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The President, the Senate, and the EEOC

There are five commissioner slots on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. At the beginning of last week, only one was a Republican; three were Democrats, and there was one vacancy.  Last Saturday, on July 1, there opened up another vacancy, because this Democrat’s term expired.

What this means is that, if the two vacancies are filled quickly, we could have a 3-2 Republican majority; if they are not, we will have a 2-1 Democrat majority. The EEOC enforces all the private sector antidiscrimination employment laws, so this is a big deal. Does the administration have anything in the works, or will it dawdle along?

I know there are lots of vacancies the President needs to fill. But the White House needs to understand that this is different. If the important job of heading the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education is vacant, for example, it at least has an acting head who is a political appointee, and a department secretary who is a presidential appointee and is overseeing the office. That is not what we will have at the EEOC, which is alas a so-called independent agency that cannot be bossed around by the president — too bad, but at least for the time being, there you are — nor can the president appoint “acting” commissioners until permanent nominees are confirmed. Rather, this is analogous to there being a 4-3 liberal majority on the Supreme Court, free to do God knows what unless and until President Trump got around to filling those two vacancies and making the balance 5-4 the right way.

So nominating good people to the EEOC and getting them confirmed should be an administration (and Senate) priority.

I should add that the general counsel position at the EEOC, also appointed by the president and also a big deal, is vacant as well.

I sent a draft of the above to my editors at National Review Online last week, and then saw the announcement right after that on the White House website that day, announcing that the president had sent in a nomination for one of the two commissioner vacancies.  President Trump must have heard me typing! 

Seriously, it’s good but belated news that the president has nominated someone, but (a) the Senate now has to confirm that nomination, and (b) the president and the Senate still have the other vacancy to fill.  As of now, the 3-1 Democratic majority has become a 2-1 Democrat majority, but that can become 3-2 Republican majority.  Here’s hoping that takes place sooner rather than later.

More Math:  We Need at Least 315 Little Red Schoolhouses in Each District --  According to Education Week recently, “Students feel happier, more valued, and more motivated when they have a teacher of the same race and gender as them, a new study finds.” And, let’s see, it says here there are 63 genders.  As for races, I’m going to be very conservative, so to speak, and limit it to 5 (black, white, yellow, brown, and red).

You do the math.  Unless, of course, your math teacher didn’t match your race and gender, in which case no one can expect you to be able to do any arithmetic.

One More Thing -- Finally, here’s a memo we sent off last week.

To:       Board of Chosen Freeholders
            Essex County, New Jersey

From:   Roger Clegg, Center for Equal Opportunity
            Meriem L. Hubbard, Pacific Legal Foundation

Re:       Proposed “affirmative action” plan for contracting

We are writing with regard to the news story appended below.  We want to make clear at the outset that it is good to make sure contracting programs are open to all, that bidding opportunities are widely publicized beforehand, and that no one is discriminated against because of skin color, national origin, or sex.  To the extent that this is the aim of the new proposal, it is laudable.  Indeed, we praised an earlier proposal which we understood to be along those lines ….

But that means no preferences because of skin color, etc. either—whether it's labeled a "set-aside," a "quota," or a "goal," since they all end up amounting to the same thing.  Such discrimination is unfair and divisive; it breeds corruption and otherwise costs the taxpayers and businesses money to award a contract to someone other than the lowest bidder; and it's almost always illegal—indeed, unconstitutional—to boot (see 42 U.S.C. section 1981 and this model brief:  ). 

We discuss in greater detail the problems with such discrimination in [another] memorandum, which we sent to another Atlantic coast community.  We urge that any program you adopt also be race-, ethnicity-, and sex-neutral.

Thank you very much in advance for your attention to our concerns.

A New Iran Policy

Five-plus months into the Trump administration, the outlines of a new foreign policy remain unclear. One of Donald Trump's frequent applause lines when he was a candidate was his promise to "rip up" the Iranian nuclear agreement, which Trump and other critics claimed was one-sided because it lifted crippling economic sanctions yet allowed too much room for Iran to pursue development of nuclear weapons. In April, the Trump administration certified that Iran was narrowly living up to the agreement to halt the development of nuclear weapons, but the administration nonetheless slapped new sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile program and state-sponsored support for terrorism. This new approach might not be so aggressive as hard-line opponents of the Iranian nuclear deal hoped for, but it does deliver a needed shot across the bow to an Iranian regime that continues to threaten regional peace and suppress its people.

But what happens next? Iran continues to play an important and destructive role in Syria, backing the Assad regime in its murderous campaign against its own people. This week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned in congressional testimony that Syria's apparent preparation for another chemical attack could have grave consequences. "The goal is, at this point, not just to send Assad a message but to send Russia and Iran a message," Haley said: "If this happens again, we are putting you on notice." She continued, "My hope is that the president's warning will certainly get Russia and Iran to take a second look, and I hope that it will caution Assad." But if the U.S. response were to be another limited attack on a Syrian airfield, that message would most likely be ignored.

If the U.S. wants to stop Iran from interfering in Syria and elsewhere in the region and put an end to its nuclear program -- not just a temporary halt -- the most effective means would be to recognize the democratic opposition to Iran's theocratic regime flourishing both inside Iran and among the Iranian diaspora around the world. On July 1, tens of thousands of Iranians will gather in Paris to promote "Free Iran." As I have been for the past six years, I will be on hand to emcee the event, which gathers dignitaries from several European counties, the Middle East, Africa and the United States. This year, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, former Sen. Joe Lieberman and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, as well as retired U.S. military officials, will be among the Americans addressing the conference, which is sponsored by the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran and the National Council of Resistance of Iran, whose leader is Maryam Rajavi.

What makes this year's gathering different from those of previous years is recent support for Rajavi's group on visible display within Iran. During the Iranian elections in May, posters of Rajavi appeared on overpasses and on walls in Tehran, Tabriz and other major cities, along with PMOI pleas to vote against the two major candidates -- Ebrahim Raisi, the mullahs' favorite, and the incumbent, Hassan Rouhani. Although media often describe Rouhani as a moderate, he is anything but; his government has actually increased the number of executions and cracked down hard on dissent within the country. But elections in Iran are a sham; all candidates must be approved by the Guardian Council to appear on the ballot, and almost all are rejected. Only with free and fair elections will the Iranian people finally have a chance to determine their future.

In the past year, more than 7,000 demonstrations against the regime have taken place, a number not seen since the Green Movement in 2009. That year, the new Obama administration turned a deaf ear toward Iranians hankering for democracy. If the Trump administration is serious about reversing the Obama administration's Iran policy, it could begin by embracing those Iranian dissidents who offer a different future for their fellow countrymen.

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. 

Between Flag Day and July 4th

This week finds us between Flag Day and the Fourth of July, so what better time to think about what it means to be an American and, in particular, what values all Americans should hold in common.

Earlier this year, President Trump promised, “So in the coming days, we will develop a system to help ensure that those admitted into our country fully embrace our values of religious and personal liberty, and that they reject any form of oppression and discrimination.  We want people to come into our nation, but we want people to love us and to love our values — not to hate us and to hate our values.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last month likewise called for there to be more attention given to immigrants “assimilation.”  The Center for Equal Opportunity is providing input on this to the administration, and certainly the President is right about the importance of all Americans, immigrant and native-born alike, needing to share certain basic values if our country is to work well.

So here’s a column I wrote on this topic in 2000.  I’ve sent it around since then, and I still stand by it — and I hope that the President and his administration find it useful as they work on ensuring better assimilation.  (Later on, I fleshed out this article in Congressional testimony I gave here.) Here’s the column:

E Pluribus Unum
America has always been a multiracial and multiethnic country. But saying that it is, or should be, multicultural is very different. The ideal was, and still should be, that you can come to America from any country and become an American — but that means accepting some degree of assimilation. It is not diversity that we celebrate most, but what we hold in common.

The same is also true for native-born Americans. All of us can claim equally to be Americans, but all must acknowledge a shared set of beliefs and mores.

America has always been diverse. But telling an elementary school that it cannot insist on teaching children standard English, or English at all; or telling a college that it cannot focus on Western Civilization; or insisting that an employer accommodate work habits it finds to be unproductive; or condemning social strictures as judgmental — well, all this may celebrate diversity, but it denigrates the common standards that a free society must have if it is to flourish.

Still, it will not do simply to condemn diversity, any more than it will to embrace it indiscriminately. There is much diversity that is valuable or at worst harmless. Workers and students from all backgrounds have contributed enormously to our national life, and who cares what food they like? Some diversity is good, and some bad.

Accordingly, it makes sense to set out some rules essential for a multiracial, multiethnic America and that all Americans should follow — wherever they or their ancestors came from, whatever their skin color, whatever their favorite food or dance. Here are my ten, aimed as much at the native-born as the newly arrived.

1. Don’t disparage anyone else’s race or ethnicity. It may seem odd to begin the list with this one, but actually it’s not. On the list of things we don’t tolerate, intolerance deserves a prominent position. If we are to be one nation, we cannot criticize one another’s skin color and ancestors.

2. Respect women. Just as we do not tolerate a lack of respect based on race or ancestry, we also demand respect regardless of sex. Some subcultures — foreign and domestic — put down women. That is not acceptable. This doesn’t mean that men and women have no differences or that we all must be ardent feminists. But it does mean that women must be treated respectfully, and that where the law requires that they be treated equally — as it frequently does in this country — it be followed.

3. Learn to speak English. This doesn’t mean that you can’t learn other languages, too, or keep up a native language. But you and your children must learn English — standard English — as quickly as you can. And, if you expect to be accepted, you should avoid speaking another language when you are with people who don’t understand it.

4. Don’t be rude. Some people apparently view it as unmanly or uncool to be polite. But that is just adolescent sullenness. Customers, coworkers, fellow students, strangers — all expect to be treated courteously, and rightly so. Not every culture is a stickler for taking turns, queuing up, and following the rules (see next item), but Americans follow the British here.

5. Don’t break the law. If you want to participate in this republic — if you want a say in making the rules and electing those who make them — you have to follow the laws yourself. That means, among other things, that you can’t use illegal drugs, which is just as well since there is no surer way to stay at the bottom of the heap or to find yourself there in a hurry.

6. Don’t have children out of wedlock. Moral issues aside, illegitimacy is a social disaster for women and children alike (especially boys). Here again, it is a sure way to stay poor and raise poor children. Perhaps in some countries it takes a village to raise a child, but in the United States it takes two parents. That said, the pathology of illegitimacy is more widespread among some native-born groups than among some immigrants.

7. Don’t demand anything because of your race, ethnicity, or sex. You have the right not to be discriminated against because of these factors, and it follows that you also cannot demand discrimination in your favor. The sooner you can stop thinking of yourself first as a member of a particular demographic subset, and instead as a human being and an American, the better. This is true for both individuals and groups. The demagogues of identity politics promise nothing worthwhile.

8. Working hard-in school and on the job — and saving money — are not “acting white.” And, for whites, it is not being a nerd or a dweeb. America owes her success to a strong work ethic and to parents instilling that ethic in their children.

9. Don’t hold historical grudges. There is not a single group in the United States that has not been discriminated against at one time or another. But we are all in the same boat now, and we have to live and work together. Your neighbor’s great-great grandfather may have tried to kill or enslave yours, but we are a forward-looking country and so we cannot afford to dwell on the past.

10. Be proud of being an American. You can hardly expect to be liked and accepted by other Americans if you don’t love America. This is not a perfect country, and it does not have a perfect history. And there are lots of other countries that have good qualities. But there is no country better than the United States. If you disagree, then why are you here?

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.

Stopping Kim Jong Un

Otto Warmbier's death is one of hundreds of thousands at the hands of the most brutal regime in the world, North Korea's. The American student went to North Korea on a tour in 2016 and did something foolish: He tried to steal a propaganda poster from the wall of his hotel, an act captured on surveillance cameras. For his "crime," the North Koreans sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor. The scene of his tearful confession in his sham trial is the last picture we have of Warmbier alive. We will probably never know exactly what happened to him, but we do know that the healthy young man lapsed into a coma shortly after his trial and that his brain slowly died. By the time the North Koreans shipped him home, his brain was so damaged he would never recover, and he died within days.

But what happened to Warmbier happens every day in North Korea. The cameras that captured him ripping a penny poster from a wall are everywhere, as are government loudspeakers in every apartment, house and building, part of a surveillance and communication system intended to keep tabs on every one of North Korea's 25 million people. For "crimes" as innocent as commenting on the health of any member of the Kim dynasty, which has ruled the country for almost 70 years, one can end up in a political prison camp. Once in the camp, starvation rations, torture and brutal physical labor -- as much as 16 hours a day -- quickly kill off most prisoners.

Because the prison camps provide slave labor to the regime, there is constant pressure to keep them filled -- and not just with those the regime has actually accused of crimes. Whole families end up in the North Korean gulag under a 1972 dictum by the country's founder, Kim Il Sung: "Factionalists, or enemies of class, whoever they are, their seed must be eliminated through three generations." The state punishes not just the person accused but also his parents and children. Few emerge to tell their stories, and fewer still escape North Korea, but vivid accounts of those who have spent time in the secret camps have been published, most notably "The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag," by Kang Chol-hwan.

Unfortunately, these stories don't seem to capture the American mind. We look away rather than deal with the implications that a poor, small country halfway around the world is imprisoning its citizens, starving them, torturing them and killing them year in and year out. As we saw with the stories that emerged of the Holocaust, the Cambodian killing fields and the Rwandan genocide, we would rather not see what is happening until forced to look, and by then, it's too late. When one of our own ends up murdered, we pay attention -- for a while.

Three additional American citizens remain held in North Korea -- a businessman, whom the regime sentenced to 10 years of hard labor shortly before Warmbier's trial, and two teachers, who were teaching through a North Korean government-approved program at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology and who have not yet been tried. In all, 16 American citizens have been arrested in North Korea in the past 10 years and released only after high-profile intervention by former U.S. presidents or their envoys. We have no diplomatic ties with North Korea and must, for the most part, depend on the Swedish Embassy to protect our interests.

Meanwhile, Kim Jong Un -- the country's "precious leader," as he is often addressed -- continues to threaten nuclear annihilation, trying to build long-range missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to America's shores. He already has nuclear bombs, which he continues to test despite threats from the United States and the international community. And we do nothing but sit and wait -- or, in President Donald Trump's case, beg the Chinese to intervene with their client.

There may be no good options in dealing with North Korea; we have nearly 30,000 American troops stationed just miles away from the Demilitarized Zone, and millions of South Koreans could be killed in an attack. But the worst option is to do nothing. Does anyone really believe that ignoring Kim makes the world safer?

Otto Warmbier certainly did not deserve to die, but neither did the millions of North Koreans who have been starved or worked to death in 69 years of brutal repression by their communist government. If we cannot stop Kim Jong Un, how do we call ourselves a superpower?

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.

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.

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.