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Oh, How Trump Does Go On

President Donald Trump spoke for more than two hours on Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and toward the end he bragged that nobody left early. We’ll take Trump’s word about that, but figure it’s more a testament to the loyalty of his fans than the quality of the performance.
The speech was mostly a longer than usual reprisal of all his campaign rally speeches. Like a rock star with no new album to promote, he gave the fans all the hits they came to hear. As always the show started with Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” and ended with the odd choice of the The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What Your Wants, and in between here was much bragging, severe denunciations of his critics, some dubious economic history and few outright falsehoods, a couple of barnyard epithets that thrilled the crowd, and the familiar of chants of “build that wall!” and “lock her up!” and “USA! USA!”
Trump bragged about the size of his electoral college victory without mentioning his popular vote loss, took full credit for a slight Republican gain in the Senate during the mid-term election without accepting any blame for a lopsided loss of seats in the House of Representatives, and boasted of his standing-room-only crowds wherever he goes. Of course he also claimed full credit for the currently healthy state of the American economy, falsely claiming that the stock markets were falling and unemployment was rising when he was elected, and further bragged about not having gray hair and all the rich friends who call him “Mr. President.” He further bragged that California Gov. Gavin Newsom has told Trump that he’s a great president and “one of the smartest people he’s ever met,” although he complained that Newsom won’t admit it. Oh, and he also bragged that his rambling and disjointed speech was unscripted, telling the crowd that “If we don’t go off script, we’re in big trouble.”
Much of the speech, as usual, was spent hurling insults demeaning nicknames at his perceived enemies. Trump excoriated the past several decades of American leadership, both Republican and Democratic, accusing them of “blunders and betrayals, serious betrayals.” The crowd was assured that the reporters who write unflattering stories about Trump are “sick people, very sick people.” The Democrats in Congress who are launching oversight investigations of Trump are also “sick people,” and Trump added that “We have people in Congress who hate our country. We can name them if they want, they hate our country.” He didn’t name any of them, although he earlier had said that Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii — or Ohio, as Trump didn’t seem sure — was “like a crazy person,” and counted “Shifty Little (Rep. Adam) Schiff” was one of the “sick people.” At least Trump didn’t call Schiff “Adam Schitt,” as he’d done in a “tweet” that the fans thought hilarious, but he did tell crowd that the Democrats are “trying to take me down with bullshit,” which got the biggest laugh of the night from the crowd of self-described conservatives.
It wasn’t just Democrats and other sick America-haters who came under fire. Trump mocked the southern accent of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which got a rare mixed reaction from the crowd, and while he didn’t mention the name he also railed against Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell as “a gentleman who loves raising interest rates, loves quantitative tightening, loves a strong dollar.” Of course Trump didn’t mention that he’d appointed both Sessions and Powell to their posts, and of course the crowd didn’t notice. He also boasted that the Republicans who occasional object to Trump’s policies and behaviors are politically endangered, and said the “Never Trump” portion of the Republican is “on mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,” which he liked so much he repeated it twice.
From time to time the speech would address matters of public policy, and although the crowd got a bit bored it didn’t seem to mind that much of what Trump was saying either poorly reasoned or simply untrue.
In defense of his protectionist trade policies, Trump recalled “The Great Tariff Debate of 1880,” which he said was mostly about how to spend all money that America was making from tariffs. We assume he meant the tariff debate of 1888, which then as now was mostly about whether tariffs help or hurt an economy, with industries in need of protection from foreign competition taking one side and export industries in need of free trade on the opposing sides. Since then the American economy has evolved to a point that domestic industries are more competitive and the export sector has significantly grown, the Sixteenth Amendment that created the income tax means the federal government no longer depends on tariffs, and the debate of 1888 isn’t quite so instructive to the adoring crowds as Trump seems to think.
Trump also took aim at the unabashed socialism of several Democratic stars and their proposed “Green New Deal,” and while we also decry that leftward drift we’d prefer the more honest criticisms that might persuade the vast majority of the public that isn’t cheering at the CPAC rally. He ridiculed the Democrats support for wind power, suggesting Americans wouldn’t be able to watch television on a calm day, and although we have our doubts about wind power subsidies we do know that the electricity they generate is stored in batteries for such contingencies. He also overstated the support that the “Green New Deal” and “Medicare for All” currently has in the Democratic party — he once again insisted on calling it the “Democrat party,” by the way — and had no kind words for the centrists resisting such policies, as they presumably also hate America.
There are a few hidebound Republicans left in Congress who object to Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to re-appropriate funds for that big, beautiful wall Trump has promised on the southern border, as they argue it septs a precedent for a future Democratic president to make a similar power grab for liberal purposes. Trump rebutted that by saying that the Democrats would do that anyway, so the only thing to do about it is keep Trump in the White House forever, which seemed to make sense to the crowd. The national emergency of illegal immigration took up much of the two hours, with Trump seeming to think that other countries are choosing which of their citizens will try to immigrate to America, and although he has some good ideas about immigration policy reforms we think he’ll need a more fact-based and less brazenly xenophobic sales to persuade that vast majority of Americans who aren’t at the CPAC rally.
Trump also tried to claim his recent summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un was a huge success despite no deals being made, and assured his fans that Kim, unlike those America-hating sickos in Congress and the press, is really a terrific guy at heart. He didn’t repeat his recent statement that he accepted Kim’s assurance that he had nothing to do with the death by torture in a North Korean dungeon of American Otto Warmbier and was greatly saddened to hear about, but he did have kind words for Warmbier’s parents despite their outspoken criticism of the statement.
There’s more, of course, including Trump’s entirely untrue claim that he coined the nickname “Mad Dog” for his defenestrated Defense Secretary James Mattis, and that all of the world’s leaders have told him how they respect that he’s finally standing up for America after the past decades when they were able to take advantage of America’s “ruling class,” even if though won’t so say in public. We could probably go on all night, but our fans aren’t so indulgent as Trumps.

— Bud Norman

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Lock ‘Em All Up, If That’s What It Takes

President Donald Trump on Wednesday “re-tweeted” a “photo-shopped” internet “meme” that depicts 11 of his political adversaries locked behind iron bars, beneath the heading “Now that Russia collusion is a proven lie, when do the trials for treason begin?” The hard-core fans probably found it hilarious, and further that proof that at least their champion fights, but we we found it further frightening evidence of a slow slide toward banana republic authoritarianism.
The “re-tweet” came just eight days after The New York Times reported that Trump had once directed the Justice Department to commence criminal investigations of former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey and his Democratic presidential opponent Hillary Clinton, both of whom are featured in the “meme.” Trump’s apologists insisted he never did any such thing, and that even if he did it never came to pass, but the “re-tweeted” “meme” suggests he probably did give the order, and that it didn’t actually happen only because wiser heads somehow prevailed.
We have no affection for Comey, although we can muster some sympathy for an FBI director who had the bad luck to be in office during a presidential campaign with both major party candidates being the subjects of criminal investigations, and we have as much antipathy to that awful Clinton woman as the next guy, even if we think the everlasting ignominy of having lost to the likes of Trump should be sufficient punishment for anyone. Even so, all those campaign rally chants of “lock ’em up,” and Trump’s campaign promises to do just that, strike us a damned un-American way to make America great again. Locking up vanquished political opponents hasn’t made any of the South American or Eastern European or Middle Eastern or sub-Saharan African nations that do that sort of thing remotely great, and we can’t imagine it working any better here.
Meanwhile a special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” has indeed locked up one of Trump’s former campaign managers and a former campaign national security advisor, and Trump’s former administrational national security advisor has pleaded guilty to felonies and awaits sentencing, with more campaign and administration officials and perhaps some Trump family members seemingly awaiting indictment, and that surely has something to with Trump’s angry “re-tweets.” Trump has frequently called the investigation a “witch hunt” and part of a “deep state” conspiracy to overthrow him, and often complained that it’s not investigating itself and his other enemies instead. The hard-core fans find this quite compelling, and more reason to resume their “lock ’em up” chants at the ongoing rallies, but it’s proving a hard sell to the rest of the country.
All the intelligence agencies agree that the Russians meddled in America’s past campaign to get Trump elected, so the talk radio theory that it was Clinton and the Democrats who colluded with the effort seems downright counter-intuitive, and so far there’s none of extraordinary proof few require or such an extraordinary claim. So far as we can tell both Comey and Clinton are by now every bit as politically powerless as ourselves, so we don’t think all the indictments and guilty pleas the special counsel has racked up are their ingenious revenge. Nor can we see how the allegations of Russian collusion on the part of the Trump campaign have been disproved, as the “meme” claims, and we eagerly await what the special counsel has to report.
In the meantime, and as always, we don’t find any satisfaction in watching anybody get locked up. With no rooting interest in either party at this point, as always we’ll be hoping that eventually the truth will prevail. That will probably involve locking somebody up, as it usually does, but for most of this sorry cast of characters we’ll gladly settle for them suffering ignominy throughout history for their deeds, and hope ┬áthe next government starts over with a clean slate.

— Bud Norman

Rethinking that “Lock Her Up” Chant

One of the big selling points of Republican nominee Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was that, if he elected, he would send Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to prison. He made the boast to her face during one of their nationally-televised debates, crowds at his subsequent rallies lustily chanted “lock her up,” and the more enthusiastic supporters were sporting t-shirts with the same exhortation. Now that Trump has been elected, though, he seems in a more forgiving mood.
In an interview with The New York Times on Monday, Trump reportedly “made clear that he would not pursue an investigation himself, nor make it a priority as he takes office.” After months of threats of special prosecutors and other investigations against the woman he dubbed “Crooked Hillary,” Trump was quoted as saying “I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t. She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many ways, and I am not wanting to hurt them at all. The campaign was vicious.”
Such magnanimity will no doubt be greatly disappointing to many of Trump’s more fervent supporters, who hate Clinton with a red-hot passion and were so looking forward to seeing the leaked photos of her behind bars in an orange jumpsuit show up in The National Enquirer. Trump has bragged that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes, though, and letting Clinton skate probably isn’t quite so bad as that, depending on Trump might have shot, so we suppose those vengeful supporters will eventually get over it. The gesture won’t earn him any gratitude from those on the left who hate him with a red-hot passion and were hoping to see him making the art of the deal with his cellmates, though, and will have to settle for that $25 million he shelled out to settle the Trump University lawsuits and whatever fines he’ll pay for his family charity’s admitted violations of the tax laws, so as a political matter it’s probably a wash.
As a matter of good government and ethics and all that, on the hand, the whole situation seems ridiculous. We can well understand the animosity toward Clinton, whose unsecured e-mail certainly does seem to have violated several laws that would cause any less well-connected to be imprisoned, and whose own family charity seems to have bigger problems than an affordable tax fine, and we were publicly grousing about her nearly constant disregard for the rules way back when Trump was contributing to the Clintons’ campaigns and inviting them to his third wedding and lavishly praising them to every interviewer. There was something slightly Banana Republic about Trump leading his rallies in a chant of “lock her up,” and as seemingly politically motivated as her official exoneration was under the Obama administration was to her critics it would have seemed at least as politically motivated to Trump’s many critics if he had tried to keep his campaign promise, and we expect everyone involved in that hypothetical battle would come out looking bad.
Which is not to say that anybody is looking good after that Times interview, or that anyone will be pleased with outcome. The Clinton haters will have to console themselves that she’s out of power in the government, in disfavor with much of her party, and unlikely to yield any influence on politics for some to come, and that she might not have that much time left. The Trump haters will have to console themselves with the fact that he’s already broken one campaign promise, with many more sure to come, and that he’s already leaving himself open to the same sort of charges of influence-peddling that he used against Clinton. We don’t hate anybody, nor do we much care for Clinton or Trump, so none of this makes us feel any better about the country’s situation.

— Bud Norman