Magazine August 10, 2020, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

• The only police the Democrats want to fund these days is the thought police.

• Well behind in the polls, President Trump has decided on two lines of attack against Joe Biden: He’s cognitively impaired, and he would be a tool of the Left as president. Voters don’t need Republicans to tell them about Biden’s capabilities, which they can judge with their own eyes and ears. But Biden and the press will not be highlighting his drift to the left, or his party’s, even as that party has a strong chance to take complete control of Washington, D.C. Biden has always been carried along by his party’s currents. Republicans ought to explain that on everything from taxes to crime to religious liberty, those currents are headed for the rocks.

• Which does President Trump care more about, controlling immigration or getting revenge for imagined slights? If the first answer were right, he would have backed Jeff Sessions’s campaign to take back his old Senate seat in Alabama. Sessions was for many years the leading immigration skeptic in Congress, which is part of why he was the first senator to endorse Trump in 2016. But as Trump’s attorney general, Sessions followed the advice of the Justice Department’s ethics lawyers and recused himself from the Russia investigation. Trump treated it as a betrayal, and has never forgiven it. Many of Trump’s early supporters, on the other hand, backed Sessions based on the issues. Trump’s influence over Republican voters led to a landslide defeat of Sessions by former football coach Tommy Tuberville, who shows signs of being on the other side of the immigration issue from Sessions — and, to the extent the president has a fixed position on it, from Trump. For this president, grievances outrank any policy objectives.

• Asked by Chris Wallace of Fox whether he would accept the results of the upcoming election, Trump hedged. “I have to see. . . . I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no.” He also speculated that mail-in ballots might rig it. Paul Krugman, New York Times columnist, was even more alarmed on Twitter. “At this point, it will be almost impossible for Trump to win reelection legitimately. It’s quite possible, however, that he will try to steal the election.” How? “Broken voting machines in D-leaning precincts? Mysterious and selective rejection of millions of absentee ballots? . . . Don’t say they wouldn’t; clearly they will if they can.” Given human nature, fraud and attempted fraud are as old as free elections. But Trump and Krugman are not champions of fairness. They are partisans, giving their own sides excuses for defeat and imputing the basest motives to their opponents. By doing so they poison the atmosphere of democracy and encourage the very misbehavior they fear.

• The George Floyd protests have frequently cast police as villains, meting out violence to the people they serve. If that is true, then reining them in and, in the long run, reducing their numbers should bring peace. But as police have hung back or been overwhelmed, what we have actually seen is a surge in shootings. Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, has seen calls about gun-shots double over last year. Atlanta saw twice as many shootings this June as it did in 2019 (93 vs. 46), twice as many of them deadly (14 vs. 6). New York City (“Shootings Have Soared,” ran a recent headline in the New York Times) saw two particularly grotesque crimes: Davell Gardner Jr., age 1, was killed as he sat in a stroller at a Brooklyn cookout that was sprayed with bullets; Shatavia Walls, 33, was shot and killed by a man whom she asked to stop shooting off illegal fireworks. Walls had evidently followed the advice of Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams, who had advised his constituents to “talk to the young people . . . who are using fireworks” rather than call 911. The victims of this upsurge in mayhem are overwhelmingly B. Their Ls, evidently, do not M.

• To believe the Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, the Gestapo has descended on Portland, Ore. Federal officers have been arresting rioters who have attacked the federal courthouse repeatedly in recent weeks. The officers, largely from DHS, haven’t been wearing name badges and have been operating in unmarked vehicles. Both of these tactics are legal. DHS says that it wants to protect the officers from getting doxxed — i.e., having their addresses published as a way to threaten them and their families — and that it worries about marked vehicles’ getting swarmed by anarchists. The uniforms are clearly designated “police,” with the insignia of the specific agency and a unique identifier. The officers are arresting only those suspected of crimes involving federal property and, according to DHS, identify themselves to the suspects. Reasonable people can say there should be more transparency; they can’t call these officers, who are operating with clear statutory authority, “stormtroopers.”

• Lewis Van Derweker; Edwin Ham; Job Safford; David Caw . . . These were some of the men of the New York 77th Regiment, mustered in November 1861, mustered out June 1865. They came from Westport, Ballston, Saratoga, Wilton, Charlton, Seville, and Gloversville. They fought at Antietam, Chancellorsville, and the Wilderness, among other engagements. Over the course of the war, 108 of them died in battle, 176 from disease. This month a cast-iron and -zinc statue in Saratoga Springs memorializing the men of the 77th was torn down and shattered. Ignorant BLM vandals? Random actors, getting into the swing of things? It is the age of iconoclasm. Nice work, morons.

• If the Democrats have their way, President Trump says, they “will totally destroy the beautiful suburbs.” He is referring to Obama-era regulations designed to make suburbs relax zoning restrictions, build more low-income housing, and become more racially integrated. Trump has therefore been accused of exploiting racism for votes. But there are genuinely complex issues here. Housing in the U.S. is much too regulated, especially in some — mainly affluent and liberal — parts of the country. But zoning has historically been a matter for local governments, and Obama’s regulatory program went far beyond the fair-housing law it purported to implement. Total destruction may be characteristically hyperbolic, but nothing good is likely to come of federal management of suburbia.

• Negotiations over another round of coronavirus relief are currently hung up over partisan demands that bear little relation to the economy’s needs. President Trump is seeking cuts in payroll taxes, which would not help those who are unemployed or businesses that are seeing fewer customers, but would cause a major reduction in federal revenues. Senator Chuck Schumer wants all state and local taxes to be deductible, abolishing the $10,000 cap Republicans imposed in 2017. Tax relief for affluent households in blue states, whatever else may be said of it, should not be a priority right now. What should be: carefully limited aid to states and localities, so that they do not raise taxes or make layoffs in the middle of the crisis; adjustments to unemployment compensation, so that beneficiaries have a reason to go back to work when the recovery starts in earnest; continued aid to keep viable small businesses afloat until normal economic life resumes; and liability protections for businesses that follow safety guidelines. We’ll know Congress is getting down to business when we stop hearing about Trump’s and Schumer’s pet ideas.

• Somehow, our media have decided to play along with New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s bizarre quest to reinvent himself as the hero of the fight against COVID-19. The chutzpah is staggering. More than 32,000 New Yorkers have died from the coronavirus — over twice as many as in any other state. Brooklyn and Queens each lost more people than the entire state of Florida. On a per capita basis, New York’s COVID-19 death rate has been a third higher than that of any nation on earth, nearly triple that of Italy, and higher than that of any state besides neighboring New Jersey. It is one thing for Cuomo to offer excuses for being unprepared and complacent early in the outbreak. Like the president and every governor, he faced a crisis not of his own making, with inadequate information. He could not control his borders and had to share power not only with the White House but also with the reckless and inept Mayor de Blasio. But in common with New Jersey governor Phil Murphy, Cuomo ordered nursing homes to take back patients who tested positive for the virus, unleashing a catastrophic toll of lives lost. Other governors, notably Ron DeSantis in Florida, made the opposite call and saved scores of lives among their most vulnerable citizens. This was the costliest and most preventable error made by anyone in American government in 2020. Cuomo’s claim for success is that the state’s infection, hospitalization, and death rates have come down. This is rather like if New Orleans had celebrated the waters’ receding after Katrina. He has been composed on television and critical of President Trump, and for some, that is enough. The dead might tell us otherwise.

• Some 100 foreign nationals work at the Voice of America, a crucial part of the operation. They translate reports into their native languages, and they gather news in those languages. (The VOA broadcasts in almost 50 tongues.) According to recent stories in the press, new management will not renew the visas of those foreign employees. This would be a self-inflicted blow to the VOA. Worse, it could expose these men and women to persecution in their native countries — some of whose governments are none too pleased with the work these people have done for us. We hope that consideration of visas will be done with utmost sobriety.

• Retroactively applying its newly devised “hateful conduct policy,” Reddit, a forum-based social-media platform with millions of users, banned over 2,000 online communities. These included a J. K. Rowling fan club (the Harry Potter author is “transphobic,” apparently) as well as a forum expressing “gender critical” views. The latter, which had nearly 65,000 members, was a place of civil discussion. Twitter also engages in such censorship. Last month, the Irish comedy writer Graham Linehan was booted off the platform after writing “Men aren’t women tho.” When it comes to social-media censorship, it turns out truth is no defense.

• Robert Unanue, president of the privately held and massively successful Hispanic-food company Goya Foods, was found guilty of saying something polite about President Trump at a White House event. Unanue was one of many Hispanic businessowners invited to the White House for the occasion. With the president standing nearby, he said that “we’re all truly blessed at the same time to have a leader like President Trump, who is a builder” before speaking about his own father, who helped to build Goya into what it is today. Our reflexive partisans quickly drew the battle lines: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Julián Castro were now anti-Goya, supporting a boycott; Donald Trump and Ivanka Trump were now pro-Goya, endorsing a “buycott.” A food brand found in countless grocery stores and kitchens suddenly became another object in the culture war. Unanue promised to donate two million pounds of food to food banks nationwide, and an enterprising Virginia resident, Casey Harper, has raised $315,000 as part of a charity-driven GoFundMe campaign in support of Goya. He will now use the money to purchase Goya products and send them to food banks. Everyone is now likely to move on from this silliness, but there will be a fresh outrage soon enough.

• San Francisco Museum of Modern Art curator Gary Garrels resigned after his employees launched a massive petition to remove him from his post, citing his alleged “white supremacist” beliefs. Was Mr. Garrels known to casually throw around racial slurs or wear a white hood? Far from it — his sole offense was asserting that some works by white artists would continue to be collected even as his museum strove to diversify its holdings. Those offended apparently believe that no works by white artists should be collected, or that, while collecting them is acceptable, to make mention of them is a supremacist act. Neither possibility is reassuring. As for Garrels, he could hardly have had a more leftist identification than “San Francisco modern-art curator”; nevertheless, it appears that no amount of blood on the doorpost is sufficient to save one from the passing plague of cancel culture.

• Resolving two cases concerning President Trump’s personal financial information, the Supreme Court gave Trump a good day and the presidency a bad one. Though the contexts were different — one case involving a Democratic state prosecutor conducting a grand-jury investigation, the other Democrat-controlled House committees conducting oversight hearings — the justices recognized that the common thread was politics: The opposition party remains apoplectic that Trump reneged on a 2016 campaign promise to disclose tax returns, and the president continues to resist disclosure less than four months from Election Day. The twin 7–2 decisions, both penned by Chief Justice John Roberts, are a political win for the president because the Court sketched a path by which he can tie up the proceedings in the lower courts, ensuring that his private papers will stay under wraps during the campaign. The presidency suffers legally, though: In the future, presidents must be prepared to accommodate politically motivated district attorneys (of which there are hundreds) and to be hauled into court by Congress for myriad, exhaustive document-production demands.

• President Trump commuted the sentence of Roger Stone. It was a move fully within the president’s powers and in keeping with the long-established pattern of presidents’ pardoning or commuting the sentences of associates caught up in special-counsel probes, although usually the associates aren’t as sleazy as Stone. His indictment and subsequent trial definitively established that he had no inside knowledge of Russian hacking or WikiLeaks’s role in disseminating stolen DNC emails; instead, he tried to parlay media gossip and what he heard from an intermediary into a sense that he knew more than he did. There is no doubt, though, that he was guilty of perjury and a laughably ham-handed attempt at witness tampering. The act of clemency is made worse by the fact that Stone repeatedly argued that he was owed it for his loyalty to the president. The commutation is another indication of Trump’s perverse, highly personalized view of the criminal-justice system — and another reminder of the loathsome characters he’s surrounded himself with his entire adult life.

• Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a draft report by the Commission on Unalienable Rights, a recent creation of his State Department. When Pompeo established the commission last July, human-rights-advocacy organizations caterwauled that talk of “unalienable rights” — including property rights and religious liberty — would come at the expense of gender equality, LGBT inclusion, and abortion rights, while others accused him of “politicizing” human rights to advance a fundamentalist or nationalistic agenda. The actual report shows that the alarm was spurious. It notes both the good that some international institutions have done and the possibility for overreach, balancing concerns of national sovereignty against universal claims to human freedom and dignity. That “human rights” groups are attacking America’s founding principles as exclusionary is a sign that their cause deserves better champions. The U.S. is equipped to be one.

• The U.S. government is looking at banning the popular video social-media app TikTok, Pompeo told reporters. The app, which is owned by Chinese parent company ByteDance, has come under scrutiny for concerns that it is beholden to Chinese-government requests for user data. For now, we are expected to believe that TikTok won’t sell out its predominantly Gen Z members to Beijing based solely on the company’s own guarantees. In the past, it has been accused of censoring material that is politically inconvenient for Beijing. It gets worse: ByteDance has a history of cooperating with the Chinese Communist Party by, among other things, covering up Beijing’s Uighur slavery labor scheme on Douyin, the company’s Chinese product. TikTok claims independence from Douyin, but this is hardly reassuring. If TikTok doesn’t separate from ByteDance, the Trump administration should bring all its emergency economic powers to bear on the app.

• As an autonomous region of China, Hong Kong managed to become a global hub of trade and finance under the “one country, two systems” policy. Hong Kong’s liberal legal system and open economy gave Westerners assurance that they could do business in the region without fear of arbitrary and capricious treatment. Now that the CCP has tightened its grip through a new national-security law, the conditions that allowed Hong Kong to flourish are no longer in place. The White House has responded by revoking the region’s special trading status, subjecting Hong Kong to the same tariffs and financial restrictions as the mainland. The move will hurt some U.S. businesses and increase prices for American consumers, but Beijing’s aggression leaves Washington no choice.

• Images, more than words, can wake the world from its slumber. Some drone footage from China caught the attention of a great many people. It shows Uighur prisoners on a train platform: kneeling, shackled, blindfolded, with shaven heads. Then they are herded onto cars, to be deported to a camp or camps. Never again happens again, repeatedly. Governments ought to consider the plight of the Uighurs in their dealings with the Chinese government. And the idea that any decent country could participate in the Beijing Winter Games in 2022 is obnoxious.

• U.S. troops have been in South Korea since the 1950s, as successive American presidents have found this deployment in the U.S. interest. Our troops serve as a check on North Korea. They are also a useful reminder to China. They bolster and reassure our allies. With the U.S. at their side, they don’t have to cut ruinous deals with their enemies. The more “forward” we deploy, the more deterrence we have. Better to check aggressors or potential aggressors where they live than where we live. All of this is elementary, of course — but the elementary bears repeating. President Trump is now considering a drawdown of our troops in South Korea. He is not doing so for any strategic reason. He is doing so because he doesn’t think that Seoul pays enough for our presence there. “Host” countries, obviously, should contribute to the common effort: in soldiers and in money. But we are on the Korean Peninsula and elsewhere for our own good, as well as others’, and shooting ourselves in the foot would also be expensive.

• One advantage of Brexit was said to be that, when it came to foreign policy, it would increase Britain’s ability to steer its own path. That path, however, seemed to lead to Beijing. Within months of becoming prime minister, Boris Johnson signaled that his government was prepared to give Huawei access to “non-contentious” parts of the build-out of the U.K.’s 5G network, a notion as absurd as giving a fox access to the “non-contentious” parts of a henhouse. Washington was unimpressed, and there were fears that this move could jeopardize one of the U.K.’s most valuable strategic assets — its participation in the “Five Eyes” security-sharing alliance. In a compromise that satisfied few of his critics, Johnson agreed that Huawei could have a role in the build-out, but that it should be capped at 35 percent. But Johnson has now reversed course. Citing security concerns, the U.K. is banning the purchase of any new Huawei 5G equipment after year-end. Anything that has already been installed must be removed by — no hurry, no hurry at all — 2027. There are times when a U-turn can be a turn in the right direction. This is one of them.

• The old Paris of the Middle East has become the region’s new Venezuela. Lebanon, once known for its splendor, stability, and cosmopolitan atmosphere, has succumbed to years of corruption and economic mismanagement amid sectarian strife and regional pressure. Residents are complaining of food shortages and lack of electricity on top of a sweeping rise in unemployment. The Lebanese lira has plummeted in value, and the poverty rate nears 50 percent. The mismanaged economy is largely reliant on imports and foreign wealth. The Lebanese people have taken to the streets, joining across sectarian lines to protest deplorable economic conditions and demand a new government. Many protesters have called for the downfall of terrorist group Hezbollah, Iran’s favorite proxy and a major political force in Lebanon’s system. Drain the swamp, as they say.

• When Emna Chargui, a 27-year-old Tunisian woman, shared a light-hearted Facebook post about the coronavirus, she certainly did not expect to face criminal charges. After months of lockdown, and as Tunisia faced a period of economic uncertainty, her joke was meant to bring a brief moment of laughter to her friends and family. The “Sourate Corona” mimicked the style of Koranic verses to deliver a simple “wash your hands” message. But what began as a benign joke may well become a tragedy for freedom of expression in Tunisia: Chargui was found guilty of “inciting hatred between religions” and sentenced to six months in jail and a $700 fine for the post. Ever since, hundreds of Tunisians have expressed their outrage about the verdict. Since the fall of the autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, Tunisia has been praised for its successful democratic transition. But even there, freedom of speech is far from assured.

• Istanbul was still Constantinople in 537 when the emperor Justinian the Great built the cathedral there known by its Greek name as “Hagia Sophia,” sometimes Latinized as “Sancta Sophia.” For nearly a thousand years, the cathedral was to Eastern Christianity what the Vatican was to Western Christianity. In the same week in 1453 that Ottoman forces captured the city, their sultan, Mehmed the Conqueror, turned the cathedral into a mosque. Five hundred years later still, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of post-Ottoman Turkey, remodeled the building into a museum and tourist site. For some time, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, today’s president of Turkey, has evidently been trying to return to the old Ottoman days of power and glory. Turkish troops are in action in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. Turkey everywhere supports branches of the Muslim Brotherhood and plays cat-and-mouse with the United States. Like Mehmed the Conqueror, Erdogan has decreed that once again Hagia Sophia is to become a mosque, and he will lead the first prayers in it. In a sermon, Pope Francis says, “My thoughts go to Istanbul. I think of Sancta Sophia and I am very pained.” Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish writer with an international reputation, opposes this revival of Islamism: “There are millions of secular Turks like me who are crying out against this but their voices are not heard.”

• In Poland, President Andrjez Duda won reelection in July, defeating Rafal Trzaskowski, the liberal mayor of Warsaw, 51 to 49 percent. It was Poland’s closest presidential election since the end of Communist rule in 1989. To rouse his base of social conservatives, Duda, representing the Law and Justice Party (PiS), increased his stress on culture-war issues as the race tightened. “Will Trzaskowski meet Jewish demands?” read a headline on the website of the state TV channel, alluding to the question of property restitution for Holocaust survivors and their descendants. Every other member state of the European Union has passed such legislation. Duda opposed it. “Damages should be paid by the one that started the war,” he said, bundling anti-Semitism and Germanophobia, appealing to Poland’s worse angels. “I will never sign a law that will privilege any ethnic group vis-à-vis others.” The election exposed the depth of Poland’s divisions along geographic and demographic lines. Although PiS still prevails in the east and among rural and older voters, time is not on its side. Polish conservatives who hope to win over the rising generation need a better message and better messengers. They may need a better party.

• The Catholic Church has indicated its support for a proper Christian burial of hundreds of babies and toddlers in unmarked graves at the Church-run Tuam Mother and Baby Home in Ireland. The home had been the property of the Sisters of Bon Secours order of Catholic nuns for 36 years during the middle of the last century and was used during that time to house the children of unwed mothers, allegedly until they could be adopted or sent to industrial schools. In reality, the children were neither guarded nor cared for by the nuns, but chronically and systematically mistreated. An official report from 1947 observed that nearly half of the children were “emaciated” and that “the death rate amongst infants [was] high.” Excavations at the site of the home in 2017 uncovered significant amounts of human remains near a defunct sewage tank, and DNA tests confirmed the ages of the dead children to range from 35 weeks’ gestation to three years of age. Most of the children were buried in the 1950s. Despite its support for proper burials, the Church has not offered to foot the bill for reinterment, although the Sisters of Bon Secours themselves have offered to contribute 2.5 million euros towards the estimated cost of 6 to 13 million. The home in question was closed, and the suffering of the little ones brought to an end, in 1961, but a survivors’ network exists to this day for those who narrowly escaped being drafted into the ranks of the premature dead.

• When the NBA announced in July that players could choose to wear league-approved social-justice slogans on the back of their jerseys in place of their names, intrepid Web sleuths quickly noticed that the NBA’s customizable-jersey shop barred fans from choosing one message in particular: Free Hong Kong. Attempting to customize a jersey with that phrase would yield an error message, “We are unable to customize this item with the text you have entered. Please try a different entry.” After first claiming the issue was a technical error of some sort, the league shut down the customizable-jersey feature altogether, allegedly owing to efforts to “include violent, abusive and hateful messages on personalized NBA jerseys.” Sure. If the NBA had not already cowed Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey into recanting a tweet that opposed Beijing’s anti-democratic crackdown in the formerly free city of Hong Kong, perhaps the league would have more credibility.

• In a piece for The Hollywood Reporter, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the great basketball center, stood very tall. His piece was headlined “Where Is the Outrage over Anti-Semitism in Sports and Hollywood?” Abdul-Jabbar named names, rebuking various athletes and pop stars for their anti-Semitic statements. He deplored the spread of conspiracy theories (concerning the Rothschilds, for example). More broadly, he rebuked the public, for its relative indifference to this stuff. Anti-black or anti-gay statements are pounced on, by one and all. But anti-Semitic statements? Abdul-Jabbar quoted Martin Luther King, to wit, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” It was a stand-up piece, made all the more gratifying by this fact: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one of the most prominent black Muslims in the United States. Louis Farrakhan does not tell the whole story.

• Events, great and trivial, spin away the instant they happen; the men and women who enacted or witnessed them last longer, but in time go too. Representative John Lewis (D., Ga.), who died of pancreatic cancer at age 80, was the last surviving speaker of the 1963 March on Washington. The clips of him speaking that day, and the photos and clips of him marching in protests throughout the segregated South, show a young man, determined, pugnacious, eager to fight, but fighting only with the nonviolent weapons he had chosen. Lewis was beaten 40 times by cops, state troopers, or hostile mobs; he spent 31 days in Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Farm prison. He was the first chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, a post he was ousted from by Stokely Carmichael, who was eager to use other weapons. After his years of activism, he entered politics, contesting a primary in 1986 for a congressional seat against another young black leader, the polished Julian Bond. Lewis told primary voters they should pick a work horse, not a show horse. He beat Bond narrowly, then won and held his Atlanta seat ever since. And his congressional career was . . . indistinguishable from that of any other left-wing black Democrat. He voted against wars, and for programs that often distressingly failed to deliver their idealistic promises. In 2010 he was one of three congressmen who claimed that Tea Party members screamed racial epithets and spat at them as they walked from Capitol Hill. The charge of spitting was withdrawn, and no tape was ever produced that captured the epithets. Yet in that aged form, encrusted by partisanship and reverence, that brave young man could still be discerned. His fellow Georgia congressman Newt Gingrich was wont to remind conservative, white audiences that Lewis bore literal scars from the fight for civil rights — rights that were promised in the post–Civil War amendments, but took a century, and the efforts of the brave, to make real. R.I.P.

• Joanna Cole, creator of the beloved and slightly crazy teacher Ms. Frizzle, passed away on July 12 in Sioux City, Iowa. Cole is now known the world over for her distinctive authorial style, but she started her career as an elementary-school teacher. It was while working for Newsweek that she decided to start writing her own stories, the first of which was about cockroaches. Though she wrote more than 250 books, Cole is best known for the delightful Magic School Bus series, thanks to its cast of quirky characters and well-researched information. Her love of science deeply influenced these stories, and Bruce Degan’s detailed illustrations brought them to life. They enjoyed a popular TV spin-off in the ’90s, which helped phrases such as “Seatbelts, everyone!” “To the bus!” and “WAHOOOO” find their place in the cultural fabric of America. But let’s not forget Ms. Frizzle’s best phrase: “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!” R.I.P.

• “As clowns yearn to play Hamlet, so I have wanted to write a treatise on God,” J. I. Packer remarked in the preface to the most famous of his more than 50 books. Articles that he had written for a small Evangelical magazine pitched to the general reader, his favorite kind, were collected to form Knowing God (1973), for which he had no great expectations. It’s still in print, having sold more than 1.5 million copies. A low-church Anglican with an affinity for Calvinist theology and bold Evangelical biblicism, he admired the Puritans and helped to rehabilitate their reputation. His classics background and his Ph.D. in theology from Oxford qualified him to look down on the world from an ivory tower, but he wasn’t interested. He turned down few invitations to write or speak, no matter how humble the venue, or to lead a local study group in Christian theology. A theologizer, not a theologian, his biographer called him. Packer found the designation clarifying: His calling, he perceived, was to explain doctrine to ordinary Christians. He taught at Regent College in Vancouver from 1979 until his retirement 17 years later. “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Dead at 93. R.I.P.

CULTURE WATCH
Opening the Liberal Mind

Over the last month, cancel culture got some pushback in unexpected places.

The October issue of Harper’s Magazine carried a letter signed by publisher John R. MacArthur and dozens of writers, academics, and artists. “The free exchange of information and ideas,” it said, “is daily becoming more constricted. . . . It is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms.”

Shortly after that letter appeared, Bari Weiss posted a letter of resignation from the New York Times, where she worked as an opinion editor for three years. Her complaint: “A new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at this paper: that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.” And on the heels of that, Andrew Sullivan, who has been a columnist for New York magazine for three years, discussed why he had just been fired: His former colleagues “seem to believe, and this is increasingly the orthodoxy in mainstream media, that any writer not actively committed to critical theory in questions of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity is actively, physically harming co-workers merely by existing in the same virtual space.”

These are not, to put it mildly, stalwarts of National Review. Nearly every signer of the Harper’s letter is on the left or very far left (e.g., Noam Chomsky). Weiss firmly supports Israel, which qualifies as a right-wing position these days, but her other views are a mix. Sullivan is a man of unpredictable enthusiasms: He loved George W. Bush and the Iraq War, until he didn’t. One love never wavered: his two decades’ campaign for gay marriage. All of them, however, have noticed the noxious state of the culture. Weiss writes that Twitter, with its thought-bites and mob rages, has become the Times’ “ultimate editor.” Sullivan notes, “We all live on campus now.”

The norms of social media and the academy, long given over to what Orwell called “smelly little orthodoxies,” set the tone for artistic and intellectual institutions and, increasingly, American business and social life. Some of this reflects shock waves from the killing of George Floyd. But the entrenchment of radical visions and anti-intellectual habits has been going on for years. Congratulations to those liberals and leftists who see it, deplore it, and yearn for something better.

COVID
Shaky Leadership Against Coronavirus

It’s hard to remember a more damaging Sunday-morning interview than Chris Wallace’s recent sit-down with President Trump.

Wallace, the host of Fox News Sunday, is always tough and well prepared, but it wasn’t his insistent questioning that tripped up Trump. It was the president himself.

His responses on COVID in particular were characteristic of his posture through much of the crisis. He blamed testing for the recent increase in cases — partly true, but positivity rates have soared in the states with major spikes in cases. He claimed, falsely, that other countries don’t do tests. He complained that no one talks about Mexico and Brazil, which aren’t really material to what’s happening in, say, Florida. He argued over our mortality rate, not quite accurately. And so on.

The overall sense was of the president trying to litigate his way out of admitting any U.S. failures or the seriousness of the crisis (although he did at one point say, in the midst of all the fog, “I take responsibility always for everything”).

Given that the virus had reached our shores and begun spreading in communities earlier than first thought, and given the understandable hesitation of authorities around the country to take the extreme step of locking down, it was inevitable that we would get hit hard, like many other advanced Western countries. After initial stumbles on testing, the administration’s substantive response has often been adept and energetic; any fair-minded observer should admire, for example, Admiral Brett Giroir’s work supporting the testing supply chain.

The administration is often criticized for not nationalizing the overall response, but this would have required more in-depth knowledge of on-the-ground conditions in various localities than the federal government is ever going to have. As for pushing for reopening, the president was right to want to do it — lockdowns are a blunt instrument and have considerable downsides — but the way he went about expressing that view contributed to the unsteadiness of his leadership.

He clearly believed — understandably enough, given the trajectory at the time and the prospect of warmer weather — that we were past the worst of the pandemic, and it was time to focus on other things. And he hasn’t changed his view now, even as the facts have changed. The outbreaks in the Sunbelt and the South may well never produce the kind of death rates we saw in the spring in the Northeast, but they are alarming and have rightly led to the reversal of parts of reopening.

The president should have realized by now that he can’t look past or talk his way around the virus, and as long as it is spreading in a significant way, his (hugely important) priorities of jump-starting the economy and seeing schools reopen around the country are going to falter.

The administration needs to reengage on the testing effort. Even though the number of daily tests has radically increased from all but nothing to roughly 750,000 a day, results can take days to get back, a delay that renders them of limited utility. It should support even more spending on testing and tracing in the next stimulus bill. The president should reinforce the administration’s official message on the importance of masks by routinely wearing one in settings where it’s called for. And the administration should obviously continue its excellent work supporting vaccine research and development, since an effective vaccine could be the king’s cure for this crisis.

Yet none of this will have much of a political impact in the short term unless the president can bring himself to express seriousness of purpose regarding the virus (his briefing a couple of days after the Wallace interview was a step in this direction). There was a time when he spoke of being on a war footing against COVID. That feels like a long time ago. Today, given how he’s conducted himself, much of the public isn’t looking to him for wartime leadership, or even interested in being in a foxhole with him.

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In This Issue

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World

A Shattered City

On the menu today: Unraveling the mystery behind yesterday’s devastating, jaw-dropping explosion in Beirut; reports suggest that Joe Biden’s vice presidential search isn't going well -- although one report suggests his list is down to two contenders; and yesterday’s primary leaves one less thing to worry ... Read More
World

A Shattered City

On the menu today: Unraveling the mystery behind yesterday’s devastating, jaw-dropping explosion in Beirut; reports suggest that Joe Biden’s vice presidential search isn't going well -- although one report suggests his list is down to two contenders; and yesterday’s primary leaves one less thing to worry ... Read More
Education

The Shame of the Teachers’ Unions

No other group has shown as much contempt for its own work during the coronavirus crisis as teachers. Their unions are actively fighting to keep kids out of the classroom and also to limit remote instruction, lest it require too much time and attention from people who are supposed to be wholly devoted to ... Read More
Education

The Shame of the Teachers’ Unions

No other group has shown as much contempt for its own work during the coronavirus crisis as teachers. Their unions are actively fighting to keep kids out of the classroom and also to limit remote instruction, lest it require too much time and attention from people who are supposed to be wholly devoted to ... Read More
World

Massive Explosions Devastate Beirut

A series of massive explosions detonated in Beirut on Tuesday, with footage showing a mushroom cloud and shockwave emanating from the city port. [embed]https://twitter.com/air_intel/status/1290676373485490177[/embed] It is still unclear what caused the explosions. Lebanese security forces claimed the ... Read More
World

Massive Explosions Devastate Beirut

A series of massive explosions detonated in Beirut on Tuesday, with footage showing a mushroom cloud and shockwave emanating from the city port. [embed]https://twitter.com/air_intel/status/1290676373485490177[/embed] It is still unclear what caused the explosions. Lebanese security forces claimed the ... Read More
U.S.

Our Summer of Cultural Suicide

Cultural suicide used to be a popular diagnosis of why things suddenly just quit. Historians such as Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee cited social cannibalism to explain why once-successful states, institutions, and cultures simply died off. Their common explanation was that the arrogance of success ... Read More
U.S.

Our Summer of Cultural Suicide

Cultural suicide used to be a popular diagnosis of why things suddenly just quit. Historians such as Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee cited social cannibalism to explain why once-successful states, institutions, and cultures simply died off. Their common explanation was that the arrogance of success ... Read More

What or Who Decides This Election?

We know where to watch in the next few weeks but have no real idea what we will be watching. Yet pundits, the media, and the Left seem giddy that their polls show a Trump slump, as if they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing from 2016. But in truth, the news cycle over the next three months may well favor ... Read More

What or Who Decides This Election?

We know where to watch in the next few weeks but have no real idea what we will be watching. Yet pundits, the media, and the Left seem giddy that their polls show a Trump slump, as if they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing from 2016. But in truth, the news cycle over the next three months may well favor ... Read More