• Planned Parenthood mistreats its pregnant employees? You should see what they do to their pregnant customers.
• Does Representative Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) represent the future of her party, as so many profiles have announced? The Palestinian-American was known primarily for her advocacy of a “one-state solution” in Israel, but she more recently grabbed headlines with her comments at a rally hosted by liberal group MoveOn. “We’re gonna go in there and we’re going to impeach the motherf***er,” Tlaib said. When pressed, Tlaib stuck to her guns while admitting that her vulgarity might have been a “distraction.” Democratic leadership sought to downplay her comments and deny that impeaching the president is in their plans. But the appetite for aggressive tactics among the Democratic base is insatiable, a group of backbencher Democrats has already drafted articles of impeachment, and we doubt the party will be able to resist the resistance forever. On this issue, at least, Tlaib’s voice is set to become the authentic voice of her party.
• In the Washington Post, freshman Republican senator Mitt Romney reiterated that he supports many of Trump’s policies, objects to aspects of his character, and will not make a practice of commenting on each Trump Twitter controversy. He may have thought that putting those views on record would make it easier for him to implement that last decision. Instead the op-ed stoked speculation that Romney is angling to challenge Trump in the 2020 primaries — an ambition Romney promptly disavowed. At the moment, at least, any such challenge looks quixotic. Many Republicans, including Trump, reacted harshly to Romney’s criticisms of Trump, either attacking Romney’s suitability as a messenger or faulting his message as counterproductive. What they almost never did was fault the criticisms as untrue. Perhaps Trump and his strongest allies would have done better to let Romney have the quiet reception he probably wanted.
• Senator Elizabeth Warren said she was forming an exploratory committee to run for president and began exploring Iowa. Her decision in October to release an analysis of her genetic background is generally, and across the political spectrum, judged to have backfired: It failed to end conservative ridicule of her claims of Native American ancestry while also violating inscrutable intersectional taboos of the Left. But Warren can be shrewd, and her lack of emphasis on Trump during her campaign launch is a case in point. What she recognizes is that voters already know Democrats can’t stand him, and to win they are going to need something more.
• Senator Bernie Sanders faced accusations that his 2016 campaign mishandled sexual-harassment complaints from female staffers. It is an especially fraught controversy for two reasons: In intra-Left disputes, one group of feminists who backed Hillary Clinton have portrayed many of their opponents as misogynistic “Bernie bros”; and Democrats are debating whether they should nominate a white man. A bigger problem for Sanders: He is polling poorly, which suggests that many Democrats supported him not because he was a socialist but because he was not Clinton. He will not have the luxury of having her as his main opponent next time, a misfortune he will almost certainly share with President Trump.
• Tucker Carlson set off a debate by delivering a monologue on what ails the nation. Our elites, he argued on Fox News, no longer care for our populace, have come to worship free markets rather than seeing them as a tool, and treat the maximization of GDP as the highest social goal. The results: We have more “plastic garbage from China,” but male wages have declined and, since women tend to prefer mates who make more than they do, so has marriage. Now our leaders are pushing for marijuana legalization, even as it threatens to increase social dysfunction. The particulars of Carlson’s indictment, it must be said, mostly do not hold up. Marijuana legalization is not an elite plot: Most Americans favor it while most politicians have hung back, and many people favor it because they have decided that the costs of the war on drugs to decidedly non-elite Americans are too high. Elites are not responsible, either, for gains in female wages relative to male ones, and it’s not an overvaluation of free markets that is keeping us from reversing those gains. But Carlson has articulated an excruciating truth: The social landscape of much of America, and especially of rural people without college degrees, has become shockingly grim, even amid a growing economy. The anguish is real, and Carlson is right to try to make his elite peers see it.
• Just after the New Year, House Democrats passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019, the new majority’s first effort to end the partial government shutdown. This bill predictably included none of the funding that Trump had requested to strengthen and extend existing physical barriers along the southern border. But it did include a provision to repeal the “Mexico City policy,” which the Trump administration applied to prevent U.S. foreign-aid funding from going to organizations that provide or promote abortion overseas. Time to build another wall, between taxpayers and abortion.
• Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the socialist recently elected as a Democrat to the House, is famous for being lightly informed about things that are relevant to her job, e.g., what Congress does, how a bill becomes a law, etc. Her mathematics education does not seem to have been much better than her civics education: She has proposed to raise the marginal income-tax rate on a very small group of U.S. taxpayers — those earning $10 million or more per year — to 70 percent. But the tax she proposes would raise — at most, assuming no change in taxpayer behavior — about 2 percent of the cost of her Medicare-expansion plans alone, to say nothing of the tuition benefit and such other delightful goodies as a radically expanded welfare state might provide. Representative Ocasio-Cortez et al. have a problem with rich people: There aren’t enough of them. There are a relative handful of Americans who earn astounding paydays, but their combined incomes are not high enough that raising their taxes, even to confiscatory levels, would fund the Democrats’ dreams. Doing that would require a policy that the Democrats do not wish to contemplate: an enormous tax hike on the middle class. Rather than a tuition subsidy, Representative Ocasio-Cortez might ask for a refund from Boston University.
• In January, progressive complaints about the “unjust” nature of the U.S. Senate moved from the Idle Griping category into the Dangerous Fiction section. Writing in The Atlantic, a Wharton professor named Eric Orts insisted not only that the “malapportionment” of the Senate — by which he means that Wyoming and California have the same number of senators — can be remedied more easily than anyone has previously thought. Specifically, Orts maintained that, although Article V of the U.S. Constitution presents a nominal obstacle to the reform he covets, it is nevertheless “arguable” that Congress could bypass the amendment process with ordinary legislation and entirely recast the upper chamber. Indeed, Orts added, this may be mandatory given the equality protections contained elsewhere in the Constitution’s text. Yet the Senate cannot be “malapportioned,” because, by design, it is not “apportioned” in the first place. Ordinary legislation cannot serve as a substitute for the amendment process, and if it could, there would be no point in our having a Constitution. And additions to the Constitution’s text cannot be held to have repealed, sub silentio, unrelated parts by implication — especially when the integrity of the Senate’s structure is protected more comprehensively in the U.S. Constitution than that of any other part of government and confirmed in the Seventeenth Amendment. What Orts has made clear is that the progressive hostility to the make-up of the Senate is really hostility to the Constitution.
• Some senators, Democrats Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) most notably, are hounding federal judicial nominee Brian Buescher because of his membership in the Knights of Columbus, which they characterize as an extremist organization composed of troublesome priests and laymen opposed to women’s rights. Founded in 1882 for the care of widows, orphans, and the disabled, the Knights are a Catholic fraternal organization loyal to the teachings of the Church. Knights calculated their charitable giving in 2017 at nearly $186 million. Members volunteered over 75 million hours of service. American war heroes have belonged to the Knights, President Kennedy among them. The senators’ assault on religious liberty and the Constitution is an affront to America’s greatness, dependent on and defined by a vibrant civil society and volunteer associations.
• Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis resigned over Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria and penned a carefully worded but scathing letter dissenting from Trump’s foreign policy. Mattis is an honorable man with a superb military record, but also a sharp bureaucratic player. Whether he simply sought to restrain Trump’s worst instincts, or was obstructive of the administration’s worthwhile goals as well, depends on which insider you talk to. But the gravamen of his critique of Trump’s foreign policy as often too alienating to allies and too forgiving of adversaries is hard to dispute. Since that basic approach comes from the top, it will endure no matter who, or how impressive, cabinet secretaries and other top officials are.
• In a commendable piece of reporting, the New York Times published an exposé of feminist organizations that discriminate against pregnant women, including allegations from more than a dozen current and former Planned Parenthood staffers who say the abortion provider has been “sidelining, ousting or otherwise handicapping pregnant employees.” Women who worked for Planned Parenthood affiliates in California, Texas, North Carolina, and New York said that managers “declined to hire pregnant job candidates, refused requests by expecting mothers to take breaks and in some cases pushed them out of their jobs after they gave birth.” It turns out there’s a choice they’re not “pro,” even for their own employees.
• In years past, this magazine spilled a lot of ink on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Incredibly, we must spill a little more now — because President Trump defended that invasion, in terms that must have bewildered Russians themselves: “The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there.” No, the Soviets went into Afghanistan to prop up a Communist regime that was under threat, pursuant to the Brezhnev Doctrine. Jimmy Carter responded, as Ronald Reagan did after him. In reference to our present allies, Trump was belittling: “They tell me 100 times, ‘We sent you soldiers, we sent you soldiers.’” They have indeed been at our side in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. And though the United States is necessarily the leading force, our allies have made sacrifices in the interest of burden-sharing. More than 450 Brits have died in Afghanistan. Halfway through his term, our president has a lot to learn.
• Rarely has a leader of the PRC threatened Taiwan so explicitly. Speaking in the Great Hall of the People, Xi Jinping said, “The country is growing strong, the nation is rejuvenating, and unification between the two sides of the strait is the great trend of history.” (Beware all those who speak of “the great trend of history.”) He further said, “We make no promise to abandon the use of force, and retain the option of taking all necessary measures.” In words aimed at the United States, he warned against “intervention by external forces.” For her part, democratic Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, said, “It is impossible for me — or, in my view, any responsible politician in Taiwan — to accept President Xi Jinping’s recent remarks without betraying the trust and the will of the people of Taiwan.” She added, “We hope the international community will pay attention and combine efforts to speak out on our behalf.” So do we.
• In the latest demonstration of American tech and entertainment companies caving to de facto censorship by autocratic foreign governments, Netflix has pulled from its feed to Saudi Arabia content that Riyadh said violated the nation’s laws. Hasan Minhaj had dedicated an episode of his weekly show Patriot Act to a scathing critique of the Saudi regime, focusing on its long record of human-rights abuses, including atrocities in Yemen and the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October. How Minhaj’s monologue impinged on “public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy,” the interests enumerated in the statute that Netflix allegedly contravened, remains for the Saudi government to explain. In agreeing to pull the episode, Netflix may have calculated that it was only protecting its position in the global market, but no one is fooled. Minhaj, a Muslim, noted that Muslims are more alert than most other people to the oppressive nature of the Saudi kingdom. Remember this the next time the entertainment industry congratulates itself for its courage.
• Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the Egyptian strongman, agreed to go on 60 Minutes. Then the Egyptian government asked CBS not to air the interview. CBS went ahead regardless. Sisi had said many incredible things, including, “We don’t have political prisoners or prisoners of opinion.” Egypt has 60,000 of them, give or take. An Iranian leader was once quoted as saying that there were no homosexuals in Iran. Sisi’s claim is equally credible.
• Japan has long dissented from the international norm that discourages whaling, and it made its dissent official in December by withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission. Japan will resume, for the first time in 30 years, commercial-whaling activity in the Pacific Ocean. Unlike some tribes in, say, Alaska, Japanese people don’t need to hunt whales for subsistence. Friends of Japan, among whom we count ourselves, can only be disappointed.
• We’ve come a long way since the days of Hunter S. Thompson. Apparently book and magazine publishers, including Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and Condé Nast, have taken to including “morality clauses” in their contracts with writers — under which the company may terminate an agreement if the writer, say, “becomes the subject of public disrepute, contempt, complaints or scandals.” In other words: If you say something politically incorrect and the social-media mob seizes on your words, we retain the right to sacrifice you. Maybe they should call it a cowardice clause instead.
• Louis C.K. was not a Trump voter, but he has joined the ranks of the irredeemable. After doing desultory penance following his turn in the Me Too stocks owing to some gross, indefensible, and very odd behavior, the comedian is back at work — and being denounced as a “reactionary” by Slate in what we assume is an unintentional tribute to the Maoist mood of the day. His fellow comedian Jim Carrey savaged him for mocking the omnipresent young witnesses to the Parkland shooting by maintaining that proximity to a horror does not give one special status to pronounce upon it (C.K.’s formulation was, as you might imagine, cruder than that). The thing about Louis C.K. and Parkland is: He’s right. The failures of the criminal-justice and mental-health systems — and the defects of human nature — involved in these murderous episodes raise complex and sometimes recondite public-policy questions, and simply witnessing such an episode does not confer relevant knowledge or wisdom. The Parkland survivors merit our sympathy, not our deference. And while it is not obvious that Louis C.K. merits either, the point stands.
• The American Psychological Association has issued guidelines for psychologists working with men and boys, drawing on “more than 40 years of research” and showing that “traditional masculinity — marked by stoicism, dominance and aggression — is, on the whole, harmful.” Of course, the depiction of “traditional masculinity” just quoted is itself a gross stereotype. But never mind that. The APA recommends “changing the culture,” and that clinicians “be aware of dominant masculine ideals, and cognizant of their own potential biases.” If more psychologists were cognizant of their biases, these guidelines wouldn’t have been issued.
• In our previous issue, we spoke of the demise of The Weekly Standard, the conservative magazine that ran from 1995 to just a month ago. We said, “We know that Standard people will shine on,” regardless. Some of them are shining on at a new site, The Bulwark. These include William Kristol, Jonathan Last, and the new site’s editor in chief, Charlie Sykes. When the Standard was born, WFB wrote an editorial headed “Come On In.” We say the same to the Bulwarkers.
• It has been a trend for years now: College football players refuse to play in their teams’ bowl games, lest they get injured before they can be drafted by the NFL. This year, two of Michigan’s captains refused to play in the Peach Bowl. Are they part of the team — leaders of the team — or not? Anyone can understand the economic rationale. Star athletes have a short time in which to make money, and they had better not blow it. But there are other considerations, such as loyalty, competition, and pride.
• Mount Holyoke College won’t say how much it paid a consultant to design a new logo, but it was probably enough to pay the tuition of at least a couple of fourth-wave feminists in training. In return, the college got the letters “MHC,” squashed together a bit, with the “C” and part of the “H” tinted in a way that suggests, with the exercise of some imagination (squinting also helps), the cross-plus-circle “female” symbol. One might think that at a self-described “highly selective, nondenominational, residential, research liberal arts college for women,” a logo that vaguely suggests femaleness would be uncontroversial. But that’s 20th-century thinking. Mount Holyoke’s transgender community expressed shock and outrage at the suggestion that students at a women’s college have to be women, and the administration yielded instantly: “It is now evident to us that this symbol has a long history of exclusion connected to movements that, while trailblazing for some groups, represents the erasure of others.” Translation: A few women decided that they are men, and immediately started hogging the spotlight.
• For today’s 18- to 25-year-olds, military life is a tough sell. There’s the regimentation, the confusing geopolitics, the decidedly non-artisanal food, being stationed halfway around the world, plus the whole getting-shot-at thing. So army recruiters in the U.K. have taken a new tack: Instead of appealing to prospects’ patriotism, spirit of adventure, or desire for self-improvement, why not appeal to their vanity? The result is a series of posters featuring photos of winsome, diverse twentysomethings with taglines such as “Snowflakes / Your army needs you and your compassion,” and “Me Me Me Millennials / Your army needs you and your self-belief.” We suspect that very few “Me Me Me Millennials” would voluntarily describe themselves that way, and that absolutely no one would willingly be labeled a “Snowflake” — certainly not the flinty Scots Guardsman whose photo was used in that poster without his consent (he says; the army disagrees), and who has in consequence resigned from the service. Other target groups include “phone zombies” (valued for “your focus”), “selfie addicts” (“your confidence”), and “binge gamers” (“your drive”). It seems that the playing fields of Eton have been replaced with the gaming screens of Red Dead Redemption.
• Speaking of snowflakes and the British Army, Captain Louis Rudd, M.B.E., has crossed Antarctica alone, on skis, unaided, without even a kite to help the wind pull him along (a method used by some previous Antarctica crossers). Rudd took along all the food, supplies, and equipment he would need for the eight-week journey, and whenever his spirit seemed about to flag, he restored his courage by listening to an audiobook of Boris Johnson’s biography of Winston Churchill. There’ll always be an England . . . When Rudd arrived at the finish line, however, he saw that he had been beaten: by Colin O’Brady, an American who a few years ago suffered severe burns to his legs and was told he would never walk again, which goaded him into a grueling rehab regimen that eventually included competing in triathlons. The two men, friendly rivals, started their transcontinental treks at the same time, and O’Brady emerged as the first person ever to cross Antarctica solo and unaided, by a margin of two days. When Rudd arrived, however, O’Brady was away from his tent: He had decided it was time to celebrate his 921-mile trek over barren, snowy wasteland — by doing a little skiing. There’ll always be an America . . .
• Twitter exploded in horror in Great Britain at the deliverance of the queen’s Christmas speech. Not because of anything Her Majesty said, mind you, but because she gave the address in Buckingham Palace in front of a golden piano. Queen Victoria bought the offending instrument in 1856; it has a gold-leaf finish and was made by the same Frenchman (Sébastien Érard) who crafted Chopin’s piano. One Twitter user said that the queen’s palace furnishings were “glazed with tears of the poor.” Another said the queen ought to sell the piano and take the homeless off the streets for a year. The 92-year-old monarch spoke of self-sacrifice, the dangers of tribalism, and the importance of good will, faith, family, and friendship. Most significantly, she paid tribute to the birth of Jesus, which, she says, has brought hope into the world and meaning to her life. This is the same Jesus, incidentally, who said, “For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.” There’s an argument for constitutional monarchy and an argument for republicanism, but there’s no argument for a monarchy without fancy pianos.
• Eleanor Maccoby, an eminent psychologist, died at 101. Her specialty was gender differences. There are differences between boys and girls, whether people like it or not. A paragraph in the New York Times’ obit read, “Dr. Maccoby said in an oral history at Stanford in 2011 that a female colleague had advised her to suppress any of her research that might be disadvantageous for women. Dr. Maccoby refused, she said, determined to publish whatever she found.” There was a scholar. R.I.P.
• Amos Oz was an Israeli who loved his country, fought for it in two wars, and in almost 40 books of fiction and journalism embellished its language and its literature. Art and artistry compensated for a childhood with deep emotional wounds. Although never a pacifist, he was a peacenik. With skill and passion he argued that Jews and Palestinians have exactly the same rights. To some in the ongoing thunderstorm over the future political shape of the neighborhood, he is a traitor; to others he was the national conscience, not just a spokesman but a modern prophet. Dead at 79, R.I.P.
THE MIDDLE EAST
Stay in Syria
The American military intervention in Syria represents one of the most successful and cost-effective military operations of the post-9/11 era. At a minimal price in American lives — through maximum cooperation with courageous Kurdish and Arab allies — the ISIS “caliphate” has been reduced to rubble, Russian and Iranian ambitions in Syria have been checked, and the United States has gained valuable territorial leverage in the negotiation for a permanent settlement in the Syrian civil war.
But there is work left to be done. ISIS is down but not out, our Syrian allies remain vulnerable, and Russia and Iran retain their own ambitions for regional domination. That’s why it was deeply disturbing when Donald Trump appeared to change policy abruptly and ordered an immediate American withdrawal from Syria, in a decision that was clearly contrary to the national interest.
And that’s why it is somewhat reassuring that Trump appears to have partially reversed course. National Security Adviser John Bolton has announced that the withdrawal will depend on the final defeat of ISIS and security guarantees for our Kurdish allies, conditions that could prolong the American deployment for many months.
The facts on the ground require a continued American presence. Yes, the political state ISIS tried to build in 2014–15 is largely in ruins, but ISIS the terrorist organization still exists, and it still has thousands of fighters. In fact, it’s far stronger now than al-Qaeda was in 2011, when Barack Obama ordered Americans out of Iraq. ISIS is still a threat, and an American retreat would grant it the potential to reestablish safe havens in Syrian territory.
Moreover, a retreat would empower both Iran and Russia, granting a great strategic gift to two of America’s chief geopolitical foes. When Vladimir Putin intervened in Syria’s civil war to save the Assad regime, Barack Obama famously warned that Russia was getting sucked into a “quagmire.” In fact, Russia’s intervention has so far been an unmitigated success. It helped tip the balance of power in the civil war, secured continued access to Russia’s naval base in Tartus, and restored Russian influence in the region to a level not seen since the Cold War.
A retreat would also seriously weaken the very same Kurdish allies who have fought and bled by our side in the campaign against ISIS. They’d be vulnerable to Assad’s regime in the south and Turkish forces in the north. Without strong security guarantees, we would abandon the Kurds in Syria to a grim fate.
America’s military presence in Syria does suffer from one quite serious flaw: It has not been approved by Congress. The invasion and occupation of the territory of a hostile foreign state is an act of war, and only Congress is constitutionally empowered to declare war. The proper course of action for the president is to stay the course and seek congressional approval.
The Trump administration must remember the bitter lessons of Obama’s reckless withdrawal from Iraq. American retreats often create power vacuums that are filled by American enemies. Now, after all the blood spilled and tears shed since the rise of ISIS, President Trump must not make his own version of Obama’s deadly mistake.
Build the Fence, Fix the Rules
The (very) partial shutdown over funding for a border wall, or, to be more precise, more extensive fencing, has dragged on for weeks now.
President Trump is right to want more physical barriers at the border, and Democrats are showing how far left they’ve gone on immigration now that they equate a border fence with the Berlin Wall and call it inherently immoral.
Yet Trump has set himself up for disappointment. The first rule for winning a government-shutdown battle is not to take responsibility for the shutdown, which Trump did in his Oval Office confrontation with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer before the onset of this showdown. Having gone on the record about how proud he’d be to shut down the government over border security, his subsequent attempts to blame the Democrats have gotten no traction, and at the margins, he’s been shedding the support of congressional Republicans rather than picking off Democrats.
The best case is an unappetizing compromise, which is perhaps why the administration has been floating the idea of declaring a national emergency and erecting the fence with redirected military funds. Even if this were clearly legal — and that’s dubious — it would functionally be an abusive end run around the spending powers of Congress.
All of this comes against the backdrop of a genuine crisis at the border. That crisis is not an influx of terrorists, and Trump-administration representatives have tripped themselves up by trying to make the numbers show large numbers of suspected terrorists caught at the border. It is not a wave of immigrants from Mexico, as in the past, so the fact that migration from Mexico is close to net zero doesn’t have the significance that the media want to attribute to it. It is an ongoing surge of minors and families from Central America that we are ill equipped as a matter of law and resources to handle.
This category of migrant is the new normal. Twenty years ago, single men accounted for the vast majority of illegal immigrants; now families or minors are almost 60 percent of apprehensions. Because of court-dictated rules limiting how long we can hold children, an anti-trafficking law that makes it impossible to send Central American minors home easily, and a broken asylum process — on top of strained resources across the board — we are routinely releasing migrants into the country, even though this is a policy that the Trump administration (rightly) opposes and desperately wants to reverse. Our inability to control the flow encourages more migrants to come.
More physical barriers are part of the solution. It gives us more control if it is harder for migrants to cross illegally and if they can be made to apply at ports of entry. We saw a real-time example of the usefulness of a barrier when the caravan that arrived late last year in Tijuana was prevented from simply walking into the country by border fencing. The experience in places such as Yuma, Ariz., is that fencing has significantly diminished illegal crossings.
Even if Trump gets all the fence he wants in the current confrontation, though, it will take years to build and, at roughly an additional 200 miles, obviously not cover the entire border. It is more important to fix the rules around asylum and our handling of Central American families and minors so we aren’t so hamstrung.
In its little-noticed latest offer to Democrats in Congress, the administration proposes measures to encourage Central American minors to apply for asylum in their home countries instead of showing up here after an incredibly dangerous journey. But this kind of policy change is being treated as a sideshow. However the shutdown fight ends, it is almost certain that the crisis at the border will rumble on.