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Smart and Stable Is as Smart and Stable Does

There’s something slightly unsettling about hearing an American president reassure the public that he’s intelligent and emotionally stable, as President Donald Trump felt obliged to do over the weekend. It reminds us of President Richard Nixon’s assurance that “I am not a crook.” or President Bill Clinton’s vow that “I did not have sex with that woman,” or Fredo Corleone’s cry in “The Godfather Part II” that “I’m smart, not like everybody says, like dumb, and I want respect,” and we remember how all those turned out. Trump’s boasts that “I’m, like, really smart” and “a very stable genius” have a similarly ominous ring.
Trump has been conspicuously defensive about his smarts and sanity ever since he took that elevator ride in Trump Tower to announce his improbable campaign for the presidency, but his sensitivity has been heightened by the publication of Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” which has lately been flying off the shelfs with a considerable publicity boost from Trump’s futile efforts to prevent to its publication and his ongoing insistence that it’s all fake news. The book depicts a dysfunctional White House trying to cope with a not-very-bright and downright childish president, with some pretty unpleasant quotes coming from people once very close to the president, which prompted Trump’s “Tweets” and public remarks about being “like, very smart” and a “stable genius.”
As he did throughout his improbably successful campaign for the presidency, Trump answered his critics with characteristic braggadocio. He boasted of his academic excellence at a top-notch college, the billions of dollars he’d made in private business, his status as the star of highly-rated reality television show, and the fact that he’d won the presidency on his very first try. Such cocksureness played a large part in his improbable electoral college victory, along with an admittedly uncanny knack for convincing West Virginia coal miners that a billionaire New York City real-estate and reality-show mogul was their messiah, and it might work now. All of it was questionable all along, though, and we still suspect it worked mainly because the alternative was Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Trump did indeed graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, which indeed plays its football and basketball games in the prestigious Ivy League, but he spent his first two years at second-tier Fordham University before his father’s money got him into Penn and nobody there recalls him as an exceptional scholar and his academic records are as tightly as restricted as President Barack Obama’s. He has made billions in business, but nobody who follows the big money believes he’s made even half what he claims, and most contend he would have done better by investing his inheritance in a solid mutual fund and spending his time reading up on history and public policy, and there were many embarrassing bankruptcies and business failures along the way. He did indeed improbably wind up as President of the United States, but there hasn’t yet been a public opinion poll showing most Americans glad of that.
As much as we’d like to we can’t deny Trump has a rare genius for making his character bugs seem a a feature to enough of the voting public to pull off an improbable electoral college victory, even it was against the likes of that horrible Clinton woman. Trump’s otherwise alarming tendency to say any crazy thing that popped up into his head was lauded as refreshing honesty, his glaring racism and sexism were celebrated as a blow against “political correctness,” the illiterate crudity of his ad hominem responses to any valid criticisms was cheered the “authenticity” of his “punching back twice as hard,” and a lot of West Virginia coal miners and other disaffected white folk in flyover cover wanted to vicariously live the gaudy decadence of his boastfully adulterous and self-indulgent lifestyle in a way they never did with Bill Clinton’s zaftig affairs.
As appalled as we were by that horrible Clinton woman and her hound dog husband and had been since way back when Clinton was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and calling her the greatest Secretary of State ever, we never believed a word of it, no matter how many times Trump said “believe me.” The guy who draws the “Dilbert” cartoon and other thinkers would try to explain how Trump was a “master of persuasion” whose seemingly un-parsable pronouncements were the cutting edge of political rhetoric, and we had to admit that he was far better than we or Socrates or Daniel Webster could ever be a persuading broke suckers to sign up for Trump University or the rich fools who owned United States Football League franchises to go head-to-head with the National Football League and somehow win in the civil courts, but we doubted it could have the same effect on the presumably more sensible you hope to find in the Congress and federal judiciary and the free press and other institutions promised to vanquish. We also doubted that all those taunts and nicknames and National Enquirer stories would culminate in any positive policy results.
Trump and his apologists will point to the recent stock market records and holding-steady jobless rates and the absence of any nuclear mushroom clouds on the Korean peninsula, and they have a point that of course they’ll vastly overstate. Trump’s de-regulating executive orders and the tax bill the Republican establishment delivered to his desk have no doubt nudged the stock markets on an even higher trajectory that they’d been since before he took office, but at least one or two of those de-regulated regulations are likely to fuel some future scandal with multipole fatalities, that tax bill is polling horribly, and job creation has actually slowed compared to the last two years of Obama’s administration. The North Korean dictator that Trump has taunted as the “short and fat” “little rocket man” with a nuclear button that’s not nearly so manly as Trump hasn’t yet exploded any nuclear missiles, and he’s suddenly opening talks with South Korea that Trump claims credit for but isn’t involved in, and the rest of the world seems just as pleased to leave Trump out of it.
Meanwhile there’s the whole “Russia thing” and that messy business of what to do with all the “dreamers” who were unwittingly became illegal immigrants as children and yet another continuing resolutions that’s needed to keep the federal government running, along with numerous other matters that Trump hasn’t yet comprehensibly commented on. as well as a lingering concern that there’s something no quite right about the president. The worry is widespread enough that Trump spent a weekend “tweeting” and telling reporters that he’s very smart and sane, and reports suggest that its shared in hall of power of both allies and adversaries, and that’s bound to have eventual consequences.
Trump might have been an excellent student at that top notch college, but the seventh-grade English teacher at our otherwise second-rate junior high school would have riddled his “tweets” with red marks for spelling and punctation and syntax and general comprehensibility. He’s no doubt richer than we are, but even our limited entrepreneurial abilities could have at least broke even with a casino and we know enough about football not to go head-to-head with the NFL and we’re too kind-hearted to sucker anyone into investing in a phony baloney real estate course, and until he offers up his tax returns and the rest of the full disclosure that presidents are supposed to offer up we’re skeptical of any claims he makes. If we make it through the year without any mushroom clouds over the Korean peninsula we’ll give him some credit for that, but we’ll never agree that the nuclear button size comparisons had anything to do with it.
We’ve had the good fortune to know many brilliant people over the years, and we’ve long noticed that not a single one of them ever bragged to us that they’re, like, really smart, and all of them would have scoffed at being called a genius. Nor have any of the very stable people we’ve happily know ever felt the need to reassure us that they’re, like, very stable. We’ve also had the good fortune to know some highly ethical people, too, and none ever had to contrast their ethics with those of that awful Clinton woman.

— Bud Norman

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Running Government Like a Badly-Run Business

One of our least favorite political cliches is the one about running government like a business, which always made as much sense to us as flying a plane like a helicopter or  riding a motorcycle like driving a car. President Donald Trump won election on the argument that his unerring business expertise would result in all sorts of great government, but a few things we’ve noticed in the latest news don’t seem to be proving the claim.
The Trumpian boasts always struck as especially suspicious, given that his private sector record included the New Jersey Generals and Taj Mahal Casino-and-strip-club and Trump University and Trump Mortgage and Trump Steaks and Trump Vodka and numerous other failed eponymous businesses, but his failure to quickly deliver on his campaign promises to provide health insurance for everyone and at much lower cost and be so wonderful it would make your head spin raises further suspicions.
Fox News host “Judge” Jeanine Pirro placed all the blame on House Speaker Paul Ryan, in a diatribe that Trump claims he wasn’t aware she would be shouting when he “tweeted” for all his followers to watch the show, and she exonerated Trump by stating that “No one expected a businessman to understand the nuances, the complicated ins and outs of Washington,” but that is exactly what Trump had led his supporters to expect throughout the campaign. “Nobody knows the system better than me,” Trump  boasted during his Republican nomination acceptance speech, “which is why only I can fix it.” He was never clear about the specifics of how it would be so great, which is probably why he left that stuff up to Ryan, who didn’t have anything nearly so grandiose to offer, but Trump had boasted that his legendary deal-making prowess could get it done.
Trump also intends to bring his business genius to bear on the rest of the government with all sorts of innovative down-sizing, and he’s launched this effort by creating yet another redundant agency in the federal government called The White House Office of American Innovation. Apparently nepotism is one of those time-honored business practices that is needed in government, as the agency will be headed by Trump’s son-in-law, whose own business experience derives from the family real estate company that he inherited when his father went to prison on charges of tax evasion, witness tampering, and illegal campaign contributions. Trump himself frequently boasted during the campaign about the many politicians he’d bought off, and although he never copped to witness tampering he also boasted that if he didn’t pay any incomes tax certain that made him smart, so we’re expecting all sorts of free-market solutions for government to come from this new redundant federal agency of his.
Perhaps we should write this up in a grant proposal and try to make some money off of it, but we’ll go ahead and a offer this pro bono suggestion to the poorly acronym-ized WHOOAI. In recent years Trump’s most money-making business has been licensing his name to anyone who’s will to pay big money for it, and we think the United States of America should start doing the same. The USA is an even bigger global brand name, after all, and there’s no reason a country nearly $20 trillion in debt shouldn’t be cashing in on that. If Lee Greenwood wants to sing “God Bless the USA” or Bruce Springsteen wants to lament that he was “Born in the USA” they should be passing some of those royalties along to the general revenue funds for use of a trademarked name, and all those American flags be waved or worn as jackets at Trump rallies should cost an extra few pennies to pay for the logo rights, which should also bring a fortune from all those flags that the hippies and third-world types are always burning, and with apple pies being the exemplar of Americanness there should be some extra revenue from those.
But what do we know about that stuff? We’ve worked in low levels of government and kept on a watch on government working for newspapers that were just-as-badly run businesses, and we could have warned Trump that one of those nuances of difference between the public and private sectors is that he couldn’t fire congressmen and so-called judges the way he did the B-list celebrities on his game show, but we’re clearly not the businessmen Trump is.
Despite his past numerous business failings at least he’s been on a private sector roll lately, with the vast empire he remains invested in being run by his two older sons, his daughter splitting time between her semi-official role in the White House and running her own lucrative and touted-on-TV-by-White-House-officials line of high dollar clothes and accessories, her husband running a brand-new federal agency of his own while someone else runs what’s still his family business, and such Trump businesses as Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago and the well-used Trump golf courses are profiting from federal and state and local funds spent to protect to the Trump family. The two older Trump sons are also being expensively protected on business trips to far-flung locales where the locals are surely aware they’re dealing with the sons of the President of the United States and the owner of the company they represent, and we expect the younger Trumps have learned enough of their father’s much boasted-about influence-buying expertise to leverage that into a few extra bucks.
We must admit that even after so many years of government work and government-watching we didn’t understand the nuances and the ins-and-outs of the system well enough to ever imagine that anyone would even dare much less actually get away with all that. Perhaps such undeniable savvy will eventually make America great again, just as it’s lately been doing for the Trump brand, but in the meantime we do think that the USA brand that’s being so blatantly extorted still deserves some of the profits.

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Rasslin’ With Power

Perhaps the two most tawdry spectacles in America are politics and professional wrestling, and president-elect Donald Trump has managed to merge them into something tawdrier yet. Trump has been a past performer in the professional rasslin’ ring, having famously shaved the head of World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon following their “Battle of the Billionaires” at “Wrestlemania XXIII,” and now he’s recruited his past faux foe’s wife and business partner to run the Small Business Administration.
Linda McMahon is not without qualifications for the job, we must admit. Say what you will about the WWE, the McMahons have brought it from a small time local circuit to a big money-making global monopoly, and she’s also the founder and chief executive of Women’s Leadership Live, which advises independent businesswomen. In addition, she has some political experience from running a failed race for a Senate seat in Connecticut, where the “tea party” wave of 2010 didn’t quite reach, and she once staged a slapping match with her daughter for the entertainment of a crowd and has survived being kicked and body-slammed by Steve “Stone Cold” Austin‘and “tombstoned” by a behemoth named Kane, so at least she acts like she fights.
More pertinent selling points, we’re guessing, include her longstanding business relationship with Trump, the $6.5 million she contributed to his campaign, and the $5 million she’s contributed to the Trump Foundation, which supports such worthy causes as the reelection campaign of that Florida Attorney General who decided shortly after the check cleared to not pursue a case against Trump University. Trump frequently boasted during the campaign of all the favors he’d bought from politicians during his dazzling career, on the other hand, so perhaps he just considered the contributions another example of the business savvy McMahon will bring to the job, which is the very logic that got him elected.
In any case, we hold to a firm belief in the separation of politics and political wrestling, and contend that if only the founding fathers had been more farsighted they would have surely put something about in the Constitution. The last time the two came together was back in ’98 when Jesse “The Body” Ventura beat out Hubert Humphrey’s son and a perfectly reasonable Republican to become governor of Minnesota, and that did not end well. His crazy proposals for a unicameral legislature and instant run-off voting were rejected by both parties, 45 of the bills that did get passed were vetoed, he was bogged down a recall effort that focused on his use of state funds for a promotional book tour, and he left after one contentious term blaming everything on the media. Since then he’s been best known for peddling crackpot conspiracies and getting in bar fights with war heroes, and Minnesotans are still trying to remember what they were so fired-up angry about when electing him.
At the risk of sounding unfashionably elitist, we’d prefer that people in positions of political power have an innate sense of dignity that precludes them prancing around a ring in a feather boa, as “The Body” used to do, or shaving an opponent’s head, as “The Donald” once did, or getting “tombstoned” by some one-named giant in leotards or slap-fighting a daughter, as “The New Head of the Small Business Administration” has done. Presidents and their highest appointees were once recruited from the best of industry, academia, the military, sometimes the arts, oftentimes those who had proved themselves over long careers in politics, and although they frequently failed at least they did so with a certain dignified bearing. This is an age when reality shows and fake fights are all the rage, though, and with everyone so fired-up angry about something we suppose that the WWE’s newfound political was bound to happen.

— Bud Norman

What’s Seen on the Front Page, and the Unseen Consequences

Some eleven hundred people are going to keep their jobs at the Carrier heating and air conditioning plants in Indiana, an early Christmas gift from president-elect Donald Trump, and we’re happy for them. We can’t help worry, though, how it will work out for the rest of us.
Trump can rightly boast that he hasn’t even taken office yet but has already saved those eleven hundred jobs from being shipped off to Mexico, having negotiated the deal that offered Carrier a compelling mix of tax incentives and veiled threats to only cut 300 to 600 jobs at the plant and 700 at another facility, so naturally he boasted at length Thursday during his “Thank You Tour” of ongoing campaign rallies and photo opportunities in the heartland. Even The New York Times and The Washington Post and all the alphabet television networks were obliged to run shots of Trump beaming in the company of grateful workers, and to quote his bold claim that “Companies are not going to leave the United States any more without consequences. Not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen.” For the moment, at least, Trump’s populist economics seems triumphant.
As the great Frederic Bastiat observed about economic policies, however, “it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the ultimate consequences are fatal, and the converse.” One would have to be very hard-hearted not to feel good for those presumably hard-working Hoosiers whose jobs were spared, yet one would also have to be very soft-headed not to wonder what happens when every American company in search of tax incentives starts making veiled threats of their own.
Perhaps they can all be tax incentivized and otherwise bullied into unprofitable arrangements with their employees, but it’s hard to see how that works out for anybody over the long run. Perhaps the co-author of “The Art of the Deal” will make such great deals, such beautiful, huge deals that everyone winds up getting rich, but that’s not the way it worked out with Trump Mortgage or Trump Network or Trump University or Trump Steaks or the Trump Taj Mahal casino-and-strip-club or numerous other Trump-branded businesses, not to mention the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League, although we hear that the made-in-China Trump ties are still selling briskly, so we’re skeptical that Trump can run every other business in the country any better. Perhaps all those foreign markets that Trump has promised to protect America from won’t decide to protect themselves from Trump and all his business partners in the American economy with retaliatory measures, too, but we think you’d find a better bet and at least a pair of bare breasts at a Trump casino if there were any left.
For the moment, though, Trump is indeed triumphant. It’s hard to argue with a front page picture of smiling Indiana furnace-makers, and corporate big-wigs in fancy offices shipping jobs off to Mexico are such central-casting villains that even Ayn Rand would have a hard time rising to their defense, and old quotes from long-dead French economists, no matter how time-tested, are now easily shouted down. The Democrats have been peddling protectionism and central planning for as long as we can remember, and although the self-described socialist and almost-Democratic-nominee Sen. Bernie Sanders is grousing about the tax breaks involved in the Carrier deal we expect that most of his congressional colleagues will be happy to make similar deals on behalf of certain of their constituents. We also expect that most of the Republicans who once stood steadfast against such nonsense back when President Barack Obama was picking the winners and losers will now be incentivized and bullied into going along as well, and those hardy few who resist will be angrily “tweeted” about and face difficult re-election races. For now most of America seems quite happy about having someone in the government run the entire American economy, even if they’re rather angrily divided about who that person should be, and Bastiat’s wise warnings about the unseen consequences of well-intentioned economic policies will go unheard, and for that matter the consequences will be mostly unseen.
You’ll be seeing lots of pictures of Trump posing next to grateful workers whose villainous boss has been incentivized and bullied into letting them keep their jobs, but none of the workers who would have been employed if free people and free markets had been allowed to continue along the circuitous and often bumpy route that has led to the past many years of rising global prosperity and relative peace and rapid technological and scientific advancement and widened scope of glorious liberty. The progress has been slowed by the past eight years of Obama’s meddling, indeed the past 90 or so years of varying degrees of government meddling, and Trump might slow it further yet. He’s also promising deregulation and tax cuts and all the other free market notions that Republicans have traditionally peddled, and he might incentivize and bully enough Democrats to make that happen, but we do hope he’ll refrain from trying running every business in America with American workers and American materials, the way he didn’t run his, no matter how tempting the photo opportunity might be.

— Bud Norman

Rethinking that “Lock Her Up” Chant

One of the big selling points of Republican nominee Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was that, if he elected, he would send Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to prison. He made the boast to her face during one of their nationally-televised debates, crowds at his subsequent rallies lustily chanted “lock her up,” and the more enthusiastic supporters were sporting t-shirts with the same exhortation. Now that Trump has been elected, though, he seems in a more forgiving mood.
In an interview with The New York Times on Monday, Trump reportedly “made clear that he would not pursue an investigation himself, nor make it a priority as he takes office.” After months of threats of special prosecutors and other investigations against the woman he dubbed “Crooked Hillary,” Trump was quoted as saying “I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t. She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many ways, and I am not wanting to hurt them at all. The campaign was vicious.”
Such magnanimity will no doubt be greatly disappointing to many of Trump’s more fervent supporters, who hate Clinton with a red-hot passion and were so looking forward to seeing the leaked photos of her behind bars in an orange jumpsuit show up in The National Enquirer. Trump has bragged that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes, though, and letting Clinton skate probably isn’t quite so bad as that, depending on Trump might have shot, so we suppose those vengeful supporters will eventually get over it. The gesture won’t earn him any gratitude from those on the left who hate him with a red-hot passion and were hoping to see him making the art of the deal with his cellmates, though, and will have to settle for that $25 million he shelled out to settle the Trump University lawsuits and whatever fines he’ll pay for his family charity’s admitted violations of the tax laws, so as a political matter it’s probably a wash.
As a matter of good government and ethics and all that, on the hand, the whole situation seems ridiculous. We can well understand the animosity toward Clinton, whose unsecured e-mail certainly does seem to have violated several laws that would cause any less well-connected to be imprisoned, and whose own family charity seems to have bigger problems than an affordable tax fine, and we were publicly grousing about her nearly constant disregard for the rules way back when Trump was contributing to the Clintons’ campaigns and inviting them to his third wedding and lavishly praising them to every interviewer. There was something slightly Banana Republic about Trump leading his rallies in a chant of “lock her up,” and as seemingly politically motivated as her official exoneration was under the Obama administration was to her critics it would have seemed at least as politically motivated to Trump’s many critics if he had tried to keep his campaign promise, and we expect everyone involved in that hypothetical battle would come out looking bad.
Which is not to say that anybody is looking good after that Times interview, or that anyone will be pleased with outcome. The Clinton haters will have to console themselves that she’s out of power in the government, in disfavor with much of her party, and unlikely to yield any influence on politics for some to come, and that she might not have that much time left. The Trump haters will have to console themselves with the fact that he’s already broken one campaign promise, with many more sure to come, and that he’s already leaving himself open to the same sort of charges of influence-peddling that he used against Clinton. We don’t hate anybody, nor do we much care for Clinton or Trump, so none of this makes us feel any better about the country’s situation.

— Bud Norman

Oh Yeah, That Conflict-of-Interest Thing

One of the many peculiar things we noticed about this past crazy election year was the conspicuous lack of serious discussion about the potential conflicts of interest that Republican nominee Donald Trump and his vast business empire might face if he became president. Now that he’s the president-elect it’s suddenly a hot topic in all the big papers, and we suppose better late than never.
The question did come up in one of the early Republican primary debates moderated by Fox News’ business section, and Trump answered that if he became president “I couldn’t care less about my business,” which he described as “peanuts,” promised that he only cared about making America great again, then explained that he would turn over control of his various holdings to his adult children. “Is that a blind trust?” he asked, adding that ain’t-I-a-rascal smirk his fans seem to love, then answering his question by saying “I don’t know.” Of course the crowd went nuts for it, awed that Trump would make such a selfless and patriotic gesture as turning over control of his businesses to his children, but as we watched at home and slapped our old-school Republican forehead we fully expected that at some point somebody would effectively make the glaringly obviously argument that no, what Trump describes is not at all a blind trust, and it invites all sorts of serious problems.
Some of the media did take note of the issue, but by that point Trump’s growing number of fans were able to dismiss it as something the hated media was making an issue of, and the news quickly moved on to coverage of Trump’s latest “Tweet” or insult or some old locker room talk he shared with the shock jock Howard Stern’s nationally-broadcast radio show. We kept waiting for one of the Republican rivals to bring up the conflict of interests inherent in Trump’s proposal, but they were too afraid of offending Trump’s fans or just reluctant to remind them that he was a semi-successful business who was thumbing his nose on their behalf at all those old-fashioned rules of political propriety that everyone suddenly hated. Surely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would make hay of it, we thought, but given her phony-baloney and scandal-plagued family foundation and all the various conflicts of interest that entailed she apparently decided to steer the conversation elsewhere.
Now that the Clinton family no longer has any influence to peddle, and their voluminous scandals can be left to the historians, the press is free to focus on Trump’s peculiar situation, and so far they’re having a grand old time of it. They’re noting a wide range of Trump family interests that might well be at odds with the broader public interest, and belatedly wondering if Trump is truly so patriotically disinterested as he promised. There’s that fancy new hotel Trump built in the Old Post Office in Washington, D.C., where business hasn’t been great since its grand opening and a grand re-opening during a much publicized campaign stop, and since the building was leased from the federal government the co-author of “The Art of the Deal” is now both the landlord and lessee, and it will be interesting to see how those negotiations turn out. Should the unions representing the workers at Trump’s many other hotels find themselves before the National Labor Relations Board, an executive agency overseen by the president, and that will also prove interesting. Trump is also scheduled to be deposed in a class action lawsuit against his phony-baloney and scandal-plagued Trump University, presided over by a judge Trump has publicly denounced as a Mexican, and we expect that much attention will be paid to that.
The proudly nationalist and anti-globalist president-elect has a proudly globalist business empire, so there’s also concern how that might affect foreign policy. Although Trump has refused to release his tax records so that the public might know just how entangled he is with foreign entities, he has been forced to release enough financial information to reveal that he owes hundreds of million of dollars to Germany’s Deutsche Bank, which is currently haggling with the the executive branch Justice Department over how many billions they will pay for promoting dubious mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the 2008 recession. One of the biggest tenants at his Trump Tower is the Bank of China, which has also complicated dealings with the federal government. During a campaign stop in Scotland to get some free publicity for a golf course he’s built there, where business also hasn’t been great lately, Trump told the assembled media that a devalued British pound would draw more tourists there, which was widely noted by the already-hostile Fleet Street press. Donald Trump Jr. has publicly admitted that the family business is also indebted to Russian interests, and his father’s campaign has been strikingly Russia-friendly for a Republican nominee, and any conspiracy theories about that will be at least as plausible as the ones Trump promoted about Sen. Ted Cruz’s dad killing JFK or President Barack Obama being born in Kenya.
There are numerous other examples that the press has already seized on, with more surely to come, and the only way for Trump to avert the problem is to put all his holdings into an actual, honest-to-God, not-run-by-his-children blind trust. That’s what every other president in the history of the Republic has done, even the ones you couldn’t stand, and every ethics expert from either party agrees it is the only way to assure the public of honest governance. Trump has thus far stuck with his campaign position, which we must admit didn’t keep him from winning, and he apparently figures that his fans will see any personal enrichment he might derive as further proof of that brilliant business acumen the country needs. Former New York City mayor and prominent Trump spokesman Rudy Giuliani argues that it would be unfair to Trump’s children to “put them out of work,” promises that Trump would never discuss business with his children, and argues that people will just have to trust their president.
Giuliani was a darned good mayor at one point but now has his own conflicts of interest to worry about, and we can’t remember him saying much about how people should trust their president over the past eight years or so, and we’re sure he wouldn’t be talking that nonsense if Clinton had won and her own conflict-of-interest problems were the story of the moment. Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters will probably always trust he’s only concerned with making America great again, and won’t mind if the Trump family profits as well, but a lot of the people who reluctantly voted for him and the vast majority that didn’t will be more skeptical. Let us hope that Trump proves as patriotic he claims to be, and that his kids find something do while he’s making America great again.

— Bud Norman

Of Hurled Stones and Glass Houses

All through the Republican primaries one of the arguments most often made for the candidacy of Donald J. Trump was that he was the only one in the field who would be willing to wage a ruthlessly negative campaign against pre-ordained Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The others might politely criticize her policies or make some mention of her many scandals, we were told, but Trump alone would be willing to raise the issue of her character. We never doubted that he would, given the way he bullied his way past “Lyin'” Ted Cruz and “Little” Marco Rubio and “Low Energy” Jeb Bush and Carly “Look at That Face” Fiorina and the rest of the competition, but that only further confirmed our suspicion that his own character was the most susceptible to counter-attack.
Trump has lately been in the down-and-dirty mode that his admirers promised, regaling his rallies with verbal attacks on the Clinton Family Foundation and the Clinton family itself, but his adversaries in the press are having great fun noting the many ironies involved.
After congratulating himself on all the networks for being too gentlemanly to say anything about Clinton’s ex-president husband’s famously tawdry sex life, Trump is now more forthrightly saying things about it. He reminded a New Hampshire audience that President Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, his surrogates are speaking about his numerous other alleged affairs and sexual misbehaviors, which includes allegations ranging from general creepiness to outright rape, and it’s always implied that the current Democratic nominee was complicit in it all.
Which seems fair enough to us. All through Bill Clinton’s presidency we were appalled by the tawdriness of Clinton’s all-too-public private life, being the blue-nosed sort of red-staters who bitterly cling to an old-fashioned notion that a president ought to set some sort of moral example, and after so many years we’re still no more pleased by the idea of him being First Gentleman or whatever he’d be called if his wife gets elected. Even such polite media as The Washington Post have lately been obliged to acknowledge that the Democratic nominee did play a leading role in disparaging the women her husband was involved with and accused by, and given that she’s running as a feminist standard bearer who has insisted that any woman alleging sexual assault must believed it seems a legitimate issue. Alas, it’s Trump who is raising it.
A thrice-married casino-and-strip-club mogul who has publicly boasted about his penis size and all the married babes he’s bagged over the years sounds rather ridiculous when tsk-tsking about anyone else’s behavior, and that illegal immigrant nudie model he’s currently married to doesn’t seem much a role model, so his fans are left to dispute the levels of tawdriness. Some note that Trump hasn’t been accused of rape, but one of his ex-wifes did once make the accusation and another woman has a lawsuit pending alleging that Trump raped her when was 13 years old, which thus far haven’t gotten the press attention that Trump is now inviting. Bill Clinton is a friend of the billionaire and convicted ephebephile billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, and has travelled with him on the “Lolita Express” to his Caribbean orgy sites, but Trump has also boasted of his friendship with Epstein and joked about his affinity for younger woman and that woman with the pending lawsuit alleges that she was assaulted at one of Epstein’s parties. The press is also happily pulling up old stories about how Trump had once said that Clinton’s impeachment was “nonsense” about “something totally unimportant,” which his surrogates are having a hard time explaining, and noting that he also disparaged the women involved with his “good friend” and future wedding guest. He called Paula Jones, the Arkansas state employee who alleged that Clinton exposed himself to her in a hotel room she had been summoned to by the Arkansas Highway Patrol while he was governor, a “loser.” He also noted that Lewinsky was less hot than Marilyn Monroe, the screen siren and illicit lover of President John Kennedy, and at the time that was his only criticism of the affair.
Even some of Trump’s most loyal admirers think it better that Trump should stick to his attacks on Clinton’s family foundation, which raised a lot of money from countries and companies and various shady characters who had business before the Secretary of State which often turned out in their favor, but even that very legitimate issue leaves him vulnerable to counter-attacks. Trump has his own charitable foundation, which he doesn’t seem to have contributed much to over the past many years, and lately the press has happily reported that it was forced to pay a fine for a contribution to that Florida Attorney General who decided shortly afterwards not to join three other states in a suit against the seemingly fraudulent “Trump University,” along with other highly questionable activities. Trump’s admirers will point out that he was merely buying rather selling political favors, but the criticism of Clinton are still somewhat blunted in a way that those of other possible Republican candidates wouldn’t have been.
At least Trump fights, we’re told.

— Bud Norman

Deuling Scandals

The most likely and by now almost certain upcoming American presidential election will surely be a mud-slinging contest, but at least it won’t be the asymmetric sort of warfare that all those terrorists keep waging. Both sides will have plenty of the kind of the mud that sticks, neither side has ever shown any unwillingness to sling it, and there’s a conspicuous symmetry to their charges.

While the presumptive Democratic nominee stands credibly accused of selling favors for contributions to her campaigns and dubious “family foundation,” the presumptive Republican nominee has publicly bragged about buying favors from politicians and was once a six-figure donor to that dubious “family foundation.” The presumptive Democratic nominee has stuck by her former President husband throughout his numerous tawdry sexual scandals, but the presumptive Republican nominee trades in his wives every decade or so for a newer model and brags about all the married babes he’s done. That former president has been found on the flight logs of a convicted sex offender with an island full of underage women, but the presumptive Republican nominee once bragged about his friendship with the same fellow “who likes ’em even younger than I do” to New York Magazine. The presumptive Republican nominee stands credibly accused of snookering some poor suckers into disastrous debt to pay for a worthless degree from “Trump University,” but now we learn that the presumptive Democratic nominee’s husband was even more handsomely paid by a similarly shady for-profit higher education outfit.

For the moment you won’t find it on the more mainstream news outlets, but an admirably independent journalist has reported that the presumptive Democratic nominee’s ex-president husband has pulled down a far more impressive haul than even the presumptive Republican nominee and self-described business genius by acting as the “honorary chancellor” for an arguably equally dubious for-profit educational institution called “Laureate Education,” which ran an unaccredited on-line campus called “Walden University.” He cites the usually reliably Inside Higher Education’s report that the presumptive Democratic nominee’s ex-president pocketed $16.5 million for allowing his name on the pamphlets, and makes a convincing case that it was alsoa  case of suckering poor saps into disastrous debt for a dubious education, and he doesn’t end on a happier note than we can muster.

— Bud Norman

The Finals Begin

Well, it looks as if former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton truly is the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee after all, even it wasn’t nearly so easy as promised and even if her long presumed status as the First Woman President remains somewhat in doubt. After nearly eight long years of waiting she was officially pronounced her party’s presumptive nominee by The Associated Press even before the voting in California, and her landslide win in that populous and crucial state makes it all but a fait accompli.
There’s still an outside chance this thoroughly awful woman will be indicted on felony charges for influence-peddling and for endangering national security by communicating through an insecure private e-mail server to avoid public scrutiny of her disastrous tenure as Secretary of State, but at this point the Democrats are so horrified by the prospect of the presumptive Republican nominee that the vast majority of them just don’t care. She also lost by blow-out margins to much peskier-than-expected rival and self-described socialist and full-blown nutcase Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the far less populous and even less crucial states of North Dakota, adding to a long streak of embarrassing defeats, and her presumptive status is still contingent on all those party establishment “super-delegates” who have been promising her the nomination for the past nearly eight years, but she also won in the more populous and crucial states of New Jersey and New Mexico, as well as South Dakota, and even Sanders’ most embittered supporters will eventually be forced to admit that over the long run she got by far more primary and caucus voters from the national party’s rank-and-file.

The presumptive Republican nominee, whose much easier win of the nomination was unexpected by almost everyone, is already making overtures to those disgruntled Sanders voters and promising a big speech about the presumptive Democratic nominee’s old and ongoing thoroughly awful scandals, but it remains to be seen how any of that will work out. The presumptive Republican nominee is Donald J. Trump, a self-described billionaire and real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul, and we expect that most of Sanders’ scruffy and resentful supporters will eventually glumly fall in line with their party’s chosen one the same way, and for the same reason of revulsion to the alternative, that most Republicans are now glumly siding with Trump. Although it’s hard to overstate the case against the Democrats’ thoroughly awful nominee the Republican will probably manage to do so, perhaps by doubling down on his insinuation that Clinton had a former associate assassinated, just as he once insinuated the father of one of his vanquished Republican rivals might have been in on the Kennedy assassination, or whatever else his friends at The National Enquirer might come up with, and the news cycle might yet wind up dominated by continued coverage of the thoroughly awful Republican nominee’s criticism of one of the “Mexican” of the three judges in the civil suit and ongoing scandal about that “Trump University” he ran that sure likes to be a case out of outright fraud against our most vulnerable fellow suckers.

By now everyone who keeps abreast of Republican politics knows that the judge in question is indeed of Mexican heritage, and belongs to a lawyer’s club that goes by the admittedly problematic name of “La Raza,” and that Trump has vowed to build a wall to keep their kind out, and that one top of that the guy’s an Obama appointee, but we doubt that any of those disgruntled Sanders supporters care much about any of that. So far as they and even some more sensible people are concerned, the judge was born in Indiana to naturalized citizens and is therefore not a Mexican, the complaint that any judge not tainted by any touch of Mexican heritage would have surely summarily dismissed the same case that is still going on in two other courts run by more Anglo-Saxon judges is patently ridiculous, that his original appointment to the bench was by a Republican governor and his subsequent career has included notable fights against Mexican criminal organizations, and they might even note that the case was indeed dropped in two other states after the Attorneys General received generous contributions from a presumptive Republican nominee who has openly bragged on Republican debate stages that he made contributions to gain posterior-kissing favor from politicians. We do hope that the presumptive Republican nominee’s big speech will make mention about the presumptive Democratic nominees phony-baloney influence-peddling “family foundation, but we don’t expect he’ll mention he was among the six-figure contributors, and we can’t say how this mud-slinging contest will come out, except to say that they’ll both be covered with plenty of mud.

— Bud Norman

Let’s Make a Deal to be the Last on Gilligan’s Island

The latest episode of the Republican party’s ongoing presidential nomination reality show was the best one yet, but it might yet be too little and too late to save this series from an unsatisfying conclusion.
Telecast by the Cable News Network in Mercury Radio Theatre’s “War of the Worlds” fashion as an actual presidential debate, the episode featured two of the last survivors on the Republican party island, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, ganging up against the thus-far series favorite, self-proclaimed billionaire real-estate and gambling mogul Donald J. Trump in an entertaining showdown. Ohio Gov. Rick Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson were also featured, and were quite boringly reasonable and level-headed in their brief moments, but they were just “and the rest,” as the first seasons of Gilligan’s Island’s theme song would have put it.
Regular fans of the show already know that Trump’s long experience in professional wrestling and reality shows have given him a decided advantage over the neophyte politicians who are now dancing with the stars, along with his unprecedentedly strong stand against illegal immigration and the fact that he’s not one of those neophyte politicians who are part of the “establishment,” which has long been established as the unseen villain of the series, and thus far his would-be rivals have mostly been preoccupied with sniping at one another. On Thursday night’s episode, though, all of these plot lines saw intriguing twists.
Both Rubio and Cruz demonstrated some professional wrestling moves and reality show savvy of their own, with Rubio noting that despite an unprecedentedly hard line against illegal immigration Trump has a longstanding practice of hiring illegal immigrants, and Cruz happily accepting Trump’s inadvertent compliment that nobody in the hated “establishment” likes him, and both provoking Trump into the face-making and rudely interrupting with shouts of “liar” histrionics that always get the show’s sizable anti-Trump audience booing and hissing.
Rubio got the better of the attack on Trump’s previous preferences for foreign workers, and when Trump objected to Rubio’s revelations that Trump had not only hired Polish workers for the dangerous asbestos removal to build the towering achievement of the Trump tower and had also stiffed them on their wages Rubio seemed to win the exchange by asking viewers to look it up. When Rubio noted that Trump had also preferred to hire Ukrainian maids for his Florida resort rather than American applicants willing to do the job, he was able to add the biographical detail that his own mother was a legal immigrant who had become an American citizen and supported him on his rise to a presidential contender by working as a hotel maid in Florida, and Trump was reduced to the open-borders argument that he merely hiring people to do work that Americans wouldn’t do. When he tried to strike back by noting Rubio’s involvement with the “Gang of Eight” that had sought to do the work of the open-borders crowd, much hated by all the show’s fans, Cruz was able to effectively jump in and note that Trump had been a big contributor to all of the Democratic members of the gang, and that only he of the three had been consistently righteous in his opposition.
Rubio at long last brought up that phony-baloney Trump University scam that’s winding its way through the courts, and the four bankruptcies and and made-in-China Trump ties and alluded to all the other failed Trump ventures of the invincible deal-maker, and Cruz noted that Trump’s claims that it’s all a lie is in itself a lie. Trump claimed to be a strong defender of Israel even as he defended a recent claim that he’d be neutral in a dispute between democratic and capitalist and humane Israel and the theocratic and no-economy-at-all-because-it’s-too-busy-hating-Israel Palestine, and Cruz noting Trump’s history of donating to anti-Israel politicians all the way back to Jimmy Carter. Trump tried to revise a minor plot line from a few weeks ago when Rubio started repeating himself, and wound up repeating himself to a point that the audience laughed along with Rubio. Between the two, Rubio and Cruz also brought up that Trump has been all over all the place on his health care plans, is losing in his beloved polls to the very vincible villain Hillary Clinton, won’t release the tax returns that might reveals he’s not such a successful businessman or generous philanthropist, has clearly lied about his views on the Libyan war, and donated $100,000 to the Bill and Hillary Clinton foundation that is one of the Republican’s juiciest issues.
In response Trump tried to revise another even more minor plot line about how Cruz had sullied Trump’s good friend Carson with a “tweet” of a CNN report about Carson’s withdrawal he was saved from Cruz noting how Trump had ridiculed Carson’s as “pathological” and akin to a child molester only by the intervention of CNN’s generally inept moderator. Another panelist from an affiliated Spanish-speaking network kept asking all the candidates if they “get it’ that the Republicans have to endorse an open-borders platform, which worked to Trump’s advantage, but overall it was a rough night for Trump.
Which won’t matter to Trump’s fans, of course. If their hero anti-immigration hero has a long history of hiring immigrant workers, well, that’s just because he’s a shrewd businessman, which is what’s need to make this country great again. If he’s not such a shrewd businessman as he’d have you believe, well, any source that would report such a thing is obviously not in favor of Trump and is therefore biassed against him, and you gotta hate any media that hate such a media star who’s going to make America great again. If Trump’s anti-Israel that just proves he’s not a stooge of Zionist conspiracy that’s bringing in foreign workers to drive wages down, and if Trump did that he’s just a good businessman. Who cares if he’s for socialized medicine or not, just so long as he builds that damned wall, and if he uses foreign workers to do that it’s just because he’s a good businessman. If he wrote a $100,00 check to his most recent wedding guest Clintons’ money-for-favors foundation, well, that’s just because he got snookered into thinking it was for some good work in Haiti or one of those places where no one ever does a publicized audit.
The far louder than Rubio-and-Cruz-combined media will be saturating the public with even more lurid tales of Trump’s business dealings and personal foibles just after he clinches the nomination, and will starting noticing that his refreshing political incorrectness is actually just downright rude, but until then his fans can revel in how he’s playing the media. With a potentially decisive number of delegates up for grabs in the impending “Super Tuesday” primaries are the next big episode in this series, that might be sooner rather than later. The good news for Trump is that Rubio and Cruz did about equally well, meaning they’ll continue to split that vast majority of the anti-Trump vote between themselves, and Trump’s 35 to 40 percent will prevail.
If the rest of the participants in this bizarre reality show had played their parts differently we might have would up with a sequel that featured a more-or-less conservative against one shade of socialist or another, which would have made an interesting show, but instead we might wind up with a corrupt semi-socalist and the semi-capitalist who paid her to attend his latest wedding in the worst episode of “Let’s Make a Deal” ever.

— Bud Norman