Magazine August 13, 2018, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

• The number of people in our politics who drop their pants for a video is rising at an alarming rate.

• Special counsel Robert Mueller indicted twelve Russian intelligence agents for a variety of high-tech offenses, including hacking the Democratic National Committee in the spring and summer of 2016. The Russians tampered with no voting machines, but they sought, as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein put it, to “exacerbate domestic differences and try to confuse [and] divide . . . us.” The story would be less newsworthy were it not for months of denials by some conservatives and President Trump that Russians played any role. There was the story, promoted by Fox and endorsed by Newt Gingrich, that the DNC documents were leaked by a disgruntled staffer who was subsequently murdered. There was Trump himself, who said in the first presidential debate that the hacker might be “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.” Time for everyone to put aside the games and take serious threats seriously.

• Mueller’s months-long Russia investigation, plus Donald Trump’s evident fondness for Vladimir Putin, have led his enemies to throw around the word “treason.” Charles M. Blow of the New York Times won the prize with a column headlined “Trump, Treasonous Traitor.” Time for deep breaths, everyone. Treason is strictly defined in the Constitution: It “shall only consist in levying war against [the United States], or in adherence to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” The Founders were particular because they knew that treason trials had been a favorite means throughout English history of punishing political enemies; “prosecutions for treason,” Benjamin Franklin remarked at the Constitutional Convention, “were generally virulent.” No one has levied war, and Russia, though certainly a rival, is not a declared enemy. Since the thing cannot exist, keep the word out of our rhetoric.

• The FBI made substantial use of the “Steele dossier” to obtain warrants to monitor a former Trump-campaign adviser from the FISA court. The dossier, an apparently unverified compendium of multiple-hearsay “reports” based on anonymous Russian sources, was produced by a former British spy for the Hillary Clinton campaign. Though intelligence officials have minimized the dossier’s significance (and the FBI’s failure to disclose its Clinton ties), its prominent role in rationalizing the surveillance is undeniable now that the Bureau has released 412 pages of heavily redacted FISA documents. The surveillance began during the October 2016 campaign stretch run and continued through the following summer. Trump-campaign adviser Carter Page was the named target, although the FBI told the FISA court it believed Russia was working with other Trump aides, too. Democrats maintain that the redacted portions conceal the truly damning information. We need more disclosure to judge, and the president should order it promptly.

• Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the socialist Joan of Arc who won the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th congressional district, sat for an interview on Margaret Hoover’s reboot of Firing Line and made more news than she expected. In discussing Israel, she used the fraught word “occupation” — what Israel’s enemies call its presence on the West Bank, or its existence, period. Pressed by Hoover, she admitted to confusion: “I am not the expert at geopolitics on this issue.” She also explained that unemployment is low because “everyone has two jobs.” But double-job holders are not counted twice in the employment statistics, and their current number — 6 to 7 million, versus 148 million holding one job each — hews to the historic norm. Youth and inexperience have no monopoly on ignorance, and when Ocasio-Cortez takes her seat in Congress she will be serving alongside many large stakeholders, but she is showing a solid portfolio of her own.

• For the last three decades, presidents have generally declined to comment on the monetary-policy decisions of the Federal Reserve, both because they did not think they could sway those decisions and because they thought its reputation for independence contributed to its effectiveness. President Trump broke with his predecessors, mildly complaining about the upward trend of interest rates. Higher rates, he said, would push the trade deficit higher. He is likely right about that. But it is his own appointees, who are concerned about inflation and want to “normalize” interest rates, who are setting the policy. And the tax cuts Trump asked for and signed are also expanding the trade deficit. By making investment in the U.S. more attractive, and by increasing federal borrowing, they are causing the dollar to appreciate, just as the Fed’s policy is. There are good arguments for and against the Fed’s current round of monetary tightening. None of them involve the trade deficit, which occupies too many minds in Washington, D.C., as it is.

• Barack Obama gave the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg (notable timing, since it occurred on Mandela’s hundredth birthday). There were some veiled shots at President Trump, and some liberal-tinged uplift.  considering the speaker and the venue, there was an important paragraph about inquiry and identity: “Democracy demands that we’re able to. . . also get inside the reality of people who are different than us, so we can understand their point of view. . . . You can’t do this if you just out of hand disregard what your opponent has to say from the start. And you can’t do it if you insist that those who aren’t like you because they are white or they are male . . . can[not] understand what I’m feeling, that somehow they lack standing to speak on certain matters.” Those were direct hits on closed-mindedness and tribalism: a word fitly spoken for elements of both left and (yes) right. The former president is to be congratulated for speaking it.

• The news said that there was a tape of Donald Trump as a candidate, discussing payments to a Playboy bunny. An Evangelical leader, Robert Jeffress, went on Fox News to defend his support of Trump and that of many other Evangelicals. He said that Ronald Reagan was a divorcé and a “known womanizer.” And “the reason we supported President Reagan was not because we supported womanizing or divorce: We supported his policies.” It is true that Reagan was divorced, in 1949. But he always insisted on a factual record: “I didn’t divorce anyone; she divorced me.” As for the charge of womanizing, it is fantastical, a smear. Reagan has been accused of many things over the years — never of that, even by his worst enemies. The Reverend Jeffress is perfectly entitled to defend President Trump, but he should leave Ronald Reagan out of it.

• Well, that didn’t work out the way it was supposed to. Back in January, Whirlpool CEO Marc Bitzer celebrated new tariffs on imported washing machines as “without a doubt . . . a positive catalyst” for his company. In March, the Trump administration added some more tariffs on steel and aluminum — making it more expensive for Whirlpool to import the raw materials it needs. The company’s stock is now down 15 percent. Who could have imagined that trade restrictions could backfire?

• Now President Trump wants to impose tariffs of 25 percent on imported automobiles and automobile parts. In May, he ordered the Commerce Department to conduct an investigation into the issue under a national-security provision of the Trade Expansion Act, the same provision he cited in imposing steel and aluminum tariffs. Imposing these tariffs under that provision would constitute an abuse of executive authority; imported Mercedes sedans have even less to do with American national security than does Canadian steel. On the merits, the tariffs are no better: Prices for popular cars have been projected to rise by thousands of dollars if they are imposed. Under the World Trade Organization rules most countries mostly follow, the U.S. cannot raise its tariffs above 2.5 percent, but other countries have higher caps. Trump has a legitimate complaint about this disparity. The proper way to remedy it is to pursue trade deals with other countries, not to place new burdens on American consumers and invite more tariffs from other countries — especially when we are already embroiled in disparate trade conflicts with many other countries. More and more our trade policies seem to be based on spasms rather than strategy.

• Other countries are pursuing their interests more systematically. Japanese and European authorities announced at a press conference that they have signed a mammoth bilateral trade deal. Covering almost one-third of the global economy, the Japan–EU Economic Partnership Agreement will reduce barriers for, among others, European exporters of beef, cheese, and wine, and Japanese car manufacturers. Neither Japan nor the EU member countries have ratified the provisional agreement yet. But it sends a clear message: The art of the deal is still being practiced, even if not by America.

• Meanwhile, the trade war is being pursued with inexplicable and inexcusable leniency in one case. Harsh punishments against Chinese telecom corporation ZTE have been scrapped by the Trump administration and Republican leadership. After ZTE was found to have sold sensitive goods to Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Cuba — in violation of American sanctions — the Trump administration moved to forbid American companies to sell parts to the firm for seven years. Since ZTE buys American semiconductors to manufacture smartphones, this represented an existential threat to its business. And since ZTE is a strategic asset in China’s unique brand of state capitalism, the Chinese government scrambled to negate the threat. Xi Jinping wound up convincing Trump to withdraw it; instead, the Trump administration decided to levy a $1 billion fine against the firm and impose some weaker penalties. A handful of senators, including Republicans Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio, admirably tried to restore the original punishment in a defense bill. But GOP congressional leaders sided with the administration. We will come to regret this surrender.

• Under the tax law passed last year, only $10,000 in state and local taxes can be deducted from your federal return. There had been no cap previously. Now four liberal states — Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York — have sued on the theory that the Constitution requires an uncapped deduction. The suit is a farce from beginning to end, albeit a boring one. It even includes a distortion of a post on National Review Online — a post that did not, in fact, endorse the states’ theory that scaling back a tax break for households constitutes “coercion” of state governments. What the states fear is that their taxes will now hit their high-income citizens harder, and those citizens will either agitate for tax cuts or leave for lower-tax destinations. This is not the result of any coercion from Republicans in Washington, D.C., but it is a happy side effect of their bill. As is, if we are to be honest, seeing liberal attorneys general beclown themselves in court.

• The Trump administration is looking to change the regulations surrounding the Endangered Species Act. Forty-five years after its initial enactment, the law largely serves to throw a wrench in economic development and to stop property owners from improving their land, even when the benefits to endangered species are small or nonexistent. The current regulations bar the government from considering the economic trade-offs posed by designating a species as endangered, for example, and the Fish and Wildlife Service perplexingly grants the same protections to “threatened” species as to “endangered” ones. In one case the Supreme Court is currently considering, millions of dollars’ worth of improvements are being held up because land is “unoccupied critical habitat” for the endangered dusky gopher frog. Yes, “unoccupied”: The frog doesn’t live there, hasn’t for decades, and indeed can’t — the land is no longer habitable to it, though there are some “ephemeral ponds,” which are one landscape feature the frogs need. Only Congress can truly rewrite this mess of a statute, but the administration is justified in taking steps to align the regulations with common sense.

• New York governor Andrew Cuomo, speaking on July 11 in Poughkeepsie, assured his base that he would defend a woman’s right to an abortion if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. “I will sue when the Supreme Court acts,” said Cuomo, who also demanded the passage of a state statute to “codify” Roe. What the governor is talking about is a mystery. There is in fact no one to sue, and nowhere to sue him, over any Supreme Court decision. Perhaps this sheds light on the problem of frivolous litigation, since often people’s reaction to occurrences they do not like is to fling lawsuits in every direction. Cuomo did, however, get one thing right: If Roe is overturned, the question of abortion will devolve to legislatures, as it should.

• This spring, Philadelphia’s government called for hundreds of families in the area to take in some of the 6,000 children languishing in the city’s foster-care system. But even as the city did so, it suspended all foster-care referrals to Catholic Social Services — one of the most successful of Philadelphia’s foster agencies — indefinitely barring the group from placing children in homes. The city has threatened to permanently terminate its contract with Catholic Social Services unless the group agrees to begin placing children in homes with same-sex couples. The group has filed an appeal against this policy, but in the meantime, the city government is demonstrating that it cares far more for waging a social-justice culture war than it does about what’s best for Philadelphia’s children.

• President Trump had nominated Ryan Bounds for an appeals court based in Oregon after a committee run by the state’s two Democratic senators gave him its top ranking. But then the Democrats accused Bounds, an accomplished conservative jurist, of withholding from the committee “racially charged” articles that he had written in college. Never mind that he had been asked to disclose writings going back as far as law school and had sent the Senate the collegiate articles as well. Never mind, too, that the articles themselves showed no trace of racial animus. Bounds merely criticized organizations based on race, especially when they used slurs such as “oreo” and “twinkie” against nonwhite conservatives. Absurdly, he was criticized for using those terms in the course of denouncing them. Republicans voted to finish debate on the nomination and proceed to a vote — and then, suddenly, Senator Tim Scott, the South Carolina Republican, said he could not support Bounds. Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) backed Scott, with a spokesman hitting the nominee for both the writings and the supposed lack of candor. Under last-minute attack, Bounds withdrew the nomination. The cause of a federal judiciary committed to the rule of law has been set back, and a man’s good name traduced, by conservative senators who would have known better if they had done their homework.

• The ACLU — that’s the American Civil Liberties Union, in case you, like its leadership, have forgotten — published on its website a “pro-liberty case for gun restrictions.” The argument goes that because guns are so freely available, we have sought safety through more widespread surveillance, greater use of metal detectors, increased deployment of armed police, and so forth. It is an argument that the ACLU would never use with respect to rights it actually values. (It would never say that pornography has caused divorces and put courts in charge of familial decisions, and therefore might need restricting.) This ACLU missive comes after the organization flipped on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which it used to champion and now wants to narrow, and “hate speech,” which it now says it will be less eager to defend as a legal right. The organization appears to be cutting its way through the Bill of Rights in order. Can an endorsement of letting the army quarter troops in your home be far behind?

• In some quarters of American life, it’s now not just out of bounds to be conservative, it’s out of bounds even to compliment a conservative. Just ask actor Mark Duplass. After a positive encounter with Ben Shapiro, he tweeted, “Fellow liberals: If you are interested at all in ‘crossing the aisle’ you should consider following @benshapiro. I don’t agree with him on much but he’s a genuine person who once helped me for no other reason than to be nice. He doesn’t bend the truth. His intentions are good.” The response was immediate and vicious, so vicious that it led Duplass to delete the tweet, apologize, and accuse Shapiro of racism, homophobia, and xenophobia. It was a pitiful response. As always, it was accompanied by progressives’ saying that they didn’t hate all conservatives, just people like Shapiro. But with each new controversy, it becomes clearer that they hate not just some conservatives but the very presence of conservative ideas in the public square. It is a tribute to the intolerance of the contemporary Left that it should make one of its members apologize for a fit of charitable-mindedness and make up for it with insults.

• The online speech police have claimed another career. Disney fired Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn after discovering almost ten-year-old tweets in which he made horrific and offensive jokes about, among other things, pedophilia. By all accounts Gunn had been a consummate professional on set, had discussed frequently how he had matured over the course of his career, and had apologized profusely for his past offenses. No matter. Under the new rules, people may not grow and change. Apologies are irrelevant. Past mistakes define a person in the present. This is yet another dangerous precedent, one that will continue to stifle America’s culture of free speech.

• Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has announced that he will not be instructing the platform to bar Holocaust deniers. Although Zuckerberg explained his reasoning clumsily — “I don’t think they’re intentionally getting it wrong,” he said of those who peddle the lie — he has inadvertently hit upon a prudent course of action. Facebook is a private company, and its owners are able to prohibit whatever they wish on their service. Legally, there is no First Amendment claim here. In practice, though, it would be almost impossible for the company’s employees to police the site consistently — and, more specifically, for its arbiters to determine what was said in jest or as satire, what was said in the spirit of free inquiry, and what was said as part of a deliberate attempt to mislead and sow discord. As it is difficult for giant governments to set workable lines within First Amendment jurisprudence, so it will be tough for giant corporations to set workable lines on our social-media platforms. At first blush, Zuckerberg’s position seems naïve. On reflection, it betrays a humility that may serve him well.

• The whole point of Zionism was to create a nation-state for the Jews, and that’s what happened. The objection of some Jews and lots of Arabs to nation-building has been constant, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu determined to do something about that. Seven years ago, he and his political colleagues began to work on a basic law defining Zionism. One in five of the population are Arab, and behind closed doors, so it is understood, anything considered harmful either to Israeli Jews or Arabs was watered down or dropped. Now passed in the Knesset, the law stipulates that “Israel is the historic home of the Jewish people, and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it.” This does not infringe on the individual rights of any Israeli, Jewish or Arab, nor does it create individual privileges. The law posits Jewish settlement without defining whereabouts, and also makes Hebrew the official language, relegating Arabic to “special status,” something that cannot have an impact on its daily usage. Religion is nowhere mentioned. One eminent constitutional lawyer points out that numerous liberal democracies in Europe have comparable laws. Nonetheless, during the vote Arab lawmakers tore up their papers and one of them shouted in defiance of the parliamentary reality he was enjoying that this was “the official beginning of fascism and apartheid.”

• President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua is doing what President Nicolás Maduro is doing in Venezuela: using violence against peaceful protesters in order to hang on to power. Since April, nearly 300 Nicaraguans have been killed. There was a dramatic scene in a Catholic church, where protesters were holed up. Some of them were wounded, yet the government would not allow ambulances to reach the church. A Washington Post reporter, Joshua Partlow, was holed up with the protesters, interviewing them. He issued dramatic reports. People say that democracy is no panacea, and they have a point — yet peoples all over the world have sore need of democracy, including Nicaraguans and Venezuelans.

• Liu Xia is a painter, poet, and photographer. She is also the widow of Liu Xiaobo, who for years was the leading democracy advocate in China. In 2010, he received the Nobel Peace Prize, in absentia — he was in prison. He died seven years later, surrounded by state agents, as usual. From the time of the Nobel announcement, Liu Xia was kept under a brutal form of house arrest: She was totally isolated. Her mental and physical health deteriorated badly. Now, eight years later, she has been released, thanks mainly to the efforts of Angela Merkel and the German government. She arrived in Berlin on July 10, with a big smile. Chances are she will not be speaking out: The Chinese government has kept her brother back in China, as a hostage. So it goes in that disgusting state.

• Students at the University of Manchester, in England, defaced a mural of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” in their newly renovated union building. Kipling wrote the poem in 1895, and both the work and its author are now deemed “problematic” by the diversity squad. A student-union “diversity officer” said that Kipling was “not in line with our values.” The “liberation and access officer” suggested the work was racist and called for the “reclamation of history by those who have been oppressed by the likes of Kipling for so many centuries.” You can see why they would resent a poem that tells you to “keep your head when all about you are losing theirs.”

• By the time the coach and all twelve members of the Wild Boars, a boys’ soccer team, had been rescued from the dark depths of a flooded cave in northern Thailand on July 10, the ordeal had lasted more than two weeks. An international team of 19 divers brought them to safety, four and then five at a time, over the course of two days. The logistics were complex. The mission demanded uncommon skill and training, and extraordinary courage. One of the divers, Saman Kunan, a 38-year-old former Thai Navy SEAL, died while laying oxygen tanks underwater to create an air line between the cave’s exit and the spot where, two and a half miles into the cave complex, the boys and their coach were stranded on a bank above the rising water. Most of them spent nine days praying in a Buddhist monastery, in a traditional expression of gratitude, after a brief period of rest and recuperation. “We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what,” one of the Thai SEALS said when the last of the 13 had been transported out alive. We’re not sure either. Let’s call it heroism.

• The mayor of Lancaster, Calif., wants to ban employers in the city from requiring employees to wear ties. The reason? Because (a) a German study says ties that are worn too tight restrict the flow of blood to the brain, thus potentially impairing thought, and (b) mandating the wearing of ties by men but not women constitutes “compelled gender presentation.” A reasonable response to these objections would be (a) Okay, let them wear their ties loose and (b) Get a life. But reasonable responses are rare in California politics these days. Even the scientists admit that they cannot link any observable external effect to the modest reduction in oxygen. And in any case it can’t explain what happened to the mayor.

• It’s summer in America, and because our public servants seem to have nothing better to do, kids across the fruited plain are getting busted for running lemonade stands without the requisite permits, health inspections, and business licenses. In Bill de Blasio’s New York City, young entrepreneurs must apply for a “Temporary Food Service Establishment” permit. In Colorado, three boys using their stand to raise money for charity were shut down by the police. In Porterville, Calif., Autumn Thomasson, age 6, faced a similar problem after she set up her stand because, according to her mother, “she wanted to buy a bike to ride around her new neighborhood.” This being America, people aren’t taking these offenses lying down: Lemonade Day, a Texas nonprofit, is working to change local health-department regulations. The Freedom Center of Missouri, a libertarian group, has mapped shutdowns nationwide, and Dave Roland, the center’s litigation director, has declared that lemonade stands are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Now, Country Time Lemonade, sick of the nanny-state killjoys, has decided to intervene as well, declaring that it will pay for the permits and fines of any kids targeted by local committees for public safety. The meddlesome grown-ups should cool down. May we suggest a refreshing drink?

• The consensus is that Serena Williams is the greatest female tennis player ever. Some people think she is the greatest tennis player. Some think she is the greatest athlete. Last year, she won the Australian Open when pregnant. The birth was treacherous: The mother almost died. This summer at Wimbledon, her husband wrote, “Days after our baby girl was born, I kissed my wife goodbye before surgery and neither of us knew if she would be coming back. We just wanted her to survive — 10 months later, she’s in the Wimbledon final.” She lost that final, to Angelique Kerber. But her effort was valiant, even astounding. She has won seven Wimbledons already, and no one would count her out for an eighth, though the calendar says she is 36. Her husband said she was going home to hold her greatest trophy.

• In 1985, when the first Blockbuster Video store opened, it was a wonder: “You go to the store and they have thousands of videos and you can rent any one you want!” Today anyone under 20 would be equally dumbfounded: “You had to go to a store?” Blockbuster was one step in the endless supersizing of American leisure: Radio was replaced by television, a handful of channels was replaced by hundreds, the broadcaster’s schedule was replaced by the viewer’s selection, and finally even the need to get off the couch was eliminated (as was the couch itself, for anyone with a cell phone). Blockbuster’s reign was brief: rapid growth over the 1990s, IPO in 2002, a peak of more than 9,000 stores by 2004 — and then bankruptcy in 2010 and the closure of all company-owned U.S. stores in 2013. A few privately run stores that had licensed the name remained in business, but by 2017 there were only three left, and now two of these, both in Internet-spotty Alaska, have shut down. This leaves only the Bend, Ore., store to keep Blockbuster alive for antiquarians and provide an emblematic storefront as a backdrop for tourist photos — taken, of course, with cell phones.

• “The principal object of a Newspaper is to convey intelligence,” the institutional voice of The Spectator intoned in its first issue, on July 5, 1828. “The magazine rapidly acquired the reputation of being the best informed on political affairs, offering more sustained (and statistically supported) criticism than other newspapers,” contributor David Butterfield notes on the occasion of its 190th anniversary. It’s not boasting if it’s true. The Spectator has a longstanding but loose association with Great Britain’s Conservative party, serving as a steppingstone for many Tory politicians — Boris Johnson edited it for several years earlier this century — but never as a mouthpiece for orthodoxies or pieties, political or otherwise. It attracts readers who like tough-minded, clear-eyed writers and prefer their wit dry. In two years it will observe another milestone, the publication of its 10,000th issue. From this side of the Atlantic, cheers to the oldest continuously published pro-American paper not founded by Alexander Hamilton.

• “Sometimes the most subversive standards are the ones that we ourselves profess,” Matthew Scully wrote in these pages in 2013, “and here defenders of the unborn need only think of their own most universal ideas and moral guideposts: The restraint of the strong toward the weak. The compassionate society. Broadening the circle of protection.” Pro-life sentiment exists along a continuum, Scully argues: If those who feel a natural sympathy for unborn children stretch only a little, they will find themselves in the company of animal-welfare advocates — and vice versa. When two young lawyers who were already conservative and vegan were introduced to each other, they quickly bonded over their shared political convictions, and “the Scully article,” as they now call it, became a touchstone in their relationship. “We are a couple with a William F. Buckley Jr. obsession,” Josh Loigman told the New York Times, referring to himself and Ann Porter, both of them recent graduates of George Washington University. They were married last month in an outdoor ceremony in New Paltz, N.Y. Congratulations, but remember that for lasting marital happiness you need two subscriptions.

• One hundred years ago this July the Romanov family — Nicholas II, his wife, five children — and four loyal retainers were herded into a cellar in Yekaterinburg, where they were shot, stabbed, and bludgeoned to death. “There is a deep symbolic meaning to the massacre,” wrote historian Richard Pipes. “Just as liberty has its great historic days . . . so does totalitarianism. The manner in which the massacre was prepared and carried out, at first denied and then justified, has something uniquely odious about it.” What was that? Pipes quotes Trotsky: “The execution of the Tsar’s family was needed not only to frighten . . . the enemy but also to shake up our own ranks, to show that there was no retreating.” Pipes concludes: “When a government arrogates to itself the power to kill people, not because of what they had done or even might do, but because their death is ‘needed,’ we are entering an entirely new moral realm.” The massacre of the Romanovs “carried mankind . . . across the threshold of deliberate genocide.” R.I.P.

May’s Exit from brexit

As we went to press, the headline British news on Brexit was that Prime Minister Theresa May had taken personal charge of negotiations with the EU. Those negotiations will aim for the settlement the cabinet adopted at Chequers, one that keeps Britain inside EU rules and regulations and has prompted the resignation of several top government officials.

Under the new arrangement, the job of Brexit secretary Dominic Raab will be effectively confined to preparing for a “no deal” Brexit. But since May prevented his predecessor from making such preparations earlier and now argues that a “no deal” departure would be an unimaginable disaster, that looks increasingly like an exercise in CYA just in case May fails to persuade Brussels to accept her surrender. Remainer politicians and pundits add to the pressure for an outcome that keeps Britain inside EU rules and regulations by claiming that if Britain leaves without the “goodwill” of Brussels, vital food and medicines will run out within two weeks. It’s not clear why this would happen, since food and medicine are readily available on the world market and, as Adam Smith explained as long ago as 1776, are sold not out of the goodwill of their suppliers but from self-interest. Nor can most Brits see much evidence of goodwill in Brussels, rather hostility and an openly expressed desire to punish.

This rising hysteria of Remainer arguments may be due to the fact that the Chequers package, devised in secret by May and her aide Olly Robbins, is meeting massive and stubborn resistance from the public and in particular from the Tory public. Moreover, this resistance seems to harden the more the policy is explained — in part because, as the distinguished Tory lawyer Martin Howe, QC, points out with forensic relentlessness, most of the explanations are terminological inexactitudes.

It’s far from certain that May’s white paper would win a parliamentary vote even if accepted unchanged by Brussels. If the government’s flagship policy is rejected, however, what then? On the same day as the announcement of the government’s new team, Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg questioned Robbins before a Commons committee about how the new Brexit white paper had come to be written. With marked politeness he made clear that he was not trying to pin responsibility for it on Robbins: “I attribute no blame to you at all because you are answerable to the prime minister.” It didn’t sound like an exculpation.

The Mouth That Toured

Donald Trump ended his, ahem, eventful European tour with one of the sorriest performances of his presidency at a joint press conference with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Trump, as usual, couldn’t bring himself to frankly acknowledge Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, a failure made much worse when he was standing next to the perpetrator of the offense, who probably can’t believe his luck in getting a continual rhetorical free pass from the president of the United States.

Accusations of treason and blackmail immediately poured in from the left, when the explanation for Trump’s refusal to state the obvious is likely much simpler: He can’t bear the blow to his ego involved in admitting that the Russians worked to help him, even though this doesn’t invalidate his victory and is nowhere near the top of the list of explanations for it (the rotten candidacy of Hillary Clinton and Trump’s message had much more to do with it).

Even worse than Trump’s sophistry on the meddling was his insistence that the U.S. and Russia bear equivalent blame for poor relations between the two countries. This is a disgraceful misreading of recent history: Russia’s contribution to poor relations — besides interfering in our election and assassinating its nationals on foreign soil — is invading sovereign countries; our alleged contribution is extending a defensive alliance, NATO, to countries that desperately wanted to join it, in part because they knew Russia has a practice of invading sovereign countries.

Trump tried to clean up the mess back home by contending that he had really meant to say the opposite of what he did say in his press conference with Putin — i.e., in Helsinki, he said he saw no reason why the hacking “would” have been committed by Russia, when he meant to say that he saw no reason why the hacking “wouldn’t” have been committed by Russia. The walk-back wasn’t particularly convincing and his heart clearly wasn’t in it, even though his own director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, is warning that the Russians want to do it again.

Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki was wholly misbegotten, an itch that he’s wanted to scratch since he got elected. On the rest of the trip, he pursued valid goals (such as the need for more NATO defense spending, especially from Germany) or made valid points (such as that Theresa May is botching Brexit, and that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project is a boon to Russia) in a characteristically bombastic, indelicate manner.

By the time Trump had left the NATO meeting, he was praising the alliance and boasting of great progress. But in an interview later with Fox News, he said he doesn’t like the idea of defending the latest entrant into NATO, the Balkan state of Montenegro. Showing this ambivalence on NATO’s core commitment to mutual self-defense undermines the alliance’s deterrent force and risks giving Vladimir Putin the wrong idea.

We hope the upshot, once the dust settles and jaws stop dropping, is that the Europeans will spend more on defense and Angela Merkel will find it harder to defend Nord Stream 2. But Trump shouldn’t want the main impetus for any additional spending to be his unpredictability and his soft spot for Vladimir Putin (even as his administration’s actual policies on Russia have been tougher than those of its predecessors).

Whatever their flaws, Angela Merkel and Theresa May are our allies, unlike the cynical brute whom Trump met with in Helsinki and refuses to criticize in public.

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

In This Issue



Books, Arts & Manners


Most Popular


COVID’s Comeback

We’re living in Groundhog Day. For the second time this year, COVID-19 is sweeping the country and we don’t have any great options for dealing with it. We didn’t squander the past four months, exactly, but we demonstrably failed to get to a place where we can enjoy an open society without the virus taking ... Read More

COVID’s Comeback

We’re living in Groundhog Day. For the second time this year, COVID-19 is sweeping the country and we don’t have any great options for dealing with it. We didn’t squander the past four months, exactly, but we demonstrably failed to get to a place where we can enjoy an open society without the virus taking ... Read More

On the Letter

I thought it right to congratulate John MacArthur and Harper’s magazine on putting together an open letter in defense of intellectual liberty — including the liberty to make mistakes -- as a necessary component of social justice. And further congrats on assembling its broad church of signatories. MacArthur ... Read More

On the Letter

I thought it right to congratulate John MacArthur and Harper’s magazine on putting together an open letter in defense of intellectual liberty — including the liberty to make mistakes -- as a necessary component of social justice. And further congrats on assembling its broad church of signatories. MacArthur ... Read More