U.S.

‘Shane, Come Back!’

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.

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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

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.

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My New York Post archive can be found here.

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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

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.

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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

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

To sign up for The Tuesday, follow this link.

Economy & Business

The Significance of Business in American History

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

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

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