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Choosing Sides in a Civil War

We like to think ourselves the ruggedly individualistic and rebellious and anti-establishment type, not just despite of but also because of our unabashedly old-fashioned conservatism, and we proudly bear a few scars to back it up.
In our elementary school days we watched on television as American cities burned to the ground in protest against “the establishment,” and it struck us a damned fool thing to do even if the impeccably establishment and academically-credentialed Kerner Commission and all the cool kids thought the arsonists had a point. By junior high the left’s “long march” through the educational establishment had already begun, and even as we watched with dismay as President Richard Nixon’s “law and order” administration collapsed under the weight of its own lawlessness and disorder we continued to resist any sort of riotous indoctrination, to the detriment of our grades. By high school we were were listening to country music of the genuinely good ol’ boy KF’n’DI AM radio on the cold winter drive to show up early to devour the library’s otherwise unread copy of the notoriously-right wing National Review, and looking up the high-brow philosophers and economists and historians it cited to develop an intellectual framework for our temperamental distaste for the Carter era, and of course that didn’t do our grades any good. After two more years of a higher education establishment where the left’s long march had reached as far as a heartland cow college we defiantly dropped out, which entailed years of endured servitude handing out copy and working as a “dethwriter” on the obituary desk before we got a by-line, and even that hard-earned honor entailed another twenty years of daily in-fighting with the powers that be on a metropolitan daily newspaper, even here in the heartland.
Now we we prefer to write whatever the hell we have to say without the infuriating constraints of those respectably humorless and highly credentialed yet utterly uneducated metropolitan daily newspaper editors, even if it isn’t nearly so remunerative, and we like to think we’re still as surly and anti-establishment and ruggedly-indvidualistic and old-fashioned conservative as that long-haired snot-nosed punk of our junior high days, but suddenly the definitions of “conservative” and “establishment” and “Republican” and “Democrat” and everything else in our political lexicon seems up for debate. While the Democrats are choosing between an outright socialist who give the governmental establishment unparalleled authority and the most thoroughly corrupt crony-capitalist of the republic’s history, who struggles to explain why she’s not a socialist, the Republicans — our people, in whom we have long sought solace — are now engaged in a great civil war testing whether conservatism or any movement so conceived and so dedicated is defined by all those high-brow thinkers and principled arguments made by the likes of those fancy-pants know-it-alls at the now notoriously lily-livered and supposedly establishmentarian National Review or a blind fealty to the “Make America Great Again” juggernaut of real estate and gambling mogul and reality show star and former professional wrestling performer Donald J. Trump.
With the war already underway and the Iowa Republican caucus just a mere week away from tomorrow, now seems a time for choosing. We’re tentatively going in with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and are proud to join with those still-ruggedly individualistic writers at National Review in going all out against this Trump fellow. The venerable magazine — and it’s not a “paper,” as Trump incorrectly insists — has assembled a wide range of conservative thinkers for formidable argument that Trump’s proposed trade wars with China and more socialistic-than-the-socialist’s health care schemes and promises of all sorts of favorable insider deals do not portend well for the economy, that his meanderings between a let-Russia-lead to “bomb-the-s**t out of them” foreign policy also do not bode well, and that a thrice-married and four-times-bankrupt and very recent Democrat who has never felt the need to seek God’s forgiveness is an unreliable ally of the more religious and culturally traditional wing of conservatism. We also note that except for the predictable schoolyard taunts that Trump prefers, and the frequent outright racist screeds from supporters won’t hold Trump responsible for, and there’s the strangely anachronistic argument that anyone who isn’t marching in lockstep with Trump must be supporting some evil creature called “Jeb!,” but the most common retort from Trump and his acolytes is that “at least he fights.”
By “fighting” they seem to mean that Trump and his people are “tweeting” the most ill-natured tantrums against the allegedly irrelevant National Review or whatever less-than-beauty-queen woman has dared disagreed with the man who would make America great again, and his willingness to mock the handicapped and disparage America’s prisoners of war and crack cringe-worthy menstruation jokes and otherwise strike blows against “political correctness” while going along with the politically correct line on racial quotas and other matters of real concern. By “establishment,” we no longer have no idea what Trump’s supporters mean to describe.
At the outset of Trump’s campaign we assumed he meant the likes of former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas and current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who have so frequently angered such rebellious and old-fashioned conservatives as ourselves by signing off on big government crony-capitalist scams from ethanol subsidies to private property land-grabs to big-bank bail-outs and all those deficit-spending budgets, but now we’re told by Trump himself that Cruz was a loose cannon to have opposed all that as a Senator and that nobody in the establishment likes him as a result so the master deal-maker is best suited make the deals that will increase the ethanol subsidies that Iowa voters have a special interest in and uphold that “wonderful” Supreme Court decision that allowed him to tear down a widow’s home and build a parking lot for his casino and assure the next round of bail-outs that he didn’t think were big enough the last time around and pass a plan that cuts taxes and doesn’t decrease spending and will somehow end with a surplus. As Trump now touts his half-hearted endorsements from Dole and his lingering Congressional pals we guess the “establishment” is now those much-maligned ink-stained wretches still toiling for The National Review, still standing athwart history shouting “halt!,” still mustering their reasoned arguments and long-held principles and quoting those old high-brow economists and philosophers and historians, and sounding so very effete and faggy to the true Trump believer. One commenter huffed that she’d never heard of The National Review until this attack on Trump, and she seemed to think that made her more credible.
The true Trump believers will counter that we just don’t get it, and those illiterate internet commenters often think the argument more persuasive if they write it as the more un-parsable “You. Just. Don’t. Get. It.,” but in fact we readily understand the anger and frustration they have with the “establishment,” both on the left and to a somewhat lesser degree on the right as well. We’ve been railing against it for years, and likely will until our dying day, but we will confess that we truly do not get how an oft-bankrupt real estate and gambling mogul and reality show star and former professional wrestling performer who openly boasts about how he made his fortune to by doling out contributions to the likes of the Democrat’s thoroughly corrupt establishment and the Republicans’ hated Senate Majority Leader, and now proudly proclaims their support in his “anti-establishment” campaign against that loose cannon who challenged them, is supposed to hold his all-knowing thumb up against the poll winds and find the cure for what ails us.
Trump was the loudest to proclaim his opposition to the bi-partisan and ultimately disastrous establishment consensus on unfettered legal and illegal immigration, if not the first, but he was scolding Mitty Romney for a milder and more sensible “self-deportation” policy as recently as the last presidential race, and he now says his big beautiful wall on the border is going to have a big beautiful door, and he’s talking all sorts of deals with the bi-partisan establishment, and we’re pleased to note that we don’t have to settle for Jeb! on the issue. The next Republican candidate will have a tough stance on border enforcement, and would have without Trump, and that’s more to do with the party and the people at large than anyone who might hope to lead it.
All sorts of playground taunts might come our way, but we’re used to that, and we’ll be missing that tempting opportunity to burn the Republican Party down to the ground that so many Trump supporters urge, but even in our disgruntled middle age that seems a damned fool and not all conservative thing to do, so we side all with those effete eggheads at The National Review and all their reasoned arguments and the high-brow economists and philosophers and historians they cite, as well as that good ol’ boy sensibility that also informs our decisions, and all the timeless truths they have formulated. As a general rule we don’t trust white knights in shining armor promising Hope and Change or to Make America Great Again, and we once got the same whiff of a disastrous cult of personality from the man peddling the former as we do from the man now peddling the latter, and it’s all the more suspicious when it comes from the make-believe world or academia and community-organizing or reality television and insider deal-making.
At this late and perilous date we’ll go with Sen. Ted Cruz, the loose cannon with the fixed principles. That’s our anti-establishment and old-fashioned conservative instinct, and if you don’t like it, and you think it sounds effete and faggy and sure to lose against an outright socialist or a crony-capitalist who got large donations from a supposedly “anti-establishment” Republican on the other side of that corrupt establishment, well, at least we fight.

— 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