The Democrats promised the public hearings into the impeachment of President Donald Trump would produce bombshells proving he should be removed from office. Thus far, they’ve failed, making it hard to take the whole thing seriously.
After weeks of closed-door hearings, allegations that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff coaches witnesses and multiple “key witnesses” trotted out before the cameras in the past few days, the best they seem to be able to come up with is “Heard it from a friend who… Heard it from a friend who… Heard it from another Trump’s been messin’ around.”
They sound like a bad REO Speedwagon cover band, not serious attesters to presidential malfeasance.
In fact, as numerous Republican critics of the process have pointed out, the whole thing stinks. The impeachment train has been warming up since January 20, 2017. The first story in The Washington Post on the possibility appeared online just about 20 minutes after he’d finished taking the oath of office. All the train needed was a destination and, with the allegation that the president withheld crucial military aid to Ukraine until it agreed to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter for corruption, it finally found one.
The problem, as is becoming clear for the Democrats, is the lack of proof there was ever a quid, let alone a pro quo. Which is probably why they’ve stopped talking about things in those terms and are instead throwing around words like “bribery,” saying “hearsay can be much better” than direct evidence and musing about whether the president exceeded his authority by firing the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine (spoiler alert: he didn’t). They’re adding to the sense of wrongdoing without offering, as of yet anyway, definitive proof it occurred because it’s more important, for political purposes, to make the president look guilty than to prove he is.
What we’re witnessing is the extension of politics by other—some might say illegitimate—means. Even if they cannot engineer his removal from office, the Democrats who lead the resistance have been working overtime for the entire length of his presidency to lessen his chances in 2020. They’re using official government resources in Washington and in the states to do opposition research, to blacken his reputation, to create narratives that will remain in the mind of the public and influence their vote the next time around. It’s unseemly—and one does not have to be a supporter of the president to admit that.
What Schiff has done up to this point reminds me of the old cooking shows my grandmother used to watch. They’d show the chef prepare some elaborate dish, put it in the oven and then—after cutting away to commercial—serve it up. The magic of TV made you overlook the fact there wasn’t enough time during the break for the dish to cook. What was served had already been prepared, just like what we’re seeing in the testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. The whole business has been baked in advance.
From Schiff’s committee, the investigation will move, at least according to the rules as we now understand them, to the House Judiciary Committee. There, the grounds for removing the president from office will be established and the actual articles of impeachment will be thrashed out. Hopefully, the institution of the presidency will be treated with more respect than Schiff is showing it, but that’s unlikely. The Democrats are on a mission and intend to see it through.
It’s unfortunate the current president is seen by so many Americans as unlikable. It makes it hard to see the line between his personal interests and the nation’s institutional—a division he has admittedly done much to blur all on his own. The precedents being set now by Schiff and company will give future congressional majorities a much bigger club to swing against the president and the presidency unless, as is all too often the case, the people who write about such things with a supposedly critical eye will allow for double-standards to rule the day.
We’ve seen it before. A cover-up without an underlying crime was still a crime when it involved Richard Nixon. When it involved Bill or Hillary Clinton, not such much—at least as far as the majority of the punditocracy was willing to state. The fact they liked they Clintons and didn’t like Nixon had a lot to do with it, just as what is going on now has so very much to do with how many of the media’s elite guard simply cannot stand Trump.
Pundits who spend their time on cable news wondering why so many Americans have tuned out their “country over party!” talk need look no further than at an excellent piece in today’s New York Times, in which Trip Gabriel correctly describes the turn of events that led to Ralph Northam keeping his job as governor of Virginia:
Party officials and analysts in Virginia said Mr. Northam owed his political survival to fortuitous events as well as his own efforts.
Just days after the surfacing of Mr. Northam’s 1984 yearbook photo — with one figure in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan robes — the lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, was accused of sexual abuse by two women, which he denied. Before the week was out, Attorney General Mark R. Herring acknowledged he had worn blackface as a college student.
With the state’s top three Democrats compromised, the desire to force them from office and make way for the Republican next in line lost appeal to many in the party.
This is exactly correct. Effectively, the Democratic party and its allies took the view that the alleged bad behavior of one top Democrat was terrible and should lead to immediate resignation, but that the alleged bad behavior of all the top Democrats was worth ignoring in case the Republican party gain an advantage. Or, to put it mathematically, Democrats in Virginia decided that one was a bigger number than three. Had Northam been the only top Democrat who was embroiled in scandal, he’d likely have gone. But, because all of them were embroiled in scandal, doing something about it “lost appeal to many in the party.”
Later in the piece, Gabriel makes it clear that, for many Virginia Democrats, the issues were simply more important:
“The liberal groups that should have continued to put pressure on Governor Northam for this scandal made the political calculation that it was better for their self-interest to shut up about it,” said Will Ritter, a Republican strategist in the state.
Whatever doubts that lingered with Democratic voters about state leadership were largely banished in the summer, when the governor called the Legislature back to Richmond to pass gun restrictions after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach on May 31.
I read the calls for Northam’s resignation, many of which accused the man of no less a crime than having reopened the wounds of slavery, segregation, and the Civil War. It is interesting to learn that these infractions can be forgiven if one organizes a symbolic special session on a hot-button issue.
Why do so many people stick with Trump despite his terrible behavior? Why won’t Republicans put “country over party?” Why is the specter of the other side so powerful relative to the realities of one’s own? Virginia Democrats know the answers to these questions. And they ain’t pretty. I wish devoutly that it were not, but this is the age we live in, and its failings are by no means limited to one side.
Column: Education, immigration, and densification
So this is what it feels like to live in a lab experiment. As a native Virginian, I’ve watched my state come full circle. The last time Democrats enjoyed the amount of power in the Old Dominion that they won on Tuesday, I was entering middle school in Fairfax County.
In 1993 the governor was a Democrat, one of two U.S. senators was a Democrat, Democrats held 7 of 11 House seats, and Democrats controlled both the House of Delegates and the state Senate. Next year, the governor will be a Democrat, both U.S. senators will be Democrats, Democrats will hold 7 of 11 House seats, and Democrats will control both the House of Delegates and the state Senate. Hardly anything has changed. Except for the Commonwealth itself.
President Trump so dominates the popular imagination that every election result is described in relation to his job approval and conduct in office. Trump is unpopular in Virginia, and suburban voters are eager to rebuke him at the polls. But the story of this particular Democratic winning streak is less about Trump than it is about long-running demographic and cultural transformation. He catalyzed changes decades in the making.
The former capital of the Confederacy is now a hub of highly educated professionals, immigrants, and liberals whose values are contrary to those of an increasingly downscale, religious, and rural GOP. Democrats continue to benefit from the shift in the college-educated population toward progressivism. Not only are Republicans increasingly bereft of a language in which to talk to these voters. They may be incapable of doing so. The two sides occupy different realities.
Virginia has followed broader trends of enrichment, immigration, and densification. John Warner’s election to the U.S. Senate in 1978 was an early sign of the Republican revival in the South. The election of 1993, which brought George Allen to the governor’s mansion, was a preview of the Republican Revolution the following year. In 2000, Allen joined Warner in the Senate.
For the next year, the governor and both U.S. senators were Republicans. Then Mark Warner won the governor’s mansion, then Jim Webb defeated Allen, then Warner replaced Warner (confusing, I know), and except for a brief appearance by Governor Bob McDonnell, Democrats have held all statewide offices since.
Over the last 29 years, Virginia has become wealthier, more diverse, and more crowded. The population has grown by 42 percent, from 6 million in 1990 to 8.5 million. Population density has increased by 38 percent, from 156 people per square mile to 215. Mean travel time to work has increased from 24 minutes to 28 minutes. The median home price (in 2018 dollars) has gone from $169,000 to $256,000. Density equals Democrats.
The number of Virginians born overseas has skyrocketed from 5 percent to 12 percent. The Hispanic population has gone from 3 percent to 10 percent. The Asian community has grown from 2 percent to 7 percent. In 1990, 7 percent of people 5 years and older spoke a language other than English at home. In 2018 the number was 16 percent.
If educational attainment is a proxy for class, Virginia has undergone bourgeoisification. The number of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher has shot up from 25 percent of the state to 38 percent. As baccalaureates multiplied, they swapped partisan affiliation. Many of the Yuppies of the 80s, Bobos of the 90s, and Security Moms of the ’00s now march in the Resistance.
Nationwide, “In 1994, 39 percent of those with a four-year college degree (no postgraduate experience) identified with or leaned toward the Democratic Party and 54 percent associated with the Republican Party,” according to the Pew Research Center. “In 2017, those figures were exactly reversed.” Last year, college graduates favored Senator Kaine over challenger Cory Stewart by 20 points.
All of these developments are more pronounced in the most important part of the state: northern Virginia. Fairfax County has grown from 800,000 people to 1.1 million. The percentage of foreign-born residents has gone from 16 percent in 1990 to 31 percent in 2018. The number of Hispanics has more than doubled from 6 percent to 16 percent. The number of Asians has almost tripled from 8 percent to 20 percent.
Slightly less than half of Fairfax County residents held a bachelor’s degree or higher in 1990. Now that number is 61 percent. The median home price has gone from $225,000 to $535,000. In 1992, George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot won a combined 58 percent in Fairfax. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won 64 percent of the vote.
When I was growing up, Loudoun County was considered a rural area disconnected from the rhythms of the Beltway. In the years since, its population has exploded from 86,000 people to 407,000. The percentage of foreign-born residents has gone from 6 percent to 24 percent. A county population that was 3 percent Hispanic and 2 percent Asian is 14 percent Hispanic and 20 percent Asian. The percentage of the county with a bachelor’s degree or higher has gone from 33 percent to 60 percent. Loudoun is the richest county in America. Fairfax is second. In 1992, Bill Clinton won 35 percent of the vote in Loudoun County. Twenty-four years later, his wife won 55 percent.
As Virginia has moved into the Democratic column, the state Republican Party has become more populist, more nationalist, and more culturally conservative. The dwindling number of Republicans who spoke the language of suburbia could not escape their party’s national reputation for hostility to immigrants and opposition to progressive ideals. A similar process occurred in states like California, Colorado, and Nevada. It may also be underway in Arizona and Texas (!).
Virginia became a blue state as the world celebrated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The political development of the Commonwealth is emblematic of America in the post-Cold War world. The Republican Party found it no longer could count on unwavering support from the upscale college-educated white voters who once made up its base. The cultural churn produced by a migrant-driven, globalized, information-based economy gave suburban America a different population, with a different structure of values, which looks upon social conservatives as ambassadors from Mars.
The GOP has a path to the presidency and to congressional majorities. But it does not go through my old Virginia home.
By Miklos K. Radvanyi
Historically, the fate of what has been called only since the last decade of the 20th century the sovereign state of Ukraine has been depended mostly on the whims of the major European powers. Moreover, if one would like to separate the myths from the facts, Ukraine has never occupied a fixed geographical area or has been a political, economic, and cultural entity with well-defined national uniqueness. Thus, when independence was declared on August 24, 1991, the new state of Ukraine has lacked and is still devoid of a mature national identity.
On the other hand, in the ubiquitous euphoria of the relatively peaceful break up of the Soviet Union in the West, irrational optimism, coupled with blinding emotions, prevented well-meaning politicians, self-appointed experts, and the general public to weigh with due seriousness the enormous challenges that this newly minted state will and must face. In the intervening three decades, and before Ukraine could have attained a sufficient degree of national character, successive governments have brought it dangerously close to becoming an irredeemably failed state.
Meanwhile, after almost three years of relentless pursuit of the mirage of President Trump’s impeachment, the Democrats in the House of Representatives have latched theirs and their party’s political future onto the so-called “Ukrainian quid pro quo.” Claiming that in the ominous telephone call President Trump blackmailed Ukrainian President Zelensky by withholding almost half a billion dollars earmarked for military assistance in exchange for compromising information on Joe’s and Hunter Biden’s Ukrainian activities, and thus explicitly solicited the latter’s support for his reelection, the President committed an impeachable offense under Article II, section 4 of the constitution. To add additional legal insult to a clearly political injury, the Democrats stated that they reserve the right to charge President Trump with more crimes of their liking.
While almost all of the Democrats and many like minded citizens consider this development in Washington, D.C. a potential victory for the rule of law, such assessment misses the mark. The same politicians who accuse President Trump of endangering national security, remain strangely nonchalant about the precarious domestic and international conditions of Ukraine, the future of the United States’ interests in the European theatre, and the global dimensions of three decades of erroneous policies toward one of the largest European countries situated strategically between Russia and the rest of the continent.
To start with, Ukraine is in extremely deep political, financial, economic, social, and cultural crises. Therefore, President Zelensky intends simultaneously to make peace with Russia, to carry out wholesale reforms of the economy, to fight corruption, to petition international financial organizations and donors for bailouts, and to bring his country closer to NATO and the European Union.
For the United States of America, the desirable outcome would be successes for President Zelensky personally and his administration generally on all those fronts. Here, it is important to note that prior to 2016, during President Obama’s eight years, the near consensual view among Ukrainian experts was that support for Ukraine’s superficial stability was paramount. For this reason, President Obama and his administration did nothing to move successive administrations in Kyiv to abandon the ultra nationalist policies against ethnic minorities, the arrogant criminal corruption of politicians, and the rapid impoverishment of the society. Yet, President Obama’s passivity created an American political vacuum toward Ukraine that, in turn, invited Vice President Biden to exploit the corruption ridden Ukrainian political and economic systems for his and his family’s unethical and even criminal enrichment. More importantly, because they did not comprehend the depth of the ultra nationalism and the all encompassing nature of the corruption, the Obama administration treated Ukraine like a normal state. Not having a coherent Ukrainian policy, the Obama administration in general and Vice President Biden in particular showed their collective incompetence and institutional delusion of Ukraine.
Now that the Democrats use and abuse Ukraine as a domestic political football, what happens next is an open question. Will the Trump administration be able to fashion a coherent Ukrainian policy amidst the relentless negative campaign of the opposition? Likewise, will Russia exploit the self-generated American paralysis to deepen Ukraine’s misery? Will the decisively defeated ultra nationalist Poroshenko minority provoke a civil war to nullify the results of the spring elections? As a result, will Ukraine again be dominated by the old criminal enterprise rejected recently so decisively by the voters?
For the United States of America and especially for the Trump administration, the objective ought to be clear: President Trump must state firmly that the United States of America will not compromise its fundamental values. The Ukrainian question for him is not a fight over power against the Democrats but a matter of importance about democracy and prosperity. Ultra nationalism and unwarranted cultural fanaticism will not be tolerated. Equally, the endemic corruption must be eliminated decisively and moral purity shall be reestablished. For, if corruption and immorality will continue, Ukraine will disappear as an independent nation. Finally, in direct opposition to President Obama, President Trump must emphasize to President Zelensky that he is not interested in whether he is loved or hated in Ukraine. On his part, he will act with honor toward Ukraine. In turn, President Zelensky and Ukraine can count on President Trump’s assistance if they respect the new Realpolitik of the United States of America.
Ever since President Donald Trump assumed office, he’s been on double-secret probation. And, as expected, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday voted to continue their heretofore-held-in-secret probe of his actions.
Where the authority for such a probe, as executed, comes is not clear. There are no “little-known codicils” in the U.S. Constitution giving the speaker of the house unlimited power to preserve order in times she regards as a national emergency, like when Hillary Clinton fails to win and election. What is actually occurring is a naked grab for political power, driven by partisan donors and activists applying pressure to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to drive Trump from office.
Yet rather than take the lead herself, Pelosi has assigned the responsibility for getting the job done to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff. The California Democrat is the right man for it, not because he’s a seasoned legislator and expert on the inner workings of the constitutional process but because he’s a “sneaky little” leaker comfortable with letting the ends justify the means.
Retired General Don Bacon, a Republican congressman from Nebraska, put it well when he tweeted Wednesday, “How can I make a judgment on the impeachment investigation if we don’t know what’s being said in these hearings? Adam Schiff’s secret investigation hasn’t released a single deposition statement. This is an unfair process not designed to get at the truth. #NoDueProcess for @POTUS.”
And “no due process” is an important point. What House Democrats voted to do has a distinct lack of it. It’s not that they’ve set in motion “Soviet-style hearings”—an analogy that, by the way, should be abandoned 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall because too few people understand it—because a semblance of due process existed even there. What we’ve got now is a Kangaroo Court, where opinions are considered evidence and guilt is predetermined.
Usually, like with the Delta’s in Animal House, we favor the slobs over the snobs. In this case, it’s reversed, with the favored Democrats and their allies acting like blue-haired old ladies going limp with the vapors at suggestions the emoluments clause of the Constitution has been violated or that a quid pro quo was dangled before the leader of another country during a phone call in which foreign assistance was discussed. Trump is surely neither the first nor the last occupant of the Oval Office to cross that particular threshold. Did we try to impeach Jimmy Carter for the quid pro quos he offered at Camp David to Israel and Egypt?
The voters may be smarter than those pushing impeachment may think. In a nationwide poll conducted at the end of October for Politico/Morning Consult, 63 percent of those surveyed described “the current media coverage of the impeachment process” as “frustrating,” 55 percent thought it was “disappointing,” 54 percent called it “negative,” and 52 percent labeled it “skewed.” Just 32 percent said it was “trustworthy.”
The Republicans have, by these numbers, at least the opportunity to defend the institution of the presidency and the electoral process if they choose to. They don’t have to defend Trump—something many of them appear reluctant to do because they fear adverse consequences at the polls.
That’s a mistake. What Pelosi, Schiff and their ilk are doing to our system of checks and balances and rule of law is far more dangerous than anything it’s been proven Trump has done.
The Democrats will impeach the president along partisan lines despite Pelosi’s telling The Washington Post in March 2019, “Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.”
Then they will try to argue, with help of the anti-Trump wing of the GOP establishment, that the president lacks the support he needs to avoid conviction in the Senate and removal from office. They think he’ll resign if it comes to that. Yet Trump will probably force a vote instead, believing, in the end, that he’ll win just like the Delta’s did. Either way, the country will be almost irrevocably damaged, as the politics of personal destruction becomes a full-blown war that the American system may not survive.
Let us restore trust in one another
As I studied Al Smith, I had to look him up and learn more about him. I found what we find in many great leaders — Abe Lincoln, FDR. It’s a focus on making our country a little better when we hand it to the next generation, and having a nonpartisan approach to team-building.
We meet in the spirit here tonight of unity, friendship and patriotism. And so I turned to history, for we’ve been through tough times in the past in our country, and often in history. I have found the way forward.
It’s tempting this evening to look back exactly a century to 1919, the year that Alfred Emanuel Smith first took office as governor of New York. It was in many ways a troubled time. Anti-immigrant fervor ran high, political corruption made national headlines. The glitz of the Jazz Age was real, yet working and living conditions for much of the American population were abysmal. The country was enjoying an economic boom, but a storm was on the horizon. So there’s a certain resonance here with today.
Tonight, I’d like to recede even further into history to 1838 and to Springfield, Ill., and an organization there called the Young Men’s Lyceum, which Abraham Lincoln’s friend William Herndon once described as a society that contained and commanded all the culture of that place.
The month was January, and Lincoln himself was just shy of 29. Violence by supporters of slavery had shattered the state and the nation. At the Young Men’s Lyceum, Lincoln rose to give an address called “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions.”
It’s a long speech, by my reckoning enough for 12 Al Smith dinners, and there weren’t any jokes. But the core of its message can be simply stated.
Lincoln observed great nations crumble for one of two reasons The first is aggression from the outside … [but] it was not the foreign aggressor we must fear. It was corrosion from within. The rot, the viciousness, the lassitude, the ignorance. Anarchy is one potential consequence of all this. Another is the rise of an ambitious leader, unfettered by conscience, or precedent or decency who would make himself supreme.
“If destruction be our lot,” Lincoln warned, “we must ourselves be its author and finisher.”
I think often of Abraham Lincoln’s Lyceum speech because it embodies both our greatest hopes, and our darkest fears. Today, in our own time, we need only look around us. For decades, our political conduct has been woeful and a source of national paralysis. We have supplanted trust and empathy with suspicion and contempt. We have scorched our opponents with language that precludes compromise. We have brushed aside the possibility that the person with whom we disagree might actually sometimes be right. We proclaim what divides us and seldom even acknowledge what unites us.
Meanwhile, the roster of urgent national issues has continued to grow unaddressed and, given the paralysis, impossible to address, and all of this was approaching a level of crisis even before the specter of impeachment arose.
This is the moment for an act of remembrance. Remembrance of the core principles we used to know and live by, and that we now seem to have forgotten.
We seem to have forgotten that America is not some finished work, nor is it a failed project. Rather, it’s an ongoing experiment for which all of us bear responsibility, including a responsibility to repair.
We seem to have forgotten that the foundational virtue of democracy is trust. Not trust in one’s own rectitude or opinion, but trust in the capacity of collective deliberation to move us forward.
We seem to have forgotten that cynicism, which has now infected the Western democracies, is not realism, for all the weary and knowing heirs it affects. Cynicism is just cowardice.
And finally, we seem to have forgotten the paramount importance of those bonds of affection that Lincoln once spoke of.
We need one another more than ever when the chips are down.
Historically, we have come together in those moments; after the attack on Pearl Harbor, after the 9/11 attack on this very city. The surest path to catastrophe is to ignore our better angels and sever those bonds of affection.
It is hard work to make our democracy work, and indeed our Constitution was designed to make it hard. But as hard as it might be, it is also noble work, for we’re building a country here.
… One day [in Iraq when I was in command there] we apprehended an insurgent in the act of planting a mine on a major road. In fact, it was a road I’d just driven on. Now a prisoner bound hand and foot, he was brought to me by the Marines, because they were surprised to find that he spoke English.
He and I talked for a bit, and I made clear he was lucky to be alive and that he had an orange jumpsuit in his future. He was, no two ways about it, the enemy. At least when he was doing his day job — or his night job. America, in his mind, was the great Satan.
But before he was loaded onto a truck to be taken off to confinement, he said, “General, can I ask you something?” And so I stopped and waited for him. He said, “If I behave myself, if I’m a model prisoner, is there a chance that my family and I can immigrate to America?”
His words reminded me how America is still viewed in the world, even among those who profess to hate it, America remains a power of inspiration in their lives as well. They see our freedoms and our vitality, our long tradition of democratic government, our chaotic and exuberant culture, and they want in.
I often wished that we Americans could see ourselves through foreign eyes. This would remind us of our great good fortune, and of the good things that we have in common. The good things we too often take for granted.
In Springfield, Lincoln invoked biblical language to describe how the power of this common spirit protects our nation. He said, as truly as had been said of the only greater institution, the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.
So, ladies and gentlemen, with malice toward none and charity for all, let us restore trust in one another.
This is an excerpt from a speech by former defense secretary and Marine Gen. James Mattis, delivered Oct. 17 at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in New York City.
An individual earning near the national median at $50,000 a year would pay more than $17,450 more per year in taxes to fund Democrats’ Medicare for All proposal. That’s not even half of it.
Democratic candidates for president continue to evade questions on how they will pay for their massive, $32 trillion single-payer health care scheme. But on Monday, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) released a 10-page paperproviding a preliminary analysis of possible ways to fund the left’s socialized medicine experiment.
Worth noting about the organization that published this document: It maintains a decidedly centrist platform. While perhaps not liberal in its views, it also does not embrace conservative policies. For instance, its president, Maya MacGuineas, recently wrote a blog post opposing the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, stating that the bill’s “shortcomings outweigh the benefits,” because it will increase federal deficits and debt.
That centrist position makes CRFB’s analysis of single payer all the more devastating, because one cannot write it off as coming from a right-wing group. And its analysis is devastating, carrying it three main messages, as follows.
Consider some of the options to pay for single payer CRFB examines, along with how they might affect average families.
A 32 percent payroll tax increase. No, that’s not a typo. Right now, employers and employees pay a combined 15.3 percent payroll tax to fund Social Security and Medicare. (While employers technically pay half of this 15.3 percent, most economists conclude the entire amount ultimately comes out of workers’ paychecks, in the form of lower wages.) This change would more than triple current payroll tax rates.
Real-Life Cost: An individual earning $50,000 in wages would pay $8,000 more per year ($50,000 times 16 percent), and so would that individual’s employer.
A 25 percent income surtax. This change would apply to all income above the standard deduction, currently $12,200 for individuals and $24,400 for families.
Real-Life Cost: An individual with $50,000 in income would pay $9,450 in higher taxes ($50,000 minus $12,200, times 25 percent).
A 42 percent Value Added Tax (VAT). This change would enact on the federal level the type of sales/consumption tax that many European countries use to support their social programs. Some proposals have called for rebates to some or all households, to reflect the fact that sales taxes raise the cost of living, particularly for poorer families. However, using some of the proceeds of the VAT to provide rebates would likely require an even higher tax rate than the 42 percent CRFB estimates in its report.
Real-Life Cost: According to CRFB, “the first-order effect of this VAT would be to increase the prices of most goods and services by 42 percent.”
Mandatory Public Premiums. This proposal would require all Americans to pay a tax in the form of a “premium” to finance single payer. As it stands now, Americans with employer-sponsored insurance pay an average of $6,015 in premiums for family coverage. (Employers pay an additional $14,561 in premium contributions; most economists argue these funds ultimately come from employees, in the form of lower wages—but workers do not explicitly pay these funds out-of-pocket.)
Real-Life Cost: According to CRFB, “premiums would need to average about $7,500 per capita or $20,000 per household” to fund single payer. Exempting individuals currently on federal health programs (e.g., Medicare and Medicaid) would prevent seniors and the poor from getting hit with these costs, but “would increase the premiums [for everyone else] by over 60 percent to more than $12,000 per individual.”
Reduce non-health federal spending by 80 percent. After re-purposing existing federal health spending (e.g., Medicare, Medicaid), paying for single payer would require reducing everything else from the federal budget—defense, transportation, education, and more—by 80 percent.
Real-Life Cost: “An 80 percent cut to Social Security would mean reducing the average new benefit from about $18,000 per year to $3,600 per year.”
The report includes other options, including an increase in federal debt to 205 percent of gross domestic product—nearly double its historic record—and a more-than-doubling of individual and corporate income tax rates. The impact of the last is obvious: Take what you paid to the IRS on April 15, or in your regular paycheck, and double it.
In theory, lawmakers could use a combination of these approaches to fund a single-payer health care system, which might blunt their impact somewhat. But the massive amounts of revenue needed gives one the sense that doing so would amount to little more than rearranging deck chairs on a sinking fiscal ship.
CRFB reinforced their prior work indicating that taxes on “the rich” could at best fund about one-third of the cost of single payer. Their proposals include $2 trillion in revenue from raising tax rates on the affluent, another $2 trillion from phasing out tax incentives for the wealthy, another $2 trillion from doubling corporate income taxes, $3 trillion from wealth taxes, and $1 trillion from taxes on financial transactions and institutions.
Several of the proposals CRFB analyzed would raise tax rates on the wealthiest households above 60 percent. At these rates, economists suggest that individuals would reduce their income and cut back on work, because they do not see the point in generating additional income if government will take 70 (or 80, or 90) cents on every additional dollar earned. While taxing “the rich” might sound publicly appealing, at a certain point it becomes a self-defeating proposition—and several proposals CRFB vetted would meet, or exceed, that point.
The report notes that “most of the [funding] options we present would shrink the economy compared to the current system.” For instance, CRFB quantifies the impact of funding single payer via a payroll tax increase as “the equivalent of a $3,200 reduction in per-person income and would result in a 6.5 percent reduction in hours worked—a 9 million person reduction in full-time equivalent workers in 2030.”
By contrast, deficit financing a single-payer system would minimize its drag on jobs, but “be far more damaging to the economy.” The increase in federal debt “would shrink the size of the economy by roughly 5 percent in 2030—the equivalent of a $4,500 reduction in per person income—and far more in the following years.”
Moreover, these estimates assume a great amount of interest by foreign buyers in continuing to purchase American debt. If the U.S. Treasury cannot find buyers for its bonds, a potential debt crisis could cause the economic damage from single payer to skyrocket.
To say single payer would cause widespread economic disruption would put it mildly. Hopefully, the CRFB report, and others like it, will inspire the American people to reject the progressive left’s march towards socialism.
Impeachment, and then what?
In the 20th century, no Congress brought impeachment proceedings against a first-term president facing a reelection. Both the Nixon and Clinton efforts were aimed at reelected presidents, perhaps on the theory that there was supposedly no other means of bringing them to account once they had been elected twice.
In contrast, Trump faces reelection in about a year. The prevailing mood may soon be just to let the voters adjudicate his purported sins and for a year allow the Congress to get back to — or begin — governing.
The makeup of the Senate matters. Nixon resigned before House impeachment because he feared that, if he were impeached, there might be enough Republican senators to give the Democratic majority a possible two-thirds vote in the Senate to convict him, given that the media hated his guts and the economy was souring and draining public support.
Bill Clinton knew that impeachment, facts aside, did not matter much, because the Republican Senate majority was never going to find the necessary votes to convict him, the media was on his side, and the economy was still robust.
In Trump’s case, there is little likelihood that a Republican Senate majority will lose control of its membership to render a two-thirds majority guilty vote. The economy is strong, and impeachment will become unpopular when the public knows that it will not, and cannot, remove a president. The Democrats are more likely seeking a symbolic 51 percent conviction vote, and a year of “the walls are closing in” anti-Trump chant in the press.
Polls matter. When the media and Democrats started impeachment stories and investigations, Nixon’s favorability was near 70 percent, after his landslide reelection and second inaugural. After twelve months of Watergate, he ended 1973 at about 30 percent approval. When he left office in August 1973 before impeachment, his approval was at about 24 percent.
Clinton, in contrast, enjoyed about 70 percent favorability when impeachment started and he went down only about 10 points — before rebounding and leaving office impeached but quite popular at 65 percent approval. The therapeutic Clinton lived in a pre-Internet age, and “I feel your pain” still resonated.
Three years’ worth of talk of Trump impeachment waxes and wanes. His polls accordingly slide to the low forties when “bombshells” and “turning point” frenzies flood the media, and then they inch back up to the middle forties when the bombast passes.
At this point in his presidency, Bill Clinton was gradually climbing back to near 50 percent approval; Barack Obama was right where Trump is now, at about 42-43 percent. It is hard to know whether impeachment helped or hurt Clinton because the economy was booming, he was seen as bipartisan, and the debt was finally declining. Impeachment was either irrelevant to his status or seen as a threat to it. Either way, Clinton was popular right before and after impeachment.
In Trump’s case, it may be that he ends up at about 44 percent favorability after the impeachment circus either fades or is realized, about where he was when the whistleblower hysteria commenced.
Both prior impeachment efforts were transparent, not just because key congressmen such as Peter Rodino and Newt Gingrich followed protocols, but also because both impeachments were built on damning cases from the work of special counsels. They could afford, then, to be transparent and allow the minority to make its case in the manner of most Judicial Committee hearings. In Trump’s case, however, a special-counsel investigation of 22 months’ duration has already cleared the president and not recommended a criminal referral, and there is no legal case for impeachment.
Impeachment Now . . .
For all the bluster, it is hard to see how the Democrats enjoy a winning hand. The catalyst for this version of the latest episode of the serial coup was the late, great “whistleblower” complaint. But by any definition, the anonymous leaker is by no means a whistleblower. He did not go first to the IG, but to Adam Schiff’s staff, a fact Schiff abjectly lied about. The rules prohibiting hearsay complaints were recently and mysteriously changed to facilitate the complaints like those of the current leaker — hearsay that a short time ago would not have been permissible.
The melodrama allegations of quid pro quo deal-making with the Ukrainian president were belied by Trump’s own release of the transcript of his call. The details showed bluster, not high crimes and misdemeanors, and it did not even match the whistleblower’s second- and third-hand versions of the call — a fact emphasized by Schiff’s bizarre made-up rendition, during a congressional hearing, of the transcript, which Schiff branded a “parody.” That the once coveted whistleblower will likely fade back into the bureaucratic abyss — without Democrats wanting him to be seen, heard, or cross-examined — is a testament to just how ridiculous is the latest iteration of impeaching Trump.
The word “Ukraine” now conjures up Joe and Hunter Biden as much as Trump. So its evocation serves as a boomerang, in either hurting or eventually taking out the stubborn Democratic front-runner.
Nancy Pelosi still has not called a vote for either a former inquiry or formal impeachment. She apparently wishes to allow Adam Schiff’s Intelligence Committee — the absurd place to start an impeachment “hearing” — to run wild behind secrecy, redactions, and refusals to call in minority witnesses and allow cross-examinations, in hopes that the carnival drives down Trump’s numbers before the public puts a stop to the freak show. Again, why not — given that the whistleblower could never sustain questions about his prior relationships with Joe Biden, Schiff, and Schiff’s staff, and about liberal lawyers prepping his complaint, and the actual leaking sources of his allegation?
The impeachment modus operandi for a while longer is by now old hat: Schiff calls in a supposed friendly witness and leaks the opening statement to the media, the latter declare it proof of Trump’s guilt, and then he keeps under wraps incriminating cross-examination questioning, if it even occurs, of the witness. The public already knows that such procedures are foreign to the American experience and violate the spirit of the Constitution — the resort of a Star Chamber inquisitor afraid he has no real case and that he’ll look stupid publicly pursuing such a chimera.
Giving Schiff such power was like arming an arsonist with a fuel tanker. Schiff has been serially caught in a number of outright lies and double-dealing. More will follow, because he is ignorant and arrogant — and oblivious to both. “Impeachment” is now a construct to divert from the Trump record, goad Trump into Twitter-frenzies, and drive down his polls to the high thirties — necessary for a serious impeachment bid.
If impeachment does not occur by Christmas, and it may well not, then the news cycle will preempt coverage of Schiff’s fading melodrama, especially if there are referrals for, or actual, indictments of, Obama-era intelligence officials. The extremism voiced on the Democratic stage will not help impeachment. The candidates themselves may come to resent the diversion of media coverage away from their candidacies and chafe if there is no compelling evidence for the impeachment stampede. In any case, far from the Horowitz, Barr, and Durham investigations being diversions from impeachment, the latest round of impeachment frenzy was likely designed to divert from the final unfolding of the greatest political scandal of the last half-century: the Obama-era intelligence agencies’ efforts to derail a campaign and then subvert a presidency.
None of the major issues aired on the democratic debates poll at 51 percent or above — not the Green New Deal, reparations, the abolishment of ICE, open borders, Medicare for all, free tuition and cancellation of student debt, a wealth tax, legal infanticide and late-term abortions, and on and on.
Rather than introduce any of these agendas in Congress, Democratic House and Senate members obsess over Trump. Democrats may scream “Now Trump has a record,” and he certainly does. But it is mainly characterized by near-record-low unemployment, massive new gas and oil production, strong growth, and a vibrant stock market. Trump pushed, as he promised, his four signature agendas, designed to separate him from all 16 of the 2016 primary candidates — being tough on China, unfair trade, and open borders; and having fewer optional overseas military interventions — often against congressional and court opposition.
All caused hysterias, but the public more or less supports calling Beijing to account, securing borders, insisting on reciprocal and symmetrical trade, and it opposes intervening again in the Middle East, given past displeasure with Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, and Syria, and de facto U.S. independence from Middle East oil.
The Democratic field resembles that of 2003 as it was entering Bush’s reelection year of 2004, when unhinged Howard Dean was the front-runner, and blow-dried phony John Edwards seemed the only alternative — until old warhorse John Kerry entered to reassure Democratic donors that they would have a choice between a quasi-socialist and a helium-filled suit. The tripartite choice now is between a 78-year old who is an avowed but increasingly frail socialist; a 70-year-old who has in the past fabricated her identity and is running as a socialist in all but name; and a 76-year-old white guy who has trouble stringing together simple sentences and thoughts, and who failed in two earlier presidential bids due to plagiarism, lies about his bio, and racially insensitive remarks.
How weird to watch a triad of private-jet-flying, SUV-driven, privileged multimillionaire old white people railing against multimillionaires, fossil fuels, and white privilege.
There are no moderate fringe candidates pulling any of them to the center, but rather incompetent, off-putting hard leftists such as the hyperactive Beto O’Rourke, the self-righteous Pete Buttigieg, the whiny Kamala Harris, the incoherent Cory Booker, and a host of other forgettables. If Warren or Sanders is nominated, neither will raise much money — given that Wall Street, Corporate America, and Silicon Valley do not equate their Democratic loyalties with a suicide pact.
If Biden survives, he will raise a great deal of cash, and his future depends on how well he remembers where he is, whom he is surrounded by, and what he is supposed to say.
The State of the Union
No one knows what the state of the union will be in November 2020. If unemployment stays near the near-record peacetime low of 3.5 percent, the economy still chugs along at 2 to 3 percent growth, and there is a decrease in illegal border crossings and staged caravan melodramas, Trump will be in a good position against any Democratic candidate to repeat his 2016 performance of winning the Electoral College while losing the popular vote. A Warren or Sanders McGovern- or Mondale-like candidacy would make his reelection much more likely.
Scandal, Wars, and Depression
What sinks presidencies, either preventing reelection or de facto ending them in stasis and crises are unpopular wars (Vietnam, Iraq), perceived recessions (1980, 1992), or major scandals (Watergate). Trump may cause furor by pulling back tripwire troops in Syria, but the move will probably continue to poll at over 50 percent with the public. He is unlikely to insert forces in optional engagements. A tit-for-tat missile or bombing response to an Iranian or ISIS attack would likely win approval.
Impeachments and scandals, as the case of Bill Clinton reminds us, are two different things. So far, Donald Trump is the most transparent, investigated, and cross-examined president in history. The result is not much dirt, but a lot of now-predictable and boring duds — the voting machines, impeachment 1.0, the emoluments clause, Stormy, Michael Avenatti, Michael Cohen, the 25th Amendment, the McCabe-Rosenstein Keystone Kops coup, Robert Mueller’s investigation, taxes, and now Ukraine.
The public may find the latest blood sport amusing at first and support an inquiry. But as it drags on and Schiff burns up the Constitution, they will tire and prefer to weigh in during the election — when they will likely opt for a continued resurgent U.S. and a strong economy over socialism and finger-wagging at a sinful America.
Column: The political contradictions of progressivism
“The fact is there is no more money. Period,” says Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot.
She’s talking about the teachers’ strike that has paralyzed her city’s public schools—enrollment 360,000—for the past week. The public employee union is demanding more: more money for salaries (only eight states pay teachers more than Illinois), more support staff (Illinois ranks first in spending on administrators), more teachers per student. Their cause has attracted national attention. Elizabeth Warren joined the picket line.
Which is ironic. Lightfoot is not some stingy Republican. Nor is she a centrist Democrat like her predecessor Rahm Emanuel. She’s as progressive as you can get. But she now finds herself in the same position as many of her political brethren: facing criticism for failing to reconcile the contradictions in the left’s agenda.
Lightfoot has discovered that there is no limit to the appetite of the constituencies generated by government spending. She has learned that the special interests bargaining for higher benefits also desire policies that make such benefits unattainable. I hope she’s taking notes.
Chicago Public Schools has run a deficit for the past seven years. Why? Pensions granted to earlier generations of teachers are expensive. And the cost is growing. A quarter of the school budget is devoted to benefits—money that can’t be spent on classrooms, facilities, and instruction. Expect that number to rise as America goes gray and the bill comes due for the promises we made to ourselves.
The federal government can put Social Security and Medicare on the credit card for as long as demand for U.S. Treasuries is high. States and municipalities don’t have that luxury. There is an upper bound to what even the most progressive mayors and governors can grant the lobbies that mobilize voters for their campaigns. But it’s a glass ceiling. Public sector unions are eager to break it.
Nor does being woke protect you. It’s impossible to appease fully the groups fighting to claim resources and honor. They often won’t take yes for an answer. GM might tout to investors the fact that it is “leading in gender equality.” That didn’t stop the UAW from striking.
Public policy inspired by the ethic of social justice inflames the tension between progressive leaders and the voting public. Andrew Cuomo might sympathize with Mayor Lightfoot. His fealty to environmental groups has backed him into a corner. Banning fracking and canceling pipelines hasn’t just denied New York revenues, jobs, and lower energy bills. It also led energy supplier National Grid to cancel gas hookups in Long Island. Cuomo had to retaliate before the company restored service. Want to be a progressive? Claim credit for resolving a crisis of your own making after threatening to unleash state power on private actors responding to price signals. Cuomo makes it look easy.
Gavin Newsom also has been struggling to reduce the conflict between the imperatives of the new progressivism and the quality of life of everyday people. He has his hands full. Rising numbers of homeless have led to a breakdown of public order in areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Land-use regulations have restricted the supply of housing, leading to high prices and shortages, and Newsom’s answer is statewide rent control that will make things worse. California’s budget depends so heavily on revenues from the wealthy that it might not recover from another out-migration like the one the state experienced after a 2012 tax hike.
Pacific Gas & Electric is a case study in the progressive self-own. The state-regulated utility spent years deferring maintenance while it invested in renewable energy and promoted the ideology of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Among the consequences of its neglect were terrible wildfires that devastated communities. The ensuing legal bills drove PG&E into bankruptcy. It says it’s been forced to engage in “de-energization”: purposeful mass blackouts to prevent further damage and legal action. In early October more than two million people were left in the dark. No house, no power, no prospects—welcome to the California Republic.
The contradictions of progressivism generate crises of affordability and governance. But the political class suffers few consequences. Chicago, New York, and California remain Democratic strongholds. What scattered opposition exists is internal to the political machine. On rare occasions parts of the coalition splinter from the whole and are able to defeat radical measures. Think of Bill de Blasio’s stalled plans to cancel entrance exams for New York City’s magnet schools. For the most part, though, the Democrats’ hold on power continues. It’s one monopoly progressives don’t seem to mind.
Are the voters in these communities merely complacent? Are they so content with the patchwork of benefits and status the jerry-rigged welfare state provides that they tolerate dysfunction? Or is the partisan alternative so appalling they won’t even consider it?
Questions worth pondering as progressives prepare to scale up their model nationwide. Who knows? One day, President Warren might be on the other side of that picket line.
A rare and special joy is watching a left-winger get red-pilled in real-time, in public, right before all our eyes. This seems to be the case with Marianne Williamson.
The term “red-pilling” is often bandied about on social media, frequently by people who have no idea what it means—or take it to mean “red” in the sense of Republican red states. The concept comes from the documentary “The Matrix,” and is defined in my book as “demonstrating to someone that what is presented as fact by the corporate press and entertainment industries is only (at best) a shadow of what is real, that this supposed reality is in fact a carefully constructed narrative intentionally designed to keep some very unpleasant people in power and to keep everyone else tame and submissive.”
Given the overwhelmingly hard-left agenda within corporate media, red-pilling far more frequently occurs on the right hand of the political spectrum. Yet there are plenty of red-pilled leftists as well, voice like Glenn Greenwald and Michael Tracey, who have no problem slamming outlets like The New York Times for what can charitably be described as malfeasance.
A rare and special joy is watching a left-winger get red-pilled in real-time, in public, right before all our eyes. This seems to be the case with quixotic Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson.
It’s hard not to like Williamson. She became a social media darling after her debut at the June 27 Democratic debate, where some of her responses seemed like utter non sequiturs.
When the candidates were asked by moderator Chuck Todd, “What is that first issue you are going to push?” as president, Williamson replied: “My first call is to the prime minister of New Zealand who said that her goal is to make New Zealand the best place in the world for a child in the world to grow up. And I will tell her, ‘Girlfriend, you are so on, because the United States of America is going to be the best place in the world for a child to grow up.’”
One can only imagine a jubilant President Williamson slamming down the phone, while in the middle of the night in Wellington a befuddled Prime Minister Ardern stares at the receiver listening to a dial tone: “Hello?…Madame President?…Hello, are you there?…Marianne, was that really you?”
We live in a time where “secular” saints like Greta Thunberg berate us from our televisions, and we are expected to regard the tantrums of hysterical teenagers as not only of interest but as sources of guidance and wisdom: “I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean!” I’m old enough to remember how Willy Wonka handled such Verucas Salt. Yet for every lefty Thunberg, there are many genuine saints among the bleeding hearts of the left, and Williamson appears to be one of those.
Williamson’s “A Politics of Love” was published this past April, and testifies she is a genuinely kind-hearted person interested in bettering lives (or a sociopath who is good at passing). She recounts how one of her students asked her: “Aren’t you just an aging hippie?” and does not seem to shy away from the label. Williamson comes to politics from activism, but an activism based on gathering results rather than social-media attention.
If someone is interested in helping those in need at a local level, a volunteer’s political association falls almost entirely by the wayside. When there are sick people who need food, the questions become “Can you cook?” “Do you have a car to deliver the meals?” “Can you call donors to raise money?” not “Do you think gun laws are inherently unconstitutional?” or “Do you think overseas warmongering lead to blowback here?”
Williamson’s book begins memorializing life and death in the time of AIDS, much like Cynthia Carr did so well in “Fire in the Belly,” her masterpiece biography of artist and activist David Wojnarowicz (1954-92). “I began lecturing on A Course in Miracles, a book of spiritual psychology, in 1983,” she writes. “I remember saying over and over, at lecture after lecture and support group after support group, ‘There doesn’t have to be a cure for AIDS for it to become a chronic, manageable condition. There isn’t a cure for diabetes, but it’s a manageable condition!’ We survived on that hope, articulating it over and over with tears in our eyes.”
Although Williamson constantly mentions “miracles” in her books and interviews, having realistic hope can be wonderfully inspirational. Telling a homeless person he can get to a mansion is an absurdity. Telling him he can get to an apartment with four housemates is a possibility.
During the debates Williamson failed to mention that she founded Project Angel Food 30 years ago. It’s an organization dedicated to feeding, free of charge, people living with AIDS when it was a far more serious and stigmatized condition than it is today. Her reward for this has been animus and vitriol from those who should ostensibly on her side.
The uniquely repellent Samantha “there is no smug liberal problem” Bee publicly called on Williamson to end her presidential campaign. “I am so loving your vibe,” Bee sneered, “so I wanted to invite you over to my show for a very chill, very serious dropout campaign dropout party.”
Williamson’s reaction was to this and other such moments of alleged wit was caught on a hot-mic moment: “What does it say that Fox News is nicer to me than the lefties are?” she mused. “What does it say that the conservatives are nicer to me?…You know, I’m such a lefty. I mean, I’m a serious lefty…I didn’t think the left was as mean as the right, they are.”
Early last week, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard dropped what was essentially a red pill on the Democratic field, explicitly saying, “The 2016 Democratic primary election was rigged by the DNC and their partners in the corporate media against Bernie Sanders.” Not biased, but rigged. Not “Fox News,” but “corporate media.” Gabbard claimed to be considering boycotting the debate.
Williamson—who did not meet the debate criteria—agreed with Gabbard’s assessment. “I have great respect for Tulsi for saying such inconvenient truth,” Williamson tweeted. “She is absolutely correct.”
One of the ways orthodox progressives get their agenda across is using the corporate press to give the impression that all decent, right-thinking people agree with them. For this to be true, one would have to accept that Williamson is indecent, and the average corporate journalist is. One would have to accept the blue pill.
By The Hill•
Imagine what it must feel like to have a government agent show up at your door, accuse you of violating some rule you’ve never heard of, and threaten you with massive fines and imprisonment if you don’t do what he says.
Wyoming’s Andy Johnson doesn’t have to imagine; he lived it. His alleged offense: he built a pond on his private property without begging D.C. bureaucrats’ permission first. Thankfully, two executive orders issued by President Trump last week aim to make this experience less common.
The focus of these executive orders is agency “guidance” — informal rules that regulate all of us without going through the normal rulemaking process. Before issuing a regulation, agencies are supposed to propose them publicly, explain their reasons, accept public comments and respond to those comments. Although no substitute for democratic accountability, this process at least ensures that Americans have an opportunity to learn about the rules being imposed on them and weigh in against the worst of them.
Unfortunately, agencies often circumvent this process, issuing rules through informal means such as internal memoranda or letters to selected constituents. This means that most of us cannot possibly know the rules that govern our lives, even though we face ruinous punishments should we unknowingly violate one of them.
As Andy Johnson’s experience shows, this results in unfair surprise. Johnson had no reason to expect that building a pond to provide water to his daughter’s horses would turn his life upside down. He got the required state permit and worked with state engineers to maximize the pond’s environmental benefits. The pond, which he built himself, achieved all of them: It restored wetlands in an area sorely lacking them, created habitat for fish and wildlife, and filtered the water that passed through it by allowing sediment and other pollutants to filter to the bottom.
As Johnson was wrapping up this work, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showed up. It demanded Johnson rip out the pond or face $37,500 per day in fines. The potential fines would accrue at a rate of about $1 million per month, an incomprehensible sum for Johnson — and most Americans.
He tried to reason with the agency, asking for some explanation of how he could be threatened in this way and what could be done. But the explanation would not be forthcoming. Nor would evidence that Johnson had done nothing wrong make a difference. An expert’s report documenting the pond’s numerous environmental benefits and exemptions from federal regulation fell on deaf ears.
Every month the agency dragged its feet, the fines grew. Two years later, when the potential fines reached $16 million, Pacific Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit on Johnson’s behalf. This forced the agency to finally put its cards on the table, revealing its evidence and explaining how that evidence showed a violation.
EPA asserted the small stream crossing Johnson’s property was a federal waterway, even though it was hundreds of miles from the nearest navigable river. The agency based this claim on a guidance document that purported to stretch the agency’s authority as far as it thought the Supreme Court might let it get away with.
The EPA also pointed to a guidance document to avoid the inconvenient fact that Congress had explicitly exempted the “construction and maintenance of farm or stock ponds” from federal regulation. This guidance interpreted that limit on the agency’s power as narrowly as possible. (If you haven’t noticed, there’s a theme here. Guidance almost always expands agency power and minimizes anything that might get in the agency’s way.)
EPA’s evidence fared even worse. Although it was supposed to show that Johnson’s pond significantly affects a downstream navigable water, the agency’s record showed that no one had ever checked where the water flowed. In fact, the water flows into an irrigation canal and never reaches any navigable water. If EPA had bothered to check, the whole ordeal could have been avoided.
Going forward, President Trump’s executive order will require agencies to review their guidance, revoke much of it, and publicize the rest so that Americans have a fair chance to know the rules that apply to them. The orders will also require agencies to give property owners an explanation of the agency’s allegations and an opportunity to contest them before threats can issue.
Although these orders are a welcome improvement, much work remains if we’re going to hold agencies truly accountable and restore power to the people we elect to wield it. Under our Constitution, only Congress can write laws, not unelected bureaucrats. It’s about time that we return to the Constitution’s design.
Former Congressman Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke isn’t exactly setting the world on fire with his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. In an Emerson College poll of Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa conducted before and after the debate this week, his support was so low, it didn’t even register. The man who was once considered the liberals’ best hope for retaking a U.S. Senate seat in overwhelmingly red Texas is running so far in back of the pack, he’s in danger of falling out.
Now, he’ll have to pander to the single-issue constituencies within the Democratic Party, as well as the punditcrats who fell in love with him during his Senate bid, for enough support to keep his campaign afloat.
That’s probably why he answered unhesitatingly and in the affirmative when CNN’s Don Lemon asked in a recent forum, “Religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities—should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?”
To be fair, he probably didn’t think about the question very thoroughly before answering. He didn’t consider all the implications inherent in his response for a nation like ours, which was founded, in no small way, as a sanctuary for those seeking religious liberty. But answer that way he did, and he has to accept he’ll be criticized for it.
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O’Rourke’s answer reminded me of another political leader who, centuries ago, when confronted with an unresolvable conflict with the church over a different issue regarding marriage, chose to take matters into his own hands.
It’s a complicated story, central to the storyline of the Academy Award–winning film A Man for All Seasons, that’s not as well-remembered as it should be. In brief, King Henry VIII, unable to obtain a papal annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, broke with Rome and established the Church of England with himself as the head. He then moved into the second of the many marriages for which he is infamous.
While this schism horrified church leaders and Catholics who continued to profess allegiance to Rome, others went along quietly, if not gladly, for economic reasons. Henry, as he moved forward to consolidate his control, seized church assets, bringing valuable land and other properties under royal control or, to put it more bluntly, taxed them into submission.
This is precisely what CNN’s Lemon proposed, and O’Rourke supported, despite this country’s long history of tolerance on matters of individual conscience and religious doctrine. The so-called separation of church and state, a phrase that appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution but comes instead from a letter on the subject of religious liberty written by Thomas Jefferson to a congregation of Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut, exists to protect the church from the state and not vice versa.
Religious organizations are part of the dynamism that makes the nation what it is. It’s an observation going back as far as Alexis de Tocqueville, if not further. They are a vital part of the national fabric and perhaps the only ones strong enough and well-funded enough to compete with the state in the delivery of what we now consider essential social services. Like the government, religious groups run hospitals, provide for the poor, educate the young, care for the old and engage in other activities without which the country might grind to a halt.
That they can do as much as they do to improve Americans’ lives is in part because they are largely free of the burden of taxation imposed on individuals and businesses. To force them to turn over funds that would be used for good works, as punishment for not getting with the rest of the cultural elites on the doctrinal matter of the nature of marriage, would constitute an enormous constitutional and cultural overreach. Yet O’Rourke went there, even if he did later clarify his position, walking it back outside the area of doctrine and into the bright light of matters related to the delivery of public services. Can other Democrats who want to be president be all that far behind?
It used to be said that what was once called the “religious right” wanted to use the power of the government to impose its views on everyone else. Maybe—though I always found the allegation specious. Now, the pendulum is swinging. It is the secularists, whose views O’Rourke initially endorsed (again, one hope’s without thinking), who appear to be driving the train in a way that could have profound implications for the future of America.
Column: How wealth and cronyism transformed American democracy
Ironies pile up. Both participants in the July 25 call between President Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky are outsiders whose fame catapulted them to high office. Foreign policy experts assumed their similar profile would promote goodwill and understanding. That was incorrect. This star-crossed encounter has damaged the careers of both men. It also has thrown light on the nature of their societies.
Reality TV star Trump leveraged social media and anti-establishment politics into a takeover of the Republican Party. In his television show Servant of the People, comedian and filmmaker Zelensky portrayed a high school teacher whose rant against the political class goes viral and becomes the basis for a successful presidential campaign. Servant of the People debuted in 2015 and proved disturbingly prescient. In a double case of life imitating art, both Trump and Zelensky wound up portraying versions of Zelensky’s character Vasyl Petrovych Holoborodko in real life.
What is real life? These days it is hard to tell. The impeachment drama commingles fact and fantasy, ineptitude and insinuation, in a plot that may be more familiar to Ukrainian audiences than to American ones. The opening scene of Servant of the People takes place on a balcony in Kiev overlooking the Maidan. Three oligarchs discuss the forthcoming elections and the rival candidates they support. At the end of the day, the trio concludes, all that matters is they maintain control of the political process. That’s not how it works out.
The show is a comedy. And there are certainly humorous aspects to the present situation. But, if you watch Servant of the People on Netflix today, the parallels between its storyline and contemporary politics are glaring and serious. The fictional conversation described above could have taken place in certain quarters of the United States in 2015, in London in 2016, in Kiev in 2019. It cannot be a good thing that American democracy has taken on some of the characteristics of the Ukrainian version.
In a sense it is fitting that a former province of the Soviet Union beset by corruption, cronyism, and war has become the crux of Democratic efforts to impeach Donald Trump. This beleaguered country is not only a crossroads between West and East, Europe and Eurasia, NATO and Russia. It is also a field from which America’s bipartisan elite has reaped considerable bounties in contracts and directorships, in consulting and lobbying. What has been happening in Ukraine for decades is emblematic of the self-dealing and self-seeking that has exhausted voting publics and inspired populists across the world. Unexpectedly, Trump’s relation to Ukraine threatens the viability of the movements it helped create.
Just as Trump needn’t have broken any laws for the Democrats to impeach him, Hunter Biden needn’t have violated any statute to symbolize the cronyism of America’s political class. It takes the willing suspension of disbelief to argue that politics had nothing to do with the appointment of the son of the vice president to the well-compensated board of an oil and gas giant two months after he was kicked out of the U.S. Navy for cocaine abuse.
And it requires unblinking partisanship to deny that both Republicans and Democrats, from Paul Manafort to Greg Craig, from BGR Group to the defunct Podesta Group, have profited from connections to Ukraine’s various governments and officials. “If you want me to leave the U.S. on Monday 6/16 and return on Friday 6/20,” Democrat Tad Devine wroteRepublican Rick Gates in reference to a Ukraine job in 2014, “that would be 5 days at $10G/day for $50,000.00. You would need to make the travel arrangements, and transfer the $50G before the trip.” That’s top dollar for someone who once consulted a socialist.
For decades, the economies that emerged from the wreckage of the Soviet Empire have been playgrounds for American political professionals to deploy their tricks of the trade, their skills at campaign management and public relations, in lucrative arrangements. Perhaps we should have expected these politicos might return home with pieces of post-Soviet political culture in their carry-ons: love of intrigue, of information operations conducted in digital and social media, of conspiracy theories, of national populism and of socialism, of high-dollar payouts made against the backdrop of gray-zone conflict between authoritarian and democratic states. The vocabulary of American politics has appropriated Russian terminology: maskirovka and kompromat, nomenklatura and czar.
This influence is manifest in the conduct of impeachment so far. Anonymous whistleblowers from within the intelligence services trigger investigations of the president. The speaker of the House announces an impeachment inquiry but does not call the roll. The quasi-official status of the investigation allows the Democratic majority to minimize Republican involvement. Hearings are secret. Selective leaks to media drive the impeachment narrative and consolidate partisan support for the president’s removal. To speak of narratives rather than evidence is to acknowledge our postmodern condition, where interpretations are more powerful than facts.
From Varsity Blues to Jeffrey Epstein, from China and the NBA to Ukraine and Hunter Biden, Americans are taking a crash course on the ways in which powerful people manipulate the system for personal advantage and globalization merges political cultures as well as economies. What has been uncovered as impeachment rolls on does nothing to spur confidence in the integrity of our system. America is exceptional, but our elites are not. Today we are all Ukrainians.