The Saga of Ivanka and Wichita

The coronavirus and recession and anti-racism protests and recent high winds notwithstanding, the big story here in Wichita is about Ivanka Trump.
The First Daughter and White House senior advisor was invited to give a “virtual commencement address’ at Wichita State University Tech’s “virtual graduation ceremony,” then was disinvited after hundreds of students and faculty and alumni objected, and since then other alumni and some major donors have raised such a fuss about the dis-invitation that the WSU president found himself facing the Kansas Board of Regents Wednesday with his job on the line. For now Jay Golden remains president of the university, but the city remains divided about that.
We’ve not heard any explanation for why Trump was invited to virtually speak at the virtual ceremony in the first place, but guess it had something to do with her attention-grabbing appearance at the school last year with Secretary of State and hometown boy Mike Pompeo, which was in her tole as a member of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, which has something to do with WSU Tech. The outcry that led to Trump’s dis-invitation was more easily understood, given how Trump’s and her father’s policies offend liberal sensibilities.
The offense felt by the city’s many Trump-loving Republicans was also understandable, and some of them have considerable sway with the university, as well as the Board of Regents. There are no doubt many students and more than a few faculty at WSU who like both Trump and her Dad, but at this point they’re less likely than the anti-Trump types to sign petitions and make angry phone calls and send angry e-mails, and what put the university’s president in front of the Board of Regents were threats that many well-heeled donors might stop donating to the suddenly cash-strapped university. Early reports in the local media warned that might include Koch Industries, owned by local multi-multi-billionaire and philanthropist and free-market activist Charles Koch, who annually donates more than $10 million to his hometown university.
A Koch spokesman quickly clarified that the company intended to honor all of its commitments to the university, politely added that Koch’s very libertarian beliefs call for free expression of all points of view, but further explained that Koch did not involve himself in the university’s personnel matters. We were not surprised, given that Koch’s classical conservatism never cared much for President Donald Trump’s trade wars and immigration extremism and deficit spending and other governmental intrusions into a free market economy, and that given his far greater wealth he wasn’t much impressed by Trump’s business acumen. He didn’t give a dime to Trump’s campaign, and said that choosing between Trump and Hillary Clinton was like choosing either a heart attack or cancer. So long as the university’s Wheatshockers basketball team keeps winning at Charles Koch Arena, we figure he’s not likely to abandon WSU nor its president because Ivanka Trump’s feelings were hurt.
The dis-invitation of Ivanka Trump got a lot of play in the national print and electronic media, which is always exciting for us usually ignored Wichitans, and her complaint that it was a result of a “culture of cancel” set off some interesting debates. The rest of the country won’t concern itself with what becomes of our local university’s president in the aftermath, and it’s probably for the best we work that out here in Kansas.
Being from around here and having a rooting interest in the ‘Shockers we’re forced to take sides, although we prefer our usual seat on the sidelines. Even here in conservative Wichita modern academia does tend limit debate to the leftward side, which offends our homegrown conservative sensibilities, but we’re no more inclined than Koch to involve ourselves in WSU’s personnel matters. We also have our principled free-market objections to many Trump policies, and although we’re not nearly so rich as Trump we’re not nearly so indebted and therefore also doubt his business acumen, and we too care little about the feelings of the rich and pampered daughter and her nepotistic position in life.
This Golden guy hasn’t been president of WSU for very long, so it’s too early to assess how goo he is, but until this controversy he’d not been controversial. All in all, we think he’s handled it pretty well. WSU Tech is a technical school that trains workers for the local high-tech aerospace industry, and although it’s on the WSU campus it’s technically a separate entity from the university, so Golden could have plausibly passed the buck on both the invitation and the dis-invitation, but instead he said “I own it,” which we thought impressive in this day and age. He removed Ivanka Trump from the official “virtual graduation ceremony” but didn’t censor her, adding a link to her videotaped “virtual commencement address” for anyone who wanted to hear it, which struck us as a reasonable compromise.
WSU is a crucial component of our humble prairie hometown, which is reeling along with the rest of the country from coronavirus and recession and racial tensions and all the rest of it, and we wish it the best. It’s right across the street from Kirby’s Beer Store, and we know many of its students and faculty, and have watched all construction and activity going on there with great interest. Our liberal friends grouse that Koch and the local aviation industry are driving everything to have a capable workforce, but so long as the fuzzier disciplines are funded we don’t share their concerns about that, and despite a slew of transfers a strong recruiting class should make the ‘Shocks competitive if there’s another basketball season next fall.
Free speech will persist, and Ivanka Trump’s feelings don’t matter, so go Shocks! If This Golden guy is the right guy to make that happen, we hope he lasts.

— Bud Norman

The Seeming Quick End to the Democratic Primary Race

It ain’t over ’til it’s over, as the great baseball player and aphorist Yogi Berra so memorably put it, but even with most of the states yet to weigh in over spring and summer the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination already seems to be pretty much over. After a couple of “Super Tuesdays” former Vice President Joe Biden seems to have it wrapped up, and self-proclaimed socialist and last candidate standing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders seems knocked out.
Which is an interesting and important development. Sanders’ supporters are as fervent bunch as President Donal Trump’s most die-hard apologists, and when he won the opening contests in Iowa and New Hampshire he seemed unstoppable. Biden kept coming in third or fourth behind relatively sane and centrist but openly homosexual former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg or Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was vying with Sanders for the party’s sizable loony left vote, and his debate performances were as lackluster as his fund-raising and campaign organization and general appeal to the electorate.
Biden scored a big Saturday win in South Carolina, though, largely because of the endorsement of iconic civil rights leader and longtime Rep. Jim Clyburn and the fact that Biden was the loyal vice president of first black President Barack Obama and most white South Carolinians are Republicans so black votes comprise a majority of the state’s Democratic party. Since then he’s been on a role. Despite being out-funded and out-advertised and out-organized by Sanders, he won 10 of the 15 “Super Tuesday” races, which knocked out all of his rivals for the votes of relatively sane and centrist Democrats, all of whom urged their supporters to vote for Biden. It also knocked out loony left darling Warren, but she’s not yet made an endorsement, and Biden won’t get all of her votes.
Yesterday was a sort of “Super Tuesday II,” and Biden once again got the best of it. He won by a landslide in Mississippi, where most of the white folks are Republicans and the Democratic is therefor majority-black, but he also won by a wide margin in very diverse Missouri, a state the Democrats can reasonably hope to win in November, as well as the very winnable state of Michigan, which was probably the Sanders campaign’s last hope. Sanders won in Washington, solidifying his hold on the loony left Left Coast, as well as North Dakota, where ¬†all the Democrats would fit in your living room and don’t have a chance of winning the state’s electoral votes.
Four years ago Sanders gave former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and presumptive First Woman President of the United States a hell of run for her considerable money, and he scored an important victory in Michigan, where his left-wing populism was appealing to the disaffected denizens of the Rust Belt State. Trump’s right-wing populist appeal to those same voters proved slightly more appealing to the same disaffected voters, however, and this time around a majority of the state’s Democratic voters to go with the desultory Democratic status quo rather than the radical alternative.
This time around, it seems a good bet. Trump would clearly prefer to run against “Crazy” Bernie Sanders rather than “Sleepy” Joe Biden. Trump got impeached trying to dig up dirt on Biden, even though there’s plenty of dirt already on the public record that he could have used, and he’d have a good argument that Sanders is truly crazy. Biden is arguably “sleepy,” but at this point the general electorate might well prefer that to a hyperactive president who’s awake in the wee hours and “tweeting” all sorts of outlandish nonsense.
We have no affection whatsoever for this Biden fellow, but we figure the Democrats could have done far worse, and that he’s a more formidable challenger for Trump than Sanders would have been. He’s old and gaffe-prone and not always honest and has exhibited creepy behavior around women, but Trump is arguably worse in every regard. The Obama administration inherited a recession economy and after the Republicans won Congress eventual delivered too-slow but steady growth, and Trump was planning to run on the same slow but steady economic growth, but it’s now within the realm of possibility that argument won’t work on Election Day.
Those Sanders supporters are a fanatical bunch, and many are vowing to sit out the race, but Biden now has an entire spring and summer and early fall to remind the left coast and the rest of them how very much they hate Trump, and he’ll have plenty of money. We expect the entire party will be unified by the convention, and that a large number of independents will be on board, and that not just a few of us old-fashioned Republicans will be sitting it out on the sidelines. Here’s hoping the rest of the country chooses wisely between its bad options.

— Bud Norman

Choosing Between Scylla and Charybdis

There’s a very complicated situation in the Middle East, as always, and President Donald Trump is of course “tweeting” about it.
A drone attack destroyed much of a major Saudi Arabian oil field, and although a Yemeni rebel group that has been fighting a bloody defensive war with Saudi Arabia and is allied with Iran has claimed responsibility the State Department and America’s intelligence are blaming the Iranian government. Trump’s first “tweet” on the matter said “There is reason to believe we know the culprit, but are locked and loaded depending upon verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed.”
Trump’s “tweet” was characteristically hard to parse, but there was no mistaking a certain belligerence in its tone, as well as certain deference to the Saudis, who have concluded the Iranians are to blame, and Trump and his spokespeople have spent the past two days dialing that back. The Pentagon would reportedly prefer not to fight a war on Saudi Arabia’s behalf, even if the Saudis pay for it, as Trump has suggested, and Trump has repeatedly assured the news media that he does not want another war, although he continues to boast of how ready the military is to wage one.
Our best guess is that Trump genuinely wants to avoid any new Middle East wars. Trump ran as a peacenik, even going so far as to accuse President George W. Bush of lying America into a war with Iraq, a claim previously made only by the far left, and although he fancies himself a tough guy he takes even more pride in his dealmaking prowess, and a new war in the Middle East would be embarrassing. So far Trump hasn’t been able to keep his campaign promises to extract American forces from Afghanistan and Iraq, and critics will plausiblyblame his unilateral withdrawal from a nuclear treaty with Iran for provoking any conflict that might follow, and there will also be troublesome questions about why Trump seems so eager to do the bidding of Saudi Arabia’s awful government.
As Trump’s favorite Rolling Stones song says, though, you can’t always get what you want. The Iranian government is even more awful than Saudi Arabia’s, and Trump will not want to negotiate a new nuclear deal from a position of weakness. He also “tweeted” a grip that the “fake news” media had peddled the lie that he was willing to meet the Iranian dictatorship without any preconditions, which prompted all the networks except Fox News to gleefully replay all the videotape of Trump and his spokespeople repeatedly and explicitly saying he was willing to meet without any preconditions, so he clearly doesn’t want to be seen as an accommodationist.
The Iranians have become increasingly provocative since America reimposed economic sanctions, seizing commercial oil tankers and threatening to shut down the Strait of Hormuz and shooting down an America drone in international air space, and if they continue to escalate their misbehavior even the most pacifist president will eventually have to do something about it. America can’t apply any more economic sanctions, as we’ve already cut off all trade with the regime, which so far hasn’t had the effect that was hoped for, and given Trump’s tenuous relations with the rest of the world he’s unlikely to recruit other countries to join the boycott.
Thanks to fracking and other new technologies America has produced enough energy to sustain its economy since the final years of President Barack Obama’s administration, with no thanks to either Obama or Trump, but oil is an internationally traded commodity and a blow to a major supplier such as Saudi Arabia will result in high prices at your local pump. The global economy was already slowing before the latest Middle East flare-up, in large part because of the global trade war Trump started, so a war would be very bad for everyone’s business, including Trump’s reelection campaign.
If the Iranians continue to impede the flow of oil and thereby cause a global crash that would also look bad. For now Trump finds himself in a damned-if-you and damned-if-you-don’t situation, he has no national security advisor and only an acting Secretary of Defense, he seems beholden for some reason or another to the Saudis, and so far his much bragged about gut instincts and dealmaking prowess haven’t proved impressive.
Here’s hoping it all works out somehow.

— Bud Norman

What Bonehead Appointed These Boneheads?

President Donald Trump continues to boast about creating the best American economy ever, but he also continues to urge the Federal Reserve Board to pursue the sort of monetary policy usually reserved for recessions and depressions. On Wednesday he “tweeted” that the Fed should be setting zero or even negative interests, and lamented about “A once in a lifetime opportunity that we are missing because of ‘Boneheads.‘”
We can’t claim to be Milton Friedman-level experts on monetary policy, but we think we understand the basics better than Trump seems to, and we’re cautiously hopeful that the “boneheads” at the Fed know best.
Trump’s “tweet” suggests he wants those unprecedented-in-American-history zero or negative interest rates so that he can rack up further trillion-dollar deficits at a lower cost, and perhaps allow him to refinance what America owes its international creditors. The self-proclaimed “King of Debt” believes he can negotiate the same kind of deal that left him rich even after six corporate bankruptcies cost his investors hundreds of million dollars, but we worry that the country would the have the same problem getting a line of credit that Trump has had ever since his casinos went under despite having house odds.
The “tweet” enviously notes that other countries have gone to zero or negative rates, but all of those countries are going into recession, partly because of the slowdown in the global economy that has followed Trump’s trade wars with just about everyone. Recessions require interest rate cuts and deficit spending, at least according to the consensus of economists on both the left and right, which has proved pretty reliable over the past many decades, but the best economy ever should be able to cruise along on the very low interest rates the Fed has lately set. Should the recent slowdown in the American economy slide toward recession, the Fed will need to be able to make cuts, and needs to keep that ammunition in reserve.
The “tweet” didn’t mention it, be we will note that four of the five Fed board governors and the Fed chairman — the aforementioned “boneheads” — were appointed by Trump. Trump also spent much of Wednesday denigrating newly defenestrated national security advisor John Bolton, the third man to hold the post in less than three years, calling him “not smart” and blaming him for starting the Iraq war, and Trump has had similarly unkind things to say about many of the people he appointed to powerful positions.
In his election campaign Trump promised he’d only hire “the very best people,” and he’ll probably repeat the claim during his reelection campaign, but that’s like saying the best economy ever needs negative interest rates.

— Bud Norman

Placing Preemptive Blame

President Donald Trump is assuring the American public that the economy won’t go into recession for so long as he’s in office, and that if it does he’s certainly not to blame. Somehow that does not inspire confidence.
The stock markets have been up the last couple of days and the unemployment rate is still unusually low, while the gross domestic product has lately crawled forward at an Obama-era pace, but there are reasons for Trump and the rest of us to be nervous. The treasury markets recently went into an “inverted yield curve,” an obscure statistic that has presaged every recession of the last 50 years, business investment has lately been down, the federal deficit is up beyond Obama-era levels, such major economies as Great Britain’s and Germany’s are sliding into recession, China’s behemoth economy is rapidly slowing, and since July there has been a 6.4 percent decline in consumer confidence. The global smart money doesn’t seem to have much faith in Trump’s leadership, and increasingly sees it as yet another reason to be nervous.
All of which amounts to another conspiracy against Trump, of course. Trump explains that the “fake news” media — which now includes Fox News — is drumming up potentially self-fulfilling recession prophecies in order to deny him a landslide reelection. The media are merely reporting the official government statistics, but Trump is also skeptical of official government statistics. Back when President Barack Obama was in office and the stats showed slow but steady economic improvement Trump opined that the bureaucrats were cooking the books to make the boss look good. When Trump became president and the bureaucrats continued to report the same slow but steady trajectory he happily embraced it as official government statistics, but apparently anything that doesn’t look good is coming from the “deep state” cabal trying to make the new boss look bad.
Trump is also preemptively blaming Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who has not done the severe interest rate-cutting Trump thinks is needed to prevent the upcoming recession that Trump assures us is not going to happen. Powell’s policies are quite prudent if the economy is the well-tuned ad humming machine Trump claims it is, and will come handy if that’s not the case and there are still interest rates to be cut, but if worse comes to worst Trump will have a handy scapegoat in the man he appointed to head the Fed.
No matter what, Trump will insist his global trade wars had anything to do with any global economic difficulties that might occur. He still insists that China is paying those billions of dollars of tariffs rather than the Wax-Mart shoppers, even as he backs off from his latest tariff threat for fear that Christmas shopping might not be as brisk, and there’s not reason a global trade war has anything to do with a downturn in the global economy.
Trump ran for president on the argument that all the military alliances and trading partnerships America had negotiated since the end of World War II were a raw deal, despite the relative global peace and prosperity that followed here and mostly abroad, and a promise that he’d knock it all down and negotiate a far better deal for the United States. So far he’s been fairly successful at the knocking it down part, but he’s not yet negotiated that sweetest deal ever.
None of the world’s dictators nor any of its democratically elected leaders have any reason to bail Trump out by agreeing to his demands for American hegemony, so that sweetest deal ever seems even more elusive. If they face any popular backlash to an economic downturn, both the dictators and the democratically elected leaders will happily and plausibly blame Trump.
On the other hand, the next recession might not happen before the next presidential election. There’s always a next recession, no matter who is president, what with the business cycle being an un-repealable law of economics, but they’re hard to predict. We’ve noticed they usually come at an inconvenient time for Republican incumbents, but despite his six casino bankruptcies Trump has often been lucky in his life.
An alarming 74 percent of the economists polled by the National Association for Business Economics expect a recession by 2021, but they probably have it in for Trump, and we remember the old joke about how economists have predicted the last 30 of the past ten recessions, and we hope they’re wrong. Not for Trump’s sake, of course, as we can’t stand the guy and will gladly blame his wrecking-ball economics if the global economy crashes to the ground, but because we don’t like recessions.

— Bud Norman

The Lady Regains the Gavel

California’s Rep. Nancy Pelosi is once again the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and that should prove interesting. Say what you want abut Pelosi, and everybody has plenty to say, but there’s no denying she’s been a formidable force and intriguing in recent American history.
Pelosi is both a stereotypical and literal San Francisco liberal, whose two previous terms as Speaker saw massive deficits and pork-laden stimulus spending and the convoluted health care reform called Obamacare, and she’s hated with a rate red-hot passion by the right. Grainy and unflattering black-and-white photographs have been a staple of Republican campaign attack ads for years, the mention of her name prompts boos and hisses at Trump rallies and on conservative talk radio, and she’s once again an effective fundraising bogey-woman for the Grand Old Party.
Much of the left doesn’t much like her, either, for reasons of its own. As crazy left as Pelosi seems to anyone even slightly right of center, much of the Democratic rank and file and nseveral of the newly installed Democratic members of the House regard her as too accommodating to the center and insufficiently sufficiently socialist, which is a scary thought for such old-fashioned establishment Republicans as ourselves to contemplate. On the other hand, much of the right now reviles such old-fashioned establishments as former House Speaker Paul Ryan and current current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as too accommodating to the center and insufficiently loyal to whatever President Donald Trump is “tweeting” about on any given day, and we have to admit that’s pretty scary, too.
Despite Pelosi’s unpopularity she won the speakership with a few votes to spare, having fended off a futile challenge from the impatient-for-socialist-utopia youngsters on the leftmost edges of the party, and we’d advise Trump and his Republican allies in Congress not to underestimate her political skills. In the same way we regard LeBron James, we don’t root for the team she’s playing for but have to admit she’s damned good at the game. She was an effective thorn in the side of President George W. Bush for the last two years of his presidency, but blocked the far left’s demand for his impeachment and then joined with him and a bipartisan group of centrist Democrats and Republicans to negotiate the Troubled Asset Relief Program that was reviled by both the left and right but in retrospect probably prevented the great recession of ’08 from becoming another great depression, and she effectively did all sorts of mischief during the first two years of President Barack Obama’s administration.
Pelosi is the daughter of Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., who was a a famously ruthless Maryland congressman and Baltimore mayor, and while Trump was learning from his father how to bribe politicians Pelosi was learning how to strong arm unprincipled building contractors in need of a building permit. She easily rose through the ranks of California’s hippy-dippy Democratic party, just as easily clawed her way to the leadership of the congressional Democrats, and is clearly unintimidated by the likes of Trump. Pelosi’s daughter is a well respected documentary filmmaker in her own right, and has recently described that her beloved mom as someone who”will cut your head off and you won’t even know you’re bleeding,” and Trump and the rest of the Republicans should heed the warning. For now she has the better political hand to play, what with Trump having preemptively claimed responsibility for an unpopular partial government shutdown to get funding his unpopular border wall idea, and we expect she’ll play her cards better than the failed casino mogul she’s up against.
We still can’t stand the woman, and don’t see her second speakership turning out well for anyone, but we figure it could have been worse. The Democratic party has many members even crazier than Pelosi, as we shudder to realize, and there’s hope she’s pragmatic enough to reach some compromises on some essential matters with the saner members of the Republican party. Although Pelosi is once again resisting calls for impeachment she’ll no doubt go at Trump with all the subpoena power her Democratic majority in the House can muster, but that’s all right with us, and we’re still hoping the center will somehow hold.

— Bud Norman

Merry Christmas, President Trump

President Donald Trump is currently comfortably ensconced at his ritzy Mar-a-Lago resort inn balmy southern Florida, where his Secret Service protectors and most essential administration aides are charging their high-priced room and board to the federal budget, but he doesn’t seem in a holiday spirit.
Even in sunny southern Florida the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing: keeps racking up indictments and convictions and guilty pleas, other federal jurisdictions are investigating other matters, and by the time the upcoming Democratic House majority is installed and begins its congressional investigations Trump’s businesses, presidential campaign, transition team, inaugural committee, and subsequent administration will all be under severe scrutiny, So far Trump’s hapless legal team has yet to come up with any explanation for any of it that doesn’t admit that Trump made arguably legal hush money payments to a porno performer and Playboy playmates and was doing some previously denied dealings with the Russian government during the past presidential campaign, but despite the best efforts of the right wing talk radio hosts and other Trump apologists it does not portend a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year for Trump or America.

Meanwhile the Stock Markets are tanking, for a panoply of reasons that are reasons that aren’t entirely the fault of either Trump and his stupid trade wars or the Federal Reserve Board chairman he appointed and now blames, and although we’re not predicting a recession we don’t think Trump will be able to brag about creating the best American economy ever for the foreseeable future. A lot of Trump’s minority of fans have been willing to overlook whatever this various various investigations might plausibly come up with so long as the their stock portfolios swelled, but Trump’s Republican party lost the last House elections by an astounding nine million votes, with women voters in general and the suburban vote in general abandoning him in droves, and anything less than the great economy of the history of America is even more worrisome than all those criminal investigations that Trump’s legal team can’t currently answer.

— Bud Norman

Hiding in the Bushes

Say what you want about the “enemies of the people” in the “fake news” and “lame-stream media,” but we’re regular readers and big fans of The Washington Post. Pretty much every day it provides us with interesting and all-too-believable accounts of what’s going on in the world, and we were heartened to read on the Post’s pages Thursday that former President George W. Bush is stealthily supporting a select slate of Republican candidates.
Say what you want about the war-mongering Bush and the severe economic recession that came at the end of his administration, and say what you want about his war-mongering “Poppy” President George H.W. Bush, whose administration ended after 12 mostly successful years of Republican rules because of a mild and short-lived recession, but these days dearly we miss both of those guys. The first Iraq war was a diplomatic and military masterstroke as far as we’re concerned, and we think the son’s well-intentioned sequel might well have worked out if not for a subsequent impatient Democratic administration, and we blame the first Bush recession on the usual business cycle and the son’s more severe recession on the the crazed subprime mortgage policies of Democratic President Bill Clinton’s administration, and in retrospect we give the younger Bush credit for negotiating and singing the blank bipartisan bail-out check that seems to have prevented the bottom from falling out.
For all their undeniable faults, neither of the Bushes ever engaged in “Twitter” feuds with pornographic video performers and strategic American geopolitical allies, made excuses for the abhorrent behavior of our geopolitical foes, or recklessly interfered with the way things work in this in our very complex world economy. By now even those damned bleeding-heart liberals at The Washington Post seem to long for that bygone Republican party.
By now, though, most Republicans have signed up with the newfangled Republican party of President Donald Trump. Trump won his party’s nomination and then the presidency by arguing that the elder Bush failed to conquer Iraq, his son lied America into a foolhardy attempt to conquer Iraq, and that he alone could prevail against the almighty business cycles, and that every other Republican president who preceded him was a sucker. Which is probably why President George W. Bush feels obliged to campaign so stealthily on behalf of a select slate of Republican candidates that only an intrepid Washington Post reporter would notice.
Some of the candidates that the younger Bush is quietly helping are also loudly endorsed by Trump, but we’ll wish them well. Most of these day’s damned Democrats are as bad as ever, as far we’re concerned, so we’ll hold out faint hope for what’s left of the Republican party that used to be.

— Bud Norman

The Penultimate Day of a Dreary Eight Years

Today is President Barack Obama’s last full day in office, and it’s been a long wait. We were loudly grousing about the man back when he was first elected on a waft of hope that he was some sort of messiah, we groused again when he ran re-election on the argument that his opponent was some sort of devil, we’ve been grousing ever since, and we feel obliged to grouse once again as he leaves office with unaccountably high approval ratings.
Obama’s more die-hard admirers have already unleashed newspaper serials and hour-long video tributes and full-length hardcover books explaining how great he was, almost as great as promised back in the days when he was talking about how sea levels would fall and the national debt would decline and all that unpleasantness with Islam and the rest of the world would surely be worked out, but the case is hard to make at the moment when Donald Trump is about to be inaugurated as president.
All the testimonials point out how very bad the economy was when Obama took office, and how not -so-bad it is upon his departure, but we’ve paid enough attention that we’re not impressed. The economy was indeed in a deep recession starting some four or five months before Obama was inaugurated, but recessions always end and this was officially over before Obama could get his literally more-than-a-trillion-dollar “stimulus package” passed, and despite all the spending that had been added on top of the literally-more-than-a-trillion dollar Troubled Asset Relief Program that Obama and pretty much everyone else from both parties voted for the recovery has been the weakest on post-war record, and although the headline unemployment rate looks pretty good the broader measure that includes part-timers and the unemployed and those out of the workforce and is buried deep in story hasn’t fully yet fully recovered. Massive new regulations for the financial industry and a major government power grab of the health care sector almost certainly had something to do with the sluggishness, and what growth did occur can largely be attributed to an oil boom that Obama tried to thwart. There was also a stock market boom, but that was because the Federal Reserve kept pumping money that had nowhere to go but the stock market, where it naturally wound up exacerbating all that economic inequality that Obama had vowed to end with his tax hikes, and although he has Bill Clinton’s luck that the bubble won’t burst until the next administration we’re not counting it as a major accomplishment.
Accomplishments are even harder to find in Obama’s foreign policy, although that doesn’t stop his admirers from trying. No one dares say that Obama’s Libyan adventure or that “red line” he in drew in the Syrian sand have worked out at all, and his past “reset” appeasement of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is suddenly unfashionable in liberal circles, but they do try to cast the deal with Iran where we give them billions of dollars and they sort of pretend not to be building a nuclear bomb as a breakthrough victory. The decision to withdraw American troops from Iraq helped win Obama re-election, and after four years it gets occasional mention, although even his most ardent admirers must admit there have been unhappy consequences. Obama’s efforts on behalf of the European Union and Israel’s more liberal political parties and Latin America’s more Marxist types have not proved fruitful, China and Russia and Iran and all the usual troublemakers are more troublesome than they were eight years, and we can’t think of any of international relationships that have been improved. His most ardent admirers point to his good intentions, which we’ll conceded for the sake of argument, but the only thing that good intentions wins is a Nobel Peace Prize.
All the promises of a post-racial and post-partisan and altogether more tolerant society have also proved hollow. The past eight years of attempts to impose racial quotas on law enforcement and school discipline have made life more dangerous for many black Americans and understandably annoyed a lot of the white ones, Obama’s declared belief that politics is a knife fight and the Democrats should bring a gun and the Republicans can come along for the ride so long as they sit in the back of the bus because “I won” has heightened partisan acrimony, and although we’ve got the same sex marriages that Obama claimed to oppose in both of his runs he’s fueling the intolerance for anyone who doesn’t want to bake a cake for the ceremonies.
Although it’s good to at long last see it all come to an end after today, we expect the effects to linger for a while. The next president has already promised a more-than-a-trillion-dollars stimulus package, plenty more market interventions, health insurance for everybody that’s going to be cheaper and better than what was promised in Obamacare, and no messing around with those Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid entitlements that are the main drivers of the national debt. So far Trump’s Russian policies make Obama’s seem downright Truman-esque, and our erstwhile allies in Europe are as alarmed as ourselves, and although Trump also seems a friend of Israel we have no idea what he has in mind for the rest of the Middle East. As far as that hyper-partisan atmosphere of guns and knives and relegating enemies to the back of the bus and the might of an electoral victory making right, we see little improvement ahead.
We’ve already been grousing about Trump for more than a year now, and expect to do so for another four years or more, but we’ll always attribute some share of the blame to Obama. Those who cheered on Obama’s racialist and partisan and intolerant rhetoric should have known what they were bound to provoke, and those who cheered on the executive actions and bureaucratic harassment of political enemies are about to find out what it’s like to be on the receiving end, and despite all promises about making America great again none of us are likely to find out it works out any better than the Obama administration’s blather about hope and change.

— Bud Norman

Handicapping the Hypothetical

There’s always a lull in the news between Christmas and New Year’s Day, even in such a crazy election year as this, so the papers have fill to space with what might have been. President Barack Obama helped out on Monday by confidently speculating, in a widely quoted interview, that he would have won a third term if he’d run for re-re-election. The 22nd amendment to the Constitution prevented it, so he didn’t, but it nonetheless makes for interesting speculation on a slow news day. Donald Trump, who did wind up winning the race, of course helped out further by responding with one of his typically eloquent “Tweets”: “President Obama says that he thinks he would have won against me. He should say that but I say NO WAY! — jobs leaving, ISIS, OCare, etc.”
Although we’re loathe to say any such thing about either of these loathsome men, we think that both can make a plausible case for their boasts.
Obama’s approval ratings are inexplicably high at the moment, despite his party’s loss, and far higher than Trump’s, despite the honeymoon bump a president-elect always gets in the fresh aftermath of a victory. Many of the economic numbers are also better than last time around when Obama beat a Republican who didn’t go out of his way to offend women and minorities, and the awfulness of his foreign policy was just as apparent back then. Trump did wind up losing the popular vote by a whopping 2.8 million to a charmless old white woman with 30 years of scandals the press could not ignore, so it’s not hard to believe that Obama could have used his teflon-coated charm and undeniable political savvy to muster just enough young folks and black people in those three rust-belt states he won twice but where Trump’s razor-thin pluralities swung the electoral vote.
On the other hand, we suspect that Obama’s approval ratings can be explained by the fact that he’s mostly been out of the news lately, what with Trump’s illiterate “tweets” and other embarrassing antics taking up all the space. Given all the vastly more qualified candidates he thrashed on his way to that electoral victory, it seems quite plausible Trump could have dragged Obama down to the same unfavorable muck. Trump and all the rest of the Republican party ran on various platforms that were mostly defined by their opposition to the past eight years of Obama, and most of them did pretty well with it, so we can see how even Obama himself might have faced difficulties. At this point it’s hard to put much in the faith in the polls, too, and some of those seemingly rosy economic numbers are also fishy to a whole lot of people.
So there’s no telling how that hypothetical Obama versus Trump cage match might have turned out, and whose head would have been shaved at the end, but as long as we’re speculating about what might have been we will wistfully wonder how it might have been decided on the merits.
The headline employment rate is in undeniably better shape than when Obama took office just as one of the worst recessions ever was beginning a recovery, but the rebound has been historically weak and the less-mentioned U-6 rate of unemployment that includes the under-employed and part-timers and those who have given up on finding work still hasn’t fully recovered. Obama’s massive “stimulus package” of budget-busting infrastructure spending and other market interventions clearly didn’t do any good, but the combination of Trump’s promised tax cuts and even bigger infrastructure spending and meddlesome decisions about the hiring policies at Indiana furnace factories don’t appear any more promising over the long run. The stock market is still sky-high, but that has more to do with the Federal Reserve Board than either Obama or Trump, and we’ll have to wait to see how that might turn out. That Obamacare law is so horrible it should have run its eponym out office eight years when he was running against that Republican who didn’t go out of his way to offend women and minorities, but Trump said too many things about universal coverage and pre-existing conditions and how great things are in Scotland to make us confident things will get better.
The Islamic State turned out to be far worse than the jayvee team that Obama thought it was, and his ridicule of his final Republican opponent’s warnings about Russia looks ridiculous to the Ukrainians and every other country threatened by the rapidly re-organizing Soviet Union, and his deal with Iran seems destined to provide that apocalyptic suicide cult with a nuclear bomb. On the other hand Trump is promising to join forces with Russia to defeat the Islamic State while re-negotiating with the Russian’s good friends in Iran, meanwhile “tweeting” up a renewed arms race with the Russians, and he’s also “tweeted” his disdain for whatever the Central Intelligence Agency or the United Nations or Boeing or Lockheed have to say about it, so there’s no telling how that will end up.
In any case the Obama years are about to come to a decisive end, which will surely bring some good, and the Trump years are about to commence, which might not be all bad, and the both of them are apparently the boastful and thin-skinned sorts we would never trust with such a high office. Once you start to speculating the possibilities are infinite, but in all of them we find ourselves for voting that same quixotic third-party write-in candidate who never had a chance.

— Bud Norman