Impromptus

An Omen from Oman, &c.

Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman in Doha, Qatar, 2007 (Fadi Al-Assaad / Reuters)
The Sultan and Saddam; Harry and Meghan; Warren and Bernie; and more

Earlier this month, the Sultan of Oman died. His name was Qaboos bin Said. When I saw his obit, I immediately thought of Saddam Hussein and his two sons, Uday and Qusay. I will explain that in a minute.

Qaboos ruled Oman for a cool 50 years. He was born in 1940 and “was sent to Britain for an elite education.” I am quoting that obit, published in the New York Times. “In 1965,” it continues, “his father summoned him home and put him under virtual house arrest for six years . . .”

That’s quite a grounding.

A little bit more, from the obit: “In 1970, with help from the British, Qaboos overthrew his father in a bloodless coup, emerging as sultan at age 29 . . .”

Yes.

So, Saddam had those two terrible boys (who, however, were no more terrible than their father). You may recall that, between the time our forces captured Saddam and the time he swung, Saddam talked to our interrogators. Some days, he was in a confessional mood.

One of our guys asked him about succession: Had he planned to have Uday or Qusay take over? He had not, answered Saddam. For one thing, he was healthy and strong, and he expected to rule for a long time. For another, he had seen what had happened in Oman, in 1970: A son overthrew a father.

“Saddam did not want his sons, either of them, to grow too powerful. He did not want to leave himself vulnerable. He was no dummy, and trusted no one.”

I have now quoted a book I wrote, about the sons and daughters of dictators.

By the way, I mentioned this particular interrogation of Saddam to George W. Bush when I interviewed him a few years ago. He said, “Are those public?” (meaning the contents of the interrogations). Well, the bit about succession is.

• YouTube thinks it knows what videos you would like. YouTube knows, too. The other night, it said to me — essentially — “You ought to see this.” I clicked on the video. It showed an appearance by George W. Bush at a dinner of the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association (2001). The president pokes fun at his distinctive English. I watched the whole nine minutes or so, with great pleasure and appreciation.

It may be for you, too: here.

• Let’s return to royalty — to Harry and Meghan, of the House of Windsor. I am of two minds about the couple’s move. One part of me says, “Harry ought to do his royal duty.” The other part says, “You know, it’s his life.”

I think that royals ought to be able to opt out of their responsibilities — responsibilities they did not choose for themselves. There will always be royals — other royals — who do want to shoulder those responsibilities.

Edward VIII abdicated. It’s a good thing he did: Britain was better off, and so was the world. In fact: whew.

Incidentally, hasn’t the Queen handled the Harry-Meghan matter with admirable finesse? She is quite a diplomat, and leader.

Some of my friends have proclaimed — rather proudly — that they have no interest in Harry and Meghan, or in the royal family at all. That’s fine. All of us have our interests. But I find Harry and Meghan — plus the family — quite interesting: from historical, political, personal, and other points of view.

À chacun son goût, as they don’t say at Buckingham Palace . . .

• A few words on impeachment — only a few. I lived through the previous one, in 1998. (The Senate trial was in early 1999.) I was working for The Weekly Standard, and then National Review. We were consumed by the drama.

And a lot of the current drama is very déjà vu-y.

I can tell you this: The people who are consistent, about both impeachments, could fit into a phone booth. At most, they would need a high-school gym.

A blessed gym, in my book.

(If you want to have a laugh, look up Lindsey Graham, then and now.)

• I wish a journalist would ask President Trump this question: “When, referring to Ambassador Yovanovitch, you said, ‘She’s going to go through some things,’ what did you mean?”

• Evidently, the GOP and the conservative movement dread the testimony of John Bolton. John Bolton. That tells you a lot about the American Right at present.

• I mentioned The Weekly Standard. I thought of a piece by Gertrude Himmelfarb, in one of the magazine’s first issues: October 16, 1995. The O.J. verdict had been rendered. I will get back to Himmelfarb in a moment.

Last week, Jonathan V. Last published a keen analysis of the Democratic presidential race. (JVL and I worked at the Standard together.) “Over the last 20 years or so, progressivism has gone from being primarily concerned with economics to being primarily concerned with identity,” he wrote. “The old-guard socialists were out; the newjack identitarians were in.”

But, said JVL, “Bernie Sanders’s 2016 crusade against Hillary Clinton changed all that.”

Have a little more:

Over the last three years, the Sanders view of progressivism has gained strength. Consider that in this presidential cycle, the two avatars of economic progressivism — Sanders and Warren — have been the center of gravity for the race while the explicitly identitarian candidates — Kamala Harris, Julian Castro, and Kirsten Gillibrand — failed to assemble any real support.

So, I thought of that piece, 25 years ago. Have some Himmelfarb:

“Race trumped gender” — for me this comment, by a professor of government quoted in the Washington Post, is the most telling observation on the Simpson verdict.

Yup. Have some more:

For years I have been complaining of the “race/class/gender” trinity that dominates academia, while my friends have been assuring me that this is a distinctly academic deformation, yet another example of the insularity and parochial nature of the university today. The Simpson trial, I am afraid, confirms the trickle-down theory: Sooner or later (sooner more often than later), the university’s obsessions filter down throughout the educational system, the media, and society at large.

Uh-huh. The author continues,

In fact, the race/class/gender mantra is not quite accurate. “Class” should be in third place; in its present location it is a courtesy to dispossessed Marxists. Race and gender vie for primacy.

Yes, but class is back, on both left and right.

Just a little more Himmelfarb, before we leave her:

After decades of the most strenuous efforts to overcome racial and sexual stereotypes, to judge people as individuals rather than as members of groups, we have regressed to the concept of group identity.

A tragedy of our times. Many people, on left and right, prize this group identity. To others of us, it stinks (and is un-American). Again, à chacun son goût, I suppose.

• Someone tweeted a “meme” of Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, wearing Islamic garb. The words were, “The corrupted Dems trying their best to come to the Ayatollah’s rescue. #NancyPelosiFakeNews.” Of course, President Trump retweeted this.

I jotted a tweet of my own, noting the president’s retweet. “I realize ‘the base’ eats it up,” I said. “But I wonder whether it is good for the country. ‘President of all the people’ is a cliché, but it got that way for a reason. It is perfectly possible to be a sharp-elbowed partisan without being an ass. You know?”

Well, that was bound to catch hell from both Left and Right, and it did. The Left did not appreciate my understatement. They wrote things like, “You wonder, huh? It is the cowardice of conservatives like you that makes Trumpism possible.”

By the way, understatement is tough to do, both on Twitter and in the media at large.

But it was #MAGA, of course, that was most exercised. Here is a sample of the reaction:

“It’s called ‘Draining The Swamp’. Get used to it or get out of the way!”

(To my understanding, “swamp” refers to corruption in Washington. It’s amazing that Trump forces are still using the phrase.)

“That’s what they deserve. You take the side of Iran so there you go.”

“I’m glad he fights back, stop being such a snowflake. #Trump2020.”

“Trump is the first Republican that fights back. This is what fighting back looks like people. It’s not meant 2b pretty.”

“Do you understand that you polite conservatives conserved nothing except endless wars? At least you still have your think tanks the Bulwark though.”

In my view, the following was the most interesting response of all:

“Jay it’s totally on brand for him and it’s funny. That’s why it works for him. It would be crass and tasteless if someone else tried it.”

This is the great Trump Exemption. In fact, I could write a book entitled “The Trump Exemption.” What many of my fellow conservatives would never tolerate in anyone else — Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal — they tolerate and even celebrate in Trump.

A phenomenon of our time . . .

• Trump likes to call people “little”: “Little Marco,” “Liddle’ Bob Corker,” “Little Adam Schitt,” “Little Jeff Zuker” (meaning “Zucker”), etc. Now he is referring to “Mini Mike Bloomberg.”

I will say it again, alone as I may be: I was taught that big men — truly big men — never do this. Small men do. And I think that this teaching is right.

• In the spat between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, someone’s lying: Warren says that Sanders told her he did not think a woman could be elected president; Sanders says he never said any such thing.

People have their own suspicions about which one is lying. My vote is Bernie, for what it’s worth. But one thing I appreciate: Each candidate is taking umbrage at being called a liar.

I thought this was passé. I feared that no one cared about truth and falsity anymore. Lying is de rigueur, greeted with a shrug — and if you object, people say, “What are you, a moral-preener? A virtue-signaler?”

• There are certain habits that people in the media have. For example, they will say, “Presented without comment,” and then show you something. But they have of course commented. As a rule, “Presented without comment” means, “I think this is stupid, and so should you.”

There are ways to present things without comment. For example, you could say, “John Smith wrote this yesterday,” and then quote. But “Presented without comment” is very much a comment.

One more thing, while I’m in the mood: People say that something is “worth quoting in full.” They should simply quote it, trusting that the rest of us will know that they would not be doing so if they did not consider it worth it.

• End with a picture? This comes from Seven Ten Lanes, just off the University of Chicago campus. You get bowling (as you can see). And billiards. And in between those two halls, or rooms, a restaurant — diner-like. Wonderful place, and wonderfully retro. When I visited, I thought, “Happy Days is here again.”

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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