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The Second Day of the Comey Firing

Tuesday’s big story about President Donald Trump firing Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey inevitably led to a lot more stories on Wednesday. None of them made anyone look very good, but on the whole Trump seems to have had the worst of it.
There’s a strong case to be made for the firing of Comey, whose erratic performance over the course of a crazy election year outraged Democrats and then Republicans and then Democrats again, but that was lost in the blizzard of new bulletins. The New York Times reported that Comey’s firing came shortly after he requested more resources for an ongoing investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election and its possible collusion with Trump’s campaign, The Washington Post reported that Trump was furious that Comey hadn’t corroborated his “tweeted” claim that President Barack Obama had tapped the phones at Trump Tower, and everybody was reporting that some prominent Republicans were also declining to come to Trump’s defense.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration struggled to amount a defense of its own. White House press secretary Sean Spicer was spotted hiding from reporters behind some bushes before offering a few answers that suggested he hadn’t been expecting Tuesday’s announcement or Wednesday’s revelations, deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attributed Comey’s firing to the “atrocities” he’d committed while investigating Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices, and occasional spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway’s first response to a montage of candidate’s Trump’s effusive campaign trail praise for how nicely Comey had handled the matter was to remind her questioner that Trump won Michigan. They all rightly noted that most Democrats were eager for Comey to be fired until Trump did it, but it’s hard to believe that Trump did it for the reasons the Democrats wanted, and at this point there seems plenty of hypocrisy to go around.
Trump himself, who only had an ill-timed meeting with a high-ranking Russian official on the daily schedule, spent much of Wednesday “tweeting” schoolyard taunts against his Democratic critics. He responded to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer by “tweeting” that “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer stated recently, ‘I do not have confidence in him (James Comey) any longer.’ Then acts so indignant.” After Democratic Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal appeared on a cable news show offering his own criticisms, Trump responded that “‘Richie’ devised one of the greatest military frauds in U.S. history. For years, as a pol in Connecticut, Blumenthal would talk of his great bravery and conquests in Vietnam — except he was never there. When caught, he cried like a baby and begged for forgiveness … and now he is judge & jury. He should be the one who is investigated for his acts.”
Trump is inarguably right about Schumer’s past criticisms of Comey, but Schumer is surely entitled to “tweet” back a taunt about Trump’s past praise, although we’d advise to him avoid any insulting nicknames. Trump’s also inarguably right that Comey was caught lying about his service record seven years ago, and although we don’t recall him “crying like a baby” he did indeed offer an apology that the voters of his state apparently accepted, and as much as we also dislike the guy we can’t see why a further investigation is now warranted. In any case, making these Democrats look bad doesn’t Trump or his decision to fire Comey look any better. The only “tweet” that made an affirmative case for firing said “Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Democrat and Republican alike. When things calm down, they will be thanking me.”

That’s not a bad summation of the case, which requires more characters than “tweeting” allows to be persuasively made, but it’s hard to imagine when things might calm down over the next four years or anytime in the coming millennia when everyone will be thanking Trump for anything. Trump’s most die-hard supporters will dismiss anything from “The New York Slimes,” but the paper’s report has four on-the-record congressional sources, including a Republican, hasn’t been denied by anyone at the White House, and anyone who isn’t a die-hard Trump supporters will likely find that it raises some interesting questions that Trump and his spokespeople will have trouble answering. The talk radio hosts and their listeners will dismiss anything from “The Washington Compost,” but even they won’t believe that Trump wasn’t angry about Comey not going along with wiretapping claim, or mind if that was a reason for firing, and everyone else will note that nobody has come forward to corroborate those damning “tweets.” Some of the Republicans who are distancing themselves from the matter are running for re-election in jurisdictions where Trump is not popular, and given the latest national polls more are likely to follow.
Still, Trump was inarguably within his legal rights to fire Comey, and did have reasons for doing so that all those Democrats had previously agreed with, and it might yet work out for the best, and it’s also possible that Trump or someone speaking on his behalf will effectively make those arguments. If he thought the decision would be immediately met with bipartisan praise he was clearly wrong, though, and if he thought it would put an end to all that chatter about the Russians meddling in the election and the Trump campaign being somehow involved he was even more wrong. The next news cycle is going to involve a lot of explaining, and the one after that will also be troublesome.
Up next is Trump’s nominee to replace Comey, and whoever that turns out to be is going to be subjected to such severe scrutiny he or she is unlikely to come out of it looking pristine. If he or she seems the least bit interested in revisiting Clinton’s e-mail practices or entirely dismissive of the idea that Trump’s campaign might have been involved in Russia’s role in the past election that’s going to be a public relations problem for Trump, and if they aren’t that’s yet another problem. All those questions about Russia won’t go away until they’re definitively answered, which will require answers from someone who’s somehow untainted by all of this and has been given access to all the tax returns and financial disclosures and immunity-granted testimony that might involved, and at this point we can’t imagine who that person might be.

— Bud Norman

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In the Age of Whatever Works

Latin America faces a crucial choice between liberty and tyranny, as always, just like the rest of us, and the President of the United States’ advice is that it go with “whatever works.” Barack Obama actually said that nonsense in a speech to the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative while on his recent south-of-the-border tour, and although that also included him doing the wave at a baseball game with the communist dictator of Cuba and embarrassingly doing the tango for his Peronista variety of fascist hosts in Argentina while the capital of the European Union reeled from yet another terror attack it was probably the low point of that disastrous vacation.
Any President of the United States worthy of that once-august office would be making the plain case that liberty is the only thing that has ever worked in the entire history of organized humankind, and that tyranny has never worked out, but these days that is apparently too much to ask for. The runaway winner of five of the last six state contests in the Democratic nominating process is the self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who worries that there are too many kinds of deodorants on America’s supermarket shelves and prescribes the same solutions that have resulted in toilet paper shortages in Venezuela, and the party’s putative front-runner struggles to explain why she’s not a socialist. Meanwhile, the putative Republican front-runner is issuing threats that his press critics will “have problems, such problems” and “tweeting” like a South American caudillo and promising nothing but “better deals” with all these pesky foreigners, which sounds to us like pretty much like the equivalent of “whatever works.”
The sole remaining long-shot possibility for the leadership of what was once called the free world is Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose much criticized father endured the tortures of the same communist Cuban dictatorship that the “whatever works” president was doing the wave with, and went on to a formidable career and as a legal and Senatorial advocate for the conservative cause, and he strikes us as a full-throated advocate of liberty and the Judeo-Christian tradition and red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism and other higher values than whatever might work. He’s bogged down with a report in the front-runner’s buddy’s National Enquirer, though, and is just within the margin-of-error in the polls in the important states of Wisconsin and California. We’d love to see a match-up of Cruz’ hard-edged advocacy of capitalism and constitutionalism against Sanders’ unabashed socialism and whatever works, but such stark choices are perhaps too much to wish for in an age when people are more concerned with whatever works for them, if not necessarily everyone else.

— Bud Norman

Choosing Sides in a Civil War

We like to think ourselves the ruggedly individualistic and rebellious and anti-establishment type, not just despite of but also because of our unabashedly old-fashioned conservatism, and we proudly bear a few scars to back it up.
In our elementary school days we watched on television as American cities burned to the ground in protest against “the establishment,” and it struck us a damned fool thing to do even if the impeccably establishment and academically-credentialed Kerner Commission and all the cool kids thought the arsonists had a point. By junior high the left’s “long march” through the educational establishment had already begun, and even as we watched with dismay as President Richard Nixon’s “law and order” administration collapsed under the weight of its own lawlessness and disorder we continued to resist any sort of riotous indoctrination, to the detriment of our grades. By high school we were were listening to country music of the genuinely good ol’ boy KF’n’DI AM radio on the cold winter drive to show up early to devour the library’s otherwise unread copy of the notoriously-right wing National Review, and looking up the high-brow philosophers and economists and historians it cited to develop an intellectual framework for our temperamental distaste for the Carter era, and of course that didn’t do our grades any good. After two more years of a higher education establishment where the left’s long march had reached as far as a heartland cow college we defiantly dropped out, which entailed years of endured servitude handing out copy and working as a “dethwriter” on the obituary desk before we got a by-line, and even that hard-earned honor entailed another twenty years of daily in-fighting with the powers that be on a metropolitan daily newspaper, even here in the heartland.
Now we we prefer to write whatever the hell we have to say without the infuriating constraints of those respectably humorless and highly credentialed yet utterly uneducated metropolitan daily newspaper editors, even if it isn’t nearly so remunerative, and we like to think we’re still as surly and anti-establishment and ruggedly-indvidualistic and old-fashioned conservative as that long-haired snot-nosed punk of our junior high days, but suddenly the definitions of “conservative” and “establishment” and “Republican” and “Democrat” and everything else in our political lexicon seems up for debate. While the Democrats are choosing between an outright socialist who give the governmental establishment unparalleled authority and the most thoroughly corrupt crony-capitalist of the republic’s history, who struggles to explain why she’s not a socialist, the Republicans — our people, in whom we have long sought solace — are now engaged in a great civil war testing whether conservatism or any movement so conceived and so dedicated is defined by all those high-brow thinkers and principled arguments made by the likes of those fancy-pants know-it-alls at the now notoriously lily-livered and supposedly establishmentarian National Review or a blind fealty to the “Make America Great Again” juggernaut of real estate and gambling mogul and reality show star and former professional wrestling performer Donald J. Trump.
With the war already underway and the Iowa Republican caucus just a mere week away from tomorrow, now seems a time for choosing. We’re tentatively going in with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and are proud to join with those still-ruggedly individualistic writers at National Review in going all out against this Trump fellow. The venerable magazine — and it’s not a “paper,” as Trump incorrectly insists — has assembled a wide range of conservative thinkers for formidable argument that Trump’s proposed trade wars with China and more socialistic-than-the-socialist’s health care schemes and promises of all sorts of favorable insider deals do not portend well for the economy, that his meanderings between a let-Russia-lead to “bomb-the-s**t out of them” foreign policy also do not bode well, and that a thrice-married and four-times-bankrupt and very recent Democrat who has never felt the need to seek God’s forgiveness is an unreliable ally of the more religious and culturally traditional wing of conservatism. We also note that except for the predictable schoolyard taunts that Trump prefers, and the frequent outright racist screeds from supporters won’t hold Trump responsible for, and there’s the strangely anachronistic argument that anyone who isn’t marching in lockstep with Trump must be supporting some evil creature called “Jeb!,” but the most common retort from Trump and his acolytes is that “at least he fights.”
By “fighting” they seem to mean that Trump and his people are “tweeting” the most ill-natured tantrums against the allegedly irrelevant National Review or whatever less-than-beauty-queen woman has dared disagreed with the man who would make America great again, and his willingness to mock the handicapped and disparage America’s prisoners of war and crack cringe-worthy menstruation jokes and otherwise strike blows against “political correctness” while going along with the politically correct line on racial quotas and other matters of real concern. By “establishment,” we no longer have no idea what Trump’s supporters mean to describe.
At the outset of Trump’s campaign we assumed he meant the likes of former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas and current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who have so frequently angered such rebellious and old-fashioned conservatives as ourselves by signing off on big government crony-capitalist scams from ethanol subsidies to private property land-grabs to big-bank bail-outs and all those deficit-spending budgets, but now we’re told by Trump himself that Cruz was a loose cannon to have opposed all that as a Senator and that nobody in the establishment likes him as a result so the master deal-maker is best suited make the deals that will increase the ethanol subsidies that Iowa voters have a special interest in and uphold that “wonderful” Supreme Court decision that allowed him to tear down a widow’s home and build a parking lot for his casino and assure the next round of bail-outs that he didn’t think were big enough the last time around and pass a plan that cuts taxes and doesn’t decrease spending and will somehow end with a surplus. As Trump now touts his half-hearted endorsements from Dole and his lingering Congressional pals we guess the “establishment” is now those much-maligned ink-stained wretches still toiling for The National Review, still standing athwart history shouting “halt!,” still mustering their reasoned arguments and long-held principles and quoting those old high-brow economists and philosophers and historians, and sounding so very effete and faggy to the true Trump believer. One commenter huffed that she’d never heard of The National Review until this attack on Trump, and she seemed to think that made her more credible.
The true Trump believers will counter that we just don’t get it, and those illiterate internet commenters often think the argument more persuasive if they write it as the more un-parsable “You. Just. Don’t. Get. It.,” but in fact we readily understand the anger and frustration they have with the “establishment,” both on the left and to a somewhat lesser degree on the right as well. We’ve been railing against it for years, and likely will until our dying day, but we will confess that we truly do not get how an oft-bankrupt real estate and gambling mogul and reality show star and former professional wrestling performer who openly boasts about how he made his fortune to by doling out contributions to the likes of the Democrat’s thoroughly corrupt establishment and the Republicans’ hated Senate Majority Leader, and now proudly proclaims their support in his “anti-establishment” campaign against that loose cannon who challenged them, is supposed to hold his all-knowing thumb up against the poll winds and find the cure for what ails us.
Trump was the loudest to proclaim his opposition to the bi-partisan and ultimately disastrous establishment consensus on unfettered legal and illegal immigration, if not the first, but he was scolding Mitty Romney for a milder and more sensible “self-deportation” policy as recently as the last presidential race, and he now says his big beautiful wall on the border is going to have a big beautiful door, and he’s talking all sorts of deals with the bi-partisan establishment, and we’re pleased to note that we don’t have to settle for Jeb! on the issue. The next Republican candidate will have a tough stance on border enforcement, and would have without Trump, and that’s more to do with the party and the people at large than anyone who might hope to lead it.
All sorts of playground taunts might come our way, but we’re used to that, and we’ll be missing that tempting opportunity to burn the Republican Party down to the ground that so many Trump supporters urge, but even in our disgruntled middle age that seems a damned fool and not all conservative thing to do, so we side all with those effete eggheads at The National Review and all their reasoned arguments and the high-brow economists and philosophers and historians they cite, as well as that good ol’ boy sensibility that also informs our decisions, and all the timeless truths they have formulated. As a general rule we don’t trust white knights in shining armor promising Hope and Change or to Make America Great Again, and we once got the same whiff of a disastrous cult of personality from the man peddling the former as we do from the man now peddling the latter, and it’s all the more suspicious when it comes from the make-believe world or academia and community-organizing or reality television and insider deal-making.
At this late and perilous date we’ll go with Sen. Ted Cruz, the loose cannon with the fixed principles. That’s our anti-establishment and old-fashioned conservative instinct, and if you don’t like it, and you think it sounds effete and faggy and sure to lose against an outright socialist or a crony-capitalist who got large donations from a supposedly “anti-establishment” Republican on the other side of that corrupt establishment, well, at least we fight.

— Bud Norman