Impromptus

The old College try, &c.

Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks at Keene State College in Keene, N.H., September 25, 2019. (Brian Snyder / Reuters)
On the Electoral College, guns, Jack Nicklaus, Barry Switzer, Mariah Carey, and more

Elizabeth Warren could not have been plainer, in this tweet: “My goal is to get elected — but I plan to be the last American president to be elected by the Electoral College. I want my second term to be elected by direct vote.”

Democrats aren’t very happy about the Electoral College, and I can hardly blame them. These things are “situational.” If the Senate filibuster, for example, works for you, you like it and defend it; if it doesn’t, the opposite.

Democrats were bitten by the Electoral College in 2000, when George W. Bush won, and bitten again — really hard — in 2016, when Donald Trump won. What if Trump had won the popular vote and Hillary Clinton had beaten him out in the Electoral College?

Here’s what I think would have happened: Trump supporters would have said, “You know, it was a tough day, but our Framers were geniuses, and that’s the way the cookie crumbles in this republic of ours. We wish the president-elect well — indeed, we are praying for her — and we will see her at the polls in 2020.”

Democrats, in turn, would have said, “Glad to have won this year, but the Electoral College really has to go, because it frustrates the will of a majority or plurality. And people — wherever they live — are paramount, you know.”

Have you had a good laugh? There is no principle in play here at all — it’s purely partisan, purely tribal. On Election Night 2012, it looked for a while like Romney might win the popular vote while losing to Obama in the Electoral College. Donald Trump was on Twitter, tweetin’ away.

“This election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy!” “He lost the popular vote by a lot and won the election. We should have a revolution in this country!” “More votes equals a loss . . . revolution!” “The phoney electoral college made a laughing stock out of our nation. The loser one!” “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.” Etc.

Of course, four years later, the tweeter won the presidency by this very mechanism: the Electoral College.

The Electoral College is as much a part of the Constitution as impeachment (though the Constitution can be amended, obviously). You like impeachment now? Did you in ’98?

And on it goes . . .

• The Taliban never stop being the Taliban, do they? A news story from Christmas Day: “The Taliban ambushed a peace convoy in western Afghanistan and abducted 26 activists . . .” I don’t envy U.S. leaders who have to make a decision about the war: stay or go. If we allow the Taliban back into power, will this affect our security adversely?

I took this up with Ryan Crocker, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, in September, here. Important, daunting questions.

• In Syria, the slaughters never stop. Here is a story from Christmas Day:

More than 200,000 men, women and children fled their homes in northwest Syria in buses, trucks and cars in recent weeks, amid intense air and ground bombardment by government forces, a Syrian relief group said Wednesday. . . .

The group said people fled from about 250 villages and towns, adding that 252 civilians, including 79 children have been killed as a result of the violence.

On Twitter, I commented, “It’s hard to read about Syria — for myriad reasons. Some of which gnaw at conscience. But . . .” The first response to that comment was this: “Nobody cares as long they don’t come here.” That man, I’m afraid — that tweeter — represents the spirit of the age. Others may put the sentiment less bluntly and crudely. But their words boil down to the same.

• One of the most amazing statements that were made in American politics this year came from Matt Bevin — who said, “Which one?”

Let me quote this news story:

When a radio host asked Matt Bevin, the former governor of Kentucky, why he had pardoned a man convicted of raping a child, Mr. Bevin’s first response was, “Which one?”

“Because there were a couple of people that were accused of that whose sentences I commuted,” he said.

The story continues,

Mr. Bevin, a Republican, had already been criticized for issuing more than 600 pardons and sentence reductions just before he left office on Dec. 10, including to men who were convicted of murder and rape, and one whose family had supported his campaign.

Have a little more, if you can take it:

But the firestorm grew worse the more Mr. Bevin spoke, as he sought to justify his actions. He claimed that a young girl could not have been raped by a man he freed because her hymen was intact — an assertion experts rejected as proof of the man’s innocence.

Another Kentucky Republican, Mitch McConnell, was asked to comment on all this. “Pretty embarrassing,” he said.

• I know you have seen this: “A gunman who killed two people during a Texas church service was fatally shot within seconds by armed congregants . . .” The gun debate is far more complicated than many people suppose. Yes, guns kill, or people — gun-wielders — kill. But innocent people are spared death through gun use, too.

• Did you read the story about our ambassador in Zambia? Try this report from Reuters. And/or this article in the Washington Post. Very interesting, very unusual.

A Zambian court sentenced a gay couple to 15 years (for sex). Our ambassador, Daniel Foote, blasted the sentencing. He also said that U.S.–Zambia relations were absurd, with Zambia receiving hundreds of millions in U.S. aid, and for what? The Zambian president was none too pleased, as you can imagine. He said that he could not work with Foote. Also, the ambassador’s physical security was in question. So we recalled him.

Sometimes diplomacy can be much too exciting.

• Robert C. O’Brien, President Trump’s national security adviser, has been referring to the North Korean dictator as “Chairman Un.” As Anna Fifield said on Twitter, O’Brien is apparently unaware that the dictator’s family name is “Kim.” (Fifield is the Beijing bureau chief of the Washington Post, and the author of a new book on Kim Jong-un.)

Oh, dear. Many jokes come to mind — I may have made a few on Twitter — but this is really embarrassing. Well, as long as the man’s view of the dictator is clear. To hell with the name. Better to know about the gulag, the starvation, and the nukes.

• #MAGA has its own vocabulary, as you know: “fake news,” “America First,” “enemy of the people,” “Deep State,” etc. “Deep State” is on many, many lips. I hear it from my colleagues, especially very young ones, who have essentially come of age during the Trump years. If you don’t like something in the news, call it “fake.” If you don’t like something in the government, call it “deep.”

You remember what Orwell said about fascism — or rather, “fascism”: “The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.’”

“It looks to me like another Deep State attack,” said Senator Josh Hawley on Fox News last September. He was talking about Trump’s problems. A Fox News host referred to Gordon Sondland as a “Deep State bureaucrat.”

Sondland, of course, is a businessman who donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee and was then appointed by Trump to be ambassador to the EU. No Foreign Service officer he. Sondland should be completely kosher with #MAGA.

President Trump, as you know, intervened in the cases of three servicemen who had been convicted or accused of war crimes. “Just this week I stuck up for three great warriors against the Deep State,” he told one of his rallies. He and his movement have installed “Deep State” in the American vocabulary.

In a recent issue, National Review editorialized about the term. It comes from Turkey — where it once had actual meaning — and “Americans should unlearn this imported term.”

Hear, hear, but too late, I’m afraid.

• Kevin Williamson sent me this story, knowing I’m a Jack Nicklaus nut. Rolex gave Jack a watch in 1967. He wore it pretty much every day thereafter. Now it has sold at auction for $1.22 million (which goes to Jack’s child-health foundation). Damn it. I could not go higher than $900K — I had various end-of-year expenses, relating to Christmas and so on — and was outbid by a show-off.

• Barry Switzer, the old Oklahoma coach, had an expression: “Hang half a hundred on ’em.” In other words, score 50 points against them. I’m afraid that Louisiana State has just done that to Oklahoma — and more: The score was 63–28.

My condolences to Sooner Nation (which includes a beloved, late friend, whom some of us were just discussing over Christmas).

• Did you see this column by Nancy French about her husband David (late of National Review)? About their first weeks of marriage in particular? I’m not sure I’ve read a more enjoyable piece all year.

• I have a favorite bio on Twitter. It has three elements, all of which are interesting or funny. Together, they form something like a masterpiece: “Politically Homeless, Cleveland Sports Masochist, Y’all/All y’all.”

• Speaking of language (we were, kind of): In a distinguished magazine, I saw a passage recently about a man who had “free reign” over something. That ought to be “free rein” (think of horses).

• A little music? Okay, end with this: Probably my favorite thing Leonard Bernstein ever said is, “I’d give five years of my life to have written The Stars and Stripes Forever.” In that spirit, let me say that “All I Want for Christmas Is You” — Mariah Carey and Walter Afanasieff — is really, wonderfully good. Sumbitch will be around as long as “Silent Night.”

Bless you and see you.

If you’d like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — write to jnordlinger@nationalreview.com.


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