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The Strange Case of Jamal Khashoggi

Over the years we’ve read a lot of improbable cloak-and-dagger novels and watched many fanciful films about international intrigue, but we’ve never come across a story quite so fascinating as the real-life disappearance and almost certain murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Even with unfettered access to the very best findings of America’s crack intelligence agencies President Donald Trump will not say with any certainty what has become of Kashoggi, and we can’t claim to have any better information. but we are far more objective and fairly certain of a few established facts. Khashoggi provably entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 2 to deal with paperwork for an upcoming wedding, and so far neither the fiancee who was waiting outside nor the consulate’s constant security cameras nor anyone else can testify that he ever came out. It’s also a verifiable fact that Khashoggi was considered an enemy of the people by the Saudi Arabian government, with no other obvious enemies who might have access to a Saudi Arabian consulate, and although that’s not conclusive proof of anything it’s worth keeping in mind.
So far the government of Turkey is officially coy about its conclusions, but unofficially it’s been leaking a flood of information to various world media that they have audiotape from Khashoggi’s cell phone of his brutal torture and murder and dismemberment, that on the day after Khashoggi’s disappearance their investigators found the consulate both thoroughly scrubbed and freshly painted, and they’ve got the flight records of 15 suspicious Saudis with provably close ties to their government and an autopsy specialist with a bone saw who flew into Istanbul just shortly before Khashoggi’s arrival at the consulate. Turkey’s government is lately almost as Islamist and authoritarian and untrustworthy as Saudi Arabia’s, and has its own complicated geo-political reasons to embarrass Saudi Arabia, but they’ve also got the sort of highly effective domestic security apparatus that could prove such claims, and would be just as happy to embarrass Saudi Arabia with the truth.
By now even such steadfast Trump loyalists as South Carolina’s Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham say that the Saudis look pretty damned guilty, and it would take a pretty imaginative novelist or screenwriter to come up with some other plausible plot twist, but Trump holds out for the possibility that some group of “rogue killers” might have killed Khashoggin in defiance of the Saudi government’s wishes.
;Some of those cloak-and-dagger novels we’ve read and foreign intrigue films we’ve watched had some pretty glaring plot holes, but even dime novels and $10 Hollywood movies could never come up with such a convoluted plot twist as that. Getting a group of “rogue killers” into a Saudi consulate in Istanbul just as an expatriate Saudi journalist and enemy of the Saudi people showed up would be tough enough for the “Mission: Impossible” screenwriters, much less why fellow enemies of the Saudi people would want to kill him, and never the mind the crews of rogue cleaners and painters who showed up in the immediate aftermath to scrub the alleged crime scene clean.
One never really knows, though, so perhaps Trump is right to hold out hope that neither Saudi King Salman bin Abdelaziz Al Saud nor current dictator Prince Mohammad bin Salman had anything do with whatever unpleasantness that might have transpired at a Saudi consulate. Back during the campaign Trump publicly boasted that he got along great with the Saudis because they did tens of millions of dollars of business with him, and they rolled out quite the red carpet for him on his first state visit abroad, and these days Trump can rightly argue that they do billions in business with far bigger American companies and as always play a crucial strategic role in America’s tricky middle-eastern foreign policy. Surely they deserve some benefit of the doubt.
Besides, as Trump as always reminds his interviewers, this Khashoggi guy wasn’t an American citizen, and even if he did get tortured and murdered and dismembered it didn’t happen here, so it arguably isn’t any of America’s business. Khashoggi was a legal American resident, which by law means he’s entitled to same protections of the state as anyone else living here, but what’s that against the millions and billions of dollars in trade that Trump and America get from the Saudis. That Khahshoggi guy also wrote for The Washington Post, long considered a leading light of America’s free press, but these days they’re also deemed enemies of the people.
The biggest mystery at this point is why Trump doesn’t just come right out and say, “Yeah, so what if the Saudis tortured and killed and dismembered this guy?” Khashoggi wasn’t even an American citizen, after all, and he wrote regularly for those enemies of the American people at The Washington Post, so we doubt that many of Trump’s die-hard defenders give much of a damn about what happened to that guy. What happened to that Khashoggi guy might slightly heighten the fervor of Trump’s opponents, but it probably won’t much swell their number.
In any case, this poor Khashoggi guy’s tale seems headed to a more desultory conclusion than any cloak-and-dagger novel we’ve ever read or any foreign intrigue film we’ve ever seen, and we worry that America won’t come out any greater.

— Bud Norman

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America First, Morality After That

President Donald Trump sat down for an interview with Lesley Stahl of the “60 Minutes” program that aired on Sunday, far away from the friendly confines of “Fox and Friends,” and of course it was full of news.
He suggested that Defense Secretary Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis, widely considered a restraining influence on Trump’s more rash foreign policy impulses, is “sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth,” and might soon be leaving the White House. He wouldn’t comment on how long Attorney General Jeff Sessions will be around, except to say “We’ll see what happens come midterms,” which suggests that something will happen after the looming midterm elections. He denied mocking the woman who alleged that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault while they were both high schools, although Trump sure did seem to revel in all the laughs he got talking about her at a recenta campaign rally. He effused about the trustworthiness of murderous North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, but added “That doesn’t mean I can’t be proven wrong,” which is newsworthy for its uncharacteristic modesty.
More striking to us, though, was Trump’s continued affinity for murderous Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and murderous Saudi Arabian dictator Mohammad bin Salam, and his apparent insouciance about murderous dictatorships in general.
Although Trump  now grudgingly acknowledges that yeah, Putin probably did meddle in America’s past presidential election, which all of America’s intelligence agencies insist with complete certainty,  he added that China’s murderous dictatorship probably did the same, which no intelligence agency has suggested, and he seemed to shrug it all off as business as usual. Way back in the campaign Trump told friendly Fox News interviewer Bill O’Reilly that yeah, Putin occasionally a journalist or dissident or political opponent or two, but “There a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers. Well, do you think our country’s so innocent?,” and he told the far feistier Stahl the relies on Russia, and he noted with apparent satisfaction that Putin none of Putin’s recent assassination attempts have happened in America or to Americans abroad.
Trump has talked tough about “severe punishment” for Saudi Arabia if it’s proved the government brutally murdered and dismembered self-exiled Saudi dissident and Washington Post writer and legal American resident Jamal Kashoggi, as all of the world’s intelligence agencies and every sane observer has concluded, but we expect it will require some rather extraordinary proof before he’s nudged to say that yeah, they probably did it. Even if he is somehow convinced that the Saudi friends who treated to him to such a flattering state visit and do billions of dollars of business with American corporations of millions of dollars of business with his own still wholly-owned companies, he’s already pointed out that the alleged killing happened in Turkey, “and to the best of our knowledge, Kashoggi is not a United States citizen.” An American president should speak with more certainty about such easily learnable facts, and should also be aware the a legal residency in the United States also entitles one to the protection of the state, but Trump clearly thinks America lacks the moral standing to fuss about such things.
Trump bluntly told the country as much before he was elected. He said so not only to O’Reilly and his Fox viewers but to all the revved-up rally crowds that chanted along with his “America First” slogan, not knowing or caring it faithfully echoed the pre-World War II isolationist movement that thought Fortress America could get along just fine in a world otherwise ruled by the Axis powers. Long before he started his unlikely political career Trump had hired a ghostwriter to pen “The Art of Deal,” which explicitly described his Machiavellian worldview of everything in life from love to business to foreign relations as a zero-sum game that comes down to winners and losers, with the rules being strictly for suckers. Even as he successfully courted the evangelical Christian vote, he made it quite clear he didn’t believe in all that nonsense loving one’s neighbor and turning the other cheek and the meek being blessed.
On one warm and sunny Hawaiian December day in ’41 America realized that despite two oceans and a couple of placid neighbors to the north and south America could not get along just fine with the Axis powers, and with the help of some carefully cultivated democratic allies the country waged a costly but ultimately victorious war against those murder dictatorships. The allies also  much needed the help of a murderous communist dictatorship in Russia, which waged a fare more costly war but a sizable victory of it, as well as an unpleasantly authoritarian regime in China that soon fell to an even more murderous communist dictatorship, but somehow the free and democratic nations of the world cobbled together trade agreements and diplomatic arrangements and military alliances that have worked the necessary moral compromise out pretty well for most part over the past 70-plus, at least relative to most of humankind’s bloody and impoverished history.
There have been plenty of wars and moral compromises along the way, of course. Fighting Chinese and Soviet communism involved a couple of horrific wars that resulted in a still-troublesome tie on the Korean peninsula and a arguable loss to a unified and more-or-less capitalist Vietnam that now offers potential strategic advantages to the United States, and America has overlooked some unsavory behavior from anti-communist regimes and any country that can help keep the international economy well lubricated with oil. There were greater moral exigencies to be arguably considered at the time, though, and at no point did any Republican or Democratic president ever signaled that he didn’t much about such behavior. Those bipartisan fancy-pants “experts” got a lot of things wrong, but they also rebuilt former vanquished adversaries into formidable friends, nurtured the free and democratic nations they had rescued from murderous dictatorships, and we think they know better than Trump, and we’ll hate to see the last few of them leave his administration.
Trump is quite right that America has done a lot of killing, and that like any country populated by mere human beings we’re not so innocent, but we think he’s quite wrong to suggest America should begin to atone for its sins by giving the green-light to any of his favored murderous dictators to keep killing off any pesky journalists or political opponents or assorted dissidents. We don’t think it will help make America great again.

— Bud Norman

The New York Times’ Flattering Account of President Donald Trump’s Finances

The New York Times is still on its full-time job of tormenting President Donald Trump, and its latest attention-grabbing effort is a lengthy and exhaustively researched report alleging that “Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father.” For now Trump’s tax lawyers and other spokespeople are denying it, and friendlier press outlets are reporting he’s threatening to sue, but we wonder why they bother.
Back during one of the general election debates Democratic nominee “Crooked” Hillary Clinton suggested that one of the reasons Trump was defying decades of political tradition by refusing to release his tax returns was because it might show that he’d been dodging his fair share of taxes for years, and rather than deny the charge Trump interrupted to boast “That makes me smart.” Throughout the campaign Trump presented himself as an uniquely shrewd sort of wheeler and dealer who knew America’s corruptly rigged political and economic system better than anybody, and thus argued that only he could put those talents to use on America’s behalf and restore our benighted nation to its former glory.
He never explained to our satisfaction why he’d decided at the ripe old age of 69 to cease his lifelong sybaritic lifestyle of gaming the American system and begin living out his remaining days by selflessly making America again, but a plurality of Republican primary voters fell for it, and by now an overwhelming majority of Republicans are on board with his promises, which he repeatedly assures us we can believe. By now, we figure that Trump might as well take proud credit for the undeniably ingenious wheeling and dealing that The New York Times describes.
Doing our old newspaper hand best to sum up the countless column inches that jump across several pages of The New York Times in a lede paragraph, the young Donald Trump accepted several hundred millions of dollars from his real estate mogul dad, did the old man a favor around tax time in the process, and then ended up laying a suspiciously light tax bill himself. Given that the Internal Revenue Service never raised a fuss about it, and that it is indeed smart to pay as few taxes as possible, Trump is no doubt tempted to brag about it.
The apparent problem is that The New York Times’ account belies Trump’s self-mythologizing about being a self-made multi-billionaire. Back in the old days politicians used to boast that they were been born in a little log cabin they’d built with their own two hands, but Trump won a Republican nomination and eventually the presidency by boasting that he’d made $10 billion from a “small loan of $1 million” from his father, and he’s surely loathe to relinquish such such a hardscrabble up-by-one’s-own-bootstraps Horatio Alger tale.
The best estimates of the usually reliable financial press puts Trump’s wealth somewhere between three and four hundred billion, which is well short of what he brags about but is still pretty impressive, and even if you accept the Times’ account that he started with more than $400 million from his dad it’s a pretty good return on investment over Trump’s long life. So far as we can tell he might have done just as well with any of the certificates of deposit or interest-paying savings accounts or various other financial instruments that the rigged system provides, and avoided the embarrassments of the United States Football League and the Trump Taj Mahal casino-and-strip club and various other failed business ventures, but we’re currently in no position to deny that he didn’t come out in better financial shape than ourselves.
These days Trump’s still wholly-owned businesses are mostly invested in branding the Trump name, yet he’s somehow fallen down along everybody’s list of billionaires,  although  many of his still wholly-owned and Trump-branded properties continue to do million-dollar business with the Secret Service and the press corps and various foreign diplomats during his frequent stays, and for now he can plausibly argue that makes him smart. It remains to be seen, though, if it will make America great again.

— Bud Norman

A Clear Win for Trump to Exaggerate

President Donald Trump scored a significant win on Monday with a newly-neogiated trade pact with both Canada and Mexico, thus giving him something to grossly exaggerate during the upcoming mid-term elections.
So far as we can tell from the mainstream media accounts, Trump now has a very plausible case to grossly exaggerate in his characteristic way. Although NAFTA remains mainly intact, Trump has won the concession that it’s now called the “United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement,” or the more cumbersome “USMCA,” and we’re relieved that he didn’t insist on “Trump” in the name,and we can’t deny the latest negotiations include some sweet deals for Wisconsin’s dairy framers and some likely raises in pay for Mexico’s automotive assembly line workers, and we can’t deny that on the whole it’s a pretty good deal.
Still, we’re suspicious that it’s really the greatest deal anybody’s ever seen, as Trump is already proclaiming, and we’ll watch how it plays out in those mid-term elections. We’re glad for those Wisconsin dairy farmers who were previously and unfairly denied market access to those damnably protectionist Canadians, and we’re glad for those Mexican assembly line workers who will probably be getting a raise soon, but we doubt the latest periodic re-ngotiations of the still largely extant NAFT treaty represent the difference between the worst deal America ever made and the greatest deal ever that even trump could Trump could only negotiate. Here in Kansas the grain farmers are still anxious about Trump’s ongoing trade war with Chinaand so are the local aviation workers. we’d advise Trump that he shouldn’t get tired of winning just yet.

— Bud Norman

A Laugh Line at the United Nations

President Donald Trump opened his address to the United Nations on Tuesday with a boast that in less than two years he has already accomplished more than “almost any administration” in American history, and his audience of international diplomats responded with a hearty and clearly audible laugh. which was even louder than the laugh he got when told a Republican debate audience that “”no one has more respect for women than I do, believe me.” T rump then went off the teleprompter and ad-libbed that he “Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s okay,” which elicited a smaller but seemingly more sympathetic laugh.
Later in the day Trump assured the American press that of course he’d meant the obviously exaggerated boast as a self-effacing laugh line, much like Pee-Wee Herman insisting that “I meant to do that” after falling off his bike, but he was clearly stung by the reaction. Back during his quixotic but somehow winning presidential campaign Trump used to rev up the rally crowds by telling them the entire world was laughing at America, but would cease to do so as he asserted his alpha maleness took office, and he’s obviously not all the sort to take ridicule lightly. He also seemed to realize how ridiculous his “I meant to do that” defense sounded to most of the world.
Trump’s typically Trump-ian boasts about his accomplishments are still standing-ovation applause lines to the big crowds of die-hard supporters who continue to show up at his ongoing campaign rallies, and we’re pretty sure he expected the same response from a gathering of global diplomats, but this time he was facing a far tougher audience. The rest of Trump’s speech pretty much reiterated his long stated intentions to withdraw America from the international order of diplomatic and trade and military alliances that have kept a relative global peace and resulted in unprecedented global prosperity since the last world war, and except for some polite applause at the end it got an icy reaction from a global audience of both diplomatic friends and foes. There was some righteous tough talk about our undeniable adversaries in Iraq and Syria and elsewhere, but Trump also managed to claim our British and European Union and North American and South American and southeastern Asian allies have laughingly taken advantage of us as well. He made some good points about the necessity of national sovereignty, but it was widely noted by both friends and foes that neglected to mention Russia’s brazen violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. By the end of the speech he had taken a forthright stand against an estimated 90 percent of the world’s population.
Which is probably fine by Trump, as he plainly intended the address to be heard by that potentially winning plurality of American voters at his raucous campaign rallies. He knows that they relish the enmity not only of of our undeniable adversaries, but also those effete Euro-weenies and wily southeast Asians and crafty Cannucks and rapacious Meskins who claim to be our friends, and they trust that overpowering his alpha-maleness will eventually vanquish them all.
We have our doubts about that, though, and are more inclined to trust in the international order of trade and diplomatic and military alliances that have kept a relative global peace and brought unprecedented global prosperity since the last world war. It’s been up-and-down ever since then, to be sure, but over the long haul the trajectory has been upwards, and we don’t much credit Trump for its recent success, while Trump’s claims that he can easily prevail over 90 percent of the world’s economy and diplomacy and military seem more far-fetched.

At the the risk of offending fellow Republican friends and family members, we’ll come right out and say in these blunt-spoken times that both Trump and his America -First-verusus-the -rest-of-the-world foreign policy policy  laughable. All the late night comics and their audiences are laughing at Trump’s braggadocio, and most of the world’s diplomats are now  joining in,and according to all the polls and foreign late comics are also doing so,  and that’s undeniably a problem that Trump’s alpha male and downright Nietzscheaan will to power will have to overcome..

— Bud Norman

Politics and Other Family Matters

Politics has always been a topic best avoided at family gatherings, but we’ve lately noted that’s especially true these days. The subject of President Donald Trump and the current state of the Republican party and conservatism in general is especially fraught for our conservative and Republican yet Never-Trump selves in our dealings with certain members of our conservative yet more loyally Republican family, but we’re pleased to say it’s not so acrimonious as it seems to be for Arizona’s Republican Rep. Paul Gosar and at least six of his siblings.
Gosar is up for reelection in Arizona’s reliably Republican fourth congressional district, where his brothers Tim and Gaston and David and his sisters Jennifer and Joan and Grace are all currently starring in a widely-aired campaign television ad for Democratic challenger David Brill.
We’ve not paid enough attention to Arizona’s fourth congressional district race to have any idea who the hell this Brill fellow is, and for all we know he’s one of those far-left Democrats we’ve always opposed. Gosar says that his siblings are “six angry Democrats,” and that “These disgruntled Hillary supporters are related to me by blood, but like lefties everywhere they put political ideology before family,” adding the “hashtag” of “#MAGA 2018,” and for all we know that explains the family dynamics. Even so, everything we know of Gosar suggests he’s one of those far-right Republicans we look askance at in these Trumpian times.
Gosar’s six dissenting siblings might well be a bunch of Hillary-supporting angry Democrats, for all we know, and we truly share his distaste for that type, but for all we know they might also well be old-fashioned Republicans such as ourselves who will carry party loyalty only so far. If so, and if that Brill fellow turns out to be one of those more-or-less reasonable Democrats, we’d probably take their side at what will surely be an acrimonious family Thanksgiving dinner
Back here in Kansas’s fourth congressional district we’re faced with a tough choice between a Trumpian Republican and the sort of left-of-center Democrat we’ve always voted against, and we’re seriously considering voting for the centrist Democrats in the state’s gubernatorial and our neighborhood’s county commission races, and we’re planning to talk mostly about the University of Oklahoma’s Sooner football team next Thanksgiving. The family is all conservative and Republican, which leads to all sorts of fraught conversations these days, but at least we’re all on board with the Sooners. The Sooners are undefeated and firmly ensconced in the top-ten ratings and still very much in the running for a national championship this season, but the last couple of wins have been hard-fought against mediocre competition, and there’s no telling what we might be all giving thanks for on that hopefully friendly family Thanksgiving..

— Bud Norman

Grading Hurricanes on the Curve

As Hurricane Florence heads toward the mid-Atlantic coast, threatening 130 mile an hour winds and 83-foot waves and severe flooding, President Donald Trump is promising another one of his A-plus efforts to deal with it. He’s also describing his response to last year’s Hurricane Maria as an A-plus effort, though, which should give pause to anyone in Florence’s path.
Most Puerto Ricans give Trump’s efforts a much lower grade, according to a recent poll commissioned by The Washington Post and the Kaiser family foundation. Only 15 percent of the respondents describe Trump as doing an “excellent” or “very good” or merely “good” job, with 52 percent rating his performance as “poor” and another 28 percent calling it “fair.” The Puerto Rican government and the territory’s governor fared only slightly better, with 25 percent giving high to the former and 31 percent to the latter, while the federal government’s overall response got favorable reviews from 39 percent and 41 percent approved on their local government’s efforts.
Such dissatisfaction is understandable. Sixty-four people died during the storm — a low number compared to other recent hurricanes, which Trump proudly touted in the immediate aftermath — but the lack of potable water and fresh food and medical services caused the storm’s death toll to rise to 2,975, making it the second deadliest natural disaster in American history. A year later large parts of the island remain without electricity and power outages remain common almost everywhere, the roads to several remote towns remain closed, and re-building efforts are moving slowly.
Trump is right to note that the Puerto Rican government had let its infrastructure to deteriorate to a vulnerable state, as most Puerto Ricans apparently agree, and he’s also right that getting needed supplies and personnel to a far-off island is more difficult than responding to a hurricane on the mainland. Even so, we can’t argue with any Puerto Rican who gives Trump a lower grade than A-plus. Nor can we blame them if they still resent Trump’s “tweets” about how the lazy Puerto Ricans wanted everyone else to take care of their problems, or his petty feud with the San Juan mayor who was wading through waist-deep waters to deliver help while the president was playing golf on one of his own courses.
The states and municipalities along the projected path of Hurricane Florence are more well-run and better built to withstand a hurricane than Puerto Rico, and their English-speaking citizens can probably expect more presidential attention in the lead-up to a mid-term election they’re eligible to vote in, but it looks a hard rain that’s gonna fall. We’ll be hoping for an honestly -earned A-plus to help out.

— Bud Norman

On the Latest Questions About Trump

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

— Bud Norman

“Tweeting” Our Way Into Autumn

There’s long been a venerable tradition in America that no politician dares make news over the Labor Day weekend, but President Donald Trump has little regard for even the most venerable traditions, so of course he interrupted Monday’s picnics and ball games and blissfully slow news cycle with perhaps his most outrageous “tweet” thus far.
“Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well-publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time,” Trump “tweeted,” adding with apparent sarcasm “Good job Jeff…” After an elongated and exhausting Labor Day Weekend of bratwurst and beer and baseball and helping to mow and edge the oversized lawn of our very small church over in Delano we hardly know where to begin explaining how extraordinarily outrageous this strikes us, but we’ll try to start at the beginning.
The “tweet” apparently refers to the recent indictments the Justice Department has has won in two separate but duly constituted federal courts of New York’s Republican Rep. Chris Collins on insider trading charges, and then California’s Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter for using more than $250,000 of campaign funds for such non-campaign related expenses as family vacations and theater tickets. Trump is quite right that the indictments probably leave a couple of otherwise safe Republican House of Representatives seats in doubt, but it’s yet another provable lie that the investigations were launched by President Barack Obama’s administration, even if that did make a difference, which it doesn’t, and although both defendants are entitled to a presumption of innocence our old-fashioned Republican law-and-order sensibilities feel the people are also entitled to make their case without a President of the United States tainting the jury pool by “tweet.”
Never mind that annoyingly random capitalization and incorrect hyphenation of “midterms” — what’s with that all balderdash about the “Jeff Sessions Justice Department” that’s apparently thwarting justice? Attorney General Jeff Sessions is indeed in charge of the Justice Department, but only because Trump appointed him to the post and a majority-Republican Senate confirmed him, and he serves at the pleasure of an obviously displeased president, and Trump could fire him at any time he summons the reckless political courage to do so, and until then it’s actually the Trump Justice Department that Trump and his rally-goers are railing against.
Given the current extenuating circumstances our old-fashioned law-and-order sensibilities are inclined to offer a not all sarcastic “Good job Jeff” to the Attorney General, although we’d respectfully add the proper comma. Two duly consisted federal courts have found prima facie evidence that both congressmen had committed felonies, and although it remains to be seen if the Justice Department can prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt we’ll trust more in the American justice system and the verdicts of two groups of twelve tried and true fellow citizens than “tweeted” prejudgments of President Trump.
The first-indicted Collins was the first congressional Republican to endorse Trump’s Republican candidacy, and the second-indicted Hunter was the second in line, which will surely strike to right-wing talk radio and Fox News opinions show audiences as damned suspicious, but we well recall that the first Republican Senator and entrenched establishment figure to sign on with Trump was Sessions. Trump rewarded Sessions with the plum Attorney General position, and Sessions returned the favor by aggressively pursuing Trump’s agenda on illegal immigration and environmental deregulation and various quarrelsome racial issues on the streets and in the schools and elsewhere in the public square. Sessions also recused himself from that whole “Russia thing,” though, and has pursued prima facie cases against even Republicans in an election year, and no matter how tough one is on the the border such transgressions cannot be forgiven.
By now we’re pretty sure that Sessions regrets his early endorsement of Trump’s candidacy and resignation from a safe Senate seat, and that Trump is mainly peeved at Sessions for hewing so closely to old-fashioned Republican law-and-order sensibilities. At this point in post-Labor Day America the President of the United seems to have made clear that he thinks the true purpose of the American justice system is to lock up his political enemies and vindicate his still-in-favor political allies, and we expect a cold and dreary autumn.

— Bud Norman

God and Man in the Age of Trump and Those Gosh-Darned Democrats

President Donald Trump recently had a closed-door meeting with a group of prominent evangelical Christian pastors, and of course a surreptitious tape recording of the proceedings was quickly leaked to the media, and of course yet another Trump controversy ensued. The quote that provoked the most outrage from Trump’s secular critics was a warning that the Democratic party will become violent if it wins a majority in the House of Representatives in November’s mid-term elections, but from our evangelical perspective here on the political sidelines the meeting had more worrisome quotes than that.
Trump didn’t attempt to explain why the Democrats would start brawling it out on the streets if they win, which strikes us as rather counterintuitive, as it’s usually the losing side that’s itching for a fight after an election, but at least he wasn’t threatening that his die-hard supporters would take to the streets with pitchforks in hand if they lost. Such desperate measures might yet become necessary if Democratic-run congressional investigations start delving too deeply into Trump’s finances and foreign dealings and a couple of alleged sexual affairs that involve possible campaign finance law violations, but for now we’re satisfied that Trump isn’t mobilizing the pitch fork brigades he no doubt has at his disposal.
Trump is quite right that a Democratic majority in one or especially both chambers of Congress would quickly undo all that he’s done, although it’s still worth noting they wouldn’t need to do so violently, but even to ears jaded by our off-key singing on Sunday mornings it’s still jarring to hear Trump on verified audiotape telling prominent evangelical pastors that “This November 6 election is not only very much a referendum on me, it’s a referendum on your religion.” At this point we have little trust in anyone anywhere on the political spectrum in the secular world, but we retain our faith in the prayers we say and the gospel songs we badly sing and the scriptures we read from during the sermons on most on Sunday mornings at a small but scrappy Church of Christ over in the rough Delano neighborhood, and we don’t worry for even a nanosecond will that our faith will persist no matter how Trump fares against those godless Democrats on the any-day-now date of Nov. 6. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the church, as the scriptures tell us and so far as we’re concerned, and as crazy as this latest crop of Democrats might be they don’t seem nearly so scary as that.
We try our best not to judge. lest we be judged, in accordance with scripture, and happily leave it to God to judge a man’s everlasting soul, but other scriptures acknowledge that down here on earth the Christian community can rebuke its members for certain character flaws, and that sometimes a sane society should take stock of a man’s general moral character before appointing him to a position of power. As the most craven sinners of the congregation we worship with we always sit in the back most pews of our small church on the rough west side of Wichita, although we occasionally take to the pulpit for an opening prayer or communion message, but in these blunt-talking times we’ll come right out and say that we’re not counting on this Trump fellow to defend the faith.
So far a we can tell from our secular position here on the political sidelines it’s going to be a very interesting midterm election, and we expect the Republican party to get the worst of it, with whatever that might lead to, but we’ll still try our best to be up on time for the Sunday morning worship services at the West Douglas Church of of Christ. We’ll hope and  be sure that what we find there is something more promising than either that godawful Trump or whatever that godless Democratic party might devise.

— Bud Norman