We haven’t seen liberals this interested in Russians and fake news since Walter Duranty.
Trump picked ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his nominee for secretary of state. As the head of an enormous company with business around the world, Tillerson is an extremely capable person (he rose through the ranks at Exxon and is an Eagle Scout). He has basically been a corporate head of state, with extensive diplomatic experience of a certain kind. The problem is that Tillerson’s views, apart from what has been to this point his commitment to promoting the interests of ExxonMobil shareholders, are unknown. The extensive dealings in Russia that earned him an Order of Friendship medal from Vladimir Putin have raised eyebrows and hackles on Capitol Hill, given worries about Trump’s own Russophilia and against the backdrop of allegations of Russia’s hacking operations. Tillerson should be thoroughly vetted, and his confirmation hearings will be more important than usual. We’re prepared to believe that he is well suited to the job, but, as with all things related to Russia, our watchword is trust but verify.
In early December, Donald Trump took a phone call with Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen. Cross-strait relations being what they are (fragile), and Trump’s foreign-policy vision being what it is (opaque), the prevailing reaction was one of horror, Senator Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) going so far as to suggest that Trump’s “radical temporary deviation” from precedent — no American and Taiwanese heads of state have spoken together since 1979 — was “how wars start.” The Left’s reaction is instructive as to its priorities. Visitors to Taiwan will find a fairly elected president, a vigorous legislature, an open press, religious freedom, the fifth-largest economy in Asia, and a unique culture that straddles East and West. A little over 100 miles to the west, visitors will find a one-party dictatorship, directly descended from the terrors of Chairman Mao, that “disappears” political dissidents and harvests the organs of Falun Gong adherents. While American involvement in cross-strait relations must be delicate, it is obvious that a free Taiwan and, ultimately, a free mainland China would serve both justice and American interests. If Trump’s phone call is part of a coherent strategy, it could modestly advance that goal.
For eight years, Republicans who opposed the Obama administration’s executive appointments received a standard rejoinder: “Win an election.” On November 8, they did, and, upon the instant, the goalposts were moved out of sight. Now, it seems the rule is that Republicans are obliged both to win an election and to choose cabinet officials who conform to a progressive view of the department they will head up. For failing to conform to this second, partisan standard, Trump picks such as Scott Pruitt (EPA), Betsy DeVos (Education), and Rick Perry (Energy) have been dismissed as “unsuitable” and “unqualified,” and even as “wreckers.” The executive branch is constitutionally bound to enforce the law as written, but nothing written into the charters of America’s many agencies mandates progressive maximalism. There are a host of possible energy policies, a variety of approaches toward education, and a number of different means by which the environment can be protected. Choosing among them is part of why we have elections.
Immigration policy in the United States has largely refused to prioritize the interests of American workers over those of their foreign counterparts. From the start of his campaign, Donald Trump set himself against that consensus. That’s why his nomination of Andy Puzder as labor secretary is eyebrow-raising. Puzder — head of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of fast-food chains such as Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s — is among the most prominent advocates of Gang of Eight–style immigration reform in the American business community. He has argued for an increase in less-skilled immigrants, as well as amnesty for illegal immigrants currently residing in the country, and against tighter border security. All of that is a mistake, given strong evidence that high levels of low-skilled immigration force wages at the bottom of the labor market downward, that there are long-term social costs when low-skilled native-born citizens see their opportunities for advancement narrow, and that cultural fragmentation is fostered by an immigration policy that disproportionately emphasizes economics. GOP senators should use Puzder’s confirmation process to secure from him a commitment to immigration-related labor policies that put the American worker first — for example, national implementation of E-Verify for all new hires (an idea to which Puzder is friendly), more-rigorous certification of guest workers, and aggressive action against companies that abuse immigration laws to undermine American workers.
Trump’s cabinet-level picks so far include three generals: James Mattis (Defense), John F. Kelly (Homeland Security), and Michael T. Flynn (national-security adviser). Is that too much brass? They are ex-brass, having all retired; they will report to a president who is a lifelong civilian; and every dime the military spends must be authorized by Congress. Civilian control of the military is quite secure. Even so, will their background skew the advice President Trump gets? Both civilians and military men had their fair share of successes and failures throughout the Cold War and beyond. The service academies are at least the peers of modern universities, and officers at the level of Mattis, Kelly, and Flynn have seen a lot of the world, and of life. They should be judged as individuals, not stereotypes.
Trump tweeted that Boeing’s contract to build presidential aircraft should be revisited because the costs are running too high. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to economize. But Trump’s criticism of Boeing came days after he pressured and bribed the air-conditioner maker Carrier to keep some of its production in the U.S. It thus raised the possibility that the Trump administration would see sporadic and media-driven presidential micromanagement of either the government or business. If these are the alternatives, bring on the special presidentially hosted episodes of Celebrity Apprentice.
Edgar Welch, a 28-year-old North Carolina man, walked into Comet Ping Pong, a Washington, D.C., pizzeria, with a rifle and a handgun and fired shots, thus bringing a new level of attention to “Pizzagate.” (Fortunately, no one was hurt, and Welch was arrested.) Welch was there to investigate a conspiracy theory, spread online in the wake of WikiLeaks’ release of John Podesta’s e-mails, that the pizza shop was the center of a child-prostitution ring run by Hillary Clinton and her top aides. The conspiracy theory is 100 percent made up and as lunatic as believing that water fluoridation is a Communist plot to undermine public health, that this magazine was established as a CIA front, or that Elvis helped Ted Cruz’s father assassinate JFK. But the Left has seized the opportunity to conflate “news and opinion we happen to dislike” and “crazy online conspiracy theories” into one ball of “fake news.” A conservative academic’s contrarian take on the long-term stability of the Obamacare exchanges might or might not be correct, but it’s not fake news, no matter what our progressive friends might claim. (And shall we mention the Left’s own pet conspiracy theories? A 2006 survey found that half of Democrats believed the Bush administration assisted or willfully took no action to prevent the 9/11 attacks.) Beware fake categories.
John Adams wrote of President Washington that “he possessed the gift of silence.” President-elect Donald Trump possesses it not. His transition has been marked by foolish boasts (he won a “massive landslide” in the Electoral College — so massive that only twelve of the last 16 presidents exceeded it), media fisticuffs (NBC is “so biased, inaccurate, and bad . . . just can’t get much worse”), and plain old bullying (when Chuck Jones, a local union boss, accused Trump of lying about the number of jobs he had saved at Carrier’s plant in Indiana, Trump tweeted that Jones “has done a terrible job. . . . No wonder companies flee country!”). The tone of the last claim was most disturbing, given the disparity of the combatants — Trump vs. Jones is like the pope zinging a monsignor. The entire flurry recalled the campaign, and forecast the future: Trump needs constant praise and retaliates against any criticism. History teaches there will be shortages of the first and no lack of the second. President Trump’s Twitter account will get quite the workout.
A number of progressives, including E. J. Dionne and Robert Reich, are urging electors to be faithless: to vote for someone other than Donald Trump, that is, even if he won their state. The original understanding of the Constitution allowed electors to vote their consciences, and state laws that purport to deny them any discretion are at least constitutionally suspect. But Americans have over time come to expect the electors to follow their states’ votes. For them to flout the universal expectation of the public because of political objections to Trump that voters understood perfectly well would be to steal the election, vastly increasing civil strife and undermining faith in our institutions. It would be an act of folly and discredit all who participated in it, as it already discredits those who urge it.
Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, says he regrets voting to make filibusters of executive-branch nominees impossible. The Democrats made that change to help President Obama’s nominees, making a simple majority enough to confirm them. Now, says Coons, many Democrats will regret the absence of “a terrific speed bump, potential emergency brake, to have in our system to slow down the confirmation of extreme nominees.” It is a heartbreaking tale. Coons was elected to the Senate in 2010, and apparently nobody told him that someday a Republican might again be elected president.
At the end of November, Abdul Razak Ali Artan, a student at Ohio State, drove his car into a crowd of people on campus and then attacked them with a butcher knife, leaving 13 injured before a campus cop shot him dead. Artan was a Somali refugee who had made a seven-year layover in Pakistan before coming to the United States; his Facebook page referenced terrorist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and sobbed about American mistreatment of the “Muslim Ummah.” Congratulations to Officer Alan Horujko, whose timely action prevented greater mayhem, and to Donald Trump, who visited with Horujko and with the stabbing victims. Meanwhile, according to the Washington Post, “participants in prayers at a mosque near Artan’s family home said they fear a backlash against Muslims as Trump prepares to take office.” We are now entering the 16th year of waiting for a backlash that has never quite materialized.
Harry Reid is a habitual liar and a cheap partisan of the lowest and most reptilian kind. He is also a tragic figure: His hardscrabble upbringing and the violence of his early life are the sorts of thing out of which a heroic story might have been made, if Harry Reid were a better sort of man. But he isn’t. He did not exaggerate or distort: He invented wild fictions out of whole cloth, as with regard to Mitt Romney’s taxes, and then laughed at the American electorate for being stupid enough to fall for them. The absolute glee the man takes in a lie is something nauseating to behold. He grew wealthy in public service, through means including a land deal involving a mob figure and earmark money steered into projects that increased the value of his Nevada real-estate holdings. Good riddance to bad rubbish.
The Army Corps of Engineers has declined to grant an easement to the Dakota Access Pipeline, halting construction on the $3.7 billion project. Actually, that’s not quite accurate: The Corps of Engineers recommended that the project go forward, but they were overruled by a civilian leader, who apparently bowed to political pressure from the White House, and to several thousand protesters who had gathered at the edge of Lake Oahe for a rural Occupy reboot, complete with illegal occupation of private (and federal) land and even the occasional IED detonation. Contrary to their claims, the Dakota Access Pipeline does not cross any land owned by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, and it does not threaten the tribe’s water supply. More than 50 tribes (including the Standing Rock Sioux), as well as the North Dakota Public Service Commission and the State Historic Preservation Office, were notified to ensure that the pipeline would not sully historically significant land. But the Obama administration has intervened nevertheless, once again using bureaucratic machinations (possibly against the law) to impede development of America’s fossil-fuel industry. The protesters’ victory is likely to be a temporary one. Aides to Donald Trump have signaled that he will allow the project to go forward once he takes office — as he should.
In an interview with Fox News, Representative Sean Duffy (R., Wis.) referred to the city of Madison as a “progressive/liberal/Communist community.” Oddly, Madison’s mayor took offense, calling Duffy a “liar,” “moron,” and “charlatan.” That mayor, Paul Soglin, gave the late Fidel Castro the key to the city. To quote a recent buzz-phrase from Saturday Night Live: Any questions?
“I have looked into the eyes of the worst people on the planet,” writes James E. Mitchell. “I have sat with them and felt their passion as they described what they see as their holy duty to destroy our way of life.” Mitchell was responsible for the “enhanced interrogation” of jihadists, and he has now written a memoir. One of the jihadists with whom he spent a lot of time was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11. According to Mitchell, Mohammed told him that he expected the United States to turn tail, as in Lebanon 18 years before. Or to file suit in court, as after other jihadist attacks on America. But he and his group hit a snag. “How was I supposed to know that cowboy George Bush would announce he wanted us ‘dead or alive’ and then invade Afghanistan to hunt us down?” Mohammed expected the jihad to prevail, because “we do not need to defeat you militarily; we only need to fight long enough for you to defeat yourself by quitting.” Let’s prove him wrong again.
Aleppo is about to be taken over completely by forces loyal to Bashar Assad, the president in name — but not everywhere in power — of his unfortunate country, Syria. Throughout the civil war, fighting between rebels of the so-called Syrian Free Army and Bashar’s loyalist forces has been ferocious. The rebels are finally obliged to give ground because the White House has failed to arm and support them effectively. Vladimir Putin took his chance for some old-fashioned imperialism. Russian bombers have pulverized Aleppo. Hardly a building is undamaged, and the street patterns are unrecognizable. Hospitals no longer function, and medicine and food are virtually unobtainable. Hundreds of thousands of the inhabitants have been killed or driven out, though 200,000 of them are still trapped in the ruined city. Some escape at the risk of their lives. The hour of atrocities has arrived. Whether arrested or giving themselves up voluntarily, young men are assumed to be rebels, and they are likely to disappear, never to be heard of again. In Geneva, Russian diplomats are ensuring that peace talks go nowhere. All the same, Bashar’s reputed victory is more symbolic than military. The fanatics of the Islamic State, Bashar’s implacable sectarian enemy, have just recaptured the historic city of Palmyra. The Syrian Kurds are laying the outlines of a state of their own, and the Turks are moving in to put a stop to anything of that kind. The deliberate brutality of all this fighting seems inexhaustible.
Matteo Renzi — Italy’s youngest-ever prime minister, elected at age 39 — resigned after Italians voted down constitutional changes that would have granted his office more power. (Paolo Gentiloni, the foreign minister, will form a caretaker center-left government.) The referendum’s failure, inaccurately trumpeted as “Italy’s Brexit,” could bring on yet another crisis in the European Union. Within minutes of the result’s announcement, the euro dropped sharply. Europe’s peoples continue to chafe at the burdensome status quo dictated from Brussels — a status quo popularly viewed as originating in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office in Berlin — that has led to unemployment as high as 30 percent among Italian young adults. Renzi’s milquetoast government-by-technocrat may be replaced by something more radical as soon as the next election. Beppe Grillo, a former stand-up comedian and the leader of the right-wing-populist Five Star Movement, promises answers to the moribund economy and the seemingly unstoppable flow of migrants to the Italian coast from North Africa. He also raises the possibility of a second referendum: on whether Italy needs to be in the euro zone at all. That vote could, in fact, be “Italy’s Brexit.”
Geert Wilders isn’t much as free-speech martyrs go — the Dutch politician has proposed such illiberal measures as banning the Koran and prohibiting the building of mosques — but his recent conviction on two hate-speech charges is nonetheless lamentable, an unwelcome reminder of the decline of free speech and authentic civil liberty in Europe. Wilders’s crime was asking supporters at a rally whether they would prefer for the Netherlands to have more or fewer Muslim immigrants from Morocco. (Fewer, they said, with some energy.) The formal charges against Wilders were encouraging discrimination and giving “group offense,” and while he will endure no punishment, the fact that he has been convicted of a crime for engaging in ordinary politics is shameful. The Netherlands, like Europe at large, has a great deal to talk about on the related questions of Islam, immigration, culture, and security. The codification of liberal squeamishness in statutes outlawing free and open discussion of these questions suffocates debate among responsible parties and encourages irresponsible ones, from the Le Pen element in France to the frankly fascist movements in Austria and elsewhere. Before his conviction, Wilders was judged likely to be the Netherlands’ next prime minister; afterward, he was slightly more likely. He has something to say, and the Dutch should honor their ancient and proud free-speech tradition.
In Germany, Chancellor Merkel called for a partial ban on niqabs (face veils) and burkas (full-body sheaths) at a conference of the Christian Democratic Union. “Our law takes precedence over codes of honor, tribal or family rules, and over sharia law,” Merkel said. Her proposal would require unmasked faces in court and during police checks: commonsense requirements of justice and security. But she would also extend the ban to schools, universities, and road traffic. So dirigisme tries to clean up multicultural messes; Merkel would not have to be so heavy-handed if she had not welcomed tens of thousands of refugees with little regard to the risks and consequences of doing so. Freedom smiles on eccentricity, but mass migration breeds conflict and repression.
By a vote of 234 to 56, with six abstentions, the South Korean congress impeached the country’s president, Park Geun-hye. We have no particular opinion about the charges against her, but we do have an opinion about democracy: It is a great and good thing. For decades, South Korea was ruled by dictatorships. Today, as every day since World War II, North Korea is a totalitarian hell. South Korea is an example of democracy — so that a proper presidential impeachment is, in a sense, good news.
Boubaker Hakim had a deadly career. Indeed, his nom de guerre was “Abu Muqatil,” “Father of Killing.” Credit him with truth in advertising. He was born in Paris. He mentored the brothers who killed a lot of people at Charlie Hebdo magazine. He had a hand in other attacks as well. The French had him in jail for a while: They released him after three years. Hakim went on to victory after victory, bloodbath after bloodbath. But it all ended for him in late November, when he was driving a car in Raqqa, Syria, and found himself on the business end of a drone. American forces killed him, as they have killed many jihadists, and as they will kill many more. This is vital work, and we congratulate and thank our forces.
New Zealand’s prime minister, John Key, abruptly announced his retirement, saying he had had enough of the job and wanted to spend more time with his family. For perhaps the first time in the history of politics, that explanation may actually be true. In his eight years in office (and ten as leader of the center-right National party), Key has brought unprecedented prosperity to New Zealand by following conservative principles. According to The Economist, New Zealand has been rated “the easiest place on Earth to do business,” “the world’s most prosperous spot,” and close to the top in “democracy and freedom,” partly because its government and civil servants are “the world’s fourth most honest.” Immigration policy focuses on those with desirable skills, and the government has “eagerly fostered free-trade agreements around the world.” Even before Key took office, New Zealand’s turnaround had begun with the reduction or elimination of tariffs and agricultural subsidies. While each country has its own strengths and its own issues, the fundamental principles apply everywhere: Honest, limited government plus economic freedom equals prosperity.
The French parliament recently passed a bill criminalizing the posting of pro-life information online. Violators face a maximum of two years in prison and over $30,000 in fines. The measure makes it a crime for pro-life individuals or activists to obstruct a woman’s lawful decision to have an abortion, or to cause her guilt after the fact. Though the bill’s supporters claim that the measure criminalizes only “misinformation” about abortion, it defines obstruction expansively as the use of “moral and psychological pressure, threats, or intimidation” of any kind toward women who are considering abortion or who have obtained one in the past. This language could be used to lump in the presentation of alternatives to abortion with actual threats, and it might even be used to prevent Christians from stating that abortion is immoral. The French government is doing its part to make the country a place where truth will do the opposite of setting you free.
Kellie Leitch is running to be the leader of Canada’s Conservative party. As part of her campaign, she has proposed changing the law to allow Canadians to use mace or pepper spray against humans in self-defense. It is currently a criminal offense. (It is legal to use pepper spray to defend against bears, about whom Canadians have fewer illusions.) Leitch said that such a change would particularly help women to ward off attackers. Canada’s federal status-of-women minister, Patty Hajdu, denounced the idea as “unrealistic and offensive to women” because it “places the onus on women to defend themselves.” Hajdu noted that the government was “developing a federal gender-based-violence strategy” to ensure that “women in Canada can live free from violence.” Perhaps many Canadian women will wish to rely solely on that strategy for their protection; others may wish to carry at least some means of self-defense. Why not give them the choice?
Catholic teaching has always held that marriage is indissoluble. It therefore also holds that people who have divorced and remarried without a Church declaration that their original marriage was invalid are engaged in ongoing sin and ineligible for Communion. Pope Francis has sought to show mercy to people in these situations, but his efforts have come at the cost of clarity about the teaching. Some traditionalists within the Church are beginning to hurl charges of heresy at him, while some progressives essentially agree but approve of the heterodoxy. Two eminent Catholic philosophers and theologians, John Finnis and Germain Grisez, have gently asked the pope for a clarification. They would like him to say that, since his statements are to be read in harmony with earlier authoritative pronouncements by the Church, he disavows any reading of them that casts those pronouncements aside. However inadvertently, Francis has created a great deal of needless strife; he should follow the path out of it that Finnis and Grisez have marked for him.
“We don’t get religion,” Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the New York Times, said in a post-election interview on NPR. “We don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives.” By “we,” he meant not only the Gray Lady but “the New York–based — and Washington-based, too, probably — media powerhouses” generally. Give him credit for recognizing a blind spot to which journalists as a tribe seem especially susceptible. They need to know the dogmas of the religiously observant but also to suspend their own dogmatism, be it secular or otherwise. Faith touches politics and vice versa, and reporters without religious literacy will fail to discern the direction in which influence is running in any given circumstance. The Times has boasted some remarkably perceptive religion writers over the years — Peter Steinfels and Ari L. Goldman come to mind — but the assumption that the kind of sensitivity they brought to their work could be confined to a niche, or department, has impoverished the journalistic profession as a whole. Anyone can be fair and insightful if he tries. On matters where religion intersects with public life, most journalists should try harder.
“I’m not disputing this is great literature,” said the concerned mother of a pupil exposed to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird. “But there is so much racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can’t get past that, and right now we are a nation divided as it is.” At her request, the books have been temporarily removed from classrooms and school libraries in Accomack County, Va., while a committee deliberates whether to make the ban permanent. In those two novels, Mark Twain and Harper Lee depicted American society under slavery and Jim Crow, respectively, and expressed a sympathetic view of black Americans who suffered those injustices. The works also show how our morals, manners, and language have changed, and they are monuments to our country’s history, including its defects and the ordinary citizens who sought to correct them. Most children cannot be expected to understand the historical contexts of literature written long before they were born, but that’s why they have teachers, and parents.
According to Billboard magazine, “the biggest-selling CD act of 2016 doesn’t sing. He doesn’t play guitar and he doesn’t tour. In fact, no one alive has ever seen him.” He is Mozart. A new box set comprises 200 CDs, which play for 240 hours and contain the complete works of Mozart. The set costs $339.82 on Amazon right now. And, yes, it is the best-selling CD release of 2016. Mozart’s still got it. And his popularity is very good cultural and civilizational news.
The Brooklyn Paper reported in December that “an anti-capitalist artist plans to open a cash-optional coffee shop in Williamsburg.” The coffee shop is meant to be an art project with a message: “I want to tell the story that goods or foods can exist outside of the market,” said Fran Ilich, the artist. How? Ilich plans to accept cash donations, goods, services, or an alternative currency minted in his shop as payment for his coffee (plus a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts). He told a local news station that he’s also open to people “bringing their own currencies as long as there’s trust and it can be converted into something else.” In other words, he plans to create a space in which goods and services are freely bartered, currency is used as a medium of exchange, and the rule of law establishes a fair playing field. If only someone had thought of that before.
Every revolution eats its children. When Kimberly Peirce, director of the 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry — based on the true story of a transsexual who was raped and murdered — accepted a speaking engagement at Reed College, she must have expected an enthusiastic reception. There is no cause more sacred on today’s college campus than transgenderism, and Peirce’s film was one of the first to portray a transgender person positively. Yet instead of hosannas, she was met with protest signs and screeching abuse (“F*** this cis white b****!” “F*** your transphobia!” “F*** your respectability politics!”). Why? The protesters complained that, by making the film, Peirce (who is lesbian but non-trans) had profited from violence against the transgendered, and that the lead role was played by a cis woman (Hilary Swank) instead of a transsexual. The rowdy radicals drove Peirce from the stage, and when she attempted to return and resume her talk, they shouted her down again. Now she must know how Robespierre felt on the way to the guillotine.
Since its founding in 1839, the Virginia Military Institute has prided itself on strict discipline and spartan living conditions meant to build character and mold leaders. VMI students are trained to deal with situations ranging from military battles to corporate warfare, but even for them, some situations are just too stressful to bear — such as taking final exams, evidently. Students debilitated after brutal encounters with Plutarch or organic chemistry were invited during finals week to drop by a “Stress Busters” event whose relaxing activities included yoga, petting a “certified service dog,” and filling in coloring books. If only General Patton had thought of these! The institute’s superintendent later clarified that what VMI staff had called “coloring books” were actually “a one sheet handout with an intricate design that may be used to color, within [discrete], small lines.” We’ll trust the cadets to stay within the lines in true VMI style, and we hope that if they ever fight battles far from any college campus, they find other outlets for their stress.
“I really can’t stay” / “Baby, it’s cold outside . . .” Thus begins Frank Loesser’s classic 1944 song of attempted seduction meeting ambiguous reluctance. A pair of Minneapolis singer-songwriters, troubled by Loesser’s failure to respect modern “no means no” principles, have rewritten the lyrics and recorded a new version that emphasizes consent (“I really can’t stay” / “Baby, I’m fine with that”) while also removing politically incorrect references to cigarettes, maiden aunts, and so forth. The result is an odd reversal of the cat-and-mouse roles of Loesser’s original, as the man keeps brushing off the woman’s hints that she might be persuaded to linger. In short, Loesser’s suave wolf has become a too-perfect gentleman. The new version concludes with the couple agreeing to meet for lunch at Cheesecake Factory (no, really, it does).
When John Glenn became the third American in space, and the first to orbit Earth, he seemed to have stepped from a storybook written half by Hollywood, half by Mark Twain. The grin, the freckles, the glinting eyes looked too good to be true. Thank God they were true, for the Soviet Union had leaped ahead of America in space, but Glenn and his Mercury astronaut colleagues showed we could match and ultimately surpass them. Glenn had already been writing the story of his own life, as a decorated Marine fighter pilot in World War II and Korea and a test pilot thereafter. His political career was long but anticlimactic: He won an Ohio Senate seat on the third try and kept it for four terms, but his 1984 presidential run was a bust. His idea of a peroration was to recite the Pledge of Allegiance — it was hackneyed and corny, yet Glenn really meant it. Who needs the White House when you have flown the heavens and have such a strong, simple character? Dead at 95. R.I.P.
Investigate Russia’s Hacking
According to the Washington Post, the CIA has concluded with “high confidence” that Russian interference in this year’s presidential election — primarily its facilitation of the theft and leaking of thousands of e-mails from the Democratic National Committee and others — was designed to boost Donald Trump’s electoral prospects, not merely to shake Americans’ faith in the integrity of their electoral system. If the conclusion is true — and it remains a significant if — Russia is even more brazen than formerly realized.
Interfering in an election by exposing sensitive information, as Russia seems to have done, and tampering with Diebold machines are two different things — a distinction that some Hillary Clinton partisans have forgotten in their calls for a revote. This is the latest excuse for Clinton’s loss other than Hillary Clinton. Kremlin machinations make for a helpful addition to the list that also includes Madisonian republicanism, James Comey, and fake news.
Amid the panic, it’s worth recalling who has been responsible for America’s foreign policy vis-à-vis Russia for the last eight years. The president-elect is not the one who oversaw the “reset,” or who allowed Russia to gobble up Crimea and invade Ukraine with impunity, or who enabled Putin to prop up the Assad regime in Syria, or who permitted American diplomats to be harassed in Moscow. Additionally, it’s not Trump and his nominee for secretary of state who exchanged classified communiqués over an unsecured e-mail server, and it was John Podesta, not Kellyanne Conway, whose password was “[email protected]”
What is needed isn’t a “do-over election.” It’s a full congressional investigation to determine exactly what happened and why, accompanied by a hardening of American defenses against future hacking.
Also advisable would be a more responsible approach from the president-elect. In typical form, Trump immediately called the CIA report “ridiculous” and in an official statement sought to dismiss wholesale the agency’s credibility. A bit of outrage at news that a foreign power tried to sway American voters is called for.
One hopes President-elect Trump’s illusions about Russia are soon dispelled. The Kremlin is, ultimately, not pro–Donald Trump, it is pro-Kremlin, and it will not hesitate to exploit weaknesses wherever it finds them. For eight years, the Obama administration has failed to properly distinguish America’s friends from its foes. Congress and the president-elect can defuse left-wing conspiracy-mongering without making the same mistake.
The Carrier bailout, in which the air-conditioner company was given $7 million in tax incentives in exchange for scaling back some offshoring plans, is bad politics, bad policy, and bad precedent. And, in spite of Donald Trump’s pride in his deal-making capabilities, it isn’t even very good deal-making.
Carrier had planned to close two facilities in Vice President–elect Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana, transferring that work to a Mexican facility and moving or eliminating about 1,800 jobs. Carrier still will close one of those Indiana facilities, and it still is moving most of those jobs to Mexico. At least 300 of the jobs “saved” in this deal were never scheduled for transfer to Mexico to begin with.
Carrier, bolstered by that $7 million corporate-welfare handout, will keep a few hundred positions in Indiana, at least for a time: It is planning a multi-million-dollar automation investment that eventually will eliminate many of them. The prevalence of automation as a cause of manufacturing’s declining share of the labor market (we manufacture much more in the United States than we did in the 1950s, but we need fewer people to do it) is terribly underappreciated, though we are pleased to have seen even such unlikely sources as the editor of Mother Jones lately acknowledge that technological development rather than a mythical race-to-the-bottom model of capitalism is and probably will continue to be the single greatest source of pressure on manufacturing jobs and wages. It is unlikely that any package of targeted tax breaks is going to be substantial enough to turn around the economics there.
And it is unlikely that the tax breaks were the effective instrument in this deal, either. Carrier is a division of United Technologies, an industrial-and-aerospace giant that derives about 25 percent of its revenue from government contracts, 10 percent from defense contracts alone. It had been offered a substantially similar deal by Indiana’s local economic-development agency before the election and rejected it. It is illegal to threaten a company with losing its government contracts in retaliation for its refusal to take into account a given politician’s political needs, but the CEO of United and knowledgeable sources in Indiana both frankly acknowledged that fear of such retaliation is what inspired United to give Trump a post-election victory in Indiana, however symbolic.
Seeing to the long-term economic policy of the United States is not an occasion for ad-hocracy, for flitting willy-nilly between crises, real or perceived, and intervening with the force of the presidency. It is, rather, a far-reaching project involving a consistent and enlightened understanding of everything from federal regulation (here, Trump has encouraging instincts) to tax policy, education, and much more. We are not going to ensure that there are good blue-collar jobs for Americans who work in places like Carrier factories 30 years hence by bribing and pressuring a few companies here and there to keep on a few hundred workers in exchange for some political goodwill. What Trump and Pence have done here is not economic policy at all, but pure politics of a not especially fruitful kind.