Politics & Policy

The Lincoln exception, &c.

(Photos: Library of Congress, Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
On Trump, Lincoln, Nixon, Huntsman, Xi, Putin, Macron, Jeane K., Spieth, and more

Over the last 150 years or so, Abraham Lincoln has been paid many compliments. He has also been the subject of many condemnations. But on the compliment front, has Lincoln ever been paid a higher one than the compliment President Trump just paid him?

“With the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln,” said Trump, “I can be more presidential than any president that’s ever held this office.”

Such is the greatness of Lincoln that even the incumbent president must bow a bit before it.

‐I thought of William Safire the other day. I’ll tell you why. Trump was talking about the speech he gave in Poland. And he said, “Enemies of mine are saying it was the greatest speech ever made on foreign soil by a president.”

Earlier in the year, Trump had a remark about the speech he had given in Congress. “Some people said it was the single best speech ever made in that chamber.”

Here’s why I thought of Safire: He was a Nixon speechwriter, and Nixon liked to say, “Some have counseled that I take the easy way. But I say …” Safire joked with his fellow staffers, “Some of us should counsel, ‘Mr. President, you should take the easy way,’ just so what Nixon is saying is true.”

Are there people to tell Trump, “Sir, that was the best speech ever given”?

‐I thought of Trump’s speech to the Boy Scout Jamboree, and what social conservatives would have said about it, once upon a time. Today, I seriously wonder: Are there still social conservatives? People who care about decency, virtue, decorum, and all that? Morality, to use an antique word (and notion)?

On the Right, we still have free-marketeers. And we have Trumpites by the millions. But my impression is, social conservatives are just about defunct.

‐Jon Huntsman is to be ambassador to Russia. He was once a scourge of the Right. I have a feeling people are liking him better now, given his connection to Trump. Of course, Trump once despised him. In 2012, he tweeted, “Jon Huntsman called to see me. I said no, he gave away our country to China!”

Huh. On to giving our country away to Russia then?

‐The current boss of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping, has been especially vicious toward dissidents: toward seekers after freedom and democracy. In July 2015, he rounded up some 250 human-rights lawyers, in what became known as the “709 Crackdown.” This term refers to the date on which the arrests began, July 9. Some of the prisoners have been tortured into insanity.

Earlier this month, China’s leading democracy leader and political prisoner, Liu Xiaobo, died. Apparently, the cause was liver cancer, coupled with the years of torture and abuse he had endured. Liu received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. (They gave it to him in absentia, of course.) But the West did very little for him and his cause. And as he was dying, they pretty much said nothing.

In an instance of very unfortunate timing, President Trump was asked about the Communist leader, Xi, on the very day that Liu Xiaobo died. Trump said of Xi,

Well, he’s a friend of mine. I have great respect for him. We’ve gotten to know each other very well. A great leader. He’s a very talented man. I think he’s a very good man. He loves China, I can tell you. He loves China. He wants to do what’s right for China. …

President Xi is a terrific guy. I like being with him a lot, and he’s a very special person.

Actually, Liu Xiaobo was a very special person. He loved China and wanted to do what was right for China. He sacrificed his very life for his country and his countrymen.

‐Russian authorities have any number of tricks at their disposal. For example, they can load up a dissident’s computer with child pornography. Without much doubt, that is what happened to Vladimir Bukovsky, one of the greatest men of the entire Soviet period.

And consider the case of Yuri Dmitriev, a historian. His offense is to have dedicated his life to identifying Stalin’s victims. Putin’s attitude toward Stalin is — ambivalent, let’s say. Anyway, Dmitriev is problematic for the Kremlin: and, man, what they have done to him.

To read about it, go here.

‐Better news comes from Paris. With no equivocating whatsoever, the new president, Macron, has told the truth about the French and the Holocaust. This is in marked contrast with the Le Pens (all of them). Also, he said, “We will yield nothing to anti-Zionism, because it is the reinvented form of anti-Semitism.”

Exactly so, and something very important for a French leader, a French president, to say. Chapeau.

‐Stick with France for a moment. Jean-Jacques Susini, a pied noir extremist, and a Le Pen man (a National Fronter), has died. I was interested in something from his obit, published in the New York Times. Journalism used to be something. A UPI reporter had this to say about Susini, in Algeria: “He has managed to maintain a sickly pallor in a country where everyone has a tan.”


‐Probably the Le Pen–lovingest members of the U.S. Congress are Dana Rohrabacher and Steve King. Earlier this year, the two congressmen huddled with Marine Le Pen, and King tweeted that they had discussed “shared values.”

He has now tweeted something about Viktor Orbán, the Putinish leader of Hungary: “History will record PM Orban the Winston Churchill of Western Civilization…if the West survives cultural suicide.”

Personally, I think Churchill was the Winston Churchill of Western civilization. But …

‐Senator Marco Rubio has described himself as “a child of Reagan.” He has said, “We, the children of Reagan …” I was thinking recently: Will there be children of Trump? (I mean other than Don Jr. and the blood relatives.) What will they be like? What will they espouse? What will their influence on our politics be?

‐I was also thinking of Jeane Kirkpatrick. She was a lifelong Democrat — never dreamed of being a Republican; never wanted to be a Republican. She became one in 1985 (after her stint in the Reagan administration, by the way). She said it was very, very hard to switch parties. It had been hard for Reagan, in the early 1960s.

Where would Jeane K. be today? Not back with the Democrats, I’m sure. Still with the R’s? A party of “America First” and all that? I think she would be ticked, bewildered, and homeless.

‐Trump and his people like to point to the stock market — which is up — and take credit for it. I can understand their angle. This is what political types do. But ballyhooing the stock market contradicts basic Trumpism (which is essentially updated Buchananism). As a rule, they say that the stock market is a poor indicator of American well-being. Sure, the Wall Streeters and other fancy people may be doing well. But what about real Americans, who toil away, and may not have investments, huh? You talk about Wall Street; we talk about Main Street!

You are well familiar with the rhetoric. (I may have written some of it myself.) Also, you recall what Trump said about the market last year: “We are in a big, fat, ugly bubble.” Okay. And now?

‐On campus these days, they ask you for your pronouns. For example, would you like to be referred to as “xer” and “xork”? That sort of thing. I was amused by a Twitter bio last week. After some other information — place of employment and so on — this person writes, “Pronouns: ‘thou’ and ‘thine.’”

I think that’s called resistance, y’all.

‐Ooh, “impact” as a verb — like hemlock to me. The only thing that should be impacted is a tooth, I think. But I’m afraid that “impact” as a verb gains more ground every year. I saw it at the end of Dunkirk, in the text onscreen: something about how thousands had been “impacted” by the events at Dunkirk.

I suppose it’s too late to reverse the tide on “impact” (as a verb). Same with “to advocate for.” Fingernails on a chalkboard! But these things are here to stay, apparently …

‐One of President Trump’s strengths as a politician is that he talks like other people. I have heard over and over, “He thinks like me, he talks like me.” In politics, that is gold.

He makes mistakes that are common to Americans. For example, most of us don’t have a clue how to use “I” and “me.” So, not knowing, we substitute “myself,” as a crutch. I hear it every day, even among professional journalists. Even among editors!

Here was Trump in a tweet a while back: “President @EmmanuelMacron, Thank you for inviting Melania and myself to such a historic celebration in France. #BastilleDay.”

Also, you know what people are saying now? I’ve noticed this in the last five years. They are saying, for example, “If I would have known it would be cold, I would have worn a scarf.” “I would have baked a cake if I would have known you were coming.” I hear this every day — including, again, from people whose business is language.

Here was President Trump the other day: “It’s really the one question I wish I would have asked Putin: Were you actually supporting me?”

For eons, Americans said, “It’s really the one question I wish I had asked Putin” — but then they woke up one morning and decided to talk differently. Strange.

“Language evolves,” I’m constantly told. Yes.

‐If I remember my Strunk & White, there is this sentence: “‘Me’: Use it with confidence!” Referring to the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, President Obama once said, “He married Michelle and I.” “Me”: Use it with confidence! (Where you would say “us,” say “me.” Where you would say “we,” say “I.” You would never say “He married we” — you would say “He married us.” Cool?)

‐Shall we have a little music? Not long ago, I was looking up Felix Blumenfeld, the teacher of Horowitz and other pianists (including the two great Marias, Grinberg and Yudina). Blumenfeld was the uncle of Heinrich Neuhaus — the most famous piano teacher of the 20th century — and the cousin of Karol Szymanowski, the composer.

Blumenfeld was a composer too (in addition to being a pianist, conductor, and teacher). I’d like to share with you two of his impromptus, here. They really ought to be revived, programmed.

And, by the way, it occurs to me that “Impromptus” might make a heading for a column composed of short, breezy bits …

‐In a column last month, I quoted Daniel Berger, a PGA Tour player, who had just lost a tournament to Jordan Spieth — who holed out on him from a bunker. Berger said, philosophically, “Jordan does Jordan things.” I said that this comment was “Bartlett’s-worthy.”

I thought of it last Sunday, when Spieth was winning the British Open, in amazing fashion: “Jordan does Jordan things.” What a great pronouncement.

And you do your thing! Have a great one, y’all. Thanks for joining me.


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


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