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Our Very Reluctant Reflections on a Current Presidential Topic

Once upon a more polite time in American politics we would never have considered writing a word about a president’s penis, but in the age of President Donald Trump it’s yet another one of those many unprecedented topics one can’t quite avoid. Trump’s appendage first made its debut in the political conversation during the ’16 Republican primaries, when he assured his supporters that “I guarantee you there’s no problem, I guarantee,” and now it’s back in the news with a pornographic video performer and director’s far less flattering assessment.
The best-selling non-fiction book in America at the moment is journalism legend Bob Woodward’s “Fear: Trump in the White House,” which depicts an administration full of people worried that the chief executive is dangerously unfit for office, but we expect that next week’s chart-topper will be by a pornographic video performer and director called Stormy Daniels. Recently released by the courts from a $130,000 non-disclosure contract to not talk about an alleged tryst with Trump back when his youngest son by his third wife was 4-months-old, Daniels has a “tell-all” book coming out that will surely be far more lucrative, and the most salacious parts have already leaked out, and what she says will probably offend Trump more than anything in that Woodward book.
Ever since the editor of the once-fashonable and still-well-remembered but long-defunct Spy Magazine in New York City wrote that then local celebrity Trump was a “short-fingered vulgarian” the current president has been famously touchy about the size of his hands, which is why his penis came up in the news in the first place. Late in the death throes of his ill-fated presidential candidacy Florida Sen. Marco Rubio decided to give Trump’s undeniably successful insult comic shtick a try, and poked at that button he knew Trump had about his hand size, and very subtly suggested that Trump had other insecurities as well. Rubio was widely denounced in most corners for getting down to Trump’s gutter level, however, and Trump’s guarantees on a Republican presidential debate stage that there was no problem down there brought roars of approval from his mostly male die-hard supporters.
At the time we thought it more even embarrassing than the era of President Bill Clinton and its unavoidable fellatio jokes about a naive intern, but the latest developments are worse yet. We suppose there’s an chance that Trump didn’t cheat on third wife a few months after the birth of his fifth child with a pornographic video performer and a Playboy centerfold model, and paid them both six-figure amounts not to say so because he’s just that kind of stand-up guy who wants to protect his wife, but other tawdry scenarios seem more likely. Which makes the porn star’s assessment of Trump’s penis more plausible, which Trump will surely find more infuriating than anything that Pulitzer Prize-winning Wood might claim.
Given that this is the age of President Donald Trump, after all, we’ll just go ahead and write out that a porn star called Stormy Daniels is now alleging that the presidential penis is “smaller than average” but “not freakishly small,” and resembles a certain mushroom-shaped character in a popular video game, along with other details which have since gone viral. This is all on the public record where you’re bound to run into it sooner or later, but we apologize if you saw it here first.
To be fair to Trump, we concede that Daniels is a pornographic video performer, and thus probably has an unrealistic idea of what constitutes an average penis size, and that perhaps she’s lying about what she calls the “least impressive sex I’ve ever had,” and that in fact Trump is the most well-endowed and selfless lover he’s ever experienced/.” At this point we’re inclined to believe she’s been in a position to know, however, and with great anxiety we await Trump’s reassurances about the presidential package.
Worst yet, all of this tawdry nonsense seems dangerously tied up with the rest of it. On issues ranging from international trade to longstanding military alliances to the currently swelling national deficit Trump has promised that only his uniquely endowed alpha maleness can rescue the country from his the nefarious plots of critics, but at this point we’re more inclined to believe a pornographic video performer and director that Trump isn’t all he claims to be. If Daniel’s descriptions of the presidential junk are at all accurate they might also exacerbate the current frostiness between the president and his First Lady, which is another one of those unavoidable stories these days.
In the meantime Trump’s Supreme Court nomination is stalled by credible charges of attempted rape, the “Russia thing” racks up ever-closer-to-Trump guilty pleas and cooperating witnesses, the president keeps feuding with his Attorney General, yet the economy seems to keep humming along. We don’t expect that in the end the president’s penis will have much to do with it one way or the other, but in this weird day and age it will likely play some part. For now all those snarky late-night television comics are having great fun with it, however, and we can’t say we  blame them.

— Bud Norman

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On Friends, Family, and Trump

Some old friends and close family members have lately encouraged us to go easier on President Donald Trump, but none of them are obliged to publish political commentary five times a week, and thus they haven’t noticed how hard it is to find anything else to write about these days. Most of the media took time out on Wednesday to report on a near-fatal heroin overdose by a pop singer named Demi Lovato, but as sad as that is we have to admit we had not previously heard of her and have little to say about her apparently troubled life, and as usual almost all of the rest of the non-sports news was about Trump.
Also as usual, we’d be hard-pressed to come up with a convincing defense of Trump about any of it, and our old friends and close family members aren’t offering any helpful suggestions.
The story that took up the most newspaper space and cable news airtime on Wednesday was an audio recording of a telephone conversation between Trump and his longtime but now former lawyer Michael Cohen concerning a $150,000 payment made through the notorious National Enquirer tabloid to a former Playboy centerfold model named Karen McDougal who alleges she had an affair with Trump shortly after his third wife and current First Lady gave birth to his fifth child. Once upon a saner time in America such a story would have had a five-column headline and round-the-clock updates on all of the networks, but these days it’s just one column above the fold and ten minutes at the top of hour, and it’s all so damned complicated that Trump and his apologists found something slightly exculpatory in it.
Trump has already indignantly “tweeted” about “What kind of lawyer would tape a client,” which is indeed a good question, but by now many snarky columnists and all the late night television comics have rightly answered that it’s apparently the kind of lawyer that Trump hires. Due to the low-fidelity nature of the recording there’s some dispute about whether Trump said he would or wouldn’t want to pay the hush money to a Playboy centerfold model in cash, and his die-hard fans believe he insisted on paying with check and therefore demonstrated his commitment to complete transparency. Cohen is the same lawyer who set up a Delaware shell corporation to make a $130,000 payment to a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels to stop her from alleging a one-night-stand that allegedly occurred around the same time as the alleged affair with the Playboy centerfold, and federal search warrants have been executed on his office and home and hotel room, and some scary federal and unpardonable state indictments about all sorts of things seem likely imminent, so there’s also an argument to be made that he’s now flipped to the dark side and is complicit in the “deep state’s” and “fake news'” ongoing “witch hunt” conspiracy to make Trump look bad.
Maybe so, but by now there’s no denying that the boastfully adulterous Trump and the lawyer he now admits is sleazy made six-figure payments to a porn star and a Playboy model to hush them up about some quite credibly alleged affairs, and once upon a saner time in America during a Democratic administration all of our old friends and close family members and other fellow Republicans would have been appalled by that. Maybe Trump did insist on paying by check, even though current Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani recently told a cable news interviewer that “he’d be a fool to do that,” but that still seems a weak defense of our president’s character.
Meanwhile, the European Union has offered to negotiate an end to the trade war Trump has waged against it, which the Trump triumphalists see as another big win, but it remains to be seen if the negotiations will go as well as that free-trade treaty the EU recently negotiated with Japan that left America out of a third of the world’s economy. North Korea continues advancing its nuclear threat despite Trump’s “tweeted” assurances that we can all sleep soundly that’s there’s no longer any threat, and Trump has postponed his White House sequel to the much-panned Helsinki summit with Russian dictator until the “Russia thing” investigation in wrapped up.
Meanwhile, on the freedom of speech front, the Trump administration also barred a Cable News Network reporter from from a public event because of her pesky questions, threatened to revoke the security clearances of high-ranking officials from the administrations of Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush who have been critical of Trump administration policies, and Trump advised a cheering crowd of sycophants in Kansas City that “What you’re reading and seeing is not what’s happening.” That was at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, whose leadership later apologized for the members who had booed the press, as the press were invited members of the public gathering.
As much as we hate to be at odds with our old friends and close family members and other fellow Republicans, by now there’s no denying that Trump says several things a day that are obviously untrue, and that the “fake news” has a far better batting average for verifiable accuracy than our president. Our old friends and close family members and other fellow Republicans can still make a very convincing hypothetical case that a President “Crooked” Hillary Clinton’s administration would be even worse, but they can’t yet convince us that any of this is making America great again.

— Bud Norman

On the Importance of the Right Lawyer

The late and great jazz singer Blossom Dearie used to sing a song by the great and still-going songwriter Dave Frishberg called “My Attorney Bernie,” which cleverly describes the sort of almost perfect legal eagle you’d want on your side in pinch. We’d recommend that Trump call up Frishberg and get that Bernie guy’s number, because one of the lawyers he long relied on is currently needing a damned good lawyer of his own, and the President of the United States’ current legal team has lately been getting its butt kicked across all the newspapers and cable channels by the attorney for a porno performer called Stormy Daniels.
Michael Cohen, one of Trump’s many erstwhile attorneys, recently had a federal search warrant executed at his home and office and hotel room, issued by a federal court persuaded there was reason to believe it might yield evidence that Cohen had committed wire fraud and bank fraud and other possible violations of the law when paying the aforementioned porno performer to stop talking about the desultory sexual encounter she claims to have had with the future President of the United States. That was bad enough, but now the news is full of reports that Cohen also took in a very large amount of money from the Korean Aerospace Corporation and the American Telephone & Telegraph corporation and some nebulous business tied to a Russian billionaire tied to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, all through the same shell corporation he’d chartered in infamously nonchalant Delaware to pay off the poor performer.
The news comes courtesy of documents discovered by some means or another ad disseminated to the media by Michael Avanatti, the porno performer’s lawyer and at this point the second biggest reality star on television after the president. Cohen’s less-visible lawyer is for now claiming the documents are phony, but several mainstream media outlets have corroborated their authenticity, and the Korean Aerospace Corporation and AT&T and the Russkie-linked business of nebulous purpose have already sent out press releases unconvincingly explaining why they did indeed make such large payments to a shell corporation that had originally been chartered to pay off a porno performer.
In response Trump has deployed the legal and public relations services of the former legendary federal prosecutor and undeniably successful New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, but by now Giuliani seems well past his prime. He visibly upset even such a Trump sycophant as Sean Hannity by admitting that Trump’s lawyer had paid $130,000 to a porno performer and that the current President of the United States had reimbursed him for the favor, and although he was hired as a lawyer on separate “Russia thing” we notice he’s not as notable as Avanatti on the cable news to explain why a Russian-linked business might have been adding a half-million bucks to the shell corporation the former president’s lawyer had created to pay off the a porno performer who turns out to have a far better lawyer than the president.
There might well be a perfectly innocent explanation for everything Trump’s erstwhile lawyer has done, and even if there isn’t Trump’s more recent lawyers might well have a perfectly innocent explanation about how he had nothing to do with it, but we’d advise they all lawyer up with the closest they can find to Blossom Dearie’s attorney, Bernie.

— Bud Norman

Porno Performers, Evangelical Christians, and Those Hard-to-Answer Questions

Thursday brought both torrential rains and a gloriously warm and blue skies to our portion of the Great Plains, but back east in Washington, D.C., White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders faced unrelentingly stormy weather. We almost felt sorry for the poor woman.
On Wednesday night one of President Donald Trump’s more recent attorneys, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, had gone on Sean Hannity’s exceedingly Trump-friendly program on Fox News and acknowledged that eleven days before the past presidential election Trump paid $130,000 to a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels to not talk about an tryst she claimed to have had with him shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child. Both Trump and his White House press secretary had until then insisted the president knew nothing about any payments to any porno performers, and that you’d have to ask that lawyer the president once called his “fixer” and now describes as someone he barely knows, and has recently had thorough federal search warrant executed on his home and office and hotel room, so Sanders had some serious explaining to do.
She started her Spanish Inquisition of a White House press briefing with upbeat talk about Trump’s enthusiasm for National Prayer Day and the recent hopeful developments on the Korean peninsula, but the press corps were in no mood for that. They had some hard to answer questions about Trump recently blaming President Barack Obama for some Americans being detained by North Korea during his own administration, and the ensuing questions about the past misstatements about a now-acknowledged $130,000 payment to a porno performer made all that talk about National Prayer Day sound ridiculous. That got bogged down in talk about campaign finance law that Sanders had trouble explaining away, too, and those pesky reporters kept asking impossible to answer questions about how often the official White House position has shifted on countless matters, and why anyone should believe anything the White House press secretary has to say.
Sanders insisted that she first learned that the president had paid $130,000 to a porno performer when his lawyer blurted that out on the Hannity show, and even those cynical sorts in the White House press corps didn’t doubt that a bit. She couldn’t bring herself to blame her past misstatements about the matter on being deliberately misinformed by her boss, though, and without that frank admission it was impossible to reconcile what she was saying on Thursday with what she’d been saying until then.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders goes by that name because she’s proudly the daughter of Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister who served two fairly successful terms as Governor of Arkansas and ran a couple of futile campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination, and she seems to have inherited both her father’s political and religious instincts. Like many other professed evangelical Christians she considers Trump’s appointment of an anti-abortion Supreme Court Justice and revocation of the Johnson Amendment that threatened the tax-exempt status of any pro-Trump preachers and his professed enthusiasm for National Prayer Day more important than any hush money payments he might have to paid to somme porno performer, and of course she’s finding it hard to explain that to both the secular and spiritual sorts.
Our own secular and cynical selves are by now pretty much convinced that the current President of the United States did indeed have an adulterous encounter with a porno performer shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child, and by now the president’s lawyer has admitted on Sean Hannity’s show — of all places — that Trump paid her $130,000 not to say so. Our more spiritual and proudly evangelical Christian side still holds out hope that Trump and Sanders will offer not only confession but some semblance of contrition in the future, and that the routine lies they tell from behind a podium with the official White House seal about all sorts of things will eventually cease, but by now it’s only a faint hope.

— Bud Norman

Doctor, Lawyer, Chief Executive

President Donald Trump likes to boast that he hires the very best people, but recent news about some of his choices of doctors and lawyers cast doubt on the claim.
For 39 years Trump’s personal physician was a gastroenterologist named Harold Bornstein, who became briefly famous during the presidential campaign after releasing a letter attesting to Trump’s good health. The letter referred to a “complete medical examination that showed only positive results,” an odd thing for a doctor to say, and contrarily insisted that “laboratory test results were astonishingly excellent,” and “if elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” Between the doctor’s hippie-dippy appearance and the distinctly Trumpian hyperbole of the letter he provided fodder for a week’s worth of late night comedy monologues, but the die-hard fans took the doctor at his word and Trump wound up winning the electoral vote.
We’re sure Trump appreciated the overly kind of words, but eventually Bernstein fell out of the president’s favor, as so many Trump associates eventually do. He revealed to The New York Times that Trump takes finasteride, a drug that stimulates hair growth and slows balding, and complained about the way he was treated at the inauguration, and now he’s telling everybody that shortly afterwards Trump had his bodyguard and another rough-looking fellow show up at his office to seize all of the president’s medical records and warn him to take down a picture of Trump smiling next to Bornstein. The doctor also now freely admits that Trump wrote that famous letter about his excellent health, just as all those late night comedians and any sentient citizen suspected, and he doesn’t seem inclined to do the president any further favors.
Trump is entitled to be annoyed that Bornstein violated his privacy revealing the finasteride prescription, even if Bornstein  did so to explain a low presidential PSA level the Times had somehow found about, and when Trump became president he started seeing the White House doctor and it was necessary to have his medical records sent along. Still, the seizure sounds more like a “raid” as Bernstein calls it and less like the “standard operating procedure” that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee described. In any case, Trump is going to need another doctor to attest to his astonishingly excellent health, and it’s not clear who it will be.
Trump’s last doctor was White House medical unit director Admiral Ronny Jackson, who had also served Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and was well-regarded by both, and he so endeared himself to Trump by offering an effusive and suspicious assessment of Trump’s astonishingly excellent health that was also much ridiculed on the late night comedy shows. Trump was so impressed by the performance that he nominated Jackson to lead the 370,000 employees of the nationwide and byzantine Veterans Administration, despite what Trump admitted was a lack of any relevant experience for the job. Jackson soon withdrew his name from consideration for the post, rather than face congressional confirmation and answer the charges that he was a mean and incompetent manager of his small office and frequently drunk on the job, and shortly afterward it was announced that for undisclosed reasons he would no longer be the president’s physician.
Meanwhile, several of Trump’s past and present attorneys have their own problems. For many years Trump relied on Michael Cohen as a lawyer and “fixer,” but in those capacities Cohen arranged a $130,000 payment in the late stages of the election to a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels to stop talking about a sexual encounter she claimed to have had with the president shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child, which wound up having the Department of Justice’s southern district of New York executing a very thorough search warrant on his home, office, and hotel room, and now he looks in need of a darned good lawyer of his own. Cohen was also involved in a deal Trump was pursuing during the presidential campaign to build a skyscraper in Moscow. Trump is suddenly telling his friends at “Fox and Friends” that he actually had little to do with Cohen, although he did let slip that Cohen did represent him in that “crazy Stormy Daniels deal,” and his friends at The National Enquirer are running a front page headline about “Trump’s Fixer’s Lies & Secrets,” and it seems the White House is readying for anything Cohen might have to say about either the porn actress or that pesky “Russia thing” a special counsel is aggressively investigating.
Trump has already defenestrated a few of his “Russia thing” lawyers, the most recent being the famously mustachioed Ty Cobb, who claims to be a distant descendant of the baseball great of the same name, and he’s had trouble finding replacements up to the challenge that special counsel’s formidable team. The president has a reputation for not paying his legal bills and ignoring sound legal advice, and even the Fox News regular he claimed to have hired wound up turning down the gig. He did get Rudy Giuliani, formerly a formidable federal prosecutor and remarkably successful New York City mayor, and on Wednesday he hired Emmett Flood, described by The Washington Post as a”low-key, serious” sort who served as President Bill Clinton’s lawyer during the impeachment trial that resulted from an affair with a White House intern. Still, they have their own problems to deal with.
Giuliani sat down for an extended interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Wednesday, which is seemingly the safest place for a Trump representative to be, but he wound up saying that Trump actually paid that $130,000 to the porno performer to stop talking about that alleged sexual encounter Trump has never explicitly denied. Giuliani did so to make the debatable argument that no campaign disclosure laws had been broken, just as Bornstein had disclosed the embarrassing anti-balding drug to dismiss a more serious matter, but it contradicted the president’s previous claims that it was Cohen’s crazy deal and you’d have to ask him about that, and even Hannity seemed discomfited by the disclosure, so of course the late night comics had a great time of it, and there’s no telling what Giuliani’s boss will make of it.
We’ll take the Post’s word for it that this Flood fellow is a  serious and low-key “steady hand,”and we note that Clinton’s presidency somehow survived his tawdry sex scandals and subsequent impeachment trial, even if his reputation took a hard enough hit that his harridan of a wife wound up osing a presidential election to the likes of Trump, and maybe he’ll have just as much success with his newest client. He seems to have a tough row to hoe, though, as we say here in Kansas.

— Bud Norman

Only the Very Best People, Trump Style

President Donald Trump frequently vowed during his improbably successful campaign that he would hire only the very best people, rather than the “political hacks” that he accused the past several administrations of picking, but so far it’s a promise he’s had much trouble keeping. On Wednesday alone there were four more problematic front page stories about Trump’s old and recent hires.
The most prominent story featured Admiral Ronny Jackson, Trump’s pick to replace his previous pick to head the vast and troubled Veterans Affairs Administration. Jackson has been the non-controversial White House physician since President George W. Bush’s administration, and won Trump’s admiration with a suspiciously effusive report about the current president’s health, which anew seems to have added an inch to Trump’s height and taken off a few pounds of his weight, but critics in both parties immediately argued that’s hardly a qualification to run a complex and long screwed-up bureaucracy with 370,000 employees spread out over all 50 states.
That was before more than 20 active and retired military personnel started telling Congress that Jackson’s management style in his much, much smaller office is abusive and demoralizing, that he tends to get inebriated at inopportune times, and hands out sleeping pills and wake-up potions so freely that he’s known around the White House as “The Candy Man.” After that Trump told the press he’d told Jackson that he’d fully understand why Jackson might decide to withdraw his nomination rather than face such scurrilous accusations and “be abused by a bunch of politicians who aren’t thinking nicely about our country,” and after the press seized on that Trump insisted he was sticking his by man. After that Jackson told the inquisitive press corps he would answer all the allegations at the confirmation hearings, but the latest report from The Washington Post has him telling his friends that he might withdraw from the nomination before those postponed hearings get underway.
If he’s not at all the mean and drunk Dr. Feelgood that more than 20 current and retired military personnel describe, we’d advise the telegenic Jackson to forthrightly answer their allegations at the confirmation hearings, and then admit that there’s bound to be somebody in a nation of more than 330 million people who’s better suited to cleaning up the Augean stables sort of mess that has been piling up at the VA over the past several administrations.
Just below that headline is the ongoing tale of Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen, and after the Jackson story inevitably fades into the distance that will regain prominence. Cohen has publicly admitted that one of the “fixes” he did for Trump was making a $130,000 payment to a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels to stop talking about a sexual encounter she claims she had with Trump not long after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child, and it looks as if he made a similar arrangement with a Playboy centerfold model through Trump’s friends at The National Enquirer, which has recently settled it’s own case. Because that all happened while Trump was running for president and involved some suspicious bank transfers he recently had his office and home and hotel room raided by agents from the Justice Department’s southern New York district, which was the big story a while back. The latest update is that Cohen intends to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the ensuing investigation.
Cohen has every right to do so, and Trump and his apologists will argue he has good reason given the vast Deep State conspiracy out to get him, but back when the Federal Bureau of Investigation was investigating Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices during the campaign they had a different view of the long forgotten Clinton campaign’s information technology guys who pled the Fifth. Even erstwhile “chief strategist” for the Trump campaign and administration Steve “tweeted” Trump’s past statements about how only mobsters take the Fifth, and there’s no shortage of audiotape of Trump’s talk radio defenders saying the same thing. Invoking Fifth Amendment rights seems a sound legal move for Cohen, which we’ll ascribe to the presumably more capable lawyers he’s hired, but it doesn’t do much to help with Trump’s political problems.
Cohen was also involved with Trump’s efforts to build one of his branded Trump Towers in the Russian capital of Moscow, negotiations for which were ongoing during a campaign when Trump was promising the American electorate he had no deals in Russia, and was on board during all sorts of suspicious meetings between the Trump campaign and various Russians, so of course all the information seized from his office and home and hotel room are bound to be of interest to the special counsel investigation into that even more problematic “Russia thing.”
Meanwhile, although it’s less titillating, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt is headed to Congressional hearings amid criticism from both parties. The left hates Pruitt for reigning in the agency’s zealous overregulation, but although even such old-fashioned Republicans as ourselves appreciate there’s a bipartisan concern about the way Pruitt lives high on the taxpayer dollar with first class tickets and traffic-stopping motorcades and $43,000 soundproof booths straight out of “Get Smart,” and a sweetheart apartment deal he got from some lobbyists. Stalwart Republican and fellow Oklahoman Sen. James Inhofe said he has been pleased by Pruitt “rolling back regulations and restoring EPA to its proper size and scope, but these latest reports are new to me. While I have no reason to believe them, they are concerning and I think we should hear directly from Administrator Pruitt about them.”
Deeper in the news, interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Mick Mulvaney boastfully told a meeting of bank executives that as a South Carolina congressman he had a strict policy of never meeting with an out-of-state lobbyist until a significant campaign contribution had been paid. The CFPB was created during President Barack Obama’s administration by Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and bunch of other far-left types to protect consumers from predatory banks, and there are sound Republican reasons for reducing its size and scope, but a guy who openly brags to bankers about he’s open for business probably isn’t the best choice for the job.
And that’s just Wednesday’s headlines. Already long forgotten are the reality star who ran the communications department, the guy who didn’t get to replace her because of a profanity-laden rant to a New Yorker writer, the national security advisor who’s since pleaded guilty to perjury charges, the former campaign chairman under indictment for a whole lot of “Russia thing” stuff, the recently little-seen son-in-law in charge of everything from the opioid crisis to Middle East peace and reinventing government, and so many others that Rachel Maddow giggles uncontrollably whenever the list of small type departures fills the screen on her MSNBC show. Not to mention all the past employees of the New Jersey General and Trump Airlines and Trump Casinos and Trump University and numerous other failed Trump enterprises who didn’t prove the very best people.
Which is not to say that Crooked Hillary would have done any better at draining the swamp, which Trump and all of his apologists will surely note, but still.

— Bud Norman

With Apologies to Harold Arlen

Our annual theatrical turn in the Gridiron Show went well, as did the cast party, but it left us exhausted. So we’ll offer up one of the skits, which got some laughs.
(Scene opens at closing time in the Mar-a-Lago nightclub where PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP is slouched against the bar, the BARTENDER is wiping the counter, and a PIANIST tinkles closing time tunes nearby.)
TRUMP: Set me up again, damn it.
BARTENDER: Are you sure, Mr. President? You’ve been going at it pretty hard. By my count, this’ll be your fourteenth Diet Coke of the night.
TRUMP: I know my limits. Everyone says so. Everyone says no one knows his limits better than Trump, believe.
BARTENDER: Well, OK, sir. (Pours a Diet Coke.)
TRUMP: Besides, I’ve got troubles to drown.
BARTENDER: I’m sorry to hear that. Is it the national debt? The nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula? Trade wars? The Russia thing?
TRUMP: No, worse than that. The ol’ ball and chain is raggin’ on me lately. My wife, Melanoma, is icier than the Rock of Gibraltar.
BARTENDER: Well, I think your wife’s name is Melania, and I’m not sure the Rock of Gibraltar is all that icy, but hey, I hear you. What’s she raggin’ about?
TRUMP: Oh, she’s all pissed off just because she found out was a banging a porn star not long after she gave birth to our son, Bernard. Can you believe that?
BARTENDER: I think the kid’s name is Barron, sir, but I know what you’re talking about. I mean, women, right?
TRUMP: That’s right. I mean, c’mon, Malaria still had the baby weight, and this porn chick was at her peak. You should see what she looks like in action.
BARTENDER: I still think your wife’s name in Melania, and I actually have see that porn star in action. It’s just a couple of clicks away on the internet, after all, and I figure that by now pretty much everyone has seen it.
TRUMP: Uh, you didn’t see me in any of those videos, did you.
BARTENDER: No. Not that I recall.
TRUMP: Of course not, because it never happened. Fake news. (Leaning in.) Yeah, I totally nailed that babe. It was awesome. She loved it, believe me. I had to pay her a hundred and thirty grand not tell everyone how great I was.
BARTENDER: Whatever you say, sir.
TRUMP: Then you know what I’m talking about, am I right?
BARTENDER: Hey, who among us has not cheated on their mother of our newborn child with a porn star?
TRUMP: You’re all right, Joe. I might just have a cabinet position for you. Still, I can’t help singing the blues. (He saunters over to lean on the piano.) Play it, Sam.
PIANIST: Are you sure, Mr. Trump? It’s an awfully sad song.
TRUMP: You played it for her, you an play it for me. If she can stand it, I can stand it. Play it, Sam.
(PIANIST shrugs and starts playing “Stormy Weather.”)
TRUMP (Singing):”Don’t know why there is lipstick on my fly.
“Stormy Daniels.
“Now my gal and I are having trials.
“Keeps raining all the time.
“Ta-tas out to here, and she took it in the ear.
“Stormy Daniels.
“Just can’t get my poor self together.
“I’m weary all the time.
“So weary all the time.”

— Bud Norman

Overtimes and Sex Scandals in Prime Time

The “60 Minutes” program’s much-hyped and long-delayed interview with a pornographic video performer named Stormy Daniels was delayed another half-hour or so on Palm Sunday by the University of Kansas Jayhawks’ overtime victory in a barnburner of a game with Duke University’s Blue Demons in the college basketball tournament, but the compelling lead-in probably boosted the ratings.
Although the interview proved somewhat less salacious than some reality show fans might have hoped for, and got bogged down in a bunch of blah-blah-blah about apparent campaign finance violations and other legal matters and less prurient issues, it still made for must-see-TV. The pornographic video performer was dishing the dirt about her alleged decade-old sexual relationship with then fading reality-show star and now President Donald Trump, which allegedly happened not long after Trump’s third wife gave birth to his fifth child, and it takes a pretty stiff Republican neck to turn away from that.
Daniels said that she spanked the future president with a rolled up a copy of a Forbes magazine that had his picture on the cover, as she had done in a long-suppressed but recently published interview with the “In Touch” tabloid, but insisted that it was more jokey than kinky. She explained that on their intimate evening together in a bungalow at the Hollywood Hills Hotel he had tried to impress her with the magazine cover, she responded that she wasn’t impressed and was tempted to spank him with it, that he obliged by pulling down his pants but not his briefs, and after a couple of smacks they both had a good laugh about it. She says he treated her differently afterwards, though, and then goes on to tell a prime-time-in-these-tawdry–times tale of a pornographic video performer’s unprotected sexual encounter with a future president.
All that blah-blah-blah about campaign finance laws and other less prurient matters seems to back it up. Trump’s longtime “fixer” of a lawyer has publicly admitted that just after the “Access Hollywood” tape and just before the election he paid Daniels $130,000 not to talk about such things, and insists he did so out of the kindness of the heart and without the knowledge of his client. So far as we can tell that’s either a laughable lie and dis-barrable offense or an apparent violation of campaign law and probably something to do with the tax code, or Trump was paying a porn performer not to talk about something he insists never happened, which is perfectly legal so far as we can tell but doesn’t look at all good.
Daniels recalls times she took Trump’s phone calls on her speaker phone in front of her incredulous porn industry friends, who could presumably recall that to some to noisome deposition-taking attorneys, intimates that she has corroborating e-mails and text messages, and her own rather ferocious and seemingly far more competent attorney has recently “tweeted” a picture of a digital video disc in a safe deposit box as a warning not to doubt her account. There’s also the interview that “60 Minutes” correspondent Anderson Cooper had conducted for his more full-time gig with the Cable News Network with a former Playboy “playmate of the year” who alleged a similarly convincing but more saccharine account of her affair with the future president around the same time, and both the porn star and the playmate come across not only better-spoken than the president but also more believable.
In both cases we thought Cooper did a well enough job at the old journalistic fair-and-balanced shtick. He confronted both women with their past statements and all the legal blah-blah-blah, rightly noting that the porn performer had made previous denials of any affair, but he also let the fully clothed and seemingly wised-up women provide their plausible answers, and we don’t blame Cooper if they came off more convincing than the president. By now such tawdry details as that jokey and only-slightly-kinky spanking with a rolled up copy of Forbes with Trump on the cover rings all too true, as much as we hate to admit it or even contemplate it, we can’t imagine how it might help Trump.
On the other hand, it might not hurt Trump much. Back in the days of President Bill Clinton the left used to make excuses for such tawdry behavior, by the time Trump was running against his harridan of of wife the right was just as lenient about its guy, and by now almost anyone who is appalled by the present prime-time network fare stands credibly accused of hypocrisy.

— Bud Norman

The Pros and Cohns of Protectionism

Even on a Tuesday day when a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump, the departure of National Economic Council director Gary Cohn was the biggest news out of the White House. The frequent comings and goings of Trump administration officials are usually newsworthy only because of the colorful characters involved and the chaotic situation they represent, but in Cohn’s case it could have serious consequences.
Cohn was one of economic advisers who tried to talk Trump out of imposing the steep steel and aluminum tariffs that were announced last week, as well as the rest of the protectionist agenda Trump has proposed, and his resignation suggests that talking Trump out of such cockamamie ideas is beyond his ability. The congressional Republican leadership also tried persuade Trump to reconsider, and although Trump is invoking national security reasons for imposing the tariffs so did his Defense Secretary and Secretary of State, as well as some of most stalwart defenders in the conservative media, so it appears that no one’s up to the task.
Cohn’s continued role in the White House gave faint hope to the free-traders, though, and his exit suggests the fight is over. His resignation wasn’t announced until the stock markets had closed for the day, but we expect the news will be met glumly when they open again today. Except for the aluminum and steel makers and a few other unionized industries hoping for similar protection from foreign competition, pretty much everyone is planning to pay more for aluminum and steel and try to pass the hit along the supply chain and down to the end consumer, steeling themselves for the inevitable retaliatory tariffs on American exports by friends and foes alike, and worrying what comes after that.
Cohn and the other sensible administration officials and the congressional Republican leadership and the conservative media defenders should have seen it coming all along, though, as well as all those steel-and-aluminum buying companies and export industries and other critics. Trump made quite clear during his seemingly quixotic campaign that he intended on waging a global trade war, and although he spouted off a lot of crazy talk that no one took seriously he was quite clearly sincere in about this particular threat. He’d been publicly critical of America’s trade with the rest of the world since President Ronald Reagan’s administration, claimed that America had been taken advantage of in every foreign relation since the Marshall Plan of President Harry Truman, and offered himself as the artful dealmaker who alone could set things right. Over the years Trump has been all over the place on abortion and immigration and “transgender rights” and almost anything else in the news — we like to joke that he’s taken more positions than Stormy Daniels — but he has never once wavered from a core conviction that he alone could renegotiate the entire world economy to America’s rightful advantage.
Although an estimable fellow, Cohn was never going to talk Trump out of this delusion. Cohn was always a controversial pick, with critics to both the left and right, and ill-suited to any role in Trump’s reality show. His only previous employer was at the too-big-to-fail Goldman-Sachs investment bank, where he rose through the ranks to a top spot, and the conspiracy theorizing sorts of liberals and conservatives have long noticed that Goldman Sachs has landed a noticeable number of former executives in both Democratic and Republican administrations for an noticeably long time, so that left him vulnerable. The stock markets and other centrist types were slightly reassured that at least Trump honored some of the time-honored presidential traditions, and held out hope Con would restrain Trump’s populist impulses, but a buttoned-down riser-through-the-corporate ranks has never prevailed in any reality show ever aired.
Cohn lasted on the reality show island longer than most of us expected, given all the anti-globalist conspiracy theorists who got a vote in each week’s cliff-hanging exile. He outlasted the defiantly nationalist chief strategist Steve Bannon, oh-so loyal and kinda cute communications director Hope Hicks, onetime establishment whipping boy and later chief of staff Reince Priebus, currently under-indictment former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, that Omarosa woman who held some job or another before returning to a lesser-rated reality, along with countless others can’t quite recall. We think he did some good along the way, too.
As an observant Jew with universal human values, Cohn reportedly considered resigning after Trump insisted there were some “very fine people” marching alongside the neo-Nazis at a deadly rally in Virginia, and although he stayed on he helped fuel the public’s indignation. By sticking around he helped he shape and shepherd trough the Congress a tax bill that so far seems one the best things the Trump administration has done, and he’s also played a role in all the deregulation that has so far worked out well enough. He couldn’t talk Trump out of his crazy trade war, but at least his resignation might spook the stock markets and fuel the public’s indignation and give those congressional Republican leaders and other critics some chance of restraining the president’s populist impulses.
We’ll hope for the best for Cohn and all the rest of us, including that unfortunate visiting Swedish Prime Minister who wound up standing next to Trump during a joint news conference where both the American and Swedish press were asking all sorts of pointed questions about potential trade wars and the ongoing “Russia thing.” The video would have fed all the snarky late comics’ monologues if not for the lawsuit by the porn star, but even those easy and smutty jokes were among the first casualties of the trade war.

— Bud Norman

Reflections on the President and the Porn Star Subplot in Our National Reality Show

“In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked upon as something shocking,” as the great Cole Porter once wrote, “but now, God knows, anything goes.” Porter penned that memorably musical lyric way back in the Great Depression ’30s, but it somehow seems more apt than ever in the Roaring Teens of President Donald Trump. Once upon a time in America, and as recently as the day before Trump took that famous escalator ride down Trump Tower to launch his improbable presidential campaign, it would have been a pretty big deal that a sitting president sure seems to have had a sexual encounter with a pornographic video performer shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child.
But now, God knows, it’s just another one of those Trump stories that most newspapers relegate to the inside pages and most cable news networks mention at the bottom of every other hour, and that Fox News happily ignores and the smutty late night television comics giddily lampoon. God also knows that according to all the public opinion polls approximately 80 percent of our evangelical Christian brothers and sisters still believe Trump is going to make America great again, and we wonder what He makes of that.
All of those back page and bottom-of-the-hour news stories and even the late night comics concede there’s no videotaped or otherwise definitive evidence and one party denies it and the other is being quite coy about it, which gives Fox News and our evangelical Christian brothers and sisters a plausible reason to ignore the matter, and we’ll also concede that one never really knows about these things. Even so, we’ll edge up against those loosened libel laws that Trump has threatened and reiterate that it sure does seem to us that a sitting president once had a sexual encounter with a pornographic video performer shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child. The circumstantial evidence is so convincing that we doubt any of Trump’s apologists would ignore it if Trump was still a self-proclaimed pro-choice Democrat and check-writing supporter of President Bill Clinton and his presumptive first woman president wife “Crooked” Hillary.
The story had been rumored and reported and denied by Trump for nearly ten years, but surfaced again when The Wall Street Journal reported that during the presidential campaign Trump’s attorney had formed a shell company to make a $130 thousand payment to a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels in exchange for an agreement she wouldn’t disclose anything she might know about Trump. The shell company was set up with phony names for both the payer and payee, but the attorney used his own name on all the papers and is not issuing any denials that might lead to disbarment, and the story has similarly liable-proof documented evidence for the real identities of the payer and payee. One of the callers to one of the right wing talk radio dismissed it as “fake news” from a “foreign-owned tabloid,” but even the left wing admits The Wall Street Journal is no tabloid and the wing should know that its Australian owner is the same Rupert Murdoch who owns Fox News, so we’ll the paper’s word for it that for whatever reason Trump did write a $130 thousand check to a porn performer during his presidential election.
Perhaps we should be generous and assume Trump was just trying to help the wayward lass get back on the straight and narrow path, but by now even his most die-hard supporters aren’t buying that.
After the Journal’s big scoop a publication we’d not previously heard of called In Touch Magazine published an interview it had with Daniels back when Trump was just another reality television star and long before any non-diclosure payments had been made, and in it she gave a luridly detailed account of a sexual encounter with a future president. So far as we can tell In Touch is a sort of tabloid, but at least it seems to be American-owned, and they claim to have verifiable audiotapes of the interview, and we assume their lawyers verified that before they put their own names on any court filings Trump’s lawyers might have made. All the parts about Trump and Daniels both being in Las Vegas during a professional golf tournament have been confirmed, and there’s even a picture of a beaming Trump with his arm around the buxom Daniels at the event, which looks pretty bad.
After that one of Daniels’ fellow porn performers was telling both People and Newsweek magazines and the National Broadcasting Company that she had declined Trump’s invitation to make it a threesome, and both news organizations confirmed the parts about her also being in Las Vegas during that golf tournament. After that Daniels her buxom self did an interview on the “Jimmy Kimmel Show,” and that looked so bad it almost upstaged the president’s State of the Union address.
Kimmel is one of those uniformly liberal late night comedians who relentlessly bash Trump every night, but he’s not so smutty as most and has a reputation as a faithful family man that allowed him to have some emotional sway in the debate about repealing and replacing Obamacare, and he’s no dummy. He ran some footage of some conservative woman criticizing him for booking an interview with Daniels but never saying anything about President Bill Clinton’s sex scandal with much-younger intern Monica Lewinsky, he was able to follow it with videotape of him interviewing Lewinsky on three separate occasions in previous talk show incarnations. When Daniels opened the interview by saying that she could neither confirm nor deny that she had accepted money in a non-diclosure agreement, he noted that if she had not she would be free to deny that she had, and the pornographic video performer replied “You’re so smart, Jimmy.”
When Kimmel asked Daniels about her signature on the official statement she’d just issued denying any sexual encounter with Trump, which all the pro-Trump media had seized on, and why it didn’t remotely resemble her signature on an earlier statement or any of the autographed glossy photographs he’d somehow and encountered, she dodged it by talking about all the other crazy rumors about her on the internet. She didn’t quite deny that the In Touch interview was more or less accurate, and dodged some of the smuttier questions about the more lurid details just as carefully, but the pornographic video performer seemed instinctively self-revealing and left the viewer with the impression that, yeah, all that’s been alleged sure seems to have happened.
There’s a case to be made that Daniels and her fellow pornographic video performer friend are exploiting that fifteen minutes of fame Andy Warhol predicted everyone would eventually have, and there’s something to it. Until that Wall Street Journal broke we’d never heard of Stormy Daniels or her friend, but after a Bing search and a few not-safe-for-work mouse clicks on the internet we now feel we know them more intimately than any of our exes, and Daniels has been promoting her strip club tour with the slogan “Make America Horny Again.” Daniels can now add “As seen on TV” to her handbills, even if it is late night comedy, and we don’t doubt it’s good business for a pornographic video performer.
The question is whether she’s cashing in on “fake news” or something that sure seems to have actually happened, though, and that still looks bad. We’re disinclined to take the word of a pornographic video performer, but by now neither do we put much stock in what the President of the United States has to say. Trump has long bragged in undisputed interviews and his own ghost-written memoirs about his enormous sexual appetites and numerous exotic conquests, and his flagrant disregard for his own or anybody else’s marital vows, and that lurid In Touch detail about him wanting to be spanked with a rolled-up copy of Forbes Magazine with his picture on the cover also has a disturbing verisimilitude about it.
But now, God knows, Trump’s critics can only chuckle about it along with the late night comics, and Trump’s fans can either deny it altogether or make some sort of rationalizations. The afternoon talk radio hosts and other fans will note that the male Clinton had several just as tawdry encounters with far less buxom women, and that even the self-righteous sorts of feminists now admit that the awful female Clinton was complicit all along, and we was president at time, and they have a point. We shared their disappointment that Clinton’s peccadilloes had so degraded the Oval Office at the time, as did that smart-ass liberal late comic Kimmel, and at this point we’re on the side of anybody who’s been consistent on insisting some reasonably attainable standard of moral behavior in the White House.
Not that we’re blameless, as God knows and our recent internet browsing history will attest, but over our many years we have managed to hew to some old-fashioned moral rules about married people and hygienic concerns about porn stars, and as lowly as we are we feel entitled to expect a higher standard from those who occupy high office. It doesn’t say anything more to about that tax bill Trump signed than Clinton’s transgressions had to do with his budget-balancing deals, but then as now we can’t shake a certain depressing sense that it’s a pretty big deal.

— Bud Norman