When Politics is Personal

Politics ain’t bean bag, as the cliche aptly puts it, but we can’t remember a time when it was quite so pro wrestling-like as it is today. Pro wrestling hall of famer and President of the United States Donald Trump seems to pride himself on flouting the traditional norms of decorum and civility in political discourse, and routinely insults his political opponents with charges of mental illness and criminal behavior and ugliness.
On Tuesday, for instance, Trump called Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi a “waste of time” and “a sick woman” who “has a lot of mental problems.” In the same interview he reiterated his claims that President Barack Obama and various Federal Bureau of Investigation officers had committed especially egregious but unspecified political crimes. Trump also explained that he didn’t know the State Department inspector general who was investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for possibly using aides to do personal chores as well as possibly making a corrupt arms deal with Saudi Arabia, but fired the guy because he was an Obama appointee and Pompeo wanted him gone.
The unsubstantiated and unspecified charges levied against Obama and the career public officials are unprecedented in our many years of following politics, as is Trump’s purge of any pesky inspectors general who might find anything embarrassing to the Trump administration, but these are apparently the new rules. To quote an oft-quoted line from The Godfather, “It’s strictly business, not personal.” The Pelosi slurs, on the the other hand, seemed strictly personal
On Monday Pelosi was interviewed by the Cable News Network’s Anderson Cooper, and expressed concern about Trump’s announcement that he was using hydroxychloroqine to ward aff infection by the coronavirus. “He’s our president, and I would rather he was not taking something that has been approved by the scientists, especially in his age group and his, shall we say, weight group — ‘morbidly obese, they say.” Say what you want about Pelosi’s political views, and we’ve had plenty to say about them over the years, but you should admit that the daughter of a famously ruthless Maryland politician has some bare knuckle skills of her own. With a finesse Trump will never master, she sounded concerned about the president’s health while also mentioning his obesity.
Trump fans will agree that Pelosi is a “waste of time” and a “sick woman” who “has a lot of mental problems,” and cheer him on for telling it like is, but we figure that the Pelosi’s objective observation of Trump’s obesity is also telling it like it is.
We’re lately feeling liberated from the old rules of civility and decorum and the rest of all that “politically incorrect” nonsense, so we’ll just come right out and say that Trump is fat. We’ll even go so far as to say that he’s a big fat fatty-pants with a ridiculous comb-over and white circles around his eyes in an otherwise orange and jowly face. None which is disqualifying, as we have to admit that Trump isn’t as fat as President William Howard Taft, who we consider a very underrated president, and he’s not so ugly President Abraham Lincoln, who is rightly regarded as the great president ever, Trump does routinely make an issue of other people’s height and weight and looks.
“I didn’t know he’d be so sensitive,” Pelosi responded on the MSNBC network, before adding “He’s always talking about other people’s avoirdopois, their weight, their pounds.” Which is provably telling like it is, and well within the bounds of the new rules.of pubic discourse.
Trump makes his own rules, and expect everyone else to play the old rules, but that’s not going to happen, How this sort of this sort political discussion leads the country out of the greatest public health crisis in more than a century and the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depressioon remains to be seen.

— Bud Norman

The Gospel According to Trump

The keynote speaker at the annual National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday was former American Enterprise Association president and conservative columnist Arthur Brooks, who reiterated the theme of his 2019 book “Love Your Enemies.” Next up was President Donald Trump, who started his remarks by saying “Arthur, I don’t know if I agree with you.”
Trump fans will say that of course he was only kidding, and that critics simply fail to appreciate his sense of humor, but the rest of  the speech made quite clear Trump truly believes that the idea of loving one’s enemies is superstitious bunk. He might or might not know that he’s also disagreeing with Jesus Christ, but Jesus Christ said a lot of things that Trump clearly believes are bunk.
The line about loving one’s enemies comes from the fifth through seventh chapters of the Gospel According to Matthew, an account of the Sermon the Mount, which is pretty much the antithesis of everything Trump says and does.
When Trump was asked on the campaign trail to cite a favorite Bible verse he said “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” which comes from the Old Testament book of Exodus, which Jewish tradition regards as an admonition that duly appointed governments should punish the guilty with penalties commensurate with the crime. Trump seems to regard it as permission for his hobby of exacting revenge on anyone he finds guilty of some slight, despite Romans 12:19 saying “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord.”
.The phrase comes up again in in Matthew 5:3, when Jesus told his followers “You have heard it was said, ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek also.” Trump often tells his followers to “always punch back 10 times harder,” and although most of the followers are self-described Christians the line always gets big cheers and applause at the rallies.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” Jesus said in Matthew 5:5, but Trump once said in an interview with Playboy Magazine that “Every successful person has a large ego,” and when asked if that included Mother Theresa and Jesus Christ he replied “Far greater than you’ll ever understand.” Jesus also told his followers on the mount “Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth” and “You cannot serve both God and money,” but Trump prefers the “prosperity gospel” of televangelist and White House advisor and “personal pastor” Paula White, which teaches that wealth is a sign that you’re good with God. In Matthew 7:1 Jesus tells his followers “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” but Trump took the opportunity of the National Prayer Breakfast to disparage the religiosity of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and the basic human decency of anyone who dares criticize his presidency.
The Sermon on the Mount also includes stuff about divorce and adultery and giving to the needy that Trump seems to regard as the rantings of a religious lunatic. He went from the National Prayer Breakfast to the East Room of the White House, where he once again cussed in front of the kids and lashed out at his enemies and told several provable lies during an unscripted stream-of-consciousness tirade that lasted more than an hour and sounded to us like the rantings of a very irreligious lunatic.
We don’t claim to have led such blameless lives that we won’t be relying on God’s mercy when the time comes, as Trump has claimed to have done, so we’ll happily leave it to God to ultimately judge Trump’s soul. Down here on earth we have a civic obligation to judge his fitness for the highest office in the land, though, and thanks to the American democracy God blessed us with we all get a say in that. Most of our fellow evangelical brothers and sisters regard Trump as their champion, and some even liken him to King David, who was beloved by God and given great power despite his extraordinary sins, but we’d note that David risked his life for God’s chosen people by challenging Goliath in single combat and only gained power after fully repenting and asking God’s forgiveness, whereas Trump had bone spurs and claims that he only asks forgiveness from God when “I drink my little wine and eat my little cracker,” which is how he described the rite of Holy Communion that Jesus consecrated before humbling Himself on the cross.
Our evangelical Christian brothers and sisters are entitled to their political opinions and their votes, and we’ll not judge them for it, but we will remind them of another line from the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7:15: “Watch out for false prophets.”

— Bud Norman

What Not to Talk About in Christmastime

The House of Representatives is expected to impeach President Donald Trump today on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress today, giving Americans plenty to shout at one other about during their family Christmas celebrations. All the polls and other evidence the country is split pretty much down the middle on the matter, and neither side seems willing to listen to the other, so for now we suggest everyone talk about such anodyne topics as sports and whatever good news they have about the cute kids scurrying around the festivities.
Even so, we’ll be keeping an eye on the developments. This is only third time in American history that a president has been impeached — not counting the impending and inevitable impeachment that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation — and no matter one’s perspective it’s a subject of great importance. It’s very serious stuff, even if many of the arguments being made are utterly unserious.
On impeachment eve Trump issued a six-page letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on official White House stationery, and it has to be seen to be read. The president reportedly spent a whole week on it, with input from top White House advisors and Trump’s personal lawyers, and it’s clearly been spell-checked and made use of a thesaurus, but otherwise it’s just a longer-than-usual presidential “tweet.” The are the usual Random Capitalizations and excessive use of exclamation markets, easily disproved claims, personal attacks, and the standard Trumpian tactic of accusing his opponents of whatever he’s been accused of, as well as a complaint that the Democrats “have cheapened the importance of the very ugly word, impeachment!”
Nothing in the missive offers any credible refutation of the evidence that has been brought against him, nor any explanation about why he’s blocking key witnesses from offering any exculpatory testimony, but Pelosi’s response that the letter was “ridiculous” and “really sick” also wasn’t very substantive. We’re holding out faint hope that the arguments will be more high-minded during a Senate trial, which is expected to take place next month, but have no expectation that any of it will change anybody’s mind.
Anything’s possible, though, especially these days, and there’s no predicting what bizarre plot twists might unfold in this surreal reality show. We’ll keep an open eye on it, but during the Christmas season we’ll try to keep our mouths shut at the family get-togethers. Some Republicans are blaming the Democrats for impeaching Trump so close to Christmas, but some of them voted to impeach President Bill Clinton on Dec. 19, 1998, and even though our family was in favor of that we mostly talked abut sports and the young kinfolk during that holiday season.

— Bud Norman

 

The Game Is On, and On TV

Ever since Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gave her blessing for the Democratic-led House oversight committees to launch an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump the Republicans have been griping about it. The Republicans demanded a formal vote for the inquiry by the full House and then open and televised hearings, and after the Democrats gave them both Thursday that Republicans will probably regret it.
There’s nothing in the Constitution or statutory law or historical precedent that requires a full House vote to launch an impeachment inquiry, and a federal court recently confirmed that as it gave blessings to a slew of subpoenas the House committees has sought, but it gave the Republicans and their media allies something to gripe about. The Republicans also held out hope that the Democrats wouldn’t dare do it, as they might risk defections from the 30 House members representing districts where Trump won in the last presidential election and remains relatively popular, but only two declined to vote for inquiry and the rest presumably know their districts well enough to conclude they could get away with a yea vote.
None of the Republicans defied the party’s opposition to the inquiry, although former Republican and recent Indent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan decided he could run for reelection in his narrowly Trump-voting district despite his pro-inquiry stand. A handful of Republicans running for reelection in the sorts of affluent and educated suburbs that the Republicans have lately been losing were reportedly tempted to defect, and we’re sure that some of the 18 congressional Republicans who have decided not to run were tempted as well. In any case a united Democratic caucus overwhelmingly outnumbers a united Republican caucus, so Thursday’s vote portends an eventual impeachment of the president.
A slim Republican majority in the Senate makes it unlikely that Trump will be removed after an impeachment trial, but there’s a handful of Senators running for reelection in districts where Trump lost and is widely unpopular, and any defections will be embarrassing for Trump as he faces a hard-fought reelection campaign of his own.
The open and televised hearings that the Republicans rashly demanded will probably prove embarrassing for Trump as well. Already the congressional committees have interviewed an impressive parade of decorated military officers and distinguished diplomats and esteemed national security experts with careers that have risen through Republican and Democratic administrations alike, all of them have testified that Trump did indeed withhold congressionally appropriate funds for military and other aid beleaguered Ukraine unless it provided information damaging to one of Trump’s potential Democratic rivals, as well as an amateur diplomat who was appointed Ambassador to the European Union who got the job by donating millions to Trump’s campaign and wound up coming across as a bumbler and a liar. The Republicans seem to believe that if only the public could have seen the testimony the controversy would vanish, except for a lingering public resent that the Democrats ever launched such a witch hunt, but we wonder how they’ve came to that cockamamie conclusion.
Trump and his reconstituted Republican party and their media allies regard politics as a long-running reality show, with the usual heroes and villains and occasional salaciousness and daily intrigue, and for a certain segment of the public they control the narrative much like Trump used to on “The Apprentice.” On their channel the Democrats are all God-hating crazy people intent on keeping Trump from making America great again, and have been conducting a Soviet-style star chamber proceeding where no Republican is allowed to ask questions our mount any defense of the president, and if it were only televised people would watch the traitorous witnesses and their “deep state” conspiracy unfold before a nation’s eyes. Surely the people would also see, the Republicans seem to truly believe, that Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, as in all matters, have been perfect.
The impeachment hearings will come in live and unedited on several other channels, though, and won’t look the same for much of the country. The witnesses all lack horns and cloven feet and tails, and will likely come off as military officers and diplomats and national security experts who have risen through Republican and Democratic administrations without so much as a squeak of public objection until now, when they felt compelled to tell the truth as they know it about something Trump did that they considered an abuse of his presidential powers and a breach of America’s national security interests. The president’s own rough transcript of his telephone negotiations with the Ukrainian president over aid and a possible favor Trump wanted to ask and the possibility of Ukraine investigating a potential Democratic rival’s son’s business dealings in the country, so it’s hard to believe the witnesses are all lying about that.
It’s just their opinion that there’s anything wrong about the call, though, and Trump and his supporters are just as entitled to believe that the phone call was perfect in every way. The argument that it’s perfectly fine for a president to solicit or even coerce campaign help from a foreign government is hard to make, though, even if can be explained so a sizable segment of the country as a purely disinterested effort to rid Ukraine of corruption. The witnesses’ credentials do seem to entitle them to their opinions, too, and we expect they’ll make a persuasive case.
The Republicans will have their chance to question the witnesses and state their cases, just as they have all along, but we can’t see them making much of it. Righteous indignation has thus far been the main rhetorical response, along with attempts to smear the witnesses as lying co-conspirators who have been hiding in the “deep state” for the last 20 to 30 years 40 years awaiting their moment, and neither plot line is sustainable. There’s also that transcript Trump wants to read on a televised “Fireside Chat” because it’s so perfect, testimony from numerous government officials about the involvement of Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who is currently under investigation by the Southern District of New York that he once ran, and has two associates currently in jail for Ukraine-related matters.
There are indeed some God-hating crazy people in the Democratic party, but the Republicans have a lot of explaining to do on national television. It won’t be like way back in our youthful Watergate days, when the impeachment hearings preempted the afternoon soap operas and game shows and there was nothing else to watch on summer vacation, but then as now things will unfold live and television, and reality is not a reality show.

— Bud Norman

The Art of the Budget Deal

The good news is that President Donald and the Republican and Democratic leaders have reached a deal, expected to be voted on and signed by the end of the week, which will avert a governmental default and the economic cataclysm that would surely follow. The bad news is that deal adds another couple trillion dollars to a national debt that sooner or later will be just as catastrophic.
For now, though, no one seems to care. The Democrats remain the party of big government, and realize that for the two years of the budget deal they are unlikely to get the big tax increases they want to address the deficit, and the agreement gives them a few hundred billion dollars more to spread around to their voters. The Republicans are no longer the party of fiscal responsibility but rather the party of Trump, the self-proclaimed “king of debt,” who told reporters on Monday that “We are, I think, doing very well on debt, if you look at debt limit, however you want to define that, but we’re doing very well on that and I think we’re doing well on a budget.”
We’ll leave it to Trump’s die-hard supporters to explain exactly what the heck that means, as they seem to speak his language better than we do, but the gist of it seems to be that he’s quite comfortable about another couple of years of trillion dollar deficits, and maybe four more after that if he gets reelected. He and his die-hard supporters will probably revert to the old-fashioned Republican outrage about fiscal irresponsibility as soon as another Democrat occupies the White House, but for now they’ll talk about the great deal he got.
The Democrats agreed to another big hike in defense spending, and Trump told reporters “Very important we take care of our military, our military was depleted and in the past two-and-a-half years we’ve undepleted it, okay, to put it mildly,” adding another Trump neologism to the language at no cost to the taxpayer. There’s no money for the big beautiful border wall that Trump the Mexicans pay for, but neither is there anything to prevent Trump from diverting funds from the military budget to build a mile or two. The Democratic leaders also gave oral assurances they wouldn’t complicate future budget negotiations with with any “riders” regarding abortion or other controversial issues, although it’s not clear how Trump will hold them to that.
The deal does allow a few hundred billion dollars more of discretionary spending, but for at least two years and maybe six that Democrats won’t have much say in how it’s spent, so a lot of Democratic congress members are publicly fuming, especially those newcomers that Trump has lately been urging to back where they came from.
The last of the old-school Republicans who really believed all that talk about limited government and fiscal responsibility and the looming were also disgruntled, with the president of the Committee for a Responsible Budget saying “It may end up being the worst budget agreement in our nation’s history.”
Despite all the grumbling on both sides of the aisle we expect the deal will be sealed by week’s end, when Congress takes it annual summer vacation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer retain a fairly tight rein on their caucus, hardly anyone in the Republican party dales challenge Trump on anything, the entire political class seems to realize that few of us still care about about the looming debt catastrophe, and absolutely no believes that anyone in Washington, D.C., can come up with solution before vacation time.
The deal at least kicks the can of crisis a bit further down the road, and no one’s likely to have to run for reelection a year from next November explaining what they did the the global economic Armageddon happened, and they can all hope they’ll be dead or retired with a sufficient stash of gold and guns and canned food when the reckoning does come.
Addressing America’s debt will require tough talk and harsh medicine for the American people. The Democrats will have to acknowledge that their utopian dreams are for now too expensive, the Republicans will probably have to forgo another round of their beloved tax cuts, and both parties will have make unpopular changes in such popular programs as Social Security and Medicare and even our recently undepleted military. That kind of political courage is scarce these days in either party, though, and far scarcer than the deficit dollars the Fed will keep printing.

— Bud Norman

Playing “The Dozens” With America’s Politics

If you’re as hip to ’70s era ghetto slang as we are, having endured a complicatedly multicultural junior high and high school education in the inner-city back in the day, you’re probably familiar with a game called “the dozens.” Basically, it’s a contest to see who can come up with the most crowd pleasing jibe about how fat and ugly the other player’s mama is.
It always struck us as a pointless enterprise, even if it only rarely resulted in a fistfight and was frequently amusing, so we’re disappointed to note that our nation’s political discourse seems to have devolved into a game of “the dozens.” Republican President and insult-comic-in-chief Donald Trump is currently engaged in a game of “the dozens” with the Democratic Speaker of the Hour Nancy Pelosi, and although neither side has yet said anything about how fat and ugly the other side’s mama is it’s still a tawdry spectacle.
Trump has recently declared that no Democratic legislation will be signed into law until the party ceases its various investigations of his businesses and campaign and inaugural committee and transition team and administration, and so far Pelosi doesn’t seem at all intimidated, as the investigations inexorably roll on and seem to be winning all the cases in the federal courts. Meanwhile no Republican legislation has any chance of being passed and signed into law until at least the next election cycle, and Pelosi seems quite comfortable with that.
Trump likes to refute his opponent’s arguments by giving them a taunting nickname, and until recently the best he could come up with for the House Speaker was “Nancy,” but he’s now calling her “Crazy Nancy.” He’s already applied the same “crazy” sobriquet to Sen. “Crazy” Bernie Sanders and various other Democrats and renegade Republicans, so he seems to be running out of material. Pelosi replied that Trump was goading an impeachment vote in the Democrat-controlled house that wouldn’t pass the slightly Republican-controlled house, and said his actions were “villainous toward the constitution” and require his family’s intervention. which Trump said was a “very sort of a nasty-type statement.”
There’s no telling what wins favor with the madding crowd these days, but our guess is that Pelosi is getting the best of this exchange. She’s indeed crazy according to our old-fashioned Republican tastes, but lately we’ve noticed she’s relatively sane compared to some of the Democratic presidential contenders, and that so far she’s advocating at least a few further investigations before proceeding with the impeachment of Trump, so maybe Trump has better targets for his insults.
In any case, we hope it all comes down to well-reasoned judicial opinions and a fully informed electorate. We hear Trump’s mama was so fat that on a scale of one-to-ten she was a 747, and that Pelosi’s mama was so fat she kept dollars in one pocket and pesos in the other, but given the stakes that shouldn’t matter.

— Bud Norman

The Art of No Deal

President Donald Trump ran for office on a promise that his unsurpassed negotiating skills would deliver to a grateful America the best infrastructure bill that anyone’s ever seen. It hasn’t happened yet, and after an especially weird Wednesday in Washington, D.C., it seems unlikely to ever happen.
Trump had scheduled a morning meeting on the subject with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several other Democratic members of Congress, but according to everyone in the room he arrived 15 minutes late, didn’t shake any hands or take a seat, and left after saying there would be no deal on infrastructure or anything else until the Democrats called off all of their numerous investigations of him. After that he went to the White House rose garden for a 12 minute rant before the television cameras that was splenetic and boastful and untruthful even by Trump standards, and he reiterated his rhyming State of the Union threat that Congress couldn’t legislate until it ceased to investigate.
Schumer and Pelosi unsurprisingly made clear in their own statements to the media that they have no intention of halting the investigations, even if it means Trump doesn’t get to claim credit for the best infrastructure bill that anyone’s ever seen, and they seemed to mean it. Trump will run for reelection on the argument that he would have signed the best infrastructure bill that anyone’s ever seen if not for those darned Democrats’ stubborn insistence on their constitutional oversight rights, but Pelosi and Schumer were clearly unconcerned about that. In the two years that Trump had Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress nothing to do with infrastructure was passed, and the Democratic majority in the House and sizable Democratic minority in the Senate have far less incentive to give Trump something to boast about.
Which might be for the best, given the sort of godawful pork-laden and budget-busting monstrosity of a bill that the combined imaginations of Trump and Schumer and Pelosi probably would have concocted. On the other hand, America’s roads and bridges and airports and electric grids and telecommunications systems and all the rest of it are as always in need of repairs and upgrades, and even such old-fashioned laissez faire Republicans as ourselves have to admit that some federal assistance will be required.
There are other pressing problems that we must begrudgingly admit probably require federal solutions, too, but they’ll also have to await the results of the 2020 elections. In the meantime there are upcoming budget deadlines and the potential for a global economy-wrecking federal default on the nation’s financial obligations, and although one side or the other has always caved in just in time over the past many occasions this round could be different.
At this point both sides only care who will get the blame for whatever calamity that occurs, and each has reason to believe it will be the other side. Trump can be confident that his die-hard supporters will buy the sales pitch that he would have wrought Utopia if only those darned Democrats had stopped picking on him and acceded to all his demands, while the Democrats can rightly assume that the rest of the country will be more skeptical. Trump will rally the faithful by defying congressional attempts to subpoena his tax returns and bank records and the testimony of several former administration officials and family members, while the Democrats can endlessly and insidiously and reasonably speculate about what the president is trying so hard to conceal.
Our guess is that the Democrats will eventually get the best of it, with some help from a judicial branch that so far seems to be on their side, but we’ve occasionally been wrong about these things. By now we know better than to underestimate Trump’s wiliness, nor the gullibility of his die-hard supporters, nor the political ineptitude of the Democratic party.
So for now we’ll hope that the next bridge we cross will hold up, that the local efforts at flood control will suffice, our next airplane trip will be uneventful, and the lights and internet connection stay on here at the home office. We’ll also hold out fainter hope that whatever it is Trump wants to keep in the dark will eventually be brought to light, the Democrats don’t go too far crazy left with their next nominee,  the government eventually gets back to its usual ham-fisted attempts to address the nation’s more pressing problems, and the rest of a nation of free markets and free minds continues to muddle its way toward progress.

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Lost Weekend

The past weekend probably wasn’t much fun for President Donald Trump or his most die-hard defenders. On Friday Trump signed a series of continuing resolutions to temporarily end the partial government shutdown, and none of them contained any money for the big beautiful border wall that he had insisted on when he was “proud to shut down the government for border security.” The same day saw the pre-dawn arrest of former advisor and longtime friend Roger Stone, the latest in a series of indictments brought by the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing.”
Both stories struck most observers as bad for Trump, but he and several of his die-hard defenders did their best over the weekend to explain how Trump keeps winning.
Trump “tweeted” to the fans that although he conceded to the Democrats his one demand for border wall funding “This was in no way a concession,” and that if he doesn’t get his way when the deal ends in three weeks “it’s off to the races!” This was a hard sell even for such reliable media allies as The New York Post, where the front-page headline called Trump a “Cave Man,” and the Trump-loving conspiracy theory website thegatewaypundit ran the headline “Trump Caves.” Even Ann Coulter, the author of “In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome,” declared that President George H.W. Bush was “no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as president.” We can’t imagine why Coulter chose to impugn the manliness of the last president Bush, who was a star athlete and bona fide war hero and the man who negotiated the west’s victory in the Cold War and drove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, but it goes to show how very disappointed some fans were on Friday.
Some Trump fans are made of sterner stuff, however. The always hilarious defenestrated administration official Sebastian Gorka is still loyal enough he insisted on Lou Dobbs’ Fox News show that Trump had pulled off a “master stroke,” even though the usually reliable host was saying that Trump had been “whipped by Pelosi.” The indefatigable Trump apologist Sean Hannity was telling his radio and television audiences that the president was sure to prevail within three weeks, as “he holds all the cards,” even though Hannity’s usually sycophantic radio show callers were disagreeing. As much as we admire quixotic effort, it’s a hard case to make. Trump was taking a beating in the opinion polls for his stubborn insistence on a border wall that has never polled well, the newly installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is clearly emboldened, and it’s hard to see what changes in the next three weeks.
Trump didn’t even get his previously scheduled State of the Union address in the House chamber, and it’s unlikely he’ll be able to change many minds if does the prime time gig. Seven Republican Senators had abandoned ship by the end of the partial government shutdown, which set new records for duration and bad press, and with several of them up for reelection next year in states that Trump didn’t win they’ll have little incentive to return to the fold of the true believers. The remaining faithful are confident that Trump will get his big beautiful border wall built by declaring a national emergency and unilaterally diverting funds that Congress had appropriated for other and more popular programs, but we expect that both the federal courts and the court of public opinion will have something to say about such a presidential power grab as that, and it will be a hard case for those self-proclaimed “constitutional conservatives” in the Trump-friendly media to make.
Beleaguered White House press secretary Sarah Sanders made a rare appearance on television to insist that the arrest of Stone had nothing to do with Trump, and most of the Trump-friendly media were indignant that such a fine fellow had been subjected to a pre-dawn arrest by combat-armed federal agents. It’s true that none of the seven counts in the indictment of Stone mention Trump, and that arrest did look pretty scary, but that apologists have another hard case to make.
Stone has had a decades-long relationship with Trump that included an advisor role in the earliest days of Trump’s presidential campaign, and he was still in regular contact with Trump while he was allegedly committing crimes on his behalf and allegedly lying to congress to jibe with Trump’s latest explanations, and we think it likely that the next round of indictments will mention Trump. He’s not at all a fine fellow, either, and in fact has long prided himself on his well-earned reputation as one of the biggest sleazes in politics since his days as a self-described “rat-****er”for President Richard Nixon, whose visage is literally tattooed on Stone’s back, and one can hardly blame the feds for fearing Stone might destroy evidence if tipped off in advance about his arrest.
Today starts another work week, though, with all those furloughed government workers back on the job, and there’s no telling what hay Trump and his die-hard defenders might make of it. Perhaps in three weeks time the Democrats will be doing the capitulating, and the “Russia thing” will be proved a WITCH HUNT!, and Trump will be rolling toward a landslide reelection and eventual inclusion on Mount Rushmore, but for now we’re not betting on it.

— Bud Norman

On the Ongoing Border War

There’s little in the news these days except the debate over a border wall and its resulting partial government shutdown, which might or might not be good for President Donald Trump. The upside for Trump is that no one’s paying much attention to the latest developments in the “Russia thing,” or talking about what Trump’s longtime lawyer will soon tell an open congressional hearing on his way to federal prison, and Trump’s die-hard fans can console themselves that at least he fights, which they seem to find quite consoling. The downside is pretty much everything else.
Despite the best efforts of Trump and his talk radio apologists, the president is taking a beating on the public relations front.
Past partial government shutdowns have been short-lived and gone largely unnoticed, but this time around is far longer and harsher than usual. The “fake news” media have come up with some all-too-real sob stories about the 800,000 or so federal workers who won’t be getting paid today, scary tales about air traffic controllers and airport security officers calling in sick to protest their lack of pay, and trash and human feces piling up at America’s national parks. There are few more hundred thousand employees of government contractors who also aren’t getting paid, too, and plenty of footage of farmers who are having trouble getting the subsidy checks they were promised when commodity prices dropped in the wake of Trump’s trade wars.
Both sides always play the blame game during these partial government shutdowns, but Trump pretty much gave that away when he invited all the cameras from the “fake news” to record him telling Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and now-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “I will be proud to shutdown the government for border security.” By “border security” Trump clearly meant the big and beautiful border wall he promised he would build along the entire southern border, but the public seems to have figured out that America can have border security without a wall, and that even the biggest and most beautiful wall won’t secure the country’s borders.
Trump has resorted to some easily disproved falsehoods about how all the past American presidents supported a sea-to-shining-sea border wall, and even Fox News has challenged his administration’s claims about the number Islamist terrorists crossing the southern border. He’s bragged about his magnanimity as he’s back downed from previous promises of a concrete to a mere American-made steel fence, and he’s been forced to say that he never really it meant it when he said that Mexico would gladly pay for it. Trump still insists that Mexico is indirectly paying for it by the great yet unratified trade deal that he has so brilliantly negotiated, but even it does raise enough federal revenue to pay for a wall it’s still money that could have been spent elsewhere if Mexico had actually paid for Trump’s big and beautiful border wall.
The objections aren’t just coming from those damned open borders Democrats, who we have to admit have offered billions for all sorts of border security efforts that don’t involve a big and beautiful wall along the entire border, but also some Republicans with old-fashioned pre-Trump conservative notions. The remaining Republicans in the House representing districts along the border are opposed to the idea, as many of their constituents own border land and don’t want a wall on it. Along most of the border Americans have happy and profitable relations with their neighbors to the south, and Trump should note that at one point a golf course would be cut in half, and that pre-Trump conservatism takes a dim view of eminent domain seizures of private property.
Trump is now threatening to use his presidential powers to declare a national emergency and divert funds from the defense budget or money appropriated for disaster relief and efforts to prevent further hurricane damage in Puerto Rico and Texas, but the few remaining pre-Trump conservatives will object on on old-fashioned constitutional grounds, and everyone in the country but the die-hard fans probably won’t buy into that. On Thursday’s photo-op at the southern border Trump riffed about how the wheel proceeded the wall back in the Medieval Age, and he looked even more ridiculous in his white “Make America Great Again” baseball cap and national emergency windbreaker and white slacks, and he seemed to realize the photo-op was a waste of time, as he’d already predicted to some reporters who leaked the off-the-record comment.
Trump is losing the argument in all the opinion polls, that awful but undeniably shrewd Pelosi woman clearly understands her advantage, but Trump can’t back down for fear of what the talk radio hosts might say, so those hundreds of thousands of government employees and government contract employees going without paychecks and the local business that depend on their patronage should probably hunker down for the long haul. Despite Trump’s claim that he’s backed by the entirety of the Republican there are already some dissenting votes, and of course all of those damned Democrats are against anything he wants, and although we have to admit that at least Trump fights he seems to be losing another round, and he won’t keep that “Russia thing” out of the news forever.

— Bud Norman

Watching the Sausage Get Made

There’s a wise old saying, apocryphally attributed to Otto Von Bismarck, that “Laws are like sausages, it is better not see them being made.” In this reality show age of politics and food shows the gruesome spectacles are always on display, however, so Tuesday brought the live-on-television opening round of negotiations between President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer over an upcoming spending bill. Suffice to say it provided more melodrama than anything the competing soap operas had to offer.
To sum up the episode up in a TV Guide-sized synopsis, Trump insists any spending bill include at least $5 billion for a big and beautiful wall across America’s entire southern border, Pelosi and Schumer don’t want want to give it to him, and Trump is threatening a partial government shutdown if they don’t. Most followers of the ongoing political saga already have a rooting interest in either Trump or Pelosi and Schumer, and will cheer their heroes and boo their villains accordingly, but for those of us worriedly watching from the sidelines it just seems a damned mess. At this point in the plot our best is guess is that there won’t be any significant funding for a wall, there will be a partial government shutdown of unknown duration, and no one comes out of it looking good.
Nobody looked at all good on Tuesday. Trump and Pelosi and Schumer each played their reality show parts to their usual hilts, and their discussion of the nation’s pressing issues was as full of sound and fury signifying nothing as a typical cable news show’s panel debates or one of those pro wrestling skits Trump used to participate in, with both sides asserting their dominance rather than making rational arguments based on agreed facts.
As far as that went, we’d have to say that awful Pelosi woman and that awful Schumer guy got the better of the power play than that awful Trump fellow. Trump boasted live-on-air that for the next few days he can muster the votes in House of Representatives to give funding for his border wall, but he also admitted that because of the 60-vote rule for spending bills he didn’t have the needed votes in the Senate, and Pelosi could rightly note that when a sizable Democratic majority is installed in the House early next month he won’t get any border wall funding there. The Democrats clearly have the stronger hand, to borrow a poker metaphor, and even after seeing all his casinos go bankrupt Trump still doesn’t seem to know when to cash in.
Trump can rightfully boast he somehow how has the powers of the presidency, including the veto power that would lead to a partial government showdown, but we can’t see how that does him much good. Even partial government shutdowns are always unpopular, and Trump once “tweeted” back during the Obama that they were proof of a failure of presidential leadership, now he’s boastfully threatening one, and although that big beautiful border wall is always an applause line at Trump’s rallies it also doesn’t poll well. Pelosi and Schumer are more veteran players of politics, which is still mostly played by the constitutional and legal and traditional rules Trump is still learning, so we don’t see them folding to a president who has preemptively claimed credit for an unpopular government shutdown over an unpopular wall.
A more objective and deliberative consideration of government and border security would be welcome, but both sides would be still look bad. Those damned Democrats are far too weak on border enforcement for our tastes, and some of them are downright crazy about despite Pelosi’s and Schumer’s assurances, but Trump’s longstanding pledge of a big and beautiful border wall has always struck as one of the most cockamamie campaign promises ever made. Even if Trump could keep somehow keep his even more cockamamie campaign promise to have Mexico happily pay for it, which he no longer mentions, the wall is opposed by most Americans residing near the southern border and all of their Republican and Democratic representatives, its cost would surely exceed Trump’s pie-in-the-sky budget estimates just in court expenses for eminent domain seizures that offend our old-fashioned conservative sensibilities, and the money could surely be better spent on high-tech surveillance, border walls at a few essential points, and cracking down on the vast majority of illegal immigrants who arrived via airplane and outstayed their visas.
A smart and fair and vigorous enforcement of America’s border laws would surely round up several employees of Trump’s still wholly-owned businesses, and probably cause some Democrats much embarrassment along the way, so we don’t see that happening. Instead we expect a prolonged partial government shutdown and legislative gridlock, plenty of booing and hissing according to partisan preferences, and that separate subplot about the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” proceeding apace to its cataclysmic conclusion.
Oh well, at least it could be worse if either side were to win.

— Bud Norman