Politics & Policy

‘Preposterous,’ &c.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer (Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)
On presidential press secretaries, Russian dissidents, Trump tweets, the fate of conservatism, and more

For Navy secretary, President Trump nominated a man named Philip Bilden. Major Garrett of CBS reported that two people had told him that Bilden would probably withdraw. The president’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, tweeted, “Those people would be wrong.” Several days later, Bilden withdrew.

I could not help thinking of Larry Speakes, the Reagan press secretary. Apparently, they had not told him about the coming invasion of Grenada. (By “they,” I mean the planners.) CBS got wind of the invasion. So Bill Plante, the network’s correspondent, asked Speakes about it.

“Preposterous,” said Speakes.

The next day, we invaded.

This embarrassed Speakes, terribly. Thereafter, Helen Thomas would taunt him with, “Is it ‘preposterous,’ Larry?”

‐In early January, I wrote about Ildar Dadin, a political prisoner in Russia. (Here.) Much happier is to report that he has now been freed.

The key ingredient — as so often in these cases — was international pressure. For instance, Dadin’s wife, Anastasia Zotova, spoke at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy. (For a podcast I did with Ms. Zotova, go here.) The next day, the Russian government announced that the prisoner would be released.

Which he now has been. Praise be.

‐Readers of this column also know about Vladimir Kara-Murza, the Russian democracy advocate who was a comrade of Boris Nemtsov, the politician who was murdered (within sight of the Kremlin) two years ago.

Kara-Murza was poisoned and fell into a coma. He came out of it. He was again poisoned and again fell into a coma. I recommend a long article about him at NYR Daily: here. (When I say “long,” I don’t mean “long,” I mean not a tweet or a blogpost.) (Or an impromptu.)

‐For many months, Donald Trump has made some bizarre claims about NATO. One of them is that, thanks to pressure from him, the alliance is newly countering terrorism. No one knows what he means. There is something in his head.

Last week, he said this, in an interview with Reuters:

“Remember the first time I talked about NATO, I said they all owe money? The first time anyone ever asked me a question about NATO … I said two things: It’s obsolete because it doesn’t cover terrorism. They have now opened up a division to cover terrorism, solely because of me. And experts on NATO that do nothing but study it said, ‘You know, Trump is right.’ And I knew nothing about NATO. I mean, I knew very little about NATO. … But you watch what’s going to happen. They’re paying. They’re paying big league. … They owe a lot of money. Many countries owe a lot money. Number one, 2 percent is a low number, and number two, only five countries are paid up.”

NATO has been involved in counter-terror since 9/11. The Afghan War is an Article 5 war, as you know. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty says, in effect, that an attack on one is an attack on all. This article has been invoked only once: after the terrorist strikes against America on 9/11.

For NATO’s history with counter-terror, consult the alliance itself, here and here.

As for “owing money” and “paying up”: In 2014, Vladimir Putin annexed the Crimea and made war in the Donbass. In response, NATO set some goals, including on defense spending: Within ten years, members should spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense.

At present, five do. (The United States, Britain, Poland, Estonia, and, interestingly, Greece.) Others are on track to reach the 2 percent threshold soon. Others may never.

Anyway …

‐In that Reuters interview, Trump also said, “I have very good relations with the EU. But I thought that the UK would pull out of Brexit and I was right.” (Britons voted to pull out of the EU. “Brexit,” short for “British exit,” is the term for this act.) “But the EU, I’m totally in favor of it. I think it’s wonderful, if they’re happy. If they’re happy — I’m in favor of it.”

Trump’s fans who loathe the EU (and virtually 100 percent of them do): What do they make of this? I myself sympathize with Trump’s attitude: Let the EU be a voluntary organization, and if various European publics want it, let them have it. And if they don’t — that’s different.

‐Here is a typical Trump tweet, fired last Friday: “FAKE NEWS media knowingly doesn’t tell the truth. A great danger to our country. The failing ‪@nytimes has become a joke. Likewise ‪@CNN. Sad!”

Obviously, this gets the Right fired up, even as Agnew’s remarks fired up the Right almost 50 years ago. (But Agnew, compared with Trump, was a prince of nuance. The vice president’s remarks tended to be written by Patrick J. Buchanan.)

I can understand being fired up. I have railed against the “MSM” myself, for many years. I was railing against them when Trump was a Democrat, funding the Clintons, insisting that they be the trophy guests at his wedding, etc.

But I wonder about the long-term effects of such attacks by the president — not just a writer or a street-corner blowhard, but the president — on the press.

These attacks have already had an effect, I think. When I say something that Trump fans don’t like, they’re likely to respond, “FAKE NEWS!” They have learned it from their leader. They are parroting his language, making it the new tongue of the new, Trumpized Right.

There are also people — I have heard from them — who simply don’t care whether Trump lies. They will say it forthrightly. They don’t care, because they view Trump as a blunt instrument against the Left. And the Left is the enemy, end of story.

I understand this very well. An animus against the Left has sparked me year after year, decade after decade. (This will not be news to readers of Impromptus, which began in March 2001.) But I also know the danger of zealotry, in myself and others. You don’t want to downgrade the truth in the service of Smash the Left.

“Live not by lies,” said Solzhenitsyn, and this must apply to every time, place, and situation.

‐Tim Alberta wrote an article called “‘The Conservative Movement Is Donald Trump.’” It was subheaded “Trump’s takeover of conservatism is faster and more decisive than anyone expected.” From my vantage, this is true. To read Tim’s article — a superb, possibly even seminal one — go here.

Let me recommend another article, by Peter Wehner. He is a longtime conservative thinker and doer: a veteran of the Reagan, Bush 41, and Bush 43 administrations. His recent article begins,

“One of the concerns those of us who are conservative had about the right rallying around Donald Trump is that he would have a degrading effect on conservatism itself. It hasn’t taken much time for those concerns to be realized.”

I’m afraid that is right. For Wehner’s article, go here.

‐Have another Trump tweet: “The race for DNC Chairman was, of course, totally ‘rigged.’ Bernie’s guy, like Bernie himself, never had a chance. Clinton demanded Perez!”

There are at least two interesting things about this tweet, I think. First, the quotation marks around “rigged.” Why are they there? Is Trump sort of parodying himself, or quoting himself?

Second, there is this strange, lingering bromance between Trump and Sanders. “Between” is not the right word, because the affection seems one-sided.

Something for the biographers, historians, and analysts to write about, later.

‐Have another tweet, this one by Scott Lincicome, the trade expert. He wrote, “Researching a new paper on the historical failures of US protectionism, & it’s just astounding how thoroughly debunked it was in the 80s/90s.”

This is one of the discouraging things about growing older. You realize that nothing sticks. Everything has to be retaught and relearned, over and over. It’s like people in any given era have no idea that you shouldn’t touch a hot stove. And if older people tell you not to, you say, “Screw you, FAKE NEWS!”

‐Robert Mugabe has just turned 93. He is still dictating to Zimbabwe. Has there ever been such an old ruler? I mean, a real ruler, ruling, rather than a ceremonial king or something?

Hardened SOB.

‐A little music? At The New Criterion yesterday, I had a blogpost about I puritani, the Bellini opera, performed at the Met. Damrau and Camarena. (The German soprano Diana Damrau and the Mexican tenor Javier Camarena.) Not bad.

‐I have a new favorite advertising slogan. Heard it, and saw it, while watching a Michigan basketball game on TV. It was for blue jeans, of an allegedly comfortable, unimprisoning kind: “Crouch without the ouch.”

Have a good day, dear readers, and if you must crouch, let it be free of ouch.

A word from the National Review Store: To get Digging In: Further Collected Writings of Jay Nordlinger, go here.

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