It’s Time for a Change in Leadership

(Image via Getty)

A lot of people — including me — will tell you he didn’t belong in the top job. We will tell you that nothing in his past performance indicated that he could handle the responsibility or had the right temperament for the pressures of leadership. Some of us opposed him before he stepped through the door and took charge. Considering the state of things, those of us who were opposed or skeptical from the start would be more than justified to declare, “See, I told you so.”

He promised winning, but all you have to do is look with open eyes and see the disastrous wreckage on his watch. People are hurting. There’s no reason to think things will be better by November. Putting this man in command, at a time when so much was at stake, when so many people had lost hope and were yearning for something better, was a colossal mistake, and the sooner we all recognize it, the better.

You still hear some of his defenders insisting, “But he won in Florida that time!” Yes, and a broken clock can be right twice a day. Enough with the relentless spin and desperate search for silver linings. The record is clear. In one great American city after another, week after week, we have seen high hopes just go up in flames. Almost everyone he’s picked to work under him has performed their duties terribly — and either he’s following bad advice, or he’s not following the good advice he’s given. The difference is moot.

Some people say he manipulates the media, and it’s not hard to find talking heads on the cable channels who will constantly make excuses for him. I certainly agree no one ever holds him accountable. No matter how many reports add up just how bad his record is, no matter how many times a review of the numbers demonstrates, beyond any doubt, just how clearly he failed in areas that were supposed to be his strengths, it never seems to stick to him in a way that matters.

But the cavalcade of excuses and unpersuasive spin in the media is only the side problem; it all starts at the top. No matter how bad things get, he always insists it’s somebody else’s fault. He stubbornly contends he’s got the right ideas and the right approach, and that everyone under him just botches the execution. He sticks to what he knows, no matter how many times it blows up in his face.

Now, in autumn 2020, the time for a decision can’t be put off any longer. It is time to correct an error, and to end this deeply disappointing era.

There’s just no two ways about it: Adam Gase must be fired as head coach of the New York Jets.

Wait, whom did you think I was talking about?

Politics & Policy

A Ridiculous Recusal Demand Aimed at Clarence Thomas

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in his chambers at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., in 2016. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters )

Efforts to browbeat conservative justices into recusing themselves from any important Supreme Court case are standard fare from liberals and progressives these days (a tactic Donald Trump has aped by demanding that Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg recuse themselves over criticisms of him, in Sotomayor’s case in written opinions). Colbert I. King, in the Washington Post, argues that Clarence Thomas should recuse himself from any case involving the 2020 election because Thomas has believed since 1991 that Joe Biden is a two-faced liar:

By any measure, Thomas’s confirmation hearing was one of the most acrimonious and polarizing congressional events of the 20th century. . . . The chairman of that committee was Biden, whom Thomas characterizes in his book as a liar. “A few days before I faced the Judiciary Committee, Joseph Biden invited Virginia [Thomas’s wife] and me to tour the Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office Building where the hearings would take place,” Thomas wrote. He said Biden was reassuring, stressing that the hearings weren’t meant to be an ordeal. “He said that since I’d be nervous at first, he would start the questioning with a few ‘softballs’ that would help me relax and do my best, assuring me that he had no tricks up his sleeve.” . . .  At the break in the proceedings, young lawyers who had helped Thomas prepare for the hearing looked at the text of the speech quoted by Biden. “The point I’d been making [in the speech] was the opposite of the one that Senator Biden claimed I had made.” . . . “Senator Biden’s smooth insincere promises that he would treat me fairly were nothing but talk.” Before the committee vote, Thomas said he spoke to Biden on the phone. . . . Thomas wrote that Biden replied, “Judge, I know you don’t believe me, but if any of these last two matters come up [referring to Anita Hill’s allegations as well as a leaked draft opinion he had written as an appellate judge that had drawn criticism], I will be your biggest defender.” “He was right about one thing,” Thomas wrote. “I didn’t believe him.”

We went through this two years ago, back when Democrats still had high hopes for the Mueller investigation and Cory Booker demanded that Brett Kavanaugh recuse himself from any Mueller-related cases simply because Kavanaugh was nominated by Trump, a standard that had not been met during the Clinton and Nixon scandals by their appointees. The test for recusal from Supreme Court cases is very high: Elena Kagan did not recuse from the Obamacare cases even though she had been Solicitor General organizing some of the early legal defenses of Obamacare. Justice Breyer has criticized efforts to demand recusals:

“If you’re in a court of appeals and you’re uncertain, you know, it’s a sort of borderline, take yourself out of it,” Breyer said. “Because there are a lot of other judges who can step in.” But on the Supreme Court, “If you take yourself out of a case, it could affect the result. And therefore, you have to be careful on the one hand to take yourself out of the case if there is an ethical conflict of some kind, and not to take yourself out of the case if there isn’t, because you have to participate.”

It’s notable that King managed to get through writing this entire column without even mentioning that Justice Kagan once worked for Biden: As special counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee for Supreme Court nominations, she spearheaded the confirmation hearings for Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Kagan took a leave of absence from her academic position to work for Biden then.

Given the two candidates in this presidential race, it highly likely that most or all of the Justices think one or both of Biden and Trump to be two-faced liars; Thomas is just the only one to have written it in a book. Chief Justice Roberts, in 2018, took the extraordinary public step of rebuking Trump for talking about “Obama judges,” which Roberts regarded as a threat to the legitimacy of the courts; Trump fired back on Twitter.

Of course, this is all still hypothetical. While litigation over the 2020 election is virtually inevitable given the current posture of the two sides and how the pandemic will unsettle voting and vote-counting, it is far from certain that the Supreme Court will get involved. It only did so in 2000 due to a particularly lawless supreme court of Florida trying to hand the election to Al Gore, and the justices clearly regretted getting the Court involved. There is obviously nothing Roberts would like less than to have the Court involved in another election decision. There are clearly fewer states in 2020 that (1) could potentially be decisive and (2) have out-there left-leaning state supreme courts (although one never knows what could happen if, say, a liberal Ninth Circuit panel does something eccentric about Arizona).

What is bizarre about King’s argument is that he blames Thomas for correctly recounting his own experiences in his own confirmation hearing. This is nothing like the long-running public personal feud between Eric Schneiderman and Donald Trump, for example. If the recusal standard is that Democratic senators can maltreat Republican nominees and then demand their recusal as a result of that maltreatment, that would create the most perverse of incentives. Even in the lower courts, it is hard to get a recusal based entirely on how a judge reacts to an abusive or dishonest litigant. Worse, it might create a standard in which the justices could be threatened publicly for purposes of getting them off cases.

Economy & Business

The Unsurprising Trump Tax Story


As I read it, it has three layers to it.

First, Trump is losing a lot of money, and he may lose more when some debt he’s guaranteed comes due. We’ve long known his “amazing businessman” façade was just that, but the report does add new details.

Second, he pays little or no taxes most years. This is supposed to shock us independently of the first layer, but it mostly just follows from it: People who don’t make money don’t pay taxes. Also, Trump has bragged about not paying taxes, so it’s not as if this is new information either.

Third, Trump sometimes tries to reduce his tax bills in borderline ways that may or may not be kosher. This isn’t really a surprise either, though of course if he’s actually flouting tax laws the IRS should call him on it. The biggest item here, a huge refund of past taxes he claimed when he later lost money, is the subject of an audit — though it’s an unremarkable feature of the tax code that businesspeople can “carry” losses from one year to reduce tax liability in another. (This avoids overtaxing businesses with more volatile revenue streams.)

Incidentally, the rules on loss-carrying have gone back and forth a lot recently. Obama’s stimulus law extended the “carryback” period, allowing Trump to attempt this at the time he did; the recent GOP tax bill eliminated the ability to carry losses backward in time for a refund of past taxes (while removing the 20-year limit on carrying losses forward); and then the CARES Act brought carrybacks back for the 2018–2020 tax years to inject some money into businesses during COVID.

Anyhow. Politically, none of this is going to help the president, but I don’t see it swaying many votes against him either.


Should Colleges Focus on Religious Diversity Too?


With college officials obsessed with so many other kinds of diversity, why not add religious diversity as well?

In today’s Martin Center article, Anthony Hennen writes about a movement to have colleges do so.

Why? Hennen answers, “One argument is for colleges to teach religious literacy because it’s a vital career skill. Another sees religion as an equity issue like race and gender, and colleges need to make religious accommodations for students to create an inclusive campus. The influence of both arguments isn’t likely to go away soon, either.”

The contention that students become more valuable to employers if they have been exposed to racial diversity is an old (and dubious) one; now it’s being used to get religious diversity into the curriculum and campus.

Another claim is that students will feel more “welcomed” if the school is making a big, splashy commitment to religious diversity.

Hennen reports that quite a few colleges have made some moves in this direction, including required courses on religious diversity. “The University of Michigan, for example, is developing virtual training modules on interfaith cooperation. Utah Valley University offers interreligious, interfaith, and worldview workshops to faculty and staff,” he writes.

The people pushing for this argue that college is a place of change, and they want these “good” changes. But Hennen is skeptical, concluding, “But students are generally more interested in getting a good job or learning something about the world, rather than serving as the activist vanguard for campus administrators.”

Politics & Policy

Quid Plus Quid


Philip Gourevitch, of The New Yorker, is dipping back into conspiracy theories:

Reminder that this doesn’t make any sense as a conspiracy theory. Kennedy’s son approves a loan to Trump, and then, in return, Kennedy’s father . . . does another thing for Trump. What? Even if you’re so out of touch with reality as to believe that this is how things work, there’s no possible quid pro quo here. Both items run in the same direction. It’s a quid plus quid. Or, to translate into the correct Latin: an impressively stupid claim.

White House

Obama Wrote Trump a $73 Million Check

Donald Trump speaks with President Barack Obama before being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, Washington, D.C., January 20, 2017. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

The New York Times’ big exposé on President Trump’s tax returns flags some things that may be dodgy but mainly it just confirms what everybody (including Trump) has always said — there are a lot of loopholes in the tax code that a savvy operator can exploit. Whose fault is that? The system long predates Trump’s political career. For me, one part of the story really stands out, though: “To turn that long arc of failure into a giant refund check,” says the Times, Trump “relied on some deft accounting footwork and an unwitting gift from an unlikely source — Mr. Obama.”

Huh? Obama’s stimulus policies led to the Obama IRS writing a check to Trump for $73 million. The Times explains that a business loss can be used as a coupon that can be redeemed against a gain in another business.

Until 2009, those coupons could be used to wipe away taxes going back only two years. But that November, the window was more than doubled by a little-noticed provision in a bill Mr. Obama signed as part of the Great Recession recovery effort. Now business owners could request full refunds of taxes paid in the prior four years, and 50 percent of those from the year before that.

Mr. Trump had paid no income taxes in 2008. But the change meant that when he filed his taxes for 2009, he could seek a refund of not just the $13.3 million he had paid in 2007, but also the combined $56.9 million paid in 2005 and 2006, when “The Apprentice” created what was likely the biggest income tax bite of his life.

The records reviewed by The Times indicate that Mr. Trump filed for the first of several tranches of his refund several weeks later, in January 2010. That set off what tax professionals refer to as a “quickie refund,” a check processed in 90 days on a tentative basis, pending an audit by the I.R.S.

His total federal income tax refund would eventually grow to $70.1 million, plus $2,733,184 in interest. He also received $21.2 million in state and local refunds, which often piggyback on federal filings.

Trump may have to pay back that money; an IRS audit and an investigation by the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation are pending. But if he doesn’t, it looks like an alternate headline of the Times story could have been: “Obama Policies Created a $73 Million Tax Refund for Trump.” I trust the Times will next be sending out formal letters of apology to those of us who argued Obama’s stimulus policies were unnecessary, wasteful, and bound to be abused.


Where Is the McCarrick report?


Why are we still waiting for the McCarrick report? Two years ago, after long overdue revelations that former Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, D.C., Theodore McCarrick, was a notorious sex-pest and perhaps a criminal pederast, he was stripped of his title as a cardinal of the Church. But the fact that someone with such a notorious reputation within the Church had risen to such heights, sat at the head of a powerful fundraising network, and had enduring influence over the global Church required more than a punishment. The Vatican commissioned a report that was supposed to clear the decks.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said it would be out by the end of August this year. We’re still waiting. Why?

Does it have to do with the current massive scandal blowing up at the Vatican, regarding Cardinal Becciu?


‘Sorry, Charlie’


If it is true that rioters are using cans of tuna as weapons, I hope one of them had the wit to pick up a tin, pull down his mask a bit, smirk at the goon next to him and shout, “Sorry, Charlie!” before launching. It would almost be worth it.

The president says that the ballistic advantage of a tuna can is that you can throw it farther than you can a can of soup. Maybe. But I think we have an opportunity: Forget the debates, and forget the election: Let’s get Donald Trump and Joe Biden together and see who can throw a can of tuna farther. It would hardly be dumber than the election we’re going to have.

Law & the Courts

Re: The Dumb Handmaid’s Tale Attack


For what it’s worth, Rich, in the actual pages of The Handmaid’s Tale, Catholics are enemies of the totalitarian Gilead state, as are Jews, Quakers, and others. Like many gifted writers, Margaret Atwood is nearly useless as an interpreter of her own work.

Law & the Courts

Richard Blumenthal on September 27, 2016: Senate Has ‘Constitutional Obligation’ to Fill SCOTUS Vacancy

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C., February 4, 2020. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Here’s what Democratic senator Richard Blumenthal, a member of the judiciary committee, said about holding a hearing and a confirmation vote on a Supreme Court nominee last night, September, 26, 2020

I will oppose the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, as I would any nominee proposed as part of this illegitimate sham process, barely one month before an election as Americans are already casting their votes. Americans deserve a voice in this hugely consequential decision. . . . 

I will refuse to treat this process as legitimate & will not meet with Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

Here’s what Blumenthal said about holding a hearing and a confirmation vote on a Supreme Court nominee on September 27, 2016:

Congress has no excuse for leaving town without meeting its Constitutional obligation: filling a Supreme Court vacancy. This dereliction of duty is fundamentally damaging to our democracy and Members of Congress should be held accountable.

In the Capitol basement, between Senate votes last Tuesday, I asked Blumenthal about his statement from late September 2016 about the Senate’s “constitutional obligation” to fill a Supreme Court vacancy. “It’s not written into the Constitution, but as a matter of constitutional norms and practice, Merrick Garland was denied fairness. But there’s no constitutional requirement for a vote,” Blumenthal told National Review.

So there’s a “constitutional obligation” but not a “constitutional requirement” to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in late September of a presidential election year, according to the Connecticut senator.

The question still stands: Why doesn’t Blumenthal think a Supreme Court nominee deserves a vote before the 2020 election?

“Well, that’s the key. To do it, within 42 days of the election denies the American people a voice and a say,” Blumenthal replied. But on September 27, 2016, Blumenthal said nothing about it being too close to the election to hold a hearing and a vote on Merrick Garland. On September 26, 2020, Blumenthal said it is “illegitimate” to hold a hearing and a vote on Amy Coney Barrett.

“This rush is breaking all the norms and rules of fairness and consistency. Republicans have engaged in rank hypocrisy,” Blumenthal told National Review. It is true that a few Senate Republicans — Lindsey Graham in particular — explicitly said they’d hold a Supreme Court vacancy open even if the Senate and the White House were held by the same party (Mitch McConnell never said that). But there is no constitutional provision that says a “constitutional obligation” does not apply if Lindsey Graham abandons his pledge on the “Biden rule.”

Blumenthal and other Senate Democrats who said the Senate had a constitutional obligation to vote on Merrick Garland are also guilty of rank hypocrisy when it comes to their treatment of Amy Coney Barrett.

Law & the Courts

The Most Important Line in Amy Coney Barrett’s Speech

(Scalia: Darren Ornitz/Reuters; Barrett: Carlos Barria/Reuters)

When Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett spoke in the White House Rose Garden following her formal nomination on Saturday evening, she was everything she’s been made out to be: poised, smart, and kind-hearted.

She began by honoring the life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “The flag of the United States is still flying at half-staff, in memory of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to mark the end of a great American life,” Barrett said. “Justice Ginsburg began her career at a time when women were not welcome in the legal profession. But she not only broke glass ceilings, she smashed them. For that, she has won the admiration of women across the country, and indeed, all over the world. She was a woman of enormous talent and consequence, and her life of public service serves as an example to us all.”

Then she spoke of the friendship between the late Justice Ginsburg and the late Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom Barrett clerked two decades ago. “Justices Scalia and Ginsburg disagreed fiercely in print without rancor in person. Their ability to maintain a warm and rich friendship despite their differences even inspired an opera,” Barrett said. “These two great Americans demonstrated that arguments, even about matters of great consequence, need not destroy affection. In both my personal and professional relationships, I strive to meet that standard.”

Then she delivered the most important part of her speech: 

I clerked for Justice Scalia more than 20 years ago, but the lessons I learned still resonate. His judicial philosophy is mine, too. A judge must apply the law as written. Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold.

“His judicial philosophy is mine, too.” 

Barrett could have described her judicial philosophy without tying herself so closely to Scalia. She has practically written Democratic attack ads for them: It would not be fair in many cases, but it would be easy to dredge up every unpopular Scalia opinion and slap that Barrett quotation on the screen.

But the statement was refreshingly straightforward and honest for a Supreme Court nominee, and it also will obliterate any argument from Senate Democrats about how they need more time to discover what Amy Coney Barrett truly believes about the Constitution.

They already know what she thinks, of course. They’ve been preparing for a Barrett Supreme Court nomination fight for three years. Her 2017 appeals-court nomination hearing was a dry-run for a Supreme Court confirmation battle, and it won’t take much time to go through her opinions over the last three years.

With her candor, Barrett helped make the argument in favor of a speedy confirmation vote. Yet, she has still left those Democratic campaign consultants with a dilemma: Do they really want to run ads attacking someone as impressive as Barrett and shift the focus away from Trump?

Law & the Courts

But Gorsuch . . . and Kavanaugh and Barrett

Judge Amy Coney Barrett speaks after being nominated to the Supreme Court by President Donald Trump, the White House, September 26, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

It must have been quite disappointing for those who were expecting Amy Coney Barrett to appear in a red habit and veil to take the oath of subservience to The Patriarchy, but Donald Trump and the nominee (along with her beautiful family) both gave fine speeches.

Was the Trump presidency worth it for conservatives? History will tell. Considering the accelerating radicalism of the modern Left — evident in the feverish reaction to Barrett’s nomination — the Court is clearly going to be more important than it has been in years.

Will it help Trump win in 2020? I’m no prognosticator, but politics has to be about more than always situating the party for the next win. Occasionally you’re going to have to fulfill promises. These justices fulfill the wishes of the vast majority of the Right, sans a handful of Trump-obsessed former conservatives.

Nor should it be forgotten that, if Barrett is confirmed, Mitch McConnell will have become one the most effective and consequential conservative politicians — nay, politicians, period — in American history. Call him a hypocrite if you like, but the risk of denying Obama another Constitution-corroding justice in 2016, widely seen as politically self-destructive by Washington commentators, was worth it. His constitutionally kosher position turned into three justices, who, one hopes, will abide by their stated originalist and Scalia-like disposition. Their rulings will long outlast any fleeting partisan squabble.

Can Democrats stop her?

Three years ago, Barrett was confirmed by the Senate to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals 55 to 43 vote. The path of least resistance for those Democrats would be to argue that Coney is a jurist with some bad opinions, but competent and decent. The justification they can offer for voting against her is that Trump is a modern-day Nero and the process has been irreparably broken. Of course, why a modern-day Nero would nominate a decent and competent jurist who will likely inhibit the power of the executive branch is a big mystery.

In the long run, the idea that the confirmation process is broken because the president follows the prescribed constitutional process is also going to be a heavy lift. News organizations keep push-polling voters into saying they don’t want a confirmation, but I still don’t buy the notion that Democrats are going to be more energized by a confirmation hearing than conservatives. As I wrote earlier this week, if Trump loses in November it won’t be for keeping his promise to appoint constitutionalists.

Barrett will not be susceptible to the kind of insidious personal attacks that the media and Democrats launched during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. That puts them are in a tough spot. If they go after Barrett on all the usual stuff — she wants to take away your health care, ban abortion, and so on — voters won’t believe the nomination is some earth-shattering event that undermines the very foundations of democracy. Voters have been hearing the same fearmongering for decades. It will just be more of the same.

But Democrats also need to excite their base. If they go after her on the Catholic “dogma” stuff or her big family, they’re going to look like nuts. Considering the ugly rhetoric that regularly flows from the likes of Mazie Hirono and Kamala Harris, it will be interesting to see if Democrats can maintain message discipline.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will start a four-day hearing on October 12. Once Barrett is being asked questions about her success, family, precedent and so on, it seems likely that few voters are going to be thinking about process arguments anymore. And when Democrats claim that Republicans are rushing and ramming through the nomination, they can simply point out Justice Ginsburg was confirmed in 42 days — or two fewer than Coney is scheduled to take.

You can see them grappling with the problems in real time. The latest line of attack asks: “what kind of person would accept this nomination under these circumstances.” Well, the conditions are the same as they have been for every justice sitting on the Court. But, I suppose, the best answer is: an accomplished jurist who says things like, “I love the Constitution of the United States.” Which is more we can say for the partisan activists making those arguments.

Law & the Courts

The Dumb Handmaid’s Tale Attack


Tobias has a good piece on Margaret Atwood contradicting herself on the inspiration for her dystopian novel, which has become an issue in the Amy Coney Barrett confirmation fight. More fundamentally, how does the dystopian novel about the subjection of women have anything to do about Barrett? She graduated from law school, won high-powered clerkships, became a widely regarded law professor and jurist, and now is likely to ascend to the highest court in the land. Her high-flying career — pursued while raising a family of seven — runs exactly counter to what is portrayed in the Atwood novel. Anyone who looks at Barrett and thinks “overweening patriarchy” is hopelessly disconnected from reality and needs to watch less Hulu.

Law & the Courts

Feminists Should Be Celebrating Amy Coney Barrett

President Donald Trump, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Melania Trump, and Barrett’s family walk to the Supreme Court nomination event outside the White House, Washington, D.C., September 26, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Judge Amy Coney Barrett is everything feminists say they admire. She’s a brilliant and accomplished lawyer and judge. She graduated from the University of Notre Dame Law School at the top of her class. She clerked not only for the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit but also for the Supreme Court, for Justice Antonin Scalia. And now she’s a nominee to the Supreme Court herself.

Meanwhile, Judge Barrett has been married to her husband Jesse for 18 years and is the mother of seven children. Two of her children were adopted from Haiti, and a third has special needs. At the nomination ceremony this evening, she focused part of her remarks on family life and the centrality of her role as a mother.

This level of accomplishment and dedication to family, one would imagine, is what feminists are referring to when they say women should be able to “have it all.” Of course, no one can have it all, and life is full of tradeoffs. But you would be hard-pressed to find a woman who has navigated the difficult trenches of career success and motherhood as ably as Barrett.

As President Trump highlighted in his remarks announcing the nomination, if confirmed, Barrett will be the first woman on the Supreme Court who is the mother of school-aged children. She’ll also be, as Dan McLaughlin pointed out, “the only mother on the current Court, as Justice Kagan is single, Justice Sotomayor is divorced, and both are childless.”

It’s difficult to think that most women — including those who might disagree with her rulings — wouldn’t admire her for that. One could imagine that the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose seat Barrett has been nominated to fill, might admire the young judge, despite the stark differences in their judicial philosophy.

But, of course, modern feminism being what it is, progressive feminists have already begun criticizing Barrett’s appearance, suggesting that her religious faith is disqualifying because Catholicism is sexist, insisting that she will be “bad for women” because she’ll do away with Roe v. Wade, and wondering “how a potential Supreme Court justice can also be a loving, present mom to seven kids.”

Judging from the way she came across both in today’s ceremony and during her Senate confirmation hearing for her nomination to the Seventh Circuit, Barrett will be difficult to vilify. Of course, that won’t stop the Left and self-professed feminists from trying, but if they continue with these sorts of attacks, the only people they’ll harm are themselves.

Law & the Courts

The Barrett Announcement

President Donald Trump nopminates Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, the White House, September 26, 2020 (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

It was outstanding. Trump is at his best in such settings, when he really has no choice but to be on his best behavior. As for Amy Coney Barrett herself, she is truly an inspired choice — a distinguished professor and jurist who is a deeply grounded originalist and, everything suggests, a composed and winsome public speaker.

She hit the right notes today. She honored the legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, made her judicial philosophy crystal clear, and movingly introduced her incredible family. The high point may have been when Trump brought her family up on the stage with her. Her personal life shouldn’t strictly matter, but in the current context — when confirmations are political wars and there will be a determined attempt to portray her as a moral monster — it obviously does.

Democrats and the Left would be well-served to not wage a campaign of personal destruction against her and instead focus on the process and the supposed threat to the ACA, but they won’t be able to help themselves.

Law & the Courts

In a Sane World, America Would Have Just Fallen in Love with the Barrett Family

Judge Amy Coney Barrett during her nomination to the Supreme Court at the White House, September 26, 2020 (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

What’s not to love? A woman of excellence. A testimony to marriage. A household of hospitality. A love of America and the Constitution. A tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg and recognition of her role in history. Putting a spotlight on the powerful friendship between Justices Scalia and Ginsburg. And the implicit love of the Virgin Mary that should come every time we hear the name of that school in South Bend.

And, of course, there’s the radiance of the Dogma Living Loudly in such a beautiful way.

I have a particular love of the Barrett family because this is another potential Supreme Court family who have adopted. Of course, social media being what it is, people are wanting investigations into the histories of her two adopted children instead of taken the lesson that ought to be taken: We need that spirit of generosity that America has been known for. (Read Arthur Brooks, if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) The morning after Election Day, when I have no doubt we’ll have no idea the official results yet, the Supreme Court will be hearing a case on foster care, where the city of Philadelphia has halted contracts with Catholic Social Services because the beliefs of the Catholic Church on marriage are no longer acceptable there. That’s dangerous territory. That’s one of the reason Barrett was cheered at the White House today. She’s not looking to impose beautiful charismatic Christianity on the country. She wants that Constitution that’s protected us to be able to operate on our different beliefs to continue to operate.

Today is a beautiful day in America. I wish people would take a deep breath and be inspired. Let the Barrett family stretch your heart. Let Amy Barrett’s tribute to family and country remind us all what is most important in life.

Law & the Courts

What Would Be Unique about Justice Amy Coney Barrett

Judge Amy Coney Barrett offers remarks after being nominated to the Supreme Court at the White House, Washington, D.C., September 26, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

The nomination of Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court is a milestone in a number of ways. It would, if she is confirmed, plausibly give conservative, constitutionalist Justices a 6-3 majority on the Court for the first time since at least the 1930s, and move the center of gravity on the Court away from Chief Justice Roberts — a major swing, given that just two years ago, Justice Anthony Kennedy was still the deciding vote in many of the Court’s hot-button cases.

She would also be the first conservative academic on the Court since Justice Scalia, for whom she clerked, and whose judicial philosophy she again publicly embraced in her Rose Garden remarks today. Coming from Notre Dame Law School and Rhodes College, she would break the monopoly of the Ivy League on the current Court, but do so as a woman who spent nearly two decades as a full-time law professor. While Justices Kagan and Breyer were academics, too, the academic tilt of her résumé is somewhat unusual on the modern Court in not being balanced by experience in politics. Judge Barrett did not work in government before joining the bench, other than as a law clerk. By contrast, six of the eight current justices worked in the Justice Department in one capacity or another, and of the other two, Justice Thomas worked in the Education Department and the EEOC, and Justice Sotomayor worked for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and for various other agencies in state government. Justices Roberts and Kavanaugh also worked for the White House, and Justices Breyer and Kagan worked on Capitol Hill (in Kagan’s case, for Joe Biden). On balance, some diversity of professional experience on the Court is healthy — there is also one Justice (Sotomayor) who has worked as a trial judge, one (Thomas) who has worked in a corporate legal department, and two (Alito and Breyer) who have served in the military.

With three years under her belt on the Seventh Circuit, Judge Barrett has already spent more time on the bench than Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Thomas, or multiple past Justices. Justice Kagan, who was Dean of Harvard Law School, never served as a judge.

Generationally, Judge Barrett would be the first Justice born in the 1970s. This is an unusually young Court, as Justice Breyer is now the only Justice older than 72. Justice Gorsuch was born in 1967, Justice Kavanaugh in 1965. As a Justice, Barrett would also, as President Trump noted, become the first mother of school-age children ever on the Court, with seven children between the ages of eight and 19. In fact, she would be the only mother on the current Court, as Justice Kagan is single, Justice Sotomayor is divorced, and both are childless. If Judge Barrett, as expected, rules — as any judge with a decent respect for the written Constitution should — against Roe v. Wade, that would make her the first anti-Roe woman to sit on the Court (Roe, of course, was originally handed down by seven men).

Judge Barrett would inherit a distinguished seat on the Court from Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Ginsburg’s predecessors included Noah Swayne, the first Republican on the Court; Stanley Matthews, who wrote the landmark opinion in Yick Wo v. Hopkins against laws that are enforced in a discriminatory manner (in Yick Wo, against Chinese immigrants); George Sutherland, a resolute anti-New Deal conservative who wrote several landmark majority opinions on a variety of topics; Robert McLean, who was one of the two dissenters in Dred Scott; David Brewer, who but for a death in the family would likely have been one of two dissenters in Plessy v. Ferguson; and Byron White, who was one of two dissenters in Roe. One hopes that, as Justice Barrett, she will have more company when she takes a righteous stand than did some of her predecessors.

This article has been corrected. It previously referred incorrectly to Thurgood Marshall having served two years, rather than four, on the Second Circuit. 

Law & the Courts

‘A Measure Which Should Be So Emphatically Rejected’


How extraordinary an idea is court-packing? Consider that, having rejected FDR’s attempt to pack the Supreme Court in 1937, the Senate Judiciary Committee explained that the president had proposed:

a measure which should be so emphatically rejected that its parallel will never again be presented to the free representatives of the free people of America.

This was merely “obstructionism,” right? Hardly. In 1937, the Senate contained 74 Democrats and 16 Republicans, the most lopsided ratio since the year after the conclusion of the Civil War. In the House, Democrats held 334 seats to the Republicans’ 103. And, in the same election, President Roosevelt was returned with 60 percent of the vote and an electoral college victory of 523 to 8.

We will see if the 1937 Judiciary Committee was correct in its augury. My bet is that it will be.


Barrett Is ‘Hand-Picked’!


Kamala Harris opposes Judge Barrett, in part because she is “hand-picked” by the president. This is a pretty amusing reason, not simply because every Supreme Court nominee is “hand-picked” by the president, but because Democrats apparently can’t decide whether Trump is “hand-picking” his nominees for nefarious personal reasons or delegating the process to the shadowy, “ultraconservative” Federalist Society. Presumably, we’ll find out which message tested better in the coming few weeks.

Law & the Courts

The Judicial Branch Ragnarök Is Upon Us

Judge Amy Coney Barrett reacts as she is nominated to the Supreme Court during a ceremony at the White House, Washington, D.C., September 26, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

As expected, President Trump selected Amy Coney Barrett as his third nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, and now the Judicial Branch Ragnarök and Related Festival of Catholic-Bashing is upon us.

Senate Democrats could argue that based upon Barrett’s past decisions, they don’t agree with her legal philosophies and perspective on the law and don’t want her on the Court and leave it at that. Perhaps Senate Democrats will take that path, but judging by the preemptive discussion of Barrett, we’re likely to see more criticisms along the lines of Dianne Feinstein’s “the dogma lives loudly within you.” In the past week, we’ve already seen an effort to paint Amy Coney Barrett as a brainwashed Handmaid’s Tale religious drone, with those attacks debunked herehereherehere, and here. Democrats and their allies will attempt to paint Barrett as a dangerous, unhinged extremist and also some sort of ill-informed theocratic maniac. Anyone who has watched a Barrett speech will know that she is sharp-minded, eloquent, and compelling.

On Friday Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic, who wrote that she believed Christine Blasey Ford and opposed the Brett Kavanaugh nomination, warned Democrats that they were in danger of “failing the Amy Coney Barrett Test.” It is unlikely that Senate Democrats will heed Flanagan’s warning. We have already seen criticism of Barrett’s adoption of minority children, the number of children she has and questions about whether she could adequately raise her children while being on the court, and whether her Catholic faith is incompatible with a role on the Supreme Court.

Also note that Senator Josh Hawley declared last month that he would  “vote only for those Supreme Court nominees who have explicitly acknowledged that Roe v. Wade is wrongly decided. By explicitly acknowledged, I mean on the record and before they were nominated.” Last week, the senator told CNN’s Manu Raju he believes Barrett has met that standard.

Law & the Courts

Defense Lawyer Offers Cop’s Side of Jacob Blake Shooting


You can read CNN’s report on its exclusive interview here.

This is a key point:

He said he used deadly force during the chaotic encounter because he was afraid Blake, while attempting to flee the scene, was trying to kidnap a child in the backseat of the vehicle.

“He’s got my kid. He’s got my keys,” Sheskey heard a woman say, according to attorney Brendan Matthews, who is representing the officer.


At the time Sheskey opened fire, the lawyer said, Blake held a knife in his hand and twisted his body toward the officer. That action is not visible in the video widely circulating on the internet, in which the view of Blake’s body is partially obscured by the driver’s side door of the SUV.

Matthews said a second officer at the scene, whom he also represents, provided investigators with a similar account of Blake turning toward Sheskey with a knife in his hand immediately prior to the shooting. That officer said he too would have opened fire but did not have a clear angle, according to the lawyer. . . .

Sheskey watched Blake put one child in the car as he arrived but was unaware that two more children were already in the vehicle, Matthews said. Another officer heard a woman yelling that Blake had her children, he said, but did not see the kids in the car.

As I’ve said before, I think it’s going to be very hard to convict the officer in this case. A knife was found in the part of the vehicle where Blake was shot, and the police say he was carrying it as he rounded the SUV. It’s also clear from the video he was carrying some kind of object. Per this new report, the cops also thought he was trying to kidnap a kid in that vehicle. I do wish we had body-camera footage, however, especially to evaluate the claim that Blake turned toward the officer with the knife.


‘We Would Never Call Trump a Nazi’

Sign at an anti-Trump demonstration in New York City, May 23, 2018. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Dana Milbank hilariously leads off his latest Washington Post column about how the Reichstag is supposedly burning by telling us that he and his colleagues realize how grave it is to compare someone to Hitler, so they would never ordinarily do such an extreme thing. “For five years,” he claims, “my colleagues and I have taken pains to avoid Nazi comparisons. It is usually hyperbolic, and counterproductive, to label the right ‘fascists’ in the way those on the right reflexively label the left ‘socialists.’ But this is no longer a matter of name-calling.”

I’m not sure who Milbank considers his “colleagues,” but whether he means fellow journalists, or even just fellow Washington Post columnists, the Nazi analogies have hardly been rare. As for Milbank’s own work, it’s fair to wonder whether he has read much of it. He routinely smears Trump as a Nazi or at least a fascist.

Column: “Donald Trump, America’s Modern Mussolini.” (December 8, 2015) A claim that Trump was the new Wendell Wilkie inspired Milbank to write, “Trump is the very opposite of Willkie, pulling the party to the black-shirted right by playing on fears of foreigners and racial and religious minorities” and asserts “Trump uses many of the fascist’s tools: a contempt for facts, spreading a pervasive sense of fear and overwhelming crisis, portraying his backers as victims,” etc.

Column: “Trump’s flirtation with fascism.” (March 29, 2016) Trump asked followers at a rally “Can I have a pledge?” and asked them to raise their right hands. This amounted to “leading supporters in what looked very much like a fascist salute . . . the sort of scene associated with grainy newsreels from Italy and Germany” and added, “the Germans, too, find him dangerous — and they should know. Der Spiegel, the German newsmagazine, last month called Trump ‘the world’s most dangerous man’ and leader of a ‘hate-filled authoritarian movement.'”

Column: “Reality is catching up with Trump, everywhere.” (February 5, 2018) Milbank gloats that the stock market has plunged two thousand points in recent days and says, “Trump has given rhetorical support to white supremacists . . . look where this is Göring.”

Column: “Trump’s America is not a safe place for Jews.” (October 28, 2018). “Trump’s presidential campaign began with genteel anti-Semitism, progressed to dog whistles and ended with a full-throated targeting of Jewish ‘globalists.'” Milbank reminds us he “wrote on Election Day that the results would be coming in on the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the infamous night of Nazi violence and vandalism against German Jews” and adds that Trump’s “words and deeds inspire the hateful and the violent.”

Column: “Trump’s rhetoric is a hallmark of totalitarianism.” (May 29, 2019). Milbank notes Trump’s penchant for using words like “incredible,” “thriving” and “booming” and says this is the way dictators talk. “Trump isn’t necessarily a fascist, but his language is,” Milbank says, then turns to a professor, Jason Stanley of Yale, who has been publicly calling Trump fascist for years. “Goebbels talks about propaganda being best when it appeals to straightforward emotion: fear, suspicion, anger, and then it would be culminated with ‘we’re winning,’ ‘we’re going to get them,'” Stanley tells Milbank.

This Is ‘Anti-Racism’?


Ibram X. Kendi has become famous for proposing that we abolish the U.S. Constitution and replace it with a dictatorship led by people of whom he approves. As such, I suppose that it is not a surprise that he doesn’t approve of Amy Coney Barrett, who wishes to preserve that Constitution. But I must ask this: Kendi has said that there is “racism” and “anti-racism,” with nothing in between. Which one is this?

Energy & Environment

Is a ‘Climate Lockdown’ Next?


You knew they would try to pivot off the draconian COVID policies and use climate change as the pretext to deploy the same rigid controls over our lives. Now, perhaps a trial balloon is being floated for a “climate lockdown.”

The noxious idea is that we are at (yet another) tipping point, and that unless government radically seizes centralized control of the economy, it will be shutdown time. From, “Avoiding a Climate Lockdown,” by Mariana Mazzucato, Founding Director of the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose:

Under a “climate lockdown,” governments would limit private-vehicle use, ban consumption of red meat, and impose extreme energy-saving measures, while fossil-fuel companies would have to stop drilling. To avoid such a scenario, we must overhaul our economic structures and do capitalism differently.

You can just imagine the authoritarianism Mazzucato proposes — meaning, it wouldn’t be capitalism at all. For example:

We need to reorient our energy system around renewable energy – the antidote to climate change and the key to making our economies energy-secure. We must therefore evict fossil-fuel interests and short-termism from business, finance, and politics. Financially powerful institutions such as banks and universities must divest from fossil-fuel companies. Until they do, a carbon-based economy will prevail.

Never mind that the U.S. has led the world in reducing emissions because of the fossil fuel known as natural gas!

The good news about all of this is that in the United States at least, it will never happen. I mean, if people rebel against lockdowns and controls in the midst of a pandemic, they are not about to let these radical technocrats thwart their living the good life based on global-warming hysteria.


Europe Makes Its Choice

Charles Michel, president of the European Council, in Brussels, Belgium, August 19, 2020 (Olivier Hoslet/Reuters)

The president of the European Council does not usually make news when addressing the UN General Assembly. In fact, the current occupant of the post, Charles Michel might be used to giving UN addresses that attract minimal attention. He is, after all, a former prime minister of Belgium.

However, today was different. Michel told the world that the European Union has made its choice in the emerging strategic contest between the United States and China:

Since I became President of the European Council, I have often been asked a question that is both simple and brutal: “In the new rivalry between the United States and China, which side is the European Union on?” My answer is the following…

We are deeply connected with the United States. We share ideals, values and a mutual affection that have been strengthened through the trials of history. They remain embodied today in a vital transatlantic alliance. This does not prevent us from occasionally having divergent approaches or interests.

We do not share the values on which the political and economic system in China is based. And we will not stop promoting respect for universal human rights. Including those of minorities such as the Uighurs. Or in Hong Kong, where international commitments guaranteeing the rule of law and democracy are being questioned.

Michel’s remarks might sound like a statement of the obvious, but the speech is noteworthy for two reasons. First, it’s actually not that obvious. It dispenses with a rhetorical trick used by top European politicians in the early years of the Trump administration. It was commonplace to hear certain leaders, such as Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, refer, in a single breath, to the United States, China, and Russia as global challenges to be surmounted (Macron once called for the creation of a European army to defend against the three countries). It’s difficult to imagine that formulation making a comeback, even from Merkel.

The second reason is that, despite the myriad warnings offered by purveyors of the conventional wisdom, Trump’s conduct in office has not meaningfully alienated the United States from its allies. Certainly, there are areas where the two sides differ, as they always have. But no amount of disagreement over, say, the Iran deal and the Paris Agreement, has caused an irreparable rupture.

There was renewed worry about this a week ago, when the Pew Research Center released a poll showing declining public approval of the United States in 13 of its Western allies. Some commentators and former officials said that the new numbers are disastrous for America’s standing in the world. The Washington Post’s Max Boot wrote that the poll shows how “Trump has turned the United States into a global pariah.” Nicholas Burns called it “devastating,” a sentiment echoed by Colin Kahl, a former Obama administration national security official.

And the results of the poll are certainly not promising. The survey indicates that the citizens of other liberal democracies believe that the U.S. botched its coronavirus response. It even showed that the president of the United States is less popular than his counterparts in Germany, Russia, and China. These perceptions matter because they can eat into American credibility.

That said, it’s also worth considering that China’s coronavirus-era misconduct has become an enormous factor in European diplomacy, too. U.S. popularity in Europe ebbs and flows with each administration — Republican presidents aren’t really admired on the continent. But the Chinese Communist Party has done much to help the Trump administration convince its European counterparts to take a stand on everything from 5G to Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

However, it’s not correct to claim that the administration had no hand in Europe’s turn against the CCP. Despite what the critics say, top Trump officials have worked hard to put U.S. alliances to work against Chinese authoritarianism. In light of Michel’s remarks, and the relatively frosty China–EU summit that took place earlier this month, it’s difficult to argue that trips by Mike Pompeo and Robert O’Brien to Europe this summer didn’t amount to anything.

It remains to be seen exactly how much attention Michel’s remarks, made on the Friday of a week that kicked off with speeches by Trump and Xi, will actually get. But his speech clarifies what was once unclear: Europe, which was once reluctant to declare itself so, resides firmly in the U.S. camp in the strategic contest that’s shaping up.


Defund the Swiss Guard!

The Swiss Guard outside Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, Rome, Italy (Chris Helgren/Reuters)

The Pope has thoughts on gun ownership:

It would take a book-length response to debunk this tweet. But, as many people have noted, if the Pope truly believes the possession of weaponry fuels distrust and fear, he has the power to dismantle one of the oldest military organizations in the world. The Swiss Guard guarantees the Pope Francis’ security. If it’s “perverse logic” to link guns with his personal security, why does the detail exist?


Cancel Daphne du Maurier!

(iStock/Getty Images)

Daphne du Maurier’s brilliant novel Rebecca, first made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock (who ruined the ending), has inspired a remake. Netflix is set to release the movie on October 21, 2020. Even though I don’t expect to enjoy the film half as much as the book, it is a fantastic story, and — what with everything else that’s going on (and not going on) in the world — I was quite looking forward to seeing it. So, imagine my horror, then, when I walked into my local bookstore, picked up a copy of Du Maurier’s short stories and learned — to my shock and dismay — that she was a massive transphobe.

The offending passage is from “Don’t Look Now,” a short story in which a character named John and his wife, Laura, go out for lunch in Venice, and notice some sinister-looking people at the table next to them.

“They’re not old girls at all,” [Laura] said. “They’re male twins in drag.”

Her voice broke ominously, the prelude to uncontrolled laughter, and John quickly poured some more Chianti into her glass.

“Pretend to choke,” he said, “then they won’t notice. You know what it is — they’re criminals doing the sights of Europe, changing sex at each stop. Twin sisters here on Torcello. Twin brothers tomorrow in Venice, or even tonight, parading arm-in-arm across the Piazza San Marco. Just a matter of switching clothes or wigs.”

“Jewel thieves or murderers?” asked Laura.

“Oh murderers, definitely. But why, I ask myself, have they picked on me?”

Now obviously I didn’t read the whole thing (because who has time for that?), but from my quick flick through, it was quite obvious that the characters in question are the villains of the story. And as far as I could tell (at least from the skimming the beginning and end), the moral of the story seemed to be: If you look at people in drag, you will die. To add grave insult to grievous injury (just when I thought that the story couldn’t get any more offensive) I discovered that the aforementioned, transphobically described characters weren’t merely ominous, they were Scottish!

Alas, it is with great sadness that I bought du Maurier’s book in order to burn it. I encourage you all to do the same. #RIPDaphneduMaurier

Economy & Business

Greener Fields?

(SARINYAPINNGAM/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Two years ago, I wrote about Congress’ efforts to reform the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), the interagency body that vets acquisitions of sensitive U.S. assets. The Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act (FIRRMA), which Congress passed in August of 2018, expanded the powers CFIUS has to review, and potentially block, investments by foreign entities that could pose as a threat to U.S. national security. Among its expanded powers, CFIUS now can review small investments, particularly in the technology, data, and infrastructure industries, that do not result in foreign control, and acquisitions of real estate near sensitive ports or military bases.

However, one important category of foreign transactions was left out of the bill — “greenfield investments,” particularly by Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Greenfield investments result in the control of newly built facilities in the U.S., and they were not addressed inf the reform bill mostly because governors and state governments embrace them. That is understandable; they typically bring the promise of creating American jobs.

However, greenfield investments by Chinese SOEs pose a unique threat, and should be met with the highest scrutiny by all levels of government. This was certainly front of mind when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the National Governor’s Association’s winter meeting this past February. During his speech on U.S. and China competition, Secretary Pompeo warned state officials of how closely the Chinese government is watching them and looking for opportunities in their states:

Indeed, last year, a Chinese Government-backed think tank in Beijing produced a report that assessed all 50 of America’s governors on their attitudes towards China. They labeled each of you “friendly,” “hardline,” or “ambiguous.”

I’ll let you decide where you think you belong. Someone in China already has. Many of you, indeed, in that report are referenced by name.

So here’s the lesson: The lesson is that competition with China is not just a federal issue. It’s why I wanted to be here today, Governor Hogan. It’s happening in your states with consequences for our foreign policy, for the citizens that reside in your states, and indeed, for each of you.

And, in fact, whether you are viewed by the CCP as friendly or hardline, know that it’s working you, know that it’s working the team around you.

Competition with China is happening inside of your state, and it affects our capacity to perform America’s vital national security functions.

Secretary Pompeo’s speech occurred right before the COVID pandemic, which has highlighted American dependence on Chinese pharmaceuticals. Right now, a Chinese SOE could build a greenfield pharmaceutical plant in the U.S. making an essential medicine, use Chinese state financing to corner the market and destroy competition — and the U.S. government would be powerless to address this based on the national security risk.

Last month, Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana introduced a bill that would fix this CFIUS loophole. The “Exposing China’s Belt and Road Investment in America Act” would give CFIUS the jurisdiction to review greenfield investments made by entities controlled by the Chinese government for any potential national security threats. Senator Kennedy’s bill will also make it mandatory to file a declaration with CFIUS if China has a substantial interest in a particular greenfield investment. Note that this would not actually block any investments; it would merely give CFIUS the authority to assess whether a threat exists and address it accordingly.

In its report to Congress last year, the U.S.–China Economic Security Review Commission outlined several recommendations Congress and the Federal government must take into consideration as it makes decisions — particularly about foreign investments.

The Commission’s recommendations would make clear the scope of Chinese influence in their investments on U.S. soil through aggressive disclosure requirements, including disclosure of any financial backing from the Chinese government and any ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

Beijing’s influence reaches far and wide, and a national-security threat to the U.S. can arise from Chinese control of certain U.S. businesses, regardless of whether they acquire an existing company or through a greenfield investment. Senator Kennedy’s bill is an important step to curbing these predatory actions by China here at home and protecting our national security.

Law & the Courts

Get Ready to Hear A Lot about People of Praise


As Ramesh Ponnuru noted on the Corner earlier this week, some media coverage of Judge Amy Coney Barrett — the leading candidate to replace late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — has zeroed in on Barrett’s purported membership in a mostly Catholic group called People of Praise.

Ramesh’s post chronicles how one such story, from Reuters, has undergone several iterations (mostly achieved via stealth-editing), after starting out as an under-reported and overwrought attempt to portray People of Praise as an ultraconservative and abusive cult.

Other media outlets have, like Reuters, claimed that the group was the inspiration for the fictional, misogynistic nation Gilead in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, one of progressives’ favorite pop-culture weapons for demeaning religious conservatives. In reality, Atwood has suggested that the main inspiration for the repressive, quasi-religious state in her novel was “the heavy-handed theocracy of 17th-century Puritan New England.”

For a more even-handed account of People of Praise, this 2018 article from the National Catholic Register is a good place to start:

Bishop Peter Smith, an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Portland, Oregon, is a member of the Brotherhood of the People of Praise, an association of priests connected to the group, founded with the support of the late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago. Bishop Smith was ordained a bishop on April 29, 2014.

People of Praise was founded in 1971 as part of the “great emergence of lay ministries and lay movements in the Catholic Church,” Bishop Smith told CNA.

The group began with 29 members who formed a “covenant” — an agreement, not an oath, to follow common principles, to give 5% of annual income to the group, and to meet regularly for spiritual, social, and service projects. . . .

While most People of Praise members are Catholic, the group is officially ecumenical; people from a variety of Christian denominations can join. Members of the group are free to attend the church of their choosing, including different Catholic parishes, Bishop Smith explained.

“We’re a lay movement in the Church,” Bishop Smith said. “There are plenty of these. We continue to try and live out life and our calling as Catholics, as baptized Christians, in this particular way, as other people do in other callings or ways that God may lead them into the Church.”

Nothing terribly sinister there. Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan offers similar clarity in her latest, which is worth reading in full. Here’s part of what she points out:

Judge Barrett is a Roman Catholic, like Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi. Judge Barrett is also a member of a faith community called People of Praise, which is part of the Charismatic Renewal movement within the church that started in the 1970s, after Vatican II. The movement emphasizes personal conversion and bringing forward Christ’s teachings in the world. There are tens of millions of members throughout the world, and about 1,700 members of People of Praise in more than 20 cities in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. . . .

People of Praise has been accused of being a right-wing sect. It answers that it has politically liberal and conservative members. They don’t appear to be obsessed with traditionalism or orthodoxy and are ecumenical: Members include Protestants as well as Catholics. They have joined together intentionally, in community, to pray together, perform service, and run schools. They’re Christians living in the world.

If they are right-wing religious extremists someone had better tell Pope Francis, who appointed a member of People of Praise’s South Bend community as auxilliary bishop of Portland, Ore. . . .

Joannah Clark, a local leader of People of Praise in Portland and the head of Trinity Academy, a People of Praise school, also appears to be failing at submissiveness. “I consider myself a strong, well-educated, happy, intelligent, free, independent woman,” she laughs. She has a doctorate from Georgetown. Trinity’s culture is “distinctly Christian” but “purposely ecumenical.” The emphasis is on reading, writing and Socratic inquiry. “Our three pillars are the humanities, modern math and science, and the arts—music, drama.”

Do they teach evolution? They do.

“We are normal people—there’s women who are nurses, doctors, teachers, scientists, stay-at-home moms” in the community. “We are in Christian community because we take our faith seriously. We are not weird and mysterious,” she laughs. “And we are not controlled by men.”

To no one’s surprise, interviews of this sort have yet to appear in the publications that were quick to assert that People of Praise describes itself as “ultraconservative,” when, in fact, the group does no such thing. If this is the best line of attack progressives are prepared to launch against Judge Barrett, they can expect it not only to fail but to backfire.


Y’All Remember Democrats Used to Win in the Midwest and South, Right?

Clare Island, County Mayo, Ireland, 2009 (Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)

Related to the argument that the Senate somehow unfairly overrepresents Republicans because largely rural states in the interior have as much say as more heavily populated coastal states . . . these folks know that a bunch of those rural interior states had Democratic senators not that long ago, right?

As recently as 2004, all four senators from North Dakota and South Dakota were Democrats. Jon Tester currently represents Montana, and as recently as 2014 the state had two Democratic senators. The state may have two Democrats again soon, as Steve Bullock has a decent shot in the current Montana Senate race.

Rather than elaborate schemes to add more states or somehow alter the role of the Senate under the Constitution, the Democrats could just try to win more races in these parts of the country. They did it before, not that long ago. In 2008, Democrat Mark Begich won a Senate seat in Alaska, Mark Pryor won a seat in Arkansas, Mary Landrieu won a seat in Louisiana, and Kay Hagan won a seat in North Carolina. Arizona has one Democratic senator and could get another one starting in January.

If you look at governor’s races, you see even more signs that Democrats can win in these states. Laura Kelly is the Democratic governor of Kansas. Andy Beshear is governor of Kentucky. Bullock is governor of Montana.

It’s not that different a story in the South, long perceived as a Republican stronghold. Cal Cunningham has a decent shot in the current North Carolina Senate race, and if you believe the polls, Jaime Harrison has a real shot at knocking off Lindsey Graham. Jon Bel Edwards is governor of Louisiana and Roy Cooper is governor of North Carolina. At least one Democrat represented Florida in the U.S. Senate from 1872 to 2018.

If Democrats want to win more races in more rural and sparsely populated states, they should run candidates who do a better job of appealing to voters in those states! Alternately, the rest of the party could at least try to not communicate anything that could be construed as contempt for “flyover country” or rural Americans.

There are very few states that are so deep red that no Democrat ever has a chance and very few states that are so deep blue that no Republican ever has a chance. (Think of Chris Christie winning the governor’s race in New Jersey, Larry Hogan winning the governor’s race in Maryland, and Phil Scott winning the governor’s race in Vermont.)

How much of what certain Democrats perceive as a permanent, unjust, structural bias against their candidates is just a reflection that they’ve nominated some real turkeys in these states the past few cycles?

Film & TV

Why We Should Care about Cuties


Much has already been written, including here at NRO, about the new French independent movie Cuties, hosted on Netflix. Last week, I had a piece refuting the absurd notion that only far-right conspiracy theorists and Internet trolls might take issue with a movie that features young girls watching pornography, discussing oral sex, taking and sharing nude pictures of themselves, and learning how to strip dance.

But I think the debate over the movie is actually even more important than the passing online controversy. Cuties turned into a flashpoint in the culture war, with progressives pretending that only right-wing extremists or repressive Puritans might object to the movie’s content, and those who disliked the movie began an Internet campaign to boycott Netflix for continuing to stream it.

In my latest column for the Catholic Herald’s “Chapter House” blog, I brought up a few points about children, young adults, and their use of technology, a subject that Cuties touches on and that deserves a great deal more attention that the movie itself. Here’s a bit of what I had to say in that piece:

The debate over the movie has offered an occasion to reflect on how today’s younger generations are growing up with omnipresent technology, providing access to a nearly unlimited universe of addictive, damaging, and sometimes dangerous content.

A 2018 Pew Research Report poll found that 45 percent of teenagers in the U.S. said they use the Internet “almost constantly,” 44 percent said they go online several times a day, and a whopping 95 percent said they either own or have regular access to a smartphone. In 2016, a Common Sense Media survey reported that one out of every two U.S. teenagers said they feel addicted to their phones, and nearly 80 percent said they check their devices at least hourly.

And it’s not just teenagers: A 2012 survey found that about 60 percent of children in the U.S. between the ages of eight to twelve had cellphones, a percentage that almost certainly has increased over the last decade.

While laptops and smartphones aren’t inherently problematic, they carry significant risk of overuse, addiction, damage to mental health, and exposure to harmful or dangerous content — even for adults, but especially for children and teenagers. An increasing number of studies have found, for instance, that social-media use by minors is linked to a greater risk for depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicidality.

The average age of a child’s first exposure to pornography, meanwhile, seems to fall somewhere between eight and eleven years old, though many report being much younger. Nearly 40 percent of all teenagers report having posted or sent sexually suggestive messages, 22 percent of teen girls report having sent semi-nude or nude photos, and 15 percent of all teens who have done so say they sent the photos to someone on the Internet whom they’ve never met.

These statistics are incredibly frightening, and they receive little to no attention in our public conversations, whether about Cuties or anything else. Regardless of one’s views about the movie and its sexualized depiction of child actors, perhaps the debate will spur us to seriously consider these startling realities — in the public square, certainly, but more important, in our communities and our homes.

Politics & Policy

Football Is a Luxury That Most Colleges Should Drop


Some years ago, I asked a professor who was from New Zealand what he thought about the obsession with intercollegiate sports here. He replied that he found it odd, since in his country, “College was for studying, not for sports.”

Maybe it’s time for American schools to rethink their costly commitment to big-time sports.

In today’s Martin Center article, Laurence Peterson, dean emeritus at Kennesaw State University, argues that the COVID-19 pandemic underscores what has been obvious for many years — that college football is a waste of resources and a distraction that schools should finally drop.

Peterson writes, “The COVID-19 pandemic is prompting universities to develop costly new teaching methodologies, require expensive campus protection strategies, and has caused severe revenue declines due to reduced enrollment. Consequently, universities expect to lose millions of dollars, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Yet, surprisingly, no university administrators have canceled their high-cost, money-losing football programs to avoid academic cuts.”

Most schools lose lots of money on their football programs, requiring infusions of money from students and taxpayers. A good example is the University of Akron. About that institution, Peterson notes, “Now facing a $65 million budget shortfall, Akron’s administration cut its 2020-2021 budget by 19 percent. However, they are not planning more substantial reductions to their $34.6 million athletics budget, of which $12 million is football. Akron, other MAC schools, and most mid-majors are reluctant to drop football during a budget crisis, even as costs go up and student enrollments go down.”

Expensive football programs don’t benefit the students in general, nor do they provide long-run benefits for the players, few of whom ever play professionally and usually get a pathetic “college education” for their years of playing on the gridiron.

Peterson sticks the landing with his conclusion: “Even before the pandemic, the cost of college football and the buffet of other sports programs was an expensive luxury for most universities. Now is the time for higher education to critically assess the role of football, and all intercollegiate sports, on campus. At many schools, it may be better for leaders to cut their losses and refocus on their core mission.”


Ten Things That Caught My Eye Today: Lebanon, Amy Coney Barrett, Singing Friars & More (September 24, 2020)


1. Habib Malik: Lebanon, Both Free and Hostage

2. Russia Seizes Kremlin Critic Navalny’s Apartment


4. Don’t treat children like consumer goods

5. Notre Dame profs push back on Amy Coney Barrett portrayals: Not just ‘an ideological category’

6. Laura Wolk: What I Learned From Amy Coney Barrett: 

I went on to succeed that semester and, by God’s grace, to become the first blind woman to clerk on the Supreme Court. The warmth and compassion that Judge Barrett has shown me on so many occasions flow from the same wellspring of faith for which she is now so excoriated. The ease with which she donates her time and energy to serving others comes from years of loving the Lord with her entire heart, mind, and strength, and loving her neighbor as herself. And for a young, disabled woman like me struggling to find my footing and place in this world, that faith has made all the difference.

7. Andrea Picciotti-Bayer: Cancel Culture College Administrators Put on Notice

8. Erika Bachiochi in America: What I will teach my children about Ruth Bader Ginsburg

9. Fr. Matt Malone in America: We Need to Recover the Sense of Fun in Politics 

As a lifelong political junkie, I have a long list of places and events at which I would love to have been a fly on the wall. The journey of the L.B.J. Special nears the top of the list. This frenetic, passionate barnstorm through the backroads and hamlets of rural America was U.S. politics at its best. Sure, there were some tricks involved, some sleight of hand, as well as partisan hyperbole and overly sentimental populist appeals. But that is also the sort of stuff that made the whole spectacle not just effective but entertaining.


Politics & Policy

Do You Want 51 or 52 States Next Year?

A formation of the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron “Blue Angels” and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly over the National Mall in Washington, D.C., May 2, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

“The prospects of statehood for Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., have never been greater, but many significant obstacles loom,” The Hill declares.

The Constitution declares, “new States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.” On paper, all it takes for a new state to be created is a majority of the House and Senate.

The push for statehood for either Puerto Rico or the District of Columbia or both could succeed in 2021, if the decisions are not perceived as a partisan power grab by a newly-elected Democratic majority.

Both eager Democrats and skeptical Republicans would be wise to remember that the current non-voting member of Congress representing Puerto Rico – sometimes called the “resident commissioner” – is Jenniffer González-Colón, a Republican. Luis Fortuno, also a Republican, held the position from 2005 to 2009. If two new Senate seats were created to represent Puerto Rico, there is no guarantee those seats would both be Democrats either immediately or in the long term.

The argument for Puerto Rican statehood would have to be, “Puerto Ricans are full U.S. citizens, so why shouldn’t they have the same rights and representation as everyone else? And hasn’t being a territory and not a full state resulted in them getting unjustly ignored and shortchanged when they needed help the most?” Americans are likely to be receptive to that and there already is fairly broad public support for making Puerto Rico a state; 66 percent of Americans told Gallup they supported the idea in July 2019, including 45 percent of Republicans.

Any Democratic messaging that amounts to “this is our chance, let’s add more votes to Congress that we think will be on our side most of the time,” would turn the issue of statehood into another partisan football.

Legislation to make either Puerto Rico or the District of Columbia a state would have to pass the Senate, meaning that if the filibuster is in place, forty lawmakers could block it. As our John McCormack recently reported, some Democratic senators who once described themselves as staunch defenders of the filibuster are now leaving some wiggle room. But an effort to eliminate the filibuster, specifically to add two new states and create four new senators, would likely strike much of the public as a cynical power-grab atop another cynical power-grab. It is fair to wonder if Joe Biden wants this to be the defining fight of the first two years of his presidency; he will still be facing a coronavirus pandemic and lingering economic problems if he takes office in January.

As for the District of Columbia, the argument for statehood is weaker. For starters, geographically, the district is by no measure a state; it is a city, and really only the geographic center of a city that spills out into Virginia and Maryland. The current smallest state, Rhode Island, is 1,045 square miles; the District of Columbia is 68 square miles. It functions under a city government, not a territorial government.

The District of Columbia lacks the sorts of things you can find in just about every other state. It has no rural population and the only agriculture is some urban farms and community gardens; the aim is to expand to five acres in the “medium term.” The district has no major airport; Reagan National and Dulles International are in Virginia and Baltimore-Washington is in Maryland. It has no major port and almost no manufacturing. (Nationwide, 8.6 percent of Americans work in manufacturing; in the District, less than one tenth of one percent.)

Washington D.C. is not just a city, it is a particularly unique city because of the outsized role of the federal government in its economy. The last traditional car dealership with a large lot left the District in 2014; a downtown Tesla dealership became the only place to purchase a new car within the city limits. Quite a few industries are so small that they’re barely measurable within the district: private transportation and warehousing, building materials, landscaping services – even residential building construction employs less than 900 District residents.

Washington D.C. is a city that is particularly dependent upon its neighboring states to function. All of the water in the city goes through the Dalecarlia Reservoir on the border with Bethesda, Maryland, run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. All of the city’s solid waste goes to landfills in Virginia, the recyclables go to Maryland. Almost all of the electricity that powers the District comes from other states.

Washington D.C. is a city that is particularly dependent upon the federal government to cover its operating expenses. The federal government pays for the D.C. courts system, and since 2001 all D.C. prisoners are integrated into the federal Bureau of Prisons system. The city does not have a district attorney or state attorney general; the Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia prosecutes all serious local crime committed by adults in the District of Columbia.

If the District were to become a state, it would have a relationship with the federal government unlike any other, even beyond the factors above. Roughly 27 percent of all District residents work for the federal government, way more than any other state. Roughly 38 percent of all District residents work for government at some level.

Advocates for statehood can argue that their population would not quite be the smallest; with an estimated 705,000 people, Washington, D.C. has more residents than Vermont (623,000) and Wyoming (578,000). But the roughly 19 other U.S. cities that have higher populations will ask, fairly, why the District gets to be a separate state and not, say, New York City or Los Angeles.

Finally, two-thirds of the American public oppose statehood for the District of Columbia, and that figure includes 51 percent of self-identified Democrats.

In the Federalist Papers, James Madison argued that the nation’s capital should not be within any particular state: “The public money expended on such places, and the public property deposited in them, requires that they should be exempt from the authority of the particular State. Nor would it be proper for the places on which the security of the entire Union may depend, to be in any degree dependent on a particular member of it.” Advocates of D.C. statehood argue that the “district” of the nation’s capital would become Capitol Hill, the National Mall, and the White House, while the surrounding area became a new state.

Certain legal scholars argue reducing the size of the federal district in that manner would violate the Constitution. The Cato Institute’s Roger Pilon testified before Congress in 2019:

[The proposal] would make the federal government dependent on this new independent state, “Washington, D.C.,” for everything from electrical power to water, sewer, snow removal, police and fire protection, and so much else that today is part of an integrated jurisdiction under the ultimate authority of Congress. Nearly every foreign embassy would be beyond federal jurisdiction and dependent mainly on the services of this new and effectively untested state. Ambulances, police and fire equipment, diplomatic entourages, members of Congress, and ordinary citizens would be constantly moving over state boundaries in their daily affairs and in and out of jurisdictions, potentially increasing jurisdictional problems exponentially.

Interestingly, advocates for one state may not necessarily agree with advocates for others. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia, told The Hill, “[Puerto Rico] is bankrupt, so the United States has had to pump money in it just to keep it going. In order to become a state, you [have] to … show that you’re fully able to support yourself.”


Liberals and Political Violence


While I’m highlighting things to read elsewhere, First Things has a bone-chilling piece by historian Gary Saul Morson. It is about the role liberals played in Russia ahead of the revolution. Most of it normalizing and apologizing for revolutionary violence. Here’s a small taste. Absolutely worth buckling down:

Anyone wearing a uniform was a candidate for a bullet to the head or sulfuric acid to the face. Country estates were burnt down (“rural illuminations”) and businesses were extorted or blown up. Bombs were tossed at random into railroad carriages, restaurants, and theaters. Far from regretting the death and maiming of innocent bystanders, terrorists boasted of killing as many as possible, either because the victims were likely bourgeois or because any murder helped bring down the old order. A group of anarcho-­communists threw bombs laced with nails into a café bustling with two hundred customers in order “to see how the foul bourgeois will squirm in death agony.”

Instead of the pendulum’s swinging back—a metaphor of inevitability that excuses people from taking a stand—the killing grew and grew, both in numbers and in cruelty. Sadism replaced simple killing. As Geifman explains, “The need to inflict pain was transformed from an abnormal irrational compulsion experienced only by unbalanced personalities into a formally verbalized obligation for all committed revolutionaries.” One group threw “traitors” into vats of boiling water. Others were still more inventive. Women torturers were especially admired.

How did educated, liberal society respond to such terrorism? What was the position of the Constitutional Democratic (Kadet) Party and its deputies in the Duma (the parliament set up in 1905)? Though Kadets advocated democratic, constitutional procedures, and did not themselves engage in ­terrorism, they aided the terrorists in any way they could.




Over at the indispensable, Sam Leith questions why an interview with Judith Butler received so much overpraising. Butler is widely credited for popularizing the conceptual split between sex and gender that has driven transgenderism. The United Kingdom, more than anywhere else, has produced dissent against transgenderism from feminists. Leith had hoped to find some clarity from a veteran academic. Instead, Butler was evasive. Maybe there’s less here than meets the eye.

Law & the Courts

Faggioli’s Dishonest Questions about Judge Barrett

U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In Politico, Massimo Faggioli says that if Judge Amy Barrett is nominated to the Supreme Court, senators ought to look into her religious beliefs and affiliations, even in ways that might seem intrusive. It is a thoroughly dishonest op-ed, and the dishonesty starts in the third sentence: “Over the past several days, her backers have been arguing that public questions about her religious beliefs should be off limits — and that it’s anti-Catholic for Democrats even to raise questions about them, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein did in Barrett’s confirmation hearings the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in 2017.” He goes on to say that there’s nothing anti-Catholic about asking questions about Barrett’s beliefs.

What actually caused objections — and not just from conservatives — was Feinstein’s sneering comment to Barrett that “the dogma lives loudly within you.” Feinstein’s office went on to object to Barrett for saying, e.g., that Christians should be mindful of their role in God’s plan to redeem the world. None of this was just raising questions.

Senators are well within their rights to ask any nominee, whatever their religion or lack of it, whether they have any commitments that would interfere with their obligation to apply the law. They are not justified in insinuating, with zero evidence, that someone’s (reported) membership in a religious organization creates a special obligation for that question to be asked and answered. They would, similarly, be wrong to ask an atheist nominee if he could really be trusted to protect religious liberty.

Barrett has already testified under oath to the Senate on the relevant point: “I see no conflict between having a sincerely held faith and duties as a judge. I would never impose my own personal convictions upon the law.” The key question has been asked and answered.

The additional questions Faggioli thinks needs to be raised are, in a word, idiotic. “Is there a tension between forthrightly serving as one of the final interpreters of the Constitution and swearing an oath to an organization that lacks transparency and visible structures of authority that are accountable to their members, to the Roman Catholic Church and to the wider public?” I’m sure Feinstein would be much happier if People of Praise were under the direct control of Catholic bishops.

Faggioli is also misleading about what he calls “the Catholic Church’s official stance” toward People of Praise. He notes that Pope Francis, in 2014, warned Catholic lay movements about “usurping” their members’ freedom. (To his limited credit, Faggioli supplies the link, which makes it clear that Francis was not talking about these organizations’ treatment of their members or chastising them at all.) A fuller picture of the pope’s attitude toward these movements can be gleaned from this other 2014 comment: “You, the charismatic renewal, have received a great gift from the Lord. Your movement’s birth was willed by the Holy Spirit to be ‘a current of grace in the Church and for the Church.’ This is your identity: to be a current of grace.” Francis has made a member of People of Praise into the auxiliary bishop of Portland.

Because Faggioli takes pains to inform us that he is an expert on organizations such as People of Praise — using this alleged authority as an excuse to make blanket generalizations about what “such communities” are like — it is difficult to conclude that he has made an innocent mistake.


Trump v. Trump


Another theory for why Joe Biden stops working at 9:30 a.m. and spends much of his time in his house is that his opponent, President Trump, spends much of his time saying ridiculous and execrable things such as this.

Politics & Policy

Trump Translation Service: ‘There Won’t Be a Transfer of Power’

President Donald Trump delivers a campaign speech at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe, Pa., September 3, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

I’ve been noodling the idea of launching a Trump Translation Service for the large number of Trumpish phrases that his critics and the media don’t understand. It would be very expensive, because I really don’t want to do it, but I have to think there would be a substantial market.

For example, just yesterday, Trump took a question about whether he would respect a peaceful transfer of power regardless of the outcome of the election. For anyone who really understands Trump and his administration, it’s a stupid question: Of course they would. And anyway what are they going to do, barricade themselves in the West Wing? But for people who don’t understand him — which includes most people on the left — it’s not a stupid question. And Trump has brought it on himself by answering questions about whether he’d concede the election as if the question was whether he’d concede that the election was fair. It should be obvious by now that if he loses (and maybe even if he wins) he will never stop complaining about how unfair it all was.

At any rate, the answer he gave has caused great consternation. Here is my transcription of the original Trumpish sentence fragments:

We’re going to have to see what happens, you know that. I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster. [Reporter interrupts and repeats question, Trump tries to talk over him] I know, I know, I know — No, we want, we want to have. . .  Get rid of the ballots, and you’ll have a very transfer, you’ll have a very peaceful, you won’t have a transfer frankly, you’ll have a continuation. The ballots are out of control. You know it and you know who knows it better than anybody else? The Democrats know it better than anybody else.

On the left there has been a meltdown over this comment, with people taking it as incontrovertible proof of their worst suspicions. Anne Applebaum tweeted: “He said it out loud. ‘There won’t be a transfer’ of power. He isn’t leaving, even if he loses.” That’s not at all what he meant of course, but it can’t be said he doesn’t deserve it, given how easy it would have been to answer the question that was actually asked in a simple sentence of coherent English.

Anyway, here is what he meant, with implied words supplied in brackets. “No, we want, we want to have [a peaceful transfer of power.] Just get rid of the [mail-in] ballots, and you’ll have a very [peaceful] transfer, you’ll have a very peaceful [transfer, and] you won’t [even] have a transfer frankly, you’ll have a continuation [of power because I will win if we have a fair election without millions of fraudulent mail-in ballots.]”

That’s still a terrible answer to an absolute softball question, but at least what he meant is clear: Yes we’ll respect a peaceful transfer of power. But if you’re worried about election integrity you need to do something about the mail-in ballots. If the mail-in ballots are handled properly, and it’s a free and fair election, there won’t even be a transfer of power, because I’ll win.

Of course, that’s what he’s been trying to say about this all along, in one misshapen form or another, further confusing rather clarifying with each new imprecision.


How to Take Back American History

(diane39/Getty Images)

Our schools have buried the glory and beauty of America’s story under a mountain of misplaced guilt and tendentious ideology. Yes, there are faults in our story — the stain of slavery above all. Yet the weight and significance of our tale lay in the striving to overcome our failings. American history is, in part, the chronicle of our attempts to more perfectly realize the principles of liberty and equality that inspired our founding. There is a way for America’s schools to grasp this truth and again impart an honest and confident pride in our story. That path emerged last week when President Trump spoke at the National Archives. Yet the full significance of the education strategy laid out by the president has been missed.

President Trump’s remarks were delivered at the White House Conference on American History. So far, news out of that event has highlighted the president’s intention to appoint a 1776 Commission to forward patriotic education in our nation’s schools. That is only a part of the picture, however. The fuller story emerges when you attend to the conference that preceded the president’s address, and to an important yet overlooked moment in his remarks.

The White House Conference on American History helped to introduce a new solution to the decline of history education in this country. American Achievement Testing (AAT), a new non-profit company, has formed an alliance with the historian Wilfred McClay, whose extraordinary new American history textbook, Land of Hope, is unlike any text currently available. In partnership with the National Association of Scholars (NAS), AAT recently received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), to design instructional materials for K–12 U.S. history courses, with Land of Hope as their core text. Theodor Rebarber, CEO of AAT, Wilfred McClay, author of Land of Hope, and Peter Wood, president of NAS, all spoke at the White House Conference on American history, as did Jordan Adams, who supervises history instruction at the system of charter schools associated with Hillsdale College, where Land of Hope is used as a text. (Other presentations less directly related to AAT’s project are well worth watching.) President Trump touted the NEH grant during his speech and asked Rebarber, McClay, and Wood to stand and be recognized. (You can see a video of the conference, with talks by Wood, McClay, Rebarber, Adams, and others here, and video of the president’s remarks here.) AAT’s U.S. history course materials — and the way they will be adopted — hold the key to the president’s new education reform plans.

AAT’s strategy for reforming American history education — and eventually other subjects — represents a sharp break with the failed approach of the national education reform movement supported for years by the conservative education establishment. Instead of attempting to impose a de facto national curriculum (think Common Core, the College Board’s AP U.S. history framework, and plans for new national civics standards), AAT hopes to return our education system to the principles of federalism, competition, and local control. Before unpacking AAT’s reform strategy and explaining why it represents a better way than the quest for de facto national standards, let’s have a look at the unique features of AAT’s approach to American history instruction, beginning with Land of Hope.

Wilfred McClay’s Land of Hope is learned, inspiring, and honest. That combination may strike a generation of skeptical postmodernist historians and their progeny as implausible, but it’s not. The conviction that our core national narrative is false, while only its cynical debunking is true, is a prejudice like any other. To endure and flourish as a constitutional republic — respecting the fundamental liberties of our citizens and modeling all this for the world — is an accomplishment to be acknowledged and explained, every bit as much as America’s periodic failings and strife. McClay’s textbook does justice to all sides of the ledger, in a way that both informs and inspires.

Consider America’s founding. The 1619 Project casts the idea that America was founded on the principles of the founding documents as a lie. It claims instead that America’s true meaning is to be found in the commencement of slavery in 1619. (1619 Project leader Nikole Hannah-Jones now falsely denies that she ever made this claim.)

Seemingly more mainstream textbooks are hardly better. Take America’s History, by James Henretta, Eric Hinderaker, Rebecca Edwards, and Robert O. Self, one of the first textbooks conformed to the College Board’s controversial 2014 AP US History (APUSH) framework. Henretta made his scholarly reputation interpreting the new Marxist social history to Americans. His textbook reflects that bias. Henretta treats America’s founding as a product of class conflict. But for a passing quote from Benjamin Franklin, there is little in this text that describes our republic’s strengths or explains its longevity. Bereft of inspiration, Henretta offers a spare, cold, reductive, and implicitly debunking take on America’s founding moment. Yet this text has been held up as a model by the College Board.

With Wilfred McClay’s treatment of America’s founding in Land of Hope, we are in entirely new territory. McClay is no Pollyanna. He includes the very same class conflicts cited by Henretta. Yet Land of Hope does more. McClay explores the understanding of human nature that stood behind the Framers’ Constitution, the artful balance they struck between competing institutional imperatives, and the strengths and weaknesses of personal character in figures such as Madison and Washington. Without boasting or untoward pride, the Founding emerges in McClay’s telling as a genuine achievement hammered out under challenging circumstances by remarkable human beings. This story evokes an unforced sense of appreciation in the reader. Contrast this reaction with the conviction engendered by Henretta that America’s founding — indeed history itself — is little more than a shadow play manipulated by competing class interests.

Without boasting or crudity, but simply by laying out the magnitude of the challenge and what it took in intellectual, political, and human terms to meet it, McClay evokes pride in our founding. Yet he does not stop there. After tackling the formation of our constitutional republic, McClay segues into a lengthy reflection on slavery and the failure of the Framers to satisfactorily address it. Here McClay acknowledges and explores the failings of the Framers, yet also frankly considers the factors that stayed their hand on the slavery issue — the near impossibility of abolishing slavery and creating a union of the states at one and the same time, for example. Here also are arresting reflections on the nature of moral progress, the place of slavery in world history, and the imperfections to be expected in even our noblest heroes. McClay makes a powerful case against the claim that America was founded on slavery (the central allegation of the 1619 Project). Yet he leaves the final moral balance sheet to be tallied by his now far more fully informed and thoughtful readers.

McClay’s presentation of America’s founding in Land of Hope is a tour de force. I wish every American could read it. I have no doubt that if Americans were able to take in the treatment of our founding in Henretta’s all-too-typical AP U.S. History textbook side by side with Land of Hope, the overwhelming majority of parents — regardless of political party — would prefer their children to learn from McClay.

By itself, the opportunity to have McClay’s Land of Hope as a textbook would be more than enough to justify adoption of an American history curriculum devised by AAT. Over and above this, however, AAT is breaking new ground. Most American history courses feature resource-books containing original historical documents, important presidential speeches, and such. The College Board, however, does not make such documents central to its exam. AAT, in contrast, will develop a list of quasi-canonical historical documents: e.g. Washington’s Farewell Address, a Roosevelt speech on the New Deal, a Reagan speech on the dangers of big government, etc. These documents will be every bit as central to AAT’s exams as McClay’s textbook and AAT’s other instructional materials. This, in turn, will build up a common fund of reference points for our national debates.

That doesn’t mean AAT will ignore America’s social or economic history. AAT will supplement Land of Hope’s coverage of those issues in its broader curriculum — including, for example, material on the environmental movement, the labor movement, traditional religious movements, the economic institutions and developments that led to America’s increasing affluence, and other movements as well. AAT’s approach to these social and economic developments will be substantially more balanced than we find in most textbooks and curricula, however. For example, the sense of crisis conveyed by early environmentalists such as Rachel Carson or Paul Ehrlich will be attended to, but so will the perspective of those who rely on more limited regulation and the flexibility and innovation of our free enterprise system to grapple with environmental challenges. In short, AAT will represent a fuller spectrum of American thinking on our most highly debated cultural issues.

Working closely with McClay, other scholar-advisers, and outstanding teachers, AAT will develop a wide range of additional classroom materials to fill out a coherent American history curriculum — including lesson plans, teacher presentation materials, student assignments, and assessments. The result will be a genuine alternative to the now dominant mode: reductive and divisive histories that slight our common American story for identity-group grievance or simplistic, debunking ideology.

Far from imposing AAT’s American history curriculum on the country, the NEH has simply provided a modest grant to begin the creation of a curriculum that will restore genuine choice to states, school districts, teachers, and parents. The College Board’s appalling AP U.S. History curriculum now dominates nationally, and the College Board itself functions as something of an unelected national school board.  Over the long-term AAT hopes to break the College Board’s AP monopoly not with federal coercion, but with a simply superior product. That means more choice, not less. Initially, however, AAT will offer a true alternative to current non-AP U.S. history curricula and the monochromatic character of American history textbooks, nearly all of which share the same limitations and biases.

The conservative education establishment has long partnered with left-leaning educators in an attempt to craft national standards (e.g., the disastrous Common Core in reading and math). This establishment now hopes to extend the quest for national standards to a civics curriculum. Yet beginning with the ill-fated development of national history standards in the mid-1990s, the same problems emerge. The dominant education left co-opts any move to have government centrally plan curriculum and testing and infuses it with bias. The cultural wreckage wrought by the conservative education establishment’s failed strategy is glaring and undeniable. Why make the same mistake again?

It’s true that fledgling efforts such as AAT may initially grow slowly, with only a few states and school districts at first, and are sure to face funding challenges as well. With a genuine alternative now under development, however, I believe the majority in this country that still wants America’s history to be properly taught will be galvanized to embrace and support AAT. (I can’t pretend to be neutral in this fight. I invited AAT to form and continue to advise it informally, although I do not and will not take money from AAT.)

Even as the first handful of states or school districts adopt AAT’s U.S. history curriculum, the competitive pressure put on the College Board and textbook publishers will do more to move history education back to the center than any number of conservative education policy wonks sitting around the table, hat in hand, begging for crumbs from their dominant left-leaning counterparts.

AAT’s efforts have only just begun. The modest grant the company has received from the NEH is only enough to begin work on the initial units of a curriculum. Public support — cultural, political, and financial — for AAT’s efforts will determine whether the enterprise will ultimately succeed or fail. You can learn more about AAT’s history project at its website here.