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Snobs, Slobs, and the Soul of Conservatism

The first televised witnesses in the impeachment inquiry part of the ongoing reality show about President Donald Trump were William Taylor and George Kent, and we found them very interesting and compelling characters in the drama. Both men bring what used to be considered impressive credentials to the screen, along with a dignified and even stately bearing most often found these days on the documentaries and costume dramas from the Public Broadcasting System.
How they play with the rest of the viewing public remains to be seen, and will largely determine the future of the Republican party and the Republic itself.
Taylor was fifth in his class at West Point in ’69, earned numerous decorations for valor during the Vietnam War, then commenced a career in foreign service in Cold War hot spots that lasted through Republican and Democratic administrations and culminated with ambassadorship to Ukraine. He was coaxed out of a hard-earned retirement to become charges d’affaires and acting ambassador to Ukraine by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after the previous ambassador was forced out of her job in the middle of negotiations with Ukraine about military, and very complicated part of the plot already, which is why he found himself on live television testifying about that whole mess. He did so with perfect diction and elegantly plain English in a baritone voice, distinguished gray hair and an obvious gravitas.
Kent has the impressive title of the Trump’s administrations deputy secretary of state for European and Asian affairs, was able to tell the congressional committee that he was third George Kent in his family to have served America in high levels of the government, he’s a Harvard man who speaks fluently in Ukrainian and Russian and Thai, and was resplendent in bow tie and three-piece suit during his testimony. Like Taylor, he seemed the very embodiment of establishment rectitude.
The testimony of both men was damaging to Trump, though, and these days most days Republicans are deeply suspicious of the establishment and unconcerned about rectitude, and they’re not inclined to believe anything bad they hear about Trump, so we’re sure these gentlemen will be pilloried on talk radio and ostracized by the party. Those elite school credentials and multilingualism and long resumes of public service suddenly makes them seem “deep state” conspirators, and even though they’ve testified under oath that they don’t consider themselves “Never Trumpers” they’re suspected of treasonous perjury. That perfectly parsed fancy talk they doesn’t help, either, as it doesn’t sound authentically populous.
Once upon a time Taylor and Kent and special counsel Robert Mueller and former Trump chief of staff John Kelly and former Trump defense secretary John Mattis and various other defenestrated administration officials would have been considered exemplars of conservatism and the Republican party, but that was before both the cause and party were redefined in Trump’s image. Now anyone who has anything to say potentially harmful to Trump’s political fortune, no matter his lifelong commitment to what used to be considered conservative values, is found traitorous.
The damned Democrats are every bit as hypocritical, of course. Once upon any sort of Democrat would have considered Taylor and Kent and the rest of the reluctant Trump witnesses a bunch of imperialist war-mongering neocons, but now that they have testimony damaging to Trump they’re suddenly exemplars of rectitude. The current Democratic party doesn’t really give a damn about Ukraine or how it affects America’s standing in world affairs any more than Trump does, but is happy to have such credible testimony against Trump. Even if Trump is impeached by the House but not removed by the Senate, which is probably the smart way to bet right now, it will come in handy for the Democrats come next election day.
From our perspective here on the political sidelines, having had enough of all the hypocrisy in both cheering sections, our only rooting interest is in the objective truth. That’s always hard to come by, and especially these days, but our old-fashioned conservative instincts incline us to believe the guys with the elite educational credentials and impeccable careers in the military and public service, no matter what they say about Trump. Trump daily says several things that are provably untrue, he’s never been anything near our notion of an exemplar of Republican rectitude at any time in his life, and for now he sure looks guilty of what this impeachment inquiry is alleging he has done.
There’s an argument to be made that it’s no big deal even if Trump did do what’s alleged, which is abusing his foreign policy powers to extract political favors from an ally, and eventually Trump and his apologists will get around to making it. Both Taylor and Kent freely testified to the under oath to the House of Representatives that it did happen and they thought it was a distressing incident in America’s foreign affairs, and although that’s just their opinion we found it more well-considered than Trump’s Ukraine’s foreign policy, or the party’s defense of it, which seems incoherent and suspiciously Russo-friendly. Not that the damn Democrats would do any better.
In our ripened old age we rather like those well-bred and well-educated and bow-tied and fancy-talking establishment types who have guided us through two World Wars and a Cold War, no matter all the messes we’ve gotten into along the way, and we trust their testimony. Here’s hoping the truth prevails, no matter how awful that might be.

— Bud Norman

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Like a Roiling Stone

For a guy who’s currently on trial for crimes that could land him in federal prison for the rest of his life, Roger Stone is a remarkably lucky fellow. He’s lucky that his trial is being largely overlooked because of an impeachment inquiry about President Donald Trump, and you could make a strong case he’s lucky that it took so long for karma and the law to catch up with him.
Stone stands accused of lying to Congress about coordination between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Wikileaks, which Trump’s former Central Intelligence Agency director and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called a “hostile intelligence service” aligned with Russia, as well as other foreign agents. So far former Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates and former Trump campaign and administration advisor Steve Bannon have testified that Stone boasted of his connections to Wikileaks’ mastermind Julian Assange, and recall him bragging about upcoming Wikileaks disclosures to candidate Trump, and they’ve got text messages and e-mails to corroborate their testimony.
The foppish and ostentatious Stone’s defense is that he constantly spews boastful balderdash, and that it’s mere coincidences all of his predictions about the upcoming Wikileaks proved true. Given Stone’s track record of dirty tricks and clean escapes it just might work.
He’s been in the news since the days of President Richard Nixon, when he was one of the Committee to Reelect the President’s rat fuckers” — sorry for the language, but that’s why called themselves, and the political vocabulary is unavoidably more vulgar in the age o Trump — and has since remained a prominent practitioner of what he proudly calls the “dark arts” of political dirty tricks. For a long while he was a partner with Gates and former Trump campaign chairman and current federal inmate Paul Manafort in a D.C. lobbying firm notorious for representing the world’s most odious dictators, and he has a portrait of Nixon tattooed on his back, so it should surprise no one that he’s also a decades-long friend and informal advisor to Trump.
A special counsel investigation into Russia’s meddling the presidential election documented numerous contacts between the Trump administration and foreigners, and indicted Stone and convicted Manafort and Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and others for lying about it under oath, but it didn’t find prove of a criminal conspiracy and declined to bring charges for ten instances of trying to obstruct the investigation, so Trump has claimed complete vindication and no longer worries about that. Instead he’s being being investigated by a House impeachment inquiry about his dealings with Ukraine, which is getting a lot of attention, and for now Stone seems to have nothing to do with that, having been defenestrated and disavowed by Trump long before all that mess started, so the trial is relegated to the inside pages and the bottom of the news hour.
Which is probably good news for both Stone and Trump, who have thus far been a lucky couple of guys. At this point Stone won’t sway a federal jury in Washington, D.C., with his loyalty to Trump, and the Republicans defending Trump on the impeachment inquiry committees won’t be calling Stone as a character witness. In any case we’ll be following both proceedings, as they’re both binge-worthy.

— Bud Norman

Reality TV and Reality Collide

The House impeachment inquiry makes its much ballyhooed debut on live television today, which puts in a wistfully nostalgic mood. It brings back vivid memories of the last two times the Congress tried to impeach a sitting president, and a jarring realization about how things change over time.
Way back in our youth the Watergate hearings were the top-rated show on television, and we watched with precociously rapt attention as the complex plot culminated with President Richard Nixon’s resignation and final helicopter flight from the White House. Even in the desultory aftermath of the Vietnam war and the emerging stagflation economy it was a very big deal, and with everything else on television at the time, it was such an epic morality play that we old folks talk about it to this day.
By the time President Bill Clinton was being impeached for lying under oath about a tawdry relationship with a White House intern during a civil lawsuit regarding a youth former Arkansas state employee, which was discovered by a special prosecutor charged with investigating a fail real estate scheme, things had noticeably changed. There weren’t any wars and the economy was growing without inflation, a post-sexual revolution country didn’t much care what its president was doing in his free time, and without any of the femmes fatales being questioned live on television the show couldn’t compete with all the other channels suddenly available on cable. In one of television’s greatest anticlimaxes the show ended with Clinton’s acquittal by a majority Democratic Senate, and no one on either of the side of the question at the time talks about much it now.
This time around things have changed even more noticeably. The nation’s notions of sexual propriety have reached a point where a thrice-married and boastful philanderer is the Republican president and hero of the evangelical right, and its standards for the proper exercise of presidential power have been similarly degraded. There are an exponentially greater number of viewing and reading options now, the impeachment hearings are boringly headed to a obviously predetermined and desultory-for-both-sides conclusion, and one likely outcome is that most Americans won’t much care how it comes out.
If you haven’t been slogging through the byzantine plot in the leaked or off-the-record reports in the print and electronic media, the gist of it is that several high-level Foreign Service and military officials have testified under oath to Congress that President Donald Trump’s White House withheld military and other aid to Ukraine unless it agreed to announce investigations into Trump’s past and potential future Democratic rivals. The White House itself released a rough transcript of a phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president that seems to back up the charges, the White House chief of staff defiantly told a press gathering to “Get over it, we do it all the time,” and for now the Republicans are trying their best to come up with a better defense.
The Republicans protested when the witnesses testified in closed hearings, but their damning testimony has since been released, and we expect they’ll be telegenic and appealing characters when live on television. On other channels you can hear that they’re “deep state” conspirators involved in a coup d’tat against a duly elected president, and some Republicans will be saying the same on the hated “fake news” networks, but it’s not a convincing plot line, even by modern television standards. All but one of the witnesses for the prosecution all have impeccable records of public service, no apparent reason to lie, and their stories all line up. Several are Trump appointees, or appointees of his appointees, and the other witness is a dilettante diplomat who was appointed Ambassador to the European Union after bundling millions to Trump’s campaign and another million to Trump’s inaugural ball but has recently amended his testimony to line up with the others.
So far impeachment is polling pretty well, given the fractured media markets and bipartisan climate, and we expect that even low-rated televised hearings will nudge up the antipathy to Trump. Potential future guest stars include Trump’s personal attorney, whose peripatetic freelance foreign policy are currently under investigation by Trump’s own Justice Department, and Trump’s former national security advisor, who resigned over differences o such matters as our foreign policy with Ukraine, which would be widely watched.
Barring some deus ex machina plot twist in this improbable reality show, a nearly unanimous majority of the Democrats who control the House majority and perhaps even a few Republicans will almost certainly impeach Trump. For now it’s likely that a majority-Republican Senate won’t vote to remove Trump from office, but that might be slightly less likely with each passing day of televised testimony from believable witnesses about an arguably impeachable abuse of presidential power.
Back in our surly and cynical youth many of the Republicans used to care about that sort of thing, and even in our middle age there were some damned Democrats who were embarrassed by an older man using his presidential power to indulge in a tawdry relationship with an much younger intern, even if they thought lying about it under oath wasn’t necessarily an impeachable offense. These days there are so many channels to choose from, and all of the standards seem to have been lowered across the political divide, and much of the country probably won’t care how it turns out.
Even so, we’ll be “binge watching.”

— Bud Norman

Un-Blowing the Whistle

Donald Trump Jr. has “tweeted” the name of a man alleged to be the “whistleblower” who set off the current impeachment inquiry regarding President Donald Trump, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is demanding that the national media also publish the name. The alleged “whistleblower” is allegedly a Democrat fond of former Vice President and current presidential contender Joe Biden, and for now that’s best defense Trump’s Republicans can muster.
Alas, it’s a weak defense. Never mind that the erstwhile party of law and order is flouting a federal law intended to protect the anonymity of “whistleblowers,” which the Republicans will surely revere if there’s another Democratic president, the inquiry has moved well beyond him.
Regardless of his or her political biases, the “whistleblower’s” claim that Trump sought political help from Ukraine in exchange for military was deemed credible and concerning by two Trump-appointed intelligence officials, has since been corroborated by sworn testimony from the highest-ranking career foreign service and military officials serving in Ukraine, along with text messages and other documentary evidence. Perhaps they’re all “deep state” conspirators out to frame the president, despite their previously unsullied reputations, but the political appointee who got his job as Ambassador to the European Union after donating $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee has now amended his testimony to corroborate the other witnesses, and former Trump-appointed national security advisor and impeccably credentialed right-wing Republican John Bolton is expected to say the same thing live on television next week, and there’s no telling what will happen if Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani winds up under oath and on the air..
An incomplete and presumably carefully edited transcript of the call between Trump and the Ukrainian president also backs up the story, Trump has made clear on several occasions that he’s open to political help from foreign governments, and his chief of staff told the national media that “we do it all the time,” adding “get over it.” Why Trump and his apologists continue to deny it is unclear to us, especially when they have that “so what?” defense at their disposal.
Trump claims that he was only interested in ending Ukraine’s entrenched political corruption, but he’s rarely shown any concern about other country’s corruption problems, and as a businessman he publicly complained that under American law he couldn’t hand out bribes in other countries like his foreign competitors, and as president he has cut funding for anti-corruption assistance to reformist movements. Perhaps it’s mere coincidence that his sudden anti-corruption fervor is mostly focused on something that might provide dirt on a potential election rival, and even disprove the consensus opinion of the national intelligence community that Russia helped Trump get elected last time around, but maybe not.
Better to go with the “so what?” defense. The die-hard fans will love such defiance of the hated establishment, with all its fussy notions of political propriety, another sizable portion of the country isn’t paying any attention, and last time around Trump somehow won an electoral majority on basically the same argument. Most of the the country isn’t buying it, but for now they don’t have enough Senators to remove Trump from office, and it’s unclear if the majority is spread around the electoral map well enough to deny Trump reelection.
One can only bang his head against the stone wall of facts for so long, even one so hard-headed as Trump, and sooner or later he’ll take to the presidential podium and admit that he did indeed solicit political help from a foreign government in exchange for military aid, he won’t appear the least bit embarrassed, and he’ll be hurling accusations that it his was enemies who were doing improper things. He might as well cut to the chase now, to borrow an old Hollywood cliche, before all that boring but damning testimony is aired live on national television.

— Bud Norman

Some Dare Call it Conspiracy

President Donald Trump and his many apologists have come up with an interesting defense of his role in the Ukrainian matter that seems to be hurtling toward his impeachment. Their argument is that Trump has been a perfect president in every way, and anyone who implies otherwise is a godless and America-hating traitor in a “deep state” conspiracy against democracy itself.
The latest congressional witness to be so refuted is Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who rose the ranks to a seat on the National Security Council, and thus sat it on the now-famous phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that has led to the current impeachment brouhaha. Vindman not only confirmed the White House’s own rough transcript of the call, which clearly shows Trump asking for the “favor” of investigations into his past and potential future Democratic opens in exchange for military and economic aid, he also made clear that he thought it was an egregious abuse of presidential power that compromised America’s national security.
So of course he’s a traitor. Vindman earned a Purple Heart in the Iraq War and was previously so well regarded by the military and foreign policy institutions that he was made a Lieutenant Colonel and put on the NSC by the Trump administration, but that’s just the perfect cover for a “deep state” conspirator. He was born in Ukraine and didn’t move to America until he was three years old, and although his fluency in both Ukrainian and Russian helped his rise through the military intelligence ranks it sure looks suspicious now, as Vindman stands accused of a greater loyalty to Ukraine than the United States and its perfect president. Brian Kilmeade of “Fox & Friends” accused Vindman of being “simpatico” with Ukraine, Fox opinion show host Laura Ingraham found it odd that Ukrainian officials often sought Vindman’s counsel, a guest on her show said it was “almost like espionage” to have Vindman sitting on a presidential phone call as an NSC member, and Trump “tweeted” that he didn’t even know the guy’s name. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told the press that “It is always appropriate to question the credibility of a witness, that’s part of why one has due process.”
Before this the same sort of allegations had been made against Ambassador William Taylor, a West Point graduate and decorated Vietnam War veteran who had interrupted a remarkable rise to the foreign service ranks to serve in Afghanistan and Iraq, and was coaxed out of retirement to return to the Ukrainian embassy by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He also testified to congress that Trump was pursuing American foreign policy to his political advantage at the expense of America’s national security, though, so what more proof does one need of his treason. Before that it was former Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who testified that she was forced out of the job despite an impeccable record because she wasn’t going along with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s covert efforts to get illegal campaign hep from the Ukrainian government. Well before that it was special counsel Robert Mueller, another Purple Heart-winning war hero with a long and previously unquestioned record of outstanding public service.
After a while a weary public will begin to wonder if each and everyone of the people who express an opinion that Trump less than perfect in every way are godless and America-hating traiTrtors, despite such previously impeccable histories, and in Vindman’s case most congressional Republicans are already declining to hurl any stones. Such notable Republicans as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Rick Scott of South Carolina and James Lankford of Oklahoma and John Cornyn of Texas have outright dismissed any questions about Vindman’s character, and seem ready to risk Trump’s wrath and taunting “tweets” by arguing at the inevitable impeachment trial that he’s less than perfect but not to an impeachable extent.
That’s Trump’s best defense, at this point, but his gnawing insecurity and grandiose narcissism will prevent him from making the argument. He’ll continue to insist that he’s perfect in every way, that any Democrat who disagrees is a “deep state” conspirator and that any Republican who harbors any doubts is “human scum,” even if he did once appoint them to high positions in his administration. One would be hard-pressed to note a single moment in Trump’s life where he did anything for any reason other self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement, whereas his most prominent critics include numerous people whose lives are full of selfless moments, but the argument has worked before and he’ll bet that it can work again.
It might work well enough for Trump to survive an impeachment trial, but will be a hard argument to make in a general election. Trump still has solid support in a lot of small states that add up to much of what’s needed for another electoral college majority, but when you several all the big states into account a slight majority of the country wants to see him out of office right now, and it will be hard for Trump to disperse his dwindling base across enough of the swing states. Last time around he won narrow victories in four rust belt states to win the electoral college, but next time around he probably won’t be able to claim that the manufacturing jobs he promised to bring back have arrived.
By election day everyone who’s not at the Trump rallies in their red “MAGA” ball caps will have figured out that Trump is not perfect in every way, that not all of his critics are godless America-haters and human scum, and if the damned Democrats don’t go too far crazy left the die-hard Trump believers will be too far outnumbered to prevail on an electoral map. If the economy continues to slow at its recent rate, it might not matter what kind of godless and America-hating socialist kooks the damned Democrats might nominate.

— Bud Norman

Across the Street From Kirby’s Beer Store

While we were watching “Jeopardy!” and drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon at Kirby’s Beer Store on Thursday there was some big news going on across the street at Wichita State University. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was back in his hometown for a photo-op at WSU’s high-tech aviation training program and a friend’s wedding, and he brought along First Daughter and White House senior advisor Ivanka Trump, as well as a lot of questions about state and international politics.
Pompeo is up to his neck in the administration’s controversial Syrian policy and that hubbub about American-Ukrainian relations that seems to be leading to President Donald Trump’s impeachment, and here in Kansas and around the nation there’s been much speculation that he’ll get out of the administration while the getting’s good and come home to run for an open Senate seat that is pretty much his for the asking. This was the fourth time the Secretary of State has taken time out from his busy schedule of globe-trotting to vista Kansas in the past few months, and all the latest national and international news makes a nice safe sinecure in the Senate look all the more tempting, so questions were inevitable.
The local television stations were understandably grateful for the more star-studded than usual photo-op, and obligingly aired footage of the Barbie-esque Ivanka Trump doing her best impersonation of Rosie the Riveter, but one of the last standing reporters from the now emaciated local newspaper where we toiled for 25 years got a lengthy interview, and we’re proud to say he gave Pompeo a good grilling. The national media were largely shut out of the visit, so the local paper’s reporting was widely quoted and linked to by  some of the nation’s biggest media, which we hope helps with its clicks.
The reporter asked Pompeo if a photo-op in Wichita was the best use of a Secretary of State’s time at the moment, if the abandonment of our Kurdish allies in Syria undercut rest of the world’s faith in America’s alliances, some pesky questions about the Ukraine matter, and of course some peskier question about his possible future in Kansas politics, which at this point is also of national interest. For the most part Pompeo handled the interrogation well, deftly blaming President Barack Obama for some of the mess and dodging some questions that weren’t related to aviation workforce development and challenging the “predicate” of others, and our experienced local news watching eyes noticed he was more genteel than the usual Trump administration in bashing the media when being interviewed by his hometown paper. The hometown paper’s reporter also works for its corporate sister at what’s left of Kansas City’s hometown paper, even though the papers used to vie for statewide scoops back our in day, so any shrewd politician seeking statewide office would be well advised to at least be polite.
Pompeo is a first-in-his-class West Point grad and Harvard Law Review editor who made a fortune in the high-tech aviation business in Wichita, easily won four terms as the Fourth District’s congressman before becoming director of the Central Intelligence and then Secretary of State, and he remains a big deal here and all around this Republican state. The old-fashioned establishment wing of the Republican party is panicked by the possibility that the nomination will go to former state Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is so much an anti-immigration zealot and Trump impersonator that he lost the last gubernatorial election to a center-left Democrat — and a woman, at that — even in such an anti-immigration-with-certain-exceptions and reluctantly pro-Trump state as this, and for now Pompeo is the establishment choice while his close association with Trump only bolsters his chances in an already certain Senate race.
Close associations with Trump have often run awry, though, and by now Pompeo is surely shrewd enough to have noticed. In the interview with the local paper that was linked to an international audience he continued to insist he was solely focused on doing his job as Secretary of State, which is what one does in such a situation, but he seemed to leave open other possibilities of public service. Things are now going swimmingly with America’s foreign policy, Pompeo argued, but that might be all the more reason to get out while the getting’s good. Assuming the getting’s still good.
The Republican party’s representatives in Congress have have already largely repudiated the Trump Syrian policy that Pompeo has gone along with, and if Trump is impeached over that Ukrainian thing Pompeo likely will be as well, as he’s up to his neck in it, which would make for a damned interesting Senate race here in Kansas. We’ve watched enough Kansas Senate races in our many years to figure that any old Republican would continue the party’s eight decades-long winning streak, no matter what happens back in Washington, but we’d hate to see the state go through it. Although we proudly voted for Pompeo to represent our beloved Forth District four times, in the next Republican Senate primary we’ll cast our ballot for some center-right establishment woman you’ve never heard of, who we’re sure would just as easily beat any nominee that the Democrats might come up with.
That’s the view from the notorious dive bar just across the street where this story of national interest was unfolding, at any rate, and for now we stand by it. One of the Kirby’s regulars is an old friend who used to be a Democratic legislator and now holds a patronage workman’s comp judgeship, and he’s convinced his party has gone almost as crazy ours, and for what it’s worth he shares our bleak assessment of the situation.

— Bud Norman

In Defense of Human Scum

President Donald Trump thinks we’re “human scum” for making our principled Republican arguments against some of his policies and pronouncements, which hurts our feelings something awful, but on the other hand he also thinks he’s building a border wall in Colorado, which makes us feel slightly better about not having to defend everything the man does and says.
There’s a lot to defend these days, and a lot of it requires a strenuous effort. Few Republican politicians dare to criticize the president, except on his most obviously egregious foreign policy mistakes, but fewer and fewer of them seem willing to defend him against the charges that seem hurling at an increasingly rapid rate toward his impeachment. The allegation that Trump withheld congressionally appropriated aid from Ukraine until he won help in his election campaign has been corroborated by the White House’s own rough transcript of a telephone call, the chief of staff’s bold assertion that “we do it all the time” and anyone bothered by it should just “get over it,” and testimony by the ambassador to the Ukraine appointed by the guy Trump appointed as Secretary of State, and so far “get over it” seems the president’s best defense.
Two dozen of Trump’s most loyal followers in the House of Representatives are arguing “shut up,” and attempted to force the Democrats to do just that when they walked uninvited to a House oversight committee’s questioning of another civil servant with first-hand knowledge of America’s dealings with Ukraine. They held up the proceedings for about five hours, during which they had a pizza party and a grand old time, but eventually the impeachment inquiry continued toward its inevitable conclusion. The Republicans were insisting that their party’s members be allowed to question witnesses, which they already were, and that all the testimony be made public, which it eventually will be to the Republicans’ ultimate chagrin.
Trump has famously boasted that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any supporters, and his lawyer was arguing with a lawyerly straight face in federal  court on Wednesday that even if he did he couldn’t even be investigated by any authorities, and we’re eager to hear what the loyalists say when Trump eventually gets around to doing that. Probably something along the lines of “get over it,” “shut up,” and “what about Hillary’s e-mails?”
This will give the talk radio talkers something to work with and suffice to rally much of the faithful, but all the polls indicate that it’s not winning any new converts to the faith, and each day slightly fewer Republican politicians and pundits are rushing to the president’s defense on each and every policy and pronouncement. Each day slightly more Republicans even sign up with we “human scum” who dare to voice any disagreement, and are less intimidated by Trump’s “tweets” and presidential rhetoric.
Two-thirds of the House Republicans voted to rebuke Trump’s retreat from Syria and abandonment of our Kurdish allies, and the usually loyal Senate Majority leader wrote a critical op-ed in the hated Washington Post, and even such an obsequious Republican as South Carolina’s Sen. Lindsey Graham has said he might support Trump’s impeachment and removal if confronted with indisputable proof of a quid pro quo with Ukraine, which is a perfectly reasonable position we expect he will have trouble wriggling his way out of when it comes to down to his impeachment trail vote.
When Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton called Trump’s supporters “deplorables” they gladly embraced the slur and started wearing it on their t-shirts, and lately they’ve been buying t-shirts emblazoned with “Get over it.” So far we haven’t seen any “human scum” t-shirts, but if we could only play three chords on an electric guitar we’d start up a punk rock band by that name and screech NeverTrump Republican protest songs all night at Kirby’s Beer Store.
This all comes at a time when polling by Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service shows that 67 percent of Americans fear the nation is heading to another civil war, which does not surprise us. Trump and his followers are clearly ready to rumble, and so are a lot of those damned Democrats. We’d like to think there are still enough of us “human scum” Republicans and those corporate sell-out centrist sorts Democrats to work things out according to facts of the matter of the Constitution and its divisive impeachment clauses, but if it comes to worst we’ll try to stay out of it and help rebuild in the aftermath.

— Bud Norman

When There’s No Getting Over It

Ambassador William Taylor spent 10 hours testifying to a House oversight committee on Tuesday about the Ukraine brouhaha, and by the time it was over President Donald Trump and his apologists needed yet another new defense.
Ever since a “whistleblower” report alleged that Trump had sought election help from the Ukrainian president during negotiations over aid and arms sales Trump and his defenders have insisted it was “fake news” and even if it did happen there was no quid pro quo, which does not let them off the hook for illegally soliciting foreign influence in American election, but doesn’t sound as bad, so it’s no big deal. In fact, the president insists, the phone call was “perfect.”
Since then both friendly and hostile witnesses have testified, texts have been released, and all of it made it sure like that there had indeed been a quid pro quo, even if no one was careless enough to use the term. It didn’t help when White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told a news conference that Trump did indeed withhold help to Ukraine unless it agreed to investigate a possible Democratic presidential nominee, adding that “we do it all the time — get over it,” or when Gordon Sondland, the big bucks Trump donor was tabbed as Ambassador to the European Union without any diplomatic experience, testified about his involvement in what sure sounded like a quid pro quo.
Taylor’s testimony the defense even harder to sell. A West Point graduate and a veteran of the Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq wars with an unblemished record of service to both Democratic and Republican administration over the past 50 years, he’ll be hard to smear as an America-hating “deep state” operative, but Trump tried that with war hero and respected public servant Robert Mueller, so maybe they’ll try it again.
Along with his stellar reputation Taylor brought documents and notes and other evidence to back up his account, which pretty damning to Trump. He was acting ambassador to Ukraine during that disputed phone call, and he describes how Sondland and soon-departing Energy Secretary Rick Perry and envoy and longtime Trump loyalist Kurt Volcker were running an “irregular” foreign policy with Ukraine that worked against longstanding principles of the United States government. He also testified that Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and two of his recently indicted-and-jailed associates were also involved in gaining political help from the Ukrainians, and had undermined well-regarded and soon removed Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch because they saw her as an impediment to a possible deal.
Trump will continue to chant his “no quid pro quo” mantra, if only to calm himself, but at this point his best defense is probably “So what?” He might as well come right out and reiterate that “We do it all the time — get over it,” as his die-hard fans don’t seem to mind. He’s already selling “Get over it” t-shirts at his campaign’s web site, and we expect to see a lot of them at the next Make America Great Again rally.

— Bud Norman

Trump and his Cynical Critics

How remarkable it is that what’s best for America so often coincides with what’s best for President Donald Trump’s businesses. To cite just the latest example, by sheer coincidence an exhaustive search for the perfect place to host the upcoming G-7 summit wound up at a Florida golf course that just happens to be owned by Trump.
By all accounts the Trump National Doral outside of Miami is a ritzy joint with plenty of room for a large gathering of foreign officials, even if business have been down precipitously over the last couple of years, but in this cynical age some will inevitably suspect that the golf resort was chosen to enrich Trump. Perish the thought, according to White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who assured reporters on Thursday that “We used a lot of the same criteria used by past administrations,” even if no previous administration ever chose a Trump property for a summit. Mulvaney also assured the reporters that Trump won’t make any money from the arrangement, and although he didn’t explain why not only a partisan hater would doubt his word.
Trump has received bipartisan criticism for withdrawing American troops from Syria, which has allowed Turkey to seize large swaths of land from our erstwhile Kurdish allies, but only the presidents most mean spirited opponents would think the decision was at all affected by Trump’s personal bottom line. Back in the ’16 presidential campaign Trump admitted to a friendly talk radio show that “I guess I have a little conflict of interest ’cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul. It’s a tremendously successful job. It’s called Trump Towers — two towers instead of one, not the usual one, it’s two,” but surely that never entered Trump’s mind.
All that fuss about Trump withholding military aid from our Ukrainian allies unless they launched some investigations into corruption was entirely in the best interest of American national security, we’re sure, even if the investigations Trump requested happen to target a potential election opponent and could possibly confirm some fanciful conspiracy theories about why he lost the popular vote last time around.
The trade war Trump has also brought bipartisan criticism, with farmers and manufacturers and consumers taking a big hit for what looks to turn out to be a pretty much status quo trade deal, but it would be downright mean to think that the sweetheart deals First Daughter and senior White House advisor Ivanka Trump got from the Chinese at the outset of negotiations had anything to do with it. Surely it’s sheer coincidence, too,  that Air Force cargo planes were diverted to a civilian airport which happens to be located next to a Trump-owned golf resort where business has also been down lately.
Past presidents have divested themselves of their business holdings and placed their fortunes in a blind trust to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, and released tax returns and other financial documents to reassure the public, but Trump figures he doesn’t need such old-fashioned formalities. He’s led such a selfless and blameless life according to the strictest ethical standards, after all, and when he tells you he always puts America first he can look you right in the eye and say “that I can tell you, believe me, OK?”
The die-hard fans trust him, and surely only the most cynical and suspicious  sorts would dare to doubt him.

— Bud Norman

An Angry Day

President Donald Trump is an ill-tempered fellow even on a good day, and Wednesday was not at all a good day.
The House of Representatives passed a resolution rebuking Trump’s widely criticized decision to with American forces from by a vote of 354-60-4, with a majority of the chamber’s Republican members piling on. Yet another administration official was testifying to the House impeachment inquiry despite presidential orders not to, and yet another poll showed that Trump’s impeachment and removal from office already has the support of a majority of the country. A visiting British couple seeking justice for a son who was killed by an the wife of American government employee who was driving on the wrong side of the road refused Trump’s offer of a surprise meeting with the driver, saying they felt “ambushed,” and depriving Trump of what a staffer said he hoped would be a telegenic “hug and make up moment”for an otherwise dreary news cycle.
All of which made Trump even surlier than usual, which is saying something. In a White House meeting with the Democratic congressional leadership he called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a “third-rate politician,” said that former Defense Secretary James Mattis was “the world’s most overrated general” and not “tough enough,” with Pelosi calling a “meltdown” and Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer describing the conversation as  “not a dialogue but a diatribe, a very nasty diatribe.”
At a later joint news conference with Italian President Sergio Mattarella Trump chided his guest for failing to spend 2 percent of his country’s gross domestic product on defense spending, comparing Italy unfavorably to the Turkish government that is currently using its military might to wipe out America’s erstwhile Kurdish allies in Syria. Trump added that the Kurds are “no angels,” and suggested they’re all aligned with a Kurdish terror group active in Turkey, which came after Trump told the Democratic leaders that the Kurds are also communists and that “you’re probably fine with that.” The president even had some insults for Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is usually a reliable sycophant but has lately dare to disagree with Trump’s Syrian policy. For good measure,  he claimed that the conspiracy that’s out to get him goes up to President Barack Obama.
Trump’s die-hard fans love the tough talk, but it doesn’t win any new voters, and it’s hard to see what good it does. The Democratic congressional leaders and the Italian president and the growing chorus of Republican critics clearly aren’t cowed by it, and to most of the country Trump comes off as angry and unhinged. If there were some reasonable explanation for Trump’s seemingly transactional dealings with Ukraine and other foreign governments that could be expressed in a calm and presidential voice the president would be well advised to go with that, but for now he doesn’t have that at his disposal, and is instead going with the raw anger that somehow got him elected.

— Bud Norman