• John Bolton’s time at the NSC will be remembered as the pacifist era of the Trump administration.
• Speaker Nancy Pelosi created uncertainty about whether Trump had really been impeached as a technical matter by refusing to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Pelosi wanted to pressure Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to fashion a Senate trial to her liking, with witnesses not obtained (or even subpoenaed) by the House, but she had limited leverage. McConnell announced he had the votes to start the trial and put off a decision about witnesses until after opening arguments — the same process that the Senate adopted in the Bill Clinton trial. As we went to press, Pelosi was still holding the articles, delaying the impeachment process that the day before yesterday she deemed a matter of extreme urgency.
• When news of the Qasem Soleimani take-out came, Senator Elizabeth Warren, running for the Democratic nomination for president, issued a statement on Twitter: “Soleimani was a murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans. But this reckless move escalates the situation with Iran and increases the likelihood of more deaths and new Middle East conflict. Our priority must be to avoid another costly war.” Fair enough: That is “a point of view,” as the British say. But Warren’s statement — especially the word “murderer” — was too hawkish for some of her left-wing supporters. She quickly shifted ground, saying, for example, that Trump had “assassinated a senior foreign military official.” Getting interrogated about that by Meghan McCain, she allowed that Soleimani had been a terrorist. If the Iranian dictators, and others, want to know whether Warren can be pushed around, there’s their answer.
• In the taunt war following the killing of Soleimani, President Trump threatened strikes against further targets, including “sites . . . important to Iran & the Iranian culture,” should Iran retaliate. He kept making that threat under criticism, then retreated. The background irony here is that radical Islam, in Iran and out of it, has for decades scanted, scorned, and sometimes destroyed monuments of pre-Islamic culture (as well as monuments of whatever the terrorist du jour considers the wrong variety of Islam). Al-Qaeda and its successors have specialized in actual vandalism, but Iran’s mullahs do not celebrate their past the way the shah did, or Egypt does. Trump’s words reflect his habitual determination to hit back when he feels himself hit. No sane planner would include a cultural site without military significance on a target list. It is good that the U.S. will not emulate the spirit that destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas or the Al-Askari Shrine in Samarra.
• Mark Galli, the outgoing editor of the Evangelical magazine Christianity Today, published an editorial calling for President Trump’s removal from office. Those who agreed called the stance brave, as many of the magazine’s readers were sure to object. The editorial’s critics said that it had insulted Evangelical Christians who support the president. The critics have a point. “To the many Evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior.” Presumably a lot of these Trump supporters do remember who they are and Whom they serve, just as much as Mr. Galli. They support Trump, without making excuses for his flaws and errors, because they do not believe he has done anything to warrant removal from office and is far superior to the likely Democratic alternatives. (There are, unfortunately, some Evangelical leaders — and some non-Evangelicals, too — who speak as though the president can do no wrong. That group deserves rebuke, as do those who oppose him on every issue.) If Mr. Galli’s successors wish to persuade any of them that they are wrong, they will have to do something more than shake them by the lapels.
• Speaking at a church to his supporters, President Trump said, “I really do believe we have God on our side. I believe that. I believe that.” We prefer the Reagan sentiment — as expressed in that president’s 1984 State of the Union address: “America was founded by people who believed that God was their rock of safety. I recognize we must be cautious in claiming that God is on our side, but I think it’s all right to keep asking if we’re on His side.”
• What happened to Rudy Giuliani? Over eight years, beginning in 1994, he saved New York City (Michael Bloomberg was his worthy successor). Then, in two or three heart-stopping days on and after 9/11, he sustained America: more hands-on than the president, more eloquent than the pope. A recent interview in New York magazine shows what he has now become: aimlessly peripatetic, juggling business for himself and his client (the president), slipping over his steps and his words, retailing conspiracy theories: George Soros “put all four ambassadors” in Ukraine. “And he’s employing the FBI agents. . . . I’m more of a Jew than Soros is. I probably know more about — he doesn’t go to church, he doesn’t go to religion — synagogue.” A failed presidential candidate himself, Giuliani wanted to get back in the game; he was an old friend of Donald Trump; his worldwide consultancies made any Senate-confirmed job unlikely. So he plays spokesman/sleuth, putting Trump in the crosshairs of impeachment and sullying his own memory. The most Jewish thing about him is II Samuel 3:38: “Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?”
• For a week or two, “wine cave” was on the lips of political America. A couple had hosted a meet-and-greet for Pete Buttigieg at their winery, in their wine cave. For an hour, the candidate answered questions about health care, Afghanistan, and the rest. At a Democratic debate, Elizabeth Warren pounced. In time-dishonored populist style, she let loose the phrase “wine cave” and said that this den of iniquity was “full of crystals,” too: yes, a Swarovski chandelier. “Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States,” she said. Her fellow candidate Andrew Yang got in on the action: Candidates should not have to “shake the money tree in the wine cave,” he said. The owners of the winery are Craig and Kathryn Walt Hall, longtime Democratic donors, liberals in good standing (at least until now). “I’m just a pawn here,” Mr. Hall told the press. He added that he had begun his business at 18 with $4,000 in his savings account. He also told a little story about the recent Democratic debate. While he and his wife watched it, and heard the snide remarks about them, she turned to him and joked that she might just go out and buy herself something nice instead of contributing to another political campaign. Sounds like a good idea to us.
• President Trump signed a $1.4 trillion spending package, a bloated legislative grotesque that will add billions of dollars to the national debt. That $1.4 trillion does not even represent a full calendar year of spending: It funds the government only through the end of the fiscal year in September. The spending is heavy on familiar Democratic wish-list items — raises for federal workers, funding for mass-transit projects in Democratic states, Head Start — as well as some more subtle ones: For years, the government has declined to fund “gun-violence research” in the belief that such “research” is going to end up being a Democratic propaganda program, but Trump has just signed a bill reversing that policy. The package pumps money into the Export-Import Bank and other corporate-welfare shenanigans. It also repeals several taxes associated with the so-called Affordable Care Act — practically the only tax cuts in Washington that are a Democratic priority rather than a Republican one, and a victory for Elizabeth Warren, who has been an opponent of the medical-device tax, which lands heavily on Boston. As usual, Congress is unable to operate according to regular order and has instead produced another massive omnibus — exactly the kind of bill that only last year Trump swore he would never sign again.
• That budget bill included a measure raising the age to buy cigarettes and vapes to 21. Members of the military are not exempt. A 20-year-old can die for his country but cannot legally take the risk of lighting up. The law will probably reduce rates of lung cancer and other diseases. Raising the age to 35 would reduce them more, but we refrain from such bossiness. We ought to be as mindful of the freedom of young adults, and of the constitutional limits on the federal government.
• For a brief period last year, the Trump administration appeared ready to ban nearly all flavored vaping products. That would have been not only an affront to personal freedom but also a risk for public health: While fruit- and dessert-flavored vapes are popular with teenagers, they are also more popular than tobacco flavoring with the adults who vape instead of smoking cigarettes. The administration’s final decision isn’t good, exactly, but it’s a lot better: Flavors are banned only in easy-to-use “cartridge” systems such as Juul, while the full assortment of juices used in “open tank” systems will remain available. This way, adults can still use whatever flavors they like, the small companies that specialize in open-tank systems and the juices that go in them will remain open, and teens will be marginally less likely to start using nicotine. This is, however, just a prelude to the real fight. Come May, all vaping products will need to apply for Food and Drug Administration approval, an expensive process unwisely mandated during the last administration. Trump should rethink this requirement and the massive burdens it puts on vaping — which are particularly hard to justify given that it doesn’t touch the older, far more dangerous cigarette products that have been available for generations.
• Arrests of people crossing the southern border declined for the seventh consecutive month in December. The 32,800 arrests represent a decrease of more than 75 percent since the peak of the border crisis in May. Though border crossings tend to fall in the winter, the pace of this decline represents a victory for the Trump administration’s new policy coordination with Mexico. At the urging of President Trump, Mexico has stepped up patrol of its southern border, deploying its national guard to prevent Central American migrants from entering the country. Further stemming the flow are the administration’s new Migrant Protection Protocols, which prevent migrants from remaining in the U.S. while they seek asylum. Based on that policy, more than 50,000 asylum seekers were returned to Mexico in 2019. Would-be migrants from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador have taken note.
• A Federal Reserve study found that President Trump’s tariffs have hurt American manufacturers, the part of the economy Trump has been most concerned about protecting. Manufacturers have received different degrees of protection from foreign competition, but it has been outweighed by retaliatory tariffs and higher input costs. The economy has been strong enough to withstand this negative impact, and Trump’s tariffs could yet produce concessions from trading partners that make them worthwhile. But even this caveat is not reassuring. There cannot be much to gain from a negotiating technique that involves inflicting pain mostly on ourselves.
• Ben Carson’s Department of Housing and Urban Development is moving forward with a plan to revamp federal “fair housing” efforts. It is undoing a controversial set of rules from the Obama administration that, using the leverage of federal housing funds, sought not just to stop discrimination but also to require localities to reengineer the racial and socioeconomic makeup of their neighborhoods. The old rule was also an incredible bureaucratic burden, forcing cities to compile documents with page counts in the hundreds that were often rejected as insufficient anyway. Carson’s rule would instead place the emphasis on scaling back regulations that make housing unaffordable to the poor and allow jurisdictions flexibility to advance the cause of fair housing in ways other than those preferred by Washington. Ideally, the federal government would prohibit intentional discrimination but otherwise leave the housing market and the states to their own devices. But if instead the feds will subsidize housing and put conditions on the money, we’ll take the Carson-Trump approach over the Obama one every time.
• The Roe Act, a bill pending in the Massachusetts legislature, would, among other provisions, repeal a decades-old law requiring minors to get consent from their parents or a state judge before procuring an abortion. Twenty-five other states adopted parental-consent laws in the wake of Roe, and none so far have abolished them. At issue are the lives of the unborn, parental rights, and the welfare of underage girls. Peer-reviewed research indicates that parental-consent laws, in conjunction with other state-level restrictions, have almost certainly lowered abortion rates over the past several decades, saving thousands of lives. And national polls have consistently found majority support for laws requiring parental involvement. Even many Americans favorably disposed to legal abortion feel that minors should not be free to undergo a significant medical procedure without the knowledge of their parents. Republican governor Charlie Baker, who is pro-choice, has expressed “concerns” about the bill. If it passes, it deserves his prompt veto.
• With the dawn of 2020, New York State has ended cash bail for most misdemeanor and nonviolent felony offenses; those charged with such crimes will usually be automatically released until their court appearances. The reformers’ case for this policy is that it allows people to continue working until their court dates, ends the unfairness of a system that hits the poor harder than those better off, and gives defendants more leeway to refuse plea deals (as they sometimes accepted such deals just to get out of jail). The opponents’ argument is that bail exists for a reason: Without it, defendants have less of a reason to show up in court at all, and less of a reason to obey the law while free. The opponents certainly have a point: A Long Island police commissioner has already highlighted two cases in which defendants who had been released without bail committed new crimes. Before the law’s passage, a group representing the state’s district attorneys lobbied for a provision allowing judges more leeway to assign bail when such problems look especially likely. That would have been a good idea.
• Slow population growth relative to the rest of the country is likely to cost California a House seat — and, with it, a vote in the Electoral College. New York is set to lose a seat, too. Current projections have Florida gaining two seats and Texas gaining three, thanks in no small part to New Yorkers and Californians who are fleeing their expensive and misgoverned states for places where they can prosper more fully. The tax burden often is cited by these refugees from the coastal progressive fiefdoms, but housing policy plays an important role, too: The median house price in Los Angeles is $618,000, and in San Francisco it’s $1.6 million — compared with $219,000 in Dallas and $190,000 in Houston. California has seen a net loss of native-born residents for years: There are more California-born adults living in Nevada than Nevada-born adults, which helped make Nevada the fastest-growing state. Some years, California’s loss of native-born population is offset by immigration, but in 2019 California lost about 40,000 residents overall. California is set to spend millions of dollars to maximize its census results (“hoping to preserve or poach a seat at a state like Texas’ expense,” Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt told Roll Call), but Sacramento would be better off reforming the policies that have made one of the most beautiful places in the world unlivable for so many families.
• Makers of products ranging from handbags to wristwatches will no longer be able to sell in California, thanks to a PETA-inspired ban on goods made with alligator hides. Alligators were once on the endangered-species list, for good reason — but they are no longer on that list, also for good reason, as residents of Louisiana can tell you. The perverse thing is that the renaissance of the American alligator is owed in no small part to the very commercial activity that California seeks to inhibit. In the wild, most alligator eggs never produce mature alligators — either the eggs are eaten or the hatchlings are. Louisiana allows the collection of eggs by entrepreneurs who raise the alligators and then return to the wild the portion that ordinarily might have been expected to survive to maturity, harvesting the rest. This practice has helped the Louisiana alligator population grow to millions of animals in the wild. It is a model of intelligent regulation. So it’s not the California way.
• The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in Martin v. City of Boise, a case weighing whether municipal laws that prohibit camping and sleeping on public property constitute “cruel and unusual punishment,” forbidden under the Constitution. Never mind that vagrancy laws were a feature of many jurisdictions in the United States both at the time of the founding and afterward, and no court entertained the suggestion that the Eighth Amendment had anything to say about them at all. Let localities figure out how most humanely to handle homelessness, and don’t punish the Constitution.
• Who decides whether little Tinslee Lewis lives? The fragile Texas eleven-month-old is battling for her life after a hospital ethics panel resolved to take Tinslee off life support. The hospital argues that the child, who was born with a heart defect, chronic lung disease, and a blood-pressure disorder, stands no chance of a normal life and is enduring terrible pain and suffering. Tinslee’s fate appeared to be sealed when the hospital invoked Texas’s so-called ten-day rule, which allows hospitals to cease treating patients, with or without a guardian’s consent, after ten days if an ethics committee approves. Tinslee’s mother, Trinity, filed an appeal with Texas’s Second Court of Appeals, which granted the infant a temporary stay as it weighs the merits of the case. A difficult situation for all parties, but a decision this grave must remain with Trinity and the rest of Tinslee’s family rather than with a faceless committee. Our prayers for Tinslee, the Lewis family, and all involved.
• On the seventh night of Hanukkah, Grafton Thomas, a 37-year-old black man with a history of crimes and mental problems, broke into the home of a rabbi in Monsey, N.Y., and stabbed five celebrants with a machete. One victim’s recovery is despaired of. The attacker, chased off by the survivors, was later arrested in Harlem. A search of Thomas’s journals and mobile phone found references to Hitler, Nazism, and assorted anti-Semitic themes. This crime and the Jersey City murders raise the problem of black anti-Semitism to a new level. One source of it is supersessionism — the belief that blacks are the “real” Jews: sometimes wacky, as among Rastafarians, or feral, as in the Nation of Islam. Another source is the friction between black urban poor and large Orthodox families moving into their neighborhoods. But dangerous embers can be doused, or stoked. Louis Farrakhan, who has been preaching vileness for years, has been tolerated at the outer edges of politics, while Al Sharpton, who has toyed with it, is an established pundit. Americans of all races have a responsibility to purge evil losers.
• At year’s end, a man took a shotgun out of his long coat and murdered two members of a church outside Fort Worth during a Sunday service. The killer, a disturbed drifter who had been given food by the church, was shot and killed by members of the church’s security team armed with pistols. The deadly incident was over in six seconds; fast thinking and long practice prevented it from being much worse. “I’m the deacon in charge of security at the church,” said Jack Wilson, one of the men who put the attacker down. “The people that were on the security team, we’ve spent numerous hours training and working on this scenario. Hoping it never happens.” The local police chief praised their “quick and heroic actions.” Christians look forward to a time when every tear shall be wiped from every eye, but until that time comes, we must depend on prayer, and prudence.
• On January 5, members of Venezuela’s parliament were poised to reelect Juan Guaidó as president of the National Assembly. Instead, when they arrived at the Federal Legislative Palace, they were met with riot police who blocked their entrance to the building. Embattled Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro dispatched the national guard in a desperate attempt to unseat Guaidó. While Guaidó attempted to scale the fence of parliament, the socialist legislative minority elected a Maduro-approved National Assembly president. In response, Guaidó held a vote at the offices of El Nacional, Venezuela’s largest opposition newspaper, where he was reelected by a vote of 100–0, enough to reach a majority in the 167-member legislature. Until Maduro’s usurpation of power, the National Assembly was the last legitimate governmental body in the country. Guaidó’s position as parliamentary president undergirded the opposition’s claim, supported by the U.S. and 60 other countries, that he was the rightful president of Venezuela. Once again, “democratic socialism” isn’t.
• Uncomfortably aware of the admiration Vladimir Putin often expresses for Stalin, European parliamentarians have passed a resolution declaring that the Hitler–Stalin nonaggression pact in 1939 launched the Second World War and allowed the two totalitarian regimes to invade, occupy, and brutalize Poland and the Baltic republics. Sure enough, an angry Putin told a gathering in St. Petersburg of his top military brass that the European resolution was “a shameless lie” and “not based on anything real.” On the contrary, he went on to say, the Western allies had colluded with Hitler at the Munich conference in the year before the pact and therefore they were responsible for the war. The difference is that the nonaggression pact was in reality an aggression pact. Millions paid for this with their lives, but nowadays, as in the past, the mistakes of the man in the Kremlin are inadmissible.
• In recent months, Central European University, citing a hostile political environment, decamped from Budapest to Vienna. Many people said “good riddance” to “Soros’s university.” Other people found it a troubling sign of an increasingly illiberal atmosphere. News comes now that a Chinese university is moving in: Fudan University, of Shanghai, will establish a campus in Budapest — the first campus ever established by a Chinese university abroad. A Hungarian official said he expected this move to “promote additional Chinese investments in Hungary and the establishment of research and development centers of Chinese companies in Hungary.” Whether this will be good for democracy and freedom, there is reason to doubt. In any event, the agreement between Hungary and China looks like the future.
• Aged 59, Jamal Khashoggi was a member of a well-known family in Saudi Arabia. A journalist, he wrote critically about the Saudi king and the crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, so much that he moved away to the United States. When he went on private business to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, they were waiting for him. Some of the murderers held high office and had links to the royal family, but the authorities asked the public to believe that this killing had been a “rogue operation” and not premeditated. His body has never been found. At a trial, five of the accused were sentenced to death, three received prison sentences, and three more were acquitted. The special rapporteur looking into the case on behalf of the U.N. expressed anger and suspicion that the hit men have death sentences but the masterminds walk free. “Worse than a crime, it is a mistake” is the famous response to a political murder committed in the France of Napoleon, and it is just as fitting for the gruesome fate of Jamal Khashoggi.
• Top historians asked the New York Times to correct the errors and distortions in its ambitious 1619 Project on slavery, including the preposterous claim that the American Revolution was fought to defend slavery. “These errors, which concern major events, cannot be described as interpretation or ‘framing,’” the historians wrote in a letter to the paper. “They are matters of verifiable fact, which are the foundation of both honest scholarship and honest journalism. They suggest a displacement of historical understanding by ideology.” The Times — exactly because it is putting ideology over historical understanding — declined to back off. But one hopes the statement by the historians, including such giants of the field as Gordon Wood and James McPherson, makes school systems think twice before incorporating the 1619 Project into their curricula.
• Leaders of the United Methodist Church have announced a plan to split it into two denominations. Debates over whether to perform same-sex marriages and ordain gay clergy had divided the UMC for years. Under the plan, the more socially liberal denomination will operate under the current name and probably include most Methodist congregations in the United States, home to about half of the UMC’s 13 million members worldwide. The other half will constitute a denomination that adheres to traditional teachings on Christian sexual morality rooted in a rigorous understanding of scriptural authority. “People of all theological perspectives have grown very weary of the conflict and don’t have a vision for how it can end,” said Keith Boyette, president of the network of Methodists who hold to the traditional teachings and will leave the UMC voluntarily if the separation plan is approved, as observers predict it will be, at the church’s global conference in May. Scriptural teaching on marriage and related issues is, though not the heart of the Christian faith, integral to it. Godspeed to the Methodists who are undertaking to uphold it.
• Shortly before Christmas, J. K. Rowling, creator of Harry Potter, tweeted to her 15 million followers: “Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill.” She was referring to the case of Maya Forstater, a British researcher who lost her job for moderate and courteous tweets that expressed her disbelief in transgenderism and her concern about the erosion of women’s sex-based rights and protections in proposals to change British gender-identification laws. Rowling, who is an ardent critic of Trump and a political liberal, likely knew that she would be attacked as a bigot and called on to apologize. But the fact that she didn’t is significant. Better than most, she knows that the incantations of the cancel-culture crowd have no real power.
• Despite being a vegan affair, the annual telecast of the Golden Globes turned out to be a bloodbath. Ricky Gervais, invited to host for a fifth and final time, played fox in the henhouse, ripping a dismayed roomful of celebrities for their hypocrisies, their close personal friendships with miscreants, and their boring need to inform us of their political stances. Sample joke: “Our next presenter starred in Netflix’s Bird Box, a movie where people survive by acting like they don’t see a thing — sort of like working for Harvey Weinstein.” “Gasp!” replied a room full of people who had eagerly worked for Weinstein, bestowed Golden Globes and other awards on his films, and pretended not to know what he was up to as one young actress after another returned from a “meeting” with the producer in tears. Gervais not only is a comedy genius but understands that the funniest jokes have a sharp point to them, and his decision to “have a laugh at your expense,” as he told the swells, made for a delightful and entirely deserved vivisection of everything Hollywood stands for.
• In 1934, a lineman on the University of Texas Longhorns noticed a cute co-ed in his zoology class and invested $26 in a Dodge Roadster in hopes of impressing her. It worked, though not right away; they didn’t get married until five years later. Yet what they lacked in quickness they have made up in longevity, and the couple, John and Charlotte Henderson, have recently celebrated their 80th wedding anniversary. To be sure, other marriages have lasted longer, but their combined ages (211 years) make them the world’s oldest married couple, according to the latest edition of the Guinness Book of World Records. The couple, who had no children, have followed the Longhorns faithfully and still hold season tickets; and beyond that shared interest, John’s advice for a happy marriage, given to a USA Today reporter, is simple: “You have to be partners. Don’t try to outdo your mate. Be grateful for what you have, try to expand on what you have and try to make tomorrow a better day than today.” That’s sound counsel, and we wish both of the Hendersons many more tomorrows to come.
• Don Imus, whose career spanned five decades, was a talk-radio shock jock before it was cool and then after it had become tiresome. He raised eyebrows for saying “hell” on the air when with a station in Stockton, Calif., in the 1960s. He would go on to say worse. He bounced from California to Cleveland and then to New York, and then back to Cleveland, before returning to New York in the late 1970s. There he settled, bouncing only between stations. His show was nationally syndicated and then simulcast on cable TV networks. He was catholic in his choice of public figures to mock. The Clintons, Newt Gingrich, Edward Kennedy, Rush Limbaugh: No one was exempt. He fought alcoholism and drug addiction, and they often won. CBS and MSNBC cut him loose in 2007 after he used a racial and sexual epithet to refer to the Rutgers women’s basketball team. He retired in 2018, after returning to the air on different channels and networks. He raised millions of dollars for wounded veterans and children with medical needs. He coarsened American culture, and then he was generous. What can we say? Dead at 79. R.I.P.
• The Christmas season just wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for Lee Mendelson. After a battle with lung cancer, the producer behind the beloved Charlie Brown Christmas died of congestive heart failure on December 25 at his home in Hillsborough, Calif. He was 86. A California native and Stanford grad, Mendelson also spent time in the Air Force. His first foray into television began in 1961 with a job at KPIX-TV in San Francisco, and his career took off after he won a Peabody Award for a documentary about the city. Mendelson’s subsequent 1963 documentary, A Boy Named Charlie Brown, about Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, garnered more interest in his television work, leading to requests for a Peanuts Christmas special. Schulz wrote the screenplay, former Disney employee Bill Melendez did the animation, and Vince Guaraldi wrote the music — or at least most of it. Mendelson wrote the lyrics to the now-famous song Christmastime Is Here, penciling in a place for himself in the Christmastide cheer of generations to come (and the melody of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” which the characters sing together, was composed by a different Mendelssohn). You’re a good man, Mr. Mendelson. R.I.P.
• “Everyone is entitled to some good days,” said Don Larsen, a so-so right-handed major-league pitcher. Yankees manager Casey Stengel started him in Game 2 of the 1956 World Series. The Dodgers clobbered him, and Stengel pulled him in the second inning. Three days later, Larsen started Game 5 and finished it. He allowed no base runners. A perfect game is rare enough. Only 23 have been recorded in major-league history. Larsen’s remains the only perfect game in a World Series. He finished his career with a win–loss record of 81–91 and a respectable but unremarkable earned-run average of 3.78. All such mediocrity, however, is forever overshadowed by the couple of hours during which he was perfect on that early-autumn afternoon when just about every American who wasn’t there for it at Yankee Stadium either saw it on TV or said he did. Larsen worked as a salesman after retiring from baseball. He retired to Idaho, where he enjoyed fishing. In 2012 he auctioned off his uniform from the perfect game to help pay for the education of his two grandsons. Dead at 90. R.I.P
• A skeptical reporter once asked Margaret Thatcher what she would say to those who accused her of promoting Victorian values. “Precisely!” Thatcher answered. Gertrude Himmelfarb, the historian of ideas, liked to tell the story. “The Victorians were, candidly and proudly, ‘moralists,’ ” Himmelfarb maintained. She admired their moralism, understanding full well that it had “almost become a term of derision.” She wrote about them at length and in depth. “The historian as moralist” was her description of Lord Acton. She wrote 16 books and edited eight, including one by her brother Milton and another by her husband, Irving Kristol. An alumna of Brooklyn College and Chicago, with stops at Cambridge and the Jewish Theological Seminary, she “went to the university not to become ‘credentialed,’” she explained, “but to get educated.” She taught at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Looking back, with esteem, at America’s “historian as moralist,” we note her passing, at age 97. R.I.P.
The U.S. Strikes Back
Trump’s red line against the Iranian regime harming Americans was very real, and Qasem Soleimani is dead.
The U.S. killed the Iranian terror-master at the Baghdad airport where he had just arrived from Syria. The head of the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force, Soleimani was the instrument of Iranian imperialism around the region, building up proxy forces, overseeing operations, and executing a geopolitical vision. He existed at the very center of the Iranian regime and was uniquely skilled at his role, honed over decades of ruthlessness and cunning.
He was also a cold-blooded killer of Americans, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of our servicemen during the Iraq war. He deserved to die for that alone. According to a Pentagon statement, Soleimani was developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and around the region, which isn’t hard to believe, since that was his job (a debate developed over how “imminent” such attacks were, but even Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that the threat was real).
The Trump administration and Tehran have been involved in a cat-and-mouse game for months now, with Iran engaged in provocations designed to elicit an American response. Trump had been hyper-cautious, only sending out a warning against harming Americans. After an attack by an Iranian-supported militia, Kataib Hezbollah, on a base in Iraq killed an American contractor, the U.S. retaliated with airstrikes against the group. That led to the Iranian-organized storming of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad in late December. The killing of Soleimani was a stunning counter-move.
Critics dubbed it an illegal “assassination,” but we are in Iraq pursuant to the congressional authorization of force adopted prior to the Iraq war and at the invitation of the Iraqi government. We are fully within our rights to defend ourselves against Iranian proxies attacking our personnel, up to and including the commander directing those attacks, Qasem Soleimani.
The better criticism is that the attack was too risky. Indeed, neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama dared to take such a step for fear of the downsides. But despite warnings that the killing of Soleimani would stoke a conflagration, Iran responded with a missile strike on bases in Iraq that was designed for show and said it didn’t want further escalation.
In a White House address, Trump accepted that stand-down, while announcing new sanctions and reiterating that he won’t permit Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. He clearly won the first round. He affirmed a red line against killing Americans and made it clear that Iran isn’t escaping from the sanctions box. Yet Iran still has cards to play. Biding its time, it could launch retaliatory assassinations and terror attacks in the months ahead. Our position in Iraq is precarious, with the Iraqi parliament taking a symbolic vote to expel foreign forces. And Iran is ramping up its nuclear activities.
In killing Soleimani, Trump made a bold move. In the months to come in the ongoing confrontation, he and his team will have to match his boldness with canniness and perseverance.