Magazine June 11, 2018, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

• Barack Obama signed a contract with Netflix. Now he’ll be working for the media instead of the other way around.

• The Obama administration used a longtime CIA informant — a British-American academic — to spy on the Trump campaign. The FBI reportedly used the informant to approach Carter Page in London in mid July 2016. This was just days after Page, an obscure foreign-policy adviser to the campaign, traveled to Moscow, where the Steele dossier alleges he met with two top Putin confederates. Page denies the meetings and top FBI officials acknowledge being unable to verify the sensational claims in the dossier, an opposition-research project commissioned by the Clinton campaign and compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele. The FBI nevertheless opened a counterintelligence investigation against the Trump campaign in late July 2016 and subsequently ran the same informant against George Papadopoulos — an even more obscure campaign adviser. A different London-based academic who claimed Kremlin ties had told Papadopoulos that Russia had thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Papadopoulos merely heard this — there is no proof that it is true, much less that the Trump campaign was complicit in Russian hacking. Yet the informant approached not only Papadopoulos but campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis, seeking a role as a Trump adviser. When any administration investigates its political opponents, it merits review, which is why it’s a good thing that the Department of Justice’s inspector general is looking into whether any impropriety occurred. As the Democrats are now saying of Robert Mueller, let this investigation proceed as long as it needs.

• House Republicans appear to be having a nervous breakdown. A group of moderates is signing a “discharge petition” to force a vote on amnesty for illegal immigrants who came here as kids. If the petition gets a majority, that vote would probably lead to Democrats’ and a minority of Republicans’ passing a bill that includes nothing in the way of better enforcement. Conservatives brought down a farm bill that includes work requirements for food stamps, even though they do not object strongly to its farm-subsidy provisions or object at all to the work requirements. They did it in the hope that they could force the House leadership to hold a vote on the conservative Goodlatte bill on immigration. Meanwhile, Kevin McCarthy seems to have been considering pushing Paul Ryan out early as speaker. This turmoil comes after a few months of good news in the polls for Republicans. It is a consequence of two missed opportunities. First, President Trump could not pull off a deal on immigration that would have taken off the pressure on the party’s left for the limited amnesty and the pressure on the party’s right for immigration enforcement. Instead, he initially suggested that the liberals and Democrats could get everything they want with essentially no strings, and then switched to insisting on a maximal list of conservative demands. Second, Republicans — especially in the Senate — decided to spend the year avoiding major legislation. In the absence of a common effort, Republicans are wandering in all directions. Notwithstanding the improvement in the polls, they could yet stumble their way into the minority.

• Michael Cohen, former lawyer for the man who promised to drain the swamp, seemed to be making himself at home there, according to reports of suspicious banking activity filed with the Treasury Department. Cohen’s consulting firm (which paid Stormy Daniels’s hush money) got checks from major corporations, including AT&T, and one outfit beholden to a Russian oligarch: money earned, almost certainly, thanks to his connections rather than his legal expertise. But who else is in that swamp alongside him? The documents were leaked by a law-enforcement official to Daniels’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, who then published them. So one sleazy lawyer is blackening another with the help of what amounts to a crooked cop. Pity Stormy Daniels, who has to associate with such people.

• A young man, whose name will not be written here, shot up two classrooms at his high school in Santa Fe, Texas, outside Houston, killing two teachers and eight students, and wounding 13 other people, one critically. The killer’s weapons were a shotgun and a pistol (so much for the demonization of the AR-15). What to do? After the Parkland, Fla., shooting, the state of Arizona assembled a package of measures: hardening school security; stricter background checks; teacher training to spot mental-health risks; and gun-violence restraining orders, which would allow a court to deny access to guns for up to six months. Sensible all: but they fly against a storm system of imitative rage. The Columbine shooting of 1999 set a model for melodramatic teenage violence; the Santa Fe killer is only the latest mimic (he owned a black duster, like the Columbine killers). Even as gun violence has gone down, mass shootings have by some measures become more frequent. This contagion is not over.

• At a White House roundtable, a California sheriff complained about her state’s sanctuary-city laws, which might prevent her from flagging an MS-13 gang member to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This prompted President Trump to deliver a jeremiad against MS-13: “These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country.” News outlets delivered their own jeremiad against Trump, reporting his remarks as a slam against all illegal immigrants. After Trump and his team pushed back, the AP corrected its first, inaccurate tweet, and other news outlets, grudgingly, discussed the matter. It should be an axiom of journalism to quote the subjects of stories accurately — and an axiom even of polemics that the strongest hits are clean and direct. Still there is something off about equating members of MS-13 with animals. Animals lack moral agency — we do not give them protections such as jury trials, nor do we condemn them for their deeds. “Devils” would be nearer the mark.

• Hillary Clinton has spent most of her public appearances since the presidential election telling the country — and anyone else who will listen — that she lost to Donald Trump, at least in part, because the United States isn’t ready for a female president. She’s been known to insist, too, that we should elect greater numbers of women, speaking with excitement about the fact that thousands of women have contacted Emily’s List since the 2016 election in the hopes of running for office themselves. And yet, when it came time to put this message into practice where it might actually make a difference, Clinton chose to endorse longtime New York politician Andrew Cuomo in a Democratic gubernatorial primary contest in which he will, as the incumbent, face a leftist challenge from actress Cynthia Nixon. Clinton should, of course, lend her endorsement to whichever candidate she thinks is best for the state. But could she spare us the piety in other races?

• After a contentious battle in the Senate, Gina Haspel won confirmation to be the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Though Haspel, a CIA veteran and now the first female director, was widely praised by intelligence officials of both parties, including Obama CIA director John Brennan, her nomination drew opposition from many Democrats and Republican senators John McCain, Jeff Flake, and Rand Paul for her reported involvement in the agency’s post-9/11 “black site” interrogation program. The wisdom of that program, and of enhanced-interrogation techniques in general, can be debated in good faith. But Haspel’s role was not that of a rogue spook: The program she helped oversee was briefed to congressional leaders of both parties and won explicit legal approval from the Justice Department. Haspel has the experience and the grit to lead the premier American intelligence service through the twilight struggles ahead.

• Jonathan Oddi, a 42-year-old recent Argentinian immigrant, shot up the lobby of the Trump National Doral golf club northwest of Miami, shouting what one witness called “anti-Trump sentiment.” Police responded quickly and no one but the shooter was harmed; President Trump was not at the property at the time. Oddi, a former male stripper, had liked a number of pro-Trump tweets. His profile is that of a disturbed individual rather than any sort of ideologue, but disturbed individuals can make their mark (John Hinckley, Charles Guiteau). The presidency, no matter who the incumbent, offers a mesmerizing target.

• First lady Melania Trump returned to the White House in late May after being treated for a kidney condition at Walter Reed, where she had spent five days. Not to worry: She was “in high spirits,” her communications director reported. Mrs. Trump has won the esteem of Americans across the political spectrum. May her return to full strength be quick.

• Some House Republicans made a worthwhile attempt to reform the sugar program as part of the farm-bill negotiations. The program exists, in the words of the Washington Examiner’s Timothy Carney, “to drive up the price of sugar in the U.S. in order to profit a small handful of politically connected sugar moguls in Florida.” It includes both import restrictions and domestic efforts to “manage” the commodity’s price; the proposed reform left the first alone but sought to hack away at the second. Unfortunately, if not surprisingly, the measure flopped on the House floor, 278–137. Crony capitalism goes down bitter.

• Senator Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) has proposed a tax on large companies that hire a lot of low-wage laborers. He calls this a “corporate-freeloader fee” and hopes that it will induce those big, greedy, job-providing corporations to cover a greater share of the cost of offering government services to low-income households. Unconsidered by Brown is the possibility that large companies will avoid hiring low-wage workers instead of paying the tax. Or that they will simply contract with workers from smaller firms not subject to it. The Earned Income Tax Credit has proven a better public-policy fix — that is, better if the concern is to help people rather than grandstand as an opponent of the “billionaire class.” We’re not sure whether Brown is concerned with the former or the latter and would not want to make assumptions.

• The Trump administration has announced a measure that pro-lifers have been seeking since the Clinton administration — the partial restoration of Reagan-era rules that “require a ‘bright line’ of physical and financial separation between Title X services and providers that perform, support, or refer to abortion as a method of family planning.” This measure is a direct blow to Planned Parenthood. The nation’s largest abortion provider receives roughly $450 million in annual federal funding. Most of that money comes through Medicaid reimbursements, but a significant sum (roughly 15 percent) comes through Title X family-planning programs. Since the Reagan rules already survived a Supreme Court challenge, it will take some creative judicial politicking to block them this time. Planned Parenthood should have to plan to make do with less taxpayer money.

• The administration is splitting up more and more families who illegally cross our border, with the children being housed away from their parents. Members of the administration are taking three different lines on why this is happening. The president says it is “a horrible thing” but the direct result of a law passed by Democrats. Nobody has yet figured out how to square these remarks with reality. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen says that it’s an unfortunate byproduct of the administration’s policy of referring all illegal border-crossers (including people seeking asylum for their families) for criminal prosecution. If you break into a house, she points out, you will be incarcerated and separated from your family. White House chief of staff John Kelly says separation is needed as a deterrent. Deterring illegal immigration is important — which is why we have long called for an immigration deal that includes mandatory use of E-Verify for new hires. Punishing children is not the way to do it. To the extent Nielsen is right and family separation is a side effect of increased enforcement, the administration ought to be working to minimize that side effect, for example by speeding up the processing of asylum seekers. Moral qualms about this policy are justified, especially since it does not appear to be the result of consolidated thought.

• President Trump reportedly asked Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double the rates that the USPS charges to deliver packages — which would deliver the biggest hit to the biggest mailer of packages, Amazon. (Packages are about the only items the Post Office handles profitably, although big customers, such as Amazon, do get special deals.) Amazon, which has long been in Trump’s crosshairs — “putting many thousands of retailers out of business!” he tweeted in March — is owned by Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, which frequently puts Trump in its crosshairs. Pols have been gaming the Post Office ever since Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson cut the rates for newspapers just as he began subsidizing a newspaper critical of his enemy Alexander Hamilton. A venerable lineage does not make the tactic less disturbing.

• Candidate Trump frequently touted his plan to fix the pharmaceutical industry, even flirting with the idea of price controls for prescription drugs way back when. But the drug-price plan his administration recently unveiled leaves that misbegotten idea behind. The administration proposes several reasonable ideas, involving a mix of congressional and executive action: reining in abuses of the pharmaceutical industry’s patent-protection system, experimenting with refunds to Medicare consumers who buy ineffective drugs, and restructuring the nebulous discounts that drug companies sometimes bestow upon chosen insurers. Good for the president for getting a second opinion.

• Trump has been zigzagging on trade with China. He said he was imposing unilateral tariffs, then suspended them. He tweeted that he would lift a ban on exports to Chinese telecom firm ZTE, which was crippled by that ban but had earned it by violating restrictions on sending U.S. technology to Iran and North Korea. The administration had already undermined the possibility of an international coalition against Chinese mercantilism by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a trade agreement among countries other, and more committed to free trade, than China — and by imposing tariffs on our allies’ steel and aluminum industries. In the midst of negotiations, Trump’s aides are divided over whether to go for quick reductions in the trade deficit or a long-term reform of Chinese practices. Weeks ago, Trump infamously tweeted that winning a trade war is easy. Without a strategy, it will be impossible.

• American corporations are unalike in many ways, but very much alike in one: their endless kowtowing to the dictatorship in Beijing. The Gap is the latest to go low. The clothing retailer produced a T-shirt showing a map of China, but Beijing was cross because the map did not include the Republic of China, i.e., Taiwan. The company, of course, apologized. As we have been doing for decades, we will quote Willi Schlamm — you know it by heart: “The trouble with socialism is socialism. The trouble with capitalism is capitalists.”

• Facebook and Google have been accused of being asleep at the wheel while foreigners used their platforms to manipulate Western elections. That’s the official charge. In reality, they are being held liable only because they happened to be the biggest publishers in the world when voters defied the establishment by choosing Brexit and Donald Trump. Now these Silicon Valley behemoths are trying to make amends by protecting their European tax haven from social conservatives. Irish pro-lifers had been gaining in the polls ahead of a major referendum on their nation’s constitutional ban on abortion. As their strategy of using digital advertising in the last days of the campaign became obvious, the tech companies intervened dramatically. Google went so far as to ban all ads from foreign or domestic campaigners, to “protect the integrity” of the referendum, despite the lack of any Irish law requiring them to do so. The effect was to rebuild the traditional media’s monopolistic control of the debate, and benefit the pro-abortion side. Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, applauded the tech companies for doing so. Isn’t protecting the integrity of Irish elections supposed to be Ireland’s job? It was truly an Orwellian turn. On the premise of protecting the Irish from foreign influence, the American tech companies were called in to muzzle native pro-lifers. It leads us to ask: What will these tech companies do next?

• The United States and North Korea set a date (June 12) and a place (Singapore) for their historic summit. But all was cast into doubt when North Korea announced that it would never accept “unilateral nuclear abandonment.” The Norks, in other words, were beginning the negotiations before the negotiations, and doing it in public, evidently calculating that we (meaning President Trump) wanted a meeting more than they did. Vice President Mike Pence warned them not to try to “play Donald Trump.” The president loves a show and prides himself on his deal-making prowess; pre-talk chatter about a possible Nobel Peace Prize must make the thought of a summit all the more alluring. But he must also understand the art of the “No deal.” If the other side is trying to bait and switch, or string you along, you have to be able to walk away.

• The Russian state has banned Jehovah’s Witnesses and is persecuting those who persist. At the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), the U.S. mission took note of this. Our chargé d’affaires, Michele Siders, minced no words: “In a move that harkens back to Stalin’s Soviet Union, the Russian government will seize the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ property.” She called on Russia to release “all those imprisoned simply for exercising their freedom of religion or belief,” and she reminded the Kremlin of its obligations to the OSCE and other international bodies. A stirring and right statement of values.

• Not content with starving and killing Venezuelans, Nicolás Maduro had to insult them by holding a sham election. Despised by the population at large, he was reelected overwhelmingly. Venezuelans got some comic relief, however: Maduro was caught waving to a crowd that wasn’t there, apparently for propaganda footage. Consider it gallows humor for a whole country.

• The young man, running through the streets of Paris, was shouting “Kill me before I kill you!” and “Allahu akhbar!” With a bloodied knife, he was slashing at the throats of everyone in reach. By the time the police had arrived and shot him dead, he had killed one passer-by and badly wounded four more, two of them women. The killer was a Russian-born Chechen by the name of Khamzat Azimov, a 20-year-old. In the early 2000s, he had come to France with his parents as political refugees — so much for gratitude. Before Anisov had set out on his round of murder, Islamic State in Syria had claimed him as a “soldier of Islam” and released a sinister video of him. French security had him on a watch list but did nothing — which helps explain why, since January 2015, jihadis have been able to kill 245 people in France and injure several thousand.

• Monica Lewinsky received, and accepted, an invitation from Town & Country to attend its philanthropy summit. When Bill Clinton confirmed that he would speak at the summit, Town & Country summarily withdrew its invitation to Lewinsky so that her presence would not create awkwardness for the former president. After Lewinsky revealed what had happened, Town & Country issued a grudging apology for “the way the situation was handled.” Clinton’s spokesman denied any knowledge of it. A minor social snub, perhaps, but it is remarkable — and shameful — that 20 years after the event, Clinton should continue to be shielded by the great and good from the consequences of his actions, while the intern he preyed on should continue to bear all the costs.

• We have had many occasions to decry Jimmy Carter’s post-presidency, but we applaud him for his latest mission: campaigning against discrimination (and worse) against girls and women. He said that “160 million girls are now missing from the face of the earth because they were murdered at birth by their parents” or were “selectively aborted.” He said that “it’s the worst human-rights abuse on earth, and it’s basically unaddressed.” He also decried the selling and buying of girls for marriage. May his campaign have an effect.

• Bari Weiss, the heterodox New York Times opinion writer and editor who has an enviable knack for driving the Left batty, recently wrote a piece touting the “Intellectual Dark Web” — a loosely defined collection of thinkers who share a strong online presence, a commitment to free speech and rational debate, and a willingness to question liberal orthodoxies on matters such as sex, race, and inequality. The name, evidently coined by the anonymous operator of a website with the same title . . . well, it needs work. But there’s something to the phenomenon: From the psychologist and self-help guru Jordan Peterson, to the “factual feminist” Christina Hoff Sommers, to the neuroscientist Sam Harris, dissenting voices are finding a platform online, reaching young audiences through videos and podcasts about topics few college professors are willing to broach these days. The quality of these thinkers varies, and the fact that they are grouped together at all is a sign of how stultifying academic discourse has become.

• When Letitia Chai, a Cornell student, stripped down to bra and panties before reading her senior thesis, she was making a statement. The statement was: I am addressing a college class in my underwear. The incident had its origin a few weeks earlier, when Chai read a preliminary draft to her public-speaking class while wearing cutoff jeans and her professor suggested she might want to dress more appropriately for the final version. This advice was such an outrage that, when the final reading arrived, not only Chai but two dozen of her classmates stripped to their undergarments to show solidarity and subvert the professor’s hegemonic sartorial oppression. Over the next few days, Chai’s supporters from the class, her opponents, and their classmates “of color” all issued separate statements giving their interpretations of the event in the context of intersectionality, fourth-wave feminism, and critical race theory. And after Chai had turned a scholarly gathering into a Maidenform ad, it was the professor who ended up apologizing profusely to everyone concerned.

• Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were married at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on Saturday, May 19, in a ceremony presided over by the archbishop of Canterbury, attended by a fortunate few hundred, and viewed, online and on TV, by millions in the British Commonwealth, in America, and around the world. The magnified beauty was a powerful testament to the institution of marriage. If only for a moment, the world had a storybook illustration of the Scriptural teaching that if you want to know what heaven feels like, imagine a wedding.

• In King Lear, when Kent insults the servant Oswald as a “base football player,” he could do worse: He could call him a fan. For away games, English “football” (i.e., soccer) fans descend on the enemy’s city with aggressively hostile intent, and if the resulting carnage doesn’t reach Shakespearean levels, it’s not for lack of trying. And when the action on the field gets dull (hard to imagine, we know), English fans rile up the opposition with historical nationalistic chants (“Two world wars and one World Cup” in Germany, “Gibraltar is ours” in Spain). This spring saw a typically rowdy English visit to Amsterdam (90 arrested, much beer dumped on tour-boat passengers, bicycles and assorted other objects tossed into canals) for a “friendly” match against the Dutch. So the U.K.’s officer in charge of football policing has asked English fans who go to Russia for this year’s World Cup to leave at home their flags emblazoned with the cross of St. George and to avoid dishonoring the numerous Russian monuments to the Great Patriotic War. Sensible suggestions, certainly; but we are not hopeful.

• There is a bear in the woods. Some say there is no bear; others say the bear is tame. And then there are those who say that the bear is a dog. That was the problem facing Su Yun, of Kunming, China, who bought what was supposed to be a baby Tibetan mastiff and spent two years raising it, with increasing unease, as it grew way beyond normal canine proportions. Eventually the “dog” started walking upright, Snoopy style, and only then (said Ms. Su) did she realize her mistake. The beast turned out to be an Asiatic black bear, a species that is highly endangered, since poachers hunt them for their body parts, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. The bear, now several feet tall and weighing upwards of 400 pounds, has been relocated to a wildlife refuge, and Ms. Su, we assume, is looking for a nice hamster or goldfish.

• At a moment when intellectuals by and large tended to admire the Soviet Union, Richard Pipes differed. Fleeing from his native Poland, he had reached the United States early in the Second World War and knew what he was talking about. Professor of Russian history at Harvard all his life, he produced critical writings on czarism and Communism that are the last word on these subjects. To him, Lenin and Stalin had put in place a dangerous state that had to be opposed for reasons moral as much as political. The view that détente was a policy bound to turn into appeasement and ultimate surrender propelled him into the front line of the Cold War. Untold millions may not know it, but he is someone who greatly helped them to be free. Died at 94. R.I.P.

• A long line of Western scholars has described and interpreted the world of Islam, and Bernard Lewis was one of the greatest. Master of a dozen languages and innumerable archives, he conveyed in his many books his genuine interest in going from facts to the truth of the matter. A special theme of his was the relationship over centuries between Muslims and the West. On the basis of the historic record, he forecast that a clash of civilizations was in the making. Osama bin Laden, he said, made him famous. His advice to everyone concerned with Middle East policy was typically pithy and to the point: “Get tough or get out.” His learning and his legacy will leave a mark on the world for a long time to come. He was 101 when he died. R.I.P.

• Once upon a time, there were Republican governors of California, and George Deukmejian was one of them, from 1983 to 1991. He was a steady conservative, advocating law and order, good judges, and fiscal discipline. He was known as the “Iron Duke” for his determination to veto spending bills. He had a very strong human-rights conscience, owing in large part to his family history: Armenians, they had escaped the killing fields of the Ottoman Empire. The Duke has died at 89. R.I.P.


The Hamas Way

Hamas knew exactly what it was doing with its huge border demonstrations the day the U.S. embassy opened in Jerusalem, and got exactly what it wanted — a barrage of negative publicity for Israel and international condemnation of the Jewish state. For Hamas, the more than 60 dead Palestinians and about 2,700 injured were just the price of doing business.

Every indication is that the Israelis did everything they reasonably could to prevent the bloodshed. Per their practice, they issued warnings and fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and warning shots. When these don’t avail, they can’t simply allow hundreds or thousands of rioters, some armed, to storm into their country.

Some of the dead are members of Hamas or other terrorist groups. Others are theatrical victims. What is the purpose of inciting civilians to put themselves at mortal peril except that their deaths will be particularly wrenching?

This is the Hamas way. It is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement that aims for a pan-Islamic world and is willing to use force to achieve it. Hamas took power in Gaza through a coup that overthrew Fatah, a rival Palestinian group on the West Bank. Ever since, Hamas has been the sole source of law in Gaza, a condition in which corruption and terrorism inevitably fester. Massive subsidies from Iran are spent on arms and digging expensive tunnels under the fence for future attacks on Israel.

So long as Gaza is beholden to a self-immolating politics that produces nothing except the instruments of mayhem and martyrs, it is stuck in a fetid dead end. For now, there is nothing to negotiate over and Israel simply must defend itself as best it can.


Tom Wolfe, Gentleman Heretic

‘All I ever did was write about the world we inhabit, the world of culture, . . . with exactly the same tone I wrote about everything else,” Tom Wolfe told Rolling Stone magazine in 1980. “With exactly the same reverence,” he explained,

that the people who screamed the most would have written about life in a small American town or in the business world or in professional sports, which is to say with no reverence at all, which is as it should be. And these days, if you mock the prevailing fashion in the world of the arts or journalism, you’re called a conservative. Which is just another term for a heretic.

A conservative by temperament, Wolfe found his niche in American letters by building it himself. In 1957, his committee at Yale rejected his dissertation about the influence of Communism on American writers. He rewrote it to their taste and got the Ph.D. but, not one to be fenced in, had already taken a job as a reporter for a newspaper in Springfield, Mass. Next stop, the Washington Post, where he treated feature assignments with a bit more literary license than was the custom. At the New York Herald Tribune a few years later, editor Clay Felker encouraged him to exercise his creativity a little more.

In 1963 he came up dry, he thought, on an assignment for Esquire magazine. At the deadline, he sent the editor, Byron Dobell, what he had: some notes, a blend of automotive wonkery and keen sociological observation. Dobell ran the notes as an article, “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.” It raised a few eyebrows. Other writers, novelists and journalists alike, were soon studying his method and exuberant style. Whether Wolfe was the founder or merely a pioneer of the New Journalism is open to debate. What no one disputes is that he was its master.

Literary sociology, you could call it, the New Journalism. Wolfe had a nose for snobbery, and particularly for snobbery where it met politics. In “Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s” (1970), a magazine article about the time Leonard Bernstein and his wife, Felicia Montealegre, opened their Park Avenue duplex to the Black Panthers and rich white liberals eager to help fund the “revolutionaries,” Wolfe trained his clear eyes on the smallest as well as the largest status-signaling details of upper-class Manhattanites trying on the political fashions of the day. He delighted many readers, and scandalized others, by showing in the fullness of its absurdity the transformation of mere “limousine liberals” into flag-wavers for the extremes of political correctness, as we now call it.

After decades of practice at his distinct brand of journalism as literature, he crossed over to fiction and tried his hand from that side of the plate; with The Right Stuff (1979), his 100,000-word chronicle of America’s early space program, he had already proved he had the stamina to write a novel. His first, The Bonfire of the Vanities, a record of what status-seeking looked and sounded like when practiced by movers and shakers in New York City in the 1980s, was a deserved hit, with critics and on the best-seller lists. Tom Wolfe’s bibliography is fuller than we can do justice to here, as are his contributions to American literature, to the very definition of American literature, and to the discipline in which he earned his doctorate: American studies.

His good manners in person — he was a soft-spoken southern gentleman, a native of Richmond, Va. — surprised those who had known him only as an acerbic voice on the page. Dead in New York, at age 88. Rest in peace.


Michael Potemra, R.I.P.

Our longtime literary editor, Mike Potemra, has passed away.

Mike was a great original, and a deeply humane and learned person. He read more books per week than anyone I have ever known and had a deep knowledge of culture and politics. He was an exceptionally gifted and proficient editor.

He came to NR in 1999 from then-senator Mike DeWine’s office and had a stint in Reagan’s speechwriting shop toward the end of the administration.

It’s difficult to describe Mike to someone who didn’t know him. He was a warm and gentle soul who delighted in his own eccentricity. He ably represented the old-school NR traditions of not driving (even when he moved to L.A.!) and maintaining odd hours (he worked at night, and if you saw him at 2 p.m. in the office, he was up and out early). His attire was disheveled and his briefcase often a plastic bag or two. He didn’t have a practical bone in his body and was born to work at a place like NR.

Maybe it’s most accurate to call him an outgoing introvert. He never drew attention to himself and wasn’t a backslapper. But he was genuinely interested in people and loved to laugh. When he had a good line, he’d share it with everyone in the office.

He knew an incredible amount about most things. Jay Nordlinger is given to asking obscure trivia questions about politics, music, and pop culture at our editorial meetings, and Mike was most often the one with the answer.

My standard for a true reader is someone who reads walking down the street (not a phone, but a real book), and Mike did it. It wasn’t just books. He voraciously consumed all culture, especially movies. If there was an Iranian art film showing somewhere in the city, he had seen it.

In recent years, we had seen him only rarely after the move to L.A., where he loved the weather and the access to the ocean for swimming. Since he didn’t fly (a friend drove him out, with his beloved cat, Puss Belknap, in tow), he didn’t come back East.

He was missed in the office, and we will never have another like him.

You’d often see him at his desk with a two-liter bottle of an unusual soda on his desk, say, Diet Cherry RC Cola.

He grew up in Montreal, and the one reliable way to get a rise out of him was to refer to him as a Canadian (New York winters were nothing to him — if it was 20 degrees, you might see him wearing a windbreaker).

He was drawn to underdogs and lovable losers. So of course he was a Mets fan. I’d joke with him when the Yankees were on a losing streak that it wasn’t too late to switch over.

He claimed to be attracted only to physically unattractive women, but, as far as I know, was seen only in the company of slender blondes.

His great project in life was searching for God, in an earnest, unceasing, intellectually rigorous quest. He went to every sort of church (and synagogue). He knew pretty much every holy book of every tradition. He went through a period of flirting with Judaism and then regularly attended an Evangelical church. For a time, a shelf in his office was entirely devoted to different translations of the Bible and various commentaries. He wanted to know the mystery of life. Now he knows. R.I.P.

Richard Lowry

NR Editors includes members of the editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

In This Issue



Books, Arts & Manners


The Week

The Week

Barack Obama signed a contract with Netflix. Now he’ll be working for the media instead of the other way around.

Going Postal

The president is displeased with Amazon, which seems odd; it’s like reading “George H. W. Bush was spitting mad at Sears.”

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This is an excerpt from episode 233 of The Editors. Rich: So Jim Geraghty, I have the RealClearPolitics Biden versus Trump polling page up right here. I’m just going to read you some numbers going back to . . . This is a CNBC poll from the 10th and 12th of June. And I’m just going to run through to the ... Read More

Stalin, Famine, and the New York Times

‘The world is being invaded by monsters, but I suppose you don’t want to hear about that,” Both clauses of that sentence are devastatingly true: The reference is equally to the horrors of the Soviet Union’s mass murders -- and to the West’s determination to turn its back to the monstrosity. The speaker ... Read More

Stalin, Famine, and the New York Times

‘The world is being invaded by monsters, but I suppose you don’t want to hear about that,” Both clauses of that sentence are devastatingly true: The reference is equally to the horrors of the Soviet Union’s mass murders -- and to the West’s determination to turn its back to the monstrosity. The speaker ... Read More

Hamilton on the Wrong Side of Cinema

Disney’s presentation of the Broadway blockbuster Hamilton marks a curious cultural turning point: The most heralded production in recent Broadway history has not been adapted into a movie — it’s a digital video recording of a 2016 stage performance — because it has to live up to its hype as an exclusive ... Read More

Hamilton on the Wrong Side of Cinema

Disney’s presentation of the Broadway blockbuster Hamilton marks a curious cultural turning point: The most heralded production in recent Broadway history has not been adapted into a movie — it’s a digital video recording of a 2016 stage performance — because it has to live up to its hype as an exclusive ... Read More

The Year of Stupid

It turned out that the novel coronavirus was only the second-most-infectious disease to spread through the U.S. this year. Satan’s Cupcake has, after all, been diagnosed in less than 1 percent of Americans. The not-so-novel imbecility virus is, on the other hand, ravaging the minds of everyone from news ... Read More

The Year of Stupid

It turned out that the novel coronavirus was only the second-most-infectious disease to spread through the U.S. this year. Satan’s Cupcake has, after all, been diagnosed in less than 1 percent of Americans. The not-so-novel imbecility virus is, on the other hand, ravaging the minds of everyone from news ... Read More