Snobs, Slobs, and the Soul of Conservatism

The first televised witnesses in the impeachment inquiry part of the ongoing reality show about President Donald Trump were William Taylor and George Kent, and we found them very interesting and compelling characters in the drama. Both men bring what used to be considered impressive credentials to the screen, along with a dignified and even stately bearing most often found these days on the documentaries and costume dramas from the Public Broadcasting System.
How they play with the rest of the viewing public remains to be seen, and will largely determine the future of the Republican party and the Republic itself.
Taylor was fifth in his class at West Point in ’69, earned numerous decorations for valor during the Vietnam War, then commenced a career in foreign service in Cold War hot spots that lasted through Republican and Democratic administrations and culminated with ambassadorship to Ukraine. He was coaxed out of a hard-earned retirement to become charges d’affaires and acting ambassador to Ukraine by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after the previous ambassador was forced out of her job in the middle of negotiations with Ukraine about military, and very complicated part of the plot already, which is why he found himself on live television testifying about that whole mess. He did so with perfect diction and elegantly plain English in a baritone voice, distinguished gray hair and an obvious gravitas.
Kent has the impressive title of the Trump’s administrations deputy secretary of state for European and Asian affairs, was able to tell the congressional committee that he was third George Kent in his family to have served America in high levels of the government, he’s a Harvard man who speaks fluently in Ukrainian and Russian and Thai, and was resplendent in bow tie and three-piece suit during his testimony. Like Taylor, he seemed the very embodiment of establishment rectitude.
The testimony of both men was damaging to Trump, though, and these days most days Republicans are deeply suspicious of the establishment and unconcerned about rectitude, and they’re not inclined to believe anything bad they hear about Trump, so we’re sure these gentlemen will be pilloried on talk radio and ostracized by the party. Those elite school credentials and multilingualism and long resumes of public service suddenly makes them seem “deep state” conspirators, and even though they’ve testified under oath that they don’t consider themselves “Never Trumpers” they’re suspected of treasonous perjury. That perfectly parsed fancy talk they doesn’t help, either, as it doesn’t sound authentically populous.
Once upon a time Taylor and Kent and special counsel Robert Mueller and former Trump chief of staff John Kelly and former Trump defense secretary John Mattis and various other defenestrated administration officials would have been considered exemplars of conservatism and the Republican party, but that was before both the cause and party were redefined in Trump’s image. Now anyone who has anything to say potentially harmful to Trump’s political fortune, no matter his lifelong commitment to what used to be considered conservative values, is found traitorous.
The damned Democrats are every bit as hypocritical, of course. Once upon any sort of Democrat would have considered Taylor and Kent and the rest of the reluctant Trump witnesses a bunch of imperialist war-mongering neocons, but now that they have testimony damaging to Trump they’re suddenly exemplars of rectitude. The current Democratic party doesn’t really give a damn about Ukraine or how it affects America’s standing in world affairs any more than Trump does, but is happy to have such credible testimony against Trump. Even if Trump is impeached by the House but not removed by the Senate, which is probably the smart way to bet right now, it will come in handy for the Democrats come next election day.
From our perspective here on the political sidelines, having had enough of all the hypocrisy in both cheering sections, our only rooting interest is in the objective truth. That’s always hard to come by, and especially these days, but our old-fashioned conservative instincts incline us to believe the guys with the elite educational credentials and impeccable careers in the military and public service, no matter what they say about Trump. Trump daily says several things that are provably untrue, he’s never been anything near our notion of an exemplar of Republican rectitude at any time in his life, and for now he sure looks guilty of what this impeachment inquiry is alleging he has done.
There’s an argument to be made that it’s no big deal even if Trump did do what’s alleged, which is abusing his foreign policy powers to extract political favors from an ally, and eventually Trump and his apologists will get around to making it. Both Taylor and Kent freely testified to the under oath to the House of Representatives that it did happen and they thought it was a distressing incident in America’s foreign affairs, and although that’s just their opinion we found it more well-considered than Trump’s Ukraine’s foreign policy, or the party’s defense of it, which seems incoherent and suspiciously Russo-friendly. Not that the damn Democrats would do any better.
In our ripened old age we rather like those well-bred and well-educated and bow-tied and fancy-talking establishment types who have guided us through two World Wars and a Cold War, no matter all the messes we’ve gotten into along the way, and we trust their testimony. Here’s hoping the truth prevails, no matter how awful that might be.

— Bud Norman

Some Dare Call it Conspiracy

President Donald Trump and his many apologists have come up with an interesting defense of his role in the Ukrainian matter that seems to be hurtling toward his impeachment. Their argument is that Trump has been a perfect president in every way, and anyone who implies otherwise is a godless and America-hating traitor in a “deep state” conspiracy against democracy itself.
The latest congressional witness to be so refuted is Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who rose the ranks to a seat on the National Security Council, and thus sat it on the now-famous phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that has led to the current impeachment brouhaha. Vindman not only confirmed the White House’s own rough transcript of the call, which clearly shows Trump asking for the “favor” of investigations into his past and potential future Democratic opens in exchange for military and economic aid, he also made clear that he thought it was an egregious abuse of presidential power that compromised America’s national security.
So of course he’s a traitor. Vindman earned a Purple Heart in the Iraq War and was previously so well regarded by the military and foreign policy institutions that he was made a Lieutenant Colonel and put on the NSC by the Trump administration, but that’s just the perfect cover for a “deep state” conspirator. He was born in Ukraine and didn’t move to America until he was three years old, and although his fluency in both Ukrainian and Russian helped his rise through the military intelligence ranks it sure looks suspicious now, as Vindman stands accused of a greater loyalty to Ukraine than the United States and its perfect president. Brian Kilmeade of “Fox & Friends” accused Vindman of being “simpatico” with Ukraine, Fox opinion show host Laura Ingraham found it odd that Ukrainian officials often sought Vindman’s counsel, a guest on her show said it was “almost like espionage” to have Vindman sitting on a presidential phone call as an NSC member, and Trump “tweeted” that he didn’t even know the guy’s name. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told the press that “It is always appropriate to question the credibility of a witness, that’s part of why one has due process.”
Before this the same sort of allegations had been made against Ambassador William Taylor, a West Point graduate and decorated Vietnam War veteran who had interrupted a remarkable rise to the foreign service ranks to serve in Afghanistan and Iraq, and was coaxed out of retirement to return to the Ukrainian embassy by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He also testified to congress that Trump was pursuing American foreign policy to his political advantage at the expense of America’s national security, though, so what more proof does one need of his treason. Before that it was former Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who testified that she was forced out of the job despite an impeccable record because she wasn’t going along with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s covert efforts to get illegal campaign hep from the Ukrainian government. Well before that it was special counsel Robert Mueller, another Purple Heart-winning war hero with a long and previously unquestioned record of outstanding public service.
After a while a weary public will begin to wonder if each and everyone of the people who express an opinion that Trump less than perfect in every way are godless and America-hating traiTrtors, despite such previously impeccable histories, and in Vindman’s case most congressional Republicans are already declining to hurl any stones. Such notable Republicans as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Rick Scott of South Carolina and James Lankford of Oklahoma and John Cornyn of Texas have outright dismissed any questions about Vindman’s character, and seem ready to risk Trump’s wrath and taunting “tweets” by arguing at the inevitable impeachment trial that he’s less than perfect but not to an impeachable extent.
That’s Trump’s best defense, at this point, but his gnawing insecurity and grandiose narcissism will prevent him from making the argument. He’ll continue to insist that he’s perfect in every way, that any Democrat who disagrees is a “deep state” conspirator and that any Republican who harbors any doubts is “human scum,” even if he did once appoint them to high positions in his administration. One would be hard-pressed to note a single moment in Trump’s life where he did anything for any reason other self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement, whereas his most prominent critics include numerous people whose lives are full of selfless moments, but the argument has worked before and he’ll bet that it can work again.
It might work well enough for Trump to survive an impeachment trial, but will be a hard argument to make in a general election. Trump still has solid support in a lot of small states that add up to much of what’s needed for another electoral college majority, but when you several all the big states into account a slight majority of the country wants to see him out of office right now, and it will be hard for Trump to disperse his dwindling base across enough of the swing states. Last time around he won narrow victories in four rust belt states to win the electoral college, but next time around he probably won’t be able to claim that the manufacturing jobs he promised to bring back have arrived.
By election day everyone who’s not at the Trump rallies in their red “MAGA” ball caps will have figured out that Trump is not perfect in every way, that not all of his critics are godless America-haters and human scum, and if the damned Democrats don’t go too far crazy left the die-hard Trump believers will be too far outnumbered to prevail on an electoral map. If the economy continues to slow at its recent rate, it might not matter what kind of godless and America-hating socialist kooks the damned Democrats might nominate.

— Bud Norman

At Least It Doesn’t Mean Literal War

The Democrats’ drive to impeach President Donald Trump seems to gain momentum with every busy 24-hour news cycle.
Subpoenas have been issued to to Trump’s Secretary of State and personal lawyer and various other administration officials, press reports indicate that Australia as well as Ukraine and perhaps other countries were asked for information implicating Trump’s political foes, and the latest polls show the public increasingly approves of impeachment.
Meanwhile, Trump is “tweeting” at a furious pace, demanding that House intelligence committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff be arrested for treason and warning that the president’s removal from office would “cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.”
There’s no telling how it all turns out, but we’ll venture a guess that it doesn’t end with anything like a civil war. Trump has some very die-hard supporters, and they tend to talk tough and own a lot of guns, but they’re unlikely to rise up against the constitutional order to keep Trump in office. Many of them are too old for that sort of nonsense, for one thing, many more have families and jobs and bass boats they won’t to put at risk, and very few of them are so loyal as take up arms against the government.
In the highly unlikely event that 67 Senators vote to convict Trump on what are very likely be several articles of impeachment passed by the House, it will be because of some pretty damned overwhelming proof of high crimes and misdemeanors. At that point a civil war would be another lost cause, and even the southerners don’t have any appetite for another one of those.
Which is not to say things won’t get nasty. With charges of treason flying from both sides the argument is already quite heated, and both sides have enough crazies that some street brawls and gunshots can’t be ruled out. We hope not, but these days it seems all too possible..

If Trump is impeached by the House but not convicted by the Senate he’ll surely gloat about it, and there will be some very sore losers, but in less than 14 months there will be a very hard-fought election to settle the matter. The public can take into account all the information that the Democrats and the courts and the media come up with, and even if it’s not enough to convince a Republican Senator it might well prove more persuasive to the voting public. If the news goes on as it has lately and the trend in the opinion polls continues Trump will be removed from office by constitutional means in the long run, and absent some pretty damned overwhelming proof it was all the work of a “deep state” conspiracy even Trump will have to accept the outcome.
He won’t like it, and will probably make some dangerous noises on the way out, but he won’t get a second civil war to keep him in office. Even if we do, the nation did eventually heal the wounds of the first one.

— Bud Norman

Fasten Your Seatbelts, as Today’s News Will Be a Bumpy Ride

Wednesday was a pretty slow news day by recent standards, but today will almost certainly be different. Attorney General William Barr has announced a news conference to discuss the special counsel investigation’s report about the “Russia thing,” a few hours later a reportedly “lightly redacted” version of the 400-page-or-so is scheduled to be revealed, and the resulting arguments about it will surely dominate the conversations on television and newspapers and in bars and dinner tables across the country.
Barr has already released a four-page summary of the report — he doesn’t want anyone to call it a summary, but we can’t think of a suitable synonym — which revealed that the investigation found no proof a conspiracy between the Russian government and the campaign of President Donald Trump, and did not reach a conclusion about obstruction of justice. Ever since Trump has repeatedly claimed complete exoneration by the report, even though Barr’s brief account of the report explicitly said “it also does not exonerate him,” but he’s stepped up up his attacks on the investigators and clearly seems worried about the public getting to read a lightly redacted version of what they came up with.
Some of the investigators have anonymously told The New York Times that Barr’s condensed version painted a too rosy picture of their work, and we expect that despite the light redactions the full 400 pages will give Trump’s critics something to bite into. Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani has said he’s preparing a counter-report to the report that supposedly exonerates his client, Attorney General Barr is eager to tell the public what to think about the report before it gets a chance to read it, and Trump and his most strident media allies are openly talking about charging the investigators for treason for writing the report they claim completely vindicates them.
The investigation has already won indictments against 13 Russian nationals for for interfering with the past American presidential in various ways, and indictments and guilty verdicts guilty pleas against Trump’s campaign chairman and co-campaign chairman National Security Advisor and longtime personal lawyer, and various other administration officials have had to revise their security clearance forms to include numerous contacts with Russian officials, but we already know no charges are currently pending against Trump himself. That’s a huge disappointment to to large segment of the population that would prefer to see Trump out of office, but we expect that some congressional Democrats will find some of those vaguely-defined high crimes and misdemeanors that are impeccable.
Trump and his talk radio apologists and other die fans, as well as a few congressional Republicans, will likely find some reason to charge those dastardly investigators with treason, and have them hanged by the neck until they are dead, even if they did completely exonerate The president by declining  to charge Trump himself. The Trumpian right remains enraged by the investigation that they swear exonerates Trump, and it might yet get is revenge.
We’ll see how it  turns out, as Trump likes to say, and for now we haven’t the foggiest idea. The only prediction we can make with any certainty is that he matter won’t be settled  by the end of this day, and that today will nonetheless prove interesting.

— Bud Norman

Another Bad Day at Mar-a-Lago

At this point we almost hate to pile on, and worry that we’re getting repetitive, but we’re obliged to say that Tuesday was another bad day for President Donald Trump. The stock markets were slightly up, the temperatures at the ritzy Mar-a-Lag oresort  where Trump was vacationing were in the mid-70s, and Trump was pocketing a nice sum from from the room and board the federal budget was paying to his still-wholly owned business, but the rest of the news was bleak. In a couple of courtrooms and the halls of Congress Trump suffered stinging defeats, and things aren’t likely to get better when a Democratic majority is installed in the House of Representatives next month.
Trump’s former campaign foreign policy advisor and administration national security advisor had a sentencing hearing in Washington, D.C., for his confessed felonies on Tuesday, and his more hopeful apologists in the media were expecting the judge to dismiss the guilty pleas and blame it all on a “deep state” conspiracy, but that didn’t happen. The judge delayed the sentencing for another 90 days, but not before having retired three-star Army General and former national security advisor reiterate that he had indeed lied to federal investigators about his contacts with Russian officials while serving on Trump’s campaign and transition team. Trump’s more hopeful apologists had predicted that the judge would share their outrage that Flynn hadn’t been warned that lying to federal officials was a crime, but the former three-star Army General and national security had to admit in open court on Tuesday that he was well aware of that fact. At one point the judge asked the prosecution if they considered charges of treason, given that Flynn had been an unregistered agent of the Turkish government and then advised pro-Turkish policies as national security adviser, and although Flynn’s unregistered dealings with the Turkish and Russian governments had ended before he assumed the role of  national security advisor, and the judge quickly backed off from any talk of treason, it didn’t look good for either Flynn or Trump. The prosecution is recommending no jail time for Flynn’s confessed crimes, given how much dirt he’s provided the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing,” and for now Trump hasn’t “tweeted” anything disparaging about Flynn, but we can’t see how this ends well for either of them.
Meanwhile, in another courtroom in New York City, the Trump Family Foundation was taking a similarly brutal beating. Trump announced he was dissolving his charity and giving away its remaining assets to various court-directed causes, part of a settlement he’d once vowed not to negotiate. The charity is quite credibly accused of using donors’ money to contribute the impugn of a Florida candidate for Attorney General who then withdrew the state’s support of a lawsuit alleging fraud by Trump’s “Trump University” real estate, buying a large portrait of Trump for one of his businesses, several charges of “self-dealing,” and various other matters involving his three favorite children, who are temporarily barred from serving on any other charity boards, and we don’t see that ending well. The Trump apologists can rightly point to all of the credibly alleged yet unpunished shenanigans by the Clinton Family Foundation, but it still looks downright awful for all the Trumps.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, those damned Democrats who are poised to take the House majority are calling Trump’s bluff on his threat to partially shut down the government if they don’t cough up a mere five billion dollars for the big and beautiful southern border wall he promised to his dwindling number of die-hard fans. Partial government shutdowns don’t poll well, and neither does Trump’s big and beautiful border wall, the lame duck Republican majority aren’t much interested in the project, with the remaining Republicans in the border districts also in opposition, so we’ll be interested to see how eventually claims a victory in that fight.
There are several other troublesome investigations regarding Trump afoot, and surely more to come when those damned Democrats take over the House committees, and for now Trump and his legal team and media apologists and other die-hard fans have a lot of explaining to do. They might yet come up with something credible for all of it, but until then they won’t be tired of winning.

— Bud Norman

On the Latest Questions About Trump

Every American president since George Washington has been accused by his critics of all sorts of unsavory things, but only rarely has it been widely suggested that the guy has gone completely bonkers. A striking number of people are now saying that about President Donald Trump, however, and reliable sources suggest those people include several high-ranking members of Trump’s administration.
On Tuesday The Washington Post released segments of “Fear,” a soon-to-be-released and already best-selling book by its veteran reporter Bob Woodard which quotes numerous anonymous but high-ranking administrations talking about how they strive everyday to protect the American public from the most dire consequences of their boss’s uninformed and impulsive and downright petty instincts. On Wednesday The New York Times published an anonymous op-ed piece by a high-ranking administration official headlined “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” which seeks to reassure the public that “many of the senior of the senior officials inside (Trump’s) administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”
By both accounts many of the people closest to the President understand and act accordingly that in terms of intellectual and temperamental and moral and basic mental health fitness Trump is likely to do something consequentially crazy, and although Trump and his still-loyal spokespeople call it all “fake news” we’re reluctantly inclined to hopefully believe all of it.
Woodward and his fellow youthful late-night crime beat colleague Carl Bernstein broke the story of the Watergate break-in way back in the ’70s, and according to the old-fashioned newspaper rules of the time they got to follow the story it’s conclusion, which resulted in President Richard Nixon’s resignation and a Pulitzer Prize for the now-legendary journalism team of Woodward and Bernstein, and since then the now-wizened Woodward’s work has withstood the withering criticism of the next eight presidents he has investigated. Most of Woodward’s journalistic first drafts of history have been painstakingly even-handed, acknowledging each administrations’ failures while eviscerating its failures and admitting how very complicated these things are, and even if this book is more weighted to criticism we’ll count on Woodward’s 40-plus-years record of impeccable sourcing and meticulous tape-recording of double sources more than we do Trump’s dubious record of public statements.
Trump is already saying that the high-ranking anonymous administration official who penned that alarming op-ed in today’s edition is just a “fake news” figment of the “failing” New York Times’ imagination, but he’s also “tweeting” that whoever it is be immediately be turned over to be tried on a charge of treason, and we don’t doubt that the author of their anonymous op-ed piece is an actual high-ranking administration official. The New York Times is indeed as liberally slanted as those right-wing talk radio show hosts will warn you, and over the past century-and-half or so they’ve clearly gotten some things consequential things clearly wrong, but we’ll reluctantly admit that in all that time they’ve generated less outright “fake news” than Trump has “tweeted” in just the past three years or so.
Trump and his apologists can rightly boast that the unemployment rate is down and the stock markets are still up since his election, and that no new shooting wars have lately broken out, but it’s harder to argue that it couldn’t have been achieved by any other Republican president without all the Trump-ian craziness, and that it might not have happened at all without the restraining influences of the very best people he somehow wound up appointing to his administration. Pretty much every day Trump tells a press gaggle or “tweets” something that is jarringly discordant with longstanding norms or present reality, and pretty much everyday the “fake news” broadcasts it, and although every single day we try to keep our eye on the unemployment rates and the stock markets it’s hard to shake a bad feeling about all of this.

— Bud Norman