Magazine | April 2, 2018, Issue

The Week

• Rex T. goes the way of T. rex.

• Trump forged new ground in awkward breakups with cabinet officials by firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over Twitter. Tillerson responded by pointedly not thanking the president when delivering remarks on his exit. The graceless manner of the former ExxonMobil CEO’s ouster aside, this is a welcome move. Tillerson is an accomplished and good man who never clicked with the president and who never really established himself as secretary of state. He didn’t have a constituency in his own building, on Capitol Hill, among the press, or at the White House. His designated replacement, CIA director Mike Pompeo, is smart, has proven he can run a large organization, has a good relationship with Trump, and largely shares the president’s worldview. He has a much better chance of a success than his ill-used predecessor.

• The Children’s Crusade was a medieval movement, embellished in legend, that hoped to regain the Holy Land for Christendom by marching there and converting the Saracens; the crusaders got no farther than Italy. Liberals revived the phrase, as a term of praise, when college kids campaigned in New Hampshire for Eugene McCarthy in 1968. The latest children’s crusade has been the survivors of the Parkland shooting, opining on gun control and, increasingly, other subjects. The testimony of eyewitnesses, of whatever age, always has special authority. When witnesses of horrors are young, we feel special empathy: Life is hard, but can’t we take it in doses, over time? But political problems have to be resolved by political means: by those old enough to vote, led, or at least advised, by those with the greatest knowledge of the world. N.B.: The Saracens stayed in the Holy Land, and Eugene McCarthy never made it to the White House.

• During a chaotic televised meeting, called to discuss responses to the shooting in Parkland, President Trump momentarily changed his position on the Second Amendment. Surrounded by senators from both parties, Trump took shots at the National Rifle Association, said he was happy to confiscate guns without due process, and seemed open even to the coveted reforms of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) including the prohibition of the most commonly purchased rifle in America. When Trump later released his plan, normal service had been resumed. Not only were the president’s proposals wholly consistent with the Second Amendment, they were admirably thoughtful. If passed into law, the package would improve the existing background-check system, provide funds for school safety, and encourage the states to institute gun-violence restraining orders against people deemed, after a judicial procedure, too threatening to own weapons. Trump’s approach mirrors that of Marco Rubio, who seemed open to more draconian restrictions in the immediate aftermath of the massacre in Florida but has now scaled back his ambitions. Rubio’s plans largely line up with the president’s, but he is also introducing a bill that would require the FBI to notify local law enforcement when a prohibited person tries to buy a gun and is rejected — a good idea that will lead to the prosecution of serial offenders. It took a while, but cooler heads seem now to be prevailing.

• The scale of the failure of the Broward County sheriff’s department will long be studied. So, too, will be Sheriff Israel’s startling lack of leadership — and his startling lack of self-awareness to boot. At CNN’s hastily arranged “town hall” a few days after the massacre, Israel flitted back and forth between blaming the NRA and the Republican party for their failure to impose the policies he prefers and defensively insisting, whenever his own conduct was examined, that “only the shooter was to blame.” Looking back, this was predictable behavior, for Israel knew by the time of the town hall that his department had missed a series of warning signs and that his deputy had stood impotently outside the school when the shots began to ring out — and he knew therefore that he had to inoculate himself against the grieving audience before him. How long he can keep this up now that emotions are more even is anybody’s guess. The sheriff is an important part of America’s law-enforcement architecture precisely because sheriffs are accountable to the people they serve. Israel believes, as he told Jake Tapper, that he did an “amazing” job. Do the people of Broward County? If they do not, they must send him packing the first chance they get.

• In response to the Parkland massacre, President Trump held a private discussion with representatives of the video-game industry, as well as lawmakers and prominent industry critics. We’re afraid he’s entered the wrong castle in search of Bowser: The evidence linking video-game violence to real-life violence is tenuous at best — indeed, a decades-long crime decline began during the gory ’90s heyday of Doom and Mortal Kombat — and at any rate the Supreme Court has taken any serious effort to regulate game violence off the table, even where minors are concerned. The gaming industry, like the movie and music industries before it, has already developed a rating system to warn parents of inappropriate material. Some video games contain shockingly violent or otherwise depraved material, just as some movies do, and the two forms of media should meet the same response: Parents should use the tools at their disposal to keep their young kids away, and perhaps adults should find more spiritually enriching things to do with their time, but the government should butt out.

• A special election for a Pennsylvania U.S. House seat was too close to call the morning after the vote, but Democrat Conor Lamb was ahead. The press spun this result as very bad news for Republicans, since President Trump won the district by double digits in 2016. Some Republicans were inclined to blame the close margin on a lackluster campaign by Rick Saccone. But the press has the story basically right, painful as it may be for Republicans to admit it. Democrats are much more eager to vote than Republicans are right now, and there are a lot of Saccones in Republican ranks. A blue wave may be forming, and congressional Republicans had better keep hold of their life jackets.

• Hillary Clinton, at various times, has blamed Russia, James Comey, the DNC, voter suppression, the Electoral College, and even Anthony Weiner for her 2016 defeat. In a March speech in India, she added another culprit: you, and all the other supposedly backward-looking, dumb, racist Americans in the middle of the country. “I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward,” Hillary argued. Trump won the yokels who “don’t like black people getting rights” or “women getting jobs.” Oh, and she was betrayed by “married, white women” who succumbed to the “ongoing pressure to vote the way that your husband, your boss, your son, whoever, believes you should.” All in all, Mrs. Clinton has not done a good job of explaining the reasons she lost. She continues to excel at illustrating them.

• The Nunes memo and the less famous but just as important Grassley-Graham memo prompted Attorney General Jeff Sessions to announce that he had asked Inspector General Michael Horowitz to investigate the conduct of FBI and Justice Department officials in the FISA-court proceedings against former Trump-campaign adviser Carter Page. This decision set off President Trump’s latest tweet tirade at his own attorney general (“DISGRACEFUL!”). Horowitz, Trump groused, is “an Obama guy.” In fact, Horowitz is a career prosecutor with a reputation for probity and independence who has been assigned to high-level positions by administrations of both parties. While we have urged that Sessions appoint a strong U.S. attorney from outside Washington to conduct a full-blown probe of the investigations that became intertwined in the politics of the 2016 election, Trump appears unaware that internal investigations are legally required if Justice Department officials are accused of misconduct. His statements make the investigation of FISA abuses more challenging to conduct. They are also making it increasingly difficult to recruit, confirm, and retain high-quality appointees — of whom, we would remind the president, Jeff Sessions is one.

• In private remarks to GOP donors, President Trump commented on the Chinese parliament’s recent abolition of presidential term limits. Xi Jinping, said Trump, is “now president for life. President for life. . . . And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great.” In 1797, George III said that George Washington’s decision to step down after two terms made him “the greatest character of the age.” George III was perhaps a slow learner, but he seemed to understand men and civic virtue better than Washington’s current successor does.

• Democrats salivate at the thought of turning Texas blue. The fact that the state’s Republican margin narrowed considerably between 2012 and 2016 — Mitt Romney won it by 16 points, Trump by 9 — has given them new hope. Now they are hyping the possibility that liberal Representative Beto O’Rourke will defeat Senator Ted Cruz’s reelection bid this November. Never say never, especially after 2016, but . . . Cruz just won more than twice as many votes as O’Rourke even though the Republican primary was not seriously contested; the senator is comfortably ahead in the polls; and O’Rourke seems more interested in thrilling liberals than in winning over a conservative-leaning state. He recently said AR-15s should be banned, while also saying he has no idea how that idea polls. Senator Cruz should see to it that Texans educate him on that point, among others.

• You could not call it a victory tour, because Steve Bannon, the guest, was fired from the White House, and Marine Le Pen, his host, lost the last French election. But there they were together, presenting themselves as heralds of the future. Bannon praised the victors in Italy’s most recent election, the Five Star Movement and the (formerly Northern) League, who have yet to form a government. Missing from his European tour: Britain, where Brexit is being managed not by Nigel Farage’s UKIP but by the oldest political party in the world, the Tories. Europe’s problems are worse than ours — a grasping transnational bureaucracy, vastly greater numbers of refugees and illegal immigrants, Vladimir Putin in the backyard. Europe’s solutions historically have been worse than ours as well, running to oppression and warfare. If Bannon were a true nationalist, he would stay home and read Hamilton and Jefferson, Washington and Lincoln, and not do stand-up for foreign crackpots.

• It turns out that Women’s March organizers have a soft spot for Jew-hating weirdo Louis Farrakhan, the pseudo-Muslim hatemonger whose cracked faith insists that white people were invented by an evil magician living on the island of Patmos. Farrakhan traffics in the rankest anti-Semitism: He recently gave a speech warning “Satanic Jews” that “your time is up.” Women’s March organizers including Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez, and Tamika Mallory all were present at the 2015 rally in which Farrakhan told his followers that Jews were behind 9/11 and secretly control the U.S. government. Perez called it “an unforgettable special evening.” Sarsour remains remarkably silent about the condition of women living under, say, sharia law in the Middle East. What Farrakhan represents isn’t a movement — it’s a scam. The same may very well be true of the leaders of the Women’s March.

• In a long profile, the New York Times assesses, with a few reservations, Al Sharpton’s claim to be “the Martin Luther King of the North.” Showman, grafter, stormy petrel: but Martin Luther King? “I was the one,” Sharpton explains, “that could bring the King movement into the Northern, urban centers.” The profile recounts his role as confrontational spokesman at Howard Beach (1986), Bensonhurst (1989), and the death of Trayvon Martin (2012). It also recounts his promotion of Tawana Brawley: In 1987, Brawley, age 15, said she had been raped by a state trooper and an assistant district attorney, Steven Pagones. No one raped her; Pagones successfully sued Sharpton for defamation; supporters paid Sharpton’s damages. The profile does not mention Sharpton’s agitation at Crown Heights (1991) and Freddy’s Fashion Mart (1995), which brought in its wake the murders of innocent bystanders. Sharpton says his current project is to raise money for a civil-rights museum in Harlem. “It’s going to cost me $50 to $100 million,” he says, “me” in that sentence meaning donors gullible enough to put up the money. Don’t expect the books to be transparent.

• Health insurers who participate in Obamacare’s exchanges continue to clamor for “stabilization” subsidies, and the Trump administration and some Senate Republicans are eager to provide them. The Obamacare law required the insurers to give discounts to low-income customers, but Congress never appropriated the money to reimburse the insurers for the cost. The Obama administration reimbursed them anyway. So did the Trump administration, temporarily, but then it reversed course. The insurers therefore feel that the feds have gone back on a deal with them. They have a bit of a point. But it’s also true that when you sign up for a political program, you take on political risk. The Congressional Budget Office has found that without the payments, premiums will rise, but subsidies will rise to match. So most consumers would not be adversely affected but the budget would be. Whether Congress should make these payments to the insurers is a matter on which different conservatives can make different reasonable judgments. But Republicans should maintain a bright-line principle against any subsidies for plans that cover abortion. If Democrats refuse to let the subsidies go forward without abortion funding, so be it.

• Democrats unveiled a tax-and-infrastructure plan. Their proposal undoes three features of the tax law that President Trump signed in December: its cut to the top income-tax rate, its exemption of many families from the alternative minimum tax, and its raising of the threshold for an estate subject to tax. It would also partially undo the law’s cut to the corporate-tax rate. The new law takes it from 35 to 21 percent; the Democrats would move it to 25 percent. It’s a bad plan that would reduce incentives to work, save, and invest. But it’s also a plan that fails to touch many of the provisions of the law that Democrats have spent the last year condemning, such as the cap on the deduction for state and local taxes and the generous treatment of pass-through businesses. Nor do the Democrats take the opportunity to rectify another allegedly grave sin of the law, its time limit on middle-class tax cuts. One begins to wonder whether they were completely on the level.

• The Dodd-Frank financial-regulation law laid onerous new requirements on American banks and financial institutions, and a bipartisan bill working its way through Congress would offer some relief. The key provisions have to do with how banks calculate their “supplementary capital ratios,” meaning the capital cushion they are required to hold in the interest of making their businesses more stable in the face of unpredictable economic events — say, an unexpectedly large rash of defaults among subprime-mortgage borrowers. Regulatory relief is desirable, but of all the foolishness laid upon the shoulders of U.S. financial institutions following the crisis of 2008–09, thicker capital cushions and more-demanding reporting requirements about them represent the least destructive changes, arguably the only real constructive reform of the era. Supporters of the bill say that it is targeted at small banks, but some analysis shows that up to 85 percent of U.S. financial firms, including major players such as Citibank, would also be relieved of some reporting requirements. Republican backers of the plan are buying off their Democratic colleagues with promises of additional “consumer protection” measures, i.e., giving regulators an even stronger whip-hand over some aspects of the banking business. That’s something closer to the opposite of what Congress should be doing: Banking regulation should be ordered toward ensuring the stability of the overall financial system, not toward micromanaging credit-card agreements. Maintaining substantial capital cushions and maximum transparency in evaluating them is the shortest route to that end.

• California has decided to become a “sanctuary state” — by, among other things, passing laws that prohibit crucial forms of public and private cooperation with federal immigration authorities. The Trump administration is suing. The conflict illustrates two confusions about federalism. It can’t be proper, under the Constitution’s supremacy clause, for a state to take the affirmative step of undermining federal law by banning its residents from cooperating with it. But state officials can decline to cooperate themselves, since the federal government is generally prohibited from commandeering the services of state officials. The wrinkle here is that in the Obama era, the Supreme Court struck down an Arizona statute that was intended to enhance enforcement of federal immigration laws. The Court ruled that the federal government completely owned the field of immigration enforcement. The Obama administration and its progressive allies everywhere cheered the result. They are likely cheering less loudly today, since federal courts could use that reasoning against California. The right resolution would be a split decision that preserves both federal and state powers, however little activists on either side would applaud.

• In his famous speech before the British Parliament in 1982, President Reagan said, “The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means.” The next year, this objective became the National Endowment for Democracy. Over these three and a half decades, NED has been true to its calling, standing for American values and helping people all over the world pursue their rights. In 2015, it was banned in Russia, for reasons easy to understand. What is less easy to understand is that the State Department now proposes to gut NED, slashing its budget by two-thirds. Democracy promotion is not the be-all, end-all of U.S. foreign policy. But democracy promotion is in the national interest. Congress has the last word on budgeting. Let it uphold NED, rightly founded and admirably performing.

• The U.S.S. Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class carrier, made a four-day port call in Danang — the biggest American military presence in Vietnam since 1975. “We are honored to receive such a warm welcome here,” said Rear Admiral John Fuller, commander of the carrier’s strike group. It is an ironic coda to decades of warfare, followed by decades of estrangement. It is also a message to Vietnam’s giant neighbor to the north. China is colonizing the South China Sea — so actively that our former enemies must hedge their bets. Whatever President Trump says about Xi Jinping, his administration seems mindful of China’s ambitions, and of the opportunities they create.

• Rick Scott, the Republican governor of Florida, signed into law a higher-education bill including free-speech protections based on model legislation from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The free-speech section, which allows for lawsuits to be brought in state court against public colleges and universities if they violate free-speech rights, had bipartisan support. Several Florida universities had wide-ranging speech limitations in place, including one university’s requirement of administration approval for any written statements. These will now need to be amended to be in compliance with the law. As public universities, they should not have had these restrictions in place to begin with, given First Amendment protections, but it is good that the legislation gives those protections some local teeth. Florida is the ninth state to put such protections in place, following Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

• Public-school teachers in West Virginia struck; lawmakers in the state capitulated. The nine-day statewide strike ended with the passage of legislation that conceded all of the teachers’ demands. For shutting down every public school in the state, teachers will be rewarded with a modest pay raise, an increase in health benefits, the scuttling of a planned charter-school expansion, and the defeat of a measure that would have eliminated seniority. Some of these policies are reasonable, and some are not. But no legislature should allow itself to be held hostage by public unions. The surrender in West Virginia has emboldened teachers’ unions across the country, and those in Oklahoma and Arizona are agitating for strikes of their own.

• Several Russians politically opposed to President Vladimir Putin or with connections to Russian intelligence services have been murdered or grievously injured in Britain. The fate of Sergei Skripal may be the most brazen of all, even more dangerous in its implications than the death in 2006 of Alexander Litvinenko by means of polonium, a nuclear agent. A former member of GRU, Russian military intelligence, Skripal had been a double agent supplying information to MI6. Discovered, he was sentenced to prison in Russia but swapped with other spies in 2010. He lived in Salisbury, a sleepy town in the English countryside, and there on a Sunday afternoon passers-by spotted him and his daughter Yulia, aged 33, collapsed unconscious on a bench. Taken to the hospital, they have remained unconscious ever since. Some 20 people who were in contact with them have received treatment. Whoever committed the crime left a trail of contamination. Specialists needed a number of days to establish that the two were victims of novichok, a very powerful nerve agent produced only in Russia. As Prime Minister Theresa May emphasized to Parliament, either this was “a direct attack on our country” or the Russian state has lost control of this lethal agent. Not since the days of Stalin have Russians committed political assassination in the West.

• Matteo Salvini of the League claims to have won the Italian election, but then so does Luigi Di Maio of the Five Star Movement. Neither of these parties of the right has the majority required to form a government, so — happy days! — it’s got to be a coalition. To the right, there’s Forza Italia, under Silvio Berlusconi, who has the secret of deal-making in spite of being disqualified from holding office because he was found guilty of tax fraud. To the left, the Democratic party lost out heavily and Matteo Renzi resigned its leadership. Another election, another stalemate. Critics throw their hands up and blame something called populism, shorthand for displeasure over membership in the European Union and even greater displeasure that the country has 600,000 migrants and still counting. “Anyone can govern Italy,” said Benito Mussolini, who had a shot at it, “but it is pointless to do so.”

• For several years, anti-Semitism has been on the rise in France, and people have been voting with their feet. That is, Jewish Frenchmen have fled their own country. In a speech, the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, addressed this problem head-on. He pledged the government to fight anti-Semitism, both in the streets and online. “We have understood, with horror, that anti-Semitism is still alive,” Macron said. “And on this issue our response must be unforgiving. France would not be itself if Jewish citizens had to leave because they were afraid.” Actions are better than words, of course, but words are not nothing, and the French president has chosen the right ones.

• Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman visited Cairo in a spirit of love and peace, as the official Egyptian spokesman put it. Hmmm. The crown prince is hoping to persuade the world to think of him as MBS, a bright young despot in a hurry. To that end, he went out of his way to meet Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic patriarch, and the two of them did a tour in St. Mark’s Cathedral, the foremost Christian church in Egypt. In December 2016 a Muslim Brotherhood terrorist killed 25 Copts right next to the cathedral. Nobody in the Middle East will have missed the real significance of the gesture towards Tawadros. Alarmed by the growing regional power of Shia Iran and claiming to represent all Sunni Muslims, the crown prince badly needs a stable Egypt in the counterbalancing Sunni bloc he now leads. Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the more-than-willing Egyptian president, has ceded to the Saudis two islands in the Red Sea that are suitable naval bases. The two also plan to become popular by building, at a cost of $10 billion, a mega-city to be known as Neom. Banners in the streets of Cairo were proclaiming “Saudi and Egypt are one hand, one nation,” which is a way to make sure the ayatollahs in Tehran really do get the point.

• Marriott International, the hotel chain, made a mistake: In an online survey, they listed Tibet as a country. This got many Chinese very mad. But it earned praise from other quarters, including a Tibetan independence group — which tweeted its praise. Roy Jones, in Obama, Neb., “liked” this tweet. He was working for Marriott, running social-media accounts. After this “liking,” Marriott fired Jones. “I was completely unaware of what was going on,” he later said. “We were never trained in any of the social graces when it came to dealing with China.” Yes, the graces. We adapt a phrase from Cole Porter: “And they all kow-tow.”

• It is simply astounding, the extent to which progressive activists believe that the New York Times editorial page is their exclusive territory. They will not permit or condone any new encroachments, at least not beyond Ross Douthat and David Brooks. The latest victim of their anger is a new editor by the name of Bari Weiss. In many ways, Weiss is an odd target for their wrath. She is on the left on nearly every significant social issue, including gun rights, and decidedly against the Trump administration on immigration policy. But she’s a staunch supporter of Israel’s right to exist and a staunch opponent of intolerant campus identity politics. Therefore, she must be named and shamed. The latest effort to discredit Weiss comes through a grotesque mischaracterization of her campus activism as a young student at Columbia. There, she led an effort to expose anti-Semitism and shoddy scholarship in Columbia’s Middle East–studies department. She worked with a small coalition of students to publicize examples of harassment and abuse by anti-Israeli professors against Jewish students. In other words, she was supporting true academic freedom then, just as she supports academic freedom now. Her critics, however, label her efforts at fostering ideological diversity and criticizing ideological intolerance as racism and censorship. This is absurd. Students had then and have now a right to criticize their professors’ viewpoints and scholarship. Weiss’s real sin is her classical liberalism on free speech and free expression. In their wrath, her critics prove only the validity of her arguments and the vital necessity of her independent intellectual voice.

• American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers was invited by a chapter of the Federalist Society to speak at Lewis & Clark Law College in Portland, Ore., where angry students chanted over her as she attempted to give her lecture. Disruptive students raced to the front of the classroom during her remarks, wielding signs that read, “No platform for fascists,” “Your rhetoric is not welcome here,” and “Rape culture is not a myth.” Prior to the event, several student groups called for its cancellation, labeling Sommers a “known fascist” and “rape apologist/denialist.” As a result of the interruptions, the dean of diversity requested that Sommers cut short her remarks and immediately answer questions from incensed protesters. Though the college issued a statement saying it does not condone efforts to silence speakers, it appears, given the way Sommers was treated, that the heckler’s veto indeed applies at Lewis & Clark.

• And the Oscar goes to . . . Never heard of it. For the fifth straight year, the Academy Award for Best Picture was given to an obscure art-house message movie seen by few Americans, in this case Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, a ludicrously schematic tale of good vs. evil filtered through a Cold War sci-fi thriller/romance about a mute cleaning woman’s erotic love for a man-sized fish. The choice was predictable, and predicted: Each of the winners in the big six categories was a big favorite going in, based on previous wins on the awards circuit. Yet the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was shaken by the television ratings for the four-hour slog, which were dire: an all-time low of 26.5 million viewers tuned in, off 6.5 million from last year’s feeble total. People watch the Oscars for a combination of reasons: star power, a desire to see favorite pictures rewarded, and the entertainment promised by the host. This year, with all four acting Oscars going to career character actors instead of marquee names, the most-honored films being niche items, and the host slot inexplicably being filled, again, by the smarmy Jimmy Kimmel, who has become strongly identified with Democratic-party talking points, the show virtually invited America to ignore it. Moreover, Hollywood’s cringe-inducing treatment of its own sex scandal as a teachable moment for everyone but itself and the politicization of the pomp have cast the entire industry in a sour light. More Americans tuned in to the college-football national championship in January, yet another milestone in the Academy’s steady march to cultural irrelevance.

• No sooner had the 1952 Olympics ended than a Brit, an Aussie, and a Yank began turning in mile times just a hair over the record, stuck at 4:01.4 since 1945. Which one was going to break four minutes first? For a few golden years the Anglosphere was united in friendly competition. Wes Santee fell into the role of the brash American glibly promising to get the job done, no sweat. John Landy of Melbourne took the opposite approach and played possum, saying he couldn’t scale that “brick wall” so look away, please. The official announcing the winning time at Iffley Road track in Oxford on May 6, 1954, had gotten as far as the word “three” when the crowd roared: Roger Bannister, the medical student from London, had just run 3:59.4, for no prize money but lots of glory, half of which he in his patriotism deflected to Britain. Looking back on his life, he often said that beating Landy head to head in the “Miracle Mile” in Vancouver later that summer was a greater athletic achievement but that he would rather be remembered for his work in neurology. Knighted at 45. Dead at 88. R.I.P.

 

NORTH KOREA

Back Down from the Summit

If President Trump indeed conceives of his presidency as a reality-TV show, he pulled off his greatest cliff-hanging plot device yet with his quick agreement to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

This is stunning improvisatory diplomacy and also, we believe, a very bad idea. North Korean leaders have long sought summits with American presidents as the ultimate means of international legitimacy. And what has Kim done to deserve this honor? Over the last nine months or so, he murdered Otto Warmbier, threatened Guam, and launched multiple missile tests, including two that flew over Japan.

Kim reached out for a meeting with Trump via South Korean intermediaries with hazy assurances he is willing to discuss denuclearization. The gambit may reflect the squeeze Pyongyang is feeling from sanctions that the Trump administration has, to its credit, steadily ratcheted up. But it is also straight from the regime’s playbook. Its pattern over the decades has been to buy time and get relief from sanctions, while continuing to pursue its core strategic goal of developing nuclear weapons and an advanced missile capability.

The North may believe that Trump is an easy mark for the latest iteration of this approach. Regardless, the chances of the North’s being willing to give up its nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner are extremely slim. The best case may be that Trump demonstrates that he is willing to talk yet gets nowhere, building the case for even sterner measures to pressure and isolate the regime. It is encouraging that the administration says its policy of maximum pressure remains in place — so at least it is not repeating George W. Bush’s mistake of preemptive concessions — and there is a welcome effort by at least some advisers around Trump to try to find a way out of the meeting.

The North Korean regime isn’t to be underestimated. It has been playing this game for decades as if its existence depended on it — because it does.

 

TRADE

Steel Trap

The Trump administration is insistent in its desire to tax Americans to protect certain politically connected businesses and industries, most prominently steel and aluminum producers.

The economics here are pretty bad, if straightforward enough: The steel and aluminum industries employ about 130,000 Americans at a handful of firms, most of which have managed to avoid restructuring even as the steel industry in the rest of the world has seen significant retrenchment, allowing overseas firms to make more profitable use of their productive capacities.

In order to protect the interests of the steel- and aluminum-producing firms, the Trump administration is laying a tax on the firms that use these metals, firms that employ many, many millions of Americans, representing, as they do, practically the entire manufacturing, construction, and transportation sectors of the economy. Also taxed are every business and consumer that operates from a building, lives in a house, or uses goods that are stored or transported. A few radical localist vegans may yet escape the burden of this new tax, provided their vegetables are harvested and processed without steel tools.

The steel tariffs are naked crony capitalism, a bad and destructive policy that imposes real costs on the American economy. The policy diminishes the Republican party’s role as advocate of free enterprise and moves the GOP closer to the progressive posture of conducting national industrial policy out of Washington. President Trump could do without that Nixonian echo.

If the economics are bad, the politics are worse. Trundling out poor old Wilbur Ross to brandish a Campbell’s soup can at the press like some daft and plutocratic Andy Warhol while arguing that jacking up Americans’ grocery bills in order to protect the financial interests of a handful of his fellow billionaires is in the national interest? A Democratic caricaturist could hardly have dreamt up a more absurd scenario, but that is how the Trump administration is selling this policy. It is true that the tariffs probably won’t do much to raise the price of a can of soup. But there’s a lot of steel in those Toyota Tundra pickup trucks made in Texas, and in those Manhattan office towers, and in those Midwestern warehouses. Builders already are scrambling to fast-track their orders for steel and aluminum construction materials, keenly aware of how a 25 percent tax on their raw materials might dig into their already narrow profit margins.

When the Democrats scoffed that the Republican tax cuts would put only a few dozen dollars a week into the pockets of many American households, Republicans rightly pointed out that this modest sum could make a big difference in the lives of families living on very tight budgets. The Trump administration now repeats the Democrats’ error in arguing for its large tax increase — which is what a tariff is. How much more should the typical working family pay for a car or a house — or a can of soup, for that matter — in order to protect U.S. firms in need of making a few changes to their business practices? And why are jobs at steel companies more important than the jobs of construction workers and autoworkers?

There isn’t a good answer for that question.

 

NATIONAL REVIEW

Thomas L. Rhodes, R.I.P.

Dusty Rhodes was a leader of National Review and a hundred other things. He is one of the most important conservatives of recent times whom the public has never heard of. Let’s talk about him a little.

He was born on July 15, 1939, in New York City. He did much of his growing up under the care of his grandparents. They were Welsh immigrants. Dusty’s grandfather was a construction worker and a building super. They lived in Spanish Harlem. In his adult life, Dusty was an unusual mixture of patrician and street kid.

He went to the University of Pennsylvania and later its business school, Wharton. In the Army, he acquired his nickname — men named Rhodes are practically fated to become “Dusty.” He met his wife-to-be, Gleaves, while on spring break in the Bahamas. That was a break indeed.

The young Rhodes joined McKinsey & Co., and eventually went into business for himself, along with a partner. That failed. But Dusty learned many things, and, after a lean period, was signed by Goldman Sachs. He had an international career, doing much work in the Middle East, for instance. He became a partner at Goldman. His peers testify to his acumen, doggedness, and charm.

He had a taste for politics and policy. He had ideals and convictions. In 1970, Dusty volunteered for the campaign of James L. Buckley, an older brother of WFB. JLB was running for Senate in New York. Dusty served as a driver. “I found that, when I had to go somewhere in Westchester County,” says JLB, “there at the airport would be this splendid guy, with a wonderful smile — so intelligent, so bright.”

In the mid 1980s, Dusty joined the National Review board. “I want to defeat socialism,” he told WFB. Bill valued him highly. He would make him president of the magazine, a post for which Dusty accepted no salary. NR was in sore need of sound fiscal management. This, Dusty provided.

He had a hand in any number of pots. The International Rescue Committee. GOPAC. Educational reform, especially school choice. The National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. The Club for Growth. The Project for the Republican Future. The Bradley Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Heritage Foundation. Everyone leaned on him, everyone relied on him. He responded with verve.

About Dusty’s generosity, you could tell any number of stories. Here’s one: He had a friend who was bilked by Bernard Madoff, who bilked a great many in an infamous Ponzi scheme. This friend of Dusty’s received many, many calls from other friends saying, “Hope you’re okay, this is awful.” Dusty’s call was different. He said, “Do you need money?”

Dusty Rhodes was a classic American: decent, square-dealing, liberty-loving, risk-taking, entrepreneurial, fun. He was also classically democratic, treating everyone the same and wishing everyone well. No one ever had more friends, and they were of varying political stripes, or none.

As you can tell, he meant a great deal to us, and many other people. Thomas Llewellyn “Dusty” Rhodes passed away on March 7, at age 78. R.I.P.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

In This Issue

Articles

Features

Books, Arts & Manners

Sections

Letters

Letters

"We support WFB’s legacy by continuing to advance open dialogue with those who share differing views." - Robert Dean

Most Popular

Film & TV

The Elephant Man: Neglected David Lynch Classic

Released in 1980, David Lynch’s The Elephant Man is the one Lynch film that found a mesmerizing middle ground between conventional Hollywood story structure and its director’s surreal dreamscapes. Yet today it seems on the verge of being forgotten, and that’s a shame. It’s an exceptionally unusual and ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Keeping Catholic Foster Care in Philly

Last week, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed a complaint in a Pennsylvania district court on behalf of foster parents working with Catholic Social Services at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Despite issuing a recent plea for more people to step up as candidates for foster parents, the city of ... Read More
Politics & Policy

De Blasio’s Delusions

In an interview with MSNBC, Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York, offers himself as a lodestar for the Democratic party, touting his “progressive economic populism” as a winning formula for 2020 and beyond. One gets the impression that de Blasio, who has never been known for his humility, believes he has a ... Read More