Impromptus

‘Get over it,’ &c.

Marion Barry, mayor of Washington, D.C., in January 1997 (Washington Aid / Reuters)
Marion Barry, Donald Trump, Henry Clay, Elizabeth Warren, Harold Bloom, David French, and more

A recent press conference — and a T-shirt to go with it — took me down Memory Lane. To 1994. I will explain. Mick Mulvaney, the president’s chief of staff, or acting chief of staff, was talking about Ukraine. Specifically, the president’s dealings with the Ukrainian government. He told the press, “I have news for everybody: Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.”

Immediately, the Trump-Pence campaign put out a T-shirt, selling it for $30: Get Over It, the T-shirt says — and there’s Trump hair over the “o” in “over.”

From 1979 to 1991, Marion Barry was mayor of Washington, D.C. Then he spent a little time in prison. Then, in 1994, he came back, for a fourth term as mayor. He had a message for disgruntled Washingtonians: “Get over it.”

It was one of the phrases associated with him (and a cleaner one). And now it’s back, baby.

• A reader sent me an interesting note. American nationalists, he said, seem to have more affinity for nationalists in other countries than they do for their fellow Americans who aren’t nationalists. This strikes me as true. The nationalists — of whatever nationality — are internationalists, in a way.

Britain’s Nigel Farage has spoken of a “global movement.” Two years ago, he traveled to Alabama to campaign for Roy Moore, a Senate candidate. Farage had just come from Germany, where he campaigned for the AfD, i.e., the Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany). In Alabama, he told the crowd that Moore’s election was “important for the whole global movement across the West that we have built up and we have fought for.”

And what does Steve Bannon call his organization, based in Brussels? “The Movement.” The organization is, of course, international.

Similarly, supporters of liberal democracy have affinity for one another, wherever they live. I was talking about this on Wednesday with Denise Ho, the pop star from Hong Kong who is in the streets as a democracy activist. For my podcast with her, go here.

Let’s go to early America — not too early, but to the first half of the 19th century. Last week, I was talking with Richard Brookhiser, my historian colleague, about Henry Clay. Rick quoted what Lincoln said about Clay in his eulogy (1852). Here is a snippet from that remarkable address:

Mr. Clay’s predominant sentiment, from first to last, was a deep devotion to the cause of human liberty — a strong sympathy with the oppressed everywhere, and an ardent wish for their elevation. . . . He loved his country partly because it was his own country, but mostly because it was a free country.

Noam Chomsky is my fellow American. In a sense, however, I have more in common with my fellow advocates of liberal democracy in Timbuktu, say, than with him. Michael Moore and I would seem to be similar. About the same age. White. Male. Both from Michigan. Grew up an hour apart. Surely ate the same foods, rooted for the same sports teams. Those things count. But . . .

You see what I mean?

• Years ago, I was talking with Robert Conquest, the great historian, about China. Our specific subject was organ harvesting, for there had been serious, alarming reports on this, especially coming from Falun Gong practitioners. Were Chinese authorities really doing this? Harvesting organs? (Yes.)

People in free countries are always reluctant to believe human testimony out of police states, Conquest said. When reports of horrors in the new Soviet Union first reached Paris and London, people dismissed them as “rumors in Riga.” When reports of the Holocaust circulated, these were “Jewish special pleading.” When Cubans reached Florida, they had to be “Batista stooges,” you see. When people stumbled into Hong Kong — half dead — they were “war lords.”

And so on.

I thought of this when glancing at this report, published in Haaretz: “A Million People Are Jailed at China’s Gulags. I Managed to Escape. Here’s What Really Goes on Inside: Rape, torture and human experiments. Sayragul Sauytbay offers firsthand testimony from a Xinjiang ‘reeducation’ camp.”

Above, I said “glancing at.” Why didn’t I properly read the article? I have read enough, frankly, and written enough. There is ample testimony out of Xinjiang Province, or East Turkestan. I don’t want to hear later that “no one knew.” We know.

• President Trump pinned a tweet. That means, he affixed it to the top of his list of tweets. He must have been especially proud of it, or found it especially important. This is what he wrote, on Wednesday: “The Never Trumper Republicans, though on respirators with not many left, are in certain ways worse and more dangerous for our Country than the Do Nothing Democrats. Watch out for them, they are human scum!”

“Human scum.” For years — for centuries — leaders of a certain kind have used such language against their critics and opponents. The language of dehumanization is very old. “Vermin,” “filth,” and all the rest of it. The Communists in Cuba call their opponents gusanos, or “worms.” Police in Hong Kong, committing violence against democratic protesters, call these protesters “cockroaches.” There is a whole lexicon, stretching across the globe.

Conservatives know this. We would not accept “human scum” from a Democratic president. We would say that such language smacked of Communism, fascism, etc. We would say that leaders don’t talk like that in a democracy.

Trump says, of his Republican critics and opponents, “Watch out for them, they are human scum!” I say: Watch out for leaders who talk that way.

• Turn to the Democrats — at least to one, Elizabeth Warren. Will Saletan wrote about her in Slate: “Is Elizabeth Warren an Ideologue?” She has a number of gifts, says Saletan: “But there’s a big risk for Democrats in nominating Warren: that beneath her talents, she has the soul of an ideologue.”

Yup.

• I loved a sketch on Saturday Night Live, parodying the Democratic “town hall” on gay issues. Julián Castro — or the actor playing him — says, “As a Democrat, I want to apologize for not being gay. But I promise to do better in the future. However, I am Latino, which we can all agree is something.”

Perfect. (To see it, go to 5:54, here.)

• Harold Bloom, the critic, has his critics, believe me, but here is a warm, eloquent appreciation by Paul A. Cantor, the renowned professor of English at the University of Virginia. Check out the opening:

Rarely does a literary critic display the kind of genius and creativity characteristic of the famous authors he analyzes.

Harold Bloom, who died at the age of 89 on Oct. 14, was such a critic.

Have a little more (and this is of particular interest, and importance, to conservatives):

He spent the last decades of his life as the embattled champion of the Western canon, celebrating true artistic greatness in the face of the mean-spirited attacks on traditional authors that had increasingly come to dominate literary criticism in what Bloom dubbed the “School of Resentment.”

Just so.

I received a letter from Bloom once — a letter of recommendation. It was of his student Emmy Chang, who was applying for a job here at National Review. I have never read a better letter of recommendation — so interesting, so unusual, so stylish. (Handwritten, too.) I kept the letter — and gave it to Emmy when she left NR.

• Feel like some nature writing? It’s not my bag, but, dang, did I enjoy reading this article. It’s by Cara Giaimo, in the New York Times. “The Loudest Bird in the World Has a Song Like a Pile Driver.” Does he ever. And here are the first, delectable paragraphs:

The pressures of sexual selection have made peacocks gorgeous, wood thrushes sonorous and birds of paradise great dancers. At first glance, the white bellbird doesn’t appear to have benefited similarly. Barrel-chested and big-mouthed, with a long wattle dangling from the top of its beak, this rainforest bird looks more like a Muppet than an avian Casanova.

But everyone’s got their thing. According to a paper published Monday in Current Biology, this goofball boasts the loudest birdsong ever recorded. And he must be proud of it, because he sings the most piercing note right into potential mates’ faces.

Well, whatever gets the job done . . .

• The white bellbird is not nearly as loud as Denis Matsuev, the Russian pianist. I reviewed him, in recital at Carnegie Hall, here. I actually quoted something from the golf world:

Arnold Palmer hit the ball hard — very hard. Once, his fellow golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez said to him, “Arnold, I don’t know how the ball can take it.” As I listened to Matsuev, I thought, “I don’t know how the piano can take it.”

• My friend and colleague David French has left NR for The Dispatch — the new enterprise started by Jonah Goldberg, Steve Hayes, and Toby Stock. I admire all of those men, all four. But I’m going to “brag on” David for a minute, as they say in the South.

I believe he represents the best of American conservatism. He has the head and the heart. David is amazingly versatile — authoritative on domestic policy, the military, foreign policy, the law, and on and on. (Don’t forget sports!) He is also unusually brave, taking slings and arrows from both Left and Right.

A few months ago, he told me, “I’ve been a Reagan conservative since I was 14.” Poor guy. Everyone else shifted and pivoted, and he was stuck with his views — same as me. We think they are right, though. And if they’re out of fashion for a while — well, so be it.

Thanks for everything, David. And thank you, dear readers. If you want to write to me, try jnordlinger@nationalreview.com. See you soon. Have a great weekend.

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