‘White’ and other epithets, &c.

Brian Sims, the Pennsylvania state rep who berated an anti-abortion protester (Pennsylvania House Video/via YouTube)
Words, rightists, Communists, flags, heroes, baseball, and more

Earlier this month, a Pennsylvania state legislator went on a rant against a woman protesting outside a Planned Parenthood clinic. You can read about the incident here. I would like to fasten on a single detail — not the most important, by a long shot. The legislator called the woman “an old white lady.”

I wonder, “Why ‘white’?” (We can leave the “old” till another time.) What does race have to do with it? I often find this on Twitter — when my critics condemn me as “an old white man.” Okay — but are my views right or wrong? Smart or stupid? Well expressed or badly expressed?

Those things are ignored. “Old white man” seems enough.

In the wake of Alabama’s anti-abortion legislation, critics have said that the legislators are “white men.” (I haven’t seen “old” as much.) The “men” I get, in the context of pro-choice rhetoric. But the “white”?

It seems to me just a reflex epithet — like “fascist.” George Orwell said, “The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.’”

Well, there are a lot of fascists about these days, and they are making waves. (Here is an article from yesterday.) People are going to have to start using the word seriously — or not at all, please.

I think, too, of the word “elitist.” The Trump Right throws this epithet at pre-Trump conservatives 24/7. I was talking about this with a colleague the other day. He comes from a very, very modest background. The word “elitist” could not be more risible in his case (as in so many others).

Last week, a tweeter took issue with something I had written. He decided to make a crack about my Brooks Brothers wardrobe. Obviously, the guy has never seen me …

But say I did wear Brooks Brothers. So? Am I right or wrong? A guy can be right either naked or draped in finery. He can be wrong in either condition too. People think that saying “elitist” or “Brooks Brothers” relieves them of the responsibility to think.

My mind travels to a very grave case — very. In 2013, I wrote about the international tribunal in Phnom Penh. (The tribunal is largely a joke, sadly.) In Khmer Rouge days, there was a prison called Tuol Sleng, a.k.a. S-21. Some 16,000 people were tortured to death there. Seven people are known to have survived S-21.

One of them is Chum Mey. During a trial, he was able to question the head of S-21, Kaing Guek Eav, a.k.a. Duch or Comrade Duch. Chum Mey said, “Why did you insist that I say I worked for the CIA?” And do you know how Duch responded?

“The real CIA is different from people accused by the regime of being CIA. You were identified as someone who opposed the regime. That’s why we called you CIA.”

Yes. Exactly.

• A few nights ago, a friend of mine mentioned Heinz-Christian Strache, the Freedom Party guy in Austria. Strache has taken a tumble. I said to my friend, “He’s in bed with Putin.” She replied, “That’s a very roomy bed.” Isn’t it though?

There are a lot of right-wingers in it. Some of them have formal agreements with Putin — friendship-and-cooperation agreements — and some of them don’t. But they are all in that roomy bed: Orbán, “Freedom,” Le Pen, Salvini, et al.

These are nationalist-populist folk — rightists. But they are in bed with the KGB officer in the Kremlin. Increasingly, “Right” and “Left” are meaningless terms. The authoritarians and illiberals, of whatever stripe, are massing together.

Indeed, Eric Edelman, the veteran U.S. diplomat, has an expression: “Authoritarian International” (echoing the old Comintern, or “Communist International”).

“We all sense — it’s in the air — that the world is in the process of a substantial realignment.” That’s what Viktor Orbán said when meeting with Putin in 2017. The next year, very few world leaders attended Erdogan’s latest inauguration in Turkey. But Orbán did. So did Medvedev (Russia) and Maduro (Venezuela). The latter hailed a “new multi-polar world.”

Did you see those pictures of Karin Kneissl, the Austrian foreign minister, dancing with Putin at her wedding last summer? She curtsies to him in her dirndl, gazing up at him adoringly. This symbolizes the posture of the nationalist-populist Right toward Putin.

How will the rest of us respond? With clarity and courage, I hope.

• The name of the Freedom Party has always sickened me. The House Freedom Caucus in Congress has sickened me with its formal condemnation of one of its founders, Justin Amash. Heaven forbid that someone should have an independent thought. The word “freedom” is being trampled on. I wish these characters would call themselves something else.

• In the Washington Post, Michael Kranish had an excellent report on Bernie Sanders — particularly, the candidate’s relationship with the Soviet Union. I would like to comment on one thing.

A Soviet girls’ choir sang in Burlington, where Sanders was mayor. He pointed to the choir and said, “This is the enemy?”

I heard this sort of thing all the time during the Cold War. None of us ever claimed that adorable choristers were the enemy. We were talking about Lenin and his successors — the machine that killed tens of millions and immiserated tens of millions more.

The ruling Communists were, indeed, the enemy — of Russians and all mankind.

• In the New York Times, there was a superb obit of I. M. Pei — just great. But I want to single out a line. The architect’s father, Tsuyee Pei, “was bitterly opposed to the Communist Chinese government.” Why “bitterly”? I hate that word “bitterly,” in that context. It implies sour grapes or something. A low remark.

• Lately, I’ve been tracking the Confederate flag — not in the South but elsewhere in America and around the world. It has come to represent … things.

Check out this, from the Associated Press: “Thousands of Polish nationalists marched to the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw Saturday, protesting that the U.S. is putting pressure on Poland to compensate Jews whose families lost property during the Holocaust.”

The full article is here. It informs us that “at least two U.S. Confederate flags were visible at Saturday’s protest.” Oh, yes. Cripe.

• For many years, I’ve written about the Olympic Games and sounded a message: The Games should not be held in a police state. Period. Pick one of the many other states in the world.

Well, do you know that the European Games this year are being held in a police state? A dictatorship? Yes — in Belarus.

These people are going out of their way (to locate their games in dictatorships).

• Here is a sickening headline from UN Watch (source of many a sickening headline): “Nicaragua Praised in UN Human Rights Review Despite Year-Long Crackdown on Dissent.” Among the praisers are Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Burma — the usual. To read the statement by UN Watch, go here.

(In March, I did a report on oppression in Nicaragua. I interviewed two prominent refugees. To read the report, go here.)

• Do you want to meet a sterling American? Get to know Coach Keanon Lowe. I’ll quote the beginning of the article I’ve linked to:

Former University of Oregon football star Keanon Lowe said he had just entered a classroom at the Portland high school where he works as a coach and security guard when a student armed with a black shotgun appeared in the doorway.

Lowe had just seconds Friday to react.

And did he.

• I read the headline too quickly and thought President Trump had called Joe Biden “a fool of low IQ.” He does that — claims that people have low IQs. “Low I.Q. Crazy Mika”; “Robert De Niro, a very Low IQ individual”; etc. “Low IQ” is one of his go-to moves.

Indeed, in March of this year he tweeted this: “Joe Biden got tongue tied over the weekend when he was unable to properly deliver a very simple line about his decision to run for President. Get used to it, another low I.Q. individual!”

But the recent headline? It had read, “North Korea calls Biden ‘fool of low IQ’ over Kim criticism.”

Biden himself has had IQ on the brain — at least he did way back, during the 1988 presidential cycle. Upset at a questioner, he said, “I think I have a much higher IQ than you do.”

A lot of us thought this spoke very poorly of him (Biden).

• Let’s have some more Trump and Biden. Speaking to a rally in Pennsylvania, the president said, “Don’t forget: Biden deserted you. He’s not from Pennsylvania. I guess he was born here, but he left you, folks. He left you for another state. Remember that, please.”

A few things. Notice the politics of grievance at work. The politics of resentment. Populists and other demagogues have done this from time immemorial. Also, a great many Americans leave their native states. The U.S. is a mobile society. Are we deserters? Finally, Biden’s family moved when he was ten, because his father was looking for work.

What a joy the 2020 campaign will be, right?

• Time for a little language — in particular, “advocate” as a verb. “To advocate.” In recent years, “to advocate for” has crept in like a weed. I saw it in a major paper the other day. (I forget which one. Actually, they’re probably all guilty of it.) This matter, I’m afraid, is settled. “To advocate for” is here to stay. Makes me feel sort of throw-uppy.

• “Like” is in our language like a weed. I know young people who cannot go five words — not five words — without “like.” Parodying this, Barbara J. Fields, the Columbia University historian, wrote, “Jesus, like, wept.”

She also has a line about “microaggression”: “If it’s micro, it can’t be aggression, and if it’s aggression, it can’t be micro.”

• Feel like a little music? For a review of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, under Valery Gergiev, with Daniil Trifonov, piano, go here. For a review of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, under Manfred Honeck, with Till Fellner, piano, go here. And for a review of Ratmansky Trio, from American Ballet Theatre, go here.

Yes, that third one is a ballet review, but not really: It’s heavy on the music.

• Thanks for joining me, ladies and gentlemen. If you’d like to write me, try End on a little sports?

A daughter saw her dad, a longsuffering Baltimore Oriole fan, in front of the television. “How’re they doing?” she said. “Not well,” he said. “What inning is it?” she asked. “The game hasn’t started yet,” he said.

As a Detroit Tiger fan, I feel the man’s pain, believe me.


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