White House

Trump’s Tell

(Leah Millis/Reuters)

The president continues to remind us of his mania for telling easily disproved lies in public, boasting over the weekend how “easily” he’d won the Electoral College. The president is in the habit of citing his Electoral College victory when facing questions about the Russian shenanigans. E.g., when the claims first started being investigated in the wake of the election, the Trump transition team released this statement denouncing the U.S. intelligence community: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’”

“One of the biggest Electoral College victories in history,” Trump says. In fact, there have been few smaller margins—only twelve winners took in a smaller share, while 45 winners enjoyed larger margins. Never mind the smashing 49-state victories of Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, Donald Trump (at 57 percent of the electoral votes) came in well behind such mediocrities as James Polk (62 percent) and Bill Clinton (69 percent, then 70 percent). Trump came in well behind Barack Obama, though he did best Rutherford B. Hayes.

(Speaking of Clinton, that Trump transition team statement, with its invocation of the characteristic phrase of the scandal-plagued Clinton years—“move on”—confesses more than its authors intended.)

Strange thing about Trump and his superlatives: It isn’t enough for him to be rich—he is compelled to pretend he is richer than he is. It isn’t enough to be a playboy who disposes of used wives like old newspapers—he is compelled to lie about his sex life to the press he claims to hold in contempt, inventing imaginary friends such as John Barron to peddle lies to reporters on his behalf. And it isn’t enough that he was elected president—he is compelled to pretend that he was elected in a landslide, by a historically large margin rather than a relatively small one. Trump is an odd specimen, indeed: a confidence man lacking in confidence.

In his weekend tweetstorm, the president (typing the preceding words is dismay-inducing) lied about having denied Russia’s election adventure. “I never said Russia did not meddle in the election,” he wrote. In fact, he said that a number of times. E.g. this Fox News postelection interview: “I think it’s ridiculous. I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it. I don’t know why, and I think it’s just — you know, they talked about all sorts of things. Every week, it’s another excuse.”

And the next sentence out of his mouth was: “We had a massive landslide victory, as you know, in the Electoral College.”

Trump has some pretty obvious tells. No wonder he lost his shirt in the casino business.

Trump Has Been Tough on Russia (Except Rhetorically)

An assistant shows the mock “reset” button which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handed to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, March 6, 2009. (Fabrice Coffrini/Pool via Reuters)

This tweet from Donald Trump is inviting a lot of mockery this morning.

There’s just one problem: Trump has a point.

Barack Obama sold out our Eastern European allies on missile defense. He slow-walked aid to Ukraine and did little more than shrug when Crimea was annexed. He said “never mind” on his own “red line” in Syria and turned a blind eye to Putin’s intervention there, in large part because of his obsessions with getting the Iran deal. The Russian meddling in our elections started on Obama’s watch — and not just our elections but those of many of our allies. When Mitt Romney famously said Russia was our No. 1 geopolitical foe, Obama mocked him for it as did countless liberal journalists who are now converts to anti-Russia hawkery.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has made life harder for Russia diplomatically and economically thanks to revving up our oil and gas production. It hasn’t been as tough as some — including me — would like, but it’s been tougher than the Obama administration. Or at least it’s not unreasonable.

The mockery of Trump’s claim arises, I think, from two sources. The first is Trump himself. The administration has been tough on Russia, but Trump himself has not been rhetorically tough. For reasons that have launched a thousand theories, the president cannot bring himself to speak harshly about Vladimir Putin in a convincing way.

The second, related, reason is that the Russia investigation has become a carryall for anti-Trump obsessions among the press and Democrats generally. The narrative (God, I’m getting sick of that word) is that Trump is in league with the Russians. There’s no room in that storyline for the Trump administration to be hindering Russia. Nor is there room for the inconvenient fact that Obama deserves a good deal of blame for Russia’s mischief at home and abroad.

Politics & Policy

As Usual, an ‘Assault Weapons Ban’ Is DOA

Senator Dianne Feinstein speaks in support of an assault weapons ban, February 27, 2013. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

In today’s Morning Jolt, Jim Geraghty reviews some interesting poll numbers:

Let’s start off the week with some surprising poll numbers. For starters, despite a near-unanimous tone of media coverage praising the old Assault Weapons Ban and pointing to it as the solution to mass shootings, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds Americans are about evenly split on the idea.

Specifically, the poll finds “50 percent in support and 46 percent opposed, a stark contrast from the 80 percent support for the ban in 1994, the year it was enacted. The current level of support is little different from 51 percent in 2016.”

For those who believe that there’d be widespread rejoicing if the federal government tried to ban the most popular rifle in America, these numbers should serve as a timely dose of cold water. They come, remember, in the immediate aftermath of a terrible attack. In 1994, 80 percent of Americans wanted to ban certain rifles absent any recent abominations. Today, after an unusual number of heinous events, only half do. Given that the right to bear arms is explicitly enumerated in the Constitution, these numbers simply won’t cut it. Consider, by way of comparison, that seven out of ten Americans think abortion should be illegal in the second trimester, and yet it remains legal almost everywhere.

The outlook looks similarly grim for those who think they can just “wait it out” until those recalcitrant older voters die off. Per CNN, poll after poll reveals that younger voters are not in fact more pro-gun control than are older voters:

While any one survey result for a subsample that is as small as those under the age of 35 could be an outlier, the average of nine surveys tells us a lot. In the average survey, 50% of Americans said they were for stricter gun control. The same nine polls found on average that 49% of Americans under the age of 35 were for stricter gun control. In other words, the difference was statistically insignificant.

I also checked to see if more recent surveys during this five-year period suggested any sort of uptick in support for stricter gun control among younger adults. There wasn’t. The last four surveys conducted by CNN discovered that 50% of those under 35 were for stricter gun control. That’s identical to the 50% of all Americans who said they were for gun control in the same surveys.

Over the last few decades, Americans have become far less interested in gun control. That, not “the NRA,” is why we don’t see the change that advocates covet.


Le Pen Comes to America

Marion Maréchal-Le Pen at the Regional Council in Marseille, France, December 18, 2015 REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

Impromptus today begins with “nationalism on the march” and ends with language — some happy vernacular. In between are Trump, Russia, Turkey, lizard spies (yes), and other things. The usual potpourri.

The notes on nationalism were sparked by a march over the weekend in Bulgaria — a march of an international, and unsavory, flavor. Several times, I have quoted Nigel Farage, who at a rally for Roy Moore spoke of a “whole global movement.” (He had come from campaigning for the AfD in Germany.)

What are the elements of the “movement”? Does the crowd in Sofia count? Etc.

After I wrote my column, news came that CPAC had invited Marion Le Pen to speak. She is a National Fronter, of course — the granddaughter of Jean-Marie, the niece of Marine. She is part of what I call “the Marine Corps.” I am not referring, in this context, to our sterling fighters, but rather to the movement of nationalists and populists of the Le Pen variety.

Last year, CPAC invited Milo Yiannopoulos. He is primarily an entertainer, it seems to me, where the Le Pen family is the real deal — to be taken seriously.

For years, there was a gulf between American conservatism and the European Right. Steadily, that gulf is closing, if it still exists at all. You recall that Steve King, the congressman from Iowa, said that he had met with Marine Le Pen to discuss their “shared values.”

Another man she shares values with is Putin, her financial patron.

Obviously, conservatism of the Reagan or Buckley variety is in the rearview mirror, where today’s American Right is concerned. (Some people try to jam red hats on Reagan and Buckley. They do not fit.) Buchananism-Trumpism is in the ascendant.

How far will we go in a European direction? Will American conservatism retain its exceptionalism, so to speak? This is a big, big question for the future, and for the present, actually. America may at last have a real Right: not a liberal-democratic conservatism, but the kind of Right they have long had in the Old Country. That would mark a helluva change.


Belgian Euthanasia Corruption Exposed


Euthanasia in Belgium has gone completely out of the control — including as just two examples —doctors killing the mentally ill and conjoining the death procedure with voluntary organ harvesting, as well as joint euthanasia deaths of elderly couples who ask to die for fear of future widowhood.

Now, a death bureaucrat named Dr. Ludo Vanopdenbosch has turned whistleblower as he resigned from the euthanasia-review commission. Vanopdenbosch charges his former colleagues with covering up violations of the euthanasia law that, he worries, could discredit euthanasia and reduce its support among the public.

He describes a doctor euthanizing a dementia patient who had not asked to be killed at the request of her family. From his letter of resignation (from a translation):

The most striking example took place at the meeting of Tuesday, September 5, 2017: a euthanasia of a deeply demented patient with Parkinson’s disease, by a general practitioner who is totally incompetent, has no idea of ​​palliation, done at the request of the family. The intention was to kill the patient. There was no request from the patient.

That, of course, would be a crime under the law. But the commission decided to wink at the wrongdoing (emphasis added):

The doctor was questioned by the Committee. The interrogation was recorded. A video of the patient’s condition was sent in advance. It was debated for hours and finally voted upon.  No two-thirds majority was reached that would allow to forwarding this dossier to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The motives of those who did not want to forward it are fundamentally political in nature: defending euthanasia in any circumstance, promoting the desire for euthanasia in dementia, and  fearing that there will be less euthanasia in Wallonia. With this decision, this FCEE is proven to be obsolete. This does not stretch the law, but violates it.

Dr. Vanopdenbosch apparently doesn’t understand that guidelines aren’t really meant to protect against abuse, but rather, to give false public assurance to gain public support for euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Eventually, the “protections” come to be seen as “obstacles,” to the point that they are either stretched beyond any effectiveness, go unenforced, or are changed to accommodate more radical practices.

Worse, the public shrugs because people have accepted the premise that killing is an acceptable answer to human suffering. At that point, the details of particular cases don’t matter much.

Here’s an article providing more details  on the resignation.

For those with eyes to see, let them see.

White House

Situation Normal …

President Donald Trump delivers remarks on his tax policy after a factory tour of the Sheffer Corporation in Blue Ash, Ohio, February 5, 2018. (Jonathan Ernst?R)

The sheer volume and velocity of reasons to worry in the Trump era can sometimes dull our faculty for worry. So it’s worthwhile now and then to really take notice of a few and think them through a little.

A couple of items over just this past weekend can help serve that purpose. They’re the kinds of things that would have been shocking until about a year ago and now can just fly right past us.

This tweet from the president on Sunday morning is one:

Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign – there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!

This is, for one thing, an example of the president behaving as a kind of spectator of and performative commentator about our politics, rather than a key participant in our politics. Trump doesn’t speak and think as the embodiment of the executive branch, and therefore he doesn’t function as the person — the one person — vested with the executive power in our government. He seems simply incapable of thinking institutionally, and instead he does something like the opposite: He confuses the relationship between the institution he serves and himself, expecting it to serve him. This means we often effectively don’t have a president, in the constitutional sense of the term.

And that points to the other weekend story that caught my eye in this regard. As the Washington Post reported Sunday, “Amid global anxiety about President Trump’s approach to world affairs, U.S. officials had a message to a gathering of Europe’s foreign policy elite this weekend: Pay no attention to the man tweeting behind the curtain.”

Yet again, as happens so often in venues foreign and domestic, senior administration officials and senior members of Congress are asking people with concerns about Trump to just ignore him and pay attention instead to what his administration is doing, which often has fairly little to do with what Trump says.

I’ve written about this pattern here before. It’s a defining feature of this period in our politics, and it is setting precedents that anyone who cares about our Constitution will certainly come to regret. And yet it is hard to argue that it’s not also the proper way for these officials to behave given the realities of Trump’s particular words and actions and his general unfitness for the office he holds.

None of this is news, and these are far from the worst things the president has done or said or tweeted or caused to happen. That’s the point. They’re routine, but they are marks of deep dysfunction, and that’s worth noting.

This routine is fundamentally a function of Trump’s character, though we are now told by some of the president’s defenders that concern for character in leadership is a mere aesthetic luxury we can’t afford. And this routine has some grim implications for American government in our time, though we are asked to see only a tax cut and a great parade of judges when we think of Trump’s governing record. We could believe what we are asked to believe about Trump only by ignoring the disturbing routine, or becoming desensitized to it.

And so we shouldn’t become too desensitized and should take note of the character of some of what now pass for everyday occurrences. To note them is not to charge the president with treason or with any other crime or to suggest he’s becoming an autocrat, nor is it to defend his predecessor’s (or his election opponent’s) misdeeds. To note them is not to deny that anything worthwhile has been accomplished this past year. And to note them is also not necessarily to propose any immediate remedy. A mature citizen knows those aren’t always available.

But to note them is to insist that we should be careful not to get used to the unacceptable, that some problems run much deeper than policy, and that those who have rightly raised worries about the state and direction of our constitutional system in recent decades and called for restoration have their work cut out for them.


‘Agent Cob’ and Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, leaves the party headquarters on the morning after Britain’s election in London, June 9. (Marko Djurica/Reuters)

One of the only sure-fire ways to alleviate worry is to focus on the miseries of others. So to that end, NRO readers might spare a thought for something that is going on in the U.K. at present.

Last week, a story broke about the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour party leader has been in the most obscure corner of British politics for three decades, only moving to the front-bench — let alone his party’s leadership — in 2015. During those decades, he used his obscure corner of politics to only one discernible end: to agitate for almost any group so long as they opposed the British state. He was, for example, the most prominent supporter in Parliament of the IRA, inviting its leaders to Parliament just after they had attempted to assassinate a British prime minister, and even standing to honor as “martyrs” IRA terrorists killed in an attack on a British police station. Today. Corbyn’s supporters like to pretend that their leader was merely the foremost, advance-brigade of the “peace” business and that in all the years supporting IRA killers he was in fact merely paving the way for the Good Friday Agreement. An agreement in which he paid no part.

A similar story has played out since 2015 regarding Corbyn’s support for almost any Islamist extremist he can get his hands on. Whenever he has been quizzed in recent years on why he has been so keen to meet Hamas, Hezbollah, and any free-floating Holocaust-denier who might not otherwise have made it into his orbit, here too his supporters explain that this is all just part of a broader search for “peace.” Albeit a peace that involves only meeting one side and then expressing unyielding solidarity with their cause.

The list goes on. His support for, and apologism on behalf of, the government of Venezuela remains immovable. As do his set-responses when quizzed about an even worse alliance. When asked why between 2009 and 2012 Corbyn received £20,000 from the government of Iran via its “Press TV” propaganda channel, he and his supporters claim that all this happened many years ago and that besides £20,000 isn’t an enormous amount. Few people can honestly assess the record of Corbyn’s beliefs, pay, and connections and come away believing the claim that he is indeed merely a fair-minded fellow with the best interests of his country at heart.

Nevertheless, the most recent allegations take all of this to a new level. Last week the British press broke the story that Jan Sarkocy, a Czech spy during the Cold War claims that Corbyn was an enemy spy, who provided information to, and was paid for that information by, the Czechoslovakian Communist secret service (Statni Bezpecnost or StB). According to Sarkocy, Corbyn was known by the agent’s name “Agent Cob.” Documents apparently show meetings with Corbyn at the House of Commons and his constituency office in 1986 and 1987, at which — among other things — Corbyn warned the Czech spy about British operations against Soviet agents.

Of course, the Labour party is denying that its leader was ever a paid agent of an enemy power. But they don’t seem to be treating it with anything like seriousness. On Sunday, the party’s shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, was in a television studio when reference to the Czech spy allegations, his gratis PR work for the Venezuelan government, and his payment by the Iranian regime were raised. What was Thornberry’s response? “I think it’s great having a leader of the Labour party who’s a proper internationalist — who has real interest in what is going on across the world.”

So there you have it. Bad news though there is in American politics, at least a minority government is not faced with an opposition which thinks that credible charges of being a paid agent of an enemy power can be laughed away as mere geopolitical enthusiasm.

Politics & Policy

Let the Kids Talk — but That’s Not the End of Any Debate

Participants hold candles for victims of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, during a candlelight vigil at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)

In the aftermath of any atrocity, tragedy, or trauma, Americans tend to give a platform to the victims and their families. That’s a good and generous instinct, and it frequently means letting people vent their raw emotions in ways that are overwrought, irrational, angry, even rude, mean, or bigoted. Whether we listen or just turn our heads away respectfully from the scene, the act of speaking on a public platform can be cathartic.

People directly involved in a traumatic event have something to tell us about the event. And in some cases, they may have especially strong claims on subjects such as how the event is memorialized. But of course, because they are sympathetic figures, politicians are all too often tempted to use their raw emotions to score political points. The worst temptation comes when people try to endow them with what Maureen Dowd famously called Cindy Sheehan’s “absolute moral authority” to advance arguments without being questioned. And of course, that rhetorical gambit — especially common on the left side of the aisle — is never deployed symmetrically; for example, Dowd and her crew no longer believed Sheehan’s authority was absolute when she ran for Congress against Nancy Pelosi, and they certainly didn’t think Debra Burlingame had absolute moral authority in the Ground Zero Mosque debate, and they don’t think Steve Scalise has absolute moral authority on guns.

So naturally, we have a chorus now of Democratic politicians and liberal pundits trying to use a few handfuls of Parkland High School students (not the ones taking positions they disagree with, mind you) as a bludgeon to break through the gun-control debate in ways they have failed for years on end to do — just a small sampling:

This is ultimately a tawdry effort to paper over the fact that liberal politicians have lost the argument on guns again and again, in part because they don’t actually have coherent solutions that would stop these kinds of shootings, and are hoping that the chorus of “do something” overrides the question of what that “something” actually is.

Moreover, these are teenagers. If you have ever been, or known, a teenager, you know that even comparatively well-informed teens are almost always just advancing arguments they’ve heard from adults, and typically without much consideration of the opposing arguments. (Ironically, the people arguing that we should let teenagers set national gun policy are in the same breath arguing that we should not let 19-year-olds own guns).

I’m never in favor of the whole spectacle of using kids as political props, which both sides do, but it’s one thing when it’s relatively benign stuff — a politician campaigning with his family, a Trump or an Obama bringing out a young fan or honoring a kid who did something good. Those aren’t efforts to use kids as human shields against hard questions being asked in a serious public-policy debate. Turning “listen to the kids” into a mantra and marching a few steps behind them is.

That’s particularly the case because divisive issue debates inevitably mean the people carrying the point of the spear are going to come in for a lot of pushback from people who feel viscerally about the other side of the issue. Pushing distraught teenagers to the forefront means they will be the ones absorbing that. As adults, we are supposed to know better than that.

Let the kids talk. But at the end of the day, the rest of America gets a say, too.

Politics & Policy

More Lousy University Policies (Not Title IX-Related This Time)

University of North Carolina – Wilmington (Wikimedia)

For quite a few years now, we have been hearing about the lousy policies and procedures that many universities have for dealing with Title IX accusations — rather than fair and transparent, these policies are unfair and opaque. But it isn’t just Title IX cases where we find examples.

In today’s Martin Center article, University of North Carolina–Wilmington professor Lou Buttino writes about his unhappy experience with school procedures when a younger, female faculty colleague first violated a contract with him (over a movie script) and then tried to attack him with a host of unfounded charges.

Buttino explains the the Faculty Professional Relations Committee acted as if it was unfamiliar with the concept of due process of law. Although she had falsely accused him of libel because of his truthful claim that she had committed an ethical violation against him, he was not allowed to confront her. Moreover, Buttino writes,

I offered to pay for a camera or recorder so testimony could be taped. My request was refused. I learned that no transcripts of hearings are ever kept. This lack of a transcript is no small matter. Should a legal case arise from a hearing, which it did, a transcript would be extremely important.

In the end, the whole procedure turned out to be a complete waste of time, as Buttino explains:

Each of us was asked to write letters of apology to those who may have been harmed in the dispute. Nothing was to be done about (her) lying and plagiarism. But then came the knockout punch. The dean informed me there was ‘no mechanism’ for even carrying out the punishment, such as it was.

Later, Buttino would make numerous attempts to clear his good name, since the accusations against him were never refuted, but no one in the administration even bothered to acknowledge his communications. This has been Kafka brought to life.

It’s easy to think that this dispute would have turned out much differently if Buttino’s dispute had been with a male faculty colleague rather than a female. In any event, we now have yet more evidence that our universities have sunk to moral and ethical lows.

Politics & Policy

John Kasich: Forget That the NRA Endorsed Me in 2014!

Ohio governor John Kasich in 2016 (Reuters file photo: Aaron Josefczyk)

There are many reasons why Ohio Governor John Kasich can be insufferable, but a big one is how he transparently reinvents himself depending upon his political needs of the moment. In 2016, Kasich wanted to win the Republican nomination and JohnKasich.com featured a section that boasted that as governor, he had “signed every pro-2nd Amendment bill that has crossed his desk to defend this basic constitutional right.”

The old section was not subtle. It boasted, “John Kasich is a gun-owner himself, and in his 2014 reelection was endorsed by the National Rifle Association for his support of the Second Amendment as an inviolate part of our Constitution. … He enacted protecting Ohio’s concealed carry laws, including protecting the privacy of permit holders and allowing for reciprocity licenses with other states where permit holders can carry their firearms.”

And the old Kasich was fighting gun-control efforts! “The Second Amendment is too important and Obama’s hostility to it is too well known for him to be allowed to go around Congress and undermine the Second Amendment. His efforts to expand the federal government’s interference with Americans’ Right to Keep and Bear Arms are wrong and the governor opposes them.”

This weekend, those sections disappeared; a short while later, they were replaced with “Common Sense on the Second Amendment.”

The boast about the NRA endorsement is gone, as are any details about the legislation he signed. In fact, there’s not a lot of specifics at all in the new section: “John Kasich has spoken out on the need for reasonable reforms to prevent future massacres — including the potential of expanding background checks on gun sales and limiting the ability to sell weapons that have often been used in mass killings. As Governor, he recently challenged a bipartisan working group of gun owners and gun control advocates to find common ground that will protect the 2nd Amendment and save lives.”

One of the great ironies is that Kasich could have plausibly argued in 2016 that he was a more consistent and outspoken defender of the Second Amendment compared to Donald Trump, who had written in a 2000 book, “I support the ban on assault weapons and I also support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.”

If you’re planning on challenging Donald Trump for the Republican nomination in 2020, this repositioning doesn’t make much sense. But if you want to run as an independent, and want pro-gun control Democrats who, for whatever reason, aren’t satisfied with the eventual Democratic nominee … this shift makes more sense.

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