Impromptus

Splitsville, &c.

Melinda and Bill Gates in 2016 (Shannon Stapleton / Reuters)
On Bill and Melinda Gates, Vladimir Putin, George F. Will, Jack Fowler, and more

As you have read, Bill and Melinda Gates are getting a divorce. This is personal — a matter for the couple and their family — but I can’t help thinking it’s a blow to society, too. Bill and Melinda Gates have been such an important couple. They have set a standard in philanthropy — not just in the how much but in the how.

Divorce is a contagion. Everybody wants to get in on the act. It is an underrated evil, as I see it. (This is not to say that divorce is not sometimes, or often, called for. Think of cases of abuse.)

In the 1960s, there was a movie called “Divorce American Style.” Way back in the 1930s, there was a movie musical, The Gay Divorcee. A colleague of mine was saying not long ago that divorce, for a while, was considered rather glamorous. Racy. Now it’s as common as dirt.

(Incidentally, the couple in Divorce American Style winds up staying together, touchingly.)

There is a creepy element in the Gates affair. I will merely cite a headline, over this article, in Vanity Fair: “The Jeffrey Epstein Question Is Hanging Over Bill and Melinda Gates’ Divorce.”

I have dipped my toe in a vast, vast subject — divorce. I think I’ll tell a joke and move on. Do you know this one?

Morty and Sadie file for divorce. He is 93, she 91. “I never liked her,” says Morty. “I never liked him, either,” says Sadie. The judge says, “I’ll grant the divorce, because you’re entitled to it by law. But I have to ask: Why? Why now, after all this time?”

Morty shrugs and explains, “We figured we’d wait till the children were dead.”

• Some people get very, very upset when you mention girls’ education in Afghanistan. “That’s not what we’re there for!” Fair enough. We have been there in order to keep Afghanistan from being a terrorist haven and base — as it was in 2001. Still, a person can’t help being jolted, I think, by last Saturday’s mass murder in Kabul.

Bombers targeted schoolgirls. At this writing, the death toll is 85, with some 150 injured. The Afghan government has accused the Taliban of the atrocity; the Taliban denies it, unconvincingly.

There will be more of this, almost surely, as we Americans depart. Even those who support President Biden’s decision should acknowledge this terrible cost, I think. “Realism” and all that.

• A headline: “Students for Trump co-founder gets over a year in prison for posing as lawyer.” (Article here.) I think that kid has a bright future. GOP nominee for president, even?

• On Twitter, Ron Filipkowski posted some video of Russia’s leader at work. “Vladimir Putin scored an amazing 8 goals today to lead his hockey team to a 13-9 victory,” Filipkowski said. “Highlights on Russian TV tonight show opponents playing horrible defense on Putin like their life depended on it (which it did).”

You know it. I thought of Kim Jong-il, the greatest golfer of all time. In his very first round, he shot 34. That’s over 18 holes, on a championship course where par is 72. The Dear Leader had eleven holes in one.

And think how much better he must have gotten after his first round!

• Before Liz Cheney spoke on Tuesday night, Republicans filed out of the House chamber. I thought back to the impeachment trial last February: Most Republicans refused to look at the video of the Capitol riot.

I like to think this is because they know it’s all true.

• Liz Cheney is a child of Reagan — same as me. Also, she’s her father’s daughter. And her mother’s daughter. She is a throwback. She is badly, badly out of step with politics today. Greatly to her credit, I think.

Occasionally, young people ask me, “What was the Republican Party like? What was American conservatism like?” Liz Cheney’s six-minute speech on Tuesday night provided a taste — a strong taste. It was like taking a ride in a time machine.

After Cheney was ousted from Republican leadership yesterday, Representative Madison Cawthorn (R., N.C.), a heartthrob of the Right, tweeted, “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye Liz Cheney.”

From William F. Buckley Jr., Ronald Reagan, et al., it has been a helluva tumble.

• One thing the Right will never forgive Liz Cheney for is getting good press. I understand this very well. But listen, it’s not her fault. It’s just that she won’t lie. She won’t play along with a charade, and a dangerous one at that (as we have seen).

I think back to the 1988 GOP primaries: The good press that Jack Kemp got bothered the hell out of me. It drew me closer to Vice President Bush (though, early on, my heart was with Pete du Pont).

Simply to say: I understand this stuff, intimately. Right under the skin. Been there.

• George F. Will wrote a column on the occasion of his 80th birthday that was learned, wise, and sparkling. The column was a shock to me — not because it was learned, wise, and sparkling. That’s normal. George Will is 80?

He looks about the same as he always has — I watched him on Brinkley in the early 1980s. He writes the same, too, which is to say, with great care, potency, and grace.

I was talking with a colleague of mine about Will a few weeks ago. My colleague said, “This has to be one of the greatest careers in the history of American journalism. He started writing that column in 1974. And he is still at it, at the same high level.”

Yup. Will won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1977, pretty much out of the gates. He has never coasted, that I have seen.

He started in journalism, I believe, with us — at National Review. Bill Buckley knew a talent when he saw one. One evening, in my presence — about 2005 — Bill greeted George with the words “my leader.”

“To be 80 years old in this republic,” wrote George F. Will in that birthday column, “is to have lived through almost exactly one-third of its life.” And his concluding sentence: “To live a long life braided with the life of a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to an imperishable proposition is simply delightful.”

Wouldn’t you agree that such a mind and such a spirit serve as examples to us all?

• Let’s have a little language. Recently, I was talking about old American qualities, and I thought I heard a dog not barking: When I was growing up, you heard the phrase “self-reliance” quite a bit (and not just from Emerson). You know, I haven’t heard it in ages. It used to be touted as a signal American virtue. My impression is, it’s out the window.

A fellow tweeter said to me, “Same with the phrase ‘fair play.’” Yes, “fair play” was a widely used, and widely understood, phrase. That was another American virtue: “fair play.” I believe it was tainted, however, by the “Fair Play for Cuba Committee” — of which Oswald was a member.

• I don’t know if you remember Brilliant Pebbles — it was a ballistic missile defense, proposed in the 1980s. For reasons I could get into, it came up in conversation the other day. And I remembered a headline, published in The New Republic, in the Michael Kinsley era. In fact, it was over an article by Fred Barnes: “Pebbles Go Bam Bam.”

Memories have faded, both of missile defense and of The Flintstones. But the headline was clever. I resented it, because I resented anything that made fun of something so serious and hopeful as missile defense. Today, however, I kind of smile at the memory . . .

• A little music? Here is a review of a livestream from the series “Met Stars Live in Concert.” The concert in question involves four singers, of a Wagnerian bent, and one pianist, Craig Terry. In my judgment, the pianist was the star of the show, or at least its backbone, indispensable.

Usually, an accompanist is mentioned at the end of a review. I cherish a remark by Gerald Moore, the famed accompanist, one of whose memoirs is titled “Am I Too Loud?”: “My mother is the only person who reads reviews from the bottom up.”

• I will never say goodbye to Jack Fowler, who has been part and parcel of National Review for decades. He has filled a number of roles, including publisher. But I would like to deliver a few lines of tribute, because he is leaving National Review for greener pastures — or at least other pastures — though he will still have an affiliation with us, thank heaven.

Travel back with me to 1998. I’m just about to move from Washington to begin work at NR, in New York. I’m on the phone with Jack Fowler. The first words out of his mouth — you have to hear this in a Bronx voice — are, “Jay, welcome aboard and all that sh**.” He had me at hello, so to speak. I loved him from the git, and always will.

Talking about Jack, I often adapt a line from The Music Man: “He’ll give you his shirt, and the back to go with it.” Jack Fowler is a fabulous combination of compassion, smarts, and fun.

So, I won’t say goodbye, but “See you later,” as I say to you, dear readers! Later.

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

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