The Perils of a Know-It-All President

President Donald Trump is a self-described “very stable genius” with “a very, very large, uh, brain,” and he knows more than anybody about many things, but we’ll not be looking to him for medical advice. During Thursday’s press briefing he urged the government’s top experts to explore the possibility of treating COVID-19 by injecting patients with disinfectants and shoving ultraviolet lights inside their bodies.
The remarks came after William Bryan, the head of science at the Department of Homeland Security, told the assembled press corps how government research had found that sunlight and disinfectants can kill the coronavirus on surfaces in a little as 30 seconds. Clearly excited by the news, Trump took the podium to say “Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light — and I think you said that hasn’t been checked, but we’re going to test it? And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, either through the skin or some other way.” After getting a seemingly reluctant nod from Bryan, Trump went on to say “And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute — one minute — and is there a way we can do something like that injection, or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”
The videotape clearly shows Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, with a rather inscrutable look on her face. When she took to the podium she said, in carefully chosen words, that Trump’s suggestion was not a promising avenue of research. “Not as a treatment,” she said. “I mean, certainly fever is a good thing when you have a fever. It helps your body respond. But not as, I have not seen heat or…” At which point Trump cut her off, saying “I think that’s a great thing to look at, I mean you know, OK?”
We’re piling on the huge heap of ridicule Trump has endured partly for the fun of it, but also because Trump’s worrisome tendency toward wishful thinking and pseudo-scientific hunches have impeded his response to the coronavirus crisis. He delayed a coordinate effort to secure and family distribute medical equipment for weeks he spent assuring the public that it would all go away with the warmth of April and one day miraculously disappear, and continues to resist calls for testing on a per-capita scale that more than 20 other countries have already achieved. On a visit to the Centers for Disease Control Trump boasted that all the doctors were in awe of his scientific knowledge of virology and epidemiology, although he also admitted he’d been surprised to recently learn that the seasonal flu can be deadly, and it does not bode well that he clearly believes he knows more than anybody about almost everything.
Trump has lately abandoned his advocacy of hydroxychloroquine as the miracle cure for COVID-19, after three recent studies from three countries indicate it is not an effective treatment and can have deadly consequences, but he’s still urging his scientists to pursue time-wasting research and resisting calls for the widespread testing that might reveal some numbers Trump does not want to hear. The daily press briefings are intended to reassure a frightened American public that the nation’s best and brightest are on the job, and on a day when the national death toll surpassed 50,000 and the unemployment rate hit Great Depression levels Thursday’s performance was counter-productive.

— Bud Norman

Laugh and the World Laughs With You

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and British royal family member Princess Anne were all caught on video having a hearty laugh at President Donald Trump during the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in London, and Trump’s feelings were apparently hurt. After the video was released he cancelled the traditional post-summit news conference and returned to Washington earlier than planned, telling the international media that Trudeau was “two-faced” on his way out.
Nobody likes being laughed at, but Trump is even touchier about it than most. He likes to dish out ridicule of his political opponents and critics, and he always kills with his insult comic material at the campaign rallies and the fans always relish his schoolyard taunts on “Twitter,” but he can’t abide any kidding in return. By now he should be used to it, as all the late night comics and barroom wags and highfalutin intellectuals at the faculty parties having been making great fun of him since long before he ran for president, yet he continues to find time in a president’s busy schedule to lash back via “Twitter” at any B-list celebrity who jibes about his haircut or girth or unresolved trade wars.
By Now Trump should also know that pretty much all of those Euro-weenie heads of state and their fancy-pants diplomatic corps also find him ridiculous, as do all the late night comics and barroom wags and highfalutin intellectuals in their countries. They find him vulgar and bullying and poorly-spoken and generally ill-bred and ill-equipped for the office of Leader of the Free World, just as those snobs on Manhattan’s elite social scene did when Trump moved there from his father’s working class empire in Queens.
For now Trump can claim some measure of revenge, as he won the support of the great unwashed and aggrieved white working class beyond the Hudson and is currently president of the world’s most powerful nation, and all those East Side snobs and Euro-weenies are not, but he is by objective measurement the most laughed-at man on the planet. They all laughed at Christopher Columbus, Edison, the Wright brothers and Marconi, as the old Gershwin song notes, but it’s unclear at the moment if Trump will join their historically vindicated company. They also laughed at Bozo the Clown, as we remember some wit saying, and history might do the same to Trump.
Trudeau and Macron are both having their own political problems, but no one outside their countries cares much about that, and their domestic audiences were probably not at all offended they shared a laugh or two about Trump. Johnson is an unabashed nationalist with a bad haircut and bombastically populist political style, and has been considered a natural ally of Trump, but the American president is so unpopular the United Kingdom that Johnson pleaded the American president not to endorse him, and he probably won’t suffer any political consequences for being caught laughing at his erstwhile good American friend. As for the Queen’s eldest daughter, we’re told it’s the only time she’s ever been caught laughing on videotape.
Trump will rouse his raucous rally crowds by shouting that those worthless European so-called allies are laughing at them, not him, and nourish their suspicion that all the swells in Manhattan and around the world are out to get them. He’ll probably get some laughs from it, too, but if he needs to survive the coming days Trump must become more inured to the laughter from the rest of the world.

— Bud Norman

The News Persists, as Does the Ridicule

There doesn’t seem to be any story that’s dominating the news these days, despite a plethora of desultory options, and we’ve been too busy lately to keep up with any of it anyway. That damned Gridiron Show we do every year to raise money for the foolish cause of journalism scholarships have taken up much of our time lately, not to the mention the delightful and slightly boozy parties that followed each of the three nights of performances, and on Sunday we met with the folks at a swank restaurant to celebrate their remarkable 63 years of holy and mostly very happy matrimony.
Enough time was left over in the weekend that we noticed that the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, which inspired our local record-setting 51-year-old Gridiron Show, somehow went on despite President Donald Trump’s second consecutive boycott, although not quite as usual. For the past many decades the dinner invited a comedian to lampoon the president, then invited the president and guest of honor to make his wittiest reply, and it was one of those institutions that lubricated the friction between the presidency and the Fourth Estate, but that’s another longstanding institution that Trump has demolished.
This is the second straight year Trump has declined to match wits with the sort of third-rate comics that the White House Correspondents seem to book, and we well understand why. Having a sitting President of the United States sitting at the fancy table used to be a big drawing card for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and to keep that going the adversarial decided to end the traditional lampooning by a comic and instead invite an esteemed academic historian to give a brief lecture. It didn’t get any laughs, but of course it was just as harshly critical of Trump as anything some smart-ass comedian might have come up with, and all those enemies of the people in the “fake news” media went right ahead and dressed up and had few drinks and had a grand old time of the evening.
Meanwhile, here in Wichita, the local media’s far less fancy Gridiron Show went pretty well by amateur theatrical standards. We got some laughs and raised some money for the foolish cause of journalism scholarships, and some of the laughs were aimed at Democrats and a lot of them where aimed at Trump. There’s no stopping free people from laughing at their leaders, and before we dig into the news again today we’ll pause to be glad that some institutions can’t be demolished.

— Bud Norman

A Laugh Line at the United Nations

President Donald Trump opened his address to the United Nations on Tuesday with a boast that in less than two years he has already accomplished more than “almost any administration” in American history, and his audience of international diplomats responded with a hearty and clearly audible laugh. which was even louder than the laugh he got when told a Republican debate audience that “”no one has more respect for women than I do, believe me.” T rump then went off the teleprompter and ad-libbed that he “Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s okay,” which elicited a smaller but seemingly more sympathetic laugh.
Later in the day Trump assured the American press that of course he’d meant the obviously exaggerated boast as a self-effacing laugh line, much like Pee-Wee Herman insisting that “I meant to do that” after falling off his bike, but he was clearly stung by the reaction. Back during his quixotic but somehow winning presidential campaign Trump used to rev up the rally crowds by telling them the entire world was laughing at America, but would cease to do so as he asserted his alpha maleness took office, and he’s obviously not all the sort to take ridicule lightly. He also seemed to realize how ridiculous his “I meant to do that” defense sounded to most of the world.
Trump’s typically Trump-ian boasts about his accomplishments are still standing-ovation applause lines to the big crowds of die-hard supporters who continue to show up at his ongoing campaign rallies, and we’re pretty sure he expected the same response from a gathering of global diplomats, but this time he was facing a far tougher audience. The rest of Trump’s speech pretty much reiterated his long stated intentions to withdraw America from the international order of diplomatic and trade and military alliances that have kept a relative global peace and resulted in unprecedented global prosperity since the last world war, and except for some polite applause at the end it got an icy reaction from a global audience of both diplomatic friends and foes. There was some righteous tough talk about our undeniable adversaries in Iraq and Syria and elsewhere, but Trump also managed to claim our British and European Union and North American and South American and southeastern Asian allies have laughingly taken advantage of us as well. He made some good points about the necessity of national sovereignty, but it was widely noted by both friends and foes that neglected to mention Russia’s brazen violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. By the end of the speech he had taken a forthright stand against an estimated 90 percent of the world’s population.
Which is probably fine by Trump, as he plainly intended the address to be heard by that potentially winning plurality of American voters at his raucous campaign rallies. He knows that they relish the enmity not only of of our undeniable adversaries, but also those effete Euro-weenies and wily southeast Asians and crafty Cannucks and rapacious Meskins who claim to be our friends, and they trust that overpowering his alpha-maleness will eventually vanquish them all.
We have our doubts about that, though, and are more inclined to trust in the international order of trade and diplomatic and military alliances that have kept a relative global peace and brought unprecedented global prosperity since the last world war. It’s been up-and-down ever since then, to be sure, but over the long haul the trajectory has been upwards, and we don’t much credit Trump for its recent success, while Trump’s claims that he can easily prevail over 90 percent of the world’s economy and diplomacy and military seem more far-fetched.

At the the risk of offending fellow Republican friends and family members, we’ll come right out and say in these blunt-spoken times that both Trump and his America -First-verusus-the -rest-of-the-world foreign policy policy  laughable. All the late night comics and their audiences are laughing at Trump’s braggadocio, and most of the world’s diplomats are now  joining in,and according to all the polls and foreign late comics are also doing so,  and that’s undeniably a problem that Trump’s alpha male and downright Nietzscheaan will to power will have to overcome..

— Bud Norman

The World’s Comics Vie for Second Place

All of the late night comedians took most of the Obama years off from political humor, but they’ve been back at it with a vengeance since Donald Trump took office. So far Trump and his staff and most steadfast supporters are unamused, but they’ll have to get used to it. Trump ridicule has become an international phenomenon, and it’s been interesting to see what sort of jokes the various countries have come up with.
Trump’s pledge of “America First” has sparked a competition amongst the rest of the world’s comedians to come up with the funniest reasons why their countries should be second, and much of it is not bad. Some comedy show in the Netherlands was the first to provide an “official” video by one of its late comedy shows explaining why their little-known country should place, and it went “viral” pretty much everywhere, and several of our most begrudgingly pro-Trump friends had to admit it was pretty funny. Apparently everyone in the Netherlands speaks English better than the current American president, as it’s all very ‘merican-sounding and without any bothersome subtitles, and they’ve all been following American politics closely enough to have noticed Trump’s penchant for hyperbole and boasts and saying “believe me” an awful lot. The filmmakers boast about the great ocean the Netherlands built between itself and Mexico, and how effective it’s been at keeping Mexicans out of the country, and how you can see it from space, and how everybody says that the Netherlands builds the best oceans, but it’s also rather endearingly self-deprecating. There are a couple of gags that you apparently have to follow Netherlands pop culture to get, and we don’t even follow American pop culture, but much of the humor is apparently universal.
The late night comic with a reputation as the edgiest in Germany followed suit, with some self-deprecating jokes about how he was admittedly stealing the premise from the Netherlands, and it’s also pretty good. There’s the same emphasis on Trump’s hyperbole and boasts and “believe me” verbal tic, but some more barbed Nazi jokes and a self-deprecating plea that Germany should be second because “Who more deserves a third chance?” By that point the late comics in Belgium, Denmark, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal and Switzerland had joined, with the German comic placing them all conveniently on the same web site. They’re all pretty much the same jokes about Trump’s bombast and poor English skills and nationalistic fervor, and by now everyone in the world is apparently aware of Trump’s “locker room” about grabbing women by the wherever and his apparent affinity for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, but they all throw in some local humor that demonstrates what each country likes to kid itself about, which is interesting to learn even if we don’t know anything about Lithuania’s or Luxembourg’s pop culture.
Trump ridiculed his way to the presidency with such witticisms as “Low Energy” for Jeb Bush and “Look at that face” for Carly Fiorina and a “tweet” that unfavorably contrasted “Lyin'”Ted Cruz’s wife’s looks to his own third bride and an impersonation of some pesky New York Times’ reporters degenerative bone disease, and he’s had plenty to say about past presidents of both parties, so he should have expected some return fire. So far the comedians around the world are coming up with better material that he has, so he needs to either get serious or start being a whole lot funnier.

— Bud Norman

Heckling to the Choir

Regular readers of this publication are aware that we disagree with almost everything President Barack Obama says and does, but we wish he wouldn’t take it personally. Some of our friends say and would do equally stupid things, and for the most part our disagreements do not become disagreeable. The president seems to believe that it’s all about him, however, and on Wednesday was pouting to another crowd of hand-picked adorers in Kansas City that his critics should “Stop being mad all the time, stop just hatin’ all the time.”
The hand-picked crowd of adorers started chanting “We love you,” laughed raucously at all the boilerplate ridicule of Republicans, and the president was temporarily transported back in time to those happier days of ’08 when hope and change were in the air and it actually was all about him. Perhaps the president hasn’t noticed that hand-picking such adoring crowds has become a harder chore for his aides as his cult of personality has dwindled down to Jonestown levels, or that a majority of disapproving Americans outside the arenas are no longer paying any attention by his very un-presidential act. It’s not just the phony hip-hop folksiness of that dropped “g” at the end of “hatin’,” and the petulant foot-stomping about that stupid Constitution that allows those mean old congressmen to spitefully vote for what their constituents want rather than what he wants, but mostly how very obvious it is that the ridicule is being offered in lieu of a reasonable argument.
Surely you’ve encountered liberals at the right sorts of cocktail parties who respond to any unfashionable opinion with a dismissive laugh and a sneering put-down, and when asked have nothing to explain the response except another dismissive laugh and sneering put-down, but one expects better from a president of the United States. We recall the president ridiculing Mitt Romney’s statement that Russian President Vladimir Putin should be regarded as a “geo-political” by recycling an old “Seinfeld” gag and chortling that “The ’80s called and they want their foreign policy back.” Now the ’80s are calling back, and America wishes that Ronald Reagan were still around to answer the phone. We also recall another hand-picked crowd of adorers laughing it up about complaints that the southern border isn’t secure, with such zingers as “next they’ll want us to build a moat, and put alligators in it,” and you would have gotten the sense that those crazy Republicans truly believed a hundred thousand or so minors could just waltz across the border unaccompanied. Those crazy Republicans’ paranoid fantasy that if you liked your health insurance plan you wouldn’t be able to keep it under Obamacare got a lot of laughs from those hand-picked crowds of adorers, too, and a lot of the president’s other frequent forays into ridicule now look just as ridiculous.
At this point an argument, complete with facts and logic and a proper respect for the swelling opposing opinion, would probably be more effective. We’re not hatin’, just hoping.

— Bud Norman

Farewell, Michelle

Minnesota’s Rep. Michelle Bachmann has decided not to run for a fifth term in Congress, and she will be missed. Those on the right will miss her courageously outspoken defense of conservative principles, while those on the left will even more dearly miss hating her guts.
Perhaps some day psychiatry or one of the social sciences will provide a explanation for the red-hot hatred that Bachmann has long provoked among her ideological opponents, but for now it remains a baffling mystery. The vile and vulgar vitriol directed at Bachmann was always inordinate to her political influence, which peaked with a win in one of those pointless Iowa straw polls during her short-lived presidential campaign, and even her national fame was mostly a result of the obsessive coverage by her adversaries in the press. She was the unapologetic sort of conservative that always draws the wrath of liberals, but no more so than any number of lesser-known congressmen who sat beside her in the back benches of Congress, and there was nothing noticeably hateful or otherwise remarkable about the way she articulated her more or less mainstream beliefs.
Only Sarah Palin has been more thoroughly ridiculed, reviled, and rudely cussed than Bachmann in recent political history, though, and the comparisons between the two point to possible reasons for the hatred directed at them. Both are women, and according to liberal orthodoxy they are therefore traitors to the cause of feminism for daring to think for themselves. They’re both physically attractive women, too, and that only compounds the offense. Worse yet, they’re happily married, baby-having, unabashedly middle class women who have retained old-fashioned notions of femininity even as they availed themselves of the career opportunities that modernity had provided. Both were so outrageously indifferent to the contemporary pieties that they even embraced a common cause with the so-called Tea Party, the most ridiculed and reviled political movement of modern times, and that probably proved the ultimate affront.
There will be much gloating among liberals that they have at last forced Bachmann out of office, but they might be giving themselves too much credit. The congresswoman says that she’s acting in accordance with her belief in a four-term limit, which is precisely the sort of the populist principle that she’s always adhered to, and it’s also believable that she sees opportunities to serve her causes more effectively outside of government. Bachmann’s opponents in her reliably Republican district were always well-funded by out-of-state donors, and the relentlessly negativity of the national press offered an even more substantial in-kind contribution, so her last race was uncomfortably close, and a minor scandal concerning some campaign finance rules during her short-lived presidential campaign would have been given far more attention than Benghazi or the Internal Revenue Service’s harrassment of the Tea Party and any number of other Democratic scandals, but Bachmann has never seemed the type of women who would back away from such a rowdy fight. Given that the Tea Party has gained a newfound respectability from its persecution by the IRS and that Obamacare and the economy and a slew of scandals provide a more favorable next time around there is no reason to believe that Bachmann couldn’t have kept her undefeated streak in Minnesota politics going for at least another round.
Whatever the future holds for Bachmann, we wish her well. Anyone who can drive the liberals so thoroughly crazy must be doing something right.

— Bud Norman

That Obama is Sooooo Smart

Regular readers of this publication have no doubt noticed that we are not averse to sarcasm. Wielded effectively, sarcasm is an effective rhetorical device, can even achieve a satisfying literary quality, and often provides the added benefit of a healthful chuckle.

Such is our regard for sarcasm that it pains us to see it misused, as President Barack Obama has so often done over the past many years. In Monday night’s final presidential debate against Mitt Romney, for example, Obama employed sarcasm on several occasions to a disastrous effect.

The most celebrated incident occurred after Romney inveighed against Obama’s parsimonious defense budget proposals, rightly noting that they would leave the Navy with fewer ships than at any time since 1917 and well short of what the admirals have determined are necessary to fulfill their mission. Sneering like one of the late-night comedy show hosts that he so often hangs out with, Obama retorted that “Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”

Reports indicate that the lines prompted a big cheer from press gallery, but it is unlikely that more objective observers were as enthusiastic. Reaction from the military was certainly unimpressed, with soldiers noting that both horses and bayonets have played a role in the war Obama has been prosecuting in Afghanistan, sailors noting that submarines are called “boats” in naval parlance, and almost everyone in uniform down to the lowliest “corpseman” wondering at what point in his career as a community organizer and adjunct law professor and hack politician Obama became such an expert military strategist. A majority of the civilian population probably had a similarly unfavorable reaction, with even the most militarily unsavvy doubting that such barbs would adequately substitute for a few cruisers or destroyers in wartime.

Worse yet, the line probably garnered few laughs outside the press room or the sweetly smoked living rooms of MSNBC’s paltry viewership. Sarcasm is a challenging art, and Obama fell short of its magnificent potential for reasons well known to the accomplished practitioner.

Sarcasm should only be deployed in appropriate circumstances, to cite but one rule that Obama disregarded. Except in the most unusual circumstances sarcasm should be eschewed at events such as funerals, elementary school awards presentations, baptisms, death bed visits, and presidential debates concerning matters of national security. Obama’s sneering screed seem petty and unserious, while Romney’s forbearance made him seem far more presidential.

Sarcasm should also be reserved for the most obvious fallacies, and one needn’t be a hard-core Romney supporter to see his argument made a serious point that warranted a serious response. The sarcasm was an insult not only to Romney, but to all those interested to hear a serious response from Obama.

Truly skewering sarcasm ends a debate on any point, but when it misses the remark it only invites a withering counterattack of sarcasms. So it was with Romney’s follow-ups that “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.” The gag belongs to a genre of jokes that was stale even by the time the “Seinfeld” program lampooned it million syndicated re-runs ago, presupposes that most voters will share its assumption that the peace-through-strength model that ended the Cold War is no longer relevant. Obama’s relentless Bush-bashing seems to have some popular appeal, but Reagan-bashing is offensive to the old folks and makes one seem something of a geezer to the young.

Similar sarcasm abounds in the Obama campaign, which has turned into a veritable stand-up routine of knee-slapping Big Bird and binder jokes, and the die-hard fans who still turn up at the rallies seem to eat it up. Lefties love their sarcasm, no matter how unskillful, so long as it’s aimed at the proper targets. The left’s obsession with sarcasm dates back at least to Saul Alinsky, the late leftist guru of community organizing whose “Rules For Radicals” advocated ridicule as a propaganda method, and it increasingly seems to be their favorite method of argument.

Lefty sarcasm can be effective, as Dan Quayle, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, and any number of other irrecoverably ridiculed conservatives will attest, but it seems unlikely to prevail against the sobering economic realities that are ever present in this election. Should this prove true, we’ll be eager to offer a witty “duh.”

— Bud Norman