Politics & Policy

Read Bernie’s Lips: No New Taxes*

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Sen. Bernie Sanders during a Senate Budget Committee hearing to examine President Biden’s proposed budget request for fiscal year 2022 on Capitol Hill, June 8, 2021. (Shawn Thew/Pool via Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about politics, culture, and language, with some special attention paid to the mental and spiritual deficiencies of senators. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

Biden’s Nickels, Bernie’s Dimes

Here is one you may have not seen coming: One of the holdups on that ridiculous $1 trillion infrastructure package currently idling in Congress is the fact that — picture me double-checking my notes here — Republicans want to include a tax increase, while Joe Biden and — really! — Bernie Sanders oppose it.

Strange days, indeed — most peculiar, mama!

Republicans have put forward the possibility of indexing the gasoline tax to inflation. Currently, the federal gasoline tax is structured as a flat fee of $0.183 per gallon, a rate that has been preserved in amber since Ye Olden Days of 1993, when gasoline went for an average of $1.11 per gallon. Put another way, in 1993 the federal gasoline tax was about 16.5 percent, whereas today it is about 6 percent. Indexing the tax to inflation is one way to go about rationalizing it, but a far simpler thing would be to calculate the tax as a percentage, which would keep it stable in relative terms even as the price of gasoline goes up and down, as it so often does. We already do that with sales taxes of other kinds.

Funding roads and bridges and such with a gasoline tax is an old idea and based on the principle that the people who use the roads are the people who should pay for them. That is fine as a principle, I suppose, but there isn’t really much reason to believe that it holds up as a matter of practical fact: We all use the roads, because we all move around, use products that are trucked from place to place, live in houses made of things that were not simply gathered up from the construction site, etc. When Amazon puts a tank of gasoline into a delivery van, it doesn’t just eat the expense, and (forgive me for repeating this point yet again, but it is important) it doesn’t necessarily just pass the cost on to consumers, either, because Amazon has to compete, just like any other business, and if it jacks up prices too much, shoppers will go elsewhere — and so it passes on its costs to everybody else as best it can: its employees and vendors, businesses that sell on Amazon, service providers, etc. In that way, we all pay taxes together. You should think about that when Senator Sanders talks about raising taxes on “the rich” — the rich are, for the most part, pretty good with money, which is why they are rich. A tax on Jeff Bezos or Exxon is, ultimately, a tax on you, Sunshine.

A higher gasoline tax will get passed on throughout the economy pretty easily, which is one reason it’s not a terrible tax.

Raising the tax might also create some incentives for individuals and companies to pursue greater fuel economy, though history suggests that gasoline prices have to get pretty high before Americans start passing over trucks and SUVs for economy cars. A high-enough gasoline tax might even create an incentive that would get people to choose electric or alternative-fuel cars — and Republicans can’t have that, so they’d prefer to include an equivalent fee on electric cars, too. If your big issue is environmental externalities, you can go chasing those all over the world and never really get it very well sorted out. Electric cars are far from carbon-free, but powering cars with electricity generated at a natural-gas (or nuclear!) generating plant produces a lot less carbon dioxide than does running dinosaur juice through a V-8. But a tax on electricity would have similar effects to those of a gasoline tax, creating incentives for energy efficiency and being spread out through the economy through the magical effect of nickel-and-diming consumers, workers, and business partners.

The problem with a higher gasoline tax — the problem for President Biden and for his congressional allies — is that people notice higher gasoline prices, and they hate them. They will look for someone to blame, and they will find someone. They’ll also notice when Amazon or GrubHub raises delivery fees — often, companies go out of their way to explain to consumers why they are raising prices. “Don’t blame us!” says the memo from the marketing department.

We mostly fund the federal government from taxes on income. We tax wages and salaries, we tax corporate profits, we tax gifts and inheritances, we tax investment payoffs and dividends, etc. There’s no particular reason we have to fund the federal government that way, and the policy world is full of just very very very enthusiastic people who will explain to you the merits of some other tax regime. They all have the same problem, which is that every man-jack ends up thinking he is paying too much while the other guy is paying too little.

For the past couple of weeks, we have been treated to a just astoundingly stupid series of breathless reports and vitriolic denunciations from people who are scandalized that there are some famous Americans who do not pay very much income tax because they do not have very much taxable income. Jeff Bezos is notionally the wealthiest man in the world, but it’s not like he’s got $200 billion in his Chase Sapphire Checking account. He owns a big piece of Amazon, and his net worth is approximately whatever his shares are worth right at this second. If he wants to convert that on-paper wealth into money he can spend, then he has to sell some shares, at which point he pays taxes on his capital gains. If he gets dividends, he pays taxes on those — and the dividends are paid out of funds that already have been taxed as corporate income. Most reasonably well-informed people understand this, but the angst and wailing and howling never stops, anyway, because it just seems wrong to people. But if you adopt some other tax system, it’s going to seem wrong to a lot of people in six months, too. That’s not a revenue problem — that’s a human-nature problem.

That being said, there’s a case for having several different sources of federal tax income — diversification is prudent — and for having an updated version of the gasoline tax as part of that mix. The case against raising or indexing the gasoline tax is purely political — President Biden doesn’t want to be blamed for it.

Something is going to get worked out, though, almost certainly — because almost everybody in Washington is itching to spend that $1 trillion or more. Senator Lindsey Graham (R., Slytherin), addressed the president directly: “President Biden: If you want an infrastructure deal of a trillion dollars, it is there for the taking, you just need to get involved and lead.” It would be helpful as a political matter if the president got involved, but perhaps Senator Graham could be reminded that the Senate is its own thing, and it can pass whatever kind of bill it wants. It can even override the president if he doesn’t like it. The lawmakers ought to, from time to time, make law and act like they’re in charge of it.

But I must confess that the libertarian in me is enjoying the prospect of a $1 trillion slop-bucket being derailed by a 5-cent tax hike.

Words About Words

Mike Pompeo, one of the geniuses behind Donald Trump’s foreign policy, likes the term “pipehitter.” He has a new political-action committee, called CAVPAC, which sent out a fundraising email over his signature reading, in part:

We named the organization CAVPAC as a nod to my time in the U.S. Army Cavalry — the CAV in the PAC. [Editorial note: Thank you for your service, and cue puking sounds.] My cavalry service taught me that America needs warriors who lead and are willing to ride first into the fight without fear.  CAV also stands for Champion American Values [Editorial note: More puking sounds], the values that we know have made our country exceptional.

Pompeo subsequently sent out some tweets calling for “pipehitters” to support his PAC. His website demands: “Become a Pipehitter — someone who is unapologetically American, someone who fights for our future, someone who never gives an inch, someone who is dedicated to stand against the radical Left’s agenda.”

The usual late-career Republican-hack boilerplate, except . . .

A pipehitter is a crackhead, i.e., he who hits the pipe.

By extension, the word came to be used to describe someone with a fanatical dedication to a task or cause (if you know any crackheads, you’ll understand exactly why) even to the point of disregard for personal well-being. You’ll recall Marsellus Wallace’s stated desire to recruit a couple of pipe-hitting colleagues to work over an adversary with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch. (When he promises to “get medieval” on those who have wronged him, he does not mean reading them carefully selected passages from Thomas Aquinas.) Parts of the U.S. military took up “pipehitters” as a term of respect for hard men who do bad things to bad people.

“Mike Pompeo has a plan, and he needs crackheads!”

And maybe some better PR people.

Rampant Prescriptivism

When is a cat not a cat? When it is certified as a dog!

From the Salt Lake Tribune: “Rilie Atkinson, a student at the University of Utah, said that she was turned away by multiple properties despite having a cat that is certified as an emotional support animal, as well as a dog.”

Here’s one of those situations where you’ll want to use a few extra words to avoid blurriness. (Also, that first that is unneeded, and despite is the wrong word there.) Better to write: “She was turned away for having a dog and a cat that is certified as an emotional-support animal.” Or “. . . a cat that is certified as an emotional-support animal and a dog that isn’t.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. There are some pipehitters in there, to be sure.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.

Not a Cult

A Missouri man pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges that he had threatened to lynch a Black congressman the day after the Jan. 6 siege at the U.S. Capitol and a Jewish congressman in 2019, court records show.

. . . Mr. Hubert acknowledged that on May 6, 2019, he had called the Washington office of Mr. Cohen, who is Jewish, and told a staff member that he had “a noose with the congressman’s name on it” and planned to “put a noose around his neck” and drag him behind his pickup truck.

Three days later, F.B.I. agents went to Mr. Hubert’s home, where he admitted making the call and said he had done so because he was offended by a comment that Mr. Cohen had made about Donald J. Trump, who was president, the agreement states.

Believe Me, It’s Not a Cult

A Connecticut man has been arrested on charges that he threatened to kill Representative Adam Schiff of California, the Democrat who was the lead impeachment manager in the House during the proceedings against President Trump, federal prosecutors announced on Monday.

The man, Robert M. Phelps, 62, of Torrington, Conn., used a meeting request form on Mr. Schiff’s congressional website to send the expletive-laden threats, which were made on Nov. 12, the eve of the first public impeachment hearing, according to a criminal complaint.

Mr. Phelps was taken into custody on Friday and made a brief appearance the same day in U.S. District Court in Connecticut. He was at least the third person to be charged with threatening Mr. Schiff, a former federal prosecutor who became the face of the impeachment case against Mr. Trump.

Totally and Completely Not a Cult

A Trump supporter who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 threatened on social media to assassinate Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that day and also threatened the Capitol Police officer who fatally shot a woman as she tried to enter the Speaker’s Lobby, federal prosecutors said.

The man, Garret Miller, 34, of Richardson, Texas, was arrested on Wednesday and charged with, among other things, threats, knowingly entering a restricted building and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, according to a criminal complaint.

. . . Writing on Facebook on Jan. 16, Mr. Miller said the officer was “not going to survive long,” and he claimed that “millions” of people agreed with him that the officer deserved “to die,” the complaint said.

. . . “Mr. Miller regrets the acts he took in a misguided effort to show his support for former President Trump,” [his lawyer] said.

Some People Are Saying It’s a Cult

Prosecutors have added five felony weapons and assault counts against a white man already charged with attempted murder for shooting into a car carrying four Black girls during a rally for President Donald Trump in Iowa.

We Have the Best Cultists

A supporter of former President Trump has been found guilty of threatening to kill lawmakers before President Biden’s inauguration in January. . . . [Brendan] Hunt said in the video that people should take guns to Biden’s inauguration later that month and “literally just spray these motherf—ers.”

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Media

Hiding the Facts from Readers Is the Opposite of a Journalist’s Job

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Police investigate the scene of a shooting in the Sixth Street entertainment district of Austin, Texas, June 12, 2021. (Nuri Vallbona/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language, politics, and culture. (And, when you’re lucky, dachshunds.) To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

Start with the Facts

On Monday morning, my wife showed me a “blue alert.” A bald guy with a beard riding a motorcycle had shot a cop. She read me the description. “You check a lot of boxes,” she said.

Motorcyclists as a group have a bad reputation, and that’s not new: In the immediate post-war years (the era famously depicted in The Wild One), the American Motorcycle Association apparently felt the need to put out a statement insisting that 99 percent of all motorcyclists were decent, law-abiding people — at which point, the nation’s nascent outlaw-biker gangs embraced the designation you can still see on their patches today: “1%.”

The stereotypes about motorcyclists are probably unfair. (To say nothing of the stereotypes about Tatars, who apparently look so suspicious that they sometimes — more often than you’d think! — get stopped by the police for the suspicious activity of taking a walk down the street they live on.) But if the police are on the hunt for a bikerish-looking white guy, that’s usually what they say, and for good reason — white and male alone are enough to eliminate about 75 percent of the residents of Dallas County (where that police shooting took place), and, if you add in the bald head and the beard and other reasonably visible attributes, you can eliminate most of the population. Assuming that your average Texas biker isn’t traveling around with a Simon Templar–style disguise kit, police looking for that suspect can ignore the women, the African Americans, the ginger dudes with long red ponytails, this guy, etc.

You say what you’re looking for: standard, reasonable stuff. An inconvenience for those of us who get stopped for looking suspicious, to be sure, but the world is an imperfect place.

As you may have heard, on Friday night there was a mass shooting in Austin, Texas, in the Sixth Street entertainment district. Fourteen people were shot; as of this writing, one has died. This apparently wasn’t one of those loser-shoots-up-his-school mass shootings, but one of the more common shootings involving “some kind of disturbance between two parties,” as the police put it. So the shooter didn’t kill himself or wait around for the police and force them into shooting him. He fled, and the police, naturally, put out a description of him.

The Austin American-Statesman, the local daily, refused to publish that description. Instead, it put this editor’s note at the end of its report:

Editor’s note: Police have only released a vague description of the suspected shooter as of Saturday morning. The American-Statesman is not including the description as it is too vague at this time to be useful in identifying the shooter and such publication could be harmful in perpetuating stereotypes. If more detailed information is released, we will update our reporting.

Some of you will have guessed that this “vague description” did not involve a MAGA hat or a Confederate-flag T-shirt.

In fact, the description put out by the police was that of a black man with a skinny build and dreadlocks. Vague? Maybe. But nonetheless useful, and the Statesman is obviously wrong — and must know it — to claim otherwise. Black men compose about 4 percent of the population of Travis County. Skinny black men with dreadlocks (or braids — witnesses sometimes say one when they mean the other) make up an even smaller share of the population. In a county of 1.3 million people, eliminating 96 percent or 99 percent of the population is useful.

A suspect, a minor, was arrested over the weekend. A second suspect remains at large as of this writing. The local newspaper won’t tell you the relevant information about him, either.

What are newspapers for?

Newspapers exist to tell people about what is happening. If newspapers are sometimes instruments of justice and enlightenment, it is because facts — and the vigorous if necessarily imperfect pursuit of them — sometimes are instruments of justice and enlightenment. That is what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he observed: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” But that, of course, assumes that newspapers are doing what they are supposed to do.

I used to give a lecture about the culture of American journalism in which I mentioned the House of Elzevir, the great Dutch book-printer (the modern publisher is named in its honor) that made it its business to publish things that certain authorities elsewhere in Europe did not wish to see published, most famously Galileo’s Two New Sciences. In the fight between the printers and the Inquisition, journalists used to know what side they were on. But in our time, the most powerful forces in media have got in touch with their inner Torquemadas and feel the need to quash heresy before it can pollute the minds of the pure and the blameless. We even have an Index, of sorts, courtesy of Jeff Bezos et al.

If you believe that doing good necessitates keeping things from readers — or willfully misleading readers, as the Statesman did — then you have no business being in journalism. You should go do something else — join a cult, or seek out work in Amazon’s book-banning department, which amounts to much the same thing.

The Statesman here is following a lamentable precedent. The worst episode — the one that stands out most in my mind — involved a cover story in the Philadelphia Daily News, one of those spirited democratic tabloids of which the New York Post is the platonic ideal. Philadelphia was suffering a crime wave with an elevated number of murders, and so the Daily News published an interesting piece about the shocking number of fugitives wanted on murder charges who remained at large. The cover contained mugshots of all the current fugitives, all of whom were men and none of whom was white. The predictable uproar ensued, and the editors of the Daily News allowed themselves to be bullied into publishing an apology for acknowledging the facts. It was one of the all-time-low moments in modern American journalism, one that emboldened practitioners of the now-familiar mob-rule model of media management. Shameful stuff.

This isn’t how you make things better. This is how you make things worse.

Singapore, to take a counterexample, has a local civic culture that is at times stultifying — some critics say repressive — and one feature of that culture is that journalists, intellectuals, and other voices in the public discourse rarely acknowledge ethnic or religious tensions. There is some official censorship, but — as the American Left is learning to its great satisfaction — self-censorship is more effective. Scandinavia has its Janteloven to enforce herd culture, Japan its conformist ethic. But the United States is not very much like Singapore or Denmark or Japan. In our open, irascible, competitive culture, social problems do not get better when we refuse to acknowledge them or to talk about them openly — they fester, instead.

There are many complex issues touching the situation of African Americans vis-à-vis crime, police, and incarceration. None of them will be improved by adopting superstitious speech norms that prevent newspapers from reporting the facts about a given crime, including descriptions of the suspects. And the silly way the Austin American-Statesman did it — Gee, I wonder which stereotype was on their mind? — is as destructive as it is ridiculous. They may as well have written: “He’s black, okay? According to the description, anyway. You’re thinking he is, we know you are, and we’d rather not talk about it, so don’t make a big deal about it, alright?”

If you think the way to address our thorniest and most sensitive problems is to not talk about them — and to go out of your way to hide unwelcome facts related to them — then, for goodness sake, don’t become a newspaper editor. Go sell hotdogs.

Aptronym Alert

From the New York Times:

In 1917, when Marshall Field & Co. moved its underwear and bedspread manufacturing from Illinois to the town of Leaksville, which consolidated with two other towns to form Eden in the 1960s, it was to be closer to non-unionized labor and cotton, a raw material used in many of its products. Though known today for its former retail empire, Marshall Field had an equally important wholesale business that supplied its stores and others.

Moving your underwear business to Leaksville sounds like a piss-poor plan to me.

In Other News . . .

I’m the wrong Kevin Williamson to consult on Scottish questions (though I have written a bit about “Scottish” issues), but I think this from the New York Times is a charming example of how tribalism produces the occasional good result, at least when it comes to what Charlie Cooke probably still secretly calls “football”:

Tam Coyle, a veteran of more than 100 overseas games since 1985, recalled how fans started a chant with lyrics that included the words “We’re the famous Tartan Army, and not the English hooligans.” And Richard McBrearty, the curator of the Scottish Football Museum in Glasgow, said the rivalry with England was so deep that even the Scots’ reputation for good behavior could be traced to it.

“The Scottish fans wanted to isolate themselves,” he said. “They wanted to say, ‘Look at us, we are better than the English.’”

I wish I could direct some of that energy into the United States, sometimes, if I could be confident that it would make people who feel threatened by Asian immigrants start more businesses and work harder in school.

Words About Words

From Slate:

Over the past several years, Yale Law School has faced a number of controversies involving two of its best-known professors: Amy Chua and her husband Jed Rubenfeld. The pair are the closest thing Yale Law has to a celebrity power couple, less for their legal and academic achievements than their boundary-pushing bestsellers and op-eds.

Professor Chua is the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and the co-author, with her husband, of The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America, in which she argues that the secret to Chinese-American motherhood (and the parenting of other successful minority groups) is to make your children believe that they are part of a superior, high-performing community while simultaneously making them anxious about their individual achievements and, hence, their status within that high-achieving community — a programmatic approach to high expectations. I am reminded here of Jay Nordlinger’s wonderful account of the Indian educator Ben Chavis’s response to the charge of “acting white”: “‘Acting white’ is not enough. I’m acting Jewish. Or maybe Chinese.”

Professor Chua is, in my view, a bland but very competent writer, producing the sort of prose one associates with Ivy League law-school faculty. I don’t know how much meaningful boundary-pushing she does. Her most famous essay (the basis of Tiger Mother) was published in the Wall Street Journal. Her books are sold in airports and read by people who would otherwise be reading The Economist or a Malcolm Gladwell book. Not exactly samizdat. Not exactly the Marquis de Sade — or even Joe Rogan, for that matter .

Ah, but she’s at Yale. And there are people at Yale and at likeminded institutions who are very interested in redrawing boundaries in such a way as to place Professor Chua outside of them.

Boundary-pushing is like accountability and offensive: Whose boundaries? Accountability to whom? Offensive to whom? Language of the sort deployed in the Slate article is designed intentionally to obscure that issue, because acknowledging it would raise the question: Why should we, or anybody else, defer to your claim to the power to set the limits of public discourse? Why shouldn’t we think of this as a naked power grab on your part?

Which is, of course, what it is.

A culture in which Amy Chua is pushing up against the boundaries is a culture with some problems. I pity the novelists and the poets. Or I might, if they weren’t leading the charge for narrower boundaries.

And Furthermore . . .

The New York Herald once complained that the late 19th century was the Age of Shoddy. Shoddy at the time was both an adjective and a noun, referring to a kind of cheap cloth.

The world has seen its silver age, its golden age. This is the age of shoddy. The new brown-stone palaces on Fifth Avenue, the new equipages at the Park, the new diamonds which dazzle unaccustomed eyes, the new people who live in the palaces, and ride in the carriages, and wear the diamonds and silk—all are shoddy. Six days in the week they are shoddy businessmen. On the seventh day they are shoddy Christians.

But the Age of Shoddy has come and gone. As attested to by the items above, this is the Age of Petty.

And Even Furthermore . . .

The ghost of Yogi Berra apparently is writing for Sports Illustrated, insisting, on the matter of Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer: “These pitchers’ hands have become the face of a scandal.”

And thus does the literal facepalm meet the metaphorical one.

Rampant Prescriptivism

About last week’s column, a reader observes: “You were slow to point out that the permafrost is thawing quickly, not ‘fast.’ Unless it is engaged in fast motion while also thawing. Which I suppose it is, from a Galilean perspective.” For the record, I was not slow to point that out — I didn’t point it out at all, so I was remiss rather than slow.

Another reader wants to know why I wrote was instead of were in this sentence:

If all you ever saw of Europe was the nice parts of Amsterdam, the nice part of Zurich (which, in fairness, is called “Zurich”), the Louvre, Kensington, etc., then you might indeed share Thomas Friedman’s view of the world, that when it comes to cities and infrastructure, we are the Flintstones compared with the Jetsons abroad.

“I’m sure you have an unassailable reason for using was,” he writes.

Nope. Were is what you want there.

The subjunctive mood in English — how it is written, whether that matters, its relationship to kinda-sorta-but-maybe-not-technically subjunctive forms — is a hotly disputed topic, one of those debates in which grammar and philosophy complicate each other. In general, we use the “bare” or uninflected form of a verb with the subjunctive, to express things that are possible but not actually known to be the case at this time: “It is critical that the president know his talking points,” as opposed to “The president already knows his talking points.” “We asked that he listen closely,” as opposed to “He listens closely” or “He listened closely.”

The conditional counterfactual, as in my sentence above, generally gets a were rather than a was, though some grammarians insist that this doesn’t really matter, that it’s a grammatical-virtue-signaling bugaboo. As usual, I think it’s better to use different words and different forms for different things. “‘Here I raise my Ebenezer’ is one of those hymn lines that would befuddle you if all you knew of the Bible were the lectionary.” Or: “If he were in better shape, then he wouldn’t be wheezing.” This is sometimes called the irrealis were. The irrealis mood expresses things that are not currently known to be the case, as opposed to the realis mood, which is used for statements of fact.

If you want to dig in a little, I recommend this discussion from Merriam-Webster.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. Fun fact: Many of the Amazon reviews of this book illustrate the thesis of my earlier book, The Smallest Minority. To quote the great philosopher K.: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it.”

My National Review archive can be found here.

You can listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support the National Review Institute, go here.

Recommended

After watching the series and on the recommendation of many readers, I’ve been reading Wolf Hall. All the praise is warranted — and I am not naturally sympathetic to people called “Cromwell.” As a fan of A Man for All Seasons, it is fun to see the same story told with the hero and villain reversed.

In Closing

If you are wondering about that “Ebenezer,” it is not Mr. Scrooge but a reference to 1 Samuel 7:12 in the 18th-century hymn, “O, Thou Font of Every Blessing.” The short version: Samuel wins a big battle and drives the enemy back to a certain point at which he erects a stone monument he calls “Ebenezer,” or “stone of help,” saying, “Up to this point, the Lord has helped us.”

There is a kind of wonderful humility — and an antidote to fanaticism — in that:

“Is God on your side, Samuel?”

“So far.”

World

Thinking Honestly about Health Care, Welfare, and Taxes

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A doctor holds a stethoscope in the Intensive Care Unit at the Melun-Senart hospital near Paris, France, October 30, 2020. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language and politics and culture and sundry and divers shenanigans, but not about the ancient Germanic god of war and sky, though I do reserve the right to change the name to the Týsdagr if that should change. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

The Persistent Power of Invincible Ignorance

Forgive my plucking a comment from the obscurity of Twitter to make an example of, but it is a useful one. In an exchange about health-care policy, a professor of political science at a major American university asked a familiar question: Why is it that some Americans apparently believe that the United States is incapable of managing a single-payer health-care system like France’s?

You’ll see the problem there.

The fact is that nobody actually knows whether France or the United States is capable of managing a single-payer health-care system, because neither country has single-payer health care. Not many countries do.

France’s health-care system is different from the U.S. system in important ways, but it is in other ways quite similar: It is based on insurance. As in the Swiss system and the original version of the Affordable Care Act regime, that insurance is compulsory. Patients pay for their health care and then are reimbursed — but not for the full amount — by their insurers. The French generally have to consult with a general practitioner before being referred to a specialist, they must pay lab fees, etc. About a quarter of the hospitals are for-profit and the rest are either private nonprofits or public. There is an extensive system of subsidies and price controls. What the French do not have — and what almost none of the countries of Western Europe and few countries around the world have — is single-payer, a public-monopoly model of health care found in the United Kingdom, Canada, Norway, the United Arab Emirates, and a few other countries.

There is much to admire in European governance and much that Americans — conservative and progressive both — could learn from the successes of Western Europe and the Nordic countries in particular. It also is the case, I’m afraid, that a great deal of American thinking about European governance is based on the experiences of tourists and business travelers. If all you ever saw of Europe was the nice parts of Amsterdam, the nice part of Zurich (which, in fairness, is called “Zurich”), the Louvre, Kensington, etc., then you might indeed share Thomas Friedman’s view of the world, that when it comes to cities and infrastructure, we are the Flintstones compared with the Jetsons abroad. Friedman originally made that observation after flying from Hong Kong to JFK — but you get much the same sensation flying from Schiphol or Geneva or, in spite of the Italian reputation for organizational dysfunction, Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino. But journey out into the exurbs of Amsterdam or Rome and you’ll see a very different world. There are many Americans who would be happy to trade our problems for those of the Netherlands or Sweden, and many who would not. The more you know, the less obvious it is: Silicon Valley tech types with impeccably progressive credentials bemoan the persistently dirigiste model of business in Western Europe.

Which is to say, in order to learn from European practice, it is necessary to understand what it is the European actually do — and, of course, there is no “European” model of health care: Sweden and Switzerland have very different systems. But American progressives, and a surprising number of conservatives, believe that Europeans can simply go to the doctor and receive free treatment with no copays, cost-sharing, or medical bills, simply because their governments aren’t dominated by mean meanies like Mitch McConnell or the memory of Paul Ryan. (I really do wish that Paul Ryan had had the lasting effect on American governance that his progressive critics attribute to him — the country would be better for it.) There are many European systems, but most of them look more like Obamacare than they do the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. Even Norway has an annual deductible.

That isn’t an argument against single-payer in and of itself. It’s an argument against lazy thinking and mindless tropes.

Another perennial favorite is the idea that the Europeans can afford their relatively generous welfare states because they freeload on the American military presence in Europe, that NATO is a subsidy for European social programs. That isn’t really true, either: France, which is Europe’s biggest social-welfare spender, is also its biggest military spender. Sweden, famous for its comprehensive welfare state, announced in December that it will increase its military spending by 40 percent in the near future. The United Kingdom and Australia manage to fund their single-payer health-care systems even as they spend a larger share of GDP on defense than does China. While it is the case that most of our NATO allies fall short of the 2 percent benchmark for military spending, the European countries aren’t really the outliers when it comes to defense. The United States is at the high end, along with Russia, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, while pacifistic Japan brings up the rear. Of course, it matters what you choose to count: Defense as share of GDP gives one measure, defense as share of government spending gives another: Thrifty Singapore has a relatively small public sector, but it dedicates about a third of its spending to the military, while the United States earmarks far less of its budget for the military, choosing instead to fund entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare.

But you’d be surprised how very little worldly people know about the world, and how much of our political discourse consists of “I went to Copenhagen once and it was really nice so let’s have socialism.” It is bananas. When I was covering Bernie Sanders’s bad-granddad presidential campaign in Iowa, an enthusiastic Sanders supporter told me that she was hoping to move with her husband to a socialist country. I asked her which one. She said: Germany — the place where Porsches come from, a thoroughly capitalistic, trade-oriented country that has been governed by its conservative party since Billie Eilish was in preschool.

The big difference between the United States and most of the wealthy European countries isn’t defense spending, and it isn’t single-payer health care — it’s taxes. Sweden can afford a magnificent welfare state because middle-class Swedes pay much higher taxes than do middle-class Americans. That’s the most remarkable difference between American and European practice. In both contexts, the poor are taxed relatively lightly while businesses and high-income people are taxed at comparable rates — the top individual tax rate in France is 45 percent vs. 37 percent in the United States. (N.B.: There is much more to a tax system than statutory rates.) But in the United States, the bottom half of all earners pay almost no federal income tax, while the broad middle is very lightly taxed by world standards. The share of taxes paid by the top 10 percent of income earners in the United States is nearly twice what it is in France. And that’s not because we tax the rich more, but because we tax the middle class less.

And that is one of the reasons why there is such a market for cultivated ignorance among those who would prefer to have a much larger welfare state. I have never encountered a single Democratic politician of any consequence who is willing to forthrightly admit that paying for a European-style welfare state will necessitate European-style taxes on the middle class. Even Bernie Sanders, who comes as close to admitting this as anyone on the national stage I’ve seen, mostly pretends that it isn’t the case and that we can pay for everything by jacking up taxes on Jeff Bezos, a couple of Wall Street guys nobody likes, and the members of the “allah-garchy” he is always honking about.

We can’t have a useful debate about the real choices in front of us unless we are willing to be honest about what those choices are. And it’s a damned rare specimen in Washington who is willing to face those facts — even in private.

Words about Words

I don’t know whether the humor of the New York Times is puerile in this case or purely unintentional:

Kathryn Garcia Doesn’t Want to Be Anyone’s No. 2: Ms. Garcia, a former sanitation commissioner, faces the challenge of persuading New York city voters to elect a political newcomer as mayor.

But I am pretty sure this minor illiteracy is unintentional:

In a paradox worthy of Kafka, ConocoPhillips plans to install “chillers” into the permafrost — which is thawing fast because of climate change — to keep it solid enough to drill for oil, the burning of which will continue to worsen ice melt.

That which is Kafkaesque isn’t merely paradoxical — it is contradictory or logically impossible in some surreal and nightmarish way, which is not exactly the same thing. Charlie’s recent experience with the British quarantine regime was Kafkaesque, inasmuch as he was obliged to take a test he could not possibly take — a test on the eighth day of a seven-day stay.

But, even if it we include the paradox in the Kafkaesque, the example above is not a paradox. There isn’t anything paradoxical about using chillers to solidify permafrost that is thawing because of climate change, although it is ironic.

Rampant Prescriptivism

More from the Times:

On infrastructure, Republicans offered a fraction of the spending in the Biden plan.

Do yourself a favor and avoid that very stupid formulation. If Republicans were offering Biden 99 percent of what he was asking for on infrastructure, that would be a fraction of his request: 99/100. If they were offering him 150 percent of what he asked for, that, too, would be a fraction: 3/2. If they offered him exactly what he asked for, we could express that as a fraction, too — 1/1 — though it would be odd to write it that way.

Better to indicate which fraction: If it is half, or a tenth, that tells you something. But to write “a fraction” is not to say “a great deal less.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here.

You can read a “Religion Unplugged” review of Big White Ghetto here. My thanks to Professor Robert Carle.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.

Recommended

It is not a new book, but if you are interested in what was really going on in the Cold War — something we seem to be forgetting rapidly — you might enjoy Paul Lettow’s Ronald Reagan and His Quest to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. We forget what a committed peacenik the alleged ol’ warmonger was.

Destroyer Update

Readers demand, I deliver. Katy and Pancake after a hard day’s destruction.

Pancake is not sure about this new dog.

In Closing

I understand my former colleagues at The Atlantic are forming a union in the hope that it will help them to cultivate intellectual diversity on the staff. I do wish them the best of luck with that.

To subscribe to “The Tuesday,” follow this link.

National Security & Defense

Dispatches from the Future Front

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U.S. Army troops with Second Battalion, Fifth Cavalry Regiment, and Croatian soldiers stand in front of the vehicles they used in the exercise Immediate Response combined-arms live-fire demonstration at Eugen Kvaternik Military Training Area in Slunj, Croatia, May 26, 2021. (Sergeant Joshua Oh/US Army)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language, culture, and politics. This week includes a long q-and-a with retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, who has a new book out today. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will, follow this link.

Today’s Politics, Tomorrow’s Warfare

Ben Hodges, the author (more precisely, one of three co-authors) of Future War and the Defence of Europe, has the right résumé for the book: United States Military Academy, Army Infantry School, National War College, etc. — and, outside the classroom, he commanded the 101st Airborne’s 1st Brigade in Operation Iraqi Freedom, served as director of operations for Regional Command South in Kandahar, and ran the Joint Staff’s Pakistan Afghanistan Coordination Cell. He began his military career in Germany and returned to Europe as commander of the U.S. Army Europe. He retired as a lieutenant general and set up shop in Frankfurt as a strategic-studies specialist with the Center for European Policy Analysis.

That’s the short version of his curriculum vitae. And so when he says the United States needs to strengthen its defense and security relations with the Europeans because of the likelihood that U.S. forces will be engaged with Russia and China simultaneously, he is someone you listen to.

Our conversation has been edited a bit for brevity and clarity and to address my unfortunate habit of saying Balkans when I mean Baltics and vice versa.

Q:  You focus on the Black Sea and the Baltics — why?

The Black Sea is the real cauldron of competition between Russia and the West. The Baltic Sea is traditionally important to them — St. Petersburg is there, and part of their access to the Atlantic comes out of the Baltic Sea, Kaliningrad is sovereign Russian territory, an oblast. But in terms of economic impact and their ability to really influence things, the Black Sea is more important to the Russians. It’s their launching pad for everything they do in the South Caucusus, in the Balkans, and, of course, in the Middle East and in Africa, in the Eastern Med[iterranean]. Their support for the Assad regime in Syria, for example — which has had no positive outcomes for anybody else except the Kremlin and the Assad family — was only possible because of their illegal annexation of Crimea. They are able to use force against Georgia — 20 percent is occupied by Russians — Transnistria still has Russian peacekeepers, and what they’re doing in Ukraine is quite well-known. This is real competition, and the West is just not paying attention to it.

Q: Our relationship with Russia seems confused. When it comes to online shenanigans, they’re Public Enemy No. 1, but when it comes to Russian troops on the ground in places they don’t belong, we shrug it off.

During the Obama administration, with the “reset” with Secretary Clinton, there was an attempt to work with the Kremlin in the mistaken belief that you could deal with the Kremlin like you could deal with another European country. We tried to imagine situations and think about how they might act through Western eyes vs. how Putin thinks. There has been a refusal, or at least a reluctance, on the part of Western political leaders, in Europe and in the U.S., to even consider that they have very bad intentions, believing that they are somehow interested in a win-win outcome — they’re only interested in a win outcome. You hear the Germans and the French saying we have to keep a dialogue going and all that, but, since 2008, the Russians have invaded Georgia and Ukraine, they have troops all these different places, and they never back down — they may stop, but then they keep going again. What we saw six weeks ago was a continuation of that.

I can remember the White House tapping the brakes on us on some exercises we were doing in Poland, for example, back in 2016, saying, “Take it easy; you’re going to provoke the Russians.” Which is ridiculous. Then the Trump administration came in, and, of course, that was a catastrophe when it came to dealing with Russia. And now the Biden administration comes in, and I have to say I’m disappointed there. When President Biden said in his first phone call with President Putin that Ukrainian sovereignty is a priority for the United States, I thought: “All right! That’s a hell of a policy statement!” Of course, we have no strategy that underpins it, and you can’t have a strategy for the Black Sea region if you haven’t figured out a strategy for how you’re going to deal with Russia. And now there’s a feeling that we’re going down the same path of thinking we can deal with these guys, negotiate with them — forget it, that’s not who they are and have been for hundreds of years. I don’t know why we allow ourselves to continue to be surprised.

Q: In the near term, what should change to make our policy more realistic?

No. 1, we have to get our European allies [engaged]. The ones in Eastern Europe already get it. The ones in Western Europe are more reluctant to address the Kremlin as a serious potential adversary. You have to acknowledge the threat before you can expect people to actually do something. If you are a political leader, then once you acknowledge a threat you are compelled to do something.

None of this means we isolate the Kremlin or shut the door — it’s a great country with limitless resources, and the changing polar ice cap means that they are going to be involved in a lot of really important stuff for all of us. But you have to deal with them from a position of strength. They’ll cry about it, but that’s all they respect.

No. 2, I would like to hear the president declare that we have a strategy for how we’re going to deal with the Kremlin, including in the Black Sea region, in the Arctic, and in the Baltics. He could even say, “It’s not ready yet, but I’ve got my best people working on it, because we’re going to have a strategy and we’re going to prioritize resources.” Because, right now, the feeling is: “Well, Russia’s bad, but we can contain this, and the real threat’s China.” We don’t get to choose the threats. They’re all threats.

Q: How much of our trouble with the Europeans is their failing to take the problem seriously enough, and how much of it is the fear that we are no longer a credible ally?

I would say the former more than the latter. Sweden, Finland, Baltics, Poland, Romania — they get it. But when you go west of there, less so. Even in the U.K., I’ve been surprised by how quiet they’ve been about what Russia is doing in Ukraine, for example. In Western Europe, it’s more about failure to acknowledge the threat. But none of them have been encouraged by what appears to be a wavering U.S. commitment. I used to say, at the beginning of the Trump administration: “Don’t pay attention to the tweets — look at what’s happening on the ground. Because, actually, U.S. boots on the ground in Europe increased during the time of President Trump. And this has continued in the early months of the Biden administration. But people are not comforted by that when they see the Biden administration waiving the sanctions on the head of Nord Stream 2. Of course, this is because we need Germany as our most important ally in Europe. But I can’t see any evidence that Germany has said, “Okay, we’ll deal with the Kremlin, we’ll bring them around and make them comply.” So, what was the quid here?

Q: And what does the U.S.–European relationship look like from your vantage point in Germany?

I would say that it is better now than it was just a few months ago, if just because the tone has changed. Nobody doubts that President Biden is a committed trans-Atlanticist and committed to NATO: Secretary Austin has made it clear, Secretary Blinken has made it clear. So, at least you don’t have that anxiety about the president of the United States at a summit blowing the thing up. The next summit is in two weeks here, and there’s nobody worried that Joe Biden is going to say, “All right, you guys suck, I’m outta here!” So, that’s helpful.

And, of course, the Defender 21 exercises are under way, with tens of thousands of troops, from the U.S. and other allies, with a huge investment to bring equipment over from the States, to move around Europe and practice — that’s significant, and that has not gone unnoticed.

But then there are the policy issues: Nord Stream 2, a very weak response to [Russian foreign minister Sergei] Lavrov’s claim at the Arctic Council meeting that the Arctic “is all our land,” even the response to [Alexander] Lukashenko’s seizing that Ryanair flight — there’s no way that could have happened without Kremlin knowledge, because the air-defense systems of the two countries are totally integrated. Then there were the two U.S. Navy ships that were headed to the Black Sea a few weeks ago that were stopped before going into the Black Sea. Our great Navy is not scared of anybody, but the decision to stop them would have been made, obviously, well above the admiral level. The way it was explained — or not explained — it looks like we were intimidated and scared away. That’s not how great-power competition is supposed to work.

Q: What do you think about the “strategic autonomy” that the European have spent so much time talking about in recent years?

The problem with strategic autonomy is that there is no official definition of it. It’s just kind of batted around without any common understanding of what it means. So we all try to guess what it means and what are the implications.

But the nations of Europe have always been able to make their own decisions. If this was created because France, for example, wanted a free hand to do things in Africa or the Mediterranean, they never had to ask American permission. So I don’t know what problem they’re trying to solve. I do think that there’s a defense-industry aspect to this, that they would like to see more of the defense industries of Europe combine together and for European nations not to buy American-made systems. So there’s an economic aspect.

Frankly, the United States would love to see Europeans take on more responsibility — they’re going to have to. If we’re in a conflict in the Indo-Pacific region, which I think is a real possibility in the next five or six years, then most of our Navy, Air Force, and intel is going to be focused on that region. To make sure the Kremlin does not take advantage of that, we’re going to need a very strong European pillar to continue to deter the Kremlin while most U.S. capability is focused in the Pacific.

We should keep working to remove all doubt about America’s commitment to Europe. And we’re not here just to protect Europeans — the EU is our biggest trading partner. It’s in our economic interest that Europe is prosperous, stable, and secure, even if they didn’t pay one euro, pound, or krona for their own defense. We have to talk more about how it’s in our interest to continue to contribute to NATO and to have a stable, secure, prosperous Europe. That would help.

And we don’t have the capacity to do anything by ourselves anymore, even with this massive defense budget. So we need to stay engaged here.

We also need a more sophisticated focus on what burden-sharing means. There has been so much focus on 2 percent [of GDP that NATO countries are expected to spend on defense] that we’ve lost perspective on what we really are after. Instead of 2 percent, what do we really need from Germany? What do we need from Italy? What do we need from Lithuania? That’s the collective “we” — NATO, not the U.S. And I think that would go a long way toward improving the willingness of nations to invest in collective security.

Q: As we work to remove doubts about our commitment, isn’t there some grounds for that doubt?

Yes.

President Obama said, “Pivot to the Pacific,” a bad choice of words. “Pivot” means “turn away from and turn to.” As soon as he said that, I was getting questions from Europeans. “Are you leaving?” And then the Trump administration significantly increased the doubt. Now, the Biden administration has some work to do.

Q: You said earlier it was likely that in the next few years we would be drawn into a conflict in the Indo-Pacific. What does that look like?

Missiles, planes, ships, submarines, long-range fires. . . . I don’t see land forces on the Asian continent.

Q: I meant: With whom? Are you talking about a war with China?

Absolutely. The Chinese have watched how we in the West have responded to Russia’s continued invasions — sanctions, but nothing too powerful. They see that we in the West didn’t do crap after they smashed the protesters in Hong Kong, not even the Brits. The Chinese Communist Party is emboldened by that. The well-known fake islands down in the South China Sea and the claims they make — the Chinese pretty much do with impunity what they want down there. Even when an international court rules in favor of the Philippines, the Chinese are like, “Try to stop me.” The Chinese fishing fleet is in effect an arm of the PLA [People’s Liberation Army], and this is one of those situations in which it is very likely that somebody shoots or does something.

And then you’ve got Taiwan. The language coming out of Beijing about Taiwan is increasingly aggressive and militaristic. That would be a hell of a mission for the PLA, to seize Taiwan, but it won’t be like Normandy: There will be all kinds of other things happening, like cyber-sabotage. And I think Xi is on the clock, that he wants his legacy to be that he was the guy who got Taiwan back.

And China’s on the clock. Their demographics are very bad, and they just announced today that families can have three kids instead of two. But it’s going to be 19 or 20 years before those new children are ready to be privates in the Chinese army.

I don’t have any special access to intel. But a couple of people who do have access to intel — Admiral [Phil] Davidson, who just gave up command of the Indo-Pacific, and the admiral who took his place — have both said [that they expect a conflict within] six years.

Q: And if the Chinese decide to take Taiwan tomorrow, what does the United States do?

That’s a great question. The language from various administrations consistently gives the implication that we would defend Taiwan, but there’s not an alliance compact. So, is it shaking your fist? Strong statements in the U.N.? Those are all completely and totally empty. I imagine the White House, the Pentagon, and the Indo-Pacific command have a series of options that they have thought through, but I don’t know.

What’s a strong response? Is it kinetic? Isolating China? That’s where the Chinese have some advantage — in the economic sphere. We have to work together: the United States, the EU, Canada, the U.K., Australia, India, Japan — that’s a lot of economic power. If you work in concert, you could probably exercise leverage over the Chinese.

But, right now, there’s a Chinese economic-advocacy office in the building next to me. They’re all over Germany. We have thousands of rail cars every month that show up in Duisberg coming from Shanghai. There is deep investment, and deep control, of infrastructure here in Europe.

Q: Your list of countries makes me wonder: Is India still on the team? Managing coalitions is hard, and getting harder, because of the populism and nationalism that we have seen in response to what we call, for lack of a better term, globalization. Does that seem right to you?

The [Narendra] Modi government is under serious pressure right now because of COVID and its implications for the economy. Part of our ability to resist what the Chinese are doing and what the Russians are doing is based on the resilience of societies. Do people trust their government? That doesn’t mean you love everything about it, but do you trust it? Do you trust elections? Your judiciary? Do you have confidence that the government is doing its best? Those vulnerabilities are what the Chinese and the Russians go after, to exploit distrust. They go after weak societies that don’t have great resilience. It comes down to leadership: Can elected officials regain the confidence of a majority of their populations?

I just saw this unbelievable video of retired Lieutenant General Mike Flynn at a Memorial Day event in Texas, and he was asked by a veteran in the audience: “Why can’t we do what they did in Myanmar?” A military coup. And Mike Flynn said, “It should happen here.”

My God. That’s the kind of thing enemies of our country will exploit.

Q: Why write Future War?

I was excited about the project because I wanted to address what the impact of technology in warfare might look like. But also this notion that you and I have been discussing: that the United States is going to need European allies to deter the Kremlin or, if deterrence fails, to defeat Russian forces, probably while simultaneously being engaged with Chinese forces as well. I’d never been part of a book project before. And the publicity gives me a chance to talk about the issues that the book is about. It’s not Tom Clancy. It’s aimed at influencers and policy-makers across Europe and in the United States.

Q: You say your year in Afghanistan was the hardest of your service. What do you make of what’s happening there now?

I agree with President Biden’s decision to pull out: No. 1, it’s not ever going to get better. Two more years, five more years, the Taliban is not going to surrender — it’s not going to happen. No. 2, we were not willing to do what was necessary with Pakistan to deny safe haven to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. I mean, Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan — and he wasn’t hiding in a cave. [We need to address] the ability of the Taliban and other extremist organizations to use Pakistan and then come in — if we aren’t willing to do that, then I don’t know how you justify continuing to send young women and men into Afghanistan, not to mention the money. Third, I’m not an advocate for high taxes, but if we weren’t willing to raise taxes to pay for this deployment, then there’s no pressure on the Congress, because the average American family, unless they have a family member there, they don’t feel it. It doesn’t impact their lives. So there was no pressure to get it done.

Of course, I worry what happens to women there now, and what else happens in the aftermath. We will retain the right and ability to go back in and smash something if we need to. And that’s what we should have done 18 years ago: walk away but retain the ability to smash.

Q: Final thoughts?

Today [as we conduct this interview] is Memorial Day back in the States. People are never sure how to wish you a happy Memorial Day, because it isn’t happy. The best way we can pay respect to the women and men who have been killed in our nation’s wars is to make sure that we never send someone else to a war where we haven’t thought it through to the end. Nobody should die in a conflict where we’re not even sure about it.

. . .

Future War and the Defence of Europe will be published in the United States today, and a German-language edition will appear in the spring.

Words About Words

Many years ago, when I was given a copy-editing test for a job at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, I made one mistake: Having recently returned from working in India, I dropped in a British defence when I meant a good ol’ American defense. Future War and the Defence of Europe is an Oxford University Press book first published in the United Kingdom, hence defence.

British and American: Vive la différense.

(No, that doesn’t work that way — French is a well-policed language.)

On the fun-but-not-fun front, Fox News reports: “Two people fatally killed after car struck on Georgia state highway.” It’s bad enough to be killed, but to be fatally killed — oh!

Rampant Prescriptivism

Snopes debunks an Internet image purporting to show Biden’s nominee to lead the ATF at the Branch Davidian siege near Waco, Texas. The story includes a reference to — sic, damn your eyes! — “Dr. Pepper.”

There’s no period in Dr Pepper.

This isn’t mere pedantry. (Mere!) This subject ends up being a subtle one. Generally speaking, you want to write brand names, the names of organizations, and such the way the parties named write the names themselves. But there are limits. The PGA Tour, for example, insists that it is PGA TOUR, all-caps. But that’s ridiculous, and you shouldn’t feel obliged to write it that way. Likewise, you are free to make fun of real-estate agents who insist that they are Realtors™. Panic at the Disco was, for a long time, Panic! at the Disco. And then there is Therapy? as the Nineties band styled itself.

The name as written by its owner gets the benefit of the doubt, but there are limits.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

Joe Biden talks a good multilateralist game, but it is time to deliver — especially when it comes to China and studying the origin of COVID-19. More from me in the New York Post.

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. A Christian reader recently described these stories to me as “lots of cross, little resurrection.” I’m afraid that’s about it.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.

Recommended

If you are interested in artificial intelligence, facial recognition, privacy, and regulation, then check out this very interesting essay in Wired.

In Closing

China isn’t alone in facing demographic decline. After decades and decades of panicked essays about “overpopulation,” the shift toward panicked essays about population decline has begun in earnest. This, apparently, is what it takes to convince the world that human beings are assets, not liabilities.

To subscribe to the Tuesday, follow this link.

Politics & Policy

Keeping Up with Nikole Hannah-Jones

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Nikole Hannah-Jones on CBS This Morning in 2019. (Screengrab via YouTube)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language, culture, politics, and many other things. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will, please follow this link.

Disposing of Nikole Hannah-Jones

What to make of the case of Nikole Hannah-Jones, organizer of the New York Times’ sloppy and troubled 1619 Project, who has been denied, at least for the moment, tenure for a professorship at the University of North Carolina after a pressure campaign from conservative critics?

Some of the criticism is not very persuasive, and I’ll begin with that.

A university trustee said that Hannah-Jones’s tenure review had been put on pause because of her lack of a “traditional academic background.” It is a truth universally acknowledged that professors of journalism are among the most genuinely worthless specimens walking God’s green earth and that any halfway self-respecting society would exile them to the moon, and I am not at all sure that an advanced degree in journalism is more of a qualification than a disqualification when it comes to instructing students. (Set aside for the moment that journalism is not something that can be learned in a classroom. It is a trade, not an art or a science, and journalism degrees are some of the purest lab-grade bunkum ever produced.) That being stipulated, Hannah-Jones is in possession of a master’s degree — from the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, which presumably is good enough for UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media — which is not a doctorate but is more academic preparation than many journalism professors have.

(In truth, some universities shy away from hiring their own Ph.D.s as professors. It’s a weird world, but that’s another story.)

The position is not described as that of a “professor of practice,” but that is what most journalism professorships are — i.e., appointments for which the qualifications are more generally professional than academic. Universities hire novelists to teach writing (often with horrifying consequences) and businessmen to teach business and lawyers to teach law and painters to teach painting and architects to teach architecture. Professor Matthew McConaughey of the University of Texas is not, to my knowledge, in possession of a doctorate, nor is he famed for his scholarly sensibility. (He holds an undergraduate degree from UT; my time there overlapped with his, but our social circles did not much intersect.) He teaches a film-production class, “Script to Screen,” because he has some experience with that, and because it gives the university the chance to publish this hilarious staff photo.

(Alright, alright, Governor.)

And, of course, the more persuasive criticism of Hannah-Jones is about that — her practice of journalism, which is distinct from scholarship, though the two intersect at points. The National Association of Scholars sent an open letter to the Pulitzer committee (who are weasels in full, or at least mustelid-adjacent) demanding that they revoke the prize given to Hannah-Jones, and their account, along with the case made here at National Review and elsewhere, is damning. One of the Times’ own fact-checkers on the project, historian and African-American studies professor Leslie M. Harris of Northwestern University, warned the Times that key claims of the work were unsupportable. She listed other mistakes that she had communicated to the Times before the project was published but that went uncorrected.

When the Times did get around to amending the report, it did so in a guilty, sneaky, underhanded way — “stealth edits,” or unacknowledged corrections — for obviously political reasons. Donald Trump, running for reelection as president, had made a pet cause of the 1619 Project, some Democrats worried that the 1619 Project was giving him rhetorical ammunition, and the editors of the Times buckled under the consequent pressure. Hannah-Jones did the cable-news circuit claiming, preposterously, that the 1619 Project had never said what it said, and the Times reworked critical passages in an attempt to deny Trump a talking point. This is intellectual dishonesty — it is intellectual dishonesty in scholarship, it is intellectual dishonesty in journalism, and it is intellectual dishonesty in any other context. There’s a lot of that in journalism right now — Jonathan Chait exists — and a great deal more of it in academia. As the NAS letter put it:

The duplicity of attempting to alter the historical record in a manner intended to deceive the public is as serious an infraction against professional ethics as a journalist can commit. A “sweeping, deeply reported and personal essay,” as the Pulitzer Prize Board called it, does not have the license to sweep its own errors into obscurity or the remit to publish “deeply reported” falsehoods.

If I thought for a minute that the University of North Carolina were motivated by a concern for intellectual honesty or professional ethics, then I might ask: Why only withhold tenure? If Hannah-Jones is unfit for a tenured position because of unethical behavior and intellectually dishonest professional conduct, then she is unfit for a non-tenured position, too. But I have seen this sort of thing up close, and I think I know what is going on here: panic, terror, and cowardice.

I have seen this movie before.

When The Atlantic was trying to figure out whether to give in to the mob and fire me on my third day of work there for . . . bein’ evil on Twitter . . . the editor, Jeffrey Goldberg, tried to come up with some interim half-a-loaf measure. He suggested an apology to . . . no one in particular . . . and I declined to apologize to no one in particular for being lied about by particular halfwits. (More of that ancient history here.) The contract-but-no-tenure deal offered to Hannah-Jones is the same kind of one-testicle gesture, a very management-seminar move from a board of directors that doesn’t have the courage to fish or cut bait — “curs that like nor peace nor war.”

It is tempting to write that the University of North Carolina deserved better, but it doesn’t.

That being said, the only remedy for “cancel culture” rage mobs is for institutions to learn to stand up for themselves. If the university had meditated upon Hannah-Jones’s merits and demerits and decided not to offer her the position, or to offer her a different position on different terms, then that might have been rightly understood as a gesture in the direction of honesty and competence. As it is, it is only a gesture of cowardice, an affirmation that the University of North Carolina is — like Yale, the New York Times, the Associated Press, Facebook, Apple, etc. — an organization that can be bullied into submission. I understand the desire of some conservatives to gleefully shout “Your rules!” and watch the carnage, but that kind of eye-for-an-eye-ism is both morally illiterate and poor strategy, inasmuch as the Left can bear a great many more losses in academia, media, and culture than we can. Tit-for-tat is a profoundly stupid strategy when you are profoundly outnumbered.

The best practice for universities, media outlets, technology companies, and the like would be to vet their hires beforehand, close that book and open a new one, and then decline, as a matter of publicly stated policy, to respond to pressure campaigns of this kind. This would spare us spectacles such as that involving the Associated Press and Emily Wilder, the reporter who was canned after criticism of her involvement with a pro-Palestinian group when she was an undergraduate at Stanford. The AP knew what Emily Wilder was when they hired her, and Hannah-Jones is a known quantity.

As usual, our focus on the personality in question — on the hate object with a face and a name — leads us astray. As an ideological and cultural matter, how much does it really matter who, exactly, sits in the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism? Because the chances are 104 percent that the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism is going to be a semi-maniacal ideologue of approximately the Hannah-Jones kind in any case. The ideology is built into the position, and so is the bias. They aren’t going to hire Charles Murray. The Associated Press is going to go right on being a biased and at times incompetent organization with or without Emily Wilder.

If you want to cancel something, cancel the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media in toto. People who want to work as reporters should study economics, history, Victorian novels, French poetry, art, physics — almost anything but what is taught in journalism schools. You can’t go building a bullsh** farm and plant it thickly with bullsh** and then act surprised when there’s bullsh** under foot. In many years of interviewing college students and recent graduates for journalism jobs, I have never once met a journalism major who could tell me what “millage” is, though I have heard them hold forth on privilege and intersectionality and whatever the bullsh** chef’s special is down at the bullsh** market.

Denying tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones will make some conservatives feel like they have won something. But they won’t have.

And Furthermore . . .

“Hey conservatives, this is why liberals don’t believe you care about free speech,” reads the headline over Alyssa Rosenberg’s column in the Washington Post.

Hey, Alyssa Rosenberg, this is why conservatives believe you don’t care about free speech: You argue that we should literally disappear television shows in production and film projects if they don’t accord with your political prejudices.

Maybe sit this one out, Comrade O’Brien.

Words About Words

D.C. lifts mask mandate for fully vaccinated people,” reads the Washington Post headline. Underline: “Those who are fully vaccinated only need to wear a mask in places where it is required.”

Which is to say: “Wearing a mask is required only in places where it is required.”

Muppet News Flash, right there, Washington Post.

Sally Buzbee, the incoming Washington Post editor, must really be regretting that newspaper editors aren’t allowed to yell at people anymore.

This is a job for yelling in Danish, I think. Danish has some great words for such scenarios: One of them is Sprogblomster, which I am totally not making up and which literally means “language flower” and is used to describe an amusing error.

A less lovely Danish word for a blunder is Tanketorsk, or “thought cod.”

Sally Buzbee, the incoming Washington Post editor, must really be regretting that newspaper editors aren’t allowed to slap people with cod anymore.

Rampant Prescriptivism

Come on, Mansion Global: I expect my preposterous real-estate news to be flawlessly edited!

Buyers feel pressure to make snap decisions, and some forego routine home inspections for fear of losing to another bidder. “If you’re a buyer, this is the most frustrating time,” said Jonathan Campbell, vice president of DLP Realty in Bethlehem. The local market, he said, is outpacing the mid-2000s housing boom.

I am tempted to forgo pointing out the error in the foregoing.

The foregoing is that which came before: “Nothing in the foregoing clauses should be read as nullifying this condition.” Forgoing is doing without, abstaining: “He spent Lent forgoing meat.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. Warning: May make you want to apply for a change of species.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.

‘Because I Can’  . . .

Simone Biles continues her long career of being everything that is right about America:

“They’re both too low and they even know it,” Biles said of the rewards for her beam dismount and the double-pike vault. “But they don’t want the field to be too far apart. And that’s just something that’s on them. That’s not on me.

“They had an open-ended code of points and now they’re mad that people are too far ahead and excelling.”

Despite not being properly rewarded, Biles, the defending Olympic champion in the all-around, said she would continue doing them.

When asked why, she quickly answered, “Because I can.”

Recommended

The straightforwardly named A History of Italy podcast is very nicely done and worth your time. I like the modesty of “a history of Italy,” as opposed to “the history of Italy” — the same reason this magazine is not called The National Review, incidentally. We’re just one national review. There are others.

None as good, of course, but there are others.

In Closing

There is a story making the rounds that British PM Boris Johnson missed a number of official meetings because he was busy writing a biography of Shakespeare and in a rush to finish the book because he needed the money to pay for his divorce.

I’ll just say this: British political scandals are not very much like ours.

To subscribe to the Tuesday, follow this link.

Politics & Policy

What’s Wrong with the Audubon Society

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Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about major issues and minor irritations. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

A Pathology of Institutional Decay

You all know O’Sullivan’s Law, from my friend John O’Sullivan? “All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing.”

E.g., the Audubon Society, which is hopping mad at your favorite correspondent!

 

 

 

Goodness! You’d think someone representing the Audubon Society would know a canard, if nothing else, when he sees one. Part of my thesis is that the environmental movement is less about measurable real-world environmental outcomes and more about rituals of tribal affiliation and Kulturkampf politics.

So, Exhibit A, right there.

The Audubon Society wasn’t always a platform for feckless and rage-addled left-wingery. It once was an organization that welcomed environmentally interested people of different political persuasions and social outlooks. It pretends to be that still. (It even has a former Republican congressman on its board.) The Audubon Society’s path has followed that of far too many other important 20th-century institutions. The NAACP, founded a few years after the Audubon Society (now there’s a statement of American social priorities) once counted many conservatives among its members and leaders, Barry Goldwater prominent among them. But that was back when the NAACP was focused on its stated mission, advancing the interests of African Americans, rather than acting as an all-purpose Democratic machine component, which is what it does now. Back when Amnesty International was focused on the situation of political prisoners, William F. Buckley Jr. was on the board of its New York chapter, something that would be unthinkable in our time. The Southern Poverty Law Center has always attracted a hard-left element, but it was not always the irredeemably nasty nest of kookery and crankery that it is today. The Anti-Defamation League (which once sent me a sniffy letter for approvingly quoting a rabbi who didn’t share its executives’ cultural politics) has not always been the debased thing it is nowThe American Civil Liberties Union wasn’t always full of baloney. Etc.

What causes institutions to fulfill O’Sullivan’s Law? That happens mostly through personnel decisions. Institutional drift isn’t usually random — it is pushed in one direction or another by the sort of people who are drawn to an organization or the sort of people and personalities an organization selects. Personnel trends end up being self-reinforcing, because jobs are filled mostly by social processes rather than by HR philosopher-kings looking at CVs and dispassionately checking off boxes. Institutional drift is non-random for the same reason the errors in the CBS News’s reporting about firearms policy are non-random: Bias is not a plot among conscious malefactors but an intellectual disability at the organizational level.

The desire to enforce social and political homogeneity within an organization through personnel action — the desire to intentionally institutionalize bias — is the basis of what we call “cancel culture.” It is neither surprising nor coincidental that the most important and high-profile cancel-culture episodes have been in-house headhunts (as at the New York Times and Yale) rather than the result of external pressure. Cancel culture is in no small part a result of organizational capture, the situation in which the people who are supposed to serve an institution use the institution to serve themselves, pursuing their own interests (financial, cultural, political, sexual) rather than the mission of the institution. This is a widespread and reasonably well-understood problem, but outside of publicly traded corporations (which take considerable pains to align management’s interests with those of shareholders and impose a reasonable degree of transparency and accountability on corporate management), very few institutions of any real social significance address such problems in a robust way. In many industries, including media and technology, management pursues precisely the opposite course of action, entrenching its own cultural and political interests with whatever tools are in hand. Apple just got rid of an employee who wrote a book that some other Apple employees didn’t like, arguing — this is by now tediously familiar — that its commitment to diversity requires it to exclude people who . . . think different.

Corporate human-resources departments are full of prim and donkey-souled enforcers of petty orthodoxies for the same reason mortuaries employ a relatively large number of necrophiliacs. People end up going where they already were inclined to go. I’ve never met a prison guard and been surprised to find out he is a prison guard.

The people who are attracted to nonprofits are a lot like the people who are attracted to journalism. (By “journalism” I mean print journalism and its digital equivalent — journalism in writing. TV people are a different breed entirely, failed actors and jumped-up sports announcers rather than failed novelists and aspiring politicians.) They are crusaders, even if they mostly are milquetoast crusaders, and the desire to be a crusader precedes and supersedes the commitment to any particular crusade. A few years ago, I was speaking with some students about working in journalism, and I asked one what she wanted to do after graduation. She said she hoped to work in a nonprofit. “That’s great,” I said. “A nonprofit doing what?” She hadn’t thought about that. “So, you don’t care what the organization does, as long as it doesn’t make a profit doing it?” She didn’t want to put it exactly that way, but, yes, that was it. That’s one expression of a particular, strange, but not at all uncommon cast of mind, which sees profit as evidence of exploitation rather than as evidence of social value created. From her point of view, “nonprofit” meant “virtuous.” And who wouldn’t prefer to do virtuous work?

People who take a different view of profit don’t often end up in journalism or nonprofits and, when they do, they frequently end up in explicitly conservative publications and institutions — O’Sullivan’s Law, again. The Philadelphia Inquirer does not bill itself as a left-wing or Democratic outlet, but its editors investigated my politics aggressively when I interviewed for a job there a million years ago — not as a columnist but as a copy editor.

The Audubon Society does not advertise itself as a Democratic front group — in fact, it advertises itself as the opposite. But, of course, it is run by Democratic hacks who are veterans of Senator Ben Cardin’s officeapparatchiks from non-environmental left-wing groupsformer Democrat-leaning media peopleformer Gates Foundation people, and the like. The political contributions of the people associated with it (a useful but by no means perfect indicator) most recently ran 99.72 percent Democrat, according to OpenSecrets.Org. It’s woke, but, of course, never woke enough. (No one ever is — that’s the point of woke hysteria and the source of woke power.) Its magazine has taken on a more overtly political character, and its environmental activism has mutated into an all-fronts left-wing posture.

Becoming another left-wing cell among thousands of others more or less like it makes the Audubon Society less effective at its notional mission rather than more effective. But, of course, its stated mission is not its operative mission — its operative mission is to provide incomes and influence to its executives and staff, who typically lean more energetically left than do its board members as a whole or its supporters. That’s a typical pattern, too, notably in universities — even the university boards that are left-leaning to the point of actual goofiness seldom are as left-wing as the English department or the women’s-studies department. Such institutions end up being hotbeds of mediocrity because intellectual homogeneity and enforced conformism practically guarantee it. The unchallenged mind grows flabby from disuse at the institutional level as readily as the individual level.

An illustrative example of this mediocrity can be found in the case of David K. Johnson, “mixologist, professor” (his words) in the nation’s 127th-most-prestigious history program. (Don’t blame me, University of South Florida — you brought this on yourselves.) A few weeks ago, I gave a talk for the Benson Center at the University of Colorado, which has been hosting a series of discussions on cancel culture. I argued, as I have before, that this phenomenon is not particularly new, but that while many of my friends on the right denounce cancel culture as “neo-McCarthyism,” the scare it most closely resembles is not the red one but the lavender one — the anti-gay hysteria that convulsed the U.S. government, Hollywood, much of corporate America, and the service industry at the same time as the Red Scare and for related reasons. The effects of the Lavender Scare were much greater than the actual number of job losses and criminal prosecutions by themselves would have accounted for on their own, and this was by design. The point of the Lavender Scare was not to lock millions of people up on sodomy charges — punishment was only the easiest means to the end of terrorization. Terror was the point, not incarceration. It was a means of enforcing social homogeneity. Likewise, the point of bullying the New York Times into firing writers with nonconforming views isn’t to “silence” Bari Weiss — it is to terrorize other people with nonconforming views into never voicing them in the first place. It is a matter of making an example.

Professor Johnson publicly charged me with making a “misuse of history” in that argument. Because he is the author of a well-regarded book about the subject, I took his criticism seriously and wrote to him asking him to expand. Taking his criticism seriously turned out to be a mistake, which I suppose I should have foreseen. You will not be surprised to learn that he hadn’t seen the talk or read a transcript of it, that he is unfamiliar with my views and work, or that he based his judgment on — and this I could not make up — a blog post on a site run by “the co-author of UrbanMushrooms.com, which is an online guide to mushroom hunting in cities.”

University of South Florida meets urban-mushrooms guy: That’s about as low-rent an echo-chamber as you could come up with. But the Audubon Society is much the same thing with some legacy prestige.

(Personally, I have met more interesting mushrooms.)

We need institutions to do what the Audubon Society is supposed to be doing. We need institutions to do what the NAACP and the ACLU and Amnesty International are supposed to be doing. We even need institutions to do what the University of South Florida, in its stately C-minus fashion, is supposed to be doing. But we do not have them.

Whose interests are served by that? Meditate on the question and much will become clear and clearer.

Seemingly independent phenomena such as cancel culture, media bias, and campus madness would be better understood as manifestations of the same phenomenon: institutional failure following institutional capture.

Words About Words

A secondary irritation related to Professor Johnson of the nation’s 127th-most-prestigious history program: He calls himself @gayhistoryprof on Twitter. There is much that might be mined from the identity weirdness of that, but I’m here for the language trouble. Unpunctuated, “gay history prof[essor]” could refer to several different kinds of people: It could describe a heterosexual professor whose area of expertise is the Stonewall Riotsit could describe a gay professor whose scholarship focuses on Gettysburg and Bull Run, or a gay professor whose interest is in the histories of gay people.

Wondrous things, hyphens.

Rampant Prescriptivism

Stopped cold by an Andrew C. McCarthy sentence, a reader asks: What’s up with viz., and why not just use the more familiar i.e.?

From McCarthy: “And the stated objective — viz., to prevent Congress from acknowledging the states’ certification of their electoral votes — was a blatant violation of constitutional principles of federalism that conservatives revere.”

You’ll get conflicting accounts of these from Fowler’s and the OED, among others. Some will say there is functionally no difference between the two, others insist that there is a useful subtlety there. My experience is that the people who write viz. are mostly lawyers, because the abbreviation — from the Latin videlicet, “it may be seen” — is conventionally used in judicial writing.

I.e., from the Latin id est, “it is,” is much more common, and commonly misused where e.g. — exempli gratia, “for the sake of example” — is called for.

So, viz. is lawyerly. In general, you don’t want to write like a lawyer who is not Andy McCarthy, because other lawyers are generally ghastly writers. About half of the American lawyers who can produce a really good paragraph already write for National Review, and most of the other half eventually will, too.

I.e. is best used as a simple restatement of what comes before, where you might otherwise write, “which is to say.” I relied on my only means of transportation, i.e., my trusty Schwinn. Viz. more often is used to introduce a more expansive or comprehensive restatement, where you might write “namely,” especially if there is a sequence or list involved. His itinerary took him through four capitals, viz. Paris, London, Bern, and Brussels. Or: He was in error on three points, viz., the logical question, the historical question, and the arithmetic.

Many guides advise avoiding both i.e. and, especially, the uncommon viz., on the grounds that readers will find them jarring. I think it depends on the kind of writing you are doing: If I were giving detailed instructions to a deliveryman about how to find an out-of-the-way location, I probably wouldn’t use either. But if I’m writing something intended to be read for pleasure, I might use either one as appropriate, for the same reason I sometimes use uncommon words — that’s part of the fun, and it is not burdensome for contemporary readers to look things up, one of the few compensations for the displacement of printed material by the digital.

For similar reasons, I like that the New Yorker uses diaereses in words such as coöperation, and I would very much like to bring back the two-words-and-a-period-and-italics version of  “7 per cent. solution.”

Also, starting next week, this newsletter will be produced with hand-set type and sent out by messengers mounted on ponies.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. Probably best to avoid if you’re already being treated for depression or anxiety.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen, my podcast with the very fancy-sounding Florida man Charles Christopher William Higgenbotham Cooke, here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute and the things it does to make possible my work and that of many other writers, go here.

Recommended

Related to the language question above:

By way of further introduction, I will now quote a remark made to me by the who-shall-remain-nameless then-president of the American Historical Association, when I met him at a symposium back in my student days just after the Second World War: “Ah,” he said, limply pressing my hand, “Blum, did you say? A Jewish historian?”

Though the man surely intended this remark to wound me, it merely succeeded in bringing delight, and even now I find I can smile at the description. I appreciate its accidental imprecision, and the way the double entendre can function as a type of psychological test: “‘A Jewish historian’ — when you hear that, what do you think? What image springs to mind?” The point is, the epithet as applied is both correct and incorrect. I am a Jewish historian, but I am not an historian of the Jews — or I’ve never been one, professionally.

Instead, I’m an American historian — or I was.

In Closing

Help wanted. Badly.

 

Politics & Policy

Infrastructure Is Infrastructure

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Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter sounding sundry and divers themes, from politics to language to culture. To subscribe to the Tuesday, follow this link.

Time to Lay Pipe

Every now and then, the world pauses briefly to say, “Hey, dummy — pay attention.”

Seventeen states and — oh, glorious irony! — the District of Columbia have declared states of emergency after the closure of the Colonial pipeline, which brings fuel from Gulf Coast refineries to eastern cities. Gasoline prices already are rising and are expected to rise sharply in the immediate future. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, fresh off the indignity of losing the title of world’s busiest airport to Bai Yun International in Guangzhou, is nervously watching its fuel stores, as are other airports (including Charlotte Douglas and Raleigh-Durham) served by the pipeline. The population centers of the East Coast are at risk of significant disruption to everything from deliveries to travel — because almost half the fuel used in the most densely populated part of the country travels through a single pipeline that runs from Houston to Linden, N.J., currently out of service after an apparent act of extortion through cyberterrorism.

“Hey, dummy — pay attention.”

President Joe Biden is no friend of pipelines. Practically his first act in office was unilaterally stopping a multi-billion-dollar pipeline project that already was under way. Biden proposes to be President Infrastructure, so long as expanded welfare benefits and subsidized childcare for two-income professionals in Washington qualify as “infrastructure,” while his administration micturates from a great height upon actual infrastructure — e.g., the pipelines, refineries, and transportation networks that connect our workers and factories and trucks with the actual fuel our economy runs on, as opposed to the imaginary unicorn-juice economy that exists in the fantasy world of President Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, et al.

Even if you believe, as President Biden says he does, that the United States must be coerced by federal bayonets to accept a radically different economic model that forgoes fossil fuels, abandoning the fossil-fuel infrastructure before that transition has happened — indeed, before some of the necessary technologies that might one day enable such a transition even have been developed — is insanely irresponsible. It makes Americans hostages to a narrowminded and moralistic ideology. If you believe, as I do, that under any reasonably responsible policy fossil fuels — especially natural gas — will be part of the mix for the foreseeable future, then preventing environmentally responsible investment in and development of the necessary infrastructure is radical misgovernance.

It is difficult to say what, if anything, President Biden actually believes about this. It may be the case that he himself does not know; he is a wind-tester, not a thinker. But the so-called environmentalists who apparently have his ear and who dominate Democratic policy-making circles believe, in short, that there is no such thing as environmentally responsible development of traditional energy infrastructure — which is why they fight every pipeline, every refinery, every effort to move fuel via rail, every depot, every shipment terminal, etc. Think of this as the Elizabeth Holmes model of activism and the Theranos model of alternative energy: The underlying product not only isn’t yet viable, it does not actually exist — but the Green New Deal types believe that if they can just have their way and get what they want on a day-to-day basis right now, then at some point in the future when the finances are sorted out they can magic into existence the goods and services that will justify their earlier demands and promises.

“Hey, Dummy — pay attention.”

We know that this is going to be a problem — because it was a problem just a few years ago, when the pipeline in question was shut down because of flooding associated with Hurricane Harvey. Gasoline prices spiked, and, in some cities — including cities in Texas, the heart of energy country — the pumps at gas stations were shut off for lack of fuel. When the fuel stops moving, then people and goods stop moving in short order. A relatively brief interruption in one pipeline can have severely disruptive effects. To my mind, that means: lay more pipe.

And there are other pipelines that serve some of the areas that depend on Colonial — but not with sufficient capacity to replace what has been taken offline. And so we face the age-old question of pricing risk: Would we rather have more capacity than we usually need and bear the expense that goes along with that, or would we rather have less capacity than we sometimes need and bear the risk that goes along with that?

When an unusual but by no means unprecedented storm caused Texas’s electricity network to collapse in February — that was less than 90 days ago but has, of course, vanished almost entirely as a matter of public interest — the distinct impression I got was that many of my fellow Texans experienced that interruption as a severe hardship. It killed 111 of them. A widespread disruption in the fuel supply would have effects of similar magnitude and character — in fact, given that we rely on natural-gas pipelines to feed many of our electricity plants, an interruption in the fuel supply could have, in some cases, precisely the same effect.

“Hey, Dummy — pay attention.”

When it comes to energy, more is more. That doesn’t mean that we abandon air quality or clean-water regulation or drill for oil in the middle of Central Park — it means that abundance is the end goal, and that responsible environmental management is a requirement that conditions that goal. Unless you are in thrall to anti-capitalist (and, ultimately, anti-human) ideology, this is a manageable problem — complex and requiring a great deal of specialist knowledge and political negotiation, but manageable. As we have seen in the case of fracking — opposition to which is pure Kulturkampf with almost nothing to do with genuine environmental concerns — Americans are, in spite of ourselves, capable of creating a situation in which industry, regulators, and communities work together in a reasonable productive and beneficial way. There are more and less environmentally and socially responsible ways to develop a more robust energy infrastructure with sufficient redundancy — i.e., a situation in which a cyberattack on a single pipeline won’t leave a big chunk of the population suddenly vulnerable.

The temporary shutdown of Colonial probably will not be a catastrophe. And COVID-19 could have been 20 times more lethal than it is. But we will only get so many dry runs in the form of relatively manageable challenges. Either we will have the resources — physical, financial, and social — to meet future challenges, or we won’t. Either we will have excess capacity or we won’t. Either we will have fortified our infrastructure or we won’t. If we want to make our energy infrastructure less vulnerable to disruption, then we know how to do it.

And if we want to make our public finances less vulnerable to disruption . . .

“Hey, dummies — pay attention.”

The Circle of Spite

It is a shame, for many reasons, that Donald Trump went out of his way — and Georgia was out of his way! — to tank the Republicans’ Senate majority. I am curious what Senator Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) would have done with a Republican majority when President Biden gets around to making a Supreme Court nomination, assuming he gets the chance. I am guessing that it would have been devious and entertaining.

(Let us hope Stephen Breyer is eating his Wheaties.)

Instead, it seems more likely that Republicans will fail to win control of the Senate before such a thing comes to pass, though that is by no means certain, of course. How might minority Republicans conduct themselves?

My guess is: a lot like minority Democrats did.

The fantastical and outrageous attacks on Brett Kavanaugh — the Democrats’ own QAnon episode — constituted a genuinely radicalizing moment for some on the right, amplified by the subsequent attacks, less lurid but equally dishonest, on Amy Coney Barrett. Already there is talk in right-wing circles of tanking any eventual Biden nominee with a tit-for-tat strategy justified by a tit-for-tat morality. Republicans haven’t grown any better at lying since the Nixon era, but they have grown more comfortable with it.

And, if we really are embracing the standard set by the Kavanaugh hearings — that we have to pretend to credit the most fanciful allegations from the most obviously damaged and neurotic hangers-on that the dark arts of politics can dredge up — then they don’t have to be any good at lying, just willing.  Given that “Not Very Good At Lying But Certainly Willing is the new motto of the Party of Lincoln, we can expect things to get ugly.

Words About Words

“Of course Caitlyn Jenner is a Republican,” our friend Rob Long observed. “She’s a rich old lady in Malibu.” I cannot think of a more appropriate candidate for California Republicans, or for Republicans at large, really.

But one thing about Jenner’s gubernatorial campaign launch did irritate me: the word “elitist,” which has become a term of general abuse deployed so promiscuously that even the Malibu-dwelling former stepfather of Kim Kardashian can throw it around without inviting scorn. I am reminded of the Republican state party chairman who bitterly denounced the “establishment,” as though the world could possibly mean something other than state party chairmen and their ilk.

When I worked out of National Review’s Manhattan office, I made the usual cable-news rounds, and I always enjoyed watching the populist anti-elitists of the Right and the great proletarian heroes of the Left getting into their respective limousines to be shuttled home to the Upper East Side or Alpine or Greenwich after their nightly denunciations of the high and mighty. One of the things populists in both parties have a hard time really appreciating is that Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow have a hell of a lot more in common with each other than either has in common with . . . well, with you, Sunshine. Some of Rush Limbaugh’s connection to Donald Trump was political substance, but some of it was adjacent private-jet parking, too.

Rampant Prescriptivism

I was really ready to jump on the Wall Street Journal about this headline until I got to the final word: “English Journalist Couldnt Bear Abuse’s of the Apostrophe.” Well done, copy desk.

Retirees are often urged to find new activities and causes. After a career as a newspaper reporter and editor in England, John Richards took up the role of defending the apostrophe, an often abused punctuation mark.

When he started the Apostrophe Protection Society in 2001, there were only two members, Mr. Richards and his son, Stephen. Soon, however, he had more than 250 members, and some made unsolicited cash donations. Letters and emails arrived from all over with examples of misuse of the apostrophe. Many offenders left the apostrophe out of possessive phrases or inserted the mark where it wasn’t needed, as in market signs advertising “apple’s.”

Then the crusade ran into resistance. Mr. Richards told the Daily Mail that he spotted a restaurant advertising “coffee’s.” He offered free advice. “I said very politely, ‘It’s not needed. It’s a plural,’” Mr. Richards said. “But the man said: ‘I think it looks better with an apostrophe.’ And what can you say to that?”

In 2019, he shut down his campaign. “The barbarians have won,” he said.

No, they haven’t. As another Englishman who cherished the language said: We shall never surrender.

And Furthermore . . .

An action that is in progress is under way; a pedestrian tunnel under a thoroughfare is an underway.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. It’s extra salty.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

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Recommended

I’ve been on a George Kennan kick lately, and, in addition to my earlier recommendation of John Lukacs’s A Study of Character, I think you might enjoy, especially, the first volume of his memoires, 1925–1950. One of Kennan’s great irritations in life was the constant subordination of U.S. foreign policy to domestic politics; it is always a fantasy to believe that anything politicians do is beyond politics, and in Kennan’s protestations one can hear suggestions of contemporary political formulations used for cynical purposes: “the time for debate is over,” “this isn’t a political issue,” etc. But Kennan was more a realist than a fantasist, and the root of his complaint — the need to minimize the violence policy-makers can do to intelligent policy — remains very much with us. The United States — and this is a bipartisan problem — seems set on making the same mistakes vis-à-vis China we made with the Soviet Union. With that in mind, Kennan makes continually interesting reading.

Furtherly Furthermore . . .

I never met John Lukacs, but a mutual friend in Philadelphia once described him as a man who would glare skeptically at the sky if you remarked that it was a nice day. Wonderful writer.

In Closing

In the days before the great plague, I had a brief but memorable conversation with James Carville about snobbery and snootery. I wish I had recorded it. Maybe I will see if I can get him to sit down to revisit the subject on the record. By now, you’ve probably all read his Vox interview, in which he touches on the subject of “wokeness,” but, if you haven’t, it is worth your time:

We have to talk about race. We should talk about racial injustice. What I’m saying is, we need to do it without using jargon-y language that’s unrecognizable to most people — including most Black people, by the way — because it signals that you’re trying to talk around them. This “too cool for school” shit doesn’t work, and we have to stop it.

In the high-Clinton era, the two big strategic brains of the Democratic Party were James Carville and Paul Begala, who were partners in a consulting firm. The Democrats became more the Begala party than the Carville party — a rare stroke of good luck for Republicans.

Paul Begala once lost an election to an imaginary cartoon character. James Carville will rip your lungs out, but at least he won’t be a completely insufferable fussbudget while doing it.

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Politics & Policy

What the Republican Party Needs vs. What It Wants

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Texas 6th Congressional District candidate Michael Wood (Campaign ad image via YouTube)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about thus and such and whatnot, language and politics and culture, and other things. To subscribe to the Tuesday and receive it in its divinely ordained email format, please follow this link.

The Unmaking of a Congressman

Mike Wood has done harder things than running for the House of Representatives, and some of those hard things he did in Afghanistan, where he won two Purple Hearts and a Navy Commendation Medal — which made it especially irritating for him to listen to fellow Republicans describe him as a “traitor” during his recent campaign in Texas’s 6th District. Wood has a direct, unadorned way of communicating (one section of his campaign bio begins, “After getting shot . . .”), a refreshingly stoic style in our age of hysterical politics. Emotionally incontinent displays are not his thing, but there is some tension in his voice when he sets that scene.

“Not a whole lot gets to me, but when some of these nut-jobs called me a ‘traitor,’ it got to me more than it should. I have scars on all four limbs from fighting for this country, but — because I refused to bend the knee to Donald Trump — I’m some sort of Benedict Arnold character. But that’s where our politics are right now.” Hearing about the Utah GOP’s treatment of Mitt Romney — the senator was denounced as a “traitor” and, of all things, a “communist” — Wood saw it as more of the same: “Disgusting.”

Wood, whom I first met when he was a National Review Institute Regional Fellow in Dallas, is the sort of candidate conservatives used to dream about: under 40, a decorated veteran, articulate, educated (bachelor’s from NYU and an MBA from SMU), a business owner with a big, photogenic family, he had everything going for him with the exception of one thing: apostasy.

Wood is one of a surprisingly large number of conservatives who opposed Trump in 2016 but supported him — voted for him, anyway, with whatever other qualifications or hesitation — in 2020. But he also has been plainspoken about the Trump movement, which he accurately describes as a “cult of personality” in thrall to loopy conspiracy theories. It was Trump’s post-election performance leading up to the events of January 6 that most troubles Wood, who calls Trump’s conduct “disqualifying.”

Some very wise political insiders in Texas advised Wood to tamp down the anti-Trump rhetoric, on the theory that while the GOP may be — may be — ready for post-Trump leadership, it is not ready for anti-Trump leadership. And those voices of caution probably were right as a matter of pure political calculation — Wood came in fifth among Republicans and ninth overall in the 23-candidate, bipartisan goat-rodeo of an election — but there is more to life, and more to political life, than calculation.

“I want to serve in elected office,” he says, “but I don’t want to go to Congress if that means I have to act like Madison Cawthorn or Lindsey Graham. If the cost of entry into Republican politics is that you have to pretend to buy into lies, then I don’t want to do that.”

Wood’s anti-Trump stance won him national media attention and the endorsement of the Dallas Morning News, but it did not win him a lot of support in the Republican rank-and-file. After the election, noted QAnon kook Marjorie Taylor Greene ridiculed Wood and Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of his political allies. The nice lady who thinks that California wildfires are caused by Jewish space lasers wrote that Wood and his backers are “clueless about what Republican voters think and feel” and that what Republicans demand is “America First and loyalty to Trump.” And, as strange as it is to write, the nice lady who thinks that California wildfires are caused by Jewish space lasers is almost correct: Wood is far from “clueless” about the Republican demand for “loyalty to Trump” — he is keenly aware of what Republican voters think and feel, but he believes that these thoughts and feelings are grounded in falsehood and paranoia that ultimately will destroy the Republican Party and do great damage to the country itself. And, to the detriment of his electoral prospects, he says so.

The race in the 6th will be resolved in a runoff, and the candidate expected to win is a Trump-endorsed member of the State Republican Executive Committee (Drain that swamp!) whose main claim to the seat is that she is the widow of the man who most recently held it.

It is a sign of the Republican times that the standout moment from Wood’s campaign was a confrontational talk-radio interview. DFW-area right-wing radio host Mark Davis, a presumably smart guy who hosts a multidimensionally moronic radio program, complained that Wood’s assertions about the facts of the presidential election were “condescending” in that they did not match up with how many members of his audience “feel.” Wood, exasperated, said: “This is one of the worst parts of what Trump has done to the Right — he’s turned us into a bunch of whiny little lefties. It’s all about ‘feelings.’ It’s all about ‘Well, you’ve got your truth, I’ve got my truth.’ ”

Davis, obviously caught off guard, fumbled around for a bit and then declared the exchange “wonderful radio.”

But it wasn’t wonderful radio — it was idiotic radio elevated only by the fact that one of the parties in the conversation understood it to be idiotic and had the guts to say so. It was also a textbook illustration of what ails the entertainment wing of the Republican Party at this unfortunate moment in time: cowardice. Davis and his kind are plainly terrified of their audiences and afraid to say anything that might make them uncomfortable, even if that means going along with B.S. so unmistakable that you can practically smell it through the radio.

One of William F. Buckley Jr.’s great escapades was his doomed 1965 campaign for mayor of New York City. He knew he wasn’t going to win. (“What is the first thing you will do if you win?” a reporter asked. “Demand a recount,” he answered, maybe the most famous bon mot in his extensive catalog.) But getting elected mayor wasn’t the point. There are those who can understand what the point was and those who can’t. The same is true of Mike Wood’s eight weeks as a politician. Let him with eyes see.

It is not clear to me that such a man as Mike Wood has a future in the Republican Party. If he doesn’t, then that is going to be a lot less of a problem for him than it is for the GOP.

Why Not Quarantine?

I have followed the ghastly COVID-19 situation in India with sympathy and dread. I lived in Delhi for a short but important part of my life, and my attitude toward the place may be distorted by sentimentality, but it remains a big part of my idea of what a city is. Right now, it is a city that is suffering terribly. As late as March, India’s seven-day average of COVID-19 deaths was running under 100 — the most recent average has it at more than 3,400 a day. The stories of sick people dying by asphyxiation as their relatives search desperately for oxygen are too horrible to dwell on here.

The Biden administration has announced a ban on travel from India, which is the right thing to do. It also has announced that U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and many others will be exempted from the ban, which is precisely the wrong thing to do — or, rather, it is the incomplete thing to do.

The United States is not a compact or isolated island-nation such as Singapore or New Zealand, it is infamously unable (more accurate to say unwilling) to control its borders, and its cultural situation is such that Americans would not tolerate or comply with the invasive surveillance that some Asian countries such as Taiwan have used with some success against COVID-19 or the heavy-handed but also relatively effective methods practiced in New Zealand. Americans will defy emergency measures during a genuine emergency even as they cravenly thank TSA gropenführers for their service and tolerate all manner of grotesque police misconduct — our national libertarianism wanes when it should wax and waxes when it should wane.

But there is one policy relied on elsewhere in the world that the United States should take up: quarantine.

And by quarantine I mean something more like New Zealand’s “managed isolation” — two weeks of not-great room service in a hotel you can’t leave — rather than the loosey-goosey “self-quarantine” contemplated by the Biden administration and typical of recent American practice.

The Biden administration’s program — like similar travel bans put into place by the Trump administration — is the quintessential 21st-century American public policy: a ban on travel from India that does not actually ban travel from India. If we forbid the foreign nationals to enter the country while permitting U.S. persons (citizens and permanent residents) to enter from the very same point of origin — while merely hoping that they will subsequently conduct themselves in the cautious and responsible way for which Americans are so famous — then we may as well not have a travel ban at all. COVID-19 is caused by a virus, and the virus does not distinguish between legal residents of the United States and tourists and business travelers. If the evidence supports restricting the travel of Indians from India — and I believe it does — then it also supports restricting the travel of Americans from India.

In January, President Joe Biden issued an executive order that is comical reading. It purported to establish a seven-day quarantine period for all international travelers entering the United States, including returning Americans. These travelers are, according to the order, “required to comply” with “recommended periods of self-quarantine.” The juxtaposition of “required” with “recommended” is pure 21st-century Americana. The executive order included no enforcement mechanism, though it did solicit suggestions — suggestions! — about how to “assist travelers in complying with such policy.” “Assist in compliance” is language that might make George Orwell smile: The budding American police state remains in its pre-Oedipal hall-monitor phase.

The Centers for Disease Control put out a statement affirming that it “will not be mobilizing in any way to enforce its guidance as a rule.”

Although it appears likely — at the moment — that the asinine refusal of many Americans to be vaccinated against COVID-19 means that the infection will remain a persistent and routinely deadly menace for the foreseeable future, it also appears — at the moment — that the epidemic is starting to come under control here. Of course, that could change. But this epidemic is not the only problem — it is likely if not certain that there will, at some point, be another. And one of the most effective tools available to prevent the importation of infectious disease from abroad during an epidemic is supervised quarantine. At the moment, we do not have well-developed procedures or facilities for implementing such emergency measures. COVID-19 has been awful, but there are potentially far worse infections out there. We should get ready for them.

It would be better to make some preliminary preparations for future epidemics now rather than in the middle of some unknown crisis to come. Contra Laura Ingraham et al., New Zealand is not some authoritarian hellhole, and the United States might do itself a favor by learning something from its example.

Making Merchandise of Believers

Greg Locke, the fanatically pro-Trump pastor of the Baptist Global Vision Bible Church in Joliet, Tenn., is the quintessential false prophet, one of those miscreants who would “make merchandise of” his followers, in the evocative language of the King James translation.

There were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.

And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.

Locke had previous prophesied that Donald Trump would “100 percent remain president of the United States for another term.” In the fairly transparent manner of a not very bright man caught in an embarrassing lie, the pastor today insists that Joe Biden is a “fake president” and therefore that his earlier prediction is not falsified. He is far from the only one of this ilk. Many of the QAnon lunatics still expect Trump to return to the White House in glory, any minute now. Some of these lunatics and con artists are church leaders, including a few you may have heard of.

The colonization of the Christian church in the United States by politicians is a catastrophe for both religion and for politics. As a political matter, it is malpractice; as a religious matter, it is idolatry. The world requires a witness who will speak the truth at any cost, and it falls to the church to be that witness — the New York Times is not going to do the job.

A church that embraces lies for the sake of convenience and transient secular power is no church at all — and that is what many Americans, especially conservative Protestants, are faced with.

Words About Words

Speaking of the colonization of church by state, I’ve been watching the Wolf Hall series (I’d appreciate any informed recommendations about whether to read the novels from which it is adapted), which puts me in mind of a reader’s question: Why is it beheading, not de-heading?

If you remove ice from an airplane or frost from a chicken, you are de-icing or defrosting, while halls that have been decked (with boughs of holly, which is the only thing halls get decked with, as far as I know) they are bedecked. Separating married people is divorce, while bringing two together is a betrothal. We befriend those we like and defriend those who irritate us on Facebook.

Why behead?

In English, we have prefixes and suffixes that are “privative,” meaning they negate or reverse the quality expressed by the word: unalienable, anhedonic, emotionless, atypical, nonsense, antimatter, etc. We don’t have a lot of privative be- in modern English, but they had it in Old English, including in beheafdian, from which we get the modern English “behead.”

People learning English as adults sometimes have a hard time with privative formations, because they are subtle and do not follow any obvious exceptionless rule: Why insufferable rather than unsufferable, while inalienable and unalienable are so interchangeably used that both appear in different drafts of the Declaration of Independence? Why is uncorrect incorrect? Why does inflammable mean flammable instead of not flammable?

The last of these is the easy one to answer: because in- in this usage isn’t privative at all — that which is inflammable is that which may become inflamed, from the Latin inflammare.

As for the rest, even the most rampant prescriptivist must at some point accept that English is one of those great spontaneous orders that are “the result of human action, but not the execution of any human design.”

Rampant Prescriptivism

I recommend to you Matthew Walther’s very interesting New York Times essay on the utterly unsurprising Trumpism of Biden’s first 100 days in office, but I cannot endorse the headline: “Biden’s First 100 Days Would Make Trump Jealous.” I trust the reason is obvious enough to regular readers.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

People are power, I argue in the New York Post, which is why California and New York are each losing a House seat while Florida picks up one and Texas gains two. It’s not just high taxes and housing costs.

There’s more in play than high taxes and high rents. The increasingly stifling and conformist “woke” political culture of California and New York have made them less attractive to many of the kind of people who have the money and the freedom to pack up and move to Texas or Florida. And the two states’ overbearing response to the coronavirus epidemic — which, incredibly enough, managed to be both heavy-handed and ineffective at the same time — poured gasoline on a fire that already was smoldering.

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. Inside you will find what I hope are some interesting details of this American life with which you are not already familiar.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.

Recommended

George Kennan: A Study of Character, by the late John Lukacs. The Cold War is not done with us, and we are not done with containment.

In Closing

From Adam Ferguson’s Essay on the History of Civil Society, 1767. Note that the Cromwell referenced here is Oliver, not the one in Wolf Hall, his ancestor.

Every step and every movement of the multitude, even in what are termed enlightened ages, are made with equal blindness to the future; and nations stumble upon establishments, which are indeed the result of human action, but not the execution of any human design. If Cromwell said, That a man never mounts higher, than when he knows not whither he is going; it may with more reason be affirmed of communities, that they admit of the greatest revolutions where no change is intended, and that the most refined politicians do not always know whither they are leading the state by their projects.

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White House

Joe Biden’s Executive Incoherence

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President Joe Biden speaks about the status of coronavirus vaccinations and his administration’s ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 21, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language, culture, and politics that will, with any luck and the kind attention of a few good editors, turn out to be more coherent than this week’s subject. To subscribe to the Tuesday and receive it in your inbox, follow this link.

Biden vs. Biden

That the Biden administration should be incoherent is the least surprising development so far of 2021 — Joe Biden himself is generally incoherent on a personal level. Biden’s incoherence is not (contra the popular right-wing talking point) mainly the result of his advanced age or the state of his mental acuity — he has been a little bit dim and a little bit all over the place for the entirety of his very, very long career in public office, since he was a young man, because he is a creature of pure self-serving opportunism without a moral center or real principles.

It would be easy to call him a weathervane, but a weathervane is anchored on something and centered. President Biden is more like that plastic bag blowing around in American Beauty — empty, lightweight, subject to the moment’s prevailing wind.

Because of this debility, President Biden cannot manage a “team of rivals” the way more serious figures such as Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt did in their respective times. This is a particularly troublesome shortcoming in a president for whom FDR and his administration are the guiding lights, even if the guidance derived from that quarter is almost exclusively a matter of rhetoric and nostalgia.

Like the Biden administration, the Franklin Roosevelt administration comprehended a genuinely diverse array of political tendencies, from agrarian progressives (Claude R. Wickard) to crypto-Communists (Henry Wallace) to Republicans (Henry Stimson), but its members were obliged to take seriously the two great crises of the time (depression and war) and were disciplined by the president’s own masterly — and often masterful — leadership. As with the resolutely non-ideological (and effectively nonpartisan) administration of Dwight Eisenhower after the war, the character of the administration amplified the character of the man.

The Biden administration also is home to quiet rivalries between its moderate-pragmatist elements (Janet Yellen, Lloyd Austin), its hardcore left-wingers (Xavier Becerra), its amoral power-seekers (Kamala Harris, in the West Wing, with the icepick), and its workaday crackpots (Deb Haaland et al.). But the Biden administration does not have Franklin Roosevelt at the head of it — it has the bad luck to be headed by Joe Biden, who apparently believes that he can be Donald Trump when it comes to the so-called war on drugs while being Patrisse Cullors on police reform, and that he can be the Ronald Reagan of a new Cold War with China while playing Woodrow Wilson’s role in a new League of Nations. At home, he presents himself simultaneously as the sensible pragmatist and . . . Santa Claus.

Unlike the Roosevelt administration, the Biden administration does not bring a particularly intense focus to the great crises of the time — in spite of its bursts of rhetorical vehemence. On the matter of the coronavirus epidemic and its aftermath, the administration has allowed itself to be pulled in six different ways by bureaucratic inertia, narrow political self-interest, and competing approaches to risk-management; on the matter of China, his administration lacks the intellectual rigor and moral seriousness to disentangle the knot of economic and geopolitical factors that actually shape our real-world relationship with the so-called People’s Republic, which is quite different from both Washington’s rhetorical account of Beijing and Beijing’s rhetorical account of Washington. Biden has access to some excellent advisers on both of those issues, but all advisers can do is offer advice. Biden makes decisions like a man who expects the music to stop abruptly and fears that he will be the one left without a seat.

You can tell how much of this is stagecraft requiring the suspension of disbelief. President Biden would have us believe things that are logically incompatible, e.g., (1) that climate change is one of the most important crises facing the human race, and (2) that John Kerry should be entrusted with leading our response to climate change. John Kerry should not be in charge of climate change — he should be in charge of addressing the national debt, because the only thing in life he ever has had much talent for is marrying money. (Mr. Kerry has married two heiresses; the current Mrs. Kerry has married two senators — these are totally normal people and not weird at all.) You don’t put John Kerry in charge of something because you think it is an existential threat that requires a substantive response — you put John Kerry in charge of something when you want self-regarding summitry and highly refined New England umbrage. On that front, John Kerry always delivers.

Unlike many of my fellow conservatives, I think climate change is a real problem. But if I didn’t think it was a problem, I’d expect it to become a cosmic crisis after putting it in John Kerry’s portfolio. But from Joe Biden’s vantage point, John Kerry is a promising young man.

It was not easy to take Joe Biden very seriously as a candidate. It is impossible to take him very seriously as a president. The Biden administration is like an angry chimpanzee at a chess tournament — it isn’t going to win the match, but that isn’t what we should be worrying about.

A little bit of incoherence is not necessarily a bad thing in an administration, if it is the right kind of incoherence: Often, successful political leaders do not seem to be operating from any sort of grand plan because they are not operating from any sort of grand plan, but rather are pursuing piecemeal reforms as opportunities present themselves. There are worse ways to govern.

In U.S. politics, a president typically gets to do only one or two big things — the really successful ones get two big things done (Ronald Reagan won the Cold War and oversaw important changes in economic policy), the moderately successful ones get one thing done (Richard Nixon ended the Vietnam War, Barack Obama signed a health-care bill), and many fail to achieve even one big thing. The ones who fail to put even one big thing on the scoreboard aren’t necessarily bad presidents or failed leaders — Harry Truman spent his presidency finishing up Roosevelt’s unfinished business, and George H. W. Bush showed his quality in a foreign-policy crisis that forced itself onto his agenda — though some of them surely must be understood as failures. Donald Trump’s two big issues were trade and immigration, and he achieved lasting reform on neither issue.

Pragmatism and compromise can be expensive. George H. W. Bush broke a campaign promise (“read my lips”) in order to broker a budget deal with intransigent Democrats holding the majority in Congress, which was the right thing to have done as a matter of policy but probably cost him reelection. (Democrats razzed him about it, but the people who really carped most bitterly on the tax-pledge issue were Republicans led by Pat Buchanan. The more things change . . . ) George H. W. Bush had a kind of cultivated integrity that was not to be found in Barack Obama or Donald Trump. He wasn’t an ideologue, and he wasn’t uncompromising — the coherence of his administration was to be found in a set of very wide principles, liberally applied. George H. W. Bush’s presidency was less shaped by what he thought his career was about than by what he thought his country was about, and what he thought it should be about.

But even the most successful presidents are compressed in memory until they are as two-dimensional as a Herblock cartoon. Ronald Reagan was one of the greatest peace-seekers of his time — he talked constantly of peace, sought to make peace, entered into controversial arms-control agreements (over the strenuous objections of the editors of this magazine), and even dreamt of developing an effective anti-missile system and then simply giving the technology to the Soviet Union and other countries in order to render our own nuclear missiles ineffectual along with everyone else’s. But history will remember him as a warmonger, even though he was remarkable among modern presidents for his disinclination to use the war-making powers at his disposal. Our cartoon history cannot account for the reality that the great military crisis of the second half of the 20th century was resolved in no small part through the efforts of a celebrity libertarian from California who used the words peace and peaceful 14 times in a short address at Eureka College in the second year of his presidency — long before the war had been won.

But Reagan had an unusual political gift and the benefit of being on the right side of the most important issues of his time.

The difference between Biden and our more effective executives may simply be that those other presidents knew what they wanted and, for that reason, had some idea of what to do. They often did things that were politically difficult rather than simply try to triangulate their way into popularity. Because of the way history compresses things, it is easy to forget that many Americans energetically opposed U.S. involvement in that second European war (Roosevelt himself promised voters, “Your boys are not going to be sent to any foreign war”) and that the New Deal, the most significant political development between Appomattox and Pearl Harbor, was bitterly opposed by many Americans. Ronald Reagan’s antagonists included an American Left whose best minds were either pro-Communist or committed a nearly religious belief in the moral equivalency between the United States and the Soviet Union. Abolishing slavery was a distinctly minority enthusiasm in Abraham Lincoln’s time.

What is remarkable is that while Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Reagan were able to exercise leadership on genuinely controversial issues, Joe Biden is overmatched by an issue about which there is an effectively universal consensus regarding outcome: Nobody wants the coronavirus epidemic to continue, and, aside for a few kooks in the “voluntary human extinction” movement, there is no pro-coronavirus faction. But on such practical matters as workplace rules relating to COVID-19, the administration is unable to move forward in a direct and timely way. Faced with the thorny cultural politics of vaccine refusal, President Biden’s big, bold idea is . . . paid time off. It is remarkable how many social problems Biden and Biden-style Democrats believe can be addressed with paid time off or higher wages for government workers — paid time off is now, according to the Biden administration, “infrastructure,” of all ridiculous things.

Perhaps President Biden can free-stuff his way through the rest of the coronavirus epidemic. He stepped into a situation that was about as encouraging as could be expected — the vaccines were good-to-go and the economic recovery already was under way — but, even with that great advantage, his administration acts as though it is in a constant state of low-level panic.

And so expectations should be modest indeed for the Biden administration’s work on the much more difficult issue of China. The epidemic has been awful, but the virus does not have 350 nuclear warheads and something north of $1 trillion of U.S. public debt in its portfolio.

And Xi Jinping is not looking for paid time off.

Words About Words

I have mentioned masterful before, but I would like to briefly revisit the word. Masterful is different from masterly — a masterly performance is one that demonstrates a high level of accomplishment, but a masterful performance is one that exhibits a controlling or domineering character. Franklin Roosevelt was both a masterly politician (he was good at politics) and a masterful one (he was at times tyrannical).

One of the strange new habits associated with our increasingly tribalistic politics is that it is now verboten to observe that someone “on the other side” is good at something. These are words that — for some people, anyway — must not be spoken. But Bill Clinton was a really good politician. Slimy and dishonest, to be sure, but one with real talent — masterly. Understanding that is useful for understanding all sorts of things, from the history of the 1990s to why Mrs. Clinton was less successful in her quest for power than Mr. Clinton was. Paul Krugman was a good economist before he was an incompetent newspaper columnist. Alec Baldwin is a very fine actor, a fact that is not nullified by his juvenile politics.

There is a danger in excessive admiration for mere skill (here, the Bill Clinton example is again useful), but there also is danger in refusing to give even a devil his due. Conservatives are very sensitive to current efforts to police our speech and our thought, but we are at the same time developing a language-policing and thought-policing culture of our own. This should be discouraged.

If we cannot speak plainly about things and write plainly about things, then we will lose our ability to think clearly about those things — as, indeed, we already have in many spheres.

Rampant Prescriptivism

May vs. might is a fun one. Some advice holds that may should be used when something is more likely and might when something is less likely, but that does not seem to me exactly correct. May is best used to indicate an ordinary fact and might a hypothetical or counterfactual. “He has a debt that may take years to repay” vs. “If he loses his job, he might not repay that debt at all.”

Also: Might is the past tense of may. “I may win this race. I had thought I might win the earlier race until Andretti shot past me.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here, if you would like to learn about life in an Austin homeless camp or death in Chicago.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.

In Other News . . .

After taking my first flight in more than a year, I briefly visited New York City last week, to host a dinner conversation with the National Review Institute’s regional fellows as part of the “Burke to Buckley” program. The conversation was great, but New York City, or at least Manhattan, is positively shell-shocked. Parts of Midtown were deserted at midday, and the mood on the street was somewhere between Great Depression and war zone. The only sign of normalcy was the consultant types at Pershing Square have too-loud conversations intended to communicate their personal importance. (You get a much worse version of that on the NYC–D.C. Acela, or at least you used to, pre-plague: “You tell Goldman Sachs to reschedule — I have a meeting at the White House!” “We have $500 million in that deal!”) Empty storefronts, shuttered businesses, even more widespread vagrancy, etc. — I cannot remember having seen New York City quite so grim.

Some of these problems are the result of the coronavirus epidemic. Some of them are not.

New York City got hit a lot harder than many other parts of the country did, and it has a claim to our sympathy on that count, but the evidence of institutional failure and misgovernance is visible everywhere from Battery Park to Fifth Avenue to Harlem. Conservatives write off New York City just as we write off California, and we are wrong to do so in both cases. New York City went 20 years without electing a Democrat mayor, and while Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg may not be everybody’s particular hot steaming cup of Lord Bergamot, a party that cannot make a credible case for itself in the wake of the incompetence and maladministration of Bill de Blasio has some soul-searching to do.

The same is true of Gavin Newsom’s California. It won’t do to tell ourselves that New Yorkers and Californians are simply zombies who will not listen and cannot be reasoned with. It is the job of those who would hold power to persuade. The typical Californian and the typical Republican may disagree about 80 percent of the issues, but they could probably have a fruitful conversation about affordable housing. New Yorkers don’t want urban blight and terrible schools — there is room for intelligent negotiation and persuasion.

The Republican mayoral primary will pit a bodega activist with no Wikipedia page against celebrity vigilante Curtis Sliwa.

Recommended

Check out Louis Menand’s The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War, for observations on figures ranging from James Baldwin to Susan Sontag and from Hans Morgenthau to Elvis.

In Closing

Any system is inherently unstable that has no peaceful means to legitimize its leaders. In such cases, the very repressiveness of the state ultimately drives people to resist it, if necessary, by force.

While we must be cautious about forcing the pace of change, we must not hesitate to declare our ultimate objectives and to take concrete actions to move toward them. We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings. So states the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, among other things, guarantees free elections.

The objective I propose is quite simple to state: To foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way, to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means.

This is not cultural imperialism, it is providing the means for genuine self-determination and protection for diversity. Democracy already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy. Who would voluntarily choose not to have the right to vote, decide to purchase government propaganda handouts instead of independent newspapers, prefer government to worker-controlled unions, opt for land to be owned by the state instead of those who till it, want government repression of religious liberty, a single political party instead of a free choice, a rigid cultural orthodoxy instead of democratic tolerance and diversity?

–Ronald Reagan, Speech to the British Parliament, 1982

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Politics & Policy

The Strange Cares of Billionaires

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Then-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks during the 2010 meeting of the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington, D.C., November 16, 2010. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Welcome to “The Tuesday,” a weekly newsletter about gauche billionaires. Also politics, language, and culture. To subscribe to “The Tuesday,” which I hope you will do, please click this link.

Lady Fristberg, of the Princeton Fristbergs

First, some caveats: I don’t like the way “elite” is used as a term of abuse; I think it is enormously destructive that right-wing populists have decided that our best institutions of higher education should be regarded as class enemies to be defeated rather than important institutions in need of reform; I think it is unseemly when people sneer that this or that billionaire is still really, really rich — a billionaire, in fact! — even after making a big charitable donation; it is a sign of our national soul-sickness that in certain quarters, philanthropy as such is derided as the new Medici indulgence or scorned as an analgesic helping to put off the more fundamental structural economic changes dreamt of by such would-be revolutionaries as Senator Bernie Sanders. And of all the Democrats and crypto-Democrats who were running in 2020, Michael Bloomberg would have been my first choice.

That being stipulated, I will confess that reading about the new Emma Bloomberg Center for Access and Opportunity at Princeton University caused my eyes to roll so hard you’d have thought I was auditioning for a role in The Exorcist XVII: The Devil Goes Down to Muleshoe.

Princeton, like practically every other similar institution in the country, believes that it has a diversity problem. I myself am not convinced that it does, but Princeton is of course entitled to decide for itself. Princeton reports that about a quarter of its student body is made up of “underrepresented minorities,” which is lower than the combined black and Latino share of high-school graduates in the United States but not radically so. (And Princeton, with fewer than 9,000 students and one of the country’s most selective institutions, offers a relatively small data set. Nationally, African Americans make up about 13 percent of college students, roughly proportional to their share of the population.) More interesting than the racial-ethnic breakdown is the fact that a fifth of Princeton’s students come from households reporting less than $50,000 a year, to me a surprisingly high figure. I see little to criticize in these figures.

There are two things Princeton and Michael Bloomberg have in common. One, neither of them needs money: Bloomberg’s net worth is estimated at around $60 billion, and Princeton’s endowment is about $27 billion, with its annual endowment income amounting to more than $170,000 per student, a figure that allows Princeton to offer generous financial-aid packages that allow most of its students to graduate with no student-loan debt or very little. Some 82 percent of Princeton undergraduates finish debt-free, and the median debt among those who do borrow is less than $10,000. It is to Princeton’s credit that this is the very model of how an elite institution of this sort should conduct its basic business.

The other thing Princeton and Michael Bloomberg have in common is Emma Bloomberg.

The elder Bloomberg daughter is a richly credentialed academic striver, having followed her undergraduate degree at Princeton, which today houses 220 undergraduates at Emma Bloomberg Hall, with a joint graduate degree in business and public administration from Harvard, which is to be home to the Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University after a $150 million donation from Bloomberg Philanthropies. She worked for the Robin Hood Foundation, a nonprofit that has benefited in many ways from its Bloomberg relationships.

Ms. Bloomberg has the usual insufferable class markers (her ex-husband’s surname is “Frissora” and their daughter bears the portmanteau surname Frissberg) and she has spent her career mostly in what amounts to an extended version of the family business, working in institutions supported by her father’s money. She also worked in the mayor’s office in New York — something not entirely surprising for a Bloomberg.

In the great American tradition of starting a club in order to give yourself something to be in charge of, she founded Murmuration, a nonprofit that for a long time did not seem to actually do very much of anything but was notionally oriented toward education reform until it starting buying up campaign-oriented enterprises. It employs veterans of such organizations as the Center for American Progress and the Bloomberg-founded Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and it rejoices in the services of a vice president of communications who was until 2015 the “national fan ambassador” for USA Curling — something very close to the perfect recipe for perfect mediocrity. This is what happens when Tracy Flick has real money.

In a documentary film about the undistinguished children of rich people, her sister, Georgina, complained that “it sucks” being a Bloomberg. She has since had a change of heart. It probably does suck, in some ways, but it beats flying coach.

Today, Emma Bloomberg sits on the board of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which will donate $20 million to her alma mater for its new diversity center, to be named after her. This is the billionaire’s equivalent to a matching set of logo-covered Louis Vuitton luggage or a Burberry plaid baseball cap.

It is not the case that a daughter’s making a career out of her father’s money and connections means that she necessarily is unaccomplished in her own right — Lucrezia Borgia spoke a half-dozen languages and held real political power as governor of Spoleto, which gives her a better claim to having shattered a glass ceiling than anything that could be boasted of by Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was finally unsuccessful in politics as anything other than extension of the career of her gifted and amoral husband.

But if we must have Bloomie Borgias and modern Medici, then we really need an updated version of the old aristocratic manners and perhaps even a touch of — difficult as it is to imagine, given the character of the people we are talking about — the self-effacing discretion that characterized earlier generations of moneyed patrons.

It is vulgar to name an institution after someone living in exchange for money. It is vulgar when Michael Bloomberg does it on his own behalf, and it is triple-double vulgar when he does it on behalf of his daughter, who is barely 40 years old and is lightly accomplished at best.

It is probably a bad idea to name an institution after a living person in general for almost any reason — especially in light of our recent convulsions over things named for people who died 500 years ago.

This sort of vulgarity is far from unknown at institutions such as Princeton, which is home to the Frist Campus Center and has seen various members of the Frist family frolicking about its exclusive campus. It even has been suggested in some quarters that these two developments may be somehow linked! Our norms should discourage very strongly this kind of self-aggrandizement, but the trend seems to be in the opposite direction: Princeton also will be home to a new dormitory named for Mellody Hobson, the second Mrs. George Lucas, a sprightly youthful Princetonian born the year the billionaire film director married his first wife.

Perhaps the Frissbergs — or maybe even the Fristbergs, in the happy event of such a conjunction! — will do better when it is their generation’s turn.

And while I will here repeat that $20 million is a great deal of money irrespective of how much more than that one has, that Michael Bloomberg could have bought his daughter a private island (why settle for semi-private?) rather than plaster her name (which is also his name) on an Ivy League institution (for a second time), that the philanthropic impulse should be generally encouraged, etc., it is worth noting that this is another excellent example of the way that the elites who dominate our political discourse and our policy-making institutions are — inevitably — obsessed with their own interests and constrained by their own experiences.

The social situation of African Americans is, in many ways, a scandal: twice the average poverty rate (and three times the white poverty rate), four times the national average felony-conviction rate, shorter life expectancy, etc. But the social situation of people who are black and who also are plausible candidates for admission to Princeton is a different story. Students who might end up at Princeton if there is a bit more enthusiastic diversity outreach aren’t going to Rikers Island if they fail to get into Princeton — they’re going to Stanford or Penn or Duke or — angels and ministers of grace defend us! — Berkeley. The people who need help are not promising young black Princeton applicants — they are black high-school dropouts, and, indeed, high-school dropouts of all races. They are addicts and people with mental-health problems, felons attempting to reenter society and find decent work, etc.

Of course, we as a nation can walk and chew gum at the same time — but we don’t.

We don’t have Bloombergs — or the former Mrs. Jobs, or the former Mrs. Bezos, or Mrs. Gates, or other representatives of the billionaire-dilettante class — lined up to be the next principal of Milwaukee’s North Division High School. But for the sake of the country — and for the sake of its most vulnerable people — fixing what’s wrong at North Division is going to matter a great deal more than seeing to it that Princeton has one more thing named after the Bloombergs.

Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood. The press loves a story about the press. The people who dominate the political conversation, philanthropy, and the policy-making process cannot help but be most intensely interested in themselves. That is human nature.

One of the many blessings of a market-oriented economy — besides the fact that somebody has to earn those billions before they can be given away — is that markets are one of the few social institutions that really force us to think about other people’s lives and aspirations and that reward us for satisfying other people’s needs and desires. Government agencies can be run — indefinitely — for the benefit of their employees, and philanthropic endeavors can persist for years in vanity, crankery, and incompetence. Which is not to say that we do not need good government and effective philanthropy — we certainly do. But we should appreciate how powerful is the urge to build monuments to oneself and to create high-class sinecures for one’s family and allies.

For every Pope Alexander VI there is a Savonarola in waiting.

Words About Words

As some of you will have noticed, I am interested in something in linguistics called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, part of something known more generally as “linguistic relativity.” The idea is that the structure of a language influences or constrains how we think about the world. The classic example (based on nonsense, apparently) is the folk belief that Eskimos have a very large vocabulary of words for different kinds of snow. Benjamin Whorf, writing in 1940, argues that the Eskimo have different words for different kinds of snow because in their environment these constitute “different things to contend with.” In English, all the different kinds of snow are just snow, whereas “to an Eskimo, this all-inclusive word would be almost unthinkable.” That turns out to be a just-so story, but there are legitimate examples. For example, some languages have a word for the obligation a daughter-in-law owes to her husband’s parents (with no equivalent for sons-in-law) while the English-speaking people had no such word and no such concept. Because we think in language, it is difficult to think very clearly about something for which we do not have a word, and we have a tendency to try to fit things into the categories created by our language.

And so words can shape our thinking in powerful ways. For example, the metaphorical “cloud” of off-site software has taken on a conceptual life of its own, spoken about and treated as though it were an actual entity rather than a way of talking about providing a software service. In response — this is how you know the issue is a serious one — someone has taken the time to emblazon a T-shirt with the slogan: “There Is No Cloud. It’s Just Someone Else’s Computer.”

F. A. Hayek, who couldn’t possibly have known how bad things would get, invested a great deal of ink in demonstrating the emptiness of the concept of “social justice.”

As demonstrated above, words such as equity, diversity, inclusion, etc., have been used to smuggle assumptions into our language and, hence, into our thinking. The displacement of the biological term sex by the grammatical term gender is another example of this.

Rampant Prescriptivism

I was thinking about “the cloud” in part because a reader wrote to complain about a degradation in the language of software professionals. Cloud software is, properly speaking, “off-premises,” but my reader reports that this qualification increasingly is being shorted to “off-premise,” which means something else entirely, perhaps describing the second act of a Charlie Kaufman script. The plural of premise is premises, but premises in the sense of a site or location is a distinct word, albeit one that derives directly from the plural of premise, in its legal sense denoting the details of a deed. So, don’t write premise when you mean premises.

From the American Heritage Dictionary:

Why do we call a single building the premises? To answer this question, we must go back to the Middle Ages. The English word premises comes from the Latin praemissa, which is both a feminine singular and a neuter plural form of praemissus, the past participle of praemittere, “to send in advance, utter by way of preface, place in front, prefix.” In Medieval Latin, the feminine form praemissa was often used with the sense “logical premise” in philosophical discussions, while the neuter plural praemissa was often used with the sense “things mentioned before” in legal documents. Latin praemissa was borrowed into Old French as premisse and thence into Middle English. In Middle English legal documents, the plural premisses came to be used with the sense “the property, collectively, which is specified in the beginning of a legal document and which is conveyed, as by grant.” By the first half of the 1700s, this use of the word had given rise to the modern sense of premises, “a building with its grounds or appurtenances.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com.

Home and Away

You can listen to me talk with Brad Polumbo about why I don’t want too much democracy here.

You can listen to me talk with Ross Kaminsky about using employment as a tool of social and political coercion here.

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.

In Other News . . .

Are traffic stops dangerous for police officers? All my life, I have heard that they are the most dangerous thing a typical police officer does in a typical day. In a conversation with Mark Joseph Stern, Jordan Blair Woods of the University of Arkansas School of Law discusses his Michigan Law Review article in which he makes the case that this is a myth, one that has distorted both law-enforcement practices and legal thinking. Both the interview and the law-review article are worth reading.

Recommended

A podcast you should be listening to is Mark Leonard’s World in 30 Minutes in association with the European Council on Foreign Relations. Consistently interesting conversation and good reading recommendations.

The Destroyer Cometh

Pancake (“the Destroyer”) is no fan of baths and absolutely hates having her paws cleaned after running through the mud, but, if you happen to leave the shower running . . .

 

In Closing

“Probably it is true enough that the great majority are rarely capable of thinking independently,” writes F. A. Hayek, “that on most questions they accept views which they find ready-made, and that they will be equally content if born or coaxed into one set of beliefs or another. In any society freedom of thought will probably be of direct significance only for a small minority. But this does not mean that anyone is competent, or ought to have power, to select those to whom this freedom is to be reserved. It certainly does not justify the presumption of any group of people to claim the right to determine what people ought to think or believe.”

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Politics & Policy

Hysteria Is Not a Program

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(Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

Welcome to “The Tuesday,” a weekly newsletter about language, politics, culture, and the unconquerable stupidity of the American press. To subscribe to “The Tuesday,” follow this link. Subscribing to “The Tuesday” is free, but subscribing to National Review is not, because this content does not just exnihilate onto the Internet. The best thing you can do to support our work is to become a National Review subscriber, which comes with sundry benefits that you may find of interest. I am, as always, grateful for your support of our work.

Mirror Images

Not that everybody is enchanted with everything they read in this space. Far from it.

Last week, I wrote a couple of pieces that irritated readers Right and Left. And so, proceeding in a politically dextrosinistral fashion . . .

A number of right-leaning readers wrote in, occasionally spitting with rage, to protest my suggestion that the time is ripe for a bipartisan deal on gun policy. The refrain was, for the most part: “No compromise!” Some of the less verbal among the critics sent cartoons of Lucy van Pelt pulling the football away from Charlie Brown. The usual right-wing social-media accounts desperate to draft off of NR’s traffic did the sort of thing they usually do, in the usual sad-clown fashion. And to think: It was only a few years ago these folks were talking up The Art of the Deal.

Here’s some negotiating advice: When the other side offers you something you want, take it.

Of particular interest to me was former Brady Campaign director Dan Gross’s column in the New York Times, in which he forthrightly conceded that if our goal is reducing the level of criminal violence in these United States in a meaningful fashion, then focusing on mass-shooting events (which claim fewer lives every year than do firearms accidents) and pressing for policies such as a ban on so-called assault weapons is not the way to go. Gross suggested several possible courses of action, including doing more to investigate and prosecute gun-trafficking operations. So, if you are keeping score: Gross supports an assault-weapons ban in principle, writing, “I believe there is no place in civilized society for guns that are made for the express purpose of killing people,” which is a case against the Second Amendment per se — the right enshrined therein isn’t about pheasant hunting. I, along with most other gun-rights advocates, would oppose such a ban. But the action item here isn’t what we disagree about — it’s what we agree about. If there are more like Gross, willing to put the “assault weapons” issue on the back burner (I don’t expect them to set it aside entirely) and instead work with conservatives on trafficking and straw buyers — something many Second Amendment advocates have been seeking for years — then why on God’s green earth should we pass up the chance to take “Yes” for an answer?

Conservatives — and, specifically, elected Republicans — still have not learned the lesson they should have taken from getting so thoroughly rope-a-doped by Barack Obama on health care back in 2009. During the health-care debate, Democrats offered up some policies that ranged from the mediocre to the positively bad, and Republicans responded by insisting, almost with one voice, “We have the best health-care system in the world! Harrumph!” Even if Republicans had been right about that — and they weren’t — that would have been political malpractice of the worst kind. Millions and millions of Americans wanted (and still want) to see big changes to our health-care system, not because of ideology but because of risk aversion — medical bills are unpredictable, insurance benefits can be difficult to understand and manage, plans linked to employers are inherently insecure, etc. Americans were worried about losing their insurance, getting a surprise medical bill for tens of thousands of dollars, or having a condition excluded from coverage by their insurers on some self-serving pretext. Lecturing these people that they should just be grateful for what they have was a political loser, to be sure, but it was also — and this still matters! — bad policy, there being considerable room for improvement in the American system.

Gun control is an issue in which Kulturkampf considerations often trump empirical considerations and reasoned exchange, which is why Gross is not having much luck moving progressives in his direction. But facts are facts: The United States does have a great deal of criminal violence, more than does any comparable country, and while the fundamental problem is that Americans are simply violent people — which is why we also have more knife homicide and big-heavy-rock homicides than other countries — a criminal with a firearm is more dangerous than a criminal with a baseball bat or a knife. Mass shootings do not account for many deaths (relatively speaking), but they are a genuine cultural phenomenon. As with health care, millions of Americans are dissatisfied with the violent-crime situation in our country. Conservatives should be dissatisfied, too. The Democrats are ready to offer an array of bad policies, and the Republicans are ready to offer Americans, for the most part, squat.

(We never did see that great Donald Trump health-care plan, did we?)

But gun trafficking is a real thing, and straw-buying is a real thing, and there is no Second Amendment reason we should be protecting the felons involved in those crimes. Every time a Democrat says Republicans aren’t willing to do anything about guns, the Republicans should be pushing back: Okay, how about we lay down a mandatory minimum of ten years in federal prison for straw-buyers and traffickers and then make sure U.S. attorneys will actually get off their collective asses and prosecute those cases? How about we use the levers of federal power to encourage local prosecutors to prioritize those cases, too? How about we stop giving probation in weapons cases — when we don’t fail to prosecute them at all — and start putting these offenders in jail for real? You want to crack down on illegal-gun trafficking? Then let’s get cracking.

Joe Biden is out there talking about “ghost guns,” which are used in about as many murders as LEGO bricks or corn starch. Republicans ought to be responding with real policies designed to put real pressure on real criminals. They ought to be pushing everywhere, from the federal level to city hall, for improvements in mental-health care, too, which could help not only with violent crime but also with the persistent vagrancy in our cities.

But rather than flooding the zone with better policies, Republicans demand instead displays of mood affiliation. For Republican-oriented partisans and media entrepreneurs, the world is always ending, because their business model insists that the world always be ending, and their enemy is not proponents of bad policies — their enemy is anybody who thinks, acts, or talks as though the world is not ending.

Which it isn’t.

The cultivation of hysteria for fun and profit is a fine way to program a talk-radio station but a terrible way to run a country.

Moving On . . .

Some of you may have heard that I wrote a piece headlined, “Why Not Fewer Voters?” This inspired some prepackaged hysteria from our friends on the left. It is impossible to overestimate the stupidity and intellectual dishonesty of, to take one example, the response offered by Ben Mathis-Lilley at Slate, under the appropriately hysterical headline, “National Review Comes Out Against Democracy, Explicitly.” The problem, Mathis-Lilley argues, is that conservatives at NR and elsewhere are “cracking under the strain of the Republican Party’s current unpopularity,” particularly in regard to Donald Trump’s failure to win reelection.

Do you know with whom the Republican Party currently is unpopular and has been for a good long while? Your obedient correspondent.

Mathis-Lilley cites me, Dan McLaughlin, and Andrew C. McCarthy in making his case for traumatized Republicans and Trump enthusiasts. But it is difficult to make his analysis line up with his choice of subjects: Insofar as this is about me and my political preferences, I don’t think it’s very likely that I’m going to be driven mad by the inability of a party to which I do not belong to reelect a candidate I opposed. McLaughlin, too, declined to support Trump in 2020, citing, among other things, the president’s “racially inflammatory rhetoric toward Mexican immigrants, Muslim refugees, and black protestors, while getting badly tongue-tied when discussing white nationalists,” yet Mathis-Lilley would have you believe that he is in some way an ally of “psychotic white-power militias.” My more indulgent friend Andy McCarthy, for his part, argued that Trump was unfit for the office, unprincipled, hobbled by “consuming narcissism, nonstop dissembling, infantile outbursts, inability to admit error, withering attacks on well-meaning officials he entices into working for him,” but, all in all, still a better choice than Joe Biden.

Given all that, I’m not entirely sure Mathis-Lilley is on precisely the right track here.

But the facts don’t matter. There was a prefab narrative, ready for deployment, insisting that Republicans are anti-democracy (for reasons of racism, obviously) and that’s what the story was going to say — even when the writer in question, me in this case, is not a Republican. Heather Cox Richardson, among others, mischaracterized me as a Republican, because it fits the flow of the argument even if it doesn’t fit the facts. She corrected herself after I pointed out the error and criticized her sloppy journalism, protesting in her own defense, “I am not a journalist.” And I hope the professor will forgive me for insisting on the point, but: If you are publishing a newsletter about current politics, then you are in the journalism business, and, irrespective of what you call yourself, the question is whether you are going to be a competent and responsible journalist or the other kind.

As expected, no one on the left has made anything approaching a serious response to my arguments, in some cases because they haven’t bothered to read them at all (this is obvious in some circumstances) or because they aren’t packing the gear to do so. And I’m still comfortable denying the vote to felons and teenagers.

Instead of a real discussion, what we get on the left is the mirror image of we get on too much of the right: performative hysteria. Right-wing performative hysteria and left-wing performative hysteria are, in fact, part of a single unitary phenomenon, which is not really politics as such but something closer to a blend of group therapy and role-playing game. It’s dumb and it’s boring, and it is much more of a problem for democracy than is the disenfranchisement of embezzlers or the absence from the electorate of people who can’t figure out how to organize their way to a photo ID by next November.

Department of Nope

Last week’s “Words about Words” contained an error regarding the derivation of the words tactic and technology. The word tactic does not derive from the same Greek root as technology; I misunderstood a reference to a Greek phrase in which both root words appear. Oxford Languages gives the etymology of tactic as “from modern Latin tactica, from Greek taktikē (tekhnē) ‘(art) of tactics’, feminine of taktikos, from taktos ‘ordered, arranged.’” Thanks to the Hellenists out there for the correction.

Words About Words

On the subject of “full stop,” a reader notes that his ex-wife was overly fond of affected British-isms, including “taking a tub,” a phrase I never had heard before. (I didn’t even know British people bathed!) He did not say that this is why she is the ex, but, if I were a divorce-court judge, I wouldn’t fault him for it.  If I want goofy Britishisms, I’ll record a podcast and get Charlie to pronounce “Chipotle.”

Rampant Prescriptivism

One of the many businesses I have meant to start over the years but haven’t is a very narrowly focused Hollywood prop shop that produces nothing except fake newspapers, newspaper clippings, microfiches of old newspapers, etc. For some reason, no one in Hollywood seems to be able to make up a phony newspaper. (You know who is good at that? The Philadelphia Inquirer.) Some god-awful examples include the terrible front pages and the library microfiche in Silence of the Lambs and practically every stalker shrine in every movie that features one. But perhaps the worst offender in recent memory is in The Dark Knight Rises, in which we catch a glimpse of a Gotham Times article linking Selena Kyle to a “hiest” [sic].

Yikes.

I’ve spelled a word wrong in a newspaper headline before. It happens — but, in the Gotham Times? I don’t think so. They’ve got super-editors over there.

Christopher Nolan’s team is really good at a lot of things, but not car-chase scenes or, alas, spelling. I hear that’s fixed in the Snyder cut.

Oh, wait . . .

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com.

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. I hope you will enjoy it. But if you buy it and don’t enjoy it, that’s okay, too. I have dachshunds to feed.

You can listen to me talking about infrastructure with Julie Mason here.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.

In Closing

The Jen Psaki show is endlessly entertaining. Asked what the White House is doing to reach out to conservatives who are wary of the coronavirus vaccine, she said: “We’ve run PSAs on The Deadliest Catch. We’re engaged with NASCAR and Country Music TV. We’re looking for a range of creative ways to get directly connected to white conservative communities.” Greenwich High School, y’all. Goodness, gracious.

To subscribe to “The Tuesday,” follow this link.

Culture

One Wrong Step

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Demi Lovato performs the national anthem before Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., February 2, 2020. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Welcome to “The Tuesday,” a weekly newsletter about politics, language, culture, and, apparently, celebrity gossip. To subscribe to “The Tuesday,” follow this link.

Some Varieties of Addiction

Because I am blessedly insulated from many aspects of pop culture, I know the name “Demi Lovato” only from a (typically) brilliant Remy parody. But now that I know her name, I have acquired another more interesting pair of words: “California sober.”

Lovato, for those of you who are similarly insulated, is an American pop singer who found her way into the tabloid headlines after overdosing on a heroin-fentanyl cocktail in the summer of 2018. The overdose was horrifying, and she still cannot drive a car because of vision loss associated with brain damage. She has since sought treatment for her drug problem and describes herself as “California sober,” a tongue-in-cheek term of recent coinage that entails abstinence from so-called hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine but the continued moderate use of marijuana and/or alcohol. “California sober” accords with an approach to substance abuse broadly known as “harm reduction,” which focuses on preventing the worst kind of self-destructive behavior associated with drug use rather than the criterion of absolute abstinence.

Lovato has come under criticism for her use of the term, both from addiction professionals (by which I mean doctors and therapists, not the other kind of addiction professional) and from recovering addicts who protest that to speak of qualified sobriety is an “insult” to those who practice a more total form of abstinence. There is a certain kind of American who always is looking for something to be insulted about. Many of them have New York Times columns.

Addiction recovery exemplifies several American tendencies. One is our ability to make an ersatz religion out of practically anything (count me with David Foster Wallace among those who believe that Alcoholics Anonymous is pretty obviously a cult, albeit a largely benign and well-intentioned one). Another is our ability to make a business out of anything (turnover in the addiction business is estimated at $42 billion a year in the United States). And a third is our ability to make Kulturkampf out of anything.

Human beings are storytelling creatures, and the mandate to create a unifying, comprehensive narrative about drug addiction is no less powerful than the need to create a unifying, comprehensive narrative about politics, the economy, or anything else. For practitioners of AA-style recovery, “California sober” is not only an insult but heresy. Of course, reality is much more complex than our storytelling accounts for. The D.A.R.E. and Reefer Madness school of propaganda would have you believe otherwise, but the vast majority of people who try serious drugs, including opiates/opioids and cocaine, never develop a problem with them. Overdosing on LSD is practically impossible to do by accident; the drug is not physically addictive. As Anthony Daniels (writing as Theodore Dalrymple) documents in his Romancing Opiates: Pharmaceutical Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy, the popular understanding of heroin addiction is wildly exaggerated, and heroin withdrawal is a relatively minor medical issue, far less dangerous than alcohol withdrawal. There are people who develop a problem with cocaine or heroin who give up those drugs but continue to use alcohol or marijuana without a problem. But we do love our stories, especially when they include a bright moral line with our kind of people on one side and the wrong kind of people on the other.

One of the problems with “California sober” is its lumping in marijuana and alcohol together. There are a great many people who have serious drug problems who are able to put aside heroin or cocaine but continue to have lifelong problems with alcohol, and some who develop a problem with alcohol as a substitute after overcoming a problem with a different drug. There are many reasons to believe that alcohol is far more dangerous to someone with other addiction problems than marijuana is. Of course, most people who use alcohol use it responsibly, and there is a world of difference between someone who has a glass of Bordeaux a few times a week and the guy who was sitting on the curb in front of a 7-Eleven a few blocks from my house this morning nursing a tallboy at 8 a.m.

We have a long tradition associated with alcohol, which is intertwined with everything from our cooking to our religion. But if that tradition were not there and we were starting from scratch, a rational society would probably have far more serious reservations about alcohol than about marijuana. Put another way: If alcohol had been invented last week, there is no way in hell we would let people sell it. That doesn’t mean that alcohol prohibition would be a good idea — no more than the prohibition of marijuana or other drugs is a good idea — but a mature and responsible politics recognizes degrees of interest richer than “legally permitted” vs. “legally prohibited.”

(N.B.: As my friend Jay Nordlinger sometimes points out, it is a fiction that “Prohibition didn’t work” — alcohol consumption substantially decreased after Prohibition was enacted. It was still a bad policy, in my view, but reality is complicated.)

We love our stories, and one of the stories we love best — it does not speak very well of us — is the humiliation of celebrities. Any opportunity for recreational cruelty will find many takers, but these more than most. My goodness, how people delighted in the personal troubles of Tiger Woods and the financial woes of Allen Iverson. (Race is a subject that induces hysteria in the American conversation, but it does seem to me that there is a special contempt brought to bear on famous black men who suffer a financial reversal. It seemed to me that there was much more contempt and ridicule heaped upon, say, MC Hammer during his bankruptcy than on Willie Nelson during his IRS-related tax problems, and much of that contempt had a familiar racial flavor: Hammer was a flashy spendthrift with too much jewelry, while Willie was a lovable outlaw heroically resisting the IRS. I don’t want to sidetrack myself here, but I have noted in the past that if Barack Obama had rocked a big-ass gold Rolex of the kind sported by Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson, the resulting chorus of mortified denunciation would have been loud enough to drown out the engines of Air Force One.) Sometimes, the ritual humiliation of celebrities is the prelude to an eventual redemption story, but often it isn’t. Sometimes, someone goes from the top to the bottom, and we see to it that he stays at the bottom, because that is where we want him. Human beings are kind of awful that way.

(The chance to enjoy the gross pleasures of recreational cruelty is also why we exaggerate the vices of our political opponents — if they are beastly horribles, then we not only are liberated from feeling guilty about hurting them, we get to feel positively righteous about it.)

Perhaps our love of celebrity humiliation comes from the fact that the lofty status enjoyed by the likes of famous singers and mind-bogglingly wealthy athletes liberates us from that thing we are always pretending to care about so much: empathy. (By empathy we mostly mean sympathy, but that is a fight for another time.) People who are rich and famous, who have splendid resources and social connections, do not, according to a certain line of thinking, deserve our consideration. These high and mighty, who have so much more than . . . well, us . . . had everything going for them, messed it up, anyway, and so we are, according to this line of thinking, entitled to enjoy their troubles.

But people are people, and they don’t stop being people when they have money and fame. I happen to be writing this column within view of a basketball court where one of the 400 or so wealthiest men in the world stops by to shoot hoops from time to time. (I don’t see him today.) If he puts his foot down the wrong way, he is going to twist his ankle like anybody else, and, because he is not a young man, he’s more likely to injure himself than he would otherwise be. Age doesn’t care how many billions he has or about the fact that people sometimes stop to take pictures of him while he practices his jump-shot. There is a reason such phrases as “one false move” and “one wrong step” resonate with us.

One wrong step — one wrong literal step — can change a life. When I was about twelve years old, I was at the home of a friend my age who was roughhousing around with his father. His dad gave him a gentle shove, but he put his foot down just the wrong way and stumbled backward several steps and fell, back first, through a glass table. A shard of glass went all the way through him, like a sword. He lived, but I suspect his life was never the same. I am positively confident that his father’s life was never the same. One wrong step.

Mental-health problems, of which addiction is one important kind, are a more prominent feature of public life in our time than they seem to have been in the past. It may be the case, as a few old veterans I know insist, that we simply are softer now and less able to endure the ordinary stresses and strains of life. It may be that the same problems existed in the past but simply weren’t acknowledged or else were talked about in a different way. We conservatives have been known to go on at some length about character, and character is important: But is it really character that determines why one man enjoys a cocktail before dinner on Saturday nights with no problem, while another has a “Sunday morning coming down” and puts a plug in the jug, while yet another ends up drinking a breakfast beer in front of a 7-Eleven? I kind of doubt that character is all there is to the story. But still we desire — practically demand — that our stories should be simple: In one telling, a drinking problem or a heroin problem is just a matter of free will and bad choices; in another telling, a substance-abuse problem is something that “just happens” to people, like cancer.

(Not that we’ll let cancer just be cancer — that has to be a moral test, too: “He must have been a smoker.”)

“California sober” probably works for some people. I hope it works for Demi Lovato. It probably works better for people who have an ample supply of money and other resources than it does for people who are poor, unemployed, dependent, suffering from further mental-health problems, etc. People with money have problems, too, and the lucky ones have problems that can be solved, or at least mitigated, with money. But money has its limits. Housing is very expensive in California and in big progressive cities, but the tent cities in Austin and Los Angeles are not evidence of an economic problem — they are evidence of a mental-health problem. These are refugee camps, properly understood, but not for economic refugees.

If we would step outside of our stories for a moment — as we should, given that they are mostly fiction — then we might see something in these episodes other than the chance to smugly enjoy having our biases confirmed. There is a seductive kind of pleasure, gleeful and prideful, in being told that the people we already were inclined to think of as awful really are awful. But that’s just another destructive addiction. Frankly, I have more respect for the needle.

One wrong step — a thought that is or ought to be, if you will forgive the word, sobering.

Words About Words

A reader from Ireland writes in about gendered languages and my discussion of the same with Charles C. W. Cooke. He informs me that the Irish word for girl, cailín (source of the name Colleen) is grammatically masculine. Sometimes, grammatical forms are linked to the meaning of a word, and sometimes they aren’t. Making a big political fuss out of the fact that some languages are gendered — e.g. the atrociously illiterate neologism Latinx — is silly.

(And: Yes, it’s Irish word, not Gaelic word.)

You see similar things across languages, for example in Latin where the words for such traditionally male occupations as farmer and sailor have feminine endings even though they are grammatically masculine: nauta, agricola. There’s probably a reason for that (perhaps the association of farmers and sailors with notionally feminine entities, the earth and the sea, respectively), but Romans didn’t walk around looking at farmers sideways because the word for their occupation ends in -a. Our language is not grammatically gendered the way the Romance languages are, but gender comes up, often engendering stupid debates. English speakers who are not cripplingly neurotic are perfectly capable of understanding that a woman may be the “chairman of the board” or that the use of the generic “he” in a sentence does not exclude women from it.

A particularly interesting example to me is the English girl, which originally referred to a young child of either sex. Our friends over at the Online Etymology Dictionary quote Anatoly Liberman:

Girl does not go back to any Old English or Old Germanic form. It is part of a large group of Germanic words whose root begins with a g or k and ends in r. The final consonant in girl is a diminutive suffix. The g-r words denote young animals, children, and all kinds of creatures considered immature, worthless, or past their prime.

But if we really want to get into the cultural politics of sex and gender, then we should start with the displacement of the word — and fact — of sex by gender.

Rampant Prescriptivism

The gentlemen of the Oklahoma Bar Association write that they “are hoping to take a different tact” on a project, to which I will untactfully reply: Get it together, you feckless Joads.

Oklahoma has some beautiful lakes, but it is not exactly the center of American sailing life. National Review readers have no excuse for not knowing their sailing terms, and so of course you all already know that the expression is “take a different tack.”

To tack is to “change course by turning a boat’s head into and through the wind” the Oxford dictionary people tell us. (Oxford, mind you: I’m more inclined to take their word for it when it comes to rowing terms.) From that use, we get the more general “change tack” or “new tack” meaning a new direction for an endeavor. I suspect that tact found its way into the formulation by way of association with tactic, since to change tack might very well mean to change tactics, too.

Tactic comes from the same Greek root as technique and technology (τέχνη, tékhnē, meaning art or craft) whereas the nautical tack comes from the same Germanic root as tine (the pointy part of a fork) and the English tack in its sense of fastener: a tack is something that holds something in place, including, in some cases, a rope that holds a sail at a particular angle. Equipment suited to a particular task, such as fishing, is tackle.

So, pin this to your frontal lobe: It’s “change tack,” not “change tact.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my most recent book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. Generally less sympathetic than this edition of “The Tuesday.”

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.

In Closing

It being Easter, I thought I would share something that came up in some reading earlier this week. I have heard sermons touching on the biblical story of the righteous prophet Hosea and his unfaithful wife, Gomer, a few dozen times over the course of my life. Naturally (at least naturally to me), I always thought the story was about Hosea, an example of heroic forgiveness that we should emulate. And that is true as far as it goes, but at some point, I came to understand that I was identifying with the wrong character in the story altogether. The heroic self-conception dies hard, even in those of us who have no special claim to it. Easter’s empty tomb is indeed a triumph — over death, over the gates of hell, but, mostly, over us, all of us Gomers and prodigal sons. To believe in redemption is to believe first in the need for redemption.

To subscribe to “The Tuesday,” follow this link

Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren Is a Ridiculous, Power-Hungry Crackpot

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) questions Deputy Treasury Secretary nominee Adewale Adeyemo during his Senate Finance Committee nomination hearing, on Capitol Hill, February 23, 2021. (Greg Nash/Pool via Reuters)

Welcome to “The Tuesday,” a weekly newsletter dedicated to language, politics, culture, and heckling Elizabeth Warren. To subscribe to “The Tuesday” and mainline all this high-class abuse straight into your inbox, please follow this link.

‘Shut Up,’ She Explained

Elizabeth Warren — the ridiculous hustling flatbilly grifter from Massachusetts from Oklahoma who snookered the academic establishment by pretending to be a Native American while writing dopey self-help books that are so sloppy and intellectually dishonest that it’s a surprise skeezy old Joe Biden hasn’t plagiarized them yet, a political grotesque who prides herself on being in the first generation of her family to attend college but rage-tweets as though she were in the first generation in her family with opposable thumbs, as ghastly and deceitful and god-awful a sniveling and self-serving a creature as the United States Congress has to offer — is, in spite of the genuine facts of her sorry case, getting a little full of herself, and believes that as a senator, she should be above the petty “heckling” of the little people.

You know, peons. Like you.

Sometimes, they mess up and tell you what they are thinking. And what Senator Warren is thinking is: “Shut up, or I’ll use the power of my office to shut you up.”

At issue is the senator’s recent social-media spat with Amazon. Because Senator Warren is as dreadfully predictable as a chlamydia outbreak in West Roxbury, you can imagine the insipidity of her complaint: “Blah blah blah, fair share, higher taxes on everybody except important hometown business interests and rich liberals in Cambridge, blah blah blah, Amazon.” Etc.

To which Amazon offered a perfectly sensible response, if I may paraphrase: “You’re in the Senate, you ridiculous ninny — and you are even on the freakin’ committee that writes tax legislation. You got a problem with tax law? We know a counterfeit Cherokee princess repping Massachusetts you might want to have a quiet word in private with.”

(My words, not theirs. Should have been theirs, though.)

Senator Warren, because dishonesty is her reflexive instinct (remember that bullsh** made-up story about being fired from a teaching job for being pregnant?), protested: “I didn’t write the loopholes you exploit.”

Well, senator . . . this is going to be kind of awkward!

Do you know what another word for “loophole” is? Law. Loopholes aren’t manufactured at some overseas sweatshop loophole factory operated by Charles Koch’s evil cousin Skippy — they are manufactured right there in the august body that is the United States Senate Committee on Finance, of which Senator Elizabeth Warren is, insanely enough, an actual member. She may as well have a sign on her door reading “Loopholes ’R’ Us.

This is Senator Warren’s mess. Jeff Bezos just pays the bills.

And, of course, “loopholes” aren’t really loopholes. “Loopholes” are what useless low-minded demagogues call intentionally designed features of the tax code when they are being used by somebody it is politically convenient to attack. We see this year after year after excruciatingly stupid year: Somebody with big ideas about spurring blue-collar employment proposes a tax subsidy for politically connected manufacturers, and then two years later bitches that tax subsidies are being used by politically connected manufacturers. Because we tax businesses on their profits rather than on their cashflow, ordinary expenses are deducted from taxable income — and politicians bitch about businesses getting to deduct expenses resulting from business decisions the politicians don’t like. An endless cycle of asininity, over and over and over.

Amazon’s strategy for minimizing taxes on its profits is indeed a devious one: not making very much money. Amazon routinely posts quite low profit margins: Last year’s 5.5 percent, modest by the standards of an Apple or a Google, was unusually high for Amazon, and in many years Amazon has reported no profit at all or almost none, choosing to reinvest its income into the business — you know, that chronic capitalist short-termism we’re always hearing about.

That’s not a loophole. That’s how basic U.S. corporate-tax law works.

It doesn’t have to work that way, of course: Democrats control both chambers of Congress and the White House, too, and there isn’t anything stopping them from passing a big fat progressive tax-reform bill that raises corporate taxes and capital-gains taxes to 65 percent, that radically narrows the deductibility of business expenses, whatever.

Go ahead. Should be fun to watch.

But this isn’t about taxes. This is about power.

Senator Warren has informed Amazon that she intends to — her words, here — “break up Big Tech so that you’re not powerful enough to heckle senators.” If the people of Massachusetts had any self-respect, they’d remove her from office over that threat.

(If the people of Massachusetts had any self-respect, they wouldn’t be the people of Massachusetts, so she’s probably safe.)

But allow Professor Williamson to give Professor Warren a little civics refresher: Here in the United States, we have a nifty thing called the Bill of Rights, which means that everybody — everybody — is powerful enough to heckle a senator. It goes with the job you effin’ dolt. (See? Heckling is easy!) This isn’t North Korea or Venezuela or East Germany — not yet! — where people have to be afraid of criticizing those who hold government office. The fact that Senator Warren so obviously wishes that it were so is a real good reason to retire her pronto.

Heckling pissant politicians is our national pastime. It’s what we do. We have a word for the kind of society in which those without power are too terrified of those with power to criticize them: tyranny.

And tyranny is what Senator Warren plainly desires — if we take her at her own word. Of course, there are lots of reasons not to take her at her own word, beginning with the fact that she is a habitual liar.

If Senator Warren weren’t dumber than nine chickens and as useless as teats on a boar hog, it would be genuinely surprising that she would put this political extortion threat into writing and publish it. Because that is what she is doing and what must be understood: Senator Warren is threatening to use the power of her office to impose economic sanctions on Americans to keep them from publicly criticizing her. I don’t have any particular sympathy for the recreant techno-bullies over in Jeff Bezos’s shop — I think it is just damned weird that our nation’s biggest bookseller is also our premier book-banner — but once you accept this kind of abuse of political power, it’s a short route to chaos.

This is, in fact, precisely the kind of thing the Democrats impeached Donald Trump over: the abuse of official power. Senator Warren “has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-government and the rule of law.”

We have the senator’s own word on what must follow from that.

And it involves more than heckling.

Words About Words

What exactly is a loophole, in the non-metaphorical sense? It is a balistraria, which is to say, an embrasure or crenelle, as the space between two merlons traditionally is called.

No? Not helping?

A loophole is a slit or other opening in a castle’s battlements through which archers of old could fire arrows or that defenders could use for other purposes, such as pouring burning pitch down on invaders. There seems to have been some cross-linguistic fertilization going on, with the Middle English loop (window) and the Dutch loop (to run or jump, related to leap and lap) playing off one another. Macmillan reports:

The “modern” meaning of loophole is itself over 300 years old, but it’s not entirely clear how we get from a narrow window in a castle to an omission — in a law or contract, for example — that provides an opportunity for evading its intended purpose. The consensus seems to be that the current use developed not from Middle English loop (a window) but from Dutch loop (which is related to the verb loopen, meaning “to run”), and from the now obsolete Dutch word loopgat, which was a hole through which someone or something could “run away” or escape. Somehow this concept — which is also reflected in loophole’s near-synonym escape clause — attached itself to the existing word loophole, and it’s easy to see why. The loopholes in a castle give you an advantage over your adversary, and so — potentially — do the loopholes in a law or contract.

Increasingly, figures such as Senator Warren use loophole to mean, “a feature of the law that is inconvenient for me politically but which I lack the courage, conviction, or intelligence to change.”

Rampant Prescriptivism

A reader writes to draw attention to the frequent mispronunciation of Realtor as “re-Al-it-tor,” which is what you become if you have a gauntlet with the Reality Stone in it. (Too soon?) Funny thing about Realtor — if you fail to capitalize it, you will sometimes get a note gently reminding you that it is a registered trademark that should be used only to refer to a member of the National Association of Realtors. They get pretty ridiculous about this:

As a REALTOR®, you can use the REALTOR® membership mark to help identify yourself as a member of the National Association of REALTORS®. To help protect the power the NAR brand, please read and follow our guidelines once you’ve selected the logo you want to use.

Any time you feel the need to write frequently in all-caps and use the ® three times in a short paragraph, you are engaged in very bad writing and should stop immediately.

But the underlying point is a valid one: When trademarks go into common generic usage, trademark owners can lose their legal rights. Aspirin, for example, used to be a registered trademark. (So did Heroin, but nobody much wants that one anymore!) The makers of Levi’s jeans, Xerox photocopiers, Dumpster-brand trash receptacles, etc., used to send newspaper editors irritated letters if they saw, e.g., xeroxed used as a generic term for photocopied. By way of comparison, Alphabet seems perfectly contented for google to be a synonym for search. Other common words in this category, some of which are still very much contested as exclusive intellectual property, include teleprompter (a product of the TelePrompTer Corp.) cellophane, trampoline, escalator, dry ice, laundromat, zipper, adrenaline, frisbee, jacuzzi, jet-ski, and memory stick.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll send me angry letters.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.

In Other News . . .

The People demand it, so here is a Katy-and-Pancake update. As you can see, Katy objects to Pancake’s presence a bit less than she used to, although she’s still pretty growly.

Pancake has about doubled in size in only a few short weeks. She is still unfortunately unclear about the distinction between outside and inside but seems to have figured out that she isn’t going to get breakfast until 5 a.m. even if we get up at 4:30 a.m. Dachshunds are not very smart dogs, but they do have priorities, and breakfast is the main one for Katy and Pancake both.

Katy is pretty mellow, but the littler puppy is a vicious little beast, ripping the stuffing out of her toys and doing some considerable violence to the rugs. Hence she is to be known as Pancake the Destroyer. Witness the decapitation of Lammy.

In Closing

Please do take the time to heckle your senators regularly. It is more important than voting.

To subscribe to “The Tuesday,” follow this link.

Politics & Policy

How Federalism Thwarts Dystopia

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Delegates point to an electoral map at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pa., in 2016. (Charles Mostoller/Reuters)

Welcome to “The Tuesday,” a weekly newsletter about language, culture, politics, and watching Joe Biden fall up stairs in a highly symbolic fashion. To subscribe to “The Tuesday,” follow this link. If you don’t want to subscribe, then follow this link.

Hotel California Politics

There is a fun web game called “Redraw the States,” which lets you reimagine the 2020 presidential election by moving counties from one state to another. The idea is to flip the results of the election in as few moves as possible. For example, Donald Trump would have won in 2020 if the votes of just three counties – Philadelphia (Pa.), Fulton (Ga.), and Wayne (Mich.) — had been reassigned to California or some other Democratic state. The opposite strategy — turning blue states red by annexing Republican counties to them — is a little more difficult, or at least I found it so, because Republican votes tend to be spread out over a greater number of less densely populated counties. So, you could have flipped a state to the Trump column by adding in the votes of Lubbock County, Texas (120,000 votes, two-thirds of them for Trump) to Georgia, but finding the votes to flip Pennsylvania or Michigan in a single Trump county is a lot more difficult. The counties that Biden won have in total 67 million more residents than the counties that Trump won.

I imagine that both of my Democratic readers already are thinking: “Reassigning the votes of a handful of dense, urban, and disproportionately black counties to California is effectively the same thing as taking them right off the map, which is, of course, what Republicans are trying to do by making it more difficult to vote.” The broad objection to the Electoral College is similar: that our state-centered presidential elections have the effect of quarantining big-city votes in a handful of states instead of allowing their effects to be distributed across the country as they would if we had a single national popular election for president. Lately that has worked to the advantage of Republicans in two ways: by reducing the effect of the very large Democratic majorities in California and by not reducing the effect of the smaller Republican majorities in Texas and Florida. In 2020, Joe Biden won California’s 55 electoral votes by a margin of 29 percent, while Donald Trump won the 38 electoral votes of Texas and the 29 electoral votes of Florida by only 5.6 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively. Put another way, the 11 million votes that Biden got in California earned him 55 electoral votes, while the roughly equal number of votes Trump won in Texas and Florida combined won him 65 electoral votes. Biden’s advantage of 5 million votes in California was of less worth in terms of electoral votes than was Trump’s advantage of about 1 million votes in Texas and Florida combined.

There are many factors that go into that, including the fact that Republican presidential candidates more or less forgo campaigning in California and other states in which they are not realistically competitive, while Democrats will put up a pretty good fight in Florida (and, to a lesser extent, in Texas) because they believe they can win there.

It is impossible to disprove a counterfactual, but I strongly suspect that if in 2000 George W. Bush had won the notional “popular vote” while Al Gore won in the Electoral College, or if Hillary Rodham Clinton had won an electoral victory over Trump in 2016 without winning more votes nationally, then we would be hearing a good deal less from Democrats about the purported injustice of the Electoral College. (Facebook would be a happier place, too, if the Democrats hadn’t needed someone to blame for 2016 and settled on Mark Zuckerberg rather than, say, their incompetent candidate.) But that is not how our particular democratic cookie crumbles.

It is (entirely too) easy to oversimplify this. For example, taking Philadelphia, Fulton, and Wayne counties off the electoral map by consigning them to the oblivion of California or Connecticut would affect more white voters than black ones (each of those counties has a larger white population than black population) but would affect black voters disproportionately (each of those counties is more than 40 percent black in a country that is 13 percent black), while our current arrangement tends to amplify the influence of voters in such largely white states as Wyoming and North Dakota.

This is particularly galling from the point of view of the gross majoritarians when it comes to Senate seats, which, unlike Electoral College votes, are distributed among the states with no regard for population at all: Why, they demand, should the half-million people of Wyoming enjoy as much Senate clout as the 40 million people of California?

Again, reality is complicated: While small-state voters are disproportionately white and Republican, this is not a straightforwardly partisan issue, either: The same arrangement that benefits Republican Wyoming also lifts up the voice of our lightly populated second-whitest state, Soviet Bernistan.

The point of view of the gross majoritarians makes sense only if the states don’t. And so it is no surprise to find voices ranging from the dopey Left to the zany Left calling for the abolition of the states: Writing in Jacobin, Rob Hunter dismisses the states as “an ignoble legacy from the early history of the republic,” part of “American federalism’s long tradition of strangling popular sovereignty and democratic equality in the knots of competing and multiple state jurisdictions.” Lawrence R. Samuel, writing in the Washington Post, insists that diminished regional differences have turned “the once radical proposition of the ‘United States’ into an anachronism that now has little or no real value.”

I find myself agreeing with the gentleman from Jacobin in his assessment but not his conclusion: Yes, federalism and many other aspects of American government are very much designed to strangle popular sovereignty and to frustrate democratic equality by dividing power into competing jurisdictions. I think he has it about right when he writes: “Federalism multiplies the loci of power that must be captured by popular movements seeking to transform the capitalist state, or even just win some advances within it.”

I differ from Rob Hunter in that I thank God for it.

Why do we have states at all?

(Why, for that matter, do we still have counties when we have no counts, while we have no shires in spite of our having so many sheriffs?)

Hunter supplies part of the answer to his own question: Dismissing the value of the states as theaters for policy innovation, he writes: “History has shown how those little ‘laboratories of democracy’ are just as likely to be run by mad scientists as they are by benevolent researchers.” Indeed, they are. But what is true of the small ones also is true of the big ones, as 20th-century and 21st-century national governments broadly allied to Jacobin’s view of the world amply demonstrated by murdering some 100 million people in labor camps and gulags and through the use of such innovative tools as mass starvation as an instrument of political discipline. These United States are one of the few polities in the world that can be characterized accurately as enjoying open borders — between the states — which makes fleeing bad public policy and abusive government relatively easy. Relocating from California to Texas is pretty straightforward.

(It is a hell of a lot easier than relocating from Texas to, say, Switzerland.)

If you happen to be advancing a fundamentally totalitarian view of the world that recognizes no legitimate sphere of private life outside of political control that rejects liberalism and pluralism and the rule of law itself, and that deifies the “will of the people” — then, in such a situation, competing loci of power must be understood to be intolerable. Socialists are not content to live as socialists on their own terms — they insist that you must live as a socialist on their terms, too. (And if it comes down to it, better you than them: If a high-ranking apparatchik enjoys a dacha and an extra ration of caviar, then that’s really, somehow, the will of the people, too!) As libertarians sometimes put it: In a free society, there is no reason that a bunch of lefty crackpots couldn’t put together a worker-owned, democratically managed steel mill that supplies its product to a worker-owned, democratically managed automobile factory, which could build cars and distribute them in whatever way best satisfied its members’ sense of justice. (There will be only one sense of justice, because there can be only one — in the socialist republic, disagreement on that point is tantamount to treason.) But the opposite — a free-market subculture in a socialist society — would be impossible. Totalitarian politics is total on more than one front: total authority, total discretion, total reach. To fracture political power is to recognize limits on political power, which is an unthinkable thought for the totalitarian.

In the American context, the states are an embarrassment to the Left and an impediment to the Left’s increasingly totalist project. Hence the efforts to abolish them piece by piece: by dissolving the Electoral College, by deforming the Senate, by preempting state elections with a new Washington-run electoral system, by removing their discretion in financial matters, by supplanting local standards and practices in education and administration, etc.

Totalitarianism fully realized requires that there be nowhere to run. It ultimately requires defacing civilization to extirpate the genuine organic diversity of peoples, cultures, religion, regions, and modes of life. This is why socialist governments, for example, so reliably turn abusive and repressive when they are not outright genocidal. But socialism is not the only species of totalitarianism, and the current right-wing populist rhetoric that similarly deifies “We the People” is based on a similar set of assumptions. And what happens when “We the People” demand something We the People’s self-appointed populist spokesmen dislike? False consciousness, says the Marxist. Media bias and left-wing educators, says the rightist.

None of those gets to the facts about democracy, facts that were well understood by John Adams and others among our Founding Fathers: Democracy is at best a procedural convenience for choosing representatives and ensuring a minimum level of accountability in elected officials. Democracy is not a synonym for “good government” — often it is the opposite — and democratic is not another way of saying “decent” or “intelligent.” We all understand this at the moral margins: If the United States had had a national referendum on slavery in 1862, slavery would have won in a landslide. But we know slavery was wrong and needed to go. A century later, a national referendum on civil rights for the descendants of those slaves would have failed at the polls. The framers of the Constitution knew that We the People cannot be trusted very long or very far, which is why the most important of our liberties — freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, to keep and bear arms — were put in the Bill of Rights, placing them beyond the reach of mere democratic majorities. We the People need to be told “No!” pretty often and “Hell, no!” from time to time. Every time a populist initiative strips away some layer of insulation keeping the People from exercising direct power, it also strips away some layer of insulation protecting the People from having direct power exercised on them. Populism means government modeled on Twitter.

Hell, no.

The creator of “Redraw the States” offers it as an invitation to “weep at how arbitrary our electoral system is.” Arbitrary is offered as a synonym for undesirable or unfair, but the fact is that all voting systems have arbitrary rules. Why on earth we let 18-year-olds vote when we won’t sell them a handgun or a beer is a mystery to me. (No, I don’t want to lower the drinking age to 18 — I want to raise the voting age to 40.) Our system has a lot of pressure points and a lot of veto points, and it has them by design. And we are hardly the only country that has such measures in place: In Switzerland, for example, national referenda must win both a majority of the overall vote and a majority in a majority of the federation’s 26 cantons to take effect. That’s a high bar to clear, which is why Switzerland has no national minimum wage (thunderously rejected by 76 percent of voters) or a strict “corporate responsibility” law (approved by a majority of voters but not in a majority of cantons).

About a third of the U.S. population lives in just four states (California, Texas, Florida, and New York), but our system of government ensures that a handful of populous states cannot dominate the affairs of the entire nation. South Dakota soybean farmers have their own interests, distinct from — and sometimes rivalrous to — those of Wall Street financiers or Silicon Valley entrepreneur or low-income people in San Antonio. Federalism, properly understood and properly implemented, gives them a chance to say “Hell, no!” (or maybe just “No, thanks!”) to policies and laws reflecting values and priorities at odds with their own. Unhappily, our politics has for many years now run in the opposite direction: Rather than working to restrict the national government to matters that are genuinely national in character (foreign policy, immigration), the schemers and snoots and do-gooders and botherers have pushed Washington’s big ugly snout into every corner of American life — public life, yes, but increasingly into private life, too.

All systems based on definite rules can be manipulated, and all political systems include rules that are arbitrary. But our arbitrary rules serve a necessary purpose — or two: The first is giving people the means to put up roadblocks in front of nonsense, and the second is providing a means of escape when those roadblocks fail. If you would like to know more about the practical realities of living in a society with no means of internal exit, some of your immigrant neighbors might be able to fill you in.

The worst effects of leftish/progressive government in these United States can still be avoided by moving to a state with different practices. And people unhappy with the Republican dominance of Texas or Utah can always move to a Democrat-dominated state — there is more room in those states every day. The power of exit puts real pressure on dopes and miscreants and charlatans and fools such as Andrew Cuomo and, you know, every single sad-faced clown holding office in the extra-long stretch-limo clown car that is California. When the people pack up and go, so does the tax base, and politics is no fun at all without easy access to other people’s money, and lots of it.

Progressives prefer a world in which you cannot leave California even if you leave California, in which the Golden State really is a Hotel California from which you can check out but never escape. There’s a reason Senator Elizabeth Warren has proposed a confiscatory tax on the assets of Americans who renounce their citizenship and move to another country.

Americans should think a little bit about why a particular political tendency would desire to create conditions making exit from its jurisdiction impossible.

Words About Words

A count’s territory is a county. A sheriff’s territory is a shire — he is a shire reeve, reeve being an old Anglo-Saxon name for the chief local official, something like what the Italians would have called a podestà once upon a time. Sheriff seems to bear a family resemblance to the Arabic sharif, but the two words are unrelated.

Rampant Prescriptivism

Gail Collins: “I wonder if there’ll be more or less people naming their children Donald in the future.”

Stannis Baratheon:

If you write “less” when you mean “fewer,” you are more or less asking to be misunderstood.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. Prepare to be outraged.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.

In Closing

I’d like to point out that Amazon’s policy banning the sale of books with dissenting views of the transgender controversy — specifically those that frame the issue as one of mental illness — is purely pretextual and entirely dishonest. It is some shameful . . . stuff. It was obviously cooked up after the fact to justify the suppression of Ryan Anderson’s book. You know that because Amazon continues to sell the works of Sigmund Freud, not to mention old copies of the DSM. Like the clown-show over at Condé Nast, this is pure corporate cowardice on the part of people who expect to be entrusted with a special role in shaping public discourse — and who cannot be trusted with that responsibility.

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Politics & Policy

We Can Control Our Southern Border. So Why Don’t We?

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A Customs and Border Protection vehicle patrols along a new section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall in El Paso, Texas, August 27, 2020. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuter)

Welcome to “The Tuesday,” a weekly newsletter about language, culture, and politics that almost didn’t come out this week but is here now for your reading pleasure. To subscribe to “The Tuesday,” follow this link.

Patrol the Border

Why is it we do not control our southern border?

Some people say it is the lack of a wall. There are places along our border where barriers are appropriate and useful and places where they aren’t. But we could put up a wall of a different kind — the human kind — tomorrow. The federal government employees 20,000 Border Patrol agents, and our border with Mexico is less than 2,000 miles. That means that we could station a Border Patrol agent every 500 feet or so on the border, or every 1,500 feet if we split them into three eight-hour shifts for 24-hour surveillance. And 1,500 feet is not very far: They could see each other. There are people who can run that far in less than a minute.

Yes, I know we have other borders.

Since we need some of those agents to do other things, we could pretty easily supplement them with volunteers. Harris County (that’s Houston), Texas, and Los Angeles County both have very large volunteer auxiliaries for their sheriffs’ departments (L.A. County has more volunteer sheriff’s reserves than Salt Lake City has police officers), and one gets the distinct feeling that volunteer border watchers would not be hard to come by. Give them radios. They don’t have to intercept anybody — they just have to call it in.

We do not use our resources effectively because there is no incentive to do so. Patrolling the border — actually doing the job — would be hard and tedious work, and thankless for the most part. You see the same pattern across U.S. law enforcement: We do squat to run down straw-buyers and low-level firearms offenders, but we have a gigantic, expensive bureaucratic apparatus to police the trade in firearms at federally licensed retailers, where the owners and the customers are, pretty much by definition, law-abiding people. You probably think the Border Patrol is a law-enforcement agency, but a lot of people think of it as a jobs program, the same way they think of the schools and prisons (which increasingly resemble one another in their architecture and management). I have heard the same story from any number of embittered young police officers: They thought they were signing up to be protectors and guardians, and then found out two years in that they were mostly tax collectors. But they stay in the job.

Getting control of the southern border is not the same thing as getting control over illegal immigration. Many of our illegal immigrants (in some years, the majority of them) do not come into the country by walking over the border illegally. They come legally by land, air, and sea, and then they don’t leave when they are supposed to. Those illegal immigrants, like the ones who cross the border on foot, come and stay for different reasons: many of them, but by no means all, for work; others to be reunited with family living here; others because of the simple raw desperation of living in one of the unhappier corners of this world, where there is no hope of improvement. People respond to incentives.

That we should be sympathetic to their situation and that we should enforce our laws are not mutually exclusive propositions. It is certainly the case that our lax attitude toward illegal immigration makes their lives worse in some ways — it is an attractive nuisance that leaves them in thrall to human traffickers, organized-crime bosses on both sides of the border, unscrupulous employers, etc. For them to be in the United States is a near-guarantee of poverty and puts them at very high risk for various awful kinds of exploitation. The Biden administration is not doing anybody any favors by signaling its intention to loosen up Trump-era practices. People — I repeat — respond to incentives.

Illegal immigrants who come to the United States for work should be the easiest ones to police — but we don’t do it. A mandatory system for verifying employment eligibility (E-Verify or similar) would get most of that job done. Frog-march a few meatpacking executives off to the pokey for a few years and start enforcing the law and word will get out. All the complaints that this or that business cannot make it without illegal-immigrant labor are poppycock: We are still going to have farms, hotels, and drywall, even if we start enforcing our immigration laws. If your business cannot make it without violating federal law and holding your workers in semi-serfdom, then your business doesn’t make it. I get the feeling somebody is still going to figure out a way to make a dime selling me an avocado.

Should the United States have a tighter or looser immigration policy? Yes.

We should make it as easy as possible for highly skilled, highly educated, high-income people to come here. They will do highly productive work and start businesses. Immigrants like Elon Musk don’t come here to take Americans’ jobs — they create new ones. But we should also get control of illegal immigration and be forthright about creating a legal-immigration system that is oriented toward the interests of American citizens, just as we would ordinarily expect any other policy to be.

If it were only a matter of labor economics, then I’d be happy to let the markets decide. But people aren’t just units of labor. And though it may not always be as obvious as those disquieting photos of children locked up in detention facilities, our decision — and it is a national political decision — to tacitly encourage illegal immigration is much more profoundly inhumane than it would be to enforce our laws and reform our system along intelligent and decent lines.

We could do that, if we wanted to. But we don’t want to.

In Other News . . .

One of the most entertaining things in observing American politics is watching progressives keep discovering and rediscovering that the Catholic Church believes in its own teachings.

In Other Other News . . .

There is at the moment a very dumb and largely one-sided turf war on the right. It is mostly an intra-media thing, and it produces some strange results: My colleague Mark Krikorian was scandalized that my colleague Jack Butler had the audacity to take his own side in a fight. It is very tedious, and I bring it up only because it illustrates something that conservatives need to be thinking about — which is: What is all this for?

There are really two audiences for conservative commentary and conservative journalism. One of those audiences is conservatives, and the other audience is everybody else. Which audience you are after determines a lot about your business model and your politics — and, in some cases, there’s no difference between those.

Fox News, talk radio, a lot of dopey websites and would-be social-media influencers whose main mission in life is trying to get noticed by picking a fight with Jack Butler or David French, the television startups that hope to out-Fox Fox — all of these are in the business of packaging conservatism for conservatives. There is a lot of money to be made, and easeful careers to be had, preaching to the choir. I take the Don Corleone view of this question: I don’t judge a man for how he makes his living, but it’s a dirty business, and I believe that it will destroy us in the years to come. I have a few friends who have traded in their bow ties for red caps. Some of them are true believers, and some of them have been corrupted. Some of them feel a strange compulsion to explain themselves to me: “Yeah, it was a deal with the devil — but I got a really good deal!

To quote the noted economist Katt Williams: “By all means, make your paper, boo-boo.”

A variation on this is the Tracy Flick school of activism — starting a club for the purpose of giving yourself something to be in charge of. Catholic integralism? That’s pure Tracy Flick. These are the “strategists” and “consultants” who have never had a real paying client, the “institutions” and “organizations” that are mostly social-media accounts, etc.

Conservatism-for-conservatives, telling conservatives what they want to hear, can be really good business — Sean Hannity is seriously rich — and it is based on a conception of conservatism as tribe, conservatism as self-conscious counterculture. For these people, being conservative is an identity, like being transgender or being a religious convert. (Indeed, religious converts, political converts, and transgender people all tell a variation of the same story: “I was blind, but now I see.”) That means that conservatism isn’t a disposition or a sensibility, but something that one is loyal to. Like all tribalism, it is primitive and, therefore, effectively ineradicable. You can’t argue with it.

Politically, it is a losing proposition, as attested to by President Biden, Senators Ossoff and Warnock, Senators Sinema and Kelly, etc.

The other model of conservative journalism or activism is the everyone else approach, one that is directed not at rallying one’s own partisans but at persuading people who are not already self-conscious conservatives, engaging with people as they are and with mainstream institutions. This irritates and enrages tribal conservatives, especially if you’re any good at it. I quote the New York Times fairly often, because it is one of the newspapers to which I subscribe, and I write from time to time for mainstream publications such as the Washington Post. And I hear from my fellow conservatives: “Why would you want to read the New York Times? Why would you want to write in the Washington Post?” Often, this is accompanied by some kind of feral howl about “Georgetown cocktail parties.” (I live in Texas. If memory serves, the last Georgetown cocktail party I went to was Jonah Goldberg’s birthday party a couple of years ago. Bill Kristol was there — it was practically a talk-radio conspiracy theory come to life.) The answer to the silly question, of course, is that I read the New York Times because I live in the United States of America, not in the People’s Republic of Konservistan, and if you want to effect change in the United States and in the world, it matters what other people who read the New York Times and the Washington Post think. It even matters, a little bit, what the people who write for them think.

The value of this used to be obvious: William F. Buckley (who lived and worked “a long time ago,” I am informed) criticized what he called “the Playboy philosophy,” but he also wrote for Playboy. Rush Limbaugh wrote for the New York Times. (His byline was “Rush H. Limbaugh 3d.”) Ronald Reagan didn’t change the country because conservatives supported him — he changed the country because he ran a sensible conservative administration on big-tent principles and won 49 states in his reelection campaign.

(Recount Minnesota!)

Conversely, Trump lost in 2020 and took Georgia down with him because, even though he wasn’t and never has been a conservative, he is a practitioner of conservative tribalism, a counterculturalist down to the medical quackery and conspiracy kookery.

There are three kinds of voters in the United States: committed Republicans, committed Democrats, and everybody else. Two out of three, you win — one out of three, you lose. But if you have a powerful appeal to a tiny share of the population — even if it is only 2 percent — you can make a lot of money and have a pretty big social-media footprint, which will be a big deal until people figure out that it doesn’t mean anything. You can’t do politics with 2 percent, and you can’t do much cultural reform with 2 percent, but you can do other things. And conservatives should maybe think a little about what those other things are the next time somebody tries to sell you some doggie vitamins or a five-year supply of freeze-dried apocalypse lasagna.

Words About Words

“Clinton is rightly regarded a political genius,” Charles M. Blow writes in the New York Times, “with a gift for making the complex plain—‘putting the hay down where the goats can get it,’ as we Southerners say—but he made some huge mistakes for which his party must repent, and that party is well down that road.”

The language of religious conversion is everywhere in our politics (“must repent”) but the language of goat hay is less common. I like the expression, and I will take Blow’s word for it that it is something Southerners say. But the only person I can find using the expression — Southern or otherwise — is George Wallace.

Even goats won’t eat that hay.

Rampant Prescriptivism

A limit is a defined boundary or a demarcation; a limitation is a disability. Intention and intent are pretty nearly interchangeable, with intent having a slightly stronger connotation of careful deliberation; a motive is a reason, motivation is an animating force; to be obliged is to be in someone’s debt for a favor, to be obligated is to be formally required to do something. “I had a motive to kill him but lacked the motivation. There was no limit to what I would countenance, but my aversion to risk was a limitation. I was intent on revealing nothing about my intentions. When Richard canceled the meeting, I was much obliged to him for liberating me from the obligation to attend.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.

In Closing

A thought: If you rush to social media or the comments section to inform the world how much you don’t care about Harry and Meghan, you care a great deal about Harry and Meghan.

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