Impromptus

One American’s unbeatable combination, &c.

From a painting by John Trumbull
The American Revolution, the Civil War, the social media, Macron, Trump, a Gershwin, Russia, sports, and more

Reading a piece by Eliot A. Cohen, I got a little thrill out of Benjamin Warner. Let me quote Cohen:

American history is littered with heroes, and some of the humblest are the most inspiring. In the cemetery of Crown Point, New York — a dozen miles from Fort Ticonderoga . . . — is the grave of Benjamin Warner, who died in 1846 at age ninety. The inscription on his tombstone is simple: “A Revolutionary Soldier and a friend of the slave.”

I can’t think of a better epitaph. I can’t think of two better things to be. And the combination of them — a soldier of the American Revolution and a friend of the slave — is unbeatable.

Warner left a knapsack, as Cohen explains. He asked that it be passed down in his family, generation after generation. And he asked Americans never to surrender their liberty to either “foreign invaders” or “aspiring demagogues.”

• I’ve been thinking about the American Revolution and the Civil War lately, because I’ve gone back to school — just a little bit. The first college class I ever walked into was that of Barbara J. Fields. I mean, first day, freshman year. She was teaching the “History of the American South.” Barbara Fields is one of the best teachers in America, let me tell you.

This semester, she invited me to come back — to attend a few of her lectures in this same course, concerning the Confederacy and the Civil War. I am of the view that the Civil War — the defeat of slavery, the establishment of a slave-free Union — made good at last on the Revolution.

That’s why, I think, I am so moved by Benjamin Warner’s epitaph.

• BJF (Barbara J. Fields) and I were talking about the social media — which she doesn’t like very much. She refers to them as “the anti-social media” — which tickles me.

• My Jaywalking podcast is an audio version of Impromptus, in a way, but with added touches, such as music. To find episodes — and to “subscribe” via iTunes and such — go to this page. To write me, try jnordlinger@nationalreview.com.

• Last September, I noted something about Emmanuel Macron, the (relatively) new president of France: He was sacrificing his popularity to enact sorely needed reforms. A report in the London Times was headed, “Macron gives bosses new powers to hire and fire in a bid to jump-start French economy.” And here was the opening sentence of that report: “President Macron began a high-stakes gamble to liberalise the French economy yesterday, loosening labour laws to encourage employers to recruit and easing curbs on smaller businesses.”

About a week ago, I saw this headline from Reuters: “France’s president sees popularity hit record low: poll.” And the opening sentence: Macron’s “popularity has fallen to its lowest point so far in his presidency, a poll showed on Friday, a day after nationwide protests against his reform drive brought tens of thousands of public workers on the streets.”

A later sentence: “Frustrated over Macron’s wide-ranging labor and welfare reforms, nurses, teachers and other public sector workers walked off the job on Thursday over concerns about his plans to cut their headcount and introduce merit-based pay.” (Full article here.)

It seems to me, Macron ran for office in order to do something, not to mark time and be reelected. This is to the good.

Here at home, we have a crying need to reform our entitlements. No one wants to do it, however: Such reform is very unpopular.

In the 2016 presidential cycle, 17 Republicans ran for their party’s nomination. Fifteen of them recognized the need for entitlement reform. The other two were Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee. Trump said that no reform was needed. All that was required to get our budgetary and financial house in order was the ferreting out of “waste, fraud, and abuse.” When the likes of Dukakis and Gephardt talked that way in the 1980s, Republicans hooted at them.

As president, George W. Bush tried to reform Social Security. He had little support even from his own party, or from the conservative movement. Who’s more popular with Republicans and conservatives today? Bush or Trump?

How about the Democratic party and entitlement reform? Forget it.

Anyway, if Emmanuel Macron succeeds in liberalizing the French economy, he will have done a remarkable thing in the world.

• Last month, the New York Times published an obituary — a remarkable obituary — of Alan Gershwin. Who? A man who claimed to be George Gershwin’s son. He has died at age 91.

His sonship is much in dispute. But what is hardly in dispute is this: He looked a lot like George Gershwin.

I thought of Jean-Marie Loret — the man who claimed to be Hitler’s son. I wrote about him in my 2015 book, Children of Monsters. Indeed, I lead the book with him. The consensus of historians is that he was not Hitler’s son. Okay. I accept that. But . . . he looked an awful lot like him. So does his son Philippe.

And not just in superficial ways, but where it counts: around the eyes.

Jean-Marie Loret’s mother told him he was Hitler’s son. (Interesting story.) The way I put it was, “Any number of mothers could have told their son that Hitler was his father. Why did Charlotte Lobjoie’s have to look so much like him?”

Yeah, why?

• If you want an insight into the Putinist mind, try Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of RT, the Kremlin’s television network. After Putin’s latest “election” “victory,” Simonyan exulted, “Earlier he was simply our president and it was possible to replace him. And now he is our leader.”

An article from Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty explained that Simonyan was using a word “often associated” with Stalin.

More from the article: Simonyan “railed against Western liberal ideals, asserting that Russian voters had rejected them and instead had rallied to something she called ‘conservative-patriotic, communist and nationalist ideas.’”

I find this sentence very, very interesting. It describes many people and movements in Europe, the United States, and across the world. It describes the National Front in France, for example. The world is dotted with Putinist movements and regimes, with their mini-Putins.

To be watched . . .

• “You work in an industry where condom use is an issue,” said Anderson Cooper to Stormy Daniels. “Did he use a condom?” Turns out President Trump is not a protectionist after all.

• The New York Times reported that Trump was considering a shake-up of his legal team. The president responded as follows, in two tweets:

The Failing New York Times purposely wrote a false story stating that I am unhappy with my legal team on the Russia case and am going to add another lawyer to help out. Wrong. I am VERY happy with my lawyers, John Dowd, Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow. They are doing a great job and…..

…have shown conclusively that there was no Collusion with Russia..just excuse for losing. The only Collusion was that done by the DNC, the Democrats and Crooked Hillary. The writer of the story, Maggie Haberman, a Hillary flunky, knows nothing about me and is not given access.

In short order, Trump shook up his legal team. My question is: The next time, will Trump Nation remember? Will they be the slightest bit skeptical of the president’s claims?

• Reading about the Michigan basketball team, coached by John Beilein, I thought about Chuck Noll, the late NFL coach. And about Jack Nicklaus. I’ll of course explain.

This article began,

Chest passes?

Seriously?

During his first Michigan basketball practice, Charles Matthews was thinking: What is this, a third-grade basketball camp?

U-M coach John Beilein had the Wolverines practicing chest passes, catching the ball with two feet on the ground and then passing the ball back, paying special attention to their thumbs upon release.

Paying special attention to the ball rotation.

“I’m thinking, ‘Come on, let’s get to the workout,’” Matthews said. “But you are doing that for 40 minutes. You are just passing the ball and catching the ball, making sure your thumbs are in the right direction, making sure the ball has the right spin.”

I was struck by something in Chuck Noll’s obituary (2014), and noted it here in Impromptus. The obituary read,

[Andy] Russell, the linebacker who played in seven Pro Bowls as a Steeler, marveled at Noll’s ability to teach.

“He would teach new draft choices who were all-American guards how to get in a stance,” Russell once told ESPN. “In his first year, we won our first game and lost 13 in a row. He said, ‘We will get worse before we get better because I’m going to force you to play the right way.’”

Okay, Nicklaus. At the beginning of every season, he would go back to his boyhood teacher, Jack Grout, and say, “Okay, I’m now a beginner. How do I hold the club? How do I stand?” Etc.

I think of the words to an old song: “The fundamental things apply . . .”

• A little music? For my “New York Chronicle,” in the new New Criterion, go here. A slew of composers and performers.

• A little language? In a piece not long ago, I wrote the word “maturer.” A colleague of mine said, “It just looks funny to me.” Of course it does. You know why? Because in English we’ve gotten used to the Romance “more” and “most.” (“More mature,” “most mature.”) But English avails itself of a Germanic side, which uses “er” and “est,” too. In recent times, that side has gotten slighted.

A big issue . . .

• End with a name? Let’s end with a name — let’s end with two! A book came across my desk by Elizabeth C. Economy. What a wonderful name for an economist — though she is apparently a China expert. Also, I met a man from Jamaica named Lancelot Gibson.

Pretty great, huh? Catch you soon.

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