An Uncivil War in the Kansas Republican Party

Our old-fashioned “flip phone” made that strange warbling sound that announces the arrival of a new text message, and it turned out to be one of the oddest political videos we’ve ever encountered.
The ad was an attack on former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, one of the leading contenders in largely overlooked Republican primary race to choose a nominee to run for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring longtime Sen. Pat Roberts. There are plenty of valid reasons to criticize Kobach, including concerns by many traditional Republicans that he could lose to a moderate woman Democrat in the race just he did in the gubernatorial election less than two years ago, but that’s not what the advertisement is about. Produced by a political action committee called Keep Kansas Great PAC, which says “We support candidates who will stand with President Donald Trump to defeat the extreme liberal agenda,” the ad accuses Kobach of insufficient fealty to Trump and Trumpism.
Which comes as a surprise to most Kansans. You needn’t be a Kansan to have heard of Kobach, whose staunch opposition to be illegal and legal immigration as Secretary of State made him a nationally known figure and endeared him to Trump. Kobach was appointed chairman of a commission charged with proving that voting by illegal immigrants was the reason for Trump’s 3 million ballot loss in the popular vote, has been an outspoken advocate for anything Trump might say or do, and has carefully copied Trump’s flamethrower rhetorical style. His current campaign slogan is “Make Kansas Great Again,” and he proudly touts his ties to Trump and the praise the president has showered on him.
The Kobach commission was disbanded before it could write a report, largely because both Republican and Democratic governors refused to comply with his requests and efforts to nationalize voting, with even Kansas being bound by state law from providing requested information, and Kobach suffered another embarrassment when he chose to defend a controversial Kansas voting law that was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union and not only lost but wound up paying expensive fines for multiple counts of contempt of court. Then he lost the gubernatorial election to Gov. Laura Kelly despite Kansas being a reliably Republican state and despite Trump’s enthusiastic endorsement.
Trump still wanted to make Kobach his “immigration czar,” but changed his mind when Kobach had a list of exorbitant demands that included a private jet, and thus the Keep Kansas Great PAC has some basis for saying in its ad that “Kobach let President Trump down.” The ad also rightly notes that Kobach has the financial support of the Club for Growth, a well-funded-by-billionaires PAC that promotes a low-tax small government agenda which was pretty much the quintessence of Republican conservatism until Trump, and it staunchly opposed to Trump’s candidacy in the ’16 election. Since then the Club for Growth has retreated from presidential politics altogether and focused on electing budget hawk candidates to Congress, but Trump of course still holds a grudge against the Club for Growth and so do his die-hard supporters even though they probably continue to agree with everything the organization stands for.
The ad only attacks Kobach and doesn’t endorse anyone else, but elsewhere the Keep Kansas Great PAC has endorsed state Rep. Roger Marshall, who seems intent on running as a even Trumpier than the exceedingly Trumpy Kobach. Marshall is also an obstetrician and gynecologist, and the Club for Growth paid for attacks ads in the state’s biggest newspapers featuring patients who criticized the doctor’s “bedside manner,” which is all the more reason for Marshall to attack the Club for Growth and its past anti-Trump blasphemies.
A third very viable contender in the race is Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, a longtime state legislator who is very conservative who has always tried strike a moderate tone, but has lately been trying to out-Trump her competitors.
A traditional and NeverTrump Republicans who are watching this from the political sidelines, none of this makes much sense.
Trump easily won the state’s electoral votes when he ran against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, just as any old Republican nominee would have done, but Trump has never been overwhelmingly popular in this state. He came in a distant third in the Republican caucus, even the state’s Republican congressmen dhave dared criticize the Trump trade wars that have ravaged the state’s dominant and export-dependent agricultural and aviation industries, and Trump’s unapologetic amorality is still troubling to a certain portion of the state’s many Christians. Latino immigration is pretty much all that’s sustaining what’s left of economic activity in the southwest quadrant of the state, and plays a peaceable and productive role in the economy and culture of the urban areas, so nativism isn’t so appealing to the general population as some Republicans seem to believe.
The Club for Growth style of conservatism is currently out of fashion, too. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback proposed proposed a rather extreme policy of severe tax and budget cuts, helped a majority of like-minded candidates win primaries over more cautious Republican majorities and get it passed, and although we liked it in theory it objectively didn’t turn out as promised in taxes. The ensuing budget deficits led to cuts in spending on education and roads and prisons and other essential states that alarmed the sorts of good government conservatives who had dominated the Republican party since Kansas entered the Union as a free state loyal to the party of Lincoln. That’s how Kansas wound up with a Democratic governor and a legislature that’s still majority Republican only because the old establishment fuddy-duddies won a lot of primaries against the firebrands.
Kansas has long been willing to send Democrats to Topeka but has very rarely sent them to Washington. The last Democratic Senator from Kansas was way back during the Great Depression, he only lasted one term, and usually Senatorial elections are a foregone conclusion around here. This time around seems different, though, and the way things are going there’s an outside chance the state’s Grand Old Party might well continue its recent losing streak. In the midterm election a Native American lesbian kick boxer won a House seat in the educated and affluent northeast, a more moderate Democrat almost won another seat, and only the moderate Republican who’d wrested the First Congressional seat from a fire=breathing Club for Growth favorite won by the usual Republican landslide.
The Democrats seem likely to nominate state Sen. Barbara Bollier, an ex-Republican and retired anesthesiologist who reminds us a lot of our currently popular Democratic governor, who shut down the schools early on and imposed strict shutdown rules in response to the coronavirus and is currently doing better in the statewide approval polls than Trump, and the sporadic polling that’s been done in the largely overlooked shows her in a very tight race with the front-running Kobach. Between now and election day either the economy will be tanking or the coronavirus death toll will be spiking, and no matter which outcome Trump chooses he will have trouble blaming it on Democrats or immigration.
A moderate Republican willing to distance himself or herself from Trump while defending his more sensible policies would probably do well against a moderate Democrat obliged to oppose everything Trump does, but that candidate apparently can’t win a Republican primary. At least that’s what the leading contenders seem to think.

— Bud Norman

A Good Day to Be in Switzerland

President Donald Trump spent the first day of his impeachment trial with all the global big wigs annually gathered in Davos, Switzerland, boasting about his unprecedented accomplishments and threatening trade wars against longtime allies and trading partners. Meanwhile, back in the states, the Republicans and the Democrats were bickering about how his impeachment trial should proceed.
The Republican position is that the whole deal is a witch hunt and a hoax and a farce and a mockery and a travesty a mockery of a travesty of justice, and that no evidence or testimony suggesting otherwise should even be considered, but that’s a hard sell to what remains of a center in a polarized electorate. The Democrats had some compelling evidence and testimony when they drew up their articles of impeachment in the House, more has been reported to the press and presented to the Congress since then, and there are a lot of people the viewing public would like to see and hear. The star-studded cast includes the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Energy and the White House chief of staff and a former national security advisor and Trump’s personal lawyer and a couple of his clients, so it’s hard to explain to a country where Trump has never won majority approval in any election or opinion poll why he doesn’t want an enrapt national television audience to hear their presumably exculpatory evidence and testimony.
This matters to a few Republican Senators running for reelection in iffy states, and a few others who are comfortably far enough away from reelection to vote on their old-fashioned Republican principles, which might yet outlast Trump, and thus the Republicans find themselves negotiating from a weakened position with the damned Democrats about what happens next. At one point, the Republicans reportedly floated the offer of allowing John Bolton to testify if they could also call Hunter Biden to the stand.
If you’re new to this riveting reality show, Bolton is one of Trump’s former national security advisors, and not the one awaiting sentence on felony convictions. He’s long been known as a Cold War hold-over and very hard-line security hawk, to the extent he was a controversial pick as President George W. Bush’s United Nations ambassador even among the old-school and internationalist Republican foreign policy establishment, and he was an even odder fit in the Trump administration. He was outspoken in his continued opposition to Russian aggression and support for the allies America had gained since its victory in the Cold War, and according to the sworn testimony of some of the witnesses called by the House he had described the administration’s dealings with Ukraine, which got Trump impeached, as a “drug deal” he wanted no part of.
Since then Bolton has been one of the many once-esteemed Republican foreign policy types defenestrated from the Trump administration, signed a lucrative deal for a presumably tell-all book, and gained a newfound respect from Democrats who once hated his Republican hawkishness but hope he’ll stay true to his stubborn Republican principle if he testifies. If so, he’ll be a more valuable witness to the Democrats than Hunter Biden will be to the Republicans.
To further catch up the new viewers in this this complicated plot, Hunter Biden is the son of former Vice President and current Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden, and he made a whole lot of money serving on the board of a Ukrainian company while his dad was in charge of America’s Ukrainian policy, and there’s no denying that looks bad. It looks so bad that one wonders why Trump be would be so stupid as to get himself impeached by withholding congressionally authorized to Ukraine in order to extort help in his reelection campaign, but Bolton’s testimony and the rest of the evidence might yet show that yeah, Trump is that stupid.
Neither Hunter Biden nor his dad have any relevant information to offer about whether Trump abused the powers of his office for personal gain and then obstructed congressional efforts to find out about it, which is the matter before the court, no matter what misdeeds they might have and probably did commit. The Republicans running this show are all old enough to remember “Perry Mason,” and might be hoping for that dramatic moment when one of the Bidens tearfully confesses that yes, they were guilty all along, and that it was the damned Democrats and Ukrainians who conspired to thwart Trump and American democracy.
We covered a lot of trials back in our newspaper days, though, and never witnessed such a “Perry Mason” moment. We’ve never seen a trial where the defense didn’t want to allow testimony and evidence from its presumably exculpatory witnesses, though, and over many years we’ve found that verdicts don’t always follow the facts. There’s no telling how this works out.

— Bud Norman

A Nervous Situation in the Middle East

Let us make clear from the outset that we believe the nutcase theocrats running the Iranian dictatorships are, as always, the bad guys in their relations with the United States. Let us stipulate further that President Donald Trump might or might not have been justified in ordering a military strike that killed top-ranking Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, who was undeniably one of the worst people in the Middle East, and that only time and further revelations will tell.
Having said so, we admit it makes us very nervous that Trump is calling the shots for America in its latest spat with Iran. The Iranians have vowed vengeance for the death of Soleimani, Trump has vowed retaliation for anything they might do against American interests, and it’s going to take some complex strategic thinking and expert diplomacy and a cautious hand to avoid either a disastrous war or an embarrassing American retreat. but nothing Trump has ever said or done in his life suggests he is up to that task.
Trump explains that he ordered the killing of Soleimani because of intelligence reports about imminent threats to American lives, which we’d ordinarily be inclined to believe, but Trump has spent the past many years telling the world that America’s intelligence agencies can’t be trusted. He blames them and President George W. Bush for the second Iraq War, takes Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s word for it they are wrong about Russia’s meddling in the past and upcoming presidential elections, and passes along conspiracy theories that the “deep state” spooks were out to get him even before he became president. Which makes it hard for him to sell a provocative military strike to a domestic or global audience on the basis of a America’s intelligence agencies’ reports.
At times like these it’s good to have friends around the globe, but if he somehow stumbles into a full-blown war with Iran Trump and America will probably have to go it alone. Trump’s trade wars and “twitter” taunts and all-around ugly Americanism have alienated our longtime allies in Europe and Asia and Africa and Australia, done little to help economic or diplomatic relations with our adversaries, and even provided the very bad guys of Iran with a plausible case in the court of global opinion that they’re the aggrieved party.
The whole mess arguably started when Trump unilaterally withdrew from the treaty America and six crucial European allies struck with Iran to curtail its nuclear weapons program. The deal that President Barack Obama and the Euro-weenies negotiated was weaker than what Trump and we had hoped for, but it did forestall the Iranian nuclear threat for another decade or so, in which time anything might happen, and according to all the intelligence agencies Iran was in compliance. Trump brusquely dismissed the intelligence agencies’ conclusions and withdrew anyway, keeping a campaign promise to undue Obama’s folly. The other six allies did their best to ensure that Iran would at least keep up its sworn obligations, Trump didn’t get the great deal for America he expected Iran would come begging for, and now Iran has announced it will resume its nuclear weapons program, and the Iraqi government has passed a non-binding request that we leave their country..
These threats of apocalyptic Middle Eastern war have come and gone over the course of our lifetime, and although some of them have turned out tragically we always had a comforting sense that steady hands were guiding the ship of state through the storm. This time around, we’re more uneasy.
Trump fans love his blunt-spoken style, so we’ll come right out and say that he strikes us as an uninformed, impulsive, shallow, and utterly self-interested reality show star who finds himself facing an impeachment and is willing to do anything to once again avert a looming ad well-deserved disaster. He’s threatening to destroy Iranian cultural sites in violation of international law, telling Congress that his blustering “tweets” are all they need in the way of constitutional niceties, and doing nothing to expand his coalition of MAGA-capped rally-goers. All the four-star general and admirals and and wise old men of the foreign policy establishment have been banished from his administration, he mostly relies on his son-in-law and Mar-a-Lago friends and the instincts of his uneducated gut, and so far that hasn’t worked out well. Back in Obama’s day there was another dust-up with Iran, and Trump confidently predicted that Obama would start a war because it was the only way he could win reelection, which proved doubly wrong, as Obama didn’t start a war and won reelection anyway. If anyone is cynical enough to suggest that Trump is now acting for his political interests rather than the nation’s, Trump can hardly call it treason.
We’ll hope for the best, but none of the damn Democrats seem any better, so we’ll remain nervous.

— Bud Norman

The Winds of Trade War and Impeachment

President Donald Trump will spend today at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit, and it will likely be an comfortable affair for all involved.
The summit is in London, where Trump has not been a welcome guest during his past two visits, and he’s expected to further publicly and bluntly harangue the allies about how much they’re spending on defense, and many of the allies will more privately and politely but forcefully express their differences with his policies regarding Turkey and Syria and Russia and Ukraine and other matters. One of those matters will surely be Trump’s ongoing trade wars with pretty much everybody.
Before jetting off Trump announced punitive tariffs on industrial metals from Brazil and Argentina for their alleged currency manipulations, and issued a threat of up to 100 percent tariffs on NATO member France’s wine and cheese and cosmetics and other fancy French product, apparently in retaliation for passing an internet tax law Trump thinks unfair to American businesses. This comes as Trump continues his brinksmanship with the ruthless dictator running the very importantly enormous Chinese economy, and Trump will probably spend part of his trip publicly grousing about how the European automobile industries are cheating America’s workers.
Trump will continue to boast about how America is once again respected around the world, as the country at long last has a wised-up leader and we’re no longer anybody’s sucker, but it clearly hasn’t helped America’s reputation as a good global neighbor. The military and trade political alliances that have a fairly good job of sustaining peace and prosperity in the post-World War II epoch are strained, and Trump and everyone else seem to be planning for a post-Pax Americana world.
Nor does it seem to have yielded any tangible economic results. The brinksmanship with the ruthless dictator in control of China’s very consequentially huge economy hurtles toward an inevitable brink, none of those greatest trade deals ever have yet been sealed, and so far even the rather minor revisions to the re-branded North American Free Trade Agreement haven’t been ratified by any of the three governments involved. The economy continues to grow at the same 2 percent or so it did back in the bad old days of President Barack Obama, and the stock markets were hitting record highs not so very long ago, but that seems to be in spite of rather than because of Trump’s policies.
The smart money on the stock markets seems to agree, here and around the world, as all the indexes dipped precipitously after his latest trade war escalations, as they always do whenever he does that. This time around the dip was also driven by yet another report on Trump’s beloved manufacturing, which continues for yet another quarter at negative growth. The markets usually recover when Trump announces light at the end of the tunnel and peace with honor, and Trump’s fans stick with him through thick and thin, and even if the allies have no respect for Trump they’re fearful of and dependent on America and usually only object ever so politely, but we worry that it can’t go on forever.
The smart money on Wall Street and all those funny-sounding foreign exchanges is hedging its bets, all those Euro-weenie leaders will be ganging on up on Trump in London, where he’ll need extra security just to get back to the fancy hotel, and those wily Chinese seem unfazed by Trump’s mastery of the deal. They all follow American politics, and know that there’s an impeachment and it’s going badly enough that polls show half the country wants Trump out of office now, and that will likely complicate all his dealings with foreign leaders, no matter how that turns out.
Trump fans love it when he feuds with those Euro-weenies and wily Chinese and the smart money on Wall Street and the “fake news” media and the damned Democrats and all of the rest of the rascals in the globalist “deep state” conspiracy, but we doubt they’re tired of winning yet. The farmers are getting welfare checks that don’t quite make up for the honest money they used to make on the global market, the factory workers are losing jobs in a sinking sector hard-hit by Trump’s steel tariffs, and we worry some damned Democrat and self-proclaimed socialist such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders might convince them they’ve played for the world’s biggest suckers.
Although it’s hard to imagine a happy outcome, we’ll hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

Chinese Torture

China has been feuding with the rest of the world for a while, and for now it seems to be winning. The economic powerhouse shows no sign of retreating from its trade war with the United States, is successfully pushing around such major American businesses as the National Basketball Association, and continues to crack down on dissent in Hong Kong and its Uighur and Kazakh and Uzbek regions with unabashed ruthlessness.
President Donald Trump has famously proclaimed that “trade wars are good and easy to win,” but so far that’s not how the one he started with China has turned out. The tariffs that Trump has imposed on Chinese imports have done harm to the country’s economy, but the American companies and consumers who pay them have also taken a hit, and the retaliatory tariffs the Chinese imposed have hurt the farmers and ranchers and manufacturing workers and service workers even worse.
The American manufacturing sector that Trump promised to restore to its blue-collar glory is now in recession, the white collar guys are cutting back on investment, and farm bankruptcies and suicides are up despite the billions of dollars Trump has doled out in subsidies. The overall economy has slowed, and although we’re still adding jobs it’s at a slower pace, and there’s no consolation in China’s woes or the slowing global economy.
All of which comes at a time when Trump is preoccupied with an impeachment inquiry and an already perilous reelection campaign, while Chinese dictator-for-life Xi Jinping can more easily withstand the economic pain of his people. Trump is the self-proclaimed master of “The Art of the Deal,” as well as a “very stable genius” with a “very big brain” and “unmatched wisdom,” but he finds himself in a disadvantaged position when negotiating with China. He’ll be tempted to surrender to China’s extortionist demands and sell it as the best deal ever, knowing that most of his die-hard fans will believe it, while XI will patiently await either that outcome or the results of the next presidential election, and the smart money seems to be digging in for a prolonged trade war with no happy outcome for anyone.
Meanwhile, the smart money in several major American industries seems willing to accede to China’s extortionist demands. One of the strongest arguments for a trade war with China is its extortionist demand that foreign companies doing business there agree to share their high-tech intellectual property with the country’s competing businesses, but many billions of dollars worth of American companies both big and small have figured it’s worth it to gain access to the market of more than a billion increasingly affluent Chinese.
The increasingly affluent Chinese consumers have a taste for America’s decadent popular culture, which is one of our country’s biggest export industries, and many of the big movie studios and recording companies and comic book publishers and internet streaming services have so far agreed to China’s strict censorship of what they sell to that vast Chinese audience, and have too often altered what they present to American audiences. The current glut of action-adventure movies that have degraded the America is largely because they’re mostly dialogue-free, and easily translated to a larger foreign market that is equally blood-thirsty in its cinematic tastes, but the studios are also steering away from anything politically offensive to the Chinese dictatorship that controls access to the increasingly affluent Chinese market.
The latest example is China’s feud with the National Basketball Association, of all people, which is hard to explain. Back during the Cultural Revolution the Chinese dictatorship tried to erase any western influence from the motherland, including classical music and impressionist art and the western literary canon and the Judeo-Christian tradition, but Chairman Mao Tse Tung was as avid a hoops fan as any Kansas boy and somehow the great American game of basketball was given a pass. Playgrounds and club teams flourished, the Chinese developed an appreciation of the game, and when the freakishly tall and talented Yao Ming started at center for the NBA’s Houston Rockets the increasingly affluent fans got to see him play against the most talented players in the world. It was a hit show in China, even after Yao’s remarkable career was ended by the injuries that usually affect 7’5″ guys, and the NBA has been raking in big bucks in the increasingly affluent Chinese market ever since.
The general manager of the aforementioned Houston Rockets issued a “tweet” that he stood with those Hong Kong protestors, though, and after that China announced it wouldn’t be televising the two NBA exhibition games that had been scheduled, and that the rest of the NBA season was also in doubt. That led the NBA’s commissioner to apologize for the “tweet,” and the enormously talented but entirely self-interested shooting guard of the Rockets to opine that he’d been treated very well by the Chinese during his exhibition game there, and it looked like a sellout of American free speech values to the even more lucrative Chinese basketball market. At this point the NBA commissioner is making clear that he apologizes for the “tweet” but not the American free speech values that allowed it, and he’s on the plane to China for those exhibition games even if they aren’t being televised, and some deal might yet be worked out. By coincidence Yao is now the commissioner of the Chinese Basketball Association, and we assume he has some sway with the Chinese dictatorship.
Those democracy-demanding Hong Kong protestors that the general manager “tweeted” about won’t find any succor, on the other hand, and the Trump administration doesn’t seem to care much about them during ongoing trade negotiations. Some high Chinese officials have been banned due to the crackdowns on the Uighurs and Kazakhs and Uzbekis, but those are all restive Muslim populations, so they shouldn’t count on Trump’s continued support as he pursues the greatest trade deal ever.
China’s a major world power, with economic and military and diplomatic strength to challenge the United States, and it doesn’t have to play by the rules of democratic western world, and it seems to understand that Trump’s self-proclaimed powers seem puny by comparison. China is also a foe of pretty much the rest of the modern world, though, and against its combined might they look puny. If some first world superpower were to give up its petty feuds with its erstwhile allies and lead a united front the Chinese would be at a negotiating disadvantage, and might be forced to allow free trade as well freedom to its people, but for now and the foreseeable future the Chinese are winning.

— Bud Norman

What the Scandals Obscure

All the news lately is about the Democrats’ increasingly rapid rush to impeach President Donald Trump for all sorts of increasingly plausible reasons, and that might well redound to Trump’s benefit. There’s always an outside chance it all turns out to be a “deep state” conspiracy that vindicates the president and exposes all his enemies, and for now it’s distracting attention from some worrisome economic news.
You might have never heard of the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index, but the stock markets watch it closely enough they took a dive on Tuesday when it reported that for the second consecutive month the manufacturing sector of the economy was in contraction, this time more severely than the month before. Farm bankruptcies are lately up, too, along with farm suicides, and growth in both the overall American economy and the interconnected global economy is clearly slowing, with several big and important national economies already in recession.
Which is bad news for assembly line workers and farmers and stockholders and eventually everyone else in the entire world, but it’s also very bad news for Trump. Despite three years of unrelenting scandals and outrageous “tweets” and deliberate provocations Trump has generally stayed above 40 percent in the public opinions because the grow domestic product and stock markets were up and the unemployment was rate low. The trajectory wasn’t much higher than it had been during the last six years or so of the hated administration of President Barack Obama, but it gave Trump and his talk radio apologists something to brag about, so all the die-hard Trump fans and a lot of the more reluctant supporters were willing to put up with all the rest of it.
All the rest of it is pretty hard to put up with, though, at this point even for the die-hard fans, and harder still if Trump can’t run for reelection on the boast of the the greatest economy ever. He won his first Electoral College victory despite losing the popular vote by three million or so because of the Republican party’s longstanding hold on the prairie and southern states and a mere 70,000 votes spread around the usually Democratic Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Michigan, where they bought into his promises that he’d revive the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. Neither are faring at all well at the moment, many economists fear the service sector will be dragged down along with them, and if current trends continue for another 13 months Trump might well lose to even the looniest left nominee the damn Democrats might come up with.
There’s a strong argument to be made, after all, that Trump’s unilaterally waged trade war against most of the world is the primary cause, or at least has something to do with it. The tariffs have raised prices on foreign goods not only for the Wal-Mart customers but also for the manufacturers of everything that requires foreign parts, which is a lot stuff, which is bound to be bad for business. Of course the retaliatory tariffs have essentially barred America’s farmers from the lucrative global markets they’d come to rely on, but Trump boasts that “I sometimes see where these terrible, dishonest reporters will say ‘Oh Jeez, the farmers are upset.’ Well they can’t be too upset, because I gave them $12 billion and I gave them $16 billion this year.”
Of course Trump didn’t reach into his own pocket for that sum of money, which is more than Obama spent on the automakers’ bail-out, which at the time outraged all the farmers and the rest of Republican party, but we expect a lot of farmers will be mollified, along with a lot of laid-off factory workers, even if they still come out on the short end of the stick. Part of Trump’s appeal to these voters is his shared hostility toward the pointy-headed know-it-alls from the coasts who want to take away their semi-automatic rifles and reconfigure the ethnic makeup and sexual orientation of America, and they’re willing to endure the pain while Trump delivers the greatest trade deals ever.
>He’s not yet delivered one, though, and at this point he seems unlikely to strike one in time for reelection. The Chinese dictatorship can endure its people’s hardships more easily than an American president with a pesky free press and upcoming election ever can, and being stereotypically inscrutable Asian types they regard the next 13 months or so as a mere blink of the eye, whereas Trump likely sees it as a hellish eternity. Trump is still feuding with the European Union and the Brexit-ing British, along with most of South America and Africa and all the Asian countries that used to be on board with a Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty aligned against China, until Trump pulled out of the Obama-era pact. Restoring mutually beneficial trade among the nations seems out of reach for the next 13 months or so, much less the greatest trade deals ever.
The smart money on Wall Street seemed to think so on Tuesday, and we expect that the factory workers and farmers will also notice if Trump’s grandiose promises aren’t kept. There’s no longer any semblance of a free market Republican party and none of the damn Democrats are willing to abandon their traditional protectionist instincts and thus don’t have much to say about it, as they do seem more preoccupied with reconfiguring the ethnic makeup and sexual orientation of the country, so we’ll sit on the sidelines and see how it all turns out. If the economy isn’t rosy come election day, the rest of it will smell very bad.

— Bud Norman

Back to the Post-Labor Day Reality

Labor Day weekends are usually light on news, and this past one was thankfully no exception, but there’s no way to avoid news altogether. The great state of Texas suffered a second mass shooting in a month, a major hurricane battered the Bahamas and threatened to do the same to the southeast coast of America, and President Donald Trump got in another round of golf.
To be fair to Trump, which we try our best to do, there’s not much he could have done about either the mass shooting or the hurricane. Better he should be golfing than “tweeting” a brand new feud that offends allies or spooks the stock markets.
There’s no getting rid of America’s millions of privately owned guns, and no way of predicting who’s going to lose a job and start shooting up the highway between Midland and Odessa, and so far none of the media reports have shown that enhanced background checks or any of the other popular solutions would have prevented the tragedy. We’ll frankly admit that we have no good ideas about how to stop or at least slow these all-too-common massacres, so we can hardly blame Trump and all those very best people he’s surrounded himself for failing to find the magic elixir. The president is expected to offer some hope and comfort to the loved ones of the victims, and we hope he’ll prove better at the task than he has on all the previous occasions.
There’s not much anybody can do about a hurricane, either, although the internet news site Axios reported Trump had floated the idea of bombing them with a nuclear missile. Trump insists this is “fake news,” and we sincerely hope that on this occasion he’s right, but we can’t quite dismiss it as completely implausible. Trump wore a “FEMA” ball cap as he videotaped a message about how the Federal Emergency Management Agency was a well-oiled machine ready to manage any emergency that a fully-fledged and mostly English-speaking state of the union might encounter, and he once again admitted that he’d never heard of a Category Five hurricane. The current Hurricane Dorian is the fifth Category Five hurricane to threaten the United States and its territories during Trump’s time in office, so that’s not at all reassuring, but we’ll hold out hope that hurricane stays at sea and in the worst case the bureaucrats at FEMA are more knowledgeable about these things.
Today school is back in session, the stock markets reopen, the trade wars with China and the rest of the world resume, politics goes in to full swing, that hurricane might or not wreak havoc on the southeast coast of America, and it’s a sure bet that Trump will “tweet” something outrageous. The local forecasts give ample hope for several more warm and sunny days here on the central plains, and the coming winter might prove just as mild as the passing summer has been, but we’re forecasting stormy weather in domestic politics and international relations and the global economy and the actual weather.
Even so, we hope you enjoyed your Labor Day weekend.

— Bud Norman

Placing Preemptive Blame

President Donald Trump is assuring the American public that the economy won’t go into recession for so long as he’s in office, and that if it does he’s certainly not to blame. Somehow that does not inspire confidence.
The stock markets have been up the last couple of days and the unemployment rate is still unusually low, while the gross domestic product has lately crawled forward at an Obama-era pace, but there are reasons for Trump and the rest of us to be nervous. The treasury markets recently went into an “inverted yield curve,” an obscure statistic that has presaged every recession of the last 50 years, business investment has lately been down, the federal deficit is up beyond Obama-era levels, such major economies as Great Britain’s and Germany’s are sliding into recession, China’s behemoth economy is rapidly slowing, and since July there has been a 6.4 percent decline in consumer confidence. The global smart money doesn’t seem to have much faith in Trump’s leadership, and increasingly sees it as yet another reason to be nervous.
All of which amounts to another conspiracy against Trump, of course. Trump explains that the “fake news” media — which now includes Fox News — is drumming up potentially self-fulfilling recession prophecies in order to deny him a landslide reelection. The media are merely reporting the official government statistics, but Trump is also skeptical of official government statistics. Back when President Barack Obama was in office and the stats showed slow but steady economic improvement Trump opined that the bureaucrats were cooking the books to make the boss look good. When Trump became president and the bureaucrats continued to report the same slow but steady trajectory he happily embraced it as official government statistics, but apparently anything that doesn’t look good is coming from the “deep state” cabal trying to make the new boss look bad.
Trump is also preemptively blaming Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who has not done the severe interest rate-cutting Trump thinks is needed to prevent the upcoming recession that Trump assures us is not going to happen. Powell’s policies are quite prudent if the economy is the well-tuned ad humming machine Trump claims it is, and will come handy if that’s not the case and there are still interest rates to be cut, but if worse comes to worst Trump will have a handy scapegoat in the man he appointed to head the Fed.
No matter what, Trump will insist his global trade wars had anything to do with any global economic difficulties that might occur. He still insists that China is paying those billions of dollars of tariffs rather than the Wax-Mart shoppers, even as he backs off from his latest tariff threat for fear that Christmas shopping might not be as brisk, and there’s not reason a global trade war has anything to do with a downturn in the global economy.
Trump ran for president on the argument that all the military alliances and trading partnerships America had negotiated since the end of World War II were a raw deal, despite the relative global peace and prosperity that followed here and mostly abroad, and a promise that he’d knock it all down and negotiate a far better deal for the United States. So far he’s been fairly successful at the knocking it down part, but he’s not yet negotiated that sweetest deal ever.
None of the world’s dictators nor any of its democratically elected leaders have any reason to bail Trump out by agreeing to his demands for American hegemony, so that sweetest deal ever seems even more elusive. If they face any popular backlash to an economic downturn, both the dictators and the democratically elected leaders will happily and plausibly blame Trump.
On the other hand, the next recession might not happen before the next presidential election. There’s always a next recession, no matter who is president, what with the business cycle being an un-repealable law of economics, but they’re hard to predict. We’ve noticed they usually come at an inconvenient time for Republican incumbents, but despite his six casino bankruptcies Trump has often been lucky in his life.
An alarming 74 percent of the economists polled by the National Association for Business Economics expect a recession by 2021, but they probably have it in for Trump, and we remember the old joke about how economists have predicted the last 30 of the past ten recessions, and we hope they’re wrong. Not for Trump’s sake, of course, as we can’t stand the guy and will gladly blame his wrecking-ball economics if the global economy crashes to the ground, but because we don’t like recessions.

— Bud Norman

A Trump Retreat in the Trade War

The stock markets were all up on Tuesday, mostly due to President Donald Trump backing off his threats to impose the further tariffs on Chinese imports that have lately been dragging the stock markets down. Trump is loathe to admit a mistake, but he hates a slumping stock market even more.
By backing off his threat of another 10 percent tariff on $300 billion of such popular Chinese imports as cellphones and laptop computers, at least until the Christmas buying season is well underway, lest retail sales suffer, Trump has tacitly admitted that all his talk about how the Chinese are paying the billions of dollars in tariffs rather than the American consumer was pure balderdash. He won’t openly admit it, of course, and his die-hard fans will indulge him the fiction, but the smart money in stock markets and the rest of the world know the score.
Trump somehow became President of the United States on the argument that he wrote “The Art of Deal,” and that as the world’s greatest negotiator he would deliver the greatest trade deals in the history of the world, but for now he’s more intent on maintaining a slow but steady economic status quo. This makes it harder for him to deliver on his promise of that greatest trade deal ever with China in time for his reelection day, as he has clearly blinked in these high-stakes negations and the Chinese are stereotypically wily enough to notice, but if the stock markets are up and the unemployment rate is down ob election day the die-hard fans won’t mind.
This all comes as the brutal Chinese dictatorship is brutally cracking down on pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong, which Trump cares little about and rightly assumes that most of the voters in America care even less about. and he is not going to express any indignation about that. Trump claims that his very close friendship with Chinese dictator Xi Jinping is the reason that Sino-American relations are going so swimmingly, and he’s not one to let a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protestors get in the way of a such a beautiful friendship.
November is a long ways off, and the next November even longer off, and there’s no telling how things might be by then. We’ll hold out hope that economy will be chugging along at a slow but steady rate, prepare as best as we can for the worst, and not expect that Trump or any damned Democrat will strike the greatest deal ever made.

— Bud Norman

The Latest News from the Trade War

The big story on Tuesday was another round of Democratic presidential primary debates, where the center-left types reportedly clashed with the more leftward types, but our brother and his wife are in town and the weather’s been far too nice to bother with that at the moment. When we got home we were more stuck by the latest on news on the ongoing trade war with China.
President Donald Trump has “tweeted” his assurance that “trade wars are good and easy to win,” but his trade war with China has thus far proved neither good nor easy to win. Trump and his die-hard fans have been telling us for at least a year that China is down on its knees begging for any trade agreement Trump might grant them, but the latest presidential “tweets” signal that the Chinese are willing to hold out for better terms until at least the next presidential election, when they might get the chance to negotiate with another administration. Naturally Trump is blaming the Democrats for daring to choose someone who might challenge him, and promising that if he gets reelected he’ll deliver the greatest trade deal the world has ever seen, a trade deal so great your head will spin.
We don’t have much faith any of these Democratic contenders will do any better, but neither do we worry our heads will fatefully spin with what Trump brings about. The trade war is is definitely harming China’s economy, as Trump triumphantly “tweets,” but only the most slack-jawed yokel in a red “Make America Great Again” ball cap believes that America is benefiting from all those billions of tariff dollars the Chinese are pouring into our best-ever economy. The tariffs are being paid by the MAGA-cap-wearing suckers lined up at Wal-Mart with a basketful of Chinese goods, the world’s two biggest economies are both taking a hit, the rest of the world’s economy are slowing as a result, and it all makes it somewhat more likely another administration will finish the negotiations. Chinese dictator Xi Jinping, described by Trump as a “close friend,” doesn’t have to worry about any upcoming election campaigns, and survive an economic slowdown more easily than any head of state from a more or less democratic nation.
Once upon a time in the Grand Old Party we could have imagined well-credentialed Republican experts dealing with China, and such establishment presidents as Eisenhower and Nixon and Reagan and a couple of Bushes guiding them along. China is indeed an unfair trading partner, stealing intellectual property and occasionally manipulating its currency and charging unfair tariffs, but they’re doing that to the rest of the world, too, and we think a unified world could convince them to stop. Trump has instead chosen to start trade wars with the rest of the world, but most of these Democrats are even more isolationist and protectionist than Trump, and those well-credentialed Republican experts who use to handle these matters in a way that furthered global peace and prosperity are sitting next to us on the political sidelines.
On such a sunny summer day as this, ¬†and with our brother and ¬†sister-in-law in town, we’ll hope for the best.

— Bud Norman