Impromptus

A blood-soaked party, &c.

Performers rally around the Red Flag during a show commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party at the National Stadium in Beijing, China, June 28, 2021. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)
On Communist China; George W. Bush; Trump v. Barr; Confederates in the Capitol; and more

The Soviet Union lasted 74 years. Communist China is only two years short of that mark. The PRC got going in 1949. But the Chinese Communist Party, founded in 1921, is turning a hundred. The CCP has wreaked more horror on human beings than almost any other organization in history.

The Economist has published a superb analysis, headed “China’s Communist Party at 100: the secret of its longevity.” What has kept the party in power? “Ruthlessness, ideological agility and economic growth,” says the magazine.

Those three elements are very important, with the first being the most important, probably. The CCP has never suffered from a lack of ruthlessness.

Did Mikhail Gorbachev? His Communist critics think so. He lost the USSR by his unwillingness, or inability, to be ruthless. He tried a little suppression — a little killing, in fact — in the Baltics. But he drew back. In a sense, he let the people go (as Pharaoh did, until he changed his mind).

In the summer of 1999, I discussed this issue with Condoleezza Rice, who had been a Soviet-affairs specialist in the administration of the first Bush. She would, of course, become national security adviser and secretary of state in the time of the next Bush.

Many people “underestimate Gorbachev’s role” in the conclusion of the Cold War, she said. “The Soviet Union might have been weak internally, but when people say, ‘Well, he had no options’ — oh, he had options! He had 390,000 troops in Germany. He could have provoked a tremendous crisis over the Berlin Wall.”

Yes, he spilled some blood in the Baltics, but, “for some reason, he always pulled up short of using maximum force,” Rice said, “and we should all be very grateful for that.”

In 1989, young Chinese people were inspired by events in the Soviet bloc, and in the USSR itself. If it is happening there, why can’t it happen here? The Chinese government massacred them in Tiananmen Square.

Writes The Economist,

China’s present leaders show no signs at all of having any misgivings about the massacre. On the contrary, President Xi Jinping laments that the Soviet Union collapsed because its leaders were not “man enough to stand up and resist” at the critical moment. For which read: unlike us, they did not have the guts to slaughter unarmed protesters with machineguns.

Exactly.

Reading the above, I thought of Donald Trump, and an interview he gave to Playboy magazine way back in 1990 — some 25 years before he became president. This interview drew some attention in the 2016 campaign.

“Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it,” Trump said. “That’s my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand.”

For ages, we anti-Communists had wished for a less “firm hand” in the Soviet Union, and other police states.

Said Trump’s interviewer, “You mean ‘firm hand’ as in China?”

Trump answered, “When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.”

Yes, I guess it does. Still, I wish the CCP had “blown it.” I’m glad that Mikhail Gorbachev was not “man enough” to commit mass murder, in order to remain in power. I hope that, one day, the Chinese Communist Party will be overwhelmed by democratic forces, and that its leaders will be in the dock, to answer for their crimes.

• Mark Simon is a businessman and representative of Jimmy Lai, the Chinese entrepreneur who founded Apple Daily, the pro-democracy newspaper. Apple Daily has now been forced to close in Hong Kong, its home. (The paper continues to be published in Taiwan, a free country.) Jimmy Lai is a prisoner of the Communist government.

For the Washington Post, Simon began an article,

In the land of the First Amendment, it’s hard to convey what it’s like to lose the freedom of the press. So ingrained is a free press in the United States’ law and way of life, it is almost impossible for Americans to conceive of their government wiping out one of the country’s most popular press outlets and clapping its owner, officers and writers in jail.

Yes. And Simon’s ending:

Jimmy Lai often told us, “No free press, no free market.” Those in the international business community who believe the closure of Apple Daily will have no impact on them are about to learn this lesson the hard way.

I think that is true, yes.

This report, from the Associated Press, I read with wonder and admiration. The headline: “Tuskegee relatives promote COVID-19 vaccines in ad campaign.” I will quote the opening paragraph:

Tuskegee is the one-word answer some people give as a reason they’re avoiding COVID-19 vaccines. A new ad campaign launched Wednesday with relatives of men who unwittingly became part of the infamous experiment wants to change minds.

What a noble act, on the part of those relatives. And a true public service.

• “Biden is blowing a golden political opportunity,” reads a headline in National Journal. The article is by Josh Kraushaar, who begins,

President Biden had an opportunity this week to lead his party back to a productive political path by calling out the Democrats’ progressive excesses.

Speaking on the issue of rising crime and holding the cards to cut a bipartisan deal on infrastructure, he could have publicly broken away from the radical “defund the police” crowd and challenged voices in his own party who oppose any compromise on spending legislation.

In short, he needed a “malarkey” moment — a time for plain-spoken Joe to utter some obvious political truths about the mood of the country and challenge the illusions of the Left.

Very well said. I first thought, “Biden should read Josh.” And then I thought — sort of whimsically — “Maybe he should hire him?” I took a walk down Memory Lane.

Early in his first term, President Clinton said to David Gergen something like this: “I’ve been reading your advice in your column” (published in U.S. News & World Report). “Why don’t you come work here and give it to me directly?” So, Gergen did.

• The Left hated George W. Bush with a diabolical hatred. I wrote on this subject throughout the eight years of that presidency. The language used against Bush was the kind of language that ought to be used against Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, and so on. (Remember “Bushitler”?)

I’m not sure who hates him more these days: the Left or the Right. Our politics has taken such a striking turn. I thought of this when noticing something on Twitter. Someone circulated a recent video of Bush, who was telling an audience:

“What’s interesting about our country, if you study history, is that there are some ‘isms’ that occasionally pop up. One is isolationism, and its evil twin protectionism, and its evil triplet nativism.”

The tweeter circulating the video commented, “Bush is literately pure evil.” I think he meant “literally.” (Traditionally, Bush’s critics have charged him with illiteracy.)

This tweeter was not a lefty, but someone who describes himself as “Nationalist, Populist Conservative, Republican,” etc. He decorates his Twitter page with a famous, or infamous, photo of Josh Hawley.

We are at a significant moment, with Right and Left overlapping. There ought to be good books on this, and many of them.

• Last weekend, Donald Trump held a rally in Ohio, in large part to inveigh against a congressman: Anthony Gonzalez, a Republican. But not a Trump-supporting Republican.

“He’s a grandstanding RINO, not respected in D.C.,” said Trump. That second part was interesting, in that Trump Nation usually doesn’t care who’s respected in Washington, D.C., and who isn’t. In fact, the less respected, the better, right?

Gonzalez had “voted for the unhinged, unconstitutional, illegal impeachment witch hunt,” Trump continued. “He’s a sellout, and a fake Republican, and a disgrace to your state.”

Okay. And what did Congressman Gonzalez say in response? “I couldn’t care less about what the former president says about me,” he told Declan Garvey of The Dispatch. “I really couldn’t. What I do care about is the fact that he continues to double and triple down on the election lies that led to insurrection on January 6 and very likely could lead to more violence in the future.”

Very well said. Gonzalez was a football star at Ohio State. But he is really shining now, in my estimation — whether he keeps his House seat or not. More than a Republican, or a Democrat, he is an American.

• William Barr, the onetime attorney general, talked to Jonathan D. Karl, the chief Washington correspondent of ABC News. Barr made a strong statement about the claims of the Trump White House that the 2020 election was fraudulent: “It was all bullsh**.”

Trump responded in two ways. First, he said that Karl had invented the Barr interview. “Jonathan Karl’s story on Slow Moving Bill Barr is made-up beyond any level imaginable,” said the former president. “It is, in other words, Fake News!” Yet Karl’s interview with Barr is on tape. Regardless, Trump obviously doesn’t believe his claim — his own claim, that Karl made up the interview — because he laid into Barr.

“Slow Moving,” “swamp creature,” “RINO, “afraid,” “weak,” “pathetic,” etc.

So, this is Trump v. Barr — an interesting scene in the ongoing show. Admirers of both men will have to choose, I suppose.

• By now, you have seen this news: “House Votes to Purge Confederate Statues From the Capitol.” (Article here.) Gone would be Jefferson Davis, Roger B. Taney, and other such men. The House voted 285 to 120 to boot the Confederates, with all the 120 being Republicans.

Interesting, in light of the GOP’s historical relationship with the Confederacy.

Now and then, I write something so that I will never have to address the issue in question again. In 2017, I wrote an essay called “Seeing the Confederacy Clear: On the terrible issue of monuments and all that.” (Go here.) I don’t have a lot more to say.

Here and now, I’ll say simply that I would have voted with the majority in the House. The Confederates had their own capitol, in Richmond. (Before that, in Montgomery.) They had their own constitution. They had their own country, the CSA. And it isn’t ours.

• You saw this, too? “GOP donor funds South Dakota National Guard troops in Texas.” (Here.) Some philanthropists give to the hospital. Others give to the opera. This one is funding a military deployment, evidently.

The military deployment may or may not be a good idea. But this is a matter for government, irrespective of donors. I mean, for heaven’s sake. Does it really even need to be said?

• Let’s have a little music. For a post of mine on Frederic Rzewski, the American composer who died on June 26, go here. May I paste you the opening? Because I want to follow that up with something. Thanks.

Roger Kimball has said that Walter Bagehot suffers from a disadvantage: People are unsure how to pronounce his last name. Therefore, they are hesitant to talk about him. (It’s “Badget,” as you know.) I say the same about Leonardo Sciascia — “Shah-shah.”

Bagehot, the British writer, lived from 1826 to 1877. Sciascia, the Italian writer — Sicilian, specifically — was more recent: 1921 to 1989.

How about the composer Frederic Rzewski? Don’t forget to take the “k” off “Frederick,” yes. But what about the last name? It is “Zheff-ski,” I believe.

A child of the late composer, Alexis, noticed this post of mine and circulated, on Twitter, a letter sent to the composer by the BBC in 1974. The letter is from Hazel Wright, or “H. C. Wright,” a “pronunciation assistant.” She asked, simply, for the pronunciation of “Rzewski.”

Dang, these people were professionals. I love that care.

• On Monday, Mel Brooks turned 95 — which gave me a memory. A few years ago, I was at the next table over from him, at a Chinese restaurant. (Shun Lee, on the east side of Manhattan.) He held forth at that table with a look of serenity and mirth. What a wonderful face to behold. I felt I had had a “brush with greatness,” as David Letterman used to say. Mel Brooks was both iconic and warmly human, if I may put it that way.

• Speaking of restaurants — this was a lousy sight (never mind the fetching passerby):

Blue Smoke, also in Manhattan, has closed up shop. A pandemic victim, I gather. So many times I ate at that wonderful place (a barbecue restaurant)! And with such a diverse cast of characters. I could almost write a little memoir, remembering lunches and dinners there.

Here’s a tidbit: Kevin Williamson and I had a tradition of ordering deviled eggs as an appetizer.

Another tidbit: One day, Bill Buckley called me en route to lunch and said, “Let’s do something offbeat.” We were going to meet at his usual restaurant, but he wanted something, as he said, “offbeat.” I suggested Blue Smoke.

The restaurant was attached to the Jazz Standard, a well-known club.

Anyway, we went, and the manager insisted on giving WFB a tour. WFB was not exactly in a mood, or a condition, to go up and down stairs, but he did it gamely — stoically — because the manager wanted to show him the club.

The next night, WFB returned with his wife, Pat, for dinner at the restaurant.

Anyway, something “offbeat.”

• Speaking of beats, end on a little music? A little more music? I have a new episode of Music for a While for you, here. It closes with Marilyn Horne singing “At the River,” that great American hymn. I had the Fourth of July — Independence Day — in mind. Have a great one, y’all, and I’ll see you soon.

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

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