Magazine February 5, 2018, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

‐ We thought Cory Booker might be after the Democratic nomination in 2020, but apparently he’s campaigning for an Oscar.

‐ Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury has enraged both Trump loyalists and other journalists: the former because it depicts the president as big-league unsuited for his job; the latter because of its sloppy sourcing and because it has made a bigger splash than anything they have written. Wolff had access to the White House during the most chaotic days of the transition and the early administration; he cultivated some key insiders, notably ex-aide Steve Bannon; and he wrote down everything he was told. The result is a modern Suetonius: a dump of info, gossip, and too-good-to-check hearsay (“It’s a book about the impressions of people around [Trump],” says Wolff cagily). The big news get was Bannon’s calling Donald Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with assorted Russians “treasonous.” (It wasn’t; see John Marshall’s opinion on the law of treason in United States v. Burr, 1807.) Historians will be sifting the rest for years. And yet Wolff only iterates the obvious: Trump is a new, untried, and volatile thing. Whether he has (or develops) principles and a long view only time will tell.

‐ Steve Bannon, sometime Trump strategist, went up like a rocket but came down like a booster. Tensions between him and his boss had been growing for months, as Trump tired of his self-promoting leaks. Bannon’s “treasonous” comment got Trump to denounce him, saying he “not only lost his [White House] job, he lost his mind” and nicknaming him “Sloppy Steve.” Rebekah Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, cut him off. He lost his job at the helm of Breitbart. These blasts of disdain recalled theater-world hissy fits and the squabbles of courtiers at Versailles. The president and his followers are as magnanimous to their enemies as they are modest in victory. Bannon will recognize the mindset.

‐ The nascent Oprah-for-president campaign has ticked all the preliminary boxes: a stemwinder on the #MeToo moment by the putative candidate at the Golden Globes (“I want all the girls watching . . . to know that a new day is on the horizon”); chatter from operatives (Obama’s Iowa state director tweeted that he had some county chairs who would like to talk with her); a non-denial denial from best friend Gayle King, who says she is “very intrigued,” but . . . On the merits: Ms. Winfrey is a softball interviewer with a genius for connecting with audiences. She has, unfortunately, run with many a dubious guest or story — the health crank Jenny McCarthy, the preschool-Satanic-molestation panic. But these days, merits no longer matter. No wholehearted Trump backer can argue that lack of traditional qualifications is disqualifying; and no one else can say so and be heard, because the incumbent has demolished all standards. Go ahead, Oprah: A nation turns its logy eyes to you.

‐ Senator Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, announced that after serving longer than any previous Utah senator, he will refrain from seeking reelection in 2018. Mitt Romney is expected to run for his seat, and is heavily favored to win if he does. Because Romney was extremely critical of Trump during the 2016 primaries and refrained from endorsing him in the general election, many of Trump’s foes hope that he will use a Senate seat to attack Trump relentlessly. Yet Romney is bound to come down on the same side as Trump on many controversial issues, since Trump has now adopted many of the same views that Romney has held for a while. (Romney was against an amnesty for illegal immigrants back when Trump was for it, for example.) Some conservative Trump critics, meanwhile, want Romney to stand up for the values of the pre-Trump Republican party. The danger of that option is a rigid adherence to old dogmas. But it is a better role, and one that does not require knee-jerk opposition to every Trump initiative or tweet.

‐ There are two possible bad outcomes presented by Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s bid for the Republican nomination in the Arizona Senate race. The first is that he would lose the race, with Arizona’s Republicans joining Alabama’s in throwing away a winnable Senate seat. The second and arguably worse possibility is that he would win the race, something that would be bad for the country and catastrophic for conservatives. Arpaio is a convicted criminal, pardoned by President Trump. As sheriff, he was a serial abuser of his office and its police powers, arresting political critics and using police investigations to harass rivals, a habit that obliged Maricopa County taxpayers to pay out millions of dollars in settlements. Millions more were paid out in settlements related to horrifying abuse of prisoners in the lockup overseen by Sheriff Arpaio. Prisoners, including paralyzed and blind men, were sometimes beaten to death or suffocated under Arpaio’s watch. The publicity-loving former sheriff may make for great television on the cable-news outrage circuit, but he is comprehensively unfit for any office — unfit for the one he held, and unfit for the one he seeks.

‐ Chelsea Manning has announced his intent to challenge Senator Ben Cardin (Md.) in the Democratic primary. Manning, lest anyone forget, was convicted of violating the Espionage Act when he disclosed thousands of classified military documents to WikiLeaks. The disclosure caused an immediate diplomatic and military crisis as the United States sought to contain the damage; U.S. soldiers and sources were at profound risk. After his arrest, Manning announced that he was actually a transgender woman and since that time he has become a darling in some radical-progressive circles. He’s now a Caitlyn Jenner–style symbol of the sexual revolution. The voters of Maryland will likely be less impressed with Manning than attendees at campus panel discussions have been. While it’s an affront to the soldiers he betrayed that he’s free and running for office, there is one small measure of comfort. The campaign will present new opportunities to remind the public that while he’s now famous for being trans, the identity that truly matters is his status as a traitor.

‐ Widespread public protest against the jihadist regime in Tehran daily reminds us of the execrable Iran nuclear deal. Even without cheating, the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action would merely delay Iran’s development of atomic weapons while the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism acquires an industrial-strength nuclear-energy program and is enriched by tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief. But cheating has been inevitable given the deal’s illusory verification provisions. Obama navigated the JCPOA through Congress with the bipartisan help of Senators Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) and Ben Cardin, whose legislation undermined the Constitution’s treaty clause. The farce was complete with Corker-Cardin’s requirement that the president periodically certify Tehran’s compliance and the deal’s promotion of American national security — conditions that never obtained. In October, Trump rightly ended the certification sham. He now vows to withdraw altogether in April. So here comes Corker with another legislative “fix” of the deal, along with Democrats pushing an unconstitutional prohibition against presidential renunciation. It’s past time to reinstitute and toughen Congress’s sanctions as part of a determined policy to support regime change.

‐ Congress has a marijuana problem. It is this: Marijuana is legal for medical and recreational use in many states, California having joined their number in January — but marijuana is prohibited at the federal level. The George W. Bush administration argued, to the Supreme Court’s satisfaction, that the federal interest in regulating the drug trade among the states justifies federal intervention into wholly intrastate matters. Thus the federal government claims jurisdiction over marijuana that is grown, processed, sold, and consumed entirely within one state. The Obama administration directed the Department of Justice to forgo the prosecution of marijuana growers and retailers in those states where it is legal, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has a zealous commitment to fighting the war on drugs, has reversed that policy. Sessions argues that the Obama-era policy amounted to an unconstitutional rewriting of federal law rather than mere prosecutorial discretion. He may be correct in that, in which case Congress should act to devote federal resources to such genuinely federal questions as the interstate movement of marijuana and international drug trafficking. The Trump administration has promised to “get tough” on drugs. It should get smart, too.

‐ It turns out that even paranoids sometimes have enemies. An Obama-appointee federal judge has tossed out all criminal claims against Cliven Bundy related to his 2014 armed standoff with federal authorities. The reason? The government systematically withheld exculpatory evidence, including evidence that it displayed a shocking bias and imprudence in its dealings with the Bundy family. Most notably, the government had mocked and denied Bundy’s claims that federal agents had mistreated one of his sons and ringed his house with snipers. Oops. It turns out that Bundy’s claims were true, and the story was even worse than Bundy knew. A whistleblower came forward with claims that one of Bundy’s sons was abused and that snipers were present; there is also evidence that federal agents deliberately adopted an unnecessarily provocative approach, violated Bundy’s civil rights, and withheld FBI judgments that Bundy was not a threat. Federal judges do not lightly dismiss credible criminal complaints, and the Department of Justice’s excesses don’t excuse Bundy’s own misconduct, but his case teaches a number of valuable lessons. We cannot presume the government’s virtue. Sometimes even wild tales are true. And every American is entitled to the full protection of the U.S. Constitution.

‐ At 8:07 a.m. on a Saturday morning, an employee of Hawaii’s Emergency Management Authority accidentally sent out the following announcement: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Representative Tulsi Gabbard tweeted the truth — that this was a false alarm — twelve minutes later, but the erring agency did not fully retract its warning for another 26 minutes. Hawaii is no stranger to surprise attacks (cf. Pearl Harbor). But besides the dread of the occasion and the historical flashback, the mistake raises grave questions. A rogue state, armed with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, is only half an ocean away. Are our early-warning systems, both for the military and for civil defense, fully capable? What are the safeguards against future error? And are the commanders in Pyongyang and Washington as sober as their counterparts during the Cold War?

‐ President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen challenged a Wall Street Journal report that Trump had an affair in 2006 with porn performer Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels. Cohen said that Trump “vehemently denies any such occurrence,” and released a statement by Daniels calling it “absolutely false.” Daniels also denied the Journal’s report that Cohen paid her $130,000 to sign a non-disclosure agreement on the eve of the 2016 election. Daniels indisputably met Trump at a celebrity golf tournament (she posed for a photograph with him). Such are the consequences of going outside the box: You find presidents who have hung out with C-list celebrities like porn stars in order to establish their reputations as bon vivants and B-list celebrities. Do political hacks really look so bad by contrast?

‐ Trump tweeted an attack on the “Deep State Justice Department” for allegedly refusing to properly investigate Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin. While there is much to criticize about the FBI’s handling of the entire Clinton-email controversy — including exonerating her under a made-up legal standard — this is a lamentable tweet. Trump, lest he has forgotten, is the president of the United States and thus the head of all the executive-branch agencies, including the Department of Justice. The DOJ is under his authority and led by his political appointees. While no president should prejudge the criminal guilt of any American citizen, it is up to Trump’s appointees, not some shadowy “deep state,” to prioritize FBI investigations. If the Department of Justice fails to adequately investigate any matter while Trump is president, the ultimate responsibility rests with him, not with the bureaucrats whom he commands.

‐ When Barack Obama exercised his “prosecutorial discretion” to implement Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and shield hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens from potential deportation, it was an act of sheer executive power-grabbing: The president usurped the power to make immigration law because the Constitution’s designated lawmakers had refused to cooperate. Surely, then, a measure implemented “without proper statutory authority,” resting only upon the whims of the executive branch, could be rolled back by the next chief executive, Donald Trump? Not according to William Alsup, a federal judge in San Francisco. In early January, Alsup ruled that Trump, in fact, did not have the power to reverse an Obama executive order and that Trump’s decision to end DACA was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or not otherwise in accordance with law.” No rational understanding of our constitutional order, the doctrine of separation of powers, or the peaceful transfer of executive authority can support Alsup’s legal gymnastics, and the Supreme Court is sure to agree quickly when the Trump administration’s appeal reaches it.

‐ A critical foreign-intelligence-collection program wended its way to congressional renewal, though not without Trumpian Twitter drama. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) authorizes the government to seize communications of non-Americans outside the United States. The National Security Agency calls Rule 702 its “most significant tool” for detecting terrorist threats; it has been instrumental in the capture of high-ranking jihadists and in the gathering of information on such threats as Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. With the expiration date nearing, the White House announced strong support for reauthorization; yet there has been opposition by groups that seek to impose additional privacy restrictions. Moments after a televised tirade along these lines by a poorly informed legal analyst on Fox and Friends, President Trump tweeted in opposition to the “controversial FISA ACT,” falsely claiming it had been used to spy on his campaign. After an intervention by House speaker Paul Ryan, who explained that Section 702 is primarily a tool for foreign surveillance, Trump reversed himself, urging the House to “Get Smart!” by passing the renewal, which it did . . . only after the tweet nearly wrecked a bipartisan reauthorization deal. Sigh.

‐ The Trump administration plans a substantial expansion of offshore oil drilling and will consider approving new operations in the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Gulf of Mexico — but not off the coasts of Florida, which Republican governor Rick Scott has prevailed on Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to exempt from the expansion. Critics have raged that the Florida carve-out is nothing more than Trump looking out for his own financial interests (especially Mar-a-Lago) or throwing a sop to a swing state with an eye on 2020. We are skeptical of such claims. It might simply be that Governor Scott is persuasive and that the Trump administration is much more likely to defer to Scott — a very successful and fabulously wealthy businessman prior to his political career — than it is to listen to Governor Moonbeam in California. And it’s worth keeping in mind that the recent announcement is far from the last word on expanding offshore drilling: Each project has to be individually considered before approval, a process that incorporates input from the public as well as from state and local leaders. That being said, environmentally responsible offshore drilling should be under the widest consideration. Governor Scott’s concerns about Florida’s tourist-friendly beaches are not without merit (and neither are Governor Brown’s in California), but much offshore drilling occurs miles out to sea, far out of sight of beachgoers and residents of waterfront condos. There’s no obvious reason to forgo the responsible development of those resources.

‐ “Drain the swamp!” they cried. And then they proposed . . . bringing back earmarks, the ancient wheel-greasing practice by which members of Congress designate funds for individual projects (usually in their districts or involving politically connected businesses) rather than funding federal operations and leaving the project-approval process up to the relevant agencies. President Trump suggested that earmarks would encourage comity in a system that today “lends itself to hostility and anger.” Banning earmarks was a hard-fought conservative victory, one that took a few bridges to nowhere to win. Washington is supposed to be adversarial and, while we would welcome a more collegial spirit in Congress, we do not think having legislators bribe one another with our money is the best way to achieve it.

‐ The Trump administration has issued guidance allowing states to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients, which would mandate that individuals work or prepare for a job in order to receive Medicaid benefits. While this guidance is consistent with relevant law, and some governors are interested in imposing these requirements, allowing them to do so likely won’t have the intended effect of substantially reducing the welfare state, primarily because the threat to deny medical care to those who violate the policy isn’t plausible. Even at its best, such a change might save a few states a small amount of money and make a few people less dependent on government. But it would be much more effective to instead impose work requirements at the federal level on recipients of food stamps. The experience of welfare reform shows that work requirements can help people get back on their feet, but they should be deployed where we have reason to think that they would, well, work.

‐ Ajit Pai has become an unlikely hate figure for the Left. His offense, as head of the Federal Communications Commission, is to have successfully pushed for the recent rollback of a set of Obama-era regulations known as “net neutrality.” (Pai believes that the regulations, imposed by the FCC in 2015, were a harmful response to a problem that didn’t exist, and that they circumvented Congress’s proper role.) In response, he has faced vitriolic and at times racist abuse online (urged on by lightly informed celebrities such as HBO host John Oliver), the picketing of his home by “resistance” groups, and multiple death threats over the past year. In January, such threats reportedly caused Pai to withdraw from a tech-industry conference where he was scheduled to speak. National media, by and large, have reacted to this disgraceful treatment with a shrug. It’s hard to imagine that that would be their posture if Pai were a Democratic appointee.

‐ Google has a new “fact checking” feature: When you search for a particular media outlet, a box featuring “reviewed claims” might appear on your screen. Search for the Daily Caller, a conservative website, and Google suggests that the site has falsely claimed that everyone Robert Mueller has hired supported Hillary Clinton. But the Daily Caller did not claim any such thing in the article to which Google links. The quote that Google provides in its box did not appear in the Daily Caller. Another conservative website, the Federalist, got the same treatment. So far, Google’s feature has been fair to NR. But its results suggest a lean to the port side, and away from the factual accuracy that is supposed to be the point of this exercise.

‐ Steven Pinker is a Harvard professor, an accomplished cognitive psychologist, and the author of several popular-science books. But the hard Left has been suspicious of him, perhaps because he dares to suggest that men and women have meaningful biological differences or urges his fellow academics to resist the political correctness plaguing American universities. When video surfaced of Pinker saying that some in the alt-right are “highly literate” and “highly intelligent,” then, his critics rushed to condemn him. “Steven Pinker has long been a darling of the white supremacist [movement],” wrote one, “and now he returns the favor.” Social-media outrage added to the chorus. In the remainder of Pinker’s remarks, he said that even the “repellent” views of the alt-right need to be met with “powerful counterarguments” rather than righteous indignation. The critics did not hear that advice, and would never heed it anyway.

‐ Mark’s Pizzeria is a restaurant chain in central and western New York state. It used to have more than 40 outlets, but now the chain has shrunk to 29. Hard times? Nope — it’s New York’s new minimum-wage law, which requires chains with 30 or more outlets to pay their workers $15 an hour; under 30, and it’s $11.75. So a few outlets were closed, and a dozen more were renamed (often as “Mike’s”) and restructured as independent entities, and now the chain can legally pay workers what they’re actually worth. New York’s ruling Democrats think every business owner is Scrooge McDuck, but in fact most are like the owner of Mike’s (formerly Mark’s) Pizzeria in Skaneateles, who told “It was $5 an hour when I started and I worked my way up, making more money, because I work hard. . . . I have no problem paying someone well, but when you’re training someone who’s never had a job before — why should I have to pay them $15 an hour?” New York politicians’ “generosity” will lead to higher prices, fewer entry-level jobs, and fewer benefits for workers.

‐ The United States has opened its new embassy in London. The president of the United States was to be featured at the ceremony. But he was a no-show. He tweeted, “Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for ‘peanuts,’ only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!” It was left to Trump’s ambassador to London, Robert “Woody” Johnson, to correct the record. The new embassy was ordered by the administration of George W. Bush, because of security concerns. The Age of Terror meant new embassies throughout the world. Moreover, the one in London “did not cost the U.S. taxpayer a cent,” as Johnson explained. The money was raised by selling off other U.S. properties in London. Evidently, Trump canceled his trip to London because he did not want to deal with large demonstrations against him. He then concocted this tale about the embassy and a “bad deal.” As our British friends would say, bad form.

‐ Muhammad bin Salman, the 32-year-old crown prince and Saudi Arabia’s effective ruler, appears to want to modernize his country in relation to women. Until now, women have been denied the rights of men. It’s a step towards closing the gender gap that, as from June, women will be permitted to drive a car. Women have not been allowed hitherto to watch soccer matches and only a couple of years ago a woman who disguised herself as a man was arrested. It’s another small step towards emancipation that the main stadiums in Jeddah, Riyadh, and Dammam have a new layout with a “family” section, although women still have to be accompanied by their menfolk. Quite a number of old-guard imams think too many unnecessary concessions have already been made. If they succeed in blocking reform, Muhammad bin Salman will seem just another who lost his way in the Arab Spring.

‐ Golden Lampstand Church was a “megachurch” in China’s Shanxi Province. More than 50,000 Christians worshiped there. It cost nearly $3 million to build, and that money was contributed by the worshipers, who live in one of the poorest areas of the country. Now the Chinese government has dynamited it. In an excellent report, the New York Times said this: “Under President Xi Jinping, the government has destroyed churches or removed their steeples and crosses as part of a campaign that reflects the Communist Party’s longstanding fear that Christianity, viewed as a Western philosophy, is a threat to the party’s authority.” About this, the party is right.

I, Tonya, a biopic of sometime Olympic skater Tonya Harding, racked up three nominations, one of them a winner, at the Golden Globes. Harding won infamy after her ex-husband and bodyguard hired a third thug to kneecap rival skater Nancy Kerrigan on the eve of the 1994 Winter Olympics. (Kerrigan, bruised, won the silver medal anyway.) Harding avoided jail time by pleading guilty to a minor charge but was banned from skating; she bounced through abortive careers as an actress, singer, and boxer. The movie depicts her sympathetically, as a victim of her blue-collar origins. One fellow skater, John Weir, wasn’t having any of it, tweeting, “I am so over the glamorization of a villain simply because she was born on the ‘wrong side of the tracks.’ While [Harding’s] upbringing may have been tragic, athletes come from all walks of life and succeed based on merit, not assault.” One way to rise from the trash can is to stop behaving like trash — a lesson Harding, and Hollywood, have yet to learn.

‐ Down 13–0 at halftime, Alabama scored 20 points in the second half to tie the game and send it to overtime. The Georgia Bulldogs’ go-ahead field goal was answered by Tua Tagovailoa’s 41-yard touchdown pass to DaVonta Smith, who sealed the win for the Crimson Tide in the 2018 NCAA Division I FBS national-championship game. Final score: 26–23. Alabama’s claim to being the most illustrious football program in American history has been further cemented. In the 1960s and ’70s, Bear Bryant coached Alabama to six national championships. Nick Saban, named head coach in 2007, trails him by one but will pass him if he continues at his current pace, having won the national championship on average every other season, twice in the past three. A proponent of “the process,” as he calls it, Saban stresses infinite concentration on the play at hand rather than the scoreboard. Good advice also for those of us outside the white lines.

‐ “Men Needed!” read the notice on social media. Students at Billy Earl Dade Middle School in Dallas were invited to bring their fathers to a “Breakfast with Dads,” but what about the kids who had no father to ask? “There is nothing like having a male present in the form of a mentor,” the message continued. Men who had “some flexibility in their schedule” and could donate an hour of their time were urged to volunteer. The goal was 50 men. Six hundred responded. The absence of fathers is a growing problem associated with a bundle of bad outcomes for the children affected. That form of male social pathology is all too familiar. Its opposite, the readiness of some men to step up and be a supportive presence in the life of children or adolescents, may be underreported, to judge from the recent experience of the Billy Earl Dade Middle School. Bravo to the Dallas 600.

‐ On March 3, 1939, Lothrop Withington Jr., an undergraduate at (can you guess? yes, that’s right) Harvard, gulped down a live goldfish to promote his campaign for class president. Although this stunt unaccountably failed to win him the election, it ignited a trend that swept the nation, with students competing furiously to down dozens of goldfish in a sitting. Withington went on to train Army pilots in World War II and was one of the first to fly a helicopter, but swallowing goldfish is all anyone remembers him for. Today’s Millennials will be lucky to achieve even that much with their Tide Pod Challenge, in which someone bites into a plastic pod of laundry detergent and then does his best to spit it out, posting the results on YouTube to preserve them for posterity. No, we don’t get it either. Meanwhile, trendy health enthusiasts are drinking unfiltered, untreated “raw water,” collected straight from nature (lakes, streams, wells, puddles), with all the crisp texture, refreshing taste, nutrients, dirt, dog urine, and parasites left intact. The spread of hepatitis among raw-water drinkers shows that this fad has gone viral in more ways than one.

‐ In college in Cleveland, Bruce Cole fell in love with Italian Renaissance art. In graduate school at Bryn Mawr, he wrote his dissertation on an obscure 14th-century Florentine painter. Oxford University Press published it as a book. It was probably “of interest to ten people,” he later remarked, explaining his decision to cleanse his writing of scholarly jargon and reach a wider readership. He succeeded, in more than a dozen books, which led to his appointment to the advisory council of the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2001, President Bush plucked him from Bloomington, where he had taught at Indiana University for 28 years, and appointed him NEH chairman. Over the course of what became the longest chairmanship in NEH history, he launched programs to strengthen the teaching of humanities to youth and to increase the public’s exposure to American art. Appointed by President Obama to the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, Cole defended Ike’s memory against the insult of the Frank Gehry design. He was a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center when he died suddenly, at age 79, the dean of Washington humanists. R.I.P.

‐ “Never be afraid to turn a phrase,” Keith Jackson was taught early in his career. “If listeners don’t know what it means, they’ll look it up.” After calling NCAA games on radio for a decade, he moved to ABC in 1966 and settled into a 42-year stint as the network’s, and America’s, voice of college football, although he ranged widely. He called Monday Night Football, the Summer Olympics, and Major League Baseball, including Reggie Jackson’s three-home-run game in the 1977 World Series. Before joining ABC, Jackson helped cover the 1964 Republican National Convention for CBS. Born and raised in Georgia, near the Alabama border, he once noted that great national sports announcers — his examples were Red Barber and Mel Allen — hailed disproportionately from his “neighborhood.” They knew how to charm their audience, lacing their play-by-play with “southern vernacular,” as he called it, that sparkling jewel of American English. From his great-grandfather, who was not afraid to turn a phrase, Jackson learned “Whoa, Nellie,” his signature on-air exclamation. Dead at 89. R.I.P.



The latest all-consuming Trump controversy was over his remarks in an Oval Office meeting that he doesn’t want people coming here from “sh**hole” countries (although he probably said “sh**house” countries, for those who are sticklers for accuracy when it comes to presidential vulgarity).

There are many reasons a president shouldn’t say such a thing. It is disparaging to people in the United States who are from these countries. It is insulting to the leaders of those countries, for no good reason. And, inevitably, it will serve to make it even harder to pass a serious restrictionist agenda.

Of course, many of the countries that Trump was talking about — the accounts are fuzzy, but reports suggest he was talking about sub-Saharan African nations, and perhaps Haiti and El Salvador — really are basket cases. One argument from the left for not sending back beneficiaries of so-called Temporary Protected Status to Haiti and El Salvador is that those nations are so terribly dysfunctional and violent.

Trump’s statement came in the context of a discussion of the fate of the visa lottery in a proposed DACA deal. The lottery is one of our worst immigration programs, randomly selecting people to come here who have no connection to the country and then opening up a continuing stream of immigrants behind them through chain migration. The program should simply be abolished. The idea presented to Trump by Senators Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) would, to the contrary, reallocate visas to keep beneficiaries of TPS here and sprinkle visas among various Third World countries.

This is what set Trump off. He wondered why we instead can’t bring in immigrants from a place like Norway, presumably having that country on his mind after a visit this week by the country’s prime minister. This has been taken as Trump’s admission that he wants white immigrants instead of dark-skinned ones. What he was almost certainly trying to get at, in his typically confused way, is that we’d be better off with immigrants with higher skills (he also mentioned Asia as a welcome source of immigrants).

This is the thrust of his proposed reforms of legal immigration — to put a greater emphasis on skills. If such a system is ever implemented, it will probably shift the composition of our immigration away from Latin America and toward South and East Asia (not the Nordic countries). This would make for a more rational system and one with a more diverse flow of immigrants than under the status quo.

Where does this fracas leave DACA? The Durbin-Graham proposal was a non-starter in other ways. It would have given a full amnesty not just to the relatively narrow category of DACA recipients (roughly 700,000 people) but to the broader population of so-called DREAMers, possibly covering a couple of million people. On top of this, it would give a version of amnesty to the parents of the DREAMers.

In exchange, the proposed deal had almost nothing for restrictionists. The changes in chain migration would have been minor and affected only the population getting the amnesty. Meanwhile, the spending on border security would have been a relative pittance.

We would be happy with a straight-up trade of a DACA amnesty, even one broadly defined, for a mandatory E-Verify system for employers making new hires, one that would help dry up the jobs magnet for illegal immigrants. But that’s apparently not in the offing, nor, to judge from the fallout of the s***hole controversy, is any deal worth supporting.

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

In This Issue



Books, Arts & Manners




For What It’s Worth President Trump’s comment on the pricing of the United States Post Office (discussed in the Week, January 22) is based on a common misconception of what constitutes ...
The Week

The Week

‐ We thought Cory Booker might be after the Democratic nomination in 2020, but apparently he’s campaigning for an Oscar. ‐ Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury has enraged both Trump loyalists ...


DISASTER RELIEF Three cuts I’ve gotten from the box knife’s blade, and needlessly I wonder — will they heal? as we remove debris for those who stayed. My last guess in the word game ...

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Goodbye, Green New Deal

What will happen next with the coronavirus epidemic is unknown, but it seems certain to claim one very high-profile victim: the so-called Green New Deal. Good riddance. The current crisis in the U.S. economy is, in miniature but concentrated form, precisely what the Left has in mind in response to climate ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Goodbye, Green New Deal

What will happen next with the coronavirus epidemic is unknown, but it seems certain to claim one very high-profile victim: the so-called Green New Deal. Good riddance. The current crisis in the U.S. economy is, in miniature but concentrated form, precisely what the Left has in mind in response to climate ... Read More

Will Biden Live Up to His Own Principles?

In the midst of the Democrats’ campaign to deny Brett Kavanaugh confirmation to the Supreme Court, Lawfare’s editor in chief, Benjamin Wittes, took to the pages of The Atlantic to argue that traditional concepts of due process were not applicable under the circumstances. Justice, he wrote, was merely an ... Read More

Will Biden Live Up to His Own Principles?

In the midst of the Democrats’ campaign to deny Brett Kavanaugh confirmation to the Supreme Court, Lawfare’s editor in chief, Benjamin Wittes, took to the pages of The Atlantic to argue that traditional concepts of due process were not applicable under the circumstances. Justice, he wrote, was merely an ... Read More