There is an old joke, known I am sure to most of my listeners, about the Second Coming.
A senior cardinal rushes into the Pope’s office at the Vatican. “Holy Father, Holy Father, come look! The most amazing thing has happened?”
“What?” asks the Pope.
“Jesus Christ has returned! He is riding through the streets of Rome on a donkey! The people are strewing palm leaves under his feet! Oh, Holy Father, what shall we do? What shall we do?”
The pontiff thinks hard for a moment, then says: “Look busy!”
That instinct to look busy is common to all bureaucratic organizations, including of course the federal government. It seized President Trump this week. On Wednesday, February 28, he held an hour-long televised session at the White House with a group of federal legislators from both parties. [Trump surprises lawmakers in backing some tougher gun controls, By Anne Gearan, Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim, Washington Post, February 28, 2018]
The supposed object of the exercise was to work out something Congress might do in the way of new federal laws, something that would prevent horrors like the recent school shooting in Florida.
The meeting itself was a lousy idea. When Trump proposed it to his staffers they should have gagged him, bound him hand and foot, strapped him to a chair, and made him watch looped re-runs of the previous televised meeting with congresscritters. That was the one on January 9th to discuss immigration policy. Reporting on it at the time, I said that “the President seemed clumsy and ill-informed.”
Mine was one of the milder reactions. Tucker Carlson thought the January 9th immigration meeting was a disaster.
All right; but I was striving to avoid despair. Trump’s all we’ve got—we, citizens who would rather not watch our country turned into a multicultural slum. On the National Question, every current political alternative to Trump is far worse.
After watching this last show, however, I have to admit, despair is getting hard to fend off. Trump was simply terrible. As in the January meeting, he agreed enthusiastically with the last person who spoke, even when that person had said the opposite thing to what the previous person had said. I found myself thinking: Does Trump actually understand words and meanings? This is the Great Negotiator?
This tendency of Trump’s was so obvious even the congresscritters themselves noticed it. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska told reporters after the event that:
Strong leaders don’t automatically agree with the last thing that was said to them … We’re not ditching any Constitutional protections simply because the last person the president talked to today doesn’t like them. [GOP senator scolds Trump: We have due process ‘for a reason’, by Brett Samuels, March 2, 2018]
We were told after the January 9th fiasco that, off-camera following the meeting, the President gathered his wits and said more sensible things. And we’re being told the same now.
Well, maybe; but then, why let him hold these meetings on air, where he comes across as a dithering doofus? We know Trump’s a TV freak who loves having those cameras on him, but can’t anyone on his staff restrain him?
If you think I’m being harsh, check out some other reactions from our side of the national conversation.
The Z-Man, for example. Z—that’s the name I refer to him by, not a pronoun—Z is one of the smartest bloggers on the Dissident Right. Following the White House meeting on gun control, he dumped Trump with a vengeance. Sample quotes:
- [Trump’s] latest antics over the gun issue … suggest that he’s just a stupid bullshitter who got very lucky …
- Trump is making the classic Republican error of taking advice from his enemies …
- It is no longer possible to argue that his maneuverings are 4-D chess. Trump is simply an unreliable liar …
- The pro-gun voter has no sense of humor on this stuff and they have zero tolerance for limp-wristed politicians too afraid of the girls to do the right thing. Speaking only for myself, I’d vote for a gay black Muslim over Trump right now …
- The damage he has done to the cause of gun rights is incalculable and it will not be forgotten. Unless he eventually signs off on some bold pro-gun laws, lots of his voters will choose to spend the election day at the range come 2020.
[Not My President, March 2, 2018]
Ouch! Z is, as I said, a thoughtful guy who hardly ever sounds really angry. This week he did. And if Trump’s Wednesday performance did this to him, it likely did much worse to a lot of less cerebral voters. It may not be too much of a stretch to say that Trump lost his party the 2018 midterms with this meeting.
This is not a happy time for National Conservatives. The hopes raised by Donald Trump’s election have pretty much evaporated. Sure, we got some conservative judges; although there are still way too many of the other kind who fancy themselves legislators, [Judge Permanently Bars Indiana From Blocking Syrian Refugees, AP, March 1, 2018 ] and Congress shows no appetite for restraining them, as it easily could. What else did we get?
A tax cut? Uh-huh. Funny, I don’t recall that being a major issue in the 2016 election.
Talking the other day with a like-minded friend, he said
I could see, back in 2016, there was a huge opening waiting for some canny politician to exploit it, to drive a coach and four through it. It was in plain sight! Yet the politicians all ignored it. Only Donald Trump saw it. Why did it have to be him? Why couldn’t some competent, Washington-smart politician have seen the opening?
The answer. I guess, is that politicians of our age are terminally timid, when they’re not actually corrupt and just dancing to their donors’ tunes.
So should we just yield to despair? Well, not entirely. It’s possible, though, that someone less useless than Trump will have learned the lesson of 2016: that even in this age of suffocating, stultifying Political Correctness, there is a hunger for a bold and direct approach to our nation’s problems. Let’s nurse that hope for 2020.
And what should be done to minimize the possibility of another atrocity like the one in Florida?
I just don’t see how federal laws and regulations are going to help. The ones I’ve seen spelled out fall into two categories.
- Category One: suggestions that are just plainly unconstitutional and will be struck down by the courts.
The suggestion our President extruded on Wednesday falls into Category One: “Take the guns first, go through due process second.”. Was that some drunk sounding off in a bar? No, that was the President of the United States.
- Category Two: proposals, like those on more background checks or or mental health assessments, which would stretch the operational competence of the federal government agencies to breaking point.
Look, I’m not saying that all federal agencies are terminally incompetent; and if you, gentle listener, are a federal employee, please don’t take offense. Some federal agencies do a great job. I’ve interacted some with the Social Security Administration, and always found them polite and efficient.
And in the zone of immigration I very much want to see our laws firmly and fairly enforced. If I didn’t think the relevant agencies could do that, I wouldn’t bother speaking and writing about it. What would be the point?
Likewise, I want Congress to pass new and better laws on immigration, and I believe federal legislators are capable of doing that, if enough of them will lash themselves to the mast and ignore the siren songs of donors and ethnic lobbies.
Immigration control is comparatively straightforward, though. You’re either a citizen, or you’re not. You either fall into one of the categories admitted for lawful settlement, or you don’t. There are no conceptual ambiguities in immigration control.
The operational chaos in immigration arises from the union of two very powerful forces. One is a determination on the part of big money interests—the cheap-labor lobbies—to thwart enforcement or improvement of the people’s laws. The other is an ideology of ethnomasochism, a hatred for Western civilization that has captured the educated classes of the West and filled them with a longing to drown our nations in a flood of non-Western immigrants.
Gun control isn’t like that. The immigration issue is conceptually clear-cut: the gun issue isn’t.
The very foundation of our gun rights, the Second Amendment to our Constitution, is ambiguous. What is “a well-regulated militia”? What exactly is included among the arms that the people have a right “to keep and bear”? Hand grenades? Howitzers? Nuclear weapons? The Framers didn’t specify.
Modern legislation has only multiplied the ambiguities. What precisely counts as an “assault rifle”? Who gets to decide whether I am mentally healthy or not?
These are the kinds of gray areas that federal agencies are not good at policing, and that federal legislators are not good at defining. We have seen this with the FBI bungling in the Florida case, and in experience with the 1994 federal assault weapons ban, concerning which there is still debate, fourteen years after the ban expired, as to whether it had any effect at all. [Everything you need to know about the assault weapons ban, in one post, By Brad Plumer, WonkBlog, Washington Post, December 17, 2012]
Where this kind of muddle and uncertainty prevail, the proper attitude of the federal government is restraint. General nationwide consensus provides some obvious boundaries on things like hand grenades, howitzers, and nukes. Leave the fine details to the states. Borrowing words from Z-Man again:
On an issue like guns, doing nothing is usually the best course. Most states are sensible on guns, so letting the states handle it is good for us.
My recommendation to the President and the Congress on gun control is therefore: Don’t just do something, sit there.
Endnote: VDARE.com has run two stories about Confederate statues recently. James Fulford reported that a black District Attorney has dropped charges against five people who destroyed the statue of a generic Confederate soldier in Durham, North Carolina. There was no doubt the defendants committed a wanton act of gross vandalism against public property—they filmed the whole thing and put it on YouTube—but … it was a statue of a Confederate soldier, so the courts are fine with it.
Then Jason Kessler reported that a judge has ordered tarps removed that had been covering statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in Charlottesville, Va. following the Antifa riot there last summer.
The Antifa Red Guards have promised to destroy those statues. Quite likely they will find a way to do so sooner or later, happy in the knowledge that if they succeed in doing so, some other supportive judge will make sure they suffer no significant punishment.
This is our Cultural Revolution: lawless anarchists egged on by sympathetic judges from our left-wing law schools.
And somebody wants to take my guns away?
Come and get them, you bastards.
John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. ) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He has had two books published by VDARE.com com:FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT II: ESSAYS 2013.