Magazine December 09, 2019, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

• We guess it’s a chicken company in more ways than one.

• Joe Biden retains his lead in national polls. Elizabeth Warren had been gaining on him but has fallen as her plan for compulsory national health insurance has attracted more attention. In Iowa, four candidates are roughly tied in the poll averages; in New Hampshire, three are. If it’s a fluid race, perhaps it is because a lot of Democrats are nervous that the top four candidates — Biden, Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttigieg — have serious vulnerabilities that President Trump could exploit. If they’re worried, they’re right to be.

• Warren sank deeper into the quagmire of “Medicare for All.” Previously she had been denouncing Buttigieg’s plan to have the government provide health insurance merely to anyone who wants it, insisting that everyone should be forced to participate. Now she says that the first stage of her plan will be a new government option, which sounds an awful lot like what Buttigieg wants; and by the third year of her presidency she will get around to abolishing private health insurance. Who is supposed to be reassured by this sequence? Not even true believers in socialized medicine, who think it’s Warren’s way of burying the idea. What Warren is discovering is that the absurdity of Medicare for All will defeat all attempts to moderate it.

• President Obama warned Democrats not to go too far left: to remain “rooted in reality” and not give the impression of being “revolutionary.” Remind us, who was it who encouraged them to dismiss such cautions with the slogan “Yes, we can”? And spoke of “fundamentally transforming America”? Because this isn’t 2008, when nearly any Democrat would have won the election, Obama’s advice is sound. But he cannot be shocked if it is not taken.

• On November 16, a Democratic governor was reelected in deep-red Louisiana, a state President Trump won by 20 percentage points in 2016, but that’s not all bad news for conservatives. John Bel Edwards, who defeated Republican Eddie Rispone in a runoff election, 51.3 percent to 48.7 percent, is a member of a breed that is nearly extinct in Washington: the pro-life Democrat. In May, he signed into law a “fetal heartbeat” bill that bans abortion about six weeks into pregnancy. Democrats would be more competitive in a lot of places if they ran more candidates who were pro-life or made some modest concessions, such as opposing taxpayer funding of abortion. And pro-lifers would be wise to recruit and promote more Democrats like Edwards, because when a genuinely pro-life Democrat runs against a genuinely pro-life Republican, the pro-life cause can’t lose.

• A federal jury in Washington needed just a few hours to convict Roger Stone, the longtime political operative and confidant of President Trump, of seven counts of obstructing investigations by Congress and prosecutors into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian regime. This last loose end of the Mueller probe was of far more significance to Stone personally than it was to the nation. What matters to the latter is that there was no proof of a Trump–Russia conspiracy. Indeed, the Stone case itself proved as much: If Trump had actually been in cahoots with the Kremlin and its alleged cat’s-paw, WikiLeaks, there would have been no need to turn to Stone for any intel on whether WikiLeaks was planning to release campaign dirt on Clinton — as its leader, Julian Assange, was publicly threatening to do. As it turned out, Stone had no such information. He has managed to bluff his way into a probable prison term.

• Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) kicked off a debate with a speech calling for a “common-good capitalism.” Some conservatives object to the phrase, with its implication that capitalism has not been serving the common good. But Rubio is clearly correct in suggesting that markets require a cultural and political foundation to ensure that they promote the flourishing of individuals, families, communities, and the nation as a whole; and in asking whether there are reforms, including reforms of government, that would enable them better to serve these goals. Many of the specific ideas Rubio promotes — tax relief for parents, greater flexibility in the timing and uses of Social Security benefits, letting businesses write off the cost of investments immediately — are worthwhile ones that other Republicans should take up. Rubio may, however, have fallen prey to a version of the materialism he means to oppose. In speaking of the economy’s failure to “provide dignified work,” for example, he omits any mention of the dignity of doing the honest day’s work one finds available. Whether the growth of finance is responsible for as many social ills as he lays at its feet is also debatable. It is nonetheless refreshing to see a conservative political figure examining questions that transcend the latest noise on Twitter.

• The Southern Poverty Law Center published a long series on White House adviser Stephen Miller based on emails about immigration he sent to a then-staffer for the website Breitbart over the course of two years. The SPLC, true to its well-established reputation as a smear operation, deemed Miller a “white nationalist” based on the communications, an accusation that was readily picked up by the mainstream media. The emails show Miller shared a link from the alt-right website VDare. He also, according to the former Breitbart staffer’s un-confirmable account, mentioned over the phone an article that appeared on the racist website American Renaissance. Both these publications are legitimately beyond the pale, and steering clear of them is a mark of good judgment. Notably, though, Miller expressed no white-nationalist sentiments in what were presumably unguarded exchanges. Nor is there any record of his expressing such sentiments anywhere else, even though he has spent countless hours talking to myriad people about his views on immigration over the years. The SPLC throws in Miller’s promotion of material from the Center for Immigration Studies in the indictment against him, even though the organization is perfectly respectable (which doesn’t stop the SPLC from ridiculously listing it as a “hate group”). Stephen Miller obviously has firmly held views on immigration that are extensively on the record. His enemies should attack those views and explain why they believe they are wrong, rather than trying to rule him out-of-bounds on the basis of dubious or nonexistent evidence. 

• The Trump administration allowed itself to be stampeded into banning certain flavored vaping products after a rash of injuries (some of them lethal) linked to the improper and illegal use of cannabis-infused bootleg vaping fluids. Now it has reversed itself. Better to get it right on the second try than not at all. Properly used, vaping presents an alternative to smoking that reduces the harm associated with cigarettes and other combustible-tobacco products: Vaping provides all of the nicotine that smokers crave, but it is not primarily nicotine that kills smokers — it is the tar in smoke, which is not produced by commercial vaping fluids. There are problems presented by vaping: It is fashionable among young people, some of whom find their way to vaping products they are legally prohibited from buying in much the same way they get their hands on cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, etc. And the vaping instruments themselves can be used with bootleg products made in drug labs, with occasionally awful consequences. In these ways, the debate about vaping is a lot like the debate about guns: The nannies wish to take an option away from responsible adults because of the actions of others. In this case, that would rob those responsible adults of a smoking alternative with real health benefits. Perhaps we should give some thought to prosecuting the guilty parties rather than disadvantaging everybody else. 

• Nancy Pelosi announced that Democrats and the administration were close to a deal to pass the refurbished NAFTA that the latter negotiated. If they do, it will be a political victory for President Trump. Still, it’s not clear why NAFTA had to be renegotiated in the first place. Many of the benefits of the new version were included, in enlarged form, in the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Trump junked. The additional advantages of the deal, such as increased freedom to export dairy items to Canada, are small. Even the expert assessments the administration touts say that the most Trumpian part of the deal, its new rules for the North American auto industry, will harm that sector. The main reason business groups are lobbying for the deal is the hope that it will eliminate Trump’s threat to leave NAFTA. The best thing about the deal, in short, is that it avoids a gratuitous disaster.

• “High and rising.” That is how Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell describes the federal debt. Also: “unsustainable.” These characterizations are undoubtedly correct: The $23 trillion is the headline, but the more meaningful figure is that the federal debt is growing more quickly than is the U.S. economy, meaning that it is growing relative to GDP. The main causes of the debt are well known: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal health-care support by themselves make up most federal spending. Throw in national security and you’ve accounted for about 81 cents of every dollar Washington spends. President Trump has rejected entitlement reform out of hand, and fiscal incontinence is a national problem that is unlikely to be solved without national leadership from the White House. President Trump has described Powell as an “enemy.” The two may have legitimate differences where monetary policy is concerned, but the enemy, a mortal enemy of our national prosperity, is the looming fiscal crisis for which we are setting ourselves up. President Trump and congressional leaders are content to do nothing, which is a viable plan — until it isn’t. 

• Congressman Pete King, the Republican from Long Island, is retiring after a long political career. He has been in Congress since the 1992 election. He was comptroller of Nassau County before that. In Congress, he has been known as a moderate Republican, though he was immoderate in his embrace of the Irish Republican Army. He was once an ardent supporter of that terrorist organization, its best friend in American politics. He has been an opponent of Islamist terrorism, however. When he announced his retirement, Ilhan Omar, the Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota, tweeted, “Peter King is an Islamophobe who held McCarthyite hearings targeting American Muslims,” adding, “Good riddance.” Another Democrat, however, praised him effusively. That was Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who tweeted, “Peter King stood head & shoulders above everyone else. . . . I will miss him in Congress & value his friendship.” So, take your choice.

• A federal judge in New York has struck down a Trump-administration rule that would have protected health-care workers from having to violate their moral or religious objections to abortion, physician-assisted suicide, or elective sterilization. A dozen Democratic state attorneys general and several abortion-advocacy groups had challenged the policy. It would have required federally funded clinics and research institutions to certify compliance with religious-freedom and conscience-protection laws. The judge’s ruling seems vulnerable on several grounds: Among other things, he notes that the relevant law leaves key terms undefined, which ought to give the Trump administration more leeway to protect conscience. But judicial scruples, no less than conscience rights, have often fallen before the fervor for abortion.

• Overriding opposition from the military’s top brass, the president has pardoned two individuals accused or convicted of serious war crimes. The first was convicted of murder after ordering his subordinates to fire upon three men riding a motorcycle; nine members of his platoon had testified against him, saying the men were about 200 yards away and posed no threat. The second was set to be tried for first-degree murder on allegations that he’d executed a suspected terrorist bombmaker. (A third, who was acquitted of murder charges but demoted for posing for a photo with a corpse, had his rank restored.) Trump’s decision caused an immediate outcry, understandable because of the gravity of the allegations against these men, because one had not even been tried yet, and because the president has a track record of advocating war crimes in his rhetoric (“take out their families”) and needlessly inserting himself into military-justice issues. The president intends this move to show that he has the backs of the people who fight our wars; instead it risks excusing poor conduct.

• Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, dipping his toe in the Democratic presidential primaries, apologized for his aggressive implementation of a policing tactic known as “stop and frisk.” Officers would make a point of “stopping, questioning, and sometimes searching” suspects in high-crime areas whenever they had a “reasonable suspicion” of involvement in criminal activity. There’s good evidence that Bloomberg took it too far: When his successor, Bill de Blasio, dramatically pared the practice back, crime continued to fall, reaching a record low last year rather than spiking, as de Blasio’s critics had predicted it would. Stepped-up policing in high-crime areas has indisputably contributed to New York’s legendary crime decline since the early 1990s, and some studies suggest that stop-and-frisk in particular played a role — but if the city can maintain its safety without this particularly invasive aspect of the Bloomberg era’s approach, all the better. As for whether Democratic-primary voters should buy the conveniently timed apology, well, that’s up to them.

• A San Francisco district court has ruled against pro-life activists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt. The two had released undercover footage of abortion-industry workers discussing arrangements to illegally profit from the fetal body parts of aborted babies. In a lawsuit Planned Parenthood brought against them, the activists were found guilty of conspiring to commit fraud, breach of contract, and trespass and to violate state and federal recording laws; they will appeal the decision. Their undercover videos showed industry executives, including Planned Parenthood directors, admitting to illegally altering abortion procedures in order to obtain more-valuable intact fetal parts, as well as haggling over prices. In a better world, it would not be those who exposed this injustice who were being punished.

• Racial preferences are unpopular even in liberal states: California demonstrated the truth of this proposition in 1996, and Washington state has now reaffirmed it. Washington originally banned preferences in public education, hiring, and contracting in 1998, shortly after California did, but it considered changing course in a new referendum this month. Instead, voters decided to keep affirmative action illegal. The state’s leftward drift is evident in the results: Fifty-eight percent of voters supported the ban in 1998, vs. just 50.4 percent this year. But good sense still prevailed, albeit narrowly.

• In November, the American Civil Liberties Union gave its “Courage Award” to Christine Blasey Ford, the California psychology professor who accused Brett Kavanaugh of having sexually assaulted her when he was 17 and who, in so doing, almost derailed his Supreme Court nomination. One might have considered Blasey Ford a peculiar choice for lionization by the ACLU, given that her sole act in public life has been to level a confused, vague, self-contradictory accusation that carried with it neither evidence nor corroboration and that would not have stood up in any just court of law. But, alas, this is not your father’s ACLU. Once, pushing back against this sort of behavior was the organization’s raison d’être; now, it has been all but absorbed into the Democratic National Committee. 

• Across its front page, the New York Times splashed something shocking: a report from inside the Chinese Communist Party about what the Party is doing to the Uyghur people, in the northwest of China. A leaker gave the Times more than 400 pages of internal documents, including directives from Xi Jinping, the Chinese No. 1, and Chen Quanguo, his Gauleiter in Xinjiang Province, or East Turkestan, where the Uyghurs live. “Round up everyone who should be rounded up,” said Chen. More than a million Uyghurs — along with Kazakhs and other minorities — have been thrown into concentration camps. “They’re in a training school set up by the government,” officials have been instructed to say when young Uyghurs ask where their parents are. “Their thinking has been infected by unhealthy thoughts.” The documents are Orwellian, and completely real. The leaker, a member of the Chinese political establishment, has done something heroic. Because of these documents and much other evidence — including testimony of escapees — no one will be able to say in the future, “We didn’t know.”

• People in Hong Kong, and throughout the world, have long worried that democracy protests in that city would end in a bloodbath — as happened in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square 30 years ago. Such a day seems to be drawing nearer as we go to press. Police are openly shooting protesters in the street. The videos have almost lost their power to shock. A former employee of the British consulate, Simon Cheng, was tortured for four days: Chinese agents wanted him to say that Britain was behind the democracy protests. Students are trying to turn universities into fortresses, and the police are teargassing them out and then arresting them. The situation is ever more violent. In Washington, the Senate has passed a bill — unanimously — that would allow for sanctions against officials responsible for human-rights violations in Hong Kong. It is unclear whether President Trump will sign such a bill. According to reports, he holds trade negotiations with Beijing as his top priority. He has said very little about Hong Kong, and what he has said has not been helpful. (He called the protests “riots,” for example, as the Chinese government does.) The people of Hong Kong need all the help they can get. And they are proving that the hunger for freedom and natural rights still burns.

• Some 700 pages of secret cables from the intelligence service of Iran have come into the hands of The Intercept, an online publication that brought the New York Times in on the act. An anonymous Iraqi patriot is no doubt the agent of an extraordinary scoop. Here is documentary evidence of all the black arts of corruption and deceit to which Tehran has resorted, in order to dominate politics in the region by incorporating all fellow Shiite Muslims into an empire. By and large, Iraqis of all sects have been made to feel that they are under foreign occupation. Protesters everywhere shout “Iran out! Iran out!” and have resorted to violence even in Najaf and Karbala, Shiite holy cities. The commander of the elite militia known as the Quds Force, General Qassem Suleimani, is in Baghdad dealing with opposition in the only way he knows. At least 250 and maybe 300 Iraqis have been shot dead by snipers, and thousands injured. In Iran itself, Tehran has rationed gasoline and raised the price of it by half as much again. Riots and arrests are reported in at least 50 cities. If nothing else, let’s hope this tumult keeps Iran’s rulers focused on the homefront.

• After weeks of violent protests across his country, left-wing Bolivian president Evo Morales was forced out of office on November 10. Demonstrators had taken to the streets of La Paz and other cities after international and domestic onlookers accused Morales of rigging presidential elections held on October 20. Those accusations reached a boiling point when the Organization of American States published an audit that found “clear manipulation” of the vote tallies. In response to the OAS report, the military and national police, as well as the nation’s largest labor union, called on Morales to resign. Over the past few years, the socialist Morales has contributed to a corrosion of democracy in Bolivia. In 2016, when he was reaching the end of his second term, he held a binding referendum to abolish term limits codified in the Bolivian constitution. After he lost that referendum, Bolivia’s supreme court ruled that term limits violated Morales’s human rights, allowing him to run again. Despite the domestic uprising against Morales, left-wing American politicians were quick to jump to his defense. Among other Democrats, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called Morales’s ouster a “coup.” Despite their protestations, the ascendance of Jeanine Áñez — president of the Bolivian senate — to Bolivia’s presidency is a ray of hope for pro-democracy protesters in Caracas, Tehran, and Hong Kong.

• Thirty years have passed since the November night when the young and the old suddenly found that they were free to go through the huge and fortified wall that divided East and West Berlin. The border police still carried arms but simply stood and watched. This was much like a street party, with the revelers unconsciously putting an end to the Cold War and reconfiguring the international order. Mikhail Gorbachev in the Kremlin and Erich Honecker, secretary general of the East German Communist Party, both resisted the idea of German unification but were then unable to coordinate the drastic military action that might have kept Communism in power. The outcome illustrated the part played by accident in human affairs, and the handsome words “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” then rightly won immortality for President Reagan. 

• The only thing more alarming than the possibility that the artist who painted San Francisco’s enormous Greta Thunberg mural was joking is the possibility that the artist who painted San Francisco’s enormous Greta Thunberg mural was not joking. The idea of plastering a young girl’s face onto the side of a building in the hope that her censorious eyes will guilt-trip the citizenry into ideological compliance is creepy in itself. But to make that face look like an amalgamation of every famous depiction of 1984’s Big Brother — with a little Vladimir Putin thrown in for good measure — is something else besides. Worse still is the attendant insistence that anyone who objects to the mural is unhealthily “obsessed” with Thunberg. One can only imagine the artist, leaning back to admire his work, his eyes scanning upward story by story until he reaches the giant face he created and he comes out of his reverie to ask the horrified onlookers, “Why are you so fixated on this girl?”

• Chick-fil-A has discontinued its charitable giving to religious organizations that dedicate themselves to ministry and social service and that, being Christian, affirm traditional Christian teaching on sexual morality. The Cathy family, devout Christians and owners of Chick-fil-A, contributed to the movement to stop same-sex marriage in the United States, inadvertently provoking boycotts by social liberals and counter-boycotts by social conservatives. The movement lost, but the fast-food chain remained a symbol in the culture wars. Its detractors who love to hate it have lately objected that the Chick-fil-A Foundation supported the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. “We believe we are the largest provider of poverty relief to the LGBTQ+ population,” the Salvation Army says in a statement, in response to its loss of Chick-fil-A funding and to the growing false perception that its policy is to discriminate against gay people who seek its services. Critics who want Chick-fil-A to go yet further and renounce its past association with a socially conservative cause are now matched by critics who are angered that it has retreated. People will complain no matter what it does, so it might as well do the right thing and — it says it hasn’t ruled out the possibility — resume the support of the religious nonprofits it has just abandoned.

• Jeff Sessions, the once and perhaps future Republican senator from Alabama and former attorney general of the United States, gave a speech at Northwestern University. There were protests, as there invariably are. The student newspaper at Northwestern, which is famed for its school of journalism, covered the protests. And then it apologized for covering the news. This is a perplexing turn of events for anybody who is very long out of a diaper, but the story is this: The newspaper took pictures of the protests (which is to say, it engaged in journalism) and published those pictures, and then it called a few protesters to interview them. The protesters complained that they had been traumatized by the fact that the public event they organized was treated in the newspaper as a public event, and the editors of the paper were browbeaten into making a groveling public apology for the “harm” they had caused by doing the thing that a newspaper exists to do. If this is the best that the ladies and gentlemen of the Daily Northwestern can muster, then the newspaper should simply shut down, owing to uselessness if not to shame. And the journalism students should look into some other line of work. Is there a school of thumbsucking at Northwestern?

• Sarah Dessen is a writer of bestselling young-adult fiction whose books have been optioned by Netflix. Brooke Nelson is a recent graduate of Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., who majored in English. In a local news story about her alma mater’s required-reading program, Nelson was quoted saying that Dessen’s books were suitable for teen girls but “not up to the level” of college students. She said she had joined the selection committee for the program as a student in order to keep Dessen’s books from being chosen. Dessen came across the story and was stung. She tweeted a screenshot of Nelson’s words to her 268,000 followers, with the comment: “Authors are real people. . . . I’m having a really hard time right now and this is just mean and cruel.” A bizarre spectacle then unfolded. Nelson was subjected to a storm of online abuse from Dessen’s fans. Northern State University issued an apology to Dessen. A group of successful and culturally influential young-adult authors condemned Nelson, casting themselves as beleaguered champions of a marginalized group. “When we tell teenage girls that their stories matter less — or not at all — there are real-world consequences,” bestselling author Jennifer Weiner tweeted. As her critics must have noticed, Nelson had not cast aspersions on the stories of teenage girls, but on the literary output of an ostensibly grown woman. In this case, the primary real-world consequence was an unjust intimidation campaign against someone simply for having had a critical opinion.

• Young America’s Foundation cut ties with columnist Michelle Malkin, a longtime speaker for the group, after she attacked it for denouncing white nationalism and Holocaust denial. Malkin says she is standing up for free speech and patriotism. A major beneficiary of her solicitude, Nick Fuentes, is prone to exercising his free speech through such means as calling the social-conservative commentator Matt Walsh a “race traitor” and “faggot” because he “works for Jews.” Malkin praises Fuentes and like-minded people for their opposition to immigration. But Fuentes discredits rather than strengthens that cause. National Review stopped running her column online a couple of months ago. Fuentes and Malkin are free to make their case, but conservatives should find better uses for their freedom of association.

• The “Groypers” are a group of white nationalists with an online presence, and Fuentes is their leader. He set out their raison d’être on his Facebook page after the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. Fuentes insisted that “a tidal wave of white identity” would follow that atrocity. He has more recently created a YouTube channel devoted to harassing the libertarian nonprofit Turning Point USA (TPUSA). The spat began after the nonprofit fired an employee for associating herself with Fuentes. Groypers have infiltrated the question-and-answer portions of TPUSA events across the country, baiting speakers with questions that invite inflammatory answers. When a TPUSA speaker declines to answer, he or she is depicted as a hypocrite similar to the censorious Left. The entire charade is meant to drag conservatives into pits of racial grievance; Fuentes and his disciples deserve no quarter.

• A radio talk-show host, Craig Silverman, had a show on Denver’s KNUS for five years. KNUS is a conservative outlet. Silverman was a Trump supporter in 2016 but has had reservations since. In the middle of a recent show, he was fired. “You’re done,” an executive told him. Silverman says that the station could not abide criticisms of Donald Trump. The station says that the dismissal had to do with Silverman’s appearances on competitors’ shows. Either way, Silverman’s podcasts and other materials have apparently been scrubbed from the KNUS website. Businesses can hire and fire as they wish. It must be said, however — and with regret — that the Left does not have a monopoly on political correctness.

• Benjamin Schreiber was serving a life sentence for murder in the Iowa State Penitentiary when he was rushed to the hospital after repeated seizures. It was touch-and-go for a while, and he was even declared clinically dead several times, but heroic medical intervention returned him to life. What was Schreiber’s reaction to the reprieve? A renewed appreciation for the joys of life, even behind bars? A resolve to turn over a new leaf and spend his remaining years helping others? Not quite. Instead he filed a motion to be released from prison, on the grounds that when he died in the hospital, even momentarily, his life sentence ended. We’ll give him an A-minus for ingenuity, but the Wapello County court was less impressed and summarily dismissed his request (as the judge astutely points out, “the petitioner’s filing of these proceedings in itself confirms the petitioner’s current status as living”). If Schreiber was given his second chance at life for a reason, it was presumably not to spend his bonus days filing frivolous lawsuits.

• The New York Times is just as sniffy about art as it is about politics. A recent article by the paper’s Jason Farago called on the management of the Louvre to “take down the Mona Lisa.” Why? Because it attracts too many people — and, even worse, the wrong kind. La Gioconda, he says, is strictly for squares: Titian was a better painter, as was Veronese, and anyway, the Mona Lisa isn’t even Leonardo’s best work. In fact, she has become “a black hole of anti-art who has turned the museum inside out.” Then, after dumping on her for a thousand words or so, Farago suddenly says the answer to Mona Lisa’s vexing tendency to attract visitors to the Louvre is to build an entirely new museum just for it, preferably on the other side of town. Admittedly, viewing Leonardo’s masterpiece from 20 feet away across a room full of selfie-takers is not the best way to appreciate it. But Farago’s crabby outburst boils down to saying that an almost universally acclaimed painting that draws huge throngs every day should be exiled because a critic is bored with it. Fortunately for art lovers, not even the French are that elitist.

A Weakening Defense

After two weeks of public testimony in the House impeachment inquiry, the White House’s substantive defense is in shambles.

As we’ve noted before, Trump and congressional Republicans staked out indefensible ground by trying, with ever-diminishing credibility, to maintain that Trump’s call with his Ukrainian counterpart Zelensky was “perfect” and that there was no “quid pro quo” over security aid.

Witnesses have filled in the details about how many foreign-policy professionals were alarmed by Trump’s mention of Joe and Hunter Biden in his July 25 call with Zelensky, and the circumstantial evidence that the security aid was withheld to get Ukraine to commit to investigations has grown stronger. The most consequential witness so far, E.U. ambassador Gordon Sondland, said that there was a quid pro quo involving an invitation to the White House for President Zelensky in exchange for investigations, and that everyone central to the administration’s Ukraine policy knew it. He also said that he believed there was a quid pro quo with regard to the security aid, although he had no direct knowledge of it (and Trump denied one over the phone with him, albeit stipulating that Zelensky should do “the right thing”).

So far, Sondland is as close to a witness with firsthand knowledge of the matter as the Democrats have. Getting presidential counsel Rudy Giuliani, White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, or former national-security advisor John Bolton — all of whom have direct knowledge of the president’s directives and state of mind — would take much more time, since it would involve court fights over colorable claims of privilege or immunity. With the Democrats running short of time as the election approaches, they seem inclined to impeach Trump quickly with the material they already have, sending the case over to the Senate for an almost certain acquittal.

Given that removing the president would be an unprecedented act, and in this circumstance would happen in close proximity to a reelection campaign that the president has some serious chance of winning, the offense involved has to be especially grave, enough to shock the conscience of the nation. There’s no doubt that what Trump did was wrong, and Democrats have been running rings around Republicans because that’s so obvious. But, at the end of the day, this foolish scheme that didn’t come to fruition — the Ukrainians got their security aid without committing to any investigations — doesn’t justify removing the president.

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

In This Issue



Books, Arts & Manners




Readers write in with fond memories of fatherhood, some long-held admiration, and some prefix pedantry.

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