On Pandemic Panics, Basketball Brawls, and That Impeachment Matter

At this point we’re desperate to opine to about anything other than the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, but there’s not much else in the news. A disease spreading in China might yet kill us all, and here in the Sunflower State there’s much talk about the big brawl that broke out between the University of Kansas Jayhawks and the Kansas State University Wildcats in the final seconds of their men’s basketball contest, but that’s about it.
The recent outbreak of the deadly and contagious coronavirus in Wuhan, China, which is China’s sixth most populous city and more populous than any American city, is indeed a tragedy and a matter of concern. The city is a crucial part of China’s very interactive economy, which is a crucial part of a very interactive global economy, and given all the international travel that occurs these days there’s no telling how that might wind up. Even so, we don’t worry it will wind up killing us all.
By now we’ve survived the Swine Flu and the Ebola Virus and AIDS and all sorts of pandemic panics and other apocalyptic scenarios, and we like our chances with this one. The ruthless commies running China are an unsavory lot, but we have to admit they’re ruthlessly efficient at cracking down on this sort of thing. Even during the Trump administration the American government tends to be less ruthless and more lax about these things, but so far they’ve kept us alive, so we expect they’ll do so again. With all due respect and sympathy to the many fine people of Wuhan, for now it’s not a Wichita problem.
That big brawl between the KU and K-State basketball squads was something to see and a much bigger deal around here, and the footage of massive athletes brawling into the handicapped section was endlessly replayed to sports fans around the country, and although it looked awful it’s ultimately much ado about nothing. We dropped out of K-State but retain an affection for its sports program and as lifelong Wichitans are mostly fans of the Wichita State University Wheatshockers and have no affinity for the haughty KU sports programs, so we look at it from the same biased lens as we do the Trump impeachment trial, but so far as we can objectively tell the hated Jayhawks are mostly at fault.
The melee started in the closing seconds of a lopsided KU victory, which was expected because the Jayhawks are their usual championship-contending selves and the Wildcats are lately mediocre at best, and the game was being played on the hallowed hardwood of KU’s Allen Field House, where the Jayhawks rarely lose. According to the voluminous but inconclusive video evidence the K-State benchwarmers who were playing out the waning minutes just wanted the game over with, but there was a taunt or a push by a KU player, and then a taunt and a push back by a K-State player, and then both benches cleared and the brawl wound up spilling over into the laps of the spectators in the handicapped section.
One of the KU players was clearly videotaped lifting a metal folding chair above his head, pro-wrestling style, with a KU assistant coach preventing him at the last moment from bringing it down on someone’s head, and so far the National Collegiate Athletic Association is coming down harder on the Jayhawks. Both teams will suffer suspensions, but the Jayhawks will suffer more, as their suspended players are more valuable, and they’re already underdogs to the Baylor University Bears in the Big XII conference race, while K-State is just fighting for a slot in the consolatory National Invitational Tournament, where they might do well.
It will all work itself out without any real bother to ourselves, we expect, so tomorrow we’ll get back to worrying about that impeachment trial. As we follow it we’ll be well reminded that sometimes ruthlessness works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

–Bud Norman

A Good Day to Be in Switzerland

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

— Bud Norman

Who Needs Evidence When We Already Know Which Side We’re On?

There are physical examinations and tax returns and and oil changes and various other unpleasant things that can’t be forever avoided in this life, no matter how one tries, and the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump is one of those things. It’s an acrimonious topic, best avoided over family dinners, but there’s nothing else in the news that allows getting around it.
The very differing versions of the very complicated facts of the matter will surely dominate the headlines for the coming weeks, as the very complicated machinery of the constitutional system grinds how to proceed with the trial. At this point, most people have chosen their side.
So far as we can tell the damned Democrats want to introduce to the trial all the testimony they’ve elicited in congressional testimony and sworn documents from respected Trump-administration civil servants and a Trump donor and political appointee who allege Trump withheld congressionally authorized aid to our Ukrainian allies in exchange for help in his reelection, along with recent media interviews and the documents provided to Congress and perhaps the sworn testimony by an indicted associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who seems tied up in all this. They also impeach the president on the charge of obstructing their efforts to get to the bottom of it.
The Republican response has been that it’s all a “deep state” conspiracy by the damned Democrats to depose a wildly popular president, and that no testimony evidence should be allowed to dignify such a sham trial, even the presumably exculpatory testimony and evidence that might come from Trump’s Secretary of State and moonlighting Chief of Staff and Secretary of Budget and Management and Office and defenestrated national security and the still ongoing personal lawyer who seems up to his neck in all this. We have friends and family who find this quite persuasive, but as much as we despise the damn Democrats we like to hear and consider all the relevant information before making up our minds about anything. There’s also no plausible argument that Trump and the congressional Republicans aren’t obstructing that constitutionally mandated effort.
According to the latest polling a slim 51 percentage of Americans want Trump removed from office, which is well within a margin of error that might allow Trump to win again in the Electoral College, and there’s no denying the polls only predicted the popular vote in the last election, but it does not bode well for his reelection chances. A closer look at the numbers reveals even more bad news for Trump, as women voters and black voters and Latino voters and young voters and other growing demographics of voters want him out by landslide numbers, and even a slim plurality of us aging and increasingly outnumbered white male Republican respondents want a full trial with documentary evidence and sworn testimony and anything else that might either convict or acquit the president.
Barring any bombshell testimony from witnesses Trump and the Republicans might reluctantly allow to testify, at this point their best argument is that yeah, Trump withheld the aid to get election help and publicly refused to comply with congressional efforts to find out about it, but so what? “Get over it,” as Trump’s moonlighting chief of staff and Officer of Management and Budget said, adding “it happens all the time.” Maybe so, but we find that distressing, and suspect that “many people,” as Trump likes to cite, do as well.
The non-partisan Government Accountability Office has decreed it is indeed against the law for a president to withhold congressionally authorized appropriations, and that pretty much comports with our layman’s understanding of how the legislative branch legislates and the executive branch executes according to the Constitution, and so for the judicial branch that adjudges these things agrees. As for obstructing the damned congressional Democrats in their constitutionally approved “deep state” conspiracy efforts, Trump has made quite a show of that, and the fans love him for it, but they’ll change their minds the next time a Democratic president gets in trouble, which might be soon, and for now the rest of the pubic doesn’t like it.
Trump and his Senate allies might be damned if they allow any damning testimony and evidence into a Senate impeachment trial, but they’ll also be damned if they don’t, especially if they don’t introduce any exculpatory evidence or testimony that Trump has previously blocked, as it looks very bad. Maybe it won’t be so bad for Trump if the stock markets are still up and unemployment is still low on Election Day, and the damned Democrats go crazy left, and Trump’s support is sufficiently spread around the Electoral College map, but it still looks very bad.

— Bud Norman

The Trials of the Centuries

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump has formally begun, with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts swearing in the Senate as sworn impartial jurors, and thus far it’s the trial of this young century. In many troubling ways, it reminds us of The People v O.J. Simpson, which was the trial of the last century.
In case you’re blessedly too young to remember, we should explain that Simpson was a Heisman Trophy-winning running back at the University of Southern California who went on to set several National Football League records with the Buffalo Bills, and then parlayed that and his good looks and congenial public image into lucrative careers as a rental car pitchman and sports announcer and sometime movie actor and household name. When he was charged with the brutal stabbing murders of his glamorous ex-wife and a handsome young waiter she’d been seeing, it was a very big deal.
When the story first broke that the ex-wife of a B-list celebrity had been murdered it got little play in most newspapers, but we had a very savvy editor at the paper where we worked and he put it on the front page, as he’d been around long enough to know that ex-husbands are usually a prime suspect in a murder case and that readers are suckers for sordid stories about even B-list celebrities. We spent countless hours of our newspaper’s time following every detail that came over the wires, right up to desultory climax, and are still watching Simpson grow old and the story plays out to its ultimate tragicomic ending.
Everything that was reported in the papers and admitted as evidence and testimony in a court of law pointed to Simpson’s guilt. He was previously convicted on two occasions of violence against his ex-wife, his blood was found at the murder scene and her blood was found in his car, there was a very rare glove found at the murder scene and testimony from the glove-maker that one of them was bought by Simpson’s then-wife at Christmas time, and after Simpson led the police on a highly-rated low-speed flee from justice the best alibi he had to offer was ludicrously weak.
None of which made any difference in the outcome. Simpson is black, his ex-wife and her reputed boyfriend were white, and in the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots that mattered more to most of black America. The trial judge allowed the defense to argue a conspiracy by the same justice system that had let Simpson off lightly for domestic abuse conviction, and when one of the detectives was caught lying about the using the “n word” most of black America had made up its mind. The trial judge also allowed the defense to argue that Simpson’s ex-wife might have been killed by a Colombian drug that gang that mistook her for another blonde who had a thousand dollar or so cocaine debt, and most of black America seized on that improbable explanation.
The the trial was held in the mostly black district of downtown Los Angeles, rather than the upscale white suburb where the murder occurred, and the “not guilty” verdict was expected.
We were friends with both of the two black men in the newsroom at the time, and usually enjoyed our talks about sports and inter-office gossip and the rest of the news of the day during coffee breaks and other downtime, but the Simpson trial strained relationships. Both of our friends were highly intelligent and well educated and quite competent journalists who tended to look at things a with dispassionate objectivity, yet despite all the evidence neither was willing to concede even the possibility that Simpson was guilty as charged.
They had their reasons, we must admit. American justice has indeed imprisoned a lot of innocent black people, and imprisoned a lot more guilty black people fo longer sentences than they eserved, and Simpson was just the sort of black celebrity icon the man would want to bring down. We can see how these convoluted conspiracy theories were more compelling than the clearly evident facts of the case.
This time around Trump is on trial, and once again tribal allegiances seem more important than the clearly evident facts of the case. In one of those twists of fate one should by now come to expect it is highly intelligent and well educated and rapidly aging and increasingly outnumbered white men who are ignoring all the clearly evident facts of the case to will stick by their man. Trump stands accused of abusing his executive powers by withholding congressionally authorized aid to beleaguered ally Ukraine to extort political help against a Democrat party rival, and then obstructing Congress’ constitutional authority to look into it, and so far all the -press reports and sworn testimony and admitted by court documentary evidence indicates that, yeah, Trump did that.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the moonlighting White House chief of staff and Officer of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney and former national security advisor John Bolton might and Attorney General William Barr and private Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani might offer some exculpatory testimony, but for some suspicious reason Trump is barring them from doing so. The fans don’t mind it a bit, and will hope for as little information as possible so long as it ends in an eventual acquittal.
They have their reasons, too. Those damned Democrats are indeed a bossy bunch, and might well prove the ruination of our great country if given a chance. Relatively wealthy white men are also under rhetorical assault from the mainstream media and popular culture, and at least the stock market is up and Trump is appointing conservative judges and getting pro football players to stop kneeling during the national anthem.
So what if Trump did what he’s accused of doing in his impeachment trial, as all the evidence clearly indicates? Given how awful the damn Democrats are we can understand why most Republicans still think they deserve to lose. As guilty of murder as Simpson obviously was, we can well understand why some people had less faith in American justice, We try our best to be objective and non-partisan and not all racist about these things, and instead proceed with the established facts of the matter. In both trials of the past two centuries we’ve found the defendant guilty as all get-out, but for reasons having nothing to do with the facts of the case Trump will also likely be found not guilty.
“Not guilty” doesn’t necessarily mean “innocent,” though, and history will eventually convict both Simpson and Trump, what with all those stubborn facts and the objectivity that tine affords. Chief Justice Roberts will likely run a better trial than the judge in the Simpson case did, but there will be all sorts of conspiracy theories and other distractions, and the eventual inevitable acquittal won’t satisfy anyone any more than Simpson’s did.
It should be a hit show, though, so we’ll stay tuned in.

— Bud Norman

The Impeachment Show Commences

The House of Representatives has formally forwarded articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate, and there’s no way of knowing comes next, except that it will be complicated and divisive and inconclusive and ultimately harmful to America’s international reputation.
At this point the betting line is that the slim Republican majority in the Senate, which includes some sometimes principled members in iffy states, won’t vote to summarily dismiss the charges when it comes up in a week or so, and even if they did it probably wouldn’t be the smart political play. Only so much of the viewing public is paying any attention, but most of those unwashed masses want to hear the story told by sworn witnesses and any e-mails or text massages or hand-written notes or other verifiable documents that might flesh out this fascinating tale.
There’s already enough of it in the press and sworn testimony before the House and other public records to make for a prima facie case to the Senate, and if Trump succeeds in not offering any defense he’ll look bad to objective observers, which currently seem to be a majority of the electorate. Since Trump was indicted by the House one of his personal lawyer’s currently indicted clients and associates has gone on cable television to further implicate Trump in the charges of impeachment, and even though he’s under indictment and there all sorts of other a reasons to doubt his credibility he’s also a a client and associate of Trump’s personal lawyer, who also seems tied up in this mess, and given his current legal situation he has good reason to be forthcoming and truthful under oath, which makes for another interesting plot twist in this ongoing Trump reality show.
If there’s going to be a trial with all those pesky witnesses, Trump and his Senate allies are hoping they’ll include Hunter Biden, the son of currently front Democratic presidential presidential frontrunner who was apparently cashing in on Ukrainian corruption, will be among them, along with any other witnesses who can be culled from the “deep state” conspiracy against Trump, The charges facing the Senate jury are that Trump and his administration withheld congressionally authorized aid to our ally Ukraine in exchange for damning charges against the Bidens, then obstructed Congress and the justice system at large from finding about it, but on that point of law both Bidens and any other “deep state” conspirators can believably testify they know nothing about it.
Trump will either be convicted or more likely be acquitted by a Senate trial, but in any case it won’t look good in the international or historical courts of opinion.

— Bud Norman


The Desultory State of the Democrats

President Donald Trump is facing an impeachment trial and numerous other pressing problems entirely of his own making, but he can console himself he’ll likely wind up running for reelection against a Democrat. Judging by the last Democratic debate before the Iowa caucuses that kick off the primary election race, the Democrats have problems of their own.
According to all the many polls going into the debate there were four candidates within the margin of error for winning or losing the Iowa caucuses, with a few others with realistic hope of catching up, and according to our traditional Republican instincts and what our Democratic friends are telling us they’re all flawed. Our more emotional Democratic friends revile the so the so-called centrists in the race, while our more cerebral Democratic friends worry that their party is veering too far the left, and from our current perspective here on the political sidelines we don’t like any of the candidates any more than we do Trump.
Nothing that happened in Tuesday’s debate will likely change many minds.
At this point, and as usual, the Democrats are obsessed with all that race and class and gender stuff, so that started off the debate. Putative Independent yet Democratic candidate and self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was recently accused by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts of saying a female candidate could not win a presidential election, which is arguable given the nation’s history but nonetheless a gross breach of Democratic etiquette, and as both are among the four front-runners and vying for the emotional left-wing Democratic vote it was a very big deal. Warren stood by her claim, Sanders didn’t exactly deny it but pledged his support only Democrat who might win the nomination, and after some back-and-forth that also included the centrist Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the only other woman on the stage, he seemed to come out all right.
We have a mostly delightful but severely feminist Democratic friend who so loves Sanders she would sit out an election even against Trump if Sanders weren’t the nominee, and was outraged that her sister and the mainstream media would make such a slanderous claim, and we’re sure she’ll be satisfied with the answer.
The rest of the debate was mostly limited to foreign trade and international affairs and health care and homelessness and other boring topics of greater importance. We can’t say how the candidates fared with a Democratic audience in Iowa or elsewhere, but from our traditional Republican seats here on the political sidelines we were unimpressed by the entire field.
Our traditional Republican instincts are appalled by Trump’s assaults on the carefully established international free trade order that has enriched both America and the rest of the world over the past few post-Reagan decades, and we’re thus far unimpressed by what he’s negotiated in return, but the Democrats are mostly as protectionist as ever. Biden is old enough to remember a time when there was a bipartisan consensus for the free trade agreements that have since made America and the rest of the world richer, so we give him credit for his unapologetic stance in favor of the so-far so-good status quo, but for the most part the Democrats. Even the most centrist Democrats seem more isolationist in the rest of foreign affairs than Trump, and are annoyingly apologetic about it.
We’ll give the Democrats credit for at long last having a serious debate how to pay for their pie-in-sky promises about how to make health care more universal and less costly, but so far they haven’t come up with anything better than what Trump has to offer, which isn’t saying much. We’re glad they acknowledge the homeless problem, not only in Democratic states but in places like here in Wichita, but the best that can be said for their solutions is that they’re less intentionally cruel than Trump’s.
The growing national debt didn’t come up, much to the relief of both parties, and nobody stood out as the next President of the United States. Given our desultory choices we might pick the front-running pick Biden, in the unlikely case we were Democratic primary voters, but that within-shouting-distance Klobuchar has decisively won races against Republican men in Republican districts of Minnesota, and she seems as sane as anyone in politics these days, and quite electable as well. Our endorsement will surely doom her in a Democratic primary race, though, so we’ll withhold that for now.
One of the Democratic front-runners is openly homosexual, another has falsely claimed Native American status, another has been videotaped acting creepily around young women, and the other is a self-proclaimed socialist. Which would not ordinarily bode well for the Democratic party, but they’re lucky to be running against Trump.
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is admittedly a homosexual, but he’s also a decorated military veteran, which is more than Trump can say, and Trump isn’t an exemplar of traditional Judeo-Christian morality. Biden has been videotaped acting creepy around girls and is gaffe-prone, but he hasn’t been heard boasting about grabbing women by the genitals and can’t keep up with the daily gaffes Trump’s fans don’t seem to mind. Sanders did falsely claim Native American heritage, but if it comes down to a one-on-one debate she’s feisty enough to cite all the false claims Trump has made over his spotty career. Sanders is a socialist kook, but he seems to actually believe all the nonsense he’s spewing, which makes him the more “authentic” candidate. That nice Klobuchar woman from Minnesota could do well in a general election, and might even win our vote and make a good president, but she’s still a long=shot in a Democratic primary race.
There’s a lot of politics between now and November, though, so we’ll try to enjoy the warm weather and hold out hope.

— Bud Norman

A Nervous Situation in the Middle East

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

— Bud Norman

Back to the World

The holidays are officially over, with nothing but St. Valentine’s Day and bitterly cold weather awaiting until Easter and the blessed rebirth of spring, and unless your employer is generous with holiday schedules it’s time to get back to dreary business of daily life. Worse yet, there’s more news to contend with.
Congress won’t be back in session for a few more days, and President Donald Trump will remain bunkered in Mar-a-Lago at least as long, but the stock markets are open and the domestic politics continue and the rest of the world is already making its usual trouble.
The New Years news was interrupted by frightening footage of an assault on the American embassy in Iraq by pro-Iranian mobs, and although the American security forces were able to repel the attack with substantial damage to the compound but no loss American lives it’s a another problem start to a new year. Trump is “tweeting” threats to make Iran pay a substantial price, the Iranian dictator is “tweeting” back something that roughly translates to “Oh, yeah? What are you going to do about it, punk?,” and there’s no precedent we know of to predict how such high-level diplomacy might work out.
North Korea’s nutcase dictator Kim Jong Un didn’t deliver a threatened “Christmas surprise,” but according to the latest anonymous leaks and official statements from the intelligence agencies he’s quite unsurprisingly continuing his very expensive military build-up, and he’s had some pretty barbed “twitter” taunts of his own. Trump is back to calling Kim “rocket man,” and that’s another example of this newfangled style of high-level diplomacy we don’t know what to make of.
Trump is surely on the job in his Mar-a-Lago war room, despite the allure of the nearby sunny golf course, and on camera he remains cocksure of stable genius. He seems to find himself in some difficult situations, though, and his cocksureness and stable genius seem to have limited his options.
Trump ran as a tough-on-Iran candidate who had presciently warned against the Iraq War in particular and Middle Eastern entanglements in in general, and the Republican primary electorate and then the Electoral College didn’t seem to notice that the two positions were irreconcilable. The contradictions are more stark now, and if Iran decides to escalate the tensions to a point of limited war with the now-bolstered American troop presence in the Middle East, which they’re crazy enough to do, Trump can either seem weak on Iran or bring America into yet another Middle Eastern entanglement. In either case, we’ll expect Trump to explain he handled it perfectly.
Trump broke with five decades of presidential foreign policy by agreeing to meet directly with the North Korean dictatorship, and came back “tweeting” that the nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula was at long last over. He claimed that he and Kim had forged not only a friendship but a love affair, and exchanged the most beautiful letters, and he even talked about doing a real estate deal to build hotels and golf courses on North Korea’s beautiful beaches. Now that they’re clearly having a lover’s spat Trump can either play the abused spouse or admit that his personal diplomacy had failed and deal with a level of brinksmanship that none of his more cautious predecessors ever faced.
All this comes shortly before Congress reconvenes and all the branches and various “deep state” agencies of government are back at work, which means all the impeachment stuff will be back in the news and Trump will be largely preoccupied with that. We hope Trump and the rest of you enjoyed a brief holiday respite from the news, because it starts again today.

— Bud Norman

A Lack of 2020 Vision

New Year’s Eve essays traditionally look back at the past year or ahead to the new one, but we don’t feel up to either task. Once again we’re afraid to look back for fear of being turned into a pillar of salt, and we can’t imagine what’s coming next.
Much of what’s happened over the past three years or so would have been unimaginable just four years ago, so we won’t make any predictions and will try not to be surprised. It seems a safe bet that the the Senate won’t vote to remove President Donald Trump from office, but there’s likely to be more information coming out about his impeachable offenses, and a slight chance it might be too much even for the Republican party. The Democrats are bound to nominate someone left of the American center, but lately they’ve been backing off some of their crazy talk about Medicare for all and it remains to be seen just how far left they go.
As for how all that shakes out in the Electoral College next November, don’t trust anyone who tells you they know.
The sun will continue to rise in the east and the national debt will continue to accumulate and Trump will continue to “tweet” outrageous things, but don’t count on anything else. We suggest you indulge in some revelry tonight, some rest and heart eating tomorrow, and be ready for a wild ride through 2020.

— Bud Norman

On Trump and Christianity Today

Since its founding by Rev. Billy Graham in 1956 the magazine Christianity Today has been an influential voice in evangelical circles, but little noticed by the rest of the world. That changed on Friday when it ran an editorial urging that President Donald Trump be removed from office, which got so much attention the magazine’s internet site briefly crashed in the unprecedented traffic.
The editorial was newsworthy because poll after poll has shown that Trump enjoys overwhelming support from white self-identified evangelical Christians, with such self-proclaimed evangelical leaders as Graham’s son Franklin Graham among his most obsequious defenders, and Trump’s critics have long been perplexed by the phenomenon.
Trump boasted in “The Art of the Deal” about the many married women he’s seduced, his third wife is a former nude model, he broke federal laws to cover up an affair with a pornographic video performer, he ran casinos and strip clubs, often curses in front of the kids, once tried to kick an elderly widow of her longtime home to build a parking lot for his limousine, and has earned a reputation for stiffing his employees and contractors and investors. He tells at least two or three outright lies a day, his family was recently barred by the New York courts from running a charity because his foundation had stolen money from a children’s cancer program, he pridefully “punches back ten times harder” rather than turn the other cheek, and while running for the Republican nomination he told a Christian forum that he’s never felt the need to ask God’s forgiveness for any of it.
So far as we can tell, Trump’s white evangelical supporters believe he’s punching back ten times harder on their behalf, and therefore deserves a pass. Although he was a staunch advocate for abortion rights through most of his life, he’s kept a promise to appoint Supreme Court justices and lower court judges who might overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that made first-term abortions a constitutional right. He moved the America’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and given his blessings to his expanded Israeli settlements in disputed territories, and has otherwise been a staunch friend to a country that is now more important to America’s evangelical Christians than to its most secularized Jews. Trump has also sought to revoke the Johnson Amendment that forbids tax-exempt churches from advocating for political candidates such as himself, and his controversial Secretary of Education has sought to prevent restrictions on the free speech rights of students.
More importantly, we suspect, is that Trump is despised by the same snooty Hollywood and academic and media types that many evangelicals feel have been sneering down at them during the past many decades of cultural revolution. He longs for a 1950s economy of coal miners and steelworkers and stay-at-home moms, and a return to that same halcyon era when football players stood at attention during the national anthem and protestors were treated roughly and Christianity was a more dominant force in American culture. Trump might not be an exemplary Christian, some of our white evangelical friends will admit, but they note that David was beloved by God and a great leader despite his rather extraordinary sins, and that the Persian King Cyrus negotiated a treaty that protected his kingdom and also gave freedom to the Israelites, so they have faith that Trump is one of those mysterious God ways with which works His will.
We’re white and regularly attend services at a strictly-by-the-Bible low church over on the west side and not embarrassed to evangelize for Christ, and in fact are ashamed by how little we do it, but better Christians than ourselves have never persuaded us to support Trump with any of these arguments.
David had demonstrated his love for God in mortal combat against Goliath and pleaded God’s mercy for his sins, and Trump’s bone spurs and prideful nature have prevented him for doing either. That deal Cyrus struck with the Israelites only forestalled the diaspora and the destruction of the temple and the pogroms and the Holocaust and all the difficulties that still beset a reconstituted Israel. For all its virtues the ’50s was a time of disgraceful institutional racial and sexual inequality, and for all the destructive influences that have been unleashed since we’re glad that the era’s dissenters weren’t beaten into submission. That steelmaking and coal mining economy isn’t coming back, nor are the trade union dominance and high top-bracket tax rates of the era, and we figure it’s better the public should focus on the inevitable high-tech and air-conditioned and less brown-lung-inducing and more female-inclusive industries of the future, and how to get along with one another in a population that will become increasingly diverse no matter what walls Trump builds. Even if Roe v Wade is overturned, the matter will simply be turned back over to the states, where the liberals will likely win lots of elections on the issue.
We’re as appalled at the current state of the American culture as any of our white evangelical brothers and sisters, but the scriptures tell us to put not our faith in princes, and as princes go we’re especially suspicious of this unrepentantly vulgar and profane Trump fellow. He seems to epitomize the Hugh Hefner and Rat Pack hedonism of the ’50s, as well as the decade’s pushy racism and sexism, and his complaints about what have come since seem disingenuous except when they’re overtly racist and sexist or obviously self-serving. God allowed Trump’s election to the presidency, just as he twice allowed President Barack Obama’s, but we believe that in both cases He was granting American mankind its postlapsarian free will and the opportunity to once again screw things up beyond recognition.
At this point, and as always, even the most cocksure Americans of humankind can’t bring about paradise on Earth, so we figure the Church should remain focused on sending as many individual souls as possible to a better place. Having the faith identify itself with its allegiance to Trump won’t help the effort. As the editorial in Christianity Today notes, there’s no disputing the evidence that Trump’s unabashed amorality has led him to abuse the powers of office and obstruct officials to find the truth about it, among other odious things, and there’s no explaining that to the skeptical sinners in need of salvation.
“To use an old cliche, it’s time to call a spade a spade, to say that no matter how many hands we win in this political poker game, we are playing with a stacked deck of gross immorality and ethical incompetence,” the editor-in-chief wrote. “And just when we think it’s time to push all our chips to the center of the table, that’s when the whole game will come crashing down. It will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and the world’s understanding of the gospel. And it will come crashing down on a nation of men and women whose welfare is also our concern.”
We’re not saying any damn Democrat would be any better, but we share the hope of Christianity Today and Christians everywhere that there’s something better on the far horizon.

— Bud Norman