Looking Months Ahead with Dread

The bad news about coronavirus keeps piling up. Yesterday was the deadliest day of the pandemic in America, far surpassing the records that had been set the prior day and the day before that, and in the past month more than 20 million Americans have lost their jobs to push the unemployment rate to the highest since the Great Depression.
Given a scandalous lack of testing to identify infected persons and high risk areas and quarantine them, America has wound up quarantining pretty much everyone except for the mostly low wage workers deemed “essential.” This is the cause of economic calamity that is under way, and it’s also an onerous burden for everyone who’s putting up with. We freely admit that it’s driving us quite stir crazy, and the weird-even-by-Kansas standards weather we’ve be having lately is making it downright intolerable.
No surprise, then, that resistance to the stay-at-home orders prevailing in most of the country is increasing. There was a huge protest rally in Lansing, Michigan, and another one in Columbus, Ohio, this week to protest that state’s very strict orders, as well as smaller ones in capitals of Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia. Although President Donald Trump has lately followed the experts’ advice to go along with the shutdowns for now, he’s been conspicuously reluctant about it and is clearly eager to get back to normal sooner rather than later, and the protests all have the feel of a Trump campaign rally. Lots of Trump-Pence and Make America Again signs, American and Confederate flags, along with chants of “lock her up!”
This is also unsurprising, given the anti-government instincts of the current Republican party. Trump’s upset victory in the Electoral College was largely a result of the white inland working class resentments to the dictates of those pointy-headed intellectuals Back East and those know-it-all Hollywood hippies and high-tech socialists on the West Coast. The worst of the coronavirus problem is predictably happening in the densely populated cities that deprived Trump of a popular vote victory, and to a lot of people in the vast but sparsely populated areas that delivered Trump’s Electoral College win it doesn’t seem fair that they’re stuck at home watching “Tiger King” and sports re-runs.
Those elite coastal liberals are indeed an insufferably condescending bunch, and given the current Democratic Party’s enthusiasm for bossy government there’s something to be said for the Republicans’ principled libertarianism. Even in this strange times, as a general rule we still agree with Walt Whitman’s sage advice to “Resist much, obey little.” They seem to have an especially strong case in Michigan, where hundreds have died in the state’s mostly densely populated city and the hospitals are struggling to care for the sick, but the shutdown order has such arbitrary and counterproductive measures as banning sale of garden seeds, which might be need for the “Victory Gardens” that got America through World War II, as well as such items as paint and carpet being sold in stores still allowed to be open.
Even so, we’ll be mostly staying at home and trying to somehow remain sane for the duration, and hope that most of the Americans who can do so will as well. This is partly because the state and county authorities have left us with nowhere to go except the grocery and liquor stories, but as free citizens we’re voluntarily not dropping in on any of our much-missed friends for more selfless reasons. We’ve always been fatalistic about death, and after so many weeks of our own company now seems as good a time as any, but we’d hate to we don’t want to bring any harm to any other human we might come within six feet from.
There’s been a recent outbreak in one of South Dakota’s bigger cities, with most of the victims working at the same packing plant that provides a big chunk of America’s pork, and the Red States of Georgia and Louisiana and Indiana and the swing state of Florida are also hot spots. There are at least a few infections even in the most remote regions, and given the exponential way the virus spreads and the paltry health care resources in those locations that’s nothing to sneeze at, if you’ll forgive the morbid joke. Given the healthy suspicion of authority that beats on both the right and left sides of the American heart, we expect that most Americans won’t necessarily come out of the house go back to work when Trump tells them. Most will await the all-clear from the doctors with more expertise in epidemiology Trump or Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity or some YouTube conspiracy theorist.
Not so very long ago the Republican Party used to win presidential elections with a coalition of pissed off white working guys, more educated and affluent white suburbanites both male and female, and the big corporations that provided employment and health care and retirement plans to a big chunk of them. The white working guys are still pissed off and waving Trump signs, convinced that Trump has done everything right and bears no responsibility for the current catastrophe, but there are only so many of them. Those snooty suburban Republicans-in-Name-Only were abandoning the GOP in droves in special and mid-term elections even before the United States was the most coronavirus-infected country in the world, and with their stock portfolios are down by a lot, and they have a tendency to consume a variety of news sources, many of which make a convincing case Trump didn’t do everything right, so we can imagine many of them voting for a damned Democrat.
As for corporate America, Trump doesn’t seem to have it on board for an early resumption of business. Trump announced a roster of big time executives who had joined his economic recovery team, many of whom hadn’t yet been asked to join, and during a day of conference calls with them he heard some flattery but mostly warnings that they wouldn’t be able to get back to business until the coronavirus had been contained by far more testing and a vaccine and a cure. This is unlikely to happen in the next four weeks or so, but corporate America seems willing to wait it out rather than risk the lives of its employees and customers and all the lawsuits that would surely entail if getting back to business spiked rather than slowed the rate of infection and death.
No matter the economic or public health benefits of quick return to economic normalcy — we’re no experts on either matter — Trump’s apparent political strategy seems flaws. To whatever extent Trump tries to hasten the great reopening of America’s big and beautiful economy, he’s taking a calculated risk. If the death tolls climbs further into the tens of thousands the public might well conclude that a few upticks in the stock markets and downticks in the unemployment rate weren’t worth it. If he does the economy will continue to sink, and everyone is still stuck at home through the summer and into Election Day that’s also bad for Trump.
With nothing but sarcasm intended, we’re consoled that Trump will act in the best interests of the people rather than his own self-interest. When it comes down to those risky calculations presidents must make, we’ll try to forget that he went bankrupt six times in the casino business, and trust his word that we’ll soon be tired of winning.

— Bud Norman

A Very Special Election in North Carolina

Today is election day in North Carolina’s ninth congressional district, which is an odd thing to happen in September on an odd-numbered year, and it’s happening for an odd reason. The regularly scheduled election in November of ’18 was never certified because the apparent Republican victor’s campaign had provably been involved in voter fraud, and even the Republicans in the state courts and election board had to admit it, so after many months without representation in Congress the district is at long last getting around to having a do-over.
There’s enough of a chance that the Republican nominee will lose that both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have jetted into the state to campaign for him, which at this point is not at all odd. The district has been held by Republicans since 1963, and in 2016 Trump won its votes by 11 percentage points, but things have lately changed. North Carolina’s ninth is precisely the sort of reliably Republican and highly educated and well off suburban district that the Republicans have been losing ever since Trump won the presidency, and by 2018 the race was tight enough that the Republican nominee’s campaign resorted to outright voter fraud. This time around the Democratic nominee is a centrist military veteran, the Republican nominee is running as a Trump loyalist, there are Libertarian and Green party candidates to siphon off votes from both, and the polls have it too close to call.
A Democratic victory would be embarrassing to Trump, so naturally he held another one of his rock star rallies to endorse the Republican. As usual Trump mostly talked about himself, and the best argument he could make for the candidate he was campaigning for was that what’s his name would enhance Trump’s power, and that the Democrats are pro-crime and hate America and “your way of life is under assault from these people.” This might prove persuasive enough to drag the Republican nominee across the finish line, but if it doesn’t Trump can always blame it on voter fraud, and there will be plenty of distracting news outside North Carolina’s ninth congressional district.

— Bud Norman

The Duel in El Paso

The typically placid border town of El Paso, Texas, was a political hotspot on Monday night, as both President Donald Trump and former Democratic congressman Beto O’Rourke held competing rallies about a mile away from one another. The main topic of conversation, of course, was the big beautiful border wall that Trump has vowed to build.
Both rallies were reportedly well-attended, and of course widely reported on, so it’s hard to say who got the better of it. Back in Washington a congressional conference committee announced it had reached a tentative agreement on some sort of spending bill or continuing resolution or other legislative legerdemain to keep the government open past Friday, which seems to include some funding for a wall but far less than what Trump has demanded, and we doubt anyone involved in the negotiations was paying much attention what was said in El Paso.
As at every Trump rally in every city the crowd was chanting “build that wall,” but Trump asked that they change it to “finish that wall,” as he assured them that construction is already well underway. There’s not a bit of evidence to back up the claim, which seems to contradict his claim that the darned Democrats are preventing him from building the wall, but no one in the crowd seemed to mind. Trump also claimed that El Paso’s enviable status as one of America’s most crime-free cities was due entirely to some 40 miles of tall fencing along the Rio Grande, although city officials noted that the city had a low crime rate for a full decade before the fence was built, and attributed El Paso peaceableness to carefully cultivated friendly relations between its white and Latino populations, which they suggested Trump has threatened with his rhetoric, but nobody seemed to mind Trump’s hyperbole.
Even Trump can’t talk about big beautiful walls and the imminent threat at border all night, however, so he spent most the rest of his 70 minutes of impromptu stream-of-consciousness speech ridiculing his potential Democratic rivals, including the aforementioned O’Rourke, who last November lost a senate race to Sen. Ted Cruz by a slimmer-than-usual margin in the reliably red state, and became a left-wing darling in the process.
Trump lost El Paso County by a 40-point blowout, however, and O’Rourke won the county as easily as he’d won in three successful House races, so he was also able to attract a sizable and enthusiastic crowd for his anti-border wall rally. He probably helped himself in a potential Democratic primary race by decrying the implicit racism and xenophobia of Trump’s big beautiful wall, but probably hurt his chances in a general election by edging a bit too close to the “open borders” stance that Trump attributes to all Democrats. Still, the crowd didn’t seem to mind a bit, and cheered on all the leftist policies that the Trump rally was booing. El Paso is a pleasant city where the people seem to generally along with one another, but apparently it’s not immune to the political spats that divide the nation at large.
Our guess is that the large and emboldened Democratic majority in the House of Representatives isn’t going to pay for Trump’s big beautiful wall, that the slender and skittish Republican majority in the Senate doesn’t want another partial government shutdown over the issue, and that Mexico most definitely won’t be paying for it. Trump has threatened to declare a national emergency to divert funds for the wall, but all the Democrat Trump any support, and we also guess that the courts will eventually put an end to such unconstitutional power-grabbing nonsense.
Even so, both Trump and O’Rourke got some publicity that their favorite media could exploit, and we’re sure they’re both satisfied with that. Our hope is that the good people of El Paso continue to get along peaceably, and that the rest of the nation muddles through as well.

— Bud Norman

Honesty Might Be the Best Policy, But Sometimes It’s Too Much Work

Pretty much every day President Donald Trump says at least a couple of things that are provably and obviously untrue, but lately he’s been firing off falsehoods at an especially fast rate. With the midterm elections less than two weeks, and with Trump on a busy schedule of campaign rallies ostensibly on behalf of Republican candidates but mostly about himself, the president is also becoming even more brazen about making up facts to regale the fans.
Trump is no longer warning the faithful about the nonexistent “Open Borders Bill” he has claimed every Democrat in Congress supports, but he’s now claiming that Democrats organized the “caravan” of refugees currently walking and are planning to give each one who legally or illegally arrives in America a brand new car, possibly a Rolls-Royce. He’s insisting the marchers somehow include a large number of suspicious Middle Easterners, none of which have been noticed by any of the many international journalists covering the story, and although he admits “There’s no proof of anything” he adds that his stories “very well could be” true.
Trump is also bragging about the 10 percent tax cut that Republicans plan to pass before the midterm elections, even though that bill is also a figment of his imagination and the Congress won’t be in session to pass until after the election. He continues to brag about several other nonexistent achievements, and keeps raising the numbers about financial deals and jobs created with each successive campaign rally.
The die-hard fans don’t mind being lied to, and seem to enjoy how angry it makes the critics, but they should insist that their president at least put some more creative thought into his lies. There are indeed many Democrats more enthusiastic about mass immigration than are most Americans, but they probably wouldn’t be in Congress if they were so politically inept as to introduce something called the “Open Borders Bill,” and the falsehood makes it harder to persuade an undecided to take seriously the truer-but-harder-explain arguments against the Democrats. That bit about the free-cars-for-immigrants is an old chestnut, dating back to the days when America was admitting many of our erstwhile Vietnamese allies who were fleeing certain after the fall of Saigon, and an urban legend circulated that all of them were to be given a free Pontiac Trans-Am. As hard as that was to believe, we knew several gullible and xenophobic people who fully believed it, one of whom used to grouse all these “ornamental people” on a local radio station, but even they probably wouldn’t have bought a story about free Rolls-Royces.
A 10 percent tax cut for middle class Americans might have some political appeal, but there’s no advantage in making promises that it will happen before election day, especially when it’s so glaringly impossible. He might have at least given his fellow Republicans some forewarning of the promise, too, and spared them the embarrassment of explaining the obvious lie to their undecided constituents.
A president with a better command of the facts and the English language could make an honest and persuasive case for the Republican positions on immigration and taxes, but Trump finds dishonesty easier. The die-hard fans don’t mind, but they won’t like it if those undecided voters who will go to the polls in less than two weeks are less inclined to believe even the most worthy Republican candidate’s more honest and most persuasive arguments.

— Bud Norman

Trying to Read Between the Lines and Behind the Headlines

The political news requires an extremely careful reading in the age of President Donald Trump. One must not only read between the lines, but also try to get a peek behind the story by speculating on the identity of all those unnamed sources and what their motives might be for providing the information.
Whenever the stories reflect poorly on Trump he insists that the sources simply don’t exist, which his rally crowds always cheer lustily, but after four decades in and around the news business we don’t believe the claim. Journalists do occasionally make things up, but they tend to get caught, especially when they’re on a story that other journalists are also covering, and the consequences always prove a deterrent to the rest of the profession. We’ve also noticed that an awful lot of those stories Trump dismisses as “fake news” wind up being corroborated by congressional hearing testimony and court documents and are eventually explained rather than denied by the White House press secretary.
Which makes the identity of a few of Monday’s unnamed sources a most intriguing mystery.
The National Broadcasting Company’s “Nightly News” aired a widely noted story that White House chief of staff John Kelly had a tenuous relationship with both Trump and pretty much the rest of his administration. The network reported that Kelly has called Trump “an idiot,” complained about the president’s shallow understanding of complicated policy matters, and told staffers that he was heroically preventing an impulsive president from disastrous actions. It also said that Kelly has annoyed women staffers with sexist remarks and his defense of a former top White House official who had been accused by two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend.
Less than 45 minutes after the story aired Kelly issued a statement through the White House press office calling it “total BS,” affirming his undying loyalty to the president and his agenda, and decrying “another pathetic attempt to smear people and distract from the administration’s many successes.” Which might be true, as Kelly came into the White House as a four-star Marine general with a rock-solid reputation for integrity, but at this point he’s been there’s long enough we’re more inclined to believe the unnamed sources.
It’s not at all hard to believe that Kelly is of the many millions of Americans frequently frustrated by Trump’s study habits and impetuous temperament, after all, and pretty much everyone has at some point called his boss an “idiot.” Recently fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson never did forthrightly deny that he’d called Trump a “moron” — which he’d reportedly emphasized with a certain gerund form curse word we’ll not repeat here — and although Trump claimed not to believe it he did feel compelled to “tweet” a challenge to Tillerson in an intelligence quotient test contest, and more unnamed White House officials than any fiction writer could create have anonymously shared similar gripes. Kelly did have some strangely nice things to say about credibly accused wife-beater, his reputation for rock-solid integrity took when his statement issued through the White House press office about the firing largely untrue, and he strikes as the sort of four-star Marine general who probably has some ideas about the differences between the sexes that are too old-fashioned even for the sort of women who work in the Trump White House.
Most of those women seem to remain loyal to Trump, though, and the unnamed sources are clearly more interested in taking down Kelly. Which has led to widespread speculation that the sources are closely associated with presidential daughter Ivanka Trump and presidential-son-in-law Jared Kushner, who were prominent figures in the administration figures when Kelly was installed as chief of staff but have since disappeared almost entirely from the news. Trump’s former campaign “chief executive officer” and White House “chief strategist,” who was ousted after Kelly became chief of staff and has since lost his media gig and billionaire backers and is now known to Trump as “Sloppy Steve,” is always considered a suspect, and there’s a chance he still has a few allies in the White House. On the other hand it could be almost any of those seemingly loyal women hanging around, as Kelly has reportedly described the fairer sex as overly emotional.
All of the unnamed sources are described as administration officials, and we doubt that NBC would run the risk of one of its many competitors more convincingly reporting otherwise, so at least we can be sure they’re not Democrats. In the mysterious case of it was who handed over to The New York Times the list of subjects that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation would like to ask Trump about in an interviews, which the investigators had turned over to Trump’s legal defense team just a short time earlier, it’s momentarily impossible to rule out anybody.
According to the document provided by the Times’ unnamed source, the special counsel intends to ask some pretty tricky questions about the Trump campaign’s previously denied or undisclosed but now thoroughly documented contacts with Russian government operatives, and the Trump administration’s actions that might be construed as obstructing the subsequent investigations into that. The Times might have made it up, unconcerned that its reputation would be unsullied by convincing denials of both the special counsel and the Trump defense team, but so far that hasn’t happened, and if the interview ever does come to pass it sounds exactly like the sort of things we’d be asking.
Maybe the special counsel dropped it off at the Times’ Washington bureau shortly visiting Trump’s legal defense team’s offices, but they’ve been a remarkably un-leaky so far, to the extent that all the search warrants and indictments and guilty pleas they’ve racked up have all taken everybody by surprise. There’s rampant speculation it was leaked by members of the Trump legal defense team who are hoping in God and pubic opinion to persuade Trump not to sit down with that ruthlessly efficient special counsel team and answer their very tricky questions in his usual impulsive style, but the Times itself has tamped that down. Someone in the White House but not on the defense team, maybe, or perhaps some “deep state” operative that probably does exist among all thousands of workaday feds.
In the checkout line at the neighborhood grocery store we noticed the headline about “Trump’s Fixer” and his sordid dealings, and although we were too stingy to pay for a copy we had no trouble discerning where that story came, and what it means. The “fixer” in the headline is Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen, who has admitted making a $130,000 payment to a pornographic video performer to prevent from talking about an alleged affair with Trump, which led to the Justice Department’s southern district of New York office executing a very thorough search warrant on his home and office and hotel room, based on a tip from the special counsel. That led to widespread speculation that Cohen was going to provide some answers to those pesky special counsel questions that would reflect poorly on Trump.
Porn stars and presidents are perfect fodder for The National Enquirer, but in this case the president is a good friend and loyal supporter of the president, so to the casual supporter it might seem odd they’re screaming headlines about “Trump’s Fixer.” If you’ve been following the complicated story so far, though, you’re well aware that Trump’s even more longtime lawyer, the one who negotiated his great divorce settlements, has assured him that Cohen is going to sing like the cliched canary, so the all-out assault on the integrity of somehow Trump was recently calling a “great guy” has begun. It also undercuts any Democratic efforts to exploit the shady dealings of Trump’s longtime attorney and “fixer.”
In any case, the truth will out, somewhere down the line, maybe in some little read history book published far in the future. In any case, Kelly probably does think Trump is an idiot, and he does strike as the sort of old-fashioned sexist pig you’d want in a four-star Marine General, we sort hope he’s obsequious enough to hang around and tackle the president before he gets to the nuclear football, Trump’s eventually going to have answer those pesky questions, if not to the special counsel then surely to subsequent historians, and we can well understand why any lawyer would advise him to put the final verdict as far into the future as possible.
At this point all we know for certain is that poor Cohen fellow is in quite a fix. We know that for a fact, oddly enough, because we saw in the headline of The National Enquirer at the local grocery checkout line.

— Bud Norman

Pennsylvania and Pompeo and the Rest

The big story on Tuesday was supposed to be that portentous special House election in Pennsylvania, but of course President Donald Trump wound up grabbing all the headlines. He fired his Secretary of State, which would be newsworthy story in any administration, and given these peculiar circumstances there were enough subplots to fill countless side bar stories.
Although none of ever much liked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, some of us are sorry to see him go. He came into the job with no previous diplomatic experience, save for negotiation some big-money deals as the head of the giant Exxon corporation with the Russian government that were being hampered by American sanctions, so he started off on the wrong foot with the foreign policy establishment. He proved more of a hard-liner on Russia than Trump would prefer, so the establishment press came to regard him as a restraining influence on the president, but that only made him all the more unpopular with Trump and his hard-line supporters. Meanwhile Tillerson went ahead with his budget-cutting and downsizing plan for the State Department, which did not endear him to any of his employees, and in the end it didn’t spare Tillerson from his own boss’s wrath.
Trump’s announced replacement is Central Intelligence Agency director Mike Pompeo, which is another interesting story. As much as we hate to name drop, we’ve actually schmoozed with the guy on a couple of occasions, which is one of the perks of being well-connected on the theatrical and political and social scenes here in Wichita, Kansas, which has somehow produced two CIA directors in our lifetimes, and we have to say we found him a friendly enough fellow. He’s a formidable fellow, too, top of his class at West Point and editor of the Harvard Law Review and founder of a successful high-tech aviation business here in town, and as traditional Kansas Republicans we enthusiastically voted for him in all three of his successful runs in our Fourth Congressional District. Why, wee still have a red-white-and-blue “I Like Mike” button on our desk, which we proudly use to prick the pinholes on our pesky electronic devices.
Pompeo gave an eloquent endorsement of Sen. Marco Rubio during the Kansas Republican party’s primary caucus down at Century II, and was among the Republican resisting Trump right up until the nomination, but since then he’s been more accommodating to Trump. Early on in his is CIA role he reaffirmed the agency’s conclusion that the Russian government had indeed meddled in the past presidential election, and that the “Wikileaks” operation leaking all the hacked Democratic e-mails was acting on Russia’s behalf, but he was careful not to implicate Trump. Over time he reportedly won Trump over with his schmoozing and his educational and military and business and Kansas conservative credentials, along with his increasing willingness to insulate Trump from any of that “Russia thing,” and we’re not surprised by Pompeo’s latest promotion.
Trump was reportedly considering firing Tillerson months ago, although dismissed it as “fake news” at the time, so there was naturally some speculation about why it happened on Tuesday. Tillerson had survived the reports that he’d called Trump a certain profane sort of “Moron,” which he neither confirmed nor denied, and Trump’s “tweets” about challenging his Secretary of State to an I.Q. test competition, and all the times that Tillerson had distanced himself on whatever story was dominating the day’s news cycle, from the Paris Climate Accord to the neo-Nazi rally in Virginia to the wisdom of negotiating with the North Korean dictatorship, so one can’t help wondering what straw at long last broke the metaphorical camel’s back.
The British government is currently indignant about a couple of political assassinations that were quite apparently committed on their sovereign soil by agents of the Russian government, and Tillerson expressed his shared indignation shortly after the White House press secretary had stressed that maybe the Russians had nothing to do with it, so naturally there was some speculation about that. Trump has since said that yeah the Russians probably did it, although he didn’t seem the least big indignant about it, and he’s previously expressed his opinion that hey what the hell we do lots of extra-terrritorial killings here in the good ol’ USA, so there’s some expected speculation about that.
If we were the type to indulge in conspiracy theories, we’d chalk Tillerson’s firing up to that portentous special House election in Pennsylvania. We stayed up all night to the results but it was still too close too call, but the Democrat was clinging to a slim over the Republican, and no matter how the lawyers work it out we’re sure Trump would rather not talk about that.
Trump won the district by 20 points in the election landslide, even better than the 15 or more point victories that Republicans had long expected, but since then things have changed. The Republicans have won most of the special congressional elections since Trump’s inaugural, but that’s mostly because they’ve been in districts or states where Trump promoted a popular Republican to a cabinet position, and all of the races have been conspicuously closer than the last time around. The Republicans even managed to lose a Senate seat in Alabama, of all places, for crying out loud, and a loss in northern Pennsylvania would bode ill for a lot of Republicans next November.
That Republican down in Alabama was credibly accused of all sorts creepy and criminal behavior, while that Republican up in Pennsylvania is more frequently criticized for being boring, unlike the pro-life and family values Republican incumbent who’d resigned the seat after his mistress told the press about he’d pressed to get an abortion. In both elections Trump held well-attended and raucous rallies in support of his fellow Republicans, and although in both in cases he talked mostly about himself they wound up well short of his victory margins, even the Republican lawyers somehow eke out a victory. which does not portend well for Trump or the rest of the Republicans in fall’s mid-term elections.
All politics really is local, though, even in the age of Trump. The Democrat in Pennsylvania was just as supportive of Trump’s crazy-ass steel tariffs as the Republican, and he was a handsome ex-Marine and former prosecutor who’d killed or locked up all sorts of sinister types, and was centrist on guns and such, and had the endorsement of the remaining steelmaking unions. The Republican down in Alabama was credibly accused of all sorts of creepiness, and the opposing Democratic took his own boring and centrist position, which eventually won the day.

Maybe Pompeo’s appointment as Secretary of State will turn it all around, but we doubt it. He strikes us as a nice enough and serious enough fellow, but these are trying times.

— Bud Norman

His Back Against the Wall

President Donald Trump has lost the first round of negotiations for his promised border wall, big league, and he should be glad of it. If he plays it just right, he might be able to wriggle his way out of the ill-advised promise altogether.
That won’t be easy, though, as Trump made it the centerpiece of his campaign. His rally audiences would serenade him with chants of “Build That Wall!,” which was also emblazoned on many of the t-shirts in the crowded arenas, and he frankly admitted to The New York Times that “You know, if it gets a little bit boring, if I see people starting to so of, maybe thinking about leaving, I can sort of tell the audience, I just say, ‘We will build the wall,’ and they go nuts.” As the negotiations for the big spending resolution started he insisted that funding for the wall be included but he was already starting to be a little less insistent when he told the Associated Press over the weekend that “People want the border wall. My base definitely wants the border wall. My base really wants it — you’ve been to many of the rallies. OK, the thing they want more than anything is the wall.”
Trump always played The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” as he exited his rallies, too, so the base should have been forewarned that some promises would be hard to keep. He’d also promised that Mexico would pay for the wall, and when he’d ask his rallies “Who’s gonna for pay for it” they’d chant back Mexico, so asking Congress for the money was already a big concession. Trump did “tweet” his reassurance that “Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying in some form, for the badly needed border wall,” but he eventually was forced to concede that it’s not the thing most badly needed at the moment.
If some spending resolution or another doesn’t get passed by Friday, right around the time everyone will be writing their “First 100 Days” stories, the government will go into another one of those occasional partial shutdowns. They’re fine by us, but most people seem to intensely dislike them, and they always get the most awful press, and no matter what all the fuss is about the Republicans always seem to get the worst of it. With the Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House even most the creative talk radio hosts would find it hard to blame it on the Democrats, so at the moment job one is avoiding poll-damaging unpleasantness.
Trump seems to have thought this would give him the needed leverage to get the money to start building the wall he’d promised his base, and within the 100-day deadline he’d promised, but he quickly realized that these sorts of negotiations are different from a real estate deal.
As much as those people at the rallies wanted the wall, all the public opinions polls showed that a solid majority of the country was against it and only 38 percent or so had any real enthusiasm for the idea. The opposition included all the Republican-held border districts, too, where landowners were facing eminent domain seizures of old family ranches and Indian reservation land and the occasional non-Trump-owned golf course, and all sorts of local economies were going to be inconveniently cut off from valued neighboring customers and friends. There were also unanswered questions about the wall’s cost and whether the money would be more effectively spent on drones and increased patrols and checking up on visa overstays and other more traditional methods of border enforcement, and just how Mexico might be forced to pay for it, and whether such a strain on relations with a neighbor was really needed at a time when net migration from Mexico is about zero, so there were likely to be some other Republicans resisting as well.
With his own approval ratings around 42 percent in an average of all the polls Trump doesn’t enjoy the kind of political capital that would cow a border Congressman enough to defy his district, and those other reluctant Republicans are also in districts where some distance from the president might be advised, so he shrewdly agreed that he’d sign whatever spending resolution the congressional Republicans could come up with to avoid a shut-down. A big victory for the base in time for those 100 day stories would have been nice, but having all the stories be about a government shutdown because of the president’s insistence on a wall that most people don’t want and even members of his own party opposed would have been disastrous, and Trump understands the publicity game well enough to know that.
Trump “tweeted” enough tough talk that his rally-going supporters can console themselves that “at least he fights,” and we expect most of them will be satisfied with that. They’re still promised that Trump will fight again for the wall, eventually, in some form, but it’s hard to imagine any time in the near future when there won’t be some new spending resolution or other impending crisis that’s more pressing, and all the arguments those border counties and the rest of the country are making will still be valid, and Mexico almost certainly won’t be any more inclined to pay for it. At this moment the wall seems another case of you can’t always get what you want.
“But if you try sometimes,” as the Stones’ song goes, “you might just find you get what you need.” Trump’s already touting all the more traditional border enforcement that he’s beefed up, most of which we and a majority of the rest of country heartily approve of, and we’re quite confident that the funding for it won’t be affected whatever spending resolution the congressional Republicans come up with to avert a government shutdown. This is a happy enough resolution for us, at the moment.
After all the court interventions and more moderate counsel the president has been getting lately his more-muscular-than-Obama approach to border enforcement is pretty much what all of those supposedly soft-on-immigration Republican presidential contenders endorsed, and about the same as the Mitt Romney plan that Trump then decried as inhumane, but the base will probably be satisfied by the familiar argument that only Trump could have made such an audacious opening bid with something so outrageous as a wall stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean as a brilliant ploy to reach these common sense solutions. His more ingenious apologists are also fond of saying that you have to take Trump seriously but not literally, and Trump is already suggesting that c’mon, he was talking metaphorically about common sense border enforcement and not an actual big, beautiful wall that no Mexican could find a ladder long enough to climb over, because c’mon, that idea’s so outrageous no one would take it literally.
We think a lot of those people at the rallies took it literally, and were looking forward to seeing some chastened Mexican handing over a literal check, but sooner or later they’ll come around. Although some of his supporters are already sore about his newfound moderate positions on issues ranging from China’s alleged currency manipulation to a Syrian missile strike that didn’t seem to have an “America First” rationale, if Trump keeps up the robust border enforcement he can let his big, beautiful wall fade into memory without taking too much of a hit in the polls. Gradually dropping the wall issue probably won’t win over any of Trump’s most determined critics, but it will deprive them of a potent issue, and he’ll have easier dealings in the future with certain Republican congressmen to accomplish something more popular.
Trump was shrewd to take a loss this round, and we hope he’s shrewd enough to lose that crazy wall idea altogether.

— Bud Norman

Looking Ahead at Anger

In such a crazy election year as this we’ll leave it to all those poor pollsters and the more presumptuous sorts of pundits to predict who’s going to win that awful presidential race, but we will venture a confident guess that no matter how it turns out there are going a lot of very angry people. How angry remains to be seen, and we’d also prefer not to speculate about that.
The New York Times is worried that some supporters of Republican nominee Donald Trump will resort to armed insurrection should their man be denied the presidency, and has quite believable quotes from his fans in several states admitting that possibility with various degrees of enthusiasm for the project, and although we’d usually be inclined to consider that mere left-wing media propaganda we heard pretty much the same threats coming from one of the more effusive right-wing talk radio hosts while driving home on an otherwise lovely evening from a nice dinner with the folks. Trump’s recent talk of a “rigged election” and his vow to keep the country in suspense about whether he’ll accept an unfavorable result certainly doesn’t diminish the chances of post-election unpleasantness, and there’s no denying the videotaped evidence he’s encouraged rough behavior by his most so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters, so we can’t say that the once-venerable Gray Lady’s worries are entirely unjustified.
We do regard it as rank left-wing-propaganda-by-omission, however, that they aren’t also fretting about how some supporters of Clinton might respond to a still-at-least-slightly-possible Trump victory on election night. Trump’s supporters have been attacked by vicious mobs at several rallies, Republican offices have been fire-bombed and vandalized, and the theft of Trump yard signs has become so common that The Washington Post acknowledged it by running an op-ed from a convicted sign-stealer. Clinton has carefully courted the support of a “Black Lives Matter” movement that spilled over into violent and destructive riots in several cities, whatever’s left of that destructive “Occupy” movement and a broader campus left that has students scaring speakers away and professors calling for “muscle” to remove any pesky journalists, and certainly done nothing to diminish their red-hot hatred of Republicans in general and Trump in particular. The more left-wing media might have reason to regard a Trump win as only slightly possible, but we’d like to see them acknowledge that the likelihood of any widespread problems resulting from that is also worrying.
We hold out some hope that either outcome won’t result in anything of remotely civil war proportions, but not for very hopeful reasons. All the polls and plenty of anecdotal evidence suggest that most of Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters are past their prime rioting-in-the-streets age, and although some of them are still pretty feisty and pretty much all of them are gun-owning we can’t see them mounting anything that could reasonably be called an insurrection. Should all the polls and anecdotal evidence be proved false and Trump wins, we expect a far worse response, given that the angry will be younger and include a whole lot of recently experienced urban rioters and what Trump might aptly call “bad hombres,” but we expect that the campus left will retreat into safe spaces, the fires will burn themselves out before Trump starts to impose his promised law and order is required to put down anything approaching an insurrection, and after a brief panic the stock markets and the rest of that hated “establishment” will start negotiating deals with the self-proclaimed master deal-maker and four-times-bankrupt casino mogul.
There will be much ill-feeling among much of the the country no matter the outcome, and as Trump might say, that we can tell you, believe us, OK? For as long as we can remember politics ain’t beanbag, as one of our favorite old sayings goes, but this crazy election year’s awful presidential race has featured an unprecedented amount of mud-slinging, and so far as we can tell from our pox-on-both-their-houses perspective all of it has stuck on both of these awful candidates, so we expect that post-election recriminations are also likely to be more troublesome than usual. We’re pleased to note that neither candidate has a clear majority in any of the polls, however, because that means no matter who wins there’s still a chance that most of our fellow Americans will have righteously joined us in not voting for either her or him. Probably 90 percent of the country will have voted for one of the other, which is not so pleasing, but we can respect their reasons for doing so at this sorry moment in our binary world. No matter the outcome of this awful presidential race in this crazy election we promise that won’t be rioting in the streets, and even though we do have a handgun around just in case of the worst possible scenarios we won’t be fomenting any armed insurrection.

— Bud Norman

That Unsettling End of the Weimar Republic Feeling

For some time now we’ve been fretting that there’s a certain unsettling end-of-the-Weimar-Republic feel to America’s politics, and watching the gruesome video accounts of a recent bloody brawl between the far-right and the far-left on an ordinarily pastoral portion of Los Angeles’ public parks only heightens our anxiety.
So far as we can tell the far-left is more culpable for this most recent incident, as even such a genteel institution as The Los Angeles Times is obliged to report that even such a genteel institution as the Los Angeles Police Department admits that the far-right had gone through all the onerous chores of getting a permit and was peaceably assembling when the far-left showed up with large sticks of wood and sharp knives to commence the melee. Many of those originally peaceable far-right protestors were self-described Nazis, though, while many of the stick-and-knife-weilding far-left counter-protestors were self-described communists, so just like all those end-of-the-Weimar Republic brawls we would have preferred that some providential asteroid had brought some just retribution to the whole sorry lot of them. Providence always takes it own sweet time about these things, however, so this seems likely play out for at least another election cycle.

The cycle of violence has been going on for a while now, and although the left has always seemed more culpable there’s plenty of blame to go around. We recall the ’60s when the Weather Underground was a terrorist threat, and the ’70s when Woody Allen in “Annie Hall” was joking about how brickbats were a more effective response than op-eds to Nazi rallies, and of course how the current President of the United States was an unapologetic friend of the Weather Underground’s apologetic terrorist leaders, not to mention all those brutal assaults on everyday Americans who who showed up at the presumptive Republican presidential nominees rallies, and although that violence largely negated the story we’re obliged to admit that the presumptive Republican nominee truly did promise to pay the legal fees for anyone who roughed up the peaceful protestors at his rallies.

So far the presumptive Democratic nominee’s rallies have been free of violence, and there’s no evidence that she’s at all responsible for the violence that has plagued her presumptive Republican opponent’s rallies, and we hope this situation will somehow persist until Election Day. Still, there’s a certain end-of-the-Weimar-Republic feel to the whole thing, and we’re hoping that providence will prevent it.

— Bud Norman