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Begging Trump’s Pardon

On a Wednesday full of stories about trade wars and the Environmental Protection Agency director’s latest scandals and the first public sighting of First Lady Melania Trump in several weeks, the item that caught our attention was President Donald Trump releasing 63-year-old Alice Marie Johnson from the federal prison where she was serving a life sentence on a drug-dealing rap.
Even the most anti-Trump media tended to describe Johnson as a first-offender convicted on a non-violent drug offense, but the local media who covered her trial and sentencing back in ’97 described her as the leader of a multi-million dollar drug ring that sold tons of cocaine over a three-year period. Given that Trump has touted Singapore’s policy of executing even low-level drug dealers as a model for America, even the pro-Trump “Powerlineblog” had to admit it seemed damned odd.
The best explanation all the media could find is that Johnson’s cause was championed for some unknown reason by Kim Kardashian, one of Trump’s fellow reality television stars, who was granted a widely-publicized White House visit last week to plead Johnson’s case.
That probably did have something to do with it, but we’re sure there’s more to it. Trump has recently issued a posthumous pardon for first black heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, who was convicted of immorality charges while consorting with a white woman, and we suspect that Trump’s commutation of the equally-black Mary Alice Johnson is intended to burnish his otherwise questionable credentials as the least racist person you ever met. He also has reason to be confident that even the most anti-Trump media will describe Johnson as a first-time non-violent drug offender and that most of the pro-Trump media will ignore that he let loose a woman who was duly convicted of running a multi-million dollar drug ring that sold tons of cocaine.
Trump’s most die-hard defenders are noting that even President Barack Obama didn’t commute Johnson’s sentence when he was pardoning hundreds of first-time and non-violent drug crime offenders, but we think the Powerlineblog guys have a better point when they note that even Oaama didn’t let loose the ring leader a multi-million and multi-ton cocaine cartel.
Trump has previously used his presidential powers to pardon Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for flagrantly violating the fourth and ninth and 14th amendments of the Constitution in his law enforcement efforts, and former President George W. Bush appointee “Scooter” Libby for admittedly lying to federal investigators about the long forgotten and no big deal Valerie Plame-gate scandal, as well as a conservative pundit who admittedly violated federal campaign finance laws. He’s pardoning people who have been prosecuted by the same prosecutors who are now prosecuting him, which should hearten the various past Trump campaign and administration officials who have been indicted on various charges and have reason to testify truthfully about Trump in a special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing.” The Trump lawyer that most often appears on television has even asserted that Trump could pardon himself, even if he shot and killed a political adversary.
Any president’s powers to pardon offenders or commute their sentences are broad, but surely there are some limits to the public’s patience.

— Bud Norman

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The “Tweets” of Crazed Celebrities

If America had a more cerebral and less celebrity-addled popular culture few people would much care what the likes of Roseanne Barr “tweets,” and that guy from “The Apprentice” wouldn’t be President of the United States. As things stand now, though, attention must be paid to both.
For those of you spent Tuesday in a coma, the American Broadcasting Company abruptly cancelled the highly-rated “Roseanne” sitcom after its eponymous star unleashed a series of stunningly stupid “tweets.” One claimed that former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton had married into the family of controversial left-wing billionaire George Soros. Another alleged Soros had collaborated with the Nazis when they occupied his native Hungary. In the one that got her fired just a few hours later, she joked that Valerie Jarrett, a black woman and former top advisor to President Barack Obama, was the offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood and “Planet of the Apes.”
We’ve never cared much for Clinton or either of her parents, but she clearly got the better of the exchange when she classily and correctly “tweeted” back that in fact her husband has no relation to Soros. Although we don’t think much of Soros, either, we’ve seen no proof that as a 14-year-old Jew in an occupied country he was ever friendly to the Nazis. Over the Obama years we had our complaints about Jarrett, too, but we always took care to state them without resort to such flat-out and stone-cold racist tropes as comparing her to a monkey. As far as we’re concerned, ABC made the right call.
The “tweets” were somehow shocking to bien pensant sensibilities even though they were not at all surprising. Barr has always been an obnoxious crazy-pants conspiracy theorist, going back to the days when the original “Roseanne” was a critically-acclaimed hit in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when only the people on the right seemed to notice.
The first run of her sitcom depicted a white working class family struggling to make ends meet during the supposedly horrible Reagan-Bush era, ostentatiously featured several homosexual characters, and delivered even the funny lines with an unmistakably feminist smugness, so the left largely adored her. When she delivered a deliberately screeching rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” at a major league baseball game and followed it with a crotch-grab and a spit it was lauded as daring satire. When she embraced the “truther” conspiracy theory that President George W. Bush was responsible for the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon she was defended on free speech principles. When she posed for a magazine as Hitler making “Jew cookies” some tried to explain it as satire.
By the time Barr tried to win the far-left Green Party’s presidential nomination and wound up running as the nominee of something called the Peace and Freedom Party we largely ignored by almost everyone. Her sitcom had concluded with a low-rated final season that was widely panned by the critics and hated by the fans, her limited acting range had yielded only a couple of roles in flop movies, a reality show on an obscure cable network yielded minuscule ratings, and at first no one seemed to notice what a strange turn her craziness had taken. She embraced the “birther” theory that Obama had been born in Kenya and was constitutionally ineligible to be president, insisted that all the hotter stars in Hollywood were manipulated agents of the Central Intelligence Agency through its “MK-Ultra Mind Control” projects, appeared frequently on the Russian dictatorship’s “Russia Today” propaganda network on your cable dial, and wound up as one of the few Hollywood celebrities who endorsed the presidential campaign of that guy from “The Apprentice.”
After the inauguration of President Donald Trump, however, the programming executives at ABC were suddenly receptive to the pitch that a re-boot of “Roseanne” catching up with that same wisecracking struggling-to-make-ends-meet white working class family in this glorious Trumpian new day might have some appeal to the popular minority but electoral majority of Americans who ushered it in. The re-boot featured the entire original cast, including including the critically-acclaimed and generically Hollywood thespians who played the husband and daughter and sister of the title character, as well as the former child actor who had to take time off from an even bigger hit sit-com, but the advance publicity made clear that Barr’s titular and obviously autobiographical character was decidedly pro-Trump, and the premiere episode drew 18 million viewers and even some grudgingly positive reviews by critics who noted that the husband and daughter and sister got in a few jabs of their own. Shortly after that, he show was renewed for a second season.
Back in the three-network days of “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Fugitive” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” a mere 18 million viewers would have cancelled a show before its second episode, much less the 10 million viewers that the season finale drew, but in these days of a billion or so cable channels and the gazillion or so options on the internet those are both pretty impressive numbers for any old American broadcasting company. Trump gloated about it at one of his still ongoing campaign rallies, telling his die-hard fans that “the show is about us” and predicting that Hollywood’s greed would force it to adhere once again to their all-American values. After that, it was the post-Trump right that overlooked Barr’s craziness.
Trump was an even more prominent “birther,” so that craziness was easily forgivable. Although Trump never was a “truther,” be did win the Republican party’s presidential nomination parroting the left’s “Bush lied, people died” lie about the intelligence reports of intelligence about the Iraq War. Even Trump has never mentioned the “MK-Ultra Mind Control Project” during his conspiracy theorizing, but he and his die-hard fans and even ourselves have to admit there’s something pretty darned suspicious about who’s hot in Hollywood these days. As for the appearances on “Russia Today,” the Trump campaign’s foreign policy and the Trump administration’s first National Security Advisor was paid to sit next next to the Russian dictator at a dinner in honor of the propaganda network, so that’s no big deal. At this point, all the die-hard fans who hate those pro football players for kneeling during the national anthem have long-forgotten bar’s screeching and crotch-grabbing and spitting rendition of their beloved song. Trump didn’t mention Barr at his latest campaign rally, but he did recall some rapper at a Hillary Clinton campaign two years ago using the same foul language he had used at his events, and his apologists on talk radio and other conservative media rightly recalled all the leftist entertainers’ outrageous statements and outright craziness.
At this point pretty much everyone’s a hypocrite, except for those of us on the left and right who always spotted Barr as the pure product of a stupid and celebrity-addled popular culture. From our current vantage point on the sidelines of America’s cultural and political wars we feel free to make the calls against either side, and we say good riddance to both Barr and all the fashionable causes and crazy-pants conspiracy theories and reality show candidates se ever championed.

— Bud Norman

The Battle of the Celebrities, the Fate of a Nation

That Oprah Winfrey woman gave an uplifting and cliche-filled acceptance speech at the Golden Globes ceremony on Sunday night, which is the sort of pop cultural pap news we used to happily ignore, but by Monday afternoon there was simply no escaping all the buzz about her possible presidential campaign. Such is politics in the age of President Donald Trump.
Back in the good old days, which we now date to around the time Trump took that elevator ride in Trump Tower to announce his seemingly improbable presidential campaign, the possibility of a Winfrey presidency would have been the stuff of satire. She’s never held a political position or worked in public service, has no political philosophy save for what one might discern from her occasional incoherent public pronouncements, and lacks any apparent qualifications for high public office save the billions of dollars she’s made from her status as a reality-show celebrity. That would have ended the discussion back in the good old days, but in the age of Trump the Republican party is hard-pressed to make those once obvious arguments against such obviously unqualified candidates.
Those darned Democrats made all the same obvious arguments against Trump, but they were less convincing after eight years of celebrating the rock star presidency of President Barack Obama, and it couldn’t carry such an unappealing figure as former First Lady and Senator and Secretary and presumptive first-woman president Hillary Clinton across the finish line, so we understand their excitement for Winfrey. Her afternoon talk show ran twice as long as Trump’s “Apprentice” reality show and made her a far bigger TV star, she’s arguably even richer than Trump and her up-from-the-ghetto biography is far more Horatio Alger-esque than the son of a millionaire New York real estate mogul, and her touchy-feely public persona contrasts comfortably with the snarling “you’re fired” image that Trump has long cultivated. Say what you want about Winfrey, and our old-fashioned Republicans selves have plenty to say about her, we have to admit that at least she wouldn’t be “tweeting” about the size of her nuclear button.
With a certain snobbish pride we admit we never watched so much as a second of Winfrey’s not talk show, nor Trump’s insipid prime time reality game show, but she kept popping up in the political news in all sorts of troubling ways. She promoted some theories about “mad cow” disease that put her in disfavor with all our favorite Kansas cattle ranchers and our own carnivorous selves, promulgated some questionable advice about childhood vaccines and other pressing public health issues, and seemed all too prone to magical thinking and other disastrous pop cultural fads. Her admirable efforts to encourage reading put several fine old and authors on the national bestsellers lists, but she also fell for a couple of literary hoaxes some of the more noteworthy authors were embarrassed by her endorsements. One can also clearly glean from her many publicized public pronouncements and fawning television interviews that she’s more or less an Obama sort of mainstream Democrat, which is disqualifying for such old-fashioned Republicans such as ourselves and a lot of our radicalized and more traditional Democratic friends, but if the fate of the nation comes down to Nielsen ratings we suspect she might well win.
There’s also talk that former World Wrestling Entertainment champion and current action-adventure movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will jump into the race. We’ll snobbishly admit that never seen a single second of his wrestling or action-adventure moving acting, and we have no idea if he’s a Republican or Democrat or what his political philosophy might be, but from the look of him we can’t imagine the aging and obese and combed-over Trump “tweeting” anything about his manliness.
We’d rather it didn’t come down to that, and that instead our nation’s fate came down to a carefully deliberated consideration of the very complicated issues we face as a nation, we’re no longer hopeful. The extraordinarily rich American popular culture that bequeathed to the world jazz and country music and rock and soul and and the rest of the incredible Ameircan songbook, along with Hollywood movies and prairie deco architecture and those Oprah-endorsed works of William Faulkner and the rest of our national grassroots greatness, is at an undeniably awkward moment, and our politics is in an arguably even worse state.

— Bud Norman

The Strange End of the Omarosa Subplot

Omarosa Manigault Newman is another one of those reality show celebrities we’re usually happy to ignore, but it was hard to turn away from the strange story of her sudden departure from President Donald Trump’s administration.
Accounts of Newman’s departure differ, with some saying she was escorted out of the White House by Secret Service agents and others denying that, and it’s not clear exactly what led to her firing, although by all accounts it was insisted on by chief of staff John Kelly, but in any case she’s no longer on the job. Also unclear is why she was ever on the job in the first place.
Newman was once a contestant on “The Apprentice,” Trump’s popular game show, and apparently she helped boost the ratings as a confrontational and caustic character viewers loved to hate. That so endeared her to Trump that he invited her to join his presidential campaign, and she further endeared herself with her controversial and caustic interviews in his defense on television, which included one memorable exchange with Fox News contributor Tamara Holder that culminated with Newman causticly commenting on the questioner’s “big boobs.” After Trump’s unlikely victory Newman was his unlikely pick for the position of communications director for the Office of Public Liaison.
While on the job Newman made headlines with a public screaming jag with former friend and journalist April Ryan, took time out appear on a reality show called “Say Yes to the Dress,” wound up getting roundly booed after a threatening speech to the National Association of Black Journalists, and was roundly booed again by the crowd at the Congressional Black Caucus’ annual gala. Although Newman is black, and liked to brag about all the black votes she helped Trump win, her public liaisons with the black community were always especially confrontational and caustic.
Trump loves confrontational and caustic, of course, but the style does not play as well with Kelly. The four-star Marine general was hired as chief of staff to impose some semblance of discipline on White House, and by all accounts Newman resented his efforts, although the accounts of her her screaming profane threats at the decorated combat veteran are also disputed. In any case, Kelly predictably won the battle, and Newman wound up getting fired from another Trump reality show.
Perhaps Trump will replace Newman with Meat Loaf or Dennis “The Worm” Rodman or one of the other “Apprentice” contestants who aren’t currently accusing him of sexual harassment, but otherwise we expect he’ll wind up with someone better suited to the job communications director for the Public Liaison office, whatever that is. Back during the campaign Trump promised voters he’d pick all the best people, but he’s already had to fire quite a few of them, with his Secretary of State and several others clearly headed for the exits, and on Wednesday even the Republicans on the Senate judiciary committee passed on a couple of Trump’s obviously unqualified nominees for the federal bench.
Back during the campaign Trump also promised to do battle with those smartypants elite establishment types, a promised he has better kept, but he might want to consider hiring a few.

— Bud Norman

Reality Winner and the Winners of Reality

The great British novelist Evelyn Waugh used to come up with some of fictions’ most fascinating characters and give them the most delightfully ironic names, but we doubt even he could have invented a sweet-faced multi-lingual 25-year-old Air Force veteran and outspoken liberal and alleged national security secrets leaker called Reality Winner. In the age of a reality show president and his reality show presidency, though, such an unlikely character with such an improbable name is an actual person in the news.
Winner has been arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and charged with handing a purloined National Security Agency document about Russia’s meddling in the past American presidential election, and the rest of the story is believable only because no one could have made it up. It’s a mere subplot in a broader storyline about what President Donald Trump calls “the Russia thing with Trump and Russia,” which was already darned complicated, and Winner’s tale complicates it further.
So far all we know about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia comes courtesy of people with access to information to information they have leaked to the press, and what has then been confirmed the administration’s legally plausible but not altogether reassuring claim that the information was illegally obtained. Some of the damaging and inadvertently verified information has apparently come from the feuding innermost circles of the top-most Trump administration, most of it seems to have come from the permanent government bureaucracy and the holdovers from the President Barack Obama administration that are hanging around while the Trump administration gets around to filling that remaining 78 percent of appointed positions they’ve yet to name a nominee for, and for now there’s no telling where the rest of it has come from. Except for the administrations claims that the sources are all fake and must be immediately be locked up, we’d be inclined to dismiss it all as fake news.
The Trump administration has vowed to plug all those leaks, for principled reasons of law enforcement as well as naked self-interest, but so far the only alleged leaker they’ve nabbed is the aforementioned and improbably named Winner.
In the inevitable Facebook photos of a 25-year-old she looks like one of those beguiling young hipster women who hang around The Vagabond hipster bar where we argue with a gray-ponytailed but right-wing hipster friend of ours, and from the inevitable Facebook postings she seems to share the same fashionably left-wing political opinions. Unlike most young woman of our acquaintance, though, she’s fluent in the languages of Farsi, Pashto, and Dari, only two of which we were even previously aware of, and instead of going to college she volunteered her linguistic skills to the Air Force. After an honorable discharge Winner and her hard-to-find skill set found work with a private data-analysis company that contracted with the National Security Agency, where her impeccable Air Force record earned her a high security clearance, and at that point she allegedly came across an NSA document about how the Russian meddling had extended to the point that they tried to influence some local-level vote-counting.
She’s alleged to have copied the document and passed it on to an internet news site called The Intercept, which we had also previously never heard of, and so far as we can tell that’s why she’s the first alleged leaker to be nabbed. So far even the most sympathetic press accounts don’t do her legal case much good, noting that the neophyte leaker seems to have used office copy machines with their hidden code words and made other rookie mistakes, and they unhelpfully note all those Facebook posting about her disdain for Trump, and without drawing any conclusions we’d advise she hire a better attorney than the Trump administration is able to retain these days.
Trump’s stalwart defenders will be pleased that at least one of those leakers has been allegedly nabbed, and hope that others will be deterred from releasing any further discomfiting information, but no matter Winner’s fate they might still come out losers. The charges against Winner were discovered when the Intercept news site submitted its documents for government verification, which were duly confirmed in order to bring the charges, and so far a lot of leaks from more-savvy sources have been similarly confirmed. It doesn’t amount to anything undeniable, not yet, but there’s still a torrent of leaks from the feuding innermost circles of the White House and the vast bureaucracy that’s still unmanned and all the rest of it.
Should Winner be proved guilty of the charges alleged against her she’ll deserve the prison time that entails, as far as we’re concerned, yet we’ll hope her youthful idealism will carry through the consequences. As always we’ll be hoping that reality ultimately wins, which it always does, eventually, but in these days of reality shows days there’s no telling.

— Bud Norman

This Week, On As The White House Turns

At the risk of damning with faint praise, we have to admit that President Donald Trump’s administration is a lot more intriguing than his last reality show. All the characters are more complicated than those B-list celebrities Trump used to fire, the infighting is more vicious, and we prefer the new format of constantly leaked news stories better than carefully edited one-hour-a-week television episodes.
Lately all the subplots seem to be about Steve Bannon, who makes Dennis Rodman and Gary Busey and all those other flamboyantly crazed celebrity apprentices seem bland by comparison. If you haven’t been following the show, Bannon is an ex-Navy officer turned Goldman Sachs investment banker turned publisher of an internet publication he described as a “platform for the alt-right,” and after that he turned into the “chief executive” of Trump’s campaign and then “White House chief strategist.” Until recently he was also a member of the National Security Council, but he’s been rather unceremoniously removed that position and suddenly there’s a great deal of suspense about whether he’ll be around in any capacity for future episodes.
After weeks of leaks about Bannon’s feud with White House chief of staff Reince Priebus the stories are now mostly about his feud with Jared Kushner, whose White House responsibilities include being an envoy to China and bringing peace to the Middle East and getting the Mexicans to pay for a border wall and solving the opioids crisis and reinventing federal government. The very busy 36-year-old Kushner is also the husband of Trump’s beloved daughter Ivanka, another key character in this convoluted plot who has also reportedly feuding with Bannon, and for now he seems to enjoy the advantage that blood proverbially has over water. Trump told the friendly folks at The New York Post that “I like Steve, but you have to remember that he was not involved in the campaign until very late. I had already beaten the all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change my strategy because I was facing crooked Hillary.”
In the past Trump had frequently spoken of his years-long friendship with Bannon, and often cited him as one of those very best people he promised to surround himself, but if you’ve been following the show you know that Trump’s past pronouncements don’t mean much. Despite Trump’s past boasts about his loyalty he’s fired two wives along with all those other B-list celebrities, as well as two campaign managers, both of whom were described by Trump spokespeople as someone Trump barely knew, and a National Security Advisor, and at this point such an old media hand as Bannon can surely read the writing on The New York Post. Should he find himself on the receiving end of Trump’s “you’re fired” catchphrase, though, it would make for a messy divorce even by Trump standards.
Bannon’s complicated role in this even more complicated plot has been the keeper of the “nationalist populist” and “America First” and “anti-establishment” and vaguely “alt-right” flame that Trump ran on, and as the guy who was fending off all those nasty “globalists” and “neocons” and “establishment” types who suddenly were trying to lure Trump away from the one true faith. According to leaks that probably came from Bannon he was credited with that “American carnage” inaugural speech that fired up the faithful and those travel restrictions that sure seemed to keep the campaign promises Trump had made, as well as the immediate efforts to bring the promised Mexican border wall and all that it implied. All of that played well enough wit the hard-core of Trump’s supporters that there was plenty of credit to go around, but it didn’t play nearly so well elsewhere.
The inaugural speech drew mostly negative reviews and a dismal crowd that Trump embarrassingly lied about at great length, the travel restrictions were halted by a couple of federal courts that thought they sure sounded like a Muslim ban and were therefor a violation of the religious establishment clause in the First Amendment, and all the polls show that despite mixed feelings about illegal immigration most Americans now regard a gazillion-dollar wall across the entire Mexican border as an obviously stupid idea. Whatever value those “nationalist populists” brought to the campaign season they’re currently dragging the new season’s ratings down to a 40 percent or so approval rating, so new characters have been brought in. There’s also Chief of Staff Preibus, who used to be the chairman of the Republican National Committee and the guy whose name all the right-wing talk radio hosts used to pit out to describe that hated GOP establishment, so naturally Bannon had several leaked episodes of feuding with them.
Not to mention Jared and Ivanka, who by this point have at least enough combined political clout to deserve a collective tabloid nickname like “Javanka” or something, and have reportedly persuaded Trump to embrace such hairy-legged feminist nonsense as paid maternity leave and apologizing for talking about grabbing women by the wherever and to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Libyan air base that launched a horrific attack against a nearby village wound up killing scores of men and women and children and some “beautiful babies.” There’s talk they also have something to do with Trump pulling back on his out-dated promises to declare China a currency manipulator and starting slapping 45 percent tariffs on their imports, and serving its dictator steak and au-gratin at his still wholly-owned Mar-a-Lago instead of the Big Mac and fries he promised on the campaign trail, and of course all the true-blue “nationalist populists” are by now feeling betrayed, and the right-wing talk radio hosts are still trying to make sense of it, but Bannon should worry about the overall poll number and those recent Trump remarks to the press.
Should Brannon wound up another one of the very best people that Trump has been forced to defenestrate that would be fine with such old-fashioned Republicans as ourselves. That “alt-right” of his strikes us as the same sort of racist trash that conservatives have long been distancing themselves from, that Mexican border and all it implies seems an overreaction to the admittedly serious but declining-even-before-Trump problem of illegal immigration, that talk of China’s currency manipulation was outdated and the part about 24 percent tariffs was always crazy, the “America First” slogan makes no more sense than it did when used to oppose resistance to the Axis, and except for the undeniable yet recently denied crucial role he played in keeping crooked Hillary from becoming president we don’t see how Bannon has ever done the country much good.
Still, there’s no telling how this story might turn out without Bannon. By the time of the feud with Javanka he had reportedly made peace with Priebus and the rest of the GOP establishment, who were allied against the influence of a couple with no political paper trail except for a long history of generously donating to Democratic candidates and espousing such liberal causes as mandated paid maternity leave for all employees. One of Trump’s sons told the British press that his sister had persuaded his father to launch those 59 Tomahawk missiles against that Syrian air base, which pleased the less constitutionally-minded sorts of “neocons,” and that yet might prove wise, but for all the bleeding-heart reasons that Trump himself outlined and were pretty much the same reasons that President Barack Obama cited when seeking congressional approval for such a strike after a similar chemical attack that killed similarly beautiful babies, which the Republicans in congress and of course Bannon and even the then-unregistered reality star Trump himself found wanting at that time.
We’re pleased by the recent reasonableness of Trump’s China policy, skeptical but open-minded about the Syrian strike, delighted by Trump’s complete retreat from that campaign-season nonsense about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization being “obsolete, and still following all the twists and turns in that ongoing Russkie subplot, but we’re mostly worried that there’s no underlying logic to any of it. Past pronouncements are of course of no use, ¬†except that “unpredictable” remains a goal, and what happens seems to depend largely on what the president saw just on television. The Republican establishment hasn’t done much for Trump lately, that “alt-right” has clearly become burdensome, and we have even less faith in the Javanka faction, and of course theres no telling what those damned outright Democrats might do.. The ratings seem to be driving this plot so far, and that never leads to a satisfactory conclusion.

— Bud Norman

A Night When the Stars Didn’t Come Out

Try as we might to avoid the latest entertainment news, we couldn’t help reading about the trouble president-elect Donald Trump has been having booking slots for his inaugural festivities. So far the biggest names that have agreed to perform are the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and even those old-fashioned and all-American acts have had some dissension within their ranks.
The Marie Claire magazine reported that several of the Rockettes objected to the gig, and of course the rest of the media gleefully passed it along. The Madison Square Garden Company, which owns the Radio City Music Hall along with its high-kicking Rockettes, accused the magazine overstating the dissension and violating a confidentiality agreement in the process, and assured the rest of the press that no one would be forced to dance against her will. The company’s chief executive also defended the booking, telling The New York Times “I don’t believe it’s going to hurt the brand, and nobody is more concerned about that than the guy sitting in this chair. I’m about to spend $50 million remounting this summer show, and I’m going to spend a similar amount remounting next year’s Christmas show. I gotta sell tickets.”
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir doesn’t have the same overhead or commercial incentives as the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, but a few of its members have declined to perform at the inaugural because of religious or political objections to Trump. Mormons have been notably more resistant to Trump’s charms than other conservative religious groups, and many have objected to their tabernacle’s choir singing for a thrice-divorced and six-times-bankrupt casino and strip club mogul, and one woman resigned her spot in the choir for well-publicized reasons that seem to derive more from her liberal political views. Many of the media have been enjoying that flap, too, of course.
The other big name, which we had not previously heard of, is Jackie Evancho, a 16-year-old who seems to have recently become famous on the “America’s Got Talent” television show. She tells the press that she’ll be singing the National Anthem in honor of the presidency rather than the president, and always adds that she also performed for President Barack Obama.
Some bigger names were rumored in the press, but all eventually denied they would be performing. Aging rock star Elton John was willing to perform at right-wing radio talker Rush Limbaugh’s third or fourth wedding but drew the line at Trump’s first inauguration, issuing a profanity-laden statement that suggested Trump try booking “[expletive-deleted] Ted Nugent” or “one of those [expletive-deleted] country singers.” Country star Garth Brook also declined a rumored invitation, but more respectfully, while heavy metal guitarist and “Motor City Madman” Nugent was not even rumored to have been invited despite his outspoken support for Trump. Opera singer Andrea Bocelli offered his services, but was told it wouldn’t be necessary, which probably came as a relief to him after thousands of his Facebook followers threatened a boycott.
So it seems that this will be a celebrity-free inauguration, and given how awful all the celebrities are these days we would usually see that as another reason to be glad that a Republican is being inaugurated. Trump is not a usual Republican, though, and we can’t see him relegating the celebrity culture to its rightful place on the margins. He’s a reality television star himself, first gaining fame beyond the New York tabloids for firing other B-listers on his “Celebrity Apprentice” program, and since winning a presidential election he has taken time out for photo opportunities with the rapper and noted nutcase Kanye West as well as fight-promoter and convicted murderer Don King, and he’s nominated his former World Wrestling Entertainment co-star Linda McMahon to head the Small Business Administration, and we can’t shake a certain suspicion that he’d very much like to be as adored by the big-timers as Obama has been for the past eight years, and very much resents that he isn’t.
We expect a lot of “Tweet”-for-tat public feuding with the celebrity set for the next four years, and although it will no doubt be great for the ratings on “Access Hollywood,” where Trump once bragged to his locker room pal Billy Bush about how he could be grab women by their deleted expletives because he’s a star, we aren’t looking forward to it.

— Bud Norman

Who Shot American Politics?

Barring some other unforeseeable catastrophe, the big story of today will be tonight’s presidential debate. The long-awaited face-to-face confrontation between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump, probably their first she since she attended his third wedding to an illegal immigrant nudie model in exchange for a sizable contribution to her phony-baloney pay-for-play “family foundation,” is expected to be the most watched television event since “Dallas” revealed who shot J.R. way back in the three network days.
We’d like to think this ratings bonanza will be due to the civic-mindedness of the American public, which wants to directly hear the words of these two thoroughly horrible people and carefully consider which is worse, but we expect it will be more for the pure low-brow entertainment value. Super Bowls and stock car races and soap operas and the more cutting-edge comedy programs draw big ratings because the viewer never knows what’s going to happen, but holds out hope that it will involve something violent or vulgar or otherwise shocking, and in this crazy election year the presidential debates offer plenty of that. There’s widespread speculation that Clinton will succumb to seizures or perhaps even drop dead to her undisclosed yet very dire medical condition, and that Trump might try to turn it into a rhetorical equivalent of that pro rasslin’ gig where he shaved the head of Vince McMahon, and of course there are already arguments about the poor fellow who has been hired to referee the match.
If Clinton doesn’t drop dead during the debate that will no doubt disappoint a significant portion of the viewing audience, but it will still make for an interesting plot twist. She’ll have already exceeded expectations, which is for some reason or another the way these contests are scored nowadays, and short of any seizures she or her ear-plugged body double should be able to come across as if she’s at least given some thought to the issues she’s been asked about. Most of the media will be wowed, and that portion of the country that relies on them to get the score will hear that Clinton won handily.
If Trump doesn’t turn it into a metaphorical pro rasslin’ head-shaving he probably will lose on old-fashioned debate scoring, because let’s face it, he really hasn’t given much thought to the issues he’ll be asked about, and by all accounts he’s eschewed any old-fashioned debate preparations that might have helped him out. This would no doubt disappoint a significant portion of the viewing audience, too, but at least would allow them to claim that anything less than boasts about his penis size or allegations of his opponent’s involvement in the John Kennedy assassination proved he had exceeded presidential expectations.
Our only advice to the poor fellow who’s been hired to referee the match is to ask the same basic policy questions of both the candidates, then get the hell out of the way. We can’t imagine any winners coming out of this worst-ever reality show, but we’ll tune in nonetheless.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Installment in As Trump Turns

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

— Bud Norman

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Another Win for the Establishment

There are a lot of political races being run in this crazy election year besides that dispiriting presidential contest, so we like to check in on them from time to time in vain search of some faint sense of hope for the country. Last week the intriguing race was just west of the county line in Kansas’ First Congressional district, where an “establishment” type knocked off an “anti-establishment” type incumbent in a unusually heavily-funded Republican primary in that remote and largely unpeopled district, and this week the big news has come out of the distant First District of Wisconsin, where incumbent Republican House Speaker and very personification of the “establishment” Paul Ryan won an even more lopsided victory over a tattooed and otherwise impeccably “anti-establishment” challenger.
We do find some faint sense of hope for the country in both outcomes, albeit with the same nagging ambiguity that marks this crazy election year. There was some appeal to that fire-breathing anti-establishmentarian out in western Kansas, but when you’re so darned rebellious that you wind up getting kicked off the Agriculture Committee and so ideologically pure that you vote against a Farm Bill which had satisfactory cuts in the Food Stamp program and keeps the current business model of the First District economy more or less intact we figure you’re asking for trouble. In the case of Paul Ryan, the feelings are yet more mixed.
The handsome and youthful Ryan has had a starring role in the past many years of the binge-worthy Republican reality show, and veered from hero to villain and back again through all the plot twists. He first took a seat in the House of Representatives as a budget-cutting villain to the left and hero to the right, back when the two sides used to fight over such things, and was held in such high regard by the “tea party” enthusiasts for fiscal solvency that he was named Mitt Romney’s running mate in the ’12 race to appease all the hard-core “anti-establishment” Republican types. That didn’t work out, of course, and since then Ryan has been increasingly reviled by his erstwhile anti-establishment supporters because of his reluctant support for some less-than-ideal continuing-resolutions they strike these days instead of establishing real budgets, and he’s been in some on some illegal immigration and free-trade deals that weren’t popular with the anti-establishment types, and after taking over from the hated-by-the-anti-establishment types John Boehner he was pretty much stuck with another awful continuing-resolution fiascos that further aroused talk radio ire. Then he wound up with Donald J. Trump as a nominee, whose newly popular version of anti-establishment furor was very much against illegal immigration and every single trade deal passed in the last 100 years or so and not at all concerned with any of that politically-toxic fiscal solvency nonsense, which added yet another plot twist.
The Republican Speaker of the House was initially reluctant to endorse the Republican presidential nominee, but eventually wound up doing so without much enthusiasm, and the Republican nominee used the very same language to express his reluctance to endorse the Republican Speaker of the House and then wound up doing so with the same lack of enthusiasm, then sending sending out a thankful “tweet” to the challenger just before Ryan wound up winning with a blow-out percentage of the vote anyway. The anti-Trump press gleefully reported it as a win for the non-Trump faction of the GOP, and although we agree we’re only ambiguously gleeful about it.
Ryan is all wrong on that illegal immigration issue, as far as we’re concerned, even if we’re not quite so hopped up about it to embrace the Republican presidential nominee’s crazy talk about building a wall and making Mexico pay for it, and we can’t help recalling a time so recent as Ryan’s vice-presidential bid when the Republican nominee was saying that any talk of merely enforcing immigration and thus causing self-deportations was “cruel.” We’re with Ryan on those free-trade agreements, along with most of the First and Fourth Districts here in Kansas, where the export-dependent agricultural and aviation industries predominate, but at the moment we seem to be facing a bipartisan consensus against us. Ryan has signed off some continuing-resolution deals that are horrible by any Republican measure, but the alternative was a government shutdown that might well have halted those subsidy checks to the First Districts of both Wisconsin and Kansas and had other political consequences that no one can forecast, and we’re more inclined to trust the political deal-making instincts of a 16-year-veteran of the Congressional wars than a private sector deal-maker whose casinos went bankrupt four times despite house odds.
For all our frustrations with him, we note that Ryan is one of the few people left on the American political scene who is still stubborn about all that politically toxic fiscal solvency nonsense, and at least has some sort of half-assed over-the-coming-decades plan to deal with it. The American experiment is currently hurtling toward financial insolvency, neither of the major political party nominee have expressed any willingness to address the matter, and indeed both are trying to out-bid one another on how much they’ll spend to make America great again, so it’s nice to know that such an obstinate fellow as Ryan will likely be around to perhaps provide some hopeful plot twist or two about keeping America afloat.
All politics is local, as the venerable cliche goes, and we suspect that the First District of Wisconsin had the same self-interest in a Speakership that the First District of Kansas had in a seat on the Agriculture Committee, and that¬†little of it has anything to do with that dispiriting presidential race.. Both seats are safely Republican, though, so no matter how that dispiriting presidential race turns out at least Kansas’ First District will likely once again have a seat on the Agriculture Committee and the First District will have either a Speaker of the House who’s willing to take on entitlement reform, or at least a minority leader with the same admirable yet suicidal inclination. If the faint hope we find in this makes us “establishment,” so be it.

— Bud Norman