Impromptus

The dicey world of honorifics, &c.

Singer Meat Loaf on the red carpet at the World Poker Tour Celebrity Invitational in Los Angeles, Calif., in 2008 (Hector Mata / Reuters)
On ‘Mr.,’ a Nobelist from Northern Ireland, Iggy Pop, and more

At the beginning of this week, Katherine Faulders of ABC News issued a tweet in which she referred to the president as “Trump.” Kayleigh McEnany, the new presidential press secretary, tweeted back at her, “To you, he’s not Trump, he’s PRESIDENT Trump!”

In a blogpost, I had a comment or two on this. Three, actually.

(1) That is not very American. (2) All of us conservatives would go ape if a Democratic press secretary said such a thing. You know it, right? And (3) President Trump himself is not exactly a stickler for decorum. What does he call other officials? “Half Whitmer.” “Crazy Joe.” “Crazy Nancy.” “Sleepy Joe.” “Nervous Nancy.” “Cryin’ Chuck.” “Liddle’ Bob Corker.” Etc., etc.

This incident — or whatever we should call it — put me in mind of something else: a New York Times article, and Trump’s response to it. The article, published on March 22, ended with a quote from a Democratic official, the chairman of the Democrats in Texas. I will quote the last two paragraphs:

Some Democratic Party officials said a comparison between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump at a moment of crisis only helped Mr. Biden.

“You can see the contrast between the steady, assured, informed and strong leadership that Vice President Biden has shown and the bungling, chaotic and dishonest start-stop approach that Mr. Trump has shown us since the beginning of this crisis,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.

Our president is apparently a Times reader, for he tweeted,

This is the way the @nytimes finished a story on me. “You can see the contrast between the steady, assured, informed and strong leadership that VP Biden (Sleepy Joe) has shown, and the bungling, chaotic and dishonest start-stop approach that Mr. (not Pres.) Trump has shown….

Forget “Sleepy Joe” for a moment. The Times said “Mr.,” true, not “President.” Or is that what Hinojosa said? Did Gilberto Hinojosa say “Mr. Trump” in his original comment, or did the Times add the “Mr.”?

In any case, the convention of the newspaper is to say “President” on first reference and “Mr.” thereafter. (We have not yet had a “Ms.” — or a “Mrs.” or a “Miss” — in the Oval Office.) The Times misters everybody. The paper is very old-fashioned this way. It is one of the few remaining publications that do “Mr.,” “Ms.,” etc. — not last name only.

According to legend, the New York Times once referred to the rocker Meat Loaf as “Mr. Loaf.” Unfortunately, it is just that: legend, not true. (Too bad.)

National Review does not do “Mr.” (Although there is some flexibility here. If “Mr.” sounded right — for rhythmic reasons, let’s say — I would write it.) As a rule, we say “President Trump,” or “President Donald Trump,” or “President Donald J. Trump,” on first reference and “Trump” thereafter. You know who does the same? FoxNews.com.

Maybe Trump would like to have a word with Fox (as he likes to do) . . .

I don’t believe I’ve ever had more responses to a piece than I did in 2002, when I published “Is There a Dr. in the House? What’s in an honorific.” That issue really touches a nerve: “Dr.” My piece was occasioned by the New York Times, in fact. Why was it calling some people with Ph.D.s “Dr.” and others “Mr.”? (The person himself — the person who is being written about — has a choice.)

Let me quote one paragraph from that piece, if you don’t mind, just because it’s kind of interesting:

Feelings about “Dr.” are bound up in that bitch-goddess, Status. (Yes, I know: James said Success. But Status is a sister.) The best line in either Austin Powers movie belongs to Dr. Evil, who, when addressed as “Mr.,” says, “I didn’t spend six years in evil medical school to be called ‘Mr.,’ thank you very much!” Our senior editor Jeffrey Hart, professor emeritus of English at Dartmouth, remembers serving as a campaign adviser to Nixon (not that this is necessarily a segue from evil). To Jeff’s amusement, Nixon called him “Dr. Hart.” This accords with the Nixon we know: class-conscious, status-nervous, chip-on-the-shouldery, the boy from Whittier who received a tuition scholarship to Harvard but couldn’t go, because the family didn’t have the money to transport him to and from Massachusetts. Nixon, according to Jeff, would also say, “I’m no Ph.D., but . . .,” before launching into a disquisition on some arcane topic.

• Feel like another Trump tweet? He does not leave us with a shortage. Several days ago, he wrote,

Nervous Nancy is an inherently “dumb” person. She wasted all of her time on the Impeachment Hoax. She will be overthrown, either by inside or out, just like her last time as “Speaker”.

It is the job of Trump-’splainers to ’splain, and I wish they would ’splain me this: Why those quotation marks? Those quotation marks around “dumb” and “Speaker”?

(Some people say I spend too much time on language, and care about it too much, and care too much about how people express themselves, especially people in leadership positions. They should have known Bill Buckley. Ho, mama. They wouldn’t have liked him at all.)

• One more tweet, from the president of the United States. On Wednesday, he wrote,

I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.

We all make slips of the tongue, even if most of us don’t make them in important presidential statements, related to war. Obviously, you don’t shoot down boats, you shoot down planes. But we’re all human.

Still: What if Obama or some other Democrat said that? Can you imagine our reaction? The reaction of the Right? I can.

In 2010, Obama mispronounced “corpsman,” making it come out “corpse-man.” We had a field day. Some people said it showed Obama’s unfitness to lead our mighty military.

Anyway . . .

• I was interested to see an obit of my old friend Betty Williams. I don’t mean she was a friend of mine. I mean, I spent some time with her, looking into her life, and writing about her. I never met her, though I wish I had.

She won the Nobel Peace Prize for 1976, along with Mairead Corrigan. They were peace activists in Northern Ireland. Betty was 33 and Mairead 32. Previously, the youngest Nobel peace laureate had been Martin Luther King, age 35. (Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani heroine, was a co-laureate in 2014, when she was 17. There will never be a younger winner, almost surely. Those circumstances were very peculiar.)

I wrote about Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan in Peace, They Say, a history of the Nobel Peace Prize. May I quote a little?

Their prize comes with a tragic story. On August 10, 1976, Anne Maguire was out walking with four of her children. There had been a shootout between the IRA and the British army. Driving a fleeing car, an IRA man was shot through the head. The car crashed into the Maguire family, killing two of the children instantly and claiming a third later. Their mother was badly injured. Of the dead children, the youngest was six weeks, and the others were two years and eight.

What does that have to do with Betty and Mairead?

A witness to the horrible event was Williams. In the following days, she got together with Corrigan, a sister of Anne Maguire and an aunt of those children. They formed a group called Women for Peace.

This group grew into a larger community, a movement.

A little more:

In 1980, Anne Maguire, unable to live with her torment, killed herself. As Corrigan told it in a speech, Anne left a note saying, “Forgive me. I can’t go on. I love you.” Corrigan went to care for the remaining Maguire children, and in 1981 married their father, her former brother-in-law. She is known today as Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

There is so much more to say, but I’ll continue for just a little longer. Betty Williams was not always lovable, at least by me. She hated George W. Bush, for the Iraq War, in particular.

In 2006, she told schoolchildren in Brisbane, “I have a very hard time with this word ‘nonviolence,’ because I don’t believe that I am nonviolent. Right now, I would love to kill George Bush. I don’t know how I ever got a Nobel Peace Prize, because when I see children die, the anger in me is just beyond belief.” She made a similar statement the next year, in Dallas. “Right now, I could kill George Bush, no problem. No, I don’t mean that. I mean, how could you nonviolently kill somebody? I would love to be able to do that.”

Mairead Corrigan Maguire was pretty much of the same mind.

But, oh, were they brave, those two. Incredibly so. Let me quote again, please:

Whatever we think of Williams and Maguire in these last decades . . . they did something noble in that summer of ’76, after the death of those three children. and they were very, very brave. Here were two women, going on nothing but nerve, telling the IRA to lay down their arms. The IRA might have killed them for that — they killed for less. And they certainly threatened the women and their followers. Undaunted, the women went to America, to tell the Irish Americans to stop sending money to the IRA. The IRA might have killed them for that, too. Possibly, the Nobel prize, when it came, protected the women, making the gunmen think it unwise to target them — unwise from a PR point of view. The women were called traitors, turncoats, British spies, worse. They persisted, crying against violence and urging peace.

One last thing. This is about Mairead, not the late Betty. On the day those children were buried — Mairead’s nephews and niece — Mairead took roses from their grave and presented them to the mother of Danny Lennon, the IRA driver of that fleeing car, which struck the Maguires.

Here is a report from December 18, 2019, published in the New York Times. It is by Choe Sang-Hun, the paper’s bureau chief in Seoul. Every word is gripping. Every word.

It’s about two North Korean fishermen, seeking asylum in the South, but sent back to the North, to their certain execution. They killed the captain of their ship — and about 16 others, with hammers and axes. Why?

Anyway, gripping, and horrible.

• I have a covid comment: When your friends die of the disease, and people point out that they had problems anyway — they were old, they were sick — that is not exactly great consolation, do you know what I mean? A lot of it is whistling past the graveyard, in my opinion.

• I have a political comment: I have very strong views, as you know. Very strong views about policy and political philosophy. But, frankly, I think I feel even more strongly that we should have leaders — left, right, or center — who are not liars. I’m not talking about people who fudge or fib here and there. I’m not talking about the normal prevarication that goes with political life, and maybe life in general. I’m talking about bald-faced liars.

• A news article begins,

Sen. Mitt Romney is the only GOP senator who was not asked to be on President Donald Trump’s new bipartisan task force focused on reopening the country amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Nearly 100 lawmakers from both parties — including all of Romney’s Senate Republican colleagues — were tapped to join “the Opening Up America Again Congressional Group,” according to a list released by the White House Thursday.

Shame — because I doubt anyone there has experience more valuable than Romney’s, or abilities more valuable than his.

• On Twitter three days ago, I saw that Iggy Pop’s name was trending. Why? It was his birthday. The “Godfather of Punk” turned 73.

I have two slight connections to him. He’s my homeboy in that he’s from the Ann Arbor / Ypsilanti area. (We’re talkin’ southeastern Michigan.) Also, Bill Buckley once met him, on the isle of Mustique. They had a nice talk. They enjoyed each other a great deal. Bill raved about him.

Funny to think of, right?

All my best to you, 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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