Mark Steyn and National Review’s State of the Union

January 30, 2018

Ji Seong-ho

Mark Steyn on the state of our “sclerotic republic”:

. . . the Empire State Building was finished in 18 months during a depression, but in the 21st century the global superpower cannot put up two replacement skyscrapers within a decade.

(See also “The Hole at the Center”.)

President Trump tonight:

America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road?

. . .

Any bill must also streamline the permitting process, getting it down to no more than two years, and perhaps, even one. Together, we can reclaim our great building heritage.

National Review and National Review Online’s Ramesh Ponnuru on the case for increasing the child tax credit:

The best argument for a large child credit is that raising children is an investment in the future, and not just in a sentimental sense. Parents have always raised children in part to have caretakers in old age. In the modern world, old-age entitlements socialize part of the intergenerational bargain. Adults raise children, who grow up and take care of their aged parents collectively. The modern arrangement has some advantages, but it imposes an implicit tax on raising children. Parents still make financial sacrifices to do it, but some of the return is given to non-parents. Have no children, and you will get the same Social Security and Medicare benefits as someone who raised three.

Social scientists have found that the creation and expansion of old-age entitlements has contributed significantly to reduced family sizes throughout the developed world (and had other related effects, such as increasing the age of marriage and reducing marriage rates). A large child credit would offset the large bias against children that federal policies inadvertently create.

President Trump tonight:

We also doubled the child tax credit.

Mark Steyn on culture, identity, nationhood, and assimilation:

We are witnessing the end of the late 20th-century progressive welfare democracy. Its fiscal bankruptcy is merely a symptom of a more fundamental bankruptcy: its insufficiency as an animating principle for society. The children and grandchildren of those fascists and republicans who waged a bitter civil war for the future of Spain now shrug when a bunch of foreigners blow up their capital. Too sedated even to sue for terms, they capitulate instantly. Over on the other side of the equation, the modern multicultural state is too watery a concept to bind huge numbers of immigrants to the land of their nominal citizenship. So they look elsewhere . . . .

President Trump tonight:

So, to every citizen watching at home tonight, no matter where you have been or where you have come from, this is your time. . . .

Tonight, I want to talk about what kind of future we are going to have, and what kind of a nation we are going to be. All of us, together, as one team, one people, and one American family, can do anything. We all share the same home, the same heart, the same destiny, and the same great American flag.

Together, we are rediscovering the American way. In America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of American life.

Daniel Foster in NR:

Is it time to un-reform the civil service?

. . . In 1883, President Chester A. Arthur signed the Pendleton Act, doing away with the “spoils system” of political patronage for government jobs . . . .

. . . But “civil service” “reform” did not succeed in getting politics out of government employment. It merely coated their nexus with a patina of plausible deniability and rigged the game forever in favor of Big Government.

. . . in the long run, the arc of post–Gilded Age history has bent toward a federal bureaucracy that is ever bigger and more powerful, and toward civil servants who are better paid, and much harder to fire, than their private-sector counterparts.

President Trump tonight:

All Americans deserve accountability and respect. . . .

So tonight I call on Congress to empower every Cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust, or fail the American people.

NR & NRO’s Jay Nordlinger is always ready to call attention and give voice to the many courageous dissidents and democrats struggling for freedom around the world:

A North Korean escapee, Ji Seong-ho, gives his testimony. All of these testimonies, by North Korean escapees, are staggering. Last year, I wrote about Park Yeon-mi: “Witness from Hell.”

I will quote from Ji’s bio: “In order to survive, Ji would exchange stolen coal for food on the black market. While taking coal from a train car in 1996, a malnourished Ji lost consciousness and fell onto the tracks, losing both his left hand and foot when a train ran over him. After a grueling amputation surgery, Ji was left to fend for himself. In 2006, he escaped to South Korea, where he is now a law student at Dongguk University.”

Speaking to us in the Nye Theater, Ji breaks down in tears. So does his interpreter (speaking to us through our headsets). Ji did not fend for himself — not entirely. His siblings gathered food for him. They apparently gave him the best. They themselves subsisted on grass and wild mushrooms. Their growth was stunted, as a result. Ji is filled with guilt because of it.

Their father, at some point, was tortured to death.

I could go on. North Korea is, with the possible exception of Syria, the worst place on earth. The earth’s most horrendous nightmare. It is, as Jeane Kirkpatrick said, a “psychotic state,” one with which the world at large doesn’t quite know how to grapple.

President Trump tonight:

Finally, we are joined by one more witness to the ominous nature of this regime. His name is Mr. [Ji Seong-ho]. In 1966, [Seong-ho] was a starving boy in North Korea. One day he tried to steal coal to barter for a few scraps of food. In the process, he passed out on the train tracks, exhausted from hunger. He woke up as a train ran over his limbs. He then had multiple amputations without anything to dull the pain. His brother and sister gave what little food they had to help him recover and ate dirt, themselves.

Later, he was tortured after a brief visit, returning from China. His tormentors wanted to know if he had met any Christians. He had and he resolved after that to be free. [Seong-ho] traveled thousands of miles on crutches all across China and Southeast Asia to freedom. Most of his family followed. His father was caught trying to escape and was tortured to death. Today, he lives in Seoul, where he rescues other defectors. today he has a new leg, but [Seong-ho], I understand you still keep those old crutches as a reminder of how far you have come. Your great sacrifice is an inspiration to us all. Please. Thank you.

I carry no brief for Trump.  I think it’s pretty bad that he and congressional Republicans have jointly largely failed to keep their promise to repeal Obamacare.  But this administration has also done a lot of good.  This was also a good speech, with a surprising number of echoes of rare and important conservative voices, and it articulated some important points that don’t always get mentioned in the public square.


(Source for transcript of tonight’s State of the Union address: this Politico piece, where the transcript is interspersed with sometimes insufferable commentary.  Emphasis in original; Politico’s highlighting translates into bold type when copied and pasted.)


Update (January 31st, 2018):  Thank you kindly to Mark Steyn for the link (read the whole thing: “The Constitutional Right to a Long Goodbye”), and welcome Steyn Online readers!

See also:  Exclusive English translation of Mr. Steyn’s interview with Bonjour le Chat about his cat Marvin.  Previous posts about Mark Steyn.  Drawing Mohammed.

4 Responses to “Mark Steyn and National Review’s State of the Union”

  1. Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea Says:

    “I call on Congress to empower every Cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust, or fail the American people.”

    Is it horribly cynical of me to see this as a move to consolidate power? It could be said that it only makes sense for the Chief Executive to have, you know, control over the executive branch, but there’s something to be said for continuity and even a certain degree of administrative independence. Consider for a moment what kinds of actions Trump is likely to consider “undermin[ing] the public trust or fail[ing] the American people.” These are inherently subjective concepts, and I don’t want an executive with a demonstrated incapacity for objectivity to micromanage our administrative agencies.

    • Sure, interesting point. One might bring, say, this piece by Yuval Levin (“They say ‘the system is working,’ and they mean we have a functional administration most of the time despite what’s going on at the top and it is filled with good and capable people and achieving some significant things—which is true”) into conversation with the piece linked above by Daniel Foster.

      But I guess I find Foster’s more long-term thesis pretty persuasive: We tried “reforming” government employment to do away with the “spoils system”, but the alternative has largely turned out to be a dysfunctional bureaucracy in which employees are practically unfirable, as even the lefties at Politifact agree:

      I also can’t help noticing that Trump (and/or his speechwriters and policy advisors) didn’t say simply “make it easier to fire bad employees” but specifically suggested empowering cabinet secretaries. If you’re thinking a president might very well lean on his appointees to fire someone he doesn’t like, I don’t disagree, but in both how such a law should work in theory and how I assume it would work in most cases in practice, the president would neither notice nor care about most personnel decisions that many levels below him.

      Of course, this is supposed to be a democratic republic, where the government is accountable to the people, or their representatives. So at the moment I’m also having trouble imagining a concrete example of a situation where I’d rather the president (even this president) _not_ be able to fire someone from his own administration.

  2. “Is it horribly cynical of me to see this as a move to consolidate power?” Probably and over all your objection is simply wrong.

    Having worked some thirty-two years for the federal government, I’ve seen too many people retained when justice would call for their summary execution. While is is possible (in a very hypothetical sense) to fire a government employee, in reality, firing a governmental employee for blatant incompetence or uselessness is not possible.

    At the very least, all the unions for government workers should be disbanded. The only purpose the government unions serve is to collect member dues to forward to the Democrat Party for overtly politically purposes.

    If one wishes to protect leftist agents from discovery or censure, then maintain the status quo.

  3. […] time, or to persuade those not yet persuaded.  (To date, I’m not sure I have an answer.  Mark Steyn’s America Alone and Arthur C. Brooks’s Who Really Cares—and of course C. S. Lewis’s Mere […]

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