‘President,’ they say, &c.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin in 2020; Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 2003 (Sputnik / Alexei Druzhinin / Kremlin via Reuters; Reuters)
On dictators, Lincoln, ‘real people,’ mask-wearing, Mississippi, and more

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE V ladimir Putin has organized a sham plebiscite in Russia, designed to keep him in power until at least 2036. Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion and current democracy champion, has written a strong piece on the subject. Let me quote a little:

It’s fair to ask, why bother with the pretense of democracy? Dictatorships are obsessed with the superficial trappings of legitimacy and democracy, both as distraction and to sully the meaning of these terms.

Kasparov goes on to say that foreign media, and others, call Putin “president,” thus “putting him on par with the leaders of free countries.”

Years ago, Cubans and Cuban Americans sometimes mentioned something to me: Fidel Castro was often referred to as “President Castro,” in the American media and elsewhere. This offended them — because Castro was nothing but a dictator, who ruled by force and terror. “President” implied a certain legitimacy.

The late Robert D. Novak used to refer to the leader in the Kremlin — whoever he was — as “party boss.” For instance, he’d write “party boss Konstantin Chernenko.” I thought this was exactly right: because what Chernenko and the others were, essentially, was the head of the Communist Party.

Thinking of Bob, I sometimes refer to Xi Jinping as “party boss,” or, more commonly, as “the Chinese No. 1.”

By the way, I wrote an essay on this general subject in 2013: “Entitled: The tricky business of addressing or referring to an unsavory foreign leader.” It began as follows:

In his recent address at the U.N., President Obama referred to Ali Khamenei, the head ayatollah in Iran. Each time, he referred to him as “the Supreme Leader.” He did not even say his name: just “Supreme Leader.” Was that really necessary, for the president of the United States?

If you’re interested, that piece is here. (I thought that Obama was soft on dictators. That seems so quaint, at this remove.)

• Abraham Lincoln may be revered, but not by all. (Who is?) He is attacked by the Left and he is attacked by the Right. So is Churchill, incidentally. For years, I’ve observed that Lincoln-haters and Churchill-haters are the same people, by and large.

Anyway, that is an essay unto itself (an essay I believe I have written).

A few years ago, I was listening to some criticisms of Lincoln, and not unintelligent ones, either. And I had this thought:

Say what you will about Lincoln: He doomed slavery, crushed the Confederacy, redeemed the American Revolution — and paid for it with his life, murdered at 56, one month into his second term as president. What else do you want from a man?

He is the greatest American, in my opinion — almost impossible to overrate, and frequently underrated. Leadership matters a lot. Especially moral leadership, an often intangible realm.

• I appreciated a statement by Muriel Bowser, the mayor of Washington, D.C.: “What we need to do with statues is to have a reasonable conversation. Not have a mob decide they want to pull it down, and certainly not destroy anything in the District and set anything on fire.”

• Over the years, I have written a lot about “real America” and “real people.” It was Bill Buckley, more than anyone, who talked me out of these notions (and who talked me out of populism generally). Every part of the country is “real,” whether you’re familiar with it, or like it, or not. And everyone is “real,” whether you like him or not: whether he is a Rockefeller or a coalminer.

Recently, Republican senators were speaking against D.C. statehood. One, Steve Daines of Idaho, said, “Get out of this city” — meaning D.C. — “and go out to where the real people are at across the country and ask them what they think.”

That’s the spirit. And the “are at” is a special touch.

Another senator, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, said, “Yes, Wyoming is smaller than Washington by population, but it has three times as many workers in mining, logging, and construction, and ten times as many workers in manufacturing. In other words, Wyoming is a well-rounded working-class state.”

That, too, speaks to the Zeitgeist. Politicians have their finger on the pulse (which is why I usually object to gibes about “out-of-touch politicians”).

I think there are excellent arguments against D.C. statehood. I would not go down the road our populists are going down, but then, they can get themselves elected — easy-peasy — and some of us would struggle.

Last week, I was doing some Googling around, and found this in a December 2018 Impromptus: “Kevin Williamson has written a stellar piece on conservatives and cities.” I said that I had hailed the piece on Twitter and received a reply from a lady, who said,

Born and bred in NYC and I’ve always hated hearing I didn’t live in the “real America”. It always felt very real to me, and I’m very much an American. No one joins a club that just dismisses them.

• On Twitter, Michael Beschloss, the historian, circulated a notice from the City of Portland, Ore., during the pandemic of 1918–20. It makes for highly interesting reading.

“We appeal to your civic patriotism to co-operate with us in our effort to stamp out the Spanish influenza or ‘flu’ plague in Portland by wearing a mask,” the city said. “You should willingly co-operate in doing this and not necessitate the passage of an ordinance which will make the wearing of a mask compulsory.”

A friend of mine has sent me a letter from a county judge in Beaumont, Texas, Jeff Branick. The letter was written two weeks ago. Branick addresses it “To the Citizens and Media of Jefferson County.” He begins,

I recognized when I entered the mandatory mask order that there would be people who would not like it. What I didn’t expect was the level of pure hatred and profanity laden messages that would make a sailor blush. That’s okay, it comes with the territory.

A little more:

I have not asked people to lay down their arms, surrender their right to free speech or to be subject to having soldiers quartered in their homes, I’ve asked them to suffer the inconvenience of placing a 4×6” piece of material over their mouth and nose when in a business to protect their friends and neighbors.

A little more:

Eighty years ago, the greatest generation planted victory gardens, collected tin, rubber and steel, had food ration books and endured black outs, all to support the war effort. Their sacrifices were significantly more weighty than the inconvenience the present order requires.

Branick’s letter ends,

I will lift the order as soon as I possibly can, but in the meantime I pray for your cooperation.

It is an extraordinary letter and can be read in full here.

Finally, an observation from Scott Lincicome, the trade expert, who is a witty tweeter, among other things. He tweeted, “If you refuse to wear a mask bc you don’t want the government dictating your actions, the government is…still dictating your actions.”

“Heavy,” as we would have said in the ’70s.

• One of the most interesting and moving pieces I have read this year is by Stuart Stevens: “My Confederate Past.” The subheading: “Everyone who grew up in Mississippi was steeped in the Confederacy. Even if they didn’t realize it.”

When the Mississippi legislature voted to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state flag, Russell D. Moore, the Southern Baptist leader, tweeted, “YES! . . . As a Mississippian, I am proud and grateful for a new day.”

And yet, I know a Mississippi lady in New York who is rather crestfallen — and not for any malicious reason that I can discern.

Life is messy, which is why it takes minds and hearts to assess it.

(Three years ago, I wrote a piece on things Confederate so that I would never have to address the issue again.) (Not sure that’s working out.)

• I am not a statistician. Wish I were. I never took a class in probabilities and all that. Wish I had. But could someone confirm for me, please — this is really, really, really unlikely, isn’t it?

Michigan man win $4m lottery jackpot — for the second time.”

• In the absence of proper concerts and such, musicians are sending out videos, from home. Tony Bennett has now done so: “Fly Me to the Moon.” He’s still got it, age 93.

Here.

• Last week, I did a Q&A podcast with Greg Mankiw, the famed economist, who teaches at Harvard. Go here. Mankiw writes a blog, from which I would like to single out this post. It’s not about economics — although there is economics in it — but about his mother. A mini-bio. A beautiful read, about an obviously beautiful lady.

• On July 4, Kevin Williamson said to me, “Happy Independence Day — I’m feeling more independent than usual.” (I quote him with permission, of course.) Many of us can sing a few bars of that tune, along with “The Star-Spangled Banner” and other favorites.

Thanks for joining me, dearhearts, and independent hearts, and I’ll 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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