White House

The 18th Anniversary of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks

The wreck of the World Trade Center smolders as a man passes a subway stop in New York City on September 11, 2001. (Peter Morgan/Reuters File Photo)

Making the click-through worthwhile: No matter how far the 9/11 attacks get in the rear-view mirror, this date is never going to feel normal for as long as we live; Republicans breathe a sigh of relief in North Carolina’s special House elections; and the sudden departure of John Bolton suggests that things are getting bad on the president’s national security team.

No Matter How Much Time Passes, This Date Is Never Going to Feel ‘Normal’

No matter how much American daily life goes back to “normal” on September 11, this day is never going to feel normal, is it? You guys will be coming to visit me in the Old Blogger’s Home in forty years and this date on the calendar will still have that particular ominous feeling, those memories coming back, that sense that on his day all those years ago, history changed direction, and not for the better.

As I noted last year, in a bunch of ways, we’ve “won.” Osama bin Laden is fish food. Hamza bin Laden, Osama’s son and heir, was killed earlier this year. The Taliban leader who hosted and protected al-Qaeda, Mullah Omar, is dead. We don’t hear much from Ayman al-Zawahiri anymore. Al-Qaeda isn’t even the big worry in Islamist terror anymore, compared to ISIS. One expert concludes, “The last international attack in the West connected to al-Qaeda was the 2015 shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris.”

The Taliban is beaten—er, being invited to Camp David by the President of the United States—er, involved in negotiations with the United States about the future of Afghanistan.

In many ways, our modern discourse has moved on to other fears — mass shooters, Russian hackers, Chinese ambitions, waves of refugees, homegrown extremists cooking up their own nihilist manifestos about how they’ve been wronged by a sinful and decadent Western civilization.

We can’t live in the past, trapped in amber, forever reliving that day. But the day becoming too normal doesn’t feel right, either. This must be how the Baby Boomers felt when Generation X came along and November 22 passed with minimal marking of the anniversary of JFK’s assassination, or how the Greatest Generation felt when December 7 became just another day in the pre-holiday rush. You can’t blame the kids for not quite getting in their bones what this day meant to us, how many of us feared our loved ones had perished — either in New York, or Washington, or in a field in Pennsylvania. Those hours of rumors, the knowledge that someone was deliberately crashing planes into skyscrapers and buildings and not knowing if there were other planes up there. (That morning’s rumors and false reports included claims that a car bomb had exploded at the State Departmenttruck bombs at the Capitol, fires on the Mall, and a “suspicious” rental truck near the Pentagon.)

For a few hours, almost everyone in America lived through the same shared traumatic experience. If you or your loved ones were in the wrong place at the wrong time — that was it, there was no way to outrun an oncoming jumbo jet. The phone lines were jammed, reaching your loved ones was just about impossible for a while. Up and down the east coast, parents had just dropped off their kids at school when they first heard reports that something terrible had happened in New York City.

Way back in 2006, I wrote Voting to Kill, and I remember this anecdote from Republican pollster David Winston, describing a focus group he conducted:

One woman in this group had three or four kids. We were discussing the 9/11 attacks and how they affected us, and she went into this very short, very tense description of driving from school to school and picking up her children. All of us — myself, the other participants — were riveted. It was clear that while this story wasn’t unique, something else was there. I was describing this story to my wife and her immediate reaction was, “which child did she pick up first?” And with that, it was like the tumblers falling into place. That mother in the focus group and every mother who had children in more than one school had the moral equivalent of Sophie’s Choice on that day: which child did she pick up first?

He described another focus group in Ohio, where one woman said that she had dropped off her kids, and contemplated going back to pick up her kids, but decided against it because the radio made it sound like the attacks were only in New York and Washington. And another mom in the focus group whipped her head around and declared, “I picked my kids up!” Three years later, the emotion was still close to the surface. Here we are, eighteen years later, and the emotion isn’t quite so close to the surface . . . but it isn’t buried all that deep, either.

All dates fade into history eventually. We honor Veterans Day, but there’s no particular day to honor the Battle of the Somme in 1916, where a million men died; on July 1 alone, roughly 20,000 men died. On Aug. 22, 1914, more than 27,000 French soldiers died at the Battle of the Frontiers; and September 17, 1862 ended with more than 20,000 Americans killed and wounded at the battle of Antietam. Two generations from now, September 11 will be just another day for most Americans.

There’s still a weird bit of denial about confronting about what happened that day. This morning, the New York Times tweeted,“18 years have passed since airplanes took aim and brought down the World Trade Center. Today, families will once again gather and grieve at the site where more than 2000 people died.” Huh? “Airplanes took aim and brought down the World Trade Center?” What, did we declare war on airplanes after that?

Republicans Let Out a Sigh of Relief in North Carolina

Special elections are not determinative of the following election cycle. But you would rather win them than lose them, and if a party starts losing special elections in districts that would normally be safe territory, it’s a rattle in the engine. Usually it’s only the diehards and the party loyalists who show up for a special election. Losing a special in a district that leans your way can indicate that your base isn’t that tuned in or fired up and that the opposition party’s grassroots are.

Last night, the GOP eked out a win in a district that really shouldn’t be too much of a sweat: “With 99 percent of precincts reporting, [Republican Dan] Bishop led [Democrat Dan] McCready 50.8 percent to 48.6 percent in a race that analysts saw as a harbinger for 2020.” For Republicans, this was the result they wanted, if not a particularly reassuring final score. The state GOP has no need to panic, but also no reason to think that 2020 will be an easy or safe year.

Yeah, Things Are Really Bad.

It is bad that President Trump has now gone through three national security advisors in 31 months — four if you count Keith Kellogg filling in for a week in between Michael Flynn and H. R. McMaster. (Kellogg, currently the National Security Advisor to Mike Pence, is a contender to replace John Bolton.) 

It is bad that Trump keeps ending up in the same position of impassioned disagreement with the people he appoints and keeps reaching the point where he can’t work with them anymore.

It is bad that the people Trump appoints to national security positions keep telling him that his ideas are counterproductive to American interests and the country’s security. It’s one thing if one or two appointees express objections to inviting the Taliban to Camp David, adding Russia to the G-7, delaying the imposition of sanctions on Russia, slowing down U.S. assistance to Ukraine, echoing Kim Jong-un’s language on U.S.–South Korean joint military exercises, or meeting face to face with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. But when everyone around the president who has spent their career in service to their country, studied the issues for years, knows the players and history, and who swore an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution all have the same assessment of the president’s ideas, and the president ignores their assessments, it’s really bad.

When the president believes that we should not be collecting intelligence on other countries because it could undermine his relationship with the leaders of other countries, it’s really, really bad.

Marc Thiessen is probably the most pro-Trump columnist at the Washington Post. He’s a former spokesman and advisor to the late Senator Jesse Helms. He was a speechwriter for Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon and then George W. Bush. He’s written a book defending “enhanced interrogation techniques” (waterboarding). He’s about as far as you can get from a liberal squish or a knee-jerk Trump-hater.

And he’s livid over the now-canceled presidential invitation to the Taliban:

These are murderous terrorists with American blood on their hands. It is an outrage that Obama freed them. But for Trump to even consider allowing leaders of a designated terrorist organization to set foot in Camp David is worse than an outrage; it is an insult to all those who died on 9/11 and the American troops who gave their lives fighting them in Afghanistan.

. . . Trump’s defenders say this would have been no different from his diplomacy with Kim Jong Un, or his offer to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Yes, it is. First, Kim and Rouhani are heads of government. Taliban leaders are terrorists. They claim to be the heads of a state — the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” Hosting them at Camp David grants them undeserved legitimacy.

By killing an American soldier, Taliban leaders were rubbing the United States’ defeat in Trump’s face. That move backfired. Trump now says the Taliban talks “are dead.” Let’s hope so — and that with the death of those talks dies one of the most shameful moments of the Trump presidency.

We’re sailing into really uncharted waters now.

ADDENDA: In case you missed it yesterday, why Biden’s not really the “centrist”the media says he is; and Beto O’Rourke stumbles onto a good point on housing policy but flinches from confronting limousine liberals.

World

China May Cry ‘Uncle’ Sooner Than We Think

President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping shake hands in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Some signs that China is starting to feel the pain from Trump’s trade war; a special House election in North Carolina and what it could tell us about 2020; and Beto O’Rourke declares that living close to work is “a right for everyone.”

Is China Starting to Feel the Pain from the Trade War?

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had a fascinating front-page article that could have deep political ramifications.

Right now, Trump’s trade war with China looks like slamming our collective foreheads against a brick wall, hoping we do more damage to the wall than the wall does to our skulls. We institute tariffs, China gets mad and responds with their own tariffs, Trump gets mad and responds with more tariffs, and the cycle goes on and on. The escalating battle hurts our farmers and exporters, while the leaders of Beijing just sit and wait for either a new president with a different attitude or for political pressures to convince Trump to change course.

There’s an argument to be made that extensive trade ties with China have empowered them, while making us more dependent upon a country that is hostile to our national security interests, values, and human rights. The president would be wise to go beyond the familiar complaints about intellectual property — a fairly abstract issue — and discuss China’s inhumane working conditions, military aggressiveness, artificial island construction, and persecution of religious minorities on a massive scale. A lot of people groaned or rolled their eyes when Senator Lindsey Graham said that Americans needed to “accept the pain” that comes from a trade war with China, but I thought he deserved an “attaboy” for his honesty. When’s the last time an American political leader admitted his preferred policy was going to mean pain for some people?

The trade war is a giant bet that we can get China to do what we want through economic pressure and that they need access to our markets more than we need access to theirs. They’re betting that they can endure more economic pain than we can.

As you may have noticed, the Chinese government lies a lot. When the government in Beijing puts out economic numbers, investors, businesses, and people who need to know are left wondering whether those are accurate numbers, or whether they’ve been airbrushed to assure the world that the Chinese economic engine is humming along as it should.

Mike Bird and Lucy Cramer of the Wall Street Journal reported:

Beneath China’s stable headline economic numbers, there is a growing belief among economists, companies, and investors around the world that the real picture is worse than the official data. That has analysts and researchers crunching an array of alternative data — from energy consumption to photos taken from space — for a more accurate reading.

Their conclusion: China’s economy isn’t tanking, but it is almost certainly weaker than advertised. Some economists who have dissected China’s GDP numbers say more accurate figures could be up to 3 percentage points lower, based on their analysis of corporate profits, tax revenue, rail freight, property sales and other measures of activity that they believe are harder for the government to fudge.

Meanwhile, China’s central bank decided to add another $126 billion into the economy, and the country is facing a crisis in its pork supply:

The price of pork has been rising for months and is now nearly 50 percent higher than a year ago, data published on Tuesday showed. Consumers are frustrated, and officials are quietly expressing alarm as they fight the outbreak of a disease that is devastating the country’s pork supply.

And in the middle of all this are the Hong Kong protests, which are effectively shutting down one of the cities most important to China’s economy.

The Chinese government is authoritarian and can force its people to endure economic pain for the sake of national competitiveness for quite a while — right up to the point where it can’t. No one knows exactly where that point is and when enough important people in China look at the price of pork and other imported goods and decide it’s time to say “uncle” and offer a deal with better terms to the United States. But perhaps that moment isn’t quite as far away as the Chinese government wants the world to think.

A Special Election in North Carolina and the Outlook for 2020

Today is Election Day for two congressional districts in North Carolina. The GOP really doesn’t need to worry much about the third congressional district, where Republican state representative Greg Murphy is expected to beat former Greenville mayor Allen Thomas. The one they’re sweating is in the ninth congressional district, where the little polling that exists shows Republican Dan Bishop just barely ahead of Democrat Dan McCready. This is the district where the election in 2018 was super close, and then the results were not certified due to irregularities involving requests for absentee ballots, unreturned absentee ballots, and individuals who illegally collected absentee ballots. On paper, the GOP should hold this seat, but nobody really knows what happens in these low-turnout special elections; every once in a while, the party that usually loses by a large margin can eke out a victory, like when Charles Djou won in Hawaii or when Robert Turner won in the special election to replace Anthony Weiner in New York City.

If McCready the Democrat wins in traditionally GOP territory, does it mean something? If you’re the North Carolina Republican party, yeah, you start to worry about your canary in the coal mine suddenly coughing terribly. It would mean that Republicans either aren’t tuned in or aren’t motivated, and Democrats are. Trump needs to keep the Tarheel State in his column the next time around.

There are a few indicators that suggest 2020 could be catastrophic for the Republican party. Democrats gained 41 seats in the House last year, and so far this year, 14 incumbent House Republicans announced their intention to retire. Most of them are from relatively safe seats, but each open seat is a little bit tougher to keep than an incumbent running for reelection. In the Senate, Democrats are getting the candidates they want — John Hickenlooper in Colorado, Mark Kelly in Arizona. Some non-incumbent appointee has to keep the Georgia seat. Roy Moore, having learned nothing, wants to mess up the GOP’s hopes in Alabama again. Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, currently leads the race to be the GOP Senate nominee in New Hampshire.

Trump’s approval is not good, particularly in the states he needs to keep.

The news isn’t all bad. A lot of first-term presidents would love to run for reelection under these conditions. Those who have openly hoped for a recession continue to be disappointed. Private payrolls continue to climb healthily. For all that Trump publicly fumes about fed chairman Jay Powell, the chairman said Friday, “We are not forecasting or expecting a recession.” The Democratic nominee is certain to be flawed in one way or another — either aging and gaffe-prone (Joe Biden), a lecture-prone, dishonest “woman of color” (Elizabeth Warren), or an outright socialist (Bernie Sanders).

Is ‘Living Close to Work’ Really ‘a Right for Everyone’?

Remember yesterday’s point about the Democratic presidential candidates offering wild, implausible promises that ignore the difficult realities of making even modest improvements in existing federal programs, never mind enacting new ones?

Late last night, Beto O’Rourke invented a new right for Americans: “Living close to work shouldn’t be a luxury for the rich. It’s a right for everyone.”

The federal government is not a genie that can grant you three wishes.

Home prices and rent prices are always going to be primarily driven by supply and demand. If you want more people to be able to live closer to work, you need to increase the supply of housing near workplaces. Policymakers can set this as a goal, but you still will inevitably run into difficult obstacles. People who live in homes with high real estate markets are not eager to see new high-rises aimed at demographics that want to spend less on rent or mortgages. NIMBY-ism thrives in all kinds of communities, but particularly in urban progressive ones. You need to find land near the workplace that can be redeveloped into housing units. For obvious reasons, people like their old charming neighborhoods with small and historic three-level brownstones, townhouses, or apartments and aren’t eager to see high-rise units replace them. And even people who want to live close to work may not love the idea of living in an apartment or condo or some other shared building — they want lawns and backyards and the extra bedroom and a basketball hoop in the driveway and all the other things that come with suburban life.

Living close to work shouldn’t be a luxury for the rich. It’s a right for everyone,” inevitably means telling people, “you cannot keep your neighborhood, where you have lived for many years, the way you like it. You have to allow outsiders to come in and change things.”

Give O’Rourke a little credit for acknowledging a truth that wealthy Democrats would prefer to avoid: “Rich people are going to have to be forced to allow lower-income people to live near them.” I just hope he is willing to emphasize this point at his next $500-per-plate fundraiser in Manhattan.

ADDENDA: In case you missed it yesterday, Washington Post columnist Max Boot offers the shocking news that he does not support Donald Trump, will not vote for him, and will not vote for Republicans; doubting that Joe Biden’s lead is as fragile as some Democrats think; and Valerie Plame’s new ad tries to get everyone to forget her anti-Semitism.

Elections

High Hopes Will Never Make the Government Run Perfectly

Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Dover, N.H., September 1, 2019. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: How every Democratic presidential candidate is ignoring the reality of the federal bureaucracy and not-so-distant history with their grand, sweeping proposals; the absolute moral and strategic insanity of inviting the Taliban to meet with the president at Camp David; and a lesser-known Democratic presidential candidate qualifies for the October presidential primary debate.

None of These Charlatans Can Keep Their Promises

Bernie Sanders promises that if he is elected, no one will ever have to pay college tuition for public colleges or universities ever again. Kamala Harris promises that if she is elected, the average teacher in America would receive a $13,500-per-year raise. Elizabeth Warren promises that if she is elected, no American parents would ever pay more than 7 percent of their income on childcare. Julian Castro promises that if he is elected, he will create 10 million new jobs in the “clean energy economy.” Pete Buttigieg promises that he will cut the number of incarcerated Americans in half without any increase in crime. Andrew Yang says that if he is elected, all citizens over age 18 will get $1,000 per month from the government, forever.

And Joe Biden, the supposed sensible centrist in the Democratic primary, promises that if elected, he will cure cancer.

Keep that in mind the next time Biden is unaware that a fossil fuel company executive is co-hosting a fundraiser for him; or Warren says releasing the video about her alleged Native American heritage was a mistake; or Harris insists that she misheard some question, which explains her controversial answer.

Governing well is difficult, people. Enacting some sort of sweeping change like the candidates are now proposing would be extremely difficult; it is just about inevitable that the program would not work as promised at first, and it would take time to get it right. (And this all assumes that the votes are there to pass their ideas into law in the first place.)

It’s not just a matter of “can taxpayers afford it?” although that is a good question to ask when someone comes up with huge ideas like these. An even fairer question is, “what makes you confident that the federal government will implement this program effectively?”

During the Bush years, a common argument in the comments sections of Daily Kos and other liberal corners was that George W. Bush and his administration were in effect a giant sabotage operation within the federal government. Because the administration did not ideologically support a big, powerful, far-reaching federal government*, they were constantly undermining the natural competence that the federal government could achieve if they only had the support from the top. Thus, everything that went wrong in the Bush years — the bad intelligence surrounding Iraq’s WMDs, Abu Gharib, Hurricane Katrina response, and the circumstances that led to the real estate bubble, the Wall Street meltdown and the Great Recession — could be laid at the feet of an administration that never really wanted government to succeed in the first place.

Barack Obama and the people around him believed in the capacity of the federal government to do good. Their faith in the power of the federal government to change peoples’ lives for the better was unshakable. And after a great deal of effort, the finest team Obama could assemble ended up with a website tracking stimulus spending that was full of bad data, “shovel-ready” projects that the president later admitted weren’t so shovel-ready, the taxpayers underwriting the failed Solyndra solar panel manufacturer, Operation Fast and Furious, the hacking of the Office of Personnel Management, veterans dying while waiting for care from the Department of Veterans Affairs, lavish spending on conferences for the General Services Administration, $126 billion in overpayments to beneficiaries and contractors in 2015, the IRS targeting of conservative groups, the blindsiding attack on the consulate in Benghazi, the disastrous launch of Healthcare.gov, the scandal and revelations of Edward Snowden, the rise of ISIS, a foreign policy team that steadily misjudged and underestimated growing threats from Russia and China, and a $500 million program to train Syrians to fight ISIS that resulted in “four or five” fighters. Oh, and they bailed out General Motors when the company knew it was selling cars that could kill you if your key chain was too heavy.

The problem was not that Obama or anyone in his administration wasn’t trying hard enough, or that they didn’t want effective government programs badly enough, or that they didn’t believe in the abilities of the government enough — it was probably the opposite. They had far too much faith in government agencies’ abilities to achieve a task without delays, cost overruns, bad decisions, wasteful spending, petty corruption, and grinding bureaucratic inertia.

One of the points I tried to make in The Weed Agency is that plenty of federal government employees are good people, work hard, and do their best; often working against a system that is not designed to encourage or reward individual excellence. There are plenty of exceptions, of course, but few people take the civil service exam or seek out a job in the federal government because they want to do a bad job. They are told to adhere to a giant binder of regulations, to avoid potential lawsuits at all costs, to not dismiss incompetent underlings, to not make waves, and to keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. If you sign up when you’re young, you’ll find a lot of older employees telling you to wait your turn. The Economist notes this week, “the federal IT workforce has five times as many people over the age of 60 as under 30.”

Some offices of the federal government do great work. Some do terrible work. The National Weather Service appears to have done a great job during this recent hurricane, keeping their heads down and focused on their duties, and not what the forecaster-in-chief was saying.

Federal bureaucracies are full of human beings, and human beings are not uniform. There are postal workers who run into burning buildings or confront burglars. And then there are ones who steal mail to get gift cards and cash.  It is really difficult to recruit and retain a good team. Because the people in charge of administering any particular program are going to have varying levels of judgment, experience, competence, trustworthiness, diligence, and drive, the results are not all going to be uniformly good. And even when the results are good, they’re never quite as good as they sounded when the candidate was promising them on the campaign trail.

The experience with Healthcare.gov should have splashed some cold water of reality into progressives’ happy dreams: As it stands, this federal bureaucracy and its most familiar contractors can’t get you where you want to go. These aspiring presidents are planning a cross-country trip in a car with two flat tires, burned-out headlights, brakes worn down, and an engine that is sputtering.

And yet, all of these candidates make these vast new programs and benefits and rules and spending sound like the easiest task imaginable. Cleaning up the language a bit in Kevin Williamson’s First Law: ‘Everything is simple when you don’t know a thing about it.’

Lest you have any lingering doubts about the difficulties of keeping campaign trail promises and enacting policies: “I alone can fix it.” “Trade wars are good and easy to win.” “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border and I’ll have Mexico pay for that wall.” “We will end the sanctuary cities that have resulted in so many needless deaths.” “Department of Environmental Protection. We are going to get rid of it in almost every form.” And so on.

*I know, I know, the whole idea of Bush as some anti-government saboteur is nonsense. This is the administration that added a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, created the Department of Homeland Security, enacted No Child Left Behind, and in a Labor Day address to union workers, famously said, “we have a responsibility that when somebody hurts, government has got to move.”

The Worst Idea in an Era Chock Full of Really Bad Ideas

Who thought it was a good idea for the President of the United States to host members of the Taliban at Camp David, just days before the 9/11 anniversary?

Oh. “In the days that followed, Mr. Trump came up with an even more remarkable idea — he would not only bring the Taliban to Washington, but to Camp David, the crown jewel of the American presidency. The leaders of a rugged militant organization deemed terrorists by the United States would be hosted in the mountain getaway used for presidents, prime ministers and kings just three days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that led to the Afghan war.”

I suppose I should be reassured that on September 7, the President of the United States realized that a Camp David invitation to the Taliban would be a bad idea after their car bomb killed Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, 34, from Morovis, Puerto Rico two days earlier. But it is hard for the sudden cancellation to outweigh the preceding spectacularly unwise decision. As of this morning, 1,833 U.S. soldiers have been killed in action in Afghanistan since 2001, and the Taliban is responsible for a significant portion of those casualties. They are the same Taliban they were Wednesday, when Trump was eager to have them at Camp David.

As you’ve read, the Taliban has continued to blow up innocent people and target U.S. servicemen and women throughout the negotiations. This is not some calculated provocation for negotiating leverage on their part; this is who they are. There is no kindler and gentler Taliban waiting to be revealed once the right incentives are presented to them. Two administrations and the Pakistanis have been trying to negotiate with the Taliban for more than a decade. The negotiations always break down, at least in part because the Taliban keep blowing people up during the talks.

The Taliban invitation is the sort of thing that ought to make the American people sit up and take notice and ask just what kind of foreign policy this administration is attempting to enact.

In other news, the President of the United States declared on Twitter that model and celebrity Chrissy Teigen has a “filthy mouth.”

Fourth Episode of ‘The Democrats Debate’ TV Show Will Introduce a New Cast Member

Here’s an odd development: billionaire Tom Steyer didn’t qualify for the September Democratic debate, but he did qualify for the October one. Tulsi Gabbard is apparently knocking on the door as well. This means that Thursday night, the Democrats will have a one-night, ten-candidate debate, and next month they’re likely to hold two nights of six-candidate debates, a setup that is more likely to give each candidate more time and probably longer and better answers.

ADDENDA: As a New York Jets fan, I look forward to the start of professional football season sometime in the coming weeks. I mean, yes, technically the team played yesterday, but that wasn’t professional football.

We are now t-minus six days from the book signing at Barnes and Noble in Mosaic District in northern Virginia! Hope to see you there!

World

A Sigh of Relief over the Death of a Brutal Left-Wing Dictator

Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe participates in a discussion in Durban, South Africa, May 4, 2017. (Rogan Ward/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The brutal dictator who seized all the farms finally buys the farm; Howard Schultz calls it quits long after everyone forgot he was running; the president still wants to argue about Alabama and the hurricane; and a point about the European Union’s behavior since the Brexit referendum.

Robert Mugabe’s Dead, So Today’s a Good Day Already

Robert Mugabe was — ah, what a delight it is to use the past tense — one of those demonic despots whose name and crimes ought to be commonly known. Yet somehow, he never quite caught the imagination of the Western press, even if he caught its attention. The average person walking down the street knows about the Kims in North Korea, Saddam Hussein, and Ayatollah Khamenei; but you had to be interested in foreign affairs to recognize the name Mugabe as a monster who deserved to be lined up alongside them in hell.

Some might argue Mugabe’s relative obscurity reflects a Western press that is uncomfortable with acknowledging the fact that a leftist anti-Colonialist revolutionary leader can turn out to be a bloodthirsty and brutal despot; some might argue his relative obscurity reflects a Western press that simply isn’t all that interested in Africa.

Earlier this year, John Fund offered a succinct summary of Mugabe’s catastrophic rule:

Robert Mugabe became the president of Zimbabwe in April 1980, back when Jimmy Carter was still president. Within two years he had deployed his infamous North Korea–trained Fifth Brigade against minority tribes in Matabeleland in a campaign of deliberate killing and starvation. The organization Genocide Watch estimated that 20,000 people were ultimately killed.

Mugabe would later launch an insane seizure of white-owned farms. That led to widespread food shortages and destructive hyperinflation that resulted in almost-worthless 100 trillion Zimbabwean dollar notes in circulation.

But henchmen from the ruling party, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), violently tamped down protests, and he ruled until November 2017, when a clique of his own generals worried that his wife would replace him overthrew the 94-year-old dictator in a coup. Since then, former minister of defense and current president Emmerson Mnangagwa has proclaimed that his country is “open for business,” when in reality the regime’s slogan should be “The new boss is just like the old boss.”

Just how similar are Zimbabwe’s new rulers? This summer Jay Nordlinger caught up with Evan Mawarire — a pastor and democracy leader from Zimbabwe:

The current regime in Zimbabwe is just as bad as Mugabe’s. In fact, it is a continuation of it. As Pastor Evan says, Mugabe is gone but the Mugabe system remains.

When the old man fell, there was euphoria in the streets, Evan says. People of all ages and tribes rejoiced. There had not been such unity since independence, says Evan. But it quickly turned to ash.

As before, democracy leaders and protesters were arrested (Evan among them). Their wives and daughters were raped. The men were beaten in prison. Evan wound up in the very same cell, incidentally — not just the same prison but the same cell.

Perhaps the Western world never paid much attention to Mugabe because Zimbabwe is far away and most Americans couldn’t find it on a map. It has little strategic geopolitical value. Back in 2017, Helen Andrews wrote a long piece for NRO observing that he reflected and greatly exacerbated his country’s problems, but he didn’t invent them. She also tackled the question of how things could have turned out differently, and ended up rejected a lot of the easy answers. These questions that arise are relevant to places much closer to home:

The most inviting answer to the question of what should have been done differently, which beckons like an oasis in the desert, is to blame the colonial regime. If only Rhodesia had been governed better, its oppressed native population would not have presented such an easy foothold to Marxist guerrillas. Alas, this particular oasis is a mirage — not because conditions for Africans were so splendid under Ian Smith and his predecessors, but because no amount of peace, prosperity, and good government has ever been a prophylactic against violent nationalism when other factors have made it an advantageous ideology to embrace. If nationalism were a function of oppression, there would have been a Mau Mau revolt in Hungary under the Soviets and rather less of one there under the Hapsburgs. Nationalism, like a contagious disease, does not discriminate.

Thanks for Nothing, Howard Schultz

About a week ago, I put an inquiry to Howard Schultz’s organization, asking about the back injury that interrupted his independent presidential campaign at the beginning of the summer and whether he would be returning to the campaign trail. No one replied. This morning, Axios reports what has been increasingly obvious since Schultz effectively disappeared from the public scene: Schultz isn’t running for president in 2020.

Schultz will tell his supporters today, “[N]ot enough people today are willing to consider backing an independent candidate because they fear doing so might lead to re-electing a uniquely dangerous incumbent president. If I went forward, there is a risk that my name would appear on ballots even if a moderate Democrat wins the nomination, and that is not a risk I am willing to take.” In other words, Schultz really wants a moderate Democrat to be the next president, even more than he wants to be president.

Fine, but if Schultz’s real driving motivation all along had been to ensure Bernie Sanders didn’t become president, he should have just said so.

Most conservatives felt no affection for Schultz, but after some initial mockery, I found his earnest naïveté strangely appealing. In the end, he had almost nothing in common with today’s angry Left or the modern nihilists. A man who spent his life in business and philanthropy had significantly more faith in the ability of business and philanthropy to make a better world, and didn’t see the private sector as a malevolent force that needed to be subjugated by government. The reaction to him from the Left was extremely revealing. Overnight, Schultz transformed from a well-liked and respected, do-gooder CEO to Public Enemy Number One, mocked in Stephen Colbert’s monologues and profanely heckled by leftist protesters. Nothing he did previously in his life mattered, nothing he was actually saying mattered. He had dared to publicly express a desire to do something that might have interfered with a Democratic Restoration, and for that he had to be destroyed.

It’s a little frustrating Schultz didn’t decide to run just to mess with everyone who joined the effort to demonize him.

Isn’t This a Press Secretary’s Job?

The President of the United States has too much time on his hands“Fox News senior White House correspondent John Roberts had just finished his 3 p.m. live shot on Thursday when President Donald Trump beckoned him into the Oval Office. The President had one argument to make, according to an internal Fox email Roberts sent about the meeting provided to CNN. ‘He stressed to me that forecasts for Dorian last week had Alabama in the warning cone,’ Roberts wrote. ‘He insisted that it is unfair to say Alabama was never threatened by the storm.’”

The European Union and the United Kingdom Can’t Go into Counseling

Felix Salmon, writing about “global disintegration” at Axios, makes a quick reference to the Brexit fight: “the desire of half the nation to cut itself off from its major trading partners is going to dominate British politics and economics for decades to come.

Comparatively unexamined in all of this is why so many people in the United Kingdom thought membership in the European Union was such a bad deal, particularly if the benefits are so obvious, as many British economic, political and media elites insist. The easy and self-flattering answer is to scoff that 52 percent of the British public was consumed by ignorance and xenophobia.

Put yourself in the EU’s shoes. One of your members has been grumbling for a long while, but then one day in the summer of 2016, it publicly announces it wants to leave you. You’re shocked; you never thought it would reach this point. But then you have a choice: Do you try to examine what went wrong and how the relationship could be rebuilt so that both sides feel like it’s working for them? Or do you try to punish them for growing unhappy with you?

The EU has shown no interest in reassessing why so many British think they’re getting a bad deal. They’ve shown little willingness to cooperate, work things out, attempt a good-faith effort to work through British concerns. The general reaction has been an indignant outrage that the British could think they’d be better off on their own, and a repeated expressed desire to make the negotiation and departure process as painful as possible for the U.K.

Why is slightly more than half of the British public willing to “cut itself off from its major trading partners”? Because those trading partners refuse to recognize any legitimate complaints about their rules and have demonstrated a desire to inflict as much economic pain on the U.K. as possible for daring to want to leave. European Union leaders say they don’t want the Brits or anyone else to leave, but they’re sure as heck not acting like it.

Maybe, immediately after the referendum, there was a chance the EU and U.K. could have worked out their differences. But now it’s like a bitter, messy divorce, where both sides have grown to loathe each other.

ADDENDA: I joined Rich Lowry, Charlie Cooke, and Michael Brendan Dougherty on the most recent episode of The Editors, discussing the latest twists and turns in Brexit, gun control, and Democratic climate change proposals.

Whole lot of listeners to the pop-culture podcast this week. I know we hear “maybe this is a turning point in the battles over political correctness” a lot, but maybe Dave Chappelle’s Netflix comedy special really did break the back of “cancel culture.”

Politics & Policy

You Can’t Call People ‘Terrorists’ Just for Having Different Viewpoints

David Rohwer of Austin holds his assault rifle during an open carry firearm rally on the sidelines of the annual National Rifle Association meeting in Dallas, Texas, May 5, 2018. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: San Francisco’s city leaders try to redefine the word terrorist to mean “people who we disagree with on gun policy”; the fight over Brexit in the United Kingdom takes another dramatic turn; the not-so-big NFL preview; and Joe Biden finds a way to laugh at his own gaffes.

San Francisco Tries to Redefine the Word ‘Terrorist’

We live in a time when authorities attempt to brazenly redefine the meaning of words by sheer force of will right before our eyes: “By a unanimous vote, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors have passed a resolution declaring the National Rifle Association a domestic terrorist organization and urging other cities to follow their example.” The resolution also orders city employees to “take every reasonable step to limit” business interactions with the NRA and its supporters.

First, does the city of San Francisco have any business interaction with the NRA? Did the supervisors even bother to look before passing this resolution? Or were they too high on performative outrage to even ask?

But let’s assume the guy who heads up the company that makes the orange traffic cones that the city uses is an NRA member and big donor to the organization. Would the city cancel a contract for more traffic cones over the guy’s support for the NRA? Federal courts have overturned agency decisions to cancel contracts over perceived bias against a contractor, even when the contractor was behind schedule. “Objectivity must be the hallmark of any decision to terminate for default.  Therefore, government personnel should remember to focus on the facts and make every attempt to work with the contractor before taking steps to terminate for cause.” A contractor who lost a job primarily because of his support for the NRA would probably have a winning court case.

But back to the label of “domestic terror organization.” You don’t have to like the NRA to recognize that it does not even remotely fit the definition of a “domestic terrorist organization.” What these eleven lawmakers mean to say is that they loathe the NRA and vehemently oppose their views on the Second Amendment and the right to own a gun. They’re free to have those views, but they do not have the authority to declare someone else a terrorist for having that different view.

These city supervisors aren’t the FBI. They’re not the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. They’re not the National Counterterrorism Center.

Terrorism is a crime, not merely a viewpoint. Being a member of Occupy Wall Street does not make you a terrorist. Being a member of Occupy Wall Street and planning to blow up a bridge makes you a terrorist. Being a Trump supporter doesn’t make you a terrorist. Being a Trump supporter and mailing pipe bombs to people you see as his enemies does make you a terrorist.

Can anyone in San Francisco grasp the danger in letting politicians declare by proclamation that those who have committed no crimes but who have differing views are terrorists? Can anyone over there imagine how this mentality could turn out badly for someone they like?

For example, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib wanted to go to Israel on a trip sponsored by Mitfah, an organization that runs articles contending “the Jews used the blood of Christians in the Jewish Passover”; and an American neo-Nazi screed about how Jews control the media; as well as praising suicide bombers, Palestinian terrorists, and bus hijackers who killed people, not metaphorical terrorists. Omar and Tlaib are associating with some really unsavory characters. This doesn’t make the congresswomen terrorists. But if we all decide to follow the San Francisco city supervisors’ example, we can label them terrorists morning, noon, and night. There’s no way that could possibly lead to something bad, right?

Leaders of the NRA frequently argue that they’re the only organization in America who is regularly blamed for the actions of people who aren’t members. I imagine that when they say that, somewhere the Koch network, AIPAC, Focus on the Family, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and National Right to Life grumble, ‘hey, it’s no picnic over here, either, pal.’ But being declared terrorists by a city government might take the cake.

This is the same city government that wants to restrict the use of words like ‘felon’ and ‘convict.’

Some examples include changing “felon” and “offender” to “returning resident” or “formerly incarcerated person.” A “parolee” could be described as a “person under supervision.” “Convict” could be referred to as a “currently incarcerated person,” while a “juvenile offender” or “delinquent” would be described as a “young person impacted by the justice system.”

The city government wants to take it easier on people who have broken the law, while vehemently demonizing people who have not broken the law.

Brexit Cancelled? Postponed? Rebooted?

Wednesday brought its share of surprises to the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Johnson no longer has a Conservative majority in Parliament; ordinarily, this would lead to a new election. But the anti-Brexit forces aren’t so eager for a new election, because they know there’s a chance is that the result would be a decidedly pro-Brexit majority. The anti-Brexit forces passed a bill requiring the prime minister to ask the EU for a three-month extension before a “hard exit.” Johnson is refusing, and now we have a standoff.

Daniel Hannan argues that the train tracks only run in one direction — Brexit — and that the current disputes are simply debating how fast the train goes on those tracks.

The parties that have spent the past month accusing Johnson of mounting some sort of coup just voted to prevent him from subjecting his tenure to a national vote.

The House of Commons has thus put itself in a ridiculous position. Pro-EU MPs have voted to keep in office a government they have calculatedly undermined. They have done so for the sole purpose of overturning a referendum result which they had previously promised to uphold. That, my friends, is our political crisis in a nutshell.

Now the good news. Voters are not idiots. They can see what is going on. Sooner or later, probably sooner, there will have to be a general election. The Conservatives have, in effect, deselected 21 of their MPs, including several former ministers, for voting with Labour to prevent Brexit. Although that purge has horrified commentators, most of whom are in awe of the Europhile grandees, it is a necessary prelude to an election campaign that will turn on Brexit. The Tories could hardly fight an election promising to leave the EU while several of their candidates refused to accept that policy. Though the pundits are fainting like affronted matrons, voters appreciate Boris Johnson’s strength of purpose.

In the meantime, the loss of those 21 votes has deprived the government of its majority, making an election before the end of the year almost inevitable.

Hannan’s not being a wild-eyed optimist. Politico points out that every faction is slowly recognizing that their only option is another election to serve as a second referendum on Brexit.

The Not-So-Big NFL Preview

The NFL season starts tonight, with the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears squaring off.

Tom Brady’s been playing quarterback since 2001; he’s appeared in nine Super Bowls and won six of them. Thus, he’s won the Super Bowl two out of every three years, and appeared in the Super Bowl in half of his seasons; though some New England Patriot fans would argue the 2008 season shouldn’t count, as he missed almost all of that season with an ACL injury. This means that almost every year, the New England Patriots are the safest bet to win the Super Bowl.

For several years, I’ve wondered if this is the year the Patriots’ dynasty ends. Each year, there’s some reason to think time is catching up with all of them. Tight end Rob Gronkowski retired, Brady is now 42, and head coach Bill Belichick has to be thinking about retiring. Josh McDaniels’ quickly rescinded acceptance of the Indianapolis Colts head coaching job in 2018 suggests that he’s the heir apparent in New England, and he probably expects to take over sooner rather than later. And while his desire for championships is clear, owner Bob Kraft seems focused on pursuing different happy endings.

Obviously, the Patriots’ dynasty hasn’t ended. I talked about the upcoming season a bit with Mickey on the pop-culture podcast and predicted the Saints and Chiefs in the Super Bowl. But today I want to revise my pick to the Patriots winning it all again. If they do so, I look clairvoyant; if they don’t, it means I probably cursed them by picking them. Win-win.

I’m predicting the Patriots over the Saints in the Super Bowl. The AFC division winners will be New England, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Jacksonville, with San Diego Chargers and the Cleveland Browns making the wild card slots. (I still think Cleveland is getting overhyped this year.) My Jets will finish 8-8 and far too many fans will accept it as a sign of gradual progress. Over in the NFC, the division winners will be New Orleans, Philadelphia, the Los Angeles Rams, and the Chicago Bears, with the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons in the wild card slots.

The five teams picking first in the 2020 draft will be Miami, Washington, Detroit, the Raiders, and Indianapolis.

Later today, Greg Corombus and I will hold our Democratic Presidential Primary Fantasy Draft.

ADDENDA: Okay, this is pretty funny: Last night on Stephen Colbert’s program, former vice president Joe Biden told the host that his gaffes weren’t substantial . . . and then deliberately called him “Jimmy Kimmel.”

World

Brexit Is in the Final Countdown

A pro-Brexit yellow vest protester demonstrates in London, England, March 30, 2019. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: A detailed explainer of the intense, unpredictable fight in the United Kingdom regarding Brexit and what steps come next; finally a bit of good news in Hong Kong; a bad deal with the Taliban doesn’t take long to get even worse; and a long-awaited new episode of the pop-culture podcast!

This Brexit Stuff Is Complicated, But It’s Reaching the Dramatic Climax

When it comes to Brexit, there are five people I turn to in order figure out what’s happening: John O’Sullivan, Daniel Hannan, Andrew Stuttaford, Michael Brendan Dougherty, and Madeline Kearns is rapidly ascending into those top ranks.

The short version: Some of the Conservatives in Parliament are freaked out by the option of a “no-deal” Brexit, and yesterday voted to block that option, which more or less tied the hands of British prime minister Boris Johnson. Johnson’s counter-maneuver is to call for new parliamentary elections — “snap elections” — that would more or less turn into a de facto second referendum on Brexit. Parliament will vote on whether to hold new elections today, and they’re expected to agree. If they do schedule one, it would be held sometime soon, as the October 31 deadline for a “no-deal” Brexit is now two months away. Kearns reports, “Knowing his audience, Johnson has assured MPs that it would be on October 14, the day of the Queen’s speech.”

The longer version . . .

You may recall that under Theresa May, the U.K. Parliament kept voting not to do anything, and rejecting every option it was offered. Just this year, Parliament held thirteen “meaningful votes” on various plans to execute the withdrawal from the European Union, and every single one of them lost; other than the votes that demanded the government come up with a new plan. The lawmakers rejected every deal for Brexit and the “no-deal” Brexit option.

Enter new Prime Minister Johnson, who initially wavered on Brexit, then endorsed it, and who has been pushing for it without an overabundance of details on how the withdrawal would work. Johnson sounded like he was ready to go ahead with the “no-deal” departure.

The “no-deal” option kicks in if no departure agreement is in place by Halloween. Under that scenario, every existing agreement, rule, and regulation with the EU disappears, and everybody has to replace them on the fly; a process that is likely to get messy, confusing, and perhaps lead to shortages of certain products in the U.K. as replacement agreements are hammered out. The British Retail Consortium contends that it is inevitable that food shipments will be delayed as new checks at the border create delays. “Soft fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, tomatoes, and lettuce, would likely see reduced availability as they are largely imported during the winter months.”

One of the bigger and thornier questions is how you handle the border between Northern Ireland, which as part of the United Kingdom would no longer be part of the EU, and the Republic of Ireland, which still be part of it. During “the Troubles,” the border crossings had checkpoints manned by the British military. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 started winding down the sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland, and by 2005, the situation had improved enough for the checkpoints to evaporate. (Within the EU, you can travel from one country to another with no real interruptions; the trains from Germany to Austria don’t even announce when you’ve left one country and entered another. Picture taking Amtrak to Toronto.) People on both sides of the border, who have gotten used to traveling freely and easily over the past 15 years, worry about the return of customs inspectors and police and waiting in line.

But Daniel Hannan warns that if the British government takes the “no deal” option off the table, the European Union will take the country to the cleaners in the negotiations in the aftermath — after all, the U.K. would have effectively promised they would never walk away from the negotiating table. “[Members of Parliament] know that taking “no deal” off the table means taking Brexit off the table. All the E.U. has to do to keep us in is offer intolerable terms. Let’s call this what it is: an attempt by MPs, despite everything they promised, to overturn the referendum.”

Stuttaford warns, “A Brexit that involved severing the U.K.’s relationship with the E.U. in one abrupt move has never been the way to go.” He points to an argument that what the Leave voters really wanted was political independence from the EU’s decision-making process, not a complete cessation of all existing economic ties.

Michael Brendan Dougherty isn’t sure that if there is a new election, it will go so well for Johnson and the conservatives. The issue of Brexit didn’t split cleanly along party lines; there are Remain Conservatives who think the country is committing economic suicide, and there are Leave liberals. Conservative prime ministers have been pledging to get it done since the referendum in 2016, but they clearly don’t have enough votes in parliament to pass any particular plan. There’s a separate Brexit Party as well, headed by Nigel Farage; beyond Brexit, it supports cutting foreign aid, having British Steel part-owned by workers, and installing wi-fi on all public transportation.

Quite a few people think that Johnson’s secret weapon is the current leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, who is an anti-Semitic Communist lunatic.

The Conservative Party already has their message: Voting for Johnson means “Brexit delivered on October 31,” while a vote for Corbyn means “more talk, delay, and indecision.” They’re gleefully pointing out that Corbyn has been saying for months that he wants a new general election — and now that they’re on the verge of getting it, they’re backing away.

One of the British politicians I like best, despite the fact that most U.K. conservatives can’t stand him, is former prime minister Tony Blair. He’s desperately trying to get his party to realize that they’re about to stumble into a national election with the one British leader who frightens the country more than a hard Brexit. “Boris Johnson knows that if no-deal Brexit stands on its own as a proposition it might well fail, but if he mixes it up with the Corbyn question in a general election, he could succeed despite a majority being against a no-deal Brexit because some may fear a Corbyn premiership more.”

John O’Sullivan thinks Johnson may attempt to finalize the “no-deal” departure from the EU before the new election. Some polling indicates that if he pulled it off, the public would be more likely to support Conservatives; certainly, the Brexit party would find its primary policy goal suddenly achieved.

Perhaps one of the lessons of all this is that when you hold a referendum and split 52 percent to 48 percent, enacting the wishes of the 52 percent is going to be extremely difficult because the opposition is nearly half the country.

Hong Kong’s Leader: Okay, Okay, We’ll Really Drop That Extradition Bill

Finally, some good news out of Hong Kong: “Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said Wednesday that the government would withdraw a contentious extradition bill that ignited months of protests in the city, moving to quell the worst political crisis since the former British colony returned to Chinese control 22 years ago.”

This move probably isn’t going to make all the protesters back up and go home. Push came to shove in the last couple of days, and at those pivotal moments, the Hong Kong police looked as brutal and thuggish as any authoritarian regime’s, with the whole world watching. It wasn’t that long ago that locals by and large trusted the police; that trust is gone. And without free and fair elections to select the leaders of Hong Kong, who’s to say that the extradition bill doesn’t come back in some modified form? Or that figures who particularly irk the Chinese government don’t start getting extradited in secret?

Over at Axios, Mike Allen declares, “this is a victory for democracy over the world’s largest totalitarian state.” To paraphrase Mr. Wolf from Pulp Fiction, let’s not start patting each other on the back quite yet. The formal withdrawal of the bill is a good first step — but this is still a situation where the Chinese government has a lot of leverage, and they’re patient.

You Cannot Trust the Taliban.

Let’s check in with our new partners in peace, the Taliban: “The Taliban on Tuesday defended their suicide bombing against an international compound in the Afghan capital that killed at least 16 people and wounded 119, almost all local civilians, just hours after a U.S. envoy said he and the militant group had reached a deal ‘in principle’ to end America’s longest war.”

You know what’s in the Green Village in Kabul? The Romanian Embassy and international aid organizations. They are promising us they will no longer work with terrorists while committing acts of terrorism.

The Taliban’s methods worked, by the way; locals in the neighborhood are tired of being targets and are violently protesting, demanding the foreign aid workers move somewhere else.

They’re as mad at the victims of the bombing as they are at the guys who built and detonated the bomb.

If the United States is to leave Afghanistan, we should do it on our own terms, with no pretense of “negotiating” with a malevolent force that demonstrates its bad faith and untrustworthiness every day. Leave with a promise: If the Taliban return to power and the country becomes a base of operations for anti-American terrorists again, then the United States will not invade like in 2001. If we must respond a second time, we will simply bomb targets of our choosing, over and over again, with no corresponding aid programs or relief efforts to help the country. We will not seek out allies on the ground or to establish a legitimate government that will attempt to govern by consensus or establish basic human rights. We will simply destroy whoever is in charge, leaving a lesson for whatever forces replace them.

ADDENDA: A new, extra-long version of the pop-culture podcast is out this morning! Mickey and I have a lot to say about that Dave Chappelle comedy special on Netflix that has the “Cancel Culture” crowd tearing their hair out; plus dissections of the other controversial offerings from the streaming service, like Mindhunter and 13 Reasons Why. I explain why I think that upcoming Joker movie is going to be an inadvertent moral disaster. Why try to figure out why those JUUL vapor devices seemed to change overnight from some new thing smokers were doing to Public Health Enemy Number One, and our NFL preview, with a lot more frostbite than either of us expected.

Politics & Policy

James Mattis Gives the Country a Warning

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis in Washington, D.C., October 23, 2018 (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: A warning from former secretary of defense James Mattis about what really threatens our country; House Democrats conclude that what the country really needs right now is high-profile hearings about the payments to Stormy Daniels; and Bill de Blasio loses interest in his day job.

‘Tribalism Must Not be Allowed to Destroy Our Experiment.’

In his new autobiography, former secretary of defense James Mattis writes:

What concerns me most as a military man is not our external adversaries; it is our internal divisiveness… We are dividing into hostile tribes cheering against each other, fueled by emotion and a mutual disdain that jeopardizes our future, instead of rediscovering our common ground and finding solutions. All Americans need to recognize that our democracy is an experiment and one that can be reversed. Tribalism must not be allowed to destroy our experiment.

I’m close to finishing the first draft of the second thriller novel, thinking through the theme, as well as heroes, villains, chases, explosions, and all that good stuff. One of the themes that’s emerging is how few Americans recognize that peace, prosperity, freedom, and relative social harmony are really glaring outliers in human history* — and how many Americans think that peace, prosperity, freedom, and relative social harmony are “normal” — and that no matter what goes wrong, no matter how many bad decisions we make, our lives will always bounce back to what we think is normal. We don’t realize how good we have it, even in the bad times, and we don’t realize that we can lose it all if we don’t tackle our challenges responsibly.

History isn’t just full of massacres; it’s full of massacres that most Americans never heard of during their educations.

The massacre of the Herero and Namaquain German South West Africa of 1904, — 30,000 to 110,000 people were killed. The Holodomor in Ukraine of 1932 — 3.3 million to 7 million killed in a manmade famine; and the concurrent Kazakh genocide, when another 1.5 million to 3 million were killed. Nanking, China, 1937 — anywhere from 30,000 to 300,000 killed. The Parsley Massacre in the Dominican Republic, 1937 — up to 35,000 killed.

This isn’t just long-ago history, either. Mass killings in Indonesia in 1965, 500,000 to 3 million dead. The Nigerian Civil War — 100,000 killed, and up to 2 million more were killed from starvation. The Bangladesh genocide in 1971 — between 300,000 and 3 million killed. The Red Terror in Ethiopia in 1976 — up to 500,000 killed. The Cambodian genocide in the late 1970s — 1.3 million to 3 million killed. Somalia of 1987 — an estimated 200,000 killed.

Did I say not just ancient history? I meant really recent. Forty-five worshippers killed by the Red Mask paramilitary group in Chiapas, Mexico, 1997. Anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 killed in riots in Gujarat, India, 2002. Several hundred to 1,500 killed in Andijan, Uzbekistan in 2005. About 3,000 massacred in South Sudan, 2012. During the Syrian Civil War, forces loyal to Bashir Assad summarily executed 108 people — half children! — in Houla, Syria, in 2012.

But we don’t have to look to foreign shores to find horrors and monstrosities. The Bear River massacre of 1863; a mob of about 500 people conducted mass lynchings in Los Angeles’s Chinatown in 1871. Maybe you’ve heard a bit more about the Red Summer of 1919 or the Tulsa race riot of 1921; and the destruction of Rosewood, Fla. in 1923.  In 1979, in Greensboro, N.C., the Communist Worker’s Party, the American Nazi Party, and the KKK had a violent clash that killed five and injured twelve.

You’re smart, well-informed readers, yet you’ve probably only heard of half of these; I hadn’t heard about them until I started reading up on massacres in history. If you haven’t heard of these, it isn’t necessarily your fault. Your teachers only had so much time, and the story of one group slaughtering another group was simultaneously depressing and seemingly not all that relevant to students who wanted to do well on the SAT or AP tests. But perhaps a side effect of teaching history the way we do — here are some ancient bloody battles, then things gradually got better, and now we’ve left all those ugly sentiments and feelings and actions behind — is that we inadvertently feed the notion that human nature has changed.

Tribalism, xenophobia, hate — the temptation to succumb to these passions may well be baked in the cake of the human condition. But the fact that massacres and hatred are not omnipresent means we can overcome them. “The internal beast is human nature. It cannot be killed; it can only be tamed. And even then, constant vigilance is required. The story of civilization is, quite literally, the story of taming, directing, channeling or holding at bay human nature,” as Jonah writes in Suicide of the West.

It also means we need to appreciate what Americans have built — slowly, gradually, and with great struggle. Even when we’ve had it bad, we’ve had it pretty good. If you grew up even lower middle-class in the United States with minimal encounters with crime and violence, you won the lottery of human experience, historically speaking. For most of the time man has walked this earth, people lived with the fear that the next village over, or the next kingdom over, or the next country over could suddenly come riding over the hill and kill everyone — just because they wanted their resources, their territory, or slaves.

There is no shortage of malevolent people who would be comfortable with our society backsliding towards the historical norm, just for the opportunity to express that endless rage within them.

In another passage on leadership, Mattis writes, “institutions get the behavior they reward.” What behavior does our media reward? What behavior does our electorate reward? What behavior does our government reward?

*Suicide of the West explores this lesson with a lot more history and economics and a lot fewer gunfights and chases.

Oh, Just What We Needed. Stormy Daniels Hearings.

The Washington Post reports, “The House Judiciary Committee is preparing to hold hearings and call witnesses involved in hush-money payments to ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult-film star Stormy Daniels as soon as October, according to people familiar with the plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.”

Is there anyone who feels like they have major unanswered questions about the payments to Daniels and McDougal? Does anyone in America feel like they need to know more, or that they can’t figure out anyone’s motivations or actions in this whole sordid cesspool? This isn’t the JFK assassination or Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide. Federal prosecutors finished their work in July. Michael Cohen pled guilty, saying that he directed the payments at Trump’s direction. Trump offered his usual denial. The question of whether Trump broke federal law hinges upon whether Trump made the payments for the purposes of the election, or whether he would have made the payments anyway.

Trump’s interactions with women have always sounded like they’re one step above Caligula’s, and this has been clear to anybody who has been reading the New York Post since the 1980s. Some of us argued against this path, and the GOP and the country chose this path anyway. The country knew full well who this guy was when they elected him; they know who he is now. Just what are congressional hearings going to do? Even by the cynical motivation of, “we’re going to hold hearings on this, in order to embarrass the president,” isn’t likely to work. Trump went after Mark Sanford for adultery last week. You can’t shame the terminally shameless.

This administration is a target-rich environment for mismanagement, dishonesty, and incompetence, and the House Judiciary Committee keeps tilting at windmills. Remember when we were told that Robert Mueller’s testimony was going to be “the most anticipated hearing in a decade”?

Bill de Blasio, the Mayor Who Wasn’t There

Look, aspiring presidents. If you want to run for president, run for president — and quit your day job. I mean formally quit, instead of simply not bothering to do the day job anymore:

Mayor Bill de Blasio spent a mere seven hours — less than one full workday — at City Hall during the month he launched his bid for the White House, records reviewed by The Post show.

Hizzoner showed up at his office on just six occasions in May, taking part in two meetings, four events, and five phone calls, one of which was his weekly appearance on WNYC radio, according to entries on his official calendar.

The obvious joke here is that de Blasio is such a lousy mayor, that the city was probably better off without him. Or that considering past questions about how much time de Blasio spends actually working as mayor, no one noticed that he wasn’t there.

Perhaps one of the silver linings to this clown-car-pile-up of a Democratic primary is that for all of their flaws, Democratic primary voters are at least noticing which ones are the worst of the worst and keeping them at arm’s length. Bill de Blasio already has a big important job, and quite a few folks who are ideologically inclined to agree with him can’t stand him because of worsening problems in New York City’s quality of life. His record stinks, and he’s always moving on to the next big and exceptionally impractical proposal — Ban steel and glass skyscrapers! Eliminate the gifted and talented programs from public schools! — without bothering to try to fix the biggest problems on his constituents’ minds.

ADDENDA: We’re about two weeks away from the book signing over at Barnes and Noble in the Mosaic District in northern Virginia. There’s now a sign with my giant noggin near the front of the store, which is flattering and a little weird because I go over there to browse and buy books pretty regularly. “Hey, are you Jim Geraghty? Wait . . . are you reading a comic book?” “First, it’s a graphic novel, and, second, um, I’m getting it for my kids. Er, really!”

Elections

How to Think about Biden’s Gaffes

Joe Biden speaks at the Presidential Gun Sense Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, August 10, 2019. (Gage Skidmore)

Making the click-through worthwhile and wrapping up your week before Labor Day weekend: the worst-case scenario for Democrats if they nominate Joe Biden; a lesson about money in politics that needs to be taught and retaught, seemingly endlessly; a shocking poll up in Massachusetts; and a whole bunch of Hillary Clinton fans suddenly like leaks from the former FBI director.

The Worst-Case Scenario for Democrats with Biden

Joe Biden is probably mentally and physically fine — or within the parameters of fine for a man who turns 77 in November and who never had the greatest verbal discipline at the height of his career.

When Biden tells a story where he gets just about all of the details wrong, when he mixes up New Hampshire and Vermont, or calls former British prime minister Theresa May “Margaret Thatcher,” or when he says, “those kids in Parkland came up to see me when I was vice president” or when he mangles the address of his campaign web site at the end of a debate, it’s probably just a normal man in his mid-to-late 70s behaving like a normal man in his mid-to-late 70s.

I believe that if Biden were genuinely mentally or physically unwell and incapable of handling the duties of the presidency, his family and friends would sit him down and make him withdraw from the race. No one would want their loved one to go out into the national spotlight and stumble and be embarrassed. Watching a loved one succumb to age and gradually lose their mental acuity and memory from Alzheimer’s is an extremely painful process.*

(In a strange way, “I want to be clear, I’m not going nuts,” is kind of a cute and charming unofficial slogan. With the news being what it is these days, Mr. Vice President, we’ve all felt the need to reassure others and ourselves of that fact.)

But even assuming that these are just normal septuagenarian memory lapses, it’s more than a little uncomfortable to watch Biden appear to forget Barack Obama’s name, saying during a recent appearance, “he’s saying it was president . . . (pause) My boss’s, it’s his fault.” If part of the reason to vote for Biden is his superior experience and knowledge in foreign policy, it’s a little unnerving to hear Biden say, “I don’t know the new prime minister of England. He looks like Donald Trump, I know that.” Really? Does the former veep need glasses?

The problem for Biden and his campaign is that nothing gets easier from here. Running for president consists almost entirely of long days of extemporaneous speaking in front of cameras and getting asked difficult questions from both reporters and voters. It is physically and mentally grueling marathon even to the healthiest and youngest candidates. Sure, the Biden campaign can rely on ads where Biden barely speaks and try to get him to stick to a prepared script as much as possible. But we know this man. Biden likes to talk. He likes to tell stories. He will tell stories where he doesn’t really remember the details, fills in the blanks with how he wanted it to have happened, and insist, “this is the God’s honest truth.”

We’re going to get more implausible claims like the idea that Seattle was a hotbed of homophobia five years ago. We’re going to get more impossible-to-check but credulity-straining stories, like the idea that Biden and his father saw two men kissing in the street in Delaware in 1961, and that his father taught him, “It’s simple, Joe. They love each other.”

Jonah writes that Biden ought to run an old-fashioned “front porch campaign”, declaring, “while he may be showing signs of age, the truth is that he’s always been prone to gaffes, malapropisms, exaggerations, and misstatements. Every time Biden opens his mouth in an unscripted situation, there’s a chance he’ll say something goofy that undercuts his elder-statesman status.”

It’s entirely possible that Biden’s gaffes never amount to much during the primary. So far, they haven’t caused enough concern to eat into Biden’s lead. The former vice president had a lousy first debate but generally pulled it together in the second one. Biden’s memory, mental acuity, and age are probably only going to be issues if he has an absolutely terrible lapse on camera during a debate, or if one of the other candidates decides to make it an issue. And the candidate who brings it up will be playing with fire. Make no mistake, a lot of voters will see “you’re too old to be president and your mind is failing you” to be a mean, nasty, personal attack.

But the general election is going to feature an incumbent who specializes in mean, nasty, personal attacks.

The worst-case scenario for the Democrats is that Biden rides to the nomination on a combination of voter familiarity and comfort, his usual empathy and goofy charm, and carefully managed appearances . . . and then Biden’s memory lapses and brief moments of confusion become too prominent to ignore after he’s the nominee. We know the Trump campaign will not ignore them, and gleefully contend that Biden is indeed losing his mind. (Oh, what about Trump’s gaffes, you’re asking? Have you noticed the president’s Infinity Gauntlet of Shamelessness that makes him immune to all accusations of hypocrisy?)

In fact, if Biden’s memory is going to be an issue, it would be better for Democrats if his lapses were so glaring and troubling that they generated a broad consensus within the party that he had to be replaced for the nominee. The worst range would be that if the problems were frequent and persistent enough to make voters doubt he could handle the job as president, but not quite frequent and persistent enough to convince Biden friends and allies that he should probably head for a quiet, well-earned retirement.

The whole thing is vaguely reminiscent of the questions about Hillary Clinton’s health during the 2016 campaign. The good news is, it is the end of August 2019 and Hillary Clinton is still alive and, as far as we know, in good health for a 71-year-old woman. But at an absolute minimum, when she was having intermittent coughing fits during her speeches, she had pneumonia and a sinus and ear infection, all while her staff insisted to the press that her health was fine. (Why would we be surprised that political candidates, who shake hands with strangers all day, would catch colds and other infections?) That video of her staff trying to get her into the van at Ground Zero was scary stuff. Maybe that incident added to voter doubts about her health, or maybe it just added to voter doubts that she and her campaign were being honest about her health.

Democrats would be fools to repeat that pattern of indignantly insisting the nominee is fine, right before something happens that shows the country that the nominee is not fine.

I hope Joe Biden is fine. He’s probably fine, or about as fine as he’s ever been. But if elected, on inauguration day 2021, Biden would be 78 years, 61 days old, the oldest sitting president. The second-oldest president at their inauguration was Trump at 70 years, 220 days; the third-oldest was Ronald Reagan at 69 years, 349 days. Questions like this about the condition of Biden’s body and mind are inevitable — and fair.

*You want to know which movie has an absolutely beautiful scene, out of nowhere, about living with someone with Alzheimer’s? Friends With Benefits, an otherwise mostly forgettable romantic comedy with Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. Timberlake has a father whose Alzheimer’s is getting worse, and at one point he’s called to the airport, where his father has taken off his pants and is sitting at a restaurant table in his underwear. The other patrons are embarrassed and giving him awkward stares. Timberlake knows that telling his father to put on his pants on will just create a scene, and there’s no point in arguing with him. So he takes off his pants as well, sits down and orders a steak.

Now They Tell Us!

A CNN headline that ought to be remembered the next time someone proposes campaign finance reform to “get big money out of politics”: Tom Steyer learns, again, that money doesn’t always matter in politics. You would think high-profile examples like H. Ross Perot, Steve Forbes, and Michael Huffington would have taught people that spending a lot of money doesn’t always translate to a win in a hard-fought campaign.

Here Come the Kennedys, Yet Again

A little while back, I said that the Kennedy family might be better off if their members took a break from running for office. With a new survey showing Congressman Joe Kennedy ahead of Senator Ed Markey, 42 percent to 25 percent (!), it is unlikely that Kennedy will resist the temptation to run.

How can you be a relatively boring, not particularly controversial, loyal party man incumbent senator and be polling at just 25 percent in a primary poll? What, did Markey put a Yankee cap or something?

ADDENDA: It’s kind of amazing; people who are big fans of James Comey and big foes of President Trump think “Comey didn’t leak classified information” is all they need to say in response to yesterday’s IG report. That report was pretty damning! If you’re FBI director, you don’t get to pick and choose which Bureau rules and regulations you follow, but some people seem to believe that it’s okay for the FBI director to leak sensitive but unclassified information if he has as sufficiently low opinion of the president.

Elections

Kirsten Gillibrand and America’s Meritocracy

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D, N.Y.) waits to go on stage during her campaign kick off event in New York, March 24, 2019. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: As a presidential candidate, Kirsten Gillibrand never made much of a splash, but the crash and burn of her campaign offers quite a few lessons about the American meritocracy and how people perceive those at the top; Andy McCarthy asks a tough question about mercy; Bernie Sanders plans to restructure your life; and an unexpected but fitting reimagining of two of my favorite fictional characters.

Voters Saw Kirsten Gillibrand as Type-A Girl from High School

Kirsten Gillibrand is out of the presidential race. I’d like to think that Tuesday’s Corner post, declaring that she was only delaying the inevitable, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

What’s left to learn from the crash and burn of Gillibrand?

Go back to Gillibrand’s biography. If you had a daughter who was accepted to Dartmouth and studied two semesters abroad in Beijing and Taiwan, you would probably be pretty proud. If she got into UCLA law school, and then was accepted for internships in her senator’s office and at the United Nations in Vienna, Austria, you would be proud of that, too. If, after law school, she got hired by one of Manhattan’s oldest and most distinguished law firms, and went on to get selected for coveted law clerk positions, you would probably be bragging to the neighbors.

By a lot of standards, Gillibrand did what a bright and ambitious woman is supposed to do. In fact, by the standards of America’s self-labeled meritocratic elite, Gillibrand’s path to success is exactly what a young person is supposed to pursue. This comparison hasn’t been made much, but in this way she’s like Pete Buttigieg — the bright young son of professors at Notre Dame who is accepted to Harvard, moves on to Oxford, and immediately gets hired by McKinsey consulting. They’re both Type-A personalities with grades to match, carrying around golden resumes and heads full of answers that wow teachers, professors, and potential employers. Quite a few parents look at standout young people like this and wish their kids could be more like that.

America’s self-labeled meritocracy (please avert your eyes from all the nepotism, bourgeoisie readers, it’s gauche to bring it up) unsubtly turns all aspects of life into a competition. You want to get the best grades, get into the best school, study under the best professors, get the best internships, get the best jobs, get the highest salary, move into the best house, drive the best car, have the biggest portfolio . . . This isn’t new; America has long had a competitive sense of “keeping up with the Joneses.” It’s easy to understand why many Americans would grow to find this rarely openly expressed but almost omnipresent mindset unappealing. People sigh about “the rat race.” Seemingly high-achieving workers hit burnout. People dream of winning the lottery and moving to some sparsely populated island somewhere and “leaving it all behind.” People crave a sense of being valued for who they are, not just for their big salary, prestigious job, or fancy car. A seemingly endless stream of nonfiction and fiction works explore “the cost of the American dream.”

When you have a competition, there are usually going to be a few winners and a lot of people who “lose.” We conservatives have grumbled about “class envy” for a long time, but maybe some resentment is natural. People who have thrived in America’s “meritocracy” include Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Eric Schneiderman, Bernie Madoff, Jeffrey Skilling, Elizabeth Holmes. We’ve seen plenty of millionaires and self-proclaimed billionaires who turned out to be terrible human beings. We’ve seen plenty of celebrities demonstrate every repugnant behavior under the sun, to the point of self-destruction. Lots of people who are in the middle or bottom have reason to doubt the notion that the best really do rise to the top in America.

When Kirsten Gillibrand — super accomplished, $500,000-per-year lawyer — turned her attention and ambitions to the political world, the best opportunity to run for office was a purple district in the middle of New York state. The top-tier Manhattan lawyer might not seem like the perfect fit, but she adapted, her opponent got caught in a scandal, and she won.

There’s a particular circle of elite New York Democratic party and media voices who found Gillibrand to be exactly what they wanted; she had risen to the top, and other people at the top found her to be as close to perfect as they could imagine. Their swoon spurred those ridiculous-in-retrospect overestimations of her appeal as a presidential candidate: Politico (“Her moment has arrived”), GQ (“the most fearsome contender”), The New Yorker (“the new face of moral reform”), and Vogue (“she’s got newfound street cred among lefties and progressives”).

The swoon started soon after her appointment to fill Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat. I love making fun of Vogue’s 2017 profile of Gillibrand, but the gushing in the 2010 profile — entitled, “In Hillary’s Footsteps” — is pretty over-the-top, too:

“Gillibrand is nothing if not genuine, and through sheer force of personality she bends the occasion to suit her style, which is essentially folksy and earnest. She radiates kindness. But she is also direct and no-nonsense. Despite the fact that she is a Democrat (and a fairly progressive one, at that) and worked for fifteen years as a hotshot Manhattan lawyer, she seems utterly at ease among this crowd of mostly Republican farmers, with their rough hands and weathered faces.”

For some reason, Iowa and New Hampshire farmers did not find her as appealing.

Gillibrand kept getting compared to the character of Tracey Flick from Election, and perhaps that is indeed sexist. But let’s reexamine that character and that movie. On paper, the villain of the story is Matthew Broderick’s high school social studies teacher, who grows so infuriated and antagonistic to Reese Witherspoon’s Flick that he’s willing to try to cheat to ensure she doesn’t win the election for student body election. Technically, Flick is the victim in the story. But we, the audience, relate to Broderick. Flick is a fascinating but thoroughly unlikeable character, and she’s supposed to be one. At one point she declares, “I feel sorry for Mr. McAllister. I mean, anyone who’s stuck in the same little room, wearing the same stupid clothes, saying the exact same things year after year for all of his life, while his students go on to good colleges and move to big cities and do great things and make loads of money — he’s gotta be at least a little jealous. It’s like my mom says, the weak are always trying to sabotage the strong.” Tracey Flick doesn’t have much beyond her all-consuming ambition and determination, and probably the single most important characteristic is that we never see her actually caring about anyone besides herself, and perhaps the desire to make her mother proud. Why was Election a hit that is remembered and still referred to, two decades later? Because a lot of people knew high school class presidents who reminded them of Tracey Flick.

No doubt, Gillibrand cares about people. But her sudden about-face on a bunch of issues — gun ownership, gay marriage, how the government should treat illegal immigrants — probably raised questions in a lot of Democratic primary voters about just what Gillibrand cared about more than her political ambitions. As Ramesh observed, Gillibrand had so little ability to offer plausible explanations for her sudden reversals on policy that she claimed her previous support for gun rights was because she didn’t care enough about people then. As recently as October 2018, she had vehemently and publicly insisted she would not run for president.

Finally, let’s recognize that deep blue or deep red states may not be the best training camp for candidates who want to run nationally. Say what you want about Beto O’Rourke; at least he out-hustled some overconfident Democratic incumbents to win his city council and U.S. House seats. Gillibrand’s opponents in her career so far have been a bunch of tomato cans: incumbent Republican John Sweeney right after allegations of hitting his wife surfaced; former New York secretary of state Alexander Treadwell, who had never won an election in his life; former congressman Joe DioGuardi, who had not won an election in 24 years, and Wendy Long, who had never been elected to any office before. Her two House elections were in 2006 and 2008, two of the best years for Democrats in recent memory.

A source in that 2010 Vogue profile declared, “She can do the same thing on derivatives, comfortably rapping about financial markets. She walks into these huge churches in Brooklyn and Queens and starts talking about the asthma rates and the environmental-justice movement. It’s just her comfort level with so many subjects.” A lot of political writers convinced themselves that Gillibrand had an amazing ability to connect with people, an ability that was entirely missing from this presidential bid.

We Would Have More Faith if Mercy Didn’t Align So Well with Partisan Affiliation

Andy McCarthy, author of the excellent Ball of Collusion, this morning: “FBI and Justice Department officials keep telling us they grasp that there must be one standard of justice applicable to everyone, not a two-tiered system. So, here’s the question: If Andrew McCabe’s name were Michael Flynn, how much mercy could he expect from, say, Andrew Weissmann, [chief of the criminal fraud section of the U.S. Department of Justice]?”

Restructure This.

This morning, an Axios headline promises, Senator Bernie “Sanders’ plan to restructure your life.”

Don’t let the door hit you where the Good Lord split you, senator. The American people don’t need you or any other elected official to “restructure” their lives. That’s not the job of the federal government — or the state and local ones, either. Everything I described a few paragraphs ago about the relentless competitiveness of American life and our national not-quite meritocracy and the rat race — I don’t trust anyone in government to make any of that better.

ADDENDA: A reader of Between Two Scorpions says the two married protagonists reminded him of Chip and Joanna Gaines, from HGTV’s Fixer Upper. I never pictured that, and yet somehow, it fits.

Elections

You Should at Least Read My Column before Writing a Hit Piece

President Donald Trump talks to reporters at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 30, 2019. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: A not-so-persuasive accusation of “traveling fantastically creative routes to reach the sunny side of Trump” and a lesson from the world of comic books that probably applies to political columns; Trump orders his staff to build new border fences quickly, regardless of the consequences; and a new poll suggests that surprising Monmouth poll wasn’t at all accurate.

I Suppose This Means I’m ‘Fantastically Creative,’ in a Way

Frank Bruni of the New York Times writes, “‘Even Trump’s Supporters Are Getting Tired of His Daily Drama’ was the headline on Jim Geraghty’s Monday column in National Review, which sometimes travels fantastically creative routes to reach the sunny side of Trump.”

“Travels fantastically creative routes to reach the sunny side of Trump”? Is he referring to National Review as a whole, or me? And if he means me . . . has he read me?

If he’s referring to National Review as a whole, he realizes this is a publication that runs a variety of writers, right? We run Conrad Black and Kevin Williamson, Jay Nordlinger and David French, Victor Davis Hanson and Kat Timpf. And there are a bunch of our writers like Ramesh Ponnuru and the boss who probably should be classified somewhere in the middle, praising the president when he deserves it and criticizing him when he’s earned that, too. And we’ve got a bunch of extremely talented writers who weigh in on the president only intermittently. The cheapest, dumbest, least-accurate “you’re flip-flopping” or “you’re hypocrites” or “you’ve sold out” argument is when someone juxtaposes the “Against Trump” issue with some issue with a pro-Trump cover piece – say, “A Year of Achievement” — and insists that everyone associated with the magazine changed our minds.

Is looking at the bylines just too much effort? Or are there just a lot of numbskulls out there who believe that ever praising the president for anything he ever does somehow invalidates your criticism of him, and vice versa?

I never liked Trump’s character or how he sees the job on the presidency — talk-radio-caller-in-chief, don’t-bother-him-with-policy-details, demagogue-when-convenient — but I like some of the policies. I like almost all of the judicial nominations. I like tax cuts. I like rolling back federal regulations. I’m glad ISIS has been beaten to a pulp, if not completely eliminated. I like Right to Try for those facing terminal illnesses. I like the majority of the criminal-justice-reform legislation, particularly the anti-recidivism programs in federal prisons. I like getting rid of the individual mandate to purchase health insurance. I like keeping foreign aid money from paying for abortions. I want a secure border and concur with the Customs and Border Patrol that additional miles of barriers, or “bollard fence,” or whatever you prefer to call it is part of the solution (but not the entire solution). I like that the United States is now the world’s largest oil producer and a net natural-gas exporter, while our carbon emissions are declining slightly. I like blowing up Syrian air bases when Assad uses chemical weapons. I like NATO allies spending more on defense.

I also think that Trump only says variations of about six thingsI am the greatest, that good thing that happened was because of me, it’s not my fault, my critics are terrible people, here’s a version of history that I just made up in my head, and look at that woman’s appearance. He’s got no business lecturing anybody else about loyalty, and he’s easily fooled by sycophantic idiots; his attacks on critics cross the line into racism; he has indeed stoked xenophobic attitudes in this country, in part because he’s never contradicted his supporters’ belief that citizenship is conditional; he has the impulse control of a sugar-filled toddler; he constantly blames others for his own bad decisions; and he seems wildly naïve in his dealings with Kim Jong-un and certain other dictators.

I have an often-irritating president who gives me some of what I want — or who will at least sign some of what I want into law — up against a variety of options who pledge to give me almost nothing I want, and who are promising to repeal the things I like. I don’t particularly like this status quo, but I prefer it to a Bolshevik Revolution or turning our already-too-divided society into an endless status competition of woker-than-thou.

If I write one Corner post praising Trump for some decision, and another Corner post criticizing the president in the same day, you will often see my Twitter mentions full of people denouncing me as a racist xenophobic MAGA-head fascist Trump suck-up, alongside those denouncing me for being an elitist, out-of-touch, RINO, Acela-corridor, squishy soy-boy cuck. (I’d really love to see these people get together and hash it out amongst themselves . . . someplace far away from me.)

It is a sad state of modern political commentary that to a considerable number of readers, whatever you wrote most recently is the only thing you’ve ever written, and the only thing they ever need to read to reach dramatic conclusions about you. (Until they forget about it, and read the next thing you write, and love what you wrote because it reaffirms their pre-existing beliefs.)

I suppose I shouldn’t grumble too much. I’ve been reading a lot about the comic-book industry lately, and Jim Shooter, the editor at Marvel for many years, used to insist to writers that every issue of a comic book series was some reader’s first issue. Thus, every issue should be an “entry” point to the story, even if it was the second, third, or fourth part of a four-part story. Thus, the opening pages had to have at minimum a quick explanation of who everyone was, and ideally a reintroduction to each character, his or her goals, his or her powers, how they got to that moment, etcetera. Writers had to create a story that could be understandable to someone who had zero familiarity with the characters, setting, previous plot developments, etc. at any point.

(You see this in movies and television, too. The episode begins with the characters climbing a mountain and one asks, “why are we doing this again?” and another character explains — more to the audience than to the other character —  “because we received a mysterious letter that warned that a magic scroll was hidden in the secret temple just beyond Impassible Pass in the Ominous Mountains and that if we didn’t get to the scroll before the Brotherhood of Generic Badguys gets to it, the world will be doomed, blah blah blah . . .”)

Every column is some reader’s first. I can only imagine what someone thinks if this one is their introduction to me.

Trump: Build the Fence and Ask Questions Later

The Washington Post reports, “President Trump is so eager to complete hundreds of miles of border fence ahead of the 2020 presidential election that he has directed aides to fast-track billions of dollars’ worth of construction contracts, aggressively seize private land and disregard environmental rules, according to current and former officials involved with the project.”

In some circles, this is a critical article about the president. I suspect that Trump 2020 is tempted to send it out as a press release.

Theory: The voters who care the most about “building the wall” will be reassured by Trump’s declarations that he is building the wall and will take him at his word that he will finish the wall in his second term. The Ann Coulters and Mark Krikorians of the world, who pay attention to the details of policy and what’s actually been done, are relatively rare.

Separately, how should we count replacing fencing that is dilapidated? No, that’s not new fencing or border barriers. But it’s putting up a barrier that is either impassable or much more difficult to overcome, where previously people could climb, sneak through, or otherwise penetrate.

This Just Handed to Me, Joe Biden Is Still Ahead

Hey, remember when Monday’s Monmouth poll freaked a lot of people out and spurred some race-watches to contend that Joe Biden had lost his lead? This morning the new survey from USA Today has Biden at 32 percent, Elizabeth Warren at 14 percent, Bernie Sanders at 12 percent, Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris, each at 6 percent, and businessman Andrew Yang at 3 percent.

Some people get irked when you point out that a small-sample poll with a surprising result is probably an outsider.

Hey, good for Yang, right? He can legitimately argue he’s in sixth place in a 21-candidate race.

ADDENDA: In case you missed it yesterday, a Corner post that bugged a lot of people,  Kirsten Gillibrand delays the inevitable, and Bernie Sanders offers some kind words about the Chinese government.

Elections

Biden Finally Falters — Or Does He?

Joe Biden in Detroit, Mich., July 24, 2019 (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

Joe Biden’s Campaign Is about to Hit Some Turbulence

Whether or not Joe Biden and his presidential campaign are in trouble, they are definitely headed towards a period where the national media covering the race perceive them to be in trouble, which is almost as bad. If you think media coverage can alter the actual level of support for candidates, maybe it’s worse.

That distinction is important, because if you had to quickly describe the presidential primary to a friend who didn’t follow politics much, you could do it pretty easily: “Joe Biden entered the race as frontrunner, he had a rough first debate, but remained in front, and while there’s been some movement among other candidates like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris, Biden is still ahead and still the favorite.” Check out that RealClearPolitics chart. Biden’s green line is at the top and stays at the top, even if it moves up and down.

It is possible that by historical standards, this will be a pretty boring Democratic primary. The Democratic party, shocked, horrified, and some might even say traumatized by Donald Trump’s election, examined a field of more candidates than any party had ever seen before; debated radical new ideas like banning private health insurance, ending immigration enforcement, and free college for everyone; and then . . . picked the old reliable guy whom they remembered from the Obama administration. Few things would outrage the Twitter Left more than the confirmation that the offline Democratic party had no interest in revolutionary change and just wanted a reset button to go to back to the Obama era.

Whether you loved the outcome of the 2016 election or hated it, it was indisputably the most dramatic one since the 2000 recount and perhaps since Ross Perot’s independent bid in 1992. A huge GOP field was upended by a reality show star; an avowed socialist nearly derailed the Democratic frontrunner; the FBI director made several dramatic announcements during the race; violent confrontations often occurred outside Trump rallies; the guy who came in second in the GOP primary told the convention “vote your conscience”; a Supreme Court seat hung in the balance . . . You had to follow the news just to see what once-unimaginable development was going to happen next.

Les Moonves famously declared that the Trump campaign “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” For much of the news media, the 2016 campaign was practically cocaine: high ratings, endless drama and confrontation, their ideal villain, endless opportunities for high dudgeon, sex, allegations of crime, allegations of ties to Russian spies . . . if you had read it in a novel, you would have said it was unrealistic. Unpredictability generates interest.

The national news media wants that experience again — although obviously many members of the media desperately want their preferred candidate to win this time. They’ve committed massive amounts of correspondents, staffers, airtime, print space, web pages, graphics departments, and other resources to covering the presidential race. Nobody wants to devote gobs of money, time, and people to covering a race where nothing really changes much from start to finish.

The Democratic presidential primary race appeared unpredictable, and thus potentially dramatic, with 26 or so candidates; but the summer demonstrated that a lot of those candidates never belonged in the race in the first place. If Eric Swalwell, John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee, and Seth Moulton had never run, almost nothing would have changed. Listening to some little-known Democrat tell a questioner, “back in my home state, we took bold steps to tackle the challenge of climate change” for the millionth time is not dramatic. CNN ran town halls with Bill de Blasio and Steve Bullock Sunday night, and ratings were 25 percent lower than usual. Cable news networks want to be fair, but they also want to retain and build their viewing audiences.

For the Democratic primary to be dramatic, Joe Biden has to be perceived as faltering or on the verge of losing his lead. Again, if that consistent Biden lead, and the former vice president’s ability to keep it after a pretty lousy first debate, tell us anything, it’s that his current supporters aren’t looking for an excuse to jump off the bandwagon. This doesn’t mean that they’ll never abandon him, but that they have considerable patience for moments where Biden seems confused or mixes up his words or feels the need to assure the country, “I’m not going nuts.” Biden’s supporters will abandon him when they no longer believe he can beat Trump.

Yesterday, the Monmouth University Polling Institute unveiled a national poll with a result that surprised many: “a virtual three-way tie among Sanders (20 percent), Warren (20 percent), and Biden (19 percent).” If that is indeed the state of the race, it would mean Sanders had rebounded dramatically and that Biden’s problems — his age, his gaffes, his perceived boring centrism — had caught up with him.

But if you look deeper, you find: “Results in this release are based on 298 registered voters who identify as Democrats or lean toward the Democratic party, which has a +/- 5.7 percentage point sampling margin of error.” That’s a pretty small sample and a pretty high margin of error for a national poll. But the Democratic political world took that poll fairly seriously — in part because the result was genuinely surprising, and in part because that result helped the narrative that this Democratic presidential primary is a dramatic and unpredictable battle that is worth watching.

But this morning, the Politico/Morning Consult poll has some new numbers as well: Biden at 33 percent, Bernie Sanders at 20 percent, Elizabeth Warren at 15 percent, Kamala Harris at 8 percent, and everyone else at 5 percent or below. In other words, the Politico poll shows the status quo: Biden’s ahead by a healthy but not insurmountable margin.

Sanders and Warren are friends, they both represent a further-left wing of the Democratic party, and noticeably didn’t take shots at each other in the last debate. But at some point, Sanders supporters and Warren supporters will realize that one of the biggest obstacles to their preferred candidate is each other. If Sanders and Warren consolidated their supporters, they would overtake Biden.

Save Us from Whining Candidate Supporters

Tulsi Gabbard’s fans didn’t like this Corner post, and yes, at minimum, the Democratic National Committee should spell out exactly why they deem some polls valid for calculating support and some polls invalid. But here are the percentages for Gabbard in the last 15 national surveys of the Democratic field: 1 percent, 1 percent, 2 percent, 2 percent, 1 percent, 1 percent, 2 percent, 1 percent, 1 percent, 3 percent, 1 percent, 0 percent, 1 percent, 1 percent, 1 percent.

If the DNC is being unfair, they’re being unfair to a candidate who struggles to hit 2 percent in the polls.

There’s a lot to like about Gabbard as a candidate — her youth, her military experience, her ability to verbally vivisect Kamala Harris’s record as a prosecutor under pressure. But she’s much closer to the bottom of the still-crowded field than to the top. The RCP average ranks her tenth, but everybody lower than eighth place is below 2 percent. The DNC had an extremely generous standard for participating in the first two debates. They’re finally trimming the field of the least supported candidates, and that might include Gabbard. Welcome to the big leagues, Gabbard fans.

If I had to limit the Democratic debate to nine candidates, I’d pick Biden, Sanders, Warren, Harris, Buttigieg (based on poll numbers or in Buttigieg’s case, fundraising numbers), and then another four for being interesting and not just reciting talking points: Gabbard, Andrew Yang, John Delaney for his willingness to deviate from party orthodoxy, and Marianne Williamson for, er, spiritual guidance. We’ve seen Julian Castro have two solid debates, and yet no one seemed to care, and I’ve heard Cory Booker ask “why are we fighting amongst ourselves when the real problem is the Republicans” enough times.

If I had my druthers, I might put Joe Sestak on the stage, too. As a candidate, he’s such a throwback to another era, he should appear in black and white like “30s Guy” in that old Haggar Black Label commercial.

He’s Not Running for President, He’s Running to Be a Celebrity

I’ve said my piece about Joe Walsh and didn’t plan on spending too much more time writing about him. But it’s pretty weird to hear a guy who believed he had been hired to be Walsh’s campaign manager describe absolute inability to reach the candidate at all for eight days. If Walsh suddenly had second thoughts about hiring the guy, fine, but say so. Don’t leave the guy hanging.

In his announcement video, Walsh declared, “When I first started thinking about running for president, talking to my family, close friends, people I trust, I started hearing about all the things I needed to do to test the waters: Start an exploratory committee, hire a speechwriter, get an image consultant, all the practical steps that conventional campaigns take. But these are not conventional times. These are urgent times . . . So to hell with all those conventional things.”

All of those things are not window-dressing; they’re what makes a real presidential campaign work. This is akin to declaring, “these are urgent times, so to hell with doing my homework.” As recent days have shown, Walsh didn’t even feel compelled to go through his Twitter feed and delete tweets that he had to have known would cause headaches — vehement defenses of the president, attacks on NeverTrump pundits, and approvingly repeating the president’s profane epithet for Haiti.

And once again, this is not the most striking contrast with President Trump.

ADDENDA: Yesterday, I joined Cam at BearingArms.com to chat about red flag laws and the 2020 presidential race. As I noted later in the Corner, some articles have pointed to a Long Beach hotel worker as an example of how “red flag” laws could prevent shootings, but that worker wasn’t really a case of using a “red flag” law. Law enforcement didn’t merely seize his weapons; they arrested him. He is facing four felony charges: two counts of criminal threats and one count each of dissuading a witness by force or threat and possession of an assault weapon.

I’m okay with red flag laws as long as there are safeguards for due process, and they don’t become abused, but existing law permits people to report potential threats and to request involuntary confinement and psychological treatment; although state laws usually require clear and convincing evidence that someone is imminently dangerous to themselves or others.

Elections

Even Trump’s Supporters Are Getting Tired of His Daily Drama

President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. August 20, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: An observation that America’s employers run aground when they start evaluating their employees on their political views on social media rather than the ability to do the work well; President Trump rages, although it’s not clear what all this public raging is doing for him; Trump allies boast they’ve accumulated a lot of damaging information on reporters critical of the president; and what Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement teaches us about life.

Remember When Workplaces Were About . . . Work?

Google just changed the “community guidelines” for the company’s message board: “While sharing information and ideas with colleagues helps build community, disrupting the workday to have a raging debate over politics or the latest news story does not. Our primary responsibility is to do the work we’ve each been hired to do, not to spend working time on debates about non-work topics.” This comes shortly after some more than 1,300 Google workers signed a petition demanding the company publicly commit to not working with Customs and Border Protection.

Simultaneously, a group of Trump allies is assembling information about reporters it deems hostile to the administration and boasting that they have unearthed potentially ‘fireable’ information on ‘several hundred’ people.” (More on this below.)

Perhaps the Google company guidelines changing is a revealing moment where companies started to realize their workplaces were getting too politically tense. A world where everyone wears their political agenda on their sleeve and sees themselves as an evangelist for their particular political worldview is going to inevitably create friction. People take offense, contending that their coworkers are creating those dreaded words: “a hostile work environment.”

The idea that a viewpoint expressed outside of the workplace could cost you your job was much rarer a generation ago, and not merely because Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist. People still had all kinds of views, and all kinds of controversial views; they just didn’t have a format to express those views in a way that created a permanent record which could later be cited justification for firing them.

For a very long time, an employer’s primary and arguably only evaluation for an employee was how well they did the job. Picture a widget factory, where most of the workforce puts together widgets on an assembly line:

“Boss, we just learned that Jenkins has all kinds of strange beliefs and views. He believes that the moon is made of green cheese, that God is a giant squid who lives at the bottom of the oceans, that the monarchy should be restored and that Bigfoot is the Queen of England in disguise, and that anyone with the letter ‘f’ in their name is likely to become a zombie after death.”

 “Does Jenkins still do his job well on the widget assembly line?”

 “Yes, but-” 

“Then shut up, leave Jenkins alone unless he creates a problem with his coworkers, and get the heck out of my office.”

In the vast majority of cases, your beliefs, attitudes, and views were simply not part of your job. If you expressed them enough on the job, it was possible you could create enough friction and problems to get fired. But by and large your employer didn’t care; the measurement was how well you assembled your widgets, drove your truck, analyzed the sales data, won your lawsuits, etc. A generation ago, people were more circumspect about their personal beliefs and views. In the old Peanuts comic strip, Linus used to lament, “there are three things I’ve learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin.” More people had the good sense to recognize that the workplace probably involved different views, and it was rarely worth it to stir up the divisions between those views.

While employers have a responsibility to set up a safe workplace environment, an employee’s personal views were just that – personal. Then someone – the angry Left? Bored social media mobs in general? – created this concept that employing someone with a controversial view meant the company was endorsing that particular view. That’s nonsense, of course; the hiring process rarely involves a complicated questionnaire determining the potential hire’s perspective on every controversial topic under the sun.

More employers need to emphasize to their employees that the purpose of the company is not activism; it’s creating and selling their products and services. (Notice I didn’t say merely “making money.”) Sure, the company has a stake in the country and society, and has certain responsibilities to ensure that the world outside the company office windows is in good shape – environmental responsibilities, charitable contributions, ensuring their workers are healthy and have a manageable work-life balance. But it’s not the company’s role to ensure one party wins elections, that one viewpoint on hot-button issues prevails, or that some other viewpoint is squeezed out of public life. And if a company does decide to become a giant political action committee that sells products on the side, it ought to be open about it and be generous with the severance packages of employees who choose to find work elsewhere.

Finally, why is it that the same people who fume about “big corporations” and who devour cyberpunk depictions of ruthless corporations ruling society also want their companies to become more politically active?

There Is Only Winning, There Is No Understanding.

The editors of National Review are exhausted with presidential tweets, from asking whether Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell or Chinese leader Chairman Xi is the bigger enemy, to “hereby ordering” private companies to look for alternatives to operations in China. (If Fed chairman Powell is indeed an enemy of the United States, then whatever fool appointed him to that position should resign in disgrace.)

Rod Dreher is exhausted from the president behaving like “a clown who refuses to meet with the prime minister of Denmark because she won’t sell him Greenland.”

Last week, Bret Baier of Fox News felt the need to respond to the president’s public complaints that Fox had “changed” and that its polls were always the least positive for him.

“Fox has not changed,” Baier said after airing the president’s comments. “We have a news side and an opinion side. Opinion folks express their opinions. We do polls. Our latest poll had the Democratic candidates head to head, several of them ahead of President Trump, and this poll tracks exactly what the RealClearPolitics average of polls — even a little the other way — and this poll matches what we are seeing out there.” Panelists Susan Page, Ben Domenech and Chris Stirewalt concurred.

None of the people listed above are knee-jerk Trump critics.

Shortly after the president declared that Jews who vote for Democrats are being disloyal to Israel, our old friend Byron York – again, hardly a knee-jerk Trump critic, responded, “the president should really stop talking about loyalty and disloyalty and who he thinks is loyal and who he thinks is disloyal.” (Come on, surely the man who hired Omarosa, Michael Cohen and Anthony Scaramucci no doubt can spot loyalty when he sees it! Even Mollie Hemingway acknowledges that bad hiring decisions are one of the fairest arguments against Trump.)

A lot of people, who really want to see America thrive, who want to see more conservative policies enacted, more good judges appointed, and who want to see the president succeed are getting tired of his daily drama.

“He fights!” No, he throws public tantrums on Twitter and calls people names. If calling people names is your idea of fighting, you either perceive a lot more victories than you actually have, or you may secretly feel that despite all of your “fighting,” you rarely seem to get what you want. The Twitter tirades may make Trump feel better and excite his diehard fanbase, but it doesn’t really do much to “defeat” whoever he’s fighting with at any given moment.

You notice no one is really that afraid of Trump anymore. Right before his trip, Trump proposed adding Russia to the G-7 again; European Council President Donald Tusk publicly declared that there were even more reasons than before to keep Russia out, and rebuked Trump for suggesting that Russia’s occupation of Crimea was justified. Trump reportedly pushed for Russia’s readmission into the G7 Sunday night, and only the outgoing Italian prime minister agreed. Again, Boris Johnson is probably the most pro-Trump prime minister of the United Kingdom that the president is ever going to get, and he’s spending his time pushing for a change that no prime minister could ever accept. Remember that little controversy about the Russian government using a nerve agent to kill a defector on British soil and injuring and killing innocent people in the process?

Senate Republicans have defied Trump on Russia sanctions, arms sales to Gulf nations, and tariffs on Mexico.

Powell is pursuing the course of action he sees as correct, ignoring Trump’s public rage and declaring, “Trade policy uncertainty seems to be playing a role in the global slowdown and in weak manufacturing and capital spending in the United States.”

Speaking of trade, the president toggles between two positions; that he’s taking the toughest and hardest line of any president ever, and that other countries are eager to make a great deal. Trump declared of China, “I think they want to make a deal much more than I do.”

This statement comes a few days after China imposed $75 billion in tariffs and plans to resume tariffs on U.S. automobiles and automobile parts in December; this comes after the Trump administration announced it would impose 10 percent tariffs on Chinese imports worth $300 billion. Does this seem like a regime eager to make a deal? Or a regime eager to inflict as much economic pain on the United States as possible, to ensure Trump departs the scene, and they have someone else to negotiate with?

What Kind of ‘Damaging Information’ Are We Talking About?

The New York Times reports, with bristling indignation:

A loose network of conservative operatives allied with the White House is pursuing what they say will be an aggressive operation to discredit news organizations deemed hostile to President Trump by publicizing damaging information about journalists.

It is the latest step in a long-running effort by Mr. Trump and his allies to undercut the influence of legitimate news reporting. Four people familiar with the operation described how it works, asserting that it has compiled dossiers of potentially embarrassing social media posts and other public statements by hundreds of people who work at some of the country’s most prominent news organizations.

We will see what they’ve got, won’t we? If it’s #MeToo-level misbehavior, then maybe this operation will indeed derail some careers. But we’ve seen that quite a few prominent figures in the national media can bounce back from embarrassing revelations rather quickly and easily. Dan Rather is on Brian Stelter’s “Reliable Sources” all the time, and Brian Williams is still an anchor for MSNBC. In most of the media’s eyes, they’re “rehabilitated.” As noted last week, a wide swath of Democratic strategists seemed to simply forget about the accusations against Mark Halperin.

The New York Times Sarah Jeong had a long history of “jokes” about “white people” on her Twitter feed that sounded suspiciously indistinguishable from genuine racial animosity. She’s still on the Times’ editorial board.

It is rather convenient for major journalists to decide that now old tweets of bad jokes or controversial comments do not represent firing offenses.

ADDENDAOn the home page, a look at the career of Andrew Luck and how, as painful as this moment is for Indianapolis Colts fans, it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.

Culture

R.I.P. David Koch

David H. Koch (1940–2019) (Carlo Allegri / Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: breaking news that David Koch, a giant of philanthropy and the libertarian movement, has died; a couple of politicians who warn us about climate-change-driven rising oceans and worsening hurricanes pay millions for oceanfront property; an insane decision surrounding a morning newsletter from the U.S. Department of Justice; and a bit of reassurance that you’re doing okay, even if you’re nowhere near “the best of the best.”

RIP, David Koch

This morning brings word that David Koch, one of the enormously influential and frequently demonized “Koch Brothers,” has passed away at age 79. RIP.

Back in 2017, I wrote about what made the Koch brothers and their various political organizations stand out as so effective, in a country with lots of political-action committees, activist groups, and wealthy donors: “The only real difference between the Koch brothers and Tom Steyer or George Soros is that the Koch brothers are better at achieving their goals, and particularly better at getting the team around them to focus on the long-term and easily-overlooked corners of the governing process – i.e., state legislatures, local tax initiatives and the political races that aren’t ‘sexy.’ Lots of people seemed to think that the best way to influence the political process was to run 30-second ads about a presidential election in the autumn.  The Koch network’s various organizations keep a close eye on all the corners of government that don’t get nearly as much attention and can be quite picky about which candidates they support, much to the irritation of some Republicans. They don’t spend a lot of resources helping candidates who strike them as merely the lesser of two evils.

Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money made the Koch brothers’ methods sound like the sinister mind-control plot of a James Bond villain:

The first phase required an ‘investment’ in intellectuals whose ideas would serve as the ‘raw products.’ The second required an investment in think tanks that would turn the ideas into marketable policies. And the third phase required the subsidization of ‘citizens’ groups that would, along with ‘special interests’ pressure elected officials to implement the policies. It was in essence a libertarian production line, waiting only to be bought, assembled and switched on.

If you use the verbal equivalent of the scary lighting used in that photo shoot of John McCain for The Atlantic in 2008, then yes, this all sounds terribly sinister. Shift the lighting a little, and all the Kochs are doing is effective activism. They have a set of values — freedom, independence, private community-based efforts and personal charity — and they’ve used their considerable fortune to set up a lot of venues to promote those values.

And as I’ve written at the past three winter meetings, they put a lot of money and effort behind those charitable organizations (often irritating some of the attending political correspondents who want to write about, you know, politics).

Climate-Change-Focused Politicians Paying Top Dollar for Oceanfront Property

Former president Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, are reportedly looking at buying a $14.85 million dollar mansion on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. The estate overlooks the coastal Edgartown Great Pond. “A thin strip of beach called a ‘barrier beach’ separates the shoreline of the Pond from the Atlantic Ocean.  Four times a year the narrowest portion of the barrier beach is cut open to the Atlantic Ocean.”

Former vice president Joe Biden “purchased a $2.7 million, 4,800-square-foot vacation house near the water in Rehoboth Beach, Del., to go along with his primary residence.”

John Delaney also has a waterfront home in Rohobeth Beach.

Do these seem like people concerned about rising sea levels and more intense hurricanes driven by climate change?

[Some people will want to throw Bernie Sanders’ $575,000 summer home in the Champlain Islands of the largest lake in Vermont, but rising oceans wouldn’t represent the same threat to inland lakefront houses. Climate change could have other effects on those regions.]

In case you’re wondering how far other Democratic presidential candidates live from water, Elizabeth Warren’s $2.7 million home in Cambridge, Mass., is less than two miles north of the Charles River. Kamala Harris lives in a $3 million home in Brentwood, Calif. Pete Buttigieg lives in a four-bedroom in South Bend, Ind.

Who’s Running the Justice Department’s Morning Newsletter?

See, this is why one of the most important decisions you make in life is which morning e-mail. newsletter to read:

According to the National Association of Immigration Judges, the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) sent court employees a link to a blog post from VDare, a white nationalist website, in its morning news briefing earlier this week that included anti-Semitic attacks on judges:

The briefings are sent to court employees every weekday and include links to various immigration news items. BuzzFeed News confirmed the link to a blog post was sent to immigration court employees Monday. The post detailed a recent move by the Justice Department to decertify the immigration judges union.

The post features links and content that directly attacks sitting immigration judges with racial and ethnically tinged slurs and the label ‘Kritarch.’ The reference to Kritarch in a negative tone is deeply offensive and Anti-Semitic,” wrote Tabaddor. The VDare post includes pictures of judges with the term “kritarch” preceding their names.

Tabaddor said the term kritarchy is a reference to ancient Israel during a time of rule by a system of judges.

. . . After publication of this article, EOIR Assistant Press Secretary Kathryn Mattingly told BuzzFeed News “the daily EOIR morning news briefings are compiled by a contractor and the blog post should not have been included. The Department of Justice condemns Anti-Semitism in the strongest terms.”

A former senior DOJ official said that the email in question was “generated by a third-party vendor that utilizes keyword searches to produce news clippings for staff. It is not reviewed or approved by staff before it is transmitted.”

Gee, maybe staff ought to start reviewing it and approving it before it is transmitted as a publication and update from the U.S. Executive Office for Immigration Review. Remember this next time somebody tells you an algorithm can work just as well as a human being. Never entrust your morning newsletter to SkyNet.

Was this really an innocent mistake? How did that third-party vendor not realize what kind of site VDare was? How did whoever compiled that newsletter not notice the tone of that article?

ADDENDA: Jonah’s out this week, so his right-hand man at The Remnant podcast, Jack Butler, had me as a guest on the first, and perhaps only ever, Jonah-Goldberg-free edition of The Remnant. (Or, depending upon your hearing, Senator Ted Cruz did an impression of me for almost the entirety of the podcast.) We talked about a bunch — Joe Biden and the state of the Democratic primary, how septuagenarians rule our political world now, the Republicans who are challenging Trump, and the good news that some mass shootings appear to have been prevented recently.

I close out with a sense that our society celebrates success and “the best of the best” a bit too much, and often forgets to appreciate everyone else, who will try their best and turn out to be merely pretty good.  You can hear a short excerpt here:

If you work hard at your job, if you’re a good husband or wife, take care of your kids, you’re a good friend to other people, then you’re doing just fine. You’re doing all that I think God really wants out of your life, and all that really anybody else has any right to expect of you… People talk about social media and the idea that if you look at people’s social media feeds, it’s nothing but, you know, celebrations and vacations and their lives seem awesome and all of that kind of stuff – perfectly curated to show the very best moments of their life. Like, when I’m depressed as all heck, you’re not going to – I’m not going to put pictures of that up. And so, I think we kind of need to – one, to let people know it’s okay if they don’t feel like they’re always winners, if they don’t feel like they’re always on top of the world. It’s okay to feel like your life is just going, ‘eh.’ There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re perfectly normal. There’s no need to lash out. Life is not being unfair to you. You’re having the human experience. And the second thing is, if you try your best, and you never are the champion, you never are the best of the best, that’s all right. You’re a good human being, and really, that’s all anybody else would want you to be in this life.

Elections

Joe Walsh Is Obviously Not the Answer

Joe Walsh at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Gage Skidmore)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why newly announced GOP presidential candidate Joe Walsh isn’t the natural contrast to Donald Trump that he thinks he is; Jay Inslee departs the Democratic presidential primary.

Joe Walsh Is Not the Most Natural Contrast to Trump

Radio-show host Joe Walsh is getting ready to run for president, challenging President Trump for the GOP nomination. While I’m sure Walsh and I would agree on a lot of the issues, particularly economic ones, I’m left underwhelmed.

Walsh won his congressional seat in a huge upset during the 2010 Tea Party wave, winning by 291 votes.

Back when Walsh was a congressman, he sounded a lot like the president in some ways. His view on American Jews and Israel, for example, echoes the president’s recent remarks:

Most American Jews are liberal, and most American liberals side with the Palestinians and vague notions of “peace” instead of with Israel’s well-being and security. Like the president, the U.N., and most of Europe, too many American Jews aren’t as pro-Israel as they should be and too many share his belief that the Palestinians are victims of Israeli occupation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Walsh just had the good sense to not call American Jews “disloyal” to Israel.

In May 2011, five months into his term, he told Slate, “We are all better at certain things than others. I still am someone who doesn’t understand the way the legislative process works. I do, but I don’t. I can’t find my way around the Capitol. I have a hard time with protocol.” In November 2011, he lost his temper and screamed at a woman at a town hall meeting.

In the House, Walsh’s persona was that of the impassioned political amateur who says exactly what he thinks, regardless of the consequences, who’s a bit of a bull in a china shop but who wears his values on his sleeve, and everyone always knows where he stands. He didn’t have much patience for the niceties and unwritten rules of Washington, he just wanted to get things done. That’s . . . not the most striking contrast with the sales pitch for the current president.

Then Illinois Democrats redrew the congressional district lines to ensure Walsh would run against another Republican in 2012, so he decided to run in an adjacent district. He was up against Tammy Duckworth, a Black Hawk helicopter pilot who lost her legs in combat in Iraq. Let’s observe that it’s always difficult to run against a wounded veteran.

Walsh declared, “Now I’m running against a woman who, I mean, my God, that’s all she talks about. Our true heroes, the men and women who served us, it’s the last thing in the world they talk about.” He went on to lose by ten points.

(Earlier this year, Walsh was still in disbelief about Trump’s criticism of John McCain, “He’s not a war hero. He was only a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” Walsh asked, “Who says that? What kind of person says that? How utterly unkind and callous does someone have to be to even think that?”)

As a talk-radio host since leaving Congress, Walsh has offered his own share of heated remarks, including a tweet declaring, “This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you”; a threat to “grab a musket” if Trump lost the presidential election; and a declaration that “I think Obama is a Muslim” in December 2016.

In the coming weeks, you may hear that Walsh was “suspended from his radio show for using racial slurs,” which is technically true but not quite the full story. In 2014, Walsh spoke the terms aloud in the context of discussing why they are offensive, instead of using terms like “the n-word” and other verbal replacements.

It is important to note that Walsh wasn’t using the slurs against people, as the station clarified: “Joe Walsh conducted a segment of his show regarding the recent controversy about the name of the Washington Redskins. During the segment Joe intended to cite several common racial slurs as examples. He did not in any way use them in a defamatory or derogatory manner, simply as examples.  However, AM 560 The Answer did not allow them to go on the air. AM 560 The Answer has a policy of not using certain words on the air that are highly inflammatory and offensive even in the context of a discussion of why those words are offensive. We will continue that policy.” Walsh may have demonstrated bad judgment, but he was not using those terms to demonstrate racial animosity.

Walsh voted for President Trump, supported him in the 2016 election, and spent much of 2017 defending Trump from his critics. In March, he was mocked Mika Brzezinski for saying that Trump’s behavior “scared” her and tearing up on-air. In April, he did cable television hits praising Trump for being “ready and willing to destroy ISIS by any means necessary.” In May, Walsh hand-waved away the president’s more incendiary comments:  “As a Trump supporter I do my best not to pay attention to what he says.” In November, he contended that John McCain was a hypocrite for claiming Trump had no principles.

Walsh’s in-your-face persona from the past decade is not the most natural contrast to Trump today. Last week he apologized for “helping put an unfit con man in the White House.” This morning he asks, “Who will the President of the United States personally attack and/or tweet cruel insults at today?”

It’s one thing to ask for forgiveness. It’s another to ask to be elected commander-in-chief the following week. It’s great that Walsh wants to turn over a new leaf, demonstrate civility and respect and appreciation for decorum, and set a new, better example for everyone in the political arena. But from 2010 to late 2017 or so . . . he had a pretty Trump-y public persona, which raises some tough questions about why Walsh would be the right guy to replace Trump on the GOP ticket.

Jay Inslee, We Barely Knew Ye. And You Know, We’re Fine with That.

It would be easy to make snarky remarks about Jay Inslee ending his presidential campaign right now. “Washington governor Jay Inslee is dropping out of the 2020 Democratic presidential race, he announced Wednesday night on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show.” But instead, let’s look at what lessons can be learned from the little-noticed Inslee 2020 campaign . . .

Single-issue campaigns are usually a waste of time. The president of the United States doesn’t handle a single issue; he handles many of them. Inslee and his fans will probably tell themselves that his campaign brought more attention to the issue of climate change, but . . . do you think the issue would have been significantly less covered if he hadn’t been in the race? If Inslee had never entered the race . . . how differently would things have turned out?

Geography matters. A two-term governor from any of the Acela corridor states in the northeast, California, Texas, or Florida will be much more well-known to the political scene than the governor of Washington. Yes, it isn’t fair. But it is political reality.

Back on January 2, I wrote:

“[Inslee] and a chunk of the environmentalist movement have argued for quite some time that [climate change] is the most important issue facing the country and humanity as a whole, dwarfing even economic challenges or terrorism. Let Inslee and his biggest fans go out and make that case to the voting public and we’ll see how it goes. There’s quite a bit of polling evidence that suggests most of the public is generally and vaguely concerned about climate change, but not particularly motivated to do anything about it… if Jay Inslee stumbles and never gets any traction, the environmental movement will have to grapple with the fact that despite all of their dire warnings about climate change, many Americans are comfortable prioritizing other issues and waiting for someone else to take action.”

The Providence Journal editorial board rips into Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo, who is chair of the Democratic Governors Association:

It’s never a good day when you’re the governor and the state Ethics Commission decides to investigate you. It’s even worse when the investigation involves a lucrative no-bid contract you are trying to get the General Assembly to approve. It’s even worse than that when you are attempting to introduce yourself nationally as a new and inspiring model of a Democratic politician.

But that’s the kind of day Gov. Gina Raimondo had Tuesday.

The Rhode Island Ethics Commission, by a 6-to-1 margin, voted to investigate the governor’s close relationship with longtime International Gaming Technology executive Donald Sweitzer.

Mr. Sweitzer is a $7,500-a-month lobbyist for IGT, and its former chairman. He is also a noted national political fundraiser who has an unusually strong political tie with the governor.

Ms. Raimondo is chair of the Democratic Governors Association — a position that is widely seen as a stepping stone for national politics, often including a run for the presidency. She made Mr. Sweitzer her top associate in that organization.

“Don has been a trusted adviser to the Democrats for decades, and I’m lucky to have him as a friend, supporter and constitution,” she said last November in announcing his appointment as DGA treasurer.

After that appointment, Ms. Raimondo struck a $1-billion, no-bid, 20-year deal with IGT to provide lottery services for the state.

Certainly, the relationship gives off the aroma of a conflict.

Unless you live in Rhode Island, you probably haven’t heard of Gina Raimondo, or you’ve barely heard of her. You certainly haven’t heard about her and any potential scandal as much as you heard about, say, Chris Christie and Bridgegate; or Bob McDonnell and his expensive gifts; or Mark Sanford’s infamous hike on the Appalachian Trail; or the allegations of twisted behavior by Missouri’s Eric Greitens.

In the eyes of many media figures, a scandal around a Republican figure is reflective of deep-rooted corruption, selfishness, and moral rot that extends to every nook and cranny of the party. A scandal around a Democratic figure is just an unfortunate thing that happened, with no further ramifications or reflections of any broader issues.

ADDENDA: John Hickenlooper is running for the Senate in Colorado. If his presidential campaign doesn’t turn out to be an impediment, every decent Senate candidate in future cycles will run for president first . . .

White House

Trump’s Ignorant Comments on Israel

President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. August 20, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: figuring out what President Trump meant when he said Jews who vote for Democrats show “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty”; examining the data on how American Jews actually feel about Israel; and why Democrats will always find a way or a reason to avert their eyes from any overt anti-Semitism from Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and their allies.

‘Any Jewish People that Vote for a Democrat, I Think it Shows Either a Total Lack of Knowledge or Great Disloyalty.’

President Trump, speaking in the Oval Office yesterday: “Where has the Democratic party gone?  Where have they gone where they’re defending these two people over the State of Israel? And I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”

Disloyalty to whom?

Disloyalty to Israel? Is Trump suggesting that American Jews owe a loyalty to Israel? In a year when American Jews have bristled at the accusation of dual loyalties from the likes of Ilhan Omar, is President Trump arguing that not only do American Jews have loyalty to two countries, but that they ought to?

Disloyalty to him? Americans pledge allegiance to a flag and the country for which it stands, not a particular leader or politician. If “the choice is binary,” as so many insisted about 2016 and are sure to insist again in 2020, then Trump’s statement that voting for a Democratic party that defends Omar and Tlaib is disloyal amounts to a contention that being a “loyal” Jew requires voting for him.

Disloyalty to themselves or their community, as Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks argues? This is probably the most justifiable interpretation of Trump’s remarks – that an American Jew who ignores, defends, or averts his eyes from Omar and Rashida Tlaib represents a person acquiescing to the demonization of his own community and who is betraying himself, his own family, and his fellow members of the faith or heritage community. (Pardon that clunky description of America’s Jews, but there are Jews who aren’t religious and there are converts who are not ethnically Jewish, so this feels like the most accurate wording to describe the “Jewish community.”)

But the interpretation from Brooks comes uncomfortably close to the accusation that Jewish Democrats who have not openly opposed Omar and Tlaib are self-hating members of that community, or that those members of the Jewish community are not really or authentically Jewish. In many circumstances, conservatives loathe the notion that holding a particular viewpoint means you’re not an “authentic” member of a demographic community.

It’s not difficult to understand why many American Jews will bristle or react angrily to President Trump’s comment.

One of the messages that people are least receptive to is, “I’m not a member of your group, but I know what is best for your group, better than you do.” Lots of Americans don’t like it when foreign countries tell us what our foreign policy ought to be, lots of Catholics don’t like it when non-Catholics tell them what the faith’s doctrine ought to be, and conservatives don’t like it when those they perceive as RINO pundits tell them how they need to change. A chunk of our ongoing political debates are variations of, “your life experience and group affiliations are different from mine, so how can you possibly understand what the right choice for me is?”

How Do American Jews Actually Feel about Israel?

Beyond that, pro-Israel Republicans who wonder why they don’t win more Jewish votes perpetually overestimate how much that the issue of Israel drives voting decisions among American Jews.

A survey conducted last year by the American Jewish Committee found significant gaps between the views and attitudes of American Jews and Israelis:

While . . .”39% of the total Israeli sample say Israel should be willing to dismantle all or some of the settlements in a peace deal . . . the figures for the religious subgroups [in Israel] show deep differences: 59% of the secular (exactly matching the percentage of the whole American sample), 39% of the not-that-religious traditional, 29% of the religious-traditional, 14% of the religious Zionists, and 12% of the haredim would dismantle settlements.”

Grossman concluded his analysis in somber terms after noting that when “Asked to choose a familial metaphor to describe how close they feel to each other, 31% of the Americans, and 22% of the Israelis went so far as to respond: ‘not part of my family’ about the other. Only 28% of the Israelis consider American Jews ‘siblings’ — and that was more than twice as high as the 12% of American Jews who viewed their Israeli counterparts that way. Pluralities of about 40% in both groups responded, ‘extended family.’”

Earlier this year, when the same organization asked American Jews, “Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: “Caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew,” 38 percent said they strongly agree, 24 percent said they somewhat agree, 20 percent said they somewhat disagree, and 15 percent said they strongly disagree.

Asking the family metaphor question again, only 13 percent said “siblings,” 15 percent said “first cousins,” 43 percent said “extended family,” and 28 percent answered, “not part of my family.” Only 38 percent said they strongly or somewhat approved of how Donald Trump was handling U.S.-Israeli relations.

It is likely that part of this growing sense of separation stems from Bibi Netanayhu being a right-of-center political leader and most American Jews residing on the left side of the U.S. political spectrum. Trump’s close relationship with Netanyahu, and vice versa, is not likely to win over many American Jews. Jews who adored President Barack Obama probably found Netanayhu’s vehement public opposition to the Iran deal an intransigent obstacle to the administration’s effort for peace. From a 2015 poll:

“By a wide margin, American Jews support the recently concluded agreement with Iran to restrict its nuclear program, and a clear majority of Jews wants Congress to approve the deal. In fact, as compared with Americans generally, Jews are more supportive of the ‘Iran deal,’ in large part because Jews are more liberal and more Democratic in their identities. It turns out that liberals (Jewish or not) support the deal far more than conservatives (Jewish or not), just as most Democrats are in favor, while most Republicans are opposed.”

There are some American Jews for whom a political candidate’s policy towards Israel is the paramount issue of their vote, but for many, particularly the more secular Jews, it’s one of many issues they consider  not that much of a factor at all.

Those of us who are not Jewish could argue that American Jews should prioritize this issue, but many Jews will respond, “why should I trust your assessment of what issues should be most important for me? Who the heck are you to tell me what issue I should care about the most?”

Republicans should not adopt pro-Israel stances because they think they will win them votes from Jews in future elections. They should adopt pro-Israel stances because they think they are the right policies — both in terms of morally correct and best for U.S. national security interests.

There are other reasons why American Jews are unlikely to warm up to President Trump.  As I’ve noted before, if President Trump is an anti-Semite, he’s the odd kind of anti-Semite who is close to his Jewish son-in-law, whose daughter converted to Judaism, and who moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. But for some reason, many anti-Semites believe or believed Trump was on their side: David Duke and the Daily Stormer endorsed him early in the 2016 cycle, his election was celebrated with Richard Spencer with former MTV star Tila Tequila making Nazi salutes, and of course the white nationalists marching through the University of Virginia campus, chanting “Jews will not replace us.” (For what it’s worth, the Poway Synagogue shooter and the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooter left manifestos denouncing Trump as a sellout to the Jews. Perhaps some anti-Semites are awakening to the idea that Trump isn’t really secretly one of them.

But that doesn’t change the fact that plenty of American Jews believe Trump is secretly or not-so-secretly allied with groups that hate Jews, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

It’s Always Easier to Avert Your Eyes from Idiotic, Unhelpful Political Allies

If every last Democratic lawmaker and voter was forced to confront the views, statements, and beliefs of Omar, Tlaib, and their allies, the vast majority would probably recoil, or declare them beyond the pale. But they’re rarely if ever exposed to that information, much less forced to grapple with the ramifications of it.

A lot of Republicans and conservatives don’t like Iowa congressman Steve King. But you haven’t seen a ton of commentary and discussion among conservatives about King’s latest asinine outburst, “what if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled those people out that were products of rape and incest? Would there be any population of the world left if we did that?” When King or any other lawmaker goes out and says something embarrassing, the instinct of most folks on the Right is to publicly express disapproval or opposition and then move on to other topics. House Republican leaders have already stripped King of his committee assignments and condemned him. An attempt to expel him from the House would call greater attention to his remarks, preempt any verdict of his constituents who will have their say in the 2020 primary and general, and perhaps turn him into something of a martyr for free speech. (Lots of members of Congress say lots of controversial and offensive things all the time; why would these particular controversial and offensive remarks warrant the career death penalty?)

A significant number of Democrats probably have heard little or nothing about the remarks and allies of Tlaib and Omar. Only the smallest fraction of Democrats knows about Miftah, the group that wanted to sponsor their trip, and the organization’s overt and explicit anti-Semitism. To the extent they choose to think about it, most Democrats probably smell the same whiff of bull droppings from Omar’s shifting explanations about why she wants to travel, and her odd refusal to visit her grandmother after Israel agreed to permit it.

But they’re not interested in dwelling on the issue; that would involve a difficult clash with political allies. Besides, the president said something outrageous again, which only happens on days that ends in a “y,” and sitting around on an MSNBC panel, listening to one talking head after another say why this is the worst thing Trump has ever done, is much more emotionally satisfying.

ADDENDA: In case you missed it yesterday, Joe Biden’s new ad basically skips the Democratic primary; all the African-American historical figures who get cropped out of the “reframing” from the New York Times’s 1619 Project; and the bizarre, strangely fascinating Bernie Sanders cameo in a 1999 independent romantic comedy you won’t want to miss.

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