• At least the rioters are wearing masks.
• One of the little hot-air speech balloons released during the George Floyd riots compares them to the Boston Tea Party. The United States began in riots, what’s the matter with these? As it happens, the Declaration of Independence addresses this question, briefly but thoroughly (Jefferson at his best was a poetical aphorist). Prudence dictates that revolutions should not happen for reasons that are light or passing, since people put up with a lot. But when government shows a design to crush them under absolute despotism, they should throw it off, forming a new one that will serve their happiness and security. Good manners also require them to tell the world why. If you think that is what is going on in smashing windows, cleaning out stores, burning cop cars and random buildings, and mugging passersby who disagree with you, you do not understand the patriots you claim to emulate, and are a good deal less serious.
• MISSING: Social Distancing. DESCRIPTION: Not much to see, especially in stadiums, theaters, restaurants, bars, shops, office buildings, and houses of worship. Small numbers of people sometimes visible, six feet apart and masked, in grocery stores and walking the occasional beach. LAST SEEN: May 25, the day of the death of George Floyd. Since then, Social Distancing has been replaced by protests and riots, in which crowds of people, masked and otherwise, march, kneel, sing, chant, set fire to police precincts, and loot stores, accompanied by smaller but still large crowds of police and National Guardsmen. If found, please return Social Distancing to Dr. Anthony Fauci.
• There were many victims of the lawlessness that consumed the nation following George Floyd’s death. Two of those victims were sacred landmarks of American Christianity. Both St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., were desecrated by rioters in the heat of ostensibly anti-racist protests. Vandals defaced the New York cathedral with profanity-ridden graffiti and nearly burned the parish house of the historic St. John’s — a church visited by every sitting president from Madison onward — to the ground. All ought to be outraged by Floyd’s death, but none ought to withhold their contempt from those, no matter their motives, who attack our sacred landmarks.
• At the conclusion of a rally in support of the Second Amendment outside the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, a man hung a crude dummy from a tree, with the face of Democratic governor Andy Beshear and the motto Sic semper tyrannis attached. Kentucky has seen worse: In 1900, Governor-elect William Goebel was assassinated, possibly with the connivance of his predecessor in office, William S. Taylor. Goebel himself had shot a political opponent in the head a few years earlier. This year’s story had a better ending. A rally-goer quickly cut the effigy down, saying, “This has no place at this rally. We’re trying to be peaceful.” We don’t mind political partisans “targeting” or “firing broadsides at” each other; “campaign” is itself originally a military term. We prefer dead metaphors to dead politicians, and effigies blur the two categories too much.
• Oregon Republicans chose Jo Rae Perkins as the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate. The state party says it will support her candidacy notwithstanding her associations with, and support for, the “QAnon” movement. That’s a mistake. QAnon is a conspiracy theory that posits the existence of a sinister cabal of cannibalistic pedophiles led by Democrats and elite business figures, which the Trump administration and possibly Robert Mueller are heroically trying to combat. It has attracted tens of thousands of adherents and crossed that fateful threshold past which absence of evidence for a claim becomes proof of a coverup. On the night of the GOP primary, Perkins uploaded a video to Twitter in which she held up a sticker bearing a QAnon slogan and said, “I stand with Q and the team. Thank you Anons, and thank you patriots. And together, we can save our republic.” Her campaign removed the video; now she says she regrets the removal. She is an unreconstructed exponent of a batty and corrosive conspiracy theory running a longshot campaign that does not deserve conservative support.
• Conservatives for a long time gave Representative Steve King (R., Iowa) the benefit of the doubt as he made racially provocative comments, and especially discounted those critics who treated his opposition to immigration as per se racist. But the congressman kept chipping away at the doubt. He called Mexicans coming to the U.S. “dirt,” denied it, and then was shown to have said it on tape. He endorsed a mayoral candidate — in Toronto — who had recited the white supremacists’ 14-word motto on the radio. He hobnobbed with a budding Alt-Right Internationale in Europe. These antics got him censured by Congress, repudiated by his party, and — finally, in a June 2 primary — defeated for reelection. Randy Feenstra, the mainstream conservative who won, should not find it hard to do a better job of advancing the priorities of the fourth district of Iowa.
• Groping for adequate responses to the violence on the streets and the insurrectionists behind it, President Trump announced that he would “designate” Antifa, the loosely knit interstate anarchist group, as a terrorist organization. That this was either a misunderstanding of law or a confusing use of the word “designate” became clear when, simultaneously, Attorney General Barr announced that the Justice Department regards the tactics of Antifa and similar radical groups as domestic terrorism and will prosecute them accordingly. There is no legal-designation process for domestic terrorism. We have a process for designating foreign terrorists, a process created in the mid Nineties to enable the federal government to freeze assets, bar aliens who’ve attended jihadist training camps from entering the U.S., and so on. There is no such necessity where domestic terrorists are concerned because they operate within our jurisdiction, and a wide array of laws, federal and state, enable our agencies to investigate and prosecute them, seize their assets, and interrupt their operations. Still, to the extent “designation” is simply the administration’s rhetorical device for announcing its intention and resolve to treat criminal conspiracies as such, it is a welcome development, and needs to be followed up with action.
• Joe Biden says that he will not raise taxes on households making less than $400,000. Like similar pledges from previous Democratic presidential candidates, this one should be received skeptically. Bill Clinton raised gas taxes, Barack Obama imposed the individual mandate, and Biden himself has endorsed a carbon tax. But these pledges have nonetheless acted as constraints. Clinton and Obama didn’t try to raise income or payroll taxes except on the rich — and the definition of the rich has kept shrinking as the Democratic base has gotten more upscale. Congress has not raised taxes on wages since 1993. Biden’s pledge reflects a political reality with which Democratic legislators also have to contend, and that political reality is a major accomplishment of two generations of conservatives.
• Congress enacted the Paycheck Protection Program to help small businesses, especially, through the coronavirus pandemic by giving them forgivable loans. But some red tape added by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is constricting it. His rule says that 75 percent of the forgiven loan has to be spent on payroll. Never mind that many businesses have fixed costs, including rent and utilities, that they have to pay if they are going to stay alive to employ anyone. The House has voted 417–1 to relax this rule. But it would be quicker, and more economically productive, if Mnuchin simply complied with the law as written.
• When Congress created this program, Planned Parenthood complained that it had been designed to make them ineligible. But then more than three dozen of its affiliates applied for the loans anyway. They received a total of $80 million. Once this news became public knowledge, Planned Parenthood argued that they had been eligible. Two dozen Republican senators are calling for a swift federal investigation of what seems by all accounts to have been loan fraud. We can’t expect an organization that confuses abortion and health care to be sticklers about “eligibility.”
• To listen to the media just a few weeks ago was to hear that Republican governors who sought to reopen their states were endangering the lives of their constituents to save Big Business. A headline in The Atlantic that spoke of “Georgia’s Experiment in Human Sacrifice” was as hysterical as the article it adorned. (“Georgians are now the largely unwilling canaries in an invisible coal mine, sent to find out just how many individuals need to lose their job or their life for a state to work through a plague.”) Never mind that such talk has abated just as dense crowds of hundreds of thousands of people protest in cities. Never mind, too, that nearly all states have been easing restrictions, not just the Republican-governed ones. In most states (including Georgia) the COVID-19 new-case count has plateaued, and in nearly all states (including Georgia) the ratio of positive cases to tests has steadily declined. We should not ignore the possibility of a second wave, but nobody is trying to bring one about, or succeeding.
• Instead of simply saying, “I was wrong,” many of those who predicted that the State of Florida was destined to become ground zero for the American coronavirus outbreak have decided to invent absurd conspiracies to cover their tracks. It cannot possibly have been the case that Governor DeSantis got it right, or that he was not, in fact, eager to see his constituents die. Instead, he must be hiding something: bodies, data, nursing-home records, you name it. Thus far, Florida has been accused of having fired a data scientist because she objected to the suppression of data (she wasn’t a data scientist, nothing was suppressed, and she was fired for insubordination and sexual harassment); of having inflated its pneumonia numbers to hide the proximate cause of death (it didn’t, the critics misread the CDC’s numbers); and of flat-out lying about the numbers to make the state look better (in the six weeks since it was first suggested, no evidence of this has come to light). “Follow the science,” cried the most fervent advocates of the lockdowns. Unless, it seems, the science leads south.
• Our friend and sometime contributor Kevin Hassett, now the special adviser to the president for economic issues, is quite capable of looking after himself, but we still feel obliged to defend him against one of the silliest charges he has ever had to endure. Hassett told CNN that with quarantine regulations being rolled back, “our human-capital stock is ready to get back to work,” and from the Left’s reaction, you would have thought he had called for a return to serfdom. One critic called the phrase “absurd and heartless”; another said it was “a racially charged, dehumanizing turn of phrase that conjured up images of livestock.” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who has referred to “human capital” herself at least once) said the phrase “had its roots in slavery.” For the record, “human capital” and “human-capital stock” are standard terms in economics, and in any case, there’s no reason either one should be more offensive than the ubiquitous and universally accepted “human resources” (which used to be “personnel,” until that was deemed unacceptable for some reason). The only conclusion we can draw from all this is that to a committed leftist, any phrase that includes the word “capital” is automatically offensive.
• The University of California has since 1996 been barred by popular referendum from discriminating among applicants on the basis of race. That prohibition has inhibited administrators from achieving the racial balance they desire. While standardized tests are good at predicting success in college, they do not further the racial goal. It is in this light that we view the university system’s decision to junk the tests. John Perez, the UC Board of Regents chair, described the decision as “an incredible step in the right direction toward aligning our admissions policy with the broad-based values of the University.” We suspect the value in question consists of racial preferences.
• The Department of Education’s restoration of basic due process to the federal Title IX rules passed its first test in court. Three Third Circuit judges, a mix of Trump and Obama appointees, unanimously held that if a private university vows in its contract that students accused of sexual misconduct will receive “fair” and “equitable” treatment, it must at the very least hold a “real, live, and adversarial hearing” and provide “the opportunity for the accused student or his or her representative to cross-examine witnesses — including his or her accusers.” The court accepted that there are some questions that are “uniquely” the province of a university, but rejected the idea that the “investigation and fair adjudication of alleged criminal activity like sexual assault” is among them. Since DeVos announced the implementation of her changes, the Democratic Party has treated the move as a radical departure from American norms. As the Third Circuit showed, the truth is quite the opposite.
• DeVos’s department also decided that the State of Connecticut’s athletic association violated Title IX in allowing male high-school athletes to participate in girls’ sports. The Office of Civil Rights wrote that allowing athletes to compete according to “gender identity” alone “denied female student-athletes benefits and opportunities, including advancing to the finals in events, higher level competitions, awards, medals, recognition, and the possibility of greater visibility to colleges and other benefits.” Connecticut must now bring its policy in compliance with the department’s findings. A related lawsuit, waged by three of the female athletes, is separate and ongoing — as women’s sports should also be.
• China’s National People’s Congress has imposed a national-security law on Hong Kong banning “all seditious activity.” The security law effectively nullifies the Hong Kong Basic Law, according to which the territory is guaranteed autonomy from the mainland until 2047, and flatly violates Beijing’s obligations under the 1984 Sino–British Joint Declaration. In response, U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo decertified Hong Kong’s status as an independent region of China. Trump followed up Pompeo’s announcement by stating that he would “begin the process of eliminating policy exemptions that give Hong Kong different and special treatment” — including its preferential trade status, visa exemptions, and flexible foreign-exchange regime. While the move will harm Hong Kong’s economy, the millions of Hong Kongers who have taken to the streets in protest have demonstrated in no uncertain terms that they value freedom over GDP growth. The short-term harms from reduced trade and investment pale in comparison with the disaster of mainland dominance of Hong Kong. That being said, the White House neglected to specify the exact measures it would take, despite announcing the decertification a week after China proposed the new law. Too often, Trump’s bluster on China amounts to precious little in the policy realm. One hopes this time is different.
• Trump also announced that Washington would sever ties to the World Health Organization. When the White House halted funding to the WHO in May, pending an investigation of Chinese influence on the agency, we considered it a salutary push for reform. Under the leadership of director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the organization misled the world about the coronavirus at Beijing’s behest. But a month after halting funding, the White House gave the WHO 30 days to commit to reforms. Predictably, it didn’t. While the withdrawal may be warranted, the White House risks unilateral disarmament against Beijing’s effort to expand its influence over multilateral institutions.
• President Trump has blown hot and cold about canceling his trade agreement with China. And after Trump condemned China’s repression of Hong Kong, Beijing suspended its state-owned firms’ promised purchases of U.S. agricultural products. Trump is left without good choices. Either he makes good on the threats of additional tariffs that he had made before the deal, hurting the stock market and the economy in the run-up to the election, or he accepts a deal that looks more and more like a sham. It is getting late to try a different path — coordinating an international campaign against Chinese mercantilism — but it is not too late.
• The Chinese government has been mounting aggressive shows of strength to its neighbors, and it is now India’s turn to come under threat and make what it can of this. The two countries have a common border several thousand miles long. Territorial claims and counter-claims on either side have led to a so-called Line of Actual Control, which in plain language means no agreed demarcation and a permanent reason to go to battle. The People’s Liberation Army reinforced their presence with three heavily armed brigades and India then posted comparable forces. Army chief of staff General Manoj Mukund Naravane followed with a firm defensive statement. By accident or design, the rival soldiers met at several points and started fistfights and brawls. They used wooden clubs and rocks. The wounded were helicoptered away. The U.S. should help make it clear that if it comes to worse, China will have miscalculated badly.
• Russia belonged to the G-8. In 2014, however, it invaded a sovereign country, Ukraine, and launched a war there, resulting in a G-7. The facts behind Russia’s suspension have not changed: Crimea remains a Russian possession; war grinds on in the Donbass, where approximately 11,000 people have been killed. President Trump has long pressed for Russia’s readmission to the group, with no changes on the ground. He has done it again, signaling that he will invite Vladimir Putin to a group meeting in the United States this coming September. He should be welcomed, so long as he leaves Ukraine first.
• “Let’s light this candle,” said Doug Hurley. “The trampoline is working!” said Elon Musk. Hurley is one of the two astronauts who have just been launched to the International Space Station. (The other is Bob Behnken.) Hurley was echoing the words of Alan Shepard, the first American in space, in 1961. Musk is the founder and CEO of SpaceX, the company that cooperated with NASA to light and launch the latest “candle.” What did he mean by the trampoline remark? For a few years, Americans rode on Russian spacecraft to the ISS. In 2014, however, the United States sanctioned Russia over that country’s aggression against Ukraine. The deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin — who is now the head of the Russian space agency — cracked that, henceforth, America could get its astronauts to the ISS by trampoline. And the “trampoline,” as Musk noted, worked. All in all, the launch on May 30 was thrilling: a shot in the arm for a country that needed one.
• Major League Baseball remains on hold. Owners and players are locked in a salary dispute. MLB has proposed a shortened, 82-game season along with several measures to mitigate the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Each team would play half its games in its home ballpark but without spectators. The loss of revenue from concessions and ticket sales would be significant. Owners have offered player compensation in the form of half of revenue. The union is holding out for proration, so that players would be paid approximately half the salary stipulated in their contracts. The fans’ interest is in a compromise: While some of them take sides in the rivalry between billionaires and millionaires, most prefer the one between their home team and whichever MLB franchise figures as the Evil Empire in their local lore.
• The ATP and the WTA — the men’s and women’s professional tennis tours, respectively — have been suspended since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic and are not scheduled to return until at least August. While tennis stars such as Novak Djokovic have taken the initiative in creating a relief fund for financially challenged players, not every top-ranked athlete shares the same willingness to contribute. Dominic Thiem, the male world No. 3 from Austria, came out early against the fund: “No tennis player is fighting to survive, even those who are much lower-ranked. No tennis player is going to starve. . . . I would rather give money to people or organizations that really need it.” Unsurprisingly, Mr. Thiem faced an almost immediate backlash, as tennis personalities ranging from Nick Kyrgios to Dustin Brown censured his “tone-deaf” remarks. As is often the case, “tone-deaf” in this instance means distressingly true.
• Troubled in life, Norma McCorvey is having an unsettled afterlife. The Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade famously became a pro-life Catholic in her last decades. A new documentary suggests that it was all an act: McCorvey said on camera that she had no problem with anyone’s decision to abort, that pro-lifers had used her and that she had used them for money. Pro-lifers who knew McCorvey said, however, that she expressed opposition to abortion right to the end. Our conclusions: We cannot treat McCorvey as a reliable narrator, even of her own views; and the pro-life movement is rooted in the sound conviction that unborn children have a right to life, regardless of what anyone thinks about them.
• “Yeah, he is kind of a miserable guy,” Wally says to his little brother Beaver, who has just declared his hatred for Eddie Haskell. “You know, I wouldn’t like him at all if he wasn’t my best friend.” The scriptwriters wrote Wally’s oleaginous pal into an early episode of Leave It to Beaver and hired child actor Ken Osmond for the part. He clicked and was invited back. For seven golden years in the late 1950s and early ’60s, Eddie Haskell slinked across the TV screens of America, chewing gum, picking on Beaver, planning mischief, evading the consequences (while Wally landed in trouble), and then toadying to their parents, with a knowing smirk that the elders never quite caught on to, though you the viewer did: “That’s a lovely dress you’re wearing, Mrs. Cleaver.” Osmond portrayed the character too well not to be typecast after the show ended. His acting career narrowed. In 1970, newly married, he joined the Los Angeles Police Department. He did a little TV again in the 1980s, but it was never the same. “I’m not complaining,” he said in 2008. “Eddie’s been too good to me.” Dead at 76. R.I.P.
• The ink on his diploma from Southern Methodist University was still moist when Sam Johnson flew to Korea. There he served as a U.S. Air Force pilot on 62 combat missions. In 1966, on his 25th mission in Vietnam, he was shot down and captured. His arm and back were broken. For more than six years he was repeatedly tortured as a prisoner of war at the Hanoi Hilton, where he shared a cell with John McCain. Johnson called the homecoming parade for him in Plano, Texas, “one of my most treasured memories, encapsulating all that I love about America.” He entered politics and was in his fourth term in the Texas legislature when he won a special election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1991. In his 28-year career in Congress, he fought for tax reform and against pork-barrel spending. He belonged to the Republican Study Committee and helped found its precursor, established to make House Republicans a force for conservatism. In 2015, he defended McCain against Donald Trump’s disparagement of the senator and war hero. “We seldom agreed on anything,” said Representative Lloyd Doggett, a liberal Democrat, remembering Johnson. “I had immense respect for him.” Sam Johnson, patriot, dead at 89. R.I.P.
• Richard Gilder was a billionaire benefactor of conservative politics, New York City, and American history. He was a founder of the Club for Growth, which has backed pro-free-market candidates for decades, and of the Manhattan Institute, which inspired the reformist urbanism of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. His beloved hometown wears his largesse in the restored beauty of Central Park, the revitalization of the New-York Historical Society, and major-league donations to the Museum of Natural History. Most important for the country was his devotion to its past. The Gilder Lehrman Institute, founded with his friend Lewis Lehrman, has amassed a world-class collection of documents, and provides instruction in the form of seminars and teaching materials to tens of thousands of middle- and high-school teachers and students. Young people who know better than Howard Zinn probably know it thanks to Dick Gilder. Dead at 87. R.I.P.
First, Restore Order
Doing evil in the service of a just cause does not change either side of the moral equation: Evil remains evil, and the just cause remains just — neither consideration cancels out the other or transmutes it. When riots and violence convulsed American cities after the horrifying death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, that principle bore particular consideration.
Protests are a normal and healthy part of democracy. Looting and arson are not. What is particularly vexing here is that the looting and arson have taken place while the gears of justice have been turning — the police officers in question were dismissed and the principal malefactor charged with third-degree murder. Things have not moved as quickly as many would have liked, but this has been a matter of days, not weeks or months, and it is good that matters of this gravity are not approached in a panic with excessive haste, which is more likely to lead to injustice than to swift justice. Also, quite often snippets of video can be misleading, which is why it’s important to carefully review all the facts, even in a case that seems as clear-cut as this one.
The riots have only layered another injustice on top of the one done to George Floyd. Police officers have been killed or assaulted, looters and protesters killed or injured, and much property destroyed — including the property of many black-owned businesses at the heart of the very communities whose interests the protesters purport to represent.
The moment has called for calm and leadership, but President Trump, finding himself in possession of both rhetorical gasoline and a raging fire, apparently couldn’t help making things worse. Early on, he tweeted, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” a phrase associated with some of the worst figures of the 1960s, George Wallace prominent among them. Later, after brief remarks in the Rose Garden on the unrest, he walked across the street to historic St. John’s Church. He understandably wanted to show the flag after the church had been set on fire the night before. But protesters had to be cleared out of his way, in a petty and foolish use of government authority, and he didn’t make any remarks or meaningful gestures at the church, merely waving around a Bible.
Trump has talked of “dominating” the streets, an inflammatory way to put a basic and important point: In such a situation, restoring order has to be the first priority.
The dynamic of riots is always that if the police don’t show up, if they hold back, or worse, if they retreat, the disorder gets more intense and destructive. Violence must be met with overwhelming (and, obviously, lawful) force. Authorities in Minnesota finally figured this out after a couple of nights of letting things spin out of control and implausibly blaming outside agitators for the mayhem. As Minneapolis calmed down, parts of New York City were sacked by marauding bands, in a disgraceful failure of municipal governance.
It’s certainly true that Antifa extremists have taken a hand in the destruction around the country (and sometimes been rebuked by black protesters opposed to their tactics), but there are plenty of others who have been breaking things and looting who clearly are local residents and not members of any ideological splinter groups. Regardless of the argument over who is most responsible for the riots, state and municipal authorities must resolve to keep the peace, with the assistance of the National Guard as warranted.
Trump has talked of invoking the Insurrection Act to call out federal troops, something that he has the authority to do in theory, but would be impractical without the cooperation of state and local officials that he’s unlikely to get.
As for the matter underlying all the protest and chaos: Police work involves violence, and there is no getting around that. Americans have for a long time understood this and made allowances for it, which is why a questionable police shooting is investigated differently from a questionable shooting that doesn’t involve the police. But it is worth exploring the protections bad cops get from union rules, and the level of deference that prosecutors afford the police in questionable cases, among other things. It’s not true that the police are a racist, occupying force in American cities (last year, according to a Washington Post database, nine unarmed black people were shot and killed by the police and 19 unarmed white people), but we have to be cognizant of the fact that they have lost the confidence of many of the communities they serve.
At the heart of the protests is the sense that the necessity of such reform is felt with an urgency in black America while white America thinks of it as a kind of desirable abstraction. But the burning and stealing will not only leave vulnerable communities worse off in material terms — they will leave these communities worse off in political terms, too, as well-intentioned Americans understandably recoil from the violence and disorder. Protests can be heard, but violence can only be suppressed.
It is notable that the police action leading to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has not in itself produced a polarizing national disagreement: In fact, there has been broad agreement — broadly shared horror — across the political spectrum, because Americans are a generally decent and fair-minded people who are perfectly capable of understanding what they see with their own eyes, in this case a fellow American who died an unjust death at the hands of American police. We see the injustice in this just as we see the injustice of a small-business owner being ruined by directionless malice and opportunism, because we understand ourselves as a single people and a single national community, an understanding that strengthens the cause of justice. American political rhetoric can be pretty high-flown at times, but here we might dwell on the imperfectly realized principle that we are all in this together, and must act like it.
There Is No Fix for Trump’s Bad Tweets
Whether social media have been good or bad for society is an open question. Whether social media have been good or bad for President Trump isn’t as difficult to discern. For even the most sober-minded and introspective figures, Twitter can serve as a dangerous temptation. For a man as capricious and mercurial as our 45th president, it is an irresistible invitation to say things unworthy of his office. It is said that President Lincoln would place letters written in anger in a locked drawer so that he could decide the next morning whether the opprobrium he had meted out was deserved. President Trump, by unhappy contrast, does not so much as wait to spell-check his missives. This habit has now hit its nadir, with his ongoing series of disgraceful tweets insinuating that MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough murdered a young woman working in one of his Florida offices when he was a congressman two decades ago.
As is often the case with this president, Trump’s follies have ignited a series of counter-follies that have made the situation even worse. In an attempt to mollify its critics without setting a precedent for expulsion that it may come eventually to regret, Twitter announced that it would begin to publicly “fact-check” statements that Trump has made on other topics, and thereby take on a role to which it is in no way suited. In response, Trump rolled out another of his “l’Internet, c’est moi” threats, promising to “strongly regulate” or “close down” any “Social Media Platforms” that “silence conservatives voices.” Which, in turn, prompted Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) to ask why Twitter enjoys a “special subsidy from the federal government while it censors @realDonaldTrump and also Americans who are critical of #ChineseCommunistParty?”
Not one of these courses of action is desirable. Twitter is a medium, not a message, and it should decline to inject itself into the middle of America’s political debates. President Trump cannot “close down” social media, and he should not idly threaten to do so. And, pace Senator Hawley, user-driven websites are not being “subsidized” by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects the “provider or user of an interactive computer service” from being treated as the “publisher” of opinions whether or not he has reviewed them. It is Section 230, by way of example, that prevents Joe Scarborough from being able to sue Twitter when one of its members engages in a libel. Section 230 has been maligned lately, but we have yet to see any proposal that would be likely to improve it. Trump’s hastily issued executive order attempting to reinterpret Section 230 is likely to prove toothless and may be unconstitutional.
Time was when the obvious response to reprehensible behavior was admonition. The root cause of the mess we are witnessing today is not Twitter’s bias or legislative favoritism, and it is most certainly not that the president lacks the power to suspend the First Amendment. Rather, it is that the president lacks the power to control his own urges. What needs changing is the behavior of the man who sits at the heart of all of our national conversations, both good and ill.
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