Our State of Emergency

Load your guns, hide the children, and stock up on cigarettes and beer and other essentials, as we expect America will be in a state of emergency today. So far as we can tell the only emergency is that a spending ball passed by Congress to keep the government open didn’t give President Donald the money he wanted to build a big beautiful wall along the entire southern, but one can never be too sure.
If Trump does make good on his threat to declare a national emergency and assume emergency powers to re-appropriate federal funds, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said Trump promised him, that will be cause for alarm. Trump’s grab of newfound presidential powers will likely be quickly blocked by both the courts and Congress, as well a small amount of principled conservative opposition and overwhelming public onion, but the fact that it’s come to this is quite scary.
This whole big beautiful border wall deal has been a disaster from the outset, as far as we’re concerned. Trump’s fanciful promise that he not only build but have Mexico pay for it somehow helped him win the Republican nomination, and didn’t keep him from winning the Electoral College vote, but it’s been a burden to him ever since. Mexico declined to pay for the wall, unsurprisingly enough, and so did two years of Republican majorities in Congress, with the filibuster rules and only a slight Republican edge having something to do with it, and Trump should have known he wouldn’t fare any better with a huge Democratic majority installed in the house after the mid-term elections. Trump tried to force the Democrats to cough up the money with a partial government shutdown, but by the time that ended with Trump’s poll numbers plummeting he had capitulated on a short-term fix. The spending bill which passed both chambers on Thursday keeps the government open all the way to September and provides less funding for a border wall than the deal that Trump passed up prior to the shutdown, and now he’s left with declaring a national emergency.
The same National Emergency Act that Trump cites for his authority specifically allows Congress to block it, and given the bipartisan support for the spending bill Congress seems likely to do so. The Constitution still supersedes the National Emergency Act, as well, and given how clearly that document says spending power is the sole province of Congress the Courts are likely to take a dim view of it as well. Among the litigants will be several states and many private landowners and other parties that conservatives have previously championed, and they’ll be making constitutional arguments about unconstrained presidential power that conservatives fervently believed in as recently as the administration of President Barack Obama, and everyone from the moderate to loony left is united in its opposition. Trump’s wall continues to poll badly, although his still-underwater approval rating ticked up slightly after he capitulated to the Democrats to fully re-open the government, and we expect his opponents on all fronts will seize the public relations advantage.
Trump relies on that stubborn 30 percent or so the population the somehow believes in his infallibility, however, and is thus obliged to heed their raucous rally cries of “Build that wall!” He’d always follow that up asking who was go to pay for it, and the rally crowds would cry “Mexico,” which has been largely forgiven and forgotten, but he has a huckster’s sense can’t get away without building a big beautiful border wall and having somebody pay for it. Already such a staunch defender as nutcase provocateur Ann Coulter, author of “In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome,” is “tweeting” that Trump’s emergency declaration is an inevitable loser and that his signing of the spending bill means that her erstwhile hero was a surrender to “open borders.” Sean Hannity and “Judge” Jeanine Pirro and other more loyal media apologists will come up with some reason that Trump is clearly winning, but lately talk radio show callers have been restless.
Another favorite line at the Trump rallies was “at least he fights,” and the loyalists can take some comfort in knowing that at least that’s true. Trump picks fights with congressional back-benchers and B-list celebrities, gives hell to those snowflake lefties, flouts the political establishment and intellectual traditions of the Republican party and traditional conservatism, daily denies objective facts he’d rather not hear, with a habit o skirting up against the most generous edges of the law, and no matter how pointless it all ultimately proves the fans seem to love the spectacle.

— Bud Norman

Pelosi Punches Back

One thing President Donald Trump’s die-hard fans always say in his defense is that “at least he fights,” which for both better and worse is undeniably true, but it should oblige them to admit that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pretty scrappy as well. The veteran political fighter’s latest jab is disinviting Trump to deliver his State of the Union address in the House of Representatives, arguing that the ongoing partial government shutdown makes it impossible to provide adequate security, and it looks to us like a very shrewd tactic.
The move is certain to infuriate Trump, who surely relishes all the pomp and circumstance and the interruption of regularly scheduled prime time television that a State of the Union address in the House chamber affords a president, and there doesn’t seem to be much he can do about. Even presidents can’t address the House chamber except at the invitation of the House, the concerns about security for the entire Congress and the Supreme Court and the President and all of his cabinet except for one “designated survivor” are quite plausible during this record-setting partial government shutdown, and both Trump and Pelosi can read the opinion polls showing most Americans blame Trump for the situation. The Constitution requires that president make an annual report to the Congress concerning the state of the union, but it doesn’t stipulate that the report be delivered in the House chamber, and Pelosi is quite right that Trump can provide a written report, as presidents routinely did until electronic media came along, or give a televised speech in the White House or anywhere else he might choose.
None of those options are quite so appealing to a reality show impresario such as Trump as a captive television audience watching his fellow Republicans cheer him and those damned Democrats disrespectfully declining to acknowledge his applause lines, but the only other option seems to be ending the partial government shutdown. Given the Democratic majority in the House and the majority of public opinion on its side, the prevailing political reality requires that Trump infuriate all his die-hard fans by dropping his demand for an unpopular wall along the entire southern border to do so, and that should prove even more intolerable than another of Trump’s low-energy teleprompter-ed and single camera Oval Office addresses. He might choose to deliver the State of the Union address in front of an enthusiastic rally of die-hard fans in those red “MAGA” caps chanting to lock up Pelosi, but we’re sure he’d rather not, as it doesn’t have the same dignity as those House chamber that presidents have come to expect.
Worse yet, it all signals anew that Pelosi is as always as willing to fight on all fronts just as down and dirty as Trump’s fans admire him for fighting, and once again suggests that she’s far better at it than such a relative political neophyte as Trump. As old-fashioned conservatives we still can’t stand the woman nor her team, as she’s not only the quintessentially stereotypical San Francisco liberal but also a literal one, yet from our seats on the political sidelines we have to admit she’s scarily good at the game. Trump still boasts of his tough negotiating tactics, but those were honed in the private sector where he frequently wound up bankrupt, and he’s currently up against someone more experienced in the more rules-based game of the public sector, and she clearly knows those rules better, and for now  she’s got public opinion on her side.

— Bud Norman

The Lonesome Death of Jamal Khashoggi

The government of Saudi Arabia now acknowledges that dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside a Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey, but we’re assured by the government of Saudi Arabia that it had nothing to do with it. To hear the Saudi Arabian government tell it, the pudgy and 59-year-old Khashoggi started a fistfight with 15 Saudi Arabian government operatives who had been flown into Turkey for a polite conversation, and that it ended to everyone’s regret.
The story is so blatantly preposterous that even such loyal American friends of the Saudi Arabian government as President Donald Trump are expressing some skepticism, but it probably won’t much. matter. Khashoggi was a legal American resident and a writer for one of America’s most longstanding and prestigious newspapers, and the best evidence suggests that he was mutilated and then murdered and then dismembered on the orders of the Saudi Arabian government, but on the other hand Saudi Arabia has done tens of millions of dollars of business with Trump and hundreds of billions of dollars of business with other American businesses.
All the right-wing talk radio talkers are stressing that Khashoggi had a past relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood and was a noisome critic of a Saudi Arabian government so enlightened that it has lately granted some women the right to drive an automobile, as well as a writer for those enemies of both the Saudi Arabian and American people at The Washington Post, and to hear them tell it you’d think the guy had some mutilation and murder and dismemberment coming. Besides, as the President of the United States has frequently noted, he was merely a legal resident rather than a fully-fledged citizens, and his murder wasn’t committed on American soil, and Saudi-American relations are  very tricky.
The hundreds of billions of dollars of business that America does with the Saudi Arabians can’t be dismissed lightly, and they do indeed play a very complicated role in the exponentially more complicated Middle East foreign policy mess, and we’re open to an argument for the cold-blooded calculation that even the mutilation and murder and dismemberment of a single human being must be weighted against that. Even so, we’d rather the argument was made honestly, and without the apparent disregard for the fate of a fellow human being. Surely America is still great enough relative to Saudi Arabia to insist on such niceties.
Last week Trump got a big response from a Republican rally crowd by recalling how the state’s Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte had committed criminal assault against a reporter shortly before his election to Congress. “Any guy who can do a body slam, that’s my kind of guy,” said Trump, a former professional wrestler himself, followed by uproarious laughter. Even in the aftermath of Khashoggi’s now-acknowledged demise Trump has praised the Saudi prime and dictator Mohammad bin Salman’s “strong control” of his country, and he seems to have a similar affinity for strong men rulers everywhere, including the nutcase North Korean dictator that he told a cheering rally crowd  he “fell in love with.”
All this international business and politics is indeed damned complicated, and we can’t pretend to know how it should proceed from here, but we’d like to think that the mutilation and murder and dismemberment of a legal American resident and fellow human being should carry some weight in our country’s considerations, even if he did write for The Washington Post.

— Bud Norman