This is the transcript from Episode 156 of The Editors.
Rich: How bad were the president’s tweets? What does Ilhan Omar owe to her country? We will discuss all of this and more on this week’s edition of The Editors. I’m Rich Lowry, and I’m joined as always, or at least most of the time by the right, honorable Charles C. W. Cooke; the pride of Tennessee, David French; and the notorious MBD, Michael Brendan Dougherty. You are listening to a National Review podcast.
Guys, I’m living the Charlie Cooke life here. I am remote for the first time ever doing this podcast. Well I guess actually, there was once I was remote but most everyone else was remote with me. But I am not there in the studio, but I’m connected through the miracle of Comrex FieldTap app, which is the reason why Charlie, at times, does this podcast on the road and on highways. I’m actually in a room and not in my car, but I now understand the freedom that you enjoy when you do this podcast, Charlie.
Charlie: That’s Rest Stop Charlie to you.
Rich: Let’s not inspire any poetry from our friends at The American Conservative over Rest Stop Charlie.
Michael, we had a week so far, and it’s only half over, dominated by a series of three tweets from the president over the weekend saying unspecified congresswomen, but clearly the “Squad,” should go back to the countries they came from, fix these hell-hole failed countries, and then when they learn how it’s done, then they can come back here and tell us how it’s done, and Nancy Pelosi is going to pay the airfare.
Clearly this was just, I think, presidential trolling, but it was particularly obnoxious presidential trolling. I think telling Ilhan Omar to go home would be stupid and lowest-common-denominator rhetoric, but would be defensible on some level that just telling native-born American congresswomen that they should go back to their countries.
Clearly this whole thing has blown up. There was a resolution on the House floor condemning him, which created its own intense drama where the chair actually vacated the chair briefly and threw down the gavel. It’s just this ridiculous melodrama. What do you make of those tweets?
Michael: There’s a conventional way to look at them, which I share, which is that Donald Trump inserted himself into the developing free fire between the “Squad” and Democratic leadership. The story that had been building over the previous week and into the weekend, when he fired off this little tweet storm, was the increasingly nasty and hostile sniping between the staffs and allied figures between this Squad of four progressive freshman Democratic congresswomen and Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leadership.
A lot of conservatives were passing these things back and forth over the weekend, saying, “Bring out the popcorn. This is great. We’re watching a civil war erupt in the Democratic party.” It was an interesting contest between Pelosi, who has all the traditional political power that office, and patronage, and prestige confers on her, and the Squad, which has this new-media power, where they dominate social media. Through social media, they lead the mainstream media by the nose. Thus, have a giant bully pulpit of their own.
You’re tempted to speculate about his motives, but you’re tempted to think Trump was getting tired of not being the center story, and he jumped in. A lot of liberal commentators said, “This shows that Donald Trump is a white nationalist because fundamentally, he’s looking at women of color and he is confusing them with foreigners. If they were white, he wouldn’t think of them as un-American, or non-American.”
Listen, I think there’s something to that in a sense of Donald Trump has this Archie Bunker mentality about race in this country, and it’s been in evidence before. I personally think that the number-one explanation for Donald Trump, and I was sharing this with Charlie off of the podcast, isn’t necessarily an ideological one, or that he had some brilliant political strategy to make Ilhan Omar the face of the Democratic party heading into 2020. The face of the Democratic party will be the candidate that they select for president. I just think Trump takes pleasure in controversy, and takes pleasure in saying things that upset the liberals, that upset maybe even some of his own staffers and people at the White House. I just think he’s having fun and our news cycle is the victim of it.
Rich: David, what do you think?
David: When you talk about Donald Trump, are you talking about the instrument of social cohesion, per Sohrab?
There’s several layers to this. One is the argument that’s raging on Twitter and elsewhere — were these comments racist? Which I think they absolutely were. In fact, I think they were textbook.
Back in my pre–National Review days, in my pre-public-interest-law days, I did some work in employment-discrimination law. I would get pulled into some of the big cases that our employment litigation group would work on. If you had evidence in the record existing through these tweets, through Trump’s comments about Judge Curiel, through the birther controversy, it’s just to lay-down hand. It’s an absolute lay-down hand of racist discrimination. These are the “go back to where you came from” slurs, literally a textbook piece of evidence.
I think by sitting there and going, “Well . . .” Look, I get the contrary argument, I just disagree with it. I think saying, “Well, it was not racist, it was stupid,” I think minimizes what was said, and I think it is a position that just flat-out doesn’t seem very credible to people who have been subjected to that kind of comment. Now I know white immigrants are subjected to it, when people get angry at them. But these, it’s super important to point out that three of the four people here were not immigrants. I think they [the comments] were very destructive. I don’t think we can whitewash the comments.
That being said, what would be a dominant political controversy for any other president is going to be a 72- to 96-hour story. It just goes into this really, really long list of events that provide additional bricks in the wall for the argument that Trump is a man of very, very low character. It’s going to fade, and it may fade as soon as tomorrow, when a federal judge in New York is mandating that the Southern District unseal its search warrants and other documents connected to the search warrants in the Michael Cohen–Trump campaign finance investigation, which will then open up another can of worms of a different Trump scandal, and on, and on, and on we go.
As far as the effect on the Democratic civil war, at the risk of excessive nerdery, I’m reminded of, of course, and episode of Battlestar Galactica, in which the colonial forces are about to fight each other. They’re engaged in this wild dog fight in space, requesting the permission to fire on each other. Chaotic, dangerous. Then in comes a presumed Cylon, enemy contact, and just instantly they snap into formation, they unite, they fly to confront the presumed enemy. That’s what it felt like over the weekend, instantly the Democrats unite to turn against the enemy.
Just as in the storyline in the show, the underlying tensions will remain after the enemy is dealt with and after this news cycle passes. It’s a truce in the Democratic civil war, but the underlying tension there between Biden, Pelosi as the figurehead of one side of it — that’s, well, yeah, they’re on the left, but it’s politics as usually — versus the Squad (which I’m so sick of hearing that word, by the way, and I apologize for perpetuating it), in which Ocasio-Cortez and her allies are on the other side along with an awful lot of Democratic activists in the mainly urban areas on the coasts, are on the other side of it. Those tensions are going to remain, and they’re going to have to be dealt with, and they’re going to be dealt with at painful length, primarily in the primary process. That’s just going to keep happening.
I don’t think that Trump’s tweets, 72- to 96-hour story that they are, are going to impact the underlying dynamics of the Democratic party very much at all. They’re going to have to deal with their dispute and it’s going to get messy.
Rich: Charlie, this is why I hesitate to say the tweets are racist. Clearly they’re a taunt, but I don’t think he was targeting these women because they are minorities. That’s a version of the same argument that is used to argue that Nancy Pelosi is racist in her criticisms of them, that they are being singled out, or the fact they’re the “Squad.” There are these uniquely high-profile left-wing members of Congress, and that’s why they are a target for criticism.
I think on the tweet, maybe I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt he doesn’t deserve, but I think he basically was thinking about Ilhan Omar, and it probably didn’t even occur to him that he was going way too far in hitting these other women. It’s never available to him to use the exit, “Well actually, I put that poorly,” or “That’s misunderstood,” or “I’m sorry. What I was getting at is this . . .” The only option to him is doubling down, and just the idea that, again, that native-born Americans should go back to their own countries is just hideous.
Charlie: I think that is the difference, though, between the charge that was leveled at Nancy Pelosi and the charge that has been leveled at Trump, in that Nancy Pelosi was criticizing four people who have particular political views and a particular political style that is making her life as speaker of the House difficult. The idea that it is the skin color of those representatives, and not their ideas, is a silly one.
The problem with Trump is that he didn’t just aim this at Ilhan Omar, he aimed it, as you say, at American citizens. Now I get told to go home quite a lot. Every time I go on MSNBC, my Twitter feed fills up for the day with “Go home,” or even “Deport.” Every time I go on Bill Maher, I get the same thing. If I go on Fox News, which I do rarely, and criticize the president, I get told, “Go home. Go home.”
When I was on with Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter, when Trump was first running, that was what I read for days. I don’t want the president to say that. I’m less offended by it outside of politics, but I don’t want the president to say it to anyone. I don’t want anyone in the government to say it to anyone either. There’s something sinister about that. I’m less bothered by it in general.
Had the taunt been limited to Ilhan Omar, I would have been bothered by it on those grounds. Wrong forum, wrong person. But given that it was applied to three people who are American citizens and have been American citizens from birth, I do think the accusations of racism or bigotry are a lot more credible. The idea being that Donald Trump looked at those people and thought, “They’re not really American,” in a way that he probably wouldn’t look at me and feel it a good idea to say “Go home.”
I think there is a difference. I think what Nancy Pelosi is suffering through is what a lot of conservatives suffer through. She is saying, “I don’t like these four people. They’re a pain, they’re unrealistic, they’re causing me problems.” They’re saying, “Oh, wow. We’re all people of color,” insinuation, insinuation. In just the same way as people who criticize Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are told that they only dislike her politics because they’re nervous or made uncomfortable by a young woman of color, which is nonsense.
I think Trump is in a different category. I am not somebody who likes throwing around words like racism, anti-Semitism, bigotry. I don’t do it to people on the left, I don’t tend to do it to people on the right. I also think that we have such differing definitions in our contemporary politics as to what constitutes bigotry, and racism, and so on and so forth, that it gets quite difficult to parse out, but I certainly think there is a great deal of evidence in this case that Trump’s comments were at the very least unsavory and, at the worst, racist or bigoted.
Rich: Yeah Michael, Thomas Sowell is really good on this topic, on how African Americans, if we use that phrase, if you put aside recent immigrants, last couple decades, the average African American, his or her family, has been here much longer than the average European American, because the fact is, the slaves that brought to America, relatively small numbers, compared to South America and the Caribbean. Because the climate here was more favorable, and for other reasons, they did not die at the horrifying rate of slaves elsewhere. You immediately got a pretty sizeable native-born African-American population. If you’re just going by lineage, African Americans are more American than many white Americans, if you’re going to use that definition.
Michael: Yeah. It’s funny, this is a point I’ve actually made in the past too, in some ways that African Americans, in a way, are in some ways the most American Americans, not just by the ancient nature of their lineage, as far as the North American continent goes and this pattern of settlement, but the fact that they were brought here as a people in a way, in a slave trade system that it faced and destroyed their ethnicity, religion, and language early on. People don’t know. They don’t know as I do when my ancestors left Europe, or some other place and immigrated here.
That gives African Americans this unique experience of being more shaped by the political history of the United States than almost all other Americans. Their story as a people is the story of slavery, emancipation, reconstruction, civil rights, and so on. Their language of emancipation has been adopted more broadly by the American public.
Yeah, I’m a little bit more with David on Trump’s particular comment here, I think, than some of the others that it wouldn’t occur to you in this knee jerk way to say, “Go back to your home.” I don’t think it would occur to Trump to do that with four congresswomen, and we’re assuming it’s these four. To even say to Ilhan Omar, who’s a refugee, and we’ve argued on the site that she has an odd attitude toward her adopted country.
Rich: Yeah, we’ll get to that more in detail in a minute.
Michael: She was a refugee from her country as a child. It’s almost moot to say “Go back there,” unless you’re just expressing this general hostility.
I was wondering if anyone else thinks that Trump in any way can elevate these four congresswomen and their radical ideas more as we head into election season. Do you think it’s been effective where Democrats now have rallied around them defensively, in a way that’s completely understandable? Does this elevate them and make their ideas more relevant to a 2020 election that’s coming up?
Rich: Yeah, David. That’s been the new counter-conventional wisdom that’s been arising, at least on the right, is that this is good strategy. You do get Nancy Pelosi yesterday, the day of the floor debate, hugging Ilhan Omar on the floor of the House. You get these four women doing network TV interviews. Is there any strategic tactical political upside, in your view, from this for the president?
David: No. I don’t think so. For reasons good and bad, this will be forgotten in a couple of weeks, until the next time Trump does something, and then it will be remembered as another piece of evidence about who Donald Trump is. But this, we’re going to move on from this pretty darn quickly. By August, September, October, you’re going to be embroiled in the run-ups to the voting and the primary. This thing is just going to be the tiniest of blips on the radar screen.
Trump didn’t own anybody, he didn’t play anybody here. It’s one thing to say “Oh, look at Nancy Pelosi defending Ocasio-Cortez, and defending her Green New Deal.” That would be a more meaningful . . . If you’re getting Pelosi to defend these four congressmen’s substantive political positions in a way that ties them together, or ties Biden or some of the moderates (or any of the other Democratic presidential candidates) to them, like defending the Green New Deal in a way that you can maybe run ads in the presidential election, well that might be some coup.
But what you’re doing is you’re getting Nancy Pelosi to defend members of her caucus from racist comments. That’s not “Oh wow. Scored one against the libs.” No, it’s ludicrous. Of course, she’s going to defend them. She should defend them from those comments. Again, if Trump had tricked them into going whole-hog behind the Green New Deal, or Medicare for All, all of the presidential candidates, as a condition for staying on AOC’s good side, that might be one thing. You’re not scoring a political coup here by getting the speaker of the House to mobilize around four of her freshman members because the freshmen members are subject to a malicious attack that’s not owning anybody.
Rich: Charlie, exit question on . . . Go ahead, Charlie.
Charlie: I’m not as confident as David is that Trump hasn’t forced Nancy Pelosi to elevate these four. I would apply my walking-through-an-airport test. I think I’ve talked about this on the podcast before.
A lot of people don’t follow politics in the way that David does, they are just subject to moods, and images without sound and general impressions. It seems to me that if you walk through an airport during this news cycle, you will see the faces of those four and Nancy Pelosi. Now you will also see chyrons saying “Trump’s racist tweets,” which doesn’t help him. But I’m not as sure as David is that this hasn’t in some way helped elevate the Squad, as they like to be called — indeed Jonathan Allen, who is by no means a conservative, suggested the same thing in print earlier this week.
But I would say that if that is the case, it’s a dastardly approach, and really should be regarded as a secondary question, given that it is immoral to conduct politics in that way.
Rich: Exit question to you, MBD, and this point David has made a couple times. In your view, this controversy will leave a mark on Donald Trump for the next two weeks, through 2020, or forever?
Michael: Politically, two weeks. Catholic, morally until he goes to sacramental confession, this is an issue for his soul forever.
Rich: Charlie Cooke.
Charlie: For the next two weeks, because I don’t think that this is new. It is another iteration, but it’s not new. At least nobody who’s been following politics looked at these tweets and said “My goodness, and I thought he was such a paragon of virtue.”
Rich: David French, you’re a two-week guy, if that.
David: Well, I’m going to say, as a Calvinist, I’m going to agree with MBD with a Calvinist twist. I’m going to say maximum of two weeks forever, unless he’s predestined to repent.
Rich: I’m between two weeks and 2020, because I think it will be at the forefront of peoples’ minds. David’s probably right, next couple of days. But I do think it’s become part of the litany, and it’ll be up there with Charlottesville on the list of terrible things that this president has said.
No Trump controversy, there’s so many Trump controversies, is enough to really take him down a notch, but cumulatively all this stuff hurts, and it hurts just in sheer political terms, particularly with the forgotten swing voters, which are those suburban, reluctant Trump voters who came home the last ten days in 2016, have abandoned him in the 2018 midterms, and he needs to win back. The way he conducts himself every day makes it a little bit harder for that to happen.
David and Charlie, you guys had a little debate on the Corner about what immigrants owe to America. David, your position is the more idiosyncratic one, so why don’t you start and make your case. Then Charlie will come in and rebut. But make your case why immigrants shouldn’t necessarily be more grateful for America than the native-born.
David: Yeah, so let me begin by being very clear about what I did not say, because what I did not say appears to have triggered an awful lot of people on the Internet.
What I did not say was that Ilhan Omar, that her rhetoric was acceptable. I did not say that Ilhan Omar shouldn’t be grateful to the United States of America. In fact, I said the opposite. I said that Ilhan Omar should be grateful to the United States of America. I said that her rhetoric is absolutely toxic, unacceptable. I’ve written that at multiple times and occasions. I think that she is one of the worst presences in Congress. What I also said is I believe that her rhetoric is not rendered especially distasteful because she is an immigrant.
Look, my thoughts on this, and I think some of the difference between Charlie and I, there’s this old saying, “Where you stand is based on where you sit,” that your personal life circumstances influence our outlook on life, perhaps more than we know. In my personal life circumstance, I’m a native-born American citizen. All I did to enjoy the incredibly immense blessings of liberty, all I did to inherit the legacy of liberty in this country, to inherit this legacy of opportunity which not everyone enjoys equally, but even those who are born in rough circumstances often enjoy a level of opportunity beyond that in virtually any other place in this world, all I did to inherit that was survive labor and delivery. I did nothing. I did nothing to inherit. It reminds me of salvation by grace alone, and that I have nothing to boast about of anything that I did to inherit this magnificent gift.
My position was quite simple. If I have done nothing at all, nothing to merit this blessing, then I don’t think that people who have done something to merit this blessing should be more grateful than me. Let’s just take our good friend Charlie, and this is what I wrote, Charlie came to the United States willingly and happily, but still at cost. He still has family back in Great Britain. When he came to the United States, he didn’t just build a life, but built a very impressive career. Stayed out of trouble, unlike an awful lot of us native-born Americans.
This is not nothing. If you think it’s nothing, just ask many Americans to take the same citizenship test. He passed his citizenship test, swore an oath of allegiance to this country, all of that while not being sufficient to actually merit the full blessings of American liberty, so he should absolutely be grateful. And while he didn’t ever have a right to be here, so he should absolutely be grateful, something is more than nothing. Doing something to merit inclusion in this national family is more than doing nothing to merit inclusion in this national family.
I was simply making the point, I hate this parsing of who should be more grateful, but hey, native-born Americans, if we’re going to do the parsing, we need to realize that each one of us who is native-born [and] did nothing to merit this. By the way, that doesn’t mean that later on in your life that doing nothing to merit it continues. There’s people who have stood proudly in the position of their ancestors and continued the legacy of their ancestors by meriting their citizenship. But I’m just not convinced that because a person is an immigrant that they should be more grateful than me. That was my point.
Rich: Let’s hear a rebuttal from a very grateful immigrant, Charlie Cooke.
Charlie: I disagree with David. The provenance of this argument was of course the fallout over Omar. What I began to see, including from David, was a lionization of immigrants and the suggestion around the edges that immigrants should be maybe less grateful than those who were born here, that immigrants had done more to deserve America, that immigrants were, in some ways, more American than Americans. David didn’t say that last one, but you do see this argued.
As an immigrant, I disagree with it profoundly. I think that people who choose to move somewhere are by definition in a different category than people who woke up here, who, as David says, were born here through no fault of their own. I think we should be more grateful than those people because we chose to come here, because we asked to come here, and we were let in.
Now David says that he did nothing to deserve America. I don’t think that’s quite the best way of looking at it. The national family to which David refers is one that, for him, has a large tree and, for me, has no tree at all. I am a newcomer to the national family. A genealogist would have to start with me on the American map. That’s not true of David. His parents did an enormous amount to make this a place for David to live in, to inherit. He is, and America is, David’s parents’ project. They did it for him. That’s what parents do, grandparents do. They made this country for him and they fought for him. He inherited that.
I don’t have any connections here. I asked nicely, and I was let in. I think I should feel a great deal of gratitude for that. More gratitude, in fact, than David feels.
Now the extension here is that I do think it is worse, as a result, for immigrants to talk about America in the way that Ilhan Omar does. I do think it is worse when you hear a newcomer being rude about the place. I do think it is especially bad if somebody badmouths the United States, or argues that it is a bad place per se, if they are an immigrant. They chose to be here.
Now if we take David’s argument at face value, he did nothing, he says, to become an American, which means it’s not his fault. If David had been born in the United States and had decided, rather than liking the place a lot, as he does, that he doesn’t like it, if David had looked around him as a child and said, “I just don’t like it here. I don’t like the weather, I don’t like the trees, I don’t like cars, I don’t like the people, I don’t like the culture, I don’t like the food . . .”
David: How could I not like the trees?
Charlie: “I don’t like our Constitution. I think the Second Amendment should be repealed, I think the First Amendment should be limited. I think separation of powers is a bad idea, I wish we had a parliament.” If David had thought all of those things, well, okay, I would dislike those views intensely, but he wouldn’t have had any choice as to where he was born. But if I say those things having chosen to move here, I think that is far, far worse, and far less acceptable.
I looked at America and I said “That’s where I want to be,” more so than where I was born. Immigrants do this for various reasons. Maybe they think they’ll be richer, maybe they think they’ll have better educational opportunities, maybe they think there’s more opportunity in general, maybe they think it’s safer, maybe they think the people are friendlier, maybe they prefer the scenery or the weather, maybe they want lower taxes, maybe they want more space and larger houses.
Whatever it is, to consciously say, “I’m going there, that’s where I would like to be,” and then to turn around and say, “I don’t like this place,” and to seek radical changes, I’m not talking about minor political differences, I’m talking about radical changes, I think is wrong. I think it is far, far worse for somebody to choose to come to American and to turn into a radical than it is for someone who is born here to be one.
Now I don’t want government involved in superintending this. Once somebody is a citizen, they of course have equal rights, and should be treated equally. At least I don’t want it involved beyond what it already does, which is to check people, make sure they’re not a communist or a Nazi, make sure they don’t diminish religious freedom, make sure they don’t overthrow the government. All immigrants go through that in a way natural-born citizens do not, and they should.
Also, I don’t want to abolish the citizenship exam, which is there for a reason. It’s actually quite a specific test, the citizenship exam. It’s not just about history. It also has some questions that imply certain norms. For example, what sort of economy does America have is a question. The answer is the capitalist economy, a free market economy. It doesn’t say whatever the people want, it says it is a free market economy.
I think as a cultural norm though, we should expect immigrants to like the place they’ve moved to, and we should encourage them to like the place that they have moved to. This is why I was so bothered by what Beto O’Rourke did last week when he told a group of refugees and immigrants that America was founded on white supremacy and it still stained all of its institutions.
Now some progressives have criticized me, arguing that I want to whitewash that. That’s not true. I’m absolutely aware of America’s history here. Absolutely aware of. I’ve written about it a great deal. The greatest tyranny in American history was not aimed at the colonists, it was aimed at African Americans over and over again, slavery, segregation, lynching. But we don’t live in a country with slavery, segregation, and lynching. We should not overstate the extent to which those problems, or the legacy of those problems remains. We should not be telling people that the country was founded on white supremacist principles when it was not. The country was founded on beautiful revolutionary emancipatory principles, and it didn’t live up to them for a long time, in a lot of places.
Now there’s a big difference, I think, between telling people, “Yeah, there is still some issues, but it’s a great place, it has great values, it has a great Constitution, it has a great Declaration of Independence as its North Star, and yes, there will be some problems that you will encounter.” And telling them that the countries is a white supremacist nation founded on white supremacy and all of its institutions, a still stain.
I just disagree. I think that immigrants should be more grateful, having been let into a place by the existing citizenry, and I think we should expect them to like the United States, as a matter of course, to be less radical in their desires to change it.
Now the last thing I’ll say is this, the reason that Donald Trump’s tweet storm was offensive was that the United States is not a nation that is built around a particular tribe, or a particular race, a particular piece of soil. The United States is a nation that is built around an idea and a creed, and a constitutional order.
When Trump tweeted what he did, a lot of people who were offended by it immediately made that point. Anyone can come here and become an American, in a way that is simply not true in most places. You cannot move to Japan and become Japanese. But if that’s true, if America is not a nation that is based around a particular tribe, if it’s not a nation that is based on a conception of blood and soil, then obeying, displaying some fealty to and respect for that idea, that creed, that Constitution has to be important. We have to, at one level, expect our immigrants to do that as a matter of course.
It seems a bit weird to say, “Look, America is an idea, it’s a creed, it’s not about being from a particular tribe. Anyone can come here, but also it’s a blank slate. If anyone arrives, who really cares what they think. They have the same rights as everyone else to want radical change.” Do they? They might do legally, but if we go down that road culturally, I think we are headed for cultural suicide.
David: I just think we are coming at this from very different starting presumptions. Charlie talks about my parents who certainly have been wonderful American citizens, but my family roots in this country go all the way back to the Mayflower. Every time I say that I feel extreme guilt that I have not fulfilled my promise to my late grandmother to fill out the really voluminous paperwork to join The Mayflower Society like she did.
But I go back to the Mayflower, to Valley Forge. Then there was this time when my ancestors actually tried to destroy the United States of America, and then rejoined the Union. We’re in World War I, we’re in World War II. I think the only major conflict that people in my family missed was the Vietnam War.
I feel like I have this immense, just this immense debt of gratitude, not just to this country but to the legacy established by my family. Along with that debt of gratitude comes with an immense set of obligations. One of the things that I find particularly offensive, I have exactly the reverse attitude that Charlie has regarding this concept of can a natural-born citizen say, “Well it’s not my fault the country is this, so I’m free to reject it”?
Charlie: That’s not quite what I said. I said that the natural-born citizen doesn’t choose to be there, and therefore essentially wakes up in a certain place, rather than saying, “I want to be there,” which is what all immigrants by definition say, unless they’re refugees, but then they have other reasons to be grateful, like being safe from death.
David: I’d say, or more, it’s they should feel less gratitude and more free to question the fundamental founding principles of this country.
I find it to be more offensive when I see, for example, when you see some of these things like Beto was saying, where you’re talking to immigrants who unless they’re coming to the United States and with a fully formed view of what the United States is, which let’s be honest, most people do not, especially child immigrants, a lot of times they are being formed and shaped in their view of this country by native-born Americans like Beto, who are saying things, who are warping and twisting the view of the United States of America to immigrants, which I think that’s just repugnant.
I will tell you what shapes some of my thinking on this, just a very brief story. One of my closest friends from Iraq is a naturalized American citizen, born in Mexico, came to the United States as a child. His experience in Wisconsin, as he told me, was one of unrelenting bullying against him on the basis of his race, and early language problems. Just a miserable experience. But he persevered through it and he did something that Omar has not done, he enlisted in the military, deployed to Iraq as part of a war that he opposed under a commander in chief he did not like.
He was a pretty darn, and is a pretty darn politically radical guy. But the way I looked at it is a citizen, is a citizen, is a citizen. The fact that he has a strong critique of this country that was shaped in large part by some pretty negative experiences that he had as a kid, and a strong critique particularly of the racial problems in this country, my response to him is I felt much more sorry for the experiences that he had than I did indignant at the radicalism of his politics, and the experiences that he had that were at the hands of native-born Americans.
Charlie: I should probably say here that you have brought up an interesting question, which is what happens to people who are brought here by their parents. Which group do they belong to in my framework? I think the answer is a little bit of both, but I would accept that as a gray area.
David: Right. That’s Omar. Again, I’m not defending the substance of her statements. . .
Charlie: That’s true, that’s true.
David: . . .that she is very repugnant in her anti-Semitism and other statements I just think are repugnant and toxic. But she was brought here, I believe she was ten.
Charlie: But she wouldn’t fit into that framework anyway because she didn’t choose to come here. She’s a refugee. I think it’s unfair to apply choice to people who are fleeing dangerous lands. I also think that if you are a refugee, you have, by definition, been saved by the United States.
The United States was the instrument by which you were taken out of a place that was too dangerous for you to stay in, and allowed to live in safety and abundance. To look on the bleak side as she does, not just on racial questions. In fact, my post was not about racial questions really at all, to look on the bleak side on every question on immigration, healthcare, economics, education as she does.
I think it’s remarkable for a person who is, again, saved by the United States, who was then allowed to stay, who was made a citizen, accepted as a citizen, and then who was elected to Congress. The Washington Post story on Ilhan Omar, the first anecdote in there that Omar is shown telling about America’s injustice is made up. In fact, seems have been cribbed from Les Miserable, which is a book about early 19th century France, not America.
David: She’s awful.
Charlie: I think it’s remarkable and ungrateful that she would make things up about the United States when she should be more grateful than the average person.
Rich: Let’s get Michael in here and let him be the effective tie breaker. He’s thought a lot about this topic. In fact, written a memoir, touches on some of these themes.
I would just say, my quick take is everyone should be grateful for America. What David says about none of us choosing this native-born, we didn’t do anything to get born here, I think applies to almost everything in life. None of us did anything to not be mentally handicap, none of did anything not to be schizophrenic. There are a whole host of terrible things that could have befallen any of us that had nothing to do with our choice.
If you’re not an able-bodied person walking around this country and continuously grateful, you are an ingrate. But I really take Charlie’s point about Omar, specifically where you’re a refugee and in your Kenyan refugee camp, and the United States doesn’t take your father and you in because it’s a great benefit to us. The folks at the Center for Immigration Study, our friends there just showed refugees are a tremendous fiscal suck. It’s not like we’re accepting neuroscientists from India or something, we’re accepting desperately poor people with no consideration really to whether they’re going to make any contribution anytime soon. We’re doing it out of the goodness of our hearts.
I think it’s tricky, as we may have discussed offline last week. So that this mean that no refugee or immigrant can be a left-winger? I wouldn’t go that far, but I just think the appropriate posture for someone like Omar is, “This is a great country. I owe it so much, but we should have Medicare for All, but we need to do more on race relations.” But that’s not the way she approaches it at all.
Michael: I think there’s also an element of Omar’s rhetoric where it’s something about her self-presentation where she has a callow persona, sometimes when she’s criticizing the United States, which I think amplifies our reaction to her being ungrateful, or at least the perception of her being ungrateful. I don’t have that much to add to the debate Charlie and David just engaged in. I thought it was well done.
I would just add that — amplify Rich’s remark, it actually reminded me of a quote from Edmund Burke that I had literally at my fingertips this morning where he wrote that, “Dark and inscrutable are the ways by which we come into the world. The instincts which give rise to this mysterious process of nature are not of our making.” But he says that, “But out of our physical causes unknown to us, perhaps unknowable, arise morale duties, which as we are perfectly to comprehend, we are bound indispensably to perform.”
I do think that amplifies a little bit of David’s point that David is not, in a sense, responsible for all the things his parents and ancestors did for this country, or against it in the Civil War, but he still carries a burden of duty afterward. There have been conservative figures like Bill Kristol and Bret Stephens who have occasionally teetered over into this position that, “Hey, I like immigrants even more than native-born in some ways.”
Charlie: Bret Stephens said it explicitly. He said America belongs to its immigrants.
Michael: Yeah, that they’re more industrious, that they have more get up and go, they have less entitlement, etc. I think that is ringing in the ears of some of David’s critics and they’ve wrongly attributed to him that sentiment, rather than the one which he tried to express, which is closer to Burke’s.
Rich: Exit question, let’s go back and do grubby politics here related to the first segment. David French, to you first. Who do you think will win the battle, ultimately for the soul of the Democratic party, Nancy Pelosi or Ilhan Omar?
David: Ultimately? Can I modify the exit question instead of Omar? Because I think that she is a more toxic figure than Ocasio-Cortez. I’d say the trends are heading in AOC. Pelosi may win the battle, but I think that AOC is going to probably win the war.
Rich: Charlie Cooke.
Charlie: I disagree. I think Pelosi is going to win this. I think Ilhan Omar and AOC are fringe figures. I think they will in some ways affect our politics for a long time to come, but not this one.
I was down yesterday at the beach outside my house with some friends, and one of them just happened to have heard the essay I wrote in response to David being read out on a radio show, and nobody there could work out or could believe that there was any debate at all as to whether immigrants should be grateful because they just assumed that the United States was a good place, was a great place. They weren’t getting involved in the Charlie v. David fight, but just the fact that this was being debated at all.
I think that the sentiments that are expressed on the fringes of the Democratic party are not popular in America, they’re not popular in the Democratic party itself. I think Nancy Pelosi knows that and I think she will win this fight because I don’t think there is an appetite out there for this attitude.
David: Just to interject, I did not say that immigrants should not be grateful.
Charlie: Oh no, I know you didn’t. As I said, this wasn’t about you and me. As I said, that wasn’t the topic.
Michael: Ultimately I think the demographics showed, as I’ve said in this podcast before, that the Democrats are becoming the party of the upper-middle-class entitlement state. By default, Pelosi, because if the party under Obama couldn’t tolerate an alteration to the 529 college savings plans that advantaged the wealthy, they’re certainly not going to consent to a Green New Deal.
Rich: I’m going to say Pelosi for the time being. The Democratic presidential candidate will be, whoever that person is will be nothing like Ilhan Omar. I actually accept David’s amendment to the question. I think she is a uniquely toxic figure. I think Pelosi for the near term here, but over the long term, agree with David that the party is going in an AOC direction.
We’re already at about an hour here of Editors podcast. We have a couple other things to hit, but let’s do it exit question style, but feel free to be a little more expansive than the usual exit question answer. I’ll go to you first, MBD.
The president of Planned Parenthood was canned because she was not pro-abortion enough, it turns out. Not extreme enough on abortion for Planned Parenthood, and apparently at least took somewhat seriously the PR that Planned Parenthood is about women’s health and not just about abortion. She hadn’t gotten the memo, so the board made sure she had gotten the memo and canned her. Also one of her offenses that she didn’t want to talk about transgendered people in the politically correct way. She wanted to refer to them as persons, which I guess is unacceptable now.
Exit question to you, ten years from now, Planned Parenthood will be, as an organization, more reputable than it is today, less reputable than it is today, or the same?
Michael: Less reputable because my belief is that the long-term trend is against surgical abortion and towards chemical abortion, that gradually this upper-middle-class liberal elite will come to regard surgical abortion as the option for the poor and irresponsible, and that others should take emergency contraception or get an early chemical abortion. The fact that Planned Parenthood performed so many of these and profits off of them, I think in the long term is bad for them.
Rich: David French.
David: I think less reputable if you look at the 35-year trend from the high of the abortion rate in the last year of the Carter Administration of 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women. It’s now at 14.6 per 1,000 women, which is lower than it was when Roe was decided.
If these trends continue, if the 35-year trend continues, you may see an abortion rate substantially lower than Roe. The more abortion is marginalized as an actual practice in people’s lives, I believe the more Planned Parenthood will be marginalized as an organization.
Rich: Charlie Cooke.
Charlie: I think less so for the reason David just described. I also think less so as a result of this decision.
Planned Parenthood has for a while had the same problem the NRA has been having, and the ACLU has been having, in that there has been a pressure on it to become a full scale, left-wing or progressive advocacy group. That in it of itself tends to diminish the reputation of single-issue outfits.
But if you look at the specifics here, the lady who was just fired said that she believed that if Planned Parenthood ran around the country saying men can have abortions, they would start to look odd in the Midwest. She’s right, that will look odd.
Now presumably, the next person to fill that role will, as a condition of their employment, be on board with Planned Parenthood running around the country and saying that men can have abortions and all of this. If that’s the case, in the specifics as well, Planned Parenthood is going to look a bit odd, and its reputation is going to take a hit as a result.
Rich: I say less, I make it unanimous, and I make it unanimous for every single reason that everyone else stated.
At the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 had a cool thing down here in D.C., where I am now, where they were projecting an image of the Apollo 11 rocket onto the Washington Monument, and this was obviously a great step for the world, for mankind, for America, spoke to a great national confidence and forward looking attitude. Feel free to share any thoughts about that. But the exit question to you first, David French, is: Will we put a man on Mars within the next 20 years? Yes or no?
David: Twenty years, no, but we’ll put a man on Mars, and I think there is a good chance that the entity that will do it is a private corporation and not the government.
Rich: Charlie Cooke.
Charlie: I don’t know if we can do it in the next 20 years, but we will do it in my lifetime.
Michael: I’m going to say no, and I don’t anticipate this happening in our lifetime.
Rich: I also say no, even though Mars has a great hold on our imagination going back at least to von Braun, who wrote an essay in the 1950s, are we going to put a man on Mars, and all the wonderful Ray Bradbury stories. I think it’s just too hard and there’s not a reason to put a man on Mars.
So, let’s hit a few other things before we go. David, you’ve been taken with Season 3 of Stranger Things.
David: Yes. It’s one of my favorite series on television. It’s thriller horror, but it’s not the super dark thrill horror of the modern genre. It’s revived the ’80s style of movie making. It’s a TV series, but it really has movie quality to it.
In the most fun way possible, and then that’s not at all an original take in any way, shape, or form. I’m just repeating basically everyone on the Internet when I say that. But if you haven’t started the series, start it.
The one other thing I would say in addition to the ’80s vibe on it, which is really interesting, is the characters are just ridiculously likable. It’s in this age, the anti-hero. It’s not the norm anymore, to have characters that you just really like. When you catch up with them at the beginning of each new season, you’re glad to see them. It’s a great show. Check it out.
Rich: I watched most of the first season, but I lost my interest when I couldn’t suspend my disbelief anymore over. Forgive me if I’m spoiling anything for anyone who hasn’t seen any of it yet, but the monsters in the walls thing, I just couldn’t get my head around that.
David: Rich, it’s a supernatural thriller. If you don’t believe in extra dimensional Demogorgons and Mind Flayers, then this is not the show for you.
Rich: You always have some explanation, David, for why I’m wrong to have quit or dislike the thing you’re obsessed with.
David: Yes. You bet, because you are wrong to quit or dislike the things I like.
Rich: Charlie Cooke, you have been taken with the restored footage of aforementioned Apollo 11.
Charlie: There’s a movie called Apollo 11. It’s not a feature film, it’s not acted, it is a documentary without a narrative other than the chronology of the moon landing, and it’s entirely made up of original NASA footage, which has been restored, and there are a few subtitles telling you which date it is, and how long to the moon, and how high the spacecraft is, and so on. It’s just called Apollo 11. It’s incredible footage.
One thing I did read though is that the footage from the moon itself is still of the original low quality because NASA lost it. They only have the original tapes that were broadcast on commercial television. The tapes that they took, which were of a higher quality, although a format incompatible with broadcast television were erased in the 1970s by accident. Imagine being the guy who is in charge of archiving the moon landing and erased the tapes.
Anyhow, the rest of it is incredible. Watch it in HD and savor every moment.
Rich: A while ago I went back and watched some of the footage. It’s amazing that they were broadcasting something from the moon back then. It’s such astonishing accomplishments.
MBD, you have been taken with nuts, literal legumes.
Michael: Yeah. I was going to say, as a member of the conservative movement, I know that the fruits and nuts give a dish savor. But in this case, I’m talking about literal nuts. Some of us are airport creatures here, and I’ve noticed in airports these brightly colored packages labeled Sahale Snacks. It’s these little upscale trail mix type products that you buy, and one of them I get every time now is the Tangerine Vanilla Cashew Macadamia Glazed Mix. But they have all sorts of packages, whether you like Korean spices, or maple, or Thai.
This is actually an incredible product, and nuts are healthier than most of the chips and other stuff that you can pick up in these places to snack on before a flight. I recommend Sahale Snacks.
Rich: Last two days, I’ve been attending the National Conservatism Conference, which has been fantastically interesting. As I say in most of my National Review talks around the country, we should be welcoming a robust internal debate.
Now this does not mean poisonous abuse of other people, within the conservative movement as we’ve seen at American Greatness. I might have said American Conservative at the beginning of this podcast. If I did, please forgive me, but they have this really absurd and vile racialized poem aimed at David French. That’s the thing we don’t need.
But the sort of thing we do need is what we had down here in Washington, which people making some arguments. I might not agree with them all on policy terms, but they’re made in good faith that are intellectually serious and are devoted to figuring out in this time of internal turmoil in the Republican party, in the conservative movement what comes next. I don’t think the last couple of days are the last word on that, I don’t think anything is likely to be the last word on that anytime soon, but it’s a really important discussion.
Before we go, let’s do our Editor’s Picks. Charlie Cooke, what’s your pick?
Charlie: Mine is Kevin Williamson’s Corner post, “Strawman Elergy,” which is a response to J. D. Vance. I like J. D. Vance a lot. I think Kevin does too, but Kevin is mildly irritated, I think, at two things in J. D. Vance’s approach to politics at the moment.
One is the strawman version of libertarians, or free marketeers, that is often held up as a world view that needs to go. Kevin asks who exactly is for unfettered capitalism, what are the names of people who hold this position, what policies do they advocate.
I think the other thing that Kevin is irritated by, and pushes back against is the lack of specificity in that a lot of the arguments that you will see from J. D. Vance and others like him say, “Well, we need to do more to help people. We need to use the government more, we need to refrain from being scared of state action,” but they’re not especially clear on what that means and how it differs from the approach that would be taken by Kevin Williamson.
Rich: David French, what’s your pick?
David: Kevin’s cover story in the magazine about the mob. Kevin, who has been a target of the mob, is also a student of the mob. As always, when he studies something, when he does a deep dive into a subject, there is virtually no one better in read in America than Kevin Williamson. He’s a guy who seems to exist in part not just to educate and enlighten the rest of us, but to make people like me feel inadequate in my own writing talent.
Rich: MBD, what’s your pick?
Michael: My pick is Charlie Cooke’s Corner post responding to New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz. Eric and a number of others writers allied with him are developing this modus operandi where they insert words into conservatives’ mouths, and basically say, “If you don’t talk or think about America’s social problems in the exact way I do, then because I define myself against white supremacy or white nationalism, you are a white nationalist, or you don’t care about racial justice.”
This trend on the left tends to depress me, and makes me not want to engage with our peers on the other side of the aisle. But it invigorates Charles. His example should be a good one for me and others. Charles manfully defends himself, and the project we’re engaged in over here at National Review. I recommend it anyone.
Rich: That post is also my pick. A lot of people might think that Charlie’s strength is writing about shooting prairie dogs, but it’s actually in polemical responses.
I would make a little distinction. I think Ramesh is the best at deconstructing affirmatively someone else’s argument. I think Charlie is the best at reacting to criticisms of him. It’s just invariably extremely powerful and persuasive.
That’s it for us. You’ve been listening to a National Review podcast. Any rebroadcast, retransmission, or account of this game without the express, written permission of the National Review magazine is strictly prohibited. This podcast has been produced by the incomparable Sarah Schutte, who makes us sound better than we deserve. Thank you, Charlie. Thank you, David. Thank you, Michael. Thanks especially to all of you for listening. We are The Editors, and we will see you next time.