World

Governance Envy

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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.

E.g.:

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.

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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.

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Law & the Courts

The Supreme Court Gets a Little Less Awful

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(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!”

Alrighty.

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?

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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

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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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U.S.

Rashness and Revolt

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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.

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

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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Culture

The American Alloy

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(Pixabay)

“Beyond parody” is a tedious cliché, but I admit I would find it very difficult to parody this report from Slate on judicial appointments in Washington State.

While the federal bench grows more homogeneous by the day, Democratic governors are diversifying their state judiciaries to an unprecedented degree. On Monday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, elevated Grace Helen Whitener to the state Supreme Court. Whitener is a disabled black lesbian who immigrated from Trinidad. She joins Inslee’s two other appointees: Raquel Montoya-Lewis, a Jewish Native American who previously served on tribal courts, and Mary Yu, an Asian-American Latina lesbian who officiated the first same-sex marriages in the state.

(If you were attempting parody, you’d be tempted to give the name “Whitener” to one of her evil conservative opponents.)

I have no reason to doubt that each of the jurists above is competent and highly qualified; Justice Whitener is, after all, a graduate of the 122nd-best law school in the country.

(If you are around my age, you may remember a good deal of organized sneering at Vice President Dan Quayle for his “night-school law degree,” at Sarah Palin for her modest educational attainments, etc. Justice Yu went a more elite route — well done, Notre Dame.)

Progressives have hated the idea of the United States as a metaphorical melting pot for a very long time. I was in high school, in an American-history class taught by a very left-wing teacher (we get those in Lubbock, Texas, too), the first time I heard about the “salad bowl” vs. the melting pot. You know this one: The melting pot implies that immigrants come to the United States and eventually lose their distinctiveness, becoming fully incorporated into the great American amalgam. The “salad bowl” model, on the other hand, insists that immigrants come and retain their distinctiveness — all in the same dish, but everything separate. Fondue vs. salad — that’s a pretty American way of looking at things.

And fondue wins. Fondue always wins.

In the United States, we mix it up and mix it good.

We have people with names like Maureen McNally Singh. Here, “Eddie and Sally Obermueller” can be a Korean-American man and a Vietnamese-American woman. Marriage drives much of this amalgamation: Raquel Montoya-Lewis was born in Spain to an American father (serving in the Air Force at the time) and an Australian-born Jewish mother, who presumably is not the parent who provided Montoya-Lewis her membership in the Pueblo of Isleta, a federally recognized Native American tribe. Mary Yu of Chicago has a mother born in Mexico and a father from China, and hence boasts of being the “first Asian, the first Latina, and the first member of the LGBTQ community to serve on the Washington State Supreme Court.” Kamala Harris, had she been elected president, would have been, as the Washington Post noted, “the first woman, the first African American woman, the first Indian American, and the first Asian American” in that role.

From the Post:

She calls herself simply “an American,” and said she has been fully comfortable with her identity from an early age. She credits that largely to a Hindu immigrant single mom who adopted black culture and immersed her daughters in it. Harris grew up embracing her Indian culture, but living a proudly African American life.

Two of the four sentences in Harris’s biography on her Senate web page are about her being the first African American or first woman in some role. Politico noted that she was the Senate’s first biracial woman and its first Indian-American woman.

This is not entirely new, of course. Many Catholics were gratified to see Roger B. Taney elevated to the position of chief justice of the Supreme Court in 1836. Catholics had been the targets of serious discrimination: During the ratification debate in North Carolina, delegate William Lancaster worried that there was nothing in the charter ensuring that “papists” and “Mahometans” would be excluded from positions of high authority. The “Truth of the Protestant Religion” was written into the North Carolina state constitution, and established churches at the state level were an accepted part of American life. Massachusetts maintained an established church (Congregationalist) until 1833, only a few years before Taney became chief justice. Catholics, and Americans of all faiths, soon had reason to regret Taney’s appointment and to be embarrassed by it: He was the author of Dred Scott, one of the ugliest misadventures in judicial activism in the Court’s history. Taney the tribal mascot may have given American Catholics a sense that they had finally been accepted, at least by the Democratic Party; Taney the Supreme Court chief justice was a catastrophe.

I have no idea whether any of the Washington State justices mentioned in the Slate writeup will be any good. (My instinctive guess would be: No.) That is, in fact, my complaint with the piece: Surely there are a great many more disabled black lesbian immigrants who are utterly unsuited for a role on a state supreme court than those who are suited. But from a certain identity-politics point of view, those qualities are to be understood as self-recommending.

(Such considerations immediately are reversed for political nonconformists: Joe Biden sought to destroy Clarence Thomas because Justice Thomas is black, not in spite of the fact or with indifference to the fact; Democrats take an especial interest in eliminating Republicans who are black, female, gay, etc., because of those qualities, which challenge their self-declared monopoly on speaking for those groups.)

There is no sense denying that some people, especially those who have been excluded in some way, get a real sense of belonging and justice, and maybe even a bigger sense of their own possibilities, when they see someone who shares certain qualities with them elevated to a position of prominence. Barack Obama’s election was a Very Big Deal indeed for black Americans, and not without good reason. But his health-care program was still a mess from the get-go, and he still relentlessly abused the Constitution and aggrandized the powers of the presidency that he handed off to Donald Trump, still assassinated American citizens abroad and insisted that he had the power to do so on American soil, etc.

That matters, too.

Obama is a textbook example of the melting pot at work, gloriously: white hippie goofball mother from Kansas, economist father from Kenya, defenselessly abandoned to the ravages of a country so convulsed by race hatred that it made him, a nobody senator without even a full term under his belt, president for no obvious reason, choosing him over a deeply experienced, independent-minded war hero. (In fairness, Abe Lincoln himself could have come back from the dead and lost in 2008, which just wasn’t the year to be a Republican.) That’s one of the perversities of American life: The bitterest critics of American culture and American institutions often are those who most dramatically embody the virtues of the American way of life — and, at the same time, some of the most unyielding defenders of the American way are comfortable mediocrities who embody the worst of its shortcomings.

So, yes, disabled black lesbian immigrant — but is she any good?

Words About Words

A reader asks for a refresher on two different words that sound alike: “affect” and “effect.”

Effect is a funny word because it looks like it means the same thing as the word we often use as its opposite: “cause.” “Effect” as a verb means to cause something. “Effect” as a noun means a result that was caused by something else, e.g.: “The effects of the war were disastrous and incalculable.”

So, as verbs, “cause” and “effect” mean the same thing, but as nouns they mean opposite things, as in “cause and effect.” This is kind of irritating, but that’s the way it is. I am reminded of the word “cleave,” which sometimes means to stick to something (like “cling”) or to divide something from something else, which is what a cleaver does. The two senses of “cleave” apparently come from two different proto-Indo-European roots that eventually converged onto what looks like a single English word, in which two English words are hiding.

You could, in principle, “effect an effect,” and perhaps even do so effectively, but I do not recommend it. Wouldn’t be efficacious.

“Affect” means to influence something or someone, especially in the sense of touching someone emotionally: “The soldiers who liberated the camps in Germany were deeply affected by the brutality of what they saw.”

“Affect” also means to adopt some mannerism or style pretentiously, as in “an affected accent” or “an affected literary style,” something we know absolutely nothing about here at The Tuesday. 

Rampant Prescriptivism

“None” is singular. It is a contraction of “not one.” E.g., “None of us knows what the future holds,” not “None of us know what the future holds”; and “None of us is ready for it,” not “None of us are ready for it.” Just substitute “not one” in there, and it will make sense.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@nationalreview.com.

Home and Away

I have a new book coming in October, available for pre-order now. It is called Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Woolly Wilds of the “Real America.” It is a collection of reporting and essays for National Review dealing with poverty, addiction, and other troubles. I’d like to do something to incentivize pre-orders. What would you like? Send your suggestions to TheTuesday@nationalreview.com.

The book includes expanded versions of some well-known pieces with new material, and some pieces that may have escaped your attention. Stormy Daniels makes an appearance, as do eviction courts, lottery scratchers, Colorado marijuana entrepreneurs, Bernie Sanders, Texas separatists, California separatists, West Texas oilfield roughnecks, der Apfelstrudelführers, and much more, though I suspect there may still be a little bit of shuffling around what makes it into the final text. I hope there is room for the Flat Earthers.

My report on casino gambling begins in Atlantic City and opens:

We are the Silver Horde, and we are descending — on chartered buses, on Chinatown buses, and on the Greyhound “Lucky Streak” express bus we come, on crutches and canes, lapping obesely over the seats of mobility scooters, adjusting oxygen tubes, discreetly nursing Big Gulp cups full of tequila and Pepsi through bendy straws at three in the afternoon, doing serious damage to complimentary troughs of Cheez-Its and Famous Amos cookies. We are getting comped. Free passes to the all-you-can-eat buffet? Whatever: We have our own dedicated train, Amtrak’s Atlantic City Express Service (read: ACES), and we come rolling and thundering down the tracks bearing our Social Security checks, our welfare checks, and quite possibly our rent checks. We are the blue-rinsed, unhinged, diabetic American id on walkers, and we are scratching off lottery tickets the whole way there as we converge from all points on the crime capital of New Jersey — because we are feeling lucky.

Funny thing about Atlantic City: Nobody feels really obviously lucky to live there. Its population is declining (it has lost 40 percent since its peak), and among the foot soldiers of the gambling industry — blackjack dealers, scantily clad cocktail waitresses, cab drivers — it is difficult to find anybody who actually lives in it. One lightly clothed entertainer working at a particularly gamey establishment along a row of empty commercial buildings, video stores, and the occasional storefront mosque, all within a couple minutes’ walk of the casino district, snorted derisively at the notion of living in the city. “Oh, hell no. Too dangerous.” That’s AC: It’s a great place for a visiting go-go dancer, but she wouldn’t want to live there. Touring the local landscape of decay and disorder, it is hard to imagine why a whole range of American politicians — from such likely suspects as Ed Rendell and Andrew Cuomo to lots of otherwise conservative Republicans who really ought to know better — look at the city’s depressed and depressing precincts, its sad coat of glitz (Sinbad! At the Tropicana!) and say to themselves: “My state needs to get some of that action!”

I’ll have more book news coming.

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In Closing

In this difficult time, please keep in mind the sick and the grieving — and also, especially, the unemployed, for whom much can be done without any specialized training or medical equipment.

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World

The Passive-Aggressive Superpower

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President Donald Trump speaks during the coronavirus response daily briefing at the White House, April 10, 2020. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

The leadership of the World Health Organization is awfully eager to please the junta in Beijing. Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) writes in National Review:

In December, the WHO refused to act on or publicize Taiwan’s warning that the new respiratory infection emerging in China could pass from human to human. In mid January, despite accumulating evidence of patients contracting what we now know as COVID-19 from other people, the organization repeated the [Chinese Communist Party’s] lie that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission. In January the WHO, at Beijing’s behest, also blocked Taiwan from participating in critical meetings to coordinate responses to the coronavirus and even reportedly provided wrong information about the virus’s spread in Taiwan. These actions are unacceptable and should not be allowed to continue.

National Review editor Rich Lowry writes:

Without China’s deceit and WHO’s solicitude for Beijing, the outbreak might have been more limited, and the world at the very least would have had more time to react. China committed unforgivable sins of commission, affirmatively lying about the outbreak and punishing doctors and disappearing journalists who told the truth, whereas the WHO committed sins of omission — it lacked independence and courage at a moment of great consequence.

All true. What to do?

The Trump administration is calling for cuts to U.S. support for WHO. This is typical not only of the Trump administration but of the U.S. temperament in general when it comes to multinational organizations — and it is especially true when our policies are informed by the populist sensibility. And it is not going to produce the results we want.

The populist Right has long been contemptuous of the United Nations and its affiliates — and not without good reason. (The populist Left is less a bit less hostile, focusing its anti-globalist energies on an enemy it holds in common with the populist Right: multilateral trade accords, trade organizations, and affiliated agencies.) The UN is generally ineffectual and frequently corrupt. Some of its agencies are nakedly left-wing political projects designed to oppose the United States and its allies (e.g., UNRWA), others are centers of boutique radicalism (UNICEF), abortion mania (Commission on the Status of Women), etc. Conservatives cheered when John Bolton declared that we could take the top ten stories off the UN building in Manhattan without its making any difference to the world.

But instead of pursuing a program of genuine robust reform, we have pursued a program of passive aggression — heavy on the passive.

When it comes to the United Nations or the World Trade Organization, there are basically three possible avenues of progress.

We could simply declare these organizations beyond redemption, pull out, and go it alone. Conservatives have long dreamed of abandoning the UN. President Trump has spoken often of his desire to pull the United States out of the WTO. The calculation there is that the United Nations needs the United States more than the United States needs the United Nations, and that the same goes for the WTO — and that without the United States, these organizations would become incoherent and, eventually, inactive. The United States, this argument goes, would be in a better position to pursue its own interests unilaterally. Those are some pretty big assumptions; but, in any case, the United States has never shown any convincing willingness to pursue reform through exit.

We could work to reform these organizations. That would mean engagement with a level of energy, intelligence, and capacity for sustained long-term action that our federal government has not shown in some time. That would also mean weathering the populist passions on both sides of the aisle in the pursuit of an agenda that is the one thing our so-called nationalists cannot abide: authentically national, meaning a consensus program defined by genuine broad national interests and not by our desire to hand out favors to special political constituencies (e.g., zombie firms such as General Motors) or to use the international stage to act out dramas rooted in domestic tribal rivalries.

We could abandon these organizations and attempt to replace them with new ones, preferably in alliances of liberal-democratic countries with a shared commitment to basic principles including procedural democracy, freedom of speech, property rights, the rule of law, minority rights, etc. One immediate challenge would be forging an American consensus on freedom of speech, property rights, trade, etc., which has at least partly unraveled. This, too, would demand of us a level of activity and commitment that the U.S. government may not be able to muster.

Or we could go with none of the above.

Instead of one of those options, we bitch and moan and complain, we make toothless threats, and we sometimes dickey around with tariffs, as though that were going to bring Beijing to heel. That’s a joke: The Trump administration, whose trade warriors present themselves as the tough guys when it comes to China, got bought off, and cheap, with some easily broken promises about increasing U.S. exports to China in the future.

Getting real reform out of Beijing would take something else entirely. It would be nice to have, say, a leading voice in an Asia-Pacific economic bloc that includes every major economic power in the region except China, one that was designed specifically to counteract the outsized influence Beijing has in the area — which is exactly what the Trans-Pacific Partnership was supposed to be. That instrument was scuttled by so-called nationalists who couldn’t figure out which end of that shotgun to point at the target.

If we really want to see change in China — and don’t want to go to war in pursuit of “regime change” — then we have to be willing to use the tools that will actually get that job done, which isn’t a national sales tax on imported flip-flops. And it isn’t the United States threatening to leave the WTO: It is the United States, Canada, Mexico, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Australia threatening to expel China from the WTO and impose economic sanctions on the Beijing government, and doing so with a united diplomatic front. “Globalism” is precisely the instrument with which to bring Beijing to heel. Unilateralist tough-guy talk (and we’ve been hearing that since Bill Clinton in the 1990s — remember the “Butchers of Beijing”?) has got us nowhere and will get us nowhere.

Complaining is not going to get it done. Neither is cutting our contribution to this or that international agency — do you really think that Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus et al. are going to start flying coach if we short them a few hundred million, or do you think that money will come out of actual operations? We already know the answer to that.

If you want to be treated like a superpower, then act like a superpower.

Words About Words

“Choate” is not really a natural word; it is a lawyers’ neologism of relative recent vintage. Though it mostly appears in legal contexts, choate was first popularized, controversially, by a young man who did not attend law school: Winston Churchill, who was an uneven student, easily bored, and who was pushed in the direction of a military career early on. “For years I thought my father, with his experience and flair, had discerned in me the qualities of military genius,’ he wrote. “But I was told later that he had only come to the conclusion that I was not clever enough to go to the Bar.” Churchill, one of the great writers of his time as well as one of the greatest statesmen, once wrote of a “choate and integral conviction” and was roundly mocked for it, including in the pages of the New York Times. The word “inchoate” looks like it should mean “not choate,” but it does not; it derives from a Latin word, incohāre, meaning “to begin” or to make a first effort at. Something that is inchoate has been begun but not fully developed: an inchoate political program, an inchoate plan for a course of action, etc. The faulty back-formation “choate” has worked its way into the legal lexicon.

But not without a fight. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was known to stop lawyers using the term and lecture them about its illiteracy. National Review contributor Bryan Garner, editor of the Dictionary of Legal Usage and a widely admired authority on general usage, authored a book with Justice Scalia (Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges) and told Ben Zimmer of the New York Times that the justice was “disgusted” by the word. Zimmer writes:

A lawyer named Randolph Barnhouse learned this lesson the hard way in November when he appeared before the Supreme Court as counsel to a company selling tax-free cigarettes over the Internet. Barnhouse said the opportunity to recover taxes on the cigarettes was an “inchoate” interest, not yet fully formed. “Any recovery would not be property until it became choate, until there was an amount of money assigned to it,” he explained.

Scalia stopped Barnhouse cold. “There is no such adjective,” he declared. “I know we have used it, but there is no such adjective as choate. There is inchoate, but the opposite of inchoate is not choate.”

Not willing to let the matter go, Scalia went on, “It’s like gruntled,” noting that some people mistakenly think that the opposite of disgruntled is gruntled. (Tell that to P. G. Wodehouse, who wrote in one of his “Jeeves” novels, “If not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.”)

This isn’t the first time that Scalia has publicly assailed choate. Back in December 1992, when hearing the oral argument for I.R.S. v. McDermott, he told a hapless lawyer, “You know that there is no such word as choate,” arguing that “choate is to inchoate as sult is to insult.” When it came time for Scalia to write the majority opinion in that case, he had to do some creative editing when quoting a 1954 precedent, United States v. New Britain, in which Justice Sherman Minton used the dreaded word.

Some of these innovations are useful, and some are of such long standing that the erroneous derivation behind them has been almost lost to memory. (“Cherry,” for example, came into English as the false singular of the French cherise, which sounded to someone like it should be the plural of “cheri” but is not.) Some novelties simply accrete into our decadent language with no aesthete there to babysit English usage, contracept these abuses, or legislate against them.

Rampant Prescriptivism

A reader, Robert, writes in to give Peggy Noonan some well-deserved grief for writing that New York City is the “epicenter” of the 2020 pandemic. Epicenter, which I briefly touched on in an earlier edition of The Tuesday, is one of those words that have a feeling of importance to them — why write about a plain old center when you might write of a fancy new epicenter? — but it does not mean center. The center of an earthquake is below the surface, and so for convenience we speak of the epicenter, which is the point on the Earth’s surface above the actual center of the earthquake. A surface phenomenon such as an epidemic (or pandemic, which really means the same thing but sounds more intense) does not have an epicenter — it has a center. “The epicenter of the world is any point on its surface,” Robert writes. That is true, and the Wall Street Journal headline atop Noonan’s column, “New York Is the Epicenter of the World,” is nonsense on stilts.

Send your language questions to thetuesday@nationalreview.com.

Home and Away

Reviewing an excellent new biography of Michael Bloomberg in Philanthropy, I write about the former mayor’s success as a political plumber — seriously, he applied his data-nerd thing to grease clogs in the city’s sewers and was successful at it.

As a libertarian-leaning conservative, there is much about Bloomberg — his views and his style — that doesn’t exactly fill me with warmth. But while I’m not pro-Bloomberg, this book reminds me there are reasons to be anti-anti-Bloomberg. The nerdy omnicompetent manager we meet in its pages did some profoundly useful things in New York City. And he could be powerfully helpful to his country in the future as a private fixer of public problems. If he can locate the right clogs in the system to focus on.

My National Review archive can be found here.

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In Closing

This is the beginning of the Easter season, when Christians celebrate the redemption of the world through the Resurrection. At the same time, Jews celebrate Passover, commemorating their delivery from slavery in Egypt. In March, Hindus celebrated Holi, their spring festival, and in late May, Muslims will conclude a month of Ramadan fasting with Eid al-Fitr. The sense that the world requires renewal, moral and physical, is very close to universal. Perhaps there is something in that worth meditating on in these difficult times.

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Law & the Courts

Dungeons and Dragons and Jurisprudence

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(Pixabay)

I suppose that for the rest of my life my name will be invoked every time The Atlantic publishes something controversial, as any good magazine does from time to time, or something dopey, as even the best magazines occasionally do, despite the efforts of their editors.

And so it has been with the case of Adrian Vermeule, the Ralph S. Tyler Jr. Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School and one of those Catholic “integralists” we keep hearing about, a recent convert who recently took to the pages of The Atlantic to offer an argument that conservatives should abandon their “originalist” jurisprudence and, with it, “legal liberalism” in toto in favor of a jurisprudence of right-wing authoritarianism in the prescribed Catholic-integralist mode, one that “is not tethered to particular written instruments of civil law or the will of the legislators who created them,” one that does not understand “liberty as an abstract object of quasi-religious devotion,” one that “does not suffer from a horror of political domination,” etc.

He engages in a bit of rhetorical base-stealing that already is tedious and familiar, calling his program “common-good constitutionalism,” cf. Senator Marco Rubio’s “common-good capitalism,” Sohrab Amari’s call “to fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good,” et cetera ad nauseam.

Predictably, the usual people made the usual complaint — not mainly about Professor Vermeule’s views but about The Atlantic’s decision to publish them. This is how we talk about these things now: Professor Vermeule’s ideas must be bad, because Professor Vermeule is bad, which he must be, because only a bad person would hold such ideas. The conversation takes the form not of an argument but of an indictment, as is typical of our times. Professor Vermeule’s offenses include making jokes about making Mass attendance obligatory and celebrating Francisco Franco’s policy of arresting Communists and putting them on chain gangs as a form of rehabilitation through forced labor. I wrote to Professor Vermeule to ask about these, and he answered — and let me just say directly here that I do not believe him, even a little bit — “I don’t know what tweets you’re referring to.” He then suggested I should “find a better topic.” The pettiness of our new right-wing authoritarians is as reliable as the rotation of the Earth, if my fellow Catholics will forgive me for bringing up that sore subject.

Professor Vermeule’s holding certain views and communicating them in a journal that American progressives regard, not without some reason, as their own preserve of polite opinion is in these sanctimonious times to be understood as an offense against public morality. I suppose that Professor Vermeule must smile about that: Bringing back formal sanctions for offenses against public morality is central to the agenda of the sanctimonious anti-liberal project that he seeks to advance. I trust the irony is not lost on him. Reviving comstockery is a very amusing project for a man named Cornelius Adrian Comstock Vermeule.

Professor Vermeule is an étatist in the most direct sense, who describes his political project as an effort “not to maximize individual autonomy or to minimize the abuse of power . . . but instead to ensure that the ruler has the power needed to rule well.”

[L]aw is parental, a wise teacher and an inculcator of good habits. Just authority in rulers can be exercised for the good of subjects, if necessary even against the subjects’ own perceptions of what is best for them — perceptions that may change over time anyway, as the law teaches, habituates, and re-forms them. Subjects will come to thank the ruler whose legal strictures, possibly experienced at first as coercive, encourage subjects to form more authentic desires for the individual and common goods, better habits, and beliefs that better track and promote communal well-being.

I suppose there is an ethical objection to be made to the extent that Harvard professors have a positive professional obligation to try very hard not to write stupid things.

It seems too elementary to need to be said, but: We write down laws for a reason. And if we are not to be bound by what the laws actually say, by what we have written down, then there is no law in any meaningful sense. There is only power and rhetoric — which, in fact, is the main contention of “critical legal theory,” which is founded on the familiar Marxian notion that everything is, when seen straight on, about the eternal class struggle. Critical theorists just dig out the ugly truth behind the façade of liberalism, democracy, human rights, whatever. I believe that Professor Vermeule has enough wit to understand that he and others like him have simply taken the intellectual apparatus of progressivism, with its contempt for individual liberties and its faith in the magisterial state, and proposed filling that box with right-wingery rather than left-wingery, albeit right-wingery of the anti-capitalist and anti-liberal kind: Not only will we have to do away with “libertarian assumptions central to free-speech law” but also “libertarian conceptions of property rights.” Another way of saying “libertarian conceptions of free speech and property rights” would be “free speech and property rights.”

This is a familiar kind of silliness, even sillier than Professor Vermeule’s dreaming of a fantastical “Empire of Our Lady of Guadalupe” accompanied by “the world government required by natural law.” That is not politics — that is a right-wing Catholic fantasy role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons but slightly dorkier and much more sanctimonious.

But the less-exotic silliness is more immediately relevant. That silliness has a familiar source: It is the fact that specialists reliably overestimate the importance of their own fields. Lawyers believe that the way to reform the world is to change the law; it was a poet who thoughts poets “the unacknowledged legislators of the world”; the self-aggrandizing character of journalists is well-known; scientists often take a utopian view of science and erroneously believe that science can supplant politics, relieving us of the burden of disagreement; members of Congress, who spend their time sitting on committees, reflexively propose to solve problems by convening a new committee.

The law is important and powerful — as are science, poetry, etc. But it is not powerful in the way Professor Vermeule imagines it to be. He gets the arrow of causality backward: We do not have abortion and no-fault divorce because the law professors forced them on the people against their will; we have them because the people demanded them — they were not taught, habituated, or formed by the law, but something closer to the opposite happened. (It is worth keeping in mind that no-fault divorce and abortion rights were brought into force in no small part by the efforts of the nation’s most right-wing governor at the time, Ronald Reagan of California.) The law did not transform the people, even when it was construed, as in Roe, in a way “that it is not tethered to particular written instruments of civil law or the will of the legislators who created them,” i.e., when the judges impose their own moral preferences on the nation under color of law. The people transformed the law. The notion that an authoritarian state, unconstrained by liberalism and “libertarian” notions of rights, is going to reflect the moral vision of . . . a few dozen crackpot Catholic intellectuals, mostly within 125 miles of the Acela tracks, is preposterous.

Professor Vermeule is practicing a kind of Ivy League Trumpism. He derides the “defensive crouch” of originalism and demands instead a more forceful approach “that refuses any longer to play within the terms set by legal liberalism.” That is Harvard Law for “He fights!” (Again, more role-playing games.) But the American Constitution is a defensive document — it offers defense against the princely powers that Professor Vermeule would unleash, and defense against ochlocracy, the mob politics that would in fact dominate the magisterial state Professor Vermeule imagines taking its direction from the Magisterium. Not that there is any mention of the Catholic hierarchy in Professor Vermeule’s essay — Pope Francis seems to have cured the Catholic Right of its ultramontanism, leaving the Holy Father with only two more miracles to go for sainthood.

But there are miracles and there are miracles. That “defensive crouch” is the best thing we’ve got going — long live the defensive crouch in all its expressions: the Bill of Rights, federalism, separation of powers, the rule of law rather than the rule of overexcited Catholic converts . . . .

Words About Words

Ben Southwood, formerly the head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, writes about my hometown: “Lubbock, TX, is a city of 250,000 souls. I can’t find a single high street in the entire city & the ‘downtown’ in its Wiki pic is a gas station and hotel parking lot. Is it the largest city in the world without a ‘downtown’?”

“High street” is a British expression not commonly used in American English. It means a commercial street with shops. “High street” has a connotation of “mass market,” as in “high-street fashion,” meaning the sort of thing that you could buy at an American shopping mall.

“Downtown” in the sense of a core urban business district comes to us from New York City, where the business district was in the oldest part of the city — southern or “lower” Manhattan, hence “downtown.” Downtown meant shops and offices, whereas uptown was more residential and much less densely populated — families were operating farms in upper Manhattan until well into the 20th century.

The uptown-downtown convention quickly spread from Manhattan to other cities (indeed, the oldest surviving use of the term in print refers to central Boston), even when it made no geographic sense — most cities lack Manhattan’s strong north-south orientation, because they lack its unusual geography, being an eyot. (Or ait, pronounced like “eight,” meaning an island in a river. This is a word you probably will not see outside of Middle English, a crossword puzzle, or a conversation with an old Londoner, who may refer to the aits in the Thames.) It does not have very many competitors, but it does have a few: In Philadelphia, the center of the city is called “Center City” because “downtown” long referred to South Philly and, by metonymy, to the Italian-American mafia that once dominated that neighborhood. To say that a New York businessman has investors from downtown means that he got money from Wall Street; to say that a Philadelphia businessman has investors from downtown means that he got money from the mob.

Or a different kind of mob, anyway.

Downtown Lubbock as it had been ceased to exist on Monday, May 11, 1970, when an F5 tornado stormed through the city, leveling about 25 square miles of homes and businesses and killing 31 people. As I understand it, no tornado of that size has hit the urban core of a city since then. The tornado that just tore up Nashville was an F3, for comparison. The destruction of downtown Lubbock coincided with the beginning of the golden age of the American shopping mall; when the South Plains Mall opened in 1972, there was little incentive for retailers to return to “downtown” or remain there.

Instead, they kept moving down: Continuing in the long history of ignoring the geographic implications of the term, “downtown” Lubbock is far to the north and the east of the city’s geographic center as the city continues growing in a southwesterly direction. 

Rampant Prescriptivism

“Enormity” looks like it should mean “enormousness,” but it does not mean that. An enormity is not something big but something evil — something bigly evil. Intentionally starving 4 million Ukrainians to death in order to make a political point was an enormity, one of the many great crimes of socialism. But to remark upon the enormity of, say, Taylor Swift’s music sales entails a moral judgment that may not be intended.

Please send your language questions to TheTuesday@nationalreview.com.

Home and Away

On the subject of shopping malls and their long decline, see my National Review report here.

My work sometimes appears in Portuguese, a language I do not speak, because I apparently am a little bit popular in Brazil, a country I never have visited. Here I am, on our coronavirus response, in Gazeta do Povo.

The excellent people over at the Foundation for Economic Education reprinted my essay on manufacturing and the superstition of “job creation” here.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

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

To support National Review Institute, go here.

In Closing

Professor Vermeule calls for a “substantive” right-wing jurisprudence, as opposed to a jurisprudence of process. This points to one of the fundamental differences between the classical-liberal tradition and the progressive position. For the classical liberal (the American conservative), justice as a legal matter is mostly a question of process: The parties are given their day in court, they present their arguments before an honest judge or jury, the law is followed, and a decision is rendered.

Hence Robert Bork’s rejection of “substantive due process,” which he rightly considered a contradiction in terms, a license for judicial activism “wholly without limits, as well as without legitimacy.”

In that famous flag-burning case, Justice Antonin Scalia did not rule according to what he wanted — to punish the flag-burners — but according to what the law says. The “substantive” model of justice says, Damn procedure and the letter of the law, I have things that I want, those things are good and just, and you must give them to me!

For progressives, the legal question is secondary to the political question: They will have their abortion rights, or their constitutional gay-marriage mandate, and they will take it on whatever terms they can get, simply back-filling in whatever pretextual legal “reasoning,” if you can call it that, serves for the moment. “Substantive” conservative jurisprudence is the same bad-faith model with a different policy agenda.

That is how advocates go about their business, of course: The defense and the prosecution both know what verdict they want when they go into court. What progressives — and Professor Vermeule — propose is to have judges take on the same role: Pick a side and put down on paper whatever hocus-pocus serves. That is why progressives fight tooth-and-claw to keep non-progressives off the Supreme Court — not because progressives are afraid that these judges will not give them a fair reading of the law as it actually is written but because they are terrified by the prospect that they will do exactly that. To reduce judges to the role of mere political factota undermines the idea of an independent judiciary and with that the possibility of responsible self-government. That kind of judicial politics already has done terrible damage to our republic and to the legitimacy of the very state that Professor Vermeule et al. would seek to aggrandize.

What Professor Vermeule is offering is not a philosophy of law — it is a temper tantrum: “I want! I want! I want!”

No, no, no.

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U.S.

‘Shane, Come Back!’

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A message on an electronic display inside a mostly empty 42nd Street subway station in New York City, March 20, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Welcome to “The Tuesday,” where we are old enough to remember those weeks when the evening news began “America Held Hostage! Day 84!” This was when there were a lot of bumper stickers reading, “Kick the Shiite Out of Iran!” We also are old enough to remember when “the evening news” was a going concern.

‘Shane, Come Back!’

The Trump administration has extended its advisory against nonessential travel and social gatherings through the end of April. It would have been irresponsible to do otherwise, though that is hardly the same thing as saying that the Trump administration could not do something else. It is an irresponsible administration. It seems likely, at the moment, that the nation’s regime of self-quarantine through “social isolation” will extend past April. This will impose a terrible price on people — “the economy” is people — and looks likely to fall most heavily on those who are least able to bear the burden.

Meanwhile, we wait it out. Meanwhile, we hide.

One of the terrible things about the current crisis — beyond the obvious death and suffering — is the terrible passivity it imposes. After 9/11, an old friend of mine who had a pretty nice career in the entertainment business stopped everything and joined the Army, not something a lot of people do in their 30s. Our friend David French was a Harvard-trained lawyer pushing 40 when he was deployed to Iraq. The U.S. military is more discriminating than it once was, because modern American war-making requires more technical knowledge and complex coordination than it once did, but you do not have to have an Ivy League degree to join the Army. It is something an ordinary young man, or many ordinary young men, can do. And that was even more the case during the great national crises of the 20th century, when ordinary young men not only had the opportunity to go and fight but were expected to do so — and, in some cases, compelled to do so. There was a role for the ordinary man to play in the great drama of the time. An ordinary man could be a hero.

I am grateful not only to the medical professionals who are putting themselves at great personal risk in this crisis (nurses are dying in New York City already, and others are sure to follow) but also to the people who are stocking grocery-store shelves, driving trucks, making deliveries, and doing other ordinary work in extraordinary circumstances. (Complain all you like about “gouging,” I hope they are just ratcheting up their wages relentlessly. Markets work!) Honest work is respectable, in good times and in bad times, and our national tendency to sneer at any job that does not require an advanced degree or a mass-marketable talent in sports or entertainment is one of the worst aspects of contemporary American life. But, that being said, telling a man that the best thing he can do in this global crisis is lock himself up at home with a month’s supply of Hot Pockets and binge Netflix — or, if he wants to really live on the edge, sign up to deliver Amazon packages — is uninspiring.

Meanwhile, we wait it out. Meanwhile, we hide.

One of the great social problems of our time, related to the abovementioned sneering at old-fashioned work, is the social inutility of men — or, more precisely that of traditional masculine virtues. In Anno Domini 2020, the returns on technical knowledge are very high, as are the returns on certain kinds of social skills (organizational management) and (ahem!) a certain kind of verbal cleverness. But we have a lot less use for capacities such as physical strength and physical courage, endurance, the capacity for violence, and the many kinds of much more literal self-sacrifice that were absolutely necessary when the world was less connected and more dangerous. We have known this for a while: There is a reason beyond Loyal Griggs’s cinematography that Shane was a hit in 1953, when the nation was looking away from the battlefield and toward the boardroom for its sense of direction: The wounded gunfighter has to go riding off into the sunset — he is far too dangerous to keep around the homestead.

This is a great time to be Odysseus, and not a very good time to be Ajax. But relatively few men have the capacity, or any great desire, to be slick. My own guess is that about 99 and 44/100 percent of the Right’s illiberal neo-nationalism and the Left’s bearded shop-apron hipsterism is a reaction to this, a manifestation of the desire of men to obtain status through traditionally masculine means. The smart guys are selling these guys expensive straight razors and dietary supplements — which you can probably do pretty easily during an extended bout of social isolation.

Meanwhile, we wait it out. Meanwhile, we hide.

Words About Words

“Regime” is not a dirty word. Consider this from Slate: “‘The Wuhan model’ was definitely successful on one front: The extremely harsh containment measures that punished those who broke them worked in limiting spread, and now infections are on the decline in China. But China is a regime. Here, we focus on our own civic sense. Are Italians, French, Europeans, or Americans ready to show how strong their civic sense is, when it means giving up their personal freedoms?” (The author, Greta Privitera, is an Italian journalist.) “Regime” often is used to describe an authoritarian system, but it simply means a way of doing things, a program, the rules under which an activity or a process takes place. It is functionally similar in many uses to the word from which it is derived, “regimen,” the Latin word for “rule” that English borrows. Like the English “regimen,” “regime” also has connotations specific to health and fitness: “an exercise regimen” or “an exercise regime.” In political writing, “regime” often is used to describe a legal or regulatory settlement, especially one that is or may be contested: “Abortion regulation under the Roe regime,” “the deficiencies of the ACA regime,” etc. “Regime” in this sense need not be understood as necessarily pejorative, though one suspects that the odor of authoritarianism (and hence of illegitimacy) that has attached to the word makes it attractive to some writers for that purpose.

“Turbo” also is not a dirty word. “Turbo” is an excellent word, a lovely word, a word worth hearing, especially when it describes the right kind of automobile. A “turbocharger” is a device that enhances the power of an internal-combustion engine by forcing more air into the combustion chamber. (Fire needs oxygen.) It was natural for “turbocharged” to take on a metaphorical meaning, e.g. “the tax cuts were intended to turbocharge the economy.” (Intended to.) A grumpy man may be overheard to address an overexcited person: “Settle down, Turbo.” Etc. But English has a funny way of coming full circle, and now “turbo” is once again being used to describe cars that are extra-fast but, in a modern twist, cars that are not actually turbocharged at all: Porsche, to take the most prominent example, has decided to call its flagship electric vehicle the Taycan Turbo. The Taycan Turbo is not turbocharged — it cannot be turbocharged, in fact, because its electric motor involves no combustion and hence no intake of air. (I suppose it would be more accurate to say that with an electric motor, the combustion is outsourced to the power plant that produces the electricity used to charge the car battery; that fashionably green electric EV may in fact be coal-powered. Batteries don’t charge themselves.) And so in this usage “turbo” simply means “fast” or “faster.” I cannot say that I approve, but the branding departments of automobile companies are full of adjective-happy howler monkeys — remember when any car with fake-leather seats and power windows was described as the “executive” version?

Rampant Prescriptivism

The word that refers to the things that are unique to men or unique to women is “sex.” The word “gender” is a grammatical term (related to the word “genre”) that describes the classification of nouns in certain languages. And long before the choose-you-own-adventure approach to sex in our time, those famously progressive ancient Romans recognized three genders — not that they thought these grammatical conventions had anything to do with sex in the real world. Unlike modern Americans, who wet their pants with guilt and shame if they absent-mindedly refer to the head of the English department as its “chairman,” the Romans were perfectly able to comprehend, e.g., that the words for certain professions typically held by men had feminine endings: agricola (farmer), poeta (poet), nauta (sailor), etc. Nobody thought that men were subtly excluded from the agricultural occupations because the word for “farmer” was agricola instead of agricolus. (The stereotypical sexual plasticity of sailors, referenced by Winston Churchill when he dismissed naval tradition as nothing more than “rum, sodomy, and the lash,” is a subject for another time.) The abuses of English in the service of feminist sensibilities are well-known: “chairman” to “chairwoman” to “chair,” but, strangely enough, not “cowboy” to “cowgirl” to “cow.” What should be appreciated here is that the elevation of “gender” over “sex” — the elevation of the interpretative and metaphorical over the physical and literal — is an ideological project, one that should be resisted.

Home and Away

Some of you may have heard of this Jonah Goldberg fellow, who has a podcast. You can listen to my conversation with him on that podcast here. Generally, the lack of video on these audio podcasts is all upside, but, in this case, you don’t get to see my dachshund.

In National Review, I argue that the coronavirus epidemic is the first global crisis of the post-American era. The world is going to miss American leadership, I think. I am not sure if Americans will miss it as much.

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

CNN’s Michael Smerconish and I have been a little bit acquainted for a long time. I was a suburban newspaper editor in Philadelphia when he was getting started in talk radio there, and I always have loved the story he told about convincing his children, very young at the time, that if they saw a billboard or a bus advertisement with his face on it (these were ubiquitous in Philadelphia for a time), then that meant that he could see them, too. That is precisely the kind of terrorism out of which Grade A fatherhood is made, right up there with an irritated Henry Jones Sr. demanding that an excited young Indiana count to ten — in Greek — before interrupting him in his study.

Smerconish’s insight into the infantile mind still serves him well: On March 18, he predicted on Twitter that Donald Trump would seek to put his own signature on any stimulus checks that were sent out to Americans as part of the coronavirus-emergency stimulus. On March 27, the Wall Street Journal reported that President Trump desires to do exactly that:

Mr. Trump has told people he wants his signature to appear on the direct payment checks that will go out to many Americans in the coming weeks, according to an administration official. The White House didn’t comment. Normally, a civil servant — the disbursing officer for the payment center — would sign federal checks, said Don Hammond, a former senior Treasury Department official.

There is an epidemic under way. Hundreds of thousands of people already are sick, and the number is likely to reach into the tens of millions before this is over. Thousands of Americans already have died, with many more sure to follow. There are shortages of everything from medical masks to ventilators, the U.S. government’s response has been a series of bungles (negotiations with GM have been a tragedy of errors, a typical one), and President Donald J. Trump, occupant of the highest office in the land and the most powerful political figure in the world, is thinking about how he might use this for petty personal aggrandizement.

Are the media unfair to President Trump? At times, yes. Are the Democrats awful? Of course. But it is not the media or the Democrats forcing President Trump to conduct himself in this clownish fashion. He behaves like a clown because he is a clown-souled man. The Right’s excuse-making (and its positive celebration) of this clownishness is well beyond what political necessity requires or decency allows. It is shameful, and it will come with a price in the end.

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Science & Tech

The Prius Party and the F-150 Party

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The 2019 Toyota Prius all-wheel drive is displayed at a Toyota press conference at the Los Angeles Auto Show in California, November 28, 2018 (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Welcome to The Tuesday. A brief note: We at National Review — and I very much personally — are at all times grateful for the support and encouragement of our readers and supporters, but in these difficult times I am especially mindful of and thankful for your interest. A website such as ours and a print magazine is a relatively easy business to run remotely, though there is of course more to getting that done than I would have guessed, and our business and operations people have been busy behind the scenes ensuring the uninterrupted production of all things National Review. If you would like to support our work, one of the easiest and more direct ways is by becoming an NRPlus member, which gives you access to all of our content with far fewer advertisements as well as members-only events and conversations. Thank you for reading, and I hope that you and your loved ones are safe and well.

That being written . . . 

The Prius Party and the F-150 Party

Here is some news that may not exactly rock conservative circles: Several versions of the Toyota Prius hybrid automobile have been discontinued, and there are rumors that Toyota is considering the discontinuation of the model as a whole. Prius sales have been in decline for some time — down by 23 percent in 2018 — and the 2020 facelift may not be enough to revive the O.G. mass-market hybrid, first sold in 1997.

The Prius is one of those cultural totems — right up there with Birkenstocks, organic kale, and yoga classes — that conservatives associate with a certain especially obnoxious brand of well-heeled consumerist progressivism. In Texas, where I live, you don’t need a “Beto for Senate” bumper sticker on your Prius: “Prius” may as well be Latin for “Beto for Senate.” (The hardcore true believers in my very lefty neighborhood still have “Beto for Senate” signs in their yards, not “Beto for President” signs. These political hipsters were into Beto before he went mainstream.) You can recite the litany of abuse: “Prius-drivin’, soy-latte-drinkin’, Sanders-votin’ wastes of space.”

I share the contempt for Robert Francis O’Rourke. But the Prius is a work of genius, a genuine landmark, and, almost inevitably, a victim of its own success: The Prius has been so successful that its hybrid technology has been mainstreamed. The Prius C will be replaced by an updated version of the . . . Toyota Corolla, a car that has been with us since Lyndon Johnson was in the White House. There are hybrid models up and down the lineups of Toyota and Honda and other economy-minded marques, but also available from makers ranging from Jaguar to BMW to Porsche, which offered a monster hybrid supercar at a price of just under $1 million as well as hybrid versions of many of its less exotic vehicles. A great many things are up in the air right now for American businesses, but Ford is even planning to introduce a hybrid version of the F-150 — the anti-Prius — using those electric motors to increase its torque and towing capacity.

Hybrids are, in fact, a little passé. The real action now is in all-electric vehicles: Here’s Ford’s prototype electric truck towing more than 1 million pounds. My usual Home Depot haul could be towed pretty easily behind my Harley-Davidson (if I had a trailer, which would be weird, although I’ve seen it), and I cannot think of any reason I’d need that kind of power. But do I want it? Allow me to quote Dick Cheney, who once was asked how many guns he owned: “More than I need, fewer than I want.”

(I am confident that Dick Cheney, like Stannis Baratheon in Game of Thrones, knew to say “fewer” rather than “less.”)

I don’t need to tow 1 million pounds. I don’t need the fuel economy offered by the Prius, either — gasoline is pretty cheap. Nor do I need much of the other high-techie-tech offered by the Prius. (In fact, I kind of dislike some of that stuff: One of the things I like about the older Mini Cooper I sometimes drive is that there is no center screen, no ersatz iPad in the middle of the dash, just a big speedometer. I like uncomplicated vehicles: One of the things I do not like about the current top-of-the-line Harley-Davidsons is that they have everything from cruise control to GPS to sound systems and are basically one toaster oven short of being a Winnebago on two wheels. That’s no knock on Winnebagos, but that’s not what I’m looking for in a motorcycle.) But if we all start limiting ourselves to what we need, then we are going to see a bigger economic crash than the coronavirus downturn. Many of the ordinary features of modern economy cars (automatic transmissions, air conditioning, power windows) were once conveniences, indulgences, and toys for the mega-rich. If you are driving a recent-model Honda Civic, you have a better car than Howard Hughes ever did. You don’t need all that. (Howard Hughes’s 1953 Buick had some nice custom touches, though, including an amped-up electrical system that could be used to jump-start airplanes.)

It is beyond necessity, but, as anybody who has driven one knows, the Prius is simply a terrific car — and, like many other groundbreaking products, it is a car that made other cars better. If I were Elon Musk, that would be my worry about Tesla, which proved that electric cars could be simply awesome cars rather than virtue-signaling acts of consumerist penance. Even with all that capital and the oodles of creativity to which Tesla has access, it is easier to prove the concept than to compete with Toyota and Volkswagen.

Yet we occasionally are blinded to great things because we associate them with un-great things. Some conservatives associate Whole Foods with the rich progressive snoots who lecture you about your privilege rather than with, say, the first-rate ribeyes you can buy there. (If there is any food item less progressive than a ribeye steak, I don’t know what it is: The ribeye is the F-150 of dinners.) And many of us associate the Prius with those rich progressive hectoring snoots at Whole Foods, and turn up our noses at one of the great wonders of the wondrous time in which we live.

But this is America, where you are what you buy. And that holds true for cars, too. Automobile preferences and political preferences are predictably correlated: Hatchbacks are Democratic, pickup trucks are Republican. Priuses are Democratic, though not as Democratic as a Subaru Outback (NB: different researchers come up with slightly different numbers), while the F-150 may as well come with a Ronald Reagan hood ornament. (Somebody make some of those and I’ll buy one.) I suspect that lefties overlook the F-150 for the same reason conservatives sneer at the Prius. The F-150 really ought to be considered a modern design icon, right up there with the Eames lounge chair and the Rolex GMT. But its cultural resonance is not on the same frequency as that of people who typically like Eames chairs and use the term “design icon.” Yet surely the F-150 is one of the great examples of something that expresses the thinghood of the thing itself, one of those rare collisions of aesthetics and utility that make an object truly iconic. It wasn’t the first pickup truck and it probably isn’t even the best one being made (in Texas, we like our Texas-made Toyotas), but it is to pickups what the Levi’s 501 is to jeans.

As I was saying to Jay Nordlinger the other day, one of the things that left me with a conservative sensibility rather than a libertarian one (even though my politics are on the very libertarian end of conservatism) was my desire to defend art and literature (and that great nearly lost cause, education) from the relentless politicization that these fields underwent in the 1980s and 1990s. There is a great deal of conservatism in Shakespeare, and some of our great writers were consciously conservative (T. S. Eliot comes to mind), but I do not want Brideshead Revisited to be understood as a great conservative novel any more than I want the works of Ernest Hemingway to be understood as the cultural property of the Left. (Although with the hunting and the womanizing and such, Papa may no longer be welcome in the faculty lounge.) Some of my favorite writers had good politics (Tom Wolfe) and many of them (Hunter S. Thompson, David Foster Wallace) did not. In some cases, I have made a point of not learning too much about the lives of writers and artists I admire and whose work I enjoy. Moby-Dick can speak for itself. (And Benito Cereno . . . ?) So can Dante and the Chrysler Building.

And so can the Prius.

Words about Words

A classic but always worth revisiting: Fewer generally is for countable things, less generally is for uncountable things. You may have more or less gasoline in your tank at any given time, but if you drove the aforementioned Prius, then you will use fewer gallons of gas per year than if you drove instead, say, a GMC Yukon XL. You probably have fewer vices than I do and make fewer mistakes, and, therefore, have less trouble in your life, and less irritation. You can have less regret and fewer regrets — the former is a general condition that cannot be quantified, while the latter are numerable discrete facts, e.g.: Dwight Eisenhower once said his two greatest regrets were sitting on the Supreme Court.

Rampant Prescriptivism

Angry Twitter person “Woko Haram” (@Pythagasaurus2, and it’s that “2” at the end that really says everything about Twitter) writes: “Its [sic] increasingly evident there is little distance in the view of the [sic] hoi paloi [sic] between woke liberals and Kevin Williamson.”

Where to begin? Maybe with sic. “Sic” is a Latin word meaning approximately “thus,” which is used to indicate something that you believe or know to be wrong in quoted material. For instance, if someone wrote “He explained it thusly,” you might sic them, because “thusly” is a made-up word and an illiteracy in that “thus” already is an adverb and so does not require adverb-izing with an “ly” at the end. (“Thusly” is thought to have begun its career in English as a parodic example of bombastic speech.) In modern journalism, with its frequent quotations from social media and other unedited and illiterate sources (such as The New Republic), sic is very handy to have around: You don’t want to pass on something illiterate as though it weren’t, but you don’t want to go editing quotations any more than you have to, either. (Everybody handles editing quotations a little differently: Do you leave in every “um” and “uh” in the interest of accuracy? I do not.) So sic is helpful.

There is as well the old its/it’s issue, which usually is a typographical error made by people who actually know better. (But not always.) But “the hoi polloi,” beyond the spelling troubles of @Pythagasaurus2, is interesting. Sticklers will resist “the hoi polloi” for the same reason I object to “advocate for” — that it is redundant. Hoi is a definite article, basically Greek for “the,” and so “the hoi polloi” reads “the the many,” which of course you do not want. (Polloi is from the Greek polys, as in the English prefix poly: polygamy, polynomial, Saint Polycarp of Smyrna, etc. Polycarp = “much fruit,” not “much fish.”)

Home and Away
Here is my NRO essay on why you should use any extra reading time you have on your hands right now to tackle Middlemarch:

George Eliot’s Middlemarch advertises itself as “A Study of Provincial Life,” but it has a great deal in it that might be of interest to Americans who just right now have some extra time on their hands for reading: medical progress and medical quackery, political progress and political hackery, Christian zeal and Christian zealotry, thwarted travel plans, stifling domestic situations, financial distress and bad debts, an overbearing rich guy nobody really likes, and a pending election. It also has some of the most intelligent observation and sharpest prose you will encounter. Go have at it.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

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

To support National Review Institute, go here.

In Closing

I have led a very fortunate life and have very little of a personal nature to complain about. One of the worst periods of my life was a period of extended unemployment (or underemployment, I suppose — I was never entirely without a job for more than a couple of days) in my early thirties. I went from making a pretty comfortable six-figure income to making about half that and then to making a good deal less, scrambling for work. After having been editor-in-chief of three newspapers, I was working on the copy-editing desk of my hometown newspaper back in Lubbock, Texas, and grateful to have the work. I had trouble paying my bills and almost no money to pay for relocating (to Washington, a very expensive city) when I was offered another job. There are millions of people losing their jobs right now, and many of them without the resources and benefits that I had. There are people who want to work but cannot because of extraordinary circumstances beyond their control. Beyond the obvious public-health necessities of the current crisis, helping those people through this time and getting them back to work and self-sufficiency as quickly as we can should be our top priority. This is a terrible time for a great many people, and we must help all we can, as much as we can, as intelligently as we can.

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Politics & Policy

Character in the Time of Coronavirus

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President Donald Trump speaks during a news briefing on the administration’s response to the coronavirus at the White House, March 15, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Welcome to The Tuesday, brought to you, as always, from a state of pristine social isolation . . .

Long Days
I will get to my regular language thing below, but I begin with a note about the etymology of Lent, which is the ecclesiastical season we currently are in. Lent is a slightly mysterious word, but Lenten (for which Lent is an abbreviation) probably comes from the Old English word lencten, meaning “spring” and probably related to a Germanic word meaning “long,” referring to the lengthening of the days in spring. I once heard Jonah Goldberg describe fatherhood as a time of “long days and short years.” (The poetical formulation is not original to Jonah, but, then, neither was “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.”) We are in for some long days, I think. Longer if you are a kid: Locked up, nothing to do, nowhere to go, unable to spend time with friends — assuming that people are doing what they are supposed to be doing. It will be enough to make some young people who are not otherwise academically inclined wish they were back in school.

We adults should try to use the time fruitfully.

One of the maddening things about the U.S. government’s tardy, inadequate, and incompetent response to COVID-19 is that it was the result, in part, of an unnecessarily stupid political calculation. Donald Trump spent 2016 sneering at the idea that the performance of the stock market during the Barack Obama years indicated anything about the quality of the Obama administration’s economic policies; he spent much of his presidency up until a couple of weeks ago boasting about the performance of the stock market during his own administration, arguing that it illustrates the excellence of his administration’s economic policies. He spent the early days of the COVID-19 crisis treating it as though it were principally an economic challenge and spent his time trying to “tweet the markets back to life,” as my National Review colleague Michael Brendan Dougherty put it.

That’s not exactly working out: On Monday, trading was halted one minute after the market opened and the Dow plunged 2,250.

Set aside, for a moment, the more substantive question of how the government’s early nonchalance will shape events in the next few months and consider the pure political malpractice of that. Rather than try to bluster through, the president could have said, “There’s a potentially serious new epidemic under way in China, one that involves a virus we haven’t seen before in humans. We are beginning a full national mobilization in response to it. It may turn out to be nothing, in which case we will have spent a few million dollars on a pretty good dry run of our epidemic-response capabilities. That’s a good investment. There isn’t anything to panic about, but we’d rather err on the side of caution than err on the side of inaction. Now, here’s . . . Mike Pence.”

All right, I might strike that last sentence.

I have been banging away since 2016 on this point: “I preferred Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton” is a perfectly defensible position — but it is not the end of the conversation. It matters whether Trump is capable, competent, and honest. It matters whether he is trustworthy and whether he is understood to be trustworthy. Likewise, if you are on the other side this time around, or if you are a lifelong Democrat, then “I prefer Joe Biden to Donald Trump” is also a perfectly defensible position — but it is not the end of the conversation. It matters whether Biden is capable, competent, and honest. However the argument works out for you, it is important to go into this with eyes that are clear and wide open.

And if you happen to be a journalist or commentator who is holding your fire on one politician or another because you are afraid that you might tilt some voter the wrong way by saying what you actually think — by telling the truth as best you can — then you are in the wrong line of work.

You’re probably overestimating your influence, too. But that is not what this is really about: This is about pledging allegiance.

One of the tragedies of our current mob-populist model of politics is that elevating presidents and presidential candidates to the status of tribal totem makes it virtually impossible to take intelligent countermeasures against them. Republicans have been abject in the face of Trump, of course, but the same dynamic holds sway on the other side of the aisle: Democrats went to the mattresses to defend Bill Clinton from the consequences of actions that would have cost him his job if he had been a junior executive at an office-supply company in Scranton, and not only defended but encouraged and celebrated Barack Obama’s extraconstitutional adventures and the criminal misconduct of his administration in the matter of the IRS targeting the administration’s political rivals. (After lamenting that the PATRIOT Act might enable Dick Cheney to go snooping around your library records, Barack Obama discovered, to his surprise, that he had the power to unilaterally order the assassination of American citizens and then proceeded to do so, which was met, inexplicably, with a bipartisan yawn.) Trump was not wrong about shooting people on Fifth Avenue.

Mitt Romney was (and daily is) savaged for voting to impeach Trump. A few nutjobs with radio programs suggested that he should be prosecuted for treason over that vote. (The boundary between late republic and early empire is a little blurry.) If Mitch McConnell were a bolder man (his caution is usually commendable), and if he wanted to see the president change his ways, he might have orchestrated a narrow acquittal or even a formal censure as a matter of partisan hygiene and institutional self-defense. But, of course, in the contemporary political climate, with its endless loyalty oaths and ceremonies of ritualistic praise for the Big Kahuna, such a thing would have been politically difficult, and Senator McConnell is not a man who normally makes trouble for himself. (He has a great gift, an underappreciated one, for making trouble for others.) If the Senate majority leader cannot act, who can?

A few weeks ago, I spent some time with some Republicans of the sort upon whom Christianity “sits as a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.” They made the usual noises — “We don’t approve of the tweets, and the dishonesty, and the boorishness,” though they were awfully circumspect on the question of how such disapproval might be registered, and were, of course, a good deal less circumspect on the question of Mitt Romney, whose eternal damnation they gleefully anticipated. The ordinary, traditional questions of democratic politics — How do I get this politician to do what I want? — were of no interest to them at all, their only concern being fealty to the idol and casting out the infidels.

As I have argued for some time now, the self-proclaimed realists, pragmatists, men of the world — the sort of people who are always going on about how “government should be run like a business” — are as wrong as they can be about Trump and the character issue. It is not some lofty, rarefied concern for philosophy seminars. It has practical, urgent, day-to-day consequences that we ignore at our now literal peril.

Apropos of Nothing
Bernie Sanders may have a soft spot in his heart for the Castro regime and its purportedly wonderful literacy programs. (Imagine: “Say what you will about Adolf Hitler, he was really progressive on infrastructure.”) You know who is not ready to forgive and forget when it comes to Cuban socialism? Cubans, and Cuban Americans. There is an ice-cream shop around the corner from my home, operated by Cuban Americans. One of the flavors is a combination of chocolate and hot red pepper, which they call “Burn in Hell, Fidel.”

Home and Away
My latest in the New York Post on the Trump slump: “The question for Donald Trump is not whether he can beat Joe Biden. It is whether he can beat Joe Biden, an epidemic, a recession, and a few swing voters who just may have had enough of Captain Chaos. Team Trump should be worried.”

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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Words about Words: Epidemick to Pandemick
Epi this, epi that. The word epidemic comes to use via French (épidémique) via Latin (epidemia) from the Greek epidēmios (ἐπιδήμιος), which means, roughly, “prevalent,” but the literal meaning is “upon the people” (epi dēmos). We English speakers have a habit of trying to intensify already intense words, which is why instead of good ol’ center we use epicenter (which does not mean “center”) and, as of the 17th century, pandemic, meaning something that pertains to all the people. The underlying meanings of the words are similar, and pandemic has come to be used to mean a very bad or especially widespread epidemic.

As Merriam-Webster puts it:

An epidemic is defined as “an outbreak of disease that spreads quickly and affects many individuals at the same time.” A pandemic is a type of epidemic (one with greater range and coverage), an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population. While a pandemic may be characterized as a type of epidemic, you would not say that an epidemic is a type of pandemic.

As Merriam-Webster further notes, both of the words were used as adjectives long before they became nouns, e.g.:

These Praedicates certainly are not convertible with the fore-mentioned Diseases, and therefore ought not so rashly to be pronounced the Scorvey; which moreover is Endemick, the others Epidemick and Pandemick.

— Gideon Harvey, The disease of London, 1675

Rampant Prescriptivism
Elon Musk is a native of South Africa, where English rather than Afrikaans is the favored language of education. (The University of Pretoria, which Musk attended, recently ditched Afrikaans for English as its official language; Afrikaans, derived from Dutch, was used to exclude many black South Africans from educational institutions; ironically, the only Afrikaans word most people know is apartheid.) But the Afro-Anglo-Canadian-American entrepreneur should know better than to claim that his Tesla automobiles are “over 500 percent less likely to catch fire” than are conventional internal-combustion automobiles. To begin with, he means more than rather than over, but even when written correctly, that formulation is maddeningly vague: 501 percent is more than 500 percent; so is 1 million percent.

(If you are a true-believing right-wing prescriptivist, you might consider writing percent as two words, per cent; and if you’re a super-reactionary prescriptivist, you’ll put a period after that cent, because it is an abbreviation of centum. People will be confused and make fun of you, but you’ll know, in your heart, you are right.)

But the real problem with that phrasing is logic. If a Tesla automobile were a mere 100 percent less likely to catch fire than a conventional automobile, then there would be a 0.00 percent chance it catches fire, the possibility of doing so having been reduced by 100 percent, i.e., to zero. What Musk really means, I think, is that the likelihood of a Tesla catching fire is 1/500 that of a regular car, or 99.8 percent less likely.

Rule of thumb: If you are writing “x percent less,” then x shouldn’t normally be more than 100.

Please send your language questions or remarks to TheTuesday@nationalreview.com.

In Closing
Lent is a time of prayer and fasting. There is a great fashion to mock “thoughts and prayers” in the face of some catastrophe or another. But prayer and penance are always and everywhere appropriate, for individuals and for nations. I hope that we might treat the quiet days (I pray they are quiet) ahead of us as a kind of extended sabbath, to think and to pray, to be silent, to repent and to forgive. On that, a final language point: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” is best understood as a conditional statement.

World

Our Antifragile Immune System

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A man wearing a protective face mask walks through Waterloo station in London, Britain, March 10 2020. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Welcome to The Tuesday, my weekly newsletter, which requires no filtration mask to read or latex gloves to handle. To subscribe to the newsletter, go here. 

Home and Away 

My latest from National Review asks: Why is there no “Never Bernie” movement equivalent to the anti-Trump movement of 2016? Jonathan Chait at New York magazine thinks he has an answer — but you may not find it especially persuasive.

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.

Words about Words

“Candidates endorsed by AOC flounder in Texas primary races,” reads a Washington Examiner headline. That is not quite right. To flounder is to flop and thrash about like the eponymous fish when it is out of water; I have seen some Texas Democrats in action, and this is easy to imagine, but what the headline writer meant was founder, meaning to collapse, to fail, to come to nothing, or to sink.

Rampant Prescriptivism

This is one of the many things I have learned from Jay Nordlinger. “Short-lived” means having a short life, not having a short live, and for that reason the –lived naturally is pronounced with a long i (as in jive or hive) rather than a short i (as in give or shiv). Which is to say, it is pronounced as if it were short-lifed, but with a v for the f.

Please send your language questions or remarks to TheTuesday@nationalreview.com.

A Note to Angry Political Partisans

There is an election in November, as you may have heard. The Republicans will, barring some extraordinary event, nominate Donald Trump. The Democrats probably will nominate Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders. I expect to write a fair bit about the candidates. In factI already have. I do not think very highly of any of them. I do not try to hide that.

If you at any point feel feverishly obliged to send me a note that may be summarized, “But what about that other guy?” please save yourself the time and go back to . . . whatever it is you do. Not that any of the people reading this newsletter are like that guy. What guy? That guy. You know that guy. The lefty version of that guy will tell you that Trump is Hitler, and the incarnation of that guy you meet at church will tell you Trump is a version of the Bible’s King Cyrus. You do not want to be that guy. That guy cannot and will not hear criticism of any candidate other than the object of his hatred, because, “But what about that other guy?”

When somebody says to you, “Elections are binary!” he is more or less showing you a flashing neon sign over his head announcing that he intends to be intellectually dishonest and is not worth discussing anything of substance with.

The things that are wrong with Trump exist independently of the things that are wrong with Biden or Sanders, and vice versa. Yes, those of you who vote will on Election Day be obliged to choose one or the other (or the Libertarian Party candidate, or another third-party candidate), but there are conversations to be had and thoughts to be thought other than “Is it x or y?” Pretending that x/y is the only conversation to be had is sometimes stupidity but more often a form of intellectual cowardice and laziness, a way of not having to think too hard about the flaws and deficiencies of the man carrying the banner behind which you march.

Partisanship makes you stupid, if you let it.

There are people in this business who believe that their principal responsibility in professional life is getting somebody elected — or, as they will more likely put it, ensuring that the villain of the season does not get elected. My own belief is that advocacy journalism should still be journalism. I’m not in the propaganda business or the elections business, and I am not planning to go into the propaganda business or the elections business. And if what you want is to be propagandized, then you might want to skip over my byline.

Connected, Complex, Interdependent — Resilient?

As I write, the circuit breakers have just briefly halted trading on Wall Street, with the S&P having crashed 7 percent following a “free fall” in oil prices. Falling oil prices are generally taken as a portent of an economic slowdown — if people are making and doing less, they need less fuel. The proximate cause of this economic anxiety is the coronavirus, which is disrupting production around the world (especially in China) along with trade and travel.

As Rich Lowry writes:

The moment doesn’t call for market-reassuring Trump, but threats-aren’t-getting-past-our-borders Trump, not Dow 30,000 Trump, but drawbridge-and-moat Trump. . . . The political valence of the coronavirus crisis should be favorable to Trump’s worldview. It demonstrates a downside of globalization and shows the importance of borders. It is an object lesson in our overdependence on a China that is dictatorial, dishonest and poorly governed.

It seems to me that Rich is right about the politics. Though I oppose most restrictions on trade with China, there is no sense in deluding ourselves about the character of the regime in Beijing. And even those of us who do not take globalization to be a dirty word owe it (if only to ourselves) to forthrightly admit that globalization, like everything else in politics and economics, involves tradeoffs. Emphasizing the costly and unpopular tradeoffs is part of what has made Donald Trump a successful demagogue (as the same strategy did in a less successful way with Ross Perot before him), but I am not sure that those who see this episode as an indictment of globalization per se are right on the substance.

Some systems are weak — give them a good shove and they fall right over. Some systems are resilient — give them a good shove and they can handle it. Some systems are what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls “antifragile” — give them a good shove and they shove right back, becoming stronger in response to the stress that is put on them.

Think of lifting weights, for example: You put stress on the muscles and the muscles get stronger rather than weaker. A small amount of a toxic substance can help you to develop a tolerance for it. Many vaccines work in that way, using a dead virus or a weakened agent of infection to provoke a response from the body’s immune system, leaving it stronger. In all of these cases, the strength of the shock matters — drop a Buick on somebody, and his body is going to be crushed, not strengthened; expose somebody to the full-strength measles virus, and he’s going to develop measles, not immunity.

My first political memories are of the late 197os — Jimmy Carter and gasoline rationing. (I felt terribly sorry for President Carter, because everybody seemed so angry at him, and he seemed so helpless. My views have evolved since then.) It was traumatic for many Americans, but the Arab oil embargo was not the first oil shock. The Suez crisis of the 1950s saw the Western world go to war on the theory that the Suez Canal was an irreplaceable link between Middle Eastern oil producers and consumers in Europe and the United States. In reality, only a few short decades after the Suez battle, the rise of supertankers (too big for the canal) and other changes in oil production and transport would radically diminish the importance of the canal.

In the wake of 9/11, we heard endlessly about our “addiction to foreign oil” (foreign oil — remarkably how xenophobic our greenie-weenies can be when it suits them), about “peak oil” and the inevitable decline of petroleum production and the skyrocketing prices that would accompany that, the need for radical government intervention to impose non-petroleum sources of energy on the markets, etc. The details often got muddied: Arianna Huffington argued that driving an SUV was tantamount to personally financing al-Qaeda, never mind that our biggest foreign oil suppliers have been allies such as Canada. People get excited, and everybody has something to sell. What ended up happening was . . . a blossoming of energy production in the United States and elsewhere, with hydraulic fracturing and other technologies providing access to stores of petroleum that had been thought to be out of reach or prohibitively expensive to exploit. Which is why, this morning, the news is that there is more oil out there than we may need at the moment, not a shortage of the stuff.

There has long been good reason to think of globalization as contributing to resilience, with the wider distribution of capital, processes, and knowledge providing general benefits that far outweigh the specific risks associated with specific local bottlenecks, real or potential. But at risk of belaboring the metaphor, there is something in the way price signals shape markets that suggests the antifragility of the immune system. We will adapt, and that adaptation is unlikely to look like a nationalist retrenchment of the sort envisioned by some critics of globalization. (These critics call to mind the Ron Paul style of foreign-policy criticism: If a U.S. base is attacked overseas, then it is obvious to a certain kind of mind that the problem is U.S. bases overseas — no foreign bases, no attacks on foreign bases. It’s the old single-entry bookkeeping.) Instead, we are likely to see even wider distribution of capabilities, with more redundancy in the system and, probably, more technological and political diversity than we have already.

Most of our individual immune systems can handle coronavirus just fine — and so will the world’s.

Why There’s a National Review

A few things of interest: 1) If you noticed that the news last week was full of stories about Chuck Schumer personally threatening justices of the Supreme Court if they fail to bend to his will on abortion, that was thanks largely to the work of National Review’s Alexandra DeSanctis. 2) There probably is nobody writing right now who does better or more interesting work on democrats and human-rights activists around the world than Jay Nordlinger in National Review. We have Jay on music, Jay on language, Jay on politics, Jay on golf — but Jay on human rights may be the best of them all. 3) When I wrote last week about Joe Biden’s habit of lying about the circumstances surrounding the death of his first wife and baby daughter (horrifying enough in truth, but Biden has repeatedly said the cause was a drunk driver, which is a flat-out lie), I got a note from a marquee columnist at a very prominent newspaper saying that he never had heard that story. But you have heard all of the above if you read NR, where you also would have been the first to read about Lois Lerner and the IRS shenanigansLena Dunham’s rape fictionBernie Sanders’s pre-Trumpian nationalism . . .

My Kind of Reformation

Catholic churches around the country are discouraging hand-shaking and other physical contact during the “sign of peace” in the Mass. This is in response to the coronavirus. Virus or no virus, I am glad to see it go and hope it stays gone — I am a big fan of the Rotary Club, but the Mass is not a Rotary Club meeting, and all that zipping around shaking hands is just goofy. Not as bad as the habit of holding hands during the Our Father, as is the practice in some of the loopier churches, but bad enough. I attended a service at a Presbyterian church in San Antonio last week, and the sermon was on the varying individual “postures of praise,” i.e., the fact that some people feel comfortable waving their hands in the air and some don’t. I’m a non-waver. I cannot say the service was exactly my style, but the music was — Brahms, Verdi, and Schubert. That was not the sandals-and-guitars “contemporary” worship — that was on the other side of the building.

Until Tuesday,

Kevin D. Williamson

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Economy & Business

The Significance of Business in American History

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A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in Manhattan shortly before the closing bell as the market takes a significant dip, February 25, 2020. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Hello, and welcome to The Tuesday.

Home and Away

Here is my recent podcast with the Aspen Daily News. We talk about this National Review article, “Billionaires and Baristas,” about the Aspen housing market, part of a three-story package on housing and housing policy. Here’s me on being ready for covid-19, on being ready for Bernie, why we should make it easier for felons to get good jobs, and why conservatives should think twice before cheering the Harvard administration’s vetoing of the economics department’s job offer to Gabriel Zucman, a leftist economist.

My National Review archive can be found here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

Words about Words

I was very fortunate to have the experience of being present at what turned out, sadly, to be the last of the National Review editorial dinners at William F. Buckley Jr.’s home. (“73 73rd Street at 7:30” — easy to remember.) At one point during the dinner, Bill was talking about some writer’s prose style. He turned to me: “It was . . . what’s the word, like ‘engraved in stone’?” “Lapidary?” “Yes, lapidary.” (I went home that night and wrote a letter to one of my high-school English teachers, reporting that WFB had asked me for a vocabulary word and that I’d had it, and that she should ask for a raise.) Lapidary as a noun means someone who cuts and polishes gems; as an adjective, the American Heritage Dictionary has it “Marked by conciseness, precision, or refinement of expression: lapidary prose.” Lapidary is one of those very National Review words, like exnihilate or immanentize. That’s a tradition worth keeping up, I think.

Unapologetic Prescriptivism

“The new EV from the American automaker is sure to make some people jealous in other markets,” writes an automotive journalist about the new Menlo electric automobile from General Motors, which will be sold only in China. But you would not write that, because you know the difference between jealousy and envy — you are jealous of that which you already possess and envious of what others have that you desire: A jealous husband is anxious about his own wife, but if he covets someone else’s wife, he is envious. Someone who is very attentive to honor may guard his reputation jealously or he may envy the standing of a rival. Most of the time, people use jealous when they mean envious, not the other way around. If these distinctions seem trivial, consider that it is useful to have different words for different things. Forte (fort) and forte (for-TAY) do not mean the same thing and are, in fact, borrowings from different languages: The one-syllable word indicating something you are good at comes from French, while the two-syllable word meaning to pound the piano keys with emphasis comes from Italian. They both have an underlying connotation of strength. But here you will see the limits of prescriptivism: The mistaken usage of forte has become so common that if you say it correctly, people will correct you.

Please send your language questions or remarks to TheTuesday@nationalreview.com.

Why Has Big Business Moved to the Left?

Something I have observed in my travels and reporting over the past decade: From Wall Street to Silicon Valley and from Aspen to Austin, the culture of the American business elite has moved distinctly to the left.

Why?

“Wealthy businessman” used to be practically a synonym for “conservative” in the popular imagination. That was not always entirely accurate, inasmuch as some of those old Robber Barons were actually quite progressive in their economic assumptions (back when “destructive competition” and “public interest” monopolies were all the rage), but it was broadly true.

It is not true today: If you look at the ten, 20, or 50 largest U.S. companies, you will see corporate cultures that, with few exceptions, range from politically neutral(ish) to politically progressive, and practically none that is assertively conservative in the way Apple or Amazon — or ExxonMobil! — is assertively progressive. (It seems to me significant that the largest exception, Koch Industries, is privately held rather than publicly traded.) Even Walmart’s vaunted conservatism is, largely, a thing of the past. The wealthy businessmen of our time are by and large progressive in their instincts: The Democratic primary field in 2020 had two technology billionaires, a millionaire entrepreneur, and a McKinsey guy, along with bunch of rich lawyers. The list of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time (Bezos, Gates, Buffett, Zuckerberg, Ellison, Page and Brin, Bloomberg) does not contain a lot of Republicans. (Bloomberg gets an asterisk.) Even the Walton heirs have moved in the Democratic and progressive direction, both in their political giving and in their philanthropy.

The shift to the left is especially true of the newer corporate giants, which are mostly technology firms: Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Dell, etc. But even corporate Methuselahs such as Procter & Gamble (founded in 1837) and JPMorgan Chase (descendent of J. P. Morgan & Co., founded 1879) are today distinctly progressive in their politics: P&G was a longtime advocate of homosexual marriage, for example, while JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon was tight with Barack Obama, whose administration courted and enjoyed the support of such Wall Street titans as Goldman Sachs’s Lloyd Blankfein and Citigroup’s Vikram Pandit. A couple of years ago, I attended a forum at South by Southwest organized by a grievance start-up called Female Quotient, where the audience got an earful about how American capitalism stacks the deck against women and minorities, a wokey-woke woke-ity jolt of wokefulness that enjoyed the patronage of Google, PepsiCo, AT&T, NBCUniversal, Facebook, UBS, JPMorgan Chase, and Deloitte. I guess the guys from McKinsey were too busy prepping Pete Buttigieg for the presidency to attend.

If the politics of Big Business has changed, that is because business has changed.

When he was helping to plot the American Revolution, George Washington was said to be the wealthiest man in the colonies. (He certainly was one of the wealthiest, if not the single wealthiest.) He was a farmer. He was a gentleman, but he also worked — on the farm, as a surveyor, as a miller, and more. The fortunes of colonial America were mostly founded on farming, and agriculture touched everything from shipping to banking — and, later, everything from manufacturing to railroads. Fortunes were made in commodities and land speculation, but they were made by entrepreneurs with backgrounds as farmers and ranchers, merchants, and shippers. Many of those who made fortunes in timber began with saws and axes in their hands. There is a culture particular to the economy of cultivation and extraction. They weren’t day traders — they were settlers.

The entrepreneurial culture of our homesteading frontier society tended to be highly individualistic in its assumptions and its mythologies. Ford was largely the creation of one man, Henry Ford. Procter & Gamble was the creation of two men, J. P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller, men who did their own business in their own way, who created fortunes that belonged to them and them alone. It was this era of capitalism that gave rise to the heroic conception of the businessman as celebrated by Ayn Rand, among others. Some of that is true, and some of that is myth, but one is as good as the other when it comes to informing culture. And the culture formed by the earlier age of American business identified success with virtue, holding that success in business was closely associated with moral success, with sobriety, thrift, perseverance, industry, and other manly virtues. That and the fact that the most important capital of that time was physical rather than intellectual and digital probably explains a great deal of the conservatism of business culture in the 19th century, a conservatism that lasted well into the 20th century.

The wealthiest people in a society such as ours tend to be entrepreneurs, and vast new fortunes most commonly are made by starting a business. There are some very wealthy men who had their incomes mainly in the form of salary, but you do not become a Bill Gates or a Peter Thiel on salary: That kind of fortune isn’t a check the boss writes you — that’s a check you write yourself. But the affections and prejudices of business founders often are transmitted to the adjacent classes of salaried credentialed professionals and businessmen, and founders leave their stamps on the culture through their personal mythologies (often assiduously cultivated) and through the organizations they create. In the 19th and 20th centuries, it probably was easier to transmit that heroic conception of the businessman throughout American commercial culture because there remained a very large number of sole proprietorships and small partnerships, and in many influential professions (doctors and lawyers, for example), the normal course of many careers included hanging out your own shingle and starting a practice of your own.

There is (or, rather, there was) a certain hardness to American conservatism, and there was a certain hardness that was indispensable to business in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. That wilderness did not clear itself. These twin attitudes remained very much bound up with each other, and, to some lesser extent, still are. In disposition, prewar American business and prewar American conservatism were made for each other. In large part, American conservatism before William F. Buckley Jr. defined itself as encouraging and enabling American business, at times through instruments such as tariffs and federal infrastructure projects (Abraham Lincoln’s “improvements”) that later conservatives would reject in favor of a more consistently free-market view. One might understand the “nationalism” of Donald Trump’s economic policies (and those of “economic patriotism” Democrats such as Barack Obama) as a kind of halfhearted return to the politics of “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.”

But the frontier is long closed, and American entrepreneurship in the 21st century is fundamentally different from what came before. I do not mean here to elevate one model at the expense of the other or to bemoan the loss of some golden age of Little House on the Prairie capitalism and the virtues that went with it, but only to try to understand what has happened and why.

Modern entrepreneurship is a very different thing from what preceded it: There are more well-established processes and institutions, including the virtual pipeline that runs from the Ivy League and a few other elite schools to Silicon Valley and Wall Street. There is a more intentional model of mentorship, a more carefully cultivated sense of community (especially the one encompassing venture capitalists and technology startups), and a genuine social network (a real one, not a digital one) that helps to connect capital with ideas. There is competition, of course, but Silicon Valley sometimes operates almost (almost) as though it were one large sprawling firm. And just as the individualism of the old 19th-century entrepreneurs was easily transmitted through adjacent professions thanks to economic and cultural similarities, the new progressive culture of Silicon Valley and high finance also finds fertile ground. Lawyers and doctors, to take the classical cases, are much more likely today to work in large, complex organizations than they were in the postwar era, when their professional antecedents were furthering a different understanding of capitalist culture. In the 1950s, there were only a handful (fewer than 40) of U.S. law firms with 50 or more lawyers; Norton Rose Fulbright today has more than 4,000 by itself, and it is not the largest U.S. law firm. The virtues and skills that make one successful navigating that kind of complex social environment are different from the ones that made Friedrich Weyerhäuser wealthy.

Which is to say, the change in business culture is an exaggerated version of the partisan split through American life. If you take a subway to work in a city with more than a million people and go to work in a firm with 8,000 employees, you’re about 1,000 times more likely to vote Democratic than you are if you drive an F-150 and live in the same small town as your grandparents and work in a family-owned business with six employees. As I write in The Smallest Minority, F. A. Hayek worried (presciently) that the predominance of salaried employment in large organizations, displacing sole-proprietorships and more widespread entrepreneurial employment, would change the culture and change attitudes toward property and business management. A world of employees is different from a world of farmers, traders, merchants, and shopkeepers. And that is the world we live in.

Closing Thoughts

What and how business thinks matters. After the 2008 election, I reported in National Review:

Wall Street isn’t politically agnostic, and there’s more to its politics than money. Culture matters, and you won’t find a lot of Pentecostal churches in Greenwich, Conn. Wall Street guys, for the most part, do not have time for social conservatives. “Of course these guys aren’t conservative,” says one longtime bond trader. “Why the [expletive deleted] would they be? We’re talking about guys who live in Manhattan, guys with manicures and eight-figure bank balances. And their wives — their wives aren’t showing up at parents’ day at Brearley with a Sarah Palin button. It’d be like showing up in flip-flops from Wal-Mart. Like showing up in a [rather lengthier expletive deleted] tracksuit.”

This cultural divide is particularly visible in New York City politics. “Ten to 15 years ago, half of the Upper East Side [officeholders] were Republican,” says John Mills, executive vice president of the Lexington Democratic Club. “There’s not one Republican there now. Abortion and gay rights are two of the biggest issues, and there are a lot of Jewish voters here not comfortable with Christian conservatives.”

Wall Street has no love for the southern, rural, and evangelical. But it’s not just the Jesus stuff — the southern and rural parts matter, too.

There is a lot to love about the Southern and the rural. But a conservatism that treats California and New York, the whole of both coasts, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and every city bigger than Provo as the enemy is a conservatism without a future.

Until Tuesday,

Kevin D. Williamson

To sign up for The Tuesday, follow this link.

U.S.

The Poison of Nostalgia

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Family watching television, circa 1958 (Evert F. Baumgardner, National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia)

Welcome to The Tuesday, my new newsletter. I decided to call it The Tuesday because I wanted to kind of bake the deadline into the cake and keep this thing on a more regular schedule than Mad Dogs & Englishmen.

Home and Away

In case you missed it, you might enjoy my National Review magazine article on the Aspen housing market, part of a three-story package on American housing and why it is — or at least seems — so expensive. An excerpt:

The bus stops in front of a house that is for sale — not a time-share or a condo but an honest-to-goodness free-standing house, albeit a two-bedroom, one-bath affair that is less than 1,000 square feet. It is listed at . . . $3 million, making it one of the cheapest houses on the market in Aspen. The houses for sale within a few blocks range from $6 million to $31.5 million. One-bedroom condos commonly command a million bucks.

And that is why a family earning nearly $300,000 a year with just under $1 million in assets — enough to put it well into the nation’s 98th income percentile — is, in this absurd and absurdly beautiful place, eligible for housing assistance.

Aspen is a city that needs more affordable housing for millionaires.

In the same issue, you can also read Michael Gibson on the Bay Area’s housing problems and Kevin Erdmann on “The Unbuildable American Home.”

Here is my review of Ezra Klein’s new book in Commentary, in which I report that the volume contains some interesting social science (choosing sides seems, even for not-obviously-rational reasons, to be deeply imprinted in our DNA) but that Klein’s analysis is predictable, unimaginative, and mostly wrong. Look for my review of Eleanor Randolph’s excellent The Many Lives of Michael Bloomberg in the forthcoming issue of Philanthropy, which published my review of Winners Take All in the fall of 2018. And here is my latest in the New York Post, on Bernie Bros and their blacklisting campaign.

From the archives — a few things I’ve been up to in the past year or so: An interview in Neue Zürcher Zeitungwhich is fun for a Helvetiphile such as myself. (The article is in German.) Here’s me being a little overexcited on the Bill Maher show. Here is that nice young man Ben Shapiro reviewing my most recent book, The Smallest Minority, in Commentary. And here is a fun essay I wrote for the Wall Street Journal trying to figure out what to think about a man judging him by the books on his shelves.

My National Review archive can be found here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here. You may not have seen: Livro Politicamente Incorreto da Esquerda e do Socialismo (Em Portugues do Brasil)No, I don’t really know why, either. I didn’t know this existed until I started seeing ads for it on social media. Apparently, there’s a Korean version, too, but I’ve never seen it. The original Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism remains horrifyingly relevant.

Unapologetic Prescriptivism

My sense of timing is, sometimes, pretty terrible. I decided to start writing more about language right at the same time the great Bryan A. Garner (author of Garner’s Modern English Usage and The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation, and editor in chief of Black’s Law Dictionary) began writing about language for National ReviewSee his wonderful essay on the evolution of “they.” But I’m going to do it, anyway.

This week’s bugaboo: “advocate for.” Do not write this. The “for” is already there: advocate = ad vocare, “to speak to” or “to speak for” or “to call for.” Grover Norquist advocates tax cuts; he does not advocate for tax cuts. “Advocate for” is a redundancy, like “ATM machine” or “dirty hippie.” The question here isn’t so much “Is it wrong?” but “Is it ugly and stupid?”

Please send your language questions or remarks to thetuesday@nationalreview.com.

Southern Coordinates

Some jabroni at Salon writes: “With William Barr at the Justice Department and Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court and Senate Republicans voting in lockstep with Mitch McConnell, living in Donald Trump’s America feels like the South won the Civil War.”

That is a very peculiar claim.

Bill Barr, Brett Kavanaugh, and Neil Gorsuch are men of Irish Catholic background hailing from New York City, D.C., and Denver, respectively: citadels of establishment liberalism, not centers of Confederate revanchism. Gorsuch comes from a prominent Colorado family but moved to the D.C. suburbs for prep school and spent most of his life there; moving away to prep school is not one of the traditional rituals of Southern life. The attorney general is the Manhattan-born son of a Jewish convert to Catholicism who was headmaster at Dalton — not an obvious candidate for General Lee’s army. Barr went to Columbia and GW Law; Kavanaugh, Yale and Yale Law; Gorsuch, Columbia and Harvard Law. None of these is a hotbed of neo-Confederate sentiment.

Senator McConnell comes from Kentucky, which would have been inconvenienced by a Confederate victory in the Civil War, since it was not part of the Confederacy.

Donald Trump is from Queens, but he apparently thinks Gone with the Wind was a good movie. If you happen to find yourself in Austin, at the University of Texas, you can see the dress Scarlett made from the draperies at the Harry Ransom Center.

“South,” in the minds of some progressives, now simply means “evil.” I suppose we are meant to believe that these men are secret admirers of chattel slavery, which is, of course, preposterous.

Funny thing about Barr and Kavanaugh et al. There are two prominent groups of Americans who believe that there are too many Catholics in public life — progressives, who complain that there are too many Catholics in the courts, and the Ku Klux Klan. Perhaps it is not Bill Barr of New York City whose heart beats in a southerly way.

Taking the South as a kind of shorthand for reactionary tendencies in American life is silly and illiterate. But people who write those kinds of sentences might — just barely — have a point. The more intelligent version of that notion is the idea that some kinds of nostalgia bring with them an odor of repression, that white men who are nostalgic for the 1950s or the 19th century or the 15th century (this is a National Review newsletter) might be accused at the very least of being insufficiently attentive to the daily abuse and humiliation (and worse) visited upon African Americans, women, homosexuals, and others during those good ol’ days. That’s part of what it is about “Make America Great Again” that creeps out a lot of people.

Of course, it is entirely possible to indulge wistful and romantic attachments to agrarian life in antebellum Georgia, or to frontier life in the Old West, or to Hoover-era or Eisenhower-era small-town America while simultaneously appreciating that slavery was a genuine horror, that Indian massacres were crimes against humanity, that Jim Crow was an intolerable wrong, that life in the 1950s — and now — was marked by petty bigotry, recreational cruelty on the part of the powerful, sexual exploitation of vulnerable women, etc. Mentally and emotionally normal adults — if you can find them — are able to walk and chew psychological gum at the same time.

The same dynamic shapes our conversation about race. There are a great many white people, and conservative-leaning people of all races, who are inclined to say: “Things are a lot better now than they were in the 1960s, and racism in the United States is nothing compared to racism in a lot of other places.” And that’s true. But what a lot of people hear in that is, “Why can’t you shut up and stop complaining?” And they aren’t wrong to object to implicit chiding. You will encounter much more open, plain, and rancid racism in other countries than you normally do in the United States, where racism of the plain kind is déclassé in addition to being sincerely rejected by most people. And the United States of, say, 1970 is very much a foreign country, racially. But at the same time, life remains radically different for white and black Americans. African Americans remain much more likely to end up poor, imprisoned, or sent to an early grave, and if many black Americans are not especially eager to endure homilies on how much progress we have made or how much worse things are in Brazil, it is difficult to fault them for that, just as it is difficult to fault them for being suspicious about the nostalgia of white men.

Nostalgia in politics is a poison. Right-wing anti-capitalists such as my friends Tucker Carlson and Michael Brendan Dougherty are at heart, I think, nostalgists, attached to an idea — a fiction — about middle-class and blue-collar life in the postwar era. But as Yuval Levin and others have persuasively argued, many figures on the Left are nostalgists of the same kind — and nostalgic for the same years: the post-war years. They simply attribute the golden character of those years to different things. Conservatives see the 1950s as a time of social and political conservatism, booming business, and American confidence; Bernie Sanders et al. remember those years as the apex of the American labor unions, a time of high tax rates on the wealthy, an expanding welfare state as the New Deal gave rise to the Great Society, etc.

We are the spoilt brats of history. It is true, as I and my colleagues document in the current issue of National Review, that housing has become very expensive in many parts of the country, often for reasons of artificial scarcity. At the same time, I wince a little when I hear men of my generation, or men in their thirties, complaining that their grandparents were able to easily buy a house when they were in their twenties, but that they cannot do the same. In truth, you can buy my grandparents’ house, or one very much like it, for almost nothing. But none of us wants to live in a 700-square-foot house in Borger, Texas, with no air-conditioning and one bathroom. That 1950s standard of living some of my right-wing friends claim to covet can be had — and it can be had cheap. What cannot be had is the culture and social life of the Eisenhower era. But if it could — would you really want it? The iPhone in your hand suggests to me that the answer is not so obvious.

Also: Some of my conservative friends who are always looking to disprove evolution spend their free time researching carbon-dating methodology or the configuration of the optic nerves in domestic chickens, looking for evidence that evolution is false. I would bring to their attention the fact that the Salon jabroni mentioned above is, if his biography is to be believed, the great, great, great, great grandson of Thomas Jefferson.

Closing Thoughts

Today is Mardi Gras, which used to be a Southern Catholic thing (and, hence, a New Orleans thing) but now has joined Halloween on the list of American holidays that are simply a pretext for adults to dress like clowns and get drunk. I am not one to complain about “cultural appropriation,” but Mardi Gras really does not make any sense without Ash Wednesday and Lent. It may be that the more austere penitential Christian observances simply suit my non-demonstrative personality better than does dancing in the street, but I welcome the quiet of this season.

Winston Churchill, hearing Clement Atlee praised for his modesty, supposedly grumbled, “He has a great deal to be modest about.” Perhaps Lent is less interesting for those who do not have a great deal to repent of or to atone for. For me, Lent could be twice as long — it could be all year. I have a good friend who is a Presbyterian pastor, and he is devoted to Spurgeon’s devotional. Spurgeon makes good reading: “By perseverance,” he writes, “the snail reached the ark.” I identify with that snail. Spurgeon, a man of the 19th century, never got to meet the prophet Tom Waits, who sang, “We’re chained to the world, and we all gotta pull.” Somewhere between those two poles, I think, one might catch a glimpse of the truth.

Until Tuesday,

Kevin D. Williamson

To sign up for The Tuesday, follow this link.

National Review

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I’d like to invite you to join the mailing list for The Tuesday, a newsletter I am writing for National Review readers. In The Tuesday you will find a weekly column exclusive to the newsletter along with some commentary on language, culture, and other subjects of interest. I will also include links to my non-NR work from around the web, advance looks at my forthcoming books, correspondence with readers, and more. I hope you enjoy it.

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