Votes and conscience, &c.

Former vice president Joe Biden speaks at a community event in Henderson, Nev., February 14, 2020. (Gage Skidmore)
On Biden, Trump, protests, Brazil, presidential golf, and more

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE O bviously, we can discern patterns when it comes to groups and voting. Groups? Yes, racial groups, ethnic groups, religious groups, and so on. I am not naïve about such matters, I hope. Yet people are individuals too, not necessarily bound to their group or groups.

Last week, Joe Biden made a crack: “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”

He quickly apologized for it, saying, “I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy. I shouldn’t have been so cavalier.”

Referring to the black vote (as people call it for convenience), he said, “I don’t take it for granted at all. No one — no one — should have to vote for any party based on their race, their religion, their background. There are African Americans who think that Trump is worth voting for. I don’t think so. I’m prepared to put my record against his. That was the bottom line, and it was really unfortunate.”

The “it” was Biden’s original remark.

President Trump, for his part, said the following last year: “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”

The disloyal Jew is an old trope.

Democrats made a big deal of Trump’s remark, Republicans are making a big deal of Biden’s. That’s the way it works. A tiny group of people, I suppose, object to both statements.

The bottom line (as Biden would say): Although we can discern patterns, race is not destiny, ethnicity is not destiny, religion is not destiny, when it comes to voting, etc., and a person is entitled to be bound only by conscience.

Moreover, the secret ballot is one of the sweetest things I know. You pull the curtain behind you and pull the lever for whomever you want, and you don’t have to say anything to anybody, at all.

• It is very hard to read the news out of North Korea. But I think we should, every once in a while, because people live there. Here is a report from Radio Free Asia: “North Korea Executes Couple For Trying to Escape to South During COVID-19 Emergency.”

A couple in their 50s tried to escape with their nephew, a 14-year-old. The couple was tortured and then executed, without a trial. The boy has apparently been spared execution.

This sort of thing is routine in North Korea. It is dog-bites-man. But every once in a while, it is good and right to cast an eye on particular cases.

• Has it been a while since you read about the USS Theodore Roosevelt and Captain Brett Crozier, who was relieved of his command? Let me recommend this report from the Wall Street Journal, published last Thursday: “Doctors on the Theodore Roosevelt Feared Dozens Would Die in Coronavirus Outbreak.”

And the subheading: “‘Get everyone off the ship,’ aircraft carrier’s medical team implored, as Capt. Brett Crozier called for rapid action.”

I don’t blame him or anyone else who called for rapid action. And I understand pretty well why the sailors cheered for Crozier as he was led away.

• A question for you: If the president were a Democrat, not Trump, would Crozier be a folk hero on the right? I bet so.

• Recently, I have had a debate with some colleagues: What is good, rambunctious, “Don’t Tread on Me” protest and what crosses the line into mobbish goonery?

For the last week or so, I’ve been reading about protesters who have hanged governors in effigy. This, for example, is from the Louisville Courier-Journal. The opening paragraph:

What started out as a freedom-loving celebration of the Second Amendment ahead of Memorial Day turned into Gov. Andy Beshear being hanged in effigy and protesters chanting outside the governor’s mansion.

They put a sign on the effigy that said “Sic semper tyrannis.” I appreciated what Kentucky’s secretary of state, Michael Adams, a Republican, said: “I condemn it wholeheartedly. The words of John Wilkes Booth have no place in the Party of Lincoln.”

Here is a report from Tim Alberta, once my colleague here at National Review, now with Politico. He is reporting from Michigan, his home state (and mine):

One man hoists a Betsy Ross-era flag from his fishing pole, with a naked brunette doll — “Governor Half-Whit!” he cries, echoing a presidential putdown — dangling from a noose.

The Spirit of ’76 is one thing, the Spirit of ’89 another. I feel we need to teach our children the difference (even if it’s too late for others).

• Brazil is being hit very, very hard by the coronavirus. You can read about it in any number of articles. The country is teetering on the brink.

Its president, Jair Bolsonaro, is full of populist bravado. A “little flu,” he called the virus earlier. And he said this, about his countrymen’s natural immunity: “The Brazilian needs to be studied. He doesn’t catch anything. You see a guy jumping into sewage, diving in, right? Nothing happens to him.”

Beware such talk, in all times and places.

• From 2009 to 2017, Republicans complained, often and loudly, about President Obama’s playing golf. Since 2017, Democrats have complained, often and loudly, about President Trump’s playing golf. Our politics is tribal to the max.

Allow me to “re-up” an article I wrote in 2010: “Hail to the Golfer-in-Chief.” There are worse things they could be doing, and usually they are.

I feel like saying to Dems: “You would rather he watched cable news and tweeted?”

• In an Impromptus last week, I wrote,

Donald Trump likes to say that elections are, were, or will be “rigged.” He said it throughout the 2016 Republican primaries and caucuses, especially when Ted Cruz won one. He said it in advance of the 2016 general election, which he himself would win. And he said it with regard to a special House election in California that took place on May 12.

More recently, he has tweeted, “The Democrats are trying to Rig the 2020 Election, plain and simple!” He even capitalized the “r” in “rig,” for emphasis, I suppose. It’s his game. Lots of people seem never to tire of the game.

• At intervals, the president tweets, “OBAMAGATE!” Just the one word, in all caps, with an exclamation point. I see it as the presidential equivalent of saying, “Squirrel!” All it means is, “Pay attention to this, not that!”

• Have another presidential tweet: “The Radical Left is in total command & control of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google. The Administration is working to remedy this illegal situation. Stay tuned, and send names & events. Thank you Michelle!”

Forgetting legality and illegality, who is Michelle? She is Michelle Malkin, who had posted a video, which the president was retweeting. He seems to have developed a warm alliance with Michelle. It was not always so.

Have a look at an article from Politico in 2013: here. It gives you a taste of conservatism, way back then.

The title of the article is “Friday’s Twitter war: Malkin vs. Trump.” The future president called Michelle a “dummy” and said she was “born stupid.” Michelle called him a “clown,” a “coward,” a “smear merchant,” and a “conservafraud” (i.e., a false conservative).

She further said, “Your water-carriers tried to get me to shut up. They failed. You don’t like women you can’t control. God bless America.”

Good times . . .

• Trump regularly tweets that he has a 96 percent approval rating in the Republican Party. He did it again on Saturday, adding, “Who are the 4%? A RINO or two!” (“RINO” means “Republican in Name Only.”)

The president has been a Republican for a relatively short time. Yet he decides who is, and who is not, a Republican. He captured a grand old party quickly and totally. During the 2016 general election, he’d occasionally say “the Republicans,” as though he weren’t one of them — and he was the GOP presidential nominee! Today, Trumpism and Republicanism are pretty much synonymous.

I regard this as one of the most extraordinary developments in all American history, certainly our political history.

• You have to grant that every political party, and every political movement, has its cranks and kooks. This is inevitable. Parties and movements have fringes.

But when President Trump pushes the Scarborough-as-murderer theory? When Newt Gingrich, for example, pushes the Seth Rich stuff? These things are coming from the top — not the bottom, not the fringes — and this has great significance.

• I don’t know about you, but I have long been a little confused by the term “political economy.” What does it mean? I have known people who have majored in political economy, and I even have a friend who has a Ph.D. in it. But the term has always been a little muddy to me.

That’s one reason I appreciated this column by Lawrence Summers, the Harvard economist. He eulogizes his colleague Alberto Alesina, a father of political economy. Another reason to appreciate the column? Well, the meaning of political economy aside, it’s a warm and interesting tribute.

My friend who has the Ph.D. in political economy has it from Harvard. He also has a Ph.D. in math, from Berkeley. I’m talking about Jianli Yang, the Chinese democracy activist, who heads Citizen Power Initiatives for China. He tells me that Professor Alesina, with whom he studied, was one of the people who led him to political economy in the first place.

• I wanted to do sports — at some length — but I have gone on and on, so should end with a little music.

For my “New York Chronicle” in the June issue of The New Criterion, go here. For a little post on Mozart and Igor Levit, the Russian-German pianist, go here.

What else? Ah, not music, but a dollop of sports — an hour of it, in fact: my latest podcast with Jim Harbaugh, the longtime quarterback and current coach, who is an old friend of mine.

Coming soon, in Impromptus: the early-NBA star Bob Harrison.

Thank you, my friends, and 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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