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The President’s I.Q. vs. the Late Night Comics

The topic of all the late night comedy show monologues on Tuesday night was all too predictable. In an interview with Forbes Magazines published Tuesday morning President Donald Trump boasted of his scores on intelligence quotient tests, and that’s like catnip to all the catty and Trump-hating comics on late night television.
Trump walked right into it with his response to a question about recent reports that his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had called the president an expletive-deleted sort of “moron,” which had gone conspicuously undenied by Tillerson during an otherwise obsequious public statement and provided loomed large in the day’s news cycle and provided plenty of late-night fodder for the comics. The president plausibly denied the widely-verified and conspicuously undenied reports as “fake news,” but couldn’t help adding that “if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare I.Q. tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”
As die-hard a Trump supporter as you might be, it takes a heart of stone to deny those smug liberal late-night comics their cheap laughs about it. Late night audiences and pretty much everyone else knows that the really smart guys don’t brag about how smart they are, even if the late night comics do, in a clear way, and that a President who’s making that boast in response to the by-now-apparently true stories that his Secretary of State called him an expletive-deleted sort of “moron” is in an even more ridiculous position.
Trump’s die-hard supporters can rightly note that he’s very wealthy, although several reliable publications report he’s only as a third as rich as he claims, and he did indeed win the presidency, although he had the extraordinary good fortune to be running against Hillary Clinton and still finished second in the popular and by now there’s no denying that the man does possess an extraordinary intelligence of a certain sort. He’s had some spectacular personal and financial failures in his historic career, but enough successes that he’s wound up with an undeniable fortune and an objectively hot third trophy wife and the White House, so he can’t be so dumb as those late night comics claim.
There are all kinds of smarts, though, and not all of them are well matched to the challenges of statesmanship. Trump’s challenge to his Secretary of State’s I.Q. score involves a very perilous situation on the nuclear-armed Korean peninsula, and comes in the middle of another feud with the Republican chairman of the Senate intelligence committee about the president’s temperament and stability, along with other pressing legislative matters requiring the votes of numerous other congressional Republicans the president has been feuding with, and even Trump’s most die-hard supporters are struggling to make it sound reassuringly smart.

— Bud Norman

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Trying to Turn a Defeat Into A Victory, Bigly

President Donald Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters seem to like his penchant for blunt talk, so we’re sure they won’t object that we frankly he note lost “bigly” last week on his first important legislative attempt to make America great again. A hasty and ham-fisted attempt to pass a highly unpopular repeal-and-replacement of the unpopular Obamacare law was called off just before it was clearly about to go down in flames, Trump’s much-touted dealmaking prowess and much boasted-about knack for always winning couldn’t prevent it, and the mainstream media and the late night comics and the rest of the Trump-haters spent the weekend celebrating.
There were some bold efforts, of course, to explain how the failure of a bill that Trump had given his full-throated support to will ultimately prove another one of those victories that he always wins. One theory holds that the fault lies with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who clearly deserves and surely will be saddled with much of the blame for the debacle, and that his weakened position therefore strengthens that of the President who had handed Ryan the responsibility for the first big legislative fight of his administration, but it’s not clear how that pans out. Trump praised Ryan’s efforts, then “tweeted” for everyone to watch a Fox News show where the host happened to spew a diatribe calling for Ryan being removed from the speakership, and at this point it’s not clear who would replace Ryan or how he might have united a fractious Republican Party or otherwise handled the situation any better. Another theory offered by Trump holds that the Democrats are now responsible for the continued existence of Obamacare, which is still widely unpopular in its own rights and absolutely hated by every kind of Republican from Trump to Ryan to such old-fashioned rank-and-file sorts as ourselves, but the bill was also sunk by the more moderate and most conservative Republicans and party rank-and-filers who also found something to hate in its hasty and ham-fisted and form.
The guy who does the “Dilbert” cartoons became famous as a political pundit by predicting that Trump’s ingeniously persuasive rhetoric of schoolyard taunts and barnyard epithets and outrageous boasts and fourth-grade level discourse would win the presidency, and ever since that prediction proved true he’s been explaining how even the craziest things Trump says are part of “4-D chess game” he’s playing against the checkers-players of the political world. To explain how Trump failed to even get a vote on a bill he’d given his full-throated support that would have more or less kept one of his most frequent campaign promises, the guy who does the “Dilbert” cartoons notes that the press is no longer describing Trump as Hitler but is instead calling him an incompetent buffoon, which is supposed to be some sort of victory. Somewhere in the 4-D world of chess that Trump and the guy who does the “Dilbert” cartoons this might make sense, but in the three dimensional world that the rest of the inhabits Obamacare persists and the mainstream press and the late night comics and the rest of the Democrats are celebrating and such rank-and-file Republicans as ourselves are feeling yet another ass-kicking.
Obamacare is still an awful idea headed to an horrendous outcome, but waiting around for enough insurance companies and actual human beings to die for the Democrats to admit it seems a rather cruel political strategy, and the hasty and ham-fisted repeal-and-replace plan that was proposed last week went down despite the best efforts of both Trump and Ryan. Something better should still be possible, even if it doesn’t live up to Trump’s extravagant campaign promises of coverage for everybody and it’s gonna be a lot cheaper and better and you’re head will spin how great it is, and even if Ryan’s grimmer realities about winners and losers and the inevitable payoffs of freedom and equality are frankly admitted, but at this point it doesn’t seem likely. Those conservative Republicans who objected to the pulled bill for conservative Republicans seem suddenly marginalized by Trump, Ryan and and the slightly-less-conservative Republicanism he represents are clearly weakened as well, and if the Democrats ever do feel compelled to come asking for a deal we still worry that Trump the deal-maker will make one that keeps all his campaign promises of coverage for everyone and the government will pay for it and it will be a whole lot cheaper and make your head spin.

— Bud Norman

The World’s Comics Vie for Second Place

All of the late night comedians took most of the Obama years off from political humor, but they’ve been back at it with a vengeance since Donald Trump took office. So far Trump and his staff and most steadfast supporters are unamused, but they’ll have to get used to it. Trump ridicule has become an international phenomenon, and it’s been interesting to see what sort of jokes the various countries have come up with.
Trump’s pledge of “America First” has sparked a competition amongst the rest of the world’s comedians to come up with the funniest reasons why their countries should be second, and much of it is not bad. Some comedy show in the Netherlands was the first to provide an “official” video by one of its late comedy shows explaining why their little-known country should place, and it went “viral” pretty much everywhere, and several of our most begrudgingly pro-Trump friends had to admit it was pretty funny. Apparently everyone in the Netherlands speaks English better than the current American president, as it’s all very ‘merican-sounding and without any bothersome subtitles, and they’ve all been following American politics closely enough to have noticed Trump’s penchant for hyperbole and boasts and saying “believe me” an awful lot. The filmmakers boast about the great ocean the Netherlands built between itself and Mexico, and how effective it’s been at keeping Mexicans out of the country, and how you can see it from space, and how everybody says that the Netherlands builds the best oceans, but it’s also rather endearingly self-deprecating. There are a couple of gags that you apparently have to follow Netherlands pop culture to get, and we don’t even follow American pop culture, but much of the humor is apparently universal.
The late night comic with a reputation as the edgiest in Germany followed suit, with some self-deprecating jokes about how he was admittedly stealing the premise from the Netherlands, and it’s also pretty good. There’s the same emphasis on Trump’s hyperbole and boasts and “believe me” verbal tic, but some more barbed Nazi jokes and a self-deprecating plea that Germany should be second because “Who more deserves a third chance?” By that point the late comics in Belgium, Denmark, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal and Switzerland had joined, with the German comic placing them all conveniently on the same web site. They’re all pretty much the same jokes about Trump’s bombast and poor English skills and nationalistic fervor, and by now everyone in the world is apparently aware of Trump’s “locker room” about grabbing women by the wherever and his apparent affinity for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, but they all throw in some local humor that demonstrates what each country likes to kid itself about, which is interesting to learn even if we don’t know anything about Lithuania’s or Luxembourg’s pop culture.
Trump ridiculed his way to the presidency with such witticisms as “Low Energy” for Jeb Bush and “Look at that face” for Carly Fiorina and a “tweet” that unfavorably contrasted “Lyin'”Ted Cruz’s wife’s looks to his own third bride and an impersonation of some pesky New York Times’ reporters degenerative bone disease, and he’s had plenty to say about past presidents of both parties, so he should have expected some return fire. So far the comedians around the world are coming up with better material that he has, so he needs to either get serious or start being a whole lot funnier.

— Bud Norman

The Plot Thickens

Pity the poor fellows who have to come up with the next best-selling cloak-and-dagger novel or big-budget spy movie screenplay. Such a staid source as The New York Times is reporting that the former British intelligence agent who compiled the dossier with the salacious allegations about the president-elect that was included in the classified yet widely read reports of Russia’s meddling in the recent election has now gone missing, and even the likes of Ian Fleming or John Le Carre would be hard pressed to top that plot twist in the latest reality show thriller.
The plot was already plenty complicated, even if you’re sticking with the most staid sources and not looking into the conspiracy theory sites, where the even the most fevered imaginings no longer seem so far-fetched. By now even even president-elect Donald Trump admits that he thinks it was probably the Russians who hacked and leaked some Democratic operatives’ e-mails and otherwise meddled in the past presidential election, but he’s still holding out hope that it wasn’t and in any case he scoffs at the idea it had anything to do with his victory and urges the American people to get on with their lives, and he seems mostly angry with the American intelligence agencies who have been leaking their conclusions about Russia’s meddling to the press, and of course with the press that has been reporting the leaks. Then came that dossier compiled by the former British intelligence agent full of salacious allegations that no one can very and no one can stop talking about, and after sitting on the news of its existence for months the press had to acknowledge it after it was included in the high-level briefings about the whole Russia thing, and Trump’s further outrage with both the intelligence agencies and the press has only made it harder not to talk about.
Now the former MI6 operative who compiled the dossier, reportedly at first with funding from some of Trump’s Republican primary opponents and their backers and then from the Democrats and ultimately for his own reasons, has gone missing, so the conspiracy theorists should have fun with that. There was already a wide range of theories, ranging from far-left to far-right, with some theorizing that Trump is indeed a puppet of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin because of debts to the Russian mob or the blackmail scenario alleged in the dossier, others arguing that Trump is being undermined by his own country’s intelligence agencies in order to prevent him from dismantling some corrupt and hidden power structure, and other contending that Russia is playing its best prank yet. At a time when the president-elect has alleged his predecessor was foreign-born and the previous president and the nation’s intelligence agencies lied America into a war for some unknown reason and that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was in on the Kennedy assassination, all seem at least somewhat plausible.
All that talk about Trump owing debts to Russia and his son’s past statement that a lot of the family financing was coming from there will surely be put to rest when he releases his tax records, and all those salacious allegations in the dossier are dubious enough that even the late night comics are acknowledging that they are unverified even as they endlessly riff on the golden opportunities it presents, but there has to be some explanation for Trump’s out-in-the-open mutual admiration with Putin. Trump argues that it’s because friendly relations with Russia will help America defeat the Islamic State restrain Chinese ambitions, which is arguable, but there’s also an argument to be made that Russia has been less interested in defeating than Islamic State than in propping up the mass-murdering Syrian dictatorship that is aligned with the same Iranian apocalyptic suicide cult that Trump has vowed to get tough with, and that his threatened tariff on Chinese goods is going to cost his working class supporters another 45 percent on every trip to Wal-Mart, and that friendship with the nascent democracies of the former Soviet Union is more honorable and desirable than friendship with the oppressive kleptocracy that now threatens to re-conquer them.
By now we’ve all seen enough Hollywood movies to know that the intelligence agencies might just be out to get Trump, though, and there’s no denying that they have from time to time been up to some pretty nasty business. They have an obvious motivation to dislike Trump, who had made his contempt for them quite clear throughout the campaign. and we can easily imagine that they leaked their conclusions about Russia’s meddling with a certain glee. There’s still the matter of whether their conclusions were correct or not, although even Trump now says he probably thinks so, and the related question of whether the public has a right to know about, which Trump had no problem with when Democrats’ alleged scandals were being leaked, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any spook agency malice involved. Trump has likened the leaks to something from Nazi Germany, which seems a been overblown, given that none of Nazi Germany’s intelligence were leaking anything about the great leader who was going to make Germany great again, but as the old joke goes just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
Our favorite of the conspiracy theories is the one about the Russians playing a prank. The once-highly respected former British intelligence agent who compiled the dossier was once the Russian expert for the MI6, a name familiar to any James Bond fan, and after leaving Her Majesty’s Secret Service he made a good living selling advice to western corporations and businessmen about how to deal with Russia’s highly complicated graft system, and there’s much speculation that his previously reliable sources fed him a lot of nonsense about Trump that would seem so highly dubious that all the talk about Trump being a Putin puppet would be ridiculed, and people would stop wondering why Trump’s foreign policy was so suspiciously friendly to Russia. If that was the plan, at least they’ve stopped any substantive debate regarding the merits of Trump’s stated intentions, and all the late night comics are telling kinky sex jokes instead.
Various other conspiracists are theorizing that the spy agencies and their brief cases full of high-tech gadgets will somehow prevent will Trump from being sworn into office, but at least we’ll know within a week if that proves true. It should be a while longer before we know what’s become of that former British intelligence agent, but our guess is that he’s holed up somewhere avoiding interviews and waiting for the highest bid from the publishing houses and movie studios.

— Bud Norman

The Last Dying Gasp of “The Media”

Pretty much all of the news and entertainment media are just horrible these days, even to the point that most of them have made Donald J. Trump the presumptive Republican nominee and are now unable to keep their favored presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the lead in the general election race, and we cannot deny they deserve their fate. Not all of the media and certainly not all of the rest of the country deserves this sorry slate of choices, though, and we hope this will eventually prompt a reconsideration and perhaps even a thorough reconsideration of the sorry media landscape.
Trump got twice the airtime minutes and column inches of the rest of his largely distinguished 16-person-field of Republican competitors combined, and there are two obvious reasons why this is so. One is that his already scandal-ridden tabloid career as a self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-scam-university-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul with a penchant for saying news-worthily crazy things that made for circulation- and ratings-generating great copy, and the other is that he seemed to exemplify all its well-worn racist and sexist and crony-capitalist and generally heartless stereotypes of a presumptive Republican nominee. It might have seemed a win-win proposition from the outset to stick the Republicans with such a noxious candidate and bolster the circulation and ratings in the process, but now they’re starting to regret that they’ve not only created a monster their plummeting circulations and ratings cannot slay but are actually abetting his rise to power.
Trump’s unfavorable ratings in the public opinion polls are still sky-high, yet his undeniably horrible presumptive Democratic opponent’s are unfavorables are now even slightly sky-higher, while the reputation of “the media” are somehow worse yet. Even the prestigious names at Salon.com, which is a mere internet publication but is staffed by refugees names from the from the formerly most prestigious yet-soon-to-be-bankrupt empires of the ancien regime print media and by now have a larger readership than their former employers, quite rightly acknowledges that the public’s hatred of “the media” actually benefits the hated Trump. The press hates Trump, the public hates the press worse yet, so his much-publicized press opprobrium works to his benefit.
As recently as the last election cycle “the media” still had the ability to portray the quite gentlemanly and quite legitimately rich and evil Republican nominee as an incorrigible sexist just because he’d made a a brief remark about the “binders full of women” he’d hired as a Governor of Massachusetts, and as vile racist because of the the remark about “self-deportation” that that even the current presumptive Republican nominee decried as “mean,” and the hundreds of millions he’d earned by rescuing failing companies from bankruptcy seemed so awful that the country re-elected Barack Obama. This time around the the Republican’s presumptive nominee truly is a sexist pig, and he really has settled a lawsuit over the racist housing policies of his real estate empire, and he grossly exaggerates his ill-gotten wealth, but this time around they’re out of ammunition. The gross sexism of the Republican’s presidential nominee is arguably less than the presumptive Democratic nominee’s enabled perv husband that has been covered up for so many years by the more polite “media,” his undeniable racism is no more infuriating than the undeniable racism of the First Black President “the media” carried through two disastrous elections, and his self-described billions are clearly more unsavory than the self-described billionaire’s, but any medium that tries to describe the presumptive Democratic nominee’s exorbitant wealth as any more honorable will be rightly discounted.
The presumptive Republican nominee’s sexisms was openly expressed by countless on-the-record hours on fellow shock jock Howard Stern’s naked-lesbian-stripper show, but even such once-formidable media as The New York times wound up embarrassing itself in an effort to make the point by going after some women that had been disrespected by Trump but ultimately wound up preferring the self-described billionaire to their interviewers from a dying industry. The article was written by the same guy who wrote that pathetic piece about Trump rival and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio taking out a loan to to buy a rather modest, and published by the same newspaper that made excuses for the presumptive Democratic nonimee’s perv husband for so many years, so at this point Trump is probably relishing its opprobrium. So far no one’s made much of his premature call for the execution of some black teens wrongly accused of raping a Central Park jogger, or that aforementioned settlement regarding his racist housing policies at one of his properties, but at this point people will recall how so much of the press overlooked the Democrats’ equally vile racist rhetoric on behalf of minorities and much of the white portion of that public will side with a presumptive Republican nominee who “re=Tweets” the worst of his unabashedly racist supporters.

Most of the entertainment media will do their part to bring down Trump, but they’re also no longer so formidable. The late night comedians are trying to destroy the presumptive Republican nominee, and we have to admit that the otherwise execrable Stephen Colbert has been doing a pretty witty job of it, but they’re currently preoccupied with trying to bring an even farther-left Democrat into the race, and we suspect their audience skews to a younger demographic that will wind up voting for the Democrat in any case. The movies will do their bit, but they’ve been on an absurd “Bush lied, people died” tangent that the presumptive Republican nominee has already co-opted, and even they seem suddenly inconsequential. All those years of professional wrestling and reality show seem to have better prepared the presumptive Republican nominee for the the current sorry media landscape.

There are all sorts of media, which is a plural form, after all, but few are free of blame. In recent years there’s been a rise of self-described “conservative media” on talk radio and the internet, and a hide-bound conservatism has been in print for decades, but most of them have been happy to sign on with a self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul in from time to time in favor of a soak-the-rich tax policy and letting all the “good” immigrants he kicked out promptly back in and thinks North Carolina was crazy for keeping men out of its women’s restrooms and is generally no more reliably conservative than his presumptive Democratic opponent, and at this point we find little to like in the entire media. There’s still such old fogies as The National Review and The Weekly Standard and The Central Standard Times who are willing to admit that both sides are awful and it’s an awful situation the country faces, but at this point it doesn’t matter much.

— Bud Norman