• By the time he’s done, Joe Biden will have disowned Amtrak.
• Iran blew up a couple of tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the most important commercial thoroughfares in the world. There’s been skepticism on the left and in Europe over the intelligence, but there’s little doubt — the Iranians have threatened to carry out such attacks, and a video captured one of their boats removing an unexploded mine, which would be crucial evidence, from the hull of one of the ships. The operative question isn’t “Whodunit?” but “What to do?” Such threats in the Strait should be intolerable to us, given its strategic importance. If we don’t hit Iran for this attack, we should make it clear that we will retaliate if there is another one. We don’t want to get embroiled in a major war with Iran, but Tehran has an incentive to avoid an out-of-control escalation itself, since it has much more to lose. Iran assumes that it can increase its leverage in the ongoing contention over its nuclear program by carrying out deniable attacks with impunity. We should make it clear that it’s wrong about that.
• In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, President Trump said he’d accept information from a foreign government in the 2020 campaign. Naturally, all hell broke loose. Trump’s answer was muddled — at one point, he said he’d both accept the information and call the FBI, and he cited as a hypothetical Norway coming forward, whereas Stephanopoulos cited Russia or China. The right answer obviously is that you call the FBI if approached by a foreign adversary because, even if you aren’t inclined to do so on principle, you don’t know what the ulterior motive is or how you might get played. We suspect Trump simply didn’t want to admit by implication what is obviously true: that Don Jr. was wrong to accept the infamous Trump Tower meeting. He certainly wasn’t setting out a plausible standard operating procedure. After years of investigation of that 2016 meeting, there’s no way anyone from the reelection campaign is going to want to take the political and legal risk of sitting down with shady representatives of a foreign government promising oppo. Too bad that wasn’t the first instinct of his 2016 team.
• President Trump bludgeoned Mexico into promising more action to help with the migrant crisis. Trump’s threat of steadily escalating tariffs against Mexico had huge downside risks. If implemented, the tariffs would have been disruptive at a time when U.S. growth is perhaps slowing, been a gut punch to an allied country whose stability is important to us, and probably precipitated a congressional revolt against the policy. Instead, Mexico is devoting 6,000 troops to attempting to better police its own border with Guatemala, and, more important, has approved an extension of the so-called remain-in-Mexico policy. Under this arrangement, we can return asylum seekers to Mexico while their claims — almost always ultimately rejected — are adjudicated. This avoids one of the biggest problems of our current policy, which allows asylum seekers into the country, never to be removed, even if their claims are denied. Previously, Mexico limited the number of asylum seekers it accepted back to a trickle. Now it is saying it will take them with no restrictions, potentially a big advance. Given the blunderbuss weapon Trump was wielding, the Mexico deal is welcome, and better than could reasonably have been expected.
• The habit of abuse of presidential authority is now so ingrained that it is considered hardly noteworthy when a major presidential candidate promises unconstitutional executive action as part of her campaign. Senator Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) has announced a new immigration plan that presumes congressional deadlock and extends executive action beyond even what Barack Obama did. The Harris plan would expand his quasi-amnesties and take other executive actions that would reinterpret federal statutes to provide some of the beneficiaries with a path to permanent legal residence. It’s astonishingly ambitious — especially considering that the Supreme Court rejected one of Obama’s actions and has grown more originalist since. But Harris’s plan represents the next step in the progress toward an imperial presidency. Obama at least claimed that Congress’s failure to enact his agenda “forced” him to act unilaterally. That was also Donald Trump’s argument for his emergency declaration. Harris isn’t waiting for Congress to disappoint her. She’s acting as if it didn’t exist.
• What Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) means when he calls himself a “democratic socialist” has been the subject of some debate. Does he merely mean that he wants the U.S. to be more like Scandinavia, albeit with higher corporate-tax rates? Or does his past praise for the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Venezuela give us a better picture of his goals? Sanders gave a big speech on the subject. He said that he is a democratic socialist in the tradition of FDR and Harry Truman: two people who never called themselves “socialists,” one of whom began our side of the Cold War. Their enemies called them “socialists” too, Sanders said. But wait: If he’s a proud socialist and he’s just like them, weren’t those enemies right to use that label? If on the other hand those mid-century Democrats were victims of hyperbole, then isn’t Sanders, by claiming them for his own socialist project, just repeating the insult? And while hugging the New Deal, Sanders couldn’t bring himself to say a discouraging word about Stalin or Castro or Maduro. His policy is to have no enemies on the left, and no clarity either.
• Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) has put out what she calls “a plan for economic patriotism.” There are two germs of good ideas in it. Apprenticeships probably should be a bigger part of American career development, although what that has to do with patriotism is anyone’s guess. Consolidating the federal government’s many job-training programs may also be worthwhile, although it would be better to scrap the ones that don’t work first. The other ideas are counterproductive. Adding regulations to corporate research in an attempt to ensure that more of it goes toward producing high-paying jobs for Americans seems likely to backfire. Making governments buy American-made products would make a difference only to the extent that American taxpayers accept even lower value for the dollar than they already get. Managing the dollar to promote exports would in practice mean higher inflation in the long run in return for a short-term boost for manufacturers. A more regulated, centralized, highly taxed country, and probably a poorer one too, should not be any patriot’s goal.
• The Office of Special Counsel, run by an appointee of President Trump, has urged the firing of Kellyanne Conway for repeated violations of the Hatch Act. That’s the law that prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan politics on the taxpayer’s dime. The trouble is that the line between normal government activity and partisan politics is fuzzy, especially at the highest levels of government. When Kathleen Sebelius was secretary of health and human services, she got dinged for violating the act by advocating President Obama’s reelection at a meeting of a liberal organization. Perhaps the guardrail against overt partisanship is valuable; but presumably that meeting would have been a partisan one even if Sebelius had not explicitly mentioned the election. Trump says he will not fire Conway. Ultimately the question of whether government officials are acting in unacceptably partisan ways is one that voters, not lawyers, must decide.
• For decades, Joe Biden supported the Hyde amendment, which bars federal Medicaid funds from paying for abortions except in the cases of rape, incest, and threats to a mother’s life. In May, he was asked where he stood on the issue and said he opposed the amendment. A few weeks later, his campaign said he had misheard the question and still supported it. Coming under fire — everyone else in the Democratic presidential race opposes Hyde — Biden then either reversed himself or reversed himself again. He too now wants taxpayer-funded abortion. Most Americans, according to every poll that hasn’t been carefully worded by advocates of tax funding, are on the other side. But none of the Democratic candidates are hearing them well at the moment.
• New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand has suggested that opposition to abortion is akin to racism. Gillibrand, who lingers near the bottom of the pack of Democrats jockeying for the 2020 presidential nomination, has said she’ll require any potential judicial nominee of hers to back Roe v. Wade, declaring that nominating a judge who did not would be like appointing “a judge who’s racist or anti-Semitic or homophobic.” There you have it, ladies and gentlemen: Belief in the actual Constitution is now a hate crime.
• Pro-life Democrats are an endangered species in Congress, and pro-abortion groups are hard at work to bring about their extinction. Illinois congressman Dan Lipinski, one of only three pro-life Democrats left in the House, survived a 2018 primary challenge from left-wing activist Marie Newman by only two percentage points. Newman is running again to finish off Lipinski in 2020. If Democrats purge Lipinski, they won’t have to worry about losing the heavily Democratic district in the general election, but they will have to worry about the broader message they are sending to the country: that pro-lifers and even those with moderate views on abortion will not be tolerated within their party. Lipinski is a liberal on many issues, from guns to taxes to health care, but he deserves the full support of all pro-life Americans for standing athwart the culture of death within his own party.
• In Maine, Democratic governor Janet Mills has signed a bill allowing non-doctors — including nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and midwives — to perform abortions. Activist groups such as Planned Parenthood have called the legislation a boon for women’s health, claiming that restrictions on who can perform abortions are “needless.” But even for those who wrongly call abortion “health care,” Maine’s provision should not be a cause for celebration. Despite the assertions of abortion-rights advocates, abortion procedures are not as simple as having a tooth pulled, especially later in pregnancy, and requirements that abortions be performed by doctors are in fact intended to protect women from harmful complications. If abortion advocates sincerely wished to prioritize “women’s health,” they wouldn’t champion legislation that increases the risks of abortion.
• California has approved a new budget that expands Medi-Cal coverage to illegal immigrants up to the age of 26. (Previously, the cap was 18.) The absolute lowest estimates place the cost for this expansion around $100 million. Even the higher estimates (somewhere around $260 million), however, don’t account for the incentive the program will create for illegal immigrants to move to California. As the magnet of free health care draws more and more people to the state, there’s no telling how high the price tag for this project might rise. So how will California pay for health care for tens of thousands more people? It’s bringing back the individual mandate. Governor Gavin Newsom expects the mandate to generate $1 billion over three years, a significant portion of which will fund the Medi-Cal expansion. So, California residents who do not buy health insurance — either because they don’t want it or, in many cases, can’t afford it — will have their money taken by the government. In this case, it won’t even be redistributed to their fellow citizens.
• The New York State legislature passed a bill aimed at making New York City, and potentially the rest of the state, more affordable. The bill includes an expansion of rent-regulation programs and intensifies the already dense thicket of rules on New York City landlords. It will almost certainly fail to achieve its aims. Efforts to control or regulate rent have been shown to decrease housing stock and raise rents. They favor the wealthy by incentivizing the construction of luxury units to the detriment of cheaper ones. New rules also make it harder for landlords to raise rent to pay for basic improvements, endangering the quality of lower-priced units. Hardly a victory for the average city-dweller.
• Texas prides itself on being hospitable to business, and now that welcoming spirit will extend even to the littlest entrepreneurs. The Lone Star State’s legislature has passed, and Governor Greg Abbott has signed, a bill that would eliminate the need for permits or licenses for “the occasional sale of lemonade or other nonalcoholic beverages . . . by an individual younger than 18 years of age.” In recent years the red tape on lemonade stands has come not so much from state tax authorities as from local governments and homeowner associations, but under the new law (which doesn’t take effect until September 1, but Texas summers are long), no such requirement can be imposed. Now kids from Amarillo to McAllen will be able to learn through experience about responsibility, salesmanship, accounting — and the importance of free markets unencumbered by government regulation.
• The 18th century had Thomas Paine. The 19th century had Henry David Thoreau. And the great American dissident of the early 21st century is . . . an outlaw baker named Jack Phillips. The baker took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court and won after Colorado attempted to sanction him for declining on religious grounds to bake a cake in celebration of a homosexual marriage. Though the Court ruled in his favor, the decision was narrow and wanted finality. Phillips was then sued by Autumn Scardina, a transgender activist who demanded a cake celebrating a gender transition. Phillips declined and countersued, and the case was dropped. Now Scardina has come back for a third round, this time demanding of Phillips a birthday cake, also for the purpose of celebrating a gender transition. Phillips has once again declined. This is pure harassment and should be treated as such. It is petty, it is vindictive, and it is without merit. But there is a larger question. The “public accommodations” aspect of American civil-rights law was a response to Jim Crow conditions that made it practically impossible for African Americans to travel freely and otherwise engage in fair commerce. The burden involved in finding a gay-friendly caterer or wedding planner is, to say the least, lighter. Members of sexual minorities should be treated with decency and dignity, but we need not pretend that their situation is comparable to that of the descendants of slaves.
• In June, the supreme court of Washington State ruled unanimously against Arlene’s Flowers. Its owner, Barronelle Stutzman, had been sued twice for declining to provide floral arrangements for same-sex weddings. Her lawyers defended her decision on grounds of “freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.” She filed a countersuit, claiming that the legal actions against her had inflicted financial hardship, and lost at the state supreme court in 2017. She appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. It sent her case back to the state, directing it to reconsider the matter in light of the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, which hinged on the finding that the Colorado state agency that fined a Christian baker, Jack Phillips, for discriminating against a same-sex couple was motivated in part by religious animus. In affirming its original decision, the state supreme court in Washington argued that Stutzman encountered no religious animus, unlike Phillips. The anti-discrimination laws in question rest on an analogy between race and sexual identity. May a state decide that its interest in enforcing such laws compels it to deny religious exemptions? The Supreme Court has yet to say. Meanwhile, proponents of religious freedom had better hone their arguments.
• An Ohio jury has reached a verdict that should send a shock wave through college administrations across the land. It has ordered Oberlin College to pay $11 million in compensatory damages and $33 million in punitive damages for its employees’ role in accusing a local, family-owned grocery store and bakery of racism and racial profiling. The facts of the case are egregious but not surprising, given modern campus culture. After police arrested three Oberlin students for shoplifting alcohol and assaulting a store employee who had tried to stop the theft, student activists launched protests against the bakery, claiming the store’s shoplifting accusation was racially motivated. Administrators provided direct support to student protesters and even participated in the protests by distributing a defamatory flyer to the media, among other ways. The college also engaged in economic reprisals against the bakery by canceling a longstanding food-service relationship. In other words, without waiting for the facts, administrators participated in a campaign of defamation, wrongly harming the family’s business and damaging their reputation. But the First Amendment does not give anyone license to lie, especially if the target of the lie isn’t a public official. Oberlin may be full of students and administrators who consider themselves woke, but it was the jury that spoke truth to power.
• British prime minister Theresa May officially stepped down as leader of the Tory party, triggering a leadership contest. Her successor will have to take Brexit over the line and restore party unity, all while Parliament faces a Brexit-shaped constitutional crisis. In Tory leadership contests, candidates are knocked out in rounds. After Boris Johnson came in first in round one, with 114 of 303 votes (more than the second-, third-, and fourth-place finishers combined), he was guaranteed to be one of the final two candidates. Even though Johnson is a divisive figure among Tory MPs, political pragmatism is prevailing in a desperate hour. The Tories realize that they need to pick someone who can win a general election and rescue their brand from Nigel Farage’s Brexit party. Johnson is miles ahead in the polls among the Tory grassroots. At this writing, it seems very likely that he will be the next prime minister. Britain is now scheduled to leave the EU on October 31. While Johnson has said he would like an improved deal, something that the EU continually refused Theresa May, he has promised no further delays to Brexit and is prepared to leave without a deal. Should Parliament, or the speaker of the house, find a way to block no-deal — or should no-deal prove as disastrous as many fear — trust in both Johnson and the Tory party could be damaged for years to come.
• Kim Jong-nam was the eldest son of Kim Jong-il, the second North Korean dictator. Jong-nam was assassinated in February 2017 at the Kuala Lumpur airport. This was a hit ordered by the current dictator, Kim Jong-un, half-brother of the deceased. It transpires that Jong-nam was an informant for the CIA. We need all the information we can get on North Korea, the “Hermit Kingdom,” the most closed and isolated country in the world — and one with nuclear weapons. Asked about Jong-nam and the CIA, President Trump said, “I just received a beautiful letter from Kim Jong-un,” and “I would tell him that would not happen under my auspices, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t let that happen under my auspices.” If the president is not telling the truth, on this occasion we wouldn’t mind.
• Xinjiang Province in China — or East Turkestan, as the Uyghurs call it — is among the most miserable places on earth. Chinese authorities have rounded up more than a million Uyghurs, throwing them into a network of concentration camps or reeducation camps: a gulag. The object is to bring the Uyghurs to heel. To wipe out their culture and make good Chinese out of them (or kill them in the process). The Gauleiter of Xinjiang is the same man who did such an effective job in Tibet, subduing that proud and rebellious country. (His name is Chen Quanguo.) Xinjiang Province is also a perfect surveillance state, reaching Orwellian levels. Technology has virtually abolished privacy. Every day, men and women are dying in the camps. The United States and other free countries should make an issue of the Uyghurs. To take something relatively small: The next Winter Olympics are scheduled to be held in China. Why should they be?
• Every sport has its norms for sportsmanship in one-sided games. In baseball, you don’t steal or swing at 3–0 pitches; in basketball, you slow down the pace; in football, you run the ball up the middle. In soccer it’s harder to keep the score under control in case of a mismatch, but at least the Times Square–on–V-J Day celebrations that follow every goal can be toned down once your lead stretches to half a dozen. So the U.S. women’s World Cup team came in for some criticism when they continued with their wild, sometimes choreographed celebrations as the score climbed into double figures in a 13–0 rout of overmatched Thailand. Like all public controversies these days, this one quickly descended into each side criticizing a caricature of the other side’s view. We agree that the players should have taken it down a notch or two toward the end, but the whole thing isn’t worth getting worked up about. After all, it’s soccer.
• Many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first — but, as Cleveland Indians fans will tell you, sometimes you have to wait a while for it to happen. They’re still waiting in Cleveland, but this spring supporters of two other longtime unsuccessful sports teams finally saw their faith rewarded, as Toronto won the NBA championship and St. Louis won the Stanley Cup, for the first time in each one’s history. We suspect most Canadians would have preferred it the other way around, since according to a recent survey, basketball is their eighth most popular sport (just ahead of curling, and hot on the heels of rugby), whereas in hockey, the national pastime, America has been eating Canada’s poutine continuously since 1994 (before Raptors roamed the earth; the team was a 1995 expansion entry). At least James Naismith, the inventor of basketball and a Canadian, has finally gotten his revenge.
• “Contain the spread of misinformation,” an apparatchik demands of a roomful of baffled Soviet bureaucrats in a chilling scene in Chernobyl, this summer’s exemplary and important HBO drama. Chernobyl, which stars Jared Harris and Stellan Skarsgaard as a scientist and a functionary charged with dealing with the aftermath of the horrific April 1986 explosion at a nuclear plant in Ukraine, then part of the USSR, took certain liberties with the truth for the sake of streamlining events (the character portrayed by Emily Watson, as a physicist who rushes to the scene unasked to provide advice, did not exist). Yet the five-hour miniseries, written by Craig Mazin and directed tautly by Johan Renck, was a television masterpiece as it turned reams of technical information into the stuff of riveting political thrillers. Despite dealing with matters few of us are conversant with, its dialogue was particularly tart and memorable: The phrase “it’s only 3.6 Roentgens,” variants of which are said many times by hacks seeking to convince themselves and others that the radioactivity is less than catastrophic, ought to enter the language as shorthand for inept damage control. While Mazin led the chorus who suggested the series had something to tell us about a certain radioactive occupant of the White House, what it actually provided was a stark lesson about a political idea that will apparently be glowing menacingly for thousands of years. The series depicts how socialism, with its collectivist view of the polity, shuts out dissent, oversight, and competing political actors when these are most vital. Whenever anyone tells you American politics is too fractured and quarrelsome to “get things done,” suggest he give Chernobyl a watch.
• A critic for The Atlantic, reviewing the new Broadway revival of Oklahoma!, mentions seeing numerous empty seats after the first intermission. Then, he continues, “as the second act wore on, still other theatergoers walked out, evidently repelled by the director Daniel Fish’s dark and daring reinterpretation of this enduring classic” — thereby missing the “quivering, feel-bad ending.” These remarks wouldn’t work as excerpts for newspaper ads, but they were actually part of a rave review. The New York Times agreed, calling Oklahoma! “the coolest new show on Broadway . . . wide-awake . . . altogether wonderful,” as well as “jolting,” “disturbing,” and “guaranteed to haunt your nightmares” (these are all meant as compliments). Oh, and some of the actors carry guns, but don’t freak: “Oklahoma! is the first ‘gun neutral’ production in Broadway’s history. For every visible prop gun onstage, a donation is made to organizations ‘committed to helping solve the gun violence crisis by destroying firearms that should be out of circulation.’” As the moderator of a panel discussing “the use of guns in media” explains: “That’s why we make art — to talk about things as this way of communicating. And to evoke change.” If you feel like paying $150 a pop to get depressed and then be lectured on gun control, go right ahead.
• Franco Zeffirelli was one of the outstanding directors of our time, and indeed one of the outstanding artists. He directed opera, film, and television alike. His Romeo and Juliet movie (1968) was embraced by the world. His TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (1977) still leaves a deep impression on many. He was more popular with the public than he was with the critics. The main charge was excess, or extravagance. Indeed, the obit in the New York Times was headed “Franco Zeffirelli, Italian Director With Taste for Excess, Dies at 96.” One Times critic once lamented that Zeffirelli’s production of Turandot, the Puccini opera, was critic-proof: The critics could not kill it, because the public loved it so much. The public was right. Bravo, maestro, and R.I.P.
• Martin Feldstein was a realist. As chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration, he advocated the cause of old-fashioned balanced budgets over the excessive optimism of the more excitable supply-siders. He warned against the creation of the euro on the grounds that powerhouses such as Germany had economic interests different from those of countries such as Greece. The world did not heed his advice, but it would have been better off if it had. Feldstein took a doctorate from Oxford in 1967 and won the John Bates Clark Medal. He ran the National Bureau of Economic Research and taught freshman economics at Harvard for 20 years. His students included a young Larry Summers, who wrote that for Feldstein economics was “a calling, . . . never an intellectual game or political tool.” He was a thoroughgoing conservative, but unconstrained by partisanship: He gave Ronald Reagan good advice, and Barack Obama, too, serving on the latter’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. He was an advocate of dispassionate, empirical research in a field whose scholars are from time to time overwhelmed by bias. Dead at 79. R.I.P.
• Those who knew David Boyd Kennedy describe him as “humble” and “discreet.” From 1985 to 2003, he served as the president of the Earhart Foundation, whose low profile belied its record of accomplishment. Nine of its grantees, including Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, went on to win the Nobel Prize in economics. The foundation closed in 2015 after its trustees decided to spend down to zero, to prevent institutional drift and eventual betrayal of the intent of the founder, Harry Earhart. An Ann Arbor boy, Kennedy studied at Michigan, Indiana, McGill, and Yale and did a stint in Germany, at the Goethe-Institut. He served in the U.S. Army in the 1950s and picked up his Russian studies, which he had begun in college. Next stop, Wyoming, where he was elected to the legislature before being appointed state attorney general. He was active in the Republican party and held positions on the national as well as state committees. Born into the Silent Generation, Kennedy lived his life as a model of quiet purpose. He died in March, at 85, and was laid to rest in June. R.I.P.
The Example of Hong Kong
If you need an example of man’s desire to be free, and his willingness to resist tyranny, look to the streets of Hong Kong. Some 2 million residents of the city gathered there, in protest. The population of the city is only 7.3 million. It was a stirring sight — one of the most stirring the world has seen in recent years.
The protests in Tiananmen Square were stirring, too. That was exactly 30 years ago. It ended in a massacre of protesters by the Communist authorities. Every Hong Konger in the streets this year knew that.
The immediate object of their protest was an extradition bill, which would have sent Hong Kongers accused of a crime to the mainland, for trial. On the mainland, there is nothing like justice. Instead, there is torture, a sham trial, and a gulag (called laogai).
Yet the protest in Hong Kong had a more general object. Citizens are intent on keeping their freedoms, or not letting them go without a fight.
When the British turned over the city to the Chinese Communist Party in 1997, the promise was “one country, two systems,” for 50 years. This was always chimerical. Year by year, month by month, the CCP has been chipping away at Hong Kong’s autonomy. The Party will not tolerate Hong Kong’s brash, uppity independence until 2047.
Five years ago, democratic protests broke out. These were dubbed the “umbrella movement,” because people used umbrellas to shield themselves from pepper spray. Earlier this year, eight leaders of the movement were sentenced. One of them, Chan Kin-man, a retired sociology professor, said, “In the verdict, the judge commented that we are naïve” (naïve to believe that a protest movement can attain, or retain, democracy). “But what is more naïve than believing in one country, two systems?”
In Taiwan, there were street protests in behalf of the umbrella-movement leaders sentenced. Why? Because Taiwanese know that their fate, and their democracy, is linked to Hong Kong.
In the wake of the extradition bill, the umbrellas came out again, as people tried to shield themselves from pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets. Faced with this massive demonstration, which caught the attention of the world, Hong Kong officials backed down. The chief executive, Carrie Lam, announced the suspension of the extradition bill, and even offered an apology for its introduction.
Some protest leaders demanded her resignation. Others pointed out that whoever followed her would be in the same position — a servant of Xi Jinping, the PRC’s supreme leader (for life).
“Hong Kong’s bravery has bought it some time.” So said Edward Lucas, the British foreign-affairs analyst, and he put it well. We think back to “Finlandization,” which is often misunderstood.
Finlandization was the process by which Finland was rendered essentially neutral in the Cold War. The Finns did not set out to be Finlandized; they wished to be with the Free West. They fought like hell to avoid Sovietization, which resulted in their (mere) Finlandization.
In a similar vein, Hong Kongers are fighting like hell to keep the noose relatively loose around their necks. They are fighting to retain a little breathing space.
The ruling Communists in Beijing hate the example of Hong Kong, as they hate the example of (even worse) Taiwan. They don’t want other Chinese — more than a billion of them — to get ideas: ideas that Chinese people, in some places, can live freely and democratically. News of the drama in Hong Kong was blocked on the mainland.
Asked to comment on this drama, President Trump said, “I hope it all works out for China and for Hong Kong. I understand the reason for the demonstration, but I’m sure they will be able to work it out.” The United States can do better than this. People look to us for leadership, for moral support, and we should provide it whenever possible.
Maybe Hong Kongers are doing nothing more than delaying the inevitable — their eventual subjugation by the PRC. If so, they are still doing something inspiring, right, and brave.