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The Bad, the Bad, and the Ugly

The two most disliked and distrusted people in American public life have somehow wound up as the presumptive presidential nominees of the Republican and Democratic parties, and this bizarre turn of events is being brought to you live and in color by what’s left of the Fourth Estate, one of the many public institutions that are even more widely disliked and distrusted. Presumptive Republican nominee Donald J. Trump took shrewd advantage of this awful situation on Tuesday, luring his enrapt media scribes into an anti-press conference trap that thrilled his die-hard supporters.
By now all the “reality show” analogies have become hackneyed, and we’ve resorted to calling it a post-reality or surreality show, but there really was something undeniably recognizable about that irksome television genre on display through the whole affair. It was the part of the campaign when the “Real Housewives” of wherever tell their rivals what they really think and their fans cheer and their anti-fans jeer, or where the big mogul tells some faded B-lister that “you’re fired” on “Celebrity Apprentice,” and we must admit that the desultory end of the American experiment does make for riveting YouTube watching. Trump seems to have got the better of it, judging from the reviews on the comments sections of almost everywhere on the internet, but that’s not saying much.

Trump started out by dropping the name of basketball star LeBron James and bragging about his huge and better-than-Eisenhower-and-Reagan victories in the Republican race before waxing indignant over some press stories that had questioned whether his much-bragged-about fund-raising for veterans had actually been true, and he had some honest-to-God veterans on hand to swear in the most angry way that they’d already got their cut, and he had an unusually detailed list of donations that he claimed had been made, and at least for the moment no in the press seem to have any response. Those chastened media might come up with something yet, given the shaped-shifting nature of Trump’s detailed lists, but no matter what they’ve got it will be doubted, and Trump’s point that he has at least raised more for veterans than the presumptive Democratic nominee will still be true, and his complaint that the hated media won’t much note that fact will also be valid, so we can see why his supporters see it as another huge win by the hero who always wins hugely.
The press corps, meanwhile, was just awful. One reporter asked why Trump objected to “scrutiny,” he told her she was a “real beauty,” and seized the opportunity to note that he was being scrutinized for raising money for veterans. He further described the entirety of “the political press” as the “most dishonest people,” went on a bizarre rant about how he was accurately quoted about an ill-advised joke about the crowd size at one of his events, in keeping with his strange defensiveness about anything involving size, and described a particular reporter from the American Broadcasting Company as a “sleaze,” and no one could supply a quote-worthy riposte to any of it. At one point he asked about that gorilla that was killed at the Cincinnati Zoo, and any sympathy for the media was surely lost.
Even Trump’s most cautious fans were thrilled by it, but even with the public’s widespread disregard for the ill-defined “media” we suspect his skeptics were not impressed. As much as we loathe the presumptive Democratic nominee, and those media that have enabled her awful career, we can’t help noticing that the draft-dodging presumptive Republican nominee’s enthusiasm for veteran causes is conveniently newfound, nor forget that he regards those veterans who endured wartime captivity as a bunch of losers who got caught, no matter what heroic sacrifices they made, and all that hooey about how he hoped to keep his generosity a secret because one of his many awesome qualities he doesn’t like to brag is conspicuously ridiculous.
So far as we can tell these “reality shows” always feature such awful people, and are brought to you on-tape and in-color by at least equally awful people, and we’re dreading the season finale.

— Bud Norman

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Another Memorial Day

Today is a good day to take it easy, enjoy the arrival of another long-awaited summer in America, and to not bother with the mess we’re making of it. It’s also a good time to reflect on the men and women who once made America, so we’ll re-post an old essay once again. Nothing much has changed since we wrote it.
On a long walk through the old and picturesque Riverside neighborhood of Wichita, Kansas, you might happen upon a small monument to the veterans of the Spanish-American War. Located on a tiny triangle of grass dividing a street leading to Riverside Park, the memorial features a statue of a dashing young soldier armed with a rifle and clad in the rakishly informal uniform of the era, a cannon captured from a Spanish ship, and a small plaque thanking all of the men who served America in that long ago conflict.
We always pause at the spot to enjoy the statue, an elegant bronze work that has tarnished to a fine emerald shade, and often to reflect on the Spanish-American war and the men who fought it. Sometimes we’ll wonder, too, about the men and women who honored those soldiers and sailors by building the small monument. The Spanish-American War had been one of the controversial ones, and the resulting bloodier war in the Philippines was still underway and being hotly debated at the time the monument was installed, so we suspect it was intended as a political statement as well as an expression of gratitude, and that the monument builders had to endure the animosity of their isolationist neighbors.
We’ll also wonder, on occasion, how many passersby are surprised to learn from the monument that there ever was a Spanish-American War. The war lasted for only four months of 1898, and involved a relatively small number of American soldiers and sailors, so our current crop of history teachers might be inclined to give it only short mention as a regrettable act of American colonialism before rushing on to the more exciting tales of the ‘60s protest movement or whatever it is they’re teaching these days. The world still feels the effects of those four months in 1898, when that relatively small number of American soldiers and sailors ended more than three centuries of Spanish colonial dominance, commenced more than a century of America’s preeminence on the world stage, and permanently altered, for better or worse, the destinies of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam, yet the whole affair is now largely forgotten.
If you keep walking past the park and across the Little Arkansas River toward the east bank of the Arkansas River, just beyond the Mid-America All-Indian Center and its giant Keeper of the Plains statue, you’ll find a series of similar monuments dedicated to the veterans of other wars. One features an old torpedo and honors the men who died aboard the S.S. El Dorado, “One of 57 submarines on eternal patrol,” during the Second World War. Another lists the names of the many local men who died while serving in the Merchant Marines. An austere black marble plaque beneath an American flag is dedicated to all U.S. Marines. There’s a rather elaborate area devoted to the veterans of the Korean War, with a statue, several flags, numerous plaques and a Korean gateway, which wasn’t erected until 2001, long after the controversies of that conflict had subsided.
The veterans of the Vietnam War are honored with a touching statue of an American soldier standing next to a seated South Vietnamese soldier, which was donated by local Vietnamese-Americans as an expression of gratitude to everyone of all nationalities who tried to save their ancestral homeland from communism, and that won’t be formally dedicated until the Fourth of July. We hope the ceremony will be free of protestors, or any acrimony, but even at this late date the feelings engendered by that war remain strong. Some American veterans of the war have publicly complained about the inclusion of non-American soldiers in the veterans’ park, while some who opposed the war have privately grumbled about any monument to the Vietnam conflict at all. Both the memorial and the attending controversy serve as reminders that the effects of that war are still being felt not just by the world but individual human beings.
Walk a few more blocks toward the old Sedgwick County Courthouse and there’s a grand monument to the Wichita boys who went off to fight for the union in the Civil War, featuring the kind of ornate but dignified statuary that Americans of the late 18th Century knew how to do so well, but a more moving memorial can be found clear over on Hillside Avenue in the Maple Grove Cemetery, where there’s a circle of well-kept graves marked by American flags and austere gravestones for the boys who didn’t come back. Throughout the city there are more plaques, statues, portraits, and other small markers to honor the men and women who have fought for their country, and of course a good many gravestones for fallen heroes in every cemetery. This city honors those who fight for its freedom and safety, and that is one reason we are proud to call it home.
There is no monument here to the brave men and women who have fought for us in Iraq and Afghanistan, and no memorial to those who died in those far-off lands, but there should be, and soon. Both wars, and especially the Iraq war, have been controversial, and any memorial will be perceived by some as a political statement rather than an expression of gratitude, but it is not too soon to honor the men and women who fought for us. The effects of the wars will outlive us all, and none of us will ever see their ultimate consequences, but there is reason to believe that the establishment of a democracy in the heart of the Islamic middle east and the military defeat of al-Qaeda will prove a boon to humanity, and that is the reason those brave soldiers, sailors, and airmen fought and died there.
If we wait until the ill feelings subside, we might wait until the war has been largely forgotten. In every city and town of the country there should be something that stands for those who gave their lives for America in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it should be something that will stand for a century or more. Something that will cause the passersby of the 22nd Century to stop and reflect, and to be grateful.

— Bud Norman

Storming the Barry-cades

The most heartening story of the past weekend, with even the Kansas City Chiefs’ improbable run to a 6-and-0 record notwithstanding, was the continuing wave of civil disobedience protesting the administration’s peevishly punitive policies during the government’s partial shutdown.
Apparently worried that the public might not notice the absence of so much of the governments’ employees, or worse yet start asking dangerous questions about why we need to keep racking up such enormous debts in order to keep them on their officially nonessential jobs, the administration has endeavored to make the shutdown as painful as possible. One of the more obvious tactics has been to close national parks, monuments, and other public lands even when doing so requires more manpower and expense than keeping them open. Supposedly essential government employees who remain at work have reportedly enforced these closures with an officiousness that one elderly national park visitor described as “Gestapo tactics,” and efforts by the House Republicans to fund public access to these sites as well as offers by state and local governments to assume the costs have been rebuffed by the administration. One might not know it from reading or listening to the major media, who are mostly concerned with the alleged intransigence of the stubborn Republicans that President Barack Obama has refused to negotiate with, but the administration has acted to deny the public its right to public lands.
This is an outrage that a free people shouldn’t bear, and it is therefore good to know that many among us have chosen not to. The social media are full of accounts of people defying the attempts to shut them out of their land, often with hilarious pictures of the protestors happily frolicking behind the “do not enter” signs that were erected by the putatively shut-down government, and even such a polite press outlet as The Chicago Tribune has featured a tale of a usually law-abiding writer’s visit to a closed national park. Harder to ignore was Sunday’s mass demonstration at the World War II Memorial on the National Mall, where several thousand people, including some very seasoned veterans of that conflict, knocked down the barricades to reclaim their rightful place at the monument. Some even dragged the barricades — now known in the feistier sort of media as “barry-cades,” in honor of the president’s nickname before he decided that exotic sold better — to a noisy protest outside the White House gates. Such a tumult would have brought banner headlines had it been a scruffy bunch of leftists shouting down a Republican president, but veterans and truckers and other middle-class Americans protesting a Democrat’s infringements on the public’s rights was worth only a passing mention on the evening news.
More attention was paid to the pro-illegal immigration rally recently held on the National Mall, despite the area being closed to such troublemakers as the veterans who hoped to pay honor to their fallen comrades, but it was little noted that the speakers at the rally made a point of thanking Obama for being allowed on the property. As the estimable Mark Steyn has already noted, the land isn’t Obama’s and “his most groveling and unworthy subjects shouldn’t require a dispensation by His Benign Majesty to set foot on it.” That there are still a few bold Americans willing to act against such monarchical madness is a story worth telling, and celebrating.

— Bud Norman