Magazine March 20, 2017, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

‐ We’re told the envelope given to Warren Beatty actually contained Nate Silver’s projection.

‐ To replace Michael Flynn as national-security adviser, Donald Trump selected someone uniquely suited for the position. H. R. McMaster isn’t just a courageous and innovative warrior (his victories in the Gulf War and the Iraq War are still studied today); he’s also a scholar who made his name with a book, Dereliction of Duty, that unsparingly exposed the failures that led to the American debacle in Vietnam. Central to his critique was the notion that American generals owed it to their commanders in chief not to roll over in the face of implausible or incompetent demands but instead to provide their best advice, no matter how unwelcome it might be. McMaster has spent a career winning battles and telling hard truths. That’s exactly the person to advise an inexperienced and sometimes impulsive president. May Trump heed his advice.

‐ In recent days, Secretary of Defense James Mattis has scolded NATO countries for failing to live up to their defense commitments while also stating that NATO — far from being “obsolete,” as Trump speculated during the campaign — is a “fundamental bedrock for the United States and for all the transatlantic community.” He has reassured Iraqis that the U.S. is not in the country to seize its oil. Taken together, Mattis’s statements point toward a more demanding approach to American allies but not a fundamental departure from past American practices. NATO still stands, Iraq is still our ally, and Trump’s campaign statements are being modified by contact with reality, and with his defense secretary.

‐ According to the New York Times, “Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.” The Times reports on an FBI investigation but does not identify the U.S. officials implicated by it. Nor does it indicate the content of any of the conversations. But the story is alarming enough that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus quietly tried to persuade the FBI to disavow the report in public. It’s time for the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to conduct a thorough, transparent investigation into the allegations being leveled against the Trump White House, and also into the source of the leaks. The parties under investigation should be able to defend themselves in an official setting instead of being sideswiped by continued divulgences to the press. The questions facing the Trump administration are still just questions, but they warrant sober, fair-minded examination.

‐ With a simple, two-page letter, the Trump administration struck a blow for common sense, student privacy, and local control of schools. On February 22, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education revoked Obama-era guidance mandating that every publicly funded school in the country interpret the prohibition against sex discrimination in Title IX to include a student’s “gender identity.” Obama’s edict swept well beyond bathrooms, also requiring schools to open locker rooms, showers, sports teams, and overnight accommodations to boys and girls who claim to belong to the opposite sex. The ruling had implications for free speech, student safety, and school curricula. The Trump administration’s action leaves delicate questions of how to handle the challenges of transgender students exactly where they belong, with the local schools and districts that know the students the best.

‐ Although it has become increasingly circus-like in recent years, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), organized by the American Conservative Union, is the most anticipated event on the annual conservative calendar. This year, CPAC invited Milo Yiannopoulos to speak. Of late, Yiannopoulos has been a regular guest on college campuses and a constant source of irritation to campus liberals. Recently, the University of California, Berkeley, greeted his arrival with riots. Yiannopoulos has a right to perform his shtick, however noxious it can be, and we have therefore condemned those who would shout him down or worse. But CPAC is intended to define and broadcast the priorities of grassroots conservatives, and whatever Yiannopoulos’s politics, they are not conservative in any meaningful sense. In fact, Yiannopoulos has called himself a “chronicler of, and occasional fellow traveler with, the alt-right,” that various group of “reactionaries,” ethno-nationalists, white supremacists, and others who have set themselves against Buckley-style conservatism and developed a robust online presence over the last year. About 72 hours after extending the invitation, CPAC cited recordings of Yiannopoulos defending pederasty on podcasts in September 2015 and January 2016 in order to rescind it. But that Yiannopoulos did not have a place at CPAC, or at any forum that describes itself as “conservative,” should have been obvious from the start. The alt-right and its “fellow travelers” openly detest the “conservatism” that the ACU was founded to defend, and CPAC should have taken them at their word.

‐ At CPAC, Trump aide Stephen Bannon called for the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” the phalanx of agencies that combine executive, legislative, and judicial functions in contravention of our constitutional design. It is a worthy cause, one Republicans are advancing through legislation to require congressional approval for major regulations. Trump has advanced the cause, too, by nominating to the Supreme Court Neil Gorsuch, who wishes to rein in the agencies. Further action to restore self-government would be welcome. Perhaps Trump’s next step could be to scale back the powers of the International Trade Commission.

‐ Tom Perez, the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was seen as a figure of his party’s left wing when President Obama nominated him to be labor secretary just four years ago. He has not changed, but his party has. Because Perez backed Hillary Clinton instead of Bernie Sanders last year, he is now seen as part of the Democratic establishment. Representative Keith Ellison ran against him, urging the party even farther left. Winning on the second ballot, Perez named Ellison his co-chairman. They should get along swimmingly.

‐ Chuck Todd of NBC says it’s “un-American” for Trump to delegitimize the media. Some perspective is in order. The press is just as free as it was on January 19, and neither Trump nor any of his allies has done anything to impede any journalist’s legal right to express himself. The First Amendment provides no special privilege to particular media outlets, and the White House can decide which ones it wants to include in press briefings. This administration is like every other one in that its officials decry the use of anonymous sources in stories unflattering to it and then leak anonymously for their own purposes. On the other hand, Trump’s comments that his critics in the press present “fake news,” have “evil intent,” and are the “enemy of the American People” are pieces of rhetoric worthy of Hugo Chávez. Sometimes Trump makes good decisions. Sometimes he’s demagogic and immature. Luckily you can read all about it.

‐ Supporters of the immigration status quo (or worse) are warning that immigration control would cost us. The New York Times editorializes that our economy will be $1 trillion smaller without illegal immigrants. David Brooks says issuing only 500,000 green cards a year instead of the current million would guarantee American decline. The fact is, though, that most of the contribution that immigrants make to GDP accrues, reasonably enough, to themselves. The Times itself cited figures that suggest that illegal immigrants raise the incomes of native-born Americans by a trivial amount: less than three-tenths of a percentage point. And they cut the incomes of the least-educated Americans. An immigration policy designed to boost Americans’ living standards would try to recruit high-skilled workers rather than reunite extended families or just accept whoever comes or stays here illegally. The immigration “policy” we have followed for decades is not in our interest, and it is not in its defenders’ interest for Americans to dwell on this fact.

‐ In late February, for the fifth time since the beginning of the year, bomb threats shut down multiple Jewish community centers across the country. With the latest wave, more than 100 threats have been called in to 81 JCCs and Jewish day schools in 33 states and two Canadian provinces, according to the Jewish Community Center Association of North America. Meanwhile, vandals have toppled hundreds of gravestones at Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia. Commentators have been quick to pin the apparent spike in anti-Semitic incidents on Donald Trump. Critics have pointed to the president’s dalliance with the alt-right, his initial refusal during the campaign to disavow former KKK leader David Duke, and his White House’s Holocaust Remembrance Day statement (which made no mention of Jews) to suggest a pattern of silence that has encouraged anti-Semitic violence. But the extent of the increase — let alone Donald Trump’s role in it — remains unclear. Neither the FBI nor the Anti-Defamation League, which keep independent statistics about anti-Semitic hate crimes or bias incidents, has released data for 2016, without which it is difficult to determine whether we are seeing a trend or a temporary blip, and other indicators further complicate the picture. That certain vile elements have taken heart from Trump’s ascent is unfortunately true. Yet without better evidence of what’s behind these incidents, responsible commentators would do well not to speculate.

‐ It has long been a bedrock principle of American constitutional law that no citizen may be compelled to participate in or celebrate speech he finds abhorrent or offensive. The Supreme Court of the State of Washington ruled that a Christian florist named Barronelle Stutzman violated state nondiscrimination law when she refused to use her artistic talents to arrange flowers for a gay wedding. Never mind that Stutzman had long served gay customers (including the person who brought the claims in this case). Never mind that Stutzman referred her customer to florists who would have been happy to help celebrate his wedding. The court ruled that prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation not only extended to protecting actions such as gay weddings, they also trumped Stutzman’s own constitutional rights to free speech and religious liberty and subjected her to monetary penalties that could reduce an elderly florist to financial ruin. The case is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and core constitutional principles hang in the balance.

‐ In February, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals took square aim at the Supreme Court’s holding in D.C. v. Heller. Upholding Maryland’s ban on so-called assault weapons, the court contrived a new test: that if a given firearm is “most useful in a military context,” it does not enjoy the protection of the Second Amendment. This test contradicts the holding of Heller and its subsequent fleshing out in Caetano v. Massachusetts. In contending that the “core” of the Amendment was not breached if the plaintiffs could buy other types of guns, the circuit drew upon an argument that was explicitly rejected in the Supreme Court precedent that the majority was duty-bound to follow. The result: Lawmakers in Maryland, the Virginias, and the Carolinas are now free to chip away at the Second Amendment at will. What weapon, after all, is not “most useful in a military context”? Swords are. Handguns are. So are lever-action rifles. Were this approach to have obtained at the Founding, no colonist with a musket would have been safe from legal harassment. It is now incumbent on the Supreme Court to rein in the Fourth Circuit, and on President Trump to make new appointments to it a priority.

‐ Slippery slope? It’s a full-on ski jump in Oregon, where legislators are considering a bill that would fudge the terms in the state law permitting euthanasia. The resulting ambiguity would allow caregivers to withhold basic care in a wildly expanded set of circumstances. Gone would be the distinction between feeding tubes and simple spoon-feeding for elderly patients who are clearly hungry but have lost the fine motor skills necessary to handle utensils or use their hands much at all. The latter form of care is commonsensical and humane, and cannot even arguably be presented as an extraordinary medical measure. Under the proposed revisions to the existing law, a patient’s advance directive to be cared for when he can no longer care for himself would have to be honored, but only “where appropriate.” The phrase is perfectly ambiguous, giving caregivers license to ignore the clear intent of patients who express a will to live that is stronger than right-to-die advocates find convenient.

‐ The Dalai Lama is one of the most admired men in the world — but not by the Chinese government, and not by millions influenced by that government. The University of California, San Diego, pulled off a coup: getting the Dalai Lama to be its 2017 commencement speaker. Immediately, Chinese-student groups on campus protested. Like the government in Beijing, they said that the Dalai Lama was an enemy of the state, meaning the People’s Republic of China. So far, the university is sticking with its commencement speaker. It seems sure that he will speak in June. But the Chinese kids need not worry too much: Great though the Dalai Lama is in many respects, he has been known to please audiences by praising Mao, and by describing himself as “half Buddhist, half Marxist.” But there’s no pleasing some people.

‐ Philadelphia is a city with an inferiority complex, which often leads it to ape the worst ideas from New York City. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to restrict the sale of sodas in New York and later donated millions of dollars to campaigns supporting soda taxes in other cities. Philadelphia declared war on soda, too, imposing a 1.5-cents-per-ounce tax on the sale of sugary beverages. What happened was exactly what they’d tell you in Econ 101, which no Philadelphia city councilman ever seems to have taken: Prices went up and consumption went down. In fact, supermarkets have seen soda sales decline between 30 and 50 percent. They have begun laying off employees — one chain plans to drop at least 300 of them. A local soda distributorship is eliminating 20 percent of its work force. The Teamsters complain that some of their members who are salesmen for soda companies have seen their pay drop 70 percent. The hilariously misgoverned city’s Democratic mayor, Jim Kenney, says that this is the result of “price gouging” by soda sellers. But of course it is the city government that is engaged in profiteering, promising that the soda-tax revenue would be used for early-childhood programs when in fact much of it will go to what the money always goes to, employee compensation — along with a few handouts to politically connected institutions. It’s not clear that New York City could afford Bloombergism; Philadelphia surely cannot.

‐ The good people at the pro-market Beacon Center of Tennessee probably never expected to have to learn about equine myofascial release, which is a type of massage therapy for horses. But they have had to do so to defend Martha Stowe, who has been practicing it for a decade in Williamson County, Tenn., and has built up a loyal clientele. She recently received a letter from the state’s Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners threatening her with a fine and/or jail if she doesn’t stop. Is the problem a lack of training? No, she has a certificate from a recognized instructor. A license? Ay, there’s the rub: Tennessee law states that only veterinarians may be hired to massage animals. It is unclear why the state finds more need to protect animals than humans from outlaw backrubs (anyone with the proper training can give massages to people), and since myofascial release is not a normal part of veterinary training, enforcing this superfluous regulation will create a shortage that should result in a lot of sore horses and equally sore owners.

‐ For many years, Kim Jong-nam had dodged assassination by his half-brother Kim Jong-un. Kim Jong-nam was the eldest son of the second North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-il. Kim Jong-un is the youngest son — and the third North Korean dictator. Kim Jong-nam spent most of his life abroad. He issued some criticisms of his family dictatorship, even saying that the Kim dynasty should come to an end: Three Kims was enough. This may not have been a matter of conviction or conscience, but rather of resentment: Kim Jong-nam had been passed over for the leadership. In any case, he was bold, and Kim Jong-un finally caught up with him, having his agents carry out the assassination in the Kuala Lumpur airport. It is not known how many children Kim Jong-un has. Only one is known about for sure, a daughter. But the end of the Kim dynasty, and of the North Korean dictatorship, would be the happiest thing ever to happen to that very unhappy land.

‐ President Trump did a good deed, and so did Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio brought Lilian Tintori to dinner at the White House. She is the wife of Venezuela’s most prominent political prisoner, Leopoldo López. After meeting her, Trump jotted a tweet, calling on the Venezuelan government to release López. There is nothing so valuable as international pressure in these cases, and nothing more valuable than presidential pressure.

‐ Speaking of international pressure: Russia released its most prominent political prisoner, Ildar Dadin. This came after months of pressure from many quarters in the world. One of those quarters was NR, where Jay Nordlinger had a piece on Dadin, detailing his case. (He was imprisoned for protesting the government without the permission of the government. And then tortured.) Dadin’s wife, Anastasia Zotova, spoke at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy. The next day, the government announced that it would release Dadin. He and his wife are thinking about leaving Russia, wanting to continue their advocacy of human rights and democracy, and fearing for their safety.

‐ A former Guantanamo Bay detainee known as Jamal al-Harith blew himself up near the Iraqi city of Mosul in an attack on coalition forces in February. Al-Harith, a British convert to Islam born Ronald Fiddler, was released from Guantanamo Bay in 2004 at the behest of Tony Blair’s government. The home secretary assured the public that he was not a security threat. The British government later paid him as much as $1 million as compensation for the alleged wrongs against him. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, in 2013, praised the “commendable contribution to arguments for justice and for closing [Guantanamo Bay]” that al-Harith and other former British detainees had made. The following year, al-Harith left the U.K. to join the Islamic State in Syria. He evidently wished to make a contribution of a different sort.

‐ Al-Harith has company. Ingenious jihadists have come up with the argument that they are entitled to receive welfare handouts from the state they’ve been living in, because these are the equivalent of the jizya, the protection tax that infidels have to pay in a society where Muslim law applies. Quite a few of those fighting in Syria or Iraq under the black flag of IS, the Islamic State, can console themselves with the thought that European taxpayers are indeed taking care of expenses, and most likely the purchase of arms and ammunition as well. Sweden took eight months to stop benefits being paid to one Michael Skramo, a convert to Islam. Social-welfare payments have financed terrorism in France and Belgium. The latest soft touch is Denmark, from which country more than two dozen citizens now fighting for IS have received unemployment benefits; $95,000 in welfare benefits has also been paid out. Investigation, in a wonderful euphemism of officialdom, is “logistically challenging.”

‐ Just days after President Trump told Florida rally-goers to “look at what’s happening last night in Sweden” — a misleading reference to a Fox News segment about immigrant-linked crime in Sweden, rather than to any specific event — riots broke out in a heavily immigrant suburb of Stockholm. Trump’s infelicitous phrasing prompted media mockery, and Sweden is not the crime-ridden war zone that some right-wing pundits would make out, but the country has serious problems. In 2015, Sweden welcomed more than 160,000 asylum-seekers, or nearly 2 percent of its total population. The foreign-born proportion of the population has doubled (to 18 percent) since 1990, and as of 2015, the most common countries of origin for the foreign-born were Finland (Sweden’s next-door neighbor), Iraq, and Syria. Meanwhile, because of Sweden’s high-skilled economy, there is a wide gap in the labor-force-participation rate between the native-born (82 percent) and the foreign-born (57 percent), encouraged by a generous welfare state. Sweden has been particularly generous in its policies toward immigrants and refugees — it is currently spending more on asylum-seekers than on national defense — but its humanitarianism is overwhelming its capacity to absorb newcomers. While Trump’s presentation of Sweden’s problems was blundering, they are real nonetheless.

‐ In a recent Sunday Review essay titled “What’s Left of Communism,” the New York Times published a photograph of “Lenin addressing Red Army troops heading for the Polish front in Moscow, 1920.” In a correction appended to the article, the Times noted: “Editors later learned that the photograph, of Lenin giving a speech, had been manipulated by the Soviet authorities to erase several figures near Lenin, notably Leon Trotsky.” They replaced the airbrushed image with the original. Sometimes, a picture really is worth a thousand words.

‐ Doug Burgum, the new Republican governor of North Dakota, is a software entrepreneur, and he wears the uniform of his trade, blue jeans. Burgum wears jeans in his office; he wore them to his inauguration; and he wears them in his travels around the state. But there’s at least one place in North Dakota where jeans are not welcome: on the floor of the state senate. Governor Burgum was giving some high-school students an impromptu tour of the state capitol, and after he led them into the senate chamber to pose for a picture, the sergeant-at-arms asked him to leave, citing the senate’s dress code. Burgum withdrew, as humbly as it’s possible for a governor who is also a billionaire to do, though he later defended his casual dress on the grounds that no one in Silicon Valley wears a tie. This may or may not sway voters in Langdon and Regent and Wishek, but if the governor can pull off his ambitious plans for education, infrastructure, and main-street renewal, no one is likely to care.

‐ Commissioner Robert Manfred is fighting the players’ union over rule changes that he wants Major League Baseball to adopt. He wants games to be shorter. To that end, intentional walks in 2017 will be issued by a simple signal from the dugout, MLB announced. No longer must the pitcher throw four pitches way outside the strike zone. This will shave an ounce of time — about 23 seconds — off the average game while sucking several ounces of logic and fun out of it. Throwing outside far enough that the batter can’t reach the ball but not so far that it eludes the catcher and ends up a wild pitch is harder than it sounds. Not all pitchers can do it. And occasionally the batter stretches and makes contact. MLB may have intended the abolition of the four-pitch intentional walk to be largely symbolic, an opening gambit in its ambition to impose more-radical rule changes, but it was the wrong place to start. If the ultimate aim is not just to shorten games but to raise the ratio of game action to time elapsed, reducing the latter a smidgen while reducing the former more than a smidgen is counterproductive.

‐ The game of Monopoly, originally a product of the Great Depression, is perfect for the age of Trump. Its symbol is a plutocrat; it rewards the rapacious acquisition of real estate; and you seldom have to pay much income tax. And now there is even a populist element: Hasbro, the company that makes Monopoly, has held online polls to add new game pieces and get rid of old ones. Recently the uncharismatic flatiron was retired, and now the company has announced that the workaday thimble will join it in board-game Valhalla, with additional roster changes to be announced, based on users’ suggestions. While National Review generally inclines toward standing athwart, we do recognize the need, in games as elsewhere, to keep pace with modern times. But if Hasbro announces that the top hat is being replaced with a pussyhat, we will know Internet democracy has gone too far.

‐ During the early years of the Reagan Revolution, as free-marketeers and social conservatives collaborated, Michael Novak elaborated the intellectual foundation that they shared. With his book The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (1982), he articulated what they had intuited, integrating economic theory with moral and political philosophy to fashion a compelling vision of the good society. He brought the conservative worldview into sharper focus. He established a career as a Catholic writer on the left in the 1960s and remained rooted in his faith as the political landscape shifted. He eventually found himself on the right, which had become the natural habitat of democratic capitalism, the system that, in his words, was most “consistent with the high aims of Judaism and Christianity.” The author of more than 40 books and countless articles, he wrote about everything, including sports, from his impressive philosophical and theological background, which included a degree from the Jesuits’ flagship university, the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Born into Pennsylvania’s coal country during the Depression, he was native to modesty and held onto it to the end, impressing peers and friends with his patience and warmth. Dead at 83. Requiescat in pace.

‐ Norma McCorvey spent her last two decades trying to undo her legacy as Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade. She had a rough early life, marked by paternal abandonment, maternal abuse, and alcoholism. She never got the abortion she sought — her case wound its way too slowly through the courts — and later concluded that her lawyers had used her as a “pawn.” In the mid 1990s she was working at an abortion clinic when pro-life protester Flip Benham befriended her, helped her to change her mind about abortion, and baptized her in a backyard swimming pool. She later wrote about what happened: “I was sitting in [Operation Rescue]’s offices when I noticed a fetal-development poster. The progression was so obvious, the eyes were so sweet. It hurt my heart, just looking at them. I ran outside and finally, it dawned on me. ‘Norma,’ I said to myself, ‘They’re right.’ I had worked with pregnant women for years. I had been through three pregnancies and deliveries myself. I should have known. Yet something in that poster made me lose my breath. I kept seeing the picture of that tiny, ten-week-old embryo, and I said to myself, That’s a baby!” What she saw, she could never un-see. Eventually she became a pro-life activist herself, and a Catholic. Dead at 69. R.I.P.

‐ “Why do we fear the word ‘terrorist’?” Omar Abdel Rahman embraced the word and what he took to be the divine calling of jihadism. Convicted in 1995 of leading a terrorist war against the United States that included the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and an unsuccessful plot to bomb New York City landmarks, the notorious “Blind Sheikh” died at 78 while serving his life sentence in North Carolina. He was the most consequential jihadist theoretician of the past half century, with a legacy that includes greenlighting the 1981 murder of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. Through the bungling of immigration authorities, he was permitted to relocate to America, and even imprisonment failed to end his rampage: The late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, on whom Rahman had profound influence, credited him with approving the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans, and scores were killed in Egypt and elsewhere in efforts to extort his release — an unachieved priority of the short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government there. Physically unable to commit acts useful to the terrorist cause, the sharia scholar was nonetheless globally renowned as “the emir of jihad.” His life testifies to the centrality of ideology in the threat against the West.


Fiscal Fakery

President Trump has released the first details of his broad budget goals for fiscal year 2018, the headline-grabbing element of which is a proposed 10 percent increase in defense spending. To offset this additional $54 billion for the Pentagon, the president is recommending across-the-board cuts in as-yet-unspecified discretionary-spending programs.

The president’s budget preliminaries suggest that his fanciful campaign promises — to solve the nation’s pecuniary woes by targeting “waste, fraud, and abuse” and cutting foreign aid — have not been adapted to fiscal reality. It’s still in the earliest stages, but his plan portends a significant increase to an already massive federal debt.

It goes without saying that the federal government is chock-full of waste. Bureaucracies are beset with bloat — duplicative or ineffective programs, overstaffing, and more — that can and ought to be trimmed. However, deep cuts to the EPA, the Department of Education, the Department of State, and the rest, which the White House’s budget outline partly relies on, are not only politically unrealistic but also unlikely to balance out the administration’s proposed spending.

Beyond the $54 billion heading to the Pentagon, which is welcome after the neglect of the Obama years, the president continues to promote large-scale infrastructure spending. Meeting with several governors at the White House, he promised: “We’re going to start spending on infrastructure — big.” (On the campaign trail, Trump proposed $1 trillion in roads, bridges, and more.)

Again, where the money is to come from is anyone’s guess, especially as the White House and congressional Republicans pursue tax cuts. If reports are accurate, the administration seems to be predicating its budget on optimistic annual-growth projections.

In reality, the specter looming over America’s financial prospects is not waste or foreign aid. Foreign aid constitutes less than 1 percent of the federal budget, and this aid is not the uniform waste the president sometimes suggests. The graver menace is our entitlement programs, which at present constitute 60 percent of federal-government spending; they are expected to reach two-thirds of federal spending within a decade. The president’s budget, though, is designed to protect the largest of those programs — and not just from cuts to benefit levels, but from any cuts at all. This is silly. Ensuring that Social Security benefits are paid out at expected levels (for many current beneficiaries, a sudden cut would be untenable) should not mean that the Social Security Administration is exempted from budgetary oversight.

What is ultimately needed is long-term entitlement reform. Until Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and our host of other unsustainable programs are reconfigured, the country will continue adding to its debt burden.

From what we know so far, though, the administration is proposing no change in the trajectory of the federal budget. In the meantime, an increase in (disciplined) defense spending and an aggressive approach to administrative excess are fine priorities. But without setting itself to the country’s most pressing financial problems, the White House will never succeed in making its math add up.

NR Editors includes members of the editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

In This Issue



Books, Arts & Manners

City Desk

A City of Shopkeepers

The city is full of walk-in businesses — shops, stores, eateries, bars, banks, fix-it places. That means the streets are full of business names. Many belong to chains — Victoria’s ...


Politics & Policy


Pain and Punishment Psychiatrist Sally Satel’s piece “Treating Opioid Addiction” (March 6) favors “benign paternalism” in public policy regarding what some have hysterically called an “epidemic” but Dr. Satel more soberly ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ We’re told the envelope given to Warren Beatty actually contained Nate Silver’s projection. ‐ To replace Michael Flynn as national-security adviser, Donald Trump selected someone uniquely suited for the position. ...
Politics & Policy


GLOUCESTER Lizard-voiced, the seagull, esurient And flush with light, cuts through sapphire and salt Waves, to gratify pure appetite. Granite endures like graves. Briars bloom. On planks and shelves, books dock like sailing ships And wait ...

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White House

The Democrats’ Burisma Bait and Switch

Imagine you get indicted in a swindle. The prosecutors represent that they can prove you and your alleged co-conspirators planned to fleece a major financial institution. You counter that you weren’t fleecing anyone. Sure, you were asking for millions in loans, but the collateral you were prepared to post was ... Read More
White House

The Democrats’ Burisma Bait and Switch

Imagine you get indicted in a swindle. The prosecutors represent that they can prove you and your alleged co-conspirators planned to fleece a major financial institution. You counter that you weren’t fleecing anyone. Sure, you were asking for millions in loans, but the collateral you were prepared to post was ... Read More

When There Is No Normal

One of the ancient and modern critiques of democracy is that radicals destroy norms for short-term political gain, norms that they themselves often later seek as refuge. Schadenfreude, irony, paradox, and karma are various descriptions of what happens to revolutionaries, and unfortunately the innocent, who ... Read More

When There Is No Normal

One of the ancient and modern critiques of democracy is that radicals destroy norms for short-term political gain, norms that they themselves often later seek as refuge. Schadenfreude, irony, paradox, and karma are various descriptions of what happens to revolutionaries, and unfortunately the innocent, who ... Read More
Politics & Policy

15 Flaws in Adam Schiff’s Case

Adam Schiff did most of the heavy lifting for the House managers, and if he performed ably, he also relied on arguments and tropes that don’t withstand scrutiny. The Democratic case for impeachment and removal is now heavily encrusted with clichés, widely accepted by the media, meant to give their ... Read More
Politics & Policy

15 Flaws in Adam Schiff’s Case

Adam Schiff did most of the heavy lifting for the House managers, and if he performed ably, he also relied on arguments and tropes that don’t withstand scrutiny. The Democratic case for impeachment and removal is now heavily encrusted with clichés, widely accepted by the media, meant to give their ... Read More