On the President’s Weekly Winter Vacation

Except for howling winds and an extended dry spell the weather’s been nice and warm around here lately, the Wichita State University Wheatshockers are heading into collegiate basketball’s championship tournament on a 15-game blow-out streak, and so far it’s been a pretty good March in our patch of the prairie. Still, we can’t help noticing with a certain wistfulness all the references to Mar-a-Lago in the latest news.
Usually around this time of year in Kansas we’re chattering our teeth and wishing for a south Florida vacation, and fondly recalling that one especially bitter winter when we did escape to a week of driving around Miami in a rented convertible V-8 Mustang, which yielded lots of funny stories we still like to tell, but even our most fanciful late winter fantasies never included anything quite so fancy as Mar-a-Lago. A very Republican friend of ours said the other day that he’d never heard of Mar-a-Lago, so perhaps we should explain to a general readership that it’s a Great Gatsby-esque mansion and sprawling estate complete with golf courses and tennis courts and all sorts of amenities located on a prime stretch of Palm Beach real estate that Trump had turned into a $100,000-a-year resort before he became president, and now uses as the “Winter White House” while charging a recently raised $200,000-a-year fee for the rest of the guests, and by all accounts it’s very swank.
Trump has spent five weekends there since being sworn in as president just last January, and the taxpayers have spent an estimated $3.5 million per visit, which is also pretty damned swank, even by government standards, and we can’t help thinking that it would be a bigger story if he weren’t there “tweeting” unsubstantiated charges about his wires being tapped and thus dominating the next days’ news cycles.
We spent much of the past eight years grousing about how many vacations President Barack Obama took and how many rounds of golf he played, and sneering about how his Martha’s Vineyard getaways belied his man-of-the-people image, and how damned expensive it was for the actual people, and feeling sorry for partisan Democrats who had to make excuses for it after eight years of grousing about George W. Bush’s far cheaper recreation expenses and rounds of golf. So far Trump has gone out of town for non-business-related reasons and played and golf far more often than Obama did, and racked up monthly travel bills equal to what to Obama rang up in a year, and seems to think he proved his Jacksonian populism by pouring ketchup over the well done steaks he ordered at the Great Gatsby-esque resort where the government pays the tab even as he collects it, and because we were Republicans long before Trump ever was we’re not about to make any excuses for five straight weekends at Mar-a-Lago.
Should Trump ever bless the nation with a slow news day we’re sure his antagonists in the media will be able to fill it with some standby stories about Trump’s unusual buyer and seller arrangement with Mar-a-Lago, and the potential that a mere $200,000 a year membership could buy access to the president, and how top-secret negotiations were conducted there within earshot of waiters and busboys and other diners in the restaurant, and how it really doesn’t fit with the image of a champion of the black-lunged West Virginia coal miner and opioid-addicted former factory worker from the Rust Belt. Nor does it comport to our old-fashioned Republican fantasy of a Republican president working overtime at the actual White House on the weekend to get all those policies just right so that the damned Democrats couldn’t make such easy hash of them, and we can only imagine what the the Democratic media will make of it.
The press is already taking note of who isn’t going to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend with Trump, the latest reports have some of the famously feuding top White House staff left behind, and even over the work week it’s hard to find any evidence even in the friendliest meeting that the administration is humming along like the finely-tuned machine that Trump swears it is. Perhaps Trump will find some insight at Mar-a-Lago that repays the taxpayers’ expense, but until he does the resentment is likely to rise, even if Trump’s much boasted-about extravagance was one of his selling points. Trump used to grouse about Obama’s vacationing and golfing extravagance, too, and so long as we’re stuck here on the prairie we’ll fell free to grouse about them both. From what we hear, the weather’s been pretty mild in Washington, D.C., too.

— Bud Norman

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Our Annual State of Satire Address

Some of the time we usually spend perusing the news and composing our thoughts about it has been taken up this past week by our annual appearance in an amateur theatrical production, a revue of skits and songs spoofing local and state and national newsmakers, so we hope you’ll forgive any resulting lack of our usual depth of analysis and gloominess you might have noticed over the past few days. The show has been a rather desultory affair this year, and as usual all the money is going to journalism scholarships that we don’t approve of, so on a slow news  day that and an infuriating speech by “Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau have set us to thinking once again about the sorry state of satire.
The other folks involved in the show are mostly a swell bunch, and we highly recommend the brief camaraderie that amateur theatrical productions provide to anyone who is looking for a once-a-year hobby, but of course there are always what we show biz folk call “creative differences” involved. This year we were limited to a few lines in a skit about a recently deceased cast member, which got some nervous laughs on opening night, and a more featured role in our own script about a poor fellow who just wants to order a cup of coffee at Starbucks without being subjected to a meaningful conservation about the state of racial relations in America, which got even more nervous laughs, and perhaps that was for the best. There’s an entirely apolitical bit by one of the veterans about dealing with computer tech support robots, a version of “Mein Herr” from “Cabaret” about Bruce Jenner’s sex change that would be considered egregiously transphobic in more enlightened communities, and a sharply partisan skit about Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and what might be on them, all of which we found very funny, but the rest was mostly about Kansas’ Gov. Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and we weren’t in on the joke.
Those of you who are out of state and also not in on the joke need only know that Brownback is a sexually repressed Puritan who gleefully slashed the state’s education budget to such levels that the poor urchins in the state’s schools cannot afford the alphabet, and Kobach is such a racist that he does not want illegal immigrants to vote in Kansas elections. All the right people here in Kansas seem to think so, so audiences are grateful to be let in on the joke, but even that exquisite frisson of blessed conformity that comes with thinking like all the right people and being let in on the joke can’t quite square those creative differences for us.
Having known Brownback since we were 18 and working as summer interns for the now-venerable Sen. Bob Dole, and having run into him often on the campus of Kansas State University when he was student body president, and having run into him again here and there on campaign trails and at Kansas State Fairs during his other stops on a long career of public service, we know him as a nice guy and decent family man, and although he would probably be sympathetic toward any baker who didn’t want to bake a same-sex wedding cake, and he did support that stupid “sin tax” to raise revenue on the backs of smokers and beer-drinkers and other fine Kansans we know,  otherwise we can assure you that he does not seem to harbor any sexually-induced neuroses that might affect his duties as governor. As for the education cuts, we note that the average school district in the state was spending around $13,000 per pupil the last reported year, which for some reason doesn’t include the generous bond issues that voters have approved, and which is around the national average, and with the lower-than-average cost of things around here that means we’re still ahead of the rest of the country, and we’re ahead of all the countries in the world except Sweden and Norway, and we’re way ahead of countries such as Japan and South Korea, which seem to have better math students, and there’s no denying that the Catholic schools around here do a better job for a lower fee, and a friend of ours has a kid in this “classical school” who is clearly getting three times the education at nearly one-third the cost, and we guess that all the right people who are in on the joke just don’t know this.
Neither do we get the joke about Kobach hating Mexicans because he doesn’t want them to vote in Kansas elections, any more than we feel the least bit hated because the Mexican government doesn’t want us to vote in their elections. Such policies have been a fixture of representative government since its inception, and consistently poll more than 70 percent approval, which is more than same-sex marriage or the latest Spielberg movie or the First Amendment gets, and it was enough to win Kobach an easy re-election just last November, but apparently all the right people who are in on the joke think otherwise.
All the right people who are in on the joke, we have begun to suspect, are the wrong people to do satire. This suspicion was heightened by reading Trudeau’s speech accepting Long Island University’s George Polk Career Award, which is as annoying a piece of drivel as we’ve come across lately. The award is named in honor of a journalist who died in the line of the duty, yet Trudeau took the occasion to criticize the editorial staff of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for publishing the cartoons that offended their murderers. Poking fun at the sort of radical Islam that would murder the staff of a satirical magazine is “punching down,” said the once-edgy Trudeau, noting that it satirized a “powerless” and “disenfranchised” minority rather than “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” The Muslims are France are not disenfranchised, of course, and their growing demographic strength will soon make that fact unhappily apparent at the polls, even if a French Kobach should somehow emerge, and they are not so powerless that they can’t slaughter the staff of any magazine that offends their strict notions of proper respect for their religion, and enlist the support of award-winning and well-heeled and oh-so-respectable cartoonists and other gullible examples of the right sort of people who are in on the joke, and we’d like to think this is the reason no one outside Long Island University has heard of “Doonesbury” since the early ’80s.
Satire and journalism should indeed comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, tiresome as that old cliché has become, but Trudeau and all the rest of the right people who are in on the joke should know that the roles have been reversed since the good old days when Groucho Marx and his brothers were sticking it to Margaret Dumont’s society dame. These days it’s the Starbucks and the computer tech support robots and the rich and corrupt feminist ceiling-breaker Hillary Clinton and the award-winning cartoonists who are the comfortable that need afflicting, and now  it’s the guy who just wants a cup of coffee, the reader subjected to the latest developments in Bruce Jenner’s sex change,  the guy who just wants his e-mail working, and the guy who sees through Clinton’s champion-of-the-common-man schtick, and the taxpayer who’s expected to pay more for an educational system that needs thorough reform more than it needs more money, and the people who are being slaughtered rather than merely offended, who need comforting.

— Bud Norman