Impromptus

Lookin’ good, &c.

President Ronald Reagan at a cabinet meeting in 1987, when he was 76 (National Archives)
On physical appearance; an ugly affair in Philadelphia; the term ‘Latinx’; Mike Pence and the GOP; and more

Of all the political writers I know, or know of, I think David Brooks is probably the most sociological. He has a taste for sociology, and an aptitude for it. This was clear at least as far back as the 1990s, when he and I worked together at The Weekly Standard. In 2000, he came out with his much-discussed Bobos in Paradise. The subtitle of that book was “The New Upper Class and How They Got There.”

Last week, David came out with an interesting column (another one): “Why Is It OK to Be Mean to the Ugly?” Ah, this is a somewhat taboo subject, and I’m glad David addressed it. Fascinating subject, too.

These days, we talk a lot about “privilege.” I think people usually mean money, or skin color. Those things count, in assorted ways. But how about smarts? Musical talent? Athletic talent? Looks? There are all sorts of privileges, not having to do with money (or race).

In recent years, I have been more forgiving, I hope, toward people without charm. Charm, I have come to believe, is a gift — a natural asset, like athleticism. Some people simply do not have it.

That does not mean they should be impolite. There is no cause to be impolite. But people have to be forgiven for lacking charm.

Back to the dicey issue of looks. I learned a phrase from David Pryce-Jones, and it is probably British: “not favored by Nature.” (One can assume a companion: “favored by Nature.”) Often, David will not say that a woman is “homely” or that a man is — pick whatever adjective you want. He’ll say that he or she is “not favored by Nature,” which is very diplomatic, and also true.

Years ago, Jeffrey Hart, the late professor of English, and a longtime senior editor of National Review, cited a theory about Ronald Reagan: Because he had gone through life good-looking, he had a sunny view of human nature. People tend to treat the good-looking well — and others less well. (David Brooks cites research into this in his column.)

Those without good looks may have a darker view of humanity and of life. This is the subject of many novels, many plays, many operas (Rigoletto). But I am merely doing Impromptus and moving on . . .

• It was a nice idea: “Taste of Home,” a food festival in Philadelphia. Sponsored by two organizations — Eat Up the Borders and Sunflower Philly — the festival was intended to showcase food from all over. There was a fly in the ointment, though: an Israeli food truck, called “Moshava.” Organizers heard there might be protests — so they disinvited Moshava.

“We decided to remove one of our food vendors for Sunday’s event so that we could deliver an optimal experience to all,” said the organizers. “This decision came from listening to the community we wish to serve and love.” Uh-huh.

After bad publicity, the organizers canceled the festival altogether.

Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, has a lot of work to do, like all cities and other places. Moreover, the singling out of Jews is an ancient problem, to be tackled in every generation.

• You will agree with me that what a U.S. president says, matters (whether we like it or not). A presidential utterance gives a kind of imprimatur to a word or a phrase. Joe Biden has now said “Latinx.” In my judgment, this was a small blow to the country — its common sense, its language (and the Spanish language, too, for that matter). I hope this absurd neologism fades as quickly as it rose.

• Over the weekend, I was “triggered” by something I read, in a conservative, or right-wing, publication. It is a claim made by many illiberal conservatives, or rightists, who want bigger or more paternalistic government. You are well familiar with the claim.

Before Donald Trump — and especially in the 1980s — America was a libertarian hell, where government was small, enterprise was unfettered, and individualism reigned.

This hell — or heaven, as others may conceive of it — is purely imaginary.

I hear the claim made by many young people, for whom history began on the day they turned 18 or so. That’s their Year Zero — their eighteenth birthday.

To say it for the billionth time: What Reagan and his men, and women, succeeded in doing was to slow the rate of increase of government. Government grew during Reagan’s two terms, for sure — but at a slower pace than before.

But even this is too much for the collectivists, who shake at the thought. I want to tell them: Get a grip, fellas. Our country suffers from a great many things — but governmental modesty is not one of them.

When I was in college, a group marched through campus, chanting, “Reagan, Bush, you can’t hide. We charge you with gen-o-cide.” They meant that the administration was “gutting” social services.

Oh, please.

On the right, Milton Friedman used to be the toast of the town. I remember. I was there. He and Bill Buckley were big deals — and marvelous deals, and real deals. Maybe they will come back in style, one day.

The central planners and social engineers, left and right, would spend us into penury. (Fiscal irresponsibility is only one defect of their plans.) Would they be around to pick up the pieces? No. They’d scatter, leaving the hard work of rebuilding to others. Then they’d be back, scheming again.

You know how it goes.

• Mike Pence is trying an interesting trick. He is singing the praises of Donald Trump, at every opportunity — yet also saying that he, Pence, did the right thing on January 6, in fulfilling his constitutional responsibility.

In my observation, you can’t be 99 percent MAGA. MAGA won’t let you. It’s 100 percent or nothing. I don’t think Pence will get very far with the Republican electorate, owing to his conduct on January 6. At the recent “Faith and Freedom” conference, he was heckled as a “traitor.” In those eyes, he’s no better than Nancy Pelosi, say, or Anthony Fauci.

Anyway, this will be tested, as Pence will almost certainly run for president.

• In May 2020, Barack Obama spoke to former staffers, over the phone. He criticized the Trump administration’s response to the COVID crisis. This criticism leaked.

Mitch McConnell said, “I think President Obama should have kept his mouth shut. You know, we know he doesn’t like much this administration is doing. That’s understandable. But I think it’s a little bit classless, frankly, to critique an administration that comes after you.”

I thought of this when reading about Trump’s rally on Sunday in Ohio. I also think of an old line: If it weren’t for double standards, people would have no standards at all.

• I had never heard of Mumford & Sons (needless to say). I had never heard of Winston Marshall, its guitar-and-banjo player. I have now — because Marshall has quit the band, owing to social-media pressure. He was caught up in one of those cancelation deals.

You can read his statement here — and I found it a moving one (and infuriating one). I would like to make one point, here in Impromptus. Marshall writes,

. . . when forced to politically label myself I flutter between “centrist”, “liberal” or the more honest “bit this, bit that”. Being labeled erroneously just goes to show how binary political discourse has become. I had criticised the “Left”, so I must be the “Right”, or so their logic goes.

I think a lot of people are “bit this, bit that” — but it is uncool to admit, in this age of extremes. This age of absolutism, cocksureness, and tribalism. Anyway, I wish nothing but good to Winston Marshall.

• There are two phrases I dislike — detest — I think above all. Let me tell you what they are: “It is what it is” and “That ship has sailed.” Maybe you can analyze me — my detestation. I think it must be the resignation in those phrases. The spirit of defeat.

• “The Big Tuna Sandwich Mystery,” is the headline of this article. Its subheading is, “A lawsuit against America’s largest sandwich chain has raised questions about America’s most popular canned fish. We tried to answer one: Is Subway selling tuna?”

As someone who has had about a jillion tuna subs from Subway, I was interested in this article. I don’t think I’ll consume a second jillion . . .

• CC Sabathia has written a memoir, excerpted here. He is a retired baseball player — a pitcher — and he is black. I mention this because the excerpt has to do with race in Major League Baseball. I would like to single out a sentence — a remarkable one. I read it twice, frankly — sort of blinked, and smiled, too:

“When I first came up, in 2001, there were so many Black players in the league you had the luxury of not liking some of them.”

• On Twitter, Marshall Power Locke shared a picture and said, “I’m in cucumber heaven right now — the vines are producing like crazy.” (Go here.) I’d like to relate a memory.

First, I should say that I love cucumbers. They’re one of my favorite vegetables, or fruits, or whatever they are. One of my favorite foods.

One night, I was at a dinner, seated next to a distinguished gentleman from North Carolina. I believe he had grown up on a farm. I noticed that, on his salad plate, he had pushed the cucumbers to one side. I remarked, “You don’t like cucumbers?” He answered — with animation — “You know it’s the only thing a hog won’t eat?”

This became an oft-repeated phrase in my household: “the only thing a hog won’t eat.”

When I mentioned this on Twitter, someone said, “My wife doesn’t like cucumbers either. Wish she did. Not sure I’m going to bring up the hogs, though.”

My friends, I wish you a happy Monday — is there such a thing? (yes) — and a very good week.

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

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