Politics & Policy

A Wagnerian touch in North Dakota, &c.

Burning building at the protest camp near Cannon Ball, N.D., February 22, 2017 (Reuters photo: Terray Sylvester)
Fire, fans, politicians, Montenegro, journalists, baseball, and more

There is news out of Cannon Ball, N.D., where people have been protesting a pipeline: “Early Wednesday, protesters burned some wooden structures … in what they described as a leaving ceremony.”

This is a Wagnerian end. Cue the soprano for the Immolation Scene.

But people get hurt in real life, more than in opera: “Authorities said about 20 fires were set and a 7-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl were taken to hospitals to be treated for burns.”

Great.

‐At his latest rally, President Trump invited a super-fan to come up onstage with him. The man later said that he had a 6-foot cardboard cut-out of Trump in his house, “and I salute that every single day.”

Conservatives used to make fun of Obama super-fans, or cultists. But sometimes the shoe is on the other foot …

‐I was talking to a colleague of mine the other day about a Republican politician, who had embraced a position that seemed uncharacteristic of him. My colleague said, “Well, probably 85 percent of the people in his district have that position.”

Okay. But why be in politics, if not to lead? I know some politicians who are very smart, very articulate, and very persuasive — but who decline to persuade. They just go along.

Very few politicians are risk-takers. They won’t even take small risks. Say you believe that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is in the American interest. But your activists are against it, so you’re against it. You have no choice (but you really do).

What if you made an argument? Built a case? Would that be in the realm of the possible? You might persuade your activists. At worst, you might win reelection with 55 percent of the vote rather than 65 percent.

Would that be so bad? I’m amazed at how little politicians will risk. At how little political “capital” they will spend.

I never liked the old line about “followership” versus “leadership,” but I think I appreciate it more than I used to.

‐In the midst of the recent C-PAC/Milo flap, I did a little blogging and a little tweeting. One of the things I wrote — tweeted — was, “Un-idle question: Would George F. Will be welcome at today’s C-PAC? What a strange question. But I think it’s a good one, and worrying.”

A woman answered, “No. The people are fed up with globalism & a GOP that was a punching bag for the Demoncraps for decades as well as the corrupt MSM.”

That sentiment is very, very common on the right. Indeed, regnant. And I have never seen a worldview — or an attitude, or a mindset — so perfectly summed up in a tweet.

Let me deal with the vocabulary (for those who need it): The “Demoncraps” are the Democrats. The “corrupt MSM” are the “mainstream media.” As for “the people” — sometimes “the People” — it usually means “people who think and feel and talk as I do.”

“Globalism”? It is the new, hottest epithet on the right, replacing “neocon,” I think. (“Establishment” is up there too.) Orwell said that, when people cried “fascist,” they did not mean “fascist” — they meant something more like “I hate you.”

We will be wrestling over this kind of thing for a very long time to come, I wager. And if George Will is a hate figure in conservatism — it’s coitains for conservatism (or a conservatism worthy of the name).

‐Vladimir Putin is on a roll, in Europe and elsewhere. But apparently he stumbled in tiny Montenegro. According to Montenegrin officials, the Kremlin attempted a coup in Montenegro, which included a plot to kill the prime minister. It failed.

(For a news story, go here.)

Why would the Kremlin be cross with Montenegro? For one thing, Montenegro is set to join NATO.

The Kremlin, of course, denies any interference in Montenegro. I think of a phrase from Soviet days: “We categorically deny …” I’m not sure whether it has been revived.

Sometime during the 2000s, I visited Montenegro, and was stunned by its beauty, like everyone else. (Not for nothing did Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton choose it as their playground!) I was also impressed by how the Montenegrins, like other ex-Yugoslavians, were trying to make a democratic go of it.

May they continue …

‐I have noticed something about journalists lately (and especially opinion journalists like me): Through social media and other avenues, they issue statements, à la politicians, or government officials. They feel the need to “get on the record” concerning public events.

This arises, I think, because readers say, “Well, where were you when X happened, huh? Y has now happened, but what did you say when X happened?” And now journalists link to their little statements.

More and more, the public is treating journalists like politicians and journalists are acting like it. This blurring of the lines has major consequences.

Incidentally, I don’t think politicians have to issue statements about everything under the sun! First of all, it’s impossible. Second, we all have certain, prescribed work to do — and it can be challenging enough to get that right.

This is a long essay, rather than a lil’ impromptu, but do you know what I mean, more or less?

‐Yesterday, I was in a consulate, seeing about a visa. There was something obvious about the applicants there: They were very polite, yes, but they were also obsequious and trembly (some of them). They needed something. And the woman behind the counter had it.

Very, very human.

(The woman behind the counter, by the way, turned out to be utterly lovely. She could have played the part of imperious or terrifying bureaucrat. But she eschewed it.)

‐Let’s have some language. On a recent morning, I walked past a beauty salon or something like that. It had a sign on the door, saying, “Due to a Family Emergency, We Will Only Be Accepting Afternoon Appointments.” Or something like that.

First, the disclosure of the reason was interesting. But I’m doing a language point.

Many years ago, I put a sign on the door of a golf course’s clubhouse. It said, “Due to Wetness, the Course Is Closed.” Or something like that.

An old-timer said to me, “You know, that ought to be ‘Owing to.’ ‘Due to’ means something else.”

I bristled. But that’s what the man had been taught, eons before. And I grew to like this old distinction.

“The train was due to arrive at 4. It’s late, owing to a malfunction.”

‐More language? Let’s take a President Trump tweet — to wit, “Give the public a break – The FAKE NEWS media is trying to say that large scale immigration in Sweden is working out just beautifully. NOT!”

I will stick to the language only. This “NOT!” business? I thought it was Valley Girl, as in that Alicia Silverstone movie. Other people think it’s more Wayne’s World.

Anyway, it is presidential utterance, today.

‐Last summer, I was watching a ballgame on television. A baseball game. The pitcher was intentionally walking somebody. He was throwing four balls, well outside the plate, with the catcher standing up. And he threw a wild one.

I believe a runner scored, but I can’t remember for sure. At least, a runner advanced.

And a commentator in the booth said, “That’s why they make you throw ’em.”

Well, they’re not makin’ ’em throw ’em anymore. Major League Baseball has changed the rule: A manager will simply signal an intentional walk — and that will be that. The argument is, this will speed up play.

I’m for faster play. But I think we’ve lost something. More than we have gained (in faster play)?

Thanks, y’all, and till next week.

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

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