Sanders vs. Trump vs. “The Establishment”

One encounters all sorts of people here in Wichita, and over the years we’ve acquired a dizzyingly diverse group of friends. We have friendships with men and women of all colors and sexual orientations and sports team preferences and political opinions. We’re friends with some fervid supporters of President Donald Trump and some equally fervid advocates for self-described socialist and potential Democratic rival Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and we have noticed they seem to have a lot in in common.
Both are true believers in their hero’s infallibility, and both are inclined to believe in conspiracy theories that some nebulous and nefarious “establishment” is out to prevent them from making everything right. Both believe that most of the mainstream media are in on it, too.
Trump has lately been “tweeting” to Sanders’ supporters that they’re right to be paranoid, as he knows all too well how nefarious that nebulous “establishment” and mainstream media can be in stopping a revolutionary movement, and it’s a smart move. Sanders’ most fervid supporters won’t vote for Trump in any circumstance, but from our barroom conversations with the Sandersistas they might well wind up voting for the Green Party or Socialist Party or Communist Party or not voting at all if the damned Democrats don’t nominate their guy, even if that means another four years of Trump.
From our seats here on the political sidelines we’re nostalgically yearning for a bygone era in our lifetimes when there actually was an “establishment” and a mainstream media to enforce the time-honored norms of civil discourse and international relations that mostly maintained America’s and the rest of the world’s peace and prosperity. The dirty hippies and the rest of the damn Democrats started the whole “anti-establishment” crusade, and thus set off a “sexual revolution” and a general distrust of time-honored institutions and mores in general, and in the last election a proudly libertine and “anti-establishment” Republican won on an Electoral College victory on a promise to burn it all down.
At this moment the frontrunner in the Democratic primary race is Biden, a relatively sane and centrist by-Democratic-standards, and the Super Tuesday victories he scored to put him in the lead for now, which has our Sanders-loving panicked. Biden was was helped when fellow centrists South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar dropped out and endorsed Biden’s candidacy, all of the media reported on Biden’s big night, which of course fuels all the conspiracy theories about “the establishment,” with Trump telling a rally crowd that there was surely some illegal quid pro quo involved.
As we see it Biden won the lion’s share of the “Super Tuesday” vote from rank-and-file Democrats, however, as the elite “establishment” doesn’t have nearly enough to account for the lopsided results, and people don’t really pay that much attention to what’s left of the mainstream media. Most Democratic voters apparently bought Biden’s pitch that he’d go back to the days of the President Barack Obama administration.
All of our Trump-loving friends remember that as the dark age of socialist dystopia, and our Sanders-loving recall it as the era when the nebulous and nefarious “establishment” kept Obama from fulling his promise to fundamentally transform America into to a socialist utopia. We were very critical of the slow recovery from the Great Recession that Obama inherited, but after the Republicans won back the House in the mid-terms and slowed the deficit spending the economy started progressing slightly better in the last three years of the Obama administration than it has in the first three years of the Trump administration.
Trump would clearly prefer to run against Sanders, having invited impeachment by attempting to extort dirt from the Ukrainians about Biden. After Sanders and his kooky left ideas suffered a huge defeat on “Super Tuesday” the stock markets all rallied from a severe coronavirus slump, which signals some support for Biden’s Obama era policies, but at least Trump can hope to divide the Democrats and suppress the sizable Sanders vote. Which just might work.
However it turns out, we’ll hope that some sort of establishment maintains the norms that have so far mostly worked.

— Bud Norman

Hillary’s Back, and Nobody’s Got It

Hillary Clinton is back in the news these days, which we’d think that would be the last the place she’d want to be. She’s got a new book to plug, though, so we can well understand how she’d be glad of any publicity she can get. As a former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and presumptive first woman President of the United States she’s understandably uncomfortable outside the spotlight, too, and after the past couple of years one can hardly blame her for wanting to get a few things off her chest.
We haven’t yet read Clinton’s book, and probably won’t get around to it for long while, but the publicity campaign’s shrewdly pre-released excerpts and the accompanying interviews with the author have been unavoidable, and they’ve all been undeniably newsworthy. The book is titled “What Happened” — we admire her restraint in not adding a certain common curse word, given the current degraded state of political discourse — and follows with a number of explanations that are likely to generate sales but won’t please any Republican and seems to have annoyed most of the Democrats.
These days most Democrats are understandably annoyed that Clinton is back in the news at all, given how she always reminds all those increasingly reluctant Trump voters why they voted for him in the first place. Nor does the growing base of her increasingly leftward party appreciate her criticisms of self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose criticisms of her lucrative relationship with Wall Street interests she blames for making Trump’s “Crooked Hillary” taunts seem plausible to the undecideds. She blames the Democratic establishment as well as its anti-establishment for her loss, admits to a couple of minor mistakes, and although she goes on with some very serious accusations against President Donald Trump she seems to be relenting her longstanding leadership in the Democratic party.
Although we’ve long loathed that horrible woman, from way back in the days when Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and praising her as the best Secretary of State ever, we regard her as a formidable foe and take due heed of a couple of her parting warnings. She truly was compromised by all that money she’d been paid by Goldman-Sachs and the rest of those Wall Street guys, and Trump didn’t need Sanders to tell him that, but a more honest Clinton would admit it and then note that Trump’s administration was as fully-staffed as ever by Goldman-Sachs guys, which might have helped stave off the leftward lurch in the Democratic party that might conceivably ensure a second Trump administration. Her conspiracy theories about Russia’s internet disinformation efforts being coordinated with domestic partisan agents lately don’t seem at all far-fetched, and we advise our Republican readers to take them very seriously.
As loathsome as she was, Clinton was always a formidable foe, so by  the same Republican instincts with which we regard all those fallen Confederates we wish her well, and won’t begrudge any small monument the Democrats might raise some day. We hope she’ll use those swollen book royalties to lavish gifts on her grandchildren and contribute to other worthy charities, and use that influence-peddling foundation of hers to good means, enjoy her walks in the upper state New York woods, and find God’s grace in those Methodist services she’s long attended. Should her admittedly impressive intellect and many years as a First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and presumptive first woman President of the United States yield any other noteworthy warnings, we’ll try to take note.
— Bud Norman

Another Farce in France

As bad as the choices were in the past American presidential election, which was pretty darned bad, the French seem to have sunk even lower. They had an open field primary to pick a new president on Sunday featuring candidates ranging from outright communists to outright fascists, and wound up with a run-off between Emmanuel Macron and Marie Le Pen, who aren’t quite outright about their respective communism and fascism but are close enough to the descriptions by American standards.
Macron is the more moderate of the alternatives by French standards, but even the Sen. Bernie Sanders sorts of voters in this country’s Democratic Party would find him a bit extreme. He’s a graduate of the country’s most prestigious university program for civil servants, served a key role in the government of Francois Hollande after earning a sizable fortune in the current Francois Hollande administration, talks tough on increased defense spending and the war against terror, and proposed some business-friendly economic policies, but Hillary Clinton had similar credentials and Macron is way to the left of her on almost everything else.
Until recently Macron was a member of the same Socialist Party as Hollande, as well as being part of his government, but Hollande is lately polling at an eye-popping 4 percent approval rating, which even the most loathsome American political figures somehow never achieve, so he ran as an independent. Given France’s apparent anti-establishment mood that was a shrewd move, and the official candidate of the Socialist Party, which is pretty much the equivalent of the Democratic Party over there, fell far short of the two-way run-off election. Despite the independent status and the centrist rhetoric, though, Macron seems to have been largely responsible for the soak-the-rich economics that have left the country in a state of decline, he’s also touting higher pay for teachers in the country’s various public school war zones and the usual slate of socialist goodies, and his enthusiasm for a war on terror seems suspiciously newfound. He’s only 39 years old, too, and his wife is 64, and he strikes us quite inscrutably modern and French.
There’s no doubting Le Pen’s longstanding enthusiasm for a war on terror, but there are plausible concerns all over the world about how she might wind up waging it, and other worries as well. She ran as the candidate of the Front National, but on Monday she also declared herself an independent, probably because her party is even more unpopular than the Socialists. The Front National was formed in 1972 by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, to oppose the nascent European Union and mass immigration while restoring traditional values and boosting the country’s ever-low immigration rate, but he also denied the Holocaust, peddled various anti-semitic conspiracy theories, at times seemed to welcome the newfound allies arriving in the Muslim neighborhoods, called for the quarantine of people with HIV, and groused about the darker players on France’s World Cup soccer team. He was an apologist for the Vichy government’s Nazi collaborators, too, but he still made it to a run-off back in 2002. Everyone but his 18 percent of the voters in that crazily fractured field then united against him under the slogan “vote for the crook, not the fascist,” so he lost in a landslide against a guy who really was a crook, and a few years ago he was kicked out of his own party.
Jean-Marie Le Pen’s daughter is an attractive and articulate 48-year-old Member of the European Parliament and a former well-regarded councilwoman in a major French city who sounds perfectly reasonable making arguments against the European Union and mass immigration and terrorism, and she seems to embrace the Jewish community as part of a coalition against the Muslims arrived, and knows better than to wade into soccer controversies, and she’s far enough removed that Vichy legacy that France would just as soon forget. Still, she apparently felt it necessary to shed her father’s party label. The younger Le Pen advocates the same nationalize-and-socialize economic prescriptions for the country’s already over regulated economy, and she keeps the to the same nationalist themes, to there remains a rather unpleasant redolence of past nationalist-socialist movements in Europe, and she’s still considered a 20-point underdog in the run-off race.
Not only is the entirety of the left sure to rally to Macron, but a large portion of the right will probably do so as well. The closest thing to a traditional American conservative in the primary was a guy named Francois Fillon from the Republican Party, which is the closest thing you’ll find to America’s Republican Party, and although the sorts of American Republicans who grumble that John McCain and Mitt Romney were a couple of damned liberals would surely hate this guy he was about the best you can hope for in France. He was outspokenly pro-American and pro-Western in his foreign policy speeches, tough but carefully nuanced in his talk about the threats from mass immigration and Islamic terrorism, and his business-friendly economic proposals seemed heartfelt rather than newfound, but he’d also been caught giving some lucrative taxpayer-paid sinecures to his wife and kids, and he came in a close-but-no-cigar third place with 20 percent of the vote behind Le Pen’s 21 percent. He has urged his followers to join with the 24 percent who voted for Macron, to some degree or another most of the center-right parties throughout Europe have done the same, and so far the bets are mostly against Le Pen.
The bettors have been taking a beating lately, though, so we won’t be laying any money down on this unfamiliar game. As odd as the French are we suspect they’re still prone to some of the basic human behaviors we’ve observed elsewhere, and by now we can well understand why they’d be fed up with all those terrorist attacks coming from recent Muslim arrivals and looking for any old idea about how to stop the chronic unemployment, and if the French yahoos are anything like the ones around here we’re sure they found that almost-Republican candidate far too nuanced in his tough talk. We’ve warned for years that if the mainstream parties don’t forthrightly address the very serious if somewhat embarrassing problems posed by immigrations, it will be left to the fringe candidates to do it, and that seems to have proved true both here and in France.
Some of those center-right voters are going to go with Le Pen, just as many wary Republicans went with Trump, some of the voters for the outright communist candidates are going to sit it out rather than vote for such a sell-out as Macron, just as many Sanders sorts of Democrats did with Clinton. Even if she doesn’t make up a formidable 20 percent deficit — far bigger than the polls had Brexit or President Donald Trump’s election or all the recent mis-called races that are being invoked — we expect it will be close. France is split 50-50 on the European Union, all those Muslims and the tiny number of Jews left in France will likely join with some wary allies against Le Pen, and just as in America everybody in France seems to hate everybody else and anything that reeks of of any kind of establishment.
America seems relatively sane by comparison, but our Republican president, who ran on an anti-Republican-establishment platform, has been “tweeting” comments about how a recent Islamist terror attack in Europe vindicates the same anti-immigrant stand that he and Le Pen ran on, even as his spokespeople insist that he didn’t mean to endorse anyone. American presidents are best advised not to comment on French elections, but if a Republican one were to do so we would have expected him to tout that Fillon guy, and surely this president can’t fault him for using his office to funnel some money towards his wife and kids, so that’s also curious. Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is reportedly helping Le Pen’s campaign, just as he’s supported anti-establishment nationalist movements elsewhere in Europe, and there are ongoing investigations about how Putin meddled in the election that resulted in Trump’s anti-establishment and nationalist victory, and even if there’s nothing to it that’s all the more reason Trump should have stayed neutral.
In any case, we have a slightly familiar and all-too-desultory feeling that neither of these awful candidates are going to make France great again.

On the Current Craziness

America is now nearly seven years into the era of Hope and Change, which we were promised would stop the rise of the oceans and begin to heal our planet, and thus far almost no one seems pleased with the results. It’s not just those awful “right track-wrong track” polling numbers, or the discontented popular culture’s output of angry hip-hop tracks and big-budget dystopian zombie movies, or the slumping stock markets and sluggish economy and the seeming disintegration of any semblance of a world order, or the stubbornness of nature, or the conspicuous lack of happy talk anywhere except the White House press office, but it also manifests itself in a sort of insanity on both the left and the right of political spectrum.
The craziness is currently most conspicuous on the left, what with a self-described socialist surging in the Democratic Party’s presidential race and the most godawful woman ever desperately clinging to her presumed front-runner status while a criminal investigation of her outrageous e-mail practices suspiciously proceeds, despite the obvious politicization of the Justice Department, and all the revolting students on college campuses across the country suddenly making the most outrageous and expensive demands, and the promised post-racial era resulting in a bi-partisan repudiation of the policies that had happily led to a decline in the deaths of minorities, and the partisan press more preoccupied with whatever inconsequential scandals they can come up with about some Republican nominee. By now even the news-averse people in the middle have gotten wind of it, we suppose, and share that unease which keep showing up in all those polls.
That self-described socialist’s chances of winning the nomination of one of America’s two major political parties seem pretty good at the moment, given that his only plausible opposition is the most godawful woman ever. It’s not just the suspiciously on-going investigation about her outrageous e-mail practices, or her incompetence and dishonesty and disastrous results in her handling of the terrorist attack on an American consulate in Libya, or her utter lack of accomplishments and Grand Central Station-sized collection of baggage, but her even more damning-to-Democrat-thinking associations with Wall Street and billionaires and the boards of those confounded corporations. The current craziness of the left cannot abide such corporate heresies, even from a bona fide female and one who stood by him during all his sex scandals in order to save women’s reproductive rights from the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, and we clearly have arrived at a moment when being a self-described socialist no longer disqualifies someone for a Democratic nomination.
Even such a once-radical self-designation as “socialist” might no longer suffice on many of America’s college campuses, where there’s suddenly a spate of protests over systemic racism and a “culture of rape” and “micro-aggressions” and such. Apparently some redneck shouted a racial slur from a pickup at the University of Missouri, some otherwise exquisitely politically correct professor at Yale University was insufficiently offended by the prospect of some frat boy donning an offensive Halloween costume, and suddenly students across the country are demanding free tuition and forgiveness of more than one trillion dollars of debt and that their college years be so care-free that not one confront them when with sort of reality. The argument seems to be that America’s colleges and universities are hellholes of pickup truck-drving rednecks and gang-raping frat boys, and that the taxpayer should be obliged to pay for every citizen’s admission to this elite Democratic indoctrination program, and that perfect harmony on Earth is just a few more hashtag campaigns and lavishly-funded diversity programs away, and that surely just a few guillotined billionaires could pay for it all. How this will play with those uninformed folks in the middle who are paying off their junior college wages with a plumbing job remains to be seen, but we expect the partisan press will do its best.
That same partisan press will prefer to emphasize the Republicans’ crazy right-wing insistence on border enforcement and some modicum of sanity on fiscal issues and an old-fashioned notion of constitutional order and a general preference for the First Amendment over political correctness, all of which poll well, while overlooking a more worrisome craziness on the right. One smart fellow over at The Wall Street Journal noticed, though, and his think-piece was headlined “Populism on the Rise in GOP Race for President.” The author noticed the same anti-Wall Street and anti-big business rhetoric in the past Republican presidential debate that has characterized the the recent Democratic debates, as well as some similarly strong anti-free-trade sentiment, as well as some ideas about the Federal Reserve and the gold standard and other arcane issues that differ from the latest consensus of conservative economists. Throw in the fact that the two front-runners in the Republican race have never held any elective office, which seems to be their foremost credentials, and that the billionaire businessman who might yet have the advantage is a past Democrat who unabashedly loves eminent domain and bankruptcy loopholes and a pay-for-play political system, and there’s an undeniable craziness occurring on the right as well.
For the most part, at least, the Republicans’ and the rest of the right’s annoyance with crony capitalism has more to do with the cronyism than the capitalism. In the last debate most most of the criticism was for the Dodd-Frank law and hyper-regulation in particular, and the bail-outs the press loves to credit for the survival of the American economy were damned mostly for bailing out some and not others, and that increasingly irrelevant governor from the swing state of Ohio was roundly booed for saying he would have bailed out some and not others and For now he “populism” that the Wall Street Journal frets about seems to prefer a more red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism that most investors have become accustomed to, which is fine by us, but we hope it won’t succumb to populism’s historically characteristic animosity toward for-profit commerce in general. Not at a time when even much of that uninformed middle has retirement accounts and pension plans pegged to the stock market, and when what’s left of western civilization is dependent on for-profit commerce, as always. We’re inclined to latest consensus of conservative economists about the Federal Reserve and the gold standard and other issues, too, and worry that our conservative brethren are more inclined to make up their minds because of some instinctive revulsion to the Democratic busy-bodies who are trying to shut down their coal mines and force them to bake homosexual wedding cakes, so we don’t count on the Republican primaries turning out well.
We can count on the Democratic primaries turning out badly, though, and we expect that the college kids and the popular culture and general consensus will be increasingly dissatisfied.

— Bud Norman

Paris When It Fizzles

The news from France is very bad. Perhaps not so bad as it was back in 1940, when Winston Churchill famously began a speech with the same line, but it’s not good.

French voters on Sunday ejected President Nicolas Sarkozy after five desultory years in office, which is reasonable, and replaced him with Francois Hollande, which is quite unreasonable. Hollande is a Socialist — and we use that term with a capital letter and no fear of contradiction, because that is what his party actually calls itself — so the French economy is likely to take a turn for the even worse.

Socialism’s sorry record as an economic system aside, Hollande’s policies will accelerate his country’s and the European continent’s already rapid rush toward fiscal calamity. Declaring that “austerity can no longer be the only option,” the President-elect has promised to renegotiate the laboriously crafted treaty that has imposed a sort of budget discipline on the European Union’s member nations. Hollande’s plan to revive a French economy weighed down by too much debt, then, is to start spending more.

This scheme is proposed in the name of economic growth, but the smart money isn’t betting on that happening. If a massive amount of government spending were an effective way to achieve growth, the French and American economies would both be booming right now, and we’d be looking back fondly at the Roaring ‘30s and the fat years of the ‘70s. Hollande also proposes a number of policies that will negate any stimulative effects that his spending might have achieved. He hopes to repeal a recent law that raised the retirement age from 60 all the way to 62, apparently on the theory that having fewer people working less of their lives will increase productivity, increase the minimum wage, with hopes that struggling companies will then hire more low-skilled workers, and hire 60,000 more teachers, probably not in order to teach basic economics.

Having explicitly stated that he “does not like the rich,” and that “my real enemy is the world of finance,” Hollande further proposes to impose hefty tax increases on corporations and wealthy individuals. France’s corporations and wealthy individuals don’t much care for Hollande, either, so many are already planning to take their money, skills, and business elsewhere. This is not likely to encourage economic growth.

Re-negotiating France’s treaty with the rest of Europe, which the Germans have already indicated they will resist, will cause further problems. The treaty, a cumbersome and complicated arrangement whereby debtors bailed out debtors in exchange for promises of a slower rate of debt accumulation, was always an imperfect plan, but it was good enough to calm the international financial markets and buy some much-needed time to find a better solution. Hollande’s desire to start again from scratch, and with the financial markets as his stated enemy, could even hasten the end of the European Union and whatever economic benefits it has achieved.

It might take weeks before the predictable effects of Hollande’s presidency are apparent, though, and in the meantime America’s leftists will be overwhelmed with Francophilia. Liberals here have always envied their counterparts in a country where socialism isn’t the political philosophy that dares not speak its name, and they’re awed by any country that will elect a politician who comes right out and says “I don’t like rich people.” Barack Obama, who is obliged to add the boilerplate provisos about how he doesn’t resent the success of others whenever he’s inciting class warfare, must be ardently wishing he’d been French rather than Indonesian.

— Bud Norman