Collude with the Russians? Trump’s people can’t even collude with each other.
Away from Washington and the American media environment, President Trump gave a stirring and perceptive speech in Warsaw. His policy points were sober and mainstream — he praised Article 5, NATO’s guarantee to its members of support in case of attack, and hit Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine. He praised Poland, as any decent visitor should, for its long struggle for independence. His litany of the values of innovation, female empowerment, morality, and religion had something that pleased Left and Right and that wise liberals and conservatives alike recognize as valuable contributions. What struck a new note, these days, was Trump’s insistence that these values arose in the West and required defense. Any history-minded universalist must recognize that, while all men deserve liberty as men, only one civilization — ours — has worked with any consistency to identify and secure it. This Trump boldly and clearly did. So much of his political career has been consumed by fireworks and bellyaching; perhaps they will be his primary residue. But his Warsaw speech laid down an important marker.
Trump’s first face-to-face encounter with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, which took place at the recent G20 summit, was in contrast a veritable symphony of whistling past the graveyard on nearly every issue of importance: According to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the leaders “acknowledged the challenges of cyber threats and interference in the democratic processes of the United States and other countries” and “agreed to explore creating a framework” to “better understand” how to address such threats. They also chatted about Syria, where, according to Tillerson, American and Russian “objectives are exactly the same.” The last 16 years of American policy vis-à-vis Russia has shown that that last statement is rarely true. Vladimir Putin is a cold-eyed cynic dedicated to the expansion of his, and Russia’s, power. What is needed is a clear-eyed view of him and his aims. On cybersecurity, that means recognizing that Russia is not an ally but a threat, and in this regard, it’s critical that the United States not dismiss Russia’s election-related hacking with a shrug. The House should pass, and the president should sign, the Senate’s robust sanctions package, which codifies President Obama’s sanctions and expands them, taking direct aim at Russia’s (intertwined) defense and energy sectors. And while Russia is not leaving Syria anytime soon, the U.S. can and should work with allied forces to hold as much territory as possible to establish a position of strength, with the ultimate goal of negotiating a decent peace and probable de facto partition. President Trump has said that his foreign policy will be based on “principled realism.” His approach to Russia is in need of more principle and more realism, both.
The Washington Post published an epic account of “Obama’s secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin’s election assault,” a transparent attempt to write the definitive history. Even taken at face value from the Obama-friendly media, it will not burnish their man’s legacy. The former president is depicted as weak to the point of paralysis, aware that Vladimir Putin’s regime is hacking e-mail accounts and engaged in an influence operation, but always hand-wringing, always rationalizing passivity as the best response: lest Putin be provoked to more aggressive behavior, lest the precious Iran deal fall apart, lest the Syrian carnage intensify, and so on — forever conjuring something as the basis for doing nothing, but fashionably indignant at the suggestion of abdication. Not everyone is fooled. “It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend,” an unnamed Obama official tells the Post in a flash of candor. “I feel like we sort of choked.”
Sitting with President Trump, Vladimir Putin pointed at reporters and said, “Are these the ones who hurt your feelings?” Then he and the president had a good chuckle over it. In Russia, journalism is different. Anna Politkovskaya, Stanislav Markelov, Anastasia Baburova, Malika Betiyeva, Gadzhimurat Kamalov, Akhmednabi Akhmednabiyev, Timur Kuashev, Natalia Estemirova, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Yevgeny Khamaganov, and Nikolai Andrushchenko have all been shot dead or otherwise murdered. Vladimir Putin’s media criticism often has fatal consequences.
In the course of Trump’s tweet wars, he reposted a video, reworked from a fight from his WWE days, in which he now pummeled a victim labeled “CNN.” CNN traced the first poster of the doctored video, who had also put up racist and anti-Semitic posts. He then asked CNN not to expose him — “I am in no way this kind of person” — and CNN agreed, warning that they would should he “repeat this ugly behavior.” Much talk ensued. Did the video incite anti-media violence? No, it was cartoon rah-rah. Was CNN wrong to extort a pledge of good behavior from its creator? Probably — who made them moral arbiters? Less discussed: Why should political social-media posts be anonymous? They are modern publications, as much as newspapers or books. They are not images of cats or sunsets, but polemic and commentary. They can drive the discussion, as Trump’s alt-right Twitter horde did during the GOP primaries. (Alexander Hamilton wrote as “Publius,” but he also died in a duel over a letter to the editor, so not all old customs are good.) The identity of social-media pundits is a matter of public interest. Let the sun shine in.
The president took it to Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough. The Morning Joe co-hosts battened off Trump’s ascent, featuring him devotedly when he seemed like a colorful wrecker. Once he became president, they turned on him like Al Gore on a carbon spewer. Stung beyond endurance (which, in his case, is pretty close to nil), Trump responded with a tweet attack asserting that he had turned “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” and “Psycho Joe” away from Mar-a-Lago on New Year’s Eve (Miss Brzezinski, he added, “was bleeding badly from a face-lift”). Other presidents have spoken like this: the Johnsons, Lyndon and Andrew; Nixon; Truman. But they did so in private, and it is thought to reflect badly on them. One thinks of Belloc. “We sit by and watch the barbarian. . . . His comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creed refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond, and on these faces there are no smiles.”
The Left is fighting the Republican health-care bill ferociously, and some moderate Republicans are wilting under the pressure. Much of the criticism is hyperbolic. The Congressional Budget Office has made several dubious assumptions about how many people will leave the insurance rolls if the bill passes. It assumes, for example, that if the federal government stops fining people for going without insurance, 4 million people will refrain from enrolling in Medicaid, which covers them at nearly no charge. Millions more will drop their private insurance. Opponents of the bill have twisted the CBO’s findings to say that the bill “throws 22 million people off insurance” — even though the CBO says most of these people would have voluntarily left the insurance rolls. Then they pile on additional dubious assumptions, cherry-picking studies that find that going without insurance raises the risk of death. Bernie Sanders sums up their conclusion: “Thousands of people will die if the Republican health-care bill becomes law.” Never mind that the influence of Obamacare on mortality statistics is undetectable. Voting for the bill undeniably poses risks for Republican senators. Our system of financing health care will remain unsatisfactory if it passes. But Republicans would in that case at least be able to show that they had not unleashed the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
The Trump “travel ban” — actually, a temporary restriction on travel to the U.S. by aliens from six countries, waivable on a case-by-case basis — won a Supreme Court victory of sorts. In an unsigned ruling, unanimous on this main point, the justices narrowed the stays imposed by the Fourth and Ninth Circuits, essentially allowing the ban to go into effect. The Court’s ruling implicitly rejects the lower courts’ premise that an otherwise constitutionally bulletproof order should be thrown out because Trump’s campaign rhetoric proved that it was motivated by religious bigotry. But the Court also wrote its own exemption to the ban (saying it cannot apply to foreigners with “bona fide” relationships to people in the U.S.), which could bog it down in additional litigation. And though the Court agreed to hear the merits of the case in its next term, the ban will likely have expired by then, rendering the case moot. Then it will be on to the real dispute: Can radical Islamic ideology be considered in vetting aliens?
On July 3, North Korea conducted its first successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile. U.S. officials confirmed that the missile flew 578 miles in 37 minutes, reaching an altitude of about 1,700 miles. According to missile experts, this implies that, along a different trajectory, Alaska would be a viable target. Kim Jong-un called the test a July 4 “gift” to the U.S. What it is, in reality, is a further provocation by the regime in North Korea, which in June released Otto Warmbier, an American college student it had tortured into a coma, to die in the United States. The U.S. finds itself in a difficult spot: A military response is almost certainly out of the question, not only because the regime has a nuclear arsenal but because it could inflict fearsome damage on our allies in the region with conventional weapons; new sanctions are opposed by the regime’s backers in Beijing. Ideally, the U.S. would go forward with new sanctions anyway, ones that include the banks, businesses, and individuals throughout the world that prop up the regime in Pyongyang.
In one of its final decisions this term, the Supreme Court issued a 7–2 ruling in the Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer case, holding that states may not exclude churches from neutral public programs on the basis of their religious identification, even when the program in question will benefit a house of worship. This particular case concerned a Missouri program that uses scrap tires to provide rubberized safety flooring for playgrounds. Missouri used its version of an anti-religion Blaine Amendment to bar Trinity Lutheran from taking advantage of this program due to its status as a church. The dissenters, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, took the extreme position that Missouri not only could exclude churches but was constitutionally obliged to exclude them. Not even James G. Blaine went that far; he wanted a constitutional amendment to accomplish this goal. Let’s hope the Court has paved the way to leave Blaine, and his latter-day acolytes, behind.
The Supreme Court has granted review in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. In 2012, Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., refused to create a specialty cake for a same-sex wedding, citing his religious beliefs. This should be a straightforward case: Creative professionals should not be forced to use their talents to express a message of which they disapprove, and the First Amendment should protect that right of refusal. Nonetheless, Anthony Kennedy has shown himself willing to throw settled principles of law overboard when it comes to cases involving LGBT plaintiffs. So this is a dangerous case as well as an important one.
President Trump’s commission on election integrity asked the states for information about voter rolls. Many states are balking, with their officials portraying the request as an assault on federalism and voter privacy. The letter’s request is, however, limited to information that is publicly available under the states’ own laws. Many of the states that are denouncing the request sell this information to interested parties. And so the commission has made its first important finding: Too many of the state officials in charge of election integrity do not have much of that quality themselves.
The Slants, an Asian-American rock band, take their name from a racial slur. The band’s front man, Simon Tam, explains that Asian-American activists have long used the term “slant” in “a reappropriated, self-empowering way.” The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was not amused. In 2010, it refused to register the band’s name, citing the Lanham Act (1946), which forbids any trademark that could “disparage” any person, “living or dead.” Tam sued. The case found its way to the Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously in the band’s favor in June. Its basic insight is that the government may not confer benefits, such as trademark protection, in a way that discriminates on the basis of speech. A happy consequence of the case is that the Washington Redskins will now escape attempts to strip the team of its trademark. Criticize the band or the team all you want, but leave the government out of it.
Scott Pruitt has rescinded the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule, which purported to expand the application of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and empower the federal government to regulate essentially any standing body of water and the lands adjacent to it. For years, “waters of the United States” were defined as navigable interstate and coastal waterways that “are presently used, or have been used in the past, or may be susceptible for use to transport interstate or foreign commerce.” But under the Obama administration, the EPA expanded the definition to include any body of water that might possibly be used in interstate commerce: E.g., a cow pond used to water livestock producing meat that might eventually be sold across state lines became, under the new rules, “jurisdictional,” as though it were the Erie Canal or the Everglades. WOTUS would have applied to wet grass, if the grass had been wet enough. WOTUS’s enforcement already had been suspended by the federal courts, and it will not be missed. But the problem, at root, is the EPA’s longstanding elevation of narrowly ideological environmentalism over ordinary quality-of-life concerns such as reducing air pollution and ensuring clean water for drinking and recreational purposes, and out-of-control substitution of agency regulation for statutes passed by Congress. Pruitt has more work to do.
Beginning in 2003, a left-wing lawyer named Steven Donziger tried to orchestrate a multibillion-dollar shakedown of Chevron Corporation, perhaps the largest attempt at extortion in human history. Two years before, Chevron had acquired Texaco, which had drilled for oil in Ecuador in the 1990s. After $40 million worth of remediation, the Ecuadorian government released Texaco from any further environmental liability — but years later, the same government decided it was unsatisfied, with Donziger dangling the prospect of an enormous payday (minus a hefty percentage for lawyers’ fees, of course). So began an audacious exercise in legal extortion. A man who does not speak English was the supposed part-author of a key document written in English; the Ecuadorian judge in the case told plaintiffs that he would rule against Chevron in return for a $3 million bribe. There was so much evidence of wrongdoing that Chevron sued Donziger and his allies in the U.S. under federal racketeering laws — and won. The district judge, Lewis Kaplan, found that the plaintiffs had engaged in coercion, bribery, money laundering, and more. This June, the Supreme Court affirmed that the judgment against Chevron was unenforceable in the United States. The evidence suggests that Donziger and his allies were involved in a criminal conspiracy and that they used corrupt means to achieve it. This can and should produce a criminal prosecution, and we call on the United States Department of Justice to undertake it.
One almost has to admire the Washington Post’s gall. A long article published in early July suggested that James T. Hodgkinson, who shot four people — including House majority whip Steve Scalise (R., La.) — in Alexandria, Va., in June, was motivated by, yes, right-wing talk radio. A quick rundown, for Post reporters who may have forgotten: Hodgkinson was a Bernie Sanders supporter and a self-identified member of the “resistance” against Donald Trump. He had a list of Republican members of Congress he intended to target. Prior to opening fire, he asked multiple passers-by whether the members of Congress practicing on the baseball diamond were Republicans or Democrats. And there is nothing new in this: Both at the time and even 50 years later, some journalists have suggested that right-wing sentiment was responsible, in some vague way, for the assassination of John F. Kennedy by a self-identified Communist who defected to the Soviet Union. Never let it be said that the press is an enemy of tradition.
Linda Sarsour, a hard-left firebrand and Islamist provocateur, got the attention she was looking for when she invoked “jihad” as an appropriate form of “resistance” to the Trump administration. She insisted afterward that she, of course, meant “jihad” in its supposedly evolved sense of a non-forcible striving toward a better world. She pointed out that she first mentioned “jihad” in the context of a hadith wherein Islam’s prophet says its best form is to speak “a word of truth” before a tyrannical ruler. Well, here’s a word of truth: The same hadith was invoked by Omar Abdel Rahman — the notorious “Blind Sheikh,” recently deceased in the U.S. prison where he was serving his life sentence for terrorism crimes — to justify his Egyptian terror organization’s 1981 murder of President Anwar Sadat. As anyone who wasn’t setting out to court controversy would understand, the word can only inflame, not illuminate.
House speaker Paul Ryan was accused in July of inventing a sexist dress code with which to repress female reporters covering Congress. The story was set off by an incident involving a journalist who was barred from entering the Speaker’s lobby, a room adjacent to the House floor, for wearing a sleeveless dress. A rush of media reports, tweets, and outraged columns followed lamenting that in Paul Ryan’s America women were banned from exposing their shoulders. A trickle of corrections followed: In fact, the dress code had long been in place for House members, staffers, and journalists (Nancy Pelosi had enforced it in her time), and it required business attire for both men and women. Men had often been turned away for lacking a coat or tie, arguably a harder sartorial burden to bear in D.C.’s swampy summers than sleeves for women. So the dress code was not new, not sexist, and not implemented by Paul Ryan. Other than that, reporters nailed it.
In the dismal days of 2009, Barack Obama’s “Cash for Clunkers” program must have sounded like a surefire win-win-win: give Americans a subsidy to trade in their gas guzzlers for fuel-efficient new cars, then destroy the old cars so they can’t be resold, and you’ll revive the struggling car industry, give the national economy a Keynesian jump start, and clean up the environment as a bonus. According to a National Bureau of Economic Research paper, however, the program accomplished none of its goals. Nearly all the buyers who collected subsidies were planning to buy new cars anyway; the program’s fuel-efficiency requirements meant that they bought smaller and less expensive vehicles, thus actually decreasing the industry’s cash flow; and while carbon emissions were reduced a little, much greater reductions could have been achieved with the same amount of money if spent more carefully. Cash for Clunkers ended up as an expensive and convoluted way to subsidize new-car buyers at the expense of used-car buyers. Your government stimulus at work.
Can an entire state government join the “resistance”? California is certainly trying. Last month it extended a new series of “travel bans” — bans on state-funded travel — to a number of red states (including Texas) that it deems insufficiently protective of LGBT rights. In reality, these “banned” states go farther than California in defending the First Amendment. Rather than applying liberal fiscal and social policies while respecting the autonomy of other states and protecting the constitutional rights of all its citizens, California is engaged in a determined effort to try to remake the entire nation. Rather than letting California be California and Texas be Texas, California is determined to do what it can to turn Texas into California. Texas should, to coin a phrase, resist.
Since 1975, federal law has protected the grizzly-bear population of Yellowstone Park and surrounding areas from being killed. The policy worked so well that the bear count in this region has rebounded from 136 to an estimated 700. Problem solved, and time to lift the protections? Obama’s administration thought so when it proposed the change, and now Trump’s interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, has ratified it. The move met with praise from hunters, along with ranchers whose livestock has been attacked by grizzlies — and with objections from Indian tribes who consider grizzlies to be sacred, environmentalists who think more bears are needed for long-term viability, and animal lovers uneasy at the thought of killing bears to protect the meat industry. All sides have legitimate points to make, but let’s simply pause to mark the comeback of an extraordinary creature in a gorgeous place.
Ah, the Jersey shore, celebrated by bards from Bruce Springsteen to our own Jeffrey Hart. This Fourth of July weekend, the state’s beaches were closed thanks to a government shutdown: Governor Chris Christie wanted a particular drug-treatment program in the budget, Assembly Democrats did not. But the woe of disappointed New Jerseyites became wrath when the Star-Ledger published a picture of Christie and family sunning themselves on the empty sand in front of the governor’s official summer residence at Island Beach State Park. “That’s just the way it goes,” said Christie. “Run for governor, and you can have a residence.” It isn’t quite John Quincy Adams fighting the gag rule, but Christie’s contempt for majority opinion is almost admirable in its loftiness. Christie lost his presidential bid last year, failed to get a spot in the Trump administration despite conspicuous sycophancy, and leaves office in six months, when he will have ample private time to enjoy his honor, and work on his tan.
New York City police officer Miosotis Familia, a 48-year-old mother of three, was murdered at half past midnight as she sat in a temporary headquarters vehicle in the Bronx. Her killer, Alexander Bonds, was a career criminal whose offenses included beating a cop with brass knuckles in 2001; he had also posted a profane Facebook rant against police. He was himself killed at the scene. Crime has stayed down in the city, but Mayor Bill de Blasio seems tone-deaf to police concerns for their own safety. He skipped a vigil for Familia to jet to Hamburg for a left-wing G20 protest (he did manage to return for the wake). Assassinations of cops have multiplied, too, in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and New York even before now (officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were murdered by a cop hater in 2014). The police need good management, sober support, and hands-on respect. De Blasio is at best 1 for 3.
A new measure in Oregon would require all insurance companies in the state to cover abortion procedures and other reproductive services at no cost to patients, regardless of their income level. This requirement would go further than those in other states because it mandates coverage for abortion for any reason and at any time — including sex-selective and late-term abortions. The bill has narrow exemptions for health plans offered by religious employers. The legislation, almost certain to be signed into law, would also allocate nearly half a million dollars to expand abortion coverage for immigrants who are ineligible for insurance under the state’s Medicaid program. Oregon seems intent on maintaining its position as one of the states most hostile to the unborn.
Last November in Maine, a majority of voters approved a referendum to raise the minimum wage. In June, state legislators voted to lower it again for tipped workers — at the behest of those workers, who lobbied for a return to the status quo. Restaurant servers in the state feared that the planned increase from a minimum wage of $3.75 an hour to $12 an hour by 2024 would significantly decrease their income as customers tipped less and their hours were cut in response to rising labor costs. Some servers said they had already seen lower tips. “I don’t need to be ‘saved,’ and I’ll be damned if small groups of uninformed people are voting on my livelihood,” one 55-year-old bartender told legislators in a hearing. Thanks to her and her colleagues, some legislators are now a little better informed.
Illinois finally has a state budget, after operating without one for more than two years, a modern American record. Governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican, has wrangled with the legislature over taxes and spending. Any increase in the income tax, he insisted, must be accompanied by a property-tax freeze and a reduction in workers’ compensation. The most recent budget that the legislature sent him included the income-tax hike but not his demands, which are intended to stop the flow of tax-paying individuals and businesses to lower-tax states. So Rauner rejected the measure. But enough Republicans joined the Democratic majority in Springfield to override his veto. If Illinois turns around, electing a relatively conservative governor will have been only the first of many necessary steps.
In the long war against ISIS, the fall of Mosul represents a momentous victory. Mosul is one of Iraq’s largest cities. It’s the place where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the birth of a new caliphate. It’s a decisive moment in the effort to re-win the Iraq war, consolidate control in the hands of American allies, and — to the extent possible — restore a degree of stability in a strategically vital nation. To be sure, hard fighting remains. Tal Afar is still under ISIS control, and battles rage around Raqqa in Syria. But it’s much like the last days of the Nazi regime, in that the outcome is no longer in doubt. Only the suffering remains — the suffering and the inevitable question, “What next?” The Trump administration should not repeat the Obama administration’s mistake of squandering victory. The only way to guarantee that we will not have to take Mosul again is for American troops to remain.
Word has rocketed around the Internet of a new and unusual world record. A Canadian sniper killed an ISIS fighter from a distance of 2.2 miles. The response was shock on two counts — first that a man could shoot another man at such an astonishing range, and second that the shooter was, of all things, Canadian. But his feat served as a useful reminder. Our NATO allies have in fact long supported the American war on terror, and many of them have done so quite capably. The Canadians might enjoy the reputation of being the “nicest people on earth,” but for now they can also claim a new title: the nation that has produced the best shot on earth. American forces should rise to the challenge. We have little doubt that they will.
Charlie Gard, born last August, suffers from an inherited disease called infantile onset encephalomyopathic mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, generally referred to as MDDS. The disease is extraordinarily rare: At present, there are only 16 known cases worldwide. Most patients who suffer from it die in early infancy. Charlie is unable to breathe unaided, suffers from seizures, and has severe brain damage. For eleven months, Charlie has been living in the intensive-care unit at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. In March, his doctors decided that there was nothing more they could do for him, and they recommended that his parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, withdraw his ventilator. They refused, on the grounds that an untried experimental treatment was available in the United States and they had raised enough money from private donations to fund it. The hospital, in accordance with British law, applied to the courts to forestall further treatment. In April, the high court found for the doctors and against the parents, ruling that death is “in Charlie’s best interests,” and every subsequent court upheld the decision. Under public pressure from sources across the globe, including President Trump and Pope Francis, Charlie’s case has been given a new hearing. But the horrifying precedent has already been set: In the United Kingdom and, by extrapolation, throughout Europe, every child belongs, finally, to the state.
Earlier this year, a detail from an old profile of Mike Pence was unearthed and whipped into a controversy: The vice president reportedly refrained from dining alone with women who were not his wife in order to protect his marriage and reputation. For this he was widely denounced in the media as a religious weirdo whose prudish hang-ups were helping to hold back women in the workplace. As it turns out, his practice is entirely within the mainstream, according to a new poll commissioned by the New York Times. The poll found that a majority of women and nearly half of men believe it’s inappropriate to dine alone with someone who is not their spouse. Nearly two-thirds of respondents thought that it was wise to exercise caution in relating to members of the opposite sex at work. Sex differences still color human interaction: To some reporters, it’s news.
John McEnroe is a bright guy, and a candid guy. He also knows a lot about tennis. Recently, he was praising Serena Williams to the skies, as he is wont to do, and as everyone is wont to do. She is the best female tennis player of all time, hands down, he said. He was then asked why he had to qualify his statement with “female.” He said that “if she played the men’s circuit, she’d be like 700 in the world.” Many people reacted badly to this statement. But to be the greatest female tennis player of all time is no mean feat. And the perpetual pretending that there are no differences between the sexes is as tiresome as it is foolish.
“The problem with modernity is not that God is dead, as some people hoped and other people feared,” Peter L. Berger remarked in an interview at Gordon College a few years ago. “There are too many gods, which is a challenge, but a different one.” Religious pluralism reigns. An American sociologist born and raised in Austria, Berger was an early proponent of secularization theory but later acknowledged that the data proved him wrong: Religion continued to flourish worldwide. Western Europe and “an international intellectual class” were the exception, not the norm. Berger, a Lutheran, helped found the Institute on Democracy and Religion, which still flourishes, and collaborated over the years with Protestant and Catholic thinkers, including Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Novak, while touching two kinds of audience, scholarly and popular. His essay A Rumor of Angels (1969) was a gift to the latter. A luminary at Boston University since 1981, he wrote, co-authored, or edited more than two dozen books. He explained the endurance of religion to the academy, and to believers. Dead at 88. R.I.P.
Patricia Knatchbull has died at 93. She was the daughter of Louis Mountbatten, whom the IRA blew up on his fishing boat in 1979. They killed others in that bombing, too: Patricia Knatchbull’s son Nicholas (age 14); her mother-in-law, Doreen Knatchbull (83); and a boat hand, Paul Maxwell (15). Patricia Knatchbull herself was bloodied in the bombing, requiring 120 facial stitches. Later, she referred to this work as “my IRA face-lift.” Has there ever been a statement more reflective of British stoicism? R.I.P.
The Don Jr. Meeting
The New York Times finally discovered a Russia-related bombshell: On June 9, 2016, Donald Trump Jr., then–campaign manager Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner met with an allegedly Kremlin-connected lawyer at Trump Tower in Manhattan. Trump Jr. said that the meeting was to discuss adoption (the Kremlin, characteristically, prohibited Americans from adopting Russian children in response to the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 sanctions law targeting Russian human-rights abusers). In fact, as the Times learned, Trump Jr. took the meeting hoping to obtain compromising information about the Clinton campaign.
In an e-mail dated June 3, 2016, Rob Goldstone, a former tabloid reporter and Trump-family friend, suggested to Trump Jr. that a high-level Russian prosecutor (unnamed) and Russian real-estate magnate Aras Agalarov — with whom Donald Trump Sr. became acquainted in 2013, when the pair collaborated on the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow — had “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.” According to Goldstone, the offer was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Donald Trump Jr. responded: “If it’s what you say I love it.” A few days later, the campaign higher-ups met at Trump Tower with Natalia Veselnitskaya, identified by Goldstone in the exchange as “a Russian government attorney.” (Veselnitskaya is an allegedly Kremlin-connected attorney who has campaigned in Europe and the United States against sanctions.) The whole correspondence appears to have been forwarded to Manafort and Kushner prior to the meeting.
No campaign professional would have accepted such a dodgy meeting the way Trump Jr. did, and no person with a strong sense of propriety — Russia is a hostile power run by a deeply corrupt regime — would have wanted to.
That said, the meeting doesn’t prove that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, let alone engaged in “treason.” In the best-case scenario, Trump Jr. took the meeting to accommodate a friend of the family (and Kushner and Manafort showed up to accommodate the son of the candidate); Goldstone’s suggestion that he had compromising information about the Clintons was only a pretense to get Veselnitskaya through the door; and nothing else came of it.
The worst case, on the other hand, is that the Trump Jr. meeting is only the beginning of damaging revelations about some sort of relationship between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.
It would be easier to credit the Trump team’s denials if it didn’t so routinely mislead. Put aside Trump Jr.’s self-servingly incomplete account of the meeting with the Russian lawyer; nearly every categorical statement he has made about the meeting has proven false. Paul Manafort’s record of truth-telling is no better, and Jared Kushner — the only person in the meeting with a White House job — initially failed to disclose the meeting during his security-clearance application process.
If the Trump team affirmatively wanted to stoke suspicions of the worst, it would be acting no differently. One meeting doesn’t prove collusion, but it does demonstrate the seriousness of this matter and the public interest in getting to the bottom of it — now more than ever.