Impromptus

Another ‘enemy of the people,’ &c.

Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger at the capitol in Atlanta, November 6, 2020 (Dustin Chambers / Reuters)
On Brad Raffensperger, Donald Trump, Priscilla Buckley, Diego Maradona, Egypt, dictionaries, and more

From Day One, Donald Trump has called his critics — especially in the press — “enemies of the people.” I have never gotten used to it. It’s not just blah blah to me. This phrase was used in the French Revolution, and in the Soviet Union, and in Cambodia, under the Khmer Rouge — it has a history. A blood-soaked one.

On Thanksgiving Day, Trump said of Brad Raffensperger, “He’s an enemy of the people.” Raffensperger, as you know, is the secretary of state in Georgia, and a Republican. And a Trump supporter. His “sin,” in the eyes of Trump & Co., is that he has faithfully executed his office.

When the president labels you an “enemy of the people,” most of your fellow citizens will blow it off. That’s just Trump being Trump. That’s just the way he talks. But some citizens, of course, will take it seriously. Trump has countless followers, intensely devoted.

Raffensperger and his wife have received death threats: the vilest stuff. Apparently, they now have 24-hour security. In an interview with The Dispatch, Raffensperger said, “We, as Republicans, always like to talk about BLM and Antifa.” True. “And then we have basically the same cast of characters,” with “different names,” etc.

I recommend a piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Raffensperger. Its subheading is “Faith, family and the loss of a child prepared him for the Trump storm.” See if you think Raffensperger is an “enemy of the people.”

Would conservatives support a president — support anyone — who called such men “enemies of the people”? No — not as conservatives have been traditionally understood. But times have changed, dramatically.

“Sorry to read this is happening to you old timer LOL,” said a critic of mine on Twitter. I had objected to some of Trump’s comments and assertions. “But it’s a populist/America-first party now. No going back to the days of Bush-McCain-Romney!”

Oh, I know, new-timer. Believe you me. You can have it, too — it’s all yours.

Yet there is honor in the Republican Party, in the person of Raffensperger and others. “In Key States, Republicans Were Critical in Resisting Trump’s Election Narrative.” That’s a headline in the New York Times. The subheading: “They refuted conspiracy theories, certified results, dismissed lawsuits and repudiated a president of their own party.”

Here is an excerpt from the article, a passage I found almost moving:

 Republicans in Washington may have indulged Mr. Trump’s fantastical assertions, but at the state and local level, Republicans played a critical role in resisting the mounting pressure from their own party to overturn the vote after Mr. Trump fell behind on Nov. 3.

Republicans can be proud of this (if they want to be, but how many do?).

Let me offer a quick language note, although I usually place these at or near the bottom of Impromptus: “levels,” the report should have said. “At the state and local levels,” not “level.”

“It was a rigged election, 100%,” Trump has asserted. “This election was a fraud.” “Joe Biden did not get 80 million votes.” Etc., etc.

Trump pulled this in 2016, during the GOP primaries and caucuses, as you may remember. Every time Ted Cruz won one, Trump cried “fraud,” “rigged,” “hoax” — his now-familiar lexicon.

Over the weekend, Walter Olson, of the Cato Institute, walked down Memory Lane, to the Iowa caucuses, which were the opening contest in the presidential scramble. Trump tweeted,

Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he stole it. That is why all of the polls were so wrong and why he got far more votes than anticipated. Bad!

And,

Based on the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz during the Iowa Caucus, either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified.

And,

The State of Iowa should disqualify Ted Cruz from the most recent election on the basis that he cheated- a total fraud!

And,

Ted Cruz should be disqualified from his fraudulent win in Iowa. Weak RNC and Republican leadership probably won’t let this happen! Sad.

Look, it’s just what Trump does. It’s his m.o. He sells this rug over and over, and he has millions of eager buyers, which is extraordinary.

• In Egypt, there are about 60,000 political prisoners. In recent days, three more have been added to the list. They are Gasser Abdel-Razek, Karim Ennarah, and Mohammed Basheer, who are senior officials of EIPR. Those letters stand for “Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.”

The men had just briefed foreign diplomats on civil society and human rights in Egypt. Then they were arrested for “terrorism.”

General Sisi and his government have all but abolished civil society and human rights in Egypt. This is an impressive accomplishment — a darkly impressive accomplishment — in the Arab world’s biggest and most important state.

When I say “most important,” I mean in political and cultural terms. Egypt is the state that the rest of them have long looked to (whether they will admit it or not).

An article in the Independent last week was headed “Desperate efforts to ‘save lives’ of jailed Egyptian activists.” It is that serious. Political prisoners are routinely tortured to death in Egypt — while the world at large yawns.

I will quote just one sentence from the Independent’s report:

The families have been denied customary visits and phone calls as well as the right to deliver food, clothing or bedding to their imprisoned relatives, who have only seen their lawyers for a few minutes and are being held in inhumane conditions in Cairo’s notorious Tora prison.

Two years ago, General Sisi was “reelected” with 97 percent of the vote. Channeling Bill Buckley, I ask, ‘Why not 98?” Sisi’s nominal opponent was a warm supporter of his, just playing a role.

What political prisoners crave is attention — not to be forgotten by people outside the cells and dungeons. What dictatorships crave is that the prisoners be forgotten. Jeane Kirkpatrick stressed this point to me, in an interview long ago.

I’d like simply to repeat three names: Gasser Abdel-Razek, Karim Ennarah, and Mohammed Basheer, of EIPR.

• On Twitter, Mona Charen showed a picture of her new office space, and I noticed something among the books on the shelves: a physical dictionary. I pointed out the presence of that rare and wonderful book: a familiar old friend. And I would like to share with you two responses.

Here’s one:

My son uses a physical dictionary to pick his “word of the day.” He’s 17 and interested in improving his vocabulary. I told him there are services that will email you daily, but he enjoys browsing to find his own.

Amazing.

Response No. 2:

I have a physical dictionary. A friend & her parents gave it to me when I graduated from high school. She recently told me to throw it away. I won’t because her parents convinced me it was possible to go to college. Hence I am a 1st gen college grad. It means everything to me.

Just marvelous.

• Do you know Hal Sutton, the champion golfer? He won the PGA in 1983. On Saturday, he tweeted,

Sometimes the external driving force to someone getting better is others thinking someone else is better than you and you being determined to prove them wrong. Being the second best player in the club, city, state or country is the drive one needs to be the best!!

I could not help thinking of Priscilla Buckley, my late friend. For years, she was managing editor of National Review, and she was a sister of WFB (William F. Buckley Jr., our founder and editor). In 2009, I wrote the foreword to a memoir of hers.

Anyway, Priscilla was a golfer — a keen one and a good one. She was taught to play golf by the pro at her family’s club. He made her his protégée. Why, exactly? Because he couldn’t stand the chairman of the club — and wanted Priscilla to beat the chairman’s daughter. Which she did.

Ah, motivations, motivations . . .

• This year marks the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth Rock. My friend James Panero, of The New Criterion — once at National Review, and a book assistant to WFB — has written an essay, here. Part history lesson, part meditation. And beautifully done.

• Edward J. Perkins was a very impressive man. To read his obituary in the New York Times, go here. He was born in 1928 and grew up in Pine Bluff, Ark. His grandparents had been born into slavery. He himself rose to be the U.S. ambassador to three countries — including South Africa — and the United Nations.

An eye-rubbing story, really.

• Diego Maradona, the soccer player, rose to fame when I was in high school and college. He was really the only soccer player I knew anything about, apart from Pelé. I watched clips of him after he died last Wednesday.

In 1986, Maradona scored the “Goal of the Century.” In the delirious moments afterward, an announcer asked, “What planet did he come from?”

A good question. I think of what Bobby Jones said about Jack Nicklaus: “He plays a game with which I am not familiar.”

The “Goal of the Century” — like its predecessor, the “Hand of God” goal, which was illegitimate — was made against England. Maradona credited England’s sense of fair play for making the goal possible. This is what he said in later years: “I don’t think I could have done it against any other team, because they all used to knock you down. They [the English players] are probably the noblest in the world.”

A high tribute, I would say.

• Feel like a little music? For a post on Wang Jie, a Chinese-American composer, go here. She is a remarkable talent, and a fabulous, endearing personality. For a post on Huw Watkins, a British composer, go here. “Huw” is the Welsh “Hugh,” as I understand it. Watkins is also a pianist — a very good one — and he played a recital with the violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen. On the program was a new sonata by Watkins.

• Close with some pictures? Well, I have some New York scenes for you. The first is from Central Park. It shows the sun streaming through yellow leaves — which is not a bad set-up, you know?

This next one, too, is from Central Park. Kind of a neat little scene.

Well, there will be no Miracle on 34th Street this year. As the sign explains, Santa is working from home this year. But the store — Macy’s — looks pretty sharp all the same. And how about the Empire State Building, peeking, and peaking, in the background?

Thank you for joining me, everybody. Happy Post-Thanksgiving and have a great week.

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