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A Who-Wrote-It Mystery

The most popular parlor game in political circles lately is speculating about the identify of the senior administration  official who penned an op-ed in The New York Times that was scathingly critical of President Donald Trump.
The piece cited Trump’s “amorality,” described him as uninformed and impulsive, claimed that several high-ranking officials routinely hide documents and do other things to prevent the president from endangering national security, and generally confirmed the reporting in a soon-to-be-released Bob Woodward book that the White House is “crazy town.” Trump is reportedly furious about it and eager to find and the fire the author, and during a recent rally he described he called the author an “anenimonous” coward who should be tried for treason. By now even Trump isn’t claiming that The New York Times just made it up, and naturally everyone else is also wondering who the senior White House official might be.
There was some speculation that he’s Vice President Mike Pence, because the relatively rarely used word “lodestar” is in the piece and Pence frequently uses the term, and chief of staff John Kelly has been suspected because some of his favorite phrases also appear, but both possibilities strike us a quite remote. More likely is that the author was shrewd enough to add these details as a diversion, and subject both men to Trump’s inevitable questions.
Pretty much everyone at a senior level in the administration is still a suspect, but most of the attention seems to be focused on national security advisor Dan Coats and part-time “senior adviser” and full-time presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner.
The case against Coats strikes us especially strong, for several reasons. Coats found out about Trump’s decision to invite Russian dictator Vladimir Putin to the White House while being interviewed on national television, and was clearly both surprised and displeased, and the op-ed stresses the danger of Trump’s tendency to make impulsive decisions without consulting any of the experts he’s hired. The piece also defends some of the more traditionally Republican aspects of Trump’s domestic policy, and back when Coats was in the House of Representatives and then the Senate he very much a traditional Republican. He’s now nearing retirement age, too, and at this point might well care more about what the country thinks of his party than what his party thinks of him.
Kushner seems a less likely suspect, but we’d love to believe it just as much the next Never Trumper, and there are reasons to do so. Both Kushner and First Daughter Ivanka Trump Kushner were social-climbing Manhattanites and fashionable Democrats when they took their “senior advisor” positions in the White House, and both promised their appalled friends that they were only there to be a moderating influence on Trump’s more populist impulses. Kushner and his wife and pretty all of his in-laws have their own expensive legal troubles, too, and it was widely speculated even before the op-ed that both Kushners would be heading back to New York at any moment, and whenever they eventually do we’re sure they’ll want to reassure the fashionably Democratic socialites of Gotham that they did their part for the resistance.
Whoever it was wrote the op-ed shouldn’t expect a hero’s welcome anywhere, however, as almost everyone thinks the author has been cowardly. According to Trump and his die-hard fans the “aneniminous” writer should forthwith face a traitor’s fate on that gallows, while Trump’s critics on both the left and right would have preferred a principled resignation and an on-the-record account to corroborate all the recent reliable reporting on the “crazy town” inside the White House. We’re more inclined to the latter view, and find the former downright scary, but we’ll judge not lest we be judged, as we’re not sure what we’d do if we found ourselves in the writer’s unusual situation.
If it turns out to be Coats we’ll take stock of his long congressional career as a traditional Republican and distinguished diplomat from the old school, and assume his cowardly efforts had the best intentions and might of done some good. If it turns out to be Kushner, we’ll go right ahead and and indulge in some sinful schadenfreude, and let him find his apologists somewhere in New York City’s high society.
In any case, even Trump seems to agree that there is indeed at least one high-rankking senior official in the White House who worries about the president’s moral and intellectual and temperamental qualifications for the office. According to that soon–to-be-released book by a veteran reporter with a far better truth-telling record than Trump there are several other senior officials in the White House with the same qualms, which pretty much accords with a book by a less reputable author and then one of Trump’s former reality show co-stars, and based on what we’re seeing of Trump’s televised and “tweeted” statements we don’t doubt that at least a few senior White House officials are similarly alarmed.
We’d like to think so, at least, and we hate to speculate how this might all turn out.

— Bud Norman

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On the Latest Questions About Trump

Every American president since George Washington has been accused by his critics of all sorts of unsavory things, but only rarely has it been widely suggested that the guy has gone completely bonkers. A striking number of people are now saying that about President Donald Trump, however, and reliable sources suggest those people include several high-ranking members of Trump’s administration.
On Tuesday The Washington Post released segments of “Fear,” a soon-to-be-released and already best-selling book by its veteran reporter Bob Woodard which quotes numerous anonymous but high-ranking administrations talking about how they strive everyday to protect the American public from the most dire consequences of their boss’s uninformed and impulsive and downright petty instincts. On Wednesday The New York Times published an anonymous op-ed piece by a high-ranking administration official headlined “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” which seeks to reassure the public that “many of the senior of the senior officials inside (Trump’s) administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”
By both accounts many of the people closest to the President understand and act accordingly that in terms of intellectual and temperamental and moral and basic mental health fitness Trump is likely to do something consequentially crazy, and although Trump and his still-loyal spokespeople call it all “fake news” we’re reluctantly inclined to hopefully believe all of it.
Woodward and his fellow youthful late-night crime beat colleague Carl Bernstein broke the story of the Watergate break-in way back in the ’70s, and according to the old-fashioned newspaper rules of the time they got to follow the story it’s conclusion, which resulted in President Richard Nixon’s resignation and a Pulitzer Prize for the now-legendary journalism team of Woodward and Bernstein, and since then the now-wizened Woodward’s work has withstood the withering criticism of the next eight presidents he has investigated. Most of Woodward’s journalistic first drafts of history have been painstakingly even-handed, acknowledging each administrations’ failures while eviscerating its failures and admitting how very complicated these things are, and even if this book is more weighted to criticism we’ll count on Woodward’s 40-plus-years record of impeccable sourcing and meticulous tape-recording of double sources more than we do Trump’s dubious record of public statements.
Trump is already saying that the high-ranking anonymous administration official who penned that alarming op-ed in today’s edition is just a “fake news” figment of the “failing” New York Times’ imagination, but he’s also “tweeting” that whoever it is be immediately be turned over to be tried on a charge of treason, and we don’t doubt that the author of their anonymous op-ed piece is an actual high-ranking administration official. The New York Times is indeed as liberally slanted as those right-wing talk radio show hosts will warn you, and over the past century-and-half or so they’ve clearly gotten some things consequential things clearly wrong, but we’ll reluctantly admit that in all that time they’ve generated less outright “fake news” than Trump has “tweeted” in just the past three years or so.
Trump and his apologists can rightly boast that the unemployment rate is down and the stock markets are still up since his election, and that no new shooting wars have lately broken out, but it’s harder to argue that it couldn’t have been achieved by any other Republican president without all the Trump-ian craziness, and that it might not have happened at all without the restraining influences of the very best people he somehow wound up appointing to his administration. Pretty much every day Trump tells a press gaggle or “tweets” something that is jarringly discordant with longstanding norms or present reality, and pretty much everyday the “fake news” broadcasts it, and although every single day we try to keep our eye on the unemployment rates and the stock markets it’s hard to shake a bad feeling about all of this.

— Bud Norman

The Photoshop Rebellion

A regular reader of this publication has complained that it is too relentlessly gloomy about the state of the union. This criticism was offered in a friendly conversation shortly after the Super Bowl, which had been delayed for more than 30 minutes by an electrical outage in a city the government touts as a leader in the “energy efficient forefront,” and he seemed sympathetic to our argument that we are merely offering our most dispassionately objective assessments of the contemporary scene. Still, we vowed to our friend that we would henceforth scour the most reliable new sources for any heartening developments.
It isn’t much, perhaps, but we are pleased to report on a brief episode of resistance we shall dub the Photoshop Rebellion.
This minor skirmish in the culture wars began with the latest clamor for any sort of gun control that might get passed into law, whether it does any good or not, and the president’s unmistakable endorsement of this frenzy. In an apparent attempt to seem a likeable sort to guy to the gun owners whose rights he was threatening, the president then revealed to the press that he practices skeet shooting “all the time.” This claim was met with widespread ridicule, including a especially witty posting at this site, and the White House was so stung by the mockery that its spokesman derisively called the skeptics “skeeters” and presented a refuting photograph of the president firing a shotgun. It made for an enjoyably comical spectacle, except that the White House added an ominous warning that “The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.”
In other words, the White House was warning the supposedly free citizens of the United States that it would not tolerate any ridicule of its silly photograph of the president looking utterly ridiculous. Such thin-skinned and heavy-handed language is common to authoritarian states, where the populations meekly heed the threat, but here the public responded with an appropriate outpouring of more ridicule. Wags of varying wittiness took to the internet with “tweets” of derision and defiantly manipulated versions of the photograph, providing many chuckles to conservatives at a time when they are in distressingly short supply. These subversive satires will likely reach a limited audience, mostly comprised of those already inclined to regard the administration as ridiculous, but it seems a heartening development nonetheless.
The truest measure of freedom, after all, is a country’s ability to laugh at its leaders. Although the administration seems determined to eradicate this troublesome American trait, and has largely succeeded in the mainstream entertainment media, it is good to know that noses are still be thumbed out there.

— Bud Norman

Revenge

The sun rose as usual on Wednesday, but it didn’t felt like morning in America. A bit less than half of the voting population was disconsolate, and even the victorious majority seemed to be savoring the misery more than it was anticipating a brighter future.
Within moments of Barack Obama’s re-election the internet was flooded with “tweets” repeating the same witless obscenity against white people, a striking sentiment in this supposedly post-racial age. Some woman who somehow wound up among our Facebook “friends” sent a similarly vulgar message inviting all Romney voters to kiss an especially unappealing portion of her “Obama-lovin’” anatomy, odd for a woman so worshipful of a man who had presumed to lecture the American people about civility. Countless keyed cars and vandalized yard signs expressed the same ugly schadenfreude, all from a left that loves to slur its ideological opponents as brownshirts. The very lack of dignity, standards, and simple respect that marked Obama’s ruthless campaign was on full display in its aftermath, and nowhere was the giddy sense of hope and change that had prevailed when he first won office.
A President of the United States of America closed his re-election campaign by exhorting his supporters to vote for “revenge,” and is clear that they are now eager to get it. Although he didn’t explain who this revenge would be exacted upon, or for what offense, the president’s supporters understood that he meant the old America of freedom and self-reliance, with its loathsome religiousness, individualism, and whiteness. That America had been an imperfect place, and those who had prospered there to a greater extent than others, those who acted according to their own consciences rather than the will of the collective, must be punished.
None but the delusional seem to expect that the new America will be a more prosperous place. The slow economic growth, high unemployment, and mounting debts of the past four years have too clearly demonstrated the failure of the current policies, yet much of America signed on for more of the same in hopes that the government will continue to expropriate for them a bigger slice of the shrinking pie. Obama argued during the campaign that the economic crash was caused by taxing the highest income brackets at rates a few points too low, and that reverting to the higher rate will therefore restore the nation’s economic health, but neither he nor anybody else really believes such nonsense. Those higher taxes will only fund a few hours of government spending while robbing the private sector of capital that could have funded successful enterprises, but they’ll briefly sate the mob’s self-centered notions of fairness, and that will suffice.
America has collectively decided to pretend that it doesn’t face a catastrophic debt crisis, but it won’t be able to maintain that pretense for long. When the new tax rates fail to make a perceptible dent in the deficit the administration will ask for more, and then again for even more, but at last a complete confiscation all of the wealth held by the hated “1 percent” will be insufficient to cover the nation’s tab, and efforts to tax enough the rest of the country will be politically unfeasible and economically disastrous. The election has ensured that any spending cuts won’t come from the subsidies for public television’s mostly wealthy viewership or any of the massive entitlement programs sacred to the left, and there’s only so much defense spending to cut while our interest payments to the Chinese are funding the lion’s share of that country’s increasingly belligerent military, so it’s impossible to envision any solution the administration might attempt other than hyperinflationary money-printing or default. If there are better outcomes that are possible, Obama and his supporters have been too busy gloating to explain what they might be.
We’ve been sifting through the wreckage of Tuesday’s election, trying to find something intact that might prove useful, but thus far our efforts are of no avail. Obama’s victory was just slim enough that some pundits are insisting he has no mandate, but he won’t see it that way, and what little restraint public opinion had once exerted on the president’s most radical tendencies has been entirely relinquished by the election. The House of Representatives remains under Republican control, but whatever resistance they offer to the administration’s efforts will only provide a convenient scapegoat when those policies fail, and a corrupt and compliant media will happily fan the flames of public anger. Some conservatives are hopeful that further revelations about the administration’s outrageous behavior before, during, and after the deadly raid on the Libyan embassy, or the murderous Fast and Furious fiasco, or the cases of blatantly corrupt cronyism under the guise of “investments” in a “green economy,” or any of the various other scandals will somehow cripple Obama, but a voting majority of Americans has now collectively decided that it just doesn’t care what this president does.
The left’s snarling response to their victory on Tuesday makes it tempting to simply hunker down in a heavily armed bunker to watch with bitter satisfaction as they futilely struggle to make their utopian fantasies come true, settling for the meager consolation of being proved right about their inevitable failure, but there’s something in the souls of those who once happily inhabited the old America that will not allow us stand idly by and let it die. New ideas are needed to restore the old values of freedom and self-reliance, and although no path is readily apparent there must be faith that one can still be found. This may well be the twilight of America, but we cannot go gently into that night.

— Bud Norman