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Just West of Reality

In a more perfect world we’d pay no attention to the comings and going of garish reality television stars, but as things now stand Donald Trump is the president-elect and his high level meeting on Tuesday with Kanye West was unavoidably in the news.
West first came to fame as a performer of rap music, and those with a studied appreciation of the genre than ours tell he is quite adept at it, but he’s lately best known for such attention grabbing behavior as crashing a stage to interrupt another entertainer’s speech at a show biz awards show and she she wouldn’t have won, using another awards show to go on a rant about how President George W. Bush doesn’t care about black people, more generally ranting like a crazy person on afternoon talk shows, and being married into the famously dysfunctional Kardashian family of reality television renown. Such antics led President Barack Obama to describe West as a “jackass,” but have apparently long endeared West to Trump. Hence the invitation to Trump’s transition headquarters in New York City, where the president-elect told reporters afterwards that “We discussed life.”
West later tweeted that two also talked about “bullying, supporting teachers, modernizing curriculums, and violence in Chicago.” We assume that the conversation about bullying concerned how to stop it, although it’s possible they shared favorite techniques, and we also allow them the benefit of the doubt about their earnestness regarding teachers and curriculums and Chicago, but given their public personas we’re skeptical there wasn’t also some talk about various women’s derrières and grabbing them by their wherevers. “I feel it is important to have a direct line of communication with our future president if we truly want change,” West further “tweeted,” but what’s more direct than a little locker room banter between a couple of stars who can get away with it?
“I’ll never say anything bad about him,” Trump said of West during a 2015 campaign rally, apropos of some West brouhaha or another that was popping up at the time, and which Trump apparently felt needed to be addressed in a presidential campaign speech. “You want to know why? Because he loves Trump. He goes around saying Trump is my all-time hero. He says it to everybody.” The very same method of character assessment also explains Trump’s apparent affinity for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, as well as several other friendships with flattering but unsavory people ranging from Steve Bannon to Mike Tyson to Roger Stone to Dennis Rodman to Jeffrey Epstein, so it’s a convincing explanation for his friendship with West.
Harder to explain is West’s affinity for Trump. Rappers have long shared Trump’s penchant for gold-plated “bling” and shameless self-aggrandizement and constantly upgraded models, and have even acknowledged his knack for it on numerous songs, but they don’t usually like registered Republicans. So far as we glean from the snippets we’ve heard of his songs and rants West’s politics have been of the usual peace and freedom and kill whitey variety found in rap music, and although he has some pretty idiosyncratic ideas about being God and the nefarious forces arrayed against him he’s always seemed an show biz orthodox liberal in most of his political pronouncements, and it’s hard to see where he agrees with Trump on such matters as the violence in Chicago. Even so, West was telling a stunned concert audience during a prolonged rant that if he’d have bothered to vote he would have voted for Trump.
That rant also included something about a feud with a fellow rapper and something vaguely sinister about the show business industry and how he was risking his life by talking about it, and immediately afterwards West was reportedly admitted to the psychiatric wing of a hospital, forcing the cancellation of a remaining tour. The official explanation was exhaustion, which is plausible given that he has such a grueling schedule and is married to the most callipygian of the Kardashians, but the conspiracy theorists on the lunatic fringes of internet were theorizing better explanations.
One holds that West was about to expose Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s satanic pedophile in the back room of a D.C. pizzeria, and that The Illuminati swooped in at the last minute to silence him and make it look like he’s crazy. Another theory holds that the entire entertainment industry, as well as the Democratic party and entrenched establishment of the Republican party, are controlled by the same Illuminati conspiracy, which is plausible to extent that there’s really no other accounting for the wealth and fame of Kanye West or Donald Trump being president, but the same theory holds that they’re two of the last remaining good guys fighting the dark forces, and that’s just too hard to believe.
We’ll not begrudge Trump his friendships, at least the ones that don’t re-align the more or less stable global order, but we do hope he’ll seek advice elsewhere about modernizing curriculums and other pressing matters. There might be some conspiracy afoot in that Trump Tower summit of the reality show stars, and we’re sure it will be coming to a YouTube video soon, but rappers have been dropping by the White House for eight years already, some of them arguably even more unsavory than West, and show biz and politics and all the craziness they entail have long been intertwined, so the more likely explanation is that we all just let it get to this point.

— Bud Norman

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The Devil and Sen. Ted Cruz

Judging by the adjectives they’re lately resorting to, many liberals suddenly seem quite fearful that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz might win the Republican presidential nomination. All the panicked comments that follow any story in the respectable press about Cruz’ recent rise in the polls are calling him”worse than Donald Trump,” which seems to be the most damning slur they can think of, and New York Times columnist David Brooks and Mother Jones Washington bureau chief David Corn have reached one step further to describe Cruz as “satanic.”
To be fair to Brooks, he did only say during an appearance on the Public Broadcasting System’s “Newshour” that Cruz had a “dark and satanic tone” to his campaign rhetoric, and we’ll assume that was meant in the nicest way possible, but still, it seems rather harsh. Corn doubled down on the description, though, noting with obvious horror that “If you go to a speech from his dad, who is a pastor, evangelical, it actually is satanic. He — I watched a speech in which he said Satan was behind the Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage.” At that point Brooks laughingly said “Well, I withdraw the Satanic from Ted Cruz,” Corn kept up the yucks that were going all around by saying “You’re thinking that it’s political, but sometimes, it’s literal,” and Brooks showed off his fancy education by backing off to the term “Mephistophelian,” which as we understand the term at least demotes Cruz to being merely demonic. In any case, an average viewer of the taxpayer-subsidized PBS “Newshour” would come away with a general impression that all the smarts folks agree Cruz is, at the very least, evil.
Brooks didn’t offer any examples of the “ugly” and “combative” and “angry” and “apocalyptic” language that he attributes to Cruz, but we’re sure he could come up with plenty of quotes that would suit his purposes. Cruz does frankly discuss economic conditions and social trends that are unavoidably ugly, he has used Patton-esque language to explain how he would deal with the Islamic State, and except for his Princeton and Harvard Law School degrees he’s never done anything to placate the likes of Brooks. Although he still retains a reputation as conservative-by-New-York-Times-standards, Brooks is still the same fellow who was so taken with the perfect crease in candidate Barack Obama’s that he predicted the clothes horse would prove a great president, and he really needs to get out of Manhattan more often. The people out here in flyover country are plenty angry themselves, and they’re obviously looking for somebody combative, and at this point even the most apocalyptic language doesn’t seem so far-fetched. That’s the language used by the Islamic State that Cruz speaks so harshly about, and by the Iranian government that the present administration is so naively dealing with, and by now much of the public has noticed that the more nuanced sorts of responses don’t seem to be working.
Compared to the head-chopping antics of America’s sworn enemies, the fact that Cruz’ father is — gasp! — an evangelical pastor who hews to the traditional Judeo-Christian views regarding homosexuality, which have grown quite tolerant in recent decades but still won’t go so far as to approve of society’s imprimatur on the practice, is not likely to strike most folks outside the more elite newsrooms as particularly offensive. That Cruz’ father would attribute something evil to the influence of Satan will also prove unsurprising to anyone with a basic understanding of Jewish and Christian and even the more fashionable faith of Islam, and only at such hippie rags as Mother Jones and The New York Times does anyone consider this explicitly anti-Satan stance is somehow “satanic” or even “Mephistophelian.”
The desperate resort to such pejoratives suggests a growing fear in elite newsrooms that Cruz might just be gaining on Donald Trump, and that Cruz is the even worse Republican nominee because he might not be so easily beatable by whatever compromised candidate the Democrats come up with. Brooks worriedly admitted in that “Newshour” that Cruz is “making headway,” Trump has “ceilinged out,” and that the evangelical-dominated Republican caucus in Iowa will give the Ivy League-educated yet still an evangelical pastor’s son a season-opening victory over the thrice-married casino mogul and reality television show star. Thus the big media guns that were once aimed at Trump are now sighted on Cruz, who has been upgraded to “satanic,” which even Trump never endured, not even from such rock-ribbed Republicans as us, but we expect the barrage to do Cruz more good than harm.
Given the ugly and angry and combative and downright apocalyptic mood of the Republican primary electorate, the disapproval of the polite press can only bolster Cruz’ appeal and his antiestablishment credentials. Both the Democratic and Republican “establishments,” and especially the perfect merging of them in the form of the Obama-supporting but supposedly conservative Brooks, loathe Cruz not only because he’s an unapologetic conservative but because he’s proved willing to engage in some government shutdown brinksmanship with the Obama administration in defense of his principles. The more the liberal press tries to emphasize this sort of cowboy craziness, the more it will rally the still-undecided conservative media to his cause and perhaps even impress some of those Trump supporters who have supposed that his daring “tweets” show that “at least he’s willing to fight.” Trump has made much of his hard-earned reputation as a tough negotiator, and as someone who has annoyed the highest levels of the Republican party, but if Cruz comes across in the liberal media as worse than Trump in these regards he’ll come across as better to some Republican voters.
As of now Cruz is less well known and thus better-liked than either Trump or Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, but then he’s just now getting the satanic slurs. By the time the more polite press get done with him he might seem as ridiculous as Trump, or even as Satanic as Hillary Clinton or as out-of-the-mainstream as any socialist the Democrats might otherwise wind up with, but by then the more polite press will have no idea what the people are looking for.

— Bud Norman