Hong Kong and the Rest of Us

The images from Hong Kong over the weekend were heart-warming and awe-inspiring, with hundreds of thousands of people taking to streets and demanding freedom and democracy in defiance of the Chinese government’s brutal authoritarian crackdown. There’s hope that it’s reaching a critical mass that even the worst of the Chinese dictatorship can dish can’t resist, and that the people of the remarkable island city of Hong Kong will get the freedom they and democracy that all people of the earth deserve.
There’s also some faint hope that the movement will spread through the rest of authoritarian China, and perhaps even around the globe, but for the moment free and democratic America doesn’t seem to be playing its usual role in nudging it along.
President Donald Trump is waging a mutually destructive trade war with China over its undeniably unfair trading practices, but he still boasts of his close friendship with Chinese dictator Xi Jinping and doesn’t seem to care much about how his good buddy handles his pesky domestic protesters. In a series of “tweets” the president “tweeted” about how he was wreaking great damage on the Chinese economy, but late “tweeted’ that “I know President Xi of China very well. He is a great leader who very much has the respect of his people. He is also a good man in a ‘tough business.” I have ZERO doubt that if President Xi wants to quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem, he can do it. Personal meeting?”
Trump later clarified by “tweet” that he didn’t mean a personal meeting between himself and Xi, but rather a personal meeting between Xi and the hundreds of thousands of protestors flooding the streets of Hong Kong. We can’t imagine how those negotiations would turn out, nor can we imagine what Trump would consider a humane solution. In 1989 there was a mass demonstration on Tiananmen Square that threatened to bring freedom and democracy to China and the Chinese dictatorship squashed it with brutal force, and in a 1990 interview with Playboy Magazine Trump said “When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it, then they were vicious, then they were horrible, but then they put it down with the power of strength. That shows you the power of strength.” When asked about it in a 2016 Republican primary debate, Trump insisted he wasn’t endorsing China’s response but clumsily explained, “I said that it was a strong, powerful government that put it down with strength. And then they kept down the riot.
Trump used to wax nostalgic at his campaign rallies about how protestors would have been taken out stretchers, and he’s winked at or urged on on similarly rough responses to protests in Turkey, the Philippines, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and of course Russia. Those brave souls taking to the streets of Hong Kong clearly cannot count on Trump’s support, and at this point we’d advise anyone thinking of taking to the streets against to be brave but cautious.
Meanwhile, we also notice that none of those damned Democrats running for president seem to care much about those brave souls on the streets of Hong Kong, or any of the rest of the yearning-to-be-free world. Thus far the Democratic primary debates have been mostly about free this and free that for everyone in America, along with the usual promises made to various classes and races and sexual orientations within our borders, and somehow foreign policy never seems to come up. It might seem a missed opportunity for the Democrats, given what a mess Trump has made of foreign policy, but all of them seem to have the same Democratic instincts for protectionist trade policies and the same aversion to meddling in the world’s affairs on behalf of freedom and democracy.
Which seems to be where the rest of America’s at these days, in its time of relative economic prosperity and severe self-doubt. The once-iconic Democratic President John Kennedy vowed at his inauguration that America “shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any fried, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty,” but the Democrats jumped ship on that when the Vietnam War went sour and haven’t gotten back on since. The once-iconic President Ronald Reagan ultimately won the Cold War with similarly tough anti-Soviet rhetoric and no bullets fired, despite cutting off authoritarian allies in the Philippines and elsewhere, but these days most of the Republicans remember him as the guy who have gave amnesty to a bunch of Mexicans, and Republicans seem to have little regard for the people bravely pouring into the dangerous streets of Hong Kong.
By the vagaries of history China gave Great Britain a 99-year lease on Hong Kong after Britain got the best of a war over tea and opium, and despite Britain’s reputation for harsh colonial rule it granted the island city an unprecedented freedom and democracy, and the enterprising people of Hong Kong made it a very profitable enterprise even at Britain’s reasonable tax rates. When the lease ran out in 1997 Britain honored its deal, and the Chinese were at first willing to take its fair share of the profits from the roaring Hong Kong enterprise, but since then they’ve been cracking down on all that freedom and democracy the Hong Kong protestors had become accosted to over 99 years.
For obvious reasons we’re not running for president on either party’s ticket, but if we were there seems to be an opening here. America’s engagement in the rest of the world has always a messy business, to be sure, but under Republican and Democratic administrations America’s disengagement has always proved worse. In the short term standing up for Hong Kong’s freedom-loving and democratic protestors might not help Trump negotiate a trade war peace with his buddy Xi, but in the long run a free and democratic Chinese government is more likely to arrive at a mutually beneficial trade deal. Some Democrat might yet make a bold stand on behalf of the Hong Kong protestors, but he or she won’t want to negotiate with a more capitalist and formidable China anymore than Trump does.
Still, we hold out hope for the best. Freedom and democracy are resilient ideas, both here and abroad.

Youthful Idealism and Its Inevitable Woes

At the risk of sounding even older and more cynical than we are, which is admittedly rather old and cynical, we must say we don’t care much for youthful idealism. In fact, we’ve long regarded youthful idealism as one of history’s most destructive forces.
This has been our firmly held opinion since back in our high school days, when we couldn’t help but notice what a poorly educated lot our classmates were, and we continued to think so as we watched high school students here in Wichita and around the country staging walk-out protests on Wednesday against the country’s ongoing epidemic of mass shootings.
Not that we’re at all in favor of mass shootings, of course, and we can well understand why high school students would be especially anxious and opinionated about this peculiarly American problem. Nor do we disagree with more thorough background checks for gun purchases and a ban on “bump stocks” and certain other proposals the protest movement seems to be advocating. In any case, we steadfastly uphold the right of even the most ill-educated youngsters to express their opinions in a public forum.
America’s mass shooting problem is damned complicated, however, and won’t likely be solved by a high school level of analysis. Many of the students involved in the protests seem to favor a complete ban on private gun ownership, which is at least as futile as a ban on abortion or marijuana or illegal immigration or any other number pf bans they would instinctively reject. Others are merely advocating a ban on the semi-automatic rifles they imprecisely call “assault weapons,” which is somewhat less futile but still a pretty damned complicated matter with some valid if subtle arguments on the other side. Even the most reasonable demands about background checks and bump stocks and such are couched in youthfully idealist language that tends to demonize law-abiding gun owners and their constitutional rights.
Constitutional rights have survived countless challenges from youthful idealism, though, and we expect that trend to continue. The current children’s crusade is getting a lot of supportive press, and some of the high schoolers from the latest shot-up high school are so very well-spoken and telegenically sympathetic that the right-wing conspiracy theorists are plausibly theorizing they’re from central casting, and some big corporations have already stopping selling so-called “assault weapons” and offering discounts to members of the demonized National Rifle Association, but it will be hard to sustain.
The kids are competing for column inches and air time with the even more telegenic movie star babes protesting sexual harassment, that “Black Lives Matter” thing still lingers, all of the letters in the “LGBTQ” coalition continue to press their respective grievances, not to mention all the rest of the left’s constant carping about President Donald Trump. They all have their very valid arguments, of course, but they tend to get lost in the noise, and as always they also generate an equal and opposite amount of noise from the right, some of which also has some valid arguments.
Youth movements are hard to sustain, too, and often go awry. Our high school days came a few years after those halcyon days when high schoolers were walking out of class to protest the Vietnam War, which had come to a desultory end partly as a result, and many of our classmates were envious of the frisson of moral superiority they’d experienced, but they were relegated to staging walk-outs over such mundane matters as school dress codes. The opportunity to skip an algebra class always fueled the walkouts, but at our high school the dress codes were so permissive and the truancy rules so laxly enforced that it never came up.
Our guess is that a lot of high schoolers in America have parents who own firearms, including semi-automatic rifles, and well understand the valid reasons, and we note that the vast majority of high schoolers here in Wichita and around the country didn’t walk out. We’ll also guess that some of those walked out did so because it sounded like more fun than chemistry class.
Still, we wish the young punks luck in solving that damned complicated and peculiarly American problem of mass shootings. and hope they’ll nudge their presumably more wised-up elders to some sort of reasonable solution.

— Bud Norman

By the Time We Get to Phoenix

President Donald Trump’s ongoing campaign rallies are always the sort of thing that people who like things of that sort will enjoy, and we’re sure that his most ardent fans were wowed by the performance he delivered Tuesday night in Phoenix, but we doubt that anybodyabout else was much impressed. To our ears it seemed the most blatantly dishonest, deliberately divisive, and downright demagogic oration we can recall from an American president.
Trump started off with characteristic boasting about how both his campaign and presidency have stressed the values of truth, unity, and universal love, but after that most of it was devoted to explaining how the only reason anyone might have gotten the wrong impression about it was because all of his critics are evil people who hate America and are determined to thwart his singular attempts to make it great again, and just in case anyone harbored any doubts about his sincerity he added that he really believes that. By now that evil and America-hating cohort includes not only the “sick people” in all but a favored few of the media outlets, the entirety of the Democratic party, certain members of the Republican party that Trump coyly declined to name but you know who he was talking about, such rank-and-file Republicans as ourselves, establishment institutions ranging from the Boy Scouts of America to the people who make Campbell’s Soup, and according to the same opinion polls Trump used to cite back when they showing him winning the Republican primary it now comprises some 60 percent or more of the country.
None of whom, we strongly suspect, were buying any of it. He did did say all that about truth and unity and love in the deadly aftermath of a white supremacist rally in Virginia, and we know this because those “sick people” in the media ran all the lengthy footage of remarks, along with the the parts where he always claims the media isn’t recording his media-bashing, but he also spoke about spreading the blame over “many sides,” repeating “many sides” to make clear he really believed that, and he mentioned that the white supremacists had a permit and those protesting their presence in the community didn’t, and he spoke about how there were “many very fine people” marching in the torch-bearing and Nazi-flag waving rally, and there’s no denying the white supremacists who organized the rally “tweeted” their thanks for the response. It seems unlikely that any of the “sick people” in the media could have computer-generated these images on such short notice, however, and even the media outlets that Trump favorably mentioned wound up running the same footage, so Trump would have better quelled the now-ongoing controversy by frankly acknowledging that some very fine people might have gotten the wrong impression from the totality of his remarks.
Frank acknowledgements are not Trump’s style, however, so he doubled down on his message of truth and unity and universal love by doubling down on his hateful attacks on his critics in the Republican party with some pretty weaselly language.
Two of Trump’s most troublesome critics in his party are the Senators from Arizona, and he quite specifically excoriated both for their apostasy while congratulating himself for being so politically correct as to not mention their names. One of the Senators that Trump maligned is John McCain, whom the draft-dodging Trump had infamously criticized for being “captured” during the Vietnam war and had more recently cast a deciding vote against a Republican health care bill with a 17 percent approval rating in all the polls, and the other was junior Sen. Jeff Flake, who is on board with the repeal-and-replacement of Obamacare and most of the rest of Trump’s seeming agenda but has outspokenly expressed doubts about Trump’s temperament and rhetoric. Trump won Arizona’s electoral votes handily, and seemed quite popular with the five thousand or so Arizonans who attended the rally, but McCain and Flake were doing even better in the state back when Trump was a reality show star and Democratic donor, so there’s no telling how this will play in Arizona, but in the other 49 states we think Trump probably picked another losing fight.
Before the speech Trump’s White House had leaked that he wouldn’t pardon the Phoenix area’s former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and sure enough he didn’t mention Arpaio by his full name or officially offer a pardon, and thus any media outlet that says he did can be considered “fake news,” but one could easily come to the conclusion that a pardon for Arpaio is forthcoming. “So Sheriff Joe was convicted for doing his job? You know what, I’ll make a prediction,” Trump said. “I think he’s going to be just fine, okay? But I won’t do it tonight, because I don’t want to make any controversy.”
One needn’t be from Arizona to know that Arpaio was nationally celebrated for the tough treatment of his department’s jailed suspects and his even tougher enforcement of immigration laws, as well as being widely reviled for the violations of the civil rights of people who were just jailed suspects and a lot of other folks who were naturalized and hereditary-after-many-generations Americans who wound up in jail for no reason other than they looked suspiciously brown, and that he’s one of those divisive figures in American politics. A federal court found Arpaio’s clearly stated policy of jailing anyone a sheriff’s officer might suspect of looking like an illegal Mexican, in a city with such a large population of Mexican-looking but hereditarily-for-more-generations-than-Arpaio’s-family Americans, was a violation of the constitution, and even such rank-and-file law-and-order and tough-on-border-enforcement Republicans such as ourselves have to admit that he was rightly convicted of defying the court’s constitutionally authorized order to case and desist.
Announcing leniency for Arpaio, no matter how coyly, is an unlikely claim in Trump’s case for truth and unity and universal love. In the same speech Trump criticized the “sanctuary cities” that were offering protection to illegal immigrants suspected of crimes, a practice that has long offended our rank-and-file law-and-order Republican sensibilities, but that doesn’t mean we’ll go along with the pardon of a Trump-backing Republican sheriff in Arizona who just as brazenly defied a higher federal authority’s order to case and desist from locking up any Arizonans who looked at all Mexican.
In the further interest of truth and unity and universal love Trump quadrupled or quintupled on his original campaign promise of building a wall across the entire border of Mexico, which he now promises will be translucent so that we can see what those wily Mexicans are up to on the other side, and the enthusiastic audience responded with the rote chants of “build that wall!” By now Trump isn’t making the old claims about how Mexico’s going to pay for it and be glad for the privilege, but he did suggest he’d rather endure a government shutdown than let those wily Republicans pass a continuing spending resolution or debt-ceiling increase that didn’t require America to pay for his stupid idea about a suddenly translucent wall stretching across the entire Mexican border.
There were also cheers for the president’s better speech of the night before about continuing America’s long war in Afghanistan, and from pretty much the same Phoenix crowd that had lustily cheered his previous local promises of a quick withdrawal from the conflict just as lustily cheered, and except for fans of Steve Bannon and Alex Jones and the furthest fringes of the far right media he probably  didn’t lose much support even if he surely didn’t gain a single point. In any case, he didn’t bolster his case for truth and unity and universal love. Like all Trump campaign rallies it ended with The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and we’re still unclear what that’s all about.
So far as we can tell from the “sick people” in the national media and seemingly less sick people in the local Phoenix media, the numerous Trump supporters in the arena and the approximately equal number of Trump protesters outside it all managed to home without incident. That’s a fairly encouraging sign of truth and unity and universal, by current standards, but then again it might yet prove just a devious momentary tactic evil people who hate America.

— Bud Norman

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

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