Name That Tune


Lady Gaga has a tremendous voice — she is just an enormously talented singer. Somebody should send her the sheet music for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I would love to hear her sing it.

White House

A Normal and Exceptional Inaugural

From left, Sen. Amy Klobucha (D., Min.), Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.), President-elect Joe Biden, Jill Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and Doug Emhoff, arrive at the steps of the U.S. Capitol ahead of inauguration ceremonies in Washington, D.C., January 20, 2021. (Melina Mara/Reuters Pool)

Ever the sucker for civic pomp, I’ve attended every presidential inauguration since Bill Clinton’s second one in 1997, regardless of what I thought of the new president — at least until today. Even before security concerns intensified this month, the pandemic meant that this inauguration was not going to involve the peculiar inaugural mix of elite officialdom up front and a mass of shivering political junkies behind. Instead, for reasons beyond the control of the organizers, the event was stark and sparse, with a tiny group of the nation’s top leaders facing an empty expanse encircled by heavily armed soldiers in uniform. This was not an ideal image of the peaceful transfer of power in our democracy.

Yet in its substance, as long as the cameras did not pan out too far, the ceremony nonetheless did radiate a sort of stability. Inauguration day marks a beginning and an ending, but it also marks a continuity. Presidents come and go, but the presidency persists. That continuity was much more palpable in this inaugural ceremony than in the last one, and by design.

On the day of Trump’s inauguration four years ago I wrote around here that the ceremony and his remarks left me with a sense that he was barely aware of the nature of the role he had stepped into:

President Trump’s term seems less likely than that of any modern president’s to be defined by the role of the presidency in our system of government — not just by the limits of that role but even by its general form. Instead, to a greater degree than any modern president, his time in office seems likely to be shaped by his own character and personality. This is not good news.

That worry was borne out, alas. And in this respect Joe Biden is a return to a far more traditional understanding of the relationship between the president and the presidency — an understanding that was bent badly under Barack Obama and then broken altogether under Donald Trump. Biden gestured toward this attempt at recovery by the nature of what he had to say, and the ceremony pointed to it too.

Donald Trump was not there, because unlike every president since Andrew Johnson he chose not to attend his successor’s inaugural. He was not even explicitly mentioned by anyone. Some of Biden’s remarks pointed to the atmosphere of crisis in which he is taking office, but when he got specific he talked about the virus and about the mob that attacked the Capitol, he talked about people who had voted for his opponent in the last election, but he did not speak Trump’s name. Our political leadership came together without Trump to inaugurate his predecessor’s vice president into the presidency — as if to pick up where they had left off.

There is certainly something reassuring about this. But there is also something dangerous about it. The forces that brought Trump to power — the frustration with the nation’s leadership class, the alienation and dissatisfaction, the mix of profound and ridiculous passions that goes by the name of populism — have not been effectively integrated into our political self-awareness, nor have they been addressed, or satisfied, or dissipated. The disordered character of Donald Trump has driven some of his supporters deep into a terrifying realm of self-destructive fantasies, where they have no right to expect to be taken seriously. But most of his supporters, and most of their concerns, have just been left frustrated by both Trump and his opponents. And a sizable contingent of voters on the left is in a populist mood of its own, which will also want a say in what is to come in our politics.

The sigh of relief breathed by those on the inaugural stage this afternoon can’t be the end of their response to these forces. They will need to find a more constructive way to take seriously what is serious in the frustrations underlying our politics.

Biden himself may be more aware of this than most. The theme of his speech was not a return to normalcy, which was how people often described the theme of his campaign, but a recovery of unity. A hunger for unity, for a politics of solidarity alongside our longstanding politics of liberty, is actually a very important facet of the populism that has shaped American politics in this century. The desire for unity has ironically been a driving force behind some of the most divisive forms of populism on both the left and the right lately. That’s because unity is more easily talked about than actually advanced, and it generally can’t be served by defining some group (elites, or immigrants, or the wealthy, or Trump voters) as enemies of unity and calling the country to come together in opposition to them. It must be served by finding a common aspiration, or at least defining an overarching purpose to be achieved by negotiation and accommodation, and helping different factions of our society pursue it together.

Because of his long experience as a legislator, Biden’s approach to this sort of challenge may be more practical than that of either of his predecessors, and this is good. He seems to grasp that one key to the challenge of unity is turning down the temperature of our politics — making it more mundane and less morbidly interesting. His inaugural address was not eloquent or memorable, but it was well suited to this purpose, and to him. He seems to want to make politics boring again, at least to those who are bored by politics.

In fact, if Biden is going to recover some abandoned path on this front, it will likely be by reaching back not just before Trump but also before Obama. Like George W. Bush, Biden enters the presidency with a policy-minded view of what our politics is for, with his party controlling the House but only barely holding a 50–50 Senate, and with a sense of himself as adept at channeling middle-class yearnings and working with the opposition party to craft deals. Also like George W. Bush, however, he is probably not really in command of his party coalition, which teems with passionate malignancies he will struggle to contain. And he will also have to operate in a political environment that has grown much more divided and poisonous since Bush was in power.

Biden starts out with other weaknesses too. He is perceived as a lame duck from day one, as few people expect him to run for reelection at the age of 82. The shuffling to succeed him, especially with a lean and hungry vice president all too ready in the wings, will likely be a problem from the start, and will add to the perception of weakness that will inevitably dog him because of his age and frailty. That perception is also fed by a kind of insecurity that has always colored his political action and rhetoric. Biden is intent on constantly demonstrating both that he is a regular guy with no pretensions and that he is exceptionally smart and well educated. Whether either of these things is true or not, the desperate need to constantly convey them has been behind some of his worst missteps over the years, including some staggeringly bizarre behavior — such as plagiarizing an autobiographical speech by a British politician and getting into fights with voters over law-school grades.

This insecurity is a problem beyond such strange behavior. It suggests that Biden may be easy prey for aggressive activists and staffers who can manipulate his decision process by playing to his neediness. This is an old game among political advisers, of course, but by all accounts Biden has been especially vulnerable to it in the past, and this is a particular problem now since his ability to govern will depend on his ability to resist the pressure to surrender and conform to the left wing of his party coalition.

We can hope that at his age, having achieved an impressive primary victory and led his party to win a general election they could easily have lost, and with little left to prove or gain in politics, Biden may be more immune to these kinds of pressures than he once was. And we can hope too that his underlying decency, to which everyone who has known him attests and which comes across at a distance too, may guide him toward decisions that help to stitch our political culture back together and resist the awful impulses unleashed in our society in recent years.

It is good, in any case, that our new president wants greater unity. Whether he can help our country achieve it, his wanting it matters, and his decency does too. And on his first day, it is surely best to focus on the good, to wish our government’s new chief executive the very best, and to be grateful for the enormous good fortune we all have to share in the privilege of being Americans together.

White House

A Forgettable Speech

President Joe Biden delivers his inaugural address after he was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 20, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Biden’s speech wasn’t memorable, but it was true to Biden. He didn’t reach for any unnatural grandiloquence. Its relatively informal delivery and rhetoric suited him. His emphasis on unity was also sincere and deeply felt, if cliched and impossible to achieve.

What Biden can do is bring a new tone to the White House and lower the temperature, both of which will be easy after Trump stirred the pot every day, sometimes merely out of boredom.

Biden’s implicit promise was that, after Trump made it impossible to turn away from the screen for four years, he’ll make it entirely possible to turn away from the screen.

Today’s shockingly boring and astonishingly conventional proceedings (given their interest only in contrast to the riot) show he’s well on the way to delivering.


Anti-Vaxxers Got PPP Loans, but It’s Not a Scandal

Nurse practitioner Sarah Gonzalez prepares to give a dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine at Brooklyn Army Terminal in New York City, January 10, 2021. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

From a Washington Post story by Elizabeth Dwoskin and Aaron Gregg:

Five prominent anti-vaccine organizations that have been known to spread misleading information about the coronavirus received more than $850,000 in loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, raising questions about why the government is giving money to groups actively opposing its agenda and seeking to undermine public health during a critical period.

These “questions” have several answers, none of which are mentioned in the Post. One is that the statute creating PPP did not condition organizations’ eligibility for loans on their viewpoint. Another is that conditioning eligibility on organizations’ viewpoints might have run afoul of an important provision of American law.

People, including people who really ought to know better, have responded to the Post story by suggesting that the Trump administration made a deliberate choice to aid anti-vaxx groups through the PPP. It didn’t, any more than it chose to help the NRA by giving many of its members Social Security, or to help the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence by giving grants to build roads its leaders use.

White House

The Quiet Part in Biden’s Address

American poet Amanda Gorman speaks during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 20, 2021. (Patrick Semansky/Reuters Pool)

President Biden’s inaugural address was a flat plea for unity, reconciliation, and an end to what he called our “uncivil war.” I applaud the new commander in chief’s lofty rhetoric, but worry that his administration might not live up to it, given his pledge to revive federal lawsuits against the Little Sisters of the Poor, among other divisive acts. It is my suspicion that when Biden warns that “the forces that divide us are deep and they are real,” he believes the entirety of those forces to be concentrated within the Republican Party and the Republican Party alone.

The poem that followed the address, delivered by 2017 Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, said this quiet part — implicit in Biden’s speech — rather loudly. Consider these excerpts:

We braved the belly of the beast

Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished

Even as we grieved, we grew, that even as we hurt, we hoped, that even as we tired, we tried. That will forever be tied together victorious not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division

We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it, that would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy, and this effort very nearly succeeded

We did not feel prepared to be the heirs to such a terrifying hour

Donald Trump’s presidency was without a doubt the most divisive in, if not American history, then recent American history. Joe Biden’s signaling that he wishes to be a president for all of his countrymen is a welcome divergence from his predecessor, but if he governs as if his party has nothing to do with the division we see today, it will only deepen under his watch.


Report: Vatican Spiked a Statement from U.S. Bishops Criticizing Incoming Biden Administration

Pope Francis leads the Angelus prayer on Epiphany at the Vatican, January 6, 2021. (Vatican Media/­Handout via Reuters)

According to a new report from The Pillar, a well-sourced Catholic outlet, the Vatican Secretariat of State acted at the last minute to spike a forthcoming statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that was set to criticize the policy stances of the incoming presidential administration.

Here’s more from their article:

The statement, from conference president Archbishop Jose Gomez, took uncompromising positions on abortion, gender, and religious liberty, warning that the Biden administration’s policy agenda would advance “moral evils” on several fronts. . . .

“So, I must point out that our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender. Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences,” Gomez added.

The statement was not released Wednesday morning, and bishops were informed by USCCB officials that it remained under embargo, even after one media outlet reported it had been released.

Sources in the Vatican Secretariat of State, others close to the U.S. bishops’ conference, and sources among the U.S. bishops have confirmed to The Pillar that the statement was spiked after intervention from the Vatican Secretariat of State, hours before it was due to be released.

The Pillar went on to say that several bishops in the U.S., including Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark and Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, had objected to the content of the statement.

Given that the statement was slated to come out this morning at 9 a.m., which had already been confirmed by several outlets, it seems clear that something big must have happened behind the scenes at the last minute to prevent its release — and from what we know of how the Church hierarchy often operates, an explanation like the one reported by The Pillar isn’t difficult to believe.

At the USCCB’s annual general assembly last fall, Gomez was similarly critical of Biden’s stances on abortion and religious liberty, saying that several of the administration’s policies likely will “undermine our preeminent priority of the elimination of abortion.”

“These policies pose a serious threat to the common good,” Gomez said of Biden’s anticipated stance on legal abortion. “When politicians who profess the Catholic faith support them . . . it creates confusion among the faithful about what the Church actually teaches on these questions.”

Update 12:35 p.m.: After Pope Francis released a statement today on the inauguration of Joe Biden, the USCCB released Gomez’s own statement, which had been delayed this morning, critical of the incoming administration’s expected policies on abortion and religious liberty.

Politics & Policy

The Bannon Pardon


A few months ago, NR editorialized about Steve Bannon.

Steve Bannon — the former Trump adviser, Breitbart publisher, and champion of “populism” — was indicted for orchestrating a fraud. Citizens gave money that they thought was going to the building of a border wall, but the prosecution says it ended up lining the pockets of Bannon & Co. In a cinematic touch that the sometime movie producer must at some level have appreciated, Bannon was arrested on a billionaire’s yacht. Around the same time, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report that, in a footnote, recorded that Bannon had put down Donald Trump Jr. to its investigators as “a guy who believes everything on Breitbart is true.” Bannon and his allies have long insisted that elites have nothing but contempt for conservative citizens, and they have done their best to prove it.

That Trump has now pardoned Bannon for defrauding his base over a wall that was never built is as fitting a capstone to his presidency as any.

Politics & Policy

Biden and the Minimum Wage


An email in response to this post:

You know, there was a way to keep this from happening. You don’t get to trash Trump every day he’s president and then complain about Biden’s policies.

1) I checked, and it turns out that I do get to criticize presidents as much as I want. 2) I think there’s still a way to block a $15 federal minimum wage, and it starts with people who think it’s a bad idea saying so. 3) If you’re unhappy Trump lost reelection, there’s someone who has a lot more responsibility for that event than I do.

Is It Time for Mitch McConnell to Step Aside?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) participates in a walk-through of inauguration events at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 19, 2021. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Surprise, surprise, Chris Buskirk, publisher and editor of American Greatness, believes that the biggest takeaway from these past few election cycles should be that it’s time for Mitch McConnell to take his leave as head of the Republican caucus in the Senate. Naturally.

For Buskirk, the proof is in the pudding. Let’s start back in 2016. Buskirk writes that:

It is McConnell who has been the architect of Republican defeat in the Senate. Heading into the 2016 election, there were 54 Republican senators. After the election there were 52.

He stays intentionally vague for a reason. Republicans faced a tough map in 2016,

Politics & Policy

Sponsoring a Flag at Today’s Inauguration Sends a Donation to Planned Parenthood

The “Field of flags” on the National Mall in front of the Capitol building ahead of inauguration ceremonies in Washington, D.C., January 20, 2021. (Allison Shelley/Reuters)

The Biden Inaugural Committee is hosting a symbolic “Field of Flags on the National Mall” display on the National Mall for today’s inauguration. The display will include nearly 200,000 American flags planted in the Mall to symbolize the many people who can’t be present at the ceremony today due to COVID-19 and security concerns.

As part of the display, the committee is offering individuals the chance to donate and sponsor a flag planted on the Mall. “Make a contribution of any amount to any of the Presidential Inaugural Committee’s partners in service today to become an official Field of Flags sponsor,” the solicitation reads.

The only catch? Unless donors pay careful attention and alter the default settings of the donation platform, the amount they give will automatically be split evenly among nearly 100 Democratic and progressive political-action groups, including one notable name: the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Meanwhile, the fine print at the bottom of the fundraising page offers this information: “You’ll receive emails from Planned Parenthood organizations.”

In other words, Americans who quickly make a donation to sponsor a flag on the Mall might very well unwittingly contribute to the nation’s largest, most profitable abortion corporation — and they have no choice but to opt in to that corporation’s email subscription list. This isn’t terribly surprising considering that such a fundraising drive is being sponsored by the committee for an incoming administration that Planned Parenthood’s executives are busy helping to staff.


The Strife of Reilly

Robert Reilly (Screengrab via EWTN/YouTube)

No sooner had Michael Pack, CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, announced the appointment of Robert Reilly to run the Voice of America than the long and stabbing liberal knives came out. Lost amidst many of the other Cancel War battles, Mr. Reilly — who has written for National Review, and whose 2020 book, America on Trial: A Defense of the Founding, received a very praiseworthy review in our pages — finds himself the subject of ouster calls, in part because of his opposition to ideological newsrooms, and also because of decades of affirming conservative and Catholic positions.

There’s a familiarity to this snowballing leftist campaign, which readers will recall has been led by the likes of America’s new vice president, who, when a U.S. senator, tried to block judicial nominees who were members of the Knights of Columbus. No matter that the application of religious tests to public-office holders is forbidden, but the Constitution be damned — it may have its verbiage, but the prevailing strategy for many activists of the Kamala Harris persuasion comes down to Christians need not apply. And that means you, Bob.

This is not the first VOA go-round for Reilly — he ran the agency from 2001–2002, after having overseen its weekly foreign-policy talk show, On the Line, for the preceding decade. His other public roles include being a top official in the Reagan White House’s Office of Public Liaison, assisting Faith Whittlesey when she was U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland, and serving as a platoon leader in the Armored Cavalry. The former president of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute is also the author of several books on foreign and domestic policy, and it is his 2014 work — Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything — that is being used by VOA’s ideologically charged staffers to claim he is an extremist, is baggage-saddled, “dangerous” too, and needs to get the boot, a mantra that has been picked up by Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who will be chairing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Aside from their collective ideological bias — VOA journalists, just like their counterparts in America’s preeminent newsrooms, brook no conservatism — there is the staff chafing at the direction both Reilly and Pack expect of the government-run and -funded information services — that the agency exists to explain America to the world.

(Which comes as news to the Urdu language service staff, which thought it existed to create and broadcast a campaign video of Joe Biden appealing for Muslim votes.)

In his speech upon his early December appointment, Reilly was clear about expectations and purpose:

Having lived and worked overseas, I am familiar with the distorted views of the United States that many people have formed, not only from foreign propaganda and disinformation, but from some American popular entertainment and the almost constant self-criticism in which the American people are engaged. The latter is a sign of a healthy democracy and a source of our strength, but our audiences need to understand the broader framework within which this takes place. That is why the VOA Charter requires us to represent America in a balanced and comprehensive way. It is vitally important that VOA fosters an understanding of American institutions and the principles behind them. No less important is our obligation to “present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively.” . . .

I firmly believe that VOA should not be an echo chamber for American domestic media, which is already largely available overseas on the internet. We have a different job. We need to offer our audiences what is otherwise not available to them. As I review what VOA is currently doing, the question foremost in my mind will be: what is the VOA value-added that will attract and serve our foreign audiences. What are we giving them that they cannot get elsewhere? Otherwise, why should they watch or listen?

Doesn’t he know that the new newsroom norm is that journos call the shots and set the policy — and demand that the heads of bosses must roll?

The effort to press Reilly out of his leadership role — and Pack too — will likely not relent. It merits the attention, confrontation, and remembrance by conservatives.


Taxes and Manufacturing


To Alex’s very interesting “Capital Matters” column on corporate-tax-depreciation reform — and don’t roll your eyes; it is an interesting subject, if you let it be — I would add only this: Tax schedules pushing 30 or 40 years might (might) have made sense in some earlier, slower-moving capitalist era, but, in our time, businesses undergo major reorganizations much more frequently, and few of them are making 39-year plans for any asset. It is possible that almost none of the equipment Tesla is purchasing today to manufacture automobiles will be in use a decade hence.

(There used to be a joke among technology investors that you should dump a company’s stock the minute it announces it is building a headquarters; Apple provides a counterexample.)

The tax rules are, as Alex shows, a hairier problem for firms that make big investments in physical equipment, factories, etc., than they are for, say, software companies that mostly need office space and personnel. The tax rules are not the only reason U.S. manufacturers have not seen the kind of growth that tech and finance have seen, but improving them would improve the overall business climate, which is in the interest of manufacturers — and everybody else.

Politics & Policy

Swamp Things


For those still (still!) wondering whether Donald Trump is a con artist, Mr. “Drain the Swamp”’s last acts as president included opening up the floodgates to fill the swamp.


Belichick, Brady, and More

Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots, after his team’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Cincinnati, Ohio, December 15, 2019 (Joe Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports)

Pleased to report that I have a sportscast for you, with three top-notch gurus: Sally Jenkins, the prize-winning columnist for the Washington Post; David French, the Tennessee titan; and Vivek Dave, the Motor City bad boy. Go here.

There is a lot of Bill Belichick in our discussion, for several reasons. He declined the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This is very rare. Sally tells us it has happened only twice before: Jacqueline Kennedy declined, and so did Moe Berg, the baseball player and spy.

For Sally’s column on Belichick and the Medal of Freedom, go here. In our podcast, David suggests that Joe Biden offer him the medal.

So, Nick Saban has won another college championship. Amazing record. Is he the greatest football coach of all time? Or is Belichick?

For years and years, people asked, “What is the secret of the Patriots’ success? Belichick or Tom Brady? Or the combination of them?” Okay: Does the current season tell us anything about this question? Brady is chugging to another conference championship game; the Pats had a mediocre season.

Speaking of Brady: He is a marvel, yes. Too much of a marvel? Is he availing himself of some illicit methods, maybe? Vivek raises this incendiary subject. A lively conversation ensues, with mentions of Lance Armstrong (whom Sally has been studying for a long time).

Some other items on our agenda: Urban Meyer, and his return to coaching. James Harden, and his trade to Brooklyn. Can Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving work in harmony? Is the town big enough for the both of them, or rather, the three of them? Super-team or super-fiasco? (Lookin’ pretty good, so far.)

Also, what makes a GOAT? When assessing the question of the Greatest of All Time, what should we consider? It’s harder in a team sport than in an individual sport, isn’t it? I mean, should Rod Carew be punished, reputationally, for his years on the Twins?

Michael has six “rings,” yes. Russell has eleven. So?

At the end of our podcast, I ask the gurus, “What athlete are you lovin’ at the moment? What athlete are you enjoying, or marveling at?” The answers are very interesting.

As is the whole ’cast, thanks to this panel. Again, go here. What would we do without the wide, wonderful world of sports? Fortunately, we have it, even in a pandemic.

White House

Properly Executive


The inauguration of a president, with all its trappings of solemn investiture, always has the feel of hallowed ritual. But our rituals should rebuke our excesses as much as they restore our hope.

It is right that the ceremony should happen at the Capitol, which is the proper center of our national politics, and which was so recently assaulted by a reckless mob intent on civic ruin. But it would be right, too, if as he launches his new term in office, our president would remember these words of James Madison in 1793:

The natural province of the executive magistrate is to execute laws, as that of the legislature is to make laws. All his acts therefore, properly executive, must presuppose the existence of the laws to be executed.

These words stand as a bitter rebuke of every modern president. We should hope, but would be naïve to expect, that they might serve as a guide for the next one. And we should work to help them serve as guides for Congress — which is a more achievable if still just now barely imaginable goal.

Politics & Policy

A Harvard Prof Bemoans the Impact of Higher Education


Last year, I reviewed Freddie DeBoer’s book The Cult of Smart, an plea for egalitarianism based on the notion that people don’t deserve their good or bad traits. I didn’t find it convincing. A few months later, another book with precisely the same premise appeared, The Tyranny of Merit by Harvard philosophy professor Michael Sandel.

I don’t find Sandel’s case for egalitarianism any more persuasive than I did DeBoer’s. First and foremost, he simply assumes that equality should be the overriding concern. I don’t see why it should be, and nothing in his book persuades me otherwise.

Nevertheless, Sandel has some interesting observations about higher education in the U.S. In today’s Martin Center article, I discuss them.

He’s perfectly correct in writing that credentialism has become “the last acceptable prejudice.” Many Americans look down their noses (and this is especially true among “progressive” elitists) on those who don’t have fancy college educations. More than that, it’s OK to discriminate against them in employment. You can’t legally post “No persons of color need apply” but you can post “No person lacking a college degree need apply.”

The problem is that Sandel doesn’t see the connection between our governmental policy of massively subsidizing college attendance and the result of a glut of college-credentialed people entering the labor force. Rather than advocating a change in that, Sandel wants to see colleges and universities (particularly the most prestigious ones, like Harvard), drop all admissions preferences for legacies, athletes, and children of rich donors.

I’m with him on that, although it would do almost nothing to undo the damage caused by our “college for everyone” mania.

Law & the Courts

Justice Sotomayor on the Death Penalty


I wrote a column a few weeks ago on five moral and political mistakes that opponents of the death penalty commonly make. Here you can read Justice Sotomayor make three of them in two pages.


The Assault on Pompeo’s Legacy

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference with Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto in Budapest, Hungary, February 11, 2019. (Tamas Kaszas/Reuters)

In the final days of the Trump administration, a number of commentators have attempted to define the legacy that Mike Pompeo leaves behind. His stewardship of the State Department had its weaknesses, but many of the takes out there have been rather unfair, skewering Pompeo for some of the strongest aspects of his tenure, such as implementing the administration’s strategy to counter China. At the New York Times, Lara Jakes offers one such perspective (it links a tweet by Javad Zarif in the first paragraph to illustrate the “dubious” nature of Pompeo’s legacy) but still gets this part right:

Mr. Pompeo has described himself as a disciple of “realism, restraint and respect” — an approach advocated by his longtime financial backer, Charles G. Koch, a conservative billionaire whose network of donors gave more campaign contributions to Mr. Pompeo than to any other congressional candidate in the country in four House elections from 2010 to 2016.

. . .

Yet Mr. Koch’s continued financial support is far from assured. With a focus on soft-power diplomacy instead of war, the Charles Koch Institute — his policy foundation — is pouring $7 million in new grants to two left-leaning think tanks, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the International Crisis Group, that will have influence in the Biden administration.

Mr. Pompeo’s support for expanding NATO, striking Iran and keeping United States troops in conflict zones have not been forgotten, said Will Ruger, the foundation’s vice president for policy and research.

“I don’t believe that the secretary is a card-carrying realist and restrainer,” said Mr. Ruger, whom Mr. Trump nominated in September to be his ambassador to Afghanistan.

Pompeo — a persistent critic of Beijing’s perfidies, an architect of the Iran maximum-pressure campaign and the Abraham Accords, as well as a reliable Russia hawk — is no “restrainer.” As I suggested in my reporting on Pompeo last month, his State Department was in significant respects a vehicle for the old Republican foreign-policy consensus, much in the same way that the White House’s work with the Federalist Society on judicial appointments put reputable, establishment-oriented conservatives on the bench.

This approach had its faults. The secretary of state made his peace with the president’s America First politics and, barring a post-January 20 repudiation of the president, seems likely to remain a member of the MAGA tribe in good standing. He’d do his legacy a favor by openly discussing the ways in which his refusal to publicly show any distance from Trump headed off decisions with disastrous impacts for U.S. national security and by condemning Trump’s role in the violence at Capitol Hill. To argue that his loyalty to the president was a national-security imperative is reasonable, but that argument’s validity expires tomorrow.

Still, Pompeo advanced a worthy foreign policy that accelerated Washington’s turn against China, crippled Tehran’s ability to project power, and brought the Middle East closer to peace. By no means is he a proponent of realism and restraint, at least as the non-interventionist beltway set understands these terms. That’s actually to his credit.


Republican Fundraising and the Case of the Missing Trump

Then-President Donald Trump boards Air Force One at Valley International Airport after visiting the U.S.-Mexico border wall in Harlingen, Texas, January 12, 2021. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

If you have been on Republican fundraising email lists the past several years — even if, like me, you have never given a penny to Donald Trump’s campaigns — you are familiar not only with the regular deluge of such emails, but also with the ubiquity of Trump and the Trump family in the sender line, subject line, text, and merchandise offered in such emails. Trump is everywhere. Until now: Suddenly, he’s gone. After noticing this pattern, I went through my inbox (even the spam folder) and counted up the fundraising emails from official GOP sources since January 7, the day after the Capitol riot. What isn’t said speaks volumes. I categorized these by the sender or domain. An umbrella domain used by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC, a fundraising group for state parties). Out of 87 emails, zero mentioned Trump. Another umbrella domain, used by NRSC, NRCC, the Republican Governors Association (RGA), and Leslie Rutledge for Arkansas Governor. Out of 76 emails, zero mentioned Trump. The New York Republican Party, including both press releases and more obvious fundraisers. Out of eleven emails, one mentioned Trump, and that a reference to Andrew Cuomo suing the Trump administration. House GOP fundraising. Out of eleven emails, one mentioned Trump, two if you count one mentioning impeaching “our president” with no reference to him by name. Out of seven emails, three mentioned Trump. Senate GOP fundraising. Out of three emails, zero mentioned Trump.

zeldinforcongress: Congressman Lee Zeldin. Out of three emails, one mentioned Trump. One email, mentioning Trump.

Stand for America PAC: Nikki Haley’s PAC. One email, not mentioning Trump even while referencing Haley sitting in the Oval Office.

Senate Conservatives Fund: One email, ostensibly from Josh Hawley, not mentioning Trump. Zero emails, which is a significant change.

TOTAL: In just under two weeks, 201 emails, of which at most eight mentioned Trump, and a few of those only obliquely. Even emails pounding away at social-media bans talk about banning “conservatives,” not Trump himself. Jake Tapper of CNN is mentioned in more of these emails than Trump is. I also saw zero examples of Trump merchandise referenced in any of these emails. As for the use of Trump sender lines, take a look at the emails from the domain since the beginning of the year (I cropped this for width, but you can see the senders, subjects, and dates:

Few things are more directly aimed at the tribal id of political partisans than fundraising pitches via direct mail and email. If rank-and-file Republican donors are more likely to respond favorably than unfavorably to mentions of the president, you’d expect to see that. If my inbox is at all representative, Trump’s absence speaks volumes about what the fundraising professionals are seeing in the mood of the party.


Amid Power-Sharing Negotiations with Schumer, McConnell Pushes for Filibuster Protections


In an email obtained by National Review, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell wrote to Senate GOP colleagues on Monday night that he’s looking to the 2001 agreement between Trent Lott and Tom Daschle as a model for how a 50–50 Senate should share power, but McConnell is also pushing for protections for the legislative filibuster:

We also need to enter into a power sharing agreement with the Democrats. While I am guided in this effort by the Lott-Daschle agreement, I believe we need to also address the threats to the legislative filibuster. As you know, we all resisted the direct calls of President Trump to destroy the Senate by eliminating the legislative filibuster when we controlled the House the Senate and the White House.

I believe the unique rules of the Senate which forces compromise between the parties is needed now more than ever. Having an equally divided Senate means that we have to work together to get anything done and the spirit of true bipartisan compromise is possible only when each side realizes they must come to the table together. Our times demand nothing less.

I believe the time is ripe to address this issue head on before the passions of one particular issue or another arise. We will need unity and the support of each of you as this may take time to work through. A delay in reaching an agreement could delay the final determination of committee assignments but it is important to maintain the status quo on the legislative filibuster.

McConnell and Schumer met privately on Tuesday afternoon. “Schumer declined to comment on the future of the legislative filibuster,” Politico reports. A Schumer spokesman told the Huffington Post, “On an organizing resolution, Leader Schumer expressed that the fairest, most reasonable and easiest path forward is to adopt the 2001 bipartisan agreement without extraneous changes from either side.”


The Ridiculous Attacks on the 1776 Report

Declaration of Independence, by John Trumbull (John Parrot/StockTrek Images/Getty Images)

This week, the White House released its 1776 Report, a much-needed corrective to the historical revisionism that’s infected not only our media, but, far more destructively, our high schools and universities. It’s a straightforward patriotic document; the kind of reading that would be a useful civics lesson for the average citizen, immigrants taking a citizenship test, or certain professors in Princeton’s history department.

These days, anyone or anything that refuses to depict the American founding as anything but a wholly racist enterprise will be cast as a tool of white supremacy. And so it was.

Maegan Vazquez, a reporter at CNN, asserted that the “Trump administration issues racist school curriculum report on MLK day.” Vazquez offers only one specific instance to buttress this claim: The report notes that the civil-rights movement had turned un-American when championing policies such as affirmative action. This, indeed, is debatable. It would be more accurate to say that the Left has long given up on MLK’s dream of an America where people are judged on the content of their characters rather than the color of their skin.

Then Vazquez contends, quite amusingly, that the report is a “rebuttal to schools applying a more accurate history curriculum.”

By “more accurate,” she means the New York Times’ 1619 Project, a work that argues patriots of the American Revolution had only picked up their muskets to preserve the institution of slavery. This reading of history been rebuked by numerous historians — and not just panelists at some Heritage Foundation symposium, but by a wide range of ideologically diverse historians. Vazquez never mentions this fact, nor that the “more accurate” project was forced to append a substantive correction and use stealth edits after historians pointed to more fundamental errors. Or that the New York Times simply ignored other apprehensions from historians. The lead author of the project was forced to admit that the project was simply an “origin story,” not history.

You might disapprove of a positive appraisal of the American founding, but the notion that the 1619 Project is “more accurate” than the 1776 Report doesn’t hold up, either. In fact, CNN offers not a single factual mistake in the Trump commission’s paper, only philosophical disagreements. Sometimes you get the sense reporters can’t comprehend the difference.

While CNN’s attack was silly, it was expected. The New York Times, however, had the temerity to complain that “no professional historians,” only “conservative activists, politicians and intellectuals,” authored the report. First of all, Victor Davis Hanson has a Ph.D. in classics from Stanford University, and has written numerous excellent histories; Larry Arnn, the chair of the project, has a Ph.D. in government; Carol Swain, the co-vice chair, has a Ph.D. in political science; Matthew Spalding, the executive director, has a Ph.D. in government, and so on. It’s your prerogative to argue that only working academics should chime in on history. But it is quite odd for the Times to take up the credentialist case when the 1619 Project’s lead writer was Nikole Hannah-Jones, a polemicist who earned a master’s degree in journalism and has no relevant training as a historian.

I think what the Times really meant to say was that no professional identitarians worked on the 1776 Report. That is certainly true.


R.I.P. Joe Scheidler

Signs outside the Supreme Court during the March for Life rally, January 27, 2017. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Yesterday afternoon, family members announced the death of Joe Scheidler at the age of 93. Scheidler was one of the earliest and most prominent leaders of the modern pro-life movement, considered by some in the movement to be the “godfather” of pro-life activism.

After the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in favor of nationwide legalized abortion in 1973, Scheidler left his job and began working full-time in anti-abortion advocacy. He founded the Pro-Life Action League and served as its director until his death, building up a national organization that trained and encouraged pro-life Americans to engage in anti-abortion activism at the local level.

Scheidler became well-known across the country after the pro-abortion group National Organization for Women (NOW) sued him in his personal capacity for organizing protests outside abortion clinics. NOW argued that Scheidler and his fellow protestors had violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

After a series of long and costly legal battles stretching out over the course of two decades — including three trips to the Supreme Court — Scheidler was finally vindicated, an important victory for pro-lifers who continue to gather outside abortion facilities to protest, pray, or offer sidewalk counseling to women seeking abortion.

After Scheidler’s death, his son told Catholic News Agency that the civil-rights movement was his father’s inspiration. “He marched with Dr. King in 1965, and the impact it had in him is to see that regular people can have a real in the cause of justice, and thus decided to recruit regular Americans to the fight in favor of life and against abortion,” Eric Scheidler said.

The Chicago Sun-Times noted in an obituary yesterday afternoon that Scheidler often focused on understanding the perspective of those who had worked in abortion clinics and that he once told the paper, “I have more respect for people that have enthusiasm, even for the wrong thing, than people who are indifferent.” An admirable perspective. Joe Scheidler, rest in peace.


The United States of Planned Parenthood?: The Violence at the Capitol Was Wrong. So Is Abortion

President-elect Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Del., January 8, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

You can sponsor a flag on the National Mall for Joe Biden’s inauguration. If you do, you will be subscribed to Planned Parenthood’s mailing list. Donald Trump wasn’t a healing presence in Washington. Joe Biden says he wants to be one. He says he’s a Catholic who is personally opposed to abortion, but will advocate its expansion in public life. Expansion? More violence. Is that what America really needs right now? We’ve spent a year hiding from COVID-19, only to embrace more death on another front?

During the Obama administration, it was reported that Biden had the right instinct on the Department of Health and Human Services abortion-drug, contraception mandate: Why would we pick a fight with nuns? But he was shut down by Cecile Richards from Planned Parenthood. And it looks like they are still solidly in charge. Here, via NBC on all the abortion to come:

“We have a ton of work to do to undo the harm over the last four years, but knowing we have champions there who understand what needs to happen in the first 100 days is tremendously exciting,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood.

We’re never going to get better this way. More abortion is exciting?

Who knew a Catholic president would make me long for Bill Clinton. He vetoed the ban on partial-birth abortion twice, but he knew there were people who did not wake up in the morning thinking about expanding abortion, as some leading Democrats seem to do.

Having calm conversations about abortion became harder when Donald Trump became attached to the pro-life movement. But he is not the pro-life movement. And the pro-life movement isn’t merely for the pious. As Pope Francis has said, it’s about human rights. We must do better.

If Joe Biden really wants to be healing, he will recognize that there are people who are relieved to be done with Donald Trump as president but also saddened — and even terrified — by what his own ideology and incoming administration is going to inflict on the country.


Migrants Aren’t Cooperating with Biden’s Plans

Hondurans taking part in a new caravan of migrants set to head to the United States, rest on a road in Vado Hondo, Guatemala, January 17, 2021. (Luis Echeverria/Reuters)

The latest caravan from Central America appears to have been successfully stopped and dispersed by Guatemalan authorities, after some of the migrants attacked police. More caravans will follow, as well as smaller groups of migrants moved north by smugglers, drawn by the Biden administration’s announced determination to reverse all of Trump’s border-control policies and push through Congress a broad illegal-alien amnesty.

Despite the narrative peddled by the anti-borders crowd that the flow is purely the result of dislocation caused by recent hurricanes, it’s no secret that what we’re seeing is the Biden Effect. As one Honduran told AFP, “I think that with this new president, things will change for a migrant who arrives without papers, because with Trump, we’re screwed.” Another Honduran told The Hill, “He’s going to help all of us, he’s giving us 100 days to get to the U.S. and give us [legal] papers.”

Nor should this come as news to anyone. My colleague Todd Bensman made a reporting trip to southern Mexico a year ago and met migrants who volunteered that they were betting on Trump to be defeated so they could get across the border. As one woman told him, “I want Trump out! I’ll wait for that because it would make things easier to get in.” With regard to another, Bensman wrote, “Valladaras said he would wait for his Mexican asylum approval, move to Tijuana ‘until Trump leaves’, and then cross over the U.S. border when the Democrats undo his policies because ‘right now, the Americans will throw you back’ to Mexico.”

Biden officials are aware of how awkward this could prove to their administration’s immigration agenda. As I wrote last month, and as Biden’s domestic-policy chief Susan Rice confirmed shortly thereafter, the new administration is terrified that its amnesty push will be sabotaged by the Biden Effect at the border, and have warned that not every Trump policy will be overturned immediately.

The latest attempt to avert a politically damaging migrant wave came in an interview with NBC this week by an anonymous transition official, who said that “the situation at the border isn’t going to be transformed overnight.” The story noted that the anonymous official (why would NBC agree to anonymity on something as anodyne as this?) as saying that migrants passing through Mexico “will not find when they get to the U.S. border that from Tuesday to Wednesday, things have changed overnight and ports are all open and they can come into the United States.”

But the key question is not whether the ports of entry will wave in anyone who utters the magic asylum words their smugglers coached them to say (though that’s coming!), but what will happen to the busloads of aliens who illegally step across those parts of the border without fencing (or with only low vehicle barriers) and flag down the Border Patrol and say those magic asylum words. Will they be expelled back to Mexico or released after promising to maybe apply for asylum some day? Either response will cause Biden problems.

The official also told NBC that “there’s help on the way, but now is not the time to make the journey” — translation: “Please don’t screw up our amnesty push in Congress by showing Americans what it will lead to! Wait ’til Biden signs the bill, then you can all come in!”

But it’s increasingly clear that the migrants aren’t interested in cooperating.

Politics & Policy

McConnell: ‘The Mob Was Fed Lies’ and ‘Provoked by the President’

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and other Republican leaders hold a press conference in Washington, D.C., December 1, 2020. (Bill O'Leary/Reuters Pool)

During remarks on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell blamed President Trump and “other powerful people” for feeding lies about the election to the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6:

Trump’s attorney general Bill Barr said in an interview yesterday that such lies were “the thing that precipitated the riots on the Hill.”

Politics & Policy

Impeaching Trump Is a Different Decision from Reelecting Him

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence convene a joint session of Congress to certify the 2020 election results on Capitol Hill, January 6, 2021. (Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via Reuters)

One of the difficulties with getting Republican senators to think in terms of a vote to convict Donald Trump on the latest impeachment is that many of them supported his agenda in office and supported his reelection. To Trump defenders on the right, it seems a betrayal and maybe an insult to Republican voters to do an about-face and convict Trump. To critics on the left, even a vote to convict Trump is not enough to excuse voting to reelect him. But the two questions are different.

They are fundamentally different for one glaring reason: Republican senators are asked to vote in judgment on Trump’s conduct after the election, and they could not have known about that when they supported him for reelection. Trump’s character was known, and for my part, I do not think his actions since the election have been especially out of character (this is why I was ultimately unable to back Trump for reelection, despite many strong arguments for doing so), but his conduct has been a significant escalation over anything he did previously. It is proper to reach a separate judgment on that. But there are also two broader points.

First, a reelection vote is comparative. You can hold your nose and vote for a lesser evil if the alternative is worse. Many Republicans who were not fond of Trump and disapproved of a good deal of his conduct in office voted for him anyway, concluding quite rationally that at least he was not as bad as handing over power to Democrats. There is no choice of evils now, however. Trump will have finished his term. Biden will be the president. The only choice is whether to sanction Trump for what he did.

Second, a reelection vote is institutional. One of the strongest arguments for reelecting Trump is that a reelection vote is a vote for a choice between administrations, not just a choice between leaders. A second Trump-Pence administration below the presidential level would obviously have been better in nearly every way than the incoming Biden-Harris administration. But, again, nobody is being asked to vote in judgment of the conduct of anyone in the administration but Trump himself.

The Senate’s vote will, at long last, be an opportunity to pass judgment on Donald Trump alone, with no question of the allocation of power, no question of loyalty to the rest of the party’s officials, no question of passing judgment on the voters, no question of depriving the people of their elected leader, no question of “what about the Democrats?” Trump will stand alone with his actions: yes or no?

Politics & Policy

Tick, Tock


I’m starting to think that Donald Trump is not actually going to release that health-care plan. SAD!


A Beatles Concerto, and More

A fan holds a poster of the Beatles outside a hotel in Lima, Peru, the day before Paul McCartney performed in Lima, in May 2011. (Pilar Olivares / Reuters)

Recently, a musician friend wrote me, “I just learned today that Rutter wrote a Beatles concerto. I need to go back to music school.”

I’ll be darned. John Rutter is the English composer best known for choral works of a spiritual nature. In the late 1970s, he wrote The Beatles Concerto, for two pianos and orchestra. Consisting of three movements, it incorporates Beatles songs. For instance, the first movement has “She Loves You,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Yesterday,” “All My Loving,” and “Hey, Jude.” For good measure, it has some Rachmaninoff.

The concerto is very clever — practically ingenious. In the latest episode of my Music for a While, I play that first movement. (I should specify: I play a recording of it!)

A good deal of this episode responds to reader mail, or rather, listener mail. A listener put me on to Lee Wiley, who was born in Oklahoma in 1908 and died in New York City in 1975. “She is a now-forgotten torch singer,” said our listener. “If you have time for only one tune, give a listen to ‘Sugar.’ You will know heaven for a while.”

It is sweet indeed.

Another listener put me on to Anna Case, a soprano from New Jersey, who was an early star of the Metropolitan Opera. She was a composer, too — and in 1917 wrote Metropolitan Rag.

Incidentally, the fellow who wrote, or co-wrote, “Sugar”? He also co-wrote “Sweet Georgia Brown.” I am speaking of Maceo Pinkard (1897–1962). He was born in Bluefield, W.V. Graduated from the Bluefield Colored Institute. Died in New York City.

Is “Sweet Georgia Brown” the best song ever? It’s right up there. In my podcast, I say,

I know so many recordings of this classic, of so many different types. Vocal, instrumental; slow, fast. I love so many of these recordings. I’m going to play one of the best instrumental ones — starring Ed Hall, that amazing clarinetist.

Before I let you get on with it, I’d like to quote the beginning of my show:

Recently, I wanted to hear some Rodion Shchedrin. Shchedrin is the Russian composer born in 1932. He was married to the late Maya Plisetskaya, one of the greatest ballerinas in history. Specifically, I wanted to hear his Piano Concerto No. 1, written in 1954. More specifically than that, I wanted to hear its second movement — the Scherzo-Toccata, marked “Molto vivo.”

It sure is — “molto vivo,” very lively.

I happen to know Shchedrin a bit. And I sent him a note, telling him how much I loved listening to this music again. How happy it made me. Nice to be able to tell a composer that, you know? Wish I could tell, for example, Schubert.

Again, the latest Music for a While is here.

Politics & Policy

Rewarding Incompetence in State Vaccination Efforts

A nurse prepares a dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine at the Bathgate Post Office vaccination facility in Bronx, N.Y., January 10, 2021. (Kevin Hagen/Reuters Pool)

Back on December 30, West Virginia led the country in the pace of its COVID-19 vaccinations. On that date, the state and its health authorities had administered more than half of their allocated 60,875 doses. At the bottom of the chart at the end of the year was Maryland, which had administered just over 10 percent of its 191,075 doses.

Nearly three weeks later, West Virginia is the second-best in the country, having administered 74 percent of its allocated doses, behind only North Dakota at 77 percent. In some good news for Marylanders, state health authorities have now administered 255,000 of their increased allocation of 565,000 doses — 45 percent. That’s good enough for Maryland to rank 35th among the 50 states — not great, but a lot better than where it was three weeks ago. Maryland’s vaccination capacity and speed probably isn’t where anyone would like it to be, but it’s getting better.

Now the state at the bottom is Hawaii, which has administered just 46,958 of its allocated 154,150 doses. But the state just set up its first mass-vaccination site Monday, so perhaps the pace will pick up in the coming days.

Don’t let any state official blame a bad start for a slow rate of vaccination today; Maryland demonstrates that early problems can be overcome. But many states are still struggling. Take Pennsylvania as an example:

The state’s health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, said last week that she would adopt the federal recommendation to lower the eligibility age to 65. That will jam more than 1 million people to the front of Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 vaccination line at a moment when the lumbering public health campaign is already marked by confusion, shifting priorities, a dearth of vaccine and — in some places — people to administer it, authorities say.

Pennsylvania has no central registry for the shots, forcing hospitals and pharmacies to create their own online spots for people to sign up…

On Thursday, the state health department announced agreements with two pharmacy chains that will allow vaccinations to be administered at some Giant Eagle grocery stores. But most independent drug stores continue to wait for state approval to give the shots, according to Kyle McCormick, pharmacist and owner of Blueberry Pharmacy in West View.

Moreover, there is confusion about who get shots first because of the recent changes in priorities, he said, and it’s not unusual for people who want to be vaccinated to “stretch the boundaries” in trying to qualify, turning pharmacists into bouncers.

Each pharmacy must apply individually for state approval, which requires review by the health department.

“We can get it in arms fast, but we’re all just waiting,” Mr. McCormick said about independent pharmacies.

What an inexcusably disorganized disaster, when everyone in the world knew, through much of 2020, that vaccines would be coming near or at the end of the year. The situation calls for every possible meme of “you had one job.”

Good thing Rachel Levine is just mismanaging one state’s vaccination response, and isn’t . . . wait a minute . . .

President-elect Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he will nominate Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s top health official, as his assistant secretary of health. Levine, a pediatrician, would become the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

“Dr. Rachel Levine will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic — no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability — and meet the public health needs of our country in this critical moment and beyond,” Biden said in a statement. “She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts.”

We’re in the very best of hands, America.


Trump Didn’t Have to Lose


The election was close enough that he could have won if he had done just a few things differently — but his personality led him into unforced errors. My Bloomberg Opinion column is on how Trump threw away his presidency (and then threw away the Republican Senate majority).

The Fight Intensifies over China’s Forced-Labor System

A farmer picks cotton on the outskirts of Hami, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, in 2010. (Stringer Shanghai/Reuters)

With the world fixated on the crisis in Washington this month, few noticed that a united, international front of democracies took significant steps to crack down on the Chinese Communist Party’s Xinjiang forced-labor scheme last week.

But that’s exactly what happened. Within the span of a few days, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States all issued rules to tighten up their enforcement of laws designed to combat the slave labor that the Chinese Party-state has inflicted on over, by some estimates, upwards of half a million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims from China’s West.

The new regulations aren’t all identical.

With the Biden Era Beginning, the Calls for Censorship and Restriction Get Louder

Equipment in outside broadcasting van for live TV broadcast and production of television programs. (Getty Images)

This weekend, on Brian Stelter’s alleged “media analysis” program, Reliable Sources, guest Alex Stamos yearned for cable and telecommunications companies to do to OAN and Newsmax what Amazon Web Services did to Parler — deem them too controversial or objectionable to be carried, and effectively shut them down.

“We have to turn down the capability of these conservative influencers to reach these huge audiences,” said Stamos, who is director of the Stanford Internet Observatory and formerly the chief security officer of Facebook. “There are people on YouTube for example that have a larger audience than daytime CNN.” (That sounds like more

Law & the Courts

Biden’s Foolish Remarks about Transgender Prisoners


President-elect Joe Biden has said that “in prison, your sexual identity is defined by what you say, not what the prison says.” I wonder what he would make of the “trans woman jailed for 15 years for rape that still gives victim nightmares,” as recently reported by Metro. The 49-year-old man, who “identifies as female but has male anatomy,” brutalized and violated his victim in a way no woman could have.

The U.K.’s Ministry of Justice (MoJ) reviewed its transgender prison policy after a male sex offender with an intact penis, Karen White, was put in a women’s prison, in accordance with his “gender identity,” whereupon he sexually assaulted two female prisoners. The MoJ confirmed by Freedom of Information requests that 60 of the 125 transgender prisoners known to be in English and Welsh prisons are convicted sex offenders. In all likelihood, this number is higher since, as the women’s rights group Fair Play for Women has observed, it does not take account of “short sentences, people with a Gender Recognition certificate or people who do not declare they are trans.”

Sex offending is overwhelming committed by males. There are 13,000 male sex offenders in prison compared to about 100 women. Almost 20% of male prisoners have committed sex offences. Our figures suggest that sex offending rates amongst trans prisoners is at least comparable to male rates.

The MoJ was unable to say conclusively how many male prisoners are already in female prisons. This is not a problem Biden should want to replicate in America.


Ultra-Woke Illinois Mandates Are Top Threat to U.S. Education

(Caiaimage/Robert Daly/Getty Images)

Step aside, California. Minnesota, hang your head. Illinois is the wokest of all, and what it does will spread.

Yes, woke K-12 curricula grounded in neo-Marxist Critical Race Theory are on the march through America’s schools. We’ve just learned that a California elementary school is forcing third-graders to deconstruct their racial identities and rank themselves by “power and privilege.” Although California governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a too-woke ethnic-studies high-school graduation requirement last fall, a reworked version, still saturated with Critical Race Theory, has just been released for public comment. Minnesota’s new draft social studies standards minimize key events in American history and stress “systemic racism” and “marginalization” instead. Cities like Seattle and San Diego are moving in the same direction. The egregious 1619 Project has already been adopted by school districts across the country.

Keep your eye on the under-the-radar case of Illinois, however. That is where woke has gone for broke, and America may soon pay the price.

On February 16, The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) of the Illinois General Assembly will decide whether to officially enact a rule already approved by the Illinois State Board of Education. The new rule is called “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards.” It’s a doozy. Should the rule be ratified on February 16, the entire Illinois teacher corps will be effectively forced into political re-education and compelled to turn their classes into woke indoctrination sessions. We’ll look at details, but the most extraordinary in a raft of outrageous dictates is that teachers must “embrace and encourage progressive viewpoints and perspectives.” Illinois is literally about to mandate that every one of its licensed teachers adopt progressive political orthodoxy and impart that ideology to students. I’ve seen some pretty extreme stuff in my time, but my jaw is now officially on the floor.

And I’m only just getting started. Yes, the new Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards are filled with commands that utterly politicize the classroom and very likely trample the free-speech and religious-liberty rights of teachers. The larger problem, however, is that Illinois has already laid the groundwork for this assault on the Constitution by enacting a so-called civics law that forces teachers to discuss current political controversies in class. The Illinois civics law also compels teachers to organize adventures in “action civics” (student protests or lobbying expeditions on behalf of causes like gun control or the Green New Deal.) These so-called civics requirements are transparent attempts to import leftist political activism and indoctrination into Illinois schools.

But now it’s official! Teachers already pressed into the role of de facto leftist community organizers by the 2015 Illinois civics law will soon be liable to negative performance reviews; student, peer, or parent complaints; or even failure of licensure, if they refuse to lead classroom discussions or organize student protests and lobbying expeditions on behalf of leftist causes. Illinois’s new Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards, in combination with the existing Illinois civics law, really do formalize the conversion of K-12 schools into political indoctrination camps.

What’s more, the Illinois experience is about to go national. As I explained recently, a nation-wide movement is pushing for the enactment of state history and civics standards on the model of Common Core. That movement is top-heavy with leaders and supporters of the Illinois civics model (considered the ultimate in “best practices” by the education Left). This new education movement wants Biden to follow Obama’s lead on Common Core, using federal carrots and sticks to pressure states into adopting woke history/civics standards. The eventual result would be “action civics” on the Illinois template in every state in the union.

No doubt, this “action civics” coalition and its Biden administration allies will move slowly and cautiously, at first, in red states. But the new Illinois “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards” expose the endgame. Once states force civics teachers to lead discussions of contemporary political controversies and organize student lobbying and protest expeditions, it’s only a matter of time until the education Left imposes formal ideological controls on those activities. The new Illinois civics law was enacted in 2015. They’ve waited six years to openly force it into a leftist template. Of course, the law was already very much along those lines. The entire “action civics” program amounts to an open invitation to an overwhelmingly leftist teacher-corps to bring politics into the classroom, thereby recruiting students into a progressive political army. It’s worked out rather nicely for the Left to date, but they want to formalize things nonetheless. Too many moderate and conservative districts resist the tide of woke.

We’ll circle back to the national implications of the Illinois experience, but let’s have a closer look at the new Illinois standards and their prospects for approval.

The Illinois Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards are less about education than political re-education. The new rule mandates, for example, that teachers, “assess how their biases…affect…how they access tools to mitigate their own behavior (racism, sexism, homophobia, unearned privilege, Eurocentrism, etc.)” You might think it impossible to “mitigate” the “unearned privilege” of being white, male, or straight, but Bettina L. Love, a prominent advocate of Critical Race Theory in education, holds that “White Teachers Need Anti-Racist Therapy.” By this she means therapy that combats “White emotionalities” or what Robin DiAngelo famously calls “White fragility.” The committee that drafted the new rule includes an article touting white fragility training sessions to help teachers “move past their whiteness” in the readings it offers to explain the standards.

In other words, the new Illinois standards are saying, “Don’t allow your racism to keep you out of therapy designed to extirpate your whiteness.” And if teachers don’t enter such therapy voluntarily, the new standards will make it easy for schools to force them into therapeutic “mitigation” of their “whiteness.” Complaints about a teacher’s failure to embrace “progressive” perspectives or let go of “Eurocentrism” (say, by assigning too many novels by white male authors) could easily subject hapless educators to DiAngelo’s cure for their whiteness. Licensure and certification are at stake.

The new Illinois standards also mandate that teachers embrace ideas like “systemic racism.” As the standards put it, teachers must affirm “that there are systems in our society that create and reinforce inequities, thereby creating oppressive conditions.” This blends with the mandate that teachers, “embrace and encourage progressive viewpoints and perspectives that leverage asset thinking toward traditionally marginalized people.” That provision might appear to narrow the forced embrace of progressivism to issues pertaining to race, ethnicity, or sexuality. Remember, however, the concept of systemic oppression detects racism and bigotry in almost every conservative policy position, from the environment to the budget. That means teachers who want to get and keep their licenses in Illinois have got to be full-spectrum progressives.

The proposed Illinois standards also make it clear that students have to be both indoctrinated and pushed into progressive activism: “Be aware of the effects of power and privilege and the need for social advocacy and social action to better empower diverse students and communities….[Leverage] student activism [by being a teacher who] promotes student activism and advocacy.” Again, given the mandate to “embrace and encourage progressive viewpoints,” the content of this activism is clear. Teachers are also encouraged to substitute “social justice work” or “action civics projects” for more traditional forms of testing when deciding on a student’s grade. Staying woke will get you straight A’s.

The new standards also mandate that Illinois teachers, “intentionally embrace student identities and prioritize representation in the curriculum,” adding that this must include “the wide spectrum and fluidity of identities.” Traditionally religious and/or conservative teachers are commanded here to affirm against conscience that there are a vast number of genders, and highlight that claim in their teaching.

The most inadvertently hilarious part of the standards is their insistence that there is “not one ‘correct’ way of doing or understanding something.” Except for Critical Race Theory, that is. Woke ideology is the one correct way of teaching, according to the new Illinois standards. The notes of the committee that created the proposed standards include a passage saying teacher preparation programs must be “forced” to teach Critical Race Theory. Relativism for thee but not for me.

The proposed Illinois standards on Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading have kicked up opposition from conservative and religious groups in state, who hold that the rule mandates political indoctrination and violates teachers’ constitutional rights. Every teacher certified by Illinois will have to be trained and assessed in accordance with the new standards. Attorneys for the Thomas More Society, which is working with the Pro-Family Alliance, calls the proposed standards unconstitutional and discriminatory on the grounds that they compel speech and violate the free exercise of religion and conscience.

Sadly, however, the new standards are likely to win final approval at the meeting of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) on February 16, if the vote falls along traditional party lines, that is. The situation is by no means hopeless, however. Serious pushback from the public just might tilt enough votes to block ratification. These bureaucratic approvals are usually quiet affairs. Once the public gets wind of just how wildly radical this new rule is, large-scale blowback could sink this pernicious proposal. The leader of the opposition to the new standards is Rep. Steven Reick, who sits on the JCAR. Reick’s thoughts on the new rule are well worth a look. As to how the public can make its opinions known to the JCAR before the big decision, that is explained at the end of this energetic critique of the new rule by the Illinois Family Institute.

The Illinois Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards force the woke ideology of the Chicago-based educators behind the 2015 Illinois civics law onto every teacher and school district in the state. That has been the drift of things in Illinois for the past six years.

The groundwork for the 2015 Illinois civics law was laid years before, as progressive educators in Chicago began to push teachers to discuss controversial contemporary social and political issues. These discussions were then tied to “service learning,” i.e., student partnerships with the many leftist community organizations in the area. (Chicago is the home of Alinskyite community organizing, after all.) This approach was formally incorporated into the Chicago Public Schools by an administrator with a background in community organizing, then expanded to include “action civics,” where students protest or lobby for almost exclusively leftist ends. Alinskyite community organizers purport to solicit the concerns of their organization’s members, while in reality pushing them slowly but surely into radical political action. That is exactly how action civics works, with teacher as the organizer and students as the organized.

In 2015, these Chicago educators prevailed upon the Illinois legislature to push their leftist brand of “civics” onto the state. Technically, local districts were left free to develop their own civics curricula, so long as they discussed current political controversies and insisted that students do “service learning” with local community organizations. Cleverly, however, the law’s backers designed it so that schools could use private funding to create their curricula. That created an opening for the powerful (and very left-leaning) Robert R. McCormick Foundation to fund curricular materials and teacher training seminars. McCormick has used its wealth to take de facto control of the Illinois civics curriculum, in the same way the Gates Foundation took de facto control of reading and math through Common Core.

The backers of the new civics bill openly concede that the “social justice frame” of the Chicago civics curriculum won’t easily fly in more conservative parts of the state. (Note the implicit admission that the Chicago civics curriculum is thoroughly politicized.) Their workaround has been to have McCormick offer free “professional development” seminars designed to push teachers outside the city toward the Chicago approach. The Illinois example is a case-study in the dangers of even state-level overrides of local school-district control. Chicago is very cleverly and successfully imposing its ideology on the more conservative parts of the state.

McCormick also funded a lavish website filled with curricula, course materials, and a blog on civics implementation. The website and the entire McCormick operation are run by Shawn Healy, the key figure behind the Illinois civics law, and Mary Ellen Daneels, the leader of McCormick’s course implementation seminars. Both advocate Critical Race Theory and the “Culturally Responsive Teaching” practices that derive from it.

The McCormick-funded website,, is filled with material on Critical Race Theory and Culturally Responsive Teaching, much of which overlaps with the readings offered by the committee that crafted the “Illinois Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards.” That means the main backers of the Illinois civics law are fully on board with the ideology behind the new standards. Even before the civics law was passed, the long-term goal of the action civics crowd was to get controversial issue discussion and activism built into state teacher licensure and certification requirements. The new Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards do all that, and more.

The inside story of the implementation of the Illinois civics law is told in a study published by “CivXNow: A Project of iCivics.” (CivXNow is the national coalition of mostly leftist action-civics-oriented groups run by iCivics.) The national iCivics group, as I explained recently, is a major force behind the effort to impose woke action civics on the country at large. They and their coalition partners look to Illinois as a model of what American civics should be. The iCivics/CivXNow report on the implementation of the Illinois civics law lists the following as one of the “universal takeaways” of the Illinois civics experience: “If you’re not schooled and aware of whiteness or privilege, then civic courses can very quickly become oppressive to young people of color.” The proposed new Illinois standards are fully in line with this thinking.

Late last year, in partnership with members of its national coalition, iCivics issued a white paper on “Equity in Civic Education.” The paper was co-authored by key leaders and supporters of the Illinois civics model, including Shawn Healy himself. Unsurprisingly, iCivics prominently put forward the Illinois experience as a template for the country at large. The iCivics paper also highlights “Culturally Responsive Teaching” as a perspective to be adopted by other states.

The iCivics coalition is poised to press the Illinois model on America, using the Biden administration as its ally. That would be a disaster for our country, full and final inscription of woke indoctrination into state education mandates. iCivics and its coalition partners will do their best to wrap their plans in the soothing rhetoric of “civics,” full of platitudes about developing good citizens to strengthen our democracy. Yet the Illinois model is about as far away from America’s foundational liberties as a program of education can get. However much iCivics and its coalition partners slow-walk and disguise it, the new Illinois Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards reveal the endgame of the “new civics” movement. That movement needs to be stopped, first in Illinois on February 16, and then in Congress and every state in the union.


The U.K.’s Promising Vaccine Program


The British government’s fumble in controlling the spread of COVID-19, as well as its mishandling of track and trace and its continually mixed messaging regarding lockdowns, risked becoming a legacy of failure. But there is hope yet. By the end of last week, the United Kingdom had vaccinated nearly 6 percent of its population against the coronavirus. This means it is fourth behind Israel, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, and significantly ahead of its European neighbors and the United States.

The vaccination program has cost the Johnson government an estimated £11.7 billion. So far, the U.K. medical authorities have given approval for the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccines, the Pfizer-Biontech vaccines, and the Moderna vaccines. The National Health Service’s centralized structure has also made the rollout easier, as have the controversial restrictions of personal liberties.

Britain is currently under a strict lockdown, with most of the population virtually under house arrest except for essential grocery store trips and exercise. This appears to be making some difference in the population at large, but case numbers in the elderly are still rising. In England, the number of patients hospitalized with coronavirus is 40 percent higher than it was at the last peak. This is particularly concerning given that the NHS is already prone to becoming overwhelmed during the winter season.

Another consideration is the newer, more infectious “B.1.1.7 strain,” against which the vaccine may prove to be less effective. Still, Britain has vaccinated more of its population than the rest of Europe combined. For the U.K., there has never been more reason to worry and more reason to hope about the trajectory of the pandemic.


Morning Joe Co-Hosts Rage at Tech Giants for Not Censoring More

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in Washington, D.C., April 25, 2015. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Morning Joe’s Mika Brzezinski, who along with co-host Joe Scarborough perhaps did more than anyone in cable news to aid Donald Trump’s early rise, slammed Facebook and Twitter without a hint of self-reflection on Monday, blaming the unrest at the Capitol on the social-media outlets’ failure to curb “misinformation” and “disinformation” during the Trump presidency.

“You have shown that you should have done this a long time ago. And perhaps there wouldn’t be people dead,” she said. “Perhaps there wouldn’t be people following false scientific information about the coronavirus. Perhaps there wouldn’t have been some sort of insurrection at the Capitol that was promulgated all over your sites. Perhaps there wouldn’t be so much hatred and disinformation!”

Brzezinski also trained her fire on Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, calling them “pathetic.”

“You need to be shut down! Nobody needs what you have to offer! You have destroyed this country!” she declared. Scarborough, her husband as well as her co-host, joined in, saying that the social-media “business model is having algorithms that promote radicalism, that promote anti-Americanism, that promote violence against this country. They are the problem.”

Of course, left unmentioned was Morning Joe’s own “business model,” which prompted the future Resistance heroes to host Trump incessantly for the first half of the 2016 campaign. “If you’re running for office and you want to call in, call in, we’ll take your call anytime,” Scarborough recently said of his approach to then-candidate Trump, while justifying the welcoming posture on the grounds that he extended the same invitation to the entire field.

To hear Scarborough now, his show had nothing to do with the rise of Trump — instead, you get lines such as “throughout 2016, I was attacking him” and “I wish it hadn’t happened, but it’s not like prime time.”

But if Joe and Mika were doing their best to challenge Trump — a man who is famously attuned to whether he’s being treated “fairly” by the press — the candidate himself didn’t notice: He thanked the pair as “supporters” after winning the New Hampshire primary.

And while Facebook and Twitter certainly may have allowed QAnon to fester — and Trump used social media to raise his own baseless claims about Scarborough — Morning Joe has spent plenty of time over the last four years stewing its own crackpot theories.

Whether it be giving air time to useful idiots such as Eric Swalwell — himself the subject of foreign espionage — to argue that Trump directly colluded with the Russians, or hosting segments to discuss how Christopher Steele’s infamous dossier, which contained suspected Russian disinformation, was “piece by piece by piece . . . falling into place.”

Conspiracy theories for me, but not for thee.

Steve Cohen’s Bad Morning

Rep. Steve Cohen (D., Tenn.) speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 17, 2020. (Greg Nash/Reuters Pool)

Representative Steve Cohen (D., Tenn.) made two outlandish and so far unsupported accusations during an interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto this morning. Begin with Cohen’s broadest accusation, presumably spurred by an Associated Press report that the FBI was vetting the 25,000 National Guard troops assigned to protect Capitol Hill and downtown Washington during the inauguration:

SCIUTTO: Okay, all right. There were many former — both member — actually current and former members of the U.S. military and law enforcement who took part in the riot and we now have the remarkable step in this country of the U.S. military running background

Politics & Policy

Massachusetts Legislature Overrides Governor’s Veto, Allowing Minors to Obtain Abortions without Parental Consent

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (Greg M. Cooper/Reuters)

Late last month, the Massachusetts legislature voted to override Governor Charlie Baker’s veto of the ROE Act, which will take effect to expand legal abortion in the state. Baker, a Republican who calls himself “pro-choice,” vetoed the ROE Act because it had been crammed into the state budget rather than introduced as stand-alone legislation. He also expressed opposition to some specific provisions of the law, and when lawmakers refused to consider his altered proposal, he vetoed it entirely.

It’s little surprise that even a lawmaker who supports legal abortion might have a problem with the ROE Act, which has made Massachusetts one of the most permissive states in the country when it comes to abortion policy.

The legislation allows abortion for any reason before 24 weeks’ gestation, which is after the point at which an infant can survive outside the womb if delivered. It also removes the requirement that abortions be performed by a doctor; now, a physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner, or midwife also may perform an abortion.

Perhaps most controversially, the ROE Act alters the state’s parental-involvement law to permit girls as young as 16 to obtain an abortion without acquiring the consent of her parents, or even so much as informing them. Under the previous state law, all minors had to obtain parental consent, unless she obtained permission from a judge via the judicial-bypass process.

As Dr. Michael New has written here at NRO in the past, Massachusetts was one of the first states to require that minors receive parental consent before an abortion, passing a parental-involvement law in 1981. “A 1986 study in the American Journal of Public Health found strong statistical evidence that this parental-involvement law reduced the abortion rate among minors in Massachusetts,” he noted.

Today, proponents of abortion prefer to pretend that parental-consent laws exist merely to subject young girls to conflict with their parents. In reality, such laws are an essential safeguard for minors, especially in cases when a girl might be seeking an abortion after having been sexually assaulted.

Finally, the bill has watered down the state’s requirement that doctors provide care to newborns delivered alive after surviving an attempted abortion procedure. Whereas Massachusetts law had mandated that physicians work to preserve the life and health of any newborn child who survives an abortion, the new language requires on that there be “life-supporting equipment” present in the room — not that the physician actually use that equipment, or any other measures, to care for a newborn.


Why Did the Abortion Rate Increase in 2018?

Abortion activists outside the Supreme Court in 2002. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

In recent months, multiple reports have indicated that the incidence of abortion increased in the U.S. in 2018. Last November, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control revealed a slight uptick in the U.S. abortion rate between 2017 and 2018. Similarly, new abortion data that the Texas Department of State Health Services released in December show that the Texas abortion rate increased in both 2018 and 2019. Finally, a September 2020 report from the Charlotte Lozier Institute analyzed 38 state abortion reports from 2018 and found evidence of a slight increase in the number of U.S. women obtaining abortions.

Why this recent increase in the abortion rate? In some states, public-policy changes likely played a role. In January 2018, Illinois began covering elective abortions through its state Medicaid program. Unsurprisingly, the abortion rate in Illinois increased by more than 9 percent between 2017 and 2018.

Additionally, in 2016, the Food and Drug Administration changed the labeling for the abortion drug Mifeprex, allowing chemical abortions to be obtained later in pregnancy, with fewer visits to the physician’s office. Since Texas requires that chemical-abortion drugs be administered under the FDA label, this made chemical abortions more accessible in the Lone Star State.  Unsurprisingly, between 2017 and 2019, the number of chemical abortions obtained by Texas women increased, by about 32 percent.

It is worth noting that, while CDC statistics indicate that between 2017 and 2018, the number of abortions increased in 27 of the 46 states reporting data for both years, in many cases, these abortion increases were small. But since a majority of states did report abortion increases, it is likely that other factors in addition to public policy contributed to the overall abortion rate increase.

A closer look at the data reveals fairly consistent changes in the incidence of abortion across various demographic groups. Thirty states and the District of Columbia reported abortion data to the CDC by race and ethnicity in both 2017 and 2018. The report indicates that whites, blacks, and Hispanics all experienced slight increases in the incidence of abortion.

Interestingly, according to that data, the number of abortions performed on women under the age of 25 fell slightly in 2018, while the number of abortions performed on those 25 and older increased by nearly 3 percent. This is consistent with previous trends suggesting that younger age demographics have experienced larger abortion-rate declines than older groups.

The most worrisome trend for pro-lifers is the increase in chemical abortions. The FDA approved the RU-486 abortion pill in 2000, the number of chemical abortions obtained in the U.S. has risen consistently. In recent years, that increase has become more dramatic; between 2015 and 2018, the percentage of total abortions that were chemical abortions increased from 25 percent to 40 percent. Among the 42 states that reported data on type of procedure in both 2017 and 2018, the number of chemical abortions increased by more than 10 percent.

As abortion facilities have shut down, supporters of legal abortion have made a concerted effort to increase the availability of chemical abortions via telehealth and other means. Pro-lifers have worked to oppose these efforts, but they should consider investing more in both legislative and educational efforts to prevent chemical abortions.

It is certainly possible that the recent uptick in the U.S. abortion rate might simply represent a short-term, temporary increase and that the long-term downward trend of the last few decades will continue in the future. Even though the abortion rate has fallen fairly consistently since 1980, there have been a few years when there it increased slightly. For instance, Guttmacher Institute data indicate that the abortion rate increased slightly between 1987 and 1988 and again between 2005 and 2007.  Similarly, CDC statistics show that the abortion rate increased between 1995 and 1996 and again between 2005 and 2006.

Even so, this is the first time since 2006 that the CDC has reported an increase in the abortion rate. Furthermore, since the Democratic Party has shifted sharply to the left on life issues, it is unsurprising that many Democratic elected officials are proposing to make abortion policy even more permissive. This past December, as has been covered here at NRO, Massachusetts weakened its pro-life parental-involvement law, allowing 16- and 17-year-old girls will now be able to obtain abortions without parental consent. Additionally, New Jersey governor Phil Murphy has indicated that he would sign the Reproductive Freedom Act, which would legalize abortion throughout  pregnancy and would allow abortions to be performed by non-physicians.

Finally, many Democrats in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate plan to make a concerted effort to repeal the Hyde Amendment. This would require that federal taxpayer dollars pay for elective abortions that are covered by Medicaid.  Analyses by both pro-life groups and groups supporting legal abortions have found that the Hyde Amendment has saved literally millions of lives since 1976. As such, there is a broad consensus that repealing the Hyde Amendment would result in thousands more abortions being performed annually.  As always, pro-lifers would do well to be diligent.

Politics & Policy

L.A. County Loosens Air-Quality Regulations for Crematoriums

The skyline in Los Angeles, Calif., December 27, 2020. (Bing Guan/Reuters)

One of our readers is involved with the international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, and in recent days helped set up a 54-bed specialized respiratory-care unit in the parking lot of Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, California, in the northern part of Los Angeles County.

The number of deaths in Los Angeles County is so much higher than usual for so long, the county has loosened air-quality regulations that apply to crematoriums.

As the death toll continued to climb, South Coast Air Quality Management District issued an emergency order Sunday, temporarily suspending some of its restrictions placed on the county’s crematories to help them cope with the backlog in human remains caused by the deadly outbreak.

AQMD permits contain limits on the number of human remains that can be cremated each month, to help control air quality, the agency said in a media release. The county’s coroner and public health officials requested that the agency ease the limits.

The county’s morgue, as well as mortuaries and funeral homes, have grown weary, lagging behind the mounting death toll. Refrigerated trailers are now in use outside nearly every hospital in the county, to cope with the overflow as morticians labor to keep pace.

In certain circles online, it is an article of faith that the pandemic isn’t as bad as health officials and the mainstream media says, that fears of serious health consequences are overstated, and that few if any hospitals are in real danger of reaching capacity.

This virus was destined to be a brutal ordeal for the country, no matter what policy changes were put into place at the outset. But we have been hindered from the start by a surprisingly widespread sense of blind denial, perhaps never more perfectly articulated than in Eric Trump’s declaration in May, “Guess what, after November 3 coronavirus will magically all of a sudden go away and disappear and everybody will be able to reopen.”

The U.S. death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic on Worldometers on Election Day 2020 was 238,511 people; it is now past 407,000. The virus did not “magically all of a sudden go away and disappear.” The pandemic got worse. Eric Trump has access to all of the same information that the rest of us do, but two months into the pandemic, he could only conceive of it as a media conspiracy designed to ensure his father’s defeat in the presidential election.

Conspiracy theories aren’t just dangerous because of online cranks.