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Another Day, Another Argument

President Donald Trump has released a transcript of his telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that freely admits he sought a foreign leader’s help in digging up dirt on a potential political rival, and he insists that’s no big deal. All the talk radio talkers and most of the congressional Republicans agree, and the die-hard fans wouldn’t think it a big deal if Trump shot someone on Fifth Avenue, but all of the Democrats and most of the rest of the country are taking a dimmer view of the matter.
There’s no explicit threat by Trump in the transcript, but his request that Zelensky investigate former vice president and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son’s business dealings in Ukraine came in the context of of a discussion about Trump withholding some much-needed military aid, and after Trump had chided Zelensky about Ukraine owing America a lot of favors. Zelensky is a former comedian and novice politician who came to power by starring in a hit sit-com about a comedian who becomes president, whereas Trump a political novice who came to power by starring in a hit game show where he played a successful businessman, but we think they probably well understood one another.
Even without any explicit threats or quid pro quo deals — which might yet be revealed by the still-classified “whistle blower” complaint that started all of this — there’s still something that strikes us as untoward about a president asking a foreign country’s help in swinging an election.
Trump clearly doesn’t think so, as he stood in front of national television cameras and asked Russia to hack Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail account, which they immediately tried to do, He now claims it was just a joke to regale a laughing rally crowd, but it was actually said at a news conference, where he affirmatively answered stunned follow-up questions about if he was serious. He also told the American Broadcasting Company’s George Stephanopoulos that he didn’t see anything wrong with accept a foreign government’s dirt on an opponent, and he went right ahead and released that transcript on Thursday.
Most Republicans probably agree, but we wonder what they’d think if the next Democratic president, who’s bound to come along sooner or later, did the same thing. Most Republicans would also take a dim view of a Democratic president enriching himself or herself at taxpayer’s benefits and from business dealings with foreign powers, refusing to disclose how much they’ve made from by withholding their tax returns, committing crimes to cover up affairs with porn stars that sent their personal attorney to prison, and consistently saying untrue things and generally behaving in an undignified way. For now, though, it’s just Trump being Trump.
After a while it all adds up, though, and a popular if not an electoral majority of the country is growing weary of it. The Democrats won a majority of the House of Representatives in the last mid-term elections, and they’re almost all on board with an impeachment inquiry that will involve seven different oversight committees looking into all aspects of Trump’s business and political dealings, which are likely to come up with something the Republicans will have a hard time explaining. Enough of the Democrats in the House voted to launch the impeachment inquiry to actually impeach Trump, and that seems increasingly likely to happen.
Less likely is the Senate voting to remove the president, as the constitution requires. The last mid-terms left the Republicans with a razor-thin majority in the Senate, but it takes a supra-majority of 67 to convict a president on impeachment charges, and for now it’s hard to imagine the needed nine Republican votes coming forward to kick Trump out of the White House.
That’s for now, though, and there’s no telling what those seven oversight committees and that pesky press will come up with by year’s end. Already Senators Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Mitt Romney of Utah have dared say they don’t think an American president of either party should be asking for a foreign country’s campaign contribution, others have said the same thing off the record, and there’s still an old-fashioned conservative intelligentsia that’s cheering them on. We hope most of their colleagues agree, despair that few of them will dare say so, and figure there’s still a chance Trump will rack up one scandal too many, as he’s just that kind of guy.
Trump was defiant during a rare formal press conference at the United Nations, without the whirr of a nearby helicopter, and made his usual complaints about the “fake news” and “witch hunts” and the made-up scandals that stain his good name. He didn’t seem his usual pugnacious self, though, and we’re tempted to use an old Trump insult and say the performance was “low energy.” To our careful eye, Trump also seems to be growing weary of it all.

— Bud Norman

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The State of the State of Kansas, as Well as the Rest of the Union

President Donald Trump belatedly got to give his State of the Union address on Tuesday, but here in the state of Kansas there were more pressing matters. We had another writers’ meeting for the local media’s annual Gridiron, and the muted television was of course tuned to the big basketball game between the University of Kansas Jayhawks and the Kansas State University Wildcats.
Being patriotic Americans and the geeky sort of political junkies, we did later read the transcript and catch snippets of it on YouTube. All in all we’d have to say Trump had his moments, and that it could have been far worse, but to borrow a phrase from President Abraham Lincoln we expect the world will little note nor long remember what was said.
Trump’s spokespeople had promised a message of bipartisanship and unity and even comity, he started on that note. He got bipartisan applause when he praised America’s victory over the Axis in World War II, and introduced a couple of D-Day veterans and heroic astronaut Buzz Aldrin, was they all got a big hand from both sides of the aisle. Trump then declared that “we must reject the politics to revenge, resistance, and retribution — and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good,” and that “We must choose between greatness and gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction.” All that alliteration added an uncharacteristic poeticism to Trump’s typically un-parsable prose, we must admit, but there was no way he could keep up through entire one-hour-and-20-minutes oration.
Trump quickly moved on to his more characteristic bragging about great America has become since he took office, implying as usual that the country had previously been a hellhole of American American carnage, and argued that “the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations.” Which had an uncharacteristically nice ring to it, but put in context it was Trump’s unusually subtle way of hitting back ten times as hard and extracting retribution and and threatening destruction. There was also some hopeful talk of farm bills and Veterans Administration reforms and infrastructure spending and other issues where some bill or another might become law, but on the matters of war and politics and partisan investigations Trump seemed to hold out hope that the country would unite around his unpopular positions.
Presumably the “foolish wars” that Trump referred to were America’s longstanding but limited roles in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world, but he’s lately been losing that argument. Respected-on-both-sides-of-the-aisle Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned in protest over Trump’s announced withdrawal from Syria, a majority of the Senate’s Republicans voted for a resolution rebuking the decision, his Secretary of State and top national security advisor have talked him into partial and gradual withdrawal, and only the most dovish sorts of Democrats are on his side. Pretty much everyone in the know is trying to talk Trump into staying the course in Afghanistan, and he’s recently been talked into keeping the decades-old deployment of 30,000 troops in South Korea, and Trump seems unlikely to go down in history as America’s most peacenik president.
It’s easy to understand why Trump regards politics as a problem, as it constantly interferes with his efforts to do things his way. Trump also talked at length about border security, which all reasonable people agree is important, but he continued to insist the only solution was a big beautiful barrier wall, which is one of those things people can reasonably disagree about. The politics of the moment clearly favor the Democrats, who forced Trump to end a government-shutdown without any funding for the wall Trump had promised the Mexicans would pay for, and most the Republicans in Trump’s audience seem to have little taste for another shutdown. Trump has threatened to declare a national emergency so he can spend government on his wall, but few of the Republicans and none of the Democrats giving him slight applause will go along with that.
As for those “partisan investigations,” we expect they’ll continue apace, despite his rhetoric, and eventually come to no good end for Trump. The House has a Democratic majority in the investigative committees that plan to reveal Trump’s tax records and scrutinize his businesses relationships with foreign governments, and an independent judiciary is looking into Trump’s inaugural committee and a special counsel investigation is racking up indictments against Trump’s closest associates, and the Republican majority in the Senate has thus far declined to try stopping any of it, and has little reason to do so given how many seats they’ll be defending in blue states come next year.
By the time you read this Trump will probably be back to “tweeting” schoolyard taunts about those damned Democrats and lily-livered establishment sorts of Republicans, and everyone will be back at the messy business of politics, with all the resistance and revenge and retribution that necessarily entails.
Meanwhile, here in the state of Kansas, the plucky blue-collar Wildcats of KSU beat the snooty blue-blooded Jayhawks of KU, and the ‘Cats currently hold a half-game lead over their rivals ┬áin the Big XII standings, so at least things are as they should be around here.

— Bud Norman