Culture

The New York Times and Its Love/Hate Relationship with Private Jets

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Last month I wrote, “the New York Times is simultaneously the vanguard of the revolution against wealthy, powerful, white, mostly older, mostly heterosexual couples . . . and it is also one of the biggest and most influential cultural journals of wealthy, powerful, white, mostly older, mostly heterosexual couples.”

In the most recent travel section, the Times featured an article entitled, “Afraid of Airlines? There’s Always the Private Jet.” The article showcases “the growing number of Americans using private jets, seeing them as a safer alternative to the often cramped commercial flights filled with strangers during the pandemic.” The flights do cost much less than one might expect: “JSX flights tend to cost between $300 and $500 one way, per person, but some shorter legs can cost less than $100.”

But not all of the flights are less expensive than expected; the article discusses the founder of a personal-training company who spent $20,000 to take himself and his family from Florida to upstate New York.

A good portion of the newspaper’s environmental news and op-ed pages focuses on denouncing lifestyles that involve conspicuous consumption and luxury. (According to a private jet company quoted in Bloomberg News, a private jet emits as much as 20 times more carbon dioxide per passenger mile than a commercial airliner.)

A good portion of the Times lifestyle and travel coverage focuses on celebrating lifestyles that involve conspicuous consumption and luxury, and of course, much of the advertising that keeps the newspaper financially afloat is for brands associated with conspicuous consumption and luxury.

It will be interesting to see if these internal contradictions ever catch up with the paper.

Impromptus

Classic Lines, Tricky Names

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Ray Stevens at the 53rd Annual CMA Awards in Nashville, Tenn., November 13, 2019 (Charles Pulliam / Reuters)

I begin today’s Impromptus with classical music: Should orchestras take down the screen? The screen that separates an auditioner from his auditors in “blind auditions”? I say no, others say yes. I also discuss Trader Joe’s, the English language — a number of issues.

Let me linger over one here.

Yesterday, Yascha Mounk (the academic and journalist) tweeted, “In the long run, it is very hard to shame people into supporting your politics. You’ve got to hear them out and win them over.” In Impromptus, I jot the following:

I’ve been thinking about Bill Buckley lately — more than I usually do. He was very good at persuasion. Very good at it. I should know, as one of his (countless) persuadees. I hope that we will never give up persuasion. Never give up trying to persuade.

Enjoyable as ownin’, drinkin’ (tears), and dunkin’ may be.

Recently, I was in the office for the first time in a long time. There was some mail, by which I mean, honest-to-goodness U.S. postal mail. One letter came in response to a piece I had at the beginning of the year: “Waxing Lyrical: In appreciation of some weird and wonderful lines.”

Our correspondent gave me one from Ray Stevens, the country singer: “Get your tongue outta my mouth, ’cause I’m kissin’ you goodbye.”

That may just take the cake.

Another responded to a more recent piece of mine: “‘Scandalize My Name’: On the use and abuse of ‘Karen,’ etc.” I wrote about a kid whose last name was “Glasscock” and who acquired an excellent nickname: “Crystal Pistol.”

Well, the letter in question was from a Mrs. Glasscock, who had a special appreciation for the piece. She married into her last name and has two sons. She told me several wonderful stories, having to do with her career as a registered nurse: She worked with a urologist named Dr. Cockburn; with a general practitioner named Richard Dick; etc.

Years ago — mainly with her two boys in mind, I think — she cut out a poem published in the “Dear Abby” column. The poem is by Edgar A. Guest, and it has a number of versions, but it is generally called “Your Name” and starts like this:

You got it from your father, ’twas the best he had to give.
And right gladly he bestowed it — it is yours the while you live.
You may lose the watch he gave you, and another you may claim.
But remember, when you’re tempted, to be careful of his name.

Thanks to all.

Business

Dell’s America

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Michael Dell delivers his keynote speech at the All Things Oracle OpenWorld Summit in San Francisco, Calif., in 2013. (Jana Asenbrennerova/Reuters)

Amid all the current gloom, it was refreshing to read this in a New York Times interview with Michael Dell by David Gelles:

The first eight years, we grew compounded 80 percent per year. The six years after that we grew about 60 percent per year. Any number you start with, if you put that into your calculator, you get like tens of billions of dollars. That’s what happened. America, what a country.

Then, the New York Times being the New York Times, comes this:

Last year at Davos you said you didn’t support a steep increase to the individual tax rate on the wealthiest Americans. Can you say a bit more about that? Why isn’t a higher individual tax rate a good thing at a moment when the federal government clearly needs real resources to do things like educate our kids?

Gelles appears to muddy the difference between a “steep increase” and a “higher . . . rate,” which are two different questions (although I’d oppose any increase) and then, inevitably, brings in “our kids.”

As a reminder:

In 2016, the United States spent $13,600 per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student on elementary and secondary education, which was 39 percent higher than the average of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries of $9,800 (in constant 2018 U.S. dollars). At the postsecondary level, the United States spent $31,600 per FTE student, which was 95 percent higher than the average of OECD countries ($16,200).

Part of the problem might be, I suspect, not the amount of money that is spent, but how it is spent.

Corey A. DeAngelis, writing for Reason, writing earlier this year:

On average, the United States currently spends over $15,000 per student each year, and inflation-adjusted K-12 education spending per student has increased by 280 percent since 1960. In California, where the previously mentioned football coach resides, inflation-adjusted spending on K-12 education has increased by 129 percent since 1970. Furthermore, data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that nearly a third of all state budget expenditures go toward education.

This is a particularly pernicious myth in the education debate because increased education spending generally isn’t associated with better results. Stanford University economist Eric Hanushek reviewed nearly 400 studies on the topic and concluded that “there is not a strong or consistent relationship between student performance and school resources.”

That shouldn’t surprise anyone. Pouring more money into the same broken system won’t fix the deeper problem — government monopolies have weak incentives to cater to the needs of their customers by spending money wisely.

Dell diplomatically avoids a direct answer to Gelles’s question:

It may very well be. My wife and I have a foundation. We focus a lot on education. We’ve contributed $2.5 billion into our foundation, and it does enormous work in the education space in the United States and around the world. You’ve got myriad proposals out there for how to improve the system. We’ll let the marketplace of ideas do its thing. I won’t be shy in saying that I believe in entrepreneurship. I think having a system where you can take risk and innovate is incredibly important. Now, all that has to be balanced with the public interests. There you go.

Back to Gelles:

Many of your contemporaries are not shy about saying, “The system’s broken.” Marc Benioff is out there saying, “Capitalism’s broken.” Ray Dalio is out there saying it. Do you have those sort of same existential concerns as some of them?

Dell:

Probably not as inflammatory. Is it a perfect system? No. Can it be improved? Yes. But let’s go back to the entrepreneurship and risk-taking, the innovation. We have, in this country, an engine that is creating a lot of new businesses, and a lot of new innovation that is globally relevant. I think any of those other countries would love to have that, right?

Gelles:

Is your contention that high taxes stifle that entrepreneurial spirit, or that innovation?

Dell:

No, my contention is, I’m not a tax policy expert, and I’m not going to be setting tax policy. It’s just not what I do.

If I had to guess, some of the changes that are now being talked on the left about capital-gains tax, whether it’s significantly higher rates or moving to a mark-to-market system would, in fact, be devastating, particularly for young, private companies proceeding through successive rounds of venture financing, hopefully at higher values: Forcing those companies’ entrepreneurs to sell stock to pay tax doesn’t seem very smart.

Gelles:

When you talk about a system that supports entrepreneurship and innovation, what does that look like?

Dell:

We have something pretty precious in our system that’s a combination of culture and capital. As we tweak it and improve it, we want to make sure we preserve that, so that new, small businesses and entrepreneurs are able to be created in the process.

Indeed.

Perhaps it’s worth quoting part of a sentence from John McGinnis’s review for Law & Liberty of Matt Ridley’s new book, How Innovation Works:

Of Europe’s 100 most valuable companies, not one was created in the last 40 years.”

Food for thought.

World

Thirty Things that Caught My Eye Today: Beirut, Abortion Clinic Sidewalk Save & More (August 4, 2020)

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2.

 

3. ‘We share your pain’: Israel offers aid to Lebanon after Beirut port blast – Israel News – Haaretz.com

4.  Maronite Catholic priest concerned by potential shortages after Beirut blast

5.

6. On Yazidi genocide anniversary, failure to support survivors decried – The Jerusalem Post

7. Christians in India Face Stunning Ultimatum: Renounce Your Faith in Christ or have Family Beaten and Evicted from Home

8. Arson Experts and Police Investigate Fire Set at Catholic Church In Massachusetts Possibly Caused by Molotov Cocktail

9. Catholic Charities distribute nearly $400 million in emergency assistance during COVID-19 crisis

10. Kay Hymowitz: Disentangling the Effects of Family Structure on Boys and Girls

11. How Effective are Programs Supporting Unmarried, Nonresidential Fathers?

12. Pro-Family Leaders: Strengthen and Extend Emergency Paid Leave

13. Dangerous Restraints Were Routine at This Youth Home. Then a Black Teen Died.

14. Her Rapist Threatened to Make Her “Disappear.” Instead of Asylum, ICE Put Her in a Hotel and Sent Her Back.

15. Florida Adoptions Taking Place Despite COVID-19

16. Dad tells sidewalk counselor outside Illinois Planned Parenthood: ‘You guys changed our mind’

Continue reading “Thirty Things that Caught My Eye Today: Beirut, Abortion Clinic Sidewalk Save & More (August 4, 2020)”

Elections

A Qualified Concurrence in the Case against Presidential Debates

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speak during their presidential town hall debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., October 9, 2016. (Jim Young/Reuters)

Jim Geraghty is right to question the sincerity of the chorus of left-leaning voices suddenly advocating or rationalizing the cancellation of this fall’s presidential debates. Some of the arguments he cites depend, whether explicitly or implicitly, on the contention that the format of a televised presidential debate will somehow significantly advantage Donald Trump over Joe Biden. Others exude a general cynicism about the enterprise — a cynicism whose timing seems rather convenient.

My own cynicism, however, predates this moment, and will obtain regardless of whether these debates are held and which candidate benefits the most from them. There is something somewhat ridiculous to me to the assumption on which presidential debates in their modern incarnation, both in primaries and in the general election, depend: namely, that how a given individual performs on television for an extended period of time is in some way a meaningful and revelatory test of presidential fitness. In his anti-television tirade Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, media critic Neil Postman gets at the core of the absurdity:

The point is that television does not reveal who the best man is. In fact, television makes impossible the determination of who is better than whom, if we mean by “better” such things as more capable in negotiation, more imaginative in executive skill, more knowledgeable about international affairs, more understanding of economic systems, and so on. The reason has, almost entirely, to do with “image.” But not because politicians are preoccupied with presenting themselves in the best possible light. After all, who isn’t? It is a rare and deeply disturbed person who does not wish to project a favorable image. But television gives image a bad name. For on television the politician does not so much offer the audience an image of himself, as offer himself as an image of the audience.

The modern presidential debate is mostly a test of how well a candidate can perform in the environment it presents. This seems like a tautology, but if it is, it is an important one. A nation with short attention spans, served by a media enamored of soundbites and isolated moments of high drama, cannot help but to create a stage in which the performers are just that — performers. To the extent that there is utility in certain aspects of what the presidential debate has become —giving opposing candidates an opportunity to interact with one another directly and almost unfiltered, allowing an assessment of records and performance, and, perhaps uniquely in this election, testing a possible president’s stamina — it is mostly incidental. Perhaps even accidental.

The principal attribute of today’s presidential debates is high theatricality. “Victory” comes from a superficial and subjective analysis of collected moments in them, or by an even-more subjective attempt by the candidates and by their surrogates to “spin” the proceedings in their favor after the fact. I suppose one could argue that “presentability” is an essential characteristic in a modern executive. But this format tends to weigh that characteristic so heavily as to encourage it, to the exclusion of others, promoting what ought to be only a secondary skill into one of the most important. (How would, say, the famously reserved Calvin Coolidge have done in such a milieu?) Yet this is the debauched nature of the political/media environment we inhabit.

We almost certainly need something like a presidential debate. Something like that kind of forum, after all, has a long history, and it has proved useful in the past. In today’s political and media environment (which I suppose is the real target of my ire, as it was Postman’s), however, I question its usefulness. So much so that I am almost inclined to concur with the likely opportunistic gripes of those on the left about the debates that are scheduled for this fall.

Almost.

Politics & Policy

John Yoo’s Defense of Trump

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John Yoo, my colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, makes the constitutional-conservative case for President Trump as well as it can be made.

Among the assumptions that underlie his argument:

Statements of intent to take unconstitutional action don’t count against the president so long as they do not ultimately come to fruition.

It’s contradictory to fault the president both for failing to perform his constitutional duties and for trying to exceed his constitutional powers.

Trump’s using emergency powers to get border-wall funding after Congress rejected it is totally unlike Obama’s implementing an immigration amnesty after Congress rejected it.

Trying to get Ukrainian officials to work with Trump’s personal lawyer to start an investigation of Joe Biden can reasonably be characterized as an exercise of the president’s power over law enforcement.

In early 2019, Yuval Levin and I took a much less sympathetic look at Trump’s constitutional record. But it is certainly true that if you believe the above propositions, that record looks better.

White House

Uncommon Knowledge: John Yoo on Trump’s Fight for Presidential Power

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On the occasion of his new book, Defender in Chief: Donald Trump’s Fight for Presidential Power, Hoover visiting fellow and Berkeley Law School professor John Yoo joins the show to make a spirited case against the criticisms of Donald Trump for his supposed disruption of constitutional rules and norms. The conventional wisdom is that Donald Trump is a threat to the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution. Mainstream-media outlets have reported fresh examples of alleged executive overreach or authoritarian White House decisions nearly every day of his presidency. In the 2020 primaries, the candidates rushed to accuse Trump of destroying our democracy and jeopardizing our nation’s very existence. In his book and on this show, John Yoo argues the opposite: that the Founders would have seen Trump as returning to their vision of presidential power, even at his most controversial and outrageous. It’s a fascinating and often humorous discussion that could not be more timely.

Recorded on July 29, 2020

Politics & Policy

Dictator or Cypher, Or . . .?

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President Trump speaks during an executive order signing event in Washington, D.C., August 3, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

I think John Yoo sets up a false choice when he asks rhetorically: “Is Trump a dictator or a cypher?”

It is possible to undermine constitutional and democratic norms without having grand Napoleonic ambitions. For example, President Trump’s bizarre demand for a Treasury kickback payment from Microsoft is typical of the Trump style. It is gross and corrosive, but it is not the kind of thing a would-be dictator does — it is the kind of thing a would-be gangster does.

I will admit to some pretty vigorous eye-rolling at Yoo’s insistence that Trump is a “constitutional traditionalist” engaged in a “defense of the constitutional order” and a “battle for the Constitution,” which seems to me only the obverse of the mistake Yoo attributes to Trump’s critics on the Left: imagining an intellectual framework behind Trump’s actions. The most straightforward interpretation of the available evidence is that Trump is engaged in neither a programmatic defense of any particular vision of the Constitution nor a premeditated assault upon the constitutional order — there is no reason to believe that he has the energy or the intellectual inclination to follow either course of action — but that he simply pursues his own interests as he sees them at any given moment, exactly as he has done for the entirety of his public life. We know from the Roman example (of which the Founding Fathers were acutely aware) that ordinary venality can be as dangerous to a republic as grandiose political ambition; and, as it turns out, in our own case that kind of thing is sufficiently destructive without our having to imagine Trump as an aspiring Caesar. This isn’t an opera, and it does not have to be operatic.

With that in mind, Yoo’s insistence that in toying with the idea of delaying the election Trump “does not implicate any constitutional concerns,” seems to me to be far from self-evidently true. Yoo assures us that things will happen “automatically” in January, but in a democratic republic nothing happens automatically — we rely on republican norms, civic duty, democratic cooperation, and patriotism for the orderly operation of government and the peaceful transfer of power. In raising the possibility of delaying the election, Trump implicitly asserts an extraconstitutional power. Yoo insists that this “does not implicate any constitutional concerns” because Trump does not actually have such a constitutional power; i.e., he argues that Trump’s suggestion raises no constitutional issue because an unconstitutional gambit would be . . . unconstitutional. I think that one would have to attend a very, very good law school to find that persuasive.

I don’t envy anybody the task of trying to reverse-engineer a plausible constitutional rationale around President Trump’s pinball antics. It would be, I think, far easier to simply deal with the fact that there are choices beyond “a dictator or a cypher.” We have to look at our situation straight on and face the actual facts before us.

Science & Tech

Why the U.S. Ranks So Poorly in Coronavirus Deaths Per Million

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Respiratory therapist Casey White prepares to attend to a patient suffering from the coronavirus in the ICU at Scripps Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista, Calif., May 12, 2020. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

One of the more cringe-inducing exchanges in President Trump’s interview with Axios’s Jonathan Swan is when Swan says he’s examining the rate of U.S. deaths as a percentage of the population, as opposed to the death rate among the infected. “You can’t do that!” Trump responds.

The United States has a pretty bad death rate per million people compared to most other countries. We rank tenth in the world in deaths per million people, at 480. (All figures from Worldometers.) Tiny counties such as San Marino and Andorra can jump to the top because of low populations. The U.S. ranks behind Belgium, the U.K., Spain, Peru, Italy, Sweden, and Chile.

However, there are some pretty important non-Trump reasons for this grim statistic:

  1. It is certain that some other countries aren’t being accurately measured. Many other high-population countries are either third-world, authoritarian, or both, and thus don’t have terribly reliable numbers. Other countries are getting hammered as well, but shoddy infrastructure and record-keeping, particularly in impoverished areas, mean we don’t really know how many have died or what the true death rate is in China, Russia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc.
  2. Other countries started this pandemic with certain advantages: populations that have more trust in their leadership, more experience with SARS and other disease outbreaks so they don’t blow these things off, more habitual mask-wearing, etc.
  3. The United States is being hit with the hyper-contagious version from Europe, while most of Asia got the less-contagious original strain from China — although that could change.
  4. Trump was far from the only U.S. elected official who downplayed the threat of the virus, and the U.S. death toll was heavily shaped by state decisions that sent infected recovering patients back into nursing homes.

A lot of Trump critics and foes seem to operate on the principle that acknowledging any factor outside of Trump — China, the WHO, the decisions of governors or mayors, etc. — amounts to letting Trump off the hook for his decisions and statements.

President Trump could have made a decent argument citing any of those points, but that would require him to pay attention to his briefings. Instead, he’s left flustered, waving his sheets of paper at Swan insisting that the U.S. numbers are good, because his staff tells him so.

Health Care

The Growing Threat to Religious Freedom in Health-Care Provision

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Catholic hospitals around the country are on a collision course with the ACLU, the Democratic Party, and assorted social-justice secularists who insist that these religious institutions violate their own faith precepts in the provision of medical services.

In Washington State, a proposed merger between a secular and Catholic hospital systems has brought down the ire of the ACLU and other usual suspects, such as End of Life Washington and NARAL. From their joint press release:

Reproductive health, LGBTQ+, and end-of-life care advocates in Washington state are deeply concerned that CHI Franciscan, a religious health system, and Virginia Mason, one of the state’s few remaining large secular health systems, plan to merge. If the proposed merger moves forward, Virginia Mason will deny patients access to certain reproductive and end-of-life care options at their facilities.

Specifically, the ACLU wants to force the merged system to practice medicine in a secular fashion, meaning the Catholic hospital would be required to perform abortions, transgender surgeries, and assisted suicides — all legal in Washington, but all also prohibited in Catholic moral teaching.

There have already been several lawsuits filed against religious hospitals around the country for obeying the principles of Catholic health care, with the primary focus seemingly on hospitals denying transgender hysterectomies, abortions, and sterilizations. The Dignity Health case, in which the California Court of Appeals allowed a transgender man to sue for discrimination after the hospital refused a hysterectomy, is the most alarming.

Make no mistake: The Left is intent on destroying Catholic health care specifically and medical conscience generally. Medicare for All proposals ban “discrimination” in the provision of health care, meaning Catholic and other religious institutions and practitioners could be forced to violate their faith as the cost of remaining in business. The Democrats also promise to gut the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, so there might not be any safe harbor if that party takes over the government in November.

The attacks on medical conscience are likely going to increase into a nationwide legal conflagration, perhaps culminating with the Supreme Court determining whether the constitutional guarantee of free exercise of religion retains vigor or will be shriveled to a puny “freedom of worship” concept.

Buckle your seatbelts. It is going to be a bumpy ride.

Politics & Policy

Pete Buttigieg Takes a Faculty Post at Notre Dame

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Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg attends a campaign event in Rock Hill, S.C., February 27, 2020. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)

The University of Notre Dame has announced that Pete Buttigieg, failed presidential candidate and former mayor of South Bend, Ind., will be taking a post at the university for the coming academic year.

Buttigieg will be a 2020-21 faculty fellow at Notre Dame’s Institute for Advanced Study (NDIAS), taking part in a cohort that is set to focus on the “nature of trust.” In October, the former mayor will release a book on just that subject, called Trust: America’s Best Chance, “interweaving history, political philosophy, and affecting passages of memoir [to explore] the strong relationship between measures of prosperity and levels of social trust.”

In a recent column at First Things, Fr. Bill Miscamble — an accomplished historian, Notre Dame professor, and a good friend of mine — put a fine point on some of the reasons one might object to the university offering Buttigieg this position:

While still mayor of South Bend, Buttigieg skillfully and cynically signaled his support for the pro-abortion movement. He vetoed the South Bend Common Council’s favorable vote on a re-zoning request that would have permitted the highly regarded Women’s Care Center (WCC) to open a crisis pregnancy office next to an abortion facility operating on the west side of the city (near minority neighborhoods, one might add). Buttigieg, the future lecturer on “trust” at Notre Dame, strained credibility by claiming that he acted out of concern for “the neighborhood” when he denied the community the loving support that the WCC has provided for decades. Notre Dame president Father John Jenkins, who had worked amicably with Buttigieg on town-and-gown issues, criticized the veto and charged that “far from enhancing the harmony of the neighborhood, it [Buttigieg’s veto] divides our community and diminishes opportunities for vulnerable women.”

Most of this year’s Democratic candidates campaigned hard to establish their pro-abortion credentials, but Buttigieg seemed especially eager to please the Planned Parenthood crowd. In a notable exchange with Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life, he made clear that he didn’t see much place for pro-life Democrats in the party. Most egregiously, Buttigieg also engaged in some discussion that revealed his support for late-term, partial-birth abortions. He even attempted to furnish his views with a religious gloss by suggesting that “there’s a lot of parts of the Bible that talk about how life begins with breath.”

Buttigieg’s extreme pro-abortion views directly oppose fundamental Catholic teaching prohibiting the destruction of human life in the womb. . . . [NDIAS director Meghan] Sullivan seems hesitant to examine the implications of Buttigieg’s fellowship for Notre Dame’s mission as a Catholic university.

One might expect that the aforementioned Father Jenkins would be more willing to do so, especially in light of his direct knowledge of Buttigieg’s betrayal of supporters of the Women’s Care Center. Sadly, no. While Father Jenkins concedes that Buttigieg disagrees with Catholic teaching on “some issues,” he asserts that the former mayor might make a contribution to NDIAS deliberations on the nature of trust.

Fr. Miscamble’s thoughts are well worth reading in full, but in my view, Notre Dame’s choice to employ Buttigieg is yet another example of university leadership seeking worldly prestige at the expense of the school’s Catholic mission. While there is some merit to opposing views on this subject, my own opinion is that the individuals any school chooses to hire — whether for administrative or faculty positions — are necessarily a core component of advancing the school’s identity and mission.

There’s much to be said for diversity of thought and ecumenism, but those values should never be taken so far as to excuse the employment of public figures such as Buttigieg who, aside from having little to offer in the way of intellectual rigor or genuine expertise, have repeatedly and in the most public way possible contradicted and flouted Catholic doctrine on key, non-negotiable issues such as abortion and the nature of marriage.

Buttigieg clearly was offered this position not because of any academic work he’s conducted but because of his political career, a career during which he’s routinely espoused positions that undermine the most fundamental parts of the Catholic Church’s view of human nature, sin, and social justice. On the subject of trust, the matter on which the university claims he’s expert, the former mayor hasn’t much to offer aside from a new book and more meaningless pablum about bipartisanship, an overrated virtue that he did little to practice during both his mayorship and his presidential campaign.

Instead, he ran a campaign centered around the notion that he alone possesses a clear-eyed view of what Christianity demands of our politics, and, by extension, that anyone who disagrees with him is not only wrong but an immoral hypocrite.

I’ve touted my alma mater time and again, both publicly and in private, as a worthy institution for any student seeking an authentically Catholic education, and I stand by that view. But with this appointment, Notre Dame has signaled once again that many of its leaders care more about improving the university’s standing in the eyes of a secular world than they do about offering that world an undiluted witness to the powerful message of the Gospel.

World

Reflections on the Life of John Hume

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SDLP leader John Hume walks towards Dublin’s Government Buildings before meeting the Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern on December 4, 2000. (FP/CLH/Reuters)

A few years ago, at a dinner party in Oxford, I was approached by a young English academic who overheard my accent. 

“Are you from Northern Ireland?,” he asked nervously. 

Once I had confirmed his suspicions, he began to open up to me about the time his grandfather spent in my homeland as a British soldier during the Troubles, a half-century long nightmare of civil conflict in Ulster involving Protestant unionists, Catholic secessionists, and Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. 

“He served in Iraq and in Afghanistan, but he always said that neither was even close to being as bad as Belfast was in the ’70s. Hell on Earth.” 

It might surprise Americans to hear a seasoned soldier compare a country in Western Europe unfavorably with the Middle East in the context of security and civil strife, but the Northern Ireland conflict can give any global conflict in the last 50 years a run for its money when it comes to sheer and unremitting exhibitions of human depravity. Throughout the Troubles, the murder of pregnant women was often celebrated by the perpetrators as a two-for-one deal in the market of ethnic extermination, disabled children were executed as “collaborators” by paramilitary groups, and unhinged soldiers occasionally fired upon defenseless civilians for simply walking the streets of their own neighborhood. 

John Hume, who died yesterday at the age of 83, is receiving praise and plaudits from around the world for the central role he played in the Northern Ireland “peace process” of the 1990s, for which he was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In order to understand the life of Mr. Hume, one has to first appreciate the fact that the political landscape in Northern Ireland is dominated by four political groups. The Democratic Unionist Party is a socially conservative, ethnically Protestant party that espouses a blood-and-soil commitment to Northern Ireland’s historic status as a state within the United Kingdom dominated by Protestant power and interests. It was founded as a cult of personality around the firebrand quasi-fascist preacher Ian Paisley and has historically had loose ties to violent paramilitary groups. The Ulster Unionist Party is the friendlier face of Unionism, committed to protecting Northern Ireland’s position in the U.K. through peaceful and civil methods. Secessionist politics is dominated by Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army terrorist group and the most prolific mass murderers of the entire conflict, and by the Social Democratic Labour Party, which pursues Irish unity through non-violent constitutional means.     

John Hume was the leader of the last of these four movements during the most important period in Northern Ireland’s history — the mid-to-late ’90s. He worked with all parties to secure the Belfast Agreement of 1998, which put an end to the Troubles and established the peace that I, as someone born in ’98, have lived under for my entire life. His resolute commitment to the peaceful pursuit of his political aims within the procedural constructs of the British constitution at a time when Ulster Catholics had many legitimate grievances against the British state is testimony enough to the man’s moral fiber. In that respect, he can serve as an exemplar of citizenship for Americans in the context of our own national conflicts, which do not even approach the scale of what was happening in Northern Ireland during the politically active years of John Hume’s life. His life and his example shame looters on the left and militias on the right in equal measure. His role in persuading Irish Americans to stop bankrolling Sinn Fein’s murder spree also singles him out as one of those rare politicians unwilling to take ethical short-cuts to reach ideological goals. 

It would be nice to end this post here, and most obituaries of Hume so far have done just that, celebrating his life in terms of uncomplicated admiration. When writing about the death of someone so clearly possessed of inordinate moral courage, it’s indeed tempting to wrap their life up in a neat and tidy bow of warm words and leave it at that. However, I would be remiss in my duties as a journalist and as an author of the “first draft of history” if I did not record here the biggest and most fatal mistake of John Hume’s entire career, which was his decision to bring Sinn Fein into the mainstream of Irish politics and to make them into a “partner in peace.” At the beginning of the 1990s, when the momentum for peace was building, the two dominant political parties in Northern Ireland were the non-violent moderate ones: David Trimble’s Ulster Unionists and John Hume’s SDLP. British and Irish intelligence agencies had furthermore infiltrated the IRA to the extent that its ability to effectively carry out a prolonged campaign of guerrilla warfare was on life support. At a time when IRA Sinn Fein had been all but comprehensively defeated by the joint efforts of Westminster and the Daíl Eireann in Dublin, Hume chose to tie himself and the fortunes of Northern Ireland to the success of the most depraved political group in the Western World — an organization with a higher murder rate of its captives than ISIS. As a result of Hume’s association with Sinn Fein, which bequeathed to them an altogether undeserved respectability, political defeat was snatched from the jaws of military victory in the intelligence war against the IRA. The set of political institutions established in 1998 naturally reflects the interests of the unionist and secessionist radicals whose approval was made the condition of political progress in Northern Ireland by Hume and other weak-willed moderates. As a result, the Northern Ireland in which I now live is jointly governed by IRA Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party after the peaceful parties that orchestrated the peace of ’98 negotiated moderate politics out of existence in a fatal, flawed, and darkly ironic fit of misjudgment. The final verdict on the life of John Hume must then be that he was a gifted leader marked by extraordinary moral courage whose public life was tainted in the end by a tragic error in judgement that legitimized the violence he abhorred and ensconced it firmly in the heart of government. 

Politics & Policy

Why Do Some Biden Supporters Want No Debates This Autumn?

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Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden departs after speaking about his plans to combat racial inequality at a campaign event in Wilmington, Del., July 28, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Why is there this sudden enthusiasm for canceling the presidential debates?

Tom Friedman, back on July 7: “Biden should declare that he will take part in a debate only if Trump releases his tax returns for 2016 through 2018. . . . Second, Biden should insist that a real-time fact-checking team approved by both candidates be hired by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates — and that 10 minutes before the scheduled conclusion of the debate this team report on any misleading statements, phony numbers or outright lies either candidate had uttered.”

Elizabeth Drew, in an op-ed in the New York Times, yesterday: “Let’s scrap the presidential debates. They’ve become unrevealing quip contests.”

Alex Shephard, writing in The New Republic: “The truth is that the debates have long since stopped serving the needs of voters and instead only exist to benefit television networks and cable news, in particular. Perhaps it’s time to consign them to the dustbin of history.”

Former Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart, writing at CNN: “Whatever you do, don’t debate Trump. . . . It’s a fool’s errand to enter the ring with someone who can’t follow the rules or the truth.”

Bill Kristol tweeted yesterday, “If early voting is underway before the scheduled debates, then it seems unfair to early voters to have those debates as scheduled. But so much work went in to the schedule that it seems unfair to change it. So I guess the fairest thing might be to skip the debates this year.”

All of these figures are pulling for Joe Biden to win in November. All of them are suddenly and surprisingly insistent that the incumbent and challenger arguing about who could do a better job for three 90-minute sessions on national television would be very, very bad for the country.

They’re sure acting like they fear Biden could lose the election because of bad debate performances, aren’t they?

Biden had some pretty lousy performances in this cycle’s Democratic presidential primary debates, but he soldiered on and won anyway. Biden also had some pretty good nights. He held his own in the one-on-one debate against Bernie Sanders as the pandemic started shutting down America.

It’s weird to see so many prominent Democrats seemingly intimidated by the thought of their nominee debating the president. Donald Trump isn’t exactly Cicero or Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill when it comes to oratorical persuasion. He goes off-message or creates new controversies with metronomic regularity.

But Trump is lively and aggressive, and it is easy to picture him going for the jugular at any point in the debates, with some series of attacks along the lines of, “Your son was corrupt and you helped cover it up, you were a miserable failure as vice president, you’re going senile and you’ll be a puppet for the Communists who control your party, and your running mate plans on taking over your job within a year!” And it’s equally easy to see Biden just not looking sharp or forceful in his rebuttal.

Could that cost Biden the election? Some prominent Democrats and Trump critics seem to think so.

World

The U.S. Is ‘Reconsidering’ the Death Penalty for ISIS Terrorists

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Last week, I wrote about Alexanda Kotey and El-Shafee Elsheikh, two British-born ISIS terrorists who have admitted involvement in the torture and murder of American hostages and are currently being held by U.S. forces in Iraq. Their victims’ families want them brought to the United States to face trial in a federal court, but the U.K. Supreme Court blocked its government from sharing intelligence unless the Trump administration agrees to waive the death penalty. As reported first by the Washington Post, the Department of Justice has since indicated that it is reconsidering whether to do exactly that.

World

Fifteen Things that Caught My Eye Today: Orphaned by COVID, Uyghur Women & More (August 3, 2020)

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1.

 

2. Nicaragua Catholic cathedral attacked with firebomb

3. Three NYC child welfare workers still on job, against watchdog recommendations after Bronx baby death

4. Before talking about abortion, it helps to listen to people’s stories

An important reason why our interviewees were willing to talk about a topic that most won’t engage is that we prioritized listening. We came in not as activists or apologists, but as really good listeners. We didn’t hold our breath awaiting the chance to share our own feelings, expose their lack of knowledge, or prove them wrong.

5. Catholic school superintendent: ‘Our kids need to go back to school’

“COVID is not the only dangerous thing in our society. Lack of community, loneliness, and all those kinds of things affect kids. And I think it’s important for our kids to be back in school.”

6. Murad Ismael and Nadine Maenza: Agony of Yazidis extends to sixth anniversary of their genocide                     

Yazidis will not have the chance to consider how to protect themselves from a future genocide. Instead, they will be haunted and reminded by the genocide they still endure. And they should not be the only ones commemorating their tragedy — we all must.

7. We are failing with Covid, let’s not fail with mental health

8. Wall Street Journal: A Toll of Coronavirus in New York Is A New Group of Orphans 

 

9.

10.

11. Ryan T. Anderson: ‘Transitioning’ Procedures Don’t Help Mental Health, Largest Dataset Shows

The largest dataset on sex-reassignment procedures—both hormonal and surgical—reveals that such procedures do not bring the promised mental health benefits. In fact, in their correction to the original study, the authors point out that on one score—treatment for anxiety disorders—patients who had sex-reassignment surgeries did worse than those who did not. 

12. Sen. Marco Rubio & Jeanne Mancini: Planned Parenthood Must Return Paycheck Protection Program Money to Taxpayers  

Planned Parenthood officials knew they were ineligible to receive PPP loans, given the organization’s roughly 16,000 employees and its organizational structure by which management can unilaterally impose policies and practices upon affiliates. Its political arm effectively admitted it was aware of this, but that didn’t stop them from applying.

13. Coleman Hughes: The nonconformist

On William F. Buckley’s Firing Line, Sowell summed it up in a sentence: “I haven’t been able to find a single country in the world where the policies that are being advocated for blacks in the United States have lifted any people out of poverty.” Maybe American race relations are so unique that all historical and international comparisons are useless. But it’s far more likely that we have something important to learn from patterns that have held true around the world and throughout history.

14. Answered prayers for priest in need of liver transplant 

15. Congratulations to our friend Phil DeVoe and his new bride — they got married in a Church narthex in California this weekend

 

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