HH: I’m delayed a little bit, because I’m trying to print off rapidly three different columns for this week’s Hillsdale Dialogue with Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College. Each week at this time, the last radio of the week, I sit down with Dr. Arnn or one of his colleagues, last week with Victor Davis Hanson, which was a remarkable conversation, much-remarked upon for VDH’s candor about the Never Trumpers. And we try and talk about something big, something long, something lasting, whether it’s Homer or these three columns, at least two of which, those not by me, will be lasting. Dr. Arnn, good morning to you.
LA: How are you?
HH: I am perturbed. It’s been a horrible week in America as massacres will make them. But there are signs of some serious conversation among responsible people. Let me begin by telling you this. Yesterday, I sat down with the Speaker of the House, a friend of yours, and with Captain Mark Kelly, the husband, American hero, Shuttle pilot, of Gabby Giffords, and I talked with him in different settings about gun control. And this morning, there appeared two columns – Bret Stephens’ Repeal the 2nd Amendment column, which begins, “I have never understood the conservative fetish for the 2nd Amendment,” and Peggy Noonan’s column, The Culture of Death and of Disdain, which seeks to understand why so many Americans want so many guns. And I thought I would begin with you and ask A) have you read either of these or both, yet?
LA: No, I don’t know, you know, I was reading my Wall Street Journal when you called, but I haven’t, goodness gracious, I didn’t know about that. Yeah, okay. I disagree with that.
HH: Well, of course. But I had Bret on earlier today, and I thanked him for candor, because so many people who wish to do injury to the 2nd amendment treat it like the invisible man. They treat it like it’s not part of the Constitution. And Bret Stephens quite rightly points out it’s there. If you wish to undo it, the framers provided for a means by which to do so.
LA: Yeah, well, so it’s, we talk like this, because we have forgotten the purpose of the Constitution of the United States. And the 2nd Amendment, you have to remember first of all the first 10 amendments were not included, right? They were written right after. And they were part of the compromise to get the Constitution ratified, and in everyone’s mind at the time, they were to make the purposes and the functioning of the Constitution more sure and explicit. They were not to change it. So then you ask the question why would there be an amendment that protects our sort of rational rights, our speaking and our praying and our assembling first, and then one about guns second? And they fit together with all of the other eight of the first 10 amendments, because the purpose of the Constitution is to grant to government the strong power to do the things that government must do, but to make that government rely on us. And then there were two ways in which you can make the government rely on us. One is the people who actually in the government should be accountable to us. We can throw them out. And the second one is huge things are left to us, indeed, most things are left to us. And one of those things that’s left to us is extensively our personal defense. And so they were not thinking, far be it from the thought, that they were going to disarm the American people, because now we’re going to have a strong government and it’s going to be orderly and the government will take care of all that. So they actually pride themselves when they talk of 2nd Amendment, of guns. Thomas Jefferson writes, for example, that in Europe, he’d been ambassador to Paris, he said to go from town to town, you have to stop in a tavern and find other people who are making the trip and join up with them, because you have to go in force, whereas in America, you never see a highwayman. And the reason you never do is because somebody’ll shoot him. And so that thing, see, that and then of course, that’s connected to the way we defended ourselves extensively in the Revolution. Americans were people good with guns. And they formed an army, and they got pretty good, pretty fast, had to learn to drill, but they didn’t have to learn to shoot. So there’s a positive statement about the nature of the society in the 2nd Amendment, and the loss that it would be, a Constitutional change, as grievous as any.
HH: Now let me read to you Peggy Noonan. I will wager that either Peggy or Bret or both have been to Hillsdale, or would be welcome there.
LA: Sure, yeah, both of them.
HH: And let me read Peggy’s, I think she’s always so observant. “But why do so many Americans have guns? I don’t mean those who like to hunt and shoot or live far out and need protection. I don’t mean those who have been handed down the guns of their grandfathers or fathers. Why do a significant number of Americans have so many guns? Wouldn’t it help if we thought about that,” writes Peggy. “I think a lot of Americans have guns, because they’re fearful, and for damn good reason. They fear a coming chaos, and know that when it happens, it will be coming to a nation that no longer coheres. They think it’s all collapsing – our society, our culture, the baseline competence of our leadership class. They see the cultural infrastructure giving way – illegitimacy, abused children, neglect, racial tensions, kids on opioids staring at screens. And unlike their cultural superiors, they understand the implications. Nuts with nukes, terrorists bent on a mission, the grid will go down, one of our foes will hit us suddenly and hard. In the end, it could be hand to hand, door to door. I said some of this six years ago to a famously liberal journalist who blinked in surprised. If that’s true, he said, they won’t have a chance. But they are Americans, I said. They won’t go down without a fight. Americans have so many guns, because drug gangs roam the streets, and because they have less trust in their neighbors because they’ve read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, because all of their personal and financial information got hacked in the latest breach, because our country’s real overlords are in Silicon Valley, and appear to be moral Martians who operate on some weird new postmodern ethical wavelength, and they’ll be the ones programming the robots that’ll soon take all the jobs. Maybe those robots will all look like Mark Zuckerberg like those eyeless busts of Roman emperors. Our leaders don’t even think about this technological revolution. They’re too busy with transgendered rights. Americans have so many guns because they know the water their children swim in hasn’t gotten cleaner since Columbine, but more polluted and lethal.” Wow, Larry Arnn.
LA: Go, Peggy (laughing).
HH: And I might add, by the way, those paragraphs are why Hillsdale is flourishing.
LA: Yeah, yeah. Well, you know, it isn’t just fear, right? I mean, first of all, it’s always dangerous. We human beings are different than other creatures. We have perishable bodies, but we have immortal souls. And so we understand danger in a different way than animals do, and we can think abstractly about it the way we can think every other thing. But another thing is you know, you, the relation between the body and the soul is you have something for which you are responsible. It’s part of you, just like your soul. And so you want to take care of it. You are called by nature to take care of it, to grow it, to feed it, right? And a weapon is a tool. And that’s, so we like all of our tools, right? Guns are special, because they’re so immediately lethal, but knives and shovels and everything we need to maneuver our way through nature. And you know, in economic theory, all of those things are called capital. And they multiply labor and make it stronger. And so there is no mystery whatsoever here. It’s just that here, you may wonder why did the gun culture take place here? First of all, I don’t think we have a gun culture in America. We just have a lot of guns. But why do we have a lot of guns? Well, just remember, all of those rights in the first 10 amendments, this is the place where they were first established, right? So you can compare us to England and France, but those guys were backward children trying to learn from us back then. And so we got a head start. And that, so you know, I actually think that this debate in politics has been amazingly sober after this incident. This incident is, of course, like many of them, is really awful. And one of the bad things about it is it’s hard to figure out in two sentences who is this guy and what’s he up to? The most, strongest thing I know about him is he’s a video poker player. And one reads that that’s like crack for gamblers. But who knows about that, right? And the second thing is it’s pretty clever, you know, what he did, hard to deal with.
LA: And so the President’s first reaction, you know, this reckless, crazy guy, what did he first say? He said you know, we have to look at that, but not right now. Right now, we have to grieve. And that’s him repeating the words of the founders that you don’t legislative in the middle of a crisis, right? You don’t, you know, figure this out. And then second, isn’t it interesting the National Rifle Association, of which I am a member, announced that they think that these bumper stocks, that there’s reason to think about regulating them?
HH: Oh, the Speaker of the House told me that first question out of the box. Automatic weapons have been illegal in the United States, machine guns for decades. We’ve got to take a look at this right away. It’s because it actually has palliative value to the problem. That’s why people agreed on it. Dr. Larry Arnn will be back. During the break, he’ll read the three columns, I hope, on the Hugh Hewitt Show.
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HH: Dr. Arnn, I’ve got to read to you now Bret Stephens, very able Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Times and a conservative. The more closely one looks at what passes for common sense gun laws, the more feckless they appear. There is only one say to do this – change the gun culture, and that’s repeal the 2nd Amendment. Repealing the amendment may seem like political mission impossible today, but in the era of same sex marriage, it’s worth recalling that most great causes begin as improbable ones. Gun ownership should never be outlawed, just as it isn’t outlawed in Britain or Australia. But it doesn’t need a blanket Constitutional protection, either. The 46,445 murder victims killed by gunfire in the United States between 2012 and 2016 didn’t need to perish so that gun enthusiasts can go on fantasizing that Red Dawn is the fate that soon awaits us. Donald Trump will likely get one more Supreme Court nomination, or two or three before he leaves office, guaranteeing a pro-gun Court for another generation. Expansive interpretation of the right to bear arms will be the law of the land until that right itself ceases to be. Some conservatives will insist that the 2nd Amendment is fundamental to the structure of American liberty. They will cite James Madison, who noted in the Federalist Papers that in Europe “the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” America was supposed to be different, and better. I wonder what Madison would have to say about that today, when more than twice as many Americans perished last year at the hands of their fellows as died in battle during the entire Revolutionary War. My guess, writes Stephens, take the guns—or at least the presumptive right to them—away. The true foundation of American exceptionalism should be our capacity for moral and constitutional renewal, not our instinct for self-destruction. End of column, beginning of Dr. Arnn’s commentary.
LA: Well, I, you know, I know him well and I like him a lot. And he’s a very smart man. But that’s entirely wrongheaded, isn’t it? It, so if, I stumble.
LA: If you…
HH: Did Churchill ever, I just saw the new preview for Churchill, and he said, the preview, which you have approved of this movie, says stop interrupting me when I’m interrupting you, so I hesitate to stumble into your stumbling.
LA: Yeah, that’s terrible. Well, you’re not, so there’s like, you know, four guns for every American, right? So…
HH: There are 300 plus million weapons, about 35% of households to 40% have a weapon, and about 3% of Americans account for more than 50% of gun ownership.
LA: There you go. So a lot of people have guns, there’s a lot of guns going around. And the cops carry guns in London now, because they frequently encounter gun-toting people, although the gun laws in England are stiff, very hard to have one. I mean, like your shotgun, your little shotgun if you live up in the country where my wife’s family lives, you have to get a permit for that thing, and it’s not automatic. So the point is, they, it’s, a gun is an easy thing to make, and there are a lot of them. And so the idea that you’re going to deprive this guy of a gun by repealing the 2nd Amendment, that’s a good thing if it were good that would happen only on a very long time. And there’d be a whole bunch of guys like this, unless, you know, the cops are going to go house to house and confiscate them all, which I guess they could. So if that’s what he’s calling for, then that would be a massive symbol to the people of the United States that you are not to defend yourselves.
HH: But do you know what he glided over? And I failed to call him on this. Same sex marriage came about not because of Constitutional amendment. It came about because of court dictation. And there is a profound difference in those methods, and thus, a disharmony in his example set.
LA: That’s right. It’s just a list of things of which he approves, and so this should come about, too. I don’t, you know, you, don’t, like Peggy Noonan’s column is better, and what she says is there’s something disturbing going on. You know, I’ve had occasion to visit some other college campuses of late, and I will tell you that I am horrified by things I see. And I come back, and it just makes me just meaner than all daylights, because I’ll, if I say anything that suggests that around Hillsdale College, you know, I just…
HH: (laughing) The purge begins.
LA: You know, I’m going to, you know, I said this is boot camp, and I can spare you if I need to.
HH: What’s the name of, what is the name of inquisitor at Darkness at Noon?
HH: Yeah, you go all Gletkin on people. I’ll be right back with Dr. Larry Arnn. Stay tuned, America.
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HH: The first column I read to Dr. Arnn was Peggy Noonan’s, the Culture of Death and of Disdain, portions of it, the second by Bret Stephens of the New York Times, Repeal the Second Amendment, and the third is by me, ce moi, ce moi in the Washington Post titled by the Post editors – Why Christians Will Stick With Trump. And it begins, Dr. Arnn, “President Trump’s enduring support among evangelical Christians and Mass-attending Catholics befuddles many of his critics. “How could a Christian accept [some presidential action or statement]?” is now a trope. The genuinely confused should realize that for millions of voters, religious liberty remains the overarching issue of the day, the alpha and omega of whether Trump gets a nod of approval or at least a pass. And most of those voters are very well aware that religious liberty is on the Supreme Court’s docket this term. The Supreme Court will soon consider the religious liberty of Jack Phillips in Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The state of Colorado has said that Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Phillips’s refusal to create custom wedding cakes celebrating same-sex wedding ceremonies violates the state’s law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation — despite Phillips’s policy of refusing to create other confections that collide with his faith, including cakes containing alcohol or celebrating Halloween or atheism. The case will draw huge attention because it is at the intersection of so many controversies. But the emotions it elicits shouldn’t obscure its connection to a large portion of Trump’s core support: conservative people of faith. Evangelicals and Mass-attending Catholics gave the president healthy majorities when they voted last fall, and largely that support has not wavered. For those wondering why, it comes down to the issue at the core of Masterpiece Cakeshop: Will Americans be allowed to practice their religious beliefs without fear of ruin from secular absolutists? In the view of these voters, elites believe every knee must bend to their secular creed, not just on matters regarding sexual intimacy but also on issues of when life begins and when death ought to be optional.” I go on to argue, Larry Arnn, that Trump’s judicial appointments are better in this regard, the protection of personal liberty with regards to the free exercise of faith, than even those of George W. Bush and certainly of any modern Republican president, and therefore, they’re sticking with him. What do you think?
LA: Yeah, it’s, you know, so I’ve been for Donald Trump for a long time, and that’s been very controversial…
HH: Oh, you bet.
LA: But less as time goes on. And there’s a lot of reasons for that, but let’s go back. So I read Bret Stephens during the break, and I now see that he’s written an intelligent and powerful argument as is his way. I just don’t agree with it. But think what how these two things are related, right? The United States of America is the first country in the world that begins with the presumption that you have a private sphere in which to live. And it is yours. It is in your nature. It is a gift from God. The proximate cause of that becoming central in politics is in fact the birth of Jesus Christ, the first God for every man wherever and anywhere, and every woman, too, who did not however found a polity. And so then it follows that if you’re going to have people worshipping the same God in different countries, there’s going to need to be freedom of religion. And the whole, the Bill of Rights starts with the freedom of religion, and all of the rest of it proceeds from the freedom of religion, including the 2nd Amendment. We are to look at the society as a place where sovereignty exists in the majority. It is exercised, sorry, in the individual, not in the majority. It is exercised through their majority of equal souls expressing its will. And so the government is organized to protect and shelter that. And that means that as with George Washington’s vital caveat in his letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, first letter a president of any country ever wrote to a bunch of Jews addressing them as equal citizens. And the point is if you practice a religion that encourages you to demean yourself as a good citizen on all occasions, then that religion is protected in iron. And that is the start of the American republic.
LA: And you know, you can regulate guns. We do. You know, no automatic weapons, for example. You can regulate guns as long as you do it with the view that ultimately you want as much as possible of a person’s well-being and protection in the hands of that person, because the whole purpose of the country is to empower us to live good lives.
HH: And to protect it, and in that judicial sphere, charged with the policing, riding the fencing on those rights, there’s been a lot of erosion over the last 40 years, tremendous erosion. The fences are down all over the place, and those, that area of…
LA: You know, why, I was about to rant about the way colleges are going right now, but why are there 19 year olds marching on college campuses violently, meanwhile whining amidst privilege, and demanding the change of colleges and the firing of those who lead them? What led them to do that? Well, you just look. The country is not as it was. The kids don’t grow up with mothers and fathers the way they used to. If you think the family’s not important, read Aristotle. And so we have a collapse underway. And when I think about the, you know, big causes you could name that you could do something about it, big government and the doctrines behind it is one of the causes. What do the judges do about that?
HH: So the question then becomes, it is, it is the collapse that Peggy Noonan identified broadly in her well-written piece. It’s extraordinarily perceptive of the collapse that people intuit, but I think also believe can be arrested. I do believe that there’s quite a lot of belief that you can stop this, that there are common sense responses, that you don’t have to go on with this. And I think, in fact, with regards to the college collapse, there’s a self-correction underway not just in the rise of the lantern of the north, Hillsdale, but in revulsion, actually, at the shutdown of speech on campuses by even our friends on the left.
LA: Well, if you, so Jillian Melchior, my student, writes for the Wall Street Journal along with Katie Odell, another, and Jillian has been, she got inside the University of Missouri, you know, with freedom of information requests, and she knows what the people at Missouri are rioting about, all those riots and its aftermath. And those guys are down, right? The applications are down, and the size of the student body is down, and that’s because it doesn’t look like a very good place to go.
HH: Who wants to send their son or daughter to be educated by the illiterate and by the violent. Who wants to do that, right?
HH: You might fall into it out of habit. You might be a legacy. You might love Mizzou football. But if you’re just going to stand back and say I want to send my children to be educated by people who are serious, you’re not going to go there. And by the way, I think that’s going to happen to Berkeley in a big way. I think Berkeley is going to suffer from the perception that it is a violent and inhospitable place that is anti-intellectual, which by the way, it happens to be.
LA: Yeah. And you know, a big place like Missouri, a major public university, and Berkeley is a public university, too, but you know, there’s this story in Jillian’s story about a man who you know, on weekends, bedecked himself in Missouri Tigers’ gear, and never missed a sports contest. And you know, he went to like 80 a year, two of week, for years. And he sold it all. And he’s not going anymore.
HH: You know, I told Victor Davis Hanson this last week. A week ago Monday, so it’s been 10 days, I met for the first time a retired full colonel in the Army who began as an enlisted man, became a Mustang, did two tours in North Korea, three tours in Afghanistan, lost a lot of men, commanded a Striker battalion, lifelong Minnesota Vikings fan. And he told me at lunch, and we were there to talk about a different thing, but he told me I will never watch the Vikings again. I am done with them after their displays of kneeling or sitting during the National Anthem, an issue that’s been eclipsed by the massacre in Las Vegas, but which, by the way, was going very badly against the players and the NFL, very deeply, though the media did not see it, Dr. Arnn, because it…
LA: People are, you know, it is the privileged who whine and pule and carry on about their victimhood. And why are they doing that, you know? And then sure enough, ordinary folk look at that, and they think that’s just distasteful, especially because I think it’s the rule in the NFL that you have to stand for the National Anthem, and that in the past, people who wouldn’t do it to favor some charity or some event in their lives were fined for that. But then all of this stuff that’s going on now starts, and the NFL cowers in front of it. You know, and these are football team owners. They’re supposed to be tough guys, aren’t they? Or do they just hire other people to be tough?
HH: They’re big guys. Yeah, they are big guys. That’s the fraternity of “big guys”, guys who wear Izod sweaters and big rings, and who clink glasses and are hail fellows well met. And it all fell apart. And my question is, though, Trump in the middle of all this. There’s been an extraordinary series of events – Harvey, Irma, Maria and a massacre, four major disasters in four weeks. I can’t quite think of anything like that. I asked the Speaker about this yesterday. How is the President doing? Meanwhile, his Secretary of State is knifing him in the back calling him a moron. And the Speaker’s assessment will be on MSNBC tomorrow. Let me get your assessment, Dr. Arnn, of President Trump in this space of four weeks against four disasters.
LA: Well, he’s a dynamo. You know, he’s, he goes down there, he cares about those people, he brings them some relief, and remember, he’s a kind of get things done guy, right? If you don’t, let’s say there’s a certain cabinet member who stands high with him who got called out and castigated, whoever he was, and I talked to that guy not long ago, and I, we laughed about it, and I said well, that’s the way, isn’t it? And he said that’s the way. He wants the dang job done. That’s what it is. So he’s like, he’s got a very executive temper. And so I think he’s done pretty well, and you know, the polls show him, you know, 45%, and I think he was at 47% when he won the election, something like that. A very divided country, and I also think that there’s probably a polling bias against him.
HH: There’s a huge social desirability bias at work. Sean Trende tells me people don’t want to own up to admiring Trump. And I think when they went down to Vegas and the guy got out of the hospital bed and he stood up, because he’d been wounded in the back, and he said I’m going to stand up to shake hands with the President, that got a little bit of play, but not much. But people know about it.
HH: It’s a remarkable thing about America today. Everybody knows everything.
LA: Yeah. They don’t, and they don’t want him to tweet, and you know, maybe he shouldn’t. But on the other hand, he’s communicating, right? And he’s got something to say every day. So one thing that I think is true so far is that Trump has got the spit for the job, right? He gets up in the morning to do the job. And he’s not, you know…
HH: Hold that thought. He’s got the spit for the job. I’ll be right back with Dr. Larry Arnn. The Hillsdale Dialogue continues.
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HH: Dr. Arnn, when we went to break, you were talking about President Trump’s temperament when it comes to the presidency, and you think it well matched.
LA: Yeah, I do. He’s, you know, he’s, you’ve got to remember, by the way, the president of the United States is not supposed to be our mother or our nanny, which it often thinks it is. You need somebody with an executive temper. Trump thinks if things are not right, he’s supposed to get them, right? And he’s supposed to find the people working for him who didn’t if they work for him, and tell them about it. So he’s like that. And that means he’s not overawed by the forms of the presidency as they have developed in their modern dispensation.
HH: Now Hamilton is a Broadway musical, but before that, he was a political theorist. And in the Federalist papers, he said it was crucial that there be energy in the executive. Yesterday, Trump gathered his military leaders in the Oval Office, and the President said maybe it’s the calm before the storm. And a reporter said what storm. Trump said you’ll find out. What do you make of that, Dr. Arnn?
LA: Let’s put it this way. A series of things have happened, beginning with our younger son’s graduation from boot camp in the Army a couple of months, a month ago. I’ve been saying this over and over. When I watched those kids turned into soldiers coming out of the woods, I said quietly to my wife, but a lot of people heard it and cheered, if I was North Korea, I’d be worried about that. I think that about a whole series of things that Trump has been saying, and they don’t sound reckless to me. They sound solemn.
HH: And I was encouraged that yesterday as he took counsel on the Iran deal, and whether or not to certify it or not, he spoke with Tom Cotton. And I am actually kind of happy to see in Axios this morning the speculation is that Rex Tillerson, who called the President a moron, which is not the way a cabinet official ought to speak about their boss, is headed out to be replaced by Mike Pompeo, another warrior West Point guy. And although Tom Cotton’s on that short list for Secretary of State as well, either of them would be fine. I’m encouraged that with Kelly there…
LA: When you say this, what if Mike Pompeo took that job, and there were a vacancy? What would happen then?
HH: Yeah, the same name would come to mind.
LA: That’s it.
HH: And he likes, he has a very strong regard for warriors, which is a good thing when you’re at war with North Korea and Iran, which technically we are not, but which we actually are.
LA: You know, Trump goes really fast, right? So I know some people who talk to him, and he’s in a hurry. He’s the president of the United States. But he’s also deliberate, right? He certified that Iran nuclear deal for a time, and now he’s thinking about it. That means he’s using the time to think about it. And his reaction about that shooter is that yeah, not right now, but let’s think about that, you know? Think about it first. So he’s got that going for him, too. And you know, if he adjusts his cabinet, he knows a lot more than he knew when he was, the day he was inaugurated. He’s worked with a bunch of people for a while. So it wouldn’t be a bad idea if he did that. And he could get better people in both those jobs we’ve just named.
HH: He could. And let me ask you about if you had a subordinate who referred to you as a moron, to people who mattered, and it was repeated, how would you react? I find that to be so disheartening, and I think State is such a disaster that I hope he acts.
LA: Well, I mean, you know, it’s unthinkable, but you can’t, so the ordinary rules of insubordination apply whenever there’s an employer/employee relationship. And if the employees are uncivil and insubordinate to their employer, then all relation is broken down. And I have said to a fellow one time, actually more than once, I said you know, I’m a little remiss here. And he said why, and I said that’s twice. And he said twice what? I said that’s twice in subordinate. You get three. You want to try again?
LA: And you know, and then he knew, and you know, it was because I hadn’t told him the first time. The first time, I, it wasn’t so explicit. And then you know, he had, you could just watch him. He just had a little think about his employment. And you know, so yeah, you can’t do that, really?
HH: Duane just whispered in my ear there goes my job. (laughing)
LA: Yeah (laughing). Let me respond. Duane, I think you could get Hugh’s job. (laughing)
DP: Hey, there’s always a trade-up, isn’t there?
LA: We’re both insubordinate.
LA: Yeah, no, you can’t, I mean, first of all, I just don’t think that’s, I don’t think Donald Trump will put up with that.
HH: Neither do I. We will see by next week in the next Hillsdale Dialogue, as well as the interesting speculation that Dr. Arnn has put afoot. Dr. Larry Arnn from Hillsdale College, thank you.
End of interview.