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A Great Leap Backwards

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, as George Santayana once famously remarked, and President Donald Trump does not strike us an astute student of history. This doesn’t necessarily doom us to repeat history’s worst mistakes, but it has often proved embarrassing for Trump, at least for those of who do study history.
Trump has made public comments that suggest he believed Frederick Douglass was still alive and is recently getting the credit he’s long deserved, was surprised to learn that President Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, and that the slave-whipping President Jackson of Trail of Tears infamy had a “big heart” and would have averted a Civil War if only he’d been president a couple of decades longer, retold some disproved tales about General “Black Jack” Sherman executing Islamist prisoners with pig’s-blood-soaked bullets, and he continues to believe that he’s a historically popular and successful president despite all evidence. He also seems either unaware or unconcerned that his “America First” slogan was coined by the pre-World War II isolationist movement that thought America could peacefully coexist with an Axis-dominated world, and that the term “nationalist” is by now associated with other unsavory movements, and that a “leap forward” has certain unhappy connotations when used in the context of Chinese-American relations.
Trump has recently negotiated a cease-fire in the trade war he launched against China, which for now has a salutatory effect on the international stock markets, but it remains to be seen what the eventual armistice will look like. Trump is already touting major concessions, the Chinese are saying otherwise, and Trump’s underlings are putting the best face on it, and Trump is “tweeting” that it’s a “big leap forward.” Both Chinese and English-speaking people of a certain historical bent could help be reminded of China’s previous “Great Leap Forward,” Chairman Mao Tse Dong’s forced-collectivization policy that resulted in mass starvation and cannibalism and a human-made humanitarian disaster that rivals anything in history, Stalin and Hitler notwithstanding. Perhaps it’s just an unfortunate turn of phrase, as when the flawed but undeniably humane President Jimmy Carter said he thought a second term would have brought a “final solution” for Israel, but it’s still the kind of a thing that a well-educated president should know to avoid.
Meanwhile, back on the home front, the “Russia thing” seems to be heating up, and Trump seems to have forgotten all the lessons he might have learned from the “Watergate thing,” if he’d been paying any attention. That commie bastard Karl Marx famously remarked that history always repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce, and we’ll be angrily annoyed if he’s proved correct once again.

— Bud Norman

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George H.W. Bush, RIP

President George Herbert Walker Bush died on Friday, and given the rancorous political rhetoric of today we were pleased to see how very respectful all the obituaries and public comments have been. Even the news media that were most critical of Bush over his long career in public service duly acknowledged his many historic accomplishments, and all his past foes joined his many friends in praising the man’s patriotic character. This will probably be the last time we see any American sent off with such bipartisan praise, and we fear it marks the passing on era when that was not only possible but fairly commonplace.
Bush was born 94 years ago in a bygone era of genteel New England Republicanism, the son of a wealthy businessman and future Senator and a socialite mother, and was educated in the best schools that a wealthy New England family could buy. As a star student and promising athlete he was admitted to the elite Yale University, but against his parents’ wishes he volunteered for the Navy at the outset of World War II, became one of the military’s youngest aviators, and came back with medals never wore and heroic tales he rarely told about parachuting from a burning plane and being luckily rescued by a submarine that happened to be nearby. At long last enrolled at Yale, he was a Phi Beta Kappa student and the captain and star first baseman of the school’s championship-contending baseball team. He also wed the shy but attractive socialite Barbara Pierce, a descendant of President Franklin Pierce, and they stayed married and quite obviously in love for the rest of their lives.
Instead of taking his Yale education and distinguished war record to Wall Street or an academic sinecure or some other obvious choice for wealthy New Englander, Bush went west to a particularly barren portion of west Texas to make his fortune in the rough-and-tumble oil business, and wound doing quite well for himself and his growing family. By age 40 he figured he’d made enough money to let the investment income accrue, and with an old New England sense of noblesse oblige he commenced one of the most remarkable careers of public service in American history.
Bush started in the humble position of Harris County, Texas’ Republican party, and lost his first race for the House of Representatives shortly thereafter. He won the seat two years later, a rare feat for a Texas Republican way back in ’66, an in two terms earned reputation as a centrist who voted for civil rights legislation he’d earlier opposed and bucked the party’s position on birth control but backed President Richard Nixon’s controversial Vietnam policies. At Nixon’s urging Bush ran for the Senate in ’70, and lost to Democratic nominee Lloyd Bentsen — more about that later — but was rewarded with an appointment to be ambassador to the United Nations. He served as national chairman of the Republican party during the Watergate, somehow keeping his reputation intact, and was then head liaison to China just after Nixon famously normalized relations, and was then the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
With such an impressive resume Bush was considered a front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 1980, but there was already an anti-establishment sentiment brewing in the party, and he lost to former California governor and far more forcefully conservative Ronald Reagan. Although it had been a hard-fought primary campaign by both sides, Reagan chose Bush as his running mate, partly to appease the still-potent establishment wing of the party, and partly because of Bush’s impressive resume. The choice worked out well for the Republican party, with Reagan winning two landslides and Bush earning a third term parties rarely win, beating the ticket of Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis and the aforementioned Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. Even his harshest critics of the time now agree it worked out pretty well for the rest of the world, too, with Reagan’s aggressive policies winning the Cold War and Bush’s more cautious diplomacy successfully negotiating the peace.
Bush’s long experience of foreign policy brought other masterstrokes. Although it was controversial at the time, his decision to invade Panama and arrest its dictator after several provocations was carried out with stunning efficiency and looks good in retrospect, and no one in Panama is griping about it. When the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded neighboring Kuwait in violation of international law and basic human decency, Bush drew a famous line in the sand, and enforced it with an undeniable brilliance. He won the approval of both Russia and China and the rest of the UN’s Security Council to fight the aggression, assembled an international coalition of nations that included all the keys players in the Middle East, then unleashed a near-perectly conceived military plan that drove the Iraqi army out of Kuwait before the first anti-war protest could be organized. Casualties were miraculously low, international law had been enforced, America’s world leadership was unchallenged, and Bush briefly enjoyed a record-setting 90 percent approval rating.
The public is fickle, though, and when the Reagan economic boom eventually ran into an inevitable recession Bush got the blame for the business cycle. The recession was relatively brief and mild by historical standards, and was largely over by the time Bush’s re-election day arrived, but he’d be hammered by the press for the pardons he issued to everyone involved in the unfortunate but now largely forgotten Iran-Contra scandal, and it was easy to caricature him as a well-heeled New Englander who didn’t understand the common folk. He had the misfortunate to run not only against “Slick Willie” Clinton, a Yale-educated snake oil salesman from small town Arkansa who could bite his lip and convince the common folk he felt their pain, but also the independent candidate Ross Perot, a megalomaniacal billionaire who told the anti-establishment sorts of Republicans who’d long distrusted Bush’s kinder and gentler conservatism everything they wanted to hear. Thus Bush became the most consequential and respected-by-history one-term president since John Adams.
Bush wasn’t one to seek revenge, but he got a small measure of it when his eldest son, George W. Bush, won the presidency after Clinton’s two peaceful and prosperous but scandal-ridden terms, becoming the first son of a president to win the office since John Quincy Adams. That’s a whole ‘nother story, as they say down in Texas, and it will continue to be rewritten long after the younger Bush’s obituaries are published, but the elder Bush’s popularity grew through his retirement. In keeping with the longstanding traditions that Bush always kept, he kept his political opinions mostly to himself through the Clinton and Bush and Obama administrations, and instead devoted his considerable energy to bipartisan good deeds. With no political opinions in the way people came to further appreciate his sunny disposition and impeccable manners, his love of God and family and country, and everything he embodied about the bygone era of noblesse oblige and New England Republicanism.
One of the endearing little details in all the respectful obituaries is about Bush’s friendship with the comedian Dana Carvey, who used to do a hilariously satirical impersonation of Bush on the “Saturday Night Live” show. Most politicians would have found it offensive, but Bush found it hilarious, and he invited Carvey to the shtick at the White House correspondent’s dinner and other events. After he lost his reelection bid he asked his friend to do the routine at the White House, and Carvey tearfully recalls it was because Bush though his staff needed some cheering up. The famous catch phrase of Carvey’s impersonation was “Nah, nah, not gonna do it, wouldn’t be prudent,” but as even The Washington Post duly noted, Bush’s greatest gift to America was his prudence, a quality currently out of style.
Even President Donald Trump is respectfully noting Bush’s death, and we’re glad to see that. Bush was the quintessence of the Republican establishment and the “globalist” foreign policy that Trump ran against, and he’d criticized the elder Bush’s decision not to topple Hussein and then falsely accused the younger Bush of lying America into a war to topple Hussein, and he’d ridiculed the “low energy” of another prominent Bush family member who sought the presidency. Trump isn’t one to let a family feud rest, but at least he seems to know better than to invite any comparisons at this moment in time.

— Bud Norman</p

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

No Thanks for the Memo-ries

The potential public release of a four-page memo penned by California Rep. Devin Nunes about the possible abuse of American surveillance laws by the Federal Bureau of Investigation dominated the news on Thursday, and if it is released as expected this morning we’re sure it will dominate at least another 24 hour news cycle. The memo will have to be pretty darned good to justify all the fuss, however, and we don’t expect it will be.
It’s complicated enough to fill all those column inches and broadcast hours with explanations, and it’s merely a subplot in the “Russia thing” that still hasn’t been explained after nearly two years of the best media efforts, but a lot of things that are hard to explain aren’t worth the effort. This one’s worth following, though, as it is a telling subplot of that “Russia thing,” which does matter, and illustrates just how awful almost everyone involved can be.
In case you’ve lately been too happily busy to be following the subplot, Nunes is a proudly partisan Republican who wound up in charge of the House committee charged with investigating the “Russia thing.” He quickly established a reputation as a staunch defender of President Donald Trump against all the various “Russia thing” suspicions, and was so zealous about that he wound up resigning his chairmanship after an embarrassing impromptu news conference where he announced he was taking some unreleased exculpatory evidence to the White House and it turned out he’d obtained the evidence from the White House and it wasn’t very exculpatory. Despite his self-proclaimed recusal from the matter he penned a four-page memo which reportedly outlines the reasons he believed the whole “Russia thing” was cooked up by some FBI agents who used a phony-baloney Democrat-bought “dossier” to get a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act courts to spy on the Trump presidential campaign in the most scandalous case of political espionage since President Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign had those inept burglars try to bug the Democratic National Party headquarters in the Watergate building.
Meanwhile all the Trump apologists on Fox News and talk radio and the comments sections of the far right internet sites and in Congress have been insisting the real “Russia thing” is actually a Russian-aided plot by the “deep state” and the “fake news” and assorted other “globalists” loathe to make America great again, so they’ve been clamoring for a while to have the memo publicly released. They’ve finally got an authentic government document to corroborate their conspiracy theories, and “release the memo” has become a popular “hashtag” with both Russian “‘bots” and actual people, and after his overshadowed State of the Union address Trump was caught on a “hot mic” telling a congressman that there was a “100 percent” chance the memo was about to be released.
Neither Trump nor his apologists seem to realize how complicated it all is, though, and we don’t expect the long-awaited four pages will be worth the risk they’re taking. It’s an authentic government document, to be sure, but so is the unreleased memo written by the Democrats on the House’s investigative that reportedly outlines all the more plausible reasons they think Trump’s campaign cooperated with Russian efforts to affect the American presidential election, and by now no one puts much stock in anything just because it’s an authentic government document. Nunes is entitled to his opinions, but the public is entitled to regard it as nothing more than the opinions of a proudly partisan politician.
To whatever extent Nunes’ opinions are informed by the classified information he’s seen as the deposed chairman of a House investigative committee, it gives credence to the objections of the FBI and other intelligence-gathering agencies that the release will reveal sources and methods that are better left classified. That includes the Trump-appointed leaders of those bureaus and agencies, so that abandonment of longstanding Republican principles further complicates the matter, even if the Democrats opposed to release of the memo stand credibly accused of the same hypocrisy.
The accusation that FISA laws have been is also tricky for the Republicans, whose resolute anti-terrorist stand got the laws passed over the objections of those bleeding-heart Democrats and addle-brained libertarian types of Republicans  who warned the law could be too easily abused by rogue government actors for all sorts of mischief. Nunes was one of the most outspoken Republicans who supported the laws, which now requires a lot of explaining.
The more reasonable sorts of Republicans assured the public that the FISA laws were carefully written enough to require a very high standard of proof to win a warrant to surveil an American citizen, and that a highly compelling case must be made that the national security was at stake, and so far as well can tell those assurances have proved true. Nunes’ four-page memo reportedly asserts that the FISA courts handed out wiretaps on all sorts of sinless Trump campaign officials on the basis of a phony-baloney Democratic-funded dossier by some shady foreigner, but the next 24 hours of news will explain how it’s more complicated than that.
By all accounts it takes more than a four-page memo of partisan opinions to obtain a FISA warrant, what’s already been reported in the “fake news” and subsequently acknowledged by Trump would probably suffice, the rest of what the feds had to get their disputed surveillance warrants would surely reveal all sorts of sources and methods better left classified. To whatever extent the FISA courts used that phony-baloney dossier from some foreigner only demonstrates the carefully vetted and Republican-confirmed jurists gave credence to the findings of a respected former British intelligence agent.
Maybe those four pages will be so jam-packed with juicy details that it convincingly explains the whole “Russia thing” as a plot by the Democrats and the “deep state,” and we’ll be obliged to give it a fair reading. If it turns out to be just another piece of an obstruction of justice case, though, we won’t be surprised.

— Bud Norman

The Summer of ’73, Redux

The midsummer sun has lately been exceedingly hot here on the southern plains, with the latest breaking national news even hotter yet, and it’s all somehow redolent of that long ago summer of ’73.
We were just young punks about to turn a typically surly 13 years old, but even then we were engrossed by politics, and by far the most engrossing story of the day was the unfolding Watergate scandal. The whole Watergate thing started slowly back in ’72 with a routine burglary bust, but by the summer of ’73 the only three channels on the television were all preempting the afternoon soap operas and game shows to broadcast the live congressional hearings about it, and we took time out from our long-distance bike rides and driveway basketball games and other summer vacation adventures to watch it all. We also read every word about in the morning and afternoon newspapers that our parents subscribed to, along with the newsmagazines that arrived in the mailbox, and then learned more when we’d biked all the way to downtown library’s impressive periodical shelf.
To this day we still recall E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy and the three Cubans who were busted in the burglary, and the turncoat White House advisor Howard Dean and his crazy wife Moe and the loyal Attorney John Mitchell and his crazy wife Martha and fellow loyalist who wound up making the news in the subsequent investigations, and presidential secretary Rosemary Woods who was blamed for a suspicious gap in the White House tapes that eventually surfaced We still know the names of Judge John Sirica who ordered those tapes and made some other crucial legal rulings, and the Attorney General Elliot Richardson who was fired by President Richard Nixon for refusing to fire the special prosecutor Archibald Cox, and an obscure fellow named Robert Bork who eventually stepped up to do the firing.
We’d bet all our winnings that we can still run the Watergate category in a round of “Jeopardy!,” but even the surliest young punks of today know that it all somehow wound up with Nixon resigning in disgrace. That’s pretty much the long and short of the whole Watergate affair and all you’d need to know to pass a junior high history quiz about it, but of course there’s a lot worth noting in between.
The whole sordid saga began when a third-shift janitor at the swank Washington, D.C., hotel-and-office Watergate complex noticed some tape on the door lock to the Democratic National Committee. He was streetwise enough to know to call the local cops, who promptly showed up to arrest the aforementioned Hunt and Liddy and three Cubans who were attempting to install a wiretap in the office, and two relatively young and still on late-night duty reporters as the local Washington Post who were assigned the crime story story were astute enough to discover they were all official and fully paid employees of the Committee to Re-Elect the President.
That was a bad enough start to the story, if not so bad that a forthright acknowledgement but stern disavowal of the operation and its operatives would have ended all the hubbub, but the Nixon administration took a typically more dismissive response. They denied everything, attacked The Washington Post and The New York Times and the three television networks who were making such a big deal about one presidential campaign breaking and entering to bug the headquarters of another, and wound up on national television admitting to the hush money they paid to the burglars and all sorts of other sorts of other things that were considered scandalous at the time. An Admiral in the administration whose last name we still remember was Butterfield told a televised committee that the White House had taped everything, and Sirica got his hands on the tapes and except for that 18-and-a-half-minute gap blamed on the White House secretary it seemed all the prosecutor needed for an impeachment case. It was bad enough that Nixon fired the guy who wouldn’t fire the guy who was running the investigation, and shortly after that the impeccably conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater was leading a congressional delegation of Republicans to tell him that resignation in disgrace was the only honorable option.
Which was bad for the country in ways that the surly 13-year-old punks of today probably can’t understand. The first presidential election we’d followed was back in ’68, when Nixon edged out a plurality win over Democratic rival Hubert Humphrey and third-party candidate George Wallace, and we were for Nixon. Our grandparents were all New Deal Democrats, but our parents had rebelled against by voting for the impeccably conservative Goldwater in ’64, by ’68 all three generation were agreed that Democrats had gone crazy left. Humphrey was tied to President Lyndon Johnson’s war in Vietnam, which was a bloody big deal that hurt him with all the hippies that were suddenly popping up everywhere, and although Nixon was also for the war he seemed to want to win it, which was the way Americans used to end wars back then. Wallace was still an outright racist at that point, and our cosmopolitan and Christian parents had taught us better than that, so Nixon and his surprisingly pristine civil rights voting record was the one.
By ’72 the hippies had taken over the Democratic party and nominated far-left South Dakota Sen. George McGovern for president, and it was fine with us that Nixon won re-election with a popular and electoral vote margin that not even President Franklin Roosevelt had ever achieved. As bloody as the Vietnam situation was Nixon’s peace with honor platform made more sense than McGovern’s plan of complete surrender, and as much as we liked the rock ‘n’ roll music and sexual frisson of the Democratic counter-culture we had an instinctive multi-generational affinity for the Silent Majority of hard-working and tax-paying and lawn-mowing and baby-having Americans who gave Nixon his landslide win.
We were surly soon-to-be-13-year-old punks, though, and the weird sorts who were already enamored of unfettered free-market capitalism and other sorts of rugged individualism that left all those hippies in the dust, so we also had our doubts about Nixon. When the unemployment and inflation rates divulged in ways that free market theory hadn’t anticipated he embraced wage-and-price controls that not even the hippies would have dared, and despite his pristine civil rights record and reasonably tough stance against all the inner-city rioting that was going on he was the first president to institute racial quotas, and the notorious cold warrior even normalized relations with the commie Chinese and pursued “detente” with the commie Russkies. We still liked that he stood steadfast against the hippies and The Washington Post and The New York Times and those three damned channels on the television, but by that point we were wondering he might think of us.
And so we watched with a certain disinterested horror as it all slowly wound up a year or so later with Nixon flashing his “V for victory” sign as he boarded an ex-presidential helicopter to exit the White House after resigning in disgrace. He was replaced by the impeccably honorable but utterly ineffectual President Gerald Ford, who didn’t have the political clout to order the air strikes that might have maintained the peace with honor that Nixon and all those soldiers and sailors and airmen had won in Vietnam, and the best he could do about all the inflation and unemployment that defied free market theory was to print up some buttons. Despite all that he was only narrowly defeated by the Democrats’ putatively centrist Jimmy Carter, who four years later lost in a landslide to the Goldwaterite Republican nominee Ronald Reagan. That led to an inflation-choking but otherwise severe recession that shortly thereafter led to an unprecedented economic boom, which led to an even bigger re-election landslide than Nixon or Roosevelt or anyone else ever achieved, and despite that admittedly embarrassing Iran-Contra scandal and other things we mostly enjoyed those Reagan years.
The commies were pretty much gone by the end of Vice President George H.W. Bush’s third term of the Reagan age, but during a time of relatively mild economic recession that only made a plurality of the public more willing to elect the southern and putatively centrist Democrat Bill Clinton and his equally hideous wife. Despite Clinton’s efforts the economic boom continued well enough that he survived the impeachment trials of his various sex scandals and won another plurality re-election, but that wound up with eight years of Republican George W. Bush. That was mostly OK by us, but what with all the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan that he’d been obliged by circumstances to do, and another ill-timed and far more severe recession, it led to eight straight years of President Barack Obama
We spent the entire eight Obama years griping about that unrelenting catastrophe, but at the end of it we wound up with the choice of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton or the Republican nominee Donald Trump. For the first time in our lives we wound up voting for none of the above, and resigned ourselves to watching the inevitable scandals that would play out not matter who won. Clinton had been in the public eye for all the 30 or more years that her cheating husband had been in office, and had plenty of undeniably disqualifying scandals of her own, but Trump was a political neophyte whose long and legendary career in the private sector was no more reassuring.
When we subjected Trump’s campaign to the due diligence that you’d apply to anyone else you might invest in, we found that he’d had three wives and countless bragged-about married mistresses and four bankruptcies at his casinos and strip clubs, which are hard businesses to screw up, as well as a long history of failure in steaks and vodka and football leagues and airlines and scam universities and various other enterprises, so we didn’t much cotton to him no matter how much we hated that Clinton woman. His sons had boasted to the press about how much funding their business empire had coming from the Russkies despite all the bankruptcies, and Trump himself was so pro-Russkie that he told a fan hosting a Fox News show that the the Russkies’ killings of journalists and other dissidents was no worse than what routinely happens in America, so all of that gave us pause about the guy.
We weren’t about to vote for that awful Clinton woman, but from the outset all the preliminary stories about Russia and Trump looked pretty bad. By election day it was reliably reported from all the intelligence agencies that the Russkies had launched a three-pronged cyber attack on America’s election, Trump was clearly running on the most Russia-friendly platform in the history of the United States much less its Republican Party, even more friendly than that awful Clinton woman and her ridiculous leftist “reset” button, and there was already something ominously redolent of that summer of ’73.
Since then the president’s national security advisor has resigned and his attorney general has recused himself from Russia-related matters because of Russian ties, and his son and son-in-law and former campaign chairman have been invited to testify before congressional committees about their current Russkie relations, which will likely be broadcast live on national television, and there’s something all too familiar about it. There’s another special prosecutor who’s currently looking into the president’s world-wide financial holdings, which he’s held on to in a way that no previous president ever dared to do, and we can’t shake the same old sense from ’73 that sooner or later he’s bound to come up with something pretty damning.
Which is also a damned shame, because Trump was elected by the same plurality of tax-paying and law-abiding and baby-having and lawn-mowing Americans who beat back all those dirty hippies in ’72, and we’re still rooting for them. It would be another outrage to see The Washington Post and The New York Times and those congressional committees and special prosecutors and the rest of those dirty hippies score another win, but we’ve been through this before, and on another decade’s hot midsummer’s night we’ll only hope that the truth will prevail and things work out best in the long run.
The news these days seems somehow disturbingly familiar to way back then, but also disturbingly different. As crazy a leftist loon as that McGovern guy was he’d flown more than the requisite number of bombing missions over Germany during World War II, and even then nobody questioned his patriotism. As relatively right-wing as Nixon was in the early ’70s none of his critics ever mocked the decorated military officer and historically vindicated congressional cold warrior and former Vice President as an historically illiterate and poorly-spoken buffoon, and his outreaches to communist China and Russia arguably kept the peace long enough for Reagan’s more confrontational stance to win the Cold War. In retrospect, that awful election of ’72 seems like the good old days.
The testimony of the president’s son and son-in-law and former campaign chairman will probably preempt the soap operas and games before the summer is over, and although we’re still somehow part of that still-extant silent majority we don’t expect it will go well. Already the president’s son has admitted he responded to a newfangled e-mail promising the Russkie’ commitment to til an American election by saying “I love it,’ which is a hell of a place to start, and the president is stating that anyone would have taken that meeting, so that’s also a bad starting point.
A couple of years before Nixon headed off in ignominy on that helicopter, which was was just a couple of years before the helicopters launched off the South Vietnamese embassy with a bunch of our last-ditch allies making a futile effort to cling the skids, it was already clear to us that the Watergate scandal wouldn’t end well for anybody. As much as it pains us to alarm those good tax-paying and law-abiding and lawn-mowing members of the silent majority that we still love, this time around doesn’t look to turn out any better.

— Bud Norman

Tweeting Up Another Controvery

President Donald Trump “tweeted” up another political storm over the weekend, this time with a series of messages that alleged President Barack Obama had tapped his telephone and asked if that was legal and bet that a lawyer could make a good case that it was illegal and compared it to the Watergate scandal and described the previous president as a “Bad (or sick) guy.” According to the president’s more ardent defenders in the comments section of all the resulting new stories it was another brilliant move, and given all the other outrageous “tweets” that somehow landed Trump in the White House that might yet prove true, but for now it strikes us as damned odd behavior by a President of the United States.
All though there were four “tweets” that started at 5:49 a.m. on Saturday the medium only allows for 140 characters including spaces in each thought, so all of the media reports gleefully and quite undeniably reported that Trump offered no evidence whatsoever for the explosive charges and damning characterizations. All the media also noted that a short time later Trump also “tweeted” a taunt about Arnold Schwarzenegger leaving “Celebrity Apprentice,” but the allegations about Obama were even bigger news. The story spilled into the little-watched but widely-quoted Sunday morning news shows, where not only every Republican congressperson but all the Trump spokespeople stammered as they took a stab at some explanation. Trump spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the daughter of former Republican Arkansas Governor and Trump ally Mike Huckabee, was reduced to telling the American Broadcasting Company’s “This Week” that “I will let the president speak for himself.”
Trump might well have something to say for himself, but so far his source for the allegations seems to be a story that ran shortly before the “tweets” began at Brietbartnews.com, the news site that was formerly run by Trump consigliere Steve Bannon, who once described it as a “platform for the alt-right,” which summarized a rant shrieked by conservative talk radio host Mark Levin, who had shrieked it on the radio the day before. Levin is not at all a Trump sycophant and very often right despite his tendency to shriek, and he cited reporting by the very reliable Andrew McCarthy of the National Review, an impeccable conservative publication also stubbornly resistant to Trump’s charms, that the Department of Justice did indeed seek a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act wire tap on certain Trump-related phones and did keep tabs on a computer served linked between Trump’s business headquarters and a suspicious Russian bank. There have also been a number of leaks from the intelligence communities and other federal agencies clearly motivated by political animus, and all that right-wing radio talk about a “deep state” rebellion isn’t entirely far-fetched.
After eight long years of Obama and all his scandals even such anti-Trump conservatives as ourselves wouldn’t put it past that damned old Democrat and his thoroughly politicized Justice Department to be up to some Nixonian dirty tricks, and if Trump has anything to back it up we’ll be rubbing our hands with anticipation to hear it. There’s nothing in any of those 140-character-including-spaces “tweets” that comes remotely close to backing it up, though, and all those spokespeople’s more expansive sound bites on the Sunday shows were no more convincing. For now the Democrats are gloating that Trump either fabricated the story out of whole cloth and no wire tapes were ever sought, and that if any were indeed granted that meant a federal judge had decided there was sufficient suspicion about Trump’s dealings with Russian interests to warrant it, which is another favorite Democratic talking point of the moment, and that in any case Trump will be hard-pressed to prove Obama’s direct involvement, which eight long years have taught us is undeniably true. The rest of it should be convincing to that portion of the public that isn’t hopelessly partisan, too, and Trump will need better answers that what his people came up with on Sunday morning to counter that.
Maybe Trump is just baiting the trap so he can spring it on Obama at just the opportune time, as he did with that brilliant tactical admission that Obama was born in the United States, period, or offering just another distraction from the ongoing Russia stories that have already led to the resignations of a campaign chairman and National Security Advisor and the recusal of an Attorney General, and it really is a brilliant masterstroke. Then again, maybe Trump just can’t helping “tweeting” stupid things based on what he’s just read at some offbeat internet site at an ungodly early hour on a Sunday morning. We’re no fans of Obama, but Trump does strike us as that kind of guy, and it’s easy to imagine both of them looking very bad when all this sorts out.

— Bud Norman

The Latest from a Desultory Campaign Trail

Has there even been a more awful presidential race in the history of the American republic? Every day seems to bring a fresh batch of headlines reminding us why we don’t want either of the likely winners anywhere near the White House.
Thanks to the efforts of the last honorable men and women left at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the dogged right-wing watchdogs at Judicial Watch, the public now has access to some 15,000 e-mails that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton tried to keep from outside scrutiny, which is a scandal in itself, and they reveal that big-money contributors to her family foundation had a better than 50 percent chance of getting some sit-down time with her while she was Secretary of State. Even such polite media as the Associated Press and The New York Times and The Washington Post felt obliged to give it front page prominence, and to concede that it looks very, very bad for the Democratic nominee. To our more historically informed eyes, it looks even worse than that.
We’re old enough to vaguely recall a time before all the political scandals had the word “Gate” affixed to them, in honor of the gold standard “Watergate Scandal” of the Nixon-era 70’s, and instead they’d include the word “Dome,” a reference to the previous champion “Teapot Dome Scandal” of the Harding-era ’20s. Our long-ago public schooling taught us that “Teapot Dome” resulted in a Secretary of the Interior going to prison for peddling some influence on the sale of a Navy petroleum reserve at someplace in Wyoming improbably called Teapot Dome, and the philandering and gambling and foul-mouth Harding forever being consigned to the bottom ranks of presidents in all those historian polls, and yet that suddenly seems small beer compared to a Secretary of State doing the same sort of wheeling and dealing on a geo-political level. By one of those odd historical coincidences a young Clinton was a newly-fledged lawyer on the staff of the Democratic committee investigating Watergate, before she got she fired for overzealous incompetence, but after nearly 30 years of Cattle Futures-gate and Whitewater-gate and Travel-gate and File-gate and Monica-gate and the many other -Gates we can’t quite recall at the moment, along with all of this more recent and even damning e-mail-gate and family foundation-gate stuff, she by now surely deserves her own suffix.
Still, she’s leading in the average of national polls, things look even better for her in the average of the polls in the swing states and the rest of the suddenly convoluted electoral map, and the only explanation for such a strange phenomenon is that she’s running against Republican nominee Donald J. Trump. The self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul is entirely blameless of peddling favors for contributions as a public official, never having held any public office in his 70-year-long life, but he openly bragged on Republican debate stages about buying influence from both Republican and Democratic officials during his varied careers. He even contributed to Clinton’s family foundation, and all the great deal-maker seems to have gotten out of it was her attendance at his third marriage to that foreign-born naked woman in the sapphic poses on the front page of the Trump-endorsing New York Post, so he’s got his own problems winning the public’s trust.
Trump won the Republican nomination largely because he was more full-throated in his opposition to illegal immigration than the rest of the vasty more qualified 16 challengers, but he went column-inch-to-column-inch on the front pages of the polite press by seem to stake a noticeably more squishy position on his signature issue. After rising to the Republican nomination with vows and assurances of “believe me” that he was going to build a big beautiful wall along the Mexican border that Mexico would pay for and that all 11 million or so illegal immigrants in the country would be rounded up and deported, and that any of those RINO Republican squishes who thought this fanciful were all for amnesty and “open borders” just like Obama and Clinton and the rest of the “establishment,” Trump has lately been taking a more establishmentarian tack. After hiring a pollster as his new campaign manager he had a meeting with some of the Hispanics he’s been horribly polling with, and he announced a major speech on immigration that was later postponed, and in an interview on Monday with the Fox News Network’s Bill O’Reilly he wound up saying that he’d keep doing what President Barack Obama has been doing “perhaps with a lot more energy.” Trump’s scant ad buys have both time for a spot alleging that Obama has opened the borders, but in the interview he noted that both Obama and President George W. Bush had enforced many deportations, basically agreed with their “felons not families” priorities, dismissed any notion of mass deportations, and couldn’t quite explain how his current stand on amnesty differed from all those squishy Republicans he’d vanquished in the primaries.
This might well moderate Trump’s image to that pesky majority of the country that regards him as an extremist xenophobe, especially those who have noticed what an historically corrupt harridan the Democratic nominee is, but it might also dim the enthusiasm of the extremist xenophobes who have comprised a certain essential percentage of his support. In any case we can’t see it helping his reputation for intellectual or moral integrity, nor find any reason to believe this isn’t the most awful presidential election in the history of the American Republic.

— Bud Norman

Of Teapot Dome, Watergate, and Uranium

Another day, another Clinton scandal, and one has to wonder how many it will take before Hillary Clinton’s presidency stops being inevitable.
The latest blow comes from The New York Times, which is nobody’s idea of a vast right-wing conspirator, and it’s a doozy. This one is about the Clinton family’s already scandal-plagued foundation raking in tens of millions of dollars on a deal with a Canadian company that acquired large holdings of American uranium and wound up selling them to the Russians and allowing Pravda to boast of their corner on the market for  a scarce resource crucial to America’s economic and national security interests, including $500,000 paid by a shady Russian bank for a speech that former President Bill Clinton gave praising the human rights record of Kazakhstan, another unsavory human rights-crushing dictatorship figuring in the sordid story, and the worrisome possibility that Russia might toss in some uranium along with the sophisticated anti-aircraft systems that it’s currently providing Iran, with whom the administration is currently negotiating a deal to accommodate and legitimize its nuclear power ambitions, or that the Russians might deny the uranium to the American nuclear energy industry that provides a fifth of our electricity, and the rather unsettling detail that it was all given official approval by a State Department run by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The New York Times is required by journalistic convention to give the Clintons and their foundation a chance to downplay the matter, most of which has already been disproved, and none of which is the least bit convincing, but at this point even the most polite press no longer feel obliged to pretend that it isn’t a big deal. Any readers old enough to have been sentient during the good old days before Watergate will recall that headline writers used to affix the suffice “Dome” rather than “Gate” to any scandal du jour, which every schoolboy understood was a reference to the shocking “Teapot Dome Scandal” in which some undeniably Republican Warren G. Harding administration officials back in the celluloid collar days enriched themselves by accepting money from an American company that wanted its hands on some American oil resources, but even that gold-standard scandal didn’t entail hostile foreign powers or the possibility of the lights going out in a fifth of the country or Tel Aviv being blown to bit with American resources. There are now 25 years worth of Clinton scandals, which has had a cumulative effect on the family’s reputation no matter how strenuously the press has previously tried to downplay each of them, and all of which is dismissed by the Clinton apologists as “old news,” but even the most polite press now seem to have reached the limits of their patience.
The Clintons are no doubt surprised that anyone should be troubled their multi-million dollar deal-making, given the previous politeness of the press, and they had every reason to expect that the likes of The New York Times would chastise any Hoover Institution-affiliated right-wing nutcase who uncovered such embarrassing facts as a sexist reactionary. We admit to some surprise our right-wing nutcase selves, even if we did always hold out hope that even Democrats would realize sooner rather than later that Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy is a very, very bad idea. Our optimism always winds up dampened, though, and this time it’s that the Democrats seem less upset by Clinton’s outright corruption and incompetence and complete lack of any accomplishments than by her occasional heresies from left-wing lunacy. We can’t think of any Clinton heresies from left-wing lunacy, and we note that the multi-millionaire deal-maker is running as a Chipotle-patronizing regular American populist and that after 25 years of trashing the women her cad husband has victimized is billing herself as the standard-bearer of the feminist movement, but if Democrats are holding out for a faux-Indian millionaire-consultant purist such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren or an unabashed socialist such as Vermont Rep. Bernie Sanders or some guitar-playing unknown such who turned his reliably blue Democratic state over to the Republicans such as former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley we won’t mind if they use the corruption and incompetence and lack of accomplishment as an excuse.

Of course, the Republicans could still lose to either Clinton or some slightly-less corrupt yet more purely left-wing lunatic. Eventually the press will discover an unpaid parking ticket or a family vacation with the dog on the car roof in the Republican candidate’s past, or the time he winced at a same-sex kiss scene during an episode of “Glee,” and making tens of millions on a deal that comprised America’s economy and national security will pale in comparison. Still, we’re glad that almost no one outside the Clinton family and their circle of business associates seems very enthused about her inevitability.

— Bud Norman

Back to the Scandalous Future

There’s a certain unsettling feeling of the 1970s to this moment. Leisure suits and platform shoes aren’t back in vogue and the current pop hits aren’t quite disco, but the fashions and the music are otherwise just as horrible. Officially there is no “stagflation,” because except at the grocery store and the gas pump the inflation rate is low, but the stagnation part of that long-forgotten portmanteau is evident in even the most gussied-up government statistics. There’s the same foreboding sense of international turmoil and domestic scandal, too, and the same nagging suspicion that no in charge has a clue. The impending fall of Baghdad is evoking unpleasant memories of the fall of Saigon, Russian tanks rolling into Ukraine bring the chill of a new Cold War, and now there’s a two-year gap in the Internal Revenue Service’s e-mails that eerily recall the 18-and-a-half minute gap in the Watergate tapes.
Those too young to have been transfixed by the Watergate scandal won’t appreciate the ominous meaning of an 18-and-a-half-minute gap, but suffice to say it was a big deal back in the day. A third-rate burglary to wire-tap the Democratic National Headquarters in the fancy-schmantzy Watergate building in Washington, D.C., had been linked to operatives of President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign, high-ranking administration officials were implicated in a cover-up that seemed to go to the very top, and when the stone age reel-to-reel tape recordings that chronicled the White House conversations were subpoenaed by a Congressional investigation they included a suspicious gap of that famous duration just when they were getting to the good parts. The White House’s explanation that the missing portions had accidentally been erased by the president’s ever-loyal personal security was widely ridiculed, especially after photographs of her desk and the tape recorder demonstrated the strange contortions that would have been required to accomplish such an accident, and public opinion reasonably concluded that the erasure was an intelligence-insulting ploy in a broader conspiracy. Nixon eventually resigned rather than be convicted in his upcoming impeachment trial, and Pulitzer Prizes and Academy Awards and a lifelong gig on the talk shows was awarded those who had uncovered the crime.
Only the most obsessive Watergate buffs will recall that the articles of impeachment also included that Nixon had “endeavored” to use the Internal Revenue Service against his political foes. There was some evidence of this on the unexpurgated portions of those tape recordings, but they also reveal that the administration’s effort came to naught because the IRS was too thoroughly dominated by Democrats and other political foes of the president. That a president would even contemplate such a thing was then considered an impeachable offense, however, and it outraged the citizenry as much as the break-ins and huggings and the subsequent attempts to obstruct justice. Say what you will about the ’70s, and all its myriad sartorial and musical and political failings, but at least people could still rouse themselves to an appropriate degree of outrage over such things.
Nowadays there’s a story buried deep inside the local newspapers that the IRS has been caught red-handed harassing a president’s political foes, and the public seems willing to accept the president’s word that it’s just another “phony scandal” like the four dead Americans at an unprotected consulate in a Middle Eastern hell-hole, or the 200-plus Mexicans killed by guns provided to south-of-the-border drug gangs by our federal government’s gun-running operation, or the gang members being allowed entry north-of-the-border by a non-enforcement policy, or the many brave American veterans dead due to the neglector a government-run health care system, or any of countless other recent incidents that once would have had the country riled up. Now the key high-ranking figure in the IRS’ harassment of conservative groups is invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in a Congressional investigation of this “phony scandal,” there are two years of her e-mails that have been suspiciously erased by a claimed computer crash that is every bit as dubious as that accidental-erasure-during-a-yoga-routine that was offered during the Watergate days, and would be laughed at by IRS agents if a private business came up with such a flimsy excuse for failing to provide information during an audit, and yet the story is treated only briefly by the most of the media and doesn’t even rate so much as mention in “All the News That’s Fit to Print” on the pages of the New York Times. The average citizen is blissfully unaware of the story, and certainly not clamoring for impeachment.
The average citizen of the ’70s was probably no more civic-minded and beholden to higher standards that the average citizen of the day, but back in the day the media landscape was more conducive to public outrage. That old joke that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you was never more true than in the case of Nixon, who had been hated by the sophisticated since ever since he’d defeated their progressive dream girl in his first Congressional run and rightly exposed their pal Alger Hiss as a communist spy, no matter how many Environmental Protection Agencies and affirmative action programs and wage-and-price controls and other liberal projects he gave them, and when he at long last provided them necessary rope to hang him with they pre-empted all the soap operas on the only three channels a television set could get and made sure that everyone in the country knew about it. Equally outrageous scandals by the current president are more easily hidden amongst all the the other scandals and the news about bigoted basketball team owners and homosexual football players and the latest exploits of some drug-addled celebrity other another, especially when most of the media have been eager to promote the president ever since he first emerged as an agent of hope and change and healing the planet and all the rest of nonsense.
We have no desire to return to the days of three channels and a handful of big-time newspapers rubbing the public’s nose in the scandals of their choice, nor do we care to re-live any other aspects of the ’70s except perhaps the best of Merle Haggard’s work from the era, but it would be nice to get a big of that moral outrage back. Another impeachment trial would have a nice nostalgic feel, too, but that seems as likely as a comeback of the leisure suit.

— Bud Norman

What’s Bugging the Republicans

The young folks might not believe it, but way back in the ‘70s illegal electronic eavesdropping on a political office was considered a very big deal. When some men were caught doing it on behalf of President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign it was all anybody could talk about. The television networks ran the congressional hearings on the matter instead of soap operas and game shows, and in the dark days before cable that meant everyone had to watch, minor players became major celebrities, books were published, a Hollywood movie with big-name stars was made, and Nixon wound up resigning in disgrace with his party was so tarnished that Jimmy Carter wound up as president.
This largely forgotten episode was brought to mind Tuesday by Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell’s allegation that his political office has been “bugged,” as the ‘70s-era lingo would have it. A Federal Bureau of Investigation probe has reportedly just been launched and as of yet there is no officially sanctioned truth to the allegation, but neither is there any other apparent explanation for how an audio tape of a campaign strategy session conducted in McConnell’s office wound up in the hands of the far-left Mother Jones magazine. Even if the worst-case scenario is proved true it is unlikely to become such an all-consuming story as the Watergate scandal once was, but given the past standards that inspired so many of today’s press one would expect some attention to be paid to even the most innocuous possibilities.
Mother Jones and much of the rest of the press seem more scandalized by what’s on the tape, however, instead of how it was acquired. The tape captures McConnell and his staff discussing how they might respond to a potential challenge by the motion picture actress Ashley Judd, which is apparently shocking conduct at a campaign strategy session, and they even compound the horror by considering pointing out flaws in her character and political positions. One aide goes so far as to suggest they make an issue of her past mental breakdowns and other psychiatric problems, information he acquired by reading her autobiography. Judd eventually decided to not run for Senate in her long-abandoned home state, presumably on the advice of more seasoned Democrats who advised her that a far-left Hollywood with outspoken views against guns and coal and other beloved Kentucky values who brings a “psychological support dog” to interviews was unlikely to win in a staunchly conservative state that had recently elected the likes of McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, no matter how memorable her many nude scenes, but it was still outrageous to the refined sensibilities of Mother Jones that McConnell would ever even contemplate saying anything unfavorable about her.
Certainly the people at that “bugged” Democratic National Committee headquarters back in the ‘70s would have never been caught uttering an unkind word about Nixon, or at least that was the impression one got from all that wall-to-wall Watergate coverage back in the day. The only story then was that political operatives had illegally eavesdropped on an opponent’s conversations, and it was considered so abhorrent that even such stalwart Republicans as McConnell now use the term “Nixonian” to disparage the practice. This time around the outrage will probably be relatively muted, and McConnell’s stalwart Republicanism is likely the reason why.

— Bud Norman