‐ We do not expect to miss Barack Obama, but we wish he’d give us a chance.
‐ Ronald Reagan first imposed the “Mexico City policy,” which blocks foreign-aid money from going to organizations that perform abortions or advocate their legalization overseas. Every Democratic president elected since then has rescinded the policy, and every Republican following a Democrat has restored it. President Trump became the latest to reinstate the policy. Liberals made two main criticisms of the policy. The first is that it amounted to a “global gag rule” preventing foreign-aid recipients from even talking about abortion: an assertion that neither the text of Trump’s executive order nor past implementation of the Mexico City policy corroborates. The second is that the World Health Organization had found that the policy actually increased abortion rates in sub-Saharan Africa by reducing access to contraception. The study relies on a data set full of holes, but even it showed contraceptive use increasing during the period. Contemporary liberals remain strongly committed to abortion, and nearly as strongly committed to making other people pay for it.
‐ President Trump is using the pen he inherited from President Obama to advance an energy-abundance agenda. The issue involves two pipelines: the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run oil from Canadian tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast, and the Dakota Access pipeline, which would connect the Bakken shale with petroleum facilities in Illinois. Keystone was locked up by bureaucratic opposition for years while the Obama administration pretended to think about approving it (in the end, it put a halt to the project), while the Dakota project was the subject of a briefer though no less intense effort to prevent its construction, with the Army Corps of Engineers calling off the original plan after protests and rioting from environmentalists and Indian tribes. President Trump’s actions will put the projects on a fast track, or at least a faster one. What is clear is that the Left intends to work against the development of any and all traditional energy infrastructure as though it were malum in se. The Indian-lands gambit that was deployed against Dakota also has been used against plans to build West Coast coal-export terminals, just as the fearmongering case against Keystone has been used against the shipment of oil by train when no pipeline is available. The Left believes there is no environmentally responsible way to develop our domestic energy resources, but experience suggests otherwise. Sometimes less is more, but that is not the case when it comes to energy.
‐ Trump and British prime minister Theresa May had a positive meeting at the White House, even holding hands (they were walking down a ramp, press spokesmen explained). The two pledged to begin discussions for negotiating a post-Brexit trade deal. Trump, said May, gave strong backing to NATO (he was noncommittal on maintaining sanctions against Russia). The meeting gave Trump an early foreign-policy achievement, and May leverage in negotiating Britain’s way out of the EU. After a rough patch — the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Alabama claims — the United States and Britain have been firm friends. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union experienced the power of their partnership. Britain’s recent desire to become a province of Brussels may seem, in the retrospect of history, to be an episode.
‐ The “women’s march” against Trump, held the day after he took office, may have been the largest political protest in American history. It was highly successful in turning out liberals in Democratic strongholds around the country, and in countering Trump’s pretensions to speak for “the people.” (Under our constitutional system, no president does.) But the marchers, in boasting about their turnout, are deluding themselves into thinking that they represent the people, which is also untrue. And the opposition to Trump is limiting its reach by insisting on rigid litmus tests: Pro-life organizations were disinvited from the march. Many of the marchers wore hats to represent female genitalia, a visual reference to infamous remarks by Trump. You would think it would be easy to claim the moral high ground over Trump in the matter of vulgarity, but it turns out to be beyond many of his critics.
‐ Until now, the Constitution’s “emolument clause” — “No Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States] shall, without the Consent of Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State” — never garnered much scrutiny. But watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), with the help of several well-known constitutional-law professors, has brought a lawsuit against Donald Trump, alleging that, “since Trump refused to divest from his businesses, he is now getting cash and favors from foreign governments, through guests and events at his hotels, leases in his buildings, and valuable real-estate deals abroad,” and that these transactions constitute emolument-clause violations. The case, though, seems unlikely to hold up. The courts have never clarified whether the president is subject to the emolument clause — or even what an “emolument” is. Additionally, it’s not at all clear that CREW has standing to sue; CREW contends that Trump “significantly injured” it by forcing it to spend time and resources addressing the question of emoluments, which smacks less of injury than of blaming Trump for their own obsessiveness. Whatever happens with the lawsuit, though, the Trump administration needs to recognize that conflict-of-interest concerns are not going anywhere.
‐ President Trump has pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pact among such longtime allies as Canada, Japan, and Australia, along with other Pacific-facing powers, but excluding China. The retreat from TPP is regrettable, inasmuch as the accord would have put the U.S. and its humane democratic norms at the center of Pacific affairs rather than ceding that place to Beijing. But large, multilateral trade pacts are out of fashion at the moment, not only with those who see global trade in the same terms Donald Trump does but also among those who see it in the same terms Bernie Sanders does. The bilateral deals favored by some TPP critics are not likely to end up being less complex, and relying on them would make it much harder to counter the influence of Beijing. Trade with Canada and Japan is not the cause of middle-class economic anxiety at home — it is its hostage. Free trade is, for the moment, friendless.
‐ Trump’s signature campaign promise was to build a wall — big and beautiful — on the border with Mexico: a pledge so explicit and so often repeated that he cannot back down from it. But his insistence that Mexico pay for it prompted Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto to cancel a meeting scheduled for the first month of the Trump administration. Bidding high and stepping back later on is a Trump negotiating tactic, described in The Art of the Deal. It has served him well. But he developed it in dealing with real-estate machers, like himself. Nations have honor, which is not amenable to slicing and dicing. Theodore Roosevelt, who certainly wielded a big stick in Latin American affairs, also believed in speaking softly. Unless he’s only in it for retweets, Trump could learn a lesson from him.
‐ “It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror. . . . In the name of the perished, I pledge to do everything in my power throughout my Presidency, and my life, to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good.” So said President Trump in a statement marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Who could quarrel with that? Yet Trump did not say that the primary demon figures and victims of the Nazis had been Europe’s Jews. At a time when anti-Semitism, often disguised as anti-Israelism, is embraced at the U.N. and by political movements of the Left as well as the Right, mainly in Europe but also here (see the campus BDS movement), the omission was unfortunate, as were later attempts to justify it on the ground that Jews were not the Nazis’ only victims. Trump, who promises to be the most pro-Jewish president since, well, the last Republican, made a misstep.
‐ In his Ten Days — forget Hundred — President Trump has argued that he drew bigger crowds to his inauguration than Barack Obama did to his, and that he failed to win the popular vote only because millions of non-citizens voted. One occasion for boasting about his popularity was an appearance at CIA headquarters, in front of the Memorial Wall honoring agents who died in the line of duty (117 of them, since we’re being numerate). There are two possible explanations for such behavior. Trump is cunning: He keeps attention on himself, and stirs the pot. True, although he drowns less fiery but nonetheless valid points (illegal voting certainly happens, if not on remotely the scale Trump baselessly asserts). The other explanation is that Trump cannot help himself — his appetite for praise and fear of shame are unassuageable. So long as boasting works for him, he has no incentive to change. If boasting is a need, then he cannot at, age 70, change. Character is fate.
‐ President Obama’s decision to commute Bradley Manning’s espionage sentence betrayed military values. Manning, recall, was guilty of one of the largest security breaches in American history, using WikiLeaks to dump hundreds of thousands of classified documents into the public domain. These documents exposed, among other things, the identities of people working with the United States, American military tactics, and sensitive diplomatic communications. All of these things endangered the lives of his fellow soldiers. He broke faith with his brothers and sisters in arms. Obama, however, viewed him as little more than a “leaker” and decided to release him. One can’t help thinking that Manning’s decision to change his identity to “Chelsea” and “transition” to female played a part in Obama’s decision. The New York Times declared that Obama had “rescued” Manning from the horror of living as a trans woman in a male prison. Whatever the reason, the commutation was an injustice, and it told the military that the cost of betrayal can be low indeed.
‐ One week before President Trump’s inauguration, Georgia Democratic representative and civil-rights leader John Lewis announced that he would, for the first time since 1986 (the year he was elected to Congress), not attend an inauguration. Trump, he claimed, is not a “legitimate president.” But a Washington Post article of January 21, 2001, revealed that this isn’t the first time Lewis has boycotted a presidential election because he thought a president-elect was illegitimate: Lewis boycotted George W. Bush’s inaugurations, too. Lewis’s staff claimed that he simply “forgot” about boycotting our last Republican president, but that seems rather unlikely. After all, Lewis has attended only one Republican inauguration in his life, that of George H. W. Bush in 1988. Evidently his attitude is, “Seen one, seen them all.”
‐ Sally Boynton Brown, executive director of the Idaho Democratic party, is really, really sorry that she’s white. “I’m a white woman, I don’t get it. . . . I need schoolin’.” And she is running for chairman of the DNC so she can make amends: “My job is to shut other white people down when they want to interrupt. My job is to shut other white people down when they want to say, ‘Oh no I’m not prejudiced, I’m a Democrat, I’m accepting.’ . . . My job is to make sure that they get that they have privilege.” We wish her the best of luck in her campaign; today’s Democrats could hardly have a better spokesman. Just one thing, though: If elected, she might want to tone down her act a bit for the 90 percent of her job that involves asking Wall Street bankers for money.
‐ Tulsi Gabbard, the Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii, went to Damascus to meet with Bashar Assad, the dictator who has killed hundreds of thousands of his fellow Syrians. He has killed more than the old man, Hafez, ever dreamed of. Gabbard traveled along with Dennis Kucinich, the Democratic former congressman from Ohio. They were sponsored by pro-Assad activists in the United States. In other words, they were sponsored by Assad. Gabbard came back mouthing Syrian, and Russian, propaganda, as she long has: The Assad–Putin alliance is just; they are fighting the same terrorists who menace the United States. Reaction in America tended to be harsh. But the headline in Sputnik International, the Kremlin news agency, read, “Tulsi Gabbard Speaks the Truth on Syria, Gets Smeared by the Mainstream Media.” One mainstreamer, Josh Rogin of the Washington Post, had it exactly right when he said: “Principled opposition to U.S. intervention in Syria is one thing. Becoming a tool of a mass murderer’s propaganda and influence campaign is another.” Useful idiots we will always have with us.
‐ Call David Gelernter provocative, controversial, contrarian, or any of a hundred other adjectives. “Anti-intellectual,” though? It fits him like a child’s coat on a grown man’s frame, and so of course that’s what the Washington Post ran with in its brief profile of the prolific, wide-ranging author — books and articles about Judaism, human consciousness, artificial intelligence, etc. — and Yale professor of computer science. He is a member of the National Council on the Arts. To say that he “has decried the influence of liberal intellectuals on college campuses” is fair enough, but a few paragraphs later that becomes “his anti-intellectualism,” the implication being that to oppose liberal intellectuals is to oppose intellectuals period, because there can’t be any other kind. The reporter counts Gelernter’s climate-change skepticism as ipso facto anti-intellectual, declining to so much as touch on his arguments. “Anti-intellectual” turns out to be a curse word to fling at the heretics in the liberal cathedral.
‐ In 2014, San Francisco voted to increase the minimum wage in the city to $15 an hour. In a totally unrelated development, San Francisco’s new Café X has introduced a new breed of barista: a robot. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the robot barista can make a drink in 22 to 55 seconds, depending on the complexity of the concoction, which is a good deal quicker than the fellows at our local Starbucks generally manage. Café X also sells a latte for 40 cents less than Starbucks. The robot’s makers, according to the Journal, “say their tech’s advantage is consistency,” something of keen interest to businesses such as McDonald’s and many other large employers of minimum-wage workers. Contrary to the populist rhetoric of the moment, the great majority of the job losses in U.S. manufacturing over the past several decades have been driven not by trade but by automation — GM wrench-turners have been undercut not by inscrutable Orientals but by uncomplaining and non-unionized robots. That’s the bad news, at least for baristas and semi-skilled manufacturing workers. The good news is that American firms are worldwide leaders in robotics design and development. The great challenge for American workers and policymakers is adapting to technological reality instead of merely lamenting it. Simply passing laws mandating higher wages is not a realistic approach in an age of sophisticated automation. Strange that the Bay Area specializes both in 21st-century technology and 19th-century political responses to it.
‐ Brexit was (and is) the right direction for Britain. But what is the best road to get there? Extracting the U.K. from the European Union is, so far as its political structures are concerned, relatively straightforward. Sorting out a new trading relationship with the EU after more than 40 years of economic integration is more complicated. In a powerful speech to EU ambassadors, Prime Minister Theresa May proposed a “hard Brexit”: a twelve-point plan that would remove Britain from the single market, the legal supremacy of the EU, and in practice its customs union and common tariff barrier, too. In the forthcoming negotiations with Brussels, she will seek “the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and the EU’s member states” once Britain has left the Union. If this strategy proposes a harder road than business wants, at least initially, it is also the only road that leads to the recovery of the self-governing democracy that the Brits voted for when they voted to leave the EU. It has taken long and dedicated resistance to EU supremacy from (largely conservative) democratic patriots to get to the EU exit door. Accepting anything less than Brexit now risks taking the steam out of their campaign and sedating public opinion with the idea that a modest reform (e.g., the return of control over fisheries policy) is all Britain wants. And what reason exists for doing so when Brexit is within grasp, backed by the voters, embraced by the governing Conservative party, and led by a popular prime minister who has shown unexpected determination and eloquence in making the case for it? For Britain, it’s now or never.
‐ Adult human stem cells incorporated into pig embryos grew into precursors of heart, neural, and other types of specific tissue, according to researchers at the Salk Institute. Headlines about pig-human hybrids created in a lab, presumably by mad scientists, turn out to be more colorful than the drab facts. Of 2,075 altered embryos implanted in sows, only 186 survived to 28 days. Their human composition was estimated to be, on average, less than 0.001 percent. The researchers stress that they are far from their stated goal, which is a laudable one: If stem cells donated by a patient are implanted into an animal and grow into the organ for which he needs a transplant, his body will be more likely to accept it because the tissue is already his own. In a report for the Pontifical Academy of Life, famously not permissive on these questions, bioethicists find “an ethical limit in the degree of change that [such therapy] may entail in the identity of the person who receives it,” meaning no to brain or gonadal transplants; but to heart, kidney, and liver transplants, for example, they give the green light, or rather the yellow one: Careful, but proceed.
‐ A movement that reveres Ronald Reagan should not peremptorily dismiss the political thoughts of actors. But Reagan, beginning in his days as president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), always researched his political speeches carefully and kept them separate from film-industry business. At this year’s SAG Awards, though, every winner of Best Goofy Sidekick in a Formulaic Romantic Comedy seemed to feel the need to deliver a Twitter-level political treatise while clutching his statuette — even Ashton Kutcher, who welcomed “everyone in airports that belong in my America.” One actor angrily promised to “punch some people in the face” if they hold incorrect views on social policy, while another decried, without irony, those who “say that that person is different than me, and I don’t like you, so let’s battle.” Why do actors feel the need to tell us what they think? Kerry Washington may have summed up Hollywood’s self-regard best: “Actors are activists no matter what, because we embody the worth and humanity of all people.” Maybe so, but people don’t watch movie-awards shows to hear the stars’ political views any more than they watch political talk shows to see the pundits’ fashionable outfits.
‐ Yuliya Stepanova, a Russian middle-distance runner, received testosterone injections and took anabolic steroids. They showed up in doping tests, and in 2013 the International Association of Athletics Federations banned her from competition for two years and erased her race results going back to 2011. She admits that she knew that the substances she took were banned but says that her coach had persuaded her that “it’s normal, that’s what all athletes do.” She reached out to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to describe the corruption in Russian athletics: Officials supply the drugs and arrange for subsequent drug tests to be falsified, all in exchange for a cut of the athlete’s earnings. Russian media portrayed her as a traitor, and her account with a system that allows WADA to monitor athletes was hacked. She and her family moved to the United States last summer. In January, at age 30, she competed for the first time since her ordeal began (except for an injury-marred attempt in July), finishing seventh in the 800 meters at an indoor race in Boston. Her goal is to shave 5.15 seconds off her time and break two minutes, which Russian coaches told her was impossible without doping. Prove them wrong, Yuliya.
‐ The actress Gwyneth Paltrow has found a second calling in offering, and profiting from, bizarre tips and merchandise to women through her “lifestyle” website, Goop. They range from the laughably out-of-touch and useless (a $200 “Moon Juice” smoothie to be consumed daily) to the medically harmful. The latest product she is hocking falls into the latter category: an egg-shaped jade stone that she encourages women to insert into their vaginas to increase “hormonal balance and feminine energy,” among other things. As gynecologists rushed to point out, the most likely result of following such advice would be bacterial infection. Basic common sense would suggest as much; unfortunately, it seems to be in even shorter supply than Goop’s $66 jade eggs, which are sold out as we go to press.
‐ After Mary Tyler Moore died, everyone wanted to sing the song, or quote it: “Who can turn the world on with her smile? Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?” Mary could. She was one of the most ingratiating stars we have ever seen. Women loved her, and wanted to be her; men loved her, and wanted to be with her. She was Laura Petrie in The Dick Van Dyke Show and, of course, Mary Richards in The Mary Tyler Moore Show (whose theme song is quoted above). There were other shows too, none as successful. Over the years, we learned about her personal struggles: the alcoholic parents; her own alcoholism; the untimely death of her son; and a lot more. Through it all, she symbolized charm, grace, and beauty. Also an unassuming grit. Mary Tyler Moore has died at 80. Yet she will be perpetually fresh, throwing that hat up in the air.
Even while Donald Trump was giving his inaugural address, the conventional wisdom about it was hardening. The speech was combative, gloomy, nationalist — and unconservative.
That verdict deserves to be amended and challenged. Yes, the speech was combative in that it put forward a nationalist message with which many people strongly disagree. But it was also unifying: Trump said that his nationalism would look to the interests of the whole nation, not just a part of it, as of course a real nationalism would by necessity.
Yes, it painted a dark picture of the last few decades. But it was also hopeful about the promise of America following Trump’s reforms. It was even utopian, which is a worse thing than being pessimistic.
It is also true that the speech did not dwell on familiar conservative themes such as the need to limit government and restore personal responsibility, and in some respects undercut them. But to say that there was nothing conservative in it is to miss that nationalism is always an element of a healthy conservatism, as Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry argue in our cover essay. The fact that movement conservatives have not always kept that point in mind is one of the reasons that Trump, rather than a candidate more to their liking, is now president.
Government policy should indeed be run in the interests of America: not subordinated to some wispy notion of a “global community,” not driven by the needs of particular businesses, not required to comply in a rigid way with abstract ideas (even good ones, like the idea that markets should be free). Immigration policy, to take a fundamental example, can have a humanitarian element but must be primarily directed by a hard-headed assessment of the national interest. The policy we have been pursuing for decades has not been.
But conservatism is not reducible to nationalism, which needs to be tempered by other conservative insights and informed by an accurate sense of the national condition. We will not, after all, advance the economic interests of the nation by embracing collectivism. Advancing them requires relatively open trade, and trade deals — as Trump himself acknowledges in his more sober moments.
His speech did not have enough such moments. It is not true that America’s problems have been chiefly caused by our military allies’ and trade partners’ taking advantage of us, or our elites’ being too soft-minded and weak to do anything about it. It is not true that D.C. can do much about crime rates, or should even try. Trump was more forthright than his predecessors in identifying radical Islamic terrorism as our enemy, and right too to declare its destruction our goal. But he has never outlined a plausible path to achieve it. Trump’s inaugural address was successful in expressing nationalist values but not in setting forth a plan of action that would actually serve the nation. It will be up to conservatives, some of them in his employ, to ensure that the same is not true of his administration.
Vetting the Order
Donald Trump has signed an executive order halting admission of refugees for 120 days and halting travel from seven majority-Muslim countries — Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, and Somalia — for 90 days while the federal government undertakes a review of admission procedures. He has also imposed an annual cap of 50,000 refugees.
Trump’s executive order is an attempt — albeit, in several ways, an ill-conceived one — to address an obvious problem. It’s a well-documented fact that would-be terrorists are posing as refugees to obtain admission into Europe, and visa screenings have failed to identify foreign nationals who later committed terrorist attacks in the United States. As the Islamic State continues its reign of terror across a large swath of the Middle East, it should be a matter of common sense that the U.S. needs to evaluate and strengthen its vetting.
Rhetoric about “open arms” aside, the U.S. has been modest in its approach to refugees for the past two decades. The George W. Bush administration regularly admitted fewer than 50,000 refugees, and Barack Obama normally admitted similar numbers, despite operating under a slightly higher cap. It was only at the end of his second term, when he dramatically expanded the cap to 110,000, that Obama pursued refugee admissions aggressively. Trump’s order is, to this extent, a return to recent norms. Similarly, until ratcheting up the program in 2016, the Obama administration admitted fewer than 2,000 Syrian refugees between 2011 and 2015. Trump has suspended this program indefinitely, pending review.
There is also recent precedent for Trump’s order. In 2011, the Obama administration essentially halted refugee processing from Iraq for six months in order to do exactly what the Trump administration is doing now: ensure that terrorists were not exploiting the program to enter the country. No one rushed to JFK International to protest. Also, the seven countries to which the order applies are taken from Obama-era precedents.
All of this said, Trump’s order displays the amateurism that dominated his campaign. The White House provided no guidance to the officials nationwide, including key cabinet secretaries, who would be responsible for executing the order. The confusion extended to the question of whether the executive order applied to green-card holders, which was left hanging for more than 24 hours. And the White House apparently failed to account for the many Iraqi refugees who acted as aides and translators to Allied forces in the region. (Liberal use of the order’s provision for case-by-case exceptions would be well advised.)
Most of this chaos could have been avoided if the White House had slowed down, taken time to brief the relevant officials, and ensured that the legal details were airtight. Instead, White House political advisers recklessly pushed the order forward, likely damaging future efforts in this area.
The United States needs to bolster its immigration policies across the board, and assessing whether our refugee-admitting procedures are adequately protecting American citizens is entirely reasonable. But President Trump, in his first major action, failed abjectly in the prudential considerations without which even good policy is often doomed. Refugees are not the only thing in need of more vetting.
THE SUPREME COURT
A Win for the Constitution
Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, is a fine choice to replace the late, great Justice Antonin Scalia. He combines a sterling intellect and a fidelity to law.
That fidelity is what undergirds the “originalism” that Justice Scalia espoused and that Judge Gorsuch continues to practice. That term refers to the view that a legal provision — whether a statute or an amendment to the Constitution — should be read to have the meaning its words could be understood to bear at the time it became law. An official may apply an old law in new ways as circumstances change. But if he acts on an understanding of the law that differs from that original meaning, then he has illegitimately amended it. And the law is binding on judges no less than it is on other officials.
Originalism has faced resistance in modern times mostly because liberals would rather not go through the formal process of amending the Constitution in order to edit it to their liking, removing its structural limits on governmental power and putting their preferred policies beyond democratic review. Gorsuch’s record gives us cause to believe that he would use his vote and his voice to side with the actual Constitution.
And with our actual laws, such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Liberals supported that law when it was enacted in 1993 but have subsequently found it inconvenient. Some judges have ruled that the Obama administration did not really place a burden on Catholic nuns’ exercise of their faith by making them sign a form that enabled their employees to receive insurance coverage that covers contraception. Gorsuch, on the other hand, grasped that for the government to protect religious liberty means for it to stay out of the business of assessing the soundness of a particular religious belief: If the nuns sincerely say their faith forbids them to sign the form, it is not for the government to tell them they are wrong. Which is what the law, properly interpreted, holds.
Gorsuch has helped lead an overdue reevaluation of the dangerous way unelected government agencies increasingly combine executive, legislative, and judicial functions. In this respect, too, he is a champion of the real Constitution, which was not designed for the convenience of the administrative state.
This nomination, even if successful, will not ensure that a sound understanding of the law or the proper role of judges prevails at the Supreme Court: It will merely restore the balance of forces that prevailed on the Court when Scalia died. But that in itself is no small thing. Gorsuch’s elevation would allow Scalia’s legacy to continue and give it a chance to grow. Conservatives should give credit to Trump for this selection, and work to get Gorsuch confirmed.