Pompeo and Circumstances

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo served nearly three and half terms as our congressman here in Kansas’s Fourth district before joining President Donald Trump’s administration as Central Intelligence Agency and then becoming America’s top diplomat. He was quite popular around here, routinely winning with more than 60 parent of the vote, and although the local liberals hated him for his old-fashioned conservatism they were never able to pin any scandals on him.
As a member the Trump cabinet, Pompeo now finds himself embroiled in several controversies. An inspector general who was investigating Pompeo from using a taxpayer paid aide to do personal, as well as declaring a national emergency to green light an arms deal with Saudi Arabia, was fired by President Trump, and after Trump said the firing was at Pompeo’s request that is three scandals. Pompeo also stands accused of holding expensive taxpayer-funded dinners for big bucks donors to the Republican Party who have nothing to do with foreign policy, which is a pretty embarrassing fourth scandal.
Pompeo admitted he asked for the firing of the inspector general but insisted it was a not a conflict of interest because he was unaware he was being investigated, but he also admitted that he had been given a written set of questions by the inspector general about both the aide an the arms deals.
There’s one exception: I was asked a series of questions in writing,” Pompeo said. “I responded to those questions with respect to a with respect to a particular investigation … I don’t know the scope. I don’t know the nature of that investigation — of what I would have seen from the nature of the questions that I was presented.” Except that earlier in the same news conference Pompeo said “I couldn’t possibly have retaliated for for all things I’ve seen — the various stories that someone was walking my dog to sell arms to my dry cleaner. It’s all just crazy.”
That’s as dismissively sarcastic a reply as Trump himself might offer, but it does amount to an admission that Pompeo knew exactly what that pesky inspector general was looking into when he requested the firing. It was the fourth firing of a pesky inspector general in the past six weeks by the Trump administration, on top of the firings of various pesky “whistle blowers,” and another worrisome example of how anyone in the federal government who doesn’t toe the administration’s line is putting his or her career in jeopardy, which is yet another administration scandal.
The defenestrated inspector general was also looking into the lavish parties Pompeo allegedly hosted on the tax payer’s tab, allegedly welcoming such guests as the chief executive officers of Chik-Fil-La and 7-Eleven and the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons, along with others who had no apparent reason for being at a State Department dinner but were potential donors to potential future campaigns, and so far Pompeo hasn’t denied any of the allegations. Pompeo might have some reasonable explanation, but for now we’re expecting only another Trumpian dismissively sarcastic reply.
All of Pompeo’s problems began when he signed on with the Trump administration, and we believe that if he hadn’t done that he’d be sitting pretty right now. His seat in Congress was as safe as a government bond, as they used to say, and the the state’s open Senate seat that’s up for grabs in November would have been his for the asking. Pompeo’s got an impressive resume, including top of his class at West Point and editor of the Harvard Law Review and a successful high-tech aviation company here in Kansas, and he had a masterful knack for appealing to both the fire-breathing anti-establishment elements of the Republican party as well as the party’s establishment types who proudly voted for General Dwight Eisenhower and Senators Bob Dole and Nancy Landon and other erstwhile exemplars of moderate Kansas Republicanism.
Given his impressive resume and political instincts, a lot of us here in the Fourth Congressional district of Kansas thought Pompeo might even wind up as president some day. Pompeo is an obviously and unabashedly ambitious man, so there’s no doubt the same thought had occurred to him, and we suspect he bet that joining the Trump administration would be the shrewd move to get there. With all due respect to Pompeo, we think that in this case his political instincts failed him.
“We’ll always remember Pompeo’s rousing endorsement speech for the very Republican establishment Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at the Kansas Republican caucus in downtown Wichita’s Century II building, and how many of us booed candidate Donald Trump’s appearance and how Trump came in third after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Rubio. Trump wound up winning the nomination and then won Kansas’ electoral votes by the same 60 percent any other Republican nominee would have garnered against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, however, and Pompeo was glad to to accept an offer to hop on board. When he was elevated from CIA director to Secretary of State, with unemployment at record lows and the stock markets at record highs, he seemed poised to take some share of the credit for making America great again.
We’re not nearly as smart as Pompeo, but we’re nowhere near so intoxicatingly ambitious, and from our relatively sober perspective here on the political sidelines, after watching more Kansas politics than Pompeo has been around to see, we think he should have stayed here in the middle of Kansas. He could have supported Trump’s many sensible policies, criticized his more common vulgarism and and divisiveness and other outright corruption an many other offenses, and joined other Kansas Republicans to condemn the trade wars have hurt the state’s crucial agricultural and aviation sectors, and poised himself as a leader of the post-Trump Republican party’s return to greatness that America will much need, given how crazy the Democrats seem these days.
Instead Pompeo has hitched his proverbial wagon to Trump’s proverbial star, and so far that hasn’t worked out for anyone. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions could be sitting in a safe Alabama Senate seat if he hadn’t endorsed Trump and been rewarded with a Cabinet chair before being fire for dutifully recusing himself from the federal investigation of the campaign he’d worked on, and is currently in a tight battle to win his party’s nomination for the Senate because Trump continues to disparage him. Various Trump appointees appointees have have been fired for doing the right thing and now publicly oppose him, along with others who were hired for no apparent reason and then fired for good cause, and Pompeo might well be another casualty of the Trump administration. So far, no one who’s signed on with Trum0 hasn’t unscathed
Barring some deus ex machina that miraculously cures the coronavirus, and it magically goes away as if by miracle as promised, and the stock market is back at record highs and the unemployment on Election Day, Pompeo’s once-promising presidential ambitions might at an end. The good news is that with the coronavirus dominating the news few people with notice such routine scandals.

— Bud Norman

Looking for Some Alternative to the Lesser of Two Evils

America’s last presidential election was perhaps the most desultory moment in our nation’s political history, with two of the worst Americans ever as the major party nominees. They advocated very different but equally appealing policies, and in the end it all came down to which candidate’s character you thought was more awful. This year isn’t looking any better.
Last time around both finalists for the highest office in the land were scandal-ridden scoundrels, and in eerily similar ways. Republican nominee Donald Trump was credibly accused by a dozen women of decades of sexual assault, and was caught on audiotape bragging about it in the most vulgar terms, but Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was a longtime enabler of her ex-president husband’s just as egregious sexual piggery. The Clintons had a phony-baloney family foundation supported mostly by big-bucks donors courting Hillary’s Clinton’s influence as Secretary of State, but Trump had his own phony-baloney family foundation that did made all sorts of questionable spending including a big campaign contribution to a Florida Secretary of State who immediately withdrew from a multi-state lawsuit against the fraudulent Trump University that had bilked hundreds of suckers out of million dollars and Trump eventually settled that for $25 million and the family foundation was put out of business by the New York state courts, who also decreed that anyone named Trump would have to take an ethics course before they were ever again allowed to be involved a New York charity.
Both the Clintons and the Trumps had decades of financial shenanigans, ranging from the former’s Whitewater dealings to pretty much the entirety of the latter’s career as an oft-bankrupt billionaire mogul, but for the most part they got away with it. Clinton had to hide records of the millions she and her husband had made from giving speeches to special interest groups, but ran as an heiress to the mostly scandal-free administration of President Barack Obama. Trump had openly bragged about buying off Democratic and Republican politicians to get favorable treatment in his very fishy business dealings, and went to extraordinary lengths to hide his educational and military and health and tax records, but argued that made him the ideal guy to lock up “Crooked Hillary” and “drain the swamp.”
This time around looks to be every bit as tawdry. The apparent Democratic nominee after a truncated-by-coronavirus race is former Vice President Joe Biden, an underwhelming career politician with all the baggage you’d expect after four decades of riding trains to Washington, D.C., and Trump is once again the Republican party’s nominee. Biden’s son seems to have made a lot of money while in Ukraine while Dad was in charge of America’s foreign policy in that country, but the Trump kids have also been doing well in China and other countries while their father is president, and although the details of both stories are complicated it looks bad no matter how closely you look.
Both men now stand credibly accused of rape, too. A former Biden employee has come forward by her name, Tara Reade, to allege that 27 years ago then-Sen. Biden pushed against a wall in an empty hallway and penetrated her with his fingers. This is on top of another dozen women Biden’s behavior made them feel “uncomfortable,” and ample photographic and videographer evidence of Biden being somewhat creepily touchy with women. Some two dozen women have accused Trump of even worse behavior, of the sort he’s bragged about on a surreptitious audiotape and on Howard Stern’s nationally broadcast shock jock radio shows, and a woman named E. Jean Carroll has publicly come forward to allege that Trump raped her in a department store dressing room in the ’90s.
Which will certainly take a lot of the fun out of the next election for a lot of people, who might well conclude that we’re choosing between two rapists to lead our country.
Our sixty-some years of observing human nature have convinced us that women sometimes do make false allegations of sexual harassment and rape, but that it’s by far more common for men to sexually harass and rape women, so we’re usually inclined to believe women who have nothing to gain and much to lose with accusations against powerful men. We try apply that same standard regardless of the accused’s party affiliation, and we’ve long noticed Democrats and Republicans are about equally as likely to land in the docket. In this case, we can’t look at either man’s life history and say he’s too much a gentleman for us to even imagine him ever doing such a thing.
We’re instinctively disinclined to look at anything from the Democrats’ perspective, but if you want to get deep into the weeds of all this theDemocrats have the slightly better argument.
Reade is only now making her 27-year-old allegation, after staying silent through Senatorial campaigns and Biden’s vice presidential nomination, and he’s asked the Senate to release any complaints she might have made at the time, and she’s admitted to the press that she only filed a vaguely worded complaint about being “uncomfortable,” and Obama’s thorough vetting team didn’t turn up anything to keep him off the ticket. Carroll didn’t file any charges against Trump at the time, but she did report it to friends who are willing to come forward by name to talk about it, and she has a reputation as a journalist and comedy writer that she’s put at stake, and Trump denies it by saying she’s not his type, which leaves one to wonder on what type of woman he might rape.
As for all the financial shenanigans, whatever Biden’s ethical lapses he’s not become nearly so rich from them as Trump claims to be, and there’s no reason to believe his son got rich in Ukraine by the same sort of quid pro quo deal with the Ukrainian government that got impeached and should have had him removed from office, and Trump’s kids have done pretty well in Dad’s negotiations over the past three years. With apologies to Irving Berlin, we can hear them at the debates singing a rendition of “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Awfuler.”
There’s really no need to wade so deep into the weeds, however, as it really won’t matter much in the election. The public will wind up reconciling itself to a a presidential choice between two scoundrels who are obviously corrupt and quite possibly rapists. So far Trump hasn’t hypocritically seized on Biden’s rape problem, instead noting that powerful men are targets for such allegations, but that’s obviously self-interested and is likely to change between now and election day. A large segment of the Democratic party sticking to principle and trying to somehow find some other nominee, but we expect they’ll mostly fail line and turn out in November to vote against Trump.
A small but decisive minority of independent and independent-minded voters will wind up deciding the election, and what they do depends on what happens between now November, which we admit we have no way of knowing. There’s a chance that a couple hundred thousand Americans will be dead and millions more unemployed and bankrupt, with many more voting by mail if the postal service still exists because they’ve been cooped up at home and grocery shopping in face masks for months, and they’ll care more about that than the candidates’ grotesque character flaws.
Neither Trump nor Biden seem to have any answers for the crisis of the moment, though, nor any inspiring ideas about what to do when we eventually get past it no matter how badly it’s been bungled. Our Republican and Democratic friends alike are once again telling us it’s a binary choice and we have to pick a side, and that the fate of our nation once again hangs on it. Ignoring such shrill and panicked cries, for the second time in our lives we’ll probably pick some obscure protest candidate as a “none of the above” vote.
We’re trying to muddle through the current crisis and see beyond the weeds and past the swamp toward a country that can choose between two candidates of stellar character who strive to unite a great nation of 330 million free men and women behind a plausible program for a better future. We invite dispirited Republicans and Democrats and independents of all races and sexes and classes to join us on this quixotic quest.

— Bud Norman

What the Scandals Obscure

All the news lately is about the Democrats’ increasingly rapid rush to impeach President Donald Trump for all sorts of increasingly plausible reasons, and that might well redound to Trump’s benefit. There’s always an outside chance it all turns out to be a “deep state” conspiracy that vindicates the president and exposes all his enemies, and for now it’s distracting attention from some worrisome economic news.
You might have never heard of the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index, but the stock markets watch it closely enough they took a dive on Tuesday when it reported that for the second consecutive month the manufacturing sector of the economy was in contraction, this time more severely than the month before. Farm bankruptcies are lately up, too, along with farm suicides, and growth in both the overall American economy and the interconnected global economy is clearly slowing, with several big and important national economies already in recession.
Which is bad news for assembly line workers and farmers and stockholders and eventually everyone else in the entire world, but it’s also very bad news for Trump. Despite three years of unrelenting scandals and outrageous “tweets” and deliberate provocations Trump has generally stayed above 40 percent in the public opinions because the grow domestic product and stock markets were up and the unemployment was rate low. The trajectory wasn’t much higher than it had been during the last six years or so of the hated administration of President Barack Obama, but it gave Trump and his talk radio apologists something to brag about, so all the die-hard Trump fans and a lot of the more reluctant supporters were willing to put up with all the rest of it.
All the rest of it is pretty hard to put up with, though, at this point even for the die-hard fans, and harder still if Trump can’t run for reelection on the boast of the the greatest economy ever. He won his first Electoral College victory despite losing the popular vote by three million or so because of the Republican party’s longstanding hold on the prairie and southern states and a mere 70,000 votes spread around the usually Democratic Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Michigan, where they bought into his promises that he’d revive the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. Neither are faring at all well at the moment, many economists fear the service sector will be dragged down along with them, and if current trends continue for another 13 months Trump might well lose to even the looniest left nominee the damn Democrats might come up with.
There’s a strong argument to be made, after all, that Trump’s unilaterally waged trade war against most of the world is the primary cause, or at least has something to do with it. The tariffs have raised prices on foreign goods not only for the Wal-Mart customers but also for the manufacturers of everything that requires foreign parts, which is a lot stuff, which is bound to be bad for business. Of course the retaliatory tariffs have essentially barred America’s farmers from the lucrative global markets they’d come to rely on, but Trump boasts that “I sometimes see where these terrible, dishonest reporters will say ‘Oh Jeez, the farmers are upset.’ Well they can’t be too upset, because I gave them $12 billion and I gave them $16 billion this year.”
Of course Trump didn’t reach into his own pocket for that sum of money, which is more than Obama spent on the automakers’ bail-out, which at the time outraged all the farmers and the rest of Republican party, but we expect a lot of farmers will be mollified, along with a lot of laid-off factory workers, even if they still come out on the short end of the stick. Part of Trump’s appeal to these voters is his shared hostility toward the pointy-headed know-it-alls from the coasts who want to take away their semi-automatic rifles and reconfigure the ethnic makeup and sexual orientation of America, and they’re willing to endure the pain while Trump delivers the greatest trade deals ever.
>He’s not yet delivered one, though, and at this point he seems unlikely to strike one in time for reelection. The Chinese dictatorship can endure its people’s hardships more easily than an American president with a pesky free press and upcoming election ever can, and being stereotypically inscrutable Asian types they regard the next 13 months or so as a mere blink of the eye, whereas Trump likely sees it as a hellish eternity. Trump is still feuding with the European Union and the Brexit-ing British, along with most of South America and Africa and all the Asian countries that used to be on board with a Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty aligned against China, until Trump pulled out of the Obama-era pact. Restoring mutually beneficial trade among the nations seems out of reach for the next 13 months or so, much less the greatest trade deals ever.
The smart money on Wall Street seemed to think so on Tuesday, and we expect that the factory workers and farmers will also notice if Trump’s grandiose promises aren’t kept. There’s no longer any semblance of a free market Republican party and none of the damn Democrats are willing to abandon their traditional protectionist instincts and thus don’t have much to say about it, as they do seem more preoccupied with reconfiguring the ethnic makeup and sexual orientation of the country, so we’ll sit on the sidelines and see how it all turns out. If the economy isn’t rosy come election day, the rest of it will smell very bad.

— Bud Norman

Another Day, Another Argument

President Donald Trump has released a transcript of his telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that freely admits he sought a foreign leader’s help in digging up dirt on a potential political rival, and he insists that’s no big deal. All the talk radio talkers and most of the congressional Republicans agree, and the die-hard fans wouldn’t think it a big deal if Trump shot someone on Fifth Avenue, but all of the Democrats and most of the rest of the country are taking a dimmer view of the matter.
There’s no explicit threat by Trump in the transcript, but his request that Zelensky investigate former vice president and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son’s business dealings in Ukraine came in the context of of a discussion about Trump withholding some much-needed military aid, and after Trump had chided Zelensky about Ukraine owing America a lot of favors. Zelensky is a former comedian and novice politician who came to power by starring in a hit sit-com about a comedian who becomes president, whereas Trump a political novice who came to power by starring in a hit game show where he played a successful businessman, but we think they probably well understood one another.
Even without any explicit threats or quid pro quo deals — which might yet be revealed by the still-classified “whistle blower” complaint that started all of this — there’s still something that strikes us as untoward about a president asking a foreign country’s help in swinging an election.
Trump clearly doesn’t think so, as he stood in front of national television cameras and asked Russia to hack Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail account, which they immediately tried to do, He now claims it was just a joke to regale a laughing rally crowd, but it was actually said at a news conference, where he affirmatively answered stunned follow-up questions about if he was serious. He also told the American Broadcasting Company’s George Stephanopoulos that he didn’t see anything wrong with accept a foreign government’s dirt on an opponent, and he went right ahead and released that transcript on Thursday.
Most Republicans probably agree, but we wonder what they’d think if the next Democratic president, who’s bound to come along sooner or later, did the same thing. Most Republicans would also take a dim view of a Democratic president enriching himself or herself at taxpayer’s benefits and from business dealings with foreign powers, refusing to disclose how much they’ve made from by withholding their tax returns, committing crimes to cover up affairs with porn stars that sent their personal attorney to prison, and consistently saying untrue things and generally behaving in an undignified way. For now, though, it’s just Trump being Trump.
After a while it all adds up, though, and a popular if not an electoral majority of the country is growing weary of it. The Democrats won a majority of the House of Representatives in the last mid-term elections, and they’re almost all on board with an impeachment inquiry that will involve seven different oversight committees looking into all aspects of Trump’s business and political dealings, which are likely to come up with something the Republicans will have a hard time explaining. Enough of the Democrats in the House voted to launch the impeachment inquiry to actually impeach Trump, and that seems increasingly likely to happen.
Less likely is the Senate voting to remove the president, as the constitution requires. The last mid-terms left the Republicans with a razor-thin majority in the Senate, but it takes a supra-majority of 67 to convict a president on impeachment charges, and for now it’s hard to imagine the needed nine Republican votes coming forward to kick Trump out of the White House.
That’s for now, though, and there’s no telling what those seven oversight committees and that pesky press will come up with by year’s end. Already Senators Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Mitt Romney of Utah have dared say they don’t think an American president of either party should be asking for a foreign country’s campaign contribution, others have said the same thing off the record, and there’s still an old-fashioned conservative intelligentsia that’s cheering them on. We hope most of their colleagues agree, despair that few of them will dare say so, and figure there’s still a chance Trump will rack up one scandal too many, as he’s just that kind of guy.
Trump was defiant during a rare formal press conference at the United Nations, without the whirr of a nearby helicopter, and made his usual complaints about the “fake news” and “witch hunts” and the made-up scandals that stain his good name. He didn’t seem his usual pugnacious self, though, and we’re tempted to use an old Trump insult and say the performance was “low energy.” To our careful eye, Trump also seems to be growing weary of it all.

— Bud Norman

No One is Unimpeachable

The damn Democrats are officially launching an impeachment inquiry regarding President Donald Trump, with the blessing of very cautious House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and we can’t blame them. If a Democratic president was as credibly accused of doing what Trump stands credibly accused of doing a Republican majority in the House of Representatives would surely be doing the same, and we’d wish them well.
The proverbial straw that broke Pelosi’s rigid back is apparently the widely reported story about Trump asking the Ukrainian government to provide dirt on potential Democratic rival Joe Biden. Trump swears he’d never do such a thing, and is promising to release a transcript of the telephone conversation with the Ukrainian leader to prove it, so far now we’ll wait to see how that turns out, but given Trump’s past statements aabout his about his willingness to accept foreign interference in an election we’ll read that transcript with a suspicious eye.
Even if the latest Trump scandal about Ukraine doesn’t prove damning enough, which is quite possible given how slippery Trump has proved during his long career as a celebrity, and how loyal the hard-core fans are, the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives still has plenty to work with. There are the millions of dollars that are pouring into Trump-owned businesses with every presidential golf game, and more millions of dollars of arguably unconstitutional emoluments from foreign governments pouring into other Trump-owned properties, and the special counsel investigation that documented Russia’s meddling on Trump’s behalf and cited 10 different instances when Trump tried to impede an investigation into that, which used to be considered an abuse of power and obstruction of justice.
There are a number of other impeachable offenses Trump stands credibly accused of, from altering weather forecasts with a felt tip pen to his accommodationist policy toward Russia, and several more scandals we can’t currently recall might also appear in the impeachment bill, but for now that doesn’t much matter. Even if the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives votes to impeach Trump, as it might well do, there’s little chance that the razor-thin Republican majority in the Senate will provide the 67 votes needed to convict and remove a president.
If Trump is acquitted by the Senate in an impeachment trial he’ll run on for reelection as only the fourth president to be be impeached by the House of Representatives, and on unprecedented footing. All three of the previous impeached presidents faced judgment in their second terms. and although none were convicted in the Senate President Richard Nixon did resign rather than accept that inevitable fate. Trump might well use his vindication by a Republican-majority Senate to cast himself as a victim of a “deep state” conspiracy, and by a year from from next November he’ll probably have plenty of persuasive arguments against whatever nominee the damn Democrats come up with.
Rhese scandals have a cumulative effect, though, and we figure that come a year from next November the Democratic nominee will also have plenty to say. As Trump has boasted he really could shoot a man on Fifth Avenue and not lose a supporter, but he doesn’t seem to be picking up any new votes.

— Bud Norman

A Bumpy Landing in Scotland

The administration of President Donald Trump creates scandals at such a rapid rate even the most avid news readers can’t follow them all, which seems to work to its benefit, and Trump remains confident in his famous boast that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose a supporter.
Over the weekend the Politico web site came up with a story that might well give even the most die-hard Trump fans cause for concern. According to Politico a C-17 military transport was on a supply flight from Alaska to Kuwait in April, and instead of refueling at one of the several usual military bases available on the trip it landed at a commercial airport located conveniently near Trump’s golf resort in Turnberry, Scotland, where the seven crew members spent their per diems on rooms for the night.
Trump’s talk radio and Fox News apologists will want to dismiss the story as “fake news,” but they’ll probably choose to ignore it. Politico is more reliably accurate than the president, the United Kingdom’s left-wing but reliable Guardian newspaper has corroborated reporting about the airport, and the House Oversight Committee says it has further proof and is demanding more information. So far the Pentagon is not denying the story, while the Air Force has acknowledged it’s launched an investigation, and given Trump’s well documented habit of funneling money from the taxpayers to his businesses it’s not at all out of the question..
So far the Pentagon is insisting it was no big deal, but the apologists will have a hard time making that argument. The Turnberry resort has been losing money since Trump bought it, and that crucially nearby airport has been losing so much money that the Scottish government has recently threatened to close it, so a seven member crew’s niggardly military per diems will be welcome at the resort and the $11 million that the Oversight Committee says the civilian airport has billed the military will certainly be much more appreciated. The fuel is less expensive at any of those military bases where the planes usually stop, as are the nearby lodgings, so it sure seems that somebody in the military or its civilian leadership decided that a civilian airport near Trump’s golf resort needed the money more than America’s national security.
The sums involved are chump change compared to the billions Trump is taking from the military budget to build the big, beautiful border wall he promised his cheering rally crowds the Mexicans would pay, but he’s got a remotely plausible national security rationale that the rally crowds will love. Using defense funds to prop up another of Trump’s failing businesses will be harder to explain.
Given how Trump boasts of his love for the military, and how it was “depleted” when he took office but has since been “un-depleted,” he should be taking the lead in demanding an explanation. So far he hasn’t, and the next time he’s answering questions in front of that noisy helicopter he flies in to his golf outings we hope someone from the “fake news” will ask why not.

— Bud Norman

All the President’s Women

Some people accuse President Donald Trump of sexism, based on his boasts about grabbing women’s genitals and tendency to assess women solely on their looks, but he has a long history of hiring distaff staffers. At the moment, though, several of them are looking bad at their jobs.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders is resigning, the Office of Special Counsel has requested that White House advisor Kellyanne Conway be fired, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao is caught up in a conflict of interest scandal, and former White House communications director Hope Hicks has reluctantly agreed to a grilling by the House judiciary committee.
Sanders’ absence won’t be noticed. It’s been a record-setting 95 days since Sanders held her daily last press briefing, which had traditionally been the main job of a White House press secretary, and she always tended to go months without one. When she did appear at the podium she often declined to answer questions, explaining that she hadn’t discussed the issue oof the day with president, and when she did have something to say it often turned out to be a brazen lie. Sanders shared Trump’s belief that any reporter posing hard questions is an enemy of the people, and her occasional “press gaggles” with the White House press corps on the White House driveway were always more combative than informative.
Trump loved her, of course, despite her plain appearance, and had nothing but kind things to say in his “tweets” about her resignation. He urged her to run for governor in her home state of Arkansas, but it has an incumbent governor until 2022, and so far there’s no explanation for her departure. She says she wants to spend more time with her children, and we hope that’s truthful, although she’ll have a hard time teaching them to tell the truth.
Trump’s own appointee to the Office of Special Counsel is advising that Conway be fired for serial violations of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal officials from using their office to engage in partisan politics, but Trump won’t mind. Conway has a talent for taunts and nicknames that almost matches Trump’s, and Trump has made clear he won’t let the law get in the way of attacking an opponent. For some unknown reason or another Conway hasn’t been as ubiquitous on the cable news shows as she used to be, so her eventual departure from the administration won’t be noticed.
Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao has a low-profile office, so you might not have heard that she held several hundreds of thousands of dollars of stock in a highway supply company that was bidding for the government’s business. After that news broke Chao announced that she’d sold the stock, and a few days later actually did so, claiming it was a clerical error all along, but those pesky reporters and damned Democrats are making a big deal of it.
Hicks is a former beauty pageant winner and the most comely of Trump’s controversial content, but she’s been gone from the White House for a while now and is largely forgotten. She’s back in the news only because the House judiciary committee wants to ask her some questions that arise from a special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing.” The investigation conclude that she played some role in crafting some phony-baloney stories about meetings between Russian officials and the Trump campaign, and although no charges were brought those picky-picky Democrats still want answers.
It will be interesting to see what sort of men and women step up to fill the constantly opening holes in Trump’s White House.

— Bud Norman

Summing Up a Life in a Two-Column Headline

A friend of ours is a formidable theater and movie critic, and over the weekend he fulminated on Facebook that the Scripps National news service ran an obituary with the headline “Albert Finney, who played Daddy Warbucks in ‘Annie,’ has died at age 82.” We don’t quite share our friend’s affinity for Finney, but we well understand the annoyance.
Finney was indeed an outstanding actor, and he earned five Academy Award nominations over a five-decades-long career and starred in such memorable movies as “Tom Jones” and “Two for the Road” and “Miller’s Crossing,” and although “Annie” was a nice enough flick and featured a typically fine Finney performance we’re sure he’d have preferred some other headline. It’s as if Dwight Eisenhower were remembered as a “well known amateur golfer,” or Tom Hanks is sent off as the “star of TV’s ‘Bosom Buddies,'” or Harrison Ford’s eventual obit identifies him as “One of the Soldiers in ‘Force 10 from Navarone.'”
Alas, the headlines on obituaries rarely put their subjects in proper perspective. The late and great country crooner Charlie Rich cut such little-known classics as “Lonely Weekends” and “Who Will the Next Fool Be?” for the legendary Sun Records label, but when he died all the “lede” paragraphs mention the schlocky major label hits “When We Get Behind Closed Doors” and “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.” The late and great musician Doug Sahm got short but respectful mentions in the country music press and the rock ‘n’ roll magazines and the jazz and blues publications as well as the pages devoted to Mexican-American music, but no one put them all together to explain his extraordinary and eclectic career. Most musicians and actors and writers and athletes and politicians and businesspeople, as it turns out, tend to be remembered for work they’d rather forget.
Poor Monica Lewinksy could discover a cure for cancer, but the obits will still someday remember her as the femme fatale¬†fellatrix of Bill Clinton’s infamous sex scandal, which will also surely be mentioned in the “ledes” and headlines when Trump passes on. Such notable statesmen as Sen. Hubert Humphrey and Sen. John McCain had historic careers that culminated in their parties presidential nominations, but the headline was that they lost the general election. Such athletes as Yogi Berra and the recently deceased Frank Robinson were noted for the record-setting achievements on the playing field, but you had to read several paragraphs into the obituaries to hear about their excellent character and lifelong devotion to family and friends. These days we expect a number of very creative people will be recalled for the time they made an unwelcome pass or told an ethnic joke that would have passed muster just a decade or so earlier. Writers’ obits, we shudder to notice, almost always omit their best stuff.
So it will probably be for the rest of us, too.
We started our journalistic career on the “dead beat,” as newspaper folk waggishly call the obituary desk, so we know all too well that it’s an impossible task. Even the most mundane lives can’t be encapsulated in column inches, even on the rare occasions when they jump to a later page, and the parents and spouses and children and longtime friends of the subjects never find them satisfying. The “last writes” — as newspaper folk waggishly call them — never fully convey the human faults nor the exceptional qualities of the dearly departed, and only God can weigh them in the balance. Still, we’d wish the “dethwriters” — are we’re known in newspaper lingo — will take more care.
One day on the “dead beat” at a Kansas City newspaper we had to write up the death of a Kansas City area man who’d been hit by a semi truck and dragged for several miles underneath on a highway outside Needles, California. After getting the accident report from the California Highway Patrol we were obliged to speak with the poor fellow’s widow, who told us that her husband was a talented welder who couldn’t find work in the recessionary Kansas City economy, which was why he was hitchhiking in central California and came to be hit by that truck. After conforming the spelling of all the survivors’ names and the details of the funeral service, we ended the interview according to journalistic best practice by asking if there was anything that people should know but we’d neglected to ask about. A pregnant pause followed, then she told us that “Well, he never was a lucky man.”
In some cases, we suppose, a life can be summed up in single sentence.
The great novelist Jospeh Conrad wrote such masterpieces as “The Heart of Darkness” and “Lord Jim” and “Nostromo” and “The Secret Agent,” but we have a particular fondness for a little known work of his called “Chance.” The novel defied the literary rule that everything in the plot should derive from the characters’ actions, as Conrad believed that pure random chance plays a bigger role in real life, and by chance we came across a second edition in a used book store. Conrad had an introduction to the second edition which responded to his editors and critics, who had complained that the story was overlong, which is a common complaint of both editors and critics, and we cherish his advice. Conrad rightly noted that with sufficiently rigorous editing the story of all humankind “can be written on a cigarette paper — he was born, he lived, he died.”

— Bud Norman

Cherchez la Femme, For a Change

The latest sexual harassment scandal comes from right here in Kansas, so of course there’s a peculiar twist to it. This time the notable target of the allegations is a woman, Andrea Ramsey, who withdrew from the race for the third congressional district’s Democratic nomination after The Kansas City Star called to ask about a lawsuit her former employer had settled with a man who alleged she had subjected him to “unwelcome sexual comments and innuendos.”
Ramsey denies the charges, notes it was her employer who settled the suit with a cash payment but no admission of guilt, and insists that if she had been a party to the suit she would have endeavored to clear her name. In a brief statement announcing her withdrawal from the race, however, she added that “In the rush to claim the high ground in our roiling national conversation about harassment, the Democratic Party has implemented a zero tolerance policy. For me, that means a vindictive, terminated employee’s false allegations are enough for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to decide not to support our promising campaign. We are in a national moment when rough justice stands in place of careful analysis, nuance, and due process.”
Indeed, the DCCC issued its own statement that “If anyone is guilty of sexual harassment or sexual assault, that person should not hold office,” and that it’s holding Democratic candidates to a very high standard. Ramsey had previously won the endorsement of Emily’s List, a well-heeled outfit that supports women candidates, but it also issued its own statement supporting the candidates withdrawal and wishing her well.”
We’re sure that both the DCCCers and the Emily’s Listers hated to do it, as Ramsey would have made a formidable nominee. Kansas is a reliably red state, but its third district is mostly comprised by the mostly affluent suburbs of Kansas City, which gave a slim majority of its votes to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the last election, so Republican incumbent Rep. Kevin Yoder is considered vulnerable. Since Republican nominee Donald Trump became president those mostly affluent suburbs have proved a problem for his party in special and off-year elections almost everywhere, even here in the more rock-ribbed fourth district, where a gun-toting and outspokenly centrist Democrat gave the Republican a real scare and actually wounding up winning Sedgwick County with its big city of Wichita and surrounding suburbs, and the dramatic drop-off in Republican votes in the suburbs of such purplish states as Virginia and Pennsylvania suggest it’s a very scary trend for the GOP.
Which makes it hard for the Democrats to defenestrate a real contender in a state such as Kansas, but then again it must have also been hard for them to do the same to such a popular figure and potent fund-raiser as Minnesota Sen. Al Franken and such a longstanding civil rights icon as Michigan Rep. John Conyers, but they went right ahead and did that, despite the similarly disputed nature of the allegations. The Democrats are deadly serious about a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment, and Ramsey is right to note that they don’t care much about due process, even if she didn’t publicly object until her own head was on the chopping block, and sooner or later someone’s going to be vindicated and a backlash will ensue, but until then it might be well worth the cost.
If the backlash doesn’t develop by next November the Democrats can at least credibly claim a high ground in our roiling conversation on harassment until the crucial mid-terms. The Republicans have lately been defenestrating its misbehaving congressional members at a rapid rate, with almost as much moral outrage as they mustered for the accused and quickly defenestrated Democrats, but there’s as yet no window big enough to throw their grab-’em-by-the-wherevers President through it. The Republicans just lost a Senate seat in even deeper red Alabama, thanks in some part to defections from affluent suburban Alabamians, but there’s no so getting past the president’s full-throated endorsement of a nutcase credibly accused of having an unsavory interest in teenaged girls back when he as a 30-something prosecutor. Women are slightly more than half of the electorate in every election, and our guess is that much more than of women will have a problem with that.
Probably even more than that in those affluent suburbs where the women might otherwise be tempted to vote the upcoming Republican tax bill and the salutary effect Trump’s rapid de-regulating has had on their stock portfolios. In our white collar experience they’re almost as likely to tell “me too” stories as are the barmaids and factory women we’re more likely to chat with after hours, and college educated types are more likely to make a federal case of it. Most of our women friends, who range across the entire socio-economic scale, regard Trump as one of those creeps they’ve had to deal with too often in the past, and we can’t blame the Democrats for taking advantage of that.
We usually nod in agreement whenever our women friends tell their “me too” stories, because based on what we’ve seen after so many years in offices and bars we rarely doubt their accounts, and we more rarely raise our concerns about due process and the inevitable backlash. Even when the backlash comes we’ll still hold to our old-fashioned notions about respectful treatment of women, and be glad that our women friends will attest that at least we’re not one of the creeps they’ve to off had to deal with too often in the past. We trust that when the backlash comes they’ll be more open to arguments about due process, and we hope that it works out in the end.
In the meantime that won’t do any good for Andrea Ramsey, who has been offered by the feminist sisterhood as the first sacrifice of their own on the altar of the greater good. We have no idea if she actually did what that man alleged, and although we can remember several times when female co-workers mad sexual comments and innuendoes, and a few times when they were unwelcome, we didn’t make a federal case of it. None of those women were our boss, though, and empathy only gets you so far to the truth. As far as the politics of the moment go, though, it’s hers and some unlucky guy’s tough luck if their innocent. Still, like Emily’s List we wish her well in her future endeavors.

— Bud Norman

The Summer of ’73, Redux

The midsummer sun has lately been exceedingly hot here on the southern plains, with the latest breaking national news even hotter yet, and it’s all somehow redolent of that long ago summer of ’73.
We were just young punks about to turn a typically surly 13 years old, but even then we were engrossed by politics, and by far the most engrossing story of the day was the unfolding Watergate scandal. The whole Watergate thing started slowly back in ’72 with a routine burglary bust, but by the summer of ’73 the only three channels on the television were all preempting the afternoon soap operas and game shows to broadcast the live congressional hearings about it, and we took time out from our long-distance bike rides and driveway basketball games and other summer vacation adventures to watch it all. We also read every word about in the morning and afternoon newspapers that our parents subscribed to, along with the newsmagazines that arrived in the mailbox, and then learned more when we’d biked all the way to downtown library’s impressive periodical shelf.
To this day we still recall E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy and the three Cubans who were busted in the burglary, and the turncoat White House advisor Howard Dean and his crazy wife Moe and the loyal Attorney John Mitchell and his crazy wife Martha and fellow loyalist who wound up making the news in the subsequent investigations, and presidential secretary Rosemary Woods who was blamed for a suspicious gap in the White House tapes that eventually surfaced We still know the names of Judge John Sirica who ordered those tapes and made some other crucial legal rulings, and the Attorney General Elliot Richardson who was fired by President Richard Nixon for refusing to fire the special prosecutor Archibald Cox, and an obscure fellow named Robert Bork who eventually stepped up to do the firing.
We’d bet all our winnings that we can still run the Watergate category in a round of “Jeopardy!,” but even the surliest young punks of today know that it all somehow wound up with Nixon resigning in disgrace. That’s pretty much the long and short of the whole Watergate affair and all you’d need to know to pass a junior high history quiz about it, but of course there’s a lot worth noting in between.
The whole sordid saga began when a third-shift janitor at the swank Washington, D.C., hotel-and-office Watergate complex noticed some tape on the door lock to the Democratic National Committee. He was streetwise enough to know to call the local cops, who promptly showed up to arrest the aforementioned Hunt and Liddy and three Cubans who were attempting to install a wiretap in the office, and two relatively young and still on late-night duty reporters as the local Washington Post who were assigned the crime story story were astute enough to discover they were all official and fully paid employees of the Committee to Re-Elect the President.
That was a bad enough start to the story, if not so bad that a forthright acknowledgement but stern disavowal of the operation and its operatives would have ended all the hubbub, but the Nixon administration took a typically more dismissive response. They denied everything, attacked The Washington Post and The New York Times and the three television networks who were making such a big deal about one presidential campaign breaking and entering to bug the headquarters of another, and wound up on national television admitting to the hush money they paid to the burglars and all sorts of other sorts of other things that were considered scandalous at the time. An Admiral in the administration whose last name we still remember was Butterfield told a televised committee that the White House had taped everything, and Sirica got his hands on the tapes and except for that 18-and-a-half-minute gap blamed on the White House secretary it seemed all the prosecutor needed for an impeachment case. It was bad enough that Nixon fired the guy who wouldn’t fire the guy who was running the investigation, and shortly after that the impeccably conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater was leading a congressional delegation of Republicans to tell him that resignation in disgrace was the only honorable option.
Which was bad for the country in ways that the surly 13-year-old punks of today probably can’t understand. The first presidential election we’d followed was back in ’68, when Nixon edged out a plurality win over Democratic rival Hubert Humphrey and third-party candidate George Wallace, and we were for Nixon. Our grandparents were all New Deal Democrats, but our parents had rebelled against by voting for the impeccably conservative Goldwater in ’64, by ’68 all three generation were agreed that Democrats had gone crazy left. Humphrey was tied to President Lyndon Johnson’s war in Vietnam, which was a bloody big deal that hurt him with all the hippies that were suddenly popping up everywhere, and although Nixon was also for the war he seemed to want to win it, which was the way Americans used to end wars back then. Wallace was still an outright racist at that point, and our cosmopolitan and Christian parents had taught us better than that, so Nixon and his surprisingly pristine civil rights voting record was the one.
By ’72 the hippies had taken over the Democratic party and nominated far-left South Dakota Sen. George McGovern for president, and it was fine with us that Nixon won re-election with a popular and electoral vote margin that not even President Franklin Roosevelt had ever achieved. As bloody as the Vietnam situation was Nixon’s peace with honor platform made more sense than McGovern’s plan of complete surrender, and as much as we liked the rock ‘n’ roll music and sexual frisson of the Democratic counter-culture we had an instinctive multi-generational affinity for the Silent Majority of hard-working and tax-paying and lawn-mowing and baby-having Americans who gave Nixon his landslide win.
We were surly soon-to-be-13-year-old punks, though, and the weird sorts who were already enamored of unfettered free-market capitalism and other sorts of rugged individualism that left all those hippies in the dust, so we also had our doubts about Nixon. When the unemployment and inflation rates divulged in ways that free market theory hadn’t anticipated he embraced wage-and-price controls that not even the hippies would have dared, and despite his pristine civil rights record and reasonably tough stance against all the inner-city rioting that was going on he was the first president to institute racial quotas, and the notorious cold warrior even normalized relations with the commie Chinese and pursued “detente” with the commie Russkies. We still liked that he stood steadfast against the hippies and The Washington Post and The New York Times and those three damned channels on the television, but by that point we were wondering he might think of us.
And so we watched with a certain disinterested horror as it all slowly wound up a year or so later with Nixon flashing his “V for victory” sign as he boarded an ex-presidential helicopter to exit the White House after resigning in disgrace. He was replaced by the impeccably honorable but utterly ineffectual President Gerald Ford, who didn’t have the political clout to order the air strikes that might have maintained the peace with honor that Nixon and all those soldiers and sailors and airmen had won in Vietnam, and the best he could do about all the inflation and unemployment that defied free market theory was to print up some buttons. Despite all that he was only narrowly defeated by the Democrats’ putatively centrist Jimmy Carter, who four years later lost in a landslide to the Goldwaterite Republican nominee Ronald Reagan. That led to an inflation-choking but otherwise severe recession that shortly thereafter led to an unprecedented economic boom, which led to an even bigger re-election landslide than Nixon or Roosevelt or anyone else ever achieved, and despite that admittedly embarrassing Iran-Contra scandal and other things we mostly enjoyed those Reagan years.
The commies were pretty much gone by the end of Vice President George H.W. Bush’s third term of the Reagan age, but during a time of relatively mild economic recession that only made a plurality of the public more willing to elect the southern and putatively centrist Democrat Bill Clinton and his equally hideous wife. Despite Clinton’s efforts the economic boom continued well enough that he survived the impeachment trials of his various sex scandals and won another plurality re-election, but that wound up with eight years of Republican George W. Bush. That was mostly OK by us, but what with all the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan that he’d been obliged by circumstances to do, and another ill-timed and far more severe recession, it led to eight straight years of President Barack Obama
We spent the entire eight Obama years griping about that unrelenting catastrophe, but at the end of it we wound up with the choice of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton or the Republican nominee Donald Trump. For the first time in our lives we wound up voting for none of the above, and resigned ourselves to watching the inevitable scandals that would play out not matter who won. Clinton had been in the public eye for all the 30 or more years that her cheating husband had been in office, and had plenty of undeniably disqualifying scandals of her own, but Trump was a political neophyte whose long and legendary career in the private sector was no more reassuring.
When we subjected Trump’s campaign to the due diligence that you’d apply to anyone else you might invest in, we found that he’d had three wives and countless bragged-about married mistresses and four bankruptcies at his casinos and strip clubs, which are hard businesses to screw up, as well as a long history of failure in steaks and vodka and football leagues and airlines and scam universities and various other enterprises, so we didn’t much cotton to him no matter how much we hated that Clinton woman. His sons had boasted to the press about how much funding their business empire had coming from the Russkies despite all the bankruptcies, and Trump himself was so pro-Russkie that he told a fan hosting a Fox News show that the the Russkies’ killings of journalists and other dissidents was no worse than what routinely happens in America, so all of that gave us pause about the guy.
We weren’t about to vote for that awful Clinton woman, but from the outset all the preliminary stories about Russia and Trump looked pretty bad. By election day it was reliably reported from all the intelligence agencies that the Russkies had launched a three-pronged cyber attack on America’s election, Trump was clearly running on the most Russia-friendly platform in the history of the United States much less its Republican Party, even more friendly than that awful Clinton woman and her ridiculous leftist “reset” button, and there was already something ominously redolent of that summer of ’73.
Since then the president’s national security advisor has resigned and his attorney general has recused himself from Russia-related matters because of Russian ties, and his son and son-in-law and former campaign chairman have been invited to testify before congressional committees about their current Russkie relations, which will likely be broadcast live on national television, and there’s something all too familiar about it. There’s another special prosecutor who’s currently looking into the president’s world-wide financial holdings, which he’s held on to in a way that no previous president ever dared to do, and we can’t shake the same old sense from ’73 that sooner or later he’s bound to come up with something pretty damning.
Which is also a damned shame, because Trump was elected by the same plurality of tax-paying and law-abiding and baby-having and lawn-mowing Americans who beat back all those dirty hippies in ’72, and we’re still rooting for them. It would be another outrage to see The Washington Post and The New York Times and those congressional committees and special prosecutors and the rest of those dirty hippies score another win, but we’ve been through this before, and on another decade’s hot midsummer’s night we’ll only hope that the truth will prevail and things work out best in the long run.
The news these days seems somehow disturbingly familiar to way back then, but also disturbingly different. As crazy a leftist loon as that McGovern guy was he’d flown more than the requisite number of bombing missions over Germany during World War II, and even then nobody questioned his patriotism. As relatively right-wing as Nixon was in the early ’70s none of his critics ever mocked the decorated military officer and historically vindicated congressional cold warrior and former Vice President as an historically illiterate and poorly-spoken buffoon, and his outreaches to communist China and Russia arguably kept the peace long enough for Reagan’s more confrontational stance to win the Cold War. In retrospect, that awful election of ’72 seems like the good old days.
The testimony of the president’s son and son-in-law and former campaign chairman will probably preempt the soap operas and games before the summer is over, and although we’re still somehow part of that still-extant silent majority we don’t expect it will go well. Already the president’s son has admitted he responded to a newfangled e-mail promising the Russkie’ commitment to til an American election by saying “I love it,’ which is a hell of a place to start, and the president is stating that anyone would have taken that meeting, so that’s also a bad starting point.
A couple of years before Nixon headed off in ignominy on that helicopter, which was was just a couple of years before the helicopters launched off the South Vietnamese embassy with a bunch of our last-ditch allies making a futile effort to cling the skids, it was already clear to us that the Watergate scandal wouldn’t end well for anybody. As much as it pains us to alarm those good tax-paying and law-abiding and lawn-mowing members of the silent majority that we still love, this time around doesn’t look to turn out any better.

— Bud Norman