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The Point of No Tax Return

President Donald Trump spent an early part of Sunday “tweeting,” as he does most mornings. He wished everyone a Happy Easter, which suited the occasion, and he boasted of a military build-up that is apparently somehow already underway, but mostly he seemed annoyed the previous day’s protests around the country demanding the release of his tax returns.
The first “tweet” once again recounted his “almost impossible” electoral college victory, then asked “Now Tax Returns are brought up again?” His second outburst suggested “Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday, adding that “Election is over!” Both were composed before Trump got around to wishing the country a Happy Easter, so together they suggest the protestors at least succeeded in rankling the president.
Many of the protests were indeed small, and the election is indeed over, but Trump should nonetheless get used to it being brought up again and again. Although he did win electoral college victory Trump lost the popular, many of those who voted against him don’t have to be paid to show up somewhere and wave a sign and chant slogans about it, and Trump’s capitalized Tax Return is too tempting an issue for them to drop it. The protestors allies in Congress and many of the media don’t intend to, and Trump will need better “tweets” to counter their arguments.
Campaign issues don’t end with the campaigns, as Trump should know after the decades he continued to make the same criticisms and conspiracy theories about every president since Ronald Reagan throughout their terms, and there’s no apparent reason this one should. Although Trump is not required by law to disclose his tax returns, with or with capitalization, there are valid reasons that for the past forty years every presidential nominee has done so and solid majorities of the public have come to expect it. Those reasons are all the more valid when a president retains a global empire business that is bound to be affected by what the federal government does over the next four years, as this one does, another break from a longstanding informal agreement that there are also valid reasons for, and which is also something that Trump’s critics can be expected to keep bringing up.
Worse yet, it’s hard to concoct a convincing argument for why Trump doesn’t release his tax returns. The sorts of Trump supporters who don’t need convincing will accept the stated reason that he’s under audit, even though that doesn’t prevent him from making his returns public, and shouldn’t put him in any sort of legal jeopardy, but eventually Trump will need to persuade some more skeptical sorts. His more stubborn apologists point out the educational records and other documents that Obama declined to release, and note that Democrats didn’t seem to mind that lack of transparency, but of course those supporters very much minded, and kept bringing it up throughout and now even after his term, and so did Trump himself, who “tweeted” repeatedly about it, so they also have to explain why things are now so different. For those of us who wanted to see Obama’s grades and Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and anything else we could get our hands on about any any office-holding Democrats, but also want to see Trump’s tax filings and anything else we can learn his or any other Republican politician’s potential conflicts of power, that argument is utterly unconvincing.
Although it will drift on and off the front pages, we expect the stories and and the protests will continue. All the stories about investigations underway into Russia’s role in the past campaign will make mention of it, and so will all the stories about Trump-owned businesses benefiting from some deregulation or tax shift or federal contracts that are bound to come up. There will be plenty of speculation, too, and Trump’s “tweets” and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer don’t seem likely to allay the resulting suspicions. The only way to end it is to just go ahead and release the damned things, the way Obama did with the birth certificate he was pestered about by certain people even long after his victorious election was over.
That would not only put the issue to rest and allow Trump to “tweet” about more important issues, but also quell some of that speculation about what those unseen returns might reveal about Russia or any possible conflicts of interest from that global business empire. Surely there’s nothing the least bit compromising in those documents, after all.

— Bud Norman

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And So It Begins

The presidency of Donald Trump got off to a predictably contentious start on Friday, and we expect that will continue for a while.
Trump commenced his administration with a characteristically pugnacious inauguration speech, and pretty much everything in it promised a lot of fussing and fighting and back-and-forth-“tweeting” over the next few years. He did give the obligatory shout out to the past presidents in attendance, and thanked President Barack Obama and his wife for their “gracious” and “magnificent” help during the transition, but he seemed to have all of them in mind when he immediately launched into the part about “For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the costs,” and “The establishment protected itself, but not the people.” He assured the country “That all changes — starting right here, and right now,” and although he explained that is because “this moment is your moment, it belongs to you” he seemed as always to regard the moment as being all about him. He described his election as “part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before,” and painted a very dark picture of what America was like before it came to the rescue.
America’s infrastructure “has fallen into disrepair and decay,” “the wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the world,” “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation,” and an education system “which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” He summed it all with the phrase “American Carnage,” which sounds like the title of a graphic novel soon to be made into a major motion picture, but again promised that it “stops right here and right now.”
We’ve been peddling our gloomy accounts of American decline since Trump was busy firing people on “The Apprentice,” and we’re not about to stop now, but even we thought Trump’s diagnosis a bit overwrought, and to the extent we glean them his prescriptions seemed likely to do more harm than good.
America’s infrastructure is always in need of repair, but that usually happens at the state and local level, and judging by all the orange cones and ditches being dug around here the country seems as busy with the task as always, and our old-fashioned Republican principles as just opposed to a pork-laden trillion dollar spending program as we were Obama was proposing one. The part about the prosperity of the American middle class being redistributed to the rest of the world suggests that Trump regards the global economy as a zero-sum game, with any gain in another country’s standard of living somehow being directly billed to the home of some Rust Belt opioid addict in a “Make America Great Again” ball cap, and Trump’s promise to “protect” us from such looting smacks of the protectionism that has always left all the world poorer. Some of those tombstone factories used to manufacture Kodak film and Betamax videocassette recorders and celluloid collars and other products that are no longer in demand, others were simply no longer any more viable than Trump Steaks or Trump University or Trump Mortgage or the Trump Taj Mahal casino and strip club or any of the other countless businesses that come and go in a competitive and creatively destructive economy, and we fear that any attempts to revive them will not prove fruitful. We’re more convinced than ever than America’s educational system is awful, but have an American president who writes a sentence about “our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge” does not make us any less pessimistic about it.
The foreign policy portion was all about “America First,” another pithy and movie-title phrase that sounds good, unless you were educated early enough to know about the last “America First” movement, which argued in the years leading up to World War II that an isolationist America would do just fine in world otherwise dominated by the worst sorts of totalitarianism. Ever since that proved tragically untenable there’s a bi-partisan consensus that international military alliances and economic cooperation between the more democratic and humane countries is needed to sustain peace and prosperity and ward off the ever present bad guys, but apparently that also ends right here and right now.
To our old-fashioned Republican and conservative ears it was probably the worst inaugural address ever, and we can only imagine how harsh it must have sounded to a Democrat and any other sort liberal. Some of them were literally rioting in the streets even as Trump delivered it, with the Starbucks shops seeming to get the usual worst of it, and many thousands more were already in the streets protesting more peacefully. By the next day the Washington Mall and its surrounding streets were filled with anti-Trump protestors, hundreds of thousands more took to the streets of many other American cities, and when you throw in a fair guesstimate of the turn-out in cities from Europe to South America to Australia there were more than a million of them. That’s a lot of angry opposition, far more than the usual newly-inaugurated president provokes, and it’s hard to imagine Trump either overwhelming them with his popularity or charming them into submission, so we expect that should last a while.
Trump had a pretty good turnout of his own, by the standards of the usual newly-inaugurated president, but of course he felt obliged to overstate that. His press secretary had a press conference that allowed no questions but instead merely castigated the assembled media for broadcasting their footing and publishing their photographs that sure did seem to suggest a smaller crowd than the one that assembled for Obama’s ’09 inauguration, and he huffily noted that there were no official numbers, as the Interior Department wisely bowed out out of the crowd-estimating business decades ago, and he went on to boast that Trump of course had the biggest numbers ever, and he flat-out lied about the ridership numbers on the District of Columbia’s subway and the security precautions that might have kept out some the people he insisted were there. When Trump spoke before a group of Central Intelligence Agency employees on Saturday he also groused about the media, and insisted that he could clearly see up to a million and a half people hanging on his every word, and we doubt that a group of CIA analysts bought a single word of it. Inauguration audiences are mostly drawn from D.C. and its surrounding counties, where Trump got tiny percentages of the vote and Obama was a landslide winner, and Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters surely had more pressing chores than traveling a long distance and coughing up the $800 a night for a stay at Trump’s hotel, and despite Trump’s apparent insecurities about such things size doesn’t really mean all that much in any case, so with all the fights yet to come it seemed hardly worth fighting.
Trump also took the occasion of his visit to the CIA to reiterate his belief in wars of pillage, wistfully remark that we might yet get another chance to appropriate Iraq’s oil reserves, and promised the spooks that “you’re gonna get so much backing, maybe you’re gonna say, ‘Please, don’t give us so much backing, Mr. President, please, we don’t need that much backing.” After “tweeting” that the intelligence community’s assessment of Russia’s meddling in the past election made him feel that he was living in Nazi Germany, Trump assured the audience that any impression he was not a big fan of the intelligence community was entirely due to that lying media, which allowed him to segue into the longer rant about the huge turnout for his inauguration.
All in all, we did not find it an encouraging start.

— Bud Norman

An Era of Bad Feelings

President Barack Obama met with President-elect Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday, and by all accounts it was quite cordial. Trump, who spent much of the past eight years arguing that Obama was ineligible to hold the office by virtue of his foreign birth until conceding just a few weeks ago that he wasn’t born outside the country after all, emerged with kinds words for the president and a promise to frequently seek his counsel. Obama, who spent most of the past several months arguing that Trump should be ineligible for the presidency for reasons of intelligence, temperament and character, promised to provide whatever help he could to make his successor a success.
Not everyone, though, was so civil. Riots have broken out in Oakland, California, and Portland, Oregon, protests of various size and degrees of civility are happening all across the country, there’s been a nationwide outbreak of graffiti and vandalism, and activists are promising that it will increase in the coming days. The late night comics and the big time columnists are grousing about the election, “not my president” is the hot new “hashtag,” and all sorts of people are expressing their dissatisfaction in all sorts of ways. The front lawn of a house next door to our neighborhood coffee shop has sprouted a hand-lettered “not my president” sign, which we noticed as we sat outside and sipped some java on a warm fall afternoon with a couple of seemingly shell-shocked old friends and third old friend who was relieved that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had lost but not noticeably happy about Trump winning.
This sort of thing happens every four years, of course, but in this crazy election year the feelings are palpably more intense and seem likely to linger far longer than usual. Several cities around the country had already endured a year of riots in response to police shootings of civilians, even during a presidential administration reflexively biased against the officers involved, and the “Black Lives Matter” movement that has prompted the rioting surely won’t be any less belligerent with an administration that has promised to be reflexively biased in favor of law enforcement. Various sorts of left-wing thugs were assaulting Trump’s rally-goers and firebombing Republican Party headquarters and spray-painting everything in sight even before he won, and the results of an election are not likely to placate them. That segment of the self-described progressive movement prone to shutting down bridges and disrupting downtown traffic and scaring the tourists away from the shopping districts found plenty to do even during the progressive administration they had all campaigned for, and we expect that an administration they campaigned against will keep them even busier. Some people look for excuses to engage in their hobby of civil disobedience, and they’ll no doubt find a constant supply of them in the coming years.
Should the anti-Trump movement reach anywhere near the level of violence and mayhem of the anti-Vietnam War protests of the ’60s we expect that the president will be eager to deliver some of that ’60s style law and order he talked about during the campaign, and like all arson sprees it will eventually burn itself out, but a more peaceable anger will continue to smolder. Votes are still being counted somewhere, for some reason, but as of this writing Clinton still has a slight lead in the popular vote totals, with well more than half of the electorate voting for someone other than Trump, and if you add in the large number of people who didn’t vote at all it’s a landslide number of Americans who didn’t vote for him, and of those who did vote for him we estimate that about half are like our kaffeeklatsch pal who did so only because he thought Clinton would be even worse, so that’s a lot of dissatisfied people. Given Trump’s proudly pugnacious style of dealing with criticism, we don’t anticipate another Era of Good Feelings.
One must admit, though, that Trump has been on his best behavior since the election was called in his favor. His victory speech was conspicuously lacking in any of the chest-thumping that followed every primary win, and even included some kind words for the opponent he had repeatedly promised to put behind bars. The remarks after meeting the president he had so long claimed was illegitimately elected were uncharacteristically gracious, and apparently he was even civil during a meeting with Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who was also the subject of angry “tweets” and veiled threats during the campaign. He did send his first “Tweet” as President-elect to complain “professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very Unfair!,” but at least he didn’t promise some sort of nuclear retaliation against Oakland and Portland. One must also admit that both Clinton and Obama have been uncharacteristically classy about what must surely be a bitter loss, and some of the chattering classes are also chipping in some begrudging bi-partisan best wishes.
That sort of thing happens every four years, however, and it never lasts for very long. After this crazy election  year it should dissipate more quickly than usual. Trump can’t stay gracious any longer than Clinton or Obama can keep classy, and the most hard-core fans on both sides can be a most ungraciousness and classless bunch, and we’re certain it’s going to make for an ugly four years. Those of us who can’t stand any of them will continue to add our sneers and snark, too, but we’ll try our best to propose something as an alternative, and promise that at least we won’t be rioting or setting anything on fire or otherwise delaying your drive home from work.

— Bud Norman

A Laugh-in at the Sit-In

A full 170 Democratic members of Congress staged a “sit-in” on the floor of the on the House of Representatives recently, and Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan’s forceful response included turning off the C-SPAN and pool coverage cameras that were witnessing the spectacle. We think he passed up a propaganda coup by doing so, as those Democrats looked damned silly sitting there on that carpeted floor in their fancy suits.
Some Democrats of a certain age might have found it rather nostalgic, and the Cable News Network’s report on the incident included a helpful link to a photo montage of all those well-remembered “sit-ins” that occurred back in the long civil rights and anti-Vietnam war protest days, but those scruffier young Democrats who “occupied” all sorts of more uncomfortable places during the short-lived and happily-forgotten “Occupy Wall Street” movement of a few years ago were probably unimpressed, and we suspect that the vast majority of the rest of the country also thought it all looked damned silly. Those well-clad and comfortably air-conditioned protestors claimed to “fight the powers that be,” borrowing a hackneyed hip-hop slogan coined by the Maoist “gangsta rappers” called Public Enemy, but such well-clad and comfortably air-conditioned members of Congress are by any definition among the powers that be, and as Democrats they are arguably among the most powerful of the powers that be, and their cause certainly had nothing to do with civil rights or any sort of anti-war sentiment.
The whole hubbub started after yet another sexually-conflicted Islamist nutcase shot up an Orlando, Florida, nightclub catering to homosexuals on its “Latin Night,” killing enough people to earn the current American record for a mass shooting, and the Democrats instinctively blamed it on the gun-loving and xenophobic and homophobic and otherwise phobic Christian mainstream of America society. There were the usual Democratic calls for draconian gun control measures, this time with an emphasis on denying gun sales to anyone on the federal government’s “no-fly list,” and when the congressional Republicans offered to do just that so long as those people who somehow found themselves on the “no-fly list” were entitled some sort of due process the Democrats voted down that radical idea and instead decided to sit and pout on the House floor until they got their way. They no doubt hoped this would somehow simultaneously enhance both their peacenik and tough-on-terror stances, but to anyone paying close attention they come off as a bunch well-clad and comfortably air-conditioned powers that be demanding more power yet.
The late and great Franz Kafka once wrote a dystopian novella titled “The Trial” that described some poor schmuck finding himself under the thumb of a totalitarian state for reasons that are never to explained to him, and the resulting phrase “Kafka-esque” aptly describes that “no-fly list.” If your neighbor has done something to irk you can easily retaliate by screwing up his next vacation with a an anonymous phone call to any number of federal agencies and reporting that there’s something fishy about him, and if those sit-in Democrats get their way he’ll have absolutely nothing to about and it won’t be able to buy a gun to protect himself from whatever other mischief you have in mind. There should certainly be some legal consideration of any allegations made against someone that would reasonably preclude their flying on an airline or owning a gun, so the proposed Republican compromise that some due process should be involved isn’t so unreasonable as to justify a “sit-in” on that carpeted and air-conditioned House floor.
Among the most prominent of the Democratic powers-that-be who was “sitting-in” on the House floor was Georgia Rep. John Conyers, who was also in on several of those well-remembered “sit-ins” of the of good old days and still enjoys a reputation as a hero of the civil rights movement, yet also once found himself on the “no-fly list,” along with the late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy and some Republican but otherwise non-threatening reporters, and maybe even you, if you’ve somehow inadvertently done something to irk a neighbor. Thus the former civil rights hero was sitting on a carpeted and air-conditioned floor demanding that his civil rights be revoked, ostensibly to prevent an Islamist terror threat he will not name and prefers to implicitly blame on Republicans and the rest of mainstream Christian America.
Meanwhile the impeccably anti-establishment presumptive Republican presidential nominee is so admirably resolute against Islamist terrorism and so worrisomely indifferent to due process that he’s promising to talk his new-found friends at the National Rifle Association out of their more  hard-line stance on the question, and should he be elected and become in charge of the Kafka-esque “no-fly list” we expect all those sitting-in Democrats will suddenly rediscover their past enthusiasm for due process and other essential civil liberties. In the meantime, they just looked damned silly.

— Bud Norman

The Lost Cause and the Ensuing Brawl

For those unflinching sorts who are willing to watch, the ongoing metaphorical train wreck that is American politics has been captured by both news cameras and the more ubiquitous cell phone cameras, and of course it’s all “gone viral.” One popular series shows one of the increasingly violent demonstrations that have lately beset the campaign rallies of Republican front-runner Donald J. Trump, another shows a somewhat more peaceable disruption by Trump’s supporters of more traditional campaign appearance by last ditch-rival Republican rival Texas Sen. Cruz, and neither are at all suitable for the flinching sorts.
The anti-Trump demonstrations are the usual anti-free-speech left-wing thuggery, familiar from countless campus protests and labor strikes and anti-free-trade anarchist sprees, but predictably exacerbated by Trump’s heightened rhetoric. At first the more disruptive agitators at his events were from the anti-free-speech and anti-law-enforcement “Black Lives Matter” movement that had also disrupted the Democratic campaigns of former Secretary of State and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, with the occasional disrupters coming from the self-described socialist Sanders’ supporters, while Clinton’s sizable number of supporters were just as disdainful but apparently too old for such shenanigans, but with Trump offering from the podium to pay any legal costs to supporters who expressed his desire to “punch them in the face” or “rough them up” it was mostly a give-and-take affair.
Now the race has moved on to California, which for the first time in anybody’s living memory has some say in who the major party’s presidential nominees will be, and the riotous protestors are overwhelmingly Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who seem to be both more riotous and overwhelmingly numerous than even Trump’s supporters. They forced Trump to sneak into one event through a back door, which his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters regarded as a brilliantly Dunkirk-like maneuver, while his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters dared a far more difficult gauntlet to get in and cheer. Those same self-defeating protestors also invited The Drudge Report and other widely-read media to show the picture of the little nino holding a sign that said “Make America Mexico Again,” and play up how La Raza and other openly revanchist and racialist movements are opposed to Trump’s shifting anti-immigration stands and consistently harsh rhetoric about it, which makes it almost certain at this point that what’s left of California’s Republicans will hand Trump the Republican nomination. Given that the Democrats seem likely to nominate Clinton, a guest at Trump’s third wedding and the only person in American as widely loathed as him, they might even have handed him the presidency.
Meanwhile, back in Marion, Indiana, Cruz was out there on a more old-fashioned campaign trail meeting with the mostly old-fashionably peaceable folks. There were a couple of Trump supporters heckling Cruz, and he went over to have a by-now widely disseminated conversation with them. The ensuing debate is a more convincing rout than anything those self-defeating Mexicans and Mexican-Americans could hope for. Asked what he liked about Trump the supporter said “everything,” and when pressed for details he predictably cited Trump’s promise to “build a wall” to keep out all those undeniably revanchist Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in California and elsewhere, and when Cruz cited all the reasons to doubt that Trump actually meant any of it the fellow quickly changed subjects. The sunglass-wearing and obviously angry young man and his angry young cohorts charged Cruz with being Canadian, which every election board questioned on the matter has scoffed at and Cruz didn’t bother refuting, and charged him with being “Lyin’ Ted” without coming with any example of how he’d lied, and were so flummoxed by Cruz’ example of how Trump was as usual lying when he accused Cruz of lying about Mike Tyson was in indisputable fact a convicted-in-Indiana-by-a-jury-of-his-peers rapist, they wound up challenging him on the Second Amendment. If these as idiotic-as-any-Mexican-or-Mexican-Americans-or-“Black-Lives-Matter” type white working class idiots had bothered to pay the least bit attention to politics before they showed up protesting at a political event they would have learned that Cruz had defended successfully defended their Second American rights before the Supreme Court when Trump was praising Bill Clinton’s efforts to have their “assault rifles” banned, and wouldn’t have been surprised to learn from Cruz about Trump’s long and legally proved history of hiring illegal aliens and shipping jobs overseas and funding all the politicians that these idiotic Trump supporters claimed to have heard of and loathe, or otherwise have been so embarrassed they refused to give their names to gawking press corps.
Which at this point seems to make no difference, although even such Free State Kansas Republicans as ourselves have to admire the chivalrous “Lost Cause” courage of Cruz’s last stand there in Marion.. Such matters of fact and logic as civility as Cruz was so anachronistically insisting on, after eight years of the “Hope and Change” that Obama urged his supporters to get in people’s faces about and bring a gun to the inevitable fight that would result, are no longer of any consequence. By now it’s all about the anger on both sides, which both seem quite cocksure about their positions, and it seems we’ll be looking for the most factual and logical and civil protest vote. In any case, we want no part of the ensuing brawl.

— Bud Norman

Giving Thanks for the Holiday Pause

Our heartfelt thanks have been duly given, and we’re slowly coming out of our annual tryptophan coma, so it’s back to our usual business of going on about the sorry state of the world. There’s usually not much in the news during the long Thanksgiving weekend except the easily avoidable fisticuffs over Black Friday bargains, which is another thing to be thankful for, but we expect that by Monday the news will be back in force and we want to be braced.
Several intriguing stories have been temporarily replaced with holiday programming but are bound to be back on the air before all the Christmas specials start up. There’s that 13-month-old video of a fatal and highly suspicious shooting of a black man by police in Chicago, and the shootings at a Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis, and the spreading epidemic of protests at American universities over far less macro-aggressive racial matters, and a gnawing suspicion that it’s going to be a long, hot winter. Such unanticipated problems of the post-racial era will likely complicate the on-going debates about the refugees from the Syrian war and the broader issue of unfettered immigration, which will be going on through New Year’s and into the coming primaries.
There’s always a chance those obligatory annual Black Friday estimates will be disappointing, and that the Chinese economy will further suffer as a result, and that the long-feared rate hikes by the Federal Reserve will spook the markets that have so long relied on the intoxicating sweetness of quantitative easing, and that the economy will once again be a pressing issue. The Syrian civil war that’s fueling the aforementioned refugee crisis, as well as a recent spate of terror attacks around the world, will surely not go unnoticed even in a holiday news season. There’s also the big climate change conference coming up in Paris, which the President is touting as a huge blow against the terrorists, unless they manage to blow it up, in which case they would still be a less urgent threat than climate change, but barring any such mishaps we can’t see that story having any legs.
All of which will continue to affect those primaries, which are another thing to grouse about. In almost every cast those suspicious police shootings of black men seem to happen in Democrat-controlled cities, and in the case of that-suppressed-for-13-months-video it happened in a community that was once personally organized by the President himself and is now run by his former Chief of Staff, but we expect that all the Democratic candidates will try to out-do one another in their indignation about the Republicans and their weird insistence on the need for law enforcement and a right to self-defense. The Syrian stuff will make the Democrats all the more insistent in their belief that climate change really is the biggest threat America faces, which polls about as well as the gun-grabbing rhetoric, and the ramped-up share-the-wealth talk isn’t likely to sway a public that can’t help noticing how the wealth seems to be shrinking. Meanwhile the Republicans seem intent on picking whichever candidate can muster the greatest bluster about it all, and it’s hard to hold on to tryptophan-induced sense of serene gratitude.
There’s something to that Thanksgiving insight, though, and we’ll try our best to bitterly cling to it through the coming news. We hope you’ll let that holiday happiness linger at least through the weekend, too, although we can’t promise we’ll have any good news come in the inevitable Monday.

— Bud Norman

The Timelessness of Tom Wolfe

Although we are far too old for hero worship, and have suffered far too many disappointments to place much faith in even the most promising public figures, we still regard Tom Wolfe with pretty much the same awestruck reverence as when we first encountered his writing in our more starry-eyed youth. The Wichita Public Library’s copy of his anthology of the “new journalism,” followed by all of his works in the genre, led directly to our newspaper career, and his Atlantic Monthly essay that summed up everything we hated about contemporary American fiction and called for a more robust and reportorial and realistic style, and then of course each of his subsequent masterpiece novels, inspired our own modest literary efforts, but after more than 40 years of devout fandom he somehow seems to get even better with each passing headline.
There’s almost a sense of deja vu in all the stories that are coming out of academia and the rest of post-racial America these days. All the talk of a “culture of rape” on the American campus is redolent of Wolfe’s scathing essay on “Hooking Up,” from way back at the turn of the second millennium, as well as his novelistic treatment of same subject in “I Am Charlotte Simmons,” published in 2004, and both are still essential to understanding the current hysteria. Countless racial contretemps, right up to the “Black Lives Matter” movement of the moment, were foretold in “Bonfire of the Vanities.” All those celebrities with reputations for cutting-edge political opinions probably don’t realize they were already thoroughly satirized way back in 1970 as “Radical Chic,” a Wolfe coinage that is still often and effectively deployed, and reading about a recent event that occurred in the Dartmouth University library reminded us of the companion report “Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers,” a phrase that might soon be back in usage.
In case you’re not up on the latest campus capers, last week a large group of black Dartmouth students and some radically chic white compatriots marched through the library shouting obscenities and threats and sometimes spitting at or pushing the students who were attempting to study there. So far as we can tell their grievance is that Dartmouth has failed to provide a “safe space” for black students and their radically chic white compatriots, and no one well versed in Wolfe’s work will be surprised to learn that the school’s Vice Provost of Student Affairs has described their actions as “a wonderful, beautiful thing.” That Vice Provost of Student Affairs is a “flak catcher,” as Wolfe described the poverty program bureaucrats of the late ’60s, and he had been thoroughly “Mau-Maued,” as Wolfe described the time-honored technique of black protesters using their intimidating blackness to win concession from the supposedly all-powerful but in fact quite cowed The Man, and we’ll forgive the now-octogenarian Wolfe if he decides he has nothing more to say on the matter.
Still, we’d love to see his sly style and slick punctuations and perfectly timed capitalizations take on the subtle nuances of the Dartmouth library invasion. How he could relish that the Mau-Maus are Ivy Leaguers, with all the Ivy League privilege that entails, and that the racist institution they rail against is dominated by people who consider themselves the most exquisitely non-racist people in the whole wide world, right down to their tearful and radically chic confessions of “white privilege,” which at least awards them some sort of status as the better sort of white people, with such status being another recurring theme of Wolfe’s take on American culture, so it would make for a great essay. As avid students of his work we guess he’d also be amused by the video that shows the would-be students who were attempting to study during the protest looking more bored than threatened, seemingly unworried that even the most Mau-Mau sorts of Ivy Leaguers and their most radically chic white compatriots constituted a physical threat. Those more studious Ivy Leaguers who were in the library probably don’t have the benefit of our more vibrantly diverse public school experience, which did little for our understanding of higher mathematics or foreign languages but did much to teach us when to get the hell out of a tense racial situation, but even they seemed unimpressed. That the administration of one of America’s most prestigious universities immediately acquiesced to an assault on its library is by now a hackneyed ending.
The same tactic of invading by public spaces and harassing the unfortunate folks who happen to be there has also by been deployed outside of academia by “Black Lives Matter” activists, usually at fashionable eating places frequented by young white hipsters. One needn’t have the keen Wolfe eye to note that this hardly seems likely to dispel any notions that even the most racist white people have about blacks, much less the sorts of young hipsters who dine at fashionable eateries, or the more studious sorts of Dartmouth students who intended to be at the library instead of at a protest, and that it’s such delightful fodder for the right sort of writer.
Far be it from us to presume what Wolfe might notice, but we hope he’d allude to the fact that the protestors aren’t invading those Twin Peaks breastaurants where the biker gangs congregate, or any of several south side bars we can think of here in Wichita, or any of other decidedly unsafe spaces where more genuinely racist people can presumably been found. Wolfe also foretold the rise of stock car racing and its bootlegging roots and celebrated the redneck culture that gave it birth, and his Charlotte Simmons’ only hope against the craven academy was her country upbringing, and he sensed a certain strain of more pugnacious white America that would sooner or later confront the Ivy League Mau-Maus. The outcome remains to be seen, and we hope Wolfe gets to weigh in.

Tom Wolfe is about the same age as our beloved Dad, who is the only other man we regard with an awestruck reverence that is even greater than in our starry-eyed youth, and who has contentedly slowed down a bit lately, so we can’t blame Wolfe if he sets back in some high-end brand-name divan and in some swank apartment in a fashionable art of New York City and sips some status symbol wine in his white suit with his slyly but unapologetically white self and takes some same satisfaction in knowing that he got the important things right. We’ll try to keep up Wolfe’s call to literary arms, but it will be hard to surpass the master, and impossible to keep up with events.

— Bud Norman

The Students are Revolting

The latest of wave of student protests have claimed a couple of high-profile scalps at the University of Missouri and Yale University, which will likely encourage similar efforts elsewhere. By the time it’s all over, we expect, even the most exceedingly progressive and exquisitely politically correct professors and administrators are likely to be targets of the mob they’ve created.
Both of the most recent brouhahas have been beyond satire, as usual. At MU — we’ll continue to call it by its old Big 8 and Big XII acronym, even though the cowardly turncoats bolted for the Southeastern Conference some years ago — it all started with a claim by the president of the Missouri Students Association that someone in a pickup shouted a racial slur at him, then a claim by a group called The Legion of Black Collegians that another man who walked by their gathering also taunted them with racial slurs, which led to a general conclusion that the campus was suddenly a hotbed of racial slurring. All of which seems highly suspicious. Our experience of the contemporary college campus, even the ones in Missouri, is that racial slurs are now the only curse words that students and their professors don’t routinely employ. Although we don’t doubt that some redneck might have passed through and shouted something rude from his pickup truck, that hardly suggests “systemic racism” at a university where the president of the Students Association is apparently black. We also think it would take a most unusually badass white boy to taunt an entire Legion of Black Collegians with even the mildest of racial slurs and get away with it.
Still, the university’s chancellor took everyone at their word and responded with an announcement of mandatory online “diversity training” for all faculty, staff, and students, who were presumably previously unaware that racial slurs are now frowned upon in polite society. In recent years this would have satisfied the mob, but these days they’re emboldened to ask for more. A group calling itself Concerned Student 1950, with the number harkening back 65 years to when black students were first admitted to MU, quickly held a protest that blocked the car of the Missouri University System’s president during the homecoming parade, and later issued a list of demands that included the president’s formal apology followed by his resignation, “mandatory racial awareness and inclusion curriculum” to be “controlled by a board of color,” increasing black faculty and staff to a ten percent quota, and, more sensibly, “An increase in funding to hire more mental health professionals for the MU Counseling Center, particularly those of color.” A couple of days a later a swastika of smeared feces was found on a bathroom wall in an MU dormitory, which might or might not have been the work of some unhygienic racist, given the recent spate of hoax hate crimes perpetrated at colleges where students are all too eager to feed a narrative of “systemic racism,” then there was the inevitable hunger strike by a student who would rather die than live in a world where the stray redneck in a pickup truck shouted racial slurs, and when the administration refused to grant any of the previous demands the Concerned Student 1950 made even more extravagant demands, including the outgoing UMS president’s public admission of his “white privilege” and his culpability for a protestor allegedly being hit while blocking the president’s car during the homecoming parade, and his failure to prevent the police from intervening in the protest, as well as his failure to get out of the car and have a nice apologetic chat with the mob.
Even in this age the UMS president and the university’s chancellor might have weathered the storm, but then a large number of the school’s football players threatened to sit out an upcoming game against Brigham Young University if the demands were not met. In the Big XII or the SEC or any big-time football conference this is when a campus controversy becomes serious, even if Missouri’s football team is faring no better in the SEC than it did back in the Big XII days, and with a reported $1 million in gate receipts and television revenues on the line the president agreed to step down. Both seem to have spared themselves the indignity of the demanded groveling apology for their pallor, so it remains to be seen if their sacrifice will satisfy the mob and those all-important football players, but we anticipate that even greater demands will soon be made. Once the legions of black collegiate athletes realize their bargaining power, the current protest movement could even exceed its ’60s and ’70s predecessors in destructiveness.
As befits its more elite Ivy League status, Yale’s controversy is even more ridiculous. In Yale’s case there were no alleged racial slurs or swastikas smeared in feces, but rather a worry that some student or another might don an offensive Halloween costume. This dire prospect prompted the university to issue some official warnings, which in turn prompted an atypically sensible member of the Yale faculty to compose a widely-disseminated e-mail to the students of Yale’s aptly named Silliman College, with the endearingly old-fashioned salutation “Dear Sillimanders,” which duly noted her credentials as a lecturer on early childhood development as well as her “concerns about cultural and personal representation, and other challenges to our lived experience in a plural community,” then advised students to lighten up and respond to any offense by either ignoring it or politely raising an objection, put in a plea for free expression, reasonably asked “Whose business is it to control the forms of costumes of young people?,” and humbly concluded “It’s not mine, I know that.” Such raw hate speech of course offended the refined sensibilities of Yale’s young charges, who responded with attacks on the author’s husband, who happens to be the “Master” of Silliman College, a title that had already caused some recent controversy at the university, and who has apparently failed to protect his easily-offended students from everything that might offend them.
A fascinating video posted on the essential YouTube site shows the “Master” being surrounded by a group of mostly black students at his college, which we hesitate to describe as a mob, while trying to get to his office, with one young woman shrieking curse words at him, telling him to “be quiet” when he tries to respond, contending that his wife’s e-mail requires that he quit his job, and shrieking that “This is not about a creating an intellectual space,” apparently without any intended irony. She’s presumably a student at Yale, which somehow retains a reputation as prestigious university, and we note that she’s rather attractive even when shrieking, so if she succeeds in mau-mauing the university to grant her a degree she’ll forever have a job-seeking advantage over any white male who was graduated from a more rigorous but less prestigious land-grant cow college, but apparently the Ivy League is somehow so rife with racist rednecks that she retains her victim status. This followed allegations that one of Yale’s fraternities had denied Elis of Color admission to one of their parties, we will concede, but even if that’s true we’re not sure why it’s problematic for progressives that the frat boys chose to sexually exploit only white women in their “culture of rape.”
In one of those coincidences that no satirist could ever get away with, the potentially offensive Halloween costume controversy occurred right around the time when then the university’s William F. Buckley Program was hosting its fifth annual conference on “The Future of Free Speech.” The eponymous Buckley launched his distinguished career as a conservative author with “Man and God at Yale,” which presciently described what would happen after the university abandoned its Christian roots in favor of a secular humanist approach to education during his years at the school, and free speech necessarily entails hate speech, so the conference was indignantly protested from the outset, buttwhen one of the symposiasts opined that people on campus were responding to the Halloween costume controversy as if the e-mail author “had burned down an Indian village,” which the mob took it as a callous joke about the genocide that he no doubt secretly desired. Protestors were hauled off by the ample security guards, panelists were spat upon, a “hashtag” campaign that “genocideisnotajoke” was quickly launched, and a group that we won’t hesitate to call a mob attempted to stop the free speech taking place.
We’re reminded of the student protests of our long ago youth, but we somehow recall that had something to do with a so-called “Free Speech Movement” launched at the University of California-Berkley, and that there was lots of talk of questioning authority and doing your own thing and dressing however the hell you wanted to dress even on Halloween, and as ridiculous as it was it made more sense the current “Revolt of the Coddled.” The more seasoned fellows over at the Powerlineblog site reminded us that back then there were still university administrators such as former San Francisco State University president S.I. Hayakawa, who defied black militant’s demands for open admissions and autonomous black studies departments and other efforts to undermine his institution’s mission, and was backed up by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, and who later switched his party affiliation to Republican and won a noteworthy term as a United States Senator. Since then all those “free speech” and “question authority” and “do your own thing” students have taken over the faculties and administrations of America’s colleges and universities, and it’s a safe bet they’ll go along with whatever speech codes and strictly enforced regulations and busybody limits on personal autonomy and Halloween costume rules their unruly students might insist on.
Those former questioners of authority who now find themselves in positions of academic authority would do well to consider the fate of their colleagues at Yale and MU. The beleaguered bureaucrats of those schools almost certainly thought themselves the very model of a modern academic, with a proper enthusiasm for mandatory online diversity  training and a considered concern for the cultural and personal representation and a willingness to have curses shrieked at them by coddled yet hysterical students, yet they all found themselves targeted by the mob. The protestors have even turned on the press, and  threatened to call the hated cops on them, which suggests they aren’t nearly so media-savvy as their ’60s and ’70s predecessors, so they’re likely to turn on anyone insufficiently enthusiastic about their brave new world. We don’t know if they still bother to teach about the French Revolution and the ensuing Reign of Terror at America’s universities these days, what with all the dead white males involved, but the rest of academia might want to bone up on the fate of Robespierre.

— Bud Norman

The City and the ’70s

The headline at the Drudge Report shouted “Tensions in NYC like ’70s,” and we shuddered at the thought. We well remember what New York City was like during that dismal decade, and had hoped it would never again get so bad.
Those too young to recall the urban nightmare need only watch the movies of the era, now running on late night television as cautionary tales. In “The Out of Towners” Jack Lemmon is mugged, kidnapped, beset by mass transit and sanitation strikes, nearly killed by a manhole explosion, and attacked by protestors outside a United Nations embassy, and that’s a light Neil Simon comedy to start off the decade. “Panic in Needle Park,” Fort Apache: The Bronx,” “Death Wish,” “The French Connection,” the gunning gag about Central Park muggings in “Where’s Poppa,” and of course “Taxi Driver,” with its memorable lines about a hard rain washing all the scum off the streets and its blood-splattered climax, are all more realistic accounts. “The Warriors” and “Escape From New York” belong to the decade’s vast genre of dystopian futurist movies, by they’re not far off the mark. The era is still fondly recalled by the coke-addled denizens of Studio 54 and the artsier sorts who thought all the graffiti-covered and trash-strewn mayhem was somehow invigorating, but those who had to make their way to work and back home to an exorbitantly-priced have no such nostalgia.
We still recall a telephone conversation during the late ’70s with a college chum who had moved to the big city. Expecting to be regaled Runyon-esque tales of Gotham, we were surprised to hear him describe an urban nightmare more redolent Heironymous Bosch. Our friend was a small town Kansas boy, but he was also a pony-tailed hippie and a liberal, and he frankly confessed that he had no idea how the time might go about saving itself. Taxes were already so sky-high that any further increases would only drive more taxpayers away thus result in even less revenue, he conceded, and social services were generous enough to lure all sorts of troublesome characters to the streets, and the criminals were being treated with as much sensitivity as even America’s most progressive city could muster, so our friend was stumped. The best advice he could offer was to not let our own hometown get in such bad shape.
Not long after that the city was so short on ideas that it elected Rudy Giuliani as Mayor, and he famously cut taxes, but new restrictions on social services, and started enforcing order on the streets. Although counter-intuitive to New Yorkers, the program put the city’s finances in good enough order to fund basic services, the economy improved enough to provide jobs for former welfare cases, and the crime rate fell so dramatically that tourists were tempted to take walk through Times Square or Central Park. It worked so well, in fact, that New Yorkers took the good times for granted and assumed it was safe to return to the city’s old ways of doing things.
Higher taxes on the richest workers who have largely supported the city, more free stuff for the ones who aren’t working at all, and more sensitivity toward the criminal class were the platform that got Mayor Bill de Blasio elected. When several of his officers were involved in a fatal encounter with an unarmed man who was illegally selling cigarettes and was unwilling to be arrested for it, he didn’t call for an investigation of the questionable methods that caused the death, or ask for the city’s respect for a grand jury that declined to press charges, or question the city’s tobacco policies that created the black market the man was dealing in, but rather spoke of how his biracial son was endangered by the city’s police and egged on the protests that chanted for the murder of police. The chanters got their wish on Saturday, when two New York City police officers were gunned down by a man who had proclaimed his motive of revenge on the internet, and already the headlines liken the tension to the ’70s.
The cops in New York have no desire to return to that violent decade, and we hope that the rest of the city is similarly disinclined. People seem to have to relearn the lessons of the past from time to time, however, even when those lessons are playing on the late night movies.

— Bud Norman

Playing the Impeachment Game

Reports indicate that President Barack Obama is planning to issue executive orders that will effectively grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens, and there is much speculation that he will do so with the intention of provoking impeachment charges. The notion is so outrageous, so far removed every standard of presidential behavior that at this improbable moment in American history it seems all too plausible.

The speculation is predictably coming from outraged Republican congressmen, who can be counted on to find such executive orders so highly provocative that it appears Obama “is begging to be impeached,” but is also being fueled by Democrats both inside and outside the administration. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was accusing the Republicans of secretly planning impeachment even before the reports of an executive-ordered amnesty surfaced, a senior advisor to the president acknowledges that the move “will certainly up the likelihood that (Republicans) would contemplate impeachment at some point,” and the party’s allies in the media are already salivating over the prospect, and the fund-raising letters to the true Democratic believers are already exploiting the issue. Presidents don’t usually beg to be impeached, but this one might once again prove an exception to the usual rules.

One can easily imagine the theory that might have been devised by the political minds within the White House, insulated by layers of security and the comforting blanket of the mainstream news coverage, about how it all might work. The story, which will be respectfully repeated at the top of every evening network newscasts often enough to make it sound believable, is that the racist and xenophobic rednecks of the Republican party so hate our brown-skinned brethren that they refused to act according the president’s wishes and he was therefor forced against every instinct of his adjunct professor of constitutional law’s soul to boldly act alone. With sets designed by the same guy that did Madonna’s tour and the soundtrack music by Beyonce the production will a huge hit with the public, the necessary number of Democrats will hold firm no matter what and the president will be acquitted by the Senate, and the Republicans will suffer the same drubbing in the mid-terms that followed their failed attempt to remove President Bill Clinton from office. At the very least it will distract all attention from the sluggish economy and proliferation of part-time jobs and Obamacare’s latest troubles and the fighting in Gaza and Ukraine and Libya and Syria and the South China Sea and the nuclear weapons program in Iran and the scandals at the VA and the IRS and the NSA and the rest of the alphabet soup and everything else that currently has everyone expecting the Democrats will suffer a drubbing in the mid-term elections.
At the most it could even rescue Obama’s presidency from its current unfavorable standing and restore him to his former heroic status, much as President Andrew Johnson’s little-noted presidency is on occasion fondly recalled for his successful defiance of another impeachment attempt. In Johnson’s case the radical Republicans wanted him to impose a harsher Reconstruction on the defeated Confederate states, and Obama would have surely been among their number if he’d been around at the time, but at this point he’ll probably take whatever favorable historical analogy he can get. The inevitable failure of any attempt to remove Obama from office will also leave him free to flout whatever constitutional limitations on his office he might choose, and by the time the courts get around to imposing whatever restrictions they can get past the Obama appointees he’ll be safely ensconced poolside at his fabulous California mansion and awaiting the glowing the reviews on the memoir that earned him a $20 million advance.
It’s so crazy it might just work, but we see risks that the domestic policy advisor from La Raza might not have included in the briefings. While an impeachment trial would certainly draw almost all attention away from all those other pesky issues that are pulling down the president’s poll numbers, it would also shine a glaring spotlight on immigration policies that are every bit as unpopular. Public opinion polling shows that most Americans have no desire to grant amnesty to the millions of immigrants who have illegally flooded an already tight labor market and strained schools and social service agencies, and even in such allegedly liberal areas as Massachusetts there are large and angry protests springing up wherever the recent influx of illegal minors is being shipped. Obama’s reportedly imminent executive orders would not only be defying Congress, which is always a risk-free political proposition, they would also be defying public opinion, which is always a rash move no matter how the media support.
The impeachment ploy depends on the missteps of the Republicans, which of course increases its odds of success. Thus far the Republican leadership has declined to take the bait, and although we’re no fans of the Republican leadership we think that for the moment this is the wisest course. Any noise about impeachment prior to the election will only distract from issues more favorable to the Republicans, will energize a Democratic base that is currently dispirited, won’t have any hope of a favorable outcome so long as the Democrats retain an unquestioningly loyal majority in the Senate, and even if a miracle were to occur the most favorable outcome would be President Joe Biden. The public outrage that is sure to follow the president’s amnesty orders could give the Republicans solid majorities in both houses of Congress, although not enough in the Senate to win an impeachment verdict without a few very scared red-state Democrats, but until then talk of impeachment is fanciful.
It might well be necessary, though, if the executive orders are far-reaching as they’re described and the most obvious implications of the Internal Revenue Service scandal are proved no matter how fortuitous the computer problems turn out to be, but that tricky question will be best addressed after a successful mid-term election.

— Bud Norman