The Meaning of Memorial Day

by Jack Fowler

Dear Friends,

More and more I consider Memorial Day the most meaningful federal holiday. Maybe that’s inspired by my love for old films: Every year, and once again this year, Turner Classic Movies presents a 72-Hour Memorial Day Marathon that pays fitting tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice, as well as a nod to the lighter side of men in arms. Scheduled for tonight are a string of WWII submariner movies, including Cary Grant in Destination Tokyo. Have a watch. And say a prayer of thanks for America’s honored dead.

National Review is closed today, which means this Holiday Jolt was scheduled in advance (last Friday, in fact, by Paul Crookston, a great colleague who leaves his fellowship here at NR, to be sorely missed). But do visit the website to see wise commentary that takes no day off. Meanwhile, we’ll take this opportunity to remind and recommend a few things.

Remind: We’ve finished our second week of the NRO Spring Webathon, which I explain (brilliantly!) right here. If you’re ready to donate and don’t want to hear my pitch, then go straight to the NRO donation page.

Also: Our friends at National Review Institute are in the midst of their effort to raise funds to promote and enhance the vital Bill Buckley Legacy, and much more. If you’d like to make a tax-deductible contribution to support NRI’s broad and worthwhile mission, and I encourage that, then do so here.

Recommend: I bumped into pollster and past NR cruise speaker Scott Rasmussen — now the senior fellow for the study of self-governance at The King’s College in New York City, and editor-at-large at Ballotpedia (which publishes his very cool Number of the Day e-mail newsletter) — a couple of weeks back at an NRI dinner. We had a great visit and I’d like to encourage you to check out his wise, recent book, Politics Has Failed: America Will Not.

More recommending: John Miller’s latest Bookmonger podcast is an interview with Senator Ben Sasse about his important new book, The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming of Age Crisis, and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance.

Speaking of Podcasts: In a good-news edition of The Liberty Files, David French talks with the Alliance Defending Freedom’s Jim Campbell about how a t-shirt company in Kentucky is fighting — and winning — against efforts to force it to print pro-LGBT messages.

Speaking of David French: Here’s a different kind of “trans” thing — he will be on the National Review 2017 Trans-Atlantic Crossing. You should be too. There are a handful of cabins left. Get one.

One more book to recommend: Alvin Felzenberg’s acclaimed new bio, A Man and His President: The Political Odyssey of William F. Buckley Jr., is simply terrific. Please purchase a copy. And listen to the aforementioned John Miller do his Bookmonger thing with Al. It’s a great conversation.

Jim returns tomorrow. And we end this Holiday Jolt by asking God to bless and comfort all those who made the ultimate sacrifice for America and its freedoms.

Best,

Jack Fowler

National Review

ADDENDA: I suggest a song for the day: Eternal Father, Strong to Save, also known as The Navy Hymn. You will find a beautiful brief rendition here.

Gianforte Wins, Continuing GOP Stranglehold on Montana House Seat

by Jim Geraghty

Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend! Jack Fowler will send out a Morning Jolt on Monday, and I’ll be back Tuesday.

Gianforte Wins, Continuing GOP Stranglehold on Montana House Seat

Republican Greg Gianforte won the special U.S. House election last night, and . . . er . . . body-slammed the competition?

Addressing supporters, Gianforte apologized to the reporter he had an altercation with, as well as other journalists who witnessed the event. He also apologized to Montanans, saying “When you make a mistake you have to own up to it. That’s the Montana way.”

 . . . Democrats viewed the seat as one they could possibly flip, and Republicans grew more wary as the race wore on that they might not be able to find a path to victory in a state that’s generally viewed as red but has a strong independent streak.

Jeremy Johnson, a professor at Carroll College in Helena, said Quist under-performed in key swing counties of Cascade and Yellowstone.

“Many of the strong Republican rural counties stayed strongly Republican, although Democrats had hoped a non-politician identified with rural Montana could make inroads,” he said.

The Missoulan newspaper offers a photo of a young voter with the caption: “Cherokee Nevin arrives at the Gallatin County Courthouse to drop off her vote for [Democrat] Rob Quist as voters go to the polls in Bozeman. Nevin didn’t know about the assault charge against Greg Gianforte and said, ‘I’m not a big fan of capitalism.’”

No matter how big the news is, and no matter how extensively it’s covered in print, on radio, on television, and on the Internet, some voters are just unreachable in that last 24 hours until Election Day.

The good news for Democrats: Donald Trump’s presidency is off to a stumbling start with no major pieces of legislation signed into law. The Trump administration is constantly surrounded by controversy and allegations of scandal, extraordinarily hostile coverage from the media, and low approval ratings. The polling in Virginia’s gubernatorial election looks good for Democrats, as does the polling on congressional generic ballot.

In the special House elections so far this year, Democrats outperformed their 2016 finishes by 23 points in Kansas, ten points in the first round of voting in Georgia, and ten points in Montana.

The bad news for Democrats: They still haven’t, you know, won anything at the Congressional level. The political world doesn’t gift-wrap twists of fate like Gianforte’s last-minute assault charge often, and they still couldn’t turn that into a win.

Yes, they flipped a seat in the New York state assembly and in New Hampshire’s state House. Yes, they still have a decent shot at the runoff in Georgia. But Democrats have good reason for frustration. When does this combination of energized Left and flawed GOP candidates translate into an actual electoral victory?

‘There Is Total Weirdness Out There.’

“There is total weirdness out there,” Representative Mark Sanford, Republican of South Carolina said. “And, like I said, he’s unearthed some demons, and people can feel like if the president of the United States can say anything to anybody at any time than I guess I can too, and that is a very, very dangerous phenomenon.”

Allahpundit scoffs at the idea that Trump has somehow created the impression that it’s okay to assault people out of differing political beliefs or inspired Gianforte to attack a reporter.

The Gianforte incident is shocking because it’s unusual. Candidates don’t behave this way, even in the age of Trump; Trump hasn’t behaved this way, despite his endless kabuki theater about hating the media. It’s a strange “climate” that affects so few people.

Question: If Trump has normalized behavior like this, why did Team Gianforte rush out a whitewash account of what happened that made it sound like he was merely defending himself from the reporter and was dragged to the ground as the reporter fell? Gianforte’s spin is proof that he doesn’t think “if the president of the United States can say anything to anyone at any time then I guess I can too.” You can hate candidate Trump’s loathsome wink-wink incitements to violence at rallies last year without blaming him every time some guy snaps, which is what it sounds like happened to Gianforte yesterday. Not calculation, not grandstanding for the benefit of media-hating Republican voters. He snapped, and he was sufficiently embarrassed about it afterward to have tried in a half-assed way to cover it up.

Let me offer a qualified defense of Sanford’s point. Put Trump’s shameless misbehavior atop the mountain of bad behavior, lies, untruths, and misdeeds by societal leaders we’ve seen in the past decades. Take your pick: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” the revelation that Iraq did not have the WMD program that American intelligence expected, “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal, Enron, Bernie Madoff, Jerry Sandusky, Bill Cosby, the toxic asset derivatives and the Great Recession, the VA leaving veterans dying waiting for care, telling the grieving father of a slain Navy SEAL, “we will make sure that the person who made that film is arrested and prosecuted” . . . It has not been hard to find authority figures acting irresponsibly, abusing their authority, and escaping appropriate consequence.

How many people look at all that and ask, “if they can do it, why can’t I?” Why did the argument that Trump’s character disqualified himself from the presidency fall so flat in 2016? Is it because we’ve seen so much bad behavior from other leaders in society that Trump doesn’t seem like such a dramatic step down in character? Have we decided to stop looking for good character in leaders? If they’re all SOBs, there’s no shame in supporting an SOB.

Or look to other comments from Sanford Thursday:

“Shame actually has a place in a civilized society. Remorse has a place in a civilized society,” he said, “because it causes people to rethink what they did and hopefully broach future problems in different ways. You can’t have a remorseless society and that is the problem of the president saying, ‘There are no moments over which I have remorse.’”

“The fact of the matter is, the normal human existence is filled with many points you wish you could do over,” Sanford said. “There are some trend lines here that we should all find discouraging, or frightening . . . I’ve seen demons unearthed.”

Yes, Mark Sanford is far from the perfect messenger for the message that shame and remorse needs to play a larger role in how we make decisions. Then again, who is?

Jim’s Best Guess of What’s Happening in Twin Peaks, Part Two

Continuing our effort to figure out what’s going on in the Showtime series…

In Buckhorn, South Dakota, the police discover a brutal murder of the local librarian, Ruth Davenport, and the fingerprints found at the scene point to the local high school principal, Bill Hastings. Quickly arrested, the frantic Hastings says he had a dream he was in Davenport’s apartment, but he didn’t do it. (His unreliable account of his whereabouts during the time of the murder strongly hints he’s having an affair with his assistant.) Once he’s behind bars, his cold wife Phyllis reveals a ruthlessly vindictive side, leaving us wondering if she killed Davenport and framed him… but Bill shows a flash of potentially murderous rage, too, accusing her of sleeping with his lawyer and “maybe some other guy.” A few cells down, we see a ghostly figure appear and disappear, indicating this isn’t just a random murder; the Black Lodge probably had a hand in it somehow.

Then, much to our surprise, Phyllis comes home to find Bad Cooper waiting for her. She smiles in recognition. (Guess Bad Cooper was the “some other guy.”) Bad Cooper/BOB, who feeds on suffering, tells her she “followed human nature perfectly” and then suddenly shoots her dead.

(Many Twin Peaks fans will disagree with me, but I find the series practically dripping with subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle allusions to Christianity. The demon BOB finds humanity effectively pre-corrupted and easy to nudge into committing terrible acts; in the second season, Major Briggs emotionally breaks through to his rebellious son by discussing his vision of his son’s future, “happy and carefree, clearly living a life of deep harmony and joy. We embraced—a warm and loving embrace, nothing withheld. We were, in this moment, one.”)

Evil in the world of Twin Peaks isn’t trying to blow up the world or create a doomsday weapon. It is content to swim in communities wracked by drug addiction, prostitution, and casual violence, and then commit a brutal murder of an innocent soul, leaving a community like Buckhorn devastated after at the evidence suggesting their school principal was a secret monster — the kind of small-scale horror that we read about taking place a few towns down the road. We’re left to recognize that Bad Cooper has been committing murders and leaving mayhem and broken lives in his wake for the past 25 years.

Back in the Purgatory-like Red Room, the one-armed man Mike points to a tree and labels it “the evolution of the arm.” For a variety of reasons, the creative team didn’t bring back actor Michael Anderson, who played the Little Man from Another Place, a.k.a the dancing dwarf, a.k.a, “the arm.” He’s been replaced by a bare tree that speaks from an odd balloon-like organ . . . which is severely abnormal for any other director but pretty much normal for David Lynch.

Like Cooper, the Tree has a good and bad side, or a bad double. The Good Tree is attempting to swap out Good and Bad Cooper, bringing 25 years of chaos in the shadows of the world to an end… but then the Bad Tree interrupts and attempts to banish Good Cooper to “non-existence.” Cooper falls through the floor, through space . . . into the glass room in the beginning of the episode. Recognizing what a risk Cooper’s reappearance back into the real world would be – the general public has no idea about the existence of spirits and demons and otherworldly realms – the Black Lodge sucks Cooper’s soul back into the nether realm… and the “cleaning crew” demon does away with the potential witnesses.

ADDENDA: Forget David French fighting with me over Twin Peaks. Wait until Dwayne Johnson fan French sees Kyle Smith’s review of the Baywatch movie, declaring, “other than [Johnson’s] presence, the movie has nothing going for it whatsoever.”

This is a big setback to the Dwayne Johnson 2020 movement. If The Rock can’t save Baywatch, how can he save America?

‘Send a Fighter to Congress!’ Wait, Wait, We Didn’t Mean Like That!

by Jim Geraghty

‘Send a Fighter to Congress!’ Wait, Wait, We Didn’t Mean Like That!

If today’s special House election in Montana goes badly for the Republicans, the party has a ready excuse.

“You should see how well we would have done if our candidate hadn’t suddenly been possessed by the spirit of Rowdy Roddy Piper!”

Yes, reporters can be annoying. No, you can’t physically assault them because you don’t like their questions. Most people pick this lesson up by kindergarten.

Of course, 238,320 Montanans have already voted by mail, which will probably be about two-thirds of the total vote. Anybody want to rethink their views on early voting? This time it was that the guy you voted already voted for is charged with misdemeanor assault; next time it could be that the guy’s charged with being an axe murderer.

The Billings Gazette editorial board rescinded their endorsement.

If what was heard on tape and described by eye-witnesses is accurate, the incident in Bozeman is nothing short of assault. We wouldn’t condone it if it happened on the street. We wouldn’t condone it if it happened in a home or even a late-night bar fight. And we couldn’t accept it from a man who is running to become Montana’s lone Congressional representative.

And the editorial board of the Missoulan: “There is no doubt that Gianforte committed an act of terrible judgment that, if it doesn’t land him in jail, also shouldn’t land him in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

And the editorial board of the Helena Independent Record: “We take our endorsements seriously and retracting an endorsement even more seriously, but we cannot in good faith continue to support this candidate.”

Some will inevitably shrug, “Well, what do you expect from the liberal media?!” Of course, that argument ignores that all of these newspapers endorsed Gianforte in the first place.

The CBO, Always the Skunk at the Garden Party

House Speaker Paul Ryan issued the following statement in response to the Congressional Budget Office’s scoring of the American Health Care Act:

Under Obamacare, premiums have more than doubled, and choices have dwindled to the point that many families have no options at all. We are on a rescue mission to bring down the cost of coverage and make sure families have access to affordable care. This CBO report again confirms that the American Health Care Act achieves our mission: lowering premiums and lowering the deficit. It is another positive step toward keeping our promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that premiums for single policyholders would increase before 2020, a projected 20 percent in 2018 (!) and 5 percent in 2019. After that, the premiums would go down. For about half the population, it would be about 4 percent lower than under current law; for about a third of the country, 20 percent. The CBO concluded that for the final sixth, there were simply too many variables to make a good projection. Once again, the cost savings for consumers are down the road and in many cases, not an overwhelming level of cash back in patients’ pockets. And this is with significantly more Americans choosing to not purchase insurance.

Why is the Republican Party in its current predicament in health-care policy? A lot of reasons, but a big one is that they now have to explain the tradeoffs of a specific plan when their standard-bearer refused to do so in 2016. On the trail, Donald Trump made sweeping promises about how much better health care would be, with no specifics or ideas about how he was going to get there:

“I am going to take care of everybody,” he told 60 Minutes.I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now…The government’s gonna pay for it. But we’re going to save so much money on the other side. But for the most it’s going to be a private plan and people are going to be able to go out and negotiate great plans with lots of different competition with lots of competitors with great companies and they can have their doctors, they can have plans, they can have everything.”

“We’re going to have insurance for everybody. There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.” People covered under the law “can expect to have great health care. It will be in a much simplified form. Much less expensive and much better.”

“Obamacare is going to be repealed and replaced.You’re going to end up with great health care for a fraction of the price and that’s gonna take place immediately after we go in. Okay? Immediately. Fast. Quick.”

“I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid.”

You can’t keep all of those promises. Some of them are more or less contradictory. You can’t keep Medicaid intact AND repeal Obamacare, because Obamacare expanded Medicaid. If insurance companies cannot charge more for those who have preexisting conditions, it is very difficult to reduce premiums.

Jim’s Best Guess of What’s Happening in Twin Peaks, Part One

A lot of NRO readers wrote in, saying they expected some sort of giant confrontation in the Corner after David French wrote that the University of Missouri football team’s offense “was the single most painful sight on television until the absurd Twin Peaks reboot.”

Eh, if David or you tried the new season of Twin Peaks and didn’t like it, I can’t begrudge either of you that reaction at all. Diehard fans are deeply divided. I’m walking away from the early episodes intrigued but only intermittently enjoying it. It’s different from the previous seasons, for good and for ill — a much broader scope, embracing the unlimited palette and no commercial breaks that come from premium cable, but missing the warmth and inviting quirkiness that made the first season so appealing. They have to write around the absence of major characters from the original series because of actor deaths and retirements in the intervening years. A lot of the fun is missing.

But for those of you who watched the first two hours and are asking, “Just what the heck is going on?”…

During seasons one and two, we learned the FBI and U.S. Air Force knew about the existence of the Black and White Lodges — two other dimensions or realms that are roughly akin to hell and heaven, populated by spirits that seek to harm and help humanity, respectively.

The opening scene is in black and white (shades of The Wizard of Oz) and the noble spirit Giant — or at least the same actor who played the Giant — warns the soul of Agent Cooper, “It is in our house now.” This may very well be the White Lodge — the realm of the helpful spirits, and some sort of unspeakable threat has passed a key threshold.

Back in our earthly realm, we shouldn’t be surprised that other groups or entities are studying the lodges as well. Somewhere in New York City, on the side of a skyscraper, there’s something of a gutter drainpipe for the Black Lodge. Once in a great while, something is ejected from the Black Lodge and it is briefly visible at this location. Some “mysterious billionaire” has determined this and set up an elaborate and secret monitoring station in the building.

Unfortunately, the Black Lodge also periodically sends out a demon so no one “goes through their trash,” so to speak. The hapless college student employee David and the hot latte-fetching Tracy are in the wrong place at the wrong time — and for the first time, we see what one of the Lodge spirits can do when not possessing a human being — acts of vicious murder too horrifyingly bloody for network television.

When we last saw Dale Cooper, either his soul was trapped in the Black Lodge and he was either possessed by the demon BOB, or his body was released back into the real world with only his darker side and impulses in control, depending upon your interpretation. Early on, we learn that Bad Cooper has been every bit as malevolent as we feared over the past 25 years, as he’s now the biggest, baddest, most ruthless thug in some unspecified Pacific Northwest backwoods, with various lowlifes and trollops scurrying for his favor.

Finally, back in Twin Peaks, the lovable Sheriff’s Department receptionist/secretary Lucy Brennan tries to explain to a thoroughly confused insurance salesman that there are two Sheriff Trumans: “One is fishing, and one is sick.” This is their way of dealing with the fact that actor Michael Ontkean didn’t want to come out of retirement, and retcons the revelation from The Secret History of Twin Peaks that the original series’ Sheriff Harry Truman had a brother and father who had served as town sheriff as well. Robert Forrester is believed to be playing Frank Truman.

Margaret Lanterman — a.k.a., the Log Lady — calls Deputy Chief Hawk and tells him her log has a message: Something is missing, only Hawk can find it, and something in his heritage will help him. (This is a particularly heartbreaking scene, as actress Catherine Coulson passed away from cancer in September, and… well, it shows.)

Coming tomorrow: the significance of the murder in Buckhorn, South Dakota, the “evolution of the Arm” and the threat of “nonexistence.”

ADDENDA: Over on NRO’s homepage, an essay on loving our country, warts and all.

The Facts of the Seth Rich Murder That Don’t Support Conspiracy Theories

by Jim Geraghty

The Facts of the Seth Rich Murder That Don’t Support Conspiracy Theories

Our David French with what needs to be known and said about the murder of Seth Rich:

The conspiracy is based on a true event — the terrible and unsolved murder of Seth Rich, a young Democratic National Committee staffer. Early the morning on July 10, an unidentified assailant shot Rich in the back. The police haven’t solved the crime, and their current best theory is that the attack occurred as part of a botched or interrupted robbery. Rich’s valuables, however, were still on his body, and the police (so far as we know) have no leads…

For the theory to be true, its believers have to demonstrate that Rich leaked to WikiLeaks, that someone in the DNC (or the Clinton camp) in turn had Rich murdered, that the D.C. police are intentionally slow-walking the investigation, that the major intelligence agencies (namely the CIA, FBI, and NSA) are together either deliberately concocting a story about Russian interference or too stupid to recognize an inside job, and finally, that the remainder of official Washington is either oblivious to or colluding with conspirators who’ve damaged relations with Russia in hopes of bringing down a president. Oh, and did I mention that the family of the slain young man is also either in on the conspiracy or unaware of its existence?

Rich’s parents write in the Washington Post today:

The circumstances of what happened next are still unclear. We know that Seth was abruptly confronted on the street, that he had been on the phone and quickly ended the call. We also know that there were signs of a struggle, including a watchband torn when the assailants attempted to rip it off his wrist. Law-enforcement officials told us that Seth’s murder looked like a botched robbery attempt in which the assailants — after shooting our son — panicked, immediately ran and abandoned Seth’s personal belongings. We have seen no evidence, by any person at any time, that Seth’s murder had any connection to his job at the Democratic National Committee or his life in politics. Anyone who claims to have such evidence is either concealing it from us or lying.

…We know that Seth’s personal email and his personal computer were both inspected by detectives early in the investigation and that the inspection revealed no evidence of any communications with anyone at WikiLeaks or anyone associated with WikiLeaks. Nor did that inspection reveal any evidence that Seth had leaked DNC emails to WikiLeaks or to anyone else. Indeed, those who have suggested that Seth’s role as a data analyst at the DNC gave him access to a wide trove of emails are simply incorrect — Seth’s job was to develop analytical models to encourage voters to turn out to vote. He didn’t have access to DNC emails, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee emails, John Podesta’s emails or Hillary Clinton’s emails. That simply wasn’t his job.

The fact that Rich’s valuables weren’t taken was indeed odd, but it’s hardly unthinkable that his assailant panicked and ran after the shooting. The Washington, D.C., police failing to generate leads is not the least bit surprising. In 2015, the D.C. police solved only 62 percent of the city’s homicides. The closure rate has been as high as 96 percent in 2011 and as low as 60.5 percent in 2003.

Then again, what makes someone believe in a conspiracy theory is not facts, but a need to believe.

No, ‘Unity, Love, and Coexistence’ Will Not Resolve the Threat of Terrorism

There’s not too much point in fuming about Katy Perry’s saccharine-to-the-point-of-insulting comments about the Manchester bombing, her declaration that, “I think the greatest thing we can do is just unite, and love on each other… no barriers, no borders, we all need to just coexist.”

I just wish there was someone around Perry who could pull her aside after a statement like that and say, “Katy, dear, a lack of unity, love, and coexistence is really not the problem here.”

If there were 20,000 people around the bomb as it detonated this week, 19,999 of them had no real significant conflict with each other. Whatever gripes, grievances, and problems they had, they had no murderous rage directed at another person. They just were there to either enjoy a concert or do their jobs at the venue.

There was only one guy in that whole crowd who couldn’t unite, who didn’t have love for anyone, and who couldn’t coexist with everyone else around him. And all it took was his bloodthirsty act to end young, innocent lives and create a lifetime of pain for so many people there that night.

Unity, love, and coexistence? We saw how quickly and eagerly people were to open their homes and offer assistance with the #openformanchester campaign. Generous souls have already donated more than one million pounds to help the families. So many people donated blood that the blood banks in the Manchester area said they’re full and can’t take any more contributions.

The vast majority of people walking down the street in Manchester on any given day are good people — or at least, they bring out their best in a crisis. This is not a collective or a societal problem, and it doesn’t do us much good to pretend that it is, that if somehow we just walked around with more “unity, love, and coexistence,” the problem of the next suicide bomber would be resolved.

I’m sure this hits home for Katy Perry; as she said in that interview, “Ari’s fans are my fans and my fans are Ari’s fans.” Yes, that’s precisely the point, in the eyes of the Islamists, you must be wiped out. Through no real fault of your own, you have filled them with murderous rage simply by existing and contradicting their twisted dark vision of how the world should be. This is what unites Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, Donald Trump, Elizabeth Warren, you, me — they hate all of us. None of us did anything to them, insulted them, provoked them, mistreated them, or “triggered” them. We have to dispel this idea that there’s some proper combination of words and actions that will stop them from wanting to attack us.

The only way they will not feel murderous rage towards us is if we completely submit to their worldview. That’s their idea of coexistence.

A couple folks online are focusing on the “no borders” aspect of Perry’s comments, and arguing that the Manchester attack demonstrates the danger of refugees or immigrants. The problem with this argument is that the bomber* was born in Manchester. His parents were Libyan refugees who fled the rule of Qaddafi.

Of course, there’s this troubling comment from his imam:

At the mosque, Mohammed Saeed El-Saeiti, the imam at the Didsbury mosque yesterday branded Abedi a dangerous extremist. “Salman showed me the face of hate after my speech on Isis,” said the imam. “He used to show me the face of hate and I could tell this person does not like me. It’s not a surprise to me.”

It’s great that the imam is preaching against ISIS. Of course, if it’s “not a surprise” that someone chose to become a suicide bomber…was there something else this imam could have done that could have prevented this?

Then again, maybe everybody was reporting this guy…

Abedi had traveled to Libya within the last 12 months, one of multiple countries he had visited, the official said. And while he had “clear ties to al Qaeda,” the official said, Abedi could have also had connections to other groups.

Members of his own family had even informed on him in the past, telling British authorities that he was dangerous, according to the intelligence official.

The U.S. official said Abedi’s bomb was “big and sophisticated,” using materials hard to obtain in Britain — meaning “it’s almost impossible to see he didn’t have help.”

* Because some suicide bombers, mass shooters, etc. want their names to be remembered after they die for their vicious acts, I generally refer to them as “the bomber” or “the shooter” in print — a small effort to ensure they are denied their ultimate goal. I leave the name in when it is mentioned in another report.

A Quick Point about the Economics of Journalism

On Twitter a few days ago, Sean Hannity was fighting with Kevin Williamson and went on some sort of tirade about how the National Review cruises were some sort of … luxury payout for our entitled tushes or evidence that we’re the true media elites or something. (I guess the idea is that we’re overpaid. For the record, Hannity made $29 million last year.)

Y’all know the cruises are part of how we keep National Review going, right? Our wonderful readers pay to go on the cruise, the cruise line gets a portion, the Cruise Authority which organizes the whole thing gets a portion, and NR gets a portion.

We’ve always been upfront about what keeps NR going; the generosity of readers like you. Ad sales are part of our revenue, subscriptions are part of the revenue, and so are the cruises… and then as we ask for help from readers. I know, it stinks. You hate when we ask, and we hate asking. But that is the reality of the opinion-journalism business.

That’s not the way it works for, say, a cable channel like Fox News Channel. Fox News makes money through advertising, yes, but it also collects, as of 2014, about a dollar per cable subscriber per month, regardless of whether that subscriber watches. You may love Sean Hannity, or you may hate Sean Hannity, but if you subscribe to cable, you pay the cable company, the cable company pays Fox News to carry its shows, and Fox News pays Hannity.

We don’t have that. That’s not how it works for a web site. Your Internet provider doesn’t give NR a cut of your monthly payment. We put out what I think is quality journalism, reporting, commentary, analysis, humor, debate, updated at all hours, weekdays and weekends… and it’s all pretty much free. Even a lot of the print-magazine pieces end up posted online for free eventually. If you felt like NR gave you a quarter’s worth of value every day, you would still pay $91.25 per year. (A full year’s subscription to the print magazine is $29.50 – that comes out to $1.23 per issue!)

So if you can help, we appreciate it. And thank you for reading.

ADDENDA: J. D. Mullane, columnist for the Burlington County Times, sounds like he’s read Heavy Lifting, and laments the endangered species “Maximus breadwinneris.”

Great news for naval aviators: Tom Cruise says that yes, a sequel to Top Gun is in the works.

Speaking of long-awaited returns, I started writing up “my best guess at what the heck is happening in the first two episodes of Showtime’s Twin Peaks and it’s running long, so part one will probably appear in tomorrow’s Jolt…

Unveiling the odd couple of protagonists for HBO’s True Detective, Season Three…

How Many Times Will We Gasp in Horror at Acts of Terror?

by Jim Geraghty

How Many Times Will We Gasp in Horror at Acts of Terror?

As a longtime reader wrote in this morning, “Jesus walks beside us, but the devil’s not far behind.” The latest from the deadly terror attack in Manchester:

Police and the security services believe they know the identity of the suicide bomber who killed 22 people — including children — in an explosion that tore through fans leaving an Ariana Grande pop concert in Manchester.

As the first arrest was made in connection with the attack, Prime Minister Theresa May disclosed that the authorities think they know who carried out the atrocity and confirmed they are working to establish if he was acting as part of a terror group.

Mrs. May said “many” children were among the dead and 59 injured in the bombing at the Manchester Arena on Monday night as thousands of young people streamed from the venue.

Her statement came moments before police disclosed that a 23-year-old man was arrested in South Manchester on Tuesday morning in connection with the bombing.

Moments before this e-mail newsletter was sent to the editors, an ISIS posted a message online claiming responsibility for the attack. Then again, these guys take credit for anything bad that happens.

The statement from the Queen:

The whole nation has been shocked by the death and injury in Manchester last night of so many people, adults and children, who had just been enjoying a concert.

I know I speak for everyone in expressing my deepest sympathy to all who have been affected by this dreadful event and especially to the families and friends of those who have died or were injured.

I want to thank all the members of the emergency services, who have responded with such professionalism and care.

The Department of Homeland Security doesn’t see any particular threat to Americans right now, but some venues may take additional precautions anyway.

U.S. citizens in the area should heed direction from local authorities and maintain security awareness. We encourage any affected U.S. citizens who need assistance to contact the U.S. Embassy in London and follow Department of State guidance.

At this time, we have no information to indicate a specific credible threat involving music venues in the United States. However, the public may experience increased security in and around public places and events as officials take additional precautions.

We stand ready to assist our friends and allies in the U.K. in all ways necessary as they investigate and recover from this incident.

Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this incident.

Yes, we know there is great evil in this world. It doesn’t need to keep proving itself to us, over and over again.

When something like this happens, people rush to social media. We’re told to be wary about initial reports; they’re often wrong or contradictory. But sometimes the caution goes a little further; expressing any thought beyond anything confirmed by authorities is seen as some sort of social wrong.

Last night someone upbraided me, “You don’t even know it was an attack yet!”

Look, when there’s a sudden explosion that occurs in a public place just at the moment that location is most crowded… yes, it could be a spectacularly ill-timed natural gas leak or some other accident. But the odds are against it. In the first moments of national television coverage of “explosions at the Boston Marathon,” I remember hearing this some television commentator wondering if it was a gas leak, and asking out loud to the screen, “just how likely do you think it is to have two gas leaks ignite 200 yards apart on the day of the marathon along the race route, near the finish line? Just how astronomical are the odds of that happening by chance?”

There’s no crime in applying past experience to current conditions. This explosion didn’t happen in a vacuum. It comes after the Madrid train bombing in 2004, the Beslan school attack that same year, London’s 7/7 bombings in 2005, the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the attack on Bataclan and other targets in 2015, the bombing of the airport in Brussels in March 2016, the truck attack in Nice in July 2016, the Christmas-market attack in Berlin in December, the Westminster Bridge attack in March, the subway bombing in St. Petersburg in April…

Sometimes the perpetrator surprises us. I was among those who initially figured the July 2011 bombing in Oslo, Norway had to be Islamists; it turned out to be a far-right maniac.

But when we hear those first reports about something awful happening to children at a concert, or some other public event that should be a place of joy… well, we know in our guts what probably caused it.

It Never Hurts to Listen to Your Lawyer

This is a wise decision by the president…

President Trump is moving rapidly toward assembling outside counsel to help him navigate the investigations into his campaign and Russian interference in last year’s election, and in recent days he and his advisers have privately courted several prominent attorneys to join the effort.

Of course, it all depends on the president’s willingness to take advice from his lawyers and let his lawyers defend him in both court and the court of public opinion, instead of winging it with stream-of-consciousness defenses in live interviews.

Those Strangely Reappearing ‘Former Official’ Sources…

Yes, this is a big scoop by the Washington Post, and it further reveals that Trump is wildly oblivious to even the concepts of propriety and what sorts of things his intelligence staffers can and cannot do:

Trump made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election.

Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate, according to two current and two former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private communications with the president.

But having said that…

Why do we keep seeing “former officials” mentioned as sources in these stories? Are they former Obama-administration officials?

Why are people who are currently outside of the U.S. government privy to these sorts of conversations?

ADDENDA: Americans for Prosperity unveils a new video further criticizing the idea of the “Border Adjustment Tax” and contends that the primary problem for American manufacturers is the high corporate tax, not an additional tax on imported goods, which will amount to higher prices for consumers.

A Sad Tale of a Chinese Counterintelligence Triumph

by Jim Geraghty

A Sad Tale of a Chinese Counterintelligence Triumph

At some point during the Trump administration, we’re going to hear about something going terribly wrong in the intelligence community. It’s just the way it is; this is exceptionally difficult work, going up against relentless and insidious enemies. The list of recent spy scandals is long and depressing: Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen, the Convicted Spy Formerly Known As Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden… This isn’t even mentioning the Office of Personnel Management hack or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mails…

We have embarrassing and frustrating setbacks in our intelligence work under both Republican and Democratic administrations. There is no policy that can eliminate the motives of spies, turncoats, and traitors, usually summarized as money, ideology, coercion, and ego.

We had another huge setback to our intelligence efforts during the Obama years that we are only learning about now.

The Chinese government systematically dismantled CIA spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward.

Current and former American officials described the intelligence breach as one of the worst in decades. It set off a scramble in Washington’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies to contain the fallout, but investigators were bitterly divided over the cause. Some were convinced that a mole within the C.I.A. had betrayed the United States. Others believed that the Chinese had hacked the covert system the C.I.A. used to communicate with its foreign sources. Years later, that debate remains unresolved.

But there was no disagreement about the damage. From the final weeks of 2010 through the end of 2012, according to former American officials, the Chinese killed at least a dozen of the C.I.A.’s sources. According to three of the officials, one was shot in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building — a message to others who might have been working for the C.I.A.

The New York Times quotes “ten current and former American officials [who] described the investigation on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing the information.”

Someone might be grumbling, “Argh, if this so secret, why is it being leaked to the Times?”

Dwight Eisenhower once offered the counterintuitive advice, “if you can’t solve a problem, enlarge it.” The effort to determine how China found America’s spies was a private problem; now it’s a public problem. Making a secret problem public is one way to make that problem a higher priority; secret problems are easier to ignore. Also, if there’s a mole within the agency reporting to China — which is only one of several theories offered in the article — it’s probably best that everyone involved know there’s a mole. The paranoia and reluctance to share information about assets might save someone’s life.

There’s marginal good news. “By 2013, the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. concluded that China’s success in identifying C.I.A. agents had been blunted — it is not clear how — but the damage had been done.” Of course, if America’s spy agencies don’t know how the information leaked the first time, there’s no guarantee it won’t be leaked a second time.

Trust Us, It’s Just a Mysterious Glowing Orb, Nothing to Worry About!

In case you were wondering what that glowing sphere that Trump and the Saudi king were putting their hands on… it’s a symbolic “on switch” for the Saudi Kingdom’s center for battling online extremism online.

Trump and a number of Muslim leaders visited the new Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, the heart of which is a giant wall, filled with screens displaying real-time online extremist activity.

More than two hundred data analysts also worked on their individual computer screens.

Trump and the King each placed their hands on a miniature globe that officially activated the center and launched a splashy welcome video.

The center counters and prevents the spread of extremist ideology by promoting moderation, compassion and supporting the dissemination of positive dialogue.

Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said that Saudi Arabia wants to send a message to the West that the Muslim world is “not an enemy,” adding the Riyadh comes second after the United States in the fight against Daesh.

He said both the US and the Kingdom agree on eliminating terror groups such as Daesh.

“We are the second army after the US military in the international coalition against terrorism. The efforts will be an effective partnership between the Islamic world and the West in general to combat terrorism,” he said.

The center is established as a result of the international cooperation in facing the extreme ideology leading to terrorism, the world’s first common enemy.

Still no word on whether the orb that powers the center is fueled by one of the six Infinity Stones.

The Value of Criticizing Trump

Last Friday I wrote a bit about why I’m doubtful we’ll see some piece of “smoking gun” evidence that Trump colluded with Russia during the campaign. The best investigators in the business have been looking at this for months, and in a government where everything juicy leaks quickly, we haven’t heard about anything, nor has anyone on Capitol Hill. We never know what tomorrow holds, but it’s probably unwise for any political observer to just assume that one day in the coming year or so, the FBI will unveil an ironclad case that leads to impeachment. Is it possible that the bureau found incriminating evidence and is just holding it close to its collective vest until the right time? Theoretically, yes. But it’s more likely that they haven’t found it yet, and it’s also possible they won’t find it because there’s no such evidence to be found.

The White House communications office seemed to find that argument compelling enough to send it around midday Friday. For all the Trump fans who grumble that I’m too critical of the president… this is why a fair-minded political observer should call ‘em as he sees them, praise the president when he thinks he’s right, and criticize the president when he thinks he’s wrong.

If I were a relentless cheerleader for the president like… huh, go figure, Sean Hannity has been critical of Trump twice… if, say, Jim Hoft makes the point I did, no one particularly cares. No one cares if a diehard Trump fan says “Hey, no one’s found evidence of collusion yet.”

If Charles Blow of the New York Times is critical of Trump, as he was in 42 of his past 43 columns, according to Neontaster — no one turns their head at that, either. No one is surprised when a Trump administration official claims all the leaks to the press lately endanger national security. It is surprising, and compelling, when former CIA director John Brennan makes the same argument, as he did Friday.

From where I sit, my criticism of Trump makes my praise more valid, and my praise makes my criticism more valid. If you want someone to be a relentless cheerleader, go ahead and look elsewhere, but remember that relentless cheerleaders don’t actually change anybody’s mind. They get tuned out. Everyone knows what their assessment and argument is before the discussion even begins.

ADDENDA: Wow. Last night’s premiere of Twin Peaks was… intense. If after last night’s “glass box” scene, any of you ran screaming from the room swearing to never listen to my assessment of television shows again, I’ll understand. Later in the week, I’ll write up a more detailed assessment, but for now, I’ll just say I’m finding it fascinating, alluring, very dark, very violent, the same wildly divergent tones… as usual, I think I understand what’s going on but know that at any moment, the next scene could declare, “no, you don’t!”

When Does All That Evidence of Collusion Arrive?

by Jim Geraghty

I’ve been rough on President Trump all week, so this morning… the respite.

When Does All That Evidence of Collusion Arrive?

Thursday, White House communications officials were eager to spotlight these comments from legislators, admitting or confirming, that they had, so far, seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Sam Stein, Huffington Post: “But just to be clear, there has been no actual evidence yet.”

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D-CA): “No, it has not been.”

Keep in mind, this is “Mad Maxine” Waters, who begins that interview by contending, “Lock her up, lock her up, all of that, I think that was developed strategically with people from the Kremlin, with Putin.” Right, right, there’s no way the Trump campaign could have possibly thought of that rallying cry on their own. That’s gotta be the work of Russian intelligence right there — you’ve cracked the case, Congresswoman!

Then there’s a Republican senator who hasn’t been a consistent Trump ally with the same assessment.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina: “There is no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians as of this date. I do not believe the president himself is a target or subject of any criminal investigation as of right now. So that’s what I know right now, and where this goes, I don’t know. Follow the facts where they lead.”

Perhaps the most significant comes from Senator Dianne Feinstein of California:

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: “The last time we spoke, Senator, I asked you if you had actually seen evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, and you said to me — and I’m quoting you now — you said, ‘not at this time.’ Has anything changed since we spoke last?”

SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): “Well, not—no, it hasn’t.”

 . . . 

BLITZER: “But I just want to be precise, Senator. In all of the—you’ve had access from the intelligence committee, from the Judiciary committee, all of the access you’ve had to very sensitive information, so far you’ve not seen any evidence of collusion, is that right?”

SEN. FEINSTEIN: “Well, evidence that would establish that there’s collusion. There are all kinds of rumors around. There are newspaper stories, but that’s not necessarily evidence.”

Feinstein is the most intriguing, because think about how easily she could have fudged her answer: “I’ve seen things that trouble me, Wolf” or “I’ve seen things that raise serious questions” or some other word salad that avoid the word “no.”

And then there was this Reuters article, reporting that Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and e-mails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race,

The people who described the contacts to Reuters said they had seen no evidence of wrongdoing or collusion between the campaign and Russia in the communications reviewed so far. But the disclosure could increase the pressure on Trump and his aides to provide the FBI and Congress with a full account of interactions with Russian officials and others with links to the Kremlin during and immediately after the 2016 election.

(The Reuters story cites “current and former U.S. officials” as sources. Every time we see the words “former U.S. official” we should keep in mind there’s a good chance the source would be more accurately characterized as a “former Obama-administration official.” This doesn’t mean that former official is automatically lying, just that they have a particular agenda for leaking this information, and one that is being effectively withheld from readers.)

Democrats are increasingly convinced that the seemingly endless storm of allegations around Trump will inevitably lead to his impeachment, and an impeachment that will come soon, not late in Trump’s first term. They’re convinced that evidence of Trump violating the law exists, and they’re convinced that the FBI or the investigating committees in Congress will find it.

Are any Democratic lawmakers starting to fear that they’re not going to find that evidence? The intelligence community is presumably always watching the Russian government as closely as they can. The FBI counterintelligence guys presumably track Russian agents on our soil as much as possible. You figure the NSA can track just about any electronic communication between Russians and figures in the Trump campaign.

If there was something sinister and illegal going on between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, the U.S. government as a whole had every incentive in the world to expose that as quickly as possible. They didn’t expose it before Election Day, they didn’t expose it before the Electoral College voted, they didn’t expose it before Inauguration Day… How many months have the best investigators in the United States been digging into this?

Imagine a scenario where the FBI and prosecutors eventually can prove some underling violated the law — obstruction of justice? Lying to investigators? — but not Trump. Will Democrats accept that?

Pity the FBI and intelligence community. They have to get to the bottom of this in a world where just under half of Capitol Hill, most of the media, almost all of academia, a good portion of the think-tank world and “intellectual class” etc., believe that the real mission of the investigation is to correct the “error” of the 2016 election.

If you talk to Democrats lately, they speak not as if the voters merely made a mistake, but that somehow history itself has gone wrong. They speak we’re living in an alternative timeline, experiencing events that “weren’t supposed” to happen. In their eyes, Hillary Clinton was obviously so much more appealing that Trump. She led in the polls! She had so many more campaign offices! She spent so much more money! She ran so many more ads! Surely, a result like this must be the result of someone cheating.

Because so many Democrats associate Trump with apocalyptic threats — global warming, the sudden establishment of a repressive theocracy like The Handmaid’s Tale, nuclear confrontation, race wars — they all see themselves as their own personal Kyle Reeses, on a mission to save the future.

With this desperate, all-or-nothing mindset, they will always insist that the evidence to take down Trump is waiting to be found, just around the next corner…

Whoa, Leakers, Take It Easy. You’re Starting to Embarrass the Obama Folks

Raise your hand if you expected John Brennan, who President Obama appointed to head the Central Intelligence Agency in 2013, to offer a qualified defense of Trump:

“What I have found appalling is the number of leaks that have taken place over the last several months,” former CIA Director John Brennan said at the SALT conference in Las Vegas, the annual gathering of hedge-fund managers and other financiers. “This needs to be stopped.” Brennan was CIA director during President Obama’s second term, stepping down in January, when Mike Pompeo replaced him.

Brennan said Trump made a “serious mistake” when he reportedly shared sensitive intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, in an Oval Office meeting in early May. But this mistake wasn’t sharing intelligence; it was violating the protocol for doing so. “I shared intelligence with the Russians when I was the director of the CIA,” Brennan said. “But you share that through intelligence channels, and you make sure you word it in such a way as to not reveal sources and methods. President Trump didn’t do that.”

Brennan said the press coverage of Trump’s impromptu intelligence reveal was “hyperbolic” and possibly more damaging than anything Trump revealed. “The damage that was done is what was leaked in the aftermath, what was put in the media. The real damage to national security is the leaks.” He suggested, without saying so explicitly, that news accounts revealed more sensitive information than Trump did.

“The real damage to national security is the leaks,” Brennan said. “These individuals who still stay within the government and are leaking this stuff to the press need to be brought to task.”

A Warm Welcome for Trump from… the Saudis?

The Wall Street Journal offers a fascinating look inside Saudi Arabian politics, and the forces behind next week’s big summit:

President Trump will receive an effusive welcome here from his royal hosts determined to underscore that once again Saudi Arabia and the U.S. are close allies. Barack Obama favored Iran, but that’s over. King Salman, 81, is gathering 50 Islamic leaders to meet Mr. Trump. This unprecedented assembly is intended to show not only that Saudi Arabia is the leader of the Islamic world but that Muslim leaders support the U.S. against Islamic State terrorists…

Mr. Trump’s presence is an opportunity for [Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman] to show off his modernization effort. An extravaganza featuring something for everyone — the Harlem Globetrotters taking on a Saudi basketball team, car races, country singer Toby Keith — is intended to convince Americans there is a new, open Saudi Arabia and Saudis that mixing cultures and sexes isn’t evil.

Just wait until President Trump learns that Islam opposes charging interest on loans.

ADDENDA: Our John J. Miller interviews Ben Sasse about his new book, The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance.

I hear a lot of people saying Sasse’s new book is easily the second-best book about fatherhood and raising children out there.

There’s a New Sheriff in Town

by Jim Geraghty

Before We Begin, a Quick Request…

I know. You hate it when we ask for money, and we hate asking for money. But National Review doesn’t have an Uncle Rupert or Buckley Corporation or some larger entity willing to step in when the advertising market for political magazines slow down. (That’s a joke, folks. That advertising market is always slow. Most big companies are terrified of advertising in a political magazine, lest the widget company be accused of taking sides.)

This spring, our vice president Jack Fowler is hoping our readers will contribute one one-thousandth of what George Soros gave to the groups that organized the anti-Trump march back in January. That one one-thousandth amounts to… $246,000. Pretty reasonable. We ask that if you’ve enjoyed us, consider kicking in a little. Thanks for your time.

There’s a New Sheriff in Town

Good choice by Rod Rosenstein. Former FBI director Robert Mueller is respected across the spectrum, a tough guy but not a witch hunter. Our Andy McCarthy concludes, “Mueller is not a Lawrence Walsh type. He will not want to make a career out of this. At the same time, if serious criminal wrongdoing is uncovered, he won’t turn a blind eye.”

This could be short-term pain, long-term gain for the Trump administration. Yes, the coming weeks and months will feature Trump aides being subpoenaed, possibly grand-jury testimony, and more breathless speculation in Washington than during the Lewinsky year.

But Mueller will do a thorough job, and if he comes to the end of his investigation and finds that Trump did not have any inappropriate or criminal contact with the Russian government in 2016, that should close the book on it. Yes, the conspiracy theorists in the Democratic party will shriek about a cover-up, the same way Diebold machines stole Ohio for Bush in 2004 and Gore really won Florida and George H.W. Bush secretly met with the Iranians in Paris to keep the hostages in Tehran until after Election Day. No election loss is ever fair or their fault.

Russia meddling in the election? Pretty much proven, although the phrase “Russia hacked the election” is a useful marker for someone intellectually dishonest, who wants to create the impression that Russian hackers altered the vote totals. The idea that some of Trump’s associates had some contact with Russian entities that violated U.S. laws? Unproven, but conceivable.

The idea that Trump himself had some quid pro quo deal with the Russian government during the campaign? Extremely implausible.

For all of Donald Trump’s flaws — and you know how shy and reticent I am about pointing them out — I simply can’t believe that Trump would knowingly sign on to a scheme to empower a foreign regime and harm the United States out of a loyalty to another country. (Even the president’s harshest critics have to acknowledge this theory requires Trump to have a loyalty to something besides himself.) Trump’s an epic narcissist, but a side effect is that he undoubtedly loves the United States of America because it’s his country. As French King Louis XIV said, “L’etat c’est moi” — “I am the state.” Trump sees America as great (or on its way to being great again) because he is great.

I also find it hard to believe that the Russians would trust Trump to stay quiet about any deals or offers, or that they would count on him staying bought. (Had they ever talked to a contractor Trump stiffed?) Even now, we’re seeing a Trump administration that is much more hawkish against Russia and Russian interests than anyone expected. Sanctions remain in place, Exxon Mobil was denied an exemption, and we bombed a Syrian airfield with Russian planes.

Get cracking, Mr. Mueller. The country needs clear answers, sooner rather than later.

Staffers Can’t Save the President from His Own Bad Decisions

Come on now, Trump fans. Imagine you’re an incoming president. You’ve got a guy who you like and trust who you would like to be your national-security adviser. But then he tells your transition team that he’s “under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign.”

Are you still interested in having him serve as your national-security adviser? Aren’t you a little irked that he was working as a paid lobbyist for a foreign entity during the campaign? Don’t you feel like he should have tried to avoid this kind of financial entanglement with a foreign entity? Don’t you feel like he should have told you this during the campaign?

Some of this blame for this mess can be put on Flynn; he should have had the good judgment to say, “Mr. President-elect, it’s an honor to be considered for the position, but I can’t be your national-security adviser at this time. I’m under investigation and would be a distraction or liability for your team.” Failing that, someone around the president needed to say, “Mr. president-elect, you cannot hire this man. He will always carry the stigma of a conflict of interest because he was paid $600,000 over 90 days to promote the viewpoint of the Turkish government. The perception is already that the Turks bought influence on the campaign; bringing Flynn in as an official adviser makes it look like the Turks bought influence in your administration.”

Finally, looking at Trump the way his fans do… isn’t this the sort of problem that a streetwise, shrewd businessman would see coming a mile away and avoid?

The Menace Beyond and the Menace Within

SPOILERS AHEAD BUT YOU HAVE HAD 26 YEARS, SO COME ON, MAN

Kevin, a listener of the pop culture podcast, finally caught up on watching the original run of Twin Peaks, and marveled that in retrospect, he had missed “an obvious clue, so early.”

It says something about the show that I thought of a different moment than he did. In the opening minutes of the pilot, Sarah Palmer discovers her teenage daughter Laura isn’t oversleeping in her bedroom like she thought and grows increasingly frantic as she can’t find her.

Kevin noted that when her husband Leland Palmer sees Sheriff Truman approach him at his work, moments after his wife has called in a panic, he instantly knows that the worst has happened. “My daughter is dead,” he declares, before the sheriff has said anything specific.

Most viewers would think he’s surmised this from the combination of his daughter’s unexplained disappearance and Truman’s grim look, but… once we know Leland killed her, his instant knowledge of her fate takes on a new light.

The clue I was thinking of arrived a few episodes later, at Laura Palmer’s disastrous funeral. It’s bad enough that Laura’s boyfriend, Bobby Briggs, flipped out and accused everyone in town of being callous hypocrites, ignoring the signs that Laura was bedeviled by something serious. “Everybody knew she was in trouble, but we didn’t do anything. All you good people! You want to know who killed Laura? You did! We all did!”

But then Leland, seemingly overcome with grief, leaped upon her casket, crying and screaming. Sarah got down on her knees and begged, through gritted teeth, “Don’t… ruin… this… too!”

Too? What else did Leland ruin? What makes Sarah Palmer think of her husband, consciously or subconsciously, as a man who ruins things?

Super-fans of the television show are deeply divided on the 1992 Twin Peaks film, Fire Walk With Me. Probably one of the best ways of viewing it is Lynch’s attempt to set right the issue of moral agency in the depiction of the show’s villain. The confession and death of Leland Palmer in episode 16 can easily be interpreted as an exoneration of Leland. He didn’t commit those terrible crimes; the demon BOB within him did.

Except… if you’re going to tell a story about a crime as awful as a parent’s abuse and murder of a child, it’s a moral cop-out to suggest “the devil made him do it.” In Episode 17, perhaps the single most tone-deaf and odd episode of the series, the entire town has gathered for Leland’s wake — no one’s staying home to protest his crimes? — and our hero, FBI agent Dale Cooper, tells Sarah, “Leland did not do these things, not the Leland that you knew.” Except he did.

(This blog post does a hilarious job of showcasing how most characters simply ignore the ramifications of what they must have learned after the preceding episode.)

For all of its other flaws and challenges to the viewer, Fire Walk With Me portrays a more symbiotic relationship between Leland Palmer and BOB; one could even wonder if BOB’s only really consequential form of existence is as Leland’s excuse. Todd VanDerWerff wrote:

The interesting thing about Twin Peaks is that you can sort of have it both ways. You can pretend this is a show with an offhand Americana mythology and that Bob is a demon who possessed a normal family man and turned him into a monster. Or you can follow the show’s notions of duality to the logical conclusion and realize that all of us possess the ability to turn into that monster, to give way to the awful impulses we keep at bay, because we know the consequences of letting them out. The reason Wise is so perfect for this role is because you all at once understand how he could be terrified by a demon that possessed him and how he could use that as a convenient excuse to do the monstrous things he does. Or, to use a much more mundane demon familiar to all of us, getting drunk makes it easier to be an [jerk], but the person who makes the choice to push others away is always you, no matter how much you’ve had.

Which, of course, makes the show’s final image, of Agent Cooper looking in the mirror and seeing BOB looking back at him, all the more haunting. Yes, BOB is a supernatural evil, but he’s also the snake in the Garden of Eden, the persuasive voice of Iago whispering in our ear, the invitation to give up on trying to do the right thing and be the worst version of ourselves. He’s the doubt that there are significant moral consequences to our actions, and the argument that in a world guaranteed to contain pain and suffering, it’s better to inflict that than to suffer that.

Sure, BOB is terrifying, but is he any scarier than the fleeting thought that someday we might not be the good person we want to be?

ADDENDA: Late breaking horrible news, as I prepare to hit “send” on this newsletter: Roger Ailes has passed away. Whatever his flaws, his loved ones are in pain now. May he RIP.

Never Ask if It Can Get Worse, Because It Always Can

by Jim Geraghty

Never Ask if It Can Get Worse, Because It Always Can

I can’t put it any better than David French does:

If [FBI director James Comey’s] memo exists, then there is compelling evidence that the president committed a potentially impeachable offense. Here is the alleged chain of events: First, Trump asked Comey to drop an investigation of a close former associate and a former senior official in his administration. Second, Comey refused. Third, weeks later Trump fired Comey. Fourth, Trump then misled the American people regarding the reason for the dismissal. Each prong is important, but it’s worth noting that the fourth prong — Trump’s deception regarding the reason for Comey’s termination — is particularly problematic in context. Deception is classic evidence of malign intent.

There is no good outcome here. Either there is now compelling evidence that the president committed a serious abuse of power, or the nation’s leading press outlets are dupes for a vindictive, misleading story. Either outcome violates the public trust in vital American institutions. Either outcome results in a degree of political chaos. If the memo is real and as damaging as the Times claims, the chaos is likely greater, but don’t underestimate the cultural and political damage if our nation’s most prestigious press outlets run a story of this magnitude based on a malicious fiction. It’s time for facts and documents, not anonymity and allegations. It’s time for the truth.

I’ll leave the door open a crack to the possibility that Trump is indeed the victim of a group of unidentified “U.S. officials” making up stories about him and feeding those fictitious allegations to a hostile press.

If there are tapes of conversations in the White House, those tapes could clear up two recent controversies immediately. Maybe Trump really didn’t say anything sensitive, secret, or inappropriate in his Oval Office conversation with Russian officials. If I see an unedited, verified recording or transcript of that conversation, and it refutes the story from the Washington Post and those other news organizations, I’ll say mea culpa. Yesterday I walked through the reasons that the Post account sounds plausible.

Similarly, maybe Comey is mischaracterizing his conversations with President Trump. Maybe Trump never asked for something inappropriate, like, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

But if there isn’t a taping system in the White House… Trump should stop sending out tweets suggesting there is one. We had the odd situation a few days ago of White House press secretary Sean Spicer repeatedly insisting Trump had been “clear” in his tweet about tapes of the Trump–Comey conversations… but that tweet wasn’t clear at all, and Spicer refused to confirm or deny that there was a taping system in the White House.

It’s a yes or no question. Are there tapes of these conversations or not?

If those tapes exist, and they support Trump’s account of events and not the account of anonymous sources and Comey… it means Trump has exculpatory evidence and is choosing to not release it and expose his accusers as liars and publicly humiliate them. How often do people choose to withhold evidence that clears them of accusations?

This doesn’t have to remain a mystery. Charlie Cooke is right; Congress should subpoena Comey’s memos immediately. Subpeona any tapes of conversations with Comey, as Lindsey Graham suggested, too. Let’s get to the bottom of this.

Beyond that, I suspect many Republicans find this exhausting. We keep seeing Day One errors well past Day One Hundred. John Podhoretz asks the tough but fair questions about why Trump keeps shooting himself in the foot:

Let’s just say Trump was talking casually about a guy he thought was a good fellow whom he was compelled to fire but whom he still liked and didn’t want to see hurt. That would be nice, right? It would also be a sign that Trump is a fool.

What, did Trump think Comey just fell off a turnip truck and wouldn’t be taking notes on what Trump said to him? Did he think Comey had climbed to the top of the greasy pole without possessing the classic survival skills of a successful bureaucrat?

And, having had this conversation with Comey, what on earth would then lead Trump to fire the man with whom he had had such a stupidly casual conversation about a sensitive investigation?

Isn’t this the sort of thing about people that a seen-it-all dealmaker is supposed to know better than the ordinary politicians who make such terrible deals we Americans felt compelled to bring in a famous businessman to fix what’s broken?

The White House staff could probably do a better job, but at the heart of the problem is Trump’s judgment. Notice this detail in the Times story:

Trump told those present — including Mr. Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — to leave the room except for Mr. Comey.

Boy, that doesn’t look bad, does it? Let’s remove anyone Trump trusts from the room who could verify his side of the story so he can discuss an extremely sensitive topic with a law enforcement official who is investigating his administration. What could go wrong, huh?

If Trump wanted to make the firing of Comey as uncontroversial as possible, he needed to point to a slew of specific reasons for the decision besides the Russia investigation. Comey botched part of his testimony before Congress a few weeks ago. Paying professional hackers $900,000 to hack into the phone of the San Bernardino killers certainly seems like a controversial decision. Omar Mateen was on the FBI watch list, but still managed to perpetrate the Orlando attack. So was one of the Boston Marathon bombers. There’s a case to be made that the FBI and the country would be well served by a clean slate and a fresh start. . . . but that’s a case that President Trump has no interest in making.

Charlie envisioned how a less impulsive president would handle an issue like this:

 . . . he would have spoken early and often to the leaders of both parties, and taken care to ensure that the meetings were recorded. In addition, he would have consulted some well-respected figures — people with solid reputations and roles outside the fray — who could subsequently vouch for his authenticity. When it came to doing the deed, he would have explained his thinking to Comey and thereby ensured that he knew it was coming. And perhaps, given the likelihood of uproar, he would have made a speech or given a televised address in which he justified his move to the public. “I understand that this is unorthodox,” he might have said, “but this question of James Comey continues to hang over the country, and I think it’s time to move on.” And then, having made his apology, he would have announced a bipartisan panel charged with picking the replacement.

Instead, Sean Spicer is thrown out there in front of the cameras with an hour’s warning and no real information about why Trump made the decision.

Apparently Steve Bannon was among the Trump advisors who wanted the president to hold off on firing Comey. When Bannon is calling for prudence and deliberation, you should probably slow down.

Again, what’s the White House staff supposed to do in this situation? Just how well can they serve the president when the president himself keeps making these decisions like this?

Notice how often lately Republicans are asked to step in and defend Trump not because of the policies he wants to enact, not because of his legislative agenda or his vision for the country, but for his own impulsive decision-making.

Meanwhile, Out in the Rest of America…

Dave Wiegel asks a fair question: When does all of this GOP chaos and Democratic energy actually translate into election wins?

Georgia’s June 20 runoff election will wrap up a quartet of special elections for Republican-held seats this year, in which the roiling Democratic base has stocked millions of dollars and giddily high hopes. But after a single-digit loss in Kansas, and after Ossoff’s 48 percent showing led to a runoff in Georgia, Democrats are under new pressure to post a win.

All of the openings result from Republican lawmakers being tapped for positions in the Trump administration. In Georgia, Ossoff and Handel are vying for the former seat of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

 . . . But the May 25 race for Montana’s sole House seat has excited liberals, too, with first-time candidate Rob Quist, a country singer, pulling in $3.3 million for a contested race that Republicans did not expect. In South Carolina, another June 20 election will pit Democrat Archie Parnell against a Republican state legislator who had to slug through an expensive and bitter primary fight.

ADDENDA: Jazz Shaw isn’t as nice to those contemplating leaving America as I am.

For Anyone but the President’s Eyes Only

by Jim Geraghty

For Anyone but the President’s Eyes Only

You can support this president; you can even love him. But you can’t trust him.

What are we to make of last night’s Washington Post story, reporting that President Trump told Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and ambassador Sergey Kislyak highly classified information, including a city in the Islamic State’s territory where a U.S. intelligence partner detected a terrorist threat involving laptops?

Let’s go through the possibilities. A lot of Trump fans will insist this is all “fake news,” that the story is made up out of whole cloth, and that none of these “U.S. official” sources exist. If so, it’s a remarkable conspiracy, as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Reuters, CNN, and BuzzFeed all claim to have “U.S. officials” telling them the same thing.

Perhaps multiple U.S. officials are making up this story and calling up multiple reporters, telling them the same false tale. Again, this is a possibility, except we would assume that one or more reporters at those institutions would do some basic due diligence. Would this source be in a position to know? If the source is Irving Schmidlap, who works as a dishwasher at the White House Mess, would the reporters be more skeptical than if it was someone on the National Security Council?

Then there’s this detail:

After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency….

Thomas P. Bossert, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, placed calls to the directors of the CIA and the NSA, the services most directly involved in the intelligence-sharing arrangement with the partner.

If this is all a made-up story to damage Trump, then some senior White House officials are really going the extra mile, making calls to U.S. intelligence agencies to perpetuate the hoax.

Wait, there’s more! “The Post is withholding most plot details, including the name of the city, at the urging of officials who warned that revealing them would jeopardize important intelligence capabilities.” If this is all a made-up story, why would U.S. officials urge the Post to withhold the name of the city?

Wait, there’s even more! This morning a phone call between President Trump and Jordan’s king Abdullah was added to the president’s schedule. Jordan’s got a heck of an intelligence service, and they’re a usually reliable U.S. ally. The Islamic State’s territory is just north of their country. How likely is it that this phone call is aimed to reassure that unidentified “U.S. ally” in the story?

Take a look at this detail:

“I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” the president said, according to an official with knowledge of the exchange.

Does that sound… farfetched? Is anyone jumping up and saying, “Oh, come now, that doesn’t sound anything like the Donald Trump I know?” Doesn’t boasting about the quality of the intelligence he receives sound exactly like the sort of thing Trump would do?

A lot of Trump fans are pointing to National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster’s statement, “At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.” But as you’ve no doubt heard argued since the story broke, the disclosure wasn’t really about “sources and methods.” The damaging disclosure was about that city, the location of the source — presumably a double agent or an ISIS turncoat – reporting to one of our allies. As the articles report, our ally didn’t give us permission to spread that information around, and this country was apparently already wary about sharing information with us. If this story is accurate, a few minutes of improvised boasting in the Oval Office just did serious damage to a relationship with a useful intelligence ally.

Keep in mind, last week Vice President Mike Pence, White House press secretary Sean Spicer, and the rest went out before the cameras and insisted that Ron Rosenstein’s memo was the driving force to fire FBI director James Comey… and then Trump told Lester Holt he was going to fire Comey “regardless of the recommendation.” Just last week, Trump declared on Twitter, “As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!” The president will insist his surrogates can’t be expected to get everything right, and then a few days later, insist that you trust denials from his surrogates. You can’t have it both ways.

This morning, President Trump offered two tweets on the subject: “As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining…. …to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

Again, no one who understands the law can dispute Trump’s “right to do” this; the question is the judgment and value in doing so. And missing from Trump’s comment are the words, “I did not share any location of any source or any other sensitive intelligence from our allies.”

Brian Wilson, who’s kind enough to have me co-host on WMAL some mornings, concludes the consequences of the leak must be moot by now: “I’m guessing bomb making info was tightly held info within ISIS. Any suspected snitch within its ranks has already been dealt with.”

Meanwhile, a Vice contributor screams, “an allied informant is likely being tortured to death as we speak, thanks ONLY to Trump’s big mouth.”

We don’t know if either of those scenarios are true. (There’s a good chance we will never know.) There were media reports quoting “U.S. officials” expressing concerns about ISIS and al-Qaeda testing laptop bombs for use on airplanes at the end of March. Maybe those reports spurred ISIS to start an intense search for a mole in their ranks, maybe they didn’t. (You would presume ISIS is always looking to sniff out moles in their ranks.) ISIS controls about 23,000 square miles, as of the end of 2016 — plenty of cities, towns, and villages. It’s just asinine to tell anyone who doesn’t need to know which city is home to an ISIS mole or double agent.

The bottom line is that there is absolutely no benefit to the United States to be sharing this kind of information with the Russian government — and if it alienates a friendly government helping us fight ISIS, then it is extraordinarily damaging.

It does not help that so many Democrats insist that every administration misstep is justification for impeachment, the Twitter hashtag “#Lockhimup” (the President has absolute authority to declassify information, so no law was broken) or the insane everyone’s-a-Russian-agent conspiracy theories of the Louise Mensches of the world. But the insanity of lefties doesn’t get this White House off the hook. Unless the entire story is made up out of whole cloth, Donald Trump still doesn’t understand his responsibilities.

Contemplating Rick Scott’s Next Move

I recently had a chance to chat with Florida governor Rick Scott, and got the feeling that whether or not he decides to challenge Senator Bill Nelson next year, he doesn’t think much of Nelson as a senator.

Scott says he hasn’t decided on a Senate bid, and isn’t in any particular rush to make a decision. But a few weeks ago at the National Rifle Association’s convention in Atlanta, Scott addressed the attendees and offered a surprisingly explicit argument for replacing Nelson.

“I believe it’s crucial that we increase the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate,” Scott told the NRA crowd, after praising Trump’s decision to nominate Neil Gorsuch. “Look at the votes on this Supreme Court nominee, and you can see there are a number of senators who did not represent their states. These senators need to be retired. Unfortunately, one of my state’s senators, Bill Nelson, has veered far to the left.”

Asked about why he called out Nelson before a politically active crowd, Scott insists he wasn’t hinting at a 2018 Senate bid. “You look at Neil Gorsuch, how could you vote against the guy?” Scott said during a recent visit to Washington. “[Nelson’s] the senator from Florida, and that’s why it was relevant to talk about him.”

It’s clear Scott feels no particular warmth toward Nelson, as he explains why he doesn’t talk to his state’s senior senator. “What you learn in this job, I’ll give you a story. My hometown is in Collier County. I know who to call in Collier County to get things done.” The governor is too careful and even-keeled a politician to really come out and say it explicitly; his version of a smack down is a pause so pregnant it might as well be having triplets. But the implication is clear: Scott doesn’t talk to Senator Nelson because he doesn’t think his state’s Democratic senator is a guy who can get things done. With a little twist of the knife, Scott says, “I talk to Marco [Rubio] quite a bit.”

ADDENDA: Hillary’s back at it again, raising money for her new political action committee, “Onward Together.” If she jumps in the presidential race again, I suspect Trump will form his own:

How Do You Keep False Information Away from the President?

by Jim Geraghty

How Do You Keep False Information Away from the President?

At the climax of the movie version of The Sum of All Fears, Jack Ryan has learned that Baltimore was just nuked by a weapon stolen from the Israelis, and not by the Russians. At a check point in the Pentagon, Ryan desperately pleads with a general to let him past a check point, needing to stop the escalating tensions between the U.S. and Russia, who are inching closer to a full-scale nuclear exchange: “General, the president is basing his decisions on some really bad information right now. And if you shut me out, your family, and my family, and 25 million other families will be dead in 30 minutes!”

I thought of that when I read this in Politico this morning:

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus issued a stern warning at a recent senior staff meeting: Quit trying to secretly slip stuff to President Trump.

Just days earlier, K.T. McFarland, the deputy national security adviser, had given Trump a printout of two Time magazine covers. One, supposedly from the 1970s, warned of a coming ice age; the other, from 2008, about surviving global warming, according to four White House officials familiar with the matter.

Trump quickly got lathered up about the media’s hypocrisy. But there was a problem. The 1970s cover was fake, part of an Internet hoax that’s circulated for years. Staff chased down the truth and intervened before Trump tweeted or talked publicly about it.

What’s really egregious about this hoax is that it’s completely unnecessary. No, there was no Time magazine cover about a coming ice age. But the other newsweekly ran an article with the same general theme:

On April 28, 1975, Newsweek published a provocative article, “The Cooling World,” in which writer and science editor Peter Gwynne described a significant chilling of the world’s climate, with evidence accumulating “so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it.”

Right now, the president may be “basing his decisions on some really bad information.” Of course, we should recognize that even the world’s finest intelligence agencies can be fooled by elaborate efforts to sell a lie — i.e., when Saddam Hussein’s foreign minister is secretly recruited by Western intelligence, and he believes his country has an extensive program to develop weapons of mass destruction, our spies will believe him. But at least the intelligence agencies have their own methods for attempting to sort out truth from misinformation.

Even if you’re a fan of K. T. McFarland, keep in mind this informal system of giving President Trump unverified information can be used by the advisers you don’t like:

Priebus and White House staff secretary Rob Porter have tried to implement a system to manage and document the paperwork Trump receives. While some see the new structure as a power play by a weakened chief of staff — “He’d like to get a phone log too,” cracked one senior White House adviser — others are more concerned about the unfettered ability of Trump’s family-member advisers, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, to ply the president with whatever paperwork they want in the residence sight unseen.

“They have this system in place to get things on his desk now,” the same White House official said. “I’m not sure anyone follows it.”

What are Americans supposed to do when Trump’s inner circle is feeding him Internet hoaxes?

The Perpetual Threat (or Promise) to Emigrate over Politics

In the New York Times, Lee Siegel contemplates moving permanently to Norway, giving up on America.

This is where I’m supposed to chuckle and say, “don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya,” but honestly… maybe liberals really would be happier if they moved to Europe.

This time around, though, I’m thinking of living again in Scandinavia more seriously than I ever have before. Something fundamental has changed in America, for the worse.

It’s not just Donald Trump’s volatility, or the unfitness of his cabinet appointees, or his possible collusion with Russia, or the certain prospect that everything from health care to quality education will soon be inaccessible to great numbers of Americans.

Notice the instant revisionism of the Obama years as a golden era of prosperity and good feelings. If health care and quality education were accessible to great numbers of Americans, do you think the American people would have elected Trump?

This argument is pretty fascinating: “There is no impassioned, continuous, organized opposition to the present political establishment… The Democrats are powerless, often more eager to fight one another for ascendance in their party than to fight a threat to the Republic.”

“The Resistance,” Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March on Washington, the judicial setbacks for the administration, the Trump administration’s difficulty in getting big legislation through Congress… Siegel finds it all pretty meaningless.

He decides against moving to Norway. That might be for the best, if you look at the news out of Norway recently. The government is running classes for immigrants, telling them that rape is against the law:

Mr. Kelifa, 33, attended the education program at an asylum center in this town near the western Norwegian city of Stavanger. Like similar courses now underway in the village of Lunde and elsewhere in Norway, it was voluntary and was organized around weekly group discussions of rape and other violence.

The goal is that participants will “at least know the difference between right and wrong,” said Nina Machibya, the Sandnes center’s manager.

A course manual sets out a simple rule that all asylum seekers need to learn and follow: “To force someone into sex is not permitted in Norway, even when you are married to that person.”

The country’s Islamic Council has a new spokeswoman who wears the full niqab.

A major party just voted to take the position of banning circumcision, but say they don’t want it to become law.

Every place has its problems, pal. You’ve just got to choose which problems you can live with.

I also can’t help but notice he’s eager to move to an ethnically homogenous oil-exporting nation with a national church.

This Guy Has His Standards

Our David French offers the long, detailed, well-thought-out argument against that long New York Times feature article about open marriages that seemed to not-so-subtly cheerlead for the concept.

I’ll just focus on this quote from Kevin Patterson from the article: “I don’t have many jealousy triggers. But I don’t like it when someone my wife is seeing takes the parking spot in front of my house.”

Really, pal? That’s where you draw the line? That’s where you feel insufficiently respected?

ADDENDA: A limited number of copies of The Fall of the Berlin Wall, a rare out-of-print William F. Buckley book, is now for sale from National Review directly…

Last night, Showtime aired the final episode of Twin Peaks again; this coming Sunday, mere 9,477 days after that episode aired on ABC, the story continues. I’m going to write a lot about Twin Peaks the coming months, so… might as well get used to it.

President Trump’s Worst Enemy Is… Himself

by Jim Geraghty

President Trump’s Worst Enemy Is… Himself

A Morning Jolt reader writes in, contending I’ve been too hard on President Trump lately. Your mileage may vary, but this week — and the days, weeks, or possibly months ahead that will be consumed with debate about the president’s decision to fire FBI director James Comey and the search for a replacement — appears to be a giant self-inflicted wound with little to no upside.

I get it, if you voted for Trump, there’s an enormous sunken-costs theory; you want him to make the right call on any given day. When I think Trump is doing something important and not getting enough credit, I say so. When I think his appointees are getting inaccurately and unfairly criticized, I say so. I’ve assembled long lists of the good news and bad news.

But in the 24 hours after Comey’s firing, various administration spokesmen and surrogates put forth five arguments for the decision:

  • The decision was primarily driven by the recommendation Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
  • The president only reached the decision to fire Comey after Rosenstein’s review.
  • The decision was a response to the way Comey handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.
  • Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said “countless” FBI personnel were complaining about Comey’s leadership.
  • In a bit of almost comical hyperbole, Sanders said Comey had committed “basic atrocities in circumventing the chain of command in the Department of Justice.” Atrocities?

And then Thursday, Trump went out and declared to Lester Holt, “Regardless of the recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. When I decided to do it, this Russia thing, with Trump and Russia is an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election they should have won.” (This makes little sense, because Trump specifically asked Comey to stay on as director in January.) In other words, Trump went out and basically demonstrated that his own staff had no idea how or why he actually made the decision. He undermined his own team.

Rosenstein is reportedly insisting that he was not the driving force behind Comey’s dismissal and points out that he never expressly recommended that Comey be fired.

For what it’s worth, Andrew McCabe, the acting director of the FBI and Comey’s former deputy, insisted in testimony Thursday that “the majority, the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep, positive connection to Director Comey.” Recently retired FBI officials, who can speak freely, concur. If you know someone in the FBI, see if they changed their Facebook profile picture to one of Comey.

Look, while FBI personnel surely hold all kinds of personal political views, they are, by and large, law-and-order types for obvious reasons. Being “tough on crime” is their job. They’re probably skeptical of claims that their organization unfairly profiles Americans, and generally don’t think they abuse their surveillance powers. They undoubtedly have a clear-eyed first-hand view about the potential threats of terrorism, gangs, human trafficking and people smugglers, the drug trade and cartels, organized crime, and other menaces in American life. In other words, the bureau is full of people who are, at the very least, probably inclined to give President Trump the benefit of the doubt in his general outlook towards the world, if not outright support him.

And Trump managed to alienate plenty of them this week by firing a respected director without any warning.

And Now, a Bit of Washington-Bashing

One of the topics we debate in the pop culture podcast this week is whether Washington D.C. is merely now the nation’s most cursed sports town, or just the overall worst.

When evaluating a city’s sports passion and fortunes, we should probably grade on a curve. Good-weather cities like Miami, San Diego and Los Angeles have a tough time keeping fan passions stirred when the beach or other outdoor fun is a constant competition for the leisure time of the locals. Atlanta Falcons fans just suffered one of the most heartbreaking losses in NFL history, but they still got to see their team get to a Super Bowl. (Besides, college sports are an undercounted factor; the Georgia Bulldogs and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets usually give Atlantans something to cheer about.)

The New York Times looks at the Capitals hockey team and the Nationals baseball team and draws the conclusion that the nation’s capital is now the “Saddest Sports Town.” (They reserve judgment on the Wizards, and don’t bother to mention the perpetually controversy-mired, underachieving Redskins.)

This feeling of doom, that the home team will always do something to mess up a good season, is not unique to Washington, of course. Boston overcame it. Chicago did, too. But it seems to be spreading in this city, with baseball’s Washington Nationals seemingly borrowing from the Capitals’ story line, turning excellent regular seasons into playoff fiascoes.

It’s hard to overstate just how obsessive and manic-depressive the local news — television, radio, and print — is when covering the local sports teams. (“We’re just getting breaking news about a chemical weapons attack in downtown Washington, we’ll have more on that in a second, but first, let’s take you out to Redskins Park for an update on how Kirk Cousins’s ankle feels…”) Obsessive coverage of overrated sports teams is hardly unique to Washington, but maybe it’s a little more irritating than usual considering the city and region’s other flaws.

Those of you who live in Washington and love it may want to skip ahead. For those of you who don’t live in or near the nation’s capital and want to feel good about it, a short list about aspects of local life that are getting on my nerves…

  • Traffic is horrendous and getting worse. Twice in the past three weeks I’ve had to make trip that would ordinarily take, say, twenty to thirty minutes with no traffic. In both cases, I left ninety minutes early and still arrived late for my appointment. It seems like one accident is all it takes to snarl everything on every major artery in and out of the city. Looking at what other people have written about the D.C. area lately, I laughed at this assessment: “Seven Corners may well be the worst intersection in the history of roads. What good is it to eat amazing ethnic Asian food only to leave the parking lot and get rammed by three cars at the same time from all sides?”
  • I’ve lived in the Washington area since 1993, other than those years in Turkey. The subway/light-rail Metro system used to be the one smooth-running feature of an otherwise dysfunctional city. Well, now the mayor no longer uses crack (as far as we know), real estate is way more expensive, and the restaurants are better, but the Metro is perpetually delayed and unreliable.
  • When it’s not raining, spring is nice. (At the moment, we appear to be trapped in a recurring pattern of several nice weekdays followed by miserably wet weekends.) We’ve just gotten past Pollen Season, where everything ends up covered in light-green power and people who never had allergies before suddenly find their sinuses blowing up like an IED. Autumns are beautiful. But summer is mostly weeks upon weeks of feeling like a warm wet mop hit you in the face the moment you stepped out the door. In winter, the slightest snowfall shuts down the schools and brings the place to its knees.
  • Every kid-friendly venue is mobbed on a weekend. If the weather’s bad, there’s the Smithsonian, Tyson’s Corner, or the movie theaters; if the weather’s nice, there’s the Mall, Old Town Alexandria, Great Falls, the National Zoo. Everyone likes them, so every family in the metropolitan area seems to go there at the same time.
  • The cost of living isn’t New York… but it isn’t that far from New York. And with New York, you at least get all of the benefits of New York, like every cultural option imaginable accessible by a functioning subway system.
  • Speaking of costs, Old Town Alexandria has plenty to do, but the parking enforcement will jump on you the millisecond your two hours are up. Fairfax City has tons of free parking… and much, much less to do. In the District, you might as well forget finding street parking and shell out for the parking garage. (Another good assessment: “You will not find street parking near [your destination]. You think you will. You did that one time. You won’t. Just park in the garage. You don’t want to be late for your movie.”)
  • Yes, the speed cameras in the District will nail you for going 36 in a 25 zone.
  • Every time I travel to someplace else in the country, I think, Wow, everyone is so nice and polite here! This seems particularly noticeable in the Midwest and South. Then I suddenly realized, it isn’t that everyone else is exceptionally nice; it’s that my baseline expectation of human interaction is set by the colder, ruder, nastier people in the Washington area.

Having griped about all this, I have to dispel a few misconceptions. The populace isn’t all lawyers and bureaucrats. Most of my neighbors, parents at my children’s school, fellow soccer parents, etc. are genuinely nice people. You can see community bonds in place at the local middle-school musicals, on the Little League fields, waving as they walk their dogs down your street. Maybe we suburban parents come across as boring to some particularly Bohemian or free-spirited souls, but by the time kids come along, you’re less interested in leading the revolution, saving the world, and immanentizing the eschaton.

ADDENDA: This week’s pop culture podcast as a whole features a follow-up on The Rock’s presidential ambitions, why the world of Pixar’s Cars is getting a little more disturbing and confusing; why the Aliens sequels seem to get less interesting each time; what happens when the P.C. Police turn on Amy Schumer; which shows get canceled and why NCIS will go on forever, and our listeners share their worst jobs.

Why the FBI Kept Having to Clean Up Our Political Messes

by Jim Geraghty

Why the FBI Kept Having to Clean Up Our Political Messes

Last March, David Frum argued that democracy had seven guardrails, and the candidacy of Donald Trump had smashed through all of them.

I agree that those guardrails are in rough shape, but if Trump careened through them so easily, it was because a lot of trucks driven by other political leaders had smashed against them in preceding years. Those guardrails were coming off the hinges when the 2016 cycle began.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. You say partisan loyalty is driving political leaders to turn a blind eye to criminal behavior by members of their own party? Gee, do you think Bill Clinton’s perjury in the Lewinsky scandal was a key turning point? How about when Treasury Secretary nominee Tim Geithner and Representative Charlie Rangel discussed the need for more IRS enforcement at Geithner’s confirmation hearing, when both men ran into trouble with the IRS for failing to report income?

We now hear cries that President Trump has no respect for independent law enforcement. Those cries may very well be accurate, and they should be deeply troubling. But we didn’t get here overnight.

Eric Holder was held in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over requested documents. Holder’s Department of Justice sued Louisiana over its school-choice program.

It’s totally normal to see state attorneys general announcing an effort to sue private companies for what the prosecutors define as fraudulent statements about climate change, right? That’s not politicizing law enforcement at all, right?

Right, right. It’s not like we’ve seen the IRS apologize for targeting ordinary Americans for their political beliefs. Where would Trump get the idea that law enforcement is supposed to put his interests first?

Again, it’s not just one party at fault. Trump isn’t the first Republican to walk through life with an enormous sense of entitlement or a difficulty distinguishing his personal interest from the interests of the people he’s supposed to represent.

For some reason, Bob McDonnell didn’t think there was anything wrong with a rich guy with business before the state showering him with expensive gifts. I wonder if he had ever heard of Bob Torricelli.

You say Donald Trump sometimes sounds like he’s nuts? If he is, he’s not even in the top five nuttiest figures to get elected recently. Remember Congressman David Wu dressing up in a tiger suit and campaigning at the airport? His staff did everything they could to assure his reelection even though they could see he was losing his marbles. Remember Congressman Eric Massa, the “tickling congressman“? How about Anthony Weiner, does his behavior seem all that sane to you?

Senator Larry Craig and his “wide stance”? Representative Mark Foley? When Representative Hank Johnson speculated that Guam could capsize, was he crazy or just spectacularly ignorant about islands, land masses, and physics?

Is the average outburst from Trump more crazy or less than Sheila Jackson Lee’s claims that the Constitution is 400 years old or her wondering if the Mars Pathfinder rover would visit where the astronauts had planted the flag?

Is the average implausible assurance from Trump that something is going to be “terrific” “fantastic” or “yuge!” better or worse than Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano declaring, “the system worked” after the underwear bomber got on a flight to the U.S. in 2009?

Again, we didn’t get here overnight. Every time a political party united in defense of the screw-ups and failures of one of their own, they made it easier for the opposition to do the same.

For the past few years, in the middle of all this insanity, this narcissism, this selfishness, this reckless disregard for traditions, laws, and ethics, there’s been FBI director James Comey. One issue after another kept ending up on his desk because so few people in politics have anything resembling reasonable good judgment and so few people around those political leaders are willing to say “no.” If Hillary Clinton, Loretta Lynch, or Michael Flynn had just a bit more good judgment and common sense, Comey wouldn’t have had the politically charged workload he did.

Yes, It’s a Mess

A roundup of very grim assessments of Trump’s decision to fire Comey…

The Washington Post:

The private accounts of more than 30 officials at the White House, the Justice Department, the FBI and on Capitol Hill, as well as Trump confidants and other senior Republicans, paint a conflicting narrative centered on the president’s brewing personal animus toward Comey. Many of those interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to candidly discuss internal deliberations.

Trump was angry that Comey would not support his baseless claim that President Barack Obama had his campaign offices wiretapped. Trump was frustrated when Comey revealed in Senate testimony the breadth of the counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s effort to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election. And he fumed that Comey was giving too much attention to the Russia probe and not enough to investigating leaks to journalists.

Then there’s this unnerving detail:

Rosenstein threatened to resign after the narrative emerging from the White House on Tuesday evening cast him as a prime mover of the decision to fire Comey and that the president acted only on his recommendation, said the person close to the White House, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Mike Allen at Axios:

“It is a debacle,” said one Republican in constant touch with the West Wing. “They got everything — timing, rationale, reaction — completely wrong.”

As one Republican put it to me: “The team are rank amateurs who picked a fight with the intelligence agencies and the FBI. Hard to unite those historically competitive organizations. And they have the ability to find out almost anything!”

Josh Dawsey at Politico:

But senior aides and other associates who know the president say the firing was triggered not by any one event but rather by the president’s growing frustration with the Russia investigation, negative media coverage and the growing feeling that he couldn’t control Comey, who was a near-constant presence on television in recent days.

Trump did not appreciate that Comey declared his campaign to be under investigation on live TV, said two people who know the president well. He didn’t like that Comey contradicted his unsubstantiated accusation that President Barack Obama tapped his phone line at Trump Tower. And Trump was displeased that the FBI seemed uninterested in pursuing investigations into the leaks he believes are weakening his administration.

One way you dispel a narrative that is bad for you is by putting out a solid, detailed, well-thought-out, and verifiable narrative that is good for you. For example, the Trump administration could have pointed to Comey’s error in testimony last week. They could have pointed to the number of times the FBI had a terror suspect on a “watch list” but didn’t do anything until it was too late. The FBI employed a translator who went on to marry an ISIS terrorist. Trump could have objected to sending $1.3 million to an unspecified third party in exchange for software to hack into the phone of the San Bernardino terrorist. Trump could even have argued that the perception that Comey was “his guy” was hurting the reputation of the Bureau. Finally, the Trump administration could have had a respected figure as a replacement ready to go.

Instead, we got a brief statement from Trump during a photo-op in the Oval Office: “He wasn’t doing a good job. Very simple. He wasn’t doing a good job.”

Why D.C. Sports Fans Can’t Bring Themselves to Believe

Yesterday morning, Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell wrote about the city’s continued pessimism, the lingering sense of inevitable doom that hangs over every D.C. sports team, even in good years.

These are tough days for the Troll of Washington, who for many years has lurked under the bridges of the city, scaring sports fans with his ominous warnings, defeatist insults and screaming taunts about their luckless, or not-quite-good-enough, or downright choking-dog pro teams.

The Troll has had things his own way for a quarter of a century. Washington’s football, baseball, basketball and hockey teams are 1 for 86 in reaching the semifinal round in their sports since 1992. None has won a title. But now the ugly old soul is worried. Even trolls have nightmares, and his are coming true.

Sometimes he’ll hide under the Memorial Bridge, where nobody can see his psychological warts and twisted soul, and use his deepest, scariest voice to intone, “The Capitals will always lose in the playoffs. The Penguins own them. Game 7 at home is bad, not good. There is no hope for Alex Ovechkin or Nick Backstrom to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup. The whole franchise is cursed forever.”

Then the old Troll will curl up under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge at rush hour, when nobody in the jam-up can get away from his tormenting sound, and bellow, “You can change their name from Bullets to Wizards, but you can’t fool me. They’ll never get past the second round, just like they haven’t since ‘79.” …

The Troll of Washington sports is on the ropes. But you need to knock him out.

Last night, the Washington Capitals continued their tradition of excelling in the regular season and collapsing in the playoffs, and the Washington Wizards were blown out against the Boston Celtics, pushing them to the brink of elimination.

The Troll wins!

ADDENDA: What a week, at least so far. At least Twin Peaks comes back a week from Sunday!

Comey Over

by Jim Geraghty

Comey Over

Let’s look back to January 24, 2017:

When Mr. Comey and the president-elect met at Trump Tower for the first time this month for an intelligence briefing, Mr. Trump told the F.B.I. director that he hoped he would remain in his position, according to people briefed on the matter. And Mr. Trump’s aides have made it clear to Mr. Comey that the president does not plan to ask him to leave, these people said.

If President Trump was really bothered by how FBI Director James Comey handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails — and recall he praised the director’s decisions on the campaign trail last autumn — then the normal, sensible thing would have been to let Comey know there was an intention to make a change during the transition.

Even if Trump found himself disappointed with Comey’s performance once he was in the Oval Office, a normal administration gets their ducks in a row before making a big, dramatic step like this. The arguments and justification for the move are put in place and on paper. Talking points are distributed. Rumors often leak. Replacement names start to surface. A figure on his way out, like Comey, starts to read the handwriting on the wall. By the time the announcement is made, it’s almost old news; everyone’s had time to acclimate to the change.

Not in this administration. In the Trump administration, even the White House staff gets blindsided:

The news stunned Comey, who saw his dismissal on TV while speaking inside the FBI office in Los Angeles. It startled all but the uppermost ring of White House advisers, who said grumbling about Comey hadn’t dominated their own morning senior staff meetings. Other top officials learned just before it happened and were unaware he was considering firing Comey. “Nobody really knew,” one senior White House official said. “Our phones all buzzed and people said, What?”…

By Tuesday evening, the president was watching the coverage of his decision and frustrated no one was on TV defending him, a White House official said. He wanted surrogates out there beating the drum.

Instead, advisers were attacking each other for not realizing the gravity of the situation as events blew up. “How are you not defending your position for three solid hours on TV?” the White House aide said.

Even if you’re a diehard fan of Trump, you have to concede he’s being poorly served by his staff, if they’re allowing presidential decisions to be enacted this quickly and haphazardly. (According to the New York Times, chief of staff Reince Priebus disagreed with the decision and managed to briefly delay it.)

How could anyone at the White House possibly not grasp that firing an FBI director will be a supremely controversial decision? The only other time a president asked an FBI director to step down was in William Sessions in 1993, and that was after a report by Attorney General William P. Barr that found…

Sessions falsely claimed a tax exemption on the home-to-work use of his official limousine, billed the Government for personal trips on Federal Bureau of Investigation aircraft, built a security fence for his home at Government expense and did not cooperate with investigators looking into accusations that he received special treatment from a bank on his mortgage loan for his house in Washington.

It’s much easier to justify a firing when you’ve got a list of ethics problems!

Last night, we learned that the administration was so sloppy that Trump’s decision leaked to the media before the letter firing Comey was delivered to the FBI; the director learned by watching television and initially thought it was a prank.

What’s more, it seems clear that the Trump administration doesn’t have any particular replacement candidates in line. The administration looks amateurish, erratic, and disorganized.

You can throw “FBI director” atop the long list of law enforcement leadership positions that are still waiting for a nominee from the White House. President Trump hasn’t yet named a nominee for the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or the chief administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, or the director of the U.S. Marshals Service. Elsewhere in the Department of Justice, Trump hasn’t nominated anyone to be the assistant attorney general for the national security division, assistant attorney general for the criminal division, or a DHS assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

We’re approaching mid May.

Hooray! We Have Some FERC Nominees!

One bit of good news on the Trump appointment front: The White House has finally – finally! –named some official nominees to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Trump plans to nominate Neil Chatterjee, a senior energy adviser to McConnell who previously worked for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and Robert Powelson, a member of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, for terms expiring in 2021 and 2020, respectively, an emailed statement from the White House late Monday shows. Kevin McIntyre, co-head of Jones Day’s global energy practice, was said to be Trump’s pick to lead the agency.

Bloomberg was able to get additional cost estimates for more of those proposed energy infrastructure projects, and concluded that $50 billion in proposed projects are waiting for approval from FERC, which legally can’t approve anything until they get at least one more commissioner. They need three for a quorum, and have had only two since February; usually they have five. This is the first time in the agency’s history that it hasn’t had a quorum.

As I’ve written repeatedly, this is an embarrassment. These are big, privately funded infrastructure projects — mostly new pipelines, pressure-management stations and liquid-natural-gas terminals – that will create thousands of construction and operating jobs, both union and non-union, in places like Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. These are exactly the sort of good-paying blue-collar construction and heavy-industry jobs that President Trump promised he would bring back to these places, that cost U.S. taxpayers nothing, and all of them were left collecting dust for a few months because the White House couldn’t get its act together and nominate new commissioners.

Once FERC has a quorum, the agency may not approve all of these projects. They may look at the plans and require revisions for environmental impact, safety, to minimize the use of eminent domain, etc. FERC could conclude the projects are duplicative of existing infrastructure, or have questions about the financing. But at least these projects can now move forward and the companies itching to spend all that money to build them can get some answers.

Christopher Guith, a senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Energy Institute, is elated.

“Given the complexity and importance of the issues before the Commission, President Trump made phenomenal picks in Commissioner Powelson and Neil Chatterjee,” Guith said. “From strained competitive markets to crucial energy infrastructure, these nominations are a great step toward securing America’s energy future.”

Questions Spurred By Recent Events…

What do you do when someone you know commits suicide?

What do you do when no one seems to know why he committed suicide?

How do you grieve when you’re angry at the person for making that decision?

There are circumstances where suicide is… if it’s never right, there are situations you can at least understand why. A dire health diagnosis, with pain and suffering ahead. An imminent arrest and imprisonment, or some impending revelation and disgrace or humiliation. Something where the road ahead looks so unbearable, so hopeless, that the quick self-imposed ending appears perversely easier. If any of these thoughts are going through your head, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be found here.

What do you do when that explanation isn’t there? What do you do when someone seemed fine and normal on the outside one day and then the next… that person chooses to do the unthinkable, with no warning?

How could this person leave so many friends and family wondering why, and why he never told them, and what they could have or should have done? How could he leave everyone in this situation, and think that this was better than whatever problem would have existed with him continuing his life?

How does everybody move on, not even knowing if this was a long-brewing thought in his mind, or something that gathered momentum quickly?

When something like this can come along and shock you without warning… what else don’t we know about the world?

ADDENDA: Thanks to everyone who’s been listening to the pop culture podcast; for some reason, the most recent episode has been particularly popular.

Meanwhile, the Die Hard references on the Three Martini Lunch podcast are growing more common and more subtle. Someday when we don’t have a real sponsor, we’ll throw in one for Nakatomi Corporation.

The Big Takeaway Is That Everybody Was Wary about Flynn? That’s It?

by Jim Geraghty

Mother’s Day is Sunday. Order flowers today!

The Big Takeaway Is That Everybody Was Wary about Flynn? That’s It?

Democrats sure seem convinced that at the end of the investigation of Trump campaign officials and the Russian government, there’s a big pile of indictments.

The media treated yesterday’s Senate testimony from former acting attorney general Sally Q. Yates as a big deal, complete with live coverage of the questioning and lots of talking-head analysis afterwards.

The New York Times tells us “the biggest takeaway on Monday was that a lot of people had serious concerns about Michael Flynn serving as national security adviser. But none of them was named Donald J. Trump.”

Yeah, Trump does that sometimes. If everybody in the world tells him to zig, he’ll zag.

But the news that a lot of people were wary about Flynn doesn’t seem like a particularly shocking revelation. By mid-November 2016, we knew that Flynn was running a firm that lobbied for foreign clients, that “a Turkish businessman with real estate, aerospace, and consulting interests” was paying Flynn’s firm “tens of thousands of dollars” for lobbying services, and that Flynn was running the firm, he was receiving classified intelligence briefings as part of the campaign. In other words, we already knew that he was in a murky region where he insisted that he wasn’t lobbying but his firm was, and that he was getting classified information while he was paid, indirectly, by foreign interests.

By itself, a former lawmaker or military official becoming a registered foreign agent isn’t unethical and it certainly isn’t illegal. Heck, it’s common:

Of the 1,009 members of Congress who have left Capitol Hill since 1990, 114 of them — just over 11 percent — lobbied for or otherwise represented a foreign government, foreign-owned company or think tank, according to a POLITICO review of records filed with the tiny DOJ office charged with enforcing the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), a 1938 law passed to deal with the threat of Nazi propagandists in the United States.

The top 10 former lawmakers-turned-foreign-agents, according to POLITICO’s review, include a wide range of retired members, including congressional leaders and presidential contenders like Dick Gephardt, rank-and-file members like Albert Wynn and back-bench bomb-throwers like former Florida Rep. Connie Mack IV, each of whom worked on FARA contracts bringing more than $1 million to their respective firms in 2015.

But Americans can’t accept a revolving door between serving public office on behalf of us and working for a foreign government. Perhaps we should make the door swing one way. You can become a foreign agent, lobbying our government on behalf of a foreign interest, but you can’t return to a taxpayer-funded position after that.

The Good News about Millennials

The Fund for American Studies has a new survey out that should cheer us; they find that 93 percent of Millennials support religious freedom and 92 percent of Millennials support free speech.

It’s worth remembering that it’s mostly Millennials who are wearing the uniform to keep us safe. Figures from the Pentagon in 2014 found that just 14.4 percent of the enlisted force was 36 or older, and more than half the active-duty officer corps fell in the Millennial bracket. The angry mob at Middlebury College in Vermont doesn’t really speak for a generation.

“The media keeps showing us images of violent protests on college campuses, young Americans being angry and disruptive, but the truth is that millennials support religious and social freedoms more than non-millennials,” said Roger Ream, President, The Fund for American Studies (TFAS). “There’s a vast, silent majority of millennials who embrace these freedoms and those are the young men and women we are seeing in our programs.”

Most people who really follow politics understand that “conservative” and “Republican” are not synonyms. On a Venn diagram, they overlap quite a bit, but the TFAS survey found what might be an interesting dividing line: whether the top priority is liberty or security:

When asked to choose between individual liberty and concerns about security, conservatives split evenly between their support for liberty (51%) and security (49%). Republicans fall more in the camp of “more government” that ensures national security. Conservatives fall primarily in the camp of “less government” that promotes liberty.

“When you take a comparative look at conservative and Republican ideologies toward freedom, you would expect a lot of overlap. One of the surprising findings of this survey is that Republicans favor an active government approach which prioritizes security over individual liberties,” said Roger Ream. “This may explain some of the resonance for President Trump’s message in the GOP primaries, resonance that many, at the time, didn’t fully grasp. Conservatives were more supportive of a passive government which prioritizes liberty over security concerns,” Ream concludes.

So smile at the next Millennial you see, they’re not all as bad as you’ve heard.

Fine, Let’s Have a Trump–Hillary Rematch

It’s not that hard to see that deep down, Hillary Clinton doesn’t really think of Donald Trump as a legitimate winner of the presidential race; it was a lucky fluke.

Old habits die hard; Clinton referred to President Trump as “my opponent” five times in that interview. Two words that never escaped Hillary Clinton’s lips in this sequence: “President Trump.” When Clinton boasted about winning the national popular vote, Amanpour joked, “I see a tweet coming.” The former secretary of state responded, “Better that than interfering in foreign affairs if he wants to tweet about me!”

Except… President Trump isn’t “interfering” in foreign affairs; whether you voted for him or not, he is the president of the United States and is implementing a foreign policy. You can love that foreign policy or hate it, but he’s not some outsider who wandered into the Oval Office when no one was looking. Despite some generous gestures, such as attending Trump’s inauguration, Clinton’s real perspective is starting to slip out. Trump didn’t really win fair and square, and thus, he’s not really president. He’s just some goofball who won by accident and is “interfering” in the process of governing that is Hillary Clinton’s natural responsibility.

ADDENDA: Oh, no. Bob Owens, a prominent Second Amendment blogger, passed away suddenly, leaving behind a family and many friends wondering how something like this could happen. If you want to help his family out, you can do so here.

Le Never Mind

by Jim Geraghty

Le Never Mind

Well, that will teach me. Sometimes a 20-point lead is wrong, but it’s wrong in the other direction, and the frontrunner wins by 33 points or so.

And yet… Jean-Marie Le Pen won less than 18 percent in the 2002 election; his daughter Marine Le Pen won just under 34 percent yesterday. The allegedly unthinkable was more thinkable than a half-generation ago. Jamie Kirchick points out that a portion of Emmanuel Macron’s support came from the left, who are likely to oppose his efforts at economic reforms. “If things like unemployment and terror continue as they have, she’ll be president within a decade,” he writes. Then again, Jamie’s got a book out entitled The End of Europe, so we know where he thinks are headed.

The editors of the Wall Street Journal suggest this is more of a dodged bullet for the current direction of French policies than a round of applause:

As for European Union elites, the temptation will be to view the Macron triumph as vindication of the status quo, given Ms. Le Pen’s vow to leave the EU and ditch the euro. It is at most a reprieve. Ms. Le Pen improved on her father’s performance 15 years ago, she and Mr. Mélenchon drew broad support among the young, and France’s mainstream parties were repudiated. The EU project is far from secure unless it can provide more economic opportunity and better security, and show more respect for voters who resent dictates from Brussels.

The French center held, barely. If Mr. Macron fails to deliver faster growth, France may not be so lucky the next time.

Hey, if a former socialist civil servant, economic minister-turned-investment-banker can’t bring serious reform to France, who can, right?

Yesterday I joked that Democratic press flacks would start pitching profiles of their bosses as “the American Macron.” This morning we learn that The Centrist Project is touting Macron as a sign their approach can work in America, too:

Emmanuel Macron’s election to the French presidency as a first-time, independent candidate demonstrates that constructive political disruption can come from the political center. And it can happen here, too.

The Centrist Project is recruiting “a slate of centrist, independent candidates to run for state and federal office in 2018.” Among their heroes is Senator Angus King of Maine, who’s allegedly an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, voted for Hillary Clinton, and who has an ACU rating of 9 out of 100.

Oh, you mean those kinds of “independents.”

We’re Still Learning about the Younger Years of Barack Obama

Former President Obama’s fans completely reject the idea that he wasn’t sufficiently vetted in 2008, and they spent the past eight years scoffing at reporters looking into Obama’s pre-political past and suggesting there was more to Obama’s life than the autobiographical narrative in Dreams from My Father.

Did you know Barack Obama proposed marriage to a woman before he married Michelle? For quite a few years, Obama’s love was Sheila Miyoshi Jager, now a professor at Oberlin College. I’ve read most of the Obama biographies and big profile pieces, and yet I didn’t know this until I read the Washington Post review of Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama, by David J. Garrow.

 “In the winter of ‘86, when we visited my parents, he asked me to marry him,” she told Garrow. Her parents were opposed, less for any racial reasons (Obama came across to them like “a white, middle-class kid,” a close family friend said) than out of concern about Obama’s professional prospects, and because her mother thought Jager, two years Obama’s junior, was too young. “Not yet,” Sheila told Barack. But they stayed together.

In early 1987, when Obama was 25, she sensed a change. “He became. . . so very ambitious” quite suddenly, she told Garrow. “I remember very clearly when this transformation happened, and I remember very specifically that by 1987, about a year into our relationship, he already had his sights on becoming president.”

The sense of destiny is not unusual among those who become president. (See Clinton, Bill.) But it created complications. Obama believed that he had a “calling,” Garrow writes, and in his case it was “coupled with a heightened awareness that to pursue it he had to fully identify as African American.”

… Discussions of race and politics suddenly overwhelmed Sheila and Barack’s relationship. “The marriage discussions dragged on and on,” but now they were clouded by Obama’s “torment over this central issue of his life…race and identity,” Jager recalls. The “resolution of his black identity was directly linked to his decision to pursue a political career,” she said.

In Garrow’s telling, Obama made emotional judgments on political grounds. A close mutual friend of the couple recalls Obama explaining that “the lines are very clearly drawn. . . . If I am going out with a white woman, I have no standing here.” And friends remember an awkward gathering at a summer house, where Obama and Jager engaged in a loud, messy fight on the subject for an entire afternoon. (“That’s wrong! That’s wrong! That’s not a reason,” they heard Jager yell from their guest room, their arguments punctuated by bouts of makeup sex.) Obama cared for her, Garrow writes, “yet he felt trapped between the woman he loved and the destiny he knew was his.”

On the one hand, these are really personal issues for the former president, and reading about them in such detail feels a little voyeuristic. On the other hand…wait, Barack Obama nearly married a white woman, but decided against it because of how it would have impacted his political ambitions?

Does this decision by Obama in his 20s change the way America would have or should have seen the 47-year-old candidate in 2008? Probably not. But Rising Star points out that Obama’s cocaine use continued into his post-college years, which, along with the “Choom Gang” years revealed in David Maraniss’s book, makes the Obama administration’s drug policies look even more hypocritical. Garrow describes Obama’s public religiosity aligning perfectly with his political ambitions — a cynicism that perhaps someone like Michael Wear deserved to know about.

These revelations affirm that when Obama appeared on the scene, America was sold an airbrushed, carefully-contrived image designed to maximize his electability. Dreams from My Father was what he wanted people to know about him, and in many cases, that’s all they cared to know about him. (Skeptical eyes declared that many scenes sounded too cinematically perfect to be true.) On the campaign trail, Obama often told how his mother was denied health coverage for her uterine and ovarian cancer because the insurance company considered it “a pre-existing condition.” It turns out her cancer treatment was covered; Ann Dunham filed a separate claim for disability insurance, and the disability insurance company that refused to pay because they said her cancer was a pre-existing condition.

Back in the impassioned quasi-religious frenzy surrounding Obama back in 2007 and 2008, many who fell in love with him didn’t care that his “autobiography” used composite characters, fudged the details, and wasn’t a reliable account of his early years. Like the poster on Mulder’s wall, they wanted to believe.

On Judges, ‘Trump Is Knocking It Out of the Park’

This morning, President Trump will announce a slate of ten nominees for lower federal court positions. Carrie Severino is thrilled: “They are an exceptional slate that carries on the tradition this president began by nominating Justice Gorsuch. I hope that the Senate will move quickly to confirm them.”

“The nominees have stellar qualifications and a record of courageous commitment to the rule of law that will make them excellent additions to the federal bench,” she added. “When it comes to fulfilling his campaign promise to appoint strong, principled judges, Trump is knocking it out of the park.”

ADDENDA: It took a while for the pop culture podcast to be posted Friday — here’s the latest episode.

One of my favorite sports columnists, Jason Whitlock, writes in the Wall Street Journal today about the troubles of ESPN and shares a depressing anecdote:

ESPN NFL reporter Ed Werder, one of the most prominent faces among the layoffs last month, said in a podcast that he heard quality of work would not be a consideration when employees were let go. He lamented that “it seemed to me that quality work should be the only consideration.” Not in this America, the one ruled by social-media perception and dismissive of the real world.

One Step Closer: The House GOP Manages to Pass a Repeal-and-Replace Bill

by Jim Geraghty

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

One Step Closer: The House GOP Manages to Pass a Repeal-and-Replace Bill

Give Republicans credit — they got a health-insurance reform bill through the House!

The good stuff:

· The individual mandate is gone. You are no longer subject to a special tax if you don’t purchase health insurance.

· However, there is a consequence if you don’t buy insurance and end up needing it later. If you let your insurance lapse for more than 63 days, and then go back to buy it again, you can be charged 30 percent more.

· Adult children can stay on their government plans. Even if you think this is treating young twentysomethings like children, this part of Obamacare was wildly popular and the fight was not worth it to Republicans.

· A nice compromise on the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare: If you’re already in the system under the expansion, you’re grandfathered in and you don’t lose your Medicaid coverage. But if states want to continue the expanded eligibility for new applicants, they’ll have to pay more of the costs. Most states just don’t have the financial resources to do this.

· Block grants for Medicaid, allowing states much more flexibility in how they administer their programs. Republican governors love this, contending they can give their poorest citizens better care in a more efficient manner if Washington will just stop micromanaging from afar.

(When you hear from a Democratic friend about how terrible it is to cut the expanded eligibility for Medicaid, ask him why the Democrat-controlled Oregon state legislature is contemplating the same thing, a proposal that would cut off 335,000 people from Medicaid. This program, as noble as it is, is really expensive, and politician promises keep writing checks that the state revenue can’t cash.)

· Expansion of health-savings accounts (HSAs). Right now, “individuals can save up to $3,400 and families can save up to $6,750 tax free in an HSA. Under the bill, those limits would nearly double, to $6,550 for individuals and $13,100 for families in 2018.”

· Just about all of Obamacare’s taxes are gone: the new tax on incomes over $200,000 (or $250,000 for a married couple); a tax on health insurers and a limit on how much insurance companies can deduct for executive pay; and a tax on medical-device manufacturers.

The stuff you might like, or might not like:

· Obamacare’s subsidies are gone; instead, there’s a system of tax credits (remember, this is different from a tax deduction. Even if you don’t owe as much in taxes as the credit, the government gives you a check). “The credits start at $2,000 for people in their 20s, and go up to $4,000 for people in their 60s. Individuals earning over $215,000 and families making more than $290,000 would not be eligible to receive the credits, which would start in 2020.”

· Under this bill, state governments can apply for waivers to exempt insurance companies in their state from certain rules enacted under Obamacare. This is the big controversial part, and right now, a really big question is how many states will want to seek these waivers. The most consequential waiver is the one for pre-existing conditions; state insurance companies will want to charge more if an applicant’s health situation means they’re going to have to spend more to provide care in the coming months or years. The bill provides $8 billion over five years for states that apply for the waiver, to help cover the costs of care for people with pre-existing conditions. Quite a few folks think that won’t be sufficient.

But Avik Roy, who knows this stuff backwards and forwards, points out that Obamacare created something called the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, a heavily subsidized coverage for anyone who could prove that they had been denied coverage by an insurance company and had a pre-existing condition. The maximum number of people under this plan was… 115,000 people.

So if the same number of people need this kind of assistance as the peak in early 2013, this plan provides almost $70,000 per patient, a pretty sizable chunk of change. Maybe the funding in this bill will be enough after all.

Roy points out that “Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, and Washington all required insurers to guarantee issuance of coverage to those with pre-existing conditions prior to Obamacare becoming law.”

The Tougher Long-Term Outlook for GOP Health-Care Reform

Charles Krauthammer, last night:

In the short run, I think the Senate is not going to accept the House plan. It will come up with the plan of its own, they’ll go to conference — who knows where it’s going to end up, but it’s going to be a rickety arrangement. It’s likely that Republicans are going to suffer at the polls. If that happens, you’re going to get a sea change in opinion. And then there are only two ways to go: to a radically individualist system where the market rules, or to single-payer, and the country is not going to go back to radical individualist.

One other scenario is that the Senate tries to pass its own version of AHCA, but Democrats filibuster it… and repeal-and-replace dies because eight Democrats won’t join Republicans in ending a filibuster. The status quo continues, things get worse, and Republicans go to the public in 2018 with the message, “we tried to fix this, but Senate Democrats wouldn’t let us.” The message resonates, the map of states up for reelection helps, and Republicans return to Congress in January 29 with either 60 votes or 50-some with a bunch of nervous Democrats, and a larger majority is open to making structural changes to Obamacare.

Keep in mind, the GOP is being led by a president who has only the vaguest idea of what is in the bill, and no coherent way to explain what it does. Trump, last weekend:

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: –the premiums are too high. The deductibles are through the roof, so you never get to use it. But more importantly, it’s dead.

JOHN DICKERSON: So but in the bill, as it was analyzed, there were two problems. One, and you talked about this with Congressman Robert Aderholt, who brought you the example of the 64-year-old who under Obamacare the premiums–

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But that was a long time ago, John.

JOHN DICKERSON: But has that been fixed?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Totally fixed.

JOHN DICKERSON: How?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: How? We’ve made many changes to the bill. You know, this bill is–

JOHN DICKERSON: What kind though?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: –very much different than it was three weeks ago.

JOHN DICKERSON: Help us explain because there are people–

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The bill–

JOHN DICKERSON: –out there wondering what kind of changes.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Let me explain. Let me explain it to you.

JOHN DICKERSON: Okay.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This bill is much different than it was a little while ago, okay? This bill has evolved. And we didn’t have a failure on the bill. You know, it was reported like a failure. Now, the one thing I wouldn’t have done again is put a timeline. That’s why on the second iteration, I didn’t put a timeline. But we have now pre-existing conditions in the bill. We have — we’ve set up a pool for the pre-existing conditions so that the premiums can be allowed to fall. We’re taking across all of the borders or the lines so that insurance companies can compete–

JOHN DICKERSON: But that’s not in–

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: –nationwide.

JOHN DICKERSON: –this bill. The borders are not in–

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Of course, it’s in.

JOHN DICKERSON: –this bill. It’s in that third bill, right, because–

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It’s in the second phase.

JOHN DICKERSON: Okay.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It’s called phase one, phase two. And that’s, in effect, second phase, which will get approved, which will quickly get approved.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me–

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But let me just explain something. There will be such competition. Right now, there’s no competition. There will be such competition by insurance companies so that they can get health care and the people taking care of health care.

Notice Trump is touting “phase two” (I thought phase two was Tom Price making changes at HHS, and that legislation to allow the sale of health insurance across state lines was phase three, but whatever)… which has no particular deadline, other than, “after phase one.”

Kevin Williamson says so much in so few words: “I’d rather have a health-care system that looks like the Apple Store than one that looks like a Venezuelan grocery store.” Meaning, he would rather have a system where it costs money out of pocket but there is high quality and a variety of services against one where the government runs everything and functionally, very little is available.

ADDENDA: This week on the pop culture podcast: Aren’t you glad you didn’t buy tickets to the Fyre Festival? Mickey and I discuss David French’s NR cover piece on The Rock; why every child in America will want a Baby Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2; how every British movie star ended up in Murder on the Orient Express; my complaint about The Handmaid’s Tale hype; Gwenyth Paltrow brings GOOP to print; television-streaming fees spike; Facebook starts hiring for a disturbing problem; and on Kentucky Derby weekend, everybody turns into a horseracing expert.

‘We’re Losing on the Central Promise of Trump’s Campaign.’

by Jim Geraghty

‘We’re Losing on the Central Promise of Trump’s Campaign.’

Sigh. Those relentless critics of Trump are at it again.

Apparently, Trump’s fine with no wall — and everything else in a bill straight out of George Soros’ dream journal — if only the Democrats hadn’t been so rude as to tell the public about it. When your main complaint is that the other side is gloating too much, maybe you’re not that great a negotiator.

Yeah, sure, it’s only 100 days in, it’s an artificial deadline, the media is dying to say Trump has failed and so on.

Except: Planning for the wall should have begun on Nov. 9, and a spade should have been put into the earth to begin building it the day after Trump’s inauguration. Now, it’s 100 days later, and we still don’t have the whisper of a prospect of a wall.

Moreover, this isn’t one random bill funding Planned Parenthood (which this bill does). This is the budget deal. There won’t be another one like it until next October.

That’s a spectacular failure. Democrats have got to be pinching themselves, thinking, Am I dreaming this?

… It’s theoretically possible that Trump could still build a wall, but he’s just massively lengthened the odds of ever prevailing. Sure, you can let the other team build a 20-point lead in first half and still come back to beat them, but it’s a lot easier if you don’t go into halftime 20 points down.

… Remember? There would be so much winning, we were going to get “sick and tired of winning,” and beg him, “Please, please, we can’t win anymore. … It’s too much. It’s not fair to everybody else.”

We’re not winning. We’re losing, and we’re losing on the central promise of Trump’s campaign.

Gripe, gripe, gripe, complain, complain, complain. This is so predictable coming from a relentless Trump critic like… er, wait a minute, that’s Ann Coulter.

Ann, you told us to trust him.

While Ann Coulter was calling us a bunch of wimps and cowards for not having faith in Donald Trump’s ability to snap his fingers and transform Washington, some of us were writing this:

[Even if] the Mexican government eventually relented and wrote a check, President Trump would need Congress to appropriate that money for constructing the wall. Even if Republicans keep control of the Senate in November, Democrats would almost certainly filibuster and use every procedural and parliamentary maneuver in the book to prevent funding the wall. It is likely that the vote for funding construction of a border wall would be the biggest, most consequential, and hardest-fought since the passage of Obamacare. Wall supporters could expect accusations of hateful xenophobia to reach a fever pitch.

… Building the wall would be much more difficult than candidate Trump pretends. Voters who are fed up with being promised the moon only to wake up to the same rotten status quo are a big part of Trump’s success. How angry would they be to find out their savior was no more capable of bending reality to his will than the men he replaced?

But would you listen? Nooooo.

Loosen Those Muscles, Virginia, Gubernatorial Primary Season Is Heating Up!

In a little more than month, Virginia holds its gubernatorial primaries. One the Democratic side, there’s the oddity of watching two guys who were once fairly centrist within their party both trying to prove they’re the real liberal in the race.

Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam voted for George W. Bush twice and Republicans tried to get him to switch parties in 2009. Former congressman Tom Perriello wanted to bar insurance coverage of abortion and was endorsed by the National Rifle Association. This year, both are renouncing all their past non-liberal stances and now pledge that they’re as progressive as Bernie Sanders. It’s the kind of shameless political flip-flop that would make even Charlie Crist blush… and turn that kind of Crayola red-orange hue.

Meanwhile, this morning the GOP frontrunner, Ed Gillespie, is unveiling his first TV ad:

Narrator: The first income tax rate cut in 45 years, 53,000 new jobs. Ed Gillespie’s conservative plan.

Reporter 1: He’s talking major tax cuts at the kitchen table.

Reporter 2: Gillespie called for a 10 percent cut to income taxes.

Reporter 3: Ed Gillespie is one of the top candidates for governor, and he wants to put around $1,300 in the pockets of average families.

Reporter 2: It would create 50,000 full time private sector jobs.

Narrator: Ed Gillespie, a governor for ALL Virginians.

The Gillespie tax-cut proposal can be found here.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Has 430 Vacant Buildings?!?

The jury’s still out on new Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin — it is, after all, barely more than 100 days into the new administration — but there’s a good sign that he’s not afraid to propose big structural changes. I mean literally, changing the structures that the VA operates:

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin says his department is seeking to close perhaps more than 1,100 VA facilities nationwide as it develops plans to allow more veterans to receive medical care in the private sector.

At a House hearing Wednesday, Shulkin said the VA had identified more than 430 vacant buildings and 735 that he described as underutilized, costing the federal government $25 million a year. He said the VA would work with Congress in prioritizing buildings for closure and was considering whether to follow a process the Pentagon had used in recent decades to decide which of its underused military bases to shutter, known as Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC.

“Whether BRAC is a model that we should take a look, we’re beginning that discussion with members of Congress,” Shulkin told a House appropriations subcommittee. “We want to stop supporting our use of maintenance of buildings we don’t need, and we want to reinvest that in buildings we know have capital needs.”

In an internal agency document obtained by The Associated Press, the VA pointed to aging buildings it was reviewing for possible closure that would cost millions of dollars to replace. It noted that about 57 percent of all VA facilities were more than 50 years old. Of the 431 VA buildings it said were vacant, most were built 90 or more years ago, according to agency data. The VA document did not specify the locations.

As usual, the devil is in the details, but at first glance, this sounds like a common sense move.

ADDENDA: Happy Star Wars Day, a.k.a., “May the Fourth be with you!” Somehow I missed that the crew of the U.S.S. Eisenhower did a brilliant parody of the trailer for The Force Awakens. God bless them and all the ships at sea.

Searching for the Coherent Philosophy behind Trumpism

by Jim Geraghty

Searching for the Coherent Philosophy behind Trumpism

Andrew Sullivan takes the writers and thinkers who were most enthusiastic about Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency seriously, and the result is a portrait that is surprisingly sympathetic in places, but undeniably critical in parts.

As with most things in life, the question is where you draw the line. Here’s a really key line: What separates “we’re not assimilating new immigrants as fast and as well as we should” from “I don’t want immigrants”?

Sullivan:

Neo-reactionary unease with mass immigration is exacerbated by what they see as the administrative state’s shift from belief in a “melting pot” model in which all immigrants assimilate to a common American culture to the multicultural model, where the government, business, and society recognize different languages and celebrate ethnic diversity over national unity. [National Security Council staffer Michael] Anton notes that America is now “a country in which Al Gore mistranslates e pluribus unum as ‘Out of one, many’ and in his error is actually more accurate to the spirit of our times.” The problems of ethnic division are further compounded by the view growing among the elites that America itself is at root a racist white construction, and that “assimilation” is therefore an inherently bigoted idea.

The U.S. takes in 1 million legal immigrants per year, more legal immigrants than any other country in the world, and some contend more legal immigrants than the rest of the world combined. (It’s probably not quite that high, probably about one-third of the rest of the world’s total, but that’s still pretty darn high.) From this figure, we can pretty much dismiss anyone claiming that America is a “xenophobic” country or doesn’t welcome immigrants. Someone making that assertion wants to argue feelings instead of numbers because they don’t like doing math.

If we reduced that rate of legal immigration from 1 million per year to 800,000, or 750,000, or 500,000… is that xenophobic? “Anti-immigrant”? Nick Gillespie and the guys at Reason love to label any support for reducing any legal immigration by any amount as being “anti-immigrant.” (Gillespie supports open borders. That’s not a knee-jerk sneer or exaggeration, that’s his actual position.)

Again, a lot of these debates come down to where you draw the line. Back during the big NR debate about nationalism, Rich and Ramesh wrote, “The country’s founding ideals, history, and institutions barely enter into [Trump’s] worldview… The elements of American nationalism that Trump scants are moderating influences on it” — and I thought, “that’s a pretty big deal!” That element could very well be the dividing line between a force that is constructive and a force that is destructive.

It’s worth noting that some corners of the “Trump intellectual class” — for lack of a better term — sound completely off their rockers, and fundamentally at odds with American values and traditions:

Curtis Yarvin takes Kesler’s and Anton’s dismay at modern America to new and dizzying heights — and reactionism to its logical conclusion. A geeky computer programmer in his 40s, he writes a reactionary blog, Unqualified Reservations, under the pseudonym Mencius Moldbug and has earned a cult following among the alt-right. His magnum opus — “An Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives” — is an alternately chilling and entertaining assault on almost everything educated Westerners hold to be self-evidently true. His critique of our present is not that we need a correction to return us to traditional notions of national culture and to unseat the administrative state and its elites; it is that we need to take the whole idea of human “progress” itself and throw it in the trash can. Things didn’t start going wrong in the 1960s or under the Progressives. Yarvin believes that the Western mind became corrupted during the Enlightenment itself. The very idea of democracy, allied with reason and constitutionalism, is bunk: “Washington has failed. The Constitution has failed. Democracy has failed.” His golden era: the age of monarchs. (“It is hard not to imagine that world as happier, wealthier, freer, more civilized, and more pleasant.”) His solution: “It is time for restoration, for national salvation, for a full reboot. We need a new government, a clean slate, a fresh hand which is smart, strong and fair.”

Go back to monarchy?!? Sir, our Founding Fathers would like a word with you.

The Father of our country says you’re grounded.

Only the Presidency Keeps a Presidential Narrative Viable

Lee Smith looks back and analyzes how the Obama administration sold the Iran deal, and how those arguments — such as, “if you don’t support a deal that frees up billions for a regime that threatens war, then you’re a warmonger” — are collapsing with their departure from office:

There are no winners in war, only losers. The most arduous nuclear inspection regime in history involves letting Iran inspect its own nuclear sites. Funding a state at war won’t fill its war chest. Rewarding a state sponsor of terror for its activities makes that state less likely to sponsor terror. Deterrence doesn’t work.

The logic at work in some of the more popular arguments made by Obama aides and their validators in the press wasn’t dialectical or paradoxical; e.g., if you want peace, prepare for war. It was Gladwellian—what’s really true is the opposite of whatever you think is true. Of course, that’s not journalism, it’s just marketing, or, in contemporary journalism-speak, Voxsplaining, after the popular liberal website Vox, which devoted itself in its entirety to counter-intuitive self-branded “hot takes” designed to showcase the wisdom of whatever the current Obama administration policy was.

Chatting with a group of conservative bloggers who are particularly focused on Israel policy recently, we came to the same conclusion as Smith: The reason the Iran deal worked was because Obama won in 2012 and the GOP congress had few options to stop an agreement that didn’t need to be ratified by the Senate. The deal was never popular; most polling indicated great skepticism and wariness.

Smith continues:

Why does the inverted wisdom of the echo chamber now strike readers as transparently mendacious and silly? Because policymaking is not quite the same as advertising and PR. The Obama administration sold the Iran deal not because of its copywriting talents and facility in framing and manipulating “connectors” and “mavens” but because it controlled the White House. The president of the United States is the single most powerful person in the world. Almost everything he decides to push against, especially in the area of foreign policy, is an open door.

The slogans that the Obama echo chamber used to sell the Iran Deal sound weird now because Obama is no longer in the White House. So what does it mean that “everybody knows” that the deal to rid Bashar al-Assad of his chemical weapons didn’t actually rid him of his chemical weapons, which he uses with regularity to murder civilians, including patients in hospitals?

That’s not a paradox, it’s not a Gladwellism, and there is nothing clever about it. What the slogan means now is that they lied, and made America complicit in Assad’s war crimes. It’s no surprise that admission doesn’t sound clever, and that it makes people angry.

Trump and the Congressional GOP Are Doing Something: Repealing Regulations

Can the Congressional Review Act be exciting? I tried.

The CRA allows Congress to review and repeal any government regulation within 60 congressional working days of its issuance. Due to recesses, weekends, and holidays, 60 working days generally translates into six calendar months or more. For rules issued with less than 60 working days left in the current Congress, the 60-day review clock starts over in the next Congress. Moreover, once a regulation is repealed, the agency cannot enact any “substantially similar” rule without approval from Congress. In the closing months of the Obama administration, federal agencies enacted a slew of red tape before the new cabinet secretaries arrived. The GOP Congress and Trump are now going through those rules and weeding out ones they find unacceptable.

In the final months of the Obama administration, federal agencies unveiled new rules requiring federal contractors to report worker complaints that are unverified and still being litigated; a rule barring states from denying federal money to institutions that perform abortions; a rule that could bar 4 or 5 million people who need assistance from the Social Security Administration from purchasing guns; an unfunded mandate requiring schools to evaluate and assess their teacher preparation programs; new restrictions on land use that pleased environmentalists, and new restrictions on hunting in Alaska. All of those are now off the books because of the GOP Congress and Trump.

Repealing regulations isn’t the most glamorous work in the world, but necessary and important. Conservatives ought to give both Trump administration and the congressional GOP credit for this.

ADDENDA: Remember, tonight is May the Fourth Eve! Put out some blue milk for Santa Yoda.

Trump Is Considering [Insert Idea Here]

by Jim Geraghty

Trump Is Considering [Insert Idea Here]

It is time for all of us to be a little more skeptical every time we see the headline, “President Trump Considering X.”

In just the past two weeks or so, we’ve seen…

Trump Is Considering Breaking Up Big Banks

Trump says he’d consider increasing the gas tax

Trump considering breakup of appeals court that opposed him

White House considering order to withdraw from NAFTA

Trump administration still considering how to make it easier to sue the media, Priebus says

Trump considering laptop ban on some European flights

Trump Is Willing to Consider a Sudden Strike on North Korea

Trump says he could meet with North Korea’s leader

Mulvaney: Trump Willing To Sign Government Spending Bill Without Wall Funding

We get it. Trump is willing to consider a lot of things, particularly when the topic comes up in an interview with a reporter. If asked, “are you considering X?” Trump’s instinctive reaction is, “X is a very serious issue, and we’re looking very seriously at that.” There are few ideas to which he’s willing to say, “no, and we’re just not going to do that.” Lord knows, he’s unwilling to say, “I haven’t thought about this issue that much, and would have to look at that proposal more closely before giving a more definitive answer.”

His staffers, like Reince Priebus and Mick Mulvaney, are reticent to rule any option out.

The result is a White House where nobody exactly knows what the philosophy is, what sorts of ideas and policies fit that philosophy and what ones don’t, and what issues and tasks take priority. The president’s perspective on an issue could be very different if the last person he spoke to was Jared Kushner or if it was Stephen Bannon.

The lesson is that what the president does is a lot more important than what the president says.

DNC: Hey, Everybody Knew We Were Rigging the Primaries for Hillary!

Beautiful: Lawyers for the Democratic National Committee are arguing in court that they cannot be sued for fraud, because everyone knew that the DNC was not neutral in the Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders primary. This is the kind of legal argument that might win the lawsuit but will essentially set the DNC’s credibility with the grassroots on fire.

Shortly into the hearing, DNC attorneys claim Article V, Section 4 of the DNC Charter—stipulating that the DNC chair and their staff must ensure neutrality in the Democratic presidential primaries—is “a discretionary rule that it didn’t need to adopt to begin with.” Based on this assumption, DNC attorneys assert that the court cannot interpret, claim, or rule on anything associated with whether the DNC remains neutral in their presidential primaries.

The attorneys representing the DNC have previously argued that Sanders supporters knew the primaries were rigged, therefore annulling any potential accountability the DNC may have. In the latest hearing, they doubled down on this argument: “The Court would have to find that people who fervently supported Bernie Sanders and who purportedly didn’t know that this favoritism was going on would have not given to Mr. Sanders, to Senator Sanders, if they had known that there was this purported favoritism.”

Jared Beck, the attorney representing Sanders supporters in the class action lawsuit, retorted that the DNC Charter is not akin to political rhetoric a politician would use during a campaign, but rather an inherent and important part of democracy in America. The entire argument of the DNC in this lawsuit is to conflate the promises of a political candidate with those of an election arbiter bound to neutrality by the DNC Charter, and to claim that fraudulent inducement cannot ever be proven as the DNC attorneys allege, “I think there’s an impossible showing of causation.”

“Don’t blame us, you guys knew we were rigging the presidential primary from the start!”

Bernie Sanders and his supporters might be socialist loons, but even socialist loons can be unfairly cheated.

Why Is Everyone So Certain about This Weekend’s French Election?

Everyone I know who’s following the French election — smart people, who study and understand French politics way better than I do — tell me there’s no way that Marine Le Pen can win Sunday’s second and decisive round of voting. I’m told that the French are smart strategic voters. I’m told that her second-place finish was a protest vote, or letting off steam; I’m reminded that her father, Jean Marie Le Pen, made it to the second round in 2002 and won less than 18 percent of the vote.

But I keep hearing variations the same arguments I heard before the U.K. Brexit vote and the U.S. presidential election. “A Le Pen victory is unthinkable!” “There’s no way France would turn away from its future like this!” “To elect Le Pen is to turn our backs on modernity!” “The French have no choice but to vote for Emmanuel Macron!”

Well, maybe. But we saw how the British and American voters responded when the political, cultural, and media elites declared there was only one socially acceptable option in a big, consequential election. People hate being told that they don’t have a choice.

The French are not happy with the status quo. Incumbent president François Hollande was so unpopular he chose to not run for reelection; the nominee of his party, the Socialists, got less than 7 percent in a five-way race. Emmanuel Macron is technically an outsider and a new figure in French politics, a sort of center-left technocrat, but… he’s formerly a member of the Socialist party, an investment banker (with Rothschild & Cie Banque — think that name will stir the conspiracy theorists?) and served in a senior role on Hollande’s staff from 2012 to 2014.

A longtime political figure, generally supportive of globalization and welcomed by “the Davos crowd” with close ties to the incumbent administration and the country’s financial elites, running during a time of great dissatisfaction with the status quo? While the national media declares the main opponent racist, xenophobic, and a relic of the country’s ugly past?

Does anybody else feel like we just saw this movie?

Oh, hey, look, the French unions are divided and the Left is feeling unenthusiastic about their candidate. But Americans wouldn’t know anything about that!

The anti-Le Pen demonstrations have taken longer to materialise and they have been smaller and more fragmented. Politicians have not instantly and easily united against Marine Le Pen; instead, there has been hesitation and infighting.

Even on May Day, when “No to Le Pen” marches took place in major French cities, trade unions that had firmly united against Marine Le Pen’s father in 2002 were divided. Some felt the independent centrist frontrunner, Emmanuel Macron, was too economically liberal to support, placing him in the same pariah bracket as the anti-immigration Marine Le Pen.

Commentators on the left complained of a mood of lethargy and resignation, saying Marine Le Pen’s party no longer provoked massive anti-racism demonstrations and was simply being accepted as a permanent feature of the French political landscape.

None of this is really a defense of Le Pen; she’s awful, particularly from the perspective of American interests. She wants to take France out of NATO and create a “privileged partnership” with Russia. She wants to drastically limit legal immigration to France. She wants to subject non-French employees working in France to a special new tax. The U.S. currently exports $31 billion in goods and services to France; Le Pen is protectionist and would throw up trade barriers. She has no interest in shrinking the size of the government or its power in France.

This isn’t to say I think Le Pen is going to win. But I’m struck by how many people are declaring a certain outcome is “unthinkable.” If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that political decisions that seem “unthinkable” to a country’s elites seem pretty darn thinkable to those in the working class and squeezed middle class. At the very least, we probably should be prepared for Le Pen’s share of the vote to surpass the current low expectations.

ADDENDA: In case you missed it, yesterday I looked at the objections on the left to the NRA’s gun-safety program for kids, Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program. “When the opposing side finds a six-foot-tall eagle mascot a menace, every child attending a gun show a potential mass shooter, and every safety presentation a nefarious trick to undo years of parenting, it’s very hard to have a conversation, much less ever reach agreement.”