Magazine | April 16, 2018, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

• It turns out the president’s fondness for protectionism does not extend to his social life.

• March brought a march — for gun control. The participants, who were led by those students from Parkland who line up with the gun-control movement, said they were “Marching for Our Lives” against the NRA, the Republican party, and, often, the Second Amendment itself. This premise was hyperbolic. There is too much gun violence in America, but the chances of one’s being killed by a firearm, especially in a school, are minuscule. Alas, hyperbole was the order of the day. Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), who has done an enormous amount of work trying to pass legislation to reduce violence in schools, was singled out for vitriolic attacks on his conscience, his integrity, and even his religious faith. The premise of the marchers was clear: that everyone knows how to stop bad things from happening, but that some are too selfish or bought-off or amoral to push for it. “Child killers” was a favored phrase, as was “blood on your hands.” That the participants were earnest and passionate is beyond doubt. But passion and sobriety are often mutually exclusive, and that was certainly the case here. The work of reducing violence is complicated, tough, and long. It will not be achieved by shouting.

• General H. R. McMaster is one of the U.S. Army’s finest, and we appreciate his service as national-security adviser to President Trump. He did his duty. Now in that post is John Bolton, a longtime friend of National Review. We have watched him shine in administrations since Reagan. He, too, will do his duty, and in an undeniably perilous time — especially given a nuclear North Korea and a nuclearizing Iran. On seeing Bolton, his ambassador to the U.N., George W. Bush once exclaimed, “The man with the mustache!” We salute the ’Stache, and President Trump’s pick.

• Speaking of friends, NR has long known that economist Larry Kudlow is as smart as he is brash and personally irresistible. Over the years, his fans at CNBC have learned it too. Now he will bring his gifts to the White House as director of the National Economic Council, replacing Gary Cohn. President Trump’s policy inclinations are always open to improvement; Kudlow’s knowledge, persuasiveness, and media savvy should serve the president and the country well.

• By many accounts, Trump’s nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Gina Haspel, is highly qualified and hyper-competent. So why is her confirmation in doubt? Because, post-9/11, she oversaw a CIA “black site” in Thailand that allegedly conducted “enhanced interrogation” of terrorist detainees. Barring classified evidence that she permitted or encouraged conduct not permitted under then-governing law, the black site’s reported use of waterboarding should in no way disqualify her. It did not violate American law, and it did not violate international law (and acknowledging this shouldn’t mean endorsing every CIA action post-9/11). According to knowledgeable sources, it yielded valuable information. Haspel has clearly indicated that she’ll comply with current law and policy (which prohibit enhanced interrogation). An additional salient fact works in her favor. She’s been part of a CIA that has worked now across three separate and very different presidential administrations to stop any further 9/11-scale terror attacks on the U.S. For her role in performing that vital mission, she deserves Republican and Democratic votes. She has earned the opportunity to serve as director.

• At present, it’s difficult to evaluate Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s decision to fire deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe. Sessions let him go on the eve of his retirement. We haven’t seen the evidence justifying the decision, and if we’ve learned anything from these last few years of partisan, bureaucratic sniping, it’s that one should wait for the facts before opining on the propriety of personnel decisions. But it is telling that the career civil servants at the Office of Professional Responsibility recommended his termination. McCabe himself admits that his answers in an internal investigation weren’t fully accurate, and explains that he was under stress and distracted at the time. This kind of excuse doesn’t ordinarily cut it with the FBI. We’ll have to wait for the release of the inspector-general report on the handling of the Clinton email case to learn more, but early indications are that this is not the rank political firing that the Left insists it is.

• Political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which was retained by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, improperly obtained the data of millions of Facebook users so it could target them with political advertisements. At first, the villain seemed obvious: Cambridge Analytica itself (especially to the liberals still casting about for scapegoats to blame for Trump’s victory). But when it was pointed out that selling its users’ data to advertisers is how Facebook makes money, Mark Zuckerberg and his company came under the microscope. Congress and the Federal Trade Commission launched investigations into the company, its share price plummeted, and Zuckerberg embarked on an apology tour. Time was when the Facebook co-founder was rumored to be a dark-horse candidate for president. Now, with his popularity plunging, he’ll have to get creative with his own user data if he wants to throw his hat in the ring.

• It’s increasingly likely that President Trump is going to face the dangerous prospect of civil discovery in former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos’s defamation lawsuit. During the 2016 campaign, Zervos accused Trump of groping her, he called her a liar, and she sued him for uttering the allegedly false statement. A New York trial judge has now ruled that the suit can go forward, holding that presidents are no more immune from state litigation than they are from federal claims of the sort Paula Jones filed against Bill Clinton. The ruling comes in the middle of a legal shake-up in Team Trump. His former lead lawyer, John Dowd, has resigned amid the usual White House drama, and now Jay Sekulow has taken an even more prominent role. Sekulow is a savvy legal and public-relations force, but as Trump’s challenges multiply, he’ll need more help, and that help is surprisingly hard to find. Already a number of lawyers have turned down the chance to represent the president of the United States, who thinks he needs better lawyers but needs to focus on being a better client.

• Trump partly, and perhaps temporarily, backed down on his steel and aluminum tariffs. For now, countries that account for 65 percent of steel imports are exempt. That decision limits the economic damage from the tariffs (even the protectionist group Coalition for a Prosperous America admitted that the planned version would in a best-case scenario destroy jobs). But it also makes even more of a hash of the administration’s national-security argument for the tariffs, since the exemptions make it nearly impossible for the steel and aluminum industries to reach the capacity we supposedly require. Meanwhile, Trump is threatening high tariffs on Chinese imports, with details to be determined. Action against Chinese mercantilism is justified, but Trump seems to be ruling out the course most likely to yield results at an acceptable cost, which is to bring cases against that mercantilism at the World Trade Organization, with the support of other countries harmed by it. Of course, those other countries, having had their steel and aluminum industries threatened by Trump, may not be in a mood to cooperate.

• In March, the National Rifle Association moved a little on the question of gun-violence restraining orders (GVROs). Hitherto, the NRA had opposed such orders on the grounds that they would give opponents of the Second Amendment an easy way to strip the innocent of their firearms. In the wake of Parkland, its calculation changed and its opposition became acceptance. Public pressure presumably played a part in this transformation, but more important, perhaps, was that GVROs were being championed primarily by conservatives — including our own David French and Senator Marco Rubio. There is always a risk associated with allowing the opponents of a given right to regulate access to it, and up until this point only anti-gun legislatures had written such legislation. Now that Republicans are backing GVROs, the NRA seems to believe that the associated due-process protections would be sufficiently strict. The NRA is right to give this innovation a chance.

• The Supreme Court has heard oral arguments in a free-speech case that has gotten less attention than it deserves. In NIFLA v. Becerra, the plaintiffs challenged a California law that required pro-life pregnancy centers in the state to literally advertise free and low-cost abortion. The tag team of Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito collectively worked to expose California’s abortion extremism in a key exchange in which they forced the state to admit that a pro-life pregnancy center may not even be permitted to erect a simple Choose Life billboard without cluttering it with state-mandated disclosures. California has ample means to spread its message. It can erect its own billboards. It can advertise on television and radio. It can distribute flyers in front of pregnancy clinics. But it must not be permitted to force pro-life citizens to deliver a pro-abortion message. That’s traditional First Amendment doctrine, and we now begin the anxious wait to see whether it holds.

• The Trump administration’s proposal to execute drug dealers is less than advertised. The president is not seeking any new laws; rather, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has instructed federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty under current law “when appropriate.” Most of the statutes allowing for the execution of drug dealers apply only when an intentional killing has taken place — in which case we’re not talking just about drug dealing anymore — though the so-called Kingpin Statute does allow capital punishment for those who deal in extremely large quantities of drugs or generate $20 million per year from a drug enterprise. No one has ever been put to death under this provision, and there is no reason to start now. Such a punishment does not fit this crime, a handful of executions would be highly unlikely to stop the spread of the opioid epidemic, and the Supreme Court has suggested it might not allow it anyway. The administration has gotten its news cycle out of this gimmick; now it’s time to let it go.

• Mississippi has become the first state in the U.S. to enact a ban on abortions performed after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The state’s sole abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, immediately filed a complaint in a U.S. district court. As a result, a federal judge put the law on hold just one day after it went into effect, ruling that the clinic’s challenge of the law as unconstitutional was “substantially likely to succeed.” The judge’s order was temporary, lasting only ten days, but he is expected to issue a longer restraint against it while the legal challenge unfolds. More than a dozen states have successfully enacted bans on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy on the grounds that fetuses can feel pain at that stage of development. The challenge of Mississippi’s legislation will be a case to watch as several pro-life state legislatures attempt to enact stricter limitations on abortion rights.

• Ruth Marcus devoted two of her Washington Post columns to the case for aborting unborn children who have been diagnosed as likely to have Down syndrome. Allowing those children to live would entail serious burdens on their families, she explained. And while Marcus conceded that people with Down syndrome have brought a lot of joy to many families, she also asserted that they are not the kind of children a lot of parents want. Marcus drew passionate criticism from the overlapping groups of pro-lifers, people with Down syndrome, and their loved ones. Those who deplore her views should acknowledge, and deplore as well, that they are widely shared: Most pregnant women who receive this diagnosis abort the baby, and many report social pressure and physician encouragement to do so. And Marcus is right that if unborn children have no moral claim greater than that of a carrot, they may be defensibly destroyed for any number of reasons. Those of us who see that Marcus is devaluing the lives of people with an extra chromosome do so because we deny her premise. We grasp that those people were once unborn children: The fetus did not at some point transform into a toddler and then adolescent and young adult; these were all stages in the development of the same human being. And while we can understand and sympathize with the desire of parents for children with certain characteristics — for healthy children, or children with intelligence in the normal range, or even for children with their parents’ athletic streaks — we draw the line at destroying a child for lacking them. That’s when a desire becomes disordered. Among the costs of the abortion license is the spread of the dehumanizing mindset that Marcus has with great candor expressed.

• Pro-life Democrat Dan Lipinski managed to pull off an extremely narrow victory over a pro-abortion challenger, Marie Newman, in the Democratic primary in the third congressional district of Illinois. Longtime congressman Lipinski prevailed over Newman — whose campaign was backed by abortion-rights groups Planned Parenthood and NARAL, as well as Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and some of Lipinski’s fellow House Democrats from Illinois — by fewer than 3,000 votes. Meanwhile, in the Republican gubernatorial primary, sitting governor Bruce Rauner defeated conservative state legislator Jeanne Ives, who came within three percentage points of him, even though he hugely outspent her and made outrageously false attacks throughout the campaign. Rauner’s victory is a loss for conservatism and honesty — he signed an abortion-funding bill he had said he would veto — but Lipinski’s triumph in the third district is a glimmer of hope that Democratic politicians can still embrace the pro-life cause.

• Cynthia Nixon, best known for her portrayal of Miranda in Sex and the City, has announced her candidacy for governor of New York, challenging incumbent Andrew Cuomo. The Left’s relationship with Cuomo is fraught. Though he is a down-the-line social liberal, he finds it convenient, within the byzantine world of New York state politics, to deal with the Republican near-majority in the state senate. Cuomo’s dodgy associates — long-time aide Joseph Percocco was recently convicted of three counts of felony corruption — give his enemies an additional handle. Yet Nixon’s judgment is no better; her only experience of governance was backing the mayoral run of Bill de Blasio, whose ethical compromises are at least as bad as Cuomo’s. Nixon will very likely lose; Cuomo has $30 million in his war chest. But his ambitions to fulfill his father’s dreams of the White House face a glittering, if insubstantial, obstacle.

• After Putin’s latest election, a travesty, Trump placed a call to him. His aides had advised him not to congratulate Putin and to condemn Russia’s latest poison attacks in Britain. Trump congratulated him and declined to condemn the attacks. He was elected president — legitimately, unlike Putin — and that is his prerogative. But his aides, who, to be sure, were not elected, had the better ideas. Trump’s policy on Russia, including the recent expulsion of Russian diplomats in coordination with our allies in response to the British attack, has been tougher than Obama’s, but his presidential voice has been AWOL.

• Writing in the New York Review of Books, Pankaj Mishra made a telling mistake. Mishra, in a critical review of Jordan Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life, takes Peterson’s affinity for The Gulag Archipelago to be “a common intellectual trajectory among Western right-wingers who swear by Solzhenitsyn and tend to imply that belief in egalitarianism leads straight to the guillotine or the Gulag.” One problem: Mishra originally identified the book as a work of fiction. The things that happened to Solzhenitsyn are real, and the beliefs that sent him and his countrymen to the Gulag are alive today. We would all do well not to forget that.

• There are many ways of criticizing George Soros. Distressingly, in a major speech before elections, Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, chose to do so with a series of anti-Semitic clichés: “Our opponent is different than we are,” he said, “Not straightforward, but hiding, not direct but crafty, not honest but base, not national but international, doesn’t believe in labor but rather speculates with money, has no country of its own because he feels the world is his in its entirety.” A product of the liberal institutions, Orbán knows better. His grip on Hungarian politics is strong and it is difficult to root for his opponents. They are led by the openly fascist party Jobbik, which has baited Orbán for spreading “Jewish propaganda” when his government funded the excellent film Son of Saul. Beyond Jobbik there is a disorganized rump of greens, socialists, and holdover Communists. The best hope is that Orbán comes back to his senses and ceases to spread this bilge into the European mainstream.

• “The Tiananmen protest was not a pro-democracy movement”; the Chinese government might be “more responsive to the public than a democratically elected government such as in Taiwan”; and the belief that “the authoritarian political system in China is inherently bad” is an “ideologically tinted” one pushed by the Western media. You could be forgiven for believing such claims are propaganda from the Chinese Communist Party, but in fact they appear in an essay in the conservative journal American Affairs. Its author, University of Iowa professor Wenfang Tang, cites public-opinion research to argue that the West is confused about China. Of course, public-opinion polls conducted in a country where the press is restricted and political freedom is nonexistent cannot be relied upon, nor can they dispel basic truths about the rights to which free people are entitled.

• The jury’s out on whether Muhammad bin Salman, the 32-year-old crown prince of Saudi Arabia, really intends to modernize his country. From this coming June, women will be able to obtain a driver’s license and at last drive themselves. The next step liberates them from being obliged to wear the abaya, the black robe covering the entire body except the face that makes all women look alike. In an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes, the crown prince said that women and men are equal. Women are to be free to decide how to dress so long as they choose “decent and respectful attire.” To some, this is a genuine concession, to others it is merely cosmetic. Dozens of activists are serving prison sentences for merely suggesting peaceful change in the kingdom. One among them is Noha al Balawi, a young woman who in a tweet questioned the crown prince’s policies and therefore is more likely to be wearing shackles than an abaya.

• A Scotsman named Mark Meechan, who styles himself a comedian, trained his girlfriend’s dog to give a Nazi salute when prompted with commands such as “Sieg Heil” and “Gas the Jews.” Meechan says he did it to annoy his girlfriend, though there are easier ways to accomplish that; in any event, he posted a video of the performing pooch on YouTube, where it unfortunately got 3 million views. Even more dismaying, though, was the reaction of the local sheriff, who hauled Meechan into court on the grounds that the video was “grossly offensive.” He was convicted of a hate crime despite his lawyer’s rather desperate insistence that the phrase “Gas the Jews” had been “taken out of context” and his girlfriend’s diplomatic declaration that the video “was an example of his sense of humor.” Meechan’s stunt was unquestionably offensive, but no nation that calls itself free can use that as a basis for censorship.

• Not one but two bunny tales have made their way to the top of the Amazon bestsellers list. Charlotte Pence, Mike’s daughter, wrote the children’s book A Day in the Life of the Vice President from the perspective of the family rabbit, Instagram celebrity and official BOTUS (Bunny of the United States) Marlon Bundo. Comedian John Oliver of Last Week Tonight, a fervent fan of the rabbit, announced a competing book, A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, following a 20-minute piece on Mike Pence, airing the day before Charlotte’s book hit shelves. Written by Jill Twiss, the story follows the eponymous bunny not on his adventures with his vice-presidential Grandpa but as he finds love with another male rabbit named Wesley. As of March 27, Oliver’s book occupied the No. 1 spot on the Amazon list, while Ms. Pence’s checked in at 25. Charlotte has taken the parody in stride, even buying a copy of Oliver’s book for herself, saying, “We have two books that are giving to charities that are both about bunnies, so I’m all for it, really.”

• At Mount Holyoke College, a woman can become anything she wants — even a man. Since 1837 the Massachusetts school has admitted only women, but lately some of them have decided after enrolling that they’re actually male, and the administration is doing its best to accommodate them. Faculty have been instructed to “say ‘Mount Holyoke students’ rather than ‘Mount Holyoke women’” and to “avoid making statements like ‘We’re all women here’” or speaking of “the two genders.” This sort of Wrongspeak must be banished from the very start of the semester, because “many students spend the first day of class braced against various types of disrespect — professors who mispronounce their names, call them by the wrong name entirely, misgender them, and so on. Students who are worried about not being treated with respect can’t concentrate on what we’re saying.” So hearing his or her name mispronounced can ruin a student’s entire educational experience, and the college encourages this reaction. Mount Holyoke’s mission now evidently includes turning strong women into weak men.

• Elon Musk is not the only American who likes to build his own rockets. In California’s Mojave Desert, “Mad Mike” Hughes, a limousine driver by trade, rode a homemade steam-powered rocket 1,875 feet into the air and then descended successfully, if a bit bumpily, using a parachute. The stated purpose of the flight was to see how Earth looks from above, with a view to disproving the false theory that the world is round; Hughes is a member of the Flat Earth Society, whose members crowdfunded a research grant for the flight. Sure, a few spoilsports pointed out that he could have done as well or better by going to the top of a tall building, climbing a mountain, or even flying in an airplane. But more important, 1,875 feet is nowhere near high enough to measure the curvature of the Earth (or its absence). If Hughes had simply remembered his high-school geometry, he would have realized . . . oh, wait, never mind. And did we mention that he’s running for governor of California? Sounds like he’ll fit right in at Sacramento.

• Since our founding in 1955, many interesting characters, and many brilliant writers, have come through National Review. Kevin D. Williamson is in the front rank of them. Talented, versatile, stylish, fearless — he is a man after WFB’s own heart. KDW is now leaving NR for The Atlantic, where he will wow, and provoke, and enlighten, a large audience. We are happy for them, sad for us, and grateful for Kevin.

• Pete Peterson was the epitome of the “establishment.” Yet he was born to Greek immigrants in Kearney, Neb. (Original name: Petropoulos.) Pete worked the cash register at age eight. He rose to be a titan of business and finance. He was a commerce secretary for Nixon. He founded, chaired, or co-chaired a thousand commissions, trying to improve our public life — trying to get the federal government to spend sensibly, for example. He gave away more than a billion in charity. Sometimes the “establishment” gets a bad rap. Pete Peterson was a prince. He has died in New York at 91. R.I.P.

• Let bells ring out in praise of Arnaud Beltrame. He was a French gendarme who had been decorated for his service in Iraq. In the southern towns of Carcassonne and Trèbes, an Islamist terrorist went on a killing spree. He managed to murder three people and, at the end, had a hostage. Lieutenant Colonel Beltrame offered to exchange himself for the hostage, which the terrorist agreed to. The terrorist then killed Beltrame. Thereafter, a police unit stormed in, killing the terrorist. Let us remember the name of the hero Arnaud Beltrame, dead at 44. R.I.P.

• Zell Miller of Georgia occupies an unusual footnote in the great almanac of American politics: He keynoted the Democratic Convention in 1992 and the Republican Convention in 2004. His earlier speech was a paean to the Democrats’ concern for the little man (the Miller home did not have electricity until Zell was seven); his later speech was an evisceration of the Democrats’ then-nominee, John Kerry. In between Miller served as governor (progressive) and U.S. senator (moderate, then conservative for his party). His career was marked by an average politician’s attention to the main chance. But his devotion to his north Georgia roots, to his country, and to his conception of his birth party’s true if abandoned nature was unswerving. Dead at 86. R.I.P.

• The roster of celebrity physicists is relatively brief, and heavily weighted toward historical figures, who not only sometimes have familiar units named after them (Watt, Ampère, Hertz) but performed research that you can at least pretend to understand. Today’s physics breakthroughs tend to be so abstruse that summarizing them is like trying to explain the financial-derivatives market to a three-year-old. Stephen Hawking’s physics research was as arcane as anyone’s, yet reached enough people to turn “black hole” (the subject of much of his work) into a popular figure of speech, and he made numerous highly important advances in other, less picturesque areas, from cosmology to quantum gravity to information theory. The courage and persistence he exhibited in performing all this groundbreaking work while stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis require no explanation. Dead at 76. R.I.P.

• Les Payne served Newsday, Long Island’s premier newspaper, beginning in 1969 as a reporter and editor. A man of the Left, he butted heads with Richard Brookhiser on a WCBS talk show in the Nineties. But more than anything he was a man of journalism. He shared a Pulitzer for a Newsday series on the heroin trail, and discovered, early on, that Tawana Brawley’s tale of racist rape was a hoax, thereby earning the ire of Al Sharpton. Payne did not care: Great is truth, and it prevails. Dead at 76. R.I.P.

PUBLIC POLICY

A Wasteful Budget, A Wasted Year

First President Trump’s White House helped to negotiate a bipartisan budget bill for the rest of the fiscal year; then, after it passed both chambers of Congress, he threatened to veto it, which would have caused a partial government shutdown; he signed it a few hours later; but he complained about it in a tweet after he did so. He was right the second and fourth times — or, at least, more right.

Trump should have been doing the patient and boring work of shaping a conservative budget bill and guiding it through Congress. But his hostile opinion of the budget he signed is warranted. It was crafted in secret and passed under pressure; it raises discretionary spending as the national debt grows; and it fails to deliver on any major GOP priorities except increased defense spending. What might turn out to be the signature achievement of unified Republican government this year is the sort of legislation that would have been right at home in the Obama administration, which is why congressional Democrats have been expressing more satisfaction over it than Republicans.

Start with the process. The 2,232-page bill was written behind closed doors by leaders of both parties, unveiled on a Wednesday night, passed by the House the next afternoon, passed by the Senate a few hours later, and signed by the president midday Friday. So much for the 72-hour rule Republicans sought back during Barack Obama’s first term, which would have made House consideration of the bill take longer than this entire process did. “Lawmakers” voted on a bill they did not write and had no opportunity to debate. This breakdown of procedure should be a particular embarrassment for Congress given that passing budgets is one of the few duties that it still discharges with regularity.

The massive, 13 percent increase in discretionary spending was prefigured by the agreement on budget caps that congressional leaders reached in February. It remains remarkable that, even with control over the branches of elected government, the GOP cannot secure funding for the military without dangling such unnecessary spending for domestic programs.

The specifics of the spending aren’t much better. The bill provides funding for immigration enforcement both internally and at the border, but the dollar amount falls far short of what the Trump administration had requested and there are onerous restrictions even on those dollars. The budget limits, for instance, the number of illegal aliens that Immigration and Customs Enforcement can detain. Even with the leverage of DACA, Republicans failed to meaningfully tighten the immigration system.

On health care, the hope of deregulating the individual insurance market to counteract rising premiums has been dashed. Republicans appear to have given up on making any further legislative changes to Obamacare while they still have power. Meanwhile, the $21 billion in infrastructure funding is not offset with permitting reforms that could spur private investment. We welcome the defense spending, and are willing to indulge the hope that funds devoted to combating the opioid epidemic will make a difference. But if this bill winds up being the only major piece of legislation Congress passes in 2018, this year will be a legislative waste.

 

POLITICAL CULTURE

A President from Outside the Box

Anderson Cooper became the Suetonius of the Trump administration with back-to-back interviews with Karen McDougal and Stephanie Clifford, two of the president’s self-proclaimed former mistresses.

Both alleged encounters that occurred a dozen years ago. McDougal was the more pitiable of the two. After meeting Trump at a filming of Celebrity Apprentice at the Playboy Mansion, she commenced an affair with him that lasted for ten months. She thought she loved him, and felt guilty about betraying Melania, who had just given birth to Barron. At the end of the interview, McDougal apologized to the First Lady with the forlorn words, “I wouldn’t want it done to me.”

Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, was engaged in a simple transaction. She met Trump at a golf tournament in Lake Tahoe and had sex with him; he promised to get her on Celebrity Apprentice. When the gig did not come through, she ended the fling.

Their tales reflect the different sectors of the sex industry in which they worked. McDougal was a former Playmate; Hugh Hefner’s persona encouraged his protégées to believe that powerful, sexually predatory men actually had their interests at heart. Clifford, who came up through stripping and pornography, knows the sex business at its bleakest, short of streetwalking.

The only apparent false note in either account was Clifford’s claim that a goon had threatened her and her daughter in 2011 when she first talked about her story. The alleged language — “That’s a beautiful little girl” — seemed straight out of a bad TV show, but then the language that Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen uses in his cease-and-desist letters is coined from the same mint. Trump and Cohen deny any affairs or threats.

There is nothing impeachable here, or even (the alleged threat aside) criminal. On the scale of bad presidential behavior, there is almost nothing noteworthy. FDR’s paramours included one of his cousins and Princess Martha of Norway; JFK’s included almost everyone that moved.

What these old tales are is sleazy, sad, and distracting. They will not soon go away; Clifford seems to be a publicity hound almost as tenacious as Trump himself. In a know-it-all age without norms or hypocrisy, they lower the tone yet further. Voters in 2016 wanted an outsider and they got one, but he brings the traces of his alternative reality with him.

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

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U.S.

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