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Snobs, Slobs, and the Soul of Conservatism

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

— Bud Norman

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Some Dare Call it Conspiracy

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

— Bud Norman

When There’s No Getting Over It

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

— Bud Norman