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A President Popular by Default

President Barack Obama is unaccountably popular at the moment, with a bare majority of Americans expressing approval of him. That’s hardly Mount Rushmore stuff, and far short of the falling oceans and fundamental transformations he promised during the peak of his popularity during that first crazy presidential campaign of his, but for now it’s enough to make him the most popular politician in America. The only way we can account for it is the year’s even crazier election.
It’s not just that both of his major party would-be successors are wildly unpopular, with landslide majorities of Americans quite reasonably finding both dishonest and altogether unfit for the office, but also the way that their daily groan-inducing scandals keep the president contentedly out of the news altogether. Those obsessive sorts of news readers who dive beyond the front page headlines and delve deep into the rest of it are vaguely aware that the president recently paid a huge ransom to the Iranian theo-thug-ocracy for some hostages and then offered a preposterous explanation about why he didn’t, that Milwaukee has lately been burning from flames fanned by the “Black Lives Moment” the president has encouraged, that much of south Louisiana is underwater and the main form of federal assistance has been a memo sternly warning that rescue efforts not be racially discriminatory, and that the president has been playing golf and living it up with a bunch of rich white people on a lavishly-funded vacation to Martha’s Vineyard the whole time, but the rest of the country has been pleasantly preoccupied with America’s rout at the the Olympics and the latest gaffes from the president’s would-be successors.
We can recall past times when shady hostage deals went down with the Iranian theo-thug-ocracy and American inner cities burned and south Louisiana was underwater, and how it used to be a much bigger deal, but then again all that happened during slower news cycles and Republican administrations. During a slow news cycle in a Republican administration a president golfing and living it up with a bunch of rich white people while the rest of the nation churns along uneasily would be a major scandal, but with a Democratic administration and the happy distraction of a can’t-look-away-train-wreck of a presidential election such scandals suddenly become quibbles. The desultory state of the economy and that awful labor force participation rate that obscures the more happy-face unemployment numbers, the mounting debt that sustains the slow pace, the politicization of the Justice Department that allows the Democratic nominee to be running in the first place, the generally unsettled state of world, as well as the general cultural decline made apparent by the current sorry choices of presidential nominees, are all as easily relegated to the inner pages of your increasingly scant newspaper.
Any old well-funded Republican should be able to make something of it, but this year the nominee isn’t any old well-funded Republican but rather the not-quite-self-funding-self-described billionaire Donald J. Trump, and he hasn’t seized the opportunities. The self-described deal-making-artisan made a strong case against the ransom for hostages arrangement, but the press was able to focus on what he had later had to admit was a bogus claim that he’d seen secret video footage of the payment. He made a persuasive argument that the past many decades of Democratic machine politics have caused the plight of the recently burning inner cities, but his attempts to bolster his current 1 or 2 percent favorables among black Americans were rather clumsily phrased in the pitch that they’re all poor and uneducated and therefore have nothing to lose by voting for him, along with the rather fanciful even-by-Trump-standards boast that after four years in office he’d win 95 percent black vote. Trump showed up in Louisiana for a meaningless photo-op several days before the vacationing Obama plans to do the same, but unless starts spending some serious ad buy money we doubt it will do him the same good that it once did Obama when a Republican administration was in charge while south Louisiana was underwater.
Thus far the supposedly boundlessly wealthy Trump has been quite parsimonious about ad buys, and instead continues to rely on all the “free media” that has suddenly turned so hostile ever since he wrapped up the Republican nomination, not to mention all those gaffes, and yet he’s still within shouting distance in the national polls if not so much the states that add up to an electoral majority. That’s because a clear majority of Americans understand that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is dishonest and unfit for office, and we also take heart that a near-majority of them also think little of the current president. That so few of us have any regard for our next president, no matter how it turns out, is also heartening in an unaccountable way.

— Bud Norman

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The Latest Installment in As Trump Turns

The big news from the presidential race on Wednesday was Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s latest shake-up of his campaign staff, and if you’re a binge-watching fan of Trump’s ongoing reality show it makes for some interesting plot twists.
A formerly peripheral character named Stephen Bannon has stepped into a starring role, an entirely unexpected yet predictably blond and comely character named Kellyanne Conway has been introduced, the ambiguously villainous Paul Manafort role has been reduced to cameo appearances, and the obvious implication is that the more or less traditional Republican nominee Trump we’ve seen lately will go back to being the boorish and braggadocios and insulting self-proclaimed billionaire real-estate-and-casino-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-scam-university-and-reality-show mogul who won the Republican nomination.
That Bannon fellow is the new “chief executive” of the campaign, and he once worked for the Goldman Sachs investment outfit that both parties are running against and then went on to produce a documentary about former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee and reality show star Sarah Palin among other ventures, has most recently been in charge of the Breitbart.com news site that has cheered on all of Trump’s most outrageous utterances since way back when there was still a chance the GOP might not nominate someone more traditionally Republican. The Conway woman is apparently a pollster who has long provided Trump with what he wants to hear over his varied private sector careers, and the assumes the more recognizable title of “campaign manager.” That Manafort fellow replaced the combative Corey “Let Trump Be Trump” Lewandowski as “campaign chairman” shortly after a controversy regarding Lewandowski’s allegedly rough treatment of a female reporter, ironically enough from Breitbart.com, ostensibly with the mission of molding Trump into a more traditional Republican nominee, and despite the recent press revelations about his shady dealings in the very same Ukraine that Trump insists the Russians haven’t invaded and might be entitled to in any case he’ll keep the now meaningless title during his cameo appearances.
The timing seems odd, because over the last several days that more-or-less traditional Republican nominee shtick seems to have been working for Trump. He read an obviously pre-written-by-someone-else speech from a tele-prompter about immigration and Islamic terrorism, and made the common sense case that America should be exceedingly cautious about accepting large numbers of immigrants from lands where Islamic terrorism is popular. This contrasted effectively with the Democratic nominee’s crazy talk that Islam has nothing to do with Islamic terrorism and her crazy message of y’all come in, and it left out all his own crazy talk about using bullets dipped in pig’s blood and chopping the heads off of terrorists and killing their families and routinely torturing detainees and trying even American citizens in military tribunals, so even the most traditionally Republican press organs were giving him some begrudging respect. We’re so hide-bound we couldn’t help noticing that he once again repeated his easily disproved lies that he’d been opposed to the Iraq and Libyan interventions from the outset, which reiterated his utterly ridiculous and not all Republican belief that the Middle East would have been happily stable and peaceable if not for America’s meddling influence, and that underneath all the tough talk was an “American First” isolationism, but at this point we’re among a small minority up against a bi-partisan consensus.
Trump followed that up with another pre-written-by-someone-else and tele-promptered speech in Wisconsin, not far from where nihilistic race riots were still raging in Milwaukee in the aftermath of a seemingly justified fatal shooting of an armed and dangerous black man by the police, and it also contrasted effectively with the response of a Democratic nominee who is obligated to both the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the reflexively anti-police administration that are making excuses for and subtly egging on the riots. We wouldn’t go so far as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani did and call it “the best Republican speech ever,” as Abraham Lincoln’s addresses at Gettysburg and the Second Inaugural still really swing for us, but we had to give it some begrudging respect. He even made a plausible appeal to the black Americans who are disproportionately the victims of crime, but we think a more or less traditional Republican nominee who doesn’t have a settlement with the Justice Department over his discriminatory renting practices or an expensive full-page ad calling for the execution of some black rape suspects who were later cleared by physical evidence in his background would be a better messenger.
In any case, the more tele-promptered and traditionally Republican shtick seems to have shaved a few percentage points off the comfortable poll-averaged lead that crazy Democratic nominee had built up while Trump was accusing a vanquished Republican rival’s father of being in on the Kennedy assassination and grousing that an Indiana-born yet “Mexican” judge shouldn’t have been presiding over one of the three trials regarding the scam Trump University and musing in the most indecipherable way about how “Second Amendment people” might forestall future Supreme Court picks and that the president being the literal rather than figurative “founder” of the Islamic State and any number of other unnecessary distractions he’d written into his ongoing reality show. Given that the Democratic nominee talks plenty crazy herself, we’re not at all surprised. The changes in the Trump plot line therefore make no sense to us, but in this crazy election year we’ll concede that’s probably because we’re more accustomed to politics than the reality show genre.

— Bud Norman

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This Time in Milwaukee

The latest round of rioting and looting and mayhem happened Saturday in Milwaukee, where constant gunfire kept firefighters away from several blazes and any person of the wrong hue who had the misfortune to be walking down a certain stretch of Sherman Boulevard was subject to brutal mob violence. Yet another instance of a black man being shot by police officer had preceded it all, of course, and so the usual excuses of the “Black Lives Matter” movement will be made.
Those excuses are never sufficient for the victims of this ongoing violence, however, and in this case they’re all the more insufficient. In this case the man shot by a police officer was armed with a stolen semi-automatic pistol, one of those uniform “body-cams” that the activists have insisted on show he brandished the weapon as he fled from police during a routine traffic stop, he had a long record of arrests and a conviction for possession of a concealed weapon, and although there are still questions about the incident that will surely be thoroughly investigated under intense public scrutiny all of that should at least give some pausing to the rioting. In any case the businesses that were destroyed and those unfortunate folks of the wrong hue who happened to be in the vicinity had nothing to do with the shooting, and the violence and destruction that were inflicted will have no positive effects on anyone.
In this case the officer whose life was on the line was also black, and therefore presumably not motivated by any racial animus, but that won’t matter to a “Black Lives Matter” movement so strangely selective about which black lives matter. They seem to care little for the lives of the brave black men and women who don a police uniform and a gun to try to impose some semblance of law and order on the most lawless and disorderly streets of America, nor for the untold number of murdered black lives that will surely be added to an already inordinate black death toll once those efforts at law enforcement are in retreat from the mob.
As the crime rates rise in those cities afflicted by the anti-police protest movement the chances of a police officer still more or less on the job having to make a split-second decision about how to respond to known felon brandishing a loaded gun will increase, the ensuing riots will fuel a further retreat by law enforcement and another uptick in the crime, and at some point frank talk and real leadership will be required to halt the cycle. All of this comes near the end of what was promised would eight years of a post-racial America, and although it wouldn’t be fair to blame all of this on President Barack Obama it does seem fair to say that he hasn’t made good on those grandiose promises. He’s consistently taken sides against the police in every controversial case, often before the facts emerged to prove his prejudgments incorrect, and his Justice Department has taken similarly premature stands, with the same embarrassing results. His Education Department has also insisted that schools mete out suspensions and expulsions according to a strict racial quota system, which ignores and exacerbates the reality that in many schools some racial groups are committing infractions that call for suspensions and expulsions at a greater rate than others, and his Department of Housing and Urban Development has been imposing similarly cockamamie notions of racial justice on otherwise contented communities around the country.
Despite such efforts, black unemployment remains far higher the national average, with the youth unemployment rising still further over Depression-era rates with every hike in the minimum wage, overall black wages and household wealth are on the decline, and in the cities where the police departments have fallen under federal scrutiny the black murder rates are on the rise. The president’s approval ratings among black Americans remain high, though, and his endorsed would-be Democratic successor is eager to reap their votes and unwilling to challenge his policies. The would-be Republican successor is echoing Nixon’s “law and order” theme from the riot-torn days of ’68, but at the moment the country doesn’t seem to regard him as as the sort racial healer who might stave off a race war. So far the only leadership that has dealt with the complex situation frankly has been at the local level, such as that black police chief in Dallas who largely restored order at the murder of five of his officers, but we’ll need more.

— Bud Norman

Politics in a Murderous Age

One of the few positive developments in America over the past two decades had been a dramatic decline in murders and other crimes, but in the past year or so the trend has suddenly reversed. All the experts are debating the possible causes, and coming up with all sorts of politically expedient explanations, but our admittedly amateur analysis suggests it has something to do with all the anti-police activity that has been going on for the past year or so.
There’s still no unanimity of opinion about what was causing that long term decline, with some on the left crediting legalized abortion for reducing the number of unwanted children who would have grown up to be murderers and criminals and others citing the success of the long-ago ban on lead paint, and all the right-wing crazies insisting it was a result of all those tough-one-crime measures enacted about twenty years or so ago, so it’s no surprise that there is similar disagreement about the recent increase. The left is mostly blaming the widespread availability of guns, as usual, and the right-wing crazies are insisting that it’s a result of a recent retreat from the tough-on-crime measures, as usual, and as usual we’re inclined to the latter point of view.
That twenty year decline in the murder rate happened as gun ownership became more common, and state legislatures and federal courts mostly expanded the rights of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves with firearms, so it seems unlikely that the relatively small number of guns that have been added to the nation’s arsenal in the past year has brought the country to some sort of murderous tipping point. The past year or so has also brought riots, protests, hashtag campaigns, Department of Justice investigations into police practices, a “Black Lives Matter” protest movement that has cowed the Democratic Party’s presidential contenders, the usual number of lawsuits, a hit movie about a “gangsta rap” group whose biggest hit was “F**k Tha Police,” and the combined power of the entertainment and news media wringing their hands over the bloodthirsty racism of the nation’s law enforcement officers. At this point we can hardly blame any police officer for preferring to sit in his squad car on some anodyne street sipping coffee and eating doughnuts rather than risk the penalties that might result from actually enforcing the law, and our experience of human nature assures us there’s plenty of that going on lately, so it doesn’t seem at all coincidental that the murder rate started climbing right around the time all that nonsense started happening.
Our suspicion is further corroborated by the fact that the cities seeing the most alarming increases are the ones where the anti-police activity has been most intense. Milwaukee has experienced an alarming 75 percent increase in its murder rate since last year, and it coincides with the protests that followed a police shooting of black man in what was officially ruled a justifiable act of self-defense. The St. Louis area, which includes the riot-torn town of Ferguson, Missouri, whose police department is under federal investigation after yet another shooting of an unarmed black man that even the Department of Justice now admits was also a justifiable act of self-defense, has seen its murder rate rise by 60 percent. Baltimore, the scene of similar rioting after the death of yet another black man was killed during an encounter with the police, and which is also the target of a federal investigation, is third on the list of the most hard-hit with a 54 percent increase. Washington, D.C., where the Department of Justice is located, comes in fourth a 44 percent increase.
As even The New York Times gets around to admitting in the 38th paragraph of a generally good story about the murder boom, it’s mostly black lives that are being lost. The “Black Lives Matter” movement doesn’t seem to care, though, as it’s only concerned with those black lives lost during encounters with the police, no matter how justifiably the officers might have acted, and at the moment they seem to hold sway in one of the country’s two major political parties. Longshot candidate Martin O’Malley, who was inconveniently both the mayor of Baltimore and the governor of Maryland, has been forced to apologize for saying that “all lives matter,” surging candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has cowardly ceded his campaign platform to a trio of the movement’s bullies, and former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is still described as a front-runner, is now criticizing the bigger police budgets and longer sentences and other measures that she and her then-president husband once championed. Meanwhile the Department of Justice continues its investigations, the Democratic president who runs it continues to enflame racial grievances against the police, while the mayor of New York City, which has seen a 9 percent increase in its homicide rate over last year, which was up from the year before, is a fierce critic of “stop-and-frisk” and other aggressive law enforcement methods as well as a darling of the party’s left, and no one in the party can be heard to defend law enforcement.
This might help the Republicans’ chances in the upcoming election, but perhaps not. The murder rate is mostly going up in places that are Democratic strongholds, and are likely to remain so no matter how apocalyptic their neighborhoods become, and we suspect that only we right-wing crazies are appalled enough by all these murders to consider doing all the things that used to be bringing the murder deliriously down. Eventually the public’s impatience with rampant murder in the streets will insist on all that old-fashioned tough on crime stance, and we’re sure the Clintons will be right back with the crowd, but it remains to be seen if that moment will arrive by Election Day.

— Bud Norman