Magazine March 9, 2020, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

• It will be something if 2020 ends up being a choice between a crass and vain New York City billionaire with an ugly Twitter habit and Donald Trump.

• As the Senate voted on whether to remove President Trump from office, Mitt Romney had a harrowing moment. His attitude toward Trump has wavered, in a manner that reflected the unpredictable shifts in his own political profile over the years: condemning Trump during the 2016 campaign, meeting him after his victory to audition for secretary of state, condemning him once more after he took office. Now came the inescapable decision: Should the president stay or go? As a 72-year-old, twice-failed presidential candidate occupying a safe Senate seat, Romney had nothing to gain or lose. He concluded that one of the counts against Trump justified his going. This was emphatically not NR’s conclusion, but it was self-evidently one that Romney had reached with deliberation and heart-searching. Trump’s supporters may properly be critical, but those who called for him to be recalled from the Senate (impossible) or expelled from its Republican conference were petty and infantile. They might profit from the example of the man they mocked.

• Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council staffer who questioned President Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, both with superiors and before Congress, was dismissed from his job and returned to active service in the Army. Presidents are entitled to National Security Council staffs of their liking. But the manner of his removal (marched out of the White House on same-day notice); the simultaneous firing of his twin brother, Yevgeny, another lieutenant colonel who served the NSC as an attorney; and the attendant Trump tweet, suggesting that the Pentagon investigate Vindman for the “horrible things” he said, paint a too-familiar picture. Pettiness and resentment got President Trump into his Ukraine mess (get the Bidens! find the CrowdStrike server!). They characterize his post-op housecleaning.

• Attorney General Bill Barr rebuked President Trump for his tweets about ongoing criminal cases and investigations—to no avail. The precipitating event was an imbroglio over the DOJ’s sentencing recommendation in the Roger Stone case. The initial recommendation was for Stone to serve seven to nine years. This was firmly within Justice Department guidelines and yet was still excessive, treating Stone as if he were a mobster or gangbanger instead of a kooky 67-year-old with no history of violent crime. The recommendation also apparently wasn’t what Bill Barr, by his own account, had expected. According to Barr, he had already decided to revise the recommendation when Trump began tweeting his outrage at the handling of the case, creating the inevitable impression that the president had intervened in a criminal matter to help a friend. Hence, Barr’s warning that Trump’s tweets made his job “impossible.” But nothing has been able to get between the president’s thumbs and his Twitter account to this point, and Bill Barr is no exception. The attorney general now has the choice of simply putting up with Trump’s constant commentary on sensitive legal matters, or quitting. 

• The false-statements investigation of the FBI’s former deputy director, Andrew McCabe, has been closed without charges. The investigation was based on a referral by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, who documented McCabe’s serial misrepresentations to investigators, in which he denied knowledge of a leak to the media. In fact, McCabe had orchestrated the leak to rebut bad press about him—press that included reports of his overseeing Clinton-related probes even though Clinton-tied sources had given lavishly to his wife’s state political campaign. McCabe undeniably gave false information to investigators, and his claims that he did not intentionally lie are implausible. Yet the case had problems. Key witnesses (such as former FBI director James Comey and FBI lawyer Lisa Page) were sympathetic to McCabe and hostile to the Trump Justice Department. The McCabe investigation may have been mishandled by the U.S. attorney’s office. Moreover, President Trump’s tweets against McCabe bolstered the latter’s contention that the investigation was political retaliation rather than good-faith law enforcement. Factoring in the anti-Trump bent of the Washington, D.C., jury pool, Justice likely decided the possibility of acquittal was too high. The mendacious McCabe remains a CNN commentator. 

• President Trump and presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg had a Twitter spat, which was both amusing (if you like mean girls) and instructive. Trump led off: “Mini Mike Bloomberg is a LOSER who has money but can’t debate and has zero presence, you will see . . .” Bloomberg responded: “We know many of the same people in NY. Behind your back they laugh at you & call you a carnival barking clown. They know you inherited a fortune & squandered it with stupid deals and incompetence.” Bloomberg’s description of Trump’s pre-2016 career is accurate, and attributing it to “people . . . we know” who laugh “behind your back” is sharp. But Trump understands that Twitter wars are about characterization, not argument. “Mini” and “zero presence” are descriptions of qualities—short stature, a dry manner—that Bloomberg inescapably possesses. Trump will hammer at them like a woodpecker for the next nine months if Bloomberg wins the Democratic nomination. Which, love it or hate it, is one reason he is now president.

• James Carville has been warning Democrats against Bernie Sanders, and the senator called him a “political hack” in response. Carville shot back: “I am a political hack! I am not an ideologue. I am not a purist. He thinks it’s a pejorative. I kinda like it! At least I’m not a Communist.” Point to the Cajun.

• In recent weeks, several Democratic presidential contenders have been asked whether there is room in their party for pro-life Democrats, who make up about one-third of the party’s membership. Bernie Sanders responded in the negative: “I think being pro-choice is an absolutely essential part of being a Democrat.” Former mayor Pete Buttigieg was a bit more polite, but his conclusion was essentially the same. Amy Klobuchar sounded more hospitable. “I believe we’re a big-tent party,” she told Meghan McCain, “and there are pro-life Democrats, and they are part of our party.” Klobuchar deserves slight praise for taking this lonely stance, but her position on abortion is nearly as radical as that of her primary opponents. Pro-lifers might be welcome, but they’d better not expect the party to move an inch toward their views.

• Stop-and-frisk was one of the policing techniques that caused New York City’s 20-year decline in crime beginning in 1994. Stop-and-frisk relies on Terry v. Ohio, a 1968 Supreme Court decision that allowed short, forcible, warrantless stops of those whom cops had a “reasonable suspicion” of being engaged in criminal activity. Any good thing can become overly routine, and such stops began to be used as a metric in their own right of police activity. By the mid 2010s, even those who had first recommended the policy—police commissioner William Bratton, academic George Kelling—were arguing that it must not be overused. Michael Bloomberg gave a defense of stop-and-frisk, in his bluntest know-it-all way, before the Aspen Institute in 2015 (“You can just take the description [of likely perps], Xerox it, and pass it out to all the cops”). His Democratic rivals have been hammering him for it, and he now says “I was wrong” to have permitted it. So a good policy was first twisted, then trashed. Meanwhile crime in stopless, friskless New York ticks up.

• President Trump is diverting money appropriated for the military to his border wall: raiding the Pentagon budget for $3.8 billion. This is foolish for a number of reasons. One is the Constitution: Congress, not the president, is supposed to decide how much money is appropriated and to what ends, and President Trump, in spite of his purported standing as a master negotiator, has not managed to persuade Congress to appropriate those funds. And this money was intended for things that are, in fact, needed by the military: for replenishing the armories, vehicles, and equipment of Reserve and National Guard units that have been neglected, and for funding warships and fighter jets. Representative Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, says those projects are “critical” and rightly argues that border security is a matter for Homeland Security rather than Defense. Trump had the opportunity to secure funding for the wall when his party controlled both houses of Congress; somehow, that errand slipped the collective Republican mind, Trump’s included. We agree that border security should be adequately funded. But the decision ultimately is Congress’s. Call it the art of dealing with reality, unpleasant as it might be.

• Under the title “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” an executive order requiring that new construction conform to classical design has been written and awaits the president’s signature as we go to press. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson “consciously modeled the most important buildings” in the nation’s capital on the architecture of “democratic Athens and republican Rome,” the executive order reads. Furthermore, the modernist federal architecture of the mid 20th century has not been well received by the public and in some instances is “just plain ugly.” News of the guidelines has provoked objections from some architects and critics, to which the most sensible reply is De gustibus etc.—there is no disputing about taste. If you prefer brutalism, be assured that plenty of federal monuments to it will still stand. Our thanks to the National Civic Art Society, which is reported to have initiated this move to return to classical elegance in government architecture.

• Congress has honored its ancient tradition of ignoring presidential budget proposals, and President Trump’s most recent is well worth ignoring. The $4.8 trillion proposal would add trillions to the debt in the best-case scenario—and the best-case scenario is not likely to come to pass: Previous Trump budgets have assumed GDP growth of 3 percent, in line with his campaign promises, and this one ups it to 3.1 percent. Back in the real world 2019 growth was 2.3 percent. Trump’s proposal includes steep cuts to social-welfare programs that could use some cutting. But House Democrats are not interested, and Trump has already demonstrated that he is willing to sign spending bills that go in the opposite direction from his budget proposals. Even the proposal studiously refuses to contemplate serious reforms of Social Security and Medicare, the two most important drivers of long-term federal debt. The Trump budget would add $1 trillion for unspecified infrastructure spending and cut taxes, too—hence the usual fantasy of eliminating the deficit in ten years has been supplanted by a fantasy of eliminating the deficit in 15 years. Both parties, like the public they represent, must hope for the best, because that is all they are planning for.

• The Senate will soon vote on two pieces of pro-life legislation: the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act and the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. The first bill requires doctors to provide standard medical care to any newborn infant who survives an attempted abortion procedure. The second would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation, based on scientific research suggesting that fetuses are capable of feeling pain by that point in pregnancy. Both bills were blocked by Democratic senators the last time they received a vote. While each is unlikely to pass, the votes will expose lawmakers willing to subject children—both born and unborn—to violence and neglect. Just as important, they will expose the legal and practical reality that the slogan of “choice” is designed to obscure.

• The Republican Party is taking a new approach to climate change. In an interview with Axios, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy outlined that approach, which would not set a carbon-emissions target but would work to lower the impact of emissions: by planting more trees for the purpose of carbon sequestration, by raising federal research-and-development spending for low-emissions energy, and by providing tax incentives for companies to develop carbon-capture technology. The plan is an extension of salutary efforts that the congressional GOP has quietly undertaken in the last two years, but there’s room for improvement. Republican leaders should work to increase exports of natural gas to coal-dependent developing countries (which would lower emissions while boosting the U.S. economy) and should continue their support for nuclear power. But the approach outlined by McCarthy is a minimally invasive way to tackle a real problem, which is to say it has the beginnings of good legislation.

• President Trump has a type in Federal Reserve nominations. Several, though not all, of his nominees have been career-long advocates of hard money who have switched to become fans of easy money, like Trump, during this presidency. The Senate has repeatedly nixed these nominees. Judy Shelton is the latest in this vein. She has gotten farther than the others, but her Senate questioning was rough. It doesn’t help that she continues to have a cheering section that insists that she doesn’t mean much of what she is now saying. The streak may continue, and should.

• Rear Admiral Collin Green, the commander of the Navy SEALs, will step down a year before his tenure was to be up. In so doing, he is declining a third star. During his command, Green has been a reformer, holding wayward SEALs to account. In the case of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, President Trump repeatedly interfered. Gallagher has since been a guest at Mar-a-Lago, started a clothing line, etc. As for Collin Green, he has upheld honor in the military, or tried to, and, as the saying today goes, we thank him for his service.

• Substantial gun control continues to prove elusive in the United States, even where the Republican Party and the NRA are outnumbered. In 2019, voters in Virginia put Democrats in charge of the governor’s mansion, the House of Delegates, and the state senate. In return, those Democrats promised to use their trifecta to ban the sale of the most commonly owned rifle in America and confiscate standard-issue magazines. As is common, the informed citizenry had other ideas. Within a few months of the Democrats’ proposals’ being made public, a supermajority of Virginia’s counties had declared themselves “sanctuaries” in which any laws that were deemed unconstitutional would be ignored, and a set of rolling protests had been organized across the state. The pushback worked. In mid February, the senate killed the bill in committee, with a vague promise to study it further. Making his case for the measures, Governor Northam promised to “stand up to the NRA.” As always, the task turned out to be the harder one of standing up to the voters it represents.

• The Republican-controlled South Dakota senate voted to kill a bill that would have deterred doctors from medically experimenting on gender-confused minors by making it easier for those harmed to file malpractice lawsuits later in life. Previously, the South Dakota house had passed the Vulnerable Child Protection Act by a margin of 46 to 23. It was then amended to remove criminal penalties for doctors, instead treating malpractice as a cause of civil action. While the senate heard from a powerful array of victims and medical experts urging it to pass the bill, it also heard another concern: that the bill could harm the state economically. Debra Owen, the director of public policy for the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, said that “as South Dakota moves forward and seeks to be open for business, diversity and inclusion is not an option.” When future historians search through public records of this frightful craze, they will find much to be depressed by in the South Dakota senate. 

• Three high-school girls have filed a federal lawsuit against Connecticut for allowing boys to compete against them in sports. The girls, who are being represented by the conservative law firm Alliance Defending Freedom, had previously filed a civil-rights complaint with the Education Department, but this proved to be too lengthy a process. Title IX of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, designed to protect women from sexism, states that it is illegal to discriminate “on the basis of sex.” In their suit, the female athletes demonstrate that their “opportunities for participation, recruitment, and scholarships” have all been “directly and negatively impacted” by Connecticut’s transgender-athlete policy. One can only hope that they emerge victorious and set a precedent against the displacement of women in their own sports.

• The case of Jussie Smollett took a step closer to a satisfying resolution when the P. T. Barnum of hate crime was charged in a six-count felony indictment for lying to investigators in filing four separate false police reports. Smollett has never ceased lying since he came up with his cockamamie story about being assaulted by two homophobic Trump-loving thugs (later revealed to be associates he had paid to play the part) last January 29 in the pre-dawn streets of frosty Chicago. Smollett claimed, ludicrously, that he had been telling the truth all along when the office of Cook County state’s attorney Kim Foxx last March let him off the hook without a guilty plea, extracting only a few hours of community service and the forfeiture of a $100,000 bond—of which, it turned out, he had paid only $10,000. After the then-mayor and then–police superintendent raised an outcry, Cook County judge Michael Toomin appointed former U.S. attorney Dan Webb as a special prosecutor to look into the circumstances of the case and its strange dismissal. Hence the new charges against Smollett, returned by a grand jury after Webb subpoenaed, among other things, Smollett’s text messages and emails. Foxx is fighting for her political life in a Democratic primary election next month; may Chicago voters hold her accountable for her role in a perversion of justice. As for Smollett, his demonstrated lack of remorse and his fabrication of a serious crime clearly merit jail time.

• Attorney Michael Avenatti, the exhibitionist clown who was briefly a Democratic presidential candidate, has been found guilty on three counts of attempted extortion of the sports giant Nike. It was only the latest reversal for the flimflam man; he had been searching for a new source of income after being unceremoniously fired by alleged Donald Trump paramour Stormy Daniels, who had come to find his legal counsel in the Trump hush-money case somewhat lacking. Avenatti’s sentencing will come in June.

• In Jacksonville, Fla., volunteers at a GOP voter-registration drive were forced to lurch out of the way of an oncoming vehicle. Gregory Timm was arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated assault after driving his truck through the volunteers’ tent, exiting his vehicle, and making obscene gestures at the Republican volunteers before speeding away. Timm later told police that he disliked President Trump, and he insisted that “someone had to take a stand” against the volunteers’ drive. Republicans in Florida condemned Timm’s alleged conduct, with Senator Marco Rubio calling it a “politically motivated attack” and Senator Rick Scott insisting that the Duval County GOP “will not be silenced or intimidated.” If convicted on charges stemming from the destruction of a voter-registration drive, there is a significant chance that Mr. Timm will himself be unable to vote in the next election. Karma.

• In spite of a coordinated effort by a baker’s dozen of Democratic state attorneys general, the planned merger between Sprint and T-Mobile is moving forward. The merger already had been approved by the DOJ and the FCC, but Democrats in New York, California, Connecticut, and a few other states sued on specious grounds, delaying the transaction until a federal judge threw out their meritless complaint. New York’s dopey attorney general, Letitia James, complained that the merger would “endanger” mobile-phone users and decried the pursuit of “massive corporate profits.” We are generally in favor of that pursuit. There is also no good legal reason to block the merger, and the Democrats know it: James et al. already have announced that they will not appeal the ruling against their lawsuit. When companies make the case that a merger will serve the public interest with better service at lower prices, the opponents should have the burden of proving them wrong before the government steps in. Now the FCC et al. have to keep an eye on whether the promises are kept.

• An ancient concept in Chinese thought is “the mandate of heaven.” It describes the favor shown by the universe to the dynasties that cycle through Chinese history. In moments of crisis the mandate passes to a new one; in another moment, the mandate is withdrawn. It is unenforceable—no constitution writes it down. It is unpredictable: Some catastrophes—the Taiping Rebellion under the Manchus, the famines and purges of Mao—leave the mandate unshaken. Yet the idea remains. Xi Jinping, and possibly the Chinese Communist Party, may be in danger of losing it, thanks to the lies and bungling with which they have handled the Wuhan coronavirus. The outpouring of grief that followed the death of Li Wenliang, the doctor who first blew the whistle on the epidemic, only to be silenced for doing so, has gotten the regime’s attention. It has responded with a combination of oppression and farce, putting the populations of entire cities under house arrest, claiming that Xi Jinping knew of the disease weeks before the public caught on. The apparatus of terror remains formidable. But Xi’s disease should at least serve as a warning to Hong Kong and Taiwan, if they needed another, about the regime of lies in Beijing.

• U.S. federal prosecutors indicted four members of China’s military on charges of hacking into the credit-reporting agency Equifax and stealing the sensitive data of 145 million Americans. The hackers obtained phone numbers, Social Security numbers, and addresses, as well as the company’s proprietary technology. This type of attack is in keeping with China’s long-term strategy of “asymmetric warfare” against the U.S. in the economic and technological realms. The Chinese previously hacked the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Marriott hotels, and the health-insurance company Anthem, accessing both trade secrets and data on government officials. Beijing can use this information to strengthen its artificial-intelligence systems and conduct espionage. The indictments demonstrate the failure of a 2015 deal between Barack Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping in which the two committed to refraining from cybertheft for commercial purposes, and they accentuate Beijing’s commitment to flouting international agreements. Something to keep in mind as our government pursues additional agreements.

• The Equifax indictments weren’t the only ones handed down to Chinese citizens. Executives of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei were charged with racketeering and conspiracy to steal trade secrets. According to the indictment, Huawei stole intellectual property from six U.S. companies over the course of two decades. These charges add to previous accusations against Huawei, which included allegations that the company misled banks about its business dealings in Iran. The White House has effectively banned Huawei from the U.S., but last month, the U.K. government announced its intention to allow the firm to build and operate parts of its fifth-generation mobile network. The new charges provide further proof that the Trump administration was right to caution the U.K. against doing business with Huawei and increase the pressure on Germany to follow the U.S.’s lead. While the signing of a trade deal between Washington and Beijing signaled a temporary cease-fire in the bilateral confrontation, the Huawei and Equifax cases demonstrate just how far the two countries are from a lasting détente.

• Seven years of civil war have reduced Syria to an antechamber of hell. At least half a million are thought to have been killed, and 10 million, about half the population, are refugees. Horror is reaching a climax in Idlib, a province in the northwest of the country. Bashar al-Assad, the blood-stained president in Damascus, had let his opponents, a ragbag of Islamists and rebels, assemble there. Power politics then played out. Assad decided that he had the military strength to clean out Idlib. Vladimir Putin, president of Russia and an old-style imperialist, supported Assad with ground forces and aircraft. Until recently, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, president of Turkey, had taken his family to visit Assad and his family in Damascus. Reversing this friendship, Erdogan backed the rebels in Idlib and invaded Syria. Three million people were in Idlib, and they could not tell whether Assad’s troops would be fighting Erdogan’s troops, or whether Erdogan’s troops would be fighting Putin’s, but they could tell that it was time to run for their lives. So far, there are almost a million new refugees who have nowhere to live and nowhere to go as winter rain and snow set in.

• There are many monstrous leaders in the world, but Omar Bashir stands out. He was the dictator of Sudan for 30 years, 1989 to 2019. Since his toppling, he has been under arrest. Now it appears that the current Sudanese government will send him to The Hague, to be tried for genocide by the International Criminal Court. By someone, somewhere, Bashir should be held to account. Genocide is not a parking violation. Such forums as Nuremberg cannot bring back the murdered, and they provide little satisfaction. But little is better than none.

• World Bank chief economist Penny Goldberg resigned after only 15 months on the job, reportedly in protest of Bank officials’ refusal to publish a paper critical of the institution. The paper in question finds that aid provided by the World Bank often ends up in offshore accounts held by developing countries’ political elites. The more dependent a country is on aid, the authors conclude, the higher the portion of money that “leaks” offshore. Even though the paper passed peer review in November, Bank officials have cast doubt on the results. While Goldberg has not confirmed her reasons for quitting, the Bank’s efforts to stymie research that questions its efficacy raise obvious red flags. Goldberg’s early resignation follows that of Paul Romer, who was also chief economist for 15 months before stepping down. The World Bank’s tumultuous leadership does little to inspire confidence. 

• Debate at the University of California over standardized tests is creating a ripple effect across the U.S. A committee within the university system has released a preliminary recommendation to keep using the tests in admissions, but there is intense internal and external pressure to drop them on the grounds that they are poor predictors of success in higher education and unfairly penalize black and Hispanic students. But as National Review’s Robert VerBruggen noted, these anti-test assertions are easily dismantled. The report makes it clear that high-school grades and tests are better predictors of success than grades alone. A final recommendation will go to UC’s Board of Regents in April.

• Hundreds of bishops, priests, experts, and observers met in Rome in October to examine problems faced by the indigenous people and other residents of the Amazon region. For the range of the synod’s agenda, see the title of the final document: “The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.” Its brief section on the priest shortage in the region concludes with the recommendation that the celibacy requirement for Latin-rite priests be waived in the special case of the Amazon. Alarmed, traditionalists speculated that the exception would be established only to be made, eventually, the rule. Cardinal Robert Sarah published a book in defense of priestly celibacy and was joined in that effort by Pope Emeritus Benedict, although the nature of the latter’s involvement is disputed. The public was drawn to the controversy, neglecting the larger issue, so give credit to Pope Francis for Querida Amazonia (Beloved Amazon), his document in response to the synod. Prudently, he omits any mention of celibacy and focuses his attention where it belongs, on the people of the Amazon and on how the Church can serve them.

• When words are the only tool you have, everything looks like a word problem. This is why we so often encounter the euphemism spiral: a series of polite synonyms, each more abstract than the last, rolled out over the decades to describe the same phenomenon. For example: What had once been simply “bad kids” were fancied up as “juvenile delinquents,” then called “underprivileged,” then “at risk,” and then, during the Obama era, the triumphantly bureaucratic “justice-involved.” “Disconnected youth” had its day, and now the social workers’ latest term for this unfortunate sector of society seems to be “opportunity youth.” If only our bureaucracies were as good at improving these children’s prospects as they are at redescribing them.

• For those who think every episode of House Hunters is basically the same, the show recently introduced a new wrinkle: three potential buyers arguing cutely, instead of just two. The house hunters in this case were a “throuple”—a group of three people committed to sharing their lives together—that consisted of a married couple plus a woman that they met in a bar and joined in a relationship. As you’d expect, what’s wrong with a three-way house hunt is the same thing that’s wrong with a three-way “marriage”: three times the opportunity for disagreement. In the real-estate context, this translates to numerous extra must-haves (e.g., three sinks in the bathroom), which in the end meant the trio exceeded their budget considerably. In view of this, the seller and the realtor did not seem to mind the buyers’ unconventional lifestyle.

• A video that made the rounds recently showed a woman sitting patiently in her airline seat as the man behind her, annoyed that she was reclining into his space, banged and punched the back of her seat in protest. The woman summoned a flight attendant, who unfortunately was unable to broker a peace treaty, and now the reclining passenger is giving interviews and talking lawsuits. In our view, a polite request (i.e. not punching the seat) to sit up straight should be accommodated if the passenger can do so without discomfort, but similarly, passengers should accept that some people do need to recline, and in any case they have a right to do so if they wish. Making a scene, however, is definitely wrong, for victim and perp alike. Air travel is miserable enough already. 

• Texas is a larger-than-life state, and Clayton Williams was a larger-than-life Texan. Indeed, he was many Americans’ idea of a Texan. He was a businessman, an oilman, with his fingers in several business pies. He liked politics, too. In 1990, he was the Republican nominee for governor, and there has hardly ever been a more colorful candidate. Too colorful, in the end. He committed a series of gaffes that helped the Democrat, Ann Richards, win. He took his loss gamely. When a crowd of supporters urged him to run again in four years, he said, “I may be an Aggie”—meaning, a graduate of Texas A&M—“but I’m not crazy.” Paul Johnson, the British historian, sometimes says that some figure “added to the gaiety of life.” “Claytie” Williams did that. He died on Valentine’s Day at 88. R.I.P.

• “I covered a team that no longer exists in a demolished ballpark for a newspaper that is dead,” Roger Kahn explained in The Boys of Summer (1972), referring to the Brooklyn Dodgers, Ebbets Field, and the New York Herald Tribune. Into his reportorial, where-are-they-now treatment of the members of the Dodgers teams of 1952 and ’53, he folded his lyrical reminiscence of them in their glory days, when Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, and the whole “Wait until next year!” gang scored a lot of runs but then came up short against their American League crosstown rivals in the Fall Classic. The Boys of Summer fast became a classic for all seasons: Kahn could turn a phrase, craft lapidary sentences, and lay it on thick with appropriate sentimentality—his subject was the national pastime, after all, and youth and age and mortality. He wrote 18 other books, most of them about baseball. From the Herald Tribune, he moved to Newsweek, The Saturday Evening Post, and Sports Illustrated. He taught journalism at universities here and there. “The golden age has passed as in a moment. So will all things. So will all moments. Memento mori.” Dead at 92. R.I.P.

 

POLITICS
Sanders Rising

Sooner or later, the Democrats’ decades-long march to the left was bound to end in the explicit embrace of socialism. That moment may now have arrived. A self-described socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, has won the New Hampshire primary after getting the most votes in Iowa’s shambolic caucuses. Sanders has strong supporters nationwide—“cadres,” you might call them—and enough money to go the distance.

Socialism remains unpopular, for very good reason, in the United States, and it is least popular among those Americans old enough to have seen what it meant in the era when the senator took up the cause. They learned something from the world’s experience, even if he did not. Many Democrats remain dubious about socialism. In New Hampshire, Sanders got only a quarter of the vote while the relatively moderate candidates (Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar) combined to get a majority among them.

Except, of course, that they did not combine, and show no sign of doing so. And there is another claimant for the not-Sanders position in the primary, Michael Bloomberg, who decided to skip New Hampshire. A dedicated core of Sanders supporters could keep forming a plurality and win the most delegates for Sanders. Because Sanders had a strong showing in the primary four years ago, this possibility startles Americans less, perhaps, than it should. America’s rejection of socialism has made it exceptional among advanced nations. For the country’s oldest political party to nominate a proud supporter of it would be a major change for the worse.

Sanders has for decades praised left-wing authoritarian dictators, especially in Latin America, so much so that it is fair to question the importance of the adjective in his label of “democratic socialism.” His agenda involves federal spending increases of a fantastic $100 trillion, according to a critic who, unlike the senator, has thought it worthwhile to add it all up. And he has the ideologue’s habit of wishing away aspects of reality that are inconvenient for him. Thus our economy, with falling poverty rates and rising wages, is in his mind failing; and the country will save money by giving more lavish health benefits to a larger number of people.

The Sanders phenomenon thus raises two urgent questions: Will the Democratic Party decide to walk off a cliff? And will it manage to get Americans to come along for the trip?

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In This Issue

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The Week

The Week

It will be something if 2020 ends up being a choice between a crass and vain New York City billionaire with an ugly Twitter habit and Donald Trump.
Athwart

Column Calumny

When the Trump administration brought back the classical style to federal buildings, the pundit class went from zero to Hitler in record time.

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The Year of Stupid

It turned out that the novel coronavirus was only the second-most-infectious disease to spread through the U.S. this year. Satan’s Cupcake has, after all, been diagnosed in less than 1 percent of Americans. The not-so-novel imbecility virus is, on the other hand, ravaging the minds of everyone from news ... Read More

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Brace for Impact

There are many, many ways to try to measure the 2020 presidential race. How well is Donald Trump doing in the states he needs to win compared with Joe Biden, such as Arizona and Michigan? (Not well.) How well is Donald Trump doing with the demographic groups he needs to retain, such as suburban moms and the ... Read More

Stalin, Famine, and the New York Times

‘The world is being invaded by monsters, but I suppose you don’t want to hear about that,” Both clauses of that sentence are devastatingly true: The reference is equally to the horrors of the Soviet Union’s mass murders -- and to the West’s determination to turn its back to the monstrosity. The speaker ... Read More

Stalin, Famine, and the New York Times

‘The world is being invaded by monsters, but I suppose you don’t want to hear about that,” Both clauses of that sentence are devastatingly true: The reference is equally to the horrors of the Soviet Union’s mass murders -- and to the West’s determination to turn its back to the monstrosity. The speaker ... Read More