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In the Mean Times of Trump

Way back when we registered to vote as members of the Republican party on our 18th birthday it was the “party of Lincoln,” the Great Emancipator who preserved the Union by brutal means but then vowed to heal its wounds with “Malice toward none and charity toward all.” At this late date in our lives the Grand Old Party is the party of President Donald Trump, and we can’t help noticing the malicious and uncharitable turn it has lately taken.
Not just in the insult comic rhetoric Trump employs at his never-ending campaign rallies, or the mean-spirited and blatantly self-interested way he chooses to to enact even his most defensible policies, but also in our conversations with dear old Republican friends we used to consistently agree with. We used to agree on strict border enforcement policies, for instance, but these days we seem to disagree about whether the border laws can be strictly enforced without traumatizing thousands of children and perhaps losing track of hundreds of them, and whether that that pesky Constitution and its noisome judges and all those treaty obligations America has pledged its scared honor to in past administrations should have anything to do with it.
We’ve lately had a couple of conversations with conservative friends we have long known as good guys always willing to do a favor for a friend in need, and were surprised to hear them defending the family-separation policy even Trump had already disavowed and blamed on those darned Democrats. Neither had been informed by their favored news sources that the Trump administration is failing to meet a court order to reunite those those thousands of children with their parents, and and seemed to admit in sworn court proceedings that they weren’t entirely sure where all of those children were, and both of our friends were uncharacteristically callous to the fates of the children involved.
Both insisted all those Dickensian orphaned-by-Trump urchins of those sob sister stories in the mainstream media were better off than they ever were in the countries their parents had fled, and although the Trump administration isn’t letting anyone into the facilities where the children are known to be held they’re willing to take Trump’s word for it. They’re also both quite sure that almost all those people who made the perilous journey with their children to America to flee their undeniably dysfunctional home countries and apply for asylum according to America’s laws and longstanding sacred honor international treaty obligations did so to leech off America’s welfare system and join the notorious MS-13 gang. Neither was aware that Trump had “tweeted” a complaint about a formerly conservative Republican senator’s proposal to double the number of federal immigration judges in order to deal with a sudden backlog, and further groused that the existing law and the judges who enforced it and America’s longstanding sacred honor treaty obligations all had to go, and neither was much unsettled by our accepted assurances that it was from Trump’s own “twitter” feed and not “fake news” from their less-favored news sources.
Such is the state of “constitutional conservatism” in Trump’s Republican party.
Meanwhile, the rhetoric from the top of party is meaner yet. Last Thursday Trump regaled yet another large campaign rally crowd in Montana, ostensibly on behalf of a Republican Senate candidate he briefly mentioned, and he ratcheted up his insult comic shtick yet another notch. He got another big laugh be reporting his longstanding gag of calling Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is “Pocahontas,” based on her past dubious claims of having Native American heritage, and sneaked in a jibe about how he’d have to confront her ever so gently because “we’re in the ‘#MeToo’ generation,” which protests the frequency of sexual harassment and sexual in America. We’re no fans of Warren, but by the gag seems very stale, and although we believe every male or female citizen deserves a fair hearing in the courts of public law and public opinion, we can’t help noticing how eager even our longtime and gentlemanly Republican friends suddenly seem to dismiss even the most plausible complaints about about fellow Republicans grabbing women by their wherever.
More bothersome yet, Trump also aimed his insults at past Republican nominees we proudly voted for. Trump didn’t dare mention the name of Arizona Sen. John McCain, but the draft-dodging reality show star with a lifelong career of self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement got about 6,000 Republicans in lustily boo a dying war hero and past Republican presidential nominee who had devoted his life to often painful public service. The booing was about McCain’s decisive vote to not repeal and replace the hated Obamacare law, but the bill wouldn’t have entirely repealed Obamacare and certainly didn’t replace with the everybody-covered-at-a-fraction-of-the-cost replacement that Trump promised during his pie-in-the-sky campaign, and no matter what you think about McCain’s vote the boos rang unmistakably mean to our ears.
Past Republican president and bona fide war hero and lifelong public servant George H.W. Bush is also dying, and without mentioning the name Trump also ridiculed Bush’s “thousand points of light speech.” The phrase was from a famous speech penned by Reagan’s speechwriter Peggy Noonan about the thousands of individual and collective efforts of America citizens to provide charity to the country’s poor, and Trump scoffed that he never understood what it was talking about, and not nearly so clear in meaning as “Make America Great Again” and “America First.” This struck us as the fourth-grade vocabulary understanding of political rhetoric of Trump and his die-hard fans, and malicious and uncharitable and downright mean.
Trump didn’t bring it up during the Montana rally, but he’s also feuded with previous Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and previous Republican President George W. Bush, and he’s even dared criticize President Ronald Reagan’s North American Free Trade Agreement and embrace of amnesty for illegal aliens and failure to pick Trump as the guy to negotiate the end of the Cold War, and he’s clearly contemptuous of pretty much the entire pre-Trump Republican party.
Trump has given President Richard Nixon a pass, but he’s currently seeking to undo the world trading order and western military alliances that President Dwight Eisenhower nurtured. Trump seems committed to the same sort of Smoot-Hawley protectionism that President Herbert Hoover used to create the Great Depressions, although we doubt he’s aware of any Republican party history prior to his birth, or perhaps his hostile takeover.
Trump always refers to his party’s first nominee as the “late, great Abraham Lincoln” — always adding that “late” part in case you haven’t heard the bad news about Honest Abe — but he doesn’t seem much of a fan. He infamously told a friendly interviewer that Democratic party founder unrepentant slave-holder and unabashed racist President Andrew Jackson could have averted at all that Civil War unpleasantness that happened under Lincoln’s watch. We don’t doubt that draft-dodging Trump would have pursued the civil war with the same brutality of Lincoln, and not lost a moment’s night sleep over it, but we can’t imagine him proposing to restore the Union with malice toward and none and charity toward all. Even our most kind-hearted Republican friends don’t seem to have much interest in that these days.
Which is a shame, because we and our Republican friends can continue to agree that the Democrats are as bad as ever and getting even crazier left by the moment. A Republican resistance is more needed than ever, but one that spoke of malice toward none and charity toward all and a thousand points would be preferable to one that seems to revel in its meanness. Our conservative friends cite the meanness on the left, our liberal friends say they’re only responding in kind, and we miss the Democratic party of such centrists as Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Sen. Scoop Jackson and the Republican party that existed so long before Trump.

— Bud Norman

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The Health Care Fight Turns Literal

President Donald Trump’s extended foreign tour went smoothly on Wednesday, but back in the states his party’s efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare had a bumpier ride. The Congressional Budget Office issued a report that the bill recently passed by the House of Representatives would result in 23 million fewer Americans having health insurance, a Fox News poll confirmed all the other polls showing that the bill was already unpopular with the public, and the Republican candidate in today’s special congressional election in Montana apparently wound up taking his frustrations out by body-slamming a reporter.
The body-slamming got the most media attention, of course, but even those stories required some mention of the CBO score and the bad polls to provide the context. Although the state-wide district has been an easy win for the Republican the past 20 years, this is not at all a usual year and the race has been close enough to draw reporters from all sorts of places in anticipation of an upset with national implications. Democratic candidate Ron Quist, a 69-year-old singing cowboy with a troubled financial history he attributes to some pesky health expenses, has lately tightened the race by stressing his opposition to that unpopular House bill. Republican candidate Greg Gianforte, a New Jersey transplant who got rich with a software company, has been steadfastly opposed to the unpopular Obamacare law but noticeably less steadfast about where he stands on that even more unpopular House bill.
Which helps some to explain what happened when a reporter from the unabashedly-liberal-even-by-British-standards The Guardian newspaper walked to up to Gianforte wielding a tape recorder microphone and asking about that brand new CBO score. At that point, so far as we can tell from the reporter’s audio recording and the eyewitness testimony of several other journalists and Gianforte’s own self-serving account, Gianforte declined to answer, the reporter persisted, Pianoforte continued to declined, the reporter continued to persist. After a few moments of this, it seems, Gianforte grabbed the reporter’s neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground, then began punching.
On the audio recording Gianforte is clearly heard at that point shouting “I’m sick and tired of you guys. The last guy that came in here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here. Get the hell out of here. The last guy did the same thing. Are you with The Guardian?” The reporter admitted he was from The Guardian and complained that his glasses had been broken, Gianforte reiterated his demand that he get out, and the reporter stated his intention to call the local police. As a criminal matter it’s now in the hands of the local authorities, so we’ll not comment on that, but as a political matter we will say that it’s not the kind of publicity a candidate hopes for on election eve in a tight race.
In a state that is red on both the electoral map and the back of the neck it might be worth trying to blame it all on that liberal media, especially when it’s some pesky Brit from a left-by-British-standards rag such as The Guardian, but in this case the eyewitnesses to the events were a crew from Fox News, which is not known for its liberal bias, and confirmed every detail of the reporter and his audiotape’s account what happened. There are bound to be a few Republicans in Montana who will relish a smart-alecky reporter from that far back east getting his rightful comeuppance, but there are bound to be even more Montana Republicans who are embarrassed by it.
Montana’s a reliably red state, though, and this might yet prove another tantalizingly close call for the Democrats in this unusual year. They do things different up in Montana, such as holding special elections on a Thursday, instead of Tuesday as God intended, and given the long rides into town that most Montanans have there are some unusually lenient early voting laws. An estimated 62 percent of the votes that will be cast in a typically low-turnout special election have already been made, before that CBO score or Pianoforte’s alleged body slammed hit the news, and unless they’re paying attention to their local news or the international internet buzz the rest might go to the polls without having heard about it. Some of those who do might decide to reluctantly vote for Gianforte anyway, and they’ve probably been following the race closer than we have.
Even if the Republicans eke out another unusually close win in a reliably red district, though, they should remain calmly nervous. They won the special election here in our Kansas Fourth District by seven points, but that’s a jarring drop from the customary 30-point-plus blowouts of recent decades, and at this point the really big special election this June in that mostly-white-and-educated-and-upper-income Georgia district in suburban Atlanta that used to elect Newt Gingrich the Democrat is ahead in all the polls on his anti-hour bill platform. Given that all these districts went Republican by comfortable margins just last November, Republicans must ask themselves what’s happened since then.
The special election in Kansas was held because Rep. Mike Pompeo was tabbed as Central Intelligence Agency director, in Montana it was because Rep. Ryan Zinke was promoted to Secretary of Interior, and that Georgia seat’s open because Rep. Tom Price was promoted to Secretary of Health and Human Services, so in each case the Grand Old Party was running candidates with lesser credentials. All politics really is local, too, and we’ll freely admit we’re not au courant on what’s going on in rural Montana and suburban Atlanta. Still, the trend seems to be that the Democrats hate Trump more than the Republicans love him, and that the repeal-and-replace bill the House passed is even more unpopular than Obamacare, which takes some doing.
Obamacare is still as bad as people thought it was just last November, though, and there’s a strong case to be made for that House bill, but for now the Republican party seems unlikely to make it. Both the bill and the president’s widely damned proposed budget cut to Medicare and other governments are necessary to forestall the bankruptcy of those programs, which will prove far more painful, but until then that’s a hard argument to make. On the campaign trail Trump promised coverage for everyone at government expense, then promised that it would all be cheaper and better for everyone and that he’d never touch Medicare, and he rebuked the Republicans in the House who only promised to do what had to be done, so it will be interesting to see what he has to say about it when he gets home from that foreign trip.
He’ll no doubt bash the press, which usually plays well with that plurality of his supporters, but we’d advise him not to do it literally. In a race with national implications, that doesn’t play well.

— Bud Norman