Who Needs Evidence When We Already Know Which Side We’re On?

There are physical examinations and tax returns and and oil changes and various other unpleasant things that can’t be forever avoided in this life, no matter how one tries, and the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump is one of those things. It’s an acrimonious topic, best avoided over family dinners, but there’s nothing else in the news that allows getting around it.
The very differing versions of the very complicated facts of the matter will surely dominate the headlines for the coming weeks, as the very complicated machinery of the constitutional system grinds how to proceed with the trial. At this point, most people have chosen their side.
So far as we can tell the damned Democrats want to introduce to the trial all the testimony they’ve elicited in congressional testimony and sworn documents from respected Trump-administration civil servants and a Trump donor and political appointee who allege Trump withheld congressionally authorized aid to our Ukrainian allies in exchange for help in his reelection, along with recent media interviews and the documents provided to Congress and perhaps the sworn testimony by an indicted associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who seems tied up in all this. They also impeach the president on the charge of obstructing their efforts to get to the bottom of it.
The Republican response has been that it’s all a “deep state” conspiracy by the damned Democrats to depose a wildly popular president, and that no testimony evidence should be allowed to dignify such a sham trial, even the presumably exculpatory testimony and evidence that might come from Trump’s Secretary of State and moonlighting Chief of Staff and Secretary of Budget and Management and Office and defenestrated national security and the still ongoing personal lawyer who seems up to his neck in all this. We have friends and family who find this quite persuasive, but as much as we despise the damn Democrats we like to hear and consider all the relevant information before making up our minds about anything. There’s also no plausible argument that Trump and the congressional Republicans aren’t obstructing that constitutionally mandated effort.
According to the latest polling a slim 51 percentage of Americans want Trump removed from office, which is well within a margin of error that might allow Trump to win again in the Electoral College, and there’s no denying the polls only predicted the popular vote in the last election, but it does not bode well for his reelection chances. A closer look at the numbers reveals even more bad news for Trump, as women voters and black voters and Latino voters and young voters and other growing demographics of voters want him out by landslide numbers, and even a slim plurality of us aging and increasingly outnumbered white male Republican respondents want a full trial with documentary evidence and sworn testimony and anything else that might either convict or acquit the president.
Barring any bombshell testimony from witnesses Trump and the Republicans might reluctantly allow to testify, at this point their best argument is that yeah, Trump withheld the aid to get election help and publicly refused to comply with congressional efforts to find out about it, but so what? “Get over it,” as Trump’s moonlighting chief of staff and Officer of Management and Budget said, adding “it happens all the time.” Maybe so, but we find that distressing, and suspect that “many people,” as Trump likes to cite, do as well.
The non-partisan Government Accountability Office has decreed it is indeed against the law for a president to withhold congressionally authorized appropriations, and that pretty much comports with our layman’s understanding of how the legislative branch legislates and the executive branch executes according to the Constitution, and so for the judicial branch that adjudges these things agrees. As for obstructing the damned congressional Democrats in their constitutionally approved “deep state” conspiracy efforts, Trump has made quite a show of that, and the fans love him for it, but they’ll change their minds the next time a Democratic president gets in trouble, which might be soon, and for now the rest of the pubic doesn’t like it.
Trump and his Senate allies might be damned if they allow any damning testimony and evidence into a Senate impeachment trial, but they’ll also be damned if they don’t, especially if they don’t introduce any exculpatory evidence or testimony that Trump has previously blocked, as it looks very bad. Maybe it won’t be so bad for Trump if the stock markets are still up and unemployment is still low on Election Day, and the damned Democrats go crazy left, and Trump’s support is sufficiently spread around the Electoral College map, but it still looks very bad.

— Bud Norman

The Impeachment Show Commences

The House of Representatives has formally forwarded articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate, and there’s no way of knowing comes next, except that it will be complicated and divisive and inconclusive and ultimately harmful to America’s international reputation.
At this point the betting line is that the slim Republican majority in the Senate, which includes some sometimes principled members in iffy states, won’t vote to summarily dismiss the charges when it comes up in a week or so, and even if they did it probably wouldn’t be the smart political play. Only so much of the viewing public is paying any attention, but most of those unwashed masses want to hear the story told by sworn witnesses and any e-mails or text massages or hand-written notes or other verifiable documents that might flesh out this fascinating tale.
There’s already enough of it in the press and sworn testimony before the House and other public records to make for a prima facie case to the Senate, and if Trump succeeds in not offering any defense he’ll look bad to objective observers, which currently seem to be a majority of the electorate. Since Trump was indicted by the House one of his personal lawyer’s currently indicted clients and associates has gone on cable television to further implicate Trump in the charges of impeachment, and even though he’s under indictment and there all sorts of other a reasons to doubt his credibility he’s also a a client and associate of Trump’s personal lawyer, who also seems tied up in this mess, and given his current legal situation he has good reason to be forthcoming and truthful under oath, which makes for another interesting plot twist in this ongoing Trump reality show.
If there’s going to be a trial with all those pesky witnesses, Trump and his Senate allies are hoping they’ll include Hunter Biden, the son of currently front Democratic presidential presidential frontrunner who was apparently cashing in on Ukrainian corruption, will be among them, along with any other witnesses who can be culled from the “deep state” conspiracy against Trump, The charges facing the Senate jury are that Trump and his administration withheld congressionally authorized aid to our ally Ukraine in exchange for damning charges against the Bidens, then obstructed Congress and the justice system at large from finding about it, but on that point of law both Bidens and any other “deep state” conspirators can believably testify they know nothing about it.
Trump will either be convicted or more likely be acquitted by a Senate trial, but in any case it won’t look good in the international or historical courts of opinion.

— Bud Norman

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On What Many People Are Saying

Although we’ve done a lot of damned dumb things in life, we can at least boast that we’ve rarely fallen for even the slickest con man’s patter. Hypersensitive as we are to the English language, and being avid students of the art of rhetoric and the comedy of W.C. Fields, we can always spot the tricks a used car or time-share or snake oil salesman or other huckster uses to reel in the suckers.
Whenever making an obviously suspicious assertion they like to add “OK?” or “right?” and await the suckers’ hypnotically nodding acknowledgement of what they’ve been told. Their claims are always absurdly hyperbolic and couched in the most superlative adjectives, but most often too promising for anyone but such fatalistic sorts as ourselves to resist. They also like to throw in that some people are saying the same thing, and imply that you also want to be in the know, and that there’s something very wrong with anyone who says anything different..
By now you’ve probably figured out this is all leading up to yet another of our rants about President Donald Trump, who daily employs these tricks to peddle his suspicious claims and hyperbolic promises. We were set off by a Trump “tweet” arguing that many people believe the Senate should just summarily dismiss the impeachment charges against him without at any testimony or evidence or any sort of trial at all.
Many believe that by the Senate giving credence to a trial based on the no evidence, no crime, read the transcripts, ‘no pressure’ Impeachment Hoax, rather than an outright dismissal, it gives the partisan Democrat Witch Hunt credibility that it otherwise does not have,” he “tweeted,” adding “I agree!”
The argument at least has some truth going for it, as there are indeed “many people” who think this way, but there are also “many people” who think the Earth is flat and that shape-shifting Illuminati reptilians secretly run the world. They’re all entitled to their crackpot opinions, but so are we and the rest of a more skeptical world. We’ve read the “transcripts,” as well the sworn testimony and documentary evidence that got Trump impeached by the House of Representatives, and find it quite persuasive, so we’d like to hear a more vigorous defense from the president than what “many people” are saying.
Perhaps Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the moonlighting White House Chief of Staff and Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney, and Trump’s personal lawyer and shadow Secretary of State Rudy Giuliani could exonerate Trump, but for some reason Trump is blocking their sworn testimony, presumably because it would give credence to the “Democrat Witch Hunt.” Former national security advisor John Bolton has said he’ll testify in an impeachment trial if subpoenaed, and we’re among the many, many people who would love to hear what he has to say under oath about all this.
Despite a slim Republican majority in the Senate there’s a good chance there will be an impeachment trial, with witnesses and evidence and withheld testimony and evidence, and it will surely be embarrassing to Trump. The good news for Trump is that there almost certainly won’t be the needed supra-majority need to remove him from office, and he will thus be able to claim he was innocent of any wrongdoing all along, and that after he says “OK?” and “Right?” many heads will nod in agreement.
Many people will disagree, though, and we’ll find out on Election Day how many there are on each side.

— Bud Norman

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

Reality TV and Reality Collide

The House impeachment inquiry makes its much ballyhooed debut on live television today, which puts in a wistfully nostalgic mood. It brings back vivid memories of the last two times the Congress tried to impeach a sitting president, and a jarring realization about how things change over time.
Way back in our youth the Watergate hearings were the top-rated show on television, and we watched with precociously rapt attention as the complex plot culminated with President Richard Nixon’s resignation and final helicopter flight from the White House. Even in the desultory aftermath of the Vietnam war and the emerging stagflation economy it was a very big deal, and with everything else on television at the time, it was such an epic morality play that we old folks talk about it to this day.
By the time President Bill Clinton was being impeached for lying under oath about a tawdry relationship with a White House intern during a civil lawsuit regarding a youth former Arkansas state employee, which was discovered by a special prosecutor charged with investigating a fail real estate scheme, things had noticeably changed. There weren’t any wars and the economy was growing without inflation, a post-sexual revolution country didn’t much care what its president was doing in his free time, and without any of the femmes fatales being questioned live on television the show couldn’t compete with all the other channels suddenly available on cable. In one of television’s greatest anticlimaxes the show ended with Clinton’s acquittal by a majority Democratic Senate, and no one on either of the side of the question at the time talks about much it now.
This time around things have changed even more noticeably. The nation’s notions of sexual propriety have reached a point where a thrice-married and boastful philanderer is the Republican president and hero of the evangelical right, and its standards for the proper exercise of presidential power have been similarly degraded. There are an exponentially greater number of viewing and reading options now, the impeachment hearings are boringly headed to a obviously predetermined and desultory-for-both-sides conclusion, and one likely outcome is that most Americans won’t much care how it comes out.
If you haven’t been slogging through the byzantine plot in the leaked or off-the-record reports in the print and electronic media, the gist of it is that several high-level Foreign Service and military officials have testified under oath to Congress that President Donald Trump’s White House withheld military and other aid to Ukraine unless it agreed to announce investigations into Trump’s past and potential future Democratic rivals. The White House itself released a rough transcript of a phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president that seems to back up the charges, the White House chief of staff defiantly told a press gathering to “Get over it, we do it all the time,” and for now the Republicans are trying their best to come up with a better defense.
The Republicans protested when the witnesses testified in closed hearings, but their damning testimony has since been released, and we expect they’ll be telegenic and appealing characters when live on television. On other channels you can hear that they’re “deep state” conspirators involved in a coup d’tat against a duly elected president, and some Republicans will be saying the same on the hated “fake news” networks, but it’s not a convincing plot line, even by modern television standards. All but one of the witnesses for the prosecution all have impeccable records of public service, no apparent reason to lie, and their stories all line up. Several are Trump appointees, or appointees of his appointees, and the other witness is a dilettante diplomat who was appointed Ambassador to the European Union after bundling millions to Trump’s campaign and another million to Trump’s inaugural ball but has recently amended his testimony to line up with the others.
So far impeachment is polling pretty well, given the fractured media markets and bipartisan climate, and we expect that even low-rated televised hearings will nudge up the antipathy to Trump. Potential future guest stars include Trump’s personal attorney, whose peripatetic freelance foreign policy are currently under investigation by Trump’s own Justice Department, and Trump’s former national security advisor, who resigned over differences o such matters as our foreign policy with Ukraine, which would be widely watched.
Barring some deus ex machina plot twist in this improbable reality show, a nearly unanimous majority of the Democrats who control the House majority and perhaps even a few Republicans will almost certainly impeach Trump. For now it’s likely that a majority-Republican Senate won’t vote to remove Trump from office, but that might be slightly less likely with each passing day of televised testimony from believable witnesses about an arguably impeachable abuse of presidential power.
Back in our surly and cynical youth many of the Republicans used to care about that sort of thing, and even in our middle age there were some damned Democrats who were embarrassed by an older man using his presidential power to indulge in a tawdry relationship with an much younger intern, even if they thought lying about it under oath wasn’t necessarily an impeachable offense. These days there are so many channels to choose from, and all of the standards seem to have been lowered across the political divide, and much of the country probably won’t care how it turns out.
Even so, we’ll be “binge watching.”

— Bud Norman

Might As Well Grab ‘Em By The …

By this unpleasant moment in such a crazy presidential election year, our best advice to the Republican nominee is to go right ahead and proudly proclaim that he’s a sexist pig. To borrow an infamous phrase from the equally despicable Democratic nominee, what difference, at this point, does it make?
In case you’ve been fortunate enough to have been living in a cave without cable television or internet access or even old-fashioned newspaper delivery for the past several days, last Friday saw the release of an 11-year-old outtake from a celebrity gossip show that featured Donald J. Trump boasting about how his reality-show stardom allowed him to not only kiss any attractive woman he might encounter but also to “grab ’em by the p***y.” Even in this crazy election year, and even at this late date in our long cultural decline, when the unregulated cable news networks and the more daring newspapers are quoting the obscenity without the expurgating asterisks, the story had legs that carried it into Sunday’s presidential debate.
After an uncharacteristic apology for his remarks, which he laughably insisted did not reflect who he is, Trump tried to further mitigate the damage by dragging out three women who could plausibly testify that the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s ex-president husband was an even worse cad. During the debate he tried to dodge a question about whether he had actually done what he bragged about, then finally insisted he was merely all talk and no action, but anyone who familiar with the reality show genre should not be surprised that at least four women are now plausibly testifying that he acted exactly like he had bragged about acting. There are also some former beauty pageant contestants testifying that Trump invaded their dressing rooms while they were undressed, which Trump indignantly denies but is nonetheless plausible given that he also bragged about being able to get away with that during one of his frequent appearances on the shock jock Howard Stern’s radio show, and given the countless other eye-popping quotes he’s provided to the tabloid press over the years the sexist pig charge is becoming hard to deny. Trump and his supporters can cast aspersions on the women making the claims, just as they now indignantly note that Clinton and all his former and current supporters did, but that probably won’t help.
This isn’t likely to help Trump with the 60 percent or so of voters who had already reasonably concluded that he doesn’t respect women, but it won’t faze the 35 percent or so of the country that have stubbornly supported his candidacy from the beginning, and we’re quite sure many of them will regard it as a feature rather than a bug. When we tried to warn our fellow Republicans that Trump was a predatory sexist pig we were often told that he was the only bold enough to point out that so was the Democratic nominee’s ex-president husband, which we had to admit was true, even if he seemed the worst one of the candidates to make the case, and the fact that Trump had long been among those libertine Democrats making excuses for the ex-president’s predatory sexist piggery and casting aspersions on his victims proved unconvincing to Trump’s more ardent fans.
We were also told that Trump’s already well-known eye-popping quotes of sexual piggery were proof of how very “politically-incorrect” he was, and whatever the hell that means to someone in favor same-sex bathrooms it was somehow a big selling point at the time, and that it demonstrated what an world-beating “alpha-male” he was, whatever the hell that means in the context of a draft-dodging isolationist with a worrisome adoration of Vladimir Putin. So as far we understood it the theory was that a six-times bankrupt and self-proclaimed “king of debt” was such a brilliant businessman that only he could deal with the nation’s impending insolvency, that only a twice-divorced and boastfully adulterous and lately-married to an illegal-immigrant-nudie-model could defend our nation’s Judeo-Christian culture, and that the sheer audaciousness required to stand on a Republican debate stage and boast about his hand size and you-know-what-that-means and then grab ’em by the genitals would suffice to  slay America’s many foreign and domestic enemies, and that at least he’d be having affairs with more glamorous women than that loser ex-president could get. The theory also claimed that only he would get down in the mud with those awful Clintons, where we were told the battle had to be won, but at this point in such a crazy election year it doesn’t seem to be working out.
Which is a shame, because those Clintons truly are at least as awful, quite arguably more so, and we expect that just about any old boring beta-male or even downright female Republican who wasn’t such an undeniably sexist pig and spent all of his or her  time talking up the traditional Republican talking points about the sluggish economy and national debt and rapidly deteriorating foreign relations and free market alternatives to Obamacare and all that blather about sex-segregated dressing rooms and other pressing issues facing the nation would be leading by double digits rather than trailing by the six or seven points that Trump is currently losing. At this point that makes no difference, we suppose, but we’ll hold out hope that at some happier point in the future the Republican Party will remember this awful moment in history.

— Bud Norman