Politics & Policy

The Axes of Politics

In response to A Reevaluation of the U.S. Party System’s Stability

Reihan mentions two possible futures for American politics:

In the first, the chief dividing line in our politics will be cultural, in which case the 26.3 percent of Democrats who, on cultural issues, lean toward the Republican party will switch affiliation, as will the 18.5 percent of Republicans who are more comfortable with the cultural stance of the Democratic party. Both parties would, in this scenario, be more internally divided on economic policy. In the second future, the 24.3 percent of Republicans who are in favor of a larger government, the raison d’être for the Democratic party, will defect to the Democrats while the 11 percent of Democrats who are in favor of a smaller government will move in the opposite direction.

Reihan doesn’t draw out two implications that I think he would agree follow. First, these numbers suggest — though they do not prove! — that conservatives would dominate a politics that turns on cultural issues while liberals would fare better in an economics-focused politics. Second, the scenario of Republican dominance would happen only if all socially conservative nonwhite voters start voting with Republicans.

Health Care

GOP Refusal to Fund Insurer ‘Bailouts’ Backfires

(Bryan Sikora/Dreamstime)

Under Obamacare, insurers are supposed to reduce “cost-sharing” — deductibles, etc. — for lower-income enrollees, and the federal government is supposed to reimburse them. Republican Congresses have refused to fund these payments, though, and Trump ended them last year.

This was entirely correct as a legal matter. But it was unwise as a policy matter, and not just because these are expenses the law requires insurance companies to incur. As I pointed out here not once but twice — drawing on the analysis of the Congressional Budget Office — the move promised to increase both federal spending and the number of people insured through Obamacare.

That would happen because of the way the law is set up. Insurers would respond to the loss of their payments by hiking premiums, and when premiums went up, subsidies to enrollees would automatically increase as well. In fact, owing to some complications of the law, many people would see higher subsidies even if their own premiums weren’t affected.

If anything, the transition to the new system went surprisingly well. Some moderate Republicans are proposing to restore the payments, and some insurers are opposed. Philip Klein writes, summarizing a report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

Though the report notes that insurers did find Trump’s move extremely disruptive at the time, particularly as it was announced weeks before the start of open enrollment, they also talked about how they were able to work with state commissioners to respond to the problem.

What happened was that state regulators allowed insurers to concentrate their premium hikes among mid-level “silver” plans, which are used to calculate Obamacare’s core subsides for individuals to purchase insurance. That enabled qualifying individuals to receive much higher federal subsidies, creating situations in which they were effectively able to purchase “gold” plans for the price of silver plans, or to obtain “bronze” plans at no cost to them.

According to the report, some insurers now say “many consumers are now ‘getting a good deal,’ thanks to higher premium tax credits, and that restoring CSRs would cause considerable confusion during the 2019 open enrollment season and lead to sticker shock for consumers who had switched to gold- or bronze-level plans this year.”

I think the GOP deserves a slow clap for this one.

Politics & Policy

A Friend Writes

My wife and favorite psychologist Jeanne Safer makes this request:

The readers of NRO have been extremely generous in speaking to me about political fights with people they love for my forthcoming book, I Love You, But I HATE Your Politics (to be published in Spring 2019) and I am grateful for all the insights they have given me. I’m asking for your assistance once again: the one category of intimate combatants I don’t yet have are a mother (or step-mother) and a daughter from opposite sides of the aisle whose relationship is stressed by their disagreement. If this is your situation and you’d like to be interviewed about it, email me at Jeanne@JeanneSaferPhD.com.

Law & the Courts

The Supreme Court Made Up This Doctrine and Should Un-Make It

Sometimes the Supreme Court just makes the law up, and one such instance is its doctrine of “qualified immunity,” which shields police and other public officials from liability when they are sued under federal statute (so-called Section 1983 cases). The law Congress wrote says nothing at all about giving the defendant officials any particular defense, but the Court has crafted this strange, rootless, shifting doctrine. Consequently, it’s very rare for officials to be held responsible, even in the most egregious cases.

I write about qualified immunity and one of those egregious cases that’s on appeal to the Court in my new Forbes article.

Economy & Business

Two Conservative Causes, in Conflict


Conservatives have argued for decades that the capital-gains tax should be indexed to inflation. When George H. W. Bush was president, some conservatives argued that he could interpret the tax laws in a way that let him adopt this policy without a vote of Congress. Now that Larry Kudlow is director of the National Economic Council, this effort could be revived.

At Bloomberg View today, I take up two questions: Should capital-gains taxes be indexed to inflation? And should the executive branch implement this policy on its own? My answers are yes and no, respectively.

Here I want to elaborate on one point. I suggest in the Bloomberg article that having the president go it alone on capital gains would conflict with conservatives’ growing distrust of executive-branch legislating. But the problem is a little more specific than that.

Conservatives have been moving away from the idea, known as “Chevron deference,” that the courts should in most circumstances accept the executive branch’s reading of the law. In his last years, Justice Antonin Scalia seemed to turn against the idea, and the newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, is a critic. Senator Mike Lee’s Separation of Powers Act attempts to do away with Chevron deference altogether.

The view that the president can index the capital-gains tax to inflation is, however, heavily based on Chevron deference. See, for example, this law-review article, which is the most detailed recent case for that view. The argument runs as follows: The relevant statute contains ambiguous language about the “cost” of the initial purchase of an asset; that language could be read to mean the inflation-adjusted cost; the courts would be obliged to respect an executive-branch determination to read it that way. Eliminate that deference, and instead the question for the courts would be: Is inflation-adjusted cost the best possible reading of “cost”? It’s a much higher hurdle for the executive to overcome.

Politics & Policy

Spring Reading

It doesn’t feel like it in the Northeast today, but spring is here, and so the new spring issue of National Affairs is too.

Among the offerings this time are C. Jarrett Dieterle and Shoshana Weissmann on how federal policymakers could help the states roll back occupational-licensing requirements, Rick Hess and Grant Addison on how to protect free inquiry on campus, Tevi Troy on how presidents respond to mass shootings, Jim Capretta on what serious Medicare reform would look like now, Ryan Anderson on what nondiscrimination ought to mean, Luma Simms on identity and assimilation, Wilfred McClay on the nature of American patriotism, Elizabeth Corey on what universities are for, Eli Lehrer and Daniel Semelsberger on how norms erode, George Weigel on the liberalism debates, and much more — from conservative philanthropy to how we study American political thought.

Some are free to all on our site, others require a subscription — and here is where you can subscribe — and all offer a nice reading break on even an oddly snowy spring day.


How a Pro-Life Democrat Drew an Illinois Nazi as His Opponent

Congressman Daniel Lipinski arrives at the Chicago Ridge Metra commuter train station before campaigning for re-election in Chicago Ridge, Illinois, January 25, 2018. (Kamil Krzacznski/Reuters)

Two of last night’s big stories in Illinois’s primary elections were the survival of pro-life Democrat Dan Lipinski against a vigorous primary challenge from the left in Illinois’s third congressional district, and a Holocaust-denying Nazi gadfly taking the Republican nomination to face Lipinski. But contrary to how they were portrayed in the media, these were not two stories; they were one story.

Illinois’s third district runs from the southwest side of Chicago to the suburbs on the western and southwestern sides of the city, extending into DuPage and Will counties. Lipinski more or less inherited the district from his father, Bill Lipinski, first elected to Congress in 1983. It’s safe Democratic turf, safer than its D+6 rating by Charlie Cook would suggest; there hasn’t been a Republican congressman in this neighborhood since 1975. According to David Nir at DailyKos Elections, the district went 58.3 to 40.4 for Barack Obama in 2008, 55.9 to 42.6 for Obama in 2012, and 55.2-39.9 for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Hillary carried 74.3 percent of the vote in Cook County, 53 percent in DuPage County and 49.95% in Will County; in the entire rest of the state, she carried only 8 out of 99 counties, 5 by a majority and none others with 60 percent of the vote. Mark Kirk also lost all three counties in 2016. Lipinski ran unopposed in 2016, and in a Republican wave years of 2014 and 2010 he won with 64.6 percent and 69.7 percent of the vote; his 29-point margin of victory in 2014 was the worst of his career. With Republicans scrambling to hold previously safe Republican turf in 2018, spending money and grassroots effort to take out Lipinski could hardly be a lower priority.

But the safety of his district is also why progressives wanted Lipinksi replaced. Among the dwindling number of Democrats who describe themselves as being pro-life, Lipinski is — as Alexandra DeSanctis has noted — one of the few with a voting record of actually putting some deeds behind his words, and the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List poured six-figure money and scores of volunteers into the district in the hopes of preserving even a small foothold for the pro-life movement in the Democratic party, bragging that its canvassers had reached 23,000 people. Pro-choice activists did the same, with presidential hopefuls like Kirsten Gillibrand (herself a former “Blue Dog” now reinventing, or revealing, herself as a Berniecrat) denouncing Lipinski:

Enter Arthur Jones. A 70-year-old self-described “white racialist” and former leader of the American Nazi Party, he first ran for mayor of Milwaukee on the National Socialist White People’s Party ticket in 1976, and has made five prior efforts to run for Congress. As The Atlantic‘s Elaine Godfrey notes,

When he ran in 1998, the Cook County Republican Central Committee denounced his candidacy, saying it would be a “national embarrassment” if he was nominated. That year, the GOP nominated Robert Marshall for the seat—who once called drunk driving a “grossly overblown” problem and began a League of Men Voters to advocate for fathers in custody battles. (Marshall lost.) Most recently, Jones filed to run in the 2016 Republican primary, but the Illinois State Election Board threw out his petition in response to a GOP challenge, citing invalid signatures.

But in 2016, Republicans couldn’t recruit an opponent for Lipinski; kicking Jones off the ballot left him unopposed. Similar dynamics were at work this year, while Jones flew under the radar, going door-to-door to collect the required signatures. He touted his foreign-policy goal — “ending America’s wars in the Middle East, which he says primarily serve the interests of Israel” — which makes him sound more like a Democrat.

Illinois Republicans have denounced Jones loudly in the most vigorous terms to anyone who would listen, but without an opponent, all they could do was tell people to boycott the unopposed primary:

The Illinois Republican Party has sought to distance itself from Mr. Jones in recent weeks, blanketing the district with campaign fliers and robocalls urging voters to “stop Illinois Nazis,” according to a robocall script provided by the party. Mr. Jones said he had received three robocalls himself.

“Arthur Jones is not a real Republican — he is a Nazi whose disgusting, bigoted views have no place in our nation’s discourse,” Tim Schneider, the Illinois Republican Party chairman, said in a statement. He said the party had urged voters “to skip over his name when they go to the polls” and moving forward planned on “vehemently opposing Jones with real campaign dollars.”

This is where Lipinksi’s primary comes into the picture. Because Illinois has an open primary system, so Republican voters could cross over into the contested race rather than pull the lever for the Nazi. And a pro-life Democrat with national pro-life groups campaigning for him and prominent national Democrats denouncing him is a candidate that more Republicans could in good conscience support. As The Intercept‘s Ryan Grim reported:

Sophia Olazaba, a field manager for the Newman campaign, said she doesn’t doubt that some Republican voters crossed over. “Even when we were canvassing, a lot of homes have had both Jeanne Ives and Dan Lipinski signs, so those people could have crossed over,” she said, referring to the GOP gubernatorial candidate whose entire campaign was premised on her opposition to legal abortion.

Another volunteer, Sabrina Ithal, also from the 3rd district, mentioned that the open primary format could have actually worked in their favor: “I converted quite a few Republicans who voted Democrat for the first time in 30-40 years today.”

If you wanted to advance Republican policy priorities in IL-03, you were better off backing Lipinski, an occasional ally on a few topics, than engaging in the pointless Republican primary.

In the end, over 90,000 votes were cast in the primary, more than 47,000 of them for Lipinski. Turnout on the unopposed GOP side was not even reported by many sources, although people did come out to vote because there was a contested GOP primary for Illinois Governor; Decision Desk’s Brandon Finnigan reports that Jones got just 16,181 votes, likely many of them people just pulling the party lever without knowing more than the (R). This is a far cry from the 64,000 votes for Lipinski’s opponent in 2014, and even recognizing the difference between county and district lines, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 48,000 votes cast in the Rauner-Ives race in DuPage County, 38,000 in Will County, and 130,000 in Cook County (Ives carried DuPage and Will, Rauner carried Cook).

By contrast, Democratic Congressman Danny Davis, under fire for his embrace of notorious anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, got 77,858 votes, winning his primary in Illinois’s seventh district by a 50,000 vote margin. That won’t stop Democrats, who spent much of the last decade downplaying the importance of ties to extremists in Chicago politics, from dining out on the GOP’s failure to keep Jones off the ballot.  But the reality is that Jones is a blip in a district that Republicans won’t contest, and Republican voters mostly ignored him or crossed over to back Lipinski.

And maybe if Democrats want to marginalize and draw support away from extremists in the Republican fold, they could learn a thing or two from Dan Lipinski.


If Amy Wax Is Wrong, Let’s See the Data

Professor Amy Wax (image via AEI/YouTube)

Regarding the kerfuffle Jason Richwine addressed here earlier, the economist Glenn Loury has posted an impassioned plea to his Facebook page. Loury, you may recall, hosts the video blog where Wax made her controversial claim that black students at Penn Law School rarely graduate in the top half of the class.

Loury writes:

Note well: there is an Orwellian aspect to this whole brouhaha — namely, that Wax’s generalizations are said not only to be offensive, but to be dead wrong, slanderous and ignorant. Yet, by Dean Ruger’s own backhanded admission (“this response is restrained out of respect for student privacy . . .”, or words to that effect) the data (e.g., administrative records of the classroom performances at Penn Law broken down by race) are said either to be impossible to obtain, or to be unavailable for public review due to privacy concerns. “Trust us: she’s dead wrong. Unfortunately, we can’t show you just how wrong . . .”

This is completely unconvincing! For, Penn Law surely knows the race of its applicants at the time of admission — otherwise they would not be able to maintain the numbers of black students at current levels since — given what we do, in fact, know about the racial disparities in LSAT scores and college GPA’s among applicants to elite law schools — a race-blind admissions policy could never produce such numbers. So, Penn Law knows its students’ racial identities at the point of admission, but somehow quickly “forgets” this information when taking note of their grades?

. . .

Finally, for my money, here’s the most tragic part of it, and mark my words: those, like the Penn chapter of the National Lawyers Guild — who have demanded Wax’s removal on the grounds that what she said was a racist slander — are going to lose this argument over the longer run. They’re playing an incredibly weak hand, it seems to me. No one who is concerned about the well-being of black students, in the legal academy or elsewhere, should welcome public scrutiny of the relative academic performance of those black students who are benefiting from the practice of affirmative action at elite universities! And yet, this is what the pillorying of Amy Wax will surely lead to. I promise you, as someone who knows a thing or two about what’s going on at the most selective academic institutions in this country, no good can come of that.

Unlike Loury, I have no knowledge of the internal workings of academia, but this comports with what I do know from what little research is available: Elite schools practice affirmative action aggressively, admitting blacks with lower academic qualifications than their white peers, and as a result black students underperform whites in terms of class rank. This doesn’t end the affirmative-action debate — the school you graduate from usually matters a lot more than your class rank or GPA, after all — but it does no one any good to pretend it’s not happening.

This paper has detailed data on students admitted to University of Michigan Law in 2002; it finds that blacks and whites hardly overlapped in their academic qualifications (measured by their undergrad GPAs and LSAT scores). The authors write that “the median black admit had an academic index at the second percentile of the white distribution, and the seventy-fifth percentile of the black admit distribution was at the eighth percentile of the white distribution.” They add:

The University of Michigan is by no means an outlier either. The data show that the extent of preferential admissions for black students is even more pronounced at other elite public law schools, such as the University of Virginia and the University of Wisconsin. In both of these cases, the median black admit had an academic index that would place him below the first percentile of the white admit at the same school.

As for what happens once students come to campus, in a much-discussed paper Richard Sander of UCLA Law reported that “the black average [class rank] at the most elite law schools was at the twenty-first percentile,” though his data are old as well. Among elite schools, fewer than 10 percent of black students ranked in the top half in terms of first-year grades; at all schools, fewer than 15 percent of blacks made the top half of third-year cumulative grades. (And “the grades of black law students actually go down a little from the first to the third year.”)

If Penn Law is different, or if things have changed in recent years, let’s see some numbers.

Law & the Courts

Justice Kennedy Rightly Rebukes Justice Sotomayor for Surfing the Web

Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is flanked by Chief Justice John G. Roberts (L) and Associate Justice Stephen Breyer (R). (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Yesterday’s oral argument in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra featured an interesting and important moment unrelated to the core First Amendment issues in the case. Early in the oral argument, Justice Sotomayor went outside the evidence submitted to the court to ask NIFLA’s attorney, Mike Farris, questions about a website of a pro-life pregnancy center. Apparently, she’d been cruising the web on her own.

Moments later, Justice Kennedy responded, telling Justice Sotomayor, “Well, in this case I didn’t go beyond the record to look on the Internet because I don’t think we should do that, but I do have a hypothetical.”

Kennedy’s gentle rebuke hardly counts as a “conflict” in our polarized age, but it was important nonetheless. Court cases are fought over evidence and arguments submitted well in advance of court hearings. The reasons for this are obvious — by granting both sides the ability to examine the evidence and test the arguments, it minimizes the chance that cases are decided on the basis of unverified claims or misleading information. Simply put, judges should not act as free-lance investigators in the cases before them. In fact, this is judging 101.

Justice Sotomayor has adopted a level of aggression and a tone that’s sometimes different from her colleagues. It’s not unusual for justices to demonstrate open hostility to arguments they dislike, but Sotomayor’s level of contempt often goes beyond the norm. Advocates can deal with hostility, but it’s another thing entirely to deal with aggressive questioning about “facts” they don’t know.

Justice Kennedy was right to rebuke Justice Sotomayor. Let’s hope that in the future she remembers that cases are decided on the record, not on the basis of a Google search.

Politics & Policy

Nazis, Rap Songs, and McDougals

Edwin Edwards, the non-Nazi who triumphed (repeatedly) in Louisiana (Str Old/Reuters)

In 1991, Edwin Edwards, a Democrat, and David Duke, a Republican, ran for governor of Louisiana. There was a memorable bumper sticker: “Vote for the Crook, Not the Nazi.” The crook, in fact, won — beating the Nazi (and Klansman) by about 61 percent to 39 percent.

I thought of this when contemplating Illinois’s Third District. The Democrat is Dan Lipinski, a rare, rare pro-life member of his party, and the Republican is a Nazi named Arthur Jones. “Vote for the Pro-Life Democrat, Not the Nazi”? It doesn’t have the same ring, but it’ll do.

In other news, I have a piece today about Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Its title borrows from a rap song of 1991 — the year of the fabled Edwards-Duke throwdown. That song is “Things That Make You Go Hmmm . . .” Whatever you may think of Trump, doesn’t his posture toward Putin make you go hmmm, just a little bit?

It’s not entirely true that “Things That Make You Go Hmmm . . .” is the only rap song I know — because the next year, 1992, “Baby Got Back” came out. That is a summit of art, of course.

A final item, for now: Stormy Daniels, the porn star, is in court about her relationship with Donald Trump, and so is Karen McDougal, the Playboy bunny. Do you recognize the last name? Well, Jim and Susan McDougal were stars of the Clinton scandals — of Whitewater, in particular. They both went to jail. Jim died there; Susan was given a full pardon by President Clinton in the last hours of his presidency.

It’s good to see that the Party of Family Values has a McDougal of its own. McDougals all ’round.

White House

Disclose This

Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels ((Reuters/Eduardo Munoz))

During the campaign, when numerous women accused Donald Trump of being a sexual aggressor, his most ardent fans — and even his more transactional ones — were eager to give the GOP nominee the benefit of the doubt. Trump not only denied all the accusations, he claimed he was suing the women. He never sued.

Whatever you made of that whole sordid chapter, it was at least understandable at every level. If you believed Trump was telling the truth, it all made sense. If you believed the women, their stories made sense, too. But not only that, their lies made sense. For Trump partisans, it was easy to imagine why these accusers would lie to bring down Trump. For anti-Trump partisans, it was easy to see why he would lie about being innocent.

The storm over Stormy Daniels is different. The official Trump position, I gather, is that the story is untrue (though Trump himself has remained silent on the matter). Whether you believe him or not, that makes sense. But beyond that, it turns into a kind of logical Möbius strip. According to Michael Cohen, Trump’s self-described “fixer” lawyer, he paid out of his own pocket to get Daniels to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) about something he claims never happened. “Just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean that it can’t cause you harm or damage,” Cohen said.

But wait a second. If what Daniels alleges is not true, then she is guilty of a crime, right? I’m no legal beagle, but if no tryst occurred, then Daniels is fabricating a story and extorting money from Trump so she’ll quit spreading her lies. Right?

Even if it’s not a crime, when those other women came forward to accuse Trump of bad behavior, the response from Team Trump was to sue — or at least threaten to sue. But in this case, they paid her 130 grand and had her sign a non-disclosure statement.

Let’s stop there for a second. An NDA agreement is kinda-sorta by definition a tool for preventing people from telling the truth. A “non-slander agreement” would be a very different thing, right? It would be like formalized, contractual blackmail. No one is going to pay me $130,000 to not disclose that Donald Trump and I went on a gay cruise together, where we drank mimosas by day and sang Cabaret long into the night, because it didn’t happen. And if I threatened to “tell my story,” Trump really could sue me for lying.

But Cohen is threatening to sue Daniels not for lying about Trump but for violating her agreement not to disclose the truth.

Meanwhile, except for the stray botty Twitter account, no one really seems to be defending Trump on the grounds that Daniels is lying, never mind that Trump would never do such a thing. But my point here isn’t to get into all the related arguments about adultery, or (the monumental) right-wing hypocrisy about adultery, or even whether or not we should care that Trump cheated on his third wife with a porn star. Nor is it to weigh-in on whether Cohen’s payment was a campaign contribution. It’s simply to point out how weird it is that so many people are pretending that seeking to enforce a non-disclosure agreement (which Trump didn’t sign) is a denial when, as a matter of basic logic, it’s an admission. I can understand the confusion; these are confusing times.

But the only person who seems to have really figured out how to navigate through it all with her head held high starred in such classic films as The Witches of Breastwick, Porking with Pride 2, and Trailer Trash Nurses 6.

Politics & Policy

San Francisco Bans Fur Sales

(Yorgos Karahalis/Reuters)

San Francisco has banned the sale of fur. From the CBS-SF story:

San Francisco has become the first major U.S. city to ban the sale of fur clothing and products.

Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a measure that prohibits the sale of fur clothes, accessories, even souvenirs in stores and online.

Fur items purchased online cannot even be delivered to a San Francisco address.

Let’s see. Leaders in The City, as it is known, don’t care enough to do anything meaningful about the human waste that increasingly befouls the streets — there is even a feces map published to warn about the dirty spots. The City allows needles to be given to addicts — not exchanged, given — which are then discarded on the streets like gum wrappers. Vermin-infested tent cities of the homeless coexist with some of the most expensive real estate on the planet, for goodness sake! And don’t get me started on its sanctuary-city policies.

Great priorities, my old, crazy home of SF!

And what happened to consistency? Why not ban leather too? It is animal hide, after all. And steak, no more of that at your too-expensive restaurants. And medicines that came into being because of animal testing. Those too should go, including the HIV drugs that saved so many San Franciscans from horrible deaths.

If people don’t like fur — which I totally get — the marketplace will handle it. But the fur business is a legal enterprise — unlike injected drugs. That matters. It should be unconstitutional for SF to put such a legal restraint on interstate commerce.

But getting there would require some courageous business, group, or adversely impacted persons to file a lawsuit. That’s a risky and expensive go: San Francisco radicalism is staunchly protected by the Ninth Circuit. And the leftists in SF will happily harass dissenters to drive them out of town.

Besides, the usual course for businesses in SF is to hide under the desk and hope something worse doesn’t come along. But it will, my pretties. It will.

Politics & Policy

Donald Trump’s Pre-Presidential Media Dominance

(Leah Millis/Reuters)

This morning, Ross Douthat contends that the recriminations and criticism of Facebook and other social-media networks is letting television news off the hook for the way it assisted Donald Trump’s rise.

Where did so many people originally get the idea that Trump was the right guy to fix our manifestly broken government? Not from Russian bots or targeted social media ad buys, but from a prime-time show that sold itself as real, and sold him as a business genius. Forget unhappy blue collar heartlanders; forget white nationalists and birthers: The core Trump demographic might just have been Republicans who watched “The Apprentice,” who bought the fake news that his television program and its network sponsors gladly sold them.

Beyond The Apprentice, it’s worth remembering that for most of the Bush and Obama presidencies, Donald Trump was a regular featured guest on news programs and not touted as a partisan Republican, hate-monger, or ranting fool. NBC’s Today show regularly had him on to promote The Apprentice and let him vent about whatever else was on his mind. CNN’s Larry King would regularly have him on and ask about the news of the day, like what the U.S. government should be doing about Somali pirates — as if Trump was some sort of naval-warfare expert. On Fox News, Greta Van Susteren asked him how he would negotiate a deal to avoid a government shutdown. He was a frequent guest of Regis Philbin. Barbara Walters declared him one of her “most fascinating” people of 2011, alongside Kim Kardashian.

Even publications like the Guardian did quasi-admiring can-you-believe-this-character profiles. Rolling Stone was happy to interview him. The smallest bits of news from Trump-world generated positive coverage in the biggest publications: In 2010, the New York Times’ advertising section did a profile of Melania unveiling, “a line of jewelry and watches bearing her name and available exclusively through QVC, the home shopping network, and its Web site.”

Not even the Birther theories made Donald Trump persona non grata on these programs; it just made him more interesting and unpredictable and good for ratings.

By autumn 2016, the argument from Democrats and their allies in the media was that Donald Trump represented a menace to democracy and American values — a not-so-subtle xenophobe and racist, a demagogue, full of authoritarian instincts and petty vendettas, ignorant and erratic. But television had never before invited white supremacists to host Saturday Night Live, welcomed raging demagogues to laugh with Jimmy Fallon on the couch of The Tonight Show, or invited authoritarians to 30 Rock to do softball interviews on morning shows. Donald Trump, megalomaniacal threat to democracy? He gave directions to Kevin in Home Alone 2! . He did cameos in The Little Rascals and Bobby Brown music videos! Trump had enjoyed the pop-culture and big-media seal of approval for decades!

Television’s coverage of Donald Trump from the 1980s to early 2015 portrayed Trump as a phenomenal business success, endlessly knowledgeable and fascinating, insightful, shrewd, entertaining, and funny — a larger-than-life character. Why are so many baffled that Trump managed to turn that image into a path to the presidency?


The Baleful Effect of #MeToo on Campus

Old Campus at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, November 28, 2012. (Michelle McLoughlin/Reuters)

Remember the series of hurricanes that pounded the Caribbean last summer? Something like that has been occurring on college campuses, as they’re hit by one destructive mania after another: diversity, Title IX, anti-speech protests. Now it’s the #MeToo Movement. In this Martin Center article, British academic Joanna Williams writes about its impact, both in the U.S. and the U.K.

She writes,

Many argue that #MeToo has provided a much-needed check on Hollywood’s sexist exploitation of women and has shone a useful light on the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. The burgeoning movement has grown to encompass a wide range of behaviors from rape and sexual assault to unwanted hugs and clumsy seductions. Campaigners say offenses against women are on a continuum: the unwanted hug legitimizes men’s entitlement to women’s bodies and therefore rape. But this argument serves to trivialize the most serious crimes as equivalent moral outrage is dispensed for both misconstrued affection and serious criminal offenses.

One of the problems Williams sees is the creation of anonymous naming and shaming lists which are an open invitation to abuse, but that doesn’t matter to the activists who are only concerned with the supposed “greater good.”

Naturally, schools, especially those run by “woke” administrators are falling into line with more regulations meant to prevent any unwanted contact or attention ever. For example, Williams writes,

At Antioch [College], the discussion of consent is now moving beyond sex and friends are encouraged to ask permission before giving hugs. The freedom to negotiate relationships for yourself, to be spontaneous and relaxed, is, it seems, something Antioch’s students are happy to sacrifice in favor of policing one another’s behavior.

Exactly — these authoritarians are mainly interested in policing one another’s behavior — as well as their thinking.

Williams concludes,

Individual men risk losing their reputation and livelihood, but women as a whole risk losing hard-won freedoms. The days of chaperones, curfews, and single-sex dorms are not that far behind us. Whereas a previous generation of feminists fought against these restrictions, today’s campus activists call for increased regimentation and dubious protections. This is a hollow victory for women.

Quite right.

Health Care

Declaration to Support ‘Medical Conscience’

We live in morally polyglot times, and it is tearing us apart. These moral divisions are particularly acute in health care. Many want to harness the skills of doctors, nurses,  pharmacists, and others not just to heal and prevent actual diseases, but to end human life, better effectuate life goals, and modify bodies to accord with mental states.

As a consequence, powerful societal voices insist that doctors (and other medical professionals) are professionally obligated to perform virtually every legal health-care procedure or other service in their fields requested by a patient — or find a doctor who will — even when the professional objects as a matter of conscience because the request would constitute the taking of human life, as in abortion and assisted suicide/euthanasia.

For example, an Ontario, Canada, judge has ruled that all MDs must euthanize legally qualified patients who ask to die, or refer to another doctor they know will do the deed. If they don’t like it — even if their faith tells them that complying would be a grievous sin — they can get out of medicine. I call this oppression, “medical martyrdom.”

Dissenters are pushing back, insisting that doctors and other professionals should be able to opt out of participating or being otherwise complicit in services that violate their religious or moral consciences — with the exception of when doing so would cost human life.

Now, Professor David Oderberg of the University of Reading in the U.K. — a friend — has issued a “Declaration in Support of Conscientious Objection in Healthcare,” that I hope readers will consider supporting. Here are the core elements:

4. Furthermore, in a liberal, democratic society the state may not play favourites by choosing one system of morality to trump all others no matter what objections of conscience are made against it. Conscientious objectors must not be silenced or marginalised merely because of their unwillingness to participate in activities to which they object.

5. In particular, the liberal, democratic state may not dictate that a secular, i.e. non-religious, system of morality trumps the rights of religious believers, or that one particular moral system trumps the rights of those with sincere, deeply held conscientious objections to some of its principles or requirements.

6. Freedom of conscience and religion in a liberal society does not entail that ‘anything goes’. A health care worker should not be able to find shelter under freedom of conscience and religion merely by claiming it. For the protection to apply, a person must have a deeply held, sincere adherence to a tenet or doctrine of their code of ethics or religion that forbids — expressly or by necessary implication — the kind of act to which they object.

7. Moreover, the relevant religious or ethical code must be one that has current or historic popular acceptance across some significant portion of the society in which the conscientious objector resides, or in some other society where the code is readily identifiable. . . .

8. The strong presumption in favour of conscientious objection would be rebutted if it could be shown that the act or practice in question were such that no reasonable person could object to its performance in the particular health care circumstances at hand. . . .

16. We will continue to see the list of controversial practices and activities increase at speed due to advances in biotechnology. If now is not the time to come out in strong support of freedom of conscience and religion in health care, we do not know when is.

This is an important document in this debate that hits the right balance between contesting moralities and the necessary comity required to maintain societal cohesion.

To review the whole Declaration, learn why its supporters think it is necessary, and/or add your support, hit this link.

Anyone interested in my ideas on how to frame medical conscience legal protections, hit this link.

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