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On Friends, Family, and Trump

Some old friends and close family members have lately encouraged us to go easier on President Donald Trump, but none of them are obliged to publish political commentary five times a week, and thus they haven’t noticed how hard it is to find anything else to write about these days. Most of the media took time out on Wednesday to report on a near-fatal heroin overdose by a pop singer named Demi Lovato, but as sad as that is we have to admit we had not previously heard of her and have little to say about her apparently troubled life, and as usual almost all of the rest of the non-sports news was about Trump.
Also as usual, we’d be hard-pressed to come up with a convincing defense of Trump about any of it, and our old friends and close family members aren’t offering any helpful suggestions.
The story that took up the most newspaper space and cable news airtime on Wednesday was an audio recording of a telephone conversation between Trump and his longtime but now former lawyer Michael Cohen concerning a $150,000 payment made through the notorious National Enquirer tabloid to a former Playboy centerfold model named Karen McDougal who alleges she had an affair with Trump shortly after his third wife and current First Lady gave birth to his fifth child. Once upon a saner time in America such a story would have had a five-column headline and round-the-clock updates on all of the networks, but these days it’s just one column above the fold and ten minutes at the top of hour, and it’s all so damned complicated that Trump and his apologists found something slightly exculpatory in it.
Trump has already indignantly “tweeted” about “What kind of lawyer would tape a client,” which is indeed a good question, but by now many snarky columnists and all the late night television comics have rightly answered that it’s apparently the kind of lawyer that Trump hires. Due to the low-fidelity nature of the recording there’s some dispute about whether Trump said he would or wouldn’t want to pay the hush money to a Playboy centerfold model in cash, and his die-hard fans believe he insisted on paying with check and therefore demonstrated his commitment to complete transparency. Cohen is the same lawyer who set up a Delaware shell corporation to make a $130,000 payment to a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels to stop her from alleging a one-night-stand that allegedly occurred around the same time as the alleged affair with the Playboy centerfold, and federal search warrants have been executed on his office and home and hotel room, and some scary federal and unpardonable state indictments about all sorts of things seem likely imminent, so there’s also an argument to be made that he’s now flipped to the dark side and is complicit in the “deep state’s” and “fake news'” ongoing “witch hunt” conspiracy to make Trump look bad.
Maybe so, but by now there’s no denying that the boastfully adulterous Trump and the lawyer he now admits is sleazy made six-figure payments to a porn star and a Playboy model to hush them up about some quite credibly alleged affairs, and once upon a saner time in America during a Democratic administration all of our old friends and close family members and other fellow Republicans would have been appalled by that. Maybe Trump did insist on paying by check, even though current Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani recently told a cable news interviewer that “he’d be a fool to do that,” but that still seems a weak defense of our president’s character.
Meanwhile, the European Union has offered to negotiate an end to the trade war Trump has waged against it, which the Trump triumphalists see as another big win, but it remains to be seen if the negotiations will go as well as that free-trade treaty the EU recently negotiated with Japan that left America out of a third of the world’s economy. North Korea continues advancing its nuclear threat despite Trump’s “tweeted” assurances that we can all sleep soundly that’s there’s no longer any threat, and Trump has postponed his White House sequel to the much-panned Helsinki summit with Russian dictator until the “Russia thing” investigation in wrapped up.
Meanwhile, on the freedom of speech front, the Trump administration also barred a Cable News Network reporter from from a public event because of her pesky questions, threatened to revoke the security clearances of high-ranking officials from the administrations of Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush who have been critical of Trump administration policies, and Trump advised a cheering crowd of sycophants in Kansas City that “What you’re reading and seeing is not what’s happening.” That was at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, whose leadership later apologized for the members who had booed the press, as the press were invited members of the public gathering.
As much as we hate to be at odds with our old friends and close family members and other fellow Republicans, by now there’s no denying that Trump says several things a day that are obviously untrue, and that the “fake news” has a far better batting average for verifiable accuracy than our president. Our old friends and close family members and other fellow Republicans can still make a very convincing hypothetical case that a President “Crooked” Hillary Clinton’s administration would be even worse, but they can’t yet convince us that any of this is making America great again.

— Bud Norman

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Fighting Fire with FIRE

No matter how bad the news is these days, the most dispiriting part of every story is usually the comment sections. It’s not just the depressing proof of how very illiterate are the products of our public schools, but the constant reminders of how very rude and red-hot angry and ready to rumble our politics have become.
On Saturday we came across a short item in National Review’s “The Corner” section about how a group clad in “Make America Great Again” ball caps and similarly opinionated t-shirts had shouted down a pair of liberal speakers speakers at California’s Whittier College with chants of “lock him up,” “build that wall,” and “respect our president.” It wasn’t the scariest story we read over a weekend of dreary news, but it did strike us as a disturbing development. Such thuggishness has long been common on the left, which has all too frequently resorted to even more violent behavior to deny the free speech rights of conservative speakers and those who would like to hear them, but it has also long been a point of pride on the right that our side doesn’t stoop so low, and it’s hard to admit it now does.
Our fellow old-fashioned conservatives at the venerable National Review had the same reaction, as did the invaluable conservatives at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which first reported the story. FIRE usually reports on the more common attempts by the left to stifle free speech on campuses, and the all too frequent violence that occurs, but they’re principled enough to have document the same sort of thuggishness on the right. We’d like to think that most of our fellow Republicans are also offended, but the comments sections make clear that some are quite ready to fight it out in the streets with full late-Weimar Republic gusto.
By now we’re inured to hearing such sentiments from the callers on the more histrionic talk radio shows, but it’s still unsettling to see them in the comments section of such a high-brow right-wing rag as National Review.
Some of the commenters hopefully speculated that it was actually left-wingers shutting down the liberals in a “false flag” operation to discredit the right. Although most right wing speculation about “false flag” mass shootings and such is pure crazy talk, there have been documented cases of occasional lefties stirring up trouble at otherwise peaceable conservative gatherings while dressed as Nazis, but in this case FIRE has videotape showing some pretty convincingly middle-aged angry white guys even Hollywood’s best casting agent would have been hard-pressed to find, and few were buying that line.
More common were the comments that it’s about time the right started to resorting to the left lowest tactics. “Fight fire with fire” was a recurring cliche, and the more recently popular “punch back twice as hard” came up. Some thuggish leftists have been doing the same thing and even worse for quite a while now, the argument goes, and the left seems to be winning everything lately except for the White House and the Senate and the House of Representatives of most of the statehouses, ergo the right should do the same. This is most unconvincing to such old-fashioned Republican sensibilities as ours, which at our age have no taste for street-brawling, but certain segments of both the left and the right are itching for an escalation.
We’d like to think that most of the Democrats would also prefer a maximum of free speech and a minimum of street-brawling, and the more venerable liberal news sources seem to agree, so the problem of giving a controversial speech in a public square is probably for now manageable, but a certain combativeness as already infected the mainstream of politics. Democrats who look back wistfully on President Barack should acknowledge his rhetoric about bringing guns to knife fights and jump-starting that “punch back twice as hard” cliche, and all those conservative speakers who have shut down, but Republicans should acknowledged by the abandoned the high ground with President Donald Trump cease from all assaults on free speech.
Except for that unpleasantness in the early 1860s and a few notable labor disputes and race riots, America always has almost always worked out even its most heated arguments with maximal free speech and minimal street brawls, and what with the stock market up and the unemployment rate down we should be able to keep that streak going. For now, at least, let us fight with water.

— Bud Norman