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Reflections on the President and the Porn Star Subplot in Our National Reality Show

“In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked upon as something shocking,” as the great Cole Porter once wrote, “but now, God knows, anything goes.” Porter penned that memorably musical lyric way back in the Great Depression ’30s, but it somehow seems more apt than ever in the Roaring Teens of President Donald Trump. Once upon a time in America, and as recently as the day before Trump took that famous escalator ride down Trump Tower to launch his improbable presidential campaign, it would have been a pretty big deal that a sitting president sure seems to have had a sexual encounter with a pornographic video performer shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child.
But now, God knows, it’s just another one of those Trump stories that most newspapers relegate to the inside pages and most cable news networks mention at the bottom of every other hour, and that Fox News happily ignores and the smutty late night television comics giddily lampoon. God also knows that according to all the public opinion polls approximately 80 percent of our evangelical Christian brothers and sisters still believe Trump is going to make America great again, and we wonder what He makes of that.
All of those back page and bottom-of-the-hour news stories and even the late night comics concede there’s no videotaped or otherwise definitive evidence and one party denies it and the other is being quite coy about it, which gives Fox News and our evangelical Christian brothers and sisters a plausible reason to ignore the matter, and we’ll also concede that one never really knows about these things. Even so, we’ll edge up against those loosened libel laws that Trump has threatened and reiterate that it sure does seem to us that a sitting president once had a sexual encounter with a pornographic video performer shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child. The circumstantial evidence is so convincing that we doubt any of Trump’s apologists would ignore it if Trump was still a self-proclaimed pro-choice Democrat and check-writing supporter of President Bill Clinton and his presumptive first woman president wife “Crooked” Hillary.
The story had been rumored and reported and denied by Trump for nearly ten years, but surfaced again when The Wall Street Journal reported that during the presidential campaign Trump’s attorney had formed a shell company to make a $130 thousand payment to a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels in exchange for an agreement she wouldn’t disclose anything she might know about Trump. The shell company was set up with phony names for both the payer and payee, but the attorney used his own name on all the papers and is not issuing any denials that might lead to disbarment, and the story has similarly liable-proof documented evidence for the real identities of the payer and payee. One of the callers to one of the right wing talk radio dismissed it as “fake news” from a “foreign-owned tabloid,” but even the left wing admits The Wall Street Journal is no tabloid and the wing should know that its Australian owner is the same Rupert Murdoch who owns Fox News, so we’ll the paper’s word for it that for whatever reason Trump did write a $130 thousand check to a porn performer during his presidential election.
Perhaps we should be generous and assume Trump was just trying to help the wayward lass get back on the straight and narrow path, but by now even his most die-hard supporters aren’t buying that.
After the Journal’s big scoop a publication we’d not previously heard of called In Touch Magazine published an interview it had with Daniels back when Trump was just another reality television star and long before any non-diclosure payments had been made, and in it she gave a luridly detailed account of a sexual encounter with a future president. So far as we can tell In Touch is a sort of tabloid, but at least it seems to be American-owned, and they claim to have verifiable audiotapes of the interview, and we assume their lawyers verified that before they put their own names on any court filings Trump’s lawyers might have made. All the parts about Trump and Daniels both being in Las Vegas during a professional golf tournament have been confirmed, and there’s even a picture of a beaming Trump with his arm around the buxom Daniels at the event, which looks pretty bad.
After that one of Daniels’ fellow porn performers was telling both People and Newsweek magazines and the National Broadcasting Company that she had declined Trump’s invitation to make it a threesome, and both news organizations confirmed the parts about her also being in Las Vegas during that golf tournament. After that Daniels her buxom self did an interview on the “Jimmy Kimmel Show,” and that looked so bad it almost upstaged the president’s State of the Union address.
Kimmel is one of those uniformly liberal late night comedians who relentlessly bash Trump every night, but he’s not so smutty as most and has a reputation as a faithful family man that allowed him to have some emotional sway in the debate about repealing and replacing Obamacare, and he’s no dummy. He ran some footage of some conservative woman criticizing him for booking an interview with Daniels but never saying anything about President Bill Clinton’s sex scandal with much-younger intern Monica Lewinsky, he was able to follow it with videotape of him interviewing Lewinsky on three separate occasions in previous talk show incarnations. When Daniels opened the interview by saying that she could neither confirm nor deny that she had accepted money in a non-diclosure agreement, he noted that if she had not she would be free to deny that she had, and the pornographic video performer replied “You’re so smart, Jimmy.”
When Kimmel asked Daniels about her signature on the official statement she’d just issued denying any sexual encounter with Trump, which all the pro-Trump media had seized on, and why it didn’t remotely resemble her signature on an earlier statement or any of the autographed glossy photographs he’d somehow and encountered, she dodged it by talking about all the other crazy rumors about her on the internet. She didn’t quite deny that the In Touch interview was more or less accurate, and dodged some of the smuttier questions about the more lurid details just as carefully, but the pornographic video performer seemed instinctively self-revealing and left the viewer with the impression that, yeah, all that’s been alleged sure seems to have happened.
There’s a case to be made that Daniels and her fellow pornographic video performer friend are exploiting that fifteen minutes of fame Andy Warhol predicted everyone would eventually have, and there’s something to it. Until that Wall Street Journal broke we’d never heard of Stormy Daniels or her friend, but after a Bing search and a few not-safe-for-work mouse clicks on the internet we now feel we know them more intimately than any of our exes, and Daniels has been promoting her strip club tour with the slogan “Make America Horny Again.” Daniels can now add “As seen on TV” to her handbills, even if it is late night comedy, and we don’t doubt it’s good business for a pornographic video performer.
The question is whether she’s cashing in on “fake news” or something that sure seems to have actually happened, though, and that still looks bad. We’re disinclined to take the word of a pornographic video performer, but by now neither do we put much stock in what the President of the United States has to say. Trump has long bragged in undisputed interviews and his own ghost-written memoirs about his enormous sexual appetites and numerous exotic conquests, and his flagrant disregard for his own or anybody else’s marital vows, and that lurid In Touch detail about him wanting to be spanked with a rolled-up copy of Forbes Magazine with his picture on the cover also has a disturbing verisimilitude about it.
But now, God knows, Trump’s critics can only chuckle about it along with the late night comics, and Trump’s fans can either deny it altogether or make some sort of rationalizations. The afternoon talk radio hosts and other fans will note that the male Clinton had several just as tawdry encounters with far less buxom women, and that even the self-righteous sorts of feminists now admit that the awful female Clinton was complicit all along, and we was president at time, and they have a point. We shared their disappointment that Clinton’s peccadilloes had so degraded the Oval Office at the time, as did that smart-ass liberal late comic Kimmel, and at this point we’re on the side of anybody who’s been consistent on insisting some reasonably attainable standard of moral behavior in the White House.
Not that we’re blameless, as God knows and our recent internet browsing history will attest, but over our many years we have managed to hew to some old-fashioned moral rules about married people and hygienic concerns about porn stars, and as lowly as we are we feel entitled to expect a higher standard from those who occupy high office. It doesn’t say anything more to about that tax bill Trump signed than Clinton’s transgressions had to do with his budget-balancing deals, but then as now we can’t shake a certain depressing sense that it’s a pretty big deal.

— Bud Norman

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How to Fill a Fully-Funded Government News Cycle

Way back when last weekend’s latest partial government shutdown began, President Donald Trump said the Democrats had caused it just to change the discussion from that fabulous tax bill he had signed. By Monday morning the Democrats had admitted defeat and fully funded the government way up until Feb. 8, however, and by Tuesday morning the discussion had shifted to the “Russia thing” and other topics that Trump would rather not talk about.
All of the mainstream “fake news” media were reporting that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the “Russia thing” had conducted an interview with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which the Department of Justice officially confirmed was entirely true, and without all the file copy and stock footage about furloughed government workers and disgruntled national park visitors all the front pages and 24-hour news cycles had plenty of room for speculation about that.
If you haven’t been following the complicated and downright convoluted “Russia thing” subplot in Trump’s latest reality show, Sessions once felt obliged to recuse himself from any investigation of the whole affair after offering a Senate committee’s confirmation hearing inaccurate information about his own proved contacts with Russians, which so infuriated Trump that he both “tweeted” and gave taped press interviews to both press and television “fake news” media about how he wanted his Attorney General to be running interference on the whole “Russia thing,” like past attorneys general had done for presidents John Kennedy and Barack Obama during their more tawdry scandals. Of course all the “fake news” media and all the snarky ate night comedians had a gleeful time with that, and although it’s not yet known if he admitted anything harmful to the Trump administration during the interview it seems unlikely Sessions had anything very exculpatory to say on its behalf.
One of the many sidebar stories in the “fake news” about the “Russia thing” subplot was that the investigation had already secured guilty pleas from past Trump campaign and administration officials and won scary-sounding indictments against a former Trump campaign chairman and his longtime business associate, and was now reportedly negotiating some form testimony from the president himself. This administration didn’t clearly deny a word of it, and of course that led to much speculation. There was a lot of speculation about whether a sitting president could be compelled to give any written or oral testimony, several precedents from the Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton presidencies cited, and further speculation about the political ramifications of testifying or not testifying. On one or another of the “fake news” cable channels we heard a panel of purported experts speculating that such an instinctively narcissistic and dishonest with such a cocksure certainty he talk himself out of anything as Trump will imperil himself testifying to the seasoned likes of this particular special counsel, and that sounded real enough to us.
Meanwhile the idiot son-in-law Trump picked to solve everything from Middle East peace to the opioid crisis is also the crosshairs of the the special counsel for his role in the “Russia thing,” and such diverse “fake news” outlets as The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker are also reporting that Jared Kushner has his own “China thing” to go along with it. There’s also fresh news about the story The Wall Street journal broke about Trump’s tryst with a porn star and the six-figure hush-money she received, with all the “fake news” reporting on the very real court filing by some left-wing do-gooder group alleging it the pay-off amounted to a illegal campaign contribution, and of course all those snarky late comics were having great fun with that.
The more Trump-friendly voices in the media are trying to change the conversation to talk about the “deep state” conspiracy that’s trying to concoct all this “fake news,” but Russian “internet bots” are reportedly perpetuating the same talking points about some memo that a Republican congressman who had to recuse himself from his committee’s investigation has written about the “deep state” conspiracy, and at least we can be sure that Trump would rather everyone be talking about that fabulous tax bill.

— Bud Norman

About That Poll

Everything seems to be spinning out of control, from foreign affairs to the domestic economy to those ever more scandalous scandals, but everyone on the right has been taking some time out to enjoy that Wall Street Journal-National Broadcasting Company poll that shows that President Barack Obama is at last taking some of the blame for it all. The poll shows widespread disapproval of the president’s handling of the economy and especially of his foreign policies, with an especially precipitous drop in his popularity among Hispanics, and it’s bad enough that such a reliable apologist as NBC’s Chuck Todd has declared that “Essentially the public is declaring that (Obama’s) presidency is over.”
Obama’s presidency won’t actually be over for another two and half years, alas, but there is some consolation in reading that so many Americans have belatedly concluded that it should be done. The poll bodes well for the Republicans’ chances in the mid-term elections, which traditionally reflect the popularity of the sitting president, and that offers a chance a to at least limit some of the damage over the last two years of the era of hope and change. Deeper in the poll there are also contains some numbers on presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton that provide hope for the presidential election in ’16. and the possibility that some of the damage can be undone. We can’t begrudge anyone the faint glimmer of optimism that the poll provides, but it remains to be seen if the Republicans will once again squander its possibilities.
Much of the public’s dissatisfaction is with the administration’s foreign policy, which will likely also be a problem for the former Secretary of State who is the presumptive Democratic nominee, but the Republicans will find it difficult to offer a popular alternative. The last Republican administration’s forceful response to Islamism’s war against America remains unpopular, even if the public is just as discontented with the results of both Obama’s apologetic and appeasing repudiation of that approach and his bomb-first-and-ask-questions-later adventures in Libya and Pakistan and elsewhere, and the next Republican nominee will have to find an appealing middle ground that eschews long commitments of troops without letting the international order slide into chaos. The presumptive Democratic nominee and her as-yet-unknown challengers will be trying to strike the same balance, and while they won’t be able to promise deterrence through a stronger and better-funded military they will have a helpful press explaining that all of the world’s problems are still the fault of the last the Republican administration. Events are proceeding at such a pace that is impossible to predict the challenges that will be debated in the next but election, but it is safe to say they’re headed in a direction that will make the debate lively and difficult for both sides.
Things are going so badly from Ukraine to the Middle East to the South China Sea that foreign policy will play a larger-than-usual role in the next elections, but the pocketbook issues will as always be important. This should also play to the Republicans’ benefit, especially when Obamacare has been fully implemented and the consequences of all those foreign policy mistakes become apparent at the gas pump, but the Republicans’ penchant for political ineptitude could also negate that advantage. The Democrats have already indicated that they’ll run on the argument that the problem isn’t the impoverishment of the middle class that their policies have caused but rather the wealth of a few people that Republican policies have allowed, and human nature being prone to envy it will be a popular line. The presumptive Democratic nominee has lately encountered some unaccustomed bad press because she’s one of those wealthy people her party wants the public to resent, but the Democrats can always come up with another nominee who’s been getting by on a few hundred thousand dollars a years from government or academia, or come up with some more satisfactory explanation for why they’re running a woman who got filthy rich on writing books and giving speeches for the corporate world.
That precipitous drop in the president’s popularity with Hispanics is also encouraging, especially if it reflects a realization that his kind-hearted Hispanic-kids-get-in-free policy has created a humanitarian crisis for tens of thousands of Hispanic children, but the Republicans will still have to make a convincing case that their more hard-headed approach will have less heartbreaking consequences. The growing Hispanic population will remain a political challenge for the Republicans, and the demographic trends that are providing more unmarried women and children of unmarried couples bring challenges that will be hard to overcome with just a strong case for better policies.
Still, those poll numbers provide a grumpy right-winger will some small measure of satisfaction. These days, we’ll take whatever ¬†we can get.

— Bud Norman