The Endless Campaign

President Donald Trump held another of his large and raucous campaign rallies in Florida on Saturday, which seems odd given that the last presidential election occurred nearly four months ago and the next one won’t take place for another three years and eight month or so. At this point in a presidency most presidents are busy filling the last of their administration posts, sending out the smart people they’ve already brought on to make a reasoned case to both the congress and broader public for the policies being proposed, digging into all the rest of the dreary work of a thankless office, and breathing a sigh of relief that the past campaign is four months over and the next won’t begin until a few days after the mid-term elections that are still nearly two months away.
Pretty much everything about the presidency of President Donald Trump seems odd, though, as his most strident critics will bitterly complain and his most ardent supports will proudly boast. Trump is behind schedule in filling such administration posts as Deputy Secretary to several of the more consequential Secretaries he’s been having trouble getting approved, largely because so many of the potential pool of conservative and Republican establishment figures had critical things to say about him during the campaign, but his most strident critics never liked any of those guys and his most ardent supporters are even more disdainful of the Republican establishment. So far the only detailed policy that has been trotted out is a temporary ban on travel into the United States from a limited number of Muslim-majority countries, which made some sense and had some obvious flaws and has since been so endlessly revised and re-intepreted and beset by such legal challenges both reasonable and absurd that both the smart people sent out to explain and the strident critics opposing it wound up looking ridiculous. So far, both sides seem delighted about everything.
Digging into the dreary work of a thankless office doesn’t seem Trump’s style, based on what we’ve observed of the man over his long career as a celebrity real estate and casino and strip club and minor league football and pro-wrestling and scam university mogul and constant tabloid sex scandal subject and better-ratings-than-Arnold-Schwarzenegger-and-should-have-won-an-Emmy reality television star, and he also doesn’t seem the type to breath a sigh of relief at being momentarily out of the spotlight of a campaign. “Life is a campaign,” Trump told a bevy of reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to the rally. “Making America great again is a campaign. For me, it’s a campaign.” By now it should be clear that the campaign will last for the rest of all our natural lives, and will forever need fresh foes to vanquish more than it needs objective improvements in American life.
Even before the big Florida rally Trump had returned to bashing the throughly vanquished Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in a widely watched news conference, and reviving unproved claims that she didn’t really win the popular vote by an embarrassing three million or so votes due to massive voter fraud, and making a provably false claim that his electoral victory was the biggest since Reagan’s and then embarrassingly attributing it to “the information I heard,” and it seems clear he’ll still be running against Clinton for the next three years and eight months or so. We take a back seat to no one in our disdain for Clinton, and were criticizing her way back when Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and praising her to the hilt in his non-stop interviews, but by now we’re happy to let the subject drop.
Clinton not only lost her second and final attempt at the presidency but lost it to Trump, which is surely an innermost circle of hell that the combined imaginations of Dante Alighieri and Hieronymus Bosch and ourselves could not have conceived for her, and she will likely spend the rest of her addled days wandering the woods of upstate New York with no contributions flowing into her defunct charity and her speaking fees and book royalties at a bargain-basement price, and at at this point even Trump isn’t leading the rallies in chants of “lock her up.” At any rate she no longer seems an impediment to making America great again, so we’re eager to hear more about how Trump intends to achieve that with her well out of the way.
Apparently, though, there are other foes to be vanquished before the gain get around to explaining how he’s going to make everything better. There’s that pesky free press, of course, with all its fake news about how the administration isn’t humming like a finely-tuned machine and Trump isn’t already making America great again. During the rally he quoted Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln criticizing the press, which goes to show how long those nasty newspapers have been trying to undermine a free republic, and his most ardent supporters agreed not read anything negative they read about Trump, which caused his most strident critics to pull their hair and gnash their teeth, which gave great glee to all of Trump’s most ardent supporters, but such old conservative and Republicans hands as ourselves wondered how that was making America great again.
There is the very real and ever-present threat of Islamist terrorism, and Trump rightly mentioned that, but during that portion of the rally he also alluded to “what happened last night in Sweden.” So far as anyone can tell the biggest story in Sweden the night before was a microphone failure on a popular amateur singing contest called “Melfest,” which all those snooty reporters from the hated press and all the rest of Trump’s most strident critics had great fun reporting, and which all of Trump’s most ardent supporters were explaining to a general crime problem among Sweden’s Muslim immigrant population which had been reported on the night before on the Fox News network. Trump’s most ardent supporters love him because he means what he says, even though they often have to explain that what he said wasn’t really what he meant to say, but for all our longstanding concern about Islamist terrorism we’re not inclined to make such excuses for such sloppy language. Oh, and there are gangsters galore out there terrorizing America’s streets, but so far as we can tell the recent uptick in crime — which objectively are still nowhere near the 45-year highs Trump constantly claims, even when addressing law enforcement officers who damn well know better — is driven mostly by Chicago and a couple of other big Democratic controlled cities, and Trump wasn’t altogether clear about he was going to do about that.
Trump has described certain of his critics as “the enemy of the American people,” which also seems odd, given the terms association with the Roman Senate’s accusation against the Emperor Nero and the Henrik Ibsen play that Hitler somehow misread and the Bolsheviks’ slaughter of the kulaks, but we don’t suppose that Trump or any of his most ardent supporters are aware of any of that. In any case we hope we won’t be so accused, not because we’re afraid the thin-and-orange-skinned demagogue bothers himself with such small fry as ourselves, but because we’re all in favor of the people and wouldn’t want anyone to think otherwise. We’d love to see a sensible skepticism about travel from Muslim-majority countries, and a more honest and accountable press, and a finely-tuned administration repealing bothersome regulations and freeing the private sector from bossy interventions, and safe streets even in Chicago, and all the things that have so long been yearned for the boring old Republican establishment that Trump has vowed to vanquish.
So far it seems an odd beginning, though, and something in our boring old Republican establishment souls would much prefer a president digging into the dreary work of a thankless office and sharing our sigh of relief that the campaign is at least momentarily over.

— Bud Norman


Complications at Christmastime

On Monday an asylum seeker from the Islamic world who had been welcomed into Germany drove a large truck into a crowded Christmas celebration in Berlin, killing at least 12 and injuring dozens more, and a suit-and-tie-wearing Turkish police officer shot a Russian diplomat at an art opening in Ankara, leaving the envoy dead on the floor as he shouted as he shouted about the bloody war being waged in the town of Aleppo and the rest of Syria. Donald Trump was chosen by the Electoral College to be the next President of the United States, too, and the pre-Christmas news is as complicated as ever.
All the details are still unclear from latest the news reports, but the broader facts that have already been established of the matter in Berlin seem clear enough. An all-too-familiar case of a radicalized Islamist waging war against a country that had offered him refuge from war, which no matter how the news puts it in German or English will only harden Germany’s growing opposition to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s welcoming policies and bolster American support for president-elect Trump’s campaign promises of “extreme vetting.” Every country’s politics and press will somehow complicate it, but it really is as simple as that.
All the gory details of the videotaped murder in Ankara are by now well established, but the broader implications of the act are still muddled. A North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally failed to provide adequate security for a diplomat from Russia, which has lately been very pesky for the alliance, and it was a radicalized member of the country’s police forces that did the deed, so it makes for a thorny situation even without all those videotaped shouts about Aleppo and Syria before the assassin was gunned down. The bloody war in Syria involves the mass-murderous Assad regime striving to retain power against a diverse array of rebel forces, the terror-sponsoring and soon to-be-nuclear-armed apocalyptic suicide cult in Iran, the Iranians’ good friends the Russians, who have supplied much of the firepower that has been brought down on Aleppo and the rest of Syria, of course neighboring Turkey, which has seen a destabilizing swarm of refugees pouring across its border and has shot down a Russian plan as part of its extremely complicated-by-the-Kurds-and-all-that response, along with some American efforts on behalf of some rebels we are assured are not radicalized.
All of which makes it unclear to us just what that suit-and-tie-wearing assassin was shouting about as he gunned down that Russian diplomat. He clearly didn’t like how Russia has been meddling in the Syrian conflict, as we don’t, although not so ardently, but with so many sides to choose from there’s no telling which he picked, and we’re having some difficulty with that choice ourselves, and we note that even our NATO ally and former “special friend” Turkey has lately been flirting with the Russians. That suit-and-tie-wearing assassin probably won’t wind up like that scraggly anarchist who shot Archduke Ferdinand down and wound up starting World War I, but it certainly is a mess that Trump finds himself with.
Trump is undeniably unsullied by any of this, as he was busy firing some b-lister or another on “Celebrity Apprentice” while President Barack Obama was drawing obviously bluffed red lines in the sands of Syria, and offering misspelled “reset buttons” to the Russians, and dismissing the Islamic State that figures so prominently not only in that Syrian conflict but many of those attacks in western countries, and “leading from behind” a pointless war against a pacified Libyan dictator that wound up with an American diplomat and three other brave American souls dead and his party out of White House, but Trump still complicates things still further. He’s the impulsive sort who urged on that Libyan war, and then lied that he was against it all along, and he seems to prefer InfoWars and The National Enquirer as a source of information about what’s going on in the world, and until we see his tax returns we’ll be somewhat suspicious about his own flirtation with the Russians.
All through his remarkably successful campaign Trump had very nice things to say about Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, and boasted about the very nice things Putin had said about him, and he promised that Putin would never invade Ukraine and later said it was not necessarily a big deal that he actually had, and talked openly about how NATO wasn’t such a great deal, which always concerned former Russian puppet states and not the increasingly radicalized Turkish state. Since he won on this Russophile platform he has scoffed at the CIA’s conclusion that the Russians interfered in the election, made several high-level appointments with economic ties to Russia, and still hasn’t released those tax returns or any other financial disclosures that would surely prove he doesn’t already have some ongoing deal with the Russians.
Perhaps Trump’s friendly relationship with Putin will fulfill his promise to eliminate the Islamic State, but so far Putin seems more interested in bombing whichever less assuredly less-radicalized American-backed faction poses the greatest threat to the Assad regime, which is so closely aligned with the same Iranians that Trump has promised to negotiate a better nuclear deal with, and there’s always a chance that even an apocalyptic suicide cult will bend to the well to two of world’s three great nuclear powers, but so far Putin seems confident that any Iranian nuclear missiles won’t be landing in Moscow and indifferent to any that might fall on New York, so it’s going to take a difficult negotiation to work all that out. Tough talk of mutually assured destruction worked well during the Cold War, or at least it has so far, but back then there always tax returns and blind trusts involved. In the Christmas season of this crazy election year, after eight years of Obama, it all seems very complicated.
This is the Christmas season, though, and this will be the eighth of the Obama years, and we’ll trust that despite the best efforts of that refugee in Germany the holiday will still be celebrated and that despite that assassin in Turkey another world war won’t interrupt it.

— Bud Norman

A Less Than Optimal Campaign

What a sorry state of affairs for Barack Obama’s re-election campaign when he can’t even go on the Daily Show without feeding another bad news cycle.

In the latest of a series of missteps, the president appeared Thursday on Jon Stewart’s cable television comedy program and described the murder of four Americans during a Sept. 11 terror attack on the embassy in Libya as “not optimal.” The jarring understatement will likely be replayed on various other media, and repeatedly at the conservative outlets, which can’t be helpful to Obama’s cause.

The president’s many die-hard defenders will note that the questioner had introduced the term “optimal,” a slightly mitigating point, but it won’t spare him another day of damning headlines nor spare him the damage of the sound bite. Combined with the widely reported fact that Obama embarked on a fund-raising trip to Las Vegas in the immediate aftermath of the murders, the president’s description of the terror attack as a “bump in the road” during a later interview, and his many week’s of dissembling about the true nature of the incident, the latest statement is likely to bolster an ever more widely held impression that the president’s sympathy for the victims is, well, less than optimal.

Nor is the president in any position to complain that his critics are harping on a mere choice of words, having spent much of the day on harping on Mitt Romney’s brief mention during Tuesday’s debate of considering “binders full of women” while hiring workers during his term as Governor of Massachusetts. The president seemed to find this a most hilarious misstatement during Thursday’s stump speeching, as did several of the commentators at the friendlier cable news services, but after a day’s consideration we’re still unable to find exactly what’s wrong with Romney’s boast.

In a speech to a typically sycophantic crowd the president said that he doesn’t have to resort to binders to find qualified women to work for his administration, presumably because the resumes and background checks and other necessary paperwork are delivered on silver platters or some other such conveyance, but that only attests to Romney’s relative frugality. The tactic also provided unfriendly media such as this to remind readers that Obama’s White House has been described by a woman there as a “hostile workplace” and has a history of paying its women employees less than their male counterparts, and it’s unlikely that voters concerned with the dire state of the economy and the growing dangers of the international scene will agree that Romney’s admirable desire to find qualified women workers, through binders or any other means, are a more significant matter.

Let us hope that many voters will also be slightly irked by a reminder that Obama was appearing on the Daily Show. The appearance was in keeping with the president’s preference for presenting himself mainly on such lightweight programs as The View, Entertainment Tonight, and, as we never tire of mentioning, the Pimp With a Limp’s radio show. This schedule has solidified Obama’s standing as Celebrity in Chief, a title that probably impresses many people who won’t bother to find their way to the voting places, and while that might diminish his stature with the more serious-minded it usually has the compensating advantage of shielding the president from tough questions.

Stewart’s more awe-struck fans will insist that he’s a serious satirist in the tradition of Jonathan Swift or Mark Twain, and an influential conduit of the news to today’s youth, but he’s basically a guy who makes funny faces into the camera and flatters the pretensions of his slacker audience with sneers and snarkiness, and Obama had every reason to expect the usual gentle treatment. Indeed, Stewart’s unfortunate choice of the word “optimal” was seemingly intended to euphemize the situation as much as possible, making it all the more embarrassing that Obama was somehow able to turn it into a snippet for an upcoming Romney ad.

Tuesday’s debate was supposed to be the turning point for Obama’s recently besieged campaign, but all they got out of it was the futile efforts to exploit Romney’s binders, and more harm from the ongoing Libyan fiasco. One word won’t change the campaign, whether it’s “optimal” or “binders,” but there seems to be a cumulative effect of Obama’s self-inflicted wounds.

— Bud Norman