Politics & Policy

Our president and ‘Sleepy Eyes’ Todd, &c.

President Trump and NBC’s Chuck Todd (Photos: Jim Bourg/Reuters; Gage Skidmore)
On character in office, journalism in Mexico, exodus from Russia, food in Detroit, and more

Talk to many conservatives, and they’ll tell you that this is the way you ought to respond to Donald Trump: Praise him for the good things he does; criticize him for the bad things he does. So, a conservative’s scorecard might go something like this:

Carrier deal, bad. Gorsuch nomination, good (indeed, great). A trillion dollars in federal spending on infrastructure, bad. Approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, good. And so on.

And yet I don’t think a scorecard captures the effect of a president — the effect of a president on the country for good or ill. A president affects America in all sorts of ways.

In 2012, many on the right were furious at Mitt Romney, the GOP presidential nominee, for being polite. Too polite. Gentlemanly to a fault. I was among those who wished he would take a more aggressive approach to President Obama.

I often incline to the aggressive, I think. I believe Lionel Tiger (the famed anthropologist whose name has always seemed amazingly appropriate) would understand me.

In 2016, a lot of people on the right wanted the dead-opposite of Romney — and, boy, did they get him. Romney was a religious, monogamous man who had devoted his life to charitable works, American enterprise, and Republican politics. Trump was … something else.

“I moved on her, actually. You know, she was down in Palm Beach. I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it. I did try and f*** her. She was married. … I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there. And she was married.”

One of the most recent two nominees said that. It wasn’t Romney. And it wasn’t Romney who won, either.

“I can’t be doing so badly because I’m president and you’re not,” said Trump to a reporter. A President Romney probably wouldn’t say that, or need to say that. But then, he came up short, against an incumbent Obama in 2012.

Over the weekend, President Trump sent out a tweet, saying, “When will Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd and @NBCNews start talking about the Obama SURVEILLANCE SCANDAL and stop with the Fake Trump/Russia story?”

Chuck Todd is a TV journalist who hosts Meet the Press. I don’t know whether he has sleepy eyes or not. I haven’t really noticed his eyes. But I did notice the president’s tweet — and I think that this sort of thing may be at least as important as the Carrier deal.

A president sets an example, for good or ill. There was a time when no conservative would have disputed this. That was B.T., or Before Trump. You try to teach your children not to do things such as call other people names, particularly when those names have to do with physical characteristics.

But what about when your 70-year-old president does it? Ho-hum?

A recent poll by CBS showed that a great majority of Republicans believe that Putin’s Russia did not interfere in our presidential election at all. That’s the Trump effect, or one of them.

When you say or write something factual about Trump and hear his supporters say back to you “Fake news” — that’s the Trump effect.

When conservatives go on television and defend the indefensible — because, in their minds, something like The Team demands it — that’s the Trump effect. It cannot be measured in Carrier deals and Gorsuch nominations (important as those things are).

One more thing: In my experience, Trump supporters take great offense when you say that their guy physically mocked a handicapped reporter during the campaign. The tape seems to me pretty clear. But it’s also true that Trump had done such mocking many times before.

“Standard retard,” Ann Coulter calls it. In her latest book, In Trump We Trust, she writes that the candidate was “doing a standard retard, waving his arms and sounding stupid.”

“That’s his move,” a friend of mine said to me not long ago. Trump always does this, said my friend, when he wants to ridicule someone. My friend is a very good, and moral, and conservative man. He thought that Trump was off the hook: because the candidate was just doing his move. His standard retard.

Okay — but, to be a broken record, that’s the Trump effect. Carrier deals come and go. But this sort of thing matters a lot, I think, and cannot be measured in a scorecard.

Many years ago, I heard from conservatives that character matters a lot in politics. It matters in a leader, and it matters in a president. The Left around me always denounced this as fuddy-duddy and “bourgeois.” Get with the program, baby, it’s 1982 (or whatever). Ozzie and Harriet don’t live here anymore.

In the ’90s, we conservatives said that President Clinton was “corroding the culture” and “defining deviancy down.” (We borrowed the latter phrase from Senator Moynihan, who was mainly an ally of Clinton’s, though he permitted himself a few heresies.)

In 2016, I was surprised to hear many people on the right dismiss objections to Trump and his character as “moral preening.” Indeed, I thought some of the dismissers had been preeners themselves, on occasion.

Anyway, I cling, as to guns and religion, to the belief that conservatives were right in the first place, as to the crucial importance of character. There’s a lot one might say against Meet the Press. But to call its host “Sleepy Eyes”? Come on.

‐Terrible news out of Mexico (which is unsurprising, sorry to say): A newspaper is closing — because journalists keep getting killed. You can’t blame the newspaper for closing. Murder is a much greater repercussion than … what? Mean tweets and the like.

Still, a country needs a free press. Some of my colleagues around the world are unbelievably brave. I don’t know what I’d do, in their shoes. Glad I don’t have to know.

‐Bad news out of Russia — millions of Russians are out. Of Russia. The headline reads, “Millions of Educated Russians Flee Putin’s Russia.” This is a really big problem for Russia — and good news for Putin and the continuation of his rule.

Those who object to this way of life — Putin’s way of life — are fed up and leave. (If possible.) That takes pressure off Putin. The same way a kettle blows off steam, so to speak. Opposition to Putin is relieved by emigration.

I was talking to a Russian democracy leader about this recently. (Vladimir Kara-Murza.) He said that Russians are all over the world: New York, Tel Aviv, elsewhere. This has a major effect back home. It can be demoralizing, to those seeking change (within Russia).

On virtually every block in New York, you can hear Russian spoken. What would you and I do if we were Russian? Get up and go, from our homeland? I’m glad I don’t have to find out …

… which is becoming a theme of this column.

‐Scott Lincicome, the trade expert, tweeted out an article: “How America made Scandinavian social democracy possible.” In a nutshell, ambitious, entrepreneurial, independent-minded Scandinavians got up and went — to America. This had an effect on the places they left.

Bill Kristol commented, “The American form of empire involved not so much conquering land as importing some of the most ambitious and enterprising of other peoples.” His father, Irving, wrote of this as well.

Several years ago, I was talking with Victor Davis Hanson about Greece — modern Greece, which was going through economic calamity. (I’m not sure things are much better now.) I remarked that Greeks were successful all over the world. They were model businessmen, as hard-working as any group.

Yes, VDH said — and, sadly, these Greeks are abroad.

‐Now and then, I travel in the Third World, and I meet people with obvious talent, obvious spark, obvious gifts — but they are stuck, from lack of opportunity. This is a depressing thing to see. It’s depressing to see anywhere, of course.

India is changing, as I understand it. It used to be, if you wanted to make something of yourself, you had to go abroad. You had to leave India. Increasingly, you can stay.

Which is good news for India, even if Indians have enriched societies all over (America not least).

‐You’ve heard of a gold rush? Yeah, but have you heard of a sapphire rush? I hadn’t. There is one going on in Madagascar. And it is wreaking environmental and other hell. A fascinating story.

‐Okay, some news out of Detroit — from Comerica Park, where my Detroit Tigers play. Southeastern Michigan holds the largest Arab population outside the Middle East (I believe). And, of course, there is standard American food, like nachos (!). So, at the ballpark this summer, they’re introducing … a chicken shawarma nacho.

Very American.

‐Everything about this Anne Applebaum column concerning Marine Le Pen and Vladimir Putin is interesting — but one thing, in particular, caught my eye: At a rally in Lille, Putin’s name was cheered.

Yeah? Yeah. Do they know what they’re cheering? I don’t know — but I do know that Le Pen could win the presidency. I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it. But then, I wouldn’t have bet the ranch on Trump either.

And what a bonanza that would have brought in!

Bless you, dear ones, and catch you soon.


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


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