Impromptus

No shame, &c.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo speaks at a press conference in Manhattan, June 2, 2021. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)
On Andrew Cuomo, Bill Clinton, Afghanistan, Vietnam, the GOP, In the Heights, and more

Andrew Cuomo, you will have noticed, is still in office — still governor of New York. And his sex-harassment scandal is barely in the news. Cuomo has brazened it out.

My mind travels back to 1992 — the presidential campaign. Traditionally, candidates had released their medical records. Governor Clinton said, I’m not going to. Everyone said, You have to. He said, I’m not gonna.

And that was that.

Clinton proved something important, whether we like it or not: You can just refuse. You can just say, in effect, “Hell no, I won’t go.”

And when the Monica Lewinsky scandal hit — boy, did Clinton brazen it out. You may recall what he told his adviser Dick Morris, at the beginning of that scandal: “Well, we’ll just have to win.” And win he did.

Donald Trump, of course, is the all-time brazener out — from the Access Hollywood scandal to Ukraine to on and on.

In 2019, the governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, landed in hot water when an old photo emerged showing him in blackface. It seemed he would have to go. But he brazened it out.

And that is what Andrew Cuomo is doing right now, or has done.

I think, too, of Richard Nixon in the summer of 1974. Maybe things were different then. Maybe people had a greater sense of shame and honor, which we have lost. Could Nixon have brazened it out? Was he a chump, a sap, a patriot? I don’t know. I think the country was different.

In the mid-1990s, Colin Powell thought of running for president. He decided against, and said so in an announcement, in late 1995. In this announcement, he made some remarks about the country and its condition. He said, among other things, that we needed to “restore a sense of shame.”

Shocking.

• Did you see this headline? “After troops exit, safety of US Embassy in Kabul top concern.” (Article here.) The parallels between Afghanistan and Vietnam are so stark, those parallels are almost mocking us.

• Another headline for you: “An American lawyer went on a lunch date in Moscow. Now he’s languishing in a jail cell in Belarus.” (Article here.) The United States should apply maximum pressure to this evil regime in Minsk. And be clear-headed, and cold-blooded, about that regime’s senior partner, in Moscow.

• A few weeks ago, I did a podcast with Nathan Law, the young democracy leader from Hong Kong, now in exile. Extraordinary person. He has now written an open letter to Viktor Orbán, the leader of Hungary. Orbán has developed strong ties between his government and the Chinese government. Nathan Law says, in sum: Please stand with us, not with them.

Sometimes you have to choose. In November 2019, President Trump said, “Look, we have to stand with Hong Kong, but I’m also standing with President Xi. He’s a friend of mine. He’s an incredible guy.”

This kind of thing gets hard to sustain.

• The City of New York has an official Twitter account. On July 2, whoever’s in charge of this account issued a snotty tweet. There was a picture of the Manhattan skyline with dark clouds overhead. The text read, “A gloomy day in New York City is still better than a sunny day in Cleveland.”

A great city would never feel the need to issue such an insult. To a great city, such an insult would never occur. Plus, New York has much more serious problems than the weather.

Jimmy Walker was amusing. (He was mayor of New York from 1926 to 1932.) “I’d rather be a lamp post in New York,” he said, “than mayor of Chicago.” That was insulting — but also amusing, and personal, and memorable, from a flamboyant politician.

But an official Twitter account? That is something else, I think.

• Ten Republicans voted to impeach President Trump last January. Naturally, Trump has made it a priority to defeat these Republicans. His party — almost all of it — is equally keen. An article in Newsweek spells this out: here.

I imagine all ten of these congressmen will lose office. But there are things more important than winning reelection. Why do you run for office in the first place? What do you want to stand for?

Adam Kinzinger (R., Ill.) said, “I made the decision early in my career that I would be willing to take a potentially career-ending vote. But I thought that vote would be for something like a Social Security reform bill. I never thought it would be for defending democracy.”

I know just what he means. Social Security used to be known as “the third rail of American politics.” Touch it and you’re fried. For a Republican, Trump is the third rail of politics. Take a stand against him — toast.

After the next round of elections, the House GOP will be 100 percent Trumpista, probably. Not an “old” Republican or conservative in sight. This is the way today’s Republicans, all across the country, want it.

One more word, concerning Social Security: In the 2016 presidential primaries on the Republican side, there were 17 candidates. Fifteen of them acknowledged a need for Social Security reform, and entitlement reform more broadly. Two said no: Trump and Mike Huckabee.

Still a third rail, really.

• Let me commend a very good — and fairly original — essay by my young colleague Cameron Hilditch: “Money and Markets in Camelot.” Cameron takes a poem and discourses on capitalism, i.e., a free economy. Such an economy is often known as dog-eat-dog, a Darwinian death match, an orgy of gross individualism. In truth, a free economy is amazingly — dizzyingly — cooperative, by nature.

I think of something I learned long ago (I wish I could remember from whom). A free economy is a “Thank you,” “Thank you” economy. The buyer hands the seller the cash. The seller says, “Thank you.” The seller hands the buyer the good. The buyer says, “Thank you.” No one feels screwed. The benefit is mutual. This is very, very rare in the long history of human affairs, I’m given to understand.

• In 1984, I was a student in Washington, D.C. I asked a distinguished lady, from an old Washington family, “When did the country clubs around here begin to admit Jews?” She smiled and said, “Have they?” I was surprised. This was the mid-1980s! The civil-rights struggles were in the past. Everything was modern, free-and-equal.

Last week’s PGA tournament was at the Detroit Golf Club. I grew up in this area. Detroit, as you know, is one of the blackest cities in America. Not knowing much about the DGC, I Googled it, Wikipedia’d it. I learned that the club admitted its first black member in . . . 1986. The year after I graduated from college.

Holy moly.

• “Trash talk” has come to golf. Oh, joy.

In America, the trend is ever downward, it seems — in all spheres.

• I very much enjoyed the obit in the New York Times of Richard Stolley, who was the founding editor of People magazine. A colleague of his remembered the late editor’s wisdom about covers: “He said that pretty sells better than ugly, young sells better than old, movies sell better than TV, TV sells better than sports, and anything sells better than politics.”

Heh.

• Let me commend an essay by Sami Kent, “As Turkish As I Want To Be.” Fascinating. It has what I call “Naipauline” themes — themes associated with V. S. Naipaul. I am speaking of arrival, departure, belonging, identity — all that. Terribly interesting little memoir.

• On the same subject, sort of: I’ve mentioned how I Wikipedia’d the Detroit Golf Club. I did the same with Anirban Lahiri, the Indian golfer who plays on the PGA Tour. I was struck by this portion:

He is of Bengali descent, and he speaks Bengali but also speaks Punjabi in addition to English. “I’m really proud of the fact that I’m a more national Indian, so to speak — I’m equally comfortable with different languages, cultures, foods. I think that’s one of the aspects of being an army kid. It is one thing that is common among almost every army brat. It’s almost like we are a culture of our own.

“A more national Indian” — fascinating phrase.

• Farnaz Fassihi, of the New York Times, has written a portrait of fanaticism. This is one of the most shocking pieces you’ll ever read. If your stomach is fairly strong, try it, here. The headline: “They Were the Nice, Older Couple Next Door. Then the First Body Turned Up.” The subheading: “An Iranian couple has confessed to murdering and dismembering their son, years after killing a daughter and her husband. They are not sorry.” At all.

• You recall the controversy over the film version of In the Heights, the Broadway musical. The cast was insufficiently “diverse,” according to the movie’s detractors. Ay, caramba.

I know a young Broadway maven and I asked her, “Have you seen the new In the Heights?” (Dumb question, trust me.) I then said, “How did you like it?” She wrinkled her nose and said, “It was okay.” I said, “What were your reservations?” She said, “Well, the movie left out parts of the original show, which I didn’t think made sense.”

No mention of the skin colors of the cast. What a strange young woman.

• Throw a little music at you? Of the non-Broadway variety? I have a post on an organ recital, and on two pieces, in particular: one old (by Bach) and the other new (by the Englishman Edward Dean, born in 1991). That post is here. Interesting, I think.

• I loved this tweet, and thought you would too. It comes from Madeline Grant, a British political reporter and columnist.

I miss going to church with my mum and listening to her loudly and passive aggressively singing the older versions of hymns in spite of the modernised versions in front of us.

My kind of gal, that mum!

Nice talking to you, everyone. Have a great rest-of-week.

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

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