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The Latest Front On the GOP Civil War

President Donald Trump has “tweeted” his displeasure with the Koch brothers and their formidable fundraising network, and all of our liberal and Democratic friends here in Kansas are enjoying the latest internecine conservative and Republican spat. From our old-fashioned Kansas conservative Republican perspective, though, we can hardly stand to look.
By now you surely know who Trump is, and well understand the passions he inspires on both sides of the political divide, but if you’re not a political junkie you might be less aware of the Koch brothers. They’re Charles and David Koch, who inherited their father’s multi-million dollar oil drilling and refining business and shrewdly parlayed it into a multi-billion dollar enterprise that not only refines most of the gasoline America uses but also carpets the country’s floors and builds the mattresses the country sleeps on wipes up its kitchen spills with paper towels. These days it’s just Charles, as David has resigned from public life as he continues a long battle against cancer, but their generous funding of pro-free market causes made both brothers and their John Bircher father a bogeyman of the left long before Trump arrived on the scene. Suffice to say that the left has long regarded anything Koch-funded with the same paranoia as the right’s response to anything that the left-leaning multi-billionaire George Soros has done.
Which makes a Trump vs. Koch feud so appealing to the left, and so difficult for us. We don’t like anything Soros funds, have our quibbles with certain Koch policies, and if you’re a regular reader you by now know that we don’t have much use for Trump.
We’ll have to admit to a hometown bias on behalf of Koch. Our elementary school was literally next door to the Koch Industries building, and although our former school has long since been razed and the Koch Industries campus has vastly expanded we find it hard to believe that any globalist conspiracies were ever hatched there. Charles Koch still shows up for work there everyday with a beautiful impressionist landscape by Kansas artist Berger Sandzen behind his desk, and it’s impossible to go to the symphony concerts or musical theater productions or art museum or zoo exhibits around here without seeing in the program that it was generously funded by Koch family, and he’s a big reason the Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ basketball squad is a perennial top-25 program. He was once a celebrity guest star at the local media’s “Gridiron” show, as well, and we found him a most friendly fellow when chatting backstage.
For the most part we’ve also appreciated his political philanthropy. We liked the emphasis on low taxes and limited government and a general live and let live attitude, although we disagreed with Koch’s libertarian stance on fighting Islamist terrorism and restricting illegal immigration, and in every case we figured it was Koch’s hard-earned money and free speech and none of our business how he spent it. Koch declined to support either Trump or the equally unqualified Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election, as we did for our own reasons, and he continues to disagree with Trump on matters ranging from trade policy to federal deficits to presidential temperament, as we do for our own reasons, so the feud was inevitable.
“The globalist Koch Brothers, who have become a total joke in real Republican circles, are against Strong Borders and Powerful Trade,” Trump “tweeted” on Tuesday. “I never sought their support because I don’t need their money or bad ideas.” Trump boasted that Koch had praised his recently-signed tax cut bill and regulatory roll-backs and conservative Supreme Court appointments, as we have, alleged that Koch only opposed his protectionist policies to dodge tax on his multi-national earnings, then boasted that “Their network is highly overrated, I have beaten them at every turn.” From here on the political sidelines in the middle of the country, it all seemed pure balderdash.
If “globalist” means being generally supportive of the carefully crafted arrangements that have been made for the past prosperous decades of global prosperity, we’re sure that neither we nor either of the Koch brothers will mind the pejorative. As for the Koch’s multi-billion dollar network of like minded big bucks donors being a total joke, we’d love to see Trump produce the tax returns that show he’s got more money in the bank. Koch is indeed weak on the border, but only to the same extent that Trump’s border wall is fantasy is too draconian. The acknowledged merits of the tax cuts and regulatory roll-backs and Supreme Court appointments in no way disprove that pretty much everything else Trump has done to create “Powerful Trade: has been catastrophically stupid. Trump can rightly boast that he’s President of the United States without the Koch network’s support, but his base of support is among those budget-balancing “Tea Party” types in the Freedom Caucus who have benefited from Koch’s support than Trump’s support over the years, and whose rural constituents are smarting from Trump’s trade wars lately, and it remains to be seen if Trump will ultimately outsmart those wily globalists next door to our former elementary school at every turn.
At this point we don’t really have any dog in the fight, as the old political expression goes, and in any case we have our own mishegas to deal with here in Kansas. The heavily Koch-funded Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback introduced a radical tax- and budget-agenda to win election, got it enacted after a Koch-funded “tea party” wave ousted the more skittish Republican incumbents in the primaries and, and then narrowly won reelection even though the promised tax revenue increases hadn’t materialized. By the time Trump tabbed him to be something called “Ambassador for Religious Freedom” Brownback left office with same polling numbers as when President Nixon took that final flight on Marine One, and although we always found Brownback a nice enough fellow in our Kansas encounters and thought his economic theories worth a try, he’s left our party in a mess.
So far Trump is backing long time slavishly devoted acolyte Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who seems to be trailing incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer, who is talking about school funding and otherwise distancing himself from the Brownback agenda that got him elected as Lt. Governor and thus wound up with him in the governor’s office after that Trump appointment.
So far as we can tell, neither the Koch brothers nor Trump got it any of it right, and although none of the Democrats around here are very scary we don’t think they have any better ideas. We hold out some faint hope for what’s left of the Republican party that used to more placidly run things well enough around here, and guided our Republic through some perilous times, but jut in case we’re also hoping the Democrats don’t go crazy left.

— Bud Norman

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Those Thai Kids are Safe, and We Hold Out Hope for the Rest of Us

Tuesday’s news was full of the usual worrisome developments, but at least those dozen Thai boys and their soccer coach were at long last rescued from that awful cave they’ve been trapped in since June 23, which gave us a hopeful feeling about all the rest of it.
In case you’ve been trapped in a cave of your own for the past few weeks, the youth soccer team and its coach went on a routine spelunking adventure but found themselves trapped beneath a mountain when an unexpected torrential rain storm flooded all the exit routes. Nine days passed before a SCUBA-diving rescue crew could find them hungrily huddled in an improbable air pocket, a seeming miracle that was broadcast around the world by waterproof television cameras, but even then it seemed another 13miracles would be required for all of them to get out alive. More torrential rains made it difficult to bring food and oxygen to the unlikely survivors, a brave Thai naval frogman and former Buddhist monk died in the effort, and getting them all through the tunnels filled with muddy water and back to safety seemed impossible.
All of which made for compelling television around the world, even though the realists and fatalists among us figured all along that this hit reality show would end tragically for everyone involved. Four of the children were eventually rescued and rushed to hospitals by heroic methods a few days ago, though, and another four were treated to the same action-adventure movie heroics the next day, but it wasn’t until Tuesday that the rescuers beat the torrential rains and rescued the final four players and the 25-year-old coach who had bravely volunteered to be the last one out, and only then did such such realistic and fatalistic sorts as ourselves breath a sigh of a relief that miracles do indeed happen and that some times they even come in bunches of 14 or more.
The ingenious and heroic exploits of the rescuers make for a riveting based-on-a-true-story action adventure movie that will surely be coming soon to a theater near you, and there are all sorts of feel-good subplots to the story. Thailand’s dubious government came through for those poor kids and and their soccer coach, and an entire world offered its sympathy and help. Even President Donald Trump took time out from his “America First” agenda to “tweet” his sympathy and offer some American help that proved somewhat useful, but it was the brave and ingenious Thai and more nearby Australian and British divers who pulled off the miracle, and in a rare moment of global unity everyone everywhere celebrated the feat.
Despite our realistic and fatalistic sensibilities, it reaffirms our religious faith in miracles and bolsters our hope that the rest of the news might also turn out more or less well. Here’s hoping that all those Thai kids and their selfless soccer coach lead long and satisfactory lives, and that so do the rest of us.

— Bud Norman

The Trumpinization of a Grand Old Party

The big story on Tuesday was President Donald Trump’s anticlimactic photo-op with North Korea’s nutcase dictator, but but Wednesday people were taking notice that he’d somehow strengthened his control of the Republican party.
Tuesday was also primary day in South Carolina and Virginia, and by Wednesday morning the Trumpier candidates had prevailed.
In South Carolina incumbent Rep. Mark Sanford, who had voted with Trump 87 percent of the time but occasionally criticized him on television, lost to a more full-throated Trump loyalist after a presidential “tweet” that Sanford wasn’t “helping MAGA.” In a Virginia senate primary, the Republicans picked Corey Stewart, another Trump loyalist who ran on his Trumpian affection for Confederate monuments and antipathy to illegal immigration and abiding belief that were good people on both sides of that deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.
Sanford had won his seat despite an unusually tawdry sex scandal while he was governor of South Carolina, as unusually tawdry sex scandals are of little concern to the erstwhile “family values” party in the age of Trump, but a bare majority of the state’s Republicans apparently found that 13 percent of the he voted against and the few times he went on television to criticize something Trump had said or done unforgivable. His opponent, state lawmaker Katie Harrington, had run a television advertisement promising that she wouldn’t appear on any cable news programs criticizing the president no matter what he might say or do or “tweets.”
Such North Korean fealty to the party’s dear leader will probably play well in South Carolina, where Trump is unaccountably popular, but Stewart will probably have a harder time with in Virginia. In the last presidential election Trump lost the state by five points to the awful Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee easily won last year’s gubernatorial despite Trump’s efforts, and the Democrats have been winning formerly Republican seats in most of the congressional and state and local races since Trump’s election. The damage has been especially acute in the mostly white and well-educated upper-class suburbs of the state, and although those are mostly federal government workers in Virginia the same problem has occurred in special elections almost everywhere since Trump was inaugurated.
Even here in reliably Republican Kansas there’s reasonable talk that the second congressional district, which is mostly the white and well-educated upper-class suburbs of Kansas City, is ripe for a Democratic upset. The mediocrity who replaced Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will probably prevail down here in the more blue-collar fourth district, but he won by an embarrassingly 7-point margin in the special election and actually lost the Wichita vote.
Tuesday also saw Tennessee’s Republican Sen. Bob Corker take to the Senate floor to fulminate about Trump’s crazy trade wars with our most longstanding allies, and grouse that so few Republicans supported his efforts to restrain such craziness, but he’s already announced he won’t run for reelection because his party won’t allow such heresy. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona has been similarly courageous in confronting Trump, but he’s also announced he’s not bothering with another Republican primary. Arizona’s senior Sen. John McCain has been especially outspoken in his critique of the draft dodger who scoffed at his heroic war record, but he’s battling a likely fatal disease. The few other Republicans who dare to disagree with whatever Trump says or does or “tweets” are damned careful and deferential about how they say so.
We haven’t had the chance to visit the rest of the country recently, but our guess as rock-ribbed pre-Trump Kansas Republicans our guess is that fealty to Trump no matter what he says or does or “tweets” is not a longterm winning strategy for the the Republican party. Which is a damned shame, because we still don’t like those Democrats.

— Bud Norman

Yanny, Laurel, Blue Dress, Gold Dress, Green Needles, Brainstorms, the “Russia Thing” and the “Deep State” Conspiracy

First there was that dress that some people see as blue and others see as gold, and more lately there’s that recording that some people hear saying “laurel” and others hear saying “yanny,” but for weird experiments in differences of perception. Some people look at what’s been reported in the news and testified to before congressional committees and courts of law and revealed by e-mails and other documents and see a conspiracy by the Russians and the campaign of now-President Donald Trump to illegally affect the presidential election, while others see a vast “deep state” conspiracy attempting to unseat Trump in a “silent coup.”
So it is with the latest twists and turns in the exceedingly complicated “Russia thing” reality show. The New York Times and the Washington post both reported late last week that an undercover informant to the Federal Bureau of Investigation had at least three contacts with Trump campaign officials prior to the election, and we assume that most of their readers took that as evidence the FBI already had good reason to believe that something fishy was afoot. Those who see things Trump’s way usually like to call the papers “The New York Slimes” and “The Washington Compost,” and insist that their reports are usually “fake news,” but in this case they accepted the “lame-stream media’s” finding as unassailable fact and damning proof that the “deep state” conspirators were “spying” on Trump even before his righteous victory.
Over the weekend Trump himself “tweeted” about it at unusual length but with the usual Arbitrary Capitalizations and stream-of-consciousness syntax and sneering mentions of “Crooked Hillary,” and announced that he was “hereby” — which he correctly spelled, this time — demanding a criminal investigation of President Barack Obama’s possible espionage on his campaign. By Monday deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who finds himself in the difficult job of overseeing the “Russia thing” after Attorney General Jeff Sessions was obliged to recuse himself from the whole, and announced that he was having a Department of Justice investigator general look into this latest plot twist.
People had different perceptions of that, too, of course. Many of the ones convinced that Trump cooperated in Russia’s meddling in the election thought Rosenstein was abetting Trump’s ongoing obstruction of the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing,” while most of those who see things Trump’s way were disappointed that he didn’t go whole-hog and appoint a special counsel to investigate the special counsel who’s currently investing that “Russia thing.”
From our current perspective here on the sidelines, with no rooting interest in either the Democratic party or our erstwhile Republican party, we fine ourselves sympathizing with this Rosenstein fellow. When Trump promoted the life-long Republican and career civil servant to his current position Trump called him a “great guy” and his press secretary said he was the “gold standard” of governmental integrity, but after he appointed the lifelong Republican and former FBI head honcho Robert Mueller as the special counsel to continue the investigation that had begun under the lifelong Republican FBI director that Trump admittedly fired because of his interest in the “Russia thing” he became a darling of the Democrats. At the moment he’s being pilloried from both sides, but we can’t blame him for splitting the difference.
Despite their disappointment about the lack of a special counsel to to investigate the special counsel investigating the “Russia thing,” those who see things Trump’s way on talk radio and other “conservative” media are certain that an investigator general will surely expose the “deep state” conspiracy. Despite their disappointment that Rosenstein agreed to even a inspector general’s investigation into the investigation, they’re still holding out realistic hope that he’ll find that the FBI had good and by-the-book reasons to have a trusted undercover agent ask a few questions about some numerous damned suspicious and now admitted contacts between Russians and the Trump campaign.
Whatever that poor fellow who somehow wound up as the inspector general for the Justice Department about the “Russia thing” might conclude — for now we don’t know his name, although it will surely be widely known when he writes his report — different people will surely have different perspectives. If he concludes that the FBI had reasonable reasons to have a trust undercover informant ask a few questions the people who see things Trump’s way will say that the career civil servant who had risen to the level of inspector general is part of the “deep state” plot, and if he concludes that FBI was “spying” on the Trump campaign others will conclude he’s complicit in Trump’s ongoing obstruction of justice.
From our man-without-a-party perspective here on the sidelines we don’t see anyone coming out of this “Russia thing” untainted, but expect that Trump and his apologists will get the worst of it. The FBI’s fired-by-Trump director clearly did mishandle its investigation into Democratic nominee “Crooked” Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and other suspicious matters, whether you’re a Republican still annoyed that they didn’t “lock her up” or a Democrat annoyed that he openly investigated Clinton and publicly chastised her for the “extreme carelessness” of her e-mail practices but didn’t publicize investigations into the “Russia thing,” but for the moment we feel sorry for that poor fellow and longtime civil servant as well.
The next experiment of differences of human perspective to go “viral” will probably be a video of a weird device that says either “green needle” or “brainstorm” depending on which word you were thinking of. Sure enough, we defied the mathematical odds by hearing whichever of the two words we were thinking of every time.
Still, we believe in an objective reality regarding more prosaic matters such as the “Russia thing” and the the “deep state” conspiracy, and at this point our only rooting interest is that the truth will somehow prevail. Way back when O.J. Simpson was being tried for murder we perceived a wholly different reality than even our most sober-minded black friends, but by now they’ll pretty much admit that yeah the guy was guilty even though they still have understandable suspicions about the criminal justice system, and we’ll bet real money that even our most Trump-addled white friends will eventually come to the same desultory ambivalent conclusions about Trump and the “deep state.”

— Bud Norman

“Tweeting” Against the Tide

President Donald Trump’s “tweets” are clearly intended to convey cocksureness and toughness, and that’s how the die-hard fans see them. To our eyes they always look differently, and this past weekend’s voluminous output struck us as downright anxious and weak.
The most frequent of the topics Trump “tweeted” about was the Russia thing, of course. He gloated about the firing of a career Federal Bureau of Investigation official just 48 hours away from becoming eligible for a full pension, further impugned the character of the former FBI director he previously fired, and accused the bureau itself of widespread corruption in the process. Trump repeatedly “tweeted” about the special counsel’s investigation being a witch hunt — or “WITCH HUNT!” as he prefers to call it — and for the first time mentioned the name of Robert Mueller, the formidable former FBI director in charge.
The die-hard Trump fans will be pleased that “at least he fights,” as they always say, but we doubt that Mueller, a much-decorated combat veteran who once left a cushy California law practice to take on the crack cocaine dealers of Washington, D.C., is much intimidated by “tweets.” Mueller’s hunt has already yielded numerous indictments against 13 Russians and several figures close to Trump’s campaign and transition team and administration, along with a couple of guilty pleas, including one from Trump’s former national security advisor, and by now many Americans are waking up hopeful that more indictments and guilty will show up in the news.
Mueller has reportedly subpoenaed the financial records of the Trump Organization, the oxymoronic name of the president’s still wholly-owned international business empire, and God and Mueller only know what that’s likely to turn up. Our guess, based on what we’ve learned about Trump over the past several decades, is that it’s likely — oh, what the heck, standards of discourse being what they are these days, damned near certain — that there’s something pretty damned damning in those ledgers.
There are still laws on the books and an independent judiciary to enforce them, a Congress that plays some role, as well as a free press to let the public know how that turns out, and for now all of that is on Mueller’s side, so all a president can do is “tweet” about it. At least he fights, we’ll concede, but he so often leads with his chin.
There’s a convincing case to be made that the recently fired FBI official had it coming, as an independent inspector general appointed by President Barack Obama had concluded he’d been less than forthcoming on his dealings with the media during the bureau’s investigation of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, and Trump would have done well to let the “fake news” glumly report that exculpatory fact. Instead he issued that gloating “tweet” and extrapolated that it shows widespread corruption in the FBI and a rigged system that’s out to get him and that “Crooked Hillary!” is the one who should be locked up, not him. Which only fuels the “fake news” narrative that the firing was a brazenly vindictive political ploy to discredit a career civil servant and potential witness in the “Russia thing,” and intimidate any other possible witnesses, and unless you’re a die-hard fan it makes Trump look petty and mean rather than cocksure and tough.
We don’t expect any other potential witnesses will be much intimated. A couple of congressman have already offered the fired FBI official another 48 hours of gainful government employment so that he can qualify for his full pension, and he’s bound to find other opportunities. James Comey, that fired FBI director that Trump routinely impugns “tweeted” back that “Mr. President, the American people will hear my story soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not.” This is an apparent reference to a book by Comey to be released in mid-April, which is already an Amazon best-seller and moving up the charts since Trump’s “tweets,” and we expect he’ll make a convincing case for himself. Say what you want about that botched investigation of “Crooked Hillary’s” e-mails, which was as badly run as Trump Airline or the Trump Taj Mahal casino-and-strip-club, Trump is at a disadvantage in a contest of character.
The “fake news” have plenty of actual facts to rebut the rest of the president’s conspiracy theorizing, too. He “tweeted” that the House investigative committee on the “Russia thing” had exonerated him, but that was just most of the for-now Republican majority, with the Democrats objecting, and the Senate and special counsel and free press investigations are still underway. Trump once again “tweeted” about the undeniable fact that most of Mueller’s team are Democrats and have donated to Clinton’s past campaigns, but federal law prohibits hiring based on party affiliation or past campaign donations, everyone on the team has stellar credentials regarding such worrisome matters as money-laundering and several are fluent in Russian, and Trump’s own lawyer and Trump himself have contributed “Crooked Hillary’s” past campaigns.
Trump could impulsively “tweet” that he’s decided to fire Mueller, which you know he really really wants to do, but by law he’d have to get the deputy attorney general to do it, as the Attorney General has had to recuse himself from the whole “Russia thing,” and he’d probably have to fire the Republican guy he appointed to be deputy general and find somebody willing to go down in infamy to do the deed. Anyone old enough to remember the “Saturday Night Massacre” episode of the Watergate scandal knows how messy that can be, however, and although it’s frighteningly plausible we don’t see it ending any better this time around.

— Bud Norman

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

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

— Bud Norman

Smart and Stable Is as Smart and Stable Does

There’s something slightly unsettling about hearing an American president reassure the public that he’s intelligent and emotionally stable, as President Donald Trump felt obliged to do over the weekend. It reminds us of President Richard Nixon’s assurance that “I am not a crook.” or President Bill Clinton’s vow that “I did not have sex with that woman,” or Fredo Corleone’s cry in “The Godfather Part II” that “I’m smart, not like everybody says, like dumb, and I want respect,” and we remember how all those turned out. Trump’s boasts that “I’m, like, really smart” and “a very stable genius” have a similarly ominous ring.
Trump has been conspicuously defensive about his smarts and sanity ever since he took that elevator ride in Trump Tower to announce his improbable campaign for the presidency, but his sensitivity has been heightened by the publication of Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” which has lately been flying off the shelfs with a considerable publicity boost from Trump’s futile efforts to prevent to its publication and his ongoing insistence that it’s all fake news. The book depicts a dysfunctional White House trying to cope with a not-very-bright and downright childish president, with some pretty unpleasant quotes coming from people once very close to the president, which prompted Trump’s “Tweets” and public remarks about being “like, very smart” and a “stable genius.”
As he did throughout his improbably successful campaign for the presidency, Trump answered his critics with characteristic braggadocio. He boasted of his academic excellence at a top-notch college, the billions of dollars he’d made in private business, his status as the star of highly-rated reality television show, and the fact that he’d won the presidency on his very first try. Such cocksureness played a large part in his improbable electoral college victory, along with an admittedly uncanny knack for convincing West Virginia coal miners that a billionaire New York City real-estate and reality-show mogul was their messiah, and it might work now. All of it was questionable all along, though, and we still suspect it worked mainly because the alternative was Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Trump did indeed graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, which indeed plays its football and basketball games in the prestigious Ivy League, but he spent his first two years at second-tier Fordham University before his father’s money got him into Penn and nobody there recalls him as an exceptional scholar and his academic records are as tightly as restricted as President Barack Obama’s. He has made billions in business, but nobody who follows the big money believes he’s made even half what he claims, and most contend he would have done better by investing his inheritance in a solid mutual fund and spending his time reading up on history and public policy, and there were many embarrassing bankruptcies and business failures along the way. He did indeed improbably wind up as President of the United States, but there hasn’t yet been a public opinion poll showing most Americans glad of that.
As much as we’d like to we can’t deny Trump has a rare genius for making his character bugs seem a a feature to enough of the voting public to pull off an improbable electoral college victory, even it was against the likes of that horrible Clinton woman. Trump’s otherwise alarming tendency to say any crazy thing that popped up into his head was lauded as refreshing honesty, his glaring racism and sexism were celebrated as a blow against “political correctness,” the illiterate crudity of his ad hominem responses to any valid criticisms was cheered the “authenticity” of his “punching back twice as hard,” and a lot of West Virginia coal miners and other disaffected white folk in flyover cover wanted to vicariously live the gaudy decadence of his boastfully adulterous and self-indulgent lifestyle in a way they never did with Bill Clinton’s zaftig affairs.
As appalled as we were by that horrible Clinton woman and her hound dog husband and had been since way back when Clinton was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and calling her the greatest Secretary of State ever, we never believed a word of it, no matter how many times Trump said “believe me.” The guy who draws the “Dilbert” cartoon and other thinkers would try to explain how Trump was a “master of persuasion” whose seemingly un-parsable pronouncements were the cutting edge of political rhetoric, and we had to admit that he was far better than we or Socrates or Daniel Webster could ever be a persuading broke suckers to sign up for Trump University or the rich fools who owned United States Football League franchises to go head-to-head with the National Football League and somehow win in the civil courts, but we doubted it could have the same effect on the presumably more sensible you hope to find in the Congress and federal judiciary and the free press and other institutions promised to vanquish. We also doubted that all those taunts and nicknames and National Enquirer stories would culminate in any positive policy results.
Trump and his apologists will point to the recent stock market records and holding-steady jobless rates and the absence of any nuclear mushroom clouds on the Korean peninsula, and they have a point that of course they’ll vastly overstate. Trump’s de-regulating executive orders and the tax bill the Republican establishment delivered to his desk have no doubt nudged the stock markets on an even higher trajectory that they’d been since before he took office, but at least one or two of those de-regulated regulations are likely to fuel some future scandal with multipole fatalities, that tax bill is polling horribly, and job creation has actually slowed compared to the last two years of Obama’s administration. The North Korean dictator that Trump has taunted as the “short and fat” “little rocket man” with a nuclear button that’s not nearly so manly as Trump hasn’t yet exploded any nuclear missiles, and he’s suddenly opening talks with South Korea that Trump claims credit for but isn’t involved in, and the rest of the world seems just as pleased to leave Trump out of it.
Meanwhile there’s the whole “Russia thing” and that messy business of what to do with all the “dreamers” who were unwittingly became illegal immigrants as children and yet another continuing resolutions that’s needed to keep the federal government running, along with numerous other matters that Trump hasn’t yet comprehensibly commented on. as well as a lingering concern that there’s something no quite right about the president. The worry is widespread enough that Trump spent a weekend “tweeting” and telling reporters that he’s very smart and sane, and reports suggest that its shared in hall of power of both allies and adversaries, and that’s bound to have eventual consequences.
Trump might have been an excellent student at that top notch college, but the seventh-grade English teacher at our otherwise second-rate junior high school would have riddled his “tweets” with red marks for spelling and punctation and syntax and general comprehensibility. He’s no doubt richer than we are, but even our limited entrepreneurial abilities could have at least broke even with a casino and we know enough about football not to go head-to-head with the NFL and we’re too kind-hearted to sucker anyone into investing in a phony baloney real estate course, and until he offers up his tax returns and the rest of the full disclosure that presidents are supposed to offer up we’re skeptical of any claims he makes. If we make it through the year without any mushroom clouds over the Korean peninsula we’ll give him some credit for that, but we’ll never agree that the nuclear button size comparisons had anything to do with it.
We’ve had the good fortune to know many brilliant people over the years, and we’ve long noticed that not a single one of them ever bragged to us that they’re, like, really smart, and all of them would have scoffed at being called a genius. Nor have any of the very stable people we’ve happily know ever felt the need to reassure us that they’re, like, very stable. We’ve also had the good fortune to know some highly ethical people, too, and none ever had to contrast their ethics with those of that awful Clinton woman.

— Bud Norman

Our Plea for Antidisestablishmentarianism

The term “deep state,” like “establishment” or “globalist” or “elites,” is one of those vaguely defined but very sinister coinages that have lately infected the political discourse. We first became aware of the “deep state” when it started showing up at the conspiracy theory we visit for yucks, but then it was picked by the right ring radio talkers on the AM and some of the hosts on Fox News, and now it’s being “tweeted” by President Donald Trump.
“Crooked Hillary’s top aid Human Abedin, has been accused of disregarding basic security protocols,” Trump wrote in his characteristic presidential prose. “She put Classified Passwords into the hands of foreign agents. Remember sailors pictures on submarine? Jail! Deep State Justice Dept must act? Also on Comey and others”
Which we found troubling for several reasons. Aside from the mangled syntax and arbitrary capitalizations and missing punctuation marks, and the usual difficulty in understanding just what the hell guy is trying to say, Trump seems to be calling the imprisonment of a vanquished political foe, and that strikes us as a bit banana republic-ish. He’s also calling for Abedin’s imprisonment based on a mere accusation, apparently from a very friendly conservative web site, and we’d like to think he has better sources of information at hand. Given all the accusations that have been leveled against Trump, from far more numerous and reliable sources, we also think he’d prefer that the due processes of the justice system be strictly adhered to before anyone gets locked up. What’s most worrisome, though, is that Trump regards all those other news sources as “fake news” and his own Justice Department as part of some nebulous but undoubtedly nefarious “deep state.”
The conspiracy theorists who first coined the term used it to describe a very specific plot by certain high-ranking members of the bureaucracy, the worst of them being those wily spooks in the intelligence community, and so far as we can tell it’s all part of some broader international conspiracy involving the Illuminati or the Masons or whoever else is actually running everything from the behind the scenes. By the time talk radio talkers and Fox hosts started using it “deep state” seemed to mean the entirety of the permanent civil bureaucracy, with the far ore plausible theory that they collectively had a vested interest in the continued growth of government and were thus resistant to conservative governance, but they sill made it sound more sinister than the usual boring matters of competing political interests. So far as we can tell, Trump defines the “deep state” as anyone in government — including the co-equal judicial and legislative branches — who would dare challenge his authority.
The conspiracy theorists and talk radio talkers and those Fox hosts and especially Trump himself seem to have a similar disdain for anyone who would challenge presidential authority, at least for so long as Trump is president, so the “deep state” is merely a small part of a broader “establishment” that seeks to prevent him from making America great. The “establishment” includes all the “fake news,” of course, but also all of those “globalist” multi-national corporations that have been exploiting American workers, and all the pointy-headed academicians and Hollywood hot shorts and so called policy experts with their supposedly fancy-schmantzy degrees who comprise the “elites.”
We’re no fans of Huma Abedin, and we loathed her longtime boss since way back when Trump was contributing to his campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and calling her the best Secretary of State ever, but we’d hate to see her “tweeted” off to prison just to see a blow struck against the “deep state.” When the Trump rally crowds chanted “lock her up” about Abedin’s boss during the campaign, which always struck us as chillingly banana republic-ish, they did so with a deep-seated that only some deep and well-established could have allowed such nasty women to achieve power, and that only such a gifted orator with such man-sized hands as Donald Trump could see that justice was done, but that all looks rather ridiculous right now.
Trump still believes a “rigged system” cost him three million votes and popular landslide, but the people who secretly run everything could spread less than a hundred thousand of them around Pennsylvania and Michigan and a couple of other very closely contested states, and he won an electoral victory wound up president. Clinton is now an unemployed grandmother wanting around the woods of upstate New York, widely reviled within her own party and forever to be known as the woman who lost to the likes of Donald Trump, and no longer poses a threat to anybody. The “deep state” couldn’t keep Abedin’s once politically-prominent husband from going to jail for texting dirty pictures of his private parts to underage girls, or provide her some sinecure to provide for their child, and she no longer seems at all frightening.
The combined forces of the “deep state” and the “establishment” and the “globalists” and “elites” don’t seem very scary, either, given that they couldn’t keep the likes of Trump from winning the White House. There’s still a permanent bureaucracy, but if you get a government check or might need a Federal Emergency Management Agency helicopter to rescue you from a foot you’ll be glad of that. There are still multinational corporations, but we note that the tax bill Trump recently signed gives them a huge break by adopting the “territorial” laws that bring America more into line with the global market. The “fake news” is still sticking around, but they’re far more reliably true than Trump’s “tweets,” and these days there are plenty talk radio shows and Fox News programs and conservative web sites around to grouse about what Clinton and Abedin once did. A lot of the pointy-headed policy experts with the fancy-schmantzy academic credentials are lately consigned to think tank work, or even worse, but the rank amateurs who’ve replaced them don’t seem be faring much better.
What used to be called “conservatism” held that certain institutions which had been painstakingly established over generations of trial-and-error were necessary to maintain a civilizations progress, and that these included an independent judiciary and a free press along with scholarly class and even a permanent bureaucracy. These days conservatism seems regard all that as the “establishment,” and the rallying cry of the Trumpian right is “burn it down.” We hate find ourselves sympathizing with the likes of Abedin and her boss, but that’s not what we signed up for.
Trump seems eager to burn it all down before before those “deep state” lawyers in the special counsel office bring any more indictments against his campaign and administration officials, or perhaps Trump himself, but he should hope it sticks around long enough to offer him some due process. He’s been accused of doing things even worse than Abedin has been accused of doing, or so we read somewhere, and he’s currently the president, which makes him somewhat scarier than a single mom seeking low-visibility employment, and the crowds can turn on a dime, and chants of “lock him up” are already roaring from all sorts of non-elite places.
— Bud Norman

Happy New Year, All Things Considered

This is our last essay of 2017, and the way things have gone this year we’re glad of it. Journalistic tradition and the traditional slowness of the news cycle dictates that end-of-the-year essays be a look back at the past 12 months, a prognostication about the next 12, or a top ten list of the past 12 month’s something or another, but traditions don’t matter lately and we’re taking the news one day at a time.
The big story of the year’s last days, appropriately enough, is that it’s cold out there. Here in Kansas the daytime highs are lately struggling to get past freezing and rapidly dropping into single digit lows after the early sundowns, and when you add in the Kansas winds that are blowing down from the North Pole it feels far worse than that. To the northwest and the northeast it looks even worse on the weather maps, and it looks like a very long drive to the southwest or the southeast to get warm enough for our tastes.
Which kept us inside most of the day, and reading the rest of the desultory news. We noted that President Donald Trump “tweeted” about all the cold weather from the fabulous Florida resort where he was playing some holiday golf while a shifting truck block the news crews from filming, and he gloated about being vindicated for his controversial decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Being climate change skeptics ourselves we’ve also taken advantage of these annual cold snaps to kid our global warming alarmist friends, but we mean it as a joke rather than a serious scientific argument, and the “tweet” struck us as unpersuasive and un-presidential.
He also “tweeted” about a very minor flap between Vanity Fair magazine and former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, with the former standing accused of making a slightly sexist joke about the latter in a little-seen video, and of course Trump ridiculed the magazine — “which looks like it’s on it’s last legs” — for “apologizing for the minor hit they took at Crooked H.” We’re skeptical about Vanity Fair and Clinton, as well, but that also struck us as something a president with some sense of dignity should be far too busy to do.
Meanwhile, down in Alabama, which still looks too cold for our tastes on those weather maps, the Republican Secretary of State of certified the upset election of Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, which was another big story of the day despite its inevitably since last month’s election night. Republican candidate Roy Moore was contesting the election results right up to the last minute, filing a court challenge alleging just enough voter fraud to reverse the outcome, but but after a Republican judge dismissed the suit the fait accompli was at long accomplished. It was a fitting end for one of the sorrier stories of the year.
Moore was arguably the worst nominee the Republican party ever nominated, the present competition notwithstanding. His inglorious career of public service and private enrichment and antebellum views about slavery and women’s rendered him upset prone even before several middle-aged women came forward to describe how he had pursued them when they were teenaged girls and he was a 30-something prosecutor. He was so awful he lost in Alabama, off all places, to a Democrat, of all people, and he never did concede that fact. His last-minute filing had a statistical analysis proving massive voter fraud in one particular mostly-black county, but one of the experts had also previously proved by statistical analysis that were was a massive conspiracy to kill President John Kennedy, and in the end the Republican Secretary of State and the Republican judge and the Republican sheriffs who had checked out some other claims included in the lawsuit all signed off on a Democratic senator.
Former Moore supporter Trump didn’t “tweet” anything about it, so far as we can tell, so Moore’s confederate cause seems at long last truly lost. What with that Vanity Fair versus Clinton flap and the ongoing “Russia thing” and another round of golf he had more important things to worry about, we suppose. The stock market was slightly up, the unemployment rate is still low, and the economy seems to be generally progressing along its pre-Trump trajectory, so Trump did find time to “tweet” about that.
All the meteorologists are telling us this dying year will come to a frigid end and the next year will start off just as bad, and all the political prognosticators are sounding just as dispiriting, but we’ll just take it day by day with a reasonable exception for better days. By late June the temperatures will be comfortably in the mid-90s around here, we’ll not gripe about the 100s of July and August, and the springs and autumns are always delightful except for the occasional severe storms. The economy has a good chance of surviving all the politics, and we hold out hope that rest of us will also survive the politics.
Our Wichita State University Wheatshockers head into their inaugural basketball season in the American Athletic Conference as the eight-ranked team in the country, by the time they finish what we hope will be a long run in the national championship tournament the pitchers and catchers will be reporting for spring training, with our New York Yankees looking very promising after some hot-stove season acquisitions for an already potent team, and that’s something far better to worry about that some flap involving Vanity Fair and Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
All things considered, we can wish all our readers a very Happy New Year.

— Bud Norman

Christmas Eve at Mar-a-Lago

There’s a longstanding tradition that forbids American politicians from making news on Christmas, but President Donald Trump pays no heed to to even the most admirable longstanding traditions. He mostly kept to the golf course and family gatherings over the long weekend at his profitable Mar-a-Lago resort, and reportedly got a national security briefing and tended to some other presidential business, but of course he couldn’t resist a few controversial “tweets.”
Trump “tweeted” some effusive praise for the military, which does indeed deserve it, but he couldn’t help taking some undue credit for their recent successes. He also “tweeted” a “Merry Christmas” message, which American presidents have conveyed to the people long before the advent of “Twitter,” but as usual he took undue and downright blasphemous-to-our-ears credit for Christmas. For Christ’s sake — and in this case we mean that both literally and reverently — we’re quite sure the holiday would have survived without Trump.
Even on a busy Christmas Eve filled with golf and family gatherings and national security briefings, Trump still found time to criticize a high-ranking and soon-to-retire Federal Bureau of Investigation official for having a wife a who once ran for office as a Democrat, with the usual implied aspersions on the FBI in general, and that ex-FBI head honcho currently running a special counsel investigation of the “Russia thing” in particular. Perhaps it’s because he was haunted by an especially scary ghost of Christmas future, but Trump had to bring up the “Russia thing” even on Christmas Eve.
There’s never a day of the year when Trump isn’t talking about “fake news,” and even the Christmas spirit one feels on Christmas couldn’t keep him from “re-tweeting:a picture of him with a squashed bug labeled “CNN” on his show and ¬†“tweeting” a gripe about the “fake polls” that show both him and his recently-signed tax cuts as widely unpopular. That apparently includes all the polls, as even the outlier Rasmussen Reports has his approval ratings well in the very low 40s and well under water, but we doubt Trump will convince a majority of Americans that a majority of their fellow Americans actually quite like him.
Trump didn’t take advantage of a congressional Christmas recess to fire that ex-FBI guy heading the special counsel investigation of the “Russia thing,” and the economy is humming along nicely, and so far there are no mushrooms clouds on the Korean Peninsula, and we suspect Trump would be polling better if he’d lay off the “tweets,” at least on Christmas Eve.

— Bud Norman