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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

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Just Another Manic Monday

President Donald Trump was largely out of the news over the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, but he made up for with it a manic Monday of mostly embarrassing headlines.
The day began with Trump’s Office of Management and Budget director showing up at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to take control as acting director, which was already being contested in federal court by the woman who was tapped for the job by the outgoing director. Although Trump has every legal right to appoint a permanent director to the bureau, the specific law that created the bureau spells out that until the appointment is confirmed by Congress the the outgoing director’s choice is in charge, so there’s a good chance that the courts will quickly bring more embarrassing headlines about the matter over the next few news cycles.
Which is a shame, because there’s a strong case for the changes Trump is clearly eager to bring about at the CFPB. The bureau’s defenders can rightly point to cases where it’s helped out average folks, even if the big one is the Wells Fargo fake-account scandal that the bureaucrats first found out about by the reading the free press, but all those too-big-to-fail banks it was meant to combat keep getting bigger, and so do the fees they charge their customers, and the acting director Trump appointed rightly pointed out that the agency’s quasi-governmental status and non-congressional funding give it power that anyRepublican should fear a Democrat wielding, and any Democrat should fear a Trump appointee weilding
The smart move would have been to quickly appoint a permanent director to make the necessary changes and have all his good friends in the Republican majorities in Congress quickly confirm, and quietly suffer whatever indignities some President Barack Obama administration holdover might cause in the brief interim, but that’s not Trump’s style.
Later in the day Trump had a photo opportunity with three aging Navajo “code talkers,” who were one of the great stories of World II, and the smart move would have been to act solemn and grateful and not cause any racial controversy, but that’s also not Trump’s style.
The youngest of the nonagenarian Marine veterans was only 15 years old when he signed up for a bloody war in Guadalcanal and Iowa Jima and the worst of the Pacific theater, and was able to give an eloquent account of how he and his Navajo colleagues helped win that war by sending in-the-middle-of-it radio reports in their indecipherable-to-the-Japanese native language, and how it proved that America is invincible when all sorts of Americans are truly united. Trump was so moved that he said wasn’t going to use the speech that had been written for him, which he handed to one of the veterans as a gift, which would have been a moving gesture if he’d left it at that, but in his extemporaneous remarks he wound up slipping into his campaign rally insult comic mode with an oft-used joke about “Pocahontas.”
“Pocahontas” is of course ¬†Trump’s nickname for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth, who was largely responsible for the creation of the CFPB but has nothing whatsoever to do with Navajo code talkers’ heroism, and he couldn’t resist the opportunity of having Indians on hand to bring up his favorite Indian joke. During her first Senate campaign it was revealed she had long claimed some small amount of American Indian blood and counted herself among some group of Native American scholars or another, which was widely ridiculed at the time by such conservative outlets as this, so Trump has always responded to her frequent criticisms by taunting her as “Pocahontas.” The wittier wags used to call her “Faux-cahontas,” but that’s either too subtle for Trump’s tastes or he figures that hard-core fans wouldn’t get it.
By the now the joke is pretty much played out, and at a ceremony that was supposed to be about Navajo code talkers and a united America’s invincibility it didn’t play nearly so well as it used to at the campaign rallies. The honored guests couldn’t have looked more unamused if they were made of wood and standing outside a cigar shop, the National Congress of American Indians the president of the Navajo Nation was offended by the remark, so was Oklahoma’s Chickasaw and Republican Rep. Tom Cole. White House press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders assured her interrogators that the president didn’t indent any offense to American Indians, and that everyone should be more offended by Warren’s unsubstantiated claims “which should be constantly covered,” but no one in that audience found it convincing.
Trump had already “tweeted” routine gripes about the “fake news” media, this time singling out the Cable News Network, writing with his characteristically random capitalizations that “@FoxNews is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN is still a source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!” The fans still love this familiar routine at the campaign rallies, but elsewhere the timing was once again a bit off.
Trump’s tweets came just after Russian dictator Vladimir Putin announced his intention to start restricting such foreign media organizations as CNN, and while the governments in Poland and Turkey and the Philippines and other countries that Trump has a similar affinity for are increasingly threatening their own independent journalists, so Trump’s media critiques have an ominously authoritarian tone. They also come at a time Trump’s Department of Justice is challenging a complicated merger of a couple of big-time media giants that involves CNN, and although it’s too complicated for us to say who’s right we can’t blame any court that suspects the administration is pursuing a political vendetta against a perceived enemy among the free press.
There were also stories about Trump telling friends that the notorious “Access Hollywood” tape with him talking about grabbing women by the wherevers and all the rest of it ¬†is also fake news, even though he not only owned up to but actually apologized for it way back when it came out, with all the links to the related story about the credibly accused child molester he’s backing in an Alabama senatorial race. Not to mention the ongoing speculation about why his former national security advisor’s legal team has stopped sharing information with Trump’s legal team regarding a special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing,” which seems likely to generate a lot of future embarrassing headlines.
Today is Tuesday, though, and the rest of the week should be clear sailing.

— Bud Norman