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Ballots, Not Bullets

This week's shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and three others at an Alexandria, Virginia, baseball field where dozens of Republican members of Congress and staff were attending a practice for a congressional benefit game shocked the nation. Even more horrifying was the nature of the assault. This was a targeted, ideologically motivated assassination attempt on Republican members of Congress by a deranged fanatic who planned his mission over days and weeks.

It is hard not to conclude that the current political divide is at least partly to blame. The bitter irony for Scalise (who at this writing remains in critical condition) was that had he not been there, the shooting would have turned into a killing field. Because he is a member of the House leadership, Scalise was accompanied by a small Capitol Police security detail. Two of these officers were also shot when they engaged and helped bring down the assailant, who later died of his injuries. Without the presence of these armed officers from the Capitol Police, the shooter could have mowed down everyone present.

How have we come to this? Has American politics become so toxic that some decide now to settle their differences with bullets? This is a problem that affects the left every bit as much as it does the right. The shooter in this incident was an outspoken progressive who posted regularly on social media his hatred for Republicans. He volunteered in Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign last year, prompting the senator from Vermont to issue a statement from the Senate floor condemning what he called a "despicable act."

The shooter -- I am purposely not using his name in order not to give this attempted assassin the notoriety he no doubt hoped for -- was part of a disturbing number of people on the left who refuse to accept the results of the most recent presidential election. As readers of my column know, I am no Donald Trump fan (though I would not by any stretch have cheered Hillary Clinton's election), but the proper response to a disappointing election is to work harder the next time for a result more to your liking. And sometimes, no matter how hard you work, the other side wins. That's democracy.

I'm uncomfortable with those who took to the streets to form a "resistance" to the 2016 election. Yes, it's their constitutional right, but I don't recall a time in the past 50 years when so many people asserted that an entire election was somehow illegitimate. Only a relatively small group of crazies tried to do the same thing with the 2008 election, by claiming that Barack Obama was not a natural-born citizen and therefore not entitled to be president. (Unfortunately, our current president was one of those who made that outrageous claim.) Most of us who opposed Obama's policies focused on just that, not asserting that the election was illegitimate.

I remain as unhappy with President Trump's behavior as ever. But he is the president of the United States. The Russians attempted to influence the election, but it was American citizens who determined the outcome, not some foreign country. If we find out from the special counsel's investigation that President Trump has violated his oath of office to faithfully uphold the Constitution and execute the laws, we have legal remedies. These disputes will be resolved by the rule of law, not by the rule of the mob or by someone attempting to take matters into his or her own hands. That way leads to tyranny or worse.

The sooner all Americans -- Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives -- quit treating politics like warfare the healthier our politics will be. There will always be winners and losers, but in our system, losers live to go to the ballot box another day.

Partisanship Propagates in Post-ness

Last week the Washington Post has a big, front-page, above-the-fold article, headlined, “Budget would cut civil rights positions” and “Diminished federal role in fighting discrimination” and “Cuts part of broader effort to curtail federal programs on civil rights.” That’s quoting the hard copy; the online version is perhaps even worse: “Trump administration plans to minimize civil rights efforts in agencies.” The article itself declares as a matter of fact that the Trump administration wants “to rein in government programs that promote civil rights” and “dismantle compliance efforts” and that it is “reducing the role of the federal government in fighting discrimination and protecting minorities.”

Well, democracy may die in darkness, but don’t count on the Washington Post to shed any meaningful light on the truth. This isn’t reporting; this is just stenography, writing down whatever disgruntled bureaucrats and left-wing activists dictate.

The story starts with the budget’s proposal to combine two agencies that police private-sector compliance with federal antidiscrimination directives in employment. Not so outrageous (and indeed not a proposal that some conservatives are entirely happy with). The administration’s proposal regarding its “environmental justice program,” the Post’s second item, is likewise a matter of reorganization. The Post’s third item, regarding the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, involves only an extremely modest budget cut, $1.7 million out of $108.5 million (that’s less than 1.6 percent) according to another Post article. And that’s it, with respect to civil-rights budget matters.

What the administration is doing, but what the Post doesn’t get to until the jump-page, is to change the Obama administration’s policies with regard to some LGBT issues and the federal micromanagement of state and local police. Thinking that the Obama administration was wrongheaded in these areas cannot fairly be labeled a war on civil rights. And cutting the budget of an out-of-control bureaucracy like the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is long overdue if it is to be put back on the track of enforcing laws instead of rewriting or ignoring them.

Indeed, if the Trump administration is to be faulted for anything, it is for not doing more, and one hopes that eventually the Trump administration will be more aggressive in redirecting civil-rights enforcement. It needs, in particular, to reverse Obama-administration policies that endorsed politically correct racial discrimination (a.k.a. affirmative action) and the aggressive use of the “disparate impact” approach (which likewise encourages race-based rather than merit-based decisionmaking in a host of areas, such as school discipline and criminal background checks by employers and ballot-security measures).

The bureaucrats and left-wing activists won’t like that either, and the Post will condemn it, but guess what? These people will never support this administration and, if they did, it would be because it had abandoned the people who elected it, along with the principles of colorblind government and the rule of law.

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After I published this critique on National Review Online, I was invited to discuss it on National Public Radio.  You can listen to that here (I come in at about the 00:33:45 mark).

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No Noose Is Good News – I don’t really have too much to say on the subject of nooses, but I hate to miss out on the opportunity for a punny headline.

Well, if I have to say something, it’s this:  Always ask, Cui bono?  That is, who is benefited if there is a news story about a noose being found someplace or other?  The answer is generally the Left, and so it is no surprise that a lot of these incidents turn out to be hoaxes.

While I have the floor, a couple of other short observations. 

The problem (and genius) with term “cultural appropriation” is the term itself.  That is, culture is not something that can be appropriated.  You might as well accuse someone of stealing your attitude.  Indeed, when culture is used by a non-native, there’s no legitimate objection to that.  And if a cultural artifact is used in a way that demeans an ethnic group, it’s the spirit in which it is used that is objectionable, not the use itself.  Note, too, that members of the group that originated the artifact do not have unreviewable authority to dictate whether the spirit is objectionable or not.

On another topic in the news:  Schools should have one graduation ceremony for everyone.  If different groups — ethnic, religious, athletic, culinary, fashion — want to organize their own ceremonies somewhere, it may or may not be a good idea, but the school should not get involved.  That’s especially the case when the separation is by race, which can raise legal issues as well (and this line-drawing problem:  If blacks are entitled to their own ceremony, then why not whites?).  E pluribus unum is a good policy for schools on graduation day as well as for our country, every day.

Finally, when did being a victim become a desirable thing?  It used to be that, if someone was trying to insult you, you’d try not to flinch, to avoid giving the would-be victimizer the satisfaction of knowing that you were stung (better yet, you’d also smilingly reply with your own put-down).  Now the opposite is true:  People exaggerate or manufacture the wrongdoing so that they can claim to be a victim.  A wrong is still wrong, but I think the old attitude was healthier. 

Shut Up and Govern

The comparisons between the investigation into Russia's nefarious involvement in the 2016 presidential election and Watergate aren't perfect, but there are important lessons Republicans can learn from the latter. We don't yet know whether anyone in the Trump campaign, knowingly or unknowingly, assisted the Russians in their effort to disrupt the democratic process, but we do know that President Donald Trump is obsessed with stopping a thorough investigation into the matter. His latest ham-fisted effort was to fire FBI Director James Comey a week after Comey testified on the matter.

Trump apparently thought Comey's firing would be greeted with applause from both sides of the political aisle. He was disastrously wrong. Whether his actions were motivated by an intent to cover up wrongdoing or simply to get an unflattering story about his campaign off the front pages, we don't yet know. But even the more generous interpretation should set off alarms in GOP circles. The road to Watergate started with a presidential preoccupation with bad news coverage and ended up with obstruction of justice.
Reports of what went on in the West Wing the week prior to Comey's firing are deeply disturbing. According to dozens of White House staff members and associates of the president who had contact with him during the week, President Trump could not let go of his anger over the Russia investigation. In a week that might be seen as one of his best -- the House passed an unlikely health care overhaul that he supported, his first major legislative achievement -- the president was yelling at the television, calling friends to vent his anger and generally fuming over Comey's testimony on Russian efforts to sway the election. He tweeted that the "Trump-Russia collusion story is a total hoax" the night before firing Comey. The picture is of a man unhinged, willing to take reckless action -- and, most importantly, with no one around him who could dissuade him from his most destructive impulses.

Comey's firing will not end the Russia investigation. I would argue that it may well invigorate it. And given the president's mindset and personality, we can expect him to ramp up his efforts to shut it down unless members of his own party intervene directly and forcefully. The congressional committees investigating Russian intervention need more resources, as may the FBI. But those resources haven't been forthcoming, because the GOP leadership isn't all that eager to find answers.

Trump has succeeded in corrupting much of the Republican Party. Many Republicans seem afraid of Trump and Trump's base -- though given Trump's plummeting approval ratings, it's unclear why. The window is closing for Republicans to step up. If they won't do it publicly (only a small handful have criticized the Comey firing openly), they need to do so in direct confrontation with the president.

Members of Congress from the president's own party need to tell the president unequivocally that he needs to shut up about the Russia investigation. No more tweets. No more midnight calls to old friends. No more ranting and raving to staff. No more yelling at the TV. No more interjecting the subject into other discussions. No more campaign rallies to stoke grievances about news media coverage. He needs to express confidence in the processes of our criminal justice system to get the investigation right. He needs to express confidence in the coequal branches of government to engage in their proper investigatory roles and get to the truth.

If Republicans won't stop the president from the path he's on, he will not only destroy his own presidency but also bring the party down around him. No one in Donald Trump's world has ever said no to him. Clearly, no one on his staff is willing to do so. The American people will get their chance in 2020 -- if he lasts that long and is still interested in the job, which is a whole lot harder and less rewarding than he anticipated. In the meantime, congressional Republican leaders need to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to deliver this message: No more lies, no more conspiracy theories, no more rabble-rousing. Keep your eye focused on governing, and forget vendettas. Respect the separation of powers, or pay the consequences when Congress finally has had enough.

Clinton's Tin Ear

Hillary Clinton may be the most tone-deaf politician in modern history. Repeatedly over the course of a 41-year career as a political wife, candidate and appointee, she's said and done things that alienated voters. Who can forget her acerbic comments during the 1992 presidential race? "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas," she told one reporter on the campaign trail in describing her decision to continue her legal career while first lady of Arkansas. And then there was her response in defending her husband from allegations of extramarital affairs: "You know, I'm not sitting here, some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette." More recently, there was her testimony in front of the committee investigating the attacks on a U.S. post in Libya that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador: "Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?" And of course, there was this infamous claim during the presidential campaign: "You could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables." She described these people as irredeemable, "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic -- you name it."

But Clinton's tin ear hasn't improved with age or experience. This week, she told a California audience, "I take responsibility for every decision I made -- but that's not why I lost (the presidential election)." She went on to blame the Democratic National Committee, saying that after she became the party's nominee, she inherited nothing from the Democratic Party: "It was bankrupt. It was on the verge of insolvency. Its data was mediocre to poor, nonexistent, wrong. I had to inject money into it to keep it going." She didn't bother to mention that DNC operatives were alleged to have helped her secure the nomination in the first place. She portrayed herself as a victim, even using the word to describe why the assumption she was going to win hurt her. And of course, she blamed the Russians -- not without some justification, given their alleged role in hacking her emails and using WikiLeaks to dump them at the height of the election -- and former FBI Director James Comey's in!
vestigation of her private email servers.

Clinton's lament, however, helps neither her nor the investigation into Russia's meddling in the election. The best thing she could do right now is to stay silent. Like it or not, Donald Trump won the election according to rules set up in our Constitution, securing enough electoral votes to win the presidency. There has been no evidence that Russia hacked voting machines and altered the vote count. And even if Trump's operatives helped "weaponize" information gleaned from the meddling -- as Clinton claimed without citing evidence other than hearsay -- saying so publicly without proof may undermine the case against the Russians among those who will simply chalk up the charges to partisan whining.

The more Clinton blames others for her election loss the less sympathetic a figure she becomes. She has never been her own best advocate. Whether it's the vast right-wing conspiracy, the Russians or Comey, someone else is always to blame when things don't go her way. She wants to be perceived as a powerful woman in her own right -- one capable and deserving of leading the most powerful nation in the world -- on the one hand and a hapless victim of forces beyond her control on the other. She'd be better off separating her defeat from the very real threat that one of America's strongest adversaries tried to interfere in our election.

Hillary Clinton -- and many Democrats -- seem to miss the forest for the trees in the Russia story. Russia may well have wanted to see Clinton defeated and Trump elected, but its ultimate purpose was to undermine confidence in American institutions and our electoral process. It wanted to sow seeds of distrust among American voters and to undercut American influence in the world, regardless of who won. Turning the story of Russia's involvement in the 2016 election into a partisan issue helps further Russian aims, and the real loser is American democracy.

Some Good News

I can report some good news this week. Last Friday, when President Trump signed the big appropriations bill keeping the federal government open, he included a presidential signing statement. Here’s the last sentence:

“My Administration shall treat provisions that allocate benefits on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender … in a manner consistent with the requirement to afford equal protection of the laws under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.”

The ellipsis is a list of examples of the federal programs the president has in mind, including minority contracting and subcontracting; preferred treatment for Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Native Alaskans; women in the workforce; and historically black colleges and universities.

Now, of course the key will be what this administration decides is the scope of the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee when it comes to politically correct discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, and sex. But it’s heartening that the issue has at least been flagged. And likely it was flagged by the Justice Department — and the bigger its role in this area, under the leadership of Jeff Sessions and the other solid appointments being made there, the better.

The people in the Rust Belt and elsewhere who voted for Donald Trump will be betrayed if, when the jobs, contracts, and other opportunities start coming back, they are told that the federal government plays favorites on the basis of skin color, national origin, and sex in allocating them.

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Speaking of the Rust Belt –  Last week I participated in a Federalist Society teleforum/podcast that featured J.D. Vance, author of the bestselling book Hillbilly Elegy:  A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.  My appearance runs from the 0:30:00 to the 0:40:18 mark.

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Another Quick Note –  A recent article from Inside Higher Ed reports, "Though 50 percent of Division I football players are black, only about 10 percent of coaches are, [former Obama secretary of education Arne] Duncan said."  My response:  For the bean-counters, that shows more "overrepresentation" of black players than "underrepresentation" of coaches, since the percentage of blacks in the general population is 13 percent. And if schools are likely to hire only male college graduates to be coaches, then I suspect there is no underrepresentation at all (the percentage of black men with college degrees is about half that of men in the general population).

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Magnetic Attraction – Here’s an excellent article by Myron Magnet how the civil-rights movement on the Left has degenerated to what it is today.   A sample excerpt:

That scavenging for grievances that [Thomas] Sowell foresaw reached its logical but risible conclusion in the campus discovery of “microaggressions,” racist words or acts so infinitesimal that only the offended minority can discern them, while the oblivious white offender, as Obama put it, must, because of his race, necessarily “lack appreciation of what it feels to be on the receiving end of that.” [Note that the Center for Equal Opportunity’s Althea Nagai has a recent article on miocroaggressions in Academic Questions that has drawn national attention.] …

Similarly, the Black Lives Matter movement — spawned on campuses and in rectories across the nation, and fertilized by George Soros’s money — has spread the falsehood that America’s cops are the shock troops of a fundamentally racist nation, which licenses, even silently encourages, them to kill blacks. The result: a spike in cop killings by deranged blacks; unrelenting U.S. Justice Department and mainstream media scrutiny of scores of police departments, resulting in police unwillingness to risk their careers by intervening to stop trouble before it starts; and a rise in murder and other violent crime in more than two dozen U.S. cities in the first half of 2016, on top of a 10.8 percent jump in murders nationwide in 2015. Big lies, as history shows, have big real-world consequences.

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Post Mortem – A recent Washington Post article reports on a new study purporting to find that African Americans are discriminated against when applying for teaching positions in Fairfax County, Virginia, public schools. 
My response:  The claim is that blacks were less likely to get hired “even though they had on average more advanced degrees and classroom experience.”  But what if the distribution of blacks is bunched up in the middle and whites are more likely to be found at the extremes — and Fairfax County (with one of the best schools systems in the country) is able to be choosey and hire only the at the highly-qualified extreme?  In that case, there may be no discrimination but still fewer blacks hired, even though on the average black applicant is better qualified than the average white applicant.

In all events, it’s hard to tell whether there is credible evidence of discrimination here or not, once you’ve controlled for all the variables.  But we do know that the same people who are very unhappy about race discrimination against black teachers are the same people who, at least implicitly, favor race discrimination in their favor.  The justification for such discrimination seems to be a version of the “role model” justification, which the Supreme Court rejected decades ago as a constitutional matter and would almost certainly fail under Title VII as well.  And if it’s so important for black kids to have black teachers, as the article suggests, then why is it a bad thing if the black teachers end up at the black schools, as the article also says?  In fact, maybe this means we should have all the black students in separate schools with black teachers, and all the white students in their own schools with white teachers.  Has that ever been tried in Virginia?  Oh, wait  ….

Two other thoughts:  (1) interesting that there’s no evidence of discrimination against other racial minorities; and (2) it’s conceded that other “crucial” factors (like interviews) were not considered in the study and that what was looked at (advanced degrees and teaching experience) don’t “necessarily signal that a teacher will be more effective”; and note that we have the ironic situation where the Left is extolling “hard” credentials and ignoring “soft” ones, which is exactly the opposite of what it does in college admissions.

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Finally, recall that I wrote last week about the Center for Equal Opportunity’s opposition to a bill in Nebraska that would automatically re-enfranchise felons.  I applauded the governor for vetoing that bill, and urged the state legislators to vote against overriding that veto.  I’m happy to report that this week the override attempt failed.

So I began this email with good news and ended it the same way.  I wish that were always the case!

When Beating Up the Press Gets Physical

The audio recording refutes the campaign's insistence that the reporter was asked to lower his phone recorder and that he was asked prior to the alleged assault to leave the room. Instead, what we hear is a scuffle and the reporter saying he's been "body-slammed" and his glasses broken and Gianforte screaming, "I'm sick and tired of you guys!" Gianforte then repeatedly told Jacobs to "get the hell out of" there while the reporter, according to the witnesses, was struggling to his knees. What makes this case more than a one-off by a perhaps unhinged candidate is that it has occurred at a time of unrelenting hostility toward the press by the right, exemplified and encouraged by the president. This is unhealthy for democracy and an attack on our civic institutions -- the kind of thing you'd expect in Venezuela or Russia or Turkey, but not in the United States.

Referring to legitimate news coverage as "fake news" and the people who report it as the "lying media" and "the enemy of the American people," President Donald Trump is undermining one of the basic foundations of our republic, a free press. This is dangerous and ought to be vigorously opposed by conservatives, as well as everyone else. Americans of all political persuasions find the president's relationship to the media disturbing, according to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center. Some 83 percent of adults said "the relationship between Trump and the media is generally unhealthy," and nearly three-quarters said that the tensions are "getting in the way of Americans' access to important political news." The president is playing with fire.

For years, conservatives have felt aggrieved at what they believe is liberal bias on the part of reporters and editors in the mainstream media. I've been on the receiving end of negative news coverage over the years. But I've also found that it is possible to correct the record when a reporter gets it wrong and to fight back with facts and well-articulated arguments. And most of the time, I've felt reporters got it wrong more out of ignorance or sloppiness than political bias.

Sure, most of those who work in the mainstream media identify with liberal positions, and the mistakes they make often reflect that bias. But I've met few reporters who are ideologues or who let their biases get in the way of finding or reporting the facts. Cable news talk show hosts and guests are a different breed (as are opinion writers), and their biases drive ratings, but MSNBC and CNN are no more biased than Fox News Channel, and the latter has benefited in ratings for years from biases conservatives crave.

In the 1950s, newspapers were perceived to have a conservative bias; indeed, every era seems to have generated suspicion that political preferences have pushed reporting in one direction or another. Politicians, including the president, have frequently complained. Richard Nixon drew up an "enemies list" that included three journalists, but the remaining 17 were politicians, businesspeople, Hollywood figures and even a private investigator. But even Nixon mostly seethed in private, and what actions he took he tried to hide.

Trump, on the other hand, whips up his supporters and uses Stalinist rhetoric to describe the news media as enemies of the people. We shouldn't be surprised, then, when a Trump acolyte like Greg Gianforte decides to use force to try to shut up one of these "enemies." House Speaker Paul Ryan has condemned Gianforte's behavior as unacceptable, but on the day of the special election in Montana, Ryan was unwilling to suggest he would call for Gianforte to be refused admission to the House of Representatives. The House has that right, which it has exercised at least 30 times in the past. If Gianforte wins the special election, Ryan should make it 31.

Health Care Promises Will Be Hard to Keep

President Donald Trump has achieved his first major legislative success this week with the passage of health care reform in the House. The bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate and is no one's idea of a perfect solution to repealing and replacing Obamacare. But it's a start. The biggest challenge to actually getting a law in place, however, may be the president, who keeps promising more than he can deliver. Like President Barack Obama's promise to Americans in 2010 -- "If you've got a doctor that you like, you will be able to keep your doctor" -- President Trump's assurance that coverage for pre-existing conditions in the GOP bill will ensure that no one gets knocked off the rolls is a bit of a stretch. Yes, pre-existing conditions will be eligible for coverage, but not necessarily at the same price those with current individual coverage now pay.

The laws of economics -- not necessarily the GOP -- are the problem. Republicans aren't being honest and upfront. They need to explain why no law could fix the current problems with Obamacare without allowing insurers to adjust premiums to recognize that some individuals are more expensive to insure than others. Will fewer people end up uninsured under the GOP proposal as it stands? Probably, though over time the hope is that as the insurance market adjusts, more options will be available for plans that cover at least costs for catastrophic events at a price individuals can afford.

Politicians don't want to admit that you can't cover everyone, including people who are very sick already, without the price of insurance going up for everyone. That was one of the major defects in Obamacare. Yes, the Democrats succeeded in mandating that individuals buy insurance and employers provide affordable options to full-time employees, which expanded coverage and mandated benefits, but it also caused insurers in many states to opt out of the market and made premiums rise faster for many people who were already covered. Without federal subsidies, the system collapses. Cynics believe that the Obama administration knew its program would fail but thought that would make it easier to convince the American people that the only solution would be a single-payer, government-funded health care system, which Democrats have been pushing for decades. But the public has been less enthusiastic.

Unfortunately, this White House is not in a position to make a case to the American people because the president has been all over the place in the debate and, more importantly, seems not to understand the issue or policy specifics well. That leaves House Speaker Paul Ryan as the main advocate, but he comes across as too wonky and in the weeds to make the best case. We'll see which GOP senator emerges as the spokesperson on this issue, but most are wary of wading into the fray.

"Repeal and replace Obamacare" has been the mantra of the GOP for so long now -- since 2010 -- it's a bit surprising the party hasn't invested more time and energy in figuring out how to explain the issues to the American people in ways they can grasp quickly. It begins with admitting that any plan that expands coverage is likely to cost more, especially if young, healthy people can't be persuaded to buy in. It would also help if the party admitted that some health care costs should be borne by individuals out of pocket, just as we expect individuals to pay for routine maintenance on other insurable things, such as cars and homes, especially if they are able to afford it. People also need to understand that their behaviors affect their health, and bad eating habits, smoking, drinking and illicit drug use raise health risks and should raise premiums accordingly. Like cigarette taxes, an unhealthy lifestyle tax on premiums might even encourage individuals to change their patterns.

But elected officials need to make the case to their constituents why such changes are needed. Unfortunately, they won't. Instead, they'll make promises they can't possibly keep and wonder why voters no longer believe anything they say. "Yes, premiums will be coming down," President Trump said from the Rose Garden on Thursday. "Yes, deductibles will be coming down." And when they don't, the GOP in 2018 will be in the same place Democrats were in 2010, facing big losses in the midterm election.

The World Is Watching

I take no glee in the appointment of a special counsel to investigate whether the Trump campaign had ties to Russia -- and I say that as a consistent critic of Donald Trump's from the day he announced his quest for the presidency. I have watched too many of these investigations, of both Democrats and Republicans, go bad. Whitewater, which started out as an inquiry into whether the Clintons had received improper financial favors in a land deal, morphed into inquiries into the president's sexual behavior with Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky, which resulted in the impeachment of Bill Clinton, though he was not convicted. The Iran-Contra affair began as an inquiry into whether Oliver North, a mid level National Security Council staffer in the Reagan White House, had facilitated arms sales to the Iranians as part of an effort to release American hostages and then used funds from the sale to finance the anti-communist guerrillas fighting in Nicaragua; it ended with indictments of officials who had little or nothing to do with the scheme and the overturning of North's convictions because he had been given immunity by Congress to testify on the issue.

Who knows how Russiagate will turn out? No one. But it will damage this White House, impede the president's agenda and sully everyone it touches. The only hope is that the investigation can be concluded quickly, but that hope is slender. This is a complex investigation -- perhaps the most complex we've ever seen -- because of the man at the center of the inquiry. Donald Trump's empire is built on secrecy, properties, assets and partnerships shielded in layers of limited liability corporations whose finances are likely to be anything but transparent, even if we had Trump's tax records (which special counsel Robert Mueller may subpoena). The best forensic accountants will have trouble following the money trail, even if some paths lead to Russian oligarchs and financial institutions.

I remain skeptical that the financial ties between Russian actors and Trump that might well exist would be evidence that the president was colluding with Russia in disrupting the election. My guess is that Trump often needed to be bailed out of bad financial decisions and that the Russians were there to help over the years. Like the gambler who borrows from shady characters to pay his gambling debts, Trump may have taken the money, no questions asked. As for those around Trump, the evidence may be more compelling. But again, who knows? We'll see -- eventually.

The best thing Trump could do would be to cooperate and be quiet. He probably won't do either. He's already tweeted out that the whole thing is a witch hunt and said he is the most persecuted president in history. Trump is his own worst enemy, and those who want to protect him do him no favors by not telling him so loud and clear. Someone needs to take away his Twitter account and cut the cord on cable news. The president needs an extreme makeover, a special handler who is with him 24/7, someone who can say: "You're not a victim. You're the president of the United States. Now act like it, sir!"

If something doesn't change quickly, this presidency is over -- if not in fact, in effect. Trump is imploding. His own party is getting sick of his drama and ineffectiveness. He will remain commander in chief (which is worrisome, given his erratic, irrational behavior), but he cannot be a leader for his party, much less the country, if he doesn't stop doing what he's been doing all his life -- whatever he feels like, no matter how inappropriate.

It is deeply worrying that all of this is happening on the eve of the president's trip to the Middle East and Europe. He will do irreparable damage if he behaves as he has to date. The whole world is watching -- our friends, as well as our enemies. We are facing the most dangerous time in America since the end of the Cold War, and we are doing so without a real leader.

The President Needs to Focus

Donald Trump wants to have it both ways: He has had the most successful first 100 days as president in the history of the republic (or at least since FDR, depending on which day he makes the claim); or the 100-day standard is more media-concocted fake news, and we shouldn't even be looking at it.

In fact, the 100-day test is mostly meaningless, but that doesn't mean that we don't have some sense at this point about the way President Trump governs, and on that score, the results are decidedly mixed.

Trump made a ridiculous number of specific promises during the campaign about what he'd do on "Day One," most of which didn't happen -- thankfully. He didn't withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (though he has given notice that he wants to renegotiate the terms of the 23-year-old treaty). He didn't label China a currency manipulator -- and given his need for China's help in reining in Kim Jong Un, he's not likely to anytime soon. He also promised to repeal every one of Barack Obama's executive orders, repeal Obamacare and start building the wall on our southern border. He's repealed some Obama-era regulations, but many are still in place, and he's still working on health care and the wall. President Trump has already admitted health care is a lot more complicated than he imagined, and even hard-line Republicans show little appetite for building a wall that could cost upward of $20 billion.

So how should we score Trump's record? I'd give him a gentleman's C for effort but a D-minus overall. He's thrown a lot of balls up in the air, but some have come back to smash the administration in the face. His executive orders for a travel ban from certain countries were not only poorly written (especially the first attempt) but also will never survive the bigoted remarks made by the president and some of his surrogates in the campaign. No matter what words Trump puts into the executive order, everyone -- including the judges who must weigh whether the orders violate the constitutional prohibition against religious tests -- know that the intent was to ban Muslims, because he said so repeatedly.

But the bigger problem is that the president has tried to do too much, with too little focus and with inexperienced and, in some cases, insufficient staff. Watching this administration is like trying to keep your eyes on the dime hidden beneath the walnut shell as the manipulator moves it around the table faster than you can follow. From one day to the next, you never know what the administration's priorities are and what will occupy its time in the coming weeks. First, it's a travel ban; then it's health care; then it's trade, energy and tax reform. And that isn't even counting defense objectives or foreign policy, which aren't necessarily under the president's total control, given that characters such as Bashar Assad and Kim Jong Un are in the mix.

I'd like to give the president credit for bombing ISIS in Afghanistan and sending cruise missiles to a Syrian base used to launch chemical attacks on innocent civilians, but I'd feel better if I thought this were part of some grand strategy meant to demonstrate U.S. strength, resolve and commitment to leadership in the world. Maybe it is, but the president's own words suggest he wants America less involved in the world and more focused on what goes on at home. Frankly, we just don't know what he believes, beyond the anodyne "Make America Great Again" slogans. He's asked for a massive buildup in our defenses -- a good thing, in my opinion -- but we have no clear sense of how and when he'll use force. He can't simply make it up as he goes along, though that seems to be what he's done so far.

Perhaps the most troublesome parts of the president's rocky start, however, have been matters of incompetency and mismanagement. In electing a billionaire businessman, most Americans believed they were getting someone who knew how to get things done.

But the White House is a mess of dysfunctional infighting among individuals who, in some important instances, have no experience in the fields they oversee. The president picked some (though by no means all) impressive Cabinet members, but the administration has been painfully slow in filling thousands of political jobs at the agency level where things actually get done.

If the president wants a better grade by the end of his first year, he could start by picking two or three priorities, and then focus all his and the administration's attention on getting them done. Health care and taxes are clearly the top two. Frankly, if he accomplished either one this year, he'd make the honor roll. But like a kid with ADHD, Donald Trump seems incapable of setting priorities and sticking to them, and until he does, he'll struggle in his role.