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 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, 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


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

Watching Liberty Booed Off the Stage at Two Conventions

Despite our particular aversion to the whole “reality show” genre of television, and our general disdain of the entire medium altogether, we did make a point to log onto the internet Wednesday evening to watch and listen to C-Span’s coverage of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ address to the Republican National Convention. Our oddball tastes in entertainment include an affinity for political rhetoric, and Cruz is as good at it as anybody these days, and his address did prove a most fascinating episode. The Senator seemed to deliver a robustly persuasive argument against the presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee, but he he only once mentioned the official Republican nominee by name, and at no point was there an unambiguous endorsement, so those who have been closely following the plot of this dreary tale are sure to have noticed some fascinating further ambiguities.
If you’ve been happily distracted from this dreary tale you need to understand that Sen. Cruz is better known to fans of the habitually lying official Republican nominee as “Lyin'” Ted Cruz, for reasons that have never been adequately explained, and that back when they were the last two contenders still vying for the nomination the now-official Republican nominee threatened to “spill the beans” on Cruz’ wife and “tweeted” out his gloat that she was uglier than the now-official Republican nominee’s plagiarizing-from-Michelle-Obama third super-model trophy wife, and claimed that Cruz was actually an oh-my-God punting-on-third-down Canadian and that his Cuban-born father had been in on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, based solely on the reporting of the official Republican nominee’s good friends at The National Enquirer, so the address was full of intriguing plot lines. There was a gracious and specific congratulation to the now-official Republican nominee who had shamelessly and ridiculously slandered Cruz’ wife and father and personal history, and a rousing denunciation of the undeniably awful presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee, but in terms that don’t reflect well on the now-official Republican nominee.
His strikingly brief address quite persuasively made the case that the traditional Republican value of freedom of speech is at odds with a presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee who would overturn the Citizens United ruling that people are free to criticize her, and generously neglected to mention that the official Republican nominee has promised that anyone who criticizes him will have “problems, such problems” should he win. He affirmed the right of homosexuals to pursue their preferences but stood up for the right of others not to be involved, without mentioning that both of America’s major parties now seem on board with more authoritarian post-sexual-revolution measures, and he spoke against open borders while also speaking well of the father who legally came to this country from communist Cuba and all the other legal immigrants who had nothing to do with the assassination of Kennedy. He spoke about giving parents a choice in educating their children, which neither party’s official or all-but-certain nominees ever mention, and the state’s rights on everything from marijuana to California-style taxation that also largely go unmentioned. All in all it was a stem-winding speech against the presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee, but hardly a ringing endorsement of the now-official Republican nominee.

Which of course wound up with him being booed off the stage by the Republican National Convention. He ended by saying that “We will unite the country by standing together for shared values by standing for liberty,” and in this sorry virtual reality show that seems to define our actual reality that will get you booed off any of the available stages. We’d have preferred that he defended the honor of the one wife of his youth and the pro-American immigrant father who surely had nothing to do with the assassination of Kennedy, no matter what craziness the official Republican nominee’s friends at The National Enquirer concocted, and been more frank about the lies being told by both of the major party candidates, but at this point we’ll argue that “Lyin’ Ted” was at least more truthful than either of the official and all-but-certain major party nominees and made a stronger case against the presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee than the now-official Republican nominee ever could, and we’ll hold out faint hope that next time around will be better.

— Bud Norman

The Last Dying Gasp of “The Media”

Pretty much all of the news and entertainment media are just horrible these days, even to the point that most of them have made Donald J. Trump the presumptive Republican nominee and are now unable to keep their favored presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the lead in the general election race, and we cannot deny they deserve their fate. Not all of the media and certainly not all of the rest of the country deserves this sorry slate of choices, though, and we hope this will eventually prompt a reconsideration and perhaps even a thorough reconsideration of the sorry media landscape.
Trump got twice the airtime minutes and column inches of the rest of his largely distinguished 16-person-field of Republican competitors combined, and there are two obvious reasons why this is so. One is that his already scandal-ridden tabloid career as a self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-scam-university-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul with a penchant for saying news-worthily crazy things that made for circulation- and ratings-generating great copy, and the other is that he seemed to exemplify all its well-worn racist and sexist and crony-capitalist and generally heartless stereotypes of a presumptive Republican nominee. It might have seemed a win-win proposition from the outset to stick the Republicans with such a noxious candidate and bolster the circulation and ratings in the process, but now they’re starting to regret that they’ve not only created a monster their plummeting circulations and ratings cannot slay but are actually abetting his rise to power.
Trump’s unfavorable ratings in the public opinion polls are still sky-high, yet his undeniably horrible presumptive Democratic opponent’s are unfavorables are now even slightly sky-higher, while the reputation of “the media” are somehow worse yet. Even the prestigious names at, which is a mere internet publication but is staffed by refugees names from the from the formerly most prestigious yet-soon-to-be-bankrupt empires of the ancien regime print media and by now have a larger readership than their former employers, quite rightly acknowledges that the public’s hatred of “the media” actually benefits the hated Trump. The press hates Trump, the public hates the press worse yet, so his much-publicized press opprobrium works to his benefit.
As recently as the last election cycle “the media” still had the ability to portray the quite gentlemanly and quite legitimately rich and evil Republican nominee as an incorrigible sexist just because he’d made a a brief remark about the “binders full of women” he’d hired as a Governor of Massachusetts, and as vile racist because of the the remark about “self-deportation” that that even the current presumptive Republican nominee decried as “mean,” and the hundreds of millions he’d earned by rescuing failing companies from bankruptcy seemed so awful that the country re-elected Barack Obama. This time around the the Republican’s presumptive nominee truly is a sexist pig, and he really has settled a lawsuit over the racist housing policies of his real estate empire, and he grossly exaggerates his ill-gotten wealth, but this time around they’re out of ammunition. The gross sexism of the Republican’s presidential nominee is arguably less than the presumptive Democratic nominee’s enabled perv husband that has been covered up for so many years by the more polite “media,” his undeniable racism is no more infuriating than the undeniable racism of the First Black President “the media” carried through two disastrous elections, and his self-described billions are clearly more unsavory than the self-described billionaire’s, but any medium that tries to describe the presumptive Democratic nominee’s exorbitant wealth as any more honorable will be rightly discounted.
The presumptive Republican nominee’s sexisms was openly expressed by countless on-the-record hours on fellow shock jock Howard Stern’s naked-lesbian-stripper show, but even such once-formidable media as The New York times wound up embarrassing itself in an effort to make the point by going after some women that had been disrespected by Trump but ultimately wound up preferring the self-described billionaire to their interviewers from a dying industry. The article was written by the same guy who wrote that pathetic piece about Trump rival and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio taking out a loan to to buy a rather modest, and published by the same newspaper that made excuses for the presumptive Democratic nonimee’s perv husband for so many years, so at this point Trump is probably relishing its opprobrium. So far no one’s made much of his premature call for the execution of some black teens wrongly accused of raping a Central Park jogger, or that aforementioned settlement regarding his racist housing policies at one of his properties, but at this point people will recall how so much of the press overlooked the Democrats’ equally vile racist rhetoric on behalf of minorities and much of the white portion of that public will side with a presumptive Republican nominee who “re=Tweets” the worst of his unabashedly racist supporters.

Most of the entertainment media will do their part to bring down Trump, but they’re also no longer so formidable. The late night comedians are trying to destroy the presumptive Republican nominee, and we have to admit that the otherwise execrable Stephen Colbert has been doing a pretty witty job of it, but they’re currently preoccupied with trying to bring an even farther-left Democrat into the race, and we suspect their audience skews to a younger demographic that will wind up voting for the Democrat in any case. The movies will do their bit, but they’ve been on an absurd “Bush lied, people died” tangent that the presumptive Republican nominee has already co-opted, and even they seem suddenly inconsequential. All those years of professional wrestling and reality show seem to have better prepared the presumptive Republican nominee for the the current sorry media landscape.

There are all sorts of media, which is a plural form, after all, but few are free of blame. In recent years there’s been a rise of self-described “conservative media” on talk radio and the internet, and a hide-bound conservatism has been in print for decades, but most of them have been happy to sign on with a self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul in from time to time in favor of a soak-the-rich tax policy and letting all the “good” immigrants he kicked out promptly back in and thinks North Carolina was crazy for keeping men out of its women’s restrooms and is generally no more reliably conservative than his presumptive Democratic opponent, and at this point we find little to like in the entire media. There’s still such old fogies as The National Review and The Weekly Standard and The Central Standard Times who are willing to admit that both sides are awful and it’s an awful situation the country faces, but at this point it doesn’t matter much.

— Bud Norman

Another Post-Reality Show

The Obama administration has escalated its war on America’s longstanding and satisfactory-to-more-than-99-percent of-the-population social arrangement regarding public restrooms and dressing rooms and overnight accommodations and certain sporting competitions being chromosome-segregated, and we see no light at the end of the tunnel.
Not content with challenging North Carolina’s recent law codifying that generally agreeable former social arrangement, the administration’s Department of Education has now threatened that any school district or federally-supported college or university which does not allow any boy or young man claiming to be a girl or young woman to enter into whatever restroom or dressing room or overnight accommodations or sporting event he desires will be in violation of federal law and ineligible for federal funding, and any attempt by a school district or federally-supported college or university to find out if that boy or young man really does think he’s a girl or young woman or is just trying to get into a girl’s restroom or dressing room or overnight accommodations or sporting event for more prurient reasons is similarly illegal. This obviously insane policy is based on the law known as “Title IX,” which conspicuously makes no mention of this nonsense, and which was passed and signed into law way back in 1972, when its backers would surely have scoffed at any paranoid right-wing worries that they ever meant any such thing, and repeated efforts to insert such language to the bill have repeatedly failed in Congress, but in an age when people can be whatever sex or race or height they want to be a law can surely mean whatever our betters at Obama’s Department of Education think it should mean.
Although less than 1 percent of the population stands to benefit from this social rearrangement, and most if not all of that mere fraction should not be encouraged in its probably passing fantastical notion they are actually of a different sex than what their genitalia and chromosomes indicate, and even though we hope that only a surely larger but still small number of boys will avail themselves of the legal opportunity to crash the women’s restrooms and dressing rooms and overnight accommodations and sporting events of women, the social rearrangement seems likely to prevail. Neither the self-described socialist or the disingenuously crony-capitalist still duking it out for the Democratic presidential have expressed any reservations, and the unabashedly crony-capitalist presumptive Republican presidential nominee is hardly any better.
After the administration announced its opening salvo on North Carolina for daring to try to preserve the old social arrangement, the presumptive Republican nominee’s first response was a criticism of the state for bringing down the wrath of some aging rock stars and youthful corporations by bucking the latest trend, and he even invited his fellow reality-show star Bruce “Caitlyn” Jenner to use the ladies room at his fabulous Trump Tower, but he quickly retreated to a “state’s rights” position that generously allowed the Tar-Heels to take what he had already admitted was a losing stand. In the aftermath of the escalation he’s still sticking to that “state’s rights” position, which we concede is at least better than what the Democrats are offering, but he’s been careful not to suggests that states would be right to insist on the old and largely satisfactory social arrangement, and “state’s rights” has the same unmistakable unsavory historical connotations as the otherwise equally benign “America First” slogan when he says it.
The presumptive Republican nominee’s reluctance to directly challenge the absolute absurdity of the post-reality nature of the administration’s policy or its post-reality interpretation of the law is by now not surprising, though, nor is his reluctance to talk back his criticism of a state that dared defy the policy. He’s a thrice-married and four-times-bankrupt-gambling-casino-and-strip-joint mogul and a veteran of the professional-wrestling and reality-show business, and he seems quite eager to assume any post-reality legal powers that the presidency has gained over the past seven-and-a-half-years, and at this point in his career as the presumptive nominee of the Republican party we must glumly admit that his oh-so-politically-incorrect and at-least-he-fights sense of the pop cultural zeitgeist of the moment is certainly better than what our more hopeful souls could ever hope for.
At least the Republican National Committee and numerous Republican governors and attorneys general and countless other elected Republicans officials have taken a more forthright stand to fight against against this politically correct and post-reality craziness, and in favor of those longstanding social arrangements that have so long been agreeable to more than 99 percent of the population, but at this point they’re the dreaded “establishment” that the presumptive Republican nominee’s most fervent supporters want to burn down. This is how longstanding and generally agreeable social arrangements that have worked for millennia end, and a post-reality show begins.

— Bud Norman

The Only One Who Can Solve, God Help Us

Once upon a happier time in America, not even a full year ago, we would have paid no more attention to Donald J. Trump’s pronouncements on American foreign policy than we would to those of that Snooki woman from that “Jersey Shore” program or one of the “Real Housewives of Wherever” or any of those other obnoxious reality television show stars. Somehow he’s now the clear front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, however, so we felt a civic duty to duly consider his big address on Wednesday. It was not at all reassuring.
The oration before the fancy-schmantzy Center for the National Interest was noteworthy merely by the fact that Trump was reading from a prepared text, complete with some entire parseable sentences and paragraphs, and was meant to convey a more presidential demeanor than his usual fourth-grade-level and off-the-cuff Don Rickles riffs. There was still some of the usual Trump rhetorical style in the speech, with such two-word sentences as “No vision,” and “Not good,” as well as the usual Trump bravado with such claims as “I am the only person running for the presidency who understands this and this is a serious problem.” To emphasize the point he once again insisted the listener believe him, one of those “tells” that better gamblers than the former owner of a bankrupt casino know to look for, adding “I’m the only one, believe me, I know them all, I’m the only one who knows how to fix it.” All in all it was slightly more stylish than his previous “tweet” about the Islamic State that “Only I can solve,” but not quite Reagan-esque.
Nor did it help that his scathing critique of the entirety of the post-Reagan era of American foreign policy also had him saying that “Logic was replaced with foolishness and arrogance, which led to one disaster after another.” If you find yourself on “Family Feud” and the category is “Things People Associate With Donald Trump,” we can confidently advise you that the survey will surely say “foolish” and “arrogant” and “one disaster after another” came well ahead of “logical.” He was also arrogant enough to explain how none of those disasters would have occurred if only “I Can Who Solve” were in charge at that moment of history, which is quite provably foolish.
The very reliable Andrew McCarthy of the determinedly anti-Trump National Review, who was prosecuting the original World Trade Center bombers on terrorism charges back when Trump was firing Dennis Rodman on “The Apprentice” and has been a consistently correct commentator on radical Islamic terrorism issues ever since, has the unassailable citations to prove that the disasters Trump now laments in Libya, Iraq, and Syria were met with his on-the-record approval at the time. No one was paying any attention to the foreign policy pronouncements of a reality show star back in those good old days, so Trump can be assured that his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters won’t bother to follow the the links, but he did seem put off his usual Vegas lounge game by the perfunctory applause he was getting from the fancy-schmaltzy establishment types of the Center for the National Interest who might have played some role in the one disaster after another but who have been paying keen attention to these matters since before Trump was firing Meatloaf on “The Apprentice” and aren’t so arrogant that they won’t admit their mistakes in an attempt to get it right next time. Although we claim no particularly foreign policy expertise, we share their skepticism.
There was some perfunctory applause for Trump’s now familiar promise of “America First,” although such fancy-schmantzy types probably know enough American history to associate the phrase with the isolationists of the late ’30s and early ’40s who would have allowed an Axis-dominated rest-of-the-world if served American interests. Ever since Pearl Harbor there’s been a bi-partisan consensus that an Axis-dominated rest-of-the-wirkd would not have been the long-term best interests of the country, and so far as we can tell only Trump cheerleader and past populist-nationalist “insurgent Republican” Patrick Buchanan is still in dissent, but we can’t shake a nagging suspicion that the current Republican front-runner has similarly wrong notions of what’s in America’s interests. The continued talk about making our North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies pay up for what he seems to regard as a protection racket might make some sense if it somehow worked out in “The Art of the Deal,” but the whole “you’ve got a nice a country here, shame if anything happened to it” approach seems reckless on the part of a diplomatic amateur, and his expressed eager to make a deal with Russia, “a deal that’s great — not good, but great — for America, but also for Russia,” should make it all the worrisome for those erstwhile NATO allies who have long banded together against the ongoing Russian threat.
Such eggheads are also like aware that Trump’s new campaign manager has longstanding ties with former Russian ally and deposed Ukrainian dictator Viktor Yanukovych, as well as former Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos and a former Bahamian Prime Minister ousted from power because of his drug gang ties, and that one of the “best people” Trump always claims to hire is a notorious apologist for Russia’s more-or-less dictator who also has business ties to the country. According to The Huffington Post some of the very best people, such as former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton and Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes and the surge-winning General David Petraeus have declined his offers to serve his campaign or administration, and pretty much everyone who takes these matters seriously are expressing doubts, so we suppose we’ll just have to believe Trump that only he can solve.
Trump got the more usual enthusiasm at a rally in Indiana with the state university’s former “Hoosier” basketball coach Bob Knight, who told an enthusiastic crowd of so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters that “There has never been a presidential candidate prepared to go to the length that this man is.” Knight once had a decided knack for whipping undersized white boys and athletically-challenged black boys into an occasional national championship, and is still much revered in the state for it, but he was also a notoriously rude and inconsiderate sort who waved soiled toilet paper in his players’ face and threw vases at secretaries and threw chairs at referees and punched cops and bad-mouthed his university’s administration and always claimed he was only trying to teach his players proper respect for authority, and he inevitably wound up on the tail end of Trump’s catch-phrase of “You’re fired.” We don’t take his pronouncements on who should be running America’s foreign policy any more than we would that Snooki woman from that “Jersey Shore” reality show or “The Real Housewives of Wherever” or any other obnoxious reality show star.

— Bud Norman

The Real Rules of Debate

A pleasant chore had us driving across town and listening to talk radio on the AM radio Monday afternoon, so by chance we heard one of those occasional few-second sound bites that somehow explain everything. Donald J. Trump, the self-described billionaire and real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-scam-university-and-reality-show mogul who is somehow the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, was entertaining another huge crowd of his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters with his usual Don Rickles riffs on his opponents. This time he was laughing off Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s challenge to a one-on-one debate over the important issues of the day, and gloating that although Cruz was a former national collegiate debate champion “in college debate I don’t get to interrupt him every 15 seconds.”
Which pretty much explains why the likes of Trump is front-running against a former national collegiate debate champion who is described by his most liberal professors as brilliant and described by everyone as a rock-ribbed conservative and was fighting the “establishment” that Trump so effectively rails against way back when Trump was still writing five- and six-figure contribution checks to it. Cruz and his long record as Texas’ Solicitor General and maverick Senator has a persuasive case to make for his candidacy in a supposedly rock-ribbed conservative party, and he makes it quite well if you’re one of those political junkies who will listen to it in more than a few-second soundbites, but it’s not at all an overstatement to say that in the ears of the rest of the public it has indeed been interrupted at least every fifteen seconds by Trump.
That liberal media all of Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters abhor has given him more air time and column inches and whatever the on-line equivalent of column inches is than the rest of the Republican field combined, and until he clinches the nomination will continue to withhold all the really damning stuff they undeniably have on him, and at this point even that unfortunate reality talk show guest who really does sort of bear a certain resemblance to a female Ted Cruz and took up an offer to perform in a porn video because of it had to admit that she hadn’t previously heard of the guy.
Trump has already proclaimed his love for the “poorly educated,” and we’re sure that his many so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters will share his scorn for collegiate debaters and other fancy-pants egghead types, but at the risk of sounding metrosexual or something we’d still rather see the important issues of the day settled according to the rules we followed during our own high school and collegiate debate careers. There were no interruptions every 15 seconds, which Trump actually brags about, although he once criticized the formidable Carly Fiorina for doing because she is after all a mere woman, and both sides got to state their case, answer interrogations about their arguments, offer rebuttals, and make closing statements that addressed each relevant point. Factual evidence was required, some logical conclusion from that evidence was expected, and an ability to express oneself at a grade level required for the complexity of the question at hand also counted. If it were conducted on these strict terms, we would very much love to see a one-on-one debate between Trump and Cruz.
Trump is shrewd enough to understand all the professional wrestling and reality show and scam university rules that he’s now playing by, though, and even the guy whose Atlantic City house-rules casino and strip joint went bankrupt is smart enough to avoid that sucker’s game. Still, these days he might even carry the day the in a Marquis de Queensbury sort of verbal brawl.
One of the most memorable epiphanies of our epiphany-fllled debate career came when we were high schoolers arguing against some rural team’s case to ban super-sonic jet transports based on claims they would cause disastrous air pollution, an arguments we had good evidence to refute even then, and has long since turned out to be another one of those ’70s worries that never came to pass. Our colleague, an hilarious and charismatic and quirky and even further right-wing fellow than us whose late Dad was not only a John Bircher but a Minuteman, and who wasn’t so inclined to research things or seek a rational argument as we were, simply laughed off the very idea because of course, as everyone knows, a super-sonic aircraft would be moving too fast to leave any air pollution. We grimaced at the absurdity of the argument, because even though our marks in English were higher than in Science we could immediately see the utter stupidity of it, but even through our determinedly shut eyes we could see the judge nodding in agreement and the opposing team panicking at such an irrefutable refutation of their seemingly well-sourced argument. It was sophistry carried to a point best described by a familiar barnyard epithet, but it did carry us into the elimination rounds where the judges were more carefully chosen and the opposition was not quite so stupid, where as it turns out even our best evidenced and rational arguments efforts did not carry the day.
Such sophistry might yet carry Trump to the Republican party’s nomination, which might arguably be a a fitting retribution for its sins, and his last remaining opposition will surely have to deal with the every-15-seconds-interruptions, but we wonder how well it will play in the elimination rounds where the judges are more serious. The opposition will either be a self-described socialist and thus easily-refuted Senator or a former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State whose character flaws rival those of her pal the Republican front-runner, and if the Republicans don’t choose the thrice-married bragging-about-his-affairs with married women failed gamblig-and-strip-joint mogul the alternative will inevitably be smeared as a Bible-thumping theocrat who according to Trump’s friends at The National Enquirer is also a womanizing hypocrite with a wife who’s not as hot as Trump’s latest trophy wife and a dad who was in on the JFK assassination, so who knows how it will all turn out. Not by collegiate debate rules, certainly, and that’s a shame. This is the real world where a plane emitting so many air pollutants in a flight does so regardless of how fast it’s flying, the better argument is being made no matter how often its interrupts, and an the incredulous reactions of the poorly educated voters don’t really care in the end.

— Bud Norman