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That Big Event in Singapore, According to Various Media

“Little Rocket Man” and the “Dotard,” also known as North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and American President Donald Trump, shook hands Monday on a Singapore stage festooned with American and North Korean flags, then sat down and smiled together for the cameras of the world’s media, and everybody agreed it was a very big deal. Of course there was also much disagreement about how to cover it.
The more cautious and respectable American press outlets, even those considered left-of-center and overly eager to report news casting a negative light on Trump, stuck mostly to the objective who, what, where and when it, and were especially cautious about the unavoidably subjective why of it, but they also frankly acknowledged what a very big deal it was. The Washington Post’s top-of-the-front-page headline was “Trump, Kim shake hands, begin historic summit,” and the “lede” paragraph — as we spell in the newspaper biz — quoted Trump’s prediction that “We will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt.” The New York Times’ top-of-the-front-page headline was “Handshakes, and Hope for an Agreement,,” which was just as careful and also adhered to our preferred style of capitalizing headlines, and the “bullet items” — as we call them in newspaper biz — stressed that it was indeed a very big deal but also very complicated as to how it might turn out.
The Cable News Network, or the “fake news CNN” as Trump calls it,  was similarly cautious in its coverage., with the anchors talking about how historic it was and the guest commentators expressing both hope and worries.  Over at the MSNBC cable news network, where they frankly acknowledge a left-of-center perspective and unabashedly delight in anything factual they can come up with that sheds a negative light on Trump, even Rachel Maddow was acknowledging it was a big deal. She had several guests fluent in the Korean language with impressive credentials for commenting on the military and political and economic and diplomatic situation who had some pretty convincing reasons to be worried it will all go awry, but they all had to admit a possibility they still hoped for that things would turn out well.
Meanwhile, over at Fox News, Sean Hannity was already spiking the ball in the end zone in on Trump’s behalf. He parroted Trump’s attempts to downplay expectations, and that “it’s a process, a long a process,” and helpfully recalled all the times North Korea had duped past Democratic and pre-Trump Republicans and hopefully assured his viewers Trump wouldn’t make that same mistake, and ran some old footage of President Ronald Reagan confronting Russia. As far as Hannity is concerned, if Trump wins an unexpected-by-almost-everyone complete capitulation from Kim he’s a sure bet Nobel Peace Prize winner, and if he walks away without any agreement at all he’s the second coming of St. Reagan walking away from the Soviets at Reykjavik, so it’s a win-win for Trump either way. Due to the time zones the historic handshake occurred after the morning and afternoon right-wing talk radio talkers went off the air, and they’ll be on before today’s-in-Singapore’s actual summit begins, but we’re sure that Hannity and the rest of them will see it pretty much the same way.
The National Review and The Weekly Standard and the rest of the cautious and respectable pre-Trump right-of-center publications are weeklies, and go home to their wives and children at a decent hour, so they haven’t yet weighed in, but we expect they’ll have some of the same worries that were voiced on Rachel Maddow’s show. The Weekly Standard did get in a short story about the involvement of Dennis “The Worm” Rodman, the former National Basketball Association rebounding champion and “Apprentice” contestant who is somehow on the scene and somehow  figures in all of this, but that’s not hopeful, although Trump did rightly note he was once a hell of a rebounder despite being short by NBA power-forward standards. Even if Trump does walk away from today’s summit he’ll have granted an odious third world dictator a long-desired starring role on the sage he walks away from, and with an endorsement of his abysmal human rights record in dealing with his own people, and for many other reasons it’s not at all analogous to Reagan walking out of Reykjavik. Trump’s many domestic scandals and recent squabbles with our traditional allies do seem to make him more desperate for any old deal that odious third world dictator might be willing to cut, too. We like to think we’re a cautious and respectable pre-Trump right-of-center publication, and without any wife or kids to worry about we’re up late and watching the latest developments, so we’ll hedge our bets just like those other cautious and respectable right-of-center and left-of-center institutions we’ll go no further than saying that we’re hoping for the best but still have our worries.
At least Trump and Kim are smiling for the photo-ops, rather than calling one another “Little Rocket Man” and the “Dotard.” As Trump is so fond of saying, “we shall see.”

— Bud Norman

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Feuding with Allies and Adversaries

President Donald Trump is in Singapore today, finishing his final preparations for tomorrow’s high-stakes summit with North Korea’s anti-American and nuclear-armed nutcase dictator. We’re holding out hope that it goes well, but the debacle Trump made of a routine meeting in Canada with six of our most stalwart allies over the weekend is not heartening.
Trump arrived late for the Group of Seven’s annual gathering, was tardy to or skipped altogether several of its planned meetings, and left early with trade wars and “Twitter” spats brewing against the other six nations and complaints that Russia’s anti-American and nuclear-armed nutcase dictator wasn’t invited. He was especially harsh about the host country’s pro-American and democratically elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, calling him “weak” and “dishonest” in in a series of “tweets,” and one of his advisors telling the Sunday morning shows that “there’s a special place in hell” for world leaders who dare invoke the wrath of Trump. He even rescinded America’s routine endorsement of the ritual “final communique “these things usually end with, and although Trump boasted that on a scale of zero to ten America’s relationships with it’s most stalwart allies was a solid ten, and blasted the “fake news” for saying otherwise, the world’s stock markets and most other objective observers around the globe will likely agree things did not go well.
America suddenly finds itself in a war of words and tariffs with Canada, of all places. Canada has an annoying tendency to punt on third downs during their football games and hold its news conferences in both English and French, and they can be awfully smug about their single-payer health insurance program, which we don’t want here, but that hardly seems reason to be feuding with its pro-American and democratically-elected Prime Minister at a time when Trump is lavishing praise on the anti-American dictators in North Korea and Russia. Except for that brief “fifty-four-forty or fight” contretemps way back in 1846 the Canadians have been polite and reasonable neighbors, and given that the size of the population and economy of the country is much smaller than America’s we don’t see them as an economic threat to the United States. Trump might well have some legitimate gripes about existing trade policies over soft lumber or dairy products, but those have always been worked out through existing world trade courts and other institutions without any personally insulting “tweets,” and given that Canada has been stalwart ally in nearly every actual war America has ever fought we can well understand why they resent Trump starting a trade war on the grounds of national security concerns.
Trudeau bluntly told the international press, in both English and that annoyingly redundant French, that although the Canadians pride themselves on being polite and reasonable they won’t be “pushed around,” and that he would go to to the trenches in any old trade war that Trump might want to start. The newly-and-dubiously elected populist leader of Italy agreed with Trump about letting Russia back in the former Group of Eight gathering, but he and the other five heads of states all agreed to retaliate against any tariffs Trump might impose. If this is a ten on a zero-to-ten scale of relations with our most stalwart allies, we shudder to think what a zero might look like.
Trump’s die-hard supporters will love it, of course. Over the weekend we talked with one who regards Germany’s previously pro-American and still democratically-elected Chancellor Angela Merkel as America’s most formidable adversary, and is glad that at long last we have a president who stands up to those snooty Europeans. On all the Sunday morning news shows Trump’s spokespeople were talking about Canada “knifing us in the back,” and explaining that it was a brilliant three-dimensional chess move meant to warn that nutcase North Korean dictator that if Trump is so hard on his most stalwart allies they should surely fear what awaits his adversaries. We can’t shake a lingering worry, though, that Trump is instead playing 52-card pick-up with the post-World-War-II order.
We also can’t shake an even scarier worry that this is all somehow personal for Trump, and has little to do with the more important geo-political and economic realities. Until he rode down that escalator in Trump Tower to launch his presidential campaign we never paid much attention to the failed casino-and-strip-club mogul and reality star, but since then we’ve watched him carefully enough to note that he takes things personally, and that he cares little for geo-political and economic reality. All of the other six heads of state in the Group of Seven, including that populist and dubiously-elected Italian, clearly regard Trump as a boorish and uneducated vulgarian intent on disrupting the post-World-War-II international order, and Trump surely knows that they make fun of of him when he’s not around, just like those swells on Manhattan’s social used to do when the vulgar usurper from Queens once showed up at their gatherings,
There’s also no shaking a worry that Trump’s peculiar antipathy to Trudeau is because the Canadian Prime Minister is objectively a more physically-fit and full-haired and handsome fellow than Trump, with bi-lingual skills and far better poll numbers in his homeland since his feud with Trump started, and that Trump can’t stand that. It’s especially worrisome when Trump segues from his Canadian debacle to that hight-stakes summit in Singapore about the Korean peninsula.
Kim Jong Un is several inches shorter than Trump, and even fatter, with just as ridiculous a hair-do, but we don’t expect he’ll be intimidated. He’s got nuclear weapons and inter-contintental ballistic missiles on his side, as well as an imbalance of power of conventional weaponry poised within range of South Korea’s essential-to-the-world-oder capital, and Trump’s trade wars with the more intimidating nuclear power of China haven’t yet yielded the expected negotiating advantage, even if they have enriched the Trump family’s various businesses. The fact that Trump is feuding with America’s most stalwart allies probably doesn’t worry him at all.
Still, we hold out hope.

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Premature End Zone Celebration on the Korean Peninsula

Every football season some cocky running back or wide receiver starts his end zone celebration just short of the goal line, and winds up in a “viral” sports blooper video. Something similar seems to have happened to President Donald Trump with his much-ballyhooed but now-cancelled summit with North Korea’s tyrannical dictatorship regarding its increasingly threatening nuclear program, but that might yet prove a good thing.
When Trump accepted an oral offer for a face-to-face meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un he immediately started making his usual grandiose promises about how it would turn out. He publicly anticipated he would talk Kim into abandoning the nuclear ambitions his family had pursued for decades, that Kim would be “very happy about it,” and he would achieve an historic breakthrough that every previous president for more than the past half-century had failed to pull off, and the White House gift shop even started selling a commemorative coin. When the crowds at his never-ending campaign rallies stated chanting “Nobel” he clearly basked in the praise, and when a reporter asked if he deserved a Nobel Peace Prize he modestly declined to say so but with more characteristic immodesty added that “everybody else says so.”
Not everybody was saying so, of course, as the more seasoned and sober-minded foreign policy thinkers on both the left and right thought the promises were unrealistic and the ad hoc process of keeping them fraught with danger. They had to admit that Trump won a small but significant victory when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo negotiated the release of three Americans that North Korea had been holding hostage, but that was quickly diminished by Trump praising the “honorable” Kim for being so “nice,” and since then all the critics’ doubts have seemingly been vindicated.
Pretty much everybody had to admit that Trump’s attempts at diplomacy were an improvement on his rhetoric when North Korea started some unsettlingly successful tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could potentially reach the west coast of the United States. Trump’s immediate reaction to that was threatening to “annihilate” every inch of North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” and to taunt Kim on “twitter” as “Little Rocket Man,” along with some sightly veiled but very obvious jabs about Kim being short and fat. Kim responded with threats and “tweets” of his own that called Trump a “dotard,” proving that his translators have a far better English vocabulary and more sophisticated wit than the American president, and only the die-hard fans at the campaign rallies expected that to work out well.
The die-hard fans credited such untraditional diplomatic rhetoric when Kim moderated his own rhetoric, invited the international press to witness the demolition of a nuclear testing plant, released those three American hostages, and agreed to a time and place for a face-to-face meeting to discuss further steps, but since then things haven’t gone smoothly.
The unraveling is mostly a result of the irreconcilable differences that the friendlier diplomatic language could not mask, but the North Koreans are blaming it on some undeniably clumsy administration rhetoric on the cable news. National security advisor John Bolton told an interviewer that he was hoping for a agreement based on the “Libyan model,” an apparent reference to the 2003 agreement by Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi to verifiably relinquish his weapons of mass destruction programs to President George W. Bush, who had recently toppled the dictatorship of the eventually-hanged dictator of Saddam Hussein. The North Koreans took it as a reference to the 2011 toppling of Qaddafi and his brutal death at the rough hands his own people in the wake of a multinational air strike led by President Barack Obama, and the next day Trump seemed to make the same mistake.
Trump said that he didn’t have the “Libyan model” in mind because “we totally decimated that country,” and misused various variations of the word “decimate” several more times before insisting he wouldn’t do that to North Korea “unless we don’t get a deal.”
By now even Obama admits that the 2011 toppling of Qaddafi was a bad idea, as it left the country in a state of anarchy that led to the tragic deaths of an American ambassador and three unusually brave Americans at a far-flung consulate in the now infamous but formerly obscure outpost of Benghazi, which in turn led to the toppling of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s inevitable first woman presidency. It also sent a message to every tinpot dictator on the globe that America can’t be trusted to honor any agreements it might make to relinquish their weapons of mass destruction, which even such seasoned foreign policy hands as ourselves noted at the time. Trump likes to brag that he was against the Libyan coup from the outset, but there’s still a Youtube video from the time where he’s decrying Obama’s weakness for not yet toppling Qaddafi and even now he’s threatening to out-tough Obama if he doesn’t get a deal.
The next day Vice President Mike Pence gave a similarly confusing statement about the “Libyan model” on cable news, and the North Korean dictator then issued a statement calling Pence a “political dummy” and insisting America now faced a choice between a face-to-face summit or “a nuclear confrontation.” Shortly after that, Trump sent a letter to Kim which announced that “based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in” North Korea’s “most recent statement,” and that he now felt it “inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting.”
The letter was addressed to “His Excellency Kim Jong Un, Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the People’s Republic of Korea Pyongyang,” rather than “Little Rocket Man,” and gushed about Kim’s “time, patience, and effort with respect to recent negotiations and discussions relative to a summit long sought by both parties,” mentioned Trump “felt a wonderful dialogue was building up” between him and Kim, and seemed to hold out hope a future a summit might yet wind up winning them both a Nobel Peace Prize It also included some tough talk about America’s superior military arsenal, though, and that was what he emphasized on cable news to his domestic audience.
For now, though, despite his prodigious powers of bluster and fawning and artful real estate deal-making, Trump is still facing the same irreconcilable differences that every previous American president of more than half-a-century has faced. Trump has the same advantage in nuclear weaponry, but the same disadvantage of North Korea’s formidable conventional military forces proximity to the populous capital of our key allies in South Korea, and despite his bluster and flattery Trump doesn’t seem to be having any more luck than usual with North Korea’s more muscular and nuclear big brother in China, which also seems to be winning Trump’s promised trade war.
Trump is more unhindered than the past more-than-half-a-century of Republican and Democratic presidents by any bleeding-heart concerns about the human rights of the tyrannized people of North Korea, and more willing to taunt the dictator as short and fat and more willing to praise him as honorable and nice and a “smart cookie” who’s tough enough to kill his own kinfolk to stay in power, but that doesn’t seem the stuff of Nobel Peace Prizes. There’s still hope this will all work out well enough, though, at least as well as it has for more than a half-century of previous presidents.
For more than half-a-century of the atomic age the Korean peninsula has somehow been free of mushroom clouds, and for now that seems the best we can hope for and what both Trump and Kim seem stuck with. The truly historic treaties always happened after plenty of painstaking diplomatic preparations done the old fashioned way, and there’s no telling what might have happened if “Little Rocket Man” and the “Dotard” had sat down to an ad hoc face-to-face summit between two of the world’s most dangerously shallow and self-interested and nuclear-armed heads of state, so the current resumption of familiar hostilities is somehow reassuring. There’s still a a chance, too, that the more seasoned and sober-minded foreign policy types in both countries might work something out that truly is historic..

— Bud Norman

On Presidential Comedy, as Intended or Inadvertent

Comedy is the most subjectively judged of all the lively arts, and there’s no accounting for what one laughs at.
We’ve always considered Laurel & Hardy comedic geniuses, and always thought The Three Stooges boringly low-brow and grotesque, even though they were telling the same profoundly true and universally funny slapstick joke about some poor schmuck getting hit on the head with a two-by-four or falling into a deep hole. One of our formative childhood heroes was W.C. Fields, whose cynical and sneering and subtly self-loathing sense of humor used to show up on the late-late-shows we were allowed to watch during summer vacations, but for the most part we find the cynicism and sneering that dominate today’s comedy shallow and self-righteous and unfunny.
So it is with the related yet significantly different matter of presidential wit. Presidents aren’t expected to be stand-up-comics-in-chief, nor should they be, but rhetoric is required for the job, as is establishing a personal connection with the people, as well as having a realistic grasp of the absurdity of one’s self and the world one lives in, and a certain amount of sense of humor is essential to pull that off. The job also occasional entails speaking at such events as the Al Smith Memorial Dinner or the Gridiron club’s annual review or the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, or other events where a few moments of ghost-written comedy is expected to be delivered with a certain panache, but in these cases one can usually account for one’s tastes by one’s political opinions.
President Donald Trump’s most loyal fans have always found him downright hilarious, cracking up at his mocking mimicry of a reporter’s physical handicap or nicknaming a shorter rival “Little,” but we always rolled our eyes under our high brows and heaved a sigh and lamented what had become of both comedy and the presidency. Trump’s impolite and unfunny routine at the campaign season’s white-tie-and-tails dinner in New York City during the campaign, which crossed the long-standing tradition of gentle joshing and to “Crooked Hillary is so crooked” jokes, which the oh-so-polite crowd of fellow well-helled New Yorkers booed, and although the hicks in the sticks loved it the reviews were mostly negative. After that Trump skipped his administration’s first White House Press Correspondents’ Dinner, where all the “fake news” media invite some smart-ass comic to lampoon the president and expect his to respond gentle joshing and self-deprecation. Trump did accept an invitation to the Gridiron Club’s latest annual schmooze-fest, though, and he got surprisingly mixed reviews.
The gathering Gridiron Club of elite Washington correspondents is more discreet than the White House Correspondents’, whose nationally televised dinner rivaled the Golden Globes for ratings during President Barack Obama’s years, but of course Trump knew that his performance in front of an audience of journalists wasn’t going unreported. He eschewed the Crooked Hillary bits, never once mentioned “fake news” in his gentle joshing of the press, and generally disarmed his knife-sharpening critics. He reportedly got a deservedly big laugh from the tough room by saying that his staff worried he couldn’t pull of self-deprecating, but he assured them that “Nobody does self-deprecating humor better than me.”
Which is pretty darned funny, because it was heretofore so untrue, and we give credit to whomever came up with the line, and expect that it was Hope Hicks’ parting gift to talk Trump into saying it, but the hard-core fans probably prefer such golden oldie punch lines as “Build that wall” and “Lock her up.” They won’t notice, though, as the self-deprecating shtick wasn’t videotaped, but maybe this does signal a pivot to the old humble routine. After all the cynical and sneering late-night comics had a ball with footage of the wind and Marine One’s rotors blowing Trump’s careful comb-over away and revealing a large and unusual bald spot down the back of Trump’s head, the president recently regaled an actual rally crowd but turning around to show off his more carefully-coifed neck-to-forehead, and the audience ate it up, and the critics were largely disarmed.
This surely won’t end Trump’s endless shock jock insult comic shtick, though, and none of it rises to our admittedly old-fashioned standards of presidential wit. We’re old enough to remember President Ronald Reagan’s amiable and downright Andy Griffith-esque homespun humor, even after he’d been shot in the chest, and we’ve read enough history to regard President Abraham Lincoln as the gold standard. Lincoln was the fellow who came up with the “You can fool some of the people some of the time” aphorism, as Trump lives by in his condensed reading of the text, and the teetotaling Trump would have never come up with the line about buying all the Union generals whatever brand of whisky Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was drinking.
The several-inches-taller-than-Trump Lincoln didn’t resort to calling the diminutive Democratic incumbent Illinois Sen. Stephen Douglas “Little Stevie” during their famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, but instead mocked his gangly appearance with the stilly-wide quoted “A man’s legs should be just long enough to the reach the ground.” Many years later the then-hilarious Woody Allen wrote a droll piece for The New Yorker that had Lincoln’s gag writer suggesting a man’s legs should be just enough to reach his torso, as the visual image of the disembodied torso reaching toward the earthbound legs was funnier, and although we consider that an improvement on the original we don’t expect either level of wit these days.
Trump also had a line about a North Korean overture to start talks on the scary nuclear situation over there, and his arguably brusque response, but no one was quite sure if that was meant as a joke or not. Trump frequently blurts out things that sound quite scary at first listening, but another news cycle later the White House press secretary explains that c’mon, he was obviously kidding, and the die-hard fans crack up, and we roll our eyes under our high-brows and sigh about what’s become of comedy and the presidency.
The night before the Gridiron Club’s fancy-schmantzy show Trump was at his Mar-a-Lago resort in front of a crowd of steep-dues-paying fan club members, and riffed about how his good friend Chinese dictator Xi Jiping recently repealed China’s term limits on dictators, and how we ought to try that here, and of course the knife-sharpening critics made something of that. He was just kidding, of course, so the critics looked slightly ridiculous, but Trump has often said that he’s not really kidding when he’s kidding, and both the die-hard fans and that knife-sharpening critics both know that.
There are some things that more traditional presidents don’t joke about at all, except maybe in the mot private circumstances, but somehow it seems to be the conservatives who want to do away with such essential traditions. As much as we like Trump’s recent self-deprecating turn, we worry that it doesn’t reflect any serious self-evaluation of his mean cocksure soul, and his die-hard fans are no doubt hoping the same thing.

— Bud Norman

The Un-Calm Before the Storm

So far as we can tell from his “tweets” and other public pronouncements, President Donald Trump is intent on some sort of military action against North Korea. The public pronouncements from the nutcase dictatorship of North Korea make clear that they consider Trump’s words a declaration of war, and the idea isn’t so nutty.
Trump has “tweeted” that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was “wasting his time” seeking a peaceful resolution to North Korea’s nuclear provocations, adding “Save your energy, Rex, we will do what has to be done.” At a photo-op with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Trump chided the generals for being slow in delivering him “military options,” later saying, as they all smiled for the pictures, “This is the calm before the storm.” Numerous questions about what that meant were answered with “you’ll see,” but Trump’s latest “tweets” said the past 25 years of diplomacy with North Korea have been “making fools of U.S. negotiators,” and “Sorry, but only one thing will work!”
That one thing clearly isn’t a negotiated resolution, and Trump is clearly impatient with the economic pressure that has lately been exerted on North Korea, by now even Trump doesn’t hold out much hope the Chinese can resolve the matter, so that doesn’t leave many non-military options. Trump and his most die-hard supporters appear quite confident that they’ll prevail in this game of nuclear brinksmanship, but it’s making the rest of us in pretty much the entire world rather nervous, and we can only guess at what that nutcase dictatorship makes of it.
If it does come down to a war America will win it, and Trump is right to emphasize that persuasive argument, but that’s no reason to start a war that could possibly be avoided. Any bar brawler can show you the scars and still-nagging injuries he got in the fights he won, cemeteries around the world are filled with the graves of soldiers from wars America won, and the best case scenarios for a quick win against North Korea include millions of enemy and allied deaths. We don’t advocate appeasement, as North Korea’s newly-upgraded nuclear capabilities are indeed intolerable, but we’d feel calmer if Trump heeded President Theodore Roosevelt’s advice to speak more softly as he wields a big stick, and didn’t render his Secretary of State’s efforts at a peaceful resolution a waste of time.
We’d be calmer yet if we thought that America had an effective Secretary of State on the job, or a cohesive foreign policy and an effective foreign service to go with it. Some of those southeast Asian allies Trump is making very nervous don’t have American ambassadors or fully staff embassies, key State Department positions have gone unfilled, and it’s not clear who’s advising Trump that calling the nutcase North Korean dictator “Little Rocket Man” and ruling out talks is sound diplomacy. Trump has some solid foreign hands around with his Defense Secretary and Chief of Staff and national security advisor, all multi-starred generals with hard-earned first-hand knowledge of how horrible even won wars are, all far more knowledgable about military realities in general and on the densely populated Korean peninsula in particular, but we notice they’re all striking a less bellicose tone in the very rare public pronouncements.
Trump’s grousing about the all the generals who have been slow in providing him military options suggests to us that the entire military is less enthusiastic about war with North Korean than is Trump, and we assume there are some relatively sane functionaries in the nutcase dictatorship that have reached the same conclusion. They’ve probably also noticed Trump’s dysfunctional relationship America’s foreign policy establishment, with the nutcase dictator amused that Trump’s own Secretary of State called him a “moron” and didn’t get summarily executed, and they’re probably less impressed with Trump’s bluster than his die-hard supporters.
The nutcase dictator probably pays even less attention to his sanest advisors than Trump does, though, and he might decide that so long as Trump has already declared war he might as well get it started with a strike on South Korea or Japan or the American territory of Guam or, if the most alarming claims are true, the west coast of America. At this point even the most sane advisors won’t advise him that Trump hasn’t already more or less declared war, and even if the nutcase dictator realizes somewhere in his deranged brain that he’ll lose the war he’ll figure that if he’s already lost he might as well get a few licks in along the way. So far as we can tell from the news reports he’d get a lot of licks in, and the generals and the military in general seem to agree, and with anything short of outright appeasement we’d rather put that scenario off to very last possible moment.
Perhaps this is the grand strategy that Trump and his die-hard supporters believe, and we have to hope so, although we wonder with  how Trump came to know more than generals or any previous head of state in history during his real estate and reality show career. If it comes to war, we hope it’s only because it was waged to avert an immediate threat to American lives, could not have been avoided otherwise, and that the Commander in Chief who ordered it could convincingly explain that to his countrymen and our allies and the rest of the nervous world.

— Bud Norman

Two Tales of One Speech

President Donald Trump delivered a speech to the entire world from the podium at the United Nations on Tuesday, but as always he seemed to be speaking mostly to his fans. As always the fans loved it, even if the UN-bashing was watered down somewhat from the campaign speeches, and the rest of the world was less enthusiastic.
After opening the speech with some self-congratulatory talk about the American stock market and unemployment rates, both of which have indeed lately improved at a slightly better pace than before he took he office, Trump welcomed the UN’s general assembly to his home town of New York City as if they had recently arrived solely to hear him speak. After that he got to more substantive matters, including a threat to completely annihilate North Korea, a warning that America will no longer share its traditional burdens in enforcing world order elsewhere, a promise that America would no longer attempt to impose its values of freedom and democracy on an unwitting world, some harsh criticisms of certain countries that are unfree and undemocratic, some more subtle criticisms of certain other countries that are also unfree and undemocratic but more formidable foes, and a full-throated announcement of the “America First” policy he successfully ran on.
The fans surely loved almost all of it, and the rest of the world will have a hard time arguing with much of the speech.
A threat by an American president to utterly annihilate another nation is unusual in a UN speech, but that has long been the unavoidable American policy in response to a nuclear attack, which North Korea has lately been threatening in clear terms, so Trump might as well have said so. Using the taunting “Rocket Man” nickname for the nutcase North Korean dictator that Trump had previously “tweeted” was unnecessary and probably not helpful, and we along with most of the rest of the world would have preferred some added lines about our hopes for a peaceful resolution to the crisis, but Trump is still on the same solid ground as any other American president would be in vowing a devastating response to a nuclear attack against America. He also seemed to leave room for a preemptive nuclear attack based on intelligence reports of an imminent threat, though, and given Trump’s past remarks to the world press about the unreliability of America’s intelligence community and his harsh criticisms of its previous preemptive military actions that’s a more complicated matter.
Trump is also on solid ground with his complaints that America has borne an unfair share of the burden of enforcing the world order, along with the implicit argument that the UN is charging us too much for its small role, but right now is probably not the best time to be making that argument. Trump’s savvy UN ambassador Nikki Haley has recently convinced both the Chinese and Russian members of the Security Council to sign on to harsh sanctions against North Korea, which might prove helpful if either country is as good as their word, and there’s still a chance that a peaceful resolution worked out in the UN will make our outsized bills to the usually worthless organization well worth the cost. Trump did tamp down his past criticisms of the UN and didn’t threaten a complete withdrawal, though, so the disappointment of his fans should be well compensated by the relief of the rest of the world.
By now both the American left and right and all those Trump fans who fit somewhere in that spectrum agree the country shouldn’t be imposing all of its values on the rest of the world, and the rest of the world surely won’t argue with that, but Trump’s oration leaves plenty of room for other arguments. He spoke of each nation’s sovereign right to settle its own domestic squabbles, but singled out North Korea and Iran and Venezuela for scorn about they’re handling it, and didn’t make clear what standards he expected from the rest of the world. North Korea and Iran and Venezuela well deserve America’s scorn, and whatever pressure America can apply, but so do China and Russia and other more formidable foes that Trump left largely unmentioned, and at this point a Trump Doctrine seems vague.
Trump made it clear that his guiding principle is “America First,” and he rightly noted that every American president has had the same priority and that every other world leader has also put his nation’s interest first, so the rest of the world has only self-interested arguments about that. Still, those Americans who aren’t fans of Trump, along with the rest of the world, can argue Trump doesn’t espouse an enlightened view of America’s self-interest. That “America First” slogan always bothered us, given its historic association with the pre-World War II isolationists who were sure America would fare just fine in a world dominated by the Axis powers, and it doesn’t sound any better coming from Trump.
It could have been a lot worse, though, and we’ll take some solace in our longtime and old-fashioned Republican conviction that the United Nations isn’t really that big a deal. Our reading of the English language  editions of the foreign press suggests that the rest of the world mostly regards Trump as a boastful and boisterous buffoon, so we’re left wondering how they’re taking the speech, and worrying if Trump cares about that so long as the fans are pleased.

— Bud Norman

As the World Turns

Shortly before the health care bill he backed went down in the flames of 17 percent approval and strident opposition from both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, President Donald Trump infamously shrugged and admitted to the members of the National Governors Association that “Who knew health care was so complicated?” Throughout his winning campaign Trump had always been similarly cocksure that foreign relations is similarly simpler than all the eggheads make it out to be, but by now he’s surely realizing that it’s also pretty damned complicated.
There’s a meeting scheduled today at Trump’s still-wholly owned Mar-a-Lago resort with the well experienced Chinese President Xi Jiping, which will inevitably entail even more complex negotiations than a deal with a New Jersey gambling commission, and it’s coming on the heels of some pretty complicated developments in the already vexing enough countries of Syria and South Korea. There’s also that ongoing hubbub about Trump’s possible ties to the Russian regime that he’s often made excuses for and his criticisms of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that has long stood against Russian expansionism, and all that business about accusing Great Britain of spying on him and Australia of exporting Islamic terrorism and the continued insistence that Mexico pay for a wall along its northern border. All in all, who knew that it could be so complicated?
The Syrian situation got thornier this week when that unfortunate country’s grotesque government once again used chemical weapons in an attack that killed dozens of non-combitatant women and children during a civil war that has already killed hundreds of thousands of innocents, and although that crosses a clear line of what should be 21st Century lines it’s not simple as that. This isn’t the first or even the second or third time that that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against its own people, and after one occasion the administration of President Barack Obama boldly declared a “red line” of American intervention if they ever did it again, but when they provably did it again nothing happened. Obama’s apologists will rightly note that Republicans thwarted an attempt to get congressional authorization to retaliate, but we were among the Republican dissenters because Obama and then-Secretary of State John Kerry were describing a “pinprick” response that didn’t satisfy our war-mongering neocon sensibilities at all, and suffice to say it was all pretty damned complicated.
In the immediate aftermath of the horrific Syrian chemical attack Trump did the requisite tsk-tsking on Tuesday while asserting “These heinous actions of the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution,” which seems about right to our old-fashioned Republicans selves, but the immediate response of the mostly Democratic media was to dig up all the past “tweets” when reality-show star and recently registered Republican Trump advised Obama to stay out of Syria altogether. By Wednesday Trump was telling the press that the photographs of gassed women and children had “made an impact” and that it was now his responsibility to deal with it, and we’re heartened he seemed to realize how damned complicated it was. It’s complicated further by the fact that the Russian dictatorship that Trump is always making excuses for is backing the Iranian regime that Trump has promised to deal with severely which is backing the grotesque Syrian government that Trump has to admit is pretty awful but has withdrawn the previous bi-partisan policy of calling for its eventual overthrow, and given that nobody in Syria at the moment seems to deserve the United States’ backing the plausible arguments for that policy only complicate matters further.
Meanwhile, over on the other side of the globe in the Korean peninsula, the megalomaniacal rich kid running the North Korean regime is holding nuclear bombs he got his hands on despite the the best efforts of the past several Democratic and Republican administrations and launching missiles east ward into the ocean. Sooner or later even the buffoon running North Korea will find someone who can get those missiles all the way to Los Angeles or San Francisco, and they’ve already got plenty of relatively old-fashioned weapons that can wrak all sorts of havoc on nearby Seoul, South Korea, or Tokyo, Japan, which would make for one hell of a global economic crisis even if you don’t care about any Korean or Japanese people, and for pretty much all of our lives that’s been a sticky wicket.
All that Korean peninsula stuff is bound to come up in those Mar-a-Lago talks with the Chinese, which were already pretty damned complicated. Back during the campaign when Trump made it all sound simple he explained that he’d threaten the Chinese with a 45 percent tariff if they didn’t agree to stop manipulating their currency and running up a multi-billion dollar trade imbalance and otherwise game the international economy. By today’s meeting at the Mar-a-Lago the currency manipulation charges are outdated and Trump is threatening a fight with the Federal Reserve Board if they don’t keep up something close to the Obama-era quantitative easing that you have to admit is a currency manipulation, the ridiculous 45 percent tariff threat is by now long discarded the Trump administration and even Trump himself seems to understand how much of that trade deficit comes back in much-need foreign investment, and when it comes to the fact the Xi represents a a grotesque communist government that committed atrocities you have to remember that Trump has applauded their strength i nputting down protests.

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The past few days have seen former self-described “alt-right platform” editor and Trump “senior advisor” Steve Bannon expelled from from his inexplicable seat the National Security Council, and some old Republican foreign policy hands brought on board despite their publicly stated reservations about Trump, and there’s some hope that things will turn out the way the way even our fatalistic Republican souls dare hope for. We’ve got the president’s son-in-law is charged dealing with Iraq and that complicated Israel-Palestinian thing while re-invent the entire federal government along free-market lines, and the situation with Russia is still very much in the air, and that spoiled rich kid in North Korea truly is crazy, and once again there are all sorts of complicated historical forces that can’t be warded off with the slogan of “America First.”
At the moment the only alternative is that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had won the presidency, and pretty much continued the foreign policy of Obama, and we can’t lament that never never came to pass. Obama’s inaction in Syria did wind up one way or another with Tuesday’s atrocities, Clinton’s full-throated insistence on action in Libya did prove a disaster she felt obliged to be lie about, and the general weakness of Democratic foreign policy in general make it think it could have turned out worse yet. This is is all pretty damned complicated stuff, though, and we’re not all sure the guy with the R next to his name will necessarily get it at all right.

— Bud Norman

The Enduring Truth of the Latest Outrageous Fiction

Those with a good memory for all the accumulated outrages of the past seven and a half years or so might vaguely recall the name of Jonathan Gruber, “the architect of Obamacare” who couldn’t keep himself from gloating at an academic conference about all the clever lies that were used to foist that awful law on an unwitting land. Some enterprising internet muckraker got his hands on the video of his remarks well after the fact, it gradually “went viral” on all the conservative sites at a time when the more conservative party was still firmly opposed to federal control of the health care system, and the uproar was sufficient that even the more polite media were forced to acknowledge for a brief news cycle that it really was rather outrageous. We’d almost forgotten the name ourselves, despite our good memories and constant score-keeping, but were reminded by the recent gloating of Ben Rhodes and the outrage it has produced for this brief news cycle.
Rhodes is described by even such a polite medium as The New York Times as “The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign Policy Guru,” and he was so comfortable with the paper’s politeness that he felt free to boast that President Barack Obama’s even more catastrophic-than-Obamacare deal with Iran regarding its obvious and undeniable and still-ongoing nuclear ambitions was also sold on a pack of lies. He frankly acknowledged that the Republican argument of the moment that the election of a supposed “moderate” president didn’t mean that the hard-liners in the Iranian theocracy weren’t still in charge was entirely, and that Obama’s claim the Republicans opposed to the deal were effectively in cahoots with those hard-liners fighting their own country’s more radical elements was the sort of ingenious fiction that he once aspired to as a creative writing major.
Even such a polite medium as The New York Times couldn’t help noting that the 38-year-old “Boy Wonder of the White House” didn’t have any more applicable academic credentials to become the president’s most trusted foreign policy advisor and speechwriter other than their shared disdain of the policies of the George W. Bush administration and preference for spinning tales, and even the headlines of such usually diplomatic sources as Foreign Policy Magazine have resorted to language that we do not condone but concede is pretty much apt, and we must admit that even our more liberal counterparts once again have acknowledged that this is pretty darned outrageous.
We’d like to think that after another half year or so things will start to get better, but at this point it is a dim hope. The presumptive nominee of the putatively more conservative party lists health care as one of the core responsibilities of the federal government, and has expressed his admiration for Scotland’s totalitarian systems, but assures us it will be a great deal, believe him, and the more liberal party’s presumptive nominee is offering the suddenly seemingly plausible offer of dancing with the devil we know, and the Democrat is standing by the deal and the Republican won’t disavow the deal because promising he can out-deal the Iranian rug-merchants just as he out-dealed all his casino-and-strip-joint creditors, and both seem quite certain that their fanciful fictions can be sold to a gullible public just like the rest of the outrageous reality shows they’ve been starring in for many years.

— Bud Norman

The State of the Dis-Union

President Barack Obama gave his annual State of the Union address Thursday night, and barring the remote possibility that those quadrennial conspiracy theories about a presidential coup at long last prove true it will be his last. The speech marks a point in history when just a few weeks more than a year a left until the end of the Obama error, there is still some faint hope left that at least the next four years after that will be at least somewhat better, and we are glad of such small favors. Everything else about the speech, alas, did little to hearten to us about the true state of the Union.
The speech began with a promise to be brief, which of course was not kept, and went downhill from there. Without any major policy initiatives or other big ideas to announce, and with no hope of getting anything that he might have thought of past the Republican-dominated Congress he has brought into being, Obama mostly used the occasion of his last prime-time network special to make the case that he truly is the Messiah that his post-religious mania of a campaign in ’08 promised. He cited the seemingly healthy unemployment rate of 5 percent but neglected to mention that the number of working age Americans actually working is at a 38-year-low and getting lower, or that the thousand points the Dow Jones averages have already shed in this still-new year has everybody spooked that it’s going to get worse yet, and we doubt he convinced any of his scant viewership here in flyover country that happy days are here again.
There was talk of how deficits have been cut in half since the record-setting first years of his administration under a compliant Democrat-controlled Congress, but not talk of the $8 trillion in debt that has been racked up in his seven years. He mentioned the supposed millions of Americans who now have health insurance under Obamacare, but he didn’t mention how many of them are getting better health care under the Medicaid program they’ve wound up with, or how much more the rest of the country is paying for their premiums, or that randy younger hipsters are forbidden to purchase the catastrophic plans that would have been their best bet in a free market system and that celibate nuns are being forced to purchase contraceptive coverage to subsidize those young hipsters’ appalling sex lives, and that it all seems destined for the long-predicted death spiral of fiscal insolvency, and that at this point relatively few Americans are any longer sold on Obamacare.

There were the Reagan-esque uses of specially invited heroes, with this the honorific chair being filled by one of those pitiable Syrian refugees, presumably a more a savory character than the Syrian refugees who have been implicated in a number of gang rapes in western cities in past weeks, and an empty chair for the victims of National Rifle Association-inspired gun violence, but none for those killed in Benghazi or the Chicago’s gang districts, and we doubt anyone will be persuaded by that.

There’s that breakthrough deal with Iran to allow it regional hegemony and apocalyptic nuclear status anytime it wishes, along with a $150 billion signing bonus, but that went unmentioned because of Obama’s usual bad timing. His embarrassing dismissal of the Islamic State as the “jayvee team” of terrorism just before it gained control of an Indiana-sized territory, and his premature declaration that the terror group was “contained” just before it launched deadly attacks against Russian airliners and Parisian rock ‘n’ roll fans and the social services workers of San Bernardino, apparently kept him from touting his touting his peace breakthrough with Iran just hours after that country took 10 American sailors hostage. He did blather on about those crazy Republicans who seem to think that Islam might have something to do with the 1,400-year-old clash between Islam and the once Judeo-Christian West, but we sense that even Obama realizes that nobody out there in flyover country is still buying that. There was also something about Vice President Joe Biden curing cancer with another moonshot, but we’ll skeptically await the results.
The most striking part of the speech by far was Obama’s uncharacteristically humble concern about the political rhetoric that has resulted from his seven years in office and the year of campaigning that preceded it. “It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency,” he shockingly said, “that the rancor and suspicions between the parties has gotten worse than better. There’s no doubt that a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying better so long as I hold this office.” There’s some uncertainty as to whether he was referring to the Republican or Democratic Roosevelt, but in either case it’s a touching use of the old humble bit. It certainly represents an improvement over telling his loyal opposition that they can still be involved in government so long as they “sit in the back of bus,” or advising his Latino supporters to “punish their enemies,” or charging that his opponents want dirty air and water and what’s worst for everybody, or any of the similar rhetoric that has characterized the last eight years of Obama’s national prominence, but we’ll have to await the results of that promise as well. We don’t doubt that our president regrets that his “get in their faces” and “bring a gun to a knife fight” style of rhetoric that has suddenly allowed a bumptious billionaire and sudden Republican to employ equally harsh and ad hominem rhetoric against the status quo that Obama insists is so comfortable. Obama might have been grousing at least in part about the more honest self-described Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is currently gaining ground in the Democratic Party’s presidential race by admitting those dire work force participation rates and other glum economic realities and proposing even kookier solutions, but in any case he at least forced to concede that is legendary oratorical gifts have not proved adequate to the moment.
There’s another year and a few weeks left of America’s enemies seizing on the mont to advance the evil plans, and so far it doesn’t look like a roaring year for the economy, and even Obama is meekly conceding that the public discussion he has dominated over the past eight years about what to do about it it is likely to yield any solutions, and we are left with a less sanguine assessment of the state of the Union than our president can offer.

— Bud Norman

What’s Not in the News

There’s not much in the news this time of year, what with all the newsmakers being off on their expensive vacations, so now is as good a time as any to take notice of what’s not there. In the eerie silence of the current news cycle we can’t help noticing that several important stories seem to have prematurely vanished.
That awful deal with the Iranian government regarding its nuclear weapons program has largely gone unmentioned since President Barack Obama announced it was done, even though that’s not the end of the story. So far as we can tell nothing has yet been signed by either side, there’s no still public agreement about what’s been agreed to, even the United Nations admits that Iran’s recent inter-continental ballistic missile test violated any understanding of agreement, despite the administration’s infuriating pleas for leniency on behalf of the totalitarian theocracy, and Congress is wisely proceeding with fresh new sanctions that disagree with the whole awful deal. Given that the deal makes an Iranian bomb inevitable, which in turn would set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and thus make Armageddon imminent, one would think this would be getting more attention.
Obamacare is just as bad as ever, too, although that’s no longer news. By now the public knows that it won’t be getting an average $2,500 a year savings and won’t be able to keep its plans or doctors and that all the other promises that were made won’t be kept, but that was already obvious when the public went ahead and re-elected Obama back in ’12 and the media are no longer obligated to mention of that. They are forced to mention that premiums are going up, more plans are set to be cancelled, the poor who were supposed to benefit are paying ever more for less coverage, major insurers are pulling out of the exchanges and leaving the rest of the suckers in the long-predicted “death spiral,” and few seem to expect the law will survive into the next decade. Even the Republican presidential candidates rarely mention Obamacare, however, and even the most conservative news media don’t seem to ask about it.
Most of those Republican candidates also go unmentioned, of course, and judging by all the “Bernie” bumper stickers we’re seeing we think there’s more going in in the Democratic race than you’d know from reading the news. Perhaps when the all the newsmakers and news reporters get back from their vacations we’ll start to find out more about Donald Trump’s latest insulting “tweet” and all the reasons that Hillary Clinton’s latest scandal isn’t really that a big deal, but we can always hope they’ll starting paying attention to other things. In some cases the silence is becoming deafening.

— Bud Norman