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Beto and the Way-Too-Early Buzz

Thursday’s news was chock full of significant with stories, as an unexpected dozen Republican senators voted against President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency, missiles were lobbed into Israel from the Gaza Strip, the United Kingdom still can’t find a way to make its Brexit from the European Union, Boeing’s 737 remains grounded around the world, and a couple of Hollywood celebrities have been charged with cheating their kids into fancy colleges. Even so, all the big news outlets found front page space and top-of-the-hour time to report that a former congressman and failed senate candidate named Beto O’Rourke has announced that he’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The attention paid to this back page and bottom-of-the-hour story seems so inordinate, however, that we’ve decided to ignore all the rest of that stuff and write about and opine about it ourselves.
Let us begin by griping that it’s far too early to be writing anything about the 2020 presidential election. Did anybody at this point in the past many election cycles warn the country about the upcoming presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and Barack Obama and Trump? Not sufficiently, at any rate, even at the end of a two-year-long slog, and we don’t expect the big news outlets will do any better at this point this time around.
Nor do we think this O’Rourke fellow is the next big deal that all the big news outlets seem to think he is. He was very popular representing the El Paso part of Texas during a few terms in the House of Representatives, but was little noticed elsewhere. He came close enough to knocking off stalwart conservative and entrenched incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in a statewide race in such a reliably stalwart conservative state as Texas to tantalize a national Democratic audience, but in the end he did fall short by more than a couple of percentage points. O’Rourke’s undeniably a telegenically youthful and handsome and physically fit fellow with a punk rock band on his resume, which could pose problems for Trump in this reality show era of presidential politics, but it’s no guarantee he’ll win a Democratic nomination. Among the crowded field of Democratic contenders are some rather hot-by-politician-standards women, some of them women of color, and given the identity politics of today’s Democratic party the primary electorate might well prefer that to some white pretty boy, enough if he does have a Latin nickname.
One of the right-wing talk radio talkers is already calling O’Rourke “O’Dork,” which seems to be the height of conservative wit these days, and Trump took time during a news conference with the Irish Prime Minister to ridicule O’Rourke’s hand movements, asking “Is he crazy or is just the way acts?,” and he took care not do the usual weird imaginary accordion or flag-groping thing president does. The rest of the conservative media are similarly eager to take on his wild-eyed leftist extremism. Meanwhile, some of the late night comedy show hosts and the rest of the the liberal media are insinuating hat O’Rourke is a centrist sell-out. Late night network wag Seth Meyers is a relentless Trump-basher, and pretty darned funny about it, but he’s consistent enough to react to a Democrat’s quote as if Trump had said it, and when he read O’Rourke’s recollection to Vanity Fair of a campaign speech when “Because every word was pulled out of me, like by some greater force, which was just the people there,” and used the usual Trump impersonation, it got the same big laugh as one of Trump’s typically absurd quotes.
If this O’Rourke fellow really is the centrist sell-out his critics contend we him wish the best, even if he does seem to have a similarly annoying reality show appeal and knack for ridiculous quotes as Trump, as we’d rather not see the Democratic party go so far to the left as it very well might. At this point there’s no telling what the Democrats might do, however, and to the extent we’ve be following the race they have some relatively sane contenders, including a couple of relatively hot-by-politician standards and hot-for-their age women, which seems to matter in this age of reality show identity politics, and many Democrats seem more concerned with beating Trump than achieving a socialist utopia. Given the way things have lately been going in the courts and Congress and the economic forecasts, it’s also well within the realm of possibility that the eventual Democratic nominee won’t be running against Trump.
Starting Monday, therefore, we’ll resume paying more attention to the more pressing news of the day.

— Bud Norman

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A Slight Republican Revolt in Congress

On Wednesday seven Republican senators helped pass a resolution opposed to President Donald Trump’s support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and it’s expected that today enough Republicans will join the Democrats in voting for a resolution opposed to Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to divert funds for a wall along the southern border. There aren’t enough of these restive Republicans to help the Democrats override the expected presidential vetoes, and most of the party remains willing to go along with anything Trump wants, but Trump should probably be worried about what happens after that.
The only apparent reason for the defections of the seven Republican senators who voted against Trump’s middle east foreign policy and the four announced senators and perhaps as many as six more who will be voting against Trump’s national emergency is that they’re standing on traditional Republican principles. Defying the wishes does not serve the political interests of any Republican politician at the moment, even the ones in the most purplish states and districts, as Trump is more popular with the party at the moment than any longstanding Republican principles. An occasional show of independence from the more broadly unpopular president might prove useful in a general election in a lot of states and districts, but a politician needs his party’s nomination to get there, and an annoyed “tweet” and a disparaging nickname from Trump has already knocked a lot of incumbents from their seats.
The purging of Republicans suspected of less-than-complete loyalty to Trump is one of the reasons the party has such a slim majority in the Senate and the Democrats have such a sizable majority in the House of Representatives, but for now the party is sticking with complete loyalty to Trump. Even so, Trump’s weird indulgence of Saudi Arabia’s worst behavior, and his outrageous power grab of the Congress’ power to appropriate public in pursuit of a damned dumb border wall, are both so antithetical to traditional Republican values that are still a few Republicans left in Congress who have to draw a line somewhere.
America has maintained a close relationship with Saudi Arabia since President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, and put up with a lot of bad behavior through the past many decades of Democratic and Republican administrations alike, but Trump’s effusive affection for the Saudi dictatorship exceeds the post-war bipartisan foreign consensus that was probably too indulgent all along. America also has some carefully-negotiated and strategically important military and economic arrangements with the government of Yemen that Saudi Arabia has been ruthlessly trying to topple, even such stalwart cold warriors as President Ronald Reagan would cut loose allies in the Philippines and South Africa and elsewhere when their human rights abuses became intolerable to a western conscience, and there is something suspiciously weird about Trump’s policy in the region.
Suspicious types such as ourselves will note that Trump has publicly boasted about the millions of dollars of business he does with the Saudis, and seemed to love the lavish red carpet they rolled out for him on his first state trip, and that the son-in-law Trump has charged with bringing about Middle East pace also has an ongoing business relationship with the Saudis, which does seem one apparent explanation. On the other hand, perhaps Trump just likes the Saudis’ style. He happily accepted dictator Mohammed bin Salman’s assurance that he had nothing to do with the brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Turkish embassy, but he also accepted Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s assurance that he would never have meddled in America’s election, and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s assurances that he felt terrible to hear about the death-by-torture of American Otto Warmbier in one of his torture chambers.
Perhaps there’s some hyper-sophisticated genius to to all of this that such lesser minds as ourselves and all of Trump’s top advisors and appointees and the consensus opinion of the intelligence and foreign policy experts can’t quite discern, but we can’t blame any traditional Republican for voting against it.
There’s all the more traditional Republican reasons, as far as we’re concerned, to vote against that national emergency declaration that Trump openly admitted in front of all the “fake news” cameras he didn’t really need to declare. As always there are serious problems at the border, but somehow the nation has survived and even thrived without a big beautiful border wall or orphaning blameless children and similarly harsh measures, and until recently Republicans were satisfied with that. Back when Democratic presidents were brazenly exceeding their constitutional executive powers Republicans used to rightly object to that, but for now most of them will loyal stand by as Trump usurps the Congress’ constitutional power to appropriate funds and the property rights of the landowners along the southern border who see no need for a big and beautiful and downright dumb wall.
What’s more, Trump is planning to use the national emergency declaration to build the wall with funds that had been appropriated for military spending in various states and districts around the country. Some Republicans will therefore wind up voting against military spending in the states and districts, and at that point the Grand Old Party will have abandoned one of its most cherished principles.
So we’re glad to see there at least a few Republicans left in Congress who aren’t completely loyal to Trump, and we’re especially happy to see that one of them is Kansas’ own Sen. Jerry Moran, who always struck us as a traditionally Republican sort of guy, He’s not up for reelection in this reliably Republican state until after the 2020 presidential election, and the state’s two big export industries aren’t sold on Trump’s protectionism and the churches have some mild discomfort about Trump’s character, and most of Moran’s fellow defectors are similarly well positioned, so perhaps they are making some political calculations.
We surely hope so, as we’d very much like to see some semblance of the traditional Republican party survive Trump.

— Bud Norman

Satire Without Retribution, and Other National Emergencies

Nothing much happened over this past cold weekend, despite a State of National Emergency, but of course the long running Saturday Night Live program on the National Broadcasting Company once again made fun of President Donald Trump. Trump, of course, “tweeted” back his indignant response.
Trump “tweeted” that “Nothing funny about tired Saturday Night Live on fake news NBC! Question is, how do the Networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution? Likewise for many other shows? Very unfair and should be looked into. This is the real collusion.”
Although we wouldn’t go so far as to declare a State of National Emergency, we did find Trump’s reaction to a comedy skit rather alarming.
There’s no accounting for taste, but we found the bit quite funny, and all too accurate a parody of Trumps rambling and incoherent and dissembling press conference on Friday, and we note that NBC’s “fake new” division is independent of the entertainment division that used to air Trump’s fraudulent yet hit reality show “The Apprentice,” and once featured Trump as a guest host on “SNL” during unlikely primary campaign. As for how the networks get away with it without retribution, we’re pretty sure there’s a loophole in the constitution that allows satirists to to satirize even a president. You can look into it, but if you do you’ll find it right there in  the First Amendment to the Constitution. As for that part about Trump calling the skit “the real collusion,” we have absolutely no idea what the hell he’s talking about.
Those late night network comics are an insufferably smug bunch, we must admit, but they make undeniably funny jokes and good points, and as old-fashioned constitutional conservatives we hope they’ll continue to do so without fear of retribution. We also wish Trump well in his efforts to make America great again, but we don’t hold out much hope if he doesn’t learn to take a joke.

— Bud Norman

The State of the State of Kansas, as Well as the Rest of the Union

President Donald Trump belatedly got to give his State of the Union address on Tuesday, but here in the state of Kansas there were more pressing matters. We had another writers’ meeting for the local media’s annual Gridiron, and the muted television was of course tuned to the big basketball game between the University of Kansas Jayhawks and the Kansas State University Wildcats.
Being patriotic Americans and the geeky sort of political junkies, we did later read the transcript and catch snippets of it on YouTube. All in all we’d have to say Trump had his moments, and that it could have been far worse, but to borrow a phrase from President Abraham Lincoln we expect the world will little note nor long remember what was said.
Trump’s spokespeople had promised a message of bipartisanship and unity and even comity, he started on that note. He got bipartisan applause when he praised America’s victory over the Axis in World War II, and introduced a couple of D-Day veterans and heroic astronaut Buzz Aldrin, was they all got a big hand from both sides of the aisle. Trump then declared that “we must reject the politics to revenge, resistance, and retribution — and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good,” and that “We must choose between greatness and gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction.” All that alliteration added an uncharacteristic poeticism to Trump’s typically un-parsable prose, we must admit, but there was no way he could keep up through entire one-hour-and-20-minutes oration.
Trump quickly moved on to his more characteristic bragging about great America has become since he took office, implying as usual that the country had previously been a hellhole of American American carnage, and argued that “the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations.” Which had an uncharacteristically nice ring to it, but put in context it was Trump’s unusually subtle way of hitting back ten times as hard and extracting retribution and and threatening destruction. There was also some hopeful talk of farm bills and Veterans Administration reforms and infrastructure spending and other issues where some bill or another might become law, but on the matters of war and politics and partisan investigations Trump seemed to hold out hope that the country would unite around his unpopular positions.
Presumably the “foolish wars” that Trump referred to were America’s longstanding but limited roles in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world, but he’s lately been losing that argument. Respected-on-both-sides-of-the-aisle Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned in protest over Trump’s announced withdrawal from Syria, a majority of the Senate’s Republicans voted for a resolution rebuking the decision, his Secretary of State and top national security advisor have talked him into partial and gradual withdrawal, and only the most dovish sorts of Democrats are on his side. Pretty much everyone in the know is trying to talk Trump into staying the course in Afghanistan, and he’s recently been talked into keeping the decades-old deployment of 30,000 troops in South Korea, and Trump seems unlikely to go down in history as America’s most peacenik president.
It’s easy to understand why Trump regards politics as a problem, as it constantly interferes with his efforts to do things his way. Trump also talked at length about border security, which all reasonable people agree is important, but he continued to insist the only solution was a big beautiful barrier wall, which is one of those things people can reasonably disagree about. The politics of the moment clearly favor the Democrats, who forced Trump to end a government-shutdown without any funding for the wall Trump had promised the Mexicans would pay for, and most the Republicans in Trump’s audience seem to have little taste for another shutdown. Trump has threatened to declare a national emergency so he can spend government on his wall, but few of the Republicans and none of the Democrats giving him slight applause will go along with that.
As for those “partisan investigations,” we expect they’ll continue apace, despite his rhetoric, and eventually come to no good end for Trump. The House has a Democratic majority in the investigative committees that plan to reveal Trump’s tax records and scrutinize his businesses relationships with foreign governments, and an independent judiciary is looking into Trump’s inaugural committee and a special counsel investigation is racking up indictments against Trump’s closest associates, and the Republican majority in the Senate has thus far declined to try stopping any of it, and has little reason to do so given how many seats they’ll be defending in blue states come next year.
By the time you read this Trump will probably be back to “tweeting” schoolyard taunts about those damned Democrats and lily-livered establishment sorts of Republicans, and everyone will be back at the messy business of politics, with all the resistance and revenge and retribution that necessarily entails.
Meanwhile, here in the state of Kansas, the plucky blue-collar Wildcats of KSU beat the snooty blue-blooded Jayhawks of KU, and the ‘Cats currently hold a half-game lead over their rivals  in the Big XII standings, so at least things are as they should be around here.

— Bud Norman