, though, and we’re tempted to use an old Trump insult and say the performance was “low energy.” To our careful eye, Trump also seems to be growing weary of it all.

— Bud Norman

The Autumn of Our Discontent

Summer ends and autumn arrives at early afternoon here in Wichita, and if there aren’t any clouds at the exact moment we hope to watch the sun shine through a prism onto the autumnal equinox stone at the solar calendar a couple of our artsy friends erected in a nearby park. Equinoxes and solstices are usually well-attended at the spot, if the sun if shining, not for any pagan reasons but just because some people in this eccentric neighborhood want to share the experience of the changing of the seasons and the passage of our limited time on Earth.
Meanwhile, everything else keeps changing, and little of it brings people together. At the moment the big political news is about a “whistle-blower” and President Donald Trump and his telephone conversation with the Ukrainian president, and both sides of our vast political divide agree that it’s an outrage.
So far the facts of the matter aren’t entirely clear, as the Trump administration has prevented Congress or the press or the general public from seeing the “whistle-blower’s” complaint, but that naturally frustrates Trump’s critics, and all the anonymous leaks and Trump’s own statements on the matter seem to suggest that Trump did indeed at least imply a demand for dirt on potential Democratic campaign rival and former Vice President Joe Biden in exchange for military aid that had been passed by Congress. This is quite arguably a very big deal, especially when you take into account that Trump openly invited Russia to find dirt on his last presidential opponent and frankly said on national television that he’d accept similar help from any other government, and on the left they’re making a very big deal of it.
On the right they’re more concerned about the dirt Ukraine has on Biden, and insisting that’s bigger scandal. Biden’s undeniably wayward yet surprisingly successful son was somehow on the board of a big company in incredibly corrupt Ukraine, which came under scrutiny from a prosecutor investigating public corruption, and Biden is caught on tape bragging that as Vice President he withheld foreign aid to Ukraine unless the prosecutor was removed from power. That’s more than enough for right wing talk radio talkers to fill their three-hour time slots. Trump is also saying that although he doesn’t know the identity of the “whistle-blower” he does know it’s a partisan member of a “deep state” conspiracy against him, and that also plays well with the talk radio audience.
At this point we no longer have a rooting interest in anybody, and are trying our best to cling to unchanging principles. Go ahead and call us old-fashioned Cold War-era Reagan Republicans, but we still think an American president shouldn’t be strong-arming an eastern European ally valiantly trying to resist Russian domination. Nor do we think that foreign interference in an American presidential election should be tolerated. So far, the apologists are unconvincing,
The so-called “lame-stream” media are credibly reporting that the investigation of Biden’s son had long been stopped when Biden made his remarks about removing that prosecutor, who the Ukrainian media had identified as one of the more corrupt of the notoriously corrupt government’s officials, but it’s still suspicious how Biden’s son wound up on that Ukrainian board of directors. If it turns out that Biden is implicated in his own scandal that’s fine by us, as we have no particular regard for him or his son, even if it means that someone further left winds up winning the Democratic nomination and beating Trump. Nothing that Biden or even Hillary Clinton ever did provides any excuse for what Trump might have done, so at this point you can lock ’em all up, as far as we’re concerned.
Here’s hoping, though, for a prolonged Indian Summer and a mild winter.

— Bud Norman

A Man of the People, Redefined

The ten leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination had a debate on Thursday, and it was a spirited contest. Each of the contenders were nearly as critical of one another as they were of President Donald Trump, and sometimes the raucous crowd would ooh at perceived low blows. Our favorite part came afterwards, though, when the candidates were asked about the greatest adversities they had faced in life and how that had affected their politics.
The question was a slow and straight pitch aimed chest high, and of course each candidate took a swing at the opportunity to come off as a bona fide human being voters can relate to. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the last centrist standing in the field, spoke of her father’s alcoholism, and how he overcame it with with help from court-ordered treatment. Former San Antonio mayor and Housing and Urban Development secretary Julian talked about growing up in a single-parent home. Former Vice President Joe Biden recalled the tragically premature death of his son and beloved family members, High tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang mentioned the numerous failed businesses he had started and the huge debt he had acquired before achieving success.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders had a rent-controlled Brooklyn apartment and a penniless immigrant father to talk about. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke chose to talk about the resilience of his hometown of El Paso, which suffered a mass shooting O’Rourke partly blames on Trump’s racial rhetoric. California Sen. Kamala Harris explained the difficulties of being the first female and mixed-race Attorney General of her state, and  this being a Democratic debate was obliged to defend prosecuting as a respectable occupation . South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg is openly homosexual, and that’s not always been as fashionable as it is now. Earlier in the debate, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren mentioned she had grown up in Oklahoma and once been a public school teacher, were surely won plenty of pity from a Democratic audience.
None of the candidates bragged about having been in a little log cabin built by their own two hands, and with Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard failing to qualify for the debate no could talk about any military experience, but it was all fairly heartwarming nonetheless. Should the general election come down to which candidate has the more inspiring hard-luck tale, Trump will be at a disadvantage.
Trump is quite unapologetic about being born into opulent wealth, and clearly revels in his whiteness and maleness and heterosexuality and enjoys whatever privileges that might confer. He grew up in Queens rather than Manhattan, which still seems to rankle, but lived in the fanciest house in the less fancy borough.
His father was by most accounts a cold and ruthless man who withheld affection and praise from his children, but Trump can’t hold that against anyone. The old man sent him off to one of those strict military schools where incorrigible rich kids wind up, but Trump boasts of having been the big man on campus. He had to suffer the indignity of a year at relatively downscale Fordham University before the old man got him into the University of Pennsylvania, but he just leaves that unmentioned. At some point Trump suffered from bone spurs, which kept him out of military service during the Vietnam war but don’t seem to have interfered with his golfing and nightclubbing.
Trump is by no means America’s first plutocrat president, but he is the first to flaunt it so brazenly. The Adamses and Roosevelts and Kennedys came from old money and elite educations, but they had also inherited an understated gentility and a deeply felt sense of noblesse oblige that Trump never acquired in Queens. On the contrary, Trump flouts such old-fashioned business and prefers street-level vulgarity and unabashed self-promotion
Interestingly, it seems to to have endeared him to a large segment of the proletariat, which regards him as a “blue collar billionaire.” They prefer it to the perceived condescension of past wealthy politicians, and share Trump’s seething resentment of the most well-mannered upper class, and appreciate the way he appalls all the right people. We also suspect that although they can’t identify with Trump’s much bragged about billions, they can vicariously enjoy the way he spends it on golf outings and private jets and porn stars rather than boring tea parties in the Hamptons. A lot of Trump fans figure he’s just like them, or at least like they would be if they had his money.
Trump is also selling the idea that he was born with the Midas touch, and that his alpha male “bigliness” has always made him impervious to any adversity, so America should be grateful to ride along on his predestined path to greatness, which is arguably more compelling than being a former school teacher or having had to endure poverty or prejudice. The same sales pitch got people to invest in his casinos and airlines and professional football teams, and to enroll in Trump University, and if the economy stops slowing by the next election day it might work yet again.

— Bud Norman

Healing and Unity in the Age of Trump

President Donald Trump traveled to Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas on Wednesday to bring healing and unity to the two latest cities to suffer from mass shootings. The current political climate makes healing and unity hard to pull off, however, and healing and unity are not what Trump does best.
“I would like to stay out of the political fray,” Trump told reporters before departing on the trip, but he wound up lambasting the mayor of Dayton and one of Ohio’s United States Senators, as well as a few Democratic Texas politicians, along with a couple of other Democratic presidential candidates, and of course the “fake news” that was obliged to report on it. Several of Trump’s targets did politicize the tragedies in Dayton and El Paso, but Trump can’t rightly claim they started it.
Neither Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley nor Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown are big fans of Trump, but both promised they would welcome the president with the respect due to his office, and they seem have done so. Trump avoided the public at large, especially the angry protests in the neighborhood where the mass shootings occurred, but he was respectfully greeted by the local officials and escorted to a hospital where he met some of the victims and some of the first responders who had saved their lives. Afterwards, Whaley and Brown told a news conference that the hospital staff and victims and first responders all treated Trump with respect for his office and gratitude for his visit.
“They were hurting, he was comforting, he did the right thing, Melania did the right thing,” Brown said. Whaley said that “I think the victims and first responders were grateful the president of the United States came to Dayton.”
Both added they used the opportunity to make the case for stricter gun control measures Trump probably didn’t want to hear about, and that some of the staff and victims and first responders also told them they won’t be voting for Trump, as much as they appreciated the visit. Trump was apparently watching that part on television during his flight to El Paso, and before Air Force One landed he was “tweeting” that “The news conference after I left for El Paso was a fraud. It bore no resemblance to what took place.” The president’s social media director later clarified with Trump’s knack for random capitalizations and superfluous exclamation marks that “The President was treated like a Rock Star inside the hospital, which was all caught on video. They all loved seeing their great president!”
Media cameras weren’t allowed in the hospital, with Trump’s spokespeople saying they didn’t want to politicize the event, but Trump brought his own cameras and quickly released a slickly edited version with a swelling soundtrack on his “twitter” site. It sure seems to suggest that Trump was treated like a rock star, with everyone eager to vote for his reelection, but both Whaley and Brown were clearly surprised to be called liars for their kind words, and we suspect their characterization of what happened more accurately characterized the visit.
Trump had to dodge even more and even angrier protestors on the way to his hospital in El Paso, and had even more feuds to fight with the local Democratic politicians. Texas has long been a reliably Republican state, but El Paso is in a heavily Latino district with a Democratic representative in Congress and a mostly Latino leadership at City Hall, and Trump’s rhetoric regarding Latinos has not endeared him to a majority of the city.
The El Paso mayor made the same vow to treat Trump with the respect due his office, and seems to have done so, but Trump left town “tweeting” taunts at El Paso’s former representative and current long shot Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, and griping that the “fake news” wasn’t reporting how much everyone loves him. He also feuded with former Vice President and current Democratic primary frontrunner Joe Biden, who unwisely chose to politicize the tragedies for his own benefit.
Nobody seems to have scored any political points from the 30 deaths that occurred over the weekend in two fine American communities, but Trump seems to have gotten at least slightly the worst of it. Trump’s rhetoric regarding the “invasion” of America by Latinos was echoed in the on-line manifesto of the lunatic who killed 22 people in El Paso, Trump has already said he won’t back off from such language, and it’s hard to say that he brought any healing or unity to the country on Wednesday. Brown and Whaley were both respectful of the office and admirably frank about the office-holder and didn’t disgrace themselves, as far as we can tell, and O’Rourke and Biden and the rest of the Democrats can use Trump’s schoolyard excuse that he started it.
We’ll get down on our knees tonight and pray to God that He grants some healing and unity to the grieving citizens of Dayton and El Paso and everywhere else that has suffered the worst of human nature, which at this point is all we can think to do, and probably more than many of our elected leaders will do.

— Bud Norman

The New Trump Media vs. the Old Media

President Donald Trump continued his feud with the “fake news” media on Thursday, as he hosted many of the “bloggers” and “tweeters” and YouTube celebrities and talk radio talkers who are more inclined to praise him, and even the usually friendly Fox News called his “tweets” on the matter a “bizarre tirade.”
“Bizarre” seems an apt if slightly understated adjectives to describe Trump’s remarks to the nutcase conspiracy theorists and far-right race-baiters and unapologetic Trump apologists the president had assembled at the White House. Among the crowd were the editor of the conspiracy-theorizing Gateway Pundit web site, a fascist organization-affiliated defenestrated White House official and current talk radio show host, a guerrilla videographer whose “Project Veritas” has been caught several times editing its footage in dishonest ways, another talk radio talker who has recently accused Democratic presidential candidate and California Sen. Kamala of not being an “American black” because her naturalized citizen father is from Jamaica and her naturalized citizen mother is from India. Even Trump seemed to acknowledge it was a motley crew.
“Some of you are extraordinary. Can’t say everybody. The crap you come up with is unbelievable,” Trump said. Later he added that “Some of you guys are out there. I mean it’s genius, but it’s bad.”
Even so, Trump clearly preferred the crap some of his apologists come up with to the more critical coverage he gets from The New York Times and The Washington Post and the Cable New Network and the National Broadcasting Company and the rest of what used to be called mainstream media. He also asserted that the new social media had usurped the ancien regime in importance and influence, and boasted that his “tweets” alone have bested all the outdated print and broadcast and even cable news sources. He acknowledged that his “tweets” were often pockmarked with misspellings, but he explained that by saying “Really I’m actually a good speller, but everyone said the fingers aren’t as good as the brain.”
Trump didn’t acknowledge that his “tweets” also routinely have enough punctuation errors and random capitalizations and other offenses against the English language that any competent fourth-grade teacher would red-mark it to death, nor did he admit that many of them are downright untruthful, and he even bragged that his as-yet unverified claims that President Barack Obama put a “tapp” on his phones had “taken off like a rocket.” He even related a longtime boast in a “tweet” that all the big newspapers would wind up endorsing him and all the over-the-air and cable networks will lavish him with favorable coverage for fear they’d go out out of business without him. Trump truly seems to believe that the public will lose all interest in the news if his hit reality show is cancelled.
“That’s why they’ll all be Endorsing me at some point, one way or another,” Trump “tweeted.” “Could you imagine having Sleepy Joe Biden, or Alfred E. Newman …” We couldn’t find the rest of the “tweet,” but we assume he meant former Delaware Senator and Vice President and front-running Democratic presidential candidate Biden, and that the Alfred E. Newman was a reference to South Bend, Indiana, mayor and second-tier presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who bears what Trump thinks is slight a resemblance to the mascot of the recently deceased Mad Magazine. Biden is currently leading Trump in head-to-head polls against Trump, and in the unlikely event that Buttigieg winds up as president he’d be the first openly homosexual person to occupy the White House, and in any case we can’t imagine the public will lose its longstanding preoccupation with the news if Trump’s reality show is cancelled.
Having grown up on Mad Magazine, we also note with great annoyance that Trump misspelled the hallowed name of Alfred E. Neuman.
Those ancien regime media are frequently wrong, to be sure, but they usually acknowledge their mistakes with embarrassing corrections and the occasional retractions, which Trump and his apologists never do, and for the most part they’re far more pristine in their use of the English language. Their batting average for the truth is better than Trump’s, too, even when you take into account their undeniable left-of-center bias, Trump has an undeniable ratings appeal, and lately the late night night television comics have feasted on his videotaped comments about the Moon being an important part of of Mars and the Continental Army seizing the airports during the Revolutionary War and the kidney being an important part of the heart. Even so, we’re sure people will stay tuned in for any dumb thing some damned Democrat might say if her or she is elected.
Trump parenthetically “tweeted” that he was “(just joking)” about winning a third or fourth term, but our guess is that for all its faults a free press and broadcast and cable media will outlast Trump, for better or worse. We also hold out hope that the truth, whatever it might be, will ultimately prevail.

— Bud Norman

Well, At Least There’s Still More than a Year and a Half Left in the Race

The Cable News Networks has run the first significant Democratic presidential poll since the two-part and too-early Democratic presidential debates of last week. Given the results, we’ll mostly take a day off from our usual bashing of Republican President Donald Trump to note that the Democrats seem intent on nominating someone even arguably worse.
At the outset of the race the clear front-runner by double digits was former Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, who was also Vice President for eight years to President Barack Obama, who somehow remains popular in the Democratic party, even if much of the party now grouses that liberal administration we daily fulminated about wasn’t nearly liberal enough. Part of Obama’s enduring appeal in the party is that he was The First Black President ™, and given all the white flight to the Republican party over the past several decades of the Civil Rights era black voters are a sizable chunk of the Democratic primary electorate, especially in the southern states that hold early primaries, and Biden seemed to enjoy their gratitude that he’d been a loyal ally of Obama. The Democrats also retain a following among the Rust Belt white working class, even if Trump won enough of them last time around to squeak out an electoral majority, and the affable and commuter train-riding “Uncle Joe” and his aged self’s ties to an earlier era of populist Democratic politics made him seem well poised to win those votes back from Trump.
It was never likely to hold up, however, and seems to have taken a severe hit after just an hour of televised debate. The CNN polls shows Biden dropping 10 points, and although he’s still in the lead with 22 percent he’s only five percentage points ahead of California Sen. Kamala Harris, just six ahead of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and just eight ahead of self-proclaimed socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. He retains a bigger lead over the other 21 or 22 or so candidates, but several of them still have a chance to break out.
Biden’s hold on the black vote was always tenuous, given that he was running against a bona fide black man with verifiable slave blood in New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker, who can also rightly claim to love in one of America’s most blighted and crime-ridden black ghettos, as well as California senator Harris, who has a Jamaican immigrant father and an east Indian immigrant mother, and grew up identifying and being identified as a black woman. Harris was the one who seized the opportunity during the debates, criticizing Biden for his way-way-back-in-the-’70s position against forced busing to achieve school desegregation, and it gave her a nine point bump in the poll while Biden took a ten point hit.
Harris is too far left and too much an “identity politics” candidate for our tastes, but she’s a former prosecutor and California Attorney General who always comes across as smart and well-informed in every interview, which contrasts to her favor with Trump, and she’s not quite so crazy as many of her competitors, so we warn both Biden and Trump to be worried. Given the current far left and “identity politics” predilections of the Democratic party, she seems a formidable opponent.
Biden’s hold on those aggrieved white Rust Belt blue collar workers was also tenuous, given that pretty much of the rest of the field was willing to outbid him with grandiose promises of free health care and guaranteed incomes and various other free stuff. Anyone who voted for Obama twice but then switched to Trump is not a true-blue Republican or conservative by our old-fashioned standards, and we suspect they were swayed by Trump’s even more grandiose and far-fetched promises of restoring the steel and coal and other Rust Belt industries to their long-long-ago ’50s glory, and now the rest of the Democratic party seems to willing to make to such gullible rubes even more grandiose and far-fetched promises. They can’t make the same make America white again promises as Trump, whose brand of identity politics also offends us, but Obama got their votes two times around and  we think they’ll once again fare well.
The estimable Washington Post editorial writer Eugene Robinson had an editorial on Monday taunting that we Never-Trump Republicans should reconcile ourselves to the idea that the Democrats are going to wind up nominating a Democrat. With all due respect to Robinson we didn’t need him to tell us that depressing news, and note that the three or four Democratic candidates we could conceivably vote for are all polling in the single digits, but we’re still hoping the party will come up with its least crazy possible nominee. Two major parties gone stark raving crazy are two too many, as far we’re concerned.
Our guess is that we’ll wind up once again throwing away our vote on some futile independent candidate, and that all our Democratic and Republican friends will accuse us of de facto voting for the hated other side. Once again, we’ll console ourselves that at least we threw our vote away on something better. How the rest of the country votes is up to the rest of the country.

— Bud Norman

Another Overseas Adventure

Every time President Donald Trump travels overseas he seems to say a series of things that have us slapping up foreheads, perhaps even more prolifically than he does when does when stateside. His recent trip to Osaka, Japan, and then a few steps into North Korean territory was no exception.
The trip was immediately proceeded by Trump insulting his Japanese hosts by grousing to Fox Business News that our longtime ally has been taking advantage of America’s generosity since the mid-’40s. “We have a treaty with Japan — if Japan is attacked we’ll go in and fight World War III. We will go in and protect them and fight with our lives and treasure. We will fight at all costs,” Trump said, adding that “But if we’re attacked Japan doesn’t have to help us at all. They can watch it on Sony televisions, the attack.”
Trump doesn’t seem to realize that Japan is constrained by the constitution that America imposed on it by force in the aftermath of World War II to only self-defense capabilities, and that it has used often those resources on America’s behalf if a non-combat but nonetheless helpful support role throughout the Cold War and in the various wars we’ve fought against radical Islamism in the Middle East, nor that were carefully considered geo-political balance-of-power reasons for that treaty, which still make sense. The average Fox Business News viewer also doesn’t know that, on the other hand, and neither do the die-hard fans, so Trump probably didn’t care much how it badly played in most of the American media and pretty much everywhere in Japan and the rest of east Asia and everyone else at the G-20 and around the world.
Trump was also feuding ahead of the trip with most of the rest of America’s longtime allies and trading partners at the Group of 20 Economic Summit in Osaka, but as usual he was more polite in his face-to-face encounters with the rest of the world’s leaders. He had only nice things to say to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and was on his best behavior with all the European democracies he routinely accuses of ripping us off, but as usual he saved his most obsequious behavior for the murderous likes of Saudi Arabian dictator Mohammad Bin Salman and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
The Saudi Arabian dictator was invited by Trump to stand next to him in the middle of the official G-20 photograph, despite his obvious role in the murder of an American resident and Washington Post journalist, among other recent atrocities. As usual Trump was just as chummy with the Russian dictator, at one point sharing an inside joke with Putin about the Russian election meddling that the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Office National Intelligence and the other 13 intelligence agencies and their Trump-appointed leaders all agree did actually happen. The die-hard fans love Trump’s shock jock sense of humor, but the rest of it thought it wasn’t a joking matter.
Worse yet, to our ears, was when Trump yukked it up with Putin about the “fake news.” Trump admitted his envy that there doesn’t seem to be as much of a problem with critical coverage of the government in Russia, where he might or might not know that at least 26 journalists have suspiciously died during Putin’s time in power, but they wound up commiserating with one another that it still sometimes happens even in Russia. America’s “fake news” still got to the pepper the president with questions, though, the foreign trip press conference being one of those rare presidential traditions even Trump can’t ignore, and once again he gave answers to their pesky questions that had us slapping our foreheads to a bright red.
Putin’s trip to Osaka was immediately proceeded by an interview with a British publication in which he said that “Western Liberalism is obsolete,” and when asked to respond Trump said that San Francisco and Los Angeles were in a sorry state because of liberal leadership, which suggests he didn’t quite understand the question. The die-hard Trump supporters might not know nor care, but the rest of the world clearly understood that Putin was talking about the classical Western Liberal tradition of individual rights and representative governments obligated by rule of law to recognize those rights, and not west coast liberalism as it’s understood in the modern context. We share Trump’s contempt for the latter meaning of liberalism, but we do worry he doesn’t share our affection for the the former sense of the term.
Meanwhile, back in the states, California Sen. Kamala Harris was getting headlines by reviving the ’70s era of busing school children to different school districts to achieve racial desegregation in an attack on Democratic primary front-runner and former Vice President Joe Biden, so Trump was of course asked about that. We thought it stupid for any Democrat to dredge up a long-dead ’70s issue that was damned complicated at the time and eventually turned out badly for the Democrats’ political standing, but Trump seemed to think it only had something to do with school districts providing students transportation to their local schools. The dark-hued Harris had an inspiring story about she was luckily bused to a fancy and liberal Berkeley school as an elementary student, we’re a few years older and several shades paler and less happily remember the racial tensions at our newly integrated junior high school, so we figure we’re both entitled to our opinions at the time about the long-forgotten issue, but Trump was already a graduate of an all-white school who didn’t seem to notice what was going on elsewhere at the time. He promised the pesky reporters that he’d soon have a surprise announcement of a brilliant policy to solve the busing problem, but he offered no specifics, and as far as we’re concerned he looked damned ridiculous.
After that Trump made history by being the first American commander-in-chief to step foot on North Korean soil since the country came into existence with the stalemate of the Korean War. It was an historic photo opportunity for both the the American president and the North Korean dictator, and both men seemed to relish it together, and both were very chummy, and there’s always a chance it might avert the exchange of nuclear missiles that the past 50-plus years of Republican and Democratic administrations have worried about. On the other hand there’s also a chance that the fat guy with the bad haircut who murdered his brother and uncle to gain power is playing Trump for a chump, and the he’s not so immune to flattery as Trump, who has gushed about he’s “fallen in love” with the dictator who writes him such nice letters.
Even in the immediate aftermath of his historic photo-op Trump was grousing to the pesky reporters that any speculation it might not amount to much is “fake news,” but we’ll go ahead and speculate it might yet turn out that way. We also notice it was followed by an interesting case of the free American press asserting its First Amendment rights even on foreign soil, and Trump’s newly-appointed press secretary Stephanie Grisham getting slightly roughed up in the process.
It all started when the American president and the North Korean dictator agreed to a historic first-ever American news conference on North Korean soil, and the North Korean security forces apparently didn’t get word of it. Being the pesky and pushy people they tend to be the American reporters stormed into the conference room, the security forces responded with the usual authoritarian sternness, and quite a scuffle apparently resulted. To her credit Grisham was apparently screaming the whole time that they were allowed in by mutual agreement, and took a few bruises by doing so, so as longtime newspapermen we hope she learned something about what reporters occasionally go through and how scary it might be to cover a typical Trump rally.
We also read that as the reporters were eventually allowed to enter The Washington Post correspondent Seung Min Kim was temporarily held up, as the natural born American but Korean-descended reporter was briefly barred because the North Korean security forces insisted on “only U.S. reporters,” but that the rest of the press corps vouched for her all-American credentials and eventually got her in.
We hope it all works out for the best, and that this Grisham woman proves better than the long-forgotten press secretary Sarah Sanders, and that a free press and our longstanding alliances and various other norms of political behavior somehow persist.

— Bud Norman

The Race Is On

America and the rest of the world aren’t yet halfway through 2019, but the 2020 presidential election is already underway. Today brings the first Democratic primary debate between ten candidates, tomorrow brings another debate between yet another ten candidates, and so far as we can tell there are at least another five or or six Democratic contenders who are left out of the stages.
We’ll be watching both debates with rapt interest, as we’re slightly hopeful the damned Democrats don’t come up with someone who isn’t so loonily far left that he or she can’t beat President Donald Trump. It’s only a slight hope, though, as the damned Democrats these strike us as arguably even crazier than Trump and the damned Republicans. That very crowded field of Democratic contenders also worries us, even if there are a few among them we could tolerate.
Last time around there were a record-setting 17 candidates in the Republican primary, which meant that a candidate could be leading the field by with a mere 10 percent in the polls. As a former reality show star on television Trump had better name recognition than any of the distinguished senators and governors and successful business executives he was running against, which earned him the podium on the center stage of the debates, and his flair for show biz somehow overwhelmed all the more carefully deliberated and dignifiedly presented arguments of his lesser-known but more distinguished co-stars. He wound up winning a series of state primary races with a plurality of the vote, which fortified his front-runner status, but he never won a majority of the Republican primary votes until all the other contenders had dropped out. Since then at least 90 percent of the Republican party has been willing to defend any damned dumb thing he might say or do, and this time around the Democrats seem likely to make the same mistake.
For now the front runner in the Democratic race is Joe Biden, who was a longtime senator from Delaware and vice president during the administration of President Barack Obama, which is somehow well remembered by about 90 percent of those damned Democrats, and we figure that’s mostly due to reality show name recognition. Biden is gaffe prone, though, and doesn’t seem to have Trump’s uncanny knack for turning gaffes into public relations bonanzas, and all of the 25 or 26 other Democratic contenders are already subtly attacking him from the left flank, so at this point we’re not placing any bets on the current favorite. His latest gaffe was talking about how he used to strike deals on non-racial matters with the segregationist Democratic Senators who used to exist at the beginning of his very long political career, and although much of the Democratic party and the mainstream media were outraged it sounded quite reasonable to our Party of Lincoln Republican ears. The most flamboyant of the even further left Democrats could well wind up winning enough pluralities in the early primaries and eventually wind up in the White House with 90 percent of the damned Democrats defending any damned dumb thing he or she might say or do.
The only thing we can count on is that for the second time in our lives we’ll be voting for none of the above, and holding out faint hope the republic somehow survives.

— Bud Norman

Amateur Hour on the World Stage

President Donald Trump was in Japan over the Memorial Day weekend, negotiating all sorts of foreign policy deals around the world, and we must admit it made us nervous.
Trump won office with an electoral majority despite a lack of any political or foreign policy experience on the promise that he’s the best deal-maker anyone’s ever seen, and his sizable number of die-hard supporters still believe it, but we maintain the doubts we’ve had all along. In his best-selling and ghost-written self-help book “The Art of the Deal” Trump bragged about how he got the better of talk-show host and game-show mogul Merv Griffin to acquire what was re-branded as the Trump Taj Mahal casino in New Jersey, but that soon went belly-up and has since been demolished. He boasted of how he won an antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League, but his New Jersey Generals and the rest of the United States Football League won only $3 in damages, and soon went belly-up. Trump Airline, Trump University, Trump Vodka, Trump Magazine and various other Trump-branded businesses have proved even more expensively unsuccessful deals.
Trump never seemed to learn anything from any of it, except not to put his own money on the line, and none of it was adequate preparation for dealing with the devious likes of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un or Russian dictator Vladimir Putin or the dictatorial mullahs of Iran. So far Trump has had more contentious relationships with the democratically-elected governments of our longtime North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Southeast Asia Treaty Organization allies and western civilization trading partners, and he hasn’t yet come up with any deals with anyone that much impress us.
He did negotiate a slightly better deal with Canada and Mexico over the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he said was the difference between the worst and best trade deals ever negotiated, but it remains to be seen if he can get any of the Democrats and quite a few Republicans from states hit hard by Trump’s wars against Canada ad Mexico to ratify it. There’s nothing on the table about a trade deal with the European Union, nor with the United Kingdom that is currently involved with a difficult divorce from the EU, and for now Trump doesn’t have much on the trade front to brag about, although we’re sure he’ll keep bragging.
That’s just money, of course, but on the arguably more important matters of war and peace Trump seems even more out of his depth. Even during the campaign Trump admitted to his die-supporters that he had only nice things to say about world leaders who had nice things to say about him, and so far that seems have guided his foreign policy toward the despotic but very flattering governments of Saudi Arabia and Russia lately North Korea, among other rogue nations. Our democratically-elected military allies in NATO and SEATO and trading partners in the EU and NAFTA have been disinclined to be so obsequious, on the other hand, which seems to explain why we’re tied up in interminable negotiations.
Which brings us at long last to what we set out to write about, which is the very nervous situation on the Korean peninsula, and how very nervous Trump makes us feel about that.
The situation on the peninsula has been nervous since several years before we born. In the immediate aftermath of World War II the Soviet Union was spreading communism to the west and south, the commies won control of China shortly after that and was infecting countries all over southeast Asia, and a Marxist dictatorship took over in the northern half of the Korean peninsula. America intervened in the horribly bloody war between North and South Korea to protect its democratic and capitalistic allies in the region, and although it ended in a desultory draw with the Chinese-backed North Korea along the demilitarized zone, South Korea is still a free country, with a modern economy and very sexy popular culture, and Japan and the rest of free and mostly thriving southeast Asia continue to do a mutually beneficial business with us, while North Korea is mired in poverty and darkness while developing a transcontinental nuclear missile capability.
Maintaining that tenuous status quo has been official American foreign policy ever since, through Democratic and Republican administrations alike, and although North Korea has crept ever closer to nuclear power status it has thus far worked out well enough, as nervous as it’s been. The Trump administration is of course more ambitious than that, and months ago we were assured via “Twitter” that we could sleep soundly at night without fear of a nuclear exchange with North Korea. After some very provocative missile tests by North Korea toward South Korea and Japan, as well as one that could have reached the west coast of the United States, Trump started off the negotiations by threatening “fire and fury like no one’s ever seen,” and taunting North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as “rocket man” and joking about Kim’s height and and weight. That led Kim to the negotiating table with Trump, along with some preceding flattering letters by Kim, and when Kim tentatively agreed to a denuclearization of the Korean peninsula during a summit in Singapore Trump “tweeted” about his triumph.
The critics quibbled that all three generations of Kim dynasty dictators had been seeking the prestige of a seat at the negotiating table on any terms they could get with an American president or other western civilization leader since the stalemate of the war, that the Kim regime had only tentatively agreed to a vague term about “denuclearization” that it clearly took to mean the withdrawal of the land-and-sea-and-air-based nuclear threat that America posed to North Korea, and the summit didn’t make make them sleep any more soundly at night. For a while Trump could crow that at least North Korea wasn’t making any more missile tests, but that claim went belly-up by the time Trump landed in Japan.
Trump’s appointees to all of the intelligence agencies as well as his national security agree that North Korea has recently been testing medium-range missiles that could deliver a nuclear warhead to a target 300 miles away, but Trump shrugged it off with a “tweet.” The “tweet” read:
“The North Koreans fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me. I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Bidan a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?”
This might reassure those with an abiding faith in President Donald Trump, but it’s going to keep the rest of the world up at night. Those “small weapons” North Korea fired off couldn’t reach any of Trump’s properties on the west coast of the United States, but they’re well within range of Tokyo or Seoul, and we can well understand why the entire American foreign policy establishment and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe or South Korean President Moon Jai In or Trump’s other polite hosts on this foreign policy junket are less sanguine. Trump’s trust in the vaguely-worded promises of such a brutal dictator as Kim confound us, but then again Kim has never written any flattering letters to us. Trump admittedly smiles Kim is taking potshots against Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden, whose name Trump initially misspelled, and he doesn’t seem to mind that yet another brutal dictatorship is campaigning on his behalf.
Meanwhile Trump is stuck with a decades-old beef with a perhaps nuclear-armed and in any case militarily-formidable Iran, which is a major player in a Middle Eastern theater of conflict that Trump clearly wants no part of. The dictatorial mullahs who run Iran have nothing flattering to say about Trump, but they’re backed by Russian dictator Putin, who seems to have a swell mutual admiration society going with Trump, so there’s no telling how that might work out. There are also all those ongoing negotiations with our longstanding democratically-elected yet insufficiently obsequious allies that haven’t been yet been worked out.
Go right ahead and accuse of us being deep-state globalist establishmentarians, or suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome, but at this point we place no faith in the president’s self-proclaimed unprecedented genius to work this all out.

— Bud Norman