Impromptus

Death becomes us? &c.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (R., Texas) at the capitol in Austin, 2017 (Jon Herskovitz / Reuters)
On a ‘duty to die,’ the nature of corporations, the question of China, and more

Dan Patrick is the lieutenant governor of Texas and a veteran talk-radio host. He was a guest on Tucker Carlson’s show two nights ago and drew wide attention.

The Houston Chronicle reported the story as follows:

After President Trump signaled his intent Monday to soon lift restrictions on public activity in the U.S., . . . Patrick said on Fox News he agrees with the president and would be willing to risk his own life to return to normal conditions.

“No one reached out to me and said, as a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance for your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren? And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in” . . .

Etc. I immediately walked down Memory Lane. (“When don’t you?” some of my readers may say.)

In 1984, Richard Lamm, the governor of Colorado, caused a huge stir in the country when he made remarks to a health-lawyers association. He spoke of a “duty to die.” He said, “We’ve got a duty to die and get out of the way with all of our machines and artificial hearts and everything else like that and let the other society, our kids, build a reasonable life.”

To read about this controversy — to walk down Memory Lane — go here.

Lamm was a Democrat, and we conservatives went bananas over his statement. We said it went against a “culture of life” and was altogether creepy.

I understand what Dan Patrick is saying — he’s a Republican, by the way — and I understand what Dick Lamm is saying, or was. Understanding though I may be, I still find this talk on the creepy side.

This is a big issue — worthy of the time of philosophers — and I am skipping along . . .

• On Twitter, a hashtag trended: #BailOutPeopleNotCorporations. I immediately thought of Mitt Romney at the Iowa State Fair in 2011. (He was running for president.) He was talking about entitlements, and the pressing need to get a handle on them. “There are various ways of doing that,” he said. “One is, we could raise taxes on people.” Someone in the audience yelled out, “Corporations!” In other words, “Tax corporations, not people.”

Romney replied, “Corporations are people, my friend.” He then explained what he meant — as his detractors in the audience laughed derisively.

To see the whole exchange, go here.

I linked to it in September 2012, saying, “I think Romney ought to be president for this exchange alone. He is polite, friendly, cheerful, and reasonable. Also somewhat brave: because, for decades, Hollywood and our other teachers have taught us that corporations are Very Bad.”

Speaking at the 2012 Democratic convention, Senator Elizabeth Warren mocked Romney without mercy. Corporations cannot possibly be people, she said, because they don’t “have hearts,” “get sick,” “cry,” “dance,” etc.

A friend of mine said to me, “Since corporations aren’t people, does that mean they can’t be greedy?” Should we stop referring to “corporate greed”?

I thought that was pretty good.

What I find dispiriting is that Mitt Romney is barely conceivable as president, hated as he is by Left and Right (perhaps more by the Right at this point). But he has his fans and appreciators, rest assured — I hear from a fair number of them, when the subject of Romney comes up.

• At the White House press conference on Sunday, a reporter said, “Senator Paul has tested positive.” He went on to say that, besides Paul, “four senators are in isolation.” President Trump asked him, “Who are they?” The answer was Romney, Lee, Gardner, and Scott.

As the reporter tried to continue, Trump said, “Romney is in isolation?” When the reporter said yes, the president said, sarcastically, “Gee, that’s too bad.”

Later, Jake Tapper of CNN tweeted, “The disease can be fatal, especially for those 60 and above and/or with pre-existing conditions. Romney is 73 and his wife, 70, has MS.”

I think that Trump fans and Romney fans can agree on one thing, if nothing else: The two men are nothing alike. They are as far apart as Mercury and Pluto.

• In a time of crisis, dictators or would-be dictators lick their chops. Advocates of liberal democracy are back on their heels. Anne Applebaum — one of our foremost writers on the Soviet Union and dictatorship — addressed this question in “The People in Charge See an Opportunity.” The subheading of that article is “Around the world, rulers are using the pandemic as an excuse to grab more power. And the public is going along with it.”

Yes. Cast an eye toward Hungary, that laboratory of “illiberal democracy,” as Orbán terms the rule he has established. Applebaum writes,

On Friday, the Hungarian government sent a bill to Parliament that will give dictatorial powers to the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, in the name of the “emergency.” For an indefinite period of time, he will be able to ignore whichever laws he wishes, without consulting legislators; elections and referenda are to be suspended. Breaking of quarantine will become a crime, punishable by a prison sentence. The spread of false information or other information that causes “disturbance” or “unrest” will also be a crime, also punishable by a prison sentence. It is unclear who will define false: The language is vague enough that it could include almost any criticism of the government’s public-health policy.

Bear in mind that, in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak ruled under “emergency law” for more than 30 years.

• Did you happen to catch this news? “Vladimir Putin’s long-time internet censor, Alexander Zharov, is taking over the helm at Russia’s largest media holding company.”

My favorite comment on this story came from Bobby Ghosh, the Indian-American journalist: “Putin’s Russia is such a cliché.”

• Here was some more news: “The FDA has temporarily relaxed certain policy guidelines that could allow manufacturers to produce more ventilators.” (Consult Axios.) Commentary’s Noah Rothman responded, “Man, libertarians are really taking it on the chin these days.” He was being ironic.

My feeling is this: The unleashing of American creativity — and human creativity — could be a big, big help in this crisis. Central planning can’t do everything. A strong central government can’t do everything (desirable as it may be in a crisis such as ours). We need the innovators, the go-getters, the outside-the-boxers — the glorious weirdos.

You know what I mean, I trust. Let a thousand Elon Musks bloom!

This article makes for maddening reading. It begins,

U.S. intelligence agencies were issuing ominous, classified warnings in January and February about the global danger posed by the coronavirus while President Trump and lawmakers played down the threat and failed to take action that might have slowed the spread of the pathogen . . .

No sense crying over spilt milk. Where do we go from here? But still . . .

• We have a presidential campaign coming up. Did you forget that? I did, for a while.

But I noticed a communication from the Trump campaign, dated March 13. Check it out:

Joe Biden is the same rotting corpse of a candidate he was three weeks ago.

It’s just that Democrats have decided that they would be better off with the dead guy than with Crazy Bernie.

Huh. Pretty rough. “Hardball”? “Politics ain’t beanbag”? Something more? What do you think?

• On March 19, the Trump campaign issued another statement: “What is Joe Biden up to as all this is happening?” (“All this” meaning the coronavirus.) “He’s siding with the Chinese and attacking the presidential candidate China fears most: Donald Trump.”

This business of “siding with the Chinese” is becoming a Trump trope. As I noted in Monday’s Impromptus, the president accused the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal of “siding with China.” That was on March 19 (same day as the campaign statement I have quoted). The day before — the very day before — China had expelled all the reporters from those three newspapers. That’s how furious the Party was at the papers.

If Trump and his movement have decided that China is a malevolent actor — great. But . . .

On January 24, Trump tweeted,

China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!

Uh-huh. Trump has said the sweetest things about Xi, as about so many other dictators — to wit,

Well, he’s a friend of mine. I have great respect for him. We’ve gotten to know each other very well. A great leader. He’s a very talented man. I think he’s a very good man. He loves China, I can tell you. He loves China. He wants to do what’s right for China. . . .

President Xi is a terrific guy. I like being with him a lot, and he’s a very special person.

To add insult to injury, the American president made those remarks about Xi Jinping on the very day that Liu Xiaobo died, at last succumbing to his torments. Liu was a political prisoner and the leader of the Chinese democracy movement. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize — in absentia, of course — in 2010. He died on July 13, 2017, surrounded by police agents.

If Trump et al. want a different tone on Xi now — good.

• In the past few weeks, there have been many articles about trust in government, character in government, the overriding need for truth. (Jonathan V. Last, my old friend and colleague, wrote a piece in which he said, “In a time of pandemic, truth is a tool to fight infection. Lies contribute to the spread.”) I have thought of a once-famous statement by Bryce Harlow, who was a Republican wiseman in Washington — a top aide to Eisenhower, for example. Harlow said, “Trust is the coin of the realm in Washington, D.C.”

That’s one of those platitudes that may make you gag. But, as you go along in life, you see the truth in it.

• This hasn’t been a very fun Impromptus, has it? Far from it. I owe you something. How about this? One of my favorite tweets of the recent period. It comes from Eric Nelson, who works in the book-publishing business. He wrote, “Now that we’ve been home all day for over a week, my wife has discovered just a few tiny personal things I could work on.”

• I loved reading an obit — a little life story — here. The subject is Joseph Bartholomew, a golf-course architect (among other things). He “designed and built some of the best-known courses in segregated Louisiana,” says the New York Times — publisher of the obit — yet “he was never permitted to play those courses.” An extraordinary, inspiring life.

• There have been many moving things on the Internet, a fair number of them relating to music. I found this outstanding: musicians of the Malaysia Bach Festival, and others, performing Bach, remotely. In their (individual) isolation. You’ll see. I am once more struck by the universality of music, and the universality of Bach, in particular.

What a gift he is, a gift from God.

Thank you, my dear friends, and I’ll catch you soon.

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

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