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The Battle of the Celebrities, the Fate of a Nation

That Oprah Winfrey woman gave an uplifting and cliche-filled acceptance speech at the Golden Globes ceremony on Sunday night, which is the sort of pop cultural pap news we used to happily ignore, but by Monday afternoon there was simply no escaping all the buzz about her possible presidential campaign. Such is politics in the age of President Donald Trump.
Back in the good old days, which we now date to around the time Trump took that elevator ride in Trump Tower to announce his seemingly improbable presidential campaign, the possibility of a Winfrey presidency would have been the stuff of satire. She’s never held a political position or worked in public service, has no political philosophy save for what one might discern from her occasional incoherent public pronouncements, and lacks any apparent qualifications for high public office save the billions of dollars she’s made from her status as a reality-show celebrity. That would have ended the discussion back in the good old days, but in the age of Trump the Republican party is hard-pressed to make those once obvious arguments against such obviously unqualified candidates.
Those darned Democrats made all the same obvious arguments against Trump, but they were less convincing after eight years of celebrating the rock star presidency of President Barack Obama, and it couldn’t carry such an unappealing figure as former First Lady and Senator and Secretary and presumptive first-woman president Hillary Clinton across the finish line, so we understand their excitement for Winfrey. Her afternoon talk show ran twice as long as Trump’s “Apprentice” reality show and made her a far bigger TV star, she’s arguably even richer than Trump and her up-from-the-ghetto biography is far more Horatio Alger-esque than the son of a millionaire New York real estate mogul, and her touchy-feely public persona contrasts comfortably with the snarling “you’re fired” image that Trump has long cultivated. Say what you want about Winfrey, and our old-fashioned Republicans selves have plenty to say about her, we have to admit that at least she wouldn’t be “tweeting” about the size of her nuclear button.
With a certain snobbish pride we admit we never watched so much as a second of Winfrey’s not talk show, nor Trump’s insipid prime time reality game show, but she kept popping up in the political news in all sorts of troubling ways. She promoted some theories about “mad cow” disease that put her in disfavor with all our favorite Kansas cattle ranchers and our own carnivorous selves, promulgated some questionable advice about childhood vaccines and other pressing public health issues, and seemed all too prone to magical thinking and other disastrous pop cultural fads. Her admirable efforts to encourage reading put several fine old and authors on the national bestsellers lists, but she also fell for a couple of literary hoaxes some of the more noteworthy authors were embarrassed by her endorsements. One can also clearly glean from her many publicized public pronouncements and fawning television interviews that she’s more or less an Obama sort of mainstream Democrat, which is disqualifying for such old-fashioned Republicans such as ourselves and a lot of our radicalized and more traditional Democratic friends, but if the fate of the nation comes down to Nielsen ratings we suspect she might well win.
There’s also talk that former World Wrestling Entertainment champion and current action-adventure movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will jump into the race. We’ll snobbishly admit that never seen a single second of his wrestling or action-adventure moving acting, and we have no idea if he’s a Republican or Democrat or what his political philosophy might be, but from the look of him we can’t imagine the aging and obese and combed-over Trump “tweeting” anything about his manliness.
We’d rather it didn’t come down to that, and that instead our nation’s fate came down to a carefully deliberated consideration of the very complicated issues we face as a nation, we’re no longer hopeful. The extraordinarily rich American popular culture that bequeathed to the world jazz and country music and rock and soul and and the rest of the incredible Ameircan songbook, along with Hollywood movies and prairie deco architecture and those Oprah-endorsed works of William Faulkner and the rest of our national grassroots greatness, is at an undeniably awkward moment, and our politics is in an arguably even worse state.

— Bud Norman

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Ebola, Zombies, Government, and Other Things to Worry About

Having survived the outbreaks of Bird Flu and Swine Flu and Mad Cow Disease and the entire menagerie of epidemics that were supposed to have decimated the world’s population by now, we’ve not yet been panicked by the recent news of the spread of the Ebola virus. Having watched the government’s inept responses to other crises over the past several years, however, we are starting to get at least a bit nervous.
We had always regarded the Ebola virus as one of those unfortunate phenomena that seem to inflict only Africa, but now it has come to the quintessentially American city of Dallas. It flew in on a jetliner from Liberia, hitching a ride on an infected passenger from that stricken country, and now it is feared that as many as 100 Americans have come in contact. Each of those has presumably come in contact with another 100 or so people, who in turn would have come in contract with another 100, and although the risk of transmission is said to be remote in every case the extrapolation is still unsettling. Whatever degree of risk is entailed, it could have been eliminated entirely by the sorts of travel restrictions that such countries as Great Britain and France have instituted, which shakes one faith that a governmental and medical system which declined to take such measures to deal will be able to effectively deal with the consequences of not doing so.
The extraordinary amount of press coverage devoted to the disease has already revealed several instances where the most up-to-date protocols for dealing with the disease with have not been followed, including an unpleasant account the infected patient’s vomit being cleaned off a sidewalk by power hoses that no doubt sent dangerous bacteria flying off into the atmosphere, and one shudders to think what mistakes might come next. So far as we can tell the government decided not restrict flights from infected countries partly because that had been a Bush administration idea, and partly because it was thought that discriminating on the basis of a deadly disease might offend African sensibilities. Such pointless political considerations are likely to override medical necessity again in the coming days, if the government’s recent history of border security and presidential security are any guide, it does not inspire confidence.
American troops have been deployed to Africa to fight the Ebola virus, as if it were the sort of enemy that can be vanquished by military might, and for the usual rationale that it’s better to fight abroad rather than at home. Letting the disease fly into the homeland at the same time seems rather odd, though, and we hope this policy will soon be rescinded. A more discriminatory policy regarding who gets into the country even without the Ebola virus would also be welcomed, for medical and national security and economic and cultural reasons, but that seems too much to hope for.
The situation has already prompted the survivalists to take precautions beyond their usual paranoid preparedness, and the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan is predictably blaming it all on a white supremacist conspiracy to kill black people which is currently being carried out by the first black president, although it was apparently launched at some nonexistent point in history when Henry Kissinger was serving as Secretary of State to President George H.W. Bush, but we’re remaining relatively calm. We’re counting on those reportedly low transmissions rates, though, and not the government. There have been strange accounts of Ebola victims awakening from the dead, and we note proudly that this is  “Zombie Apocalypse Preparedness Month” here in Kansas, but otherwise the government doesn’t seem ready for the coming challenges.

— Bud Norman