Reality TV and Reality Collide

The House impeachment inquiry makes its much ballyhooed debut on live television today, which puts in a wistfully nostalgic mood. It brings back vivid memories of the last two times the Congress tried to impeach a sitting president, and a jarring realization about how things change over time.
Way back in our youth the Watergate hearings were the top-rated show on television, and we watched with precociously rapt attention as the complex plot culminated with President Richard Nixon’s resignation and final helicopter flight from the White House. Even in the desultory aftermath of the Vietnam war and the emerging stagflation economy it was a very big deal, and with everything else on television at the time, it was such an epic morality play that we old folks talk about it to this day.
By the time President Bill Clinton was being impeached for lying under oath about a tawdry relationship with a White House intern during a civil lawsuit regarding a youth former Arkansas state employee, which was discovered by a special prosecutor charged with investigating a fail real estate scheme, things had noticeably changed. There weren’t any wars and the economy was growing without inflation, a post-sexual revolution country didn’t much care what its president was doing in his free time, and without any of the femmes fatales being questioned live on television the show couldn’t compete with all the other channels suddenly available on cable. In one of television’s greatest anticlimaxes the show ended with Clinton’s acquittal by a majority Democratic Senate, and no one on either of the side of the question at the time talks about much it now.
This time around things have changed even more noticeably. The nation’s notions of sexual propriety have reached a point where a thrice-married and boastful philanderer is the Republican president and hero of the evangelical right, and its standards for the proper exercise of presidential power have been similarly degraded. There are an exponentially greater number of viewing and reading options now, the impeachment hearings are boringly headed to a obviously predetermined and desultory-for-both-sides conclusion, and one likely outcome is that most Americans won’t much care how it comes out.
If you haven’t been slogging through the byzantine plot in the leaked or off-the-record reports in the print and electronic media, the gist of it is that several high-level Foreign Service and military officials have testified under oath to Congress that President Donald Trump’s White House withheld military and other aid to Ukraine unless it agreed to announce investigations into Trump’s past and potential future Democratic rivals. The White House itself released a rough transcript of a phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president that seems to back up the charges, the White House chief of staff defiantly told a press gathering to “Get over it, we do it all the time,” and for now the Republicans are trying their best to come up with a better defense.
The Republicans protested when the witnesses testified in closed hearings, but their damning testimony has since been released, and we expect they’ll be telegenic and appealing characters when live on television. On other channels you can hear that they’re “deep state” conspirators involved in a coup d’tat against a duly elected president, and some Republicans will be saying the same on the hated “fake news” networks, but it’s not a convincing plot line, even by modern television standards. All but one of the witnesses for the prosecution all have impeccable records of public service, no apparent reason to lie, and their stories all line up. Several are Trump appointees, or appointees of his appointees, and the other witness is a dilettante diplomat who was appointed Ambassador to the European Union after bundling millions to Trump’s campaign and another million to Trump’s inaugural ball but has recently amended his testimony to line up with the others.
So far impeachment is polling pretty well, given the fractured media markets and bipartisan climate, and we expect that even low-rated televised hearings will nudge up the antipathy to Trump. Potential future guest stars include Trump’s personal attorney, whose peripatetic freelance foreign policy are currently under investigation by Trump’s own Justice Department, and Trump’s former national security advisor, who resigned over differences o such matters as our foreign policy with Ukraine, which would be widely watched.
Barring some deus ex machina plot twist in this improbable reality show, a nearly unanimous majority of the Democrats who control the House majority and perhaps even a few Republicans will almost certainly impeach Trump. For now it’s likely that a majority-Republican Senate won’t vote to remove Trump from office, but that might be slightly less likely with each passing day of televised testimony from believable witnesses about an arguably impeachable abuse of presidential power.
Back in our surly and cynical youth many of the Republicans used to care about that sort of thing, and even in our middle age there were some damned Democrats who were embarrassed by an older man using his presidential power to indulge in a tawdry relationship with an much younger intern, even if they thought lying about it under oath wasn’t necessarily an impeachable offense. These days there are so many channels to choose from, and all of the standards seem to have been lowered across the political divide, and much of the country probably won’t care how it turns out.
Even so, we’ll be “binge watching.”

— Bud Norman

The Race is On, and Off to a Slow Start

The Democratic party held its first presidential primary debate Wednesday night with ten candidates on the stage, and another ten slated for the stage in tonight’s part two, and another six or so contenders are being left out of the mix. What’s sure to be a prolonged reality show got off to a rather boring start, we thought, but it might gain steam as the contestants begin getting voted off the island.
The debate started off with some embarrassing technical problems from the National Broadcasting Company, and the format that followed was also problematic. Each candidate was given 60 seconds to explain how he or she would solve such complicated problems as climate change and gun violence and a majority-Republican Senate, which is more than we could do even in our very fast-talking high school and college debate days, and they each wound up with less than eight minutes of air time to talk to the Democratic primary electorate. As a result we don’t think anyone clearly lost or won, but that didn’t stop all the pundits from picking winners as losers.
We were most impressed by Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who talked about how the Democrats need to regain their former reputation as the party of the working class instead of the Ivy League and Hollywood and certain racial and sexual identity groups, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who stressed her record of winning in Republican precincts and getting bills passed and signed with bipartisan support, but we’re still registered Republicans and won’t be voting in the Democratic primary. Our many Democratic friends probably saw it differently.
The polls say the front runner of the ten randomly picked candidates who had met the party’s threshold for inclusion in the debates was Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and she didn’t make any glaring mistakes, but neither did she say anything that people will remember when the voting starts in the Iowa caucus some eight months from now. Hawaiian Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker seem to have at least improved their name recognition numbers, judging by the Google search results, along with New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and former San Antonio mayor and Housing Secretary Julian Castro, but none of them scored a knockout.
Gabbard is young and surprisingly physically attractive by political standards, and she also has an impressive military record that the aged and ugly and draft-dodging President Donald Trump can’t compete with, but she lost us when she made clear that she was even wimpier than Trump about enforcing a Pax Americana on a question about Afghanistan. Booker seems a bright fellow, but he also seems to exemplify the identity politics that Ryan rightly warned against. The white DeBlasio got a lot of Google searches when he mentioned his black son, but we think he’s been a disastrous mayor of New York City, even if he probably would win New York City and New York state’s votes by a landslide. Castro probably endeared himself to Spanish-speaking Democratic voters with some Spanish lines, and dealt a clear blow to former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s efforts to court that constituency, but we don’t habla much espanol and weren’t much impressed.
We were slightly surprised that none of the candidates went on at much length about Trump, although it’s a given that none of them like him and it’s pointless to argue about who hates him the most, but we were even more surprised to see that none of them took aim at former Delaware Senator and Vice President Joe Biden, the front runner in all the polls who will hold center stage in tonight’s debate. The other nine candidates who qualified to share the stage with Biden will probably be more critical, but for now the Democrats don’t seem to be forming their usual circular firing squad.
At this point, we’re only hoping our Democratic friends choose the least kooky of their options.

— Bud Norman

Politics is Down-Sewer From the Culture

On a slow news weekend The Washington Post tends to feature stories about contemporary popular culture, and they always make us feel old and out of touch. The paper’s weekly update about Saturday Night Live’s opening sketch mentioned someone named Tekashi 6ix9ine, along with actress Lori Loughlin, whose name we learned only after she was arrested in that big deal college admissions scandal, and lawyer Michael Avanatti, who of course is best known for representing pornographic video performer Stormy Daniels, whom we’d never heard of until she broke her nondisclosure agreement with President Donald Trump.
Judging by the Post’s extensive coverage, we’re apparently the only people in America who don’t watch “Game of Thrones,” and despite our lifelong literary bent it had not previously occurred to us wonder where’s the great millennial novel. The contemporary popular culture questions on “Jeopardy!” almost always stump us, and we can’t converse much with the under-40 set about anything but politics, sports, and the weather.
Our mostly disgruntled younger friends assure us that we’re not missing out on much, and based on our occasional and brief encounters with the contemporary popular culture we tend to believe them. We looked into this Tekashi 6ix9ine fellow — apparently that last name is pronounced “six-nine,” but spelled according to modern educational standards — and we’re told by Wikipedia that “His musical career has been marked by an aggressive style of rapping, while his controversial public persona is characterized by his distinctive rainbow-colored hair, excessive tattoos, public feuds with fellow celebrities, and legal issues.” Given all the great Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee and Hank Williams and Duke Ellington and Ramones records and other great American music in our extensive collection, we saw no reason to look any further.
Although we took a sociological interest in the big college admissions scandal we didn’t bother to investigate Loughlin’s work, as she’s apparently mostly starred in sit-coms and cable channel movies we’e never heard of. For reasons solely related to our political punditry we checked out a couple of Stormy Daniels’ performances, and you can go right ahead and call us old-fashioned, but all we can say is that she’s no Hyapatia Lee. People seem to like “Game of Thrones,” which we’re told features a lot of nudity and violence, but we’re not about to pay cable bills to see that when there’s so much of it for free on the internet. As for the awaited great millennial novel, we’d advise to the youngsters to read such timeless classics as “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” and “The Things That are Caesar’s.”
Although the current popular culture doesn’t provide any refuge from the current politics, we suppose we should be paying more attention. Cultural conservatives have long said that “politics is downstream from culture,” and way back in in the ’72 Pat Buchanan was rightly observing that President Richard Nixon had won the election but lost the culture to the dirty hippies, and the downward trend seems to continue. We fear to see where it might go next, but probably out to take a look through our slightly opened fingers. Something eerily parallel does seem to be going on.
The current President of the United States was previously a star of one of those wretched reality shows, and much like that 6ix9ine fellow he has an aggressive stye of rapping and a flamboyantly weird hairstyle and a weird way of spelling words, and although he doesn’t have any tattoos we’re aware of his controversial public persona is clearly characterized by feuds with fellow celebrities and legal issues. We’d also note that Trump is the main reason Stormy Daniels is now a household, with countless husbands and horny high school students nervously erasing their search engine history. Except for the soft-core porno photos of the First Lady that are just a few clicks away on the internet the Trump presidency the Trump presidency has been blessedly free of nudity, but the president does seem to relish violence, and a lot of the more high-brow critics are claiming that “Game of Thrones” is a metaphor for our times. Nobody seems to read books anymore, and that notably includes the President of the United States, so even if the great millennial novel does appear it probably won’t make much difference.
That’s just the sorry state of the political right, too, and we shudder to think about what the political left that has been cheering on the decline of American culture since at least the ’60s might wind up nominating. We’ll keep listening to Bing Crosby’s crooning and watching Frank Capra’s sappy cinematic tributes to small-town Americana, and hope for a comeback of the more dignified American style of politics it fostered.

— Bud Norman

Can This Marriage Be Saved?

One of the most compelling subplots of President Donald Trump’s top-rated reality show is the melodramatic marriage of Kellyanne and George Conway. The distaff Conway is a senior White House advisor and ferociously loyal apologist for Trump, her husband is a respected lawyer with impeccable conservative credentials who is also an outspoken critic of Trump, and lately their wacky relationship has become a much-watched spin-off.
Trump “tweeted” on Tuesday that the husband of his most senior White House advisor is a “total loser,” George Conway “tweeted” back that Trump was stupid to draw such attention to their “Twitter” spat, and Kellyanne Conway told reporters she was too busy to taking care of four children to be able to comment. On the whole, we’d say that George Conway got the best of it.
George Conway and his wife’s boss have often clashed in the past, but this time around it started with Conway’s “tweets” citing the definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder from the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, suggesting that Trump seems to have all the symptoms. The “diagnostic criteria” for “NPD” include; “a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)”; “Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love”; “Requires excessive admiration”; “Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations)”; and “Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends),” among other things.
Now that Trump has drawn our attention to the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder, we have to agree with Mr. Conway that the President of the United States does indeed to seem check every box, and expect that many new readers of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental disorders will agree. Even Trump’s most loyal apologists concede his arrogance and braggadocio and authoritarian tendencies, and instead argue that’s what a leader needs to make America great again, and that at least he’s not Hillary Clinton. This time around they’ll echo Trump’s argument that the husband of his most senior White House advisor is a “total loser,” and probably won’t notice that it does little to bolster confidence in the President of the United States.
As Trump’s most loyal apologist, Kellyanne Conway won’t get away with no comment forever, and at some point she’ll have to somehow explain why her boss doesn’t suffer from a debilitating mental disorder and her husband isn’t a total loser. It’s a hard job, but we guess that’s why she makes the big bucks. In any case, we wish her well in the effort, if only for the sake of the four kids and her troublesome husband, whom we quite like and truly hope will leave the reputation of the Conway name intact at the end of this interminable reality show. We have our own family disputes about Trump and his personality disorders and whether they’re good or bad for the country, and we’re glad they’re not playing out televisions and all the papers, so wish the Conways the best.
As for Trump, he’s so awesome we assume he can take care of himself.

— Bud Norman

The Character Questions

Michael Cohen, one of President Donald Trump’s many longtime personal lawyers, will be on television today testifying to a congressional committee, which will likely be one of the highest-rated epodes yet in our ongoing political reality show. He’s expected to dish some damning dirt about Trump’s businesses, campaign, and sex life, and how they’ve all run occasionally afoul of the law, so Trump and his defenders are preemptively raising questions Cohen’s character.
There are plenty of questions to be asked, of course. Aside from the suspicious fact that he was admittedly one of Trump’s longtime lawyers, Cohen is soon heading to a three year stay in federal prison for lying to congress and various other crimes, and he’s long relished his reputation for ruthlessness. Trump loyalist and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz also “tweeted” on Tuesday that Cohen has also cheated on his wife.
“Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends?” Gaetz “tweeted” to Cohen. “Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful while you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot.”
Some of Gaetz’ congressional colleagues thought it was tantamount to witness intimidation, pretty much of all the rest thought it was tacky at the very least, and we can’t imagine anyone thought it a compelling argument. Cohen is undeniably a convicted liar and criminal, and we wouldn’t be much surprised to learn that he has cheated on his wife, but that’s a problematic argument to make in defense of Trump. Our president has been proved to tell an extraordinary number of lies even by presidential standards, Cohen has receipts to prove that the crimes he’s confessed were carried out at Trump’s request, and some of them involve hush money payments made to a pornographic video performer and a nude model who had alleged affairs with Trump, and although Trump denies the allegations he had frequently bragged to tabloid newspapers and shock jock radio hosts about similar extra-marital affairs, and we’re inclined to believe the porno performer and Playboy playmate rather than the President of the United States..
When forced to choose between the claims of two liars and alleged adulterers and generally sleazy characters, we’re inclined to believe the one with nothing to lose and documentary evidence to back him up. Cohen is expected to testify that he was pursuing a deal for a “Trump Tower” in Moscow at a time when Trump was assuring Republican primary voters that he had no business underway with Russia, and by now Trump is going to need some pretty damned convincing documentary to make us disbelieve that. There’s a report in The Washington Post that Cohen will also testify that Trump knew of his longtime and recently indicted friend Roger Stone’s contacts with the Wikileaks organization that was leaking damning hacked e-mails on Trump’s behalf during the presidential election. Cohen is constrained from some testimony about what he knows about the “Russia thing,” as he’s still a witness to an ongoing special counsel investigation in the matter, but we’re inclined to believe whatever it was he told the investigators.
If today’s highly-rated episode in this reality show is even half as soap operatic as the press has promised, Trump and his spokespeople and talk radio apologists will have a lot of explaining to do. They can rightly claim that Cohen is a liar, but they’ll be hard pressed to make that case that Trump isn’t. Cohen is a convicted liar and criminal, but he’s also one of those “very best people” that Trump brags he’s always hired.

— Bud Norman

Watching the Sausage Get Made

There’s a wise old saying, apocryphally attributed to Otto Von Bismarck, that “Laws are like sausages, it is better not see them being made.” In this reality show age of politics and food shows the gruesome spectacles are always on display, however, so Tuesday brought the live-on-television opening round of negotiations between President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer over an upcoming spending bill. Suffice to say it provided more melodrama than anything the competing soap operas had to offer.
To sum up the episode up in a TV Guide-sized synopsis, Trump insists any spending bill include at least $5 billion for a big and beautiful wall across America’s entire southern border, Pelosi and Schumer don’t want want to give it to him, and Trump is threatening a partial government shutdown if they don’t. Most followers of the ongoing political saga already have a rooting interest in either Trump or Pelosi and Schumer, and will cheer their heroes and boo their villains accordingly, but for those of us worriedly watching from the sidelines it just seems a damned mess. At this point in the plot our best is guess is that there won’t be any significant funding for a wall, there will be a partial government shutdown of unknown duration, and no one comes out of it looking good.
Nobody looked at all good on Tuesday. Trump and Pelosi and Schumer each played their reality show parts to their usual hilts, and their discussion of the nation’s pressing issues was as full of sound and fury signifying nothing as a typical cable news show’s panel debates or one of those pro wrestling skits Trump used to participate in, with both sides asserting their dominance rather than making rational arguments based on agreed facts.
As far as that went, we’d have to say that awful Pelosi woman and that awful Schumer guy got the better of the power play than that awful Trump fellow. Trump boasted live-on-air that for the next few days he can muster the votes in House of Representatives to give funding for his border wall, but he also admitted that because of the 60-vote rule for spending bills he didn’t have the needed votes in the Senate, and Pelosi could rightly note that when a sizable Democratic majority is installed in the House early next month he won’t get any border wall funding there. The Democrats clearly have the stronger hand, to borrow a poker metaphor, and even after seeing all his casinos go bankrupt Trump still doesn’t seem to know when to cash in.
Trump can rightfully boast he somehow how has the powers of the presidency, including the veto power that would lead to a partial government showdown, but we can’t see how that does him much good. Even partial government shutdowns are always unpopular, and Trump once “tweeted” back during the Obama that they were proof of a failure of presidential leadership, now he’s boastfully threatening one, and although that big beautiful border wall is always an applause line at Trump’s rallies it also doesn’t poll well. Pelosi and Schumer are more veteran players of politics, which is still mostly played by the constitutional and legal and traditional rules Trump is still learning, so we don’t see them folding to a president who has preemptively claimed credit for an unpopular government shutdown over an unpopular wall.
A more objective and deliberative consideration of government and border security would be welcome, but both sides would be still look bad. Those damned Democrats are far too weak on border enforcement for our tastes, and some of them are downright crazy about despite Pelosi’s and Schumer’s assurances, but Trump’s longstanding pledge of a big and beautiful border wall has always struck as one of the most cockamamie campaign promises ever made. Even if Trump could keep somehow keep his even more cockamamie campaign promise to have Mexico happily pay for it, which he no longer mentions, the wall is opposed by most Americans residing near the southern border and all of their Republican and Democratic representatives, its cost would surely exceed Trump’s pie-in-the-sky budget estimates just in court expenses for eminent domain seizures that offend our old-fashioned conservative sensibilities, and the money could surely be better spent on high-tech surveillance, border walls at a few essential points, and cracking down on the vast majority of illegal immigrants who arrived via airplane and outstayed their visas.
A smart and fair and vigorous enforcement of America’s border laws would surely round up several employees of Trump’s still wholly-owned businesses, and probably cause some Democrats much embarrassment along the way, so we don’t see that happening. Instead we expect a prolonged partial government shutdown and legislative gridlock, plenty of booing and hissing according to partisan preferences, and that separate subplot about the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” proceeding apace to its cataclysmic conclusion.
Oh well, at least it could be worse if either side were to win.

— Bud Norman

The Reality Show in Georgia and Kansas

There’s an intriguing gubernatorial race coming to a close down in Georgia, where the polls show longtime state legislator and Democrat nominee Stacey Abrams within striking distance of becoming the nation’s first black woman governor with an upset victory over Georgia Secretary of State and Republican nominee and boringly white male Brian Kemp, and it makes for some very compelling television.
On Thursday this latest spin-off of the reality television show that is now American politics featured former talk-show hostess and billionaire media mogul and famously black woman Oprah Winfrey stumping for Abrams, while Vice President of the United States and boringly white male Mike Pence was making a pitch for Kemp. Judging by the headlines Winfrey brought more star power to the state than Pence, who wound up telling a sizable rally crowd that “I’m kind of a big deal, too.” As far as we’re concerned it was a pretty clever line, as the Abrams campaign was also being visited by the often annoying yet frequently funny comic actor Will Ferrell, whose pompous “Ron Burgundy” character in the “Anchorman” movies has the catchphrase “I’m kind of a big deal,” but even to the extent the crowd got the obscure pop-cultural reference it was still a revealingly self-deprecating joke.
We’ve always hated the way those damned Democrats deploy their big-name celebrities with no discernible relevant political knowledge into the public debates, but in this age of former reality star and current President of the United States Donald “You’re Fired” Trump we can’t see where the damned Republicans have any moral ground to stand on to grouse about it. We’ve also long lamented how those damned Democrats make such a big deal of race and sex and class and sexual predilection and what not, but lately we’ve noticed that many of our fellow boringly white male middle-class heteros are doing the same. At this point, we’ll leave it to the people of Georgia to elect their next governor.
All politics is local, as we still like to believe, and the average Georgian is at least as well apprised of his state’s issues as we are, so we’ll trust them to settle it out. From this safe distance we note that Abrams has substantial debt, including to the government, but she seems to have won the debt-laden vote with the same deftness that Trump made a virtue of his past business bankruptcies and foreign debts and “that makes me smart” tax dodges. As acting Secretary of State the Republican nominee Kemp has challenged tens of of thousands of voter registrations, inordinately of black voters, but with help from the likes of Winfrey that’s likely to spur more than tens of thousands of extra black votes. There are probably issues about taxes and funding the schools and roads and other persistent problems of the real world, which concern every race and class and sexual predilection and what not of the human race, but we’ll also happily leave that to the Georgians, as we’ve got our own problems here in Kansas.
Here in Kansas and Sedgwick County and Wichita the races are pretty tight, except for the first congressional district race where the endearingly boring white male and old-fashioned establishment Republican incumbent is cruising toward another notch in a well-deserved undefeated win streak for the party. Although we expect the Trump-ish yet exceedingly boring white guy running as the Republican candidate here in the Fourth District to win by less than the usual Republican margin over a white guy candidate who’s lately gone too far left, those suburban Kansas City second and third districts to the east seem likely to to yield the Democrats a rare Kansas congressional seat, with one being contested by a boringly centrist white Democratic guy and the other by a Native American lesbian kick-boxer.
There’s also a good chance the state will be electing its third Democratic woman governor, too, and it should worry the Republicans everywhere that all of Kansas’ living past Republican governors but one and two of the three living past Republican senators and nearly half of the current Republicans in the state legislature and such longtime Republicans as ourselves will be voting for her. It’s mostly for complicated local political reasons we can’t take time to get into here, but we admit the countrywide craziness also plays its part.

— Bud Norman

Our Nostalgia for a Religious Right

Not so long ago Republicans were stereotyped as a bunch of blue-nosed religious fuddy-duddies, and a couple of stories that caught our eye on Tuesday made us nostalgic for that bygone era.
One unavoidable story was about President Donald Trump’s ongoing “Twitter” spat with a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels, which is another one of those cover-the-children’s-eyes things that didn’t happen to Republican presidents back in the party’s good old sexually repressed days. Daniels claims to have had a sexual encounter with Trump back in his reality show days, a few months after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child, and although Trump denies it he’s been forced by public records to stop denying that he paid her $130,000 to stop stay quiet, and it’s been hard to keep the ongoing legal wrangling out of the papers.
At this point Daniels isn’t being at all quiet about it, as she’s figured out that her tawdry tale is worth far more than a mere $130 grand, and her recent best-selling tell-all book has included some rather explicit and unflattering descriptions of Trump’s penis and sexual skills, and these days it’s hard to keep that kind of thing out of the papers as well. Trump won a legal victory on Tuesday when a judge dismissed Daniels’ defamation suit against Trump for calling her claims “a total con job,” and she was even ordered to pay the defendant’s legal fees, with the decision explaining that “The court agrees with Mr. Trump’s argument because the tweet in question constitutes ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States.”
At this point there really is no denying that “rhetorical hyperbole” and presidential “Twitter” feuds with pornographic video performers are now normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States, but that only makes us all the more nostalgic for pretty much every Republican president prior to Trump. We were also disappointed to see that the court didn’t even bother to put sneering quotation marks around “tweet,” but expect that the Twitter company’s lawyers will soon send it one of those threatening letters about using a trademarked term in a generic sense. Still, Trump couldn’t help gloating about his victory with one of his trademark ad hominem “tweets.”
“Federal Judge throws out Stormy Daniels lawsuit against Trump. Trump is entitled to full legal fees,” Trump “tweeted,” adding a link to his friends at Fox News. “Great, now I can go after Horseface and her 3rd rate lawyer in the great state of Texas. She will confirm the letter she signed! She knows nothing about me, a total con job.”
The true-blue Trump fans will love it, because “at least he fights” and all that blather, and they probably won’t notice that if you parse that last sentence according to the strict rules of the English language he’s confessing to being a total con job. By now the vast majority of the Republican party is no longer the least bit embarrassed to have its president engaged in a tawdry “Twitter” war with a pornographic video performer, and a more elevated level of presidential rhetoric is no longer one of those cultural heritages that conservatives care to conserve. They also won’t mind that “Horseface” nickname a bit, as that’s also by now normally associated with politics and public discourse, but they should be worried that Trump has picked a fight with an equally shameless and very formidable “Twitter” foe.
“Ladies and gentlemen, may I present your president,” Daniels “tweeted” back. “In addition to his … umm … shortcomings, he has demonstrated his incompetence, hatred of women and lack of self-control on Twitter AGAIN. And perhaps a penchant for bestiality. Game on, Tiny.”
Trump fans can say what they want about this publicity=seeking pornographic video performer, but they must admit that at least she fights, and rather effectively by the current cage match rules of politics and public discourse. Most people figure that Trump probably did do the deed with Daniels, very few people pretend to believe he’s not at all the unfaithful sort of fellow who would ever do such a thing, and they’re already making excuses for him even if he did, so we expect that “Horseface” will fare better against “Tiny” in their mutually embarrassing “Twitter” war. That “Tiny” nickname will surely enrage Trump, and delight his critics to a similar degree, and might even explain a few things, so it could well stick.
We had previously been unaware of the existence of Dennis Hof, but we were intrigued by his obituary in The Washington Post on Tuesday. Apparently the 72-year-old Hof was the owner of a legal Nevada brothel called The Bunny Ranch, and thus became a star of a long-running reality show about the operation on some cable network that aired occasional nudity, but we were mostly struck by the fact he was also the Republican candidate for his district’s state Assembly seat. We’d like to think that candidates who proudly traffic in women’s flesh still wouldn’t pass Republican muster around here, but in the last presidential election most Kansas Republicans found no tolerable choice but the candidate who once ran a strip club in one of his bankrupt casinos, and for now we don’t see either side seeking the higher moral ground.
Oh how we long for those good old days of the stereotyped and ridiculed rock-ribbed and religiously upright blue-nosed Republican fuddy-duddies.

— Bud Norman</p

An Especially Surreal Day in the All-Too-Real Trump Reality Show

By now we should be well inured to these weird celebrity reality shows, but we were nonetheless taken aback by rapper Kanye West’s guest appearance Thursday on President Donald Trump’s hit television program. In case you somehow it missed it, it was a fascinatingly bizzarre mix of “The Jerry Springer Show,” “The Real Housewives of Wherever,” and that show whose name we forget that was about the ongoing mental breakdown of Flava Flav.
Despite being old white guys with old white guy musical tastes, we’ve been aware of West’s existence for some time now, although we can’t claim any familiarity with his music. He’s been a very successful rap “artist” for some time now, and young people we know with more up-to-date and less discriminating tastes than ours have vouched that he’s actually quite good at it, but we mostly know him for his frequent intrusions into the rest of the news.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans he used the podium of some music awards show or another to say that President George W. Bush “doesn’t care about black people.” He later crashed the front pages when he crashed the stage at some music awards show or another to snatch the microphone out of the hands of a pop chanteuse named Taylor Swift during her acceptance speech and complain that the award should have gone to his friend Beyonce, who is apparently another popular hip-hop performer of some repute, which prompted then-President Barack Obama to call him a “jackass.” Since then he’s become more famous as a co-star of the hit Kardashian family reality series, as he’s married to the famously callipygian co-star Kim Kardashian and is thus somehow related by marriage to co-star and former Olympic decathlon winner Bruce Jenner, who is now more highly celebrated as a transgender woman.
More recently, he’s been in the news because of his outspoken support of Trump. A while back he made headlines by ending a concert with a rambling pro-Trump rant, then again the next day when his spokespeople announced that he was seeking mental health treatment. Just a week or so ago, he was back in the news when was the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live” and started into another rambling pro-Trump as the final credits rolled. The stunt went un-aired but was widely reported, and earned West his nationally-televised guest-starring turn in the Oval Office on Thursday.
If you some haven’t sat through the whole thing we’d urge to summon the courage to do so, because it’s perhaps the most perfect example of celebrity reality show grotesquery we’ve come across yet, and a damning indict of the celebrification of our politics. Clad in a red “Make America Great Again” ball cap and some coat-and-tieless street gear, and using street language similarly unsuited to the past dignity of the Oval Office, West went on an unhinged rant for the ages. He derided the 13th amendment that abolished slavery, bragged about bringing the Adidas sports shoe company from a billion dollar deficit to a multi-billion dollar profit, talked about a hydrogen-powered Air Force One to for the “Flyest president ever,” promised to restore Chicago’s manufacturing base and it’s high murder without stop-and-frisk. He also confessed, as if he were on the old “Oprah” reality show, that he supported Trump at least in part because he’d grown up in single-mother home without “male energy” and that the family he’d married into was similarly lacking in “male energy.”
Reigning reality show alpha male Trump sat silently behind the historic Resolute desk with his arms crossed through the whole 11 minutes, never once interrupting to tell his guest to take off his cap and pull up his saggy britches and stop saying “motherfucker” and start showing some damned respect for the Oval Office. Trump was no doubt annoyed by all the airtime West was taking, not to mention that touchy-feely talk about no stop-and-frisk, as well as West claiming preemptive credit for any Chicago revival that might occur, but what he could he do? West was mostly saying very flattering things about him, which always obliges Trump to say nice things in return, and he’s hardly in any position to criticize a fellow reality show star for a self-aggrandizing and obviously exaggerated and inappropriately vulgar and clearly unhinged rant.
Besides, Trump clearly covets a bigger-than-usual Republican share of the black vote. Trump has a history of discriminating against black tenants applying to live in his apartments, continues to call for the execution of black and hispanic men who were once convicted but have since been clear by scientific evidence for the rape of a white woman in Central Park, and more recently found “very fine people” among a deadly neo-Nazi mob in Virginia, but the black unemployment rate is currently low, and Trump can claim that some of his best friends are black. He’s not only got the foul-mouthed and clearly crazed West on his side, but all-time football great and convicted spousal abuser Jim Brown was also in the Oval Office on Thursday. Dennis “The Worm” Rodman, an undeniably tough basketball rebounder and defender, a cross-dressing trash-talker who was a reality show star on Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” and a pal to North Korean dictator Kim Jung long before Trump was, is also on board. Trump also has the friendship of boxing legend and convicted rapist and boastful wife-beater “Iron” Mike Tyson, as well as boxing promoter Don King, who overcame a couple of manslaughter convictions to make fortune exploiting such naive black boxers as Tyson.
Trump’s penchant for braggadocio and bling plays well in certain parts of the hip-hop world, where his admitted pussy-grabbing tendencies aren’t much of a problem, and West still seems to have some sway with that mostly-male audience, so it might nudge Trump’s approval ratings among black Americans into the low single digits. The mostly white and male supporters who were rihghtly outraged back when Obama hosted a similarly foul-mouth rapper probably won’t mind, as it’s not as if Trump actually shot somebody on Fifth Avenue, and they surely won’t notice that West’s unhinged rant came while Hurricane Michael was devastating the East Coast, so it might have done him some good.
Even so, we don’t see how it helps make America great again. You don’t have to be crazy to be a Trump defender — although it helps (insert rim shot here) — but this West fellow is is quite clearly off his rocker. There’s something disconcerting, too, about watching a President of the United States sitting with arms folded behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office during such an unhinged rant and then offering such effusive praise. If that makes us Republican in name only, then so damn be it.

— Bud Norman

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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