Politics & Policy

Fifth Ave. and the GOP, &c.

(Photo: Brett Critchley/Dreamstime)
A party and its street, a rejection in Indiana, an American (missionary) in Paris, and more

Yesterday, in the wake of President Trump’s latest tweets, I was thinking about the loyalty of his supporters. It’s an amazing, intense loyalty. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it in politics, and not much like it in other fields. Trump himself addressed the issue while on the campaign trail, you recall:

“I have the most loyal people . . . where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s like incredible.”

It is like incredible. In short order, I nicknamed this phenomenon — the phenomenon of loyalty to Trump — “the Fifth Avenue Principle.”

Trump Tower, you remember, is on Fifth Avenue in New York City. That’s why the candidate used that street in his example (though he was campaigning in Iowa).

This fabled street has played a role in Republican politics before. Have you heard of the “Compact of Fifth Avenue,” also known as the “Treaty of Fifth Avenue”? We’re talking 1960. The compact, or treaty, was an agreement hammered out between Vice President Richard Nixon and Governor Nelson Rockefeller in the latter’s apartment on Fifth Avenue. (What a beaut that must have been.) The agreement, as I understand it, allowed Nixon to proceed with his campaign for president without Rocky, a rival, on his back.

To return to the Fifth Avenue Principle — the phenomenal loyalty of Trump supporters: From what I’ve observed, his grievances are their grievances; his causes are their causes; his moods are their moods. When he tells an outright whopper, they agree with it, defend it, or explain it away. When he behaves like his predecessor, or worse, they say, “This is different.”

In my column on Wednesday, I noted something that Trump said to a journalist: “I can’t be doing so badly because I’m president and you’re not.” I recalled how we — we righties — knocked President Obama for his arrogance and condescension.

Some readers then told me that, no, this was different. And I could understand, to a degree. (Anything is permissible in the name of insulting journalists, such as the Time reporter whom Trump was talking to.)

I’ve said that “his grievances are their grievances; his causes are their causes,” etc. I should also have included this, for it is very important: His enemies are their enemies.

A loyal base — an intensely loyal core — is priceless in politics. Nixon didn’t have it, when the crunch came in the summer of 1974. We’ll see how the Trump years go.

And if Trump moves to the center, opposing conservative Republicans and making deals with Democrats, will his base follow him? I believe it will.

One more thing on this subject of loyalty: I was once a die-hard Reagan man (still am). I bled with him. I loved him, yes, but, perhaps even more — this is shameful to admit — I hated his enemies. They were my enemies too, it seemed. I stuck with Reagan through thick and thin, including Iran-contra and Bitburg. My inclination was to defend him on everything (even excuse him).

Will I ever feel such intense loyalty to a president, or any other politician, again? I doubt it. But who knows?

‐You will be amazed at a story out of Greenfield, Ind. — or maybe not. A group got together and wanted to donate $50,000 to a new high-school football field. They are an anonymous group. And they wanted the name associated with their donation to be a hashtag: “#BlessTheWorld.” The school board said no — because “bless” had religious connotations. The board cited the separation of church and state (!). So the group declined to give their donation.

I have a question: If someone sneezes, what are you supposed to say? Legally?

‐Recently, I was talking with Vladimir Kara-Murza, the Russian democracy leader, and he made a point about young Russians: They have known no rule, no government, but Putin’s. They know that people in other countries enjoy much greater freedom. And they are fed up.

Well, youth played an important role in the recent anti-corruption demonstrations — and those demonstrations took place across the country.

What we’ve heard, for some years, is: The elites in Moscow and St. Petersburg don’t like Putin, but people in the great Russian heartlands are fine with him. In light of this claim — which I’ve always found credible — an Associated Press report out of Tambov is interesting. Tambov is a city in southeastern Russia.

The report cites a woman, 20 years old, who wrote a sentence on a placard: “I want to know the truth.” She was carted away by police.

A man was fired from his job — jobs, actually — when he became the local representative of Open Russia, the democracy group of which Kara-Murza is vice-chairman.

I am struck by that statement from that young woman, in a society where the media are harassed and censored, and where journalists drop like flies: “I want to know the truth.”

This is a human yearning, not one confined to Birmingham (England or Michigan). (Or Alabama!)

‐Let me recommend another report from the AP — this one from Iraq: Why is Mosul so hard to take? Why can’t that important city be wrested from ISIS? The report explains why, clearly and convincingly, and draws on historical parallels (such as the French experience in Algeria).

People like me spend a lot of time knocking the “MSM,” or mainstream media. But they can do excellent and indispensable work, and man cannot live on right-wing opinion alone (alas).

‐Have another report, from Afghanistan: What’s it like to be a girl there? Or a young woman? What if you join an orchestra? Very, very bad things can ensue. Isn’t that a wholesome, beautiful, human desire? To join an orchestra? It shouldn’t cost you your family, or your life, should it?

Two AP reporters, Karim Sharifi and Rahim Faiez, have written a fascinating, somewhat haunting report. Hats off to them.

‐If you are lucky, you’ve never been a victim of Nazi or Nazi-style trolls on the Internet. There are many of them. They are legion. And what they can do can screw with your head and heart, for a long time to come. I have seen some of their handiwork. Here is a story that talks about them, and their victims.

The issue is not to be ignored.

‐Shall we lighten the mood with a little language? Let me quote from my Impromptus of Wednesday:

A headline read, “Non merci: French voters reject corruption in politics.” (Story here.) In my understanding, just “Merci,” said in a certain way, says “No, thank you.” Perhaps Frenchmen among us can weigh in  . . . 

I think you will like this letter, in every respect:


I’m no Frenchman, but I was a Mormon missionary in and around Paris (same mission as ol’ Mitt, by the way, who is still fondly remembered there) about ten years ago. When trying to stop someone on the street to talk, I would often get a simple “Merci!” for the trouble. As you say, this actually meant “No, thanks!”

Two things I recall: (1) This always came from women, middle-aged or older. (2) There’s a specific inflection about it. The first syllable is high-pitched and stressed, and the second is lower — about a step and a half down — and drawn out. Very musical indeed.

The resulting shout/song is pleasing aurally, even as it’s disappointing to a young missionary trying to converse with the French about religion. (It was a long two years.)

‐A little music? I mean, besides the “Merci” of Frenchwomen trying to avoid missionaries? For my review of a recent Fidelio (Beethoven’s opera) at the Met, go here. Adrianne Pieczonka, the Canadian soprano in the title role, was extraordinary.

‐We were sitting around the editorial table, and Fred Schwarz began a comment with, “As you all remember from your high-school calculus . . . ”

I was slightly flattered. But Fred might as well have said, “As you well remember from your dating of Brooke Shields” — with this difference: I could, and surely did, imagine dating Brooke; I could not imagine calculus, and thought algebra was Chinese enough . . . 

‐Have a little appearance coming up — in Midland, Mich., home of Northwood University, where I’ll be speaking. On what? On a strange little history I wrote: Children of Monsters: An Inquiry into the Sons and Daughters of Dictators. The talk is Monday evening. If you’d like to attend — and for further info — go here.

‐Do you remember What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, the movie from 1993? Darlene Cates played the morbidly obese mother. She had never acted before, but the movie’s screenwriter saw her on Sally Jessy Raphael’s talk show. So . . . 

Mrs. Cates has died, and I read an obit of her, here. I wanted to share something she said. “Once I did the Sally show, all of a sudden I realized that if I went out and people stared at me, I wouldn’t know if they were staring at me because I was fat or because they recognized me from being on TV. That empowered me.”

Thank you, dear readers, and see you later.


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

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