Last week, I wrote a tribute to, and appreciation of, Martin Bernheimer. (Go here.) He is a friend and colleague of mine. Moreover, he is one of the best critics of our time. For 60 years, he has been a music critic (with some dance thrown in). He has now retired from regular reviewing.
What makes him great? That’s the question I asked, and answered, in my piece. He has a great mind, a great pen, etc. But what really makes him great is his integrity. His honesty. His boldness. His incorruptibility. He says what he thinks, without fear or favor, come hell or high water.
Well, don’t we all? You would think so. But it ain’t necessarily so. There is much punch-pulling in my business, and I’m guilty at times, too. I pull relatively few, I think. But I do pull on occasion. Sometimes rightly, I hope.
Like most people, writers face manifold pressures, and these pressures have an influence. If you find a critic or other writer who says what he thinks — and is willing to offend his audience and other important people — cling to him for dear life.
“Once you have found him, never let him go.” That’s Hammerstein. You want some Jerry Herman? “Remember that who else but a bosom buddy will sit down and level, and give you the devil, will sit down and tell you the truth!”
Which brings me to Kevin D. Williamson, another friend and colleague. I recently thought, “His columns could be headed ‘Inconvenient Truths.’” Kevin would rather break eggs than walk on eggshells. (I don’t mean that he is an egg-breaker in the Leninist sense. He is an anti-Leninist.)
About a week ago, someone on Twitter said to Kevin, “You think your mannered ways give you power.” (Mannered ways!) “When all they do is expand the cultural chasm between you and voters.” Kevin responded, “That’d be a real problem if I were running for office. But, since I’m not, voters don’t get a say over me or my work.”
Just so. And frankly, I think politicians ought to be independent-minded too. You can’t please everyone. And only a fool tries. “I can’t be all things to all people,” George W. Bush used to say. Plus, I happen to like a politician who won’t smooch the backsides of voters. And if he loses reelection, well, tough.
Another Texan, Phil Gramm, was and is my kind of politician. Sort of a cuss. He wasn’t ingratiating. But I’ll be damned if he wasn’t endearing, at least to me.
Back to Twitter. Someone said to me, “Do you realize you’ve just offended millions of voters?” Yeah? So? Am I running for office? A writer with any kind of life in him will inevitably give offense. If you don’t want to be offended — and, trust me, I understand — go to the website of your favorite politician. If you’re a die-hard Dem, go to Democrats.org. If you’re a die-hard R, go to GOP.com. And so on.
But a magazine is something else. Journalism is something else.
Last month, I listened to a conservative activist complain about a gap between conservative writers and the “rank and file.” Writers, she said — naming George F. Will in particular — were “out of step” with GOP voters.
Well, first, some are, some aren’t. Some are all too “in step,” as far as I’m concerned. But second, I thought of Sidney Hook’s autobiography — Out of Step. What’s wrong with being out of step? You have to be out of step sometimes, right? You can’t always run with the herd. Can you?
Herd life, it’s true, can be comfortable.
Hang on to your hat, but I’m going to quote the Bible: “Come out from among them, and be ye separate.” “Be not conformed to this world.” I could go on, but I’m not sure of the current state of First Amendment jurisprudence.
Toward the end of the GOP primaries in 2016, when Donald Trump was romping to victory, and I was writing against him, a prominent conservative writer sent me a friendly warning: “You are marginalizing yourself. Be careful.” What he meant was, You’ll lose out on readers, listeners, TV appearances, and the like.
Of course. But when you’ve spent much of your life on the margins — for example, I’m a Reagan conservative from Ann Arbor, Michigan — you’re pretty much used to it. You live in Margin City, so to speak.
Last July, I had the privilege of speaking to a group of student journalists — conservatives all (with some libertarians mixed in, to be sure). I said that we would each have to answer a question, sooner or later: Am I a conservative journalist? Or a journalist who’s conservative? That is a distinction.
Also, you should not go into journalism for applause, in my opinion. Applause is great, of course. Music to one’s ears. But there must be some boos, if you’re doing your job.
And what do you risk? Mean tweets? Nasty “comments”? Cold shoulders? There are journalists all over the world — I’ve met quite a few — who put their very lives on the line.
‐Now would be a good time to talk about Yulia Latynina. She is a well-known Russian journalist. The authorities don’t like her very much. She has had a few scares. In July, her household was subject to a gas attack. The next month, they set her car on fire. She never thought she would leave her country — but leave it she did. She fled.
She has written about it here.
Where is she? “I’m not revealing where I am because I don’t want to poke the bear,” she writes.
Poke the bear. That reminds me of Nigel Farage, who likes to say it. Here is a sample statement of his: “Let’s stop poking the Russian bear with a stick. It simply doesn’t make sense.” What I think he means is, Forget democratic principles and ideals and buddy up with Vlad. (At the same time, buddy up with Vlad’s buddy Assange.)
No, thanks. I’ll stick with Latynina, wherever she is.
‐Our president, Trump, retweeted a “gif” from someone who goes by the name “Fuctupmind.” I repeat, “Fuctupmind.” The gif showed Trump hitting a golf ball and knocking over Hillary Clinton, his opponent in 2016.
A question: If a Democratic president did something like that — retweeted such a thing from Fuctupmind — would anyone on the right say that that person was fit to be president? Anyone at all?
‐Yehuda Glick is an Israeli and an interesting cat. He is an Orthodox rabbi and a congressman, a member of the Knesset. He survived an assassination attempt. A Palestinian terrorist shot him in the chest four times.
Recently, a much different Palestinian, Mohammed Saber Jaber, hosted Glick on a holiday: Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice. Jaber was promptly arrested by the Palestinian Authority’s security force.
In a nutshell, that is why peace between Israelis and Palestinians has been so hard to achieve. Why coexistence has been so hard to secure.
‐I winced at this headline, from the Associated Press: “St. Louis Ex-Officer Acquitted in Killing of Black Man.” What do you think of the racial identification? Necessary and right? The opposite? What about the lack of a racial identification for the ex-officer?
These are American problems.
‐President Trump tweeted, “We have made more progress in the last nine months against ISIS than the Obama Administration has made in 8 years.”
Two thoughts: President Obama and his people spent pretty much their eight years in office dumping on Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. Must the same be expected in every administration?
My second thought: Is what Trump said true?
He also tweeted this: “My first order as president was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before.”
Same question: Is this true? I don’t know a knowledgeable person who thinks it is. An additional question: Does it matter whether a president tells the truth — especially about such issues as ISIS and nukes?
‐It has been a very, very bad year for my Detroit Tigers, y’all. I’ll tell you how bad: On Saturday night, the leadoff hitter of the opposing team bunted the ball — and scored on it. Seriously. (Our third baseman threw wild, and the bunter kept rounding the bases until he was home.)
‐A little music? For my “New York Chronicle,” in the current New Criterion, go here.
‐In a recent Impromptus, I was talking about Arturo Toscanini, who, when he first came to our shores, was asked, “What do you think of American orchestras?” The maestro replied, “What’s an American orchestra?” He was used to Italian orchestras, French orchestras, German orchestras, British orchestras. In America, he faced orchestras composed of people from all over — from any number of countries.
And they, of course, forged the “American orchestra.”
A reader writes with a story: Otto Preminger is walking through the cafeteria of a Hollywood studio. He overhears a table of men speaking Hungarian. He says, “Hey, you’re in Hollywood now! Speak German!”
A word from the National Review Store: To get Digging In: Further Collected Writings of Jay Nordlinger, go here.