A New Deal For Black America from an Old White Guy

Republican nominee Donald Trump outlined a “New Deal for Black America” on Wednesday, and we have to admit that to such middle-aged white folks as ourselves it made a lot of sense. Even the skeptical scribes at the impeccably liberal Washington Post had to concede that his speech in the crucial and traditionally-Republican-yet-largely-black and suddenly swing state of North Carolina was “heavy on policy specifics,” especially by Trump standards, and it specifically addressed the educational and economic and criminal problems that clearly afflict too much of black America. How black folks of any age will respond remains to be seen, but our guess is that they’ll largely reject the messenger if not the entirety of the message.
We especially liked the part about charter schools and other parental choices for education, even if it wasn’t so bold as to come right out and mention vouchers and privatization, and we expect that much of black America will as well. The current system of one-size-fits-all education has resulted in an inarguable racial gap, educational outcomes are the most reliable predictor of economic outcomes, and they always will be unless there’s an economically disastrous and politically impossible quota system imposed on the country, and any old Republican nominee can make a persuasive case that for all their black-friendly reputation the Democrats are too beholden to those stubborn teachers’ unions to ever allow any significant changes in the cushy-for-teachers but ineffective-for-students current system. All the public opinion polls show that this is one of those internecine Democratic interest group conflicts that any old Republican nominee should be able to exploit, and Trump’s undeniably anti-establishment reputation makes it all the more exploitable, so we’ll give him credit for trying, even if more than the usual 95 percent of black voters ultimately don’t.
Without addressing that educational racial gap you really can’t address that economic racial gap, absent those quota systems that Trump surely wouldn’t consider, but Trump also proposed tax holidays and other economic incentives for investment in the most blighted black neighborhoods, and he managed to avoid his past suggestions that pretty much of all black America except his black celebrity friends live in such blight, and the scribes at The Washington Post seem slightly worried about it. Such hard-core capitalist and middle-aged white folks as ourselves have a mixed reaction to his proposals, some of which seem like the usual bad bets waged by government that realists would avoid, we can only imagine that Trump’s supporters on the defiantly white nationalist alt-right will be even more annoyed, and we can’t blame any black folks of any age for pointing out that at no time in his hard-core capitalist life did Trump ever lay down any bets on black America’s more blighted communities, except for maybe Atlantic City, where everyone else he was in business with went bankrupt while he boastfully pocketed millions.
Trump’s old-school Republican “Law and Order” themes should also arguably appeal to the lawful and orderly majority of black Americans, and have a special resonance with that law-abiding and ordered majority of black America’s minority who have to contend with black America’s most blighted neighborhoods, but we don’t expect his more specific policies will prove popular with most black folk. Trump and his now-ubiquitous surrogate former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani are by now associated with the “stop-and-frisk” policy that allowed police wide latitude to stop and frisk random pedestrians, who more often than not were non-white, and a generally indulgent attitude toward police shootings of civilians, who are also more often than non-white. Such middle-aged white folks as ourselves are willing to concede that most more-or-less reasonable searches as seizures in the most blighted areas of black America will mostly involve black folks, and that police shootings of civilians are more often than not quite justifiable no matter the races of the shooters or shot, but we’re also hard-core Constitutionalists who admit there’s some reasonable-search-and-seizure issues involved. We’re also such policy wonks that we have to wonder how much stop-and-frisk had to do with the undeniable drop in the number of murders and other crimes committed in New York City during Giuliani’s generally successful mayoralty, given all the other shrewd law enforcement measures he enacted, and we have enough law-abiding orderly black friends that we can understand their gripes about that time some cop made an entirely unreasonable search, and we can well understand why they might want a harder look at those times when the police shooting of a civilian wasn’t so clearly justified.
Any old Republican nominee should be able to make a nuanced case that the Democratic nominee and the rest of her party are going to get a whole lot of black lives that really do matter killed, and that in the meantime those lives will mostly be spent in economic inequality because of Democratic policies, and that it’s largely because of an educational gap that those teachers’ unions won’t allow the Democrats to address, but Trump has problems making the case that any other old Republican nominee probably wouldn’t have. His family business has been dogged settled cases over housing discrimination, he still insists that those vindicated “Central Park Five” defendants should be jailed despite scientific evidence to the contrary, his ham-fisted “What have you got to lose” line still resonates in the ears of all sorts of black Americans who have something to lose, those defiantly white nationalist supporters on the alt-right are still on board, and even such old-fashioned Republican and trying-hard-not-be-racist middle white folks as ourselves aren’t quite buying it. That Democratic nominee is at least as awful, whether you’re white or black or anything in between, so at this point in this crazy election year we don’t expect it will make much of a difference either way.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Skirmishes in the Race Wars

Two more black men were fatally shot by police this week, this time in Charlotte, North Carolina and Tulsa, Oklahoma, and both communities suffered from the rioting and looting that now routinely follows these incidents. The initial news reports were once again inconclusive, all the same arguments regarding law enforcement and race in America were once-again re-hashed, both major party presidential nominees once again weighed in, and by now there’s a numbing familiarity to it all.
This time around the initial news reports out of North Carolina appear exculpatory for the black police officer in a largely black police department with a black Police Chief accountable to a largely black-run municipal government who shot a reportedly armed and black-life-threatening black man, which didn’t seem to give pause to the rioters and looters and their “Black Lives Matter” apologists, while the available videotape and press accounts and even the official police statements out of Oklahoma suggest that the black man shot by a white officer was unarmed and no imminent threat to the bevy of officers who had surrounded him, which somehow resulted in what seems to be a slightly more restrained round of rioting and looting than occurred in North Carolina.
By now we’ve learned to await further reports before reaching any tentative conclusions about these recurring things, and to be grateful that our tentative conclusions don’t settle these matters. The established facts that the shooter in North Carolina was a black man and that the one in Oklahoma was a white woman are deemed irrelevant in our rightward-leaning court of opinion, and we expect that the leftward-leaning sorts will have their own self-interested reasons for dismissing such information, so the rest of the autopsies and witness accounts and physical evidence and press reports will eventually be more or less resolved and then quickly forgotten. How this affects the presidential race, much less the way this objectively undeniable problem of police shootings and subsequent rioting is either resolved or brought to its unbearable conclusion, is also beyond our powers of conjecture.
The initial reports out of Oklahoma are bad enough that even proudly pro-police Republican nominee Donald Trump said he was “very troubled” by the video he’d seen, and rambled out a stronger anti-police case than we’d make at this point, while Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was “Tweeting” her shared outraged with even the North Carolina rioters and looters, even if her more expansive later comments made clear that she wasn’t in favor of the random attacks on white people that resulted. Perhaps she’ll be able to rebound by noting how Trump has tentatively presumed guilty a woman who has her own story to tell, and perhaps the North Carolina situation is more complicated that it seems and both candidates wind up looking silly in their premature pronouncements about it, but for now it seems his supporters won’t mind that he prejudged a white woman and with her prejudgment of a  black man she looks to come out slightly worse from it in this crazy election year. This is no way to judge a case, of course, but there you have it.

— Bud Norman

A Chance of Thunderstorms, Politics, and Other Passing Problems

A chance of thunderstorms is in the forecast for our portion of the Kansas plains today, but despite all that global warming hysteria the weather around here hasn’t been anything like that “Wizard of Oz” kind of scary for the past several early falls, and we’re holding out hope the coming weekend will also be free of any extraordinary political turbulence. Our Thursday afternoon was mostly devoted to sitting around the lobby of one of those free market medical facilities that have lately proliferated on the east side of our humble prairie hometown, anxiously awaiting the results of our beloved Pop’s eyelid surgery, and as anxious at it was at least we weren’t paying any attention to that awful presidential race, so we hold out hope that blessing lasts through the weekend.
Our beloved Pop at long, long last emerged from his surgery in seemingly fine shape, still a bit loopy from the happy pills they’d given him to keep his spirit up and his eyes open during the grueling hours-long procedure but cognizant enough to order a Sprite and ask some pertinent questions about the doctor’s post-op orders, so at that point we were inclined to call it a good day. During that long wait we also had a nice chat with our beloved Mom, despite her own apparent anxieties, although even that heart-to-heart conversation couldn’t avoid the rest of the world. Our beloved Mom is a refined and cultured woman who long ago slapped a proper respect for the English language and other highfalutin ideas about western civilization into our stubborn heads, but she’s also an Okie by birth and upbringing, so of course she led the conversation to the latest football results, which in turn led to a mutually desultory talk about those National Football League players who won’t stand for the national anthem and how the National Collegiate Athletic Association is boycotting North Carolina because it insists on the very same sex-segregated locker room arrangements as the NCAA.
With nothing to distract us but weeks old copies of People Magazine and Sports Illustrated and other waiting room fare full of people we’d never heard of, that inevitably led us to the point when our beloved Mom confessed that both she and our beloved Pop had quite reluctantly decided to vote for Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, as much as they loathed him, but only because the only alternative was Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and at that point we were in no mood to dissuade either of them. They wheeled our Pop out of the surgery room a seemingly long while later, and we and our beloved Mom then wheel-chaired him into the comfort of his easy chair on the third floor of a rather swank east-side old folks’ home, and after we were convinced they could take it from there we headed on home.
Conveniently located on the way home was the notorious local dive bar called Kirby’s Beer Store, so of course we stopped in there along the way. The relatively young bartender with the National Geographic earrings was on the job, which we were glad to see because he’s such a great guy, and the only other customer was a fine fellow of our long acquaintance with a Roy Acuff tattoo on his forearm and who plays a mean rockabilly guitar, and with “Goodfellas” playing on the bar’s television we had a fine talk about our favorite gangster movies. This naturally led to talk of the presidential elections, and after some sincere sympathy from them about our beloved Pop’s plight, and despite our usual disagreements about politics, we all wound up agreeing we wouldn’t vote for any of the major party candidates. Oddly enough, and comfortingly enough, we find ourselves in agreement with all sorts of people on this point lately.
No matter how all that political stuff turns out, we cling to some hope that it won’t be “Wizard of Oz” scary, and that those free market medical joints on the east side will continue to provide due care to such deserving folks as our beloved Pops, and that our beloved and high-cultured Mom will continue to regale us with the latest reviews from her book club and the latest football results, and that our friends in low places will share with us both a beer and a disdain for the rest of it.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Installment in As Trump Turns

The big news from the presidential race on Wednesday was Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s latest shake-up of his campaign staff, and if you’re a binge-watching fan of Trump’s ongoing reality show it makes for some interesting plot twists.
A formerly peripheral character named Stephen Bannon has stepped into a starring role, an entirely unexpected yet predictably blond and comely character named Kellyanne Conway has been introduced, the ambiguously villainous Paul Manafort role has been reduced to cameo appearances, and the obvious implication is that the more or less traditional Republican nominee Trump we’ve seen lately will go back to being the boorish and braggadocios and insulting self-proclaimed billionaire real-estate-and-casino-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-scam-university-and-reality-show mogul who won the Republican nomination.
That Bannon fellow is the new “chief executive” of the campaign, and he once worked for the Goldman Sachs investment outfit that both parties are running against and then went on to produce a documentary about former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee and reality show star Sarah Palin among other ventures, has most recently been in charge of the Breitbart.com news site that has cheered on all of Trump’s most outrageous utterances since way back when there was still a chance the GOP might not nominate someone more traditionally Republican. The Conway woman is apparently a pollster who has long provided Trump with what he wants to hear over his varied private sector careers, and the assumes the more recognizable title of “campaign manager.” That Manafort fellow replaced the combative Corey “Let Trump Be Trump” Lewandowski as “campaign chairman” shortly after a controversy regarding Lewandowski’s allegedly rough treatment of a female reporter, ironically enough from Breitbart.com, ostensibly with the mission of molding Trump into a more traditional Republican nominee, and despite the recent press revelations about his shady dealings in the very same Ukraine that Trump insists the Russians haven’t invaded and might be entitled to in any case he’ll keep the now meaningless title during his cameo appearances.
The timing seems odd, because over the last several days that more-or-less traditional Republican nominee shtick seems to have been working for Trump. He read an obviously pre-written-by-someone-else speech from a tele-prompter about immigration and Islamic terrorism, and made the common sense case that America should be exceedingly cautious about accepting large numbers of immigrants from lands where Islamic terrorism is popular. This contrasted effectively with the Democratic nominee’s crazy talk that Islam has nothing to do with Islamic terrorism and her crazy message of y’all come in, and it left out all his own crazy talk about using bullets dipped in pig’s blood and chopping the heads off of terrorists and killing their families and routinely torturing detainees and trying even American citizens in military tribunals, so even the most traditionally Republican press organs were giving him some begrudging respect. We’re so hide-bound we couldn’t help noticing that he once again repeated his easily disproved lies that he’d been opposed to the Iraq and Libyan interventions from the outset, which reiterated his utterly ridiculous and not all Republican belief that the Middle East would have been happily stable and peaceable if not for America’s meddling influence, and that underneath all the tough talk was an “American First” isolationism, but at this point we’re among a small minority up against a bi-partisan consensus.
Trump followed that up with another pre-written-by-someone-else and tele-promptered speech in Wisconsin, not far from where nihilistic race riots were still raging in Milwaukee in the aftermath of a seemingly justified fatal shooting of an armed and dangerous black man by the police, and it also contrasted effectively with the response of a Democratic nominee who is obligated to both the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the reflexively anti-police administration that are making excuses for and subtly egging on the riots. We wouldn’t go so far as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani did and call it “the best Republican speech ever,” as Abraham Lincoln’s addresses at Gettysburg and the Second Inaugural still really swing for us, but we had to give it some begrudging respect. He even made a plausible appeal to the black Americans who are disproportionately the victims of crime, but we think a more or less traditional Republican nominee who doesn’t have a settlement with the Justice Department over his discriminatory renting practices or an expensive full-page ad calling for the execution of some black rape suspects who were later cleared by physical evidence in his background would be a better messenger.
In any case, the more tele-promptered and traditionally Republican shtick seems to have shaved a few percentage points off the comfortable poll-averaged lead that crazy Democratic nominee had built up while Trump was accusing a vanquished Republican rival’s father of being in on the Kennedy assassination and grousing that an Indiana-born yet “Mexican” judge shouldn’t have been presiding over one of the three trials regarding the scam Trump University and musing in the most indecipherable way about how “Second Amendment people” might forestall future Supreme Court picks and that the president being the literal rather than figurative “founder” of the Islamic State and any number of other unnecessary distractions he’d written into his ongoing reality show. Given that the Democratic nominee talks plenty crazy herself, we’re not at all surprised. The changes in the Trump plot line therefore make no sense to us, but in this crazy election year we’ll concede that’s probably because we’re more accustomed to politics than the reality show genre.

— Bud Norman

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The State of the Mid-Season Race

The New York Yankees have traded away their three best players and pretty much the rest of the season in exchange for better prospects in the hopefully near future, The Wichita Wingnuts are holding a comfortable 6.5 game lead in the double-A American Association’s southern division, and with help from an adorable rifle-toting teenaged girl America has already staked a lead in the Olympics medal count. As the stock markets are closed over the weekend our next check of the standings is the Real Clear Politics average of presidential polls, which currently shows the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton edging up to a 7 point lead over Republican nominee Donald J. Trump.
This strikes us as a fair assessment of the race at the moment, given how widely reviled both candidates are and how Trump had an even worse past week than Clinton did, which took some doing. There are a couple of polls showing Trump behind but within the margin of error, but a couple of others showing Clinton with a landslide lead, and even most Trump’s loyal analysts agree that it all averages out to a substantial if not insurmountable lead for Clinton of 7 or 8 or even 9 points or so. When you throw in the third and fourth options of Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Jill Stein, both of whom are polling conspicuously far better in their crazy election than their parties ever have done, the Clinton lead is narrowed to 6 or 7 or 8 points or so. A savvy sports fan’s closer look at the all-important electoral map will reveal that he’s behind but still in contention in some key swing states, clinging to a slight lead in a couple of others, losing ground in several more, and suddenly having to worry about a few states that more traditional Republicans long took for granted.
There’s a whole lot of baseball and presidential politics left to be played between now and the cool of November, and we’ve been following both sports long enough to expect surprise endings, but at this point in a season the teams that come from behind are usually making adjustments. Nothing in the political press suggests that Trump is making any personnel changes, or adopting new tactics, or even bothering to master the fundamentals of the game. Trump is being outspent on the widely-watched Olympic broadcasts and the rest of the airwaves to make the case that he’s a puppet of Vladimir Putin, a President of the United States who somehow has an over-50-percent approval rating and is therefore the most admired man in American politics is making the poll-tested argument that he lacks necessary temperament to be commander in chief, and Trump is responding with the schoolyard taunt that his opponent is “Unstable” Hillary “Rotten” Clinton, which will no doubt delight his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters but do little to convince that pesky 60 percent or so of the rest of the country that he’s particularly presidential.
Clinton is indeed rotten, as we’ve been publicly complaining since long before Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and telling everyone what a great President she would be, and it appalls us that the current rotten president is so unaccountably popular, but we’d much prefer a Republican nominee who could make that case in more compelling terms than a schoolyard taunt. That seems to be where the race stands, though, and from now on we’ll try to pay more attention to baseball.

— Bud Norman

The Ballpark and the Rest of the World

The Wichita Wingnuts looked promising in a 5-1 victory over the Kansas City T-Bones on Tuesday, continuing a recent hot streak and putting them a full game over .500 and into a statistical tie with the Laredo Lemurs in the double-A American Baseball Association’s southern division, but even on such a pleasantly hot late spring evening of the national pastime on the Great Plains there was no avoiding all that other dreary news about the state of the world. We always watch the home stand games at the nearby historic old ballpark with a group of cigar-chomping friends in the smoking section along the first base line where the evening sun will burn the retinas right out of yours eyes during the early innings, so it’s an eclectic bunch we root with, and the between-innings opinions about everything else going on in the world were predictably diverse.
Our cheapskate tickets are always provided by an old polymath and underemployed friend with a gray pony-tail who keeps coming up with the most ingenious rationalizations of the presumptive Republican nominee’s most recent blathers, and he’s always accompanied by a similarly seasoned and equally charming and erudite fellow who’s on the faculty of the local university and can predictably concoct similarly construed apologetics for whatever the he presumptive Democratic nominee is lately spewing. We were joined by a couple of young and appealing  women who were happy to join in on the cigar-chomping but reluctant to talk about that politics stuff, even if they were obviously unimpressed with the presumptive Democratic nominee’s ceiling-breaking candidacy and clearly averse to something about that presumptive Republican nominee’s proudly sexist public persona. The cigar-chomping good old boy barber and former minor league umpire who will almost surely wind up voting for Trump didn’t show up, but we learned from our gray pony-tailed friend that his beloved homosexual son who lives in Orlando and frequents the nightclub where the mass murders occurred over the weekend was safe and sound because he’d decided not to show up on on the club’s “Latino Night.”
There was also some talk about music, with that fellow from the local university offering some sound opinions, which did not surprise us as he once gave us a well-chosen collection of favorite tracks by Porter Wagoner and his Wagoneers, and we found out that our young and appealing and cigar-chomping young female friends had never heard of Carmen Miranda and her fruit-laden hair-dos, although one of them looked her up on her cel phone and admitted she was stunned by such Latin and fruit-laden beauty, and the end of the world seemed all the more looming. In the end the home team won, though, and we went home with some faint hope.

— Bud Norman

Kansas Comes Through

All in all, it was a delightful day in Kansas on Saturday. We had to be up at the ungodly early hour of 7:30 a.m., and after a long drive back from the funeral of a much-loved family member at that, but the weather was about as perfect as early March ever provides around here, and we got to boo to Donald J. Trump in person and shake the hand of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and by the end of the day the quadrennial Kansas presidential caucuses and the democratic process itself had once again proved great fun.
The festivities began at 8 a.m., which we attribute to the Kansas Republican Party’s still lingering farmer tendencies, as well as the necessity of wrapping things up before the University of Kansas Jayhawks and Wichita State University Wheatshockers played their conference tournament basketball games, and we made the miscalculation that sleeping through the time it would take to brew our requisite two cups of coffee would compensate for their stimulative effects, but we somehow safely somnambulated ourselves out of Riverside and over to the fortunately nearby Century II building downtown. Some old New Journalism instinct told us to be there early, so after we wasted some time waiting in a line that turned out to be for a Trump rally in one of the circular building’s other pie-shaped segments we we soon found our way to the entrance to the caucus’ much larger pie-shaped segment, which was shared with the local youth symphony practice going on in an adjacent pie-shaped segment, so all sorts of fresh-faced kids with cello cases and trombone-shaped luggage were in the same long line with a bunch of grizzled farmer-looking Republicans, but it turned out to be well worth the short wait to receive the yellow sticker that would allow us to cast a ballot. Kansas has all those photo identification requirements that the Democrats are always squawking about, and our Secretary of State is the nation’s most infamous advocate of these outlandish measures, but it was all computerized and quite cheerily transacted by the friendly people in the “volunteer” t-shirts, and we have been duly registered as Republicans since our long-ago eighteenth birthday, so we were quite quickly and efficiently welcomed into the comforting embrace of Kansas Republicanism at its most cornily old-fashioned best.
On our way in we encountered a very fine fellow who’s an old fraternity brother of one our actual brothers and is now chairman of the county’s Republican party, and we were quite circumspect about sharing our preferences in the race, which turned out to be the same. Then we ran into a woman who was campaigning for a candidate in a local statehouse race, and although her candidate was in a district more unfashionably west-side than our own she had an elongated and skinny off-beat beauty that reminded us of Shelley Duvall, and she rightly pointed out that at least we know some people in that unfashionably west-side district, so we stopped to chat with her as well. We also ran into the most delightful fellow who books the speakers for the local Pachyderm Club, who cajoled us into accepting another invitation to address that august meeting of downtown Wichita Republicans, and one of our old friends and favorite penny-pinching County Commissioners, who laughingly noted that we’re not in his district but are represented the only guy in town who makes him look like a squishy RINO establishment guy, which doesn’t bother us a bit. By the time we took our seats in the pie-shaped Republican segment of circular Century II in the third century of the American age, we felt quite at home.
There was a video by the mayor, who is officially non-partisan but generally understood around here to be a Republican, and then our County Commissioner friend filled some time with a Kansas political quiz, which we did well with, and the Lieutenant Governor weighed in via video, and our delightful friend from the Pachyderm Club made a pitch for his monthly meetings, and the head of the Black Republicans in town gave a rousing oration and a kid with skinny jeans and a modern architecture haircut spoke well on behalf of the local College Republicans, and there was a pitch on behalf of Republican Women by another friend of ours who’s the ex-wife of a even better friend of ours. Then some local high school Marine junior-ROTC kids right out of a Norman Rockwell painting presented the colors, our local don’t-dare-you-doubt-his-Republicanism congressman led the assembled electorate in a Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a prayer from a local pastor, and that was followed by a memorable rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The two-male, two-female quartet from a local church knocked the familiar tune out of the park and had the crowd singing along through the familiar “and the land of the free and home of the brave” ending, which brought the expected roar, but they kept singing through that second verse that is so unfamiliar no one could sing along, and it got another big roar when it ended with the same closing lines.
This was followed by a long and soporific delay due to the long lines still waiting to get past such a friendly and efficient and computerized process, filled with some mostly godawful contemporary country and western music, but we eventually got around to the good part about the candidates.
Our local don’t-dare-you-doubt-his-Republicanism congressman, whose Republicanism we do not doubt, had the burden of speaking on behalf of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who had made a touch-and-go appearance in town the day before, which did not fare well at all with the anti-establishment crowd. We’ve met our congressman on a few occasions and found him a most genial fellow, and have only the minor and admittedly arguable quibbles with his voting record, and given the easily accessible chumminess of Kansas Republican politics we must plead guilty to being part of some ill-defined “establishment,” and we’ll take Rubio over some options, but even we weren’t buying the pitch.
Speaking on behalf of the anti-establishment terror Cruz was the man himself, and as much as we hate to resort to cliches we can’t think of anything to say but that he electrified the crowd. He took all of his allowed ten minutes and at least a couple more to go point by point over the things that have infuriated the sorts of Republicans who get up at 7:30 a.m. and probably even earlier than that to be there for the extended “Star Spangled Banner” at a Republican caucus even on the best sort of March day you can expect, and there was a rhetorical flavor to it that we’ll call “evangelical,” and suffice to say that we were not the only ones on our feet at its conclusion. By our estimation at least two-thirds of the crowd were waving “Choose Cruz” signs, and sporting the same sticky slogan on their clothes and chanting his name, and at that point we didn’t need to await the exit polling.
Up next on our local hinterlands stage was none other than Donald J. Trump, the self=described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-realty-television-and-scam-university mogul, the man who has been unavoidable in the news for the past year or so, and he seemed rather puny. Perhaps he’d been lured to our hick town by the couple of crazy polls that showed him leading here, and the fact that Kansas’ electoral Republicanism entitles it to more delegates than similarly-sized states in more benighted regions, but by the time he hit the stage in downtown Wichita he seemed realize he was facing a hostile crowd. The boos were far louder than the cheers, and the candidate’s bluster was far less than usual. He did boast about the big crowd he’d drawn earlier, few of whom had made their way into the area where the race was going on, and he talked the usual bit about how he was going to hire the best people and do great things, but his heart didn’t seem in it, and the towering media figure looked rather small on that stage, and with hometown pride we can report that he left to more boos than cheers.
There were other candidates on the ballot, but none had bothered to schedule a speaker, so those of us who’d gotten in early were quickly able to cast our ballots and get out. While Trump was speaking we ran into a good friend from the church where we worship, and he showed us the digital pictures of himself and his lovely daughter and handsome son-in-law shaking hands with Cruz, and he told us how he got the candidate’s attention by shouting that his wife, a most delightful woman who had the good fortune to escape from Baghdad to America, had come all the way from Iraq to vote, and how Cruz had seemed genuinely humble when meeting her. As we wandered by the blocks-long line of voters who didn’t get in on all the fun we passed by Cruz, and joined the scrum of voters to shake his hand and wish him well, and we walked away feeling that no matter what awful consequences the American political process might provide at least we were part of it.
On the way back to our car, which was parked due to our early arrival in a spot that would be coveted when the rest of the Republicans and all the Democrats and the folks going to the Home and Garden Show and the youth symphony kids made downtown more crowded than usual, we passed by a couple of homeless guys who were wondering about the blocks-long line of people over on Douglas. We explained that the Kansas caucuses were going on, and added that we’d had a chance to boo Donald J. Trump in person, and one of the homeless guys insisted on giving us a fist-bump over that, which made us feel a part of an even broader American experience. After a frequently phone call-interrupted nap we headed out to Kirby’s Beer Store, a favorite ghetto dive of ours, where all our hipster friends were celebrating Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ anti-establishment victory on the also well-attended Democratic side of the race.
Cruz’ already-called victory in the Kansas Republican caucus had not at all surprised us, given the anti-establishment mood of such established Republicans as ourselves, and the fact that the same caucus which routinely chooses the most conspicuously Christian candidate is not likely to choose a thrice-married and boastfully adulterous gambling-and-strip-joint mogul who mocks the handicapped and blames his perennial tax-audit problems on his being such a strong Christian, and neither were we surprised with Sander’s victory here. The state’s minority of Democrats have all the crazy ideas associated with their party, but they’re heirs to that Prairie Populist tradition that had such crazy ideas way back in the days when the railroads and the Sears Roebuck Company were the Koch Brothers and Wal-Mart of the time, and they have an anti-establishment streak of their own that we can’t help but respect. We had a friendly beer and a nice conversation with an extravagantly homosexual friend of ours who has a knack for rational political discussion, and he shared our concern that Hillary Clinton is at least as awful as Trump on a personal integrity level and that he’s on the other side of a racial divide in his party, and despite all jibes about the “Choose Cruz” sticker on our jacket we enjoyed the beer.
The Kansas results only contributed to a split decision on the day, with Cruz winning also Maine but Trump more narrowly winning in Kentucky and with a lot of help from early voting in Louisiana. Trump still has a delegate lead, although not overwhelmingly, and the voting in all the states seems to have narrowed it down to a two-man with Cruz, whose numbers have been outperforming expectations lately while Trump’s have seemingly stalled, but the upcoming states are very different from the prairie and the outliers still hanging around the race figure to be a factor, and we don’t know what to expect from the rest of the country. Kansas came through, at least, and so did our Okie cousins, and for now the process at least affords some fun.

— Bud Norman

Oh Yeah, the Economy

Perhaps it’s just because we’re not hanging out with a high-rolling crowd, or because baseball season is underway and the National Basketball Association’s playoffs just concluded, but nobody seems to be talking about the economy these days. All of the non-business news media seem equally uninterested, to the point that it takes another announcement from the Federal Reserve Board to get any front-page play for those poor newspaper scribes stuck on the economy beat.
We suspect this has something to do with the diocletian nature of all that boring data that the Fed went on about Wednesday. The economy isn’t quite bad enough for the Republicans to make an issue of it, and not nearly good enough for the Democrats to do any bragging, and apparently not so bad that the Fed feels obliged to again ramp up the money-printing that fueled that newsworthy stock market boom, but not so good that it intends to raise interest rates above 0 percent any time soon, and only the economics geeks understand what any of that means and none of them seem agree about it. Better to talk about baseball and basketball and whatever else might be going on, we suppose, but we can’t shake a nervous feeling that something important is going unremarked.
Perhaps it’s also because no one seems to know what to do about it. President Barack Obama’s only big economic initiative since that pork-laden “stimulus” bill and all the other debt-increasing “investments” he and his Democratic majorities in Congress foisted on the country back in the bad old days has been his Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal with most of Asia, and the Republican congressional majorities that resulted from those earlier fiascos have been largely supportive, and it’s suddenly the remaining Democrats who are balking, and by now it’s more a story about our troubling politics than our troubled economy. David Brooks, The New York Times’ token “conservative” who fell in love with the perfectly pressed crease in Obama’s pants way back in ’08 and has never quite gotten over it, blames it all on what he calls the “Tea Party” faction of the Democratic party, which is wedded to labor unions and their protectionist preferences, and although he admits that Obama’s characteristic secretiveness prevents anyone without top-secret security clearance from knowing what the free-trade deal is he rightly notes that those same Democrats don’t seem to mind they have no idea about the wacky deal he’s making with the even wackier mullahs of Iran about their nuclear weapon ambitions. Our conservatism requires no quotation marks, and we’re staunchly Republican, and will grouse that the “Tea Party” analogy belies Brooks’ putative conservatism because the “Tea Party” was pretty much right about the growing debt and all the regulatory red-tape resulting from all those expensive “investments” and everything else, and we’re free-traders to our Adam Smith core, but even we are so spooked about Obama’s negotiating record and what might be hidden in that Trans-Pacific partnership that we’re willing to wait another two years or more for a better and more transparent agreement. There’s some fun in watching all the presidential hopefuls in both parties try to finesse this mess, even if the smart ones seem to understand they can simply ignore it, but otherwise we can well understand why people are following the divisional races in major league baseball and The Golden State Warrior’s long-awaited basketball championship.
Eventually everyone will be forced to pay some attention to the economy, certainly by November of ’16, and at that point it will be all about politics. The Republicans will argue that the numbers regarding jobs and household wealth and Gross Domestic Produce could have and should have been been much better, the Democrats will reply that those admittedly unimpressive numbers would have been so much worse without the president’s “investments” and resultant regulations and trillions of dollars of debt that everyone would have stopped going to work and buying groceries and falling for the latest advertised seductions and we’d all be rubbing sticks together in some cave, and that the same president’s secretiveness and lack of meaningful relationships with anyone else in government sank that Trans-Pacific Partnership that might have helped, and there’s no way way of knowing who the public will blame.
They’ll blame somebody, though, because there’s no getting around the end-of-the-month fact that economy isn’t that good. Even through the rose-colored glasses of the Federal Reserve Board the economy is expected to grow at at only 1.8 to 2 percent this year, barely enough to sustain those much-touted jobs number that haven’t quite kept up the arrival of new legal and illegal immigrants, another issue proving problematic for both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates, and on those rare occasions when people talk about the economy nobody seems to singing that happy days are here again. Whatever the economic numbers might be deep inside the business section around the next election day, we expect the Democratic nominee will be griping about the inequality of it all, which will resonate with a large resentful population of the country, and the Republican nominee will be talking about tax-cutting and de-regulating and unleashing the potential of the economy, which will resonate with the more hopeful portion of the electorate, nd the electoral numbers will decide the matter.
Until then, we’re as confused as anybody else. Zero percent interest rates don’t seem to provide any incentive for making the loans that could fuel an economic boom, and it isn’t any good for those poor old folks counting on interest-bearing retirement plans, but anything higher is likely to scare away investors in such uncertain and debt-laden and over-regulated times such as these, and that free-trade deal with a crucial foreign might or might not be a good idea, as only those with a top-secret security clearance would know, so we’ll anxiously await whatever happens. In the meantime we note that The Kansas City Royals are back on top of the American League’s Central Division and that The New York Yankees are within striking distance of the lead in the Eastern, and we’ve had a certain sympathy for The Golden State Warriors ever since they won their last title 40 years ago with that arrogant white boy Rick Barry as the star, so we’ll hope for the best.

— Bud Norman