Russia and the Riven Right

Close to 70 percent of Republicans thought that President Trump did fine in his meeting with Putin in Helsinki, according to CBS News. The figure for Americans as a whole was less than half that.

That result probably reflects the party loyalty of Republicans more than it does any genuine complacency of theirs about conflicts between Russian and American interests. The post-Helsinki reaction of rank-and-file Republicans reinforces what the trend in polls about Russia and Putin over the past few years already suggested: that on the question of whether Russia is friend, foe, or something between, Trump supporters have been revising their views to conform more closely to what they perceive his to be, or to what they think would lend the least credence to the charge that he’s compromised by secret foreign entanglements or weak in his response to an adversary of the United States. Many adopt a stance close to that of American anti-anti-Communists during the Cold War: “Obviously Russia is no liberal democracy, but calm down. It’s just a nation pursuing its rational self-interest. Better to engage it than wage a(nother) cold war.”

Our intelligence agencies aren’t so laid back. They report that Moscow interfered in our elections in 2016, of course, and that now it’s “targeting government and businesses in the energy, nuclear, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors,” as Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, said in a talk at the Hudson Institute earlier this month:

We are seeing aggressive attempts to manipulate social media and to spread propaganda focused on hot-button issues that are intended to exacerbate socio-political divisions. . . . These actions are persistent. They’re pervasive and they are meant to undermine America’s democracy on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is election time or not. Russian actors and others are exploring vulnerabilities in our critical infrastructure.

Those on the center right who want to find a way to work with the Republican administration point out that it has imposed sanctions on Russia, expelled some of Moscow’s diplomats, and given military aid to Ukraine. Don’t actions speak louder than words?

Do they? In his rhetoric, Trump is stern with Europe and irenic toward Russia — the converse of the foreign-policy orientation that cooler heads in his administration try to promote. He undermines their credibility and encourages skepticism of their warning that Russia is conducting cyberattacks against U.S. and European institutions to destabilize our societies and weaken the Western alliance. Public opinion in America even on the right has not swung fully to an anti-NATO, pro-Russian position, but Trump has moved the needle in that direction. How much farther will it go? This split within the administration, or at any rate between the Trump administration and Trump, corresponds to a conflict in the Republican base and on the right in general.

Most of that conflict is between the anti-Russian and the anti-anti-Russian camps, represented by, let’s say, George Will and Tucker Carlson, respectively. Foreign-policy veterans of past Republican administrations figure disproportionately in the ranks of prominent conservatives who have checked out of the GOP since 2016. Some have concluded in good faith that the foreign-policy instincts of the Democratic party are less incompatible with America’s best interest. To Republicans who chide them for party disloyalty, they answer that loyalty to country takes precedence. The discord between the two sides is genuine. It rhymes with the one that, in the 1960s and ’70s, led the early neoconservatives to break with the Left and then, with varying degrees of commitment, join the Right.

Alongside the anti-anti-Russian camp on the American right is a frankly pro-Russian faction. It learns from the European populist Right, where Putin is seen as a champion of nationalism and traditional social values and as a reliable opponent of Islamism. Moscow has been watching the European Union and NATO push eastward, against its borders, for the past two decades. It has its reasons for wanting to push back, and nationalist Europeans have their reasons for wanting it to succeed: They want Brussels and Washington out of their backyard.

For their political brethren this side of the ocean, the main argument for disparaging the Atlantic alliance is that the other NATO members are freeloaders, parasites on the U.S. military budget (never mind that we made Germany demilitarize under the Marshall Plan and for a long time had reason to be ambivalent about its reversing course). Putin’s Russia, the European populist Right, and the American populist Right each has its special rationale for agreeing that a relaxation or even dissolution of the Atlantic alliance would be good.

“They should string her up and hang her in the public square,” a friend told me as we stood and chatted on the church lawn after Latin Mass one Sunday evening a couple of years ago somewhere down in God’s country. He meant Angela Merkel. We have no agreed-on labels yet for these two camps, both of them on the right, caught up in the struggle for the soul of the West. But the line between them is clear enough. Members of what used to be Team Conservative are facing off against one another from either side of it.

Law & the Courts

Democratic Desperation on Kavanaugh Is Showing

Sen. Cory Booker on Capitol Hill, January 2017 (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

How can you tell that Democrats are flailing in their efforts to stop Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination and don’t currently have the votes or a good plan to do so? Let’s look at the arguments they are trotting out right now. First up, Cory Booker:

Democratic Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) is calling on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to recuse himself from any cases that might involve special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

“To avoid the prospect that President Trump could effectively choose a judge in his own case, I request that you pledge to recuse yourself from any cases related to the Special Counsel’s investigation and any that otherwise may immediately impact the President and his associates as it relates to the ongoing criminal investigation should you be confirmed,” Booker said in a letter to Kavanaugh on Friday.

“The American public must have full confidence that the integrity of any decisions handed down by the Supreme Court on these matters will not be tainted by any impropriety or the appearance of impropriety from the President’s selection of you.”

This is ignorant of history. Justices have never recused themselves just because of who appointed them.

Neither of Bill Clinton’s Supreme Court appointees, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, recused themselves in the 1997 Clinton v. Jones case, which personally involved the president and whether he could be forced to participate in a civil lawsuit while in office. Breyer had been nominated just eleven days after the Paula Jones lawsuit was filed, and after Clinton was already facing an independent-counsel investigation.

In 1998, when the Court decided an appeal involving Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s “Travelgate” investigation — and ruled in favor of Clinton by upholding the attorney-client privilege for notes of a conversation with former White House counsel Vince Foster before his 1993 death — Breyer and Ginsburg did not recuse; instead, they sided with Clinton.

Also in 1998, the Court declined to hear appeals by both Clinton and Starr from D.C. Circuit decisions involving the attorney-client and executive privileges applying to, among others, grand-jury testimony by White House counsel Bruce Lindsey and Clinton’s Secret Service detail. Not only didn’t Breyer and Ginsburg recuse, but they dissented together from the rest of the Court’s refusal to take Clinton’s appeal from the Lindsey ruling. Judge Kavanaugh will remember these precedents well; he was involved in litigating most of them and personally argued the Vince Foster privilege case before the Court.

Nor was this an unusual decision by Breyer and Ginsburg. None of Richard Nixon’s appointees (Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justices Harry Blackmun and William Rehnquist) recused themselves from the landmark United States v. Nixon decision in which Nixon tried to resist an order to turn over the famous Oval Office tapes. Burger wrote the opinion ruling against Nixon.

Justices do sometimes recuse themselves from cases where they were the judge in a lower-court decision (Kavanaugh is expected to recuse from multiple cases now on appeal from the D.C. Circuit in a variety of areas of law), and in some cases when they were involved in a decision by the president or other officials under challenge. But even those rules have not always been consistently enforced: Many justices have ruled on controversies involving presidents they had served as attorney general, solicitor general, or in other executive-branch capacities.

For example, the notorious Korematsu decision upholding Franklin D. Roosevelt’s detention of Japanese-Americans was decided by a Court consisting almost entirely of FDR appointees, including Stanley Reed (FDR’s solicitor general until 1938), Felix Frankfurter (an FDR adviser until 1939), William O. Douglas (FDR’s head of the Securities and Exchange Commission until 1939), Frank Murphy (FDR’s attorney general until 1940), Robert Jackson (Reed’s successor as solicitor general and then FDR’s attorney general until mid-1941), and Wiley Rutledge (an FDR appointee to the D.C. Circuit who was elevated to the Court in 1943, after the 1942 internment order).

Sometimes, they’ve gone further: Justice Elena Kagan, appointed by Barack Obama to the Court in 2010, voted to uphold the constitutionality of Obamacare (and to strike down part of its Medicaid expansion) after having served as Obama’s solicitor general while the legislation was being written and passed, and having been involved in some of the administration’s meetings and discussions on the law — facts that led then-senator Jeff Sessions to call for her recusal in these pages.

Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, Lincoln’s Treasury secretary for most of the Civil War, wrote the 1869 opinion in Texas v. White that not only rejected the legality of Texas secession, but did so in the context of upholding an 1862 decision by Chase himself declaring that Texas’s secessionist government could not sell bonds without his consent as Treasury secretary.

And, of course, Chief Justice John Marshall wrote the opinion in Marbury v. Madison, the decision that forms the foundation for much of the Court’s jurisprudence, even though the question before the Court was the legality of an appointment of an official whose commission was not delivered on time — and Marshall himself was the man who was supposed to deliver the commission. Even if you regard those decisions as extreme departures from judicial ethics, they underline the fact that the recusal rules are hardly ironclad precedents.

Next up we have Democrats hyperventilating over a 2016 comment by Kavanaugh — shortly after Justice Scalia’s death — that he would like to see the Court overturn Morrison v. Olson, the case upholding the independent-counsel statute, from which Scalia famously dissented alone, one of his most widely respected opinions:

Kavanaugh’s comment about overturning the 1988 ruling came in a forum at the American Enterprise Institute shortly after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in 2016. In response to questions, Kavanaugh acknowledged there were high court rulings he would like to see overturned, but initially declined to identify any. Then, he continued: “Actually I’m going to say one, Morrison v. Olson. It’s been effectively overruled, but I would put the final nail in.”

This is not terribly surprising; Scalia’s arguments about how the independent counsel violated separation of powers (because the president could not fire him, despite performing a quintessential executive function) and could be harmful to the country have become conventional wisdom among conservative legal scholars and were effectively adopted by both parties in Congress when they let the independent-counsel law expire in 1999. Kavanaugh has written extensively on and off the bench on separation of powers, and he clearly shares Scalia’s philosophy on the question. But he has also made clear that a special counsel does not share the same constitutional flaws:

[I]n a dissenting opinion from January, Kavanaugh distinguished the old independent counsel law from the appointment of special counsels like Mueller.

“The independent counsel is, of course, distinct from the traditional special counsels who are appointed by the Attorney General for particular matters. Those special counsels ordinarily report to and are removable by the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General,” Kavanaugh wrote in a footnote to a 73-page dissenting opinion in a challenge to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

This did not stop Democratic Senate leaders — some of whom, such as Dick Durbin, supported the death of the independent-counsel statute themselves back in 1999 — from making outlandish claims:

“We already know he believes the president shouldn’t be investigated while in office — that a president can’t be indicted while in office,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Senate minority leader. “Clearly, Judge Kavanaugh’s judicial philosophy incorporates an almost monarchical view of executive power and accountability animated by a belief that our chief executive gets to play by a different set of rules.”

Schumer added: “Judge Kavanaugh, particularly after this interview, needs to recuse himself from anything having to do with the Mueller probe.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said it is clear that Kavanaugh believes “the president is above the law.”

Booker even tweeted that Kavanaugh’s 2016 remarks (made, it should be noted, when Barack Obama was president) “rais[e] more grave questions about whether Kavanaugh would rule the current Special Counsel investigation unconstitutional.” Which is utter nonsense.

Finally, we have Democratic efforts to delay Kavanaugh by complaining that they need more documents from his time working for the George W. Bush White House, in Starr’s independent-counsel probe, and on the 2000 recount, an effort that the liberal Talking Points Memo describes as “Demands For Kavanaugh Paper Trail Becomes Flashpoint Of Dem Fight.” Former Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton adviser Ron Klain leads off the case for this with pure speculation: 

The vast majority of the documents were likely seen by a substantial number of people in the Bush White House when they were created and circulated. Some of these ex-officials may still have copies. Even if they don’t, they may know what Kavanaugh wrote about abortion, health care, civil rights and civil liberties. Bush-era officials could have easily shared these recollections with key people in the Trump White House during the process that led to Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Thus, when Kavanaugh testifies before the Judiciary Committee and says, inevitably, that he will offer “no hints, no winks, no nods” on potential rulings — that answer may not be true for everyone: The White House may indeed have ample “hints and nods,” by having seen (or been briefed on) Kavanaugh’s Bush-era writings. That knowledge should be in the possession of all senators, not just the White House. (Emphasis added.)

Then we get Klain’s actual agenda:

Red-state Democrats especially should press hard for the documents. These senators are caught between Trump-led pressure demanding support for the nomination and Democratic base pressure demanding opposition. They have blunted these forces by saying that will decide based on the record, not politics.

But how can they decide based on the record if the White House withholds Kavanaugh’s records? And if the White House will not produce them in full, what more common-sense reason is there to oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation than “I’m not going to vote for someone for the Supreme Court unless I see the paper trail”? It’s an argument tailor-made for practical voters in “Show Me” Missouri and throughout the Midwest.

As Klain notes, past nominees such as Kagan have turned over documents from their executive-branch service — but then, Kagan was nominated fresh out of the Obama administration, presenting issues of what matters she might need to be recused from, and with no track record as a judge for the Senate to evaluate. Kavanaugh, by contrast, has been on the appellate bench for 12 years, and Klain is talking about documents going back more than two decades, some of them very obviously involving privileged legal work.

The motivation for these demands is transparent: to give political cover to red-state Democrats to vote on something other than Kavanaugh’s record and philosophy, and simply to provide an excuse to run out the clock. It’s a trick wearyingly familiar to lawyers: When you have no case, you make the case about the other guy not giving you enough documents, and you keep escalating your demands until you can request something he can’t find or won’t turn over.

That’s not an argument for the White House unreasonably stonewalling. But there is plenty of time to review a more-than-adequate record on this nomination (including the 110-page questionnaire Kavanaugh submitted this morning), and there will be plenty of information for senators to evaluate. Democratic desperation is showing.

Energy & Environment

Carlos Curbelo Deserves Credit for His Innovative Carbon-Tax Proposal

Carlos Curbelo at CPAC 2014. (Gage Skidmore)

Representative Carlos Curbelo, a moderate Republican representing a swing district in south Florida, has just released an ambitious new carbon-tax proposal, and in doing so he has received plaudits from a number of environmentalists, including Eric Holthaus, who describes Curbelo’s bill as a long shot worth taking in an op-ed for Grist.

You might think it delusional to propose a carbon tax right now. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plans for a more comprehensive carbon-pricing system have faced intense political resistance, bolstered recently by the election of a right-of-center government in Ontario, the country’s most populous province, which is likely to be followed by another right-of-center victory in Alberta, the country’s most energy-rich province, next year. And the political prospects for carbon pricing in the U.S. are, to say the least, even less propitious than in our neighbor to the north. So why bother talking about it? To my surprise, Curbelo has come up with a pretty politically attractive proposal. For one, it abolishes the federal tax on motor-vehicle fuels. With a few tweaks, it could gain a head of steam. Alas, the tweaks I have in mind would make the proposal far less attractive to environmentalists, but we’ll get to that shortly.

I would describe myself as a carbon-tax agnostic. Oren Cass, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a regular NR contributor, has on several occasions made the case against carbon taxes (see his 2015 essay on the subject for National Affairs) and he’s done an effective job of surfacing some of the contradictions in the arguments made by the most zealous carbon-tax advocates. Nevertheless, I’ve remained open to the idea, mostly because I believe that there is a more modest case to be made for carbon taxes.

Say you believe, as I do, that, as Alex Trembath and Matthew Stepp have written, “the only way to get to dramatic cuts in global emissions is by developing significantly cheaper and better clean energy technologies,” and that carbon-pricing regimes are unlikely to yield energy breakthroughs in the absence of significant and sustained public investment. What then? Do you support carbon taxes high enough to force drastic changes in land-use patterns and consumption (that would never pass muster politically)? Or a leakproof global carbon-pricing regime that would bind the emerging economies of East and South Asia, which will be chiefly responsible for rising emissions in years to come? Good luck convincing the said Asian states to sign on or building the enforcement mechanisms that would be required to make such a regime work.

There is, however, another reason to favor a modest domestic carbon levy. No, it won’t magically transform the economy. By definition, a modest levy won’t have a huge influence on how Americans live and work. What it could do is provide a revenue source for advanced energy research. Here I am drawing on an argument Roger Pielke Jr. made in his 2010 book The Climate Fix. In it, Pielke posits an “iron law of climate policy,” which holds that “when policies focused on economic growth confront policies focused on emissions reductions, it is economic growth that will win out every time.” A low carbon tax that rises only as new low-carbon technologies prove their economic viability would sidestep the iron law while also providing a forward-looking price signal.

Enter Curbelo’s proposal, which would impose a $23-per-ton tax on carbon emissions that would rise over time, or even more if emissions reductions fail to reach targets, while eliminating the federal gas tax. First, the proposal is revenue-positive. Despite eliminating the federal gas tax, it raises more revenue for the federal government than under current law, which will no doubt alienate tax-cutters. Given rising deficits, I have no objection to raising additional revenue, especially if the funds are earmarked for public investment (including infrastructure, which is the use Curbelo has in mind). Second, Curbelo’s carbon tax is quite high — far higher in real terms than the low carbon tax that Pielke proposed in 2010. That strikes me as a mistake. To build a broader coalition, I’d suggest a much lower carbon tax, albeit one that would still rise over time. This would give Pielke’s iron law its due, and it would help ensure that the winners from Curbelo’s new bargain greatly outnumber the losers.

Now let’s turn to the bill’s proposed abolition of the federal gas tax. Why should we celebrate the death of a tax that the great Charles Krauthammer famously wanted to hike? I see a federalist case for doing so. Getting rid of the federal gas tax would allow us to shift much of the responsibility for the ongoing maintenance of highways from the federal government to state governments, which could hike their own fuel taxes or, better still, create alternatives, such as vehicle miles traveled (VMT) taxes that would do a better job as user fees as drivers embrace more fuel-efficient vehicles. Eventually, forward-looking states might learn from Australia and New Zealand and transform their Departments of Transportation into state road enterprises, as David Levinson proposed in 2013. As small-bore as this might sound, such a development would do far more to improve our transportation infrastructure than a short-term infusion of federal funds, as envisioned by Donald Trump on the campaign trail and in the early months of his presidency.

All in all, Carlos Curbelo deserves a great deal of credit for pushing a quirky, innovative approach to climate policy that has the potential to create a new coalition for environmental legislation. One wonders if he can bring more Republicans on board. As if to rebuke Curbelo, an overwhelming majority of House Republicans backed a resolution sponsored by House majority whip Steve Scalise that denounced carbon taxes as detrimental to the economy. But who knows? Perhaps a low carbon tax coupled with gas-tax abolition could sway some of them.

Economy & Business

Our Growing Deficit Isn’t Helping Our Growing Economy

My latest at Bloomberg Opinion:

At the moment both the economy and the deficit are growing. Last year the federal government spent $665 billion more than it raised. This year the Congressional Budget Office projects a $793 billion deficit. Spending has increased, and revenues are lower than they would have been without the tax cuts enacted at the end of last year.

So we are not growing our way out of the deficit. Are we deficit spending our way into growth?

I go on to explain why I don’t believe that the deficit is stimulating the economy.

Economy & Business

The EU Attempts to Become the World’s Antitrust Regulator

European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager addresses a news conference on Google in Brussels, Belgium, July 18, 2018. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

The European Union recently announced it would fine Google $5 billion for alleged anti-competitive practices in the licensing of its Android smartphone operating system. There is so much wrong with this decision it is difficult to know where to start to critique it, but the first thing to note is that it will very likely harm consumer welfare, and is at odds with American antitrust doctrine. Worse, given the EU’s outsized influence on the world economy, it represents an attempt by the EU to become the world’s antitrust regulator — a move that the United States should oppose with every tool it can muster.

At the heart of the decision was Google’s business model for Android. The company licenses the software to makers of mobile phones free of charge. However, there are development costs for improving the Android platform, and Google needs to recoup these. So it asked mobile-phone makers to install certain Google apps, including Google Search, and the Google Play app store. Customers using those apps provide a revenue stream to Google via advertising on the apps. This has allowed those manufacturers to keep their smartphones affordable.

The European Union calls this practice “tying,” which it defines as using a dominant position in one market — smartphone software — to disadvantage competitors in another market — Internet search. This is an unusual interpretation of “tying,” as it refers to a party using a dominant position in one market to achieve dominance in a market where it is not dominant. But Google is already dominant in Internet search.

The EU also presupposes that people do not use certain competitors’ apps because of the placement of the default apps, rather than their actually preferring the latter. As Matt Kilcoyne of the London-based Adam Smith Institute tweeted, “The EU commissioner saying ‘we have to fine Google £3.5bn because although people can freely access another search engine they don’t choose to’ is utterly insane.” Indeed.


Furthermore, the EU defined the market very narrowly, as licensable smartphone operating systems. This definition excludes Apple’s iOS, which the company does not license. Apple enjoys a large market share in western EU countries, including the U.K., France, Ireland, and in Scandinavia. That means that the EU has ignored a major source of competition in its competition analysis (just as when it ignored Amazon when going after Google over online shopping).

So if the EU’s hinders Google’s ability to get revenue from its apps, how will Google pay to develop its platform and accompanying software? It may well have to charge for the privilege of using its software. That means goodbye to the $50 smartphone. That may not mean much to French or British consumers who can afford iPhones, but it will mean a lot to less well-off consumers in Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania.

And if Google decides to roll out that model to the rest of the world — which is presumably what the EU wants, since the EU fines are on the basis of global revenue — then smartphone makers and users in the developing world will be even more hard hit. Smartphones are a major engine of growth and innovation in Africa, where the loss of access to affordable mobile phones means loss of opportunity for millions of the world’s poorer people.

Ultimately, the EU’s action against Google may help entrench Apple’s business model around the world. If that were the case, expect Google to start limiting the ability of its competitors to use Google Play the way Apple limits access to its App Store. That means less choice for consumers and less opportunity for entrepreneurs. We’ll all be worse off.

For years, the EU has tended to go hard after big American tech firms — remember its incessant complaints against Microsoft?). Notably, the EU has no big innovative tech firms of its own to speak of. The last were the Scandinavian mobile-phone giants, who were caught napping by  . . . iOS and Android. The EU’s harsh antitrust laws surely didn’t help, either.

For these reasons, the United States needs to seek allies to stand up to the EU’s regulatory imperialism, including Great Britain, when it leaves the EU. Pushing back the regulatory onslaught from Brussels will be good for innovators, good for consumers, and good for choice.


Blake Hounshell Has Changed His Mind about ‘Russiagate’ Too Quickly

Blake Hounshell (C-SPAN)

The editor of Politico Magazine writes that recent events have “nullified” his previous skepticism of the claim that President Trump “secretly colluded with Russia to sway the 2016 election.” Now he is willing to assign a much higher probability to the thought — the closing thought in his article — that Trump “can’t admit that Moscow tried to put him in the Oval Office because he’s under strict instructions not to.”

Hounshell’s case against skepticism deserves consideration. But it also deserves some skepticism of its own. So, for example, Hounshell has abandoned his previous argument that the Trump team would have been unable to keep a secret as big as that it had colluded with Russia. Among his reasons for abandoning it: “How about the fact that Brett Kavanaugh’s name didn’t leak out as Trump’s latest Supreme Court pick until minutes before the announcement?”

This is a bad comparison. The fact that Judge Kavanaugh was a leading contender was known before Justice Anthony Kennedy had even announced his retirement. During the selection process, any time any plugged-in reporter named the contenders, he was one of them. (He was the only potential nominee who was consistently in the list.) Trump seems to have gotten firmer in his preference for Kavanaugh in the day or two before the July 9 announcement, but nobody would have been shocked if he had changed his mind — or changed it and then changed it back — on July 8 or even 9. So what failed to leak was the certainty that it was going to be Kavanaugh, and that certainty may not have existed for more than a few hours. Keeping “secret collusion” secret would be a much more complicated undertaking.

Hounshell also thinks that Trump’s pro-Putin line has inflicted great political damage to him, which “suggests either that he is possessed by an anomalous level of conviction on this one issue, despite his extraordinary malleability on everything else — or that he’s beholden to Putin in some way.” Yet President Trump says and does things that seem to cause him political damage all the time. His first few takes on the violence in Charlottesville, and his failure to do a quick clean-up, hurt him in the polls for a while and drew widespread condemnation from people who are usually allies. His tariffs are complicating his messaging about the good economy, inflicting damage on a significant part of his base, and dividing him from a lot of his fellow Republicans. Yet he has (alas) been pretty consistent on the issue, because it is one of the issues on which he seems to have pretty strong predispositions.

What makes Hounshell’s argument especially odd is that he seems to lose track of what it is. He allows that Trump might not be an asset of Russian intelligence or be subject to some kind of sexual blackmail by the Kremlin. He writes, “As Julia Ioffe posits, the kompromat could well be the mere fact of the Russian election meddling itself.” Here’s how Ioffe concludes her article: “Putin knows his subject and his supple psychology, the nooks and crannies of his insecurities and obsessions. Why threaten him when you can get him to do your bidding with simple flattery: Of course we didn’t interfere, Donald. You won fair and square. You did it all by your genius self” (emphasis in original). And now we’re back to . . . the election-pride theory that Hounshell was just discounting a few paragraphs before! Ioffe presents the pride theory, reasonably, as an alternative to theories that include secret collusion. The relevant information, she explains, has been out in public all along.

My own judgment of the probabilities at the moment is that Trump’s Russia-related policies reflect a mix of motives that heavily features his unwillingness to concede that anything other than the brilliance and appeal of his campaign explains his election. I could be wrong and the possibilities Hounshell mentions could be right. But I am unconvinced by his argument for them.


Murray Sperber’s Beer and Circus — As Relevant as Ever after 18 Years

One of the first and still among the most influential books on higher education I have read is Murray Sperber’s Beer and Circus, published in 2000. It was a sharp exposé of the follies at many of our colleges and universities and especially valuable coming from someone who describes himself as a liberal in the contemporary sense. Later, I invited Sperber to speak at two events hosted by the old Pope Center and he also wrote an excellent article for us on how most schools ignore student writing.

In today’s Martin Center article, our intern, Joe Warta, reflects on Beer and Circus as it relates to his own college experiences. He explains that it hardly relates at all — but that’s because Warta went to a community college. He argues that Sperber’s book makes a pretty good case for attending a community college instead of one of the alcohol and sports besotted institutions that draw most postsecondary students.

Warta writes,

One of Sperber’s main approaches was to categorize students into four groups to illustrate many of his points. They are:

  • Academics, who focus on their studies;
  • Collegiates, who are interested in parties and sports more than attending class;
  • Vocationals, who see college as a ticket to a job; and
  • Rebels, who protest and focus on activism over assignments.

While this model may describe large public universities, such as the Indiana University where Sperber taught, it is less useful for community colleges. There, collegiates and rebels are more or less nonexistent — the party and political scenes are anemic on campus. Vocationals, however, dominate campus and academics have a considerable presence as well. But there are quite a few students of another category that Sperber missed: the “explorer.” I saw lots of students who are unsure of what they want to do and who are using their time at school to figure it out.

Warta also notes that community-college classes are mostly taught by full-time faculty, not grad students and adjuncts. And you don’t get the huge lecture sessions you find at many colleges and universities. Perhaps most important of all, students aren’t distracted with the party culture that causes so many college students educational and physical trouble.

I’m glad that Warta read Sperber’s book, and I recommend it to everyone who cares about the education our young people are getting.

Science & Tech

Beware the New Eugenics

(Carlos Barria/Reuters)

The Guardian reported this week that the Nuffield Council on Bioethics has (or “have,” as the English say) approved as “morally permissible” the practice of altering the DNA of human embryos in order to eliminate certain diseases. The council advises, however, that scientific techniques are not yet advanced enough to allow the procedure to be in common use, but it supported gene editing in theory.

To many people, this probably seems innocuous. Who doesn’t want to eliminate cystic fibrosis? Of course there is nothing wrong about curing genetic diseases per se. However, gene editing is rife with potential problems that require us to take every precaution that we do not fall into that old evil, eugenics.

Firstly, gene-editing research uses embryos created by in vitro fertilization. We must always oppose the concocting of children in laboratories because it cheapens natural reproduction and the family, but especially when those children are monkeyed with and then mandatorily “destroyed” after experimentation. The IVF industry demonstrates a horrifying disregard for human life. Bear in mind that the ethical standards of many of the people at the vanguard are not exactly impeccable: At the moment, they brag about eliminating Down syndrome when what they are actually doing is murdering people who have Down syndrome.

The Nuffield Council’s report stipulates that gene editing must not increase “disadvantage, discrimination, or division in society.” If we suppose that gene editing will one day be easy to perform in the womb, it will pass quickly through various economic stages. It might begin as a costly medical procedure available only to the rich. Then a fight might emerge over whether it should be covered by insurance. Single-payer gene editing might eventually be the cause célèbre of social-justice advocates.

Some people cited in the Guardian article express precisely this concern, that tampering with DNA will produce “genetic haves and have-nots.” Indeed, the question of so-called designer babies is especially concerning: Scientists may move on from curing diseases to altering characteristics such as height, athleticism, or intelligence. Before gene editing has become a universal right (see above), and even perhaps afterward, customizing children will have no effect other than increasing disadvantage, discrimination, and division in society.

Unless, of course, we put it under the watchful eye of — horresco referens — the “fertility regulator.” A more frightening term could hardly be devised. Yet this is the shorthand for the U.K.’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, a bureau of the type to which we will be asked to entrust the fate of civilization. One shudders to think what policies it would enact if it had any power.

This may sound like paranoia, but it is not. A major error in contemplating revolutionary procedures such as gene editing is failure to extrapolate long-term effects before charging ahead. Another article in the Guardian on the same topic advises, “Let’s worry about the future in the future.” Who could possibly be that shortsightedly naïve? If we find some possible consequences of a process undesirable (or revolting), we should grapple with them before we start, not wait to be ambushed later.


Lies, Damned Lies, and Lies for Europe

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a speech at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland, July 20, 2018. (Charles McQuillan/Pool via Reuters)

Britain’s current political crisis over Theresa May’s attempt, endorsed by the cabinet at Chequers, to redefine the meaning of Brexit so that it requires the U.K. to remain inside the functional equivalents of the EU single market, the EU customs union, and the remit of the European Court of Justice is plainly a complicated exercise in deceit. As such, it spawns other deceitful actions by ministers, parliamentarians, and officials. That’s the nature of lying; it can only stand upright if buttressed by subsidiary lies.

As is now well-known (and denied only half-heartedly by those involved), the Tory chief whip, Julian Smith, told members of the European Research Group of Tory Brexiteers that there was no truth in the reports, fed by leaks from Downing Street, that May would present a completely new set of “Brexit” proposals at Chequers only two days beforehand. May herself gave the then secretary of state for exiting the European Union, David Davis, the same assurance at a personal meeting in Downing Street. And, of course, these new definitions of Brexit (to mean its opposite) had been formulated by a small cabal of ministers and civil servants in Downing Street behind the curtain of a “Potemkin Ministry,” the DexEU department, that was writing the official white paper on it as constitutionally instructed by the cabinet.

These lies are of a monstrous size and trust-destroying character, but they did no more than buy the prime minister and the chief whip three days of peace and quiet before the storm broke. And now that it has broken, further lies are being told to keep the show dry and on the road.

Here is a report from today’s Times. It reports what to parliamentarians on all sides is a monstrous breach of parliamentary conventions. And it is also a deep breach of the trust between the whips’ offices on both sides of the House that keeps parliament functioning in times of bitter partisanship and relative harmony:

Julian Smith openly admitted to a rival chief whip that he intended to break a parliamentary convention in a crucial Brexit vote.

Mr Smith, the Tory chief whip, is facing calls to resign after The Times revealed that he urged three of his MPs to abandon pairing arrangements before the vote on Tuesday night, which the government won by just six votes.

Pairing allows MPs on different sides to agree not to vote so that an absence for illness, travel problems or maternity leave does not count against a member.

In a private meeting after the vote on the customs union, Mr Smith told his opposite number that he deliberately sought to break a pair involving Brandon Lewis, the Tory chairman, by summoning him to vote in two divisions at about 6pm.

Mr Smith then apologised to the rival chief whip because he did not realise that Mr Lewis was paired with the Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson, who is on maternity leave.

Mr Smith claimed that if he had realised, he would have chosen a different pair to break. The acknowledgement that the chief whip was saying openly that he wanted to break pairs will cause outrage and anger as it undermines government claims that it was a mistake.

One member of an opposition whips’ office said: “The whole relationship between whips and between MPs is based on trust. Accidents do happen but the difference here is that it is deliberate.”

The Sun reported that up to five MPs were approached and that Mr Smith demanded to know why one of them ignored his instructions. This undermines briefings on behalf of the Tory chief whip that he had changed his mind after the initial instruction.

Tory MPs told The Times they did not receive any orders from Mr Smith rescinding the order to vote. The rival chief whip said that in his conversation with his Tory counterpart no mention was made by Mr Smith of later changing his mind.

Christine Jardine, a Lib Dem MP, said: “These allegations completely undermine the trust on which the pairing system depends. Cynical abuse to get the government through a difficult day is a surefire way to corrode that trust. This situation is so serious that Downing Street can keep the system or they can save their chief whip. They can’t do both.”

She demanded that Mr Smith “come to parliament and be held accountable”.

One prominent former Tory cabinet minister called on Mr Smith and Mr Lewis to resign. “Their behaviour is an affront to the very rules of conduct we have in our parliamentary democracy. They have both lied and have abused their positions in government to save their government jobs. They have brought into question the integrity of parliament and this government through such appalling conduct. They should resign,” they said.

Just how serious is this breach of trust? Here is an extract from the Guardian’s obituary of Walter Harrison, a legendary Labour chief whip, who kept Jim Callaghan’s minority Labour government in power for at least 18 months longer than the parliamentary arithmetic suggested was possible at a time of bitter partisan hostility:

It has only recently been revealed that in order to try to spare the dying Labour MP Sir Alfred Broughton from being brought into the Commons for the vote of confidence which precipitated the 1979 general election, Harrison approached his opposite number in the Conservative whips’ office, Bernard “Jack” Weatherill. He asked the Tory deputy chief whip to observe the convention under which a member of the other party would abstain to match the absence of a sick MP.

According to a new play, This House by James Graham, currently being staged at the National Theatre, Weatherill asserted that the convention was not applicable in such a critical vote and no Tory MP could possibly agree to abstain; he then offered to do so himself out of his own sense of honour. Harrison, motivated by a similar decency, recognised that such a gesture would certainly affect Weatherill’s future career and refused to accept the offer.

Broughton was not obliged to attend the vote and the government lost by one vote. Broughton died five days later and Weatherill was subsequently elected Speaker of the Commons, despite the opposition of the new prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, to his candidacy. Harrison always treasured a letter from a defeated but unresentful Callaghan assuring him that he had done the right thing in deciding not to bring Broughton to Westminster for the vote.

As it happens I saw a revival of Graham’s fine play, This House, last year. It’s worth seeing if you get the chance. Among its other virtues it captures the atmosphere of those times very well, at least as I remember them from my time as the Daily Telegraph’s parliamentary sketch-writer.

Lying is not new in politics. But the lying by the Tory leadership to prop up Britain’s continued membership of the EU goes well beyond any conventional level of deceit and manipulation, which is then usually obscured by Remainers in the media and Opposition parties. Indeed, such lying goes right back to the origins of Britain’s EU relationship in the Tory manifesto for the 1970 election which promised that a Heath government would open discussions with the EU “no more, no less.” It went on to join without an election.

Is this latest deceit a lie too far? We’ll see.


Friday Links

It’s the anniversary of the 20th of July plot, the unsuccessful attempt to kill Hitler in 1944.

A brief history of prosthetic limbs.

The Bayeux Tapestry with knobs on: What do the tapestry’s 93 penises tell us?

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

The Scientific Quest for the Perfect S’more.

Ye Oldest Public Library in the English Speaking World.

ICYMI, Monday’s links are here, and include the physics of how lawn-mower blades cut grass (at 50K frames per second), spiders flying by using electricity, and the anniversary of the beginning of the atomic age (the 1945 Trinity nuclear test).


Tiny, Faraway Countries and Us

Flags of NATO countries fly during a ceremony at the alliance’s new headquarters in Brussels, May 25, 2018. (Christian Hartmann / Reuters)

Montenegro is in the news, much to its discomfort. President Trump cast doubt on collective security, which is the crux of NATO: “You know, Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people. . . . They are very aggressive people. They may get aggressive, and congratulations, you’re in World War III. But that’s the way it was set up.”

What is certainly true is that Montenegro is a tiny country that is aggressed against. Here is an article from earlier this month: “Exclusive: Russian Military Spies Backed Attempt to Assassinate Leader of Montenegro, Report Says.” Vladimir Putin was very keen to stop Montenegro’s accession to NATO, which the United States supported and encouraged.

Trump described Montenegro as “a tiny country.” Some of us heard an echo of this: “a faraway country.” In September 1938, Prime Minister Chamberlain spoke of “a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.”

This seems to be a season for Chamberlain echoes. Last month, Trump tweeted, “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” adding, “. . . sleep well tonight!” On his return from Munich, Chamberlain said, “I believe it is peace for our time. . . . Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”

When you speak of NATO, you could pick a bigger country: Britain or Poland, for example. But Montenegro is riper for mockery. The country, to some ears, is ridiculous-sounding (even as Czechoslovakia was).

On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump spoke of small countries “that nobody in this room’s ever heard of.” He was speaking to a rally in Jacksonville. He said the press had accused him of wanting to get rid of NATO. “I don’t want to get rid of NATO,” he told the crowd. “But you always have to be prepared to walk. It’s possible. Okay?”

He had had an interview with David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, who questioned him about the Baltic states. In Jacksonville, Trump did a comical reenactment of the interview. “They said, ‘What happens if one of these countries’ — take a smaller one that nobody in this room’s ever heard of — ‘gets attacked by Russia? Are you saying you’re not gonna protect ’em?’ I say, ‘Well, let me ask you: Have they paid? Have they paid?’ Right? ‘Have they paid?’” The crowd laughed and cheered. “So, we’re gonna save a fortune. They’re gonna pay. And if they don’t — sorry.”

In 1939, a question rang out in France: “Why die for Danzig?” It was a damn good question — a question that certainly applies to today (and you can substitute Montenegro for Danzig). The question, which became a slogan, served as the title of an article by Marcel Déat, a socialist politician. He became an ardent collaborator with the Nazis.

Why die for Danzig? In a year, Frenchmen were dying for Paris. Radek Sikorski, once the defense minister and foreign minister of Poland — and, before that, a writer for National Review — made this point to me in a podcast last year.

He was talking about deterrence: the need to stop an aggressor as soon as possible, before he comes to your door, and doors elsewhere. After two world wars, the wise heads who founded NATO decided that collective security was the best defense — the best way of preventing further war. If anyone has a brighter idea today, he should speak up plainly and specifically.

Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty says, in essence, An attack on one is an attack on all. It is been invoked only once — after the attacks on America on 9/11. That’s why Poles, for example, have fought and died in Afghanistan.

Article 3 is important too, of course, and too often overlooked by NATO members: “The Parties, separately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.”

In the autumn of 2016, I traveled to the Baltic states, to report on NATO, the Russian threat, etc. Newt Gingrich, then a Trump campaign surrogate, had said something astounding. He said, “Estonia is in the suburbs of St. Petersburg,” and “I’m not sure I would risk nuclear war over some place which is the suburbs of St. Petersburg.”

He further said that Trump “thinks there ought to be a very serious conversation about us being the people who defend people who won’t defend themselves.”

Estonians had fought and died in Afghanistan (a long way from Tallinn). Estonia was one of the five NATO countries already meeting the alliance’s goal on defense spending (2 percent of GDP by 2024). But look: Even if Estonia spent everything it had on defense, it would be hard pressed to fend off Russia, which has a million men under arms and another 2 million in reserve (plus nuclear weapons, as Gingrich suggested).

In my report from the Baltics, I said that we Americans were perfectly entitled to ask a question:

Why should we care about the Baltic people, except on a humanitarian level? What is the connection between our security and theirs? Why should we commit our forces to their protection? You might even say, Why die for Danzig? The immediate answer is, “Better to deter, and commit to that — so that no one is ever asked to die for Danzig, including the Danzigers.” But there are answers beyond that one.

The United States has trade interests. These are connected to our prosperity. We have an interest in stability, democracy, and the rule of law — in not getting dragged into another European or world war. We have shared values, with these liberal democracies. And we have a foreign policy at large to consider. If NATO crumbles, that will have big effects elsewhere. U.S. guarantees will be seen as worthless. Japan and South Korea will be resigned to China. And so on.

Advocates of NATO — of collective security — should not be complacent. They (we) should not assume that the arguments are self-evident. They need to be remade, over and over again, especially for the young, and especially as memories of past crises fade.

Politics & Policy

How Organized Groups Drive Parties to Change Their Ideology

Demonstrators gather at a “Free Our Future” march to protest the Immigration Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) in San Diego, Calif., July 2, 2018. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

It is well understood that political parties change their positions over time. Dara Lind of the left-of-center news site Vox has painstakingly described the Democratic party’s pronounced shift on immigration policy since the early Obama years, and there is no question that the Republican party is friendlier to protectionism in the Trump era than it was in the 2000s, albeit less so than in, say, the 1970s and 1980s. A separate question is how parties change. Politicians are famously wary of the charge of flip-flopping, so you’d think they would be reluctant to change their long-held positions. This might lead you to conclude that parties change their positions only through turnover: That is, as old partisans leave office, they are replaced by new partisans who are more in tune with the changing sensibilities of the party’s voting base.

But as the political scientist David Karol has observed, parties also change through conversion, in which incumbent partisans change the positions to align themselves with their voters. The politicians in question might be reluctant to acknowledge that they’ve actually changed their positions, claiming instead that their new stances are entirely compatible with their old ones. And they might even have a point. For example, it is not unreasonable to maintain that while a laissez-faire approach to trade with China might have made sense in decades past, there is now a much stronger strategic case for reducing U.S. reliance on China-centric supply chains. Most of the time, though, it is not new evidence that changes the minds of politicians. Rather, it is the influence of organized groups that have the requisite political muscle.

In a short review of Christopher Baylor’s new book First to the Party, which I am eager to read, George Hawley distills its thesis:

According to Baylor, organized groups are the key movers in American politics. More important than even politicians, and far more influential than pundits and intellectuals. Alliances between groups form out of convenience, not necessarily because of shared principles. Once a group has reached a threshold of influence, it is able to be a major player in its political party’s nomination process, and can force politicians to advance its agenda. Some of the most important changes occur when a previously weak group gains influence within one of the parties. According to Baylor, however, this can only occur when an outside group cultivates alliances with groups already powerful within a party.

During the Civil Rights era, civil-rights organizations dedicated to improving the status of African Americans aligned themselves with organized labor, an existing Democratic constituency, which in turn gave them the leverage they needed to push the Democratic party to embrace their cause. Culturally conservative Evangelical Christians, in a somewhat similar vein, forged a partnership with New Right activists who sought to push the GOP rightwards. Right now, left-of-center foundations and activist groups are hoping to organize naturalized citizens and second-generation Americans into a durable constituency for more permissive immigration policies, and they may well succeed.

And what of the Right? Are we seeing the rise of organized groups dedicated to “America First” that have the scale necessary to move the Republican party? Not according to Hawley, who writes that “the absence of an organized group committed to the agenda Trump articulated in the campaign allowed the Republicans to maintain the status quo.”

Hawley’s conclusion brought to mind Michael Lind’s new essay in American Affairs, in which he argues that the only durable way for working-class citizens to challenge the managerial elite’s influence over politics and government is to build new working-class grassroots institutions that are funded exclusively by their own members. The barriers to the realization of this vision are formidable, which gives us reason to believe that the populist challenge won’t evolve into something more substantial, as Hawley suggests. But perhaps populists should take Hawley’s pessimism as a challenge.

National Security & Defense

Putin’s False Equivalency

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Anatoly Maltsev/Reuters)

We are in dangerous times. Amid the hysteria over the Russian summit, the Mueller collusion probe, nonstop unsupported allegations and rumors, the Strzok and Page testimonies, the ongoing congressional investigations into improper CIA and FBI behavior, and a completely unhinged media, there is a growing crisis of rising tensions between two superpowers that together possess a combined arsenal of 3,000 instantly deployable nuclear weapons and another 10,000 in storage. That latter existential fact apparently has been forgotten in all the recriminations. So it is time for all parties to deescalate and step back a bit.

Trump understandably wants to avoid progressive charges that he is obstructing Robert Mueller’s ostensible investigation of Russian collusion, and he also wants some sort of détente with Russia. Mueller has likely indicted Russians, timed on the eve of the summit, in part on the assumption that they would more or less not personally defend themselves and never appear on U.S. soil.

Add that all up, and Trump apparently has discussed with Putin an idea of allowing Mueller’s investigators to visit Russia to interview those they have indicted.

But in the quid pro quo world of big-power rivalry, Putin, of course, wants reciprocity — the right also to interview American citizens or residents (among them a former U.S. ambassador to Russia) whom he believes have transgressed against Russia.

Trump needs to squash Putin’s ridiculous “parity” request immediately. Mueller would learn little or nothing from interviewing his targets on Russian soil — and likely never imagined that he would or could.

On the other hand, given recent Russian attacks on critics abroad, Moscow’s interviewing any Russian antagonist anywhere is not necessarily a safe or sane enterprise. And being indicted under the laws of a constitutional republic is hardly synonymous with earning the suspicion of the Russian autocracy.

Most importantly, the idea that a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Professor Michael McFaul — long after the expiration of his government tenure — would submit to Russian questioning is absurd. Of course, it would also undermine the entire sanctity of American ambassadorial service.

McFaul, a colleague at the Hoover Institution, who would probably disagree with most of my views, years ago was targeted as an enemy by Vladimir Putin and more recently has been sharply critical of the Trump administration. But, of course, he is a widely admired patriot, a scholar, and voices his candid views, like all of us, under the assumption of free speech and absolute protection under the Constitution. As an ambassador, he was also accorded diplomatic immunity as insurance that his implementation of then U.S. policy would not earn him retaliation from Moscow, both then or now. McFaul is wise enough not to voluntarily submit to be questioned by Russian operatives, and the U.S. government must never suggest that he should.

So, Putin’s offer, to the extent we know the details of it, will soon upon examination be seen as patently unhinged. In refusal, Trump has a good opportunity to remind the world why all American critics of the Putin government — and especially of his own government as well — are uniquely free and protected to voice any notion they wish.


When the Identitarian Left Sounds Like the Far Right

Players on the French team celebrate winning the World Cup at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, July 15, 2018. (Christian Hartmann)

Is France’s victory in the World Cup this weekend a victory for, well, France, or for Africa, as some have suggested?

That the winning squad was incredibly diverse has been widely reported; the Washington Post’s WorldView newsletter noted that of France’s 23 players, 17 are the children of first-generation immigrants. Several of the team’s players hail from African countries — Cameroon, Morocco, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, among other places — while many of their teammates are the sons of African immigrants to France. Kylian Mbappé, the competition’s breakout star, is the child of a Cameroonian father and an Algerian mother.

But Mbappé, like most of his teammates, is French, born and raised.

Soccer (or football, if you prefer) fans worldwide feted the diverse ethnic composition of this World Cup’s teams as a triumph of globalization and openness — and right they are to do so. Of the 32 teams that met in Moscow, 22 had at least one foreign-born player, and 82 of the 739 players at the World Cup were born outside of the country for which they played. This recalls when in 1998 France’s black, blanc, beur team came out on top, giving people hope that the solution to France’s fractious racial politics was forthcoming. Two decades later, race relations remain contentious, but Sunday’s victory has provided reason for hope again.

However, this has also led some to herald the French team’s supposedly pan-African character as its primary feature. On a Monday evening episode of The Daily Show, Trevor Noah said, “Basically if you don’t understand, France is Africans’ backup team. Once Senegal and Nigeria got knocked out, that’s who we root for.” Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro also weighed in: “The French team looked like an African team, in fact it was Africa who won.” And Khaled Beydoun, a professor of law at the University of Detroit and scholar of Islamophobia, put it like this:

Whether nativists, racists and the Marine Le Pens in France like it or not, much of the world views France as the last African team standing in Russia, demonstrating brown and black excellence in all of its glory.

Mais au contraire, Le Pen and her ilk can rest easy with the knowledge that Beydoun, Noah, and other likeminded commentators are doing their job for them.

Speaking about France’s 2010 World Cup team, Marine Le Pen infamously argued that the binational background of many of its players prevented them from truly representing France because they had “another nationality at heart.” In 1996, her father voiced a similar view when he said, “It is artificial that we make these foreign players and baptize them the French team.” This is to suggest that the French team is weakened by its inclusion of players with multicultural backgrounds.

Certainly, the views espoused by the Le Pens are different from the ones expressed by Noah and Beydoun; the former view the culturally diverse quality of the national team as anti-French, while the latter celebrate it. However, both groups’ positions stem from an assertion of difference, that even though Mbappé and his teammates are French, we ought to emphasize some non-Frenchness the identitarians contrive for their political purposes.

Those celebrating an “African” victory deny these Frenchmen consideration according to their French identity, which they proudly represent. From this vantage point the players are not seen as citizens of the French Republic, but rather as some foreign symbol of multiculturalism. This anti-republican sentiment isn’t only wrong; it contradicts the way the French view themselves, as citizens who should be subject to the same rights and privileges regardless of race.

Following his team’s victory, Paul Pogba (born to Guinean parents in France), described it like this: “There are all these [national origins], but you also see that in 1998. The France of today is a France full of different colors. This is to say in France, we’re all French. . . . France is a country like that, it’s like that we love it, and it’s like that we will always love it.”

This isn’t to deny there’s a complicated conversation about race and national identity currently underway in France, and indeed, this World Cup victory will add a new aspect to this debate. But as the country discusses this question, one thing is clear: The ideologues who call Sunday’s game an “African” win are just plain wrong, and they faintly echo the far Right, to boot.

Zinedine Zidane, the legendary player who carried France’s first World Cup victory, recently said of the 1998 triumph: “We don’t talk about religion, we don’t talk about skin color, we don’t care about any of that . . . we are together, and we enjoy this moment.” The identitarians should listen to him.

White House

That Helsinki Feeling

My column on Helsinki elicited several responses. I’ll mention and respond to three here.

First, an email:

So you hate the President and you would like [your readers] to do likewise. Does that equate to bigotry? Which is defined as an inability to see anything positive in the subject or person or group. You show massive arrogance in assuming that anyone would see that as acceptable.

Your opinion is hopelessly compromised in your opening remarks.

I rate you an F. And that is stretching it.

My response: I don’t think any sentence in your email is sensible, which I guess by your definition means I’m bigoted against it.

Second, many emails and tweets along the lines of this comment (which was not directed at me). An example: “Your defense of Trump is unconvincing. Pride about the 2016 election can’t explain why he was sucking up to Putin during the campaign. . .”

My response: I attributed Trump’s comments about Russia to his longstanding admiration for what he regards as the strength of dictators and to his fear that acknowledging Russian interference in the election would tarnish his victory. Even in this odd world of ours, I don’t see how that counts as a “defense.” More generally, I think the argument Ross Douthat lays out as “theory one” is the best fit for the facts we have.

Third, another email, which I’ll quote in its entirety but with orthodox capitalization: “It is insulting and sexist to call Hillary Clinton a ‘lousy candidate’ when she won the popular vote by 3 million votes.”

My responses: Winning the popular vote wasn’t the job; and losing to a candidate whom most voters regarded as dishonest and unqualified is not a mark of great political appeal.

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