Advertisements

The Rhetoric of a Rigged System

President Donald Trump gave another one of his continuing campaign speeches on Friday in Pensacola, Florida, and it was a doozy even by his standards. In the hour-plus extemporaneous oration he warned that his critics are “very, very bad and evil people,” and that “We have a rigged system in this country,” which is pretty unprecedented rhetorical rhetoric, but there was so much to object even before he got to those slanders.
There were the usual exaggerated boasts about his electoral-vote victory and popular-vote loss more than a year ago, and he also boasted that he’s been the most de-regulating president since Abraham Lincoln. Trump always refers to his revered predecessor as the “late, great Abe Lincoln,” just in case you weren’t aware of his greatness and hadn’t yet heard the bad news about him, and early in his term he seemed pleasantly surprised that Lincoln was a Republican, insisting that most people were unaware of the fact, and he seems similarly unaware of the fact that there weren’t a whole lot of regulations to de-regulate back in the 1860s and that Lincoln had more urgent matters. He also took credit for people saying “Merry Christmas,”
Of course there were all the usual attacks on media who persist in reporting news he’d rather not have to hear. He urged any stockholders in his audience to hire a lawyer and sue the American Broadcast Network for a quickly corrected error that resulted in the reporter’s suspension and briefly sent the stock market indices down, and noting other corrections various media have made he said “They’re saying sorry — they’ve been doing that all year,” and in the very next sentence added “They never apologize.” Trump gets things wrong far more frequently, prides himself on never apologizing for anything, but the crowd seemed to love it.
Pensacola is home to the Navy’s “Top Gun” aviation training program and its elite Blue Angels flight team, so of course Trump also boasted about his devotion to America’s veterans, although in the middle of it he wound up riffing about the low ratings that Arnold Schwarzenegger had as Trump’s successor on “The Apprentice.”
The very lovely town of Pensacola is also a mere twenty miles or so away from Mobile, Alabama, and shares a media market with about 20 percent of the neighboring state, so of course Trump also put in a plug for the Republican candidate in that crazy special senatorial election. The Republican candidate is twice-removed Judge Roy Moore, who stands quite credibly accused by numerous women of sexual misbehavior, just as Trump does, but Trump made the argument that Moore is opposed by one of those very bad and evil who criticize his agenda. Of course the crowd cheered lustily, but it’s hard to say how it played elsewhere.
At the mention of vanquished Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton the crowd went into its usual chant of “lock her up,” which is also pretty much unprecedented in the history of presidential politics, and that was prompted the remarks about how the rigged system that somehow prevails in America despite Trump’s landslide victory and his appointees at the agencies he warns are out to get him. That’s pretty much unprecedented, too, and despite the crowd’s raucous response it troubles our old-fashioned Republican souls.
The conservatism we so long ago signed up for sought to conserve the institutions and norms that have been so assiduously built up over the course of America’s imperfect but otherwise glorious history, despite the occasional demagogues on the right and left who have popped up now and then, and we won’t concede it has culminated in a rigged system. Freedom of the press and an independent judiciary are both pillars of what made America great long before Trump came along, as far as we’re concerned, and by now we trust them both far more than we do Trump or that Moore guy.
Trump also said “We need some love in the country. I would love to bring both sides together, if that’s possible. There’s a lot of hatred out,” but that came just seconds after the remark about the very, very bad and evil people who criticize him. All in all, we doubt any of it played well except to sorts of  people who show up at these ongoing campaign speeches. The latest polls suggest that’s a shrinking number, but Trump is insisting that’s “fake news.”

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

“Tweeting” Away a Tax Bill

President Donald Trump took to the road Wednesday to rally popular support for the congressional Republicans’ attempts to pass a tax bill, which so far are widely unpopular, but as is his wont he first undermined the effort with a street of outrageous “tweets.” His even busier-than-usual thumbs “re-tweeted” some links to anti-Muslim videos, expressed the usual complaints about the “fake news,” gloated about the firing of a network news anchor for alleged sexual improprieties, and seemed to suggest that another of one of media critics might be guilty of murder.
The outbursts not only gave all the media plenty to talk about other Trump’s sales pitch for whatever tax bill the Republicans might come up, they also made those arguments harder to believe.
Those anti-Muslim videos that Trump “re-tweeted” came from a fringe group calling itself Britain First, which the British government blames for a recent spate of hate crimes against its Muslim citizens, so some controversy ensued. The leader of the the fringe group and former Ku Klux Klan leeader David Duke both “tweeted” their appreciation for the “re-tweet” to to Trump’s millions of “Twitter followers,” but British Prime Minister Theresa May “tweeted” her own opinion that “It is wrong for the president to have done this,” and that seemed more in line with the mainstream media’s reaction.
Then the government of the Netherlands “tweeted” its objection that the video purporting to show a handicapped Dutch youth being savagely beaten by a Muslim immigrant was misleading, because although the depicted attack did occur the crime was not committed by a Muslim immigrant, and that assaulters has since been severely punished by Dutch law. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders would not vouch for the authenticity of any of the videos, and was reduced to defending their “re-tweeting” by insisting the president was making a valid point by arguing that mass Muslim immigration has resulted in problems for Europe.
That is indeed a valid point, and there is plenty of valid evidence for it, and it doesn’t need to be couched in hateful terms, so we would have to hear Huckabee-Sanders why Trump chose to cite some phony-baloney videos from a far-away fringe hate group that’s lately become a problem for a key American ally, and wind up annoying another American ally in the process.
Another big story of the day was the National Broadcasting Company firing longtime “Today Show” host Matt Lauer after a co-worker accused him of sexual harassment and assault, so of course Trump couldn’t resist the chance to insert himself in the middle of that. Even though Trump also stands credibly accused of similar charges, and is championing a Republican Senate candidate down in Alabama who stands credibly accused of even worse, and had just been called out by the Dutch for disseminating inaccurate informations, Trump gloated about Lauer’s firing and wondered “when will the top executives at NBC & Comcast be fired for putting out so much fake news” and urged his followers to “check out” the past of the news division’s chief for some unspecified dirt.
Then he took aim at the NBC-affiliated MSNBC network’s Joe Scarborough, host of the “Morning Joe” program and a frequent target of of Trump’s ad hominem criticism, writing “And will they terminate low ratings Joe Scarborough based on the ‘unsolved mystery’ that took place in Florida years ago. Investigate!” So far as any one can tell, Trump was referring to the 2001 death of a 28-year-old employee who died in Scarborough home district office when he was Florida congressman.
Of course the incident was thoroughly investigated by both the local authorities and the local press, with the local medical examiner concluding the the poor woman had died when an abnormal heart rhythm caused to her to lose consciousness and strike her head on a desk, and the local reporter who’s know a journalism professor at Duke University recalls he could find no evidence of foul play, and for the past 16 years only the kookiest conspiracy theory web sites have suggested that Scarborough had anything to with it.
Trump’s “tweets” don’t offer any reason to suspect Scarborough, either, so it looks an awful like Trump’s suggestion that one time political rival Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s father had something to do with the Kennedy assassination. Which is hardly how to begin a speech making all sorts of dubious claims whatever tax bill the Republicans might come up.
Trump’s oration before a mid-sized crowd of adoring fans in St. Charles, Missouri, was largely devoted to bragging about his overwhelming electoral victory and how he’s since been making America great again even more rapidly than even he expected, but for the most part he focused on how America would be even greater after he signs whatever tax bill the Republicans might come up with. He touched on all the venerable Republican arguments about tax cuts freeing up money for investments that spur economic growth and thus winds up helping everybody, rightly noted that America’s corporate tax rate is the highest in the industrialized word and thus hinders American competitiveness and create perverse incentives for doing business elsewhere, and all things considered we expected worse.
We’re old enough to remember when President Ronald Reagan was making those arguments, though, so we hoped for better. Back when good ol’ Ronnie Ray-Gun was making the pitch for a Republican tax bill the economic circumstances were starkly different, he thoroughly understood the complicated theories underlying the legislation that had been carefully crafted through hotly-debated hearings and thorough analysis by various nonpartisan agencies, and he had the sunny disposition and a sufficient command of the English language to persuade quite a few Democratic congressmen and a sufficient majority of the American to go along without resorting to any bald-faced lies. This is a different time, though, and Trump is a different president.
One of the obvious reasons that whatever tax bill the Republicans might come up with is so polling so horribly is because it is perceived as giving a massive tax cut to the richest Americans, which is inconveniently but undeniably true according to every analysis we’ve seen by any credible nonpartisan agency or think-tank or business publication on either the left or the right margins of the reasonable middle. Rather than winsomely explaining the complicated theories about why that’s actually a good idea for everyone, as Reagan did back when it was undeniably true of his plan, which worked out well enough for everyone, Trump prefers to deny it.
Trump assures the public that such a famously and fabulously wealthy person as himself is going to take a real hit with whatever tax bill the Republicans might come up with, and he mimics the slightly Jewish-sounding exasperation of his accountant at what he’s doing, and he brags about all the rich friends he has who are angry at him. He then adds his catchphrase “Believe me.” He tells the fans in St. Charles and elsewhere that he doesn’t mind losing all that money or any of those phony rich friends because he’s got the love of all the pipe fitters and coal miners and construction workers out there in the real America, and says “believe me” twice.
We’ll have to take his word for it, of course, because Trump hasn’t released his tax returns or given a full public accounting of the complex world-wide business he continues to hold, and there’s no telling what all those rich friends of his might be up to. All of the credible nonpartisan agencies and think-tanks and business publications are saying that Trump and his dues-paying pals at Mar-a-Lago will come fine, though, and at this point they seem more credible than the guys who’s often “re-tweeting” fake news from all sorts of kooky conspiracy theory internet sites. Most of the analysis from the serious sources we’ve seen suggest that the sorts of lower-income workers who voted in large numbers for Trump are going to take a hit, but we can’t say for sure if that’s fake news, so we’ll leave it to lower-income Trump voters to decide.
Back when Reagan was around the top tax rates were truly exorbitant and the economy was deep into an era of stagflation, while today the top rates are still halved and Trump can’t stop talking about how great the stock market and everything else is going just because he’s there, but there’s still an honest argument to be made for Republican economics. Perhaps Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or House Speaker Paul Ryan will stun us by persuasively making that case, but Trump’s obviously dishonest arguments are unlikely to nudge those awful poll numbers upwards, and his “tweets” about “Chuck and Nancy” and the rest of the congressional Democrats are even more unlikely to win any of their much-needed votes.

— Bud Norman

A Taxing Situation for the GOP

There’s a good chance that the Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress will sooner or later pass some tax bill or another, and a certainty that President Donald Trump will make a big show of signing whatever they might come up with, but at the the moment it seems likely to prove a pyrrhic victory. All of the tax bills that are under consideration are currently polling even worse than all the repeal-and-replace-Obamacare bills that never got passed, the inevitable devils in the details spell trouble for those Republican representatives in the Democratic states, and they way that Trump and the rest of the Republicans are going about it are also problematic.
Despite all the desperate Republican attempts to deny it, there’s really no denying that all of the potential bills really do amount to that hated huge tax cut for the rich that Democrats are always accusing of them of seeking, which largely explains the bad poll numbers. As old-fashioned Republicans we’re sympathetic to the case that the rich shoulder an unfair share of tax burden and that allowing them to spend some greater amount of of their mostly hard-earned money on private sector investments, but these newfangled sorts of Republicans are ill-suited to making that case. Trump claims he’s going to take a huge hit on his taxes with any of the Republican bills, but he’s the first president in decades who hasn’t made his tax returns publicly available to prove such claims, and according to all the polls most Americans don’t believe him when he says “believe me.”
Trump also likes to brag about how well the American economy is doing since his inauguration, which undercuts the argument President Ronald Reagan persuasively used to sell the even bigger tax cut for the rich that rescued the economy from the stagflation of the ’70s, and he doesn’t seem to have the same Reagan-esque understanding of the complex theory to explain it to the American public. Even such old-fashioned Republicans as House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell seem incapable of making the time-honored arguments for a low-taxed and lightly-regulated economy, and seem to prefer desperate arguments denying that there really is a big tax cut for the rich involved. The Republicans still have a strong case for a significant cut in the world’s highest corporate tax rate, which still figures prominently in all the still viable bills, but the Democrats can rightly note that the only corporations who actually pay that rate have very bad accountants, and what with all those corporations doing so well under Trump’s leadership it’s a harder sell to the general public.
Almost all of those still-viable Republican bills would also eliminate a longstanding federal tax deduction for state and local taxes, which will wind up meaning a tax increase for many middle-and-upper-class Republican voters who find themselves residing in a high-tax Democratic state, and since those voters tend to reside in certain upper-crust Republican districts in those Democratic states that can’t help the Grand Old Party’s chances of keeping its narrow majorities in Congress. Upper-crust Republicans are already uncomfortable with the party’s recent populist turn, and if they’re going to be betrayed by their party even on such hard-core convictions as tax cuts that’s bound to a problem.
There are valid Republican arguments to be made against all of those still-viable bills, too, and Republicans being such cussedly hard-to-herd contrarians many of them are making those arguments. Some of the last die-hard deficit hawks are objecting the to projected and pretty much undeniable increases in the national debt, God bless ’em, those Republican members from those upper-crust districts in otherwise Democratic states are of course speaking out. in the Senate that nice lady from Maine has her usual liberal-leaning objections and that staunch fellow from Kentucky is suggesting none of the still-viable alternatives are nearly conservative enough, and the Republicans might yet snatch defeat from the jaws of a pyrrhic victory.
The House has already passed a badly-polling bill but has some sticking points with each of the remaining viable Senate bills, and the Senate majority is razor-thin, so of course Trump re-started a “twitter” feud with a Republican senator whose vote is badly needed. Arizona’s Sen. Jeff Flake has been a reliable vote for consensus Republican causes during his first term, but he also wrote a book critical of Trump’s combative rhetoric and more populist tendencies, and was recently caught on a live microphone saying that if the Republicans become the party of Trump and Alabama senate candidate Ray Moore it is “toast,” so Trump promptly “tweeted” that Flake — or “Flake(y)” as Trump put it — was therefore a “no vote” on any Republican bill. Our guess is that Flake will vote as usual with the consensus of Republican opinion, and since he’s already announced he won’t run for reelection given the current climate we’re sure he’ll cast his vote with concern for the political consequences, so we won’t blame him whether he hands Trump yet another legislative defeat or allows Trump a pyrrhic victory.
If the process drags out long enough it might come to down a special Senate race down in Alabama, where the aforementioned Moore seems in danger of losing that reliably Republican state’s Senate seat to a Democrat, of all people. Moore stands credibly accused by numerous woman of being that creepy guy who preys on teenaged girls, and by now many of the old-fashioned Republicans have renounced his campaign, but Trump has preferred to “tweet” about a Democratic senator’s sexual misconduct while White House spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway was on television urging Alabamans to vote for the credibly accused child molester in order to pass whatever tax bill the Republicans come up with. This might work for no, but in the long run it strikes us as an especially pyrrhic victory.
The economy will probably chug along in any case, and the national debt will just as surely swell, the inevitable reckoning will  hopefully occur after we do, and as far as we’re concerned both parties deserve whatever they get.

— Bud Norman

Trump and Elephants and Elephant Jokes

After the past two years or so of close observation we can usually predict President Donald Trump’s “tweets,” but over the weekend he surprised us by “tweeting” some misgivings about allowing trophies from elephant hunts into the United States.
The practice was forbidden by one of President Barack Obama’s gazillion or so regulations, and that’s usually reason enough to expect Trump would insist otherwise. Elephants are also one of those politically correct bleeding-heart liberal causes, which is ironic given America’s political symbology, so Trump would typically be even more opposed to the idea. Trump’s two elder sons are fond of posting pictures of themselves with the kills from their frequent big game hunts in Africa on the internet, too, so it’s triply surprising that Trump would deny them a tusk or two to show off to their friends.
Trump’s “tweets” aren’t in any way definitive, and he might yet go along with his own administration’s proposal to end the prohibition, but even Trump’s harshest media critics admit he seems to have a soft spot in his oft-questioned heart for elephants. Back during the campaign his sons were widely criticized by the politically correct bleeding heart types for all those pictures of the big game animals they’d killed — we recall chuckling at Triumph the Insult Comic Dog’s defense that they were actually aiming at the natives — and Trump surprised us by failing to come to their defense. The politically correct and bleeding-heart liberal diva Cher was a particularly outspoken critic on “twitter,” and a particularly inviting target for Trump’s “twitter” counter-punching, but Trump responded with “Old story, one of which I publicly disapproved. My sons love hunting, I don’t.”
At this point we don’t what to make of it. There’s a persuasive conservative argument to be made that managed big game hunting offers the natives with economic incentives to perpetuate the species, but even Trump seems sympathetic to the politically correct and bleeding heart argument against shooting elephants. We have no fondness for Trump or his two elder sons, and we’ve been railing against politically correct bleeding-heart liberalism and Obama’s over-regulating tendencies for a lot longer than any of them have, so for now our favorite characters in this tale are the elephants.
No elephant has ever done us any harm, and they’ve provided us many jokes. Every time we’d see one of the younger Trumps posing over a dead elephant we’d recall Groucho Marx as Captain Spaulding bragging that on his African safari he’d shot an elephant in his pajamas, “and how he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.” There was that great Jimmy Durante moment when he was being followed by an elephant and told a questioning passerby, “What elephant?,” and after looking over his shoulder said, “Oh, that elephant.” There are countless others, but our favorite elephant joke is about why the elephant drinks, and the punchline is “to forget.”
On a memorable visit to the Sedgwick County Zoo we once saw a zookeeper running a couple of the elephants through their daily calisthenics, which is really something to see, and they seem such magnificent examples of God’s creation that we can’t imagine any reason some rich kid would want to travel all the way to Africa to kill one. There are some stupid rules about selling pianos with ivory keys cut from the tusks of elephants that were killed a long time ago, and we wouldn’t mind seeing that deregulated, and a there are lot of those politically correct bleeding-heart regulations about animals that we’d also happily undo, but we won’t mind a bit if those rich kids who go all the way to Africa to kill an elephant don’t get to bring a trophy home.
If that puts us in the uncomfortable position of being on the side of both Trump and those politically correct bleeding-heart liberals, then so be it.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, Far Away in the Far East

President Donald Trump picked as good a time as any to embark on an extended multi-nation tour of Asia, given all the bad political news for the Republicans over the past week, but as usual he managed to grab his share of the attention.
During the campaign Trump frequently claimed that America had been “raped” by China in their trade relationship, but while in China he basically said that America was asking for it. “Who can blame a country for being able taking advantage of another country for their benefit of their own citizens?,” he said to an audience of Chinese political and business and leaders quite a few American businessmen, who responded with a slight and nervous-sounding laughter. He placed the blame for America’s trade deficit with China squarely on “past administrations,” apparently beginning with the Nixon administration, a charge he later reiterated via “tweet,” and the die hard-supporters back home were all more robustly cheering the implication that things are going to be different from now own.
Trump wasn’t talking the campaign talk labelling China a currency manipulator or slapping 45 percent tariffs on Chinese imports or holding the negotiations over a Big Mac and fries rather than a state dinner, though, and he didn’t give any details about what he wanted to change. We don’t claim to be the masterful negotiator that Trump claims to be, but we note he also didn’t give any details about how he’s going to persuade the Chinese to go along with his announced plan to take advantage of them for the benefit of his citizens, and most of the business leaders in the audience seemed to be hoping for a different tactic.
China is going to have to reconfigure its entire economy to get its citizens buying enough Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Gibson electric guitars to make much of a dent in the trade imbalance, and although it probably would make the country a whole lot cooler they’re unlikely to do so for Trump’s sake. America’s economy will also require a lot of reconfiguring before Americans stop snatching up low-priced Chinese-made products at Wal-Mart, although doing without some of that junk might also make America cooler, and there’s also the matter of the high-end airplanes and delicious wheat that folks here in Kansas make and the Chinese spend a lot of money on, so the Chinese will have some some threats of their own to make when any treaty is being debated in the Senate. Something better than the status quo is possible, and we wish Trump well in achieving that, but for the foreseeable future a balance of trade isn’t possible, and neither is it necessary desirable, so we hope Trump will be more understated and realistic in the future.
The trip also took Trump to Vietnam, which gave his critics an opportunity to chortle about the bone spurs that prevented him from serving in a war there, and brought him into direct contact with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, which also gave his critics plenty to work with. Trump told reporters that Putin had assured him that Russia didn’t do the tiniest bit of meddling in the past American presidential, and Trump said that he believed him, although after the predictable outrage he quickly revised that to mean that he believed that Putin actually believed that, and that in fact he believes the contrary conclusion of America’s intelligence agencies, at least now that they’re headed by his appointees and saying the same things they said under Obama’s appointees.
Continuing his penchant for disparaging past American governments in front of foreign audiences, Trump dismissed Obama’s past intelligence chiefs as “political hacks,” although both began their careers in Republican administrations and were decorated combat veterans of the war in Vietnam, and said the same things about Russian meddling that the Trump appointees are saying. In any case, Trump made clear that he didn’t see any reason why Russian attempts to sabotage an American should stand in the way of friendly relations.
There was also a stop in the Philippines, where the current President is Rodrigo Dueterte, who has cursed the Pope as the “son of a whore” and called an American president a “black bastard” and routinely forces kisses on women at his campaign rallies and unleashed gangs of vigilantes who have killed thousands of suspected drug users. Trump has previously praised Dueterte’s approach to the country’s problem, and always seemed quite comfortable with the rest of it, and Dueterte seems to like Trump’s style, too, so their meeting was fairly cordial. There’s a huge “Trump Tower” being built in downtown Manila, too, and Trump hasn’t divested himself of the branding agreement that’s expected to earn him millions of dollars, and the real owner of the property also happens to be Dueterte’s trade minister, so we expect it to remain cordial no matter how many suspected drug users are shot down without so much as a warrant.
The Philippines has lately benefited from America’s military support in quashing one of its occasional outbreaks of terrorism from it’s long-troublesome Muslim minority in the southern islands, too, and Dueterte has tamped down his anti-American rhetoric. He remains resistant to restoring America’s past military presence in the country and continues to make concessions to the Chinese in an apparent belief that they’re a more reliable diplomatic and economic partner.
During a stop in South Korea Trump managed to avoid making many big headlines, at least not to big enough to nudge the electoral losses or a Southern Gothic sex scandal out of the way, as he carefully avoided to referring to North Korean dictator Kim Jon-Ung as “Little Rocket Man.” The talk was tough, but within the usual diplomatic bounds, so the critics couldn’t muster of a case that he was taunting the North Korean nutcase into a nuclear confrontation by lowering himself to the dictator’s level of personal insult. After Kim once again called Trump a dotard, meaning an old and demented person, though, Trump “tweeted” back that “Why should Kim Jong-Un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat.’ Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend — and maybe that will someday happen!” Around the same time he offered to arbitrate some of China’s disputes with its neighbors over islands in the South China Sea, citing his great negotiation skills, but was politely declined by all parties.
At every stop along the way the leaders went out of their way to provide the most lavish welcomes and flattering praise, however, and Trump seemed to thoroughly enjoy it. Our guess is he and his fans will take it was proof that they’re making America great again, but that’s about all they’ll get out of it.

— Bud Norman

Listening to the AM in the P.M.

A couple of summers ago we fell out of the habit of listening to right-wing talk radio shows, but we tuned in with a morbid curiosity on Wednesday to hear what they had to say about the shellacking the Republicans took in various places around the country on Tuesday. What we heard does not bode well for the Grand Old Party.
We missed Rush Limbaugh’s analysis of the results, but we later learned that the self-elected “Mayor of Realville” basically said the results where what you can always expect from Democratic jurisdictions and had little to do with President Donald Trump. Sean Hannity spent the first half-year hour looking back nostalgically on that night, complete with some gleefully played audio of liberal pundits smugly laughing off Trump’s chances in the run-up to the upset, and during his brief discussion of the previous night’s shellacking was careful not to blame his most favorite president ever for any of it. The growlier and slightly-less-sycophantic Mark Levin was more frank about how a full year of Trump has revved up the Democratic vote, and the growlier yet and antithetical-to-whoever’s-in charge Michael Savage was reminding his coast-to-coast listeners that no matter how much it might love Trump there’s a big chunk of the country that can’t stand him.
Levin’s a cacophonous screamer who played no small part in dragging the Republican party down into the school yard taunt of level of political rhetoric, and he’s a veritable William F. Buckley by comparison to Savage, but we’ll give them both credit for their realism. The year since Trump’s election has brought enough “tweets” and taunts and provoked enough liberal outrage to satisfy his hard-core supporters, along with a Supreme Court pick and some sweeping de-regulations and resulting stock market gains. That’s been eenough to placate the more wary Republicans, and it won four straight elections in solidly Republican districts where they needed to replace representatives chosen for the Trump administration, but Tuesday made it clear it hasn’t played so well elsewhere.
The Democratic rout in New Jersey can be easily dismissed, as New Jersey is a reliably Democratic state and for now all the more so after eight years of Gov. Chris Christie and his double digit approval ratings. Christie once saved the state from insolvency with his tough guy approach to taxes and spending and negotiating with the state’s notorious private sector unions, and was briefly regarded by the Republican party as a leading presidential contender, but he somehow managed to annoy and appall by the Democrats in his state and Republicans elsewhere during a second term. You can’t blame Trump for that, but Christie’s embarrassing obsequiousness to Trump after he was bested in the Republican primary clearly didn’t him any good.
Trump lost Virginia’s electoral votes, too, but a year later the Republican nominee he endorsed and “tweeted” about and did robocalls for wound up losing by a few points more. That can be explained by the fact that milquetoast center-left Democratic nominee Ralph Northam didn’t carry all the baggage that Clinton did, but after all those ads about illegal immigrant gangs and confederates statues and disrespectful-to-the-flag football players it can’t be explained by Republican nominee Ed Gillespie’s failure to more fully embrace Trump and Trumpist policies. The Democrats won all of the statewide and most of the district voting, too, including a transgender candidate who beat out the state’s self-described “chief homophobe,” and a lot of ostensibly straight and white and male legislators were replaced by a more ethnically and sexually diverse lot, which strikes us as a statewide rejection of Trumpism.
All politics is local, and Virginia’s a typically unique state, what with all those Washington bureaucrats in the northern suburbs and all them fancy-schmaltzy universities in the hinterlands, but all the exit polling confirms our educated suspicions that the Republicans lost a lot of educated and well-paid suburbanites who might have voted for the George W. Bush-affiliated Gillespie who had narrowly lost to an entrenched Democratic senator four years earlier but couldn’t pull the level for the Trumpified Gillespie of Tuesday, and that can have implications for all sorts of places around the country.
Such populous states as California and New York and Illinois reliably cast their electoral votes for the Democratic presidential nominee, but they all have some reliably Republican districts, and along with that the current Republican majorities in the House and the Senate come in large part from such populous swing states as Ohio and Florida. These districts tend to have a high percentage of well educated and well paid white people, who tend not to be easily assuaged by Trump’s taunts and the liberal outrage they provoke, which they have to hear about at the office the next day and can’t bring themselves to defend, so we’d advise to not offend them further.
Several of the various Republican tax plans that are currently floating around the legislative ether, though, propose to repeal those Republican redoubts in enemy territory of an income tax deduction for the income tax pay they pay to their state and local governments. The change isn’t much of a big deal here in Kansas, where you can say whatever you want about those stingy Republicans but most Kansans pay so little to Topeka they aren’t eligible for the deduction, but it’s a darned big deal to some well educated and well paid and potential Republicans in potentially Republican districts in Orange County, California, and Westchester County, Pennsylvania, and any of those other occasional Republican redoubts in between where the the damned Democrats in the rest of the state charge so much the deduction is worth more than the promised cut in the rate.
That’s what they get for living in a state that didn’t vote for Trump, a Republican friend of ours recently explained to us over a beer, but we’d only had the one and it didn’t seem a winning political strategy. Any old political party can use all the help it can get from the well educated and well paid sorts of people, white or otherwise, and there’s no reason for the Republicans to to be antagonizing the persuadable ones with childish taunts and punitive tax increases. If the party persists we’re sure most of those Republicans from those high-tax redoubts will put their constituents before party, which might be enough to sink the whole reform effort, and even if it doesn’t the effort isn’t poling well thus far. That’s the view from here on a Wednesday after a Tuesday shellacking.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Crop of the Best and Brightest

Sam Clovis won’t become the Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist, but if he avoids prison time we’re sure he’ll find work somewhere. Why he’s not taking that plum USDA gig and why he was offered it in the first place, though, makes for an interesting story.
Clovis had previously worked at a fairly high level on President Donald Trump’s campaign, and given that he’s not a scientist and in fact has no scientific training at all that’s most likely the reason he was nominated to be the USDA’s chief scientist. Other Trump appointees have been confirmed with a similar lack of relevant credentials for the important jobs they were appointed to, and Clovis might well have survived the Senate’s scrutiny at a hearing that was scheduled for next week, but once again the “Russia thing” has complicated matters.
Earlier this week it was announced that former campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopolous had pleaded guilty to lying to a special counsel investigating the “Russia thing” and has since been a “proactive cooperator” with the investigation. There’s some speculation that means he’s been wearing a microphone to record conversations with other targets of the investigation, but it’s known for sure that he’s also turned over some e-mails he sent to other campaign officials offering to use his contacts with the Russian government to acquire information to be used against Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. One of the campaign officials he e-mailed was Clovis, and Papadopolous has also coughed up Clovis’s e-mailed replies encouraging an “off the record” meeting with the Russians and even a trip to Moscow “if it is feasible.”
There might be some perfectly reasonable explanation, and Clovis’s high-powered attorney explains it as the cordial response of “a polite gentleman from Iowa,” but he chose not to make his case to the Democrats on the Agriculture Committee. In his letter of withdrawal to the president Clovis wrote that “The political climate inside Washington has made impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position. The relentless assault on you and your teams seems a blood sport that only increases with intensity each day.” Trump no doubt appreciated the sympathy, but his press secretary promptly announced that “We respect Mr. Clovis’s decision to withdraw his nomination.”
The “Russia thing” had already led to Trump’s Attorney General recusing himself from the matter, the resignation of a national security advisor, the indictment of Trump’s former campaign manager and his another campaign and transition official on charges ranging from money-laundering to “conspiracy against the United States,” and now it forces the withdrawal of the nomination for a high-ranking post by yet another campaign official. Trump’s die-hard defenders can blame it all on the political climate in Washington and the left’s relentless assaults on Trump and his team, but to the rest of the country it doesn’t look good.
By now the most benign explanation for the “Russia thing,” and one that some die-hard defenders are already seizing on, is that from top to bottom the Trump campaign was entirely comprised of political neophytes who didn’t know any better than to have undisclosed contacts with Russians offering campaign dirt, so of course nothing came of it, but that also doesn’t look good. Back during the campaign Trump somehow made a selling point of his political inexperience, contrasting it with the hated “establishment” and its snooty know-it-alls, but he also promised he was going to hire the very best people to run the government, and its proving hard to keep that promise with a talent pool entirely comprised of political neophytes untainted by any previous government service.
Clovis holds a doctorate in public administration and once hosted a talk radio show and has a talk radio show’s host for making provocative statements, so we don’t doubt his intelligence nor his appeal to Trump, but the bill that created the position he was applying for states that appointees come “from among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.” There’s nothing on Clovis’s resume that remotely fits that bill, which fits a disturbing pattern with Trump’s appointments.
After Trump was elected president a watchdog group called American Oversight started up to keep a keen eye on him, and they’ve been keeping an especially keen eye on his appointments. So far they’ve spotted an assistant secretary of energy whose last job before volunteering for the Trump campaign was managing a Meineke Car Care shop in New Jersey, a congressional relations employee for the Department of Housing and Urban Developments whose last job before the Trump campaign was “bartender/bar manager,” and confidential assistants — whatever that is — at the the USDA whose previous pre-Trump jobs were “cabana attendant” and trucker and scented-candle maker. Trump’s ambassador to the Vatican is Callista Gingrich, whose only apparent credentials are being Catholic and Newt Gingrich’s third wife, his ambassador to the Dominican Republics speaks little Spanish but does have a membership at Mar-a-Lago, and we’re sure American oversight will come up with more examples.
Many of Trump’s higher-profile picks have also had ill-fitting resumes for their jobs. He chose former Republican rival-turned-supporter and world-renowned brain surgeon Ben Carson to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which ain’t brain surgery, but neither is it rocket science, so brain surgeons and rocket scientists aren’t the most likely candidates for the job. Fellow billionaire and staunch supporter Betsy DeVos was chosen as Secretary of Education, and although we quite like her ideas about school choice and color-blind school discipline and such she doesn’t have seem to have any experience running a large bureaucracy or educating small children. Trump’s Secretary of State had spent his entire career rising to the top spot at the Exxon Corporation, where his biggest foreign policy achievement was winning Russia’s “Friendship Medal” after negotiating a multi-billion dollar deal for Russian oil if sanctions are ever level, and although some of us now see him as a moderating force in the administration both the most die-hard supporters and hard-core critics of Trump want him gone.
Meanwhile, all sorts of positions go unfilled, either because of congressional or the fact that Trump hasn’t nominated anyone. Trump has defiantly told interviewers that he doesn’t intend to ever fill some of the expensive positions, his Secretary of State has also promised downsizing, but half the department’s appointed positions are being ignored and some of them seem pretty darned important. There are still nominees for ambassadors to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, or assistant secretaries for Near East and South and Central Asian affairs, where some experienced hands are clearly needed.
That promise to burn down the establishment and bring in the very best people to replace it is going prove very difficult to keep. Some jobs require relevant experience, and in a political climate where that taints you as an establishment know-it-all things are bound to go wrong.

— Bud Norman

The Latest on the “Russia” Thing

The “Russia” thing was back in the news with a vengeance on Monday, with federal indictments of two officials from President Donald Trump’s campaign and the revelation that a lower-ranking third official had already pleaded guilty to charges and is cooperating with the ongoing investigation, and both sides of the matter had plenty to work with.
One of the indicted was Paul Manafort, who served for five months as Trump’s campaign manager and now stands accused of failing to disclose his lobbying efforts on behalf of the Russia-friendly parties in Ukraine, illegally laundering the huge amounts of money he made and otherwise failing to pay taxes on the lucrative business, and 11 other counts that include “conspiracy against the United States.” Most of the charges pre-date his involvement with the Trump campaign, so they don’t definitively provide proof of the collusion with Russia’s meddling in the past election that Trump’s critics have been so ardently hoping for, but he lasted long enough to get the Republican convention to remove language from its platform about arming the anti-Russian elements in Ukraine, and he was for five months the campaign’s manager, so it doesn’t look good for Trump.
Also indicted was Rick Gates, a former business partner in Manafort’s lucrative lobbying efforts on behalf of some of the world’s worst dictators and wannabe dictators. but as obsessively as we’ve been following the “Russia” thing we have to admit he never heard of him before. Another partner in the firm was longtime Trump friend and advisor Roger Stone, whose sleaziness goes back to the Nixon administration and has recently been kicked off “Twitter,” and who would be well-advised to hire some high-priced legal representation of his own, so Trump’s involvement with the whole sleazy operation does not look good.
We’d also previously never heard of George Papadapoulos, the relatively low-ranking national security advisor to the campaign who had already copped a no-jail-time plea by admitting to making false statements to investigators about his Russian contacts in an apparent exchange for dirt on the higher ups, but that also doesn’t look good for Trump. He probably wouldn’t have been able to swing such a sweet deal without some tales to tell on the higher-ups, and we expect he’ll do some damage to the Trump brand before this is all over.
None of it  yet  amounts to the smoking gun that Trump’s most strident critics have all been hoping for, as all of Trump’s most ardent defenders are rightly gloating, but they can’t deny that it all looks bad. All of the right wing talk radio hosts and the rest of the Trump-friendly made the case that there’s still no smoking gun, but spent most of their airtime minutes and column inches reviving years-old stories about Trump’s vanquished Democratic opponent “Crooked” Hillary Clinton, and although that awful woman is no doubt guilty of some of the charges none of it means that Trump’s high-ranking associates and perhaps Trump himself  isn’t guilty of something serious.
In any case, we expect the “Russia” thing will continue to be in the news for a while.

— Bud Norman

A Red Herring Twist in the Russia Story

One of the recent revelations about the “Russia” thing is that the Democratic National Committee helped pay for the now famous dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent that alleged President Donald Trump had fishy financial dealings with the Russian government and even fishier dealings with certain other Russians. All the top-rated conservative talk radio shows and other Trump-friendly media were giddy about the story, first reported by the oh-so liberal establishment Washington Post, and Trump also claimed vindication, but it doesn’t strike us as much of big deal.
Any thoughtful observer assumed there was some Democratic involvement in the dossier when it first became known, the hippy-dippy but reliably factual Mother Jones magazine first confirmed it a full year ago, and all those top-rated conservative talk radio shows and other Trump-friendly media have been telling their audience about it all along. The knowledge hasn’t yet made the “Russia” thing go away, nor the dossier’s numerous allegations about it, and probably won’t now. Recent attempts to turn “Russia” into a Democratic scandal also seem destined for failure.
The highly ethical sensibilities of all those talk radio shows and other Trump-friendly media are deeply offended that the Democrats would stoop so low as to pay for opposition research on a Republican opponent, but this is hypocrisy too obvious for the public at large not to notice. Way back when Donald Trump Jr. was was forced by The New York Times to release an e-mail chain that showed a Russian lawyer explicitly offering the Trump campaign dirt on the Democratic nominee straight from the Russian government, and Trump Jr. agreeing to a meeting with an exclamatory “I love it,” the party line was that politics ain’t bean bag and of course everyone does opposition research.
The president’s defense of his son was that “most people would have taken that meeting,” even if it was a representative of a hostile foreign power offering something of value that campaign laws clearly prohibit campaigns from accepting, so its hard to share his current indignation that the Democrats paid for a British private investigator to snoop around his Russian connections. None of the Trump-hating liberal media seem have to mentioned it yet, but even such old-fashioned Republicans as ourselves recall when Trump claimed he had hired a team of private investigators to look into President Barack Obama’s birthplace, and “tweeted” that “they can’t believe what they’re finding.” Trump later declared that “Obama was born in Hawaii, period,” and took credit for at long last putting any scurrilous rumors otherwise to rest, and in his defense we have to admit he probably never did hire any private investigators, but his suddenly puritan views about opposition research still look ridiculous.
The dossier is still largely unsubstantiated, as all the establishment media routinely admit, but by no means discredited, as the Trump-friendly media always describe it, and the fact that the Democrats helped pay for doesn’t change that. Every sort of conservative  has always insisted that just because a study skeptical of climate change was paid for by an energy company or some analysis of tax policy was paid for by rich people doesn’t mean the findings are necessarily valid, and that the data and methodology should be judged on their merits, so we’ll judge the dossier accordingly. So far a few niggling errors have been found, other parts have been corroborated by the media and the intelligence, the more salacious details have largely been ignored except by the gleeful Trump-hating late night comics, who have a collectively far larger audience than all those top-rated conservative talk radio shows, and for now we’re keeping an open mind about all of it.
The year-old Mother Jones scoop and the more ballyhooed report of the past week by The Washington Post both say that the dossier first started with funding from a Republican donor backing one of the many non-Trump candidates in the party primaries, who cut off the money after Trump won the nomination, and the Democrats then pitched in for a while, and after that the British private investigator continued the work on his own because he thought the entire world needed to know what he was finding out. No one on the left or right is disputing any of this, and on the right they’re speculating about which Republican from the hated Republican establishment would do such a thing, with Trump telling reporters that he has his own guesses he might reveal later, and it any case it doesn’t really matter.
Meanwhile the congressional and special counsel investigations into “Russia” continue, the unfriendly-to-Trump media keep coming up with incriminating and convincing stories about something fishy with the “Russia” thing, and we’ll try to continue looking with a open mind at the data and methodology as it all unfolds.

— Bud Norman

Prophetic Words From a Burning Bush

Something deep in our old-fashioned Republican souls feels a certain nostalgia for the administration of President George W. Bush, and lately even our most newfangled Democrat friends will admit to some degree of the same feeling. Bush was an imperfect president, as we freely admit and our Democrat friends and our Democrat friends often remind us, but on Thursday he gave a rare and remarkable speech that reminded us all he could have been a whole lot worse.
With characteristic classiness Bush has mostly retreated from the public stage since leaving office, preferring to spend his time with family and paint some surprisingly fine portraits of the servicemen and servicewomen who carried out his controversial foreign policy, and otherwise devote himself to the happily apolitical good works of his family’s foundations, which has eventually endeared him to most of the American public at large. He re-entered the political fray on Thursday with that remarkable speech, though, and it heartened us as well as our Democrat friends.
Bush’s oration at the George W. Bush Institute welcomed a Latino amigo who had served in his administration’s military, as well as several foreign visitors in the audience, along with Secretaries of State from both his and President Bill Clinton’s administrations, then launched into a an eloquent defense of such cherished American values of liberty and democracy. He lauded the post-World War II order of free markets and free trade, decried the current Chinese and Russian threats to that order, and lamented that too many Americans now fail to appreciate its benefits. Bush further denounced the recent degradation of America’s political discourse, warned against rising nativist sentiments, unequivocally denounced white supremacy, and called for a new civility in America’s public square.
Such anodyne sentiments wouldn’t be at all remarkable in ordinary times, but these days it’s the stuff of controversy. With characteristic classiness Bush didn’t mention President Donald Trump by name, but no matter how old-fashioned a Republican or newfangled a Democrat you might be there’s no denying it implied a severe criticism of the current and putatively Republican president, so there was an unavoidable flap.
Bush’s assertion — completely correct as far our old-fashioned Republican souls are concerned — that “free trade helped make America into a global power” is an obvious response to Trump’s claims that the rest of the world has been stealing America’s wealth. When Bush griped that now “bigotry seems emboldened” and “Our politics seem more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication” the metaphorical shoe fit Trump well enough that he has to wear it. “we have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty,” Bush said, and although he might have been talking about all the talk radio hosts that used to defend him, but everyone knows he was talking about a president who has mocked a reporter’s physical handicap and his political opponents’s heights and the plainness of their wives. His warnings about the cyber-attacks on American democracy by foreign adversaries were just as clearly aimed at Trump, who continues to deny against mounting evidence that it’s a problem.
All of the casually cruel talk radio hosts who used to defend Bush were properly appalled, of course. By now they’re all obliged to rally ’round the current putatively Republican president, so they all denounced Bush as an “elitist” and “globalist” and worse yet “establishment” voice. None of them could articulate a persuasive point-by-point refutation of what Bush said, but these days such meaningless calumnies as “elitist” and “globalist” and “establishment” will suffice for their audience. Although we’re not at all elite nor globalist, and in fact are barely getting by these days, we’re still nostalgic for the good old days when they were defending to the death even Bush’s worst moves.
These days even our most newfangled Democrat friends are giving Bush some long overdue respect, and we’ll hold out hope it provides some common ground on which to find a way out of our current difficulties. Some of our most newfangled Democrat friends share Trump’s aversion to free trade and traditional role in sustaining world order, and are every bit as un-civil as Trump in their discourse, but we appreciate Bush’s help in any case.

— Bud Norman