Impromptus

A call to prayer, &c.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng speaks in Parliament prior to the swearing in of Cyril Ramaphosa as South Africa’s president in Cape Town, February 15, 2018. (Mike Hutchings / Reuters)
South Africa’s chief justice, America’s Dr. Fauci, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, and more

The chief justice of South Africa is a man named Mogoeng Mogoeng, whose name reminds me of Jimmy Durante. “New York, New York,” Durante used to say: “a city whose name’s so nice, you got to say it twice.”

In addition to being the chief justice, Mogoeng is a pastor, and he made a most extraordinary statement about the coronavirus. He made it on March 17 (and he was wearing a green tie, which may or may not have been coincidental).

“What we must never forget is our national anthem,” said Mogoeng. “Our national anthem is a call to prayer, and so is the preamble to our constitution.”

The national anthem says, among other things, “Hear our prayers,” and, “Lord, we ask You to protect our nation.” The preamble says, “May God protect our people.”

Mogoeng said, “We are exposed — we are not protected — and my call is to all those who can pray to see it as an absolute necessity, starting from today, to do so.”

He continued, “We need an economy that is flourishing, we need normalcy to shake hands and hug, and those who know just how powerful prayer can be, I plead with you from the depth of my heart that, at least every Wednesday and every Sunday, you go out there in groups that do not exceed 70 to pray, knowing that, with prayer, nothing is impossible.”

Remember, the chief justice made these remarks on March 17, and he may consider groups of 70 too large now.

Anyway, he continued, “I know others may reduce these remarks to something to be mocked, but you know the potency of what I am appealing to you to do.” He said the word “potency” explosively — with an explosive conviction.

“The church cannot afford to be running helter-skelter, as it appears to be doing now,” said Mogoeng. “It is time for you to demonstrate the power that you have been preaching about, the power that you have been talking about, by identifying all kingdom-minded people and crying to God for the sake of this country, for the sake of the continent, and for the sake of humanity.”

You can hear this statement in a long video — starting at 6:35 — here. I wanted to share it with you, because it is one of the most extraordinary and startling statements I have ever heard a leader make.

• By now, you are familiar, I wager, with the name of Dr. Anthony Fauci, a veteran immunologist with the National Institutes of Health. He is one of the leaders in our country in the fight — the mobilization — against the coronavirus. Last week, he was sparring with President Trump over a malaria drug called “hydroxychloroquine” and its application to the coronavirus. (For an article, go here.)

On Saturday, Howard Mortman, of C-SPAN, tweeted a clip from 1988: a clip from one of the general-election presidential debates that year. Both Vice President Bush and Governor Dukakis were asked about heroes — present-day heroes — who could inspire Americans.

Dukakis, who went first, did not name anyone in particular, except for Jonas Salk. He spoke in generalities (very good generalities).

Bush first named Jaime Escalante, an American schoolteacher, born in Bolivia. He taught in a rough neighborhood of L.A., and was the subject of a film called “Stand and Deliver.” Bush also named Armando Valladares, the Cuban dissident and former political prisoner. And Rick Hauck, a shuttle astronaut.

He further said, “I also think we ought to give a little credit to the president of the United States,” meaning Reagan. “He is the one who has gotten us that first arms-control agreement.”

But before he got to Reagan, Bush said, “I think of Dr. Fauci. Probably never heard of him.” But he was a “very fine researcher,” a “top doctor,” at NIH, working on a cure for AIDS.

To see Howard Mortman’s tweet, with its clip, go here. And to see a transcript of the relevant debate: here.

• In his press conference on Friday, President Trump was in characteristic form — a form beloved of millions and loathed by millions. The NBC correspondent, Peter Alexander, asked, “What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?” Trump said, “I say that you’re a terrible reporter. That’s what I say.”

This is absolute catnip to the “base.” But what about the country at large, especially in these terrible, fearful times? How will it play?

The day before, the president had called on a correspondent from OANN, or One America News Network. This is a strongly pro-Trump organization that is famous, or infamous, for conspiracy theories, including about Seth Rich. Calling on the OANN correspondent, Trump said, “Very good. Thank you very much. They treat me very nicely. Go ahead.”

The correspondent asked, “Do you consider the term ‘Chinese food’ racist?” Trump said, “No, I don’t think it’s racist. I don’t think it’s racist at all.”

The correspondent then condemned the “major left-wing news media, even in this room,” for having “teamed up with Chinese Communist Party narratives,” etc. This prompted Trump himself to issue a long condemnation of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.

OANN’s correspondent then said, “They’re siding with state propaganda overseas.” Trump said, “Well, I think they do,” and, “They are siding with China.”

The day before, the Chinese government — i.e., the Chinese Communist Party — had expelled all reporters from the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. They did this because these reporters were reporting the truth about China, which the CCP cannot bear.

(For the White House transcript of Thursday’s press conference, go here. For its transcript of Friday’s, go here.)

• From where I sit, Americans have loved the debate over the term “China virus” — because it’s in their comfort zone. Indeed, it’s in their wheelhouse. This is a game they have always played, and it’s a game they play well. Culture war. I’m pretty good at it myself.

But it doesn’t matter. You can call this plague a ham sandwich — just stamp it out.

We are the Dunkin’ Society. (Makes me kind of hungry for donuts, with cider.) Left dunks on Right, Right dunks on Left, day in, day out. It’s what we do. Here a dunk, there a dunk, everywhere a dunk dunk.

But, to adapt FDR, Dr. Dunk had better become Dr. Beat-the-Plague.

(You remember that FDR spoke of “Dr. New Deal” and “Dr. Win-the-War.”)

It’s obvious why we love “China virus” or “Chinese virus” right now. Everything is abnormal — horribly, disorientingly, alarmingly abnormal — and culture war is reassuringly familiar. It’s like the “old days.”

• In his Friday press conference, President Trump referred to the State Department as the “Deep State Department.” Humorous? Out of bounds? Nutty? About three years ago, with the rise of Trump, many Americans on the right fell in love with the term “deep state.” It comes from Turkey. There, it had meaning. I like what National Review said in an editorial last December: “Americans should unlearn this imported term.” But I’m afraid it’s too late.

Also, I thought of our Foreign Service officers, especially those in dangerous spots, of which there are many. The names of some 250 of our diplomats are on plaques in a State Department lobby. These people died in the line of duty. What does “Deep State Department,” from the lips of the president, do for morale? No big deal? Flattering? Insulting?

This is something to be thought of, I think, in the midst of all the other things to be thought of . . .

• There are smart people in this world who think that, economically, we are facing something more like 1930 than like, say, 2009. I take this very seriously. At the same time, I’m a big believer in American ingenuity, and in human ingenuity. They’re a clever race, those humans. They also have a certain daring of spirit. I wouldn’t count them out, in this situation as in others.

Do you know what I mean?

• I loved a tweet from Dana Rubinstein, a reporter at Politico New York. “Bad news, lovebirds,” she said. “The NYC marriage bureau is closed as of today.” I loved the old-fashionedness of that tweet. Lovebirds getting married? Married? Beautiful.

Here is a nice story, outta New York. Headline: “Two 20-somethings extend ‘invisible hands’ in virus outbreak.” Opening sentence: “Liam Elkind’s big heart and his break from college was a highlight of 83-year-old Carol Sterling’s week.”

Have a little more: “Elkind, a junior at Yale, and a friend, Simone Policano, amassed 1,300 volunteers in 72 hours to deliver groceries and medicine to older New Yorkers and other vulnerable people. They call themselves Invisible Hands, and they do something else in the process — provide human contact and comfort, at a safe distance, of course.”

“Invisible Hands”! H/t Adam Smith, as they might write on Twitter . . .

• In my Friday Impromptus, I told a story about home confinement — Vladimir Horowitz (the great pianist) did not leave his home for twelve years. (He was a very complicated man.) In the last few days, I have thought of a movie I enjoyed very much, when it came out in 1999: Blast from the Past. It’s about a family confined to a nuclear-fallout shelter for some 35 years. I understand it was not a critical success. (For the Wikipedia entry, go here.) But I liked it a lot, for a range of reasons. Give it a shot, I say.

• Scheherazade, the symphonic suite by Rimsky-Korsakov, has come up in my life lately. On Friday, a colleague wrote me to say how much he admired it. I told him that, years ago, I interviewed Valery Gergiev, the famed Russian conductor. How did he first get captured by music? Gergiev told me that his parents had some LPs around the house, including one of Scheherazade. That one did it.

Then, on Sunday, my friend Ed told me a story. Scheherazade came up again, out of the blue.

Ed was describing some of his boyhood in the 1930s. On Sunday, the family went to church and, afterward, had either pancakes or French toast. At 2 o’clock, they listened to the New York Philharmonic on the radio. (The family lived in smalltown Michigan.) At about 5, they had dinner.

Ed was smitten by music — in part because of these radio broadcasts. His sixth-grade teacher had two records, just lying around the classroom. He gave them both to Ed. (I don’t think any other student was interested in them.)

They were the first two of a set of six. In those days, it took six records to encompass all of Scheherazade. So, Ed had just the first third of the piece. He listened to it over and over, to the point where his mother said she had memorized every note.

He ”wore the grooves off,” as we used to say.

The performers? The Philadelphia Orchestra, under Stokowski. To hear the whole thing — at the flick or two of a finger — go here.

Thanks for joining me, dear friends, and talk to 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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