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Whose Afraid of the Big, Bad Michelle Wolf?

Going into a happily eventful weekend here in Wichita, we were happily unaware of the existence of a woman named Michelle Wolf. By the time we got home from church and a dreary reading by some grad students in the local university’s creative writing program and much-needed beer at Kirby’s Beer Store just across the street, Wolf was even more viral than the President Donald Trump himself, despite his most virulent efforts.
As we now know all too well Wolf is a comedian best known for her short satiric contributions to the Comedy Channel’s “Daily Show,” one of several late-night over-the-air and through-the-cable channels devoted to celebrity guests and Trump-bashing, but what landed her in all the newspapers and endless hours of an otherwise weekend news cycle on the 24-hour news networks was a 19 minute routine Saturday night at the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual fancy-schmantzy and headline grabbing dinner. As one might expect of a late night comic, her humor about Trump was unabashedly harsh, and she was just as harsh about White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and White House counsel Kellyanne Conway, who were seated uncomfortably nearby, and the routine met with mixed reviews and a dramatic spike in Wolf’s name recognition.
Trump’s die-hard fans were predictably appalled at the lack of respect for a sitting President of the United States, even if he was wasn’t sitting nearby, and took chivalrous umbrage at Wolf’s even harsher treatment of the two distaff Trump administration officials who did happen to be seated nearby. Even The New York Times’ excellent White House correspondent and longtime Trump tormenter Maggie Haberman — recently disparaged in a Trump “tweet” as a “third-rate reporter” he “has nothing to do with” — “tweeted” that she thought Wolf’s act went over the line. Other journalism types from both the left and the right shared their usual gripes about journalists getting all dolled up to hob-nob with politicos in the first place. Some Democratic politicos wound up on the cable news worrying that it would only feed Trump’s narrative that those “enemies of the people” in the “fake news” were out to get him.
While Wolf was getting scattered laughter and occasional applause from her elite Washington, D.C., audience, Trump was somewhere in Michigan wowing a revved up rally of his die-hard fans with an hour-and-19-minute insult comedy routine of his own. He tossed around the usual taunting nicknames and did his usual shtick about the weak Democrats, cast his usual aspersions against the more critical media, and got a big roar from the packed blue-collar crowd by telling them how much he preferred basking in their love to sitting next to some smart-mouthed late comedian regaling a bunch of Washington-type journalists and politicos who hated not only him but all his loyal supporters, and late Sunday, when Wolf’s agent was planning her contract re-negotations, the journalists and politicos were largely doing damage control.
Still, Wolf’s diatribe somehow got more column inches and air time than Trump’s, and she did have her defenders. The most convincing, as far as we’re concerned, came from the right. The National Review’s excellent cultural correspondent Katherine Timpf, whose precociously keen insights into the latest academic and pop cultural absurdities and youthfully geeky good looks have made her some something of a viral sensation, reasonably agrees that Wolf overstepped boundaries, but quite rightly argues that the die-hard fans of such a boundary-overstepping President of the United States as Trump are no longer entitled to gripe about any private citizen’s insult comedy shtick.
These viral viruses tend to pass quickly, though, and that Wolf woman will likely fade into obscurity soon enough, and eventually even Trump’s top-rated reality show is going to be cancelled, one way or another. We’re hopeful that freedom of the press will survive all this craziness, despite the press’ occasional overstepping of boundaries, and we hold out a slightly fainter hope for the institution of the presidency.
For what it’s worth, we thought that a couple of Wolf’s jokes were pretty good, most weren’t, and her delivery could have used a few years of vaudeville training. There’s another woman you’ve never heard of named Desi Lydic who also gets a few minutes on the “Daily Show” and is just as harsh on Trump and a whole lot funnier and kind of cute in a geeky way herself, and we’d like to see her or Timpf at a future White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. In any case the whole contretemps will soon blow over, in one direction or another, and we’ll be left with our nation’s degraded political discourse.

— Bud Norman

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Trump “Tweeting” Away a Promising Day

Thursday should have been a much-needed favorable news cycle for President Donald Trump. There weren’t any new bombshell revelations about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia, the president had ample airtime to brag about the reasonable energy policies he’s enacted by reversing all of President Barack Obama’s unreasonable rules, there was still a slight chance of the Republicans passing some sort of health care bill, and there was a meeting scheduled with the South Korean head of state that at least included plenty of photo opportunities to show off his presidential gravitas.
Alas, the big story of the day turned out to be the president’s most recent “twitter” fight with a couple of relatively obscure morning cable television news hosts.
Even after all the endless commentary we’re still not sure what prompted Trump’s latest “twitter” outburst against Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the co-hosts of the MSNBC network’s “Morning Joe” program, but it was enough that he called Scarborough “Psycho Joe” and Brzezinski “low I.Q. Crazy Mika,” and gloated that they had sought his company at his Mar-a-Lago resort over the New Year’s weekend but she was “bleeding badly from a face-lift” and “I said no!” Whatever they might have done to provoke such schoolyard taunts,in the absence of any bombshell revelations about Russia and despite the significance of energy policy and f health care policy and what happens on the Korean peninsula it was bound to dominate the news cycle.
We cut off our cable many years ago and tended to sleep past the morning shows long before that, so we’re only familiar with “Morning Joe” from the publicity that Trump has generated for the show, but we surmise from all the news that the program and the president haven’t been on friendly terms for some time now. The recently-engaged co-hosts probably have been unfair in at least some of the criticisms, as we surmise from the fact that they’re broadcast on the MSNBC network, but they’ve also probably been spot on in some of the criticisms, based on what we’ve seen of Trump, and in any case they don’t seem worth throwing away what should have been a favorable news cycle for the president.
Trump’s official spokespeople in the administration and the unofficial ones in the alternative media did their best to defend the “tweets,” but they had a hard time of it. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, filling in for the suspiciously-absent-of-late White House press secretary Sean Spicer, accurately but unconvincingly noted that many of Trump’s most stalwart supporters voted for him because of his habit of hurling schoolyard taunts against anyone who disagrees with him. The right wing talk radio hosts were recalling the sexual depredations of President Bill Clinton and even further back to the President John Kennedy, which is true enough but hardly excuses the current president’s more recent allegedly sexist “tweets.” The audience for the White House spokespeople and those right wing radio talkers probably bought it, but our guess is that among that the majority of the country it wound up another unfavorable news cycle for the president.
The House Majority leader and other prominent congressional Republicans declined to defend the “tweets,” including some women Senators whose votes are crucial to the passage of that Republican health care legislation, and even Trump’s most outspoken defender on Fox News admitted after running through all the past Democratic outages that the “twitter” blasts didn’t do anything to advance those many reasonable parts of his agenda. Trump’s most ardent defenders are still pleased that “at least he fights,” but given all the punches he’s taking from the early morning news and late night comedy shows and all the cable news in between it’s going to take some pretty darned clever nicknaming to overcome all of that.
Ignoring all the schoolyard taunts from the early morning and late night hosts and proceeding with sensible energy policies and averting national bankruptcy with a stingy but sensible health care reform and averting nuclear catastrophe on the Korean peninsula would be the best response, but that doesn’t seem Trump’s style. The same impulsive counter-punching that prompted those “tweets” won’t refute the bombshells yet to come about the Russia thing with Russia and Trump, will likely overshadow all those reasonable energy policies, it seems unlikely to prevent yet another one of the bankruptcies that have plagued Trump’s career, and we imagine that much of that meeting with the South Korean head of state will concern his recent insistence that the country pay more than was previously negotiated for a missile defense system that has as much to do with America’s security as South Korea’s, which is yet another frighteningly characteristic tendency of Trump. Also, the photographic evidence suggests that whatever her other faults the distaff  early morning cable co-host wasn’t bleeding from a facelift, and we’d have to say she’s objectively better-looking than the president, as if that makes any difference
Still, it could have been a much-needed favorable news cycle for Trump. We hope he’ll have one soon, as it would be a boon to us and the rest of America, but in any case we’ll keep our cable cut and try to sleep past the morning shows and hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

Hillary’s Hilarious E-Mails

The small portion of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails that survived her elaborate efforts at secrecy and have at long last been pried from her by court order don’t contain any campaign-sinking “smoking gun,” so far as we can tell, but there is plenty of fodder for ridicule. None of the late-night comedy shows are likely to avail themselves of it, but without any pesky network affiliations we simply can’t resist the opportunity.
To begin, we note that Clinton’s e-mails are at least as sloppily written as the average American’s. This is to be expected, we suppose, given the severe damage that computers have done to the English language, and at this point we hold out no hope that the eventual Republican presidential nominee’s inevitably released e-mails will prove any better, but we feel it worth noting nonetheless. We compose our own electronic correspondence with salutations that include the appropriate courtesy title, followed by a comma and an indentation, followed by sentences that begin with a capital letter and end with a period and have all the necessary punctuation in between, and each of the words are spelled out in their entirety and never substituted with an arabic numeral or indecipherable acronym or faddish abbreviation or cutesy “emoticon,” and the sentences are arranged into paragraphs of related concepts, with indentation following, and it always ends with a formal “Sincerely” or chummy “Your pal,” depending on the recipient, along with a properly indented e-signature, as well of the rest of the stuff we were taught back in school during the more rigorous pre-E days of letter-writing. So far as we can tell we are the last people in America to hew to such outdated traditions, but we are steadfastly manning the barricades in hopes that reinforcements of proper writing will eventually arrive, and in the meantime we’re not going to let it go unmentioned that the presumptive next President of the United States is so gallingly illiterate. She was Secretary of State when typing this garble, after all, and one shudders to think what better-educated and more-illustrious predecessors such as John Quincy Adams and John Foster Dulles and Condoleezza Rice would have made of it.
Even those who aren’t such sticklers for proper prose will be amused by the slapstick antics that the awful writing reveal. One long and convoluted exchange with constant sidekick and Muslim Brotherhood legatee Huma Abedin, who is also married to that former New York congressman who kept sending e-mailed pictures of underwear-clad private parts to various other women, demonstrates  in a sort of “I Love Lucy” sketch that the presumptive next President of the United States does not know how to operate a fax machine. Another e-mail involved some unknown person who was “Twittering” in Clinton’s name, with the concern seeming rather ambivalent because whoever it was getting a good number of followers yet receiving unenthusiastic reviews in Newsweek. Another involved a planned article in the Parade Magazine supplement that many newspapers still run, along with assurances from the author that “she will like it.” Another was addressed to an underling who was asked to request that one of her underlings fetch Clinton some iced tea. The one that’s been getting the biggest laughs in the conservative media has Clinton asking someone named Lona Valmoro and the aforementioned Abedin, in a missive with the subject heading of “Cabinet mtg,” “I heard on the radio that there is a cabinet mtg this am. Is there? Can I go? If not, who are we sending?”
There’s also lots of stuff from Sidney Blumenthal, which is also hilarious to anyone old enough to recall him as one of the sleazier operatives of the previous Clinton administration, which is saying something, and much of it is his advice that the Secretary of State not be modest in claiming credit for the Libya policy that has since plunged that nation into such utter chaos that an ambassador and three other Americans died in a terrorist attack there, and a filmmaker was falsely blamed and sent to prison for criticizing Islam, and the Islamic State has gained a significant foothold there, and of course with benefit of hindsight it’s all something that the presumptive next President of the United States would prefer go unmentioned. It’s not the kind of thing the late-night comedians will find amusing, but again we think it ought not go unmentioned.

— Bud Norman