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An Almost Trump-Free Weekend

Saturday somehow had top-down driving weather here in our portion of the plains, and although Sunday was more typically February it featured a fine sermon at our low church and some high culture at the civic center where the Wichita Symphony and the Wichita Musical Theater teamed up on a terrific performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel, which was followed by a taped-delayed watching of the Wichita State University Wheatshockers reeling off another impressive victory on the road against a surprisingly tough Loyola-Chicago Ramblers squad. All in all it was a pleasantly apolitical weekend, but of course there’s no avoiding the news altogether.
We logged on to our Facebook page to keep up with a dear friend’s ongoing cancer treatments, and although that news was guardedly good we also came across countless screeds about the Trump administration. Among our Facebook friends are an unaccountable number of irritable lefties, who are predictably irritated by anything Trump, and the more astute of conservative friends are more carefully expressing their own reservations, and nobody was arguing that America is being made great again. Our cursory glance at our usual news sources from the left to the right were no more encouraging, with plenty of stories giving Trump’s critics on either side something to be understandably annoyed about.
The Cable News Network and The Washington Post both claimed confirmation that Trump’s national security advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn, was in contact with the Russian government during the campaign that all the intelligence agencies allege the Russians were trying to influence, just like that dossier full of salacious but unconfirmed sex allegations alleged, and so far the Trump spokespeople haven’t categorically denied it. Flynn already had controversial ties to the Russian government that included his appearances on the dictatorship’s propaganda network and featured seating at Russian state dinners, and his son was kicked off the Trump transition team for “tweeting” about that crazy “pizza gate” scandal, and his presence on the National Security Council along with former alt-right internet publisher Steve Bannon while the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs was unprecedentedly kicked off had already made for much comment on both the left and the formerly supportive right.
Trump’s more reliable mouthpiece Kellyanne Conway was meanwhile using her airtime on those Sunday shows where Trump says he gets his news to pitch First Daughter Ivanka Trump’s overpriced line of shoes and jewelry, which has lately been discontinued by the Nordstrom’s chain of department stores, which Trump has angrily “tweeted” about. Sears and K-Mart have also discontinued the line, but so far haven’t suffered the wrath of a presidential “tweet.” A few hearty souls endeavored a defense of Trump, most of them nostalgically recalling the time President Harry Truman publicly berated a music critic who panned the presidential daughter’s vocal recital, which was by all accounts awful, but it’s hard to see how that’s making America great again and those questions about the president’s on-going business deals and how they might intersect with his foreign policy remain, and we’re still wondering why Trump seems so darned smitten with Russia’s dictator.
Over at the admirably conservative and still mostly NeverTrump National Review they’re noting that the left’s reaction has gone beyond understandable irritation and well into full-blown tin-foil-hate conspiracy-theorizing paranoia, which is a point well taken, but they’re obliged to admit that Trump’s own rhetoric of Bush-lied-people-died and Obama-was-born-in-Kenya and his electoral victory was rigged haven’t elevated the level of political discourse. One of Trump’s rich buddies went on videotaped record to blame it all on Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Preibus, who used to be the Republican Party’s national chairman and was reviled by Turmp’s most fervent supporters as one of them damned establishment Republican-in-name-only types, and we expect that storyline to spread out over the next few days. The popular storyline that the no-record-in-public-serve-at-all Trump is the one who “in over his head,” as that rich Trump buddy described Preibus, will also probably persist.
We’ll hope there will be warm days and gospel sermons and fine concerts and Shocker victories and healthy Facebook friends to get us through it all, and try not to succumb to either paranoia or false hope.

— Bud Norman

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A Good Week for Conspiracy Theories

Others might prefer a good old-fashioned whodunit, but for purely recreational reading we relish a good conspiracy theory. They have plots as carefully contrived as any mystery novel, feature villains and heroes every bit as clearly cut, and offer the same refuge from reality with the same reassuring implausibility.
The past week, however, has brought forth more conspiracy theories than even the most avid buff would want. Bombings at the Boston Marathon, ricin-laced letters sent to a senator and the president, an explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant, and the culmination of the gun control debate in a series of Senate votes on Wednesday all had the conspiracy theorists working overtime. There is no reason to believe that any of these events are related, but their unlikely confluence in the span of a few days seems to have heightened the suspicions of the conspiracy theorists nonetheless. Coincidences do no occur in conspiracy theories, a strict convention of the genre, and even the most random dots can somehow be connected.
A quick arrest in the ricin-laced letters case has blunted much of the speculation about the case, although any details that emerge might yet inspire more conspiracy theorizing. The suspect is an Elvis impersonator, a plot twist that the most ingenious mystery novelist could not invent, and thus far it is unclear what motives he might have for his alleged crime. He is reportedly a registered Democrat, which will no doubt come as a disappointment to those eager to blame such events on right-wing extremism, but the choice of a staunchly Republican senator and President Obama as victims suggests a bi-partisan sort of craziness that does not easily lend itself to conspiracy theories. Other reports suggest that the suspect is a conspiracy theorist, however, so perhaps his views will eventually spawn a good legend.
An accident is always a more probable explanation for an explosion at a fertilizer plant than a terrorism attack, especially when the plant is located in such an unlikely target as the small town of West, Texas, but that has not stopped the conspiracy theorists from all sorts of suspicious speculation. That the explosion occurred so soon after the Boston Marathon bombings fueled the speculation, as did the town’s proximity to Waco and it’s upcoming anniversary of the tragic conflagration that resulted when federal agents conducted a raid on a religious cult there, and within hours of the explosion there were several web sites dedicated to the possibility of terrorism.
Terrorism clearly occurred at the Boston Marathon, so all of the conspiracy theorizing has been devoted to identifying a possible culprit. Some are openly hoping that it turns out to be white people with extremist right-wing views, while others are assuming that Islamist radicals are to blame, and thus far neither camp has any real evidence for their theories. Photographs of two possible suspects released Thursday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation are a sort of Rorcshach test for conspiracy theorists, grainy and indistinct enough that one camp will look and see two white men while the other will immediately spot two men of Middle Eastern appearance, and in any case the men are only suspects and their ethnicity provides no proof of their motives. For what it’s worth the men’s rather hip-hop style of clothing strikes us as incongruous with right-wing extremism, but perhaps the right-wing extremists in Boston are more fashion-conscious than the ones we encounter here in the heartland. The debate will rage until some definitive proof emerges, and even then the true believers will continue to insist on their original suspicions.
As with every tragedy of this sort, allegations of a “false flag” government theory are also proving popular. The FBI news conference where the photographs were released was constantly interrupted by one of the more prominent peddlers of this theory, which is based solely on the usual wild conjecture and fevered fear of a government conspiracy behind anything bad that happens, and the notion is also gaining currency on some of the more fanciful talk radio programs. It’s a comforting notion that a nefarious cabal is secretly running the world, at least when compared to the sobering reality that the world is far too vast and complex for even the most diabolical genius to successfully run and tragedy is therefore beyond anyone’s control, and conspiracy theories of this sort will always appeal to the anxious people at both ends of the ideological spectrum. The side that is out of power, as the largely forgotten “9/11 Truth” movement demonstrates, will always be more prone to such conspiracy theories.
Which is not to say that people do not conspire with one another to achieve their common goals, a point that was acknowledged by both sides of the recent gun control debate, but these are usually limited conspiracies conducted in plain view and without any cloak-and-dagger conduct. In a petulant and peevish speech in the White House rose garden Obama seemed blamed the Senate’s failure to pass any of his pet proposals on the “gun lobby” convincing the public that his “common sense” measures were part of a government conspiracy to disarm the citizenry, which is a sort of conspiracy theory itself, and his vice president mocked anyone who doubted his good intentions as a paranoid gun nut and member of the “black helicopter crowd.” There are plenty of politicians and activists who do wish to disarm the citizenry, however, and there are reasons to suspect that Obama is among them, so it isn’t paranoid for those who cherish their gun rights to organize against an organized effort to do away with the Second Amendment.
Guarding against a government’s natural inclination for more power is not the same as suspecting a government plot behind every tragedy, and doing so through the democratic process as in the defeat of the gun control proposals is patriotic rather than treasonous. All these crazy conspiracy theories, alas, tend to discredit the valid ones.

— Bud Norman