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Dr. Jackson is Lying

Donald Trump just completed his first physical exam as president. The White House physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson, reports that the president is in “excellent” health, but Dr. Jackson knows that’s not true.

In particular, Dr. Jackson reports Trump’s height as six feet and three inches, and his weight as 239 pounds. The inaccuracy of both numbers is obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention.

Trump’s 2012 New York State driver’s license gives his height as six feet and two inches. His pre-White House doctor, the comically famous Dr. Harold Bornstein, used to list Trump as six feet and two inches tall. And if there’s anything we know for sure about Trump, it’s that he never understates his own size – when it comes to Trump’s opinion of Trump, size matters. So when Trump told the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles that his height was six feet and two inches, we can be confident he was not underestimating.

Furthermore, pictures of Trump standing next to his one-time Republican primary rival, Jeb Bush, show that Bush is distinctly taller than Trump. And Bush, it seems that everyone agrees, is six feet and three inches tall. Trump is easily more than an inch shorter than Bush, as this exemplar clearly shows. If you Google “images of Trump standing next to Jeb Bush,” you’ll find any number of similar photos.

Dr. Bornstein gave candidate Trump’s weight as 236 pounds. Many doubted that figure, and in fact numerous press reports before then had given his weight as 267 pounds, although Dr. Bornstein claimed that Trump had lost 15 pounds in the previous year.

But even if Trump really weighed in at 236 pounds in 2016, that would mean that Trump has gained only three pounds since then. It was widely reported in May 2017 that Trump had gained weight – not an observation typically triggered by three pounds. A quick photo comparison of pre-presidential Trump to the bloated buttocks and massive midsection of the current Trump conclusively proves that the weight gain has been much more considerable. There is simply no way that Trump weighs just three pounds more now than before he moved into the White House.

Why would the White House lie about Trump’s height and weight? It’s important to Trump that everything about Trump be excellent – even the best ever. You’ll remember that Dr. Bornstein reported to us in December 2015 that Trump’s health was so “astonishingly excellent” that if elected he “will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”

Body mass index is widely used as a rough calculation of a person’s weight category: severely underweight, underweight, normal weight, overweight, and obese. The most widely accepted BMI threshold for obesity is 30.

BMI is a metric calculation: a person’s BMI is the person’s weight in kilograms divided by the person’s height in meters, squared. At the height and weight Dr. Bornstein reported, Trump’s BMI would have been 29.5, just short of obesity. Had Dr. Bornstein correctly reported Trump’s height, his BMI would have been 30.3, or slightly obese. Had Dr. Jackson correctly reported Trump’s height and his post-inaugural weight gain, the BMI might be as high as 35.

An obese person is not necessarily in bad health. But by definition, a person who is obese is not in “excellent” health, which is the lie that Dr. Jackson told us.

What’s remarkable to me about this story is not that Trump’s narcissism won’t allow him to admit to obesity. What’s remarkable to me is the ease and frequency with which Trump is able to prevail on people of accomplishment and reputation to lie on his behalf. It’s not just Dr. Jackson, who is a rear admiral in addition to being the White House physician, and until now has been widely admired as a “straight shooter.” In recent days we’ve also seen two United States senators and a cabinet secretary lie – repeatedly, and in the case of the cabinet secretary, under oath before a Senate committee – to cover up Trump’s racist rant against “shithole countries.”

Lying to cover up a president’s obesity is silly. Lying to cover up a president’s racism is very, very serious.

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One more thing. The fact that President Trump has “perfect” cognition in no way implies that he is not mentally ill; it only means that his mental illness is not dementia. I never doubted President Trump’s cognitive abilities, and I never suspected that he suffers from dementia. It’s always been clear to me that Trump’s mental illness is a fairly severe case of narcissistic personality disorder. Check out the “symptoms” section under “narcissistic personality disorder” on the Mayo Clinic’s web site and see if you can find one that Trump doesn’t have.



Senate Midterm Update

Alabamians went to the polls last month to choose between a child molester and a Democrat, and, to their undying credit, they chose the Democrat. Doug Jones thus became the first Democrat to win an Alabama Senate election since 1992.

Jones’s upset victory was huge, but it will likely be short-lived. Jones was elected only to complete Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ unexpired term – the seat comes up again in 2020. Alabama’s voting record in recent decades strongly suggests that Jones will not win re-election.

But before we get to 2020, we have the 2018 midterms. And after Alabama Democrats need to gain only two seats, instead of three, to win control of the Senate. That means a Democratic take-over of the Senate, which looked nearly impossible before Jones won, is now merely improbable. My unscientific opinion is that Jones’s win doubled the Democrats’ chances of taking control of the Senate this year, from maybe 10 percent to maybe 20 percent.

When I first wrote about the 2018 Senate elections two months ago, I said that 12 of 33 Senate races were potentially competitive. There are now going to be 34 Senate races, and I think ten of them may be competitive.

New Jersey came off my list of competitive states after New Jersey’s Democratic Senator Bob Menendez drew a hung jury on November 17 in his trial on corruption charges. Had he been convicted and had he resigned while Republican Governor Chris Christie was still in office, Christie would have appointed a Republican to take Menendez’s place pending a special election. That appointee would have held some advantage of incumbency to offset the state’s strong Democratic lean going into the 2018 election.

Federal prosecutors may not re-try Menendez (the jury broke 10 to 2 for acquittal), but even if they do, and even if they win a conviction this time, with Democrat Phil Murphy having succeeded Christie in Trenton, the seat seems pretty safe for Democrats. Perhaps for that reason, no major challenger to Menendez has entered the race.

Utah also comes off the list. Republican Senator Orrin Hatch was running lukewarm approval ratings and was polling poorly. But his withdrawal from the 2018 race clears the way for Mitt Romney’s widely expected entry into the race, and Romney is wildly popular in Utah. Although Romney hasn’t formally announced yet, news reports are unanimous in saying that he will.

Lastly, Texas comes off the list. Senator Ted Cruz looked vulnerable early in 2017, and he even polled even with his likely Democratic challenger, Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke, last April. But Cruz spent 2017 restoring his appeal to his base, which mainly seems to have involved bowing down before The Donald. In any event, Texas has been restored to normalcy, which in this case is not to be confused with sanity, and Cruz is now polling almost 20 points ahead of O’Rourke.

Two states stay on the potentially competitive list despite Democrat-favorable developments there.

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown caught a big break when Republican state Treasurer Josh Mandel withdrew from the race, citing his wife’s illness. Mandel and Brown had been running close in early polling. Republicans are looking around for another candidate, and who they come up with will determine whether this race stays on the competitive list.

North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp caught a similar break when Republican Congressman Kevin Cramer declined to run against her. The state has only one congressional district, so Cramer has repeatedly proved his state-wide appeal. Heitkamp has favorable approval ratings, but the state’s natural Republican lean would have made Cramer a formidable candidate. As it stands, Heitkamp’s likely Republican opponent is a state senator, and polls show even that race is going to be tough.

I’m adding one state to the potentially competitive list, although it’s probably a long shot. After incumbent Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker announced his retirement, both parties quickly came up with strong candidates to replace him.

Republicans are likely to nominate Representative Marsha Blackburn. Blackburn enthusiastically rejects reality-based policy-making. She subscribes, for instance, to the view that Obamacare provides for “death panels,” and she maintains that the Obamacare web site violates federal privacy protections for health care records, because it asks users “Do you smoke?” (On the other hand, Blackburn backed a measure to allow internet service providers to collect and sell users’ browser information without their consent.) Blackburn denies climate change and evolution, and she regards net neutrality as “socialism.”

Democrats will probably nominate former governor Phil Bredesen, who announced his candidacy on December 7. Bredesen was elected governor in 2002, and in 2006 he was re-elected by almost 40 percent of the vote, winning all 95 counties. He’s regarded as a moderate – he’s in favor of capital punishment, for example. Since leaving the governor’s mansion in 2011, Bredesen has run a solar energy development company, a nice factoid for voters who might prefer a reality-based senator.

There isn’t much in the way of polling yet, but the only non-partisan poll so far has the race very close, with Bredesen two points ahead of Blackburn. That’s good enough for me to add Tennessee on the competitive list, although, as I say, I think it’s a stretch.

Still, Tennessee becomes the third plausible pick-up for Democrats – Arizona and Nevada being the other two. With three pick-ups possible, Democrats have a little wiggle room, although just a little – they can lose only one competitive race out of 10 and still take the Senate.

In Nevada, Democratic Congresswoman Jacky Rosen continues to run a strong race against Republican incumbent Dean Heller.

The Arizona race was shaken up this month when former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s jumped in. Arpaio is of course a hard-right conservative who, as sheriff, defied a federal court injunction against racial profiling, resulting in his conviction for criminal contempt of court. President Trump promptly pardoned Arpaio.

Arpaio’s candidacy most directly challenges Kelli Ward, a Republican state senator who entered the race before Republican incumbent Jeff Flake announced his retirement. Ward’s candidacy famously won Trump’s praise, in a tweet denouncing Flake as “toxic.” Ward’s chief competition for the Republican nomination had been Representative Martha McSally, who is what passes for a moderate in today’s Republican Party. McSally had already been gaining on Ward in primary polling, and Arpaio’s candidacy splits the hard-right vote with Ward, benefiting McSally.

Representative Kyrsten Sinema, the likely Democratic nominee, has run slightly ahead of McSally and Ward in most head-to-head polling, but there isn’t any polling with Arpaio yet.

As of now, the seat Democrats are most likely to lose is in Missouri, where two-term incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill has been polling behind likely Republican nominee, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley. Interestingly, the first poll in the race by a top-rated pollster, Public Policy Polling, was also the first poll in the race to show McCaskill in the lead – albeit by only one percent of the vote.

Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, a 75-year old three-term incumbent, is in for a tough race if Republican Governor Rick Scott decides to challenge him. Scott can’t run for re-election in 2018, and he hasn’t declared his intentions, but his aggressive solicitude toward hurricane-displaced Puerto Ricans looks like an effort to reduce Nelson’s advantage among Puerto Rican voters.

Democratic incumbent senators in Indiana (Joe Donnelly), Montana (Jon Tester) and West Virginia (Joe Manchin) ought to be in trouble, given that Trump won their states by 19, 20 and 42 percent, respectively. There isn’t any polling available yet in Indiana or Montana, but the incumbents there have maintained favorable approval ratings. In West Virginia, Manchin is polling well ahead of the main contenders in the Republican primary.

To round things out, Al Franken’s resignation from the Senate created an unexpected chance for Republicans. With Franken’s seat up for special election, that makes 34 Senate seats on the 2018 ballot – 26 held by Democrats and only eight held by Republicans. But the appointment of Lieutenant Governor Lisa Smith to hold the seat pending a special election in November is sufficiently reassuring that I’m not moving Minnesota into the competitive column, at least not yet.



I think the 2018 elections will be unusually national in focus, with state and local issues playing smaller than usual roles. This is consistent with the fact that a large majority of voters believe that President Trump is “working against me,” and 44 percent are “embarrassed” to have Trump as their president.

I previously predicted that the 2018 midterm elections will be a Democratic wave, which is really just another way of saying that the election will be primarily about national issues, not state or local issues. It’s the wave phenomenon that puts the Senate into play at all.

Our Proud Shithole Ancestry

Americans, more than citizens of other immigrant countries, celebrate their pre-immigrant nationalities. New York City alone hosts literally scores of annual parades and festivals for that purpose, from the Albanian Parade to the Vietnamese Moon Festival. Citizens of other immigrant countries, like Australia and Israel, don’t seem to maintain such strong identification with their pre-immigration countries.

Our affinity for our pre-American heritage doesn’t necessarily diminish over the generations. New York’s Irish-Americans’ first parade in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day was in 1762. New York’s Italian-Americans’ first parade in celebration of Columbus Day in 1892, the four hundredth anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s first landfall in the Americas. Two centuries on, Americans’ pride in their Irish and Italian origins is undiminished.

Celebration of national origin is at least partly a way to combat prejudices against that national origin. Irish and Italian immigrants were regarded as inferior by the Protestant Anglo-Saxons who got here before them, and today’s heirs to those two immigrant groups are painfully aware that their national origins were not always celebrated here in the New World.

A different kind of prejudice was at issue when German-Americans held their first parade in New York City in 1957, shortly after World War II, when German-Americans’ loyalty was questioned. They carefully named the parade after Friedrich von Steuben, a Prussian military officer who became a hero of the American Revolutionary War.

Fully two-thirds of Americans reported English ancestry to census-takers in 1790. There never has been, as far as I know, an annual English-American parade or festival, perhaps because none was ever needed. English-Americans were firmly in charge of the early United States, and have never been subjected to widespread discrimination or stigmatization.

As a general matter, people who are well off where they are don’t pick up and leave their countries, their cultures, their friends and neighbors, and everything and everyone they have ever known to try their luck in a new country, among a strange people, with a culture and customs that are strange and sometimes even offensive to them. The Irish potato famine of the mid-nineteenth century killed a million Irish people, and drove a million more to emigration. The less-remembered Irish famine of a century earlier killed nearly 40 percent of the population and drove the first wave of Irish-American immigration. As recently as the 1980s, poverty drove large numbers of Irish natives to the United States – many of those immigrants, by the way, immigrated illegally; until the Ronald Reagan immigration amnesty of 1986, an Irish accent in a New York City restaurant worker was a reliable indication of undocumented status.

Even England, which during early American history was the world’s richest country, endured deep and desperate poverty during the Industrial Revolution – just read pretty much any Charles Dickens novel to see what I mean. As a general matter, it was those poor, not their overseers, who left England for America.

In even just the few days since Donald Trump decried immigration from “shithole countries,” there has begun a reactionary effort by anti-immigration ideologues to re-cast his remarks as nothing more than a factual observation that living conditions in some countries are very bad. This is a deliberate lie; everyone knows that Trump meant no such thing.

Trump’s complaint was not about the countries, but about the people from those countries. His point was crystal clear: he doesn’t want more people from “shithole countries,” he wants more people from countries like Norway; people from poor countries are unfit for immigration to the United States. He wasn’t condemning bad living conditions, he was condemning the people who would come here to get away from those conditions.

Furthermore, Trump’s complaint was not about all poor countries, but poor countries not primarily inhabited by white people. He didn’t mention Albania, Armenia, Bosnia, Georgia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro or Serbia, white-populated countries that are poorer than, say, black-populated Botswana or Gabon. His concern was immigrants who are black, Hispanic or Arab.

For the most part, the media have treated Trump’s despicable comment as one that was intended for the audience of those few present in the room. I don’t believe that. I think Trump knew his comment would be leaked, and in fact intended that it be leaked, to appeal to and shore up his base. My guess is that Trump was worried that his base would be mad at him for his televised openness to legislative authorization of Barack Obama’s DACA program. My evidence is that Trump didn’t issue an immediate denial, but sent his deputy press secretary out to accuse his opponents of putting foreign countries ahead of the United States, a dog whistle to the base; and second, a few hours later, Trump spent the evening phoning around for opinions about how his base would react to the episode.

This was the moment of truth for the Republican Party, the moment when President Trump’s racism became no longer a matter of opinion but a matter of demonstrated fact. This was the moment when President Trump made clear that his slogan, Make America Great Again, really means Make America White Again. This was the moment when President Trump confessed – or bragged – that the purpose of his presidency is not to improve the economic lot of the forgotten American worker but to restore white privilege.

Many Republican commentators and conservative intellectuals have risen to the moment to reject Trump’s racism and his racist agenda for America. But for the most part, the Republican Party establishment – party officials and Republican office-holders – have not. The Republican Party establishment thus shows itself willing to mark its party as the party of white privilege, in order to gain the benefit of conservative federal judicial appointments and tax breaks for the unneedy, at the cost of rejection by the rising non-white majority for generations to come.


Still the Wrong War

ISIS has lost all of its Iraqi territory, and most of its Syrian territory. Donald Trump’s administration is rightfully trumpeting an important victory. But this movie is a remake.

In 2001, George W. Bush declared victory over the Taliban. In 2012, Barack Obama declared victory over al Qaeda. In 2014, after the rise of ISIS, Obama declared America’s purpose to be to “degrade and ultimately defeat” ISIS. Now that purpose is nearly achieved.

The problem, I argued in September 2014, is that we are fighting terrorists instead of fighting terrorism. We degraded and defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan, but radical Islamic terrorism continued. We degraded and defeated al Qaeda in Iraq, but radical Islamic terrorism continued. Now we’ve degraded and defeated ISIS in Iraq and Syria – and, I promise, radical Islamic terrorism will continue.

Fighting terrorists is easy. Terrorists are a problem that can be solved militarily, and the United States is really good at solving military problems. Fighting terrorism is hard, because terrorism is a complex problem that simply doesn’t yield to military force.

I expressed confidence that President Obama understood the difference between fighting terrorists and fighting terrorism. I have no such confidence in President Trump, whose statement of our goal as “killing terrorists” appears to be his whole thinking on the issue, not merely the rhetorical leading edge of a broader understanding.

If we limit our anti-terrorism efforts to killing terrorists, we can degrade and ultimately defeat terrorist organizations, but we will never end terrorism.

Over the last five years or so, a growing body of academic and national security literature has explored connections between climate change and terrorism. Climate change results in severe droughts, including in Syria, devastating agriculture and driving young people to cities in a futile search for other employment. Often led by these disaffected youth, people turn on the governments that are unable to meet their most basic needs, and terrorism thrives in the chaos that ensues.

When life-critical resources are in short supply, humans fight each other for the resources they need to survive. A struggle to survive heightens the innate appeal of tribalism – our tribe provides us both an alliance of fighters in the struggle and a rational for deciding who gets the needed resources and who does not.

At its core, what is terrorism but an expression of the most primeval form of tribalism? Terrorist ideology holds that our tribe – people who think like us, act like us, look like us, and live like us – is superior to the other tribes. Killing off the other tribes is not wrong, and in fact if resources are insufficient for all tribes to survive, then killing off other tribes is right and good, because it is necessary to the survival of our tribe.

Climate change surely isn’t the only cause of the rise of radical Islamic terrorism in recent decades, and it probably isn’t even the primary cause. But just as surely it is one of the causes. So it is ironic that President Trump sells himself as tough on terrorism at the same time that he surrenders the fight on climate change. Trump’s belief that we can end terrorism by killing terrorists is a characteristically simplistic view of a complex problem – like ending migration from the south by building a wall on our southern border, instead of addressing the conditions that drive the migration.

Let’s say we could kill every member of ISIS, every member of the Taliban, every member of al Qaeda; what then? Does anyone believe that radical Islamic terrorism would be over?

There will be a successor to ISIS, and we will defeat it. There will be a successor to that successor, and we will defeat it. And so on, as long as we are at war with terrorists, and not with terrorism.


Crime and the City

An amazing thing just happened in New York City: the total number of crimes reported in the “seven major felonies” category during 2017 dropped below 100,000 for the first time on record. The total was more than five percent lower than in 2016, and more than 80 percent lower than the peak year of 1990.

Six of the seven major felonies registered declines in 2017, the largest percentage drop being a dramatic 13 percent decrease in homicides. Homicides totaled less than 300 for the first time on record, reasonably reliable tabulations having begun in 1928, when 404 homicides were recorded.

Of the seven major felonies, only rape reports increased – from 1,442 in 2016 to 1,446 in 2017. Rape reports (as well as misdemeanor sexual misconduct reports) surged following the Harvey Weinstein disclosures on October 5, suggesting that the increase was in the reporting of rapes, not necessarily in the commission of rapes.

Shootings, fatal and otherwise, were also down dramatically in 2017 – from a record low of 998 in 2016, down more than 20 percent to a new record low of 790 in 2017. Police shootings in particular are down – police officers fired their weapons a record low two dozen times in 2017, down from 37 times in 2016. Increased use of stun guns has offset decreased use of firearms, as the de Blasio administration has emphasized substitution of less deadly for more deadly force.

From the peak year of 1990, murders are down from 2,262 to 290, a decrease of 87 percent. The largest percentage decrease during that time was grand theft auto, down more than 96 percent. Burglaries were down more than 90 percent, and robberies more than 86 percent. Rapes showed the smallest decrease, almost 54 percent.

Lots of factors contribute to crime statistics. For instance, improved emergency medical practice has certainly contributed to the drop in homicides – some people who would have died in earlier years now survive, and the crimes against them are classified as assaults instead of homicides. Rapes are more reliably reported now than in decades past, as the social stigma attached to rape victims has eased – and as the Police Department’s sensitivity to rape victims has grown. It is at least possible that crime reporting in general rises as crime decreases, if lower crime raises confidence that reporting a crime will produce a meaningful police response. Experts widely believe that economic conditions affect crime rates, although New York’s long, steady crime decline has weathered recessions and financial crises along with economic booms. Some attribute declining crime rates to improved access to birth control and abortion, decreasing the frequency of unwanted births. Maybe it has to do with the 1970s bans on lead in gasoline and most household paints, the lead content damaging the brains of children who ingested it. Maybe it’s just the aging of the American population, led by the baby boomers.

Every mayor who presides over a decrease in crime argues that his policies produced the decrease. David Dinkins initiated community policing in New York, under the banner of “Safe Streets, Safe Cities.” Rudy Giuliani adopted “broken windows” policing. Michael Bloomberg extended “broken windows” and added a very aggressive stop-and-frisk program. Bill de Blasio all but ended stop-and-frisk and undertook a litany of reforms aimed at replacing “broken windows” with a style of policing more respectful of poor and minority communities, instead focusing police efforts on gang activity and repeat offenders.

Through all four mayoralties and four very different approaches to policing and law enforcement, crime in New York steadily fell. Given consistent reductions across all four of our most recent mayors, none of them can claim to have the key, the magic policy or program that uniquely works to reduce crime. If one mayor gets credit for the crime reduction on his watch, then the other three mayors must also get credit for the crime reductions on their watch.

Maybe all four approaches were effective, but maybe none of them was the cause of reduced crime in New York – maybe something external to policing policy played the primary causal role, with policing policy acting only on the margins. What impresses me is that, even after a protracted period of remarkable decline, new record lows are still being consistently set during de Blasio’s tenure, during which police use of deadly force is down, arrests are down, stop-and-frisks are way down, and the city’s population is up – almost 20 percent during the time that major crime decreased by 80 percent.

How low can crime statistics go? Consider that 11 of the city’s 77 precincts reported no homicides at all in 2017; 32 precincts have reported zero homicides for at least one year since 2000.

Ms. Smith Goes to Washington

Tina Smith, Democrat of Minnesota, and Doug Jones, Democrat of Alabama, were sworn in today as United States senators. Senator Jones’s election has received much comment; Senator Smith’s ascent has been less noted.

Senator Smith was appointed to the seat vacated by Al Franken, who resigned in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations. Smith is the 51st woman to serve in the Senate, and she brings the number of women currently serving to 22, a record.

Smith also makes Minnesota the sixth state to be represented by two female senators at the same time – after California (since 1993), Kansas (1996), Maine (from 1997 to 2013), Washington (since 2001) and New Hampshire (since 2011). Twenty-two states have still only sent men to the Senate. Historically, twice as many Democratic women as Republican women have served (34 to 17), but among current senators Democratic women outnumber Republican women by more than three to one (17 to 5). The imbalance between Democratic and Republican women in the Senate became pronounced only in the last 20 years – before 1998, the Senate had seen 15 Democratic and 11 Republican women.

Smith has been a rising star of Minnesota politics. She began volunteer work in political campaigns in Minneapolis in the early 1990s, but she managed state-wide campaigns in 1998 and 2002. She took her first job in government in 2006, as chief of staff to Milwaukee Mayor Raymond Rybak, Jr. She left that job to manage Rybak’s run for governor in 2010, and, after he dropped out, she joined the successful campaign of Mark Dayton. She co-managed Dayton’s transition team, and became his chief of staff. In 2014, Dayton selected Smith to be his running mate, and she was elected lieutenant governor.

As lieutenant governor, Smith enjoyed a high level of responsibility and prominence in the Dayton administration. The 71-year old Dayton having announced his retirement at the end of his second term, Smith had been expected to run for his seat. Now, instead of running for governor this November, Senator Smith is running in a special election to fill the remainder of Franken’s unexpired term, which ends in January 2021.

If the 2018 midterms produce the Democratic wave I think they will, women will be a big part of it. Record numbers of women are running for office, including at least three strong contenders to replace men in the U.S. Senate: Republican Representative Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, and Democratic Representatives Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Jacky Rosen of Nevada.

A quarter century ago, 1992 was called the year of the woman, largely because, motivated by the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings before an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee, women ran for and won Senate seats in unprecedented numbers – tripling the number of female senators to six.

This year’s elections will likely dwarf 1992 in this respect. We’ve witnessed sexual misconduct scandals reaching to the highest levels of public life, including the president himself, our misogynistic groper-in-chief, and the Republican Party as a whole has utterly failed to recognize, let alone effectively deal with, the problem. Women’s votes proved pivotal in elections last year – for instance, suburban white women in Virginia drove a Democratic flood that raised that state’s House of Delegates from 17 percent to 29 percent female in just one election; African-American women in Alabama turned out in exceptional numbers to keep the national disgrace that is Roy Moore out of the United States Senate.

Just as women’s votes are proving to be pivotal, the Republican Party is standing squarely behind the likes of Donald Trump and Roy Moore.

American Epidemic

On September 13, 1899, as Henry Bliss stepped off a streetcar at 74th Street and Central Park West in Manhattan, he was hit by an electric taxicab and became America’s first motor vehicle accident fatality.

As motor vehicles proliferated, motor vehicle fatalities climbed more or less steadily until peaking at 54,598 in 1972. Probably that very year, my tenth grade health class teacher told us – correctly, as remarkable as that seems to me now – that more Americans die in motor vehicle accidents in one year than had died in the entire Vietnam War to that time.

Loss of American life on such a scale demanded public policy response, and the response has been vigorous, multifaceted and sustained. Federal, state and local governments variously regulate automotive equipment and testing, the conduct of drivers, passengers and pedestrians, and construction and maintenance of roads and highways. Despite the sprawling scope of these laws and regulations, few Americans regard them as intrusive.

For example, starting with model year 1968 cars, federal law mandated installation of two-point “lap belt” restraints in front seats of cars. Over time the states mandated use of seat belts and child restraints by car occupants. Two-point restraints were replaced with more effective three-point “shoulder strap” restraints – first only in the front seats, then in all seating positions.

Federal law mandates a host of other automotive safety equipment, from air bags to head restraints to safety glass to defogging systems to mirrors to electronic stability control systems to dashboard warning indicators to anti-lock braking systems. Motor vehicle safety has become a sophisticated science, with separate fields of study for things like collision avoidance, driver assistance, conspicuity, crashworthiness, post-crash survivability, and pedestrian safety.

Modern American road construction also incorporates a wide array of safety features. Reflectors, rumble strips, runaway truck ramps and overhead lighting are just some of the more obvious. Others include minimum lane and shoulder widths, maximum grades, pavement sloping and drainage, minimum spacing between highway exit and entrance ramps, divided highways and median strips, minimum structural strength for bridges, and maximum curb height and slope.

The point is that large-scale preventable loss of American life prompted public policy responses at all levels of government – a response that has been resolute, imaginative and intensively data-driven.

That response has also been effective. From a peak of 54,589 fatalities in 1972, the total dropped steadily to 32,479 in 2011 – the lowest total since 1949. During the same time, Americans drove a whole lot more – from 1,260 billion miles in 1972 to 2,950 billion miles in 2011. In other words, while miles driven rose 134 percent, fatalities dropped 40 percent. Or, stated more dramatically, fatalities per billion miles driven dropped by almost three quarters, from 4.33 to 1.10.

What has happened since 2011 is similarly instructive. That year, the number of American smart phone users cracked 50 million for the first time. By 2016, more than 208 million of us had them. With cell phones came the deadly distractions of texting and app-checking while driving, and traffic fatalities once again began to rise. From 2011 to 2016, we saw the first five-year rise in total fatalities since the 1970s – from 32,479 in 2011 to 37,461 in 2016. Worse, fatalities per mile driven have ticked up – from 1.10 fatalities per billion miles driven in 2011 to 1.18 in 2016.

Once again, our government has stepped in with a variety of public policy responses. Every state except Montana regulates phone calling, texting, or both, by drivers – a new field referred to as “distracted driving.” Proximity detectors, collision alert systems, and other equipment are on the way. Inevitably road and highway construction requirements will evolve to protect us against our own and other drivers’ distracted driving practices.

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About 33,000 Americans die from gunshot wounds each year. Even as crime rates, and homicide rates in particular, fell dramatically in recent decades, gunshot fatalities rose steadily, leveling off since 2012. These figures put gun deaths in the same range as motor vehicle fatalities during the same time. But the public policy response to gun deaths has been quite different than the public policy response to traffic fatalities. This is especially true of our federal government, which has had essentially no public policy response to the rise in gun fatalities in recent decades.

Congress last passed major gun reforms in 1994, when it banned semi-automatic assault weapons and high capacity ammunition feeding devices; that ban expired in 2004. Congress passed minor reforms as recently as 2007, when it tweaked the background check system after Cho Seung-hui was able to pass background checks to buy two semi-automatic pistols despite a well documented history of mental illness. Cho used the pistols to kill 32 and wound 17 at the Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007.

And there is a glimmer of a possibility that the current session of Congress will ban bump stocks, the mechanism Stephen Paddock used last October to convert semi-automatic assault weapons to fully automatic, enabling him to kill 58 and wound 546 Las Vegas concert-goers in just ten minutes.

But for the most part, Congress has dedicated its efforts to removing restrictions on gun manufacture, sale and possession – including repeal last February of an Obama administration regulation implementing the 2007 background check tweak.

In modern times, most firearms fatalities in the U.S. are suicides – almost two-thirds of total gun fatalities. Slightly more than one-third are homicides. The large majority of both suicide and homicide victims are male, but suicide victims tend to be men over 45, whereas homicide victims tend to be younger men, especially African-American men. A small share of gun deaths are classified as accidents, or are unclassified.

Mass shootings and terrorist shootings get a huge disproportion of public attention, even though they account for just a tiny percentage of gun homicides. Same thing goes for fatal shootings of police officers. Fatal shootings of civilians by police officers make up a somewhat larger but still very small share of gun homicides.

Two things stand out about guns in America: Americans own more guns than any other country in the world, and Americans kill each other with guns more often than any other country in the world. Neither one of these is close.

Estimates of total gun ownership in the United States vary from 270 million to 300 million. India and China, with populations more than four times larger than ours, come in second and third, respectively – Indians own an estimated total of 46 million guns, or about 16 percent of the American total.

American also ranks first in gun ownership rate – more than 88 guns per 100 people. And again, it’s not close: second place among industrialized countries goes to Switzerland, with more than 45 guns per 100 people. American gun homicide rates top the charts as well: three per 100,000 Americans compared to .2 per 100,000 Swiss, for example. And, as few as mass shootings may be, the United States has many more than any other country – 90 American mass shootings in the last 50 years. Second place goes to the Philippines, with 18 – just 20 percent of our total.

The scope of the problem cries out for study. Clearly, suicides, domestic homicides, mass shootings, terrorist shootings, police shootings, shootings of police, and accidental shootings all have different causal elements and therefore likely have different solutions. From a scientific point of view, this is no different than motor vehicle fatalities. All of the various kinds of motor vehicle accidents and fatalities have different causal elements; scientific research isolates those elements and policy-makers prescribe solutions for each cause.

For nearly 50 years, I agreed with the standard liberal approach to gun fatalities: reduce the number of guns available, and reduce the ammunition capacity and firepower of those guns. That approach enjoyed some success in the 1960s and 1970s, but provoked a response from gun advocates that has been ferociously single-minded, and highly successful – even to the point that those advocates persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 to reverse long-standing precedent and hold that the Second Amendment vests individuals with the right to own guns. I am convinced that the 2008 decision was incorrect, and it may someday be overturned. But meanwhile it is the law of the land, and there are tens of thousands of lives to be saved each year.

Therefore I’ve come to the conclusion that liberals need a new approach to guns that doesn’t touch the deep nerve that gun abolition touches among gun advocates. Liberals need to drop calls for abolition, whether it be abolition of handguns, of assault weapons, or of all guns. In exchange, liberals should demand that gun advocates agree to regulations that resemble our regulations of motor vehicle manufacture and use.

For instance, safety features are readily available that could drastically reduce the number of accidental shootings; child-proofing guns ought to be a no-brainer. Magazine size and firing speed can be reduced to mitigate mass shootings. Background checks can be strengthened to reduce domestic homicides and other kinds of criminal homicides. Serious commitment to improved public mental health could, over a much longer term, meaningfully reduce gun suicides, by far the largest category of American gun fatalities.

If the primary function of government is to protect its people’s lives, then American gun policy constitutes one of the most massive government failures in modern history. However well intentioned we liberals have been, we need to acknowledge that our pursuit of abolition policies has actually contributed to that failure. It’s time to try something else.


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