Magazine September 10, 2018, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

Andrew Cuomo thinks “America was never that great.” Cut him some slack, he lives in Albany.

Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen pled guilty to a host of charges, including campaign-finance offenses that he said he committed at the direction of Donald Trump. These were the payments to a porn performer and a Playboy Playmate that Trump allegedly had affairs with. Cohen’s statement in court was, on the one hand, not surprising at all, since Trump’s prior denials that he knew about the payoffs were never credible, and on the other hand, shocking, because it implicates the president in a crime, albeit an offense that is usually handled administratively with a fine paid to the Federal Election Commission. The issue for Trump now isn’t so much legal as political — Justice Department guidelines say a sitting president can’t be indicted, meaning impeachment is the recourse for such misconduct. We don’t believe this alleged campaign-finance violation rises to the level of a high crime or misdemeanor, but Democrats will almost certainly beg to differ if they take the House. The best defense for Trump is the one he’s least likely to take — being completely truthful about what happened, apologizing, and putting his trust in the capacity of the American public to forgive even more embarrassing malfeasance.

The same day Cohen pled guilty, a jury in Northern Virginia found Paul Manafort guilty of eight counts of tax and bank fraud. The jury couldn’t decide on the other ten counts. This sounds like a mixed verdict, but it was really a victory for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who wants to squeeze Manafort and now has him looking at a sentence of 80 years. That’s a lot of incentive to tell all he knows. Whether Manafort, a notoriously sleazy operator whose crimes long predate his involvement with the Trump campaign, actually has any information implicating the president is anyone’s guess. What we do know is that this was a Trump hire that was bound to end very badly, and indeed has.

Back when Ty Cobb and John Dowd were President Trump’s personal lawyers, the legal strategy called for full cooperation with Robert Mueller. Pursuant to that approach, White House counsel Don McGahn spoke to Mueller for 30 hours, the New York Times reports. The old strategy was a defensible one, and so was McGahn’s conduct under it. But the Times also reported that McGahn was influenced by the fear that Trump would make him the fall guy for obstruction of justice. In a later report, it claimed that Trump’s lawyers, past and present, have never asked McGahn what he told Mueller. If those reports are true — and they are not outlandish in the context of this administration — they speak to a deep dysfunction. Trump has many legal interests, and many lawyers. He is the client in chief, and needs to get his legal house in order.

John Brennan once had some of the most sensitive powers in the United States government, although you wouldn’t know it from his Twitter feed and cable appearances. The former CIA director has made himself into a voice of the Resistance, embracing the sort of political role, and the sort of wild-eyed rants, customarily avoided by former high-ranking national-security officials. Trump pulled his security clearance. We shed no tears for Brennan — there’s a legitimate case that he crossed a line in a post-CIA commentary (he’s said Trump committed treason in Helsinki), and he was dishonest in congressional testimony as director. But the pulling of security clearances of other officials, which Trump is now threatening, would be a mistake absent a real process and a clear standard. The president has wide authority in this area, which doesn’t mean that he should wield it arbitrarily or for petty reasons. 

Omarosa Manigault Newman began her public life as a contestant on Donald Trump’s TV show, The Apprentice. From that she became a remora on his presidential campaign, announcing memorably that “every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump.” After Trump won, she was rewarded with a White House job, until Chief of Staff John Kelly fired her. Now, with a book out, she is telling the world that Trump is a monster who wants to start a race war. To the degree that she is a problem for Trump, she is entirely one of his own creation: an unbalanced camera hog from the world of reality television, boosted by Trump to actual reality. In the past her book would have been a silly-season story (August, the dog days of journalism and politics). But now the silly season is year-round.

Obviously determined not to get outflanked on her left in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has introduced a cracked and unconstitutional scheme under which U.S. corporations with revenue in excess of $1 billion would be required to seek permission from the federal government to . . . exist. Warren’s go-nowhere, strictly-for-show plan would require those firms to seek a federal charter and would give the government power to determine the composition of their boards (a certain share of seats for employees, etc.), restrict their political speech, and otherwise make shareholders subservient to politicians in the pursuit of what the bill vaguely describes as a “material positive impact on society resulting from the business and operations of a United States corporation, when taken as a whole.” Businesses failing to comply with that nebulous standard (certain to be held unconstitutional for that reason by the Supreme Court) would be subject to litigation. The trial bar is an important Warren constituency, and it certainly would appreciate the effort at a full-employment program for lawyers, but empowering federal judges to micromanage U.S. businesses is, if you’ll forgive us for saying so, nuts. It’s sure to rile up the black-bandana set at Berkeley, though: an excellent indicator of where the real power is on the left.

Meanwhile, a recent Gallup survey found Democrats preferring socialism to capitalism by ten points, with 57 percent of Democrats reporting a positive attitude toward socialism but fewer than half of them saying the same about capitalism. Some of this is what political scientists call “affective polarization,” partisan embrace of ever-more-radical postures in response to the perceived wickedness of the other party, and part of it is semantics: Many young progressives think of bailouts and cronyism when they hear the word “capitalism” and of the nicer parts of Copenhagen when they hear “socialism.” The opposite, and much healthier, tendency is to understand capitalism as Adam Smith, Apple, and a million lemonade stands, and socialism as what’s going on in Venezuela.

Three hundred newspapers, from the New York Times to the BlueStone Press, heeded a call by the Boston Globe to editorialize against President Trump’s anti-press rhetoric. Trump brought this on himself with his thin-skinned tweetstorms, including this beauty: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” The converse of this grotesque line is not true: The press does not speak for the American people. It speaks for itself, and individual outlets can be sloppy, sleazy, biased, or dishonest. But journalism’s dog barks can also perform a vital monitory function, which is why press freedom is constitutionally protected. Every previous president has complained about the press’s treatment of him, sometimes in private, sometimes not. Trump will never adopt the former approach, but should make his version of the latter less lurid.

• In what looked like a coordinated effort, Facebook, Apple, and YouTube banned Internet conspiracy theorist Alex Jones from their platforms, each citing its hate-speech policy. Jones is a loathsome figure, and he currently faces court action for defamation after he accused families of children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School of being actors. But to ban him on the basis of “hate speech” (rather than, say, libel or slander) is to open Pandora’s box. The Constitution recognizes no such concept as hate speech, which is not susceptible to any meaningful definition — as the companies’ vague attempts suggest. In re­cent years a number of mainstream conservative organizations have faced the “hate group” label, and especially on campus main­stream conservative arguments are branded as promulgating “hate.” Social-media companies, which serve hundreds of millions of customers who have political views that span the spectrum from thoughtful to bizarre to offensive, should exercise a high degree of tolerance for speech, even when it’s unhinged. One man’s nut is another man’s prophet, and we do not trust a progressive corporate monoculture to discern the difference.

It was as hyped as it was pathetic. Mustering no more than a few dozen supporters, the alt-right “Unite the Right 2” rally organized by Jason Kessler and his band of morons assembled under heavy police protection and marched toward Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. They were confronted and hounded by hundreds of counter-protesters and left-wing agitators. Tensions ran high, only a year on from last summer’s violence in Charlottesville, Va. The media, of course, beamed the confrontation around the world. The blanket coverage was so enveloping that one could be forgiven for assuming that America is swimming in a rising tide of white supremacism. But it’s not and it won’t be. Kessler, Richard Spencer, and the rest of the alt-right cretins are shunned by the vast majority of Americans. Let them sink into the anonymity they deserve. 

Andrew Cuomo, running for reelection as New York governor and hoping to run for president in 2020, naturally shadow-boxes with President Trump, including Trump’s slogan “MAGA.” But what popped out of Cuomo’s mouth at a recent bill signing was this: “We’re not going to make America great again — it was never that great.” Politicians’ invocations of American greatness are so routine that a little pushback now and then is almost welcome (in 1845, former president John Quincy Adams wrote in his diary that with the annexation of Texas the Consti­tution had become “a menstruous rag”). But Cuomo’s bitter line was as thoughtless as everyone else’s cheerleading. He has been trying to take it back ever since. If we required our officeholders actually to understand what is great about our country, and be able to explain it, we would be greater still.

Representative Chris Collins, a moderate Republican from New York and one of President Trump’s early supporters, announced that he would suspend his reelection campaign after being indicted for insider trading and lying to the FBI. Collins sits on the board of an Australian biopharmaceutical firm. As soon as he heard one of its drugs had failed a clinical trial, he called his son, who sold his stock before the failure went public. His son’s girlfriend and her parents sold too. While libertarians have made reasonable defenses of insider trading, which can help markets allocate capital more efficiently, laws against it should be obeyed so long as they are on the books — and if the facts alleged against Collins are true, they add up to a clear-cut case. Setting aside the insider-trading laws, though, letting congressmen trade individual stocks when they exercise vast influence over the economy is a recipe for trouble. In Collins’s case, that trouble could include jail time. 

President Trump, impressed by France’s Bastille Day parade, floated the idea of having an all-American military march in Washington, D.C. We like a good parade, and the Armed Forces, which have been hard at work in Afghanistan and Iraq, besides their many peacetime duties, deserve one. Then the president announced that, because of a $92 million price tag, he was putting it off. There followed a scrum of recrimination between Trump, the D.C. government (which Trump accused of inflating the bill), and the Pentagon (which claimed that it had not yet weighed in on the cost). So the parade came to resemble many another Trump initiative — a big idea, half baked.

President Trump’s enthusiasm for a Space Force that would be a sixth branch of the military occasioned much mockery, but it’s a sound idea that has been percolating within the government for a while now. In any major war, Russia or China would target our assets in space, and we must take this realm of conflict seriously. The Air Force, which houses the current Space Command, is opposed to the idea for the usual reasons of bureaucratic turf protection. But the Air Force’s main priority is always going to be flying planes. Space is a new war-fighting domain that should have a branch devoted to mastering it. May the president’s enthusiasm be contagious.

At this writing, the Trump administration has not released the text of its proposed “public charge” rule, but that hasn’t stopped several rounds of outrage about it. Under current law, an immigrant is not eligible for admission or a green card if he is “likely at any time to become a public charge” — and implementation of this guideline is left almost entirely to the executive branch. Under rules dating back about two decades, officials consider whether an immigrant is primarily dependent on cash assistance, but they ignore other forms of aid, from Medicaid to food stamps, that are far more common these days. According to leaked drafts of the administration’s rule, it would factor in these other forms of aid and also consider smaller amounts of help (not just whether the immigrant is “primarily dependent”). Reasonable people can object to certain aspects of the plan, such as the fact that it would apply to benefits given to immigrants’ U.S.-citizen children. It would be best to apply the new rule to new immigrants rather than those already here. But the concept at the heart of the public-charge rule on the books — that there’s no reason to admit immigrants who can’t support themselves — is sound, and it’s time we started enforcing it. 

New York City has put a cap on the number of vehicles that Uber, Lyft, and similar app-based ride services are allowed to operate, citing “congestion.” New York was of course congested long before ride-hailing — or the smartphone, for that matter. The popular image of New York as a city of subway strap-hangers ignores the fact that a third of the city’s residents (most of them outside of the more affluent parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn) use private cars as their main transportation, while ride-hailing services carry about one-seventh the volume of the city’s subway system. And that subway system is the unspoken subject here. Under the joint watch of archenemies Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York’s subway system has taken a turn for the disastrous. If anything, the city should be thankful that the market has provided New Yorkers with a Plan B. But the cartel of medallion owners that controls the taxi business is an influential political bloc, as are the labor unions that detest the Uber-Lyft model of casual “gig” labor — and the new NYC rules also impose compensation rules on the ride-hailing companies. (Uber and Lyft drivers in NYC already are licensed by the taxi-and-limousine authority.) This is a familiar story: protecting a politically connected interest group at the expense of innovation and consumer choice. It’s also a helpful distraction from the fact that New York’s mass-transit system is in the toilet.

Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation looks increasingly inevitable, in part because the progressive attacks on him are so very weak. Recent “scandals” have been no exception. The New York Times breathlessly reported that Kavanaugh might have “misled” the Senate when in previous testimony he stated that during the George W. Bush administration he was not “primarily” involved in leading the confirmation fight for controversial court nominee Charles Pickering. The Times ran Democratic talking points without bothering to talk to Judge Pickering. When NR reached him by phone, Pickering was astonished at the story. He didn’t even know who Kavanaugh was until years later, when Kavanaugh was nominated to the D.C. Circuit. The other whiff came courtesy of CNN, which breathlessly reported that Kavanaugh believed that presidents had the power to ignore laws they deemed unconstitutional. Authoritarian, right? Not so fast. A moment’s reading revealed that Kavanaugh believed that president’s authority was limited by court rulings and that Congress could also constrain the president. In other words, he holds an entirely conventional view of presidential power. The confirmation train steams on.

We don’t envy Jack Phillips his inbox. The Colorado baker, who won a narrow victory at the Supreme Court over efforts to compel him to bake a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding, has been deluged with bizarre bad-faith requests, many of them apparently from the same person looking for an excuse to haul him up again before Colorado’s Kafkaesque “civil rights” tribunal. Example: “I’m thinking a three-tiered white cake. Cheesecake frosting. And the topper should be a large figure of Satan, licking a 9″ black Dildo. I would like the dildo to be an actual working model, that can be turned on before we unveil the cake. I can provide it for you if you don’t have the means to procure one yourself.” Phillips believes that this and similar requests all came from lawyer Autumn Scardina, who has now demanded that Phillips bake a coming-out-as-transgender cake. Phillips declined and was ordered into mandatory arbitration by the state. Phillips has sued. This is pure harassment of Phillips and nothing more — as was the original case against him.

Radical Islamic ideology, a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, instructs Muslims in the West to separate themselves in enclaves governed under a strict construction of sharia law and prepare for eventual jihad against the host society until it submits to Islamic authority. This ideology was illuminated in the 1995 terrorism trial of Omar Abdel Rahman, the Islamic scholar known as the “Blind Sheikh,” who ran the jihadist cell that had bombed the World Trade Center. He was sometimes hosted in Brooklyn’s Al-Taqwa mosque by Siraj Wahhaj, a firebrand in his own right who later testified as a character witness for the defense. Convicted, the Blind Sheikh died last year while serving a life sentence. Flash forward to August 2018: In remote New Mexico, five Muslims were arrested on child-abuse charges. They had removed themselves to a squalid but well-armed compound that they ran as a parallel sharia society, instructing some of the eleven children there in assault tactics and preparing for attacks on schools and other institutions. Prosecutors say an epileptic three-year-old, Abdul Ghani Wahhaj, died during an exorcism ritual performed by his father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj — respectively, the dead grandson and son of the Brooklyn imam.  

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British Labour party, accepted a trip to Tunis in 2014 paid for by the Tunisian government. In the national cemetery of Tunis lie buried the Black September terrorists who tortured and then murdered Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympic Games, as well as some 49 members of the rival Palestine Liberation Organization killed in an Israeli vengeance raid. Photographs show Corbyn evidently laying a wreath on the Black September grave: in other words, honoring the most extreme Palestinian group, nowadays morphed into Hamas. Corbyn’s memory failure about what happened, and a lot of prevarication about what Israel may and may not do in self-defense, have provoked Jewish MPs, the Jewish Chronicle, many voters, and finally Benjamin Netanyahu to blast him as an anti-Semite. There’s been no scandal like it in Britain since the 1930s.

Andrew Brunson, an American pastor of a small church on the Aegean coast, had been living in Turkey since the early 1990s when government authorities put him under house arrest two years ago, accusing him of involvement with the opposition Gulen movement. The New York Times reports that Ankara agreed to free Brunson if Israel released a Turkish woman held on charges of funding Hamas. Israel released her, but Turkey reneged on the deal. The Trump administration responded by invoking the Global Magnitsky Act to impose sanctions on two Turkish officials responsible for human-rights abuses, including Brunson’s detention despite “an absence of evidence,” according to the U.S. Treasury Department. Meanwhile, Turkey plans to purchase an air-defense system from Russia, after tying down Washington in negotiations over American use of Incirlik Air Base, key to the U.S. effort against the Islamic State, and targeting our Kurdish allies in northern Syria. Turkey remains a member of NATO but no longer pretends to support the interests of the Atlantic alliance — and after the collapse of the lira finds itself in a weaker position to provoke the alliance further. President Trump’s decision to press for Pastor Brunson’s release is righteous as well as opportune.

Google is developing versions of a search engine, news service, and cloud-storage platform for the Chinese market in collaboration with Chinese officials. The search engine would blacklist verboten queries and websites, and the news app would deliver only Communist Party–approved content to users. But censorship in China is just one element of a state strategy to manage the Internet. To comply with the PRC’s wide-ranging 2017 cybersecurity law, Google is looking to partner with state-controlled companies to store data from the cloud-storage program on Chinese servers. These are not trivial features: Google would be helping to legitimate the Great Firewall censorship regime, and one day it could be forced to turn over the sensitive data of, say, political dissidents to Chinese authorities. Some Google employees have signed a petition protesting the move, and the plans remain preliminary. To those at Google on the fence, we offer some advice: Access to 750 million Internet users is not worth collaborating with a nasty dictatorship. 

Months ago, Jay Nordlinger covered the mass incarceration of the Uyghur people by Chinese authorities (“A New Gulag in China,” May 10, 2018). An ethnic group of Turkic Muslims native to an area in northwest China officially called “Xinjiang,” the Uyghurs are being herded into “reeducation” camps as part of an ongoing Chinese effort to stamp out their distinctive culture. As the PRC effort to “Sinicize” Xinjiang has intensified, the emergency has deepened, its scale becoming agonizingly clear. The Wall Street Journal reports the camps are getting larger; American officials say up to 1 million Uyghurs have been incarcerated. Others have been deported outright, and towns in Xinjiang are under heavy surveillance. American officials are beginning to follow Marco Rubio’s lead and call for sanctions against the government that is orchestrating what can only be labeled an ethnic cleansing. We join them.

Around the world, the People’s Republic of China funds “Confucius Institutes,” programs nominally dedicated to teaching Chinese language, history, and culture to students. There are more than 100 such programs at American universities. But it should be no surprise that the PRC funds these programs for reasons other than a sincere desire to teach students about the rich history of China. Confucius Institutes teach a whitewashed curriculum that ignores such persnickety regions as Tibet and Taiwan. Often their presence on campus makes it more difficult for students and faculty to speak honestly about the Communist Party. The American intelligence community has even raised concerns that some chapters are involved in surveillance against Chinese students. In the most recent iteration of the National Defense Authorization Act, Ted Cruz managed to insert a provision that blocks universities that receive funds from the Pentagon from funding Confucius Institutes. We commend Cruz for paying attention to this issue, and wish American universities were more discriminating about their sources of funding.

By a 38–31 margin, Argentina’s senate has voted down a bill to legalize abortion, legislation that would effectively have obliterated the pro-life laws that have been in place in the country since 1921. Current Argentine law permits abortions in cases of rape or when the mother’s life is in danger. The failed legislation would have allowed women to obtain abortions for any reason during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. Proponents of the bill hoped its passage would kick off a broader movement to undo restrictions on abortion across South America. For now, most countries in the region seem poised to retain their substantial protections for unborn life. Pro-lifers should remain vigilant.

Driven by a surge in fentanyl- and other synthetic-opioid-related overdoses, deaths connected to drug overdoses surpassed 72,000 in 2017, according to new estimates from the Centers for Disease Control: a 7 percent increase over 2016, amounting to almost 6,000 more Americans. The data show that the plague’s center remains east of the Mississippi, in a long belt stretching through Appalachia to New England, with the lowest rates of opioid abuse in the Mountain West and Great Plains. If there is any silver lining in this parade of horrors, it’s that deaths related to heroin and prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone have plateaued. But there will be many, many more deaths and shattered lives before this catastrophe is over. 

Nicholas Christakis, a professor of social and natural science at Yale, has been named a Sterling Professor, the university’s highest faculty honor. His work has taken him to India and Honduras and encompasses both child-rearing and hospice care. Congratulations. In 2015, Christakis was subjected to a two-hour rant by students of the residential college of which he was then master, after his wife, Erika, also a faculty member, suggested they not bridle at un-PC Halloween costumes. The Yale administration gave the Christakises zero backup and indeed later honored two of the protesters; Erika Christakis left the faculty. Yale’s turnaround now seems timed to blunt libertarian journalist James Kirchick’s independent campaign to become a trustee. Kirchick (Yale ’06) wants to safeguard campus free speech from the sort of bullying and supineness that plagued the Christakises three years ago. He needs 4,266 alumni signatures by October 1 to be nominated. Yale’s feints should fool no one.

So there’s this highly respected lesbian comp-lit professor at NYU who had a gay male graduate student that she is accused of sexually harassing: kissing, fondling, sending embarrassing mash notes, getting into bed with him, and so forth. The student filed a complaint and the university decided the case in his favor, whereupon a group of admiring female scholars drafted a letter of protest calling the professor’s accuser “malicious,” suggesting that her “brilliant scholarship” and “international standing and reputation” should protect her against the “judicial nightmare” of disciplinary proceedings, and threatening widespread protests in her behalf. (The most prominent objector eventually wrote a follow-up letter taking most of this back.) So far, so sordid; and whatever schadenfreude may result from seeing radical feminists echo apologists for male harassers should be tempered by empathy for the student who had to withstand her persistent advances. Most telling, perhaps, was the professor’s explanation that it was all innocent flirtation, traceable to their shared “penchant for florid and campy communications arising from our common academic backgrounds and sensibilities.” Once, long ago, scholars strove to be dignified and measured; now, “florid and campy” is a route to academic stardom.

Flip through Delaware State University’s Student Judicial Handbook, and alongside “Violence and Criminal Behavior,” “Title IX/ Sexual Assault/Rape,” and “Weapons/Firearms/Explosives,” you’ll find a section labeled “Personal Violations,” a catch-all list of prohibited acts that includes “threats of violence or intimidation,” “being in the bath/shower areas of the opposite sex,” and “stalking,” among others. In the newest version you will get to Item 8: “Throwing of snowballs on University grounds.” What is this epitome of light-hearted winter fun doing in a section devoted to dangerous and creepy behavior? The college’s assistant director of judicial affairs (your tuition dollars at work!) explains: “This was made a rule due to the students throwing snowballs in the residential halls and there being the potential to harm others with hard, iced-over snow.” Somehow, students from Dartmouth to Virginia Tech to Wisconsin hold traditional mass snowball fights each winter with few if any casualties, so if Delaware State has a problem, a targeted ban on indoor snowball throwing would probably suffice. Yet the rule remains, with violations punishable by anything from reprimand to suspension to (in theory, at least) expulsion. Our advice to anyone who gets nabbed: Just say it’s a conceptual-art project for your Whiteness Studies class.

When he climbed off the bus to stand on the yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego for basic training on May 21, Recruit Mullet couldn’t have known that he would soon become a leatherneck legend. But when a Marine photographer posted a picture online of the young man from Albuquerque making his initial phone call home — sportin’ a business-up-front-party-in-the-back hairdo and a Budweiser tank top — the photo instantly went viral. Within days, it had been shared tens of thousands of times, Marines from nearby Camp Pendleton had created parody Facebook pages to follow Recruit Mullet’s progress through boot camp, and reporters had tracked down retired gunnery sergeant Mike Voorhees, Recruit Mullet’s uncle, for interviews. Voorhees says he warned his nephew that his glorious Joe Dirt–esque mane might attract unwanted attention from the drill instructors (we can only imagine) but that “no matter what is said about him, I am proud to have him follow in my footsteps. He was a kid when he showed up, and will be a man and a Marine when he leaves.” On Friday, August 17, after graduating from MCRD San Diego, Recruit Mullet became Private Mullet. Semper Fi, Marine!

V. S. Naipaul was the poet of modern displacement: descendant of Indian indentured servants on Trinidad, educated in England, roving as a writer through Africa, South America, and Asia. Naipaul’s straight-up journalism could be snap-judgmental: more Custine than Tocqueville. His fiction humanized his insights. This did not sugarcoat them — often the reverse. Guerrillas ends with a sick jolt, A Bend in the River in a place very like hell. But in his great 19th-century-style novel A House for Mr. Biswas, and even in his later astringent fictions, he found some characters struggling to better themselves or to do the right thing. The encouragement that free society offers these efforts made Naipaul appreciate and praise it. Dead, on the eve of his 86th birthday. R.I.P.

When Otis Redding wrote and recorded “Respect” in 1965, he had a good song on his hands. Two years later, Aretha Franklin made it a great one, in a cover version that spelled out the title, added the “sock it to me” background vocals, and transformed a man’s lament into a woman’s anthem. Franklin was born in Memphis but grew up mostly in Detroit, the daughter of an electrifying preacher. She endured plenty of challenges: Her parents divorced and her mother died when she was young, and she had two teenage pregnancies. Yet her marvelous voice, developed in her father’s church, helped her rise above. She pursued commercial success with secular pop songs, though it always was possible to detect hints of faith in hits such as “I Say a Little Prayer.” Her best-selling album, and the one that many fans cite as her finest, was a live performance of gospel favorites, 1972’s Amazing Grace. How sweet the sound. Dead at 76. R.I.P.

Cleanse the Temple

The Catholic Church in America is going through another season of scandal. Earlier this summer, the powerful retired archbishop of Washington, D.C., Theodore McCarrick, was removed from the College of Cardinals after credible reports that he had sexually molested the first boy he ever baptized. Accompanying stories also revealed a culture in the Church in which many knew of McCarrick’s reputation for sexually preying on seminarians. Yet his rise in the Church and his influence were never impeded, not even after the Church made court settlements with his victims.

Next has come the Pennsylvania grand-jury report, which has unearthed decades of sexual abuse and cover-up in six Catholic dioceses in that state. The details of crimes by priests are stomach-churning. And the feeble response of their bishops, shuffling abusers from one assignment to the next, or trying to delay investigations until the statute of limitations passed, is utterly demoralizing.

The grand-jury report does seem to show what the Church in America has claimed: that the incidence of child sex abuse began dropping in the 1990s and further after the Dallas Charter reforms of 2002. Many of the named priests are deceased or out of the priesthood. But the current scandals also reveal the inadequacy of those reforms. The bishops deliberately exempted themselves from accountability measures instituted in Dallas. And the grand-jury report shows that bishops who responded in a way that looks criminally negligent not only escaped the scrutiny of the law but continued to advance in their careers in the Church.

The worst result from this scandal would be the institution of a few symbolic reforms by the bishops, coupled with the scapegoating of those who happen to have been embarrassed by revelations already in the press. The bishops should collectively consent to fund an ongoing formal independent inquiry of the American episcopacy, not only touching their chancery offices but also investigating America’s seminaries. Matters should include not only the conduct of bishops in matters of abuse but also what they knew about their fellow bishops and when.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has already announced an intention to fund a full investigation surrounding Archbishop McCarrick. That’s a start.

Such an investigation must have genuine independence. In the past, bishops have been able to wear down would-be lay reformers. Former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating was pushed off the National Review Board (established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002) for his hard line after the last round of scandals. Last year Marie Collins, the only sex-abuse victim on Pope Francis’s commission on child abuse, also resigned her position in disgust. She alleged that the bishops of the Church have responded “with fine words in public and contrary actions behind closed doors.” In her eyes, the Vatican had failed to follow recommendations to establish a tribunal to hold bishops to account.

It is precisely for this reason that we are skeptical of any attempt to solve the crisis in the American Church via a “visitation” from Church authorities in Rome. Pope Francis’s own response to sexual malfeasance in Chile and Italy, and even within the walls of the Vatican, has been remarkably inept. Given the habitual secrecy of the Church in defending itself against the possibility of scandal, it is not unreasonable to fear that a papal visitation would spirit away documents from American dioceses to Rome, out of the sight of transparent inquiries.

In his letter to all the faithful in response to the latest scandals, Francis says he wants the Church to come “to grips with this reality in a comprehensive and communal way,” and recommends listening to the victims, and penance for all members of the Church. These are fine sentiments, but the Church cannot proceed toward comforting the victims and recovering its sense of mission without an honest assessment of how these crimes happened and who perpetrated them, and an effort to do justice for the victims.

After a credible, transparent investigation, the Catholic Church in America needs more than a sorrowful report. The future existence of such an investigation cannot be used as an excuse by individual bishops or priests to avoid personally confronting evil when they are in a position to do so. An initiative to investigate is meant to supplement and assist the common work of reforming the Church. This reform effort will require individuals with moral courage and fortitude, which cannot be outsourced.

Bishops, including cardinals, who are shown to have been derelict in confronting the evil they knew about in the Church must be made to resign and encouraged to live a life marked by visible signs of penance. Policy changes are not enough for a Church that believes in the supernatural. The bishops are in the same position as the apostles who asked Christ why they were unable to drive out an evil spirit. The Lord explained to them: “This kind can go out by nothing but by prayer and fasting.”

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

In This Issue



Books, Arts & Manners




"Last night, the winds went wild at war, their gusts and gales made chaos swarm, and then . . . they weren’t there anymore."

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On Kamala Harris

Joe Biden has named his 2020 running mate: authoritarianism. American prosecutors wield awesome and terrible powers that lend themselves easily to abuse, and Senator Kamala Harris, formerly the attorney general of California, is an enthusiastic abuser of them. Harris was a leader in the junta of Democratic ... Read More

On Kamala Harris

Joe Biden has named his 2020 running mate: authoritarianism. American prosecutors wield awesome and terrible powers that lend themselves easily to abuse, and Senator Kamala Harris, formerly the attorney general of California, is an enthusiastic abuser of them. Harris was a leader in the junta of Democratic ... Read More

New York City’s Downward Spiral

New York City must be one of the few places on earth where chaos nostalgia is widespread. Many were the laments, in the Giuliani-Bloomberg era, that the city was “too sanitized,” “too gentrified,” “too boring,” “anodyne,” “suburban.” Often you’d hear people saying, or declaiming, that their ... Read More

New York City’s Downward Spiral

New York City must be one of the few places on earth where chaos nostalgia is widespread. Many were the laments, in the Giuliani-Bloomberg era, that the city was “too sanitized,” “too gentrified,” “too boring,” “anodyne,” “suburban.” Often you’d hear people saying, or declaiming, that their ... Read More

The Anarchist Storm over Portland

Stephen Peifer, a retired assistant U.S. attorney in Portland, Ore., sat down with National Review’s Luther Abel to discuss the state’s long and infamous struggle with left-wing extremist groups, why federal officers were deployed to Portland, and what makes the current situation in the city uniquely ... Read More

The Anarchist Storm over Portland

Stephen Peifer, a retired assistant U.S. attorney in Portland, Ore., sat down with National Review’s Luther Abel to discuss the state’s long and infamous struggle with left-wing extremist groups, why federal officers were deployed to Portland, and what makes the current situation in the city uniquely ... Read More

Kamala Harris’s Anti-Catholic Bigotry

Someone might want to remind Joe Biden, who’s just picked progressive California senator Kamala Harris as his running mate, that his vice-president-to-be believes Catholics are unfit to serve in our nation’s courts. (Biden, of course, as I considered at length on the homepage today, has spent his entire ... Read More

Kamala Harris’s Anti-Catholic Bigotry

Someone might want to remind Joe Biden, who’s just picked progressive California senator Kamala Harris as his running mate, that his vice-president-to-be believes Catholics are unfit to serve in our nation’s courts. (Biden, of course, as I considered at length on the homepage today, has spent his entire ... Read More