NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE J .K. Rowling, the bestselling author in the history of the world, has expressed politically incorrect opinions about sex and transgenderism. As a result, much of the world — including former admirers and associates — has dumped on her. To read about this matter, go here. I have linked to a piece by my National Review colleague Madeleine Kearns.
Another piece, published in The Daily Beast, begins this way: “Could someone please, for the love of God, teach J.K. Rowling how to read the room?”
There are writers who read the room. They are practically human thermometers. And they give the room what it wants. But if you write for the room — with the room in mind; with audience reaction in mind — you can hardly be a real writer.
By sheer coincidence, Mark Helprin was saying just this to a group of us the other day.
About 15 years ago — give or take? — online publications acquired comments sections. (These are distinct from letters to the editor.) For a writer, these sections are dicey propositions.
In the last ten days, two young writers — independently — have said to me, “Whoa, the comments!” Yeah.
I beg young writers — and some old writers — not to read the comments. There’s gold in them thar hills. But much else, too. Mainly, comments play with a writer’s head. They alter his writing. He writes in anticipation of comments, whether he’s conscious of it or not.
This is ruinous to writing. Destructive of integrity.
Irving Kristol, that wise editor, would not even take reader surveys. He thought it was the job of editors to decide what should go into a publication. A publication will find its readers — it’s a big, diverse country, and world — and the more independence and integrity a publication has, the more valuable it will be.
If any writer ever had “screw-you money” — I am Bowdlerizing — it’s J.K. Rowling. But money isn’t everything. Every writer, like every person, probably, likes to be liked. Everyone is loath to be hated. But if you’re going to be a real writer — a writer worth anything — you have to withstand some hatred.
I admire JKR no end. I’m sure her politics are very different from mine. So what? She could have spent the rest of her life accepting laurels (and royalties). She could have spent the rest of her life going to Harry Potter conventions and being adored.
Instead, she has waded into the “controversial.” She has joined the fray. And that takes spine.
In theory, a writer can get by without offending anybody. He can write absolutely bloodlessly. Alternatively, he can play to the crowd — his crowd, his camp, his tribe. He will never hear a contrary word.
But what a sorry way to go through life, right?
Ideally, you want a “honey badger” — a writer who basically doesn’t give a damn. Who is immune to praise and immune to criticism (except for criticism of a just and constructive kind). Such a bird, or badger, is very, very rare, of course.
This is a big subject, but I would like to spend one more word on it: A big question about writing, I would say, is: Is it honest? Is it sincere? Does it have good will?
Writing aside, I often ask this about opera productions, new compositions, and other things I review.
Well, one more “one more word,” if I may: I’m glad, and privileged, to be writing for National Review.
• Like everyone else, I’ve been reading and thinking about police brutality, racism, the national anthem, kneeling . . .
I wonder: How did the question of police brutality and racism get bound up with sports and the national anthem? Lots of people in this country despise abortion. They think that legal abortion on demand is a national disgrace. A stain on the American escutcheon, akin to slavery, even. Yet they don’t protest during the national anthem, as far as I know.
• People aren’t in the mood for racial optimism, and I don’t really blame them. This is more a time for protest than for gratitude and hopefulness. Times of protest have their place.
Nonetheless, I was thinking: You know one thing that will check racism? Widespread intermarriage. It is all around us. And it has effects.
• Above, I mentioned Irving Kristol. Do you remember his crack about the perpetuation of American Jewry? A crack that was also a serious point? I will paraphrase: “The biggest threat to us is not that the Gentiles will kill us but that they’ll marry us.”
• In June 2018, President Trump came home from a summit with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, tweeting, “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” and adding, “. . . sleep well tonight!” Many of us thought of Neville Chamberlain, returning from Munich: “I believe it is peace for our time. . . . Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”
On Saturday, in his West Point address, the president used the phrase “faraway lands that many people have never even heard of.” It reminded many of us, once more, of Chamberlain. In September 1938 — same month as the Munich Agreement — the prime minister spoke of “a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.” (This was Czechoslovakia.)
As someone once said, history doesn’t repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes.
• At West Point, Trump also said, “We are not the policemen of the world.” So true. But I remember something Jeane Kirkpatrick said, way back in the bad ol’ Reagan days. The Left was always saying, “We can’t be the world’s policeman.” Fair enough, said Kirkpatrick: but what if there’s a world criminal? Who will stop him? Is he simply to run amok, unchecked?
Big and difficult questions, about which thousands of books have been written . . .
• Ticked at James Mattis’s criticisms of Trump, some of the president’s backers have been saying, “Ex–military people ought to shut up about politics.”
What if Mattis had defended and praised Trump? Would he still have been wrong?
Did Eisenhower have a right to run for president? To be president? I think so. Did Admiral Stockdale have a right to run with Ross Perot? Yup. How about General Flynn, who was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014? Did he have a right to be at the 2016 GOP convention, leading a chant of “Lock her up”?
I thought that was a little unseemly, but what the hey. These guys are all citizens.
• My friend Bret Stephens, a columnist for the New York Times, really tore into the Times — in those very pages:
Last week’s decision by this newspaper to disavow an Op-Ed by Senator Tom Cotton is a gift to the enemies of a free press — free in the sense of one that doesn’t quiver and cave in the face of an outrage mob. It is a violation of the principles that are supposed to sustain the profession, particularly our obligation to give readers a picture of the world as it really is.
And, as the paper dismisses distinguished journalists along with controversial opinions, it’s an invitation to intellectual cowardice.
Good for Bret. And good for the Times, too, for letting him bawl it out, on its own dime, so to speak. How many publications would do that? (Not many.)
• I thought of a crack by Ronald Reagan. It came to me as I read this piece, by Desmond Lachman, saying, in essence, Remember the budget deficit! It matters. And those who think it doesn’t, have their head in the sand.
Reagan said, “I don’t worry about the deficit. It’s big enough to take care of itself.” But, to repeat: That was a joke.
• Good news: Twitter busted China, Russia, and Turkey for their bottery — for their state propaganda on the platform. Check it out.
Bad news: “The video-conferencing app Zoom recently shut down the account of a U.S.-based Chinese rights group after it held an online event marking the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre.” I have quoted from this article. Apparently, Zoom was responding to pressure from the Chinese dictatorship.
Good news: Zoom restored the human-rights group’s account.
• On Twitter — I’m unsuspended — I wrote,
You often hear iceberg lettuce bad-mouthed — “tasteless,” “déclassé,” etc. I love it so. I love its cleanness and crunch. I find it a perfect vehicle for good dressing. And a wonderful accompaniment to tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. Long live this blessed lettuce.
A reader responded, “Coming out in defense of iceberg lettuce may define your career from here on out.”
I’ll take it, baby! (Could do worse.) Have a good week, everybody. Thanks for joining me.
If you’d like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — write to email@example.com.