The Promise and Peril of the North Korea Meeting

Let's hope they know what they're doing.

Sometimes it takes an outsider, unburdened by the stifling conventions and preconceptions that impede the practice of diplomacy, to see the obvious. Trump is that outsider. Sometimes Trump’s distance from diplomacy’s precepts allows him to see its hobgoblins as they are. That was the case when his administration threw away custom by deciding again to consign North Korea to the list of state terror sponsors, to institute a renewed sanctions regime targeting Iran, and to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. The risks that professional diplomats feared would result from these maneuvers never materialized, and only a risk-prone executive could have achieved these successes. Trump’s particular facility is not without its dangers. Sometimes the conventional wisdom is conventional for a reason. Donald Trump’s decision to sit down with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un at Pyongyang’s request, for example, is fraught with more potential for risk than reward.

21
Shares
Google+ Print

The Promise and Peril of the North Korea Meeting

Must-Reads from Magazine

Pompeo and Circumstance

Podcast: North Korea talks and Trump's legal troubles.

On our latest COMMENTARY podcast we wonder at the fact that Democrats are going to vote en masse against Mike Pompeo as secretary of state for no real reason other than that they don’t like Trump—and how this marks the fulfillment of a degradation in the advise-and-consent process that’s been accelerating for the past couple of decades. Also, we talk about Stormy Daniels, alas. Give a listen.

1
Shares
Google+ Print

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistical Deficits

The other last refuge.

Someone in the 19th century (Mark Twain attributed it to Benjamin Disraeli, but that’s dubious) said that there are three forms of lying: lies, damned lies, and statistics. If you would like a beautiful example of the last category of mendacity, check out David Leonhardt’s April 15th column in the New York Times,  entitled (try not to laugh) “The Democrats Are the Party of Fiscal Responsibility.”

14
Shares
Google+ Print

Eating Their Own

A frontal assault on soft targets.

The ubiquitous coffeehouse chain Starbucks is at the center of a scandal—the familiar kind fueled by new media’s obsessive litigation of grievances that have a perceived societal dimension. This one occurred in Philadelphia where two young black men were humiliated and led out of the café in handcuffs by police. They were accused of trespassing and declined to leave when asked, saying that they were merely waiting for a friend. The story of the incident went viral, and it became a scandal—justifiably so. The decision to prosecute this episode of harmless loitering is suspicious, and the insult these men suffered deserves redress. Asking whether racial bias was a factor here is a perfectly valid question, and that deserved to be investigated. But that’s not what has happened.

37
Shares
Google+ Print

A Liberal Democracy—Or a Militant One?

The totalitarians’ arguments always end up in the same place

The great shortcoming of democracy is and always has been the demos. John Adams, like many of the Founding Fathers, abhorred the very idea of democracy, precisely because it provided the means to amplify and weaponize the demos and its vices: “It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy,” he wrote in a famous passage. “It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty.” Conservatives of the more pointy-headed variety enjoy taking any occasion to tut-tut loose talk of “democracy,” insisting on “republic.” They may be pedantic on the point, but there is a point: What’s most valuable about the American constitutional order isn’t universal suffrage (a relatively recent innovation for us Americans, though it’s worth appreciating that some Swiss women were not enfranchised until 1990) or regular elections—what’s most valuable is in fact all that great anti-Democratic stuff cooked up by James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and George Mason and sundry Anti-Federalists: a tripartite government with a further subdivided legislative branch in which unelected senators (oh, happy days!) had the power to frustrate the passions of the more democratic House; a Bill of Rights depriving the demos of the right to vote at all on certain fundamental questions such as freedom of speech and of religion; a Supreme Court empowered to use the law as a cudgel to beat back democratic assaults on liberty and citizenship; the hated filibuster; the holy veto; advice and consent.

124
Shares
Google+ Print

Ideas in Exile

But not forever.

The occasion of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s retirement from Congress at the end of this term has spawned a variety of premature conclusions about the evolutionary trajectory of the Republican Party. The most common are those that contend this is only the latest sign that Ryan’s ideology—a small-government ethos espoused by modest public servants—is dead; this is Donald Trump’s party now. Well, that’s no earth-shattering revelation. The power of the presidency is such that both parties inevitably become reflections of their most prominent elected officials. Perhaps all GOP resistance to Trump and Trumpism has finally been stamped out, but you wouldn’t be able to reach that conclusion from listening to Ryan’s exit interviews. For anyone who isn’t invested in ushering Paul Ryan’s vision into an early grave, the Speaker has made it clear that the ideological confrontations between Trump’s allies and conventional conservatives are far from over.

10
Shares
Google+ Print