Over-Promise, Under-Deliver, Repeat

Several weeks ago Trump announced that in two weeks he would be signing a bill to massively overhaul America’s health system, which was obviously balderdash. Even with a Democratic president and both chambers of Congress controlled by Democrats, it took months of acrimonious debate for Obamacare to be passed, and given a Democratic House majority Trump clearly couldn’t get anything done in two weeks. Trump doesn’t mind telling such obvious and inevitably disproved lies, however.
A few weeks before the last mid-term elections Trump promised to sign a 10 percent middle class bill, which came as a surprise to both the then-Republican Speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader, who admitted they were unaware of any such legislation. The promise was quickly forgotten after the Democrats won a large House majority, but he still looked pretty damn stupid.
From the he announced his candidacy Trump has promised a plan to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something that would cover every American a far lower cost. He never revealed that plan, however, and even with Republicans in control of Congress he couldn’t win a repeal because there was still no better replacement on the table.
This time around Trump has at least issued an executive order to expand the popular “telehealth” program that was created in response to the coronavirus epidemic, which is a good idea but hardly the major overhaul of the health system he as long promised. Over-promising and under-living has been Trump’s style since his business, and no amount of bankruptcies has caused him to question it.
Eventually it leads to further erosion of the public’s confidence that the President is telling us the truth, though, and makes his next grandiose all the more dubious.

— Bud Norman

Holding Steady in Changing Winds

The state of Mississippi has removed a confederate symbol from its flag, the state of Oklahoma has voted to expand Medicaid coverage, Kansans are mostly willing to go along with mandatory face masks, and the latest polling also shows that such reliably Republican states as Georgia and North Carolina and Texas are up for grabs in the next presidential election. This should be frightening to President Donald Trump, but he’s still stubbornly defending the confederacy, trying to undo “Obamacare” and leave millions uninsured during a pandemic, and refusing to be seen in a face mask.
Trump has an undying faith in his gut instincts about public opinion, which made him a reality television star and somehow got him elected to the presidency despite losing the popular vote by some three million ballots, but his reelection strategy strikes us as counter-intuitive.
If the great state of Mississippi — or “Mississippi Goddamn,” as the great jazz singer Nina Simone called it — is abandoning the confederal cause, and so is the NASCAR stock car racing circuit and the Navy and Marines, we think that at long last the confederacy truly is a lost cause. There seems to be an emerging social consensus that black lives matter, and despite the sporadic violence that’s come of it Trump’s 1968-era “law and order” message isn’t playing well in 2020..
We had our clearly stated ideological objections to “Obamacare” when it barely won congressional approval and was signed into law, and to such big government programs in general, but at the moment even Oklahomans are wanting to expand health insurance to their fellow citizens. Trump promised to not only repeal “Obamacare” but replace it with something that would cover everybody at a greatly reduced cost, but he hasn’t announced it after three and a half years in office, and once again he seems out of step with these crazy times.
We hate wearing face masks as much as the next guy, and will miss the erotic frisson of full facial nudity, but the know-it-all experts say it will help us from getting infected and infecting others, so we’re willing to put up with it for a while. Even here in Kansas most of our fellow live-free-or-die citizens seem to agree, and we think there’s a chance the Democrats might pick up their firste Senate seat since the Great Depression. Trump moved the Republican convention from North Carolina to Florida because of face mask and social distancing rules, but Florida’s seen a very scary spike in coronavirus cases and now has similar rules, and Trump once again seems behind the news cycle.
Trump is still promising that the coronavirus will magically disappear, the economy will once again roar, and that America’s race problems can be “very quickly and easily solved,” but he only has four months to pull that off. Trump’s gut instincts not withstanding, it seems a risky strategy for reelection

— Bud Norman

The Calm Before the “Tweetstorm”

The news has been eerily slow that past few days, except for that horrific slaughter of 50 people in two New Zealand mosques over the weekend, and the continuing fallout from President Donald Trump’s response to the tragedy. Things have been so quiet that Trump found time to type out more than 50 “tweets” over the weekend, and of course that provided plenty for the pundits to pontificate about.
It was, we have to admit, a prolific and noteworthy outpouring. Trump “tweeted” a happy St. Patrick’s Day message to the country, but other than that it was mostly a barrage of potshots against enemies living and dead, some full-throated defenses of two besieged allies at Fox News, and several “re-Tweets” by some little-known supporters, including someone who identifies himself as “@LonewolfnDuke.”
The die-hard fans no no doubt loved every word, and could once again reassure themselves that “at least he fights,” but we’d like to think that a President of the United could find something better to do with his time on a slow news weekend.
Trump once again criticized the “Saturday Night Live” television program, even though it ran a re-run over the weekend, and once again threatened to have the Federal Communications Commission “look into” the televised satire of him. Once upon a time a sitting president threatening to use his office to punish his critics for the exercise of their First Amendment rights would have been a big deal, but these days it barely makes the middle paragraphs of a story about Trump’s latest “tweets.” There were also insulting “tweets” about special counsel investigator Robert Mueller, a union official working at General Motors, Democratic presidential candidate and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and even the late Republican Sen. John McCain.
The figurative dancing on the literal grave of McCain got a lot of attention, and rightly so as far we’re concerned. Trump ridiculed McCain for being last in his class at the Naval Academy, even though McCain was fifth-from-last and always man enough to joke about it, and Trump has threatened to sue any school he attended for revealing his class ranking. Trump also falsely accused McCain of leaking the damaging “Steele dossier” to the press, when McCain merely passed the information on to the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a responsible citizen should, and once again castigated McCain for voting against the repeal and replacement of “Obamacare,” even though Trump and the congressional Republicans hadn’t come up with any replacement. McCain died last August and thus can’t fight back, but McCain’s daughter is still around to fire back on network television that her father suffered five years of torture in a Vietnamese prison camp for his country while Trump was hitting all the New York City nightspots on his bone spurs, and speculate that Trump continues his bloodless war with the late McCain because he somehow knows he’ll never be such a great man, which sounds about right to us.
Trump also rallied to the defense of Fox News opinion hosts Tucker Carlson and “Judge” Jeanine Pirro, who have lately been under fire elsewhere in the media for some of their more daring opinions. In Carlson’s case it’s some decade-old off-the-cuff remarks to a shock radio jock called “Bubba the Love Sponge,” where Carlson defended a cult leader who was arranging very underage marriages between his followers, described Iraqis as “primitive monkeys” and all womankind as “very primitive,” which Carlson has refused to apologize for and sloughs off as being “naughty” on the radio a decade ago. In the case of Pirro she went on the air and said that Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar wearing the Muslim hijab suggested she she more loyal to Islam than the American constitution, which followed a big controversy about Omar saying American jews who supported Israel were disloyal the United States, and although it’s all very complicated even Fox News issued a statement disavowing her statement and pulling her from the schedule for at least one week.
Both shows have lately lost some big-name advertisers, but they retain an outspoken supporter in the White House. Trump “tweeted” his advice to Fox News to immediately restore Pirro to her Saturday time slot, and urged Carlson to “keep fighting.” We’d hate to see either show banished from the cables and airwaves for exercising their First Amendment rights, but we’d also hate to see the same thing happen to “Saturday Night Live,” which by the way has a talented woman who does an absolutely dead-on and devastating impression of “Judge Jeanine.”
Our guess is the country will somehow survive the satiric sketches of “Saturday Night” and the legacy of the late Sen. McCain, as well as the ill-tempered and authoritarian-sounding presidential “tweets” about them, but we can’t help worrying about what comes next from Mueller and O’Rourke and the sorts who gun down houses of worship in New Zealand and elsewhere, and we worry that the President of the United States seems worried about it as well.

— Bud Norman

The Lady Regains the Gavel

California’s Rep. Nancy Pelosi is once again the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and that should prove interesting. Say what you want abut Pelosi, and everybody has plenty to say, but there’s no denying she’s been a formidable force and intriguing in recent American history.
Pelosi is both a stereotypical and literal San Francisco liberal, whose two previous terms as Speaker saw massive deficits and pork-laden stimulus spending and the convoluted health care reform called Obamacare, and she’s hated with a rate red-hot passion by the right. Grainy and unflattering black-and-white photographs have been a staple of Republican campaign attack ads for years, the mention of her name prompts boos and hisses at Trump rallies and on conservative talk radio, and she’s once again an effective fundraising bogey-woman for the Grand Old Party.
Much of the left doesn’t much like her, either, for reasons of its own. As crazy left as Pelosi seems to anyone even slightly right of center, much of the Democratic rank and file and nseveral of the newly installed Democratic members of the House regard her as too accommodating to the center and insufficiently sufficiently socialist, which is a scary thought for such old-fashioned establishment Republicans as ourselves to contemplate. On the other hand, much of the right now reviles such old-fashioned establishments as former House Speaker Paul Ryan and current current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as too accommodating to the center and insufficiently loyal to whatever President Donald Trump is “tweeting” about on any given day, and we have to admit that’s pretty scary, too.
Despite Pelosi’s unpopularity she won the speakership with a few votes to spare, having fended off a futile challenge from the impatient-for-socialist-utopia youngsters on the leftmost edges of the party, and we’d advise Trump and his Republican allies in Congress not to underestimate her political skills. In the same way we regard LeBron James, we don’t root for the team she’s playing for but have to admit she’s damned good at the game. She was an effective thorn in the side of President George W. Bush for the last two years of his presidency, but blocked the far left’s demand for his impeachment and then joined with him and a bipartisan group of centrist Democrats and Republicans to negotiate the Troubled Asset Relief Program that was reviled by both the left and right but in retrospect probably prevented the great recession of ’08 from becoming another great depression, and she effectively did all sorts of mischief during the first two years of President Barack Obama’s administration.
Pelosi is the daughter of Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., who was a a famously ruthless Maryland congressman and Baltimore mayor, and while Trump was learning from his father how to bribe politicians Pelosi was learning how to strong arm unprincipled building contractors in need of a building permit. She easily rose through the ranks of California’s hippy-dippy Democratic party, just as easily clawed her way to the leadership of the congressional Democrats, and is clearly unintimidated by the likes of Trump. Pelosi’s daughter is a well respected documentary filmmaker in her own right, and has recently described that her beloved mom as someone who”will cut your head off and you won’t even know you’re bleeding,” and Trump and the rest of the Republicans should heed the warning. For now she has the better political hand to play, what with Trump having preemptively claimed responsibility for an unpopular partial government shutdown to get funding his unpopular border wall idea, and we expect she’ll play her cards better than the failed casino mogul she’s up against.
We still can’t stand the woman, and don’t see her second speakership turning out well for anyone, but we figure it could have been worse. The Democratic party has many members even crazier than Pelosi, as we shudder to realize, and there’s hope she’s pragmatic enough to reach some compromises on some essential matters with the saner members of the Republican party. Although Pelosi is once again resisting calls for impeachment she’ll no doubt go at Trump with all the subpoena power her Democratic majority in the House can muster, but that’s all right with us, and we’re still hoping the center will somehow hold.

— Bud Norman

Distraction and Desperation

With less than six days before the midterm election polls close the news is even busier than usual.
Some lost and lonely loser in Florida stands accused of sending mail bombs to at last a dozen prominent Democratic politicians and activists, and another lost and lonely loser is in a Pennsylvania jail awaiting charges of slaughtering 11 Jews as they worshipped God in a Pittsburgh synagogue. An hilariously inept plot to frame the special counsel investigating the “Russia thing” for ’70s-era sexual harassment has fallen apart, and is now the subject of a federal investigation of its own. There are the usual campaign issues, too, such an ongoing debate about mandating that insurance companies cover pre-existing conditions which the Democrats seem to be winning and the Republicans are reduced to lying about. The economy continues to chug along well enough, but lately the stock markets have been up and down and mostly down.
Given all that, we’re not surprised that President Donald Trump is mostly talking about the impending invasion of Middle Eastern terrorists and Central American lepers who are marching the last 900 miles or so of their journey to America’s southern border, along with the rest of the invading army of dark-hued others who are already here. Trump is promising to send as many as 15,000 American troops to join the thousands of National Guardsmen and Border Patrol agents currently in place to turn back a few thousand unarmed and no doubt worn out asylum-seekers, and threatening to repeal the 14th amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship with an executive order. All the die-hard fans are cheering it on at Trump’s non-stop rallies and on certain conservative media, but to most of the rest of us it smacks of desperation.
The last invasion of the southern border by thousands of walking and unarmed asylum-seekers mostly petered out by the time it arrived at the border, with the usual Border Patrol contingent well able to handle the resulting 14 arrests for illegal immigration, and this one looks no scarier. Trump freely admits he has no proof that it’s being organized and funded some of those prominent Democratic politicians and activists who recently received pipe bombs in the mail, and none of those certain conservative media have yet to document any Middle Eastern terrorists or lepers, so more military power than we’re currently deploying against the Afghan Taliban and the Islamic State combined seems an overreaction. We still like to think ourselves law-and-order conservatives, but we hail from a more hopeful era when even the most rock-ribbed Republicans thought that the border laws could be enforced without violating the Posse Comitatus Act or America’s treaty obligations to grant due process to the claims of asylum-seekers, and without building tent cities and orphaning children and all the other cruelties that today’s law-and-order crowd seem to crave.
Back in that more hopeful era the law-and-order sorts of rock-ribbed Republicans used to venerate the Constitution and insist it be interpreted according to its plain language, and to disdain the use of executive orders by power-grabbing presidents, but that’s no longer the case. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution plainly states that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the state wherein they reside,” and way back in 1895, when there was a “Yellow Peril” that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act and long before the damned liberals infested the judicial system, the Supreme Court ruled that plain language meant that even though a impoverished cook named Wong Kim Ark was born to Chinese parents his birth on American soil had conferred him American citizenship. House Speaker Paul Ryan and the legal scholar who’s married to Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway and numerous other old-fashioned Republican types agree, and even many of the Republicans who think we would well be rid of birthright citizenship say that it shouldn’t be accomplished by the stroke of a presidential pen.
Trump in turn “tweeted” back that “Paul Ryan should be focusing on holding the Majority rather than giving his opinions on Birthright Citizenship, something he knows nothing about!” The entirely autodidactic constitutional scholar then laid out his argument in two separate “tweets.”
“So-called Birthright Citizenship, which costs our country billions of dollars and is very unfair to our citizens, will be ended one way or the other. It is not covered by the 14th Amendment because of the words ‘subject to the jurisdiction thereof.’ Many legal scholars agree …
“Harry Reid was right in 1993, before he and the Democrats went insane and started with the Open Borders (which brings massive Crime) “stuff.” Don’t forget the nasty term Anchor Babies. I will keep our Country safe. This case will be decided by the Supreme Court!”
Such elegant English prose is hard to argue with, but we’ll take a stab at it. Birthright citizenship might well be ended some day, and perhaps for good reason, but surely it makes some difference if it happens the constitutional way or or some other way. We have no more idea what “subject to the jurisdiction thereof’ than Trump does, but we suspect the Supreme Court of 1895 had a grasp of the concept, and we’ll dare Trump to say that only the citizens in the United States are subject to its jurisdiction. We’ll also note that White House press secretary couldn’t name of those legal scholars who agreed with Trump, and that don’t consider former Senator Harry Reid any sort of constitutional authority. The nasty term “Anchor Babies” refers to immigrants who bring their family into the country through the nastily-termed “chain migration,” and although that’s also a fair debate we’re disappointed that Trump prefers to discuss it in admittedly nasty terms. We’ll take Trump’s word for it that he’ll keep us safe, and we’ve little doubt that any executive-ordered alterations to the previous understanding of the 14th Amendment will be settled in the Supreme Court, and we’ll be interested to see how those plain-text originalists that Trump appointed rule on that.
In the meantime, Trump will have trouble distracting attention from all the rest of the news, little of which currently benefits his Republican party. The pipe bomber and the Synagogue shooter can’t credibly be blamed on the damned Democrats, as all the mail bombs were sent to his most frequent “tweet” targets, and he was snubbed by both Republican and Democratic public officials and some of the grieving families when he paid a consolatory visit to Philadelphia. The “Russia thing” chugs along, Obamacare is somehow polling better than the Trump tax cut, the stock market goes up and down, and that slow-walking invasion is still a thousand long miles away and the midterm elections are just five short days hence.

— Bud Norman

In the Mean Times of Trump

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

— Bud Norman

Ryan and the Old School of Republicanism Bow Out

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced Wednesday that he won’t be running for re-election, so for now his vituperative critics on both the left and right won’t have him to kick around anymore. These days we’re not sure where we land on the political spectrum, but from our current position here on the sidelines we’re going to mostly miss the guy.
Not so long ago when we and our readers considered us rock-ribbed conservative Republicans, Ryan was our guy. He not only talked the necessary talk about averting America’s quickly accruing national debt and eventual bankruptcy, but walked the necessary walk along the perilous path of the painful entitlement reforms and budget cuts that are required to keep America solvent without even more painful tax increases. Such sensible if unappetizing prescriptions naturally outraged the left, which produced widely-seen advertisements depicting Ryan throwing your beloved grandma off a cliff, and he politely but quite resolutely endured the slanders to stand his ground.
Such civil defiance of the Democratic left naturally endeared Ryan to the tax-cutting and budget-balancing “tea party” Republican right of the time, and thus he wound up way back in 2012 as the vice-presidential nominee on the Republican ticket with presidential nominee Mitt Romney to reassure the party’s conservative base that Romney was all right. Romney on his own seemed a sound enough Republican to us at the time, and we still think he’d have been a far better president than incumbent Democrat President Barack Obama, but he’d somehow once been governor of the loony left state of Massachusetts, and had wound up signing into law something that looked an awful lot like the hated-by-Republicans Obamacare act that Obama had signed, and his pick of the steadfastly anti-Obamacare Ryan as a running mate and potentially heartbeat-away-from-the-resident was reassuring to the those of us on the right as it was appalling to those of you on the left.
Both Romney and Ryan wound up enduring the slings and arrows of the left with the civility and calmly convincing arguments we’d come to expect from the best of the Republican party, but they also wound up losing to the hated Obama, and since then the Grand Old Party hasn’t been quite it as it once was. It turns out that a lot of those “tea party” types we once rallied with like their Medicare and Social Security more than they hate the welfare payments that account for a far smaller share of that once-scary national debt, and by 2016 a decisive plurality of the Republican party had concluded that civility and calmly convincing arguments were no longer a match for the slanderous slings and arrows of the left.
Which wound up with putatively Republican President Donald Trump. Trump ran on promises that he wouldn’t mess with any tea partier’s Medicaid or Social Security, somehow balance the budget without any tax increases, build a “big, beautiful” wall too keep Mexicans away and somehow force the Mexicans to pay for it, and he outdid even the right-wing talk radio hosts in talking tough about all those damned Democrats and left-wingers, and he didn’t bother with any of those dull but calmly convincing arguments. Trump wound up losing the popular election by a few million votes, so he eked out enough ballots in a few states Romney narrowly lost, including Ryan’s own Wisconsin, that the former casino mogul and reality show star wound up winning the electoral vote.
Since then it’s been a different American political landscape in general and a wholly different Republican party in particular, and at the moment neither Ryan nor ourselves seem to know where we fit in all of it. Like us Ryan took a principled Republican stand against Trump early in the Republican primary process, and even after Trump had secured his party’s nomination he gallantly declined to defend Trump’s outrageous statements on the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape about grabbing women by their where-evers, but since Trump’s election he’s been more conciliatory.
Aside from the occasional criticisms of Trump’s crudity, he successfully guided a Republican tax-cut bill through the House which also passed the Senate and wound up with Trump claiming all the credit when signed it. He made good on a promise to get the House of Representatives to repeal the hated Obamacare law, although a slimmer Republican majority in the Senate couldn’t do the same and Trump never got to sign it, and he dutifully endured the opprobrium that the right heaped on the GOP ‘establishment” and never questioned the new party’s religious faith in Trump’s divine deal-making abilities. The one-time champion of fiscal sobriety also spared Trump the political problems of a government shutdown by helping passage of a deficit-funded and worse-than-Obama budget busting spending bill that didn’t address any of the nation’s looming fiscal woes or those ginned-up immigration problems Trump is always railing about, and willingly accepted the slanderous slings and arrows of the right.
None of this will placate the newly-fangled right that regards Trump as the epitome of au courant conservatism, and the stubbornly old-fashioned left will still revile him as the son of a bitch who threw your beloved grandmother off the cliff, but from our view on the sidelines we take a more sympathetic view of Ryan’s career.
Our lazy asses don’t have to worry about reelection, however, as we never stood a chance of getting elected to anything in the first place, so we’ll not sit in judgment of a poor politician such as Ryan. Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee in the last presidential election, after all, and despite everything we’ll readily forgive any Republicans who went ahead and voted for Trump. It was Trump’s populist campaign that made meaningful entitlement reform impossible, so we’ll generously assume that Ryan intended to keep the government operating just long enough to confront fiscal reality, and he generously allowed Trump to take credit for the big defense spending increase, and despite the rants of the right wing talk radio hosts he did persuade a majority of the House to repeal that damned Obamacare.
None of which will squelch the left’s glee at Ryan’s departure. Even as the recent Republicans decry Ryan as a “Republican in Name only” and “establishment” “deep state” “globalist” sell-out, the current Democrats still regard him as the guy who who pushed your beloved grandmother over the cliff. The more high-brow leftists still give Ryan credit for his civility and calmly stated arguments, but that’s all the more reason that Trump-loving Republicans will regarding him as a squishy sort of beta-male.
That scant plurality of remaining Trump-loving Republicans should note, though, that Ryan is just the most prominent of an unprecedented number establishment Republicans who no longer know where they fit on the political landscape and have decided not to seek reelection. At this relatively early point in the Trump era of the Republican party several GOP House seats in suburban districts and even a Senate seat in usually reliable Alabama have flipped to the Democrats, even the Speaker of the House and erstwhile conservative hero was in danger of losing his own race, and no matter what uncivil taunts Trump might “tweet” that political landscape seems fraught for both the best and worst sorts of Republican candidate.
Ryan insists that he’s stepping down to spend more time his children, who have thus far known him as a “weekend dad,” and his more generous critics on both the left and right agree that he’s the decent sort of family man fellow who would take that into account. We’re sure it’s at least partially true, and we’ll wish him and the rest of his family well. Still, his temporary departure from the pubic stage doesn’t augur well for either the Republican Party or the rest of the political landscape, and the national debt is bigger than ever, and we expect an acrimonious outcome.

— Bud Norman

In Praise of America’s Least-Popular Man

The news has slowed down in the frigid holiday air, as it always does and always should, so we’ll seize the opportunity to say a few kind words about Kentucky’s Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. He’s probably the most hated politician in America, which makes our contrarian selves all the more warm to him, and we’re sure he could use some holiday cheer.
All the Democrats hate him, of course, because he’s not only a Republican but also the party’s Senate majority leader and thus bears the most blame for everything the Republicans did to thwart President Barack Obama during the eight years he was in office. Most Republicans also hate him, though, because all the talk radio hosts and the opinion journalists on Fox News have convinced them that McConnell and the rest of the dat-gummed Republican establishment didn’t do nearly enough thwarting. All the independents have a healthy suspicion of anyone from either party, so they also don’t bolster his horrid poll numbers.
We take a more pragmatic measure of man’s public service, on the other hand, and by our accounting McConnell’s done about as well as can be expected.
All those Democrats should be grateful for McConnell’s restraints on the Obama administration. For the first two Obama years there were big Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, and there wasn’t much McConnell could do about it when they went for such big moves as Obamacare and that trillion-dollar “stimulus package” and various other budget-buusting do-goodery, which of course led to the not only a Republican majority in the House but a “tea party” majority at that. With the Democrats’ whittled-down Senate majority vulnerable to shrewd filibustering that soon led to half-trillion budget deficits of the George W. Bush administration, and although the Democrats lost the Senate and a lot of governorships and statehouse and county commission seats we suspect it would have been worst if the Democrats had been able to finish their to-do list.
All those Republicans, especially the Trump-loving ones who get their news exclusively from Fox and talk radio, should also give McConnell his due. There wasn’t much McConnell could do to stave off Obamacare and the “stimulus package” in those darks days of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi regime, but he somehow managed to convince the notoriously individualistic Republicans to stand together to deny those abominations a single Senate vote of bipartisan support. Even when the Republicans won a Senate majority to go along with a House majority there wasn’t much McConnell could do about Obama signing executive orders, but McConnell did play a key role in preventing hard-to-undo legislation and forcing Obama to sign executive orders that could just as easily be undone by any old future Republican president, and he did take a lot of heat for cooling a seat on the Supreme Court until any old future Republican president could make the appointment.
Those Trump-loving sorts of Republicans like to boast about all the Obama-era executive orders Trump has undone and that great Supreme Court pick he made, but they’re also the first to spit and cuss at the mention of McConnell’s name. They seem convinced that only Trump would have done what any old Republican president would have done, and that up until Trump the Grand Old Party was q quisling.
All those independents with their healthy of suspicion of anyone from either party should also acknowledge some gratitude to McConnell. He was a restraint on the excesses of the Democratic party during the Obama years, and in subtle but significant ways he’s also been a restraint on the worst excesses of the Trump years. He somehow managed to to herd all the Republican cats in the Senate to get on the big tax cut bill Trump wanted, which is probably going to bust the budget but maybe not to Obama-Reid-Pelosi levels, and he’s put all but Trump’s most egregious judicial nominees on a quick approval process, but he’s also had a more centrist influence. So far the Senate hasn’t authorized anything more than symbolic sums for Trump’s fantasy of a great translucent wall across the the Mexican border, the body remains committed to finding the truth about the “Russia thing,” and whatever quibbles you might have about his policies McConnell you will have to admit McConnell has carried them out in a quite gentlemanly way without any unnecessarily insulting “tweets.”
These days our healthy suspicion of anyone from either party is such that we find ourselves rooting for the effete establishments of both. We’re rooting for those Democrats who won’t go whole hog for Bernie Sanders-style socialism, rooting against the Trumpist Republicans, and hoping that the likes of Mitch McConnell and the rest of the gat-dummed establishment will stick around a while.

— Bud Norman

A Mixed Bag of Policy, Politics, and that Tax Bill

President Donald Trump at long last got a major piece of legislation to sign into law Wednesday, after the Republicans in congress rammed through a massive tax cut bill, but it remains to be seen if it will eventually count as a win. Trump and all those congressional Republicans are expecting the public will come to love the law, but for now it’s polling horribly and the Democrats are scoring the political points.
The bill runs more than 500 pages, and from our on-the-side-lines perspective it’s a rather mixed bag. Our guess is that the overall effect on the economy will be salutary, although not to the extent that the Republicans are hoping for, and that as usual the benefits won’t be equably distributed across the country, although not so inequitably as the Democrats are urging people to fear. Both parties should probably be hoping that it’s all largely forgotten by the time the next votes are cast in the mid-term elections.
The main feature of the bill is a slashing of the corporate tax rate from a world’s highest 35 percent to a more-typical-by-world-standards 21 percent, as  frankly and ill-advisedly admitted during a celebratory meeting with the congressional Republicans at the White House. Until then Trump had peddled the obvious fiction that the bill’s main feature is a big beautiful Christmas gift to America’s middle class, and he might come to wish he’d told the truth from the outset.
Although the Democrats were quite right to argue that few corporations pay that highest-in-the-world rate, it’s still true that all those deductions merely whittled that rate down and still left American corporations at a disadvantage in the competitive world market, and although it’s not likely to benefit the overall economy to the extent Republicans are hoping it won’t hurt and bit and will surely do some good. The stock markets had a slight downturn on Wednesday, but that’s because investors had already added in the anticipated passage of the bill during its recent record-setting runs, and we’ve no doubt there would have been a bloodbath of red if the bill hadn’t passed.
There’s a certain segment of the Democratic party and the more general left that resent anything that benefits corporations, but even such Democrats as President Barack Obama recognized that the economy can’t do without them for now and were also on board with a corporate tax cut. If that had been touted as the main feature of the bill, the Republicans might have coaxed a few votes from Democratic representatives and senators in districts and states where corporations are major employers and majors donors, which would have given some bipartisan cover in case things go wrong.
The bill also delivers some tax cuts to the middle class, although not all of it, and even many of the beneficiaries might conclude that it’s not as big and beautiful a Christmas gift as was promised. Despite all the populist rhetoric on both the left and the right the hate top 1 percent pay bear about half the country’s tax burden, the top 20 percent pick up 85 percent of the tab, and a full 60 percent pay either no federal income taxes or so little that any further cuts would only amount to little. If you’re in that 50-to-80 percent segment of the population that is paying you might get a notable if not princely amount each year until the cuts expire, but if you live in a nice house in a high-tax state or haven’t gotten around to having children or are paying rather receiving alimony or have other certain circumstances it might just turn out to be a tax hike.
How that turns out in the overall mid-term voting remains to be seen, but we will hazard a guess that those Republicans holding crucial House seats in such states as California and New York and Illinois are going to regret getting  rid of the state and local property tax deductions. The sorts of Republicans you find in those well-heeled districts with high-priced houses are already inclined to abhor the boorishness of Trump and his burn-it-down populism, and without a stake in a party-line Republican tax bill they won’t have any reason to support the party.
In those less well-heeled and more reliably Democratic districts the law is likely to further enflame the ever-raging fires of class resentment, no matter how salutary the overall economic consequences. All of those congressional Republicans have always denied that the law delivers a far bigger tax cut to the rich than it does the middle class, and Trump has assured his true believers that he’s going to take a huge hit because of it, but these arguments not only verifiably but also obviously untrue. The expert analyses of the bill vary wildly, and you can believe whichever you want based on how they share your ideological leanings until you complete your tax forms, but all of them agree that someone richer than you is going to reap bigger benefits than you.
That doesn’t bother us, as we’re the penurious but Republican sorts who harbor no class resentments, and we still hold out hope of snatching some small benefit from any overall salutary effect on the economy, but we do wish that Trump and all those congressional Republicans hadn’t so brazenly lied about it. The arguments for income inequality are complex and hard to make, but President Ronald Reagan persuasively made it during a longer and more thorough debate for his even bigger tax cut bill, and they always work better than a bald-faced lie. Trump’s lie that all the businesses he scandalously hasn’t divested himself of won’t benefit is particularly galling, and we can’t begrudge the Democrats the political points they’ll score because of that.
The law also repeals the provision of the “Obamacare” law that requires citizens to purchase not only health coverage but health care coverage of a certain type that may or may not be needed, which was the part we most hated about that hated law, but that’s also a mixed bag. Trump brags that he’s kept a campaign promise to repeal Obamacare, which is true enough because eliminating it’s individual mandate will ultimately sink the whole project, but because he hasn’t kept his campaign promise to replace Obamacare with something big and beautiful that will cover everyone at at a far lower cost it’s likely to end up with a lot of people losing coverage and many people more for what they’ve still got.
We do expect the effect on gross domestic product and unemployment numbers will be salutary, though, and hold out hope that some better health care policy will ensue from the coming calamity, so the Grand Old Party might yet survive all the public disapproval of the moment. During their big celebration party at the White House the congressional Republicans took turns lavishing praise on Trump in terms so obsequious they would have embarrassed a North Korean general, on the other, and in the long run the party will suffer consequences for such brazen lies as that.

— Bud Norman

Trump and the Stubborn Persistence of Obamacare

For more than eight long years we griped almost every day about almost everything President Barack Obama did, and were especially critical of his crackpot Obamacare law. Lately we’ve been griping almost every day about almost everything President Donald Trump does, though, and we even have some gripes about he’s going about undoing one of the worst mistakes of Obama’s administration.
Despite Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress and a Republican president in the White House, the Grand Old Party has thus far been unable to keep its seven-year-old promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, so Trump has chosen to hasten the crackpot system’s demise by executive action. First he signed an order that allows insurance companies to offer and consumers to choose low-premium but high-deductible programs that cover only catastrophic circumstances, which were previously disallowed by Obamacare, then he ordered a halt to federal subsidies for the low-income customers who have been forced to purchase the higher-premium but lower-deductible and more comprehensive coverage. Both moves would make perfect sense in an efficiently free market system of health care, but that seems unlikely to happen any time soon, and both are admittedly designed to wreck the crackpot health care system we’ve wound up with instead.
Obama’s promises that Obamacare would save you thousands of dollars and allow you to keep your doctor and your plan and not add a dime to the federal deficit while covering everyone have since proved complete balderdash, just as we glumly predicted back when we were griping almost every day about Obama and Obamacare, but even then what our anti-authoritarian instincts most hated about the crackpot scheme was the tyrannical notion of government mandating that individuals purchase a product and then limiting their choices of what to buy. We’re therefore grateful that Trump that has struck a blow for the liberty of those young and healthy and relatively low-wage workers whose best bet on the health insurance market is a low-premium and high-deductible catastrophic plan, and we fondly recall those halcyon days when we were among them, but our middle-aged have to acknowledge that without their coerced subsidies the rest of the current system is destabilized.
An end to those federal subsidies for low-income workers stuck with the high-deductible coverage is on even more solid constitutional ground, as the crackpot Obamacare law didn’t include them and they’ve been paid all along by executive orders of very dubious constitutionality, but Trump proudly admits that it’s intended to hoist Obamacare on its own petard, although we doubt he’d recognize the Shakespearean reference. Without those subsidies many insurers will will have no choice but to pull out of many markets, leaving millions of Americans without any coverage at all, and millions more paying higher premiums for the plans they’re still stuck with under the still-existing Obamacare law.
Trump’s plan is that the resulting catastrophe will force the Democrats to come begging for some efficiently free market solution such as the Republicans have been promising for seven long years, which we’d much prefer over the long term, but in the short-term it seems unlikely to happen. The plan assumes that the public will blame Obama and his crackpot law’s inherent flaws, rather than Trump for faithfully executing it to the letter and thus blowing it up, and it seems a rare case when Trump has over-estimated the public’s intelligence. If Trump expects the congressional Democrats to be so moved by the plight of those uninsured and over-paying low income workers that they will come begging for a efficiently Republican free market solution, rather than allowing the press to pillory him for admittedly blowing things up and gleefully watching his approval ratings further plummet, we think he’s overestimating them as well. He can plausibly blame those congressional Republicans, but he won’t have anything to claim to credit for, and it will make a complicated mid-term election next year.
In any case we won’t be any closer to that efficiently free market health system we’ve yearned for far longer than the past seven years, what we’re stuck with instead will wind up imposing misery on millions of Americans earlier than necessary, and there will be plenty of blame to go around.

— Bud Norman