The COVID toll, &c.

President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and her husband Doug Emhoff at the White House for a ceremony to commemorate 500,000 dead of the coronavirus, February 22, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)
On a horrible milestone; the effects of ‘wokeness’; Communist-style rhetoric from the Right; the gift of honesty in writing; and more

At this juncture, half a million Americans have died of COVID. President Biden, among others, has called up some war stats. This is the way he put it in his speech on Monday night:

Today, we mark a truly grim, heartbreaking milestone: 500,071 dead. That’s more Americans who have died in one year in this pandemic than in World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined. That’s more lives lost to this virus than any other nation on earth.

As a rule, I dislike comparisons to war stats. For one thing, such comparisons lead to silly noise — as from the guy who says, “Oh, yeah? Well, how many people died after slipping and falling in the bathtub? How many were struck by lightning?”

You know that guy?

As a rule (again), I dislike a certain kind of toting up. It can be “performative.” It can also be unfair to government officials. I’ll explain what I mean. For more than a year, Walter Cronkite signed off his nightly newscast by saying how many days our people had been held hostage in Iran.

And yet, I must say: A half a million dead — dead of the plague — is a lot. Markable.

There was something that Donald Trump said that I thought was perfectly true. Early in the pandemic, he said that he felt he had become a war president. I thought of FDR: Dr. New Deal became Dr. Win-the-War.

Yes, win the war: Nothing is more important than winning the war. Be single-minded, to the extent possible, and go flat-out — again, to the extent possible.

It seemed clear to me that Trump soon tired of the pandemic, ready for it to be over. Who wasn’t, and isn’t?

As a rule (for the third time), I’m not nuts about putting things on a war footing. (Things that aren’t war.) Nor am I nuts about “moral equivalents” to war. And yet, I do think that the struggle against the virus is a kind of war, making the president a kind of commander-in-chief, in this effort.

Also, comforter-in-chief, as others have noted. On Monday night, Biden gave a great speech, in my opinion. Half the country won’t give him credit for it, I know — but all might, as time passes by.

Said Biden,

We often hear people described as “ordinary Americans.” There’s no such thing; there’s nothing ordinary about them. The people we lost were extraordinary. They spanned generations. Born in America. Immigrated to America.


While we have been fighting this pandemic for so long, we have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow. We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic or a blur on the news. And we must do so to honor the dead, but equally important, care for the living and those left behind.


This nation will smile again. This nation will know sunny days again. This nation will know joy again. And as we do, we will remember each person we’ve lost, the lives they lived, the loved ones they left behind.

Joe Biden is attending to the presidential basics. I find that a relief. A good many other conservatives agree with me, as they confide to me in whispers. (Some even say it out loud.)

• You may have heard of shenanigans at Bon Appétit. Bret Stephens cited them in a column headed “Woke Me When It’s Over.” Long story short: Bon Appétit is combing its archives, changing headlines, photo captions, and other things that may now give offense. They are calling it their “Archive Repair Project.”

No, really, they are.

Responding to Bret’s column, Nicholas Christakis made a tart, apt observation: “These people read 1984 and thought it was a recipe, not a warning.”

Who is Christakis? He’s hard to sum up quickly. He is “Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science, Internal Medicine & Biomedical Engineering” at Yale. This dude has an M.D. from Harvard and a Ph.D. in sociology from Penn, among other degrees.

Studious guy.

• Last summer, we had a marvelous intern at National Review — more than one, but I’m thinking of Carine Hajjar, of Harvard. She speaks Arabic and Spanish, as I recall, and is a whiz, and a delight. Any campus is lucky to have her.

She works on the Harvard Crimson and penned a column headed “I’m Scared to Write This Column.” That heading says a lot. People can overplay — exaggerate — illiberalism and intolerance on our campuses. But you can underplay those things, too. This is a big, honking problem, crying out for addressing.

What’s more, the campus illiberalism — the Jacobin spirit — spills out into “real life,” as Bari Weiss and others have shown. Thus is society rotted.

• An honest writer is worth his weight in gold. Diogenes can stop at George F. Will and Kevin D. Williamson, I’ve often said. These are real writers, honest writers. They tell you what they believe to be true, come hell or high water.

Peggy Noonan is another honest writer, and I marked something in her latest column, which is headed “Rush Limbaugh’s Complicated Legacy.” A paragraph:

Everyone in public life has a base. The talkers on radio and cable TV, left and right, have one, and Rush had one. And they don’t want to get crosswise with them because they are afraid of them. They constantly have to be alert to where the base is and giving it what it wants, or it may leave. All this degrades and damages public attempts at honesty. It also feeds political polarization.

Those words ought to be etched in stone. Not only are they true, they explain a lot.

• Marc Short was chief of staff to Vice President Pence; Peter Navarro was a trade adviser to President Trump. Over the weekend, Navarro tweeted,

Marc Short is a tool of the Koch Brothers, the most anti-MAGA movement in the country. What @Mike_Pence did under the bad advice of Marc Short was cut & run from @POTUS45 and the Constitution on January 6.

“Tool of the Koch Brothers.” My friends, that’s how Communists talk. They always have. Their enemies are tools of J. P. Morgan, the Rockefellers, or “running dog capitalists.”

And the Kochs make for interesting demons, don’t they? Their company manufactures helpful and necessary products. The company employs 100,000 people. Over the decades, the Kochs have given huge amounts of money, to the arts and other things — including education. The Kochs have wanted Americans to understand the value of free enterprise, when the flow of education is often the other way.

The Left and the Trump Right speak of the Koch family with equal scorn.

In that tweet, Navarro makes an extraordinary allegation about what Pence did on January 6: “cut & run from @POTUS45 and the Constitution.” The words “and the Constitution” seem an afterthought to me. Trump comes first.

What Pence did on January 6 was keep his oath, rather than betray it. He followed the rule of law. Thus, the mob came howling after him, sent by Trump.

Mere seconds ago, people such as Peter Navarro — and Donald Trump — were in power. It’s amazing we made it through without greater damage.

• Let me recommend this news report, which begins,

A former US Marine charged with assaulting officers during the Capitol riot told FBI investigators that he got “caught up in the moment.”

Uh-huh. Aren’t most crimes like that? Some are coolly and carefully planned, to be sure. But most, I wager, get committed when the perpetrators are “caught up in the moment.” Think of looters, among other wrongdoers and criminals.

I have often spoken of “going with the flow.” How many ills have occurred when people go with the flow — a terrible flow?

The guy’s attorney said of his client, “Mr. Shively was a person who got a little bit carried away, obviously, during this situation.”

Yeah. Tell it to the judge, and I guess they will, or have.

• Care for some sports? I want to recommend another article — not by a sportswriter, but by an athlete — a major-league pitcher, Blake Snell. Fascinating. Written from the inside — not just baseball but one’s mind and soul — it tells you what things are like.

Here it is.

• Stick with sports for a second. Over the weekend, I was watching the Michigan–Ohio State basketball game. And the announcers kept calling the name of CJ Walker, who plays for Ohio State.

The name rang a bell with me. It stands out in American history. Who was C. J. Walker? Well, I was thinking of Madam C. J. Walker, the first black woman in America to become a millionaire.

A little investigation told me something I had not known: Never mind race, she was the first American woman to become a millionaire (self-made, that is).

Amazing story.

• A little language? In recent days, I have noticed that too few writers know how to use “loathe” and “loath.” “Loathe” is a verb, “loath” an adjective. You loathe someone or something. But, for whatever reason, you may be loath to say so.

I hope this distinction never dies, but I fear it is.

Here is a story from California: “139-year-old house rolls to new San Francisco address.” I loved one passage from it — this one:

Veteran house mover Phil Joy told the newspaper he had to secure permits from more than 15 city agencies.

Joy said this move is tricky in part because the first part of the journey involves going downhill.

“That’s always difficult for a house,” he said.

Ha, I bet.

• Why not end on some music? I have a post on William Kapell, here. Kapell was a brilliant American pianist, who died young — at thirty-one. He lived from 1922 to 1953. Recordings of his playing keep surfacing, after all these years, and one just has, which is the subject of my post.

I thought I’d share with you, here in Impromptus, the closing paragraphs:

The pianist’s son Dave lives in Greenport, New York, which is near the end of the North Fork of Long Island. I know him and his wife, Eileen. Dave Kapell was mayor of Greenport for many years. The Kapells are entrepreneurs, working in both real estate and antiques. Recently, I met their granddaughter, Willa. I said to her grandparents, sort of marveling, “So, this is Willy Kapell’s great-granddaughter.” Indeed she is.

This makes my spine tingle, somehow. These human connections to that man.

Thank you for joining me today, everyone, and see you soon.

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