‘Let’s light this candle,’ &c.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on May 30, 2020. (Joe Skipper / Reuters)
A space launch, protests, riots, China, Russia, MAGA, music, and more

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE T hose were the words spoken by Doug Hurley before the spaceship was launched on Saturday: “Let’s light this candle.” He and Bob Behnken are the two astronauts aboard the ship. Hurley was echoing the words of Alan Shepard, who uttered them in 1961. Shepard was the first American in space.

That was a thrilling launch on Saturday, wasn’t it?

I could not help thinking of the Challenger launch, in January 1986. Like millions of others, I am affected by that launch. I remember where I was, when I saw it. If you know what I mean: I’m glad to have Saturday’s launch — beautiful and perfect — in mind.

Back in 1986, I was in a department store, in the TV section, believe it or not. So I saw the disaster play out on an array of TVs, all around me. That was strange, in addition to horrible.

One of my first memories is of the moon shot — our landing on the moon — in July 1969. I was with my grandparents, at their cottage on a lake. I was five. We went out and looked at the moon, or at least up in the sky. I was slightly disturbed and confused that I did not see anything unusual, because I thought I should have.

Silly, right?

• In July 2013, I had an Impromptus column headed “When thuggery comes home, &c.” It began this way:

Think back to the political drama in Wisconsin two years ago. The ugliest aspect of that drama, in my opinion, was the gathering of union members at the homes of legislators they hated. They tramped on lawns, chanted their slogans, screamed their abuse — and frightened and intimidated families inside. Including the pets, probably.

A bit more:

I remember thinking, “If I were on these people’s side — which I’m not — I would be especially appalled by their tactics. They discredit the cause in general. . . .”

So, why was I recalling Wisconsin 2011 in July 2013? Because a mob, or near mob, had gathered at the home of Kris Kobach, who was the secretary of state of Kansas. The cause of this crowd was amnesty for illegal aliens.

They tramped all over his lawn, mounted his porch, shouted their speeches through bullhorns: “Sí, se puede,” and all that racket.

In later years, protesters would gather at the home of Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, and at the home of Charles Schumer, the Democratic leader. I continued to decry this tactic. I abhor it. It seems to me undemocratic, illiberal, and un-American.

We carry out our political disputes in legislative chambers and other public places.

Which brings me to this article, published on Friday. I would like to cite a section concerning Michigan — my home state — and its governor, Gretchen Whitmer:

After Trump’s tweets, and statements . . . protesters descended on the state capitol. They also descended on her home, where she lives with her husband and daughters.

“We all stood in the front of the residence and looked out the window and saw armed gunmen out there with automatic rifles standing yards from the front door,” Whitmer told me this week. “It’s really destructive and it’s hurtful.”

Asked if she thought Trump shared the blame for the harassment she is experiencing, she got quiet for a moment and then said “yes.”

• I hate the mob. It is probably the animating feeling of my politics. I like process, the rule of law, the protection of minority rights, etc.

On the right, I have critics who disdain my disdain of populism, or my great wariness of populism. Yet, in a sense, conservatism is anti-populist. It is cold-eyed about popular passions, and fearful of the mob — intelligently and reasonably so.

These days, many equate conservatism and populism, which is ignorant and nuts.

• Consider: It should not be hard to hate police brutality and hate mob violence. But in the weird state of our politics, it somehow is — or at least that’s my impression.

• Through the eight years of Reagan, Michael Kinsley predicted a “long hot summer” — which never materialized. To his credit, he kidded himself about it.

(Let me say, for the uninitiated, that Michael Kinsley was a very famous liberal journalist, much valued by William F. Buckley Jr., who had him on his television show, Firing Line, frequently.)

I am worried about a long hot summer in 2020, given the pandemic, urban unrest, high unemployment, the presidential campaign . . . A combustible mix.

• On Saturday, I saw a video of young people joyously looting a Nike store. The words of Edward C. Banfield (the great political scientist) are perpetually applicable: “rioting mainly for fun and profit.”

• I saw a picture of a sign in a store window: BLACK OWNED: Please Don’t Loot! I was reminded of the sign in the bad old days, inside many cars: No Radio. It meant, “My car’s not worth smashing into. Try the other guy’s.”

Societal defeatism and moral abdication.

• You recall the “caravan,” in October 2018? The migrants coming up from Central America? My colleague Ramesh Ponnuru said, “. . . the caravan — or as I call it, the Committee to Reelect the President.”

I thought of that line on beholding marauders, arsonists, et al. across our land.

• The (original) Committee to Reelect the President, as you know, was a Nixon operation. The name led to the acronym “CREEP.” As William Safire pointed out, you’ve got to think of these things before you bestow a name . . .

• President Trump has withdrawn the United States from the World Health Organization. I understand the impetus behind the withdrawal (do I ever). Yet I believe the withdrawal is an error: a gift to the PRC. Same as our backing out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership was a gift to the PRC.

American retreats from the world stage will make the PRC stronger. I hope we don’t cut off our nose to spite our face.

I could say this at book length — so could you — but we’re going for short here . . .

• A citizen of Hong Kong, Sin Ka-ho, has now been sentenced for “rioting.” This is a very serious charge in Hong Kong. It carries a maximum sentence of ten years. Sin Ka-ho got four. He is 21 years old.

As I explained in a piece last year, democratic protesters in Hong Kong have several demands, one of which is that the government stop treating the protests as “riots.” Our president Trump described the protests as “riots,” which was not helpful.

He also said, “We have to stand with Hong Kong, but I’m also standing with President Xi. He’s a friend of mine.”

He further said, “If it weren’t for me, Hong Kong would have been obliterated in about 14 minutes.”

Do you believe that is true? It will be interesting to learn more about all this in the future.

Meanwhile, the lights are going out in Hong Kong, fast.

• The PRC is provoking trouble on the Indian border. President Trump said he spoke with the Indian prime minister, Modi. Specifically, Trump said, “I can tell you, I did speak to Prime Minister Modi. He’s not in a good mood about what’s going on with China.” The Indian government flatly denied that the president and the prime minister had spoken.

Who do you think is telling the truth?

• In 2014, the United States and other countries suspended Russia’s membership of the G-8. Thus, the group became a G-7. The reason: Russia, under Putin, had invaded a sovereign country, Ukraine. Russia is still making war in that country.

Yet Trump has now invited Russia to participate in the group, starting next fall. The facts on the ground — Ukrainian ground — have not changed. To readmit Russia, absent a positive change, would be an obscenity.

• “‘MAGA’ is ‘Make America Great Again,’” said Trump. “By the way, they love African-American people. They love black people. MAGA loves the black people.”

That gives a lot away, doesn’t it?

Incidentally, I learned something from the president’s statement — from listening to it, I mean: He pronounces “MAGA” “magga”; I have always pronounced it “mahga.” But I should defer to him, because he is the creator of the thing!

• A flight attendant, Deidre Marie, wanted to wear a face shield. But the airline said no — as you can read about here. My view: I think those who are “out there,” working and helping, should be allowed to take whatever precautions they like — appearances be damned.

• A little music? For a post about an opera gala — an “at home” gala — go here. For my latest Music for a While, go here.

I open that episode — the latest episode of my Music for a While podcast — with Shostakovich’s Festive Overture. It is a festive piece indeed, eternally joyful and invigorating.

But what if I told you about its origins? Shostakovich wrote the overture in 1947 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Would that make a difference, in your enjoyment of the piece?

I don’t think it would. Because such a piece is quickly unmoored from its origins, becoming music, plain and simple — and wonderful.

• The other day, I was in the grocery store, with my hands full. My hands were piled high with groceries. I had a precarious tower or two. A nice young clerk said, “Could I help you with that?” I said, “I was too lazy to pick up a cart or basket. I think it’s a male thing.” She grinned and said, “My father is the same exact way.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you social science.

• I was talking with a friend of mine about housekeeping. Are you a neatnik, a slob, or in between? A Felix, an Oscar, or in between? My friend’s wife had a saying, which she in fact had on some kind of sign, in their kitchen: “A home should be clean enough to be healthy, dirty enough to enjoy.”

Enough dirty talk. Thanks for joining me, my friends, and see you later.

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

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