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Trump Comes Out of the Woods

President Donald seems to have had a nice break from his political torments over Father’s Day weekend. The barrage of bombshell revelations about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia largely ceased fire, the other bad news didn’t implicate him directly and was largely overlooked, and after a long separation he got to spend some quality time with his youngest son.
We truly hope the father-and-son interactions went well, as the kid seems all right to us — by “the kid” we mean the son — and the old guy lately seems in need some of calming quiet time. The weekend was largely spent at Camp David, we note, and we also hope that helped with both the family dynamics and the political problems.
A military-run facility a short helicopter ride away from the White House but hidden in one of the last rural areas of Maryland, Camp David has been the preferred presidential get-away since President Franklin Roosevelt converted the Works Progress Administration’s High Cactocin resort project to an executive retreat and re-named it “Shangri-La.” Former small town Kansas boy President Dwight Eisenhower was particularly fond of the remote location and rustic atmosphere of the place, and re-named it again in honor of a recently born grandson. Since then every president has taken frequent advantage of the world-famous Camp David, with President Jimmy Carter using the place to finalize the “Camp David Accords” that brought a still-lasting peace between Israel and Egypt, President Bill Clinton attempted to use it for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians that didn’t work out so well, while all the Republicans reasonably preferred to use it as a convenient and relatively low-cost way to escape from all that for a weekend and get back to nature and play some golf or shoot some skeet.
Until this past weekend, though, Trump had conspicuously avoided the place. After a brief tour of Camp David he told an interviewer that it was “a place you’d like really like, for about 20 minutes,” and seemed to make clear that remote and rustic were not qualities that appealed to his rich New York City tastes, not matter how any previous sorts of Republicans might have liked that kind of thing. In the bitterly cold months of his early presidency Trump preferred to have both his get-away time and his high-level diplomatic negotiations at his very ritzy and wholly-owned Mar-a-Lago resort outside Palm Beach, Florida, and as summer arrived and South Florida seemed less suited to golf and other high-level negotiations he moved his second White House to another very ritzy and wholly-owned resort in the last sparsely-populated portion of New Jersey.
That arrangement worked out well for Trump in financial terms, with much of the even-bigger-than-Obama travel-and-security-and-entourage costs flowing directly into the coffers of wholly-owned Trump businesses and all sorts of people paying higher prices for entree due to the sudden cachet, but it was taking a political toll. All the opinion polls show Trump widely unpopular, even that outlier Rasmussen survey that shows him with a mere 50 percent disapproval rating, and the Palm Beach Post was delighted to inform its recently tax-burdened readership that some more specific polling shows that the extravagant weekends at the wholly-owned properties were unpopular even with Trump’s most loyal supporters. Two state and district attorneys general and a couple hundred members of Congress have lately filed suits about how Trump business are profiting from the Trump presidency, too, so Trump’s many public and private lawyers were probably also recommending some rest and relaxation at Camp David. Call us cynical, but we suspect all that had something to with Trump’s Father’s Day itinerary.
Even so, we truly hope that the rather abbreviated time they spent together at Camp David did both Trump and son some real good. At this point we have an admittedly mythic conception of Camp David, and although we’re pretty sure it’s quite ritzy by our prairie standards we also imagine that there really is something remote and rustic about the place by presidential standards, and we’d like to think that’s what every previous sort of Republican and even the Democrats found so quintessentially American and rejuvenating about it. There’s something remote and rustic about getting away from it all and back to nature that puts things in perspective, even it is still ritzy, and a rich New York City sensibility probably needs that more than most.
We hate to drag Trump’s kid into the this, as he seems all right, and nothing that’s happened is any more his fault that anything all those previous presidential children were dragged into, but he’s there in the news and we can’t help thinking how very weird his life must be, and how much good even a brief connection with the universal experience of nature might do him. By our own good fortune we had a better dad than that kid does, and he often took us out into the woods with guns and fishing rods and cameras to demonstrate the profound life lessons he had learned under the open sky, and although we never acquired his appreciation of hunting and fishing and photography the lessons about the beauty of the natural and good order have served us well, and we hope that the youngest Trump picked up something of that along the way.
Today is Monday and the barrage of bombshell revelations about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia will probably continue, and there will be more bad news that people will say implicate Trump, but here’s hoping that a father-and-son weekend at Camp David will mitigate at least some of that.

— Bud Norman

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On the President’s Weekly Winter Vacation

Except for howling winds and an extended dry spell the weather’s been nice and warm around here lately, the Wichita State University Wheatshockers are heading into collegiate basketball’s championship tournament on a 15-game blow-out streak, and so far it’s been a pretty good March in our patch of the prairie. Still, we can’t help noticing with a certain wistfulness all the references to Mar-a-Lago in the latest news.
Usually around this time of year in Kansas we’re chattering our teeth and wishing for a south Florida vacation, and fondly recalling that one especially bitter winter when we did escape to a week of driving around Miami in a rented convertible V-8 Mustang, which yielded lots of funny stories we still like to tell, but even our most fanciful late winter fantasies never included anything quite so fancy as Mar-a-Lago. A very Republican friend of ours said the other day that he’d never heard of Mar-a-Lago, so perhaps we should explain to a general readership that it’s a Great Gatsby-esque mansion and sprawling estate complete with golf courses and tennis courts and all sorts of amenities located on a prime stretch of Palm Beach real estate that Trump had turned into a $100,000-a-year resort before he became president, and now uses as the “Winter White House” while charging a recently raised $200,000-a-year fee for the rest of the guests, and by all accounts it’s very swank.
Trump has spent five weekends there since being sworn in as president just last January, and the taxpayers have spent an estimated $3.5 million per visit, which is also pretty damned swank, even by government standards, and we can’t help thinking that it would be a bigger story if he weren’t there “tweeting” unsubstantiated charges about his wires being tapped and thus dominating the next days’ news cycles.
We spent much of the past eight years grousing about how many vacations President Barack Obama took and how many rounds of golf he played, and sneering about how his Martha’s Vineyard getaways belied his man-of-the-people image, and how damned expensive it was for the actual people, and feeling sorry for partisan Democrats who had to make excuses for it after eight years of grousing about George W. Bush’s far cheaper recreation expenses and rounds of golf. So far Trump has gone out of town for non-business-related reasons and played and golf far more often than Obama did, and racked up monthly travel bills equal to what to Obama rang up in a year, and seems to think he proved his Jacksonian populism by pouring ketchup over the well done steaks he ordered at the Great Gatsby-esque resort where the government pays the tab even as he collects it, and because we were Republicans long before Trump ever was we’re not about to make any excuses for five straight weekends at Mar-a-Lago.
Should Trump ever bless the nation with a slow news day we’re sure his antagonists in the media will be able to fill it with some standby stories about Trump’s unusual buyer and seller arrangement with Mar-a-Lago, and the potential that a mere $200,000 a year membership could buy access to the president, and how top-secret negotiations were conducted there within earshot of waiters and busboys and other diners in the restaurant, and how it really doesn’t fit with the image of a champion of the black-lunged West Virginia coal miner and opioid-addicted former factory worker from the Rust Belt. Nor does it comport to our old-fashioned Republican fantasy of a Republican president working overtime at the actual White House on the weekend to get all those policies just right so that the damned Democrats couldn’t make such easy hash of them, and we can only imagine what the the Democratic media will make of it.
The press is already taking note of who isn’t going to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend with Trump, the latest reports have some of the famously feuding top White House staff left behind, and even over the work week it’s hard to find any evidence even in the friendliest meeting that the administration is humming along like the finely-tuned machine that Trump swears it is. Perhaps Trump will find some insight at Mar-a-Lago that repays the taxpayers’ expense, but until he does the resentment is likely to rise, even if Trump’s much boasted-about extravagance was one of his selling points. Trump used to grouse about Obama’s vacationing and golfing extravagance, too, and so long as we’re stuck here on the prairie we’ll fell free to grouse about them both. From what we hear, the weather’s been pretty mild in Washington, D.C., too.

— Bud Norman

A Climate of Conspiracies, With Sauce

The Washington Post has been a veritable feast of fascinating news stories lately, but on Monday two in particular caught our eye. One was about former Vice President Al Gore’s long chat with president-elect Donald Trump about anthropogenic global warming, the other concerned some heavily armed guy who walked into the trendy Comet Ping Pong pizza parlor  in a fashionable neighborhood of the District of Columbia in search of the satanic pedophilia ring that recent Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is said to be running in the back room.
Gore described his conversation with Trump as “extremely interesting” in a brief statement to the press as he exited Trump Tower in New York City, and we don’t doubt that he overstated it one little bit, but somehow that pizza parlor story seemed even more intriguing. We’ve been following the “Pizzagate” saga as it has unfolded in the far lunatic fringes of the internet the past few weeks, and the apparent unsuccessful rescue attempt was too tasty a plot twist to pass by.
For those of you who have been relying on the more reliable news sources and are therefore unaware of “Pizzagate,” it’s hard to sum the story thus far. Suffice to say that it began when someone Wikileaked a bunch of Clinton consigliere John Podesta’s e-mails, and they revealed his friendship with a fashionably weird performance artist whose work is said to include occult illusions, and is in turn a friend of that Lady Gaga woman you can’t help but have heard of, who is a well-known shape-shifting Illuminati reptilian, and there were also frequent references to “hot dogs” and “pizza,” which are apparently pedophile slang for sex with young boys and young girls, and Comet Ping Pong’s owner and staff do seem to have odd taste in art and music, and it has hosted Clinton fundraising events, so what more proof do you need that she’s running a satanic pedophilia ring in the back room?
That and a few more coincidences have persuaded numerous concerned citizens around the country to issue death threats against Comet Ping Pong’s owner and staff, as well the neighboring businesses, which have some suspicious signage that suggest they’re also connected by a system of underground tunnels, and on Sunday it apparently prompted that well-armed fellow to enter the pizza parlor and fire a couple of shots from a rifle in the course of what he reportedly told police was a “self-investigation.” The suspect is a North Carolina man whose friends and describe him as devoted father and tenderhearted idealist, and one speculated that “He most likely really believes this conspiracy theory. He’s a good guy with the best of intentions. He probably saw himself as more on a hero mission to save children than anything else.” All of which seems plausible, given how very stupid tenderhearted idealists can be, and should provide a warning to any others to await more conclusive proof of a satanic pedophilia ring before rushing into a pizzeria armed with a rifle, shotgun, handgun, and folding knife.
To the more conspiratorial way of thinking, though, it just goes to show how shrewd these satanic pedophiles can be. Within hours of the suspect’s arrest there were several YouTube videos explaining how the entire incident was staged to discredit the people who are exposing “Pizzagate,” with one of the theorists boasting that he had predicted just such a “false flag” operation some days ago, and the true believers were more convinced than ever that somebody needs to storm that pizzeria with plenty of guns to save those poor children who are surely suffering in some subterranean hellhole. They all note that there’s no definitive proof that they’re wrong about any of it, except perhaps for the testimony of that heavily armed guy who reportedly spent 45 minutes looking around the place, including the rooms where he had to shoot off the locks, but of course he’s just an actor hired to play the part, and in one of those weird coincidences he apparently has acted in a couple of low-budget flicks filmed near his hometown, so we expect the conspiracy theorizing will continue for a while.
We’d love to slough it all off as one of those crazy crazes that always happen, and no more harmful to the public good than mood rings or pet rocks or that Lady Gaga woman’s admittedly inexplicable popularity, but lately such conspiracy theories have been threatening policy. The whole “Pizzagate” story seems to have started with Alex Jones’ crazypants “InfoWars” program, probably the country’s leading purveyor of crackpot conspiracy theories, where president-elect Trump has appeared as a guest and praised the host’s “awesome reputation,” and Trump has also insinuated that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, a theory he has since claimed credit for debunking, alleged that President George W. Bush lied about the intelligence regarding Iraq’s weapons programs in order to start a war for nefarious purposes, and urged everyone to read The National Enquirer’s claim that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was in on the Kennedy assassination.
Although Trump has backed off his campaign promise to have former Secretary of State Clinton jailed for her use of a private e-mail server, which Trump had urged the Russian government to hack, and now says that she and her husband are good people he wouldn’t want to hurt, which is also fueling some intriguing conspiracy theories over on the leftward lunatic fringes of the internet, he hasn’t yet used the “Pizzagate” hashtag in any of his recent “Tweets.” He’s only a couple of degrees of separation away from it, though, as his controversial choice for national security advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn, has “tweeted” about Clinton that “U decide — NYPD Blows Whistle on New Hillary E-mails: Money Laundering, Sex Crimes w Children, etc … MUST READ!” Putting aside the depressing fact that presidential advisors write such prose, even The Washington Post conceded that it wasn’t necessarily a reference to “Pizzagate,” and that Flynn might have been referring to other news about both Clinton’s relationship with the convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, whom they rightly note also has a documented relationship with Trump. Yet Flynn’s son, who is also a paid advisor to the presidential advisor, has more blatantly “tweeted” that “Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it’ll remain a story. The left seems to forget #PodestaEmails and the many ‘coincidences’ tied to it.” Given all the proof he might need in in those scarily quotation-marked coincidences, and his military upbringing, perhaps he’ll be the next to storm that trendy pizzeria.
Our president-elect has also peddled the conspiracy theory that anthropogenic global warming is a hoax concocted by the Chinese government to cripple American industry, so it would have been indeed been extremely interesting to hear him talk about it with past presidential popular vote winner and electoral college loser Gore, whose post-political career has mostly been devoted to peddling the scientific theory that man-made air pollutants should have drowned Trump’s fancy Mar-a-Lago resort on the Florida coast by now. We’re skeptical of Gore’s theory, for reasons that are even more complicated to explain than “Pizzagate,” but we find Trump’s idea that the Chinese came up with it just as laughable, so the conversation would have made for an interesting “thread” in some internet chat room or another. Alas, all we know of it is Gore’s unsatisfactorily brief statement that “I had a lengthy and productive session with the president-elect. It was a sincere search for areas of common ground. I had a meeting before hand with Ivanka Trump. The bulk of the time was with the president-elect, Donald Trump. I found it an extremely interesting conversation, and to be continued. I’m going to leave it at that.”
Gore can leave it at that, but the conspiracy theorists should be able to come up with a few plots to be continued. Ivanka Trump is said to be the typically fashionable high society New York City sort of Democrat that her father was until a few short years ago, and he admit she’s the one behind his liberal maternity leave policy proposal, and she’s in the business of selling very expensive clothing and jewelry to rich jet-setters who tend to believe in anthropogenic global warming, and she’s apparently inviting Gore into the sphere of presidential influence, so perhaps another one of Trump’s campaign promises will shape-shift. The true believers in Trump won’t mind if he continues Obama’s carbon regulations, probably not even those West Virginia coal miners, not when there’s satanic pedophilia rings going in the back rooms of trendy pizzerias.

— Bud Norman