Nationalism on the march, &c.

Members and supporters of nationalist organizations march in commemoration of Bulgarian General Hristo Lukov in Sofia, Bulgaria, February 17, 2018. (Dimitar Kyosemarliev/Reuters)
A ‘global movement,’ President Trump, Senator Grassley, a Turkish renaming, lizard spies, language, and more

Over the weekend, a report caught my eye. It began, “Hundreds of Bulgarian nationalists marched through the country’s capital on Saturday to honor a World War II general known for his anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi activities.”

That would be Hristo Lukov. The U.S. embassy in Sofia issued the following statement: “General Hristo Lukov was a Nazi supporter who promoted hate and injustice, and is not someone deserving of veneration.”

I will quote again from the report I have cited (which comes from the Associated Press). A leader of the march in Sofia “said that several nationalist supporters from Germany, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Estonia had arrived to join the event.”

This leader remarked, “They are here today because the survival of all European people is jeopardized.”

I have written several times about the international nature of this movement — a movement toward populism, nationalism, and, frankly, worse. And I have several times quoted Nigel Farage, the erstwhile leader of Britain’s UKIP.

He campaigned for the AfD in Germany. (This is a literal alt-Right, i.e., the “Alternative für Deutschland.”) Afterward, he traveled to Alabama to campaign for Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate. He said that Moore’s election was “important for the whole global movement across the West that we have built up and we have fought for.”

Who belongs to this movement? Are the marchers in Bulgaria part of it? How about Britain First, the group that President Trump promoted through his tweeting?

I can think of no bigger issue developing on the right. Have another article, a fascinating one, from the AP: “In Italy’s poorer south, populist party woos angry voters.” Italy seems ripe for (or vulnerable to) the new nationalism-populism, which is also old.

Try another article, from the Times of Israel: “Polish PM visits grave of Nazi collaborators, drawing fresh ire.” And the subheading: “Hours after saying that Jews also perpetrated the Holocaust, Mateusz Morawiecki lays wreath at Munich memorial for far-right WWII fighters.”

To be continued, like it or not . . .

•  There is an expression I have always disliked. At various times, I have mocked it, scoffed at it, fumed at it. Before I tell you about it, please have the first two paragraphs of this news article out of Warsaw:

Matylda Jonas-Kowalik has spent most of her 22 years secure in the belief that she would never know the discrimination, persecution or violence that killed or traumatized generations of Polish Jews before her. She once thought the biggest problem that young Jewish Poles like herself faced was finding a Jewish boyfriend or girlfriend in a country dominated by Catholics.

But an eruption of anti-Semitic comments in public debates amid a diplomatic dispute with Israel over a new Holocaust speech law has caused to her to rethink that certainty. Now she and others fear the hostile rhetoric could eventually trigger anti-Semitic violence, and she finds herself thinking constantly about whether she should leave Poland.

By the way, I wrote a post about that new law in Poland, here. But on to the expression I was talking about.

That expression is “just below the surface.” I have heard it all my life, and so have you: “Racism lurks just below the surface. It lies in wait, ready to pounce, ready to explode.” In America, liberals have often used this expression against conservatives like me. We may seem friendly, but, “just below the surface,” something dark lurks.

Well, it is sometimes true. And I think we are seeing it in Europe. It’s always there, isn’t it? I mean, the human material is always the same, in every generation. Culture, religion, politics — these things matter a lot. Some beast always needs to be tamed.

•  In the Washington Post, there was a much-noted article, headed “Top U.S. officials tell the world to ignore Trump’s tweets.” I’m sorry, but this will not do: He is the president, and what he says, matters. More than anyone else, he speaks for the nation.

Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, spoke eloquently last week, in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. (I wrote about this here.) He said,

“There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations. . . . We expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokesmen, and other means of influence to try to build on its wide range of operations and exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States.”

Then he made the powerful statement, “Frankly, the United States is under attack.”

In Munich, at the security conference, H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, was eloquent, too. At a minimum, he was clear. He said that the evidence of Russian interference in our electoral process was “incontrovertible.”

This did not sit well with President Trump, who tweeted, “General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems. Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!”

This is the voice that matters — the authentic, unmistakable voice of the president of the United States. He is the “man at the desk,” as George H. W. Bush said during the 1988 campaign. He is where the buck stops, as we said in Truman days. Coats, McMaster, James Mattis, and the rest can be as eloquent as can be, and as reassuring as can be. But POTUS is the one who matters most, and he cannot, and must not, be ignored.

In his flurry of tweeting over the weekend, Trump attacked or criticized many people and institutions: the FBI, the media, the Democrats, Oprah, etc. Even his own national security adviser, by implication. But Putin and the Kremlin? No. He uttered not a peep of condemnation or indignation — an odd response, or non-response, for an American president, in these circumstances.

Worst of all, he implied that the FBI failed to catch the Florida school-shooter because the Bureau was too busy on the Russia investigation. I believe this is as low as Trump has gone.

Why does he act this way? I’m not a shrink, and I have no desire to be. But sometimes people accuse others of being what they themselves are, or fear they are — and Trump called Oprah “insecure.”

•  I like what Chuck Grassley tweeted — Senator Charles Grassley, the veteran Republican from Iowa. In a tweet addressed to Trump, he said, “The next time President Trump that you talk to Putin tell him to butt out of our elections quit the cyber warfare interference in our democracy.”

Punctuation or not, that is some Iowa plainspokenness. I thought of a treasured song: “Iowa Stubborn.”

•  You know how we rename streets, to make political points? For instance, we’ll call the street outside the Soviet embassy “Andrei Sakharov Plaza.” Or the street outside the Cuban consulate in New York “Brothers to the Rescue.”

Well, the Erdogan regime in Turkey has done this to us. They have renamed the street outside our embassy in Ankara after their recent military offensive in Syria — in which Turkish forces fought a group backed by us.

Interesting. It is further interesting that Turkey remains a NATO member. I hope to address this in a piece in due course.

•  Okay, here’s something funny, but not really. For years, various Arab nations have accused Israel of using animals to spy on them: sharks, birds, and so on. This is part of the lunacy — a potentially dangerous lunacy — of that part of the world.

Well, now comes news that America itself has been accused — by Iran, of using lizards as spies. (Go here.)

Funny, as I said — but not really. Millions believe this stuff. And why shouldn’t they? They are taught it by their authorities, secular and religious.

(Yes, yes, I know that the West is full of crazy stuff too — witness our InfoWars, the conspiracy outlet to which Congressman Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, recently gave an interview, as President Trump did during the campaign.)

•  I am no licensed figure-skating commentator, but I do have a comment: The men’s sport has become harmfully quad-centric. (I refer to quadruple jumps.) Figure skating as a whole has been sacrificed on the altar of this one move, or stunt, however impressive. It seems to me that artistry has been downgraded. I have seen splendid routines that got no medal, where unimpressive but stunty routines have been rewarded.


And compulsory figures have been eliminated! #CivilizationalDecline

•  A little music (without skating)? For a review of The Elixir of Love, Donizetti’s opera, at the Metropolitan Opera, go here.

•  Let’s end with some language. In a column last week, I cited my mother, who overheard someone at Meijer’s, in Michigan: “I dasn’t leave the store without the cat food.” In other words, I “dare not.” (You can also say “dast not,” if you don’t want the contraction “dasn’t.”)

I invited readers to send me other examples of regional speech. I will relate a few:

“‘Dasn’t’ brought back memories of my grandparents. Also, they called the side door of their house the ‘grade door.’”
Another reader:

“I heard this in Arizona — and have no idea whether the speaker was local: ‘I suspicion we might have a problem with the plumbing.’”

Another reader:

“My wife and I live in Seattle. I’m a Washington State native and she’s originally from Minnesota. Her dialect has certainly waned over the years, but one term she still uses is ‘parking ramp.’ I call it a parking garage.”

You mean the whole garage is called the “ramp,” not just the ramp? Yup.

Another reader:

“Here’s something I think all southern mamas have said — mine did, and hers. Along about 2 in the afternoon, the mother will say, ‘Well, I guess I better go lay somethin’ out for supper.’ It means she needs to go to the deep freeze and get out some meat for an entrée and possibly some frozen vegetables from last summer’s garden and place them in the sink to thaw.”

I think I said “unthaw,” when a kid!


“My wife is Jamaican, and she uses terms that are awesome. When she and her sisters are talking together, it’s hilarious. One of my favorite phrases is ‘mash up di dollyhouse.’ That means to cause a big fight or ruckus, or to ruin some event.”

Marvelous. Don’t be mashin’ up di dollyhouse, y’all. See you later.