Education

UNC-Greensboro Besmirches Itself with Anti-Free Speech Conference

(Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

Totalitarians always want to silence their opponents. We’re seeing that play out these days on our college campuses with speech codes, bias-incident teams, disinvitations and disruptions of talks by anyone who isn’t “progressive.” And now we have entire conferences under official imprimatur where freedom of speech is the villain.

In today’s Martin Center article, Branson Inscore of the J. W. Pope Foundation writes about a recent conference held at UNC-Greensboro. It was pretty nasty.

The keynote address was given by a professor at Chapel Hill. Inscore writes:

In particular, freedom of speech is conceptualized and found in documents as a universal human capacity and right requiring legislative and judicial protections, but this late-18th-century idealism obscures the manner in which freedom of speech is always already implicated in racism, Watts said. He identified the idea of race as a biotrope (a living, constantly developing piece of language that’s represented by different words), and free speech as instrumental in the social construction of race.

The very idea of freedom, postulated in universalist terms in the 19th century, and serving as the ontological structure for the First Amendment, doesn’t allow the black. This exclusion is not legal, nor paralegal; it is brokered by the psychic structure and pseudoscience responding to the biopower imperatives of racism.

I doubt that it ever occurs to this guy that free speech was instrumental in building the movement against slavery in the 19th century.

The conference went on the next day with panel discussions about the supposed problems of free speech and how to deal with them — invariably involving coercion.

The only voice of opposition to all of that was a student who dared to question the assumption that free speech is bad.

UNC-G should be ashamed and we should all be afraid.

Elections

‘Just Vote No’ Says the New York Post to New Yorkers

Taxis in New York City, March 2016 (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Low-turnout Election Days such as the one that is happening in New York City today are great opportunities for the political class to sneak through self-serving referenda; “Should everybody live in peace and harmony for ever and ever? Oh by the way, if you agree, we also will ensure our budgets can never be cut.”

Five questions are being asked of New Yorkers this morning. Here’s why, as a conservative, I’m voting No on all of them. (America’s newspaper explains the issues in more depth.)

Question 1: Ranked-choice voting? No thanks. Seems designed to stop any conservative from ever getting elected to anything, since we are hugely outnumbered.

Question 2: The Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates police, would be tipped in a left-wing direction by adding a member appointed by the Public Advocate. The measure would also boost its budget and new investigatory powers. Nope. The police oppose question 2 and so do I.

Question 3: Some soothing anti-lobbyist language is used to cover up the real purpose, which is to build the city’s Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise into a full-on mayoral bureaucracy. Sorry, no. Contracts should not be awarded based on merit, not skin color or sex.

Question 4: Spectacularly misleading. Should we maybe think about setting aside monies for a rainy-day fund? Sounds like a great idea! Except this measure doesn’t require it, which means it wouldn’t happen. Again, the true purpose is buried: The measure would forbid cutting the budgets of the Public Advocate and the five borough presidents. None of these offices should exist in the first place. Their budgets should be zero.

Question 5 is just a method for clogging up development by giving more power to delay projects to local community boards. No to this one too.

As the New York Post editorial board puts, it, “the rational voter is best off heeding Groucho Marx’s classic song from Horse Feathers: ‘Whatever it is, I’m against it.’”

Religion

Pacha-mama Mia! Tiber Statue-Tossing, the First Commandment, and Vatican Madness

A man holds a crucifix at the Cathedral of Santiago, Chile, May 18, 2018. (Ivan Alvarado/Reuters)

So now we know: Young Alexander Tschugguel, a Catholic layman from Vienna, released a video yesterday fessing up to a now-famous/infamous act of defiance, a hell (literally) no to heresy-arcing liberalism championed by Church bureaucrats behind the Vatican’s recent Amazon Synod (reported on by NR writers here, here, and here, among others). Do watch Tschugguel’s video:

What it’s all about is this: At Santa Maria in Traspontina, a church near St. Peter’s Basilica, a Synod-related display highlighted the Andean/Incan fertility goddess “Pachamama” — a pregnant Mother Earth figure who Vaticrats sought to legitimize as a stand-in for the Virgin Mary (and, to be more thematic, Our Lady of the Amazon). She was symbolized elsewhere at the Synod by a widely shown photo of an indigenous woman clutching a child in one hand and while breastfeeding a weasel-looking animal.

Maybe Jesus meant to say, Suffer the little rodents?

The Synod was a series of shock-and-awe stunts from inception to conclusion, the message being from the architects that all of this crypto or not-so-crypto paganism, and the Synod’s other intentions — including advocating for things (married priests) at odds with Church practices — were quite good, if only because conservative Catholics were in a lather over the pagan-y proceedings not too far above the tomb of Saint Peter. O yes, conservative tears of rage were delicious, and maybe alone were worth the whole darned Synod.

And yes, conservatives were in a lather. Many howled, many vented. But the aforementioned Tschugguel thought to channel his outrage into some old-fashioned direct action. Returning to Rome after having endured a bit of the three-week Synod’s opening stunts, accompanied by some sidekicks he revisited Santa Maria in Traspontina on October 21st. As soon as the church doors opened, having prayed a Rosary, they entered, grabbed a number of Pachamama statues, headed over to the Tiber, and from the Ponte Sant’Angelo tossed them into the drink.

Why? In his come-clean video, Tschugguel held their display to be an obvious violation of the First Commandment. Need a quick refresher? from the King James Bible, Exodus 20:1-3:

And God spake all these words, saying, I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.

Sounds like the Boy from Vienna was on to something. Anyway, after the pagan-dunking became known, mayhem ensued: The Pope apologized, scapegoated the statues — they were not at the church with “idolatrous intentions,” he spaked — and then reassured the Synodistas that the statues were retrieved, undamaged — which cannot be said for millions of the faithful. Worry not: They were in the care of the Commandant of the Carabinieri, and it was possible, the Pontiff assured assembled reporters, the Pachamamas could even make an appearance at the Synod’s concluding Mass on the 27th.

They didn’t. Why? No explanation was given. But it being a Sunday morning, maybe the fertility goddess had had a long night and was sleeping in.

Impromptus

Waxing Lyrical

Mike Love, one of the original Beach Boys, in Lima, Peru, 2005 (Pilar Olivares / Reuters)

Today, I have an Impromptus column, which begins with John Kelly, the late presidential chief of staff. (I don’t say that General Kelly has shuffled off this mortal coil, I mean that he is no longer chief of staff.) Trump presidential press secretaries have said very different things about him. In the course of this column — which is briefish — I touch on some grave issues, Syria being the gravest of all. There are also lighter matters — including a new milestone for Tiger Woods (a weighty issue in golf, to be sure).

Here on the Corner, I wanted to draw attention to an item on the light side. It involves group participation.

The latest episode of my Music for a While is here. In it, I play some Beach Boys — yes, some Beach Boys, and “Good Vibrations,” in particular (sung by the King’s Singers). How did this come about? I tweeted, “Quite possibly, my favorite lyric from any pop song is ‘I don’t know where, but she sends me there.’ It is borderline nonsensical — but so wonderful.” Roger Kimball — the great Roger Kimball, the editor of The New Criterion — replied, “Borderline, maybe, but the right side of the border! Wasn’t it Wallace Stevens who said that poetry resists the intelligence almost successfully?”

Yes. Stevens begins a poem — “Man Carrying Thing” — as follows: “The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully.”

My friend Rahul chimed in with a lyric of his own — I mean, a lyric he thought of: “Praise the grammar police, set me up with your niece.” That comes from “Transport Is Arranged,” a Pavement song.

Do you have a favorite lyric? One that is a little nonsensical — or a lot so — but wonderful or memorable nonetheless? Lemme know — jnordlinger@nationalreview.com.

Please do. And if you’d like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — let me know that, too.

Health Care

Helping Mother Starve to Death a ‘Sacrament’

The Washington Post Company building in Washington, D.C. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The Washington Post published an irresponsible puff piece that effectively grants moral permission to elderly people to commit suicide by self-starvation — known in euthanasia parlance as VSED (“voluntary stop eating and drinking”) — and quasi-teaches them how to do it.

Of course, the story doesn’t put it that way. Instead, reporter Tara Bahrampour deploys euphemistic language to soften the harshness of the whole thing into pretty pastels. The word “suicide” — which is accurate and descriptive — never appears. Instead, it is called “ending life by fasting.”

The suicide-by-starvation death of Rosemary Bowen, a 94-year old woman — who decided she didn’t want to be a burden after a fall — serves as the pretext for this pro-suicide propaganda. From the story:

At 94, the retired school reading specialist was active and socially engaged in her Friendship Heights neighborhood, swimming each day, cooking and cleaning for herself, and participating in walking groups, a book club and a poetry cafe. Doctors assured her that with physical therapy and a back brace, she would probably recover in about three months.

Instead, she announced to her family and friends that she had decided to terminate her life by fasting. After saying her goodbyes, she stopped eating, and in the early morning of the eighth day of her fast, she died in her sleep.

Probably after falling into a coma, but never mind.

This story violates the World Health Association media guidelines about reporting on suicide, which seeks to prevent reportage that glamorizes the death or details the means as a way of preventing suicide contagion. And guess what, Bahrampour chirpily reports that some of Rosemary’s friends are now thinking of killing themselves too.

Suicide-by-starvation, particularly when the person is relatively robust, can be excruciating requiring aggressive pain control. She apparently received the help. Even though Rosemary wasn’t dying — unless being suicidal is a terminal illness — a hospice actually helped facilitate the suicide:

The next step after Rosemary decided she wanted to end her life was getting into a hospice program so she could receive aggressive pain medication and other support during the fast. Although she did not technically qualify for hospice since she didn’t have a terminal illness, an Iona staff member helped find one willing to accept her.

What a betrayal of everything hospice stands for. Indeed, suicide prevention is one of its crucial services.

The idea behind the whole VSED movement, of course, is to get us to assisted suicide or lethal injection:

Rosemary would have preferred to take a pill to quickly end her life, but only a handful of states have aid-in-dying laws, and Maryland is not one of them, though it came close to passing such a bill earlier this year.

And her daughter filmed it all and turned it into a documentary promoting suicide-by-starvation:

In the end, helping her mother end her life felt like a sacrament. And filming it felt empowering.

Because all that matters today is “how I feel.”

Everything about this event is sickening: the needless death of an elderly woman afraid of being a burden; reporter Bahrampour’s boosterism; the help Rosemary received from a hospice instead of being provided suicide prevention; and, the daughter’s participating in and filming the suicide as a means of furthering the suicide-by-starvation cause.

Just. Absolutely. Sickening

Elections

Hit the Panic Button and Choose Carefully, Democrats

Sen. Cory Booker speaks during the Democratic presidential debate in Houston, Texas, September 12, 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

The New York Times may have really scrambled the Democratic presidential primary with the eye-opening poll numbers that Rich discusses here. In a nutshell, none of the big three Democratic contenders look like a slam dunk in the six states most likely to determine the 2020 election: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Biden does best, but his leads are one to two percentage points – hardly a safe bet, with a year to go and the former vice president seeming not quite as verbally and mentally sharp as Democrats would prefer.

Previous polling suggested Trump had lost at least a small portion of his base of supporters from three years ago. Maybe not! “In contrast to recent national surveys, the Times/Siena polls find that the president’s lead among white, working-class voters nearly matches his decisive advantage from 2016. This group represents nearly half of registered voters in these states, and a majority in the Northern battlegrounds that decided the last election.”

If you’re a Democrat who has nagging doubts about the big three, maybe it’s time to take one last long look at Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar or Cory Booker as some sort of consensus candidate. Heck, maybe even Kamala Harris, although no other Democratic candidate’s numbers have tumbled the way hers have. (On July 5, Harris ranked second in the RealClearPolitics average!)

As I wrote when Tim Ryan departed the race – I know, you forgot about him already – the Ohio congressman was the one candidate in the gargantuan pool who was focused on winning back those white working-class voters in those key states. Maybe Democrats shouldn’t have been so quick to turn their noses up at him. Hey, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock’s still running, maybe the party should give a second look to the guy who’s figured out how to win in a red state?

Meanwhile Beto O’Rourke’s departure from the race really raises tough questions for all the candidates who have even less support than O’Rourke. Tom Steyer, Michael Bennet, Julian Castro, John Delaney, Bullock… what are you doing? Your campaigns are so over, Matthew Broderick has shown up in a bathrobe, telling you to go home.

Yes, Steyer qualified for the next debate. The fact that he has, and that Tulsi Gabbard and Marianne Williamson have not yet qualified, demonstrates that the DNC criteria are aligning to give us the most boring candidate selection possible at the Nov. 20 debate in Georgia.

Elections

Drizzle on the Left

The numbers that jumped out at me in that poll, Rich, were the ones showing how poorly both Warren and Sanders are performing among black voters. Warren is up only 68 points on Trump, and Sanders up only 69 points. Yes, I said “only.” By comparison, blacks went for the Democratic nominee by 79 points in 2016, 87 points in 2012, 91 points in 2008, 77 points in 2004, and 82 points in 2000. You have to go back to the 1970s to find numbers that bad for the Democrats.

Economy & Business

The Perversities of the Charitable Deduction

(Marcos Brindicci/Reuters)

For whatever reason, the U.S. government likes to give out a lot of its subsidies in the form of special tax breaks. If you do something the government likes — buy a home, donate to charity, etc. — you get to knock off some tax liability when April comes around. This is mathematically and economically equivalent to a check in the mail, but many people, including a distressing number of limited-government conservatives, like to delude themselves that these are “tax cuts” rather than special handouts.

In addition to submerging government spending, tax deductions subsidize the rich more than the poor. If you earn enough to be in the 35 percent tax bracket, each $1 charitable donation (or what have you) costs just 65 cents, with the other 35 coming out of the government’s coffers. If your earnings put you in the 10 percent bracket, the same donation wins you just a 10-cent subsidy. And no matter how much you make, if you don’t have enough deductions to make it worth “itemizing” them — which is more likely to happen now that the recent tax reform boosted the standard deduction — you get bupkis.

Senator Mike Lee’s Social Capital Project has a nice report on the charitable deduction today that explains these dynamics — and adds that the deduction distorts the landscape of charity in America. Poorer people direct their giving disproportionately to churches and poverty relief; rich people throw more of their money away funding the arts and higher education. (I’d say I’m kidding but . . . I’m not, at least not entirely.)

The report has two solutions for this. One, put the deduction “above the line” so people can take it even if they use the standard deduction; two, replace the deduction with a credit that reimburses everyone’s charitable spending at, say, 25 percent. Both of these would cost the government revenue but increase charitable giving. I prefer the latter approach, but I’d pick a rate low enough to make the change revenue-neutral — and do the same thing for lots of other deductions too. 

Elections

After All This, Trump Still Has a Clear Path to Reelection

Much of the media has reveled in national polls showing Trump losing handily to Biden in national polls, and often to other Democrats, as well. The New York Times has new polling just in key battleground states, and it looks much better for Trump:

Despite low national approval ratings and the specter of impeachment, President Trump remains highly competitive in the battleground states likeliest to decide his re-election, according to a set of new surveys from The New York Times Upshot and Siena College.

Across the six closest states that went Republican in 2016, he trails Joe Biden by an average of two points among registered voters but stays within the margin of error.

Mr. Trump leads Elizabeth Warren by two points among registered voters, the same margin as his win over Hillary Clinton in these states three years ago The poll showed Bernie Sanders deadlocked with the president among registered voters, but trailing among likely voters.

The poll goes to show how Trump opponents have convinced themselves that beating him will be easy, when they should really consider it a formidable task that requires considerable care and thought:

The results suggest that Ms. Warren, who has emerged as a front-runner for the Democratic nomination, might face a number of obstacles in her pursuit of the presidency. The poll supports concerns among some Democrats that her ideology and gender — including the fraught question of “likability” — could hobble her candidacy among a crucial sliver of the electorate. And not only does she underperform her rivals, but the poll also suggests that the race could be close enough for the difference to be decisive.

In national polls, Mr. Trump’s political standing has appeared to be in grave jeopardy. His approval ratings have long been in the low 40s, and he trails Mr. Biden by almost nine points in a national polling average. But as the 2016 race showed, the story in the battleground states can be quite different. Mr. Trump won the election by sweeping Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina — even while losing the national vote by two points.

Culture

What Are You Doing Tonight in New York City? How about Witnessing to Hope and Life?

I Lived on Parker Avenue movie poster (Joie De Vivre Media)

Over the weekend, I heard the details of a story involving an eighth grader who was able to rally behind his single mother who broke down and told him she was pregnant and didn’t know what to do after seeing the short documentary I Lived on Parker Avenue. His sister is alive today because of the sharing of an adoption story that involved a birth mother who went to an abortion clinic and summoned the courage to turn away and have her baby and opt for adoption — a prayer answered for a couple who couldn’t have a baby naturally.

We’re showing that movie tonight in New York — and on the same block as an abortion clinic. The block could use some hope about life! (Believe me.)

If you are able, come join us tonight at 7 p.m. in lower Manhattan. You’ll meet a young woman, Sarah Zagorski, who was once in foster care for a number of years, and was finally adopted into a loving family. You’ll meet Lisa Wheeler, who is a foster and adoptive mother and is passionate about education and advocacy about foster care and adoption. And you will meet Ben Clapper, the executive producer of I Lived on Parker Avenue.

Thank you for considering and spreading the word! November is National Adoption Month and in the same year which began with abortion expansion in New York, consider this part of your witness for life — and in an area where people who consider themselves pro-choice and pro-life can come together, to make adoption a real choice women and families consider more widely.

Details about tonight are here. Your coming supports this kind of event so there can be more of them in the future. Goodness knows, we need them.

U.S.

‘Not Necessarily for Englishmen but by Englishmen’

I have a piece on the home page on the importance of the American cultural nation, in the context of a discussion of civic nationalism:

It is certainly true that different forms of nationalism can be more or less inclusive and democratic. But no nation has ever been entirely civic in this sense, and it’s foolish to consider the United States any different.

Our cultural nation was extremely important at the outset, and remains so today. At the time of the Revolution, the colonists were 80 percent British and almost entirely Protestant. As John Jay wrote in the Federalist No. 2, “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people — a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs.”

The fact is that culture is seeded with ideas. Would America be the same if its people spoke Russian — the language of a country that has never effectively supported property rights, the rule of law, or limited government — rather than English? Would our political culture as we know it have emerged if practically every home in America a couple of hundred years ago had had a Koran on the nightstand rather than a King James Bible? Of course not.

At the beginning, this was a country not necessarily for Englishmen but by Englishmen, including their notions of liberty, which defined the American experience from the outset. Tocqueville famously wrote that the American was the Englishman left alone. If the eastern seaboard had been settled by Spaniards, you could have “left them alone” for a very long time and marinated them in all the Enlightenment philosophers, and they still never would have come up with the American founding.

Elections

Good Riddance, Beto

Former Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke takes part in a televised town hall on CNN dedicated to LGBTQ issues in Los Angeles, Calif., October 10, 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Beto O’Rourke ended his presidential campaign Friday afternoon, and perhaps you’ve forgotten him already. Over the last 22 months, we’ve learned that O’Rourke is not that interesting as a potential national leader. How Democrats and many members of the mainstream media reacted to O’Rourke is much more interesting.

Almost any action by anyone in politics can be interpreted in wildly different ways, depending upon the perspective of the person covering it. If Rahm Emanuel were a Republican, the old stories about him stabbing a table with a steak knife and screaming that all of his enemies would be dead, threatening Tony Blair with profanities, and sending a dead fish to a pollster would not be seen as wild and crazy tales about a lovable, hard-charging competitor. If Emanuel were a Republican, he would be covered as a rage-filled psychopath who probably needs to be committed in an institution. If George W. Bush had been a Democrat, he would be widely described as an inspiring recovering alcoholic who turned his life around, became a dedicated husband and father, and a unifying leader who wisely declared, “we have a responsibility that when somebody hurts, government has got to move.”

Last year I wrote that “the endless glowing profiles of O’Rourke in every publication from Vanity Fair to Spin to Rolling Stone to Town & Country represent the national media’s worsening challenge in differentiating between what it wants to see happen and what is actually happening.” Left-leaning writers and editors and producers across the country desperately wanted to see a Democrat who could win in Texas and convinced themselves that O’Rourke was that guy. To his credit, he came closer than any other Democrat has in a generation. That is still about 215,000 votes short.

What was striking about all of those 2018 profiles was how . . . surface-oriented they were, regularly mentioning O’Rourke’s old punk rock band, the skateboarding, the casual profanity which was inevitably interpreted as some sort of authenticity, the descriptions of his sweat, the inevitable reference to his Kennedy-esque looks and absence of any mention of his Kennedy-esque driving record. The tone and style of the profiles of O’Rourke weren’t all that different from the profiles of actors, musicians, and directors in Vanity Fair, GQ, and other celebrity magazines — a lot of personality and anecdotes and perfectly cinematic photo shoots. You could read for pages with little mention of anything O’Rourke had done in Congress, because as a member of the minority party, he hadn’t done much. The one race Barack Obama ever lost in his life, a congressional bid against Representative Bobby Rush, the incumbent dismantled the young and ambitious Obama with one devastating question: “Just what’s he done? I mean, what’s he done?” One could fairly put the same question to O’Rourke.

O’Rourke had charisma, along with genuinely odd behavior like trying to trick his wife into eating baby poop. He had a general sense that he wanted the country to have more acceptance of illegal immigrants, fewer guns in the hands of private citizens, higher taxes on the rich, and that churches that opposed gay marriage ought to lose their tax-exempt status. But he had only the vaguest idea on how to get to there and little interest in laying out a roadmap. Elizabeth Warren had a plan for everything; O’Rourke was going to wing it.

This allergy to details led to a rather unfocused presidential effort. The O’Rourke campaign started as centrist happy talk but, when struggling, led to the candidate promising, “Hell yes, we’re going to take away your AR-15!” In the June primary debate, Julian Castro demonstrated that O’Rourke was mixing up sections of immigration law, and jabbed, “I think you should do your homework.” His platitude-filled speeches started to sound pretty empty. The traits that charmed visiting correspondents in Texas a year ago started to look silly — like jumping onto tables and countertops in Iowa.

Beto O’Rourke did not lose anything between 2018 and 2019 — er, other than a Senate race. He is essentially the same man he was a year ago. The biggest thing that changed was that now he was running against other Democrats that some members of the media liked better. Towards the end of summer, O’Rourke had no choice but to joke about how differently he was perceived, compared to the Senate race. Late-night host Seth Meyers asked him, “You ran against Ted Cruz in a Senate campaign. Do you ever miss how easy it was to be different from Ted Cruz?” “Where is Ted Cruz when you need him?” O’Rourke joked. (“In the Senate,” Cruz replied via Twitter.)

This year, the whole country got to see the Beto O’Rourke that some of us have seen from the beginning. Years from now, when O’Rourke’s name is mentioned, Democrats will wonder why they got so excited about him once. He is the political equivalent of Reebok’s Dan and Dave competition, the Macarena, The Blair Witch Project, and any other short-lived trend that seems inexplicable in retrospect.

U.S.

If Not in Our Own Interests, Then in Whose?

General view of Denver firefighters with the United States of America flag. (Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports)

Rich, I am a little bit perplexed by that Washington Post review.

As you know, I do not think of myself as much of a nationalist, and I do sometimes get the feeling that the “benign nationalism” of which you sometimes speak is a little like the “real socialism” that never has been tried, as we are assured by generation after generation of college sophomores. I take your point about benign nationalism, but benign nationalists seem to be a little bit scarce.

That being said, I cannot understand what is objectionable about the proposition that the U.S. government should attempt to orient its actions to the interests of the American people, which Carlos Lozada of the Post faults you for arguing. If the U.S. government should not act in the interests of the American people, in whose interests should it act? That applies to questions such as trade and immigration as much as to anything else. This should be too obvious to need explaining but apparently is not.

I think the confusion comes from our modern elevation of government to the position of sacrosanct embodiment of our shared aspirations, whereas properly understood it is only a convenience and an instrument, a tool that is necessarily employed by particular people for their own particular ends. Self-interest is the point of it. From Hobbes on, the character of government as an instrument of self-interest has been widely assumed by almost all liberal and democratic theories of government. I cannot see why it should be controversial now.

For example, President Trump’s incompetently executed trade war and broader neo-mercantilist agenda have been extraordinarily harmful to the economic interests of the United States, not only in the particular cases (soybean farmers, bankrupted steel producers) but also to those of the people at large by reducing trade, imposing difficult-to-calculate opportunity costs, and diminishing our national standing as a credible and reliable trading partner. Which is to say, the people who call themselves “nationalists” ought to object to “economic nationalism” on grounds that are . . . nationalist. Though I suppose it would be enough to say that these policies have been foolish.

I think it is the places where U.S. government action touches foreigners, such as would-be immigrants or those who suffer as collateral damage in our often destructive military misadventures around the world, that gives what you are calling nationalism its uncomfortable feeling for some critics. That the interests of people x are made subordinate to the interests of people y by the y government is a natural and inevitable part of politics, and progressives do not actually object to it—consider all that Democratic talk of “economic patriotism” or Bernie Sanders’s quite Trumpesque views on immigration circa 2016 if you doubt that. But your version of nationalism involves saying so out loud, which must be, as they say, problematic.

In reality, every Democrat who ever has complained about “shipping our” — whose? — “jobs overseas” is to some extent a nationalist in the sense of assuming rivalrous interests between two peoples and endeavoring to secure their own at the expense of the other. That the expense of the other rarely is explicitly acknowledged—that one of the questions involved in the economic rise of China and India is unwelcome economic competition for Americans, and another is whether Chinese and Indian people get to eat—does not make it any less obvious or true. There is far too much zero-sum thinking among our current nationalists, Left or Right, but the guiding principle of national self-interest is hardly new or illegitimate.

The question of self-interest in the U.S. context ought to be easier to understand in that the U.S. government was drawn up and laid out by people who created it as an act of self-interest and said so right there in the founding documents: to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” etc. This distinguishes the United States from many other countries. But, if anything, the American compact is the exception that proves the rule: France, for example, has had many different governments over the course of its history, as have Japan and Spain, but at no point did the French cease being French, the Japanese Japanese, or the Spanish Spanish, even as their organs of government were subject to revision or revolution. But the United States would not quite be the United States without the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Even though it is true that what happened in 1776 was not the founding of a new nation but the working of a revolution in the government of a distinct (though diverse) people who had by then existed for some time, American nationhood is bound up with American government in a way that is not true of most other countries.

Speaking of which, you write: “Size matters. The Swiss have ideals. Does anyone give a damn?” As the resident Helvetiphile, I would point out that Switzerland punches well above its weight on the world stage, and that many similarly small polities are very much worth giving a damn about, Israel and Hong Kong prominent among them — and, once upon a time, the United States of America. Swiss ideals are worth knowing about and worth giving a damn about. So are Israeli ideals and Hong Konger ideals. And young American ideals: When young John Quincy Adams was sent as a diplomat to Prussia, he was stopped at the gates of Berlin by an officer who had never heard of any such thing as the United States of America and was skeptical that they were in a position to send an emissary to Berlin. You never know how these things are going to go.

U.S.

Willie Brown’s Warnings

Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

Willie Brown, the former two-term mayor of San Francisco, former speaker of the California Assembly, and former, er, special friend to Kamala Harris, wrote a column this weekend warning his fellow Democrats that impeachment will not do much to help the party in the 2020 presidential election.

…the Democrats will spend the next few precious months acting out a pretend cliffhanger to which everyone actually knows the script and the ending. No plot twists in sight. Remember health care, the issue that won so many elections for Democrats in 2018? You might, but they don’t seem to.

Come next year, Trump will have an impeachment victory and quite possibly a solid economy. The Democrats will have — what?

Some might question whether the Senate falling short of 67 votes to remove really counts as much of an “impeachment victory,” but President Trump is likely to interpret it as an exoneration nonetheless. And last week’s controversy about Elizabeth Warren’s plan to pay for Medicare for All — which included a belief that drug-makers will be convinced to start selling brand-name prescription drugs for 30 percent of the current prices — did generate some discussion of health care, but maybe not the kind of discussion that Democrats want. (The Democratic party knows exactly what it wants, which is free high-quality health care for everyone in country, including illegal immigrants, with no waiting, with no middle-class tax increases. The problem is that the numbers don’t add up, and they are unwilling to confront that reality.)

Elsewhere in his column, Brown laments that Oakland’s Fifth Avenue is “ lined with some of the biggest tents and shantytown structures I have ever seen — it made San Francisco’s worst encampments look like a Cub Scout sleepover” and writes that during the recent blackouts, numerous friends asked if they could join him in the gym in the morning. Asked if his friends really wanted to work out, most replied,  “no, but I could really use a place to shower before going to work.” The problems engulfing the San Francisco region and the Golden State are getting too glaring for even the most optimistic California cheerleaders to ignore.

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