Masking and unmasking, &c.

A woman at a “Respect Our Veterans” parade and rally in London, May 8, 2021 (Toby Melville / Reuters)
Putting it on, taking it off; the Democrats’ spend-o-rama; the agony of Israel; the GOP and Trump; and more

In recent days, I have been thinking back to March and April of 2020. I was relatively slow to don a mask. I couldn’t turn on a dime. One day, I went out and maybe 10 percent of people were wearing a mask. I thought that was interesting. Another day, 30 percent. Another day, 50 percent.

I began to be a little concerned. They are. Maybe I should, too? Then it was like 80, 90 percent, and I felt quite self-conscious about a mask (my lack of one). I acquired them.

In short order, I got used to them. I always felt that a mask was a “light affliction,” at worst. (I have borrowed King James language here.) I thought it was no big deal: an act of caution, an act of courtesy. Other people, of course, thought that masks were oppressive.

I never got much into the mask wars. I mean, I never much participated in them. I wrote about them. I thought they were nauseating, pretty much. I thought these wars were childish.

Anyway, flash forward to recent days. Suddenly — or so it seemed — you were allowed to go without a mask outdoors. You were even encouraged to do so. As in 2020, when mask-wearing began, I couldn’t turn on a dime. For one thing, other people were still wearing masks, outside. I felt a little self-conscious about taking mine off. What’s that guy doing without a mask? Who duz he think he is?

But day by day, fewer people have been wearing masks outside. This morning, Central Park was crowded (relatively), and so were the streets. (I should say I live in New York.) Most of the faces were bare (except for beards and whatnot).

Not everyone can turn on a dime. I think we should cut one another some slack. But slack-cutting is not an American quality anymore, apparently (if it ever was). Everyone has his dukes up. Everyone is “high on rage” (to employ a phrase I learned from Kevin Williamson). Everyone is hepped up on cable shows and talk radio, it seems to me.

And one must not forget social media and other online habits.

I am told that the “very online” do not represent America. Not everyone is a tweeter, a “commenter,” and so on. I don’t know about this. It seems to me that the online world is increasingly reflected “IRL” — in real life.

What think you?

• In a subway station last week, I saw a long, long line. I thought, What gives? I’m not waitin’ in this thing. Are they trying to get their subway card refilled? Turns out they were lined up for vaccination shots — now available in subway stations.

I snapped a quick pic (none too pretty). (Be aware, too, that the line was well apart from the desk.)

• President Biden and his fellow Democrats are spending like banshees. In the mind of many Democrats, the expenditure of public money is equivalent to doing good. It’s their very idea of doing good. When I was in my late teens, I concluded that this was nonsense, and joined the Republican Party. (I was a member — an ardent member — until May 2016. I have not changed my views, but the GOP is a completely different beast today.)

Beholding the Biden-led spend-o-rama, I thought back to Bill Clinton, and his immense frustration in the first months of his presidency. Owing to the politics of the day — including the public mood, of course — he could not be as spendy as he wanted. Everyone — every Democrat; every Democratic president — wants to be an FDR or an LBJ.

In April 1993, Clinton vented bitterly to his staff. “I hope you’re all aware we’re all Eisenhower Republicans.” Yes, “we’re all Eisenhower Republicans here, and we are fighting the Reagan Republicans. We stand for lower deficits and free trade and the bond market. Isn’t that great?”

He had not run for president — and gotten elected — to lower deficits, pursue free trade, and ultimately balance the budget. He wanted to do big things. (I hold the things I have listed to be big things.)

Biden is now going big, according to the general Democratic mindset. I believe it will be to the detriment of the country.

“Never let a crisis go to waste,” went a famous remark, or an infamous one. Democrats are using the pandemic as an excuse to perform the explosion of spending they always desire, crisis or not.

• Many years ago, I had a friend who had been a congressional reporter. He eventually quit, because he felt that nothing ever changed. He was reporting the same stories, year after year. Maybe the cast of characters would change, but the stories didn’t.

Forgive a trite comparison: I have been reading the same news out of the Middle East — specifically, Israel and environs — for what seems my whole life. Nothing ever changes. Hamas, or some other terror group, provokes. Israel defends itself. Hamas places itself in hospitals and schools. Blah blah blah, never-endingly.

The young must find the current conflict new and interesting and shocking. The rest of us feel like we’re watching the same horrific movie, over and over. (Better to be watching than in it, for sure.)

Over the weekend, I thought of Charles Krauthammer. I had a long sitdown with him in 2009, and wrote it up here. Mind if I quote?

Of Israel, Krauthammer has long been a leading student, defender, and explainer. Asked the bald question of whether Israel will survive, he says, “If it doesn’t, I think it will mark the beginning of the terminal decay of Western civilization.” . . . Krauthammer believes that Israel needs two things to survive: the will to live, and the support of the United States. He believes that Israel has demonstrated a very great will to live, especially in its defeat of the “second intifada.” And he has “great faith in the goodness of America,” a goodness that will not let Israel go to the dogs.

• Abruptly switching subjects — as is the wont of this column — I’d like to share with you a story by Natalie L. Kahn in the Harvard Crimson. I have been meaning to share it for weeks now, as it appeared last month: “‘An Endangered Species’: The Scarcity of Harvard’s Conservative Faculty.” Highly interesting.

• Listen to Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the U.S. House: “But at no time, having known Joe Biden for quite some time, does he have the energy of Donald Trump. We both know it. Donald Trump didn’t need to sleep five hours a night.” McCarthy was talking to Sean Hannity, on the Fox network. Here it is. I believe the situation is getting ever more North Korean: as Republicans heap praise on their Great Leader, or Dear Leader, Donald J. Trump.

In the clip I have linked to, you can see a perfect Republican tableau: the top three GOP leaders in the House — McCarthy, Steve Scalise, and Elise Stefanik — sitting side by side on Sean Hannity’s show, puffing up Trump.

Where does power reside on the right? When Stefanik was running to defeat Liz Cheney in the GOP leadership race, she went on the shows of Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka. Now she and the other members of the troika have done Hannity. There you have it.

• Idle aside, of a poetic nature: If the No. 3 Republican married the No. 2 Republican, she could be “Elise Scalise.” (I once heard Deepak Chopra say a charming thing: “If I married Ms. Winfrey, she would be ‘Oprah Chopra.’”)

• Back to the serious: After meeting with Biden in the Oval Office on the subject of infrastructure, Kevin McCarthy texted to his supporters, “I just met with Corrupt Joe Biden and he’s STILL planning to push his radical Socialist agenda onto the American people.”

They have all become Trump. They talk like him. It is culty.

• More evidence of cultishness? The National Republican Congressional Committee wants you to make a monthly donation. “Check this box if you want Trump to run again. Uncheck this box if you do NOT stand with Trump.” The NRCC also wants you to give an extra $50: “Trump Patriot Status: MISSING! As a TOP grassroots supporter, we were surprised to see you ABANDONED him.” The committee’s grammar is almost as bad as its ethical sense.

One more appeal: “We need to know we haven’t lost you to the Radical Left. If you UNCHECK this box, we will have to tell Trump you’re a DEFECTOR & sided with the Dems.”

It is frequently said that Democrats and other anti-Trumpers have contempt for Trump voters. But think about it: Does anyone have more contempt for them than the Republican Party has shown here? Wouldn’t you be insulted? And if you’re a Trump man, or woman: Aren’t you?

• Trump said that “the entire Database of Maricopa County in Arizona has been DELETED! This is illegal and the Arizona State Senate, who is leading the Forensic Audit, is up in arms.” The relevant county official, Stephen Richer — a Republican — responded, “We can’t indulge these insane lies any longer. As a party. As a state. As a country.”

Perfectly said. “We can’t indulge these insane lies any longer.” (But millions will.)

• Riccardo Muti has contributed something to musical lore. He is one of the most famous conductors in the world, a conductor who was once the music director of La Scala, in Milan. Another Riccardo, Riccardo Chailly, is currently the Scala capo. They had a confrontation in a dressing room the other night. The confrontation took place in a Scala dressing room, over Scala politics, essentially. You can read about the matter here. All I want to do is give you some language.

Said Muti to Chailly, “Fuori dai coglioni!” — meaning, in essence, “F*** off!” (Literally, it means, “Get out of my [testicles]!”

Fuori dai coglioni — yes, one for the ages.

• Stick with language, though of a milder kind. “Mum’s the word,” I said to a young friend (age about 25). He had never heard the expression — ever. He is a native-born American, and does not live under a rock. Another friend of mine told me that his niece had never heard “Keep it under your hat.”

Time passes, y’all, and language along with it . . .

• A speck of music? For a post on Eric Lu, a young American pianist who recently played a recital in Wigmore Hall (London), go here.

• On Saturday, I was walking through Riverside Park, in Manhattan. Some youngsters were handing out Andrew Yang literature. (He is running for mayor of New York.) “Would you like to meet Andrew?” they said. “Would you like to talk to him? He’s right over there.” I found it interesting that they refer to him as “Andrew.” That must be part of the political “brand.” (À la “Newt”?)

I snapped a quick pic:

Thank you for joining me today, everybody, and have a really good week. See you later.

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