Politics & Policy

Real judges and unreal, &c.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Integrity on the bench, Trump and NATO, Mozart and Brady, and more

From the conservative point of view, there have been some very good people nominated to judgeships, and confirmed. I know at least two of them. So, mad props to President Trump, for the nominations.

(I learned the expression “mad props” from a Rob Long parody many years ago. I owe much of my slang, for better or worse, to Rob Long parodies.)

Obviously, I would like conservative nominees, and conservative judges. But the major question is: Will these people be good judges? American judges? Constitutional judges?

A few years ago, I had a talk with a very experienced lawyer — one who has operated at the highest levels of the law for many years. He has appeared in hundreds of courtrooms, I imagine, or at least a great many. And he said, “The number of real judges, I could count on one hand.”

I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Most judges are political, to one degree or another. Real judges — judge judges — are scarce as hen’s teeth.” I believe he cited Clarence Thomas as an example of a real judge.

Sometimes I am described as a “conservative music critic.” This is an absurd designation. Conservative political journalist, I’ll grant you (although I hope whatever blinders I wear aren’t too blinding).

Once, I was seated at a dinner next to a famous patroness of modernism — modernism in the visual arts and modernism in the performing arts. A third person, trying to start something, said, “Jay’s a big conservative, you know. He doesn’t like these avant-garde opera productions” (the type the patroness was funding).

In due course, the patroness said this: “There are good traditional productions and bad traditional productions; good modern productions and bad modern productions.” Exactly. I could have hugged her, and did, I’m sure, at the end of the evening. And I have quoted her many times.

Are there good judges and bad judges, period? I think so. Now, it may be that all those I consider “good judges” are conservative. But that’s not because of how they vote at the ballot box. That’s not because of how they think about school choice, let’s say. It’s because of their conception of law in our country, and a judge’s role.

‐Earlier this month, Trump gave a speech in Pensacola, in which he said many extraordinary things — including about the United States, NATO, and Russia. You can see this here.

Trump sketched out a scenario: “We’ll have a nation that doesn’t pay.” He meant, a NATO ally that is not meeting defense-spending targets. “Then the nation gets frisky with — whoever. Russia? So we have a nation doesn’t pay, the nation gets aggressive, we end up in World War III for somebody that doesn’t even pay.”

The idea that NATO countries get “frisky” and “aggressive” with Russia is beyond absurd. It is Russia that gets aggressive with them — as the Baltic states can testify.

Imagine how the president’s words are received in the Kremlin. Imagine the appetite those words may whet. Also, ponder this question: Why does Trump never have a critical word to say about Vladimir Putin? In that very speech, in Florida, Trump mocked Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany. He even mocked the pronunciation of her name. Fine. This is the style that many conservatives like. But why is there never a critical word about the dictator in the Kremlin?

Trump is often scalding about NATO, and maybe the alliance deserves some scalding. But I think Trump and his cohort ought to answer the question, Is NATO in the American interest or not? In their judgment, does membership of NATO serve the American interest or not?

If it does, we should stay, and if not, not. America First, so to speak …

‐Putin holds an annual press conference, in December. In his latest one, he paid compliments to Trump — who called him to thank him. It’s dangerous to have a president so susceptible to flattery, especially from dictators. If I were Kim Jong-un, that’s the path I would take: flattery of Trump. He might find relations between his country and ours far more cordial.

‐According to reports, Trump is telling people that the infamous Access Hollywood tape is a fake — that the voice on it is not his. Billy Bush was the show’s correspondent. He has now published an op-ed piece titled “Yes, Donald Trump, You Said That.”

Bush says that he and others thought Trump was merely engaging in “a crass standup act” when he bragged about what he could do to women. You might remember these words: “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” But he now believes that Trump meant it — that he did indeed accost women, as many women have accused him of doing.

This is something that everyone wants to turn away from — most every conservative and Republican, for sure. Similarly, Democrats wanted to turn away from the allegations against President Clinton. But this is a very heavy charge against a president: Did he do it or not? Should the truth be ascertained?

I hope it can be. Trump’s spokeswoman, and his supporters at large, say, “The election happened, he won, and that’s that.” The ’90s phrase for this is “move on.”

Again, I hope the truth can be ascertained, before we move on …

‐A reader writes,

Hello, Jay,

I was listening to Mstislav Rostropovich: Cellist of the Century, which is normally 40 CDs long, but, since we live in the future, it is all on my phone. This got me curious about how you listen to music. Do you go all in on a fancy sound system or do you bop around with an iPod?

What an interesting question. I used to listen to records — LPs. Then I had a lot of tapes — audiocassettes. Then I had many CDs, many thousands of CDs. And now? Frankly, I go to YouTube. Everything else seems hard.

P.S. I used to listen to the radio. I still do, when I rent a car, which I do a few times a year. You know what I like about it? This seems odd for an individualist and free-marketeer like me to say, but they choose. The radio people choose. They offer some music for you — and what they offer can be pretty interesting. You learn music that way — by what other people select for you.

‐Have a review, if you like — a review by me of Jamie Barton, the American mezzo-soprano, in recital: here.

‐Have an obituary, by Sam Roberts in the New York Times. This one is of Aline Griffith, “a former model from suburban New York City who transformed herself into a dressed-to-kill self-proclaimed spy and Spanish countess.” I was impressed by what she said about feminism:

“I’m a feminist, and I’m not a feminist. I love it when men kiss my hand. I love good clothes. I would not like to be a West Point cadet. On the other hand, I think women should be able to do whatever they want to do.”

‐Let’s have a reader letter — another one — this one from Robert L. Marshall, who is an eminent music scholar, a professor emeritus at Brandeis. He is responding to a statement I had in a recent Impromptus, to wit, “I myself love the NFL, especially when the Detroit Lions are winning (which can’t be counted on). When Matt Stafford is tossing completions, I’m in heaven. When he goes awry, I’m in agony.”

Professor Marshall writes,

Gotta tell you: I used to watch the NFL games quite a lot. Now I just watch the New England Patriots. More specifically, I watch Tom Brady — you know: the GOAT (Greatest of All Time).

I watch him because he’s incredible: effortless grace and perfection. I refer to him as “the Mozart of football.” My friends make a puzzled face at that.

I tell them, “You can’t hear Mozart play, but you can see Brady play.” Most of them think I’m nuts (but not all of them).

With WAM [Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart], it’s how much he achieved at such a young age; with TB12 [Tom Brady, whose number is 12], it’s how much he’s achieved at such an old age.

If Brady is Mozart, is LeBron Beethoven? To be continued. Thanks, y’all.


A word to the wise: National Review has started a new podcast, Jaywalking, in which Jay Nordlinger presents what is essentially an audio version of Impromptus. Go here. Also, to get Digging In: Further Collected Writings of Jay Nordlinger, go here.