On Monday’s Presidential Performance

President Donald Trump is clearly in a foul mood. He spent Sunday sending out angry “tweets” at a rate one of every 17 minutes, and on Monday he snarled his way through a press briefing before abruptly ending it and walking away in an unmistakable huff.
Trump’s perpetually enraged die-hard supporters surely loved it, but to the rest of the country it looked as if the man who has promised to get coronavirus under can’t control his temper. Most viewers probably also noticed that Trump continues to say a lot of things are provably untrue, and that he doesn’t have any answer to a lot of fair questions about it.
One of Trump’s more than 100 “tweets” on Sunday accused President Barack Obama of “the biggest political crime in American history, by far!” Except for “re-tweeting” a conservative writer’s unsubstantiated claim that Obama “attempted to “target incoming officials and sabotage the new administration,” Trump did not elaborate. So we can hardly blame The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker for asking exactly what crime Trump was alleging, and whether he wants to the Justice Department to lock Obama up.
“You know what the crime is,” Trump explained. “The crime is very obvious to everybody. All you have to do is read the newspapers, except yours.” Rucker didn’t seem to know any better than we do, although we assume he reads as many newspapers as we do. “Obamagate,” Trump further explained, “It’s been going for a long time, it’s been going before I got elected. It’s a disgrace that it happened, and if you look at what’s gone on and you you look at now all of the information that is being released, and from what I understand, that’s only the beginning. Some terrible things happened, and it should never be allowed to happen in our country again. You’ll be seeing what’s going on in the coming weeks.”
In other words, which we hope are more parseable, Trump can’t quite say what Obama did or provide any evidence to back up the allegations, at least for now, some reason, but you can believe it’s coming, that he can say, OK? Rucker didn’t get a chance to ask why Trump is withholding evidence of the “biggest political crime in American history, by, far,” but the die-hard supporters have faith that everything will eventually be explained.
Ever since the coronavirus started crowding everything else out of the news, Trump has been trying to convince the public that’s really not such a big deal, and has lately suggested that it’s no reason not to go to work or on a shopping spree. So naturally he was asked about the news that testing has found a military valet who served Trump’s meals and Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary — who is also the wife of senior advisor Stephen Miller in the nepotistic administration — had been infected with the coronavirus.
Trump assured the nation that he’s safe because everyone he comes into contact with has been tested, quite falsely claimed that every American and all of their co-workers can now be tested before returning to work, and then explained that testing is overrated because people can get negative results until they acquire the virus. He also endorsed the White House’s new rules about everyone, except for himself and Pence, wearing a face mask while in public. Questions about an appearance of inconsistency and double standards were simply sneered at rather then answered.
A face masked Weijia Jiang of CBS news asked why Trump boasted of how much testing the United States was doing relative to other countries, “as if it were some kind of international competition,” and by that point Trump had clearly had enough pesky questions for the day. He could have been grateful she hadn’t asked why the United States was lagging behind so many other countries on a per capita basis, or simply explained that international comparison were a useful benchmark, but instead he replied “Well, they are losing their lives everywhere in the world. Maybe that is a question you should ask China. Don’t ask me. Ask China that question. When you ask China that question you may get a very unusual answer.”
We’re sure that if Jiang did ask China why Trump says the things he does that she’d get a very unusual answer, but we would have liked to have heard Trump take a stab at the question. Jiang asked why he would direct his question to her, apparently thinking that her Chinese ancestry might have had something to do with, but he ignored and pointed to another reporter. When she didn’t immediately step, waiting for the president to answer her colleague’s follow question, Trump scolded her and refused to hear her question and ended the briefing with a terse “Thank you, thank you very much.
Somehow, we are not reassured Trump has everything under control.

— Bud Norman

On a Stormy Day at Home

Stuck at home on a cold and stormy Kansas day, we spent most of it reading the news. Needless to say, it did not cheer us up.
Turning to Facebook, which is the closest thing we have to hanging out with friends, we found some of nutty right wing friends recommending the latest conspiracy theory video and insisting that the coronavirus death toll is being grossly exaggerated if not entirely fabricated to further a left-wing “deep state” plot to keep everyone at home. They’re all avid supporters of President Donald Trump, so we wonder if they’re disappointed that their hero hasn’t yet thwarted this dastardly plot and locked up the conspirators, but for now they don’t say and we don’t dare ask.
One day Trump will tout the strict guidelines his administration came up with for easing the emergency restrictions, the next day he’ll be “tweeting” his encouragement to states to reopen businesses, and when he’s not vacillating between the positions he’s blaming China and President Barack Obama and distracting Democratic oversight hearings for the problem, and noting that things could be worse. What he hasn’t done, so far at least, is embrace the conspiracy theory that most of the executive branch of the federal government he’s in charge of, including the expert scientists Trump has praised and allowed to speak freely, are carrying out the most elaborate conspiracy in the history of conspiracies.
We also have many friends who are pretty loony left, but for now even the looniest of them are sounding compartively sane. They’re all posting words of encouragement to keep up the social distancing and hand-washing and face-masking-wearing to fight what they perceive as a major public health crisis, and we give them credit for posting ample amounts of information from credible sources to refute the conspiracy theories coming from sources of very dubious repute. They have their own theories that Trump has underestimated the threat posed by the coronavirus and is urging a premature return to business as usual for purely self-interested political reasons, but damn it, we find it harder to argue that.
One of our loony left friends is a very gentle and generous and loving soul but possibly the looniest of them all, and she’s still siding with Trump’s endorsement of hydroxychloroquine even after Trump and his allies on Fox News and talk radio have abandoned the cause, but we noticed all the comments tried to dissuade her and had ample amounts of information from credible sources. We were surprised to see a couple of liberal friends charge that there is a plot to create a false crisis and keep us all at home, but that Trump is in on it, but most on the left prefer the theory that the crisis is real and Trump has failed to adequately respond.
In a rare non-coronavirus story, charges against former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn were dropped by the Department of Justice. What one makes of that is also determined by whether he’s looking at it from the right or the left. If you’re on the overwhelming majority of what’s now the right that supports Trump no matter what it’s a victory for justice, a happy case of a solid soldier and good man prevailing over false accusations wrought by President Barack Obama’s conspiracy with corrupt federal officials to bring down Trump. If you’re on the left, it’s a case of a man who had already pleaded guilty to lying to public officials and was getting money as a lobbyist from Turkey while he advised the president on foreign getting a get-out-of-jail card from a politicized Trump Justice Department.
The other non-coronavirus news that penetrated the front pages and was talk of our Facebook friends circle was that two man have been charged for the murder of a 25-year-old man named Ahmoud Arbery in Georgia. Arbery is black, the two men charged with his murder are white, and as always in America that matters.
By all accounts so far Arbery was an average unarmed American guy with no criminal record out for his daily 2 mile jog when he was gunned down on an empty stretch of road between a forest. The two men charged with his murder are an ex-sheriff and his son, who by all accounts roamed the roads as an unofficial patrol, and there’s video that’s surfaced of them confronting Arbery as a burglary suspect and Arbery being subsequently shot, which after more than two weeks led to the arrest of the two men after two local district attorneys recused themself an the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over.
The left is calling it another example of America’s racist strain, and rightly so, but the right isn’t disputing that. Georgia’s Republican governor praised the GBI’s work, Trump said that Arbery’s death was “a very sad thing,” and no one we know is posting any offensive “memes” about Arbery’s deaths. Our diverse group of black friends often have diverse opinions about the topics of the day, but they all share the same worry that Arbery won’t get justice in an American court, and we try to reassure them that this time will be one of the many times justice has prevailed in America.
Perhaps the worst thing we hate about the Trump era even before all this coronavirus catastrophe is how often find ourselves siding with those damned Democrats we’ve been squabbling with for years, since way back when Trump was a Democrat. At this peculiar moment in history we find ourselves stuck at home and on the political sidelines, our only rooting interest being our hope the center somehow holds. We hopefully retain some hope in the principles and the institutions and American spirit that have somehow guided this nation toward greatness through hard times, no matter what sort of corrupt and incompetent officials had been elected to high office.

— Bud Norman

Partisanship and Presidential Pettiness

Several of our friends thought George W. Bush was a horrible president, but now tell us he’s been an exemplary ex-president. They admire that he’s hewed to the longstanding tradition of refraining from any criticism of a sitting president and avoiding partisan politics while devoting himself to non-controversial causes. We expect they appreciated a three-minute video released on Sunday urging Americans to put aside their political differences and help one another during the coronavirus crisis.
“Let us remember how small our differences are,” Bush said in the video. “In the final analysis, we are not partisan combatants. We are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God. We rise or fall together, and we are determined to rise.”
Who could argue with that? Even President Donald Trump didn’t try, but he did use the video as an opportunity to take yet another swipe at Bush via “tweet.”
“Oh bye the way,” Trump “tweeted,” with his characteristic poor spelling. “I appreciate the message from former president Bush, but where was he during impeachment calling for putting partisanship aside. He was nowhere to be found in speaking up against the greatest hoax in American history!”
As always, Trump believes that anyone who doesn’t rise to his defense on every occasion is guilty of partisanship, and that those who do defend him no matter what aren’t partisans but rather true patriots. Trump’s impeachment trial was one of those controversies that ex-presidents are supposed to stay out of, as all four living ex-presidents did, and Trump should be grateful that they kept their opinions to themselves. All four almost certainly believed that Trump was guilty as charged, and should have been removed from office, so their silence probably required severe self-discipline.
A few hours after his sneering “tweet” about Bush, Trump “tweeted” an unexplained and unsubstantiated accusation that President Barack Obama “was the one running the Russia hoax.” He then insulted Democratic California Rep. Adam Schiff, and once again threatened to withhold federal aid to states with Democratic governors who won’t cede to Trump’s demands on sanctuary cities, which is at slightly more specific than his threat to withhold states from Democratic-run states on general principle. Oh, and he also “tweeted” a boast about the golf courses he owns in Scotland.
It’s hard to see how any of this helps the country reach a bipartisan solution for the coronavirus problem, or somehow helps make America great again, but he clearly believes it serves his own political purposes. Trump has heaped scorn not only on Bush but also on the late Arizona Sen. John McCain and current Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who were the three previous Republican nominees for president, and except for an occasional nod to the “late and great” Abraham Lincoln — he apparently ads the “late” part just in case you haven’t heard the bad news — he doesn’t seem to have much respect for any pre-Trump Republican. At least he’s nonpartisan to that extent.
Trump’s die-hard fans have probably voted for Republican presidential nominees as long as they’ve been old enough to vote, but they probably don’t mind him trashing the more dignified party they once supported. “At least he fights,” they’ll tell you. That such vindictive grudge-holding only serves to make the President of the United States look small and petty to the rest of the world doesn’t seem to matter.

— Bud Norman

The Seeming Quick End to the Democratic Primary Race

It ain’t over ’til it’s over, as the great baseball player and aphorist Yogi Berra so memorably put it, but even with most of the states yet to weigh in over spring and summer the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination already seems to be pretty much over. After a couple of “Super Tuesdays” former Vice President Joe Biden seems to have it wrapped up, and self-proclaimed socialist and last candidate standing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders seems knocked out.
Which is an interesting and important development. Sanders’ supporters are as fervent bunch as President Donal Trump’s most die-hard apologists, and when he won the opening contests in Iowa and New Hampshire he seemed unstoppable. Biden kept coming in third or fourth behind relatively sane and centrist but openly homosexual former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg or Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was vying with Sanders for the party’s sizable loony left vote, and his debate performances were as lackluster as his fund-raising and campaign organization and general appeal to the electorate.
Biden scored a big Saturday win in South Carolina, though, largely because of the endorsement of iconic civil rights leader and longtime Rep. Jim Clyburn and the fact that Biden was the loyal vice president of first black President Barack Obama and most white South Carolinians are Republicans so black votes comprise a majority of the state’s Democratic party. Since then he’s been on a role. Despite being out-funded and out-advertised and out-organized by Sanders, he won 10 of the 15 “Super Tuesday” races, which knocked out all of his rivals for the votes of relatively sane and centrist Democrats, all of whom urged their supporters to vote for Biden. It also knocked out loony left darling Warren, but she’s not yet made an endorsement, and Biden won’t get all of her votes.
Yesterday was a sort of “Super Tuesday II,” and Biden once again got the best of it. He won by a landslide in Mississippi, where most of the white folks are Republicans and the Democratic is therefor majority-black, but he also won by a wide margin in very diverse Missouri, a state the Democrats can reasonably hope to win in November, as well as the very winnable state of Michigan, which was probably the Sanders campaign’s last hope. Sanders won in Washington, solidifying his hold on the loony left Left Coast, as well as North Dakota, where ¬†all the Democrats would fit in your living room and don’t have a chance of winning the state’s electoral votes.
Four years ago Sanders gave former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and presumptive First Woman President of the United States a hell of run for her considerable money, and he scored an important victory in Michigan, where his left-wing populism was appealing to the disaffected denizens of the Rust Belt State. Trump’s right-wing populist appeal to those same voters proved slightly more appealing to the same disaffected voters, however, and this time around a majority of the state’s Democratic voters to go with the desultory Democratic status quo rather than the radical alternative.
This time around, it seems a good bet. Trump would clearly prefer to run against “Crazy” Bernie Sanders rather than “Sleepy” Joe Biden. Trump got impeached trying to dig up dirt on Biden, even though there’s plenty of dirt already on the public record that he could have used, and he’d have a good argument that Sanders is truly crazy. Biden is arguably “sleepy,” but at this point the general electorate might well prefer that to a hyperactive president who’s awake in the wee hours and “tweeting” all sorts of outlandish nonsense.
We have no affection whatsoever for this Biden fellow, but we figure the Democrats could have done far worse, and that he’s a more formidable challenger for Trump than Sanders would have been. He’s old and gaffe-prone and not always honest and has exhibited creepy behavior around women, but Trump is arguably worse in every regard. The Obama administration inherited a recession economy and after the Republicans won Congress eventual delivered too-slow but steady growth, and Trump was planning to run on the same slow but steady economic growth, but it’s now within the realm of possibility that argument won’t work on Election Day.
Those Sanders supporters are a fanatical bunch, and many are vowing to sit out the race, but Biden now has an entire spring and summer and early fall to remind the left coast and the rest of them how very much they hate Trump, and he’ll have plenty of money. We expect the entire party will be unified by the convention, and that a large number of independents will be on board, and that not just a few of us old-fashioned Republicans will be sitting it out on the sidelines. Here’s hoping the rest of the country chooses wisely between its bad options.

— Bud Norman

Declaring Victory and Coming Home

The story went largely unnoticed, what with the coronavirus and the Democratic primary race and the latest celebrity scandals, but President Donald Trump has announced an end within 14 months to the longest war America ever fought.
American troops have been fighting in Afghanistan since shortly after the deadly terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, yet it’s gone largely unnoticed. The war was launched with bipartisan support and widespread public approval, as Afghanistan’s sternly Islamic Taliban government was giving sanctuary to the al-Qaeda terror group that had so viciously attacked America, and a relative handful of badass Special Forces quickly toppled the Taliban government with help from some formidable Islamic but anti-Taliban Afghan militias that American intelligence agencies had wisely built a relationship with. Casualties were relatively low by the brutal standards of war, elections were held for a new government, and over 19 long years of propping up that government the troop deployments were relatively light and casualties were relatively low by war standards. There were mass shootings in places all across America that were deadlier, so it wasn’t front page news.
A war in Iraq that was less clearly tied to the Sept. 11 attacks proved far more controversial, and Afghanistan became the “good war” that even the most peacenik Democratic politicians didn’t dare criticize. The Iraq war started with the “shock and awe” of the full might of America’s military quickly toppling the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, then holding elections for a new government, but propping up that attempt at democracy in the Islamic world turned out to be costlier than expected, and even after a “surge” of American forces largely pacified the country the effort was widely unpopular.
President Barack Obama supported the war in Afghanistan but ran on his from-the-start opposition to the Iraq War, and after sending more troops to Iraq he kept a campaign promise in 2011 by withdrawing all forces from the country. A rise of such radical Islamist groups as the Islamic State soon followed in the region, and troops were sent back to various countries in the region to fight against that. Trump has now claimed victory in that fight, because the Islamic State has lost its territory even if it retains its terrorism capabilities, and he’s happily ceding the region to the Russians and Iranians. He’s declaring victory in Afghanistan, too, as he agrees to a deal that seems likely to put the Taliban back in charge of the country.
According to the deal the Taliban promises a cease-fire with the Afghan government that has so far been propped up by the American military, and that even if does wind up in charge again it won’t have anything to do with with the likes of al-Qaeda. There’s no reason to believe this, and much reason to doubt it, but Trump is keeping a campaign promise to end America’s endless Middle East wars, and he’s already calling it the best deal ever. He’s also said that if the Taliban reneges we’ll be back with shock and awe like nobody has ever seen, and even if he loses to any old Democrat that’s what we expect will eventually happen.
At this point both parties want America to withdraw from its leading role in global affairs, and it’s harder than ever to make the case for these seemingly endless wars. We’re well past draft age and don’t have any moral standard to say this, but even after so many years we think there’s something to be said for American resolve. The radical Islamist portion of the Islamic world has been decimated by a couple of unpopular wars and such unpopular legislation as the Patriot Act, and despite public opinion we’d like to keep up the good fight.

— Bud Norman

The State of the Union, Such As It Is

President Donald Trump has had a good week so far. On Monday the Democratic party thoroughly botched the opening contest in its presidential nomination process, on Tuesday he got to brag on prime time television for an hour and half about his achievements with all the pomp and circumstance of a State of the Union address, and today he’s almost certain to be acquitted of the impeachment charges brought against him by the House of Representatives. He should enjoy it while it lasts.
That botched Iowa caucuses will be long forgotten by Election Day, and the damage to the Democratic party could have been worse. The embarrassingly long delay in releasing the results was prompted by concerns from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and a failure to address them would have further convinced his supporters that the Democratic National Party is rigging the game against him in favor of former Vice President Joe Biden. Sanders wound up in a tight race against South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg as the last votes were being counted, Biden was far behind in fourth place, and as incompetent as it clearly was the process didn’t seem corrupt.
Trump stuck to the script on the teleprompter, which was better written than his usual fare, and except for those audible sniffles that preceded every sentence the delivery wasn’t bad. He also had plausible reasons for bragging, as the unemployment rate is low and the stock markets are up, but Trump characteristically overstated how good things are now and how bad things were when he took office.
The gross domestic product grew at a perfectly respectable 2.3 percent rate last year, but that was down from the year before, and well below the 3 or 4 percent growth that Trump had promised, and worse than in the last years of the President Barack Obama’s administration. He only slighted overstated the job creation that occurred during the first three years of his administration, which is a bit below the number created during the last years of President Barack Obama’s administration. He claimed credit for America becoming the world’s leader in oil and gas production, but the country’s held that title since 2013. We don’t give Obama much credit for the upward trajectory of the American economy that Trump inherited and has more or less maintained, which mainly goes to the entrepreneurial genius of the American people and their still mostly free economy, but as Obama did Trump is claiming credit where credit is not due.
Trump also claimed credit for 12,000 new “factories” built during his administration, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 80 percent of them are “manufacturing establishments” with five or fewer employees, and overall the manufacturing sector of the economy is in a technical recession, with other “blue collar” sectors such as construction and mining seeing slower growth and farm bankruptcies rising, and most analysts blame that on Trump’s trade wars. The president boasted that the trade wars have yielded great deals, but the re-branded United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement is little more than the usual biannual tweaking of the old North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump falsely claimed had destroyed a fourth of America’s manufacturing jobs, and the deals he’s still seeking with China and the rest of the world don’t look much more promising.
He also bragged that “All those millions of people with 401(K)s and pensions are doing far than have ever done before with increases of 60, 70, 80, 90 and even 100 percent,” but that’s obviously crazy talk. According to Census Bureau only 32 percent of Americans are invested in 401(K)s and pension plans, and according an analysis by Fidelity Investments the increase in their accounts has been more like 1 percent. There was a pledge to always force insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions, even though the Trump administration continues to press a lawsuit that would completely undo Obamacare and it’s protections for preexisting condition and has offered no replacement plan. We also noticed Trump promised to get tough on all the big pharmaceutical companies while bragging how he’s streamlined the Food and Drug Administrations safety reviews, which Big Pharma probably won’t mind. He further bragged about criminal justice reform to release prisoners and paid maternity leave and planting new trees, which isn’t likely to endear to either or his admirers or his critics.
Unmentioned was the fact despite that the Greatest Economy Ever Trump is presiding over deficit spending even bigger than Obama saw when he had a Democratic Congress and severe recession to deal with, and that Trump had two years of a Republican Congress to strike the infrastructure deal Trump is still proposing and that’s less likely to win the support of all the Democrats Trump routinely mocks and taunts.
Trump’s impeachment trial wisely went unmentioned, too, even if the entirety of the speech was infused with an unmistakeable triumphalism about his inevitable acquittal today. Acquittal does not always equal exoneration in the court of public opinion, though, and Trump’s former friend O.J. Simpson might warn not to get too cocky about it. A few Republican Senators have been frank enough to say they’ll vote for acquittal even though they concede that Trump did do what’s charged with, and that it was something very bad which he ought not to have done, and a big chunk of the country will still feel outraged by the clearly rigged and evidence-free verdict even after the long slog toward Election Day.
On the other hand, Trump is such an eerily lucky fellow we sometimes suspect the famous deal-maker made a Faustian bargain, and he’ll have the good fortune to run against a Democrat. So far as anyone can tell the big winners in Iowa were the self-described socialist Sanders and the openly homosexual Buttigieg, which might be a step too far even in this age of taboo-breaking in both parties. Biden might make a more respectable showing in New Hampshire and regain his front-runner status in South Carolina and on Super Tuesday, but he’s not a very formidable campaigner. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar did well in Iowa to remain in the race, and she’s a relatively sane centrist who has a long record of winning Republican votes and strikes us at the Democrats’ best bet, but this year that probably dooms her chances.
From our perspective here in the middle of the country and on the political sidelines, the state of the union is somewhat worrisome.

— Bud Norman

Hail to the Chiefs

Football has a lot of its appeal to us in recent years, what with all the head injuries and thuggery and political spats and endless video reviews, but we weren’t going to miss Sunday’s LIVth Super Bowl. Watching the big game is pretty much a patriotic obligation, and here in Wichita rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs is a civic duty.
The game proved quite entertaining, even if it was bogged down with a longer-than-usual halftime and even more commercial interruptions than a regular season game. After an early field goal by the San Francisco ’49ers the Chiefs took the end-of-the-first quarter lead with a touchdown by superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes, but the bad guys got the better of the second quarter and the teams went into locker room tied at 10 to 10. Things looked bleak for the Chiefs after the ’49ers scored another field goal and one touchdown during a third quarter of offensive futility for the Chiefs and their superstar quarterback, but the good guys had overcome bigger fourth quarters deficits in winning their two previous playoff games, as well as the regular season finale that earned them a first-round bye and home field advantage, so nobody around here was changing the channel.
Sure enough, the Chief’s underrated defensive unit shut down the ’49ers, Mahomes snapped out of a brief slump and his underrated running backs and receivers and offensive line came up with big plays, and after three unanswered fourth-quarter touchdowns the Chiefs won by a deceptively convincing score of 31 to 20. There were gunshots and fireworks and audible cheers on our way home, as the Chiefs fans celebrated the team’s first championship in 50 years, so the pent up emotion was understandable. That last championship was so long ago that we and some of the neighborhood kids played a pickup game in the backyard during the uneventful halftime show, there’s a famous picture of the Chief’s then-star quarterback Len Dawson smoking a halftime cigarette in the locker room, and the game was still called the AFL-NFL World Championship, although it’s been retroactively re-named Super Bowl IV.
All the rest of Super Bowl’s much-ballyhooed sideshows also reminded us of how much things have changed in a mere half-century. As we recall the Chiefs’ first Super Bowl half-time show featured a guy flying around with a James Bond-style jet pack and a brief performance by the aging but still-beloved Broadway diva Carol Channing, but since then audiences have come to expect something far more extravagant. The acts have included such baby-boomer favorites as The Rolling Stones and Sir Paul McCartney, along with some younger and hipper entertainers we’d not previously heard of. This year’s show featured Jennifer Lopez, who’s so famous that we have heard of her, although we couldn’t name a song she’s recorded or any of the famous men she’s been famously involved with, and another woman we’d not previously heard of named Shakira.
We must admit, it was quite extravagant. Both women are quite comely and extremely callipygian, and were accompanied by what seemed a cast of thousands of comely and callipygian and similarly scantily-clad backup singers dancers, along with some high-tech and state-of-the-art stagecraft that seemingly plunged them all into an infernal pit of orgiastic excess as fireworks went off and laser lights beamed. Both of the undeniably gorgeous and talented women are reportedly more than 40 years old, which some of our 40-something female Facebook friends proudly noted, and they included a lot of cute kids singing something vaguely patriotic toward the end, but a much younger friend we’ve known since her birth predicted the halftime show will eventually wind up on Pornhub.com.
These days the interminable advertisements are part of the ostensible appeal of the telecast, as Madison Avenue always unleashes its most ambitious efforts on the most-watched and most-expensive show of the year. We pride ourselves on being inoculated to Madison Avenue’s most market-tested enticements, but we try to assess their creativity and chuckle-worthy cleverness with the objective eye of a cultural critic, and we give this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads a mixed review. Part of the problem was that the ads were populated with celebrities we are supposed to recognize but don’t.
There was a Cheetos commercial featuring M.C. Hammer, who was a hip-pop star so long ago that we remember his hit “You Can’t Touch This,” which was amusingly about how you can’t touch anything after eating Cheetos. Another had a woman we used to enjoy on “Saturday Live” and the guy who so endearingly played “Jim” on “The Office” and some other guy pitching for some company’s self-parking car, but at first we didn’t recognize the guy who played “Jim” behind his fashionable, we still have no idea who the other guy is, but at least we got the joke about the Boston accents and the cameo by Boston Red Sox legend Dave “Big Papi” Ortiz, even if we can’t remember what company invented this seemingly amazing self-parking vehicle.
We also got the joke in the Doritos ad that featured rapper Li’l Nas X challenging the taciturn and mustached and gravelly voiced western movie star Sam Elliot to a break-dancing duel on the dusty streets of an Old West town, and Billy Ray Cyrus coming in at the end. As old time country music fans we took an interest when X rose to the top of the country-and-western charts with a western-themed rap number called “Old Town Road,” and how Cyrus was one of the few country stars to object when Billboard pulled it from the country charts as insufficiently country, and how it sparked an interesting debate about what the hell is country music anymore these days? We have our own opinions of the matter, and rather enjoyed the ad, but the joke’s so obscure we can’t imagine it selling a lot of Doritos.
Politics once gain intruded, which didn’t happen last time the Chiefs won a Super Bowl. Starting with President Barack Obama it’s become a custom to kick off the Super Bowl festivities with a nationally televised pre-game presidential interview, and of course that’s the one thing Obama ever did that Trump wants to continue. Obama always gave his interviews to friendly media who allowed him to assure the public that on Super Bowl the state of the union of strong, and Trump granted his time to Fox News sycophant Sean Hannity, who allowed Trump to warn the nation that if he didn’t win reelection the country was inevitably headed toward communism. Fortunately, in both cases the broadcasts were relatively low-rated.
Both Trump and his much-more-billionaire Democratic rival Michael Bloomberg spent $10 million on Super Bowl ads, and we wonder if either of them got more out of it than Cheetos or Doritos or the company with the amazing self-parking car. We missed Bloomberg’s ad, as we were in the men’s room or taking a cigarette break or on a liquor store run, but we hear it was all about his gun-grabbing policies, which is not likely to appeal the considerable good ol’ boy audience tuning into a Super Bowl, nor to many minorities. We did catch Trump’s ad touting his pardon of an elderly and woman non-violent black drug offender, and boasting how he had freed even more black felons by passing a criminal justice reform bill that Obama couldn’t get passed, which seems to be playing to what Madison Avenue euphemistically calls the “urban audience,” which Trump is assiduously courting with the low black unemployment numbers he can credibly claim.
The good old boys should know, though, that the non-violent and elderly woman drug offender Trump pardoned was sentenced at age 41 for leading a multi-million-dollar cocaine ring, and although there was no proof she’d ever committed a violent crime the drug ring she ran had plenty of them. Reality show star Kim Kardashian and wife of Trump pal Kanye West lobbied for her presidential pardon, as they’re somehow related, and although a lot of those felons freed by the criminal reform act some of them probably deserved they release, but most good old boys would agree that some didn’t. Trump’s not likely to win over a decisive majority of the “urban audience,” given his long history, which the “urban audience” by now well knows, and most of it doesn’t know either Kim Kardashian or Kanye West personally, although he still won’t lose any of the good ol’ boy vote.
By the way, as inconsequential as it is, Trump also “tweeted” his congratulations to “the great state of Kansas” for the Chief’s victory. We mostly love the Chiefs here in Kansas, until you get so far west they start rooting for the Denver Broncos, but in fact the Arrowhead Stadium where the Chiefs play and most of the Kansas City metropolitan is located in Missouri. Before Trump could delete and correct the “tweet” people were posting “memes” showing a crude “Sharpie” drawing including the entire Kansas City metro, which is a funny allusion to a previous Trump story about including in Alabama in a hurricane, but by now a bit obscure.
The important thing for the moment, though, is that the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, and all the Democrats and Republicans and homosexuals and heterosexuals and socialists and libertarians and good old boys and the “urban audience” around here are at least momentarily happy about it. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another long, long half century before it ¬†happens again,

— Bud Norman

The Politics of War

The rising tensions and threats of war between America and Iran might or might not prove a brilliant geopolitical masterstroke by President Donald Trump, and only time will tell, but for now they don’t seem likely to help him with his various domestic political problems.
During another of the decades-long and all-too-frequent tense situations in Iranian-American politics, way back in the administration of President Barack Obama, citizen Trump confidently predicted Obama would start a war with Iran as the only way to reelection, and although Obama didn’t start a war and was reelected anyway Trump apparently maintains a belief that wars make a president more popular. There’s been nothing in recent history to back up this theory, and much to refute it, but Trump clearly isn’t a student of history, and we believe that despite his keen political instincts he misreads this moment in time.
Based entirely on anecdotal evidence, as there’s no reliable polling yet available, we don’t sense any public clamoring for a war with Iran, or anything that might provoke it. All of the Democratic party and their mainstream media allies are against it, as are such usually reliable Republican allies as Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul and Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and even the die-hard fans who believed Trump’s pie-in-the-sky campaign promises to extricate America from Middle Eastern entanglements are probably wondering what the hell as he orders troop build-ups in the region.
Iran is still the bad guy in this scenario, as far as we’re concerned, but so far Trump is not playing the good guy role well. Trump based his decision to start the current contretemps by killing Iranian hero Gen. Qasem Soleimani on intelligence agency reports that he was planning “imminent” threats against Americans, but he’d previously disparaged America’s intelligence agencies as hopelessly inept and corrupt, and his spokespeople have since equivocated about how “imminent” the threats were. Trump’s spokespeople have denied that Trump threatened to bomb non-military Iranian cultural sites, an indisputable war crime that he undeniably did threaten, and he’s since backed way from that.
There’s also some confusion about a letter from the Pentagon saying America will honor Iraq’s non-binding resolution asking us to exit the country, with Trump insisting he won’t pull out our troops unless Iraq pays us the for military bases we built there during what Trump has said was an unjustified invasion and occupation by a previous Republican president. At this point Iraq isn’t the only erstwhile American ally to question Trump’s policies, and only the true believers are backing him on the home front.
Whether there’s a war with Iran or not, there will be an impeachment trial for Trump in the coming weeks, and although he’s likely to be acquitted most of the country won’t believe he’s innocent of the charges brought against him. Neither war nor peace with Iran will change that.

— Bud Norman

A Nervous Situation in the Middle East

Let us make clear from the outset that we believe the nutcase theocrats running the Iranian dictatorships are, as always, the bad guys in their relations with the United States. Let us stipulate further that President Donald Trump might or might not have been justified in ordering a military strike that killed top-ranking Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, who was undeniably one of the worst people in the Middle East, and that only time and further revelations will tell.
Having said so, we admit it makes us very nervous that Trump is calling the shots for America in its latest spat with Iran. The Iranians have vowed vengeance for the death of Soleimani, Trump has vowed retaliation for anything they might do against American interests, and it’s going to take some complex strategic thinking and expert diplomacy and a cautious hand to avoid either a disastrous war or an embarrassing American retreat. but nothing Trump has ever said or done in his life suggests he is up to that task.
Trump explains that he ordered the killing of Soleimani because of intelligence reports about imminent threats to American lives, which we’d ordinarily be inclined to believe, but Trump has spent the past many years telling the world that America’s intelligence agencies can’t be trusted. He blames them and President George W. Bush for the second Iraq War, takes Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s word for it they are wrong about Russia’s meddling in the past and upcoming presidential elections, and passes along conspiracy theories that the “deep state” spooks were out to get him even before he became president. Which makes it hard for him to sell a provocative military strike to a domestic or global audience on the basis of a America’s intelligence agencies’ reports.
At times like these it’s good to have friends around the globe, but if he somehow stumbles into a full-blown war with Iran Trump and America will probably have to go it alone. Trump’s trade wars and “twitter” taunts and all-around ugly Americanism have alienated our longtime allies in Europe and Asia and Africa and Australia, done little to help economic or diplomatic relations with our adversaries, and even provided the very bad guys of Iran with a plausible case in the court of global opinion that they’re the aggrieved party.
The whole mess arguably started when Trump unilaterally withdrew from the treaty America and six crucial European allies struck with Iran to curtail its nuclear weapons program. The deal that President Barack Obama and the Euro-weenies negotiated was weaker than what Trump and we had hoped for, but it did forestall the Iranian nuclear threat for another decade or so, in which time anything might happen, and according to all the intelligence agencies Iran was in compliance. Trump brusquely dismissed the intelligence agencies’ conclusions and withdrew anyway, keeping a campaign promise to undue Obama’s folly. The other six allies did their best to ensure that Iran would at least keep up its sworn obligations, Trump didn’t get the great deal for America he expected Iran would come begging for, and now Iran has announced it will resume its nuclear weapons program, and the Iraqi government has passed a non-binding request that we leave their country..
These threats of apocalyptic Middle Eastern war have come and gone over the course of our lifetime, and although some of them have turned out tragically we always had a comforting sense that steady hands were guiding the ship of state through the storm. This time around, we’re more uneasy.
Trump fans love his blunt-spoken style, so we’ll come right out and say that he strikes us as an uninformed, impulsive, shallow, and utterly self-interested reality show star who finds himself facing an impeachment and is willing to do anything to once again avert a looming ad well-deserved disaster. He’s threatening to destroy Iranian cultural sites in violation of international law, telling Congress that his blustering “tweets” are all they need in the way of constitutional niceties, and doing nothing to expand his coalition of MAGA-capped rally-goers. All the four-star general and admirals and and wise old men of the foreign policy establishment have been banished from his administration, he mostly relies on his son-in-law and Mar-a-Lago friends and the instincts of his uneducated gut, and so far that hasn’t worked out well. Back in Obama’s day there was another dust-up with Iran, and Trump confidently predicted that Obama would start a war because it was the only way he could win reelection, which proved doubly wrong, as Obama didn’t start a war and won reelection anyway. If anyone is cynical enough to suggest that Trump is now acting for his political interests rather than the nation’s, Trump can hardly call it treason.
We’ll hope for the best, but none of the damn Democrats seem any better, so we’ll remain nervous.

— Bud Norman

Women’s Suffrage, and Their Suffering

Most of our many female friends disdain President Donald Trump, and consider him a sexist pig. Maybe it’s his acknowledged habit of grabbing women by the genitals whenever he feels like it, or the way he “tweets” about women who oppose him, but for whatever reason they just don’t like the guy. They have to admit that Trump just signed a bill to strike a coin commemorating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, though, and that’s more than any of his predecessors have ever done.
When Trump signed the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commemorative Coin Act on Tuesday he rightly noted that none of his presidential predictors had ever done it, as “it should should been done a long time ago,”, and he openly wondered why not. “I guess the answer is that because I’m now the president, we get things done,” he explained.
Another possible explanation is that no previous president happened to be in office during the centennial of women’s suffrage, but never mind that. Surely such male supremacist presidents as Barack Obama and George W. Bush and Bill Clinton would never have been so bold as to sign a bill passed with unanimous votes in the House and Senate to honor something so controversial as women’s right to vote. Only such a champion of women’s rights as Trump would have been so daring.
To hear Trump tell it, all of his problems are because of his 44 predecessors. He’s not not gotten anything except photo opportunities from his love affair with the North Korean dictator, but Truman and Eisenhower and Kennedy and Johnson and Nixon and Carter and Reagan and Bush and Clinton and Bush and Obama should have taken taken care of that. He came into office with an economy that was slogging along at 2 point something percent growth in the Gross Domestic Product, and he resents that he doesn’t get credit or the economy chugging along at approximately the same rate. There are all sorts of problems about race and class and gender and the environment and homelessness and opioid addictions and whatnot, but that’s on all those losers who were previously president.
There’s a lot that’s right about America, including women’s suffrage, and Trump will likely claim credit for all of it.

— Bud Norman