Magazine | August 27, 2018, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

• Poor Barack Obama — even his presidential library wasn’t shovel-ready.

• “Medicare for all,” Bernie Sanders’s plan to nationalize the American health-care system, would cost at least $32.6 trillion over ten years, according to a study by Charles Blahous at the libertarian Mercatus Center. A few points of comparison are in order for that humongous figure. In the 2018 fiscal year, federal expenditures will be $4.1 trillion. Federal revenue will be $3.6 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office projects the federal deficit to total $12.4 trillion over the next ten years. Adding $3.26 trillion per year in health-care spending to the federal budget, then, would swell government spending by almost 80 percent, require massive increases in individual and corporate tax rates, and probably still add trillions of dollars to our already unsustainable national debt. And this is with a charitable estimate: The Mercatus study granted Sanders’s highly dubious assumptions regarding provider and pharmaceutical costs. Under more realistic assumptions, Blahous estimated that the plan would cost an additional $5 trillion over ten years. When Sanders rolled out the proposal months ago, he ignored the question of cost. Now we know why.

• Michael Cohen has reportedly alleged that Don Jr. told his father about his infamous meeting with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. Don Jr. never should have taken the meeting, and the White House never should have issued, at Trump’s direction, a dishonest statement obscuring what it was really about. But, as far as we know, the meeting came to nothing. The problem now is that Don Jr. told Congress he didn’t inform his father about the meeting, and if that’s provably false (of course, Cohen is not exactly a reliable witness himself), he faces legal jeopardy. Special-counsel investigations usually end up focused on process crimes, and the best rule for people ensnared in them is to tell the truth, no matter how inconvenient or embarrassing it may seem at the time.

• An effort spearheaded by members of the House Freedom Caucus to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has been put on hold (Representative Mark Meadows, R., N.C., was the prime mover; Representative Jim Jordan, R., Ohio, who wants to be speaker, was among the co-sponsors). The articles of impeachment accused Rosenstein of withholding documents from Congress and of appointing Robert Mueller special counsel. Calling for impeachment was a stunt: Speaker Paul Ryan and Attorney General Jeff Sessions opposed the move; there was no way two-thirds of the Senate would have convicted; and Trump has the power to fire Rosenstein at any time. Trump and his admirers would ideally like to see the Mueller investigation end. But second-best, in their minds, is using it as a punching bag. The blows will continue, in other forms.

• A crowd at a Trump rally heckled CNN reporter Jim Acosta during one of his live shots. This is uncivil and untoward, and Trump should stop talking about the press (“enemy of the people”) as if he were about to liquidate the kulaks. The abuse of Acosta is largely for show — other reporters note that when the cameras are off, rallygoers shake his hand and ask for autographs — but the president shouldn’t be raising the temperature when emotions are already so high. That said, the media have earned the contempt Republicans have for them. Acosta is a particular offender, a performer whose journalism largely consists of asking argumentative questions to get attention for himself and score points. Don’t heckle him — and don’t take him seriously.

• When Donald Trump was reported to have declared the FBI headquarters in Washington — a brutalist, exposed-concrete-slab monstrosity on Pennsylvania Avenue — “one of the ugliest buildings in the city,” he was most certainly correct. Brutalism, the Frankensteinesque architectural fad of the ’60s and ’70s, famous for its modernist, fortress-like style, has marred American cities for half a century, vomiting forth public-housing projects that look more like cell blocks and government office buildings that seem intentionally designed to dwarf and kill the surrounding neighborhoods. But since Trump hates brutalism, the Left must love it. “For liberals, buildings like Marcel Breuer’s headquarters for the De­partment of Housing and Urban Development in Washington are period pieces that represent an idealistic vision of what government can and should take responsibility for,” Slate’s Henry Grabar writes in what may be the worst hot take of the year. While Trump’s faux–Louis XV aesthetic isn’t quite to our taste either, the president is right: Brutalism is a stain on American cities that should be excised as soon as is feasible.

• Our economy grew at a 4.1 percent annual rate during the latest quarter, the highest since 2014. Republicans crowed, and it would have been political malpractice for them not to. Democrats, meanwhile, seized on an estimate that wages had dropped sharply. That estimate is probably wrong. The growth number, while subject to revision, is more solid. But both sides are wrong to use these statistics to render a verdict on the tax cut. The main component of the tax cut was a reduction in the corporate tax rate that is supposed to boost investment and thus, over time, boost wages. It’s too early to say how large this effect will be, as inconvenient as that may be for candidates in the midterms.

• President Trump and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker announced a trade-war truce. The PR surrounding the event was overblown. They agreed to have talks on reducing trade barriers, which is hardly the “breakthrough” Trump calls it: The European Union and the U.S. were working on an agreement before Trump took office, and Trump killed it. Juncker said that Europe would import more American soybeans and liquefied natural gas, both of which are safe predictions more than commitments. Reacting positively to the news that further tariffs are on hold, markets on both sides of the Atlantic provided the real fanfare.

Charles Koch, the libertarian businessman and philanthropist, criticized President Trump’s trade policies. His network will not be supporting Republican Senate candidate Kevin Cramer in North Dakota because of policy disagreements. Trump responded on Twitter, saying that Koch and his retired brother David are “nice guys” but also “overrated,” a “total joke,” and pursuing their business interests. Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel went further, saying that they thought “their business interests are more important than those of the country.” Our verdict: The Kochs have far and away the better argument on trade; Trump makes more sense than they do on immigration; disagreement is healthy; and Trump’s immediate personalization of it is unsurprising.

Elizabeth Heng, a young Asian American running for Congress as a Republican in California’s 16th district, has had a campaign advertisement blocked on Facebook. According to the social-media site, the video was flagged for containing “shocking, disrespectful or sensational content.” The advertisement opens with footage about the Cambodian genocide, because Heng’s parents immigrated to the United States from Cambodia as a result of the suffering that the Communist Khmer Rouge had inflicted. This is just the latest instance of a tech company’s censoring conservatives. Candidates such as Heng should be free to advertise on social-media platforms without fear of being blocked, whether or not Facebook’s executives — or algorithms — agree with what they have to say.

Two historians have quit their roles at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, a think tank focused on presidential history and public policy, to protest the one-year fellowship the institution has granted to Marc Short, a former legislative-affairs director for President Trump. Good riddance: The professors and other critics are attacking Short not for anything he actually did but merely for being in the Trump administration — especially during the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville, when the president failed to condemn white supremacists promptly. The simple fact is that Short, with his decades of work in politics and policy, is a fantastic fit for the Miller Center, which seeks to understand the presidency and routinely hires “practitioners” with experience in partisan politics. Short has also embraced the Miller Center’s strong statement on the violence in Charlottesville and said that the administration “could have done a better job expressing sympathy for the victims and outrage at those who perpetrated this evil.” Fortunately, the center’s director has shown admirable backbone in the face of these baseless attacks. We wish both him and Short the best of luck weathering this absurd storm.

We used to speak of Q&A (question and answer). But now the A is Q. What is this gibberish? You haven’t been paying attention. Q claims to be a figure in the Trump administration; his (their?) online venue, QAnon.pub, gets 7 million hits a month. Followers include Roseanne Barr. Q ruminates on the deep state, predicts a coming “storm” in which Democrats and John McCain will be arrested, frets about pedophile sex rings in Hollywood — the usual nutright division. Deceit is the inescapable bastard sibling of journalism, as credulity is of democracy. The election of 1800 was enlivened by tales that the Masons were behind the French Revolution and that President John Adams would marry his son to a European royal. Welcome the latest iteration.

In its last days, the Obama administration imposed new restrictions on short-term health-insurance policies. The Trump administration is now lifting those restrictions. Insurers will again be able to sell policies lasting a year, and to offer guaranteed renewability. Because these policies are free from various Obamacare regulations, they are cheap and liberals call them “junk insurance.” We think consumers ought to be able to arbitrate the trade-off between the extent of coverage and cost. Liberals also predict that these policies will further destabilize Obamacare’s exchanges by siphoning off some of their healthy and young customers. But policies on the exchanges are heavily subsidized, while short-term plans aren’t. So this effect may not materialize; and it is not a good reason in any case to foreclose people’s options. This isn’t a replacement for Obamacare, but it is a positive step.

The Trump administration has proposed two major changes to federal vehicle regulations. First, it seeks to abandon its predecessor’s 2012 plan to nearly double cars’ fuel economy by 2025, to an average of 54.5 miles per gallon; instead, the standard would stop rising after 2020, at 37 miles per gallon. And second, the administration wants to eliminate a waiver that gives California the right to create state-level emission rules that are stricter than federal law. We wish that Congress, not the executive branch, would make such decisions, but Trump’s call is the right one under current law: Obama’s standards demanded an unreasonably fast improvement in fuel economy, which was guaranteed to drive up prices and keep families driving older, less safe cars. And while California’s waiver has a faint whiff of federalism, in reality it serves to give a single state an outsized role in federal policy. (Unlike any other jurisdiction, California can threaten to create a separate regulatory regime if nationwide rules don’t track its own prerogatives.) Full speed ahead, whatever the mileage.

In a unanimous vote on July 23, the House of Representatives passed a bill that withholds federal development funding from any state or local government that uses the power of eminent domain to seize property from its owner and give it to someone else in the name of economic development. The bill also prohibits federal use of eminent domain for the same purpose. Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R., Wis.) introduced the bill in 2017 as a revised version of a bill he had originally proposed in 2005 after the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. New London. The Court had held that governments can use their eminent-domain powers to transfer property from one private owner to another in order to further a revitalization or redevelopment, since the surrounding community theoretically reaps the benefits of such efforts. The federal government may not be able to stop this abuse, but it should at least not facilitate it.

Rent is increasingly unaffordable for lower-income Ameri­cans in cities along the coasts. California senator Kamala Harris’s Rent Relief Act provides an instructive example of how not to solve the problem. Her proposal would create a refundable tax credit for families that pay more than 30 percent of income in rent. Were the plan implemented, however, landlords would simply raise rents, so the proposal would in practice represent a subsidy for landlords. A better solution would be for local governments to relax zoning regulations, allowing more houses to be built and bringing down rents over time.

In what may be the best news of the year, the 2014 Flint, Mich., lead-contamination water crisis, which was thought to have poisoned the city’s children, was found to be medically insignificant. According to toxicology and environmental-health experts Hernán Gómez and Kim Dietrich, writing in the New York Times, research shows that based on a “comprehensive view of the data, we are forced to admit that the furor over this issue seems way out of proportion to the actual dangers to the children from lead exposure.” Indeed, the increased lead content in the children’s blood was statistical noise: 0.11 micrograms per deciliter. “A similar increase of 0.12 micrograms per deciliter occurred randomly in 2010–11,” Gómez and Kietrich write. “It is not possible, statistically speaking, to distinguish the increase that occurred at the height of the contamination crisis from other random variations over the previous decade.” A full accounting for the errors, mistakes, and incompetence involved in the municipal water-supply changeover from the Detroit River to the cheaper Flint River should be ongoing. But the children of Flint dodged a bullet. And for that we may thank God.

After his ill-conceived summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, President Trump declared that the country was “no longer a Nuclear Threat” on Twitter. But a steady stream of reports indicate that the DPRK has not reformed itself. The Washington Post reports that U.S. intelligence services have detected activity at a missile-research facility outside the country’s capital of Pyongyang. The evidence, intelligence officials told the Post, shows construction under way on at least one and possibly two new intercontinental ballistic missiles. This comes on the heels of reports that North Korea is continuing to produce enriched uranium and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s confirmation of those reports to a Senate panel. The pomp of the Trump–Kim summit does not change the fact that continued pressure, not credulity, is the right approach to the despotic Kim regime. North Korea is an unscrupulous enemy, and continues to act like it.

It is a testament to the Kim regime’s dark nature that Pyongyang has only now handed over to the United States what it says are the remains of some 55 American soldiers who died in the Korean War. Researchers have begun the painstaking work of identifying who the men were who once may have animated the collections of fragments of bones. Paul Emanovsky, a forensic anthropologist with the Defense Department, tells The New York Times Magazine that he expects his team to have no “trouble getting DNA” and that “success rates” should be “very high, I think near 90 percent.” Here utilitarian calculations lose the argument to what the Romans called pietas, which Michelangelo illustrated in his sculpture bearing that approximate title. Even Achilles in all his wrath and vengeance honored Priam’s wish to honor Hector’s corpse. Let us hope that North Korea has allowed itself to recognize that universal human sentiment with regard to the dead. Requiescat in pace.

The Chinese dictatorship has announced a new “patriotic struggle” against intellectuals, also described as an “unremitting struggle.” State officials will hold “struggle sessions,” the purpose of which is to “enhance the ideological identity, emotional identity, and value identification” of intellectuals. As Jerome A. Cohen, the veteran American scholar of China, says, Xi Jinping is presiding over the “tightest period” — the most oppressive period — in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. Meanwhile, Google is planning to reintroduce a censored search engine to China. This is an engine that will meet the dictatorship’s wants and needs, blocking information about democracy and human rights, for example. Once more, people in free countries help dictatorships keep other people unfree.

The Oslo Freedom Forum is an annual human-rights gathering, held in the Norwegian capital, as the name tells you. But, in between annual gatherings, they take their show on the road, and this coming November they will be in Taipei. That is an inspired choice. Taiwan shows that a country can move from dictatorship and autocracy to democracy and freedom. It also shows the utter compatibility between Chinese culture and liberal democracy — which is a big reason that Taiwan makes the dictatorship in Beijing angry and bitter.

The Cambodian People’s Party says that it won all 125 seats in the parliamentary elections on July 29. That would cement the one-party rule under Prime Minister Hun Sen, a veteran of the Khmer Rouge. Official results will be announced later this month. Last year, Cambodia’s supreme court dissolved the main opposition party and banned 118 of its members from politics. Its leader was jailed in September on charges of conspiring with the United States to overthrow the government. Not wanting to dignify the sham, U.S., European, and Japanese monitors declined to observe the elections. They were “neither free nor fair,” in the words of the White House press office, and “represent the most significant setback yet to the democratic system enshrined in Cambodia’s Constitution.” That Hun Sen bothers to pretend that his regime is legitimated by certain features of liberal democracy is a reflection on his cynicism, of course, but also on the stubborn, universal appeal of the institutions he mocks.

The Saudi dictatorship has arrested at least 15 women’s-rights activists, including Samar Badawi. She is the sister of Raif Badawi, the most prominent political prisoner in Saudi Arabia. His wife and children fled to Canada, where they are now citizens. Following the latest arrests, the Canadian foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, issued a tweet: “Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi . . . has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.” The Saudi dictatorship reacted furiously, expelling the Canadian ambassador, recalling its ambassador to Ottawa, and forswearing all new trade with Canada. The Canadians are sticking to their guns, and standing for something important in the world.

Matteo Salvini is the head of the League, which is a partner in the Italian government, along with the Five Star Movement. Salvini is the deputy prime minister and the interior minister. He is a great admirer and ally of Vladimir Putin, with whose party he, as head of the League, signed a friendship-and-cooperation agreement last year. Salvini pronounced it a “historic deal.” He went as far as to wear a Putin T-shirt in Moscow. This year, on July 29, he issued an interesting tweet. It was Mussolini’s birthday — and he echoed a Mussolini slogan, “Many enemies, much honor.” Remember: Mussolini banned Jews from schools and public office, and stole their money. He was Hitler’s enthusiastic partner in a world war. Salvini has brought himself no honor, and deserves more enemies.

Swedes are finding that Muslim migrants now in the country do things differently, and child marriage is one of those things. It’s especially bothersome because the elderly Prophet Mohammed is recorded marrying Aisha when she was nine. A report by the Swedish Migration Agency in 2016 gave the figure of 132 child marriages. Another official body put out a brochure saying that it is “improper” to live with a child under the age of 15, an approach so feeble that the brochure had to be withdrawn. Elections will be held in September, and when the leftist coalition now in government proposed to recognize child marriages that had been carried out abroad, a campaign issue was launched. Jimmie Akesson, leader of the oppositional Swedish Democrats, has his eye on the populist vote: “It is, frankly, totally sick that one can’t just simply say no to something as bizarre as grown men having the right to marry children.”

Pope Francis has stripped Theodore McCarrick of his title and place in the College of Cardinals after reports that he groomed and molested a minor. This is the same Theodore McCarrick, former archbishop of Washington, D.C., and Newark, who made himself the face of the American bishops’ response to the child-sex-abuse crisis nearly two decades ago. Notably, the policy the bishops formulated in 2002 in Dallas required accountability from priests but not from the bishops themselves. Since the credible report of pederasty emerged, numerous men have come forward to allege what was already widely known about McCarrick: that he regularly preyed upon seminarians, asking them to sleep with him, sometimes asking them to wear sailor suits, and always asking them to call him “Uncle Ted.” The nickname and his proclivities were an open secret among clergy and informed laymen on the East Coast. His colleagues in the College of Cardinals are now ducking straightforward questions, such as “What did you know and when did you know it?” They are promising to create new panels, to launch new inquiries, and to formulate new policies. All those might have their place. But what is first needed in the American Catholic Church is something closer to regime change.

The Nation, which has a long history of publishing poetry, recently ran “How-To,” a verse by Anders Carlson-Wee: ironic advice to society’s outcasts on how to wring favors from the better-off. “How-To” proved that poetry can indeed move hearts and minds in the modern world. Readers denounced it for its assumed black dialect, forcing the author and The Nation’s poetry editors to apologize for their un-wokeness. “We are sorry,” wrote editor Stephanie Burt, “for the pain we have caused to the many communities affected by this poem. We recognize that we must now earn your trust back.” We have long disagreed with our left-wing sister publication, but we never thought it had lost its mind. If writers cannot use ventriloquism, there goes half of literature, starting with all plays, and all dialogue in all fiction.

The “Me Too” movement continues apace, with Ronan Farrow still in the lead. As our Rob Long has said, “The three most terrifying words in Hollywood are ‘Ronan Farrow called.’” They strike a nerve beyond Hollywood too. In The New Yorker, Farrow exposed Les Moonves, the CEO of CBS. Six women accused him of sexual misconduct. CBS has arranged for an outside investigation. If the charges are true, Moonves has behaved like a pig and a brute. He can join the club, ever burgeoning. Me Too has its excesses, like most movements, but America is now experiencing a kind of reckoning, and victims feel less alone, ignored, and helpless.

Cities in Texas have been removing memorials to Confederate leaders and to other historical figures associated with slavery, one of which presents a special problem for Austin: Austin. The Texas capital is named for Stephen F. Austin, celebrated as the Father of Texas, the impresario who led the first 300 families from the United States to settle in what was at the time a Mexican territory. He also oversaw the introduction of slavery into Texas. The city’s Equity Office (of course Austin has institutionalized its lefty identity politics in a city agency) has suggested changing the name of the city as part of its campaign to cleanse Austin (or whatever they’re going to call it) of its actual history. But that won’t do: Austin is in Travis County, named for Alamo hero William B. Travis, a slave owner. That’ll have to change, too. Texas locales from Lubbock (after Confederate colonel Thomas Saltus Lubbock) to Jeff Davis County are named for Confederate figures. (Reagan County wasn’t named for the Gipper, but for the Confederate postmaster general.) Houston will escape: Sam Houston was a Union man, removed from office for refusing an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy. This is silly stuff, but Austin is a silly place. The locals boast of their desire to “Keep Austin Weird.” It’s not even clear they’ll keep Austin Austin.

And a little child shall lead them . . . astray. Over the last few years, municipalities from Seattle to Miami Beach have been rushing to outlaw plastic straws, based on a researcher’s finding that Americans throw away 500 million of them a day, many of which end up in the sea. The researcher turns out to have been a nine-year-old boy, who admits that he made the figure up — but that hasn’t stopped the straw-ban movement, whose adherents speak vaguely of “raising awareness” and “highlighting issues” and “taking first steps.” As with many purportedly earth-saving practices, true believers accept a mild inconvenience because it makes them feel good and then make others accept it because that makes them feel even better. Or as a member of the Santa Barbara city council explained: “Unfortunately, common sense is just not common. We have to regulate every aspect of people’s lives.” We couldn’t have summed up the progressive mindset any better ourselves.

A proposed city ordinance in San Francisco would ban employee cafeterias in new office buildings. The aim is to increase traffic at business-district restaurants by making workers leave their offices to eat. The law’s target is generally understood to be San Francisco’s technology firms, which are famous for the elaborate meals they offer employees. But one of the bill’s sponsors told a reporter that “it’s not about targeting a particular industry . . . but rather about spurring a conversation about how companies can engage with local businesses.” We can remember when people started conversations by simply saying something, and when businesses went where the customers were instead of expecting government to engineer the reverse. Meanwhile, just wait until the city government finds out about home kitchens.

Word comes from Egypt that a Cairo zoo has painted black and white stripes on a donkey and is exhibiting it as a zebra. It’s not the first time that this has been tried; a decade ago, a Gaza zoo used black hair dye and masking tape to zebra-ize a pair of donkeys, and none of the visiting children noticed anything wrong (pro tip: look for long ears and paint smudges). The Cairo zookeeper stubbornly insists that his black-and-white beast actually is a zebra, and news sources have roundly scoffed at the claim, but he may in fact have a point. Applying modern intersectionality theory to animal rights and gender studies yields the indisputable conclusion that if a donkey decides that it’s a zebra, it’s a zebra.

Thirty years ago, Rush Limbaugh debuted his national radio show. It was something that, thanks to the Fairness Doctrine (which Ronald Reagan had only recently eliminated) and the stultifying faux-objectivity of network news, no one had heard in broadcast journalism before: a program that brought conservative ideas to the masses through a mix of news coverage, thoughtful lectures, and of course large heapings of parody and edgy humor. Limbaugh quickly rocketed to the front of the talk-radio pack and has stayed there ever since, weathering the occasional controversy but always bouncing back to provide three hours a day of witty conservative commentary. Happy 30th, Rush.

As a senator in the 1970s, Paul Laxalt fought and lost the battle for the United States to keep sole possession of the Panama Canal. He departed from some of his allies by refusing to badmouth Panama or its people, citing his French Basque heritage — his parents were immigrants — and natural sympathy for the small nation caught up in a dispute with its bigger neighbor. After serving as a medic in the Pacific theater during World War II, he finished college and law school and launched a career in Nevada and Republican-party politics. In the 1960s he helped to purge the state party of the John Birch Society. His governorship (1967–71) coincided with that of Ronald Reagan in California, Nevada’s western neighbor, and the friendship between the two men endured. Reagan chose him to head his campaign against President Ford in 1976. After Reagan moved into the White House in the 1980s, Laxalt, the junior and then senior senator from the Silver State, was dubbed by the press “the first friend.” His eventful life came to its graceful close four days after his 96th birthday. His grandson continues his conservative legacy as the Republican nominee for governor. R.I.P.

Ron Dellums was the congressman from Berkeley for more than 27 years: 1971 to 1998. He was the leftmost member of Congress. He may have been the leftmost congressman ever, along with Vito Marcantonio, the New York red who sat in the House from the 1930s to the 1950s. Dellums supported Fidel Castro and similar brutes the world over. He was for freedom and democracy in South Africa, but not where the Fidels, big and little, ruled. Yet Republican congressmen found him an affable colleague, which is not nothing. Dellums has died at 82. R.I.P.

The southern girl from Johnson City, Tenn., graduated from the University of Alabama and moved to New York, where she got a job in show business, answering fan mail for cartoon characters at CBS. Andrea Millen’s later stints in TV included work with Sid Caesar and NBC News. Meanwhile, she joined the Libertarian party and was appointed its chairwoman in the 1970s, when the vice chairman was Howard S. Rich. They wasted no time in getting married. In 1982 they bought Laissez-Faire Books in Greenwich Village and transformed it into a full-service mail-order publishing service for libertarians, bringing neglected classics back into print. Andrea Rich had a hand in the Center for Independent Thought, the Center for Independent Studies, the Foundation for Economic Education, and the Atlas Network, and was the longest-serving board member of the Cato Institute. Her contributions to the intellectual formation of the libertarian movement in America were deep and vast. She spent her last two decades, a long time, holding back cancer. Dead at 79. R.I.P.

Politics
The Democrats’ Identity Crisis

When the New York Times added Sarah Jeong, a 30-year-old tech journalist, to its editorial board, the Twitterverse lit up. Jeong had left a trail of tweets, concentrated in but by no means confined to the years 2013–14, expressing what can only be called loathing of white people, hailing their forthcoming extinction as a result of failure to reproduce, comparing them to dogs marking fire hydrants (a different verb was used), all of it summed up in the tweet “#CancelWhitePeople.” Conservative critics called for the Times to cancel Jeong. The paper stood by its new hire, arguing that she had been countertrolling alt-right bigots — fighting marsh fire with marsh fire — and that she has now promised to mend her ways.

Ironies abound. Jeong was hired to replace the Times’ previous choice for Millennial tech expert, Quinn Norton, who had been axed for having sarcastically used bigoted terms. When Candace Owens, a conservative black commentator, tweeted Jeong’s very words, edited to aim them at blacks and Jews instead of whites, Twitter blocked her account for hate speech.

The sensible default approach to hateful old tweets is charity. The medium encourages thoughtless tongue-in-cheek posting. And people change. National Review, with its many ex-Communist founders, is ideally suited to make this argument. Libertarians also make the point that the New York Times, as a private journalistic enterprise, has a right to hire anyone, however stupid or bigoted, that it likes.

But gross or poisonous utterance, long persisted in, deserves condemnation. Jeong was writing in the all-out, hyper-charged vein of the social-media addict. But writing that way causes you to think that way, even if you had not thought that way before you began to write. Jeong’s tweets show her to have been a person of perverted intelligence and twisted spirit.

Her easy rise up the escalator of ambition is evidence of a broader trend: the success of the identity-politics Left in redefining racism. They start with a truth — that for centuries the primary wielders and beneficiaries of racism in America have been whites — but draw from it a shrug, and a lie. The shrug consists in dismissing America’s efforts to purge itself of race-based sentiments — from Quaker abolitionists to Lincoln’s second inaugural to the civil-rights movement — as essentially misguided and frivolous. There is no justice, only retribution. The lie is to then claim that there can be no such thing as anti-white racism at all.

Two would-be presidential candidates appear to accept the new leftist view. Senator Kamala Harris, addressing a Netroots Nation conference in New Orleans, urged the Democratic party to embrace “identity politics” — a phrase she disdained as a pejorative, designed “to shut us up.” Senator Elizabeth Warren, around the same time, identified “the hard truth about our criminal-justice system: It’s racist. . . . I mean front to back.” Sarah Jeong: coming to a voting booth near you.

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

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