Hard Times, Then and Now

American cities from coast to coast have suffered rioting, vandalism, arson and violence in the aftermath of unarmed black man George Floyd’s death by the Minneapolis Police Department, but we’re happy to say that for now race relations remain mostly amicable here in Wichita.
There were a couple of peaceful and conspicuously multicultural protest marches in downtown over the weekend, which culminated with the mostly black protest marchers and the mostly white sitting police officers sitting within social distancing rules of each other at a local park and sharing some barbecue, but that’s about it. Even our most liberal and reflexively antipolice Facebook friends gave some of the credit to Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsey, who has made a very public and apparently sincere outreach to the city’s diverse communities since taking office and was one of the first big city police chiefs to publicly decry Floyd’s death and even call it a murder, and he also marched in those demonstrations wearing his uniform and a face mask. Although we’re not the name-dropping types we will admit we’ve had beers and swapped jokes with Ramsey, and he seemed an OK guy, and we also we think he’s done a good job of keeping the relative peace around here lately.
We also think it has something to do with the civic spirit and mostly good people of all colors and creeds and classes and the ever-expanding number of genders you’ll find here in Wichita. There’s the usual percentage of awful people you’ll find among all colors and creeds and classes and ever-expanding gender groups, too, but for the most part we open doors for one another and don’t insist on our place in line and sometimes chat in a friendly way while we wait. For now the folks ’round these parts seem to prefer that to rioting and vandalism and arson and violence, and we concur.
America writ large, alas, isn’t faring so well. All the coast-to-coast rioting and vandalism and arson and violence, which we’ll henceforth refer to as “civil unrest,” is said to be the worst since the annus horribilis of 1968, which we well remember because we turned a very impressionable 9-years-old that year. As best as our precocious yet eight-and-nine-year-old minds could comprehend, the “negroes” or “colored people” or whatever the polite adults were calling them were righteously indignant about slavery and segregation and police brutality and a host of other things, but that burning down their own neighborhoods seemed an unlikely way to rectify that. We also felt the anxiety of even the most polite adults among us that the “civil unrest” would reach their neighborhoods, and we carried that anxiety with us as went through most of the ’70s with six years of racially diverse and riot-prone and generally shabby junior high and high schools.
By the end of it, though, we’d survived the worst of all the awful people of all colors and creeds and classes and whatever genders existed at the time, and found that most people are OK, and that most of them seemed to think we were OK. We figured things had calmed down since 1968, when it was seemingly a choice between law and order and racial justice, and that America could amiably move forward, but lately our hopes have been dashed. The politics of the moment are even more convoluted than in 1968.
One things that different from 1968 is that these riots are remarkably more racially integrated, judging by all the video, and that kid leading the riot storming of the Cable News Network last week was clearly a white skateboard punk. Some black speculators have speculated that white nationalist provocateurs have fueled the riots to start a race war, and for now that’s as plausible a conspiracy theory as you’ll find on the internet. Even Trump is blaming the far-left but mostly-white “Antifa” movement for much of it, and has officially declared it a “terrorist organization,” which means he can legally spy on any American citizen who might have visited its website. “Antifa” isn’t really an organization of any kind, though, just a ridiculously disorganized group of like-minded dumbass white goys who want to punch anyone wearing a “Make America Great Again” ball cap, who will likely get their asses kicked..We also suspect that some opportunistic awful people of certain other colors are also taking advantage of the situation.
Back in ’68 Nixon became president on o promise of restoring law and order, despite former segregationist Alabama governor and independent candidate George Wallace’s promise to restore it even more brutally, and President Donald Trump seems intent on replicating that, but that was a long time ago. This time around, a platform of both law and order and racial justice seems attainable, and might be the winning argument. So far, at least, we’ve worked it out here in Wichita.

The Coronavirus Vs. Civilization

The news about the coronavirus gets worse with each passing day. Infections and fatalities are spreading exponentially, more businesses and schools are being shut down, such large cities as San Francisco are in lockdown, the stock markets are tanking as the economic repercussions increase, and now even President Donald Trump has stopped downplaying the threat and is urging Americans not to gather in groups larger than ten.
If you’re bold enough to venture out in public, or are forced by circumstances to do so, you’ll probably notice the panic about it is palpable.
Already many Americans are hoarding supplies of food and toilet papers are other necessities, which is unfortunate but understandable, but some are also stocking up on guns and ammunition, which we find even more worrisome. The coronavirus is of course invulnerable to bullets, but many people are apparently preparing for the post-apocalyptic breakdown of civilization ’70s-era dystopian movie scenario they expect will follow.
At this point we’re taking this coronavirus very seriously, and keeping to our lifelong habit of avoiding human contact or encounters with any more people than necessary, and don’t disagree with all the advice about staying at home as much as possible. We expect that a horrific number of people will get sick, that a smaller but still horrific number of people will die, and that the economic consequences for those majority who survive will be severe.
Still, we hold out hope that commerce and some semblance of civilization will also somehow survive, and that we won’t need a whole lot of guns and ammunition to get by. We have a very fancy handgun and a couple of boxes of bullets, which are well hidden in a secret location and we hope to never use, but we’re not gun-slingin’ types and don’t think it would do us much good in one of those ’70s-era dystopian movie scenarios.
We know some of the people who are stocking up on guns and ammo, and in most cases they seem to relish those post-apocalyptic possibilities. They seem to find it more enticingly adventurous than their daily lives in a world of commerce and civilization, and imagine themselves the star of the movie rather than the extra who got mowed down in the first scene. Knowing that we’d probably be among the first victims of a collapse of commerce and civilization, and rather liking the many blessings of commerce and civilization, we’re hoping they’ll persist.
So far, we like our chances, even with Trump in the White House and former Vice President Joe Biden the only plausible alternative. Commerce and civilization have long proved resilient to plagues, and the American people are a pretty plucky bunch. For everyone stocking up on guns and ammo, there are far more doing their best to not spread any germs and volunteering to deliver essential goods to shut-ins and trying to keep calm and civilized. State and local governments are on the job, so are the cops and the military, businesses are setting aside certain hours for elderly shoppers and otherwise acting responsibly, and America is still a land of mostly good people.

— Bud Norman

Rats, Rocky and Other Racial Matters

As usual, President Donald Trump finds himself in a few “twitter” feuds that are racially-charged. One is with black Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings and the mostly black district of Maryland that he represents, and more surprisingly another is with the very white government of the very white country of Sweden.
Cummings is a frequent critic of Trump, so it wasn’t surprising at all when president “tweeted” that Cummings is a “brutal bully” and his part of Baltimore is a “disgusting and rat and rodent infested mess.” Naturally it’s caused an argument for the talk show talkers to talk about and the opinion writers to opine about, and both sides of the argument seem to relish it.
The “tweet” does contain at least a kernel of truth, as there are definitely parts of Baltimore you’ll want to drive through quickly and with the windows up and doors locked on your way to that world-class seafood restaurant we know in one of the better parts of town, and there’s something to be said for frankly acknowledging that unhappy fact. Trump is always brutally frank about his opponents, even if he’s far less forthcoming about his own shortcomings, and his fans love him for it.
The other side has its own arguments, and as always is not intimidated to make them. The part where Trump calls Cummings a “brutal bully” is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black — if you’ll forgive the possible racial implications of that cliche — and there’s plenty to argue about with the rest of it. Trump’s “tweets” were provoked by Cummings’ criticisms of the conditions at the detention camps where the Trump is keeping illegal immigrants and legal asylum-seekers, but his argument that the detainees are better off than Cummings’ free-to-leave-with-their-families-intact is arguable at best. Trump also “tweeted” that Cummings’ long tenure in the House hasn’t solved all of Baltimore’s problems, which is inarguably true, but his suggestion that Cummings should spend less time in Washington futilely arguing for federal help doesn’t make much sense.
It’s one thing to argue that much of Baltimore and many other cities run by black urban machines are a mess that deserves federal attention and a different kind of local leadership, but it’s another thing to suggest, as Trump seems to do, that those jurisdictions deserve what they get and don’t deserve the rest of the country’s consideration. Trump’s fans will love it, but the rest of the country might see it differently. There’s also a Washington Post story some of the rodent-infested apartment buildings in nearby Baltimore are owned by presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Meanwhile, Trump seems to be currying favor witha black Americans by funding with Sweden’s prime minister on behalf of someone who calls himself A$AP Rocky. Being of a certain age and just as white as the Swedish prime minister we had not previously heard of this Rocky fellow, but apparently he’s a popular “rapper” with the “hip hop” crowd, and for some reason was recently in Sweden, where he was arrested for assault and battery in a street brawl for some reason or another. He’s also apparently a friend of bona fide nutcase and popular rapper Kanye West, who is for some reason a good friend of Trump, as well as the husband of Trump’s friend and fellow reality star Kim Kardashian, and Trump has taken a peculiar presidential interest in the case.
Trump apparently requested the Swedish prime minister to release Rocky forthwith, and “tweeted” that he was “disappointed” the prime minister replied that his nation’s constitution wouldn’t allow him to interfere with an independent judiciary. Trump further “tweeted” that the prime minister had betrayed America’s black community by upholding the Swedish constitutional order, and he seemed to care less about Swedish public opinion than how it might curry favor with black voters in America’s most rat and rodent infested neighborhoods.
The fans won’t mind, and might even appreciate how the right-wing talk radio hosts argue it proves that they and Trump aren’t the least bit racist toward well-to-do and well-connected black people. The rest of the country probably won’t be much impressed, on the other, and we think that Trump might be overestimating black America’s emotional investment in someone called A$AP Rocky’s fate at the hands of the previously uncontroversial Swedish justice system.
From our old Republican white guy perspective here on the political sidelines in a fashionable and left-leaning yet well-run Riverside neighborhood here in other conservative Wichita, Trump looks ridiculous on all fronts. Although we don’t want to prejudge Rocky’s case we wouldn’t be at all surprised if the report videotape evidence proves that a prominent American “rapper” committed assault and battery while on vacation in Sweden, and we’ll leave it to the Swedes to sort it out. Trump expects any old Swede or any other foreigner who comes to America to obey our laws and submit to our justice system if accused of a violation, and he should expect the same of Americans who travel abroad no matter who he might know, and he shouldn’t expect any other head of state to act differently than he would if some tourist from Sweden or anywhere else wound up in an American jail.
We’d happily defend any Republican who made a compassionate rather than racist case against the racial resentments and identity group politics and social pathologies and socialist economics that have done so much to make Cummings’ portion of Baltimore and so much of the rest of urban America undesirable places to live, and offered old school culture ideals and free-market ideas and nose-to-the-grindstone educational solutions, but Trump doesn’t seem to have any ideas about how to help and is clearly more concerned with shoring up support from his white base in rat infested neighborhoods with racial resentments of their own.
When we leave our fashionable and left-leaning and inordinately homosexual and almost entirely white yet will-run neighborhood here in Wichita we travel through all sorts of neighborhoods, each with their own political leanings and racial resentments and social tensions, but every journey proves uneventful and friendly. We have no problem with the black and brown and yellow and red folks we encounter daily, and are always happy to open the door for them at the convenience store, and they’re always happy to do the same for us if they arrive at the door first, and we’re sure we’d all do the same for any Swedish tourist who somehow happened to be in Wichita.
That’s how we mostly deal with all these very complicated race and class and sex issues here on the ground level in Wichita, and we’d very much like for Trump and those damned Democrats to do the same.

— Bud Norman

The Never-Ending Cage Match Between Rep. Nadler and President Trump

We read that the World Wrestling Entertainment franchise just had another big-bucks pay-per-view “Wrestlemania,” with reigning women’s champion Becky Lynch besting both Rhonda Rousey and Charlotte Flair in a rare triple threat match and unprecedented all-woman headline bout. As usual we declined to pay to view it, but it will eventually be free on YouTube, and for trash-talking and body-slamming and eye-gouging entertainment we don’t think it can compete with the political battle between President Donald Trump and New York Rep. Jerry Nadler.
By now you surely know who Trump is. Aside from being President of the United, he’s the billionaire real estate mogul and failed casino-operator and reality show star who once body-slammed and shaved the head of WWE owner Vince McMahon in a “Battle of the Billionaires” on a past big-bucks pay-per-view “Wrestlemania,” which YouTube can verify we’re not making up. Die-hard Kansas devotees of political blood sport that we are we’ve only recently become aware of the existence of Nadler, but apparently the political junkies in New York already know that Nadler’s been successfully going toe-to-toe against Trump for the past several decades.
The feud started way back in ’85, when Trump was an ambitious 30-something real estate wheeler-dealer who wanted to transform a dilapidated section of New York City into a “Television City” with the world’s tallest skyscraper, and make it “the greatest piece of land in urban America.” Nadler was a mere New York assemblyman at the time, representing the district that Trump wanted to transform, and where most of the constituents absolutely hated the idea, but he waged a fairly effective fight. Trump did get to build some buildings, but none of them were the tallest skyscraper in the world, and that area isn’t the most valuable piece of land in urban America, but the mostly middle class people there seem to prefer Nadler to Trump. Since the ’80s Nadler has been elected to the House of Representatives, where he blocked Trump’s plans to relocate a federal highway to accommodate one of his development plans, and the latest election results show that at least in New York City Nadler is far more popular than Trump.
Trump has since been elected the President of the United States, but over the past 14 terms Nadler has risen to the chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee, where he has the legal authority to subpoena all sorts of things and make all kind of trouble for Trump. These matters will eventually be resolved in court according to the constitution, rather than WWE rules, so we give the formidable Nadler at least a fighting chance.
Back in the ’80s Nadler was conspicuously overweight, and Trump was still relatively svelte, so Trump dubbed him “Fat Jerry” in their tabloid war of words. These days Nadler has slimmed down some and Trump is pretty fat, but Trump recently revived the “Fat Jerry” slur in front of a group of uncomfortable Republican senators, and we expect that Trump’s die-hard fans will love the way that at least he fights. The feud doesn’t seem likely to end anytime soon, though, and in the meantime this Nadler fellow will probably get some licks in.
So far as we can tell this Nadler fellow is one of those damned Democrats, and from New York City to boot, but the courts don’t seem to put much weight on the weight of the litigants, and neither do we, and these days our old Kansas Republican souls don’t have a dog in these fights between two New York City boys, and we know it’s all rigged anyway.

— Bud Norman

The Abortion Debate Resumes

Even after all the decades since the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down by the Supreme Court the abortion debate still rages, but we’ve noticed in recent years that it rarely shows up on the front pages of the newspapers or the top of the cable and network news broadcasts. The upcoming battle over the appointment and confirmation of a replacement for retiring Supreme Justice Anthony Kennedy is bringing the long-simmering battle back to the figurative front-burner of American politics, however, and we’re already dreading what will ensue.
Here in our usually placid hometown of Wichita, Kansas, the abortion debate has always been especially acrimonious. The very interesting mother of a very interesting high school friend of ours was picketing on the sidewalks outside a local Wesleyan hospital even before the Roe v. Wade decision was passed, and the abortion debate has played an outsized role in local and state politics ever since.
Although Wichita and Kansas are unusually church-going and conservative places by modern secular standards, the state somehow wound up with the most permissive abortion laws outside of China and its one-child policy, and the city was long home to one of less than a handful of doctors in the entire world willing to perform the third-trimester abortions that even the Roe v. Wade decision allowed states to restrict, which our many years of Republican legislatures and Republican governors somehow never got around to restricting. The massive gulf between public opinion and public policy enflamed passions on both sides even more than in the rest of the country, and things got unpleasantly heated around here.
Back in ’91 the radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue came to town for a “Summer of Mercy” that involved physically blocking access to the city’s three abortion clinics, all owned by the doctor who performed those internationally controversial third-trimester abortions, and we still remember it as the hottest summer ever around here, notwithstanding the higher temperatures of other summers. Hundreds of church-going and baby-having and lawn-mowing upright citizens willingly went to jail the cause, hundreds of other church-going and baby-having and lawn-mowing upright citizens stopped talking to their neighbors and longtime friends as a result, and we know of at least one marriage because of all the acrimony, and countless Wichitans with no strong feelings about abortion were inconvenienced by the traffic tie-ups next to the main clinic along the crucial Kellogg Avenue freeway on their way home from work.
We were reporting for the local newspaper at the time, which still had a wide readership at the time, and despite our best efforts to be objective and factual about what was going on the sidewalks of Wichita we and our equally objective and factual colleagues wound up incurring the wrath of people on both sides of the debate. Journalists from around the country and the entire world wound up sharing a beer with us at a tavern next door do the clinic on Central Avenue, as the protests brought unexpected attention to Wichita from pretty much everywhere, and they all had the same complaints about how their determinedly objective and factual accounts were received.
In the end, though, Operation Rescue’s radical stand against abortion and its civil disobedience tactics got the worst of it both here and around the world. The most enthusiastic supporters of abortion rights were predictably outraged, the more mainstream anti-abortion groups distanced themselves from Operation Rescue’s civil disobedience tactics, and Congress wound up passing and President Bill Clinton wound up signing some tough laws about access to abortion clinics that those church-going and baby-having and lawn-mowing upright Wichitans did not dare defy. Despite Republican legislatures and Republican governors, that internationally controversial Wichita abortionist continued to perform third-trimester abortions next to Kellogg Avenue in Wichita.
The anti-abortion forces did succeed in making opposition to the practice a litmus test for any Republican candidate seeking any sort of office, no matter how he strident he might be about a tax cuts or deregulation or any other Republican position, but despite Republican majorities in the legislature and Republican governors they somehow never did succeed in imposing the constitutionally permissible ban on third-trimester abortions. That matter was instead settled when a radicalized anti-abortion activist came down from Kansas City and shot Dr. George Tiller in the head during a worship service on a sunny Sunday morning in ’09 at a lovely Lutheran church way over on East 13th Street.
All of the mainstream anti-abortion groups denounced the assassination, and all of the world press we met while covering the trial on a freelance basis seemed slightly disappointed that a church-going and conservative Wichita jury found the assassin guilty after an hour’s deliberation after a trial where the defendant freely admitted his guilt, and since then there have been no third-trimester abortions performed in Wichita. State law somehow still allows any doctor to do so, but no one has dared to do so, and since then Kansas has been more involved in debates about tax cuts and voting regulations and trade policies and other desultory matters.
Since then a majority of Ireland has voted to repeal that very Catholic country’s strict anti-abortion laws, and Mississippi and a couple of other proudly Protestant southern states have passed restrictive anti-abortion laws that press against the limits of the Roe v. Wade decision, but here and around the world the the abortion debate has gotten less ink and airtime than those desultory debates about tax rates and trade policies and the “Russia thing” and the latest outages about President Donald Trump and all the rest of it. As maddening as it all is, we preferred it to the abortion debate.
Justice Kennedy’s retirement and Trump’s power to appoint his replacement brings all the abortion issue acrimony back to the front burner of American politics, though, and there’s nothing we can do about that. Back when Trump was a Democrat he was staunchly in favor of abortion rights, even unto that third trimester, and our guess is that the first abortion bills that passed Trump’s desk were quickly paid, but ever since he decided to run for president as a Republican he’s been even more stridently anti-abortion than even the mainstream anti-abortion groups, and by now one side is hopeful and the other side is fearful that Roe v. Wade will be overturned. The contrarian Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz is somehow a conservative hero for defending Trump in the “Russia thing,” but he’s worried that five-to-four Trump majority on the Supreme Court will result in an opinion banning all abortions on the grounds of a constitutional right to life at the moment of conception, and the better bet is that Trump’s pick will result in all 50 states arguing about abortion without any constitutional restraints.
We don’t see that ending well for anybody, and especially the Republican party. To this day we’re too objective and factual to declare any moral stand on the abortion issue, although we’re still guilt-ridden about the third-trimester abortions of viable fetuses that occurred in our hometown and the cold-blooded  murder of the doctor who performed them, but we can’t see how it’s a winning play for the proudly adulterous Trump or his family values Republican party. Our long and desultory experience of the abortion debate around here tells us that nobody is ever persuaded by any argument the other side might make, that the debate is inevitably murderous no matter which way you look at it, and in the end most of America is just hoping for an easy drive home from work.

— Bud Norman