‐ We wish Trump talked this much about the size of his government.
‐ Did the Founding Fathers talk about penises come election time? Pretty close, actually. Thomas Jefferson’s 1804 reelection was enlivened by a print titled “A Philosophic Cock,” which showed Jefferson as a rooster standing alongside a black hen representing his alleged slave mistress Sally Hemings. “Cock” then had the multiple meanings it has today. But of course Jefferson himself did not publicly promote or discuss this print. So Donald Trump has, where vulgarity is concerned, brought American politics to a new low. In other ways, however, our politics is still notably clean, hard though that may be to believe. No one is killed in duels (Alexander Hamilton), no one is beaten on the floor of the Senate (Charles Sumner), and no one is running from a jail cell (James Michael Curley). N.B. to Hillary: Curley won, so chin up.
‐ Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 nominee, blasted Trump, the GOP’s 2016 front-runner, in a jeremiad at the University of Utah that was mild and grave in manner, sulfurous in content. It began with Trump’s policy shortfalls, domestic and foreign: his refusal to address the entitlement debt load, his reckless talk of trade wars, a fondness for Putin matched only by a contempt for George W. Bush. Romney then reviewed Trump’s business failures — the eponymous “University,” Airlines, Magazine, Vodka, and Steaks — and his failures of character: “the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the third-grade theatrics.” (In a deft touch, Romney asked his listeners to watch how Trump “responds to my speech.” Trump responded — like a third-grader.) Finally, Romney warned that Trump’s tax returns, hitherto as secret as Masonic rituals, would if released produce “bombshells”: “I predict that he doesn’t give much, if anything, to the disabled and to our veterans.” Romney courted Trump’s support four years ago — before his recent egregious blunders (e.g., pretending ignorance of David Duke) but long after his pattern of bluster and failure was notorious. Romney acknowledged this in a tweet after his speech, but should have done so in the speech itself. That aside, it was a sterling performance: solid, impressive, selfless.
‐ New Jersey governor Chris Christie began his presidential campaign in the spring of 2015 by proposing to tackle entitlements, including Social Security. “How can anyone have a serious national conversation about the future of our country,” he asked radio host Hugh Hewitt, “and not discuss this issue?” Christie has ended his campaign, almost a year later, by endorsing Donald Trump, whose solution to our looming Social Security burden is to root out “waste, fraud, and abuse” (in other words, he has no solution at all). For every winner in politics there is at least one loser; and losers, from weariness or spite, sometimes endorse unsatisfactory rivals. Yet to betray a signature issue so dramatically is rare. A sad finis for a politician who was once energetic, combative, and smart.
‐ Jeff Sessions is the most high-profile and effective immigration hawk in Congress, and yet he has thrown in with a man whose hiring practices he should abhor. Trump uses H-2B visas to fill positions at his Mar-a-Lago Club with foreign workers and has justified it by saying there are jobs that Americans won’t do (although a goodly proportion of the American population worked as waiters or waitresses at some point in their lives). Despite his reputation as an über-hawk on immigration, Trump supports what is in effect a “touch-back” amnesty on steroids (he’ll deport every illegal immigrant, then bring the terrific ones back), and he has no idea what his position on legal immigration is supposed to be. Twice now during debates he has contradicted his written position by saying he supports more high-skilled visas, forcing his staff to clean it up afterwards. It isn’t surprising that Trump is playing people on immigration; we just never expected Jeff Sessions to be among the gullible.
‐ Since the mid Sixties, public figures have been considered libeled only when they can prove that they have been the victims of actual malice — falsehoods that were known to be untrue when they were published, or that were published with reckless disregard for their truth or falsity. Trump wants to change all that. At a rally in Fort Worth, he promised “to open up those libel laws.” When the press “writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money. . . . You see, with me, they [won’t be] protected, because I’m not like other people. . . . We’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never got sued before.” Trump is such an Old Faithful of heedless promises and insults that this has gotten lost in the spume. But his vindictive nature — he still seethes over decades-old slights (cf. “short-fingered vulgarian”) — suggests that he spoke from the heart. President Trump could not “open up” libel law at will. But his tenure would be a saturnalia of bellowing, spite, and recrimination.
‐ Unable to offer more than a sentence or two about health care at a debate, Trump was pressed on it, and repeated himself. Perhaps embarrassed by this performance, he had his campaign release a health-care plan a few days later. He shouldn’t have. The plan suggests that someone around Trump knows only a bit more about health care than he does. It discusses creating tax-advantaged health savings accounts, betraying no knowledge that HSAs have been in the law since 2003. It says that people should be able to buy health policies across state lines only if those policies conform to their state’s regulations — which, again, federal law already allows. If earlier Trump-campaign plans on taxes and immigration are any indication, this health-care plan will not affect what the candidate says on the stump or in interviews. In this case that might be a good thing.
‐ Trump was talking about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and negotiating a deal. “Let me be sort of a neutral guy,” he said. The instinct to be a neutral, or an honest broker, in a dispute may seem laudable. But Americans and others have learned something over a period of almost 70 years: When one side wants to coexist and the other wants to exist alone, neutrality is a fool’s errand.
‐ The front-runner has a three-point plan for winning the war against ISIS: murder, torture, and atrocities. For months, Trump has insisted that American soldiers should torture terrorists and kill terrorists’ families. Moreover, he’s repeatedly praised mythical American atrocities (that U.S. troops pacified the Philippines in part by dipping bullets in pig’s blood before killing Muslim prisoners). Under fire, he has backed away from explicitly endorsing torture or murder. Instead he now says he wants to “increase the laws” to allow American soldiers to more closely mimic ISIS’s tactics, believing that it’s only “political correctness” that prevents us from beheading our enemies. Trump doesn’t understand the American warrior. The American military would defy orders to target innocent women and children. Like the law, honor is a concept Trump can’t comprehend.
‐ Over the years, Trump has been consistent in his admiration of strength — strength of a certain kind. In 1990, he was interviewed by Playboy. He said he was worried about the Soviet Union — or, as he put it, “Russia is out of control, and the leadership knows it. That’s my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand.” His interviewer said, “You mean, ‘firm hand’ as in China?” Trump answered, “When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak . . . as being spit on by the rest of the world.” Trump’s admiration of Putin is no surprise.
‐ David Duke is a Trump man. The erstwhile Grand Wizard told his followers that a vote for anyone but Trump is “really treason to your heritage.” Louis Farrakhan is not quite a Trump man, but “I like what I’m looking at,” he says. Jews control politics, he says, and Trump has stood up to them. As can be overheard at Trump rallies, Les beaux esprits se rencontrent.
‐ Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska has been attracting national conservative notice with thoughtful remarks about the dysfunction of the Senate, the need to restore the separation of powers, and the country’s vulnerability to cyberattacks. All of that was praiseworthy, but none of it was risky. In recent months, though, he has also been taking on Donald Trump, even at the risk of losing some Republican support, and he has done so while remaining unaligned with any rival candidate. He argues that Trump has no commitment to constitutional conservatism. Trump has responded by saying that Sasse looks like “a gym rat.” Sasse is the first senator to announce that even if Trump wins the nomination, he will not vote for him in November — instead backing a third-party candidate or writing someone in. (Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker later said the same.) At a time when many Republicans are cozying up to Trump, Sasse deserves credit for taking a stand on principle instead.
‐ Ben Carson rose from a difficult childhood to a distinguished career as a neurosurgeon and best-selling author. After a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast excited conservatives nationally, he thought he would try another career — politician — and start at the top, by running for president. But he did not know much about policy or politics, and did not find people to supply his lack. In the weeks before he dropped out, he was unable to answer whether his campaign had become a scam run for his hangers-on. As a result of his campaign, he will be known by more people for running for a job he had no business seeking than for his genuine accomplishments. A lesson in hubris.
‐ Hillary Clinton portrays the probe of her serial transmissions of classified information by private e-mail as a mere “security inquiry” focused on her private server, not on her. That story crumbled when the Justice Department conferred immunity from prosecution on the aide who set up the “home-brew” system. Longtime Clinton fixer Bryan Pagliano had asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination to avoid testifying before the House Benghazi committee about enabling Clinton to conduct State Department business by private e-mail. The immunity grant is significant. It confirms that the probe is a criminal investigation to which the FBI has dedicated robust resources. It means there is Justice Department buy-in: Only its lawyers are authorized to confer immunity, so obviously the FBI is working in tandem with prosecutors. This is important because, no matter how strong a case the FBI assembles, only the Justice Department can convene a grand jury and propose an indictment. Federal law clearly prohibits the unauthorized storage and dissemination of classified information, and government officials (such as former CIA director David Petraeus) are prosecuted for violations. Over 2,000 e-mails containing classified information passed through Clinton’s non-secure server. The case is serious, as is the damage likely done to national security.
We Ignore the Debt at Our Peril
Writing in this space five years ago, I made the controversial prediction that the rating of U.S. government debt would soon be downgraded. In August of that year, Standard & Poor’s duly obliged. I revisited the topic in November 2011 and argued that the U.S. would probably not regain its stain-free AAA rating anytime soon: The history of downgrades is that they endure. At this writing, the U.S. has yet to regain that rating.
Today, we are deep into a presidential election, and no candidate of either major party has made much of the national debt. Bernie Sanders has proposed perhaps $20 trillion in new spending and Mrs. Clinton has suggested a good deal of her own, while the Republicans have tended to emphasize tax reductions. Chris Christie was the candidate who focused most on the debt, offering an ambitious Social Security reform.
Is it right to ignore the debt? Have the fiscal-policy developments of the past few years fixed the problem?
Not so long ago, the Greek economy was in free fall, Greeks were rioting in the streets, and Germans were ponying up billions to bail them out. We have seen what a debt crisis looks like. Our politicians assume that it can’t happen here, and that debt reduction is not urgent. But this could be a big mistake.
Many accounts date the origins of the Greek debt crisis to December 2009. According to the World Bank, the ratio of Greek-government debt to GDP in 2009, the last year before the crisis unfolded, was 133.2. The Greeks could have handed over their entire GDP for the year to creditors and still been short. Let’s take that 133 percent ratio as a cliff to avoid.
As the chart shows, the U.S. might be closer to the brink than mainstream forecasts tend to imply. It represents, under different economic scenarios, the ratio of U.S.-government debt held by the public to GDP.
Extrapolating from the Congressional Budget Office’s long-term budget projections, which include many rosy-scenario assumptions, we won’t look like Greece for about 40 years. That’s not very comforting — yet it is also optimistic.
The CBO assumes that things will be smooth and pleasant. But what if there were another business-cycle contraction on par with the Great Recession? If, based on the debt-to-GDP increase experienced by the U.S. during that recession, one gauges the added increase in government debt that would occur under a similar downturn, then the ratio would reach the 133 percent threshold by 2019.
Imagine instead that there were a doubling of interest rates along with another Great Recession — a scenario that does not seem too unlikely, given that a rise in interest rates engineered by an inflation-wary Fed would probably precede a contraction in the business cycle. In that case, as the chart shows, the U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio would surpass 133 percent by 2017.
Many turn to the comfort of baseline forecasts such as the CBO’s when assessing the fiscal future of the United States. But the possibility of another recession or an upward rise in interest rates certainly cannot be ruled out. Even the less rosy mainstream forecasts tend to assume that there will be no business-cycle shocks and no upward surges in interest rates.
If our banks are required to survive “stress tests” that envision reasonable downside scenarios, our government should have to survive them, too. Today’s government fails, and that by a large margin.
‐ Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the whitest red you’ll ever see, declared during a Democratic debate: “When you’re white. . . you don’t know what it’s like to be poor.” This is an odd thing to hear from a senator from Vermont, which is 95 percent white with a poverty rate of 12 percent. (In Vermont, you’re ten times as likely to be poor as you are to be black.) Next door in Maine, the population is slightly whiter and even poorer. The poorest county in the United States, in eastern Kentucky, is almost exclusively white. White people don’t know what it’s like to be poor, Senator Sanders? They sure will when you’re president.
‐ In the Illinois senate in the 1990s, Barack Obama fought efforts to protect the right to life of infants who survived abortion. He carried his bone-chilling record on abortion with him to the White House. When the University of Notre Dame invited him to give its commencement address in 2009, its public-relations people tried to soften the offense by suggesting that he was being twinned with Mary Ann Glendon, the eloquently pro-life law professor to whom Notre Dame was presenting its annual Laetare Medal, “in recognition of outstanding service to the Church and society.” Recognizing how she was being used, Glendon declined the award. This year, Notre Dame is making a similar play, giving the Laetare Medal to that odd couple Joe Biden and John Boehner, a Democrat and a Republican. Both are Catholic, at least nominally. They have the same initials. One expressly opposes the Church’s clear teaching on the sanctity of life. The other supports it. Here is a riddle: When is the recipient of an honor too honorable to accept it?
‐ The Supreme Court heard arguments about abortion regulations in Texas. The abortion lobby is claiming that regulations ostensibly designed to protect patients’ safety are imposing an “undue burden” on the right to abortion. The four most liberal justices are likely to vote against any abortion regulations, and Justice Kennedy might vote with them. Two considerations that may and should sway him the other way: States have wide latitude to make their own decisions concerning how to protect public health free of second-guessing from federal courts; and the record of the case does not even establish that the law has caused abortionists to close their businesses. The Court might well send this case back to lower courts for fact-finding. Ideally, what it would do is admit that the Constitution allows legislatures to burden the right to abortion or even refuse to agree that it exists.
‐ Protectionists have been riding high in American politics, and in recent months they have acquired a tiny bit of intellectual respectability too. A much-discussed academic paper has concluded that trade with China has depressed many American labor markets without leading to net job growth overall. So should we impose 45 percent tariffs on China to make America great again? Not so fast. It’s one paper; it lacks a plausible account of why trade would reduce employment on net; and it suggests that the shock to American markets created by Chinese trade is already over. Most important, it has nothing to say about the real-world consequences of a Trumpian trade policy: nothing to say about retaliatory tariffs on our exporters, or about the effect of our own tariffs on American manufacturers who buy inputs from China. It’s most persuasive about the negative effect of trade on particular communities, which nobody had ever doubted. Free-traders sometimes sound unworldly, even utopian. But letting people buy and sell abroad without interference from the government is better than the available alternatives.
‐ The city of Flint, Mich., was for generations ruled by an incompetent and often corrupt Democratic machine. When the city went into an extended financial crisis, a Democratic emergency manager was appointed to reform its finances. The city’s Democratic leadership decided to build an expensive new water system as an economy-stimulating infrastructure project, which annoyed the Democrats in nearby Detroit, who had been earning a nice income providing Flint with Detroit’s finest tap water. The Detroit Democrats retaliated against the Flint Democrats by ending their aqueous relationship earlier than planned, and the Flint Democrats turned to an alternative source of water, the Flint River, as a temporary measure. The Democrats who run Flint’s government consulted with the Democratic union men who run its city agencies and came up with a water-treatment process for that Flint River water, which turned out to be ineffective. The residents of Flint, including its vulnerable children, were exposed to high levels of lead in the water as a result. The Democrats who run Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency learned of this, and did nothing. This sent the Democrats running for that party’s presidential nomination into a tizzy of moral intoxication, during which they called for the resignation of . . . the Republican governor of Michigan.
‐ Residents of high-crime neighborhoods in New York City complain to police most about public disorder, not violent felonies. When he assumed office as police commissioner under Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 1994, William Bratton instituted “broken-windows” policing, to ensure public order and, in the process, also public safety, as the same criminal often commits offenses against both. Recently Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced that his office and the New York City Police Department will focus on “serious crimes” — that is, no longer will such offenses as drinking or urinating on the street lead to arrest and an appearance before a judge and prosecutor. At most, the offender will be handed a summons, but arrested criminals already have a high rate of evading warrants; they are less likely to comply with the law when it means paying fines for quality-of-life offenses. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he envisions the other boroughs following Manhattan’s lead and discontinuing broken-windows policing. The cost will be borne by the whole city, eventually, but by its poorest, highest-crime neighborhoods first.
‐ California’s remarkably partisan attorney general, Kamala Harris, is seeking a Senate seat. She wants to be the new Barbara Boxer, but she’s shaping up to be the new Lois Lerner, using the state’s tax law to harass conservative activist groups, in this case the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. IRS rules require some nonprofits, AFP Foundation among them, to disclose major donors; those disclosures are supposed to be kept private by the IRS, but Barack Obama’s politicized tax agency has failed on that count. Nonprofits also register with the state of California, and Harris has demanded that the AFP Foundation turn over its donor list. Why? Ask the people at the National Organization for Marriage, whose donor information was illegally leaked by the IRS to facilitate retribution against and harassment of its supporters. Harris is engaged in straight-up political bullying here, and should be stopped. The AFP Foundation has taken its case to court, and it deserves to prevail.
‐ The University of Missouri has fired Melissa Click — finally. The professor of communications in the school’s prestigious journalism school earned national attention, ironically, for clamping down on student journalists trying to record protests at the university in November. Click was caught on camera requesting that protesters employ “muscle” against their peer, and she pushed a reporter herself. Academia has its perks, though: For criminally assaulting a student, Click received a few hours of community service — not to mention the full-throated support of 115 colleagues, who signed a letter on her behalf. Whether the administration suddenly grew a spine or is operating out of self-interest — applications and donations to the school have plummeted — is unclear, but we’ll soon find out: The American Association of University Professors has announced a formal investigation into Click’s firing, citing “academic freedom” concerns. Nonsense. Neither the First Amendment nor the most expansive interpretation of academic freedom grants professors the right to assault students. There used to be schools that taught such things.
‐ Calling “participation in academic and athletic competitions” at public schools a “privilege,” Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed a bill that would have let home-schooled families take part. Privilege? They paid for that soccer field, Mr. McAuliffe.
‐ “Cessation of hostilities” is the agreed phrase for the momentary suspension of the all-in political wrestling in Syria, and it is not to be confused with “truce,” even less with “cease-fire.” An outright winner from the protracted civil war, Russian president Vladimir Putin has taken control of the agenda by rescuing Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and in return obtaining new and better bases in the country. He can now afford to be magnanimous, while also continuing sporadically to bomb the Islamists. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan works to extend hostilities and overthrow Assad, but lacks the means and is further distracted by the migration crisis in the neighborhood. An international diplomatic meeting is on the horizon, with the purpose of extending the cessation of hostilities. President Obama has already signposted its likely failure, saying, “There’s no alternative to a managed transition away from Assad.” Who is to do this managing and transitioning must be a White House secret. Secretary of State John Kerry whistles even louder in the wind: “The potential is there that Syria will be utterly destroyed.” But it is already, and so utterly that it will not be restored for many years, if ever.
‐ The Dutch have discovered a cure for autism: murder. Dutch law first was changed to accommodate “physician-assisted suicide” — i.e., medical euthanasia — for patients with severe conditions some years ago, and, as it turns out, some slopes are slippery: The Dutch soon decided that those suffering from psychiatric problems could be put down like unwanted pets, too, and now are eliminating those who have no diagnosed medical condition whatsoever save autism. Dutch law requires that patients seeking to be put to death do so after sober and careful consideration — a condition that people suffering serious mental problems cannot reasonably be said to have met. Now unhappy people from abroad are traveling to the Netherlands to be killed. Canada is on the same decline, its supreme court having “discovered” a new right, as our own so often does, this time to physician-inflicted death. When a mentally ill person says that he wants to die, the proper response is treatment, not “Does your insurance cover hemlock?”
‐ Chris Rock, the host of this year’s Academy Awards broadcast, faced a nearly impossible task: Don’t ignore the dearth of black nominees, and the resulting boycott, but don’t focus on it exclusively; be edgy but don’t alienate whites, blacks, or anyone else; be political in a safe, NPR-ish way; and, of course, be funny in the bargain. He almost succeeded. The only real false note, which seemed tacked on as a nod to #BlackLivesMatter, was: “This year, in the In Memoriam package, it’s just going to be black people that were shot by the cops on their way to the movies.” As it happened, the day before Rock hosted the Oscars, Woodbridge, Va., police officer Ashley Guindon was shot dead on her first day on the force, ambushed while responding to a domestic dispute. This is the reality that police officers face every day, and one that the dominant rhetoric of our era obscures.
‐ Melissa Harris-Perry and MSNBC, the network that hosted her weekend race-talk show, parted ways with a vengeance in February. Harris-Perry became enraged after she was preempted multiple times for election coverage. She penned and made public an e-mail to her staff declaring that she refused to be a “token, mammy, or little brown bobble head,” that she had been “silenced,” and that her show had been effectively canceled. MSNBC executives responded that it had not been, but that her public tantrum ensured that it would be. Perry, who is also a professor at Wake Forest University, declared that her treatment had been “evil” and “cruel” and had “strong racial implications.” (One of Perry’s more notable contributions to discussions of race in America was a 2013 segment in which she and her guests mocked Mitt Romney for having an adopted black grandchild.) The show had “deserved a proper burial,” Harris-Perry complained to the New York Times in a post-mortem interview. We’d say it got one.
‐ Whole Foods Market is an upscale grocery chain scrupulous about ensuring that the goods it offers are organic, sustainably grown, locally sourced, and otherwise unexceptionable to its Prius-driving customers, who can be quite exacting. The latest controversy occurred when the company began selling peeled oranges in plastic containers. An environment-minded shopper sent out a photograph of one with a sarcastic tweet (“if only nature would find a way to cover these oranges”); the arugula-is-political crowd erupted in predictable fury; and the company instantly caved, vowing never to violate Mother Nature so brutally again. Never mind that Whole Foods composts its orange peels, while an orange peeled in someone’s office is likely to become solid waste; never mind that Whole Foods, like most stores, routinely sells other fruits in plastic containers; and never mind that some people genuinely prize the convenience of naked oranges, or may not even be physically able to peel them. The forces of virtue have won another battle, and Whole Foods oranges will stay forever green.
‐ After 18 NFL seasons, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is hanging it up. Fresh off his second Super Bowl championship (he won with the Indianapolis Colts in 2006–07), “The Sheriff” finishes as the only quarterback with more than 200 wins, a five-time NFL MVP, and the league’s all-time leader in passing yards (71,940) and touchdown passes (539). Manning’s career, marred by injury and disappointment at the turn of the decade, culminated in a final ride to the top — this time as his team’s wily veteran and supporting second banana to the Broncos’ championship-caliber defense. He will be remembered as the consummate professional, for his iconic “Omaha!” audible calls, and for his epic, 15-year-long rivalry with Tom Brady’s Patriots. “I’ve fought a good fight. I’ve finished my football race, and after 18 years, it’s time,” Manning said as he retired. “God bless all of you, and God bless football.”
‐ They called it “the gaze,” the look of adoration that Nancy Reagan invariably cast on Ronald when they were together in public. She cast it because she felt it. Her 52-year marriage was devoted to her charismatic husband, and to smoothing, however possible, his passage from Hollywood to the White House. Ronald Reagan was not the easiest person in the world to live with: genial, humorous, curious, he was also private to the point of inaccessibility. Nancy took his measure, and took him to her heart. Occasionally she became a target for his enemies. Liberals harped on her taste, as first lady, for fine clothes and fine things, although after the studied poor-mouthing of the Carter years, the White House badly need an injection of glamour. And journalists jeered when it came out that she consulted an astrologer about scheduling presidential trips. Her husband had been shot two months after his first inauguration; she would leave nothing to chance. But America’s judgment of her, as of him, became in time universally positive. “We were fortunate,” said Barack Obama, “to benefit from her proud example and her warm and generous advice.” Dead at 94. R.I.P.
‐ In contrast to the conditions in today’s mayfly-like software industry, after Ray Tomlinson invented our modern system of email in 1971, it was little used except by scientists for two decades. Then it progressed from must-have to taken-for-granted to passé for anyone under 30, raised on texts and clouds and social media. (Now we can wait for 2030s hipsters to revive it.) Tomlinson is sometimes referred to as the inventor of the @ sign, which is an exaggeration; but that sinuous symbol, chosen because it wasn’t being used anywhere else, turned out to be very powerful, allowing not just users sharing time on the same computer to exchange messages, but users of any two computers connected to ARPANET (the Defense Department’s research-sharing network that developed into the Internet). Tomlinson once said that he preferred spelling “email” without the hyphen, and while that is the all-but-universal style today, NR has continued its mission of standing athwart by hyphenating the word — except in this obituary, where we omit the hyphen as a typographical tribute to Raymond Tomlinson, the inventor of email, dead @ 74. R.I.P.
‐ One day in 1937, Delmer Berg, then 21, was on his way to work as a dishwasher in a Los Angeles hotel when he spotted a billboard and so found his place in the age of dictators. Having enlisted in the Young Communist League, he was one of the 3,000 or so Americans who volunteered to join the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and fight for the Republic — that is to say, the Left — in the Spanish Civil War. In reality Stalin’s useful idiots, they turned the story of the Brigade into a legend of heroic anti-fascism and idealism. “I didn’t know a damn thing politically, we were just kids,” he was to sum up. In action in some of the major battles, he was wounded and sent home when an Italian bomber hit the building he had been in. The wound persisted for the rest of his life, and so did the mindset: He joined the Communist Party in 1943 and always remained proud to call himself “an unreconstructed Communist.” The last known survivor of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, and truly legendary in this respect, he has died aged 100 in his native California. R.I.P.
Yes, a Contested Convention Is Legitimate
For the first time in four decades, Republicans face the real possibility of a contested convention. If this came to pass, it would be an unusual circumstance, but the process of selecting a candidate at the convention would be a completely legitimate one, even if the candidate with a plurality of delegates did not win the nomination at the end of it.
The best way to defeat Donald Trump is for someone to beat him outright and earn a majority of delegates. Especially after his wins in Mississippi and Michigan, that seems unlikely. If Trump is definitely going to be held below 1,237, it probably means John Kasich winning Ohio or Marco Rubio winning Florida or both, in which case the field will stay fractured for the duration.
Even if he falls short of the magic number, Trump will probably enter the convention with a delegate lead and the largest share of the popular vote. That should not cow anyone. The role of the convention is to secure for the party a nominee whom most of the delegates can support. Trump’s failure to arrive with a majority of delegates would reflect the lack of a consensus for his nomination. The delegates will be fulfilling their function if they try to find a candidate most of them can support.
Provided a deal is not struck prior to the first vote, delegates would be free to negotiate toward that end following that vote (and a majority of delegates would work its will by means of voting on the rules governing the convention). What those negotiations would look like is anyone’s guess.
Trump’s backers are sure to cry foul if he does not receive the nomination, and there are, of course, prudential concerns about whether refraining from handing the nomination to the plurality choice will alienate his supporters. But that result would not mean that the nomination had been stolen — merely that Trump had failed to secure it under the rules. It is certainly true that some Trump supporters are deeply committed to him, but not all are. Surely, many are likely to cast their ballots for a non-Trump Republican to avoid ceding the White House to the Democrats.
For now, this is but speculation. If Trump rolls through the winner-take-all states, talk of a contested convention will all be academic, and the real thing will be dramatic for another reason: its spectacle of a badly fractured party hitching its fortunes to a badly flawed nominee who could set the conservative cause back decades.