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Conservatism in the Age of Trumpism

Way back in late February of 2011, the reality show star Donald Trump was roundly booed during a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference’s annual convention. Trump declined his next invitation to CPAC’s 2016 convention during the Republican presidential primaries, which is something Republican presidential hopefuls normally don’t dare, but was nonetheless roundly booed when then conservative hero Sen. Ted Cruz derisively mentioned his name.
President Trump was greeted as a conquering hero at the 2017 CPAC confab, however, and is expected to as rapturously received when he returns today. This raises question of whether it’s Trump or conservatism that has changed over the past six or seven years.
There’s a strong case to be made that Trump has been transformed. Back in ’11 he was still flaunting his friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton, writing checks to all the New York and Florida Democrats he relied on for favors, and was still on the record in favor of banning “assault rifles” and allowing unrestricted access to abortion, among his other many heretical opinions. By 2016 he’d been a leading proponent of the “birther” theory that President Barack Obama was not and American citizen, was saying the nastiest things anyone had to say about the Clintons, promising to get tougher on illegal and legal immigration than anyone else dared, all in the snarling rhetorical style of talk radio, but his conservative credentials were still in doubt.
By the time he made his triumphant return to CPAC last year as the Republican party’s very own president, having triumphed over such well-credentialed conservatives as the aforementioned Cruz, Trump was clearly not the New York City liberal he had once claimed to be. When he takes to the stage today he’ll be able to wave a big tax cut bill that he signed into law, point to all the burdensome regulations he’s eliminated, brag about the strict constructionist he appointed the Supreme Court, and rightly claim that although he didn’t repeal and replace Obamacare his tax cut bill at least rescinded the hated individual mandate. So far he hasn’t caved on promises to kick out all those illegal yet sympathetic “dreamers” who were brought here as children, or his promises to deliver the favors the National Rifle Association paid him for, and although he’s sounded kind of wobbly on both lately his conservative credentials probably won’t be checked at CPAC’s door.
Still, we can’t quite shake a sad feeling that this is not the conservatism we signed up for so long ago. In our idealistic youth, which occurred during one of those occasional epochs of cataclysmic cultural change, we embraced a Burkean conservatism that sought to maintain the best of what our culture had established over the generations, to move cautiously toward its highest and most time-tested ideals, and resist the worst of all the craziness coming from the left. This led us to certain conclusions about the government that governs best being the one that governs least, the enduring wisdom of the Judeo-Christian tradition and the many ways that humans gotten it wrong, not letting petty disputes devolve into warfare, and the importance of eventually balancing the books.
For the most part the Republican party has imperfectly followed these general principles for most of our lives, but these days it seems to have made a predictably bad deal with the guy who had “The Art of the Deal” ghost-written for him. The craziness coming from the left is crazier than ever, and we feel it must be resisted, so it’s especially sad to realize that’s about all we have left in common with the right these days.
The conservative cheers for Trump won’t be for the enduring wisdom of Judeo-Christian tradition, as anybody understands it, and the mention of any institutions that have been painstakingly established over the generations to resist his worst impulses will surely be met with talk of “deep state” “silent coups” by “enemies of the people” and chants of “Burn it down!” The CPAC crowds have already indulged themselves with the ritual chant of “Lock her up” at the mention of vanquished Democrat foe Hillary Clinton’s name, just like the crowds at the Ukrainian strongman’s rallies arranged by Trump’s former and now-indicted campaign manager, which did result in the losing opponent going to jail, which actually outraged most conservatives way back then.
These days too many self-described conservatives seem to like that strong man style of governance, even as they insist they’re freedom-loving small government types. They still insist they’re against annual deficits and multi-trillion dollar debts, but don’t seem to mind that all of Trump’s budgets lead to a bigger-than-Obama hole. They still insist they’re the party of family values, but they’ll give a Trump a pass on his extramarital flings with porn stars and Playboy centerfolds. They still want to lock Clinton up for mishandling classified information, but they’re perfectly fine with alleged-wives beaters and a suspicious-as-hell son-in-laws and dozens of other uncleared staffers getting daily access to top security intelligence briefings.
At least he’s not Hillary, the CPAC conventioneers will surely say, and we have to admit they’ve got a point. The CPAC convention has always drawn almost every sort of self-described contrastive, but mostly the types who take it far too seriously, so it’s always been a bit of a freak show. When Trump was booed back in ’11 it was because he disparaged far-libertarian Rep. Ron Paul, who had easily won the convention’s primary straw poll over eventual nominee Mitt Romney, and this time around it featured the last French election’s nominee from the National Front, a far-right nationalist party with fascist roots whose campaign also received cyber support from the Russian government, and she was more warmly received than Trump was back in ’11. As bad as that sounds, though, we’re quite sure the next big liberal confab, full of people who also take this stuff far too seriously, will have something just as bad. The CPAC convention’s one saving grace has always been that it united all those factions in their opposition to the worst of all that leftwing craziness, and for now Trump is the only champion to rally around in that righteous cause.
If conservatism is thus defined as rallying around Trump, though, it’s in worse trouble than anybody at CPAC seems to realize.

— Bud Norman

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The Latest Children’s Crusade

America’s permissive-by-global-standards gun laws and social attitudes have survived all the political outcries that followed more mass shootings than we can remember in the past many years, but the latest tragedy seems different.
The St. Valentine’s Day massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 students and faculty dead and more than a dozen others injured, was no bloodier than usual but has somehow set off a nationwide youth movement protesting for stricter gun control. Students have staged walk-out protests at high schools around the country, shown up en masse at boisterous protests at the White House and the Florida statehouse, and started the effective sorts of social media networks you’d expect of today’s young people. All the politicians have taken notice, and even President Donald Trump found himself in a “listening session” on Wednesday.
Perhaps it’s just been one mass shooting too many, but important another reason this time is different is that the students at affluent and usually placid Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are a telegenically sympathetic and uncannily eloquent bunch of teenagers.
We know this because all but one of the cable news networks have lately made reality stars out of them, which puts the more rightward media in a tough spot. There are cold and dispassionate and harshly logical reasons for America’s permissive laws and social attitudes regarding guns, but they’re hard to make in the hot media of television, as Marshall McCluhan famously described it, especially when it has such telegenically sympathetic and well-spoken stars on hand.
A few of the rightmost media have conjectured that these kids are just a bit too-uncannily well spoken for teenagers, and must have been hired from central casting by George Soros or some other left-wing conspirator, and that the kid with the former FBI father is especially suspicious given the bureau’s insidious role in the “deep state” plot against Trump. These conjectures have been passed along on social media by a couple of obscure Republican politicos and the president’s namesake son, but for the most part it’s been a futile gesture. The more respectable rightward media take care to be respectful of the terror and loss these telegenic kids have suffered, though, and even such a politically incorrect president as Trump wound up enduring their sob stories with an appropriately somber face during Wednesday’s “listening session.”
One of The Washington’s Post fancy-schmantzy high-resolution digital cameras took a picture of the talking points memo Trump was holding in his normal-sized hands, and it’s clearly discernible that fifth on the list was a needed reminder to say “I hear you.” That was about all Trump had to say to the mass-shooting survivors he’d convened, and although he’d been careful not to invite any of the kids from Douglas High, many of whom had already said they’d decline the invitation, the people Trump and the rest of the country were listening to were also remarkably sympathetic and well-spoken. Trump spoke at a relatively modest length about his campaign promise to arm all the teachers in America, admitting that most of them would probably prove quite ineffectual but holding out hope that a certain number of them would be bad-assed enough to take care of the situation, but mostly he responded to every tear-jerking story by saying “I hear you.”
There’s still a cold and dispassionate and harshly logical argument for America’s permissive laws and social attitudes regarding guns, and much of what these telegenically sympathetic and remarkably well-spoken high school students are proposing is easily refuted bunk, even if we can’t bring ourselves to blame their youthful selves for that, but Trump and his most rightward media apologists don’t seem up to making that complex case. This time around the high school kids and gun-grabbing crazies on the seem more careful to mostly propose more modest proposals about more careful background checks, fixing the bureaucratic glitches that kept federal and local enforcement from acting on numerous tips and intervening with the crazy mixed-up kid who shot up that upper-class Parkland high school, and other non-controversial solutions.
Not so long before he became a Republican candidate for the presidency Trump was yet another Democratic New Yorker who endorsed the easily refuted bunk about banning semi-automatic long guns, and although he’s since promised the gun rights absolutists that he’ll never let them down and his elephant-hunting namesake son has “tweeted” his urgings not to give an inch, we don’t expect him to start “tweeting” taunts about high school kids and holding the line. Some modest measures will likely be passed, the kids will forever remember that glorious day they walked out of algebra class, and the the political ramifications won’t be felt until all those high schools become eligible to vote.

— Bud Norman

Finding True Love in Trump’s America

According to all of the public opinion polls President Donald Trump is widely unpopular among women, and the anecdotal evidence we’ve gleaned from conversations with our numerous female friends suggests that many women would not consider dating a Trump supporter. Fortunately for all those lonely fellows in the red “Make America Great Again” ball caps, there’s now an internet dating site that can match them with a politically compatible mate.
Trump.dating’s web site promises to “Make dating great again!” and help those who pay a matchmaking fee “Find the America first partner of your dreams.” After all, the site says, “When the political foundation is the same, the sky is the limit.”
The web site once featured the picture of a smiling couple who had found true love through their services, with the fellow’s “MAGA” cap on backwards and flashing the word “Trump” while his smiling sweetheart poses in a more feminine pink “MAGA” cap with the bill properly facing forward, but that was scuttled after the couple’s hometown newspaper revealed that the fellow had a past conviction for indecent liberties with a child. The updated site features a far more handsome fellow, who might or might not be an actual Trump supporter but is presumably not a convicted child molester, along with four other rather comely people who don’t look at all like stereotypical Trump supporters.
Trump.dating does not facilitate same-sex relationships between Trump supporters, as you can only register as a straight man or straight woman, and there’s been some predictable tsk-tsking about that in the leftward media. Based on the anecdotal evidence we’ve gleaned from conversations with our numerous homosexual friends, we guess Trump.dating is not missing out on much business with that policy, and we don’t think all those leftward media are really all so eager to hook up the few homosexual Trump fans.
The site should do well with many of those single and straight males who support Trump, on the other hand. In this age of bra-burning and man-hating women’s lib gone wild it’s hard to find a woman who shares your admiration for an obese serial adulterer with a bad comb-over who boasts of grabbing women by their wherevers, so it’s well worth a matchmaking fee to wind up with such a rare gem. If she looks anything like the hotties featured on the web site’s opening page, even the one who wound up married to the convicted child molester, so much the better.
Whether that proves the basis of a lasting relationship remains to be seen, though. Our own hard-luck romantic history has included some very opinionated liberal women, but they generally tolerated our conservative opinions, which were rather old-fashioned and as respectful of women as our loving Mom insisted on with a slap to our heads whenever we fell short, and they had many memorably fine qualities and ¬†politics was never the problem. We had a couple of flings with some women who were generally in agreement with our daily rants, several more with women who didn’t care to talk about that nonsense at all, and although the lattermost group were by far the best of the lot none of them worked out.
In the unlikely event we ever encounter an attractive and intelligent and age-appropriate yet still-single woman whose political and cultural opinions are completely aligned with ours, we’re sure we’d be quickly bored. We still consider ourselves conservatives, but in the more likely event we encounter an attractive and more-or-less age-appropriate woman who likes the obese serial adulterer types with bad comb-overs and grab-’em-by-the-wherever tendencies, we’ll stand in solidarity with most of our women friends and won’t consider dating them. If that puts us in better stead with most of our women friends, so much the better.

— Bud Norman

In the Calm, Peaceful Eye of the Hurricane

According to The Washington Post, an anonymous White House official said that after the horrific mass shooting at a Florida high school on Valentine’s Day “A lot of people here felt it was a reprieve from seven or eight days of just getting pummeled.” It’s a morbid thought, but there might be something to it.
Prior to the tragedy all the talk was about the departure of the staff secretary who’d been kept on the job even after the administration was made aware that he couldn’t get the security clearance needed for the job because two ex-wives were accusing him of physical abuse. That led to stories about the under-oath testimony by the Federal Bureau of Investigation director that the White House had lied about when the White House had been made aware, embarrassing questions about why so many White House officials can’t get a security clearance, another story about another accused wife-beater leaving his speechwriting job, and after days of praising his staff secretary the president being hectored by the press to at long last say that he doesn’t approve of wife-beating.
President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer also admitted he paid $130,000 to a pornographic film performer who had once alleged an affair with then-reality show star Trump but stopped doing so after the payment. Then there was the story that Trump’s friends at The National Enquirer paid big money for a former Playboy centerfold model for her own exclusive and unpublished story about an affair with Trump, which she alleges occurred around the same time as the alleged affair with the porn performer, which was just months after Trump’s third wife gave birth to his fifth child. There were also stories, perhaps related, about all the visible evidence of a frosty relationship between the president and First Lady.
Once upon a time in America such titillating tales of porn performers and Playboy models and a president would have crowded even the wife-beating stories with national security implications out of the news, but by now we have a First Lady who’s done some pornographic modeling of her own and a reality show president that no one, even his most evangelical apologists, looks to for moral leadership. The leftward media that once defended President Bill Clinton’s presidential peccadillos don’t want to seem puritanical about it, so they’ve mostly focused their attention on the possible campaign law violations that are clearly implied, and it’s not the big deal it would have been back in the good old days.
After the tragedy in Florida the “Russia thing” nosed its way back into the news. Special counsel Robert Mueller obtained an indictment against 13 Russians for fraudulently running an internet propaganda campaign during the last presidential campaign that was clearly designed to benefit Trump, which came after all of the Trump appointees to all of the nation’s intelligence-gathering agencies testified under oath that they were certain the Russian government had indeed launched a sophisticated effort to influence the presidential election that included hacking into e-mail accounts and trying to hack into state vote-counting computers and spreading propaganda.
The announcement of the indictment was read by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a Trump appointee who is in the awkward position of overseeing Mueller’s investigation after the full-blown Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from the “Russia thing,” and he stressed that only Russians were indicted and the indictment mentioned “unwitting” Americans who might have been involved. Trump and his apologists read this as vindication in the whole “Russia thing,” but that required Trump to acknowledge that Russia’s meddling wasn’t the hoax he’d long claimed.
This was followed 14 presidential “tweets” that would have dominated a day’s news cycle in the relatively recent past. Trump blamed the school shooting on the FBI’s obsession with the “Russia thing,” blasted his national security advisor for acknowledging Russia’s meddling in the last election without mention that Trump would have won anyway, and even described Oprah Winfrey as “insecure.”
It was all too much to follow over a long President’s Day Weekend, especially with all those remarkably eloquent and righteously impassioned kids telling all the cable news networks about the tragedy they lived through, and in an odd sort of way that does somehow seem to redound to Trump’s political benefit. Those poor souls in the White House communications team charged with spinning all the various scandals might well have felt able to take a federal holiday off on Monday.
They’ll have to be back on the job today, though, as it looks to be a brief respite. The alleged wives-beaters who gained entree to the White House are already long forgotten, but the hubbub about all the White House staffers without security clearance has prompted the chief of staff to impose a new rule that will likely demote senior advisor and ambassador-at-large and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner. The possible campaign violations involved in those six-figure payouts to the porn performer and Playboy model might yet wind up in court, or under the special counsel’s scrutiny, and that will keep these otherwise boring stories in the news. Mueller’s indictment not only mentioned “unwitting” American participants in the Russian campaign meddling but also referred to “persons known and unknown to the grand jury,” which has an ominous ring about it.
That tragedy in Florida doesn’t seem to be redounding to the president’s political benefit, either. Those sympathetically grieving students are remarkably eloquent and appealing — we got choked up watching one respectful and well-groomed and well-spoken senior who has already signed up for Army service even though he looks and sounds like a college man — and so far they’re winning in the public opinion polls against Trump’s un-parseable and profane and Oprah-bashing “tweets.”
We hold out hope that some solution can be found to end the ongoing problem of mass shootings without infringing on the God-given and constitutionally-protected right for a citizen to protect himself, but we expect a lot of bad news before we arrive at that happy day.

— Bud Norman

Tweeting Instead of Golfing

President Donald Trump didn’t play his usual round of golf at his wholly-owned Mar-a-Lago resort during his usual federally-funded weekend visit there, ostensibly out of respect for those mourning the deaths of 17 students at a nearby high school in yet another American mass shooting. Instead he spent much of the weekend sending out ten “tweets” on various subjects in the news, but we figure his time would have been better spent on the golf course.
The “tweet” that got the most attention was the one blaming the mass shooting tragedy on the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which Trump alleges was too preoccupied with that phony-baloney “Russia thing” to pay much attention to a kid in south Florida that pretty much everyone down there knew was likely to shoot up his former high school. By all accounts the the very screwed-up kid in question was quite predictably a mass school murderer, as concerned neighbors and Facebook friends and school officials had repeatedly warned both the FBI and local law enforcement officials, and both the FBI and the local law enforcement officials now freely admit that they pretty much screwed the pooch in this deadly case.
Blaming it all on the phony-baloney “Russia thing,” though, smacks of presidential desperation. The FBI has some 35,000 employees and only a relative and specifically-qualified few of them are involved in the “Russia thing,” none of whom were diverted from taking the calls from the neighbors concerned about that next mass school shooter, and we doubt that any of the local law enforcement officials who got the same concerned calls were at all distracted by the “Russia thing.” This all comes after a week when the president’s own appointees to the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency and the rest of the national intelligence agencies testified before congress that yeah, Russia meddled in the last in the last election to Trump’s benefit and is is eager to do so again. The kids at the south Florida high school who saw 17 of their classmates gunned down by a a screwed-up former classmate aren’t buying it, and we guess that neither will the public at large.
Although we still defend the constitutional right to bear arms, no matter how tricky that seems at the moment, we have to admit that the latest mass school shooting occurred at an upper-middle class where the students are unusually well-spoken and media-savvy and quite righteously pissed off, and that so far our president’s unfounded and profanely worded “tweets” are getting the worst of it.
Other Trump “tweets” attacked his own National Security Advisor, didn’t mention the porn star and Playboy playmate that have lately figured in the presidential news, and basically did nothing to make America great again.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Attempt at an “Infrastructure Week” and All Its Distractions

Monday kicked off President Donald Trump’s second attempt at an “Infrastructure Week.” The first attempt was barely noticed because of all the coverage devoted to the congressional testimony of fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey and the usual “tweets,” and also because it featured grandiose promises but no plan. This time around is largely drowned out by the lingering fuming about the White House’s astoundingly tone-deaf and ham-fisted handling of a couple of alleged wife-beaters who were high-ranking staffers, but at least there’s a sort of specific plan to make America’s infrastructure great again.
The plan makes the grandiose promise to spend $1.5 trillion on a wide range of projects, but with the federal government throwing only $200 billion into the pot. The rest would supposedly come from municipalities, counties, states, and the private sector, but that’s a big supposition. Trump unveiled the proposal with a rambling impromptu rift that blamed President Barack Obama for his neglect of America’s infrastructure, of course, but also dishonestly derided President George W. Bush for lying America into the expensive Iraq War, and chided the “laziness” of every administration going back to President Harry Truman, who stupidly spent all of our war spoils on the Marshall Plan, which more sane students of world history now regard as the best investment America ever made.
Most municipalities, counties and states will surely plead poverty, and because they can’t just print money they’ll mostly have a valid point. As of now the interstate highway system and other major federal infrastructure are funded with 80 percent of the money coming from Washington and the rest paid for by the states, the Trump plan proposes that the states start picking up 80 percent of the tab, so it’s hard to imagine many Republican governors going along with that, and of course all the Democrats are also going to hate it. Trump fancies himself a master salesman, and his shtick works well enough with a plurality of voters, but persuading legislators and county commissioners and city councilmen to take the heat for tax hikes and cuts to other programs so he can take all the credit for a patched pothole is a very tough pitch.
As for the private sector, they’re long accustomed to getting paid for doing all the actual work on an infrastructure project rather paying for it. Perhaps they can be induced to pay in if in the payout is substantially greater, perhaps in the proposed form of toll roads or for-profit airports and parks, perhaps in the sorts of kickbacks that the Trump real estate empire boastfully used to pay off government officials, but although we’re by no means socialists we can’t see how the general public comes out ahead in that arrangement. Here in very busy-friendly Wichita the local government is quite fond of these sorts of public-private partnerships, and while they often work out well enough both the governmental left and the free-market far right agree they often favor the interests of certain public officials and their private sector partners more than the general public, and the centrists will likely agree that the Trump administration is more likely than most to seek self-interested deals.
The plan seems likely to face bipartisan opposition, especially at the statehouse and county courthouse and city hall level, and despite the ardent support of some government-savvy and well-connected contractors it will also face opposition from big time businesses, the last of the Tea Party will Republicans will balk at adding even another $200 billion to the $2 trillion dollar deficit that’s being projected for next for year. and all the Democrats will hate it on general anti-Trump principle. As for now it’s all being widely ignored by the rest of the country.
There’s still more talk afoot ¬†about how the president expressed his heartfelt sympathy for a poor fellow whose two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend have accused him of domestic abuse and how he couldn’t get an FBI security clearance on account of the police reports and photographs that corroborated their allegation and thus had to be let go from his high-ranking position at the White House. The critics note that Trump has a longstanding habit of siding with political allies who are credibly accused of sexual misconduct, such as Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly and Steve Wynn and Mike Tyson and himself. His supporters note his stubborn insistence on due process for the accused, which is a a plausible enough argument. His critics note that he didn’t care much about due process when he was condemning political foes accused of sexual misconduct or charging Sen. Ted Cruz’ dad with complicity in the Kennedy assassination or leading “lock her up” chants against Hillary Clinton or calling for the execution of the “Central Park Five” even after due process had cleared them of all charges.
So far Trump’s critics have the better of the more attention-grabbing argument, and we think the damage done to the nation’s moral infrastructure will take more than a mere $1.5 trillion to fix.

— Bud Norman

Why Not Call it Treason, and Other Negotiating Ploys

The cable news networks and the big newspapers’ internet sites will soon start running their countdown-to-a-government-shutdown clocks again, with the latest deadline looming tomorrow, and all the savvy negotiators in Congress are reportedly trying to work out some sort of cockamamie deal to keep the government running for at least another couple of weeks. At a meeting ostensibly about immigration reform, President Donald Trump did his part by telling the gathered television cameras and microphones that “I’d love to see a shutdown if we don’t get this stuff taken care of. If the Democrats don’t want safety, let’s shut it down.”
This might be one of those masterful three-dimensional chess moves that Trump’s fans always figure he’s making, but our guess is it’s just another one of those ill-advised things he all too frequently blurts out.
Trump is apparently hoping that the Democrats will be so frightened by the prospect of being blamed for a government shutdown that they’ll agree to whatever draconian measures he thinks necessary to get that immigration stuff taken care of, and after their quick capitulations during last month’s government shutdown he has reason for such hope. There was so much Republican gloating and Democratic gnashing of teeth about it that the Democrats are likely to be in a less accommodating mood this time around, though, and they’re probably less worried about being blamed for a government shutdown the Republican president has told the nation he’d love to see.
Trump is also apparently calculating that his draconian immigration measures are are so popular that the public will blame the Democrats for allowing a partial but painful government rather than enact them, and given how unpopularity permissive some of the Democrats’ demands are he has good reason to think so. That stupid idea of a big, beautiful wall across the entire southern polls poorly, though, and those illegal immigrants who were brought here as children and have since proved upright semi-citizens poll so well that Trump is dangling an amnesty offer even more generous than anything President Barack Obama ever dared.
The die-hard Trump defenders are furious about the generous amnesty offer he’s dangling for the so-called “dreamers” who are illegal immigrants through no fault of their own, with some now calling him “Amnesty Don,” and Trump tried to placate them with stalk in his now-forgotten State of the Union address about how native-born Americans are “dreamers” too, and his Chief of Staff blurted out an ill-advised about remark about how they amnesty was being offered even to those “dreamers” who were “too lazy to get off their asses” and apply for it. All of which is so infuriating to those die-hard Democrats that it makes them all the less likely to concede even to the many reasonable and popular immigration reform proposals Trump is holding out for, and it’s hard to see how it will all be worked out by tomorrow night.
We can’t resist a nostalgic hope that Democrats and Republicans alike are working into the night to find something between a too-soft and too-hard immigration policy that at least keeps the government up and running for another couple of weeks, but that’s hard to sustain when the president is accusing the opposition of treason for failing to applaud at his long-forgotten State of the Union address. He was just kidding, of course, saying “Hey why not call it (treason)” in much the same way some street corner bully might just be kidding about your sister being a whore, but it doesn’t bode well for that spirt of bipartisan cooperation that Trump called for in that long-forgotten State of the Union address.
Maybe it’s just another one of Trump’s moves in that masterful three-dimensional chess game that never seems to reveal itself, and he did have “The Art of the Deal” ghost-written for him, but unless this mess somehow makes America great again the more likely explanation is that it’s all just those ill-advised things that he all too frequently blurts out.

— Bud Norman

Feminism, Trumpism, and Political Reality

During his recent trip abroad President Donald Trump gave an interview to the British broadcaster Piers Morgan, a former winner of Trump’s “Apprentice” game show, and although it doesn’t air until tonight the good stuff has already leaked out. So far, the least surprising news is that Trump does not consider himself a feminist.
No, I wouldn’t say I’m a feminist,” Trump told Morgan. “I mean, I think that would be, maybe, going too far. I’m for men, I’m for women, I’m for everyone.”
That’s not so shockingly sexist as what Trump said when he was yukking it up with Billy Bush on the “Access Hollywood” bus, and we suppose he deserves some credit for not boasting that he’s the least sexist person you ever met, but it’s likely to further infuriate a lot of his female critics. The fans will love it, of course.
Feminism has a reputation in some circles as a man-hating and abortion-loving philosophy that is as hectoring as it is humorless, due in some part to that small but significantly pesky number of undeniably hectoring and humorless feminists who actually hate men and have a slightly morbid enthusiasm for abortion. Most people simply nod silently and walk away from those sorts, and have happy and mutually respectful encounters with the far greater number of feminist women who simply hold to the belief that they’re entitled to equal civil rights and fair treatment in the workplace and mutually respectful interactions with they men they have to deal with.
In some circles even that reasonable sort of feminism is resented, though, and we can’t blame any woman for thinking that Trump travels in those in circles. He did once boast during a Republican primary debate that nobody has more respect for women than he does, but that got a big laugh out of even a Republican primary debate audience, and the claim that he’s not an out right old-fashioned male chauvinist pig, as the man-hating and humorless sorts of feminists used to call them back in ’70s, is by now laughable. All the networks have endlessly replayed that “Access Hollywood” boast about grabbing women by their “wherevers,” as Trump more politely put it on that endlessly replayed tape of an interview where he sure seemed to imply that Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly had asked him a question about his past derogatory comments about women’s looks because she was menstruating. There’s a rich trove of audio from Howard Stern’s shock-jock radio show, too, with Trump opining unfavorably on small-breasted women and bragging about letting all three of his wives do the diaper-changing and other child-rearing chores and giddily recalling the times he invaded the dressing rooms at his teenage beauty pageants.
There are also all the women who have put their reputations on the line to publicly allege that Trump grabbed them by their wherevers or invaded their teenage beauty pageant dressing rooms, too, and the column inches of Archie Bunker-era male chauvinist piggish quotes in press interviews and his own ghost-written memoirs would stretch from Trump Tower in New York City to the White House in Washington, D.C., and the audio and video clips could fill a couple of 24-hour news cycles.
Some very reasonable and perfectly respectable Republican friends of ours freely acknowledge the fact of Trump’s male chauvinist piggishness but have somehow reconciled themselves to it. They’ll argue that Trump is merely critiquing the man-hating and abortion-loving style of feminism, and taking the very reasonable and respectable pro-everybody stand, which will quickly lead to talk about how the “Black Lives Matter” movement’s moniker seems to imply that other lives don’t matter or at least matter less, and they’ll have their points. When reminded of the freely admitted fact that Trump is pretty much a male chauvinist pig as well as pretty much a racist, stone cold and old school, as the kids the used to say, they’ll note the currently low unemployment rates for women and black people. On each point, we’ll admit they have a valid point.
The friendly sorts of feminists and black empowerment types we’ve befriended over the years have some valid points, too, and we’ll not argue with them for the sake of the likes of Trump. As much as we wish the “Black Lives Matter” movement would heed our advice to stress that of course all lives matter, and find that middle ground between preventing cops from using unnecessary force and prohibiting the necessary force to deter all the criminals who would otherwise take a far greater toll of black lives, we don’t worry that making black lives better need result in making our own white lives any worse. Despite those admittedly annoying man-hating and abortion-loving sorts of feminists, neither do we worry that to whatever extent feminism is pro-woman it is necessarily anti-man.
Our reasonable and respectable yet Trump-supporting friends have convinced themselves that Trump gets that, but we think he’s playing to those circles who still expect the little woman to have dinner on the table when the man comes home and do all the diaper-changing and other women’s work. In our experience they’re a dwindling population, as most guys have by now reconciled themselves to the fact that they have to go along with most of the the past 50 years or so feminism if they’re going to get any, but they’re still out there and make up an important chunk of Trump’s fan base.
There’s that Republican candidate for the Senate in Missouri who was caught on tape opining that he expected the little woman to have dinner on the table when he got home and do all the rest of the women’s work around the house, and that Republican nominee for an Alabama Senate seat who thought that constitutional amendments abolishing slavery and giving women the right to vote were bad ideas, and was also quite credibly accused of once being the creepy thirty-something guy hanging around the local mall hitting on teenage girls. Both had significant support, too, and although some of bearded-yet-sensitive “Bernie Bros” who backed the self stand accused by the sisterhood of failing to support that harridan Democratic nominee and presumptive First Woman President Hillary Clinton we have to admit that most of the remaining troglodytes are Republicans and Trump voters.
Despite Trump’s full-throated support for that pro-slavery and anti-women’s suffrage and credibly accused child molester of a Republican nominee somehow lost a race in Alabama, of all places, to a Democrat, of all people. The Missouri race will be against Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, who is considered vulnerable because Trump won the state in the last election, but the last time she ran the Republican nominee had also carried the state in the most recent president election and she won because the Republicans had nominated a nut job who went off on audio tape about how the victims of “real rape” could not become pregnant and therefore the complete ban on abortions he wanted should make no exceptions for rape. If the Missouri Republicans go with the make-me-a-sandwich-damnit candidate this time around, we think that even with Trump’s full-throated support the more reasonable and respectable sorts of Republicans will have blown another opportunity.

— Bud Norman

A Weekend With Partial Government

The federal government has been partially shut down since midnight last Friday, but around here you would have hardly noticed it over the weekend. Maybe it’s because the federal government is always partially shut down on the weekends, or the almost tolerable winter weather we’ve lately had, or everything else that’s going on around here and the rest of the country, and as bad as partial federal government shutdown inarguably is it didn’t seem a big enough deal that any of the responsible parties have any incentive to resolve it soon.
After watching Friday’s desultory news late into the night We slept through most of Saturday morning, and by the time we arrived at the local “women’s march” in front of the Wichita City Hall the speeches had concluded and the crowd was dwindling. Even before the federal government partially shut down a comely young woman outside the Vagabond bar in Delano had handed us a handbill about the event, which we immediately understood to be the feminist sisterhood’s collective outrage about President Donald Trump, and we had been looking forward to it ever since. As aging white male Republican heterosexual Christian conservative Republicans we have our own reasons for being outraged about Trump’s presidency, and by now we’re quite sympathetic to all the gripes by women of color and women in general and even those darned liberal women, and with all the required apologies and assurances that at least we’re not all creepy about it we’ll confess the girl-watching is always pretty good at these sisterhood gatherings.
A couple of handsome young Wichita police officers told us they estimated the crowd at its peak between 300 and 500 people, although they admitted they weren’t much good at estimating crowd sizes, which is not a bad turnout for a liberal rally in this town even on a tolerably warm winter day, and we saw on an afternoon’s internet surfing that hundreds of thousands had shown up in more populous and it all added up to the millions around the country, which suggests to us that all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons had gripes with Trump even before the federal government partially shut down.
Saturday night was the second night of the “Meat Fest” at Kirby’s Beer Store, and if you ever find yourself in Wichita, Kansas, on a tolerably warm mid-January weekend we highly recommend you attend this annual event. Kirby’s is a subterranean low level dive bar right across the street from the residence of the president of Wichita State University and just adjacent to a ghetto laundromat, its clientele is comprised of counter-cultural types stretching from the beats to the hippies to such to Republican but punk sorts such as ourselves, and as you head to an evening all those bearded and tattooed and tight-pansted sorts of hipsters we don’t what to call. Once a year they offer two nights of free charbroiled meat along with a jam-packed line-up of the local weird talent they offer on a pretty much nightly basis, and on Saturday night that featured an excellent set by our old friend Alberto Alfonso’s one-man-band which included a rousing rendition of Frankie Laine’s theme song to “Blazing Saddles.”
The rest of the acts were too loud and noisome to our ears, but there was free char-broiled meat, and with the requisite apologies and assurances that we weren’t at all creepy about it we’ll say the girl-watching was pretty damned good. All in all, we were pleased that another “Meat Fest” went full-steam ahead even as the federal government partially shut down.
Somehow we still made it to worship services at the West Douglas Church of Christ on Sunday morning, where we were honored to be asked to deliver the opening prayer, which gave thanks for the relatively warm weather and all the preceding cold weather that made it seem almost tolerable, and no mention was made of a partial government shutdown. After that we took a nap, then shook our heads while reading the latest internet accounts of the American president’s alleged but very believable account of of a sexual tryst with a porn star he paid an alleged $130 thousand dollars to hush up about it, even though she’d already given an interviews to a tabloid about how he liked to be spanked with a rolled-up copy of Forbes magazine with his picture on the cover, and the latest admittedly funny story has her capitalizing on her notoriety by appearing at strip clubs with the promise to “Make America Horny Again.”
By early Sunday evening we were back at Kirby’s Beer Store, where they were no long offering free charbroiled met but did have a jam-packed lineup of weird local musical offerings. Three of our fellow old-tmers and good friends were there, one a predictably liberal gay guy and another a conspiracy-theory nut from one of the local aviation plants and the third a pragmatically old fashioned professional Democrat lawyer who’s currently a disability judge, and it in our brief conversation about the partial government shutdown we all agreed it wasn’t that bit a deal and there’s plenty of blame to spread around.
So far as we can tell the sticking points in this partial government shutdown are about funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and those designated “dreamers” who are illegal immigrants because they were brought here as blameless children, and we all agreed that sooner or later the Republicans are bound to cave on all of that. There’s a convincing argument that no Democrat should should even partially shut down the government over something the Republicans will eventually cave to, and a similarly convincing argument convincing argument that the Republicans shouldn’t allow a partial shutdown over something they’re eventually cave to anyway,and no plausible argument that Trump is the great deal maker he always claimed to be. The conspiracy nut noted that we were making the same glum assessment of the situation as that Joe Scarborough guy on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show, which is embarrassing enough, but we all pretty much agreed it was true.
Once upon a time the entirely believable accounts of the president and the porn star would have been a bigger topic of conversation, along with all the news about the “Russia thing” that was scrolling on the muted television, but all that chatter was pretty jocular. The relatively young folks on the small stage of Kirby’s Beer Store were mostly acoustic and playing at a volume that allowed for old-timers’ political discussion, and we have to admit it mostly sounded pretty darned good. Although we can assure you we weren’t at all creepy about it, and were careful to also compliment one handsome young man, we also noticed that a couple of the performers were rather comely young women.
Today is Monday and all the responsible parties will probably spend it pointing fingers at one another, and they’ll all have a reasonable enough argument to make for themselves, but here in Wichita we’ll trust that the rest of us will muddle through it somehow.

— Bud Norman

The Ticking Clock and the Ensuing Blame Game

As we start to write this the clock on The Washington Post’s internet front page is showing 23 hours and 51 minutes and 21 seconds left to avert a government shutdown, although it’s already down a few seconds more by now and time will be even shorter when you read this. There’s still plenty of time left to avert the worst possible outcome, which probably wouldn’t even be all that bad, but at this point we can’t see things turning out very well.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives managed to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government through February 16, but the chances of the Republican-controlled Senate passing a similar continuing resolution look bleak. The Republicans control the House by a sizable enough margin that they could afford to lose a few votes from some hard-liners on spending on immigration and other matters, and they even picked up a few stray Democratic votes with peculiar local politics. In the Senate the Republicans now have a razor-thin 51-to-49 margin thanks to the recent electoral debacle in Alabama, and the absence of Arizona Sen. John McCain due to health problems has sharpened that edge, and except for one senator from President Donald Trump-loving West Virginia none of the Democrats have any political incentive to help the Republican-controlled congress and the Republican president from averting the embarrassment of a government shutdown.
Even if the Republicans are willing to offer the kinds of concessions that would outrage their core voters and somehow get something passed on the Senate side, it would all have to be worked out in a conference committee, which takes some doing, and as we write this The Washington Post’s doomsday clock has ticked down to 23 hours, 29 minutes and 10 seconds. Even if everyone talked as fast as those guys who read the side effects disclaimers on the pharmaceutical advertisements and something got passed by both chambers, it still has to be signed by Trump, who is the wild card in everything these days.
These all-too-frequent continuing resolution debates are threat of always complicated, but this time it involves complicated questions about immigration policy and health care, and of course Trump also complicates things further. The Democrats want the continuing resolution to continue protections for illegal immigrants who were brought to the country as children and can now prove their good citizenship, and the that’s polling so well the Republicans are largely willing to go along if they also stricter border enforcement from now on, which also polls well. Meanwhile there’s another deadline looming to reauthorize the Child Health Insurance Program, which provides coverage to the children of families too wealthy to qualify for Medicaid yet too poor to pay for private sector health insurance, and although it polls so well it’s always had bipartisan support the Republicans failed to meet a previous deadline for its reauthorization and the Democrats thus have a huge bargaining chip.
In a televised and much-discussed meeting with a bipartisan gathering of senators earlier in the week Trump promised to sign whatever they came up with regarding immigration, but he quickly backtracked to insist that what every they came up with would have to include funding for a big, beautiful wall along the Mexican border and various other strict border enforcement efforts, and that he was still willing to hold those upstanding illegal immigrants brought here as children hostage to get it. Then he was angrily denying his Chief of Staff’s comments to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and a cable news network that Trump’s views on the big, beautiful wall and other border issues had “evolved” since his campaign days. Then Trump “tweeted” that he didn’t like the reauthorization of the CHIP program in Republican bills, staking out ground to the left of both the Republicans and Democrats by insisting it should be permanently reauthorized rather temporarily reprieved by a continuing resolution on spending.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was preemptively blaming the Democrats for a government showdown on Thursday, as Republican senate majority leaders are obliged to do, but he also frankly acknowledged to the press that “We don’t have a reliable partner at the White House to negotiate with,” and with a politely bowdlerized nod to a recent presidential comment that has even further complicated the immigration debate he added, “This has turned into an s-show for no good reason.” McConnell is not only hated by all the Democrats, as all Republican senate majority leaders are, he’s also hated by that large swath of the Republican party that has the Grand Old Party’s establishment, but we think he has a valid point.
We’ll also give due credit to the equally-loathed-by-both-sides Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan for corralling enough of his herd of mavericks and enough stray Democrats to get something to pass in the House, and although he’s carefully avoided any public criticisms he can’t give much credit to Trump. If the government does shut down and those upstanding illegal immigrants start getting deported and whole bunch of kids lose their health insurance in 22 hours and 37 minutes and 33 seconds, as The Washington Post times it, it’s likely that at least a majority of the hated Republican establishment will have voted to avert it.
Our guess is that won’t make much difference in the opinion polls, among Democrats or a large swath of the Republican party or any of those self-described independents. The Republicans control both chambers of Congress and in a certain sense the White House, and those arcane rules about a sixty-vote majority being needed in the Senate and all the nuances of immigration and health care are far too complicated for most folks to consider, so the Republicans will probably wind up shouldering their usual blame for all these all too frequent government shutdown. The Republicans will divide themselves between those who blame the mercurial Trump or that set-in-stone Republican establishment, and the Democrats will unite in their indignation with both.
The good news for everybody is that government shutdowns aren’t so awful as they sound, and that if this one happens it will likely be short-lived. Sooner or later both that hard-nosed if out-of-his-water negotiator Trump and those more hep-to-the-game but lily-livered Republican establishment types will once again government operations and give all sorts of concessions to the Democrats, including several that poll so well that a savvy party would have been on board all along, and if it doesn’t include a border wall that was a stupid and badly polling idea all along.
The bad news for everyone is that the best we can expect is yet another continuing resolution to keep the government somehow afloat through February 16, with the same motley assortment of Democrats and Republicans that Trump guy all reviving all the same noisome arguments. Once upon a time in America the two chambers of America’s congress used to pass annual budgets, presidents would sign, some longer term agreements were also agreed upon, and the nation’s businesses and taxpayers and our foreign allies and adversaries could plan accordingly, and for the most part it worked out well.
That all broke down long before Trump took office, so we can’t blame him for that, but with 22 hours and 10 minutes and nine seconds remaining on The Washington Post’s doomsday clocked neither he nor that hated Republican establishment nor any of those damned Democrats deserve any credit for fixing it.

– Bud Norman