Across the Street From Kirby’s Beer Store

While we were watching “Jeopardy!” and drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon at Kirby’s Beer Store on Thursday there was some big news going on across the street at Wichita State University. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was back in his hometown for a photo-op at WSU’s high-tech aviation training program and a friend’s wedding, and he brought along First Daughter and White House senior advisor Ivanka Trump, as well as a lot of questions about state and international politics.
Pompeo is up to his neck in the administration’s controversial Syrian policy and that hubbub about American-Ukrainian relations that seems to be leading to President Donald Trump’s impeachment, and here in Kansas and around the nation there’s been much speculation that he’ll get out of the administration while the getting’s good and come home to run for an open Senate seat that is pretty much his for the asking. This was the fourth time the Secretary of State has taken time out from his busy schedule of globe-trotting to vista Kansas in the past few months, and all the latest national and international news makes a nice safe sinecure in the Senate look all the more tempting, so questions were inevitable.
The local television stations were understandably grateful for the more star-studded than usual photo-op, and obligingly aired footage of the Barbie-esque Ivanka Trump doing her best impersonation of Rosie the Riveter, but one of the last standing reporters from the now emaciated local newspaper where we toiled for 25 years got a lengthy interview, and we’re proud to say he gave Pompeo a good grilling. The national media were largely shut out of the visit, so the local paper’s reporting was widely quoted and linked to by ┬ásome of the nation’s biggest media, which we hope helps with its clicks.
The reporter asked Pompeo if a photo-op in Wichita was the best use of a Secretary of State’s time at the moment, if the abandonment of our Kurdish allies in Syria undercut rest of the world’s faith in America’s alliances, some pesky questions about the Ukraine matter, and of course some peskier question about his possible future in Kansas politics, which at this point is also of national interest. For the most part Pompeo handled the interrogation well, deftly blaming President Barack Obama for some of the mess and dodging some questions that weren’t related to aviation workforce development and challenging the “predicate” of others, and our experienced local news watching eyes noticed he was more genteel than the usual Trump administration in bashing the media when being interviewed by his hometown paper. The hometown paper’s reporter also works for its corporate sister at what’s left of Kansas City’s hometown paper, even though the papers used to vie for statewide scoops back our in day, so any shrewd politician seeking statewide office would be well advised to at least be polite.
Pompeo is a first-in-his-class West Point grad and Harvard Law Review editor who made a fortune in the high-tech aviation business in Wichita, easily won four terms as the Fourth District’s congressman before becoming director of the Central Intelligence and then Secretary of State, and he remains a big deal here and all around this Republican state. The old-fashioned establishment wing of the Republican party is panicked by the possibility that the nomination will go to former state Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is so much an anti-immigration zealot and Trump impersonator that he lost the last gubernatorial election to a center-left Democrat — and a woman, at that — even in such an anti-immigration-with-certain-exceptions and reluctantly pro-Trump state as this, and for now Pompeo is the establishment choice while his close association with Trump only bolsters his chances in an already certain Senate race.
Close associations with Trump have often run awry, though, and by now Pompeo is surely shrewd enough to have noticed. In the interview with the local paper that was linked to an international audience he continued to insist he was solely focused on doing his job as Secretary of State, which is what one does in such a situation, but he seemed to leave open other possibilities of public service. Things are now going swimmingly with America’s foreign policy, Pompeo argued, but that might be all the more reason to get out while the getting’s good. Assuming the getting’s still good.
The Republican party’s representatives in Congress have have already largely repudiated the Trump Syrian policy that Pompeo has gone along with, and if Trump is impeached over that Ukrainian thing Pompeo likely will be as well, as he’s up to his neck in it, which would make for a damned interesting Senate race here in Kansas. We’ve watched enough Kansas Senate races in our many years to figure that any old Republican would continue the party’s eight decades-long winning streak, no matter what happens back in Washington, but we’d hate to see the state go through it. Although we proudly voted for Pompeo to represent our beloved Forth District four times, in the next Republican Senate primary we’ll cast our ballot for some center-right establishment woman you’ve never heard of, who we’re sure would just as easily beat any nominee that the Democrats might come up with.
That’s the view from the notorious dive bar just across the street where this story of national interest was unfolding, at any rate, and for now we stand by it. One of the Kirby’s regulars is an old friend who used to be a Democratic legislator and now holds a patronage workman’s comp judgeship, and he’s convinced his party has gone almost as crazy ours, and for what it’s worth he shares our bleak assessment of the situation.

— Bud Norman

There’s Still a Threat on the Korean Peninsula, and Elsewhere

According to The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and the National Broadcasting Corporation, all the American intelligence agencies have concluded that North Korea’s nutcase dictator Kim Jong-Un is still pursuing the development of nuclear weapons despite his recent vague promises to President Donald Trump to pursue denuclearization. Given all the broken promises the three generations of nutcase Kim family dictatorships have offered to previous American presidents, we can’t dismiss this as “fake news.”
Trump continues to insist that the nuclear threat from North Korea has been eliminated by his historic summit and much-photographed handshake with the latest Kim, and his rally crowds are chanting “Nobel Prize!” when he mentions the matter, but given Trump’s track record for veracity and North Korea’s record of playing American presidents we have our doubts. With all due respect to Trump’s boasts, our best guess based on the most reliable sources available suggest that North Korea and America are still at the same scary standstill with pipsqueak North Korea that the two nations have maintained through our entire lives.
Kim Jong-Un got a world-wide photo-op shaking hands with the American president during that historic summit, as well as fulsome praise of his brutal dictatorship from the American president, as well as security guaranties and the cessation of join American-South Korean military exercises, and in exchange he gave the same vague promises of denuclearization that his nutcase dad and granddad had offered and then reneged on. Trump’s die-hard fans can chant “Nobel Prize!” all they want, but we’re more inclined to believe The Economist’s front-page headline that “Kim Jong Won.”
Which is is worrisome by itself, but all the more so considering Trump’s current relations with the rest of the world. For the past several months Trump has been waging rhetorical and trade wars against our most longstanding military allies and trading partners, and he’s got another big summit and photo-op handshake scheduled this month with Russia’s nutcase dictator, whose assurances that he didn’t interfere with America’s last election are contradicted by all of the intelligence agencies but are eagerly accepted by the President of the United States. All of which comes at a time when President of the United States is feuding with our European Union allies and talking about how they shouldn’t be so self-righteous about Russia’s invasion of a sovereign neighbor, and we don’t seem that summit ending well for the self-proclaimed dealmaker.
We’re still hoping it will all out work somehow, but at this point we don’t have much faith in any agreements between Trump and those even more dubious dictatorships he seems to prefer to make deals with.

— Bud Norman

The Eye of the Hurricane

The storm that has recently hit southeastern Texas and now heads to southwest Louisiana has been an historic natural disaster, with at least 22 people dead and many thousands more left homeless and property damage that will eventually be measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars, but like everything else in the news these days it’s eventually another story about President Donald Trump.
Trump was largely out of the spotlight while the cable news networks filled their 24 hours of dramatic footage of homes flattened by hurricane winds and streets submerged in water reaching the second stories of buildings, as well as the usual encouraging reports of heroic rescue efforts and the luckier people on higher ground offering food and clothing and shelter to the victims, and he might have been wise to stay there.
Despite the 22 deaths the usual stories about looting and price-gouging and bureaucratic inefficiencies and other less-than-heroic things that always occur in a natural disaster, the general impression one gathers from a 24-hour-news cycle is that things could have gone a whole lot worse, and thus far the best efforts of Trump’s most strident critics to hold him to a higher standard have probably not been successful. Trump’s most ardent admirers have tried to claim him credit for the all the good work that has been done by career federal government employees and state and local officials and individual citizens and the rest of the establishment, which also probably hasn’t been successful, but so long as Trump stayed out of the limelight and wasn’t doing the boasting himself he was likely to get some small opinion poll bump out of it.
That’s not Trump’s style, though, so on Tuesday he embarked on a fact-finding and photo-op trip to Texas that provided his strident media critics and all the late-night comics with plenty to gripe about and his staunchest supporters with a lot to explain.
Even before Trump boarded Air Force One in a windbreaker and ball cap with “USA” emblazoned on the front, there were already a couple of troublesome controversies seeping up from the back pages and bottom of the hour. As well as the predictable op-ed pieces trying to pin the blame on Trump’s climate change policies there were some more reasonable questions about the relief funds might be affected by his recent threat to shut the government down rather, and some reporters with time on their hands dug up how Trump’s budget proposals proposed slashing the budgets for all the agencies he’s now praising, and of course some years-old “tweets” about how ridiculous President Barack Obama looked during his natural disaster photo-ops.
Obama did look pretty damned dumb standing there in the rain in his windbreaker and ball cap, but all presidents do in their obligatory post-natural disaster photo-ops, and Trump should have known that he wouldn’t fare any better. Perhaps it should be obligatory that presidents provide some visual image of national unity at a time of national tragedy, and we recall several occasions, from President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address to President Franklin Roosevelt’s oration after a day that would life in infamy to the plainspoken thanks and determination that President George W. Bush shouted through a bullhorn atop the rubble of the World Trade Center, when a few sage presidential words in a fitting setting truly were a balm to the nation. Since then presidents seem to have lost the knack, though, and we never expected that Trump had it.
Trump seemed to think that the post-natural disaster fact-finding mission and photo-op was another one of his endless campaign rallies, and opened his remarks by noting “What a crowd, what a turnout.” He noted the “epic” and “historic” nature of the storm, a theme he’d already repeated throughout 22 “tweets” featuring 16 exclamation marks, and he somehow came across as more impressed than horrified by the storm’s power. He modestly said that he’d save his self-congratulations for after he’s made everything better than ever, generously shared some of the credit with the mostly-Republican state and local officials and even that Obama-era holdover he appointed to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and conceded that his work is not yet done, so it could have been worse.
Still, it could have been better. We couldn’t find the part where he praised the private charities that are raising funds and providing relief, or urged that Americans participate in the effort, or expressed any recognizable expression of empathy for those who have seen their loved ones and lives’ work washed away by a storm. Nor did he take the opportunity to assure those people that the longstanding relief efforts won’t be halted by a stubborn insistence on his fanciful notion of a large border wall across the entire Mexican border, and at a time when one of America’s most racially diverse cities was doing a pretty good job of dealing with a thousand-year-flood we thought he missed a ripe opportunity to speak of national unity.
There were some other “bad optics,” too, as they say in the politics biz. That “USA” ball cap Trump was wearing also had “45” emblazoned on one side and “Trump” in the back, and if you go to the Trump campaign web site you can purchase one just like it for $40, and the snarkier of his strident critics found that tacky. He was also accessorized by First Lady Melania Trump, who boarded Air Force One looking her usual dazzling self on a drizzly morning with a pair of dark aviator sunglasses, a faintly military style jacket, sensible black shirt and pants, as well as a pair of stiletto heels. It’s our policy to leave First Ladies out of our commentary, except on those sorts of occasions that Michelle Obama would occasionally provoke, and we’re not at all the sorts to notice women’s footwear, but the stiletto heels did strike us as an odd choice for a natural disaster photo-op, so we can hardly blame the snarkier critics for having their fun with it.
In any case, we don’t think Trump will take the same hit that Bush took after a disastrous storm struck New Orleans, or what Obama should have suffered for similar failures during other natural and man-made disasters. In Bush’s case the failures were largely due to the storm hitting one of the most dysfunctional cities in one of the most dysfunctional states in America, both of which he could have plausibly blamed on the Democratic Party’s longstanding rule there, but he chose instead to manfully accept his share of the blame. In Obama’s case the media weren’t so eager to notice his botched response to an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or how he barely seemed to notice a catastrophic flood in Nashville, and he shrewdly stayed out of the spotlight as best he could. Neither of these options, of course, are available to Trump.
No president should be given the blame for any national disaster, of course, neither should any of them be given much credit for the way that the country always seems to make the best of it. Our advice to Trump is to leave it that, and not let a stubborn insistence on stupid border wall muck things up, and tend to all those leaks about “Russia” that are starting to becoming another historic flood.

— Bud Norman