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In Defense of Rep. Amash and a Very Few Other Republican Apostates

Way back in our high school and college days we passionately participated in scholastic debate tournaments, and although it was considered a nerdish pursuit by most of our classmates it had a lasting salutary influence on the way we look at politics. The sport taught to us to consider political questions with a dispassionate objectivity, carefully weighing the logic of the arguments made by both sides and the validity of the evidence presented, then considering the counter-arguments for any fallacies or false facts that had been presented.
Debates aren’t always won according to these gentlemanly and scholarly rules, of course, even in a scholastic debate tournament and especially in the rowdier and more low-brow public arena. We remember winning a match where our partner argued that there was no need to ban supersonic airliners because they’re flying too fast to cause air pollution, and also recall losing several rounds to even more preposterous arguments. During the last Republican presidential debates the failed casino mogul Donald Trump was declared the victor over Princeton University’s former national collegiate debate champion and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz with nothing but ad hominem attacks and outright falsehoods, and boasted to the press that Cruz wasn’t so tough when the rules allowed for rude and insulting interruptions of his carefully crafted arguments.
Even so, we’d like to think that questions of the utmost public interest can still be settled by facts and logic and respectfully deliberative debate. Which at long last brings us to the current acrimonious “twitter” debate between President Donald Trump and Republican Michigan Rep. Justin Amash.
Trump is by far the more famous of the two, we must admit, but this Amash fellow strikes us as pretty formidable. He’s in his third term representing Grand Rapids and the rest of western Michigan’s third district, and has earned a reputation as a penny-pinching libertarian who will occasionally defy Republican party leadership on matters of Republican principles, even going so far as to vote against spending bills that continue to ratchet up the national debt and to object to trade policies that burden his district with retaliatory tariffs. That was bad enough for some Republican tastes, but a couple of days ago he so far as to agree some with some of the damned Democrats that Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct.
The talking heads on the Trump-friendly networks and radio talk shows and internet “podcasts” all exploded, naturally, but our ears were open to Amash’s arguments, and we found them persuasive. He started off with a succinctly “tweet”-sized statement of “principal conclusions,” which included that: Attorney General William Barr mislead the public about the report by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russian government interference in the last presidential election; the report indicates Trump committed impeachable offenses by attempting to interfere with the investigation; that “Partisanship has eroded our system of checks and balances”; and that “Few members of Congress have read the report.”
Having followed all this stuff with a nerdish obsession we find it hard to argue with a single word Amash wrote, and at this point in the “twitter” wars are glad to see anyone laying out plausible arguments rather than misspelled screeds, and even more heartened to see that Amash correctly wrote “principal” rather “principle,” which even we had to confirm was correct.
Trump had no problem formulating a response, however, quickly “tweeting” that Amash was “a total lightweight who opposes me and some of our great Republican ideas and policies just for the sake of getting his name out there through controversy. If he actually read the biased Mueller Report, ‘composed’ by 18 angry Democrats who hated Trump … he would say that it was nevertheless strong on NO COLLUSION and, ultimately, NO OBSTRUCTION … Anyway, how do you Obstruct when there is no crime and, in fact, the crimes were committed by the other side? Justin is a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents hands!”
Trump’s die fans will surely find it convincing, and gloat that “at least he fights,” but by ingrained habit we glumly note that Trump never seems to fight back except with ad hominem fallacies and unsubstantiated claims. Amash might seem a “lightweight” and “loser” compared to the far more famous and wealthy Trump, but that does’t mean he’s wrong, and he seems to have the better argument. In subsequent “tweets,” all written in “tweet-sized” but according to the Queen’s pristine English and old-fashioned rules of rhetoric, he correctly noted that the Mueller reported cited several lied-about-under oath contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives, at least 10 instances where Trump unsuccessfully tried to quash any further investigation into those contacts. The report then made clear it was constrained by Justice Department guidelines from seeking indictments, and plainly left it up to the damned Democrats and the rare maverick Republican in Congress to decide if any of that constitutes the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that the Constitution considers impeachable offenses. So far, so far as we can tell, Trump and his die-hard fans have no answer but schoolyard taunts and substantiated claims that his critics should be hanged for treason.
We don’t find it convincing, and although Amash is taking the sucker’s route along the high road in the debate we’ll say on his behalf that neither is any of the rest of Trump’s typically illiterate “tweet.”
For one thing, Amash seems admirably on board with what we’ve long considered the great Republican ideas and policies. He’s voted more often than not with what Trump wants, and more impressively has a 99 percent rating with the Club for Growth, a 94 percent rating from Americans for Prosperity, 87 percent with the American Conservative Union, and 85 percent with Heritage Action for America, and there’s no denying he’s better on budget deficits than Trump ever pretended to be. If Trump wants to call him a publicity seeker, which is pretty much the perfect example of the pot calling the kettle black, Amash can convincingly claim he’s chosen a principled way of getting attention.
Amash’s “tweets” have already provoked a primary challenge from a Michigan legislator who describes himself as a “pro-Trump, pro-life, pro-jobs, pro-Second Amendment, pro-family values Republican.” Trump very narrowly won Michigan’s electoral votes in the last election, and is behind in the state polls against all the leading Democratic candidates at the moment, but his inevitable endorsement of Amash’s challenger will surely have some weight in a 2020 Republican primary. Amash is by no means anti-life or anti-jobs or anti-Second Amendment or anti-family values, and especially in that last category we have doubts about how committed Trump is to any of these causes, but these days being anti-Trump is a problem for almost any Republican anywhere, and after winning three elections we’re sure Amash knows that.
The 2020 primary is still more than a year away, though, and there’s always a chance that by that point Amash will be able to proudly campaign as one of the few Republicans who was willing to stand up to Trump. Maybe not, and probably not, but at some point in the further future we expect that principled Republicanism will make a comeback, either before or after the country goes as bankrupt as a Trump casino, and that Amash will have standing to make the arguments. None of Amash’s Republican colleagues have endorsed his views, but for the most part they’ve declined to condemn them, and on both sides of the aisle most of these weather-watching politicians seem to be hedging their bets.

— Bud Norman

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What You Can Count On

Way. way back in 1959 we were born into a world where our parents and the rest of the country took certain things for granted, but that didn’t last for long. During the first twenty years of our lives everything from hair styles to sexual mores to race relations to rock ‘n’ roll music changed at dizzying rate, and we found it damned hard to keep up with in our formative years. Take a look at any high school yearbooks from 1959 and 1977, or look at the bestseller lists or hit movies or electoral results of the same two years, and you’ll find artifacts of two very different worlds.
Things slowed down after that, and except for punk rock and the fax machines and giant-sized cell phones and other newfangled high-tech gizmos 1997 didn’t seem all that different from 1977. Sometimes history speeds up, as it did during the World War I years that wiped out the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires which had been taken for granted for centuries, but after that it usually slows down, as it did when President Calvin Coolidge promised a post-war “Return to normalcy” for his suddenly world power nation. That led to the hard-drinking and pot-smoking and cocaine-sniffing and otherwise libertine Jazz Age, then the more stoic and religious tGreat Depression, followed by the repeal of Prohibition and then a Second World War, when America was united as never before by an undeniably great and just cause of defeating the Axis powers.
After that, there’s arguably been a cultural decline.There are more out-of-wedlock births, more #MeToo moments and other boorish male behavior, and a far coarser and more profane argument about it.
In the past in we blamed it mostly on the left side of the political and cultural divide, but these days the right seems just an intent on wiping out things we once took for certain.
One of the things we’ve always counted on was the Supreme Court’s Brown v Topeka Board of Education ruling, which ruled that black kids get to go to school with white kids. It makes perfect constitutional sense in light of the 13th and 14th Amendments, and although it caused us some problems in the hallways of our junior high and high school years during the racially-charged ’70s we still think it sound policy. President Donald Trump’s most recent federal judiciary nominees have declined to endorse the decision, however, and they’ve also expressed doubts about some longstanding decisions we’ve come to rely on, including the Watergate-era rulings that allowed the Legislature to investigate the Executive branch, and the very-longstanding Marbury v Madison decision that allows the judiciary to overrule a law clearly in violation of the Constitution.
>We’ve gradually grown accustomed to all the cultural changes, and at this point wish our best to all the bullies from our junior high and school days and our seemingly happily married homosexual friends. Our hope and expectation is that America will continue to grapple its way along, and that a constitutional order will survive.

— Bud Norman

When Nepotism Doesn’t Work

For most of America’s history the public didn’t have to concern itself with what the President of the United States’ son or son-law were up to, but that’s another one of those things you can no longer count on the age of President Donald Trump. Presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and presidential namesake son Donald Trump Jr. were both once again prominently in the news on Tuesday, and neither looked at all good.
Trump ran for president on the promise he would appoint only the very best people, and it’s turned out that the very best person to negotiate Middle East peace and end the country’s opioid crisis and re-invent government happens to be his favorite child’s husband. Press reports indicate that Kushner has also been charged with the tricky task of reforming America’s immigration policies, and that he’s also struggling with that.
Kushner met with the Senate’s slim majority of Republicans on Tuesday, and although it was a closed-door meeting the inevitable leaks suggest it didn’t go well. Kushner reportedly had trouble answering questions about the several million so-called “dreamers” who were illegally brought into the country as children and have since been verifiably blameless quasi-citizens, which is a political problem that a hard-line anti-immigrant Republican administration will need some pretty damned convincing answers for. Kushner reportedly made a case for a merit-based immigration system that would favor highly skilled workers and scientists and engineers, which still seems reasonable enough even as the booming economy Trump routinely brags about needs ever more hammer-swingers and assembly-line workers to keep up with demand, and some well-credentialed and high-tech and Republican-leaning friends of ours are complaining about foreign competition on the job market.
Despite the president’s son-in-law’s best efforts, we don’t think we’re any closer to a much-needed bipartisan reform of immigration law than we are to Middle East peace or an end to the opioid crisis or the reinvention of American government. Trump seems to think that his favorite child’s husband is smart, which we begrudgingly admire, but to us the kid clearly isn’t that damned smart.
Meanwhile, the president’s namesake son has agreed to an another round of grilling from the Senate’s intelligence committee about that “Russia thing” Trump hoped he had put behind him when a special counsel investigation declined to indict him on anything. The special counsel’s report did include some suspicious facts about the contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian operates, notably the meeting that Donald Trump Jr. has admitted taking with some government-connected Russians he clearly understood to be working on behalf of his father’s campaign, and even though the Republicans control the Senate intelligence committee they still have some reasonable questions about that. The younger Trump was able to negotiate that his testimony won’t be in public, but it will be under oath, and given how restive the farm state Republicans are about the elder Trump’s trade wars we expect it will be entirely and embarrassingly leaked to the press.
There are still plenty of people left in prominent political positions who aren’t related to Trump through blood or marriage, on the other hand, so we’ll hold out hope it all somehow works out.

— Bud Norman

The First Casualty of the Trade War

Trade wars are good and easily won, President Donald Trump assures us, but we have to admit they make us nervous. Somehow we can’t find a single case in the past several millennia of economic history where a trade war was anything but disastrous and anybody actually won, and with the bluntness Trump’s fans so admire we’ll just come right out and say that we don’t expect his generalship will make his ongoing trade wars come out any better.
Since taking office Trump has been taking on pretty much the entire world, having won the presidency partly on the gripe that the entire world has been taking advantage of America ever since it emerged from the post-World War II ashes as the world’s preeminent economic and military and cultural power, but his biggest battlefront has been with China. On Friday Trump further raised the tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from an already-high 10 percent to 25 percent, which he apparently is allowed to do under the current constitutional order, and before the closing bell on today’s stock markets China is expected to retaliate in kind. The stock markets have been wildly down and then incrementally up throughout the squabble, on fears that Trump is screwing up a carefully built post-World War II international economic order that has for the most part brought increased peace and prosperity to the world and then faint hopes that the great dealmaker might yet deliver on his promise of the greatest deal ever made.
China is indeed a devious trading partner that dumps its excess supplies on world markets and steals intellectual property and occasionally manipulates its currency and exploits more or less slave labor, as Trump claims and even the looniest Democrats agree, so we’ll not deny that a tough negotiating stance is required. Even so, China has emerged from its post-World War II ashes with an economy that is huge by any measure and even bigger than ours by some suspect measures, and it’s a major client of the agricultural and aviation export industries that make up a huge chunk of our beloved Kansas economy, and we’d prefer it was dealt with in a cautious, carefully deliberated way, informed by history and the best expert opinion. Cautious and carefully deliberated and informed by history and expert opinion is clearly not Trump’s style, on the other hand, so for now we’ll remain just as nervous as the stock markets.
We’re just as rank amateurs about all this global economic order stuff as Trump, but with a bravado he might admire we’ll say we’ll go right ahead and say we would have played it differently. China is indeed taking advantage of America in various insidious way, but it’s doing the same to the rest of the world, so we would have availed ourselves of that Leader of the Free World status America’s wiser leaders rightly earned in the post-war years to unite the rest of the Free World and its overpowering economic might against China, which would surely realize it couldn’t take on the rest of the planet, and might even agree to free trade and human rights and full membership in the modern world. Rank amateurs that we are, we note that even the looniest Democrats and the most impeccably credentialed old-fashioned Republican foreign affairs and trade policy experts seem to agree.
Trump is a bolder sort of fellow than ourselves, however, and he chose to take on the rest of the world, so we have no choice but to hope he’s right. His routine renegotiation of the re-branded North American Free Trade agreement has a few billion in upsides for Wisconsin dairy farmers and a few other industries, which Trump claims are the difference between the worst and best trade deal ever negotiated, but it’s currently stalled in the Republican-majority Senate because of the tariffs Trump used in the negotiations that are currently hurting the economies of states held by free-trade Republicans. Meanwhile in the rest of the Free World the European Union is going through a nasty divorce from the United Kingdom. and Trump is taunting the British Prime Minister with sneering “tweets” and threatening the EU with higher tariffs, and demanding they all pay more for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Trump’s Latin American foreign policy seems in retreat in Venezuela, we can’t discern any policy for the “shit-hole” countries in Africa, North Korea is once again conducting missiles test in Asia, where we’re threatening trade wars against everyone, and the possibility of a united front against those undeniably devious Chinese seems remote.
Trump and his most ardent admirers would have us believe that he’s a self-made multi-billionaire who can easily best these Chinese bums in international trade negotiations, but we’ve read enough of the “fake news” to know that he’s a billionaire’s son who’s gone bankrupt six times in casinos and strip-clubs despite house odds and bare breasts, and ran airlines and football teams and scam universities and other ventures in into the ground, and given his well documented business record we don’t trust in his acumen to run an international economy. He’s lately been crowing about all the money his tariffs have been bringing to the federal treasury, but his national economic council director Larry Kudlow had to acknowledge on one of the Sunday news shows that the money is coming from American consumers rather than China, and sooner or later the average Wal-Mart shopper will notice that Trump tells a lot of lies about his trade wars. Our guess is that those wily Cheese have already noticed, and that we’re in for a bumpy ride.

— Bud Norman

The War Between Trump and Congress, and the Ongoing Struggle for the Truth

The longstanding battle between President Donald Trump’s administration and the United States Congress has recently escalated, and by the time judicial branch sorts it all out we expect that no will be looking good.
When special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation without any charges brought against the president for conspiring with the Russians or obstructing justice, Trump claimed complete exoneration and seemed to expect that would end the annoying discussion. Alas, the report included evidence of numerous contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian, most of which the campaign officials lied about, and it documented several occasions when Trump attempted to obstruct justice but was thwarted by his White House staff, so the Democrats were disinclined to let the matter drop.
The Democrats who hold the majority in the House of Representatives have continued to hold hearings and ask hard-to-answer questions, and want full 400-plus pages of Mueller’s released to the public without redactions that apparently concern 16 criminal investigations that the special counsel team turned over to various jurisdictions of the Justice Department, and they’re requesting tax returns and other documents and calling witnesses about the various other Trump scandals that have been in the press. Even the Republican-run Senate intelligence committee is getting in on it, issuing a subpoena to Donald Trump Jr. to go over some earlier testimony about a meeting he had with some Russian operatives at Trump Tower in light of what Mueller’s report revealed.
Trump’s Attorney General is refusing to hand over the un-redacted report and defying a subpoena to testify to the House judiciary committee, Trump’s Treasury Secretary is refusing to hand over Trump’s tax returns or to testify to anyone about why, and Trump himself is vowing to resist everything. The president is claiming executive privilege to prevent the release of the full Mueller report that supposedly exonerates him and stop former White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying about the times he told the special counsel investigation Trump ordered him to either fire the special counsel or otherwise interfere with the probe, he’s backing Attorney General William Barr’s refusal to testify despite a contempt of Congress vote, and we fully expect he’ll resort to any measure to keep his namesake son from testifying under oath.
For now Trump seems to be winning, at least to the extent that he’s not yet been indicted and the Democrats haven’t yet got their hands on the documents they want, but the game is still very much afoot. We’re old enough to remember how President Richard Nixon dragged out the Watergate scandal, and although we were young at the time watched the hearings and read the press reports with rapt attention, and as we recall all the judicial precedents that were set regarding executive privilege and congressional oversight powers are not in Trump’s favor. Sooner or later everything comes to light in American politics, and we assume that Trump has self-serving reasons to keep Barr and McGahn and Mueller and Trump Jr. from facing questions under oath, and even more reasons to keep anyone from looking at his tax returns or those redacted portions of the special counsel’s report.
More worrisome for now is that Republican Senator and intelligence committee chairman Richard Burr signed off on the subpoena for Trump’s namesake son, and at a time when the Republican caucus has become somewhat restive about the president’s trade wars and foreign policy and a few other things that offend traditional Republican sensibilities. Several Republican Senators and all of the Trump-friendly media are calling Burr a “Republican in name only,” which is the worst thing they can think of to call a Republican, but Burr was a Republican when Trump was a registered Democrat and a Reform Party member and an independent who mostly palled around with and made big donations to Democrats, and he’s the epitome of what used to be considered a conservative before Trump redefined the term. When everything eventually comes to light, he might be as well respected by the general public and positioned in the party as the many Republicans who who declined to sanction Nixon’s misdeeds back in the Watergate days.
On the other hand, Trump might well plow through on the unquestioning support of those rally crowds he still commands and the indifference of the broader American public. The last time an Attorney General was cited for contempt of Congress was way back in President Barack Obama’s administration, when Eric Holder refused to cooperate with a congressional investigation in the “Fast and Furious” gun-running scandal, and although all the Republicans were outraged about it the Democrats seemed to share his contempt for Congress and admire his fighting spirit. This time around the Democrats will be outraged and most of the Republicans will be chanting their annoying mantra that “at least he fights,” and the vast majority of Americans who don’t care about all this headache-inducing stuff will be checking the unemployment rate and their retirement accounts.
We’re sure Trump hopes that his two appointees to the Supreme Court will help him prevail when all these various cases wind up, and is especially hopeful about Justice Brett Kavanaugh, but that won’t do much to restore America’s faith in its constitutional order. Trump’s fans will be galvanized against the damned Democrats that attempted coup, his opponents will be all the more eager to support any crazy leftist that runs against Trump and his undeniable craziness, and we’ll see how that turns out.
At least Burr and ourselves and a very few other Republicans old enough to remember Watergate will once again be outraged by presidential power run amok, and some of the Democrats seem to be asking tough questions we consider quite reasonable. Although we no longer hold out hope for either party we retain an old-fashioned faith in God and the free press and the systems of governance and all that eventually brings everything to light.

— Bud Norman

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly News

The economic news has been undeniably good lately, with the unemployment rate lower than it’s been since the height of the Vietnam War and the gross domestic product growing incrementally faster than it has in more recent history, but the rest of the stories in the papers look bad for President Donald Trump.
Although Trump has been doing a celebratory end zone dance ever since the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” ended without any indictments against him, the problem still lingers. Attorney General William Barr had a hard time answering the Senate judiciary committee’s questions about his rather rosy four-page assessment of the report’s 400-plus pages, then declined the House judiciary committee’s request to go through a more thorough grilling about the matter, and now there’s talk of a contempt of Congress citation. Barr had testified to the Senate that he had no problem with special counsel Robert Mueller’s own bad self giving his account of the report to Congress, but Trump has since declared that he won’t allow any further questions from anyone about the report that he claims completely exonerates him, and that doesn’t look good.
The damned Democrats in Congress are asking all sorts of other pesky questions, and Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin is contesting a law which seemingly requires him to turn over the presidential tax records that might yield answers, which also doesn’t look good. The courts will eventually settle all of it in one way or another, but the state and federal judicial system is also pursuing 16 criminal cases that were referred to other Justice Department jurisdictions and therefore redacted from the special counsel’s report, and we expect all of those to look bad. There’s also ongoing news about the illegal immigrants Trump seems to have hired and exploited at his still wholly-owned businesses, the security clearances he granted for family and friends despite the objections of intelligence officials, a few lawsuits filed by state attorneys general alleging that Trump’s still wholly-owned businesses impeachable violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause, and a few other problems too numerous to recap here.
So far America isn’t entering any new wars, but the old low-level ones in Syria and other hotspots continue, and Trump is leaving a military option open for Venezuela’s disastrous but purely domestic problems, and he sending a carrier fleet to counter the recent bellicosity of Iran, which Trump promised would never dare challenge America so long as he was president. Trump also promised the American public it could sleep soundly at night without worrying about a North Korean nuclear threat, and although it was obviously premature he was able for a time to note that at least North Korea wasn’t doing any missile tests, but lately they’ve been once again testing missiles.
While the economy continues to chug along, Trump can only claim so much credit. Despite two years of Republican control of both chambers of Congress the only significant legislation affecting the economy that was passed and signed into law was a big tax cut, which so far resulted in the kind of budget deficits that the hated President Barack Obama sanctioned in the darkest days of the Great Recession, and at a time when Republican orthodoxy would be paying down the national debt. Trump has used his executive powers to roll back a lot of ridiculous federal regulations, but a lot of airline travelers and other consumers are likely to note he’s also reversed some reasonable ones that saved them some serious money. As orthodox Republicans we still blame Obama for the late and initially sluggish recovery that followed the Great Recession, which we still insist was caused by the Democrat’s crazy Clinton era subprime mortgage lending policies, but as objective observers we have to admit the economy has lately been more or less on the same upward trajectory that it had been during the final days of the Obama administration. Fairness compels us to admit that at least Trump hasn’t screwed that up.
Being no fans of either Obama or Trump, we give all the credit to the remarkable resilience of America’s free market economic system and the steady hand of those quasi-governmental know-it-all bards at the Federal Reserve Board. Despite our amateur advice they kept the economy going through the dark days by printing up dollars and distributing them at near-zero interest rates, which eventually started something of a boom, so we humbly admit it didn’t result in the hyperinflation we’d worried about and was possibly a good ideal. Now that Trump is bragging about the greatest economy ever, which according to both Republican orthodoxy and the left wing’s Keynesian economics is a time for higher interest rates and quantitative easing of the money supply and paying down debt, Trump is trying to get the Fed to keep the monetary pedal to the metaphorical peddle. Alas, his own chosen Fed chairman disagrees, and Trump’s two latest nominees to the Fed board have been obliged to withdraw their names from considerations because they’re both so ridiculous that even some congressional Republicans wouldn’t go along.
During his surprisingly successful presidential campaign Trump promised to make America great again by bullying the country’s trading partners into more favorable trade deals. “Trade wars are good and easily won,” Trump tweeted to the nation, with the same cocksureness as when he assured us we could sleep soundly without fear of North Korea’s nukes, but so far that’s also not turning out well.
Trump got some billion-dollar concessions for America’s dairy industry when the renegoiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he claimed was the difference between the worst trade deal ever and the best trade deal ever, but his rebranded US-Canada-Mexico Treaty is having a hard time getting ratified by the Senate, where the Republicans still hold a slight majority. Republicans in agricultural states, which as always are crucial to the party, are reeling from from the declining commodity prices that have resulted from the rest of the world’s inevitable retaliation against Trump’s tariffs, and other Republicans from states where their export-driven economies don’t need Trump’s protections are also restive.
Meanwhile,Trump’s trade war with the far more formidable opponent of China doesn’t seem either good nor easily won. Trump continues to play hardball with the Chinese, threatening to up the tariffs on Friday if they don’t accede to his demands, but the congressional Republicans from states and districts that used to do a lot more export business with China are balking, and of course even the Democrats from the states and districts that might benefit from Trump’s protection from China’s imports are disinclined to side with the president, and anyone paying higher prices on the Chinese-made goods at at Wax-Mart is likely to be irked.
The good news for Trump is that for now the economy seems to be chugging along well enough, and that so long as it does and nobody gets nuked a sufficient number of voters spread around the electoral map won’t care much about the rest of the news. The bad news for Trump is that the economy tends to go up and down no matter who’s in the White House, and unnecessary trade wars and military interventions in Latin America never seem to help, and if the economic news sours the rest of the stories in the papers in 2020 will suddenly be outrageous.

— Bud Norman

As Bad As It Is, It Could be Worse

America seems a pretty prosperous and placid place when you read the latest news from Venezuela or most of the countries in this troubled world, but there’s still plenty of desultory domestic news to argue about.
The economy continues to chug along, although interest rates are historically low and the national debt is unprecedentedly high and no one knows how we’ll deal with the inevitable downturn, and the income inequality is such that the Democrats are waging successful class warfare about it. For now President Donald Trump seems safe from impeachment proceedings, but there are still plenty of scandals and constitutional showdowns and unsettling issues he has to deal with.
When special counsel Robert Mueller ended his investigation of the “Russia thing” without bringing any charges against Trump, and a four-age summarization of the 400-plus page report written by Trump’s Attorney General stressed that, Trump claimed not only vindication but also victimization by a “deep state” conspiracy of federal officials who attempted a treasonous coup d’tat and should presumably be hanged. The redacted 400-plus pages of Mueller’s report have proved somewhat more embarrassing to Trump, however, and although he still claims the report completely exonerates him — which the 400-plus pages plainly state on several occasions that it does not — and with his characteristic presidential eloquence Trump now calls the exonerating document “total bullshit.”
Attorney General William Barr is scheduled to testify before Congress today about the matter, and the Democrats are expected to ask some tough questions about the rather smiley-faced summation of the Mueller report that he issued. The report confirms the unanimous conclusions of the intelligence community that the Russian government meddled in the past election on Trump’s behalf, which Trump continues to deny and has done nothing about. The report documented numerous contacts between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government, and the investigation has won indictments and guilty pleas and convictions against Trump’s campaign manager and national security advisor and personal lawyer for lying about it, so we can’t blame the damned Democrats if they ask about any of that. All in all, it should be a hard day on the job for Barr and the rest of the Trump administration.
The report explicitly states that it does not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice, and makes clear to even a lay reader that the only reason the investigation didn’t charge Trump with that crime is because Justice Department policy forbids indictment of a sitting President, and because Trump’s underlings disobeyed his orders in fear of the law. The report leaves it up to the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives to decide if it constitutes the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that are constitutionally impeachable offenses, and there are a lot but probably not quite enough Democrats who find that offer tempting. Former White House counsel Don McGahn is featured prominently in the report, describing several instances when he defied Trump on orders he considered illegal, and McGahn is scheduled for upcoming testimony before Congress, and Trump is already accusing him of perjury, so that should prove interesting.
Meanwhile, all those blacked-out redactions have to do with criminal cases where the special counsel found evidence of criminal actions that it considered outside its jurisdiction, and those investigations are ongoing. We anxiously await to learn what that’s all about, and we can well understand why the damn Democrats literally can’t wait to find out, as they’re already subpoenaing everything they can about Trump’s still wholly owned businesses and surpassed tax returns and campaign and transition team and inaugural committee and administration. It’s all going to wind up in the courts, and Trump is counting on his two Supreme Court appointees to bail him out in the court of last resort, but that remains to be seen. There’s always a chance that Trump’s appointees are the principled conservative constitutionalists he said they were, and they’ve disappointed Trump on a few rulings.
Our guess is that the damned Democrats’ investigations will turn up something damned embarrassing to Trump, and that Trump and his die-hard supporters won’t be the least bit embarrassed about any of it. Our hope is that at least we don’t wind up fighting it out on the streets the way they’re doing down in Venezuela.

— Bud Norman

The News Persists, as Does the Ridicule

There doesn’t seem to be any story that’s dominating the news these days, despite a plethora of desultory options, and we’ve been too busy lately to keep up with any of it anyway. That damned Gridiron Show we do every year to raise money for the foolish cause of journalism scholarships have taken up much of our time lately, not to the mention the delightful and slightly boozy parties that followed each of the three nights of performances, and on Sunday we met with the folks at a swank restaurant to celebrate their remarkable 63 years of holy and mostly very happy matrimony.
Enough time was left over in the weekend that we noticed that the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, which inspired our local record-setting 51-year-old Gridiron Show, somehow went on despite President Donald Trump’s second consecutive boycott, although not quite as usual. For the past many decades the dinner invited a comedian to lampoon the president, then invited the president and guest of honor to make his wittiest reply, and it was one of those institutions that lubricated the friction between the presidency and the Fourth Estate, but that’s another longstanding institution that Trump has demolished.
This is the second straight year Trump has declined to match wits with the sort of third-rate comics that the White House Correspondents seem to book, and we well understand why. Having a sitting President of the United States sitting at the fancy table used to be a big drawing card for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and to keep that going the adversarial decided to end the traditional lampooning by a comic and instead invite an esteemed academic historian to give a brief lecture. It didn’t get any laughs, but of course it was just as harshly critical of Trump as anything some smart-ass comedian might have come up with, and all those enemies of the people in the “fake news” media went right ahead and dressed up and had few drinks and had a grand old time of the evening.
Meanwhile, here in Wichita, the local media’s far less fancy Gridiron Show went pretty well by amateur theatrical standards. We got some laughs and raised some money for the foolish cause of journalism scholarships, and some of the laughs were aimed at Democrats and a lot of them where aimed at Trump. There’s no stopping free people from laughing at their leaders, and before we dig into the news again today we’ll pause to be glad that some institutions can’t be demolished.

— Bud Norman

Public Issues, Personal Problems

The big story in the news these days is the congressional Democrats’ determination to thoroughly investigate every aspect of President Donald Trump’s campaign and transition team and inauguration committee and subsequent administration and the various businesses he still wholly owns, and Trump’s determination to thwart them at every turn. Alas, at the moment we’re too darned tired to keep up with all the sordid details.
Most weeks of the year we obsessively follow these sorts of things, and have plenty to say about it, but today and for the rest of the week there’s the Gridiron Show. The Gridiron Show is the local media’s annual satirical song-and-dance-and sketch revue to raise money for journalism scholarships, and for the past 25 years we’ve written and acted in a few of the sketches. We have no interest in raising money for journalism scholarships, and in fact consider it contributing to the delinquency of a minor, but we usually get some laughs that are almost worth the effort. None of our offbeat and discordantly dryly witty bits ever involves singing or dancing, as nobody wants to hear or see us doing that, but after so many years we’ve nonetheless found the rehearsal schedule exhausting.
You’re probably more enviously preoccupied, dear reader, so we can easily forgive you if you’re not fully apprised of all the damning charges and countercharges that flinging around the news these days. Even so we don’t want you to warn away from participating in any local amateur theatrics that might welcome you, as you’ll likely make friends and get some much-needed laughs along the way, yet we encourage you to keep watching the news. This looming Constitutional showdown between the damned Democrats and that awful Trump seems one of those important public issues that require time out from even the busiest personal lives, so we’ll try to get back to that on this damnably busy Thursday.
At worst, we figure we’ll get a good satirical sketch out of it if we do the Gridiron Show next year.

— Bud Norman

Trump Versus Twitter

President Donald Trump met with head “Twitter” honcho Jack Dorsey on Tuesday, and it made for a lively discussion. According a a “tweet” from “Twitter” the two were to talk about “protecting the health of the public conversation ahead of the 2020 election and efforts underway to respond the opioid crisis,” but much of it was reportedly spent with Trump’s gripes about his favorite way of speaking directly to the public.
Trump’s battles with the old-fashioned print and broadcast media are well known, but he’s also been picking fights with all the newfangled social media and the rest of the internet industry. He’s accused Facebook of suppressing his supporters’ voices, charged the Google search engine with directing its users to unfavorable stories, and told reporters that the government “might have to do something about it.” He’s now complaining that the number of his “Twitter” “followers,” who automatically see Trump’s “tweets” on their computers or tablets or smart phones or whatever other kind of device they’ve devised, is lately falling.
Trump takes his crowd sizes and poll numbers and television ratings “Twitter” following personally, so we can imagine he was none too pleased, and implying that he would do something about it. Dorsey, a slim and bearded and hippy-looking of typical Silicon Valley youthfulness, who despite having more billions in net worth than Trump probably has was unable to purchase a neck tie for his Oval Office meeting, did not seem intimidated in videos and photographs the old media printed and broadcast.
Dorsey had reasons for Trump’s declining numbers that had nothing to do with political bias, and so far as we can tell, given our considerable ignorance about how this internet thingamajig works, they’re persuasive. He explains that the company routinely reviews the followers of all its “tweeters” to remove fraudulent “spam” accounts, partly to ensure its advertisers that the numbers are real and partly to guard against foreign meddling in the vast political conservation that “Twitter” plays an outsized role in. That might only persuade Trump to rail further against the practice, but at this point Dorsey is probably more intimidated by his paying customers and the Congressional oversight committee looking into foreign meddling and other Trump-related internet issues.
Trump is unlikely to “tweet” that the government should shut down “Twitter,” and this hippy-dippy billionaire Dorsey fellow has no incentive to run afoul of any branch of the government. He’s met with several right wing figures with complaints of censorship, which has angered left wing “Twitter” users who clamor for censorship, but he’s also allied with Facebook and Google and the rest of Silicon Valley’s Big Social Media.
Besides, Dorsey can plausibly figure that Trump needs “Twitter” more than “Twitter” needs Trump. The president has made “Twitter” famous, but it was already famous when Trump started “tweeting.” With some 60 million followers still logged in Trump is an even bigger draw than any of the athletes or musicians or movie stars on the platform, but for now he doesn’t have a better way to speak directly to those 60 million presumably real people without the mainstream media’s annoying edits and annotations. “Twitter” is the perfect medium for short attention span readers who enjoy a good schoolyard taunt and bully boy rhetoric and don’t mind the misspellings and improper punctuation, and we notice that Trump — or @realDonaldTrump” as he’s known to his followers — was uncharacteristically restrained in “tweeting” about “Twitter.”
“Great meeting this afternoon at the @WhiteHouse with @Jack from @Twitter,” Trump “tweeted.” “Lots of subjects discussed regarding their platform, and the world of social media in general. Look forward to keeping an open dialogue!”
Which sounds very chummy, and might well be, and if so that would probably be for the best. Even if all those damnable @’s and other internet gibberish are painful to our Gutenberg-era eyes, this internet thingamajig is how we’re communicating with you at this moment, so we hope this newfangled idea somehow endures through the old-fashioned principles of the First Amendment and free markets. If that means Trump keeps on “tweeting,” and so do all his equally illiterate and bully boy critics, so be it.

— Bud Norman