In basketball — in sports generally — there is a phrase: “Trust the process.” It means, “The team is down now, but we are in the process of rebuilding. Trust it. Have patience.”
I thought of this phrase when thinking about democracy versus dictatorship. The rapper A$AP Rocky, as you may know, has been arrested in Sweden for assault. President Trump has made this a cause:
Very disappointed in Prime Minister Stefan Löfven for being unable to act. Sweden has let our African American Community down in the United States. I watched the tapes of A$AP Rocky, and he was being followed and harassed by troublemakers. Treat Americans fairly! #FreeRocky
Personally, I don’t think Trump should have racialized this affair. Either the country — the United States — is let down or it isn’t. I would not, if I were president, specify “our African American Community.”
In any case, Sweden’s ambassador to the United States, Karin Olofsdotter, responded as follows:
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven ha[s] explained and emphasised the complete independence of the Swedish judicial system, prosecutors and courts. In Sweden everyone is equal before the law. The Government is not allowed, and will not attempt, to influence legal proceedings.
In my observation, Western leaders often prefer to deal with dictators, rather than with fellow democratic leaders. Dictators can snap their fingers and get things done. They can bark orders. In a democracy, there is a system, a process — and the head guy’s rule is not absolute.
Putin, Kim, Xi, MBS, Erdogan, Sisi? They can order anyone released or jailed. The prime minister of Sweden? No.
People are impatient with the process, as they are with democracy in general. Long may it live.
• For The New Criterion, I wrote about a show called “The Black Clown” — based on the Langston Hughes poem of the same name. I mentioned that the poem was printed in the evening’s program booklet. And the poem came with a warning: “Please Note: This work contains the use of a racial slur.”
Elsewhere, there was another warning — a broader one: “Please Note: This production contains racial slurs and stylized representations of violence — particularly related to slavery — as well as haze and bright lights.”
I had this comment — see what you think: “Apparently, we are delicate flowers, contemporary Americans. It occurs to me that we are a nation both trigger-happy and triggerable.”
If you would like to write to me, try firstname.lastname@example.org. (Incidentally, I am doing a music podcast for The New Criterion called “Music for a While.” To see the archive of this show, this ’cast, go here.)
• News from China is often hard to take. But let’s absorb a little — this is far from the worst:
Authorities in western China’s Sichuan province have begun a campaign of large-scale demolition at the Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist center, with Chinese work crews tearing down over a hundred dwellings of nuns evicted from the complex in recent weeks, Tibetan sources say.
I have quoted a report from Radio Free Asia, here.
This is how totalitarian governments behave — and, specifically, how the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) behaves. I believe that civilized governments, and civilized people, should stand against this, in whatever ways they can.
Am I talkin’ globalism, to use one of the great bogeyized words of our day? Cosmopolitanism? I do not think we are utterly disconnected from our fellow man.
• I noticed a comment from Julia Macfarlane on Twitter. She is a foreign-affairs reporter for ABC News. During PMQs, Boris Johnson, Britain’s new prime minister, blasted Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition, for, among other things, appearing on Iranian state TV. The very next day, as Macfarlane pointed out, the prime minister’s father, Stanley, appeared on the same TV.
I thought of something that Jeb Bush said in 2013, after his mother made a statement that was awkward for him, politically: “Everybody’s got a mother.” Everyone has a father, too.
• President Trump said, “Frankly, if I didn’t become president, we’d be right now in a war with North Korea. You’d be having a war, right now, with North Korea. And by the way, that’s a certainty. That’s not, like, maybe.”
Do you believe that?
• President Trump said, “They couldn’t have meetings,” referring to the United States and North Korea. “Nobody was going to meet. President Obama wanted to meet, and Chairman Kim would not meet him. The Obama administration was begging for a meeting. They were begging for meetings constantly. And Chairman Kim would not meet with him. And for some reason, we have a certain chemistry or whatever.”
Do you believe that? I mean, not about the chemistry. Do you believe that Obama and his administration “were begging for meetings constantly”?
• President Trump said, “You have a man that was so happy to see me,” referring to Kim Jong-un. “You have a man that doesn’t smile a lot, but when he saw me, he smiled, he was happy.”
Does that bode well for the U.S. interest? The realist in me says: beware.
• President Trump, referring to the Constitution, said, “I have an Article Two, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.”
Is that your reading of the Constitution as well?
• According to news reports, Dan Coats is on thin ice with his boss, Trump. He may be out on the street, or back home on the farm, by the time my column appears. But Coats has done an excellent, reassuring job as director of national intelligence, including in his latest move.
He created the position of coordinator for election threats. The first such coordinator will be Shelby Pierson, a career intelligence official. She will be responsible for coordinating the U.S. response to threats against the security of our election process — threats that come primarily from the Kremlin.
I will miss that old Hoosier politician and statesman, Coats, when he’s gone.
• Recently, I met a man who enrolled at Harvard in 1956. His major was government. “Did you have Sam Beer?” I asked. Oh, yes. Also, the triumvirate of Huntington, Kissinger, and Brzezinski.
Of Beer — Professor Samuel Beer — the man said, “He told us about the Holocaust. He had pictures and everything. No one had ever heard of it. This was more than a decade after the war.”
Yes — awareness of the Holocaust crept in slowly, and really got going in the 1960s, as I understand it. Or even later.
• Do you remember Bruce Laingen? I met him once, in the mid-1990s, and was tickled to do so. He was known to a great many Americans, and he had given an example of grace — and professionalism — under pressure: He was the highest-ranking American held hostage in Iran during that ordeal (444 days).
He has died at 96. To read the New York Times obit, go here.
• Alan Brinkley, the historian of 20th-century America, has died at 70. (Obit here.) He was a son of David Brinkley, the famed newsman. I have one memory of Professor Brinkley, which I would like to share.
Stephen Ambrose had come to discuss his recent biography of Nixon. A student asked him about Nixon and Joe McCarthy, and, in his answer, Ambrose brought up the relationship between RFK and McCarthy. The student protested a bit and looked at Brinkley as if to say, “Say it ain’t so.” Brinkley gave him a look that said, “It’s so.”
• Care for a little language? A headline read, “Ben Zobrist intends on returning to Cubs this season.” (Article here.) I sort of don’t mind the Americanism “intending on” — especially in the sports pages.
• Speaking of sports — well, this is sports-related. A couple of weeks ago, New York experienced a heat wave (like a lot of the country). I was talking with a friend of mine — a female friend — about how everyone was doing. I almost said, “Well, you don’t look so hot!”
It did not come out of my mouth. But it almost did, and I told her so — and related this legendary story:
It was hot down in spring training. A woman said to Yogi Berra, “Why, it looks like you’re keeping pretty cool in those pinstripes, Yogi.” He said, “You don’t look so hot yourself, lady.”
Bless you, see you.