‐ Hostile congressmen vow to use any means available to block Trump’s outrageous budget plan. And the Democrats are pretty mad too.
‐ North Korea tested two missiles in a week, including a successful launch of a Hwasong-12 that reached an altitude of 1,300 miles and traveled almost 500 miles. It’s another step toward a nuclear-capable ICBM that could reach the United States. Despite Trump’s saber-rattling, there is no good military option in North Korea. We should ratchet up sanctions, and punish Chinese banks that do business with North Korea; engage in covert efforts at internal subversion of the regime; and build up our missile defenses. The crazy fat kid, as John McCain calls Kim Jong-un, is a menace, and one we will presumably be grappling with for years.
‐ One reassuring bit of normalcy in Washington is the reaction to Donald Trump’s budget, which is being treated like every budget proposal by a Republican president: as a brutal assault on the poor for the benefit of the rich. The reforms the budget envisions — such as imposing work requirements on food stamps for able-bodied adults and paring back Social Security Disability Insurance, which has seen rising rolls even as manual labor has declined — are in truth long overdue. But the proposal is open to three legitimate objections. It launches an expensive new paid-leave initiative that runs counter to its overall objective of spending restraint. It ignores the biggest elements of federal spending, Social Security and Medicare, making the budget even more overweighted by entitlements. And it counts too much on higher economic growth to make the budget balance. Republicans should remedy all three defects without thinking that anything they do will stave off charges of bringing back workhouses.
‐ The “Mexico City policy,” which blocks foreign-aid funding from going to organizations that perform abortions or advocate their legalization overseas, was reinstated in January by President Trump. (Since Ronald Reagan introduced it, the policy has been rescinded by every Democratic president and restored by every Republican president succeeding a Democrat.) In May, the Trump administration announced that it would expand the policy. Previously it had covered roughly $600 million spent annually on family-planning assistance abroad. Now it will apply to foreign organizations that accept U.S. money under a wider umbrella of programs, including those targeting HIV/AIDS, accounting for billions more dollars. Liberals reacted with horror, predicting, with little to no evidence, that the beefed-up policy would result in thousands of people’s being denied life-saving health care. As for the thousands of children who will continue to be killed in the womb in foreign countries, the liberals’ main concern is to ensure that American taxpayers continue to pay for it.
‐ The Trump administration intends to ramp up the so-called war on drugs, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions announcing the discontinuation of certain Obama-era policies that had allowed federal prosecutors to substitute lesser charges in certain drug cases, suspending rules that require them to file the most severe charges possible. This will have some regrettable consequences, and it points the government in a direction that is dead opposite the path of intelligent reform, but Sessions is right to say that he is merely resuming enforcement of the drug laws passed by Congress. That being the case, Congress should pass better laws for him to enforce. This would begin with more intelligent discrimination between classes of drugs, including the decriminalization of marijuana consumption under federal law. It would also include reforms that would send more low-level and non-violent offenders into intensive rehabilitation programs rather than enrolling them in the organized-crime vocational academies that we call penitentiaries. And it would, above all, do away with the destructive notion that mitigating the effects of drug addiction and the criminal enterprise associated with servicing such addictions is the moral equivalent of war, a line of thinking that has led to excesses and abuses that have badly distorted the relationship between our law-enforcement institutions and the communities they serve. As our friends at Right on Crime put it, we can be tough and smart at the same time. That’s not what the Trump administration proposes to do.
‐ President Trump kicked off his first foreign tour with a speech in Riyadh to a meeting of leaders of 50 Muslim countries, on the theme of combating terrorism. Trump was sober, comprehensive, and at times sharp. He named names, referring to “Islamic extremism and the Islamists and Islamic terror.” Among Islamist crimes he listed “oppression of women, persecution of Jews, [and] slaughter of Christians.” He cited Iran as the fount of terror: true enough, and gratifying to his mostly Sunni audience. But he also said that all Muslim countries must give terrorists “no sanctuary,” and that they should “drive them out of [their] places of worship” — a shot at radical clerics who are tolerated and often encouraged throughout the region. One speech is not a policy; the nettle of Saudi Arabia, the greatest funder of rigid and domineering Islamic education worldwide, defies easy grasping. But it was a good speech.
‐ When President Trump stopped in Saudi Arabia, he received, from King Salman, the Collar of Abdulaziz al-Saud. Gone are the days when James Madison said, of George Washington, that “splendid tinsel or gorgeous robe would disgrace the manly shoulders of our Chief.” On the other hand, you want to be polite in a foreign country. So, to allow the collar to be placed around his neck, the president . . . bowed. We hereby issue retroactive absolution to Barack Obama for having given a bowing handshake to King Abdullah in 2009. Could it be that we who grow up in God’s country are just taller than other folks, and have to do salutation calisthenics in their presence?
‐ Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross marveled approvingly at the lack of dissent he observed during President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia. “There was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there,” he told a CNBC anchor. “Not one guy with a bad placard.” His interviewer objected that this could be explained by the fact that people there are hardly free to express themselves in public. “In theory, that could be true,” he conceded, “but boy there was certainly no sign of it.” Secretary Ross might try looking in the prisons, where those who engage in political protest in Saudi Arabia would be lucky to end up. It’s a dynamic the commerce secretary ought to be able to understand: Make the cost of holding bad placards jail, torture, or execution, and you get fewer of them.
‐ It turns out that traitors can still be heroes, especially when they’re transgender. Chelsea Manning (he changed his name from Bradley after coming out as a trans woman) was released from prison this month after Barack Obama commuted his prison sentence near the end of Obama’s second term. Liberals persist in calling him a “whistleblower,” even though his indiscriminate document dump to WikiLeaks could have endangered his fellow soldiers. Declaring himself to be transsexual won him still more support from the left. But man or woman, Manning broke faith with the American people, and his release was unjust.
‐ President Trump seems bent on making the Russia investigation worse for himself than it has to be, and, following his lead, Sean Hannity has found a way to make it worse still, by trafficking in absurd conspiracy theories. A low-level DNC staffer, Seth Rich, was murdered in Washington in 2016, a year in which D.C. saw 135 murders, 30 percent of which remain unsolved. From this and nothing more, Hannity and his sometime ally, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, have concocted a tale in which Rich was the source of the DNC leaks and then — in the words of Newt Gingrich, who really ought to know better — “apparently was assassinated.” There is no evidence of any kind of connection between Rich and WikiLeaks. But one can imagine the attraction of this story: Hannity imagines (and insists) that if Rich was the source for WikiLeaks, the Russians were not and therefore the Trump campaign is also blameless. This scenario not only lacks any evidence for it but would not explain the hacking of the Clinton campaign. (Rich had no access to John Podesta’s e-mail account.) For Assange, the story is an opportunity to put some distance between his organization and its likely patrons in Moscow. The Rich family is naturally mortified by all this and has pleaded for Hannity et al. to stop exploiting their son’s corpse — which Hannity has agreed to do, temporarily at least.
‐ Former congressman Anthony Weiner pleaded guilty in a Manhattan courtroom to sexting a 15-year-old North Carolina girl. “I engaged in obscene communications with this teenager,” Weiner said, conduct he knew to be “as morally wrong as it was unlawful.” Weiner’s wife, Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, filed for divorce that same day. Prosecutors expect that Weiner will be sentenced to 21 to 27 months in prison. His fall is as deep as the descent was long. He resigned from Congress after his first sexting scandal in 2011. A supposed reformation and a run for mayor of New York were swept away by a second scandal in 2013. He committed the crimes for which he has now pleaded guilty in 2016. All our sins are known to God, but few of us are exposed in the tabloids. May pain lead him to remorse, the precondition of redemption.
‐ Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah), five-term congressman and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, announced that he would, in June, resign the seat he won last November. Higher ambition? There will be a governor’s race in Utah in 2020. Impending scandal? No way. A possible gig at Fox? That is what Elaina Plott reported in the Washingtonian, citing “two GOP lawmakers who have spoken to Chaffetz” and “four senior House Republican aides.” For a congressman to make such a switch, so soon in a new term, would confirm every snarl and hand-wring about the impotence and frivolity of politics and the might of a golem-like media. To serve the people is an honor; once undertaken, it is a duty. At least when Donald Trump left The Apprentice for the White House, he thought he was moving up.
‐ President Trump took the occasion of his commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy to suggest that “no politician in history has been treated worse or more unfairly” than he has been. Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy — among a whole lot of others — would beg to differ.
‐ In an editorial, the Washington Post urges university administrators to “make crystal clear that racist signs, symbols and speech are off-limits.” It is a terrible idea, and not only because at public universities it would conflict with Supreme Court precedents. The scope of the proposed bans cannot, in the nature of things, be crystal clear. Will they cover statements of opposition to affirmative action? Trump-campaign signs? Panel discussions with multiple points of view about immigration? And if racist speech is prohibited, why should not other kinds of bigoted and putatively bigoted speech be as well? Few universities will be able to explain why sexist speech is tolerable if racist speech is not, or will even want to try. The Post says of students who are offended by racist provocations on campus that “their outrage is legitimate.” In the cases the Post mentions, that is surely true. But outrage is also inexhaustible.
‐ President Trump has negotiated a pygmy trade deal with China. The underwhelming runt of an accord consists of: 1) reopening the Chinese market to U.S. beef imports, a move that almost certainly would have been implemented irrespective of any new trade deal; 2) gaining a Chinese promise to comply with a World Trade Organization ruling on allowing U.S.-based credit-card processors to operate in China, which China has been promising and failing to do for years; 3) approving certain genetically modified seeds for sale in China; 4) licensing two U.S. banking giants to underwrite bonds in China and allowing a number of U.S. bond-rating agencies to operate independently there. The Chinese appetite for American protein already is very large (enormous quantities of American-grown soybeans are exported to China), U.S.-based financial firms already operate in China as joint ventures with Chinese firms, and Chinese restrictions on credit-card operators already were under WTO interdict. To call these trade concessions “symbolic” would be generous. What does Beijing get in return? A line on U.S.-produced liquefied natural gas and, more important, a few more years of business as usual, having bought off the Trump administration on the cheap. Turns out the guy who wrote The Art of the Deal wasn’t ready for the men who studied The Art of War.
‐ Conservatives have typically taken a special interest in the health of the “mediating institutions” in society, the ones that exist in the wide space between the individual and the state. A new report from Utah Republican senator Mike Lee’s staff on the Joint Economic Committee documents that America’s associational life is not going well. Fewer people are married, participating in religious bodies, working, or even socializing with neighbors. The report suggests that these trends are in part a response to prosperity: People can meet their material needs with fewer direct connections to one another. But the decline of the country’s “social capital” has implications for economic mobility, suicide rates, and much else — and very few of those implications are good. The senator is not offering solutions, except to the problem of inattention to important questions.
‐ A brawl in Washington, D.C., tells people all they need to know about Turkey in the reign of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, newly established as its president and dictator-in-waiting. In town for an official visit to the White House, he was put up in the residence of the Turkish ambassador. In front of the residence is a grassy lawn on which a little group of about a dozen Turkish Americans, Turkish Kurds, Armenians, and Yazidis gathered to protest the honor being done to a president who has caused them so much grief. Erdogan’s bodyguards and members of the embassy staff, some of them armed, rushed across the street to beat up the group. Videos show a scene of mayhem, and by the time it was over, eleven people had been injured, nine of them taken to the hospital. A close examination of the video suggests that Erdogan may have ordered the violence. Erdogan does this kind of thing all the time, and on a much larger scale, at home. The Trump administration may be eager to have friendly relations with him but must insist that this is not something we will import.
‐ In 2015, Ahmed Mohamed was briefly detained after school officials in Irving, Texas, apparently mistook for a bomb a clock he had brought to school. The incident sparked national soul-searching about the blight of “Islamophobia,” with celebrities, tech executives, and President Barack Obama all weighing in — and then was promptly memory-holed when his family’s history of specious claims to victimhood cropped up. Indeed, the case always had the whiff of a manufactured outrage, starting with the fact that Mohamed didn’t build the clock at all — he reassembled an old 1980s-era clock inside a pencil case — and culminating in the family’s demand for $15 million in damages from the city and school district. Now a federal judge has dismissed the Mohamed family’s lawsuit against these entities, finding no proof that either of them discriminated against Ahmed. It seems that time has finally run out on this scam.
‐ Between 1974 and 1983, the FALN, a domestic terrorist organization supposedly fighting for Puerto Rican independence, detonated 120 bombs across the United States and killed five people — four of them at the historic Fraunces Tavern in Lower Manhattan. Among the most dedicated members of the FALN was Oscar López Rivera, finally apprehended in 1980 and sentenced to 55 years in prison; in 1993, President Bill Clinton offered López Rivera clemency if he would renounce violence, but he refused. In January, President Barack Obama dispensed with negotiations and commuted López Rivera’s sentence. Now López Rivera is being honored as the New York City Puerto Rican Day Parade’s first “National Freedom Hero,” and will be lauded by Mayor Bill de Blasio. They say that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. But how the deaths of two Wall Street bankers and two young executives for a Philadelphia chemical company advanced the cause of “freedom” remains unexplained.
‐ The Texas legislature has passed a law that will empower adoption agencies to act like adoption agencies rather than be conscripted into the culture wars. If the bill is signed (as expected) by Governor Greg Abbott (R.), it will allow adoption agencies, including those receiving state funds, to decline to place children in adoptive homes on religious grounds. In theory, this could mean that a Quaker-affiliated adoption agency could refuse to place a child in a Jewish home; in reality, this is about whether Christian organizations will be compelled to place children with homosexual couples. There is no shortage of adoptive families looking for children (Americans go to the ends of the earth to adopt), and neither is there a shortage of adoption agents open to serving homosexual couples. The coercion of religious groups in this matter is, in fact, its own rationale: Gay Americans as individuals have a range of social and political attitudes, but their organized activists, from the commanding heights, brook no dissent. If we consider the important question here — what is in the best interest of these homeless children? — then the issue resolves itself. The adoption system works, if we let it work, and subordinating that work to sexual-identity politics is wrong and destructive.
‐ Boris Nemtsov, a physicist and political reformer, was organizing a rally against the Russian invasion of Ukraine when he was shot on a bridge near the Kremlin in February 2015. Neither the first nor the last of Putin’s critics to meet a sudden, premature death, Nemtsov is justly revered as a martyr to the cause of Russian democracy, which the current regime works assiduously to suppress, in the spirit of old-fashioned, Soviet-style, one-party rule. In February, Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) introduced legislation to rename the street on which the Russian embassy is located in Washington, D.C., “Boris Nemtsov Plaza” — to honor the assassinated political leader, to encourage the Russian reform movement he left behind, and to remind the Putin regime that America is watching. The Senate should pass the bill when it comes up for a vote. “There will come a day when Russia takes pride in having Boris Nemtsov’s name on its embassy letterhead,” writes Vladimir V. Kara-Murza, an advocate of Russian democracy who fell into a coma in February after a suspected poisoning. “It will also be grateful to those who, in difficult times, did not allow it to forget.”
‐ After championing a $15 minimum wage in their party platform, Democrats are facing a class-action lawsuit over their failure to pay overtime. The Democrats premised their “fight for 15” on the notion that anything less was a “starvation wage,” even as their own field operatives made about half that amount. That’s a lot of starving Hillary Clinton campaigners. Those defending the Democrats have pointed out that the workers agreed to a flat monthly wage, and that no one working in political field offices expects great pay, but these points flatly contradict the party’s own rhetoric; from the mouth of anyone else, such economic reasoning is treated as the lie of the oppressor. This news converged with reports of party-convention executives’ receiving bonuses in excess of $300,000, which fanned the flames of left-wing resentment against the party that guided Hillary Clinton to victory over Bernie Sanders. It’s almost as if the party bosses don’t actually care about the moralistic wealth-redistribution arguments that they use to mobilize their base.
‐ The suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, is a disturbing reminder of two terrible truths. First, our terrorist enemies in fact are evil enough to intentionally target a concert hall full of young girls. Given Grande’s fan base, the terrorist’s attack wasn’t all that different from detonating himself in a middle-school auditorium. Second, this attack — combined with multiple other European and American attacks since the rise of ISIS — demonstrates that terrorists have gained and maintained a disturbing amount of momentum. When terrorists are granted safe haven and are able to inspire growing radical populations in Western countries, the results are entirely predictable.
‐ Hassan Rouhani has been elected for a second term as president of Iran, defeating the rival candidate Ebrahim Raisi. Western commentators present the vote as the victory of a moderate over a hard-liner, as though the Left versus Right of Western political classification pertained in the snake-pit of the Islamic Republic. Iranian exiles and dissidents familiar with the regime laugh at this naïveté, pointing out that the record number of executions and imprisonments under Rouhani is a byword for injustice, and the state of the economy is a byword for his incompetence. In any case, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has absolute power, and some time ago rigged the election. In some circles of Tehran, Rouhani is known as the Supreme Leader’s butler.
‐ An SAS trooper armed with a South Carolina–made rifle shot and killed an Islamic State sniper in Mosul — from 1.5 miles away, one of the most remarkable feats of marksmanship in the storied unit’s history. British soldier, American rifle: Score one for the Anglosphere. One of the lessons of the long war that has been fought since the United States went into Afghanistan to deal with al-Qaeda is that Western fighting forces rarely if ever encounter an enemy who can face them for very long in pitched battle.
‐ Race is a social construct, Rebecca Tuvel of Rhodes College argued in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, and changing one’s racial identity is as valid as changing one’s gender identity. Irate critics circulated an open letter in which they argued that the article’s publication reflected “a failure in the review process, and one that painfully reflects a lack of engagement beyond white and cisgender privilege.” The editors of Hypatia then apologized for running the piece. That provoked yet another firestorm of rebuke, this time from scholars who agreed with Tuvel and objected to the editors’ about-face, as they saw it. On its own terms, Tuvel’s logic is ironclad: A person’s sex is a biologically determined attribute, but if we can pretend that it isn’t, what’s to stop anyone from playing the same game of make-believe with respect to race?
‐ Cathedral schools in the Middle Ages gave birth to the modern liberal-arts curriculum, and over the centuries Catholic colleges and universities have maintained their reputation for excellence in the humanities, especially philosophy. Some administrators are embarrassed by the Catholic identity of their institutions, however, and in recent decades have tried to lighten it, depriving higher education of a solid anchor in the tradition from which it has been drifting. The latest instance of that unfortunate trend is the suggestion by the president of the University of St. Thomas in Houston that the university might eliminate its Ph.D. program in philosophy. The chairman of the department objected publicly, and alumni and supporters of Catholic education rallied in his defense. The president then assured them that the philosophy department would be safe after all — for a time. His successor is being sought, and so far none of the candidates is a member of the Congregation of St. Basil, the religious order with which St. Thomas is affiliated. Catholic schools, stop trying to emulate your secular peers. They need you to be true to yourself, whether they know it or not.
‐ Behold the sports hero, famous at age 30, forgotten before 50: Sic transit gloria mundi. While most professional athletes do not ascend to stardom, even benchwarmers get paid handsomely and over a few seasons can earn more than most Americans do in a lifetime. What a blessing, to be 25 and pulling in a salary of $465,000 for playing a game, albeit playing it hard. Give credit to Bernard Reedy, who fits that description, for having perspective. During the off-season, the wide receiver for the Buccaneers works as a driver for Care Ride, a car service for disabled clients in the Tampa Bay area. His pay: $11 an hour. “Why sit home when you can come out and make you some more money and help people on top of that?” he tells ESPN. “And I’m talking about really helping people, helping people who can’t help themselves.” During down time with the van, he studies playbooks, reads the Bible, and does pushups. His player jersey is not a hot merchandise item but should be, because character counts, even though it can’t be quantified. His number for the Bucs is 18.
‐ “Holly came from Miami F-L-A / Hitchhiked her way across the USA / Plucked her eyebrows on the way / Shaved her legs, and then he was a she / She says hey babe, take a walk on the wild side . . .” Yesterday’s avant-garde is today’s conventional wisdom. In 1966, the Velvet Underground shocked the world with Lou Reed’s songs about heroin and sadomasochism. Now heroin is for hillbillies who can’t afford OxyContin and S&M is beach reading for housewives in Great Neck. After the Velvets broke up, Reed recorded “Walk on the Wild Side,” filled with tales of demimondaines such as Holly — genuinely transgressive, at a time when that word meant something. Scarcely a decade later, the song was being used in TV commercials — for scooters, then cars, eventually even Google. And now the cycle is complete, as Reed’s onetime bourgeoisie-shocker has been declared downright reactionary. The student association at Ontario’s Guelph University apologized for including it in a party mix of 1970s songs after transgender activists complained that (1) it made gender transitioning sound too easy, (2) changing one’s appearance is not necessary to change one’s gender, (3) the use of “he” is offensive, and (4) transitioning should not be regarded as “wild.” The student association, as cringingly apologetic as only Canadians who fear they’ve offended someone can be, said, “We now know the lyrics to this song are hurtful to our friends in the trans community and we’d like to unreservedly apologize for this error in judgement.” Sic transit gloria tranny. And the multiracial people of diverse gender identities sing . . .
‐ Roger Ailes was a master of his medium. His TV genius helped elect three Republican presidents (Nixon, Reagan, and Bush I), and he built Fox News into a juggernaut. Fox tapped a market untouched by the rest of the monochromatically liberal news media (as Charles Krauthammer likes to put it, Ailes identified a market niche that was half the country). But the network also ascended to the top of the cable world because it was simply better TV. Ailes had a sharp eye for talent and a keen sense of entertainment. From Rust Belt Ohio, he never lost his working-class sensibility — he was utterly fearless, amusingly profane, and reflexively patriotic. The populism he imparted to Fox has heavily influenced the Right, a mixed blessing. Ailes had an ignominious end at the network, ousted in a jaw-dropping and disturbing sexual-harassment scandal. But few media figures of the last 50 years have had more impact. R.I.P.
‐ Peter Augustine Lawler, the new editor of Modern Age, a journal founded 60 years ago by Russell Kirk, has overseen his first and last issue. Lawler shared Kirk’s cultural conservatism broadly defined but brought to the job a somewhat different though compatible sensibility, steeped in southern culture and Catholic social teaching, a heady mix. His writing about Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor invariably sparkled. A 21st-century political scientist with the soul of a Continental philosopher, he never ran out of insights into Tocqueville, who never ran out of insights into America. As an author and editor, Lawler lent his name to the title pages of more than half a dozen books. He was a prolific writer for scholarly and popular publications alike, including National Review Online, where he contributed regularly to the Corner. He took ideas seriously; himself, not too much. His writing and his offline communications with editors were of a piece: consistently wry and witty, and ever tactful. A professor at Berry College for 38 years, he won more academic awards and honors than we could count. His sudden death at age 65 came without warning. Requiescat in pace.
‐ The late Lynda Lee-Potter, a British celebrity journalist, used to say that in the clash of egos that is show business there were only two actors she found bearable to deal with: David Niven and Roger Moore. Moore’s good-natured inability to take himself too seriously made him a very different kind of James Bond from the brooding and dangerous Sean Connery, whom he replaced in the series starting with Live and Let Die (1973) and continuing until he was 57, in A View to a Kill (1985). For Connery’s big-shouldered machismo Moore substituted a wittier, more modest, always debonair but not quite effete manner that helped to define a new generation of more ironic and self-aware leading men. Moore, who had also played Simon Templar in the Sixties TV classic The Saint, readily acknowledged he was not a great actor, but he led a great life. A wit, a raconteur, and a conservative who enjoyed a drink and a laugh, he shamed today’s self-torturing show-business mal vivants as he lived out his final days in Switzerland, where he died aged 89. “I never worked hard. I enjoyed it. Going into an office or being a miner. That’s work,” he told The Telegraph in 2014. After Type 2 diabetes struck late in life, he said he couldn’t drink anymore but added, “I lead a life of bliss.” R.I.P.
The Russia Mess
‘Worse than a crime,” the cynical Talleyrand supposedly said of a Napoleonic démarche, “it was a blunder.” Donald Trump has been blundering up a storm.
After firing FBI director James Comey — who was, we believe, eminently fireable — the president proceeded to say that he had done so on the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, then told Lester Holt that he had intended to fire Comey all along, then reverted to the explanation that Rosenstein was the reason. This was in public; in a private meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and ambassador Sergey Kislyak, subsequently leaked, Trump allegedly said that Comey was a “nut job,” whose firing had taken “great pressure” off him.
Where to begin? Democrats cling to the notion that Trump won the election because of Russian collusion (anything other than Hillary’s own awfulness). Trump dearly wants to stamp out the allegation but instead pours rocket fuel on it. His impulsive and changing accounts of his own actions leave his aides exposed to ridicule as they defend each expiring narrative. For Trump to have jeered at a fellow countryman, however misguided, before a pair of anti-American thugs, was grotesque. Trump’s amen chorus insists that he is surrounded by enemies — Democratic career civil servants, disgruntled Republicans — who feed half-truths or lies to a hostile press. All the more reason for Trump to learn discretion, if an old dog can learn new tricks.
Former FBI director Robert Mueller has now been named special counsel to oversee the investigation into things Russian. Mueller is a straight shooter, respected by both parties. But there are problems with special counsels. Excessive zeal is their occupational hazard, which, since they are practically unfireable, they have every opportunity to indulge. They also preempt Congress’s investigatory role. The institutional pride that makes the system of checks and balances work suffers another blow.
Cheered by memories of Watergate, hysterics speak of impeachment. “High crimes and misdemeanors” is a vague phrase, but it clearly indicates criminality. No crime has yet been credibly alleged, and the theory that impeachment can be used to remove officeholders who are unfit or obnoxious was last maintained during the impeachment of Justice Samuel Chase in 1805, abandoned even then, and not resurrected since. The notion of removing Trump from office via the 25th Amendment is even more outlandish. Mirror-image mutterings that Trump is the victim of a slow-motion deep-state coup show only that fever afflicts both sides. Such wild talk pushes us closer to banana republicanism than anything even Trump has yet done.