There was a daytime television show I remember from my youth called “Queen for a Day.” It had three essential features. Hard luck stories from a handful of women. Loot in the form of kitchen appliances, nights on the town, fashionable clothes, etc. And the central gimmick: the applause meter, through which the studio audience would register its enthusiasm for its favored candidate. The contestant who attracted the loudest response won the title and collected the pelf.
Someone should tweak the applause meter for the internet age, recalibrating it to record the chief entertainment of our day: the serial ginned-up outrage against things that President Trump says.
There is certainly a lot of that going around. And while it is about as sincere as the cataract of sentimentality that greeted the Diane-Arbus-like hard-luck stories on Queen for a Day, it is undeniably intense. A few enterprising souls have made video compilations of the skirling media announcing that now, at last, Donald Trump had reached a “turning point” and would shortly be escorted out of the White House, preferably in shackles, in the wake of the latest “bombshell” revelation.
Those compilations are good fun and remind us of just how ridiculous and unhinged are the president’s more doctrinaire critics. What I want, however, is a real-time Presidential Geiger Counter so that the public can predict just how foolish Rachel Maddow or Jim Acosta, or Anderson Cooper—and let’s not forget Bill Kristol, Max Boot, and Jennifer Rubin—are going to be following some statement made or initiative undertaken by the Trump Administration.
This past week featured at least two promising candidates for the Outrage Meter: first, the back-and-forth between the president and Chief Justice John Roberts about the ruling of Jon S. Tigar, an Obama-appointed judge on the infamously left-leaning Ninth Circuit, that blocked the president’s executive order halting asylum claims at our Southern border, and second, the president’s statement on our relations with Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the murder of the Muslim Brotherhood propagandist and Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
About Those “Obama Judges” . . .
It was hardly surprising that the president should have lambasted the “Obama judge” Tigar. In a move reminiscent of Federal District Judge Roger Gregory’s temporary restraining order, promulgated on a “nationwide basis,” halting the president’s ban on immigration from certain countries known to be exporters of terrorism, Tigar intervened to make Americans less safe by tying the hands of those who are charged with protecting our Southern border.
Gregory’s ruling essentially was overturned by the Supreme Court, and it is likely that Tigar’s ruling, too, is headed to the Supremes, all of whom will be familiar this passage from U.S. Code 1182:
Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.
In the case of Judge Tigar’s ruling, as in Judge Gregory’s, we saw an effort to do an end-run around the law in order to push a leftist agenda on immigration. I suspect that Tigar’s ruling will meet a fate similar to that which greeted Gregory’s grandstanding ruling.
But what gives this judicial re-run its distinctive filip of interest is Chief Justice John Roberts’s rebuke of the president’s description of Jon Tigar as an “Obama judge.” “We do not,” said the chief justice, “have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”
Isn’t that sweet?
An “independent judiciary” is a noble ideal, nobly memorialized by the Founders, but as everyone, including John Roberts, knows, the reality often falls far short of the ideal. It does so with notable frequency in left-wing redoubts like the Ninth Circuit, which is one reason its rulings are so often reversed.
The president is right about the Ninth Circuit and Roberts’s claim. As he tweeted:
Sorry Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do indeed have “Obama judges,” and they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country. It would be great if the 9th Circuit was indeed an “independent judiciary,” but if it is why……
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 21, 2018
The president went on to observe,
…..are so many opposing view (on Border and Safety) cases filed there, and why are a vast number of those cases overturned. Please study the numbers, they are shocking. We need protection and security – these rulings are making our country unsafe! Very dangerous and unwise!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 21, 2018
There are a couple of things to note about this contretemps. One is that that President Trump’s response, pace media reports, is not exceptional. Indeed, it comes nowhere near President Obama’s public rebuke of the Supreme Court from the bully pulpit of his State of the Union Address in 2010. As Senator Chuck Grassley observed, “I don’t recall the Chief attacking Obama when that Prez rebuked Alito during a State of the Union.” But Trump is different, you see, because . . . reasons.
More generally, if the independence of the judiciary were as pristine as Chief Justice Roberts’s comments suggest, there would be no controversy over the ideological complexion of those nominated to the bench. In response, I have three names to offer: Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, and Brett Kavanaugh. Q.E.D. A hat-tip to Instapundit for publishing this witty comment by Andy Grewal: “Dunno if it was an accident or if he’s playing 3D chess, but Trump took us from ‘impeach Kavanaugh and abolish the Supreme Court’ to ‘we must defend all judges’ pretty darn quickly.’” Indeed.
And just to underscore the silliness of what Chief Roberts said, ponder this proposal by the Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule: “I suggest that, as a conclusive demonstration of the nonpartisan neutrality of judicial craft, all Obama-appointed judges should step down to be replaced by Trump appointees.” How do you suppose that would go down?
We want an independent judiciary. But the American judiciary is a human institution, prey to the same imperfections and temptations that bedevil all human institutions. As Thomas Jefferson understood, “Our judges are as honest as other men, and not more so. They have, with others, the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps . . . . Their power [is] the more dangerous as they are in office for life, and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control.”
Judges should, as John Marshall put it, “say what the law is.” But everyone knows that that ideal of impartiality is hemmed in and influenced by a network of subsidiary considerations and hermeneutical presuppositions. John Roberts is the Harvard educated grandee. I am surprised at his naïveté, if it was naïveté and not something more disingenuous.
The Trump Doctrine in Practice
The question of which—naïveté or disingenuousness—brings me to President Trump’s statement about our relations with Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The journalist who observed that in many ways the statement “captured Trump’s view of the world and foreign policy” was right. It is a neat summary of Trump’s doctrine of “principled realism,” where the principle in question turns first of all on what is best for the United States and the realism frankly acknowledges the exigencies, economic and military, that determine the actual congress among nations. President Trump’s statement opens with the injunction “America First!” followed by the admonition “The world is a very dangerous place!”
These are the sorts of observations that drive the Left to distraction. How uncouth that the president of the United States should publicly favor his own country over others! And how unutterably gauche that he should employ exclamation marks in official statements! The Washington Post, for example, decried that president’s communication as a “crude statement” that “casually slandered Mr. Khashoggi, who was one of the Arab world’s most distinguished journalists.”
In fact, Khashoggi was a Sharia-supporting member of the Muslim Brotherhood with deep ties to Osama bin Laden’s organization and other radical groups, which is not to suggest that his bizarre murder was justified, only that that rose-colored glasses that venues such as the Washington Post donned when describing him are even more distorting than usual.
Some conservative commentators have understandably indulged in a bit of tu quoque riposting when commenting on the Left’s (which includes the NeverTrump faux-Right’s) response to the president’s statement. Their outrage meter went to 11 on this one, but what about the Obama Administration’s cozy relations with Putin, with Assad, with the Iranian regime? Where, to ask Bob Dole’s famous question, was the outrage regarding those acts of bland stupidity?
But the deeper question, I think, pertains to politics in the real world. Maybe, as the President said, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman knew about the murder of Khashoggi, maybe he didn’t. We don’t know. We may never know all the details surrounding his murder. Yes, “the crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one,” the president acknowledged, “and one that our country does not condone.” Moreover, he reminded us, the United States has “taken strong action against those already known to have participated in the murder. . . . We have already sanctioned 17 Saudis known to have been involved in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi.”
Some members of Congress are demanding that we take our marbles and go home, to wit, that we cancel our contracts with the Saudis. But that, as the President points out, would simply be a gift to Russia and China, which would be only too happy to get the billions of dollars in new business.
But—and here the president articulated the core point— “our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” which, he noted, has been “a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!”
The president acknowledged that there were some members of Congress who dissented from his perspective. That, he said, is their prerogative. And here is the kicker: “I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me,” he said, “but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America.”
That, I submit, is the voice of an adult, someone who understands that the job of the president of the United States is to look after the interests of the United States, not have one’s knickers in a perpetual twist because bad people do bad things in other parts of the world.
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