Politics & Policy

The way we were, &c.

(Reuters photo: Kevin Lamarque)
On the Obama era, the Trump era, Syria’s ruling family, Saudi Arabia, sports, music, language, and more

There was a song: “Mem’ries light the corners of my mind. Misty water-colored mem’ries of the way we were.” I have been thinking lately about the way we were.

Remember when we knocked President Obama for spending so much time on the golf course? Not all of us did, but many of us did. Donald Trump, for example, was unrelenting in his criticism.

You don’t hear that anymore. Conservatives don’t knock the president for spending so much time on the golf course.

We used to tote up Obama’s travel — how much it cost to go to Martha’s Vineyard, Hawaii, etc. Remember the trip that Mrs. O. took, with one of her daughters, to the Costa del Sol? Man, we howled about that. Taxpayer dollars.

Anyway, Trump is set to spend more in a year on travel than the Obamas spent in eight.

Remember how we counted up the times Obama said “I” and “me” in a speech? That was fun. It was kind of a conservative pastime. We don’t do that anymore.

It’s natural to cut your guy slack while cutting none to the other guy. But there ought to be a limit — or a recognition.

Talking about Afghanistan the other day, Trump said, “What I do is, I authorize my military.” “My military”? What would we have said if Obama had said that? Or if any Democratic president said it?

Pinning a Purple Heart on a soldier, Trump said, “Congratulations.” Normally, you don’t say that, when awarding a Purple Heart. What if Obama had said it? Or Joe Biden? What would the conservative media have said?

On the South Lawn of the White House, the national anthem began, and Mrs. Trump and son Barron put their hand over their heart. Mrs. Trump nudged the president to do the same, so he did it, quick-like.

I mean, I don’t give a rat’s behind. But what if this had been the Obamas?

During the campaign, Trump said that anyone asking for immunity was obviously guilty. Michael Flynn said the same thing. Later, Flynn asked for immunity — with Trump’s hearty approval.

Okay. But what if this had been Democrats?

The slack the Right cuts for Trump goes for his men. Take Sean Spicer. His words about Hitler, chemical weapons, the Holocaust, and so on were awfully convoluted. Embarrassing. Okay. Everyone makes mistakes.

He repeatedly mispronounced the name of the Syrian dictator. Okay. Everyone makes mistakes.

But what if this were a Democratic spokesman? Would we be indulgent? Or would we say that this fellow, however well-meaning, was unfit to speak for the White House on the world and national stages?

Appearing on a talk-radio show, Attorney General Sessions said, “I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power.”

Hang on, Jeff, does it appear to be his power or is it clearly his power?

Anyway, the allusion to Hawaii. Okay. No problem. But if a Democratic attorney general spoke this way, about a judge in Hawaii he didn’t like? I can imagine Republicans talking about Pearl Harbor. The sneak attack. The more than 2,000 dead. The terrible sacrifice. The war.

See what I mean?

Also, we used to talk about class warfare — I mean, against it. And against the politics of envy. And the politics of grievance. Also, we used to talk up character, as indispensable in leadership. Virtue was the rage.

Those were the days …

Hypocrisy in human beings is as normal as lust. You can no more stamp it out than you can stamp out crabgrass. You’d have a much easier time with crabgrass. But, now and then, we should pause to acknowledge what we’re doing, and not doing. We should hear the dogs not barking …

… about golf, travel, “I” and “me,” etc.

‐I was looking at Sarah Palin, Ted Nugent, and Kid Rock in the White House. What a trio! Striking poses in front of Hillary’s portrait and so on. I flashed back to the Clinton ’90s.

Two showbiz women, Markie Post and Linda Thomason, were jumping on the bed in the Lincoln Bedroom. A photo circulated. Man, did we hate it. You have no idea what a big deal this was (to us)!

‐There is a man named Peter Ford, who was a British diplomat. Among his posts was Syria: He was ambassador from 2003 to 2006. He is not to be confused with the American ambassador, Robert Ford, who was there from 2010 to 2014.

Peter Ford, the Brit, has been going on television to defend the Assad regime — and it turns out he’s in the pay of Fawaz Akhras. For a news story, go here.

Who’s Akhras? Father-in-law to Bashar Assad, the Syrian dictator. Who’s his daughter? Oh, let me tell you about Asma — the Syrian first lady, so to speak. I learned a bit about her when writing my study of the sons and daughters of dictators: Children of Monsters.

She was one of the most beautiful young women in London. Hell, she’s one of the most beautiful women you’ll ever see. She was born there — London — to Syrian parents: dad a cardiologist, mom a retired diplomat. (Like Peter Ford!)

Growing up in England, Asma was known as Emma. Nice English name. Austen name. She went to King’s College London, majoring in computer science. Then she went to work in investment banking: Deutsche Bank and J.P. Morgan.

Bashar was doing his residency in London. He was an ophthalmologist. He was never meant to be dictator, remember: That was his older brother, Bassel. Bashar was just a shy eye doctor. Bassel was the one — made for it, out of Central Casting. But he died in a car accident. And the old man, Hafez, summoned Bashar from London to be groomed.

When Bashar assumed power, Asma was 24. She moved to her ancestral land, Syria, to marry him and be first lady.

I could say more, but maybe that’s enough. There’s more in the book. And none of this is as important as the mass murder in Syria (though it is related).

‐Stay in the Arab world: Saudi Arabia has been named to the women’s-rights commission of the U.N. Yup. As Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, says, it’s like naming an arsonist to be the town fire chief.

In my history of the Nobel Peace Prize, there’s a chapter on the U.N., which, in 1999, shared the prize with Kofi Annan, who was then secretary-general of that body. Here’s a tidbit: Iran was named to the women’s-rights commission. And Iran is as bad in this regard as Saudi Arabia.

Here’s another tidbit: North Korea chaired a disarmament conference. Really? Really.

Hang on, I just checked: Iran is still a member of the women’s-rights commission. Figures.

‐In Russia, Vladimir Putin gives an annual press conference, in late December. At the most recent, he was asked about polls in America — showing that a substantial number of Republicans sympathized with him.

Part of his answer went like this:

“It is good that there are people who sympathize with our views on traditional values, because this forms a good foundation on which to build relations between two such powerful countries as Russia and the United States.”

I thought of this when the news came that the Russian government had banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They were persecuted by the Soviets. Now they are dealing with Putin. Their 400 churches in Russia are to be “liquidated” — seriously, the official word from Russian officialdom. Liquidated.

I don’t know what Putin means exactly by “traditional values.” But one traditional value in America is the freedom of religion.

‐Care for a little language? A friend wrote me to point something out about a White House press release. It said, “Aboard Air Force One: En Route Kenosha, Wisconsin.” My friend wanted to know: What did I think about the absence of “to”?

I think you need “to”: en route to here, en route from there. “En route” means “on the way.”

In recent years, golf announcers have taken to saying “Jones and Smith are tied fourth.” Not tied for fourth but “tied fourth.” “Last week, Jones finished tied eighth.”

I dislike it, but it’s here to stay, I’m afraid, at least for a long while.

How about “to graduate high school”? “I graduated high school in ’65.” It’s an American idiom. I don’t use it. But I regard it as one of our idioms.

‐A little music? For a post at The New Criterion on Anne Schwanewilms, the German soprano, who sang a recital in New York, go here.

‐Close with a little sports? Okay. For years, Jim Leyland was my favorite manager in baseball. He managed my team, the Detroit Tigers — but I think I would have loved him regardless. I loved, for example, what he said to the press. His homespun and honest comments.

I think my new favorite manager is Terry Francona, of our hated rivals the Cleveland Indians. I just love how he conducts himself. And what he says.

Couple weeks back, we Tigers accused the Indians of stealing our signs. Francona was asked about that. He gave a long, thoughtful answer, which concluded, “I’m just happy when our guys get our signs — and I’m being serious about that.”

I suspect he was. Thanks, dear readers, and see you.


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


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