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Calling a Bluff on a Trump Card

Donald J. Trump, the bullying billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television-show mogul who is somehow the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, has long had a habit of frequently threatening and oftentimes even filing frivolous lawsuits against anyone who gets in his way. This time he’s making the threats against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is suddenly challenging Trump’s front-runner status, but Cruz seems an unpromising target for such slip-and-fall-lawyer legal tactics.
There’s a reason, after all, that Cruz’s many Democratic detractors prefer to portray him as evil rather than stupid. Cruz is a graduate of almighty Harvard’s oh-so prestigious law school, where even such leftist professors as Alan Dershowitz and Laurence Tribe acknowledged his brilliance. Only the most brilliant law students find work as Supreme Court clerks, and Cruz stood out among them as a trusted clerk of the great Chief Justice William Rehnquist. During a brief exile from politics Cruz earned millions as an associate at one of the country’s most prestigious firms, which by Trump’s bottom-line standards suggest some legal acumen. Upon his voluntary pay-cut return to public service as the state of Texas’ Solicitor General, he was mostly victorious in his nine arguments before the Supreme Court, and even in defeat earned a reputation as a formidable lawyer that is now begrudgingly acknowledged by the likes of Politico and The New York Times.
Cruz also relishes the same politically-incorrect and anti-establishment tough guy reputation that has somehow propelled a bullying billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television-show mogul such as Trump to front-runner status, so he would seem especially unlikely to cower in the face of some frivolous threat. Sure enough, Cruz’s Wednesday press conference could be aptly summed up by Clint Eastwood’s pithier “Go ahead, punk, make my day.
In response to one of those cease-and-desist letters that well-lawyered people are always sending out to easily-bullied types these days, Cruz defiantly insisted he would not cease nor desist from airing a campaign commercial that showed some old footage of Trump telling one of his constant interviewers that he had “New York values” about a wide range of social issues, up to and including late-term and even partial-birth abortion, which is to say values that are in many cases in conflict values of the electorate in the upcoming South Carolina primary. Trump’s claim is that the commercial is slanderous, and try as we might we can’t quite surmise his argument why. The closest we ever got to an argument before the highest court in the land was running briefs between offices during a delightful teenaged summer as Supreme Court messengers, but even we know that the truth is always an absolute defense against a slander charge, and we spent enough time in the newspaper business to know that the thank-God-for-it Sullivan decision sets an extraordinarily high standard of proof for slander against any public figure, which allows us even from our humble internet porch to poke unremitting fun at the likes of the thin-and-orange-skinned and ridiculously coiffed Donald J. Trump, so we expect that the more knowledgeable-about-these-things Cruz will quickly prevail in the courts.
Cruz also seem undaunted by Trump’s threat to challenge his eligibility to serve as President of the United States unless some groveling apology for all disagreements was forthcoming. Although Cruz was admittedly born in Canada, as well as he can recall, and although his father was a naturalized citizen who had fled a dictatorship in Cuba, his mother was a natural born citizen who had lived the requisite number of years in the country, and that’s good enough for the Illinois election board, and we expect that most Americans will also be satisfied. We note that Trump hasn’t yet filed suit, whatever standing he might have, or whatever lawyers he might hire to find some, and further note that he’s willing to let this matter of constitutional law drop if he gets an honor-satisfying apology.
There’s also the problem that Trump would be deposed on video after filing suit, and that Cruz has indicated interest in doing the honors himself, and that it wouldn’t go according to World Wrestling Entertainment rules.
Perhaps this will be prove another one of those brilliant maneuvers that Trump has made on his way to front-runner status. Trump does have considerable legal experience of his own, after all, after two divorces and one post-divorce lawsuit regarding a decree that the party of the second part never say anything bad about him, as well as at least 169 federal lawsuits that he brought against others or were brought against him, including one suit against two fellows named Trump for doing business in their family name, which alleged that Trump’s Trump trumped all other Trumps’ Trump, even though the defendants’ family had been using the name longer than Trump’s family, and there was the successful lawsuit brought by the Justice Department for anti-trust violations, and the ongoing lawsuits by the New York State Attorney General and a lot of disgruntled students over the scam Trump University, as well as all the nuisance suits that billionaires attract, so maybe he knows what he’s doing. If  so, we’ll be intrigued how it plays out. Trump can make good on his threat to have an opponent’s political advertisement banned by the government, and it will cost Cruz some campaign funds to deal with it and fringe media that openly support Trump will be gleeful about, but the case will be quickly laughed out of court and pilloried in the press and laughed at on all the late night comedy shows, and for one brief news-and-joke cycle Cruz won’t be the butt of the jokes. Trump’s “birther” bit has about as much chance of knocking Cruz out of the race as it did of knocking Barack Obama out of the presidency, and we notice that he hasn’t filed that suit yet.
Trump could back off his threats, with some blustery explanation about how he won again, because he always wins, and so he couldn’t have lost, and perhaps that will satisfy his fans. We’ve witnessed these sorts of confrontations between tough guys before, though, and we’ve never seen anyone pick a fight and back off a winner.

— Bud Norman

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L Is For Super Bowl

Although we’ve pretty much lost all interest in professional football, which lately seems an interminable series of obnoxious commercials for pickup trucks and pharmaceutical aphrodisiacs followed by a few brief seconds of tattooed behemoths beating their chest as they stand over some supine opponent and then an endless series of pointless play reviews, we still tune in for the annual Super Bowl extravaganza. By now it’s an almost obligatory secular rite, at least for any red-blooded American male who doesn’t want to be left out of the new few days of guy conservation, and it’s also our annual foray into contemporary popular culture.
The rest of the year we’re playing old jazz and hillbilly and garage rock tunes on the stereo, watching the occasional old sit-com over the rabbit ears on our analog television set or taking in Netflix’s offerings of the good old black-and-white days on this newfangled computer machine of ours, or reading books mostly by dead white males and a few dead white women, and our sports spectating is mostly limited to such old-fashioned fare as Missouri Valley Conference basketball and American Association baseball, so we’re annually curious to see what’s going on out there with the young folks and their modern world. It always comes as quite a shock, of course.
There’s always a slight surprise to find that they’re still playing the Super Bowl at all, for one thing. Football has always been a rough affair, and was arguably even rougher before President Theodore “Rough Rider” Roosevelt sissified the the rules to eliminate the frequently fatal “flying V” formation, but these days the players are so big and strong and fast that the kinetic energy exerted against the players on each down is so great, and the lifelong physical consequences are so severe and common, and the entire culture is suddenly so risk-averse, that we might have expected the lawyers and the oversight sub-committees to have put a halt to it all by now. The effort is well underway, naturally, but such a profitable organization as the National Football League can well afford to buy plenty of its own lawyers and oversight sub-committees, and vicarious risk will always be a big draw on television, so perhaps the fight might take a while.
In the meantime, sports in general and football in particular remain the last redoubt of unapologetic masculinity in America, for both better and worse. The Battle of Waterloo truly was won on the playing fields of Eton, as Lord Wellington famously observed, and the men who stormed the beaches on D-Day were already veterans of hard-fought wars in backyards and on vacant lots where not everybody got a trophy, and every successful culture since Sparta has honored the victors of rough games, and we’d like to think there’s still some role for unapologetic masculinity in American culture. So long as the players are fully apprised by the best medical experts of the risks, and have agents and hangers-on to advise them how to weigh that against the not inconsiderable benefits of a professional football career, we say let them play, and let the lawyers and the oversight sub-committees and the rest of the risk-averse and all-too-feminized culture be damned.
Still, for such history-minded sports fans as ourselves there’s also something unsettlingly bread-and-circuses-like about these roman-numeraled Super Bowls. After five decades they went with the more standard arabic “50” instead of the roman “L,” reportedly because “L” would confound a public that was never taught to count that far in roman numerals, and “Super Bowl L” looks kind of odd to even the most Latinate priest, but the same imminent-fall-of-Rome vibe was still there. The guys they’ve got playing in the Super Bowl these days are so big and fast and strong that they’d whip your childhood idols easily, even that Super Bowl-winning Kansas City Chiefs squad of of our long-ago wide-eyed youth, but there’s a tattooed and preening thuggishness about them that Lord Wellington would have disdained and an unabashed self-interestedness that would not have sat well with those boys who played for the team at Normandy, and there’s little of that helping-a-guy-up-after-you’ve-knocked-him-down sportsmanship that was always part of the western tradition on the playing fields and battlegrounds and business deals and interpersonal relationships.
The same tendency to unnecessary roughness that afflicts football is evident in popular entertainment, where Quentin Tarantino’s post-modern revenge fantasies and thuddingly aggressive hip-hop and heavy metal music and bondage-fantasy romance novels are now standard fare, but there’s also a slightly more respectable mainstream left over from the Ed Sullivan days that the Super Bowl annually books for its much-ballyhooed half-time shows. This year it was some band called Coldplay, or Cold Play, or however they might write it, and some woman named Beyonce, who has an accent mark over the last letter that we’re not willing to figure out how to put there, and some guy named Bruno Mars, whom we think we can vaguely remember from Super Bowl halftime show of a few years. The band was dressed up in nostalgic jeans-with-flower-patches and played electric guitars just like the garage bands used to do, although with a football-field-sized dance group jumping around, and the Beyonce woman with the accent mark over the last letter did some kinetic dancing with her noticeable legs and group of similarly leggy young women and did some song that supposedly has something to do with the edgy “Black Lives Matter” movement, and the Bruno Mars guy sang something about “funking you up.”
In past years the Super Bowl has featured what are politely called “veteran” acts of the late rock ‘n’ roll era, but lately there’s been a spate of those dying off. The past month has seen the passing of heavy-metal hero “Lemmy,” glam-rock innovator David Bowie, country-rock star Glenn Frey, popular funk-lite performer Maurice White, and our Super Bowl was especially saddened by Sunday’s news of the passing of Dan Hicks, who wasn’t so well known but played a delightful blend of jazz and hillbilly and garage rock and old-fashioned goofus music that we’ve dearly loved ever since we borrowed a friend’s VW Beetle to cut class one day in high school and found Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks’ “Last Train to Hicksville” in the eight-track player. Musical culture has since been in severe decline, judging by the recent Super Bowl halftime shows, and we’ll admit it probably began even before that.
We do try to keep up with politics and other unavoidable matters, and of course we notice the same decline there. On the Democratic side of the race they’re talking about trophies for everyone and trying to pretend there are no more battles of Waterloo or D-Day to be fought, and the putative front-runner is claiming that any biological masculinity should be disqualifying and her pesky challenger self-described socialist challenger isn’t do much to dispute the argument. On the Republican side that pick-’em-up-after-you’ve-knocked-’em’-down approach to the playing fields and battlegrounds and business deals and interpersonal relationships seems out of fashion with at least a plurality of the party. Neither side seems to have any good music, for that matter, and judging by the endless commercials during the most recent Super Bowl even the private sector seems wanting.
At least the game was pretty good. At the risk of violating that warning about “unauthorized accounts” of the game, and bringing down the wrath of the NFL’s lawyer’s and oversight committees upon us, the Denver Broncos’ defense beat the Carolina Panthers’ offense. This kept the Panthers from their infamous beating of chests over the supine bodies of their opponents, and allowed the seemingly good guy Peyton Manning a crowning glory to his scandal-free and sportsmanlike career, and maybe the youngsters will get something positive out of this rough game.

— Bud Norman

Making Conservatism a Crime

That grand jury indictment of Texas Gov. Rick Perry is outrageous, dangerous, and unsurprising. Such blatant abuses of the judicial process are by now an all too familiar tactic of the Democratic party.

Similarly heavy-handed legal actions have been employed with varying degrees of success against former Texas Rep. Tom DeLay, who was forced to resign his post as House Majority leader during a years-long process of clearing his name,  Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whose prosecutorial investigators never came up with anything but allowed the media to report that he was being investigated by prosecutors, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who might or might not have had anything to do with a bridge closing that did actually occur but is getting far more media scrutiny thnt the Democratic governor suspected of equally appalling behavior over in neighboring New York. There’s a former Attorney General here in Kansas who is still trying to get his law license back after offending the state’s legal establishment with his anti-abortion stances, some past political opponents of the president who had their ballot eligibility questioned or their divorce records unsealed, a prominent conservative writer is being sued by a mad climate scientist, and we expect there are many more we haven’t heard of.
Each of them should feel honored, as such brusque treatment is usually reserved for politicians the Democratic Party regards as threatening, but we can well understand their outrage. Being subjected to the vicissitudes of the court for one’s political opinions is the sort of thing that was widely decried back in the bad old days of McCarthysim, and they’re entitled to wonder why they aren’t afford the same sympathy that Hollywood and bon pensant opinion routinely bestows on those old screenwriting commies who were dragged before the House Un-American Activities Committee. That the legal tactics are often far more effective than the blacklist ever was in keeping the movies all-American must be all the frustrating, but in Perry’s case there’s some hope for an old-fashioned happy ending.
The Perry indictment is a result of the night that the Travis County District Attorney got rip-roaring drunk and was arrested for driving while intoxicated on her way home. A dashboard camera in the arresting officer’s vehicle showed that she was staggering and surly during the arrests, tests showed she had twice the legal blood alcohol contest allowed by law, and videos that became a YouTube sensation show she was abusive to the officers and attempted to use her political position during her booking. Like many other Texans, Perry thought this was conduct unbecoming the official in charge of enforcing the laws of a Texas county and demanded her resignation. As governor, Perry also threatened to exercise his constitutionally granted right to veto funding for her “Office of Public Integrity” unit if she didn’t resign, and he eventually made good on that threat. The subsequent Travis County District Attorney has now convinced a grand jury that this amounts to threatening and coercing a public official, both felony charges that entail lengthy prison sentences, and Perry is now officially indicted for the purposes of any headline writers who want to smear him and is obligated to defend in his innocence in a years-long series of appellate state and probably federal courts. This will probably play according to the Democratic script in Travis County, which is mostly Austin, which is mostly state bureaucrats and a typically progressive university and some high-tech yuppies and God only knows how many tattooed hippie freaks, and is the same Democratic bastion in that otherwise Republican state that started the ordeal of Tom DeLay, but it’s unlikely to have the same appeal in the rest of Texas or the rest of the country.
Those YouTube videos are well worth watching, as they’re the best drunken comedy since the heyday of the late Foster Brooks, and anyone familiar with the story will surely concur with Perry that the star did not deserve public funding to enforce the integrity of her fellow public officials. After so many years of Republican governors the state court system probably has enough sensible judges to ultimately conclude that it is quite legal for a governor issue a veto on such grounds, too, and Perry will prevail in both the court of public opinion and the actual court. In so doing he might he even draw the public’s attention and even its scorn on the under-handed tactic of making conservatism a crime. Already some of the more principled liberals are fretting about where this might lead if conservatives should ever decide to take up the game, and we expect even those uninformed types who are spooked by the word “indictment” in a headline will eventually grow wise.

— Bud Norman

The Rising Price of Dissent

A friend of ours is an outspoken proponent of same-sex marriage, even though he is quite heterosexual and otherwise seems to have no enthusiasm for the institution of marriage, and he was recently exulting about how his side seems to be winning. He pulled his little telecommunications machine out of his pocket and showed us a commercial produced by the Honey Maid corporation, which told of show they had taken all the negative letters mailed to them about another recent commercial showing a same-sex couple and turned them into some sort of conceptual artwork, and he seemed pleased that the power of corporate America and Madison Avenue had at long last been turned the final holdouts of hateful bigots still opposed to same se-sex marriage. We mentioned that the highly-regarded chief executive officer of a large internet company had recently been forced to resign because of his past donation to an anti-same-sex marriage campaign in a California referendum, and our friend noted rather defensively that the fellow had after been given a chance to recant his previous position.
Although we have grown weary of the whole same-sex marriage controversy, the conversation was unsettling. We found the Honey Maid advertisement about the same-sex coupling offputtingly smug and self-satisfied, and its theme of “This Is Wholesome” particularly preachy, but it didn’t bother us because we doubted it would persuade anyone to purchase the company’s products or reconsider their political viewpoints. The part about allowing the embattled internet executive to recant his views was rather chilling, though, as it evoked the image of bespectacled, violin-playing intellectuals confessing their political thought crimes to before the cadres of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. We couldn’t help wondering if re-education camps might be looming. Whatever misgivings we might have about same-sex marriage as a result of our our Burkean cultural instincts and Judeo=Christian religious upbringing we have almost reached the point where we’re eager to see all our homosexual friends rendered as domesticated as the rest of us, but this broader business of punishing any heterodoxy against the liberal pieties is becoming intolerable.
It’s not just same-sex marriage but a much broader ranger of issues that will bring down the wrath of the newly fledged establishment on anyone who dares utter a dissenting word or write an offending campaign contribution check. Despite the indifference of much of the press the Internal Revenue Service has harassed conservative non-profit groups, a matter the president has dismissed as a “phony scandal” even as the IRS honcho at the center of it all is very genuinely invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Anyone skeptical of the the most alarmist warnings about anthropogenic global warming is scorned by polite opinion as a “denier” or member of the “Flat Earth Society,” which hardly hurts our feelings, but when such a formidable writer and wit as Mark Steyn finds himself in an expensive court case over some well deserved ridicule of a thoroughly debunked “climate scientist” it is is a daunting reminder of how very far the alarmists will go to quash debate. Our favorite local billionaire has lately been denounced on the floor of the United States Senate by the majority of that once-august body as “un-American” for promoting his pro-capitalist views, and the poor fellow and his brother are publicly protested even when they throw a hundred million or so to a new hospital wing. In academia conservative speakers are routinely met with brown shirt tactics by censorious mobs, and conservative scholars are frequently denied tenure. Conservative politicians are subject to special scrutiny not only by the increasingly inconsequential media but also by the evermore powerful prosecutors.
We are constitutionally inoculated against the blandishments of Madison Avenue and have always enjoyed a voluntary relationship with corporate America, and we’re confident that our friend will draw the line at guillotines and a full-blown reign of terror, but the bare-knuckles nature of the progressive movement and its corporate and political allies will likely prove more troublesome. Anyone who’s endured “sensitivity training” in a corporate job knows that the prospect of re-education camps isn’t so far-fetched, and any of the increasing number of dissenters who have been subjected to the scrutiny of the IRS or any of a countless number of other acronym agencies, or have been hauled into a court to account for the opinions, knows that something sinister is afoot. Once upon a dark time in America punishing people with economic and legal consequences for the political opinions was known as “McCarthyism,” but ow we’l have to find some more polite term for it.

— Bud Norman