Economy & Business

Victoria’s Secret Isn’t Worth Knowing

A customer passes by an L Brands Inc., Victoria’s Secret retail store in Manhattan, New York, U.S., May 13, 2016. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

What do you get when a brand known for unsubtle sex appeal attempts a multiyear pivot to body affirmation and corporate wokeness? A whole bunch of nothing. Thus, Victoria’s Secret, with its familiar pink-and-black-themed displays of lacy bits and other boudoir essentials, has had difficulty adjusting to increasingly online and brand-skeptical young professional women, evidenced by a substantively declining market share.

Indeed, Victoria’s Secret may need to rethink its rebrand, because no one is buying its calculated wokeness.

The Wall Street Journal shared a recent study conducted by the retailer:

Most shoppers who participated in a study conducted by the lingerie seller in February weren’t able to identify Victoria’s Secret & Co. as the brand behind recent ads of models wearing its lingerie, according to internal research documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The ads show women with different ethnicities, body types and ages mostly in natural-looking lingerie, including a pregnant Grace Elizabeth and multiracial model Paloma Elsesser.

When asked to pick two images that portrayed the brand, the focus group of roughly 28 women, aged 18 to 40, consistently selected photos of Hailey Bieber, another Victoria’s Secret model, in leopard and shiny strap lingerie, the documents show. Once prompted, however, most customers agreed more inclusive marketing was a step in the right direction.

Note that despite Victoria’s Secret’s lead model being a curvier multi-ethnic woman, women repeatedly associated the brand with Hailey Bieber, the archetype of elfin models of yore. Only when audibly nudged (bullied) did the women agree on the value of inclusive marketing.

Adding to the retailer’s woes are the women understandably miffed at the company for ads and limited sizing that omit them from the pool of desirable customers. Perhaps the most underreported reason for Victoria’s Secret’s diminished stature is the long-term damage it’s done to the self-image of young women. For decades its campaigns depicted unnaturally perfect women draped over chesterfields and davenports, selling a particular vision of “sexy.” However, there’s a heckuva lot of women who aren’t that who nevertheless attain other visions of sexiness. Thirty years ago, the company could get away with not targeting them because their storefronts were both the most accessible and the least icky — it certainly beat buying from the adult-video store out by I-41.

But now, these women are rejecting Victoria’s Secret in favor of companies such as AdoreMe and LoveHoney that offer a much broader array of styles and sizes and the convenience of trying things on at home. What an outstanding provision of the free market.

So, where does that leave Victoria’s Secret? Seemingly in a no-win position: The women who might once have preferred the brand for lack of other options have gone elsewhere, while others who still like it are unmoved by its new, “inclusive” marketing and declining quality. What to do? If the company could accept a man’s advice — an unbiased observer, of sorts — here’s what I would suggest.

Women have known Victoria’s Secret for a long time, and the brand might as well accept where it sits in the lingerie landscape: the expensive mall brand that presents a particular vision of sexiness and idealized beauty. It can lean into this and go upscale, with trained staff and an improved, boutique-style shopping experience. But rejecting the brand that the company has long cultivated in favor of imitating its newly successful online competitors is foolish.

Go Outside, Progressive Writers


Do America’s progressive writers know anybody who isn’t . . . a lunatic? I ask this because, in the course of my morning reading, I came across two widely shared pieces that, had they been presented to mixed company at the pitch stage, would ineluctably have yielded raised eyebrows, widespread confusion, and, eventually, a friendly “are you feeling all right?”

The first contribution is from the Atlantic. It’s called “How the Rosary Became an Extremist Symbol,” and it claims that those shadowy, ever-present “Christian nationalists” have started combining sacramental beads and “gun culture.” To underscore the idea, its artwork is in the


The Atlantic: Rosaries Are Worse Than Firebombings


It would be hard to find evidence more damning of the worldview of the editors of The Atlantic than the decision to run these two articles two days apart: Kaitlyn Tiffany on “The Right’s New Bogeyman: A mysterious pro-abortion-rights group is claiming credit for acts of vandalism around the country, and right-wing activists and politicians are eating it up” and Daniel Panneton on “How Extremist Gun Culture Co-Opted the Rosary: The AR-15 is a sacred object among Christian nationalists. Now ‘radical-traditional’ Catholics are bringing a sacrament of their own to the movement.” Read in combination, they perfectly encapsulate an asymmetrical threat assessment, in which “our” people are never really bad, but “their” people are to be viewed with constant suspicion. In this view, even actual terrorism by people on the cultural left is dangerous only because it helps conservatives politically, while even the slightest hint of association with the smallest number of extremist weirdos is enough to justify denouncing a core Catholic devotional prayer.

So, when Jane’s Revenge takes public credit for firebombing crisis-pregnancy centers, this is how Tiffany reacts, quoting a comparison to “moral panic” over Antifa during the 2020 riots that cost $2 billion in damages and killed two dozen people:

Right-wing media outlets have provided ample coverage of this new threat, and anti-abortion politicians have demanded government action to address it. But the group’s practical significance remains in question. Just how meaningful is Jane’s Revenge? . . . Whoever is behind Jane’s Revenge, the group has become a prominent bogeyman on social media. . . .

Pro-abortion-rights activists have engaged in vandalism in recent weeks, and the blog posts associated with Jane’s Revenge are actively encouraging the behavior. But that does not imply the existence of a complex, coordinated campaign of violence.

In addition to downplaying Jane’s Revenge and its campaign of terror, Tiffany fails to contextualize it by omitting the activities of “Ruth Sent Us,” the group that published the home addresses of Supreme Court justices to direct protestors to their homes, as well as the assassination attempt on Justice Brett Kavanaugh by a pro-abortion fanatic.

Contrast how Panneton frames the Rosary. First, the Atlantic‘s subtitle hilariously refers to it as a “sacrament,” an error that can only be explained by having zero Catholics review the article before publication. Even an ex-Catholic who made it through the third grade would have caught that one. There are seven sacraments, and the Rosary — a sequence of prayers dating to the medieval Church — is not one of them:

Just as the AR-15 rifle has become a sacred object for Christian nationalists in general, the rosary has acquired a militaristic meaning for radical-traditional (or “rad trad”) Catholics. On this extremist fringe, rosary beads have been woven into a conspiratorial politics and absolutist gun culture. These armed radical traditionalists have taken up a spiritual notion that the rosary can be a weapon in the fight against evil and turned it into something dangerously literal. Their social-media pages are saturated with images of rosaries draped over firearms, warriors in prayer, Deus Vult (“God wills it”) crusader memes, and exhortations for men to rise up and become Church Militants. 

No examples are given of anything bad coming of any of this — and even Panneton has to concede that this is a far cry from the proper and traditional Catholic view of the Rosary. Of course, literally any idea or symbol can be put to a bad use by bad people — Satan himself, the Bible reminds us, can quote Scripture, too. Panneton warns darkly that, “The pro-choice protests that followed the leaked early draft of the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, led to a profusion of social-media posts on the far right fantasizing about killing activists,” yet somehow, he, too, fails to mention the actual violence emanating from the pro-Roe side — even Jane’s Revenge, just two days after the publication of Tiffany’s piece.

Somebody ought to tell Atlantic readers that firebombings and assassination attempts are worse than the Rosary. It does not seem that the editors of the magazine have the heart to be the ones to do it.


George Washington’s Warning against an American Caesar

A painting of George Washington (James Peale/Wikimedia Commons)

Over the weekend, I wrote an essay pushing back against the notion that America might be better off with a “Caesar” atop its politics — that is, a strongman/autocrat type who could circumvent the forces supposedly obstructing our country’s true prosperity and freedom. I argued that such a solution does not fit the American character, and that one can acknowledge the challenges facing the country while also looking to its people and to already existing institutions for recovery and renewal.

I think that a lot of talk about Caesar, civil war, etc. is being peddled by people with a skewed and somewhat self-interested detachment from political reality, people who exist almost entirely in the Manichean world of day-to-day politics and do not apprehend the country and its greatness in their fullness. But to the extent that there is the kind of genuine discontent, particularly on the right, that would look to a Caesar figure for succor, it is worth remembering that such discontent — or at least the fear of it — is not new in American life. Indeed, George Washington warned against the very thing.

As his second term as the first president of the U.S. came to a close, Washington presciently detected a worrisome trend in the young nation’s politics: the rise of “the spirit of party” (what we would today call partisanship):

From his Farewell Address:

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but in those of the popular form it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual, and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.

There is an argument you hear more and more on the right these days: that the Left has already embraced the punitive dimension of state power and has used it against the Right, which now has no choice but to retaliate. There is, unfortunately, much evidence for the former contention, much as the Left may deny it. Thus it is true, to a considerable extent, that the existence of this retaliatory spirit on the right is the fault of the Left. And so the more the aggressions of the Left continue, the more difficult it will be to resist the temptation to descend into aggressive retaliation as an end in itself.

But Washington counseled against the “frightful despotism” of “the alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension,” seeing at the end of such a process the end of America’s experiment in self-government. Today, some might say Washington was calling for “unilateral disarmament” — that he just didn’t “know that time it is.” Not true. Rather, Washington was calling for us to resist excessive escalation of this tit-for-tat attitude. Not to escape politics, which will always be with us — it is “inseparable from our nature” — but to govern for the common good with maximum deference to and use of constitutional powers.

This will still, inevitably, involve a great deal of political conflict with the Left, much of which now has little use for the framework bequeathed to us by, among other things, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. That one side of our politics is increasingly abandoning these aspects of American heritage is dispiriting, yes. But it is also an opportunity for patriotic citizens and for dutiful statesmen. In the spirit of Washington, they should take it.


Objections to Early Marriage


In my piece on sex education in the latest issue of the magazine, I argue that parents can successfully encourage their school-aged children to be abstinent. According to a Planned Parenthood poll, 45 percent of parents support not only abstinence in youth but abstinence until marriage. Impressing this value upon one’s college-aged children is more difficult, but it is not impossible. Helen Andrews, writing for First Things in 2013, made an interesting point:

There is still the problem that most college-educated Americans don’t marry until their late twenties or early thirties. It is much more difficult to ask an average eighteen-year-old to remain celibate for the entirety of his twenties than just the first half of them. But to convince Yale students to start marrying earlier, it is necessary to know their objections to early marriage. One is the fear that a romantic commitment will limit their post-graduation plans by forcing them to factor another person’s needs into their career choices. This is immaturity, and they should be told to get over it. Accommodating another person’s desires is an important part of being an adult, and if people don’t learn that skill before they marry, they are going to get an unpleasant crash course in it when they have kids. It is foolish to think that, with careful planning, one can construct a marriage — or, for that matter, a happy life — that does not involve sacrifices, and the sooner this is learned, the better.

Politics & Policy

Stacey Abrams Inadvertently Reveals the Pro-Abortion Problem

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams speaks at a news conference in Atlanta, Ga., May 24, 2022. (Dustin Chambers/Reuters)

In a recent interview, Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams offered this thought about abortion laws:

It’s not a particularly unique stance among Democratic politicians; nearly to a one, Democratic lawmakers with national ambitions insist that it is always unacceptable to limit abortion in any way. But slightly more interesting is one of the reasons Abrams gives for her stance: “Arbitrary political parameters make no sense.”

Viewed from a different angle, this comment is actually the stance that most pro-lifers take on the subject: Arbitrary line-drawing about when an unborn child attains the right to life isn’t a coherent rationale for abortion policy. Pro-lifers often support incremental laws that are based on facts about fetal development, such as protections that take effect when a fetal heartbeat can be detected or when an unborn child has the capacity to feel pain. These rationales are compelling as a matter of messaging, to be sure, and there’s nothing wrong with supporting incremental pro-life policy if doing so brings us closer to our goal of total abolition. But our support for pro-life laws flows from our ultimate rejection of arbitrary dividing lines as a rationale for abortion policy.

When Abrams argues that limits on abortion are arbitrary, she inadvertently reveals that only one of two positions is coherent and non-arbitrary: The unborn child always has the right to life, from the moment of conception, or the unborn child never does. This latter position is the one that Abrams has chosen, for the apparent sake of consistency.

But there are two problems with her claim. First, she ignores that it is abortion supporters who are most arbitrary, tending to acknowledge the humanity of the unborn child only at arbitrarily chosen dividing lines during pregnancy — say, at the end of the first trimester or once the baby is “viable,” an ever-shifting line. Second, she doesn’t seem to realize that acknowledging the child’s humanity only at the moment of birth is also arbitrary.

Passage through the birth canal doesn’t magically bestow personhood or confer rights; the complete exit from the womb doesn’t make the child any less dependent on others for survival. All of the arguments for abortion would equally justify infanticide after birth. Perhaps this is why, for several years running, Democrats in Congress have voted against a bill requiring doctors to care for babies who are born alive after an attempted abortion. In their effort not to be arbitrary and to remain consistent, they inadvertently reveal the deadly logic of abortion: Any “unwanted” child can be killed, inside the womb or out.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Desalination


Edward Ring of the California Policy Center writes about desalination as a solution for water shortages:

For all its potential, desalination has yet to be a game changer. Worldwide freshwater consumption is estimated at 7.5 billion acre feet per year. Of that total, roughly 20,000 desalination plants worldwide produce an estimated 30 million acre feet of fresh water per year. That’s an awful lot of water, but it’s less than 1 percent of global water consumption.

Nonetheless, desalination plays an outsized role in arid coastal regions around the world. In Israel, for example, five massive desalination plants on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea produce nearly a half-million acre feet of fresh water per year, an amount the nation plans to double by 2030. Israel’s Sorek Desalination Plant, located a few miles south of Tel Aviv, produces 185,000 acre feet of fresh water per year, from a highly automated operation that occupies only about 25 acres. Approximately 80 percent of Israel’s municipal water comes from desalination, and this nation of 9 million people is now exporting surplus water to Jordan.

Read the whole thing here.


Government Incompetence Comes for French Reactors

(were1962/Getty Images)

The French have a nuclear problem, primarily of their own making. The Wall Street Journal reported recently on France’s energy woes, with reactor efficiencies dipping with rising temperatures, low water levels (necessary for reactor cooling), and maintenance troubles. The shortfalls are partly attributable to the reality that electronics and energy systems of all stripes do not function as well in extreme temperatures. Still, the evidence points more to man’s shortsightedness and political foolishness as the primary culprit of diminished French fission. 

Joe Wallace writes for the WSJ

France is contending with its worst nuclear outages in decades, putting it at greater risk of blackouts this winter than big neighbors experiencing their own energy headaches. The danger is even higher than in Germany, which is bracing for economic pain as Russia throttles gas supplies to punish European allies of Ukraine.

The shortfalls, which traders expect to last well into 2023, mean France has switched from power exporter to importer. That has exacerbated a continentwide squeeze on energy supplies that has already helped push inflation to record rates, threatened the region’s industrial base and hit consumers’ pocketbooks.

Scorching summer weather has worsened Europe’s problems. Water levels have plunged in reservoirs and rivers, making it hard to generate hydropower, transport coal and cool nuclear plants, while reducing the efficiency of gas power plants. Keeping homes, offices and factories cool is creating extra demand for electricity.

However, while plants must lower their output expectations, maintenance failures coupled with the nationalization of the industry best explain the issue. As a U.S. Navy Nuclear Power School dropout, I may not know physics real good, but I can tell you that constant and meticulous maintenance is the reality for every reactor. While incredibly safe, the plants necessitate forethought and inspections as a matter of course. In France, corrosion has brought twelve reactors to a halt as repairs on piping take place.

Paul Brown explains for the Energy Mix:

The fault seems common to a whole series of France’s reactors. The shutdowns affect four of the largest N4 reactors of 1,500 megawatts, five 1,300-MW, reactors of similar design, and three 900-MW units. This, on top of a series of outages at 18 other reactors for repairs, updating, or regular safety checks, has left France with the lowest nuclear output in decades.

These repairs may take years — which some may claim (wrongly, in this case) is a result of French work ethic but seems reasonable if you’re at all familiar with nuclear-maintenance protocols. As one can imagine, one does not simply roll a Miller welding cart up to reactor-piping manifold, spin up your Makita cutoff tool with a wire brush, and start blazing away at welds. Tool control, radiation-level monitoring, shutdowns, tag-outs, and inspections all take time. 

Nuclear power is incredible technology, but it functions similar to a steam locomotive — slow to start, technically demanding to keep at its peak efficiency, and slow to stop. But when she’s doing what she was made to do? Nothing more beautiful.

Perhaps the most unforgivable failure in this French episode is their government’s meddling in the energy market. Already a majority shareholder of the French nuclear power owner (84 percent), the government has capped rates the sector can charge, meaning the government, and ultimately the taxpayer, is subsidizing the industry at break-even levels while offering to fully nationalize the Electricite de France S.A. (EDF) for $9.8 billion, or twelve dollars per share. 

The company is thus hamstrung, taking losses as it attempts to finish building a pair of new reactors and conduct the expensive routine maintenance required by its fleet of reactors, let alone repair the dozen damaged ones. 

For American observers, it is perhaps best to note the limitations of even the best energy production systems when coupled with government intervention, and accept that no matter what our energy composition is in the next few decades, there are inherent weaknesses to electronic and mechanical systems when it comes to heat, corrosion, and upkeep. We need not be disheartened, but neither should we expect that any one solution will be without its eccentricities and particular needs. As Sowell likes to say, “There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs.” In this, politics and energy are kin.

Politics & Policy

Higher Education Has Much to Answer For


Among many other harms it has inflicted on the country, higher education bears considerable responsibility for the politicization of science. The felt need to conform to “progressive” beliefs in the academy has pushed science away from a dispassionate search for knowledge. It’s now more important to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings.

That is one of the takeaways from Professor John Staddon’s new book Science in an Age of Unreason, which I review today for the Martin Center.

Staddon writes, “Weak science lets slip the dogs of unreason: many social scientists have difficulty separating facts from faith, reality from the way they would like things to be. Critical research topics have become taboo, which, in turn, means that policy makers are making decisions based more on ideologically driven political pressure than on scientific fact.”

Government programs and university pressures have badly distorted the incentives facing those who do scientific research. These days, careers depend on getting lots of publishable results, and the quest for quantity is hurting quality.

Worse, the mania for “diversity” has infected science, overriding other considerations when it comes to hiring of faculty and what topics will or won’t be studied. Furthermore, “science” is now routinely used as a cudgel to get people to go along with various beliefs — such as global warming and the need for extraordinary measures against Covid — that lead to the expansion of government power.

Staddon has written a super book, and I recommend it highly.

Law & the Courts

Subsection (C) Is a Boon for ‘Team Pretextual’


I’ve gone back and forth on Andy’s theory that the Mar-a-Lago search was pretextual — believing it right after I talk to Andy, then wondering again how anyone could expect Trump to have written down anything incriminating about January 6. But subsection (c) is, at the very least, completely consistent with the pretext theory. Read Andy’s column from Saturday if you haven’t already.

Politics & Policy

‘Good News from the World of Academia’

Princeton University campus in 2013. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

That’s what John Hinderaker provides for us in this PowerLine post.

Overwhelmingly, the news from academia is bad (or worse), so what is this good news? It’s that college enrollments continue to fall. Fewer students are being subjected to the steady barrage of leftist clichés and falsehoods about America that now composes such a large part of college at most schools.

Hinderaker writes, “Why the decline in ‘higher’ education? Rising costs, fueled in large part by a foolish government loan program, are obviously a major culprit. And those costs are running into growing doubts about the value of a degree. Part of the problem is that the quality of instruction has slipped badly. Moreover, a large majority of jobs don’t need a college degree, so if your motivation is financial, as it is for many people, the costs don’t make sense.”


Government policy has created a college bubble much as it created the housing bubble some 15 years ago. The Left benefited enormously from it, since it meant a huge increase in the flow of money into institutions it dominates plus the opportunity to influence the thinking of millions of students. No, college doesn’t turn every right-leaning student into a rabid Social Justice Warrior, but it tends to pull everything to the left, with the most pronounced impact on students who were already imbued with “progressive” beliefs when they graduated from high school.

The deflation of this bubble is indeed good news.

Politics & Policy

On the FBI, Mar-a-Lago, Etc.

Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla. (Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)

When I was a child, I was scandalized that some people were stopped for speeding, some people weren’t. Some people who drove over the speed limit were stopped, some people weren’t. That offended my sense of justice. Shouldn’t all speeders be stopped? Or none?

Of course, that is problematic.

I must say, I have never been entirely comfortable with the idea of “prosecutorial discretion.” But I know — or think I know — that practicalities demand it.

• When we’re in kindergarten — or thereabouts — we’re all taught that, in this country, no man is above the law: not even the president. The law applies to all. We are a nation of laws, not men.

Is it a fairy tale? Just some hokum for civics hour? I hope not.

• “Third World!” Republicans are saying. “Banana republics!” Here, for example, is Florida governor Ron DeSantis:

The raid of MAL is another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents, while people like Hunter Biden get treated with kid gloves. Now the Regime is getting another 87k IRS agents to wield against its adversaries? Banana Republic.

I recall a highly controversial symposium in First Things magazine. This was during the Clinton ’90s. The magazine spoke of the “regime” — which rubbed a lot of conservatives the wrong way.

I am seeing “regime” a lot these days — and not in some neutral PoliSci way. Before DeSantis, however, I had not seen it capitalized.

Is it true, by the way, that only Third World countries or banana republics investigate, prosecute, and imprison former leaders? It is manifestly not true, correct? I think of Israel: and the trial of ex-PM Ehud Olmert, who went to jail. This happened not because Israel is a banana republic; it happened because Israel observes a rule of law.

At the time of the Olmert trial, many of us noted that certain neighboring Arabs were astounded. You can prosecute a former leader in a fair, just, transparent way? Yes, you can.

It was an object lesson, something for a democracy to be proud of, I think, not ashamed of.

• “Unprecedented!” Republicans say. The search at Mar-a-Lago was unprecedented. Yes. But isn’t Donald Trump, too, unprecedented? Isn’t that one of the things his fans like, and love, about him?

You don’t have the FBI at Jimmy Carter’s in Plains. Or at George W. Bush’s in Dallas. Or at Barack Obama’s in D.C. You don’t even have the FBI at Bill Clinton’s. (Not sure where he is living.)

• Back in the ’90s, many of us said that Clinton was benefited by the sheer volume of his scandals. They came at you like a firehose. This allowed Democrats to say, “They’re always pickin’ on him.”

For years now, Trump has benefited from the exact same phenomenon.

• Can agencies such as the FBI and the IRS be “weaponized” by a presidential administration? For sure. That’s one reason we need checks and balances out the wazoo.

• Republican wagons circled around Trump immediately — Republican wagons in politics and the media alike. This is natural. The party line keeps shifting — but the wagons, nimble, keep up.

For days, I heard, “The FBI planted evidence, or probably did.” More recently, I’ve heard, “Doesn’t everyone take home documents from work?”

You may enjoy an e-mail from a friend of mine, a veteran of our armed forces:


Never remove classified material from the facility is literally the first thing you are taught. First day. Before the first smoke break (I date myself).

• To toe the party line can be a problem, morally and intellectually. But that aside: It must be so exhausting, when the line changes from hour to hour. You have to pivot more than an NHL player.

Bill Buckley told a story about the Pendergast machine (Kansas City). A machine legislator was on the floor, inveighing against a particular bill. Mid-speech, a lieutenant comes up and hands the legislator a note: “The Boss has changed his mind.” The legislator nods and resumes, “All those things I was saying? That’s what the other side says! Here is why they’re wrong . . .”

Flexibility is important in a politician — and in a human being, frankly. But sometimes a politician, and a person, is just silly putty.

• On the campaign trail in 2016, Donald Trump said, “If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?” The other day, he invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 400 times. Probably, few people appreciate rights until they need or want them.

On Election Day 2012, Trump wrote a series of tweets, blasting the Electoral College. One of them read, “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.” Four years later, he became president by that very mechanism.

Live and learn. (Maybe.)

• I have heard many defenses of Trump, many excuses for Trump, regarding classified materials at Mar-a-Lago (and regarding everything else). What I have not heard, to my knowledge, is, “You know? It just doesn’t sound like him. That’s not a violation he would commit.”

• On Friday, Trump wrote,

President Barack Hussein Obama kept 33 million pages of documents, much of them classified. How many of them pertained to nuclear? Word is, lots!

Two observations:

(1) You see that the “Hussein” is back. When times are tough, bring out the “Hussein.”

(2) “Word is, lots!” I recall Harry Reid, speaking about Mitt Romney in 2012: “So the word is out that he has not paid any taxes for ten years.”

• Obviously, there has always been violence in America, including violence related to politics. But, in my lifetime, I have not heard our political rhetoric so loaded with violence.

You’ve heard about the man who attacked the FBI’s Cincinnati office and got himself killed.

I thought of Pizzagate. Certain activists claimed that leading Democrats were running a child-rape ring out of a pizza parlor in Washington, D.C. One man, in North Carolina, took this seriously. He also took his rifle, up to D.C., and shot up the pizza parlor. Fortunately, no one was killed.

This summer, a man flew from California to murder Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The magistrate judge who signed the Mar-a-Lago search warrant, Bruce Reinhart, has been the target of many death threats. A Fox News host showed a picture of him with Ghislaine Maxwell, the Jeffrey Epstein accomplice. The photo had been doctored.

I think back to Shining Path days. Peruvian judges had to wear hoods over their heads, because, if their identities had been revealed, the guerrillas would have come after them — and their families, and their friends, and their pets, and . . .

May such an atmosphere never take hold in these United States.

• “Defund the FBI!” some people cry. This is a cousin of “Defund the police.” One Republican congressman wrote, “We must destroy the FBI.”

If you do, make sure that there is something in its place. Who will foil kidnapping and murder plots against Masih Alinejad (the Iranian dissident who lives in New York)? Who will foil plots against John Bolton et al.?

This needs to be thought through.

• At his press conference on Thursday, Merrick Garland, the attorney general, said, “Upholding the rule of law means applying the law evenly, without fear or favor. Under my watch, that is precisely what the Justice Department is doing.”

Hmmm. I hope so. I believe the kindergarten teachers: No man is above the law. Not even the president, or former presidents. Donald Trump once said, “I have the most loyal people.” He continued, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s like incredible.”

It is like incredible. If he shot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue, should law enforcement respond? I get the impression from some partisans that they think no.

At the same time: That search at Mar-a-Lago had better have been damn worth it. Urgently necessary. Otherwise, the country has been inflamed for nothing.

• A final word, for now, concerning our old friend tribalism. I keep talking about the Clinton ’90s. In those days, I saw the D’s defend and excuse everything. If they could not defend or excuse — if it was just too hard — they deflected. What about the Republicans? What about the media? I wondered why they couldn’t give an inch, or even half an inch. I think I knew why, eventually: fear that the other side — the bad side — would win.

Tribalism is a drug that affects everyone. It is baked deep, deep into the cake. (I guess I am switching metaphors, but what the hell.) Natural though it may be — predetermined though it may be — it is something to watch, something to guard against: something, at a minimum, to be aware of.



Salman Rushdie and the Decline of Western Civilization

Author Salman Rushdie listens during an interview with Reuters in London, England, April 15, 2008. (Dylan Martinez/Reuters)

Salman Rushdie is just off a ventilator, likely to lose an eye, body pierced, and still struggling with serious injuries. His alleged assailant is reportedly “sympathetic to the Iranian government” and to “Shia extremism more broadly.” On the one hand, the Iranian connection makes this attack seem like a foreign intrusion into America’s bastion of freedom. After all, the topic of the talk Rushdie was about to deliver when he was assaulted was “the United States as a safe haven for exiled writers.” On the other hand, the attack on Rushdie cannot help but raise questions about the crisis of free speech in America — that is to say, about our own retreat from liberty. The connection is profound.

My thoughts go back 33 years to a panel discussion on the furor over Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses, held at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. That 1989 event was the first time I had ever experienced a security check (package inspection and likely metal detectors as well). With security screening now commonplace, it’s hard to imagine a time when such a thing was both unprecedented and shocking. That first weapons screening lent a real sense of danger to the event, making attendance seem all the more necessary. (To be clear, Rushdie himself was not on the panel. Violence was feared nonetheless.)

When the Rushdie affair took off in early 1989, America’s campus culture wars had only just begun. Although I was riveted by both controversies, I would not have connected them at the time. What was then called political correctness (now called “woke”) seemed to be something of a different order than the command of a religious ruler to execute a literary figure in the name of the Muslim faith.

Yet the professors who kicked off the campus culture wars did see a link. They argued that globalization requires us to demote or abolish the Western civilization narrative. Eurocentrism must go, they said, since the sensitivities of ethnically non-Western students were on the line.

To put it differently, the same globalization that turns an Iranian Ayatollah’s death sentence into a proximate threat to Americans at a speaking event in Cambridge requires us to abandon our focus on the story of Western civilization — a story, as traditionally taught, of the rise of classical liberalism and the rights it nurtures and secures. The professors may not have put it in precisely that way, yet that is what their position amounted to. They could have responded differently to globalization, of course. Assimilating immigrants from across the globe by reaffirming the Western civilization narrative was the road not taken.

When I returned to Cambridge to teach in the mid-1990s, a disturbing incident took me back to that panel on the Rushdie affair. I was at a table in the Café Algiers, a coffeehouse in the same building complex as the Brattle Theater, when a café employee opened a cleaning closet. That open door exposed a large poster of the Ayatollah Khomeini, the man who had issued the fatwa against Rushdie. It was a chilling sight, and my thoughts immediately returned to that first security screening. Just a few years later, a follower of the man who had sentenced Rushdie to death was working in the building complex where the Rushdie event had taken place.

In those days, there was plenty of academic controversy around Samuel P. Huntington’s 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations. Probably no book has more successfully predicted the war on terror that soon followed, or the rise of China that preoccupies us today. Yet academics uniformly slammed Huntington’s book for the sin of “essentialism.” Huntington was supposedly guilty of overplaying cultural difference, while underplaying the extent to which cultural borders overlap, interpenetrate, and blend. In other words, the same academics who treated cultural difference as real and significant — especially when criticizing the West — could turn around and “deconstruct” the supposed illusion of culture when the issue was non-Western intolerance. For academics, Huntington’s book became one more reason to shun the teaching of Western civilization, and indeed to abandon the word “civilization” itself.

Nearly a generation later, writing for National Review Online, I noted an uptick in anti-free speech sentiment on campus. The culmination came in 2015, when a conference on free speech at Yale run by conservative students was disrupted by students on the left. An open attack on a conference about freedom of speech was shocking at the time. Nowadays, of course, we wouldn’t even blink. I realized in 2015, however, that merely exposing shameful violations of free speech would no longer suffice. That’s when I offered my first proposal for state-level legislation on campus free speech. I’ve been working on model legislation ever since.

Surveys now show that up to two-thirds of students approve of shouting down campus speakers, while almost a quarter believe that violence can be used to cancel a speech. These are the views of the generation that grew up without required courses in Western civilization, a course the core theme of which was the long, bloody, and difficult path by which our freedoms were conceived and established. Those courses nurtured a sense of reverence around our liberties, and a sense of shame in those violating the liberties of others. We have lost both the reverence and the shame.

The upshot is that globalization has made us more vulnerable to foreign threats, while our misguided response to globalization has damaged our greatest weapon against those very threats: our regard for our own tradition of liberty, and the principles that lay behind it. Our horror at the assault on Rushdie is a sign that there is life in our tradition still. The culturally alien nature of the attack reminds us that our tradition of freedom is real, distinctive, and worth preserving. Yet our continuing reluctance to affirm our own history and principles — especially in our schools — means that time is running short. Freedom, so to speak, is on a ventilator. We cannot remain a “safe haven for exiled writers” if we are not a safe haven for ourselves.


Academia Shouldn’t Treat Colonialism as an ‘Undiscussable Evil’


In the academic world of the 21st century, lots of topics are off limits for discussion, among them colonialism. For the Left, the only thing to be said about it is that it was exploitation of people of color by white oppressors. Disagree with that in the slightest and you’ll find yourself in deep trouble.

That’s what happened to Portland State University professor Bruce Gilley when he wrote an academic article a few years back in which he argued that colonial rule brought some benefits to natives. That set off a firestorm of protest. There was little counter-argument (although some), but overwhelmingly pure outrage from the academic Left.

Now, Gilley has written a book arguing that lands under German colonial rule enjoyed considerable benefits from it. On her Dissident Prof blog, Mary Grabar has posted a piece written by a former student of Gilley’s, Brandon Smith. Smith recounts the furor over Gilley’s initial article and then goes into the professor’s two books on colonialism, of which In Defense of German Colonialism is the more recent. He encourages resisting the “pressure toward concluding that colonialism is an undiscussable evil.”

As for the costs and benefits of colonialism, I don’t have a dog in the fight, but Smith nails the truth in saying that the case Gilley makes ought to be rationally discussed. It should be treated as an academic question where the contending sides respectfully make arguments and counter-arguments. Unfortunately, the academic Left won’t allow that.

Donald Trump
Trump’s Explanation of Document Declassification Doesn’t Pass the Smell Test

Former President Donald Trump holds a rally in Mendon, Ill., June 25, 2022. (Kate Munsch/Reuters)

Whatever anybody thinks about the FBI’s actions at Mar-a-Lago, can we all agree that Donald Trump’s claim — that there was a “standing order” that said whatever he brought to his Florida residence was automatically declassified — is patently absurd?

Consider all the times that Trump was at Mar-a-Lago during his presidency and worked out of there. Are we to believe that each and every document he brought with him there, no matter how sensitive, was immediately declassified and thus widely available for people to see?

If this ridiculous policy were actually even true, it would raise a different set of serious questions about Trump’s recklessness in handling sensitive documents.

Again, let’s debate whether it was FBI overreach to take the extraordinary step of searching a former president’s home. But questioning FBI actions does not require taking everything Trump says at face value.

White House

Should Trump Be Prosecuted for January 6?


I’ll be debating that question with David Blight, the Yale professor, on Monday at 1 p.m. It’s an Intelligence Squared debate. I’ve done a couple of these over the years, and they are always a lot of fun. This one is online. Here is the information if you’d like to check it out.

White House

Could Trump Have Walked Out of the White House with the Nuclear Codes?


Again, I’ll follow the facts wherever they lead, but I’m a little skeptical that Trump could have made off with truly dangerous classified material.

I wrote about this yesterday in the New York Post:

We’ve learned that some of the documents taken by the FBI were marked as so-called top-secret/sensitive compartmentalized information, indicating that they should be viewed only in secure government facilities.

The designation, though, doesn’t mean that they were blueprints for hypersonic missiles or lists of classified agents. The government routinely over-classifies, and it wouldn’t have been easy for anyone to waltz out of the White House with the nation’s most sensitive information.

The materials in the president’s daily brief are carried into the White House in a locked bag and carried out in a locked bag. The protocols around the handling of documents included in meetings in the Situation Room are very strict. The agencies that bring secret materials to meetings with the president and White House officials are responsible for bringing them back out.

It must have been a hectic scene when Trump was leaving the White House in January 2021, but that doesn’t mean that the White House ushers and military aides packing up for him would have been able to access, say, a triple-locked safe and box up the nuclear codes for shipment to Palm Beach. If they had tried, someone would have stopped them, or, failing that, immediately called The Washington Post to blow the whistle.

Then, there’s this from the New York Times:

So, why did Mr. Trump keep all of these things in his private residence?

People close to the president say it was part of his pattern of collecting keepsakes. His office at Trump Tower was so crammed with memorabilia, including Shaquille O’Neal’s gargantuan sneakers, visitors had to edge their way inside to avoid knocking down a knickknack. His critics see more sinister potential motives, rooted in his cozy relationships with authoritarian leaders.


Politics & Policy

Electric Vehicles, Greenflation, and Competition

A driver connects a Jaguar I-Pace electric vehicle to a charging station at Waymo’s operations center in the Bayview district of San Francisco, Calif. October 19, 2021. (Peter DaSilva/Reuters)

There has often been more than a touch of magical thinking running through the way that electric vehicles are talked about. They are cheaper to run, they will be cleaner, charging won’t be a problem, the grid can cope with the extra demand, and so on and so on. Perhaps (and maybe even probably) many of the problems likely to be associated with EVs could indeed be solved given time and entrepreneurial initiative. Sadly, that’s not the way that we seem to be going. Demand will not be allowed to grow naturally (as, in many respects, it now is) but will be accelerated by state intervention of one sort or the other. One of the things that we know about state intervention is that it tends to be expensive and not too consumer friendly.

So it was good (sort of) to read this refreshingly blunt piece by Axios’s Joann Muller. Here’s an extract:

Americans nationwide will likely face higher electric bills to pay for the next stage of the country’s electric vehicle (EV) charger buildout — even if they don’t drive an EV . . .

The U.S. will need a massive investment in public charging infrastructure to match the anticipated spike in EV demand. But such capital outlays don’t make economic sense for many companies until there are more EVs on the road — which won’t happen until there are more chargers. . . . It’s a classic chicken-and-egg scenario that, in the near term, is likely to be solved by regulated public utilities that can pass on the investment burden to their customers over many years.


And so:

Power utilities across the country are planning to build extensive EV charging networks across their service areas.

Muller gives the example of Minnesota’s Xcel Energy, which is planning “to spend $170 million for about 750 fast-charging stations in Minnesota and Wisconsin over the next four years, part of a broader $300 million EV initiative.”


Xcel says the plan would encourage more of its customers to buy EVs by offering them a steep discount on electricity at its charging stations.



. . . for everyone else — including those who can’t afford an EV — it just means steeper electricity bills, given that many communities only have a single utility.


Utilities, of course, are not necessarily models of efficiency and customer friendliness. On the bright side, however, that might represent a business opportunity for competitors to step in.


Stores and gas stations offering EV charging may wind up competing with the very same utilities they’re paying for the power flowing into customers’ cars [and] [r]etailers say the way they’re billed for power leaves them at a disadvantage. Utilities apply so-called “demand charges” based on the maximum amount of power commercial ratepayers use at any point during their billing cycle. So if just one customer plugs their EV into a 150-kWh fast-charger for 30 minutes [note that definition of a ‘fast charge’], causing power demand to spike, a store would be billed at the peak demand level for the entire month.


A utility, of course, will want to generate a good return on its investment in charging stations (and its customers will likely want the same, to keep their electricity bills down). Achieving that probably does not involve changing billing arrangements to benefit its competitors.

To say that this throws up an issue or two is an understatement, and so it’s well worth reading the whole of Muller’s article.

She concludes:

Private businesses — not regulated utilities — will eventually own and operate most of the EV charging network because they know how to compete on things like price, service and amenities, says Mark Boyadjis, global technology lead at S&P Global Mobility. But for now, utilities could have a head start, and electricity customers will pay.

I wonder how long that “for now” will last, and what that will mean for gas-station operators, quite a few of which are mom-and-pop operations.


‘Oh! Pleasant Exercise of Hope and Joy!’


There’s nothing that the journalist blob enjoys more than a good bout of “the walls closing in,” and here we are again. It’s 2018 redux. There are leaks that appear to be carefully worded to give the most ominous impression but with plenty of escape hatches. There are the usual suspects who spin up the news reports even further on cable and social media and pour scorn on anyone who might suggest it’s not a good idea to automatically jump to the worst conclusions based on rank speculation. There are legal panels all over cable, and screaming chyrons. There is that most delicious phrase “obstruction of justice.” There is an assumption that there simply can’t be an innocent — or less than completely damning — explanation for anything alleged. And, who knows, maybe this time they are right, or at least half-right? The facts should matter. But anyone who lived through the Russia hoax is going to have a very familiar feeling right now. They are creating exactly the same kind of frenzy, and enjoying themselves too much.

National Review

A Summer Well Spent

(BitsAndSplits/Getty Images)

My internship at National Review has come to an end. The editors were kind enough to allow me to pay tribute to this incredible publication and thank them for the amazing experience that writing for NR has been these past three months. 

I have been a reader of National Review since I was a freshman in high school. The first morning of my internship, I attended the morning editorial calls via Zoom. Seeing the faces of the writers whose work I had read for many years, and hearing them discuss what they were going to write about that day, frequently interspersed with a dose of humor, was a thrill. Having Phil Klein ask me what stories I wanted to work on was incredibly exciting. I was lucky enough to have had a couple of stories published in NR before my internship, but being part of the editorial calls every morning, getting to know the writers and editors, and working on stories each day really made me feel as if I were a part of the NR team. 

I worked remotely from my D.C. apartment this summer. Like a good intern, I dutifully donned a dress shirt and tie for each Zoom editorial call, an ensemble that was summarily tossed in favor of a Grateful Dead T-shirt and shorts the minute the meetings ended. Jack Butler, you win; the truth is finally out.

There have been many stories I’ve enjoyed working on this summer. Among them, “The Ridiculous Attacks on Dan Crenshaw,” which got many comments, both positive and negative, and yes, I did read them. It certainly demonstrates the diverse readership of NR. Another story I enjoyed writing that also elicited polarizing comments was “Is the January 6 Committee Cheney’s Last Stand? On a lighter note, my NR internship gave me the unique opportunity to interview the Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh about his movie, What Is a Woman?, and write “Matt Walsh Stumps the Left with One Simple Question.” After the Uvalde shooting, I wrote about a much more serious story from which I learned a good deal: the mental-health epidemic affecting young men in America and why these heinous acts are often committed by this demographic in “America’s Young Men in Crisis.”

While the focal point of my internship was the writing, the NR staff really made an effort to include the interns in various social events, both in Washington and New York City. Again, they went out of their way to make us feel as if we were part of the team.

As I head off to Brown this fall (in response to the most common query in the comment section, a “rising senior” is a student who has finished his junior year and is approaching his senior year), I will take the myriad lessons I have learned at NR and put them to good use. When the far-left ideologues on campus inevitably do something outlandish this year, I hope I can document it for these pages once again. 


China Preparing to Move Forces to the Atlantic, Says French Naval Chief

China’s aircraft carrier Liaoning (center) takes part in a military drill of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy in the western Pacific Ocean, April 18, 2018. (Stringer/Reuters)

China is building a fleet of icebreakers to give itself the ability to operate in the Atlantic Ocean, with Russian assistance, Admiral Pierre Vandier, the chief of France’s navy, said last month. Le Figaro reported on his remarks yesterday, in light of China’s brazen military activity in the Taiwan Strait.

“At present, the Chinese are building a fleet of five ice breakers to create the possibility of switching their Pacific forces toward the Atlantic, with the help of the Russians,” he told the French parliament’s national-defense commission, according to the transcript of a July 27 hearing.

“My Norwegian counterpart, whom I met in March, did not talk to me about the Northern Russian fleet, based at Murmansk, but about the coming of the Chinese navy in the Atlantic Ocean. Soon, it will not be necessary to go to the South China Sea to find Chinese military forces,” he said.

The Figaro report notes that Vandier issued this warning as he requested more resources from French parliamentarians. Vandier said France should increase its military training efforts and that it should seek greater cooperation with its allies. He also made an extraordinary statement about the strategy that France, and its allies, should pursue: “Against the Chinese navy, we will win if we fight together.”

In December, the Wall Street Journal reported that China is working to build its first military base in the Atlantic, in Equatorial Guinea, a development that spurred the Biden administration to dispatch an emergency delegation to the country.

Politics & Policy

An Unsettling Glimpse at CPAC Texas

Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake looks on during an interview at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, Texas, August 5, 2022. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Recently, the Conservative Political Action Conference was in Dallas. Conferences of this sort are often strange affairs, and have been for a long time. But Chris Schlak, an ISI Fellow for USA Today who attended the conference, found unpleasant oddities attached to the proceedings beyond what is reasonable to expect.

It is one thing for Americans to defend the conduct of Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary in that nation’s European context, where its actions seem reasonably popular to its citizens. It is a different thing entirely to argue that Orbán has lessons that American conservatives can apply directly in our own country. Yet that was the implication both of CPAC’s decision to invite Orbán to Dallas, and of Orbán’s speech. Shlak reports, moreover, that the CPAC audience ate up Orban’s remarks, carefully prepared for American-conservative consumption, “because he used the ‘right’ slogans and attacked the ‘right’ enemies.”

Schlak also discovered stolen-election nonsense in abundance in and around the conference. On one panel, a speaker openly hoped for Republican gubernatorial candidates Kari Lake and Doug Mastriano, of Arizona and Pennsylvania, respectively, to win in the fall so that they can decertify the results of the 2020 election in their states. “If that brings on a constitutional crisis, bring it,” the speaker said. Schlak also found the conference replete with positive references to Dinesh D’Souza’s discredited stolen-election documentary 2,000 Mules.


Strangest of all, however, was the January 6 “performance art,” as Schlak calls it, that he chanced upon. The performance artist was Brandon Straka, a Capitol riot participant convicted of charges of disorderly and disruptive conduct on Capitol grounds and sentenced in January to three months of house arrest and three years of probation, and also fined and given community-service obligations. At CPAC, Straka pretended to be a prisoner in a fake prison cell. He was, at one point, joined by Representative Marjorie Greene of Georgia.

“It was like watching a WWE wrestling match,” Schlak writes. “Everyone knew it was all fake, but everyone played along anyway.”

Schlak came away from the conference distraught about the state of conservatism. Based on his account, this is understandable. One hopes, however, that it was not a representative experience.

Politics & Policy

You Either Support Free Speech or You Don’t

Salman Rushdie during an interview with Reuters in 2012. (Paul Hackett/Reuters)

Political types love to classify themselves. I can be guilty of it myself. But, when it comes to free speech, I’ve never especially cared about all that. The stabbing of Salman Rushdie reminds me why. Because, really, there are only two sides to it. There are the people who believe in free speech, and there are the people who don’t. The person who does believe in free speech is currently in the hospital. The person who doesn’t believe in free speech stabbed him.

Certainly, the people who don’t believe in free speech have different reasons for their opposition: They want to protect people’s feelings or to aid public virtue; they think that the religion they believe in is too important; they fear the consequences of bad people hearing bad words. But, really, who cares? The root question is whether or not we are to have a clerisy of people who, via direct violence (murder, acid) or indirect violence (government) are able to tell everyone else what they may or may not say.

If we are not, then the arguments offered up by the would-be members of that clerisy are irrelevant. I don’t care why the person who stabbed Rushdie thought he needed to be punished for his writing. I don’t care why the men who attacked Charlie Hebdo felt upset with that magazine. I don’t care why the British government is trying to add yet more censorship powers to its already bulging stack. I don’t care why Charlie Kirk thinks he’s found the one true exception to the First Amendment. I don’t care why the wokesters believe they can remedy structural inequality with Red Ink. I don’t care. Pick a side.

Politics & Policy

Warning Shot in the Gender-Clinic Wars

The Tavistock Centre NHS clinic is seen in London, England, July 28, 2022. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

Maddy Kearns brings her journalistic expertise to bear on the news of the Tavistock gender-clinic closure. The clinic was shut down after a review found there were “huge concerns over the lack of follow-up, the lack of transparency, the overlooking of blatant co-morbidities.” Kearns says on the latest episode of the Editors that “children with gender dysphoria will be treated at hospitals where mental health will be the focus — which is huge.”

Rich reminds listeners that this has been Michael’s point for some time now: We’ll start to see the end of this madness with the advent of a mass class-action lawsuit. “Maddy says this is a ‘shot heard ‘round the world,’ Michael said, “but I’m a little afraid that the Tavistock clinic is going to be used as a scapegoat and it will eat all the institutional sin this time, but other clinics are going to rise in its place.” While he does view what the NHS has done as a “huge warning shot,” he thinks “the victory is still pretty far off.”

Closer to home, the U.S. media is still abuzz over the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago. Inside job? Major mess-up? Speculation abounds, but the editors stick to the core of the issue and engage in some serious legal-terminology parsing.

Our editors also consider Donald Trump’s grip on the GOP. Like him or not, his charisma and larger-than-life personality are keeping him in the public eye, and the GOP needs to decide how it will handle this come 2024. 

Listen below to hear the whole conversation. 

Politics & Policy

If Criticisms of George Soros Are Antisemitic, So Are Criticisms of Sheldon Adelson


In response to Can We Criticize Soros?

On the Corner yesterday, Michael Brendan Dougherty noted that “Democrats have decided that all criticism of George Soros is coded antisemitism”: “There are ways of criticizing Soros that do play with antisemitic tropes,” Michael writes, “but noting his extraordinary intervention into American justice is not one of them.”

One thing I’d add is that there’s actually an easy way to test if left-wing allegations of antisemitism vis-à-vis Soros are made in good faith. The Right’s criticisms of Soros tend to revolve around the Hungarian-born billionaire’s support for left-wing causes. But the Right had its own Jewish billionaire donor: the late Sheldon Adelson. And the analogous criticisms of Adelson from progressives are rarely, if ever, subject to cries of antisemitism. 

When Adelson bought a Nevada newspaper in 2015, Robert Reich wrote that “the purchase marks another step toward oligarchic control of America.” “Meet the shady billionaire that just backed Donald Trump,” Mic proclaimed in 2016. The left-leaning German publication DW profiled Adelson with a piece titled “Pulling the strings.” When the Jewish billionaire passed away in early 2021, the Nation ran an article titled, “Even in Death, Sheldon Adelson Will Keep Undermining Democracy.” (“Wherever the casino magnate went, corruption—be it moral, legal, political, or cultural—was never far behind,” the subtitle read.)

If the Left wants to argue that any criticisms of Jewish political donors are, by virtue of the donors’ being Jewish, antisemitic, they’re going to need to condemn the attacks on Adelson, too. I won’t hold my breath.

Politics & Policy

On Hillary, Trump, and Whataboutism: A Response to My Critics

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks to reporters after making a statement about the FBI’s search warrant served at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida during an appearance at the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C., August 11, 2022. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

I’d like to respond to three critiques of my Corner post from yesterday, titled “Yes, Her Emails.” In it, I argue that “anyone — either on the anti-Trump left or the Trump-skeptical right,”

who thinks that the FBI and Department of Justice’s credibility can survive in the eyes of the average, normie American if it prosecutes Donald J. Trump on very, very similar mishandling-of-classified-documents charges that Hillary [Clinton] avoided with nary a slap on the wrist is naïve to the point of lunacy.

You can read the whole thing here.

Let me address a few of the most common lines of argument.

1. What Hillary did with her emails isn’t comparable to what Trump has done.

Here’s a representative sample from the ongoing disaster that is my Twitter timeline:

“Clinton’s emails were mostly about her yoga schedule. Trump’s are about our nuclear arsenal. These are not equivalent.”

“Finding three emails that were retroactively classified is totes the same as stealing TS documents regarding nuclear weapons. Genius.”

“This defines weak, base spinning, whataboutism ‘journalism’. Her email server and return of government documents were well within the laws at the time. Trump & company may be looking at the full Rosenberg for their actions. There are no parallels here.”

I’m honestly perplexed by this response. I don’t know if it’s just the passage of time or a genuine lack of knowledge about the gravity and irresponsibility of Clinton’s actions during 2016’s “Emailgate.”

As my colleague Andy McCarthy took the time to note last night after Attorney General Garland’s remarks, then–FBI director Jim Comey — who conducted the investigation and infamously decided to not pursue criminal charges — didn’t think Hillary Clinton’s emails were merely about her yoga schedule. From Comey’s public comments on July 5, 2016:

Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.

For example, seven e-mail chains concern matters that were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level when they were sent and received. These chains involved Secretary Clinton both sending e-mails about those matters and receiving e-mails from others about the same matters. There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation. In addition to this highly sensitive information, we also found information that was properly classified as Secret by the U.S. Intelligence Community at the time it was discussed on e-mail (that is, excluding the later “up-classified” e-mails).

None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government—or even with a commercial service like Gmail. [Emphasis mine.]

I’ll note that — as someone who has gone through the U.S. military’s security-clearance process — material is classified as “Top Secret” if it can be reasonably expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to national security if released.

What Hillary did was, at minimum, “extremely careless” in the handling of extraordinarily sensitive information. Hillary’s “yoga routine” excuse was a dodge then, and it’s a dodge now.

2. You don’t actually care about the institutional credibility of the FBI and DOJ.

Actually, yes I do. I care deeply about the strength and credibility of our institutions, public and private. Institutions — from the Boy Scouts to the Marine Corps to the NFL — must husband and conserve their credibility because, once lost, it’s almost impossible to recover. We all know what it’s like to live in a country in which institutions that once were held in general esteem have suffered atrophy and collapse. The American conception of “ordered liberty” is like a tree in the desert without strong institutions watering our common soil. Over the last couple of days, I have been trying to make the point — perhaps ineffectively — both through sarcasm and through polemic, that the FBI and DOJ are already on thin ice credibility-wise with half of the American people.

The execution of the search warrant on Mar-a-Lago was a grave event in American history. Neither the Right — with its clownish hysterics — nor the Left — with its Major Kong–style celebrations — is helping.

3. Why are you defending/excusing/protecting Trump?

At no time have I defended or excused Trump in this matter. As I wrote days ago, “I think that anyone who egregiously mishandles classified documents has likely committed a felony and should be investigated and probably prosecuted, regardless of whether he or she happens to be a politician or potential candidate for president.”

If Trump is shown to have broken the law, he deserves to face the consequences of his actions.

But it is not excusing or defending Trump to point out that every decision has a cost as well as a benefit.

I am much less concerned about Trump facing the music in this matter than I am about holding the Republic together. You’re free to disagree — after all, it’s a free country — but I believe that the best way to move past Trump is through politics, not lawfare. A shortsighted focus on putting Trump in the dock may be satisfying to his enemies, but they’re not the ones who need convincing that this process is fair. Like it or not — and entirely to Trump’s demagogic discredit — millions upon millions of Americans believe that the 2020 election was stolen from him and that the institutions and powers of government have been unfairly used against him in a years-long “witch hunt.” You may not believe that. Hell, I don’t believe that. But something like a full third of the country does.

We know that prosecuting Trump, if he committed a crime, would have a benefit: That is justice and it would be self-evident. But why are so many so dismissive of the costs?

Prudence requires weighing the cost of our actions. My argument is not that Donald J. Trump did not or could not have done anything criminal in his conduct relating to classified materials, much less that his actions should be excused, waived off as nothing, or memory-holed.

My argument is that half the country will not accept criminal charges for conduct largely similar to what his onetime political opponent received a slap on the wrist for.

If your response is, “I don’t care about any of that; Trump’s guilty, so charge him,” or, “Trump’s supporters will never be convinced, so ignore them,” or, “to hell with prudence, I want Trump’s scalp mounted on my wall,” then you don’t care about the health of the Republic. You don’t care about finding a way back towards national comity. You don’t care that many of your fellow citizens will never forgive you or ever again trust that their government is fair-minded.

We must find a path towards stopping the ceaseless, one-way political ratchet and eye-for-an-eye vindictiveness and revenge that have characterized our politics for so many years.

Here’s a hint: If you can’t see the reasonableness of that imperative and understand why, at a minimum, any actions against Trump outside the political process should be weighed very carefully against the downstream costs, you’re blinded by partisanship or hatred of the man.

I stand behind no one in my desire to see Donald Trump go away. I’ve argued for years that he has been a malign influence on American life and the conservative movement. But he’s not going to go away by pushing a ticky-tack criminal charge on him or by nailing him for something that your and my partisan, tribal lizard-brains will never forget was waived away when it was Hillary Clinton with her hand in the cookie jar. Even if Trump deserves it — and he probably does — criminal charges in this matter won’t end Trump. They’ll supercharge him.

Trump will go away when center-right Americans affirmatively choose another leader through the political process — at the ballot box.

Fiscal Policy

More Democrat Duplicitousness on IRS Funding

(marcnorman/iStock/Getty Images)

This morning, I wrote about how Janet Yellen’s math doesn’t add up on the claim that the expanded IRS resulting from the Democrats’ reconciliation bill will audit only the highest-income earners. Now, a Congressional Budget Office estimate is providing more evidence of Democrats’ duplicitousness.

During the reconciliation bill process in the Senate, any senator can introduce an amendment. That meant that many Republicans offered amendments to force Democrats to take votes they might not have wanted to take. One such amendment was from Senator Mike Crapo (R., Idaho). It would have added to the IRS funding portion of the reconciliation bill that “none of the funds . . . may be used to audit taxpayers with taxable incomes below $400,000.”

That is exactly the line that Yellen, in her letter to the IRS commissioner, was saying Democrats support. Yet, when given the chance to vote on putting that language in the bill, all 50 Senate Democrats voted against the amendment.

Today, the Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee said the CBO has estimated that the cost of Crapo’s amendment would have been at least $20 billion. That would mean that the CBO expects at least $20 billion of the new revenue Democrats were counting on from increased tax enforcement to come from audits of taxpayers making less than $400,000.

Democrats have always been all over the map on how much money increased tax enforcement would raise, with the Washington Post reporting in July of last year that some Democrats thought they could get $1 trillion in new revenue over the next decade. The CBO has been consistent for years in telling lawmakers from both parties that tax enforcement is not the revenue panacea they want it to be, with their estimate this time being a net revenue gain of $124 billion. But now we know that estimate was counting on $20 billion of it coming from people who, according to Yellen, will not be forced to pay.

The likeliest outcome here is not an army of auditors crashing through the doors of middle-class Americans. Rather, it is that the IRS gets a bunch of taxpayer money and little else happens. Remember, most IRS employees are represented by the National Treasury Employees Union, which donates almost entirely to Democrats. One of the primary missions of the Democratic Party, in practice, is shoveling taxpayer money to unionized government employees. No matter who gets audited, that mission is accomplished by the reconciliation bill.

But from here on out, Democrats are the party of doubling the IRS. The IRS is still going to audit people making less than $400,000. Even if those people would have been audited anyway and the audit rate doesn’t change at all, Democrats should expect Republicans to make an issue of it on the campaign trail. As the estimated revenue raised by the provision continues to get chipped away, the payoff might not be worth it for some House Democrats come November. And now, because of Crapo’s amendment, every Senate Democrat is on the record opposing the $400,000 barrier. Those ads write themselves.

Politics & Policy

Conservatism and Mediating Institutions

Alexis de Tocqueville (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

In response to Conservatives for Community

I commend National Review Institute summer intern Frank Filocomo on his strong first piece for National Review, posted on the Corner earlier today. The piece, titled “Conservatives for Community,” emphasizes the importance of “what Buckley called the ‘libertarian’ streak” as “an essential part of the American character” but cautions that “it must be counterbalanced by a complementary communitarian streak,” arguing that “what we need right now is a synthesis of these two aspects of America’s unique identity.” Filocomo makes the case “for a more Tocquevillian America, as opposed to one characterized solely or mostly by a liberal (in the purely classical sense) ethos,” renewing the communitarian aspect of the American — and conservative — tradition:

Individual freedom, moreover, is not the only part of the Founding legacy, nor is it the totality of the conservative tradition. There is also a vital communitarian strain within conservatism, one that is often underappreciated. Though not always: In the 1960s and 1970s, Russell Kirk’s Modern Age, for example, contained a plethora of essays emphasizing the importance of civic engagement and local associational membership. Though there is obvious merit in individual freedom, it would be foolish for us to understate the advantages of community, social capital, and societal togetherness. Alexis de Tocqueville, for example, said that associations are “stronger and more formidable than a simple individual can be.”

It’s a welcome contribution, particularly in a moment of increasingly extreme atomization and social breakdown. I share Filocomo’s criticisms of the fact that “at times, those on the right are overly sympathetic to a simplistic reading of the libertarian ethos that sees civic relations as being only between individuals and the state, and individual freedom and its derivatives as the only things worth valuing.” I doubt he would disagree, but I’d also just add that the traditional conservative preference for limited government, properly understood, can and should be harmonized with the Tocquevillian communitarian ethic. Defending and stewarding the civic associations that sit in the space between the individual and the state requires preventing a burgeoning government bureaucracy from “crowding out” those institutions. So in setting themselves against the “libertarian ethos” that does not recognize the existence of the “mediating institutions” that stand between individuals and state actors, conservatives must also oppose the statist, bureaucratic progressivism that essentially does the same but in reverse — the kind of political philosophy that operates on the assumption that, as an infamous 2012 Democratic National Committee video put it, “the government is the only thing we all belong to.”

In their famous 1977 study of “mediating structures,” Peter Berger and Richard John Neuhaus argued that “one of the most debilitating results of modernization is a feeling of powerlessness in the face of institutions controlled by those whom we do not know and whose values we often do not share.” To renew a Tocquevillian America, centered around connection to place, people, and local community, conservatives must seek to renew the institutions that are tied to those local associations. Government can and should seek to support those institutions wherever and whenever possible, but it cannot take their place.

Politics & Policy

Mr. President, Learn a Little on Your South Carolina Vacation

President Joe Biden salutes before boarding Air Force One to depart for Kiawah Island, S.C., from Joint Base Andrews, August 10, 2022. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Dear President Biden:

We in South Carolina welcome you to the shores of the Palmetto State, one of the most beautiful and free states in the union.

One can hardly blame you, Mr. President, and your family for visiting Kiawah Island, a barrier island with miles of pristine beach along the Atlantic, a maritime forest, and saltwater marshes. This unique place is just a half-hour drive from Charleston and has world-class accommodations, and golf and tennis that rival the best in the world.

Mr. Biden, you were soundly defeated by Donald Trump here, 55 percent to 43 percent, but you did win Charleston County, where you are vacationing, 56 percent to 43 percent, so you will have some supporters to visit.

We in South Carolina take freedom seriously. South Carolina was at the center of activity in the American Revolution with more than 200 battles and skirmishes fought. We still value our independence and freedom. We took a different path from you, President Biden, and your central planners on the issue of Covid-19. As Governor Henry McMaster boldly stated when the Omicron variant was in full force:

There is no need for a state of emergency in South Carolina to address the increase in Covid infections caused by the omicron virus. There is no need for us to shut down. We are not going to close schools. We haven’t and we will not close businesses. We will not impose mandates for face masks, vaccines or anything else.

Voters in South Carolina give McMaster high marks. According to a recent South Carolina Policy Council poll, he is at a strong 66 percent job approval among likely voters, while only 31 percent disapprove. Part of McMasters’s high ratings are based on strong reviews of his pandemic performance, including keeping South Carolina open for business. Voters in South Carolina also greatly approve of political leaders trying to defeat your tax-and-spend agenda. Sixty percent of voters see Senator Tim Scott favorably.

But fewer than four in ten South Carolina voters (39 percent) approve of the job you are doing, Mr. President. The rest of the country largely agrees, with your national job approval at right about 40 percent in the RealClearPolitics average.

Mr. President, it would have been better if you had not tried to push your recent $700 million tax-and-spend bill as the “Inflation Reduction Act.” South Carolinians are hardworking and wise people. We know paying people not to work, creating money out of thin air, and spending billions on green-energy scams causes inflation. And your inflation is walloping South Carolina citizens. Eighty-two percent of South Carolinians say inflation and the rising cost of goods have them concerned about paying their family’s bills. Their concerns are bipartisan. Ninety percent of self-identified GOP voters declare themselves concerned, along with 75 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of independents.

We are proud of our leaders for standing up against this nonsense coming from your administration. Senator Lindsey Graham and McMaster stood together to condemn your latest spending boondoggle on behalf of South Carolinians. Graham pointed to a new gas tax of 16.4 cents per barrel on imported oil at a time the nation is becoming more dependent on imported oil.

“This starts with pennies; it becomes dimes and eventually dollars,” Graham said. “So I’m adamantly opposed to any new gas taxes on the American consumer and the South Carolina driving public.” McMaster added, “There’s never a good time to raise taxes.”

Graham also criticized the plan to increase the size of the Internal Revenue Service by 87,000 employees — more new auditors than can fit in three-time national champion Clemson University’s football stadium. “So when you go to the football game this fall, just imagine everybody to your left and right being an IRS agent,” said Graham.

Mr. Biden could learn a thing or two from South Carolina about managing a budget. We in South Carolina don’t spend money we don’t have; and, of course, we can’t just print it. Instead of raising taxes, South Carolina is cutting them. South Carolina taxpayers will be receiving tax-refund checks by the end of the year after McMaster signed a historic tax-relief package that included slashing and simplifying our state income tax.

South Carolina also knows how to live within its means. While the federal government is printing money as fast as it can, South Carolina entered the current fiscal year with its largest-ever, multibillion-dollar budget surplus.

As you drive around, Mr. President, you’ll be seeing signs celebrating the South Carolina Gamecocks’ women’s basketball national championship.

We take our college sports seriously here, including our women’s sports, which we believe should be reserved just for women.

Earlier this year, Mr. President, you engaged in some dangerous demagoguery involved in states that were revamping voting procedures. At a speech in neighboring Georgia, you accused the Peach State, along with 19 other states looking at reforming election procedures, of wanting to “turn the will of the voters into a mere suggestion — something states can respect or ignore.”

Further, you accused these states of engaging in Jim Crow tactics, which is extremely toxic rhetoric from a U.S. president.

“Jim Crow 2.0 is about two insidious things: voter suppression and election subversion,” you said. “It’s no longer about who gets to vote; it’s about making it harder to vote. It’s about who gets to count the vote and whether your vote counts at all.”

Questions of voting access and security are difficult and complicated. However, Republicans and Democrats in South Carolina joined together to pass historic, bipartisan voting-reform legislation that makes it easier to vote and harder to cheat.

The South Carolina Policy Council’s poll found that four out of five voters responded positively toward the new law, with 92 percent approval among Republicans and 59 percent approval among Democrats.

South Carolina’s wildly popular voter-I.D. requirements now apply to all voters, including those voting early, by mail, or dropping off a ballot. Auditing and counting procedures were clarified. In a compromise, Republicans agreed to add in-person early voting, while Democrats accepted limitations to mail voting and drop boxes.

Mr. Biden, you could learn something about actually bringing two sides together to solve difficult problems from us in South Carolina.

President Biden, enjoy your stay. But if the only thing you take back with your return to D.C. is a suntan, you have missed a great opportunity to learn some valuable lessons.

Dallas Woodhouse is the executive director of the South Carolina Policy Council.


Lines Must Be Drawn, Even in the Midwest


In response to Butler’s Midwestern Fish Folly

Luther writes, “Ultimately, the Midwest defies state lines just as it does certainty — mainly on account of Midwesterners being too polite to tell places such as Missouri that they don’t count.”

I’ll say it: Missouri does not count. Neither does Pennsylvania. Sorry, not sorry.

But wherever two or three Packers fans are gathered, there is Midwest in the midst of them.

National Security & Defense

U.S. Intel Official Turned TikTok Lawyer Claims ‘Anti-China Xenophobia’

The U.S. head office of TikTok in Culver City, Calif., September 15, 2020. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

A cybersecurity lawyer for TikTok blasted proposals to ban the Chinese Communist Party–linked app as driven “solely” by anti-China racism, in a Twitter post that has since been deleted. That attorney, Dondi West, formerly worked for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and other government agencies, a fact that might raise new questions about TikTok’s hiring from the U.S. intelligence community, given the company’s ties to the Chinese government.

On Tuesday, West replied to a tweet by Chuck Flint, a former chief of staff to Senator Marsha Blackburn, promoting an op-ed that called for banning TikTok. Flint’s tweet had called the app “an arm of Communist China.” West accused proponents of a ban of advocating hateful policies. “Laws and policies driven solely by anti-China xenophobia, with no evidence proving an actual threat, is also a threat to national security, and also contribute to anti-Asian hate,” he tweeted.

West’s tweet also linked to a September 2021 column in The Scientist magazine that sharply criticized the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) for its “anti-China undertones.” Mandatory disclosures show that the government relations team representing TikTok lobbied Congressional offices on that bill. Although an initial version of the legislation included a provision barring the use of TikTok on government devices, that measure was removed at some point before Congress passed the package this year.

After Flint replied to West’s tweet, asking if he speaks for TikTok, West deleted it.

West’s Twitter profile identifies him as a cybersecurity attorney for TikTok and lists several of his other former employers, including the National Security Agency, U.S. Cybercommand, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). Questioned over Twitter by National Review about whether he stands by the since-deleted comments, West did not reply, and at some point after receiving NR’s message he set his account to private.

Brooke Oberwetter, a TikTok spokesperson, said that West does not speak on behalf of the company and referred NR to his profile on LinkedIn to assess “his qualifications to opine on these issues.” (While his Twitter account does state “Tweets are mine,” it also clearly indicates that he works for TikTok.)

West’s LinkedIn profile indicates that he worked as a contractor in various roles with federal government agencies until 2016, when he entered the private sector. During his tenure at U.S. Cyber Command, he took part in efforts to counter Russian cyber threats. While working for ODNI, he was a senior cyber-staff officer, a role in which he says he worked with the White House. His LinkedIn profile does not provide information on whether he currently holds a security clearance.

As TikTok has faced criticism for its ties to the Chinese government in recent years, the company’s defenders have attempted to portray its detractors as racist and xenophobic. However, TikTok and ByteDance, its parent company, have extensively documented ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

ByteDance has an internal CCP committee, where employees discuss “Xi Jinping Thought” and other facets of the party doctrine. In addition, hundreds of ByteDance and TikTok employees formerly worked for the party’s propaganda organs, as Forbes reported this week. A BuzzFeed News article recently revealed that Beijing-based employees of ByteDance regularly accessed U.S. TikTok users’ data, prompting lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to investigate the app.

Update: This article has been updated to add that West’s tweet cited as support a column that attacked the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act for its “anti-China undertones.”


#DarkBrandon: Death of a Meme

A “Let’s Go Brandon” sign stands in Ortonville, Mich., November 20, 2021. (Emily Elconin/Reuters)

Readers will likely be familiar with the “Brandon” meme, which became something of a bumper-sticker slogan on the right in late 2021 after a NASCAR commentator misinterpreted a “f*** Joe Biden” chant as “let’s go, Brandon.” The Associated Press reported:

It started at an Oct. 2 NASCAR race at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Brandon Brown, a 28-year-old driver, had won his first Xfinity Series and was being interviewed by an NBC Sports reporter. The crowd behind him was chanting something at first difficult to make out. The reporter suggested they were chanting “Let’s go, Brandon” to cheer the driver. But it became increasingly clear they were saying: “F—- Joe Biden.” 

NASCAR and NBC have since taken steps to limit “ambient crowd noise” during interviews, but it was too late — the phrase already had taken off.

Since then, the phrase has appeared on T-shirts, flags, and posters and has been tweeted incessantly. It was even used in House floor-speech sign-offs. Like many a meme, it’s pretty much been beaten to death. But more recently, amid an unusually good couple of weeks for the Biden administration, White House officials have attempted to repurpose “Brandon” for their own ends:

Tweets and memes from Biden officials featuring “Dark Brandon,” replete with laser-eye portraits of the president, have been received gleefully by the press. A Vox explainer outlines “how ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ and ‘Dark MAGA’ combined to celebrate Joe Biden’s policy wins.” A headline in the Hill declares that “the ‘Dark Brandon’ meme . . . has taken the White House by storm.The Independent crows: “Inside ‘Dark Brandon’: What is the growing meme phenomenon?” Here’s the Daily Beast: “Dark Brandon’: How the Left Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Biden’s Alter Ego. And here’s Politico: Dark Brandon Begins: How WH aides appropriated the meme of their boss as an underworld kin.” 

Internet culture relies on irony and a certain level of transgressiveness — a meme is funny only so long as it represents a certain kind of insider humor. The overeager attempt to boost the #DarkBrandon meme in the legacy press is the joke’s death knell. R.I.P. Brandon, 2021–2022. 

Politics & Policy

Conservatives for Community

A Trump supporter holds an American flag at a rally in Madison, Ala., February 2016. (Marvin Gentry/Reuters)

Conservatives have long prized individual freedom. They try to embody it in their lives, their political aspirations, and even in the names of the groups that populate the conservative movement (“Young Americans for Freedom”) and the Republican Party (“House Freedom Caucus”). It is appropriate to accept and honor this as part of the political and cultural inheritance of our Founding, and as the source of important classical-liberal tenets in our public life, such as free speech, civic liberty, and limited government. There is no question that individual freedom is integral to what America stands for.

Unfortunately, at times, those on the right are overly sympathetic to a simplistic reading of the libertarian ethos that sees civic relations as being only between individuals and the state, and individual freedom and its derivatives as the only things worth valuing. Consider, as an extreme example of this view, the libertarian economist Murray Rothbard, who once argued for a “purely free society” that would, among other things, “have a flourishing free market in children” bought and sold as goods by parents. Rothbard is an odd case, to be sure, and not necessarily representative. (“Yes, Murray Rothbard believed in freedom, and yes, David Koresh believed in God,” William F. Buckley Jr. wrote in his obituary for Rothbard.) But it is nevertheless true that freedom alone cannot sustain a cohesive people.

Individual freedom, moreover, is not the only part of the Founding legacy, nor is it the totality of the conservative tradition. There is also a vital communitarian strain within conservatism, one that is often underappreciated. Though not always: In the 1960s and 1970s, Russell Kirk’s Modern Age, for example, contained a plethora of essays emphasizing the importance of civic engagement and local associational membership. Though there is obvious merit in individual freedom, it would be foolish for us to understate the advantages of community, social capital, and societal togetherness. Alexis de Tocqueville, for example, said that associations are “stronger and more formidable than a simple individual can be.”

A new eye-opening study from the peer-reviewed journal Nature affirms his point. The study, which breaks down social capital into three categories — economic connectedness, social cohesion, and civic engagement — found that children have a much greater chance of being upwardly mobile if they reside in communities with high levels of “economic connectedness.” Economic connectedness (EC) refers to the integration of people from different economic backgrounds. The study concludes that levels of EC vary depending on one’s geographical residence. Impoverished inner-city areas, for example, have remarkably low levels of EC, since most residents occupy the same socioeconomic stratum. Conversely, an area with a healthy combination of high-income and low-income residents increases the odds of economic success for low-income individuals.

In social-capital literature, economic connectedness would fall under the category of “bridging.” Bridging, though, can take place only when people go out of their way to interact and socialize. This often requires individuals to venture outside of their comfort zones. Thus, another key component of bridging is that it facilitates the integration of people who normally would not associate with each other.

This study strengthens the argument for a more Tocquevillian America, as opposed to one characterized solely or mostly by a liberal (in the purely classical sense) ethos. It is not the only such study. Alan Ehrenhalt, contributing editor to Governing Magazine and author of The Lost City, has written passionately about the dangerous effects of the decline, over the past couple of decades, of American community life. Other conservatives, such as William Schambra, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, have written extensively about the importance of local associations and what Robert Putnam has called “we-ness.” We should listen to them.

What Buckley called the “libertarian” streak is an essential part of the American character. But it must be counterbalanced by a complementary communitarian streak. What we need right now is a synthesis of these two aspects of America’s unique identity.

Economy & Business

If Inflation Cools, What Is the Republican Plan B?

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy listens to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speak to reporters at the White House in Washington, D.C., May 12, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The inflation crisis, which has caused significant stress for Americans, has been a political gift for Republicans. It has been a major contributor to President Biden’s awful approval ratings, it has boosted GOP prospects of retaking power, and it’s provided them a ready way to deflect any questions about Donald Trump or January 6. It has also relieved the pressure for them to come up with any sort of governing agenda.

But all Republicans should be asking themselves: What is Plan B if inflation cools? What is their message? What tangible policies would they like to see implemented were they to regain control of Washington?

To be clear, I am not joining the media chorus in declaring the inflation crisis prematurely over. It would be irresponsible to attribute too much to one report showing inflation flat month over month. The fact that inflation was flat in July still means that prices are higher than they were in May, and 8.5 percent higher than they were last summer.

Also, a deeper look at the numbers shows that food inflation was up 1.1 percent in July after going up 1 percent in June. That means not only did food costs go up again, but the rate of increase was faster. The big driver of the flat month-over-month report was that oil prices started coming back down, and the broader energy category actually declined 4.6 percent. Another way of looking at this is that it means that it took nearly a 5 percent decline in energy over the course of a month just to keep inflation flat, with overall prices still at elevated levels relative to even a few months ago. There’s a question of what the floor is for the current decline in oil prices. As soon as oil hits one, more and more goods will have to start to fall to tame inflation. Furthermore, even if inflation were to settle at around 4 or 5 percent annually, it would still be much higher than we’ve been used to in recent history, and especially bad if accompanied by a Fed-induced recession. So, there are plenty of reasons to believe that we are not out of the woods.

That having been said, we’re about two years out from the 2024 political conventions. That’s a long time, and there is of course the possibility of the optimistic case of inflation easing as the effects of Covid start to cycle out, and of the economy having a relatively soft landing.

If that is the case, it’s a challenge to really see anything resembling a Republican agenda — on taxes, health care, entitlements — or much of anything else. There is an overall zeitgeist among conservatives surrounding various cultural issues, woke capitalism, Big Tech, the “deep state,” and so on. But that has not yet been translated into clear policy goals, and certainly not any policies that would resemble any sort of consensus among Republicans.

On health care, an issue I have focused on more than any other, we saw the damage that this sort of policy vacuum could create. Republicans spent seven years being clever about scoring daily messaging victories against Obamacare, used its problems to regain control of Washington, but never did the hard work of agreeing on what they wanted to do on health care instead. And so, once they were in a position to do something about Obamacare, they ended up with nothing. And now Democrats have retaken power and expanded Obamacare.

Simply put, Republicans need a Plan B.


Today in Capital Matters: IRS and Student Loans


I write about Janet Yellen’s unconvincing mathematics in her letter to the IRS commissioner about the agency’s new funding:

If Democrats truly want to increase tax enforcement only on a tiny sliver of the highest-earning citizens, they did not need $80 billion and 87,000 new IRS employees to do it. At best, if they keep their word, there will be a whole lot of fresh IRS employees with not a lot of work to do.

Jon Hartley of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity write on alternatives to student loans:

Major changes in federal policy toward student debt have been in the news recently, chiefly with the Biden administration considering some amount of student-loan forgiveness. Meanwhile, very quietly, a more innovative, free-market solution to the student-debt crisis is being attacked. The Biden Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has been cracking down on income-share agreements (ISAs), an innovative solution popularized by Milton Friedman in a 1955 essay titled “The Role of Government in Education” that ultimately made its way into Friedman’s 1962 classic, Capitalism and Freedom. With income-share agreements, students have to pay back a fraction of their future earnings over a fixed amount of time, as opposed to the case with traditional student debt where students often have to pay back a fixed amount of debt payments.

Fortunately, in early August, bipartisan legislation, known as the ISA Student Protection Act, was reintroduced in the Senate by Mark Warner and Chris Coons, two Democrats, along with Todd Young and Marco Rubio, two Republicans. The legislation seeks to combat the Biden administration’s overreach in this area by providing a regulatory framework for such ISAs to exist without regulatory uncertainty and to take steps to eliminate predatory practices by lenders. By providing guardrails such as limits on how high ISA rates can be, the legislation in return exempts ISAs from usury laws and other state regulation, as well as from federal-agency regulation by the CFPB.

And David Bahnsen talks to Steven Teles of the Niskanen Center about political economy. You can listen here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Politics & Policy

Continuing the Conversation about ‘National Conservatism’

(rozbyshaka/Getty Images)

Earlier this summer, the Edmund Burke Foundation released a statement of principles outlining the tenets of “national conservatism.” Accompanying the statement was also a list of signatories expressing agreement with its principles. Amid a resurgence of the ever-present debates within conservatism, the statement has attracted considerable attention. It has also provided an occasion for what Heritage Foundation president Kevin Roberts and Intercollegiate Studies Institute president John A. Burtka IV called the “urgent and honest debate” that has always been an essential part of conservatism. In this spirit, then, it is worth looking at four recent appraisals of the statement.

Let’s begin with Henry Olsen, Washington Post columnist and senior fellow at EPPC. He is sympathetic with several national-conservative tenets, such as openness to greater government involvement in domestic life and skepticism of excessive devotion to free markets. He nonetheless believes that the statement lacks fealty to American principles:

The national conservative statement never mentions the idea of human or natural rights. Indeed, it implicitly rejects the core American notion when it claims that each nation “should chart its own course in accordance with its own particular constitutional, linguistic, and religious inheritance.”

The document makes specific statements about the signatories’ belief in limited government, self-government and recognition of minority beliefs. Its avoidance of any clear statement that the citizens of those nations have rights that a just government must recognize to be legitimate, however, sunders those beliefs from any firm grounding. They become mere preferences, which a national majority can ignore in the self-proclaimed national interest. Black Americans whose ancestors lived in the Jim Crow South understand the fault of that thinking.

If a nation’s “particular inheritance” is not democratic, for example, then a self-governing nation could legitimately form a nondemocratic government — much as Russian President Vladimir Putin openly draws inspiration from his nation’s despotic, czarist past. National conservative principles would apparently have nothing to say against these tyrannical pursuits . . .

The national conservative effort to effectively write the Declaration out of American nationhood is manifest. It cites the Constitution and lifts language from it, but never does the same for the Declaration. It contends that “all men are created in the image of God” but says nothing about being created equal. Indeed, though it frequently praises nations and liberty, it never states the basic truth of human equality, which is the starting point for America’s founding principles.

Olsen therefore finds the statement and the principles it outlines “wanting.”

David Tucker, a senior fellow at the Ashbrook Center, makes a similar critique in Law & Liberty. Tucker notes the appearance of several individuals affiliated with the Claremont Institute in its list of signatories, and wonders how compatible national conservatism is with the principles of Harry Jaffa, the political philosopher on whose thinking (and by whose students) the Institute was founded. Jaffa, Tucker notes, “fought traditionalist conservatism relentlessly, since in the United States it was associated with slavery, and above all because it rejected the principles of the Declaration of Independence.” Yet the statement seeks to ground itself primarily in tradition, and in the Constitution, not in the Declaration. By this metric, Tucker argues, national conservatism falls short — again, for neglecting the Declaration:

Some of the policies of national conservatism are compatible with those derived from the Declaration, but on fundamental principles, we must conclude, national conservatism and the Declaration are opposed. Furthermore, without the guidance of the Declaration’s principles, the preferences of national conservatism have no inherent tendency to oppose religious oppression or discrimination. The statement of principles does not hesitate to quote from the Constitution and cite it as an authority, but American slaveowners could do the same thing. What saved the Constitution, through Lincoln’s statesmanship, was its connection to the Declaration.

“There is nothing good that national conservatism aims to achieve,” Tucker concludes, “that cannot be achieved through the prudent application of the principles of the Declaration of Independence.”

Also writing for Law & Liberty, Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, similarly questions the national-conservative orientation toward religion. Tooley finds portions of the statement’s assertions on religion “manifestly true,” as when it notes the importance of belief in God and both the moral and the civilizational value of the Bible. He considers the section that deals with religious questions “brief but potent.” But he has questions about the nature of the statement’s desire to instantiate explicitly Christian principles in public life. Such as:

Does this section [of the statement] call for the state establishment of Christianity? It does not say so explicitly but arguably implies it. What does it mean for “public life” to be rooted in Christianity? What does it mean for the state to “honor” Christianity’s paramountcy? How should non-Christian private institutions “honor” Christianity? Is this expectation to honor Christianity mandated by law or upheld by social custom? If Jews and other non-Christians are “protected” to practice their faith in their own communities, is their religion then subordinated in public life by law or by custom? And if adults are protected from “religious or ideological coercion” in their private lives, are their public lives potentially subject to coercion, legal or social, in favor of Christianity?

He adds that:

Incorporating Christianity specifically into a political manifesto, especially in America, is vexing. For two centuries, religion in America has not rested on state power. Its vitality, and its failures, are its own doing. Any revival of Christianity in America, or anywhere, depends on persons and communities, apart from government, seeking God through faith, prayer, and a thirst for holiness, with acts of mercy and love.

Tooley concludes that “public life in America will become more ‘rooted in Christianity’ and transcendence only if American Christianity itself experiences a revival.”

American Institute of Economic Research distinguished fellow in political economy (and National Review contributor) Samuel Gregg also has thoughts about the statement. Gregg was a participant in the very economic forum that Roberts and Burtka described as an example of the kind of debate conservatives have long had. Writing for the National Interest, Gregg finds some of the statement’s principles, meant as criticisms of libertarians too skeptical of government at home and of neoconservatives too enthusiastic about American involvement abroad, somewhat familiar. He considers the statement’s rejecting “any transfer of sovereignty to international organizations” a “commendable” view, but also notes that “it doesn’t represent any departure from post-1950s American conservatism which has long expressed skepticism of institutions with pretensions to transnational sovereignty.” He also sees familiar conservative touchstones in the statement’s opposition to the administrative state and support for the rule of law and federalism, though considers it odd that federalism is “prescribed as a type of concession to experimentation and freedom at the level of states rather than characterized as one of America’s fundamental contributions to Western constitutional thought.”

The true novelty of the statement, in Gregg’s view, is in economics. Though the statement “affirms free enterprise and private property and rejects socialism,” its other provisions on this matter amount to what Gregg calls a kind of “state capitalism,” involving industrial policy, the state picking economic winners and losers, and the like. About this, Gregg has serious doubts:

Leaving aside all the well-documented problems with industrial policy — the opportunity costs, how it is invariably captured by rent-seekers, the notorious difficulty in establishing causality between particular economic outcomes and specific industrial policies, to name just a few — there is no recognition of industrial policy’s documented failures in country after country after country, not to mention the ways in which it inflicts real political damage upon nations that deploy it.

That makes it somewhat ironic that the National Conservative statement’s economic reflections end with a condemnation of crony capitalism. For if there is anything that we know about industrial policy, it is that it breeds the cronyism that infests places like Washington, DC, and its surrounding environs.

Gregg concludes that the statement “provides few answers” to important questions about what it actually wants, and about the possible contradictions in its aims. Such as, for example, “Who will implement the interventionist policies designed to serve the general welfare if not the administrative agencies that the national conservatives say they want to curtail?”

These are only a few parts of the important conversation occasioned by the release of this statement of principles. Conservatism, properly understood, will benefit from the continuation of this conversation.

Law & the Courts

Whose Nuclear What?

FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

There are, as I discussed yesterday, three major possibilities in the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago:

  1. They genuinely went in looking just to reclaim classified documents improperly retained by Donald Trump and were genuinely surprised that Trump reacted by making a big public issue of the search;
  2. They got tricked into doing so by an informant who was working for Trump or fed information by Trump’s people in order to create this controversy; or
  3. They were using classified records as a pretext to search for material on some other issue — most likely January 6–related information.

Judging by the reaction thus far by Merrick Garland and in the leaks pouring out of the Justice Department and the FBI, it seems most unlikely that a pretextual search — if one was intended — was successful. Instead, the DOJ and the FBI are in damage-control mode, trying to convince the public that a search limited to classified records was necessary and legitimate. The vaguely menacing explanation that emerged was published through leaks to Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey, Perry Stein, and Shane Harris of the Washington Post:

Classified documents relating to nuclear weapons were among the items FBI agents sought in a search of former president Donald Trump’s Florida residence on Monday, according to people familiar with the investigation. Experts in classified information said the unusual search underscores deep concern among government officials about the types of information they thought could be located at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club and potentially in danger of falling into the wrong hands.

Trump, predictably, calls this a “hoax,” which tells us nothing: That’s what Trump would say if it were true, and it’s what he’d say if it was a gigantic lie. But . . . what exactly does “relating to nuclear weapons” mean? Much of the immediate reaction has assumed that this means something on the order of “Trump has the schematics to build a nuke” or “Trump is giving away our nuclear firing codes” or something. Historian Michael Beschloss compared Trump to the Rosenbergs, who were executed for handing over U.S. nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union when it was trying to catch up to us in nuclear capabilities early in the Cold War:

The Post offers no information and couches the possibilities in terms that suggest that its writers have no idea what kind of information they’re talking about:

Material about nuclear weapons is especially sensitive and usually restricted to a small number of government officials, experts said. Publicizing details about U.S. weapons could provide an intelligence road map to adversaries seeking to build ways of countering those systems. And other countries might view exposing their nuclear secrets as a threat, experts said.

Whose nuclear secrets matters quite a bit, and so does what sort of information we’re talking about. In both cases, the reader is asked for blind trust. You never know with Trump, but the most irrational possibility is Trump having retained information on American nuclear capabilities. Whereas the thing that is most likely to cause political alarm in the Biden administration is Trump retaining information bearing on the nuclear ambitions of Iran or North Korea. Given the extensive track record of, yes, anti-Trump hoaxes that were originally run up the flagpole through anonymous leaks to the press — remember Alfa Bank, or the Afghan bounties story? — it would be prudent to wait and see on this one.

Law & the Courts

The Downside for Garland in Speaking

A.G. Merrick Garland speaks about the FBI’s search warrant served at former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Washington, D.C., August 11, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

I did a post late last night (or was it earlier this morning) regarding Attorney General Merrick Garland’s short press statement on Thursday.

With more time to think about it and additional information coming in from various places, I still think there is some advantage for the Justice Department in having the AG break protocol and make remarks. Coverage on the Trump-friendly side is amusing this morning if you understand where we’re at. It is running with “Trump demands release of the warrant.” I don’t understand why you would demand that someone else release something that it’s been completely within your power to release.

Trump has had the warrant and the inventory of items seized since the FBI executed the search on Monday. He doesn’t need court permission to publicize it. He could have done that at any time. He could do it this very moment and at least be able to say that he did it before the court did it. He only started to “demand release of the warrant” when Garland said that the DOJ would ask the court for permission to unseal it — which Garland only did because Trump was talking about the search but withholding the warrant . . . while some people close to Trump were suggesting to media allies that he hadn’t seen it, and that the FBI might have flouted their legal obligation to provide Trump’s representatives with a copy of it.

All that said, however, there is a downside for Garland in speaking.

What people most wanted to hear from the AG yesterday was why it was supposedly necessary to proceed with a highly intrusive, historically unprecedented search of a former president’s home at this point. Was Trump uncooperative? Did the DOJ ask him for something he refused to provide? Did the DOJ issue a subpoena that he refused to comply with? Did something happen between the last time the DOJ officials met with Trump and his team in June that created an emergency requiring an unprecedented search warrant in August?

And is Garland sure that the materials in Trump’s possession are classified?

Last night, the Washington Post claimed that Trump had retained top-secret nuclear-weapons intelligence. The report relies on anonymous sources whom the paper does not even claim are agents involved in the investigation. Trump has denied it (“Nuclear weapons is a hoax, just like Russia, Russia, Russia was a hoax”). Let’s assume for argument’s sake, though, that what the government is leaking is true. Sure, it would be humiliating for the former president if his defense is that he declassified precious national-defense secrets just so he could keep them at his house as a cool souvenir. But humiliation is very different from criminal misconduct.

For the Justice Department to obtain a search warrant, it needs a crime. The obvious crime here would be mishandling highly classified information. Yet, if Trump declassified documents while he was still president, then they no longer constitute classified information that he could criminally mishandle. It would be totally understandable that the Justice Department and intelligence agencies would want the physical information back, but getting it back by search warrant requires probable cause of a crime, not a demonstration of governmental prudence.

This is important. There is a good deal of reporting about Trump’s having likely violated the Presidential Records Act. But the PRA is not a criminal statute. Violating it may be illegal, but it’s not criminal.

That doesn’t make the PRA irrelevant. I believe the Justice Department would take the position that, once the agents had a valid warrant to search for classified information, the PRA would justify their seizure of any government records (on the principle that agents are not required to turn a blind eye to illegality just because it is not covered by the search warrant). Indeed, to repeat myself, I don’t believe this escapade is about classified information — at least not primarily; I believe the FBI and the DOJ are fishing for evidence that could help them make a January 6 case against the former president. But regardless of whether I am right about that, the fact remains that they need probable cause of a crime to get a warrant, and under the circumstances, we must presume that the relevant crime is the mishandling of classified information.

Of course, here, the suspect just happens to have been the one official in all of government who could declassify whatever information he chose to declassify. Even if the information at issue is highly sensitive, top-secret, “special-access program” intelligence, it would not be classified if he declassified it.

So here is what people are interested in: Did Trump do something hostile or uncooperative which left Garland no reasonable alternative but to seek a warrant — something worth blowing up a 230-year norm of not using hardball investigative tactics against a former president of the United States? And is Garland sure there was probable cause of a crime here that justify the issuance of a search warrant?

If Garland had made no statement, we would assume affirmative answers to these questions. We would assume that he just wasn’t explicitly providing such answers because (a) the DOJ does not speak publicly about investigations, and (b) he got a magistrate-judge to sign the warrant, so he can bank on the court’s finding of probable cause.

But he did speak. If you’re going to speak, you’ve got to address the questions that actually matter to people. He didn’t.

In the meantime, Trump is speaking. He says he cooperated with the FBI and the DOJ and is stunned that, after two months of silence, they suddenly went to DEFCON 5 with a warrant to rifle through his home. When Garland speaks but does not refute, or even attempt to refute, what the former president has said publicly, it is reasonable for people to deduce that he is not in a position to rebut Trump’s claims.

One final, related point. The more one thinks about it, the more incredible it seems that the White House knew nothing about this. The Justice Department — in particular, those leaking on its behalf — speaks as if the issue here were the peril the nation would be in if the intelligence in Trump’s possession fell into the wrong hands. That’s not a law-enforcement problem; it’s a national-security problem. Even if Biden were right that he must never “interfere” in the Justice Department’s work (and he’s constitutionally illiterate on this point because the Justice Department exercises his power as his delegate), we are not talking here about political interference in the administration of justice. We are talking about the defense of the United States from hostile forces. That is one of the president’s main duties — probably his most consequential and solemn duty.

So how does Garland not tell Biden? How does Biden not call Trump, behind the scenes and without political noise, and beseech him to cooperate in returning and safeguarding this intelligence, regardless of whether Trump had already declassified it? How does Biden not call, say, Senator Lindsey Graham and former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and say, “Look, he listens to and trusts you guys. Go down there and talk to him. Get him to help us get this stuff back where it belongs. Let’s not turn this into a debacle.”

I can think of a million things they might have done short of a search warrant. But I can’t think of a single scenario in which, if the facts are as government sources claim they are, Biden would not have been in the loop.

Politics & Policy

Even If You Think Trump Was Wronged, It Doesn’t Mean He Should Be President Again

(Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Back during the shock-jock radio era, Howard Stern was highly effective at channeling listener resentment toward his own benefit. The way to send a message to the FCC, the rest of the media, and all the other people you hated, was to listen to his show, buy his books, and see his movie. Donald Trump successfully employed the same strategy to boost his political career, as there was no better way to stick it to the elites than to make him president.

The FBI’s action in Mar-a-Lago has once again created a rally-around-Trump effect. As I wrote yesterday, the news reestablished Trump as the alpha dog among Republicans by putting him at the center of the controversy that has been animating the base. Republican voters who take the cynical view toward the FBI’s search of his residence may be tempted to believe that the ultimate way to give the middle finger to the deep state is to get behind Trump.

But even if one believes that he is wrongly being targeted as part of a politically motivated witch hunt, it does not necessarily follow that he would be the best nominee for Republicans in 2024.

The question of his suitability for a second term relative to the other options open to Republican primary voters should be treated as a distinct one from whatever you believe about the FBI raid.