Magazine August 14, 2017, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

‐ George Romero, 1940 –2017. Rest in peace — please.

‐ The New York Times has revealed that, in June 2016, Donald Trump Jr. got an e-mail from Rob Goldstone, a publicist friend, offering Russian info that would “incriminate Hillary” Clinton. The e-mail said this information was being offered as part of the Russian government’s support for the Trump campaign. “If it’s what you say I love it,” Trump Jr. replied. A meeting took place between Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, then–campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Goldstone, and a gaggle of dodgy Russkies with Kremlin contacts. The revelation heightens the suspicions around the Trump campaign’s dealings with the Russians. There is no proof of tangible help — everyone at the meeting denies it — but the willingness was there. This grotesque episode shows the amateur quality of the Trump campaign, which infects the administration; it highlights the Trump team’s reliance on shifting, flimsy stories to cover its tracks (Donald Jr. at first said that the meeting was about adoption); it is naïve about Putin, though Trump’s public statements already were. Sad!

‐ President Trump has declared a war of words on his own attorney general, telling the New York Times that Jeff Sessions “should have never recused himself” from the Russia investigation and that if Trump had known Sessions would do so, “I would have picked somebody else.” Trump followed this with tweets asking why his “beleaguered A.G.” is not investigating Crooked Hillary. Sessions was Trump’s first important supporter; karma is indeed a bitch. If Trump dislikes Sessions that much, why hasn’t he fired him? That may come; or perhaps Trump is only rattling the cage to try to get limits on Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Trump has only himself and his ever-changing reasons for firing James Comey to blame for the appointment of Mueller, which he deeply resents. On the other hand, special counsels can exceed sense and patience in their probings. Mueller should be limited to investigating matters Russian. On the third hand, that could legitimately include Trump’s Russian business dealings. Oh what a tangled web . . .

‐ Trump made a classic pot-stirring tweet in the midst of the Russian brouhaha. “While all agree the U.S. President has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us. FAKE NEWS.” Immediately pundits and lawyers began to parse the pardoning power — e.g., can a president pardon himself? — while Trump aides insisted its use is not being considered because no one has done anything that might invite a pardon. Before getting lost in the mazes of con-law fantasy, it is vital to recognize that a president’s legal powers are less important than his political legitimacy. He has the unreviewable power to pardon any offense except in cases of impeachment. But a pardon or pardons that appeared to obstruct justice would hammer his poll numbers and raise the prospect of impeachment. “The dread of being accused of . . . connivance,” wrote Alexander Hamilton, discussing the pardoning power in The Federalist, “would beget . . . circumspection.” A word to the wise, Mr. President.

‐ Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, resigned after President Trump overrode his objections to hire hedge-funder Anthony Scaramucci as communications director. Spicer’s former deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, will now assume his job under Scaramucci. Scaramucci reportedly appeals to Trump as a glib, confident, and dogged defender. But whatever you think of Spicer and Sanders, they have not been an important reason for the bad press that President Trump has received. To the extent they lost credibility with journalists, it is because the president sent them to state obvious untruths — starting with a verifiably false claim about the size of the audience for his inaugural address. And nobody, however talented, is going to be able to adhere to a communications strategy when the president feels compelled to tweet his every stray thought. Scaramucci is a happy warrior who may find himself fighting unwinnable battles.

‐ Congressional Democrats announced their agenda for a “better deal,” a play on President Trump’s Art of the Deal. It includes a steep hike in the minimum wage, notwithstanding the piles of evidence that this policy would suppress job growth. The Democrats also say they would use the federal government’s power as the biggest customer of the pharmaceutical companies to drive drug prices down. Even the Congressional Budget Office, the source of so much liberal-friendly health-policy analysis, says this idea will not pay off. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi says that in terms of the party’s agenda the better deal “is not a course correction, but it’s a presentation correction.” You have to give her credit for truth in marketing — and the marketing, by her own admission, is all that’s new here.

‐ The White House hosted a “Made in America” week. There was a gorgeous display of products made in each of the 50 states and a boosterish speech from the president, who said: “When we purchase products made in the USA, the profits stay here, the revenue stays here, and the jobs — maybe most importantly of all — they stay right here in the USA.” Targeted tax credits and other schemes to encourage particular domestic business sectors, usually in manufacturing, have been part of nearly every presidential agenda and State of the Union address for a generation. The main result of these efforts is everybody complaining that GE takes advantage of tax provisions created to provide advantages to firms such as GE. The most insightful remark of the week came from Senator Rand Paul, who boasted of buying his own shirts at Walmart for $7 and noted that such low prices are indispensable to many Americans. Would that the federal government displayed such thrift. American manufacturers make some of the world’s finest products across a mind-boggling diversity of categories. They do not need cheap appeals to nationalist sentiment. But they could use some tax and regulatory reform.

‐ President Trump is considering imposing steel tariffs. Other countries are preparing retaliatory tariffs in the event Trump does so. But even if they draw no retaliation, tariffs would harm the national interest by raising costs for companies that use steel. Such companies form a much larger share of our economy, and employ more people, than steelmakers do. For both reasons, a broad coalition of businesses is cautioning against the tariffs. An added perplexity is that the law Trump may invoke authorizes tariffs only when needed for national-security reasons. Yet whenever he speaks of the tariffs, he justifies them as a way of protecting the steel industry from allegedly unfair competition. The national-security argument is, in other words, an obvious pretext. The steel industry faces foreign competitors offering lower prices than it would like. That’s not a national emergency.

‐ Attorney General Sessions announced his intention to end certain Obama-administration restrictions on civil asset forfeiture, a peculiar and problematic feature of American law enforcement. Government agencies seize property, often cash or vehicles, from Americans suspected of being involved in criminal activity, usually drug trafficking, often in cases in which those suspects are never even charged with a crime, let alone convicted. Police agencies are permitted to keep and enjoy the proceeds of their seizures, which creates an unseemly conflict of interest. And the federal government has engaged in a bureaucratic scheme called “equitable sharing” in order to get around state-level restrictions on civil forfeiture, in effect operating a federal money-laundering program to enable forfeiture cases that would otherwise be forbidden by state law. Rather than interfere with the government of the 13 states that have wisely chosen to require an actual criminal conviction before permitting asset forfeiture, Congress should follow the example of those states and enact similar reforms at the national level. Sessions is right that serious criminals ought to lose the fruits of their crimes. But we should charge and convict them first. This is a due-process question, and the process that is due in criminal cases is a criminal trial.

‐ Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the largest teachers’ unions in the U.S., has taken to peddling a popular slander of the school-choice movement, saying it emerged from opposition to school integration and remains a method of segregation. This is a common line of attack from anti-school-choice union leaders and their supporters, but in practice school choice has served precisely the opposite goal. Since the 1980s, increased school choice has enabled poor families, often African Americans, to remove their children from de facto segregated, low-income, poorly performing public schools and place them in private or charter schools, where they usually find greater success. School-choice opponents such as Weingarten are the ones who insist on segregation, punishing low-income students by forcing them to stay in their rigidly districted schools and denouncing policies that give minority families the freedom to find the best education for their children.

‐ Julius Krein, the young editor of a new journal, American Affairs, took the occasion of a review of Alvin Felzenberg’s new WFB bio to do an Oedipal dance on WFB’s grave. WFB was never that important, exerting “a significant degree of influence on only one president, Ronald Reagan,” and in any case his “conservative project” has suffered “political and intellectual collapse.” As for WFB’s influence, Krein is both wrong (WFB introduced Richard Nixon to Henry Kissinger) and ill judged: Even if your only president-bro was the one who won the Cold War, that’s pretty good as influence goes. As for conservatism’s long-term fate, T. S. Eliot and Russell Kirk told the tough truth long ago: There are no lost causes, because there are no gained causes. We have to make the case for liberty and good order in our day even as WFB did in his. Krein, who is capable of better things, might, if he achieves them, look back on this as the rest of us do on our callow effusions.

‐ At alarming rates, U.S. Army personnel are purchasing their own ammunition magazines prior to deployment. That’s because the Army’s official so-called Enhanced Performance Magazine (EPM) is far from reliable on the battlefield, and the soldiers know it. The Marine Corps and other branches of the U.S. military have switched to better-performing polymer magazines. The Army ought to do the same, the lower-cased kind of enhanced performance being the most important.

‐ “The Failing New York Times foiled U.S. attempt to kill the single most wanted terrorist, Al-Baghdadi,” Trump tweeted. “Their sick agenda over National Security.” The claim apparently came from a Fox News interview with General Tony Thomas, in which the official said an important lead had been “leaked in a prominent national newspaper” a week after a raid in mid 2015, tipping off Baghdadi. We hate to say it, but the Times’ response to this allegation was compelling: While the paper did publish some fresh details about the raid — three weeks, not one, after it happened — it was already publicly known by that point (because of a Pentagon press release, among other things) that the government had captured a member of Baghdadi’s inner circle. What’s more, the Times’ information had come from “United States government officials who were aware that the details would be published,” and the Pentagon did not object to the article’s publication. Don’t believe everything you read on Twitter.

‐ In a recent column, David Brooks of the New York Times meditated on the “cultural signifiers” of the upper middle class, which intimidate those outside it, a point that occurred to him when he sensed the anxiety of a less well-off friend whom he took to lunch at a gourmet Italian sandwich shop. “I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named Padrino and Pomodoro.” Snarkers left and right descended on Brooks, accusing him of the very class-consciousness he was trying to analyze. Americans are probably hardier folk than Brooks thinks, and the barriers to rising in the world, and to intermixing, are more porous here than elsewhere. But that barriers exist, and that manners and habits define and reinforce them, cannot be denied. Brooks was performing a service, especially for his upper-middle-class readers, for whom cosmopolitanism, which they believe abolishes snobbery and prejudice, can instead become a vehicle of it.

‐ In June, Rolling Stone published a laudatory profile of Tim Gill, a computer-software entrepreneur whom it described as “the Megadonor Behind the LGBTQ Rights Movement.” Now that same-sex marriage is the law of the land, Gill is turning his attention to defeating state-level legislation to shore up conscience protections for those who dissent from the new orthodoxy. The aim of his strategy, he told Rolling Stone, is “to punish the wicked.” In defense of the comment after it sparked some backlash, the author of the piece explained that in Gill’s view “the wicked” were not exclusively traditional Christians, but also any other believers, politicians, or activists who supported strengthening religious-freedom protections. In other words, Gill would like to punish not only the Christian baker who objects to providing a cake for a gay wedding but also anyone else who thinks he should be free to do so. Compromise and tolerance, it seems, are not among the goals of Gill’s movement.

‐ Every few years, some environmentalist tells us that we should stop having kids, for the planet’s sake. This time around the task fell to the academic journal Environmental Research Letters, which published a study claiming that for every child who never comes to exist in the developed world, Mother Earth is spared nearly 60 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year — making childlessness a far more helpful endeavor than living car-free (which saves a measly 2.4 metric tons of carbon per year), forsaking air travel (1.6), or eating a plant-based diet (0.8). The scientific problems with the study are numerous, as the economist Lyman Stone documented in the Federalist. The moral problem of trading someone’s life for lower carbon emissions is deeper, and more obvious.

‐ The Women’s March — which went from march to organization, apparently — tweeted out birthday greetings to Assata Shakur. As Joanne Chesimard, Shakur murdered a New Jersey state trooper, Werner Foerster. That was in 1973. She escaped prison and fled to Cuba, where she has been a guest of the Castros for all this time. She is on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list. She is also a folk hero on the left: a symbol of resistance and justice. A rapper named Common composed a piece for her: “A Song for Assata.” In 2011, Common was invited to the White House for an “Evening of Poetry.” Police organizations protested, remembering Foerster; President Obama brushed them off. At the White House, he made sure to give Common a big hug. The Left has invested heavily in the Assata Shakur myth, and related myths. It is important that people know she is on the FBI’s list and why.

‐ Few American activist organizations are more toxic and destructive than the Southern Poverty Law Center. Founded with the worthy goal of opposing the vicious white supremacy of the pre-civil-rights era, it has morphed into the worst sort of left-wing identity group. One of its modern specialties is allegedly defining which American organizations qualify as “hate groups,” and since it now carries the banner of LGBT rights, it has taken to labeling standard expressions of Christian sexual morality “hateful” or intolerant. That means Christian organizations such as the Alliance Defending Freedom — a Christian public-interest law firm that recently won a victory at the Supreme Court — are placed in the same category as vicious racist militias. The media dutifully report the SPLC’s designations, and Americans are thus treated to ridiculous headlines such as “Attorney General Jeff Sessions Criticized for Speaking to ‘Hate Group.’” The SPLC obviously has the right to say what it wants, but the media are under no obligation to listen.

‐ Republican celebrities are not many in number, but they exist. The GOP has boasted Charlton Heston, Cheryl Ladd, and Bruce Willis. There is also Kid Rock, the rap-rocker from Michigan. He is talking about running for the U.S. Senate. He has a non-absurd chance of winning. Nearby in Minnesota, there was Governor Jesse Ventura, formerly of the World Wrestling Federation, and there is Senator Al Franken, who came to fame as a comedian. And Donald Trump has led people to think of new possibilities. Some want Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to run for president. Some even want Franken. It would be snobbish to dismiss these ambitions, but prudent to sift them.

‐ Bar Harbor, Maine, currently in the throes of its summer tourism season, is so strapped for workers, it’s trying to hire Americans. The coastal town normally sees its shops, restaurants, tour boats, and the like staffed during the summer by guest workers imported under the H-2B visa program, which allows employers to bring in foreign laborers if they cannot find enough employees domestically. But the H-2B program has already reached its annual quota, so Bar Harbor employers are being forced to go native. How bad is the situation? Businesses “have gone so far as to offer higher wages to entice locals,” as Will Racke archly put it in the Daily Caller. H-2B advocates like to pretend that Ferris wheels and lobster shacks would go unmanned without squadrons of Guatemalans. But the simple and well-documented fact is that the H-2B program’s lax terms have created an incentive for employers to neglect American workers in favor of cheap foreign labor.

‐ New York City has in the past 25 years made great strides against violent crime, but things must be going even better than we’d thought: The city’s newest law-enforcement crusade targets the urban menace of unlicensed dog-walkers and pet-sitters. As with babysitting and similar chores, dog-walking and pet-sitting have long been part of an informal economy in which teenagers and other people not seeking regular employment earn a little extra money — sometimes money that is desperately needed by poor families. In theory, New Yorkers engaged in pet-sitting are engaged in small-animal boarding, which requires a license, along with such things as proof of tax compliance and workers’-compensation insurance. The city has not enforced this absurd requirement, because there’s not much benefit for the local authorities in suing enterprising teenagers and penniless immigrants. But the emergence of apps that simplify the process of connecting pet owners with pet minders has given regulators a much more attractive corporate target, and it is the app-makers that have been put on notice by the regulators. This is a common feature of regulatory bureaucracies: Consider how gun-control efforts are relentlessly focused on licensed firearms dealers and their customers, even as thousands of firearms cases and straw-buyer offenses go unprosecuted in the free-fire zone that is Chicago. Going after unlicensed dog-walkers in the Bronx is a lot of work, but technology companies have business hours and known addresses — and much larger bank accounts.

‐ Inmates in White County, Tenn., could reduce their sentences by 30 days if they underwent sterilization procedures, Judge Sam Benningfield stipulated in an order he issued back in May. According to a Nashville news outlet, 32 women have accepted the offer and received contraceptive implants, which usually cannot be removed except by a medical practitioner, and 38 men have volunteered for vasectomies, which can be hard to reverse. Benningfield said that he issued the order after consulting with the Tennessee Department of Health. A spokeswoman for the department tried to distance it from his appalling decision. He has justified it by saying that he hopes to encourage inmates, “when they do get out, to not be burdened by children.” His hope to break a “vicious cycle” of indigent, unemployed drug offenders traipsing through his courtroom carries a whiff of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s “three generations of imbeciles are enough.” So is one generation of judicial barbarity. Left and Right alike are disgusted. Benningfield cannot be removed from the bench too soon.

‐ For a second time, President Trump has certified that Iran is in compliance with the nuclear deal and given the regime in Tehran another 90 days of sanctions relief. The president apparently wants to allow his administration more time for an ongoing interagency review of the agreement. At this point, though, there’s not much to review. Iran is operating a larger number of advanced nuclear centrifuges than is allowed under the deal, it has exceeded its heavy-water cap, and it continues to refuse International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors access to its nuclear-research and military facilities — where, in all likelihood, they would find other violations in spades. In other words, it is in express violation of its commitments. This should come as no surprise, though. The regime in Tehran never had any intention of keeping its word, and the deal was never going to be an effective instrument for real, enforceable oversight of Iran’s nuclear activities. The advances that Iran has made in its nuclear program since 2015 will be extremely difficult — perhaps impossible — to roll back. But there is no reason the Trump administration should perpetuate the fantasy that Iran is abiding, or ever intended to abide, by the terms of the agreement.

‐ In June, the Senate voted, 97–2, to codify a series of sanctions against Russia imposed by President Obama in December 2016 and to impose a new package that took aim at Russia’s energy and defense sectors. At the end of July, the House passed, 419–3, a compromise version hammered out with Senate leaders. The tweaked bill leaves the central measures of the Senate draft in place, offers a bit more leeway for American companies to work with Russian entities on oil and gas projects, and adds sanctions targeting North Korea’s shipping industry and its use of forced labor abroad (key sources of revenue for its weapons programs). The White House is no fan of the legislation but has signaled that the president will accede to the compromise, which is almost certainly veto-proof. And he should. It’s worth remembering that it is because of the White House that Congress has chosen to reassert this authority. The president’s unwillingness to make firm commitments to keep President Obama’s sanctions in place or initially to pledge America’s continued support to its NATO obligations has created widespread anxiety. Republicans and Democrats agree — and almost unanimously — that this is no time to go wobbly on Russia.

‐ The Bolshoi Theater had prepared a ballet on the life of Rudolf Nureyev, one of the greatest dancers in history. On the eve of its premiere, it was canceled. Why? Tass reported that the Ministry of Culture had banned it. Nureyev was homosexual, and the ballet shows that. There are Russian laws to consider. Before the cancellation, there was a long conversation between the ministry and the theater. Yet both parties denied that the ministry had canceled the show. “A ban is not the ministry’s working style,” said a ministry spokesman. The Nureyev ballet is now scheduled for May. We’ll see if it comes off. In the meantime, we can say that Nureyev, and the art of ballet, for that matter, show a better side of Russia than the current regime.

‐ President Emmanuel Macron of France spoke at a ceremony commemorating the horrific event that took place in Paris under German occupation 75 years ago and is known familiarly as the Rafle du Vel’ d’Hiv. Without direct German involvement but with eager Nazi collaborators, the French rounded up in a single day 13,152 Jews, among them 4,051 children, held them in a sports stadium for almost a week, and then deported them to be murdered in Auschwitz. Jacques Chirac was the first French president to speak publicly about this atrocity, in effect apologizing in the name of the nation. Macron has gone further, declaring with undoubted sincerity that “anti-Zionism is the reinvented form of anti-Semitism.” Sharing the platform, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was visibly moved.

‐ “Salvador Dalí is forever,” cried embalmer Narcís Bardalet upon finding the deceased painter’s moustache perfectly preserved, the tips still pointed upward in their distinctive orientation. Spanish medical officials discovered the still-waxed whiskers during a scheduled exhumation of Dalí’s remains, interred in 1989 at his eponymous museum in Figueres, to settle a paternity lawsuit. Tarot-card reader Pilar Abel denies the common story that Dalí died childless, believing she is the product of an extramarital affair he conducted while married to Elena Diaranoff. Impulsive infidelity was not uncommon during their marriage, which was otherwise eccentric and bizarre: The couple lived apart during the later years of Diaranoff’s life, and Dalí could visit his wife at her Catalonia castle only upon receiving a written request. Like the man, the disentombment is steeped in controversy. Abel has little concrete evidence, relying instead on her looks — “the only thing I’m missing is a moustache” — and stories from her paternal grandmother to prove she deserves part of his plenteous estate. Representatives from Dalí’s foundation, on the other hand, are considering a countersuit over the cost of the exhumation, and the mayor of Figueres called it “grotesque.” The whole ordeal was, in a word, surreal.

‐ Announcements on London’s Tube have always referred to riders as “ladies and gentlemen.” No more: The phrase is being scrapped because authorities believe that it makes some people feel excluded. One by one, the graces die — and we salute them as they go.

‐ In April, nearly 200 students at Claremont McKenna College shut down a speech by Heather Mac Donald, the Manhattan Institute scholar. She is critical of the Black Lives Matter movement. This makes her a target. CMC has now disciplined seven of its students. Three were suspended for a year, two were suspended for a semester, and two were placed on “conduct probation.” Seven seems a puny number, and the punishments seem on the light side. But CMC has done more than most schools. And they have sent a message about true toleration and diversity on campus.

‐ Samuel Johnson said that when people going in opposite directions met in the narrow alleyways of 18th-century England, there were “those who gave the wall, and those who took it; the peaceable and the quarrelsome.” Dr. Seuss wrote of the incurably stubborn Zax, two of whom met head-on and stood immobile for decades, each refusing to yield to the other. Somewhere between these two is Greg Howard of the New York Times, an African American who complains that “when white women are in my path, they almost always continue straight, forcing me to one side without changing their course.” This makes Mr. Howard “turn furious,” and he says it happens only with white women. In an ideal world, which is not always an accurate description of New York City, everyone would keep to the right and no one would lose their temper over a crowded sidewalk.

‐ “Ay, tear her tattered ensign down . . .” So wrote 21-year-old Oliver Wendell Holmes (Sr.) in 1830, decrying a proposal to scrap the USS Constitution. When launched in the 1790s, she and five sister ships were among the world’s most advanced war vessels, using innovative technology to combine speed and firepower in a way that had been thought impossible. In the War of 1812, the young nation redeemed its spotty performance on land with several stirring victories at sea, most famously in the Constitution–Guerrière clash, during which (according to legend) a Yankee sailor saw a British shot bounce off the Constitution’s dense live-oak hull and shouted “Huzza! Her sides are made of iron!” Since then, the ship has been nicknamed “Old Ironsides.” Holmes’s plea helped save the ship from destruction, and it has remained on the U.S. Navy’s roster ever since. Now, after two years in dry dock for repairs, the Constitution is once again afloat at Boston’s Charlestown Navy Yard, giving new generations of Americans a chance to stand upon “her deck, once red with heroes’ blood / Where knelt the vanquished foe, / When winds were hurrying o’er the flood / And waves were white below . . .”

‐ The father of zombies has passed. George Romero, creator of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and a host of legendary zombie movies, died after a brief battle with lung cancer. Romero was the J. R. R. Tolkien of zombies. Without him, an entire industry wouldn’t exist. He brought to (un)life the hyper-violent, hyper-gory world of the zombie film as one part action movie, one part horror show, and two parts political allegory. And now zombies are everywhere. They sprint into our lives in World War Z and 28 Days Later, shuffle into our lives in The Walking Dead, make us cry in Warm Bodies, and make us laugh in Shaun of the Dead. Americans red and blue obsess over zombie shows and share their plans for surviving the zombie apocalypse. Zombies are one of the few truly unifying pop-culture phenomena. That wasn’t likely Romero’s goal when his first low-budget film sold out theaters from coast to coast, but that’s now part of his legacy. Rest in peace, George. Your rotting flesh-eaters are one of the last things left that we all seem to love.

‐ Joseph Rago of the Wall Street Journal was tall, modest, and smart — and he was just 28 when he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 2011 for his sharply argued attacks on Obamacare. They were “impossible to ignore,” raved the judges. “Not paying attention to these editorials was not an option for policymakers.” A native of Massachusetts who attended Dartmouth College, studied history, and edited the Dartmouth Review, Rago understood that the best opinion writing is based on solid reporting — and his editorials were marked by new information, careful analysis, and dry humor. He also showed impressive range, contributing skillful profiles of public figures to the Journal and writing a column on contemporary fiction for The New Criterion. It was possible to think that in time this young man would rise to become editor of the most important editorial page in the country, succeeding the likes of Vermont Royster, Robert L. Bartley, and Paul Gigot. On July 20, he was found dead in his Manhattan apartment, causes uncertain but foul play ruled out. Gone far too soon at 34. R.I.P.


Liu Xiaobo, Leader of China, R.I.P.

Liu Xiaobo was, in a sense, the leader of China. He was the country’s foremost proponent of freedom, democracy, and human rights. He thought that Communism was a gross imposition on China and that it could not last indefinitely if enough Chinese stood up against it.

On July 13, Liu Xiaobo died at 61. Apparently, the cause was liver cancer, plus years of torture and abuse in prison. He died surrounded by state agents, as he had lived much of his life.

Born in 1955, he became a scholar of literature. In 2008, he was a founder of Charter 08, the democracy movement patterned after Charter 77. Charter 77 was the movement in Czechoslovakia led by Václav Havel. Havel would become a major supporter of Liu’s.

Liu was imprisoned several times and received his last sentence on December 25, 2009. The next year, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded him the peace prize — in absentia, of course. Something similar happened in 1936. That year, the committee gave its prize to a political prisoner of the Nazis, Carl von Ossietzky.

Before his death, the Nazis transferred Ossietzky to a hospital, where he died surrounded by guards (in 1938). Just the same would happen to Liu Xiaobo, almost 80 years later.

As Liu was dying, his friends and allies were furious. Yu Jie, a dissident exiled in America, said the following: “In front of the world, Liu Xiaobo is being murdered by Xi Jinping,” the boss of the Chinese Communist Party. “Yet not a single Western political figure is condemning Xi Jinping. This is a sign of the complete failure of Western human-rights diplomacy.” Xi has been outstanding in his viciousness toward democracy-seekers.

The Communists cremated Liu and threw the ashes into the sea. They did not want a burial place for him; they did not want a place of commemoration or pilgrimage. Yet Chinese democrats have adopted the ocean itself as their symbol of freedom.

Between Liu Xiaobo and his Czech counterpart, Havel, there is this difference: Havel was able to emerge from prison to become president of his country. That fate has now been denied Liu. But at the time of his final prison sentencing, Liu said, “I believe that my work has been just, and that someday China will be a free and democratic society.”

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

In This Issue



Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

The Radical

Long after Henry David Thoreau’s death in 1862, Walt Whitman praised him for his “lawlessness -- his dissent -- his going his own absolute road let hell blaze all it ...


The Week

The Week

‐ George Romero, 1940 –2017. Rest in peace — please. ‐ The New York Times has revealed that, in June 2016, Donald Trump Jr. got an e-mail from Rob Goldstone, a ...
Politics & Policy


THE CUSP OF SUMMER Geese in skies are on the wing. The pointed flock, triangle-shaped, Announce with honks the start of spring When tall green trees are softly draped. Trumpeting starts off everything Once more. Black ...


A Bleak Future for Wage Growth Robert VerBruggen’s “conundrum” about wage-growth stalling (“A Wage-Growth Conundrum,” July 31) clears up when you realize that the categories of capital, labor, and productivity as ...

Most Popular

The Policing Crisis in New York City

On Tuesday afternoon in Manhattan, cops carried out a routine arrest of an 18-year-old New York activist who is suspected of disabling police cameras by spraying paint on them. The person is suspected of this for very good reason: There are videos starring the perpetrator carrying out the act in question. ... Read More

The Policing Crisis in New York City

On Tuesday afternoon in Manhattan, cops carried out a routine arrest of an 18-year-old New York activist who is suspected of disabling police cameras by spraying paint on them. The person is suspected of this for very good reason: There are videos starring the perpetrator carrying out the act in question. ... Read More