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Meanwhile, Back in Ol’ Alabam

That Southern Gothic novel of an Alabama special election race was weird enough from the outset, then got weirder yet with the The Washington Post’s bombshell account of four women credibly alleging that the Republican nominee had creepy to downright criminal relationships with teenaged girls while he was a 30-something district attorney, and got still weirder on Monday with another middle-aged woman coming forward to allege that the then district attorney and now Republican Senatorial nominee had attempted to rape her when she was a 16-year-old high school and part-time waitress at a local diner.
Given that Republican nominee Roy Moore is running on his long cultivated reputation as a staunch defender of the Christian faith, bolstered by the two times he was removed from Alabama’s Supreme Court for defying federal decisions he regarded as a violation of God’s law, that’s a problem for both Moore and the Republican Party writ large. Given the general craziness of the entirety of the country’s politics there’s still a chance the Republicans might come out more or less unscathed, but at this point it’s hard to see how the state of Alabama and the rest of the country aren’t diminished by the whole affair.
Moore’s strident views on defying federal court orders o Old Testament grounds and criminalizing homosexuality and how the terror attacks on on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and the perhaps even the Capitol were God’s just retributions for America’s sins were already hard hard to defend on New Testament and old-fashioned Republican grounds. That bombshell Washington Post report seemed well nailed-down with four named Alabama who did not know one another and had no apparent political axe to grind, with documentary evidence backing up what can be backed up about all four women’s claims, and the fifth woman who’s come out on her own has a signed high school year book to dispute Moore’s claim he never met and also seems quite credible. Moore and his die-hard supporters can blame the first four accusations on The Washington Post and it’s establishment allies, but the paper had nothing to do with the fifth accuser coming forward on her own, and Moore’s interviews with far more friendly media have basically admitted that he did take an interest in teenaged girls as a 30-something prosector.
The suspiciously left-of-center Cable News Network has video testimony of a woman who also worked in the district attorney’s office around the same time saying it was well-known Moore’s was hanging out at shopping malls and high school football games n search of teenaged girls, while Moore has plenty of supporters saying so what if he did. By now most of the Republican establishment are bailing on Moore, with the Senate’s Republican majority leader going from saying that Moore should drop out if the allegations are true to saying he should simply drop out, and the past two Republican nominees for president saying the same thing even earlier on, the putatiive Republican president with his own lecherous reputation to deal with is so for staying out of it during his convenient Asian tour, and it looks like Moore will have to hold off a sudden and unexpected Democrat challenge without without any of the national Republican party’s much-needed money or expertise.
None of which will make much difference down in Alabama, where the Republicans hate that damned Republican establishment almost as much as they hate the damned Democrats, and would sooner vote for a damned child molester, and although it’s not likely to play well elsewhere we have to admit that’s the state of our formerly beloved Republican party writ large. If Moore loses it’s a gloating headline for all the the Democrats about a win in staunchly Republican state, but if he wins it wins it will surely generate three years of embarrassing headlines for his term. There will be plenty of embarrassing sex scandals for the Democrats over that time, to be sure, but having Moore among the Republican senators won’t make that any easier to exploit.
At this point the Republicans’ best bet seems to be having former Alabama senator and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions retire from his post and announce himself as a write-in candidate for his old seat, which just might hold the seat and have the added benefit of allowing Trump to appoint an Attorney General who hasn’t recused himself from interfering with that pesky investigation of the whole “Russia thing,” but by that seems a long shot. A Republican write-in candidacy would only prevail if Moore bowed out gracefully, which doesn’t seem likely, given the cantankerous nature his admirers so much admire, and even if it did happen any further attempts to impede that rapidly developing case about the “Russia thing” would only bolster the growing case about obstruction of justice.
As always there are plenty of Democratic scandals that still deserve public opprobrium, and we wish the conservative media still defending Moore plenty of luck in pointing that out, but by now we count ourselves among the rest of us and none of it seems to do us any good. We’ll stick with those citizens still defending some standard of decent behavior, and wish them the very best of luck.

— Bud Norman

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The Media and the “Mooch”

By now you’re probably already familiar with the name of Anthony Scaramucci, but if not you soon will be. He’s the fellow who’s been hired to head President Donald Trump’s communication office, which is the kind of tough gig that ensures a household name level of celebrity.
The Scaramucci show will replace the cancelled Sean Spicer program, which Trump once praised for its “great ratings” but eventually decided should only be done with the cameras off. Spicer’s first day on the job was devoted to insisting that Trump’s inauguration crowd was the biggest in history, which was easily disproved by an ample amount of photography and video tape and eyewitness accounts, as well as a common sense understanding that even the usual sorts of Republicans much less Trump aren’t going to outdraw the First Black President in the District of Columbia and environs, and it pretty much went downhill from there.
Spicer was every bit as rude and insulting and dissembling to the press as his boss could ever be, and the Trump show’s biggest fans seemed to love it, but it never translated in higher presidential approval ratings with the overall audience. Melissa McCarthy’s scathing and you have to admit pretty-damned-funny impersonation on “Saturday Night Live” was a far bigger hit, and is probably how he’ll be long remembered for the next 15 minutes, if that long, just as people still confuse Gov. Sarah Palin with Tina Fey’s scathing and you have to admit pretty-damned-funny “Saturday Night Live” impersonation of her. Trump had guest-hosted the long-running comedy during the campaign, and scored huge ratings and no doubt thought he killed, so we can see why he’d think that Spicer just wasn’t doing the old rude and insulting and dissembling shtick like a pro.
By this point Spicer’s already been out of the limelight for a conspicuous while, with deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders taking his place at the White House briefings. She’s gotten slightly better reviews from the mainstream media, as she honeys her assaults on the media’s integrity with a soft southern accent and frequent theologically questionable allusions to the Christian faith she learned from her dad, humble country preacher and former Arkansas Governor and current talk show host Mike Huckabee, but it’s not so big with the fans that Trump has allowed the cameras to be turned back on. With Spicer’s resignation she’s now the full blown press secretary, but we expect that Scaramucci will be the bigger celebrity.
Scaramucci became fabulously wealthy wheeling-and-dealing on Wall Street, where he was fearfully known as “Mooch,” and except for a knack for publicizing himself he has no relevant experience in either politics or communications. That’s apparently considered a qualification to a president who became fabulously wealthy through various wheeling-and-dealings and has no other relevant experience for his current position Still, Trump is admittedly entitled to note that Spicer had previously been communications director the Republican National Committee, whose ratings are currently awful, so sometimes experience isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Scaramucci’s already had lengthy auditions defending Trump on all the broadcast and cable news shows, too, and he showed all the combativeness that Trump could hope for, as well a certain telegenic flair for it that Spicer never quite achieved and Sanders can’t even attempt.
Scaramucci wasn’t always on the Trump train, and in fact “tweeted” some sharp criticisms of the man right up to the moment that Trump clinched the Republican nomination, but since then he’s been as full-throated a defender as Trump could hope for. All those heretical “tweets” have now been removed and recanted and apologized for, and the leftward sides of the media are convinced that he’s the latest weapon of mass distraction Trump has deployed against them, but we think he might prove more savvy than they fear. A while back the Cable News Network had a big story about how Scaramucci was tied to some shady Russian deal, and it when it turned to to be all wrong and was removed and retracted and apologized for, with three resignations thrown in as well, all the Trump-friendly media went wild about “fake news” while Scaramucci simply “tweeted” that he accepted and appreciated the apology.
The previous expunged reservations about Trump and that reserved response to a story that Trump’s media tormentors also had to remove and recant and apologize for suggest some qualifications for the job, as far as we’re concerned. From what we’ve seen Scaramucci can reasonably confront the often questionable assumptions of an interviewer’s questions without being an utter jerk about it, which is a surprisingly crowd-pleasing shtick that Trump has never mastered, and although he’s a bit too close to that Gordon Gekko character in “Wall Street” for the late night comics to resist we doubt they’ll nail it quite like McCarthy did with Spicer.
As savvy as Scaramucci seems to be, though, we doubt it will suffice in his new and vastly-underpaid gig. He’s still expected to maintain with a straight face that Trump’s inauguration crowd was the biggest ever, and since then there have been lots of other things about the Trump administration that are equally defend, and more are sure to come. Sooner or later it all seems to wind up in congressional hearings and special investigations and court hearings where all those Democratic scandals and retracted news stories are not germane to the questions being asked, and the answers are under oath, and things are so crazy these days that the truth might yet prevail. He got off to a start by appearing on
Scaramucci’s first full day on the job had him telling CNN’s Sunday morning “State of the Union” show that Trump hadn’t yet decided about a pending bill that would impose sanctions on Russia and restrict the president’s power to to limit them, or that at least he didn’t know if the president had decided, and simultaneously Sanders was telling the American Broadcasting Company’s “This Week” that Trump was ready to sign the bill. On another channel one of the president’s lawyers was denying that the president’s legal team had ever given any thought to the presidential pardon powers that the president had just “tweeted” about. Scaramucci seems a savvy fellow, though, so there’s no reason to think it will be all downhill from here.

— Bud Norman

What Could Go Wrong?

President Donald Trump is now embarking on his first foreign trip since taking office, and we expect he’ll be glad to get out of the country. He’s spent the week griping to the graduates of the Coast Guard Academy that he’s been the most unfairly treated politician in all history, “tweeting” claims that the ongoing investigations into his campaign’s possible role in Russia’s election meddling are a “witch hunt,” and testily denying everything to a pesky pack of the press, so at least he’ll be able to change the subject for a while.
On the other hand, the conversation might well take another controversial turn or two before the nine-long-days trip is over. The celebrity apprentice president has already provoked controversies in his dealings with such friendly countries as Australia and Germany, which takes some doing, and the itinerary for his trip includes some far trickier encounters.
The tour starts out in Saudia Arabia, where the royal family has reportedly prepared to roll out $68 million worth of red carpet, which should be enough to satisfy even Trump’s sense of grandeur. So far Trump has been saying everything the Saudis want to hear about arms deals and their war in Yemen and other and other deals that are  dear to their hearts, but he’s also the guy who called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the United States, and until recently he was a vociferous critic of the country, and his planned speech on Islamic radicalism will require more carefully diplomatic language than Trump is accustomed to using. A visit to Saudi Arabia is fraught with peril for even the most seasoned presidents, and Trump is seemingly still starting a learning curve.
The next planned stop is in Israel, which is always tricky. Trump has long been outspokenly supportive of the Jewish state, and enjoyed a friendly relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he’s lately abandoned his campaign promise to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem and reportedly blabbed some top-secrets shared by the Israelis to the Russians, and has long habit of making stereotypical Jewish jokes in public. His daughter and son-in-law are both Jewish, which provides some cover for such japes, but we expect his aides will be nervous for the duration of the visit.
After that Trump moves on to Italy and the vatican for a meeting with Pope Francis. Back in the campaign the Pope opined that Trump’s proposed wall along the border with Mexico wasn’t consistent with Christian values, Trump replied with characteristic bluntness that the Pope was “disgraceful” to say so, but both men are promising a friendlier conversation when they meet face to face. Absent any inappropriate jokes about a priest and a Rabbi and a Presbyterian minister walking in to a bar it seems a safe enough stop.
Next up is Belgium, where he’s scheduled to meet the king and queen and Prime Minister, and although they probably won’t be spending $68 million for the chat that should go fine. He’s also scheduled to meet the newly elected President of France, after Trump implicitly endorsed his Vichy-linked opponent in the recent French vote, as well as the president of the European Union, an institution both Trump and that Vichy-linked opponent have long outspokenly criticized, so that might also require more diplomatic language than Trump is used to using. There’s another meeting scheduled with the leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which Trump has lately concluded is not “obsolete,” as he frequently described it during the campaign, but he’s still grousing that its members are mostly a bunch of freeloading deadbeats, so there’s no telling how that might go.
Trump’s European trip then returns again to Italy, where he’ll take his place along the leaders of the G7 nations, and we hope he won’t mind sharing the stage with all of them. All those countries have pretty pesky presses of their own, though, and the American media will also be on hand to egg them on, and at that point the conversation might well take any number of controversial turns.
There’s always a chance Trump will return home with a lot of brand new best friends, and that the media won’t find anything to criticize, but Trump being Trump and the media being the media that’s not the way to bet.

— Bud Norman

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Trying to Turn a Defeat Into A Victory, Bigly

President Donald Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters seem to like his penchant for blunt talk, so we’re sure they won’t object that we frankly he note lost “bigly” last week on his first important legislative attempt to make America great again. A hasty and ham-fisted attempt to pass a highly unpopular repeal-and-replacement of the unpopular Obamacare law was called off just before it was clearly about to go down in flames, Trump’s much-touted dealmaking prowess and much boasted-about knack for always winning couldn’t prevent it, and the mainstream media and the late night comics and the rest of the Trump-haters spent the weekend celebrating.
There were some bold efforts, of course, to explain how the failure of a bill that Trump had given his full-throated support to will ultimately prove another one of those victories that he always wins. One theory holds that the fault lies with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who clearly deserves and surely will be saddled with much of the blame for the debacle, and that his weakened position therefore strengthens that of the President who had handed Ryan the responsibility for the first big legislative fight of his administration, but it’s not clear how that pans out. Trump praised Ryan’s efforts, then “tweeted” for everyone to watch a Fox News show where the host happened to spew a diatribe calling for Ryan being removed from the speakership, and at this point it’s not clear who would replace Ryan or how he might have united a fractious Republican Party or otherwise handled the situation any better. Another theory offered by Trump holds that the Democrats are now responsible for the continued existence of Obamacare, which is still widely unpopular in its own rights and absolutely hated by every kind of Republican from Trump to Ryan to such old-fashioned rank-and-file sorts as ourselves, but the bill was also sunk by the more moderate and most conservative Republicans and party rank-and-filers who also found something to hate in its hasty and ham-fisted and form.
The guy who does the “Dilbert” cartoons became famous as a political pundit by predicting that Trump’s ingeniously persuasive rhetoric of schoolyard taunts and barnyard epithets and outrageous boasts and fourth-grade level discourse would win the presidency, and ever since that prediction proved true he’s been explaining how even the craziest things Trump says are part of “4-D chess game” he’s playing against the checkers-players of the political world. To explain how Trump failed to even get a vote on a bill he’d given his full-throated support that would have more or less kept one of his most frequent campaign promises, the guy who does the “Dilbert” cartoons notes that the press is no longer describing Trump as Hitler but is instead calling him an incompetent buffoon, which is supposed to be some sort of victory. Somewhere in the 4-D world of chess that Trump and the guy who does the “Dilbert” cartoons this might make sense, but in the three dimensional world that the rest of the inhabits Obamacare persists and the mainstream press and the late night comics and the rest of the Democrats are celebrating and such rank-and-file Republicans as ourselves are feeling yet another ass-kicking.
Obamacare is still an awful idea headed to an horrendous outcome, but waiting around for enough insurance companies and actual human beings to die for the Democrats to admit it seems a rather cruel political strategy, and the hasty and ham-fisted repeal-and-replace plan that was proposed last week went down despite the best efforts of both Trump and Ryan. Something better should still be possible, even if it doesn’t live up to Trump’s extravagant campaign promises of coverage for everybody and it’s gonna be a lot cheaper and better and you’re head will spin how great it is, and even if Ryan’s grimmer realities about winners and losers and the inevitable payoffs of freedom and equality are frankly admitted, but at this point it doesn’t seem likely. Those conservative Republicans who objected to the pulled bill for conservative Republicans seem suddenly marginalized by Trump, Ryan and and the slightly-less-conservative Republicanism he represents are clearly weakened as well, and if the Democrats ever do feel compelled to come asking for a deal we still worry that Trump the deal-maker will make one that keeps all his campaign promises of coverage for everyone and the government will pay for it and it will be a whole lot cheaper and make your head spin.

— Bud Norman

Trump vs. the Media vs. the Truth and the Rest of Us

The battle between President Donald Trump and the ancien regime media continues to escalate, and just like his election campaign against Hillary Clinton we’re watching without a rooting interest. Once again both sides are embarrassing themselves with false claims and phony outrage and actual incompetence, and we’re just hoping that it somehow works out for the rest of us.
Most of the media have continued to do the same dreadful job they’ve been doing over the industry’s past several decades of declining circulation and ratings and ad revenues and public approval. Since Trump’s election the most established newspapers and news broadcasts and all sorts of more fashionable internet outlets have issued reports that required extensive corrections or outright retractions, there’s been an unabashed antagonism even in the supposedly straight news sections that can’t help but raise questions about objectivity, and by now even the most casual news readers have noticed that they’re getting all worked up over the same sorts of things they spent the Obama years writing about approvingly or ignoring altogether. They’re the same smug and self-serious bores they’ve always been, too, and still don’t seem to realize how badly it’s playing.
Yet Trump provides them plenty of fodder for a whole lot of gleefully negative but indisputably reporting, “tweeting” and extemporizing on-video claims that are easily disproved and endlessly corrected by the careful explanations of his underlings yet never fully retracted. They range from the petty, such as his continued insistence that the size of his inauguration crowd was bigger than all the evidence or any logic would support, to the potentially more consequential, such as his claims that a rigged election system cost him the popular vote and that Russia had certainly had nothing to do with him winning the electoral vote. Although the ancien regime media missed yet another bet by objecting to Trump’s Muslim-banning executive order by insinuating that it was motivated by “Islamophobia,” still not realizing how badly that old shtick is playing, they were able to generate plenty of pristine copy about how ineptly it was written by political hacks without the input of any of those top people that Trump promised to surround himself with, and how it wound up confusing all the bureaucrats downstream and causing all sorts of fuss for perfectly nice people and ending up with a lot of legal wrangling, and Trump referring to the “so-called judge” who issued an injunction and lots of people on the left and right noting that the judge is so called because he actually is a duly-appointed-by-a_Republican-and-confirmed-by-a-bipartisan-congressional-majority judge, and so far we’d score it all about even for both teams, with the rest of in the hole.
Trump’s next offensive was against the media’s alleged lack of “Islamophobia,” which he’s shrewd enough to know that most Americans and all of his supporters understand as a reasonable concern about Islamist terrorism, and he botched that persuasive argument by claiming that there’s a widespread media collusion that ignores acts of terror. Had he argued that many of the media are slow to acknowledge an Islamist motivation to an act or terror and when forced to try to underplay that fact of the story he would have had some basis for the claim, but instead he had his staff issue a hastily-assembled list of terror strikes that the media had “underreported.” The established papers and networks were happy to show the  list included several major terrorist attacks in Europe and Australia and the Middle East that you surely heard about if you’d turned on a television or radio or opened a newspaper or called up any sort of news web site in the days afterward, many more that were Muslim-on-Muslim killing in some geopolitically unimportant country by inconsequential gangs involving a small and numbingly routine number of victims. None of them were that white guy who shot all those black people in a South Carolina church or the white who shot up that mosque in Quebec, one of them was apparently some crazed homeless guy killing some tourists in an Australia hostel and the parents of the victims are “tweeting” their apparently real outrage that Trump has politicized the murders to gin up policies they don’t support, and it also didn’t include the “Bowling Green Massacre” that a spokeswoman claimed most Americans didn’t know because it was underreported, but which was in fact entirely unreported by it had not happened.
All in all we’d call that round another draw, and once again we can’t see that turning out well for the rest of us. By now most of the country seems to have chosen which side they’ll believe without bothering to carefully consider any of the facts or other alternatives on offer. By now we know way too many people who think that reptilian alien shape-shifters aligned with the Illuminati have something to do with it, way too many more who think the truth is whatever they find on their side of great cultural and economic and political divide and that everyone over on that side is lying, and that crazy liberal academic notion about objective reality being a mere social construct to maintain the establishment that can be deconstructed by the right mumbo-jumbo seems to have been adopted by our putatively conservative and proudly anti-intellectual president.
With no rooting interest to preoccupy we continue to grasp for objective reality, another one of those old-fashioned beliefs we bitterly cling to in these uncertain times. Our old college pal Pee Wee lives in the Washington, D.C. area and remains a Facebook friend, and he went down to look at the big protest on the Mall the day after inauguration and posted about a cop he talked with who said he’d also been on the job the day before and that the protest was far better attended, and even though Pee Wee’s a lifelong liberal we’ve never known him to lie about anything, and we’re pretty darned sure he’s not part of any Illuminati conspiracy, so we figure that Trump is overstating his crowd size and can’t help worrying about his apparent insecurity about matters of size. We also have to admit that even the most multiculturally sensitive media have all wound up acknowledging that sure enough yet another major terror occurred somewhere in the world, but we’re still hoping for a more reasoned and maybe even more intelligible argument from Trump that Islamist terrorism remains a reasonable concern.
In the meantime, we’ll be sticking to the facts as best we can find them and continue to criticize our media brethren and gleefully ignore that pudgy-faced provocateur and Chief White House Strategist Steven Bannon’s demand that we shut up. Go ahead and hate the press all you want, and much of the time you’ll be well justified in doing so, but at this point we’re mainly hoping that the freedom of the press survives this mess.

— Bud Norman

The News Makes News

Maybe it’s just a post-holiday lull in what surely be a more news-making year, but for now all the big papers are treating Megyn Kelly’s move from Fox News to the National Broadcasting Company as a big deal. They might be right, for all we know, but these days it seems that even the big papers aren’t such a big deal.
We cut off our cable many years ago, but you had to spend the past year hiding under a bigger rock than the one we were hiding under to not know who Megyn Kelly is. She was about as well-known as a cable news broadcaster can be even before the presidential election, and then her televised and endlessly re-televised confrontations with eventual Republican nominee and president-elect Donald Trump brought her the sort of fame usually reserved for androgynous pop music performers and transgendered reality show stars. It all started when she had the temerity to ask about his long history of making vulgar and sexist statements about women, and he somehow persuaded a Republican debate audience that such vulgarity and sexism was a much-needed blow against the stifling influence of something called “political correctness,” which we had thought meant an attempt to impose limits on Republicans in political debates about race and sex and such but apparently referred to an old-fashioned code of civil decorum that Republicans used to insist on. When Trump railed afterwards that it was an unfair question from the smug leftist news media that her permeated even Fox News, and said that Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever” when asking it, he had pretty much sewn up the Republican nomination and she had become a household name.
The feud continued throughout the primary campaign, with occasional moments of making nice with one another, although at another point Trump declined to appear at a Fox-moderated event where Kelly would be threateningly on the panel, and it made for riveting and ratings-driving reality television. Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters saw Kelly as a smug elitist and probably even globalist media villain, even though she worked for Fox News, and many of those who were inclined to think that a candidate’s long history of vulgar and sexist comments about women were a legitimate issue to raise in a debate and that “blood coming out of her wherever” was not proper presidential rhetoric were disinclined to come to Kelly’s defense, entirely because she worked for Fox News. Both came out of it pretty well, with Trump as president-elect and Kelly inking a gazillion dollar deal with one of those over-the-air networks that everyone on cable used to aspire to, but it remains to be seen how it works out for everyone else.
We expect that Kelly, at least, will fare well in her new job. So far as we can tell she’s a competent and fair journalist by television standards, and she’ll bring a reputation for standing up to Trump that should endear her to NBC’s dwindling audience. She’s quite the hottie, too, and we mention that objectively true fact not for the puerile reasons that Trump might bring it up during his next appearance on the Howard Stern show but rather because it seems to make a difference in television news. Trump is a trickier question, of course, but we can be sure he’ll be a boon to all the networks.
How the Fox News network will fare is less certain, so much of the rest of the media’s attention has focused on that. Fox News had already been shaken by the forced resignation of its longtime boss, who had been accused of a long history of all sorts of sexually harassing sleaziness by many of the women at the network, where we’ll also note as a relevant matter of objective that they’re almost all quite the hotties, so the loss of its most famous face surely poses some difficulties, even if she was reviled by all the so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone Trump supporters who make up such a large share of the audience. There are plenty of other competent and fair journalists at the network, such as Shep Smith and Chris Wallace and Brett Baier, so if the network decides to go in that direction they have plenty of options, even if their competence and fairness has also sometimes aroused the ire of those so-loyal-they-might-shoot-someone Trump supporters.
In any case the liberals will continue to call it “Faux News,” and the newly ascendent sorts of conservatives will continue to call the last of the big papers “The New York Slimes” and “The Washington Compost,” Trump will have more followers on “Twitter” than the other media have readers or viewers, and most  people simply won’t listen to anything they don’t want to hear. How that works out also remains to be seen.

— Bud Norman

Theater Critic-in-Chief

President-elect Donald Trump is no doubt busy these days making appointments and planning his agenda, but he took time out over the weekend to criticize his theatrical critics.
It all started on Friday when Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who was in New York City because that where the transition team is located, decided to take some time out with his family and watch the big hit show on Broadway. That would be “Hamilton,” of course, a hip-hop musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton which was won rave reviews along with 11 Tony Awards and already sold out a year’s worth of tickets at exorbitant prices. Pence entered the theater to a mix of cheers and boos from the audience, by most accounts with the latter drowning out the former, and left while being personally addressed in a curtain call oration. The actor who plays Aaron Burr was chosen to speak on behalf of the ostentatiously multi-ethnic cast and producers to ask Pence to “uphold our American values” and “work on behalf of all of us.” He asked the audience to refrain from booing Pence, prefaced his remarks respectfully, and the screed was rather polite by contemporary standards of political discourse, but in all the New York papers it made for a bigger story than the $25 million that Trump agreed to pay to settle that Trump University lawsuit.
The incident certainly caught the attention of Trump, who took to “Twitter” to write, in his usual Lincoln-esque prose, “Our wonderful future V.P. Mike was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing. This should not happen!” Lest you think that Trump believes that any request for his administration uphold American values and work on behalf of all citizens should not happen, he clarified in a later “Tweet” that he was only referring to the theater. “The Theater must always be a safe and special space. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man. Apologize!” Apparently peeved that no apology was forthcoming, he “Tweeted” again, adding “Very rude and insulting of Hamilton cast to treat our great future V.P. Mike Pence to a theater lecture. Couldn’t even memorize lines.” We’re encouraged by Trump’s newfound dislike of rude and insulting behavior, but hate to hear him using such a politically correct phrase as “safe place.”
Pence seemed unfazed by the incident, telling Fox News that “I nudged my kids and told them that’s what freedom sounds like,” and “I wasn’t offended by what was said.” He also lavishly praised the production, making no mention of any unmemorized lines, and said that Trump does indeed plan to work on behalf of all Americans. All in all, we thought it a very presidential response.
By the time Pence had largely put the controversy to rest a new “Saturday Night Live” was airing, though, so Trump was back to “Tweeting.” The show featured a skit with actor Alec Baldwin reprising his popular Trump impersonation, this time portraying the president-elect as overwhelmed by his newfound responsibilities and panicked that he won’t be able to keep his campaign promises, and Trump was clearly not amused: “I watched parts of @nbcsnl Saturday Night Live last night. It is a totally one-sided, biased show — nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?” All in all, we thought it was very stupid “tweet” and not at all presidential.
Saturday Night Live is totally one-sided and biased, of course, and always has been. That was true last summer when the show offered Trump a guest-hosting role, with no equal time for the far more qualified candidates he was running against in the ongoing Republican primary race, and we can’t remember Trump having any complaints about it at the time. Nor can we recall him ever complaining that Breitbart News and The Sean Hannity Show and that crazypants Alex Jones’ InfoWars and all of Trump’s other favorite media are also totally one-sided and biased. If Trump intends to reinstate that Fairness Doctrine of “equal time” that President Ronald Reagan quite wisely rescinded, his pals in the talk radio business are not going to be happy. Satirists will still be happily exempted, barring any changes to the First Amendment, and we can’t imagine how they practice their art in a way that wasn’t one-sided and biased. Perhaps Trump can get some writers to come up with some knee-slapping comedy about how totally awesome is Trump, but they’ll have to better than the ones who wrote his material for that Al Smith memorial dinner.
Perhaps Trump feels that his office deserves a certain respect, but that’s a newfound notion for a man who spent much of the past eight years peddling what he now admits was all along a cock and bull story about President Barack Obama being born in Kenya, and frequently accused President George W. Bush of telling a treasonous lie to get America into the Iraq War. That kind of vitriol, and the more thoughtful sort of satire and criticism Trump spent much of a busy weekend “tweeting” about, come with the job. We hope that in the future Trump will stick to more important tasks, let the theater do its job, and allow freedom of speech to live on.

— Bud Norman

A Friendly Evening With the Last of the Media

Several of the last remaining members of the local news media got together Monday night at a friend’s nearby house, and as you might expect it was a rather glum affair. The ostensible purpose of the gathering was to plan for the local Society of Professional Journalists chapter’s annual fund-raising satirical revue, so there was plenty of wine and beer and wise-cracking to go with the chicken tacos, and everyone seemed glad see one another, but the free-flowing jokes kept taking a dark turn. No one was happy about the winner of the presidential race, not even the one or two of them we suspect share our equal or greater disdain for the losing candidate, and everyone had to admit that business hasn’t been great lately.
There were a couple of relative youngsters in attendance who still work at the local newspaper, and another five of us relative oldsters once who toiled there, and we all tried to laugh about what has become of it. These days it’s an undersized and over-priced publication, full of wire stories and copy from the chain’s other papers and plenty of locally-produced fluff pieces. The paper devotes much of its remaining resources to covering local high sports, which is among the only news you can’t get quicker and for free on the internet, and seems less interested in what’s going on with the city and county and state governments, news which is also hard to come by on the internet and arguably more important. Those relative youngsters seemed an earnest pair, to the point they struck us as lacking in the requisite cynicism for the job, but they got all the morbid jokes the relative oldsters were telling.
We signed on to the paper as a copy boy with the glorified title of “editorial assistant” a few months before President Ronald Reagan won election, and although we were the only ones in the newsroom who were happy about that at least business was going great. This was shortly after pretty much every city in the country had become a one-newspaper town, just before Reagan repealed the “Fairness Doctrine” and unleashed talk radio on the nation, well before Al Gore invented the internet, and for a while there our monopoly newspaper was not only printing copies that were shipped from one end of the state to another but also seemed to be printing money. Some J-school-educated rabble rousers kept threatening to unionize and management quelled every rebellion with a generous raise, new hires were being added to crowded and still smoke-filled newsroom and given generous expense accounts to spread out across the state and muck rake or fly to New York to cover the Broadway openings or fashion shows, by the time we worked our way up to a byline in every public office lived in fear of a reporter knocking on the door or ringing their phone, and we were a pretty cocky bunch.
By the time we left after a quarter of a century in a fit of depression it was hard to get gas money to travel into the three other counties where the paper was still distributed, bureaucrats and politicians would scoff at any pesky questions they were asked if they even bothered to return a call, and the charts at the every month-or-so staff meetings kept showing a downward trend in readership and ad revenues. A big part of the problem was technological progress, which had suddenly allowed stock investors access to up-to-minute quotes and rendered our day day-after information obsolete, and provided crossword puzzles and comic strips and major league baseball standings and five-day weather forecasts at a moment’s notice and a 100 percent discount, and worse yet created Craigslist and other more desirable alternatives to the classified ads that were once the bread-and-butter of ink-on-print media, but we must admit the desultory quality of the product was also largely to blame. Despite our up-from-copy efforts the paper reflected the condescending attitudes of the corporate headquarters and the J-schools from which it sprung far more than the diners and factory break rooms where the paper was read, its crusades against nuclear energy and in favor of subprime loans are ridiculous in retrospect, it’s easily detectable bias against Republicans was not a sensible business policy in a red state such as Kansas, and we’re not surprised by what’s happening to it now.
The presses stopped rolling at the local newspaper building some time ago, with the few copies required to sate local demand being printed at the former bitter rival and now corporate sister newspaper in Kansas City, and soon the paper will be leaving it altogether. One of the big agribusiness conglomerates has bought the building for some purpose or another, we can’t really say since we’re reliant on the local media for such information, and the paper has announced will be moving elsewhere, possibly somewhere in the Old Town portion of downtown but by all accounts in someplace much smaller. Within a few years our local newspaper will likely be peddling its undersized fare at overpriced fees via only the internet, so there’s no need for the extra room those delightful deaf printers with their hand signals that could be heard over the din and those scraggly inserters recruited from the nearby skid row used to take up. There’s talk that the big agribusiness conglomerate will tear the building down, and we can’t say we’d miss it much, as it’s a garishly ugly old concrete example of modernism.
Monday’s party also allowed us to catch up with some local radio and television journalists, all of whom are fine people who come up with some important stories now and then, especially when there’s a tornado or some other local event that the internet hasn’t caught up to, but as much as enjoyed seeing them they didn’t have much good news to tell. Ratings are down everywhere, also a clear result of technological progress and professional ineptitude, and as night follows day so are the ad revenues, so all the talk was of budget cuts and skeletal crews and the inevitable resulting screw-ups. A few of us in attendance at the gathering are practitioners of the “alternative media” that have also done so much to undermine the ancien regime of media, but we certainly weren’t any more bullish about the business. The funds that our annual amateur theatrics raise are for journalism scholarships, and after a couple of beers or glasses of wine everyone in the show laughingly agreed that it was a hopelessly lost cause.
We can attest that everyone at the gathering had pursued a journalism career with good intentions, and assume the same thing about most people who pursue such a low-paying and thankless occupation, although in some in cases we’re reminded of that old adage about the road to hell, and we sensed a certain sadness about how it seems to have all come to naught. The blame for this desultory election can be widely spread, across both parties and the entirety of a declining American culture, from the hedonistic groves of Hollywood that promoted one tawdry candidate to the hypocritical evangelicals who made excuses for the tawdry other, but surely some of it goes to the remnants of the news media. Trump voters must admit that the mainstream media ran plenty of stories about Clinton’s probably felonious e-mails and other assorted scandals, even if they didn’t get as prominent a placement on the front page as Trump’s latest idiotic “tweet,” and Clinton voters are all the more obliged to admit that Trump’s countless appalling scandals were more breathlessly covered, even if the networks did devote a lot more time to him than all of his more respectable Republican primary challengers combined, but such even-handedness couldn’t avert this awful election.
By now no individual medium has any noticeable effect on events. Technological progress has brought us to a time when people can choose only new sources that confirm what they already believe, and most choose to do so. Our liberal friends challenge any uncomfortable fact by saying “Where did you hear that, on Faux News,” our conservative friends dismiss anything that’s been reported in “The New York Slimes” or “The Washington Compost,” with the damning italics sneeringly implied, and almost everyone gets their news from Facebook or some slightly dubious-sounding e-mail from a friend of family member. We regard it all with a hard-earned suspicion, and an equally hard-earned understanding that it might just be true, and do our best to make discerning judgments after further digging into more definitive sources, but these days that’s no way to make a living.
Our show will go on, we suppose, and so will the ancien regime media and its many alternatives, and we hope that the First Amendment and the rest of our republic will as well. Still, it seems a rather glum affair at this point.

— Bud Norman

Politics as Practiced on the AM Dial

Monday’s chores entailed much driving around our sprawling town, and as we’re not the sorts to sit in silence at the interminable traffic lights we spent much of the afternoon scanning the AM radio between the old folks’ station where they play Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra and the country oldies station that occasionally plays some pre-80s tears-in-my-bear honky tonk worth listening to and the local right-wing talk station that broadcasts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Mark Levin and assorted other right-wing ranters. Despite the unpleasant distractions of the day, we couldn’t help noticing a slightly heartening diversity of media views.
So far as we can tell from our occasional stoplight encounters with right-wing talk radio, Limbaugh still hates the presumptive Democratic nominee and is resigned to offering helpful rationalizations for the Republican nominee’s latest “tweets,” Hannity hates the presumptive Democratic at least as much and is at least is fully on board with the presumptive Republican nominee and ever eager to explain — “literally,’ he always annoyingly adds — how the presumptive Republican nominee’s latest “Tweets” don’t contradict every position he’s ever taken on anything from adultery to public health care, and Levin is just as loudly and cacophonously as ever opposed to both the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees, which would probably strike us as the most the most reasonable position if he weren’t shrieking it with all all those capital letters. In between all the ads are for gold bug businesses and doomsday food suppliers and people eager to help out with your problems with the Internal Revenue Service and your credit card debt, and except for an old friend or ours who runs an excellent local hat shop and a couple of other daring local business and some company that makes what it bills as the world’s greatest pillow that’s about all you’d hear on our local right-wing radio station, except for those American Broadcasting Company news updates that come at that the end of every hour and always sound exactly like what those deranged right-wingers predicted they would say.
On Monday afternoon the mainstream media feed into our otherwise reliably right-wing media was reporting that some Democratic Senators had bravely advocated some surely well-intentioned legislative proposal to restrict people’s rights to defend themselves with firearms, and it came right out and said the congressional Republicans were “un-moved” by the past weekend’s tragedy in Florida and therefore callously moved to vote against a bill to to deny gun sales to anyone on the federal government’s “no-fly” list.
Those nasty establishment Republicans did indeed vote against the proposed legislation, but just as the right-wing talkers predicted the ABC news feed at the top of the hour made no mention of the unavoidable matter that almost anyone, including the late “liberal lion” Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, could win up being denied his Second Amendment rights as a result of a more cockamamie bill if it were ever passed and signed. Nor was there any mention anywhere on the radio dial that the presumptive and proudly anti-establishment Republican presidential nominee is entirely on board with this nonsense, and promises to talk with his new-found friends at the National Rifle Association about it, and seems quite eager to have his very own federal government deciding who and who does not have Second Amendment rights. All in all, we’d have to call it perfectly imbalanced coverage of the day’s events during an afternoon’s chores, if not at all satisfactory.

— Bud Norman

Radical Islamic Terrorism, This Time Around

There should be some respectful and contemplative pause between such horrible carnage as occurred over the weekend in Florida and the inevitable and necessary political debates that always follow, but that no longer seems possible. With the death toll yet to be tallied, the all too familiar arguments are already being advanced.
This time around it’s difficult for the left to state its usual case. The murders of at least 50 people at an Orlando nightclub already sets a record for the deadliest mass shooting in American history, which would ordinarily cause many of the more prominent media and the predictable politicians to amplify their ritual calls for further gun control laws, but as usual none of their proposals wouldn’t have done anything to prevent the murders and in this case it’s far, far more complicated than that. The nightclub where the murders occurred catered to a homosexual clientele, the murderer made clear that he was motivated by his murderously anti-homosexual Islamic beliefs and his fealty to the Islamic State terror organization that has lately been inflicting such horrors on the homosexuals and the Christians and more peaceable Muslims and many others sorts of similarly sympathetic people in a the wide swath of the Middle East it now commands. Thus the President of the United States who lit the White House in the rainbow colors of the homosexual rights movement to celebrate same-sex marriage and dismissed the Islamic State as a “jayvee” team” of terrorism and insists there’s no such thing as radical Islamic terrorism and that at any rate the Koran doesn’t say about homosexuality what that mass murderer read in its plain text and has declared the future should not belong to those who slander the Prophet Muhammad finds himself arguing about gun control from a muddled position.
Even the most polite press media are now obliged to acknowledge that the Islamic State is proudly and credibly blaming credit for the mass murder on American soil, even the president and the rest of the government officials at every level are openly calling it an act of terrorism of some undefined sort of another, and there’s also the unavoidable matter that the killer not only passed those much-ballyhooed background checks for a weapons purchase but also for a position in the federal government, and that his outspoken anti-homosexual Islamic views somehow exempted him from official scrutiny even after two investigations by federal authorities. The recent Secretary of State and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who has fancied herself a fearless defender of homosexual rights for the past few years it’s been so popular, finds herself a similarly muddled situation.
Meanwhile, the presumptive Republican nominee, real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-scam-university-and-reality show mogul Donald J. Trump, has staked out what is at least a clearer stand. He’s on record on for wiping out the killer’s family and torturing anyone suspected of being involved with him and banning even the people with more peaceable notions of Islam from entering the country, and he’s used barnyard profanity to describe the bombings he’d inflict on the Islamic State, and although he’s backtracked all the crazy talk about ordering war crimes and how the military would bend to his will if he did, and although he’s also talked about out-sourcing that Islamic State problem to the alluringly strong Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, he still somehow comes off at the stronger horse to an understandably horrified public.
As we pray for those poor souls who suffered in the weekend’s massacre, we’d like to think that some more sensible solution could be found in a respectful and contemplative pause between such horrors and our nation’s response, but that no longer seems possible.

— Bud Norman