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Begging Trump’s Pardon

On a Wednesday full of stories about trade wars and the Environmental Protection Agency director’s latest scandals and the first public sighting of First Lady Melania Trump in several weeks, the item that caught our attention was President Donald Trump releasing 63-year-old Alice Marie Johnson from the federal prison where she was serving a life sentence on a drug-dealing rap.
Even the most anti-Trump media tended to describe Johnson as a first-offender convicted on a non-violent drug offense, but the local media who covered her trial and sentencing back in ’97 described her as the leader of a multi-million dollar drug ring that sold tons of cocaine over a three-year period. Given that Trump has touted Singapore’s policy of executing even low-level drug dealers as a model for America, even the pro-Trump “Powerlineblog” had to admit it seemed damned odd.
The best explanation all the media could find is that Johnson’s cause was championed for some unknown reason by Kim Kardashian, one of Trump’s fellow reality television stars, who was granted a widely-publicized White House visit last week to plead Johnson’s case.
That probably did have something to do with it, but we’re sure there’s more to it. Trump has recently issued a posthumous pardon for first black heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, who was convicted of immorality charges while consorting with a white woman, and we suspect that Trump’s commutation of the equally-black Mary Alice Johnson is intended to burnish his otherwise questionable credentials as the least racist person you ever met. He also has reason to be confident that even the most anti-Trump media will describe Johnson as a first-time non-violent drug offender and that most of the pro-Trump media will ignore that he let loose a woman who was duly convicted of running a multi-million dollar drug ring that sold tons of cocaine.
Trump’s most die-hard defenders are noting that even President Barack Obama didn’t commute Johnson’s sentence when he was pardoning hundreds of first-time and non-violent drug crime offenders, but we think the Powerlineblog guys have a better point when they note that even Oaama didn’t let loose the ring leader a multi-million and multi-ton cocaine cartel.
Trump has previously used his presidential powers to pardon Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for flagrantly violating the fourth and ninth and 14th amendments of the Constitution in his law enforcement efforts, and former President George W. Bush appointee “Scooter” Libby for admittedly lying to federal investigators about the long forgotten and no big deal Valerie Plame-gate scandal, as well as a conservative pundit who admittedly violated federal campaign finance laws. He’s pardoning people who have been prosecuted by the same prosecutors who are now prosecuting him, which should hearten the various past Trump campaign and administration officials who have been indicted on various charges and have reason to testify truthfully about Trump in a special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing.” The Trump lawyer that most often appears on television has even asserted that Trump could pardon himself, even if he shot and killed a political adversary.
Any president’s powers to pardon offenders or commute their sentences are broad, but surely there are some limits to the public’s patience.

— Bud Norman

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Just West of Reality

In a more perfect world we’d pay no attention to the comings and going of garish reality television stars, but as things now stand Donald Trump is the president-elect and his high level meeting on Tuesday with Kanye West was unavoidably in the news.
West first came to fame as a performer of rap music, and those with a studied appreciation of the genre than ours tell he is quite adept at it, but he’s lately best known for such attention grabbing behavior as crashing a stage to interrupt another entertainer’s speech at a show biz awards show and she she wouldn’t have won, using another awards show to go on a rant about how President George W. Bush doesn’t care about black people, more generally ranting like a crazy person on afternoon talk shows, and being married into the famously dysfunctional Kardashian family of reality television renown. Such antics led President Barack Obama to describe West as a “jackass,” but have apparently long endeared West to Trump. Hence the invitation to Trump’s transition headquarters in New York City, where the president-elect told reporters afterwards that “We discussed life.”
West later tweeted that two also talked about “bullying, supporting teachers, modernizing curriculums, and violence in Chicago.” We assume that the conversation about bullying concerned how to stop it, although it’s possible they shared favorite techniques, and we also allow them the benefit of the doubt about their earnestness regarding teachers and curriculums and Chicago, but given their public personas we’re skeptical there wasn’t also some talk about various women’s derrières and grabbing them by their wherevers. “I feel it is important to have a direct line of communication with our future president if we truly want change,” West further “tweeted,” but what’s more direct than a little locker room banter between a couple of stars who can get away with it?
“I’ll never say anything bad about him,” Trump said of West during a 2015 campaign rally, apropos of some West brouhaha or another that was popping up at the time, and which Trump apparently felt needed to be addressed in a presidential campaign speech. “You want to know why? Because he loves Trump. He goes around saying Trump is my all-time hero. He says it to everybody.” The very same method of character assessment also explains Trump’s apparent affinity for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, as well as several other friendships with flattering but unsavory people ranging from Steve Bannon to Mike Tyson to Roger Stone to Dennis Rodman to Jeffrey Epstein, so it’s a convincing explanation for his friendship with West.
Harder to explain is West’s affinity for Trump. Rappers have long shared Trump’s penchant for gold-plated “bling” and shameless self-aggrandizement and constantly upgraded models, and have even acknowledged his knack for it on numerous songs, but they don’t usually like registered Republicans. So far as we glean from the snippets we’ve heard of his songs and rants West’s politics have been of the usual peace and freedom and kill whitey variety found in rap music, and although he has some pretty idiosyncratic ideas about being God and the nefarious forces arrayed against him he’s always seemed an show biz orthodox liberal in most of his political pronouncements, and it’s hard to see where he agrees with Trump on such matters as the violence in Chicago. Even so, West was telling a stunned concert audience during a prolonged rant that if he’d have bothered to vote he would have voted for Trump.
That rant also included something about a feud with a fellow rapper and something vaguely sinister about the show business industry and how he was risking his life by talking about it, and immediately afterwards West was reportedly admitted to the psychiatric wing of a hospital, forcing the cancellation of a remaining tour. The official explanation was exhaustion, which is plausible given that he has such a grueling schedule and is married to the most callipygian of the Kardashians, but the conspiracy theorists on the lunatic fringes of internet were theorizing better explanations.
One holds that West was about to expose Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s satanic pedophile in the back room of a D.C. pizzeria, and that The Illuminati swooped in at the last minute to silence him and make it look like he’s crazy. Another theory holds that the entire entertainment industry, as well as the Democratic party and entrenched establishment of the Republican party, are controlled by the same Illuminati conspiracy, which is plausible to extent that there’s really no other accounting for the wealth and fame of Kanye West or Donald Trump being president, but the same theory holds that they’re two of the last remaining good guys fighting the dark forces, and that’s just too hard to believe.
We’ll not begrudge Trump his friendships, at least the ones that don’t re-align the more or less stable global order, but we do hope he’ll seek advice elsewhere about modernizing curriculums and other pressing matters. There might be some conspiracy afoot in that Trump Tower summit of the reality show stars, and we’re sure it will be coming to a YouTube video soon, but rappers have been dropping by the White House for eight years already, some of them arguably even more unsavory than West, and show biz and politics and all the craziness they entail have long been intertwined, so the more likely explanation is that we all just let it get to this point.

— Bud Norman