A Truly Lost Cause

One hundred and fifty-five years at Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses Grant at the courthouse in Appomattox, Virginia, the Confederacy is continuing to suffer defeats. Monuments to Confederate soldiers are being removed from public spaces, sometimes at the order of local officials and sometimes because of angry mobs tearing them down, and the Marines and the Navy and even the NASCAR racing circuit have recently banned the display of the Confederate battle flag.
The top military brass also want to change the names off 11 military installations that are for some reason named after Confederate soldiers, but President Donald Trump has declared he won’t even consider it. Trump has also oppose the removal of Confederate statues and monuments, and for a guy who grew up in New York City seems to have a certain affection for the Confederacy.
Perhaps it’s for political reasons, but if so we think it’s a miscalculation. The Confederacy sympathizers among Trump”s voters wouldn’t mind if he declared all the monument controversy a state and local issue he needn’t take sides in, and his stands on behalf of the “Lost Cause” are unlikely to win him any new voters. Most Americans have a very negative opinion of the Confederacy, are glad that it lost the Civil War, and don’t see why men who fought a war against the United States to preserve slavery are being honored.
Perhaps Trump’s defense of the Confederacy is for personal reasons, but we’d hate to think that.

— Bud Norman

Feminism, Trumpism, and Political Reality

During his recent trip abroad President Donald Trump gave an interview to the British broadcaster Piers Morgan, a former winner of Trump’s “Apprentice” game show, and although it doesn’t air until tonight the good stuff has already leaked out. So far, the least surprising news is that Trump does not consider himself a feminist.
No, I wouldn’t say I’m a feminist,” Trump told Morgan. “I mean, I think that would be, maybe, going too far. I’m for men, I’m for women, I’m for everyone.”
That’s not so shockingly sexist as what Trump said when he was yukking it up with Billy Bush on the “Access Hollywood” bus, and we suppose he deserves some credit for not boasting that he’s the least sexist person you ever met, but it’s likely to further infuriate a lot of his female critics. The fans will love it, of course.
Feminism has a reputation in some circles as a man-hating and abortion-loving philosophy that is as hectoring as it is humorless, due in some part to that small but significantly pesky number of undeniably hectoring and humorless feminists who actually hate men and have a slightly morbid enthusiasm for abortion. Most people simply nod silently and walk away from those sorts, and have happy and mutually respectful encounters with the far greater number of feminist women who simply hold to the belief that they’re entitled to equal civil rights and fair treatment in the workplace and mutually respectful interactions with they men they have to deal with.
In some circles even that reasonable sort of feminism is resented, though, and we can’t blame any woman for thinking that Trump travels in those in circles. He did once boast during a Republican primary debate that nobody has more respect for women than he does, but that got a big laugh out of even a Republican primary debate audience, and the claim that he’s not an out right old-fashioned male chauvinist pig, as the man-hating and humorless sorts of feminists used to call them back in ’70s, is by now laughable. All the networks have endlessly replayed that “Access Hollywood” boast about grabbing women by their “wherevers,” as Trump more politely put it on that endlessly replayed tape of an interview where he sure seemed to imply that Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly had asked him a question about his past derogatory comments about women’s looks because she was menstruating. There’s a rich trove of audio from Howard Stern’s shock-jock radio show, too, with Trump opining unfavorably on small-breasted women and bragging about letting all three of his wives do the diaper-changing and other child-rearing chores and giddily recalling the times he invaded the dressing rooms at his teenage beauty pageants.
There are also all the women who have put their reputations on the line to publicly allege that Trump grabbed them by their wherevers or invaded their teenage beauty pageant dressing rooms, too, and the column inches of Archie Bunker-era male chauvinist piggish quotes in press interviews and his own ghost-written memoirs would stretch from Trump Tower in New York City to the White House in Washington, D.C., and the audio and video clips could fill a couple of 24-hour news cycles.
Some very reasonable and perfectly respectable Republican friends of ours freely acknowledge the fact of Trump’s male chauvinist piggishness but have somehow reconciled themselves to it. They’ll argue that Trump is merely critiquing the man-hating and abortion-loving style of feminism, and taking the very reasonable and respectable pro-everybody stand, which will quickly lead to talk about how the “Black Lives Matter” movement’s moniker seems to imply that other lives don’t matter or at least matter less, and they’ll have their points. When reminded of the freely admitted fact that Trump is pretty much a male chauvinist pig as well as pretty much a racist, stone cold and old school, as the kids the used to say, they’ll note the currently low unemployment rates for women and black people. On each point, we’ll admit they have a valid point.
The friendly sorts of feminists and black empowerment types we’ve befriended over the years have some valid points, too, and we’ll not argue with them for the sake of the likes of Trump. As much as we wish the “Black Lives Matter” movement would heed our advice to stress that of course all lives matter, and find that middle ground between preventing cops from using unnecessary force and prohibiting the necessary force to deter all the criminals who would otherwise take a far greater toll of black lives, we don’t worry that making black lives better need result in making our own white lives any worse. Despite those admittedly annoying man-hating and abortion-loving sorts of feminists, neither do we worry that to whatever extent feminism is pro-woman it is necessarily anti-man.
Our reasonable and respectable yet Trump-supporting friends have convinced themselves that Trump gets that, but we think he’s playing to those circles who still expect the little woman to have dinner on the table when the man comes home and do all the diaper-changing and other women’s work. In our experience they’re a dwindling population, as most guys have by now reconciled themselves to the fact that they have to go along with most of the the past 50 years or so feminism if they’re going to get any, but they’re still out there and make up an important chunk of Trump’s fan base.
There’s that Republican candidate for the Senate in Missouri who was caught on tape opining that he expected the little woman to have dinner on the table when he got home and do all the rest of the women’s work around the house, and that Republican nominee for an Alabama Senate seat who thought that constitutional amendments abolishing slavery and giving women the right to vote were bad ideas, and was also quite credibly accused of once being the creepy thirty-something guy hanging around the local mall hitting on teenage girls. Both had significant support, too, and although some of bearded-yet-sensitive “Bernie Bros” who backed the self stand accused by the sisterhood of failing to support that harridan Democratic nominee and presumptive First Woman President Hillary Clinton we have to admit that most of the remaining troglodytes are Republicans and Trump voters.
Despite Trump’s full-throated support for that pro-slavery and anti-women’s suffrage and credibly accused child molester of a Republican nominee somehow lost a race in Alabama, of all places, to a Democrat, of all people. The Missouri race will be against Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, who is considered vulnerable because Trump won the state in the last election, but the last time she ran the Republican nominee had also carried the state in the most recent president election and she won because the Republicans had nominated a nut job who went off on audio tape about how the victims of “real rape” could not become pregnant and therefore the complete ban on abortions he wanted should make no exceptions for rape. If the Missouri Republicans go with the make-me-a-sandwich-damnit candidate this time around, we think that even with Trump’s full-throated support the more reasonable and respectable sorts of Republicans will have blown another opportunity.

— Bud Norman

All Eyes on Alabama

The Republican candidate somehow lost a special senatorial election on Tuesday, in Alabama of all places, vyr as we see it our once Grand Old Party probably dodged a bullet.
At first glance, of course, it’s a unmitigated disaster for the Republicans. Although he party had won several special congressional elections in reliably Republican states to replace the popular Republicans who had joined the administration of President Donald Trump, they were all by embarrassingly close margins, and the party got blown-out by bigger than usual margins a in off year elections in couple of reliably Democratic states, so losing a Senate race in such an especially reliably Republican state as Alabama does not bode well for future camapigns. The loss also pares the Republican majority in Senate down to a mere 51 votes, and given Trump’s ongoing wars of words with far more than two Republican senators that’s going to make it even harder for him to get his legislative agenda passed.
There’s been no looking away from this Southern Gothic novel of an election, though, and on second and third glance it always looked to us that the Republicans could only win by losing. The Republican nominee was Roy Moore, who was already a controversial figure even in Alabama even before several small-town and Republican-voting women stepped forward to quite credibly accuse him of inappropriate sexual behavior behavior toward them when he was a 30-something prosecutor and they were in there early- to mid-teens. His denials of the allegations on such friendly media as Fox New’s “Sean Hannity Show” were entirely unconvincing, and in the final days of the campaign he doubled down on all the things that had made him controversial even in Alabama even before those allegations surfaced.
Moore was always a theocratic figure that our old=fashioned Republican and Christian couldn’t quite stand, n the finals days of the campaign there was some old audio footage of Moore saying that America was last great back when human slavery was still tolerated, because at least families we’re still together back then, even if black families were routinely torn apart by the sale of their progeny to distant states. There was also tape of Moore grousing that every single constitutional amendment after those first ten in the Bill of Rights was a horrible mistake, even though they include the 13th amendment that abolished slavery and the 14th amendment that recognized the full civic rights of all citizens including those former slaves, and the 19th amendment that granted women the right to vote. On election eve Moore’s wife refuted allegations of anti-semitism by noting that “We have a jew lawyer,” which one late night comic likened to saying that “we’re not anti-black because we’re always glad to have them on their basketball team.”
We doubt that the Jewish vote very much influenced Moore’s loss in Alabama, but it’s clear it can be largely attributed to a higher-than-expected turnout by black voters and lower-than-expected support from Republican women, and if that was enough to cause an upset in such a state as Alabama it does not bode well for Republican prospects in the upcoming elections elsewhere. Trump and the rest of his slightly more reluctant Republican party seem intent seem intent on doubling down on such divisive rhetoric, no matter how badly it’s provably polling at the moment even in such a reliably Republican state as Alabama.
Which is why we figure the Republicans won by losing. If Moore had won the race he would have surely faced several weeks of headline-grabbing hearings about his fitness for office, with all his formerly-teenaged accusers on nationally-aired videotape giving their sworn testimony to a congressional committee’s investigation of the matter, all while the Republican president was “tweeting” nonsense about it during the renewed talk about all the credible accusations of his own sexual misbehavior. Our Republican party will still have to endure will still have endure have to endure the public’s current intolerance of sexual misbehavior and outright craziness by either party, but at least it won’t have to make many convoluted excuses for the likes of Moore.
The Democratic victor is Doug Jones, who is a bit too enthusiastic about abortion right up to moment of birth for our tastes, along with most Alabama voters, but on gun rights and law and order immigration and the rest of it he doesn’t seem likely to do much damage in the couple of of years he has replacing now Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the job. Sessions is now frequently criticized by Trump for recusing himself from that “Russia thing” and senior Alabama Sen. ichard Shelby had already announced that he cast his vote for a write-in Republican candidate other than Moore, as we would have done, and we agree that a Moore victory would have proved worse.
Trump is still stuck with his full-throated endorsement of Moore, and his  increasingly implausible insistence that all the credible accusations of sexual misbehavior are fake news, but thanks to higher-than-expected black turnout and a decisive number of Republican Alabama women the GOP won’t have to spend the next weeks of news cycles defending a Senator who’s pro-slavery and anti-women’s suffrage and stands credibly accused of hitting on teenaged girls when he was a 30-something prosecutor. Defending Trump’s bragged-about-on-tape sexual misbehavior is hard enough, especially when the Democrats are willing to toss out party members accused of less, so even Trump should hope that Moore is soon forgotten.

— Bud Norman

Still Fighting for a Lost Cause

Another horrific Islamist terror attack occurred in Spain on Thursday, which should have provided President Donald Trump an opportunity move past the racial controversies that have dogged him the past week. He responded to the deaths and injuries in Barcelona with an appropriately dignified statement of sympathy and support delivered via “tweet,” but spent more time in the day prolonging the racial controversies, provoking new ones, and picking fresh fights with his growing number of critics.
That appropriately dignified “tweet” to Spain was followed within an hour by another advising the Spaniards to summarily execute the captured terrorist suspects with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, based on a thoroughly-debunked story he likes to tell about the American an anti-insurrection campaign during the Philippines occupation, and thus far the Spaniards seem to be ignoring the counsel. A similarly shaky historical knowledge of the Civil War seemed to misinform another series of “tweets” lamenting the recent removal of several statues and other monuments honoring heroes of the Confederacy in several cities, including the Virginia town where a white supremacist rally set off deadly violence that started the past week’s lingering controversies.
There’s a reasonable case to be made for leaving the monuments that expressed the beliefs of past generations be, and letting future generations draw their own conclusions about them, but the aftermath of a deadly white supremacist rally is the wrong time to make the argument, and throughout the week Trump has demonstrated he’s not the right man.
He spoke of the “beauty” of some of the statues, but as a real estate developer in New York City he was notorious for razing such historically beautiful structures as Fifth Avenue’s Bonwit Teller Building, with its classic art deco bas-relief sculptures preserved only by court order and charity funds, and his aesthetic sensibilities are not well-regarded by most architectural critics. Trump is right to worry where such historical revisionism might end, as some people would like to see even such founding fathers as the slave-holding George Washington and Thomas Jefferson banished from places of honor in the public square, but he only bolsters their case when he consistently fails to not the crucial difference between the Revolutionary heroes who won America’s freedom and created a system of government that inexorably led to the abolition of slavery and those Confederates who fought to destroy that country and forever preserve the peculiar institution.
Some of those Confederate soldiers fought for the safety of their homes and families rather than for slavery, to be sure, and there’s certainly a strong case to be made that their descendants should be able to honor such bravery and sacrifice in their own communities. For many of those descendants the memorials express only the virtues of loyalty to home and family and the bravery that backs it up, values they now wed to the still-United States of America and feel with a deep regret for the worst of its past, and their views deserve the respect Trump has given them.
Any honest argument, however, requires a frank acknowledgement that slavery was an intolerable moral evil and that the Confederacy did wage its war of rebellion in defense of it, that many of the memorials were explicitly intended by their builders to honor that indefensible cause, and the sort of torch-bearing and shield-wielding and Nazi-flag-waving white supremacists who provoked the deadly violence in Virginia last weekend wanted the Gen. Robert E. Lee statue in the park preserved for the very same reason. Any honest argument would also have to address all the people in those communities whose ancestors were enslaved, who might have a very different view of the statues in their hometowns of the general who fought preserve slavery, and frankly acknowledge that any American president also owes those views his respect.
From our very old-fashioned Republican point of view, we also think it best this argument  he made at the local level. It’s taken a while, but those descendants of slaves and slave-holders and the folks who only fought for the Confederacy because that’s where their homes and family were have been working things out fairly well for themselves in the past few decades. There are still the occasional racial atrocities — yes, on both sides, although we don’t want to get into the score — but the region has seen rapid economic development, enough racial amity to draw many black migrants back from the north, and their college sports teams have been hugely successful. Southern legislatures and county commissions and town councils now work out such mundane matters as tax abatements and bridge-building contracts and zoning permits with black and white representatives, so we also trust their judgment whose statues should adorn their city parks. Here in Wichita in the heart of “bleeding Kansas” all the monuments are to the boys in blue, so we don’t have deal with these issues, but we trust that the people of the south interact with one another enough to know which white folks were for home and family and which black folks won’t want to tear down the Washington Monument,  and can come to a reasonable conclusion. If they decide they’d rather not honor Confederate generals, we figure there’s also a strong case to be made for that.
General Ulysses Grant allowed the Confederate army he’d vanquished to ride home atop their own horses with dignity and a military salute from his own victorious troops, and although Grant was also ruthless in battling the newly-formed Ku Klux Klan there was also a strong case to be made for that. The Reconstruction years of occupation by the Union army were harsh on the south in less defensible ways, too, but there was good reason to usher the south back into the Union with something of its dignity and values of home and family and martial spirit intact. President Abraham Lincoln made that case with enduring eloquence when he stated a policy of “Malice toward none and charity toward all.”
Trump is admittedly more the “punch back ten times harder” and summarily-execute-’em-with-a-bullet-dipped-in-pig’s-blood kind of president, though, so he’s handling the latest recurrence of the debate quite differently. The critics of his rather equivocal response to the white supremacist violence in Virginia now include South Carolina’s white Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who knows his constituency better than Trump and has calculated that he shouldn’t run for re-election on a neo-Confederate platform, and Trump “tweeted” back with a claim that the “publicity seeking” Senator had lied about him. South Carolina’s black Republican Sen. Tim Scott, who wouldn’t have been elected without a lot of votes from the descendants of slave-holders and those who fought for home and family, and strikes us as an impressive fellow, declared the president had abdicated any moral authority, but so far as we can tell he hasn’t yet been met with any presidential “tweets.”
By now the entirety of the Democratic party and much of the Republican party is critical of the president, along with most of the executives of the Fortune 500 companies and the entirety  of the  Joints Chiefs of Staff and most of the heads of state of our democratic allies, but Trump seems unlikely to back down any time soon and move on to such mundane matters as that debt-ceiling resolution that’s going to need Graham’s and Scott’s votes if the country doesn’t go bankrupt. Like the vanishing heroes of the Lost Cause, though, his most stubborn defenders can be assured that at least he fights.

— Bud Norman

The Second Hundred Days Begin

President Donald Trump’s most ardent admirers admire his blunt talk, so we’ll just go right ahead and say that his second hundred days are off a to a rocky start. He gave a couple of interviews that invited ridicule by his liberal critics, signed a spending bill that offered nothing his conservative supporters were hoping for, and had a “very friendly” phone call with the Philippines’ crazy-pants president that alarmed pretty much everybody but Trump’s most ardent admirers.
One of the interviews was aired Monday morning on CBS’ “This Morning” program, and featured host John Dickerson asking Trump about his relationship with preceding President Barack Obama. Trump said “He was very nice to me, but after that we’ve had our difficulties.” Pressed further, Trump said “You saw what happened with surveillance, and everybody saw what happened with surveillance.” Unsure what happened and everybody saw with surveillance, Dickerson asked for clarification. “You can figure that out yourself,” Trump replied. A seemingly befuddled Dickerson stammered about question about Trump “tweeting” that Obama was “sick and bad,” and Trump again replied that “Look, you can figure it out for yourself.”
At that point the interview was already going badly, except for those viewers who always revel in watching Trump be brusque with an interviewer, and then Dickerson had the impudence to ask “But you do stand by that claim about him?” Trump replied that “I don’t stand by anything,” and by then it was destined to go down in history as one of the most disastrous interviews ever. Even Trump’s most ardent admirers will have to admit that “I don’t stand by anything” isn’t something you can post on YouTube with the title “Trump absolutely destroys CBS reporter.”
Trump added that “I just — you can take it the way you want,” and something about how it’s all been proved and everybody’s talking about it and how it should be discussed, and “we should find out what the hell’s going on,” and some more short snippy answers to tuhalf-asked questions before terminating the interview with a polite “OK, it’s enough. Thank you. Thank you very much.” We doubt it did much good, though, and expect that only the line about “I don’t stand by anything” will wind up in future editions of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.
Trump also sat down in the Oval Office for an interview with the far friendlier Salena Zito of the far friendlier Washington Examiner, but even that friendly conservation went badly awry. As Zito was reading off a carefully chosen list of questions about current issues, all of which provided the president an opportunity to make the case for his policies, Trump suddenly interjected — “apropos of nothing,” as Zito would explain to one of her subsequent interviewers — a rambling soliloquy about his high regard for President Andrew Jackson, whose portrait was hanging nearby.
“They said my campaign and is most like, my campaign and win, was most like Andrew Jackson with his campaign. And I said, ‘When was Andrew Jackson?’ It was 1828. That’s a long time ago. That’s Andrew Jackson, and he had a very, very mean and nasty campaign, because they said this was the meanest and nastiest campaign yet.” Not content to confess his previous ignorance of 19th Century American history, Trump further speculated that “I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the the Civil War. He said ‘There’s no reason for this.’ People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that not have been worked out?”
All of which, alas, was irresistible fodder for all the left-wing critics and late-night comics and more respectably leftist press pundits. They had Trump on tape once again veering off topic into some self-aggrandizing non sequitur, and once again into territory he didn’t know much about. Jackson did indeed run an historically nasty campaign against John Quincy Adams, but emulating that it not something that politicians should brag about. Adams did run an historically nasty campaign against Jackson, who plausibly blamed his scandalized wife’s death on the bad press, but Trump getting sentimental about how Jackson visited her grave every day almost writes its own own punch lines.
Jackson sure enough was a tough guy, with the evidence of a lifelong facial scar from the saber of a British officer inflicted on the sassy 13-year-old prisoner of the Revolutionary War — or one of those guys “who got caught,” as Trump put it in another disastrous interview — and a distinguished record in several conflicts with Indians and historic and folk-song worthy victory in the Battle of New Orleans. But given Trump’s military and tough guy record, which involved bone spurs and a “personal Vietnam” of dodging venereal disease on the New York City dating scene, he really shouldn’t be inviting any comparisons. As for Jackson’s “big heart,” Jackson was the guy ordered that the peaceable and productive Cherokee people be forced from their Carolina’s on a death march along the Trail of Tears, and even in his final, frail years he was using his cane against any impudent pressmen. All of that might play well with Trump and his most ardent admirers, but for everybody else it’s a disastrous interview.
Jackson was also an ardent defender of the peculiar institution of slavery, so a less friendlier interview might well have asked Trump how he thought Jackson might have averted a Civil War in a way that Americans of that time or this time would have found acceptable. Although Trump seems not have given it much thought until recently, the question of why the Civil War happened as been a matter of ongoing debate ever since, and most Americans who have passed a sixth grade history test or earned a doctorate in the field have reached the same conclusion President Abraham Lincoln did in his second inaugural address: “One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war.”
There were also arguments between North and South over tariffs and taxes and all the immigrants pouring into the north, to be sure, but so far that’s not the sort of thing Americans have civil wars over. Trump is clearly speculating, apropos of nothing, that the pro-slavery guy would have settled the far more pressing, far more irresolvable question of slavery, and that such a savvy deal-maker and tough guy with a big heart would have done the same, and unless you’re an ardent admirer that’s a hard interview to defend.
Several of Trump’s usual defenders were too busy, though, grousing about that spending bill that got passed and signed and was hopefully overlooked in all the rest of the chatter.
We won’t recount all the gripes that the talk radio hosts had, but we’ll link you to the gloating of The Washington Post that headlined it “Eight ways Trump got rolled in his first budget negotiation.” They note that Trump not only didn’t get his one billion dollar request for a border wall, which sometime supporter called a “measly one billion,” but the bill includes explicit language against any spending on a border wall. Trump had vowed no increase in spending, but the bill includes no cuts and $4.6 billion for Trump’s Appalachian coal miners and $295 million for the Puerto Rican Medicaid recipients that Democratic House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi insisted on, and the $61 million that Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer got for the New York City and Palm Beach, Florida, law enforcements that are paying for Trump’s frequent visits, which even the right wing talk radio hosts are starting to sour on.
Obama’s $1.2 billion funding for a “moonshot” cancer program was renewed, the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget was cut by 1 percent rather than the requested one-third, and Planned Parenthood was defunded at all. The defense budget was raised by less than half of what Trump insisted on, 160 Republican riders were dropped, and as early as last week the White House was agreeing to keep stringing along the Obamacare subsidies. There’s more, but The Washington Post ran out of column inches for its gloating. Lest you think it’s all “fake news” from “The Washington Compost,” all the talk radio hosts seemed to be grousing about the very same things.
It’s all temporary, with more battles vowed to be more vigorously fought, and there’s plenty of blame to go around to those establishment Republicans that Trump vowed to bring to heel, and as always the Democrats are nothing to brag about, but for now there’s no denying it makes for a bad news cycle. The headlines and the poll results would been even worse if a Republican president and Republican congress hadn’t come up with something to avert a government shutdown, but we doubt even Trump will tout that victory.
That’s enough to keep even such political junkies distracted, but we couldn’t help noticing that phone call between Trump and the Philippines’ Duterte. It’s a long story but we were born in the Philippines and have tried to keep abreast of the news there ever since, and we’re aware that the current leader is a foul-mouthed and boastfully murderous fellow who has lately been waging a “war on drugs” that has gunned thousands of people who might or might not have been involved in drugs, as no courts or evidence were involved, and has had the most profane words for American ambassadors and Roman Catholic Popes but a friendly relationship with the dictatorship in China. Trump has had only kind words for the man, though, and his own State Department’s synopsis of their most recent phone call described it as “friendly” and including an invitation to the White House, which Duterte has yet to accept.
That’s more fodder for the left, especially after his recent congratulatory phone call to Turkey’s President Raccip Erdogan after winning a clearly rigged election to give his Islamist government dictatorial powers, and anther move that the right is struggling to defend. There might well be some brilliant strategy at play here, and we surely hope so, but if Trump is just trying to drive a plot line he’s going to need some new writers.

— Bud Norman

A Guilt-Ridden History

There was so much to abhor in President Barack Obama’s oration at last Thursday’s annual prayer breakfast that one hardly knows where to begin. The sermon featured the usual ahistorical recounting of western civilization’s past sins, the usual attempt to mitigate the contemporary sins of western civilization’s enemies, and the usual haughty air of moral superiority as he urged his subjects to be humble, but somehow it was even more infuriating than usual.
The president took the occasion of the prayer breakfast to tell his audience that “people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ,” and reeled off the usually litany of the Crusades and the Inquisition and slavery and Jim Crow. He seemed to think this a highly original insight into history, although it will come as no surprise to any American who has been subjected to a public education or Hollywood movies over the past many decades, and he made it all sound quite simple and damning.
There was no mention that the Crusades were a defensive war launched nearly 500 years after Islamic imperialism has begun a war of conquest that stretched from the formerly Christian Middle East far into Europe, that it happened in an era of western civilization known as the “Dark Ages” and during an era of Islamic culture known as the “Golden Age” and that the Muslims mostly got the better of it, that atrocities were common to both sides of the conflict, and that western civilization likely would not exist if not for the effort. Perhaps continued existence of western civilization is the president’s main gripe with the Crusades, and although he did not quite go so far as to say that in his address one could detect a profound sense of disappointment. Western civilization is so sexist and racist and homophobic and otherwise falls short of the president’s high moral standards, after all, so he might naturally yearn for the more open-minded attitudes on these matters that he seems to believe prevail in most of the Islamic world.
There was much brutality during the various Inquisitions, especially in the most notorious Spanish one, and at times it even exceeded the harshness of dhimmitude that was imposed on non-Muslims in the Islamic world, even if it has been exaggerated by the popular imagination, so the president can’t help but savor that. We’re still glad that the reconquista of the Iberian peninsula happened, and that it was a re-Christianized Spain that sent Christopher Columbus off to the new world and made the United States of America happened, and we can’t help wondering if the president of those United States of America is as grateful. Slavery will forever be a stain on American history, but that evil institution existed in every corner of the world from the dawn of time until western civilization largely eradicated it on Christian principles, although it remains a feature of life in Nigeria and other portions of the world where a more strident form of Islam holds sway, so it seems rather unfair to single out western civilization for the unique culpability of this sin of humanity. There were Americans who justified Jim Crow according to some strange interpretation of the Bible, and those who are still alive deserve some presidential chiding, but we wonder why the first black president couldn’t acknowledge that the civil rights movement that made his presidency possible was also rooted in the Christian faith.
Our best guess is that the president wants to tamp down any public enthusiasm for a robust resistance to the terrible deeds currently being being committed in the name of Islam. An inconveniently named outfit calling itself The Islamic State has lately been taking over large parts of what were once Syria and Iraq, and by such brutal means as mass executions, beheadings, crucifixions, and even dousing captives with gasoline and burning them alive inside steel cages, so it takes some extraordinary rhetorical exertions to convince a modern western world presently pre-occupied with same-sex marriage and trans-gender rights that it has no moral standing to object to such barbaric behavior. We are assured that the Islamic State is not at all Islamic because Islam is good and therefore anything bad can not be true Islam, a tautology that does not seem to exempt Christianity from the crimes of the Spanish Inquisition, but rather than hectoring an American public that does not by large commit atrocities in the name of Islam it should be making its case to the people who are mass executing, beheading, crucifying, and dousing captives in gasoline and setting them afire in the of the faith. They seem to have settled on a theological tautology that because Islam is good and they Islamic what they’re doing can’t be bad, and it will likely take more than a groveling apology for 500-year-old sins by people to whom we now seem to disavow any cultural connection to persuade them to act otherwise.
Our reading of history suggests it will eventually require overwhelming military force backed by the fierce will of a self-confident civilization, but the president appears confident that his ability to placate even the most implacable foe will suffice. We are advised not to “get on our high horse” and assert the superiority of our modern civilization to the ancient barbarism of the Islamic State, and this from a president who routinely bestrides a higher horse than any American politician of our recollection, and who has never hesitated to attribute the most evil intentions to his domestic political opponents, so we are not persuaded that a more supine position will be effective.
A majority of the Muslim has no appetite for the brutal conquests of the Islamic State, and some of them are bravely fighting it right now, but vast majorities can be disastrously ineffectual when pitted against a fervent minority more thoroughly convinced it is in the right. The United States and the rest of the world should be offering all possible help to the fight against the Islamic state, and surrendering its moral authority to do so can only lead to disaster.

— Bud Norman

Taking Satire Seriously

These are hard times for the satire business, and not just because of the bad economy. The bigger problem for the modern satirist is that no parody can be so broad, so exaggerated, so obviously made-up that much of the public won’t take it seriously.

Yet another example of this phenomenon was recently provided by the many supposedly smart writers who regurgitated some obviously fabricated quotes attributed to Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. The column had Ryan responding to some pol’s claim that he would have to wash off the “stench” of his association with Mitt Romney by saying such things as “If Stench calls, take a message” and “tell Stench I’m having finger sandwiches with Peggy Noonan and will text him later.” A casual reader could be forgiven for failing to notice the satirical intent because of its lack of humor, a usual indicator of satire, but the quotes are so at odds with the usual caricature of Ryan as bland and annoying wholesome that it should have tipped off anyone the slightest bit astute.

An even more frustrating example from recent days is Mitt Romney’s infamous statement that “I can relate to black people, my ancestors once owned slaves.” Romney never said any such thing, of course, and anyone who wants to trace this bizarre rumor to its source will eventually arrive at a little-known internet publication with the telling name of “Free Wood Post,” which bills itself as “news that’s almost reliable” and offers a disclaimer that flatly states all articles are fiction and “any resemblance to the truth is purely coincidental.” Even this was insufficient to prevent the quote from appearing on countless blogs, tweets, and exceptionally gullible cable news networks such as MSNBC.

Similar mistakes are too numerous to mention. Cases of people falling for similarly obvious attempts at satire in the widely-read on-line satire publication The Onion are so common that a site called “Literally Unbelievable” has been created just to chronicle them.

This problem goes back at least as far as the era of Mark Twain, who noted that “To write a burlesque so wild that its pretended facts will not be accepted in perfect good faith by somebody is very nearly an impossible thing to do,” but we suspect that it’s far more in the post-Gutenberg era of sitcoms and Saturday Night Live-derived movies. As practitioners of a drier form of wit, we’ve discovered that too many people now require a comically contorted face or outstretched palms or some other form of ample warning that a joke is coming, with a howling laugh track to accompany both the set-up and the punch line, and then have it followed by a capitalized “LOL” in order to understand that a remark is not meant to be taken literally.

We suspect the polarized state of American politics probably has something to do with, too, as people are ever more eager to believe the very worst about their ideological opponents. At the “Literally Unbelievable” site there are several examples of Republicans falling for clearly satirical exaggerations, but the Democrats who truly believe that anyone to the right of Sen. Al Franken is plotting for environmental Armageddon and the restoration of slavery seem to be most susceptible to mistaking satire for journalism.

Alas, the fabricated quotes will undoubtedly cost Romney a few votes from the humor-challenged community. Given the skittishness that the supposedly brave and transgressive wags lately have about poking fun at the president, it’s unlikely that the lost votes will be offset from imaginary quotes attributed to Obama. Which is a shame, because Obama is the one who actually said that line about his ancestors owning slaves, and we write that with a straight face.

— Bud Norman

On the Slavery Issue

We rarely inveigh against slavery anymore, not because of any fondness for it but rather because we have long assumed that in these enlightened times one’s abolitionist opinions can go without saying. Imagine our surprise, then, upon hearing that the Republican party’s presidential nominee is intent on restoring the peculiar institution.

Vice President Joe Biden made that extraordinary claim while speaking Tuesday at a campaign event in Danville, Virginia, where he told a cheering crowd that Mitt Romney and his party are “going to put y’all back in chains.” He appeared to be looking a mostly African-American section of the audience as he said it, and unless “y’all” is a Delawarism that we weren’t previously aware of it also sounded very much as if the remark was intended for their benefit.

In the interest of providing context, lest we be accused of misquoting the famously quotable Biden, the line was wedged into the middle of a tirade about Romney’s proposed financial regulation reforms and his running mate Paul Ryan’s budget proposal. After looking over the Ryan budget rather carefully and finding no provision for the restoration of slavery, we can only assume that it’s buried somewhere in one of Romney’s Wall Street position papers.

Any financial regulatory reform that entails the restoration of slavery will likely be found unconstitutional, probably on thirteenth amendment grounds, but then again one can’t really count on the Supreme Court for anything these days, and in any case it’s quite appalling that Romney would even want to do such a thing. Setting aside any moral qualms about the proposal, it seems a most unpromising political position. One wonders about the focus groups the Romney campaign used to the test the idea.

Perhaps it’s not so surprising, however. The Obama campaign has already helpfully informed us that Romney is a dog-torturing, gay-bashing, tax-cheating, Swiss bank account-holding cad who killed a guy’s wife, and is one of those rich guys to boot, so it isn’t much of a stretch to him as a latter day Simon Legree as well. There’s still plenty of campaign left, too, and it will be interesting to see what accusation the Obama crew will come up with to top this one.

Biden might very well be incorrect about Romney’s pro-slavery sentiments, of course. He was apparently under the mistaken impression that he was in North Carolina when he made the speech, after all, and he has gained something of reputation over the years for saying outrageously stupid things. He’s not backing down, and the campaign’s spokeswoman has declined to disavow the comment, but we’re still awaiting some proof of the allegation before rendering a final judgment.

We don’t care for slavery, but we’d sure hate to have to vote for the ticket with Biden.

— Bud Norman