Politics & Policy

Nancy Pelosi: Term Limits for Thee, but Not for Me

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in Washington, D.C., November 15, 2018. (Yuri Gripas/REUTERS)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Nancy Pelosi announces her support for term limits for other people, Theresa May announces she’s on her way out, and Hallmark reaches another milestone in made-for-television saccharine.

House Democrats Get Busy Breaking Their Campaign Promises

In November 2002, after Democrats had failed to make gains in midterm elections, Dick Gephardt stepped down as House minority leader — and prepared for an ill-fated, short-lived presidential campaign. He passed the baton to Nancy Pelosi.

After a bit more than 16 years of leading her party in the House — as minority leader and then as speaker again and then minority leader again and now, soon to be speaker again — she says it’s time for term limits!

Rep. Nancy Pelosi all but ensured Wednesday that she will become House speaker next month, quelling a revolt by disgruntled younger Democrats by agreeing to limit her tenure to no more than four additional years in the chamber’s top post.

On Wednesday, she gave in to her opponents’ demands that she limit her service. Under the deal, House Democrats will vote by Feb. 15 to change party rules to limit their top three leaders to no more than four two-year terms, including time they’ve already spent in those jobs.

Everyone after her will be limited to eight years in leadership slots . . . but only after she has served two decades at the top.

You may recall that 58 Democratic House candidates pledged to not vote for Pelosi as speaker on the campaign trail; 15 of them won in November, and we’re still waiting to see how the allegations of voter fraud in North Carolina’s eleventh district shake out. Remember the names Anthony Brindisi, Ben McAdams, Mikie Sherrill, Jared Golden, Max Rose, Jeff Van Drew, Gil Cisneros, Andy Kim, Joe Cunningham, Jason Crow, Abigail Spanberger, Elissa Slotkin, Haley Stevens, Rashida Tlaib, and Jahanna Hayes? All of those new Democratic House members pledged on the campaign trail they wouldn’t vote for Pelosi — and now Pelosi will end up becoming speaker anyway.

Theoretically, these folks can say they kept their promise by not voting or writing in “Mickey Mouse” or whomever, but the fact remains that they attempted to distinguish themselves from the “old Democrats” under Pelosi . . . and now the new House Democrats don’t look all that different from the old House Democrats. Pelosi’s still the speaker, Steny Hoyer’s still majority leader, and Jim Clyburn is still House whip — the same as when they relinquished power back in 2010.

Oh, and House Democrats plan on bringing back earmarks.

A Democratic House leader on Tuesday predicted Congress will bring back earmarks early next year . . .

Incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) made the earmark forecast at a reporter briefing. He said they are a key part of Congress’ constitutional authority to tell the executive branch exactly where federal money should go.

“I am for what the Constitution says: Congress has the authority and responsibility to do: to raise and spend money,” he said.

You’ll notice that Democrats did not run on this in 2018; if fact, they ran on the opposite, signing a letter lamenting, “We hear day in and day out that special interests are drowning out the voices of everyday citizens — to the point where many Americans no longer believe their votes even count” and pledging to “quash the political influence, real or perceived, special interests currently have in our government.”

Just what do these people think earmarks are?

Looking Ahead on the Calendar to the End of May

In recent months, I started to wonder if the only reason Theresa May was prime minister of the United Kingdom is because no one else wanted the burden of responsibility of trying to enact Brexit with a divided public, stubborn European Union, and a pit of vipers in Parliament.

We won’t have her to kick around much longer:

British Prime Minister Theresa May has confirmed that she will step down before the country holds its next scheduled national election in 2022. Arriving at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, May said, “I think it is right that another party leader takes us into that general election.”

The editors of National Review conclude that her approach to Brexit has been tried, and it has failed, and it’s time to move on to new leadership:

Mrs. May can unite neither her party nor the country on a Brexit policy, and numerous opinion polls make plain that her own solution is the least popular of those canvassed. If she were to leave or be ousted by an internal Tory vote of confidence as a result, there would follow a contest for the leadership of the Conservative party. In addition to choosing a new leader, that contest would enable a serious discussion of how best — with what mix of policies — the Tories can achieve the Brexit that both the referendum and the 2017 election committed them to achieve. Conservative-party MPs should start that process tomorrow.

As Rich put it in his column, “Presiding over a divided party, facing a pro-Remain British establishment and negotiating with a hostile EU, May never had an easy task. She has nonetheless not only failed to rise to the occasion but been crushed by it.”

Most of my colleagues are impassioned supporters of Brexit, and I’ve heard from friends over in the United Kingdom who think it’s a colossal mistake and that it will reverse the recent enormous economic boom. I’d consider myself a soft supporter, but even more fundamental than whether it’s good economics, if you hold a referendum on a proposal, and the referendum passes — even if it’s just by small a margin of 51.8 percent to 48.1 percent — you have to make a good faith effort to enact that proposal. You can’t just throw up your hands after a while and say, “This is too complicated and too hard.” Even if you think Brexit is a bad idea, sometimes the people need to experience a bad idea to understand why it’s a bad idea. This is how you kill off bad ideas like Prohibition or special taxes on yachts.

A political establishment that says, “We know what we promised before the referendum, but you can’t have this,” is just asking for angry populism to spread. And yet here we are, where the people have voted for a policy that almost no one in the government really wants to enact or is willing to work hard to enact.

As Michael Brendan Dougherty puts it:

The result of the no-confidence vote is to create more uncertainty ahead of a vote on May’s withdrawal agreement. The fact is that Brexit was an attempt to reassert the sovereignty of Parliament. But the balance of power in the U.K. Parliament is against Brexit, whether it be a no-deal crash out, or Theresa May’s negotiated version. Britain is sliding into the constitutional crisis that exists between a sovereign Parliament and government-by-referendum. Has the Tory party even noticed?

The Hallmark-Movie Assembly Line Shifts into a Higher Speed

Hallmark now has . . . 38 different Christmas movies that they’re airing this holiday season.

At least, technically they’re different. Some might say they’ve told the same story with 38 different cosmetic changes.

As I put it last year, at least a few times between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, the Mrs. and I check in to see how Candace Cameron is aging. Because they’re so formulaic, you more or less know what every character is going to say and what’s going to happen in every scene before it happens. At least one of the romantic leads will be returning for the first time in many years to a picturesque elaborately decorated small hometown, they’ll face a supremely implausible work deadline right around Christmas, they’ll have a best friend who incessantly mentions the handsome carpenter/Christmas- tree farmer/amnesiac/reindeer veterinarian who’s restoring the town gazebo/volunteering at a new youth center/going to be a last-minute substitute to be Santa in the town parade . . . the contrived misunderstandings, the magic mistletoe, the overwrought declarations of lost Christmas spirit . . . and dear God, so many decorating montages.

Then, after putting up with a Hallmark movie or two, I can suggest re-watching a real Christmas movie featuring Clark Griswold or John McClane.

You could probably make a funny Hallmark movie by just having one character openly express greater incredulity at all of the standard plot points: “Wait, why is this big corporate CEO trying to evict the town’s artisan Christmas ornament workshop? How does that make any financial sense? Why is the deadline for preventing the takeover on Christmas Eve? Who in their right mind writes that into a lease? Why is everyone in town trying to get me under the mistletoe with that hunky widower carpenter, when I just met him? And why is Ed Asner stalking me?”

ADDENDUM: Someone called my attention to the fact that if you tweet out this Publisher’s Weekly review of my 2014 novel The Weed Agency, the first words are “Nonfiction Review.”

White House

Trump’s ‘Great Wall’ Isn’t What’s Being Built

Construction workers place a section of new bollard wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in Santa Teresa, N.M., April 23, 2018. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: what you’re not hearing about the slowly spreading wall or bollard fence along our southern border, trying to make sense of President Trump’s negotiating strategy in the funding fight, an ugly scene in France, and some kind words for the Three Martini Lunch podcast.

What You’re Not Hearing about the Slowly Growing Border Wall/Bollard Fence

Trump in yesterday’s meeting with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi: “One thing that I do have to say is, tremendous amounts of wall have already been built, and a lot of — a lot of wall. When you include the renovation of existing fences and walls, we’ve renovated a tremendous amount and we’ve done a lot of work.”

As I’ve detailed in two articles for NRO, it is more accurate to say that under previously passed legislation, U.S. Customs and Border Protection continues to pay contractors to replace sections of spotty or insufficient fencing with 18-foot-tall bollard walls — tall steel bars with gaps in between them so that Border Patrol officers can see what’s happening on the other side. (A border-wall contractor argued in March, “If your wall is see-through, you’re basically a fence.” For what it’s worth, the Border Patrol prefers the slats because it’s easier to see migrants approaching, attempting to climb the wall, or trying to evade authorities.)

You can get a sense of the bollard wall in this CBP photo of Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan touring the San Ysidro port of entry with Rodney S. Scott, the chief patrol agent for San Diego Sector, and CNN reporter Chris Cuomo.

About 40 miles worth of old, damaged, or porous fencing have been replaced or are being replaced by bollard fencing in six spots, near the communities of Calexico and San Diego in California; Santa Teresa in New Mexico; and McAllen and Mercedes in Texas.

The 18-foot-wall is not impossible to climb, but not easy, either. On Friday, a pair of Guatemalan teens sustained severe injuries after they fell off the wall while attempting to illegally enter near Yuma, Ariz. According to CBP, “Border Patrol agents arrived on scene and requested assistance from local Emergency Medical Services. Additional Border Patrol agents certified as Emergency Medical Technicians arrived with a backboard and assisted EMS with stabilizing the two subjects. The remaining four illegal aliens were taken into custody.”

The wall has signs posted reminding people that climbing is dangerous:

(It is not exaggerating to say that U.S. Customs and Border Protection does something dramatic and fascinating every couple of days. They seized more than a ton of cocaine from a boat in the Eastern Pacific on December 2. CBP seized nearly $7 million worth of methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin hidden in a tractor trailer at the border crossing near Pharr, Texas on December 9. They caught more than 240 people, largely Guatemalan nationals, in a 48-hour period this weekend, near the Lukeville, Ariz. port of entry. Also this weekend, agents patrolling near Hidalgo, Texas, captured two groups, totaling 172 illegal aliens from Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, comprised of family units and unaccompanied children.)

On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump made his wall project sound like building the equivalent of the Great Wall of China from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico; in January 2016, he said, “My ambition is for ours to be much higher” than the Great Wall, and a month later, he described it as “probably 35 to 40 feet up in the air.” Obviously, that’s not what’s being built. But from the way Trump is talking now — “tremendous amounts of wall have already been built” — in his mind, this is close enough.

Not all of his supporters may agree. As Ann Coulter sees it, “Not one inch of Trump’s wall has been built.”

The Art of the Deal Is Apparently Abstract

That, of course, is what makes this current ongoing fight over a spending bill different from all the others — it’s probably Trump’s last chance to get a big chunk of funding for “the wall.” If Trump runs for reelection with just 40 miles of bollard fencing complete, he’s probably toast. People voted for him because they believed he could get things done.

The irony is that back in January, Senate Democrats were willing to agree to $20 billion (some reports said $25 billion) in funding for the wall — in exchange for “Trump’s support of permanent protections for the nearly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants covered under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.” The author of The Art of the Deal got a major concession, then asked for even more, then walked away with no deal.

Trump is going about these negotiations with some . . . counter-intuitive moves. For starters, he tossed away the option of blaming Democrats for a government shutdown, declaring on camera in the Oval Office that he’s “proud to shut down the government” to get additional border security funds.

THE PRESIDENT:  You know what I’ll say: Yes, if we don’t get what we want, one way or the other — whether it’s through you, through a military, through anything you want to call — I will shut down the government.  Absolutely.

SENATE MINORITY LEADER SCHUMER:  Okay.  Fair enough.  We disagree.

THE PRESIDENT:  And I am proud — and I’ll tell you what —

SENATE MINORITY LEADER SCHUMER:  We disagree.

THE PRESIDENT:  I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck, because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country.  So I will take the mantle.  I will be the one to shut it down.  I’m not going to blame you for it.  The last time you shut it down, it didn’t work.  I will take the mantle of shutting down.

Second, Trump is gambling that in a government shutdown, his leverage increases. The political risks of a shutdown are probably smaller than usual, as the elections in November 2020 are not likely to be strongly influenced by a shutdown in December 2018 that perhaps extends into January 2019. But once January 3 arrives, Nancy Pelosi has a stronger hand than she does now, shifting from having 194 Democrats to having 235 Democrats.

Then again, if we’re heading into a presidency-defining fight, then maybe congressional Democrats are wildly misreading Trump’s incentives here. Surrendering on wall funding amounts to accepting defeat in 2020. A government shutdown hits federal workers hardest — right before Christmas! — and Trump doesn’t see them as part of his base anyway.

As Kevin Williamson writes today:

Republicans used to fear being blamed for [shutdowns], a part of the more general Republican tendency to fear being blamed for things. But they have discovered that the political price for these acts of theater is pretty low. They are slow learners, but they learn — or at least they can, where there is a question of self-preservation. Mainly, shutdowns inconvenience the federal workers who get furloughed, which upsets their household finances. One feels for them. What’s rarely said aloud but surely appreciated by Republicans is that practically all of them are Democrats, as are the great majority of non-military government employees. If you have to hurt somebody, very few Republican voters are going to weep for the bureaucracy.

Republicans might also ask, “What is a government shutdown going to do? Cost us our majority in the House?”

But Trump might be misreading the motivations and incentives of Democrats, too. Trump taunted Chuck Schumer yesterday, “The last time, Chuck, you shut it down, and then you opened it up very quickly.” Indeed, that is a reasonably accurate description of what happened in January’s three-day shutdown, but Schumer was worried about red-state Democrats such as Claire McCaskill, Heidi Heitkamp, Bill Nelson, Joe Donnelly, and Joe Manchin back then. Schumer had a strong incentive to keep that quintet (and maybe a few more) out of difficult votes in early 2018; he doesn’t have nearly as strong an incentive to compromise now.

It’s likely that a Democratic argument about Trump in 2020 will be, “He can’t govern. It’s constant chaos. The circus came to town and it never left. Tirades, tantrums, brinksmanship, threats, sudden shifts, reversed positions — it’s endless drama that prevents the government from doing its job.” Warren G. Harding ran on the slogan, “A Return to Normalcy.” Democrats will contend that multiple shutdowns (not counting one that lasted less than a day in February) are another sign that Trump exacerbates Washington’s problems instead of solving them.

The Only Terrorists I Want to See around Christmastime Are in Die Hard

Another jihadist who was on the “watch list” but should have been on the “do something about him list.”

A suspect on a terrorist watch list was being hunted Wednesday after three people were killed and more than a dozen others wounded in a shooting near a Christmas market in the French city of Strasbourg.

Police had raided the suspect’s home hours before Tuesday’s attack as part of a burglary probe.

Cultural sites and sports centers were closed on Wednesday as 350 police officers were deployed in the manhunt.

The shooting took place shortly before 8 p.m. local time (2 p.m. ET) near a Christmas market that attracts millions of tourists every year. Strasbourg considers itself the “capital of Christmas.”

The suspect fled the scene and exchanged shots with police between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. local time, according to Interior Minister Christophe Castaner. He said the suspect has a criminal record in France and Germany.

ADDENDUM: Thanks to Townhall for listing the Three Martini Lunch podcast among the “Top 20 Conservative Podcasts Keeping You Sane From Left-Wing America.” Greg Corombos and I are about to start our 3ML End of the Year Awards, which we usually air between Christmas and New Year’s.

White House

Reviewing Trump’s Achievements before Democrats Control the House

President Donald Trump prior to his address to the United Nations General Assembly, September 25, 2018 (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: the disquieting possibility that the active part of Donald Trump’s presidency is coming to an end; the revelation that the Women’s March had an infamous hidden ally all along; Paul Krugman admits what he really thinks; and some podcast cheer, just in time for the holidays.

Is the Active Part of the Trump Presidency Ending?

Congressional Democrats may offer the White House $1.3 billion in funding for the border wall in year-end negotiations — a small fraction of the $5 billion President Trump wanted.

Soon, the Democrats will control the House of Representatives. The odds of Congress sending any major pieces of legislation to Trump’s desk will shrink even more.

Trump is not the first president to see his party lose control of a chamber of Congress during his presidency; it happened to Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan too. But it’s also worth remembering that none of those presidents saw their party recapture that lost chamber during their presidencies.

Trump did not begin with much patience for the legislative grind of Congress, and what little he had disappeared after the attempt to repeal Obamacare and the passage of tax cuts.

This White House had great difficulties stewarding legislation through Congress on its best days. During the first effort to get the House to pass legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare, Steve Bannon attempted to bully the House Freedom Caucus, telling them, “This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.” The House members, neither intimidated nor impressed, refused. The Senate rejected the second attempt at repeal and replace — perhaps the most frustrating moment for conservatives in Trump’s presidency so far — on July 28, 2017. The day before, when Obamacare-repeal proponents in the Senate needed the White House to be reinforcing their arguments in favor of the bill as much as possible, the news cycle was eaten up by Anthony Scaramucci furiously ranting to the New Yorker about Bannon’s anatomy.

“Amateur hour” is not an accurate description of this mess, because amateurs try.

Every few weeks, Trump tweets about something Congress must do, but Congress rarely does it.

April 4 of this year: “Our Border Laws are very weak while those of Mexico & Canada are very strong. Congress must change these Obama era, and other, laws NOW!” April 17: “House and Senate must quickly pass a legislative fix to ensure violent criminal aliens can be removed from our society. Keep America Safe!” May 4: “Our Southern Border is under siege. Congress must act now to change our weak and ineffective immigration laws. Must build a Wall.” July 5: “Congress must pass smart, fast and reasonable Immigration Laws now.” July 11: “Democrats in Congress must no longer Obstruct – vote to fix our terrible Immigration Laws now.” July 29: “Congress must act on fixing the DUMBEST & WORST immigration laws anywhere in the world!”

Trump got a lot of likes and retweets on those, but Congress did not pass a serious immigration reform. In late June, an immigration bill that Trump supported went down in the House, with just 121 votes in favor, 301 votes against. Stalemate continues. The administration can control how it enforces the laws on the books, but it can’t change the laws that are on those books, nor how judges will rule on how those laws must be interpreted.

There are some issues on which the White House has pushed hard for legislation, such as prison anti-recidivism programs and criminal-justice reform in the First Step Act. Every policy wonk and activist I’ve talked to about this issue says that Jared Kushner has pushed this through, worked out compromises, and handled everything quite deftly. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he can’t guarantee the bill will get debated and passed by the time the chamber adjourns for the year — the Senate still has to pass a spending bill, a farm bill, renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, and disaster-relief funding. If the First Step Act doesn’t get passed, the bill would have to be reintroduced, and Democrats who control the House might want to go further — wrecking the current bipartisan consensus.

Trump tweeted about the First Step legislation once, but it’s not as if he’s barnstorming the country, making a detailed case for what the bill does and why it would help the country. Trump never really figured out how to persuade a reluctant legislator.

As for that spending bill and wall funding, Democratic congressional leaders don’t trust Trump to hold up his end of the bargain, so they say they’re not willing to make many concessions.

The agenda of the Trump administration in the next two years will look much like his Twitter feed lately: a lot of angry denunciations of a “WITCH HUNT” and “NO COLLUSION”; more declarations that the news media is “the ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE”; more mocking and sneering at figures such as James Comey, “Da Nang Dick Blumenthal,” Rex Tillerson, and so on, with the president occasionally enjoying himself with presidential duties such as the Army-Navy game.

Of course, the GOP still controls the Senate, and President Trump can still nominate judges to the 142 current judicial vacancies. (Right now, 70 nominees are pending.) If Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Steven Breyer step down or otherwise depart the court in the next two years, Trump could rank as the favorite president of many conservatives a generation from now.

The brief era of GOP control in Washington passes with some major accomplishments — sweeping tax cuts; the repeal of the individual mandate from Obamacare; drilling in ANWR; new sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia; the Right to Try Act for experimental medication; reforms of the Department of Veterans Affairs; laws designed to make it easier to fire federal workers; expansion of job-training and technical-education programs; a sweeping change to copyright law; reducing the impact of Dodd-Frank on banks; and repeal of at least 15 last-minute regulations enacted under the Obama administration.

But they leave a lot of work unfinished. Back in January, our Ramesh Ponnuru outlined a bolder and more expansive election-year agenda: relaxing Obamacare regulations, make the middle-class tax cuts permanent, welfare reform, and sweeping changes to how students finance college education. Change is unlikely to come in any of those areas until there is one-party control in Washington again.

Obama learned the hard way over the past two years that policy changes enacted through regulations and executive orders can be easily undone by a future president: the Iran deal, the Paris accords, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Clean Power Plan, various EPA rules, “temporary protected status” for groups of refugees in the United States. But a future Democratic president could undo Trump’s changes as easily as Trump undid Obama’s.

The Women’s March, Brought to You by the Nation of Islam

Did you expect that the Women’s March would have its security handled by . . . the Nation of Islam? From a piece in Tablet yesterday:

It was around this time that [activist Mercy] Morganfield says she first heard that Nation of Islam members were acting as security detail and drivers for the co-chairs. “Bob called me secretly and said, ‘Mercy, they have been in bed with the Nation of Islam since day one: They do all of our security,’” Morganfield told Tablet.

Two other sources, with direct knowledge of the time, also claimed that security and the drivers for the co-chairs were members of the Nation of Islam. And this was certainly the case in the women’s previous organization. A May 2015 photograph on Sarsour’s Facebook page shows a group of men wearing suits and bow ties in the signature Nation of Islam style. Her caption above the photo reads: “FOI Brothers, security for the movement,” using the acronym for Fruit of Islam.

Disgusted not only with the co-chairs’ connection to Farrakhan but the way they were all handling what she saw as the legitimate public outrage over it, Morganfield, too, asked privately for their resignations.

“I talked to everyone, and I said it to every last one of them: Tamika [Mallory] needs to resign—not just because of her Farrakhan connection, but because of how she handled it afterwards. I said Linda [Sarsour] also needs to step down. Her controversy and the things she keeps saying and doing are detrimental to the movement.” When Tablet asked Morganfield whether she believes the co-chairs are anti-Semitic, she offered a terse answer: “There are no Jewish women on the board. They refused to put any on. Most of the Jewish people resigned and left. They refused to even put anti-Semitism in the unity principles.”

The article ends with a stinging indictment from Morganfield: “The reason I joined the Women’s March is because I believe women could truly be the most powerful voting bloc this country has ever seen . . . The problem with the Women’s March is that in order to stay in the news, they had to be like ambulance chasers: They chased every issue that could get them media coverage. That’s not strategy; that’s tactics.”

At Least He’s Honest about What He Believes

Paul Krugman on Twitter yesterday: “There’s a new axis of evil: Russia, Saudi Arabia — and the United States.”

Usually you need his New York Times op-ed page colleague, Thomas Friedman, to speak to his cab driver to get such deep and nuanced insight.

As Jeanne Kirkpatrick said, “They always blame America first.”

ADDENDUM: Mickey and I found time to record a Christmas-themed podcast, tackling Christmas carols great and awful; Hallmark’s seductively saccharine Christmas movies; how her recent sojourn to Canada did not meet her expectations; remembering that we were laughing about “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” four years ago; and predicting a future ban on mistletoe.

White House

James Comey Is Proving that He’s a Partisan

FBI Director James Comey attends a news conference on terrorism after speaking at the NYPD Shield Conference in the Manhattan borough of New York, December 16, 2015. (Darren Ornitz/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: former FBI director James Comey drops any pretense of being anything but a Democratic-party cheerleader these days, President Trump finds himself hunting for a chief of staff once again, a quick review of last week’s NR cruise, and a computer book to read before artificial intelligence takes over the world.

James Comey, Democratic-Party Cheerleader

Back when I reviewed former FBI director James Comey’s autobiography, I wrote:

The notion that everyone around Comey at the top level of the FBI hesitated to keep his promise to inform Congress because it could help Trump win the election doesn’t exactly dispel Trump’s claim of widespread bias against him. In Comey’s late-November private Oval Office meeting with the president, he blurts out to the outgoing Obama, “I dread the next four years.”

This is not a conspiracy of shadowy cigarette-smoking government men out of The X-Files, but it points to a disconcerting groupthink: Just about everybody at the top levels of the FBI, Department of Justice, U.S. national-security agencies, and the Obama administration thought Trump was a corrupt, deranged loon. No doubt Trump earned a lot of that criticism, but that groupthink meant the FBI’s top brass was ready to believe the worst about Trump, no matter the origin.

Around that time, I separately reported that retired FBI agents were . . . less than thrilled to see a former director becoming a hero of “The Resistance” and joking around with Stephen Colbert about the president. Other than Louis Freeh’s tempestuous relationship with Bill Clinton, most retired FBI directors retained nonpartisan reputations and largely stayed out of the spotlight after leaving law enforcement.

But that was then; today, Comey has become indistinguishable from the usual Democratic National Convention speakers. Here’s what happened at a speech he gave last night:

Former FBI Director James Comey asked American voters Sunday night to end Donald Trump’s presidency with a “landslide” victory for his opponent in 2020.

“All of us should use every breath we have to make sure the lies stop on January 20, 2021,” Comey told an audience at the 92nd Street Y on New York City’s Upper East Side. He all but begged Democrats to set aside their ideological differences and nominate the person best suited to defeating Trump in an election.

“I understand the Democrats have important debates now over who their candidate should be,” Comey told MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace, “but they have to win. They have to win.”

Wait, there’s more — lest you think that Comey is merely a fierce critic of Trump:

Speaking about the period before the 2016 election, Comey was unsparing of Republican congressional leaders who he said opposed making public intelligence-community concerns over Russian interference.

“To their everlasting shame, the leaders — (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell, (House Speaker Paul) Ryan — refused,” Comey said. “I think they’re going to have a hard time explaining that to history.”

Trump’s bad, McConnell’s bad, Ryan’s bad . . . What are the odds that Comey ends up speaking at the 2020 Democratic National Convention?

Is the Federal Bureau of Investigation a partisan institution? No doubt there’s a wide range of opinions throughout the rank-and-file agents and staff, and we certainly all hope that the nation’s premiere law-enforcement agency hasn’t succumbed to partisan groupthink. But the more that Comey sounds like an aspiring DNC chairman, the more he chips away at public faith in the institution. 

Who Wants to Be the Next White House Chief of Staff?

The president, who has made clear that he will not be managed by anyone, is having a hard time finding someone to step into the role of manager.

Trump-administration observers figured that Vice President Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, would be the next White House chief of staff. But much to everyone’s surprise, he’s not only not taking the job, but he’s leaving the administration entirely.

Nick Ayers, the main focus of President Trump’s search to replace John F. Kelly as chief of staff in recent weeks, said on Sunday that he was leaving the administration at the end of the year. Mr. Ayers, 36, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, is returning to Georgia with his wife and three young children, according to people familiar with his plans.

Axios reports that one of the new options to replace John Kelly is . . . the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus?

Trump has asked confidants what they think about the idea of installing Congressman Mark Meadows, the chairman of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, as John Kelly’s permanent replacement, according to these three sources. Trump has also mentioned three other candidates besides Meadows, according to a source with direct knowledge. I don’t yet have their names.

If you’re Meadows, do you want that job? You’re the leader of one of the most powerful factions of House Republicans, although you’ll be in the minority starting in January. You represent a district where you won 59 percent in a bad year for Republicans, so you’ll have that job in Congress for as long as you like, as long as you avoid scandal. Trump could serve another six years, or maybe just another two years. And both Reince Priebus and John Kelly seemed perpetually frustrated, aggravated, and exhausted in the job.

And that was during the good times! The next White House chief of staff will be stepping into the eye of a hurricane. The Democrats will run the House and stymie just about any major legislation. (Democrats have spent the past two years telling the country that Trump is an unholy amalgamation of Mussolini, Gordon Gecko, Nero, Caligula, and Beelzebub; they can’t turn around and tell their grassroots supporters, “But we worked out a really great deal on infrastructure with him.”)

At some point presumably soon, special counsel Robert Mueller will submit his final report to the Department of Justice, and it’s likely to paint an ugly portrait contending that  A) the Russian government reached out to figures around Trump, if not Trump himself, and those figures were eager to work with Moscow against Hillary Clinton’s campaign; B) Trump-campaign officials met with Russian intelligence agents throughout 2016; C) Trump conspired with Michael Cohen to send money to Stormy Daniels, which they’ll argue was a campaign-related expense; D) the firing of James Comey amounted to obstruction of justice; E) who knows what about Trump’s past financial ties to Russian entities; F) any financial crimes; and G) God knows what else. One way or another, House Democrats are extremely likely to push for impeachment.

Another figure who appears uninterested in the job . . .

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is one of the advisors to President Donald Trump under consideration to be the next White House chief of staff, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter.

Yet Mnuchin has indicated to his inner circle that he feels best served as the head of Treasury, according to these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the privacy of the ongoing discussions.

Traditionally, the position of White House chief of staff is one of the most desired in Washington, with enormous access to the president and a great deal of behind-the-scenes sway over the president’s schedule, priorities, and communications. Under Trump, there’s little to no ability to sway the president or steer the agenda, and you’re just a scapegoat-in-waiting.

High Spirits and Elevated Discourse on the High Seas

If you were on the NR Cruise this past week, it was great to see you. I learned a heck of a lot about the conservative philosopher Russell Kirk from a panel that featured Lee Edwards, Daniel Mahoney, and George Nash.

Pollster Scott Rasmussen reminded us that there’s still actually a wide consensus about the American dream (and more than a few contradictions in the thinking of those socialism-curious respondents) and shared some wild stories from the very first days of ESPN, which he co-founded. Somehow I ended up doing my Ted Cruz impression during a panel discussion of the evangelical vote and 2018 — sometimes our dialogues take some unexpected paths. This past week featured a lot of legal talk from Andy McCarthy and John Yoo, and a lot of cultural analysis from first-timers Nick Adams, Kyle Smith, and Alexandra DeSanctis. The dates and destination of the next cruise, probably in late summer 2019, will be announced here.

ADDENDA: You may have missed this report that, if true, marks a stunning breakthrough in the development of artificial intelligence: “It quickly became apparent AlphaZero had an intuition of its own. It is also capable of learning from its own mistakes and previous experiences first and foremost, which could give the AI a leg up over some of its human counterparts. Improvisation is no longer a trait unique to mammals and the animal kingdom, but rather something that anyone  — and anything — can develop of its own accord.”

Computers and technology are among those topics I wish I knew and understood more. My friend Rachel Grunspan and her co-author Simson Garfinkel have just published The Computer Book, a fascinating walk through 250 milestones in the history of computer science, from the  Sumerian Abacus in 2500 B.C. to speculative concepts like quantum entanglement. Trust me when I say that this is a delightfully layman-friendly, jargon-free, lavishly illustrated history book that covers everything from slide rules to Metropolis to Isaac Asimov to Pong to Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan to the world’s first spam message — in 1973!

PC Culture

‘You’re Fired!’

Actor and comedian Kevin Hart (REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Kevin Hart is defenestrated, a shakeup in the White House, and the special counsel sits on two documents that people are eager to read. Jim Geraghty will be back next week.

#OscarsSoWhite

Kevin Hart is the latest casualty of old tweets. The comedian was set to host the Academy Awards until tweets surfaced from 2009 in which he made a series of homophobic jokes. For a time, Hart was silent, before posting an Instagram video in which he did not apologize, but instead said this: “If you don’t believe that people change, grow, evolve as they get older, I don’t know what to tell you. If you want to hold people in a position where they always have to justify or explain their past, then do you. I’m the wrong guy, man.”

They did them, all right, by which I mean the masses acted like the masses by continuing to demand Hart’s head on a pike while culture-industry decision-makers acted like culture-industry decision-makers by (likely, I’m no entertainment insider) informing Hart that he was to apologize and withdraw from the Oscars gig. Which he did, twelve hours ago, via Twitter. There’s a perhaps impolitic observation to make about Hart’s being forced out of hosting an awards show that made self-flagellation for its purported lily-whiteness and outreach to African Americans its major priorities in recent years. Speaking of priorities, here’s another impolitic observation from Jerry Dunleavy:

When the most-recent storm of performative outrage caused another comedian to apologize for his comedy, Kevin D. Williamson was (as usual) a must-read. “At some point,” he wrote,

. . . maybe in a few weeks and maybe in a few years, this current fad of serial mass hysterias — driven in part by social media and amplified by the news media and entertainment media — will pass. Some people will look back on it and be embarrassed, but most people will not, because they do not have the intelligence or the moral depth to be embarrassed by it. It will go the way of hula hoops and screaming at the Beatles with religious fervor. This is mostly a game, not a moral panic . . .

Accordingly, KDW advised the comedian in question to stop apologizing: Treating these serial mass hysterias with the seriousness they deserve  — i.e., none — and refusing to play the game is the appropriate response, and if enough entertainers do that, then people will stop trying to defenestrate them. But as the Hart episode illustrates, there’s a sort of collective-action problem here. Defending yourself rather than apologizing imposes costs, intensifying outrage in the near-term and generating uncertainty in the longer-term. The first comedian who doesn’t apologize stands out. Why didn’t he just bite the bullet? What’s going to happen to his career? These cycles have a familiar rhythm: First the problematic material surfaces, then the pile-on ensues, after which the public figure apologizes and people eventually forget what happened. But if you don’t apologize, well, you’re in uncharted waters. Good for Hart for trying to defend himself, at least at first, but his eventual capitulation was as depressing as it was foreseeable.

An Uncontroversial Barr

Donald Trump’s appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general was one of the more appropriately controversial moves of his presidency. Whitaker was once a talking head on cable news who often criticized the special-counsel probe and now finds himself in charge of it, but the more-pressing issue has been whether his appointment is constitutional. The Vacancies Reform Act empowers the president to appoint temporary replacements to offices left vacant, but the Constitution stipulates that “principal officers” — those who report directly to the president — must be confirmed by the Senate. Before his appointment, Whitaker was Jeff Sessions’s chief of staff, which is an “inferior office” not requiring Senate confirmation. Constitutional scholars found themselves debating a question that had never been litigated before — and was now at the center of our politics.

Interesting as it is, the question is likely now moot, as Trump has decided to nominate William P. Barr to be the next attorney general. Barr was attorney general in the George H. W. Bush administration between 1991 and 1993, so qualification for the position is not an issue. Barr boasts a strong résumé and has been out of the public eye for years, so it’s difficult to see any obstacles to his being confirmed.

Trump’s New Orbiters

CNN reports that White House chief of staff John Kelly is “expected” to resign “in the coming days.” “The two have stopped speaking in recent days,” the network reports. Nick Ayers, the vice president’s chief of staff, has long been seen as next in line. There’s been chatter about Kelly’s future since he took the job, so wait-and-see might be the best approach. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal notes other moves inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue:

The president’s election campaign said Friday that two senior White House aides, Bill Stepien and Justin Clark, would be leaving their posts and joining the 2020 Trump campaign team. Mr. Trump also told reporters before leaving the White House that he would nominate Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman, as the new ambassador to the United Nations.

Also, Ben Howard, an aide to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R., La.), will be joining the White House as a deputy on Mr. Trump’s legislative-affairs team, Mr. Scalise said Friday.

Meanwhile, Trump sent a series of tweets this morning attacking Robert Mueller’s investigation, hours before Mueller was set to file more details in the prosecution of Paul Manafort and the plea agreement with Michael Cohen.

World

Social Media Doesn’t Make the World

(Pixabay)

Why are Americans losing confidence in the judiciary? There are several competing theories. Maybe Congress has abdicated its responsibility to legislate on tense political issues like abortion, gay marriage, and immigration, leaving legal-advocacy groups to litigate these issues in the courts and diminishing the judiciary’s reputation for impartiality. Maybe progressive activists are promoting an anti-institutionalist politics as a counter to the GOP’s dominance in the judiciary: advocating packing the courts not as a long-term strategy to entrench a progressive judicial majority, but as a suicide mission to convince Americans that all judges are partisan actors. Maybe the power of conservative judges is coming into sharper tension with the power wielded by progressives in universities and the culture industry. Maybe there are other reasons.

Or maybe, per the Washington Post, Americans are losing confidence in the judiciary because they’ve been duped by the Russians. “A group of cybersecurity, national security and legal experts is warning that Russia’s efforts to weaken America’s democratic institutions aren’t limited to elections — but also extend to the U.S. justice system. . . . Russian operatives tend to exploit sensitive issues such as immigration and race in posts designed to drum up backlash to the justice system,” reports Bastien Inzaurralde.

Why are the gilets jaunes rioting in France? Maybe they are ordinary economic actors protesting the regressive, onerous carbon tax. Maybe they resent that this tax was foisted upon them by their elite leadership, and the carbon tax was the catalyst for a “spontaneous surge of impatience against an ‘elite’ which is thought to spurn poorer citizens or milk them dry.” Maybe the riots are part of a broader movement across Europe the causes of which we are only beginning to understand. Maybe there are other reasons.

Or maybe, per Buzzfeed News, the gilets jaunes are rioting in France because of Facebook: “Due to the way algorithm changes made earlier this year interacted with the fierce devotion in France to local and regional identity, the country is now facing some of the worst riots in many years — and in Paris, the worst in half a century,” writes Ryan Broderick.

Both of these stories implicitly attribute lots of power to social media to change people’s minds and spur them to action. A critical mass of Americans have come across enough broken-English tweets, poorly composed Facebook posts, and low-res memes about the judiciary to lower the country’s confidence in the judicial system, the Post story suggests. A critical mass of French have seen enough videos and read enough petitions to prompt mass riots, the Buzzfeed story insinuates. People may have political preferences and society may be beset with political tensions — Americans are “divided” on immigration, the French are “fierce[ly] devot[ed] to local and regional identity” — but the important story is the way these preexisting conditions were exploited by nefarious actors taking advantage of poorly-designed algorithms to convince people to do and think things they wouldn’t otherwise.

Telling compelling, convenient stories is occasionally the stuff of both journalism and politics (cf. Donald Trump telling Western Pennsylvanians that “Hillary Clinton and her friends in global finance” are to blame for manufacturing being down, or Hillary Clinton assuring her donors that the reason she lost is James Comey’s letter to Congress a week before Election Night). But these are just-so stories that rely on dubious causal chains to attribute responsibility for complex phenomena to bogeymen. Russians “sow discord.” Facebook “exacerbates instability.” But how someone identifies politically and what spurs that person to action can be a function of all sorts of things — her personality, the material conditions surrounding her, where she grew up, what she reads, what her peers believe — and a nation’s political fault lines are often products of historical and social contingencies.

It is certainly the case that digital networks can activate certain political attitudes. In Jessica L. Beyer’s Expect Us: Online Communities and Political Mobilization, she tells the story of Project Chanology, when 4chan users took to the streets to protest the activities of the Church of Scientology, to argue that anonymous, ephemeral websites tend to become political. But the people using these websites do not exist in a vacuum. Just as there are reasons besides the structure of 4chan that so many of its users wound up in the alt-right, there are reasons besides Facebook’s algorithm for the gilets jaunes.

Broderick, the author of the Facebook-in-France story, has made his beat the intersection of digital culture and political upheaval. It’s an interesting beat, and he’s a dogged reporter. But there’s a clear incentive for someone covering that beat to exaggerate the effects of the internet on our political life. Just read his long, comprehensive manifesto assigning responsibility for populist upheavals in Brazil, Poland, India, and across Europe, which ignores the particular circumstances driving these changes in favor of a universal theory of digital-political causality. “To be sure,” he writes,

. . . populism, nationalism, and information warfare existed long before the internet. The arc of history doesn’t always bend toward what I think of as progress. Societies regress. The difference now is that all of this is being hosted almost entirely by a handful of corporations. Why is an American company like Facebook placing ads in newspapers in countries like India, Italy, Mexico, and Brazil, explaining to local internet users how to look out for abuse and misinformation? Because our lives, societies, and governments have been tied to invisible feedback loops, online and off. And there’s no clear way to untangle ourselves.

The worst part of all of this is that, in retrospect, there’s no real big secret about how we got here.

Forget rising crime rates in Brazil, the special grievances of the Visegrad Four, the persistent force of Hindu nationalism, or the migration crisis besetting the EU. There’s no big secret about how we got here: It was the internet that “destabilized” democracies, “radicalized” people, and “inspired” violence. These stories are seductive because they’re so simple — and because they allow people to ignore the at-times uncomfortable reasons for political divisions. Broderick’s work is a long exercise in ignoring history and political economy to argue that message boards and social-media algorithms are the drivers of history. But maybe the Americans were the Russians and the French were the Facebook algorithm all along.

Immigration

Off the Wall

Construction workers place a section of new bollard wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in Santa Teresa, N.M., April 23, 2018. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: An update on the scramble to avoid a government shutdown; a look at yesterday’s market action; and an attempt, via analysis of the widths of individual glyphs in Times New Roman, to figure out exactly what the special counsel wrote behind those black-redaction bars.

The Wall Show

Will Chuck and Nancy Pay For The Wall? Donald Trump says he won’t sign any spending bill that doesn’t contain at least $5 billion in border-wall funding, while Democratic leadership says the maximum they would allow is $1.6 billion. The government will shut down Friday night if no agreement is reached. On Monday, however, the two sides signaled their willingness to kick the can down the road and pass a two-week continuing resolution. So the fight now looms over Christmas Week.

It’s shaping up to be another relatively pointless installment in the government-shutdown annals, but Schumer’s and Pelosi’s willingness to negotiate a dollar amount for the border wall has prompted loud criticism from the activist branch of the party. To fund Trump’s signature campaign promise, they argue, is to abet his and his supporters’ nativism and to legitimate an unacceptable, bigoted approach to the immigration issue. Instead, they should play hardball, as The New Yorker writer Osita Nwanevu recently put it in a Twitter thread:

It’s natural that progressives would be upset at Democratic leadership for entertaining the idea of funding the wall, but there’s something interesting about the logic here. The wall has always been a meaningful symbol — but it’s always been a symbol. Several policy-minded restrictionists have argued that it is far from the most effective way to substantially change the U.S. immigration system. In 2017, visa overstays outnumbered illegal border crossings, leading many restrictionists to prioritize policies such as E-Verify that would discourage overstayers from remaining in the country. The current flashpoint on immigration is the growing number of asylum seekers from Central America, leading the Trump administration to push for changes to the asylum system. Here’s what National Review’s editorial board wrote in April 2017: “The wall Trump often describes may be big and beautiful, but it is also fanciful, and, when it comes to the things we need to do to establish a durable enforcement regime, largely beside the point.”

Robert Moses’s highways and bridges had an enduring effect on the flow of people in New York State. Wantagh Parkway, wrote Langdon Winner, was designed to discourage buses from reaching Long Island’s beaches. The physical structure of a border wall would obviously have enduring political and social consequences, but people have other ways to get to Jones Beach. Trump would surely claim a symbolic victory if Schumer and Pelosi agreed to partially fund the wall — which might be a shrewd way for them to defuse his demands on the immigration issue while not actually making a difference.

No, I Don’t Have Any Investment Tips

If I knew with some level of certainty what was happening in the equity and bond markets, I’d trade on that information, not broadcast it to the public. Very few people know why, exactly, the markets are moving. Even people whose job description is to answer that question often don’t know. But investors are moving in on the risk curve, and markets fell yesterday across the board: Treasury yields tumbled; the S&P 500 fell by 3.2 percent; Eurostoxx fell by 1 percent; the two — ten yield curve — which I wrote about in a Jolt months ago — reached its flattest slope since 2007.

There’s general agreement that the supposed U.S.– China trade deal Trump announced over the weekend is a phantasm. Brexit negotiations also hit a snag yesterday. But Bloomberg has a list of seven other factors that might have precipitated the selloff, including a decline in momentum stocks and softening housing-market fundamentals. It’s worth reading, if only because it carries a reminder for political junkies that markets are not always driven by the day’s big news.

But markets are more jittery than they were in 2017, and there are some warning signs in the real economy, including problems in certain emerging markets and said softening in the domestic-housing market. Trump has been pushing Federal Reserve chairman Jay Powell to stop raising interest rates, but if the markets remain volatile, Powell may stop on his own accord.

What Did Mueller Mean By This?

The special counsel’s office released its sentencing memo for former national-security adviser Michael Flynn last night. Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators one year ago, has been cooperating with Robert Mueller’s office for months. How much has he been cooperating? From the memo: “Given the defendant’s substantial assistance and other considerations set forth below, a sentence at the low end of the guideline range—including a sentence that does not impose a term of incarceration—is appropriate and warranted.”

People have read quite a bit into that recommendation, but there’s much information to justify some of the sweeping conclusions pinballing around cable news and social media. How commentators can conclude anything from passages like this is beyond me:

Having said that: The supplement to the sentencing memo refers to an ongoing criminal investigation apparently separate from the special counsel’s Russia probe. It also redacts several lines pertaining to Flynn’s cooperation in the Russia probe. In due course, we’ll find out what he means — right?

PC Culture

French Rioters and American Liberals

Vandalized cars on Avenue Foch the morning after clashes with protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of French drivers’ protest against higher fuel taxes, in Paris, France, December 2, 2018. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: We spend some time inside the heads of white liberals and read about the riots in France.

More on White Liberals

I wrote a piece for the most recent print issue of  National Review:

Business is booming for Robin DiAngelo, a retired sociologist and the author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Since resigning from Westfield State University three years ago, DiAngelo has become a full-time “writer and presenter.” What she writes about is the pathological inability of white people to understand their passive complicity in America’s “white supremacist culture,” and whom she presents it to is white people looking for lessons in how to overcome it. “Now breathe,” she instructs her readers. “I am not saying that you are immoral. If you can remain open as I lay out my argument” — here, the argument that she can credibly judge your racism by virtue of your whiteness even if she has never met you — “it should soon begin to make sense.” Like therapy, it doesn’t always go over well: DiAngelo recounts a woman’s bristling after being told that her comments “invalidated” another person’s “experience as a black man.” But that is just white fragility in action.

Released this year to positive reviews and making the New York Times best-seller list, DiAngelo’s book draws on her years of experience running cultural-competency seminars for American companies. After its release, she went on a book tour in which she hosted similar seminars for readers interested in overcoming the “racial innocence” out of which she intends to shock them. At one, in Seattle, various participants came away with some observations about themselves. “All correct information that I was ever given was provided by a white person,” said one. “[I had] white friend groups, white peers, white mentors.” “I never had a teacher of a different race.” “It’s been very easy for me to not think about race.” DiAngelo, meanwhile, began the workshop with the necessary confession: “I’m Robin DiAngelo — I’m white.”

The business of a white person’s explaining the evils of whiteness to other white people might seem strange, but DiAngelo provides a service for which there is plenty of demand. The strain of left-wing politics that purports to have the interests of the marginalized in mind happens to have a lot of white adherents. A nonpartisan group called “More in Common” commissioned a survey of the various political types into which Americans fit, and, by its measure, “progressive activists,” those who believe that American institutions were “established by socially dominant groups such as straight white men, for their own benefit,” are the most racially homogeneous political type in the country. The people who “seek to correct the historic marginalization of groups based on their race, gender, sexuality, wealth, and other forms of privilege” are overwhelmingly white, rich, and well educated.

White liberals increasingly think that whites possess too much political power, social capital, and economic resources — and that whites use all of this nefariously to entrench racial inequality. In short, the piece asked “What’s the matter with white liberals?” and the answer, according to them, is that they’re racist. Self-identified white liberals are moving left; toward the end I suggest that their political obsessions might not be so relevant to moderates in the Democratic party’s multiethnic coalition. There are lots of strange things going on, in my view, with white liberals.

Here’s a headline for your consideration: “White Liberals Present Themselves as Less Competent in Interactions with African-Americans.” That’s from a forthcoming study by Yale researcher Cydney Dupree, who found that “white liberals tend to downplay their own verbal competence in exchanges with racial minorities, compared to how other white Americans act in such exchanges.” Dupree says she wanted to know how “well-intentioned whites try to get along with racial minorities,” and what were “their strategies for increasing connections between members of different social groups.”

Dupree first examines speeches by Democratic and Republican presidential candidates to mostly white and mostly minority audiences. They found that, before minority audiences, Democrats would change their language to use words connoting “warmth” rather than words connoting “competence.” Meanwhile: “The researchers found that liberal individuals were less likely to use words that would make them appear highly competent when the person they were addressing was presumed to be black rather than white. No significant differences were seen in the word selection of conservatives based on the presumed race of their partner. ‘It was kind of an unpleasant surprise to see this subtle but persistent effect,’ Dupree says. ‘Even if it’s ultimately well-intentioned, it could be seen as patronizing.’”

France

This dispatch by Jeremy Harding in the London Review of Books is useful for understanding the recent riots in France. Harding considers what political loyalties can be attributed to the budding movement, which was sparked by anger over France’s regressive carbon tax:

Fighting on the Champs Elysées last weekend between French security forces and the so-called ‘gilets jaunes’ led to more than 100 arrests. According to the police, roughly eight thousand demonstrators took part. Barricades were built — and set alight — by what looked from a distance to be groups of rampaging lollipop people in dayglo yellow tops. But the gilets jaunes are not championing pedestrian safety: their revolt has been prompted by a sharp rise in the price of diesel and unleaded petrol at the pump, which they blame on President Macron’s fossil fuel tax. This is a drivers’ movement, at least at first sight, and despite the turmoil on the Champs Elysées, it is deeply provincial. Macron responded on Tuesday not with a U-turn, but with a concession enabling parliament to freeze the carbon tax — which is set to keep rising year on year — when the oil price goes up. A freeze is a very different proposition from a reduction and the gilets jaunes don’t like it. . . .

Last week the movement appointed eight official spokespeople . . . , but it’s still acephalous and averse to party-political appropriation, whether from the [right-wing] Rassemblement National — likely to make a strong showing in the European parliamentaries next year — or the tatters of the Parti Socialiste. [Left-wing populist party] La France Insoumise has its eye on the gilets jaunes as raw material for a ‘left populist’ project of the kind proposed by the Belgian philosopher Chantal Mouffe, a key intellectual for Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

But LFI will have its work cut out if, as some in the press are saying, the gilets jaunes are really a Poujadist phenomenon. Pierre Poujade led a populist anti-taxation drive in the 1950s, and spoke with an invective against government that the gilets jaunes have yet to surpass. Parliament, Poujade said, was a brothel, and MPs were a bunch of ‘pederasts’. Unlike Thatcher, Poujade was a premature opponent of finance capitalism; like Thatcher, he was an enemy of big government and organised labour, a ferocious chauvinist who championed ‘the little guy’ as a Prometheus in chains. Poujade’s dream died with the reappearance of De Gaulle in 1958 and the founding of the Fifth Republic.

Many local business people in south-west France support the gilets jaunes: bakers, plumbers, roofers, electricians, small farmers, and most of the shopkeepers left standing now that the supermarkets have put weaker contenders out of a job. All depend on their cars and those of their customers to stay afloat. But the small business contingent isn’t enough to justify the description ‘Poujadist’. This is a leaderless, spontaneous surge of impatience against an ‘elite’ which is thought to spurn poorer citizens or milk them dry. . . . I’m guessing that the vests are worn to make a simple point: ‘don’t pretend you can’t see us.’ . . .

Christopher Caldwell has argued that populists “usually internalize the idea of their inferiority and immorality,” and predicted that “they will be subject to a ‘paralyzing apathy’ unless a leader is there to light a fire under them.” Throughout his piece, Harding is clearly interested in whether these riots could be constructive for the French Left — and particularly in whether LFI could harness its energy. If we buy Caldwell’s argument, then Harding is right to note the current headlessness of the gilets jaunes. Because who eventually becomes the head will matter a great deal to both the movement’s success and its ultimate political direction.

World

Virtuous Phrases, Vicious Connotations

Palestinian protesters wave flags over Israeli border police near Ramallah, 2015. (Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)

I’ll be writing the Morning Jolt this week while Jim Geraghty and others are out to sea. Making the click-through worthwhile: I give some thoughts on Marc Lamont Hill; note Trump’s apparent detente with Xi Jinping at the G20; and share a link to our late 41st president’s activity in World War II.

‘I Was Talking about the Prog-Rock Album!’

In a speech to the United Nations last week, author and former CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill called for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea.” When it was pointed out that establishing a Palestinian nation that runs from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea would entail the annihilation of Israel and, presumably, the resettlement of millions who live there, CNN fired him. In the avalanche of commentary that’s ensued, Hill’s defenders and critics alike have observed that Hill is deeply educated in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. In the words of Peter Beinart, “He knows more about Israeli policy towards Palestinians than you do.”

Maybe. In any case, people disagree about the implications of Hill’s subject-matter expertise. To his defenders, Hill must have been expressing a deeply considered position that is being twisted out of context. To his critics, Hill must have understood the implications of what he said and is all the more responsible for invoking such a charged phrase.

But Hill’s subject-matter expertise could imply something else: that, as a committed advocate of a position increasingly identified with assorted social-justice causes, he was likely oblivious to the connotations that “from the river to the sea” carries for so many Jews. As best as I can tell, Hill’s framework for understanding the situation pits the plainly evil against the plainly good: a group of settler colonists whose politics tend nationalist, whose economy is capitalistic, and whose military is ruthless, against a group of downtrodden victims who were ejected from their homes and who are repressed both within Israel and in the occupied territories. It’s impossible to know what’s in his head or his heart, but would you wager that Hill could state the various arguments for Israel’s existence in a way that passed an Ideological Turing Test?

Let’s hear again from Hill. Earlier in the speech, he said: “We must recognize the right of an occupied people to defend itself. . . . We must prioritize peace, but we must not romanticize or fetishize it.” (The fight over the connotations of “from the river to the sea” — a phrase that is invoked by advocates as diverse as the PLO, Hamas, and white college kids during Campus Apartheid Week — may have buried the lede.)

After the controversy, he tweeted: “I concluded my remarks with a call to free Palestine from river to sea. This means that all areas of historic Palestine — e.g., West Bank, Gaza, Israel — must be spaces of freedom, safety, and peace for Palestinians.” Stated dispassionately, Hill’s position is to advocate a binational democratic state on the land that is now Israel and was once Mandatory Palestine, an idea famously floated by Tony Judt in a 2003 article for the New York Review of Books. Such a state would be a democracy in which civil society would flourish, religious rights would be equally protected, and the two groups would live side-by-side as demography ceased to be a political concern. If you think there’s something a little delusional about this, so did Judt — but delusional is better than eliminationist, which is the charge Hill was forced to defend himself against.

For Jews in Israel, the argument goes, the phrase carries with it an implicit existential threat. For Jews in increasingly unwelcome places, such as, say, Europe, where anti-Semitism is rising, its connotation is similar. If Hill really is a subject-matter expert, how could he not have understood that many hear “from the river to the sea” and think “I am advocating the elimination of the Jewish state via a military-enforced ethnic cleansing”? How did he not anticipate how American Jews with relatives living in Israel would react? One possibility is that he believed he was on the right side of a morally charged conflict in which his cause has become associated with all sorts of moral goods and the Israeli cause has been associated with all sorts of moral evils.

In the world of American political activism, taking the Palestinian side of the conflict has become increasingly mandatory on the Left. Being pro-Palestine becomes a way to be anti-colonialism (because Israel is a settler-colonial state); anti-imperialism (because of the U.S.’ alliance with Israel); anti-militarism (because the IDF’s capabilities dwarf those of its belligerents); anti-capitalism (because Israel is a leader in the tech sector, where many businesses contract with the military); and anti-nationalism (this one is difficult to explain). Hill may have identified his activism for Palestine with all of these causes and may never have stopped to consider the implications to a Jewish audience of what he was saying. He was simply standing up for a cause associated with other virtuous causes supported by virtuous people who chant virtuous-sounding things at virtuous rallies.

If the Israel-Palestinian conflict has — at least in America — become another front in the culture wars, then it’s no surprise that the pro-Israel side is borrowing certain patterns of activism and rhetoric from its opponent. After Hill’s speech, journalists and advocates rushed to publicize its most incendiary passages, put pressure on his supporters, and contact his employers. In so many words they argued that Hill’s speech encouraged the erasure of the Jewish people. You’ll recognize these tactics as those of progressive activists, but their success means their spread. You, like me, might feel ambivalent about this escalation — but if ever a people were “marginalized,” “erased” . . .

Latter-Day Mercantilists

Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal reported in the leadup to the meeting between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping that the two were exploring a sort of ceasefire in the trade war. Sure enough:

Mr. Trump and President Xi Jinping stepped back from the brink of total trade war while giving themselves room to strike a deal over new trading and investment rules. Mr. Trump agreed to hold off on raising tariffs to 25% from 10% on $200 billion of Chinese goods in January. . . .

The White House says China will start buying U.S. farm goods immediately, which will be a relief in farm states where incomes are down. China will also buy an unspecified “but very substantial” amount of farm, energy, industrial and other products to reduce the bilateral trade deficit. . . .

Far more important, the two countries will begin talks this month on China’s predatory behavior including forced technology transfer, intellectual property and cyber theft, and regulatory abuses against foreign companies. The parties have 90 days to agree or Mr. Trump will apply the 25% tariff—and presumably more on top of that.

Markets bounced on the news. The position of NR‘s editorial board is that of both WSJ‘s and plenty of smart China hawks: Chinese mercantilism is a real problem, and an international alliance could help solve it.

George H. W. Bush, RIP

This account of his being shot down near Chichi Jima is worth reading.

White House

Trump’s Michael Cohen Problem

President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen exits Federal Court after entering a guilty plea in Manhattan, N.Y., November 29, 2018. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters )

Making the click-through worthwhile: President Trump continues to believe he’s a great judge of character, no matter what troubles come his way; the GOP looks at turnout efforts for 2020; Rahm Emanuel surprises everyone by slamming Beto O’Rourke; and there’s another book to add to your holiday shopping list.

This is the last Jim-written Morning Jolt for a week. I’ll be on the National Review cruise next week, so I’ll see a few of you in person in a day or so! For others, traditionally, the off-year cruises are to further afield destinations such as Alaska or Norway, so if you’ve been thinking about a cruise vacation . . . 2019 is coming!

Why Would You Keep a Weak, Not Very Smart Lawyer for Twelve Years in Exchange for a Favor?

President Trump, before getting on to Marine One yesterday:

THE PRESIDENT: Go back and look at the paper that Michael Cohen wrote before he testified in the House and/or Senate. It talked about his position. What he’s trying to do — because he’s a weak person and not a very smart person. What he’s trying to do is end — and it’s very simple. He’s got himself a big prison sentence, and he’s trying to get a much lesser prison sentence by making up a story…

Q: If Cohen is such a bum, why did you hire him, have him on your payroll for 12 years, and have him do so much of your dirty work like paying off (inaudible)?

THE PRESIDENT: Because, a long time ago, he did me a favor. A long time ago, he did me a favor.

That’s a pretty implausible explanation. You don’t keep someone as your personal lawyer for twelve years as a favor if you think he’s a weak person and not a very smart person.

No doubt Trump thinks he’s a good judge of character and ability. Trump told the Washington Post during an interview on Tuesday, “I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody’s brain can ever tell me.” No matter how many times his decision of who to trust blows up in his face — Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, Omarosa Manigault, Steve Bannon, Rex Tillerson — Trump remains absolutely convinced his gut feelings can accurately determine who is trustworthy and loyal and helpful and who isn’t.

This is a spectacularly dangerous combination — a terrible judge of character who is absolutely convinced that he’s a spectacular judge of character. He demands absolute loyalty, gives little to none in return, and then is surprised when his underlings turn out to be way less loyal than he expected, over and over again. Trump is easily flattered, attracts and prefers obsequious brown-nosers, and recoils from just about any criticism, no matter how constructive or necessary it might be.

Trump goes through lawyers quickly; the relationship becomes unworkable as the president refuses to heed legal advice. Trump lawyers seem to feel as if they’re more dedicated to keeping the president out of legal trouble than he is — and that he’s not fully honest with them, leaving little confidence that the president would be honest under oath.

Trump likes who he is and doesn’t see any need to change. It wouldn’t take much for Trump to become a much more effective president. He would have to not lash out at every criticism he saw on cable news. He would have to at least feign interest in listening to the people he wants to persuade. The guy who prides himself on authoring The Art of the Deal would have to stop blowing up every working relationship in Washington over every perceived slight, insult, or disrespect. The policy agendas of, say, Senator Ben Sasse and Trump don’t differ that much, particularly in the areas of strengthening the military, standing up to China, reducing regulations, and pushing back against censorious political correctness. But Trump usually wants to vanquish critics, not cajole them and win them over. (Every once in a while, Trump manages to do this, such as with the renegotiated NAFTA treaty, now called the “United States-Mexico-Canada agreement.” (Some free traders aren’t thrilled with the final result, but as Iain Murray concludes, “Overall, the deal will ensure that the continental commerce on which industries and consumers across North America rely will continue uninterrupted — and that is worth celebrating.”)

Can Bigger Get-Out-the-Vote Efforts Help Save Republicans in 2020?

It’s good to know that Republican governors are not whistling past the graveyard:

Over the course of the week, eight Republican governors from across the country held a series of closed-door “murder board” sessions with senior party officials vying to become the RGA’s executive director for the next campaign. Governors pressed the applicants on how 2020 hopefuls should run with Trump at the top of the ticket. And they peppered them with questions on a burning topic: How to address the party’s plummeting support from highly-educated and suburban female voters.

“Certainly as we’re talking to the candidates, that’s one of things we’re talking to them about,” said Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, the RGA’s incoming chairman.

On Wednesday, Paul Bennecke, a veteran GOP strategist and the organization’s outgoing executive director, delivered a presentation to top donors in which he outlined a series of steps the party needs to take to prepare for 2020. He argued that Republicans couldn’t cede the fight to register voters and warned that Democratic groups were spending big to increase their numbers.

The irony is that the GOP turnout effort in 2018 didn’t break down or fall asleep this year. In 2014, 40 million Americans voted for House GOP candidates. This year, 50.6 million Americans voted for Republican House candidates — almost 11 million more! The problem for the Republicans is that the number of Americans who voted for Democrats jumped from 35.6 million in 2014 to 60.1 million — an astonishing leap.

What’s Got Rahm Emanuel Snickering about Beto O’Rourke This Early?

Wow. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Chicago mayor and former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had a favorite in the still-taking-shape 2020 race for the Democratic presidential nomination, but it is surprising to see Emanuel slamming a particular figure this publicly and this early.

“If Beto O’Rourke wants to go and run for president, God bless him, he should put his hat in and make his case. But, he lost. You don’t usually promote a loser to the top of party,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday on MSNBC, becoming the highest-profile Democrat yet to air doubts about the excitement swirling around El Paso congressman.

Right, right. Democrats would never nominate a man who lost a bid for Congress in 2000, or a governor’s race in 1980, or a governor’s race in 1966, or an unsuccessful presidential bid in 1960. (That’s Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and Lyndon Johnson, for those who don’t want to click through.)

Is Rahm Emanuel secretly pulling for Joe Biden or some other candidate thought of as “the Obama team’s pick”? Deval Patrick? Eric Holder? Julian Castro?

In 2006, Emanuel, the then-DCCC chairman, helped recruit what Democrats thought would be a long-lasting all-star team of new House members. But the 2010 and 2014 GOP waves wiped out that class; almost none of them are still active in politics, never mind still in Congress: Chris Carney, Ron Klein, Brad Ellsworth, Bruce Braley, Paul Hodes, Heath Shuler, Mike Arcuri, Zack Space, Jason Altmire, Joe Sestak, Ciro Rodriguez, Steve Kagen. This year brought the career of Joe Donnelly to a screeching halt.

Going through the list of 2006 Democratic House recruits, I did encounter one name from back then who’s in the 2020 presidential discussion: New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand.

ADDENDA: It is never fun when friends fight, and I wished we lived in a world where my friend Kurt Schlichter and my distinguished colleagues never crossed swords. It will not surprise you that I think “cruise ship conservatives” are just fine, and the notion that they’re some sort of insidious full-spectrum foe to this administration requires ignoring the existence of figures such as Kevin Hassett and John Bolton.

Anyway, Kurt just completed another novel in his series about a not-too-distant future where the red states and blue states have formalized “the Split” and become separate countries — the old United States of America and the new “People’s Republic of North America.” In Wildfire, Kurt does what I’ve wanted to see from the first book in this series, which is give us a sense of how the rest of the world would respond to the United States dividing into two countries and becoming much less responsive to crises around the globe.

The answers may surprise you. Mexico is relatively thriving, but it has an immigration problem . . . and is building a wall to keep out everyone who’s crossing over from California. Russia’s less restrained than ever. Central Europe is facing severe problems, although some countries are adapting to a more dangerous world better than others. Every couple of pages there’s some hilarious twist of how today’s controversies played out within a few decades, walking the line between genuine dystopian nightmare and hilarious social satire. (The reevaluation of the legacy of J. Edgar Hoover alone is worth the price.) Kurt’s portrait of the blue-state PRNA is much more nuanced in this book — it’s actually competent at some tasks of government, or at least preserving its own power, and it’s not a monolithic evil empire — it has factions and rivalries on par with Game of Thrones. Wildfire has a much more diverse palette and variety of tones, beyond the Tom Clancy–esque thriller and 1984 notes struck before — weaving a tale that evokes zombie movies, buddy-cop movies, Mad Max, and the Prayers for the Assassin series from Robert Ferrigno.

Politics & Policy

Jeffrey Epstein’s Horrific History of Sex Crimes

Jeffrey Epstein

Making the click-through worthwhile: an abominable tale of the rich and powerful escaping serious consequence for years of horrific criminal behavior, with disturbing questions about what two presidents knew and when; Stormy Daniels trusts the wrong man again; unnerving new statistics reveal what’s killing Americans; and a strange reboot prepares to exit the stage.

An Ugly Story about Powerful People Escaping Consequences

The Miami Herald writes an extensive, detailed exposé about that long-lingering scandal and stench coming from Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, friend to many powerful and politically connected people.

The focus of the story is former U.S. attorney Alexander Acosta, now the U.S. secretary of labor and, according to the rumor mill, a potential option to be the next nominee for attorney general. The Herald’s description of the deal Acosta agreed to with Epstein’s lawyers is jaw-dropping and horrifying:

But on the morning of the breakfast meeting, a deal was struck — an extraordinary plea agreement that would conceal the full extent of Epstein’s crimes and the number of people involved.

Not only would Epstein serve just 13 months in the county jail, but the deal — called a non-prosecution agreement — essentially shut down an ongoing FBI probe into whether there were more victims and other powerful people who took part in Epstein’s sex crimes, according to a Miami Herald examination of thousands of emails, court documents and FBI records.

The pact required Epstein to plead guilty to two prostitution charges in state court. Epstein and four of his accomplices named in the agreement received immunity from all federal criminal charges. But even more unusual, the deal included wording that granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators’’ who were also involved in Epstein’s crimes. These accomplices or participants were not identified in the agreement, leaving it open to interpretation whether it possibly referred to other influential people who were having sex with underage girls at Epstein’s various homes or on his plane.

As part of the arrangement, Acosta agreed, despite a federal law to the contrary, that the deal would be kept from the victims. As a result, the non-prosecution agreement was sealed until after it was approved by the judge, thereby averting any chance that the girls — or anyone else — might show up in court and try to derail it.

You may be wondering what Acosta’s side of the story is. Apparently he chose not to provide it: “Acosta did not respond to numerous requests for an interview or answer queries through email.”

The scale of this criminal enterprise is mind-boggling:

The Herald also identified about 80 women who say they were molested or otherwise sexually abused by Epstein from 2001 to 2006. About 60 of them were located — now scattered around the country and abroad. Eight of them agreed to be interviewed, on or off the record. Four of them were willing to speak on video.

Acosta is about to get tons of criticism, and, from what we can see, deservedly so. But there’s an aspect of the story that the Herald puts off in a separate piece — Epstein’s connections to Donald Trump and to Bill Clinton. The newspaper is quick to point out that there is no evidence of either man engaging in illegal underage sexual activities.

But there’s this unnerving quote from Trump in a 2002 profile of Epstein:

 . . .  if you talk to Donald Trump, a different Epstein emerges. “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy,” Trump booms from a speakerphone. “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”

Er . . . what was Trump referring to? What had he heard?

And then there’s Epstein’s other extremely powerful and well-connected friend:

Former President Bill Clinton was a much more frequent flyer on a registered sex offender’s infamous jet than previously reported, with flight logs showing the former president taking at least 26 trips aboard the “Lolita Express” — even apparently ditching his Secret Service detail for at least five of the flights, according to records obtained by FoxNews.com.

Clinton’s presence aboard Jeffrey Epstein’s Boeing 727 on 11 occasions has been reported, but flight logs show the number is more than double that, and trips between 2001 and 2003 included extended junkets around the world with Epstein and fellow passengers identified on manifests by their initials or first names, including “Tatiana.” The tricked-out jet earned its Nabakov-inspired nickname because it was reportedly outfitted with a bed where passengers had group sex with young girls.

Are we really expected to believe that in all of that time Clinton spent with Epstein, he never saw, heard, or encountered anything that was connected to Epstein’s ongoing criminal activities?

Did the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign never play the Epstein card against Trump because of Bill Clinton?

 When Your Own Client Is Publicly Trashing You . . .

There are a lot of snarky jokes to be made about Stormy Daniels right now. But for now, let’s open up a jar of empathy and observe that she keeps trusting men who want to use her. Here’s part of her latest statement:

For months I’ve asked Michael Avenatti to give me accounting information about the fund my supporters so generously donated to for my safety and legal defense. He has repeatedly ignored those requests. Days ago I demanded again, repeatedly, that he tell me how the money was being spent and how much was left. Instead of answering me, without my permission or even my knowledge Michael launched another crowdfunding campaign to raise money on my behalf. I learned about it on Twitter.

I haven’t decided yet what to do about legal representation moving forward. Michael has been a great advocate in many ways. I’m tremendously grateful to him for aggressively representing me in my fight to regain my voice. But in other ways Michael has not treated me with the respect and deference an attorney should show to a client. He has spoken on my behalf without my approval. He filed a defamation case against Donald Trump against my wishes. He repeatedly refused to tell me how my legal defense fund was being spent. Now he has launched a new crowdfunding campaign using my face and name without my permission and attributing words to me that I never wrote or said. I’m deeply grateful to my supporters and they deserve to know their money is being spent responsibly. I don’t want to hurt Michael, but it’s time to set the record straight. The truth has always been my greatest ally.

A sentence I write with surprising frequency: “Avenatti denies the accusations.” For what it’s worth, the Los Angeles district attorney declined to file felony domestic-abuse charges against him, but it could still pursue misdemeanor charges.

This all started, according to Daniels’s own account, because she thought, er, cozying up to Trump would get her on Celebrity Apprentice and further her career. Now she’s much more famous than she probably ever imagined. But is she better off?

Some Deeply Ominous Numbers on What’s Killing Americans

If life in the United States is generally getting better — low unemployment, the threat of terrorism quieter than in years past — why is the suicide rate increasing? According to new numbers from the Centers for Disease Control, “last year, 47,000 people committed suicide, for a rate of 14.0 per 100,000 people. That is up from 10.5 in 1999 and from 13.5 last year. The total number of suicide deaths was the highest in a half century and up more than 2,000 from 2016.”

Considering everything being thrown at the opioid epidemic, why is the rate of drug overdoses still increasing dramatically?

Drug overdoses set another annual record in 2017, cresting at 70,237 — up from 63,632 the year before, the government said in a companion report. The opioid epidemic continued to take a relentless toll, with 47,600 deaths in 2017 from drugs sold on the street such as fentanyl and heroin, as well as prescription narcotics. That was also a record number, driven largely by an increase in fentanyl deaths.

Since 1999, the number of drug overdose deaths has more than quadrupled. Deaths attributed to opioids were nearly six times greater in 2017 than they were in 1999.

ADDENDUM: The Murphy Brown reboot lasted 13 episodes. I barely watched the new one; I had relatively fond memories of the old version and believed that it’s remembered for being more political than it really was. I wrote back in January, “Politics actually made Murphy Brown a worse, less funny, less enjoyable show; it will be interesting to see how political the new version is.” The answer was: extremely political. Outside of the pilot’s pretty funny Hillary Clinton cameo, little in the new sitcom stood out, beyond how much the cast had aged since the early 1990s. It’s fair to wonder what the point was of putting together a weekly sitcom that focused so much on mocking Trump when the average liberal with an appetite for laugh-plause (political jokes that really aren’t that funny but that the audience feels obligated to applaud for because they agree with the argument) had the nightly options of the Daily Show, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, and Seth Meyers, and the weekly options of John Oliver and Saturday Night Live.

U.S.

Ilhan Omar Accuses Trump of Emboldening Racists

Democratic congressional candidate Ilhan Omar speaks at her midterm election night party in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. November 6, 2018. (REUTERS/Eric Miller)

Making the click-through worthwhile: A newly elected Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota declares that President Trump is ultimately responsible for a higher number of hate crimes in the past year; the last U.S. Senate race of 2018 ends with a Republican win and a potentially tougher road ahead for Democrats; a new report suggests that low-income workers are having a more difficult time finding housing.

Minnesota Congresswoman: Trump Emboldens Racists to Acts of Violence

Ilhan Omar, the newly elected Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota, has wasted no time finding President Trump responsible for hate crimes, writing in the Minnesota Star Tribune:

Hate crimes in this country are continuing to increase at an alarming rate. According to the FBI’s annual report released this month, the number of incidents increased about 17 percent compared with last year. That is the largest increase in these types of cowardly acts since 2001. The culture of intolerance spread by President Donald Trump has clearly emboldened racist individuals to acts of violence.

Trump says a lot of obnoxious, incendiary things. But it’s fair to ask where Omar or anyone else would draw the line separating a “culture of intolerance that emboldens racist individuals to acts of violence” from acceptable and heated political rhetoric. For all of his myriad flaws, Trump has never encouraged anyone to shoot up a synagogue or mail bombs to people, and it’s unfair to insinuate or suggest that he has. This is denouncing a demagogue with more demagoguery.

Trump has gotten blamed for a lot of awful crimes that turned out to not be connected to him at all. You may recall those early 2017 bomb threats called in to Jewish Community Centers across the country. Eight were committed by  Juan M. Thompson, a former journalist for the Intercept, who called in the threats in an attempt to frame a woman whom he had previously dated. Dozens more were committed by a 19-year-old Jewish Israeli-American named Michael Ron David Kadar, who was diagnosed with mental-health issues. And the shooter at the Pittsburgh synagogue believed that Jews controlled Trump, wrote that he hadn’t voted for him, and that he had never “owned, worn or even touched” a MAGA hat.

The man who yelled “Heil Hitler” and did a Nazi salute at a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” in a Baltimore theater said he did so to protest Trump and that he’s a staunch opponent of the administration. He also said he had been drinking heavily.

At least in those cases, there was no sinister anti-Semitic thuggery awoken by the Trump presidency. As many have noted, Ivanka’s conversion to Judaism and Trump’s relationship with Jared Kushner complicate the argument that Trump harbors some lingering anti-Semitism. His outspoken support of Israel doesn’t fit the simple narrative, either.

Why do people commit hate crimes? There are a lot of reasons, but one simple and glaring one is that they’re idiots. They have few reasons for personal pride, so they seize upon their ethnic identity as a reason for pride (as if they somehow chose or earned their allegedly superior ethnic heritage). They need to feel powerful, so they attack the powerless. They need to feel strong, so they seek to intimidate others. They’re likely consumed by shame that their lives are such failures — bad relationships, difficulty finding or keeping jobs, few friends or social-support networks, general alienation from the community around them — and need to externalize that bubbling self-loathing into hating other people.

Did those guys holding the tiki torches on the University of Virginia campus back in the summer of 2017 really look all that menacing, lined up in their polo shirts? A bunch of them looked barely older than the old stereotypes of Dungeons and Dragons players, or an impromptu glee club recruited from guys lingering too long in the magazine section of a convenience store. If you have to put that much effort into looking intimidating, you’re not that intimidating.

Do you do something like that if you’re genuinely happy and confident and at home with yourself in the world? Think about their rallying cry: “Jews will not replace us.” Replace them how? Who’s stepping into their jobs and roles?

Doesn’t their rallying cry sound more like a desperate cry of self-flattery, that they’re in some sort of position of power and wealth and influence, and that interlopers are trying to steal something from them?

Who the hell would ever want to be them?

The Last Senate Race of 2018 Ends with a GOP Win

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, the appointed GOP Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith won election to a full term last night, by a 54 to 46 percent margin, or about 70,000 votes.

Thad Cochran resigned from the Senate in April over health issues, and Hyde-Smith was his appointed replacement.

CNN described the race as “a contest that centered on her actions and comments evoking the state’s dark history of racism and slavery,” and Democrats are boasting that this was their best performance by a Senate candidate in 30 years.

Indeed it was, but the difference was less dramatic than one might think. This year Mississippi had a separate second U.S. Senate election, and Republican Roger Wicker won, 59 percent to 39 percent, against a little-known, underfunded Democratic opponent. In 2014, Cochran won reelection with just under 60 percent, and in 2012, Wicker won with 55 percent, and a similar margin in a 2008 special election.

The end result is a 53 to 47 Republican majority in the Senate, which is a taller order for Democrats in 2020 than they expected. From this early perspective, Democrats have a shot at flipping control of the Senate, but not a great one. If Trump wins reelection, they’ll need to win four seats; if Trump loses, they only need three.

But begin with the fact that Doug Jones is up for reelection in Alabama. If the Republicans don’t nominate another Roy Moore, they should have a good chance of picking up that seat, particularly with Trump atop the ticket. If Jones loses, Democrats need to win five (if Trump wins) or four (if Trump loses).

In Arizona, Jon Kyl, the appointed replacement for John McCain, is expected to retire (again). Kristen Sinema’s victory in this year’s election suggests that this is now a purple state.

In Colorado, incumbent Republican Cory Gardner is proved to be a strong candidate in 2014, but his state is pretty purple and looks pretty blue some years. One wonders if he may follow something like Pat Toomey’s path in Pennsylvania in 2016 — running and winning with a different, more heavily suburban coalition than the president.

The close finish in this year’s governor’s race in Georgia will spur Democratic hopes that they can knock off incumbent GOP senator David Purdue. If Stacy Abrams ran for Senate, she would presumably have a “payback for the stolen election” narrative driving the progressive grassroots and a national fundraising base.

In Iowa, Joni Ernst is up for reelection. Democrats thought they had a good shot at picking up that seat and lost by eight points in 2014.

Undoubtedly, Democrats’ top target will be Maine Senator Susan Collins for her vote in the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fight. Collins, too, has dashed Democratic hopes in quite a few past cycles, but her Democratic challenger is virtually guaranteed to have massive funds.

North Carolina wavers between being a classic purple swing state or its past status as reliably Republican for the past few cycles. Obama won the state in 2008, with Kay Hagan beating Elizabeth Dole in the U.S. Senate race that year. But the Obama campaign didn’t seriously contest the Tarheel State four years later, and Romney won, 50 percent to 48 percent. In 2014, Republican Thom Tillis beat Hagan in the Senate race, 48.8 percent to 47.2 percent. In 2016, Trump improved on Romney’s margin slightly, beating Hillary Clinton in North Carolina, 49.8 percent to 46.1 percent. But the same year, Democrat Roy Cooper won the governor’s race by two-tenths of a percentage point. Bottom line, the presidential race, the Senate race, and the gubernatorial race are all likely to be hard-fought and come down to the wire.

Democrats may talk themselves into believing that they have a chance to unseat Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. They believed that last time, too, and he won, 56 percent to 40 percent.

You have to wonder if Nebraska’s Ben Sasse will face a serious primary challenge for his perceived apostasy of Trumpism. Nebraska’s probably a sufficiently Republican-leaning state to keep this seat in GOP hands, but . . . Democrats have a good record of capitalizing on GOP divisions in red states such as Alabama and Arizona.

Can Federal Policies Make the Working Life More Rewarding?

One shouldn’t be surprised that a worker making the minimum wage can’t afford much; after all, it’s the minimum wage. We tend to think of minimum wage workers – fast-food employees, store clerks, temps — as teenagers, or people who don’t have to support themselves. But society has people who didn’t start out their working life quite right, and who find themselves in minimum-wage jobs well into adulthood, with adult responsibilities.

A new report finds that someone working a full-time minimum wage job cannot afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country. The report calculates that in Arkansas, the state with the cheapest housing in the country, a worker would need to earn $13.84 an hour — about $29,000 a year — to afford a two-bedroom apartment there. The minimum wage in Arkansas is $8.50 an hour. And lest you think this reflects unrealistic expectations for housing, “a one-bedroom is affordable for minimum-wage workers in only 22 counties in five states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.”

A report like this usually spurs calls to raise the minimum wage, but we know how that can lead to layoffs and increased incentives for automation. But there are other ideas.

I don’t know if I agree with every detail of Oren Cass’s new book and general proposal for wage subsidies — using taxpayer money to add a “Federal Work Bonus,” additional pay as a bonus for working — but I like the motivation behind it: Let’s make work as rewarding as possible, and make public assistance as unappealing as possible.

ADDENDUM: Former president Obama: “Suddenly, America is the largest oil producer . . . That was me, people . . . What are you complaining about? Just say, ‘thank you,’ please.”

To quote a popular phrase from a few years back, Mister President . . . “You didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Politics & Policy

Obama Used Tear Gas at the Border, Too

A member of the Central American migrant caravan runs from tear gas near the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico, November 25, 2018. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: the Obama administration’s history of using tear gas on the border; the ugly decade for General Motors takes another unexpected turn; the question of whether American voters punish politicians who solve problems instead of rewarding them; and another case of progressive activists focusing on the convenient targets instead of the responsible ones.

Tear Gas on the Border: Okay When the Obama Administration Does It, Apparently

From the coverage of the Customs and Border Patrol using tear gas, one could easily be led to believe that this was an unprecedented escalation in tactics from the Trump administration.

Nope.

The same tear-gas agent that the Trump administration is taking heat for deploying against a border mob this weekend is actually used fairly frequently — including more than once a month during the later years of President Barack Obama’s administration, according to Homeland Security data.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has used 2-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile, or CS, since 2010, and deployed it 26 times in fiscal 2012 and 27 times in 2013. The use dropped after that, but was still deployed three times in 2016, Mr. Obama’s final full year in office.

Use of CS rose again in fiscal 2017, which was split between Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump, and reached 29 deployments in fiscal 2018, which ended two months ago, according to CBP data seen by The Washington Times.

Border authorities also use another agent, pepper spray, frequently — including a decade-high record of 151 instances in 2013, also under Mr. Obama. Pepper spray, officially known as Pava Capsaicin, was used 43 times in fiscal year 2018, according to the CBP numbers.

A recent Washington Post article about the use of tear gas by the Border Patrol talks a lot about the Chemical Weapons Convention, the use of poison gas in World War I, and Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons — as if any of that is comparable to the use of tear gas. The Chemical Weapons Convention explicitly says, “Riot control agents may not be used as a method of warfare but may be used for certain law enforcement purposes including riot control.”

In 2008, the National Review crew was in Saint Paul, Minn., covering the Republican National Convention. Mark Hemingway and I were on our way to tape a “Red Meat” video — remember those? — when we encountered a clash between protesters and police in riot gear. Police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters and then . . . the wind shifted. Those of us watching the clash from what we thought was a safe distance away found ourselves with watery eyes and burning nostrils. (If you feel the need to simulate the experience, find your nearest pepper shaker, remove the cap, hold it right up against your nostril, and inhale deeply.)

It’s unpleasant. But if this tool is unacceptable for dispersing crowds, what tool is acceptable? Rubber bullets can kill people in the wrong circumstances. Water cannons evoke images of the violent crackdown on civil-rights protests. The aim is to avoid physical confrontation between police and the rioters as much as possible.

FactCheck.org examined the use of tear gas after the Ferguson protests in 2014:

“There are few immediate alternatives to tear gas for riot control. There are strategies to prevent riots, including better community relations, a less militaristic appearance, and improved training, all of which have been raised in relation to Ferguson. But once rioting is under way, police need tools to control it — and “even though tear gas is far from perfect,” said David A. Koplow, a Georgetown University law professor, “it continues to be used in that role because there’s nothing else better.”

The current effort to demonize the use of tear gas is offered by folks who don’t really want to see crowds of migrants rushing the border stopped.

Is Government Motors 2.0 Around the Corner?

Rough decade for General Motors, huh?

Years of declining sales and increasing costs bring it to the brink of bankruptcy as the Great Recession kicks off in 2008. Its representatives go to Washington, begging for cash. The new Obama administration creates a Task Force on the Auto Industry.

President Obama, his task force, and Congress come to terms with the company for a limited bailout in the middle of 2009, consisting of various restructuring moves and the government purchasing a lot of company stock and holding it for several years to restore investor confidence. GM closes Hummer, Saturn, and Pontiac. They sell off Opal and Saab. The company gets the “Government Motors” nickname.  Taxpayers provided “another $30 billion on top of the $19.4 billion it has already given GM to cover its losses and fund its operations, in exchange for a 60 percent equity stake in the new company after restructuring, as well as $8.8 billion in debt and preferred stock.”

When the government sold its first shares, President Obama boldly predicted, “American taxpayers are now positioned to recover more than my administration invested in GM.” But by the time the last share of GM stock had been sold in 2014, the government would announce it lost $11.2 billion — about a billion more than it had previously estimated. Its fair to wonder whether the bailout stigma did permanent damage to the company’s reputation.

That was a particularly awful year for GM, as that year the public learned that the company had been making cars with defective switches all along — a defect that led to 124 deaths.

The Obama administration’s task force’s job was to get an accurate portrait of GM’s assets, liabilities, and problems, and the source told Bloomberg Businessweek that year that GM’s board and the task force did discuss product-liability claims. In fact, the Obama administration bragged about the thoroughness of its review. But no matter how thorough the review was, the upshot was the same — at the precise moment that the president’s task force was supposedly confronting GM about a dysfunctional corporate culture that had brought the company to the brink of ruin, it accepted everything GM’s leaders told it about the safety of its cars at face value.

Still, even with the recalls, the scandals, the blistering congressional hearings, and the mocking of CEO Mary Barra on Saturday Night Live, General Motors returned to profitability and stability — or so everyone thought.

This week brought a bombshell:

On the first day back to work from the Thanksgiving holiday, the Detroit automaker confirmed plans to cut its salaried workforce by 15 percent, to dump most of its car models and to idle five plants in three states, two countries and its hometown.

GM’s latest restructuring details will ratchet higher pressure on rival Ford Motor Co. to detail its own workout plans. They’ll dramatically raise the stakes in next year’s national contract talks with the United Auto Workers, as bargainers haggle over the future of at least four U.S. plants. And the planned plant actions in Michigan and Ohio predictably are drawing rhetorical fire from President Donald Trump.

. . . Fat profits coming from one country are not enough to support a rapidly changing business model steeped in advanced technology. GM makes and sells more vehicles in China than it does in the United States, a trend now several years old and unlikely to change. And the automaker’s doubling-down on what it calls its “growth” plants for trucks and SUVs inevitably would come at the expense of traditional car plants and their hourly workers.

Remember how the Volt represented the future of post-bailout GM? Nevermind. “The automaker will no longer make the Volt semi-electric car and the Cruze compact sedan for sale in North America beginning in March, Chevy spokesman Kevin Kelly confirmed.”

Trump can thunder and rage about GM’s moves, and probably will do so quite dramatically. But he can’t really change the dynamics of what’s motivating the company to make these changes — shifts in consumer demand, and the increasing importance of the foreign market. No, consumers aren’t buying Volts and Cruzes in enough numbers to make them worthwhile — but apparently they’re not buying the Impala, Cadillac XTS, or Buick LaCrosse, either.

David Burge observes, “No elected official should ‘deal’ with GM, other than giving them wide latitude to sink or swim on their own decisions. But let’s face it, that horse left the barn in 2009, and now GM is a government agency in all but name.”

Trump will hate this move, as will Democrats. Will the federal government offer GM some sort of financial inducements to keep making cars that customers don’t want, just to save jobs in Detroit and Warren, Mich., Warren, Ohio and White Marsh, Md.?

Do Voters Punish Politicians for Solving Problems?

Victor Davis Hanson argues that the American electorate is . . . more or less a bunch of ingrates:

Never has suburban America done better economically. It certainly appreciates that North Korea is not threatening nuclear-tipped missile launches at the West Coast. It likes the idea that the U.S. is producing more oil than either Saudi Arabia or Russia. If polls are an indication, it certainly does not want throngs of illegal aliens crashing through the southern border. And it probably thinks that China has no business cheating its way to world dominance.

But suburban dwellers seem embarrassed, of late, that the solutions to these once intractable dilemmas came from someone with a dubious past and a habit of saying and doing things incompatible with their own suburban norms. And they are learning that Trump can no more stop tweeting or ridiculing than Shane could put down his guns (“There’s no going back”). I don’t think the sodbusters in later years ever put up a statue to Shane, the liberator.

Whether Trump rides out wounded in 2020 or 2024, he will likely do so as a lonely figure — and perhaps he will not be appreciated or even especially missed by the very people he benefitted.

VDH writes, “The hostile reaction to Trump is a sort of proof of his success.”

Does it follow, then, that if Trump was widely loved, it would be proof of his failure?

ADDENDUM: Over at the Corner, an observation about progressive activists who would rather chant and shout at store clerks and holiday shoppers than confront the fact that they were fooled by Democratic politicians that they’ve supported in the past.

Books

The Morning Jolt Cyber Monday Shopping Guide 

The Newegg warehouse fulfillment center on Cyber Monday in City of Industry, Calif., November 28, 2016. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: the only shopping guide you need today, the migrant caravan proves that its critics were right and that its defenders were hopelessly naïve, Russia starts getting aggressive with Ukraine again, and Kamala Harris may not be on the Senate Judiciary Committee for long.

Today is Cyber Monday, which is like Black Friday, except without the riots and camping outside of the shopping mall on Thanksgiving night. It’s also the day for the Morning Jolt Christmas/Hanukkah/Whatever You Celebrate Gift Guide, heavy on books written by my distinguished friends and colleagues — a creative bunch, with works stretching far beyond the realm of daily politics.

We’ll begin with the fresh-off-the-presses offerings:

Reihan Salam’s Melting Pot or Civil War?: A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders is one of the rare books that might change the dynamics of a national debate and has something new to say about a highly charged, long-debated topic.

David Bahnsen wrote Crisis of Responsibility: Our Cultural Addiction to Blame and How You Can Cure It.

Nobody writes a historical biography like Richard Brookhiser, and last month he debuted John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court to rave reviews. But all of his biographies are good — and Right Time, Right Place offers a rare glimpse into the inner workings of National Review beyond the founding years.

Also looking back to the American founding, earlier this year, Jay Cost wrote The Price of Greatness: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and the Creation of American Oligarchy, discussing the two men and their the trade-off that “made the United States the richest nation in human history, and that continues to fracture our politics to this day.”

Earlier this year our old friend Ericka Andersen wrote Leaving Cloud 9: The True Story of a Life Resurrected from the Ashes of Poverty, Trauma, and Mental Illness.

My friend Rachel Grunspan co-wrote probably the most fun, accessible, and visually exciting look at the topic of the history of computers ever written, The Computer Book: From the Abacus to Artificial Intelligence, 250 Milestones in the History of Computer Science. Right now it’s $19.46 on Amazon, which looks like a steal. Grab it before Amazon realizes they priced it too low!

There must be someone on your gift list who needs one of Jonah Goldberg’s books, Suicide of the West, Liberal Fascism and The Tyranny of Clichés.

The history buffs on your list will enjoy Victor Davis Hanson’s The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, which is now just $27.19 on Amazon, or browse his other extensive works of history.

Don’t forget Kevin Williamson’s books, from the Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism to The Case Against Trump. (VDH’s The Case For Trump comes early next year!) The boss’s books, from Lincoln Unbound to a spy thriller Banquo’s Ghosts to Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years. Or Charles C.W. Cooke’s The Conservatarian Manifesto. Or Yuval Levin’s varied works.

You’ve already browsed through Andrew McCarthy’s works on the jihad and law enforcement, right? Or John J. Miller’s fiction and true tales stranger than fiction. Or James Lileks’s hilarious strolls through the awful choices of food, fashion, and interior décor that most would prefer to erase from history. Or Kathryn Jean Lopez’s How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice: Civil Responses to Catholic Hot Button Issues. Or David French’s Rise of ISIS.

Don’t forget with Roman Genn’s original art from the magazine.

Over on Amazon, you can find Heavy LiftingThe Weed Agency, and 2006’s Voting to Kill. (Used copies are now available for 83 cents!)

And of course, you could always gift a subscription to NRPlus.

Since When Do Migrant Caravans Make ‘Shows of Force’?

AP headline: “Caravan marches toward US border in show of force.” If you’re a migrant, you’re not supposed to be showing “force”, are you? Just what exactly are you attempting to “force”?

The whole mess amounted to a vivid live demonstration of why the United States needs a secure border, and why publicity stunts like the caravan undermine the cause of legal immigration. If you really want to become an American, you don’t sneak inside the country. If you’re really claiming asylum, you don’t run away from the law-enforcement officials of the country that can grant asylum. And if you’re throwing rocks and bottles at law enforcement officers, you’re not the kind of person we want to let into the country.

As ugly as the scene was, it could have been much worse:

Clashes erupted at the U.S.-Mexico border Sunday as members of the migrant caravan tried to cross illegally, leading to a closure of the San Ysidro checkpoint and two San Diego County freeways.

Customs and Border Protection confirmed Sunday night that there were multiple instances of people throwing projectiles at CBP personnel, including Border Patrol agents hit with rocks.

CBP officers used crowd-dispersing methods including pepper balls and CS canisters. There were no reports of injuries, officials said. Fumes from the tear gas were blown toward people who were hundreds of feet away and not attempting to enter the U.S., the Associated Press reported.

“As the demonstrations on the Mexican side reached the border area, some members of the demonstration split off to head towards multiple locations along the border. Some attempted to enter the U.S. both directly east and west of the border crossing. These attempts to illegally enter the U.S., and the response to them continue. Some attempted to illegally enter the U.S. through both the northbound and southbound vehicle lanes at the port of entry itself. Those persons were stopped and turned back to Mexico,” CBP said in a statement.

The U.S. Border Patrol also made apprehensions of people who tried to enter the U.S. illegally, including in the vehicle lanes of the border crossing, according to CBP officials. The Mexican Interior Ministry has said it would immediately deport Central American migrants who tried to “violently” breach the border with the U.S. just south of California and that it would reinforce the border.

Back in April we were told by places such as CNN that it was a “myth” that caravans of migrants sought to enter the country illegally; that they merely wanted to apply for asylum; and that “as asylum seekers, these migrants are turning themselves in to authorities at the border and trying to start the formal process of getting protected status.”

See, if you’re trying to run across the border and away from the border patrol, you’re not here to apply for asylum.

Russia Picked a Heck of a Moment to Get Aggressive Again

By the time you get this, the United Nations Security Council will be meeting to address a clash between the Russian and Ukranian navies. The Ukrainian navy says Russian ships fired on and seized two of its artillery ships Sunday in the Black Sea following an incident near Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Kiev in 2014. A tugboat was also seized, and two crew members were hurt.

Unsurprisingly, the FSB says it’s all the Ukranians’ fault: “There is irrefutable evidence that Kiev prepared and orchestrated provocations . . . in the Black Sea. These materials will soon be made public.”

The European Union leadership is being its usual useful self, calling for Russia and Ukraine to “act with utmost restraint to de-escalate” the situation in the Black Sea. Because if there’s anything Putin-era Russia is known for, it’s utmost restraint.

ADDENDUM: The GOP Senate pickups brought an unexpected consequence to the chamber that many conservatives will enjoy. The Senate Judiciary Committee has 21 members, currently split between 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats. Committee seats are usually split to reflect the proportion of the whole Senate; with the GOP pickups, the Judiciary panel would be split 12 to 9, although Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer can negotiate different terms. But if Democrats lose a seat, the newest member gets bumped off the panel . . . which happens to be California Senator Kamala Harris.

Needless to say, she and her allies are apoplectic at the thought — meaning Democrats may need to make other concessions: “That would leave Democrats with limited options: agree to a greater deficit on other committees to preserve Judiciary seats for potential 2020 hopefuls, or convince a more senior Democrat to take one for the team.”

Politics & Policy

What Will It Take to Return the House to Red?

(Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Happy Thanksgiving! May all of your travels be safe and your traffic struggles be bearable. This is the last Morning Jolt until Monday.

Making the click-through worthwhile: a debate about whether capping the state and local-tax deduction was worth it to Republicans, how much it contributed to the GOP’s troubles in the suburbs, and how tough it will be to win back the House; Nancy Pelosi enjoys a bit of Fudge; and a bit of referendum-election fraud out in California.

How Tough Will It Be for Republicans to Win Back the House?

Over on the Corner, Reihan makes the argument that Republicans capping the state and local tax deduction at $10,000 in the 2017 tax cut was worth it: “By limiting the tax subsidy for high-tax jurisdictions, it nudges voters at the state and local level to press for more sensible and sustainable policies and to reject fiscal profligacy, as we’ll see in the years to come.”

Andrew Stuttaford writes that the move “gave the impression that the GOP was ‘punishing’ blue states, and, more specifically, their more affluent urban and suburban residents. This constituency has been slipping away from the GOP for some time for a mix of social and cultural reasons. Many of those who stuck with the party did so because they at least trusted Republicans to defend them from the IRS. Capping the SALT deduction was a breach of that trust.”

Morally or on economic principle, capping SALT may have been the right move, but boy, did it come at a steep political price. There were a lot of right-leaning people in the suburbs who voted for Trump and who probably expected a significant tax cut from Republican-controlled government, and if the SALT cap didn’t eliminate their tax cut, it probably significantly reduced it. As I observed last year . . .

The county that ranks ninth in the nation in deductions for state and local taxes is Morris County, New Jersey, with $11,440. Trump won that county, 49 percent to 45 percent.  Not too far from there is Monmouth County, where Trump won, 52 percent to 43 percent. The average return there deducts $9,105.

Trump lost his home state of New York overall by a wide margin, but won several counties in the suburbs of New York City. He won Suffolk County on Long Island 51 percent to 46 percent; the average taxpayer there deducts $8,096. Trump won Putnam County, north of the city, 55 percent to 39 percent; the average taxpayer deducts even more, $8,855.

This month, Democrats won the district that includes Morris County for the first time since 1985. If you look at the districts with highly taxed suburbs represented by Republicans heading into this year — the districts of Leonard Lance and Tom MacArthur in New Jersey, John Faso and Dan Donovan in New York, two suburban districts in Illinois, four GOP House seats in Orange County, Calif. — that’s where the Democrats flipped seats. The SALT deduction wasn’t the only reason that the GOP lost those seats, but it certainly didn’t help.

Add up the seats Republicans lost in New York, New Jersey, California, and Illinois, and you get 14 seats; if Republicans had held those seats, they would be at 213 seats right now instead of 199 — just five away from keeping control.

There are a bunch of seats that Democrats won in 2018 that Republicans could pretty easily win back in 2020 with a better candidate, better effort, a less lopsided fundraising battle, better coordination, etcetera. Start with traditionally conservative, GOP-leaning places such as Oklahoma’s fifth district representing Oklahoma City and South Carolina’s first district, representing the Charleston suburbs and the coast.

Then move on to the “jump ball” races, where just a little bit more GOP turnout could have kept the seat red. Mia Love lost by a couple hundred votes in Utah’s fourth district. In New Mexico’s second district, Democrat Xochitl Torres Small won by about 3,000 votes. In Maine’s second district, Bruce Polquin only lost because of the state’s new “ranked votes” system that put him down by about 3,000. In Georgia’s sixth district, Karen Handel lost by . . . once again, about 3,000 votes. Down in south Florida’s 26th district, Representative Carlos Curbelo lost by about 4,000.

In other words, a couple thousand more votes here and there and Republicans could be back in the majority, if they weren’t getting slaughtered in those once-red districts of blue states. Some of that is SALT, and some of that is probably the Republican party’s image under Trump. Still, one wonders, if the cap limit had been set higher, at $15,000 or $20,000, would Republican losses in those suburbs have been as bad?

Oh, Fudge! Looks Like Nancy Pelosi Will Be the Next Speaker of the House

In the meantime, Nancy Pelosi appears to be enjoying a very smooth ride to becoming the next speaker.

Rep. Marcia Fudge endorsed Nancy Pelosi for House speaker on Tuesday, just days after openly mulling a challenge to the California Democrat, providing a significant boost to Pelosi’s quest to regain the gavel.

Fudge’s endorsement is a significant blow to efforts by more than a dozen current and incoming Democrats to oust Pelosi, who has ruled over the caucus for the past 16 years. Fudge’s backing leaves the anti-Pelosi faction without a potential challenger against the longtime Democratic leader.

They’re doing a version of Kirsten Sinema’s maneuver. Pledge that you won’t support the current Democratic leader then shrug and nod along when no challenger to that leader emerges.

‘Officer, I Wasn’t Paying for a Signature, I Was Paying for His Autograph!’

“Voter fraud!” should not be the rallying cry of every Republican candidate bitter about a defeat. But the world has bad people in it, people who do try to cheat the system and who are willing to break the law to do it. The city of Los Angeles caught another bunch yesterday.

A forged signature swapped for $1 — or sometimes a cigarette.

The crude exchange played out hundreds of times on L.A.’s skid row during the 2016 election cycle and again this year, prosecutors said Tuesday as they announced criminal charges against nine people accused in a fraud scheme.

Using cash and cigarettes as lures, the defendants approached homeless people on skid row and asked them to forge signatures on state ballot measure petitions and voter registration forms, the district attorney’s office said. The defendants — some of whom were scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday — face several criminal charges, including circulating a petition with fake names, voter fraud and registering a fictitious person.

State officials said petition signature scams aren’t widespread in California, but Joseph said they do pop up from time to time on skid row. People hired to help qualify initiatives for the ballot are often paid per signature collected, typically $1 to $2, but officials said a recent slew of proposed ballot initiatives had pushed the rate as high as $6 a signature. It is illegal for the collectors, however, to pay people for signatures.

Mind you, this is not casting multiple ballots in the name of another person; this is merely collecting signatures to get a referendum on the ballot. To get a referendum on the ballot, supporters need to collect a number of signatures equal to 5 percent of the most recent gubernatorial election turnout. That meant that this cycle, supporters of a referendum or initiative needed 365,880 signatures.

ADDENDA: Forget all of those idiotic “How to talk to your totally un-woke uncle” articles and just try to enjoy the presence of your friends and family this Thanksgiving. As I said in yesterday’s edition of the Three Martini Lunch podcast, “I know everyone is upset, I know everyone is angry, passionate, and heated, but Thanksgiving traditionally marks the beginning of the holiday season. It is time to unite everyone, to gather everyone from Grandma and Grandpa to the little kids, and come together and watch the greatest Christmas movie of all time: Die Hard.”

Today’s Three Martini Lunch podcast will feature what Greg Corombos and I are thankful for, and Friday’s edition includes our Black Friday shopping list for the likes of Jim Acosta and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

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