‐ So there were no left-wing Puerto Rican transsexual terrorists in federal prison?
‐ Representative John Lewis (D., Ga.) announced that he would skip Donald Trump’s inauguration: “I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president. . . . You cannot be at home with something that you feel that is wrong.” Trump in return urged Lewis to “spend more time on fixing and helping his district,” which is in fact the primary duty of local authorities, not congressmen (federalism, and all that). The instinct to push back is entirely justified, however. You would think, from news reports, that Lewis’s first names are “Civil Rights Icon.” So he was, beaten on the voting-rights march in Selma. May he always be honored. But he has had a half-century career of partisan politics since then, in the arena with everyone else. Dwight Eisenhower’s heroic war record did not immunize him from criticism, nor did JFK’s. John Lewis deserves to be judged on the content of his characterizations.
‐ Rex Tillerson, President Trump’s pick for secretary of state, was chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil for a decade. Presiding over a business with worldwide operations gave him first-hand knowledge of the world he would be dealing with, supporters of his nomination argued. It was not much on display during Tillerson’s confirmation hearings. Over and over again, he pleaded a lack of specific knowledge, whether the subject was climate change, a registry of Muslims, or Russian bombing of Aleppo (shades of Gary Johnson). One of his demurrals, when he denied knowing whether Exxon had lobbied against sanctions on Russia after the invasion of Crimea, was simply incredible. He did acknowledge that American and Russian “value systems are starkly different.” With the president himself a newcomer to foreign affairs, the counsel of the State Department will be all the more important. If it doesn’t come from the secretary, then it will bubble up from the career personnel — also known as the swamp.
‐ It is a close contest — Andy Puzder and Scott Pruitt are in the running — but Betsy DeVos seems to be the Trump nominee who has inspired the most unhinged reactions from liberals. Lawrence Krauss, writing in The New Yorker, sees DeVos’s belief that God had something to do with the origin of man as evidence that she plans to destroy science education if confirmed as secretary of education. But the New York Times has been the most active in distorting DeVos’s record. A particular refrain at the Times has been that DeVos, a Michigander, protected charter schools from regulation in Detroit and thus contributed to their poor performance. Yet a study found that 47 percent of the charter schools significantly outperform traditional public schools on reading, as 49 percent do on math; the figures for significant underperformance are 1 and 7 percent. The Times’s editorial spin on this impressive record: Detroit’s “charter schools often perform no better than traditional schools, and sometimes worse.” The Times seems to believe that its readers, at least, have to be carefully taught.
‐ Cory Booker is running for president. That’s the only way to interpret the New Jersey senator’s melodramatic testimony against Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, at Sessions’s confirmation hearing. Booker made an impassioned plea for the incoming attorney general to “bring hope and healing to our country” — a legal requirement of which Edmund Randolph and his successors were surely unaware — and the spectacle was particularly galling given Booker’s comment in February 2016 that he was “blessed and honored” to partner with Sessions to award the Congressional Gold Medal to participants in the 1965 Selma civil-rights marches. Booker has never struggled to picture himself in higher office. But unless he can learn the difference between standing on principle and grandstanding, his presidential aspirations are as fantastical as his imaginary friend T-Bone.
‐ Tim Scott, the Republican junior senator from South Carolina, demonstrated grace under Twitter. When user “Simone” accused Scott, who has said he will vote to confirm Sessions, and William Smith, a longtime aide to Sessions who is also black, of being “house niggas,” Scott tweeted back a one-word riposte: “Senate.” Amid the avalanche of opprobrium, Simone deleted her tweet and then her Twitter account. A little later, Scott tweeted, “Disagree without being disagreeable.” We couldn’t agree with you more, senator.
‐ CNN mentioned it, BuzzFeed printed it: a dossier of rumors that has been floating around Washington for months, alleging Trump-campaign ties to Russia. There was even a report of after-hours activities in a Moscow hotel that made JFK and Judith Exner look savory by comparison. A former British spook compiled the stuff as oppo research for Trump’s GOP rivals, then for the Clinton campaign. Until January, no news organization had bit, because of the dossier’s evident flimsiness. Trump blamed the leak on the American intelligence community and asked, “Are we living in Nazi Germany?” (Short answer: No.) If real spadework might uncover secret Trump–Russia connections, the shabbiness of the dossier has undermined it. What is most troubling about Trump and Russia remains his not-at-all-secret admiration for Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile Journalism 101 teaches journalists not to run with unbacked charges. Time, it seems, for a refresher.
‐ Donald Trump is still getting NATO mostly wrong. In a recent interview, he was right to call out NATO allies for failing to meet their defense-spending obligations, and it is reassuring that he said it is “very important” to him. Yet he also reiterated his view that NATO is “obsolete” because it is not “taking care of terror.” NATO has in truth been fighting terror since the September 11 attacks. It invoked Article 5 — which holds that an attack on one member state is an attack against all — on September 12, 2001, and its troops are still in Afghanistan today. Moreover, with the rise in Russian aggression, NATO is growing more relevant, not less. Shortly after the end of the Cold War, there were those who believed that perhaps the threat of great-power conflict was over. They were wrong, and unless we want to increase the risk of war. we should continue to rely on NATO’s proven strength.
‐ Donald Trump announced an arrangement to avoid business conflicts as president. His sons will run his company and won’t talk to him about it. There will be no new foreign deals, and profits from foreign governments’ taking rooms at the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C., will be donated to the U.S. Treasury, in a gesture to those who charge (dubiously) that such business would violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause. The arrangement is hardly perfect and has been slammed by ethics experts — who’s to police, for instance, whether Trump’s sons are really keeping him in the dark about the business? Democrats will continue to make an issue of conflicts, real or imagined. A much cleaner and politically sound solution would have been to hand the company over to a well-respected, independent trustee for the next four to eight years. But it’s a solid step in the right direction and, given Trump’s strong attachment to his business and his reliance on his family, probably the best that could be hoped for.
‐ Trump has picked his 36-year-old son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to broker a Middle East peace deal. “Jared is such a good lad,” Trump told Bild, “he will secure an Israel deal which no one else has managed to get.” Kushner, a serious Orthodox Jew, is a serious supporter of Israel — a welcome change from the last days of the Obama administration. He is also credited with blocking several potentially ill-advised Trump appointments (e.g., of Chris Christie to anything). On the other hand, he has slight personal experience of the Middle East and none of diplomacy. It might not matter, since a deal between Israel and the Palestinians is a perennial will-o’-the-wisp. Dennis Ross, an old Middle East hand, gave Kushner a measured thumbs-up: “People I know who know him describe him . . . as someone who will clearly learn what he needs to learn and will approach things thoughtfully.” To them that have no might he increaseth strength; here’s hoping.
‐ The Justice Department’s inspector general announced an investigation of FBI director James Comey’s handling of the Clinton e-mail case. The action, coming a week before President Trump’s inauguration, is transparently an attempt to jam the new administration and conveniently plays into Democratic arguments that the election was thrown to Trump by Putin and Comey. If the question is whether the FBI director violated internal guidelines by repeatedly discussing the case publicly, the answer is Yes, a thousand times yes. He was put in an awkward position, though, as soon as Democrats nominated a candidate who was under FBI investigation, and especially after Attorney General Loretta Lynch cast a pall of doubt over the proceedings by secretly meeting with Bill Clinton. At this point, Comey has lost the trust of nearly everyone in Washington and undermined the credibility of the Bureau. Trump may not want to dismiss him immediately for fear of validating the Democratic narrative about the elections — in which case he should wait a decent interval.
‐ Barack Obama is nothing if not consistent. He is lenient with American enemies foreign and domestic. His decision to commute the remainder of Bradley (Chelsea) Manning’s jail term, from 35 years to essentially time served, sends the message that soldiers can betray their nation yet still expect to receive compassion from their government, so long as they’re “whistleblowing” on an unpopular war. And make no mistake, Manning betrayed his nation. He is responsible for one of the largest security breaches in American military history, placing American allies in immediate danger, exposing sensitive diplomatic secrets, and revealing American tactics to our most vicious enemies. Osama bin Laden himself sought and received information from Manning’s document dump. In such a circumstance, Manning’s commutation was worse than foolish. It was unjust, and it broke faith with America’s warriors. The price paid for betrayal proved to be very low.
‐ President Obama made an announcement with the Cuban dictatorship. In a joint statement, they said that the United States would be ending its “wet foot, dry foot” policy. No more would the U.S. give special consideration to Cubans who made it to land. Instead, we would send them back, and the Cuban government would receive them (as the migrants, or would-be migrants, well know). We will also be ending our special program for Cuban doctors who are sent abroad. When they defected to us, we put their visa applications on a fast track. No more. Obama himself stated that the defection of doctors “risks harming the Cuban people.” His aide Ben Rhodes made a similar comment about ordinary Cubans who try to flee: “It’s important that Cuba continue to have a young, dynamic population that are agents of change.” The Obama administration’s concern for the Cuban people was touching indeed.
A Pro-Growth Tax Reform
Tax reform will be front and center this year. There are enough supply-siders in power that it seems certain that tax rates will go down. But if Republicans want to supercharge the economy, they should look not just at tax rates, but also at the things we choose to tax in the first place and the best practices around the world.
The goal of the best tax policy is to raise enough revenue to pay government’s bills while changing behavior as little as possible. The economy suffers when people make decisions based not on the pure pluses and minuses of their own situation but rather on the incentives provided by government policy. Economists who have run different types of tax policy through their models agree that the most efficient tax is on consumption. If you tax business profits, businesses can move to Ireland. If you tax the consumption of Americans, they can’t move their consumption to Ireland.
The consumption tax also stimulates growth through the “tax avoidance” behavior that it does induce. If you don’t like the tax on consumption, then your best avoidance strategy is to save rather than consume. If you pursue this strategy for a few years, you might even become wealthy, and, meanwhile, the bank that has your money will lend it to businesses that create jobs. If we want to produce more output in the future, we need to have more inputs in the future. Postponed consumption is future capital and future production.
This simple lesson from optimal-tax theory has been digested by almost every country on earth, except the U.S. Indeed, 34 out of the 35 OECD countries have consumption taxes in the form of a goods-and-services tax (GST) or a value-added tax (VAT). Using data from the OECD Tax Database, the graph below shows the distribution of VAT tax rates. Most OECD countries have a VAT rate around 20 percent, with a few outliers on both sides of the distribution. Other than the U.S., the lowest VAT in the developed world is in Canada, which has a VAT of 5 percent. The next-lowest tax after Canada’s is 8 percent. Indeed, 31 out of 35 developed countries have a rate higher than 10. Twenty-two out of 35 have a rate greater than or equal to 20.
As policymakers consider ways to reform our tax code, it will be natural for them to consider ways to move toward this international norm. One proposal already in the books is the House Blueprint plan, which would impose a “business cash flow” tax that is quite similar to a VAT. Such a tax would, as can be seen in the chart, put us in the middle of the pack in terms of tax rates and move the tax base toward the international norm.
It is too soon to tell whether this plan will survive the legislative process, and there are certainly numerous other ways to accomplish moving our tax system toward a more rational base. Let us hope that the architects of tax reform keep in mind how out of step we are with global best practices.
– KEVIN A. HASSETT
‐ Senator Bob Casey (D., Pa.) has run for office as a pro-life Democrat. Yet his voting record is barely distinguishable from those of his pro-abortion colleagues. He has, for example, backed legislation to weaken conscience protections for pro-lifers. And he has also voted with them on subsidies for Planned Parenthood, most recently tweeting that he “stands with” the organization. There are sophistical arguments for continuing to send tax dollars to it. But to “stand with” the group that does more abortions than any other in the country? His position is wrong, his self-description is dishonest, and Republicans should make these facts plain when he is up for reelection next year.
‐ John F. Kelly is a retired Marine Corps general. He enlisted in 1970. He has seen a lot of war. His son Robert was killed in Afghanistan. Donald Trump nominated the general to be the secretary of homeland security. Before his confirmation hearing, someone suggested to him that he wear an American-flag lapel pin. Kelly gave an answer for the ages: “I am an American flag.”
‐ It is a sort of monetary policy, we suppose: When the politics call for it, Paul Krugman can turn on a dime and make change. On October 23, believing that the next president of these United States would be Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Nobel economics laureate declared that “the debt scolds should be ignored” and that Clinton should offer an economic program based on “years of deficit-financed infrastructure spending.” A mere 78 days later, Krugman wrote a column headlined “Deficits matter again,” and the foe of deficit scolds had undergone a metamorphosis, waking to find himself a deficit scold. What changed? Krugman says that, with the economy coming back around to something like full employment and some wage growth detectable in the middle income ranges, it is time to batten down the fiscal hatches. But whatever one makes of the job-market numbers, they did not change radically in that 78-day period. What changed was that the election turned out differently from what Krugman (and many others) expected, and Democrats and their media minions will pick up any handy cudgel with which to beat President Trump. The new president, alas, has pronounced himself very much interested in “years of deficit-financed infrastructure spending,” and we fear he may be inclined to take more of Krugman’s advice — at least the advice Krugman offered Mrs. Clinton — than we’d like him to. Yes, deficits matter now. They mattered before, too.
‐ Embracing one of the Democrats’ most dearly held health-care policies, Trump said he wants the government to begin directly negotiating pharmaceutical prices with drug companies. The reason drug prices are so high, he says, is the baleful influence of pharmaceutical lobbyists, and he intends to overrule them. As with most health-care questions, the reality is a little more complicated. Current law does forbid direct negotiation of prices of drugs purchased under federal programs, on the theory that such “negotiation” would not be negotiation at all but simple federal price-fixing by fiat. As it stands, companies already are obliged to charge Medicaid the lowest price they charge on the consumer market, which is significant in that drug companies, like most health-care providers, engage in a great deal of “price discrimination,” meaning that charity clinics and emergency rooms providing services for the destitute do not pay the same price that clients in expensive private clinics do — another way in which high-income consumers subsidize those of more modest means. And there is a great deal of price negotiation and competition in programs such as Medicare Part D. Drug prices are high for many reasons: FDA compliance is one, and lack of direct consumer competition is another — generations of health-care “reforms” have ensured that consumers pay only about one-fifth of their prescription costs, producing the familiar third-party-payer effect. What’s needed isn’t federal price-fixing but more robust competition — something that congressional reformers might keep in mind even if President Trump does not.
‐ Hollywood has a lot to answer for. For years, American cinemagoers have been led to believe that it is possible to “silence” a firearm simply by attaching a suppressor to the end of its barrel. When James Bond wants to kill somebody without being noticed, he adds a little tube to his Walther and — hey presto! — his shots are undetectable to all but those in the same room. The truth, however, is dramatically different. In the real world, “silencers” are actually “suppressors,” and they don’t eliminate the sound of a gunshot so much as slightly reduce it — an alteration that is useless to those who hope to kill without being noticed, but extremely useful for frequent shooters who want to protect their hearing. Which is why it is so silly that, since 1934, it has been both expensive (there is a $200 tax per device) and difficult (the federal background check takes almost a year) for Americans to get hold of suppressors, and why, after almost 82 years, Congress has finally taken up the cause of reform. There has never been a good reason for what is essentially a safety device to be so heavily and expensively regulated. But explaining the virtues of change to a public that grew up on spy movies is going to be tough.
‐ When California decided to build a high-speed bullet train connecting L.A. and San Francisco, environmental activists, labor unions, and the Obama administration cheered. High-speed rail was the future, it would save the environment, and the project was shovel-ready. But a confidential federal analysis obtained by the Los Angeles Times warns that the first leg of the project — 118 miles in California’s Central Valley, far from the population centers of L.A. and the Bay area — will cost 50 percent more than anticipated and finish seven years behind schedule. Uh-oh. The whole project was promised to run only $70 billion, with state and federal taxpayers sharing the burden. But with costs of construction through the farmland around Bakersfield ballooning to $10 billion, how much money will need to be shoveled into the boondoggle when work moves to the suburbs and cities along the coast? Many experts caution that the bullet train could end up costing more than $100 billion. With red tape, environmental-impact studies, pricey litigation, and expensive union labor as far as the eye can see, this might be one train the taxpayers will wish they hadn’t caught.
‐ The House Select Panel on Infant Lives recently released its final report, detailing in 418 pages the findings of its 16-month investigation into the fetal-tissue-trafficking industry. Congress formed the bipartisan panel in the fall of 2015 after the Center for Medical Progress released a series of undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood executives and medical professionals discussing the harvesting and pricing of the organs of aborted babies. After a lengthy examination of the organizations implicated in the videos, the panel has concluded that many of them did, in fact, profit from selling the tissue of aborted babies. The panel has also issued 15 criminal and regulatory referrals, directing federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies to further investigate Planned Parenthood, other abortion clinics, the tissue-procurement organizations that partnered with them to sell baby parts, and some of the universities that purchased those parts from them. This would be a big story, if the press had not decided that it isn’t.
‐ Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney, a Democrat, is angry that the price of soda has risen in his city. He blames local businesses for passing on to consumers the cost of a new soda tax that he championed. Retailers are “gouging their own customers,” he told a local radio station in January. Kenney apparently thinks sandwich shops and grocery stores, which now must pay a 1.5-cents-per-ounce tax on soda and other sugary beverages at the wholesale level, should eat the cost. He blames soda consumers, too: “It’s not an elixir of life that you need to drink every day or you will die, so if you don’t want to buy it, don’t buy it.” It seems that Kenney neither grasps the basic laws of economics nor cares about their effects.
‐ It was snowing when the Third Armored Brigade Combat Team, about 1,000 strong, crossed in convoy from Germany into western Poland. At an open-air and temperature-testing welcome ceremony in the small town of Zagan, the band played, and Antoni Macierewicz, the Polish minister of defense, inspected the troops and told them, “We have waited for you for a very long time . . . sometimes feeling that we were the only one who protected civilization from aggression that came from the east.” The Third Armored Brigade is the first Western force to be deployed continuously on NATO’s border with Russia. NATO forces are also due to be stationed in other countries bordering Russia. Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, lost no time weighing in: “These actions threaten our interests, our security.” As he put it, “the third party” building up its military presence near Russian borders “is not even a European state.” Resolving policy toward Russia, the Trump administration will discover that its hand has been forced, or that here’s some extra leverage for that proposed deal with Putin.
‐ India’s constitution protects religious freedom, but the country’s Hindu-nationalist government apparently does not: Under the authority of something called the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, it has shut down more than two dozen groups whose work is deemed not in the “national interest.” One of them is Compassion International, a Christian relief organization that says it currently supports 145,000 impoverished Indian children with meals, tutoring, and more. This is missionary work, so there’s a religious dimension to the charity — and apparently New Delhi wants to prevent India’s 29 million Christians, who make up less than 3 percent of the population, from posing any kind of demographic threat to the nation’s Hindu population of nearly 1 billion. “I believe the State Department should take notice,” said Senator Cory Gardner (R., Colo.) on January 11, during Rex Tillerson’s confirmation hearings. It did during the Obama years — John Kerry lodged a complaint in September — and it should continue to do so in the Trump years.
‐ According to a German court, three German Palestinians who torched a synagogue in Wuppertal in July 2014 did so to draw “attention to the Gaza conflict,” not because they were anti-Semitic. The three culprits, who tossed Molotov cocktails into the house of worship, were given suspended sentences on the grounds that their firebombs were an ill-considered form of political protest. The original Wuppertal synagogue was torched by Nazis in 1938 as part of Kristallnacht. Among its other evils, anti-Semitism is drearily repetitive.
‐ In an attack that was broadcast live on Facebook and may have lasted four or five hours, according to Chicago police, two young men beat another young man, kicked him, made him drink toilet water, and cut his scalp. They had tied his wrists and taped his mouth shut. A police detective described the victim as being of “diminished mental capacity.” The police superintendent denounced the actions as “reprehensible” and affirmed that, “along with racism,” they have “no place in the city of Chicago — or anywhere, for that matter — against anyone, regardless of their race, gender, state of mental health, or any other identifying factor.” The attackers were black and the victim white; the perpetrators mixed their violence up with a political rant against President Trump. If you are tempted to let those political and racial details matter more to you than the depravity of the crime that the superintendent appropriately characterized, take his words to heart.
‐ God’s preferred pronouns are masculine, at least in the scriptures of the Abrahamic religions, which account for half of the world’s population. But worry not. For those who seek “inclusive language, especially in relation to the Divine,” Vanderbilt Divinity School offers it — insists on it, even, as it explains in its catalogue, where the word “gender” occurs 75 times. Over in Durham, Duke’s div school prescribes “gender-neutral” language, illustrated by awkward examples (“God knew Godself to be great”). The word “neutral” is cognate with “neuter,” a gender that does not exist in the Hebrew of the Old Testament or in the Arabic of the Koran. It does exist in the Greek of the New Testament, whose authors pass over it in favor of proclaiming that God is both our father and his son. Where theology shades into philosophy and the divine is considered as the ground of being, fine — let it be “it,” the English pronoun that comes naturally in that context. The God of revelation, however, is unequivocally masculine. He won’t be bound by the speech rules of academics who “imagine a vain thing,” and so they rage (Ps. 2:1).
‐ We live in a republic, where political office is bigger than the men and women who occupy it for a time and then exit, to make room for their successors. When Americans forget that crucial fact about their country, they lose perspective, imagining that the outcome of an election is a period, not a parenthesis. So give credit to the marching band of Talladega, a historically black college in Alabama, for rising above the partisan uproar and accepting the invitation to perform at President Trump’s inauguration. Presumably not all members voted for the new president. It is plausible that most did not. Denunciations from alumni and others poured in, but so did donations from those who were heartened by the band’s patriotic principles. A band member circulated a petition, an affirmation that “this parade is not about politics” or a “political party.” The peaceful transition of power is worth honoring, and so is the Talladega marching band.
‐ A Virginian who enjoys flaunting his cash found a way to do so while thumbing his nose at the local DMV: paying a $3,000 tax in pennies. The man had just bought his son a new Corvette and figured that the DMV would be able to tell him over the phone at which of his houses the car should be registered for state-tax purposes. He found that his local DMV office could not be contacted directly by phone. Deciding that secret phone numbers for local offices violated accountability and transparency principles, he went as far as filing a Freedom of Information Act request and going to court, where Virginia representatives gave him the numbers of the tax offices he’d requested. After he prominently posted the offices’ numbers on his website, he showed up to the DMV with five wheelbarrows hauling about 300,000 pennies — which had to be accepted under the U.S. Coinage Act of 1965 — to pay the vehicle tax. One hopes that counting pennies late into the night widened the DMV’s perspective on the agony of unnecessary inconvenience.
‐ The Greatest Show on Earth had a good run. Feld Entertainment, the producer of Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus, announced that the big top will come down for good in May, 146 years and a month after the storied enterprise was officially launched. Animal-welfare activists had prevailed on Feld to phase out the use of elephants, the circus’s mascots, and ticket sales subsequently plummeted, but they had already been declining. For sheer spectacle, Jumbo could no longer complete with special effects on the Jumbotron. The cost of putting on the whole big performance live was out of proportion to what people were willing to pay to see it. A great tradition will soon pass, but not from our cultural history, which it brightens. Farewell, circus. Congratulations on a job well done.
‐ Nat Hentoff made his bones as a jazz critic, covering the gamut from Artie Shaw to Ornette Coleman. He was an early and longtime contributor to the Village Voice, beginning with jazz and then branching out to civil liberties, on which he was an absolutist. In the 1970s, James P. McFadden, associate publisher of NR and founder of The Human Life Review, asked Hentoff for permission to reprint an article on the rights of the disabled. If the disabled, why not the unborn? McFadden suggested. So began Hentoff’s decades-long commitment to the pro-life cause, which he upheld with all his prickly New York Jewish atheist tenacity. He befriended Cardinal O’Connor and Senator Bob Casey Sr. and never allowed his roots on the left to abate his zeal. “There stood a man with his sword drawn, and his face all over with blood. Then said Mr. Great-Heart, Who art thou? The man made answer, saying, I am one whose name is Valiant-for-truth. I am a pilgrim.” Dead at 91. R.I.P.
‐ “I must admit that I enjoy being in a war,” said Clare Hollingworth on the eve of her 100th birthday in 2011. Seven decades earlier, she had been present at the outbreak of the Second World War. In the ultimate journalistic scoop, she broke the news. Driving alone on the border of Germany and Poland in late August 1939, she spied troops and tanks amassing and telephoned her editor back in London. From then on, she was on the front lines — in Algeria, Palestine, Greece, the Balkans, Vietnam. The more dangerous, the better, in her view: That was where the stories were. The scoops continued to come. Hollingworth was the first to work out that Kim Philby, the Soviet spy, was a double agent who had defected to Moscow. She reluctantly submitted to retirement when her eyesight began to fail. Dead at 105. R.I.P.
‐ A native of St. Croix who moved to New York City as a boy, Roy Innis never lost his slight Caribbean lilt — and as leader of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), he spoke a different language from the mainstream civil-rights movement, always dissenting from its orthodoxies. In the 1960s, this took the form of black nationalism. By the 1970s, Innis was a conservative Democrat who endorsed Republican candidates, opposed racial preferences and forced busing, and presented himself as an alternative to the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Outspoken and theatrical, he once shoved Sharpton to the floor during a televised debate. On another show, he sparred with white supremacists. He lost two sons to gun violence. Rather than embracing gun control, he joined the National Rifle Association and served on its board, believing that law-abiding black families should enjoy the right to arm themselves against criminals. Over time, CORE’s influence faded, but never the passion of the man who led it. Dead at 82, from Parkinson’s disease. R.I.P.
‐ Because he wrote The Exorcist — both the 1971 novel and the screenplay for the 1973 movie — William Peter Blatty gained a reputation as an author of horror fiction. He is better understood as a Catholic writer who used the tools of the horror genre to advance the tenets of his faith. The film became a sensation, in large measure for its sensationalism: Its portrayal of a girl’s demonic possession made it one of the most shocking and influential movies of its time. Beneath the flamboyance, however, was a simple message about the wickedness of despair and the power of belief. Readers of the novel tended to get the point, though it was lost on enough moviegoers that Blatty worked to restore deleted scenes in later releases. “I don’t want them to think the devil won,” he once explained. He wrote several other books, including comic novels, a sequel to The Exorcist, and Finding Peter, a 2015 work of nonfiction about life after death. His own death, at least in this world, came on January 12 at the age of 89. R.I.P.
‐ Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was a master of the black arts on which careers depend in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Born into a modest family of farmers, he was reputed to have become the richest man in the country. Power mattered to him as much as money. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini picked him out and patronized him. President of Iran from 1989 to 1997, he made sure afterwards to be in a position to promote friends and to break enemies — all of which brought him maximum power and profit. A hardliner among hardliners, a moderate among moderates, anti-American in speech but probably not in spirit, he was deceptive, a man of many resources, superficially genial but ultimately indecipherable. He has died, aged 82. R.I.P.
THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
Hope and Worry
Most of our hopes for the dawning Trump administration are the same ones we would have for any new Republican president.
President Trump has said that he will nominate conservatives to the Supreme Court. We hope he makes good on that promise and fights hard for confirmation of a justice who will protect religious liberty, honor the individual right to own guns, allow democratic resolutions of abortion policy, and otherwise respect the Constitution that exists instead of the one of law professors’ imagining.
He says he will sign legislation to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a new system that retains protections for sick people and allows everyone to have access to health insurance. It’s the right goal, but he will have to navigate the shoals of Capitol Hill to reach it.
We will cheer him on, as well, if he pursues the rebuilding of our defenses and the retrenchment of the federal role in primary education. If his Education Department also gets out of the business of policing speech on campus, it will be a fitting complement to the rest of his agenda.
In one important area, Trump might do better than another Republican president would have. He campaigned on controlling illegal immigration and running a legal-immigration policy that benefits American workers. He seems to understand that he has to deliver on enforcement at the border and in the workplace. But Republicans in Congress, some of Trump’s appointees, and perhaps even Trump himself do not seem to believe that legislation to reduce our overall intake of legal immigrants, and especially of low-skilled ones, is a priority. It should be.
In other areas, the new president brings with him dangers. He is right to want to reform taxes and especially to make them less of a barrier to investment in the United States. But his campaign plans on taxes were reckless — cutting taxes deeply, especially on high earners, without offsetting spending cuts. Many Republicans share that failing, but it is worse for Trump given that he is uninterested, at best, in reforming entitlements and given that his supporters are less affluent than those of most Republicans.
Other worries about Trump are distinctive to the man. His reasonable desire for our allies to bear more of the fiscal burden of Western defense too often shades into an indifference to the continued existence of the alliance. His desire for friendly relations with Russia also unnerves those allies who see all too clearly its thuggish and expansionist nature.
Trump’s rhetoric on trade never acknowledges the many American employers and manufacturers whose work depends on imported inputs. If his policies reflect the same blind spot, his toughness on foreign competition will be tough on American workers too.
Then, finally, there is the matter of Trump’s self-control, his maturity, and his willingness to attend to details. Will he speak mindful of the impact of his words on our friends and foes abroad? Will he do what he can to keep government policy attuned to the national interest rather than to the financial interests of the Trump family? Will the new administration be run with basic competence? Will he show more respect for the limits on presidential power than Obama did? Trump’s behavior during the transition has allayed many of his supporters’ ideological concerns about him, but he has done little to dispel these deeper doubts.
The press is playing up Trump’s unpopularity compared with his predecessors at the start of their terms. But that unpopularity is an opportunity for Trump, and for Republicans. He has made inroads among some voters who do not usually back Republicans. At the same time, he has scared away some voters who remain open to backing Republicans. He has amazed the world. If he proves the naysayers wrong again, he can turn his already stunning political accomplishments into lasting ones.