A ship in a storm, &c.

Ships from the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, in concert with other ships, transit the South China Sea on March 15, 2020. (Brandon Richardson / U.S. Navy)
The present urgency; Venezuela; Nancy Pelosi; Andrew Lloyd Webber; and more

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE B y now, I’m sure, you’ve read about the drama surrounding a Naval ship and its captain. The headline in the New York Times read, “Captain of Aircraft Carrier Pleads for Help as Virus Cases Increase Onboard.” The subheading read as follows: “‘We are not at war,’ the captain of the carrier Theodore Roosevelt wrote. ‘Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors.’”

This makes for grim reading, as much reading does these days. I want to fasten on one line of the Times’s story: “A senior Navy official on Sunday sought to play down the urgency of the situation on the Roosevelt . . .”

You will know what I mean when I say, I am all for measured tones and cool heads. I have been alarmed at alarmism, so to speak, my entire life. But there is a time for downplaying and a time for “up-playing,” if you will. In my judgment, this is no time for downplaying. Lives are at risk, and, in some parts of the world, they are piling up bodies like cordwood.

• By almost every measure, the people of Venezuela are unlucky. Why do I say “almost every measure”? Venezuelans have been starved and pulverized by the dictatorship that rules them. Well, they are lucky in one respect, and just one: The Trump administration is actively opposed to the Venezuelan dictatorship. Our president says sweet and complimentary things about Erdogan, MBS, and plenty of other dictators. I have catalogued this for three years now. But Maduro is a goat.

I have long maintained that Maduro, oaf that he is, made a big mistake early on in not flattering Trump. Who knows what space that would have bought him? Also, I wonder how Hugo Chávez — who was clever as hell, unfortunately — would have played it.

Last week, the Justice Department indicted Nicolás Maduro for narco-terrorism and drug trafficking. The State Department offered a $15 million reward for information leading to his arrest. For good measure, the Justice Department indicted other Venezuelan officials, and FARC members, too. (The FARC, you recall, is the longstanding Colombian narco-terrorist group.)

Is there any argument against the administration’s moves? Only one, as far as I can tell: These moves prevent a negotiated exit for Maduro. They do not allow him to save face. They do not afford him a line of retreat. They preclude a soft landing for him and his gang. Now they have no incentive to leave, under any circumstances. They will stay to the bitter end, having nothing to lose.

I have time for this argument, as the British say. But it seems to me that Maduro & Co. have been determined to stay till the bitter end regardless. And I find the administration’s moves — these blows against dictatorship, or at least one dictatorship — refreshing and cheering.

• On March 26, Senator Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican, issued the following tweet:

Happy bday @SpeakerPelosi We often disagree but I admire your commitment 2public service &willingness to wrk w me on issues like USMCA+lowering Rx drug prices Cooperation btwn us is what itll take to get drug prices lowered Working 2gether across party lines is esp important now

Like other hot-blooded types, I used to gag at bipartisanship, or most of it. I shuddered at “reaching across the aisle.” To hot-bloods on my side, that usually meant Republican capitulation — the “surrender caucus” and all that. But the older one gets, especially in times like these . . .

On Grassley, allow me to walk down Memory Lane. In the fall of 1984, I was an intern in the office of Senator Bob Dole (R., Kan.). The receptionist liked Grassley a lot. Why? Because he would call up and say, “Hi, my name is Chuck Grassley. I’m a senator from Iowa. Is Senator Dole available?” He was so polite and modest.

Last week, on March 26 — Nancy Pelosi’s 80th birthday — Howard Mortman of C-SPAN tweeted around a video of President George W. Bush paying tribute to her at the outset of his 2007 State of the Union address. Bush said he had the honor of being “the first president to begin the State of the Union message with these words: ‘Madam Speaker.’” He went on in this vein, too.

Such a gesture never bought Bush an ounce of good will from the opposition. Not an ounce. He was reviled as a Hitler. (No one remembers this now, or few do.) But he was true to himself, and he’s a helluva man.

• President Trump likes to rail against the New York Times, but he loves to quote from it, when it suits him. He did this on Twitter a few days ago. He quoted selectively — leaving out negative parts, and failing to include ellipses — but still.

“President Trump is a ratings hit,” said the article in question. A bit further on: “Mr. Trump and his coronavirus updates have attracted an average audience of 8.5 million on cable news, roughly the viewership of the season finale of ‘The Bachelor.’”

The U.S. president, touting his TV ratings in the middle of a pandemic, with bodies piling up? Yup. That’s our guy.

I flashed back to the 2016 presidential cycle. Trump kept quoting his poll numbers. He did this in speech after speech, during the primaries. He seemed obsessed by his poll numbers. A politico working on a rival campaign commented, “You’ve got to remember, Trump is a TV guy. A reality-TV personality. For him, poll numbers are like Nielsen ratings.”

Made perfect sense.

• Eric Nelson, who works in the publishing industry — Broadside Books — tweeted the following: “The secret to understanding partisanship over Trump is that he’s so vague and inarticulate, he’s always saying whatever you want him to be saying.” Nelson added, “Or, to be clear, whatever you most hope he is not saying.”

I thought this was insightful to the point of profundity. With regularity — almost daily — I am shocked by interpretations of Trump. For example, I’ll hear him say something grotesque — blatantly false, cruel, authoritarian, or what have you. And others will hear an oration by Pericles or a sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

It’s the damndest thing.

• Trump said he told Vice President Pence, “Don’t call the woman in Michigan.” I’ve known a few women from Michigan, being from that state. In a tweet, Trump was more specific:

I love Michigan, one of the reasons we are doing such a GREAT job for them during this horrible Pandemic. Yet your Governor, Gretchen “Half” Whitmer is way in over her ahead, she doesn’t have a clue. Likes blaming everyone for her own ineptitude! #MAGA

#MAGA, indeed. Trump is a perpetual applier of derogatory nicknames. I think it’s one of his least attractive traits. I think it is unbecoming in a leader, and, indeed, in a man. But it makes lots of hearts flutter. To each his own, I guess.

Insults are a big part of the populist style. Chávez was a master, of course. So is Bolsonaro, in Brazil. So is López Obrador, in Mexico. Gabriel Zaid, the Mexican writer, dubbed López Obrador “el poeta del insulto,” the poet of the insult. But I’m not sure “Half Whitmer” rises to poetry . . .

• Wanna talk a little politics? U.S. politics? Presidential politics? Joe Biden has pledged to pick a woman as his running mate. Depending on how things look in late summer — before the Republican convention — Trump may want to make a change.

Walk back to 2008 with me. The Democrats went first — they held their convention first — because the “out” party always does. The party not holding the White House always goes first.

Senator Obama chose Biden as his running mate — passing over Senator Hillary Clinton, his main rival in the primaries. That gave Republicans an opening, woman-wise. Senator McCain, who would be the Republican nominee, turned to Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska.

Remember what she said in her first speech, after being named by McCain? This was in advance of the GOP convention (but after the Democratic convention in Denver). Palin complimented Clinton on showing “such determination and grace in her presidential campaign.”

Palin continued, “It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America. But it turns out the women of America aren’t finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all.”

See? (Didn’t work out, but . . .)

Well, Trump could counter the Democratic ticket with, say, Nikki Haley. He does not need Pence, for Religious Right purposes. Trump is far more popular with the Religious Right than Pence is — Trump is more popular with that Right than anyone is, for sure.

Should be, or could be, interesting . . .

• Man, are these weird times. That includes physically. Often, I take a long walk through a park, where people play catch and the like. Balls get loose. Kids play soccer, and those balls get loose.

Previously, if a ball was coming toward you — rolling down a hill, let’s say — you stopped it. You kicked it back, or threw it back, to the people playing.

Now, however, no one wants you to stop nothin’. You let the ball roll down the hill, and the other guy traipses the mile or whatever to retrieve it.

So unnatural, you know? (But understandable, of course.)

• A little music? Try Andrew Lloyd Webber, entertaining the world while at his piano, in self-isolation. He plays his song “All I Ask of You,” from The Phantom of the Opera. And he is so charming. So English. He has the characteristic self-depreciation (or “self-deprecation,” as most people say, at least in America).

Introducing “All I Ask of You,” Lloyd Webber says, “All I ask is that I can play the piano properly this morning, we’ll see what happens. Anyway . . .”

Soon into the song, a dog comes up to him, and the pianist says, “Hello. It’s all right, it doesn’t come from Cats.”

Once he’s finished, he says, “Now, the more observant of you will see that I was playing it in C major. That’s just ’cause my arthritic fingers couldn’t do it in D flat, ’cause you all know, of course, that it’s really in D flat.”

ALW is a big, big talent, and he deserves his riches, as far as I’m concerned. That song and others will live on and on.

• Well, I’m afraid that I have gone on and on, in these Impromptus (this Impromptus?). Let me leave you with a sign posted at my regular BBQ joint, which is open for pickup and delivery. See you soon, my friends, and be well.

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

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