Magazine July 9, 2018, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

• After much deliberation, the editors have decided to drop the swimsuit competition from the Week.

• The Trump administration backed down on separating Central American migrant families at the border. Under its “zero tolerance” policy, the administration was prosecuting as many adults as possible and, when the adults were transferred into the custody of the U.S. marshals, separating their children from them. After a firestorm of criticism and credible reports of hasty, chaotic implementation, Trump said he would sign an executive order to hold adults and children together while the adults are prosecuted and their asylum claims adjudicated. It is doubtful, thanks to the irrational and self-defeating rules of our immigration system, whether this arrangement will pass legal muster. The administration hopes Congress will act to give it the necessary authorities and resources, but that’s unlikely, because Democrats don’t want to help Trump detain and deport migrant families together, which would be the best option. A mess all around.

• Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council in the Trump administration, returned home after a brief stay at Walter Reed Medical Center, where he was treated for a mild heart attack. His resiliency is no surprise to anyone who has observed his sunny, high-energy personality over the years in the Reagan administration, on Wall Street, at CNBC, and at National Review, where he served as our economics editor during the George W. Bush era. Godspeed to him as he completes his recovery.

• In late May, Senator Claire McCaskill announced a three-day RV tour through Missouri to kick off her reelection bid. But, according to reporting by the Washington Free Beacon’s Brent Scher, the two-term Missouri Democrat, who is locked in a tight battle with Republican attorney general Josh Hawley, conducted parts of her whistle-stop RV tour via her million-dollar private plane. Scher, using publicly available aircraft-tracking data, noticed that the plane shadowed the RV — nicknamed “Big Blue” by the McCaskill campaign — two out of its three days on the road. After first claiming the report was “not accurate,” McCaskill admitted to adding “some stops with the use of the plane,” while avowing that she traveled on the “RV so much that the broken drawer drove me crazy.” Of course it did — she’s used to a private jet.

• We agree with nearly everything Scott Pruitt has done and tried to do on environmental policy at the EPA. But multiple sources have painted a consistent picture of venal, corrupt, and sometimes bizarre behavior, including using employees to find a job for his wife and making his staff drive him on a search for his preferred lotion. His behavior cannot be defended and has undermined his effectiveness. Many top aides, conservative Republicans, have left in disgust. Andrew Wheeler, the deputy administrator of the EPA, is a conservative. He would become acting administrator if Trump dismissed Pruitt. That’s what he should do. Pruitt has become an embarrassment to Trump and to the cause of conservative environmental policy.

• Corey Stewart, the Republican nominee for the Senate in Virginia, keeps having bad luck in his associates. Paul Nehlen, a failed Republican politician whom Stewart called a “personal hero,” turned out to be a vicious anti-Semite. Stewart distanced himself from Nehlen. Stewart made two appearances with Jason Kessler, who went on to organize the white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville and issued a taunting message when a counter-protester was killed there. One of Stewart’s campaigns paid a neo-Confederate family for consulting. Could have happened to anybody, right? But probably not to the next senator from Virginia.

• New York State attorney general Barbara Underwood filed a civil suit against the Donald J. Trump Foundation, a charity, asking that it be broken up. The state’s complaint cites a variety of unusual practices and dodgy actions over the years: a board of directors that includes Trump and three of his children and that has exercised no effective oversight since 1999; a donation to a political group run by Pam Bondi, a friendly Florida politician; collusion with Trump’s 2016 campaign in Iowa; the purchase of a portrait of Donald Trump that was hung in a Trump property. Some of these items are trivial, if venal (the portrait); some are old hat (Trump paid a fine for the Bondi donation). The New York attorney general’s office is itself under a cloud, as Trump pointed out in a tweet, Underwood’s predecessor Eric Schneiderman having resigned thanks to allegations of sexual abuse. It’s a serious case that bears watching — but please spare us any commentary from the Clintons and their enablers.

• The Trump administration has refused to defend Obamacare against a lawsuit from various red states. Ignore the wailing from the left about how presidents have to defend federal laws: The Obama administration declined to defend the Defense of Marriage Act. Unfortunately, though, the new lawsuit is a dud; the argument boils down to a reasonable claim and a patently silly one. The reasonable claim is that when Congress reduced the individual-mandate penalty to $0 (starting next year), it destroyed the Supreme Court’s argument for the mandate’s constitutionality — namely, that the mandate was a “tax” rather than, well, a mandate. The patently silly claim is that this mandate-less mandate is such a fundamental part of the law that the rest of Obamacare must go as well. And politically speaking, the administration made matters even worse by endorsing an awkwardly watered-down version of the states’ case: The whole law doesn’t have to go, the administration writes; instead, just the protections for people with preexisting conditions do. This argument has little chance in court yet will provide Democrats with some ammunition for the midterms.

• It isn’t news that our entitlement programs are unsustainable, but trustees for Medicare announced that the program will become insolvent in 2026, which is three years sooner than had been projected previously. The same report projected that Social Security will become insolvent in 2034, unchanged from previous projections. For now politics is beating math, but that won’t be the case for much longer.

• The Senate Agriculture Committee has passed a “bipartisan farm bill,” which means it has passed a horrendous piece of legislation. The bill essentially continues the status quo, in terms of both handing out pork to agricultural interests and maintaining the dysfunctional food-stamp program. Ideally, these two parts of the bill would be separated, and then the agriculture subsidies would be killed with fire. More realistically, the more conservative House — which hasn’t even passed its own farm bill yet, owing to a dispute over immigration — should at least fight for food-stamp reforms. The farm bill shouldn’t be the one issue in D.C. where business as usual still prevails.

• Senators Cory Gardner (R., Colo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) have introduced a bill that would amend the Controlled Substances Act and bar the federal government from prosecuting marijuana users who comply with state, local, and tribal laws. The bill would also open up access to federally insured banks to the legal-marijuana industry. In January, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Obama-era policy that had effectively left the legal-marijuana industry alone, Gardner complained that the DOJ was overstepping its bounds. Gardner was wrong then — Sessions was enforcing a law duly enacted by Congress, not changing the law by fiat — but he is right in now addressing the issue in its proper venue: the legislative process. It’s time for marijuana to be removed from Schedule I of the controlled-substances list. Beyond that, and the drug’s interstate and international traffic, regulation of cannabis should be left to the several states. Our main fear about this bipartisan comity is that impressionable youth will draw the lesson that drugs bring people together.

• In a 7–2 decision, Seattle’s city council voted to repeal a proposed shift in tax policy. The “Amazon tax” (so called because it would have had a big impact on Amazon’s Seattle headquarters) aimed to levy new taxes on businesses grossing at least $20 million annually. NPR reported that around 585 employers would have “paid around $275 per employee per year.” Advocates of the policy argued that the tax would have generated millions of dollars in revenue; Seattle planned to use the money to combat homelessness. We are more convinced, however, by its critics, who argued that the policy amounted to a “tax on jobs” that would punish the largest sources of employment in the area. Homelessness in our major cities is an unfortunately persistent problem that onerous taxation will not solve.

• The Supreme Court took two cases on the subject of partisan gerrymandering and unanimously failed to resolve them. In one case it found that the plaintiffs hadn’t demonstrated standing to sue (kicking that issue back down to the lower courts); in the other, it found that the plaintiffs had waited too long to seek an injunction. On the underlying question here, the Court should ultimately find that partisan gerrymandering, however obnoxious it may be, is not a problem for the judicial branch to address. Redistricting is an inherently political process given to the states, partisan gerrymandering is a natural result of this system and has taken place throughout American history, and there is no objective way for courts to decide what constitutes too much of it. Whatever ails our politics, more judicial management of it is not the answer.

• In an effort to keep its voter rolls up to date and minimize the possibility of fraud, Ohio mails a notice to individuals who fail to vote for two years, asking them to return a postage-paid card or update their information online if they want to remain registered. If they don’t reply to the notice, the state waits another four years — and if they still haven’t voted by that point, they’re removed from the rolls and must re-register to resume voting. This is an entirely fair system, but it runs into a tricky legal question with the National Voter Registration Act, which states both that voters may not be removed for failing to vote and that they may be removed for failing to respond to a notice. In a recent 5–4 decision, the Supreme Court held that the law “does not categorically preclude using nonvoting as part of a test for removal.” There are legitimate arguments on both sides regarding what the confusingly worded statute allows; there is little excuse for the hysteria over “voter purges” that followed the Court’s decision.

• President Trump exited the annual G-7 summit in Quebec in a burst of petulant improvisation. He picked a fight with Canada over trade policy (Canada does not have clean hands — it protects its dairy and aerospace industries — but in a world that also includes China, it is a slight offender). He refused to sign an approved communiqué, and tweeted insults at Justin Trudeau (“Very dishonest & weak”). He had started the proceedings by suggesting that Russia come back into the fold of a new G-8, although Russia was expelled for good reason — waging war on Ukraine. Luckily we are America and so there is no danger of its becoming the G-6.

• How goes the trade war? China and the U.S. are each threatening retaliatory escalation. The European Union and India are levying tariffs against us, many of them focused on the Farm Belt, an important part of President Trump’s electoral base. The Wall Street Journal reports that Trump’s negotiators are frustrated with Canada for not making unilateral concessions in talks over NAFTA. The Senate voted 85–10 for a bill that undoes Trump’s most baffling trade move yet, the lifting of penalties on Chinese company and serial sanctions violator ZTE. Trump’s rhetoric on trade is all about toughness and winning, but a strategy to get from the first to the second remains nowhere to be seen.

• “If the Human Rights Council is going to be an organization we entrust to protect and promote human rights, it must change,” U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley declared in June 2017. “If it fails to change, then we must pursue the advancement of human rights outside of the council.” To the surprise of no one who’s been paying attention, the UNHRC didn’t change. The U.S. will therefore exit the Geneva-based council, according to a joint statement issued by Haley and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The UNHRC is a ridiculous collection of dictatorships and kleptocracies — China, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and Venezuela are members in good standing — the singular purpose of which, it often seems, is to attack Israel and its right to exist as a sovereign state. When it was created in 2006, the Bush administration wisely refused to join it, but President Obama, in one of his first moves, embraced the organization enthusiastically — to no tangible effect on human rights globally. The Trump administration is right to withdraw its participation from a council that truly is not worthy of its name.

• In late May, the Irish people voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the country’s constitution, which had protected the right to life of unborn children. That decision has already made room for the government to push a policy legalizing abortion in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy and permitting it later in pregnancy under certain circumstances. But Irish politicians are taking the new pro-abortion-rights regime a step farther, suggesting that the state will compel Catholic hospitals to perform abortions. Refusing to offer abortions will surely put the public funding of Catholic institutions at risk, and promises that doctors and nurses will receive adequate conscience protections can certainly not be taken on faith. The Irish are learning what we already know: There are some choices pro-choicers aren’t pro.

• The National Institutes of Health just shut down a $100 million clinical trial on the medical evidence for the pop-science recommendation that moderate alcohol use is part of a healthy lifestyle. Not only did it turn out that liquor companies funded the research, but documents obtained by the New York Times showcase collusion with researchers. They demonstrate that, in violation of NIH rules, the Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism spent money to send scientists to meet liquor executives, pitch to them the targeted result (that drinking is healthy), and solicit donations accordingly. Perhaps most telling was an early email between staffers stating that the trial would be named “Cardiovascular Health Effects of Ethanol Research Study.” Check the acronym.

• A group called Students for Fair Admissions is suing Harvard, alleging that it engages in racial discrimination against Asians in its admissions process. The plaintiffs have released devastating evidence to support their claim. First, Harvard evaluates applicants according to a “holistic” process that considers, in addition to their academic, extracurricular, and athletic achievements, “personal” qualities: whether they have demonstrated “humor, sensitivity, grit, leadership,” etc. Asian Americans consistently rank below others on the personality metric. Second, even after these subjective criteria are taken into account, the university tips the scales further by adjusting for “demographics,” in effect racially balancing the incoming undergraduate class. This adjustment made the share of admitted Asian students fall from 26 to 18 percent. The university’s sanctimonious denials beggar belief. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 expressly forbids universities that receive federal funds to discriminate on the basis of race, but, unfortunately, Supreme Court precedent implicitly licenses such discrimination so long as it is well camouflaged. That precedent deserves to be overturned. In the meantime, Harvard should stop lying — and stop discriminating.

• The University of Chicago announced that it would no longer require the SAT or ACT for undergraduate applicants, becoming the first top-ten research university to make the tests optional. The school’s stated rationale is that the tests can act as barriers to low-income and minority students. Together with grades, however, test scores are good predictors of academic performance. They are a barrier to the desire of university administrations to engineer the racial composition of their student bodies, which may be the real point.

• At the Connecticut track-and-field championships for girls in June, Terry Miller finished first in the 100 meters. Andraya Yarwood finished second. Miller finished first in the 200 meters as well. Both athletes were born male but identify as female. In allowing them to compete in the girls’ competition, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference says that it is only following state law. Some parents and athletes have started a petition to change the policy, arguing that athletes with Y chromosomes enjoy over their XX competitors an advantage that is the very reason that women’s athletics are established as distinct from men’s. In offering Miller and Yarwood this accommodation, the competition destroyed its own reason for being.

• Egged on by the indomitable actress Alyssa Milano, left-wing feminists have resuscitated the decades-old debate over the Equal Rights Amendment. Without such an amendment, they insist, the rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution do not actually apply to American women. Actually, women have the same Second Amendment rights that men do, and the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees that all persons — implicitly, whatever their sex — must receive equal protection of the laws. The ERA is an amendment designed for an era of freewheeling judicial improvisation: Its purpose is to get everyone to agree to an anodyne statement that liberal judges can use to impose policies that would not yield widespread agreement. It deserved resistance in the 1970s, and still does.

• The Miss America pageant will henceforth not include a swimsuit competition (evening gowns will be out too). Gretchen Carlson, chairwoman of Miss America’s board of directors, said, “We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance. That’s huge.” Actually, it’s small: One always hunches in bending to fashion. It is fashionable to talk as if nature, and beauty, which is nature’s eldest daughter, did not exist. So Miss America will dress up, presumably to lean in. The testimony of millennia of art to the power of female beauty is dismissed as a product of the male gaze. Yet female artists, both gay (Sappho) and not (Mrs. Wharton), have also noted the appearance of their heroines, and its effect on the worlds they live in. Velázquez — admittedly a bro — got it right in the Rokeby Venus: We look at her splendid form, but so does she, in a mirror held by Cupid. No longer, though, in Atlantic City.

• At the Tony Awards in June, Robert De Niro took the stage to introduce a musical performance. “I’m going to say this,” he began. Dramatic pause. Then two syllables, the vulgar equivalent of “Down with Trump” — and no less trite. The audience broke into applause. De Niro repeated the two syllables. Now the audience rose to its feet and gave him a standing ovation. The curse word wasn’t shocking. What would have been was a declaration of support for the president or, even better, a politics-free Tonys.

• Elon Musk’s Boring Company is anything but. His latest venture secured a contract from the city of Chicago to cut the cost and time of travel between O’Hare Airport and the city’s center. The Boring Company will pay for the construction of this transit system, reportedly to the tune of $1 billion. If the scheme works, modified Tesla Model X shells will glide through subterranean tunnels — dug with the Boring Company’s innovative technology, the true story here — at speeds over 100 mph, moving close to 2,000 passengers each direction every hour. In theory everyone wins: Rahm won’t pay a thing, and Musk will have the opportunity to showcase his tunnel-boring tech for interested investors. The entrepreneur’s endgame? To build the Hyperloop, a vacuum-sealed tunnel system that would shuttle passengers in capsules between cities at over 600 mph, revolutionizing how we travel. Musk wants to “solve the problem of soul-destroying traffic.” We appreciate the audacity, but aren’t investing yet.

• By a wide margin over the second-place candidate, pastor J. D. Greear has been elected the 62nd president of the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination. Earlier this year, a former SBC president was dismissed from his position as the head of a major Baptist seminary in Texas after members of the denomination began to speak up about his history of sexually inappropriate public comments and of counsel to women not to separate from physically abusive husbands. God “has shaken many of our foundations,” Greear wrote shortly after his election. “And I actually think that’s good news, because whom the Lord loves, he chastens.” The new president has spoken with candor about race, the treatment of women, and the need for the SBC to stay true to the Great Commission. “Commissioned missionaries, not political platforms, are what we do,” he tweeted. Greear has been “reaching secularized people with the gospel for a long time,” notes Russell Moore, head of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, “so he’ll be a very able spokesperson for leading the denomination.” The SBC’s fresh start and renewed commitment to the Good News is good news.

• Anthony Bourdain was a celebrity tourist chef. He used food as an excuse to girdle the globe and as a window into the places he touched down, and he put what he found onscreen (alongside himself). His curiosity took him as far afield as West Virginia, which he liked quite as much as Vietnam or Lebanon. “We [New Yorkers] like to think of ourselves as this island of tolerance and forward thinking but we don’t know our neighbors” the way West Virginians do, he said after his visit there. “We talk a good game but we don’t really know each other and that kind of put us to shame.” Alas, the tempo of modern celebrity is borrowed from movie stars and pop musicians, and Bourdain was infected with some of their vices. He had battled depression and drug addiction, but shocked the world with his suicide in a hotel room in Alsace, hanged by the sash of his bathrobe. Dead at 61, R.I.P.

• Players qualify for the Baseball Hall of Fame either by accumulating outstanding statistics or by exemplifying the spirit of their team. Red Schoendienst falls into the second category. As player, coach, and manager and in various executive roles, he was the soul of the St. Louis Cardinals for seven decades. Along the way, he played for and managed a few other clubs (New York Giants, Milwaukee Braves, Oakland A’s), but he always remained a Redbird at heart. Schoendienst, a native of southern Illinois, broke in with St. Louis in the war-depleted year of 1945, when he was still nicknamed “Rex” instead of “Red” despite his bright orange hair. For 13 years he roomed with Stan Musial (a Hall of Famer by any standard), and after they both retired, Schoendienst managed the Cardinals while Musial served as GM. Over his career, even with an eye injury that got him discharged from the Army during World War II, Schoendienst struck out only 3.7 percent of the time (a figure of 10 percent is considered excellent). He exemplified the building-block baseball of his era, leading the National League at various times in sacrifices, stolen bases, and doubles. Dead at 95, R.I.P.

• Jerry Maren was the last surviving cast member from The Wizard of Oz (as obsessive fans will point out, this does not include stunt doubles and child extras). A dwarf, he is best remembered for playing the leader of the Lollipop Guild of Munchkins, who welcome Dorothy to Oz; but Maren’s song-and-dance career had begun in the dying days of vaudeville, and he stayed active in show business well into the digital era. Maren’s acting gigs ranged from Mayor McCheese of McDonaldland to the man who threw confetti in the air on The Gong Show, and he was ubiquitous in movies, television shows, and commercials wherever a “little person” was called for. Ars brevis, vita longa. Dead at 98, R.I.P.

A Reckoning at the FBI

There is much to admire in Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz’s highly anticipated report on the FBI’s Clinton-emails investigation. Horowitz’s 568-page analysis is comprehensive, fact-intensive, and cautious to a fault. It is also, nonetheless, an incomplete exercise — it omits half the story, the Russia investigation — and it flinches from following the facts to their logical conclusion.

The media and the Left are spinning the report as a vindication of the FBI from the charge of bias, when the opposite is the truth.

The evidence of anti-Trump bias on the part of the agents who steered the Clinton probe is immense. In fact, the most hair-raising section of the report is devoted to communications among several FBI officials (not just the infamous duo of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page) that overflow with abhorrence for Trump (“loathsome,” “an idiot,” “awful,” “an enormous d**che,” “F*** Trump”) and his core supporters (“retarded,” “the crazies,” one could “smell” them). More alarmingly, the agents express a determination to stop Trump from becoming president (e.g., Strzok, on being asked whether Trump will become president, says “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it”; and on being assured that Trump’s election is highly unlikely, he opines that “we can’t take that risk” and that the bureau needs “an insurance policy” against Trump).

Horowitz, however, spends much of his report discounting bias with respect to individual investigative decisions. FBI director Christopher Wray has disingenuously argued that the IG “did not find any evidence of political bias or improper considerations impacting the investigation.” But Horowitz found overwhelming evidence of bias and merely withheld judgment on whether it affected the investigation at key points. 

Of course, what principally drove decisions in the Clinton-emails investigation was the certainty that President Obama’s Justice Department was not going to charge Hillary Clinton with crimes, notwithstanding the abundant evidence. That is, regardless of whether individual decisions were driven by pro-Clinton bias, the predetermined outcome surely was. 

A comparison between the handling of the Clinton emails and that of the Trump-Russia probes would almost certainly illustrate the influence of this bias, but that is exactly what the IG report lacks. The two investigations are inextricably linked. They were conducted at the same time, by the same sets of top FBI agents and Justice Department officials, in the operating environment of the same event — the 2016 election.

The evidence of bias is clear, and it will take the FBI’s reputation some time to recover.

Kim’s Big Day Decision

Donald Trump is ever the showman, and he put on quite the show in Singapore in a surreal meeting with North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un. Kim was overheard, via his translator, saying it was like something from “a science-fiction movie,” and that was about right.

The representative of a gangster state so immiserated and backwards that he couldn’t even fly his own plane to the summit was greeted warmly, nay fulsomely, by the leader of the free world. We are fully aware of the dictates of realpolitik and the need at times to put aside our values in the service of our interests. But praising this tinpot killer as a promising young man, as Trump did in Singapore, is gross and unnecessary.

Even if we have to treat with Kim, we should never forget — or let him forget — that he’s a parasite on his people who violates every civilized norm and runs the most hideous police state in the world. Reagan, of course, never stopped talking about Soviet oppression even as he met with Soviet leaders. Pressuring the North on its wholesale violations of human rights should be an element of our pressure campaign against it — indeed, the nature of the regime is at the root of its recklessness and danger.

The buttering up of Kim would at least be a little more understandable if he had made major concessions at the summit. The meeting was initially billed as the moment when Kim would perhaps commit to complete, verifiable, rapid denuclearization. Instead, he produced more of the same — vague assurances of disarmament — in exchange for American concessions.

First, there was the legitimizing fact of the meeting with an American head of state itself. Second, there was the communiqué that accepted the North Korean formulation of “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” its term of art for ending the U.S. nuclear umbrella over South Korea. Third, Trump promised to end joint U.S.–South Korean military exercises, a longtime demand of North Korea.

The president says that the sanctions will remain, and this is welcome, but maintaining them won’t be so easy. The nature of a sanctions regime is that if you aren’t steadily increasing pressure, you are probably losing ground, because your adversary is usually finding new ways to cheat. South Korea will push to start doing business with the North on the basis of the warm atmospherics of the meeting, and China will have even less incentive to squeeze the North.

What to do now? We need to make every effort to keep the sanctions in place, to come up with clear, unmistakable benchmarks toward denuclearization, and to be willing to declare this latest iteration of the West’s long negotiations with North Korea a failure, if or when Pyongyang balks at following through.

Perhaps Kim Jong-un is truly interested in parting with his regime’s weapons in exchange for an economic opening. If so, maybe Trump’s over-the-top salesmanship in Singapore will have made a difference. But we fear that the North is playing its usual hand — selling the West a theoretical cessation of its weapons program, yet again — and playing it well.

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

In This Issue



Books, Arts & Manners




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