The Burning Times

President Donald Trump pauses as he addresses a re-election campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., June 20, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Welcome to The Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about politics, language, culture, pedantry, partisan pyromania, and suchlike.

The Right loves a factional brawl, and the past week brought a pentagonic crossfire between Peggy Noonan, Mona Charen, Charlie Sykes, Ramesh Ponnuru, and David French, five right-leaning Trump critics who, as it turns out, don’t agree on very much. The battle has been joined, the injured moan in agony. . . . Somebody has to go around and bayonet the wounded, and I have a newsletter to write. So, away we go.

The question is, “Burn It Down, or No?”

Or, to put it another way: “What’s the more pleasing way to march Republicans onto ice floes and shove their sorry asses out to sea — one at a time, or all at once?”

Burn It Down!” has become a shorthand for the less easygoing kind of anti-Trump conservative. (Apologies, Millennials and nitwits: I do not think or write in hashtags, and if that is what you are looking for, look elsewhere.) For members of the Burning faction, to see Donald Trump lose in 2020 would be insufficient — their view is that the Republican Party as a whole must be punished for its energetic embrace of Trump and Trumpism. For some, such as the gentlemen of the Lincoln Project, that means not only actively supporting Joe Biden’s presidential campaign but also working to pick off congressional Republicans, especially vulnerable senators — some make the case for voting straight-ticket Democrat as a matter of civic hygiene.

The Not For Burning faction argues that this is an overreaction and that it is counterproductive, inasmuch as taking down Lincoln Project targets such as Senator Susan Collins of Maine would leave the Republican Party not only smaller but also Trumpier — it would be easier to knock off the last New England moderate than it would be to take down Ted Cruz or Jim Inhofe. Surely, the Not For Burning faction argues, the answer cannot be a Republican Party that is both politically weaker and politically worse than it already is?

In Mona Charen’s estimate, a November bloodbath for the GOP would represent in real terms a small political loss, maybe even an almost inconsequential one, and a price worth paying. One by one, Republicans rolled over and cowered at the fear that the president might . . .  mean-tweet them. Lindsey Graham went from Dr. Jekyll to Senator Jackass in a flash and never looked back. Senator Cruz buddied up to a guy who called his wife ugly and his father an assassin. Jeff Sessions . . . oh, Jeff Sessions. “They believed that they were powerless and acted accordingly,” Charen writes. “Since they were powerless when it counted, what difference would it make if voters were to make it official?” Charen’s column is in many ways persuasive, but there it leaves an aftertaste of “It couldn’t possibly be worse.”

It can always be worse.

Ramesh Ponnuru sees such Burners as “engaged in an ideological dispute disguised as a tactical argument.” And, as tactics go, they ain’t much. “Most of the people who vote for a post-Trump Republican candidate in 2024 are going to be people who voted for Trump,” Ponnuru writes. “Any competitive center-right party after Trump will by necessity represent substantially the same voters who put him into power in November 2016 and have sustained him in it since then. Any strategy for changing the Republican Party that fails to reckon with that fact is doomed.”

My guess is that the overwhelming majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters will vote for Trump in November without much of a second thought, being, as they insist that they are, somewhere between satisfied and ecstatic about his performance.

While I appreciate, share, and endorse Ponnuru’s pessimism, I do not think that Republicans are fully considering their options. Educated, affluent suburbanites used to vote Republican in large numbers, and now they do not. They didn’t just all misplace their golf clubs and their penny loafers at the same time. The GOP chose to become the National Farmer-Labor Party. Ponnuru is right that a party numerically dominated by Trumpy voters is going to be a Trumpy party, but the Trumpy voters aren’t the only voters to be had. And if the non-Trumpy right-leaning voters would have an easier time winning elections with the Trumpy ones on their side, the reverse also is the case. November is going to be a test of whether the Trump tendency can do it on its own — or, more accurately, of whether the GOP can do it without the anti-Trump Right.

(Two quick things before I go on: First, it is worth noting that this conversation mostly assumes that Trump is going to lose in November, which probably will be the case but may not be the case. Second, it is easier to write up the differences within the anti-Trump Right than within the Trumpy Right because all the anti-Trump people have columns and the Trumpy people have radio shows. The medium is the message, after all!)

David French frames this in part as a question of “grace,” asking us to consider “the monumental pressures that Donald Trump has placed on the entire GOP and the lack of good options that so many GOP officeholders faced.” Oh, I don’t know about that: Congress is full of men and women who have utter contempt for their positions, but who feel very strongly about having a position of some kind, and if the fear of returning to the private sector is “monumental pressure” for a bunch of second-rate lawyers . . . well, they asked for the damned job. (“Begged,” as one of those schmucks who has watched too many mob movies likes to sneer, “like a dog.”) I, too, believe in grace. If you ask for my forgiveness, my forgiveness will be forthcoming. And if you ask me for a loan, I am going to check your credit. We treat people with grace without trusting them with great power knowing that we have good reason not to trust them with that power.

French suggests we pick and choose: Most of Republicans currently under fire are “not the chief offenders or culprits who led the United States to its present national predicament.” Instead, he writes, “each Republican should be judged on his or her own merits,” and that we should concentrate our wrath on “individual Republicans” who have “displayed excessive individual flaws that should disqualify them from office.”

French knows his Bible, and he is here playing the part of Abraham pleading for Sodom: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” What if there are 50 righteous men in the city? What if there are 45? What if there are 40? What if there are ten?

What if it’s just Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse?

I am not sure that making an exception for the few Republicans who have stood tall in the past four years would actually put that much practical room between David French’s position and Mona Charen’s: Everybody likes Ben Sasse, Justin Amash has had enough and is calling it quits, and Mitt Romney doesn’t face another election until . . . 2024. I’m probably forgetting somebody.

We’re going to need a bigger ice floe.

Peggy Noonan raises an important question, maybe the most important question in this debate: How should we think about the state of the Republican Party before Trump? That is a real dividing line: The Lincoln Project view is that there is no “clean” GOP, that the modern American Right has always really been about boobism, racism, and money-grubbing, from William F. Buckley Jr. to Barry Goldwater to Ronald Reagan. A less categorical version of that argument (and a more plausible one) is that the conservative political tendency, like any major social movement, has always had its share of cranks, grifters, and careerists, and that the politicians associated with that movement have been content to “hunt where the ducks are,” as Senator Goldwater put it, taking votes (and donations) from where they are available without asking too many questions about it unless they were forced to. Yes, National Review did important work in chasing out the Birchers and various other nut-cutlets of the midcentury Right, just as a few labor leaders in those same years did heroic work in excluding the Communists. You meet whackadoodles in politics, everywhere: I’ve met them at Trump events, at Hillary Clinton events, at Bernie Sanders events (Oh, my!), at the Republican National Convention, at the Democratic National Convention, at a Louis Farrakhan speech, at a meeting of the San Bernardino city council — everywhere.

But in 2016, the whackadoodles ended up actually running the Republican show for a minute, and the whackadoodle voice is at the moment quite prominent on the right, part of the intellectual race to the bottom led by social media and cable news. For this, Peggy Noonan blames . . . the current anti-Trump Republicans, who “never seem to judge themselves.”

Mr. Trump’s election came from two unwon wars, which constituted a historic foreign-policy catastrophe, and the Great Recession, which those in power, distracted by their mighty missions, didn’t see coming until it arrived with all its wreckage. He came from the decadeslong refusal of both parties’ leadership to respect and respond to Americans’ anxieties, from left and right, about illegal immigration. He came from bad policy and bad stands on crucial issues.

Noonan is partly conflating politics and policy here. Yes, the Bush-era wars ended up being unpopular, but that does not necessarily mean that Bush was wrong on the policy question. (He was, not because his initiatives ended up being unpopular but because they ended up being ineffective.) Noonan is right that in the United States as in Europe, the failure — the refusal — of responsible political parties to respond to immigration concerns created opportunities for demagogues such as Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, and Marine Le Pen, although once again we should emphasize the fact that the responsible parties’ having got it wrong on immigration does not necessitate that Trump et al. have it right. They mostly don’t. Her argument is in that sense parochial (this is not a Bush phenomenon or even a uniquely American phenomenon) and also ahistorical: Trump is not the first Trump-style presidential candidate we have seen, and Trumpism did not arise from the financial crisis or the failure in Iraq. Trump’s shrewd insight was in running Ross Perot’s campaign inside the Republican Party rather than as a third-party candidate. Trump, remember, was for a time affiliated with Perot’s startup Reform Party — he even made a half-assed run for the presidency on the Reform ticket in 2000.

Trump’s campaign was not the result of a “perfect storm,” as Noonan says, but is rather the expression of a gathering storm that has been with us since the beginning of World War II. There’s a reason Trump often sounds like a pre–Pearl Harbor isolationist and why he embraced a slogan from 1940: “America First.” Part of the old tariffs-and-neutrality Fortress America Right ended up in the Murray Rothbard orbit, and part of it ended up in the conservative movement, where it has never been entirely comfortable alongside the free-traders and Big Business types. They raged against the Rothschild and Morgan a generation ago, and they rage against Bezos and Zuckerberg today.

Another way of saying that is that the spiritual descendants of Bill Buckley and Milton Friedman are on one side of the table while the epigones of Robert Taft are on the other, and what’s no longer obvious to everybody is why they are sitting at the same table at all when it is increasingly clear that their fundamental values, intellectual tendencies, and moral frameworks are not only distinctly different but incompatible. Somebody is going to have to go.

That is why Charlie Sykes is so obviously irritated that Peggy Noonan declines to name names. To whom is her improving advice offered?

Can you purge Trumpism but still embrace, say, Marsha Blackburn? Should we make a place at Peggy’s tasteful table for Seb Gorka? Or Stephen Miller? Or Judge Jeanine? Or Louie Gohmert? Trump is a problem, but he is not the alpha and omega of what ails the conservative movement. His ascension suggests that we were all wrong about a great many things.

Sykes and Noonan are on opposite sides of the looking glass: Sykes sees the Republican error as accommodating and exploiting proto-Trumpism for all these years, whereas Noonan sees the Republican error as not embracing it with sufficient fervor, allowing it to fester in unsupervised alienation. There is a coherent case to be made for either position. How much corporate blame you want to put on the GOP for Trump and Trumpism will necessarily reflect in large part your attitude toward the pre-Trump Republican modus operandi, and how much you think Trump is a unique and special case vs. how much you think he is an utterly predictable case of political emphysema after four packs of outrage a day for 30 years, Newt Gingrich with an inheritance instead of an education.

Everybody loves a good purge, but real progress means recruiting new allies and forming new alliances. And that is what the Trump movement in fact did, aligning the soft xenophobic tendency (anti-trade, anti-immigration) with the entitlement mentality (“Don’t touch my Social Security!”) and a whole Chalmun’s Cantina of social anxieties, while promising a salubrious purge (“Drain the swamp!”) of effete elitists who secretly run the world while being simultaneously entirely irrelevant. That alliance worked in 2016. It didn’t work for George Wallace, Pat Buchanan, or Ross Perot, and it probably won’t work for Trump in 2020, but it might work again for somebody else in 2024. It may be electorally viable, but I wouldn’t want any part of it, and neither would a fair number of other people who were generally aligned with Republicans for the past 40 years or so. Are they enough to matter? We’ll have an answer on November 4, but that will not be the end of the disagreement.

Hence the current debate.

Words about Words

When I was in college, a friend of mine introduced me to a friend of his, who had recently finished up at  the University of Texas and taken a job teaching in a public school. She seemed very nice and said that she was surprised by how much she was learning on the job while preparing her lessons plans.

“Really?” I asked. “What all have you been learning while teaching . . . second grade?”

“Well, did you know,” she said, “that Africa is not a country? It’s a whole continent made up of lots of other countries!”

I thought of that conversation when reading this New York Times headline: “My Torture at the Hands of America’s Favorite African Strongman: Yoweri Museveni, the country’s president and the Pentagon’s closest military ally in Africa, deploys security forces to assault opposition lawmakers.” We have “African strongman,” “ally in Africa,” and “the country’s president,” but no indication of what country we are talking about.

(It is Uganda, and the author is a member of the Ugandan parliament.)

Headline writing is a tricky business, and trickier if you are stupid and dishonest. “ABC NEWS: Protesters in California set fire to a courthouse, damaged a police station and assaulted officers after a peaceful demonstration intensified.” It takes an American journalist to combine “peaceful” with “assaulted” and “set fire to.” One would think that if a “peaceful demonstration intensified,” it would become more intensely peaceful, or perhaps more intensely demonstrative. But the issue here is violence and the unwillingness of the left-leaning American press to speak and report plainly about the violence done by its political allies. One of the problems with the media is that they are biased; a bigger, related problem is that they will not do their goddamned job.

Rampant Prescriptivism

A reader writes in to insist that people in Texas talk about the futility of a “mute point,” but I have never heard of it. Then again, I also know Canadians who swear they never say “aboot.” The same reader asks for an official Rampant Prescriptivist ruling on “orientated.”

“Orientated” is “chiefly British,” says Merriam Webster. It comes to us from the Latin word for “rising” and, by solar analogy, “east,” hence “Orient,” “Oriental,” etc. To be oriented is to know which direction is which. (This is sometimes said to be related to the Muslim practice of facing east, toward Mecca, for prayers, but the usage predates Islam.) I can see no useful difference between oriented and orientated, but if the British like it that way, I am inclined to make accommodations for our elder brothers in the language.

Home and Away

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Who Is My Neighbor?

Campaign signs outside a polling place during early voting in Dallas, Texas, November 2, 2018. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Welcome to The Tuesday, a newsletter about politics, language, and culture — mostly language and culture, lately — and other things that I think you might want to know about.


I suppose it is normal to be sophomoric when you are a sophomore, but I was a junior in high school when Clayton Williams and Ann Richards faced off in the Texas gubernatorial election. Richards was a hero of Democrats from coast to coast thanks to her insult-comic practice of politics, and Clayton Williams was Donald Trump before Donald Trump was; i.e., a boorish rich man with no obvious preparation for the office he sought and a penchant for saying stupid and ugly things. Richards won that one, but Texas has never yet elected another Democratic governor.

It was a close race, and the yard-sign action was pretty hot in Lubbock, Texas, especially in the parts of town where college professors and other imported progressives were likely to live. I had a stridently left-wing American-history teacher, a would-be union organizer who taught the crime-spree version of American history, which, in her curriculum, consisted of very little other than slavery, the Trail of Tears, and the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. She was mad for Ann Richards, of course (Richards, like Lyndon Johnson, had been a schoolteacher, giving social-studies classes at Fulmore Junior High School in Austin, the name of which has been changed because Zachary Taylor Fulmore served as a private in the Confederate army) and believed Clayton Williams to be the devil incarnate. So we took a couple of Clayton Williams signs and planted them in place of the Ann Richards signs on her front yard, out of juvenile meanness. She did a little Three Stooges–worthy slapstick when she witnessed the vandalism. It was gratifying. We returned her signs, mostly because we wanted to take credit for the prank, which she didn’t think was as funny as we did.

(Technically, we were pre-sophomores, because sophomore properly refers to the university years rather than to high school.)

As I have mentioned before, I live in a pretty assertively lefty neighborhood (big cities in Texas are a lot like big cities in the rest of the country) surrounded by diehards who are not going to take the “Beto for Senate” stickers off their Audis. (Forgive me for quoting myself: “We admire our neighborhood for its diversity: There are white people with Audis, black people with Audis, Latino people with Audis, Asian people with Audis, gay people with Audis . . .”) But they are mostly nice people, and we rarely talk about politics. Sure, all that “Black Lives Matter” paraphernalia does sometimes give one the sneaking suspicion that these nice white progressives are trying very, very hard to elide the fact that they all live north of the street that forms a socioeconomic Berlin Wall between our neighborhood and the poor and largely non-white one to the south, that they’re all over here with the nice restaurants with vegan options and the new coffee shop and the National Review guy rather than a few blocks away with The People.

But there have been two little eruptions of political nonconformism in the precincts. In one instance, a modest little Trump yard sign made an appearance, and lasted a day or two. I do not know what happened to it, but it is gone. In the second episode, a big “Trump 2020” flag went up in front of a neighbor’s house. (The tragedy of gentrification is that it doesn’t happen all at once.) That announced a little escalating arms race on the block: A Biden sign went up directly across the street, and then — in case anybody missed it — there were two Biden signs in the same yard. (You know who needs to be told twice? Joe Biden.) Other little eruptions followed. Random bearded hipster pedestrians passing by pointed out my neighbors’ Trump flag to denounce it. With my mouth I said, “People like what they like,” and with my heart I said, “Keep walking, hippie, and don’t slow down.”

And then the Trump flag was gone.

I assume somebody stole the flag or that the neighbors were bullied into taking it down. (I haven’t had a chance to ask and haven’t really gone looking for one. Good emotional fences make good neighbors.) I suppose it is just barely possible that they could have had a late July change of political heart after reading something in the back pages of The Economist, but these particular neighbors don’t seem the constantly-rethinking-my-priors type. Given a choice between the people with the Trump flag and the smug hipster snoot stopping randomly on the street to gossip about how awful it is that somebody has a Trump flag, I’ll take a hard pass on the eye-rolling dopes spilling a fair-trade almond-milk latte on my Kentucky 31. I don’t give a flying MacGuffin how my neighbors vote.

There’s an art to neighborliness. It is simultaneously libertarian and communitarian. If we would be good citizens, we should first be good neighbors.

Neighborliness requires us to abide by Russell Kirk’s “principle of variety,” to cultivate our “affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems.” The radical systems that Kirk refers to are all at heart totalitarian in the sense that they recognize no community apart from or superior to the factional community. For the old-time Communist or the modern practitioner of political correctness, the shadow line runs through everything, and there is a choice between good and evil when it comes to every pronoun, every book, every magazine and newspaper, every film, every social-media account, every breakfast, every dinner, every relationship and friendship, etc. The monstrosity of cancel culture is in its refusal to make room for private life, private conscience, and private differences. The tendency to make totalizing creeds out of political ideologies is by no means reserved to the obvious old jackboot-and-manifesto ideologies of socialism, fascism, etc. Ayn Rand’s pseudo-philosophy of Objectivism was, as has been noted elsewhere, in practice an aesthetic and a complete lifestyle demanding allegiance not only in politics and economics but in everything from taste in music to interior-decorating styles.

The totalizing instinct is to be found everywhere, including in a now-famous passage from Ibram X. Kendi’s new book, Everybody Who Disagrees with Me Is a Racist. (Oh, that’s not the real title, but it may as well be.) Professor Kendi writes: “There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups.” Which is to say: This ideology demands affirmation and obedience for everybody everywhere in all circumstances — pure totalitarianism. Progressives used to scoff at that kind of “if you’re not with me, you’re against me!” talk, when it was deployed by George W. Bush in the campaign against jihadists. Of course Professor Kendi is writing the purest nonsense inasmuch as it is very easy to think of policies adopted by institutions that neither sustain racial inequality nor ameliorate it. (The limit of ten items or fewer — fewer, not less, damn your eyes! — in the express lane does not have any meaningful racial consequences. Especially at Trader Joe’s.) And even race-conscious policies get pretty complicated: California’s desire to use racial discrimination in college admissions would in theory make things easier for members of one racial minority (African Americans) while making things harder for members of another racial minority (Asian Americans). The doctrine of “intersectionality” is intended to help sort that kind of thing out by imposing a rule under which such decisions are basically left to a committee composed of Professor Ibram X. Kendi, Professor Ibram X. Kendi, and Professor Ibram X. Kendi. Dissenters will be cast into the outer darkness.

“Intersectionality” is a kind of mutant neighborliness in that it recognizes that people belong simultaneously to many different communities but attempts to impose hierarchical political discipline on the natural organic diversity of human life. Genuine neighborliness, on the other hand, accommodates genuine diversity, and it honors the different communities to which we all belong by treating them as real and meaningful human connections rather than as lines on a utopian org chart. In the abstract, this is what makes genuine human community possible. Practically, what it means is that I don’t want to see the restaurant down the street fail financially because I suspect its owners have a different view of abortion than I do. It also means that I prefer a community in which norms of privacy, toleration, and property rights are scrupulously observed to one in which casual vandalism is accepted as long as it is directed at sufficiently unpopular people. We cannot put people outside of the considerations of neighborliness without doing violence to the community as a whole. Neighborliness is necessarily inclusive, though it also is exclusive in the sense that it thrives best where boundaries and limitations are observed.

“And who is my neighbor?” a certain lawyer asked. As it turns out, there is a pretty good answer to that question, if you are willing to hear it. It begins with an ill-advised journey to Jericho. . . .

Words About Words

Frank Bruni of the New York Times writes:

[Trump] relied like no candidate before him on a new infrastructure of misinformation and disinformation, tweeting toward Bethlehem while his allies made Mark Zuckerberg their stooge. If you’re peddling fiction, Twitter and Facebook are the right bazaars.

“Tweeting toward Bethlehem” got my attention. In 1968, sometime National Review correspondent Joan Didion published a celebrated collection of essays titled Slouching toward Bethlehem. The title is a reference to W. B. Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming,” which in a mere 22 lines produces several phrases that have entered general usage, being well-known to people who never have read the poem: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”; “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity”; “the widening gyre”; etc. It concludes:

. . . twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The “rough beast” slouching toward Bethlehem would seem to be a reference to the Antichrist, the final apocalyptic antagonist in the Second Coming. Robert Bork, the Supreme Court justice who might have been, wrote an influential book titled Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline. Gomorrah is the Biblical city linked in the Christian mind with Sodom, the twin cities of wickedness. Sodom lives on in linguistic infamy in sodomy, but there is no gomorrahmy, as far as I know. (Although I suppose the name does sound a little like gonorrhea, which it not very nice to read about but does provide the useful phrase “purulent discharge.”) So Trump is in Bruni’s estimate a kind of social-media Antichrist.

I am not at all sure the phrase “tweeting toward Bethlehem” actually means anything if you think about it very much, but it is a remarkable testament to the evocative powers of Yeats’s phrasing that even in various disfigured forms “slouches towards Bethlehem” kinda-sorta feels like it must mean something, and probably something profound.

Rampant Prescriptivism

A reader writes:

I just saw this in The Dispatch:  “. . . detainment, torture, and execution.” I wrote to them, saying, “I am no Kevin D. Williamson, but I think that the noun form of detain is detention.”  Not a fan of detainment. Thoughts?

Detainment and detention are slightly different words: Detention is the act of detaining, detainment is the condition of being detained: “The army’s detention of the prisoners” vs. “The prisoners’ detainment by the army.” The Dispatch sentence in question reads: “The heart-rending story details the detainment, torture, and execution of many thousands of innocent civilians in Syria and the ongoing effort to hold the perpetrators accountable.” So I suppose what The Dispatch wanted there was detention, not detainment.

I am sure they will appreciate the correctment.

Another thing: Yeats uses towards with an s; Didion, too. Bruni uses toward, no s, as I would normally be inclined to do. Most of the usage books give the worst answer about toward vs. towards: “equally acceptable,” which is completely unsatisfying. Americans and Canadians more often write toward, and the English more often write towards, as the Irish Yeats did.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.com

Home and Away

National Review is launching a new feature called “Capital Matters.” Think of it as applied capitalism, with news about business, finance, the economy, etc. Now you can get your business news from a source that does not write under the assumption that business is the root of all evil, and follow the markets with people who believe in, you know, markets. I hope you enjoy it. And if you have any ideas or suggestions, please email me at the address above.

You can buy my forthcoming 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 all the rage.

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

Speaking in Los Angeles in 1987, the sainted Pope John Paul II had something to say about neighborliness. “We must be the compassionate ‘neighbour’ of those in need, not only when it is emotionally rewarding or convenient, but also when it is demanding and inconvenient. . . . Compassion is also called for in the face of the spiritual emptiness and aimlessness that people can often experience amid material prosperity and comfort in developed countries such as your own.” That which is empty is going to be filled with something. I cannot help but see in the current moment of ersatz moral hysteria an attempt to inspire a religious revival in the absence of a full and mature faith. And so we have flailing, ugliness, and incompetence. On a trip to Rome a few years ago, I heard people seeing great works of art for the first time wondering (and these are wonders) how it is that people living in a world lit only by fire (in William Manchester’s memorable phrase) created such things. The more interesting question is how it is that we do not, in spite of having superior tools and ample opportunity. Everybody knows those lines from Yeats, but very few of you could with a gun at your head recite ten consecutive lines from a living American poet. We should consider the possibility that our artistic decline and our religious decline are in some sense the same thing, distinct from and standing in contrast to our remarkable achievements in science and technology. We are not the first people to have some trouble answering the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

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The Grotesque American Wedding

(ASphotowed/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Welcome to The Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about politics, culture, language, pedantry, shenanigans, and sins both mortal and venial.

Listen to Jackie

“One hundred Irish politicians!” Janet Auchincloss’s daughter, Jackie, was set to marry John Kennedy, which meant her daughter was set to marry the Kennedy family’s social ambitions.

“The wedding will be just awful — quite dreadful,” Mrs. Auchincloss lamented. Jackie had wanted a small, intimate wedding, but Joseph Kennedy wanted to reinvent his grubby little clan as the American royal family. He got his way. He usually did.

They should have listened to Jackie.

American weddings are often grotesque affairs, a weird mix of lacy white princess dresses and neck tattoos, Pachelbel and Bon Jovi. They weren’t always such spectacles. Here are the Eisenhowers on their wedding day. If there are 16 young women with matching dresses of lavender taffeta, they are out of the frame. Here are the Hemingways, Papa’s unhappy first time around. Pretty low-key. I think it is unlikely that the future Mrs. Hemingway wore a plastic tiara and drank 18 cosmopolitans the night before.

(The groom might have.)

For many years, people typically got married at home, or in the home of a family member, in front of a small group of people. The only common alternative was a church. Even very fancy people with more elaborate weddings usually got married at home: When young Franklin Roosevelt married Eleanor, the bride was given away by her uncle, the president of the United States of America. The Roosevelts were, as Joe Biden might have put it, a BFD. They got married at the house of the bride’s grandmother (a pretty nice house) and then went on a week’s honeymoon not to Cancun but 88 miles away in Hyde Park, N.Y., where the groom was from. (They later took a three-month European tour.) When John D. Rockefeller’s daughter got married, she got married at the family home. (The particulars are pretty gaudy-sounding.) Calvin and Grace Coolidge were married in front of 15 people in her father’s living room. Coolidge was only 18 years away from the presidency.

The American wedding has been transformed in part by New World middle-class imitation of Old World royalty. White dresses weren’t socially obligatory for anyone except English debutantes being presented to the monarch for the first time; Queen Victoria’s white wedding dress is popularly credited for transforming that piece of court etiquette into what became the modern convention. (For a point of comparison, see Gerald and Betty Ford.) Diamond engagement rings, though not unheard-of, were in many quarters considered excessively showy, but that custom slowly worked its way down from the Archduke Maximilian of Austria to modern middle-class ubiquity.

The desire of the bourgeoisie to ape the titled aristocracy remains even in our own time: When her husband was the prime minister of the United Kingdom, Cherie Blair made a point of wearing a white dress for a meeting with the pope, which as a matter of ancient custom was a privilege reserved to Catholic monarchs. The Blairs wanted to be the Kennedys, and the Kennedys wanted to be the Mountbatten-Windsors. It is notable that Donald Trump is fascinated by a title of nobility, which he gave both to his imaginary friend/press agent and to his youngest son: John Barron (sometimes “John Baron”) and Barron Trump. The Trumps’ efforts to link their own family to the British royals is the stuff of a thousand cringes. There were not a hundred Irish politicians at Trump’s most recent wedding, though Billy Joel and the Clintons were in attendance.

It probably is not coincidence that Americans got very serious about the spectacle of the wedding right around the same time they began giving up on the idea of marriage. “Until death do us part” is tough, but a “big day” we can still manage. All you need is bad taste and money.

This brings me to the actual subject of today’s letter, which is, of course, debt.

Last week, Slate published a particularly insipid piece of sympathy journalism (it is part of a series) under the headline: “What It’s Like to Have $163,718 of Student Debt When You’re Living Paycheck to Paycheck: The story of Arthur Stallworth, age 36, from Silver Spring, Maryland.” Sympathy is a barrier to good journalism because it prevents the asking of necessary questions. (“Empathy,” which our politicians like to talk about, is not an emotion at all but a literary conceit.) For example: Mr. Stallworth reports a household income of $125,000 a year, which is not too bad for a man with an “online doctorate of education and interdisciplinary leadership.” There are lawyers and architects who do worse. (The report is silent about how much of the couple’s income comes from Mr. Stallworth and how much comes from his wife.) In spite of that income, he says he “couldn’t afford it” when his loan repayments rose . . . from $200 a month to $400 a month. Really? His household income is twice the national average; how is it that he is getting wiped out by a $200-a-month increase in a longstanding bill? The headline promises to tell us “what it’s like” to be in that guy’s shoes, so curiosity is assumed. What’s the deal?

Likewise: Mr. Stallworth reports that his student debt was $100,000 when he got his doctorate five years ago, but today it is $163,718.20. That implies an interest rate in excess of 10 percent a year, but student-loan interest rates are generally a lot less than that. (Federal loans currently are at 0.00 percent because of the epidemic, but the rates run from 2.75 percent for undergraduate borrowers to 5.30 percent for unsubsidized graduate-student loans.) There’s probably a good explanation for how that happened, but that explanation isn’t in Rachelle Hampton’s story, which is supposed to be a story about debt but remains willfully vague on the financial details.

What is in the story, instead, are observations such as this one: “Halfway through, I reached the point where I was really, really done with Nebraska. I was always in PWIs [predominantly white institutions]. At first you don’t really recognize that stuff, but then people say things like, ‘You don’t have any hair.’ No, I have a fade. But they don’t know what a fade is.”

I am not entirely surprised that some predominantly white people in Nebraska do not have a satisfactory vocabulary for discussing tonsorial matters with African-American colleagues. It is not clear what that has to do with Mr. Stallworth’s personal debt situation. And that situation is extraordinary considering he got a “full ride” for his undergraduate degree, with a scholarship that covered both tuition and room and board. How does this actually happen?

And, then, the kicker: “I had to take out a loan from my retirement in order to pay for our wedding.”

At which point, I found myself saying out loud: “Well, no. No, you didn’t.”

You didn’t have to. It wasn’t obligatory. You could have gone to city hall in the morning and taken your friends and family out to a nice lunch afterward. (You know what they would have done? They would have thanked you. Most weddings are dreadful.) People do it all the time. Here, what he needed was a visit from Bob Newhart in therapist mode: “Don’t do that.”

Mr. Stallworth is hardly alone in his assumptions about what simply must be done. There is a great deal to dig into there, but, for the moment, I will conclude with this: The belief that you simply must have a burdensomely expensive dog-and-pony show to get married and the belief that you simply must have a “doctorate of education and interdisciplinary leadership” to lead an educational institution — and that both of these must be had even at the cost of assuming ruinous debt — are, at the foundation, the same belief, rooted in the same error.

A society unmoored from genuine values will embrace meretricious ones, just as a society disconnected from divinity will always find something to worship — what do you think is really going on in our ridiculous modern weddings?

Words About Words

From the Via Salaria to Salzberg, from Northwich to Dandi, the politics of salt has been a force in human affairs from the beginning. Like many other once-precious commodities, salt today is so cheap that it is literally given away. In spite of the legend, it is not true that salt used to be worth more per ounce than gold, but it was valuable enough to be used as a medium of exchange, which it was in China (according to Marco Polo’s reports), and in parts of Ethiopia into the 20th century.

In the late 15th century, Italy was convulsed by the “Guerra de Sale,” in which the Duke of Ferrara duked it out with the pope’s army and the Venetians. (I still kind of like the idea of a papal army.) The Venetians were gripped by blind rage when Ferrara bit into Venice’s negotiated monopoly on salt production. The salty merchants of Venice were not to be denied. Tacitus reports a first-century battle over control of a salt-producing river at modern Germany’s Bad Salzungen.

It is not the case that Roman soldiers were paid in salt. (I am sure I have repeated that legend as fact, and repent of it. There is nothing more embarrassing than arrant pedantry that turns out to be errant pedantry.) The modern word salary is derived from the Latin salarium, meaning “stipend,” which is related to the Latin word salarius, meaning “pertaining to salt.” But the connection between the words is lost to us, and there is no evidence that Roman soldiers were ever paid in salt or that the salarium was, as another theory holds, an allowance for salt. As the classicist Peter Gainsford concludes after a very interesting discussion, the notion of Roman soldiers being paid in salt is “pure fantasy.” Gainsford (the author of Early Greek Hexameter Poetry) writes that this story begins with conjecture among Latin dictionary-writers in the 18th and 19th centuries.

No ancient source ever actually uses salarium to mean ‘salt allowance’. It’s a guess. It isn’t a terrible guess, but it’s still a guess.

It may be the case that the soldiers’ salarium was somehow related to Roman salt taxes, but we don’t really know.

And where there are no answers to be found, answers will be invented.

While we are at it, there is no reason to believe that the Roman army plowed salt into the fields after razing Carthage in order to render the land sterile. There is no mention of this in the ancient world, and the Romans wanted Carthage to keep producing grain — it was an important supplier, and the Romans were often worried about food security. There were many salt rituals in the ancient world, and casting salt over something as a curse seems to have been a part of several different traditions. See, for example, Judges 9:45: “All that day Abimelek pressed his attack against the city until he had captured it and killed its people. Then he destroyed the city and scattered salt over it.” Salt is in fact used as a fertilizer and long has been. This is probably what Jesus is referring to in calling His disciples the “salt of the earth,” that, if it loses its distinctiveness, becomes of no use to the soil.

The phrase “worth your salt” is not, as far as anybody knows, of Roman origin, and it does not appear in English until the 19th century.

Rampant Prescriptivism

After last week’s discussion of reflexive pronouns, a reader writes to suggest my sentence, “The president is only hurting himself” would be better written, “The president is hurting only himself.” There is the issue of the idiomatic expression, but I think these two sentences are answers to different questions. Whom is the president hurting? “Only himself.” What is the president doing on Twitter? “Only hurting himself.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@nationalreview.com. 

Home and Away

One of the reasons cancel culture has started to grab the attention of nice white people with impeccably progressive credentials at elite institutions is the fact that it is no longer being deployed mainly or more energetically against right-wingers but against moderate and occasionally nonconforming people who are not right-wingers, as in the recent purge of first James Bennet and then Bari Weiss from the New York Times opinion section. A conservative columnist can be put in a zoo cage labeled “Conservative,” and the Times opinion pages, which still pretend to be part of a journalistic operation rather than a political one, will grudgingly accept that. But Bari Weiss was an editor, not a columnist, and she was free-range, not quarantined in the conservative ghetto.

Hence her ouster. More in the New York Post.

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

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 meant for this to be a newsletter about debt, but it ended up being one about idolatry. I don’t think those troubles are unrelated. The connection is sterility. Think of the golden calf, the linkage between sodomy, blasphemy, and usury in Dante’s Inferno, the lifeless “pound of flesh” in The Merchant of Venice, or Ezra Pound’s “Canto XLV,” informed by Dante, and its account of fruitless usury: “With usura, sin against nature . . . stonecutter is kept from his stone, weaver is kept from his loom.” In case you miss the point, Pound spells it out in emphatic all-caps, as though he were your uncle on Facebook: “Contra Naturam.”

In the Times’ account of the Rockefeller wedding mentioned above, the writer chronicles the “costly and elegant” wedding presents heaped up for display in the reception rooms. I wonder what the father of the bride, who is estimated by some to be in real terms the wealthiest man to have lived in modern times, was trying to demonstrate with that display. The bride died of a stroke at age 40, and the groom retired to a villa outside Florence to write books about “panpsychism.”

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Politics & Policy

The Venezuelafication of American Politics

President Donald Trump waves to reporters from the South Lawn of the White House, July 11, 2020. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Welcome to The Tuesday, a newsletter about politics, language, culture, and three or four other things that were bothering me over the weekend.

The Pragmatic Virtues

Some of our friends on the right were just real, real, real big on virtue a few years back. Bill Bennett, you may recall, built for himself a splendid little virtue empire: The Book of Virtues, The Children’s Book of Virtues, The Children’s Treasury of Virtues, The Book of Virtues for Boys and Girls, The Book of Virtues for Young People, The Book of Virtues Cookbook: Now You’re Cookin’ with Virtue!, Moral Compass: Stories for a Life’s Journey, The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Moral Collapse of the American Family, Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism.

(I made up the cookbook.)

Conservatives started talking a whole lot about virtue during the Clinton years, when they were outraged (Bennett gave us The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals) by the president’s hound-dogging and endless lying, and about the fact that so many of our Democrat friends seemed to enjoy being lied to, provided they were skillfully lied to, which was Bill Clinton’s specialty: “Slick Willie,” unlike “Tricky Dick,” wasn’t an entirely condemnatory epithet. That really stuck in a lot of Republican craws, it rankled and it vexed, and at the turn of the century every third Republican pundit was writing and talking as though he were Cato the Elder (Cato Censorius, ho, ho!), if not Cincinnatus. That, in turn, was hard to take for much of the general public — and a hell of a lot harder to take for the people who knew them. Not because these men had the ordinary and common moral failings (Bennett was mocked for being a gambler, Newt Gingrich for being Newt Gingrich) that we all have in varying degrees, but because so much of that virtue entrepreneurship was so obviously insincere.

And then came 2016, when the CEO of Virtue Inc. linked arms with Generalissimo Grab ’Em By the P***y. Bill Bennett sniffed that we should get off our “high horse” and get on board with Trump. Trump critics, Bennett insisted, “suffer from a terrible case of moral superiority and put their own vanity and taste above the interest of the country.” Suddenly, all that old-fashioned virtue stuff was effete, namby-pamby, and effeminate. It was — surprise — a deficiency in virtue! It was only virtue-signaling, a simulacrum of virtue, lacking in the authentic manly virtues supposedly embodied by Donald Trump. The commissars of virtue insisted that criticism of Trump’s character was only a shallow and snobbish revulsion at his etiquette and his style, a girlish squeal at his manful and virtuous flouting of manners, convention, and other “elitist” niceties. His dishonesty was, they insisted, only a kind of pragmatic showmanship, and confounding only to those unschooled in the realities of the rough-and-tumble world of business.

Bennett suggested that Trump’s critics were only put off by his being “crude.” This line of criticism almost always and everywhere is dishonest, and obviously dishonest: Agree with the critics or not, the rap on Trump has always been about his actual character, the sort of man he is, not merely his etiquette, his accent, or how he ties his tie. But as a matter of cheap rhetoric, it is easy to shed a few crocodile tears over “the tweets” and the vulgarity while defending the program.

We talk about virtue as though it were some otherworldly thing, of little interest — or a positive hindrance — to people whose main concern is “winning” in this world rather than judgment in the next. But that gets it all wrong. As the Romans and the American founders understood, the cultivation of republican virtues is eminently practical — it is very difficult to maintain a free society without those virtues.

If you have spent very much time in the sort of places we used to describe as the Third World, you probably have noticed a paradox: These countries often have government everywhere, in your face, all the time, and yet they go largely ungoverned. For example, Venezuela and Kazakhstan both have much larger public sectors than does Germany, as measured by public-sector workers’ share of the total work force. Measured by government spending as a share of GDP, Libya has nearly twice as much government as Sweden, but it is not nearly as governed. Ecuador and Belarus spend relatively more on the public sector than the United States, Switzerland, or Japan, but they don’t have very much to show for it. In physics, there is a distinction between force and power — force is just that, a push or a pull, whereas power refers to the rate at which work is done. (Come at me, pedants.) There is an analogous division in states, which may have x number of troops at arms or y number of administrators working on a problem without x or y really telling you anything about the state’s capacity for achieving its ends. Having the manpower or the money or some other kind of brute force isn’t necessarily enough to get the work done.

(I do not mean to make a doctrinaire libertarian point here; there are well-governed countries with relatively small public sectors and well-governed countries with relatively large public sectors. Spending and payroll matter, but it matters what the spending is spent on and what the people on the payroll are paid to do and whether they do it.)

Scholars of government think a great deal about trust, consensus, legitimacy, and other related issues. One way of thinking about that whole batch of things is to consider the question of cooperation. High-trust societies tend to be high-cooperation societies and to have high levels of consensus about the direction of policy and few if any questions about legitimacy. Trust is a key ingredient in the secret sauce of the happy Nordic countries and in well-governed places such as Switzerland and Canada. When you have lots of trust and lots of cooperation, you can run programs more effectively, administer agencies with more confidence, and count on both the public and the bureaucrats to conduct themselves with a reasonable level of honesty and scrupulousness. When that succeeds, it produces a virtuous cycle: Working well creates the conditions for working better; trust and trustworthiness buttress one another; the prestige that accrues to administrative work attracts the sort of people who add to that prestige.

When trust fails, the virtuous circle turns vicious, and then the state has to find other ways to encourage or compel cooperation in order to function. The spirit of nationalism is cultivated by Beijing and by Budapest to serve that purpose — by emphasizing a common national identity (often with the aid of a common external enemy or a hated internal minority group) and a sense of solidarity and shared destiny, the state can achieve a high level of buy-in and consensus, at least for a time, in spite of corruption or incompetence. The socialist ideology of the USSR served much the same purpose, as a variation on its main theme does in contemporary North Korea.

From that point of view, it is not surprising that the two poles of American politics have drifted toward socialism and nationalism at a time when the effectiveness and trustworthiness of our public institutions is in decline. (I am here reminded of Bryan Caplan’s observation that the United States has no classical-liberal party but two moderate national-socialist parties, one a little more socialist, the other a little more nationalist.) Neither those who are in charge of the institutions of our government nor those who would like to be in charge of them can with straight faces associate their efforts with the creditability of those institutions. Nor are they intellectually or philosophically equipped to build on what trust and trustworthiness remain in them

Roger Stone committed a raft of felonies in order to protect the political interests of Donald Trump, who has now commuted Stone’s sentence as a reward for Stone’s political loyalty. Stone’s misdeeds include collaborating with the Russian intelligence cutout known as “Guccifer 2.0,” though I am inclined to credit the defense he has offered there — that he is too stupid to understand that he was being manipulated by the GRU. The specific crimes of which he was convicted go straight to the question of trust: witness-tampering and perjury. As National Review’s editorial put it: “He was justly convicted of these charges and deserved to go to jail; in our system of justice, self-parody is no defense.”

Trump’s self-serving commutation of Stone’s prison sentence is another chip off the U.S. government’s foundation of trust and legitimacy. No one can claim to be surprised by this behavior — this is exactly what any reasonable person would expect from Donald Trump and from his associates. It is what Bill Bennett would have expected if he had understood his own books or had not forgotten what they say. The heavy price we will pay for Trump’s presidency is not that we will feel bad as a people about his lack of virtue and have a good cry over it but that his lies and abuse will leave the government itself, along with the political system and our civic culture, degraded. It is not a baby step but a mighty stride down the road to the Venezuelafication of American politics, and if you don’t think we have our own Hugo Chávez out there ready to step forward and fill the trust gap with ideology and an enemies’ list, then you are not paying very close attention.

Civic virtue is not a pleasant abstraction; still less is it a merchandising opportunity. It is a necessity if we are to have an open and transparent government based on trust and cooperation. The alternatives to that are autocracy and anarchy in varying combinations and proportions.

Words About Words

You know who will send you to your dictionary every five minutes? Edith Wharton. In the first few pages of The Custom of the Country, she refers to “the batrachian countenance of Peter Van Degen” and to the “grotesque saurian head” of the same. Animal adjectives are popular with fiction writers, who need lots of them, and with political columnists, who need only a few of them, mainly asinine, mustelid, and ovine. Wharton, probably under the influence of William James’s Principles of Psychology, sometimes takes a kind of physiognomic approach to characterization. (Wharton’s relationship with the fashionable eugenics movement of her time is a complicated subject.) Many fiction writers do that, trying to almost literally (almost literally, Mr. Biden) paint a picture for readers. That is interesting: Among writers, novelists have an easy — maybe the easiest — way to describe the internal condition of a character and can tell you anything they choose about a character’s personality and motives — about a character’s character. But still they often prefer to lean heavily on exterior description of visual cues, as though they were journalists. (Which many of them are or were.) Wharton covers the interior and the exterior with equal skill, and, if you haven’t read her in a while (or at all), you have the opportunity to be delighted by some astounding sentences. Do yourself the favor.

Saurian, lizard-like, you’ll easily derive from dinosaur. Wharton uses it to suggest crocodiles and alligators. (Here is a place where Wikipedia really shines: “The clade Sauria was traditionally a suborder for lizards which, before 1800, were crocodilians. . . . Sauria can be seen as a crowned-group of all modern reptiles, including birds, within the larger total group Sauropsida, which also contains various stem-reptile groups.”) Batrachian means frog-like or toad-like. Froggy and toady are both good English words, but froggy is an adjective and toady is a noun and a verb, also very useful to political columnists, the times being what they are.

Wharton doesn’t just throw that exotic adjective out there to show she knows it. It is matched with the common verb shine to very nice effect. The setting is an opera box:

The entr’acte was nearly over when the door opened and two gentlemen stumbled over Mr. Lipscomb’s legs. The foremost was Claud Walsingham Popple; and above his shoulder shone the batrachian countenance of Peter Van Degen. A brief murmur from Mr. Popple made his companion known to the two ladies, and Mr. Van Degen promptly seated himself behind Undine, relegating the painter to Mrs. Lipscomb’s elbow.

Funny names, too. Ever met an Undine? Me, neither. But they did things differently in the 19th century. From the Encyclopedia Britannica: “Undine, also spelled Ondine, mythological figure of European tradition, a water nymph who becomes human when she falls in love with a man but is doomed to die if he is unfaithful to her.” You can see the possibilities for a novelist.

Rampant Prescriptivism

A Washington Post headline read (before being changed): “Trump the victim: President complains in private about the pandemic hurting himself.” No, no, WaPo — that is not quite how you use the reflexive pronoun. The president complains about the pandemic hurting him is just fine.

There are a few different ways to use a reflexive pronoun, and the one that seems to be confusing the Post here is the case in which the subject and object of the sentence are the same: He hurt himself, which avoids the ambiguity of He hurt him, where him could refer to anyone. This works for both direct and indirect objects: The Lord helps those who help themselves; You can see yourself in the mirror; See for yourself. The thing to keep in mind is coreference, meaning that both words in the clause refer to the same person or entity. Sometimes, as in [You] see for yourself, one of the words may be implicit. In some idiomatic expressions, the reflexive pronoun doesn’t really do much in the clause: Prepare yourself for trouble is not very different from Prepare for trouble, and He didn’t know how to behave himself is pretty much the same as He didn’t know how to behave. But Ice Cube’s line definitely needs the reflexive: “Check yo self.”

The other common use of the reflexive pronoun is for emphasis: The pope himself says so.

About that headline, consider this: The president complained about the man who was hurting him vs. The president complained about the man who was hurting himself. You have coreference in the same sentence but in pretty clearly separated clauses: The president complains, the pandemic is hurting him; you could write, The president complains that the pandemic is hurting him. But: The president is only hurting himself with his Twitter habit.

And, sometimes, you just have to flow with the go.

The lights burn blue. It is now dead midnight.
Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh.
What do I fear? Myself? There’s none else by.
Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I.
Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am.
Then fly! What, from myself? Great reason. Why:
Lest I revenge. Myself upon myself?
Alack, I love myself. Wherefore? For any good
That I myself have done unto myself?
O no, alas, I rather hate myself
For hateful deeds committed by myself.
I am a villain.

 Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.com


About those one-armed paper-hangers, a reader asks: “Would National Review be interested in publishing my op-ed ‘As a direct descendent of John Paul Jones, here is my take on the Ford-class aircraft carrier’?”

I’d like an essay about John Paul Jones, as long as it doesn’t ramble on.

Another reader defends the old blueblood Philadelphia suburbs from charges of first-initial-middle-name pretentiousness: “I must protest this line: ‘If you go by your middle name and enjoy the Main Line affectation of C. Montgomery Burns, F. Lee Bailey, or J. Edgar Hoover.’ I was raised in Newtown Square, a close (but socially distant) observer of Main Line culture and norms. C’mon, everyone knows that middle-naming is a southern thing.”

The Main Line is what it is partly thanks to J. Edgar Thomson of the Pennsylvania Railroad. And then there are oil magnate J. Howard Pew of Ardmore, Bryn Mawr College president M. Carey Thomas, M. Night Shyamalan of Gladwyne . . . and the very man who gave us the WASP: E. Digby Baltzell, who was from Chestnut Hill, which I think is close enough to count even if it is on the wrong side of the city limit.

(Carole Springer, who lived in Chestnut Hill and covered Main Line society for 50 years, would have thrown something at me for writing that.)

Home and Away

You can buy my forthcoming book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. It is the 100 percent empathy-free reading you will want for the election season.

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.

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

Take No Advice from One-Armed Paper-Hangers

Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. (matthewlee171/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Tuesday, a newsletter about politics, culture, language, grievances, enthusiasms, major crimes, and minor annoyances. You can subscribe here to get it in your inbox, because we are not going to keep giving it away for free on the homepage forever. That being said . . .

As a One-Armed Paper-Hanger . . .

There are many dumb genres of American journalism, and it is difficult to say which is truly and finally the dumbest, unless we consider Jonathan Chait’s output a genre unto itself. But, short of taking that drastic step, the “As a One-Armed Paper-Hanger” essay may take the booby prize.

The “As a One-Armed Paper-Hanger” essay is based on a claim of special standing to speak to a particular issue. That special standing is based on an experience, usually traumatic or familial, that is in no way related to actual expertise. “As Someone Who Is Dying of Leukemia, Here Is What I Think About Health-Care Reform,” “As the Mother of a Child Who Died in a Horrifying School Shooting, Here Is What I Think About Gun Control,” “I’m a Very Very Rich Guy Who Supports Higher Taxes on Very Very Rich Guys,” etc.

In fact, having leukemia doesn’t give you any special knowledge about the economics of health-insurance subsidies or insurance regulation, losing a child in a terrible crime does not give you any special insight into crime prevention or Second Amendment jurisprudence, and being a very very rich guy doesn’t make you an expert on anything, necessarily, though a very very large share of very very rich guys seems to think otherwise.

The “As a One-Armed Paper-Hanger” essay is almost always a sympathy play, with politicians and newspaper editors exploiting the victims of horrible events or awful diseases in the service of the ideological orientations under which they already are operating. (The other kind of sympathy play is the authorial-martyr model: “Look at me heroically endorsing something that is superficially against my own interests!”). It is relatively rare, for example, to see an essay in a big liberal newspaper headlined “As the Mother of a Child Who Died in a Horrifying School Shooting, I Support the Second Amendment,” although you do see an essay like that every now and then. (People also see Bigfoot every now and then.) “As a Latino, I Support Building a Dozen New Natural-Gas Pipelines” is every bit as intellectually sensible a headline as “As a Latino, I Oppose Building a Border Wall,” but it doesn’t have the same dumb emotional appeal.

Never mind that sick people have as wide an array of opinions on health care as healthy people do, that people come away from violent experiences with very different opinions about gun control and much else, that there are poor people who think taxes on the rich are too high as well as rich people who think taxes on the rich are too low, that Latino people have different views on immigration, etc. The range of expression in the typical American newspaper’s op-ed pages is like paint-by-numbers for people who can’t count past four.

A particularly stupid variant on the “As a One-Armed Paper-Hanger” essay is the distant-relation essay, for example Monday’s New York Times column by some jabroni with a name that sounds like a bad amateur parody of an old National Review byline: Lucian K. Truscott IV. Thank goodness he puts both the K and the IV in there so as to distinguish him from all the other Lucian Truscotts out there.

(And it really is too bad that the guitarist who styles himself Yngwie J. Malmsteen is not Yngwie J. Malmsteen IV.)

If you have come across the byline of Lucian K. Truscott IV in the past, then you may know that he is a distant relative of Thomas Jefferson’s. In fact, almost every article that I can remember having seen from him (not a huge sample, I admit) mentions that connection. Being a distant relation of Thomas Jefferson’s is, in part, the profession of Lucian K. Truscott IV. And that is sufficient to get him into the pages of the New York Times with an exercise in pointlessness headlined “I’m a Direct Descendant of Thomas Jefferson. Take Down His Memorial.”

As any direct descendent of Adam could tell you, being a distant relation of Jefferson’s gives no one any special insight into the contemporary controversy over Washington’s monuments. Does Lucian K. Truscott IV have anything interesting to say on the subject of the Jefferson Memorial? No, Lucian K. Truscott IV does not have anything interesting to say on the subject of the Jefferson Memorial. The Times knows that he has nothing interesting to say, but the Times thinks it is interesting that he says it. The Times is wrong about that. There is not one original thought or interesting sentence in the essay. But Lucian K. Truscott IV still would very much like you to join him on his stroll down memory lane, complete with some truly banal scene-setting that I will be obliged to interrupt at a few points:

When my brother Frank and I were boys visiting our grandparents at their home in Virginia, just outside of Washington, we used to heckle [sic; that isn’t what heckle means; what, did the Times opinion page fire its editor?] our grandmother until she would drive us into town so we could visit the Smithsonian museum on the Mall.

As we crossed the Potomac River on the 14th Street Bridge [speaking of memorials, the 14th Street bridge was renamed in 1958 for Marshal Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, who helped Americans win the Revolution, and then renamed again for Arland D. Williams Jr., who died in an airplane crash] the Jefferson Memorial stood off to the left, overlooking the Tidal Basin. [It still does.] I don’t remember ever visiting the memorial, even though it was just a short walk from the museums. It was located on the Mall, along Jefferson Drive, naturally. [It is in West Potomac Park off Basin Drive.]

We were surrounded by the history of Thomas Jefferson when we made those visits to our grandparents. We would drive down to Charlottesville with our grandmother to visit our great-aunts and our great-grandmother — and they would take us up the mountain to Monticello and drop us off to play in the house and on the grounds. They treated Monticello like it was the family home, because in a way it was: They were great-granddaughters of Jefferson. They had been born and grew up only a few miles away at a family plantation, called Edgehill.

I guess that’s why my brother and I, the great-grandsons, took the Jefferson Memorial for granted.

It goes on in much the same elderly-Washington-tour-guide-indiscriminately-verbalizing-his-field-of-vision mode until Lucian K. Truscott IV musters, if not quite an argument, then a little bit of rhetoric

It’s a shrine to a man who famously wrote that “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence that founded this nation — and yet never did much to make those words come true.

that is rather less fleshed out than Frederick Douglass’s indictment of Jefferson. And here I do not even mean the real-life Frederick Douglass but the joke version in Epic Rap Battles of History, who has a much pithier take on Jefferson’s failures but who is not — poor fellow! — distantly related to an 18th-century historical figure in the news.

Naturally, it never occurs to Lucian K. Truscott IV or to the editors at the New York Times that Thomas Jefferson’s “all men are created equal” was not put forward as a promise that might one day in the future be made to “come true” like a fairy tale but instead was a statement of something believed to be true at the time Jefferson wrote it — which is, in fact, more damning for the Founders than the clumsy interpretation of Lucian K. Truscott IV. That is another reminder that people who cannot write clearly cannot think clearly, and that elevating sympathy plays over actual argument invariably produces mush.

I have spent many years writing about free trade and tariffs. And I am, if the family Bible is to be believed, distantly related to William McKinley, who backed a very stupid tariff scheme in 1890 and ended his career by managing to get himself murdered by an anarchist. But I must resist the urge to start shopping around my “As a Distant Relative of William McKinley, I Think Tariffs Are Pretty Dumb” essay.

The times being what they are, I calculate that I am less likely to sell that essay than I am to be murdered by anarchists.

Words About Words

Celibate does not refer to someone who abstains from sex; celibate describes someone who forgoes marriage, usually, but not always, in accordance with a religious vow. (Note for Millennials: It once was assumed that to forgo marriage was also to forgo sex — quaint, right?) We tend to associate celibacy mostly with the Catholic priesthood, but it turns up in interesting places. Oxford tutors, for example, were under a rule of general celibacy until 1882, even though the Church of England had abolished mandatory clerical celibacy way back in 1548. English household servants were subject to a norm of celibacy, a practice that was replicated in English settlements in the New World. As Professor Kathleen M. Brown of the University of Pennsylvania writes, “servile celibacy” was thought to be necessary to prevent conflicts within the household — ensuring that there was no question of whether a servant in any given situation was subject to her employer’s authority or to her husband’s.

For questions of sex as such, as opposed to the question of marriage, we have the word chaste, although that one is a little complicated, too, with Christians writing of “marital chastity,” which doesn’t mean what it looks like it might mean. In its formal Christian sense, chastity means sexuality in its proper context, which is different for the married and the unmarried. That leaves us with abstinence, a word that acquired a slightly bad odor after a mighty campaign to give it one, and the dusty sounding continent. C. S. Lewis, writing about a naturally virtuous race of aliens in Out of the Silent Planet, wonders at

a species naturally continent, naturally monogamous. And yet, was it so strange? Some animals, he knew, had regular breeding seasons; and if nature could perform the miracle of turning the sexual impulse outward at all, why could she not go further and fix it, not morally but instinctively, to a single object? He even remembered dimly having heard that some terrestrial animals, some of the “lower” animals, were naturally monogamous. Among the hrossa, anyway, it was obvious that unlimited breeding and promiscuity were as rare as the rarest perversions. At last it dawned upon him that it was not they, but his own species, that were the puzzle.

But the English have left that all behind. Americans, too. And so “celibacy” remains mostly a Catholic thing, one of the most misunderstood of all Catholic practices, leading to some amusingly incoherent anti-Catholic stereotypes: that they hate sex and have too many children.

Rampant Prescriptivism

William F. Buckley Jr., like Lucian K. Truscott IV, used a middle initial and an adjective that were not, strictly speaking, necessary: Everybody knew who Bill Buckley was, and though his father was a notable man in his own right (the editor of the Cactus yearbook!), WFB was not likely to be confused with his father in his public life.

It once was the custom to drop “Jr.” after the death of one’s father. “Jr.” is used only for a son with exactly the same name as his father; every now and then, you will meet someone with the same name as his grandfather or great-grandfather, but not the same name as his father, who may call himself John Smith II, which is correct, even if it can’t help looking like a movie sequel. Initials are useful when you have a common name (I know of four working writers named Kevin Williamson), or if you go by your middle name and enjoy the Main Line affectation of C. Montgomery Burns, F. Lee Bailey, or J. Edgar Hoover.

It is a short walk from distinctive to pretentious.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.com

Home and Away

You can buy my forthcoming 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 mean. You’ll like it.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” here.

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A Timely Renaissance History Lesson

Piero di Lorenzo de’ Medici, 1494 (via Wikimedia)

Welcome to “The Tuesday,” a weekly newsletter about politics, culture, language, and more. To subscribe and get “The Tuesday” in your inbox, follow this link.

And away we go. Meet the star of this week’s show . . .


It takes only one.

That is one of the terrible lessons of history. To build up a community, a city, or an empire can take generations of concentrated effort by wise and prudent men. To wreck one takes about five minutes. All you need is the right fool in the right place at the right time.

For Florentines at the end of the 15th century, the right fool was Piero di Lorenzo de’ Medici, sometimes known as Piero il Fatuo — the English cognate “fatuous” only partly captures the range of denotations at work there: vain, conceited, superficial. Piero was all those things and more, but men of his kind and rank rarely think of themselves as arrogant clowns — instead, they think of themselves as the other epithet eternally attached to Piero’s name: Sfortunato, “unlucky.”

Bad luck often is enough to destroy a man. Our lives are more fragile than we think. But short of an asteroid or an act-of-God disaster on the level of Pompeii, destroying a community usually takes work. Vladimir Lenin did not sleep in on weekends and then take a three-hour brunch — he was hard at work building the great dystopian nightmare that was 20th-century socialism. Adolf Hitler tried to figure out a way to give up sleep entirely — Europe wasn’t going to just murder itself. History’s worst monsters were driven. But laziness can do a lot, too, in the way the Colorado River can carve the Grand Canyon if you give it time enough. Laziness can be its own kind of neutron bomb, especially if that laziness is abetted by arrogance and stupidity.

Piero il Sfortunato brought all of those qualities to the table.

Piero represents a familiar type: the heir of a worn-out family, the waste of space who is born with everything a man could want except brains and character. Cosimo de’ Medici, his great-grandfather, represented the generation that really brought the family to power in Florence, converting the vast banking wealth piled up by his own father from a mere fortune into a power. He held a few public offices over the years, as was ordinary for a man of his station, but with no crown and no grand title he ruled Florence like a king, relying not on brute force (not usually) but on patronage, negotiation, and the careful management of the city’s factions and interest groups. He gave Florence its first public library and commissioned magnificent works of art and architecture, and made an art of turning other men’s ambitions to his will.

Cosimo’s son and successor lacked his father’s charm and suavity — his terrible gout made him irritable — but he only had five years to rule, and did not do a great deal of damage. His greatest offense against Florence in his short sick years may have been an unintended undermining of its republican manners: Because he often was confined to bed, he began conducting state business from his home, summoning the men of the city to his personal residence like the prince that he was but was obliged to pretend not to be. His son, Lorenzo, styled “the Magnificent,” stopped pretending almost entirely, and his home became the effective seat of government.

Lorenzo presided over Florence’s golden age. To borrow a phrase from Clarence Thomas, he was educated to be his grandfather’s son. He wasn’t especially handsome (his strapping brother, Giuliano, on the other hand, is said to have been the model for the war god in Botticelli’s Venus and Mars) but he had everything else going for him, including the best education that could be had. That education was supplemented by wide experience in public affairs from the time of his youth, with Lorenzo being deputized to help carry out certain diplomatic and commercial affairs. He was disciplined, intelligent, and discriminating, although not so much that he was above the fraudulent spectacles associated with politics in his time. Just before he took over for his father, he won a celebrated jousting competition in front of adoring Florentines; Niccolò Machiavelli, who observed the match, felt obliged to report that it was totally, completely, in no way rigged.

But Lorenzo also won victories when the outcome was far from certain, the most important of which was negotiating a lasting cooperative peace among the major Italian powers through a pact that just happened to endow Florence — and so Lorenzo himself — with the greatest share of real power. The creation of the Italic League was Renaissance realpolitik: Lorenzo was smart enough to understand that while none of the other Italian powers was strong enough to dominate Italy on its own, neither was Florence. But the threat of France gave the Italians a mutual enemy and a powerful motive for cooperation. It was l’arte dell’affare.

Peace and prosperity, and Michelangelo and Leonardo — not a bad legacy.

But the kid. The kid was an idiot.

Lorenzo is said to have remarked that of his three sons, one was good, one was clever, and one was a fool. The good one died young, the smart one became pope, and the idiot inherited his father’s role in Florence. Why? Lorenzo knew Piero was a fool, but also described him as a “fighter,” and Lorenzo thought of succession as binary: It was either the Medici or their enemies — who were, as far as Lorenzo was concerned, also the enemies of Florence. From the Medici point of view, Piero may have been an idiot, but he was their idiot. And that was enough.

Not only was Piero an idiot, but he was an insecure idiot: He was rich, but not as rich as some of his rivals and extended family, and being a rich man with a famous name was almost all he really had to offer, lacking as he did the intelligence and public-mindedness of his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Living up to a father bearing the sobriquet “the Magnificent” would have been difficult for a better man than the fatuous and low-minded Sfortunato, but Piero was simply unfit for the position he held. Kenneth Bartlett describes a familiar enough set of details in his short history of the period:

It soon became apparent exactly how limited Piero was. His distrustful nature alienated him from a great many of his father’s supporters and even members of his own family. His princely arrogance — really a sign of his own fear and insecurity — further angered the old republican patrician families who saw the roots of a monarchy developing. Any advice that counseled accommodation with the old elite or wide cultivation of the less privileged citizens Piero interpreted as a threat. He saw conspiracies everywhere, which resulted in his closing his circle of advisers and officials to a small group dependent completely on him, restricting his administration to those who expected favors and honors. He raised personal servants and insignificant guildsmen to important positions.

Piero had been a brawler and a braggart in his youth, and, like many would-be tough guys, he turned out to be weak and easy to roll when faced with a fight that wasn’t fixed. (Piero won his jousting tournament, too.) When King Charles VIII of France decided to march across Italy to claim the throne of Naples, the powers of the Italic League, in the absence of Lorenzo’s leadership, began looking to cut deals, and some of them even welcomed the invasion for their own narrow reasons, believing that their own political ambitions could be advanced with the support of a foreign power.

Piero did not know what to do. King Charles asked (“asked”) for Florence’s support, and needed to march across Tuscany to reach his destination. Piero dithered and then declared neutrality. In response, King Charles invaded, beginning with a massacre of Florentine troops at Fivizzano. And so Piero decided to visit the French king in person and negotiate with him, man-to-man and prince-to-prince. He immediately knuckled under to every French demand — and these were both costly and humiliating demands — and then brought the news back to his people, who were infuriated and took to pelting him and his entourage with rocks. Piero had not only shown himself a coward, but he also had negotiated without proper authorization.

As King Charles prepared to march his army through the middle of the city — for no real military purpose, just to dramatize proud Florence’s powerlessness — Piero tried to put together a military response. But he already had lost the confidence of his people, and they would not fight for him.

Many of the people of Florence had turned instead to the great and fraudulent moral awakening led by the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola, who entranced the people with fake but very exciting prophecies and denounced the Florentine political and intellectual leaders for their privilege. Savonarola went about systematically destroying the visual testimony to that morally offensive privilege in the city’s great public and private places. Lorenzo’s patronage and cultivation had endowed Florence with a truly magnificent patrimony of humanistic art, and woke Florentines soon were burning those treasures in the streets — paintings, tapestries, musical instruments, and, of course, any books that offended the prohibitory new sensibility were consumed in a “bonfire of the vanities.” Botticelli is said to have put a few of his own problematic paintings on the pyre.

Piero was run out of town, and Savonarola took his place, promising to bring moral leadership to the long-suffering people of Florence, just as soon as he was done destroying all the offensive art. And the long-suffering people of Florence, after being disappointed by the friar’s unfulfilled promise to perform miracles and irritated by his decision to close down the brothels, hanged Savonarola and burned what was left of him.

Poor Piero! Of course, he couldn’t help being an idiot. He might not even have been able to help being arrogant, a bully, and a coward. He was just born that way. And he didn’t make King Charles VIII invade Tuscany! He didn’t create Savonarola! He couldn’t help it if the other Italian powers wouldn’t come to his aid! What did they expect him to do? It wasn’t his fault! He was just unlucky. And he was treated very unfairly. (No doubt he thought so.) Piero tried to rally his declining supporters a couple of times, and his attempts were pathetic. So he did what he thought he had to do and allied himself with his erstwhile enemy, the French, offering to help them win Naples in exchange for their aid returning him to power in Florence. The French were routed at the Battle of Garigliano, and Piero — oh, Sfortunato! — drowned in the Garigliano River while running away.

Words About Words

An epithet is not an insult or a term of abuse. Often, though not always, an epithet is a term of praise. An epithet is a byname — something more than a nickname but less than a title — a kind of description that attaches itself to a name or becomes a substitute for it: Lorenzo the Magnificent, Piero il Fatuo, Piero il Sfortunato, Piero the Gouty (Sfortunato’s grandfather), Alexander the Great, the Man of Steel, He Who Must Not Be Named, Richard the Lionheart, Gray-Eyed Athena, the Gray Lady, Vlad the Impaler, the Prince of Peace, the City that Never Sleeps, “the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons.” A personal favorite is Idi Amin’s epithet train: “Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.”

Henry Fowler long ago noted that epithet was acquiring an “abusive imputation,” and he rightly interpreted that as euphemistic, employed by people who did not want to characterize ethnic or religious slurs as slurs. Euphemism is an enemy, a cunning one.

Rampant Prescriptivism

An epithet is distinct from a formal title, though we usually capitalize both. A title that a person holds in a unique and personal way, such as a royal title, is generally capitalized because the title is used as a proper noun itself, in place of a name, e.g. the Prince of Wales, the Patriarch of Antioch, the Duke of Normandy. In Shakespeare’s Richard III, the mustelid collaborator is not identified in the text as Henry Stafford but as Buckingham, he being the Duke of Buckingham. Richard himself is Gloucester in the play, because he is the Duke of Gloucester. The president of the United States, in contrast, holds his position for a defined period of time, and the office is not attached to his person. But because our national manners have taken a turn toward ersatz monarchism and at times something very close to idolatrous deification of presidents, “President” on its own sometimes ends up being capitalized, especially in the prose of the worst of us. Nancy Pelosi, for example, wrote this over the weekend: “The questions that arise are: was the President briefed, and if not, why not, and why was Congress not briefed.” Pelosi gets it all sorts of wrong here — president should not be capitalized, but was should be, and the questions should end in a question mark: The questions that arise are: Was the president briefed? And, if not, why not? And why was Congress not briefed?

President Trump, who produces a great deal of illiterate prose, is a random capitalizer. He defended himself on that score in a tweet, claiming that the media likes to “pour [sic] over my tweets looking for a mistake.” He meant pore.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.com

Home and Away

Joe Biden does not have a very promising field of potential vice presidents. (Not Vice Presidents.) And I wonder whether his insistence on choosing a woman makes him appear less creepy than he actually is or — incredibly enough — more creepy than he actually is. More in the New York Post.

Cancel culture and the newsrooms, an article by Megan Basham in World.

You can buy my forthcoming 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 the empathy-free reading you’ll want come election season.

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

Not everyone thinks Piero was a total tool. That is a conventional view, but it may not be entirely accurate. A very different account of Piero’s life can be found in Alison Brown’s Piero di Lorenzo de’ Medici and the Crisis of Renaissance Italy. Professor Brown of the University of London describes a Piero who is much more cultivated, intelligent, and engaged than he often is given credit for being. If you are inclined to dig into that question — and why wouldn’t you be? — Brown is a very engaging writer and one of the leading scholars of the period. And the world of the Medici and Savonarola is not very far from our own. When the great Tom Wolfe decided that journalism was no longer sufficient to tell the American story and turned his hand to fiction, the classic novel he produced was The Bonfire of the Vanities. Savonarola may have a new habit, but he’s the same old fraud.

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Politics & Policy

Managing Violence

People walk between concrete barriers as protesters demonstrate against racial inequality and occupy space at the CHOP area near the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct in Seattle, Wash., June 16, 2020. (Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)

Welcome to “The Tuesday,” a weekly newsletter about politics, culture, language, and more. If you would like to subscribe to “The Tuesday” and get it in your in-box, follow this link. And now . . .

After the Police

The recent run of violence inside the hot zone of militia-occupied Seattle — a teenager has been shot dead, another man suffered life-threatening gunshot wounds, etc. — is the least surprising development of the episode. Of course there’s violence: You can call your dopey little Champagne Radical playground the Republic of CHAZ or the more Jacobin-aligned CHOP, but those are Americans in there — somebody’s going to get shot.

Every bad shooting by a police officer (and many of the justifiable ones) is taken to be an important and indisputable indicator of the corruption and racism of the corporate cultures of police departments. Will the militia in Seattle apply the same thinking to itself and the community it has created? If not, why not? Autonomy brings with it responsibility.

A state, as Max Weber defined it, is a geographically defined monopoly on violence. A state operates over a given territory, though the borders may be disputed, and it claims for itself the sole legitimate use of coercive physical force, though this monopoly may be violated by criminals or challenged by revolutionaries. A state has the power to tax, to impose fines, or to seize assets, actions that would be understood as robbery or extortion if undertaken by a non-state actor; a state has the power to arrest and incarcerate; i.e., to legitimately engage is what would otherwise be understood as kidnapping and hostage-taking. A state can put people to death through capital punishment, though relatively few modern states choose to do so, and states claim the power to legitimately put to death the citizens of other countries and destroy their property in war.

The word violence has taken on pejorative connotations. We are nice people, and we do not like to think too much about violence. And perhaps it is the case that violence is a lamentable means even when it is used toward desirable ends. It wasn’t persuasion that freed the slaves, and it wasn’t the Emancipation Proclamation — it was men doing violence under the flag of the United States, led by General Ulysses S. Grant, a statue of whom was just pulled down by the illiterate cretins in San Francisco. (What we are not talking about: More than a third of San Francisco’s black population has been driven out of the city since 1990, and it wasn’t General Grant who did that.) It was not rhetoric that ended the Third Reich and stopped the Holocaust — it was violence on a massive scale. If you are lucky enough to live in a place where you are secure in your person and your property (which is to say, not in Seattle), then you should know that it is not the milk of human kindness that keeps you so — it is violence and the threat of violence.

For libertarians, this provides a useful if very limited heuristic for judging limits on state action: If you wouldn’t be willing to walk over to your neighbor’s house and stick a gun in his face over the issue, then maybe you shouldn’t deputize the state to kick in his door and stick a gun in his face over the issue on your behalf. This is, of course, a very rough rule of thumb, and in the real world legislation and regulation are necessarily (really, it can’t be helped) far too complex to satisfy the more simplistic kind of moralistic demand. For example, I myself do not think that the state has any business sticking a gun in my face and telling me that I can’t buy a Toyota because it comes from Japan and competes with American (put a big ol’ asterisk there) companies employing American workers — if Americans want to sell me a car, let them build a better one at a better price. But the actual implementation of trade is complex: For example, the United States, Germany, and Japan do not have precisely the same automotive-safety regulations or the same emissions rules, and these are not in all cases unreasonable impositions. Coordinating complex design and production across multiple complex legal environments multiplies complexity by complexity. There is nothing as simple as Thou shalt not steal that will do in that situation.

Some of us may dream of one-sentence free-trade pacts (“There shall be free trade between x and y”) rather than the thousands of pages found in our actual trade compacts, but that ideal does not stand up to very much investigation: Are we permitted to impose restrictions when it comes to military equipment or sensitive intelligence technology? What about local reservations when it comes to materials for publicly financed infrastructure projects? Are programs that privilege veteran-owned businesses in government contracting a violation of free trade? Decisions have to be made, compromises have to be worked out, the fruit of those negotiations has to be written down, and, presto!, the USMCA runs 1,809 pages (1,572 pages for the text of the treaty, 237 pages of supporting material). Somewhere in all that mess is probably a footnote about the grading of soybean derivatives enshrining a regulation that I would not choose, in isolation, to see enforced at the point of a federal bayonet. But enforcing the terms of the treaty is a necessary function of the state, which necessarily acts, in extremis, through violence.

The violence-based model of organizing community life (or at least certain aspects of it) requires the employment of men with a capacity for violence. American Sniper popularized the “wolf/sheep/sheepdog” formulation, but there is a lot of wolf in a dog. (Canis familiaris is directly descended from Canis lupus.) Some of the things that might make you a good police officer or a good solider are also things that might make you a good criminal: capacity for violence, openness to risk, physical courage, aggression, etc. These are also characteristics that might make you more likely to resort to force, including deadly force, in a stressful and dangerous situation. Police forces disproportionately employ members of the prime criminal demographic: young men. Young men account for about 73 percent of all arrests and 80 percent of the violent-crime arrests.

Given the demographics, it is no surprise to find that police officers commit a lot of crimes both on and off the job. The total arrest rate for the general population is about 31 per 1,000, according to the FBI; the arrest rate for property crimes is about 3.6 per 1,000 and the arrest rate for violent crimes is about 1.6 per 1,000. (The bulk of the arrests are for things classified neither as property crimes nor violent crimes, from drug possession to unpaid speeding tickets.) By way of comparison, the rate for officers of the New Orleans police department is 44 arrests per 1,000 officers; in Milwaukee, it’s 37 arrests per thousand; in Norwich, Conn., it’s 62 arrests per 1,000 officers; in Hackensack, N.J., it’s 77 per 1,000.

This information comes from a report titled “Police Integrity Lost: A Study of Law Enforcement Officers Arrested,” by Philip Matthew Stinson, John Liederbach, Steven P. Lab, and Steven L. Brewer Jr. There are some caveats about that study that will be obvious to you if you read it, largely having to do with how incidents are compiled. As the authors themselves complain: “There are no comprehensive statistics available on problems with police integrity, and no government entity collects data on all criminal arrests of law enforcement officers in the United States.” The authors continue:

The lack of data on police crime is clearly a problem, since the development of strategies to mitigate police crime in the least requires that they be documented and described in some sort of systematic and generalizable manner. From an organizational perspective, more comprehensive data could provide comparisons among agencies on rates of police crime, and subsequently contribute to the development and implementation of policies to deter police crime and lessen damage to police-community relations in their aftermath. From a scholarly perspective, the collection, analysis, and dissemination of more comprehensive police crime data could instigate studies designed to identify significant correlates, explore relationships between police crimes and more general forms of police deviance, and provide information on how police culture and socialization potentially contribute to the problem. Scholars have yet to fully pursue these and other important issues associated with the problem of police crime because we lack any sort of comprehensive data on the types of crime that police commit and how frequently they commit them.

You can tell a lot about a society by what questions are not asked.

The authors of the study posit that police criminality is rooted partly in culture and partly in demographics. For example, a substantial share of police crime is alcohol-related: “Excessive alcohol consumption is certainly due at least in part to demographics and the over-representation of young males among police officers, in particular patrol officers. Men are more likely to have problems with alcohol than women, and alcohol use disorders are most prevalent among 18-24 year-olds.” Partly, the issue is situational: How many opportunities have you had to extort money from a drug dealer?

Most police crime happens off-duty, but, as the authors report:

The data demonstrate that the source of a significant portion of these so-called off-duty crimes also lies within the context of police work and the perpetrator’s role as a police officer, including instances where off-duty officers flash a badge, an official weapon, or otherwise use their power, authority, and the respect afforded to them as a means to commit crime. More broadly, the data show that police crime is not solely or even primarily the product of deviant or defective people; but rather, deviant or defective people who work within an occupational context that provides them unique and unprecedented opportunities to perpetrate crimes whether they are on or off-duty.

Another word for “deviant or defective people” is “people.”

Human destructiveness is not a problem to be solved; it is a problem to be managed. From the world of Leviathan forward, we have attempted to manage the problem of disorganized violence with organized violence in a framework of imperfect and imperfectly enforced rules and formal procedures of accountability. If the people who are calling for abolishing police — “Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police,” as activist Mariame Kaba put it in the New York Times — succeed to any extent, they will face the same basic problems. Whatever innovative public-safety models they dream up (and I am open to many of these) will be handicapped by the same shortcomings that characterize current police practice, i.e., the presence of human beings in the system and the centrality of human judgment to that system’s operation. Kaba is selling the usual utopian horsepucky, a promise that the same people who have proved unable to reform police departments can reform the whole of human life, building “a different society, built on cooperation instead of individualism, on mutual aid instead of self-preservation. What would the country look like if it had billions of extra dollars to spend on housing, food and education for all?” We can answer that question, in a way: As a result of the so-called Great Society, we did put many billions of extra dollars into housing, food, and education for all. The result? Minneapolis, Detroit, Cleveland . . . Tinkerbell may look dead, but keep clapping! “This change in society wouldn’t happen immediately,” Kaba writes — you don’t say — “but the protests show that many people are ready to embrace a different vision of safety and justice.” Perhaps they do show that.

And the murders in militia-occupied Seattle show that they can’t have it.

Incidentally . . .

About the foregoing, I will say this: If I were betting my own money on it, I would not bet on Donald Trump’s being reelected in November. But if there were an exceedingly clever conspiracy to get Trump reelected, it would look like what’s happening in Seattle right now, like Mariame Kaba’s daft New York Times essay, all these panicked Vox readers being stampeded into promising to disband the police departments, etc.

Words About Words

I suppose I should make it clear that when I publish a Q-and-A here, the Qs come from correspondents, and are not my words. One of last week’s exchanges seems to have caused a little confusion. My in-laws speak very good English, having the advantage of being Canadian.

Last week, I wrote about bombast and pseudo-intellectualism. If you work in journalism, and especially if you work in conservative journalism, and especially especially if you work at National Review, you will from time to time experience a very particular kind of bombast: the bad William F. Buckley Jr. impersonation. The temptation to try to write like Bill Buckley is very different from the temptation to try to write like (ahem) Tom Wolfe or David Foster Wallace, and it usually follows a predictable convention: consulting a thesaurus and inserting far too many adjectives and adverbs into a sentence. Adjectives and adverbs are the easiest thing to fake: You just write a regular sentence and then pile on some modifiers taken from Roget. That isn’t how Buckley actually wrote (far from it) and the deficiency of the method is obvious in the final product. This is a sample of prose sent in by a correspondent, who says it was written by a person with a doctorate, presumably in psychology. Enjoy:

Patient displayed a debonair nonchalance but otherwise displayed a consistently if prosaically invariable equanimity. . . . the case manager engages in a sedulous search for a parsimonious explanation for the patient’s vast array of phenotypically divergent behavior and intervenes accordingly . . .

Ye gods. There’s a lot more, but that’ll do.

Rampant Prescriptivism

From the headlines over at Slate: “Bob Dylan’s New Album Is His Best in Many Years, Maybe Decades: The Nobel winner’s latest is a masterful (and crude) collage from our greatest remix artist.” “Masterful” does not mean “masterly.” “Masterful” means in the manner of a master —  controlling and domineering. Bob Dylan is many things, but I do not think he is that. When it comes to “masterful,” think “taskmaster” or “overmaster” rather than “masterpiece.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

The Christian Science Monitor on the upheaval in America’s newsrooms. My best quotes never make it into the final cut, but you may enjoy the article.

You can buy my forthcoming 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

Yesterday was the feast day of Thomas More, a Christian martyr put to death by King Henry VIII. Kyle Smith and I discussed the famous film about him, A Man for All Seasons, in a recent National Review online event. (We are doing a lot of online events in lieu of our usual busy schedule of live events, with the plague and all.) The Thomas More story is familiar, as indeed it should have been to King Henry VIII: It essentially repeats the story of King Henry II and the martyr Thomas á Becket — two Kings Henry, two Chancellors Thomas, an unjust death, and ultimate triumph for the martyr and failure for the politician. Thomas Becket, who is my patron saint, got the slightly better film with Becket — it is hard to beat Richard Burton.

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Editor’s Note: Due to an editing error, an earlier draft of this newsletter was originally posted. It has since been replaced with updated copy.  

Politics & Policy

A Cloud of Possibility

(Rudenkoi/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

I  do not surf, but I sometimes read The Surfer’s Journal, which contains beautiful photography beautifully printed and oddball little stories that provide a glimpse into a different world, as with Scott Hulet’s recent travelogue on surfing through cartel country in Sinaloa.

Similarly, I am not currently in the market for a €1 million-plus wristwatch, but I enjoyed Jack Forster’s recently republished Hodinkee essay on an incredibly complicated timepiece made by Vacheron Constantin, a piece of clockwork made with the goal of creating, as Forster puts it, “a single, harmonious mechanical representation of the astronomical cycles that dominate the human world from our perspective as inhabitants of the Earth.” I can just about conceptualize the mechanism by which a mechanical clock tells time, but I do not have the three-dimensional imagination to put together how a wristwatch only 43 millimeters across and not very deep can be built to calculate and display the time, the day and date in a perpetual calendar that never needs correcting, the phases of the moon, the tides, the relative positions of Earth, moon, and sun, the progress of the lunar day and lunar month, the tropical year (the time it physically takes Earth to orbit the sun, as opposed to a “civil year” of 365 days), the changing times of sunrise and sunset and the relative hours of light and darkness of the day, solstices and equinoxes, the “Equation of Time” (“the difference between a mean solar day of 24 hours, and an actual solar day, which thanks to the tilt of the Earth’s axis, and the eccentricity of its orbit, can vary by as much as −14 minutes and 15 seconds, to +16 minutes, 25 seconds, at various points during the year,” Forster explains), sidereal time (time as indicated by the stars), and much more, including such relatively mundane calculations as how many hours of power the watch has remaining before it needs winding — this is a mechanical instrument, it bears repeating, not an electronic one. If you are planning on taking your €1 million-plus timepiece on a jet ski, it is reasonably water-resistant.

(The vagueness of the pricing, “more than €1 million,” I noted in an earlier edition: There is an infinity of sums greater than €1 million.)

This is, incredibly enough, not even the most complex watch ever made, having a mere 16 complications vs. 57 for another made by the same company, a pocket watch that, among other things, calculates the date for Yom Kippur on the Hebrew calendar.

These are not objects made with practicality in mind, and practically everything they do could be done as easily with a 99-cent app on your telephone. They are not useful in the sense that surfing is not an efficient means of travel. Mechanical watches and clocks are archaic technology, and like many such outmoded tools, they live on as luxury goods. In fact, it often is the case that the more outdated a piece of technology is, the higher its ranking as a luxury good: Classic cars are for people with a little bit of money, but horses are for people with a lot of money. Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest man in the world, has been buying up West Texas ranchland.

What is the value of “a single, harmonious mechanical representation of the astronomical cycles that dominate the human world from our perspective as inhabitants of the Earth”? I am generally in the camp of George Mallory, who was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest and famously replied: “Because it’s there.” Dazzling displays of human ingenuity are of interest and value in their own right, as illustrations and reminders of just how it was we dragged ourselves up out of the primordial muck and landed on the moon. Oscar Wilde insisted that “all art is quite useless,” and I mostly agree, though I reject the generally overlooked part of that formulation: “We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it.” I know a surprising number of men whose passion in life is not classic sports cars but classic tractors, and there are few things more useful than a tractor. But why do we admire those little machines that Forster writes about so lucidly? They are, in themselves, only gears and springs and such, and we have grander reifications of human intelligence and ambition than these, if we want them.

A few years ago (the article seems to have disappeared into the mists), I wrote a piece for National Review about orreries, which are little clockwork models of the solar system that were items of fascination in the Middle Ages and still are collected today. A famous early one was built by a man known as Giovanni Dondi dell’Orologio. (Lest you think that agnomen was merely an honorific given to him for his advances in clock design, know that he was the son of Jacopo Dondi dell’Orologio, a doctor, astronomer, and clockmaker of Padua, author of De fluxu atque refluxu maris, an influential work on tides.) Human beings love models: Little boys (and many grown men) play with model railroads, little girls play with dollhouses, adults with modest ambitions may sketch out floorplans of houses they would like to build, adults with less modest ambitions design model cities, and the worst sort draw up plans for model societies, clockwork utopias in which everything is rational and orderly.

Orreries and other complex clockworks speak to something very deep and ancient in us. What was original sin after all but that the idea that we “should be as gods,” and hold the universe in our hands like a machine of our own creation, that we can wind or modify at will — that we can perfect? We cannot perfect ourselves, but we can perfect a trivial bit of machinery, and that gives us the illusion of omnipotence. It’s magic: In the old legend of Roger Bacon’s “Brazen Head,” the line between mechanical engineer and wizard was blurry at best.

The simplest model of the atom could be displayed accurately as a relatively simple piece of clockwork, a very simple orrery-like model in which one spherical body orbits another. But the model is not the real thing, with the electron in orbit around the nucleus like a little solar system but existing in

a form that can only be described as a cloud of probability. The electron possesses both kinetic energy and momentum, yet there is no motion. The cloud is perfectly static. The electron does not “orbit” the proton at all — it surrounds it like a fog. The most critical difference between a real electron and a classical particle is that a real electron does not exist in any one place. All it has is a certain probability of being here as opposed to there, which the illustration shows with darker and lighter colors (darker means more probable). If you decided to catch the electron using some kind of hypothetical scoop, then you could wave your scoop through the probability cloud and an electron might appear inside it — and then again, it might not.

The planners and designers need, for their purposes, a universe that looks like a machine, but the actual universe more closely resembles a cloud. This is true (or so my physics teachers assured me) at the quantum level, and it is true at the social level. A machine universe can be tuned, reconfigured at will, and endlessly engineered. The movements and development of clouds can be projected only in a very general way and managed only in a general way. Some people have a gift for blowing smoke rings, and that is about the best we can do.

A political orientation that accounts for the genuine complexity of human social life (including the physical reality on which our social structures are built) must be modest in its expectations and forgo grand plans to reorganize community life along purportedly rational lines that, properly understood, are not rational at all. Testimony to our hubris is everywhere around us, from the coronavirus epidemic to the failure of our city police departments and the crisis of unfunded liabilities in pensions and entitlement programs.

There is not a single, harmonious mechanical representation of the forces that dominate the human world. The belief that a government (or a nation or a community) can be made into a well-oiled machine compounds the error of believing that any of these things is a machine in the first place.

Words about Words

Q: “If “golf” is not a verb, then how do we get the word “golfer?”

A: Only the Ancient Mariner knows.

Q: Why has the phrase “more importantly” been almost wholly replaced with the incomplete sounding (to me) “more important”? Example: “Capitalism is generally a good thing.  More importantly, it is better than any other system man has come up with throughout history.” If I substitute “more important,” it sounds wrong to my ears.

A: “More important” is usually what you’re looking for, because you are talking about the fact rather than the action; capitalism isn’t superior to socialism in a way that communicates importance, but the fact that capitalism is superior to socialism is important, as the 100 million people who perished under socialist experimentation and brutality in the 20th century attest. As a guide, just ask yourself whether you are looking for the adjective important or the adverb importantly. Anthony Fauci does important things, and Donald Trump does things importantly.

A related issue:

Q: When did it become common practice for people to say, “I feel badly,” rather than “I feel,” as in “I feel bad about the way things worked out.” I regularly grit my teeth when I hear this, particularly from new extended family members. I want to say, “I feel badly” actually means “I am not very good at the action of feeling say, the difference between an orange and a baseball.” Trying in the gentlest way possible to point this out only leads to blank stares. Someone once created a kind of compound term for this kind of peculiar, grandiose, and inflated type of incorrect expression, but I cannot track down the descriptor.

A: I think that one is a straightforward consequence of the fact that we do not educate students in grammar; if you deny them the formal tools of understanding English (such concepts as adjective and adverb) then they cannot think clearly about the language. Maybe the word you are looking for is “bombast,” a much-misused word that some people use to mean highly emotional speech but which actually refers to speech that is artificially formal or elevated in its style, affected in the hope of making a good impression. The textbook example is “thusly,” which apparently was first used as a satirical example of bombast (thus already is an adverb and requires no -ly) but quickly made its way into widespread usage.

Rampant Prescriptivism

Last week, I wrote about stray apostrophes, sometimes used illiterately to make (rather, in an attempt to make) plurals or even present-tense verbs: “Love Trump’s Hate,” the sign read. A reader writes to ask about the case of single proper nouns ending in s. There has long been a convention of using only the apostrophe rather than both the apostrophe and the s in such circumstances; I believe the Associated Press stylebook used to specify it. My own practice is to use apostrophe-s in all circumstances unless there is a strong idiomatic reason to do otherwise, as in “for Jesus’ sake” or “Achilles’ heel.” But “the Court of St. James’s.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@nationalreview.com.

Home and Away

Tom Wolfe wrote of “mau-mauing the flak catchers.” And now we are Mao-Maoing them, too, in our little half-assed Cultural Revolution. More in the New York Post.

You can buy my forthcoming 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

A little bit from “Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers.”

To sell the poverty program, its backers had to give it the protective coloration of “jobs” and “education,” the Job Corps and Operation Head Start, things like that, things the country as a whole could accept. “Jobs” and “education” were things everybody could agree on. They were part of the free-enterprise ethic. They weren’t uncomfortable subjects like racism and the class structure — and giving the poor the money and the tools to fight City Hall. But from the first that was what the lion’s share of the poverty budget went into. It went into “community organizing,” which was the bureaucratic term for “power to the people,” the term for finding the real leaders of the ghetto and helping them organize the poor.

And how could they find out the identity of these leaders of the people? Simple. In their righteous wrath they would rise up and confront you. It was a beautiful piece of circular reasoning. The real leaders of the ghetto will rise up and confront you . . . Therefore, when somebody rises up in the ghetto and confronts you, then you know he’s a leader of the people. So the poverty program not only encouraged mau-mauing, it practically demanded it. Subconsciously, for administrators in the poverty establishment, public and private, confrontations became a ritual.

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People line up for taxi across the street from the New York Times building in New York City in 2013. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

The case for firing New York Times opinion editor James Bennet was the almost unrelieved mediocrity of his pages. Instead, they fired him for cooties.

The Times’s opinion pages have long been the worst thing in a very good (by no means perfect) newspaper, America’s RDA-exceeding daily dose of insipid liberal conventional wisdom. It is where you go to watch Charles Blow’s long, slow slide into a journalism of exclamation points (“Stop Airing Trump’s Briefings!” “No More Lynching!”), though the Times’s style guide presumably will prevent his descending into the all-caps Facebook Dad mode of very very angry typing. From the intellect of Paul Krugman, who is famously in possession of a Nobel prize in economics, the Times has managed to extract only the shallowest and lamest kind of barstool partisanship (“Republicans Don’t Want to Save Jobs,” “Good People Can’t Be Good Republicans”). Jamelle Bouie? Elizabeth Bruenig? I like avocado toast as much as the next guy, but that’s an awful lot of the stuff.

(There are a few bright spots and individual writers worthy of praise, but I don’t want to damage anybody’s career over there.)

The purported cause of Bennet’s forced resignation was his decision to publish a guest column by Senator Tom Cotton, in which the Arkansas Republican called for the use of federal troops to quell riots in U.S. cities under the terms of the Insurrection Act. To publish such a thing was to endanger the lives of black Times employees, according to staffers who came for Bennet’s scalp. That is, of course, preposterous.

Here’s the thing: There actually exists in our federal law something called the Insurrection Act, which really does empower the president to deploy federal troops in certain situations, and there really was a national debate about whether the recent riots originating roughly in Minneapolis provided a legitimate occasion for invoking the Insurrection Act, which has been relied upon in convulsions ranging from desegregation (President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne to Little Rock to deal with violent defiance of Brown) to the Los Angeles riots that were underway back around the time Maureen Dowd wrote her last interesting column. Tom Cotton is a U.S. senator and a former infantry captain who sits on the Armed Services Committee. He is also a graduate of Harvard College, where he was on the editorial board of the Crimson, and a graduate of Harvard Law, so his spelling at least is probably pretty reliable.

I do not agree with Senator Cotton about the Insurrection Act; my belief is that the act is dangerously permissive and an invitation to abuse, and that it would be better to reform or repeal it than to invoke it at this time. Senator Cotton has a view that is different from mine and, presumably, different from those of most of the Times’s editors. But he is precisely the guy from whom you would commission a guest column on the Insurrection Act if you were interested in publishing an opinion section in which the relevant national issues of the day might be read about and debated, something that a newspaper with national aspirations would do — if it were in the journalism business.

But what appears in the Times opinion pages mostly is not journalism. It is half-assed political speechwriting with better pay and less accountability. The thing about good advocacy journalism is it’s still supposed to be journalism, intellectually honest and intelligently engaged with the events of the time and the arguments touching them. The Times opinion pages are full of advocacy but contain very little journalism. Most of the Times’s opinion writers seem to operate under the assumption that putting the word “opinion” at the top of a page is a license to abandon intellectual standards and honesty.

That is what was so maddening about watching Bennet attempt to grovel his way out of being fired by appending a groveling editors’ note to the Cotton column, denouncing its purported factual inaccuracies (none of any substance are cited) and its “needlessly harsh tone.” The Times’s editors do not give a fig about factual inaccuracies or needlessly harsh tones in the opinion pages; about this we can be fairly confident. Professor Krugman, for example, makes things up — specifically, he assumes the existence of facts that bolster his prejudices. When these fictions are shown to be fictions — for example, here — the Times makes no effort at all to correct the record or to acknowledge that the claims presented as fact are fabrication.

The intellectual laziness, dishonesty, and flaccidness of Times opinion writing on Bennet’s watch ought to have been addressed some time ago. (My own occasional offers to help the Times out with that problem have not been fruitful.) But the bosses at the Times were perfectly satisfied with that sad slop bucket of mediocrity — and why shouldn’t they be? In spite of the president’s wishful sneering about the “failing New York Times,” business has been pretty good over there. On the Times opinion pages, providing comforting constituent service is the business model. What got their attention was publishing a perfectly ordinary column on a live issue written by a sitting senator whose position and résumé put him at the center of the national debate — it was interesting and relevant, and, therefore, unbearable.

The basic problem was not what Senator Cotton wrote — the problem was Senator Cotton.

This only makes sense if you understand that the Times staffers who forced Bennet’s firing understand themselves to be a political operation rather than a journalistic operation. Senator Cotton is a Republican — you will not find the Times firing anybody over publishing a guest column by a Democratic senator. Senator Cotton is, like practically every Republican in the Senate save Mitt Romney and Susan Collins, a very enthusiastic supporter of President Trump and his policies. He is, therefore, The Enemy. And why would a partisan political operation give voice to The Enemy? The role of an opinion section is to foster debate; the role of a political operation is to win the debate, not on the merits but by simply excluding The Enemy from the debate in the first place. The strategy is to try to make certain ideas unspeakable and to make certain unwelcome speech into a “safety” issue. Of course, that forces one to defend such nonsensical propositions as the one that a senator from one of the two major political parties is somehow not only outside the mainstream (though what in hell is wrong with publishing something outside the mainstream from time to time?) but so far outside the mainstream that it cannot be published in the pages of the New York Times.

This is only partly a question about “platforming” and “deplatforming.” It is not the case that Senator Cotton’s purportedly dangerous words would not be able to infect the mind of the public without the cooperation of the New York Times. He is a senator, and so he has a pretty big bullhorn when he wants one. The ritual denunciations of Joe Rogan and J. K. Rowling are not limiting their reach. At a much less rarefied level, when The Atlantic fired me for what currently passes for moral turpitude, I wrote about the experience in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, considerably larger forums than The Atlantic, and then published a book about contemporary ochlocracy. There are more people paying attention to Senator Cotton today than there were a month ago. This is not about reach: This is about who sits at what table in the great junior-high cafeteria of American public life. Senator Cotton has cooties, and the idiot children of all ages at the New York Times live in terror of such cooties.

James Bennet published great heaps of pap in his days at the Times. He lost his job for publishing something moderately interesting and potentially useful. That is the sort of thing that happens when an institution such as the Times abandons self-respect in favor of self-importance — a lamentably common avenue of degradation in contemporary American life that diminishes everything from the newspapers to the universities to Congress.

You know who could probably write a really good column on that? Tom Cotton.

Words About Words

Here is one that is new to me: Apparently, there is some controversy about whether golf can be used as a verb. On this question, the blood is running hot and the dudgeon is high, with one correspondent insisting that the expression “going golfing” is illiterate, that the only permissible form is “playing golf” rather than “golfing.” A little snooping around suggests that this is, dictionaries be damned, a live dispute among golfers, who are an odd bunch.

A little grammar review.

There are three “verbal” forms in English: participles, gerunds, and infinitives.

Participles, which are verbs that sometimes act like adjectives, come in two flavors: the present participle and the past participle. The present participle usually ends in -ing: Burning Man, the woman riding the bicycle, “The Vanishing Pavilions.” The past participle usually ends in -ed or -en: Broken Spoke, beaten path, forgotten realm, debased currency, mashed potatoes, Burnt Norton.

The -ing present participle form is the same in the gerund, which is a verb used as a noun: Texting in a theater is bad manners; Walking is good for you; I am bored by talking to lawyers.

The infinitive form in English consists of the word to and the base form of the verb. It is used as a noun (To be or not to be; To err is human), an adjective (not a man to be trifled with; “A Time To Kill”) or an adverb (To win, he needs 270 electoral votes).

So golfing looks like a pretty straightforward gerund: Golfing is something Republicans used to do. But that begs the question. (To beg the question is to assume facts not in evidence; it does not mean to raise the question, although someone who points out that you are begging the question may be raising the very question that is begged.) If golfing is a legit gerund, then golf must be a legit verb, which is the proposition some golfers deny: They insist that you do not golf but play golf. The answer to the question of whether golf is a bona fide verb of respectable vintage is not straightforward, because the etymology of golf is uncertain. The etymologists say that golf probably is related to the Dutch kolf, meaning club or bat, which is used as a verb (kolf, kolfen), though the oldest English uses of golf is recorded in Middle English, before the existence of the game of kolf. What we do know is that the use of golf as a verb goes back centuries, whereas the objections to its use as a verb seem to be relatively new, and the kolf/kolfen pattern suggests a parallel in golf, golfing. And we use similar words similarly: club/clubbing, bat/batting, etc.

One interesting read on this is that in English we use -ing forms with going to describe experiences, often recreational activities, that are to be comprehended as a whole. For example, going shopping doesn’t just mean the transaction that happens at the register, going hunting doesn’t just mean the shot, and, presumably, going golfing refers to more than whacking little white balls — the whole experience of getting dressed up in ridiculous clothes, the social aspect of the game, etc. So we do not go pokering (even if “This Is How We Vegas”) or backgammoning, but we do go golfing and balling, except that we usually pronounce the sport of balling Romantically rather than Germanically and go bowling (from the Old French boule).

Rampant Prescriptivism

A much more straightforward issue is the rampant abuse of apostrophes, which properly are used to form possessives and contractions, not plurals or present-tense forms. The formulation “Love Trump’s hate,” for example, does not mean what the sloganeer meant it to mean.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

The gentlemen at Bournbrook, a British conservative magazine, have very charming accents that you might enjoy, and you can listen to my conversation with them here.

You can buy my forthcoming 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

It is interesting that, in our time, the self-proclaimed partisans of diversity and inclusion are those who practice the most ruthless politics of conformism and exclusion, in much the same way that the cretins in Portland who claim to be worried about “fascism” feel compelled to . . . dress up in black uniforms and boots and roam the streets committing acts of violence against members of political minorities and, occasionally, members of racial minorities. Because we are in the thick of it, it is sometimes difficult to remember that hatred and pettiness will only carry these miscreants and grifters so far, because going farther requires something more than hatred and pettiness — and they don’t have it.

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Justice and Neighborliness

Law enforcement officers stand guard as protesters hold up signs during a rally against the death of George Floyd in Washington, D.C., May 31, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

For reasons that do not bear going into here, the mostly forgotten novelty singer C. W. McCall came up in conversation with my brother the other day, and I ended up watching the 1978 film Convoy, which was inspired by the McCall song of the same name. In the late 1970s, truckers were the new cowboys, and Convoy is a kind of slapstick Western that pits admirable but law-breaking truckers against corrupt police officers. It ends with Kris Kristofferson’s antihero (known by his CB handle, “The Rubber Duck”) attempting to perpetrate a suicide bombing against a bunch of cops and soldiers blocking a border crossing into Mexico. A silly movie like Convoy can’t end like that, so instead a deus ex machina contrivance delivers the cops and the soldiers and the Rubber Duck, too, to safety. Even so, it is a rousing ode to lawlessness and terrorism — and the most popular film of Sam Peckinpah’s career.

Speaking of movies . . .

When Harvey Weinstein was sued by several women who claimed to have suffered sexual harassment or sexual assault at his hands and put some tens of millions of dollars on the table to settle the complaints, some blockheads denounced the accusers as women who “just want money” rather than genuine justice. The same thing was said about people who reached settlements with Michael Jackson after accusing him of sexually abusing them as children. The criticism begs the question. Who says that justice cannot take the form of money? Who says justice cannot take the form of other kinds of compensation?

Consider a less emotional kind of offense: Imagine that a powerful business executive had defrauded me of $100,000. That’s a lot of money. Now, imagine that I also had him dead to rights on the fraud and was ready to go to the police, when he made me an offer: What if he returned my $100,000, plus interest generously calculated for the time I was deprived of my money, plus $1 million in further restitution. Would I, the victim of the crime, rather have my money back plus $1 million, or spend months and years watching an uncertain criminal case build to a climax that might — might — end up looking something like six months in jail plus probation? I’d take the $1 million. Some people would look at that as the rich being able to buy their way out of criminal accountability; I’d look at it as the victim of a crime getting justice in the form of something that left him better off, rather than justice in the form of something that did not leave him better off. If one of Weinstein’s victims would rather have a check than add a little to his prison time, who are we — who are any of us — to tell her that she is wrong?

I am an optimist with a generally libertarian view of the individual’s relationship to the state, and for a long time I had very high hopes for private justice, by which I do not mean the abolition of the state and its legal mechanisms but the supersession of it by more fruitful alternatives in some circumstances. Many good-faith disputes already are better handled in voluntary arbitration than through the traditional courts, especially when they involve highly specialized matters with which judges and juries are sure to be unfamiliar. Many kinds of hurt and suffering cannot be undone, simply locking offenders away in cages is not always the best course of action for the victim or for society at large (and those interests may not be identical), and other alternatives often are preferable. There is a question of balancing restitution, rehabilitation, and deterrence. But there are also the more fundamental questions: Does this leave the victim better off in real terms? Does it make the general society safer?

Private justice can go wrong easily and dramatically, as events in the past few weeks have shown. There is nothing wrong, in principle, with laws permitting citizen arrests in certain circumstances, but that can quickly turn into bloodthirsty vigilantism, as in the case of Ahmaud Arbery. For a less lethal example, think of the case of Amy Cooper and Christian Cooper and that now-infamous Central Park confrontation. Christian Cooper was practicing a form of private justice: People are supposed to keep their dogs on leashes in the Ramble, Amy Cooper did not comply, and Christian Cooper, who had prior experience with this problem, was carrying dog treats, promising Amy Cooper that he was going to do . . . something, and “you’re not going to like it.” (I disagree with my friend Kyle Smith that this was an obvious threat to poison her dog; the threat was vague and might have meant any number of things.) Christian Cooper was practicing a pretty benign form of private justice in lieu of calling the NYPD every time somebody failed to leash a dog. Amy Cooper, who clearly did not like being called out on her petty offense, threatened to call the police and say that she was being threatened by an African-American man. Many of her critics insist that this was her in effect seeking to have him assassinated; if that really is the case, then the problem is the NYPD, not Amy Cooper, and it is not going to be solved by the personnel department at Franklin Templeton, with its uneven sense of justice.

(Franklin Templeton is much more forgiving of much more serious offenses if you happen to be the son of one CEO and the brother of two others.)

The case for private justice is, in part, that if we can resolve a private dispute without dispatching men with guns to the scene, then we are better off doing so; but if we are better off doing so because our law-enforcement authorities cannot be trusted to behave in a less than willfully homicidal fashion, then we have a problem that private justice is not going to solve.

Which brings us to Minneapolis and beyond. My friend and colleague Andy McCarthy believes that it took too long to arrest and charge Derek Chauvin in the case. (Indeed, Andy was registering this complaint on a National Review podcast when the arrest was announced.) I do not have Andy’s criminal-justice background (he is a former federal prosecutor, of terrorists among others), but it did not seem to me that the few days it took to arrest Chauvin was an unbearable delay of justice. One wants the authorities to move with some deliberation in these matters.

We might consider the rioting and the arson, then, as another attempt at private justice. One theory of the riots is this: Believing, with good reason, that the police will seek to protect their own and that officers who break the law will enjoy considerations that that typical offender would not, that racial injustice is systemic, and that reform is unlikely or impossible in the foreseeable future, the disorder and destruction is understood as a kind of fine on society at large. These riots fail as an attempt at private justice on the fundamental grounds: They do not leave the specific victim (or, in this case, his survivors) any better off, they do not actually advance the project of reforming police practice, and they leave society worse off, especially in the case of many of the communities on whose behalf the protesters purport to agitate. Of course it is the case that most of the looters and hell-raisers are not thinking things through in these terms, but I am not sure that really matters to our understanding of the situation.

Criminal violence as social sanction is not an unfamiliar idea: The theory of the riot is a lot like the theory of lynching, another violent crime that once was excused as rough justice. Lynching is a stain on American history, but there are other examples of criminal acts used as social sanction that were and are generally tolerated and sometimes even celebrated. In his famous essay on animal-trespass law, “Of Coase and Cattle,” Robert Ellickson found that the ranchers of Shasta County, Calif., rarely sued one another for damage caused by stray animals. Rather than sue one another or file legal complaints, the ranchers generally engaged in forms of private justice that had almost nothing to do with the formal assignment of rights and obligations under the actual law. This was made possible by a norm of “neighborliness,” reciprocity, and long-term relationships with repeated personal interactions, which make pettiness socially awkward. When there were actual legal disputes, Ellickson found, those cases normally involved newcomers who had not been habituated to community norms or situations in which one of the parties believed the other to be acting dishonestly and dishonorably, for example with one rancher going to law because another “had not only deliberately trespassed, but had also aggravated the offense by untruthfully denying the charge.”

But legal means were not the only means, and they were not the preferred means. These law-abiding, neighborly ranchers would also resort to unquestionably criminal acts.

Another common response to repeated trespasses is to threaten to kill a responsible animal should it ever enter again. Although the killing of trespassing livestock is a crime in California, six landowners — not noticeably less civilized than the others — unhesitatingly volunteered that they had issued death threats of this sort. These threats are credible in Shasta County, because victims of recurring trespasses, particularly if they have first issued a warning, feel justified in killing or injuring the mischievous animals. Despite the criminality of the conduct (a fact not necessarily known to the respondents), I learned the identity of two persons who had shot trespassing cattle. Another landowner told of running the steer of an uncooperative neighbor into a fence. The most intriguing report came from a rancher who had had recurrent problems with a trespassing bull many years ago. This rancher told a key law enforcement official that he wanted to castrate the bull — “to turn it into a steer.” The official replied that he “would have deaf ears” if that were to occur. The rancher asserted that he then carried out his threat.

This is roughly the equivalent of someone vandalizing your car for being illegally parked in front of their house. We had some neighbors’ guests pull accidentally into our driveway instead of our neighbors’ over the weekend, and we would have been perfectly happy to have them park there — we like our neighbors, and we have reciprocal ongoing relations with them that smooth over the little frictions that proximity brings. But much of modern urban life, with its institutional attitudes and endless bureaucracies, is not very well suited to cultivating the neighborliness that Ellickson wrote of, and that is especially true of relationships across cultural, racial, and class lines, which, given the fallen nature of human beings, are almost always more difficult than relationships among people who are like us.

Which brings me back to Convoy: It was made less than a decade past the worst bout of political violence and civic unrest the United States had seen since the Civil War, and almost exactly ten years after George Wallace had prefigured Donald Trump’s promise that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Convoy was itself part of a cinematic convoy, a little peloton of films such as Smokey and the Bandit glorifying charismatic outlaws who triumphed over wicked cops, fat old white men played by such actors as Ernest Borgnine and Jackie Gleason.

Many conservatives have noted accurately that the same progressive media figures who had their dresses over their heads about the anti-lockdown protests engaged in practically yogic exertions to put the violence and looting in Minneapolis and elsewhere in the best possible light and to give the most sympathetic possible account of it. These same progressive solons heaped abuse on the Tea Party protests, which were portrayed as a lynch mob in waiting, and every other episode in which a Republican has stepped into his penny loafers and raised a placard, back to the so-called Brooks Brothers Riot of 2000. They are not wrong to note the double standard.

At the same time, it surely is the case that if Convoy were a 2020 film about black outlaws or pissed-off Arabs, it would not receive the kind of welcome it did when it was a cri de cœur from white (mostly) truckers, and poor old Sam Peckinpah would be run out of town as an America-hating so-and-so. Bias isn’t a plot against the public good — it’s a consequence of the fact that we all live inside the scanty space of our skulls.

We are not an entirely orderly people, we Americans. We live by a shared idea rather than shared blood, and more than any other people in the world are defined by a group of legal and political documents rather than by ancient consanguinity. We salute George Washington, but there’s a little Whiskey Rebellion in us, too, a little John Brown, a little Patrick Henry, a little μολὼν λαβέ — and we are a lot more tolerant of that among white people than among others, especially among African Americans. I want order in Minneapolis and elsewhere. I want people to be safe and secure in their homes and businesses. There isn’t any liberty without peace. The riots are not leaving anybody better off, but consider that video of George Floyd’s death: Does that look like peace to you?

We are looking for that peace, and the justice that sustains it, in different ways. As Ellickson wrote, one of the most common means of “self help” for people seeking justice through private means is gossip, which is, essentially, what those Twitter mobs are: weaponized gossip. One of the many shortcomings of weaponized gossip is that gossip need not be true: Ask Brett Kavanaugh, or the Covington kids, or the University of Virginia, or the Duke lacrosse team . . . A kind of private justice is what Christian Cooper was after with his dog treats, and then with the video that led to Amy Cooper’s losing her job for an incident in her private life that had nothing to do with her work. Destruction of property as a means of sanction? It is happening in Minneapolis and other cities right now. But it happened before, on a smaller scale, among those Shasta County ranchers, too. Why did they resort to that? It wasn’t a lack of courts or lawyers or police officers.

It was a lack of mutual respect, honesty, honor, and neighborliness — the priceless things that cannot be had for a sum of money or drilled up out of the ground but can only be cultivated, slowly, painstakingly, with great effort and in great humility.

Words About Words

A very enjoyable article by horology writer Jack Forster describes the price of a certain exotic wristwatch as “over €1 million.” I understand leaving a lot of room on the upside for a shocking price like that, but — and pardon my English-major math here — my understanding is that there is an infinity of sums “over 1 million.” €1.1 million? €11 million? A more irritating version of this is the combination of “more than” or “over” with a very specific figure: “Senator Snout has voted to raise taxes more than 23 times.” More than 23 — like 24? Or like 23 trillion? 

Rampant Prescriptivism

“Enamored with or enamored of?” asks a correspondent. Generally of, because enamored means “to be filled with love.” In American English, we often write with, probably under the influence of the phrase “in love with,” though in British English it is almost exclusively of. You can also write enamored by, but that means something different: If Paul is enamored of Susan, he is filled with the love of Susan. If Paul is enamored by Susan, he inspires love in Susan.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@nationalreview.com.

Home and Away

About that Amy Cooper story: Franklin Templeton, the firm that fired her after being bullied into it by a Twitter mob, says it does not “tolerate racism.” It is more tolerant in other cases. Franklin Templeton went out of its way to see to the well-being of a scion of the firm’s founding family, who was named to the company’s board of directors after doing time for a felony assault that left his wife with broken facial bones. You can read all about it in my New York Post column. It is good that there is grace and forgiveness for wayward financiers and sons of CEOs. Perhaps some of that could be spread around a little more.

You can buy my forthcoming book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Woolly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. Prepare to be offended, outraged, shocked, appalled, vexed, irritated, and, I hope, entertained.

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.

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In Closing

The terrifying truth that we must keep in mind in troubled times such as these is that the world is what we make of it, a vast structure that we build one brick at a time with our own decisions. We can proceed with charity and grace, or we can proceed with violence and the threat of violence. The choice is yours and mine, as it always has been.

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Governance Envy

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern in Sydney, Australia, February 28, 2020 (Loren Elliott/Reuters)

On policy questions, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern is mostly on the naughty list.

Ardern is a Labour goober and former president of the International Union of Socialist Youth, a kind of improved Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, although she has foresworn implementing a capital-gains tax, which puts the New Zealand socialist to the right of Senator Marco Rubio on at least one issue. In fact, a conservative looking at the New Zealand tax code — no capital-gains tax, lower top income-tax rate than in the United States, no inheritance tax, no payroll tax — might reasonably ask why it is that the Republicans in Washington can’t manage to be as pro-business as the crypto-socialists down in Wellington.

On the other hand, the Ardern government is implacably hostile to what we Americans understand as civil rights. As stated, mostly naughty.

But there is more to life than the tax tables, and I suspect that I was not alone in experiencing a moment of rueful admiration when Ardern, in the middle of a live television interview from the capitol, began to shake, or, more precisely, to be shaken, by an earthquake — and calmly continued the interview. She even made a quick little self-deprecating joke, noting that the “Beehive,” the executive building that houses her government, “moves a little more than most.” Wonderful sangfroid. At about the same time, the president of these United States was on Twitter claiming (it is a ridiculous fiction) that a talk-show host with whom he is feuding murdered a woman, another reminder that even in times of great national crisis — 100,000 dead in the epidemic and counting — Donald Trump cannot be trusted to stop himself from descending into pitiful buffoonery.

One of my little pet theories in life is that the Republican Party has been one of the most effective advocates for socialism that our country has seen since Jack London. It works like this: Republicans look at other liberal democracies abroad and denounce the ones that have higher tax rates or larger welfare states as “socialism,” and then young Americans visit Stockholm or Copenhagen or Amsterdam, discover that these are charming and generally well-governed cities in affluent happy countries with much to recommend them, and say, “Well, then, give me some of that socialism!”

There are three errors at work there: The first is that those “socialist” European countries that give Republicans the willies are nothing of the sort, and many of them have economic regimes that are in fact more robustly capitalist than our own. The second is that tourists generally see cities and countries at their best, and there’s a lot more to Amsterdam than the Rijksmuseum and the White Room — and not all of it is glorious. The third error, related to the second, is a kind of confirmation bias, in which our understanding of a foreign country, often vague and based on very limited experience, causes us to treat Denmark or Switzerland as a screen upon which to project our own desires and anxieties.

It is a different kind of Stockholm Syndrome.

Americans visiting the great tourist centers of Europe see people who are not as fat as we are, who aren’t screaming at their children, who are capable of riding bicycles without wearing spandex, who make us embarrassed about our general lack of facility with foreign languages, and cities that are cleaner than ours and generally less dangerous, trains that run on time, effective public administration, and other things that we must envy.

And that is not only true in Europe: The eight or ten minutes it takes to move from taxicab to the far side of the security screening at Hong Kong’s airport, one of the world’s busiest, provides just enough time to wonder why we do it so poorly at DFW or JFK. This is the stuff of one thousand Tom Friedman columns, and it is not the whole story, but it is part of the story. The current president of the Swiss confederation, Simonetta Sommaruga, is not a screaming crazy person (she is, I think, a kind of improved Elizabeth Warren) but, if she were a screaming crazy person, we probably would not hear very much about it, for the same reason that the eyes of the world are fixed on Saint Peter’s when there is a papal vacancy but the Methodists cannot break the front page (not even below the fold!) when they choose a new leader.

What do you do with a problem like America? Population 328 million or so, many of them bananas, GDP north of $20 trillion in a good year, about 800 military bases in foreign countries and territories, 3,800 nuclear warheads, Apple, Facebook, Coca Cola, Hollywood, Wall Street, a murder rate considerably higher than Pakistan’s and 30 times Singapore’s, possibly ungovernable and at any rate governed by criminals, but also the people who went to the moon and invented most of what is cool and useful in the modern world, the oldest democracy going with the oldest constitution.

We are the Cadillac of nations — which is to say, we can look a little creaky next to an Audi.

The so-called nationalists of the Right denounce progressive Europhiles as “rootless cosmopolitans,” resurrecting a ghastly phrase. But the neo-nationalists have more than a little in common with them — beginning with exhaustion. They talk American “greatness,” but they endorse American retreat. The Little Americans, like the Little Englanders before them, recoil from the outsized role the United States plays on the world stage, and they believe that the United States is in fact being victimized by its own ambitions and expansiveness. How many times have you heard some variation on this: “The Europeans couldn’t afford all that health care if they had to pay for their own defense!” That isn’t really true, but that doesn’t really matter. That is one of the stories we tell ourselves.

My friend Jay Nordlinger likes to quote President George H. W. Bush, who put himself in opposition to those who would prefer that the United States be only “another pleasant country on the U.N. roll call, somewhere between Albania and Zimbabwe.” Of course there is a financial burden to what the Pat Buchanans and Ron Pauls of the world, and quite a few of their notional antagonists on the left, call the “American Empire,” but there is also an emotional burden, a psychological burden, and a moral burden. When things go sideways in this unhappy world, nobody cries out in the dead of night: “For the love of God, somebody call the Dutch!” The allure of a non-interventionist or less-interventionist foreign policy is in no small part that it promises liberation from that burden. And that, too, is part of why some of us sometimes wish the United States could be a little more like Germany or Norway or New Zealand, a more “normal” country, one that does not have a finger in every possible pie, one that is not always the center of attention. It is easy to make too much of our troubles — Tom Wolfe dryly observed that “the dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe.” But he was born in 1930, and I wonder if those born in 1990 are as confident or have reason to be.

Thomas Jefferson was famously enamored with the French. There was a very tense exchange between King George III and the first U.S. ambassador to his government, John Adams, in which the king suggested that Adams does not share that attachment to the “manners of France.” Adams replied that he had no attachment to any country other than his own. (The scene is beautifully dramatized in that famous John Adams series from HBO.) But, then as now, the French mode of life and government shed very little light on American affairs.

We Americans often compare ourselves to Canada and the United Kingdom and other countries with familiar Anglophone cultures. But Canada has fewer people than California. California and Texas have more people together than the United Kingdom. New Zealand has less than half the population of Los Angeles County. The United States has more illegal immigrants than Greece has Greeks or Belgium has Belgians. We think of the teeming populations of China and India, but the United States is No. 3 on that list, and No. 4, Indonesia, has a population that is 22 percent smaller.

Big. Rich. Bonkers. Does that sound to you like . . . Jacinda Ardern?

Words About Words

A correspondent asks: “What’s the deal with the ‘ins’? Why does ‘inflammable’ mean the same thing as ‘flammable,’ and ‘invaluable’ mean the same thing as ‘valuable’? ‘Infamous’ is neither used as an antonym for ‘famous,’ nor as an unqualified synonym. An infamous person is famous, but in a bad way.”

Here’s the deal.

Invaluable does not mean the same thing as valuable. Both valuable and invaluable things are precious, but valuable things are value-able, meaning you could assign a value or a price to them, whereas invaluable things cannot be meaningfully valued — they are priceless. A Vacheron Constantin wristwatch is valuable; the Notre-Dame cathedral is invaluable.

That which is inflammable is liable to inflammation, from the Latin inflammare.

Fame and infamy are another occasion of drift. Fame has long had a dual character, meaning both renown and, in some contexts, reproach. Fame in the sense of celebrity is pretty old, going back to the 13th century in English. The perceived need to have different words for good reputation and bad reputation goes back to the Latin infamis, meaning disreputable, which came to English through the French infamie.

Famous and infamous split in much the same way as notable and notorious, the latter of which did not acquire its negative connotation until fairly recently in English, from the 17th century on.

Rampant Prescriptivism

A request for a that/which refresher includes the sentence: “Sending emails questioning proper pronoun selection is a practice (that? which?) ought to be avoided.”

On that/which, the relevant standard is the pertinence of the following clause, and a pretty good rule of thumb is that if you could end the sentence before the clause, then you usually use “which” after a comma. But it matters how hard you want to hit that latter clause.


Sending emails questioning proper pronoun selection is a practice that ought to be avoided. Fine.

Sending emails questioning proper pronoun selection is a practice. Nope.

Sending emails questioning proper pronoun selection is a dangerous practice, which ought to be avoided. 

Sending emails questioning proper pronoun selection is a dangerous practice that ought to be avoided.

Sending emails questioning proper pronoun selection is a dangerous practice.

Sending emails questioning proper pronoun selection is fraught with danger, which ought to be avoided. 

Sending emails questioning proper pronoun selection is fraught with danger that ought to be avoided. Also works, but means something slightly different.

Sending emails questioning proper pronoun selection is fraught with the kind of danger that ought to be avoided. 

Sending emails questioning proper pronoun selection is fraught with the kind of danger. Nope.

The issue is restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses. A restrictive clause provides information that you need for the sentence to make sense, and a nonrestrictive clause doesn’t. A used car that you can rely on doesn’t come cheap. My car, which I bought a couple of years ago, is blue. There are three seats open on this flight, and the one that’s in first class costs twice as much as 37B, which is a middle seat. Or: I have one suit that is blue vs. I have one suit, which is blue.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.com

Home and Away

You can buy my forthcoming 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

Elon Musk and Grimes have changed the name of their child. It was X Æ A-12, but California law requires that names be composed exclusively of letters. And so the world greets X Æ A-Xii.

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

Law & the Courts

The Supreme Court Gets a Little Less Awful

(Bill Chizek/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Lyle Denniston, a legal journalist who began covering the Supreme Court in 1958 for the Wall Street Journal, is not happy about how the Supreme Court is conducting its business during quarantine, insisting that the current turn-taking arrangement “harms equal status of each justice, gives the [chief justice] arbitrary power, diminishes cross-bench exchanges, promotes wool-gathering by lawyers, prizes order over depth, lets technology triumph, [and] looks amateurish. If it is thought that this is the wave of the future, I’ll take decisions based solely on the briefs. To call this ‘argument’ is to impoverish the word.”

Each item on that indictment is worth considering, but one is of particular interest: the charge that the procedures put in place to allow the justices to work remotely — the traditional open format has been supplanted by a system in which the justices ask their questions one at a time in order of seniority — “looks amateurish.” (It certainly is not a triumph of technology; technology here has won by default.) The inclusion of that purely aesthetic criterion among the substantive political and procedural complaints is not by any means trivializing. The appearance of amateurism may be the most consequential entry on Denniston’s list.

Part of our political debate is over relatively straightforward things such as who gets taxed how much and what the money is used for. Some of our political discourse is simply the noise generated by the intellectual violence of complex issues being forcibly oversimplified. But much of our disagreement is about things we rarely speak to directly, including the cultural character of the state, what it looks like and feels like, how it sounds when it talks, what its manners are like. Among the many great fault lines in American life is the one that runs between small-r republicans such as myself who, for example, see the State of the Union address as a contemptible pseudo-monarchical spectacle unworthy of a free people, and those on the other side, including members of both parties, who desire majesty in government, who can’t imagine a free people managing their own affairs without a great deal of “oo ee oo aa aa, ting, tang, walla walla bing bang.”

This is a debate as old as the United States: Poor John Adams was savagely ridiculed for his often-caricatured belief that the president of the United States should be addressed by some exalted title. Adams had entertained “His Highness, President of the United States and Protector of Their Liberties.” His preferences later escalated to “His Majesty.” (On this and much more, I recommend Richard Brookhiser’s great America’s First Dynasty: The Adamses, 1735–1918 and the very interesting The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality, by Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein.) Adams’s worry seems quaint in retrospect: That the president would not be a sufficiently strong national figure, that he would get pushed around by the legislative branch, that his want of pomp and majesty would render him pitiable and impotent among the world’s princes.

The modern American presidency is the love child of Caesar Augustus and P. T. Barnum, no longer an administrative post but a sacral kingship. That is why our fights over it are so bitter. It isn’t that we don’t care about internal bureaucratic debates over interpretation of Section 4(b)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act or things of that nature, but it isn’t the question of due process under Title IX sexual-harassment procedures that causes some people to hate Betsy DeVos. They already hated her, they hated her from the moment they saw her, and 99 percent of the Left’s tantrum about the Department of Education under her leadership is simply backfilling in a rationale for that hatred. Democrats were wrong in their insistence that conservatives’ revulsion at Barack Obama was a matter of race, but they were correct that it was not primarily a matter of policy. Barack Obama, like Donald Trump after him, was a cultural totem and a signifier. If American democracy is Lord of the Flies as presented by C-SPAN, then the presidency is the conch — the power to dominate the conversation, the power to convene, a symbol of legitimacy. While one tribe glories in possession of that bauble, the other cannot bear being deprived of it.

The need for majesty is obvious from the king’s point of view. A kingdom is what you get once organized crime becomes a monopoly and by dint of age attains a patina of respectability — Mancur Olson’s “stationary bandit.” Thomas Paine had nothing but contempt for the belief that kings should be treated with some kind of awe:

This is supposing the present race of kings in the world to have had an honorable origin: whereas it is more than probable, that, could we take off the dark covering of antiquity and trace them to their first rise, we should find the first of them nothing better than the principal ruffian of some restless gang, whose savage manners of pre-eminence in subtilty obtained him the title of chief among plunderers; and who by increasing in power and extending his depredations, overawed the quiet and defenseless to purchase their safety by frequent contributions.

That is the use of awe: ensuring compliance, obedience, and civil quietude.

The Supreme Court’s appearance of amateurism diminishes its carefully cultivated sense of mystery — it functions as a Greco-Roman mystery cult, complete with ceremonial robes and occult knowledge available only to initiates — and that thins the awe it inspires in the American people.

Without that awe, certain previously unthinkable thoughts become thinkable.

The Supreme Court has handed down many illegitimate decisions over the years — Dred Scott, Roe v. Wade — that were illegitimate not because they produced horrifying outcomes (though many of them did) but because they were preposterous as legal arguments. But for the Left, the only time the Supreme Court’s legitimacy is in question is when the Left thinks it may not get its way. It has become an amusing media cliché, like “Republicans pounce!” It is never the Left’s policy agenda that is in peril, but only the Court’s legitimacy — or John Roberts’s reputation, as preference dictates. Justice Kagan has argued that the Court suffers from a “legitimacy deficit” and that the proper response is to frankly politicize the Court and move it in her direction, which she of course calls “the center.”

(The center of what, exactly?)

Roe is a textbook example of outcome-oriented jurisprudence, the Queen of Hearts model of legal reasoning. And yet we are expected to abide by it — and Supreme Court nominees are expected by Democrats to affirm the sanctity of it — even though it is, as every honest person knows, legally indefensible, a purely political decision. But purely political decisions are the order of the day, especially when it comes to the so-called liberals on the Supreme Court. John Roberts and Clarence Thomas may surprise you from time to time. The late Antonin Scalia often followed the law to places where his political preferences would have preferred not to wind up. But will Elena Kagan ever surprise you on anything of real consequence? Sonia Sotomayor? To ask the question is to answer it. They are party-line voters, and they might as well not even show up at the courthouse. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has in recent years abandoned any pretense of being anything other than a bare-knuckled political operative and a tribune who understands her role on the Supreme Court as making good on policy deliverables for the Left at every opportunity.

So, the question is: How many illegitimate decisions can a court make before we question the court’s legitimacy?

And that is where awe is really, really useful to people who would rather not talk too much about that sort of thing.

Words about Words

Some of my conservative friends have been mocking this passage from a Washington Post profile of Stacey Abrams, one of the women under consideration for the vice-presidential spot on Joe Biden’s ticket.

Pandemonium ensues as she walks to the far left of the stage, like a runway supermodel, stops on a dime, poses, tilts her head slightly and smiles. Camera flashes explode. She next pivots and walks slowly to the center of the stage, freezes there and repeats the pose. Again, the flashes explode. Abrams is summoning her inner actress, and she is both enjoying the moment and getting through it to get to the conversation.

Stephen Miller asks, rhetorically: “How is every journalist employed by the Washington Post not named Jennifer Rubin not completely embarrassed by this Stacey Abrams profile. [sic] How does something like this even make it past editors who care about their reputations?” Well. The profile, by Kevin Powell, is indeed friendly. But what, exactly, is wrong with the passage above? As an editor, I would have taken out “pandemonium ensues” and “on a dime,” but such clichés are not unusual for American print journalism. As for the rest of it — that’s what happened, no?

I suppose Powell could have written, “Before being seated, Abrams stood on stage and briefly posed for photos.” But would that have been accurate?

Public events have moods and emotional resonances of their own, and communicating those is part of good reporting. I’d have made some edits, but from what Powell wrote I can see in my mind’s eye exactly what happened. Powell’s livelier prose probably offers a better feel for what actually happened than a blander account would have. The Post and the Times generally prefer dry, dull prose in the mistaken belief that such boring writing denotes seriousness. But the people who come out to rallies and campaign events mostly are not bored — they are excited. The reporters may be bored, and the political professionals may be bored, but if the crowd was hopping and if Stacey Abrams was doing a supermodel impersonation on the stage, then that’s what actually happened.

It is in fact very difficult to write an accurate and complete report of a campaign rally or similar event without including one or two things that make the star of the show look good — these events are designed to do just that. That is one reason many reporters do not spend very much time writing about such events. (I like to cover an event like that every now and then, because sometimes you actually see something worth writing about.) But if you are going to write about what happened, then you are going to write about what happened. If you are going to ask people questions, then you are going to report what they said.

Most of the objections and criticism that one hears of these pieces amounts to, “But I hate that person! And they’d never be that nice to somebody from my party!”


The Washington Post writes from a generally progressive (and much more specifically Democratic) point of view. It is going to have bias problems whether its writers are aggressively boring, as so many of them are, or interesting, or if they are just trying to be interesting, as in Powell’s case.

One of the many downsides of the current situation in which American journalism has been almost completely colonized by opinion and commentary is that media partisans are obliged to adopt and defend ridiculous positions. Donald Trump Jr. can smear Joe Biden as a pedophile and it is all good fun, but a Washington Post writer doing a magazine profile tries to write what he saw at a public event, and we’re all supposed to be shocked and outraged by it.

And so the moronization of our political discourse continues.

Sometimes, young people ask me what they should do if they want to go into opinion journalism. I tell them to go cover the police beat in Philadelphia or the school board in Albuquerque for a couple of years, and hold off on the commentary writing until such a time as they know something about something. But much of our professional commentariat has skipped that step.

Maybe get off the sidelines and off your asses and try doing some journalism.

Rampant Prescriptivism

Several correspondents ask for a vitriolic denunciation of “should of,” “would of,” and “could of.” Do not write these. The mistake is understandable: We like to use contractions, and, in spoken English, should’ve is indistinguishable from should of. If you cannot tell which of those a person is saying, then assume it is the right one.

Speaking of spoken English, that’s oral English, not verbal English. Those words do not mean the same thing. Verbal applies to words in general, oral to words that are spoken. An unwritten contract is an oral contract; every contract is a verbal contract, i.e. a contract composed of words.

Speaking of composed of — it’s never comprised of. The parts compose the whole, the whole comprises the parts, and comprise can generally be used interchangeably with include — and you’d never write “included of.” The musicians compose the orchestra; the orchestra is composed of musicians; the orchestra comprises many different kinds of instrumentalists.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@nationalreview.com.

Home and Away

The Obama administration’s abuse of counterintelligence powers in the service of parochial political interests follows a familiar pattern from his administration, e.g. the abuse of the IRS for similar ends. The curators of Barack Obama’s legacy insist that his administration was free of scandal — but what it was free of was accountability. More in the New York Post.

You can buy my forthcoming book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Woolly Wilds of the “Real America,” at Amazon and other retailers.

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

Sarah Vowell has written one of those “Woe is me, a Democrat in a red state!” columns in the New York Times. It is a pretty good exemplar of the genre. Vowell begins: “The only reason to be a Democrat running for statewide office in Montana is that, alas, you are one.” About that: The two highest statewide offices in Montana currently are held by Democrats, Governor Steve Bullock and Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney. Presumably, reelection is a reason to run, too. The governor before Bullock was a Democrat. So were the two lieutenant governors before Cooney.

Montana’s state house is Republican, but it’s a 58–42 split, not a Republican fief. Vowell is unwise to suggest that Democrats “assume that everyone you talk to is a Republican or an independent.” Democrats had a majority in the state senate as recently as 2009.

John McCain beat Barack Obama by about 2 points in Montana in 2008; Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, barely managed to get a third of the vote there in 2016. Maybe Mrs. Clinton was the problem. That certainly was the view from much of the country.

Ross Perot did pretty well in Montana in 1992 and 1996, getting 26 percent of the vote and 13 percent, respectively. Montana likes third-party candidates: Fighting Bob La Follette got a bigger share of the vote there running against Calvin Coolidge than Mrs. Clinton did running against Donald Trump.

Maybe Montana isn’t that Republican.

But that’s the power of the totemic presidency. Like Montana, Kentucky is a “red state” in the popular mind even though Democrats ran the state house from 1921 until 2017, even though it has a Democratic governor, even though it has a Democratic lieutenant governor, etc.

All that matters is fealty to the Big Kahuna, His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Snout, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Arkansas in General and Toad Suck in Particular.

Economy & Business

It’s Destruction, Yes — But Is It Creative?

A worker cleans an empty hall in Industry City, N.Y., where the shops have been closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, March 26, 2020. (Stephen Yang/Reuters)

“I was born one morning when the sun didn’t shine. I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine.” So sang Tennessee Ernie Ford in his recording of Merle Travis’s “Sixteen Tons,” a surprise hit in 1955.

That song is an interesting mess of elements that shouldn’t work together: Travis’s semi-autobiographic miner’s lament delivered in Ford’s smooth, classically trained baritone, the singer’s tough-guy posturing complemented by a pretty bad-ass riff played on the . . . clarinet.

Merle Travis came from coal-mining people in Kentucky; Ernest Jennings Ford was a man of the middle classes, a former radio announcer who studied singing at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. The arc of his life is a familiar one: He went away to war and came home to seek — and find — his fortune in California. “Tennessee Ernie” was one of his radio personae, a stereotypical hillbilly. (The cheerful contrivance of these personalities was part of the charm: Louis Marshall Jones became “Grandpa Jones” when he was in his twenties.) Ford lived the American Dream: If you have a decent off-road vehicle and a few jerry cans of gasoline, you can camp out at his former retreat in the Nevada wilderness, well past where the blacktop ends. He died of liver failure after a state dinner with President George H. W. Bush.

The working-man hero of “Sixteen Tons” was and is a staple of American popular culture. From Merle Haggard’s “Working Man Blues” to the Dropkick Murphys’ “Boys on the Docks,” the poets of the American scene have long sung of the heroic virtues of work, perseverance, and endurance. Merle Haggard’s working man liked to “drink a little beer in the tavern,” while the Dropkick Murphys’ battered hero finds peace in sobriety — and more work, summing up his program in “Paying My Way”: “Wake and pray, work all day.”

Work is the original curse — “the curse of the drinking classes,” Oscar Wilde called it, inverting the proverb. That tradition is very old: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,” an unhappy Adam is informed on his way out of Paradise. The workers of the world, Karl Marx informs us, are in chains.

Or maybe work is the original blessing. When asked about the secret of his success, there is a chance of about 94.6 percent that any celebrity will answer: hard work. They will forswear possession of any special talent and insist, with a great deal of pride, that they simply outwork the competition.

Will Smith: “Where I excel is ridiculous, sickening work ethic. You know, while the other guy’s sleeping? I’m working.” Louis C. K.: “I’ve learned from experience that if you work harder at it, and apply more energy and time to it, and more consistency, you get a better result. It comes from the work.” Lucille Ball and a thousand thousand other entertainers have said much the same thing. Entrepreneurs, too. Ray Kroc: “Luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get.” Thomas Edison (perhaps): “The reason a lot of people do not recognize opportunity is because it usually goes around wearing overalls looking like hard work.” And politicians, e.g. Margaret Thatcher: “I’ve got a woman’s ability to stick to a job and get on with it when everyone else walks off and leaves it.”

You hear less of that happy talk from coal miners. Merle Travis’s narrator in “Sixteen Tons” won nothing for his labors: “You load sixteen tons, and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt.” Noel Coward insisted that “work is much more fun than fun,” but he belonged to that class of people who, in P. J. O’Rourke’s memorable formulation, are seldom seen to “lift anything heavier than money.” And lifting 16 tons of that is a labor of love.

“The lot of man is ceaseless labor,” T. S. Eliot wrote. “Or ceaseless idleness, which is still harder.”

Idleness can be very enjoyable, provided three things: (1) It is voluntary; (2); it is temporary; (3) you have all the money you want.

My sometime National Review colleague Kevin Hassett, currently serving as White House economic adviser, tells Face the Nation that he expects unemployment to hit something “north of 20 percent.” This is the result of — what do we call it? Is the coronavirus epidemic a “natural disaster,” or is it a public-health crisis made far worse than it had to be by the incompetence and corruption of the government in Beijing and by imperfect policy choices in capitals from Washington to London to Stockholm? The idleness enforced by the coronavirus shutdown is not voluntary, and most of those affected need income. It will be temporary — but how temporary?

In mid March, I suggested that the federal government adopt a policy of directly subsidizing the wages of lower-income workers for the duration of the shutdown. This appealed to me as an emergency measure for several reasons: For one, having idled workers able to rely on their regular paycheck (or something close to it) for the duration of the epidemic seemed likely to be more effective than sending “stimulus” checks willy-nilly; maintaining the relationship between employer and employee would make it easier to return to normal when — if — such a thing became possible; recognizing that this mass unemployment is the result of necessary government action rather than organic economic changes and addressing that situation in a full and forthright way would help to achieve popular buy-in for what was always bound to be a controversial set of policies; and, finally, the most likely alternative is spending the same money or more in the form of unemployment benefits, which are paid to people who become unemployed — the very thing we are trying to minimize.

Should we be trying to minimize that?

Many progressives have held up Denmark as a counterexample. (Denmark is a very popular counterexample for progressives: It is a happy, healthy, well-governed country with high taxes and a relatively large welfare state, a useful if limited datum to bring into conversation with conservatives who sometimes talk as though it were impossible for such a thing to exist.) Denmark’s strategy was to put its economy into a kind of hibernation for the duration of quarantine measures, with the national government subsidizing up to 90 percent of the wages of workers who might otherwise have been laid off, while offering struggling firms direct assistance to meet other costs while their usual revenue streams are dammed up by artificial but necessary barriers to doing business. The United States has spent trillions on stimulus and other measures, and the unemployment rate still is expected to hit Great Depression levels. Denmark’s unemployment rate at last measure was about one-third the U.S. rate. Denmark, too, has spent a ton of money, but if unemployment is our metric, then there is a lot to say for the Danish model, at least with the evidence that we have at hand right now. The usual caveats — the United States is not much like Denmark — apply here.

There are two ways of looking at this. One would be to embrace the Schumpeterian “creative destruction” with which we are faced: There is a new reality, no amount of wishful thinking will change that, and the genuinely humanitarian approach would be to let businesses and industries adjust — through failure — as quickly as they can to this new reality, while providing support for the unemployed and newly incomeless through the ordinary instruments of social welfare, from unemployment benefits to food stamps. A second view would be that we have adopted an unprecedented set of emergency measures in the face of a genuine national and worldwide crisis, that there is a big difference between businesses that have been shut down by government order and buggy-whip makers on the eve of the automotive revolution, and that what our economy is faced with is not “creative destruction” but destruction pure and simple.

There are millions of Americans who want and need to work but cannot find it. We need them to work, too, not because of some abstraction called “the economy” but because of the millions and millions of real-world daily tasks and exchanges that we talk about when we talk about “the economy.” It is important that people get paychecks, but it also is important that the work be done — jobs are a means, not an end. The point of hauling up those 16 tons of coal wasn’t to produce a paycheck for miners — it was to produce energy from coal, for heat and power and for all the things that come from heat and power.

Unemployment north of 20 percent is going to be very hard on the unemployed. But it is going to be hard on everybody else, too. That’s the paradox of capitalism, the vicious cutthroat arrangement by which we learn how best to serve one another, in which we talk about competition as though we were hyenas fighting over the last scraps of a wildebeest but act like people who are working together to provide for ourselves and one another. Adam Smith did not write a book about marketing, management, or entrepreneurship — he wrote A Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Words About Words

A correspondent asks: Why isn’t there an adjective form of integrity, in the word’s sense meaning good character?

There are two common adjectives related to integrity: One is integral and the other is integrated. Neither of these is normally used to describe someone having a good character, though integrated is sometimes used to describe a positive aspect of someone’s character or personality. Carl Jung wrote of the desirability of having an integrated personality, and in the Catholic world one sometimes hears about priests or seminarians having an integrated vocation or, alas, a poorly integrated vocation, commonly in respect to celibacy. Integral touches on the edges here, too: Certain New Age cranks used to speak of integral psychology and still speak of integral theory and integral yoga.

Integral is attractive to cranks because it sounds science-y, like macrobiotic or homeopathic, two great big flashing neon signs advertising quackery. Larry Niven wrote a science-fiction novel called The Integral Trees, which, if I remember correctly, was about a race of aliens who lived in gigantic trees floating in space rather than on a planet as such.

What we have here is a noun that has evolved from its literal sense of intact or whole when applied to physical characteristics into a metaphorical sense of upright or correct when applied to someone’s character. The word has in fact shifted back and forth over the years, and not only in English. The Latin in tangere, meaning untouched, is the root, and the Latin adjective integer meant both whole in the physical sense and upright in the moral sense. So, we do have an adjective, just not in English.

The melding of the physical and the moral senses of similar words remains pretty common in English, as in the dusty (and maybe even now offensive in many circles) characterization of a young woman “with her virtue intact.”

Rampant Prescriptivism

Another correspondent asks: In what way is a preexisting condition different from an existing condition, or a pre-order from an order?

Preexisting, I’ll grant you. And it is related to one of the great nonsense phrases of our time: “insuring against preexisting conditions,” which is like placing a bet on last year’s World Series.

Preorder may be a little irritating, but I think it serves a legitimate function, describing a situation in which you can order something before it is available for delivery (see below!) or ordering something in a way that is otherwise out of turn, for example preordering a dessert soufflé in a restaurant that needs extra time to prepare it, as diners sometimes are asked to do, or preordering an airplane meal rather than ordering from the . . . dare I write stewardess? . . . on the plane. I think the pre does some useful work there.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@nationalreview.com.

Home and Away

Speaking of (pre?)orders: You can buy my forthcoming book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Woolly Wilds of the “Real America,” at Amazon and other retailers.

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

Wednesday is the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. As Franciscan Media puts it, during that famous visitation “Mary asked the children to pray the rosary for world peace, for the end of World War I, for sinners, and for the conversion of Russia.” I think it is almost safe to say that World War I has come to an end. Maybe not. If it is the case, as some historians say, that the two world wars were in effect one big war with a long intermission, if the Cold War was in effect a continuation of World War II with the victors fighting for postwar dominance, if, as David Frum argues, the Cold War never really ended . . . . History is very short, looked at the right way, and the work of prayer is never done.

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Politics & Policy

Some Free Advice for AOC

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D, N.Y.) in Washington, D.C., July 10, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is feeling a little blue. One sympathizes.

In her first year in office, Representative Ocasio-Cortez showed all the signs of someone making the callow error of believing her own publicity: She was arrogant, vain, petty, foolish, and vindictive, to say nothing of embarrassing and ignorant. You remember: “We’re in charge — and you’re just shouting from the cheap seats,” it’s more important to be “morally right” than “being precisely, factually, and semantically correct,” her cocksure illiteracy on Middle Eastern issues. Perhaps you would have done a great deal better if you had taken a seat in the House at 29. I am not confident that I would have.

Since then, she has suffered a one-two punch: She arrived in Washington thinking she was going to be a force for radical change but ran into the immovable object that is Democratic complacency, discovering that she was an idealistic young Latina representing the Bronx and Queens in a party run by Nancy Pelosi and other rich old white people who like things the way they are — politicians second, socialites first. And then she learned that a great many of the non-white middle-to-lower-income voters she believes to be her semi-private fief do not share her taste for socialism and boutique radicalism on the Bernie Sanders model and threw their support to Joe Biden instead.

She was the only Democrat to vote against the $484 billion coronavirus bill. This troubles her.

“Our brains are just designed to experience a lot of excruciating pain at the idea of being alone,” she tells the New York Times, in an excellent profile written by Mark Leibovich. “When you cast those lonely votes, you feel like your colleagues respect you less, and that you are choosing to marginalize yourself.” Naturally, she lapsed into her self-romanticizing mode, imagining herself starring in a movie called The AOC Story: “I walked home in the rain,” she said. Of course she walked home in the rain. “I was very in my feelings, big time, and I felt very discouraged . . . . I was just, like, heartbroken,” she said. “I have, like, existential crises over it.”

Those final “likes” make mockery all too easy. But take her seriously for a moment.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez holds an elected office, but she is not a creature of politics — she is a creature of media, from cable news to Twitter. She has much more in common with fellow New Yorkers Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly than she does with such House predecessors as Sam Rayburn and Tip O’Neill. And even as she imagines adolescent little cinematic vignettes for herself, soulfully walking home through the rain and all that silliness, she is not the lead writer on The AOC Story — only an actress. She cannot control the media story arc any more than anybody else can. “I felt like my colleagues were making opinions about me based on Fox News,” she told Leibovich. “It almost felt like instead of them actually talking to the person who was next to them, and physically present in front of them, they were consuming me through television. And I think that added a lot to the particular loneliness that I experienced.”

Like most people in the media business, I am familiar with what she is trying to talk about.

We are all caricatures in the monkey-minded discourse of social media and cable news. The human brain has only so much processing power, and so we tend to shove people into categories and then to treat them categorically rather than understand them as individual human people with individual human minds, just like us. (That is the subject of my book The Smallest Minority.) The first category we are inclined to push people into is “Enemy.” If you are on the enemies’ list, then that is all we need to know about you. Everything else can be tailored as necessary. As William Makepeace Thackery put it in Vanity Fair: “One of the great conditions of anger and hatred is, that you must tell and believe lies against the hated object, in order, as we said, to be consistent.” That’s the root of the Left’s “Everybody who disagrees with me is a racist!” canard. Ocasio-Cortez, who indulges in that sort of thing herself all too often, should give that some thought. She is part of the problem.

A very few politicians are the sort who do not need politics. Senator Ben Sasse, for example, seems to enjoy politics, but he does not seem to need it. You get the sense that he could be happy doing any number of other things with his life. George W. Bush would have had a great life if he’d never been a governor or president. Condoleezza Rice has made it very clear that she does not need politics. Daniel Patrick Moynihan never quite gave himself over to elected office. But much more common are the Lyndon Johnson type, the Hillary Rodham Clinton type, the Al Gore type, who desperately need to act out their dramas in the theater that politics provides for them. They are the sort of people who fear that they will stop existing if people stop paying attention to them — tedious in a party guest, crippling in a political class.

“Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth,” Mohandas Gandhi advised. Some people find that advice easy to accept but difficult to live. To be alone can be hard. It is difficult to learn to be appropriately indifferent to criticism, but it is even more difficult, and even more necessary, to learn to be appropriately indifferent to praise. Representative Ocasio-Cortez has obviously enjoyed her 15 minutes of Warholian celebrity and has developed a mild addiction to praise — not from the people dying in droves in her district in New York City, but from the man on the television, the faces on social media, the New York Times, the celebrities. She liked doing those fashion spreads with Kerry Washington. And who could blame her?

But unless she learns to meet praise and criticism with exactly the same scorn, she will never be of any real use to the people in her district, who have been dying of COVID-19 in shocking numbers.

And surely they deserve an occasional thought, too.

Words About Words about Words

My friend Bruce Wolf writes: “Kevin Williamson has a section on usage (or is it diction, or both?) in his Tuesday newsletter. Of course this is snobbery. And everyone wants to be a snob.”

Does everyone want to be a snob?

What do you think of when you think of a snob? Thurston Howell III? “David Choke” in Upload? William F. Buckley Jr.?

Maybe. But the true sense of the word communicates something a little different. Think Madonna or Kanye West, or any orthodontist in Scottsdale with a coat of arms on the gates of his home, men who monogram the cuffs of their shirts, and, above all, those who have very strong objections to the tastes and interests of other people.

Snob comes to us from an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning shoemaker. A snob is not a member of the aristocracy who lords it over the little people but an arriviste, a person from a common background — a person who, angels and ministers of grace defend us, worked for a living! — who, having acquired some wealth or status, apes the manners and tastes of the class into which he imagines himself to have been newly incorporated. A snob is a person who, having been invited for drinks at a club to which he almost certainly will never himself belong, turns up his nose at Veuve Clicquot with the words, “How pedestrian.” (True story.) A snob cannot believe that you like that music or that television show. A snob takes no pleasure in cultivation or refinement except to the extent that these separate him, in his imagination, from the lower classes.

Some of you may remember Madonna’s awkward period of affecting a British accent or may roll your eyes at the artistic-aristocratic pretenses of the West-Kardashian clan. More recently, we witnessed the excruciating efforts of Donald Trump to associate his family with the British royal family. Michael Jackson named his first son “Prince,” whereas Trump went down the ranks of nobility and settled on “Barron,” which is also the surname of the president’s imaginary friend and sometime press agent, John Barron.

Washington is a city of snobbery down to its literal foundations, with all that ridiculous overblown architecture meant to help Americans reassure ourselves that we are every bit as good as the Belgians. (Brussels really does have some grand public spaces.) People with no particular gift for architecture who design their own houses often end up being misled by snobbery.

So, I do not think it is correct, as Bruce writes, that everybody wants to be a snob. Many people want to be what it is a snob wants to be, not what a snob is. But he is correct that you would have a much easier time indicting someone like me on charges of snobbery than you would, say, Bill Buckley.

One last thing on those shoemakers: If you want some truly choice language-snootery, consult Wired’s interview with Jacob Ferrato, a sneaker-customizer turned designer. Ferrato takes issue with being called a cobbler, telling the interviewer: “A cobbler repairs shoes. I’m a cordwainer: somebody who makes shoes.” It is worth being precise in describing the work of a man who can successfully sell a pair of sneakers for several thousand dollars.

Also: There is a folk etymology holding that the word snob comes from the Latin sine nobilitate (“without nobility”) but that is not the case. 

Rampant Prescriptivism 

Well, well.

As predicted, many of you nun-haunted hobgoblin hunters got your snoots crooked over the sentence, “That suitcase weighs more than her.” “She!” came the chorus, fevered and mad, strangely angry.

As most of you know and many pointed out, we typically use the nominative case in sentences of that kind because of the implied verb: “That suitcase weighs more than she [does].” And if you were to see a 120-pound woman struggling with 150 pounds of bag in the airport, you would be perfectly correct to exclaim: “Look at the size of that suitcase! It must weigh more than she!” Perfectly correct, but perfectly preposterous. Correct in the sense that a dinner jacket is correct evening wear, but as preposterous as wearing one to a 6:30 p.m. dinner at Denny’s. If you say, “That suitcase probably weighs more than she!” I am going to expect you to be wearing an homburg, if not a monocle.

(And to say, “an homburg.”)

There are instances in which the implied verb needs to be considered: “He talks to Jason more often than me” does not mean the same thing as “He talks to Jason more often than I.” But there also are many instances in which a superfluous verb adds nothing to the sentence or even confuses it: “That suitcase weighs more than 100 pounds weighs” would be a very strange sentence. “He finished the race ahead of him — he’s faster than he” is an example of Perfectly Correct Bad English, the kind of goblin talk that gives rampant prescriptivism a bad name.

If you really want to dig into the underlying question (which is the use of than as a preposition), then I recommend starting with this 1949 article from The English Journal.

This is rampant prescriptivism, not preposterous prescriptivism. Of course, I am happy to acknowledge that there are many authoritative sources you may consult that are, in the great pecking order, above me, over me, higher than . . .

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@nationalreview.com. 

Home and Away

On the horrifying events at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, in 1993, historical and dramatized:

One of the great losses at Mount Carmel, beyond the unnecessary and therefore unforgivable loss of human life, is that David Koresh and the others who died there were never put on trial — and neither was the ATF. (A handful of Branch Davidian survivors were convicted on charges ranging from voluntary manslaughter to resisting arrest; civil suits by survivors against the authorities have mostly come to nothing.) Instead of the gold standard of a criminal trial under American law — imperfect but nonetheless one of the great unsung achievements of American life — we got the Danforth report, a dozen competing narratives warped by political allegiances and motivated reasoning, paranoia, myth, self-reinforcing biases, and a great deal of dishonest bureaucratic ass-covering. And so the wound remained open, and festered.

From the print magazine: Why does homeschooling bring out the inner tyrant in so many nice progressives?

You can buy my forthcoming book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Woolly Wilds of the “Real America,” at Amazon and other retailers.

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 the National Review Institute, go here.

In Closing

Funny thing about snobbery: The insecurities that cause it very often exist only in the mind of the person afflicted. In that Times profile, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says this about her time at Boston University: “The first week everyone was asking each other, ‘What school did you go to?’ And I was like, ‘Uh, public high school.’” Public school! Her anxiety was unfounded: The great majority of BU students, about two-thirds of them, come from public high schools. The great majority of freshmen admitted to the Ivy League colleges come from public schools, too. But The AOC Story needs some drama, and she is committed to the character she has chosen for herself.

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Rashness and Revolt

President Donald Trump arrives to lead the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, April 23, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The essential elements of our poetry will be courage, audacity, and revolt.
— Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, “Manifesto of Futurism,” 1909 

For years, I wrote that the American Right has a philosophy, while the American Left has only an enemies list.

The Left’s enemies list has mutated as the socioeconomic center of American progressivism has shifted from labor unions and poor cities to the commanding heights of businesses and culture, from the Kensington Welfare Rights Union and “Which Side Are You On?” to the American Bar Association and Fleabag. A generation ago, radical feminists and gay-rights activists were quite frank in their desire to destroy the institution of marriage, the traditional family, and the culture built on top of those arrangements. Contemporary progressives instead have settled into rank and comfort, secure behind the walls of their invisibly gated communities. Defining the limits of respectability is, in fact, the central mode of contemporary progressive politics. Contemporary American progressives do not engage with conservative ideas or nonconforming political opinion — they simply attempt to define those as infra dig and outside of the boundaries of that which polite intellectual society is obliged to consider.

The Right has reciprocated, in its way. And that is a big part of what the Trump phenomenon is all about: so-called nationalists who despise the commanding heights of American culture, politics, and business, along with the institutions associated with them. Hence the bumptious anti-“elitism” of contemporary conservatives whose creed is “American Greatness” but who sneer at the parts of the country where most of the people and the money are, who sing hymns of national glory while abominating the East Coast, the West Coast, the major cities, the Ivy League, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, the major cultural institutions (and, indeed, high culture itself as effete and elitist), the political parties, trade associations, broad swathes of the economy (“financialization”), newspapers — even the churches, as conservative American Christians (from Catholic to Evangelical) embrace a new antinomianism based not in religion but in the politics of cultural resentment.

None of this really comports with the facts on the ground in that “Real America” we hear so much about on talk radio. In the real America, rural farmers are part of a very large and complex network of industrial and scientific innovation, international trade, and business innovations made possible by the “financialization” dismissed by populists Right and Left. American farmers rely on scientific work done at elite universities, on technology from Silicon Valley, on high finance, and — horrors! — on international trade, not least trade with China. Some of them employ a fair number of immigrants, too. The American farmer is as much of a “rootless cosmopolitan” as any Connecticut hedge-funder or California code monkey.

If your project actually were “American Greatness,” then these facts would have to be taken into account. (A bit of humility would help, too: Do you really think you know what share of the U.S. work force should be engaged in manufacturing vs. finance vs. everything else? How did you come to know that?) The real world is complex, and it is not neatly fitted to either ideological notions or tribal allegiances. But if your project is takfiri politics — creating an enemies list and casting your antagonists into the outer dark — then all that matters is denigrating Harvard or the New York Times or Facebook or Elon Musk, because what you are involved in is not nation-building but only a status game.

There is much that is in need of reform in American life. But reform is not very much in fashion among populists, who are ensorcelled by the much more exciting prospect of revolution — and destruction. (Conservatives should be suspicious of excitement.) These remixed Jacobins are part of King Henry VIII’s “mass that . . . follows anything that moves.”

(That’s King Henry VIII the character from A Man for All Seasons, not the historical English king.)

And we have seen their kind before, for example in the Italian Futurists. The Italian Futurists were contemptuous of institutions and tradition — and of their ancestors and heritage — eager for epoch-defining conflict, big on he-man “alpha male” posturing (“contempt for women” was one of the virtues listed in the “Manifesto of Futurism”), cultishly nationalistic, partisans of “energy and rashness,” Year Zero thinkers dismissive of all that came before them. The Futurists engaged in sophomoric romantic posturing (“Our hearts were filled with an immense pride at feeling ourselves standing quite alone, like lighthouses or like the sentinels in an outpost . . .”), celebrated conflict (“We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world”), and pledged to “demolish museums and libraries.” They asked, rhetorically: “Do you want to waste the best part of your strength in a useless admiration of the past, from which you will emerge exhausted, diminished, trampled on?”

Familiar stuff, as was their adolescent rhetorical climax: “Standing on the world’s summit we launch once again our insolent challenge to the stars!”

The stars, I cannot help but notice, are still there.

Human progress and American greatness stand on a foundation of much less exciting work: amending a law to make it a little bit more just, improving crop yields a little bit year after year, the monotonous grind of fundraising and committee-sitting for worthwhile things, teaching literature and history to one callow teenager at a time, raising good children, doing jobs that are difficult, thankless, and obscure.

These are things done by grateful people. Revolutions are hatched by the other kind.

Words About Words

Honoré de Balzac’s novel Eugénie Grandet, translated by M. A. Crawford, contains some wonderful old English words. The story concerns the competition for the hand of the titular heiress. A scene: “He kissed Eugénie on both cheeks and offered her a workbox with fittings of silver-gilt. It was a trumpery enough piece of goods, in spite of the little shield bearing the initials E. G. carefully engraved in Gothic characters, a detail which made the whole thing appear more imposing and better finished than it in fact was.”

I cannot recall another instance of trumpery being used as an adjective. The noun trumpery, which means something that appears to be of value but is not, has gone through several iterations. As you might guess, it is derived from the French root trompe, meaning “deceive,” as in trompe l’oeil, a style of decorative painting that creates an illusion (e.g., painted-on paneling or millwork, or a painted landscape seen through a painted window), or the great Pixies album Trompe le Monde (“fool the world”). Its subsequent sense of superficial showiness is based on that underlying sense of deceit. Merriam-Webster defines trumpery as “worthless nonsense” or “trivial or useless articles” or “tawdry finery.” The last of these is described by the Merriam-Webster editors as “archaic.” To my eye, the word is archaic in general — but very useful nonetheless. It is due for a comeback.

Because trumpery suggests the name of the current president of the United States, some fun has been had with it by the president’s critics, to the extent that Snopes felt obliged to create a “trumpery” entry in which it affirms that, yes, that is a real English word that means showy, deceitful, worthless, and fraudulent. Snopes really leans into it, in fact, listing these synonyms: balderdash, baloney, bilge, blather, claptrap, codswallop, drivel, foolishness, garbage, hogwash, humbuggery, stupidity, tommyrot, and twaddle.

The need for words such as trumpery will outlive the political career of Donald J. Trump. This is a golden age of trumpery. A word I write frequently is meretricious, meaning “superficially attractive or impressive but having no real value.” Meretricious comes to us from the Latin meretrix, “prostitute,” and its oldest English meaning was “pertaining to prostitutes and prostitution.” It came to mean something like trumpery in that it describes that which is painted, done up, and adorned in a superficial way. In a more general sense, it means pretentious. Both trumpery and meretricious carry a denotation of tawdriness but emphasize the deceptive and superficial character of the attraction.

We need honest language for deceitful times, precise language for vague ones.

Rampant Prescriptivism

I received a full bouquet of complaints about my use of incentivize last week. “Isn’t that the kind of pretentious corporate managementspeak you criticize?” Yes, it is. It is possible to write about language, and manners, and morals without implicitly offering up oneself as a model of perfection.

In other news . . .

I’ve been asked to address then vs. than. I am not entirely sure this is a question of rampant prescriptivism: Most literate English speakers know which is which, and my impression is that this is more often a simple typo than a genuine misuse of words. But, that being written: Then is an adverb having to do with time, meaning next in order or in a sequence. It also is used to mean consequently, usually following a clause introduced by if: “If you can’t afford it, then you shouldn’t buy it.” Both of those uses are related to its sense of following. Than is a conjunction or preposition having to do with comparisons: “He writes more than I do” or “That suitcase she is dragging through the airport weighs more than her.”

There is some controversy here. From Merriam-Webster:

After 200 years of innocent if occasional use, the preposition than was called into question by 18th century grammarians. Some 200 years of elaborate reasoning have led to these present-day inconsistent conclusions: than whom is standard but clumsy • T. S. Eliot, than whom nobody could have been more insularly English — Anthony Burgess; than me may be acceptable in speech: a man no mightier than thyself or me  — William Shakespeare; why should a man be better than me because he’s richer than me — William Faulkner,  in a talk to students; than followed by a third-person objective pronoun (her, him, them) is usually frowned upon. Surveyed opinion tends to agree with these conclusions. Our evidence shows that than is used as a conjunction more commonly than as a preposition, that than whom is chiefly limited to writing, and that me is more common after the preposition than the third-person objective pronouns. In short, you can use than either as a conjunction or as a preposition.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@nationalreview.com. 

Home and Away

Sun Tzu wrote that spurning the use of spies out of pride, or because the sovereign resents the expenditure of a little amount of gold, is the height of cruelty — because it leads to more bloodshed than is absolutely necessary. My own view of U.S. foreign policy is that a rich country such as ours ought to get what can be had in exchange for mere money, and that direct if discreet bribery presents what might be in some circumstances an excellent option for dealing with something like, say, the powers that be in North Korea if Kim Jong-un should in fact be dead or disabled.

I argue the point here in the New York Post.

You can buy my new book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Woolly Wilds of the “Real America,” at Amazon and other retailers.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” here.

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In Closing

Wednesday is the feast day of Catherine of Siena, saint, mystic, and doctor of the church. In a rare poetic moment, Wikipedia describes her as dying “exhausted by her penances.” There are many bumper-sticker inspirational quotations attributed to her, but her actual writing is much more interesting.

Avarice proceeds from and feeds pride, the one follows from the other, because the miser always carries with him the thought of his own reputation, and thus avarice, which is immediately combined with pride, full of its own opinions, goes on from bad to worse. It is a fire which always germinates the smoke of vainglory and vanity of heart, and boasting in that which does not belong to it. It is a root which has many branches, and the principal one is that which makes a man care for his own reputation, from whence proceeds his desire to be greater than his neighbor. It also brings forth the deceitful heart that is neither pure nor liberal, but is double, making a man show one thing with his tongue, while he has another in his heart, and making him conceal the truth and tell lies for his own profit. And it produces envy, which is a worm that is always gnawing, and does not let the miser have any happiness out of his own or others’ good.

Ezra Pound wrote, “Literature is news that stays news.” You could probably put together a pretty good column for Anno Domini 2020 out of bits of Saint Catherine of Siena written in the 14th century.

Some news stays news.

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