The Calm Before the “Tweetstorm”

The news has been eerily slow that past few days, except for that horrific slaughter of 50 people in two New Zealand mosques over the weekend, and the continuing fallout from President Donald Trump’s response to the tragedy. Things have been so quiet that Trump found time to type out more than 50 “tweets” over the weekend, and of course that provided plenty for the pundits to pontificate about.
It was, we have to admit, a prolific and noteworthy outpouring. Trump “tweeted” a happy St. Patrick’s Day message to the country, but other than that it was mostly a barrage of potshots against enemies living and dead, some full-throated defenses of two besieged allies at Fox News, and several “re-Tweets” by some little-known supporters, including someone who identifies himself as “@LonewolfnDuke.”
The die-hard fans no no doubt loved every word, and could once again reassure themselves that “at least he fights,” but we’d like to think that a President of the United could find something better to do with his time on a slow news weekend.
Trump once again criticized the “Saturday Night Live” television program, even though it ran a re-run over the weekend, and once again threatened to have the Federal Communications Commission “look into” the televised satire of him. Once upon a time a sitting president threatening to use his office to punish his critics for the exercise of their First Amendment rights would have been a big deal, but these days it barely makes the middle paragraphs of a story about Trump’s latest “tweets.” There were also insulting “tweets” about special counsel investigator Robert Mueller, a union official working at General Motors, Democratic presidential candidate and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and even the late Republican Sen. John McCain.
The figurative dancing on the literal grave of McCain got a lot of attention, and rightly so as far we’re concerned. Trump ridiculed McCain for being last in his class at the Naval Academy, even though McCain was fifth-from-last and always man enough to joke about it, and Trump has threatened to sue any school he attended for revealing his class ranking. Trump also falsely accused McCain of leaking the damaging “Steele dossier” to the press, when McCain merely passed the information on to the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a responsible citizen should, and once again castigated McCain for voting against the repeal and replacement of “Obamacare,” even though Trump and the congressional Republicans hadn’t come up with any replacement. McCain died last August and thus can’t fight back, but McCain’s daughter is still around to fire back on network television that her father suffered five years of torture in a Vietnamese prison camp for his country while Trump was hitting all the New York City nightspots on his bone spurs, and speculate that Trump continues his bloodless war with the late McCain because he somehow knows he’ll never be such a great man, which sounds about right to us.
Trump also rallied to the defense of Fox News opinion hosts Tucker Carlson and “Judge” Jeanine Pirro, who have lately been under fire elsewhere in the media for some of their more daring opinions. In Carlson’s case it’s some decade-old off-the-cuff remarks to a shock radio jock called “Bubba the Love Sponge,” where Carlson defended a cult leader who was arranging very underage marriages between his followers, described Iraqis as “primitive monkeys” and all womankind as “very primitive,” which Carlson has refused to apologize for and sloughs off as being “naughty” on the radio a decade ago. In the case of Pirro she went on the air and said that Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar wearing the Muslim hijab suggested she she more loyal to Islam than the American constitution, which followed a big controversy about Omar saying American jews who supported Israel were disloyal the United States, and although it’s all very complicated even Fox News issued a statement disavowing her statement and pulling her from the schedule for at least one week.
Both shows have lately lost some big-name advertisers, but they retain an outspoken supporter in the White House. Trump “tweeted” his advice to Fox News to immediately restore Pirro to her Saturday time slot, and urged Carlson to “keep fighting.” We’d hate to see either show banished from the cables and airwaves for exercising their First Amendment rights, but we’d also hate to see the same thing happen to “Saturday Night Live,” which by the way has a talented woman who does an absolutely dead-on and devastating impression of “Judge Jeanine.”
Our guess is the country will somehow survive the satiric sketches of “Saturday Night” and the legacy of the late Sen. McCain, as well as the ill-tempered and authoritarian-sounding presidential “tweets” about them, but we can’t help worrying about what comes next from Mueller and O’Rourke and the sorts who gun down houses of worship in New Zealand and elsewhere, and we worry that the President of the United States seems worried about it as well.

— Bud Norman

Our State of Emergency

Load your guns, hide the children, and stock up on cigarettes and beer and other essentials, as we expect America will be in a state of emergency today. So far as we can tell the only emergency is that a spending ball passed by Congress to keep the government open didn’t give President Donald the money he wanted to build a big beautiful wall along the entire southern, but one can never be too sure.
If Trump does make good on his threat to declare a national emergency and assume emergency powers to re-appropriate federal funds, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said Trump promised him, that will be cause for alarm. Trump’s grab of newfound presidential powers will likely be quickly blocked by both the courts and Congress, as well a small amount of principled conservative opposition and overwhelming public onion, but the fact that it’s come to this is quite scary.
This whole big beautiful border wall deal has been a disaster from the outset, as far as we’re concerned. Trump’s fanciful promise that he not only build but have Mexico pay for it somehow helped him win the Republican nomination, and didn’t keep him from winning the Electoral College vote, but it’s been a burden to him ever since. Mexico declined to pay for the wall, unsurprisingly enough, and so did two years of Republican majorities in Congress, with the filibuster rules and only a slight Republican edge having something to do with it, and Trump should have known he wouldn’t fare any better with a huge Democratic majority installed in the house after the mid-term elections. Trump tried to force the Democrats to cough up the money with a partial government shutdown, but by the time that ended with Trump’s poll numbers plummeting he had capitulated on a short-term fix. The spending bill which passed both chambers on Thursday keeps the government open all the way to September and provides less funding for a border wall than the deal that Trump passed up prior to the shutdown, and now he’s left with declaring a national emergency.
The same National Emergency Act that Trump cites for his authority specifically allows Congress to block it, and given the bipartisan support for the spending bill Congress seems likely to do so. The Constitution still supersedes the National Emergency Act, as well, and given how clearly that document says spending power is the sole province of Congress the Courts are likely to take a dim view of it as well. Among the litigants will be several states and many private landowners and other parties that conservatives have previously championed, and they’ll be making constitutional arguments about unconstrained presidential power that conservatives fervently believed in as recently as the administration of President Barack Obama, and everyone from the moderate to loony left is united in its opposition. Trump’s wall continues to poll badly, although his still-underwater approval rating ticked up slightly after he capitulated to the Democrats to fully re-open the government, and we expect his opponents on all fronts will seize the public relations advantage.
Trump relies on that stubborn 30 percent or so the population the somehow believes in his infallibility, however, and is thus obliged to heed their raucous rally cries of “Build that wall!” He’d always follow that up asking who was go to pay for it, and the rally crowds would cry “Mexico,” which has been largely forgiven and forgotten, but he has a huckster’s sense can’t get away without building a big beautiful border wall and having somebody pay for it. Already such a staunch defender as nutcase provocateur Ann Coulter, author of “In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome,” is “tweeting” that Trump’s emergency declaration is an inevitable loser and that his signing of the spending bill means that her erstwhile hero was a surrender to “open borders.” Sean Hannity and “Judge” Jeanine Pirro and other more loyal media apologists will come up with some reason that Trump is clearly winning, but lately talk radio show callers have been restless.
Another favorite line at the Trump rallies was “at least he fights,” and the loyalists can take some comfort in knowing that at least that’s true. Trump picks fights with congressional back-benchers and B-list celebrities, gives hell to those snowflake lefties, flouts the political establishment and intellectual traditions of the Republican party and traditional conservatism, daily denies objective facts he’d rather not hear, with a habit o skirting up against the most generous edges of the law, and no matter how pointless it all ultimately proves the fans seem to love the spectacle.

— Bud Norman

Running Government Like a Badly-Run Business

One of our least favorite political cliches is the one about running government like a business, which always made as much sense to us as flying a plane like a helicopter or ¬†riding a motorcycle like driving a car. President Donald Trump won election on the argument that his unerring business expertise would result in all sorts of great government, but a few things we’ve noticed in the latest news don’t seem to be proving the claim.
The Trumpian boasts always struck as especially suspicious, given that his private sector record included the New Jersey Generals and Taj Mahal Casino-and-strip-club and Trump University and Trump Mortgage and Trump Steaks and Trump Vodka and numerous other failed eponymous businesses, but his failure to quickly deliver on his campaign promises to provide health insurance for everyone and at much lower cost and be so wonderful it would make your head spin raises further suspicions.
Fox News host “Judge” Jeanine Pirro placed all the blame on House Speaker Paul Ryan, in a diatribe that Trump claims he wasn’t aware she would be shouting when he “tweeted” for all his followers to watch the show, and she exonerated Trump by stating that “No one expected a businessman to understand the nuances, the complicated ins and outs of Washington,” but that is exactly what Trump had led his supporters to expect throughout the campaign. “Nobody knows the system better than me,” Trump ¬†boasted during his Republican nomination acceptance speech, “which is why only I can fix it.” He was never clear about the specifics of how it would be so great, which is probably why he left that stuff up to Ryan, who didn’t have anything nearly so grandiose to offer, but Trump had boasted that his legendary deal-making prowess could get it done.
Trump also intends to bring his business genius to bear on the rest of the government with all sorts of innovative down-sizing, and he’s launched this effort by creating yet another redundant agency in the federal government called The White House Office of American Innovation. Apparently nepotism is one of those time-honored business practices that is needed in government, as the agency will be headed by Trump’s son-in-law, whose own business experience derives from the family real estate company that he inherited when his father went to prison on charges of tax evasion, witness tampering, and illegal campaign contributions. Trump himself frequently boasted during the campaign about the many politicians he’d bought off, and although he never copped to witness tampering he also boasted that if he didn’t pay any incomes tax certain that made him smart, so we’re expecting all sorts of free-market solutions for government to come from this new redundant federal agency of his.
Perhaps we should write this up in a grant proposal and try to make some money off of it, but we’ll go ahead and a offer this pro bono suggestion to the poorly acronym-ized WHOOAI. In recent years Trump’s most money-making business has been licensing his name to anyone who’s will to pay big money for it, and we think the United States of America should start doing the same. The USA is an even bigger global brand name, after all, and there’s no reason a country nearly $20 trillion in debt shouldn’t be cashing in on that. If Lee Greenwood wants to sing “God Bless the USA” or Bruce Springsteen wants to lament that he was “Born in the USA” they should be passing some of those royalties along to the general revenue funds for use of a trademarked name, and all those American flags be waved or worn as jackets at Trump rallies should cost an extra few pennies to pay for the logo rights, which should also bring a fortune from all those flags that the hippies and third-world types are always burning, and with apple pies being the exemplar of Americanness there should be some extra revenue from those.
But what do we know about that stuff? We’ve worked in low levels of government and kept on a watch on government working for newspapers that were just-as-badly run businesses, and we could have warned Trump that one of those nuances of difference between the public and private sectors is that he couldn’t fire congressmen and so-called judges the way he did the B-list celebrities on his game show, but we’re clearly not the businessmen Trump is.
Despite his past numerous business failings at least he’s been on a private sector roll lately, with the vast empire he remains invested in being run by his two older sons, his daughter splitting time between her semi-official role in the White House and running her own lucrative and touted-on-TV-by-White-House-officials line of high dollar clothes and accessories, her husband running a brand-new federal agency of his own while someone else runs what’s still his family business, and such Trump businesses as Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago and the well-used Trump golf courses are profiting from federal and state and local funds spent to protect to the Trump family. The two older Trump sons are also being expensively protected on business trips to far-flung locales where the locals are surely aware they’re dealing with the sons of the President of the United States and the owner of the company they represent, and we expect the younger Trumps have learned enough of their father’s much boasted-about influence-buying expertise to leverage that into a few extra bucks.
We must admit that even after so many years of government work and government-watching we didn’t understand the nuances and the ins-and-outs of the system well enough to ever imagine that anyone would even dare much less actually get away with all that. Perhaps such undeniable savvy will eventually make America great again, just as it’s lately been doing for the Trump brand, but in the meantime we do think that the USA brand that’s being so blatantly extorted still deserves some of the profits.