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Shakespeare Vs. Trump

We’ve long noticed that one of President Donald Trump’s many peculiar tendencies is to “tweet” or tell a television camera whatever happens to be on his mind at the moment. His most die-hard supporters have always loved his “tell it like it is” style, but we’ve always thought it ill-suited to the presidency. Our preference is for Polonius’ advice to Laertes in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” to “give thy thoughts no tongue, nor any un-proportioned thought his act. Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.”
Trump clearly has no patience for such old-fashioned and highfalutin advice, however, and thus often winds up “tweeting” or telling a camera something that is quite different from what was on his mind at an earlier moment. The latest example once again involves the bloody and damned complicated Syrian civil war, and America’s even more damned complicated role in it, and shooting from the hip has so far proved a poor tactic.
After the Syrian dictatorship apparently launched another deadly chemical attack on in its citizens recently, Trump “tweeted” and talked tough. He denounced the Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad as an “animal,” and went so far as to criticize by name Russian dictator Vladimir Putin for his pro-Assad role in the civil war. By Wednesday he was “tweeting” that “Russia vows to shoot down any all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
All of Trump’s critics on the left were of course horrified by such bellicosity, but so were many of the die-hard supporters on talk radio and internet sites who had cheered his “tweets” of a few days earlier about pulling out of the Syrian civil war altogether. That earlier “tweet” had already been talked back considerably by various more careful administration spokespeople, and by Thursday Trump himself was “tweeting” back his more recent imminent threats. “Never said an attack on Syria would take place,” Trump implausibly “tweeted,” adding “Could be very soon or not so soon at all!”
On our way home with some fish tacos from the great Tacos Lopez drive-through over on West Street we heard one of the anti-immigrant and isolationist talk radio hosts claiming credit for talking Trump into his latest strategic retreat, but we’d like to think it was due to the more informed and deliberative advice of the surprisingly sound Defense Secretary and United Nations ambassador and potential next Secretary of State that Trump somehow has on hand, and we hope even that wild-eyed but experienced third national security advisor who came on board Wednesday. There’s a strong case to be made for enforcing a red line against chemical attacks, especially if we’re able to cobble together the international support that Trump’s administration is reportedly seeking, and we’re open to any arguments for washing our hands of the whole mess, but we think it best that wiser and more knowledgable people than ourselves carefully deliberate these matters before the president “tweets” about them.
We certainly wish those wise old hands well. The Syrian situation is complicated enough, and Trump is making tough demands on a nuclear arms treaty the Iranian theocratic dictatorship even as he’s signaled he intends to hand them Syria on a silver platter, and that whole thing with Russia is pretty damned complicated, too. On the other side of the globe Trump is engaged “twitter” feuds and diplomatic dances with the North Korean dictator, and has lately refrained from taunting him as “Little Rocket Man,” and has been talking and “tweeting” tough about trade negotiations with our ostensible allies in democratic South Korea. The stock markets have sighed a green arrow sigh after Trump lately “tweeted” back his earlier tough talk about a trade war with China, and there are reports that he’s even considering reviving the Trans-Pacific Partnership that President Barack Obama had negotiated with China’s neighbors. Trump had long been critical of multilateral trade agreements in general, and ones negotiated by Obama in particular, but given the howls of pain coming from the stock markets and agricultural states and various other export industries it suddenly seems a more sensible approach to dealing with China’s undeniably unfair business practices than all-out trade war.
There’s some faint cause for hope, therefore, that some semblance of a more or less effective foreign policy might emerge from all this. We can’t imagine Trump coherently explaining it to the world, though, and count on lots of incoherent “tweets” and televised statements further complicating things along the way. He probably won’t hear it, bout our advice is the same the Bard might well have said  to Trump, to give thy thoughts no tongue nor “tweet,” nor any un-proportioned thought your action. As for the part about not being vulgar, we hold out no hope Trump will heed that sage advice.

— Bud Norman

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Another Week in a Dismal Race

The campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has had a couple of awkward moments lately, with several widely disseminated photographs showing her needing assistance to climb the steps of the White House and several others showing the father of a mass-murdering Islamist terrorist sitting just behind her in a prime seat and cheering heartily at one of her rallies. The former revived reasonable suspicions about Clinton’s physical fitness to assume the office, and in an eerily literal way at that, and at best the latter called into question the ability of her famously well-staffed campaign organization to stage an effective photo-op and at worst recalled her past insane statements about Islam having nothing to do with Islamist terrorism.
Any old Republican nominee should have had a good start to the week, but in this crazy election year the nominee isn’t just any old Republican but rather Donald J. Trump.
In his long and varied private sector career Trump has always had an undeniable knack for generating more headlines than any old Republican presidential nominee, or even any Republican president for that matter, and he’s never much cared if it was good press or bad press so long as they spelled his name correctly, so it’s no surprise that he somehow managed to overshadow his opponent’s photographically documented missteps by telling a North Carolina rally that “If she gets to pick her judges there’s nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.” This impromptu aside was enough to generate such widely disseminated headlines as “Trump appears to encourage gun owners to take action if Clinton appoints anti-gun judges,” and for the oh-so-respectable press to fret that he “appeared to raise the possibility that gun rights supporters could take matters into their own hands if Hillary Clinton is elected president and appoints judges who favor stricter gun controls,” and it put Trump’s apologists in the awkward position of talking about how he actually meant to the “unification” of the gun-owning population that would thwart a Clinton presidency Trump seemed to be talking about and how in any case he was just joking.
Our abhorrence of both these awful candidates, as well as our disdain for the respectable press that is covering their awful campaigns, allows us an easy objectivity on the matter. From our appalled perspective we can see how the Republican nominee really was talking some peaceable uprising or merely joking about knocking off a president or her judicial nominees, and we can also allow that maybe the Republican nominee of this crazy election year really was sanguinely contemplating some armed uprising against a possible Clinton administration. Something deep in our Republican souls also has to concede that this crazy election year’s nominee makes it hard to say for sure what the hell he meant to say.
Way back when Trump started knocking off the far more qualified field of Republican candidates his fans were enthused by his willingness to say whatever grammatically incoherent thought popped into his mind, which seemed such a welcome change from the poll-tested and focus-grouped responses of past Republican nominees, but even at the time we wondered if that tendency was really what we wanted in a president. We share Shakespeare’s opinion that one should “Give thy thoughts no tongue, nor any unproportioned thought his act. Be though familiar, but by no means vulgar,” and we wish that any old Republican nominee would be as well-read and hipped-up. As awful as that Clinton woman is we have to concede that this crazy election year’s Republican nominee’s un-parseable word salad does allow for any number of readings, including the only slightly reassuring possibility that he was merely joking about someone offing a president or her judicial nominees, and that in any case it undeniably and unnecessarily does distract attention from the awful week that awful woman has been having.

— Bud Norman

The Idleness of March

The month of March always brings severe weather and post-season college basketball on this part of the Great Plains, both of which can be quite rivetingly turbulent, but until they begin in earnest this quadrennial year we’re finding nothing of interest in the news but those already tiresome presidential races.
For a while now we’ve barely heard a peep out of President Barack Obama, much less anything to work up a rant about, and we’ll begrudgingly concede that he was gracious in his remarks about the passing of former First Lady Nancy Reagan, and acknowledge our appreciation for all the half-mast flags that are flying around town. The economy is still awful, but only awful in more or less the same awful way it’s been for the past eight years or so, and not awful in a way that any of the candidates or the world’s bankers seem to know how to fix. Despite a recent brief lull in terror attacks on the west, that whole world-on-fire situation is still also awful, but one party is insisting that climate change is a bigger problem and the front-runner in the other party is telling apocryphal stories about solving it all with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood, and that’s about the only reason all that foreign policy blah-blah-blah is in the news these days.
We note that ace quarterback Peyton Manning is retiring from football, and we wish him well, as he always seemed a nice enough guy and made our brother in Colorado quite happy by winning a Super Bowl for the Denver Broncos last month, but that’s only so interesting. There were some Academy Awards recently, but we couldn’t possibly care less about that, and we’re sure there’s some sex scandal afoot involving some reality television stars or another, and although the cast likely involves a future president we don’t care to keep track of that stuff.
We’re coming up on the Ides of March, and have been forewarned about them by our Shakespearian education, but until the coming catastrophes we’re searching about hopeful news.

— Bud Norman

Radical Islam By Any Other Name

“That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet,” William Shakespeare once wrote, but he’s just another dead white male that nobody bothers to read these days. Modern liberals believe that words do indeed have magical powers that can alter whatever reality they are intended to describe. Thus a man can become a woman with a simple change of pronouns, a university can erase its long-ago racism with a few more up-to-date names on some buildings, the problem of illegal immigrants can be made to disappear simply by calling the millions of people who have immigrated here illegally by some more polite name, such as “undocumented Americans” or “dreamers,” and the latest euphemisms can imbue all manner of malodorous things with that sweet fragrance of moral superiority that keeps the modern liberals’ noses constantly upturned.
The latest problem to get this mystical linguistic treatment is radical Islam, which we are now assured does not exist. Although the semantic shamans won’t go so far as to pretend that terrorist attacks haven’t been occurring all over the world with increasing frequency and savagery in the past decades, and that there’s usually someone with a Muslim name shouting “Allahu Akbar” at the scene and a group calling itself something Islamic claiming credit,  they will go so far as to pretend that anyone who draws the intuitive conclusion that the Religion of Peace has anything to do with it is just a nasty old bigot. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking to the staff of the American embassy in France just days after somebody or another shot up six sites in Paris for some reason or another, insists that “It has nothing to do with Islam. It has everything to do with criminality, with terror, with abuse, with psychopathism — I mean, you name it.” So long as you don’t name it Islam, of course, Kerry is content to deal with the problem on whatever convoluted language and new coinages you might prefer. His predecessor at the State Department, the supposedly presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, speaking just hours before some terror group or another for some reason or another killed all the hostages at a Mali hotel who could not recite verses from the Koran, went further to insist that “Muslims are peace and tolerant people who have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.” Clinton was so proud of the statement that she “tweeted” it out to her followers, a surprising number of whom responded with scathing criticism, and the Democratic Party has already released an internet advertisement criticizing the Republican’s repeated use of “radical Islam” that features the formerly vilified George W. Bush saying that Islam is a Religion of Peace and we’re not at war with a religion and all the obligatory boilerplate that he never got any credit for back in the day.
So long as the shootings and bombings and stabbings and beheadings and crucifixions continue one will have to call it something, though, and Clinton has chosen to call it “jihadism.” It’s better than “psychopathism,” we suppose, but we can’t see how it’s a more politically correct term than “radical Islam.” Our big old Random House dictionary doesn’t have an entry for jihadism, but it does define jihad as “a holy war undertaken as a sacred duty by Muslims,” and our 13 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary are so old they offer the alternative spellings of jehad and jahad and define it as “A religious war of Mohammedans against unbelievers in Islam, inculcated as a duty by Koran and traditions,” and pretty much every etymologist will tell you that it’s a term having something to do with Islam. The more respectful but less precise lexicographers like to define jihad as a peaceful struggle to better one’s self, and for some reason they usually cite quitting smoking as an example, but even Clinton seems to have given up on that. The terror group calling itself Islamic Jihad, and the proudly self-proclaimed jihadists doing all the shooting and bombing and stabbings and beheadings and crucifixions, and such widely respected-within-the-Islamic-world scholars as the late Ayatollah Khomeini saying “I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim” that jihad does not mean a more literal war against the unbelievers has given the word a certain connotation that cannot be easily shaken, no matter how many well-intentioned Turks start laying off the hookah.
There are subtle and nuanced arguments to avoid the words “radical Islam,” as are required for such difficult sophistry. The gist of it is that by acknowledging the Islamic beliefs of the people we are obliged to fight and kill we signal to the entire Islamic world that we are at war with the entire religion, forcing all those more peaceful and tolerant Muslims who otherwise would be disinclined to shoot and bomb and behead and all that to join with their more belligerent co-religionists. This seems at least slightly plausible, given that all those peaceful warriors are probably already suffering the crankiness of nicotine withdrawal, but even the Democratic Party’s internet advertisements explicitly acknowledge that America’s leadership has always stressed how the country and its allies are only at war with those particular sorts of Muslims who are avowedly and actively and often effectively at war against us, and even such right-wing crazies as the Republican presidential candidates and ourselves are always careful to affix that “radical” qualifier to make the same point, so by now all those peaceful Muslims should be reassured. The term “radical Islam” does include the “I-word,” but we’re all adults here and might as well acknowledge the obvious fact the terrorists are acting in strict accordance with a very ancient and still widely-held understanding of Islam’s holy book, and surely those peaceful Muslims will frankly acknowledge the current struggle does indeed involve the more radical elements of their religion. One can argue that no true Muslim wants war, because Islam is a Religion of Peace, just as one can argue that no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge, because any one that did is no true Scotsman, but it’s still a fallacy and you’re still left with a large number of people who want to kill you in the name of Islam and don’t care how painstakingly polite you’ve been to the religion that you insist they don’t practice, and we suspect that by this point even some of the most peaceable sorts of Muslims are probably starting to contemplate which side is more likely to prevail.
Our reading of history suggests that the side with the high-tech weaponry and most modern scientific know-how is usually a good bet, but the side that knows what it’s fighting for and who it’s fighting against is often a formidable underdog. In the current conflict our side is fighting with itself over proper protocol for transgendered persons and that building named after a guy who built it but who owned slaves long ago and what to call all those immigrants who are here illegally, and we refuse to acknowledge that we’re fighting at against the same radical ideology that has been intermittently at war with the west for the past 1,400 years, long before there was western imperialism and Israel and George W. Bush and all the other usual exculpatory grievances, and which has always claimed to be Islamic. When a former Secretary of State and the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is reduced that to claiming that it is merely “jihad” and therefore has nothing to do with Islam, it’s a good time for hedging bets.
If this all sounds too war-mongering and xenophobic and Islamophobic to your ears, we’ll happily recite all the rote assurances about the vast majority of the world’s Muslims being peaceful and tolerant and disinclined to chop off your head and take your daughter as a sex slave. We wish them well, and assume they wish us well in our efforts to defeat those who are committing atrocities in their name. People being people, though, we assume that there are some among the presently peaceable Muslims who are waiting to see how it plays out. Every strain of Islam has always found itself in conflict with some aspects of western civilization, and although most Muslims in the western world have found a peaceable and tolerant accommodation there are many who wouldn’t mind if the west were a little more accommodating itself. In some cases they might be making reasonable requests, in other cases intolerable demands, but Kerry and Clinton and all the political correctness in the world won’t keep them from contemplating a Muslim world. President Barack Obama contends that the Republican rhetoric about radical Islam is a recruiting tool for the terrorists, but the better recruiting tool for a potential pool of new jihadists is the string of victories they’ve lately racked up.
Clinton and her two rivals have both sworn off the term “radical Islam,” and of course the party itself is rallying to the cause with that internet advertisement, but it’s going to be a tough sale. The polls show the public unimpressed, even the vulgar late night comedian and usually reliable Democratic pitchman Bill Maher is scoffing at it, and thus far the biggest political beneficiary is the one candidate who doesn’t seem to care how war-mongering and xenophobic and Islamophobic he sounds. The magic words about men being women and Woodrow Wilson never having been president of Princeton University and illegal immigrants being dreamers aren’t polling well, and we don’t expect they’re going to win a war.

— Bud Norman