Column: Thank his opponents
President Trump ends 2019 in a better position than when he started. The year began with the swearing in of Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House. The Mueller probe dragged on. The legislative agenda of Trump’s first two years in office had petered out. The Democratic frontrunner, Joe Biden, was beating him by double digits in the polls. A little more than halfway through the year, bond prices signaled recession.
Look where things stand now. Pelosi’s decision to impeach Trump already has cost her a seat and stands zero chance of resulting in a Senate conviction. Not only has Mueller shuffled off the stage, but Michael Horowitz’s report on FBI malfeasance also raises serious doubts about the credibility of the government and media elites who spent years arguing that Trump and his associates were Russian agents. Mitch McConnell blocks liberal bills from the House while confirming additional conservative judges. Biden is damaged and the problems of his candidacy manifest as he sleepwalks toward his party’s nomination. The economy is gangbusters.
Nothing the Democratic majority has done has hurt Trump’s approval rating. At this time last year, he stood at 42 percent approval and 52 percent disapproval in the RealClearPolitics average of polls. As I write, the RCP average of Trump’s approval rating is 45 percent and disapproval is 52 percent. Trump’s numbers are remarkably stable and closely track President Obama’s at this point in his presidency. Biden began the year with big leads over Trump. Since then his margin has dwindled to 4 percent. And that’s before Trump drops $1 billion in negative social media on him (or whoever the nominee is) next year.
Of course, Trump cannot say that he has been consistently popular. The opposite is true. And a 4-point victory for Biden still would be a victory—though not necessarily under the rules of the Electoral College. What Trump can say is that efforts to remove him from office have failed, or are about to fail, and have not prevented him from delivering the disruptive change that his supporters desire. Trump’s destiny is not to be a broadly popular president, if that is even possible anymore. He has been a consequential president. And may well be a reelected one.
Trump’s opponents have contributed to his success ever since he became the focal point of our national life in 2015. He fashioned himself into a political bulldozer and rolled over decades-old dynasties, demolished Republican shibboleths, ground into dust codes of presidential behavior, and plowed through entrenched obstacles to conservative policymaking in the bureaucracy and courts. Throughout it all, he has benefited from the contrast between his policies and results on one hand and the possibility of the “bold, structural change” desired by woke Democrats on the other. He also has made the most of his adversaries’ weaknesses: not just the character traits he turns into nicknames but the zealotry that manifests itself in overreach and radicalism.
The hinge point of Trump’s good year was Friday, March 22, when the Justice Department acknowledged receipt of the Mueller report into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Two days later, Attorney General William Barr released his summary of the report’s contents. The full report was made available to the public on April 18. It was clear by then that despite all of the time, energy, resources, and indictments and convictions, Mueller had not uncovered a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia and was not willing to assert that the president obstructed justice. Mueller’s testimony before Congress on July 24 was a flop. The Russia investigation that had begun in the summer of 2016 and consumed the media since it was made public the following year ended in a whimper.
It was shortly after Mueller’s appearance on Capitol Hill that Trump had his “perfect” call with President Zelensky of Ukraine. The whistleblower complaint that was filed with the intelligence community inspector general afterward, and made public on September 26, set into motion the president’s impeachment, culminating in Wednesday’s House vote. No president wants to be impeached, and no president ought to be impeached in the absence of compelling and damning evidence, but there is an argument to be made that in some ways impeachment has benefited Trump.
For one thing, impeachment has focused Trump’s attention. In between the end of the Mueller investigation and the beginning of the impeachment inquiry, President Trump engaged in a series of incendiary battles with left-wing Democrats, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and the late Elijah Cummings. While Ocasio-Cortez and Omar are unpopular, the controversies nevertheless stirred up issues of race and gender that make suburbanites extremely uncomfortable.
Absent impeachment, these last few months might have been spent in endless social media flame wars with celebrities, progressives, wayward Republicans, and whoever else wandered into the crossfire. Instead, President Trump and the GOP have been “on message” against the whistleblower, Adam Schiff, and Nancy Pelosi to a degree that is nothing short of remarkable. Think about what they might accomplish if Republicans were similarly focused on the state of the economy.
Impeachment crowded out all else. This made freshmen Democrats from districts Trump won in 2016 anxious. Pelosi had to give them something in return for impeachment that they could take back to their districts. That something was the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement—which just happens to be a top priority of the president’s. At the end of this process, Trump will have kept his job through at least January 2021 and pocketed a significant diplomatic accomplishment and campaign promise. No small feat.
Impeachment also distracted from the Democratic primary. There are six weeks until the Iowa caucuses and hardly anybody besides the candidates and their immediate families seem to care. The Ukraine scandal involves the Democratic frontrunner but in an unusual way. Trump’s desire that President Zelensky look into the energy company Burisma, where Hunter Biden sat on the board, confirmed Joe Biden’s status as the preeminent threat to Trump. But it also reminded people that over the years members of the Biden family have benefited from Joe’s high office. And Biden’s clumsy response to allegations of unseemly profit-seeking was another reminder of his weaknesses as a candidate. This flawed frontrunner, already defined by his son’s influence peddling, maintains his lead in the polls because Democratic primary voters see his 14 rivals as too radical or unelectable.
President Trump heads to Mar-a-Lago impeached but defiant, with a new NAFTA and a “Phase One” China deal, Space Force, 185 federal judges, the lowest unemployment in half a century, a stock market that has increased by 50 percent since Election Day 2016, a unified party, and an opposition barreling toward a confusing and bruising primary. Trump won 2019, but this is the preseason. The real game begins in 2020.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s threat to withhold impeachment articles from the Senate upended the procedures spelled out in the Constitution and threw Capitol Hill into deeper partisan turmoil Thursday.
Republicans balked that the speaker was “afraid” of a Senate trial that is all but assured to acquit President Trump and potentially discredit the House’s party-line impeachment vote.
The day after Mrs. Pelosi’s Democrats impeached Mr. Trump on two counts — the first impeachment in U.S. history to have no bipartisan support — she cut off reporters’ impeachment questions at her weekly press conference.
“No one is above the law and the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. No one is above the law and this president has been held accountable,” the California Democrat said.
She then explained that she did not know when the House would take the next steps in the process of sending the two impeachment articles to the Senate, where the Constitution dictates the impeached president will stand trial and face removal from office.
The Constitution requires that the Senate “shall have the sole power to try all impeachments.”
And yet Mrs. Pelosi said the House would not name the impeachment managers who argue the case in the Senate or send the articles over until she was satisfied that the Republican-run upper chamber would conduct what she called “a fair trial.”
Asked about Republican complaints that she was “playing games” with impeachment, Mrs. Pelosibecome adamant.
“I was not prepared to put the managers in that bill yet because we don’t know the arena that we are in. Frankly, I don’t care what the Republicans say,” she told the gathering of reporters before refusing any further impeachment questions.
Other House Democrats, including members of the leadership team, said they were prepared to delay indefinitely the articles of impeachment until Mr. McConnell provided the assurances they want on the trial.
“We would be crazy to walk in there knowing he set up a kangaroo court,” House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, told CNN.
Claire Finkelstein, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, suggested the House could continue to gather evidence while withholding the articles.
House Democrats could use the time to keep pursuing court action to force testimony from White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, former National Security Advisor John Bolton and former White House Counsel Don McGahn, she said.
However, the Justice Department immediately filed a court brief arguing that Democrats’ legal battle to compel testimony from Mr. McGahn should be tossed out now that Mr. Trump has been impeached.
“The committee’s primary asserted need for subpoenaing McGahn — his potential testimony related to an obstruction-of-justice impeachment charge — appears to be moot,” Justice Department lawyers wrote.
“They said impeachment was so urgent that it could not even wait for due process but now they’re content to sit on their hands. It is comical,” he said on the chamber floor.
Mr. Trump weighed in by saying Mrs. Pelosi’s gamesmanship was bad for the country.
“Pelosi feels her phony impeachment HOAX is so pathetic she is afraid to present it to the Senate, which can set a date and put this whole SCAM into default if they refuse to show up! The Do Nothings are so bad for our Country!” the president tweeted.
The House impeached Mr. Trump on two counts, abuse of power and obstructing Congress.
The impeachment stemmed from Mr. Trump asking Ukraine for “a favor” in investigating former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his son Hunter, who is linked to Ukraine energy company in that graft-riddled country.
Mr. Trump is accused of withholding $391 million in military aid from Ukraine and a prized White House visit for the Ukrainian president as leverage to get the investigation announced.
It was unclear how, or even whether, a delay would pressure the Senate to adopt Democrat-friendly procedures for a trial. The move also appeared to run afoul of the Constitution, effectively nullifying the House impeachment vote.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, welcomed Mrs. Pelosi’s delay tactic.
“Her threat to the Senate is: Do exactly what I want or I’m not going to impeach the president, I’m not going to send over the impeachment articles,” he told Fox News. “My attitude is, ‘OK, throw us in that brier patch. Don’t send them. That’s all right. We actually have work to do.’”
Mr. McConnell said the Democrat-run House produced a “shoddy” impeachment work product, rushed through a 12-week impeachment inquiry and refused to go to court to enforce subpoenas for White House documents and testimony by administration officials.
He noted that the impeachment investigations into President Richard Nixon and President Bill Clinton both lasted more than a year.
“Democrats’ own actions concede that their allegations are unproven,” he said.
Mr. McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, met Thursday to begin negotiating the rules and procedures for the hearing. They were not expected to nail down the details beyond setting a possible start date, but the two men did not get that far and remain at an impasse.
Mr. Schumer has demanded live testimony from witnesses during the trial, saying more evidence should be presented. Republicans refused, saying the standard set in the impeachment trial against Mr. Clinton should be applied to Mr. Trump.
In 1998, the two sides agreed to hear from the House impeachment managers and then from the president’s legal team before deciding whether to call witnesses. Mr. McConnell said the process worked for the Democrats back then, and it should work for Mr. Trump, too.
Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law, said there is no requirement as to when the House must transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate.
“There is no obligation to actually transmit the articles. She would do this to indefinitely wound Trump, and avoid a trial the [Democrats] will lose,” Mr. Blackman said.
Despite polls going in that showed the race was tight, Boris Johnson and the Tories won a smashing victory in Thursday’s U.K. election. The biggest win for the right since Mrs. Thatcher.
Why they did will be hotly debated—here and there—for some time to come.
Some attribute the outcome to Johnson’s successful mobilization of Brexiteers in both the Conservative and Labour parties. Frustrated after three years of parliamentary inaction following passage of the June 2016 referendum to pull the U.K. out of the EU, they wanted change. But that doesn’t explain everything.
The British elites spent the interregnum between the referendum and the Thursday’s election telling everyone the original result, influenced heavily by disinformation from the pro-Leave side, was a fluke. They predicted confidently a second referendum, if one were held, would show this to be true and end differently.
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They were wrong. Thursday’s election was a referendum on Brexit. Johnson made it one. It passed again, with turnout between 70 and 80 percent in many constituencies, making it hard to argue the first vote was a fluke. The Remainers are a spent political force—and may always have been so.
The outcome, as I wrote here last week, should encourage those who feared the people’s will is eclipsed by a tyranny of experts, elites and bureaucrats. This does not argue for populism—Edmund Burke correctly warned officeholders that sacrificing their judgment to the opinion of the people they represent would betray them—but it is a welcome reminder that votes count for something. The efforts of the political, economic, academic and media elites to put their thumb on the scale to block Brexit finally appear to have been thwarted.
As to the counter-narrative popular today in the United States, that Labour’s radicalism led to the party’s worst showing since the 1930s, it’s not clear that’s so. According to Lord Ashcroft’s post-election poll, 72 percent of those who voted Conservative said the need to “get Brexit done” was their primary reason for voting as they did. Only 25 percent said they were motivated by a desire for “the right leadership.”
This helps explain the tremendous inroads the Tories made in Labour strongholds in the North of England. Johnson breached the “red wall” by tapping into the strong pro-Leave sentiment evident in there during the referendum. Jeremy Corbyn’s promise to nationalize broadband, rail and postal services, as well as expand spending on the National Health Service (which the Conservatives also promised, though by not as much), was not enough to keep some of his most loyal voters inside his coalition.
This suggests the lesson for U.S. politicians looking ahead to 2020 is not what the instant analysis suggests. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic frontrunner for his party’s nomination, argued strongly Friday Labour moved too far to the left to be electable. That, he said, argues for a more moderate candidate to be named standard-bearer next year, one who would not abandon the middle, as Corbyn is said to have done.
Perhaps. But Lord Ashcroft found “Labour won more than half the vote among those turning out aged 18-24 (57 percent) and 25-34 (55 percent), with the Conservatives second in both groups. The Conservatives were ahead among those aged 45-54 (with 43 percent), 55-64 (with 49 percent) and 65+ (with 62 percent).” Corbyn’s radical manifesto helped cost him the election—being more popular perhaps with the rich around London than among the nation’s working class—but it was a winner with younger voters.
For Biden, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and the others who want their party’s nomination, it suggests a quandary. Stay to the left to win the nomination with appeals to the activist base, split up among state delegations because “winner take all” contests have been abolished? Or moderate to appeal to older voters, who, surveys tell us, are more likely to vote in the general election?
The answer is not clear, especially since the so-called “superdelegates,” the sober-minded party solons who typically play an outsized role in picking the Democratic nominee, are unable to participate in the first-round balloting at the convention in Milwaukee. All too often, arguments about electability prevail over ideology only when made to experienced pols with cooler heads than those voting first.
Corbyn’s Labour Party was too extreme for modern Britain. He’s stepping down, but not without trying first to lead the post-election autopsy to prevent his message from being discredited. There may be those in Labour who long for the return of the days of Tony Blair, whose constituency, incidentally, went Conservative in the election, but they don’t hold the reins of power. The opposition response to the initiatives coming out of Downing Street will come from the radical left, not the center, giving the prime minister more room to accomplish more than Brexit. And on Thursday, he got the votes to do it.
The first House Judiciary hearing featured three professors in favor of Trump impeachment, one against. The three anti-Trump witnesses elaborated their definitions of “high crimes and misdemeanors” and all came to the conclusion that Mr. Trump was guilty as charged of the three principal charges advocated by the House Intelligence Committee report on its “investigation”, namely, bribery, obstruction of justice, and abuse of power.
Jonathan Turley, the lone expert opposed to impeachment, advocated caution and against proceeding with the current case because it has no solid evidentiary basis and no bipartisan consensus of wrongdoing – hallmarks of the previous two modern cases of impeachment. As expected, the questioning was conducted along partisan lines.
My own analysis of the testimony is as follows: while the definitions of impeachable offenses and the historical context offered by the pro-impeachment scholars were impressive, their facile acceptance of the hearsay testimony provided by the witnesses in the Intel Committee was alarmingly biased. There was no appreciation of the due process violations or the lack of any first-hand testimony to the President’s alleged behavior.
The argument that the President’s refusal to allow administration officials who had such knowledge to testify in the one-sided Committee setting constitutes obstruction of justice and, by implication, an admission of guilt is a meaningless and circular argument.
As Turley pointed out, conflicts between the two branches of government – in this case the extent of Executive Privilege – are traditionally settled by the third branch of government, the Courts. The Democrats’ reason for not pursuing this course is that it would take too long – so what’s the hurry? The coming election, of course. Another circular argument. Turley’s underlying argument, that this entire episode is the product of rage rather than reason, could not be more accurate.
If there is no direct evidence of the President’s intentions available, that leaves the transcript of the conversation with the Ukrainian President as the chief exhibit. That conversation does indeed contain the American President’s request of the Ukrainian President that he look into the Biden affair of 2014. The issue therefore is how to understand the context of that request.
Given the fact that the military funding for Ukraine had been held up by the administration pending the outcome of their elections, the Dems are claiming that Trump’s “request” was in fact a threat to continue that delay unless the Ukrainian agreed to initiate the Biden investigation. It has been established that the President Zelensky was not aware of this delay at the time of the call. Nor did such an investigation ever take place. And the grant was authorized and took place less than two months later.
The fact that several lower level diplomats didn’t agree with this tactic and were not informed about its goals –and further made up their own unflattering rationale to explain it — does not constitute evidence.
The alternative context for President Trump’s request is that he was aware of the substantial opposition of the previous Ukrainian government toward his election and the involvement of Ukrainian technology in the whole Hillary Clinton episode of the missing 30,000 emails. He apparently felt that this new reform government could possibly uncover some useful information about that issue. The Biden affair was widely reported at the time (2014) and apparently connected to the corruption of the previous Ukrainian government in Trump’s mind.
This interpretation seems more consistent with known facts than the State Department’s “presumption”. However, a fair and balanced investigation might prove otherwise, as Professor Turley asserted. Unfortunately, the Dems don’t have time for that.
Stay tuned while this sad story continues to unfold.
Amid apparently lagging interest in the whole impeachment drama on Capitol Hill, the Democrats leave Washington for the Thanksgiving recess with a serious question to ponder. They have to decide whether to pursue their impeachment strategy toward what looks like a bitter end, or to construct an alternate strategy. It looks increasingly like the practical politicians versus the true believers.
As this column has pointed out, the stakes are very high: almost certainly the control of the House in 2020 and probably the presidency as well. The House is currently split with 233 Democrat seats versus 197 Republican seats (+4 vacancies).
The Republicans need to gain a net 18 seats to resume control. Their prospects seem to depend on re-gaining the 31 so-called “Trump districts”, i.e. seats that Democrats won in 2018 that had voted for Trump in 2016. Historical trends are against the Republicans, since control of the House has flipped during a presidential election only twice (1948 and 1952) since 1900.
The Republicans’ best hope of regaining the House thus focuses on the Trump districts. The trends reported by the current polls seem to indicate that the more the public learns about the Dems’ impeachment efforts, the less popular it is becoming.
This is, of course, contrary to the assumptions made by the leadership that the country, especially the independent voters on whom electoral success depends, would welcome this action and believe the ruinous assaults on the President’s reputation. The desired result was to so discredit him as to render him unelectable in 2020. Success of this strategy would defeat his election with the by-product of guaranteeing the election of the Trump district Democrats.
Instead, it appears that this strategy is turning those critical independents against the Dems. And that leaves the House leadership with a fateful decision to make. But what are their alternatives?
They can’t simply drop the whole idea; they have come too far for that. The only way they can back off with some credibility would seem to be an announcement that their “inquiry” was truly honest and concluded that the offense revealed did not prove any “high crimes or misdemeanors” and then come up with a censure motion instead. (Talk about “a silk purse from a sow’s ear”!) Such a solution sounds like an admission that they were victims of bad judgement from the beginning – even worse than the original approach.
So, there does not seems to be any way to gracefully retreat from the current strategy. Therefore, an impeachment vote seems inevitable. But how will the 31 vote? Remember, they were elected on the promise to work with the President and the Republicans to do great things including international trade deals with Mexico, Canada, China, Britain and Europe, as well as FY2021 budget, infrastructure, prescription drugs, increase manufacturing jobs, etc.
Instead, they will face their constituents with their failure to get Republican support for their agenda because they were spending their time trying to overthrow the President and adding immeasurably to the political division which they promised to try to reduce.In the shadow of that story to the voters, it is possible that the Dems might lose the vote to impeach – or at least more seriously cloud their integrity even further. Not a good choice either.
So stay tuned.
It is a puzzlement whether the cottage industry of international election observers populating the American commentariat really understand what is at stake in the upcoming British parliamentary election. It should be more widely discussed than it is. And analyses should focus on what is motivating voters, rather than whether the Tories or Labor are more likely, according to the polls, to come out ahead.
In reality, the future of representative democracy may be on the line, at least as far as the idea the people deserve to get what they voted for. It has been more than three years since 51.9 percent of those participating in a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union took the position it should not. Yet, after three different prime ministers and one general election, the U.K. is still in the EU.
The why is easy to understand. The elites, including what has proved to be a majority of Parliament, think the people made the wrong decision and have done all they can to block Brexit from moving forward. But is that really appropriate?
Boris Johnson, the current prime minister, is a confirmed Brexiteer. He joined and later resigned from the government of his immediate predecessor when it became clear she had bollixed up the whole business. And he has pushed for this election in order to replace the anti-Brexit members of his own party with those who support his position and will vote with him to withdraw from Europe.
This is not a new issue. It has perplexed governments going back to Margaret Thatcher’s. Indeed, there are those who still believe her opposition to Britain joining the EU was the principal reason members of her Cabinet eventually plotted her overthrow. But the British elites—leaders in the permanent government, as well as the financial community, media, academia and foreign policy establishment—wanted in and, for their sins, they got their way.
The people were a different matter. Until the June 2016 referendum, it was conventional wisdom that it was only the cranky, fringe elements in U.K. politics who objected to EU membership on the grounds that British sovereignty was being impinged upon and for other reasons, those who populate the corridors of power found silly or unworthy of attention.
The referendum smashed that conception. To the shock of all the elites, a majority of the country ratified the “U.K. out the EU” position, believing they were setting out on a course to regain the nation’s independence. Yet the people’s choice has been thwarted, time and again.
First came the effort to discredit the vote, blaming it on anti-immigrant racism and fears of job loss in areas already economically depressed. That proved to be untrue. A survey of 12,369 voters in the United Kingdom conducted the day of the referendum found the No. 1 issue propelling people to vote to leave was their belief that the U.K. should remain a self-governing entity not responsible to some supranational body writing rules and regulations about the economy and other matters. Once that failed, the machinations began in Parliament and elsewhere to prevent the withdrawal agreement from ever being approved, which brings things to where they are now.
The election analysts who are part of America’s own elites have been strangely silent about all this. It may they are distracted by the ongoing congressional foofaraw over President Donald Trump’s interaction with the president of Ukraine to notice the global significance of events in the U.K. It’s not wrong to point out the similarities between Johnson’s effort to get a deal done and Trump’s effort to bring the American government to heel. Here, too, there seems to be considerable confusion, as Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman inadvertently confirmed to the House Intelligence Committee considering the impeachment of the president, about who makes policy and just who’s in charge.
In the end, if it is affirmed the people are in charge and that they exercise their authority by delegating it to their elected representatives, up to and including the president of the United States, then things will work out fine. The American writer H.L. Mencken, a friend reminds, once described democracy as being “the theory that the people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”
Here in the U.S. and in Britain, there are those with power who believe it’s their job to keep the people from making what they regard as a mistake. If the battle over Brexit, which is one of those “mistakes,” goes the way they want, then all the small “d” democrats around the world have some serious soul-searching to do before we can regain the power we’ve apparently lost.
Column: A weak and unstable China is also more dangerous
You see it in the maps. In 2015, 1.4 million Hong Kongers voted in elections in which pro-Beijing candidates swept the city’s 18 district councils. Last week, 2.9 million Hong Kongers voted and pro-democracy candidates won every district but one. That is an increase in turnout of more than 100 percent and a stunning rebuke both of Beijing and of chief executive Carrie Lam, who has failed to respond adequately to the demands of the pro-democracy movement that has disrupted Hong Kong for the past six months. Maps of the city once shaded pro-mainland blue are now pro-liberty yellow.
Yes, the vote was symbolic. The councils have little say in the operations of government. But symbols matter. For Hong Kongers to express discontent with their rulers through one of the last vehicles for accountability is no trifle. Beijing was surprised. It had counted on a supposed “silent majority” of voters tired of the upheaval and violence to legitimize the mainland’s authority. That was a mistake. The prefabricated copy that Communist propagandists had been ready to spread was abandoned. “The problem is that under the increasingly paranoid regime of Xi Jinping, even these internal reports have become much more geared toward what the leadership wants to hear,” writes James Palmer, who a decade ago worked for the pro-China Global Times.
Hong Kong is the most visible reminder of the tenuous nature of Communist rule. The city has become a postmodern battleground where masked protesters wield social media and lasers to avoid armor-clad police and facial recognition technology powered by artificial intelligence. When one looks at Hong Kong one sees a possible future where champions of freedom the world over employ desperate measures against the overwhelming resources of a mechanized Leviathan. One also sees the brittleness, confusion, and embarrassment of despotism when challenged by subjects assumed to be grateful for growth and security and immune to the will to freedom.
What is happening in Hong Kong is not isolated. The China model of authoritarian development is damaged and scarred. What seemed as sturdy and invulnerable as a Borg Cube looks more like a fragile and wobbly mobile by Alexander Calder. The regime of Xi Jinping is under economic and political and diplomatic pressure that it is not handling well. This beleaguered combatant in an era of great power competition is more dangerous to the United States than before.
What legitimacy the Communist Party possessed was based on the decades of economic growth inaugurated by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. But growth has slowed to its lowest level in decades as the Chinese workforce ages, low-hanging investment opportunities disappear, and the trade war with the United States reduces manufacturing output and sends supply lines to Vietnam and Mexico. Capital is fleeing China at a record pace as the bourgeoisie hedge against stagnation and turmoil.
For all of the Chinese government’s much publicized investments in research and development and defense, and despite the size of its economy, per capita gross domestic product is $10,000, slightly less than that of the Russia Federation ($11,000) and a fraction of that of the United States ($65,000). Recent weeks have brought an uptick in bank runs. The government’s response to slowdown has been to tighten state control. “Between 2012 and 2018, assets of state companies grew at more than 15 percent annually, well over twice the pace of expansion of China’s GDP and double the pace of growth of gross domestic capital formation,” writesNicholas R. Lardy of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. This is not state capitalism. It’s statism.
The Chinese authorities use mechanisms of repression to maintain control over what can only be described as an internal empire. The New York Times recently published a horrifying and damning trove of documents relating the extent of Beijing’s efforts to detain, imprison, intimidate, and reeducate Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other minorities in western Xinjiang Province. China wants to override the Dalai Lama’s choice of successor in its continuing efforts to police Tibetan Buddhism and aspirations to sovereignty. China leads the world in the number of political prisoners, its Great Firewall has become more difficult to penetrate, and its influence operations in Taiwan, Australia, and other democracies more sophisticated. Defector Wang Liqiang has told Australian officials of his personal involvement in the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers who had the temerity to advocate democracy.
These are not the moves of a regime confident in its ability to win the allegiance of a multi-ethnic population of 1.4 billion people. They are the policies of an insular and jittery faction whose uncertainty toward a changing economic and demographic landscape has made it suspicious of and opposed to even the slightest hints of liberal democracy. The ambitions of Chairman Xi for a Eurasia integrated under the Belt and Road Initiative, where the preponderance of the latest equipment in key sectors is manufactured, are both grand and mismatched for a nation whose leaders are concerned most with the operation of the surveillance state that keeps them in power.
The resistance to Beijing is both domestic and foreign. Lost in all the predictions of Chinese dominance were the voices of China’s neighbors in the Pacific. Neither Japan, nor Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, nor Australia want to live in a Chinese lake. Most extraordinary has been the response of the United States. Within four years, the American elite has swapped its belief in China’s “peaceful rise” for the recognition that it may be in the opening phase of a Second Cold War whose outcome will determine the ideological character of the 21st century. While Tariff Man wages his trade war, opposing Chinese theft of intellectual property and arguing for structural changes to China’s state owned enterprises, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speak of the political and security challenges presented by Chinese authoritarians who become more willing to lash out as they lose their grip.
Senator Josh Hawley spoke for the emerging consensus when he wrote in the November 24 Wall Street Journal: “And everywhere, in every region, we must ask whether our actions are contributing to the great task of this era, resisting hegemony in the Asia-Pacific.” A few days before Hawley’s op-ed, Congress passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019. Though the president already may possess the authorities to sanction Chinese officials granted him by Congress, the bill remains both a powerful statement of American support for the principles of liberty and democracy and a sign of American resolution before the specter of autocracy.
Good for President Trump to have signed the Democracy Act—and better still if he would link human rights to trade and refrain from speaking of his “friend,” the “incredible guy” who seeks nothing less than the defeat and displacement of the United States.
A lot of people are dunking on Michael Moore for declaring that he now represents the center of the Democratic party, and they’re enjoying it, and they ought to. But he might not be completely wrong in that self-assessment, and it’s both a statement about him and a statement about the Democratic party.
Put aside everything you can’t stand about Michael Moore for a moment. (I know, it’s a lot.) But Moore’s political vision has always had a strong populist streak that aligns a lot with elements of the 2016 Donald Trump campaign. His 1989 documentary, Roger and Me was all about Moore’s anger that General Motors was ending production of automotive parts in factories in Flint, Mich., while increasing production of parts in Mexico. Moore sees America’s corporate class as a bunch of selfish, greedy snobs who show little or no appreciation for the workers that enable their profits or the country that gave them their opportunities. That leftist view of 1989 feels pretty mainstream three decades later — and not just in the Democratic party.
In July 2016, Michael Moore shocked many of his allies by predicting that Donald Trump would win the presidential election. Moore’s assessment is eerily prescient, warning his political allies that working-class voters in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin felt “abandoned by Democrats who still try to talk a good line but are really just looking forward to [vulgar euphemism] with a lobbyist from Goldman Sachs who’ll write them nice big check before leaving the room. What happened in the UK with Brexit is going to happen here.”
He also warned about Hillary, whom he said he personally believed had gotten a bad rap, but “nearly 70 percent of all voters think she is untrustworthy and dishonest. She represents the old way of politics, not really believing in anything other than what can get you elected. That’s why she fights against gays getting married one moment, and the next she’s officiating a gay marriage.” Finally, he reminded people about the unexpected victory of independent Jesse Ventura in 1998: “Minnesota is one of the smartest states in the country. It is also filled with people who have a dark sense of humor — and voting for Ventura was their version of a good practical joke on a sick political system. This is going to happen again with Trump.”
Moore’s a progressive through and through, but he periodically reveals a seething disdain for the hypocrisies and phoniness of the Democratic party’s elite leadership class. And you get the feeling that while Moore isn’t opposed to woke culture and the various crusades that rile up the Twitter Left, he would prefer a Democratic party much more focused on improving the quality of life for America’s working class. He’ll never make a film about how “Latinx” should replace the term “Latinos.”
Meanwhile, certain kinds of Democrats are nearly extinct — pro-life Democrats (other than Louisiana Governor Jon Bel Edwards) pro-gun Democrats, the kinds of reformers who used to make up the old Democratic Leadership Council. Democrats to the right of Michael Moore are fewer, and Democrats to the Left of him are more numerous. He stood still; the party moved around him.
Column: Positions and personality trump party and region
Next year you will enter the Twilight Zone where the governors of Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maryland are Republicans and the governors of North Carolina, Kentucky, and Louisiana are Democrats. It is the middle ground between working-class realignment and the rising American electorate, between polarized parties and disaffected independents, and it lies between the pit of man’s ideology and the summit of his pragmatism. This is the dimension of American politics that reveals the overriding importance of a candidate’s personal qualities and issue positions. It cannot be ignored.
The coverage of recent Democratic victories in Kentucky and Louisiana has emphasized President Trump’s failure to drag Republicans past the finish line. Analysts have focused on Democratic strength in the suburban regions of these states, as well as in the suburbs of Mississippi where the Republican won by a surprisingly slim 5 points. Both of these storylines are important. But so is this one: Candidate attributes and positions matter more than a state or nation’s partisan tilt. President Trump and his 17 Democratic challengers might want to pay attention.
The relationship between individual characteristics and party allegiance was clearest in the Bluegrass State. Republicans won every statewide office but governor. Incumbent Matt Bevin had the unhappy distinction of being the least popularstate executive up for reelection in 2019. It showed. His abrasive personality hurt him in negotiations with teachers’ unions and in the implementation of work requirements for Medicaid recipients. The memory of his 2014 primary challenge against Mitch McConnell still stung. Bevin fought the Republican-controlled legislature, blocked people on Twitter, and made up nicknames for his opponents. Stop me if this is sounding familiar.
Bevin’s Democratic opponent, Andy Beshear, was the son of the previous governor. Beshear attacked where Bevin was weakest, on education and health care, and did his best to avoid cultural issues such as gun control (he supports red-flag laws) and abortion (he’s pro-choice). He campaigned as if President Trump and impeachment did not exist. “This race is about nothing going on in Washington, D.C.,” he said on the trail. His localization of the race worked. Beshear attracted a high crossover vote—16 percent of Republicans. A Libertarian spoiler candidate also helped.
If Bevin strayed too far from the political golden mean, John Bel Edwards never wavered. When he was elected in 2015, Bel Edwards recognized the tenuous nature of his position as the Democratic governor of a deep-red state. He opposes gun control and abortion and worked with the Trump administration on criminal justice reform. He signed a pro-life heartbeat bill that alienated him from abortion rights groups but cemented his identity as an independent-minded Democrat. His Medicaid expansion enrolled half a million people who are wary of Republican cuts. He ran for reelection as the defender of the cultural and political status quo against businessman Eddie Rispone, who despite having an inspiring personal story lacked stage presence and was unable to tie Bel Edwards to the progressives in charge of the national Democratic Party. The incumbent won 51 percent to 49 percent.
Likability and empathy matter more than wonkiness and purity. In 2004, more voters held a favorable opinion of President Bush than of John Kerry, and Bush enjoyed whopping margins among voters who cared most about strong leadership, having clear positions, and telling the truth. In 2012, more voters held a favorable opinion of President Obama than of Mitt Romney, and voters said Obama was more in touch with the people. He also won among voters who said caring for others was a priority. In 2016 the electorate held unfavorable opinions of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, but Clinton lost to Trump by 17 points among voters who disliked them equally. Trump narrowed the “cares about me” gap to 23 points from 63 points. And he won by an incredible 68 points on the most desired candidate quality: the ability to bring change.
Democrats have candidate attributes in mind as they evaluate potential 2020 nominees. A November 19 Gallup pollshowed that 60 percent of Democrats would rather have a nominee who has the best chance of defeating President Trump than one who agrees with them on the issues. A majority of Democrats surveyed said that Joe Biden is the most electable, with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren far behind at 16 percent and 15 percent. Half of Democrats would rather have a moderate as the nominee than a liberal or a conservative.
Biden’s strength among moderate Democrats and lead over Trump nationwide and in swing states are responsible for his frontrunner status. But the first caucus is more than two months away, and the rules of the Democratic primary give the party opportunities to choose an unlikable and extreme nominee. They have plenty of options.
Nor is President Trump out of the game. The New York Times/Siena poll of the battlegrounds found him within the margin of error against Biden. A November 20 poll of Wisconsin registered voters from Marquette University Law School has Trump leading Biden, also within the margin of error. Trump’s debut reelection ad acknowledges that “he’s no Mr. Nice Guy,” but touts a record of accomplishment that even Democrats recognize as impressive. And he will have plenty of time and resources to define his opponent negatively.
How ironic if Democrats so concerned with electability in the primary find themselves backing a flawed and uninspiring candidate in the general. Because, you see, fate can work that way in the Twilight Zone.
'Over 86% of all households would lose' from free tuition policies
The “free” college plans touted by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) and other Democratic presidential hopefuls will require radical tax hikes and leave 86 percent of American households worse off, a recent study found.
Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) often promise tuition-free higher education and student debt cancellation on the campaign trail. However, a National Bureau of Economic Research study conducted by University of Wisconsin researchers found that free college translates to a hollowed-out higher education system that leaves many Americans worse off.
Researchers simulated two scenarios: one in which the federal government forces states to adopt tuition-free public colleges and another in which it provides subsidies to encourage states to do so. They calculated how each plan would affect the welfare of American households. The welfare function was derived from, among other things, the positive and negative impacts of higher tax rates and lower education costs.
“Over 86% of all households would lose while about 60% of the lowest income quintile would gain from such policies,” the study found.
In both scenarios, the free tuition policy benefited a group of the poorest Americans at the expense of everyone else. For the vast majority of U.S. households, any benefit derived from a free college plan was outweighed by its negative consequences.
Sens. Warren and Sanders, as well as former Obama official Julián Castro, want to make public college free for all Americans. Other presidential candidates, including South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D., Hawaii), backed a less ambitious plan that removed tuition costs only for middle- and low-income families.
Such proposals could end up hurting students before they get to college. For example, Warren said she would pay for her free-tuition plan by levying an up to 2 percent wealth tax on “ultra-millionaires.” She claims in her policy plan that states will split the cost of college tuition with the federal government but still “maintain their current levels of funding” for academic instruction even after her plan is implemented.
Warren’s plan would force state governments to withdraw resources from public K-12 education to fund the free college program, worsening the overall quality of education students receive before college. The lower education quality, along with higher tax rates, would contribute to a decline in welfare for U.S. households, according to researchers.
“The idea of ‘free’ public colleges is politically seductive. But of course a college education can’t actually be free—someone must pay for it,” the study said. “Allocating additional resources to the college stage may be self-defeating if this entails a reduction of public expenditure in the earlier stages.”
Some scholars, however, argue that lower per-pupil costs do not necessarily lead to lower education quality, but may reflect a more efficient school system. Analysts at the Heritage Foundation found that D.C. public school students drastically underperformed despite the district spending nearly double the national average per pupil.
Other academics have found flaws in existing free college programs. A Harvard University study found that a Massachusetts tuition-free college program for high-performing students actually lowered the students’ college completion rate, complicating claims from 2020 Democrats that their education plans would allow more students to graduate.
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.
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.