Magazine June 24, 2019, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

• “Who, me? Get a job? And lower Junior’s adversity score?”

• Robert Mueller spoke. In a press statement announcing the end of his service as special counsel, he reiterated the findings of his probe, but in such a way that his listeners would read between the lines that he thinks Trump was guilty of obstruction but just couldn’t be charged under longstanding Justice Department guidance. This was irregular, to say the least. A prosecutor is supposed to indict or shut up. Nothing stopped Mueller from making the traditional binary prosecutorial judgment on whether Trump was guilty of a crime and letting his superior, Attorney General Bill Barr, make the ultimate call on a prosecution. Instead, Mueller invented the bizarre category of “not exonerated” and detailed Trump’s conduct in a long report that was a de facto impeachment referral. The special-counsel regulations were written after the excesses of the independent-counsel era to avoid just such free-lancing and de facto impeachment inquiries run by inferior executive-branch officers. The reaction after the end of this affair should be the same as after Ken Starr closed up shop in 1990s: Never again.

• Michigan Republican congressman Justin Amash, a go-his-own-way libertarian, issued forth with several Twitter threads saying that, after reading the Mueller report, he concluded that Trump is guilty of impeachable offenses. We admire Amash’s courage and independent-mindedness. He is correct that it is up to Congress to decide what to do with the Mueller report (some Democrats act as if they need Robert Mueller to explicitly tell them whether to impeach or not). But we read the evidence differently than Amash. Trump behaved shabbily — and sometimes shockingly — during the probe, but the alleged underlying offense of Russian collusion wasn’t there. The facts on obstruction are ambiguous. Trump had the power to fire James Comey, which set this all off, and probably did it because he knew he was innocent of the Russian charges. Some of his scheming once Mueller was appointed was more problematic, but it never came to anything. It’s not at all clear that Trump would be charged with a crime if he were a private citizen, an almost meaningless question anyway since the circumstances would be so different (private citizens don’t run the branch of government investigating them). In sum, this is a matter best for voters to take account of, or not, when they vote for president in 17 months.

• One of the bad effects of the Russian-collusion rave has been casual use of the word “treason.” The latest offender was Representative Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.), scoring Peter Strzok and Lisa Page for plotting to unseat the president: “That sounds an awful lot like a coup and it could well be treason” — a remark retweeted by Trump. But Trump’s enemies threw around the T-word too, when they thought they could find a trail from the Kremlin to Trump Tower. To recap high-school civics: Treason is defined (Article III, Section 3) as “consist[ing] only in levying war against [the United States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” The Founders defined it strictly because treason prosecutions had been a weapon of political warfare throughout English history. What Trump was alleged to have done but didn’t do, and what Strzok and Page are alleged to have done and may have, are bad things, but not treason. Reserve the killer epithets for the crimes that merit them.

• President Trump conferred declassification authority on Attorney General Bill Barr, directing intelligence agencies to cooperate in the review of 2016 election-related investigations. Barr is focused on the Obama administration’s counterintelligence probe of the Trump campaign (FISA surveillance, confidential informants, “unmasking” of U.S. persons incidentally monitored in foreign-intelligence collection, etc.). Democrats predictably shriek over the investigation of the investigators. Even accounting for partisan bias, though, it is astonishing to hear journalists, in circling the wagons around Obama officials, fret about the perils of disclosing too much information. The AG will still consult with the CIA and other intelligence agencies about protecting methods and sources, and previous such alarms — remember the warnings about the Nunes memo — have proven false. We are closer to accountability, not crisis.

• When President Trump, on a recent trip to Japan, spent Memorial Day at the Seventh Fleet’s base in Yokosuka, he came close to John McCain — not the man, but the destroyer named after Admirals John S. McCain Sr. and Jr. (the senator, John S. McCain III, was added as a namesake after his death). After the Wall Street Journal reported that the ship had been kept out of the president’s sight, acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan said that the White House’s military-liaison office had made such a request, which the Navy had ignored. President Trump denied any involvement but described whoever made the request as “well-meaning.” Is it well-meaning to assume that the president is so touchy he could not bear the presence of a dead critic’s name?

• Bernie Sanders is a daffy Brooklyn socialist who caucuses with Democrats when convenient. In the 1980s he was something wilder — a supporter of the Socialist Workers party, founded originally to carry the banner of Leon Trotsky. In 1980 Sanders was willing to serve as an SWP presidential elector in the event the party carried Vermont (it did not). The SWP of that day called for abolishing America’s military, nationalizing its industry, and allying with Iran, Cuba, and Sandinista Nicaragua. NR’s founding editorial team included a former Trotskyite, James Burnham, but he had repudiated his revolutionary Communist past. Sanders seems to have evolved away from it. One advantage of running for the White House so late in life is that the mistakes of one’s middle age happened decades ago.

• Sanders hates public schools — some of them. He has proposed to prohibit federal funding for new charter schools and to impose other restrictions designed to choke them to death. Charter schools are public schools that operate with a degree of independence from the public-school bureaucracies and unions, which together form the most important Democratic constituency. Most of the students in charter schools are black or Hispanic, and charter schools are popular among black and Hispanic voters — and a good deal less popular among white Democrats. Charter schools are not for everyone, but they provide a great deal of value to many students whose other options are the failed conventional public schools available to them in areas dominated by Democrats and their public-sector-union allies. Because charters establish the value of having some possible alternative to the absolute-monopoly model of education, the monopolists demand their destruction. That Senator Sanders is so willing to oblige says a great deal about what he and his sometime party understand to be the mission of the public schools, and their beneficiaries.

• President Trump has associated himself with the radical idea that the United States should have a legal-immigration system like that of Canada. He unveiled an immigration plan that would emphasize skills, moving us closer to the Canadian model from our current, foolishly monomaniacal focus on family reunification. The Trump plan would limit family immigration to immediate family — spouses and minor children — and eliminate the visa lottery. Instead, the emphasis would be on a point system and higher-skilled immigrants. In other words, we would favor the immigrants best suited to thriving in a 21st-century economy, and English and civics tests would select for immigrants with the best chance of easily assimilating. Our complaint is that the plan doesn’t call for lower numbers of legal immigrants, although its enforcement measures would reduce the flow of new illegal immigrants and diminish the current illegal population. The proposal isn’t going anywhere in this Congress, and so is essentially a campaign document, and a commendable one.

• Donald Trump loves tariffs, and he also desires to implement new means of combating illegal immigration. And so he has come up with a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of a policy that allows him to combine his two great political appetites: implementing a tariff on Mexican imports, beginning at 5 percent and ratcheting up to 25 percent, if the Mexican government does not satisfy his demand that it do more to stop the flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America. Illegal immigration from and through Mexico is a serious problem that demands a serious response — and this is not it. Tariffs are unlikely to produce the response Trump desires, in part because the Mexican state is itself deficient and does not exercise consistent control over its border areas. Worse, the tariffs would be likely to tank other policy goals important to the president, including the ratification of the U.S.–Mexico–Canada Agreement, a renegotiated version of NAFTA. Like it or not, border control is one product that’s going to have to be made in America.

• Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ted Cruz make for strange allies. And the strangeness is only compounded when the constitutional conservative from Texas joins with the socialist from New York City to violate the First Amendment. Cruz and Ocasio-Cortez have signaled their willingness to work together on a bill to ban former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists. It’s an alleged anti-corruption measure, but in reality it’s a restriction on the right of a person to petition the government, a right explicitly protected by the Constitution. Just as Congress can’t prevent its former members from becoming paid writers or paid pastors, it can’t prevent its former members from becoming paid lobbyists. “Lobbying” has become an ugly word, but at its heart it’s little different from lawyering. A client pays a representative to make his case. And when that “case” is presented to the federal government, it’s protected by the Constitution. 

• Over the last three decades, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has done countless things to advance conservative causes, which is why it is so strange to see him proposing a bill that contradicts a whole host of the values for which he has fought for so long. McConnell’s bill, which is co-sponsored by Virginia’s senator Tim Kaine, would raise the age at which Americans are permitted to buy tobacco products to 21. It would do so nationally, and without any exceptions — including for military personnel, who are apparently old enough to fight and die for the United States but not old enough to buy a pack of smokes. McConnell has justified his enthusiasm for the bill by speaking at length about the problems that his home state of Kentucky is facing in dealing with the illnesses associated with smoking. There is nothing wrong with McConnell’s concern per se, but it would serve better as a defense of Kentucky’s raising its minimum age than of the federal government’s doing so. At present 34 of the 50 states have left it at 18, the youngest minimum age allowed by federal law. In the good old days, this kind of federal overreach would have been ripe for obstruction by Mitch McConnell.

• At this writing, Amazon, Alphabet (i.e., Google), and Facebook are all seeing their stocks fall amid reports that the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department have reached an agreement between themselves that seems to foreshadow stricter antitrust enforcement. (In essence, the agreement places Amazon in the FTC’s jurisdiction and Google in the DOJ’s.) There is a legitimate place for such enforcement when monopolistic behavior harms consumers, and certainly the tech giants have done themselves no favors in alienating conservatives through ill-considered censorship. Thus far, however, the antitrust allegations against these companies largely boil down to amorphous concerns about the competitive environment rather than concrete harms to consumers or illegal behavior. In enforcing antitrust law against the nation’s most successful companies, the FTC and the DOJ must ensure they are not interfering with legitimate business practices that serve consumers well.

• Left-wing actors threatened not to participate in projects filming in Georgia after it enacted a ban on most abortions. Now, major Hollywood studios are piling on; Netflix, Disney, NBC Universal, and several other film corporations have suggested that, if the law takes effect, they will consider ceasing production in the state. But the outrage appears to be selective. Disney, for instance, filmed scenes for one of the most recent Star Wars movies in several countries with stricter abortion regulations than those in the U.S. If Georgia trades human life for Hollywood money, it will richly deserve the contempt the industry has for it.

• Planned Parenthood gets a great deal of mileage out of the false claim that, prior to Roe v. Wade, thousands of women died from illegal abortions every year. After repeating variations of this myth, Planned Parenthood president Leana Wen came under scrutiny from an unexpected source: the Washington Post. Fact-checker Glenn Kessler debunked Wen and Planned Parenthood, giving them four Pinocchios and noting CDC data that show that, in 1972, the number of deaths in the U.S. from legal abortions was 24 and from illegal abortions 39. Planned Parenthood is very nearly as devoted to lies as it is to abortion.

• California lawmakers are seeking to make Catholic priests break the seal of confession. If they hear information about the sexual abuse of minors from other priests in the confessional, they would be obligated to report it to state authorities. The wording of the bill — “clergy members,” “penitential communication” — provides thin cover for the legislators’ intent to single out the Catholic Church and to appear serious about bringing to justice the perpetrators of scandals that, though largely from the 20th century, continue to weigh on the institution. The crimes this legislation seeks to combat are gravely evil, and the historical involvement of priests in them an abomination. But this measure is not well designed to reduce the incidence of this crime. Few abusers will confess to fellow priests but not to civil authorities, and most abusers are, of course, not priests. Ineffectual and discriminatory, the bill would mostly set a precedent for courts to reverse.

• The Trump administration took two major actions against Chinese telecom companies. Trump first signed an executive order giving himself the power to block transactions with telecom companies that are “subject to the jurisdiction of a foreign adversary” — a phrase left undefined but that has been widely interpreted to refer to Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE. Then, the Commerce Department added Huawei to its “entity list,” barring it from buying American technology without the approval of the U.S. government. Allowing Huawei and ZTE to operate undisturbed in the U.S. would pose serious national-security risks, as a 2012 House report illustrates. Huawei’s founder has ties to Chinese intelligence, and Chinese law mandates that both companies maintain close ties with the Party. We’re for trade, but not at the expense of national security.

• It started as an anti-Trump joke gone wrong. Foreign-affairs analyst Ian Bremmer quoted Trump as saying in Tokyo that “Kim Jong-un is smarter and would make a better President than Sleepy Joe Biden.” After Bremmer’s tweet got traction, he admitted that he had made it up as satire. But then Trump really said that Kim Jong-un called Joe Biden “a low-IQ individual,” adding, “He probably is, based on his record. I think I agree with him on that.” The president is an effective campaigner in his own right. Rhetorical support from the North Korean dictator does not reflect well on him, and still less does his repetition of it.

• British politicians who expected Donald Trump’s first state visit to the U.K. to be a source of controversy and spectacle have had their fears realized. While still in the air, the president tweeted that the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is a “stone cold loser,” responding to Khan’s argument that the U.K. should “not roll out the red carpet” for the visit. When Trump visited the U.K. last July, he embarrassed outgoing prime minister Theresa May by telling the Sun, Britain’s best-selling newspaper, that she had mishandled Brexit. May steps down on June 7, and the Conservative party is currently preparing to elect a replacement, with twelve candidates jostling for power. In a similarly undiplomatic outburst, Trump told the Sun that Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary, “would be excellent” and would do “a very good job.” At this writing, Downing Street has said that the president will not meet with Theresa May. Might it have been something he said? 

• May announced that she would be stepping down. She will leave behind a remarkable record of ruin, failure, and squandered opportunity. She threw away the Conservatives’ parliamentary majority in the course of a general election she should have won easily. She then botched her main job, implementing Brexit. Admittedly, quitting the EU was never going to be easy (and there was room for honest disagreement over how it could be achieved). But she made innumerable missteps: taking a “hard Brexit” off the table, letting talks on British payments to the EU come before talks about trade, losing credibility through dishonesty. It was an invitation to disaster that disaster duly accepted. Brussels has consistently outmaneuvered and humiliated British counterparts with neither the talent nor the knowledge nor the nous necessary to handle a wily opponent. Three years after the referendum and just a few months before the latest deadline, no one can be sure what Brexit will look like or even if there will be a Brexit. Meanwhile, the Tory party is facing an existential crisis, and, despite reversals in the recent EU parliament elections, a Labour party of the hard Left may well dominate Britain’s next government. May will not be missed, but she will be remembered.

• In Britain, Boris Johnson is being dragged into court to defend himself against the charge of “misleading the public” during the 2016 EU-membership referendum. The case, Johnson’s lawyers say, “represents an attempt, for the first time in English legal history, to employ criminal law to regulate the content and quality of political debate.” At issue is Johnson’s insistence that the British government was sending “350 million pounds a week” to the EU as the cost of membership — money that Johnson said could be better spent elsewhere. The prosecution argues that this number was incorrect, and that Johnson knew it. By repeating false information, it contends, Johnson committed the crime of “misconduct in public office.” The prospect that those who engage in politics might end up being judged not only by the voters but by a jury is a dangerous one per se. But when one considers that the prosecution has been privately brought, and that it is being “crowdfunded” by a pro-EU political group, the stakes become readily apparent. If the British people hope to create a system within which wealthy dilettantes and angry mobs use the courts to privately relitigate sharp political fights, they are going about it exactly the right way. If they don’t, this case must be dismissed — and pronto.

• After the Israeli elections on April 9, it appeared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had won enough seats to form another Likud-led government. But Netanyahu’s longtime rival and former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman — the champion of Israel’s Russian minority and a man of the secular Right — broke with the coalition, which refused to curtail the exemption of Orthodox Jews from military service. After a failed scramble to preserve the coalition’s majority, the Knesset was forced to dissolve, and Netanyahu was forced to call new elections, to be held September 17. Staring down corruption charges, he had planned to take steps to give himself immunity, which won’t be possible with the Knesset dissolved. A well-read man, Netanyahu must surely be pondering Enoch Powell’s observation that nearly all political careers end in failure.

• Tiananmen Square has been quiet this spring, the 30th anniversary of the mass demonstrations that shook the Chinese government, which after several weeks sent tanks and soldiers to central Beijing. Thousands were killed in the ensuing massacre. Tight security on the square prevented memorial demonstrations for the anniversary. Organizers in Hong Kong, which enjoys a greater but diminishing degree of basic freedoms, estimated that more than 180,000 attended a vigil at Victoria Park, the only site where Beijing permits public commemoration of the historic protests. The government censors any online reference to them. While the mainland is “silenced,” Hong Kong is a “loudspeaker,” Lee Cheuk-yan, a pro-democracy activist, told the Guardian. “So many people” still “fight for their rights.” Mindful that it’s all too easy for Americans to cheer them on when they’re the ones taking all the risk, we salute them for their fearlessness and tenacity.

• Damaged but still standing after the fire that broke out on April 15, Notre-Dame de Paris will be restored, not redesigned, as had been proposed by France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, and its prime minister, Édouard Philippe. Macron had advocated a “creative reconstruction” that would reflect “an alliance of tradition and modernity, a respectful audacity.” The French senate responded with a crisp non, amending a bill to specify that the cathedral will be restored to its “last known visual state.” Bien fait, sénateurs. The aim is for the work to be completed in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics, which Paris will host. Meanwhile, Philippe Villeneuve, the architect who had been overseeing conservative renovations to Notre Dame since 2013, went on record to say that “not only must you redo the spire,” a 19th-century addition, “but you must re-create it exactly.” Bien dit, M. Villeneuve.

• SAT results will now come packaged with an “adversity score”: a measure of students’ neighborhood and school environment — in terms of income, single-parent families, English proficiency, etc. — that will be provided to schools but not to students themselves. Don’t be fooled by the fact that the score does not directly include the students’ races: “The purpose is to get to race without using race,” former College Board employee (and current Georgetown professor) Anthony Carnevale told the Wall Street Journal. The scores are calibrated such that, according to the College Board’s own numbers, about 85 percent of students with top-tenth adversity scores will be black and Hispanic, versus less than 10 percent of students in the bottom tenth of adversity. The adversity score is the latest evidence of the academy’s limitless appetite for creative racial discrimination.

• In January 2018, Craig Telfer was a member of Franklin Pierce University’s men’s track-and-field team. He was ranked 200th nationally in 2016 and 390th in 2017 in Division II 400-meter hurdles. Now Telfer — identifying as a transgender woman and going by the name of “CeCe” — is the national champion in the women’s category after dominating his female competitors, coming in two seconds ahead of the second-place athlete at the Division II championship. The NCAA allows male athletes to compete as women if they undergo one year’s suppression of their testosterone. Incredibly, the NCAA states in its Transgender Handbook that “the assumption that a transgender woman competing on a women’s team would have a competitive advantage . . . is not supported by evidence.” Guess Telfer was just lucky.

First Things, the religious-conservative journal, has been on something of a tear against people who might have been considered allies. It ran an article condemning certain writers for allegedly currying favor with “pro-choice opinion-makers.” NR senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru, than whom few journalists have written more frequently against abortion, was one of the prime offenders. Next came a longer essay by Sohrab Ahmari against another of our writers, David French, faulted for placing too high a value on civility, being too critical of President Trump, and being too unwilling to deploy government power in the service of traditional morals. The essay misrepresented French’s views on several points: Perhaps accuracy is a luxury we can no longer afford, to adapt Ahmari on civility. Ahmari touches ground with reality when decrying a progressivism that is more and more opposed to liberty for religious traditionalists. Launching scattershot attacks on other social conservatives while musing vaguely about what a solid traditionalist majority would do if it existed is perhaps not the most useful response to this reality.

• Here’s the latest addition to the ever-lengthening list of Things That Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Finds Offensive: cauliflower. In an Instagram video promoting community gardens, she reminds us that “a core component of the Green New Deal is having all of these projects make sense in a cultural context.” In gardens, this principle demands “a green space that grows yucca instead of, I don’t know, cauliflower or something.” Anything else would be “a colonial approach to environmentalism.” She should have called it horticultural appropriation. We say: There are many legitimate reasons for not planting cauliflower in your garden, but postcolonial theory isn’t one of them.

Standpoint magazine ran an article called “The Troubling Legacy of Martin Luther King.” Its subtitle was “Newly-revealed FBI documents portray the great civil rights leader as a sexual libertine who ‘laughed’ as a forcible rape took place.” The author was David J. Garrow, the noted King biographer. Question: Does this negate MLK’s achievement? More than any other person, he secured civil rights for black Americans, and he paid for it with his life, when he was murdered by a racist. No, the recent revelations do not negate MLK’s achievement. But they cause a shudder. The word “troubling” in Standpoint’s title is well chosen.

• In the past two months, eleven people have died while attempting to climb to the top of Mount Everest. It’s always been a dangerous endeavor. From 1922 to 2018, nearly 300 deaths there had been recorded. The spike in the number of deaths in recent weeks has been attributed to overcrowding on the paths leading to the peak. Traffic at times is, so to speak, bumper to bumper. At that altitude, every step takes several breaths, and the heart races at its near-maximum rate. Just waiting in line on the narrow ridges is strenuous and, the world has learned, sometimes fatal. “It’s screwed up up there,” David Carter told the Indianapolis Star. He attempted to scale Everest twice and succeeded once, in the 1990s. “It’s a train wreck right now and they’re going to have to change it.” By “they,” he means Nepal, which benefits from all the Everest tourism — porters, Sherpas, doctors, and helicopter pilots all do a brisk business. Officials there need to put a cap on the number of climbers at any one time and to screen out any who are unprepared and therefore a hazard to others as well as to themselves.

• There was once a book, later a TV show, called “Eight Is Enough.” Is eight too many? That’s how many youngsters won the National Spelling Bee this year. After multiple rounds, with no one slipping, eight were declared co-champions. Ideally, the contestants would fight on until there was a proper winner. There is something unsatisfactory about a tie, especially a logjam of eight. But they were undeniably impressive, and it was already past midnight, and probably past their bedtimes.

• Few economists have had a greater effect on American public policy than Arthur Laffer, who, the White House announced, will be awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in June. The idea that made Laffer into a household name began, according to legend, with a sketch on a cocktail napkin. At a restaurant in Washington, D.C., in 1974, he drew a graph illustrating the relationship between tax rates and revenue. The Laffer Curve shows that at a certain point raising tax rates leads to decreased economic activity and less revenue, while lowering rates spurs economic activity and increases revenue. It was a groundbreaking idea at a time when the top income-tax rate was 70 percent, and it provided intellectual ammunition for Reagan’s tax cuts. Where Republican politicians (and Laffer himself, at times) have erred is in suggesting that tax cuts necessarily pay for themselves through economic growth. Laffer’s central insight, though, that tax rates affect economic behavior, remains as true as ever — and, judging from the tax proposals of some Democratic presidential candidates, just as necessary.

• Herman Wouk told stories, and told them well, and deserved his place atop best-seller lists. People thrilled to The Caine Mutiny, and, in subsequent years, to The Winds of War and its sequel, War and Remembrance. All three of these novels are about World War II. Wouk is a bard of this great, horrible war, certainly from an American perspective. He also illuminated Jewish life for a general audience (and perhaps for a good number of his fellow Jews as well). He worked for a long time: His first novel was published in 1947 and his last in 2012. Four years after that, when his hundredth birthday rolled around, he published a personal memoir. A culture needs its storytellers, and Herman Wouk fulfilled that role. He has died at 103. R.I.P.

• Edmund Morris, born and raised in Africa (Kenya, South Africa), nevertheless wrote two of the most noteworthy biographies of American presidents of the last 40 years. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt won a Pulitzer and a National Book Award. Like the two volumes that followed — Theodore Rex, Colonel Roosevelt — it was sweeping yet detailed, in prose that sparkled: the very model of a modern mega-biography. Morris’s success encouraged Ronald Reagan to name him his official biographer, an assignment that produced Dutch, in which Morris, evidently staggered by his task, tried to recapture his magic by inserting himself into the narrative as a fictional long-time friend of his subject. The book was widely panned, though some who knew Reagan defended its portrayal of his often-elusive personality. As TR might have said, if Morris failed, he at least failed while daring greatly. Dead, on the eve of his 80th birthday. R.I.P.

• The architect I. M. Pei was a modernist who managed to stay modern from the 1940s into the 2000s — and in more than just his designs. He was one of the first “starchitects,” a global celebrity known to millions outside the profession who used his fame to win high-profile commissions. His early work softened but did not entirely escape the midcentury era’s Brutalist tendencies, and throughout his career he was most at home with towering, monumental, geometric designs, often with jutting projections. As the decades passed, though, he incorporated a welcome whimsy into projects as disparate as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in Cleveland, the Museum of Islamic Art, in Qatar, and the love-it-or-hate-it Louvre pyramid. Dead at 102, R.I.P.

• It was a miracle that Bart Starr ever played in the NFL. At the University of Alabama, he spent two unspectacular years as a starter (playing quarterback, safety, and punter under the NCAA’s single-platoon rules) on a series of lackluster Crimson Tide teams (4–15–2 his last two years) in the dismal pre–Bear Bryant era. But Bama’s basketball coach, who also helped out with the football team, told a friend in the Green Bay Packers’ front office that Starr’s football smarts might be enough to outweigh his limitations, and he was chosen in the 17th round of the 1956 draft. Starr didn’t become a full-time starter until 1961, under coach Vince Lombardi, but when he did, he led the Pack to five championships in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls. A keen gridiron analyst and strategist since his college days, Starr coached the Packers after retiring as a player but was unable to achieve the success of their 1960s heyday — not that anyone in Green Bay could be persuaded to utter a word against him. Starr was married to his high-school sweetheart, Cherry, who survives him, for 66 years; the couple was instrumental in founding and supporting the faith-based Rawhide Boys Ranch, in Wisconsin, for at-risk youths. Dead at 85, R.I.P.


A Debate Deformed

From a 30,000-foot view, the politics of abortion is proceeding as it should: State legislatures are passing bills while the Supreme Court says little. Unfortunately, the legislative action and judicial passivity are taking place against the backdrop of decades of jurisprudence that have made it effectively impossible to prohibit any abortions at any stage of pregnancy. The court leaves that regime in place when it punts, and the legislators’ deliberation is systematically distorted by it. In pro-life states, legislators are trying to influence the courts at least as much as to set policy. In pro-choice states, legislators can enact extreme laws while taking cover under popular misunderstandings of abortion jurisprudence: They are merely, they can say with rough accuracy, moving their statutes into alignment with what the Supreme Court has done.

Earlier this year, New York liberalized its regulations on third-trimester abortions. More recently, Georgia, Alabama, Ohio, Missouri, Mississippi, and Louisiana have passed bans on nearly all abortions. Most of these states make no exception for rape and incest. Illinois has passed its own sweeping liberalization, which eliminates both rights of conscientious objection and the state’s ban on partial-birth abortion (it remains illegal under federal law).

The new anti-abortion laws are impressive testimony to the continued vitality of the pro-life movement after decades of being told, not least by the Supreme Court, that its cause would dwindle and die. Because of the courts, however, these laws probably will not take effect. And because even many Americans who are troubled by abortion do not want a complete ban on it, the laws may provoke a backlash.

They seem unlikely to prompt a rethinking at the Supreme Court, at least as presently constituted, because it is cautious even about much more modest restrictions. It took up two anti-abortion laws from Indiana: a prohibition on abortion based on the unborn child’s race, sex, disability, or diagnosis of Down syndrome; and a regulation of the proper disposal of fetal remains. A circuit court had struck both laws down. The Court let the second law stand, while declining to review the first because no other circuit had considered it.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote an opinion noting the connections between the movement for abortion and eugenics. Liberals excoriated him for allegedly practicing guilt by association and distorting the historical record — but in truth his opinion was careful, and the fact that some of the historians he cited on limited points disagree with him on larger ones is neither here nor there. The critics claim that there is a world of difference between government-directed eugenics and merely permitting people to eliminate unborn children with Down syndrome. That there is a difference is true; that it overwhelms the similarities is not obvious.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote an opinion most notable for objecting to the use of the word “mother” in relation to women carrying unborn children, although she herself has used the verboten term that way before. It is, after all, the natural one to use. Everyone uses it when not specifically contemplating abortion.

One bloc on the Supreme Court speaks with moral clarity on abortion. One may be willing to change its precedents, but wishes for an optimal moment that will never happen. One is willing to put the law and language itself in the service of abortion. We do not know the exact numbers in each. We can know that the Constitution — its text, its original understanding, its history — does nothing to stop governments from protecting nascent human lives; and that the Court will continue to deform our law, politics, and culture as long as it insists on pretending otherwise.

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

In This Issue



Special Section On the Law

Books, Arts & Manners


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The Highest-Stakes Moment Brings the Worst Debate

Tonight’s debate would have been only marginally less incoherent, noisy, and grating to the ears if CBS had broadcast two hours of static. The last debate before the South Carolina primary featured so much shouting, you would think that the candidates had just been told their microphones weren’t working. ... Read More

The Highest-Stakes Moment Brings the Worst Debate

Tonight’s debate would have been only marginally less incoherent, noisy, and grating to the ears if CBS had broadcast two hours of static. The last debate before the South Carolina primary featured so much shouting, you would think that the candidates had just been told their microphones weren’t working. ... Read More

‘Undiagnosed Sociopath’

As we abandon moral language for clinical language, we run into technical difficulties. Writing in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman describes the 2020 presidential election as one that may be a contest between “a self-proclaimed socialist and an undiagnosed sociopath.” There is no such thing as an ... Read More

‘Undiagnosed Sociopath’

As we abandon moral language for clinical language, we run into technical difficulties. Writing in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman describes the 2020 presidential election as one that may be a contest between “a self-proclaimed socialist and an undiagnosed sociopath.” There is no such thing as an ... Read More