What Comes Next, and Then After That

Everything might change by the time you read this, but as we write there’s no telling what happens next in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
The very unofficial whip counts of at least two major newspapers and a former Republican Senator say that only three sitting Republican Senators will join with all 47 Democratic and Democratic-aligned Senators to vote to allow witnesses to testify. That would result in a tie, but without any precedents to go on nobody seems to know if Vice President Mike Pence would cast the tie-breaking vote in his constitutional role as President of the Senate or if the honor goes to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in his constitutional role as presiding judge in the trial. A fourth Republican Senator who’s not running for reelection and has nothing to lose is currently being very coy about his vote, and Roberts is a famously unpredictable fellow, so we’re not making any bets with real money about how today goes.
Go ahead and bet the farm that the trial ends with Trump’s acquittal, if you have a farm, as there’s scant chance that enough Republican Senators will defy their party’s president and his loyal supporters in their states to vote for Trump’s conviction and removal to comprise the needed supermajority of the Senate. As to how that works for the two parties in the aftermath, that’s a dicier bet for both parties.
If the Senate allows the Democrats to call witnesses there will surely be some damning testimony, which is why Trump and the Republicans would rather not hear from them, but if it doesn’t that will also look pretty damned suspicious to every single Democrat and a majority of independents and even a stubborn few of us who have been Republicans far longer tan Trump has been. The Republicans can assert all of those witnesses are a bunch of lying left-wing tools of a “deep state” conspiracy who were through no fault of Trump’s hired as Trump administration officials, including that Ambassador to the European who gave a million dollars to Trump’s campaign and inauguration committees, but they don’t seem eager to swear in the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Energy or the White Chief of Staff and part-time Office of Management and Budget director who might clear all of this up. They’re even less eager to hear from Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and and his two recently indicted associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Forman, who have all forthrightly explained for their own personal reasons to the national news media how they’re tied up in all this.
The Republicans might also call for the testimony of former Vice President and current Democratic nominee contender Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who once worked without any apparent credentials but very great compensation on a Ukrainian energy company while his father was given responsibility by President Barack Obama to oversee Ukrainian policy. Which looks pretty damned suspicious, as all of our Democratic friends freely admit. They’ve got some convincing exculpatory evidence about just how bad it was, though, and it’s not as if the Trump kids aren’t doing pretty well for themselves, and neither Biden has any personal knowledge of anything to do with the charges against Trump, unless they give up that “Perry Mason” moment in this tele-drama and tearfully confess that they were guilty all along, and Trump was acting heroically when he pressured Ukraine with congressionaly-approved public money to expose their venal corruption.
We wouldn’t bet on that, though, because that’s just crazy. Even so, for now it seems to us an even-money bet that the Democrats lose this winning hand.
The Republicans don’t offer many arguments, but they lots of assertions about this being a witch hunt and a farce and a travesty and a mockery pf justice against an obviously blameless man, and although they have little evidence there’s great invective against anyone who’d like to hear the available and relevant evidence. For now that should suffice, at least with the hard-core fans, given that according to most of the polls somewhere between 42 and 47 percent of the country approves of Trump, and last time around his 46.1 percent of the popular vote was sufficiently spread the states to win a victory in the Electoral College. We’re not a six-times bankrupt casino mogul like Trump, but we’d already bet good money Trump will lose yet another popular vote in the coming election, and still say his odds of once again defying the Electoral College odds are about even money.
Especially if the damned Democrats go crazy left with their nominee, which they seem likely to do. If they don’t they’ll most likely wind up with Biden as the nominee, and he’ll have a harder time pressing the case against Trump’s obviously impeachable offenses, given that his son was also getting rich, just like Trump’s. By next November both affairs might be largely forgotten, which would be a shame, as someone should be held accountable, but that’s how it usually works out. Any Republicans wishing for a far-left Democratic nominee should be careful what they wish for or bet ob, though.

<div style=”text-indent:20px;” At this point we figure it’s probable that whatever crazy-ass leftist or relatively centrist nominee the Democrats come up with will win either a majority or plurality of the popular vote in the next election, but it’s well within the realm of possibility he or she would also win the more crucial Electoral College vote. However that works out we can’t see it working out well for the commonweal. Our constitutional order is hard to maintain, and for the time being nobody seems to be helping out.

— Bud Norman

Parnas, Bolton, and the Impeachment Mess

The Democrats in the House of Representatives had some very compelling testimony and documentary evidence from credible witnesses when they impeached President Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, and since the news has been full of interviews and documents and surreptitious video recordings that seem to bolster their case. For now the president and his defenders would prefer the public not hear about it during the impeachment trial.
Two relevant witnesses who did not testify in the House but are very much in the news lately are former national security advisor John Bolton and a fellow named Lev Parnas, a Russian-born American citizen and associate of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani who is currently under federal indictment for funneling Russian and other foreign campaign contributions to Republican candidates. Both are problematic for the president’s defense.
Parnas and his lawyer have gone on two cable news networks to describe how he assisted Giuliani’s efforts on the president’s behalf to extort the Ukrainian government’s help in smearing potential Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden, which is basically what all this impeachment brouhaha is about. He’s undeniably a shady character, being an associate of Giuliani and under indictment for funneling foreign money to Republican candidates and all, and Trump has said he doesn’t even the know the guy, but at this point we’re inclined to believe him than the President of the United States.
Presidents get their pictures taken with a lot of people, but the news media have come up with a lot of pictures of Trump and his sons and administration officials looking very chummy with Parnas, and Giuliani admits that Parnas and fellow indictee Igor Fruman were involved in his efforts on Trump’s behalf to get dirt on Biden from the Ukrainian government. Parnas has also handed over to the news media some surreptitiously taken audio tape that clearly shows Trump knew him well enough to host him at a dinner in Trump’s swank Washington hotel’s restaurant, and to share some laughs with him about ousting the Ambassador to Ukraine, which is one of the very suspicious subplots in this impeachment drama.
Bolton, who has reportedly written a soon-to-be-published tell-all book alleging that Trump did indeed demand the quid pro quo deal with the Ukrainians that Trump is accused of in the articles of impeachment, is another problem. He’s got a lucrative book deal, and after his rude defenestration from the Trump administration while this Ukraine business was going down he’s arguably a disgruntled former employee, but if he’s called to testify under oath before the Senate he’ll bring both a begrudging credibility from the right and a newfound respect from the left. Trump can’t credibly claim to hardly know the guy, as he once entrusted Bolton with the job of national security advisor, and they’ve been photographed together a gazillion times, and Bolton got the job because he was once a hero of the erstwhile Republican party’s most hawkish foreign policy wing. The liberals hated him for that, even if it brought him into conflict with Trump’s Russia-friendly and post-war world order policies, but if Bolton keeps a promise to honor a Senate subpoena and says what he’s expected to say, and what his book reportedly says he wrote, the liberals will dearly love him for that.
All the polls show the viewing public will disappointed if such intriguing characters in this his reality show aren’t given sufficient camera time, which is a problem for the Republicans, who had once hoped to dismiss the charges without any bother of witnesses and testimony. Recent news reports indicate a sufficient-for-a-majority number of four Republican Senators and maybe even as many ten will join all of the Democrats in a vote to allow witnesses and evidence in the trial, which will likely make it much harder for any of them to justify a vote for Trump’s acquittal.
On the other hand, Trump could call to the stand Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and moonlighting Office of Management and Budget director and White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Trump attorney Giuliani, along with everyone else in the administration that’s been implicated in the mess, and let them clear up this whole whole mess up with their sworn testimony. He could also have his crack legal team and Senate allies call back to the stand the respected ambassador to Ukraine that he removed and the ambassador appointed by his Secretary of State to her succeed her and the respected military man and Purple Heart recipient and the million-dollar Trump donor who testified against Trump in the House impeachment hearings.
For whatever reason, though, Trump would prefer you just take his word for it that he did nothing wrong.

— Bud Norman

So Much to Satirize

The late night comedy shows have an inordinate influence on public opinion, much as the editorial cartoons of Thomas Nast and Herblock used to have back in the Gutenberg age, and of course they spend most of their time ridiculing President Donald Trump. The late night comedy shows are all written and performed by show biz types who are naturally inclined to ridicule any old Republican who happens to occupy the the White House, and Trump is an unusually ridiculous Republican who willingly provides the writers and performers with fresh material every day, so they’ve been having a grand old time of it.
The program that has most provoked Trump’s “tweeted” wrath is the National Broadcasting Network’s “Saturday Night Live,” which somehow retains both a hip cachet and a status as one of television’s most venerable institutions, and has frequently poked some painfully pointed barbs at the president. They’ve also made much fun of the Democrats, on the other hand, and Trump should be pleased that on Saturday night they unleashed a very well-done and withering satire of the entire field of Democratic contenders.
“SNL” has a remarkably talented cast these days, no matter what you think of their politics, and they shined in the long skit. The gifted Kate McKinnon perfectly skewered Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s scary overeagerness to make everything right. A nicely understated Colin Jost somehow captured South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s essential boringness, even though he’s the only homosexual and one of only two combat veterans in the race. As usual the lovely and talented Cicely Strong was dead-on in her portrayal of Hawaiian Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the other combat veteran in the race and a comely but troublesome wild card in the Democratic race. Asian cast member Bowen Yang played Asian candidate Andrew Yang with stereotypical nerdishness, which we thought amusingly transgressive. The underused black guy Chris Redd’s bug-eyed portrayal of New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker was probably more devastating than he intended.
The show even brought back some revered former cast members to roast the Democrats. The formidable Fred Armisen was funny as a soft drink-sipping former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, daring Trump supporters to come up with a conspiracy theory about a Jewish billionaire with a media empire. Always hilarious Maya Rudolph came back to portray California Sen. Kamala Harris as a candidate always playing to the cameras. Our favorite among the Democrats is centrist Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, but the reliably funny Rachel Dratch had us laughing at her nervous twitch. Former cast member and current movie star Will Ferrell returned as the unblinking billionaire Tom Steyer, who has spent millions trying to get Trump impeached, and despite his open contempt for Trump Ferrell portrayed Steyer as a lunatic.
Bona fide movie star Woody Harrelson reprised his role as former Vice President Joe Biden, once again portraying him as an amiable but hopelessly out-of-touch old man who keeps getting his life confused with movie’s he’s seen, and the brilliantly cranky old Jewish guy comedian Larry David reprised his impersonation of the crazily cranky old Jewish Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, which is eerily true to life. It took some long-earned show biz pull, but Saturday Night Live of all of shows managed to make the entire Democratic field look ridiculous.
By next Saturday night they’ll probably have aging movie star Alec Baldwin back for his dead-on impersonation of a bumbling and tongue-tied Trump caught up in some scandal and clearly exposed lie, with McKinnon during her devastating Giuliani impersonation, and Trump and Giuliani will probably provide the writers and performers with plenty of material. In the meantime Trump should acknowledge, even if he doesn’t “tweet” it, that at least Saturday Night Live acknowledges his Democratic challengers are also rather ridiculous. That’s good news for comedy and media fairness, we suppose, and we plan to get water laughs we can get out of it, but it’s not good news for the country at large.

— Bud Norman

Another Multi-Billionaire New Yorker

There’s another multi-billionaire from New York City who’s running for president, with media mogul and former Big Apple mayor Michael Bloomberg running for the Democratic nomination. Our guess is that the Democrats won’t be interested in the services of a multi-billionaire from New York City, but we’ve been surprised before.
There are some significant differences between Bloomberg and President Donald Trump, of course. For one thing, Bloomberg is verifiably a multi-billionaire, worth several times more than Trump claims to be but declines to prove. For another thing, he’s previously served in public office and actually did a pretty good job of it.
Bloomberg became mayor of New York after the two terms of Rudy Giuliani, and although the youngsters would have a hard time believing it Giuliani had lowered the the city’s taxes and increased its revenues and lowered the crime rate and bolstered the employment rolls, and the city was saved from financial ruin and a dystopian state. Bloomberg ran as a Republican and mostly kept the Giuliani policies in place, and although he later switched to independent status and pursued some strict gun control measures and restored some of the city’s welfare system he mostly remained a low-tax and tough-on-crime mayor through his two terms.
None of this, of course, will endear Bloomberg to the modern Democratic party. Even Trump and most of the Republicans went along with a soft-on-crime criminal justice reform bill earlier this year, and by now a significant number of the Democrats equate law enforcement with racism. That will likely change with the next big crime wave, which inevitably will have an inordinate number of black victims, but for now law and order isn’t a winning issue in a Democratic primary.
Nor are low taxes likely to win any Democrats, who currently seem hell-bent on punitively taxing multi-billionaires such as Bloomberg. Lowering New York City’s top tax rates stopped the exodus of rich people from the city and thus increased the city’s revenues, and raising the top national tax rates would probably start an exodus of rich people’s money from the country if not the rich people themselves, thus lowering federal revenues, but today’s Democrats are more interested in social justice than such arcane economic theories.
Yet another way that Bloomberg differs from Trump is that’s he been hugely successful in building his media empire without suffering any conspicuous failures, but Democrats also don’t care much about managerial expertise, and even suspect it proves a bottom-line indifference to the working class. At this point, they’re also quite right to question if success in the private sector can be easily transferred to success in government.
Even so, Bloomberg apparently figures that a majority of Democrats doesn’t want to go so far left as a very big chunk of the party is clearly intent on, and that the moderate candidates remaining in the field are vulnerable. The Democrats are also very eager to beat Trump, and Bloomberg has a plausible argument that with his bigger fortune and record of sound governance and polite and well-spoken persona he’d be the more appealing multi-billionaire New Yorker.
It’s worth a shot, we suppose, and Bloomberg can well afford to place a bet on it, but we won’t wager any of our more meager money. He’s already announced he’ll be skipping the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire and wait until the big states, but that’s the same strategy Giuliani used to dodge farm folks and factories when he ran as “America’s mayor,” still flush from the rave reviews by even the mainstream press and so far away from his current dilapidated and disgraced self, and he was out of the race by South Carolina.
Bloomberg’s path won’t be any easier. The class warriors on the left will cast him as the party’s plutocratic enemy, the moderate candidates have been earning the loyalty of moderate Democratic voters while Bloomberg was earning money, and so far we don’t see a groundswell of support for a candidate little known outside of New York City, no matter how well known and regarded he might be there.
Still, we wish him well. There should be someone on the Democratic debate stage that has a more sophisticated tax policy than ripping up that goose and getting all the golden eggs, and understands that a trillion is a whole lot of dollars, and that’s there’s still something to be said for law and order. Bloomberg’s a gun-grabber with a lot of touchy-feely welfare state ideas and other Democratic party flaws, as far as we’re concerned, but as far as multi-billionaire New Yorkers go we could do worse.

— Bud Norman

Modernity and Its Pains in the Butt

One of the many vexing things about this modern world is all the neologisms one has to keep up with. In just the past week we’ve had to become familiar with such awful-sounding phrases as “butt dialing,” “throuples,” and “revenge porn.”
“Butt dialing” is apparently what happens when  you have one of those fancy “smart phones” in a back pocket and somehow squirm around in such a way that you inadvertently call up a number the device has somehow memorized. We’re not sure how that happens, as we have an old fashioned “flip phone,” which is an onerous enough concession to the modern world, but that’s what we’re told. Our Dad actually helped us to the latest jive a while back after our brother dialed him up that way. It’s been much in the news lately, because President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani wound up “butt dialing” a couple of reporters and leaving suspicious and cryptic voice mail messages about Ukraine and former Vice President and potential Democratic nominee Joe Biden and something about needing a few hundred thousand dollars in a hurry.
The current rules of journalistic ethics don’t require reporters to keep “butt dialed” voice mail messages off-the-record, so Giuliani’s rants were all over the cable news and the late night comedy shows. By now Giuliani has bigger troubles than the ridicule he’s received, but he’s done the world no favor by making “butt dialing” a permanent part of the lexicon.
A “throuple” is apparently an exclusive and ongoing menage a trois, and that newly coined word has been in the news lately because recently resigned California Rep. Katie Hill was involved in such a relationship with a staffer and the staffer’s husband. Hill campaigned as an openly bisexual candidate, and given California and the Democratic party she probably would have survived the scandal, despite the inner-office and power imbalance dynamics that have ruined the careers of so many male politicians, but there was also a naked cell phone picture of her smoking a bong in the shower with her female paramour. Given California and the Democratic party she might have survived that, but careful viewers noticed a small tattoo of a Nazi-era Iron Cross on her pelvic area, and it was too much intersectionality even for a California Democrat.
We have no idea who gave the picture to a little-known anti-Democrat pro-Trump web site, which then passed it on to the United Kingdom’s salacious Fleet Street tabloids, which took an unusual interest in a freshman congresswoman from far-off California and was not constrained by America’s more puritan standards for photographs that appear on the front page. One can only assume it was someone Hill would share a naked and bong-smoking moment with, and “revenge porn” is what the young folks call it when someone spitefully disseminates racy pictures of someone else taken in happier times. In announcing her resignation Hill said she would devote herself to the cause of banning “revenge porn,” and we wish her enough success that the cacophonous phrase falls out of use.
For all their unfortunate effects on the public discourse, at least none of these newfangled words will affect us personally. We’ll not own one of the stupid “smart phones” until they stop selling any other kind of phone, and even then we would never put such an expensive device in our back pockets. “Throuples” are out of the question at our age, as we’ve already had more than enough trouble with the old-fashioned couples arrangement. We’ve always been rather camera shy, too, even with our most intimate acquaintances, so any racy pictures you see of us on the internet are fakes, and we can assure you we’ve never even met any of the Kardashians..
Even so, it’s a rather dreary modern world we have to get around in.

— Bud Norman

When There’s No Getting Over It

Ambassador William Taylor spent 10 hours testifying to a House oversight committee on Tuesday about the Ukraine brouhaha, and by the time it was over President Donald Trump and his apologists needed yet another new defense.
Ever since a “whistleblower” report alleged that Trump had sought election help from the Ukrainian president during negotiations over aid and arms sales Trump and his defenders have insisted it was “fake news” and even if it did happen there was no quid pro quo, which does not let them off the hook for illegally soliciting foreign influence in American election, but doesn’t sound as bad, so it’s no big deal. In fact, the president insists, the phone call was “perfect.”
Since then both friendly and hostile witnesses have testified, texts have been released, and all of it made it sure like that there had indeed been a quid pro quo, even if no one was careless enough to use the term. It didn’t help when White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told a news conference that Trump did indeed withhold help to Ukraine unless it agreed to investigate a possible Democratic presidential nominee, adding that “we do it all the time — get over it,” or when Gordon Sondland, the big bucks Trump donor was tabbed as Ambassador to the European Union without any diplomatic experience, testified about his involvement in what sure sounded like a quid pro quo.
Taylor’s testimony the defense even harder to sell. A West Point graduate and a veteran of the Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq wars with an unblemished record of service to both Democratic and Republican administration over the past 50 years, he’ll be hard to smear as an America-hating “deep state” operative, but Trump tried that with war hero and respected public servant Robert Mueller, so maybe they’ll try it again.
Along with his stellar reputation Taylor brought documents and notes and other evidence to back up his account, which pretty damning to Trump. He was acting ambassador to Ukraine during that disputed phone call, and he describes how Sondland and soon-departing Energy Secretary Rick Perry and envoy and longtime Trump loyalist Kurt Volcker were running an “irregular” foreign policy with Ukraine that worked against longstanding principles of the United States government. He also testified that Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and two of his recently indicted-and-jailed associates were also involved in gaining political help from the Ukrainians, and had undermined well-regarded and soon removed Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch because they saw her as an impediment to a possible deal.
Trump will continue to chant his “no quid pro quo” mantra, if only to calm himself, but at this point his best defense is probably “So what?” He might as well come right out and reiterate that “We do it all the time — get over it,” as his die-hard fans don’t seem to mind. He’s already selling “Get over it” t-shirts at his campaign’s web site, and we expect to see a lot of them at the next Make America Great Again rally.

— Bud Norman

What is Truth, After All?

Every other decade or so, some public official blurts out something that pithily and memorably sums the absurdity of our times. We’re old enough to recall President Richard Nixon telling a press conference that “I am not a crook,” and President Bill Clinton saying under oath and on videotape that “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is” is,” and his harridan of a wife and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telling a congressional committee investigating her deadly Benghazi debacle “What, at this this point, does it matter?” President Donald Trump has already had several such outbursts, but his lead television lawyer Rudy Giuliani topped them all on Sunday when he appeared on the National Broadcasting Company’s decades-old “Meet the Press” program and declared that “Truth isn’t truth.”
Put in its proper context, it sounds even worse. Giuliani was of course being asked about the “Russia thing,” which is looking increasingly bad for his client these days, and the once formidable federal prosecutor and legendarily successful New York City mayor was making yet another recent mess of it. Asked to respond to the day’s New York Times report that White House Don McGhan counsel had provided some 30 hours of of testimony to the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing,” Giuliani unconvincingly argued that was a good thing. Asked about the meeting that the president’s namesake son and son-in-law and now-on-trial campaign manager had with some Russian operatives in Trump’s namesake Trump Tower, Giuliani insisted that none knew in advance they were meeting with Russians, even though the e-mail chain that Trump Jr. was forced to release made it plainly clear they not only knew they were meeting with Russians but Russians they had been credibly assured were agents of a Russian government effort to help the Trump campaign, with Trump Jr. infamously proclaiming “I love it!”
Asked the by-now inevitable questions about whether Trump would testify to the special counsel, Giuliani replied that “I am not going to be rushed into having testify so that he gets trapped into perjury.” He further explained that “When you tell me (Trump) should testify because he’s going to tell the truth and that he shouldn’t worry, that’s so silly — because it’s somebody’s version of the truth. Not the truth.”

div style=”text-indent:29px;”>At this point “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd — or that “sleepy-eyed son-of-a-bitch,” as Trump has called him — interjected the perfectly tautological comment that “Truth is truth.” At that point, Giuliani uttered his soon-to-be-in-“Bartlett’s-Famous-Quotations” response that “No, it isn’t truth. Truth isn’t truth.”

Meanwhile, Trump spent much of the Lord’s Day “tweeting” about the “Russia thing,” blasting the hated New York Times for failing to emphasize that Trump had allowed Mcgann’s testimony, and comparing the special counsel’s investigation into the whole “Russia thing” to McCarthyism. Trump couldn’t have prevented the testimony of McGhan in any case, as he represents the office of the presidency rather than the president of the moment and currently has more incentive to protect it rather than it’s current occupant, and the ridiculous comparison to commie-baiting Sen. Joseph just invited all the Trum-bashing media to note that both McCarthy and Trump had the same lawyer, and that the silently rigorous special counsel investigation isn’t really analogous to McCarthyism at all.”.
At this point the two extant theories are that the Trump campaign conspired with Russian government efforts to influence the past presidential election, or that a seemingly failed “deep state” conspiracy with Russia and that awful Clinton woman and all those damned Democrats to prevent Trump’s presidency is now coming to its perfectly diabolical conclusion. Both scenarios are admittedly far-fetched, so we’ll leave it to the reader to choose between them. It’s perfectly tautological that only one of them can be true, but these days truth isn’t truth, and at risk to your security clearance status you can take your pick.

— Bud Norman

On Friends, Family, and Trump

Some old friends and close family members have lately encouraged us to go easier on President Donald Trump, but none of them are obliged to publish political commentary five times a week, and thus they haven’t noticed how hard it is to find anything else to write about these days. Most of the media took time out on Wednesday to report on a near-fatal heroin overdose by a pop singer named Demi Lovato, but as sad as that is we have to admit we had not previously heard of her and have little to say about her apparently troubled life, and as usual almost all of the rest of the non-sports news was about Trump.
Also as usual, we’d be hard-pressed to come up with a convincing defense of Trump about any of it, and our old friends and close family members aren’t offering any helpful suggestions.
The story that took up the most newspaper space and cable news airtime on Wednesday was an audio recording of a telephone conversation between Trump and his longtime but now former lawyer Michael Cohen concerning a $150,000 payment made through the notorious National Enquirer tabloid to a former Playboy centerfold model named Karen McDougal who alleges she had an affair with Trump shortly after his third wife and current First Lady gave birth to his fifth child. Once upon a saner time in America such a story would have had a five-column headline and round-the-clock updates on all of the networks, but these days it’s just one column above the fold and ten minutes at the top of hour, and it’s all so damned complicated that Trump and his apologists found something slightly exculpatory in it.
Trump has already indignantly “tweeted” about “What kind of lawyer would tape a client,” which is indeed a good question, but by now many snarky columnists and all the late night television comics have rightly answered that it’s apparently the kind of lawyer that Trump hires. Due to the low-fidelity nature of the recording there’s some dispute about whether Trump said he would or wouldn’t want to pay the hush money to a Playboy centerfold model in cash, and his die-hard fans believe he insisted on paying with check and therefore demonstrated his commitment to complete transparency. Cohen is the same lawyer who set up a Delaware shell corporation to make a $130,000 payment to a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels to stop her from alleging a one-night-stand that allegedly occurred around the same time as the alleged affair with the Playboy centerfold, and federal search warrants have been executed on his office and home and hotel room, and some scary federal and unpardonable state indictments about all sorts of things seem likely imminent, so there’s also an argument to be made that he’s now flipped to the dark side and is complicit in the “deep state’s” and “fake news'” ongoing “witch hunt” conspiracy to make Trump look bad.
Maybe so, but by now there’s no denying that the boastfully adulterous Trump and the lawyer he now admits is sleazy made six-figure payments to a porn star and a Playboy model to hush them up about some quite credibly alleged affairs, and once upon a saner time in America during a Democratic administration all of our old friends and close family members and other fellow Republicans would have been appalled by that. Maybe Trump did insist on paying by check, even though current Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani recently told a cable news interviewer that “he’d be a fool to do that,” but that still seems a weak defense of our president’s character.
Meanwhile, the European Union has offered to negotiate an end to the trade war Trump has waged against it, which the Trump triumphalists see as another big win, but it remains to be seen if the negotiations will go as well as that free-trade treaty the EU recently negotiated with Japan that left America out of a third of the world’s economy. North Korea continues advancing its nuclear threat despite Trump’s “tweeted” assurances that we can all sleep soundly that’s there’s no longer any threat, and Trump has postponed his White House sequel to the much-panned Helsinki summit with Russian dictator until the “Russia thing” investigation in wrapped up.
Meanwhile, on the freedom of speech front, the Trump administration also barred a Cable News Network reporter from from a public event because of her pesky questions, threatened to revoke the security clearances of high-ranking officials from the administrations of Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush who have been critical of Trump administration policies, and Trump advised a cheering crowd of sycophants in Kansas City that “What you’re reading and seeing is not what’s happening.” That was at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, whose leadership later apologized for the members who had booed the press, as the press were invited members of the public gathering.
As much as we hate to be at odds with our old friends and close family members and other fellow Republicans, by now there’s no denying that Trump says several things a day that are obviously untrue, and that the “fake news” has a far better batting average for verifiable accuracy than our president. Our old friends and close family members and other fellow Republicans can still make a very convincing hypothetical case that a President “Crooked” Hillary Clinton’s administration would be even worse, but they can’t yet convince us that any of this is making America great again.

— Bud Norman

Our Erstwhile Republican Heroes

These are the times that try our old-fashioned and conservative Kansas Republican souls. Many of the men and women we once admired for their rock-ribbed Republicanism and brave willingness to stand on principle and defy the ever changing forces of popular opinion are going squishy, too many of the last few who more or less stood steadfast to our old-fashioned and conservative Kansas Republican beliefs are either bowing out of public life or dying, and what’s left finds itself under assault from the newfangled Grand Old Party of President Donald Trump.
Once upon a time in America there was nobody we admired more in public life than Rudy Giuliani. He was a formidable lead U.S. Attorney in the southern district of New York, where he quite ruthlessly convicted a lot of mobster types, and although many Republicans of the time in New York and elsewhere thought he was rather over-zealous in his prosecution of some Wall Street types he wound up as the Republican party’s nominee for mayor of New York City. He lost his first bid to one of the long, long string of Democrats that had brought the notoriously crime-ridden and graffiti-covered city to the brink of bankruptcy, by the the time he made his second run things had gotten so bad that even the voters of New York City chose a Republican to turn around the fortunes of America’s most essential city.
Giuliani’s tough-talking style and even tougher policies angered the the leftward media in New York City and thus elsewhere, but he hung tough and the results were hard to argue with. His tough-on-crime attitudes toward law enforcement eventually reduced the city’s internationally scandalous murder rate by 66 percent, even as police shootings and complains of excessive force similarly declined. Following the model of President Ronald Reagan he drastically cut rates across the board and especially at the highest brackets, but it once again counter-intuitively resulted in such a economic boom that the revenues actually increased. By the end of the his controversial reign as mayor, Giuliani had restored New York City to its rightful status as America’s most essential city, and even the billionaire newfangled Republican and self-described socialist Democrat who’ve followed have been careful not to stray too far from the formula.
Since then, though, Giuliani has been on a conspicuous losing streak. He seems to have made some money in his private ventures of security consulting and whatnot, but in the public sphere he’s been a disaster. His bid for the Republican presidential nomination in ’08 didn’t last enough for the big states his “big state” strategy was counting, given the suspicion that heartland Republicans used to have about twice-divorced New Yorkers who’d once gone on record supporting gun restrictions and abortion bans and acceptance of homosexuals’ civil rights, and after that he largely dropped out of sight. Lately he’s been back in the news as Trump’s attorney, and has done such a disastrous job of defending his client’s now admitted payment of $130,000 to a pornographic video star and suspected role in a widely-acknowledged plot by the Russian dictatorship to affect that he’s also likely to find himself under assault from the newfangled Republican party of Trump.
Once upon a time in America we also admired then-Alabama Senator and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in part because of how much he was hated by the Democrats and the rest of the left for his reasonable ideas about border enforcement and the more general rules of law, but these days he’s under assault from those Trumpian sorts of Republicans. He greatly disappointed us during the presidential campaign by being the first Republican senator to endorse Trump more unreasonable ideas about sea-to-sea border walls and cops bumping suspect’s heads on the paddy wagons, but he rescued some of respect our respect by recusing himself from any investigations into the Trump campaign he’d been a part of and it’s contacts with Russian agents that he freely admitted he had not disclosed. Of course, that has brought him under constant “twitter” assault from Trump himself. California congressman quintessentially Trumpian Republican is now pushing to have Sessions held in contempt of congress for failing to provide documents he’s requested in his investigation of Session’s alleged involvement in violations of law as a result of a special counsel’s ongoing investigation into Trump and the “Russia thing.
Until recently we’d never heard of anybody called Ron Rosenstein, but these days he’s one of our favorite Republicans and of course is under even greater assault from the Trumpians, with several newfangled Republican congressman agitating for his impeachment. He’s the deputy Attorney General Attorney general that Trump appointed, and because the Attorney General Trump appointed had to recuse himself for principled reasons from that whole “Russia thing” Rosenstein is in charge of that mess, and Trump and the Trumpians don’t like the way he’s signed off on some rather ruthlessly Giuliani-esque prosecution methods. The life-long Republican is a key conspirator in the “deep state” conspiracy against former Democrat and Reform Party member and relatively newfangled Republican Trump, according to the talk on right-wing talk radio, and his newfound and feckless friends on the left aren’t likely save him.
Trump is doing some significant things right, as our old-fashioed conservative Kansas souls have to admit and the economic date indicate, but we’d still like to see a Republican party that can stand steadfast against the constant barrage of lies and porno performers and lies about porno performers and the juvenile “tweeted” taunts and the daily assaults on the successful post-war international order and our even more constitutional norm and the all-essential concept of an objective reality. Once upon a time in America House Speaker Paul Ryan was that kind of Republican, and his steadfast stand on balancing America’s budget once had the Democrat’s depicting him throwing your grandmother off a cliff, but he played that deficit-exploding spending bill that Trump signed and Ryan got all the blame for, and he’s bowing out of a tough re-election race because his rather half-assed criticisms of Trump leave him vulnerable to a primary challenge. So is the Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, whose voting record on rock-ribbed Republican issues is unassailable but has had the temerity to criticize Trump’s vulgarity and meanness and blatant dishonesty and even more blatant corruption, along with some overly zealous policies on immigration. Meanwhile senior Sen. John McCain is dealing with advanced cancer, and making funeral preparations that do not include an invitation to Trump, the draft dodger who infamously scoffed that although McCain voluntarily endured years of torture in a North Vietnamese prison rather than desert his comrades was a hero “only because got caught.”
Several lesser-known but equally admirable Republicans are also bowing out in the next mid-term election, and it’s not clear who will take their place. One of the Republican candidates in the Arizona primary to replace Flake is former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who accepted Trump’s presidential pardon and therefore admitted his guilt in violating the 13th and Fourth Amendment rights of Phoenix’s sizable Hispanic yet undeniably naturally-born American citizens, and was recently warmly greeted by Vice President Mike Pence, another Republican we once expected. The Republicans might pick up a seat in West Virginia by nominating a former coal mine owner who was convicted and served prison time for worker safety law violations that killed more than two dozen of the coal miners that Trump claims to love, and if he gets the nomination we’re sure he’ll get the same presidential endorsement as that credibly-accused child molester who nonetheless lost a safe seat to a Democrat down in Alabama.
Such is the state of our erstwhile law-and-order and family values party, and we still don’t like those damned Democrats any better.

— Bud Norman

Porno Performers, Evangelical Christians, and Those Hard-to-Answer Questions

Thursday brought both torrential rains and a gloriously warm and blue skies to our portion of the Great Plains, but back east in Washington, D.C., White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders faced unrelentingly stormy weather. We almost felt sorry for the poor woman.
On Wednesday night one of President Donald Trump’s more recent attorneys, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, had gone on Sean Hannity’s exceedingly Trump-friendly program on Fox News and acknowledged that eleven days before the past presidential election Trump paid $130,000 to a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels to not talk about an tryst she claimed to have had with him shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child. Both Trump and his White House press secretary had until then insisted the president knew nothing about any payments to any porno performers, and that you’d have to ask that lawyer the president once called his “fixer” and now describes as someone he barely knows, and has recently had thorough federal search warrant executed on his home and office and hotel room, so Sanders had some serious explaining to do.
She started her Spanish Inquisition of a White House press briefing with upbeat talk about Trump’s enthusiasm for National Prayer Day and the recent hopeful developments on the Korean peninsula, but the press corps were in no mood for that. They had some hard to answer questions about Trump recently blaming President Barack Obama for some Americans being detained by North Korea during his own administration, and the ensuing questions about the past misstatements about a now-acknowledged $130,000 payment to a porno performer made all that talk about National Prayer Day sound ridiculous. That got bogged down in talk about campaign finance law that Sanders had trouble explaining away, too, and those pesky reporters kept asking impossible to answer questions about how often the official White House position has shifted on countless matters, and why anyone should believe anything the White House press secretary has to say.
Sanders insisted that she first learned that the president had paid $130,000 to a porno performer when his lawyer blurted that out on the Hannity show, and even those cynical sorts in the White House press corps didn’t doubt that a bit. She couldn’t bring herself to blame her past misstatements about the matter on being deliberately misinformed by her boss, though, and without that frank admission it was impossible to reconcile what she was saying on Thursday with what she’d been saying until then.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders goes by that name because she’s proudly the daughter of Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister who served two fairly successful terms as Governor of Arkansas and ran a couple of futile campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination, and she seems to have inherited both her father’s political and religious instincts. Like many other professed evangelical Christians she considers Trump’s appointment of an anti-abortion Supreme Court Justice and revocation of the Johnson Amendment that threatened the tax-exempt status of any pro-Trump preachers and his professed enthusiasm for National Prayer Day more important than any hush money payments he might have to paid to somme porno performer, and of course she’s finding it hard to explain that to both the secular and spiritual sorts.
Our own secular and cynical selves are by now pretty much convinced that the current President of the United States did indeed have an adulterous encounter with a porno performer shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child, and by now the president’s lawyer has admitted on Sean Hannity’s show — of all places — that Trump paid her $130,000 not to say so. Our more spiritual and proudly evangelical Christian side still holds out hope that Trump and Sanders will offer not only confession but some semblance of contrition in the future, and that the routine lies they tell from behind a podium with the official White House seal about all sorts of things will eventually cease, but by now it’s only a faint hope.

— Bud Norman