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The Trump Slump Continues

You might not have noticed, what with all the attention being paid to the still ongoing partial government shutdown and all the undeniable problems it’s causing for a whole lot of Americans, but the “Russia thing” is looking even worse than ever for President Donald Trump.
The past few days have brought a New York Times report that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was looking into the possibility that Trump was acting on behalf of Russian rather than American interests shortly after he took office, reports from pretty much every news outlet that read the ineptly redacted court filings by former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort revealing Manafort had admitted to sharing polling data with the Russian operatives that all the intelligence agencies agree was engaged in a disinformation effort on behalf of Trump’s campaign, and a subsequent Washington Post report that as president Trump had sought to keep his conversations with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin a secret from not only the general public but also his diplomatic and national security staff. Trump and his dwindling number of die-hard defenders have plenty to say about it, but to the rest of the country it looks pretty damned bad
If you’re fully on board with Trump’s efforts to make America great again, you’re probably already convinced that FBI’s undenied investigation into Trump’s Russia ties is just further “smocking gun” of a “deep state” conspiracy to overthrow a duly elected American president, but if you’re not that’s a hard case to make. Unlike Trump, the FBI and its overseeing Department and Justice and the independent federal judiciary that have to sign off on everything it all operate according to longstanding rules and laws and traditions, and if this entire staid constitutional order is somehow more lawless than Trump then God help us all. Trump had already fulsomely flattered the Russian dictator and said America had no moral standing to condemn his extra-judicial killings of journalists and other dissidents, altered the Republican platform to a more Russia-friendly position regarding its annexation of Ukraine, spoke hopefully of lifting sanctions on Russia for its violation of a neighboring country’s sovereignty, disparaged the North Atlantic Treaty organization as bad as the North American Free Trade Agreement, and at that point our President Ronald Reagan-era selves can hardly blame the FBI and its overseeing Justice Department and overseeing federal courts for wondering why.
Trump now boasts that he’s been harder on Russia than any previous president, but we’re old enough to remember Reagan’s victory over the Soviet Union way back in the Cold War, and have read enough history to know that President Theodore Roosevelt won the first Nobel Peace Prize by negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War that acknowledged Russian had gotten its ass kicked, and we conclude that Trump’s claims for superior toughness do not much impress. Extra sanctions have indeed been imposed on Russia since Trump’s inauguration, but that’s only because bipartisan and veto-proof majorities in both chamber of Congress have insisted on, and the Trump administration has been slow to execute them, and recently the administration’s Secretary of the Treasury has has struggled to explain why a Russian oligarch who figures in the “Russia thing” has been given an exemption from the sanctions.
That was only Trump’s campaign manager whose lawyers have inadvertently admitted he handed over polling data to the Russkie’s disinformation efforts, and not Trump himself, and with the guy already in prison for probably the rest of life that will probably we expect he’ll take all the blame for that on all the talk radio shows. Even so, it looks bad.
The part about Trump keeping his conversations with the Russian dictator private even from his top advisors is his even harder to explain. There’s always the possibility that Trump’s Russophile foreign policy was an ingeniously conceived plan to make America great again, and thus he had to keep it secret from the “deep state” conspirators arrayed against him, as his exquisitely educated gut tells him more than any of the brains of the very best people he’d appointed to advise him, but we’d still like to have some public record of what Trump said to that Russian dictator. As for now, we and the foreign policy establishment and a majority of the public will assume the worst.
Meanwhile, that record-setting partial government shutdown doesn’t seem to be polling well for Trump, and a troublesome number of congressional Republicans are abandoning ship, and his last ditch option of declaring a national emergency to usurp the constitutional order of the newly-installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives to appropriate funds for his campaign promise of a border wall probably won’t poll well. More sensible Republicans such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have argued that the next inevitable Democratic president could just as easily declare a national emergency about climate change to get all sorts of crazy liberal environmental regulations imposed, or after the next inevitable mass shooting at a school or shopping mall impose all sorts of crazy liberal gun rights restrictions.
The last time a president’s national emergency powers were challenged in the Supreme Court was when President Harry Truman tried to end a steelworkers’ strike during the Korean War, and even though all of the Supreme Court justices had been appointed by either President Franklin Roosevelt or Truman he lost that case by a 9-to-zero decision. Trump doesn’t have a war or any other extenuating circumstances to bolster his case, as Truman did, and he’s got both liberals and Federalist Society types of conservatives to persuade, so we don’t expect he’ll fare any better. Trump promised his die-hard fans they would grow weary on winning so much, but for now he seems to be losing on every front.

— Bud Norman

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The Character Question, Asked Again

Former Massachusetts Governor and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will be sworn in as Utah’s junior Senator today, but he made a conspicuous early start to his tenure yesterday with an op-ed piece in The Washington Post criticizing the honesty and moral character of President Donald Trump. Needless to say, much was said about it.
We couldn’t find a single word to disagree with, and we note that nobody was vouching for Trump’s honesty and moral character, but a lot of Republicans were nonetheless offended by Romney’s op-ed. By now there’s no point denying that Trump has boastfully cheated on has firsts two wives and paid off a porn star and a Playboy playmate to cover up his infidelities against the third, cheated on his taxes and bragged to a national television audience “that makes me smart,” and cheated his investors and contractors and employees and boasted it was “the art of deal,” and it is well documented that he says several things every single day that are obviously untrue, so Trump’s defenders instead offered the familiar arguments why it doesn’t matter.
All politicians lie, so why should Trump be held to the stringent standards of veracity that Republicans insist on during Democratic administrations? Several past Democratic presidents have had their sexual peccadillos, played fast and loose with the tax code and campaign finance laws, been involved in various shady dealings, and got away with it, so it’s only fair Trump be similarly indulged. Trump might be a pussy-grabbing vulgarian with a bully boy style of taunting “tweets” and schoolyard nicknames rather than making reasoned arguments with his political opponents, but that’s how he kept “Crooked” Hillary Clinton from becoming president, and that’s what matters. Romney is remarkably honest by politician standards, by all accounts a perfect gentleman in any estimation, and even his opponents on both the left and right acknowledge that whatever their disagreements he has well-researched and well-reasoned and well-spoken opinions on the issues of the day, and what good did that do the Republican Party when he ran against Obama?
Romney acknowledged that several policies Trump has pursued are soundly conservative and so far successful, as we have begrudgingly done, and there’s no denying that awful Clinton woman would have picked worse Supreme Court nominees, so for most Republicans these days that’s ample reason we should just shut up and let Trump be Trump. We have no intention of doing so, however, and are heartened to see that Romney is similarly stubborn.
Even in the age of Trump facts are still facts, character still counts, and both still determine the outcome of events in a constitutional republic. Trump’s preference for “alternative facts” and bully boy style and simultaneous insecurity and megalomania and myriad other character flaws are also driving some very un-conservative and unsound policies in foreign relations, make it difficult for him to negotiate any artful deals on the domestic front, or even to fill a cabinet with well-credentialed appointees, and we won’t be surprised if they also result in some criminal indictments in the coming months.
Trump naturally derided Romney as a goody two shoes sort of loser, and suggested he become more a “team player,” and his talk radio defenders were accusing any remaining Republicans who still think character counts of “virtue-signaling.” We don’t see the virtue in tolerating vice, however, and we’ve long noticed that sometimes a team needs to question its leadership if it wants to have a winning season. There’s a Democratic majority to be sworn into House of Representatives today, the razor-slim Republican majority sworn into the Senate will includes one more Senator willing to defy the president on matters of policy and principle, and the stock markets and geopolitical situation and the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” will go on. Trump’s character will eventually matter, even to him.

— Bud Norman

A Very Happy New Year’s Eve, to Whatever Extent Possible

The calendar on our computer screen says that today is the last year of 2018, and as hard as it is to believe we assume that’s true. Although it’s been a long and and hard slog through the past 12 months, the years still somehow seem to pass more quickly the older we get.
Longstanding journalistic traditions dictate that our New Year’s Eve essay be either a look back and the year that’s ending, or a look ahead to the year to come, but on this frigid Kansas night we can’t quite muster the energy for either desultory chore.
In keeping with our own recent tradition we’ll once again joke that we’re hesitant to look back on the past year for fear of being turned into a pillar of salt, an Old Testament allusion our more modern readers might not get, and this year the joke seems more apt than ever. We’re talking about 12 long months of President Donald Trump and the damned Democrats, after all, and all those screwy other countries and the business world and the broader popular culture and our own personal lives added little to savor. The obituaries were more brutal than usual, too.
The annus horribilis of 2018 saw the the passing of First Lady Barbara Bush and President George H.W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain, and we also sensed the passing of a more family values and war heroic and fact-based era of the Republican party. When the novelist and journalist and essayist Tom Wolfe died we failed to think of a new favorite living writer, and when the Middle Eastern expert Professor Bernard Lewis of Princeton and triumphant-in-the-Cold-War Russian expert Richard Pipes of Harvard we knew there was no replacement, and the death of the imminent columnist Charles Krauthammer left the intellectual ranks of an increasingly anti-intellectual conservative movement seemed at least as severely depleted.
The ranks of the American popular culture that used to provide succor from politics were similarly depleted. The fleet-fingered guitar-and-banjo-picker and all-around country-and-western music entertainer Roy Clark died, so did the elegantly incisive and hilariously New York City Jewish novelist Philip Roth, as well as the long under appreciated television sit-com actress and big-time movie director and idiosyncratic sexpot Penny Marshall, and William Goldman, the guy who wrote the screenplay for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” as well as Stan Lee, the guy who invented “Spiderman” and a bunch of other still-hot comic book super heroes we remember from our comic book-reading youths. Judging by what we occasionally hear on the radio or see on television or watch on the internet or read from the last offerings from the bestseller lists, we don’t find any sufficient replacements standing at the ready.
Those far more hip and up-to-date folks at The Washington Post filled some space on a slow news day with a traditional list of what’s “in” and what’s “out” in the coming year, and we must admit we can’t make neither hide nor hair of it, as we still sometimes say here in Kansas. Out here in Kansas we hadn’t noticed most of what was apparently “in” in 2018, much less noticed that it’s soon to be “out,” and as of now we’re only vaguely familiar with what’s about to the “in.” It seems that the Marvel comic books’ superhero Captain Marvel is due to supplant D.C. Comics’ Captain America as the “in” superhero at your local cinema, and certain celebrities we’ve never hard are will surpass some other celebrities we’e never heard of, and so far none of them seem half so entertaining as the recently deceased Ken Berry, the minor sit-com star who memorably pratfall-ed his way through the short-lived but still-hilarious “F Troop” way back in the ’60s.
On the political front, we don’t need the more hip and up-to-date fellows at The Washington Post to tell us it’s going to a long slog through 2019. Trump won’t budge on his campaign promise from way back in 2016 to build a big beautiful border wall, the upcoming Democratic majority soon to be installed after a landslide mid-term election won’t give him a penny for it, and a partial government shutdown will probably dominate at least the first few days or weeks or months of the new year. Political gridlock will probably prevent anything else from getting done legislatively, that pesky special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” will persist, so we’ll hold out hope that the free market economy and longstanding governmental institutions that have somehow so far survived both Presidents Barack Obama and Trump will continue to prevail.
In the meantime we’ll focus on making our personal lives go somewhat better in the coming year, and urge you to do the same, as we can’t do much about the rest of it.  No matter how it works out over the next 12 months, have a most merry New Year’s Eve.

— Bud Norman

An Early Start on Thanksgiving

A dear old friend treated us to a Coors and some chicken tenders at one of the rough and tumble Delano district’s swankest joints on Tuesday, which led to a chance encounter with an entire family of old and dear friends, which led to one of the family’s talented musicians participating in a fine jazz concert at a cigar bar over in the Old Town district, where we had another Coors, and with Thanksgiving coming up we arrived home in too good a mood to give the day’s news more than a cursory glance at the news.
There was plenty of it, of course, and as usual much of the news provided plenty of opportunity for grumpy old Never-Trumpers such as ourselves to bash President Donald Trump. The stock markets had another dreadful day, and although that’s not necessarily Trump’s fault it leaves him with nothing to brag about. There was yet another embarrassing story about the apparent con man Trump has at least temporarily appointed to run the Justice Department, apparently to stymy the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing.” According to a report in The Washington Post senior White House advisor and First Daughter Ivanka Trump has reportedly used a private e-mail server to conduct government business, which is at least somewhat similar to what led to all those “lock her up” chants about Democratic presidential nominee at Trump’s still-ongoing campaign rallies. According to another report in The New York Times, Trump did try his best to have Clinton locked up, which strikes us as a pretty damned banana republic kind of thing to do. He also once again dismissed the conclusions of the nation’s intelligence communities and accepted the assurances of a friendly dictator, n this case making it clear that America would let the Saudi Arabian dictator get away with the murder of a legal American resident.
As tempting as it was to pile on, we decided to give it all just that brief sneering mention. Better for now to warm ourselves in the soothing flames of family and friends, and embrace the holiday spirit of thanksgiving and glad tidings to all men and the dawn a brand new and unsullied year that make the cold and darkness grayness almost tolerable. Besides, those damned Democrats will have a majority in the House of Representatives installed in early January, and we expect that all of their nosy investigative committees will eventually make sufficient hay out of all the scandals.
We’ll even go so far as to acknowledge that Trump handled the nation’s endearingly weird longstanding tradition of the annual “turkey pardon” ceremony quite well, and note that even The Washington Post agreed, despite the snarky headline. This year’s updated “turkey pardon” decided which of two turkeys would be spared the Thanksgiving dinner ax by an internet vote on the White House web site, and Trump couldn’t resist a couple of jokes about the loser demanding endless recounts, and obvious allusion to the Florida and Georgia midterms, but everyone agreed it was it uncharacteristically good natured. Should Trump decide to go with the folksy nice-guy shtick instead of his usual “lock her up” tough-guy persona we expect his poll numbers would improve, no matter what direction the stock market indices might go, but no amount of holiday cheer can make us hopeful about that.
Even so, we’ll try to pay less attention to the news today and tomorrow, and be thankful to God for family and friends and an abiding faith in the endearingly weird traditions and institutions that have made and thus far kept America great. Friday’s forecast calls for another cold and dark and possibly snowy day in this atypically cold and snowy autumn we’re having around here, and by then we’ll be recovering from a Thanksgiving Day’s L-triptothan hangover and get back to brooding about the latest news, but until then we’ll wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving for all the good stuff.

— Bud Norman

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The Lonesome Death of Jamal Khashoggi

The government of Saudi Arabia now acknowledges that dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside a Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey, but we’re assured by the government of Saudi Arabia that it had nothing to do with it. To hear the Saudi Arabian government tell it, the pudgy and 59-year-old Khashoggi started a fistfight with 15 Saudi Arabian government operatives who had been flown into Turkey for a polite conversation, and that it ended to everyone’s regret.
The story is so blatantly preposterous that even such loyal American friends of the Saudi Arabian government as President Donald Trump are expressing some skepticism, but it probably won’t much. matter. Khashoggi was a legal American resident and a writer for one of America’s most longstanding and prestigious newspapers, and the best evidence suggests that he was mutilated and then murdered and then dismembered on the orders of the Saudi Arabian government, but on the other hand Saudi Arabia has done tens of millions of dollars of business with Trump and hundreds of billions of dollars of business with other American businesses.
All the right-wing talk radio talkers are stressing that Khashoggi had a past relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood and was a noisome critic of a Saudi Arabian government so enlightened that it has lately granted some women the right to drive an automobile, as well as a writer for those enemies of both the Saudi Arabian and American people at The Washington Post, and to hear them tell it you’d think the guy had some mutilation and murder and dismemberment coming. Besides, as the President of the United States has frequently noted, he was merely a legal resident rather than a fully-fledged citizens, and his murder wasn’t committed on American soil, and Saudi-American relations are  very tricky.
The hundreds of billions of dollars of business that America does with the Saudi Arabians can’t be dismissed lightly, and they do indeed play a very complicated role in the exponentially more complicated Middle East foreign policy mess, and we’re open to an argument for the cold-blooded calculation that even the mutilation and murder and dismemberment of a single human being must be weighted against that. Even so, we’d rather the argument was made honestly, and without the apparent disregard for the fate of a fellow human being. Surely America is still great enough relative to Saudi Arabia to insist on such niceties.
Last week Trump got a big response from a Republican rally crowd by recalling how the state’s Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte had committed criminal assault against a reporter shortly before his election to Congress. “Any guy who can do a body slam, that’s my kind of guy,” said Trump, a former professional wrestler himself, followed by uproarious laughter. Even in the aftermath of Khashoggi’s now-acknowledged demise Trump has praised the Saudi prime and dictator Mohammad bin Salman’s “strong control” of his country, and he seems to have a similar affinity for strong men rulers everywhere, including the nutcase North Korean dictator that he told a cheering rally crowd  he “fell in love with.”
All this international business and politics is indeed damned complicated, and we can’t pretend to know how it should proceed from here, but we’d like to think that the mutilation and murder and dismemberment of a legal American resident and fellow human being should carry some weight in our country’s considerations, even if he did write for The Washington Post.

— Bud Norman

Hiding in the Bushes

Say what you want about the “enemies of the people” in the “fake news” and “lame-stream media,” but we’re regular readers and big fans of The Washington Post. Pretty much every day it provides us with interesting and all-too-believable accounts of what’s going on in the world, and we were heartened to read on the Post’s pages Thursday that former President George W. Bush is stealthily supporting a select slate of Republican candidates.
Say what you want about the war-mongering Bush and the severe economic recession that came at the end of his administration, and say what you want about his war-mongering “Poppy” President George H.W. Bush, whose administration ended after 12 mostly successful years of Republican rules because of a mild and short-lived recession, but these days dearly we miss both of those guys. The first Iraq war was a diplomatic and military masterstroke as far as we’re concerned, and we think the son’s well-intentioned sequel might well have worked out if not for a subsequent impatient Democratic administration, and we blame the first Bush recession on the usual business cycle and the son’s more severe recession on the the crazed subprime mortgage policies of Democratic President Bill Clinton’s administration, and in retrospect we give the younger Bush credit for negotiating and singing the blank bipartisan bail-out check that seems to have prevented the bottom from falling out.
For all their undeniable faults, neither of the Bushes ever engaged in “Twitter” feuds with pornographic video performers and strategic American geopolitical allies, made excuses for the abhorrent behavior of our geopolitical foes, or recklessly interfered with the way things work in this in our very complex world economy. By now even those damned bleeding-heart liberals at The Washington Post seem to long for that bygone Republican party.
By now, though, most Republicans have signed up with the newfangled Republican party of President Donald Trump. Trump won his party’s nomination and then the presidency by arguing that the elder Bush failed to conquer Iraq, his son lied America into a foolhardy attempt to conquer Iraq, and that he alone could prevail against the almighty business cycles, and that every other Republican president who preceded him was a sucker. Which is probably why President George W. Bush feels obliged to campaign so stealthily on behalf of a select slate of Republican candidates that only an intrepid Washington Post reporter would notice.
Some of the candidates that the younger Bush is quietly helping are also loudly endorsed by Trump, but we’ll wish them well. Most of these day’s damned Democrats are as bad as ever, as far we’re concerned, so we’ll hold out faint hope for what’s left of the Republican party that used to be.

— Bud Norman

The Strange Case of Jamal Khashoggi

Over the years we’ve read a lot of improbable cloak-and-dagger novels and watched many fanciful films about international intrigue, but we’ve never come across a story quite so fascinating as the real-life disappearance and almost certain murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Even with unfettered access to the very best findings of America’s crack intelligence agencies President Donald Trump will not say with any certainty what has become of Kashoggi, and we can’t claim to have any better information. but we are far more objective and fairly certain of a few established facts. Khashoggi provably entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 2 to deal with paperwork for an upcoming wedding, and so far neither the fiancee who was waiting outside nor the consulate’s constant security cameras nor anyone else can testify that he ever came out. It’s also a verifiable fact that Khashoggi was considered an enemy of the people by the Saudi Arabian government, with no other obvious enemies who might have access to a Saudi Arabian consulate, and although that’s not conclusive proof of anything it’s worth keeping in mind.
So far the government of Turkey is officially coy about its conclusions, but unofficially it’s been leaking a flood of information to various world media that they have audiotape from Khashoggi’s cell phone of his brutal torture and murder and dismemberment, that on the day after Khashoggi’s disappearance their investigators found the consulate both thoroughly scrubbed and freshly painted, and they’ve got the flight records of 15 suspicious Saudis with provably close ties to their government and an autopsy specialist with a bone saw who flew into Istanbul just shortly before Khashoggi’s arrival at the consulate. Turkey’s government is lately almost as Islamist and authoritarian and untrustworthy as Saudi Arabia’s, and has its own complicated geo-political reasons to embarrass Saudi Arabia, but they’ve also got the sort of highly effective domestic security apparatus that could prove such claims, and would be just as happy to embarrass Saudi Arabia with the truth.
By now even such steadfast Trump loyalists as South Carolina’s Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham say that the Saudis look pretty damned guilty, and it would take a pretty imaginative novelist or screenwriter to come up with some other plausible plot twist, but Trump holds out for the possibility that some group of “rogue killers” might have killed Khashoggin in defiance of the Saudi government’s wishes.
;Some of those cloak-and-dagger novels we’ve read and foreign intrigue films we’ve watched had some pretty glaring plot holes, but even dime novels and $10 Hollywood movies could never come up with such a convoluted plot twist as that. Getting a group of “rogue killers” into a Saudi consulate in Istanbul just as an expatriate Saudi journalist and enemy of the Saudi people showed up would be tough enough for the “Mission: Impossible” screenwriters, much less why fellow enemies of the Saudi people would want to kill him, and never the mind the crews of rogue cleaners and painters who showed up in the immediate aftermath to scrub the alleged crime scene clean.
One never really knows, though, so perhaps Trump is right to hold out hope that neither Saudi King Salman bin Abdelaziz Al Saud nor current dictator Prince Mohammad bin Salman had anything do with whatever unpleasantness that might have transpired at a Saudi consulate. Back during the campaign Trump publicly boasted that he got along great with the Saudis because they did tens of millions of dollars of business with him, and they rolled out quite the red carpet for him on his first state visit abroad, and these days Trump can rightly argue that they do billions in business with far bigger American companies and as always play a crucial strategic role in America’s tricky middle-eastern foreign policy. Surely they deserve some benefit of the doubt.
Besides, as Trump as always reminds his interviewers, this Khashoggi guy wasn’t an American citizen, and even if he did get tortured and murdered and dismembered it didn’t happen here, so it arguably isn’t any of America’s business. Khashoggi was a legal American resident, which by law means he’s entitled to same protections of the state as anyone else living here, but what’s that against the millions and billions of dollars in trade that Trump and America get from the Saudis. That Khahshoggi guy also wrote for The Washington Post, long considered a leading light of America’s free press, but these days they’re also deemed enemies of the people.
The biggest mystery at this point is why Trump doesn’t just come right out and say, “Yeah, so what if the Saudis tortured and killed and dismembered this guy?” Khashoggi wasn’t even an American citizen, after all, and he wrote regularly for those enemies of the American people at The Washington Post, so we doubt that many of Trump’s die-hard defenders give much of a damn about what happened to that guy. What happened to that Khashoggi guy might slightly heighten the fervor of Trump’s opponents, but it probably won’t much swell their number.
In any case, this poor Khashoggi guy’s tale seems headed to a more desultory conclusion than any cloak-and-dagger novel we’ve ever read or any foreign intrigue film we’ve ever seen, and we worry that America won’t come out any greater.

— Bud Norman

America First, Morality After That

President Donald Trump sat down for an interview with Lesley Stahl of the “60 Minutes” program that aired on Sunday, far away from the friendly confines of “Fox and Friends,” and of course it was full of news.
He suggested that Defense Secretary Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis, widely considered a restraining influence on Trump’s more rash foreign policy impulses, is “sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth,” and might soon be leaving the White House. He wouldn’t comment on how long Attorney General Jeff Sessions will be around, except to say “We’ll see what happens come midterms,” which suggests that something will happen after the looming midterm elections. He denied mocking the woman who alleged that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault while they were both high schools, although Trump sure did seem to revel in all the laughs he got talking about her at a recenta campaign rally. He effused about the trustworthiness of murderous North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, but added “That doesn’t mean I can’t be proven wrong,” which is newsworthy for its uncharacteristic modesty.
More striking to us, though, was Trump’s continued affinity for murderous Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and murderous Saudi Arabian dictator Mohammad bin Salam, and his apparent insouciance about murderous dictatorships in general.
Although Trump  now grudgingly acknowledges that yeah, Putin probably did meddle in America’s past presidential election, which all of America’s intelligence agencies insist with complete certainty,  he added that China’s murderous dictatorship probably did the same, which no intelligence agency has suggested, and he seemed to shrug it all off as business as usual. Way back in the campaign Trump told friendly Fox News interviewer Bill O’Reilly that yeah, Putin occasionally a journalist or dissident or political opponent or two, but “There a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers. Well, do you think our country’s so innocent?,” and he told the far feistier Stahl the relies on Russia, and he noted with apparent satisfaction that Putin none of Putin’s recent assassination attempts have happened in America or to Americans abroad.
Trump has talked tough about “severe punishment” for Saudi Arabia if it’s proved the government brutally murdered and dismembered self-exiled Saudi dissident and Washington Post writer and legal American resident Jamal Kashoggi, as all of the world’s intelligence agencies and every sane observer has concluded, but we expect it will require some rather extraordinary proof before he’s nudged to say that yeah, they probably did it. Even if he is somehow convinced that the Saudi friends who treated to him to such a flattering state visit and do billions of dollars of business with American corporations of millions of dollars of business with his own still wholly-owned companies, he’s already pointed out that the alleged killing happened in Turkey, “and to the best of our knowledge, Kashoggi is not a United States citizen.” An American president should speak with more certainty about such easily learnable facts, and should also be aware the a legal residency in the United States also entitles one to the protection of the state, but Trump clearly thinks America lacks the moral standing to fuss about such things.
Trump bluntly told the country as much before he was elected. He said so not only to O’Reilly and his Fox viewers but to all the revved-up rally crowds that chanted along with his “America First” slogan, not knowing or caring it faithfully echoed the pre-World War II isolationist movement that thought Fortress America could get along just fine in a world otherwise ruled by the Axis powers. Long before he started his unlikely political career Trump had hired a ghostwriter to pen “The Art of Deal,” which explicitly described his Machiavellian worldview of everything in life from love to business to foreign relations as a zero-sum game that comes down to winners and losers, with the rules being strictly for suckers. Even as he successfully courted the evangelical Christian vote, he made it quite clear he didn’t believe in all that nonsense loving one’s neighbor and turning the other cheek and the meek being blessed.
On one warm and sunny Hawaiian December day in ’41 America realized that despite two oceans and a couple of placid neighbors to the north and south America could not get along just fine with the Axis powers, and with the help of some carefully cultivated democratic allies the country waged a costly but ultimately victorious war against those murder dictatorships. The allies also  much needed the help of a murderous communist dictatorship in Russia, which waged a fare more costly war but a sizable victory of it, as well as an unpleasantly authoritarian regime in China that soon fell to an even more murderous communist dictatorship, but somehow the free and democratic nations of the world cobbled together trade agreements and diplomatic arrangements and military alliances that have worked the necessary moral compromise out pretty well for most part over the past 70-plus, at least relative to most of humankind’s bloody and impoverished history.
There have been plenty of wars and moral compromises along the way, of course. Fighting Chinese and Soviet communism involved a couple of horrific wars that resulted in a still-troublesome tie on the Korean peninsula and a arguable loss to a unified and more-or-less capitalist Vietnam that now offers potential strategic advantages to the United States, and America has overlooked some unsavory behavior from anti-communist regimes and any country that can help keep the international economy well lubricated with oil. There were greater moral exigencies to be arguably considered at the time, though, and at no point did any Republican or Democratic president ever signaled that he didn’t much about such behavior. Those bipartisan fancy-pants “experts” got a lot of things wrong, but they also rebuilt former vanquished adversaries into formidable friends, nurtured the free and democratic nations they had rescued from murderous dictatorships, and we think they know better than Trump, and we’ll hate to see the last few of them leave his administration.
Trump is quite right that America has done a lot of killing, and that like any country populated by mere human beings we’re not so innocent, but we think he’s quite wrong to suggest America should begin to atone for its sins by giving the green-light to any of his favored murderous dictators to keep killing off any pesky journalists or political opponents or assorted dissidents. We don’t think it will help make America great again.

— Bud Norman

Kavanaugh’s Confirmation is Further Complicated

Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court was already in jeopardy after a woman came forward by name to accuse him of a sexual assault when he was a high schooler, and might be in further jeopardy yet now that another woman has come forward by name to accuse of him of indecent exposure while he was a college student. It’s all very complicated, though, and Kavanaugh might well be confirmed despite it all, but doubts will likely linger now matter how it all turns out.
After 37 years there’s no definitive corroborating evidence for California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that Kavanaugh held a hand over her mouth and nose as he pinned her against a bed and attempted to forcibly undress her during an drunken teenaged party near his elite prep school, but neither can he cite any definitive exculpatory evidence. He’s got plenty of credible character witnesses that vouch for his excellent character, but she’s got a similar number of friends who can’t believe that she’d sacrifice a quiet life in a picturesque college town and her own fine reputation and start getting death threats and talk radio vilification just to tell such a lie. After much news and difficult negotiations she’s scheduled to tell her story under oath to the Senate judiciary committee on Thursday, which will probably get bigger television ratings than the last episode of “M*A*S*H,” and he’ll give his account afterwards, and we expect most viewers will judge whom to believe to based entirely on their prejudgements.
The newer allegation by a Colorado resident named Deborah Ramirez that Kavanaugh exposed his penis and forced her to touch it during a drunken college party near Yale University will likely be similarly prejudged by the general public. Ramirez makes the allegation in an article in The New Yorker penned by Ronan Farrow, whose meticulous reporting on sexual misconduct stories has lately earned him a national reputation and brought down several famous entertainment and political figures, but she’s already being doubted by such equally respectable publications as The Washington Post. She freely admits she was quite drunk when the incident allegedly occurred, and that she only came forward at the urging of various reporters, and the Post’s sex-crime prosecutor sources cite other problems. On the other hand, that Farrow fellow claims to have supporting sources and has been libel-proof so far, and it is yet another woman coming forward by name to allege that Kavanaugh was less than a perfect gentleman in his youth and is lying about it in his maturity.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation was plenty complicated even before any of this popped up, given that he was nominated by the very divisive President Donald Trump, and has a record of law review articles stating that a sitting president cannot be indicted or subpoenaed or even investigated, and is reasonably suspected of being the potential decisive vote to overturn Roe v Wade and other Supreme Court precedents dear to liberal hearts.
We don’t care much about Roe v Wade, as we figure most of the state legislatures will eventually wind up retaining the status quo after yet another prolonged and acrimonious debate about abortion, and we generally agree with Kavanaugh’s originalist philosophy of interpreting the constitution, but we do worry about his views regarding what presidents should be able to get away with, and we haven’t yet reached any judgment about his behavior as a high school and college student and what he’s saying about it today. We’ll give him a fair hearing, as we know that women do sometimes make false accusations against men, but we’ll give his accusers the same fair hearing, as we know that it’s far more common for men to misbehave than it is for women to lie about it.
The decision about whether to confirm Kavanaugh’s nomination will probably come down to a couple of women Republican Senators who are pro-choice, along with a couple of male Republican Senators who have been known to buck the Trumpian line, and maybe a couple of red state Democratic Senators who are probably thinking they can now get away with a “no” vote on Kavanaugh. At this point we’ll let them decide the matter, and figure that no matter how it turns out doubts will linger.

— Bud Norman

On the Latest Questions About Trump

Every American president since George Washington has been accused by his critics of all sorts of unsavory things, but only rarely has it been widely suggested that the guy has gone completely bonkers. A striking number of people are now saying that about President Donald Trump, however, and reliable sources suggest those people include several high-ranking members of Trump’s administration.
On Tuesday The Washington Post released segments of “Fear,” a soon-to-be-released and already best-selling book by its veteran reporter Bob Woodard which quotes numerous anonymous but high-ranking administrations talking about how they strive everyday to protect the American public from the most dire consequences of their boss’s uninformed and impulsive and downright petty instincts. On Wednesday The New York Times published an anonymous op-ed piece by a high-ranking administration official headlined “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” which seeks to reassure the public that “many of the senior of the senior officials inside (Trump’s) administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”
By both accounts many of the people closest to the President understand and act accordingly that in terms of intellectual and temperamental and moral and basic mental health fitness Trump is likely to do something consequentially crazy, and although Trump and his still-loyal spokespeople call it all “fake news” we’re reluctantly inclined to hopefully believe all of it.
Woodward and his fellow youthful late-night crime beat colleague Carl Bernstein broke the story of the Watergate break-in way back in the ’70s, and according to the old-fashioned newspaper rules of the time they got to follow the story it’s conclusion, which resulted in President Richard Nixon’s resignation and a Pulitzer Prize for the now-legendary journalism team of Woodward and Bernstein, and since then the now-wizened Woodward’s work has withstood the withering criticism of the next eight presidents he has investigated. Most of Woodward’s journalistic first drafts of history have been painstakingly even-handed, acknowledging each administrations’ failures while eviscerating its failures and admitting how very complicated these things are, and even if this book is more weighted to criticism we’ll count on Woodward’s 40-plus-years record of impeccable sourcing and meticulous tape-recording of double sources more than we do Trump’s dubious record of public statements.
Trump is already saying that the high-ranking anonymous administration official who penned that alarming op-ed in today’s edition is just a “fake news” figment of the “failing” New York Times’ imagination, but he’s also “tweeting” that whoever it is be immediately be turned over to be tried on a charge of treason, and we don’t doubt that the author of their anonymous op-ed piece is an actual high-ranking administration official. The New York Times is indeed as liberally slanted as those right-wing talk radio show hosts will warn you, and over the past century-and-half or so they’ve clearly gotten some things consequential things clearly wrong, but we’ll reluctantly admit that in all that time they’ve generated less outright “fake news” than Trump has “tweeted” in just the past three years or so.
Trump and his apologists can rightly boast that the unemployment rate is down and the stock markets are still up since his election, and that no new shooting wars have lately broken out, but it’s harder to argue that it couldn’t have been achieved by any other Republican president without all the Trump-ian craziness, and that it might not have happened at all without the restraining influences of the very best people he somehow wound up appointing to his administration. Pretty much every day Trump tells a press gaggle or “tweets” something that is jarringly discordant with longstanding norms or present reality, and pretty much everyday the “fake news” broadcasts it, and although every single day we try to keep our eye on the unemployment rates and the stock markets it’s hard to shake a bad feeling about all of this.

— Bud Norman