General Kelly: About That Wall ‘Flexibility’

by Andrew C. McCarthy

A lot of news came out of Bret Baier’s interview with White House Chief-of-Staff John Kelly (which Fox News has now posted). Not least: General Kelly essentially confirmed the Washington Post’s report that he had told Congressional Hispanic Caucus members that Trump’s campaign rhetoric promising a wall on the Southern border had not been “fully informed,” that there would be no “concrete wall from sea to shining sea,” and that Mexico would not pay for the wall.

This is no surprise to those of us who always knew and said that Trump’s promises on these counts were absurd and would never come to pass. I do wonder, though, how it will sit with the Trump base.

Interestingly, Kelly repeatedly praised Trump’s “flexibility” in office. By this, he meant that Trump is not wedded to the positions he took during the campaign, that he has shown himself ready, willing, and able to change his position as president, once he becomes more … informed.

I’m not sure that will sit real well, either. Of course, people – and public officials most of all – should be willing to change their minds either when facts change or, as in the president’s case, when his understanding of the facts comes more in line with what the facts actually are. It is worse to make a bad decision than to promise to make one.

That said, Mr. Trump has not always seen flexibility as a virtue – particularly when President Obama promised it to Vladimir Putin on a hot mic prior to the 2012 election. I just had a gander at then reality TV star Donald Trump’s tweet on November 8, 2012:

Russian leaders are publicly celebrating Obama’s reelection. They can’t wait to see how flexible Obama will be now.

I guess times change.

Re: ‘Is Diversity a Strength, and Should Strength Be a Core Value?’

by Roger Clegg

Response To...

Is Diversity a Strength, and ...

Following up on Jonah’s excellent article, here’s my top-ten list of what we should expect from those who want to become Americans (and those who are already Americans, for that matter). This assimilation list was first published in a National Review Online column, and it was later fleshed out in congressional testimony.

1. Don’t disparage anyone else’s race or ethnicity.

2. Respect women.

3. Learn to speak English.

4. Be polite.

5. Don’t break the law.

6. Don’t have children out of wedlock.

7. Don’t demand anything because of your race or ethnicity.

8. Don’t view working and studying hard as “acting white.”

9. Don’t hold historical grudges.

10. Be proud of being an American.

Jonah is exactly right that assimilation should not be a dirty word. And to the extent that “diversity” — as it often does these days, though I doubt that Senator Graham, at least, was guilty of this — cloaks an anti-assimilation, anti-merit, pro-preference, pro–identity-politics agenda, it is not a “strength” and should not be “celebrated.”

‘That’s Not the Donald Trump I Know!’

by Kevin D. Williamson

I don’t know what we ultimately will discover about Donald Trump’s relationship with pornographic actress Stormy Daniels. But here’s a question for, say, Jerry Falwell Jr. and other high-profile Christian supporters of Donald Trump: When you heard the allegation that Trump had conducted an extramarital affair with a porn star and paid her $130,000 in hush money, did you think to yourself: “My, that doesn’t sound like the Donald Trump I know! The Donald Trump I know is a man of high character and personal probity, and would never treat his family that way.”

Is that what you thought, Mr. Falwell? Is that what you thought, Tony Perkins? What about you, Pat Robertson?

The Dubious Value of Graduate Degrees

by George Leef

The conventional wisdom about higher education (spread mainly by the higher-education establishment) is that the higher your educational “attainment,” the better off you’ll be. That belief has fueled rocketing credential inflation — the more educational “attainment” in the country, the more of it an individual needs to stand out from the pack. It’s enormously wasteful.

Fortunately, the conventional wisdom is coming under attack. One of the critics is economics professor Richard Vedder, who wonders in today’s Martin Center article if we won’t soon be seeing “Master’s Degrees in Janitorial Science?

Vedder points to recent studies showing that graduate degrees can have a lousy payoff and observes that the two sides of the education debate look at the data differently. “The College for All interpretation,” Vedder writes, “is that the diminishing payoff to the bachelor’s degree means students need to get more degrees, specifically master’s degrees. Historically, a bachelor’s degree was a powerful and reliable signaling device, telling employers that the college-educated individual was almost certainly smarter, more knowledgeable, disciplined, and ambitious, and harder working than the average American. College graduates were special people — the best and the brightest, deserving a nice wage premium in labor markets.”

The problem is that getting a college or even graduate degree these days is more a matter of persistence than anything else and lots of degree holders have hardly any more useful knowledge than they did in high school. That “attainment” alone doesn’t matter much if your abilities are merely mediocre.

The American Enterprise Institute has recently published a study on the value of graduate degrees that supports Vedder’s argument that we have already overdone it on higher education. While some grad degrees are clearly worthwhile, many others aren’t. And curiously, on average they are more apt to benefit women than men.

What the nation really needs is a more efficient means of certifying individual trainability.

Vedder concludes,

As America increasingly engages in massive federal budget deficits, incurs ever larger obligations associated with a costly welfare state serving an aging population, and faces increasingly expensive international challenges from terrorists and emerging nations like China, can we afford to continue to certify predicted employment competence the same way some Europeans did in the late Middle Ages?

Sometimes You Just Can’t Win

by Roger Clegg

Yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave fulsome praise to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for his message and life, calling on Justice Department employees to “remember, celebrate and act.”

“But civil rights leaders criticized Sessions’s remarks,” according to the Washington Post, because they were made while he was pointing the Department in a direction their groups don’t like.

Never miss an opportunity to refuse to acknowledge any common ground. No doubt these “civil rights leaders” would have been happier if Sessions had ignored King or, better yet, criticized him, his message, and his life.

Marco Rubio: Populist?

by Henry Olsen

Senator Marco Rubio today authored an interesting post on the website You have to register your email address to access it, but the post (as well as their many other articles) is well worth your time to check out.

Rubio argues that the most under-reported story of 2017 was how Apple (and, by implication, a host of other American-based multinationals) exports not only production jobs but even its valuable intellectual capital to offshore foreign subsidiaries. The piece details how this is done and provocatively asks “is Apple an American company?” His conclusion follows up on that to raise an even more provocative question:

If Apple, the most successful enterprise of the information age, is not American, then something is wrong with our model. Globalization is based on the assumption that economic gains from a more open global economy will offset losses in American jobs. What happens if the gains get shipped abroad along with the jobs?

People open to economic populism can answer that question: if the gains get shipped abroad, you get Trump and Bernie Sanders. Americans have shown for decades they are untroubled by economic inequality so long as almost all people share in a ever-growing pie. But if the gains that derive from that pie are not broadly shared, then eventually people (i.e., voters) get wise to the game and demand reforms. While many things coalesced to create 2016’s political earthquakes, the sense that the economy no longer works for the benefit of millions of Americans was surely one of the most important fault lines beneath the tremors.

Teasing out Rubio’s thought here, it seems he endorses one of economic populism’s key tenets, that citizenship matters as well as efficiency in determining whether an economy works for a nation. Economic populism ultimately rests upon this point: it’s not enough that Americans own companies that produce wealth for people in other countries if the broad mass of Americans do not share in the increase in that wealth. That’s why economic populists focus on things like “American jobs”. To an orthodox economist who dismisses any good other than efficiency, there are no such things as “American jobs,” there are only “jobs in America”. And the sort of “jobs in America” that exist are, and ought to be, largely – if not solely – the product of market forces driven by the efficient allocation of capital to economically efficient firms. So under the orthodox view if America is a nation with financiers and software engineers on the one end and baristas and gardeners on the other, with little in between, there’s nothing unjust about that result.

Rubio’s post suggests he does not share that view. If true, it means there is now daylight between him and the party hierarchy and the purportedly populist, but increasingly economically orthodox, president. It would, if he chooses to take this path, allow him to craft a path between Romney-Ryanism on the one hand and Bannonism on the other.

The high priests of supply-side economics who sit in the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board will predictably denounce the Senator’s apostasy. They will find his lack of faith disturbing.

But just as a small band of rebels overthrew Vader’s Empire, I think Rubio has awakened the Force that binds Americans to one another – and which when wielded with skill brings political victory to its practitioner.

I don’t think Rubio is alone. Over the past few months, people like Senators Tom Cotton and Mike Lee have made their own proposals which, if taken to their logical conclusions, are also inherently economically populist and at odds with the supply-side religion. But none to my knowledge has posed the central question – does citizenship matter as much as efficiency in crafting economic policy? – as clearly as Rubio has in this one small post.

I have been writing about working class Americans and their views for nearly nine years. As part of that effort, I have urged Republicans to begin to rethink their faith in their ancient, supply-side religion. For most of that period, I have often been asked something along the lines of “sounds great. Which Republican leader agrees with you?”Now, thanks to Rubio, and Cotton and Lee, I have new hope.

Social Conservatives Should Condemn Trump’s Porn-Star Hookup

by Jonah Goldberg

The allegation that Donald Trump cheated on his wife — the current first lady — with a porn star and then paid to cover it up is gaining attention. Given the legal paperwork involved in that cover-up, never mind everything else we know, I think most people are inclined to believe it happened. The relevant question is, Who will care?

I thought this Twitter exchange was revealing.

Josh Hammer tweeted:

To which Glenn Reynolds replied:

I have a few observations.

First, I think saying, “I’m a libertarian, so I’m fine with people having sex with porn stars” sails past a few important details. I know plenty of libertarians who are not fine with people cheating on their spouses with porn stars or anybody else. There is literally nothing inherent to libertarianism that requires people to be “fine” with adultery. That’s libertinism, not libertarianism.

It seems to me that libertarianism only enters the picture on things like this when the question is “What should the state do about it?” or, perhaps, “Should this matter to voters?” The answer to the former is, of course, nothing. The answer to the latter would probably elicit different responses from lots of people, including among libertarians. But any serious understanding of libertarianism must allow for people to be free to judge other people for their moral failings. I certainly think Glenn is a serious libertarian. And I suspect he was just writing in shorthand, because it’s Twitter.

As for his second point that lots of conservatives are tired of having their principles used against them, this seems incontestable to me. This was a big psychological and political undercurrent among Trump enthusiasts in 2016. It could be summarized in the famous line from Huey Long, “What’s the use of being right only to be defeated?”

And, without spelling it out for liberals who might seem flummoxed by this widespread attitude on the right, I think it’s a legitimate gripe. I can even understand why many rank-and-file GOP voters would throw their hands up and say, “If liberals aren’t going to play by the rules, why should conservatives?”

But I think this is ultimately the wrong way to think about this. It’s a bit like the bureaucrat or cop who won’t take bribes feeling like he’s a fool since everyone else is on the take. He’s not a fool. If it’s wrong to take bribes, it’s still wrong if “everybody does it.”

But while voters are perfectly free to make their own decisions about what factors they want to take into account in their estimation of politicians, I am at a loss as to how various social- and religious-conservative leaders can, with clear conscience, or even a straight face, shrug off this kind of thing, never mind defend it. If you’ve dedicated your professional or pastoral life to upholding and enforcing public standards of decency, there is no principled argument for giving Trump a pass. There are any number of transactional, prudential, “pragmatic,” or instrumental arguments for doing so. But when liberals — and many other Republicans — were embroiled in sex scandals, those leaders were at the forefront of repudiating such defenses as moral relativism. At the very least, Jerry Falwell & Co. should be condemning Trump’s behavior.

Morality is supposed to be way, way upstream of politics. If your position is that your team doesn’t have to do right because the other team does wrong, you don’t really believe in doing right for its own sake.

The Imposition in China

by Jay Nordlinger

In Impromptus today, I have an item about China, whose government has just destroyed a church. This was Golden Lampstand Church, in Shanxi Province, one of the poorest areas of the country. The church was built for $3 million, all contributed by the worshipers. The government blew up the building. They dynamited it.

In my column, I quote an excellent report in the New York Times by Russell Goldman, who writes, “Under President Xi Jinping, the government has destroyed churches or removed their steeples and crosses as part of a campaign that reflects the Communist Party’s longstanding fear that Christianity, viewed as a Western philosophy, is a threat to the party’s authority.” (I comment, “The party is right, isn’t it? Anyway, what that church represented will long outlive the party …”)

A reader from Big Rapids, Mich. — home of Ferris State University — writes, “It may not be an original point, but isn’t communism itself a ‘Western philosophy’?” Yes, it is an excellent point — and it is one made to me many years ago by a leader of the Falun Gong movement, which, as you know, has been shockingly persecuted in China. There are all too credible reports of organ harvesting. (For my review of Ethan Gutmann’s important 2014 book, The Slaughter, go here.)

The Falun Gong leader said to me roughly this: “The dictatorship in Beijing calls us ‘alien’ and a ‘foreign imposition.’ Actually, the opposite is true. Falun Gong has deep roots in China. It is thoroughly, even stereotypically, Chinese. Communism, on the other hand, is a foreign imposition. It comes from you people, in the West! Marx and Engels and all that. The Communist government is hostile to the family. We Chinese have always cherished the family.” And so on.

A point that should be repeated (as I find myself doing).

GOP Rep. Curbelo Could’ve Helped Hispanic Caucus Push Bipartisan DACA Deal

by Alexandra DeSanctis

Earlier this month, the leadership of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) sent a letter to House speaker Paul Ryan and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, urging them to provide a permanent fix to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

But last November, the caucus made a decision that served to undermine bipartisan consensus on DACA — it excluded Florida representative Carlos Curbelo from its ranks because he’s a Republican. Curbelo, born in Miami to two Cuban exiles who fled to the U.S., is both a conservative Republican and a supporter of DACA.

Late last year, the congressman said he wouldn’t support any spending bill unless Congress also found a way to permanently protect individuals in the DACA program. Having him in the caucus would’ve been a nice illustration of the fact that there is bipartisan support among Hispanic representatives for a DACA deal.

In fact, Curbelo’s office tells National Review via email that the congressman fully supports the text of the CHC’s January letter. “The congressman agrees with the sentiment of the letter wholeheartedly, however, it is unfortunate some of the signers are individuals who promote bigotry and division and are committed to the segregation of America’s Hispanic community,” said Curbelo’s spokesperson, Joanna Rodriguez. “It’s ridiculous they can call for compassion and inclusion with a straight face.”

It is worth noting, too, that the CHC’s letter was sent not on official stationery but on political letterhead, despite the group’s status as an official organization that uses taxpayer dollars. The Congressional Black Caucus, for example, uses its own official stationery for similar purposes. The CHC’s decision not to do so suggests that the group intends to use this letter about DACA for political purposes, whether through a PAC or for members’ re-election campaigns.

This move is more evidence that the CHC exists primarily to further its members’ political careers rather than actually represent the needs of Hispanic Americans. For example, news broke today that the CHC’s political arm, BOLD PAC, will back Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Curbelo’s Democratic challenger in Florida’s 26th congressional district.

When the group rejected Curbelo last November, its chairwoman, representative Michelle Lujan Grisham admitted it was because the group wants to oppose President Trump, and having a Republican in the group would make it more difficult to do so. “We have strategies about the White House and we have strategies about those committees and we have strategies about who we are working on and leveraging with and [having a GOP member] creates an environment where we stop having strategic discussions,” Lujan Grisham told reporters at the time.

This obvious ideological intransigence reveals that the group doesn’t actually intend to achieve tangible political change for its supposed constituency, or at least that any allies must fully embrace anti-Trump progressivism. Had the members of the CHC chosen to allow diversity within its ranks — and, as a result, authentic representation of Hispanic Americans — rather than exclude Curbelo due to hyperpartisanship, their case in support of DACA would’ve been truly bipartisan, and thus much stronger.

National Review Summer Internship

by NR Staff

National Review is accepting applications for its summer internship. The intern will work in our New York office, receive a modest stipend, participate in every part of the editorial process, and have some opportunities to write. The ideal candidate will have an excellent academic record and some experience in student or professional journalism. If you wish to apply, please send a cover letter, your résumé, and two of your best writing samples (no more, please) to editorial.applications (at)


Feminists, Bad and Good

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Margaret Atwood, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, is defending herself from the charge of being a “bad feminist,” a charge directed at her because she has, to her great credit, defended due process for men accused of sexual abuse. Here is part of her apologia:

My fundamental position is that women are human beings, with the full range of saintly and demonic behaviours this entails, including criminal ones. They’re not angels, incapable of wrongdoing. If they were, we wouldn’t need a legal system.

So far, so good. She continues,

Nor do I believe that women are children, incapable of agency or of making moral decisions. If they were, we’re back to the 19th century, and women should not own property, have credit cards, have access to higher education, control their own reproduction or vote. There are powerful groups in North America pushing this agenda, but they are not usually considered feminists.

Oh come on. It is true that there are powerful groups — not powerful enough, in my opinion — that want to keep women from being able to hire people to kill their unborn children. The idea that there are powerful groups “pushing” to keep women from owning property, having credit cards, having access to higher education, or voting is lunatic. Naturally this passage from Atwood has passed without comment from good feminists and bad feminists alike.

Will the Stopgap Pass?

by Theodore Kupfer

With a government shutdown fast approaching, Congress is trying to buy itself time. Yesterday, House Republicans unveiled a temporary spending bill that would keep the government funded until February 16. But there are several political roadblocks that stand in its way.

The stopgap measure is a relatively clean bill. It does not include a legislative fix for DACA nor does it resolve the ongoing squabbles over military spending. Paradoxically, however, that might imperil its chances. The New York Times reports that the bill may struggle to pass the House, because “Republicans eager to increase military spending have been frustrated with stopgap spending measures.” In the Senate, the bill will need nine Democratic votes. Several Democrats are expected to oppose it, “especially those considering a White House run,” the Times reports. Top Democrats have faced pressure from the Hispanic Caucus and immigration advocacy groups to oppose any spending bill that does not include a favorable DACA deal — despite the fact that the program will not expire until March 5.

Potentially adding to Democratic reluctance? “It’s not as clean as it looks on the surface,” an appropriations committee staffer tells me. To win over House Republicans, there are delays to several taxes imposed by the Affordable Care Act, including the medical-device tax and the so-called Cadillac tax on high-cost insurance plans. Yet the bill would also extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program for the next six years. After accusing Republicans of ignoring CHIP last month, Democrats could face tough questions if they block this effort to fund it. “I cannot see the Democrats voting against the Children’s Health Insurance Program,” Mo Brooks told the Times, “but they’ll be given that option in this funding bill.” If the bill does not pass, there will be plenty of recriminations to go around.

New Poll: More Than Three-Quarters of Americans Support Significant Abortion Restrictions

by Alexandra DeSanctis

The Knights of Columbus and Marist have released their comprehensive annual poll on Americans’ abortion views, which found that more than three out of four Americans support placing significant restrictions on abortion. Fifty-one percent of the 2,617 respondents surveyed identified as pro-choice, compared with 44 percent who identified as pro-life. Interestingly, 25 percent of Democrats surveyed called themselves pro-life, as did 41 percent of independents.

Only 12 percent of Americans believe that abortion should be available to women at any time during pregnancy. Meanwhile, 76 percent support significant abortion restrictions, including limiting abortion to the first three months of pregnancy, to cases involving rape or incest, or to save the life of the mother.

Six in ten Americans who call themselves pro-choice also reported supporting these types of restrictions. In fact, only 21 percent of Democrats said they support abortion at any stage of pregnancy, while more than six in ten Democrats support placing strict limitations on abortion rights. Almost 80 percent of independents back similar limitations.

One such limitation currently being considered by Congress is the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks based on research showing that fetuses have the capacity to feel pain at that stage of development. This poll reports that 63 percent of Americans support a 20-week abortion ban, an increase of 4 percent support from last year’s survey. This figure includes more than half of those who identify as pro-choice and more than half of Democrats.

Another six in ten respondents oppose using taxpayer money to fund abortions, including 40 percent of pro-choice Americans and 43 percent of Democrats. Meanwhile, 54 percent of respondents said those with moral objections should not be legally required to provide abortion services or insurance coverage; that includes 42 percent of pro-choice Americans and 40 percent of Democrats.

A slight majority of Americans say they think abortion is morally wrong, and that figure rises to 64 percent when considering the abortion of unborn children diagnosed with a genetic disorder such as Down syndrome. Almost half of pro-choice respondents said that abortion of a child with a genetic disorder is morally wrong.

According to almost 80 percent of respondents, it is possible to have laws protecting both the health of the mother and the life of her unborn child. More than half of Americans say abortion does more harm than good for a woman in the long run, compared to under 30 percent who believe that abortion improves a woman’s life.

The Exhausted Racism Charge

by Conrad Black

From my most recent NRO article, about President Trump and the current immigration controversy: “The Democratic charge — that Trump is a racist — is nonsense and the campaign attempt to portray the president as hostile to anyone not of white pigmentation, or even to non-Anglo-Saxons, folded like a three-dollar suitcase long ago.”

Whether you agree or disagree, your comments are, as always, most welcome.

What If Oprah-Mania Is Really Just a Media Phenomenon?

by Jim Geraghty

From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

What If Oprah-Mania Is Really Just a Media Phenomenon?

Hey, remember last week when it seemed like there was this overwhelming appetite for a presidential campaign by Oprah Winfrey? It turns out that only a small percentage of folks thought that was such a good idea.

Fifty-nine percent of survey respondents said Winfrey should not run for president, compared to 24 percent who said she should. Seventeen percent said they did not know or had no opinion.

If the election were held today, Winfrey would lead Trump 40 percent to 38 percent, within the poll’s plus or minus 2-percentage point margin of error.

“If you were watching cable news the Monday after the Golden Globes, you would have thought the numbers would say 99 percent of Americans want her to run,” said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture at Syracuse University, in a Tuesday interview. “Certainly polls have their limitations, but these numbers don’t quite indicate that degree of enthusiasm.”

Interestingly, the early numbers suggest Oprah wouldn’t be a slam-dunk to win the Democratic nomination after all, depending upon who her top rival is.

In head-to-head primary matchups with a handful of possible Democratic 2020 contenders, Winfrey performed best against New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand among Democrats, leading her 44 percent to 23 percent. She also leads Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren 39 percent to 35 percent. The poll found Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) would beat Winfrey, 46 percent to 37 percent. But former Vice President Joe Biden would beat Winfrey by a larger margin, 54 percent to 31 percent, among Democrats.

This kind of a wild disconnect between the media’s perspective and that of the larger public doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The irony is that the numbers on Oprah enthusiasm reverse the traditional narrative about a shallow, vacuous, celebrity-obsessed general public and a serious, deep-thinking, policy and detail-focused news media. What if it’s the other way around? What if the public wants a more serious discussion about government policies and their tangible consequences, and less fluffy discussion and debate about charismatic familiar faces?

When David Broder wrote with sadness about the death of columnist Robert Novak, he wrote that Novak and his colleagues of past eras had been brought to Washington by “by editors who had a passionate commitment to covering Congress and politics as if the decisions being debated really mattered.” He contended that good political journalism meant “’getting down in the weeds,’ really understanding the personal dynamics of a Ways and Means subcommittee or the ambitions of the lieutenant governor of Texas.”

I have this nagging feeling that a decent percentage of today’s political journalists don’t want to actually write about politics, and that they really want to write the kind of glossy celebrity profiles that we’re used to seeing in places like Vanity Fair, GQ, Vogue, and maybe even People or Us Weekly. I noticed last year that a glossy profile of Kirsten Gillibrand in Vogue couldn’t bring itself to really look at the senator’s record and left readers with at least three glaringly false impressions – that Gillibrand is an economic centrist, an iconoclast, and a campaigning powerhouse with cross-party appeal.

Look, you read this newsletter, so you know I enjoy writing about Star Wars and Twin Peaks and the Jets and lots of “fun stuff” in life. Not everything written about politics has to be as detail-heavy as Congressional Quarterly or Governing magazine. But the disconnect on Oprah suggests that a chunk of the American people are not automatically enraptured by every famous celebrity who flirts with a political campaign… unlike, say, bored political reporters who want to write about someone glamorous and exciting.

Wednesday links

by debbywitt

January 17 is Ben Franklin’s birthday - bio, quotes, videos, his 200 synonyms for drunk, the bodies found in his basement, and more.

Alexa, What Are You Doing With My Family’s Personal Info?

How to Build an Igloo.

Gorgeous X-Ray Photographs of Plants and Animals.

For Al Capone’s birthday, here’s the story of that time he bought large blocks of stock in miniature golf construction companies.

Method of Women’s Self Defense: Vintage Photos From 1906 Illustrate Modes for Warding Off a Street Bully or Foul.

ICYMI, Tuesday’s links are here, and include why toll-free numbers start with 800, the ultimate paper airplane (a paper Boeing 777), why gadgets are called “doohickeys”, the anniversary of prohibition in the United States, and why tequila is good for you. 

Infamous Trump Meeting: Small Example of a Larger Trend

by Jonah Goldberg

Response To...

In Infamous Meeting, Trump Spoke ...

Pretty much everything Rich writes below is reasonable. And I think his concluding paragraph is entirely fair:

Anyway, I believe the simplest explanation for most Trump controversies is that he’s being crude and thoughtless, and that applies here. The sh**house controversy has been longer-lasting than most, now on its fifth day, but by the end of week, we’ll be on to something else.

Except for one thing: It’s not entirely clear to me that Trump was being “thoughtless.” He may have made a bad calculation. There are only two possibilities. The first is that he thought the comments wouldn’t be leaked — a bizarre notion, not just because there’s so much leaking from this White House, but particularly because Dick Durbin was in the room. The other option is that he knew it would get out.

The second scenario is more likely. Indeed, there are reports that Trump thought his sh**house comment was good politics, which he all too often defines as pleasing his base. As I wrote about in last week’s G-File, an obsession with pleasing your base at all costs is a somewhat novel theory of presidential politics and even presidential conduct.

As a practical matter, not everything Trump does that revs up his base is bad policy or bad politics. But they very often are — either on the merits or due to poor messaging. In particular, episodes like the sh**house controversy unite Democrats and most independents against the White House and the GOP, and they divide Republicans. Indeed, the Republicans in the room are now themselves struggling to get on the same page about both policy and their accounts of what happened. Conservative pundits and politicians are scrambling to find a coherent and plausible way to defend a statement that was unwise, either as a matter of decency or practical politics (or both).

This is a small example of the larger trend. It’s not exactly a new insight that successful presidents come up with issues that divide the opposition and unite their own coalition. That’s why Democrats whined for decades about “wedge issues.” The ideal issue for any politician is what some people call a “70-30” issue, if the politician can claim the 70 percent side. Trump plays the politics of wedge issues all the time, but he tends to take the 30 percent issues that divide Republicans and enlarge the opposition. Whether he’s right or can, with great effort, be defended on a specific controversy doesn’t change the fact that Trump has a gift for making the jobs of Republicans harder and the jobs of Democrats easier.

There’s No Point In Berating Secretary Nielsen for Trump’s Comment

by Jim Geraghty

If Fire and Fury is to be believed – an open question – Donald Trump came to Washington and contemplated making his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, his first chief of staff and he thought about nominating 73–year-old Rudy Giuliani to the Supreme Court. We know Trump chose Steve Bannon his chief strategist, Kushner to manage the Middle East peace process, and picked Ben Carson to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Whenever President Trump appoints someone qualified and competent for a position, lawmakers of both parties would be wise to confirm that nominee and just do their best to work with the nominee, come what may. After all, considering Trump’s unpredictable and arbitrary criteria for personnel decisions, there’s no guarantee that the replacement will be an improvement. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnunchin — you know what? This might be as good as it gets, senators. There’s a good chance you’ll dislike the next nominee even more than the current cabinet member.

Today Senator Corey Booker described himself as “seething with anger” and raged at Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, when she dodged questions on just what words Trump used in that infamous Oval Office meeting. “Your silence and amnesia are complicity!” Booker fumed.

Whether you love Nielsen or hate her, or you haven’t even really noticed her at DHS, Nielsen is qualified and not responsible for the president shooting his mouth off during negotiations in the Oval Office. It wasn’t Nielsen who made the infamous profane comment in the Oval Office. Trump’s put her in an impossible spot. If she confirms the comment, she’s created a giant controversy for the White House and Trump’s mercurial and impulsive enough to fire her. If she denies the comment, she’s basically calling other senators liars and possibly lying under oath to Congress. Nielsen didn’t want to touch this issue with a ten-foot pole, and it’s hard to blame her. She just wants to do the job of running the Department of Homeland Security, not get dragged into an argument about which countries qualify for Trump’s vulgar label and which ones don’t.

If every single government employee who was offended by the president’s words, decisions, or behavior resigned in protest, we probably wouldn’t have a federal government anymore. Trying to play “gotcha” with Nielsen or haranguing her for not dressing down the president when he said something crude may help Booker as he prepares to face a crowded Democratic field in 2020, but it just makes getting things done at DHS more difficult.

‘Democracy in Crisis’

by John O'Sullivan

Later today, a conference on “Democracy in Crisis” will be held by the American Enterprise Institute jointly with Freedom House and the Center for American Progress at which Senator Ben Sasse will deliver the keynote address. It’s an unusual case of cooperation between the moderate Right (AEI), the progressive Left (CAP), and the left-leaning Center in the form of Freedom House.

It’s the (not quite) opening shot in what promises to be a battle of manifestos and new coalitions over the definition and meaning of democracy in American and global politics, which looks likely to pit most conservatives and mainstream Republicans against a coalition of progressives and liberal Republicans with the former supporting a majoritarian view of democracy (“populism” to their critics) and the latter a form of liberal democracy in which courts, international treaties, and bureaucratic agencies take decisions once under the control of Congress (“post-democracy” to their critics.) Meetings have been held in Washington over the past few weeks by both groups. Expect both “populists” and “post-democrats” to issue statements along the lines of “democracy is going to the dogs” while differing wildly on the identity of the dogs.

Today’s statement is the “not quite” opening salvo in this battle because most of the usual suspects in the post-democratic camp issued a statement in Prague in the middle of last year: “Liberal democracy is under threat, and all who cherish it must come to its defence” ran the opening sentence of “The Prague Appeal for Democratic Renewal,” authored by 180 intellectuals, artists, and activists, including Anne Applebaum, Timothy Garton Ash, Shlomo Avineri, Francis Fukuyama, Richard Gere, Garry Kasparov, Mario Vargas Llosa, Arch Puddington, and George Weigel.

It got only modest and brief coverage, however, because . . . well, because there’s been a lot of political and international news in the last year to distract attention. And what attention it got was unwelcome. It came in the form of a sardonic analysis of its arguments in the Australian magazine Quadrant by Professor Ryszard Legutko, the distinguished Polish philosopher and member of the European parliament who edited an underground philosophy journal for Solidarity under Communism and more recently has written a book examining how “liberal democracy” in Europe has been transmogrified into a rigid progressivist ideology while conservatives weren’t looking.

Writing about the Prague Appeal, Legutko took on what he described as its main thrust: “democracy being threatened from within.”

“Examples? Not many, and not exactly supporting what they were intended to support. Only four countries are mentioned by name: Turkey, Hungary, the Philippines, Venezuela “and other backsliding democracies”. Those other backsliding democracies are not named.

Again, this is sheer nonsense. Venezuela has been in disarray at least since 1998 — and that is a generous assessment — the Philippines since the very beginning, and Turkey has had a turbulent internal history since the fall of the Ottoman empire. To discover suddenly that those countries are now backsliding into something politically disconcerting and to make a big thing about it in 2017 seems bizarre. Surely, no one can believe that this constellation of public celebrities took such pains to gather together solely in order to express their concerns about internal developments in the Philippines, Venezuela and Turkey.

What was their purpose then? The answer is the last of the four countries mentioned — Hungary or, rather, Hungary and everything it has come to represent. But putting Hungary alongside Venezuela, the Philippines and Turkey is outrageous and shows intellectual dishonesty. In those three countries, one can find bloodshed and torture, death squads, demonstrators shot at by security forces, members of the opposition arrested, journalists imprisoned, open public debate muzzled, elections possibly rigged, courts intimidated. Which of these things happens or is likely to happen in Hungary? Even making a loose association between Hungary and those countries is an insult to decency. And this method of insinuation, of vile imprecision, of attributing guilt by such scurrilous associations pervades the entire Prague document.”

Legutko then goes on to examine the wider ambitions of the Appeal:

Keep reading this post . . .

Cory Booker Melts Down, Yells at DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen over Trump Comments

by Alexandra DeSanctis

At a Senate hearing this morning, New Jersey senator Cory Booker erupted at Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, over President Trump’s recent controversial comments. According to several people present at an immigration-reform meeting at the White House last week, the president called the countries of Haiti and El Salvador “sh**hole” or “sh**house” countries, from which the U.S. should not accept immigrants.

The Democratic senator — who just joined the Senate Judiciary Committee this year – went on a tirade against Nielsen during the hearing, shouting at her for her supposed failure to understand or care about minority Americans who are concerned about bigotry and threats. “Your silence and your amnesia are complicity,” Booker told her.

“When Dick Durbin called me, I had tears of rage when I heard about this experience in that meeting,” Booker said. “And for you not to feel that hurt and that pain and to dismiss some of the questions of my colleagues . . . when tens of millions of Americans are hurting right now because they’re worried about what happened in the White House. That’s unacceptable to me.”

Here is part of Booker’s rant, via CBS News: