Trump and the Changing Times

The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that President Donald Trump’s attempts to dismantle President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects an estimated 650,000 “dreamers” who were illegally brought in the country as children from deportation, is itself illegal. If it had happened a few months earlier, we suspect, it would have been a bigger story.
Trump’s promise to rid the country of illegal immigrants by any means necessary helped him win his upset victory in the 2016 election, and had hoped it would help him win reelection, but the issue has lately faded from the news cycle. What with the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic catastrophe and all the protests and occasional riots about racism and police brutality, some 650,000 people who can’t be blamed for being here and have proved that they’re going to school or working at jobs and in many cases helping hospitals cope with the coronavirus don’t seem so scary.
Public opinion polling shows that most Americans — and even most Republicans — are sympathetic to the “dreamers” and not eager to deport them to countries they can’t remember and where they don’t speak the language, so Trump should be glad that the Supreme Court spared him all the heartbreaking stories that would have run in the media about mass deportations of well-scrubbed college kids and military veterans and emergency room workers. The big, beautiful border wall that Trump promised Mexico will pay for has a few hundred miles than American taxpayers have payed for, and drug gangs are sawing holes in it, and when was the last time you saw a story about that?
Instead, after losing a decision a day earlier that ruled it is illegal for employers to fire homosexual and transexual workers because of their homosexuality or transgenderism, Trump “tweeted” out “Do you get the impression the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?” and warned that if he doesn’t get another four years to appoint more justices the Second Amendment would also be threatened by a court of liberals and squishy moderates. That should rile up some of the faithful, but he’d be well advised not to press the “dreamers” issue, as it won’t win him any of the votes he lost time around.
In the wake of the biggest public health crisis since 1918 and the worst economy since the Great Depression and the most unrest in the streets since 1968, several of Trump’s favorite issues seem to have lost their salience. A couple of years ago Trump did well cussing about National Football League players who kneeled during the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality, but after a couple of months of endlessly replayed videos showing blatantly racist police brutality the NFL has apologized for banning the protest and the protesters are polling better than Trump. For now, he’s losing the culture wars.
The president continues to defend honorifics to the Confederacy, even as the Marines and the Navy and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and even the good ol’ boys at the NASCAR stock racing circuit are banning displays of the Confederate battle flag. His tough-guy “law and order” rhetoric seems to be backfiring as well, with even some skittish Republican politicians criticizing him for using flash grenades and pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse a mostly peaceful protest in Lafayette Square to post for a photo with a Bible in his hand at a nearby church. Most people have become accustomed to having gay and lesbian co-workers, and only a very few know anybody transgendered, too, and most people currently have more pressing problems to worry about, so advocating for mass firings won’t win Trump many new votes.
Although he lost the popular vote by some three million ballots Trump was able to eke out an electoral college victory with an undeniably ingenious ability to discern the cultural climate, but it seems to be failing him this time around. He can order some rather half-hearted police reforms while praising most police officers, and decry racism while promising he can “quickly and easily” end it, but after so many years he’s ill-suited to the role of racial healer. It’s also a bit late for the boastfully pussy-grabbing politician to win back many of the suburban white women who have been abandoning the Republican party in droves, or convince any homosexuals that he’s a “friend of the family,” or win any non-white voters.
At this point Trump needs to make the coronavirus “magically disappear” as long promised, followed quickly by a V-shaped economy recovery like no one’s ever seen before, and hope that everyone’s so happy about it on Election Day they forget his past enthusiasm for Confederate-style racism and police “not being too nice” when arresting suspects. That’s going to be difficult to achieve in the next five months, though, and at the moment Trump is not even trying to pull it off. Instead he’s defying the wishes of local politicians and health officials by holding a crowded indoor rally in Oklahoma despite the past week’s doubling of coronavirus cases in the state, boasting that by moving the date one later he made the “Juneteenth” celebration of black slaves being belatedly emancipated more famous, and doing little about the economy other than signing off on unprecedented deficit spending.
There are a couple of well-regarded polls that correctly predicted the popular vote in the last which now show Trump losing to presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden by 14 points, and the Fox News poll is similarly bleak, and even the Trump-friendly Rasmussen poll has him losing by 11 points. Trump’s instinct is to play to his diminishing base, but in these strange times he’ll likely need a lot more than that.

— Bud Norman

A Presidential Conspiracy Theory

President Donald Trump frequently “tweets” up a distracting news cycle’s worth of controversy, most of which are best ignored, but the latest brouhaha seems more consequential and worth considering.
By now you’ve probably seen the videotape of two policemen at the front of a phalanx of riot-gear-clad officers descending on a protest demonstration in Buffalo, New York, pushing a 75-year-old protester onto the sidewalk, then all of the officers walking past the man’s prone body as he bled from the ear. Most viewers see a shocking example of the sort of police brutality that was being protested, but Trump saw it differently. He tweeted that “Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur. 75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment. @OANN I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?”
Which we find troubling for several reasons.
To begin with, it’s worrisome that a president of the United States could could even entertain such fanciful conjecture. The idea that a septuagenarian with a decades-long history of peaceful protesting intentionally injured himself to an extent that he required days hospitalization in hopes that someone was videotaping it to make the cops look bad is far-fetched enough. That he was using what looks to be his self phone to knock out police communications to knock out police communications is all the more implausible.
Trump apparently got such outlandish ideas by watching a report on the America One News Network, an obscure television outlet that has won Trump’s affection with its sycophantic coverage of his administration, which in turn got the scoop from Conservative Treehouse, an even more obscure internet site that traffics in wild conspiracy theories, which in turn got the idea from some anonymous poster on some even more obscure conspiracy theory message board. That a president of the United States is getting his information from such dubious sources is another matter of concern.
The evidence-free allusion to antifa is also worrying. Trump had previously tried to blame the rioting and looting and other mayhem that has occurred during the recent protests on antifa, and even tweeted that he would have it designated a “terrorist organization.” So far as we can tell from reading a wide variety of usually reliable sources, antifa isn’t an organization at all, just a catchall phrase for the pathetic left-wing punks who like to show up at demonstrations and brawl on the streets with any pathetic “alt-right” punks who might also be itching for a fight. We dislike the people calling themselves antifa, and consider them a public nuisance, but we don’t worry they’re much of a threat to the republic, and find no evidence that they’re responsible for any of the rioting and looting and arson that’s lately occurred.
We’re more convinced by the evidence that “alt-right” internet trolls have been instigating trouble to make the protesters look bad, but we don’t care to traffic in conspiracy theories. The mass demonstrations that have sprung up around the country and across the world aren’t because of any conspiracy, as even the most cunning conspiracists couldn’t pull that off, but rather are the result of many, many years of legitimate grievances culminating in an understandable rage. If the president of the United States can’t see that, and prefers to speculate without evidence that an American citizen is part of a criminal conspiracy, that’s more alarming than anything he might “tweet.”

— Bud Norman

A Long, Hot Summer Lasting Past Autumn

Sooner or later American life will have to get back to something like normal, but it looks like it will be much later. The coronavirus seems likely to be around past the summer, and the economy won’t start to recover until it’s gone, and the unrest on the streets don’t seem likely to abate until after the election.
For the first time since 1972 the charming little town of Winfield, Kansas, won’t be hosting the annual Walnut Valley Festival, a weeklong acoustic music event that all of our folkie friends look forward to with a passion. The massive hootenanny is another victim of the coronavirus, although the event is annually held in mid-September, so the state and local health officials have decided the risk of further infections will persist until at least then. If so, the schools won’t be able to reopen at the traditional start of the school year, and all the school districts are currently trying to figure out what to do about that.
Which means that all the recently semi-reopened businesses won’t be back to their pre-coronavirus levels of activity, leaving a lot of people still out work, with various ripple effects across the wider economy.
Which in turn will exacerbate the anger that’s being expressed both peacefully and violently in pretty much every American city. President Donald Trump is hoping to quell the discontent with an overwhelming show of force, but so far that hasn’t seemed to pacify those protesting and rioting against police brutality, and the president is clearly more interested in exploiting the country’s political divisions than in healing him.
According to all the recent polling, the strategy isn’t working for them. If you’re inclined to dismiss the polls as “fake news,” there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support their conclusions. Another big story here in Wichita on Thursday was presidential advisor and First Daughter Ivanka Trump being invited to give a commencement speech to Wichita State University technical school, then quickly being disinvited after a deluge of angry phone calls in this traditionally conservative and Republican city.
Everything that’s going on will make it difficult for both major parties to hold their conventions in the traditional fashion, although Trump is determined to find a state where can do so, whatever the health risks to conventioneers and the likelihood of a bloody clash between protestors and police like happened in Chicago in 1968. The election might also need to be done with voting by mail, and Trump is also arguing that results would be rigged, which the 35-to-40 percent of the country that still adores him will believe.
Even after the coronavirus runs its course and everything’s reopened and the streets are relatively quiet, we expect that even then American life won’t be back to something like normal.

— Bud Norman

The Best and Worst of America

Nobody likes the restrictions and inconveniences that have come about as the result of the coronavirus, but most Americans consider them necessary to save lives and are willing to go along for as long as needed. Some Americans are flouting the rules, however, and it’s getting increasingly ugly.
Every day seems to bring another story about people resisting any restrictions with violence. They range from the park ranger in Austin, Texas, who was shoved into a pond while asking park-goers to stay six feet from another to the security guard at a Family Dollar store in Flint, Michigan who was shot and killed after refusing entry to a customer who refused to wear a face mask. The mayor of the fine city of Stillwater, Oklahoma, felt compelled rescind an order requiring face masks before entering stores and restaurants and some other businesses because owners have been threatened with violence if they enforce the policy.
In some cases, the violence has been committed by overzealous police officers. There are also concerns that police too often have a different standard for black and white violators of the social distancing rules, which will inevitably lead to further violence.
For the most part the coronavirus has brought out the best of the American people. Most citizens are willingly complying with public health orders, helping out their family and friends, contributing generously to charities that help the newly unemployed, and treating the grocery store clerks with politeness and a newfound respect. The worst of America has also been on displaying, with hoarders and price gougers and protestors bringing semiautomatic rifles and their implied threat of violence to rallies, but for now that’s a distinct minority. A certain selfishness and a penchant for violence are also an unfortunate part of the American culture, and here’s hoping we can keep it in check as the frustrations continue to mount.

— Bud Norman

Two Towns, Two Police Shootings

Our favorite news-and-talk radio station informed us of another fatal police shooting Tuesday afternoon. Not the one in St. Louis that you’ve probably heard about, which happened just a few miles from the one in Ferguson that even the head-chopping terrorists in Iraq have heard about, but the one that happened just south of Wichita in the small town of Haysville. If you live outside the limited broadcast range of Wichita’s radio and television stations or the shrinking circulation zone of the Wichita Eagle, it has almost certainly escaped your attention.
Even if you are within shouting distance of the Wichita media the facts of the matter are frustratingly few. Authorities responded to a domestic disturbance call at an apartment complex during mid-morning, a man is dead and a woman injured, and official investigations are underway. That’s about all we can glean from the local coverage, and we’re regarding even that scant information with the requisite skepticism. The more enterprising local reporters will probably harass the incident’s neighbors into making off-the-record speculations of dubious value to fill air time and news hole in the next few days, and there will be another spate of stories when those official investigations are concluded, but if you’re somewhere out in the ethernet beyond the south-central Kansas media don’t expect to hear about any of that.
No matter what facts might emerge in the Haysville shooting it almost certainly won’t pique any national interest, except perhaps a passing mention in some trend piece about police brutality at one of the more fashionable and thorough publications. None of the local news coverage makes any mention of the decedent’s race, from which we can reasonably infer that he was white, and without a racial angle police shootings lose much of their press appeal. The undisputed fact that the shooting happened in Haysville also suggests a very high probability that the decedent was white, and ensures that there won’t be any of the rioting or looting or other expressions of supposedly righteous anger that so enthrall the national media.
Our only previous mention of Haysville in this space was about the town’s public indignation at being made the butt of all of the hick town jokes we tell at our annual Gridiron Show, but we can testify that it’s not a bad place. We pass through occasionally on our way to the Fabulous Tahitian Room near Peck, ¬†which has recently re-opened under the new management of a dear old friend of ours, and we’ve always found the town quite pleasantly bland, and not at all a place where we were in fear of our lives. There’s still a bit of the old hick Kansas town charm we so affectionately¬†satirize, but it’s now surrounded by a few miles of nice but cliched split-levels and a few cookie-cutter apartment complexes that rub right up against the vast Wichita sprawl, and it’s still just rural enough to lure the urban-weary workers in the nearby aircraft factories. It’s the kind of town that might well harbor some hostile male who would threaten the police while brutalizing a woman, or could screw up and hire some trigger-happy cop who overreacted to a lovers’ spat, or could provide for some fatal combination of the two, but in any case it’s not at all the kind of town that will respond to any of these possibilities by burning down the local convenience stores. Instead we expect the Haysvillians to await the results of those official investigations, accept their conclusions in the absence of any overwhelming contradictory evidence, and to get work on time.
In such an imperfect world where police occasionally fatally shoot citizens this is about the best outcome one can hope for. Apologists for the rioters and looters and convenience store arsonists in Ferguson will attribute Haysville’s more restrained response to white privilege and all the rest of that academic nonsense, but they’ve never passed through the town and heard its hard-luck stories or sat in a relatively big city show where Haysville was the butt of hick small town jokes. If Hasyville is a bastion of white privilege, the concept is utterly meaningless. The shooting in Haysville warrants the same intense scrutiny aa the ones in St. Louis and Ferguson and all the other more racially-charged towns, and its citizens deserve the same guarantees against abuses of police power, and it speaks well of the town that it won’t get any attention.

— Bud Norman